Mets' heartfelt effort ends in heartbreak
Manuel's decision to pitch to Pujols in 13th backfires
NEW YORK -- In a flash, the Mets were down six runs, wondering just how the positive vibes from Tuesday's victory had vaporized so quickly. Then in another flash, they were feeling higher than ever, slapping Ike Davis on the back and fist-bumping Angel Pagan while waiting for that eighth and final run to cross the plate.
It never did. Instead it was Albert Pujols who pushed across the winning run in the 13th inning Wednesday, sinking the Mets in an 8-7 loss to the Cardinals at Citi Field. This season's second meeting between Johan Santana and Jaime Garcia resulted in another seemingly interminable extra-inning affair -- though this one with a distinctly different result.
Rather than walk Pujols with impunity as they did back in April, the Mets on this night elected to pitch to him with a runner in scoring position in the 13th.
"We were playing with fire," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said, "and we got burnt."
Pujols smoked a Pedro Feliciano sinker through the left side of the infield, giving the Cardinals their first lead since the eighth inning and torching the collective psyche of the Mets. They went in order in the bottom of the 13th against Cards closer Ryan Franklin. And so, some two hours after erasing a six-run deficit, the Mets were left wondering what might have been.
"We felt great because after being down so early in the ballgame, we were able to fight and come back," said center fielder Carlos Beltran, who hit his first homer of the season in the sixth to pull the Mets within four. "We felt that we were going to have an opportunity to win that ballgame, but it didn't happen."
They felt it most fervently in the eighth, when Pagan hit a two-run homer and Davis lashed a game-tying, two-run single into right field, taking Santana off the hook from one of his ugliest starts of the season. And they felt it again in the bottom of the ninth, when Beltran's single put the tying run in scoring position with two outs.
But after the Mets were unable to score in that inning, their offense grew familiarly stagnant in extras.
It was not until Feliciano plunked Skip Schumaker and walked Felipe Lopez with one out in the 13th that either team put another man in scoring position. After Schumaker moved to third on a fielder's choice, the Mets were faced with their critical decision: pitch to Pujols -- arguably the best hitter of his generation -- or attack Matt Holliday with the bases loaded.
When these two teams played a 20-inning game back in April, the choice was simple. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had double-switched Holliday out of that game in the 10th, allowing the Mets to walk Pujols over and over again with impunity.
This time, no such luck. The Mets were forced to choose and, citing Holliday's strong swings earlier in the game -- a two-run homer and RBI double -- Manuel opted to try his luck against a future first-ballot Hall of Famer.
"Pick your poison, which one you want," Mets catcher Josh Thole said. "It's really tough to put the winning run 90 feet away, so you've got to go after him. You've got to challenge him."
The result, to the chagrin of Feliciano and the Mets, was typical Pujols.
"I wanted to make sure it was something up, and it was right there in the middle of the plate," Pujols said. "Probably where he didn't want it."
Definitely where he didn't want it.
Afterward, before the Mets could scramble out of the clubhouse in anticipation of their Thursday matinee, they took time to note that this loss could have been worse. Coming off a disastrous 11-game road trip, the Mets were pleased with their offensive output. They were pleased with their ability to claw back after Santana's brief outing, they were thrilled with their bullpen and they were happy for the contributions of Beltran and Mike Hessman -- who ignited the rally with a two-run double -- and nearly everyone else on the active roster.
"We put ourselves back in the game," Manuel said. "Guys fought. We fought back. We had a lot of positive things happen."
Then again, the Mets also lost on a day in which the Braves and Phillies won. If not crushing, this game was certainly disheartening.
"It's always good to fight back," third baseman David Wright said. "It's good that we battled back, fought back against a good team. But at the end of the day, it's a loss."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.