PHOENIX -- For Mike Pelfrey, Saturday was meant to be a therapy session. Discovering two hours before first pitch that a critical comment of his had gone public, Pelfrey took the Chase Field mound aiming to prove his investment in the Mets, their goals and his teammates.
He never really had the chance.
A line drive off Pelfrey's right elbow cut short his start, just when he was beginning to hit a groove. As a result, he watched from the trainer's room as D.J. Carrasco coughed up his lead and the Mets dropped a 6-4 game to the D-backs, their fourth straight defeat.
"Tough day for him today," manager Terry Collins said.
And yet, it didn't have to be so. About two hours prior to first pitch, Pelfrey learned that the New York Post had printed a critical comment he made regarding the state of the franchise, calling it "unrealistic" that the Mets ever had a chance to win the World Series. The Post also quoted an anonymous player citing Pelfrey's statistics, saying that the right-hander was "cutting his own throat."
Collins intended to address those comments after the game. But upon learning of the story from teammate Jason Bay, Pelfrey marched into the manager's office to explain it away. The comments, he said, were not meant to be critical. They were meant to be positive, lauding the Mets for all they have accomplished, in spite of so many circumstances working against them.
So Pelfrey "cleared the air," in his words, then marched outside and took the mound. After an inauspicious start led to two quick runs in the first inning, Pelfrey quickly settled down. He struck out two during a perfect second inning and escaped a small jam in the third. He then mowed down the side in order in the fourth.
But leading off the fifth inning with a 4-2 Mets lead, D-backs outfielder Gerardo Parra drilled a liner directly off Pelfrey's elbow, bringing Collins, pitching coach Dan Warthen and trainer Ray Ramirez to the mound. Pelfrey argued to stay in the game, but didn't prevail. But in doing so, he displayed precisely the sort of credibility that he feared he had lost.
"We know what kind of guy he is, and we know what kind of teammate he is," third baseman David Wright said. "I speak for the entire clubhouse when I say that we have his back. He's a guy that you want taking the ball every fifth day. The guy takes a line drive off his pitching elbow and wants to stay in the game -- that's the kind of guy you want out there pitching for you."
In Pelfrey's absence, Carrasco took the mound, plunking a batter before serving up Ryan Roberts' go-ahead, three-run homer. Though the Mets touched D-backs starter Daniel Hudson for two runs on Ruben Tejada's double in the second inning, and got another two on Mike Baxter's triple and Pelfrey's single in the fourth, Hudson allowed nothing else over eight efficient innings.
"I noticed early on, they were swinging pretty early in the count and swinging at a lot of pitches," Hudson said, "so I was just trying to make quality pitches and get the team off the field as quickly as possible."
Pelfrey, for different reasons, wanted to stay on the field as much as possible. Despite earning the support of his teammates, the right-hander naturally felt compelled to prove all that he could in the span of one game. And he came close to doing so, featuring some of his best stuff of the season throughout the early innings.
That Parra's line drive knocked him out on this day, of all days, was his ultimate regret.
"It was unfortunate that it had to end like that," Pelfrey said, "that it had to end early."
Pelfrey has not left a start often this season feeling positive about what he accomplished on the mound, leading Collins to say before the game that Pelfrey's comments may simply have been a product of his frustrating season.
"Had he pitched like he had last year," Collins said, "he probably wouldn't have those same feelings."
Nearly an All-Star, Pelfrey endured one poor month in 2010, but finished with a career low in ERA and career highs in innings and strikeouts. He entered Spring Training as the de-facto ace of this pitching staff, before stumbling out to a 6-9 record and a 4.53 ERA through 25 starts.
He blames much of that on the expectations he placed on himself.
"After last year, as good as it went, I came out and I tried to be better," Pelfrey said. "I almost tried to force it. I think that's where I got into trouble."
Now, Pelfrey is looking to escape those sour feelings -- both in the clubhouse and on the field. In that regard, Saturday was a cleansing sort of day.
"We've played as hard as any team in baseball for four months," Collins said. "But you know what? That four months can be forgotten if we don't finish strong."