Robin Ventura's grand single

Mets infielder Robin Ventura watches his grand slam-turned Mets infielder Robin Ventura watches his grand slam-turned single to defeat the Atlanta Braves, 4-3, in the 15th inning of Game 5 of the NLCS at Shea Stadium. The 5-hour, 46-minute game ended in total confusion, with three runners crossing the plate while Ventura was mobbed by his teammates before he could get to second base. (Oct. 17, 1999) Photo Credit: AP

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How Newsday covered the story on Oct. 17, 1999.

They were buried alive Friday night. After three games of the National League Championship Series, the Mets found themselves under thick, encrusted layers of impossibility, improbability and implausibility. Now though, only the implausible remains for them because of a victory last night that was all of the above. And long, too.

The Mets have a chance to remove that final layer and to remove the Braves from the postseason landscape as well because of a stunning 15-inning, nearly six-hour victory that was as gripping as it was long.

The chance for a Subway Series still exists because what essentially was a grand-slam single by Robin Ventura created a four-run victory that was identified by the final score, 4-3, and because, in an equally bizarre way, the Mets lead the best-of-seven series, two wins to three.

Sounds far-fetched. But you had to be there.

Ventura hit a 2-and-1 pitch from Kevin McGlinchy over the wall in right-centerfield with the bases loaded and one out in the 15th to break a tie at 3 created moments earlier by a bases-loaded walk to Todd Pratt. Alas, Ventura's second hit of the game and second of the series was neither a grand slam nor home run. It was just the deciding blow in a game that a generation of Mets followers will embrace.

Official scorer Red Foley ruled the hit a single and the final score 4-3 because Ventura never reached second base. The Mets third baseman, mobbed by his teammates and gimpy because of the torn ligament in his left knee, just stopped and celebrated. "He played 15 innings on one leg,'' manager Bobby Valentine said. What are three RBIs when friends are involved? When a season has been resurrected?

"As long as we won, it's fine with me,'' said Ventura, whose selflessness has been a critical element throughout the season. "I knew it went over. But it didn't matter. I didn't want to run that far anyway. Maybe tonight, when the guys go home, I'll do it. But then I was just happy to stop. I was tired.''

The five-hour, 46-minute game, the longest in postseason history, had drained him and others in much the same way the Mets' victory against the Astros in Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS had drained its participants. Both were played at a level of tension that made bats and legs heavy and strike zones oddly shaped. The difference was, in 1986, the Mets didn't want a Game 7. This time, they do.

Energized by the victory Saturday night, the Mets scored first on a two-run home run by John Olerud in the first. The Braves tied the score against Masato Yoshii in the fourth and moved ahead in the 15th on a leadoff single by Walt Weiss and a two-out triple by Keith Lockhart against Octavio Dotel, the Mets' ninth pitcher and the winner.

But in the bottom of the inning, Shawon Dunston led off with a single against McGlinchy after fouling off six 3-and-2 pitches. Dunston stole second before pinch hitter Matt Franco walked, and Edgardo Alfonzo advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt. Olerud, who had driven in the Mets' last five runs, was walked intentionally before Pratt drew a five-pitch walk to tie the score.

Then Ventura, who hit three official grand slams in the regular season, struck. "I saw it go over, and I just ran to first,'' he said. "I saw Todd Pratt running back at me. As long as I touched first base, we won.''

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