Work in Sports
Shea la vie
Mets return home with confidence and momentum
NEW YORK (AP) -- The Mets are back in New York, and they're brimming with confidence.
New York, tied 1-1 in its best-of-five NL division series with the San Francisco Giants, has captured the home-field advantage, and the momentum.
"The guys are all upbeat," said outfielder Jay Payton, who drove in the winning run Thursday night in the Mets' 5-4, 10-inning victory at Pacific Bell Park. "We feel like we've got a little momentum, and we feel like taking that into this series here."
The significance of playing two games at Shea Stadium -- where New York went 55-25 and actually had the best home record in baseball because one of their losses in Japan counted as a home game -- with a chance to win the series at home is not lost on the Mets.
"This is our house," outfielder Benny Agbayani said. "They have got to come through the jungle. And I thought their fans were, you know, pretty good. But they have not seen our fans. And it's going to be rocking when they come to New York and see how our fans react during the playoffs."
It's sort of a homecoming for the Giants, as well. The Giants won five World Series championships while playing in New York, and had their share of big moments here -- including Bobby Thomson's NL pennant-winning homer off the Brooklyn Dodgers' Ralph Branca 49 years ago.
And the Giants still have many fans in New York from their Polo Grounds days, but Mets manager Bobby Valentine doesn't think their presence will be a factor.
"Sure, I think there's a lot of Giants fans still here in New York," Valentine said. "But I doubt they'll be able to get any tickets."
The Giants haven't won a World Series since leaving New York for San Francisco after the 1957 season, and the Mets intend on keeping it that way.
"I think we're very confident because we're here playing at home," Agbayani said. "And you know, we're one of the teams with the best home record, so I think we're going to do very well after the road trip we had."
But the Mets, who announced that outfielder Derek Bell is out for the season with a high ankle sprain, are trying to guard against overconfidence.
"We've just got to go out there and play," Agbayani said. "We can't worry about us just coming in here and sweeping them right now. We've got to worry about (Saturday), and that's it."
Thursday night's victory was just another in the Mets' history of playoff nail-biters. Some players likened it to last year's victory over the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of the NL championship series, when Robin Ventura hit his grand slam single.
"It was pretty incredible," outfielder Darryl Hamilton said. "The fact that we were up three runs, to lose it in the ninth, but to come back ... I think our mindset obviously changed and we felt very positive after that."
After closer Armando Benitez allowed J.T. Snow's pinch-hit homer and blew New York's three-run lead in the ninth, the Mets came right back in the 10th when Hamilton doubled and Payton drove him home with the go-ahead run.
"I'm impressed, proud," Valentine said. "But I've seen them do it, so there's no reason for me to be surprised. I'm not surprised at all."
The Mets will be playing with one less player for the rest of the series because of Bell's injury, but Valentine knows he has capable players to fill in.
"It will be a new-look lineup, which makes things a little different for us," Valentine said. "That's what the major difference will be, that it's something that we're not really comfortable with, and we're going with it in the playoffs. But I'm comfortable with it."
Timo Perez has given Valentine a reason to be comfortable. Perez, a late-season callup, provides the Mets with a true leadoff hitter and much-needed sparkplug -- similar to the job Melvin Mora did last year.
Perez, who played five seasons in Japan and said Giants outfielder Barry Bonds is his hero, had three hits Thursday night, including a two-run single, and a bunt single on a 3-2 count.
"I think after playing in Japan, he doesn't have any fear going out there and playing," Hamilton said. "He's very positive when he goes out there and plays. He knows that when he goes out there that he can make something happen to help this ballclub win."
Perez, who said he made the decision to bunt on the full count, is confident he can step into the lineup every day.
"I think it is a great honor to be compared to Melvin Mora, and I know the job he did last year," Perez said through an interpreter. "Being compared with him says people are happy with the job I'm doing, and I know with more time I can do just as good as he did in the playoffs."