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Grand slam lifts Mets to 8-4 victory

The Associated Press

In one incredible week, New York has gone from the brink of elimination, to a wild-card playoff victory, then an all-night flight to Phoenix, where they beat Randy Johnson and the Arizona Diamondbacks 8-4 in the opener of their NL division series Tuesday night.

Wednesday, October 06, 1999

In one incredible week, New York has gone from the brink of elimination, to a wild-card playoff victory, then an all-night flight to Phoenix, where they beat Randy Johnson and the Arizona Diamondbacks 8-4 in the opener of their NL division series Tuesday night.

”It’s kind of a great feeling,” Edgardo Alfonzo said, ”because we’ve been playing great these last couple of games.”

In a game that didn’t start until 11:10 p.m. EDT, no one played greater than Alfonzo, who homered off Johnson in the first inning, then won the game with a grand slam off reliever Bobby Chouinard in the ninth.

Alfonzo, who also homered against Cincinnati on Monday night in the game that earned the Mets the NL wild card, became the first player to hit a grand slam in his postseason debut.

”Over the last few years, Edgardo Alfonzo has been a fabulous baseball player who has kind of a star quality,” said Mets manager Bobby Valentine, in a playoff game for the first time. ”He’s gaining confidence, and with confidence you get performances like you saw tonight.”

In other playoff openers, Houston beat Atlanta 6-1 in the NL and New York defeated Texas 8-0 in the AL.

Johnson, who left the game with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth, lost his sixth straight postseason decision, a major league record. He struck out 11 and held on through an exhausting 138 pitches as Arizona rallied from a 4-1 deficit to tie it at 4.

”It’s obviously not the way I would’ve wrote the script,” Johnson said. ”Hopefully, I’ll have another chance to pitch against those guys.”

The Diamondbacks send Todd Stottlemyre to the mound tonight against New York’s Kenny Rogers. The series shifts to New York for Game 3 on Friday.

John Olerud became the first left-hander to hit a home run off Johnson since Jim Edmonds on Sept. 23, 1997. Olerud’s two-run shot put New York up 3-0 in the third.

”I was trying to protect the plate,” he said. ”I was looking for a fastball. He threw a slider and I just hits off Johnson, who usually dominates lefties.

”We got four hits left-handed, and that’s determination,” Valentine said. ”That’s reaching down and wanting it.”

After falling behind 4-1, the Diamondbacks rallied on a solo homer by Erubiel Durazo and and a two-run homer by Luis Gonzalez to make it 4-all.

Johnson settled down to pitch four hitless innings, but Ventura led off the ninth with a single. With one out, Rey Ordonez singled, and Johnson walked Melvin Mora to load the bases and bring on Chouinard.

”I think I just got a little tired and walked some people and got behind and gave up some hits,” Johnson said. ”I gave it all I had out there in the ninth inning.”

Third baseman Matt Williams made a diving stop, his second of the game, on Rickey Henderson’s grounder, and threw home to force out Ventura, putting Arizona an out away from getting out of the jam.

But Alfonzo hit Chouinard’s 3-1 pitch just inside the left-field foul pole for the grand slam.

”I was a little jittery,” Chouinard said. ”It was my first time out there. It was a big crowd and a playoff game. I tried to do what I normally do, throw a first-pitch strike. I was overaggressive. I was trying to throw too hard. I threw a 3-1 fastball right down the middle. I fell behind and I paid for it.”

Arizona manager Buck Showalter said he felt it was right to leave Johnson in the game, even though the big left-hander said he was getting close to running out of gas. Showalter, who has never brought closer Matt Mantei into a game with runners on base, said he used Chouinard because he’d been one of the best relievers this season.

Johnson, whose postseason record fell to 2-6, allowed seven runs on eight hits. Turk Wendell pitched one inning and was the winner.

In the seventh, Johnson doubled for his first postseason hit. But he was doubled up when took off running on Tony Womack’s one-out fly ball to left.

Astros 6, Braves 1

Daryle Ward hit a tiebreaking homer in the sixth inning and Ken Caminiti hit a clinching three-run shot in the ninth as Houston won at Turner Field.

The Astros, swept in three straight by Atlanta in the 1997 first round, took the lead when Ward, son of former major leaguer Gary Ward, connected off Greg Maddux. Atlanta had been 12-1 in first-round games.

The crowd of 39,119 was nearly 11,000 short of capacity and was the smallest in Atlanta’s 44-game postseason history.

Yankees 8, Rangers 0

Orlando Hernandez pitched two-hit ball for eight innings, Bernie Williams homered and drove in six runs, and New York picked up right where it left off last year.

The World Series champions again shut down Texas. Last year, the Yankees swept the first-round series from the Rangers and held them to one run and a .141 batting average.

Hernandez improved to 3-0 with an 0.41 ERA in postseason play. He sent Texas to its seventh straight playoff loss and extended its postseason scoreless streak to 22 innings.

Williams, 0-for-11 in last year’s series against the Rangers, had a two-run double off Aaron Sele in the fifth inning, a three-run homer off Mike Venafro in the sixth and an RBI single off Jeff Fassero in the eighth.