Yesterday’s loss to Atlanta was a day of firsts for New York. For the first time all season the Mets committed an error, two crucial ones at that. After a Matt Diaz home run in the bottom of the second inning, the Mets trailed for the first time this year. The fifth game of the season also found Tom Glavine’s pitch count at 113 when he left the ball game after just 5 1/3 innings pitched, the shortest outing for a Mets starter this year and by far the most pitches thrown. And, of course, when Shawn Green’s line drive was speared by a leaping Craig Wilson at first with the tying run on second base, it was the first loss of the 2007 season for the Mets.
The game was lost due in part to each of these firsts, but the most important and frustrating of them was the defense. In a way, one could argue that the Mets were due for a lousy game in the field, following the terrific glovemanship that they had shown in the first four games. That thought, however, didn’t make Carlos Delgado’s first-inning drop of a routine throw to first feel any better, nor was it much consolation when Shawn Green dropped a routine fly ball in the bottom of the sixth with the bases loaded. Those two errors accounted for the three unearned runs charged to Tom Glavine and, in essence, lost the game for New York.
One has to question Willie Randolph’s move to stick with Tom Glavine in the bottom of the sixth inning. Glavine had thrown 104 pitches after Brian McCann hit a screaming line drive up the middle that was caught by a diving Jose Valentin for the first out of the inning. There were runners at first and third, one out, and all three batters that inning had made good contact. At first I assumed Randolph stuck with Glavine because he didn’t want Pedro Feliciano, who was warming up in the bullpen, to face right-handed Craig Wilson, who was the next batter. But later that inning, Randolph brought in Feliciano to face the nine spot in the batting order, knowing that a righty would pinch hit. Why stick with a tired lefty to face a weak righty hitter rather than bring in a fresh southpaw? Odd decision . . .
Depsite the lousy fielding yesterday, Jose Valentin’s defense at second continues to shine. As mentioned above, Valentin made a huge diving catch in the sixth inning . . .
That ninth inning was painful, but at least the Mets hit Braves’ closer Bob Wickman pretty hard. In fact, the Mets faced the Braves’ three best relievers yesterday, and fared well against two of them. They scored a run off of Mike Gonzalez in the seventh and would have tied the game in the ninth if it weren’t for Wilson’s catch. Hats off to Rafael Soriano, though; he worked a perfect eighth for Atlanta . . .
With both teams’ records at 4-1, today’s rubber game is important. Orlando Hernandez on the mound for New York, countered by Kyle Davies for Atlanta. Just a guess, but I think we could see at least one reserve getting a start today. Anyway, make sure to tune in at 1 PM on SNY . . .
Some nights everything just seems to click. Because the Mets have only played one team so far this year, it is impossible to know just how much of this sweep is attributable to the Mets and how much of it is due to a Cardinal team that scored just two runs all series and played atrocious defense. Nevertheless, outscoring the defending champions 20-2 over a three game stretch gives little cause for worry.
One could definitely argue that stamina was the most important factor in last night’s drubbing. With the temperature at 41 degrees, both pitchers pounded the strike zone and kept the game scoreless through five innings. In fact, John Maine carried a perfect game into the fifth, before Scott Rolen broke it up with a single up the middle. In the top of the sixth, however, Cardinal starter Bradon Looper (a former reliever making his first major league start) began to tire despite having a relatively low pitch count. With Looper due to lead off in the bottom of the inning, Cardinal manager Tony La Russa wanted his clearly exhausted starter to finish the inning. But Looper gave up a one out single to Paul Lo Duca, the Met catcher’s third hit of the game, setting the stage for Carlos Beltran. After getting ahead 0-2, Looper threw a fat fastball on the inner half of the plate which Beltran turned on and ripped just inside the foul pole down the right field line. The grimace on Looper’s face following the home run was a look that Mets’ fans knew all too well from their former closer. Looper eventually got out of the inning after allowing another run on an RBI single from Shawn Green, logging a "quality start" in his first outing in the Cards’ rotation. But he had already surrendered more runs than John Maine and the Mets’ bullpen would need.
Jose Reyes would homer in the next inning, and one batter later Beltran would hit his second of the night as well, adding another chapter to his recent history of owning St. Louis. Five more runs in the eighth, with help from some poor defense from Preston Wilson, and the Mets had reached double digits for the first time this year.
As nice as the pitching looked last night, I don’t want to get too optimistic. John Maine worked seven innings and was relieved by Ambiorix Burgos and Aaron Sele who each worked an inning. The three pitchers combined on a two-hit shutout, but to quote John Maine: "it was a cold night, you just pound the strike zone and let them put the ball in play and it worked out good." It was a perfect night for Burgos to throw his fastball, which topped out at 96 mph, because of the cold weather and a demoralized Cardinal team that had not seen anything harder than 90 mph all night. As I wrote about a year ago on a start at Shea on a cold night by Brian Bannister:
I tend not to read to much into a start like this ever since I saw
David Cone’s comeback with the Mets several years ago on a chilly night
against the then-Expos. Cone worked five strong innings, against an
Expo team that was so cold it practically wore head scarfs to the
plate. We all remember how badly Cone struggled in the starts that
followed, so we’ll judge Bannister more after his second or third start.
I think that pretty much sums up how I feel about last night’s pitching too . . .
Shawn Green had a good game last night, going 2-4 with an RBI and a run scored. This could make for an interesting decision for Willie Randolph, since he said yesterday that he wants to start Lastings Milledge in right field against Braves’ lefty Mark Redman on Friday, but also that he doesn’t want to take Green out if he’s starting to hit well. Milledge entered last night’s game in the ninth inning for Moises Alou and popped up in his only at bat . . .
I should make a quick note that not only is the infield turning double plays like crazy, but the outfield’s defense is looking good too. Moises Alou had a nice catch last night on a deep fly ball off the bat of Preston Wilson, and Gold Glove winner Carlos Beltran is covering tons of ground in center . . .
I’ve just got to say it: sweeping the Cardinals feels great . . .
One final note. There was a wild finish in Philadelphia, where Phillies closer Tom Gordan blew a 2-0 lead in the 9th against the Braves and Ryan Madson lost it in the 11th. Check out the AP recap for more . . .
Sometimes three quarters of the battle can be won by just showing up — or at least showing up healthy. In the playoffs last year Orlando Hernandez couldn’t say he did even that. The pitcher the Mets traded for in mid-season, based largely on his postseason prowess, hurt his calf just before his scheduled start in Game 1 of the NLDS, forcing the Mets to go with the inexperienced John Maine. El Duque might have been able to return for the World Series, but since the Mets fell short of the Fall Classic, Hernandez had to wait all offseason to pitch in another meaningful game. Sure enough, the injury bug plagued Hernandez in spring training as well, with various ailments keeping him from pitching the number of live innings the Mets had hoped he would throw.
So when Hernandez took the mound last night with a one-run lead in the bottom of the first, it was hard to know which El Duque we would see. Would it be the injury-ridden, aged starter who sometimes throws pitches at Little League speed, or would it be the healthy, ageless wonder who mixes speeds in a way that drives even the best hitters crazy? The answer became clear to me in the second inning, after Adam Kennedy grounded into the second 1-6-3 double play of the ballgame. Last night on the mound El Duque proved that as long as he stays healthy he can be a valuable member of the rotation. That wasn’t really a surprise, but what he did at the plate was. Hernandez went 2-3, with a two-RBI double in the sixth with two outs and the bases loaded.
Just like opening night, however, the game wasn’t over after the starter left with a comfortable lead. After Scott Schoeneweis got the first two batters he faced as a Met, he walked David Eckstein on four pitches and gave up a single to Chris Duncan, putting runners on the corners. Willie Randolph had wisely gotten Aaron Heilman ready in the bullpen in case Schoeneweis ran into trouble and was able to bring him in to face the great Albert Pujols. After falling behind the Cardinal first baseman, 2-1, Heilman brought the heat high and inside and got a whiff to level the count. After running the count full, Heilman got Pujols to fly out to Beltran in left center and effectively seal the 4-1 victory.
Aaron Heilman has thrown only 8 pitches in three days, but it feels like so much more. He got Rolen to hit into a huge double play in the eighth on Sunday (with a little help from Valentin) and then got Pujols yesterday. Nice job, Aaron . . .
The Mets have gotten some unexpected offensive production to start the season. David Newhan and Endy Chavez both have pinch-hit singles, and Glavine and Hernandez have combined for three hits . . .
The Mets will face an old *cough* friend *cough* in Bradon Looper tonight. Looper will be making his first-ever major league appearance as a starter and will be countered by John Maine. Looper is lucky his debut is coming at home and not at Shea, where the crowd was brutal to him during the NLCS last year, when he appeared as a reliever . . .
Thanks to For Love of the Astros for the live blogging idea. Check out their live blog for tonight’s Astros game.
Diamondbacks 7, Mets 1
- Eric Byrnes = Mets Menace
- Soler is just getting crushed. Two home runs this inning, and suddenly Arizona has busted this game wide-open.
- Milledge looks all right up there. Just watching him at the plate, he doesn’t seem like a guy who can generate as much power as his numbers scouting say he does. Guess you can’t judge a guy on his batting stance. As Keith Hernandez noted, he seems to have very quick hands. Lastings is 0 for 2 so far, with a screaming line-out to short and a ground out to third.
Diamondbacks 7, Mets 1
- Not much more to report here. Soler has left, and Darren Oliver is in. Oliver is pitching well, continuing a trend of solid performances.
- Millidge led off the bottom of the 7th, and just ripped a double to left field. The first of many to come I hope. Boy, he’s got a beautiful swing.
I’m still surprised it got out – I really am. But there are so many more things to be surprised about in this game that the fact that Bill Hall’s fly ball off the end of the bat cleared the wall is not particularly high on my list. Why was Chad Bradford sent out to work a second inning, when Billy Wagner was ready in the bullpen? Why was Duaner Sanchez running in front of Carlos Delgado when Delgado was trying to field a sacrifice bunt? What on earth is wrong with Cliff Floyd? How come Jose Valentin is suddenly becoming a force to be reckoned with? How many outs can Jose Reyes make? Why won’t Philly lose? Has anyone noticed that the Mets only lead the N.L. East by one game?
Questions, questions, questions. Questions to which I wish I knew the answer. One could argue that using Bradford was a good decision because Milwaukee was sending three right-handers to the plate to start the 10th inning and that Bradford had set down the two batters he faced in the 9th and had looked impressive in the previous day’s game. But Billy Wagner and Aaron Heilman were both available (granted Heilman threw two innings the night before, but he was throwing in the bullpen), and you can’t tell me that in extra innings against a team who can hit you want to go with your #3 option.
As for the other questions, most of them probably couldn’t be answered by the players themselves, so I’m certainly not going to try to answer them here. Joe DiGiovanni’s mets.com wrap-up of today’s game can be found here. I am far too disheartened with this afternoon’s loss to give a complete synopsis of the game, but let me tell you that losing this one is tough. Especially with Philadelphia’s comeback win in Cincinnati shaving the Mets lead in the N.L. East to just a game. The next six games (starting Tuesday) will be murder. Three in St. Louis, followed by three at home against the Yankees. It doesn’t get much bigger, or much tougher than that. Hopefully, the Mets can use tomorrow’s off day to forget about today and focus on the very difficult task ahead.
Mike at Mike’s Mets sums up my reaction to last night’s game perfectly:
When you’re a blogger that follows a team on a day-in, day-out basis, some days you’re going to find yourself just plain disgusted. Today was one of those days for me. I love baseball, which is why I chose to do this, but games like tonight’s leave me feeling I have nothing to offer. It’s not sour grapes over losing, either. I don’t expect to win every game. I just hate feeling like I wasted an evening, and I felt that way watching this game.
As usual, Mike is right on the money. Watching a pitcher who, prior to last night’s start, had just 5 innings under his big league belt shut down the best offensive lineup the Mets can put on the field was very frustrating. Michael O’Connor was simply brilliant for the Nationals, striking out six over seven innings, and giving up only one run. He’s got a Barry Zito-esque 12 to 6 curve that looked especially tough for left-handers. Certainly seemed that way for Carlos Delgado.
John Maine was decent, despite a pretty bad line in the box score. One bad pitch to Alfonso Soriano made a big difference.
Jorge Julio Watch
Julio looked outstanding, reaching 98 MPH with his fastball and throwing 1.2 perfect innings in the 8th and 9th. He struck out two, and lowered his ERA to 6.75.
Blogger’s Note: I saw all of last night’s win over San Francisco, but was only half awake for most of the game. I will also miss most of this afternoon’s game against the Giants. But I’ll be back full-time for the Atlanta series this weekend. I will post this morning’s roundup and maybe I’ll have time tonight for a recap of this afternoon’s game.
- The Mets won 4-1 last night, behind two late-inning home runs. Xavier Nady continued his hot start last night with his 6th dinger, a solo shot in the 7th inning to break a 1-1 tie. Cliff Floyd followed that up with a two-run bomb into McCovey Cove to put the Mets up 4-1. Steve Trachsel pitched very well through 6 innings, with a solo homer by Barry Bonds accounting for the only San Francisco run. Here is Marty Noble’s recap.
- We are still awaiting the Mets’ decision on Friday as to whether or not Carlos Beltran will be put on the DL. Jeremy Heit makes the case over at Mets Geek that Lastings Milledge deserves to be called up from AAA if Beltran lands on the disabled list. Speaking of talented Mets’ prospects, Mike Pelfrey got promoted to AA yesterday.
- Gary Gillette has a good post over at ESPN Insider (subscription required) about the challenges the Atlanta Braves face this year if they hope to win the division once again.
So, unless Atlanta makes some unexpected trades, the success or failure of these sophomores probably will determine whether the Braves can hold off the hard-charging Mets in 2006. When you field a lineup with career minor leaguer Matt Diaz batting third against lefty Chris Capuano, as Atlanta did Monday in Milwaukee, someone has to step up to the plate if the Braves want to continue their remarkable streak.
Mets play today at 3:30 in the rubber game of the San Francisco series.