Mets top Marlins to clinch division

Mets top Marlins to clinch division

NEW YORK -- Champagne is a truth serum, too, evidently. And now the truth can be told. For three weekend days, Willie Randolph was a closet Phillies fan, almost a Phanatic. As much as he wanted his own team to the beat the Pirates on Friday, Saturday or Sunday and put away the division championship, he desperately wanted the Phillies not to lose.

Confident a clinching was in the offing, the Mets manager got choosey before his team even reached Pittsburgh on Thursday. His choice was for the Mets to clinch by their own hand, not by the hand of the runners-up.

"I wanted to see my players feel what I've felt so many times," he said. "I wanted to see them be spontaneous."

But first he had to see them win.

Finally, victory and spontaneity joined hands on Monday night at Shea Stadium. And what the Phillies did or didn't do no longer had bearing. The Mets finally finished the first phase of what they started in April and, in the words of their manager, "got crazy-spontaneous."

Their rousing 4-0 victory against the Marlins touched off a celebration unlike all the others Shea had seen in its 43 seasons. Denied three times by the Pirates, the Mets finally turned the inevitable into the accomplished, the season-long expectation into the National League East championship and Shea Stadium into one of the sites -- the first one, officially -- for baseball's Octoberfest.

Their 91st victory, achieved one day after the 20th anniversary of the clinching of the 1986 division championship, produced the fifth NL East championship in franchise history, the first since 1988 and secured a seventh postseason berth in this, the 45th season of the franchise.

And it brought the Mets and their fans closer.

After the gallons -- actually 25 cases -- of champagne had been consumed, sprayed and spilled in the clubhouse of the new NL East champions, the celebration itself spilled onto the field, where it could be watched -- and shared -- by 1,500 stragglers from a crowd of 46,729. They, too, were consumed -- by the Mets' achievement. They, too, were sprayed, if only by water from the hose Paul Lo Duca turned on them.

They, too, soaked it all in.

"They've contributed all year," Lo Duca said. "And they pretty much participated in this one [victory]. So why not have them participate in the celebration, too?"

So Shea rocked for 90-plus minutes after Cliff Floyd caught a fly ball hit by Josh Willingham in left field, not far from where Cleon Jones embraced the final out of the '69 World Series, for the final out of the Mets' 149th game. The stadium speakers blared "Joy to the World" and "Shout" as the Mets players, staff and their families partied and posed and predicted subsequent celebrations.

"We've got more work to do before we can party again," Floyd said, the final out ball tucked into his back pocket. "These things never get old. Let's have two more. Why not?"

The Mets have 13 games left to play to satisfy their regular-season obligations and, perhaps, reach 100 victories.

"But what we really want," Carlos Delgado said, "is 11 more -- all next month -- and two more celebrations."

Charlie Samuels, the clubhouse manager, already was working on a different kind of magic number calculation -- "25 cases for the division, 50 for the pennant," he said, "and 75 for the World Series."

Turns out, champagne has other uses. It's a stain remover. The small stain created by the three weekend losses in Pittsburgh was invisible by the time Billy Wagner retired Willingham. And its serves as shampoo.

"Champagne ... shampoo," Aaron Heilman said. "They sound the same."

Heilman stood nearby as Steve Trachsel was deservedly doused. Two home runs by Jose Valentin and the most dominant performance of Trachsel's summer had been the primary components in the Mets' 11th shutout victory. Trachsel, the longest-tenured Met, reprised his role as a clinching starter. Pitching with more rest -- seven days -- than he prefers, he provided 6 1/3 scoreless innings as he did on Sept. 28, 1998, as a member of the Cubs in a one-game Wild Card playoff against the Giants. On Monday, he allowed three hits and a walk and struck out three, holding an opponent scoreless for the first time in 29 starts this season.

As it was in '98, his victory in a clincher was his 15th of the season.

"It's been a long time coming," Trachsel said, a reference to the championship.

He joined the Mets in 2001, the year following their most recent postseason appearance. As he spoke, Mets COO Jeff Wilpon slipped him a flute of "the good stuff." Trachsel is the team sommelier.

"This is for drinking, not spilling," he said.

Guillermo Mota, Heilman and Wagner followed Trachsel's lead and allowed one baserunner while recording the final eight outs.

Valentin, the greatest singular surprise in the Mets' surprisingly dominant season, hit his 16th home run, with a runner on base, in the third inning and his 17th, with the bases empty, two innings later. Those runs came against Brian Moehler, the Marlins' substitute -- and noticeably right-handed -- starter.

"I never imagined in April I'd be in position to do what I did tonight," Valentin said a moment before Randolph embraced him on the field. Together, they turned to the chanting fans and acknowledged their salute.

Randolph, so pleased for the city and his players and so proud to be an unqualified success in his second season, sipped "the good stuff" too. A cigar he'd been waiting to smoke, a second phase of his reward, awaited a light.

"This one is different from all the others," he said, a reference the championship he contributed to across town. "Because this is my team. I'm the leader."

He later returned to the field to thank his players with hugs and some kisses too. David Wright, a bottle in one hand, a cigar in his mouth, posed for a photo with his manager and got a kiss.

"There goes the image," his manager told him. "You drink, you smoke and you fool around."

"It's not lit, I wasn't smoking," Wright said. "I'm just celebrating."

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.