Although it is the policy of this magazine not to make election
endorsements, rarely does a write-in candidate with such
all-encompassing virtues come along. A candidate with honor. A
candidate with charisma. A candidate who not only embraces
diversity but also personifies it. Most important, a candidate
who knows what it's like to battle back from the brink of
despair, who isn't afraid to look pressure in the eyes and
laugh. A candidate who embraces the disadvantaged, the tired,
the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. A candidate who believes in a thing
Never mind Gore and Bush. The New York Mets are the real thing.
What more could any red-blooded American voter want than New
York's breathtaking three-games-to-one Division Series upset of
the San Francisco Giants, in which the Mets showed off a
commitment to strong defense (four games, no errors) and a
powerful arsenal of arms (starters Al Leiter, Rick Reed and Bobby
Jones allowed four earned runs over 23 innings), a knack for
neutralizing enemy superpowers (Barry Bonds batted .176 for the
series with no home runs) and a penchant for October Surprises
(Benny Agbayani's Game 3-winning solo homer in the bottom of the
13th inning and Jones's one-hitter in Game 4). "We're all about
destiny," said utilityman Lenny Harris, after New York's 3-2 Game
3 win, in which he reached first on a fielder's choice, stole
second and scored the tying run in the eighth inning. "We believe
anything is possible. We may not be the biggest or the strongest
or the most skilled, but we have the heart of champions. Any
obstacles, we will overcome."
Speechwriters, take notes.
A Mets administration will be one in which no individual is left
behind (New York dressed 33 players for the division series,
though only 25 were on the active roster); in which prosperity
reigns (a $83 million payroll, fifth highest in the majors) and a
young immigrant in search of the American dream can succeed. In
the Giants' 5-1 Game 1 victory at Pacific Bell Park, for
instance, Mets rightfielder Derek Bell was chasing Bonds's
third-inning triple when he fell and sprained his right ankle.
The next day New York manager Bobby Valentine surprised most of
his players by bypassing veterans Darryl Hamilton and Bubba
Trammell and inserting into rightfield and the leadoff spot a
23-year-old rookie who, just last year, batted .174 for the Japan
Central League's Carp and had been with the Mets for 36 days. Did
Valentine know something about Timoniel Perez the rest of the
world didn't? "To be honest, I had no idea how Timo would
perform," said New York first baseman Todd Zeile after Game 2. "I
don't think anyone did."
October 15, 2000
Yet another nod to our candidate: The Mets are willing to make
gutsy decisions, and they usually pay off. Perez batted .294 for
the series, going 3 for 5 with two RBIs in New York's 5-4 Game 2
victory and then doubling and scoring a run in the fifth inning
of Jones's 4-0 Sunday-evening masterpiece. Most important, he
provided something the Mets had lacked since May 13, when they
released their poker-playing malcontent, Rickey Henderson: fire
atop the order. Perez began many of his at bats with an attempted
drag bunt down the first base line. In the seventh inning of Game
4, he half-swung, half-bunted a chopper toward Giants shortstop
Rich Aurilia, who--rushed by the lefthanded Perez's burst from the
batter's box--fired an errant throw to first. Three batters later
Perez easily stole second. "No question, Timo provided the needed
spark," said New York catcher Mike Piazza. "He jump-started our
Five years ago, when he was working as the international scouting
director for the Texas Rangers, Omar Minaya was in San Cristobal,
Dominican Republic, searching for young talent. He came across a
diminutive 17-year-old with blazing speed and a quick bat. One
problem: Perez had already signed a contract with Hiroshima, for
whom he would go on to hit .271 with only nine steals over four
seasons as a part-time player. Minaya, who was named the Mets'
assistant general manager in 1997, continued to follow Perez's
career from afar. Apparently nobody else did.
"I'm sure people saw this tiny guy who didn't hit for a very high
average and only stole a couple of bases," says Minaya of the
5'9", 167-pound Perez. "But I knew some things: First, Timo had
dynamite speed; they just don't run much in Japan. Second, he had
major league potential."
After last season, during which he endured a strained hamstring
and a trip to the Japanese minors, Perez was confronted by some
fuzzy math from the Hiroshima owners and asked to take a pay
cut. Instead, he signed a minor league contract with Minaya and
the Mets. Perez, who speaks Spanish and Japanese but little
English, began this season with Class A St. Lucie but was
upgraded to Triple A Norfolk after eight games. He was summoned
to New York in late August. "This is my dream," he said in
Spanish on Sunday night, during a champagne shower in the Mets'
Shea Stadium clubhouse. "I always wanted to play in America...in
New York, but you don't always get what you want."
Not true, young Timo. Not true. With the Mets, anything is
possible. How else to explain Jones, an injury-prone enigma who
missed most of last season with a right shoulder sprain and spent
parts of April, May and June rediscovering himself in Triple A,
cruising through the potent San Francisco lineup with an 85-mph
fastball and a helium curve? How else to explain New York's
major-league-leading 45 come-from-behind wins this season? The
Mets have played 54 postseason games in their history, and nine
have been decided in the last at bat, 13 in extra innings. Maybe
that's why, after Agbayani's 13th-inning solo blast off
lefthander Aaron Fultz fell into the leftfield bleachers on
Saturday night, the New York players jumped and leaped and yelled
and laughed--but displayed no shock. Now, the Mets know that as a
team with three lefthanded starters (Leiter, Mike Hampton and
Glendon Rusch) and a deep bullpen, they match up well against the
leftist lineup of the St. Louis Cardinals.
"When I was with the Rangers and we'd play the Yankees, we'd fall
behind and there was always a sense of, 'Here we go again,'" said
Zeile. "We wouldn't give up, but things would get very negative.
Here, that never, ever happens. We can be down 10 in the bottom
of the ninth or down one, and we always think we're going to win.
We're made up of winners."
Or, as Dick Cheney might say, the Mets are on a roll--big time.
THE SCOUT'S VIEW
Timo Perez RF
.286. 1 HR, 3 RBIs
Recent call-up. A presence at top of lineup. Go after him with
first-pitch fastballs then let swing dictate what to do.
Edgardo Alfonzo 2B
.324, 25 HRs, 94 RBIs
Good plate coverage and strike zone command. Unafraid to hit deep
in count. Only way to get him out is to move ball up and down, in
Mike Piazza C
.324, 38 HRs, 113 RBIs
If he's hot, forget it. Loves ball down. If he gets arms
extended, look out. Can hit it out to any part of park. Tends to
chase balls above his hands.
Robin Ventura 3B
.232, 24 HRs, 84 RBIs
Didn't have great year, but if comes down to one at bat, can
deliver. Likes ball on outer part of plate.
Benny Agbayani LF
.289, 15 HRs, 60 RBIs
Doesn't hit outside pitch well but can juice fastball. Tends to
swing at balls above hands. Going good, he'll take a walk; going
bad, he'll get himself out.
Jay Payton CF
.291, 17 HRs, 62 RBIs
Battler at plate. Turns on inside ball well; handles pitches away
well. Runs fast enough to be at the top of the lineup.
Todd Zeile 1B
.268, 22 HRs, 79 RBIs
Good short swing. Gets to inside ball and has power to all
fields. Don't let guard down on him. Adequate at first.
Mike Bordick SS
.285, 20 HRs, 80 RBIs
Contact hitter; can hit and run and bunt. Can strike him out.
Tends to chase ball up in zone.
3B Lenny Harris is a decent lefthanded bat off the bench, as is
OF Darryl Hamilton, who runs better than Harris and plays a
decent center. Given the right pitch, OF Bubba Trammell, a
righthanded batter, can homer. C Todd Pratt is another righty
who can deliver a late-game home run.
Mike Hampton LHP (15-10, 3.14 ERA) Uses fastball, cutter,
straight change. Only as good as his cutter. Lives off sinking,
88-mph two-seam fastball. Has struggled but is capable of coming
up big. If he doesn't get his cutter in and doesn't get ahead
in the count, he's in trouble.
Al Leiter LHP (16-8, 3.20 ERA) A flat-out horse, has become
superb big-game pitcher. Runs fastball up and in. Excellent
cutter. Throws it with smaller break and with bigger break. Has
decent change that allows him to use both sides of the plate.
Rick Reed RHP (11-5, 4.11 ERA) Throws strikes, uses both sides of
the plate. Good sinker and slider. Comes right at you. Not afraid
to throw the slider or come inside with fastball when he's behind
in the count. Uses decent change as fourth pitch.
Bobby Jones RHP (11-6, 5.06 ERA) Command, control guy. Hitters
seeing him for first time can easily be messed up. Could pitch a
great game (ask the Giants) or be gone in the first inning.
With history of giving up big hits, RHP Armando Benitez can be
iffy late in a game. It's odd to see guys get good swings off
such a hard thrower. I don't know whether he gets tight or what,
but I'd use LHP John Franco before Benitez in a tight spot.
Franco has been rejuvenated in his setup role. Works one inning
or one batter. Pitches with guts and guile. Uses both sides of
plate and relies mostly on changeup that acts like a screwball.
RHP Turk Wendell has fallen in love with his slider, and hitters
have adjusted to it. Hasn't used his fastball enough. RHP Rick
White has a fastball, a curve and a splitter, with good velocity
on fastball. I wouldn't ask him to give me more than an inning.
LHP Dennis Cook has good curve and two-seam fastball. Mostly a
one-batter situational guy. LHP Glendon Rusch gives them another
HOW TO BEAT THEM
The Mets are resilient. You figure they just can't keep up the
magic, but if you let them get ahead, their confidence seems to
grow and you're not going to beat them. They have lots of guys
who seem to rise to the occasion. There's something about this
team. My pick to win the World Series.