Work in Sports
On the Diamond
With a Series berth at stake, Mets take it nice and easy
Updated: Monday October 16, 2000 7:57 PM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
NEW YORK -- It is just a couple hours before game time, and Benny Agbayani already is thinking about what he's going to do much later Monday night.
Granted, he's been forced into thinking about it, asked to contemplate what might be his reaction if he and his New York Mets pull off what few thought was possible -- win their way into the World Series.
They can do it tonight, in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals in Shea Stadium.
"Man, I don't know," he said, looking up at the mostly empty stands. "Celebrate. Go shake some hands in left field. The fans here have been a great support for me. I know how hard it is to get the fans on your side in New York."
The fans, of course, are firmly on Agbayani's side by now. The Mets' left fielder has a name fans can cheer easily (Ben-nie, Ben-nie) and a disposition everyone can like.
And his play? He has been a key part of the Mets' postseason success. He is hitting 5-for-15 (.333) with three RBIs in the four games of the NLCS, and 10-for-30 (.333) overall in the playoffs. He's hit in seven consecutive playoff games, too, and his 13th inning home run won Game 3 of the Division Series against the San Francisco Giants.
The Mets, who were last in the Series in 1986, warmed up at a chilly and damp Shea hours before gametime and seemed loose and ready to go. Reliever John Franco willingly opened up about the possibility of playing the New York Yankees in a Subway Series. Pitchers joked around as they waited for their turn in the batting cage.
"I think the clubhouse is like it always is," Agbayani said. "We're relaxed, but we know we have to take care of business tonight."
Said Mets manager Bobby Valentine: "The team is pretty much the same. This is a very exciting game. And I think we'll put our best foot forward.
"I'm hoping, if there was urgency last night, the same attitude prevails tonight."
A light but steady drizzle fell as the Cardinals finished their batting practice. But the grounds crew quickly broke out a tarp to cover the infield. Because of the tight postseason schedule and the havoc a rainout would play on television schedule, officials will try to squeeze in this game any way possible.
Just as the Mets were ready to make way for the Cardinals on the field, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa talked about his revamped lineup. The main changes are Placido Polanco, batting second, for third baseman Fernando Tatis and Eric Davis for J.D. Drew in right.
La Russa also talked about the problems he's had in this series so far.
"In this series, they have played better baseball just enough," La Russa said. "The Mets have played better at the crucial times."
If the Cardinals lose tonight, it will seem a huge collapse, especially after easily handling the defending NL champion Atlanta Braves in a three-game sweep in the first round. La Russa explained his team's predicament easily.
"Because, at the key time [against the Braves]," he said, "we had the at-bat and made the right pitch."
The Mets have taken that away from the Cards, of course, with timely hitting and solid pitching of their own. When they've been down, as they were 2-0 after half an inning of Game 4 on Sunday night, they've come back.
When they've been ahead, they've managed to keep the Cardinals just far enough away, for the most part.
"We're a scrappy ballclub," Agbayani said, a tag the club clearly enjoys. "We're a team that makes everything look hard."
A win tonight, though, and the Mets would be on Easy Street.