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The Mets Should Be Proud

Turk Wendell came over to Kenny Rogers and gave him a giant bear hug.

Rogers might have blamed himself for the New York Mets' defeat, but his teammates didn't.

Rogers had walked in the run that finally ended the Mets' season, that had given the Atlanta Braves a 10-9, 11-inning victory Tuesday night and a 4-2 win in the NL Championship Series.

"I'm a big boy," Rogers said. "I can handle it. God thinks I can handle a lot. He can lay off me now."

Rogers pitched a perfect game in 1994, but he knows how fleeting fame can be, especially in New York, with tabloids and talk radio ready to dissect every failure.

"Everything you've done in the past," he said, "they'll forget about and remember this. That is just the way it is."

Starter Al Leiter had nothing left Tuesday night, allowing his first five batters to score, and still the Mets came back from a 5-0 deficit.

"It's so typical of what's gone on," he said, angry with what he called the poorest start of his career. "I thought for sure we would win this."

New York tied the score with three runs in the sixth and four more in the seventh, took an 8-7 lead on Melvin Mora's RBI single in the eighth and a 9-8 lead on Todd Pratt's sacrifice fly in the 10th.

Yes, John Franco blew it by allowing Brian Hunter's RBI single in the bottom of the eighth. And Armando Benitez blew it again in the 10th by allowing Ozzie Guillen's run-scoring single in the bottom half.

But by the time Rogers gave up a leadoff double to Gerald Williams and walked Andruw Jones on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded, the Mets had made their mark.

These Mets will be remembered not for failing to become the first team to overcome a 3-0 postseason deficit, but for their spellbinding twists and turns, their collapses and comebacks.

"We've gone a lot of miles," said Mike Piazza, who tied it 7-all with a two-run homer off John Smoltz in a four-run seventh. "There's a lot of guys that matured in here. There's a lot of guys that have learned so much, not only about themselves, but what it takes to get to a World Series, not only the tangibles on the field, but the things that you don't see in a boxscore."

The Mets had stirred so much hope with their amazin' turnaround on the season's final weekend, their tiebreaker playoff win at Cincinnati, their upset first-round victory over Arizona, with Edgardo Alfonzo's Game 1 slam off Randy Johnson and Pratt circling the bases in Game 4 with only the fourth homer that ended a postseason series.

Then came that 15-inning win in the rain Sunday on Robin Ventura's grand-slam-turned-single, a game that forever will be remembered among baseball's best.

"I think every guy in this room should be proud of the way we handled ourselves," Franco said. "We're champions in our own hearts."

About 1 1/2 hours after the game, nearly half the team was still in the visitor's clubhouse at Turner Field, most of them wearing orange Mets' T-shirts, so proud of their accomplishments, even in defeat. It seemed like they wanted this season to go on and on.

They had moved the folding chairs set up in front of each locker and formed a circle.

"Come on, have a beer," Franco yelled to a teammate across the room.

By now the girlfriends and wives were in, consoling, just wanting to be part of the moment. Leiter, born in New Jersey, was playing with the stereo, then talking about the Subway Series that won't be. He and Franco, as New York as they come, had hoped for one so much.

"I think most of the country would have enjoyed that," Leiter said, "seeing how many kill each other in the stands for those who don't like New York fans."

Piazza didn't want to think about a Subway Series. He won't even watch the Yankees play the Braves. It would remind him of what isn't.

"Too painful," he said.

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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