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Star-Bulletin Sports

Friday, October 13, 2000

B A S E B A L L _ I S L A N D E R S

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Cards may have
‘Met’ their match

New Yorkers twist St. Louis'
Ankiel for two-game lead

By Ben Walker
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- The New York Mets are headed home, maybe for the rest of the year. The St. Louis Cardinals, meanwhile, must wonder what the future holds for Rick Ankiel.

Nearly four hours after Ankiel threw the opening pitch to the backstop, Jay Payton hit an RBI single in the ninth inning last night, giving the Mets a 6-5 win over St. Louis and a 2-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

The Mets won their team-record fifth in a row in the postseason, with three of the victories coming in their final at-bat.

"It's amazing, but we keep coming back," Mets pitcher Al Leiter said. "That's kind of been the way we're playing, very resilient."

The victory sent the Mets back to Shea Stadium for Game 3 tomorrow. It also kept them on track for a Subway Series -- the Yankees and Seattle are 1-1 in the ALCS.

Payton delivered his second winning hit in the playoffs, having singled home the go-ahead run in the 10th inning of Game 2 of the division series at San Francisco.

Robin Ventura led off the ninth with a grounder that first baseman Will Clark misplayed -- shades of Bill Buckner? -- and pinch-runner Joe McEwing moved up on Benny Agbayani's first sacrifice bunt of the year.

Payton followed with a single that skipped past center fielder Jim Edmonds for a two-base error.

"I don't care if I go 0-for-10. As long as we win the game, it's no big deal to me," Payton said.

While the Mets could afford to savor this game for a day, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had more pressing concerns -- and not just about how to get Mark McGwire a meaningful at-bat or how to become the first team ever to win a championship series after losing the first two games at home.

After watching Ankiel throw a modern-record five wild pitches in an inning last week in Game 1 against Atlanta, La Russa saw another meltdown by the 21-year-old rookie.

Ankiel's first pitch was a 91 mph fastball that nearly nailed Timo Perez in the head and drew gasps from the sellout crowd. In all, five of the rookie's first 20 pitches hit the backstop.

"It was scary," said Edgardo Alfonzo, who walked after two balls sailed past him.

Ankiel was officially charged with only two wild pitches, both coming with Mike Piazza at the plate.

"I played with a guy in the minor leagues that had a great arm and struggled with his control a little bit," Piazza said.

This, though, was more than a little problem.

All of Ankiel's crazy tosses went the same way, to the spot that would be high and away to a right-handed hitter.

Ankiel was mercifully pulled after getting only two outs in the first inning. He seemed to be biting his lip as he walked off to sympathetic applause, with fans no doubt wondering whether he had caught the same wildness disease that derailed Mark Wohlers and Steve Blass.

"I'm not finishing the pitch for some reason or another. It's the exact same thing as last time," Ankiel said. "It's unfortunate. I feel like I let this team down, and it's terrible."

During this brief outing, Ankiel got four visits on the mound from teammates and pitching coach Dave Duncan.

"They come out there and they tell me what I'm doing wrong," Ankiel said. "But I still can't get it right when I'm out there."

La Russa tried to deflect criticism of Ankiel. The left-hander is one of baseball's best pitching prospects and a candidate for rookie of the year after going 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA -- and 12 wild pitches in 175 innings.

"Before anybody starts kicking Rick around, I think the blame is on me for putting him out there," La Russa said.

La Russa, however, again could not get his No. 1 weapon to the plate in a key spot.

McGwire, limited to pinch-hitting duty by tendinitis in his right knee, did not play Wednesday night as St. Louis lost the opener, 6-2. In this game, with the Cardinals running out of players, Big Mac was sent up with a runner on second and two outs in the eighth inning, and promptly got an intentional walk.

"He was hot a couple times," manager Tony La Russa said. "I just couldn't get him that spot that would max him out."

Said McGwire: "I don't have any problem with the way things happened. That's just the way it worked out."

Turk Wendell wound up with the win, and Armando Benitez pitched the ninth for a save in a game that lasted 3:59, the longest by time in NLCS history.

Leiter got a no-decision, leaving him winless in nine postseason starts.

Mike Piazza hit his third career postseason homer, a solo shot off rookie Britt Reames that put the Mets ahead 3-1 in the third.

Edgar Renteria had three hits and stole three bases for St. Louis. He hit an RBI double in the fifth and scored on Fernando Tatis' double to make it 3-all.

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