It’s been a while since we had one of these — watching the TV at the edge of your seat, nervous energy flowing through the veins right to the last pitch of the game. In the end, all Mets fans breathed a collective sigh of relief as Billy Wagner saved the contest, and preserved Chip Ambres’ status as a hero.
Who is Chip Ambres? The career minor leaguer came up big by bouncing a single past a diving Nomar Garciaparra and into leftfield to score Lastings Milledge with the go-ahead run in the top of the tenth inning. He’s the man most likely to return to New Orleans when Moises Alou returns on Tuesday, but he made his short stint significant.
El Duque pitched a fairly good game, but was hurt by the few mistakes he made — first, a gopher ball to Rafael Furcal on his second pitch of the game put the Dodgers ahead 1-0. Then in the fourth, he allowed a single to Luis Gonzalez and a two-out RBI double to James Loney to make it 2-zip.
Meantime, the Mets struggled to get anything going against lefthander Eric Stults — whose only Major League victory came against the Mets last September. That is, until the sixth inning. After Orlando Hernandez struck out swinging, Jose Reyes rapped a triple into the rightfield corner, and was brought home via a hard-hit double to left by Lastings Milledge. L Millz moved to third on one of Carlos Beltran’s trademark grounders to the right side, and scored when David Wright dumped a two-strike pitch safely into shallow leftfield for an RBI single.
However, Hernandez gave to lead right back to the Dodgers in the bottom of the inning, by walking Gonzalez and then allowing a two-run homer to Nomar Garciaparra. Garciaparra, incidentally, had hit two homeruns in 89 games in 2007 — before hitting two in three games against the Mets in this series. El Duque struggled through the remainder of the inning, but completed it without allowing another run.
The Mets did not score in the seventh but did reach Roberto Hernandez for a run in the eighth. Jose Reyes led off with a double and advanced to third on a Milledge shot off Bert’s glove. Beltran followed not with a grounder to second but a fly ball, scoring Reyes with the Mets’ third run of the game.
In the ninth, with the Dodgers again turning to Jonathan Broxton, Carlos Delgado led off with a rare infield single off James Loney’s glove and was immediately replaced by Anderson Hernandez. AHern reached second on a wild pitch, then was pushed to third on a grounder to short by Paul LoDuca. With the count 0-2, Shawn Green lifted a shallow fly into rightfield that Matt Kemp lost in the sun, scoring AHern with the tying run and landing the hustling Green on second base (ironically, and inexplicably, Kemp was brought in at the beginning of the inning for defensive purposes). Green scampered to third on the second wild pitch of the inning by Broxton, but was stranded there when both Ruben Gotay and pinch-hitter Ramon Castro struck out swinging.
Pedro Feliciano retired the Dodgers 1-2-3 in the ninth to hold the tie, and that set the stage for the unlikely hero.
After D.J. Houlton retired Jose Reyes on a groundout to lead off the inning, Lastings Milledge rapped a single to left. Beltran then walked, and David Wright grounded to Garciaparra to start what looked to be a potential double play. However, Wright beat the throw to first, putting men on first and third with two out for Ambres, who entered the game in place of Green (who moved to first base when AHern pinch-ran for Delgado) in rightfield and in Delgado’s spot in the order. Ambres took a ball off the outside corner before rapping the next pitch into left.
In the bottom of the tenth, Billy Wagner came on but walked Juan Pierre to open the inning. Wagner had him picked off first but Shawn Green dropped the ball on the exchange and Pierre slid safely into second with none out and Russell Martin up. Martin struck out, and the Mets decided to intentionally walk Jeff Kent — putting the winning run on first base and slugging youngster Matt Kemp to the plate (and Nomar on deck). Kemp struck out swinging, bringing up cagey veteran Garciaparra — who’d been hot the entire series and second in the NL with a .393 batting average with RISP. Nomar worked the count to 1-1 before Wags uncorked a wild pitch to advance the runners to second and third. The count went full before Wagner snuck a slider on the outside edge of the plate to catch Garciaparra looking and end the game.
Home plate umpire called at least four “automatic” strikes when Mets hitters showed bunt when taking a pitch — twice to El Duque, once to Ruben Gotay, and once to Paul LoDuca. The last time, to LoDuca, came in the top of the ninth on a 3-0 count with a runner on second. There’s no doubt it was ball four — it was inside and in the dirt — and LoDuca definitely drew the bat back. Eventually, the count went full and LoDuca bounced out to shortstop for the first out of the inning. The grounder did advance the runner, but it would have been nicer to have men on first and second, none out, than man on third and one out. Personally, I’ve always thought faking the bunt on 3-0 was bush league, and find it particularly annoying when MLBers do it. Batters would serve themselves much better by taking their normal stride and getting a good track on the baseball as it comes in — makes it much easier to blast the 3-1 delivery, which is often the same pitch.
Aaron Heilman pitched two innings of fine relief to hold the fort and keep the Mets in the game. He retired all six batters he faced, expending 19 pitches.
Nice to see the Mets manufacturing runs in this game, and making productive outs. Keep it going, boys, and good things will happen.
In contrast to the rest of the Mets batters, the majority of Shawn Green’s at-bats have been horrendous since the firing of Rick Down. (Yes, he got the big “hit” in the ninth but that was more luck than anything.) Through most of the season, Green took pitches early in counts, kept his hands back, and laid off garbage in the dirt (for the most part). Lately he’s been waving at everything thrown toward him, missing badly on off-speed pitches low and away. He must return to his early-season approach of keeping the hands back, deciding later on pitches, and focusing on opposite-field hitting.
The Mets get a day off on Monday, and we get to go to sleep early two nights in a row. On Tuesday, the Mets host the ice-cold Pittsburgh Pirates, who were just shut out by Woody Williams and the Houston Astros. Game time Tuesday is 7:10 PM, with John Maine going against Ian Snell.