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WORLD SERIES : BASEBALL

Mets Can Only Blame Themselves

October 22, 2000|ROSS NEWHAN

NEW YORK — Beyond the hype, history and Subway Series hysteria, the hope was that two comparatively good teams would produce a competitive and, perhaps, exciting World Series.

The Saturday night opener was that and more. Much more. The longest game in World Series history ended at 1:02 a.m. here Sunday morning.

It ended with the New York Yankees defeating the New York Mets, 4-3, in 12 innings, and the Mets had nobody to blame but themselves.

In fact, if there was such a thing as Met Magic in their playoff victories over the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, it evaporated in a series of wasted scoring opportunities, apparent baserunning mistakes and bullpen implosions.

"We've been like a hit Broadway play," Manager Bobby Valentine said coming into the opener. "Everybody wants to see the act."

This time, however, his team was a comedy in several acts, and the best Valentine could say later was:

"Well, we came in with very little World Series experience and we got a lot of it tonight."

Call it a costly and difficult introduction. Consider:

* Between the second and sixth innings the Mets put the leadoff runner on base in every inning and failed to score.

* In the fourth, Mike Piazza was picked off by Andy Pettitte after he had led off with a single, and in the sixth, the fleet Timo Perez committed a more damaging blunder.

Perez was on first with two outs in a scoreless game when Todd Zeile scorched a drive to left that both Perez and Zeile thought was going to carry over the fence. Perez trotted around second and didn't put it in high until he saw the ball carom off the top of the padded fence and back into play. David Justice retrieved it and fired to Derek Jeter, whose perfect relay cut down Perez--who would have scored easily if he had been running all the way--at the plate for the embarrassing third out.

Instead of a run in with Zeile on second, the game remained scoreless.

* After the Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth, the Mets rallied for a 3-2 lead in the seventh but then blew another opportunity that would have won it for them without extra innings in the ninth. They had runners at second and third with one out when Perez hit a grounder to second baseman Jose Vizcaino, drawn in on the infield grass. Vizcaino bobbled the ball, kicking it a couple feet in front of him, but the slow-footed catcher, Todd Pratt, failed to seize the opportunity and remained at third. Vizcaino recovered to throw out Perez, and Edgardo Alfonzo struck out to end the inning.

* Taking advantage of the Mets' failure to score the runs that would have been decisive in the sixth and ninth, the Yankees tied it, 3-3, in the bottom of the ninth off Armando Benitez, whose litany of October failures now rivals Reggie Jackson's successes, before scoring the winning run off Turk Wendell in the 12th.

Gamely, the Mets talked later of having battled, of having not given in, as they made their World Series debut against a team that has now won a record 13 consecutive Series games and are bidding for a three-peat.

Gamely, however, they will need Mike Hampton to come up big tonight against Roger Clemens or they could face an 0-2 deficit as they take the 4 train out of the Bronx and transfer to the 7 back to Queens. A terse Valentine swallowed and said:

"Well, I thought it was a heck of a game tonight. Two teams that battled their way to get here, battled their way tonight, and we gave them a pretty good run in their home park. We obviously didn't take advantage of some opportunities and that can be fatal against a team that knows how to win at this time of the year."

Valentine said he did not get a clear look at Zeile's drive to left in the sixth, but TV replays supported umpire Tim McClelland's call that the ball caromed off the top of the fence and was not touched by a fan or did not bounce off a seat. Perez, sensational in the five games against the Cardinals but a major league veteran of only one month, made the inexcusable mistake of assuming it was going to be a home run. The experienced Zeile behind him was not running either, having begun a home run trot.

"Like I said, I didn't see the ball," Valentine said. "I was around the [dugout] corner and I was watching Timo.

"When Timo kind of broke down running there, I figured it was a home run. He did too. It's a game of inches, huh?"

Of Pratt's failure to go from third when Vizcaino bobbled the ball in the ninth, the catcher said, "You can always second guess, but you have to make sure in that situation that the ball goes through. The bobble made it look questionable, but if I go on contact he probably would have charged it and fielded it cleanly. Look, I'm not the fastest guy in the world. I have to make sure the ball goes through."

Valentine said the baserunning scenarios, including the Piazza pickoff, "will be evaluated, and they won't happen again."

On a night when the Mets got a gutsy performance from starter Al Leiter, this was a game they should have won.

Should-haves almost always translate to a loss against the Yankees in October.

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