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Mets opt for Leiter in opener

By MARC TOPKIN, Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


NEW YORK -- To Mets manager Bobby Valentine, there was a very simple reason to name Al Leiter to pitch Saturday's World Series opener:

"Al's followed Mike (Hampton) all year, and Mike pitched the last game, so it's Al's turn to pitch," Valentine said.

Because Hampton pitched so well in his two National League Championship Series starts against St. Louis (posting 16 shutout innings), and because Saturday would be his normal day to pitch, he was considered the likely Game 1 starter.

But the Mets were concerned that Leiter hadn't pitched since Oct. 12, and they wanted to get him back on the mound. Plus, they liked the idea that he has pitched in a World Series and knows what the distractions will be like.

"He's been there," pitching coach Dave Wallace said. "He has the experience. He knows what it's about, and he's relishing the opportunity."

The Mets will follow Leiter with Hampton, Rick Reed and Bobby J. Jones.

Hampton didn't sound too put off by the decision. "My dream was always to pitch in the World Series, not pitch Game 1 of the World Series," he said.

There was some thought Valentine would use Hampton, an excellent hitter, in Game 1 so he also could work Game 5 and get to bat at Shea Stadium. But Valentine said the affect on the lineup would be negligible.

The Yankees, as expected, named Andy Pettitte to start the opener, followed by Roger Clemens and Orlando Hernandez. Manager Joe Torre hasn't decided on a Game 4 starter, but he appears to be leaning toward veteran David Cone, who has struggled through a miserable season, ahead of inconsistent Denny Neagle. "David Cone rises to the occasion," Torre said.

By pitching Clemens in Game 2 (and a potential Game 6) at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees avoid the potential for controversy by having him bat. Clemens hit Mets star Mike Piazza in the head during a July 8 interleague game, and considerable media coverage has been devoted to the possibility of retaliation.

Piazza said the incident is behind him, that "it's irrelevant, really, what my feelings are." Clemens said, "This is the World Series. He's going to battle me when he steps in there, and I'm going to battle him and try to get him out."

Torre said he has heard, seen and read enough. "I think it's a disservice to people what's going on," he said. "Whenever you pick up a newspaper, whatever network you watch, that's all you see is Mike getting hit in the head. I would like to believe this World Series is more about competition and fun than about getting even and inciting riots."

JOSE CAN YOU SEE: The Yankees plan to put Jose Canseco back on the active roster for the Series; he was dropped for the American League Championship Series so they could carry an extra pitcher. Canseco, an ex-Devil Ray, will be used as a pinch-hitter and could get a start at designated hitter if the Yankees move Chuck Knoblauch back to second base for Game 1 or 2. The Yankees have said they plan to use Knoblauch at second for the DH-less games at Shea Stadium, and there is some thought Torre will use him there in one of the home games.

UMPIRES: Ed Montague, a 25-year veteran, will be home-plate umpire for the opener. Montague worked the Series in 1986, '91 and '97. Joining him on the umpiring crew are Charlie Reliford and Jeff Kellogg, both working their first World Series; Tim Welke, who umpired the '96 Series; Tim McClelland, who worked the '93 Series; and Jerry Crawford, who umpired the Series in '88, '92 and '98.

MISCELLANY: Former Devil Ray Bubba Trammell may be the Mets' DH in Game 1 against left-hander Pettitte. ... Mets reliever Dennis Cook has been diagnosed with a kidney stone but should be available.

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