Mets rally, but can't sweep Phillies
New York turned away in ninth on Bruntlett's defensive gem
PHILADLEPHIA -- The baseball was headed toward left-center field. Damion Easley, the runner on second base, was headed home. The Mets appeared headed for a tie score -- or something more rewarding -- and not to Chicago; not yet, not if Carlos Beltran's ground ball accomplished all that was expected of it. And then Eric Brunlett intercepted.
A dive, an extended glove, a stop, a quick standup and an intentionally bounced throw to first that arrived before Beltran did. It was a takeaway to be sure. The Phillies shortstop, Jimmy Rollins' substitute, had picked the Mets' pocket, removing their chance for a victory, a sweep and sweet flight to O'Hare.
How dare he. This underwhelming understudy who had provided so little in Rollins' stead last week at Shea and over the weekend here. Where did that play come from? The Mets weren't miffed so much as they were surprised. They thought something special was about to happen when Beltran's swing directed Brad Lidge's pitch to the left of second base, but not so far that Brunlett would have a play. Then the Phillies shortstop became Ozzie Smith.
Understand the Mets fixated on that play, even more than the pinch-hit home run Pedro Feliz hit against Pedro Feliciano in the seventh inning, even though the home run proved to be the margin of victory. The Mets were in the midst of "giving it our best shot," in the words of Ryan Church when Brunlett put his two cents -- and his left hand -- in.
"Some play," pitcher John Maine said.
No one could dispute the effect of his interference in what became the Mets' 5-4 loss. It could be lamented, though, and cursed. Or it could be dismissed as David Wright did, put aside and relegated to "just part of the same" status. Wright seemed to do that. And rather than acknowledge the Phillies' part of the outcome, he bemoaned the Mets' inability to finish what they started -- a sweep of the Phillies, the team the Mets want to beat at every turn.
While none of his colleagues took the end of their winning streak cavalierly, Wright was more unsettled by the Mets' first loss in six games. Annoyance was evident in his words, his tone and his face. April can have an impact on September he said, looking ahead and to last summer at the same time.
"These are the games than can bite you later on" were his words. "We had a chance to deliver a knockout blow, and we didn't. We won a series ... great. But we had a chance to make a statement."
And, to extend Wright's metaphor, what the Mets did after winning the first two games of the series and four straight games against their '07 tormentors was publish a partial retraction. It irked him. Even if the Phillies had played well, even if hey had deserved to win. Wright wanted an absolute. Three games in the Phillies' home, three victories.
He appreciated the Mets' effort and resilience. He was pleased by how they had come four runs down to tie the score in the sixth and buoyed by how they had threatened Lidge in the ninth. But the standings that will determine who represents the National League East come October don't reflect effort, resolve or resilience, but rather results.
"We had a golden opportunity, and we let it slip through our hands," Wright said.
Some of his annoyance --- or at least his take on the loss -- was directed at Mike Pelfrey, the Mets' starting pitcher who was responsible for the four runs the Mets later offset. Chase Utley hit two home runs against Pelfrey, his seventh, with the bases empty, to right-center field in the first inning, and his eighth, a three-run drive high and off the netting of the right-field foul pole, in the seventh. He had hit home runs in the first two games of the series and in the game that preceded the series against the Mets.
"He's got to make better pitches," Wright said matter of factly and without the tact that often is heard in clubhouse postmortems. Not that what he said was out of line. Pelfrey thought Utley hit a good pitch oin the first inning , but lamented the location of the other, more damaging blow.
Unmentioned by Wright was the poor execution of Luis Castillo in the ninth inning, two batters before Brunlett denied Beltran. Easley had led off the inning with a walk and Jose Reyes had singled off Lidge's rump. Castillo, an accomplished bunter, was asked to do what he does as well as anyone on the roster. But he missed two bunt attempts before he struck out.
"He threw me a high slider and I tried to get the bunt down and get the guys over," Castillo said. " I couldn't get it down, especially on that pitch. Things happen."
Wright fouled out, but there was no need for mea culpas from him. He had eight hits in 10 at-bats during the series before that at-bat.
And then Beltran hit the ground ball that Brunlett turned into the 27th out.
"I thought the ball was going through when I hit it. What can I say?" Beltran said. "He made a nice play. He was playing me a few steps toward the middle and he made a nice throw. I did my part and he did his part."
Beltran had done his part kin the sixth inning, as well, driving in two runs with a single off Adam Eaton, the pitcher the Mets can't beat. His single followed a leadoff triple by Reyes, Castillo's run-scoring, opposite-field single to left and Wright's fourth double of the series. Beltran's hit scored Castillo and Wright and forced Eaton from the game. Chad Durbin retired Carlos Delgado on a fly ball to the wall in left, but then allowed a soft single to right by Church.
Church's hit was enough to tie to the score. As it turned out, it wasn't enough to satisfy Wright.
"We came so close to what we wanted," Wright said. "I'll take it [prevailing in the series], but we're not satisfied."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.