How about Pratt!
Mets' backup catcher wins game with a blast in the 10th
Posted: Saturday October 09, 1999 09:15 PM
Roger Cedeno's (top) game-tying sacrifice fly in the eighth set the stage for Todd Pratt. AP
NEW YORK (AP) -- This was the kind of moment - a stroke of baseball magic - that gives the New York Mets every reason to believe this, indeed, is their year.
The improbable team found an unlikely hero when Todd Pratt, replacing injured Mike Piazza for the second straight day, homered in the 10th inning Saturday for a 4-3 victory that gave the Mets a 3-1 win over Arizona in their first-round NL playoff series.
"I'm not an offensive power like Mike, but I can handle the bat all right," said Pratt, who hit just the fourth homer in baseball history that ended a postseason series.
"Honestly, I don't think it was that big a deal," Pratt said. "To be honest with you, it's just like another game. Don't get me wrong, I'm very happy I gave my team a chance to go to the NLCS, but I'm one guy in the mix. I could have easily been the goat today."
Just nine days after their season was considered over, the Mets advanced to the NL championship for the first time since 1988, starting Tuesday night at Atlanta, and they did it in the incredible style they've flashed all year long.
On an intense afternoon of dramatic shifts, the Mets were four outs from winning before Jay Bell's two-run, two-out double off Armando Benitez put the Diamondbacks ahead 3-2 in the eighth.
A dropped fly ball by Tony Womack, who had just moved to right field, led to Roger Cedeno's game-tying sacrifice fly in the bottom half - an inning in which third-base coach Cookie Rojas was ejected and shoved left-field umpire Charlie Williams in the chest.
Pratt, a career backup who had no chance of starting once Piazza was acquired in May 1998, then set off fireworks when he connected off Matt Mantei with a drive to straightaway center.
Steve Finley jumped against the eight-foot wall at the 410-foot sign - the fence is a few inches higher there than the rest of the outfield - and 56,177 fans at Shea Stadium held their collective breaths for a second, unsure where the ball was caught.
"I thought he came down with it," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said.
Pratt stopped between first and second, not knowing. Finley even brought his glove down and looked in it.
"We have all seen it a million times on the highlight films, Steve bringing back balls," Pratt said. "I thought he had the ball, actually. Then he put his head down."
Pratt leapt up and down with his arms raised in the air, sending the crowd into a frenzy and the Mets out of the bullpen and dugout.
"I thought I had it," Finley said. "I felt it in my glove. It took me a second to realize I didn't catch it. I still don't believe it."
Rey Ordonez raced onto the infield and jumped in the air, Valentine high-fived his players. Piazza, with a cast on his left hand, embraced Pratt.
Then in the chaotic Mets' clubhouse, it was time for beer-and-champagne showers as the Doors' 'LA Woman' blasted on stereo.
"He deserves this moment," said Piazza, out with a swollen left thumb. "He's worked hard all year. That's what this team is all about."
Only Pittsburgh's Bill Mazeroski in the 1960 World Series, the Yankees' Chris Chambliss in the 1976 AL championship and Toronto's Joe Carter in the 1993 World Series hit homers that ended postseason series.
Now, the Mets play Atlanta, which went 9-3 against the Mets this season and beat them five of six in the final two weeks.
"It's going to take a good effort to stop us, and the next team we are playing is going to be playing against some ghosts, because they said we were dead," Valentine said.
Pratt, signed as a minor league free agent after being out of baseball in 1996, hit a comebacker in the eighth with the score tied and runners on first and third.
"I had a couple of chances to drive in some runs," he said. "We overcame adversity."
Pratt's drive made a winner of the Mets' fan favorite, John Franco, who has struggled since coming back from a finger injury but pitched a 1-2-3 10th. Franco had lost 10 straight decisions since Sept. 13, 1997.
"Twenty-four or 25 guys in that locker room think he is a hero today," Franco said. "Todd Pratt has got the toughest job in baseball, sitting behind one of the best catchers, one of the best players in baseball. Sitting day in, day out not being able to play has got to be tough."
The victory keeps alive the possibility of baseball's first Subway Series since 1956. The defending World Series champion Yankees began Saturday with a 2-0 lead over Texas in their first-round series.
Arizona heads back to the desert bitterly disappointed. The Diamondbacks, in the greatest turnaround in major league history, went 100-62 and became the first second-year franchise to make the postseason. They could have brought back Randy Johnson on three days' rest Saturday, but elected to hold him back for a fifth game that won't be played.
Without Piazza, Edgardo Alfonzo provided the power again with his third home run of the series, a solo shot in the fourth.
Greg Colbrunn's homer tied it for Arizona in the fifth and Benny Agbayani's RBI double gave New York a 2-1 lead in the sixth.
Al Leiter, who had come up with the Mets' biggest wins all season, took a two-hitter into the eighth. It was Leiter who stopped an eight-game losing streak in June, ended the seven-game skid in late September that nearly finished off the Mets, then pitched a shutout at Cincinnati on Monday in the wild-card tiebreaker.
He walked pinch-hitter Turner Ward with two outs in the eighth and Womack reached when the Mets' usually infallible infield hiccuped. Alfonzo couldn't come up with the one-hopper to second - it would have been a good play if he had made it - and Womack reached on the hit.
In came Benitez, who converted 22 of 28 saves chances during the regular season, taking over as the closer after Franco got hurt.
Bell doubled off the wall in the left-field corner, and all of a sudden it seemed like the series was headed back to Phoenix for a decisive game Sunday.
Melvin Mora, who came in for Rickey Henderson at the start of the inning, then saved a run - and possibly the game. Matt Williams singled to left and Mora threw to the plate, where Pratt tagged out Bell.
The Mets tied it, taking advantage of Womack's second error in two games - letting a fly ball by John Olerud pop out of his glove after Greg Swindell walked Alfonzo leading off.
That put runners on second and third with no outs, and Cedeno's sacrifice fly off Swindell tied it.
But Mantei escaped without giving up the tiebreaking run when Pratt hit a comebacker that led to Olerud getting tagged out near third and Rey Ordonez struck out with the bases loaded.
In between, Rojas was ejected for arguing with Williams, who ruled that Darryl Hamilton's liner down the left-field line was foul.
While replays showed Williams made the correct call, Rojas gave the umpire a two-handed push, and had to be restrained by Valentine and Ventura.
Notes: Arizona hadn't lost consecutive road games since July 18-19 at Seattle. ... Alfonzo is 5-for-7 with two homers off Brian Anderson in his career. ... Womack made two errors in 258 outfield chances during the regular season.
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