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Bullpen proves key to Mets' sweep

Bullpen proves key to Mets' sweep

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LOS ANGELES -- Wasn't it just four days ago that the Mets seemed doomed? Without Orlando Hernandez and Pedro Martinez, there was no way they could survive this National League Division Series against the Dodgers.

Well, four days and three games later, the only question surrounding this injury-plagued Mets starting rotation is, "How will they perform in the National League Championship Series?"

Backed by their tremendous offense and strong efforts from their heavily taxed relievers, the Mets completed a three-game sweep of the Dodgers with a 9-5 win on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium.

"That was just a big step for our team," said Mets closer Billy Wagner, who closed out each of the three games in this series.

When Hernandez tore a right calf muscle while jogging on Tuesday, the Mets had to scramble to find a Game 1 starter for Wednesday. At the same time, they found themselves in a position where if a Game 4 had been necessary, they would have either had to go with John Maine on three days' rest or even possibly Oliver Perez.

This potentially disastrous situation was averted with the help of a bullpen that came through big in each of the series' three games. By the time it was over, the Mets' relief corps had worked nearly 50 percent of the innings -- 13 1/3 of the 27 innings completed.

"It could have been very easy for us to get down about it, and we didn't," said Tom Glavine, the only Mets starter to get a win in the series. "We maintained the attitude that we dealt with a lot of this all year long. The bottom line is that coming in here, we all knew that our bullpen was going to be a big factor for us, and that didn't change."

When Saturday's starter Steve Trachsel wavered with a four-run fourth-inning lead, giving up a two-run single, manager Willie Randolph called upon the first of the six relievers he'd use in this clincher. Darren Oliver surrendered three fifth-inning runs, then saw his bullpen mates keep the Dodgers scoreless the rest of the way.

"I think Willie deserves a lot of credit with how he managed that game today," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said. "He really stepped up here in the playoffs managing the game with what he has. It was a full team effort, and Willie really did a great job."

When Randolph wasn't showing any panic entering this series, it seemed he'd forgotten that both Martinez and Hernandez were unavailable. Or maybe he simply knew that guys like Guillermo Mota and Aaron Heilman were going to do whatever possible to make sure Wagner entered each game with a ninth-inning lead.

"Mota and Heilman have been spectacular," Wagner said. "They've been asked to do more than any of us, and that's to pitch two innings at times. It was really great for Mota today."

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Like Wagner and Pedro Feliciano, Heilman appeared in each of the three games, completing three innings and allowing just one earned run. As for Mota, he proved to be the bullpen's workhorse, working two innings in both Games 1 and 3.

After recording two strikeouts in a perfect sixth inning on Wednesday, Mota came back to allow three runs the next inning. But he rebounded in impressive fashion Saturday, allowing just three hits in two scoreless innings.

"That's what I'm here for," Mota said. "We've got a great bullpen, and we look forward to continuing to do our jobs now."

Thanks to the work Mota and his fellow relievers provided, the Mets still have a job to do, with or without all of their top starters.

"We came into the series knowing that we were going to use our bullpen a good bit," Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson said. "As soon as we got a lead and anybody faltered a little bit, we knew we were going to go right to our bullpen."

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

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