Posted: Saturday October 09, 1999 08:36 PM
FLUSHING, New York (Ticker) -- Todd Pratt said he didn't want to be like Mike. In the biggest moment of his career, he was just that.
Starting his second straight game behind the plate for the injured Mike Piazza, Pratt homered in the bottom of the 10th inning as the New York Mets closed out their National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks with a thrilling 4-3 victory.
The Mets won the best-of-five series, 3-1, and will play the Atlanta Braves in the NL Championship Series, beginning Tuesday night at Turner Field.
"I'm not Mike," Pratt said Friday after it was learned that Piazza, who led the Mets with 40 homers, was sidelined with a swollen left thumb.
After stranding six runners in his three previous at-bats, Pratt made the most of another chance, belting a 1-0 pitch from closer Matt Mantei (0-1) over the center-field fence with one out in the 10th.
"I could have easily been the goat today if the game didn't go into extra innings," Pratt said. "I thought (center fielder Steve Finley) had the ball, actually. Then he put his head down. I didn't see the umpire, but he put his head down. I knew we won the game right then."
"I started him with a curve to try and throw him off. It didn't help," Mantei said. "He crushed that pitch."
Pratt joins the likes of Jim Leyritz, Bucky Dent and Bobby Thomson for hitting famous homers in New York sports history.
"It was a team effort and we really haven't done anything yet, actually," Pratt warned.
The Diamondbacks took their first lead at 3-2 as Jay Bell greeted closer Armando Benitez with a two-out, two-run double in the top of the eighth.
"I've been here three other times and it's difficult," said Bell, who was in the playoffs before with Pittsburgh. "I know from a fan's perspective, this was a terrific baseball game. But these games end quickly when you're on the short end of it."
But the Mets responded with a run in a wild bottom half that included the ejection of third base coach Cookie Rojas following a controversial call by umpire Charlie Williams, who ruled a potential go-ahead double by Darryl Hamilton just foul.
The Mets received another solid effort from Al Leiter, who put them into the playoffs with a two-hit shutout at Cincinnati on Monday. The New Jersey native allowed just three hits and three runs in 7 2/3 innings, losing a chance at a victory on Bell's double. One of the hits allowed by Leiter was a homer to Greg Colbrunn.
"Greg's a former teammate of mine with Florida and he gave me fits today," Leiter said. "But I was happy with my performance. I kept my walks down and the defense was great behind me."
The winner was Staten Island resident John Franco (1-0), who earlier this week pitched in the playoffs for the first time after 878 games, the longest current drought in the majors.
"This is the greatest moment of my career. It's unbelievable to get the win in this game and do it front of the home crowd," Franco said. "Two champagne celebrations in a week after waiting my whole career for one, and the champagne tastes sweeter and sweeter."
Franco, who like Leiter grew up a Mets' fan, pitched a scoreless 10th for his first victory since September 13, 1997 against Montreal. It clinched New York's first postseason series win since the 1986 World Series.
Franco made an excellent play on ex-Met Lenny Harris, catching a high bouncer with his back to the plate before throwing out the runner.
Edgardo Alfonzo hit his third homer of the series for the Mets, who took the opener on a ninth-inning grand slam by their second baseman. The Mets won 18 games in their final at-bat this season and had 47 come-from-behind victories.
Colbrunn hit a fifth-inning homer for Arizona and nearly had another when his seventh-inning fly ball was caught at the warning track.
The loss was a bitter finale to what had been an outstanding season for the Diamondbacks, who won 100 games and a division title in only their second year, by far the fastest in major league history.
"I can tell you the immediate emotion is one of pride," Arizona manager Buck Showalter said. "Is that an emotion? I think it is. Of guys grinding it out. Heck, we were looking over our shoulder at Randy Johnson (in Game Five)."
Had Arizona won, it would have had its ace lefthander on the mound in Sunday's decisive fifth game.
Showalter refused to bring back Johnson on three days' rest because he had faith in Brian Anderson, and the 27-year-old lefthander justified his manager's confidence.
One of the Diamondbacks' hottest pitchers down the stretch, Anderson allowed two runs and seven hits in seven innings. He struck out four without a walk.
Alfonzo opened the scoring with a leadoff homer in the fourth before Colbrunn gave Arizona its first hit and run when by belting a 3-1 pitch from Leiter over the left-field wall with one out in the fifth. The home run snapped a string of 17 consecutive scoreless innings by Leiter, dating to a win over Atlanta on September 29.
The Mets regained the lead in the sixth. Rickey Henderson blooped a single to right and went to third on a one-out single by John Olerud. Benny Agbayani, again batting cleanup due to the absence of Piazza, lined a run-scoring double to right-center field.
Leiter cruised into the eighth before pinch-hitter Turner Ward walked with one out and Tony Womack reached on an infield hit.
Benitez relieved but Bell greeted him with a two-run double off the left-field wall. Luis Gonzalez was intentionally walked before Matt Williams singled to left field, but defensive replacement Melvin Mora threw out Bell at the plate with Pratt making a lunging tag to end the inning.
The 32-year-old Pratt filled in admirably when Piazza went on the disabled list earlier this season, but never before had the chance to play in as important a situation.
The Mets tied it at 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth but missed an excellent chance to take the lead. Gregg Olson walked Alfonzo and Olerud greeted Greg Swindell with a fly ball to deep right field that Womack lost in the sun and dropped at the warning track for an error.
"I just dropped it. The wind was not a factor," Womack said.
"I got there in plenty of time. I should have caught it."
It was a disastrous series for Womack, who started the game at shortstop and moved to right field in the eighth. He was just 2-for-18 and committed the Diamondbacks' sixth error of the series.
Roger Cedeno tied it with a sacrifice fly as Olerud advanced to third. Robin Ventura was intentionally walked before Mantei entered a game with runners on base for the first time as a Diamondback.
He retired Pratt on a fielder's choice before Hamilton sliced a fly ball down the left-field line that landed right at the chalk and was called foul by Williams. Rojas was incensed and shoved the umpire before being ejected. Hamilton eventually walked before Mantei struck out Rey Ordonez to end the inning.
"Cookie was called something and blew a gasket, no doubt," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said.