Marathon Mets close the gap

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The Independent Online

Robin Ventura's grand slam-single drove home the winning run in the 15th innings to give the New York Mets their most improbable comeback yet, a 4-3 victory last night over the Atlanta Braves in Game five of the National League championship series.

Robin Ventura's grand slam-single drove home the winning run in the 15th innings to give the New York Mets their most improbable comeback yet, a 4-3 victory last night over the Atlanta Braves in Game five of the National League championship series.

"If we come back and win this series, this will go down as one of the great games in history," Orel Hershiser said after the 5 hour and 46 minute epic. "One of the ones they show on the sports classic channel and cut out some of the dry parts, although there will be hardly any."

The 482-pitch game ended in confusion, with two runners crossing the plate while Ventura was mobbed by his teammates before he could get to second base after hitting his apparent grand slam. Workers pulled up the bases, the umpires left the field and no one knew the score: 4-3, 5-3 or 7-3.

"I never saw it go out. Did it?" The Mets manager Bobby Valentine said as reporters told him of the confusion over the final score. "Then it's a grand slam. But he never touched the bases? I'll be doggone!"

About 10 minutes after the game ended, official scorer Red Foley said Ventura was credited not with a grand slam but with a run-scoring single, and the final was 4-3. The umpires insisted the score was 5-3, counting both runners who came home before the celebration. The NL eventually ruled it 4-3, saying Foley and the Elias Sports Bureau were responsible for the final decision.

"The game ends in sudden death when the winning run scores," Elias spokesman Steve Hirdt said. "The only exception is on a home run, assuming the player rounds all the bases. He never rounded the bases." It was a single over the right field fence. It didn't matter. The Mets forced a Game 6 in Atlanta on Tuesday night."I'm just glad we're actually going back after getting down 3-0," Ventura said.

The Braves still lead the best-of-7 series 3-2, but this was another devastating blow after losing 3-2 the previous night on John Olerud's two-out, two-run single in the eighth inning.

Atlanta was three outs away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1996 after Keith Lockhart's two-out, run-scoring triple in the top of the 15th broke a 2-2 tie - the first run scored in the game since the third innings.

But the Mets, who had to win their final four games of the regular season just to make the playoffs, would not die. After fouling off pitch after pitch, Shawon Dunston led off the home half of the 15th with a single to centre against the 22-year-old rookie Kevin McGlinchy, who then walked pinch-hitter Matt Franco.

Edgardo Alfonzo bunted the runners to second and third before McGlinchy walked Olerud intentionally to load the bases. Todd Pratt, who entered the game in the 14th innings after Mike Piazza suffered a strained right forearm, walked on five pitches to force in the tying run.

With the Shea Stadium crowd roaring, Ventura, who was 1-for-18 in the series, drove a 1-1 pitch over the right-field wall for an apparent grand slam. "It's very discouraging," said McGlinchy, making his first appearance of the series.One run was all the Mets needed to cap an incredible day and keep their season alive. "I was just looking for something in the middle of the plate I could get in the air," Ventura said.

After putting themselves in an 0-3 hole against the Braves, the Mets need another four-game streak to advance to the World Series. New York is halfway there, though the series now moves back to Atlanta. Game seven, which seemed improbable just a couple of days ago, would be on Wednesday night if needed.

The Mets become only the second team in baseball history to win as many as two games after dropping the first three in a post-season series. The Braves did it last year before losing Game 6 to the Padres in the NLCS.

The Mets used a post-season record nine pitchers, including Game two starter Kenny Rogers. Rick Reed, who started the previous day, was warming up to pitch the 16th, but he wasn't needed. The last four games, in what is becoming a classic series, have been decided by one run. Atlanta won the first game 4-2.

It was the longest LCS game by innings since the Mets needed 16 to beat Houston in the deciding game of the 1988 NL series. It was the longest post-season game by time ever, surpassing the 5-hour, 13-minute marathon between the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners in Game two of a 1995 division series.

Despite the rain, more than half of the sellout crowd of 55,723 stayed around to the end and were rewarded with a chance to do a "14th Inning Stretch."

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