By Mike Steffanos
Mets 9 - Dodgers 5
Mets win NLDS 3-0
The Dodgers were the hot pick going into this series, even before scheduled game 1 starter Orlando Hernandez tore a muscle in his calf the day before it started. The Mets has an answer for all of those who came to bury them, not praise them. They overcame their weakness in starting pitching by making these 3 games all about the bullpen. While they were able to send out the likes of Bradford, Feliciano, Mota and Heilman to get the game to their closer, the Dodgers had to settle for failed starters like Mark Hendrickson and Brett Tomko. Those who picked the Dodgers to win this series find it hard to give the Mets any credit for winning it, but I challenge you to show me any team in baseball history who has lost their game one playoff starter twice in the week leading up to the playoffs and managed to win the series, much less sweep it. The happenings of these past four days are truly something for Mets fans to take great pride in.
One of the most ironic things about this series was that the one truly effective game by a starter was Tom Glavine's 6 shutout innings in game 2. For all of the hype given to Hong-Chih Kuo's game 2 start, he lasted only 4.1 innings, and only the infamous Shea winds kept a couple of balls in the park in the third inning. For all those that maligned him all season, including me, I thought Steve Trachsel pitched better in the clincher than the box score shows. The Mets seemed a little nervous early in the game, and I thought it came through particularly on defense. There's a few plays that should have been made, but weren't, and perhaps if they were, Trachsel would have made it deep enough into the game to get a win. In any case, for a guy who hadn't pitched in quite a while and had a distracting week, I thought Trachsel gave the Mets all they could ask for last night.
It didn't surprise me that some Mets showed signs of nervousness after jumping out to a 4-0 lead, nor did it surprise me that they overcame it. This team has no experience closing out playoff series, and until you face that for the first time you have no comprehension of how difficult that can be. They certainly responded, though. When the Dodgers came back and took a 5-4 lead, I'm sure many expected the Mets to roll over and die. That didn't happen. A lot was made of how many of the Mets hits were soft. While that was undoubtedly true, what is also true is that they were the product of some excellent at bats by the Mets. This can only bode well as the Mets face more difficult obstacles ahead in the post-season.
The bullpen was impressive last night. Although it seemed the Dodgers had 2 men on base in every inning, they made the pitches when they had to. They're certainly battle-tested heading into the next round. For a team that hadn't played under pressure since early in the season, it's a great credit to this team how well they responded. The gutsy efforts by Mets relievers last night was a perfect example of how well the team as a whole responded.
Another interesting aspect of this series for me was a sense of revenge I felt for the 1988 NLCS loss to the Dodgers. For those of you too young to remember, the Mets were only 3 outs away from taking a 3-1 series lead on LA. Unfortunately, I think Davey Johnson was the only one watching the game who didn't realize that Dwight Gooden was all done, and needed to be taken out. Johnson stubbornly stayed with Gooden, and a leadoff walk followed by a Mike Scioscia home run started a downward spiral that would return the franchise to laughingstock status for many years.
My brother, who was a huge Mets fan back then but has since lost interest, called me a couple of times during the game and after it was over. George lost his rooting interest in all sports a couple of years after that series, but always had a sense of unfinished business from that brutal series. He felt that last night's dispatch of LA offered a little closure for that disappointment from long ago. In an odd sort of way, I felt the same, even though so much time passed and both teams are obviously completely turned over. I'm sure there are many Mets fans who could care less about that angle, but it did mean something to me.
However you may feel about this series as vindication for 1988, it certainly was a wonderful answer to all of those who seemed to spend the whole year looking for any reason to write this team off. It seemed they had found their nirvana when a perfect storm of late-season woes seemed to have the Mets limping badly into the playoffs. Many chose to focus on their admittedly poor performance in September rather than what they had done all year. As I pointed out yesterday, it's more logical to assume a team will perform as they did for the vast majority of the season than what they did for one month with nothing on the line. For all of the experts out there tripping over each other to write the Mets off while jumping on the bandwagon of an inconsistent team that had 9 less victories and a lot less character, the Mets had the perfect answer.
Thoughts on the game
I'll be brief. Welcome to the Mets, Shawn Green. After being deservedly benched in game 2, Green was magnificent in game 3. It was the kind of game that makes us look at him and see a New York Met.
When the Mets came back and hung up a 3-spot on the Dodgers a half inning after losing the lead, that was huge enough -- especially since Grady Little brought in Broxton, his key setup man, specifically to forestall that result. Don't overlook the 2 scoreless innings that Guillermo Mota provided in the sixth and seventh to stop the Dodgers from regaining momentum. Mota was sharp, throwing 18 of 27 pitches for strikes.
I know there are some of you out there that will never yield anything to Willie Randolph, but for a manager in his first ever playoff series I thought he did a very good job with his in-game management, not to mention the way he helped his team overcome the loss of El Duque that was supposedly going to bury them. No manager is ever going to be free from second-guessing, but it's surprising at times how little respect Randolph garners from some of his team's fans.