Work in Sports
Updated: Friday October 13, 2000 3:10 AM
Payton's RBI single in the top of the ninth inning scored Joe McEwing with the go-ahead run as the New York Mets took command of the National League Championship Series with a 6-5 victory over the Cardinals.
The victory was the latest thriller for the Mets, who have scored the go-ahead run in their final at-bat in seven of their last 11 postseason victories. The win gave the Mets a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which switches to Shea Stadium in New York on Saturday afternoon.
Twenty-eight of the last 32 teams to take a 2-0 lead in the LCS have gone on to win the series.
"We know what it takes to win," Mets second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo said. "The one thing we just set our mind to, to never give up, just keep fighting until the end. And tonight, one more time, we proved it. That was a great feeling after Jay got the big hit and we won."
"It's going to be tough, we have our backs to the wall," McGwire said. "We are going into their town and they have been playing great all year. We definitely have our work cut out for us."
After St. Louis rallied for a pair of runs to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth inning, La Russa inserted McGwire to pinch-hit for closer Dave Veres. The Mets immediately walked McGwire, nullifying baseball's single-season home run leader.
"This is a game that you keep the card tonight and you replay it," La Russa responded when asked to detail his strategy in the eighth. "Usually if there's a time where I'm kicking myself, I recognize it at the time and I'm kicking myself already. Right now, without looking at it again, I'm not sure that I would have done something different. Maybe if you ask me tomorrow, I might give you a different answer once I replayed it."
With their closer gone, St. Louis turned to Mike Timlin (0-1). Robin Ventura reached on an error by first baseman Will Clark and took second on a sacrifice by Benny Agbayani. McEwing ran for Ventura and Payton capped a six-pitch at-bat with a single to center field that Gold Glove center fielder Jim Edmonds misplayed for a two-base error.
"You go out and you take ground balls everyday," Clark said. "You try to get every hop possible. I just flat out booted that one."
"I didn't do much today," Edmonds said. "I had situations where I could have put the ball in play or drive a run in and I didn't. Then I made a bad play at the end. So, I feel I pretty much lost the game all by myself."
Payton, who was hitting just .179 in the postseason prior to the at-bat, also drove in the go-ahead run in the 10th inning of Game Two of the Division Series against San Francisco.
"There's no one on the team, maybe no one in the league who has as much confidence in himself as Jay Payton," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "He didn't have any hits going into that at-bat, but I know he believed deep down in his heart, right down to his toes, that he was the best man in that situation."
"For me, I've been through a lot off the field with my surgeries to the point where I didn't think I would play again," Payton said. "Everybody asks me how I don't get down after -- I had a couple opportunities during the game to drive in runs and didn't get the job done. There's nothing I can go through on the field that can compare to what I go through off the field."
Armando Benitez easily retired the first two batters in the ninth but pitched around Edmonds, walking him on five pitches. With light-hitting Carlos Hernandez at the plate and only Rick Wilkins on the bench, Benitez went right after the Cardinals' catcher, striking him out on four pitches.
The Mets are 3-0 in one-run games in the postseason.
"We can't let up," Mets catcher Mike Piazza said. "We just have to keep going. We are happy about this win but we are not done by any means at all. Hopefully, we will come out aggressive at home."
Mets starter Al Leiter allowed three runs and eight hits over seven innings. He did not walk a batter and struck out nine. Leiter has gone nine straight postseason starts without a win but his team is 6-3 in those outings.
For the second straight night the Mets struck early. Alfonzo walked with one out and took second when Cardinals rookie starter Rick Ankiel uncorked a wild pitch. Piazza walked and on the fourth ball, Ankiel threw another wild pitch to put runners at the corners.
Former Cardinal Todd Zeile lofted a sacrifice fly to center field but Ventura walked and Benny Agbayani made it 2-0 with a double to left-center field. After Ankiel started Payton with a ball, La Russa turned to rookie Britt Reames, who escaped the jam by striking out the Mets' center fielder.
St. Louis got a run in the second on a groundout by Eli Marrero, but New York answered immediately in the third when Piazza buried a 1-2 pitch over the right field wall for a 3-1 lead.
New York loaded the bases in the fourth but Reames got Ventura to ground out. The Cardinals knotted the contest in the fifth. Former Met farmhand Fernando Vina beat out a bunt and scored on Edgar Renteria's double into the left field corner.
Renteria stole his third base of the game, tying the NLCS record, but Leiter got Edmonds on a shallow fly ball. Fernando Tatis, hitless in four at-bats in the postseason, lined a double down the left field line that tied the game, 3-3.
The Mets stranded a runner at third in the seventh but broke through for two runs after two were out in the eighth. Rookie Timoniel Perez singled with two outs and scored on Alfonzo's long single into the right-center field gap.
After Alfonzo took second on Edmonds' throw to the plate, Piazza was intentionally walked and La Russa was forced to double-switch his closer into the game. Zeile greeted Veres with a single to left for a 5-3 lead.
John Franco took over for Leiter and allowed a one-out walk to Hernandez. Clark singled to put runners at the corners and Franco uncorked a wild pitch after throwing just two in the regular season.
Shawon Dunston, who participated in last year's NLCS with the Mets, grounded out and La Russa went to work. He got a great lefty-righty matchup with J.D. Drew facing Turk Wendell (1-0). After Wendell got ahead 0-2, Drew drilled a single into center field to tie the game.
La Russa said he called on Drew to stop at first base but after he went to second, the Cardinals manager still sent McGwire to the plate with the base open. McGwire was immediately walked and Wendell got Paquette to preserve the tie.
"Well, I'm not so sure Turk against Drew was exactly the match you wanted, but that's what it came down to and they tied the score with it," Valentine said. "But there's a lot of stuff going on, there's no doubt about that."
"The biggest reason was we had a chance to win the game with a position player coming to bat," La Russa explained when asked about the McGwire move. "So it came down to Paquette with a chance to put us ahead, and it's a shame."
After setting a major league record with five wild pitches in an inning in his last start, Ankiel recorded just two outs tonight. The promising 21-year-old lefthander walked three, threw four pitches to the backstop, including two wild pitches.
The game fell one minute shy of four hours, the longest nine-inning game in NLCS history.