Mets even score with Brewers

Mets even score with Brewers

MILWAUKEE -- An oversized 8 dominated a wall in the dormitory room in which Marlon Anderson lived at the University of South Alabama 12 years ago. It was the handiwork of the young man who lived there. No special significance then, just a numerical preference, one that almost has grown into an adult obsession.

Anderson will take an 8 anytime one's available. It was his number in 1999 when he first played regularly with the Phillies. And if the Mets' uniform No. 8 were not out of circulation in deference to Gary Carter, he'd been wearing it these days, too.

His druthers aside, Anderson will make do as he did Wednesday night. He began the evening with an 8 next to his his name. A second baseman by trade, he started in center field, the No. 8 position. And before the Mets were deep into their 8-5 victory against the Brewers, Anderson had gone deep, hitting the three-run home run that would prove decisive.

He had, as they used to say, "dialed 8."

Explanation: When Yogi, Yaz and Pops still were the game's primary Nos. 8's, way back in the age of rotary telephones, long-distance calls made from most hotel room phones required an 8 before the area code. Bob Watson, a creative man and a good hitter, borrowed the one-digit access code, applied it to long-distance hitting and added "Dial 8" to dugout lexicon.

Application: Anderson hardly was alone in his long-distance dialing on this baseball evening. The Mets hit two other home runs in beating the Brewers and knocking them out of sole possession of first place for the first time since April 20. Ramon Castro also hit a three-run home run, and Shawn Green hit one with the bases empty, his first home run since June 25 when the Brewers were almost eight games ahead -- their lead was merely 7 1/2 games -- over the Cubs.

The home runs, of course, were the eighth for Castro and Green. Honest.

The one that mattered most was Anderson's. His first homer since last September came in the third inning and changed a 5-4 Brewers lead into a 7-5 Mets advantage. And after that, winning pitcher Oliver Perez dialed up a notch, and the Mets went on to win --on the first day of the eighth month -- for the 12th time in 20 games since the All-Star break.

Perez essentially had shot himself in both feet before the Mets' power reversed the game. In the first inning, he followed a familiar scenario (see his start against the Pirates at Shea Stadium last week), committing a throwing error, then compounding the mistake by throwing bad pitches and allowing runs. This time they came in the form of a monster three-run home run by Prince Fielder, off the center-field scoreboard that dwarfed anything the Mets hit.

In the second, Perez slipped, trying to make a play on a bunt and then allowed two more hits and two runs.

But after Anderson's home run off losing pitcher Claudio Vargas (9-3) cleared the right-field wall, Perez (10-7) was a changed man. He allowed three more base runners and put his strikeout total at 11, the most by a Mets pitcher this season. Moreover, the foremost fly ball pitcher in the National League kept the ball away from his outfielders.

Anderson had been flanked by Moises Alou, in left, and Green -- neither is known for defense. "He knew who was behind him," Anderson said.

He handled a fly ball in the first, Green one in the fifth. And the right fielder made an awkward and ill-advised attempt to catch a line drive in the second. It reached the wall untouched and became a two-run double for J.J. Hardy.

And Anderson knew enough center-field etiquette to take a few steps back on Fielder's rocket -- "as a courtesy to my pitcher." As if he had any chance of running it down.

Anderson never played center field in the big leagues until last season with the Nationals. He started five games and played in two others at the request of Frank Robinson. Willie Randolph had warned him of his pending assignment Tuesday night, so Anderson shagged flies then in preparation and familiarized himself with the Star Wars appearance of the open roof of Miller Park.

He didn't embarrass himself. "I don't think anyone's gonna sign me in the offseason to play center field next year," he said "But I can play the position. It's easier than the corners."

His power fueled the Mets' 30th victory in 54 road games. They have the best road record in the league. The loss was only the 18th in 55 home games for the Brewers. They have the best home record in baseball, but they have lost 19 of 34 games overall and all 8 1/2 games off their largest lead. Such is the power of the Mets.

The Mets have hit 110 home runs, a modest total compared with the Brewers who lead the league with 145. The Mets had hit merely 12 three-run home runs, four by David Wright, before Wednesday night.

Then Anderson, who had driven in a run in the first goes deep. Randolph said "I had a feeling." But every manager has feelings every night. It doesn't explain Anderson's two hits, two runs and four RBIs. But Anderson did. "Center fielders hit better," he said. "It's the power of eight."

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