Murphy comes to Johan's rescue
Five RBIs -- after review -- make ace's control issues moot
NEW YORK -- When the Mets' injuries, the resulting absences and their too frequent mindlessness are removed so as not to obscure the bottom line, they look pretty good. Some folks might consider their 17 victories in 24 games an authentic rampage. So are these, then, the rampaging Mets? They are, at the very least, the first-place Mets again -- not that such status matters much in May. And at this juncture in their season, they are most readily identified as the victorious and video-validated Mets, almost as successful on the field as they are in the small rooms adjacent to it where their home runs are reviewed and, it seems, routinely approved.
More evidence of their dual success was demonstrated Wednesday evening in a peculiar game at Citi Field. They extended two streaks, completing a three-game sweep of the Nationals with a 7-4 victory and, for the fourth time in five days -- and the fifth time this season -- prevailing in a video review.
The two streaks intersected the sixth inning when Daniel Murphy hit -- and the Nationals disputed -- a two-run home run that would stand as the focal point and turning point of the victory. But even the home run was somewhat obscured by other developments that had players and observers scratching their scalps: a career-first four-walk inning by Johan Santana, a career-first four-strikeout game by David Wright, a mammoth home run by Adam Dunn and some Bronx cheers for rookie Fernando Martinez in his second game in Queens.
Santana called it "The craziest game ever," and no one disputed his exaggerated claim.
"It was weird," Santana said. "We were fortunate to win. I've never seen anything like that."
He was struck mostly by the strike zone -- slim and variable -- of home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook and his inability to throw his pitches through it. It was the strikeout-to-walk ratio, 11-6, that most unsettled him.
"How do you have a game with that many strikeouts and so many walks?" Santana said. "I've never had a game like that, I don't think." He hadn't, nor had Wright ever worn a sombrero of that size. Nor had anyone hit a ball so far in a game at Citi Field as the one Dunn launched in the third inning. Nor have many players driven in five runs, as Murphy did, after driving in one in the preceding 52 at-bats. Nor had many rookies incurred the wrath of the home fans so early in their first big league tour. And the home run-or-not issue of Murphy's fly ball only made the evening stranger.
"Some crazy kind of baseball game -- wow!" Santana said. "So many parts were unusual."
Murphy's home run against Jordan Zimmermann came after Santana had thrown the last of his 120 pitches, but it enabled the Mets' ace to emerge from his most flawed 2009 performance to date with a chance to gain his seventh victory. The decision to remove Santana had been made after he had allowed three hits, three runs and more walks than in all but three other starts among his 219.
Murphy, who had merely six hits in his previous 49 at-bats, hit his fourth home run after Zimmermann had issued a leadoff walk to Gary Sheffield. The home run nearly reached the seats in the second deck in right field, ricocheting off the yellow Subway sign on the overhang, well above the home run line. The white ball on yellow background and where the ball struck after its descent confused the issue.
"I didn't think there was any way that the ball could have been a homer," Dunn, the right fielder, said.
But replays clearly showed where the ball struck.
"I feel like the system worked tonight like it's supposed to work," umpire crew chief Larry Vanover said. "The light color of the sign and the trajectory of the ball -- and all of a sudden, the ball disappears. It was a very difficult call. It was a consensus of the crew consultation and the replays."
Murphy's view of the home run was scarcely better than that of the umpires. He was running, but he knew he had made good contact. Sheffield believed the ball was home run and downshifted as he approached third base. He was called out as he tried to score. The out was nullified by the appeal. Sheffield had a home run approved in appeal Monday night.
Martinez was caught not running, too. He hit a popup in front of the plate with a runner on base in the sixth and watched it. Catcher Wil Nieves misplayed the ball, but reliever Ron Villone retrieved it and threw out Martinez at first base. The rookie was booed when he batted in the following inning.
"I feel bad," Martinez said. "I promise that will never happen again," he said. "I'm sorry, to my fans."
Jerry Manuel all but exonerated Martinez, saying, "It was a huge mistake, but I don't see that as part of his behavior."
But it was one more entry a too-long list of Mets baserunning misdemeanors this season. It's not an epidemic, perhaps -- "I hope it's not that," Manuel said -- but it is a rap sheet.
The only question about the game's other home run was whether Dunn's shot had landed. It cleared the bullpens in right center and reached the bridge beyond them. The distance traveled was estimated at 465 feet.
"No review necessary," Santana said. "I've given up a few like that."
He recalled one hit by Alex Rodriguez in the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Former teammate Torii Hunter, the center fielder "just watched it like this," Santana said, not moving his feet and bending backwards. "Now I've given up the longest one ever [at Citi Field]. It was a good one. How long do you think it will be the longest one here? Probably 'til I hit one longer."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.