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Hampton lifts Mets

The Crystal River product's MVP effort sends New York to World Series.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 17, 2000


NEW YORK - Co-owner Fred Wilpon stood on the field before Monday's game and repeated what he said on the first day of spring training, that the Mets had a simple goal for 2000 - to do better than last year, when they were ousted by Atlanta in the NL Championship Series.

They accomplished that Monday, posting an impressive 7-0 victory that gave them the NL pennant and eliminated the Cardinals in five games.

But don't think for even a New York minute they're planning on stopping now.

The Mets advanced to the World Series for the fourth time in their history and the first since 1986, and they did their part to keep the possibility of a Subway Series on track. They'll now sit back and watch the Yankees-Mariners series to find out whether they'll be taking a 20-minute bus ride or a cross-country flight for Saturday's World Series opener.

"We're playing great right now," Mets pitcher and Series MVP Mike Hampton said. "We're confident. But we're still four games away."

photo
[AP photo]
Series MVP Mike Hampton is lifted up by his Mets teammates after his shutout put New York in the World Series.
Wilpon said before the game he wanted the Yankees to win -- badly -- and the Mets fans apparently agreed, breaking out into chants of, "Yankees s---!, Yankees s---!" as they left the stadium.

The wild-card Mets out-pitched and out-played the Central Division champion Cardinals throughout the five-game series, and the differences were even more obvious Monday.

Hampton, the Crystal River High product, delivered on his promise to pitch the game of his life, allowing three hits in a sterling complete game. Hampton was dominant from start to finish, giving up three singles and one walk and not allowing a runner to reach second base.

"I really didn't see it as bold," Hampton said. "I mean, I really felt that. And I usually don't say things unless I feel them."

Winless in the first four post-season starts of his career, Hampton, acquired in trade from Houston as the Mets went with a win-now philosophy, recorded 16 shutout innings and a pair of victories in this series and was named MVP.

"He was fantastic," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "Extremely competitive. He did everything anyone could hope for him to do in, I guess, the biggest game of his life, and mine too."

Rookie Timo Perez continued his offensive show, sparking a three-run rally in the first inning, and Todd Zeile put the game away with a bases-clearing double in the fourth.

For the Cardinals, it was a disappointing end to a season in which they won 95 games and cruised to the division championship.

Tempers flared in the eighth-inning when Dave Veres threw an 0-and-2 pitch high and inside to Jay Payton, then hit him in the helmet with the next pitch. Payton, with blood running down his face, charged the mound and both benches and bullpens emptied.

Valentine said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa assured him "on everything sacred" -- the pitch was not intentional.

Much as they did Sunday, the Mets came out swinging, and scoring, in the first inning. Perez once again got them started, slapping a single up the middle, then stealing second and going to third when catcher Carlos Hernandez's throw bounced into centerfield. Perez, signed in March after being released by the Japanese League Hiroshima Carp, has hit in each of his eight post-season starts.

On the next pitch, Edgardo Alfonzo drilled a single that went just under the glove of shortstop Edgar Renteria, giving the Mets a 1-0 lead and the boisterous Shea Stadium crowd of 55,695 reason to start cheering right away.

Mike Piazza walked, Robin Ventura singled hard to right to make it 2-0, and Piazza scored on what should have been a double-play grounder by Zeile.

The Mets put the game away in the fourth, chasing St. Louis starter Pat Hentgen, who was pitching in short-sleeves despite midgame temperatures in the 50s, with a three-run outburst.

With each St. Louis out, the crowd roared louder and the stadium began to shake. "After Todd had the three-run double, I had to tell myself to focus ... to keep in mind to not get too excited," Hampton said.

Pinch-hitter Rick Wilkins' lazy fly to center became the final out, and the start of the Mets' wild celebration. Perez waved his arms as he settled under the ball, Hampton threw his arms up in celebration and the team celebrated together on the mound.

"We're hoping it is New York-New York," said Mets, and former Devil Rays reliever, Rick White. "That would make it even better."

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