Mets rebound behind offense, Perez
With game on the line, Mets left-hander comes up clutch
ST. LOUIS -- So what could you expect in a National League Championship Series game started by two pitchers with a combined regular-season record of 8-21?Nothing less than the most amusing game of this NLCS, especially for fans who like long games. Seventeen runs, 25 hits, 50 total bases. We owed the pace to Anthony Reyes and Oliver Perez. Perez, the New York left-hander, deserves more than thanks for the entertainment. He deserves credit for shortening both the series -- it's a best-of-three now -- and the Mets' odds of taking it. Asked whether the 12-5 victory in Game 4 may have been a defining moment for a team that really had not had to play catch-up all year until falling behind, 2-1, in this series, Mets right fielder Shawn Green replied: "Definitely. I think so." "We haven't had to play from behind, so if we win this series, we'll look back from the World Series on this game as a starting point." And waving the green flag will be Perez, the guy who hadn't even been on a mound outside of a bullpen in 19 days. He wasn't spectacular, or even really very noticeable. But he was clutch, when clutch was still needed. Because, a Sunday night of predictable offense aside, you still got a lot more than expected, maybe even more than what you saw. You got gutsy pitches while the game was at its most precarious point, teetering between the Mets squandering some overdue punch and having a chance to build on it. And this took place while a 3-1 disadvantage, and having to offer refunds to all those Mets fans clutching tickets to Games 6 and 7 at Shea Stadium on Wednesday and Thursday, was still a threat. "He gave us what we asked for," Jose Valentin said. "He did a huge job by pitching into the sixth, and kept us in the game," Green said. "We really needed that. I think he did a fantastic job," Carlos Delgado said. Giving props to pitchers on a night a majority of them, from both sides, were hit hard? Yes.
In general, they were all talking about Perez, the left-hander who gave the Mets 5 2/3 innings after Steve Trachsel had given them only one-plus frame the previous night.But, in particular, they all meant Perez in the fifth inning. For four innings of a clearly pivotal game, both pitchers walked a tightrope but still had their footing. In the top of the fifth, Delgado got the three-point bomb. Did that merely continue the give-and-give-back game the teams were playing? That seemed to be the case as David Eckstein led off the bottom with a homer.
And then Perez became Steve Carlton. He struck out Scott Spiezio. He struck out Albert Pujols. He got a weak fly from Juan Encarnacion.All game, that was the only time Perez retired three straight batters. It was a sign to the Mets' offense that it was OK to pour across runs, they won't go to waste. They got six more in the sixth, helping them force the series to at least a sixth game back home in Queens. "That was a big inning. Perez kept battling through a tough lineup," Green said. "He battled to keep us in the lead." Willie Randolph was duly impressed -- and perhaps relieved. In what had shaped up as a wide-open offensive crapshoot, the Mets manager had allowed Perez to end the top of the fifth by striking out with runners at the corners. If his pitcher does not survive the bottom of the inning, the absence of a pinch-hitter would have become glaring. As Perez walked off the mound and toward the third-base dugout, on the spot, Randolph turned to his coaches on the bench and said, "Got out of that inning nicely. Didn't panic." Later, Randolph acknowledged, "He did show me a lot. He didn't bend. It was nice to see him keep his wits and not overreact." By the time Perez did depart, the Mets led by six runs. Dormant through 14 straight scoreless innings, they awoke to score 12 times in the next four. How does that song go? "Meet the Mets"? Meet the real Mets. "We certainly expect to have more games like this than [Saturday] night's," Green said, alluding to the 5-0 shutout. "I wouldn't say we were pressing, but getting those two quick runs were important." Third-inning solo flies by Carlos Beltran and David Wright turned the scowls upside down. "They changed the mood on the bench," Green said. Now that 7-Eleven stores have signed a marketing deal with the Chicago White Sox, whose home night games next season will start at 7:11 p.m. CT, perhaps they ought to add Beltran to their new baseball franchise. Beltran owns 11 postseason home runs, seven of them against St. Louis -- in 11 NLCS games. "Home runs, that's something I don't look for," Beltran said. "I feel confident. I feel comfortable out there. And it's a great feeling when you contribute to help the team win. "But home runs, they just happen." Tony La Russa and the Cardinals must be relieved to hear that, because imagine how dangerous Beltran might be if any of this was premeditated.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.