Cubs 7 Mets 1
We thought it might be a pitchers’ duel, and it was just that … until the ugly eighth.
It wouldn’t have made a difference, because Carlos Zambrano was just a bit better than John Maine anyway.
Maine didn’t look particularly great, and didn’t have his best stuff, but somehow he managed to match zeroes with Zambrano until the fourth, when Aramis Ramirez jumped all over a first-pitch fastball with a man on to put the Cubs ahead 2-0. Unfortunately, the Mets could only manage one run — scored on a double play no less — against Zambrano and the Cubs bullpen.
Through most of the game, Maine struggled with his command, falling behind hitters and not getting on top of his pitches. He allowed the leadoff man to reach base in three out of the first four innings. However, he kept the Mets in the game, pitched six full innings, and the final stat line looked pretty good: 6 strikeouts, two walks, five hits, two earned runs.
The eighth inning started innocently enough, with Jose Reyes booting an easy ground ball; apparently he did not realize a prankster had stuck a bullfrog into the pocket of his glove before he left the dugout. The next batter Aramis Ramirez got in the way of an inside pitch and was awarded first base. Then Kosuke Fukudome fouled off 75 pitches before slapping a seeing-eye single into left field to load the bases. Aaron Heilman regrouped however, inducing a popout from Geovany Soto and striking out Mark DeRosa. He was about to strike out Ronny Cedeno as well, but felt bad for the weak-hitting defensive specialist, and gave him a nice meaty pitch to drive into centerfield to drive in two runs. By then, Heilman had matched the pitch counts of Maine and Zambrano combined, so Willie Randolph removed him from the game in favor of homerun specialist Jorge Sosa.
Sosa did as expected, hanging a flat slider to Felix Pie, who deposited the ball into the bleachers to extend the lead to 7-1.
Though it was completely unnecessary, the teams insisted on taking the field in the ninth, and the Mets were gracious enough to put an end to the game quickly, retiring themselves on six pitches.
Though it didn’t help things to plunk Aramis Ramirez in the eighth inning, I enjoyed seeing Aaron Heilman throw inside to Ramirez — and pound the inside of the plate against the other batters he faced. What really had me scratching my head, though, was why in the world Raul Casanova set up on the outside part of the plate for four consecutive pitches after getting two quick strikes on feeble-hitting Ronny Cedeno??? Cedeno was looking to hit the ball to the opposite field, has a slow bat to begin with, yet Casanova and Heilman were targeting the outside part of the plate — the one place Cedeno had a chance to get around on a pitch and put it in play. When Casanova FINALLY moved his target to the inside, it was four pitches too late, and Heilman didn’t get it far in enough, but left it over the middle of the plate. Had he gone to a fastball in on the hands, maybe a little up, before wasting five pitches on the outside, he might have disposed of Cedeno immediately.
Yeah, I know when you give up all those runs so late in the game, it’s difficult to stay “up” for the final at-bat. But, the Mets’ last at-bat was atrocious. In Little League, they teach you to take a strike when you’re behind. Luis Castillo took a strike before grounding out to first, but both David Wright and Carlos Beltran were hacking with 1-0 counts, down six in the last inning. Call it what you want — I call it giving up and getting the game over with, and that’s disappointing.
If nothing else, at least make Kerry Wood break a sweat. There’s another game tomorrow, folks, and if it’s a close game, Wood will be fresh and ready to fire away after expending only a half-dozen pitches. On the other hand, Aaron Heilman will not be available after throwing 30 pitches in his one-inning outing. (I know, I know, some of you snarks say that’s a good thing, but that’s being really nearsighted; Heilman did not pitch poorly, despite letting up four runs. Sometimes the stats don’t tell the whole story.)
Lost in the disaster was another encouraging outing by Duaner Sanchez — or as Mike Francesa refers to him, “DWAY-nar”. Dirty wasn’t dominating, but he was OK, using 17 pitches (12 for strikes) in a scoreless inning of work.
The Mets won’t have the excuse of a late night flight tomorrow, but they will have the ability to blame the day game if they come out on the field as uninspired as they were this evening. Nelson Figueroa goes against Ted Lilly in a 2:20 PM start that will be carried on SNY, 660 WFAN and XM 184.