Mets let lead, game get away in loss
'Pen loses advantage in eighth when Cubs score four runs
CHICAGO -- The game can be so enjoyable and rewarding, and it can be so exasperating and torturously cruel, some times in the same half hour. So it was on Friday afternoon for a Mets left-handed pitcher of meager resume and high aspirations representing a team with similar characteristics. Pat Misch was so close to his first big league victory his olfactory senses could readily distinguish its sweet fragrance from the prevailing eau de Wrigley.
Perhaps that was why Misch wore a peculiar and bemused expression after the Mets' latest defeat, a 5-2 loss to the party-pooper Cubs. Some semblance of a smile was evident and so was disappointment. A Mona Lisa or something akin to the strained smirk of Mike Mussina when he lost his perfect game on that Sunday night in Fenway eight years ago.
The stakes were much lower Friday. The Mets needed merely six outs for Misch to become a winning pitcher for the first time in his big league career. Then, before a second out was achieved, that possibility left the Friendly Confines as if the notorious winds off the lake had interfered. The chance that Misch would emerge as the winner had been eliminated a moment earlier, when the Cubs tied the score at 2. And once Alfonso Soriano made contact with an 0-2 slider from Brian Stokes, the chance the Mets would win was purged as well.
It's what happens to teams with modest talent. Two pitchers performing well one after the other sometimes is too much to ask. Indeed, the same truth played out for the Cubs, though less dramatically. Ted Lilly had limited the Mets to a run on six hits and two walks in 7 1/3 innings. But he barely had taken a seat in the third-base dugout when his successor, Kevin Gregg, the winning pitcher, surrendered a run-scoring double by Fernando Tatis that afforded Misch his chance at a pitching line that read: seven innings, five hits, one run, two walks, two strikeouts and one win.
The numbers stood. But that "W" washed up on Lake Shore Drive. And now Misch remains winless in his big league career -- his record is 0-8 -- and he holds a somewhat arcane distinction. He is one of two big league pitchers who have begun their careers with 12 starts in which their respective teams have lost 12 times. The other is John Cummings of the 1993-1994 Mariners.
It's not that distinction that wore on Misch after he had made his first big league start since June 2008. He is a native of Illinois and hardly unfamiliar with the Cubs and Wrigley. Winning in the Confines would have delighted him were it not his first victory.
"I've watched a lot of people play here," is how he described it.
His pregame nourishment also was indicative of how he approached this one.
"I couldn't eat a thing," he said. "And I usually eat a lot before I pitch."
What he did eat stayed down, even after Stokes' hanging slider changed the course of his afternoon.
"That's baseball," Misch said, that ambivalent expression quite evident.
"He does have that in-between look," pitching coach Dan Warthen said. "The first time you see it, you're not sure."
But you could make a pretty good guess Friday.
Misch never had pitched seven innings in his 11 previous starts. He never had allowed fewer hits, and he had allowed one run one time. So he had done his best and come away with his seventh no-decision.
"No-decisions are like kissing your ugly sister," one time Met Pat Zachry once said.
The loss was reflected in Stokes' record, 1-3, of course, and in his postgame demeanor and comments.
"Right pitch, bad execution, and they made me pay for it," he said.
Stokes hadn't allowed a run in 12 2/3 innings. But he surrendered a leadoff double to Milton Bradley and a warning-track fly ball by Derrek Lee that allowed Bradley to advance to third base. With the infield in, Aramis Ramirez singled to left to tie the score. After a walk to Jeff Baker, Soriano hit his 20th home run, to left-center field.
The Mets had taken a 2-1 lead in the previous half inning when Angel Pagan led off with a double, a second ball played poorly by left fielder Soriano, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and, after Lilly's walk to Daniel Murphy and Gregg's strikeout of Jeff Francoeur, Tatis' well-struck double. The hit was, remarkably, Tatis' second in 38 at-bats with two out and runners in scoring position. Murphy was thrown out at the plate on the play. But when Soriano hit his home run, the out at the plate meant little.
The Mets had scored in the second inning when they put three of their six hits against Lilly together -- a leadoff double by Francoeur, a single to center by Tatis and a tainted base hit to right field by Omir Santos. Beleaguered right fielder Bradley and Baker converged on Santos' pop fly and either might have caught it, though the play was Bradley's to make. But the ball fell to the Wrigley grass, and the score was tied. A one-out double by Bradley and a single by Lee had produced the Cubs' run in the previous half inning.
Little of that mattered when Stokes' pitch caught too much plate and too much wood. Neither the Cubs, winners of seven of their past 21, nor the Mets, winners of nine of their past 29, are playing well. The starters for each team pitched well enough to win. And neither bullpen prospered. But the Cubs hit a three-run home run. The Mets couldn't compete with that.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.