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Mets Have That Worldly Feeling

The MVP pitcher and the manager of the National League pennant winners prove something to everyone.

October 17, 2000|ROSS NEWHAN

NEW YORK — A crowd of 55,695 left Shea Stadium shaking and swaying Monday night, a mere prelude, perhaps, to a rock and roll Subway Series.

It's strictly up to the New York Yankees now.

The Mets are poised and waiting at the Willets Point station after derailing the St. Louis Cardinals, wrapping up their fourth National League pennant and first since 1986, 7-0, behind a pitcher who guaranteed he would deliver the game of his life and was rewarded with a champagne shower because it was definitely close enough.

Mike Hampton, who is eligible for free agency when the season ends and who refuses to say if he intends to re-sign with the Mets or even if he will consider it, now knows where he will be on Saturday, at least.

The 33-year-old left-hander is likely to pitch the World Series opener--either at Yankee Stadium or Seattle's Safeco Field--and that was one of the reasons he was acquired from the Houston Astros in a five-player trade in December.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday October 27, 2000 Home Edition Sports Part D Page 12 Sports Desk 1 inches; 12 words Type of Material: Correction
New York Met pitcher Mike Hampton's age was incorrect in an Oct. 17 article. He is 28.

Of course, Hampton's first assignment was to help get the Mets there, which he did almost flawlessly in the National League championship series, throwing 16 shutout innings in the Game 1 and 5 victories, redeeming his loss in Game 1 of the division series with the San Francisco Giants. That was his fourth postseason defeat in as many decisions, but no one would now suggest he isn't a big-game pitcher.

In fact, Hampton was selected the most valuable player of the NLCS, eliminating the Cardinals with a complete-game three-hitter that convincingly supported his Sunday guarantee.

Some had been surprised by that, calling it an unusually bold promise from an intense but modest competitor. Hampton, however, disagreed.

"I didn't see it as bold," he said. "I usually don't say things unless I feel them. The team needed a big game, gave me the early cushion, and I was able to focus on every pitch. As much as I was pumped up, I knew what I wanted to do and was able to do it."

Said Manager Bobby Valentine: "Modesty is one of Mike's characteristics, but talent is another. When he had that kind of confidence going in, I was very confident his talent would take over. He did everything that anyone could hope for him to do in what I guess was the biggest game of his life and mine too."

How strange. The Mets are headed to the World Series with a manager who is unsigned beyond this season, a general manager (Steve Phillips) who is unsigned and a No. 1 pitcher who has given no indication of his 2001 intentions, which some suspect is to return to his Houston home.

For Valentine, his future has been wrapped in uncertainty and controversy amid the possibility the Mets will not offer him the three-year contract he wants and are ready to pursue either Lou Piniella or Dusty Baker if he slams the door on his way out, convinced his status should have been resolved after last year's playoff appearance.

Soaked in champagne, however, Valentine played it cool when asked how he felt about the unsettling treatment from the Mets front office.

"I was just standing on the [clubhouse podium] with [co-owners] Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon and Steve Phillips, holding the National League trophy," he said. "How could I possibly feel better?"

Well, there's one more podium, one more trophy, an ultimate response to the owners and a way to totally bury the loser's tag of his Texas Ranger years, but Valentine insisted he doesn't have to get to the World Series on the Subway.

"You can't get any more exciting than it was here with a full stadium, people on their feet the entire time, our dugout with the electricity that was there," Valentine said. "I think a Subway Series would be exciting for a lot of Yankee and Met fans around the country and here in New York, but the World Series is the World Series. We're going to be excited no matter who it's against and where it is."

Hampton agreed.

"I know New York would like to see it, but right now I'm just happy to be going," he said. "The way I look at it, we need to win four more games to fulfill our fantasy."

The Mets knew they needed the one more proven pitcher to get this far.

Hampton was coming off a 22-4 year with the Astros and struggled early in his new environment before finishing strong in the second half, going 15-10 with the NL's fourth best ERA (3.14).

"A lot of times with a new team or a new park, you try to pitch for the wrong reasons," Hampton said. "I was pitching to impress people and show them that I was that No. 1 type guy, that 22 wins weren't a fluke. I had to get beyond then. I had to get back to trusting myself, letting the people behind me do the work instead of trying to strike everyone out."

As Hampton rubbed elbows with Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani among others, the champagne that flooded the Mets' clubhouse transmitted a bitter aroma to the Cardinals down the hall. A team that won 95 games during the regular season and swept the Atlanta Braves in the division series went through the motions in the final two games here, hurt by a depleted rotation and the injuries to Mark McGwire and Mike Matheny.

Manager Tony La Russa, however, made no excuses.

"The obstacles we faced were no different than what other clubs have had to face," he said. "The Mets simply played better than we did at crucial times."

Played better, hit better and pitched better--with Hampton making it emphatic, as he promised.

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