Braves finish off Mets; Base-loaded walk to A. Jones in 11th ends drama, 10-9; Mets push it all way; Williams' run gives Atlanta NL pennant

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ATLANTA -- Andruw Jones stood motionless as the last pitch sailed past him. Without so much as a flick of the wrist, he had applied a tomahawk chop to every New Yorker's dream of a Subway Series.

Jones drew a bases-loaded walk off Kenny Rogers in the 11th inning, scoring Gerald Williams to give the Braves a 10-9 victory over the New York Mets in Game 6 of the NLCS before 52,335, the largest crowd ever at Turner Field.

The Braves advanced to their fifth World Series this decade. They also set up a rematch with the New York Yankees, who defeated them in 1996 by rallying from a 2-0 deficit. Game 1 will be Saturday in Atlanta.

The Mets had moved ahead in the eighth on a run-scoring single by pinch hitter Melvin Mora, and again in the 10th on a sacrifice fly by Todd Pratt, whose homer in Game 5 of the Division Series carried New York to the next level of the postseason.

Both times, the Braves fought back. They delivered the knockout punch in the 11th by barely lifting a glove.

Williams led off the inning by lining a double to left off Rogers, the eighth pitcher used by manager Bobby Valentine. He took third on a sacrifice bunt by Bret Boone, and stayed there as Chipper Jones and Brian Jordan were walked intentionally.

With the count full, Rogers missed outside with a changeup, touching off a wild celebration and assuring that the Braves wouldn't become the first team to blow a 3-0 lead in the LCS.

"I was trying to make sure I didn't take wings," Williams said. "It's a situation where you're totally happy and feel like you can almost fly. I wanted to make sure I could stay on the ground."

Both teams kept getting off it. The game had appeared to be over numerous times. It also looked like it would never end, much like Sunday's 15-inning marathon at rainy Shea Stadium that the Mets won, 4-3, to force Game 6.

Mike Piazza completed a seventh-inning comeback by slamming a two-run homer off John Smoltz. Benny Agbayani then opened the eighth by singling off Mike Remlinger, was sacrificed to second and scored on a pinch-single by Mora. It was the third hit to come from New York bench players batting in the pitcher's slot.

It also was the latest indignity suffered by the Braves, who still were smarting from Sunday's loss. They blew a lead in that game, as well, having gone ahead 3-2 in the top half of the decisive inning, only to watch the Mets again rise from the dead.

The Braves tied it in the eighth on a single by Brian Hunter that scored pinch runner Otis Nixon, who had stolen second and moved to third on a throwing error by Piazza.

The Mets reclaimed the lead in the 10th on a sacrifice fly by Pratt off left-hander John Rocker, who was pitching one day after being involved in a minor car accident. But the Braves again pulled even on a pinch-single by Ozzie Guillen off former Orioles teammate Armando Benitez, who had allowed a leadoff single to Andruw Jones and one-out walk to Ryan Klesko.

Until the latter innings, comebacks in this game had been the Mets' specialty. They were down by five runs in the first inning, and down by four going into the seventh. But they were never out.

"They beat us during the season and they deserve to move on," Valentine said, "but they played a championship team. I told my guys they should feel like champions.

"It's difficult to give it up but we gave everything we had. There's a lot left out on that field, I guarantee you that."

The Braves had scored twice in the sixth to build a 7-3 lead. In came Smoltz, who saved Game 2 as a converted reliever. Back came the Mets.

Pinch hitter Matt Franco and Rickey Henderson doubled to open the seventh. One out later, John Olerud singled to right to score Henderson. Piazza then launched a 2-1 pitch over the fence in right-center field, giving the Mets 15 total bases in 1 1/3 innings and tying the score at 7.

Piazza has taken a beating in this series, getting nailed by backswings, foul tips and angry base runners. Just as painful, he was 3-for-22 with no homers before connecting off Smoltz.

"It was an amazing game because we had held their hitters so well the entire playoffs, and almost the entire season," said Atlanta manager Bobby Cox. "All of a sudden, they had nothing but line drives."

The Braves took advantage of Al Leiter's wildness to jump all over the Mets in the first inning and give the false appearance of seizing control.

Leiter, who had a 1.47 ERA over his last four starts, established an LCS record by hitting two batters in the same inning. He also failed to record an out, with all six batters reaching before Pat Mahomes was summoned from the bullpen. Mix in a throwing error by Piazza and a brain cramp by Leiter, and it added up to a 5-0 lead.

Leiter also tied an NLCS record for shortest outing by a starter, equaling the futile effort by Pittsburgh's Bob Moose in Game 2 of the 1972 series against Cincinnati.

Working on three days' rest for only the second time in his career, Leiter nailed Williams leading off the first inning. He walked Bret Boone, and the Braves pulled off a double steal that resulted in a run when Piazza's throw sailed past third baseman Robin Ventura. Leiter then hit Chipper Jones, and Brian Jordan upped the lead to 2-0 with a single to left.

Leiter might have been able to keep the damage at a minimum, but he inexplicably tried for the force at second on a tapper by Andruw Jones. His throw was late, loading the bases for Perez.

Bad idea. Perez, named the series MVP, was batting .471 with two homers. Once known only as Greg Maddux's personal catcher before replacing the injured Javy Lopez this season, he stroked a two-run single to center for a 4-0 lead.

"This is the biggest thing to happen to me," Perez said. "Winning the World Series in '95 was nice, but I didn't have a chance to play. Now I'm playing."

Leiter was history after Perez's hit. The Braves were trying to avoid making it.

For five innings, it appeared certain the Mets wouldn't live to see another day, but they scored three times in the sixth to chase Kevin Millwood. The last hit off him was a two-run single by Darryl Hamilton that kicked off Boone's glove as he dived to his right.

Left-hander Terry Mulholland added suspense by walking Agbayani. Rey Ordonez followed with a soft liner to shortstop Walt Weiss, who flipped to second to double up Hamilton. Ordonez was 1-for-23 in the series after that at-bat.

The uprising against Millwood was an aberration in this series. Atlanta's rotation had allowed seven earned runs in 35 2/3 innings. Overall, it's pitchers had given up 10 earned runs in 49 1/3 innings.

Millwood wasn't in top form last night, but the Braves didn't look as though it would stop them. They loaded the bases with one out in the sixth against reliever Turk Wendell, who opened the inning by hitting Jordan on the same right hand that's bothered him for much of the season.

That gave the Mets the dubious NLCS record for hitting the most batters in one game. It also led Jordan to exchange words with Wendell on his slow walk to first base, and later wipe out Piazza from behind with a hard slide while being forced at home for the second out.

Left-hander Dennis Cook entered the game when Keith Lockhart was announced as a pinch-hitter. Cox countered with Jose Hernandez, an exchange that seemed to favor the Mets. Instead, Hernandez lined a two-run single to left for a 7-3 lead.

Against any other team, that probably would have been enough. But the Mets never learned how to roll over.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
39°