Swinging bunt sends Mets to tough loss
Rowand's dribbler bothers club more than walk-off homer
NEW YORK -- When the baseball finally came to rest, it was inches from the chalk and miles from where the Mets wanted it to be. It had rolled foul first, then crossed the line, traveling perhaps 40 feet in the general direction of third base. To the Mets, there was no question where its journey ended -- that gray area between a victory they nearly secured and loss that vexed them. Call it unfair territory.
On this night when the unseen hand played a significant role, it nudged a critical swinging bunt fair and simultaneously slapped the Mets in the face. They eventually lost to the Phillies, 4-2, in 10 innings Tuesday night because of the power of Ryan Howard. But they had lost their lead two innings earlier because of the power of providence. And that troubled them more that Howard's final-pitch home run.
In the aftermath of the loss, the Mets pretty much dismissed the impact of the two-run home run Howard had hit off a friendly, misplaced changeup thrown by Guillermo Mota. Home runs happen in Citizens Bank Park. But the swinging bunt by Aaron Rowand -- the hit that tied the score and denied the Mets a nine-inning victory -- made them curse, lament and wonder.
They had played seven innings with that sense of baseball claustrophobia the Phillies home arena creates. And eventually, they fell victim to its home run tendencies. But to lose a lead on a 40-foot roller and in this place ... well, neither the irony nor the significance of the loss was lost on them.
"I don't always appreciate irony," Aaron Heilman said.
Heilman had thrown the pitch Rowand turned into a game turner with two out in the eighth inning and Shane Victorino on third base. Heilman, David Wright and Paul Lo Duca had unobstructed views of how it moved parallel to the foul line once its reached fair territory. Heilman, Wright and Lo Duca had shared an "Are you kiddin' me?" moment.
Heilman reached into his locker stall, touched a vacant hanger as if it were a prop and presented his view of the critical moment that had been touched with irony.
"Maybe I should have thrown my hanger," he said, as if the perilous pitch were part of his repertoire by design. "Then he might have hit it hard enough for someone to make a play on it."
"You couldn't put the ball in a better place," Wright said.
They all were aware such phenomenon occurs regularly in this game and seemingly more often when the stakes are raised. But they didn't need to be reminded of the fickle nature of the game -- not Tuesday night, not after they had lost Monday, not after Tom Glavine had put them on the threshold of a victory, not when a third straight loss would put their lead over the second-place Phillies at four games.
The Mets said all the right things afterward -- "Come back tomorrow" and "Turn the page" and "If we take the next two [games], we'll be better off than when the series started." But they knew they had let another victory get away.
"Just another giveaway game," manager Willie Randolph said, emphasizing his second word. "A team as good as we are shouldn't be doing this so often. I don't know how many games like this you can play [and still win], but not that many."
The manager didn't dismiss the impact of Rowand's hit but what bothered him most was his team's inability to score more than twice in "this place." He said, "We let teams stay close, and this is what happens. You set yourself up for heartbreak."
Carlos Delgado hit a two-run home run off starter Adam Eaton in the second inning. And the Mets' offense essentially stopped there. Including at-bats and runners left on base in the fist inning, the Mets left seven runners and were hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position.
The top of the order did next to nothing for the second straight night. Wright walked and stole second in the first inning Tuesday. Otherwise, he, Jose Reyes and limping Luis Castillo have one hit in 26 plate appearances.
"That's not gonna get it done," Randolph said.
It nearly did because Glavine was brilliant. For the second time in his 28 starts this season, he held an opponent scoreless. For the first time, he did so for seven innings. He allowed eight hits and walked no one. Twice he was saved by quick plays in right field by Endy Chavez, who was back on the field for the first time since his disabled list assignment began June 7.
The Mets' game fell apart after Glavine's departure. He faced 27 batters and none scored. Pedro Feliciano faced four and two scored, the first one, Jimmy Rollins, on a leadoff home rin in the eighth. Before Feliciano was replaced, he had walked Pat Burrell on four pitches and retired two batters, including Howard who flied out to deep left.
After Heilman replaced Feliciano, pinch-runner Victorino stole second base and continued to third on a weak and errant throw by Lo Duca that bounced through the legs of second baseman Castillo and into center field.
"That ball has to be kept on the infield," Randolph said. "If he just knocks it down [Victorino] is on third when that silly play happens.
Lo Duca said he slipped on the plate before he made the thrown.
"Not a good job," he said. "Everything that had to go wrong did."
And them Rowand swung.
"You don't want to lose late and lose on that type of hit," Glavine said.
He and other Mets searched for positives in the aftermath of this one and found there was this and little else: They had lost three games off their lead in three days. But the lead was four games on Aug. 18, too. So the Phillies have gained three games in three days, but lost 10 days since the last time they were this close.
There wasn't much else to say.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.