06/17/09 12:36 AM ET
Wright's leadership skills shine vs. O's
Pep talk from third baseman keeps Pelfrey, team motivated
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
Most often, Wright's leadership manifests itself in his relationship with Mike Pelfrey. When the pitcher was struggling not to balk in San Francisco last month, Wright climbed the mound and spoke emphatically with Pelfrey. And when Pelfrey's perfect first three innings melted into something far less immaculate on Tuesday, Wright was the one to criticize.
By the time Wright was able to constructively chastise his friend in the visiting dugout at Camden Yards, Pelfrey was already out of the game and the Mets were on their way to a 6-4 victory over the Orioles. But the act was significant. On Manuel's 365th day as manager of the Mets, others had chosen to lead.
"He gave me a little pep talk," Pelfrey said of Wright. "He said, 'Let's go.' I liked it."
Pelfrey did not like his statistics, having allowed two runs and walked three batters in 5 2/3 innings -- numbers that seem even less flattering in context. Retiring the first 11 batters he faced, Pelfrey lost his ability to command his fastball in the middle innings. And that problem was compounded by the fact that he did not have command of his secondary pitches all night.
With two runs in and a runner on in the sixth, Manuel -- sensing that Pelfrey had reached the limits of his contribution -- called on Sean Green and then Pedro Feliciano out of the bullpen.
"What we're getting now, for the most part, is tremendous relief with Green and Feliciano," Manuel said. "They're doing a tremendous job. They're taking momentum and shutting it right down."
On the anniversary of Willie Randolph's final game as Mets manager, not all of Manuel's decisions worked as well. He wanted to give Bobby Parnell some work, for example, calling on the rookie reliever in a four-run game in the ninth. But Parnell proceeded to serve up singles to the only two batters he faced, forcing Francisco Rodriguez into a sudden save situation.
Only after Rodriguez walked in a run did he finally nail down his 17th save.
"You've got to be prepared no matter what," Rodriguez said. "You put a couple of runners on, and everything totally changes."
It didn't used to be this way. Back in 2006, when the Mets were winning games with both regularity and precision, the club boasted what many observers likened to an American League offense. The Mets could attack from any angle, at any time, from any point in their lineup. They could launch home runs with the best of them. And they could bull their way through most any scenario.
In three years, they have transformed. Injuries, age, evolution and a new ballpark have robbed their offense of its home run pop, forcing the Mets to face the reality of a decidedly National League offense. The Mets have hit 40 home runs this season and are barely on pace to hit 100.
By comparison, the Nationals -- who are playing .258 ball -- are on pace to hit 167.
Out of necessity, the Mets have found other ways to win. And so their victory over the Orioles on Tuesday -- a game that the Orioles gave to the Mets and then attempted to snatch back -- marked nothing more than the status quo for these Mets.
The Mets won on the strength of three errors, three innings of Pelfrey's perfection and some timely relief pitching. It was enough. In an AL ballpark, the Mets won with Manuel's preferred NL style of ball.
"We have to," Wright said. "We can't rely on guys to sit back and hit the three-run home run. We haven't done it so far this year, and I don't see us doing it. While we have this many guys out, we really have to manufacture our runs, get good starting pitching and give that ball to the bullpen."
Quite by accident, Wright came through with the winning play Tuesday, hitting a popup in the seventh inning that Aubrey Huff dropped as he attempted to make a basket catch. Two insurance runs scored, both of which the Mets would need.
The Mets scored also in the fourth, when the Orioles committed two errors and the Mets rapped out four hits. Wright, Ryan Church, Daniel Murphy and Brian Schneider all drove in runs that inning, doing so on three singles and a sacrifice fly.
And another victory came in the seventh, when Wright approached Pelfrey in the dugout. The tone, according to Pelfrey, was both constructive and stern -- like a big brother scolding his kin. And it seems precisely what the Mets need to continue winning through adversity.
"I think I've seen of all the guys where I feel comfortable enough going to them and giving them the words of encouragement," Wright said. "Whether they listen or not is up to them."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.