Mets turn fortunes around in win
Maine locks down second victory as team busts through slump
NEW YORK -- Scrawled on the message board near the door to the Mets' clubhouse each day is the pregame agenda; nothing fancy, just the facts, the what and when of it. An outsider might find the terminology a bit odd at times. The information the Mets read upon arrival Saturday, for instance, was this: "Report: 11:30. No hitting. Game: 1:10."
All snide remarks aside -- "No hitting" was neither a commentary on the Mets' performance on Friday nor a cynic's view of their pending afternoon engagement against the Braves. The second entry was merely clubhouse jargon that meant no batting practice -- a normal state of affairs for a day game preceded by a night game.
As it turned out, the Mets saved their swings for the more critical afternoon engagement -- the third inning, specifically -- and for Tim Hudson, of all people. Not that they crushed the Braves' starting pitcher, who often has been unkind to and unrelenting against them. But they did produce enough sustained offense to beat Hudson and the Braves and beat back the feeling of team inadequacy that had begun to develop.
Not only was the offense sufficient -- it hadn't been for five of the previous six games -- but the Mets' pitchers were wise enough to allow no more than three runs, thereby tricking the Braves into a no-win situation -- a one-run game. The Braves can't win 'em -- they're winless in eight one-run games this season. So the 4-3 victory, the Mets' only victory of any sort against the Braves this season, was one resulting from hitting and cleverness, not to mention significantly improved relief pitching.
Moreover, it was a pretty good game, in stark contrast to its immediate predecessor. And it was it was a good, therapeutic day for all.
Manager Willie Randolph had afforded Carlos Delgado Friday night off, at least partially, as a mental health day. No such day can be staged for teams or bullpens though. So the Mets created one of their own, with their manager's blessing, of course.
"Wins are good for your mental health, yes," David Wright said. He had ended the longest hitless streak of his career -- 19 at-bats -- with a single that set up the rally.
"We still can put together a pretty good effort once in a while," Billy Wagner said with sarcasm and a smile. He had secured the victory by retiring the side in order in the ninth inning -- it was his ninth hitless inning in nine appearances -- and gaining his fifth save.
"It feels good to beat a good team and a good pitcher," Aaron Heilman said. He had pitched the sixth inning, the first of the team's four relief innings and was slick enough to set the trap for the Braves; he allowed the third run. They don't call him "Wall Street" for nothing.
The relievers who succeeded Heilman -- Scott Schoeneweis, Pedro Feliciano, Duaner Sanchez and Wagner -- allowed the Braves two baserunners in three innings.
So almost everything was good for these Mets of remarkable inconsistency -- everything, save John Maine's pitching shortfall. His workday ended after five innings, partially because of cramping in his right wrist, partially because he already had thrown 100 pitches.
Maine wasn't delighted, but his work did qualify him for a second victory. No complaints.
He walked three, struck out seven and allowed three hits. Before striking out Kelly Johnson, his final batter, Maine met on the mound with Willie Randolph and trainer Ray Ramirez. The cramps, he said, developed because he needed to rub up each new baseball to eliminate the slick feeling caused by lack of humidity.
"It wasn't the [number of] pitches -- it was how much I had to rub," Maine said.
With him gone, the relievers were left with considerable responsibility on the final day of a week in which they had neither distinguished themselves nor extinguished too may rallies. The 'pen was quite guilty in losses that ended with 7-1 and 8-1 scores in Chicago and a 10-5 score in Washington.
Thought Sanchez pitched the least -- he faced one batter -- his work was as much a focal point as that of any of his bullpen colleagues. He replaced Feliciano in the eighth with one out, one runner on base and Jeff Francoeur batting. His fifth pitch became a handsome 6-4-3 double play.
Neither Sanchez nor Randolph made much of the timing of the reliever's participation. Randolph still says he will use his relievers as situations dictate. But Heilman pitching in the sixth inning again and Sanchez's pitching in the eighth have people thinking the bullpen has roles.
"I'm just happy to be able to pitch," Sanchez said. "It's fun to be involved."
He had a lead to protect because Hudson (3-2) wasn't as stingy as he usually is. The Mets who didn't drive in a run with a hit in losing, 6-3, on Friday, had two run-scoring hits against him in the third. After one out, Endy Chavez singled to right field. Wright then put a single in the right-side hole made wider by first baseman Mark Teixeira holding Chavez. Hudson made the mistake of pitching Wright away. The smart hitter takes what the pitcher and defense give him.
With Chavez at second, Carlos Beltran scored both runners with a well-struck double, his third extra-base hit batting left-handed. A triple by Ryan Church scored Beltran.
Delgado, starting after his one-game vacation, hit a soft dribbler that Teixeira fielded on the foul line in front of first base. It might have bounced foul had Teixeira not played it. Delgado stopped, then ran onto the infield grass to avoid Teixeira as Church scored the fourth run.
Just like that, four runs.
Just like that, a victory and more mental health. The Mets hadn't been desperate for one -- perhaps that was the problem -- but they knew another loss would hurt more than a victory would help. Not losing was the only prudent course of action.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.