NEW YORK -- Mike Hampton and the Mets did their part. Now it's up to the Yankees to give New York the Subway Series the city has been waiting for since 1956.
Hampton pitched a three-hitter Monday night and New York started a clinching party that could carry over to the Bronx as the Mets beat the St. Louis Cardinals 7-0 and won the NL championship series 4-1.
''I'm rooting for the Yankees to be perfectly honest,'' said Mets first basemanTodd Zeile, who broke the game open with a three-run double in the fourth inning. ''I'd love to see a Subway Series. We have some unfinished business with the Yankees.''
The game got testy at the end when Dave Veres hit Jay Payton of the Mets in the helmet with a 1-2 pitch with two outs in the eighth inning. Payton, bleeding over his left eye, charged the mound and the dugouts and bullpens emptied as police in riot gear lined the field.
''There's only one person that ever knows the intent, but nobody's going to stand up and say they were throwing at somebody's head,'' Payton said.
That was the only thing that could dampen this night for the Mets, who ran a victory lap around a raucous Shea Stadium before heading to the clubhouse for a celebration that spilled back onto the field when Todd Pratt sprayed fans with champagne.
New York won its fourth NL pennant and first since 1986, joining the 1997 Florida Marlins as the only wild card teams to make the World Series. Hampton won the MVP by pitching 16 scoreless innings and winning two games.
''The team needed a big game,'' Hampton said. ''We're close. We're four wins away from fulfilling that fantasy.''
The Mets also earned four days off before beginning the World Series on Saturday, either a train ride away at Yankee Stadium or across the country in Seattle.
''I hope the Yankees win in seven so they burn El Duque (Hernandez) and (Andy) Pettitte,'' Mets starter Al Leiter said.
The three-run first off a rusty Pat Hentgen turned baseball's most dangerous pinch hitter into a non-factor once again. Mighty Mark McGwire, limited to pinch-hitting duty because of tendinitis in his right knee, didn't bat until the ninth with the Cardinals down by seven and he grounded out.
Rick Wilkins then flied to center where Timo Perez jumped three times, waving his arms, before making the catch. The Mets poured out of the dugout and bullpen for the second time in an inning -- this time for a celebration.
Big Mac finished 0-for-2 with an intentional walk and could only blow bubbles as the Cardinals season ended following another wild outing by rookie Rick Ankiel.
''In a short series, it comes down to pitching,'' McGwire said. ''They shut us down.''
The series was especially sweet for Hampton and Mike Piazza, who both had struggled in the postseason before this series.
Piazza, a .211 hitter with two homers and seven RBIs in his first five playoff series, batted .412 with two homers and four RBIs against the Cardinals.
Hampton began the series with a career postseason record of 0-2 and a 5.87 ERA in four starts. But he pitched seven scoreless innings to win Game 1 and finished it up Monday.
''He did everything anybody could hope he could do in the biggest game of his life and mine too,'' Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. ''When you have great players playing great, it makes my job easy.''
Hampton walked one and struck out eight -- including Jim Edmonds three times. He didn't allow a runner to reach second base.
''I was able to focus every pitch,'' Hampton said. ''Sometimes you might lose focus for an inning and then you're two or three runs down.''
It was only fitting that those two played such a big role. The acquisition of Piazza in 1998 signified a new commitment to winning from an ownership that threw its money to all the wrong places early in the '90s.
After falling two games short of the World Series in 1999, the Mets got Hampton from Houston and he helped put New York over the top.
''We knew it was major for us because we knew in a short series we needed another pitcher,'' Mets GM Steve Phillips said. ''Actually there are a couple of games we want him to pitch in the World Series, too.''
Possibly against the Yankees, who can wrap up the ALCS Tuesday night against Seattle. Fans were already yelling derogatory chants toward the Yankees.
The Mets did all the scoring they needed in the first inning off Hentgen, pitching for the first time since Sept. 30. The Cardinals defense didn't help either, making two errors and two other fielding miscues.
Perez, the sparkplug who has been in the middle of nearly every Mets rally this series, led off with a single, stole second and went to third on Carlos Hernandez's throwing error.
Edgardo Alfonzo hit the next pitch past shortstop Edgar Renteria, who pulled up as the ball scooted past his glove into left field for a hit. After Piazza walked, Ventura singled to make it 2-0.
Zeile followed with a perfect double-play grounder, but second baseman Fernando Vina bobbled it before flipping to Renteria for the first out. The throw to first was dropped by Will Clark for another error as Piazza scored.
Hentgen settled down for the next two innings, but couldn't make it out of the fourth -- the third time a Cardinals starter didn't make it that far.
Perez singled with one out and went to third on Piazza's two-out double. After a visit from pitching coach Dave Duncan, Hentgen walked Ventura on four pitches.
For the second straight game, Zeile made the Cardinals pay for walking the bases loaded in front of him.
''There's a little added motivation when see that happened,'' Zeile said.
Hentgen, wearing short sleeves on a 56-degree night, got hammered for six runs, seven hits and five walks in 3 2-3 innings.
''I'm disappointed the way it ended up the way it did, but I was out there grinding,'' Hentgen said.
Making matters worse for St. Louis, Ankiel doesn't appear to be over his wildness, walking two and throwing two wild pitches in two-thirds of an inning. Ankiel has nine wild pitches in four innings this postseason.
Notes: Alfonzo has hit in 11 straight playoff games and has 16 career RBIs in the postseason, a Mets record. ... The Cardinals, who outscored Atlanta 10-3 in the first inning in the division series, were outscored 12-4 in the first by the Mets. ... Perez scored eight runs in the series, tying an NLCS record.
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