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Mr. Clutch

Alfonzo's late homer propels hm into spotlight

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Posted: Wednesday October 06, 1999 07:37 PM

  Alfonzo has picked up where he left off in the regular season, when he batted .304 and drove in 108 RBIs. AP

PHOENIX (AP) -- On the list of big names on the New York Mets, he is left way behind the likes of Mike Piazza, Robin Ventura, John Olerud and Rickey Henderson.

Yet before he's finished, Edgardo Alfonzo could be better than them all.

In the Mets' unlikely playoff run, the 25-year-old Venezuelan has been the unquestioned hero. He homered in the first inning of New York's Monday night wild-card playoff triumph in Cincinnati. He homered in the first inning off Randy Johnson in Tuesday night's 8-4 NL playoff victory over Arizona.

Then he finished off the Diamondbacks with a grand slam just inside the left-field foul pole off reliever Bobby Chouinard in the ninth. It was a 3-1 pitch, and Alfonzo had a pretty good idea what he was going to see.

"You get behind in the count, he just started throwing fastballs," Alfonzo said. "He didn't want to walk me. He was just throwing me fastball to see what happens."

What happened was a fastball right where Alfonzo wanted it, a gift he hit just inside the foul pole down the left-field line.

"Alfonzo's a good hitter," said Arizona's Luis Gonzalez, who should know one when he sees one. "I played with him in winter ball before. He's coming through in the clutch for them. It seems like he's doing everything you can do in baseball to help a team win."

Already in his sixth season with New York, Alfonzo is just 25 years old, so the future seems so bright.

"Over the last few years, Edgardo Alfonzo has been a fabulous baseball player who has kind of a star quality," said Mets manager Bobby Valentine, in a playoff game for the first time. "He's gaining confidence, and with confidence you get performances like you saw tonight."

Alfonzo blends into the background behind his more flashy teammates. When the Mets signed Ventura as a free agent, Alfonzo moved from third base to second base without complaint, then played the position as if he'd been there all his life. He did not make a fielding error at second all season.

Alfonzo batted .304 with 191 hits, a club record 123 runs and 108 RBIs, all career highs. On Aug. 30 in Houston, he was 6-for-6 with three home runs, a double, six runs scored and five RBIs.

Now he's the prime catalyst as the Mets came back from the edge of oblivion a week ago to tie the Reds, then beat Arizona to take the inside track in the best-of-5 series.

"I try to have a little patience at home plate," Alfonzo said, "until I see a good pitch to hit and be on time with my legs, with my leg kick, be on time. I think that's a big thing for me right now. Every time I go to home plate, I have an idea of what I'm going to do."

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