He should be on the bench, cheering his Arizona Diamondbacks teammates and planning another lengthy rehabilitation. Instead, Todd Stottlemyre, torn right rotator cuff and all, shut down the New York Mets tonight and helped the Diamondbacks win, 7-1, to tie the first-round National League playoff series at a game apiece before 49,328 at Bank One Ballpark.
Stottlemyre yielded four hits and struck out six over 6 2/3 innings to earn the win. Steve Finley, like Stottlemyre a high-profile free agent signed by Arizona last winter, drove in five runs as the Diamondbacks recovered from a disastrous Game 1 in which ace Randy Johnson surrendered seven runs. Like the Atlanta Braves, who tied their first-round series with Houston this afternoon, the Diamondbacks will try to become the first NL team since the division playoffs began in 1995 to win an opening-round series after losing the first game.
Four months ago, the thought of Stottlemyre starting a postseason game would have seemed more unlikely than the second-year expansion club winning 100 games and the NL West title.
After tearing 70 percent of the rotator cuff May 17, Stottlemyre declined season-ending surgery, opting instead for an intense rehabilitation program that strengthened the area around the tear. Three months and 15 pounds of muscle later, he became the first pitcher to return to the mound following a rotator injury without surgery.
Stottlemyre went just 2-2 in eight starts after coming back Aug. 20, but earned the assignment tonight, although his vast postseason experience that has been mostly negative.
Stottlemyre owns a pair of World Series rings from the 1992-93 Toronto Blue Jays and also has pitched in the postseason for the 1996 St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers last season, but carried a 6.56 postseason earned run average into tonight's start.
One of the game's more gifted pitchers, he's often let his fiery temper get the better of him on the mound, especially during the playoffs. Bu Manager Buck Showalter believed that Stottlemyre, 34, has grown out of his childish tantrums and gave him the ball for Game 2 over Omar Daal, the 16-game winner who will start Game 3 in New York on Friday against Rick Reed.
Stottlemyre's postseason performance has improved with time. He was rocked by Philadelphia for six runs in two innings in the 1993 World Series and posted a 12.38 ERA for St. Louis in three appearances against Atlanta in the '96 National League Championship Series. But he allowed just two runs in eight innings for Texas in Game 1 against the Yankees in last year's playoffs.
"When I was younger, I didn't always react the right way," Stottlemyre said this week. "My intensity was completely out of control, but those experiences have helped me have better times."
The Mets generated their only run off Stottlemyre in the third after Rickey Henderson singled and stole second for his third theft of the series. He advanced to third on Edgardo Alfonzo's deep fly ball out to right, then scored when John Olerud grounded to shortstop with one out.
Like Stottlemyre, Mets starter Kenny Rogers also was looking to rebound from past playoff misfortunes. He was dreadful during the 1996 postseason, when, as a member of the New York Yankees, he posted a 14.14 ERA in three starts.
The soft-spoken Florida native seemed overwhelmed during his two seasons in the Bronx and was traded to Oakland, where he went 16-8 last season. Acquired by the Mets in July, the left-hander thrived in his second tour in New York, going 5-1 in 12 starts.
Rogers cruised through the first two innings before Jay Bell singled with two outs in the third. Bell advanced to second when Rogers hit the next batter, Luis Gonzalez. Matt Williams's infield single loaded the bases, then Rogers forced home a run by walking Greg Colbrunn. Finley then singled to right field, scoring Gonzalez and Williams.
Bell lead off the fifth with a single, then moved to third two batters later on Williams's single. After Colbrunn struck out, Finley delivered a shot to left-center, giving the Diamondbacks a 5-1 lead.