By Mike Steffanos
Mets 4 - Astros 2
Carlos Beltran made a game-saving catch at the wall in the ninth inning tonight, injuring his knee in the process as the Mets held on for a tough victory over the Astros.
John Maine was perfect for 4 innings, and only wound up allowing 2 hits in 6-1/3 innings of work. Unfortunately for Maine, both of the hits were solo home runs -- a cheap Minute Maid park fly ball home run by Berkman leading off the fourth to break up the perfecto, and a long bomb by Mike Lamb leading off the seventh. They somewhat dampened a really nice performance by Maine, who struck out 3 and walked one in his winning outing.
The Mets weren't exactly lighting it up against Astros rookie Jason Hirsh, but they managed to build a lead taking advantage of Houston mistakes. After Lo Duca and Beltran led off with back to back singles in the fourth, Delgado hit a fly ball to center that advanced Lo Duca to third. With the Astros playing back at double play depth, David Wright hit a soft grounder to Biggio that looked too slow for a double play. Biggio tried to rush it, and came up empty on the grounder. Wright got the RBI, and Beltran moved to third, where he scored on Cliff Floyd's sac fly to center. 2-0 Mets.
Berkman's cheap fly homerun into the Crawford boxes in the fifth ended Maine's string of 12 consecutive outs and cut the lead to 2-1. Maine got out of the inning with no further damage. Then with 2 outs and nobody on in the top of the sixth, Beltran hit a routine ground ball to Berkman at first, but Hirsh butchered the toss to the bag for an error. Delgado followed with a sharp single to right that advanced Beltran to third, where he scored on Hirsh's wild pitch. 3-1 Mets.
As he is prone to, Maine seemed to lose command in the bottom of the sixth. After retiring Ausmus to lead off the inning, Maine walked pinch hitter Morgan Ensberg on 4 pitches. He fell behind Willy Taveras 2-0, and Willie went out to get him to refocus. He came back to retire Taveras on a hard out to center and Biggio on a fly to right. Then in the seventh he threw Mike Lamb an absolute cripple on a 1-1 pitch that still hasn't come down. In the words of Crash Davis, "Anything travels that far oughta have a damn stewardess on it." After getting Berkman on a fairly deep fly to center, he threw a ball in the dirt for ball one to Aubrey Huff, and Willie had abruptly seen enough.
Pedro Feliciano replaced Maine, and struck out Huff after going full on him, then retired Luke Scott on a ground out to second. Heilman pitched a perfect eighth protecting the one-run lead, then Cliff Floyd doubled home Wright with an insurance run in the top of the ninth.
Wagner came in for the bottom of the ninth, and didn't look that sharp from the get-go. He got Taveras on a fairly well-hit ball to right for the first out, then went full on Biggio before giving up a double. After going full again on Lane he walked him, bringing up Berkman with the tying runs on base. Wagner got ahead of him 1-2, but then Berkman crushed a fastball to the fence in left-center field. Beltran came on a dead run and made a leaping catch right into the fence, saving at least a run. Beltran wound up with what is being described right now as a badly bruised left knee, and had to leave the game. Wagner struck out Chris Burke on 3 pitches to mercifully end the night's drama.
Thoughts on the game
With speculation that he might be the odd man out come playoff time, Maine had yet another of those games that teased at domination but then came up somewhat short. I can't blame him for Berkman's home run, it's scandalous that MLB allows new parks to be built with such ridiculous dimensions. But even before giving up that bomb to Lamb, you could see him kind of losing his delivery a little, and his pitches lacked their previous sharpness. I don't know, I'm really rooting for the kid to make the playoff roster, but despite pitching well and winning, I'm not convinced he helped himself tonight. Here is his updated chart:
Admittedly, although I love the aggressiveness, the tendency to give up home runs and lose his mechanics at times are things he needs to work on. But I remind myself that he is still very early in his major league career.
After Beltran made the great catch and fell down, he was still getting a ton of boos. Then they mostly stopped when it became obvious he was hurt. He left the field to mostly cheers, but there were still significant amounts of boos. We'll let that speak for itself.
Nice return by Cliff. That double to drive in the insurance run in the ninth was a freaking laser. Anderson Hernandez, on the other hand, does not resemble a major-league hitter.