Notes: Mets ready to bounce back
Wagner reflects on rough Game 2; bullpen stacked for Game 3
ST. LOUIS -- When you've won 101 games in a six-month span, and a two-game losing streak is rarer than a quiet moment at Shea Stadium in October, panic isn't in your working vocabulary.There was no stress or strain in Willie Randolph's face or voice as he addressed the assembled media before Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday night at Busch Stadium, a distressing 9-6 Game 2 loss in the rearview mirror. The old second baseman looked as cool and composed as in the day when he hit so professionally between Rickey Henderson and Don Mattingly at Yankee Stadium in a lineup for the ages. "Oh, geez, we've had many, many times where we've turned the page and we've stepped up to challenges, tough pitchers, tough ballclubs," Randolph said. "I can't really think of one [that stands out], because we've been very consistent with that. "We've won a lot of games this year. We were the best in the National League." It remains to be seen, of course, whether the Mets will be the last team standing, representing the league in the World Series. The Cardinals have their own ideas about that, and they showed a champion's resilience in rebounding from a 1-0 deficit in Game 1 and a 3-0 deficit in a wild Game 2 at Shea. "We could taste it," Randolph said, giving events of Friday night a quick review on request. "We feel like we gave one away. If you look at it that way, yeah, it was tough. "But in the playoffs, you don't have time to think about that kind of thing. It was a long night. I slept real well. Glad we're back at it again. In my mind, it was already gone. "Initially, when the game was over, I felt like, yeah, we let one slip away, and I couldn't wait to get back out there [Saturday] and redeem ourselves. It's easy this time of year to turn the page because you know that you have to -- and you're still in a pretty good position." No save, no sweat: Billy Wagner still hasn't blown a save against the Cardinals in eight years -- remaining perfect in 23 opportunities against them since Sept. 11, 1998. But he was ambushed for the three decisive runs in the ninth inning of the Mets' 9-6 loss in Game 2. Entering games in non-save situations is traditionally viewed as hazardous low-stress duty for closers accustomed to high-stress moments. But Wagner waved off that theory, instead looking at it from the hitters' perspective.
"Seeing someone like me in a tie game helps the hitters," Wagner said. "They have no pressure: If they don't do anything, the game's not over."I have to throw more strikes, and they can afford to be more aggressive." Wagner was one of the first Mets out of the clubhouse and on the field Saturday afternoon, as if he couldn't wait to get the ball again. On the road, of course, Randolph would not be likely to call on him unless the Mets had a lead. "They beat me, and I'm happy for them," Wagner said with a light shrug. "Now let's see if they can do it again." All hands on deck: Randolph anticipated having his whole bullpen ready to deliver an out or an inning behind Steve Trachsel in Game 3. "Man, everyone's ready to go," the manager said. "You don't save anybody for this. You have a guy like [Roberto Hernandez] -- Bert was up two or three times [Friday night] and I asked him how he feels [Saturday], he said he's ready to go again. "Everybody is good. I keep emphasizing that going into the series, everyone was well rested. It was not like we were being taxed or anything like that. [Pitching coach Rick Peterson] and I are very conscious of how many pitches are thrown and how guys are used and where they are in day-to-day stuff. So I was just champing at the bit to get the guys in the game." After leading the league in the regular season with a 3.25 ERA as a group, Mets relievers have surrendered 13 earned runs in 20 1/3 postseason innings -- a 5.76 ERA. "That's just one game," Guillermo Mota said, referring to the Game 2 struggles he encountered with Scott Spiezio's two-run triple before Wagner's ninth-inning misadventures. "We have to go back and do the things we've done before. I don't think it will be any problem." Sidewinding Chad Bradford, who got five outs in Game 2 and hasn't given up a run in two postseason innings, said he's ready to go after Albert Pujols and Co. again. "I've had plenty of rest lately," said Bradford, who made 70 regular-season appearances. "This time of year, you've gotta strap it on and go. I think we'll be all right." Attitude counts: Randolph's confident manner has served the Mets well all season, from the "Carlos bashers," Beltran and Delgado, right on down through the ranks of the ready reserves such as Endy Chavez. "I feel comfortable playing for him because he really believes in me," said Chavez, thrust into an important role in left field with Cliff Floyd's fitful Achilles tendon acting up. "Willie believes in me, the player I can be. He's not trying to make me be someone else." Chavez was in the No. 8 hole for Game 3 against Jeff Suppan, a man he has hit well in a fairly limited sample, going 5-for-14 (.357). A .306 hitter in 353 regular-season at-bats, Chavez is 4-for-15 (.267) in postseason play and 1-for-7 (.143) in the NLCS. Defense is Chavez's calling card -- teammate Shawn Green says Chavez is as good an outfielder as there is -- but he also can contribute offensively. His ability to get on base could be significant given Jose Reyes' remarkable ability to drive in runs -- 81 in the regular season -- from the leadoff spot. "I'm just glad to be able to do my part to try to get the team in the World Series," the soft-spoken Chavez said. "I'm very excited about this opportunity. I'm a fourth or fifth outfielder here. I never expected I was going to get a lot of at-bats or start. It's a surprise for me. "I just wish Cliff was healthy. He's a very good player, and very important to the team. I'm just covering for him the best I can." Randolph said Floyd was available to pinch-hit in Game 3, "and when he comes in and gives me a thumbs-up, he'll be in the lineup." Early thunder: The Mets led the Major Leagues with 131 first-inning runs during the regular season, making it their biggest inning. They've produced six first-inning runs in five postseason games, half of those coming on Carlos Delgado's three-run blast in Game 2 against Chris Carpenter. Back in form: Reyes, who opened Game 2 with a double to right, later delivered two singles and a walk. His three hits were more than he'd accumulated in his first four postseason games, going 2-for-16 before busting out against Carpenter. Limited to one steal in two attempts in five playoff games, Reyes showed his blinding speed by scoring from first on Paul Lo Duca's double to left in the sixth.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.