There seems to be a recurring theme surrounding Johan Santana and the Mets. It seems nearly every other start, Santana will put in a good night's work, giving the Mets a chance to win and they manage to spoil it for him.
Tonight, the bullpen managed to blow a three-run ninth inning lead to prevent Santana from picking up his ninth win of the season.
After allowing a run in the first inning on three straight two out singles by Pat Burrell, Ryan Howard, and Jayson Werth, Santana settled into a groove. After noticing that the Phillies were right on his fastball early, Santana began feeding them a steady diet of his devastating change-ups.
The adjustment worked as Santana cruised through the rest of the game, scattering five more hits and allowing just a Shane Victorino solo home run.
It looked as if the Mets had put up enough runs this time to get Santana the win.
New York started their scoring in the third with a David Wright RBI double which chased home Jose Reyes. Jayson Werth and Jimmy Rollins teamed up to make two excellent throws and nail Endy Chavez at the plate to prevent another run from scoring on the hit. Carlos Delgado added a two-run homer in the inning to give the Mets the lead.
Ramon Castro added two insurance runs on a homer in the sixth.
After he had thrown 105 pitches in eight innings, Santana was taken out of the game by manager Jerry Manuel. With a 5-2 lead and closer Billy Wagner unavailable due to shoulder spasms, I feel this was a bad decision. Manuel should have let his ace start the ninth and go for the complete game.
Nevertheless, Jerry Manuel left it up to setup man Duaner Sanchez to get the save. Jayson Werth, pinch hitter Gregg Dobbs, and Shane Victorino loaded the bases by opening the inning with three straight singles. Manuel decided he had seen enough of Sanchez and brought in the submarine throwing youngster Joe Smith.
Smith did his job and got Carlos Ruiz to hit a weak groundball to shortstop Jose Reyes. However, rather than flipping to Damion Easley, Reyes tried to get the out at second base by himself, and Shane Victorino made a great hustle play to beat him to the bag. A run scored and no outs were recorded.
Manuel removed Smith and went with lefthander Pedro Feliciano. Pinch hitter So Taguchi had a great at bat, battling off several pitches before knocking a double just over the head of right fielder Endy Chavez. Taguchi's hit drove in two to tie the game at five.
Jimmy Rollins followed with a double of his own, and suddenly the Phillies had a two-run lead. When Aaron Heilman, the fourth Mets pitcher of the inning, finally ended the inning by getting Greg Dobbs (the 11th hitter of the innning) to pop out, the Phillies had pushed across six runs, and had an 8-5 lead.
The Mets managed to score a run off Philly closer Brad Lidge in the bottom half but that was all, and New York was handed another heart breaking loss.
It was one of those "only if" games for the Mets. If they had done a couple things better, or a couple of things went their way, they would have won the game. Here are some examples:
Endy Chavez was thrown out at the plate twice with no outs. Had he been held up at third, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado would have had a chance to drive him in with a sacrifice fly at the very least.
The Mets loaded the bases in the seventh, but couldn't score as second baseman Chase Utley made a spectacular diving catch to rob Fernando Tatis of a base hit that surely would have plated two runs.
Then, there was the Reyes miscue in the ninth. Had he flipped to Damion Easley at second, or just thrown to first and gotten an out, they likely would have gotten out of the jam with less damage.
Of course, Manuel will be second guessed for not leaving Santana in the game. Hopefully in the future, Santana will be more assertive with the manager, and demand that he be given the chance to finish the game.
This is the second time Manuel has removed Santana after the eighth against the Phillies, and both times the Mets have lost. The other occurence was eerily similar to this game. Santana had allowed just two runs in eight innings of work. Manuel brought in Sanchez in the ninth and he surrendered a walk-off single to Shane Victorino. Perhaps next time Manuel will see if his ace can finish it off.
However, the Mets cannot dwell on tonight's loss. They need to learn from their mistakes, most importantly that every run you can get is needed, especially against the Phillies.
These next two games will determine what kind of team the Mets have this year.
If they are a true contender, they will come out with fire, giving it all they have to take two of three from the division rivals.