October 15, 2000: Mets close in on NL pennant with win in Game 4
With their 8-2 win in the third game of the National League Championship Series, their first victory in the best-of-seven series, the St. Louis Cardinals hoped they had some momentum. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa chose Darryl Kile to start Game Four. Kile had started the first game and was pitching on just three days of rest. His record in 13 appearances with just three days’ rest was 4-8 with a 6.66 ERA.1
The Mets sent Bobby Jones to the mound. Jones had not started since he shut out the San Francisco Giants a week earlier to clinch the Division Series. In that game, he was perfect in eight of the nine innings, the sole Giants hit being a double by Jeff Kent in the fifth inning. Mets fans hoped that Jones would repeat his performance and bring the Mets within a win of going to the World Series.
But the Cardinals wasted no time in jumping on Jones. Fernando Vina led off with a double and reached second on Edgar Renteria’s sacrifice. Jim Edmonds, only 3-for-14 thus far, hit Jones’s first pitch to him over the right-field wall to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.
After their Game Three loss, the Mets’ Edgardo Alfonzo told his teammates they were playing as though they were down in the series rather than up a game. He had become a team leader and his message was: “Our attitude should be more aggressive, from the dugout to the field.”2
His teammates were clearly listening. Timo Perez led off the Mets’ first with a ground-rule double to right-center. Alfonzo hit Kile’s first pitch for another double that brought Perez home. Then Mike Piazza stepped up and after taking two pitches for balls, hit a third double, to right field. With runners on second and third, Robin Ventura hit yet another double that scored both baserunners. The Cardinals had grabbed the lead on just four pitches and now the Mets took it back on nine.
Kile got Todd Zeile to ground out for the first out but the next batter, Benny Agbayani, hit the Mets’ fifth double of the inning, bringing Ventura home. By the time Kile got the third out, the Mets had taken a 5-2 lead. “It was electrifying,” Jay Payton said of the Mets’ bench in the first inning as they shouted support of their teammates in response to Alfonzo’s words.3
The Mets continued their assault on Kile in the bottom of the second. After Jones struck out, Perez singled and stole second base. A fly ball by Alfonzo moved him to third. Piazza was walked intentionally to set up a double play but then Kile couldn’t find the plate and walked Ventura to load the bases. Zeile, who failed to get a double in the first, took two called strikes before sending a line drive to right field for a double. Two runners scored. Agbayani followed with a single to bring home another run, and the Mets’ lead stood at 7-2.
After his rocky first inning, Jones settled down and got the Cardinals out in order the next two innings. St. Louis inched closer when Will Clark hit a home run off Jones in the fourth. Meanwhile, Kile continued to struggle. When he walked leadoff batter Perez in the fourth, La Russa had seen enough. “He was firing, but everything was elevated. They didn’t miss them. Usually that's what happens when you have too much rest,” he said later.4 Mike James came in and got Alfonzo to ground out for the second out. After Perez was caught stealing, Piazza hit his second home run of the series to give the Mets an 8-3 lead.
Jones was unable to complete the fifth inning. After he gave up consecutive singles and a double that brought home the Cardinals’ fourth run, Mets manager Bobby Valentine went to his bullpen and called on Glendon Rusch. Rusch allowed two of the runners he inherited to score before he could get out of the inning with the Mets lead cut to two, at 8-6.
Rusch worked two scoreless innings before turning the game over to the Mets’ late-inning tandem of John Franco and Armando Benitez. For the second straight game, a Mets starter faltered and Rusch was called on to stop the bleeding. Rusch had said before the series that “one of the keys of the series (for the Mets) was keeping me out of the game. Fortunately tonight, I guess, I came in at the right time.”
St. Louis had a chance to score in the sixth inning. With Ray Lankford on first and Mark McGwire poised on deck, Carlos Hernandez hit a grounder into the hole between first and second. Zeile dove, caught the ball and beat Hernandez to first to end the inning.
Mike Timlin relieved for the Cardinals in the fifth and got the Mets out in order. But when he took the mound in the sixth, the Mets bats came alive once again. He walked Mike Bordick to start the inning. Rusch sacrificed Bordick to second. Perez reached first on an error by third baseman Fernando Tatis. Timlin hit Alfonzo with a pitch to load the bases. Tatis then booted Piazza’s groundball for his second error of the inning, and Bordick scored. Ventura followed with a fly ball to score another run and give the Mets a 10-6 lead.
Although the Mets bats grabbed most of the attention, their defense also kept the Cardinals from scoring in the late innings. Besides Zeile’s grab in the sixth, Perez showed that he was more than just a leadoff batter. He ran down Renteria’s fly ball in the right-field corner and fired to second to catch Shawon Dunston, who was trying to advance on the play. That ended the Cardinals half of the seventh and gave the Mets more momentum.
“He’s impressing the heck out of me,” Valentine said of Perez after the game with an unassuming smile. Zeile added: “He doesn’t surprise me anymore. He’s got great energy and he can make things happen.”5
Piazza caught Edmonds’ foul tip in the eighth. With two outs, Franco walked Lankford and gave up a single to Tatis. But the Cardinals could not capitalize and Craig Paquette grounded to third to end the inning. “I thought we were going to see McGwire in there, trying to make it 10-9,” Zeile said.6 But La Russa said, “I was going to wait until he was the tying run to put him up. When the tying run was up, he was coming up. But the tying run didn’t come up.”7
With the Mets leading 10-6, Benitez took the mound in the ninth to bring home the Mets’ victory. Hernandez led off with a single and was replaced by pinch-runner Eli Marrero, who went to second on defensive indifference.
Benitez walked pinch-hitter Placido Polanco, then got Vina to ground into a force out at second. Vina took second on defensive indifference. Then, with baserunners at second and third, Benitez struck out Renteria. The final out was a fly ball that Perez grabbed in right field and then flung into the stands. “I love the fans,” Perez said after the game. “All game long, they were yelling at me and having fun with me. They help us, motivate us, and get us going when we need it.”8
“One more! One more!” Mets fans shouted after Perez’s catch brought the team to within one game of heading to the World Series. It was clear that Alfonzo had fired up the team with his words before the game. “The key for us is to come in tomorrow and want to put these guys away. We’re up 3-1 now, and none of the guys in here want to go back to St. Louis. I think we’ll come in tomorrow with the same mentality we had today and hopefully that’ll carry over,” Payton said amid the cheering in the Mets locker room.”9
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author used Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org for box-score, player, team, and season information as well as pitching and batting game logs, and other pertinent material.
1 Associated Press, “New York Tees Off on Kile,” Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World, October 16, 2000.
2 Tyler Kepner, “Revived Mets Just One Victory Away From the Series,” New York Times, October 16, 2000.
3 Andrew Marchand, “Amazin’s Double Their Pleasure,” New York Post, October 16, 2000.
4 “New York Tees Off on Kile.”
5 David Lennon, “The Cliche Fits: Mets a Timo Destiny,” Newsday, October 16, 2000.
7 “New York Tees Off on Kile.”