Big Apple offense on display in win
Mets break out of homerless streak in victory over Reds
NEW YORK -- Not all fantasy baseball involves computers, leagues, OPS and VORP (whatever that is). The game still has some real fantasy to it, as contradictory as that term seems. After the Mets had beaten Reds, winning, 9-7, on Sunday, Francisco Rodriguez packed one of those real fantasies into the bag he would take to St. Louis for the All-Star Game.
When he rejoins the Mets in Atlanta on Thursday, K-Rod hopes -- no, plans -- to have a home run on his big league resume. He intends to bat Tuesday night, swing from his heels at what will have to be a split-the-plate fastball and show the world his trot.
Rodriguez shared that thought Sunday, and when word of it spread through the Mets' emptying clubhouse, doubts were flowed like the Mississippi. But his countryman Johan Santana wasn't so quick to discount the possibility.
"You know anything can happen in this game," Santana said. "You can't rule anything out."
Santana's belief could be attributed to a pervasive sense in the clubhouse that all things are possible. If the Mets, such as they are, can amass 16 hits and nine runs and -- drum roll -- hit two home runs in one inning, then who can call K-Rod a dreamer?
They did all that in their high-scoring victory. The team that has struggled to score, struggled to be competitive and struggled to win for days won in its final game before the All-Star break, struggling all the way. Not only did the fourth-place Mets win and create the most modest of winning streaks -- they hadn't won back-to-back games since July 1 and 2 -- but they even ended their streak of games without a home run. Honest. Brian Schneider hit one, leading off the seventh inning, the team's first after 80 innings, and two batters later, pinch-hitter Fernando Tatis hit another.
Hits and runs (three of each by Luis Castillo), RBIs (three by Gary Sheffield) and two home runs after all those nasty zeroes -- the Mets' offense was the baseball equivalent of ketchup. Richard Alden wrote:
You shake and shake the ketchup bottle.
First none comes out, and then a lot'll.
"I think that got me in the mood," K-Rod said. "I can hit one, too."
The victory put the Mets' record at 42-45 and put the team 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Phillies with 75 games and untold fantasizing left in the season. The Mets, other than K-Rod, dared to dream on the day that, prior to the game, Jose Reyes ran without a readily discernible limp and Carlos Delgado made encouraging sounds with his bat in the cage. Such positive developments, even if their winning percentage is lower than .500 at the break for the first time since 2003.
Alas, whatever momentum is produced by two successive victories -- if any is produced at all -- has come at the least opportune time for the Mets, just as they are to begin their annual vacation. Not that they're complaining.
"I'm not sure it should end right now," winning pitcher Mike Pelfrey said. "We're just getting revved up."
The home runs, the 51st and 52nd for the team with the fewest home runs in the big leagues, weren't necessarily the highlight of a rousing afternoon at the park. The belated appearance of the cherished home run apple beyond center field delighted the gathering of 40,014. The giant fruit hadn't popped up for Tatis' fourth home run, in the seventh inning, prompting chants of "We want apple." But it did once the inning ended.
"It must have been a little rusty," said Jeff Francoeur.
The newest Met had familiarized himself with the Mets' homerless-ness. He knew the most recent home run before Sunday had come in Pittsburgh on July 2. Tatis, now responsible for two-thirds of the Mets' home runs this month, had hit it. Francoeur didn't know no Mets batter had hit a home run at Citi Field since June 26 when Sheffield hit one in the fifth inning against the Yankees.
The apple hadn't malfunctioned. It must be reset after it has made an appearance, and 2 1/2 minutes are required. The Mets will have to guard against home runs in bunches, or make sure the first slugger takes his time touching them all.
Some of the glee dissipated in the eighth and ninth innings when the Mets' lead, once 7-0, was reduced to three runs and then two runs. It was no time for apple turnover. There were planes to catch and vacations to enjoy. Sean Green, Pedro Feliciano and Bobby Parnell allowed hits to the first five Reds batters in the eighth. And the Citi swallowed hard. Rodriguez earned his 23rd save, though he allowed a hit, a walk and a run.
"That's what I know," the wannabe slugger said. "I give everyone ulcers and heart attacks and high blood pressure. That's what my wife says."
Pelfrey, who relishes ketchup, was the beneficiary of all this hitting and the flawed, but ultimately successful relief. He allowed five hits and two walks, all but two of the baserunners coming in the fifth inning when the Reds scored three times to trail, 7-3.
"[In the] second half, I've got to get away from the big innings," he said. "If I can do that, we can have a big second half."
Pelfrey has a 7-4 record and a sense that it should be three or four victories better. That isn't fantasy.
"We can be a better team with everyone back and the starters doing their jobs," he said. "When we hit like we did today, it makes everything easier on everyone."
"And," Rodriguez said, "once I start swinging ..."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.