But Sunday at Shea, New York was treated to perhaps its best-pitched postseason game since Larsen's immortal outing. Bobby J. Jones sent his New York Mets into the National League Championship Series with a magnificent one-hit shutout of the San Francisco Giants. The 4-0 victory ended the Division Series in four games, the last three won by the Mets. They open the best-of-seven series for the NL pennant Wednesday in St. Louis.
Jones, an eight-year veteran who in June accepted a brief demotion to the minor leagues, befuddled the Giants throughout his first career postseason game. The right-hander walked two and struck out five. A double by Jeff Kent leading off the fifth inning was the only hit Jones allowed, and even that barely cleared the glove of leaping third baseman Robin Ventura.
Other than being four inches too short for that catch, Ventura had nothing for which to apologize. He gave Jones early breathing room by smacking a two-run homer to right in the first inning off Giants starter Mark Gardner. A two-run double by Edgardo Alfonzo in the bottom of the fifth provided the rest of the offense and knocked Gardner out of the game.
Giants fans might spend the winter debating whether Gardner should have still been in the game at that point. San Francisco had loaded the bases with two out in the top of the fifth for what proved to be its best scoring opportunity. Giants manager Dusty Baker decided to let Gardner bat, and the pitcher popped up to second baseman Alfonzo to end the threat.
"I don't regret it," said Baker, whose bullpen was depleted after working seven innings in Saturday's 13-inning loss in Game 3. "If you don't have a full bullpen, you don't have a full bullpen. And the way things transpired, there really wasn't much time to get anybody loose, as cold as it was out there. You can't have somebody loose all the time."
Still, the decision loomed large. Kent's double and the only two walks Jones issued gave the Giants their chance in the fateful fifth. But starting with Gardner, Jones retired the final 13 hitters he faced.
"It was something special," Alfonzo said of Jones' performance.
Had the Mets not won Saturday's pivotal third game, manager Bobby Valentine might well have chosen to start left-hander Mike Hampton on three days' rest instead of Jones, who struggled early before winning seven of his last eight decisions in an 11-6 season. But someone who knows Jones well assured Valentine his choice was correct.
"When I saw his wife Kristie [Saturday] night, she said, 'Hi, is Bobby pitching tomorrow?'" Valentine said. "I said, 'Yes, he is.' And she said, 'You won't be sorry that he is. He'll be pitching the game of his life.' And indeed he did."
"She told me the same thing," Jones admitted. "I hope she's always right like that. It was a good call, because it was definitely the best game I had ever pitched."
The Giants led the majors with 97 wins this year and ranked second in the National League in hitting (.278) and third in scoring (5.71 rpg). But in the four games against the Mets, the Giants hit .205 and managed 11 runs (2.75 rpg). League MVP candidates Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds hit .375 and .176 in the series, respectively, and had one RBI each.
"It wasn't just me. I mean, a lot of us didn't hit," Bonds said. "They played better than us. That's the bottom line."