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Resilient Mets rally to close out Dodgers

Resilient Mets rally to close out Dodgers

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LOS ANGELES -- With the prospect of a Subway Series sequel eliminated earlier Saturday, the Mets did what needed to be done to prolong the baseball season in New York and one-up the team from the Bronx. They dispatched the team with Brooklyn roots to assure Queens more nights of fall ball and themselves a place in the National League Championship Series for the third time in eight years.

A 9-5 victory against the Dodgers that produced as much stress as it did joy accomplished all that and the franchise's second postseason sweep. The team that would take its second cross-country flight in less than 60 hours was saturated, satisfied, grateful and borderline exhausted as it put its enhanced October aspirations in suitcases in the visiting clubhouse at a ballpark some of them have known as a home and others came to embrace as children.

But most of their thoughts involved other cities, specifically San Diego and St. Louis, and, of course, New York, the city that now wears a Mona Lisa expression following a two-site, one-day Division Series split.

No one in the Mets' clubhouse gloated about the Yankees' earlier-than-expected exit. The Mets were focused more on their own success and how their quick defeat of the Wild Card entry had set up their next postseason assignment.

There were mixed thoughts on the Yankees, though, from manager Willie Randolph's regret that a sequel to the 2000 World Series had been defused to Paul Lo Duca's feigned ignorance.

"The Yankees play today? Really?" the catcher said.

And in between, there was Tom Glavine, a moderate man.

"I take no joy in their losing," he said off in a quiet, dryer corner of a crazed clubhouse. "They're a great organization with an incredible record. But when I came here, I was told that there's nothing like winning in New York.

"We're still in the running for that. And now, we're the only team in town."

They are that because of the resilience and resolve they demonstrated during a three-run rally in the sixth inning and because of the efforts of two former Dodgers -- Lo Duca and Shawn Green, who combined for five hits and four RBIs. Green initiated the decisive rally, and Lo Duca produced the third of four hits in the inning.

"I would have been surprised if we didn't score right there after they took the lead," Lo Duca said. "We didn't like falling behind [in the fifth]. We wanted to get this done, get on a plane, go home and rest. We did. And now we can watch football tomorrow and let it sink in."

To Mets watchers with long memories, success in this best-of-five series was a belated form of payback for what still stands as the franchise's most bitter disappointments -- losses to the Dodgers in Games 2 and 7 of the 1988 NLCS. Those with longer memories may recall the club's other postseason sweep came in its first postseason venture, the 1969 NLCS against the Braves. And those with less recall will know the Mets now are three-for-three in these NLDS matchups. They eliminated the Diamondbacks in 1999 and the Giants the following year.

These Mets are all about now, though. Any place in history they may achieve is of secondary importance to them.

"All we want to do is win eight more games," Carlos Beltran said. "After playing like we did in this series, you can't say that's not possible."

His words were a veiled reference to how the Mets had persevered against a "hot" team after losing the pitcher who was to have started Game 1 and his replacement.

"A lot of people said we lost too much," Carlos Delgado said. "But we didn't pout ... or complain. We just won. We made the best of what we had, and we won."

"And the more you overcome challenges," Randolph said, "the more character you develop. That's why when we got down [in the fifth inning], there was no panic."

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Instead, there was this against losing pitcher Jonathon Broxton: A well-struck double by Green leading off the inning, his third hit, a one-out walk to pinch-hitter Michael Tucker, and a run-scoring single through the middle by Jose Reyes. Lo Duca's soft single scored Tucker and moved Reyes to third. A softer single to left by Beltran scored Reyes.

In the eighth, Lo Duca's hit off Brad Tomko, the fourth of five Dodgers relievers, and a careless error by third baseman Wilson Betemit produced the final four-run margin.

"Those last runs are what we talk about," Randolph said. "When you get a team down, put your shoe on their neck and keep 'em down."

The Mets were unable to do so earlier. They led 4-0 after three innings, using their favorite M.O. -- scoring in the first inning -- against Greg Maddux to provide Steve Trachsel a cushion. A fourth run came in the third, a costly inning. It was scored -- painfully -- by Cliff Floyd, who strained his problematic left Achilles tendon as he rounded third base on Green's first double. Floyd was removed; his availability for the NLCS is uncertain.

With Trachsel and Maddux starting, the game began as a reasonable facsimile of the dreaded ex-Cub factor. Trachsel didn't last as long as Maddux, but he was more effective and less fortunate in his 3 1/3 innings than Maddux was in his four. The Mets made two errors behind Trachsel. He allowed two runs, both scoring on a single by James Loney, his final batter.

Trachsel started -- it was his first postseason appearance -- after 12 days away from the mound, some the result of time he spent away from the team for personal reasons.

"I can't say I'm pleased with the way I pitched after they gave me a lead," he said. "But I'm very pleased with how it all worked out."

After Loney, the understudy for the injured Nomar Garciaparra, singled, Randolph summoned Darren Oliver, who retired pinch-hitter Andre Ethier on a 1-5 line-drive double play. But Oliver was in trouble of his own making in the fifth after retiring two batters.

Marlon Anderson singled to right. Five more Dodgers batted against Oliver and two more relievers before the third out was achieved. Jeff Kent hit a first-pitch home run to tie the score before a single by J.D. Drew prompted Randolph to replace Oliver with Chad Bradford. A single to left by Russell Martin and a walk to Betemit loaded the bases before Pedro Feliciano walked Loney to force in the go-ahead run.

That run turned a switch in the Mets' dugout.

"We knew if we won it tonight," Lo Duca said later, "we'd have Tom set up for Game 1 of the next series and we could get all our pitchers rested and lined up. And when Cliff went down, we said, 'Why play more games without him than we need to play? Let's just end it tonight and watch football tomorrow.'"

As he spoke, champagne ran down his face. He closed his eyes to limit the burn. But his and his teammates' eyes are wide open in another sense.

"I think they're learning just how good they are," Randolph said.

"I don't know," Lo Duca said, "we might be better than that."

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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