Loss Of Sweep Keep Mets From First, 11-4

Not to get greedy or anything but had the Mets managed to win last night with Victor "I'm Not Kazmir" Zambrano against the Nationals, they'd have a place in a three-way tie with the Braves and Marlins this morning.

Instead, Zambrano had one of those games we will all look back on with fondness, the kind of pitching performance that leaves you searching for antonyms to superlative like profane, inadequate, deficient. Instead of brilliantly forcing us to forget that the Mets have one ace and one Hall of Famer who can occasionally pitch like an ace, he reminded us of our Achilles heel as he was ripped for eight runs and nine hits in 5 1/3 innings and virtually knocked the Mets out of the game before it really started. He walked three and hit two batters and the Mets lost for just the fourth time in 14 games. Certainly no irony in the fact that yesterday was "Sanitation Day" in New York.

Instead, the Mets remain a game behind first place, behind the Marlins and Braves with the Braves coming to town and (gulp) Aaron Heilman taking the mound for the Mets in the opening game of the series.

On the other hand, he now has 2 hits in 10 at-bats to give him the same .200 batting average as Mike Piazza.

Oh yeah, and for those of you still keeping score at home, Zambrano is 1-2 with a 5.64 ERA and Kazmir, a 21-year-old lefthander, is 0-1 with a 3.68 ERA for the Devil Rays. Kazmir limited the hard-hitting Red Sox to one run in seven innings Friday. He has given up 19 hits in 22 IP and Zambrano has given up 31 hits in 22.1 IP. Zambrano also leads in walks (14-12) and strikeouts (19-12).

One interesting note having nothing to do with the Mets frail and pallid pitching is that Pedro and Ishii are 1 and 3 in opposing batting average in the Major Leagues - teams are hitting .113 against Pedro and only .161 against Ishii.

It might also be heartening to note that AA Binghampton Mets ace Brian Bannister (4-0) struck out three and allowed four hits in five innings the other night. He did allow his first earned run of the season in the third inning. It was the first earned run Bannister had allowed since Sept. 1 of last season -- a streak of 25 innings.

But down 3-0 after the first inning last night, the Mets tried to roar back as Nats staff ace Livian Hernandez proceeded to give all three runs back on Mike Piazza's bases-loaded double in the first. They loaded the bases once more only to see Victor Diaz ground into a rally-killing double play.

Having thrown 31 pitches and walked two by the time he returned to the dugout, Hernandez (2-2) looked like he might be in for a long day but the right-hander responded against hte Mets with six shutout innings after that, retiring 13 of the last 14 batters he faced to earn his first victory since their first game at RFK Stadium 10 days before.

K News: Carlos Beltran still leads the Mets in strikeouts with 18 in 19 games just ahead of Reyes (15) and Victor Diaz and David Wright with 14. Oddly enough, despite his weak average, Piazza has struck out only 4 times in 60 at-bats. Eric Valent has 10 strikeouts in only 19 at-bats.

Pitching for the Stinkin' Braves:

LHP Horacio Ramirez
• 1-1, 3.78 ERA in 2005
• 0-0, 3.86 ERA vs. NYM in 2005

Here you can see how the Mets hit against lefties so far this season. Might be a good night to give Piazza another "rest" and start Castro...

Pitching for the Mets:

RHP Aaron Heilman
• 1-2, 6.00 ERA in 2005
• 0-1, 9.00 ERA vs. ATL in 2005

Tomorrow, Pedro Martinez (2-0, 2.17) faces John Smoltz (0-3, 4.30) in a matchup of future Hall of Famers, and on Wednesday Tom Glavine (1-2, 3.97) duels Mike Hampton (2-0, 1.17).

The Mets won't have to set their sights too high to do better against the Braves than the last place Phillies did. They were outscored 21-3 and lost all three games.

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