How could the Mets get past the first round against the Dodgers without two of their most savvy veterans in Pedro and El Duque?
Enter a playoff newbie.
Carlos Delgado wasted no time in making his premiere in the playoffs count, recording a hit in each of his first four at-bats, including a home run, two RBIs and two runs in going 4-for-5 in the Mets' 6-5 win over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. The four hits ties a franchise record, first set by Rusty Staub in Game 4 of the 1973 World Series against the Oakland A's. Lenny Dykstra duplicated the feat in Game 3 of the 1986 World Series at Boston, and Kevin McReynolds did it in Game 6 of the 1988 NLCS at Los Angeles.
Sure, Delgado had some butterflies to start the game. Who could blame him, considering it took three All-Star appearances, 10 30-homer seasons, and 12 years and two days to get there from the time he played his first Major League game with the Blue Jays in 1993.
"I've known the kid a long time, and it's nice to see him get this opportunity to be in this type of stage and come through in his first game," manager Willie Randolph said. "He's been a tremendous performer and hitter his whole career, and it feels good to have him do what he did. I'm really happy for him."
Once Delgado settled down, he had a playoff debut to remember.
"I was very excited," admitted Delgado, who hit 407 home runs in his career before recording his first postseason homer in Wednesday's game. "The first couple innings, I was like, 'Whoa, what is going on here?' But I was able to control my emotions and just go out there and play."
As understated as Delgado made it, his performance on Wednesday not only verified how excellent of a player he is, it also propelled the Mets to a victory.
"He had a great game," said John Maine, who started the game and allowed six hits and one run in 4 1/3 innings. "It was unbelievable. It's one of those things where you know you got to get on the board. He did it tonight and he's been great all year."
After Delgado singled to left-center in the first inning for his first hit, he then produced a crucial home run in the fourth that tied the game at 1.
"A guy like Carlos, he can put this team on his back and carry us," said David Wright, who went 2-for-4 with two doubles and three RBIs. "He gets that hot, and when we get the middle of our lineup guys swinging the bats well, that's contagious."
The Mets avoided a three-run inning by the Dodgers in the top of the second when the Dodgers ran themselves into a double play at home plate.
Then, after Delgado's blast to center that landed in the camera scaffolding, Cliff Floyd came up with one out and smacked a 2-1 pitch that cleared the right-field fence to give the Mets a 2-1 lead.
"You know, it's contagious when he does something like that," said Floyd. "It gets this crowd going and it gets our team going. It's exciting and it was a motivating thing."
In the sixth, Delgado singled -- his only hit to right field -- and later scored when the Mets tacked on two runs and forced Dodgers starter Derek Lowe from the game.
Then, in the seventh, Delgado added an RBI single to left as part of a two-run inning that gave the Mets a 6-4 lead. His fist pump while standing on first base told it all.
"It rubs off on the players," said Wright. "It's fun to go out there and be able to play with a lot of emotion, and [it's good when] you start giving some windmill fist pumps like Carlos did. I think we've got an emotional team, which is big for us because we feed off each other."
Shawn Green, who spent seven seasons with Delgado in Toronto, knows how special it is for the big first baseman as well.
"When he hit the home run, it was kind of like all of us in the dugout let out a sigh," Green said. "It's not an accident that he did what he did tonight. He's done it so many times in his career, and he finally has the chance to show what he's been doing for so long. And when he had the hits tonight, in this see-saw game, it pushed the crowd to get loud again each time, which helped us."
Delgado became the fifth player in Major League history to have four hits in his postseason debut, the first since Boston's Todd Walker went 4-for-5 in Game 1 of the 2003 ALDS against Oakland.
"[Delgado] looked good tonight," Randolph said. "You could see he had a nice posture about him, a nice focus. You know, he took what they gave him. He's an excellent hitter, and it's not all about hitting home runs. He hit the ball the other way, and he's the kind of guy who's tough to pitch to when his approach is that way.
"I'm sure he understands that in this environment, with every run being crucial, home runs are not always the way to go. He did a great job swinging the bat."
And a great job helping the Mets become the favorites once again.