By Mike Steffanos
Mets 3 - Padres 2
At this stage of their careers, Steve Trachsel and Woody Williams are very similar pitchers. Neither one possesses the raw stuff to aggressively challenge hitters consistently, and both will slow the game down to a crawl when men are on base. It's not very often that a 3-2 game that Tony La Russa isn't managing will take over 3 hours, but this one did. In the end, behind the efforts of Trachsel and five relief pitchers, the Mets managed to be just that one run better than San Diego tonight.
The game started out well for Trachsel. He had a very good splitter out of the gate and he was able to retire the first 5 batters he faced -- including striking both Cameron and Piazza in the first at bats of their respective returns. Unfortunately a Todd Walker single and a wind-blown 2-run homer by the weak hitting Geoff Blum followed, putting Trachsel into an early hole again.
The Mets came back to load the bases with no outs against Williams in the bottom of the second, but Lastings Milledge killed that rally by trying to pull a Williams breaking pitch and grounding into a double play. One run scored, but Williams was able to escape any significant damage by retiring Trachsel for the final out.
Trachsel was back into trouble in the third with a 2-out walk to Giles. Mike Cameron hit a ground single up the middle that deflected off of Reyes' glove on a nice try by Jose -- but then he stayed on the ground as Valentin chased the ball down, allowing Cameron an unearned double. Trachsel fell behind Piazza 3-0, but came back with 2 called strikes, and then induced Piazza to ground out to Reyes and escape damage.
The Mets loaded the bases again in the third with one out, and then David Wright singled home the tying run, but the Mets again let Williams off the hook when Valentin and Chavez both popped out.
Trachsel enjoyed a couple of quick innings, aided by a line-drive double play in the fifth. The Mets went up 3-2 in their half of the fifth when Wright singled home Carlos Beltran who was on base with his third double of the game. After that, it became a question of survival.
In the top of the sixth, Trachsel went full on leadoff hitter Brian Giles, then walked him. He got Cameron to fly out to Beltran, then Giles got thrown out trying to steal second on a nice throw by Lo Duca and tag by Valentin. Piazza singled, and Willie decided that Trachsel -- up to 97 pitches now -- was done. He brought in Royce Ring to face lefty Adrian Gonzalez, but Gonzalez doubled to left and advanced Piazza to third. A clearly nervous Ring walked Todd Walker on 5 pitches, but managed to get one over to Blum who grounded out to Wright to end it.
Darren Oliver came in to pitch the seventh, and looked good retiring the Padres in order. He came back out for the eighth, and retired Giles leading off. Willie elected to leave him in to face Cameron, who battled out a 10-pitch walk. Roberto Hernandez came in to face Piazza, retiring him on a fly ball but allowing Cameron to steal second in the process. Willie brought in lefty Pedro Feliciano to face Adrian Gonzalez, despite the fact that Feliciano has allowed almost half of his inherited runners to score. He fell behind 3-1, but came back with a slider for a strike and then induced a grounder to Delgado to escape that jam.
Wagner came in for the ninth, and you suspected it wouldn't be easy, didn't you? He looked good striking out pinch hitter Mark Bellhorn, but then walked the weak-hitting Blum on 4 pitches. He got Josh Barfield to fly out to center for the second out, and then Josh Bard hit a grounder to David Wright's left that he just kind of whiffed on. It was scored a hit, it could have been an error, in any case the tying run was on second. He struck out Roberts swinging on a 2-2 pitch to nail down his 25th save, but it sure wasn't easy.
Thoughts on the game
In our quest to determine playoff starters, here's what Steve Trachsel has done since June:
This is about as good as Trachsel pitches right now. He's never quite recovered all of his velocity since the back injury, and it's made him more of a nibbler than he was before. He looked really good at times today, but just couldn't get those outs quickly early in the game, and consequently couldn't make it out of the sixth again. Give him credit; this was win number 11 from Trachsel, and not a bad effort -- but if he was looking to make them consider him for a post-season start, I don't think he managed that.
One thing I've noticed about Trachsel is that he seems to start struggling in many games when he gets in that 80-90 pitch range, and that's not good for a starter who throws few innings with a low pitch count.
The Padres lineup reminds me a lot of the Mets' lineup last year, and not just because both Cameron and Piazza are in it. They have a few good hitters, but not enough to really keep the pressure on. Cameron was batting third and Piazza fourth -- I know both are having good years, but that's not the ideal slot for either.
Nice to see Carlos Beltran have a nice offensive day at home, and Delgado had some good at bats in working out a pair of walks, though he failed to get a hit. David Wright busted out with three important hits, with the tying and go-ahead RBIs. Lastings Milledge looks kind of lost at the plate again and lacking in confidence.
The Mets ran wild on Piazza tonight, stealing 4 bases. He's still bouncing many of his throws.
Darren Oliver was impressive tonight. I keep waiting for him to revert back to that sub-par pitcher he's been his whole career, and he just keeps impressing.
The only thing Wagner did really bad tonight was walking Blum on 4 pitches. After the game he talked about how strange it felt to pitch to Blum, who had been his teammate for so long. Funny, but Blum didn't seem to have any problems taking the walk. Perhaps Wagner will consider trying to get him out if he faces him again -- just a thought.
This game is being discussed in the MetsMerized Mets Talk Forum.