By Aaron Schuldiner
In light of the rough finishes to the last two seasons in Flushing, it has become easy, if not fashionable, for Met fans to push the panic button after every loss. But when you’ve won eleven of your last thirteen games, you’re entitled to an off night against a good starting pitcher, right?
Entitled or not, that was the case Sunday, as the Giants edged the Mets 2-0 behind six shutout innings from Matt Cain. Cain walked five, but allowed only three hits, and got two huge double plays to kill the only two rallies the Mets could muster. In the second inning, Jeremy Reed, playing for the injured Carlos Delgado, bounced into a bases-loaded double play before Mets starter Mike Pelfrey grounded out to end the inning. Then in the eighth, Jeremy Affeldt got Angel Pagan to hit into an inning-ending double play, again with the bases loaded. The Mets went quietly in the ninth, as Giant closer Brian Wilson looked dominant after taking losses on Thursday and Friday.
Cain did not have his best command, but every time the Mets tried to put something together, he buckled down and put out the fire. That was in contrast to Pelfrey, who pitched well overall, but sabotaged himself with three balks. Both runners that scored for the Giants advanced from first base to second on balks, the second run coming in on an RBI single by none other than Cain.
It has always been my stance that Pelfrey has front-of-the-rotation talent, but mentally, it sometimes appears he’s not there yet. After the second balk he was visibly shaken. After the call was made, Pelfrey almost fell down while kicking the back of the pitcher’s mound in frustration, stirring up memories of his embarrassing tumble off the mound in the Citi Field opener. After the game, Pelfrey joked that maybe he just likes making a fool out of himself when he’s on national television. The Mets can only hope that the issue can be worked out of Pelfrey’s mechanics quickly, and doesn’t develop into some kind of Mackey Sasser-esque mental tic. Since Pelfrey didn’t balk once in his 290-plus innings prior to 2009, I would assume that it’s something he and pitching coach Dan Warthen can get figured out.
Sure, there’s no such thing as a good loss, and with this team there are no moral victories. The fan base is insatiably hungry for wins, and both Manager Jerry Manuel and G.M. Omar Minaya could find themselves on the unemployment line if the Mets don’t play their way into October. There have already been a few bad losses this year, the kind that you lose sleep over. Both of Johan Santana’s losses in which he didn’t allow a single earned run and the twelve-inning loss to Atlanta come to mind.
So, considering the Mets took three out of four at AT&T Park, where the Giants had the second best home record in the league before this series, it’s hard to be too disappointed. And considering those three wins featured the Mets setting a franchise record with seven steals in a game, plus an impressive comeback win over reigning Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum (In my mind, the signature win of the season to date), it’s hard not to be encouraged. Throw in the facts that the Mets essentially played the entire series without Reyes and Delgado, have won eleven of their last fourteen, and currently occupy first place in the N.L. East, and I suspect that last night’s loss might be quickly forgotten by the masses with a win tonight in L.A..
But for Pelfrey, it might take a balk-free start in Boston next weekend. A second performance like last night’s won’t be nearly as easy for him to laugh off.
Despite allowing seven walks, Cain, Affeldt, Wilson, and Bob Howry never let the Mets get on the board, stranding nine runners in the process. Cain moved to 4-1 on the year and lowered his ERA to a stingy 2.65.
Granted it was a makeshift lineup, and it was unfortunate that the Mets’ three bases loaded at-bats were taken by Pagan, Reed, and Pelfrey. But when you leave the bases loaded twice against a good staff, there’s always a good chance you won’t get another opportunity, as was the case last night.
It shouldn’t be lost among Pelfrey’s mental lapses that he did pitch pretty well last night, but no starter had balked three times in a game since 1994, when ex-Met Al Leiter completed the trifecta for Toronto.
THANKS FOR THE ADVICE. MAYBE YOU SHOULD BE A G.M.
Considering the way Steve Phillips was fired from his job as Mets General Manager in 2003 and subsequently run out of town, there was something funny about hearing Phillips on last night’s ESPN broadcast try to convince a national audience that the Mets should trade Carlos Beltran at the season’s end. Thankfully, Joe Morgan called Phillips out, explaining that Beltran’s skill set at his position is virtually irreplaceable. As one fan said to me on a local baseball message board, it’s scary when Joe Morgan becomes the voice of reason.
After taking three of four in San Francisco, the Mets will head south to take on the Dodgers who, at 14-3, own the best home record in baseball. Tim Redding is slated to make his first start for the Mets against the Dodgers’ Randy Wolf. Gametime is 10:10 EST.
May 20, 2009
By Aaron Schuldiner