Work in Sports
FLUSHING, New York (Ticker) -- Bobby Jones picked an opportune time to pitch the best game of his life.
Sent to the minors in June, Jones threw a one-hitter and faced three batters over the minimum as the New York Mets advanced to the National League Championship Series for the second straight year with a 4-0 victory over the San Francisco Giants.
A bit of a surprise to start Game Four, Jones dominated San Francisco, which compiled the best record in the major leagues. The 30-year-old righthander tossed the second shutout in Mets' playoff history and the first postseason one-hit shutout since Boston's Jim Lonborg blanked St. Louis in the 1967 World Series.
"I just had good stuff," Jones said. "I have to throw strikes and I can't fall behind. I was on the same page with Mike (Piazza) the whole game. I said before that if I'm not hitting my spots, then I'm going to give up hits. Tonight, I just felt I could throw the ball where I wanted to."
"He was just locating well," batterymate Piazza said. "You knew he had good stuff right away. He's not going to light up the radar guns. You have to locate and he did that."
The Fresno, California native capped his masterpiece by retiring Barry Bonds, who once again played the role of goat, on a line drive to center field.
The Mets never have had a no-hitter but Jones' gem closed out the NL Division Series in four games and allowed them to remain unbeaten in best-of-five series at 4-0. The Giants, who were held scoreless over the final 17 innings of the series, fell to 0-3.
"We came in here and sat down (in the clubhouse) and didn't know if we should take our pants off. We all had confidence we could win this thing," said Jeff Kent, who recorded the only hit, a fifth-inning double. "It will take a while to sink in."
The wild card Mets face the Central Division champion Cardinals in a best-of-seven series beginning Wednesday night at Busch Stadium.
Jones (1-0) was 1-3 with a 10.19 ERA after getting blown out by the rival New York Yankees on June 10. The Mets asked him to accept a demotion to the minors to work on his mechanics. After returning on June 23, he won 10 of his last 13 starts and went six innings in 14 of 19 outings.
"For me, it was an easy decision," said Jones of voluntarily going to the minor leagues. "I wasn't helping the ballclub. After experiencing the playoffs last year and not being a part of it. I wanted to come back in the best shape I've ever been in. I wanted to experience this."
"If he needed vindication, I'm glad he got it," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "But Bobby has earned everything he has done. He's a pro. Look it up in the dictionary and you'll see his picture besides the word 'pro.'" Valentine opted to go with Jones over lefthander Glendon Rusch, who had defeated the Giants in August. Jones rewarded his manager's faith by retiring the side in order in all but one inning.
Staked to a lead on a first-inning two-run homer by Robin Ventura, Jones allowed his lone hit to Kent in the fifth. After the former Met narrowly missed a home run down the left field line, he lined a double just over the glove of Ventura at third.
"It tipped off the top of my glove," Ventura said. "I got a little piece on it."
Ellis Burks advanced Kent to third with a fly ball and Jones walked J.T. Snow. After getting Rich Aurilia to pop out to shallow left field, Jones pitched around Doug Mirabelli and walked San Francisco's catcher to load the bases.
Down by two runs and dominated by Jones, Giants manager Dusty Baker opted to let starting pitcher Mark Gardner hit for himself. Just a .116 hitter during the regular season, Gardner popped weakly to second to end the only threat the Giants had.
"No. I don't regret it, because if you don't have a full bullpen, you don't have a full bullpen," Baker said. "There's nothing to regret."
Jones struck out five and threw 73 of 116 pitches for strikes. He struck out Bonds twice and retired the last 13 batters in order.
"Well, he was changing speeds and getting strike one, and then he had the at-'em bomb work pretty good," Baker said. "We hit some balls extremely hard in the game, but we just couldn't find any holes. First inning, we had three bullets hit. All you can do is hit the ball."
"They got the big hits and we didn't," Aurilia said. "We had guys in position. He had the big slow breaking ball. Plus we hadn't seen him in a year, and I think we didn't know what to expect."
Gardner, who attended Fresno State just ahead of Jones, allowed four runs and four hits over 4 1/3 innings. Former Met Doug Henry, Alan Embree and Miguel Del Toro held New York in check over the final 3 2/3 innings but the Giants were unable to rally.
Gardner got the first two batters of the game and got two strikes on Mets slugger Mike Piazza. After a pitch out of the strike zone, Piazza took a very close pitch for ball two. Gardner clearly wanted the pitch, lost his focus and walked Piazza.
Ventura, 1-for-12 in the series to that point, lined the next pitch over the wall in right field for a 2-0 lead.
"That wasn't going through my mind," Ventura said of his slump. "It was more of just seeing the pitch and hitting it. At this point, it doesn't matter what I did in the regular season."
Still clinging to a 2-0 lead in the fifth, the Mets took advantage of a bad break to score twice. After Gardner got Bordick to ground to shortstop, Jones reached when a third strike rolled away from Mirabelli.
Rookie Timoniel Perez blooped a double into right and Edgardo Alfonzo, who drove in five runs with his five hits in the series, lined a two-run double to center field.
With the bullpen ready, Jones got Marvin Benard to ground to first and Bill Mueller to bounce to second before retiring Bonds. One of the leading candidates for an unprecedented fourth Most Valuable Player Award, Bonds did nothing to diminish his reputation as a poor clutch player.
The Giants' left fielder was 3-for-17 in the series with two of the hits coming in his first two at-bats of the series. His batting average in postseason play dropped to .196 and he has driven in just six runs in 97 October at-bats.
"What do you want me to say? They played better," Bonds said. "I don't think we were held down. He just changed speeds on us and we couldn't get the big hit.
Jones' teammate Al Leiter offered his take on the effort.
"He absolutely nailed it in the game of his life," he said.