<
>

Mets' magic number still 1 after unlikely Pirates sweep

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Once again, the New York Mets were left out of
a party at PNC Park.

The Mets failed for the third straight day to clinch the NL East
title when Zach Duke and the Pittsburgh Pirates finished off an
unlikely sweep Sunday with a 3-0 win.

"I'm not frustrated. We are a little disappointed we didn't get
it done," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "You want to go out
and do it with all the anticipation."

New York was denied its first division title since 1988 later in
the day when second-place Philadelphia beat Houston 6-4. The Mets
can clinch at home Monday night with a win over Florida or a loss
by the Phillies.

The Mets came to Pittsburgh with a magic number of one and the
best record in the majors. Even with a sizable contingent of New
York fans in the stands, the young Pirates became the first NL team
to sweep the Mets this season.

"It's frustrating -- just taking away all the circumstances -- to
come in here and get swept," third baseman David Wright said.
"But I think we have the talent and we have the ability to put a
hurting on a lot of teams. To come in here and do this is just one
of those ruts over the course of three games."

Showing their spirit, the Pirates -- with the next-to-worst
record in the league -- celebrated with hearty handshakes on the
field. Pittsburgh completed its first three-game sweep at home
against New York since 1998.

"When we heard that they had their party planned for this town,
we took it kind of personally," Duke said. "We were like, 'Man,
everybody just thinks we're going to roll over when they come in
here.' But it's kind of a different story for us this half and we
knew that if we put our minds to it we could definitely get the job
done and we did."

While the sweep won't stop the Mets from eventually reaching the
playoffs, it may have exposed a weakness that could prevent them
from advancing far once they get into the postseason.

For the third day in a row, a Pirates left-hander beat New York.
The Mets have lost 13 of their last 18 when lefties started against
them and are 23-21 overall -- compared to 67-37 when facing a
right-hander.

"It seems like every time we face a lefty, we don't get on
base," star Carlos Beltran said. "But we are not concerned at
all. We trust in every single one of us in here, and we know this
is just something that probably has been a coincidence or
something, I don't know. Sometimes we have good games against
lefties. Sometimes we don't."

Sunday was clearly the latter as Duke (10-13) allowed eight
hits, walked one and struck out six in eight innings. The Mets had
only one extra-base hit and never advanced a runner past second
base.

Freddy Sanchez had two hits and two RBI and Chris Duffy scored
twice for the Pirates. Salomon Torres pitched the ninth for his
ninth save.

"I think it's safe to say that this might be the best
all-around series that we've played," Duffy said. "Every facet of
the game, from pitching to defense and hitting. This is something
we've been looking for a while so it feels great. Obviously I'm
sure they're not too happy. I'm sure they had some plans.

"The sight of them celebrating on our field, I don't think it
would've been a very good taste in our mouths just to see that.
This was just a great all-around series," he said.

Endy Chavez had three hits and Wright and Lastings Milledge each
had two for New York, which stranded nine runners and was 0-for-6
with runners in scoring position. The Mets missed a chance to
clinch the division on the same date they did in 1986 -- the last
season in which the Mets won the World Series.

"We got a bad draw this weekend, but we're going home looking
forward to celebrating with our fans," Randolph said.

Pittsburgh pounced on John Maine (5-5). Duffy led off the first
with a single that extended his hitting streak to a career-high 11
games and Jack Wilson followed with a double.

Sanchez hit a weak chopper to third base that Wright fielded,
but his throw home was off-target and Duffy scored. Sanchez, who
entered the game a point behind NL batting leader Miguel Cabrera,
was credited with an RBI single.

Jason Bay's sacrifice fly scored Wilson to give the Pirates a
two-run lead. Sanchez had a sacrifice fly in the seventh.

After going against the Marlins' Brian Moehler on Monday, the
Mets will face two more lefties. Randolph noted that most of the
potential playoff opponents do not have many left-handed starters,
and Wright said he was not worried about facing lefties.

"Not one bit," he said. "It doesn't concern anyone in this
clubhouse one bit. We haven't talked about it, we haven't had any
kind of meeting about it."

Game notes
The only time the Mets were swept this season was when
Boston Red Sox won all three games the teams played June 27-29 at
Fenway Park. ... The Mets' three-game losing streak is one shy of
their season high. ... Pittsburgh C Carlos Maldonado stole his
first major league base. ... Pittsburgh's Xavier Nady, traded by
the Mets to the Pirates in late July, snapped an 0-for-21 streak
with a double off the right-field wall in the sixth.