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Jewish World Review August 3, 2000 / 2 Menachem-Av, 5760

Mile Lupica

MikeLupica
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Shea holds fort, Atlanta reloads

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE GAME is beating the Braves. Beat them in the National League East or beat them in the playoffs. Maybe both. Just find a way. It doesn't mean the Mets are some kind of lock to win the wild card, because they are in that race with the Diamondbacks and Dodgers and especially the Giants, one of the toughest outs around. But if they are going to make the World Series again, the Mets know they eventually have to go through the Braves to do it. The job got a little harder Monday, a little after 5 p.m., when word got to Shea that the Braves had gotten B.J. Surhoff.

A half-hour before that, Mike Piazza stood near the batting cage, playing catch with Mike Bordick, the new Mets shortstop. Bordick was an Oriole a few days ago. So was Surhoff. That was before the Rotisserie draft that is the trading deadline in baseball.

"Are you good enough to beat those guys now?'' Piazza was asked.

"Beat the Braves?'' Piazza said.

"Them.''

Piazza didn't answer right away. Finally he said, "Healthy, yes.''

Then he talked about how much Bordick would help and the way Rick White would take pressure off Turk Wendell in the bullpen, about how much pop Bubba Trammell, who broke in with a home run the same way Bordick did, had always shown with the Devil Rays when he got into the game.

Piazza said, "If I could add one more thing, it might be one more left-handed bat, just so we could be a little more effective going right-left-right. But that would be nit-picking. This is the team now. Let's go.''

He went to hit in the batting cage and then John Franco, who has been trying to get past the Braves for a long time, was asked the same question: Can you beat the Braves? It is the most interesting baseball question in town right now, just because the Mets have been the more interesting team in town this season. Forget about the White Sox and the Mariners. The Yankees don't have an opponent in their league close to the Braves.

"Bet your butt we're good enough,'' Franco said. "We got better this weekend and they know it.''

The grounds crew covered the field then and so the Mets all went inside, and when they got in there they all started to hear from reporters that Surhoff, who didn't want to play for the Mets, who was supposed to be going to the Yankees as late as Sunday night, was on his way to Atlanta. John Schuerholz has been the best front-office man of the last 10 years in baseball, maybe all the way back to when he built a championship team with the Royals. He was again yesterday, coming in at the end like a stealth bomber of baseball.

The Mets were second to the Braves last season and then they were second to them in the National League Championship Series, even if that series was a beauty. They are second now. The Mets got better with Bordick, Trammell, White? The Braves got better with Andy Ashby and B.J. Surhoff, one of the great pros in his sport. And it got a little harder for the Mets to beat the Braves.

There was a lot of player movement all the way to the trade deadline Monday. There was a lot of movement all last week. The Cardinals got help, the Dodgers got help, the Blue Jays got plenty of help with Steve Trachsel. At the end, maybe the team that needed help the least -- the Braves -- got as much as anybody.

Not all the Mets heard about Surhoff right away. Pat Mahomes was sitting in the middle of the Mets clubhouse watching ESPN when the two anchors reported the deal. Derek Bell came walking in from the other side of the room and Mahomes said, "Hey.''

Bell kept walking. Mahomes said, "Hey, D, check it out,'' and pointed to the television set and the graphic showing the three players -- Trenidad Hubbard, kid pitcher Luis Rivera, catcher Fernando Lunar -- the Braves had to give up to get Surhoff to be their left fielder, maybe all the way to another World Series.

Bell stopped and watched for a couple of moments and then went to his locker. John Franco came in then and said this to no one in particular and everybody who could hear him, which meant all the way to the Whitestone Bridge.

"We'll beat them with (Surhoff),'' Franco said.

Maybe they can. They were close enough last October, all the way until Kenny Rogers looked as if he were facing a firing squad instead of Andruw Jones with the bases loaded at the end of Game 6. That one was a game to be remembered and so was Game 5, with 15 innings in the rain that ended with Robin Ventura's grand slam single. Here is what you remember best about the series: The Mets weren't good enough.

They have done a lot since then. Steve Phillips has added Mike Hampton and Derek Bell, and Todd Zeile to replace John Olerud and now Bordick and Trammell and White. Phillips stood in the Mets clubhouse after he heard about Surhoff and said, "(The Braves') Achilles heel is still their bullpen.'' It is. Schuerholz has brought in people like Stan Belinda and Scott Kamieniecki to back up Kerry Ligtenberg and Mike Remlinger and The Rocker. Maybe that is where the Mets beat them this October, if they make it back to October.

"Are you good enough to beat the Braves?'' Bobby Valentine was asked yesterday.

"In the playoffs?'' Valentine said. "Sure.''

The Mets are playing awfully good ball lately. They are a tough out themselves. But they are in there with the champs, on the field and off. All this change in baseball. The Braves never. change


JWR contributor Mike Lupica is author, most recently, of Summer of '98: When Homers Flew, Records Fell, and Baseball Reclaimed America. To comment, click here.

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