NEW YORK -- Five years, one month and three weeks ago, Mike Pelfrey allowed three runs in five innings in his Major League debut against the Marlins. The Mets supported him with 17 runs of their own. Pelfrey recorded his first big league win.
Sixteen times since that day, Pelfrey has faced the division-rival Marlins. Sixteen times he has come up empty. The right-hander's latest disappointment occurred Tuesday in a 6-0 loss at Citi Field, in which he walked four batters, allowed four runs and ran his personal losing streak against the Marlins to eight, with eight no-decisions.
Over the past five years, it is a statistic that has evolved from curiosity to oddity to downright problem.
"Maybe I'm cursed, I don't know," Pelfrey said. "I'm at a loss for words for it."
Adding to Tuesday's misfortune was the fact that, for much of the evening, Pelfrey seemed primed to snap out of his Fish-facing funk. Retiring the first five batters (three of them on ground balls and one on a strikeout), Pelfrey held the Marlins to two hits and a walk over his first five innings. He continued cruising until the sixth, when he escaped from his first real jam of the day after loading the bases on a two-out single and two walks.
But a few minutes on the dugout bench did not cure his sudden ills. After Pelfrey allowed a double and a walk to the first two batters of the seventh inning, Mets manager Terry Collins called for a wheel play against Marlins pitcher Javier Vazquez, a play designed to retire the lead baserunner on a bunt attempt. The wheel depends upon the second baseman covering first to ensure at least one out.
But Justin Turner instead crept toward second base in an attempt to draw a pickoff throw. Despite noticing him, Pelfrey did not throw to second or step off the rubber, instead delivering a pitch. Vazquez bunted. David Wright fielded. No one covered first.
"I've got to be over there," said Turner, expressing the minority opinion in the clubhouse.
"I screwed it up," Pelfrey said. "Anytime an infielder gives an open glove, you're supposed to pick. And if not, step off."
"Nobody really did anything wrong," Wright said. "On that specific play, it's just everything that could go wrong did go wrong. It's just a shame, because Pelfrey really threw the ball well. He definitely didn't deserve a loss, much less all those runs."
Those runs came after Tim Byrdak entered, allowed one on Greg Dobbs' groundout, and after an intentional walk to Mike Stanton, gave up Logan Morrison's game-breaking two-run single. Stanton later added an opposite-field homer off D.J. Carrasco to the second deck in right field, becoming the first right-handed batter to reach that spot at Citi Field.
Vazquez, meanwhile, was experiencing none of the problems of his counterpart, limiting the Mets to three hits and a walk over seven innings. After putting runners on the corners with one out in the first, Vazquez retired the next 13 batters he faced in succession, and 20 of his final 22.
"Classic way to win: Get good pitching and good hitting," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. "That's the ingredients."
The first four runs of the evening were all charged to Pelfrey, who is now 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA, with 12 strikeouts and 17 walks in five starts against the Marlins this season. Since beating them in his big league debut, Pelfrey is 0-8 with a 5.28 ERA against the Fish. Against all other teams, he possesses a winning record.
It is a statistical oddity that is equal parts luck, execution and exasperation. Certainly, Pelfrey has not pitched poorly in every one of his last 16 starts against the Marlins, seven times delivering quality starts. But when he pitches well, the Mets do not score enough runs to back him. When he pitches poorly, the Mets seemingly have no chance.
"I'm lucky in my debut that we scored 17," Pelfrey cracked. "Otherwise it might be 17 [in a row.]"
Yet most of Tuesday seemed better for Pelfrey, whose good nights this season have been few and far between. Pitching at a noticeably quicker tempo than he has in recent games, Pelfrey pounded the strike zone early before surrendering his command in the middle innings.
"His tempo or rhythm ... it was really, really good until we got him in a jam, and obviously his pitch count was very, very high," Collins said. "And now you're susceptible to hanging stuff and getting stuff up in the zone, and that's what ended up happening."
"Sometimes he out-thinks himself," Wright said. "He stands on the mound, and you see him kind of look around and take too long between pitches."
Certainly, against the Marlins, Pelfrey has taken too long between wins.
"Obviously it's frustrating," he said. "Sixteen starts against one team -- they have my number, to say the least."