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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS / NATIONAL LEAGUE

Giants, Mets Are Feeling the Pressure

Baseball: Disappointing end to surprising season inevitable for one team.

October 04, 2000|From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Either the New York Mets or the San Francisco Giants will end a season of great expectations with a disappointing first-round playoff loss.

Those high stakes--and that small margin for error--have GiantGeneral Manager Brian Sabean worried.

"The series scares me," Sabean said. "I think the biggest reason is that [both] teams are very powerful. The 97 wins and the home-field advantage doesn't mean [anything] until we get out of the first round."

San Francisco takes on the Mets in the best-of-five division series beginning today at Pacific Bell Park. The Giants' 97 victories gave them baseball's best record, the NL West title and the right to open the playoffs with the first postseason game at their beautiful new park.

Those victories also put what Barry Bonds called "a big responsibility" on their postseason play. San Francisco, which also had baseball's best home record, would be embarrassed by an early playoff exit.

Despite their lofty record, the Giants are in unfamiliar territory. They haven't won a postseason game in Manager Dusty Baker's eight-year tenure and have made the playoffs only once previously, in 1997.

The Mets, with consecutive postseason appearances for the first time in team history and baseball's fifth-highest payroll at $89.8 million, might need to win the series for Manager Bobby Valentine and General Manager Steve Phillips to keep their jobs.

"The Mets are a very experienced and deep ballclub," Sabean said. "Coming in here for the first two games won't bother them at all, and we know how tough they are at home. This is going to be hard fought. It certainly to me is a coin flip."

Pitching is likely the key in a series matching two strong staffs in this era of homers and 20-run games. Each team has five starters who won at least 11 games this season, and quality bullpens.

"I know going into the series that there aren't going to be a lot of runs scored," said Al Leiter, who will start Game 2 for the Mets. "I always have to assume that as a starter."

The Mets' first trip to San Francisco this season wasn't a pleasant one--and not just because Giant fans love to boo the Mets more than any team except the Dodgers. New York was swept in a four-game series in May that featured two bench-clearing fights and accusations of beanballing.

But New York won three of four when San Francisco visited Shea Stadium in August.

"Whatever's happened in the regular season is done," Met outfielder Darryl Hamilton said. "It's a totally new season now. We've got our work cut out for us on the West Coast."

That's a sentiment echoed by Sabean, who takes pride in the Giants' second-half surge to baseball's best record, but doesn't assign it much value.

"All it means is that in the year 2000, we figured out the regular season," Sabean said.

SAN FRANCISCO vs. N.Y. METS

Today: New York (Hampton 15-10) at San Francisco (Hernandez 17-11), 1 p.m., ESPN

Thursday: New York (Leiter 16-8) at San Francisco (Estes 15-6), 5:15 p.m., Channel 11

Saturday: San Francisco (Ortiz 13-12) at New York (Reed 11-5), TBA

* Sunday: San Francisco at New York, TBA

* Monday: New York at San Francisco, TBA

* If necessary All times PDT

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