Series: Game 3 of 3

NY Mets won 2-1

Game 1: Friday, April 4
NY Mets4
Game 2: Saturday, April 5
NY Mets3
Game 3: Sunday, April 6
NY Mets5

Expos 8

(4-2, 4-2 away)

Mets 5

(3-3, 3-3 home)

    1:10 PM ET, April 6, 2003

    Shea Stadium, Flushing, New York 

    123456789 R H E
    MON 000211004 8 - -
    NYM 000032000 5 - -

    W: S. Stewart (1-0)

    L: A. Benitez (0-1)

    S: R. Biddle (2)

    Liefer's three-run homer in ninth drops Mets

    NEW YORK (AP) -- Armando Benitez has 119 saves since the start of the 2000 season. He thinks about the 13 that got away.

    Benitez blew a chance for the first time this year and did it emphatically Sunday. Trying to protect a one-run lead, he gave up a three-run homer to Jeff Liefer that sent the Montreal Expos past the New York Mets 8-5.

    "I'm human. He hit my best pitch,'' Benitez said of the 97 mph fastball. "I was behind in the count. I had to come in with a strike.''

    Benitez (0-1) entered with a 5-4 lead provided by Tony Clark, who hit a go-ahead, two-run shot in the sixth inning in his Mets debut. But Benitez, pitching for the third straight day, had problems throwing breaking pitches for strikes.

    Endy Chavez singled leading off the ninth and advanced on a one-out wild pitch. Benitez got ahead 1-2 in the count on Vladimir Guerrero, who missed on two big swings at hard pitches, but then walked him.

    Liefer got ahead 3-1, swung and missed, then hit his first NL homer.

    "At 3-1 and 3-2, I felt he had to throw his fastball,'' Liefer said. "It's his best pitch, especially since he figured he beat me on it 3-1, I figured he would come back with it 3-2.''

    He sure did. And all right fielder Jeromy Burnitz could do was watch it sail well over the wall.

    Benitez was angry at reporters after the game, saying they're not interested in him when he succeeds.

    "Nobody comes to you, talks to you, says, `How you feel?' " he said.

    As soon as he walked Guerrero, the boos began from the Shea Stadium crowd.

    "I'm not mad at the fans,'' Benitez said. "Today, I'm not doing the job.''

    John Franco, the Mets' former closer, has given Benitez advice on how to handle the role in New York, where the fans are demanding and let players know it. Franco intended to talk to Benitez on Monday's flight to Florida.

    "I'm sure nobody feels worse than him right now,'' Franco said. "I've been in his shoes. I know what it feels like.''

    Benitez had four blown saves last year and has one in three chances this year. New manager Art Howe wasn't worried about Sunday's collapse.

    "If Armando says he's OK, and we've got a lead in the ninth inning, he's going to get the ball,'' Howe said.

    Montreal added a run when Brad Wilkerson hit his second double and came around on Fernando Tatis' infield single, knocking over Mike Piazza at the plate -- the catcher was charged with an error for dropping the ball.

    Scott Stewart (1-0) pitched one hitless inning, and Rocky Biddle got three outs for his second save. The Expos, who outhit the Mets 17-7, avoided a three-game sweep.

    Montreal manager Frank Robinson, whose team had lost two straight since an opening sweep in Atlanta, predicted a win Sunday morning. Because 10 Expos' "home games'' in April have been moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico, the team doesn't open at Olympic Stadium until April 22.

    "It's important to win a game before you leave town,'' he said.

    Before Benitez failed, it appeared to be a wonderful day for Clark, who was brought up from Class-A St. Lucie before the game. An AL All-Star two years ago, Clark was searching for a team until the Mets signed him to a minor league contract on Feb. 20, a week after spring training started.

    He wound up starting at first base because Mo Vaughn strained his right hip flexor Saturday. After Chavez's RBI double off Jaime Cerda in the sixth put Montreal ahead 4-3, Clark connected off T.J. Tucker in the bottom half.

    Clark didn't want to think about the homer until the game was over.

    "Once you start patting yourself on the back, the ball usually finds you in some capacity,'' he said.

    Jae Seo, a 25-year-old from South Korea, made his first major league start. The right-hander, discovered in 1997 by then-manager Bobby Valentine, allowed three runs and 10 hits in 4 2-3 innings.

    Livan Hernandez made his debut for the Expos and gave up three runs and four hits in five innings. Hernandez, the 1997 World Series MVP, was obtained from San Francisco on March 24.

    Montreal went ahead in the fourth on RBI doubles by Wilkerson and Brian Schneider, and Orlando Cabrera made it 3-0 with a run-scoring single in the fifth.

    New York tied it in the bottom half after Ty Wigginton led off with his first career triple. Rey Sanchez hit a run-scoring single, pinch-hitter Timo Perez had a sacrifice fly and Roberto Alomar hit a two-out double.

    "Maybe just because I haven't pitched so much lately, it was hard for me to throw strikes,'' Hernandez said.

    Game notes

    Liefer is spelled "Leifer'' throughout Montreal's media guide. ... 2B umpire Mark Wegner called Liefer out trying to steal in the second inning, saying Alomar controlled the ball before it bounced away. ... In the fourth inning, 3B Tim Welke was hit in fair territory by Cabrera's bouncer, turning what looked to be a double into a single.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press