Pelfrey's early struggles send Mets to loss
Right-hander touched for seven runs over just four innings
DENVER -- The Mets struck early in Tuesday's series opener with the Rockies, but their offense was too often inactive while their pitching proved porous in an 8-3 loss, their 11th in the past 15 games.
The Mets jumped to an early lead against the Rockies, with Angel Pagan singling from the leadoff spot to open the first. Pagan was thrown out at second when Luis Castillo followed by lining a would-be single to center field on a hit-and-run. Pagan had a great jump and rounded second before starting back to first, thinking the ball might have been caught. Going back over second toward first reactivated the force at second, and he was thrown out on a fielder's choice, robbing Castillo of a hit and the Mets of a runner in scoring position.
"He lost sight of the ball, didn't pick up the coaches and I guess his brain locked up on him," manager Jerry Manuel said. "We've done that a number of times this season, kind of shoot ourselves in the foot on the bases to some degree."
The big inning may have escaped them, but the Mets made something of the opportunity when David Wright followed with a single to left in his first at-bat after two weeks on the disabled list. Jeff Francoeur's sacrifice fly to center might have resulted in Castillo being thrown out at the plate if Carlos Gonzalez's throw hadn't hit the pitcher's mound, taking a big bounce over the catcher to the backstop. Fernando Tatis doubled Wright home to give the Mets a 2-0 edge.
"It was good to get back out there and see some pitching and be out there with my teammates," Wright said. "I wish we could have had a better result, but it was good to get back in the swing of things. I was seeing the ball well. I took some good swings -- a little rusty. But for the most part, I felt surprisingly good, considering I missed the last couple weeks."
Wright suffered a concussion when he was hit by a pitch on Aug. 15, and he sported a new helmet designed to absorb more impact in his return to the lineup.
If Pagan lost sight of the ball, his miscue was quickly upstaged by starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey losing sight of the strike zone. Pelfrey (9-10) walked five on the night, all contributing to run-scoring Rockies rallies.
Colorado got one run back in the bottom of the first inning, as Seth Smith legged out an infield single to short and Pelfrey walked three batters, two with two outs and one with the bases loaded, to bring the Rockies within one.
"I was embarrassed to be out there," Pelfrey said, saying he was frustrated at his "Jekyll and Hyde" inconsistency. "You got to tip your hat to the Rockies. I made mistakes, and they hit it. They're a good ballclub. I didn't belong on the field tonight. I was terrible."
The Rockies (73-59) took the lead in a strange second. It began innocently enough, with a Yorvit Torrealba single to center and Jorge De La Rosa's (13-9) sacrifice bunt. Gonzalez then sent his ninth homer of the season into the right-field seats over the out-of-town scoreboard for a 3-2 lead. Then Smith beat out an infield single that found first baseman Tatis diving toward second and throwing wildly from the ground. Todd Helton singled up the middle, and the throw from Pagan ended up in the Mets dugout, allowing Smith to score and sending Helton to third. Castillo fielded a ground ball from Troy Tulowitzki for the second out, running it all the way to first himself while the Rockies' cleanup hitter stood at home plate.
After retiring six in a row following Helton's single, Pelfrey issued a pair of one-out walks in the fourth followed by a no-doubt clout from Helton into the right-field seats for a three-run homer on Pelfrey's 89th pitch of the game. Pelfrey was out of the game after four frames, with seven runs -- six earned -- on his line courtesy of six hits and five walks.
"He's got really good stuff," Helton said in an effort to be diplomatic. "He's a really good pitcher who made a couple of mistakes. He was throwing bowling balls up there."
The Mets (59-73) struck in the seventh, adding a run on back-to-back triples from pinch-hitter Cory Sullivan and Pagan, but the Rockies got it back in the bottom of the inning when Sean Green walked the bases loaded, then walked in a run with pinch-hitter Jason Giambi at the plate in his first appearance for the Rockies.
Pelfrey's struggles with command are an admitted concern to Manuel, who gave the 25-year-old with 76 big league appearances under his belt the benefit of the doubt.
"Young pitchers are going to go through some struggles," Manuel said. "How long they last, you don't know. You hope he can learn and grow from these experiences."
The "Jekyll and Hyde" self-assessment from Pelfrey was in keeping with his manager's bewilderment at losing hitters after throwing the first two pitches in the at-bat for strikes.
"If you get ahead 0-2 and then you expand the zone but can't come back in the zone, then that's command," Manuel said. "That's what happened to him tonight in some of those instances -- he got 0-2 but wasn't able to finish the guy off. That's part of the growing pains, learning how to finish hitters off."
Pelfrey stepped up and took full responsibility, apologizing to his teammates as he continued to berate himself. But what Manuel wants to see is Pelfrey's ability to adapt after troublesome outings like Tuesday's.
"In all honesty, it would have to be a concern if we don't see some improvement [in his remaining starts]," Manuel said. "If we don't see any improvement, then we have to go in [to the offseason] with some concern about where we are and what direction to go. I do anticipate and expect for him to improve -- to show us that he can bounce back and become the pitcher that we all think he can be."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.