Work in Sports
FLUSHING, New York (Ticker) -- The New York Mets recorded five doubles in the opening inning, but it was a pair of errors by Fernando Tatis that put them on the brink of their first World Series appearance in 14 years.
The Mets overcame a two-run deficit by opening the bottom of the first inning with four straight doubles and scored seven times over the first two frames en route to a wild 10-6 triumph over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Four of the National League Championship Series.
The victory, which left New York with a 3-1 lead in the series, was sealed by a couple of key defensive plays, some clutch relief pitching by Glendon Rusch and Tatis' miscues that allowed the Mets to tack on two pivotal runs in the sixth.
After being routed, 8-2, on Saturday, the Mets got the offense going quickly tonight. St. Louis' Jim Edmonds hit a two-run homer off Mets starter Bobby Jones in the top of the first, but rookie Timoniel Perez, Edgardo Alfonzo, Mike Piazza, Robin Ventura and Benny Agbayani doubled off Cardinals starter Darryl Kile (1-2) in the bottom half.
New York pushed across three more runs in the second as former Cardinal Todd Zeile ripped a two-run double into the left-field corner. Agbayani followed with an RBI single for a 7-2 lead.
"Fortunately we had good at-bats against him and we were able to get some runners on, set the tone," Piazza said. "Timo and Fonzie, we've just given ourselves opportunities to score runs. That's what we've done in the past when we've been successful. It's just good team offense."
"We got a few and then it snowballed," Ventura said. "You can't come to the park thinking every day is going to be like that."
The Cardinals chipped away and were within 8-6 in the sixth when Tatis committed a pair of errors that proved very costly. Mike Bordick opened the inning with a walk and Rusch got down a two-strike bunt. Perez grounded sharply to third but Tatis' throw was wide of the first base bag.
Alfonzo was hit by a pitch to load the bases but Mike Timlin got Mike Piazza to ground weakly to Tatis. But the Cardinals third baseman booted the grounder as Bordick scored for a three-run lead. Ventura followed with a sacrifice fly and the advantage was 10-6.
"Soon as that ball was hit, I slipped," Timlin said. "I don't know how much it would have mattered, but it would have taken the pressure off us. ... We've normally got phenomenal defense. We always throw it where we want it. We just didn't do that today."
"The way the game was played, the two spot that they put up in the sixth (was really huge)," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "A leadoff walk, slipped on the bunt, that was right back to him. Third base missed plays. That's a tough two to give up. We couldn't overcome it."
Rusch (1-0) got through the seventh with the help of a poor baserunning decision by Shawon Dunston, who was cut down at second by Perez trying to advance on a flyout to right field. Rusch bailed out Jones with three scoreless innings, allowing just three singles.
"He's a tough kid," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "He's pitched great for us. He's very competitive and he throws strikes, which is really important. Those are the three huge innings. I mean, we don't win the game without that kind of performance, I don't think."
"I think the big part was that Glendon gave us some quality innings," Zeile said. "He was able to fill that middle role that we really needed until we got to the guys that we wanted in the eighth."
John Franco took over in the eighth and got the first two batters before Ray Lankford walked and Tatis singled. Former Met Craig Paquette pinch-hit for J.D. Drew and grounded out softly to third base.
Armando Benitez started the ninth and allowed a single to Carlos Hernandez. Pinch-hitter Placido Polanco walked but the Mets' hard-throwing closer got Fernando Vina to ground out to shortstop. Edgar Renteria struck out before Benitez got Edmonds to fly out to right for the final out.
"Obviously we want to end it right here," Piazza said. "I mean that's our goal. We don't want to go back to St. Louis. We have our guy on the mound that is just -- has pitched great for us. That's our plan. We want to take care of it tomorrow and hopefully come out and score runs and win the game."
The Cardinals appeared poised to pick up where they left off Saturday when Vina led off the game with a double and scored one out later on a home run by Edmonds.
Trailing 2-0, the Mets went right to work against Kile in the first. Perez led off with a long double and Alfonzo doubled down the right field line. Piazza launched a double off the right field wall and Ventura doubled into the right-center gap to tie the game. After Zeile grounded out, Agbayani doubled off the wall for a 4-2 lead.
Jones righted the ship in the second and Perez got the Mets going again in the bottom of the frame. Perez singled, stole second and took third on a flyout. La Russa opted to intentionally walk Piazza and Ventura walked on four pitches to load the bases.
Zeile lined an 0-2 pitch into the corner for a 6-2 lead and Agbayani blooped a single into center field for a five-run cushion. The Mets might have had a chance for more in the inning but Zeile was thrown out at the plate on Agbayani's base hit.
Will Clark homered off Jones with one out in the fourth but Perez opened the bottom half with a walk and Mike James replaced Kile. During the pitching change, Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan engaged in a heated dispute with second base umpire Steve Rippley and was ejected.
James got Alfonzo to fly out and Perez was caught stealing. Piazza then put New York ahead 8-3 with a long home run to left field, his second of the postseason and fourth career in the playoffs.
Jones allowed singles to Drew and Hernandez before pinch-hitter Eric Davis doubled down the left-field line. Rusch came on, struck out Vina and got Renteria on a sacrifice fly to right. Edmonds followed with a single to slice the deficit to 8-6.
The Cardinals threatened in the sixth when Zeile came up with a key defensive play. Ray Lankford led off the inning with a single but Rusch got the next two batters. With Mark McGwire on deck, Zeile made a diving stab of a ground ball hit by Hernandez to end the inning.
"I knew he would come to the plate if I didn't get Hernandez out," Rusch said. "But I just went after Hernandez the same way."
Jones allowed six runs and six hits over four-plus innings. He did not walk a batter but was nowhere near as effective as he was last Sunday, when he one-hit the San Francisco Giants in the NL Division Series.
"The big thing was I was not as sharp with my location," Jones said. "In the last game, I was able to get ahead a lot. You miss by a little and they will be able to hit you. That will cost you."
Kile became the latest pitcher to do poorly on three day's rest. He was tagged for seven runs and eight hits over three-plus innings. He remains slated to start a Game Seven if neccesary.
"It doesn't matter how must rest I get," Kile said. "I had a job to do tonight and I didn't get it done. I was up in the zone, and when I'm up like that I get hit."
"I think his stuff was good," La Russa said. "His location was off. I thought his location was off more than his fastball. He couldn't get a called strike on a curveball. There was some dispute about whether his curveballs were strikes or not, but it changed some counts around. They don't usually say that, but I believe it. But it made some important count changes."