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Mets Need to Go on Offensive or Series Will Slip Off Tracks

October 26, 2000|ROSS NEWHAN

NEW YORK — The bat that Roger Clemens shattered in Game 2 of the World Series is taking on ominous symbolism for the New York Mets.

This is a team swinging damaged wood as it struggles to stay alive against the New York Yankees, who won, 3-2, Wednesday night to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven event.

Now, of course, the Mets are down to their final token in the Subway Series, and their offense doesn't hold much currency.

The Mets are hitting .227 for the four games and have scored only 14 runs--five of those in the ninth inning of Game 2, when losing, 6-5.

In squandering the momentum of Tuesday night's 4-2 victory, the Mets collected only six hits in Game 4 and scored only on a two-run homer by Mike Piazza in the third inning.

"We definitely have a lot of hits saved up, and hopefully they'll come out over the next three games," Manager Bobby Valentine said, knowing his team is assured of only tonight's game.

The biggest of the Met hurts has been at the top of the lineup, where Timo Perez and Edgardo Alfonzo, both prolific in the pennant-clinching series against the St. Louis Cardinals, are both a painful two for 16 now.

Some were billing second baseman Alfonzo as the best player in New York coming into the series, but Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter has definitely retained that crown over the four games.

Jeter is hitting .444 after moving into the leadoff role and blasting a homer and triple Wednesday night.

Alfonzo is hitting .125 and said, "I picked a bad time to have a slump, but I have to be positive, believe in my talent. I feel good, I don't feel pressure, I'm just trying to find my stroke. I see the same pitching all year, so I think it's something with me. I know the team needs me and it makes me feel bad not to be doing anything."

A sign hangs in Alfonzo's locker that reads:

"Faith, Passion, Consistency Will Give Us Victory."

The Mets have the faith and passion, but this is a case in which two out of three ain't good.

Then again, the Mets had sieges of inconsistency all season, finishing 10th among the 16 National League teams with a .263 average and seventh in runs.

General Manager Steve Phillips cited the eight Yankee scouts who traveled with the Mets for a month before the Series and said: "I give them a lot of credit [for the way the Yankees have handled Met hitters]. Also, Clemens [in Game 2] and El Duque [in Game 3] had phenomenal stuff. You have to react to what guys are doing on the mound and adjust, but I don't think we've done a good job of that."

Asked if his hitters were pressing, Phillips said, "I think it's natural if they are, and I don't say that just in the context of the World Series. Everybody who has ever played pressed at one time or another."

The Series, however, ratchets up the intensity level, and now the Mets have to win tonight to get back to the Bronx on Saturday and have to win three in a row to win the Series.

"I'm certainly not going to say we have nothing to lose because we obviously do, but we have to find a way to relax, to play our game," Piazza said. "We all feel we can swing the bats better, that's for sure. Tonight was very frustrating."

The Mets collected only three singles and had only four baserunners after Piazza's homer, his second of the Series, with one out in the third.

Rookie center fielder Jay Payton tried to put some veteran perspective on the Mets' offensive struggle.

"I don't think it's the problem people say it is," Payton said. "I mean, it's called postseason baseball. You're not going to score eight runs a game at this time of the year.

"Look at the Yankees. I think they've only scored one or two more runs than we have."

There is definite truth in that.

The Yankees have won three of four games while scoring only one more run than the Mets, who blew Game 1 with baserunning mistakes, lost Game 2 when they admittedly attempted to take Clemens' head off by swinging at anything and everything after the bat incident, beat El Duque at his best in Game 3 and then lost Game 4 when they were unable to do anything against four Yankee relievers, including David Cone in a cameo appearance.

While Perez and Alfonzo have struggled at the top of the order, Mike Bordick is hitting a similar .125 at the bottom, and Robin Ventura is hitting .188 in the middle.

"I know we can hit and I know we'll hit better," Valentine said, not indicating whether he meant tonight or next April.

However, you can't blame the Mets for a little wishful thinking. Said Payton: "We have a daunting task but it's possible. I think the Yankees lost eight in a row this year."

But not in October. Never in October.

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