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Clutch performers

New York's bullpen held up when team needed it

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Posted: Monday October 18, 1999 12:37 AM

  Bobby Valentine Chat room: New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine talks with Orel Hershiser, one of his eight relievers. AP

NEW YORK (AP) -- Reliever after reliever came out of the New York Mets' bullpen to keep their season alive for at least another day.

It almost wasn't enough.

After 11 scoreless innings of relief, the Braves broke through against Octavio Dotel in the 15th inning Sunday.

Just when it looked like New York's season would end three games short of a possible Subway Series, the Mets broke through in the bottom of the 15th to win 4-3 in the longest postseason game in 13 years.

While Robin Ventura provided the game-winning hit with the bases loaded, it was the Mets' bullpen that deserved much of the credit for making it possible.

"Everybody did their job," reliever John Franco said. "From the first guy in the bullpen to the last guy in the bullpen, everybody contributed. From a starter in Kenny Rogers to Dotel who hadn't pitched in a while."

Trailing Atlanta 3-1 in the best-of-7 series, Bobby Valentine managed the game as if it were the Mets' last -- which it almost was.

Valentine set a postseason record by using nine pitchers -- including four in a four-batter span in the seventh inning -- after starter Masato Yoshii was knocked out with no outs in the fourth inning.

"I've been in long games, but not in games where every pitch meant so much from the fourth inning on," Valentine said.

That maneuvering left Valentine with just Dotel in the bullpen after Game 2 starter Rogers pitched the 11th and 12th innings.

"When it got to be extra innings, I knew that I would probably get in the game if we didn't score," Rogers said. "You know you can't give up a run. We had no room for error. It was an unbelievable win for us."

Dotel shut down the Braves for his first two innings, escaping in the 13th when Lockhart was gunned down at the plate trying to score from first on Chipper Jones' double to right.

Had Ventura not broken the 3-3 tie, Game 4 starter Rick Reed would have pitched the 16th.

That Valentine and the Mets relied so heavily on the bullpen should come as no surprise, as it was one of the strengths of the team all year.

The Mets took an NL-record 119 games to throw their first complete game, but with one of the best bullpens in the league, New York remained in contention. Mets relievers went 31-19 with a 3.67 ERA on the year.

But they didn't pitch any more important innings than they did Sunday. After Yoshii gave away a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning, Orel Hershiser came in and got out of a first-and-second, no-out jam.

In his second relief appearance this decade, Hershiser struck out Andruw Jones and Eddie Perez before getting Walt Weiss to ground out.

Mets relievers would pitch in and out of trouble until Lockhart's hit in the 15th. The Braves stranded a playoff-record 19 runners -- 18 against the bullpen -- and were 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position after Yoshii left.

"The whole bullpen did everything they could and was patient and waited for our offense," Hershiser said. "Our offense clicked just in time."

Hershiser struck out Brian Jordan to end the fifth with two men on, before facing real trouble in the sixth. He loaded the bases with one out on an error by first baseman John Olerud and two walks.

With Greg Maddux at the plate, Braves manager Bobby Cox called for a squeeze bunt on a 1-2 count. Maddux bunted through the pitch and Ryan Klesko was caught in a rundown to end the inning.

Hershiser left after hitting Bret Boone with one out in the seventh. That's when Valentine really put his relievers to work, using four in a four-batter span.

Turk Wendell struck out Chipper Jones on three pitches, with pinch-runner Otis Nixon stealing second on the last pitch. After Wendell fell behind Jordan 2-0, Valentine brought in Dennis Cook to complete the intentional walk.

By bringing in the left-hander then, Valentine could take Cook out as soon as Bobby Cox pinch hit for the lefty-swinging Klesko.

"I don't ask questions," Cook said. "I just pitch when they tell me to pitch."

Pat Mahomes came on and walked pinch-hitter Brian Hunter before getting Andruw Jones to fly out to left.

Franco came on with two on and two outs in the eighth and got Lockhart to ground out. Franco pitched a scoreless ninth and Armando Benitez pitched the 10th.


 
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