New York’s 8-7, 13-inning loss to Philadelphia Tuesday night played out like a single-game version of the Mets’ 2007 collapse. In fact, the Mets even managed a miniature replica of last September, when they blew a seven-game lead with seventeen games to play, by losing a seven-run lead with seventeen outs to play.
But while the Mets won’t – shouldn’t — stop hearing about their 2007 collapse until they clinch a division title, Wednesday night’s 6-3, come-from-behind victory was much more indicative of the season New York has had, both against the Phillies and as a whole. Despite New York’s bullpen struggles, 2008 simply hasn’t been 2007. In fact, the 2008 Mets more closely resemble the 2007 Phillies than the 2007 Mets at this point.
In Wednesday night’s game, New York fell behind 3-1 on two early home runs by Ryan Howard and Jason Werth. But oddly enough, this must have been almost comforting to the Mets, who have become accustomed to trying to protect leads against Philadelphia, often with disastrous results. In 2007, the Mets lost their final eight games of the season series with the Phillies, despite holding leads in five of them. In 2008, while the Mets are 10-5 against Philadelphia, they also had leads in four of their five losses.
The Mets did not immediately respond to the 3-1 deficit, but the Phillies, in an echo of New York’s 2007 struggles against Philadelphia, wasted multiple opportunities to extend their lead. Despite Johan Santana on the mound, the Phillies got the leadoff men on in the fourth, fifth and two on to start the sixth–coming up empty each time. Just as New York had so many times against Philadelphia in 2007, the Phillies let the Mets hang around.
In the seventh inning, the Mets replaced Johan Santana with Brian Stokes, a reliever who entered the contest with a career ERA of 5.98. Just as so many Philadelphia relievers with a poor track record had bedeviled the Mets in 2007, Stokes managed to hold the Phillies scoreless. And just as the Mets had in 2007, the Phillies helped with mental errors of their own. This time, it was Jimmy Rollins, who had walked with two outs, stealing second base with Chase Utley ahead in the count, 2-0. The move allowed the right-handed Stokes to simply walk the lefty Utley and pitch to the right-handed, and struggling, Pat Burrell. He subsequently grounded out to end the threat.
The eighth inning just furthered the clear impression that the two teams had simply switched parts of the 2007 script, right down to the inexplicably inept managing. With two out and nobody on in the top of the eighth, New York sent Carlos Delgado to the plate. Delgado had already homered, and had two home runs in six career at-bats against the pitcher, Rudy Seanez. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had closer Brad Lidge up and ready in the bullpen, a much better pitcher. But Manuel left Seanez in, and like seemingly all of Willie Randolph’s low-percentage gambles last season, it backfired—Delgado’s second home run tied the game.
If Manuel had reservations about asking Lidge to pitch more than one inning, it was understandable—Lidge hadn’t done so all season, and had pitched the night before. But after Carlos Beltran singled, he then brought Lidge into the eighth inning anyway, to intentionally walk Ryan Church, who hasn’t hit a ball with authority since returning from the disabled list, and get to Daniel Murphy. While Murphy had been mired in a 1-for-16 slump, he’d still been having very good at-bats, and the intentional walk made it that much easier for New York to build a lead.
Murphy’s double to right field brought in the lead run, and advanced runners to second and third. Lidge finally got a pop up from Brian Schneider—but the ball found a spot between three fielders, falling just barely in fair territory, and gave New York a 6-3 lead, a huge moment, given the Mets’ Russian Roulette bullpen.
Schneider’s hit recalled a moment almost exactly one year ago—in Philadelphia’s 4-2 victory over New York on August 28, 2007, then-Phillies center fielder Aaron Rowand hit a game-tying, two-out single off of Aaron Heilman that traveled maybe thirty feet up the third base line, staying just fair. The Mets went on to lose that game in ten innings, 4-2, after Willie Randolph decided not to go to his closer Billy Wagner in the tenth inning, and vastly inferior pitcher Jorge Sosa gave up a game-winning home run to first baseman Ryan Howard.
In 2007, the Phillies fell 8 ½ games back of the first-place Mets in June, before rallying with a strong second-half that included an improbable domination of New York, the team they were chasing. The Phillies showed the ability to take a punch and come right back. The Mets did not. Had the Mets won even one of the final eight contests against the Phillies, New York would have ended the season in first place.
In 2008, the Mets fell 7 ½ games back of the first-place Phillies in June, before rallying with a strong second half that has included a domination of Philadelphia. The Mets’ most excruciating losses have come to the Phillies, in part because they happened against the Phillies—though losing a seven-run lead, as New York did on Tuesday night, would be agonizing against any team. The same goes for losing July 4 to the Phillies, 3-2, despite eight excellent innings by Santana, to fall 5 ½ games behind. And it is also true of New York’s July 22 loss to the Phillies, when the Mets entered the ninth leading 5-2, only to see the Phillies put up a six-spot en route to an 8-6 victory.
But after each of these losses, New York has beaten Philadelphia the very next day. Had New York failed to do so even once, it would be the Phillies, not the Mets, in first place.