By Mike Steffanos
Mets 2 - Rockies 0
Orlando Hernandez shook off any aftereffects from Tuesday's ugly pounding to toss 6 innings of shutout ball at the Colorado Rockies, out-dueling Jason Jennings and helping the Mets to a sweep of the series. There wasn't much offense to speak of in this game, with the two teams combining for 9 hits between them. That didn't mean the game lacked moments of high drama.
The first act played out as Mets fans wondered if El Duque could overcome his recent string of slow starts in games. He did allow singles in the first and second, but nothing else. After that he really found his stride and pitched a perfect third and fourth. Jennings was almost as good, but was beaten in the second by Carlos Delgado's long solo home run to dead centerfield.
Hernandez ran into big trouble trying to protect that 1-0 lead when, in the top of the fifth, Hawpe hit a soft single to center and Yorvit Torrealba bounced a well-placed double down the line. With runners on second and third, no outs, El Duque sucked it up and struck out Clint Barmes, Jennings and Jamey Carroll to preserve the lead, to the wild cheers of the crowd. He followed it up by trying to bunt for a base hit in the bottom of the frame. Torrealba's wild throw to first allowed Hernandez to advance to second. The 41-year-old then stole third, but was stranded there.
Hernandez went back out for the sixth, despite a pitch count that was advancing towards 100. He walked Cory Sullivan leading off, then retired Helton for the first out. With Matt Holliday at the plate, Sullivan was gunned down trying to swipe second by Mike DiFelice's perfect throw for the second out. Holliday blooped a soft double to right, but Hernandez got Garrett Atkins looking at a called third strike for the final out. Hernandez was done after throwing 114 pitches, 72 which went for strikes. It was vintage El Duque.
The Mets added a bit of insurance when Carlos Beltran beat Jennings with a solo shot. The Mets handed the 2-0 lead to Chad Bradford to protect in the seventh. Bradford survived a 1-out walk to Torrealba by inducing Barmes to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Aaron Heilman was asked to pitch the eighth despite pitching 2 innings in last night's game. He was perfect, striking out 2. Wagner continued the perfection with a 1-2-3 ninth for save number 31 on the year. It was his second perfect ninth inning in a row after a string of Looperish saves. He really does seem to be getting stronger as the season goes on and he pitches a lot.
Thoughts on the game
Let's update what Hernandez has done since August 1:
Obviously, the stats are somewhat skewed by the beating he took for the team in Philly, although equally obviously, he was certainly terrible that night. You can't ignore the fact that he's shown a propensity from time to time to be very, very bad. Looking past that, though, he's been for the most part the Mets best starter for the better part of 2 months. He still has the stuff to strike people out and, with Glavine's difficulties, becomes a very important starter for this team. The question as to whether his arm holds up is anyone's guess. In any case, a terrific bounce-back start for the crafty old veteran.
Not much to talk about offensively. Wright's struggles continue. Besides the home runs from the Carloses, the only other two Mets hits were singles from Milledge and El Duque. They did work some decent at bats against Jennings. Tucker in particular has a good approach at the plate. He'll work a pitcher and see some pitches, working out a pair of walks today. It did take Jennings 95 pitches to navigate 6 innings, and that's a vast improvement over some of the games versus Washington and Philadelphia.
The Mets will have a day off tomorrow and another a week from tomorrow. After that, their only remaining day off for the season is Thursday, September 14. Weird schedule, eh?
This game is being discussed in the MetsMerized Mets Talk Forum.