05/20/06 1:14 AM ET
Wright downs Yanks with walk-off single
Single off Rivera leads Mets to Interleague-opening win
By Marty Noble / MLB.com
Their rousing 7-6 victory, achieved in the ninth inning against Mariano Rivera, was less than 30 minutes old when Paul Lo Duca put it into the perspective of a team with October aspirations and more confidence than it demonstrated in its recent nine-game, six-loss roadtrip.
"We won against their best," he said. "And now we have Pedro [Martinez] and [Tom] Glavine going."
No sooner had David Wright's booming fly ball to the warning track in center field bounced behind the reach of Johnny Damon to score Lo Duca in the ninth than the Mets began thinking of the second and third rounds of their Interleague, interborough interlude -- Martinez versus Mike Mussina and Glavine versus Aaron Small. Mindful of the mantra, they'll play one game Saturday and the other Sunday.
Forgive the Mets if they beat their chests a bit and got a little giddy after this one.
"It's not every day you come back against Randy Johnson and beat Mariano," Wright said. "We're feeling good about ourselves."
Comeback victories do that. They're good for the soul of a team.
"We don't want to keep falling behind," Wright said. "But we've proven we're a pretty good late-inning team."
The Mets had spotted the Yankees four runs in the first inning when Jeremi Gonzalez did an impersonation of Jose Lima. They fell behind 5-3 and 6-5 in the first four innings. But their bullpen -- namely Darren Oliver, Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner -- put an end to the Yankees' offense. And while they were retiring the final 16 Yankees batter -- nine by Heilman -- the Mets offense did just enough.
It produced a tie in the fifth, Johnson's final inning, on a one-out single by Wright, Xavier Nady's infield out that advanced Wright to second base and Kaz Matsui's hard single to left. And in the ninth, after Wagner's 12-pitch, three-strikeout siege had energized most of the folks in a crowd of 56,289, it drove Sandman to the dugout, a losing pitcher for the third time this season, and enabled the Mets to win the opening game of a home series for the eighth time in eight tries.
Lo Duca doubled to left with one out. Rivera struck out Carlos Beltran and intentionally walked Carlos Delgado, affording Wright an opportunity for Interleague heroism and a measure of redemption. Before he delivered Lo Duca with his nearly 400-foot single, Wright paused to gather himself.
Afterwards, Wright explained how he had applied in his confrontation with Rivera what he had learned in his unsuccessful confrontation against Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen on Wednesday night in St. Louis. In that one, Wright struck out with bases loaded, the 26th out in a 1-0 loss.
"I got too caught up in it in St. Louis," he said. "I wasn't relaxed. I was trying to do too much, more than I needed to do."
So before he faced Rivera, he changed his breathing pattern, he relaxed and put on his invisible noise-supression headphones.
"I didn't hear anything," he said. "The other night, I heard the crowd going crazy, and I got too caught up in the moment."
His hearing returned when his drive fell untouched in the warning track. The seventh-largest crowd in Shea Stadium's crowded history rejoiced.
"That is a great sound. I think Billy's strikeouts really got them going," Wright said. "We fed on their energy all night. And at the end, it was so great to hear. I'm just happy we sent them home happy."
Wagner, the winning pitcher, hadn't pitched in five days before he struck out Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez and Kelly Stinnett.
"You never know what you're gonna get when you have that much rest," he said. "I could just as well thrown a few off the backstop. But I was happy with what I did. It was a good day. I've had some good days and some not so good. I think tonight looked a little better because it was the Yankees."
His relief, as brilliant as it was, was comparable to what Heilman did. He struck out three as well -- Giambi, Damon and Robinson Cano. He just needed three innings.
"Heilman won the game for us," general manager Omar Minaya said.
The Mets' starting pitching problems -- Gonzalez lasted three-plus innings Friday, one day after Lima, now designated for assignment, pitched 4 2/3 innings -- underscores the need for a deep bullpen. Heilman still prefers to start. But his performance Friday night worked against his preference.
"What else can I do?" he said.
Gonzalez allowed four runs in the first inning when he surrendered three doubles. Beltran hit a three-run home run off Johnson in the first, and after Gonzalez allowed a fifth run in the third, Nady hit a two-run home run of Johnson.
"I'm proud of how we fought back right away," manager Willie Randolph said. "We had a tough road trip. And were down right away. But we came back immediately. That's character. That's a good game to win. It was a great game to play -- no matter who won. But it was good to win. Now we need to get two more."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.