By Mike Steffanos
Mets 9 - Giants 7 (11)
The Mets overcame both an ugly-looking groin injury to starting pitcher Brian Banister and having closer Billy Wagner doing his best Braden Looper imitation in the ninth, winning the rubber game of the series against the Giants.
Bannister struggled a little early in the game giving up some hits and some runs, but he was throwing more strikes and, I felt, he was having a solid game. He was also dynamic at the plate again with a pair of doubles and 2 RBIs, reminding us all that Babe Ruth started his career as a pitcher. Unfortunately, it was that very prowess at the plate that was his downfall, as he appeared to strain the hamstring on the second double. When Kaz Matsui, who is doing a terrific impression of a real ballplayer since his return, followed with a double, it was all Bannister could do to limp home before collapsing after crossing the plate. It was an ugly-looking injury, the type that usually causes someone to miss significant time. I'd be surprised to see Bannister back in less than a month, and not surprised at all if it took much longer. They'll reevaluate him in Atlanta tomorrow, but I'm not holding out much hope.
The Mets should have had this game in the ninth, but David Wright, scuffling on D a little since injuring that groin, made a horrible throw on a Moises Alou grounder that should have been the third out. A run came home, Alou wound up on second, and Barry Bonds came up as a pinch hitter with 2 outs. Willie elected to pitch to him with first base open rather than walk him and put the tying run on base. Bonds took a 99 MPH Wagner fastball out to left-center to tie the game.
The Mets had a chance to take the lead back in the top of the tenth against old friend Armando Benitez. Reyes led off with his second walk of the game, stole second, and went to third on a perfect sacrifice by Jose Valentin. The Giants intentionally walked Delgado to pitch to Wright, who had a chance for redemption but had a terrible at bat, striking out swinging. Benitez wriggled off the hook, then Chad Bradford and Darren Oliver held the Giants scoreless in the bottom of the tenth.
In the top of the 11th, Ramon Castro dumped a parachute in the right spot for a single, and was bunted over to second by Endy Chavez (who had a nice offensive game for a change). Chris Woodward doubled home Castro, and came home on Reyes' single. The Mets had a 2-run lead and Oliver went out to protect it in the bottom of the eleventh against the heart of the San Francisco order.
Randy Winn led off and flied to Chavez. Alou followed, got ahead of Oliver 2-0, but Oliver came back and got him to ground out to Wright, who made a perfect throw this time. Bonds, thankfully up with no one on, made it interesting with a fairly deep fly to Chavez in center, and the Mets squeaked out a win that should have been theirs two innings earlier.
Thoughts on the game
Bannister, although he didn't pitch wonderfully, was solid and threw a lot of strikes. What a shame. As I said, I have no hopes of seeing him any time soon. Now we'll see what comes of Omar's big gamble. We'll talk more on this tomorrow.
The change in Kaz Matsui since his return in almost eerie. Instead of looking like a robot, he looks like his having fun. He's solid and sometimes more than that in the field. At the plate he looks more like the solid hitter he was in 2004 rather than the waste of an at bat last year. I'll be curious to see how he reacts when he gets back to Shea and gets booed again.
I know I'm on this a lot, but the Mets really play solid fundamental ball, even despite Wright's error. I can't remember a Mets team this solid fundamentally, unless you go back to when Gil Hodges was manager. This will win them a few games this year, and if it's a tight race, that might be the difference.
The 3 best components of the bench -- Woodward, Castro and that amazing old man -- all had key contributions today. So did Endy Chavez, and even Jose Valentin had an effective sacrifice bunt. Despite Heilman getting touched up for a run and Wagner getting burned by Bonds, the Mets bullpen was great again tonight. Wagner got beat because David Wright didn't make a play he should have and Bonds is still amazing even as a shell of himself. Darren Oliver deserved that win today, going 1-2-3 on Winn, Alou and Bonds to end the game. Next time he pitches in a tough situation I'll even consider uncovering my eyes.
The Mets are 14-7, and enjoy a 5 game lead over the Braves and Phillies. The Bravos were swept in Milwaukee this afternoon, while the Phillies are in progress against the Rockies.
We all get to recover from late night games as the Mets are off tomorrow before beginning the 3-game series in Atlanta Friday night, where Pedro and Smoltz go at it.