10.6.05

11 Innings Too Many, Mets Drop Another To Astros, 6-3



The game we're playing is called: Let's Find Another Way To Lose A Game. The rules are simple: you are the team with the great homefield record playing at home against a team that wins on the road about as often as a base runner gets thrown out stealing by Mike Piazza. Your goal is to lose as many games as possible to the inferior team by a maddening little number of ways and blow a perfect chance to keep pace in the chaotic traffic jam of the NL East. If you succeed, you are the NEW New York Mets.

Last night the Mets accumulated a new slate of headache inventions and missed opportunities.

The seemingly resuscitated Tom Glavine started the game as though he wanted to blow all the Mets' chances at once. The first four Astros he faced reached base -- a single by Chris Burke, who was caught stealing (because Mike Piazza is out injured and a "real" catcher, Ramon Castro, not merely a backstop was behind the plate in his place), a walk to Eric Brunlett and singles by Vizcaino and Berkman -- and produced a run. And just when we thought we could pull out the Glavine punching bag, he righted himself to retire 17 of 18 batters in allowing only one more base runner until the seventh.

In the meantime, David Wright, moved up in the batting order to 5th because the oh-so-not-so-mighty bat of Piazza was out of the lineup, homered in the 2nd to tie the score and then hit an RBI single in the 4th to give the Mets a 2-1 lead which you had to figure, against the Astros and having withstood the brunt of the Pettitte-Glavine pitching duel with a lead intact, should have spellt a victory for the Mets.

Instead, Glavine allowed a one-out double to Jason Lane in the 7th which was quickly exacerbated by Carlos Beltran's unfathonable mishandling of the ball and as he reached down to backhand it, it popped out of the webbing of his glove and flew behind him, allowing Lane, the tying run, a free trot to third.

This naturally necessitated the infield to draw in and although José Reyes managed a nice diving play on a liner for the second out, Brad Ausmus, who had been 1 for 36 against Glavine, pinched a double past first base to tie the score. That let the dogs out.

Pinch-hitter Craig Biggio then hit a groundball that bounced off Glavine's foot and caromed into shallow right field. Bad enough that he had broken toward the middle on contact with the ball and had no play at the plate, Kaz Matsui compounded the problem by failing to pick up the ball on first grasp. Ausmus scored and the miserable Astros suddenly had the lead.

Miraculously, Matsui was involved in the Mets' tying run in the 8th. As he was positioning to bunt, former Met Dan Wheeler hit Matsui on the foot with the pitch instead of throwing it over the plate. But home-plate umpire Gerry Davis didn't see it that way, or perhaps didn't see at all. He didn't award Matsui first base until he retrieved the ball and found shoe polish on it, a la the shoe polish ball of the 1969 World Series.

Matsui advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by pinch-hitter Miguel Cairo and to third on Jose Reyes' groundout. Mike Cameron then hit a grounder that shortstop Everett knocked down, but Everett's throw -- he had one knee on the ground -- was late and offline. Matsui scored on the single to tie the game and send it into extra innings.

So again the stage was set for the Mets to hurtle back from the trajectory of oblivion and again, they settled for losing, this time to a team who had yet to win an extra-inning game all season.

The details are almost too obscene to even mutter: Houston opened the 11th with three straight hits off Heath Bell (0-3). Jose Vizcaino and Lance Berkman singled before Ensberg doubled to left to make it 4-3. One out later, Everett singled to right to chase Bell and give the Astros their insurmountable 6-3 lead and eventual victory.

Why Heath Bell you ask? Why not see Bradon Looper blow it for us instead? Well, Looper had already pitched the 9th and 10th innings in admirable fashion and although Aaron Heilman could just as easily have gone in and shut the Astros down, Manager Willie opened himself up to a whole encyclopedia of second-guessing by choosing Bell as the sacrificial lamb instead.

"In my last four outings, I've gotten (two) losses," Bell said after the dust had settled. "I don't really feel like I'm helping the team right now. Maybe I'm trying too hard."

Or maybe Aaron Heilman should have been in there instead of you?

And to think, we are oh-so-close to having another tomato can coming out of the bullpen in the pitch-tipping Danny Graves. So many dubious outcomes to choose from.

Beltran and Wright had 5 of the Mets' 6 hits for the night whilst the rest of the batting order took the night off for a second night in a row and Beltran aggravated his sore right quadriceps running to first base in the eighth. He stayed in the game after stretching in the dugout, but he put himself at about 80 percent.

*****

More bad news on the way: Having lost a series to the Houston Astros the Mets must now turn their attention to Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who lead the AL West and just took two of three from the Atlanta Braves. Bartolo Colon, RHP (7-3, 3.10) will face Kaz Ishii (1-4, 5.14) in the first game.

Colon hasn't lost since May 7 (an unbeaten streak of five straight starts) and has won his last two appearances, despite allowing nine earned runs and 22 hits over 13 innings. He is 2-1, with a 3.60 ERA lifetime in three career starts against the Mets, but 0-1 with a 6.00 career ERA at Shea Stadium.

Keep an eye out on Darin Erstad tonight. The Angels first baseman is the Angels' leading hitter against Ishii, with a .583 career average against the left-hander (7-for-12, with a double) and a .615 on-base percentage.

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