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Mets Pull Off the Improbable Sweep

Mike SteffanosSunday, October 8, 2006
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.

Box Score

Comments (18)

I have a peace with Willie managing that I haven't had with a Met manager for a long time. I am not comparing but I felt that way with Gil Hodges managing, I trusted him and I trust Willie

He's done a great job this year, that's for certain.

I have two extra tickets for NLCS Game 2 at Shea. Mezzanine 9, Row N. Between home and the Mets dugout. Free shipping. Email me at joshuasilberberg@gmail.com

Agreed, Willie did a good job.

Also agreed, those soft hits came from batters taking what they were given and making something of it. It was perhaps the most heartening aspect of the series to me, that the Mets didn't insist on winning or losing with their A game, power and speed. They got on base, they fought into long at bats, they put the bat on the ball. And it worked.

I read two or three Dodger comments on how the breaks went against their team, with soft hits falling in, etc. What I saw was a poor fielding team that didn't run the bases so well; and that is not luck. A team with Jeff Kent and an elderly Cool Pappa Lofton up the middle is going to suffer from bad luck.

There is no point where the Mets fans can relax, not with the pitching staff so banged up. But these Mets really know how to play baseball. It's something to appreciate.

p.s.: I think that A-Rod fellow might be available; I don't know, it's just a feeling I get that he could he had. Think he could play left field for the Mets? We've already got a second baseman.

Yes, I AM kidding.

Milledge Time?

(Hoping that Cliffie can play, of course.)

Can A Rod play 2nd ?

dd - I agree with you on the breaks. Kent was whining about the breaks, saying the Dodgers outplayed the Mets. Their defense was atrocious.


I think Milledge, but Endy gets almost all the PT.

It's a great day to be a Mets fan. :)

It occurred to me that there is one person on the Mets who isn't really getting his due: Rick Down. It seems like the team is patient when their at the plate, willing to foul off bad pitches and go with the pitch, to win games with a bunch of soft singles as well as hard home runs. I have to think that Down has to be involved in that. Also, look at Valentin and Chavez: why did they suddenly blossom at the plate? Valentin has said he's started shortening up his swing -- did he decide that on his own, or did his batting coach talk to him about it?

What really sold me was a comment they were making about Lastings Milledge. After he played a few games, the guys in the booth noted that Milledge had changed his stance and had starting tapping the bat on his shoulder while getting ready. Then I noticed: both Reyes and Chavez were doing the same thing. Coincidence? Or a suggestion by a smart batting coach?

Note, too, that Down was with the Yankees last year, and their problem in the playoffs was a lack of hitting.

In any case, I would think Down has more to do with the team's success than he is credited with.

RealityChuck - I think this Mets team has the best collection of coaches from manager on down to Peterson, Down, Alomar, Acta, Manuel, Conte, et al that any Mets team has ever had.

I thought Willie left Mota out thyere too long- I KNOW it worked, but he was struggling at the end- pitches where LoDuca set up outside were running inside- Heilman is 27/28- if he can't get 4 or 5 outs in game, why is he playing baseball? All in all though, it worked and Willie has done a GREAT job keeping these guys focused, the clubhouse quiet and his use of the pen has improved.Its either Willie or Girardi for Mger of the Year.

A thought that should be mentioned here, since it's a gut the media will never bring it up: the Mets did, as was discussed earlier, play out their At Bats and hang tough in the Dodgers series. It was possibly the best response to the pitching they faced.

What I wanted to add was this: a team taking that approach WILL, eventually, compel the opposition to quit the nibbling and challenge their hitters. Pitchers and teams do adjust the game plan according to what the other side is doing; if the Mets are making the pitcher pay with singles and walks -- and the Mets did manage an OBP about fifty points higher than the Cardinals, even though the batting average was about the same -- then the pitching patterns will adjust. And I believe the adjustment may well play right into the Mets' real strengths: home runs, extra base hits, the running game.

We hear so much about percentages, about what is an acceptable on base percentage or stolen base percentage. The fact is, those percentages get created in the general air of uncertainty, the not knowing what the other side is going to do. If a team becomes too predictable, they're going to be less successful at what they do best. Conversely, if a team shows the capacity to attack in a variety of ways, they become that much harder to shut down with any approach. I think the Mets raised their unpredictability level with this series; and I think it will pay dividends when we go up against the Cardinals.

I meant to say that the Mets had a fifty point OBP versus the Dodgers in that last series. Not the Cardinals as I wrote.

Luis - I didn't get the same feeling from Mota in game 3, but it seemed like the Dodgers had 2 guys on base in every inning for the last 2/3 of the game, anyway, so maybe it's just blurring for me.
dd - sounds good to me. I hope the team carried that intensity and purpose right into the first game of this series they had against LA.

Agreed on the coaches: Manny Acta does a hell of a job at third base; if he had been with the Dodgers, they wouldn't have had two batters out at the plate. (Donnelly's call was not a terrible one -- he said he knew Kent would probably get caught, but didn't want two runners on third if he stopped Kent. If Drew had stopped, no one would have criticized him. An even smarter move would be if he let the two men stop a third: Drew would be dead meat, but if he drew a rundown, you'd have the chance of Kent scoring. But it's hard to think of that in the spur of the moment.)

The Mets baserunning has been spectacularly good this season; they rarely get thrown out, and often make unexpected moves. They challenge, but also make smart challenges, and manage to get away with them.

bottom line, i won lunch from two sucker dodger fans at my office, here deep in enemy territory on the west coast.

RealityChuck - To me, that whole play was about Drew, although Kent was terrible reading the play at second. Drew didn't exactly cover himself in glory.

The Mets have stressed fundamentals strongly for the past 2 years. Not that we never make mistakes, but stressing fundamentals all the time seems to make it more likely that the Mets will execute in key situations, while the Dodgers failed in that regard time and time again.

MB - Congrats. Those free lunches will come in handy with another kid on the way.

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