Mandel’s Musings – Mets Blow Opportunity Vs. Phils Ace

Published on: 11th June, 2009

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Mets Centerfielder Dropped Fly Ball At Key Moment  | read this item

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This could have been the opportunity for the New York Mets to take charge of the little psychological give and take they’ve been embroiled in with the Philadelphia Phillies over the past couple of seasons. The Phillies came into Citi Field two nights ago with a three game lead in the National League’s East Division but had recently been showing signs of weakness and vulnerability, particularly on the pitching staff.

With the Mets winning the first game of this three game home set, the pivotal game of this series was last night’s contest because they were facing the Phillies’ ace starter, Cole Hamels. Yes, the same Cole Hamels who had called the Mets chokers last season, after the New Yorkers had in fact, choked away the past two seasons down the stretch when they held commanding leads over Hamel’s Phillies club with scant weeks remaining in those seasons.

Now, here was the chance to take the first two games of an early June series with their biggest rivals, against their best pitcher. The Mets knew if they could beat Hamels, they would have to deal with the soft-pitching, 75 year old Jamie Moyers on Thursday night. If the Mets could take this second game against Hamels, it would not only cut the Phils’ lead to just one game over the second place Mets but would be a huge shot in the arm for Jerry Manuel’s team with a chance to get the brooms out and sweep their rivals in three.

The game started out in a way Mets manager, Jerry Manuel could have only dreamed.  Hamel, the Philadelphia ace, was struggling with patient Mets hitters and by the fourth inning was losing 4-1 after Mets starter Mike Pelfrey contributed to his own cause with a leadoff double in the third after which he scored on an Alex Cora fielder’s choice. Pelfrey also helped himself in the fourth inning when he drove in another run with a bloop single off of Hamel. Luis Castillo then followed with a single for an RBI, and Cora ripped a single to center to give the Mets that three-run lead. Meanwhile, on the mound, Pelfrey was in his finest form of the season. He was pitching economically, had his 94 mph fastball sinking leading the Phils hitters to pound ground ball after ground ball into the the Citi Field infield turf.

 This is where teams with designs on being elite, pennant-winning clubs take the bull by the horns and own the rest of the game. This is where poise and late inning pitching comes in and it is also where your best players make big plays. The Mets failed in all of those areas.

First, Pelfrey got into a little tete a’ tete with Chase Utley in the fifth inning. Pelfrey was angry that Utley had stepped out of the batter’s box and said so, and Utley, according to Pelfrey “told me to relax.”

“The guy is obviously a great player,” said Pelfrey. “I was ready to make a pitch and he called timeout. In my mind, I was locked in and ready to make a pitch. I got upset and told him to get in the box. I don’t even know the guy. I was just trying to compete and execute a pitch. I got caught in between some adrenaline there.”

Said Utley: “From what I remember, I don’t even remember stepping into the box. I was about to step in the box and it seemed like he was ready to pitch. I guess he got a little frustrated. I wasn’t trying to make him frustrated. I was just trying to put a good at-bat together.”

The two appeared to chirp at each other near first base after the inning as Philly first base coach Davey Lopes, who refused to talk to the press afterward, walked between them. Pelfrey and Utley said there were no words between them after the inning.

The Utley-Pelfrey encounter should add another chapter of spice to the rivalry between the teams.

The Mets blew their three-run lead in the seventh inning and stranded a season-high 16 runners.

“We had many opportunities and we just couldn’t seem to get the big hit,” Manuel said. “We had our chances and we didn’t execute.”

The Mets had 16 hits, but only one of them was for extra bases – Pelfrey’s third-inning double. They left the bases loaded twice and, even though they were 6-for-19 with runners in scoring position, they managed only four runs, none after the fourth inning.

The Mets biggest players, Carlos Beltran and David Wright, the guys they count on like the Phillies count on Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, didn’t come through when they were needed in crunch time. In the seventh inning, the Mets gave the Phillies five outs thanks to one misplayed grounder by Wright that was called an error and one dropped fly ball by Carlos Beltran that should have been caught.  Unlike the Mets, who left 16 runners on base tonight, he Phillies are a team that knows how to take advantage of such generosities. They tied the game with three runs in that seventh inning and it was a new ballgame.

When hard-throwing but very raw Bobby Parnells gave up Utley’s second homer of the game in the top of the eleventh inning, that was the ballgame for the Mets. That was also the end of their psychological advantage in this game of mental give and take with their biggest rivals.

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