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Mets' visit to Puerto Rico a good thing for Expos

4/15/2003

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- A trip to the Montreal Expos'
favorite island caused a shipwreck for the New York Mets.

More errors. More injuries.

The bottom line: Swept away.

"Maybe it's just Puerto Rico. Maybe we have to get out of
Puerto Rico," Mets manager Art Howe said Monday night after his
team's latest loss, a deflating 5-3 defeat against Montreal that
completed a four-game sweep.

"There's no logic to it. It's something different every night.
Maybe a change of scenery will solve the problem."

New York clawed back from a 3-0 deficit to tie the game, but
Fernando Tatis hit an opposite-field, two-run single in the eighth
inning off David Weathers after Mike Stanton joined the injury
list.

Rey Sanchez, one of the Puerto Rican stars getting to play major
league ball in their home country, set up the winning rally when he
misplayed Vladimir Guerrero's one-out grounder to shortstop for an
error.

"We'll battle through it. We'll be better," Weathers said.
"Last year we started 18-11, everybody thought we were going to
take off and we went in the tank."

The NL East-leading Expos (9-4), who play 22 of their home games
in San Juan, extended their winning streak to five. They made New
York's island visit a wipeout, outscoring the last-place Mets 22-8.

"This was pretty sweet," Montreal manager Frank Robinson said.
"I'm very proud of this team. We understand and appreciate what
went on here tonight."

New York (4-9) lost its sixth straight and dropped five games
back, its season veering off course just two weeks in. The Mets,
who have scored only 38 runs this season. hadn't been swept by the
Expos in a four-game series since September 1972.

Los Expos dispatched New York like rude tourists. Stanton
strained a calf muscle, joining Cliff Floyd (Achilles' tendon) and
Mo Vaughn (sore knee) on the injured list. Mike Piazza, trying
desperately to beat out a hit, tumbled over first base in the sixth
inning.

"A couple of bruises, but I'm all right," Piazza said.

Howe was worried at first, saying: "That looked like it could
have been a separated shoulder." Right now, the Mets are trying to
sprint from home to first in two seconds.

"How can you criticize anybody who's playing so hard for you?"
he said.

Meanwhile, Montreal might never want to leave. The Expos have
the second-best record in the National League and the games have
drawn far more than they would have up in Canada. Attendance for
the 4:45 p.m. start was 13,155 after crowds of 17,906, 18,264 (a
sellout) and 16,332 the first three days.

"From a baseball point of view, it was great," said Steve Trachsel, who allowed Guerrero's first-inning homer and two more
runs in the second. "The fans were great. They love their players.
It's fun to play in front of fans like that."

For Piazza, though, it wasn't much fun.

"Obviously, the facility is not major league standards," he
said. "I don't think they're trying to fool anybody on that."

Several Mets criticized security for reacting slowly when two
spectators ran on the field in the fifth inning and unfurled a
banner that read: "No a la guerra" ("No to the war") with a
drawing of a machine gun and oil well.

"They had the Green Berets and Delta Force down there and they
were just standing there," Weathers said.

Teammate Roberto Alomar, Puerto Rico's biggest current baseball
star, was in the clubhouse at the time.

"I want to apologize on behalf of the Puerto Rican people," he
said.

Expos starter Javier Vazquez, who is from nearby Ponce, pitched
a major league game for the first time in front of his grandmother,
Isabel. He dominated early, striking out the side in the first
inning, but allowed Tony Clark's two-run homer in the fifth, which
cleared the bleachers in right-center.

New York tied it in the sixth when Sanchez, also cheered loudly,
singled and came around from second when Piazza's single to left
was misplayed for an error by Brad Wilkerson.

"At least I kept the team in the game," Vazquez said. "I knew
the public would be behind me, and I wanted to do the best I could.
Hopefully, they were proud of me."

Montreal went back ahead in the eighth. Guerrero reached against
Scott Strickland (0-1) on Sanchez's error. Stanton got Wil Cordero
to hit a comebacker, but couldn't hear Piazza yell "Second base!"
and threw to first as the runner advanced.

Orlando Cabrera was intentionally walked, and Stanton got hurt
on a spin move to second before his 3-2 pitch. He then walked
Wilkerson and was replaced by Weathers. Tatis, from the nearby
Dominican Republic, sliced an opposite-field single into right
field, giving him three RBIs.

Dan Smith (1-0) got the win and Rocky Biddle pitched the ninth
for his fourth save. Fans cheered loudly as Jose Vidro, who had two
homers and three doubles in the series, was selected MVP.

Sanchez, whose error finished off New York's awful trip, didn't
want to talk about it.

"No," he said. "I got to go."

Game notes
Several Montreal players and coaches plan to visit Fort
Buchanan, a U.S. military base in the suburbs of San Juan, on
Wednesday. ... The Mets traveled to Pittsburgh immediately after
the game.