Work in Sports
Perez and Payton each had big run-scoring hits and the Mets overcame a potentially crushing homer by J.T. Snow to defeat the San Francisco Giants, 5-4, in 10 innings and even the National League Division Series at one game apiece.
The manic Mets had the game, gave it away and reclaimed it in front of a raucous sellout crowd at Pacific Bell Park. They sent the series back to Shea Stadium in New York for Games Three and Four this weekend.
"We're going back to our ballpark," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "We proved to ourselves we could win here, a tough win, and everyone knows we can win here, in case we have to come back. I think our fans are going to try to outdo their fans, and that should be a challenge for the Giants."
"It was a heck of a turnaround in a short period of time," Giants manager Dusty Baker said. "A lot happened. We went a long ways, many innings in the game without anything happening."
Making his first postseason start, Perez collected three hits, including a two-run single in the second inning that starter Al Leiter made stand up. When Perez singled and scored on a homer by Edgardo Alfonzo in the ninth, the Mets had a 4-1 lead.
But Snow connected for a three-run pinch homer in the bottom half off closer Armando Benitez, tying the game and apparently deflating the Mets, who were two outs from a win.
"Some people thought that home run took our heart out. I thought it just fired us up," Valentine said.
"I wasn't down after Snow's homer," Payton said. "That's the point in the game where we wanted to clinch it and get the game over. It was tied then; it wasn't over. We knew we were going to get another chance."
In the top of the 10th, Felix Rodriguez (0-1) retired the first two batters before pinch-hitter Darryl Hamilton doubled to right-center.
"I was thinking about Wednesday's at-bat, when Rodriguez struck me out and did that little dance," Hamilton said. "I really wanted a hit in this at-bat. It's the most intense I've ever been going to the plate. I wanted to find a way to get a hit after what he did to me. It was a great, nasty pitch he got me out on before. Tonight, I got him."
"When you have a good hitter at the plate and make a mistake, you pay," Rodriguez said. "I made three mistakes tonight. I paid all three times."
Payton, a solid candidate for the NL Rookie of the Year but 0-for-7 in the series, lined the next pitch up the middle to plate Hamilton with the go-ahead run.
"It was a pretty hard slider that got too much of the plate," Payton said. "It's a definite high for us."
"We chose to pitch to Payton because he hits well against lefthanders and struggles against righthanders," Baker said. "And I thought about walking him to get to (Mike) Bordick, but they'd have probably (pinch) hit Lenny Harris."
Benitez couldn't get it right in the 10th, either. He gave up a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Armando Rios and John Franco came on. After a sacrifice and a fielder's choice, Franco got Barry Bonds to look at a 3-2 changeup to end the game.
"I've gotten him with that pitch a couple of times this year," Franco said. "I knew it was over the plate, but it was just a matter of if the umpire would call it a strike. He was a little delayed in the call."
It was the type of back-and-forth game the Mets played last October, when they reached the NL Championship Series. All but one of their seven postseason victories over the last two years have come via late-inning rallies.
"Coming back to win in the 10th shows we're strong enough mentally not to ever give up," Leiter said. "That was a huge momentum shift, both ways, in a matter of moments."
"The home run doesn't mean anything now. We lost the game," Snow said. "A loss is a loss, but to go from the high we were on, that's tough. I'd trade all that excitement, that incredible high, for a win."
In a game marked by dramatic turns, it was a couple of twists that dominated the early going.
Perez led off and played right field in place of Derek Bell, who twisted his ankle in Game One and is on crutches. After he was struck out on a curveball by Shawn Estes to open the game, Perez stroked a curve up the middle for a two-run single with two out in the second, giving the Mets the lead.
"Timo is great," Payton said. "He plays with no fear. He's confident. You can tell watching him play he has confidence in his ability."
"Perez is the guy we knew the least about," Baker said. "We've never seen him before. Those are the kind of guys who usually hurt you until you learn who they are. He played a heck of a game."
The Giants got one back in the bottom half on an RBI double by Ellis Burks, who hit a three-run homer in Game One.
Leiter was untouchable from that point. In eight-plus innings, he allowed five hits and three walks while striking out six as the lefthander repeatedly made big pitches and got some timely help from his defense.
"I would've loved to win 4-1, but I'll just take three or four extra Pepto-Bismols tonight and I'll be fine," Leiter joked.
Another twist worked against the Giants. In the bottom of the third, Estes led off with a walk and one out later, Bill Mueller hit a grounder in the hole. Estes beat the throw to second but did not slide. He twisted his left ankle against the bag and hobbled away, only to be tagged out.
X-rays were negative and Estes was diagnosed with a sprain. But he killed a rally and forced the Giants to adjust their rotation for the rest of the series as Kirk Rueter had to come on.
"That sort of eliminates Kirk Rueter for a few days, because he threw 71 pitches," Baker said. "So if there's a Game Four, we'll have to make a decision to go with (Mark) Gardner or move up Livan Hernandez on three days' rest."
Rueter shut down the Mets over the next 4 1/3 innings. Doug Henry got the final two outs of the eighth, but the Giants could not solve Leiter, who got Mueller on a double play to end the eighth.
Rodriguez got the first two outs of the ninth, but Perez singled and Alfonzo launched his fourth career postseason homer into the left-center field seats. Alfonzo hit a go-ahead grand slam in Game One of the 1999 NLDS at Arizona.
Bonds, whose postseason shortcomings have been well-chronicled, stroked a double to open the ninth and chase Leiter. Benitez gave up an infield hit to Jeff Kent and got Burks on a popout before Snow lifted a high fly down the right-field line that struck the landing atop the wall and tied the game.
It was Snow's first career pinch homer and the seventh allowed by Benitez in the postseason, the most in major league history.
After Payton's big hit, the Giants nearly tied it again. Rios opened the 10th with a single and pinch-hitter Marvin Benard bunted him over. Mueller hit a grounder to shortstop but Rios tried to go to third and was thrown out by Bordick to set the stage for Bonds.
"It was a mental mistake on my part," Rios said. "You have to stay strong in your mind and I made a huge mistake."