The Shea madhouse won't intimidate David Justice--he's played
more postseason games than anyone in history (88), usually as
the opposing crowd's target of choice. Mets bullpen, beware:
Justice has a knack for late-inning hits in big games, has
killed lefthanded pitching this year and handles anyone's
fastball if it doesn't tie him up inside. With apologies to Mr.
Met, Benny Agbayani should be his team's mascot--and not just
because of his rounded physique. He's the picture of resilience
and has a flair for the dramatic. If Andy Pettitte and Orlando
Hernandez pitch away from Agbayani they'll be fine; if Roger
Clemens tries to blow a fastball by him, he can jack it.
A speedy Rookie of the Year candidate, Jay Payton covers ground
in center and is a threat to steal a base. If he presses,
however, he'll overswing and become an easy out. Bernie Williams
personifies this Yankees dynasty--cool, smooth, unflappable--and
he's as graceful as they come in center. He's also a career .151
hitter in the World Series. A team that has scuffled for offense
can't afford another Fall Classic swoon from him.
October 22, 2000
Aging and injured, Paul O'Neill is playing with all the range
and enthusiasm of the Chrysler Building; Joe Torre won't
hesitate to hit for him against tough lefthanders like John
Franco and Dennis Cook. Timo Perez, on the other hand, has
become the Mets' spark plug. He can take the extra base on a
ball hit to O'Neill or Bernie Williams. He'll also rattle
Yankees pitchers; Jeff Nelson, for example, isn't as effective
when using the slide step, so Perez's speed could result in
hittable pitches for the big guns behind him.
If you're bunting in this Series, better try the first base
side. The Yankees' Scott Brosius and the Mets' Robin Ventura are
Gold Glovers who excel at charging slow rollers. Ventura awoke
in the NLCS, refusing to chase pitches when righties worked
around him to get to Todd Zeile. With a rejuvenated swing, he'll
have a big series. Brosius's bat, on the other hand, looked slow
in the ALCS.
The opposite ends of the shortstop spectrum meet. Derek
Jeter--for whom October at bats are seemingly a birthright--is
the archetype of the modern shortstop. Watching him, Mets fans
will salivate even more at the thought of signing Alex
Rodriguez. Mike Bordick, 35, recalls a long-ago age (five years
back) when shortstop was a defensive position. The Yanks will
worry more about the hits he takes away than the ones he gets,
especially if they get him to chase pitches up in the zone.
Joe Torre says Chuck Knoblauch, who hasn't played defense since
Sept. 29, will start at Shea. Better that Torre stick with Luis
Sojo, who started every game of the ALCS at second. Exposing
Chuck's fragile psyche to the full-throated Flushing crowd is a
recipe for disaster. Edgardo Alfonzo is by far the Mets' best
clutch hitter. It's nearly impossible to get him off balance at
the plate, so he can hurt one-pitch pitchers (hello, Mariano
Rivera) even if that one pitch is a dominating one. If the game
comes down to a late-inning Alfonzo at bat, the Mets win.
The Yankees' Tino Martinez is superior defensively to Todd
Zeile. Martinez is also hot at the plate, though facing lefties
Mike Hampton and Al Leiter up to four times in the Series--plus
three lefties in the Mets' pen--limits him as a power threat.
After the NLCS, Zeile, a Texas Ranger the last two years,
referred to "unfinished business" with the Yankees. Their
pitchers should proceed with caution: Zeile, with enough power
to reach Yankee Stadium's shallow porch in right, has hit .370
in his career against Roger Clemens, Orlando Hernandez, Andy
Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.
If Mike Piazza's hitting, the Mets are winning. He enters the
Series swinging well, which means there's not much for pitchers
to do but pray he doesn't get his arms extended. Will Roger
Clemens buzz him again? The Rocket had better work him up and
in, because Piazza will destroy anything low in the zone.
Defensively, Jorge Posada will make Piazza look worse than we
already know he is. The Mets will have trouble running on
Posada, and their lefty-heavy staff could be what he needs to
break a postseason slump; he hit 49 points better against
lefties than righties this year.
The Yankees' rotation is cartoon-shaped--heavy on top, thin at
the bottom. Orlando Hernandez hasn't lost in nine career
postseason starts; Andy Pettitte is 8-4 and thrives on big-game
pressure. After that, Joe Torre crosses his fingers and hopes
Roger Clemens shows up and Denny Neagle skates through six
innings. The Mets, on the other hand, are deep. Mike Hampton
(above) and Al Leiter are both aces, and Rick Reed and Bobby
Jones can usually be counted on for six or seven solid innings.
Quality arms abound in both pens--the Mets just have more of
them. John Franco, 40, has been rejuvenated; he and Armando
Benitez (left) give the Mets a frightening setup-closer combo.
Nearly every Yankees hitter can handle the fastball, however,
which makes Benitez's penchant for allowing postseason homers
equally scary. Lefties Dennis Cook and Glendon Rusch will be
key. Switch-hitters Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada have much
less power from the right side, and they'll bat amid a string of
lefties (David Justice, Tino Martinez and Paul O'Neill). If the
Yankees get a lead, they play an eight-inning (or less) game:
Closer Mariano Rivera is all but untouchable in the postseason.
The Mets start only two lefthanded hitters, so righty Jeff
Nelson had better be ready to work. Since Joe Torre trusts no
one else in the pen, he'll wave in Nelson earlier than he should.
Not having to worry about defense has made Chuck Knoblauch a
better hitter. He hit .338 and had a .473 on-base percentage as
a DH, significantly better marks than he had when playing the
field, and he has hit .281 as a full-time DH in the postseason.
The Mets will probably play Darryl Hamilton, who adds speed, in
left and DH Benny Agbayani. Another possibility if the Yankees
start a lefthander: Mike Piazza as the DH, with Todd Pratt's
power bat behind the plate.
Joe Torre has been reluctant to dip into his bench, but with
pitchers batting at Shea, someone will have to produce.
Glenallen Hill is Torre's best power source and the most
dangerous righthanded bat off the bench, but Hill doesn't look
ready to hit in tight postseason spots: He struck out looking in
both of his LCS pinch-hit appearances. Darryl Hamilton (above),
Lenny Harris and Todd Pratt give the Mets three productive bats;
Joe McEwing provides speed and defensive versatility.
The Yankees' maddeningly calm and cool aura emanates from Joe
Torre--three championship rings in four years make him the best
postseason manager of his generation. If anyone can guide a team
through the circus of a Subway Series, he can. Creating
tranquillity has never been Bobby Valentine's forte, but he did
a spectacular job this season. The Mets reflect his personality:
determined, resilient, rambunctious. He won't allow his players
to be awed by the Yankees' mystique.
Al Leiter said on Monday that the Mets are clicking on all
cylinders for the first time this season. He's right. This isn't
the same team that lost four of six to the Yankees in
interleague play. The Mets have the best pitching staff, top to
bottom, of any of the eight teams that made the playoffs. The
Yankees made it this far with a fits-and-starts offense and
essentially a three-man bullpen, but they haven't faced a team
as well-rounded as their neighbors. The Bombers will also
finally play a Series in a road environment at least as hostile
as Yankee Stadium. There'll be champagne in the Bronx, but it'll
be sprayed in the third base clubhouse. Mets in six.