ARLINGTON -- The American League can be relentless. At its best, an AL lineup features no holes, no soft spots, no clemency. It features wave after wave of players capable of hitting baseballs over fences. No pitchers allowed.
Earlier this week at Citi Field, the Angels, an AL team, surprised Mets manager Terry Collins by bunting, stealing bases and playing a brand of baseball more characteristic of his own league, the National League. Then the A's spent their own time at Citi Field proving, in three games, why they own the AL's third-worst offense.
So the Mets entered Friday's series halfway through their first extended slate of Interleague games without having faced a classic, potent American League offense.
Friday, they did. And what happened was this: Three Rangers runs in the first inning crippled Mike Pelfrey, who could not contain an elite AL attack in an 8-1 Mets loss at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The Rangers, one of baseball's top offensive powers playing in one of the league's foremost offensive parks, rapped out double-digit hits. And the Mets could hardly match their punch.
"In this park, you've got to make pitches," Collins said. "You've got to really work, and you've got to really, really bear down and make your pitches."
If Interleague Play comes complete with culture shock, Pelfrey experienced it as soon as he climbed upon the mound. The first batter to face him, Ian Kinsler, ripped a belt-high sinker into center field for a double. The second batter, Elvis Andrus, bunted -- mercifully, it would seem. The third man, Josh Hamilton, singled to right, scoring Kinsler, and the fourth, Adrian Beltre, crushed a two-run homer over the center-field fence.
That was it. That was all the Rangers needed. And that was all Pelfrey allowed, save for a stray run on Andrus' single in the fourth.
But mercy is not the American League way. The Rangers saved the rest of their might for reliever Manny Acosta, who served up two-run homers to Michael Young in the seventh inning and Hamilton in the eighth. By the time Young singled later that inning to force Acosta out of the game, a swarm of Rangers fans were waiting behind the visiting dugout to heckle him. A Johnny Cash song blared over the loudspeaker.
More than miles, it seems, separated the Mets from Citi Field.
"Hopefully our guys were prepared," Collins said. "Hopefully they came in and knew what they were going to have to face, and that's why I say it's important you really concentrate and get yourself ready to make pitches. You're going to give up some home runs in this park to this lineup, but if they're solo homers you can get through that.
"You've got to be careful. You give up six runs on three homers, it's tough to catch up in those circumstances."
Though the Mets did rally multiple times against Rangers starter Matt Harrison, they mustered their only run on Ruben Tejada's RBI single in the fifth. The next batter, Jose Reyes, grounded into a hard-hit, inning-ending double play, and the Mets later stranded multiple runners in the sixth and eighth innings.
By that point, most realistic hope for a victory had been lost. Pelfrey and Acosta had combined, as Collins noted, to allow six runs on three homers. And the Mets, who boasted just one starting position player with more than four home runs on the season, could not reclaim any of it.
"The rate that I've been giving up home runs, anywhere we go, I've got to keep the ball in the park," said Pelfrey, who has allowed one home run in each of his last five outings, and a dozen homers over his last 11 starts in sum. "If I'm going to give it up, hopefully there's nobody on base."
Friday, there was. And that is hardly the way the Mets wanted to start a brutal stretch leading up to the All-Star break, which includes road series against the Rangers, Tigers, Dodgers and Giants sandwiched around three Subway Series games at Citi Field.
The games represent a challenge for their opponents, of course, just as they do for the Mets. But for so much of Friday night, it simply did not seem that way.
"Right now, we are playing Interleague games against teams that train in Florida and we really haven't faced," said Young, the Texas designated hitter. "We don't know much about them, so we have to trust our instincts and bear down on fundamentals. You can't do anything more than that."