This is a continuation of my series on the Mets, Assessing 2009. For a review of Francisco Rodriguez’s 2009, click here. For a review of the 2008-09 offseason and 2009 Spring Training, click here. For a review of April and May 2009, click here.
June was supposed to be where the Mets really turned it on and started turning everything around and getting hot. They had taken care of business over the three previous series, besting the Red Sox in two of three on the road, sweeping the Nats, and taking two of three from the Marlins.
A four-game set in Pittsburgh followed by a three-game series in Washington seemed to ensure that the Mets would be white-hot as they hurtled toward an important mid-week series against the Phillies at Citi Field, where it was clear the Mets had started to build a solid home-field advantage.
But it wasn’t meant to be. The Mets kicked off the month by losing a game that, at the time, I deemed to be “a great way to start a losing streak.” The Mets jumped ahead of the Pirates, 5-0, went to sleep, and promptly had their setup man, J.J. Putz, retire none of the five batters he faced in the inning.
Pittsburgh ran up an 8-5 lead going into the ninth that the Mets would not overcome. Putz went on the shelf the next day, never to return, arguably not to ever return as a Met.
But their stopper would turn things around, right? Wrong. Johan Santana seemed off as he gave up three runs in six innings, striking out just a pair, as he was outdueled by Zach Duke.
A rainout the following day was sure to give the Mets a breather so they could recuperate and salvage a game from the series. But Big Mike Pelfrey came up small, getting shelled in an 11-6 loss.
The Mets responded well the following night in defeating the Nationals in an extra-inning contest. Despite scoring just an unearned run off John Lannan (might as well call him “Johan Lannan” against the Mets), the Metropolitans bounced back to take the series in a Sunday contest, heading into the Phillies series with neutral momentum.
This series, to me, seemed to be where everything really took a turn for the worse. In the first game, the Mets got a huge win in one of Johan’s most memorable starts as a Met. Despite surrendering four home runs, Santana ground his way through a seven-plus inning start, playing tremendous defense and adding a butcher-boy double that tied the game in the sixth.
He was furious when he got yanked after just 91 pitches too. As Jerry Manuel approached the mound, Johan showed everyone in the park how he felt. On camera, he could be seen saying, “I’m a man. I want you to know, I’m a man.”
But the Met bullpen came up huge. Santana left “Perpetual” Pedro Feliciano a runner on base as Pedro came in to face Ryan Howard. In the appearance that stands out more than any other appearance in his Met career, Feliciano threw Howard one pitch that resulted in a 4-6-3 double play, and Pedro finished off Raul Ibanez to end the inning.
Frankie Rodriguez stayed perfect and locked down the ninth.
But the wheels started to fall off from there. The Mets lost consecutive extra-inning games heading into a big series with the Yankees, who were also reeling.
The date was June 12. It was the first game of the Subway Series that would now be played in two brand new stadiums.
I was a firsthand witness to probably the best baseball game I’ve ever been to, and the second-most painful (see Molina, Yadier; Wainwright, Adam; and Curveball, Nastiest ever). The Mets dueled the Yankees in a seesaw battle. For most of this game, I felt sick to my stomach.
I’d like to interject here that I hate Yankee Stadium. Every fly ball feels like it’s leaving the yard, especially for the opponents—and with Livan Hernandez on the bump, a few did.
After being put in a hole on a home run by Robinson Cano, the Mets scored twice off of Joba Chamberlain in a bases-loaded situation in typical Met fashion—a hit batsman and a walk. A Mark Teixeira blast with a man on allowed the Yanks to regain the lead, 3-2.
The Mets responded in the fifth with a four-spot on a Ryan Church two-run double and a Gary Sheffield two-run laser beam homer. But this 6-3 padding would be short-lived. Derek Jeter homered in the bottom of the fifth following the Mets’ rally, and in the sixth, Jon Switzer (heh, remember him?) made his esteemed Mets debut by falling behind Hideki Matsui 2-0 and then surrendering a three-run moonshot.
But we saw an element in this game that the Mets had not previously shown: They fought back hard. Fernando Tatis brought in the tying run by grounding into a double play in the seventh.
Everything was even going into the eighth, when the Yanks went to Mariano Rivera. He gave up a rare walk to Carlos Beltran, and then David Wright brought Beltran in on a two-strike double to the wall on what might have been, had events fallen differently, one of the biggest hits of his Met career.
After the Yanks and Mets traded eggs, it came to the bottom of the ninth and our then-perfect closer. We all know the story...it was a groundout by Brett Gardner. Then Jeter singled on a change-up eight inches off the plate. Johnny Damon struck out swinging, but no one was going to feel comfortable until the game ended.
Frankie worked Teixeira into a three-ball count and walked him to force the tying run into scoring position. He did the same thing to A-Rod and brought the count to 3-1. A-Rod popped up a 3-1 pitch into short right field.
The rest is history...Luis Castillo dropped it, fell, threw to second base, and by the time Alex Cora relayed a throw home, the winning runs had scored.
Why do I take so much time to address this game? To demonstrate what could have been. This opinion may draw criticism, but I truly feel that winning this game would have done a lot for the Mets. We’ll never know.
They bounced back in Fernando Nieve’s first start the next day, in a game the Yankees clearly mailed in. I attended this game as well, a cold, wet afternoon contest. I don’t think anyone wanted to be there.
The next day was the day all hell broke loose for Johan Santana. The Mets lost 15-0, and Santana suffered the worst defeat of his career. For five days all sorts of speculation of injuries, lost velocity, and a pitcher hitting a tailspin were rampant.
The Mets split those four days of rest for Santana, three against the O’s and one against the Rays, including a loss in which Frankie Rodriguez suffered his first legitimate blown save (an important point, because he never seemed to be the same closer after the Castillo game; I may have the numbers in a later piece).
Santana bounced back to lose a hard-luck start in which a rain delay knocked him out of the game in the eighth. The Mets dropped the final game of the Rays series.
Faith started to fall here, but the Mets bounced back and surprisingly took three of four from the Cardinals. But then they hit a huge tailspin, getting swept out of Citi Field by the Yankees and losing their first two at Miller Park against the Brew Crew to finish June, in which they won just nine games against 18 losses.
Following losing the first two in Milwaukee, Jerry Manuel held a closed-door team meeting. It seemed to work well, as Pelfrey turned in a scoreless start and the Mets beat the Brewers 1-0.
The next day, the Mets beat the Pirates in a makeup game, a memorable roller coaster contest. The Mets fell behind 5-0 and rallied back to take an 8-5 lead, but K-Rod allowed a two-run homer to Adam LaRoche to tie the game and just escaped the ninth after Castillo caught a screamer with the winning run on third base. The Mets got K-Rod another lead, and he finished the game in a 9-8 win.
The stretch leading up to the All-Star break was uneventful and weak. A three-game sweep in Philly continued to decrease hope, as not only did the Mets really continue to die here, but they got the Phils hot as well. The Mets came home to drop two of three to the Dodgers.
On a night where the Mets got shut out by Bronson Arroyo, they acquired the guy who would become the year’s biggest positive, Jeff Francoeur. At the time, I was surprised by the move and assessed it as a move that effectively switched the handedness of a solid bat in the lineup, but we got the guy with more upside. He helped the Mets immediately, driving in two runs in a dominant start by Santana.
The Mets capped off the first half in a shootout with the Reds that featured a rare offensive outburst of long balls, putting their record at 42-45, three games under .500...still “treading water.”
A theme of the first half—heck, even heading into August—was that the Mets had just enough fight to come back to just above, at, or near .500, that they gave us hope. They continued to “tread water” for a while, always promising that we’d soon see the cavalry, the Carloses and Jose Reyes, who would surely get us hot and to a playoff berth.