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PHI@NYM: Pagan's RBI single to right plates Paulino

NEW YORK -- He is a hybrid of promise and disappointment, a well-equipped pitcher who can shut down a potent offense or succumb to the least threatening batting order. Neither result would be surprising to his colleagues. And some days -- Sunday being one of them, Mike Pelfrey is a perplexing mixture of the good, the bad and the "Ugh!"

He was, at best, inadequate Sunday, when he faced the Phillies, foiling the Mets' plan to win their first post-All-Star break series. Not that the Mets were prepared to exploit the opportunity if he had pitched effectively. Their offense against winning pitcher Kyle Kendrick was negligible until after the outcome was all but determined. So a bright afternoon engagement against the division leaders became a dreary and exasperating day at the yard in an 8-5 defeat.

If the National League Wild Card or pennant race implications were part of the 12th game between these teams this season, they were mostly inconspicuous. Not only did the Phillies win methodically for the second time in three days, the Mets fell behind systematically. Pelfrey was too generous, and the offense behind him too often turned opportunity into zeros until the Mets trailed by seven runs.

The five runs they produced in their final three turns were more cosmetic than meaningful. If moral victories don't exist after the break -- and they do not -- then turning 8-1 into 8-5 is gratifying for only the baseball naive.

The early shortage of crucial hits was understandable on this, the second straight game the Mets played without Jose Reyes, David Wright, Ike Davis and Carlos Beltran -- even if they did score 11 runs in the first one. The personnel situation was such that Willie Harris, starting a big league game for the 250th time in his career, batted third for the second time. The Mets starting nine began -- and ended -- the game with 18 home runs, one less than Ryan Howard.

Pelfrey's performance was understandable only if Pelfrey is. And at this point, 20 starts into his fifth season, he is more readily hit than understood. His uneven season continued. His record for this .500 team is 5-9, and, more telling perhaps, the Mets have lost 14 times in his starts. Those are telling figures.

Pelfrey's expression was longer and his words were more self-incriminating than usual after the Mets had lost for the fourth time in five games, the eighth time in 12 games against the Phillies. The NL Wild Card race they still believe is relevant to their season is another day older, and they're deeper in debt -- 8 1/2 games behind the Braves. Victories in games assigned to their Opening Day starter account for less than 13 percent of their total victories.

"The way I'm pitching isn't acceptable," Pelfrey said. "Things I'm doing -- giving up two hits to the pitcher [Kendrick] can't happen, throwing a 2-0 fastball down the middle."

Teams with the worst records in pitchers' starts (NL, minimum 18 starts)
Pitcher, team Starts Team record
J.A. Happ, Astros 18 3-15
Dustin Moseley, Padres 18 4-14
Livan Hernandez, Nationals 20 6-14
Brett Myers, Astros 20 6-14
Mike Pelfrey, Mets 20 6-14
Source: Elias Sports Bureau
That's the what. The why is less easily put in words.

"I wish I knew," Pelfrey said.

The mystery becomes murkier with more probing. Before Sunday, Pelfrey was unbeaten with three victories and a 2.96 earned run average in seven starts at Citi Field. He has averaged slightly less than seven innings per start at home. He was dismissed after five innings Sunday, the Mets in arrears, 4-0.

The hit most critical in the loss was the three-run home run switch-hitting rookie Michael Martinez hit over the right leg of the Mo-Zone barrier in the fifth inning. The home run was the first of Martinez's career, and it came against a pitcher who is not prone to long ball problems. But Pelfrey has surrendered 16 homers in 117 2/3 innings this season. Once previously had he allowed more -- 18 in 184 1/3 innings two years ago.

He called the 2-0 pitch, a too-high fastball that had too much plate, a mistake.

"The thing that's hurt Mike most of all has been the long ball this year," manager Terry Collins said, "which is very uncharacteristic of his history.

"That's where he's gotten in trouble because he gives you quality innings. I didn't want to have to take him out except all the sudden we're down 4-0 and we're having trouble scoring, I thought I had to hit for him. ... In the first inning, the two-out base on balls obviously [hurt]. But the long ball was what killed him.

"I know every pitcher tries to work on different things, I know Mike's trying to get a cutter. But when he's most successful is when he pounds the bottom of the strike zone. Certainly I know that's what [pitching coach] Dan [Warthen] is trying to get him to do. Stay down in the zone, use the split once in a while, use the curveball, mix 'em up."

So go figure applies to Pelfrey. And Pelfrey cares. But 5-9? His stuff and his resume don't justify those numbers. He and the Mets are perplexed.

"I still think he's got to be our guy," Collins said. 'He's got a proven track record that he's going to give you a lot of innings and he's going to keep you in games, and that's what we need."

"I want to help us win," Pelfrey said. "I know I'm not doing my share. I've gotta put up some zeros."

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