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Mets' Jones Is No Softy as He Eliminates Giants in One-Hit, 4-0 Victory

October 09, 2000|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — His fastball doesn't seem fast enough to break a plate-glass window. His curve has less snap than overcooked linguine. And his changeup . . . who knew he even threw one, considering most of his non-breaking pitches are clocked between 82-86 mph?

This is the stuff New York Met pitcher Bobby J. Jones took to the Shea Stadium mound Sunday, and it is the stuff the San Francisco Giants will have trouble shaking from their heads all winter, when they're kicking themselves for letting such a soft-serving right-hander knock them out of the playoffs.

Jones came within an inch or two of a no-hitter before settling for a complete game one-hitter to lead the Mets to a National League division series-clinching 4-0 victory over the Giants.

A raucous crowd of 56,245, which stood for the entire ninth inning, saw Jones retire the side in order in eight of nine innings, as the Mets won the series, three games to one. They will open the NL championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday in St. Louis.

Third baseman Robin Ventura gave the Mets an early lead with a two-run homer off Giant starter Mark Gardner in the first, and second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo, who some think is the best player in New York--yes, even better than Derek Jeter--added a key two-run double in the fifth.

Ventura came up just short in his leaping attempt of Jeff Kent's fifth- inning liner, which nicked off his glove and into left field for a double that turned out to be the Giants' only hit.

Jones, showing that command and location are more important than velocity, struck out five and walked two, spotting his fastballs in and out, up and down, changing speeds and mixing in the occasional 65-mph lollipop curve.

Jones got Barry Bonds to fly to center for the last out, and when Jay Payton clutched the ball in his glove, it set off an intense celebration near second base, where the Mets looked like they were auditioning a new Olympic sport: synchronized jumping.

"It was the greatest moment of my career," said Jones, the former Fresno State star who struggled so much in the first half of 2000 he was demoted to triple-A Tidewater in June. "I didn't really know what to do, because I've never been in a situation like that."

After losing Game 1 in San Francisco, the Mets won Game 2 in 10 innings Thursday, surviving Giant first baseman J.T. Snow's three-run, tying homer in the ninth. They won Game 3 in even more dramatic fashion Saturday, as Benny Agbayani homered in the 13th.

"There's not much more of this you can take," New York reliever John Franco said of the Mets' emotionally draining playoff games. "Gray hair is coming out. Fingernails are short. Stomachs hurt."

No need for the Maalox on Sunday.

When Jones retired the first 12 batters, four on strikeouts, many in Shea began to wonder if the fact that Jones was starting on the 44th anniversary of Yankee pitcher Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series was more than just coincidence.

Kent made sure history didn't repeat itself by doubling to start the fifth, but Jones wiggled out of the jam. Ellis Burks flied to right, Kent taking third, and Jones walked Snow. Rich Aurilia followed with a fly to medium left, but Kent didn't test Agbayani's arm.

Jones gave No. 8 batter Doug Mirabelli little to hit, walking him on five pitches to load the bases for Gardner. With the Giant bullpen worn out from pitching seven innings in Game 2 and seven in Game 3, San Francisco Manager Dusty Baker let Gardner hit, figuring the Giants had enough time to make up a two-run deficit. Gardner flied weakly to right.

"I don't regret the decision," Baker said. "We were short on pitching, and it was only the fifth inning. It was too early to pinch-hit. I figured we'd get some more runs."

Who wouldn't? Jones' pitches have such little velocity it appears a high school team could hit him, but killing them softly may have been the best approach against the Giants.

"Bobby Jones was probably the perfect guy to throw in this situation because he's going against a team that has to do something," Kent said. "When you have to win, you have a tendency to try to force the issue. . . .

"He was ho-humming everything--and I mean that in a good way--but we didn't ho-hum with him. You've got to control all that aggressiveness against him, and that's hard. I know I tried to do too much with some at-bats."

The early deficit didn't help the Giants. They began pressing, and Jones, sensing their mounting frustration, responded by expanding the strike zone, getting the Giants to swing at pitches off the plate.

"Those guys were trying to get it all back with one swing," Met catcher Mike Piazza said. "If you're able to prey off that aggressiveness and get hitters out because of it, it takes them out of their game a little bit."

And out of the postseason.

"We're an aggressive club, and guys like that have given us more problems than hard throwers," Snow said. "He just kept us off-balance all night."

NLCS

ST. LOUIS vs. NEW YORK

Wednesday

METS

Hampton 15-11

at CARDINALS

Kile 21-9

5:15 p.m.

Thursday

at St. Louis,

5:15 p.m.

Saturday

at New York,

1:15 p.m.

Sunday

at New York,

5 p.m.

If necessary

Monday, Oct. 16

at New York,

5:15 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct. 18

at St. Louis,

1:15 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 19

at St. Louis,

5:15 p.m.

* TV: Channel 11

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