Mets fall to Cards in 14 frames
Bullpen taxed in tough loss; Delgado goes deep twice
NEW YORK -- The first five Cardinals batters reached base, and four of them scored. Early indications were it was going to be a long night for the Mets. After five innings, though, the Mets led. Perhaps it would become a Knight to remember. But by the end of the sixth inning, it looked more like a night to forget. And finally, by the time the Mets and Cardinals had said "good night" early Sunday morning, it was a long night -- 14 innings -- and hardly a good evening for the first-place team in the National League East.
The Mets did overcome a four-run deficit, something they hadn't done since last summer. And they offset one of three runs as well. But the two-run home run Albert Pujols hit against Aaron Heilman in the 14th demanded more resilience than they could muster. So their latest winning streak ended at three games with a 10-8 defeat that also reduced their division lead to one game, overtaxed their bullpen and prompted recall of one of Casey Stengel's best lines: "It wasn't good, but at least it was long."
Five hours, nine minutes long, as long as a game-deciding home run into the bleachers in left-center field. Too long for the Mets' bullpen, specifically Heilman; just long enough for the Cardinals'. So long that Oliver Perez, the scheduled starter Tuesday night, warmed up for the 15th.
Heilman (1-4) was the Mets' seventh reliever. He pitched more than two innings for the first time since May 2006. He threw 57 pitches. One of them, the 2-0 offering to Pujols, had too much of the plate and too much of the bat. "I was trying to get back into the count," Heilman said, "by making quality pitches down in the zone. But I left one up to Albert, so he could get his arms extended."
Heilman said he wasn't tired. "Once I get my arm going, it doesn't matter if I throw 30 or 130 pitches. My arm feels pretty much the same." Still, the 14th was his last inning -- win, lose or tie score.
The home run, Pujols' 19th and the seventh allowed by Heilman in what for him is now 56 2/3 innings, came after a one-out single by Skip Schumaker, his sixth hit, and a strikeout of Ryan Ludwick. It wasn't the ending the Mets had expected, not after overcoming deficits of 4-0 and 8-5, not after Fernando Tatis had tied the score, leading off the ninth inning with a home run against Ryan Franklin.
"Some games, you just sense you're going to win," Heilman said. "Sometimes you're wrong."
He was the losing pitcher, but hardly the reason the Mets lost. "I have to applaud Aaron for his effort," Jerry Manuel said. "He stepped up big for us, sucking up those innings. And we had our shots."
The Mets left six runners on base over the 10th, 11th and 12th innings. They left 16 runners on over all. The Cardinals left 17. But the Mets had 16 at-bats -- but only one hit -- with runners in scoring position.
Three of their runs came from Carlos Delgado, who hit two home runs, the second coming in the sixth, with a runner on base, after the Cardinals had scored four times against Carlos Muniz and Joe Smith in the top of the inning. The home runs were his 21st and 22nd of the season, the 452nd and 453rd of his career -- he now ranks 32nd all-time in career home runs -- and the seventh and eighth of his remarkable July renaissance. He has driven in 31 runs in his recent 26 games.
Jose Reyes contributed doubles in his first two at-bats, hit his 12th home run in the fourth and led off the 10th with a single. Tatis had a run-scoring double in addition to his sixth home run. Four of the six have tied the score or put the Mets ahead. Three have come in the eighth inning or later.
But most of what he, Delgado and Reyes did was either too little or too late to help Brandon Knight, their journeyman starting pitcher. Making his first big league start -- it was his first big league appearance since his 11 relief appearances with the Yankees in 2001 and '02 -- Knight was removed after five innings with a chance to win. Reyes' bases empty home run leading of the fourth against starter Joel Pineiro had afforded him a 5-4 lead.
But, really, his chance to win had been undermined already by an unbecoming first inning. He had allowed a single, hit a batter, two more singles -- one a fly ball to the wall in right field by Pujols that was badly misjudged by Endy Chavez -- a walk, a sacrifice fly and a soft single -- four runs
From that point on, he was as Manuel said "somewhat serviceable." The off-day Thursday allows the Mets to make a turn of their rotation with four pitchers -- no Pedro Martinez and probably no Knight. Chosen as a member of the Olympic team, he is to report Tuesday. It's doubtful the Mets will stand in his way. "Bottom line, I'm happy to be here," he said, emphasizing the last word.
He saw more baseball than he had expected, more than either team could afford. Heilman, who pitched Friday night, is unavailable for Sunday, so too Billy Wagner, who threw two scoreless innings -- without a strikeout. The Mets need eight or nine innings from Johan Santana on Sunday. "I think the other [relievers] might be OK," Manuel said. "We'll check, but we should be OK -- for a nine-inning game."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.