The optimist in me wants to just say, "It's only one game. There's two more against the Phillies, the Mets can take two out of three and be back in first place." But the reality is, this is just what happened last year - late comebacks by the Phillies finished the Mets, and they still really haven't recovered.
The pessimist in me, the one who realizes this is one of the most frustrating seasons in recent Mets history, and the one who feels like it might end in disappointment, says Tuesday night's game was the one the Mets needed to have, because it was their ace on the mound, and it was supposed to set the tone against the Phillies.
"But wait," says the optimist. "Remember the fourth of July? The first of four in Philadelphia? The Mets were supposed to win that one, too, and set the tone. They lost that Santana start, and all that did was spur them on to a 10-game winning streak...and that loss was a game the Phillies also won in their final at-bat. And the Mets are still 7-4 against Philly this year."
So I guess all is not lost - but it certainly puts the Mets in a bad spot tonight losing in the fashion they did last night. Especially since it's unknown whether Billy Wagner will be available again, and no one showed the ability to slam the door at the end of last night's game.
In part, I blame Johan Santana. Earlier this year, I wrote how it was part of what a smart pitcher Santana is that he knows his limitations as a pitcher, and isn't always pushing himself to the point of bodily harm to go that extra inning. Well, I'm starting to realize that maybe he could push himself once in a while, especially in what he called his "biggest game with the Mets", and on a night when the Mets knew they didn't have their closer (as unreliable as he is). (In this, I agree with what Tim Smith wrote in the New York Daily News - you can check it out here.)
OK, so Santana threw 105 pitches. He threw 75 of them for strikes - he probably wouldn't have thrown a ton more in the ninth, the way he was throwing, and if he got into trouble, then you turn to the bullpen.
You can also blame the defense - Jose Reyes made a bad play trying to get a force at second on a slow grounder with the bases loaded. In that situation you have to get the sure out - that's the benefit of a 3-run lead. Instead, the Phillies kept the bases loaded, and had no one out forever in the ninth inning. And of course the bullpen gets its share of the blame. (I'm not sure why Aaron Heilman wasn't the choice to start the inning, or Joe Smith - both do well against righties and lefties. Maybe because Duaner Sanchez had closed before....but I didn't like that Smith only faced one batter.)
But for a change, you couldn't blame the offense in a Johan Santana start. 5 runs isn't a ton, but it was enough last night. And they could have added more if it weren't for some good defensive plays by the Phillies, where you just have to tip your cap. Chase Utley laid out for a liner to end an inning with the bases loaded, and Endy Chavez was nailed at the plate twice - once from left, once from right - you have to take your chances with his speed on the basepaths, so I don't blame him at all.
The pressure is on John Maine tonight. The last time he faced this situation, he pitched well, and then left the game with that arm cramp. What the Mets need is a win in game two against Philadelphia. Then, and only then, will Tuesday night's game become "only one game".
METS KILLERS: It dawned on me last night that the Phillies have definitely built their team a bit around players who do well against the Mets. They have Pat Burrell, who has been killing the Mets on a Chipper Jones-like pace his whole career. Then they traded for Joe Blanton, partly because of his career record against the Mets (in limited starts, granted) - in two previous starts he hadn't allowed a run to New York. And then there's So Taguchi, who was one of the reasons the Mets lost to St. Louis in 2006, and he had a huge pinch-hit in the 9th inning last night. Perhaps this was common knowledge to others, but I just realized it last night watching Blanton and later Saguchi.
TRADE UPDATE: Great move for Arizona picking up Jon Rauch. I'm not sure what their setup situation has been, but if they move Rauch in to the setup position for Brandon Lyon, that's where he's most comfortable. And if they need him to close, for whatever reason, he's proven he's more than capable of doing that. Now that they're back to .500 the Diamondbacks might as well be the team to come out of the NL West...and Rauch will certainly help. (Although this young second baseman they traded away seems like a good pickup for Washington - apparently he's very fast, with a good batting average and on-base percentage. Seems like he'll be a good leadoff hitter, and could be a big part of their future...worth keeping an eye on. He was sent to Triple-A.)