08/13/08 12:10 AM ET
Mets skim win off top of Easley's helmet
Controversial call plates go-ahead run in victory over Nationals
By Zachary Osterman / MLB.com
A trademark start from ace Johan Santana on Tuesday night was followed up with two innings of scoreless relief in a 4-3 win over Washington. The victory snapped a four-game road losing streak.
The topic on everyone's lips before the game was the state of the bullpen, sans Billy Wagner, reeling after Aaron Heilman's blown save a day earlier cost the Mets a valuable game in the midst of a pennant race. Possibilities ran rampant as to what might be done to solve the problem -- move a starter to the bullpen, perhaps, or give rookie Eddie Kunz his first chance to save a game.
In the end, Pedro Feliciano made the decision simple for manager Jerry Manuel's club. Inserted to start the ninth against a fellow left-hander, Washington's Willie Harris, Feliciano stuck through the entire inning, retiring all three batters faced and striking out two.
"I just put it in my head, if I get my lefty, maybe I get the shot to get the save," Feliciano said.
Before the game, Scott Schoeneweis led a bullpen-only meeting, something Feliciano said the Mets relievers do before every series. This time, however, the gathering took a more serious tone, one meant to convey a simple message: Keep your heads up and "don't think about yesterday," to hear it from Feliciano.
"At some point, you need to ... kind of band together," Schoeneweis said after the game.
The only member of the bullpen whose night didn't go quite as planned was Kunz, who Manuel had said before the game would get the save opportunity should the situation arise. After the game, Manuel said his decision to leave Feliciano in instead of turning to Kunz, warmed up in the bullpen, was borne strictly from the situation, specifically the Nationals' abundance of left-handed hitters and Harris leading off.
"Their strength was from the left side of the bench," Manuel said. "I did not want to start Eddie with a guy that I didn't think was a swinger."
Manuel did say his original intention was to bring Kunz in after Feliciano faced Harris, but he said confidence in the veteran left-hander kept him in the game.
For his part, Kunz wasn't disappointed with the way the ninth inning transpired.
"Things happen, he gets out, and they're gonna keep going," Kunz said. "I'm just glad either way. We got the save out of it and the win."
Despite all the talk about the bullpen's ups and down, the Mets picked up their first road win since July 29 on the backs of solid performances from veterans as well on Tuesday night.
Both teams traded a pair of runs apiece in the first and the Mets took the lead in the third, only to have a Ryan Langerhans pinch-hit home run erase that margin in the seventh.
The Mets got the lead back for good in the eighth, but not without some controversy. After back-to-back singles and a strikeout, Fernando Tatis began to go around on a 3-2 pitch inside from Nationals reliever Saul Rivera.
Catcher Jesus Flores appealed to first, where umpire Mike Reilly said the New York outfielder didn't swing, a call Washington manager Manny Acta disagreed with.
The next hitter, Damion Easley, was dropped to the ground in his at-bat by a pitch that sailed above his helmet to the backstop. Wright charged home without need, as home plate-umpire Rob Drake ruled Easley had been hit by the pitch. Acta came out to debate that call, spending a few minutes on the field before finally giving up his argument.
That inning also saw Santana's exit after throwing just 94 pitches over seven innings, striking out six and scattering eight hits and three earned runs. The only reason the left-hander came out after seven, in fact, was because Manuel pinch-hit for him with the bases loaded.
After the game, Santana said he was ready to go longer, but he understood the decision to turn things over to the bullpen.
"We always go by what's good for the team," Santana said. "I respect all the decisions that they're going to make. We have to support each other."
Santana handled the ball off to Joe Smith, who allowed a single to Austin Kearns before setting down the next three Nationals, two on strikes. Manuel said after the game that his comments about possibly moving a starter to the bullpen weren't meant to "light any fires" under anyone, but his pitchers could take it that way if they so chose.
"That's how I took it," Smith said with a smile after the game. "I took it as a move to fire us up."
Zachary Osterman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.