Larry Dierker sensed this one wasn't just another game. The Houston Astros needed to show some backbone, especially to themselves.
"I think this was a character-building type of win," the Astros manager said after Tuesday night's 5-1, 10-inning victory over the New York Mets.
"We just came from Miami, where there were three or four thousand people, who were there on holiday or something. It almost had the flavor of a spring training game," he said.
At Shea Stadium, the atmosphere was a lot different. The Astros were greeted by dozens of reporters. And while it wasn't quite like the postseason, the crowd was much more pumped up than the Astros are used to, even after Carl Everett's second-inning homer.
Houston increased its NL Central lead to 1 1/2 games over second-place Cincinnati, which lost 6-4 at Atlanta.
New York, which won 3-2 Monday on Matt Franco's bloop double in the ninth, dropped 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Braves in the NL East but remained 2 1/2 games ahead of Cincinnti in the wild-card race.
A sign of the Mets' tension was when starter Masato Yoshii, despite allowing just one run and five hits, threw his glove at the bench when he came out after 7 1-3 innings.
"I wasn't angry at anyone. I was just frustrated," Yoshii said through a translator. "If I was able to get three guys out easily in that inning, we might have had a better chance of winning that game."
Bagwell didn't want to make a big deal of his 38th homer, which made him the Astros' career RBIs leader with 943, one more than current Houston first-base coach Jose Cruz. For Bagwell, the win was more important that the milestone.
"I hope it wasn't my last RBI with the Houston Astros," he joked.
Tony Eusebio, who had been 0-for-6 as a pinch hitter this year, blooped a double down the right-field line against Dennis Cook (10-3) leading off the 10th and took third on Russ Johnson's fly to right, just beating Roger Cedeno's throw.
Craig Biggio was intentionally walked and Gutierrez fouled off a squeeze bunt with a 1-0 count before slapping the next pitch to right field for the go-ahead run.
"It was something down at my feet," Gutierrez said of the failed squeeze. "It was pretty tough. I was just happy to foul it off and start over again."
Bagwell's homer made him 6-for-15 on the Astros' road trip. Dierker seemed as surprised as he was relieved.
"We actually put four runs on the board in one inning," he said. "I can't remember the last time we put more than one run on the board in an inning."
Actually, it was last Saturday, 21 innings earlier.
But pitching kept Houston in the game.
Hampton, trying for his league-leading 17th win, allowed only Mike Piazza's seventh-inning homer, his 31st. Hampton, 4-0 with a 1.33 ERA in eight starts against the Mets since July 1996, has three consecutive no-decisions after winning seven straight starts.
Everett, who has homered in four consecutive games, hit a 459-foot homer to right in the second for his 21st, his second in three career at-bats against Yoshii.
Dierker, trying to extend the game long enough to win, moved Biggio to left field as part of a double switch, the All-Star second baseman's first time in the outfield since April 27, 1991, against Atlata.
"I think it's a sign of how thin we are in our ranks of bench players with all our injuries," the manager said.
It worked. In the end, Eusebio's hit was the key.
"It was their turn to get the bloops," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "The bloops evened up and they won."
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