Sunday, May 2, 2010

Aces Wild for Mets as Phillies Take Series

On paper, this looked like a very winnable series for the Mets, despite having to play in Philadelphia. In the latter two games, they had their twin aces, Mike Pelfrey and Johan Santana, so after they defeated the Phillies 9-1 on Friday night, Mets fans had to consider the possibility of sweeping the two-time NL Champions at their own park.

But it wouldn't play out that way. On Saturday, the Phillies sent Roy Halladay to the mound to face Mike Pelfrey. Pelfrey, to that point, had been doing a Halladay impression of his own, with a 4-0 record and 0.69 ERA. He was one of the few starters who could boast an ERA better than Halladay's. But it wouldn't last. The Phillies lit him up for six runs in four innings, highlighted by a Shane Victorino three-run shot.

That offense was more than enough for Halladay, who introduced himself to his new division rivals by throwing a complete game shutout and improving his record to 5-1. It was an impressive showing by Halladay (though one that's getting more and more familiar) but it was even more important that the offense got going again, especially against a pitcher as hot as Pelfrey. Victorino and Chase Utley both broke out of slumps and it was particularly important for Victorino who had struggled mightily since taking Rollins' place in the leadoff spot.

Heading into the rubber game, the Phillies chances of winning the series looked bleak. They faced the Mets true ace, in Santana, and sent the struggling Jamie Moyer to the hill. The concerns proved well-founded, as Moyer surrendered a three-run homer to David Wright (who has a career 1.174 OPS vs. Moyer) in the first inning.

However, the Phillies bounced back quickly. Placido Polanco broke out of a slump with a solo shot off Santana and Ryan Howard tacked on a two-out solo homer to bring the score to 3-2. Of cousre, in the fourth Rod Barajas hit a two-run shot to bring the Mets lead back to three runs.

Then came the bottom of the fourth. Utley led off the inning with a double, but Howard and Jayson Werth were retired, though advancing Utley to third base. But then things got ugly for the Mets and Santana. Raul Ibanez singled to drive in Utley and Juan Castro followed with a single of his own. With Moyer on deck, the Mets opted to pitch around Carlos Ruiz, who drew the walk, loading the bases for Moyer. Santana fell behind and when the count reached 3-1, the Phillies went ballistic. Moyer took a called strike two, fouled off a potential strike three, and finally drew the bases-loaded walk, making it a 5-4 game and causing the Philles fans to erupt.

The at-bat brought up memories of when Brett Myers' battled his way to a walk against C.C. Sabathia in the 2008 NLDS. On cue, Victorino cranked a grand slam over the left field wall (just like he did against Sabathia), giving the Phillies a 8-5 lead and all of the sudden it sounded like October again. As if that wasn't enough, Polanco then singled and Utley drove him in with a two-run blast. Howard followed with a single and Werth drove him in all the way from first with a double in the gap in right-center. Finally Ibanez, the man who started the rally, grounded out to end the inning, but the Phillies had taken the momentum, and the lead, 11-5.

That would be all for Santana, who seemed off the entire game. Every pitcher, no matter how great, is entitled to a bad start now and again, so there's no sense reading too much into this one, but one has to think this will be fresh in Santana's mind the next time he faces the Phillies. And Moyer, to his credit, settled down and got through six innings. It wasn't a great start for him, but he really only made two mistakes and drawing that walk seemingly made up for the five runs he surrendered. The Phillies bullpen handled the Mets with relative ease. Chad Durbin and Danys Baez combined to pitch three scoreless innings, finishing off the game and giving the Phillies the series.

This week will be a challenging one for the Phillies, as they face St. Louis and Atlanta, but they should get a boost from Joe Blanton's return (making his season debut tomorrow night) and the way the offense came to life over the weekend should inspire confidence going forward.

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