I swear I’ve seen this game before. Mets take a small early game lead. Willie Randolph makes some questionable bullpen decisions. Phillies come roaring back to take the lead. Mets bats die in the later innings and the Mets lose to the Phillies again. Nine straight times, the Phillies have defeated the Mets when the two teams have played each other. In seven of those games, the Mets had leads of two runs or more only to allow the Phillies back in the game, usually by way of the bullpen. I have to say, as a Mets fan, watching this game unfold the way it did today made me sick, especially since it was this script that allowed the Phillies to win the division last year, and now the Mets open Shea Stadium’s last year the same exact way. It’s getting to be almost too much to take.
Once again, it was the bullpen that wears the villain’s hat. Scott Schoeneweis and Aaron Heilman both heard some boos during their pre-game introductions, and then did nothing to absolve themselves of future boos. Myself, I had to be wondering why Schoeneweis was even brought into the game. Pedro Feliciano has no platoon split; he can pitch to lefties and righties and is equally effective at getting both out. Yet he never even warmed up to enter the game. Now, if it turns out Feliciano is injured, and was not available to pitch, that’s one thing. But if he was available and Willie simply chose not to use him, then bringing Schoeneweis in to start the 7th was just stupid.
The problem with bringing in Schoeneweis to replace Joe Smith in that situation is that, while Smith is also essentially a right handed specialist, taking him out after one batter to bring in a lefty specialist, when everybody in the ballpark knew that Charlie Manuel would then bring in a right hander to take the advantage away from the Mets, is stupid. It’s especially stupid because the Phillies had Jimmy Rollins, the (sigh) 2007 National League MVP and a switch hitter, batting behind him, followed by another switch hitter in Shane Victorino. Leaving a specialist in the game to face two switch hitters is poor strategy; while Aaron Heilman is considered to be the “8th inning man,” that situation screams for the Mets to use their best available reliever, which would be either Heilman or Feliciano (assuming that the Mets would never think of moving Billy Wagner out of the closers role).
It’s just poor, unimaginative strategy to wait until the 8th to use Heilman when strategy dictates that he would be better in that spot. The best move, of course, would be to go to Feliciano, but he may not have been available, and hey, Heilman didn’t pitch great today either. But at least if you bring in your best guy in the toughest spot and lose, you lost because your guy wasn’t good enough; in this case, they lost because they made the wrong move at the wrong time. This is why people wanted Willie to be fired last year; his in-game strategy and roster utilization is highly suspect. He may be able to run a good clubhouse, but on the field, he is a terrible manager, and he costs this team wins.
It’s a shame, because while Oliver Perez wasn’t quite as sharp as he was last week, he still had a damned good game; 5.2 innings, 3 hits, 3 BBs, but no runs. Once again, he avoided the extra base hit, which is huge against a team like the Phillies. Carlos Delgado is still swinging a hot bat, although it was his error on a double play ball by Ryan Howard which allowed the Phillies to tie the game, hitting a towering solo home run in the second to give the Mets the lead. David Wright and Carlos Beltran each hit nice doubles, and Beltran may have had a second if Shane Victorino hadn’t made a nice catch on a well hit ball to center. But once again, the Mets’ bats went cold against a lousy Phillies bullpen, which only seems to pitch well against the Mets. But overall, it was just a real disappointing way to open the last season at Shea Stadium, and perhaps a sign that the ghosts of 2007 haven’t been completely eradicated.
The Mets will try to end the Phillies’ streak against the Mets tomorrow back at Shea, with Mike Pelfrey taking the mound against Kyle Kendrick. If there was ever a time for Mike Pelfrey to step up and become a strong major league starter, it will be tomorrow, as he tries to end the Mets’ 3 game losing streak and the Phillies’ 9 game winning streak against the Mets. Game time is 7:10 with the game airing on SNY and ESPN2 if you are outside of the greater New York metropolitan area.