Mets facing Dodgers, racing Yankees
To beat Yanks to LCS, club must be wary of LA's potential
LOS ANGELES -- Saturday afternoon, the Mets will probably check out of their hotel and meet the Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Division Series with the engine of the plane that would return them to New York warming up.This is standard operating procedure in circumstances where the next game could be the last game. But it's the last thing the Mets would want to harp on, because it doesn't sound politically correct. Let sleeping Dodgers lie, you know. And the Mets, even on the verge of a series sweep, are leery of the Dodgers, having bought into their Jekyll & Hyde personality. "They've been a great comeback team from desperation," said New York closer Billy Wagner. "The longer you allow them to stay around," said David Wright, "the more dangerous they get." Danger hasn't yet been Los Angeles' middle name. The Dodgers have given the Mets little fight. Only about six, seven members of the Mets clocked in for their voluntary workout at Dodger Stadium late Friday afternoon. A long, tough travel day accounted for the sparse turnout. However, someone pointed out that the Mets would only need to play those six or seven Saturday to close out the Dodgers. The Mets will come to Elysian Park one step removed from advancing to the NL Championship Series. It would be significant for them to take that step Saturday, because it would mean they are taking it before the Yankees. And when it comes to the perception wars, doing anything ahead of the Yankees is valuable. The Mets are playing the Bums -- as the Dodgers were known in their Brooklyn days -- but they are dealing with the Bombers, make no mistake. These are high-stakes times in New York. The Yankees were quicker on the cable sports network draw, the first to announce new stadium plans and the first to break ground (although both new parks are planned for 2009 openings). Saturday afternoon brings a chance for the Mets to be first, since the Yankees could not secure their own Division Series against the Tigers until Saturday night, if they also take care of business in Game 3 on Friday night.
Their organization may care more about stealing headlines than do the players, who are satisfied with stealing bases and an occasional sign.But, although it is foolhardy to so soon entertain Subway Series thoughts, even the guys in uniform have sharpened their antennae for the Bronx boys. "They've got a great team, great lineup," Cliff Floyd had said after spying some of their early action against Detroit. "You have [Jorge] Posada hitting eighth? Unbelievable." The thing is, before October runs its course, the Mets may be as hard to believe. A clone of the Yankees, if anything: a vulnerable pitching rotation, a bullpen fortress and a complete lineup. The Mets' three pillars -- Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and Wright -- combined for 105 home runs and 346 RBIs this season. They mesh with much more speed than the Yankees can offer, and playoff baseball may be giving this cast an overdue chance to strut. After all, the Mets spent a season challenged by only their hunger. They had a double-digit NL East lead by June 22. "But you can't say we had nothing to play for," protested Wright. "Look at what happened with the Cardinals and the Astros. That just showed that every game counts." Still, now they are being challenged by the unforgiving postseason.
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Asked whether playing possibly their first high-stakes, pressurized games of the entire year has energized the team, Floyd said, "Yeah, no doubt. Every little thing means something now. If we didn't again feel good about ourselves coming out of Washington [and a season-ending sweep over the Nationals], it might've been a different story the first two games."It is the Dodgers' duty to change the story, to graduate from mere distraction for the Mets to serious annoyance. They also have a big-picture issue: salvaging some pride for the NL West, which is just 2-13 in the postseason since the Giants' run to the 2002 World Series. To accomplish any of that, the Dodgers could adopt Coors Field as their new home -- they scored 19 runs there in a Sept. 28 victory over the Rockies, and a total of 18 in five games since. That's not going to happen, so they must start playing above their heads in a matchup where they don't have any obvious advantage. Except one, at least Saturday: the house will be on their side. Dodger Stadium's gate will be comparable in size to the 57,000 which twice packed Shea Stadium, and the Blue Boys want to make sure it will be as loud, too. They even handed Tom Lasorda the pom-poms Friday. "I just spent two days in New York and the fans there were outstanding," Lasorda declared in a widely distributed statement. "I've always said that we have the greatest fans in all of baseball, and we need to show the rest of the country that it's the truth!" The Dodgers are also encouraging people to come dressed in the team's primary color. So while fans will be in blue, the Dodgers have one last chance to get in the pink.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.