07/11/08 11:56 PM ET
Easley provides heroics in Mets' win
Mets claim seventh straight on second baseman's clutch homer
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
"It kind of sent a little shockwave through me," Easley said.
So Easley stepped out of the batter's box. He regrouped. He fouled off one pitch, then cracked the next one over the left-center-field wall.
There was a bit more baseball left to be played, three more outs for the Mets to secure. But at that point, nothing could have derailed them from their quest for seven straight wins. With Easley's hit, the Mets had all but locked up their 2-1 victory over the Rockies, and all but ensured that this unprecedented success would continue for at least one more day.
"I don't know what to attribute it to, exactly," Easley said. "But it was probably a long time coming."
Two years and a month coming, to be exact -- that's how long it's been since the Mets have won seven straight games. Back then, they did it with healthy contributions from their reserves. Now, with regular left fielder Moises Alou, right fielder Ryan Church and second baseman Luis Castillo all on the disabled list, they're doing the same.
It was Fernando Tatis on Thursday night, launching a game-winning home run to defeat the Giants. And it was Easley on Friday, delivering the same fate to the Rockies.
"And we want to keep this thing going as long as possible," Easley said.
Baseball has concocted a simple recipe for how to do just that: pitching. Throughout this winning streak, the Mets have received some of their best pitching of the season, and Friday night was no different -- sort of.
Though starter Oliver Perez didn't allow a hit until the fifth inning, he also walked six batters in total. Perez featured what both Manuel and catcher Brian Schneider called his best fastball of the season -- "electric," Manuel called it -- he consistently needed to pitch out of jams.
The most vexing of those came in the seventh inning, with the game still very much up for grabs. After lobbying Manuel to remain in the game, Perez proceeded to walk the first batter he faced and allow a single to the second.
"He still had a lot of life on his fastball," Manuel said.
But Perez also had 119 pitches to his credit. Manuel nearly sprinted to the mound, and this time, there would be no convincing.
Aaron Heilman entered, secured one out and walked pinch-hitter Seth Smith to load the bases. Then he struck out Willy Taveras and Clint Barmes in succession, fanning Barmes with two high fastballs and a slider below the knees.
"It feels like the ball's coming good out of my hands," Heilman said, explaining his recent spike in velocity. "You can kind of tell by the hitters' reactions. I really haven't changed much."
For this relief corps, there's no need to change. Heilman's work on Friday, along with contributions from Duaner Sanchez, Pedro Feliciano and Billy Wagner, helped stretch the bullpen's scoreless streak to 13 1/3 innings.
Even Perez, one of baseball's roughest talents and most inconsistent starters, has offered a modicum of consistency. He has reached the seventh inning in all three of his most recent starts, and has allowed a total of nine hits and two runs during that stretch.
A mechanical tweak has helped, as has some confidence. Perez alludes to feeling "better" and "stronger." He seemed that way Friday, allowing a solo home run to Brad Hawpe and nothing more. So it seems electric pitching can easily dull the effects of six walks.
"It's clutch pitching," said Schneider, who knows of such things.
Not that the Rockies didn't receive some fine pitching of their own. Starter Aaron Cook matched Perez for six innings, allowing only a run-scoring single to Jose Reyes. But Buchholz couldn't match Heilman, so the victory went to the Mets.
Now there are two games to go before this team -- minus All-Stars Wagner and David Wright -- heads home for a few days of relaxation and perhaps a little soul searching. It's plausible that they could be leading the National League East at the break, as improbable as that scenario may have seemed only a month ago.
They feel as different as they look, praising Manuel at every opportunity and moving with the kind of lightness that only winning can provide.
"It's the relaxed feeling," Easley said. "It's that right kind of confidence. That confidence that's earned from battling and coming out on top."
Again. And again. Seven times in total, with perhaps even more to come.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.