Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Wagner On the High Wire. Again.

It wasn't pretty but Billy Wagner put the first save of his postseason career in the books.

Brought in to a game led, 6-4 by the Mets in the ninth inning today at Shea Stadium, Wagner immediately gave up a leadoff double to the Dodgers' Wilson Betimit. The ex-Philles fireman then got pinchhitter Olmedo Saenz on a fly ball and Rafael Furcal on a swinging third strike.

The angst in Flushing jumped a notch moments later, though, when Wagner allowed an RBI double to another pinchhitter, Ramon Martinez.

Wagner ended the drama one batter later, however, when he struck out the dangerous Nomar Garciaparra, swinging, to end the game.

"You know, that's the life of a closer," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "He's gone live on the edge a lot of times, but he's had a phenomenal year for us. It's nice to see him get the save for us."

Randolph also put credit where it was due. The Dodgers know that Wagner will always come at you, the manager said, "and they put some good swings on him."

Then there was the backdrop, with the always noisy she really rocking with anticipation of the Mets' first postseason victory since 2000.

"The music was [so] loud, almost deafening," Randolph said. "He gets into it. He feeds off his adrenalin. He's always that kind of guy who gets pumped in those situations. The key for him I to just kind of channel it."

Wagner eventually did just that, then, in a calm afterglow of the game, dissected his interesting trip to the save.

"You want to go out there, want to throw strikes and make them beat you," Wagner said, "but I threw a few festival's to bedmate that got away and he hit it a ton. At first I thought it was a popup, but the ball was carrying out to right ..."

Wagner then settled down, he said, "kind of collected himself. You just have to go out and make pitches. you can't worry about one run scoring, you can't worry about any of those little things. You have to go out there and get three outs before they get two runs."

He achieved that goal by setting up Garciaparra with a fastball, away - "the best pitch that inning," said Wagner. "Somehow he fouled it off, but it set him up for a slider, and the slider had tonight was the best I've had in a while."

"I thought he threw the ball really well," said Randolph. "Just made a couple pitches up in the zone where they drove the ball to right-center field. But he was able to get through it."

Major League, Take One

With apologies to Ron Howard and Tim Robbins, the two big-time movie directors who were in the house at Shea Stadium today, Hollywood had nothing on the Mets.

Not when a Shawn Green-to-Jose Valentin-to-Paul Lo Duca relay resulted in two Dodgers - two - being thrown out at home plate on the same play!

"I have never seen that before, other than Major League, The Movie," said Lo Duca, the former Dodgers catcher.

The Mets' 6-5 victory over L.A. in Game 1 of their National League Division Series was the final result of a long day's play. But the double play at the plate in a wacky postseason first was what brought the house down.

Lo Duca was the prime hero on the play, because of his double duty. After Russell Martin's single was brought back into the catcher on throws by Green and Valentin, Lo Duca tagged the lead runner, Jeff Kent, as he tried to score from second by sliding through the back-door.

Lo Duca then pirouetted in time to tag J.D. Drew - no Willie Mays Hayes, he - trying to slide in through the front door.

"That was crazy," said Green, who started a great play by adroitly fielding the ball hit off the wall in right, then making a pinpoint throw to Valentin. "I was kind of shocked when I threw the ball in. Valentin made a great relay. And I all of a sudden I saw the two guys going. I was just hoping Dukey saw them."

Lo Duca more felt the presence of Drew than saw him. After he tagged Kent, he was out of position, what with his back to the field. The catcher then said it was something in the way home plate umpire John Hirschbeck was looking past him that made him spin around just in time to get the diving Drew.

Lo Duca later realized his teammates had tried to warn him. "[John] Maine and David Wright were screaming at the top of their lungs, but I didn't hear either one of them," Lo Duca said.

"I was backing up," Maine, the pitcher, said. "I saw the relay coming in. I was like, OK, they got this guy. Then I was yelling at Lo Duca, 'Turn around! There's a guy right behind you!"

The play was so bizarre, it actually left ex-Phillies closer Billy Wagner speechless.

"It was really one of those unbelievable things," he said. "You really don't know what to think because you've never seen that happen. I haven't."

The Dodgers' reaction?

"We've been in L.A. all season; we certainly know about traffic jams. We had one there," Dodgers manager Grady Little said.

No Time to Lead With Your Heart

Mets manager Willie Randolph dearly wanted to get a victory for John Maine.

After all, the starter had done what had become routine all season - step into the breach for an injured front-line pitcher, this time fallen ace Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez (calf injury).

And Maine acquitted himself well enough early on in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Yet Randolph pulled Maine out of a 2-1 game the Mets led with two on and one out in the top of the fifth.

"I wanted to get six out of him, and definitely more than four. ... I wanted to hang in there a little bit with him," said Randolph. "But I always manage with my gut, and do what is right for the team.

"So when this guy over here [on his left shoulder] says, 'hey, it's good for his morale to get a win and he's really stepped up for you a lot,' then this other little knucklehead over here [pointing to his right shoulder] says 'hey, man, go by what you see and what you feel."

And what he felt was, Maine was done, having hit a familiar wall about the third time through the Dodgers' lineup.

So began the march of the relievers out of a well-rested bullpen. Pedro Feliciano (strikeout of Kenny Lofton) and Chad Bradford (Nomar Garciaparra groundout) ended the fifth.

L.A. would get three back in the seventh off of Guillermo Mota, tying it at 4. One more would come in against closer Billy Wagner in the ninth, but it was never enough to steal the lead, or the game eventually won by Mets' bullpen committee, 6-5.

Gold Standard, and Still Going Strong

Vin Scully, in his 57th season as an announcer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, returned to New York yesterday. And once, again, all the Hall of Famer needed do was speak to remind what national treasures both he and his golden pipes are.

Scully's presence makes the postseason complete. What better forum for one who's graced the booth not only during 18 no-hitters, but seven Dodger World Series?

Scully transcends time. He can paint the present-day game as eloquently as any voice on the air. And he can take you back, as he did yesterday when discussing the legendary 1951 playoff game between Brooklyn Dodgers' Ralph Branca and the New York Giants' Bobby Thomson.

Bedside reading prompted Scully's memories. He's currently devouring Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thompson, Ralph Branca, and the Shot Heard Round the World, a new book by Joshua Prager.

"I knew those guys," said Scully of all the writers whose works Prager quoted.

Scully knows the story, too. He lived it that day Thomson's walkoff home run gave the game the moment forever known as The Shot Heard Round the World.

Yesterday he relived it as if it were, well, yesterday. And he described the outfield fence peephole where the Giants allegedly inserted a telescope to read opposition catchers' signals, the supporting players, from the electrician allegedly who rigged the crude, battery-operated relay signal system, you were there.

That's magic. That's Vin Scully.

A-Plus for Abreu In Game 1

They were but two of the Yankees' 14 hits, but few were bigger. So it was no wonder that Bobby Abreu could rightfully consider his first postseason game since 1997 nothing short of perfect.

The former Phillies all-star rightfielder showed a national TV audience why he's earned nothing but admiration from the Yankees since he arrived in a July 30.

Abreu went 2-for-5 and ignited a 5-run third inning with a two-run double, breaking up what had been a scoreless duel between Detroit's Nate Robertson and the Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang.

Abreu then used a two-run single in the sixth to add breathing room to what had become a 5-3 game. The Yankees never looked back, winning, 8-4.

"The last two [were] great because any time the other team starts scoring runs, the momentum slips over there," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He got it back to where it was comfortable for us."

Speaking of comfortable ...

"The team made me feel good over here," Abreu said. "After we clinched, I was so happy, going to October. just going to play in October. I came herr to New York and played my first game in the postseason - it's amazing.

"The New York Yankees - it's a very powerful name and you have to do whatever you have to do to represent that."