Work in Sports
Cardinals slip up in sixth, Mets now one win away
Updated: Monday October 16, 2000 9:04 AM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
NEW YORK -- Directly in front of the pitcher's mound at Shea Stadium, there's a squarish patch of grass, maybe a little bigger than a standard welcome mat but a lot smaller than, say, Central Park.
That bit of New York real estate played a starring role in the Cardinals' 10-6 win in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. It was the stage for the opening salvo of a bizarre fielding sequence with the Mets at bat in the sixth inning, a sequence that helped put them on the doorstep of the World Series.
"That, right there," St. Louis first baseman Will Clark said of the moment. "We had a little momentum going our way."
The Mets, now ahead three games to one in the best-of-seven NLCS, had seen St. Louis cut an 8-3 lead to 8-6 in the fifth and were sending the bottom of their order to bat in their half of the sixth. Shortstop Mike Bordick drew a leadoff walk off Cardinals reliever Mike Timlin, bringing Mets reliever Glendon Rusch to the plate.
That patch of Shea Stadium grass was about to do its thing.
With the count 0-2 on Rusch and Clark and third baseman Fernando Tatis charging the plate looking for a sacrifice bunt, Rusch laid the bunt directly in front of the plate. It took one hop, headed just to the right of Timlin and the big right-hander jumped on it.
"Hit hard and right back at the mound," Rusch said of his bunt, "is not good."
As it turned out, it wasn't bad for the Mets. Timlin slipped -- he estimated about six inches -- on the grass patch in front of the mound. The ball glanced off his glove and, by the time he gathered himself and the ball, he had only the play at first to get Rusch.
So, instead of a possible double play ball or, at the least, getting the lead runner out, Timlin now had a runner in scoring position with one out and the top of the Mets' lineup coming up.
"I was thinking double play," admitted Timlin. "I was definitely going to look at second."
Said Clark: "It was definitely a double-play ball."
That little slip cleared the way for two, much costlier errors, both by third baseman Tatis.
With the infield playing in, Tatis short hopped a ball off the bat of Timo Perez and looked Bordick back to second. But Tatis, using a little sidearm flip across the diamond, pulled Clark off the bag, down the line toward home. Perez was safe at first, and the Mets had men at first and second with one out.
"It was just one of those where he let it go and the ball took off on him," Clark said.
Piazza pounded the first pitch from Timlin into the dirt in front of home and it took a big bounce toward the charging Tatis. But Tatis, maybe looking to pull off an inning-ending double play on the slow-footed Piazza, muffed that ball, too. A run scored and the bases remained loaded.
The next batter, third baseman Robin Ventura, lifted a sacrifice fly to right field that scored Perez. Timlin got first baseman Todd Zeile to fly out to center to end the inning, but it was not soon enough. The Mets' two runs -- both of them unearned -- doubled their lead (from 8-6 to 10-6) and, essentially, slammed the door on the Cardinals.
"That's a tough two to give up," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "We couldn't overcome it."
Thanks to that slippery grass in front of the mound, the Mets may have finally wiped the Cardinals off on the Shea Stadium welcome mat.