By Mike Steffanos
Part 3 of 4
August 20 -- Woodward bails out the pen
After a western road trip that featured the Beltran/Cameron collision in San Diego and Pedro losing both his no-hitter and the game in LA, the Mets returned home 4 games back in the wildcard race and in real danger of falling out of things completely. They righted the ship somewhat by taking 2 of 3 from the Pirates, then Jae Seo was magnificent again in a 1-0 victory over the Nationals. The Mets faced the Nationals again in a Saturday night game, trying to keep the good vibes going as Pedro matched up against the tough Livan Hernandez.
After a scoreless first, the Mets jumped all over Hernandez in the bottom of the second. With one out, Wright singled and Marlon Anderson walked. Ramon Castro took an 0-2 pitch deep for a 3 run HR to put the Mets up 3-0. Then with Diaz on second and 2 outs Reyes homered to extend the lead to 5-0. David Wright's 3 run shot in the bottom of the third sent Hernandez to an early shower and seemingly sealed an easy win for the Mets.
Sadly, Mets fans know all too well it is seldom easy. While Pedro scattered 6 hits over 6 innings and kept the Nats off the board the Mets offense decided to take the rest of the night off. Willie Randoph made the curious decision to lift Martinez after 6, having thrown only 78 pitches. Then he elected to let Danny Graves start the seventh. I was watching the game, and remember telling my girlfriend I had a really bad feeling when I saw Graves in there. Sadly for me, my Mets radar was working.
Graves is awful from the start, committing the cardinal sin of walking Brian Schneider on a 3-2 pitch to start the inning. He got Tony Blanco to ground out for the first out as Schneider went to second. Cristian Guzman hit a ground ball to Reyes that should have been the second out, but Reyes' throwing error put 2 on with only 1 out, and the inning took on nightmarish quality from that point.
Senior citizen Carlos Baerga pinch hit and smacked a double that scored Schneider and moved Guzman to third. The rapidly disintegrating Graves walked Brad Wilkerson, then gave up a run scoring single to the weak-hitting Jamey Carroll. Willie had finally seen enough of Graves, and brought in Mr. Koo, who struck out Nick Johnson for the second out. I crossed my fingers and hoped we could get that third out and escape with only a couple of runs worth of damage. Not to be...
Ryan Church's single scored 2 and made it 8-4. Aaron Heilman came in the game and promptly hit Preston Wilson to load the bases. Brian Schneider, who had led off the inning with a walk, singled to center to make it 8-6. Tony Blanco mercifully grounded out to end the inning, but I don't think there was a Met fan watching that wasn't holding his breath the rest of the way.
Heilman pitched a strong 1-2-3 eighth, then the Mets wasted a leadoff double by Victor Diaz in the bottom of the inning, again failing to pad their lead. Looper came out for the ninth and looked good getting Jamey Carroll and Nick Johnson for the first two outs. Then all hell broke loose as the third out refused to come. Ryan Church and Preston Wilson singled to put runners on first and third. Brian Schneider followed with a double that just missed being a home run that would have put the Nats up a run, instead it tied the game at 8 as Met fans serenaded Looper with a cascade of boos. Looper got pinch hitter Gary Bennett to fly out to Floyd to finally end the inning, and left the field to more boos.
The Mets went meekly in the bottom of the ninth, then Roberto Hernandez came in to try to hold Washington in the top of the tenth. He made it interesting by allowing a Guzman single and walking Jamey Carroll, but got Nick Johnson on a fly out to end the threat.
The Mets came up in the bottom of the tenth, desperately needing something to go their way in a game that was once an 8-0 laugher. With one out Gerald Williams worked a walk out of Gary Majewski, but Kazuo Matsui flied out and it looked like another zero for the Mets. But Jose Reyes worked out a walk, and put the tying run on second with 2 outs. Chris Woodward pinch hit for Roberto Hernandez, and on a 1-1 pitch hit a hard grounder up the middle, just out of SS Cristian Guzman's reach, bringing Gerald Williams home with the game winner. Mets fans let out a sigh of relief at the time, and in retrospect I believe this was an important game for the Mets as they try to become a winner; coming back in a game where everything went wrong.
August 26 -- Trachsel Returns
The Mets began their weekend series with the Giants after an impressive 4 game sweep of the Diamondbacks in Phoenix. They looked to Steve Trachsel, making his first start of the season, to keep the momentum going against Kevin Correia. As so often happened to the Mets when they faced a young pitcher with little track record, their offense was almost non-existent, with David Wright's second inning homer accounting for their lone run.
With little support Trachsel proved to be more than equal to the task, holding the Giants to no runs on only one hit through seven. Even though Trachsel was making his first start and was approaching the 100 pitch mark, Willie decided to stick with him in the eighth, even after Edgardo Alfonzo led off the inning with San Francisco's second hit, a single past Reyes at shortstop. J. T. Snow sacrificed Alfonzo to second, and pinch runner Todd Linden replaced Alfonzo. Trachsel got Mike Matheny to ground out to Reyes for the second out as Linden went to third, but then walked pinch hitter Michael Tucker to put both the tying and go-ahead runs on base.
Willie had Roberto Hernandez warming up and ready, but in a move that was ripe for second-guessing stayed with Trachsel, who was clearly gassed and starting to miss up in the strike zone. Fortunately for Willie and the rest of us, Trachsel retired Randy Winn on a fly to Beltran, and Looper shut the Giants down in the ninth after allowing a leadoff double to Omar Vizquel. The win put the Mets 8 games over .500 (a mark that would be their best for the season) only 4 games behind the Braves in the division and 1.5 games behind the Phillies in the wildcard race.
We conclude a final look back at the season with part 4.