Mets' win equally dramatic and improbable
Beset by injuries, New York rallies to defeat Boston
BOSTON -- All of the reasonable, rational factors were pointing toward a New York Mets defeat on Saturday night. So they were pretty much a lock to win.
The Mets were battered and bruised and in Boston. True, they had beaten the Red Sox in the opener of Interleague Play on Friday night, but a lot of that was the incomparable Johan Santana simply refusing to lose. He can do that. Not many other pitchers can.
As you looked around Fenway Park at the team that the Mets put on the field, you had to notice that they were playing without their planned regulars at six positions. They have been beset by injuries, some long-term, some short-term, some of indeterminate duration. One way or another, they were seriously short-handed while playing a team that was 16-5 at home.
It got worse before it got better. The Mets were down a run from the bottom of the first inning through the eighth. Mike Pelfrey settled in nicely after the first inning, but Boston's Josh Beckett had regained his better form, and the Mets' offense was getting nowhere.
The ninth inning came, and with it Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon, a perfect 11-of-11 in save opportunities this season, and throwing 97 mph. The veteran Gary Sheffield worked Papelbon for a walk, but then he got two strikeouts. Up came catcher Omir Santos, who was deep in the organizational depth chart at the start of this campaign, and who arrived at this moment with 72 big league at-bats.
Only one of those at-bats had produced a home run, but manager Jerry Manuel liked Santos' chances against Papelbon's power pitching because Santos has a short stroke. Santos, for his part, carried a thought to the plate with him -- first-pitch fastball.
"He throws hard," Santos said. "You can't wait for anything else."
Good thinking. Santos got that first-pitch fastball, put the compact swing on it and hit a towering drive to the top of the Green Monster. Santos was taking no chances.
"I was running as fast as I could so I could get into scoring position," he said.
That looked like another wise decision when the hit was initially ruled to be in play. But the ball had hit off the top of the wall, above the red line marking a home run. The umpires used the replay review, correctly changed the call and the Mets led, 3-2.
The drama was hardly over at that point. The bottom of the ninth, a one-run lead, that's the territory of Francisco Rodriguez, one of the game's premier closers. But he wasn't available because of back spasms. In came J.J. Putz, who had been unavailable the previous night due to a stiff neck. Do the ouches never stop with these fellows?
Putz gave up a leadoff walk in the Boston ninth, but nothing more. It is worth noting, however, that the final out was recorded on a fine play by fill-in shortstop Ramon Martinez, who committed two errors on Friday night and had not looked good in the process. On Saturday night, Martinez made several nifty defensive plays and was as responsible as any single player for this victory.
Manuel had defended Martinez after Friday night's performance, saying that he was regarded as sure-handed and dependable, but after surgery this spring for a sports hernia, simply had not had enough playing time this year to be sharp. That sounded like an excuse on Friday night, but on Saturday night, it seemed a completely valid explanation. Welcome back to the Major Leagues, Ramon Martinez.
So what you wound up with here is a victory that became even more heartening than improbable. The Mets -- banged up, short-handed, missing key players, on the road against one of baseball's best teams at home -- found a way to win.
"It's a huge win for us," Manuel said. "That's huge, in the shape that we're in right now, especially."
"This is probably the biggest win for us all year," Sheffield said, adding that there was no point in thinking about all the Mets who were unable to play.
"You've got to play with what you've got," he said. "When you compete, anything can happen. You can go out there and get embarrassed every night because you're worrying about the guys who aren't here, as opposed to going out and competing with what we've got. We have good players here; we have good enough players to win."
The Mets who were physically able to compete certainly did so on Saturday night. They produced enough pitching, enough hitting, enough defense to win in a manner that was convincing, dramatic and even sort of heartwarming, all at the same time. They turned the improbable into the victorious, always a transformation that is worth watching.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.