By Mike Steffanos
Game 29: Mets 5 - Diamondbacks 2
The Mets had just enough pitching, just enough hitting, and took advantage of just enough breaks to pull out the rubber game of their series vs. the Diamondbacks in Arizona.
Johan Santana battled through an uncharacteristically wild day to hand the bullpen a 2-1 lead after six innings. After issuing only 8 walks in his first 6 starts, Santana handed out four free passes to Arizona hitters, although two were intentional. It took him 116 pitches to navigate 6 innings.
Part of this was due to the excellent approach of the Arizona hitters, who are patient despite their youth. Santana was having problems getting his off-speed pitches over all afternoon, and that contributed also.
Meanwhile the Mets weren't managing a ton of offense off of Danny Haren. They scratched out a run in the third when Brian Schneider led off with a walk, was bunted to second by Santana, and singled home by Reyes with a clutch 2-out hit. They tacked on in the fourth when Haren made a rare mistake and left a fastball up for Wright, who took him deep.
The D-backs got one back when C Chris Snyder tripled off the very top of the left field wall to bring home Justin Upton. Another inch higher and it would have tied the game.
I thought Arizona manager Bob Melvin made a mistake when he pulled Haren out for a PH in the sixth despite a low pitch count (85). They were down 2-1 at that point, but it was clearly Santana's last inning, and the Mets bullpen has hardly been lights-out. I know Arizona's 'pen has been great, but he could have had another inning out of Haren easy.
Joe Smith came in to the still 2-1 game in the seventh and showed the reasons he is both intriguing and frustrating. He struck out the first two batters he faced, but then allowed a single to Conor Jackson and walked Justin Upton after falling behind 3-0 and battling back to 3-2. The walk came back to haunt him as Mark Reynolds plated Jackson with a soft single to left.
The Mets had a chance in the top of the eighth, but Wright couldn't get the job done with 2 on and 2 out.
The game essentially turned in the bottom of the eighth. Pedro Feliciano faced Chris Burk leading off the inning, and Burk laid down a great bunt. Feliciano tried to rush the play and threw wild past 1B. Burk had the play in front of him and was clearly looking to get to third all the way, but was nailed on a near-perfect throw from Ryan Church and a great tag by Wright. If he had been safe at third the D-backs would have certainly had a great chance of getting the go-ahead run.
Singles by Carlos Beltran and Moises Alou put the Mets in the driver seat in the top of the ninth. Delgado hit a ground ball to Jackson at first that had double play potential. It should have at least resulted in a force at second, but Jackson rushed and airmailed the throw for an error that scored the tie breaker. The Mets tacked on a couple more on a pinch hit by Marlon Anderson and a sac fly by Reyes, and Wagner pitched a perfect ninth to secure the win.
After seeing the Diamondbacks for three games it clear to see that they are the class of the NL based on more than having the best record. Terrific starting pitching, a diverse and effective bullpen and more than enough offense ensures that the rest of the NL west is already playing for the wildcard.
Although the young D-backs hitters have some growing up to do, I admired the way they worked opposing pitchers in a manner that I could only wish the Mets hitters would attain. That's a result of having an organization that drafts great talent and then teaches it the right way to play. In a lot of ways the D-backs remind me of the Braves at the start of their great run in the early 90s.
Given that, I thought starting Micah Owings on Friday was a strange move. He was clearly not driving off his injured right ankle, which not only led to his relative ineffectiveness in the game but also put him at risk to get hurt. A pitcher changing his delivery to compensate for an injury -- especially somewhere on the leg -- has led to many arm and shoulder surgeries over the years. It's not like they're hurting for pitching there. They should have been more conservative with one of the game's top young pitchers -- in my mind, anyway.
On to LA to face another team that has been playing well and features great pitching.