Gopher Balls Bury Nats; Lose 10-8 to Mets

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, September 10, 2008 | , , , , | 0 comments »

QUEENS -- The New York Mets are in a tightly contested battle for first place in the N.L. East with the Philadelphia Phillies, and the loser will probably miss out on the post-season. The Washington Nationals are in a close battle of their own for the worst record in baseball. With last night's 10-8 victory by the Mets, one team inched closer to their goal; the other fell closer to ignominy.

Taken at face value, Tuesday night's game could be seen as a microcosm of the season for the Nats: some good things, some very bad, some fight and ultimately, disappointment. The Mets rode a fourteen-hit attack, including four home runs, to out-muscle their division brethren. And while the Nats had eight runs and twelve base hits of their own, only two were of the extra-base variety, and they could not scrape enough together to pull even in the end.

Neither starter was sharp for their teams and both had left the game by the fourth inning. Nats starter John Lannan allowed five earned runs on eight hits -- including two home runs -- and one walk, striking out only two. His ERA for the season rose to 4.09, the first time it's been over four runs per game since April 17, his third game of the season against these same Mets. His counterpart, Oliver Perez, was worse. In three and one-third innings, he surrendered seven earned runs on eight hits and two walks, striking out only three. But a parade of relief pitchers held the Nats mostly in check, culminating with former National Luis Ayala shutting the door on any comeback attempt, as he recorded a perfect 1-2-3 inning in the ninth to secure his sixth save in seven tries since being acquired by the Mets for 2B Anderson Hernandez in a waiver trade in mid-August.

Ayala has been nearly perfect for the Mets. Including Tuesday night's save, he has allowed earned runs in just two of his eleven appearances for the Mets, earning a victory and six saves. In eleven innings, he has given up ten hits and just one walk, striking out eight, including Elijah Dukes looking in the ninth inning. The Mets learned on Monday that their all-star closer, Billy Wagner, will be shelved the remainder of this season and most of 2009 due to ligament replacement surgery on his left (pitching) elbow. So Ayala will continue to perform in the job for a contender that he was passed over for -- twice -- by a cellar-dweller.

Carlos Delgado, left for dead earlier in the season, has been carrying the Mets offensively most of the late summer, and he did it again last night. Delgado finished 3-for-3, with two home runs, three RBIs and three runs scored. It was his fourth multi-homer game in his past thirteen games. After the second homer, many of the 50,382 chanted "MVP, MVP" as Delgado circled the bases. For the season, the Mets 1B has accumulated 35 home runs and 103 RBIs.

"It's great to be able to contribute," Delgado said. "It's great to be able to help the team. I think we've got a great club. It's a great race. It's awesome."

Ryan Church contributed his twelfth home run, a two-run shot, and Carlos Beltran added a solo shot directly ahead of Delgado's second home run of the evening in the sixth inning against Nats reliever Charlie Manning (L, 1-3, 5.20).
Washington received their offense from familiar--and not so familiar--sources. Cristian Guzman continued his terrific 2008 campaign, going 2-for-5 with his seventh home run, two RBIs and two runs scored. Second baseman Hernandez, trying to punish the Mets for trading him, went 2-for-5 as well, driving in three and scoring two from the lead-off spot.

But all things being equal, the Mets were perfectly happy having Ayala to close out this victory as they take a two and one-half game lead over the Phillies for the right to represent the N.L. East in the playoffs. And the Nats have to take solace in a young player having a good game in defeat, in another lost season.

Wednesday's game features Odalis Perez (6-10, 4.19) and Mike Pelfrey (13-9, .62) on the hill.

Game time is 7:10 pm from Shea Stadium.

NATS NOTES: The Nationals fall to 56-89 with seventeen games to play and are 25.5 games behind the Mets in the N.L. East. After play Tuesday night, Washington is tied with San Diego for the worst record in the Major Leagues with a .386 winning percentage. Seattle is two games ahead of both in the loss column, having played two fewer games.

3B Ryan Zimmerman went 3-for-5 with an RBI to raise his season average to .286. RP Michael Hinckley, called up when rosters expanded, threw another shutout inning and has not allowed a run in five appearances since his recall, covering five and one-third innings.