Lack of fundamentals haunts Mets
Club loses focus as offensive well runs dry in Chicago
CHICAGO -- Nelson Figueroa called it the play of the game. Mets manager Willie Randolph called it a missed opportunity. Carlos Delgado basically called it bad luck.
In essence, it was a test of a team's grasp of fundamental baseball, and the Mets didn't pass.
The play was in the fourth, with the Cubs holding a one-run lead. Ted Lilly, the Cubs starter, hit a ground ball between first and second with two outs, and Figueroa and Delgado miscommunicated on who was covering first, allowing Lilly to reach base. The next batter, Reed Johnson, hit a two-run bloop single, and just like that, the Cubs had a three-run lead.
After that, all it took was another late meltdown by the Mets bullpen and one more questionable fielding play for the Cubs to roll to an easy 8-1 win Tuesday. The Cubs swept the two-game series at Wrigley Field by a score of 15-2. The Mets have lost three straight since winning five in a row.
"We've had some lack-of-focus plays," Randolph said. "We can't make mistakes like that. Our bullpen is struggling right now, and giving them extra outs makes it more difficult. The Cubs are playing well and swinging the bats well, but if we give them opportunities like that, we end up paying for it, to say the least."
Ronny Cedeno hit a grand slam off Jorge Sosa in the eighth and drove in a career-high five runs. The Mets gave up nine runs combined in the last two eighth innings. In Monday's 7-1 win, The Cubs scored five in the frame -- two on a Cedeno hit and three more on a homer from Felix Pie.
Figueroa (1-1) got out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the second, but he wasn't so lucky in the fourth. Kosuke Fukudome singled with one out, and Cedeno drove him in with a double. Figueroa gave a free pass to Henry Blanco with two outs and first base open, and then Lilly hit a soft grounder to Delgado's right.
The first baseman tried to make a play for the ball instead of going back to the bag. Figueroa said he was watching the play develop, excited he got a ground ball. Easley got the ball, but by the time Figueroa got to the bag, Lilly had him beat.
"I take all responsibility for that," Figueroa said. "I should've put my head down and ran. ... That was the biggest play of the game. It could've been 1-0 instead of 3-0 on a bloop single."
Delgado said he was just playing too far off the line against a pitcher who hadn't collected a hit since last September, and he realized too late that Easley had a better shot. Randolph blamed his first baseman for the mistake.
"He [got] caught in-between, and I guess he thought he had a chance to get the ball," Randolph said. "In that situation, you cover the bag and know where your fielder is. You need to come back to first base. It gave them the opening they needed."
Figueroa gave up three runs on five hits and five walks (one intentional) in five innings. He left after giving up a single in the sixth.
"He shows poise, and he competes," Randolph said of Pedro Martinez's replacement. "He's been a nice, nice pickup for us. He did what he had to do to keep us in the game." The Mets hitters couldn't solve Lilly (1-3) at the plate, let alone in the field. The veteran left-hander, struggling this season, limited them to one run on four hits and four walks in six innings. Bob Howry and Carlos Marmol combined for two perfect innings before Cedeno's first career grand slam all but wrapped it up.
The Mets had just five hits and scored their lone run in the sixth on Brady Clark's fielder's choice grounder. On Monday, they scored their only run on a double play. The Mets were without Ryan Church, Brian Schneider and Luis Castillo.
"Offensively, right now we're not clicking," said Mets third baseman David Wright, who went 0-for-6 in the series. "We had a few regulars not in there today, but we can't get anything going offensively. The few times we do, we can't get that big hit, and we can't drive in that big run."
The Cubs led, 4-1, going into the bottom of the eighth, when they loaded the bases with one out against Sosa. Playing in, Jose Reyes got a sharp ground ball and immediately went home for the forceout instead of going for the double play. Cedeno then lifted his first homer of the season to deep left, and it was another example of a pebble turning into a boulder.
"You've got to read that," Randolph said. "That was a routine double play. Obviously he was locked into throwing the ball home. ... He didn't make the right call there."
Jon Greenberg is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.