Perez masters pinstriped batters
Southpaw helps Mets win season series against Bombers
NEW YORK -- The Mets' hope for a renaissance in the second half of their season was renewed on Sunday by a most dominating performance by Oliver Perez in the final game of the first half. Their hope, flickering even with the change of managers, became a full-fledged flame again when Perez put the Yankees' batting order in a straightjacket for seven innings and made himself the focal point of a rousing victory that enabled them to prevail in the season series against their intracity, Interleague opponents.
"I expect him to," Warthen said.
This wasn't some party line. If anything, it sounded off the mark. Perez has been the poster boy for pitching inconsistency throughout his tour with the Mets. Absolutely pendulum-ic. But after Warthen watched Perez limit the Yankees to one run on three hits and -- drum roll -- no walks, he was convinced that his new student had found comfort and confidence on the mound.
In his second week as the pitching coach, Warthen had allowed Perez to change his position on the rubber -- he moved from the third-base end to the middle -- and he also had adjusted Perez's delivery, so he would use his legs more and move from the rubber to the plate with greater force.
The result was rediscovered velocity -- Perez hit 94 mph with some consistency -- greater control, enhanced command, his second victory against the Yankees this season and his sixth victory in 17 starts overall.
Warthen came away convinced that Perez now is more capable of repeating his effort because of the changes. And that being the case, the coach said, it is more likely Perez can achieve the same level of performance, as well.
"Boy, that'd be great if he could," catcher Brian Schneider said. "If we get him going, it'd make huge difference. I hope that happens."
Schneider plans to give signals with his fingers crossed the next time Perez pitches.
Perez, too, seemed quite impressed by the effect of the changes. With nary a mention of Warthen's predecessor, Rick Peterson, he said: "Sometimes, I would have no fun. Today, I was more relaxed and enjoyed the game. Sometimes, I [didn't] enjoy the game. I was excited to be the real me [Sunday]." He indicated he had tried to "be a different pitcher. ... Sometimes I [was] trying to be too fine, and sometimes I am like today. This is the real Ollie."
The Mets only can hope what they saw was real, and that it remains.
Facing the Yankees' predominantly right-handed-hitting batting order -- no Jason Giambi, Robinson Cano or Bobby Abreu -- Perez raised his record to 6-5 and helped the Mets move back to within one game of a .500 winning percentage at the midpoint of the season. His career record against the Yankees now is 5-1 in six starts. He has won each of his four starts against them since joining the Mets.
Moreover, his victory was the Mets' fourth in six intraborough games this season. The only other time they prevailed in the season series against the Yankees was in 2004, when they swept the three games at Shea Stadium. The Mets finished their Interleague schedule with a 9-6 record and put their all-time Interleague record at 100-96.
Limited to two runs in 18 innings in the two weekend games that followed their 15-6 thrashing of the Yankees on Friday afternoon, the Mets scored in the second and third innings against losing pitcher Darrell Rasner (4-6). Luis Castillo drove in the first run with a bases-loaded infield single, and Carlos Delgado hit his 14th home run of the season in the third for the second run. He hit three in the four weekend games against the Yankees.
The third run scored against Yankees reliever David Robertson, who was making his big league debut, came in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by David Wright, which put his team-high RBI total at 64. Wright has 15 RBIs in his most recent 14 games. The Mets had 12 hits, two by Ryan Church in his first game back after an extended time on the disabled list.
Perez found peril only twice in his second seven-inning workday in his past eight starts. He didn't allow a run until Wilson Betemit crushed a home run to left field with two outs in the seventh inning. The previous instance came in the fourth, with the Mets leading, 2-0. He had retired his first 10 batters, six by strikeout, when Derek Jeter singled sharply. The first pitch to Alex Rodriguez was wild and moved Jeter to second.
Perez fell behind, 3-1, before A-Rod hit a monstrous foul ball. After three more fouls, Rodriguez became the seventh of Perez's eight strikeouts.
"That's one of those confrontations you love to watch," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "It's kind of why you play the Subway Series, for memories of things like that."
But in the clubhouse afterward, the Yankees hardly were a topic. The first eight games of the Mets' second half are in St. Louis and Philadelphia, and they're against the teams they must catch if they are to win the National League Wild Card or the NL East crown. The Mets hardly have distinguished themselves since Manuel replaced Willie Randolph -- their record is 6-6 since then.
And as uplifted as the Mets were by Perez's performance and by winning, they weren't identifying anything that happened on Sunday as an impetus for some surge.
"We've had a lot of games that we thought could [be one]," Wright said last week.
They've stopped looking for a reversal, aware it would be more beneficial to produce one.
"But this would be a good time for one," Manuel said.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.