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Crafty lefty

Cards can't solve Hampton, fall behind 1-0

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Updated: Tuesday December 26, 2000 7:24 PM

  Mike Hampton Mike Hampton erased doubts about his ability to pitch in the postseason. AP

ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- Good pitching always beats good hitting and the New York Mets got plenty of both.

Mike Hampton finally delivered with seven superb innings and Mike Piazza, Todd Zeile and Jay Payton came through with big hits as the Mets posted a 6-2 triumph over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game One of the National League Championship Series.

St. Louis entered the contest having torched the vaunted Atlanta Braves' pitching staff for 24 runs in a three-game sweep. But the Mets entered with an 18-inning scoreless streak and stretched that number to 26 2/3 before an error allowed a run to score in the ninth.

After trading for Hampton in the offseason, the Mets never truly saw the pitcher that won 22 games for the Houston Astros in 1999. The 28-year-old lefthander pitched much better than his 15-10 record but suffered New York's only loss in the Division Series matchup with San Francisco.

Undaunted, Mets manager Bobby Valentine stuck with Hampton, who was 0-2 in four postseason starts. After being staked to a 2-0 lead before he took the mound, Hampton (1-0) was masterful, allowing six hits and three walks.

"If I didn't get the win and the team would have won, fine," Hampton said. "I just wanted a quality start that puts the team in position to win. It was one of those games where every pitch had a meaning behind it. You're focused on every pitch trying to execute it."

Cardinals Locker Room: St. Louis knows it can turn the series around with its next big hit, reports's John Donovan.

Mets Locker Room:'s Tom Rinaldi says New York exuded a quiet confidence after winning Game 1, as if the Mets knew Mike Hampton would pitch this way all along.

Closer Look:'s John Donovan says Mike Hampton's victory hung in the balance in the seventh inning as Jim Edmonds drove a fly ball to the wall.

"His performance was fabulous," Valentine said. "There has been some doubt cast over Mike because of a small sample of his postseason play. I think he erased those doubts and got us a big win."

Hampton escaped a first-inning jam by getting Carlos Hernandez on a grounder to second and cruised until turning the ball over to John Franco in the eighth. Franco allowed a hit before Armando Benitez recorded the final three outs in a sloppy ninth inning.

St. Louis has dropped its last four NLCS Games dating to 1996 and has been outscored 38-3 over that span. Game Two is Thursday and the Cardinals are banking on rookie Rick Ankiel against postseason veteran Al Leiter.

The winner of Game One in the NLCS has advanced to the World Series the last seven seasons.

While New York pitched well throughout its Division Series with the Giants, Piazza, Zeile and Payton combined to go 7-for-45.

Tonight, the trio combined to go 4-for-12 with a double, two homers and four RBI.

The Mets got to St. Louis starter Darryl Kile (1-1) quickly as rookie Timoniel Perez opened the game with a double down the right field line. After Perez took third on a wild pitch, Edgardo Alfonzo walked and Piazza chopped a double down the left field line for a 1-0 lead. Robin Ventura followed with a sacrifice fly before Kile struck out Zeile and got Benny Agbayani on a grounder to shortstop.

"Timo started it off, Fonzie had a good at-bat," Ventura said.

St. Louis had a chance to get right back in the game in the first inning. Edgar Renteria singled with one out but was erased on a grounder by Jim Edmonds, who was 8-for-14 against the Braves.

Eric Davis singled and Will Clark, playing for the injured Mark McGwire, walked to load the bases. Hampton fell behind Hernandez before getting the Cardinals catcher to ground sharply to second base.

One-on-One: Mike Hampton
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Mike Hampton explains how he mastered the Cardinals. Start
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"I think the big one was Mike knocking in the run. It helps you to jump on the board."

The Cardinals had a runner on at second in the third but Hampton struck out Davis and got Clark to ground to first. New York tacked on a run in the fifth as Hampton, who hit .274 during the regular season, beat out an infield hit. He took second on a groundout and scored when Alfonzo ripped a single into left field.

Former Met farmhand Fernando Vina singled with one out in the fifth and moved to second when Agbayani misplayed the ball in left field. Again Hampton responded, getting Renteria on a grounder to shortstop and striking out Edmonds.

Clark had a one-out double in the sixth but Hernandez and J.D.

Drew grounded out. The Cardinals mounted a threat in the seventh as Placido Polanco singled and one out later Vina walked. Renteria flied out to deep right field before Edmonds flied to the wall in deep left-center.

"I was hoping it was out, it came up short," Edmonds said. "I finally got a good pitch to hit and I just missed it a little bit. That's the way it goes. ... We didn't get any clutch hits tonight. We hit some balls hard but right at people. That's the way it goes."

"I was looking towards how far I had until the wall," Agbayani said. "I knew the ball was hit good. He hit it pretty high but it kind of died down."

After Franco got through the eighth, the Mets gave Benitez plenty of breathing room in the ninth. Zeile put the Mets ahead 4-0, by lining a 1-2 pitch from Mike James just over the wall and outstretched glove of former Met Shawon Dunston in left field.

Agbayani followed with a single and Payton crushed the next pitch into the left field stands for a 6-0 cushion. James then decided to send a message, hitting New York shortstop Mike Bordick in the right hand. Bordick suffered a bruised right thumb and was taken to a local hospital for precautionary X-rays.

"If it's a bruise, we're going to do everything we can to get it so I can move it around and stuff," Bordick said. "If it's a bruise, you can play through it. Hopefully, I can get back in there as soon as possible."

Benitez was erratic in the ninth, surrendering a leadoff double to Ray Lankford. After getting the next two batters, Benitez got Renteria to bounce to shortstop. Kurt Abbott, playing for Bordick, threw low to first base and Lankford came around to score from second.

Edmonds singled to right field and Perez misplayed the ball, allowing Renteria to score. Benitez got a strike on Davis before the Cardinals' outfielder grounded the closer's 21st pitch of the inning to third base for the final out.

"We got some timely hits early in the ballgame and were able to capitalize on what little opportunities that we had," Zeile said. "And Mike kept them from doing the same. The difference in this ballgame was he was able to work out of jams."

Kile allowed three runs and five hits in seven innings.

"It doesn't really matter if your command is good or bad," Kile said. "The bottom line is you have to find a way to win the ballgame. I gave up the lead early and Mike made the lead hold up."

Related information
Notebook: Mets get to Kile early
On the Diamond: Perfect October setting
Amazin' Mets have a history of dramatic postseason games
Box Score: Mets-Cardinals
New York pitcher Mike Hampton talks about his success against the Cardinals' lineup. (106 K)
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa gives praise to Hampton's performance. (122 K)
Jay Payton of the Mets knew early on Hampton had his stuff. (53 K)
New York's Robin Ventura says the Mets were finally able to give offensive support to Hampton. (71 K)
The Mets' Todd Zeile talks about Hampton's effectiveness against the Cardinals. (141 K)
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