Mets Update: Mets cut into Philadelphia's lead
When the Mets (42-43) entered their four game series against the division leading Phillies (47-39) under .500, 4.5 games back of the division leading Fighting Phils and it looked as if the firing of Willie Randolph had done nothing to curb their poor to mediocre level of play. Little did we know that by late Monday evening those same Mets would be 2.5 games back and breathing down the necks of those same rival Phillies as well as those pesky Florida Marlins.
To say that the first game of this series looked like a win for the Mets on paper would be an understatement. I mean if you looked at the scorecard and saw that a former Cy Young award winner Johan Santana (7-7) was taking the hill for the Mets against an unproven arm in the Phillies starter J.A Happ (0-0) who the Mets beat up on last year you would most likely draw the same conclusion. To bad for Met fans they did not play the first game on paper because thanks to a late-inning rally by the Phillies the reigning NL East champs pulled out a victory over the Metropolitans.
The Mets batted seven times with runners in scoring position, and none of the four hits they produced against Happ and his followers came in those circumstances. Damion Easley, playing in place of the injured Luis Castillo, led off the fifth with a single, and Ramon Castro, doubled to right for his second hit. After Santana fouled out, Jose Reyes drove in Easley on a force out ground ball, Endy Chavez walked on four pitches, and Wright walked with the bases loaded for the second run. That was the extent of New York's offense. The Mets only managed to produce two runs against the young Happ and while that has been more than enough runs for Johan in years passed it was not to be on this day. Santana retired his first batter in the sixth. But four of the subsequent five hitters -- Jayson Werth, Chase Utley, Howard and Burrell -- singled to tie the score. Johan was pulled after eight innings. He pitched eight innings, his longest workday as a Met, allowing two runs on six hits and no walks. He threw 95 high-stress pitches which was enough for manager Jerry Manuel to pull him. With the score tied in the bottom of the ninth the Mets still had a chance to force the game to extra's if setup man Duaner Sanchez (3-0) could shut down the Phils big bats. That chance was gone when Shane Victorino pulled a pitch from Duaner Sanchez into right field with two out in the ninth inning. Victorino's walk-off single scored Pedro Feliz, who had doubled after Sanchez had struck out his first two batters, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell. I don't know what was louder, the Philly fans cheering their teams come from behind walk off victory, or the collective grumbling from Met fans that could have been heard all the way from Queens. With that heartbreaking loss behind them the Mets were looking to bounce back in game two of this Fourth of July weekend series.
The Mets did rebound after the tough loss on Friday with a 9-4 drubbing of the Phillies in a rain delayed game two on Saturday. The young John Maine (8-6) took the hill for the Mets against the very old Jaimee Moyer (8-6) throwing for the Phils. Maine gave up only one hit, a three-run homer, but exited in the sixth with a left forearm cramp.The cramping was not serious and Maine will be good to go on his next sceduled start date.
The Mets managed produce two three-run rallies in the eighth and ninth innings against the premier bullpen in the National League. It was a pinch hit double by Schneider in the eighth off Philly reliever Tom Gordon that delivered the tying run. The decisive rally began against losing pitcher J.C. Romero. Easley and Carlos Delgado both singled with one out. Easley reached third and, after Gordon replaced Romero, scored on the wild pitch. A walk to pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson followed. And after pinch-hitter Endy Chavez grounded out, and Schneider hit his double tying the game at four. The Mets would add three more runs against Rudy Seanez in the ninth, and wash out the bad taste that had been left in their mouth by Friday nights walk-off loss. Game three pitted the inconsistent Oliver Perez (6-5) throwing for the Mets against the surprisingly solid Kyle Kendrick (8-3) on the hill for the Phillies. If you were looking for game with a lot of offense you came to the wrong place. However a fairly suprising pitching duel was on tap for viewers instead. Mets starter Oliver Perez allowed four hits, struck out six and walked two in seven innings while Kyle Kendrick allowed one run and eight hits in six innings for the home team Phillies. Carlos Beltran's laser line-drive homerun in the top of the third was the only run scored by either team until the ninth inning. Before the real fireworks started the game was delayed 2 hours, 50 minutes because of heavy rain in the bottom of the eighth.
In the top of the ninth Beltran singled to right center, which allowed Reyes to score. Billy Wagner entered the game in the bottom of the inning trying to get his 20th save of the season. It was not to be, instead Wagner blew the save, his sixth blown save of season, the most he's had since 2002, as Jayson Werth tied it with a two-run, two-out, two-strike home run in ninth. The good feeling that Met fans had let creep into their minds and bodies before Werth stepped to the plate evaporated at the sound of the crack of the bat. With the Philly fans revived and the life completely sucked out of the Mets it was going to take some solid work from New York's bullpen and someone in that lineup to come up big if the Mets were to avoid a dehabilitating loss. Fernando Tatis was that someone,Tatis won it with a two-run home run, the second time this season he's had a game-winning hit in the 12th inning and perhaps this one was bigger than his first.This huge late inning homerun allowed the Mets to get the upper hand in this 4 game series as Joe Smith (1-1) pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings to earn the win. More importantly the Mets have won two in a row in a big series against the NL East-leading Phillies.
With this win that may be looked at as the game the Mets turned their season around the Mets now trail Philadelphia by 3.5 games with a chance to move closer in the finale Monday night. With Monday night upon them the Mets were staring at nothing but opportunities. An opportunity to win their second consecutive series on the road versus an National League playoff contender (Cardinals being the first). An opportunity to take three of four in Philly and inch one game closer to the division leading Phils. And perhaps most importantly the Mets had an opportunity to take the first step at officially putting last seasons collapse behind them and prove to themselves, the fans and the Phillies that they are not intimidated. Taking the mound for the Mets was Pedro Martinez (3-2) or as he sometimes will refer to himself "Picasso" (known for painting the corners of the plate), and on the hill for the Phillies was Adam Eaton (3-6). So if Pedro is Picasso then I will say Adam Eaton is...well lets just say for now he is not Picasso. Eaton was touched up for 10 hits and eight runs -- six earned -- in 2 2/3 innings, his shortest outing of the season. As for his counterpart, it was cruise control for Pedro and the Mets as New York took a commanding 10-1 lead with them entering the bottom of the sixth inning when Pat Burrell woke the crowd and the Philly bats with a solo shot to left. After a Dobbs double Jerry Manuel decided he had seen enough of Pedro and looked to the Mets bullpen to coast to the easy victory. Well as many Met players and fans alike can attest to there seems to be no such thing as an easy victory for the Mets this year, especially against the rival Phillies. After striking out the first two batters he faced Tony Armas Jr. ran into some trouble in the bottom of the seventh when Ryan Howard hit a two-run homer to right in the seventh off him, which was initially called a ground-rule double because a fan reached over the right-field wall and touched the ball. The four umpires convened and ruled the ball would have left the park had the fan not interfered. If you ask me all the umpires did by calling that ball a homerun was give advocates for instant replay in the MLB one more example of why replay is needed in baseball. It was pretty clear when watching the replay that the ball would not have made it over the wall had the fans not interfered. Manuel disputed the reversal as any good manager would have done and was ejected. Now with the score 10-5 in the bottom of the eighth Geoff Jenkins hits a 2-run homerun to right off of Aaron Heilman after he struck out three of the first four batters he faced. With the score 10-7 in favor of the Mets going in to the bottom of the ninth Met fans should be relaxed right, I mean Billy Wagner is an All-Star closer, this one is in the bag. Not so fast, I mean Wagner may be one of the best closers in the game but there is something that seems to happen more often then not when he pitches versus the Phillies....he gets rattled. Monday night would be no different, after a Victorino double and a Bruntlett walk Wagner managed to strike out Howard and get Burrell to fly out to right.
So with two outs and two on Pedro Feliz stepped to the plate as the potential tying run, he would single to center which scored Victorino and moved Bruntlett to third. Bruntlett would then score and Feliz would move to second on throwing error by Carlos Beltran. So with two out and the tying run on second who else but Jayson Werth stepped to the plate trying to either win or tie the game again in the ninth inning like he did the previous night and help Wagner blow his 2nd consecutive save in as many nights. On this night Jayson would not get the best of Billy as he flew out to right fielder Endy Chavez who emphaticly closed his glove when he caught the ball as the Mets emphatically closed out the series taking three out of four against the division leading Phillies marking their 3rd win in a row and closing the gap to 2.5 games between them.
The Mets were able to win this series on the back of solid stating pitching and continued prodution from role players such as Fernando Tatis and Damion Easley who extended his hitting streak to nine with an RBI single in the first during Monday nights game. The boys in Queens are now 45-44 one game over .500 and making a push for the division lead right before the All-Star break. New York will now travel back home to host the San Francisco Giants (39-50) and their young talented starting pitching.
Tuesday's matchup will be Mike Pelfrey (6-6) on the hill for the Mets against first time all-star Tim Lincecum (10-1) for the visiting Giants.
Wednesday's matchup will be the battle of the lefties as Johan Santana (7-7) will be the starter for the Mets. Pitching opposite him is the young lefty Jonathan Sanchez (8-4).
On Thursday John Maine (8-6) will take the hill for the Mets against the Billion Dollar bust Barry Zito (4-11) who will be throwing for the Giants.
By Wesley Scarbrough
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