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Valentine Is Focused On Beating Team, Not La Russa

October 12, 2000|PAUL GUTIERREZ

ST. LOUIS — In his fifth season managing the New York Mets, Bobby Valentine knows firsthand how fickle and temperamental the New York media and fans can be.

So entering the Mets' second National League championship series in as many years, Valentine doesn't lend much credence to Gotham's fair-weather notion that he has outmanaged the likes of former Arizona Diamondback manager Buck Showalter and San Francisco Giant Manager Dusty Baker in the Mets' last two playoff series victories.

"The only thing that happens when you are talking about outmanaging, is that players perform," Valentine said before Game 1 of the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals. "If you make eight different moves during a game and seven of them work out and the last one, whether it's a pitching move when the pitcher gives up a home run or [your] pinch-hitter strikes out with the bases loaded. . . . If a player doesn't do something, then you're foiled."

Valentine has led the Mets to consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in franchise history, something not even former Dodger manager Davey Johnson accomplished in six-plus years with the Mets. But Valentine has pulled it off in an era of expansion and wild cards while Johnson, baseball's winningest active--though currently unemployed--manager, did win a World Series in 1986 and never finished lower than second place at Shea Stadium.

New York's intense love-hate relationship with Valentine ebbs and flows with the wins and losses. Valentine sees it as a result of managers getting too much credit for wins and too much blame for losses.

"As far as outmanaging [St. Louis Manager] Tony La Russa, I don't think that's going to happen," Valentine said. "The Mets are going to have to outplay the Cardinals . . . or vice versa."


With regular catcher Mike Matheny out for the year after severing two tendons and a nerve in his right ring finger on a hunting knife that was given to him as a gift Sept. 29, and Carlos Hernandez slowed by a stiff back, the Cardinals activated Rick Wilkins in time for the series opener. The move gives St. Louis 15 position players and only 10 pitchers, with right-hander Garrett Stephenson being left off the roster.

"Having the ability to pitch a starting pitcher out of the bullpen, I mean, we have seven pitchers that can pitch in this game today and tomorrow," La Russa said, feigning knocking on wood by rapping on a table and then his head. "I mean, that should be a lot of pitchers when you think about a day off on Friday and so forth. You know, with 10 pitchers, you get seven guys on the bench and you have just got to figure you will need that guy on the bench more than you will the extra pitcher."


Rick Ankiel said he feels no undue pressure entering today's Game 2 as the Cardinal starter. Besides, the rookie says, he has felt pressure like this before. Sort of.

"I've also pitched in the Junior Olympics," said Ankiel, who set a modern record with five wild pitches in an inning against the Atlanta Braves last week in Game 1 of their division series. "And at that time, [the pressure] was the same thing for me. So I feel that I have been in this situation before, and I just need to come to the field with my 'A' game."

Met starter Al Leiter, who will oppose Ankiel today, said nerves will be evident.

"You try to eliminate those distractions, but we are human," Leiter said. "And there is a mind, and sometimes it plays to a negative. So I don't know how nervous he is going to be or whatever, but I would say that that is just a common thing that happens to a young player."


Game 1: New York 6, St. Louis 2

Tonight: New York (Leiter 16-8) at St. Louis (Ankiel 11-7), 5:15 p.m.

Saturday: St. Louis (An. Benes 12-9) at New York (Reed 11-5), 1:15 p.m.

Sunday: St. Louis (Kile 20-9) at New York (B.J. Jones 11-6), 5 p.m.

Monday: St. Louis at New York, 5:15 p.m.*

Wednesday: New York at St. Louis, 1:15 p.m.*

Oct. 19: New York at St. Louis, 5:15 p.m.*

TV--Ch. 11; *--if necessary

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