Mets fall in ninth on long night in Atlanta
After Santos' clutch homer, Murphy's error proves costly
ATLANTA -- Of course the injuries have been vexing, but the Mets can do little to combat them. Fundamental mistakes are another matter. Healthy players have little excuse.
Yet as this season enters its final stage, the Mets continue to commit the kinds of fundamental errors that prompt managers to scratch their heads. Physical errors, such as the one Daniel Murphy committed to end Wednesday's game in the bottom of the ninth, are forgivable. But mental errors, such as the one that set up the winning rally, are not.
What resulted was a 6-5 loss to the Braves, the fourth consecutive defeat for the Mets and their eighth in nine games.
Tied heading into the bottom of the ninth, the Mets found trouble when Garret Anderson skipped a hard ground ball over the first-base bag, directly past Murphy, who was guarding the line. Murphy did not dive for the ball, which was within his reach, but did whirl around to argue with first-base umpire Dan Iassogna.
"Foul," was Murphy's only comment after the game, though video replays showed otherwise.
Regardless of opinion, the result was a double. Anderson scored the tying run four batters later on Omar Infante's sacrifice fly, then the Braves won it when Murphy committed a game-ending fielding error on Ryan Church's grounder with men on first and second and two outs.
"Inexcusable," Murphy said. "I've got to make that play. It's a play I make 100 times. I booted it tonight, and we lost the ballgame because of it."
"I hate that for him," Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "That's every first baseman's nightmare."
After the game, though, both manager Jerry Manuel and the losing pitcher, Francisco Rodriguez, were far more critical of Murphy's play on Anderson's leadoff double. Entering the inning, Murphy was hugging the right-field line in a classic no-doubles defensive alignment. The idea is that even if Anderson hits a perfectly-placed ball down the line -- which he did -- the first baseman can at least put a glove on it and hold him to a single.
Yet Murphy did not do that, instead letting the ball skip past him. And so the tying run stood on second base with no outs.
"I don't know how that ball got through," Rodriguez said. "To me, on my side, it looked like it was a foul ball all the way. But regardless of whether it was a foul ball or not, that ball cannot go through. You've got to stop it some way or somehow.
"After that, everything pretty much fell apart."
The play and the inning spoiled what might have been an uplifting victory for the Mets, instead underscoring all that has gone wrong.
Think back to Boston, over the fourth weekend in May, when Bobby Parnell -- then pitching in relief -- teased triple digits on the radar gun to outshine Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. A day later, Omir Santos, still relatively new to the Mets, proved his worth by drilling a game-winning homer off Papelbon in the Saturday matinee.
It is hardly a secret that in the ensuing four months, much has changed. Parnell is now in the rotation, though Wednesday's start may have been his last. And Santos' late-inning homers are no longer holding up. In the eighth inning Wednesday, Santos hit a similar game-changing homer, but the Mets could not hang onto the ensuing 5-4 lead.
It was all enough to mask the early efforts of Parnell, who walked three batters, allowed four runs and gave Manuel few compelling reasons to keep him in the rotation.
"I just wasn't getting ahead of hitters," Parnell said. "I was trying to be too fine."
Earlier this week, Manuel hinted that Parnell's Wednesday start could be his last of the season. Though the Mets will continue to evaluate Parnell as a starting pitcher during winter ball in Venezuela, they currently employ five other starters in a six-man rotation. And because Parnell's future may lie in the bullpen, the Mets, with no other convenient option, may simply put him back there now.
"For me, the jury is still out," Manuel said prior to Wednesday's game. "I've seen glimpses of what I think would be a solid starter, and I've seen glimpses of what I think would be a tremendous setup guy."
Excepting a mid-90s fastball that would shine in either capacity, Parnell on Wednesday showed few glimpses of the skill set needed to thrive in the Majors. The few times Parnell threw his secondary pitches behind in the count -- to Church in the second inning, for example -- he did not find success.
That three of Parnell's four strikeouts came on sliders was hardly consolation. Already knowing that Parnell has the ability to throw nasty pitches ahead in the count, Manuel wanted to see such command in less favorable situations.
Instead, the Braves were able to lay off Parnell's breaking pitches and correctly time his fastballs, tagging him for seven hits and drawing three walks in just 3 1/3 innings.
A team of six relievers did their best to shut down the Braves after that, until the mistakes of the ninth inning sent the Mets to defeat.
Asked afterward when he thought such misfortune might end, Manuel simply shrugged.
"I guess in a couple weeks," he said.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.