For some reason, it seems like the Mets have this annoying habit of playing to the abilities of their opponents. When they were playing Washington and Pittsburgh, they looked lifeless and bored. Now that they're playing the Phillies, everyone's awake and aware and fired up.
It helps when you've got your ace on the mound and what was the most spirited crowd I'd heard all season at Citi Field behind you, but when things were looking bleak for the Mets, they got off the mat, fired back and came away with a steely, albeit harrowing 6-5 victory in the series opener.
Not that it was easy by any stretch. You couldn't help but fear the worst as the game began, even with Santana on the mound. Last time out, Santana didn't pitch badly but for one inning, and that was enough for the game to get away from him because the Mets didn't hit.
Last night, the Mets hit.
It's not a stretch to say that for whatever the Mets are meant to do this season, they will have to be led, offensively, by Wright and Beltran. Though Wright has run hot and cold, it's been more hot than cold over the past 6 weeks or so. But what's been lacking has been power. Not that it's been noticible; Wright has been hitting with a ferocious consistency, and driving the ball all over the place that it was only recently that eyes perked up and people started to chirp about the fact that it was June and Wright had only hit 3 HRs. Wisely, Wright has changed his approach at the plate to tailor himself to his environs. Wright previously had a tendency to muscle up and pull the ball for HRs, when his natural swing would drive the ball to right-center. But the ball won't fly out that way. Wright can still pull the ball when he needs to, but for the most part, he's just been spraying the ball over the field. The result is that, though Wright's HR numbers are way down, he's hitting .340. It's a simple tradeoff. Hit the HRs and bat .290, or screw it and hit for average. This was the Keith Hernandez method of hitting, and it served him well enough for a number of years. So, when Wright took a pitch from Muppet-Faced Rookie J.A. Happ and pulled it over the left field wall, it was his first HR in 100 ABs, dating back over a month to the last game the Mets and Phillies had played.
On the other side is Beltran, who has been on a ferocious tear all season, also running at a .340 clip. His power numbers are about average, at least for him, and we all know his power streaks come in major bursts, one of which he's hopefully about due for.
Either way, the two HRs from those key players served as the keynote for the evening, staking the Mets to a 3-0 lead.
Of course, you knew the Phillies would fire back. Even against Santana. First, it was Howard. Then Ibanez. Then, in the 6th, it was Jimmy Rollins, who popped one out and made sure everyone in attendance knew who hit it, shushing the crowd as he walked off the field. Would you expect any less from Rollins? No, I didn't think so.
So, rather shockingly, the game had gone from great to another Mets-Phillies nailbiter. But it was the Mets firing right back, aided mainly by the bat of Santana, who eschewed an 0-2 bunt attempt and instead swung away and nailed an RBI double to re-knot the game at 4, and extending a rally that would eventually see the Mets take the lead, 5-4. Ryan Church hit a long HR in the 7th into the apple, and once again, all seemed right with the world.
That is, until the 8th, when Chase Utley tucked one just inside the right field foul pole. This was followed by Santana storming around the mound and screaming at his manager before being removed from the game. There's been a bit of talk about this, and I don't see what the big deal is. Is Santana showing up his manager? Who cares? More than likely, Santana had thrown 91 pitches, given up 4 HRs, was pissed off about that and still had plenty of gas left and wanted to stay in the game. He's the ace. He's the leader. He should want to stay in the game. Would you rather he sheepishly shrugged his shoulders and walked off, defeated? Hell No. The man is a gamer. He's got more balls than just about the remainder of his teammates combined, and last year he threw a complete game shutout in a must-win game on one leg. Far as I'm concerned, he can yell all he wants.
Jerry Manuel, clearly, felt differently.
No matter, though. Parnell gave up a hit and departed for Feliciano, who did what he's made a very good habit of doing this season, which is making the lefties in the Philly lineup look silly. The rest of the game was placed in the rather capable hands of the gentleman in the photo on your right. And, with that, the Mets win a game that they absolutely had to win, beat a team that they absolutely have to beat if they want to go anywhere this season, and send what was a raucous, October-like crowd home happy. At least for one night.
Tonight, it will be just as intense, particularly if you take tonight's starter for the Phillies into consideration. It's nice that Cole Hamels has decided to show his face against the Mets this time around, and in New York no less. During the offseason, Carlos Beltran said that Hamels must be watched every time he pitches against the Mets. Well, here's hoping they're watching him tonight. And doing the same kinds of things they did to him last season.