Mets hit 'em where they ain't
Big innings fueled by several softly hit, well-placed knocks
LOS ANGELES -- There were so many bottles of champagne inside the visitors' clubhouse at Dodger Stadium on Saturday night that it seemed like the spraying would never end.
It was the same kind of feeling the New York Mets had to have during their National League Division Series-clinching victory over the Dodgers. It seemed like the hits would never stop coming regardless of how hard, or soft, balls were hit.
"We got some good breaks tonight, a lot of good breaks," catcher Paul Lo Duca said. "We didn't actually hit the ball hard, but we got some breaks. It's not how hard you hit 'em, but where they land."
You could say the Mets killed the Dodgers softly in Game 3.
In almost every inning in which they scored, there was at least one ball hit just hard enough to find an open space. The Mets collected 14 hits against six Dodgers pitchers, and at least one-third of them seemed to be hit with a rolled-up newspaper.
Second baseman Jose Valentin was the Mets' only position starter to go hitless in the game. But his first-inning line drive, snagged by leaping Dodgers first baseman James Loney, was the hardest ball the Mets hit during a three-run first inning.
"Everybody was telling me that the guy who hit the ball the hardest in the first inning didn't even get a hit," a champagne-soaked Valentin said after the Mets' 9-5 victory that sent them into the National League Championship Series for the first time since 2000. "But it doesn't matter."
The first inning "featured" a string of five consecutive singles off Hall of Fame-bound Greg Maddux. Carlos Beltran hit a fly ball into right-center field that fell just out of the reach of right fielder J.D. Drew, and although the Dodgers got an out eventually on the play -- Lo Duca was thrown out at third base -- it set the stage for what was about to happen.
Carlos Delgado pulled a run-scoring single past Loney and into right field, David Wright fisted a ball over third baseman Wilson Betemit's head to drive in a run, Cliff Floyd dumped a run-scoring single into left field -- aided by Marlon Anderson's less-than-hearty sprint towards the infield -- and Shawn Green found the open space between shortstop and left field for another RBI single.
The bloop hits returned in the sixth inning, when the Mets rallied for three runs and regained a lead they squandered in the bottom of the fifth.
Green ignited the rally with a well-struck ground-rule double to right field, and scored when Jose Reyes dumped a single into shallow center field, followed by a carbon-copy hit by Beltran.
And just to add insult to the Dodgers' agony, Lo Duca finished it off with a little popup between first and second base that barely made it to the grass on the fly. But with the Dodgers playing the infield in to cut off a run at the plate, Lo Duca's ball never came close to being caught.
"Crazy game," Valentin said. "Sometimes you hit the ball hard and make an out. Other times you hit the ball soft and get a hit."
But it's rare when a team gets so many hits on balls that aren't hit that hard.
"We found some holes," Wright acknowledged. "We put the ball in play, especially with two strikes, and when you put the ball in play, good things can happen. We got lucky a few times, but we'll take it."
Take it and run ... all the way back to New York to await the start of the best-of-seven NLCS against either the St. Louis Cardinals or San Diego Padres.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.