NEW YORK -- The New York Mets have as much to say about who they won't be playing as they do about the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Mets aren't shy about expressing their preference for facing St. Louis instead of their nemesis, the Atlanta Braves, in the NL championship series.
"Nothing derogatory against them, but I'm glad to see them lose," first baseman Todd Zeile said of the Braves being eliminated. "This team has not had much success against them."
The Mets are 14-29 against the Braves the past three seasons, including a loss in last year's NLCS. But St. Louis had little trouble with the NL East champs, sweeping Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs.
"I was a little relieved," reliever Turk Wendell said. "That is a team that mentally puts a lot of pressure on other teams. It puts pressure on guys to think that they have to be perfect."
The Mets are 26-10 against the Cardinals, including 6-3 this season. So while the champagne was spraying throughout the New York clubhouse Sunday after eliminating San Francisco in four games, it is easy to understand why the Mets were happy to avoid questions about being spooked by Atlanta.
"I'm glad we don't have to answer questions about why we can't win in Atlanta," left-hander Al Leiter said. "That became a nuisance."
Such talk might provide some added motivation for the Cardinals, who play host to the Mets on Wednesday night in the opener of the best-of-seven series. Mike Hampton (15-11) is expected to get the start for New York against Darryl Kile (21-9).
There was some talk that a trip to the World Series would be cheapened for the Mets because they don't have to go through Atlanta to do it. The players don't buy into it.
"We can't control what other teams do," said Bobby J. Jones, who pitched a one-hitter to clinch the division series. "We control the New York Mets. We've got a ball game that we have to win and that we have to worry about. We go about it like that."
The Mets-Braves rivalry hasn't died down, even though Atlanta is out of the playoffs. Third baseman Chipper Jones, one of the most hated Braves at Shea Stadium, said he didn't care who won the NL pennant -- as long as it wasn't New York.
The Mets have similar opinions about the Braves.
"We held up our end of the bargain," outfielder Darryl Hamilton said. "Anybody with any type of brain thought Atlanta was the team to beat. They may be. But we're still going to play St. Louis."
The Cardinals head into their first NLCS in four years well rested, having finished off the Braves on Saturday. The Mets took an extra day to eliminate the Giants, but both teams have their pitching rotations set up perfectly.
St. Louis also has the momentum of a three-game sweep -- all won in the final at-bat -- against the Mets that started New York's September swoon.
"The Cardinals are not going to be pushovers," said setup man John Franco, who was injured during that series. "If they play us the way they play the Braves, it will be a tough series."
But they're just not Atlanta.
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