Pelfrey sizzles as Mets stifle Braves
Backed by trio of homers, righty allows one hit in six frames
ATLANTA -- The first pitch of the Braves' fifth inning struck Jeff Francoeur in the right forearm and, it seemed, struck a nerve as well. The Braves right fielder whirled away in pain before barking at the man who had delivered the pitch, Mike Pelfrey, and taking some angry steps.
The Mets' starting pitcher was surprised by Francoeur's (over)-reaction and more surprised when made aware of Francoeur's claim that Pelfrey had hit him once previously during his brief and often-interrupted career. It was news to Pelfrey.
"But," Pelfrey said, "I don't remember what I did yesterday."
Perhaps ... when Pelfrey awakes Sunday morning, though, chances are he'll have total recall of how he spent Saturday afternoon -- preparing to pitch against the Braves, beating them and reveling in his first victory of the season. He had more than held his own, and he would hold that thought. His memory of his role in the Mets' 5-1 victory would stay in place.
"When you wait this long for something," Pelfrey said, "you don't forget."
This long, strange Mets trip had become one game longer, and curiouser and curiouser. (Go ask Alice when she's 10 feet tall). For the second time in less than 24 hours, they had handled the team that, this season, had reclaimed its role as their primary nemesis, no matter what the Phillies have wrought. And they had done so, playing in a ballpark that often has been their undoing -- particularly in September -- and playing behind a winless pitcher.
Most of the arrows were pointing in the Braves' favor on Saturday. The Mets hadn't won a series against the Braves in four tries this season, and they already had won Friday night. So what were the chances of two straight? Their haunting and horrid history here at Turner Field -- they had lost 21 of 27 September games in this park -- stood as an obstacle, too, though one that manager Willie Randolph would dismiss. And Pelfrey had been winless in nine big league starts.
But Pelfrey's 99 pitches and home-run swings by Carlos Delgado, Lastings Milledge and Carlos Beltran turned the arrows. The Mets' sixth victory in 14 games against the Braves maintained their lead over the second-place Phillies and extended their lead over the third-place Braves to 6 1/2 games. Though not executed as well as the 7-1 victory Friday night, this one was another indication that the Mets were merely detoured, not blocked, by the Phillies.
Pelfrey eliminated the unwanted symmetry of an 0-7 record in '07.
"Had to get that zero out of there," said Pelfrey, presumably referring to his record and not the year.
Pelfrey allowed one run and one hit in six innings, maximizing the seldom-seen support provided by his mates. The Mets had scored merely 32 runs in his first nine starts, producing the lowest support for a National League starter, 2.78 runs per game. He walked three and struck out seven, a career high. And he pleased his colleagues to no end.
"You get a performance like we got [Friday] night from John [Maine], and now this from Mike," Paul Lo Duca said. "It's huge. And now we've got Pedro coming back. You talk about getting a shot in the arm."
It's a shot in the arm that allows them to withstand the shot in the foot administered to Orlando Hernandez on Friday. El Duque rejoined the team Saturday and said he probably won't know until Monday whether the sprain he suffered some 10 days ago -- and aggravated Thursday -- will allow him to pitch next weekend, as Randolph had hoped.
Not that Pelfrey now is in position to provide what El Duque has provided the last two months, but an obstacle has been removed from his path.
"It feels so good to just win, no matter how I pitched," Pelfrey said. "But I was just as pleased with how I pitched as I was with the results. ... If I can help now, that would be great. It's been a rough season for me. To help the team win would turn my season around."
|"If I can help now, that would be great. It's been a rough season for me. To help the team win would turn my season around."|
|-- Mike Pelfrey|
Lo Duca was quite impressed with what he saw.
"Some of the best stuff I've caught in a long time," Lo Duca said. "When I came back to the dugout after the second inning, I said, 'He's unhittable today.'"
Pelfrey used the bowling ball, his heavy sinking fastball, to retire seven of his first eight batters on ground balls. His subsequent four outs came on strikeouts. Then, in the fifth, after Delgado and Milledge had hit their bases-empty home runs against Chuck James, the Braves showed some resistance. And deception.
Francoeur was hit, no question. But he never had been hit previously by Pelfrey, and he later confessed he had feined anger to motivate his teammates. It worked, to a degree. Or maybe it was merely that he had Pelfrey pitching from the stretch. A walk to Andruw Jones followed. Three more balls, to Chris Woodward, prompted another walk -- Randolph to the mound for one of his "get it done" monologues.
Woodward, bunting, popped up a 3-1 pitch for the first out. Pinch-hitter Scott Thorman walked before Willie Harris hit a sacrifice fly. Pelfrey then struck out Kelly Johnson with a mean and nasty slider that he has polished in his 14 Triple-A starts. He acknowledged he wouldn't have had enough confidence in his slider to throw it in identical circumstances in April and May, when he lost five straight starts.
Pelfrey struck out his first two batters in the sixth and left the last three innings for the bullpen -- Guillermo Mota and, because Beltran's home run in the ninth offset the need for Billy Wagner, Pedro Feliciano. Pelfrey's third career victory was secured by Felicano's second career save. Feliciano struck out the final five batters. So what if he walked off the field, thinking the ninth was the eighth?
He hasn't seen many ninths.
His wasn't the Mets' only late mistake. One of them tried to retrieve the ball to give to Pelfrey as a memento of his first big league victory. Apparently, his teammates didn't remember what he did yesterday either.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.