If a batter hits a home run to end the game, but he doesn’t round the bases ... does the home run count? The answer is no. It’s a rarely-needed rule that put a memorable finish to one of the most exciting baseball playoff games in recent history.

On Oct. 17, 1999, the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves met in New York for Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. The Braves led the series 3-1; if the Mets lost, they’d be out of the playoffs.

Every game in the series had been a nail-biter -- in fact, the Mets had come from behind in Game 4 to avoid elimination. So it was no surprise when Game 5 went into extra innings tied 2-2.

The Braves’ solid bullpen held New York scoreless in the 10th, the 11th, the 12th .... But a heroic effort from some unlikely Mets pitchers -- including old-timer Orel Hershiser and rookie Octavio Dotel -- kept Atlanta scoreless as well.

And so it went until the 15th inning, when Dotel succumbed and gave up a run to Atlanta. The Braves led 3-2, and the Mets’ season was presumably over.

But no! Against Kevin McGlinchy, the miracle Mets managed to load the bases in the bottom of the 15th with only one out. Backup catcher Todd Pratt then came to bat and drew a walk. The tying run crossed the plate.

The next batter was Robin Ventura, a fading power hitter who was a miserable 1 for 18 in the series. With the game now 5-1/2 hours old, the exhausted Mets fans were screaming for one more hit to keep their season alive.

The 1-1 pitch came, and Ventura drilled it -- a solid line drive into the right field bleachers, a game-winning grand slam.

Shea Stadium went nuts. Fans leapt to their feet screaming. But no one was happier than Pratt, a 32-year-old who’d been out of baseball and delivering pizzas just 2 years earlier. Pratt was on first base when Ventura hit his homer. On his way to second, he stopped, watched the homer clear the fence, and started celebrating with everyone else. As Ventura rounded first base, Pratt tackled him and hoisted him over one shoulder in elation.

Of course, all the Mets were pouring out of the dugout by now, and they had Ventura and Pratt surrounded in seconds. It was the greatest moment of a great season for their team, and everyone wanted to celebrate. They drank in the fans’ adulation for a few minutes, then headed to the locker room.

Ventura never crossed home plate. He didn’t even get to second base! And so the ruling came down from the official scorer: The Mets won 4-3, with Ventura getting credit for only a single.

And that’s how it should be, not just because the rule book says so, but because it ensures Ventura’s heart-stopping home run is immortalized in baseball trivia: The game-winning, grand-slam single.

(Epilogue: Game 6 was even more exciting, but ended in tears for the Mets when Kenny Rogers walked in the winning run. Atlanta would go on to be swept in the World Series by those damn Yankees.)

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