Banged-up Mets take down Dodgers
Valentin joins ranks of injured with fractured tibia in win
LOS ANGELES -- While the Mets wait for the return of Moises Alou and Endy Chavez and fret about the renewed misfortune of Jose Valentin, they seem to be rehabilitating their resolve. As their 100th game approaches, they are anything but whole. At the same time, though, they are putting aside their bumps, bruises, breaks and band aids and playing with a renewed sense of purpose.Including their 4-1 victory against the Dodgers on Friday night, they have won six of nine games since the All-Star break, and they have demonstrated resolve and resilience as they did when they were at their best last season. Even in their loss to the Padres on Wednesday, they showed some gumption. And though they never trailed in victories against the Dodgers on Thursday and Friday, they did overcome adversity. The hard and cold slap in the face on Friday night came four innings before a two-run home run by Carlos Beltran against Roberto Hernandez secured a victory for Oliver Perez. Valentin suffered an injury that almost certainly will end his season and conceivably could end his time with the Mets. A foul ball from his own bat fractured his right tibia in the fourth inning. The veteran second baseman, who was assigned to the disabled for most of the first half of the season, left the ballpark on crutches and with a Saturday morning appointment to have a brace affixed to right leg. The Mets' preliminary prognosis -- a six-week absence -- seemed overly optimistic. But Valentin was hoping he'd be recovered and able to play in the postseason. He did preface some of what he said with "if." At age 37, he is familiar with reality.
"I just hope we're in it ... to give me a target," he said. "We're playing better now. So who knows?"The victory extended the Mets' lead over the second-place Braves to 3 1/2 games in the National League East. Moreover, it bolstered this team's sense of self.
"It's not there quite yet," Willie Randolph said. "But we're gradually getting there."The steps in the proper direction on Friday night were at the expense of one their former comrades. Hernandez, who played for each of Randolph's first two teams, just joined the Dodgers' overworked bullpen. He pitched in the Mets 13-9 victory on Thursday with little at stake. He was entrusted with a tie score in the eighth inning on Friday and surrendered three runs before he retired a batter. Jose Reyes had led off the eighth with double. A sacrifice bunt attempt by Marlon Anderson led to a throwing error by Hernandez that allowed Anderson to score. Beltran then hit his 18th home run, his sixth with one runner on base.
"Very quick, very powerful," said Billy Wagner, who quickly and powerfully disposed of the Dodgers in the ninth inning for his 21st save after Perez, Joe Smith and Pedro Feliciano survived a somewhat nervous eighth.Perez (9-6) had allowed five hits and three walks in the first seven innings, offsetting the work of Dodgers starter Brett Tomko who had allowed one run, unearned, in six innings. He retired on batter but allowed a single by Russell Martin. Smith was summoned, and he surrendered a single by Jeff Kent. Feliciano extricated the Mets, retiring Luis Gonzalez and Nomar Garciaparra. "It felt like how we won a lot last year," Beltran said. "We played a good game and beat a good team. We're feeling better about ourselves. The Mets had scored in the first inning against Tomko, courtesy of the Dodgers' first error. Left fielder Gonzalez and center fielder Juan Pierre nearly collided, chasing Anderson's one-out fly ball in the gap. When Gonzalez ducked away at the last instant, the ball struck Pierre in the chest. And Anderson reached second on the error. Tomko struck out Beltran, but David Wright singled to center for the run in a situation -- runners in scoring position and two out -- in which the Mets rarely have prospered this season. Garciaparra hit his third home run -- the 13th allowed by Perez -- in the second. Then the teams that had scored 22 runs and amassed 35 hits one night earlier went silent. They played with the kind of positive tension that contending teams should produce. "A better brand of baseball," said Randolph while acknowledging not all the kinks are out.
The manager was more than a tad uncomfortable with a play in the seventh after Perez, trying to sacrifice a runner to second base with one out, bunted into a force play. But then, as if inspired by Orlando Hernandez's recent baserunning exploits, Perez took a long lead and broke for second. He was the third out and the reason Randolph stared into space."I guess," the manager said, "we can't do everything right."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.