Wait's over: Valentin homers twice as Mets clinch East

NEW YORK (AP) -- They soaked themselves in wine and beer, then
ran out of their clubhouse to go back on the field, jump up and
down some more and share the glee with their fans.

Ending nearly two decades of disappointment in their division
and days of delay, the New York Mets brought the NL East title back
to Shea Stadium for the first time since 1988 with a 4-0 victory
over the Florida Marlins on Monday night.

Then they celebrated as if they had won the World Series.

"If this is what playoff baseball in New York is like, to me
it's the best," David Wright said before sticking a cigar in his
mouth and high-fiving fans in the first row during the 90-minute
postgame celebration.

Jose Valentin, one of their unexpected stars, homered twice.
Steve Trachsel, their longest-tenured player, combined with
Guillermo Mota, Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner on a four-hitter.

Fireworks shot off from behind the center-field wall when Cliff Floyd caught Josh Willingham's fly ball to left for the final out.
The Mets rushed to the center of the diamond for a bouncing group
hug near shortstop.

"I got that ball in my back pocket. For a small fee, I might
give it up," Floyd said, laughing.

They are New York's "other team," often obscured by the
crosstown Yankees, whose 26 World Series titles' dwarf the Mets'
two. When the Yankees celebrate division titles -- they're closing
in on their ninth straight -- they resemble corporate executives
closing a deal with handshakes. For them, only World Series titles

When the Mets win anything, it's time to let loose.

"If we win the World Series this year, it's not going to erase
the Yankee mystique," Tom Glavine said. "They've done it year
after year, and they deserve all the attention they get. We're just
trying to play well and take some of that attention. But sure, we
want our piece of the pie."

The Mets had hoped to clinch last week during a trip to Florida
and Pittsburgh. But the 280 or so bottles of Freixenet Cordon Negro
Extra Dry sparkling wine that had been flown from city to city were
neatly arrayed in four trays outside the clubhouse before the game,
as if to tantalize passing players.

By the fifth inning, when the Mets were up 3-0, Pedro Martinez
was sitting on the edge of the dugout, wearing goggles -- perhaps in
anticipation of sprayed sting in the celebration ahead. Possibly
remembering the wild celebrations of 1969 and 1986, police deployed
four mounted officers on watch behind the right-field fence.

"We accomplished the first step," Martinez said. "Now we have
a big job to do and a great responsibility."

Led by the power of Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado, the
pitching of Martinez and Glavine, the spark of Jose Reyes and
Wright, and the closing of Wagner, the Mets took over the NL East
lead for good with a 2-1 record on April 6 and put together the
best record in the major leagues (91-58).

"It was a little bit frustrating because I wanted the guys to
experience it right away," said manager Willie Randolph, a veteran
of six World Series titles as a Yankees player and coach.

"It's that adrenaline that you get. It's that real euphoric
feeling you get knowing that you accomplished something. Having
said that, I've been through this many times. We have a lot to do,
man. We've just scratched the surface of how good this team can

Just two years removed from a 71-91 finish that led to the
hirings of Randolph and general manager Omar Minaya, the Mets ended
the reign of the Atlanta Braves, who had won 14 straight division
titles, including 11 in a row since their move to the NL East.

The Mets became the first team this season to clinch a playoff
berth and can prepare for their first postseason appearance since
2000, when they won the wild card for the second straight season
and lost to the Yankees in the World Series. The Mets are likely to
meet St. Louis, Los Angeles or San Diego in the first round,
starting in the first week of October.

A giddy crowd of 46,729 chanted, clapped and sang at festive
Shea -- about 10,000 tickets were sold after Sunday's loss completed
a three-game Pirates' sweep. Many arrived for batting practice, and
fans already were on their feet cheering during the first inning.

Trachsel felt the buzz when he drove into the parking lot.

"Security guards and construction workers were screaming
walking in: 'Get this thing done!'" he said.

Trachsel (15-7), who signed with the Mets in December 2000,
allowed three hits in 6 1/3 innings and joined Gary Gentry (1969),
Tom Seaver (1973), Dwight Gooden (1986) and Ron Darling (1988) as
the only pitchers to win division clinchers for the Mets. Darling
was on hand Monday night as a member of the team's broadcast crew.

Valentin, who took away the second-base job from Kaz Matsui
early in the season, hit a two-run homer in the third inning off
Brian Moehler (7-9), then earned his second curtain call of the
night with a solo shot in the fifth. Floyd added an RBI single in
the sixth.

"That was something," Valentin said, recalling the fan
reaction. "That was a great feeling."

For Florida, though, the playoff picture grows more dire by the
day. The Marlins fell 4½ games back in the wild-card

"We're in a tough position," manager Joe Girardi said. "We've
got 12 games to go, and we got to win most of them."

Game notes
Delgado has the most games (1,703) among active players
without a postseason appearance. ... When the Mets clinched their
first division title in 1969, the game ended when the Cardinals'
Joe Torre grounded into a double play -- Randolph's former mentor on
the Yankees.