Mets brushed aside by surging Braves
Pelfrey gives up four runs; bats hit into three double plays
NEW YORK -- Presumably, the only common ground between Mike Pelfrey and Tim Hudson is the sinker. Hudson is a 148-game winner, fourth among active pitchers in winning percentage. Pelfrey has 12 defeats this year alone, a total matching Hudson's highest in an 11-year career.
Both throw a sinker as their signature pitch, though Hudson has apparently mastered the art better than Pelfrey. That much was on stark display Wednesday night at Citi Field, when Hudson's three double plays marked the difference between his strong outing and Pelfrey's mediocre one.
"I thought I used to be able to do that," Pelfrey said.
Aside from the three double plays, the key components in a 5-2 Mets loss to the Braves, the lines of Hudson and Pelfrey were strikingly similar. Both threw six innings. Both endured defensive errors that increased their labor. Both allowed nine hits.
But when Hudson reached the verge of cracking, he unleashed his double play pitches -- one to nab speedsters Luis Castillo and Angel Pagan in the fourth, another off the bat of Daniel Murphy in the fifth, and yet another from Anderson Hernandez in the sixth. All the while, Hudson allowed just two runs.
When Pelfrey reached the verge of cracking, he cracked. Three RBI singles, a fielding error and a sacrifice fly led to four runs in the third and fourth innings, the last of them coming after Garret Anderson fell millimeters shy of a two-run home run. Rather than induce ground balls with his sinker, Pelfrey served up line drives and base hits. Hudson did not.
"It wasn't a dominating, perfect kind of night," Hudson said. "But these are the kinds of nights, as a pitcher, that you really like, because you go out there and battle and feel like you've given the team a good chance to win."
The result was a similar one for Pelfrey: mediocrity. In his second full big league season -- one in which the Mets expected him to hold onto the significant gains he made a year ago -- Pelfrey has quite consistently struggled. In addition to losing more games than he has won, Pelfrey (10-12) has delivered quality starts -- six or more innings with three or fewer runs -- just seven times since the start of June. His ERA has risen steadily throughout that period, now resting at 5.08.
Perhaps more troubling -- or perhaps the justification for his troubles -- is that Pelfrey has induced just 15 double plays this season. Last year, he had 29 of them.
After Wednesday's game, Mets manager Jerry Manuel suggested that perhaps Pelfrey is in need of the extended sort of mental break that this offseason will provide. Expected to develop into an ace, Pelfrey has instead endured the most disappointing season of his professional career. He could use a breather.
"I definitely need a break, a chance to clear my head and come back next year ready to go," Pelfrey said. "I think any way you look at it, I've had a bad year."
Hudson, by contrast, has had a short one. Making just his fifth start back from Tommy John elbow ligament reconstruction surgery, the former 20-game winner won for the second time and lowered his ERA to 3.56. David Wright called it "pretty impressive." Manuel acknowledged simply that "that's the type of pitcher he is." But Pelfrey watched Hudson and saw the picture of what he would like to become.
"He was able to limit the damage by keeping the ball down and using that good sinker," Pelfrey said of Hudson. "He made big pitches when he had to, which is important."
Pelfrey, of course, is far from the only Met unable to come through in key spots. Every Met is guilty of more than a few transgressions, from the egregious -- Castillo dropping a fly ball, Ryan Church running over a base -- to the chronic. Consider that the Mets have now lost eight straight to the Braves, their longest streak since 1982-83.
Then again, Pelfrey's shortcomings are magnified because he has been one of the few healthy Mets -- the only Mets starter who has pitched every fifth day for the better part of six months.
That much is a credit to him. But it has left him with an extended sense of disappointment.
"It's like going to work every day and having a bad day," Pelfrey said. "At the end of the day, it's not fun unless you win."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.