Thursday: The Phillies had just completed a four-game sweep of the Mets, closing the gap in the NL East to two games. Even if the Mets would have won just once in the series, the Phils would have been at least four back going into the final month of the season. The first loss of the series was acceptable, even expected, with retread Brian Lawrence starting for the Metropolitans. However, the next two games were imminently winnable, being lost by a combination of physical and mental errors, with a little bad luck thrown in for good measure. The series finale ranks among the wildest, most heartbreaking losses I can remember. Down 5-0 after three innings, New York battled back to tie the game. The Phillies reclaimed the lead on the “strength” of a walk and a few bloop singles. Once again, the Mets rallied, scoring five runs in the eighth against a potpourri of Philly bullpen jokers to take a 10-8 lead. Manager Willie Randolph called on closer Billy Wagner to come on in the bottom of the eighth to take on the middle of the Phillies order. Immediately, I thought the decision was a good one. Put our best against their best, then bring in Heilman in the ninth to face the bottom of the order. Willie had other plans however. He wanted Wagner to get the 6-out save, something he has not accomplished in years. Pat Burrell continued his Mets-killing ways with a homer in the eighth, and Wagner was largely ineffective in the ninth, giving up two more runs and the game.
Friday: The Mets traveled to Atlanta, who has won each of the series between the clubs this year. Even worse for New York, Oliver Perez, the only starting pitcher to beat the Braves for the Mets this year, was not scheduled to start this weekend. On Friday though, John Maine was up to the task, shutting down the Braves for seven innings. Meanwhile, the Mets offense, that had been sputtering in the games leading upto Thursday’s 10 run outburst, went deep twice against Tim Hudson and added some insurance late for a 7-1 win.
Saturday: Much maligned rookie Mike Pelfrey had the best start of his career, striking out seven over six innings, only allowing one run. Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, and Lastings Milledge all went yard for the Mets, and Guillermo Mota and Pedro Feliciano combined for three innings of one-hit pitching to close it out. Florida helped the cause by scoring seven runs before recording an out against the Phillies, and Mets lead in the NL East rose to three games.
Sunday: Tom Glavine, who has not fared well against his former team, tossed a solid six innings the Braves. David Wright’s 2-run home run in the fifth put the Mets on top, and Jorge Sosa and Aaron Heilman handed Billy Wagner a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth. Wags was shaky again, giving up a run on two hits, but managed to finish it off, completing the sweep in the Mets house of horrors. At the same time, the Marlins recovered from a 4-0 deficit to beat the Phillies 7-6.
The Mets now take a four game lead to Cincinnati, where Pedro Martinez will start on Monday. While New York plays the genetically-inferior NL Central, the Phillies and Braves will be beating up on each other. Mets fans everywhere are back off the ledge, heart rates back to normal, and waiting for those fading footsteps to end with thud of the Phillies falling flat on their faces again.