NEW YORK - The Chicago Cubs’ run at the postseason hit a little snag — with some help from a fan.
No, Steve Bartman wasn’t in the crowd. It was New York Mets rookie Victor Diaz.
Diaz grew up in Chicago rooting for the Cubs, idolizing fellow Dominicans Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou. But on Saturday, he hit a tying, three-run homer
with two outs in the ninth inning to help the Mets rally for a stunning 4-3 victory in 11 innings.
Craig Brazell provided the winning shot, his first major league home run, off Kent Mercker (3-1), and Diaz could not have been happier with the
“I grew up a Cubs fan and to do that against this team, it’s good,” said Diaz, selected in the 37th round of the 2000 draft by Los Angeles. “I
wished I got drafted by the Cubs. But everything worked out for me. I’m a Met now.”
Brazell, who entered in the 11th as part of a double switch, led off the bottom half and lined a 1-2 pitch over the right-field wall, ending
Chicago’s five-game winning streak.
The rookie pumped his fist as he rounded first and was mobbed at home plate by his teammates, a rare moment of celebration for the Mets, who are 24-44
since the All-Star break.
“It’s definitely something you dream about as a kid,” said Brazell, still covered in shaving cream from a pie in the face. “As soon as it went
out, my heart started thumping as fast as it could.”
The Cubs blew a great opportunity to improve their playoff chances. Chicago entered with a 1½-game lead over San Francisco in the NL wild-card race.
The Giants hosted Los Angeles.
“Tomorrow is big,” Cubs starter Mark Prior said. “It’s going to be a battle. The Mets aren’t going to roll over for us.”
Chicago appeared to be cruising to its 14th victory in 17 games behind 7 2-3 strong innings from Prior and a two-run homer by Todd Walker. But Diaz
hit his second career homer, to the opposite field, off closer LaTroy Hawkins to tie it at 3.
After getting an out to start the inning, Ryan Dempster walked Eric Valent and Jason Phillips before giving way to Hawkins. Looking for his second
save in two days, Hawkins retired Jeff Keppinger before Diaz lined a 2-2 pitch over the right-field wall.
“He’s pitched six out of seven days so we didn’t even have him warming up,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said when asked why Hawkins didn’t
start the ninth.
In the 10th, the Cubs put runners on first and second, but Sosa, in a 5-for-38 slump, grounded into a double play. He struck out in his first four
at-bats and left eight runners on base — five in scoring position.
Jae Seo (5-10), the seventh Mets pitcher, worked the 11th for the win.
Prior took a three-hitter into the eighth inning, seemingly finding his stride after missing the first two month of the season with a sore right
Baker said before the game that it might have been a blessing that Prior was out early because he’ll be stronger in the postseason.
And Prior looked nearly as dominant in his 20th start of the season as he did in pitching a two-hitter in Game 3 of the 2003 division series. He
allowed four hits, two walks and struck out five, running into trouble only in the fifth when he loaded the bases with no outs. But he worked out of
that jam, retiring the next three batters.
Prior was replaced by Dempster with runners on first and third and two outs in the eighth. Prior left to a loud ovation from the many Cubs fans in the
crowd of 34,284.
“I felt good out there, threw the ball well,” Prior said. “I would have liked to stay in.”
Aaron Heilman has had two of the best starts of his disappointing career since being recalled from the minors on Sept. 8. Once heralded as the Mets’
No. 1 starter of the future, he has foundered against major league hitters.
But he was sharp last Sunday against Pittsburgh, allowing a run and two hits in 7 2-3 innings, and he gave up just three hits in five innings
Saturday. Heilman struck out five, including Sosa twice.
His only mistake came in the second when Walker followed Nomar Garciaparra’s leadoff single with his 14th homer to put Chicago up 2-0.
The Cubs added a run in the eighth on Prior’s leadoff single and three walks. Sosa struck out with the bases loaded to end the inning.