Randolph's optimism breeds gritty win
In face of adversity, manager keeps Mets focused in Game 1
NEW YORK -- New Yorkers may be known for their blustery optimism, but those feelings of superiority did not apply to Game 1 of the National League Division Series.Trust us. When, soon after the loss of Pedro Martinez, the other shoe of Orlando Hernandez's loss dropped on their heads, New Yorkers had all faith knocked out of them. This became Panic City. It was no longer The Big Apple, but The Big Apprehension. Everyone feared the worst from the Dodgers, fell into pessimism, was uptight. Except for one man. Seventy-five minutes before Wednesday afternoon's first pitch, Willie Randolph was kicking it and kicking back. "Let's get it on," the manager of the Mets was saying. "Let's have fun with it, man. I don't trip about who's not here or that we don't have 'the' guys." Randolph knew what the rest of New York would soon realize: his unified Mets laugh at adversity, big and small, and would again hold hands until victory -- this time a pulsating 6-5 decision over the Dodgers -- was theirs. Well, neither Randolph nor the citizenry could know that the Dodgers would lighten the mood and the Mets' task with a running joke. But the Mets did pull out all the stops, while Los Angeles third-base coach Rich Donnelly decided not to pull out the stop sign. "It was good to see the guys coming back. That's been our trademark all year," Randolph said after a game that set the excitement bar very high for the 2006 postseason. "We've been very resilient." As far as the scoreboard was concerned, the Mets had to make only a very minor comeback on Wednesday, from a 1-0 lead the Dodgers had grabbed in the second -- which, obviously, could have been much more productive if not for the basepath follies. But the bigger comeback was from John Maine's amazingly quick promotion. In a matter of days, the 25-year-old rookie right-hander had gone from a possible roster replacement for Martinez, to a potential candidate for a Game 4 start -- to Game 1 starter. "I've been in the game too long," Randolph said. "I know all you need is one game, one performance, one outing -- and you win a ballgame." The Mets got one-half of everything on that list from the Virginia Man. Maine, proud product of Fredericksburg, Va., departed with one out in the fifth with a 2-1 lead, which didn't survive. But the tone he set did. "I'm gonna enjoy this day and, at the end, we get a victory," Randolph had predicted in his pregame chill, "and have another glass of wine and get ready for [Thursday]." Sure enough, it was the return of the days of wine and hoses: to be exact, the five bullpen arms Randolph masterfully juggled to quiet the Dodgers until they had to go home, still 120 feet shy of a tie. There was no Martinez, but the Mets still had a Pedro -- Feliciano. The left-handed specialist got the biggest out of the game, entering in the fifth to strike out Kenny Lofton with two on right after the homers by Carlos Delgado and Cliff Floyd had given New York a 2-1 lead. Chad Bradford. Guillermo Mota. Aaron Heilman. They all nailed the first men they faced, too. Although Billy Wagner allowed a leadoff double to Wilson Betemit in the ninth that led to a run, the lefty fireballer nailed his first save in five postseason series. "Our bullpen was rested and ready," Randolph said. "That's our strength; I told the guys to be ready early. You know, it's three-out-of-five. We're not going to hold anything back."
Neither did the Dodgers. Were this a match played at nearby Arthur Ashe Stadium, the action would've given fans whiplash.As Los Angeles manager Grady Little said proudly, "We haven't quit all season long. We're going to keep coming at you, and they showed that out there again." Alas, Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca knew only too well the truth of Little's words. The Dodgers kept coming at him in the second ... first Jeff Kent, then J.D. Drew. Tag one. Tag two. The highlights archives were enriched with a play both fascinating and decisive. "Very bizarre. I thought it was a very good sign," said Lo Duca, who realized just how good seconds later when Marlon Anderson doubled for one run. "We could've had two runs and no outs there," Lo Duca said, "and that would've turned a one-run inning into four or five. So it was gigantic." Upon seeing Russell Martin's blooper land to the left of right fielder Shawn Green, Randolph immediately thought, "Two runs." "It was one of those plays where you go, '[Darn],' then seconds later, 'All right! Nice!' It was nice execution." A break, sure. But what do people always say about them? It's a break only if you take advantage of it. Again, the scrappy Mets did so. Wait. The Mets? The team with the National League's highest payroll? The team of Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, David Wright? Scrappy? Guess you had to be there. "It was an exciting game," said Green. "We made all the plays, both sides. I think that's the way it'll be the whole way." That would make it a test of wills, as well as of physical talents, and you have to like these Mets in that kind of competition. They won't run away from anything ... well, with the exception of the jagged edge of Martin's snapped bat heading for Wright.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.