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Everyone Is Pitching In for the Mets

Game 1: Hampton is the latest to take command with 6-2 victory as New York staff gets Cardinals to strand 11 runners.


ST. LOUIS — Truly, the best way to describe the feats of the New York Mets' pitching staff of late is, well, amazin'.

What other word illustrates a staff that has not given up an earned run in its last 27 innings of playoff baseball?

The streak is more impressive considering that the Mets' 6-2 victory Wednesday night in Game 1 of the National League championship series came against a powerful and well-rested St. Louis Cardinal club that had swept the defending NL champion Atlanta Braves.

More good news for the wild-card Mets, who dispatched San Francisco in four games of a division series: The last seven winners of NL championship series openers have advanced to the World Series.

Met starter Mike Hampton, who was acquired in an off-season trade with the Houston Astros last winter, picked up the victory, quieting a Busch Stadium sellout crowd of 52,255. The left-hander threw seven shutout innings and gave up six hits and struck out four while walking three in 112 pitches, 66 of which were strikes.

Fellow left-hander John Franco pitched a scoreless eighth before closer Armando Benitez was victimized by a pair of Met errors, leading to two Cardinal runs in the ninth.

St. Louis starter Darryl Kile took the loss, giving up three runs on five hits in seven innings. He walked two and struck out one.

Cardinal reliever Mike James gave up three runs, on a pair of ninth-inning homers.

But the focus was on Hampton's outing.

"His performance was fabulous," Met Manager Bobby Valentine said of his starter. "There had been some doubt cast over Mike because of a small sample of his postseason play. I think he erased those doubts and got us a big win.

"Those were seven fabulous innings."

Hampton downplayed his performance.

"It wasn't pretty, but it worked," he said. "I didn't have the greatest stuff. My command wasn't as good early as I would have liked it to have been. I felt as the game went on . . . I got a little bit more comfortable.

"As good as this team is, as good as the Cardinals are, they never let you breathe. You've got guys coming at you from all angles. It's a tough chore, a tough job to face a lineup as good as theirs."

With the Cardinals outhitting the Mets, 9-8, and New York committing three errors, it was a game of blown opportunities for St. Louis.

Consider: the Cardinals were 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position and tied a franchise championship series record by stranding 11 runners. St. Louis also left 11 runners on base twice in the 1982 championship series against the Braves, in Games 1 and 3, and left 11 on board in Game 3 of the 1985 championship series against the Dodgers. Strangely, the Cardinals won those three games.

"We had some chances with men in scoring position," Cardinal Manager Tony La Russa said. "[Hampton] made quality pitches.

"Our guy [Kile] gets the loss, but I thought they were both impressive, tough to hit. I like the way we played, but I didn't like the score."

New York rookie Timo Perez got things going in a hurry for the Mets with a leadoff double into the right-field corner. After moving to third on a Kile wild pitch, Mike Piazza fisted a double down the third base line, scoring Perez and moving Edgardo Alfonzo, who had walked, to third.

Alfonzo came home on Robin Ventura's sacrifice fly to left, giving the Mets a 2-0 lead.

The Mets extended their lead in the fifth when Alfonzo singled to left-center, allowing Hampton, who reached base on an infield single, to score.

Todd Zeile's solo home run on a 1-and-2 James pitch led off the ninth before Benny Agbayani singled. Jay Payton followed with a two-run homer into the left-field seats off a first-pitch offering from James.

The Cardinals scored a pair of unearned runs in the bottom of the ninth.

Ray Lankford, whose pinch-hit double led off the inning, scored with two out when shortstop Kurt Abbott, in the game after Mike Bordick was hit by a pitch on the right thumb in the ninth, threw away an Edgar Renteria grounder. Renteria came home a batter later when Perez misplayed Jim Edmonds' sinking line-drive single in right.

Valentine was not downcast about his pitching staff's overall consecutive inning postseason scoreless streak ending at 26 2/3 innings in the ninth.

"If they're going to score," Valentine said, "that's a great time for them to score. Now we have to start it going again."

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