It was a case of too little, too late. But, a step in the right direction.
John Maine struggled through a 36-pitch first inning, though it wasn’t entirely his fault. Maine induced an inning-ending double play grounder from Adrian Gonzalez, but unfortunately Carlos Delgado could not bend over his belly to reach the ball and it skipped all the way to the rightfield corner, scoring Brian Giles from first. Maine struck out Mike Cameron for the second out, and appeared to be out of trouble when he ran the count to one ball and two strikes on Khalil Greene. However, Greene fought off the 1-2 pitch and dropped a Texas leaguer in front of a diving Shawn Green in rightfield to score Gonzalez, who’d been running on contact with two outs. It looked like the inning was going to get even uglier when the next batter, Josh Bard, lined a shot off the glove of a diving David Wright, but Maine kept his cool and retired Kevin Kouzmanoff with a flyout.
In the third, leadoff batter Milton Bradley sent the first pitch he saw into the centerfield seats to extend the Padres lead to 3-zip. That wasn’t enough of a hole for Maine, so he gave up another solo homer to Adrian Gonzalez in the bottom of the fifth.
With a comfortable four-run lead and in the midst of pitching a fantastic ballgame, Greg Maddux abruptly took himself out of the game, having thrown only 65 pitches. This eventually turned out to be a break for the Mets.
It didn’t happen immediately, however, as Cla Meredith threw a quick and perfect sixth. Finally, the Mets got on the board in the seventh inning, when Carlos Delgado led off the inning with a homerun against LOOGY Royce Ring.
The top of the eighth inning started innocently enough. The Mets were down 4-1, and highly regarded setup man Scott Linebrink retired the first two batters easily before walking Jose Valentin. Then Linebrink threw a wild pitch to give Valentin second base. Then he walked Carlos Beltran. Then the pitching coach came out, and a minute later David Wright smashed a searing line drive into the leftfield seats to tie the game.
However, Joe Smith struggled mightily in the bottom of the 8th and gave back the lead. Why Willie Randolph waited one batter too late to bring in Pedro Feliciano is anyone’s guess. Smith induced a groundout from Mike Cameron to lead off the inning, but walked the next batter Khalil Greene on four pitches. Smith then struck out Josh Bard with a nasty slider, but gave up a single to Kevin Kouzmanoff to put runners on first and second. With lefthanded hitter Geoff Blum at the plate, and Feliciano warming in the bullpen, Randolph left Smith out there — but he gave up another single to score the go-ahead, and winning, run. Smith looked really sad sitting in the dugout after being removed, as Feliciano retired pinch-hitter Jose Cruz Jr. to end the inning.
If you saw the ground ball that went past Delgado in the first, then you know that Maine pitched a helluva game, and truly was only responsible for the two solo shots. Delgado’s inflexibility saved him from being charged with an error — it’s hard for the official scorer (especially a home team scorer) to give an error to someone who doesn’t get the glove on the ball. But make no mistake: Delgado has to field that ball.
Interesting that Willie Randolph put Delgado and Green — two lefty hitters — back to back in the lineup. It was as if he were pulling a Tony LaRussa Jedi mind trick on Padre manager Bud Black — convincing him to use Royce Ring specifically for those guys. If that was the strategy, it sort of worked, since Delgado went deep on Ring.
Jose Reyes is looking really bad on off-speed pitches lately. Hopefully he’ll start trusting his hands again — he doesn’t seem to realize how quick they are.
Though it was a loss, it somehow felt a lot different from what we’d seen through most of June and the beginning of July. The at-bats were more focused, and the body language was good — no one was going in the tank, making dumb mistakes, or giving in. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. And though the Mets lost, they played the game well, and fought back (finally!), which is encouraging. As long as they continue to show the hunger to win, and play hard and focused, they’ll stay atop the NL East — in my humble (not) and uneducated opinion.
Ron Darling gave a few pitching lessons during the broadcast, one regarding the pressure points that Greg Maddux uses, and one — taught to him by Mel Stottlemyre — regarding the difference between a two-seamer and a sinker. Both explanations were close, but not the entire story. So, if you are a young pitcher and genuinely interested in knowing how to get the fastball to move, send me an email.
Willie Randolph announced after the game that David Newhan had been optioned back to New Orleans and that Marlon Anderson would join the Mets in Los Angeles on Thursday.
The Mets travel to Chavez Ravine to face the Los Angeles Dodgers for a four-game set. Tom Glavine faces Derek Lowe in a 10:10 PM EST start. Once again, gotta wonder what the West has against afternoon games.