At the moment, there was hope in the home dugout and around every part of Shea Stadium. The Braves were the visitors, but for once, they were the tormented, not the tormentors.
Just a few nights earlier, they had a stranglehold on the 1999 NLCS, a 3-0 series lead. A World Series berth seemed like a formality. But the Mets prevailed in Game 4 and then outlasted them in Game 5, rallying from a one-run deficit in the 15th inning and walked off the field ecstatic following Robin Ventura’s “grand slam” that capped a memorable five-hour, 46-minute showdown between the two NL East rivals.
“This is a team that refuses to quit,” Ventura said after the dramatic 4-3 victory — at a rainy and mostly full Shea Stadium — closed the gap in the series to 3-2, sending it back to Atlanta for Game 6.
“I think we’ve been in quite a few situations like this during the course of the year, and we don’t really have a reason for it. It just seems like this team responds to dire situations.”
The veteran third baseman’s homer went over the fence in right-center field, but he only made it halfway to second base. Catcher Todd Pratt ignored Ventura’s plea to keep running and stopped him in his tracks, lifting him skyward, and the two were soon mobbed by the rest of their teammates. It would go down as a single — a Grand Slam Single — and the only run that counted belonged to pinch-runner Roger Cedeno.
“I saw it go over, but I knew that just as long as I touched first, we won,” Ventura said afterwards. “That was fine with me.”
It would have been the first walk-off grand slam in postseason history. Instead that record belongs to Nelson Cruz, who hit an 11th-inning grand slam in Game 2 of the 2011 ALCS for the Rangers.
“I never saw it go out. Did it?” manager Bobby Valentine said. “Then it’s a grand slam. But he never touched the bases? I’ll be doggone!″
The Mets took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a two-run John Olerud home run and the Braves got even in the fourth on run-scoring hits from Brian Jordan and Chipper Jones. It remained that way until the 15th, when Atlanta went ahead following a Keith Lockhart RBI triple. The Mets were down to the final three outs of the season. They, however, would only need one.
Pinch-hitter Shawon Dunston battled Braves reliever Kevin McGlinchy for 12 pitches, singling on the final pitch he saw. Matt Franco walked and Edgardo Alfonzo bunted them over. Two more walks forced in the tying run before Ventura stepped to the plate. The slick-fielding third baseman belted a 2-1 fastball over the fence, his second hit of the series after starting 1-for-18.
“It just seemed like my swing got smoother there all of a sudden,” Ventura said. “It’s different when the bases are loaded and the guy has already walked a guy. He can’t really fool around and throw a bunch of pitches in the dirt. So I’m just trying to get a ball in the air so the guy can score.”