Wright's double gives Mets walk-off win
Hernandez duels with Blanton before ninth-inning heroics
NEW YORK -- As Ramon Castro chugged around third base and headed home on Saturday night, the Mets may have been executing a turn of their own. They seemingly were in the second stage of a U-turn, an about-face they have been trying to effect for the better part of three weeks. And if the thick legs of their understudy catcher could deliver the run, the Mets could accomplish something that a month ago would hardly have seemed like an achievement.
With Saturday's 1-0 victory, they would win successive games, a modest objective for a team that through May 19 had won two-thirds of its contests and that had a .654 winning percentage as recently as June 1. But these have been unfamiliar times for the Mets, as unfamiliar as they have been trying. Winning hasn't come easily or regularly or -- for days at a time -- at all.
But there they were, waiting for Castro to convert a trip around the bases into a run and make an evening of uneven baseball worthwhile. And when he did, giving the Mets their 40th victory, they knew they had moved a few more degrees toward the desired 180.
"One night you play well and win, the next night you win even though you don't play so well. It's a good sign," said David Wright, whose well-placed, off-the-end-of-the-bat double drove in Castro.
No laced line drive, no majestic fly ball, just an opposite-field softy that right fielder Travis Buck would have been better off taking on a bounce. Castro -- in the game only because Paul Lo Duca had been ejected -- wasn't scoring from second base on anything less than a double.
But Buck dived, and he didn't come particularly close to making the play he had hoped to make. The ball bounced away, allowing Castro to perform a different kind of 180 -- two times 90 feet -- and the Mets to notch their first successive victories in 22 games and their first series victory since they'd taken two of three from the Giants over the last three days of May.
The Mets have given better performances since then, some of them in the 15 losses they have suffered. This victory, their seventh in 15 Interleague games, was ragged, by their manager's account. Willie Randolph pointed that out, unsolicited, noting errors, plays not made and runners not advanced.
But winning pitcher Billy Wagner ignored the flaws.
"Beggars can't be choosers," Wagner said.
The Mets would take it, warts and all.
The game had its moments even before Wright turned it into the Mets' fifth final-pitch victory and 10th accomplished in their final at-bat. And most of the moments had to do with Orlando Hernandez. The Mets' starter was brilliant in his seven innings. He didn't outpitch his A's counterpart, Joe Blanton, as much as he outmaneuvered him and the A's batting order.
El Duque shut out an opponent for the fourth time in his past seven starts. Three of the four have lasted seven innings, the other six. This time, he surrendered six singles and a walk and threw a season-high 119 pitches, one a 53-mph Bugs Bunny curve that struck out Eric Chavez in the sixth.
The A's threatened to score several times. A pretty play on a ground ball by Jose Valentin produced the third out in the fourth inning after Oakland had put runners on first and third. The Athletics had a runner on third with one out and the top of the order due in the fifth. El Duque wiggled out of that, too. And in the seventh, they had runners on first and second with two out when Hernandez threw his final pitch and produced his seventh strikeout.
Afterward, El Duque was unsure of his workload and asked, "How many did I throw?"
When told he had thrown 119, he touched his right forearm and said, "Thank you."
The Mets expressed gratitude as well. They had done little against Blanton and needed a strong start to offset his brilliance. A loser in two of the other five shutouts against the A's this season, Blanton limited the Mets to five hits and one walk in eight innings.
Castro was the first batter that Blanton's successor, Santiago Casilla, faced. Castro doubled to left on an 0-2 pitch, re-energizing a crowd of 52,920. Carlos Beltran, who had two singles and seven hits in his 11 previous at-bats, was walked intentionally, affording Wright the opportunity to be a difference-maker.
"My idea was to hit the ball to the right side, so even if I made an out, we'd have a man on third with less that two out," Wright said.
But Castro's speed is such than not every ball hit to the right side would be sufficient to advance him. Wright took a ball, then a strike, and then struck. And Buck made an ill-advised decision. The Mets' seventh hit and third double produced their second 1-0 victory this season and secured their sixth shutout victory, their third in 14 games, and their ninth in 13 games decided by a run.
And it produced a level of comfort they haven't been experiencing of late. For the second straight night, there was an afterglow and not an aftermath in the clubhouse. They kidded Tom Glavine when he was thrown out at the plate on Friday night -- "Hey, I was coming from first base, not second," he said after he had witnessed Castro's successful sprint. And they might have jabbed at Castro, too, but he fled the clubhouse quickly, probably moving faster than he had on Wright's hit.
And they cackled at the explosion that had earned Lo Duca his first ejection this season. It was a good one, replete with thrown equipment and an image -- eyes bugging out -- that will be included in many highlight packages. Wright didn't endorse it as a means of expression, but he called it "very entertaining."
The Mets clubhouse used to call that "major snappage." But the players no longer have a name for it.
"We probably should let Paulie decide what to call it," Wright said. "But that one was so good, we ought just name all of them after him."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.