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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS / NATIONAL LEAGUE

Mets Seem to Think It Will Be All Right

Left-handers have given them problems, so the Dodgers' plan to start Kuo shouldn't come as a surprise. But apparently, it's news to New York.

October 03, 2006|David Lennon | Newsday

NEW YORK — The New York Mets seemed almost indifferent when asked about their potential playoff foes on the final day of the regular season. They figured the statistics and scouting reports could wait until the team regrouped at Shea Stadium for today's workout, and even then, the Mets don't believe they can find the key to October success on videotape.

What else is left to prepare? The Mets won their division by a dozen games, consistently proved their superiority in the National League over the course of six months and have a $101-million roster with few flaws. Now it's a matter of riding that momentum for a little longer -- except without the safety net of a comfortable lead.

"The playoffs are a different animal," Manager Willie Randolph said.

"I'm always very confident about my team, but once you get into the heat of battle, you never know what twists and turns are going to be there. But I do feel good going in and I'm not going to deviate from what I've done this year."

Apparently, the Dodgers will; they plan to start left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo in Thursday's Game 2 in an attempt to exploit one of the few weaknesses in the Mets' lineup.

Derek Lowe opposes Orlando Hernandez in Wednesday's opener, but the Dodgers have said Greg Maddux will start Game 3 Saturday at Dodger Stadium.

Kuo allowed three hits and struck out seven in six scoreless innings against the Mets at Shea Stadium on Sept. 8.

David Wright seemed to be unaware of that wrinkle Monday because he didn't even mention Kuo when asked about the Mets' struggles against left-handers this season.

"Everybody knows about the little slump this team went in against left-handed pitching," the Mets third baseman said during a news conference at LaGuardia Airport. "But the last time I checked, we're facing Derek Lowe, Greg Maddux and Brad Penny, so unless those guys turn around and throw left-handed.... The left-handed thing is overrated."

Randolph's team did not have the smoothest of Septembers. The Mets were 11-15 for the month before reeling off four straight wins to finish the season, and in the final week learned that Pedro Martinez was not only lost for the playoffs, but the first half of next season as well. But Martinez had been fading anyway, and ineffective to the point where John Maine was probably a better postseason option.

Nonetheless, it was a jarring piece of information to get only days before the start of the division series, and that forced the Mets once again to adjust to life without Martinez. How far the Mets can go without their ace remains open to debate, but they already have shown they can win without him. As the Mets get ready for Game 1, Martinez will be prepping for rotator cuff surgery.

"I think it builds character," Wright said. " It's going to make this team step up and pick up the slack. We're going to get through this adversity and we're going to become a stronger team.

"Obviously we're not going to be as good of a team on the field. But it's going to make this team come together and play for one another even more than we've done throughout the course of the year."

That feeling is evident in the clubhouse, which is home to a diverse group that has become surprisingly close. Winning helps, of course, but that belief in each other can have a tangible effect, almost like having a 26th man on the roster.

"This is one place I've enjoyed more than anywhere else in my career," closer Billy Wagner said. "I think it has a lot to do with the team and the makeup of where we've came from. We've all been thrown into the same pot, all of us new to New York, so nobody's walking around here like they've got it all figured out. We've kind of leaned on each other and enjoyed it."

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