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Mets' dream finally died

New York's well of comebacks ran dry

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Posted: Wednesday October 20, 1999 02:29 AM

  Leiter fluid: The Mets got off to a noxious start in Game 6 when Al Leiter hit two of the first three batters. Allsport

ATLANTA (AP) -- They walked around the clubhouse, staggered, having trouble believing it really was over.

John Franco's eyes were red. Turk Wendell's, too.

When Kenny Rogers walked over to his locker, Wendell gave him a big bear hug.

"Everything you've done in the past, they'll forget about and remember this," Rogers said Tuesday night after he walked in the winning run in the 11th inning, giving the Atlanta Braves an unforgettable 10-9 victory over the Mets and a 4-2 victory in the NL Championship Series.

"That," said Rogers, who once pitched a perfect game, "is just the way it is."

Like vampires, these New York Mets refused to die, bouncing back again and again after hope had all but vanished.

Starter Al Leiter had nothing left Tuesday night, allowing his first five batters to score, and still the Mets came back from a 5-0 deficit.

"It's so typical of what's gone on," Leiter said. "I thought for sure we would win this."

New York tied the score with three runs in the sixth and four more in the seventh, took an 8-7 lead on Melvin Mora's RBI single in the eighth and a 9-8 lead on Todd Pratt's sacrifice fly in the 10th.

Yes, Franco blew it by allowing Brian Hunter's RBI single in the bottom of the eighth. And Armando Benitez blew it again in the 10th, wasting Pratt's sacrifice fly by allowing Ozzie Guillen's run-scoring single in the bottom half.

But by the time Rogers walked Andruw Jones on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded, the Mets had made their mark.

"I'm a big boy," Rogers said. "I can handle it. God thinks I can handle a lot. He can lay off me now."

This team will be remembered not for failing to become the first team to overcome a 3-0 postseason deficit, but for its spellbinding twists and turns, the collapses and comebacks.

The Mets had stirred so much hope with their amazin' turnaround on the season's final weekend, their tiebreaker playoff win at Cincinnati, their upset first-round victory over Arizona, with Pratt circling the bases with only the fourth homer that ended a postseason series.

Then came that 15-inning win Sunday on Ventura's grand-slam-turned-single, a game that forever will be remembered among baseball's best.

"I think every guy in this room should be proud of the way we handled ourselves," Franco said. "We're champions in our own hearts."

In 25 pitches by Leiter, it threatened to all come undone. For just the second time in 210 career starts, regular and postseason combined, he failed to get a single out. He called it the "poorest start of my career."

But then the Mets, trying to create the first Subway Series since 1956, mounted their most spectacular rise from the dead, leaving the shocked Braves wondering what went wrong.

After five innings of slumber, Mike Piazza's sacrifice fly and Darryl Hamilton's two-run single pulled New York to 5-3 in the sixth

Then, after Jose Hernandez's two-run single off Dennis Cook in the bottom half made it 7-3, the Mets pulled even against John Smoltz on Rickey Henderson's RBI double, John Olerud's run-scoring single and Piazza's two-run homer, just his fourth hit in 23 at-bats in the series.

Benny Agbayani singled and scored go-ahead runs in the eighth and 10th. Pratt hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly. Mora singled in both innings and threw out Ryan Klesko at third base in the 10th, extending the Mets' life one more inning.

But it wasn't enough. Gerald Williams doubled leading off the 11th, advanced on Bret Boone's sacrifice and, after two intentional walks, Rogers walked home the winning run.

The Mets walked off the field for the last time -- finally -- slowly, hanging their heads. No one could kill them. In the end, they killed themselves.

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