Pitching, small ball yield 2-0 lead
Club scores all four runs without help of an extra-base hit
NEW YORK -- Rather than dwell on their postseason pitching poverty, the Mets decided the more prudent approach would be to focus on their riches -- a nasty, reliable bullpen and a batting order Dodgers manager Grady Little said had American League prowess and depth. Out of necessity, the Mets turned their backs on the traditional postseason wisdom -- "We'll go as far as our pitching takes us" -- and will try to reach the World Series one extra-base hit at a time.
The axiom applies, nonetheless. The Mets are two-thirds of the way to the National League Championship Series in no small measure because of their starting pitching. The bullpen has performed as advertised, and the offense has been as productive as it has been versatile. But it has been the starting pitching that has formed the shape and the structure of the Mets' two victories against the Dodgers in the NL Division Series.
John Maine was adequate in Game 1, and Tom Glavine was more than adequate on Thursday night in Game 2. As a result, the Mets departed for Los Angeles early Friday with three chances to squeeze out the one victory required to extend their season.
Their 4-1 victory in Game 2 was the end result of Glavine's six shutout innings, more imprecision by the Dodgers -- this time it was their defense -- and small-ball offense that suggested the batting order had reinvented itself.
Two nights after learning Orlando Hernandez, like Pedro Martinez, had been baseball-incapacitated, Glavine borrowed from the best of his uneven October past and made their absence irrelevant. The Dodgers, the team with the highest on-base percentage in the league, put six runners on base in Glavine's six innings. But none ventured beyond third base. Glavine was removed for a pinch-hitter after allowing four hits and two walks, and he left in position to gain his 13th postseason victory.
That was secured by Pedro Feliciano, Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner, who collectively allowed two more baserunners, one being Wilson Betemit, who hit a home run against Heilman in the eighth inning.
"I think [Glavine's] been doing that to hitters for a long time," Little said. "He's an outstanding pitcher. A lot of hitters talk to themselves after they face him three or four times."
No batter got four whacks at Glavine. He was gone after 94 pitches, not many of which were stressful.
Meanwhile, the Mets' offense left behind the slugging that produced six runs in Game 1 and scored four on Thursday in ways that would have made Gene Mauch happy and delighted their own manager.
"Whatever it takes, man. Whatever it takes," Willie Randolph said. "We don't try to have a certain blueprint of how we do it. We just try to be aggressive and play the game right. We come at you in different ways."
The Mets had just one extra-base hit, a double by Paul Lo Duca in the third inning that played no role in the run output. But they used two sacrifice bunts -- and the equivalent of one -- and a sacrifice fly to overcome starter Hong-Chih Kuo and the first of his four successors, journeyman Brett Tomko.
"We knew we had to make things happen against Kuo. He was tough again," Randolph said, referring to the six shutout innings the left-handed rookie pitched against the Mets at Shea Stadium on Sept. 8. "We kept battling with him, and we got his pitch count up a little bit. Not that it was out of whack, but we just made him pitch a little bit. You know, we had some at-bats where we taxed him a little bit."
In beating Kuo, the Mets accomplished what they had done with alarming infrequency in the second half of the season: They won a game in which they were opposed by a left-handed starter. They won 18 of their first 25 games of that sort, but lost 15 of the subsequent 22.
That flaw was inconspicuous on Thursday night. Three of the four hits against Kuo were by left-handed hitters -- two by Endy Chavez, who started in right field. The assignment was Randolph's way of giving Glavine better defensive support. Sometimes the best defense is an enhanced offense. Chavez scored the first run after leading off the third with a drag-bunt single, and he was an ingredient in the second.
The Mets' first run scored on a one-out broken-bat groundout by Jose Reyes with Chavez on third. After David Wright and Cliff Floyd flied out to the wall in right and right-center, respectively, in the fourth -- with less wind, each might have produced a run -- the Mets took more measured swings and added another run in the fifth, with Lo Duca hitting Tomko's first pitch for a bases-loaded sacrifice fly.
An error by Tomko and slow reactions by shortstop Rafael Furcal on a potential inning-ending double-play ground ball by pinch-hitter Julio Franco led to the third run, in the sixth. Reyes' first hit of the series, a single through the middle, produced the fourth run. Each was unearned.
Franco's sprint to first base was fodder for postgame humor, of course.
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"We won because of the arm of a 40-year-old and the legs of 48-year old," Floyd said. "D'you see him go?"
"That's why we keep the grass here like the U.S. Open rough," Wright said. "So the 55-year-old can beat out a hit once in a while."
With the bases loaded and one out, Franco swung at the first pitch, a changeup, from Mark Hendrickson.
"I swung at a bad pitch; I swung at his pitch," Franco said. "And the way I swung -- so far out in front -- I was already two steps toward first base. I didn't hit the ball like I wanted to. But after that, I became a runner. I was pleased with the second part. It extended the inning, and Jose got us another run."
It helped that Furcal waited for the ball to reach him.
"He probably thought he had a lot more time," Wright said.
Another zinger aimed at the everybody's favorite senior citizen.
"I won't be able to run like that when I'm 48," Floyd said. "I can barely run like that now."
Will Carlos Delgado run like that at age 48?
"I wouldn't want to," he said. "If I'm still a baseball player when I'm 48, please slap me silly."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.