By Mike Steffanos
Mets 6 - Marlins 4
On the verge of another flat September loss, the Mets rallied in the late innings to come back and defeat the Marlins on a long, rainy evening in South Florida.
Oliver Perez started for the Mets. He wasn't as sharp as he was in shutting out the Braves last week, but he wasn't as bad as a final line of 4 earned runs in 5 innings would indicate. All four runs came on 2 bad pitches, including a 2-run first inning double that Cliff Floyd would have caught on 2 good legs. Games like this don't earn Perez playoff consideration, but they do make next season all the more intriguing.
Florida starter Josh Johnson survived 2 hours of rain delay to pitch 5 effective innings against the Mets. However, the decision to lift him with a 4-0 lead after 5 innings and less than 75 pitches would ultimately doom the Fish. Their bullpen is awful. Ricky Nolasco got touched up for a run in the seventh before being bailed out by Taylor Tankersley and home plate umpire Brian O'Nora's atrocious ball and strike calls.
Tankersley's luck ran out in the eighth when Lo Duca and Beltran led off with base hits and Delgado followed with a game-tying homer to dead center that is still orbiting the earth. Chris Resop replaced Tankersley, and Wright followed with a double off the left-field wall that just missed going out. Lefty Renyel Pinto came in to face Floyd. Cliff's long opposite field double put the Mets up 5-4, and Aaron Heilman held the fish at bay in the bottom of the eighth.
The Mets scored an insurance run off Fish closer Joe Borowski in the ninth that they owed partly to O'Nora's Schizophrenic strike zone. (Note to Marlins fans -- all 6 of you -- don't even go there. You got more from O'Nora's incompetence tonight than we did.) Then, as they so often do, things got interesting for Wagner in the ninth. A couple of soft hits put the tying runs on base with 1 out, but Wagner came back to pop up Uggla, and then struck out Miguel Cabrera on a 3-2 pitch to end it. It was save number 37 on the year for Wagner, and the 15th consecutive opportunity he has converted.
Thoughts on the game
Oliver Perez first. Updating the chart:
I guess if you're the "glass half empty" type, you would say that Perez' tenure in New York so far has resulted in three bad starts and one very good. I look at the 11 strike outs and the improved control, and am more convinced then ever that Perez could help this team as a starter next year. When I heard that the Mets had interest in this kid earlier in the year I was dead set against it. I thought he was damaged goods physically and a head case to boot. What I see after 4 games is a 25-year-old with electric stuff whose mechanics are inconsistent. More importantly, I see someone who has already made some strides under Rick Peterson's tutelage. If this kid pans out, this would be an incredible pickup for a farm system that isn't exactly busting at the seems with top-tier talent.
Now to Billy Wagner: as stated above, last night's save was Wagner's fifteenth consecutive, dating back to that game he lost in Florida on August 1 when he gave up the 2-run bomb to Willingham in the ninth. These saves seldom seem to come easy for Wagner. In only 5 of the 15 has he pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, but he's been getting the job done. I suspect he's never going to be one of those "game over" guys like Gagne used to be, but should get credit for doing a terrific job. Going back further, after blowing 3 of his first 10 save chances through early May, Wagner is 30 of his last 32. When he does get in trouble in games, you never sense any panic. He deserves more credit than he gets.
After busting out last week, Shawn Green has gone 2 for his last 16, including stranding 7 men on base last night and striking out 4 times. The Mets really need him to settle down and provide some stability at the bottom of the order. Jose Valentin's recent struggles haven't helped any, either.
Reyes was 0-5 last night and looked bad at the plate. Lo Duca picked him up with 3 hits. Cliff Floyd had a huge game. The order is much tougher to pitch to when Uncle Cliffy is contributing. Last night the quartet of Beltran, Delgado, Wright and Floyd went 9-17 with all 6 of the team's RBIs. If Cliff can stay on his feet, this 3-6 in the order is as tough as any in baseball.
Earlier in the year, I opined that a domed stadium would help baseball to thrive in the large Miami market. I take it back. The Marlins have some loyal fans, as all teams do, but if this team can't draw with the terrific story that they are in 2006, there's no hope for this market. I'm sure a dome would improve things, but this is a town that does not embrace baseball. I don't want to hear how ownership has torn the team down twice. True enough, but they also bought 2 championships in a short period of time. If I owned this team, I'd be looking elsewhere for a permanent home.