Johan sharp, but Mets blanked by Phils
Offense unable to solve Blanton, support ace in finale
PHILADELPHIA -- With every good intention, Daniel Murphy began to track the baseball as it rose from the bat of Jayson Werth in the seventh inning. From his first base position, he drifted back into the outfield grass almost straddling the foul line, arms outstretched, though not to signal his colleagues that the play was his. Instead, he was signaling alarm. He had lost sight of it. He thought to cover his head. And an instant later, when right fielder Ryan Church made the catch some 80 feet from him, Murphy thought to cover his red face.
Unintentionally, unwittingly and unhappily, Murphy had provided more ammo for fans who chronicle his defensive travails and for his comic colleagues in the clubhouse who undoubtedly will recall his miscalculation a few hundred times -- just as soon as the Mets win another game or two.
But not Sunday, not after what the Mets had endured at the hands of the Phillies over the weekend. Even the most benign mention of the play would have been out of place in a clubhouse that was virtually devoid of the faintest grin. Nothing was funny to them; scoring nothing was unfunny and winning nothing was worse.
On Wimbledon weekend, the Mets had triple-faulted, lost in straight sets -- 7-2, 4-1 and 2-0 -- and eliminated humor for at least the first dozen miles of their Philly-to-Flushing bus ride. Mostly because the National League schedule demanded it, they took their ball and went home, anticipating a day free from baseball and fowl thoughts. If only the All-Star break could begin this Monday, not next. The Mets need a break.
They need a few days when not hitting won't cost them a few games, when not playing well won't matter. It mattered much Sunday when they offered flat-line resistance against the team that often has served as motivation for them. The result of insufficient runs was to be subjected to a three-game sweep for the fifth time this season -- among National League teams, only the Nationals have been swept more often -- and to put their record three games below .500 for the second time. And now, even the standings offer little solace. They Mets are tied for third place and once again four games behind.
And worse, the Mets lost with Johan Santana pitching and providing a performance quite consistent with his summer resume. After an ugly June -- it was the worst month of his career -- Santana hinted that he might be ready for his usual second-half roll by allowing three hits in seven innings. But two were home runs by Jimmy Rollins, on Santana's second pitch, and Chase Utley, five innings later. Hence, Santana lost for the fifth time in seven starts, the seventh time in 16 decisions this season and the first time, after four victories, in nine career starts against the Phillies.
"I did my best to keep us in the game," Santana said.
The Mets play their next three games against the Dodgers, the team with the best record in the game.
"It doesn't get any easier," is how David Wright put it.
Wright was responsible for two of the eight strikeouts by winning pitcher Joe Blanton (5-4) and his followers and one of the ground-ball double plays that defused the Mets' most serious threats. Before Brad Lidge struck out the side in the ninth, the Mets had multiple baserunners in an inning twice, in the sixth and eighth. Wright put his GIDP total at seven in the sixth, and Fernando Tatis put his at 11 as a pinch-hitter in the eighth.
"For us to score, I have to swing the bat better," Wright said, carrying more weight than he should for the team's plight. He was hitless in 11 at-bats in the series. He has five hits in his 41 most recent at-bats. Manager Jerry Manuel wanted to rest him last week, but sensed he couldn't. Alex Cora noted the off-day Monday had been "perfectly timed."
Little else involving the Mets has the scent of perfection now that they have reached the midpoint of their season. Their record is 39-42; their first 21 losses came in 49 games; the next 21 came in 32 games. And no one can say for certain that Carlos Beltran or Jose Reyes will return before another 21 losses accumulate at a rapid pace.
Manuel tried to find positives in the Sunday defeat. Santana's pitching and eight errorless innings qualified. But, before Sunday, Blanton had allowed 101 hits in 88 2/3 innings and the Phillies had lost his five most recent starts. The Mets bunched their four hits against him in 7 1/3 innings. One was a sacrifice bunt attempt by Santana that bounced in their favor. One was a Baltimore chop by Luis Castillo, another was a Castillo infield hit. Jeremy Reed reached the outfield with a single.
So the Mets became the first visiting team with no extra-base hits in consecutive games at Citizens Bank Park and the first team with no home runs in three successive games here since last August.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.