By Mike Steffanos
Mets 4 - Dodgers 1
Alay Soler had his breaking ball snapping and control of his fastball. He was able to use all his pitches to keep the Dodgers -- the best hitting club in the National League -- off balance all night. He went seven strong innings and saved a bullpen that's running on fumes right now.
You could see the difference right from the start of the game. After being spotted a 3-run lead on a leadoff homer by Reyes and a 2 run homer by the reviving Carlos Delgado (2-4 with good looking swings), Soler had control of his breaking ball right from the get-go. Equally important, he had control of his fastball. It was a good fastball, too, there was late movement on it we just didn't see in his first couple of starts. The velocity was about the same -- anywhere from 85-86 when he took a little off to 91 when he put a little extra on. The average was about 89, but he was putting it in good spots and getting a lot of misses on it.
For me, the pivotal point of the game came in the fifth inning. With a runner on first and 2 outs, Soler walked Rafael Furcal on 4 pitches, bringing up Kenny Lofton as the tying run. Soler starts him off with 2 great curves and gets 2 swinging strikes. On 0-2 he busts Lofton off the plate up an in with a fastball. At 1-2, you can see the wheels going inside Lofton's head -- he's looking for another curve. Instead, Soler freezes him with an inside fastball for strike 3. Home plate ump Larry Vanover had a huge strike zone all night, but that pitch was legit.
When Soler left after 7, Pedro Feliciano came in for the eighth. He gave up a hit to the lefty Lofton, but struck out Nomar swinging. Then he gives up a hit to Drew -- so both lefties he was in to face got hits. He got switch-hitter Willy Aybar to ground out for the second out, then when the righty Olmedo Saenz was announced as the pinch hitter Willie countered with Chad Bradford. It worked to perfection as Saenz grounded out to David Wright -- thought Wright gave any Mets fans still awake a heart attack by lobbing the throw over to first and almost overthrowing Delgado.
With the depleted 'pen and a 3-run lead, Willie had Wagner up, but rolled the dice with Bradford with 3 righties coming up. I think Wagner would have come in if anyone got on. Bradford was dealing, with 10 of 11 pitches he threw in an inning and a third strikes. It added up to a 1-2-3 ninth, a save for Bradford, and a terrific win utilizing none of the top 3 relievers. Kudos to Wagner and, of course, Soler for 7 strong innings (and his first MLB win) the team desperately needed.
Same time tomorrow night, 10:10 PM ET, Pedro versus Derek Lowe who is off to a good start this year.