Mets push all right buttons in Game 1
Solid pitching, stellar defense, timely hitting sink Cards
NEW YORK -- A two-out single by Paul Lo Duca. A two-strike long ball by Carlos Beltran.That's all it took for Jeff Weaver's Kenny Rogers moment to turn into a New York pothole. That is all that separated the Mets from playing their next game out of a corner. One sudden, brief flurry before pitchers reclaimed their turf. Leather and left arms, those of Tom Glavine and Billy Wagner, also played roles. These were the differences between valor and heartache on one side, and between arrested or growing momentum on the other. "Huge," David Wright described the Mets' 2-0 win over the Cardinals on a mild Shea Stadium evening. "This sets a tone for the series. The fans came out in full force, and we had to take advantage of that. Especially with Chris Carpenter going [on Friday]." Oh, that. The 6-foot-6 shadow of a perennial Cy Young Award candidate loomed over this tense game. You could almost sense Carpenter licking his lips in anticipation of a chance to compound Mets disappointment one night into despair the next. So, you see, losing Game 1 of the National League Championship Series was not an option for the Mets. It was a possibility; in sports, the unexpected always happens. It just wasn't an option. Not with Carpenter on deck for the Cardinals. If the teams were to take turns with hammers, Glavine had to pound Weaver, just in case Carpenter pounds John Maine. Glavine never loosened his grip, running his postseason streak to 13 shutout innings, making his catcher literally giggle while trying to assess his work. "That's why he's a Hall of Famer," Lo Duca said. "It just seems amazing to me ... every time someone questions our pitching, they come up big. And Tommy came up big tonight." He had to, to out-size Weaver. Three months after the Angels decided that Jered Weaver's brother wasn't a keeper, Jeff showed New York a side it had never seen. Either borough, Bronx or Queens. "He's a lot different than the last time we saw him," Wright said. "His arm angle was much better. He had a very sneaky fastball, a sharp bite on his slider, a tough cutter. Worked his two-seamer in and out."
"He was very different," Lo Duca concurred. "He had a very good sinker and cut fastball. He dominated, getting ground ball after ground ball. We knew we were in trouble after the first inning because he had really good stuff."The last word, from Wright: "He made one mistake, and Beltran made him pay for it." Beltran's 430-foot drive over the right-center fence was the only peep out of the offenses all game. The starters and five relievers combined to hold the lineups of the NL's top two teams to 10 hits. Naturally, that one peep belonged to the Mets, who have now won eight straight games, including all four in the playoffs. Who keep doing all the right things, making all the right moves, dropping all the right hints. "I think the catcher [Yadier Molina] was sitting outside and he left the fastball in the middle of the plate," Beltran said. Maybe in 1986 the Mets were Amazin'. Now, they are just charmed. Of the first 13 men he faced, Glavine threw first-pitch strikes to nine. Two of the four to whom he did not, predictably, used their advantage to turn their at-bats into smoking line drives. Except the ropes by both David Eckstein in the third and Juan Encarnacion in the fourth were turned into double plays. "As a pitcher, any time you can get a double play to get out of an inning, it's a great thing," a grateful Glavine said, "especially when it's not your routine, ground-ball variety." Then, there was the sudden, though certainly not unexpected, departure of Cliff Floyd after two innings. Endy Chavez wasn't exactly caught off guard; he'd been told to stay loose, because Floyd's strained left Achilles heel could bark at an time. So Chavez took off his warmups in the top of the third, went into left field -- and made a diving, backhanded catch of the first ball hit his way, by Ronnie Belliard with one out and a man on first in the fifth. "I know if I drop that ball, they have a runner in scoring position," Chavez said. "I didn't get the best jump, but I reacted and made the catch." The Mets are always reacting. Always making the right move, turning it into the right outcome. Chavez's grab helped keep Weaver from ever having a lead, and maybe a little safety net. Then came the one, unaffordable mistake, which made Tony La Russa's voice quiver after the game. Not because Weaver threw it and lost, but because his pitcher wouldn't get credit for having excelled. "It pains me that ...," La Russa began, then collected himself. "No way to suggest that he's a losing pitcher. Jeff was outstanding." All seven pitchers were, which did not bode well for lovers of offense. With a game-time temperature of 67 degrees, this might have been the last comfortable night of the postseason for hitters. With Wednesday's rains having claimed the first scheduled off-day for this series, prompting the teams to strap it on for five consecutive game days, the Game 1 starters would be asked to return in Game 5. So there has been a lot of discussion about how Glavine and Weaver would fare pitching on three days' rest. Well, the hitters didn't do too well on four days' rest. Baseball, apparently, isn't a sport made to be played on a basketball schedule. The hitters should've been rubbing Rust-oleum, not pine tar, on their bats. The delayed NLCS opener was the Mets' fourth game in 12 days. The Cardinals have hibernated nearly as much, playing for the fifth time since the regular-season curtain dropped on Oct. 1. Break time was over. For Jeff Weaver, heartbreak time was just beginning.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.