NEW YORK (AP)—Lastings Milledge was high-fiving fans along the right-field railing, the same way Cal Ripken did 11 years ago on his “victory lap” in Baltimore after breaking Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played.
Ahh, the exuberance of youth. Turns out, the celebration was premature—and it irked a few folks in both dugouts.
With the Mets down to their final strike in the 10th, Milledge hit his first career homer off All-Star closer Armando Benitez to tie it at 6. The 21-year-old rookie raised his index finger toward the sky as he rounded first and came out for a curtain call.
Then, as he jogged out to right field for the 11th, he slapped hands with dozens of fans leaning over the railing.
“We weren’t too happy about that. But he’s a young kid,” Giants reliever Steve Kline said. “I don’t know if he’s going to be slapping five with everybody after he goes 0-for-15 and the New York fans are booing him. But in the heat of the moment, you can’t blame the kid. He knows better. I think he genuinely knows he did wrong.”
The Mets also took notice.
“Oh, boy. He has a little growing up to do,” outfielder Cliff Floyd said. “I’ll just mention to him the consequences that come along with that. If that’s what you want to do, you do that. But at the same time, if you want guys throwing at your head constantly, you proceed to do it that way.
“He has the talent and everything, but you have to understand the game at this level. At Triple-A they’re going to treat you like a king, and what’s wrong with that? When you come here, without losing your mojo, you’ve got to bring the mentality down. If you can do that, you’ll earn the respect of a lot of people.”
Milledge heard it from his manager, too.
“I had a little conversation with him about that. I told him to tone it down a little bit,” Willie Randolph said. “He got excited about his first big home run. Wouldn’t you? I talked to him about it—it won’t happen again.”
Milledge also hit a go-ahead double and made a sliding catch in right field in his fifth major league game, quickly winning over New York fans who have been reading about the gifted youngster for a while now.
“Now I know what’s expected. It was a rookie mistake. We learn from it,” Milledge said. “I was just excited to get the team back. If it was just a solo homer that meant nothing for the team, I wouldn’t have been that excited.”
Steve Finley had three hits and a key sacrifice for the Giants, who took two of three in a back-and-forth series. The teams split six meetings this season— with three going to extra innings.
“It was a great game to be a part of. I wish we would have won it,” Wright said.
But the Mets, who have fought back from late deficits all season, weren’t done.
Jose Valentin homered with one out in the bottom half off Benitez, who had dominated his former team since being traded in July 2003. With two outs, Milledge drove a 1-2 pitch over the left-field fence, sending the crowd of 48,791 into a frenzy.
“Today, they got me,” said Benitez, who has 14 career saves against the Mets. “But I got these guys 14 times.”
The score stayed tied until the 12th, when Lance Niekro led off with a single and pitcher Pedro Feliciano (1-2) threw wide to second on Jason Ellison’s bunt for an error. Finley advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt and Feliz singled off Heath Bell.
“It’s really good that you get a win like that—everybody pulling for each other,” Omar Vizquel said. “It’s nice because we came back twice. It makes you believe that you can rebound.
“That’s something that we haven’t done here.”
Barry Bonds had an RBI groundout, Finley hit a tying double and the normally reliable Sanchez walked pinch-hitter Durham on four pitches, forcing in the go-ahead run.
Milledge’s two-out double on an 0-2 hanger from starter Matt Morris put the Mets up 3-1 in the sixth. The two RBIs were the first in the majors for Milledge, called up from the minors Tuesday after right fielder Xavier Nady had an appendectomy.
“It was pretty disappointing because we should have won the game. We let it slip away all day,” Milledge said. “It wasn’t as though we beat ourselves, they just beat us.”
The teams split a rain-delayed doubleheader Saturday that ended 9 hours, 14 minutes after the scheduled first pitch. … The Mets have played 11 extra-inning games, most in the majors. They are 6-5 in those games. This was their third extra-inning affair in four games. … Milledge also scored the winning run in the second game Saturday night with a nifty slide on Chris Woodward’s shallow sacrifice fly.