Valdespin-era Mets show every strength and weakness in 12-inning loss
In a single night on Tuesday, the New York Mets illustrated all at once why they had overcome a severely limited roster to climb into playoff contention, and just how difficult it will be for the Mets to stay there, in a 7-6, 12-inning loss to the Washington Nationals.
The Mets fell behind 3-0 in this game by the fifth inning. Returning starter Chris Young, just 13 months after anterior capsule surgery on his shoulder, kept New York in the game. But an error by Omar Quintanilla at shortstop led to a run, and without much punch against Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann, it looked like a difficult climb back.
But the Mets scored two on a pair of home runs in the sixth, one from pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin, the other by David Wright. And they took the lead on a rally in the eighth produced by hits from Scott Hairston, Valdespin and Wright. The go-ahead flurry occurred against a trio of relief pitchers, none of whom had an E.R.A. as high as 2.
The script is a familiar one. No matter the competition, and regardless of whether the Met batters are producing at other times, the team's hitters, combined with the constant David Wright, have erased deficits all year.
Then on came Frank Francisco for a five-out save, necessitated by some roster shuffles that left the bullpen without two pitchers. Naturally, Francisco blew the save almost immediately, and with Collins having used his bench to get back in the game, he was largely weaponless heading to the ninth inning. All appeared lost.
Just as naturally, that's when the Mets rallied again, taking the lead in the tenth on a Scott Hairston single, steal of second, advance to third on a groundout, and score on a wild pitch.
But in the bottom of the inning, the team's awful defense let it down. First, the Washington leadoff hitter reached on an error by Valdespin, now in the game and out of position at shortstop. Then, Ike Davis booted a sure double-play ball, and only got one out. A wild pitch and a walk later, the Mets were still in position to get out of the game with a win when Bobby Parnell induced a double-play grounder right to Valdespin, who muffed it again. Game tied, and only a bases-loaded strikeout kept it from ending there.
The 12th and final inning distilled this combination of factors down to its essence. Top of the inning, Hairston homered to give the Mets the lead. Bottom of the inning, Elvin Ramirez, just called up, asked to throw too many pitches with the only relief alternative Jeremy Hefner, also relied upon to be Wednesday's starting pitcher. And the game-winning single, by Bryce Harper, fell in when the left fielder, Vinny Rottino, got a terrible jump on the ball.
A win would have given the Mets sole possession of first place. Instead, New York in 1.5 games behind the Nationals, in third place. But if the loss seems demoralizing, it probably wasn't for the Mets. They've lost a handful of games like this already, when the severe problems with the talent on hand combine in unkind ways. And the part of the same team makeup that saw them comeback three times on Tuesday night alone has led them to bounce back nicely, over and over. It is exasperating entertainment.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
A dominant Andy Pettitte helped the Yankees blank Tampa Bay, 7-0, because old Yankees never die, or even fade away. Russell Martin hit a grand slam in the win. The Yankees are now just a half-game out of first place, where Tampa Bay and Baltimore are tied.
They took the U.S. Open Cup seriously this year. But they got knocked out by Harrisburg, a third-division team, anyway.