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St. Louis wonders 'what if' after late-season injuries

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 17, 2000


NEW YORK -- Being beaten by the Mets was bad enough. But losing to them without their full team in place made being eliminated even worse for the Cardinals.

With 16-game winner Garrett Stephenson and starting catcher Mike Matheny sustaining late-season injuries, and with Mark McGwire limited to pinch-hit work due to tendinitis in his right knee, it was hard for the Cardinals to feel they were at their best.

"That's what's tough," general manager Walt Jocketty said before Monday's game. "It's not making excuses, it's just fact. There's the team that got you here, but over the last week you don't have your full complement of players. That makes it tough."

Still, Jocketty said the Cardinals, who went 95-67 and easily won the NL Central, had a successful season.

"We improved by 20 games over last year, and we beat the Braves (in the first round)," Jocketty said. "We just ran into a Mets club that was playing very well. We're very pleased with the season we had, and we'll be looking for ways to improve next season."

CONTINUING SAGA: In today's episode of How Bobby's World Turns, Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon made what sounded like a very public endorsement of Bobby Valentine returning as the Mets manager. "Bobby has a great future here," Wilpon said.

FUN PATROL: The Mets have good pitching, clutch hitters and some slick defensive players. But reliever Rick White, the former Devil Ray, says the primary reason for their success is that they have fun.

"Every once in a while a guy has a bad game and people are down, but 99.9 percent of the time these guys come in every day light-footed, happy-go-lucky and having fun," White said.

"They know there's a pretty good chance they're going to win every time they come out. In Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, even if we won a couple games, we weren't sure the next day if we were going to get that third or fourth one in a row. Here, there's no doubt in anyone's mind; they expect to win every time they come out so the atmosphere's a little better."

YANKEE DOODLES: Diplomacy has its merits, but so does candor. And Wilpon, a Brooklyn native, made it clear during a pregame interview that he is hoping for a Subway Series matchup with the Yankees.

"Nothing against the Seattle Mariners, but we want the Yankees to win badly," Wilpon said. "We want to play the Yankees here."

FAMILY AFFAIR: John James Franco, the 8-year-old son of the Mets reliever, has been hanging around the field in uniform, playing catch and taking a few swings and ground balls. "He loves coming to the ballpark and being around the guys," Franco said. "And hopefully it teaches him to respect the game." The potential of a Subway Series matchup with the Yankees is not lost on the younger Franco. "I think he's a Mets fan," Franco said. "But one of his favorite players is Derek Jeter."

HIT MEN: Mets second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo extended his post-season hitting streak to 11 games, which includes nine this season, with a first-inning single. ... Rookie outfielder Timo Perez extended his streak to eight post-season games with a leadoff single in the first.

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