Mets take finale behind strong Figueroa
Backed by balanced offense, starter fans career-high 10
CHICAGO -- The Mets' pitchers kept the baseball within the Friendly Confines on Sunday afternoon and rediscovered what an effective strategy that can be. They determined no home runs allowed and no loss suffered constitutes cause and effect. So rewarding was their day, they are quite inclined to apply the same tactic again sometime soon. They might have something there.
With the notorious Wrigley Field winds serving as an ally and Nelson Figueroa pitching as well as he ever has in his uneven tenure with the team, the Mets beat the Cubs to avoid a series sweep and prompt their free-thinking right fielder to draw a conclusion: "We're a good getaway team," Jeff Francoeur said. Now they have to work on the earlier games.
The 4-1 victory was, by the mark-on-a-curve standards the Mets had established through their first 130 games, a thing of beauty. Figueroa pitched into the eighth inning. The bullpen, namely Brian Stokes and Frankie Rodriguez, achieved six outs with only minimal resistance, the batting order created sustained offense during two innings and, for the first time in three games, no one allowed a home run on an 0-2 pitch.
See, there is progress.
The most conspicuous progress was made by Figueroa, who -- for one game at least -- spelled his first name with a silent letter: K-Nelson. He struck out 10, a career high, while pitching into the eighth for the fourth time in 43 career starts. Moreover, he beat the Cubs for the first time in five career starts -- he had been the losing pitcher in three of the first four -- and won for the first time in four starts this season after losing the first three.
The Cubs produced their run on a walk and two singles before the first inning was five batters old. But they managed merely four singles, a walk and a hit batsman thereafter and caused no stirring in the Mets' bullpen until the seventh. By then, the offense had cut down losing pitcher Carlos Zambrano with a series of jabs -- no knockout punch, of course -- and nearly reached their modest average run production per game, 4.19.
Figueroa (2-3) struck out three in the first inning and two in the second and third.
"I thought he was going for 27," bullpen coach Randy Niemann said, his arithmetic a tad flawed.
"He had his offspeed stuff working today," Jake Fox, the Cubs' grand slam hero on Saturday, said. "He struck me out three times, and he struck me out on three different pitches."
"I took advantage of their aggressive swings," Figueroa said. "[Catcher Brian] Schneider put down the right fingers, and I was able to do some of the things I do well -- get ahead and expand the zone."
Figueroa allowed a tainted infield single by Milton Bradley to begin the eighth -- first baseman Daniel Murphy essentially interfered with what would have been a 4-1 groundout -- and was removed. Stokes threw six pitches, producing a double play and a popup, and left the rest for K-Rod, the underutilized closer.
The ninth was a tad eventful, but Rodriguez, pitching for the first time in five days, earned a save, his 28th, for the first time in nine days. He had no opportunities in between. The job of occasional closer doesn't appeal to him.
"I was better than I thought I'd be," he said.
The Mets scored twice in the third on four hits, with Murphy and Francoeur driving in the runs against Zambrano. A triple by Anderson Hernandez, the Mets' lone extra-base hit, and a single by Figueroa produced two runs in the fourth. Before his departure with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth, Zambrano (7-6) had allowed nine hits in an 11-batter sequence. And one of the two outs he achieved nearly reached the warning track.
But the wind wouldn't allow for any long ball on this crisp and cool -- 57 degrees -- afternoon. Just as well. The Mets don't hit a lot of them regardless of the wind's direction.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.