BY JOE RINI
If the recent 7 and 4 homestand with its Johan Santana no-hitter seemed like a magic carpet ride, the start of the current nine game road trip must have felt like a three hour commute to work for the New York Mets. Several late inning defensive lapses contributed to losses in five of six games against the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees before Terry Collins’ crew rebounded to take the opener against the Rays at Tampa on Tuesday in a resounding 11 to 2 victory.
Solid starting pitching and clutch hitting (the Mets lead the majors in two-out runs) have keyed their early season success, but even such attributes can fall short if the defense suffers. As Manager Terry Collins stated after the Yankees edged the Mets 5 to 4 on Sunday, “We aren’t the kind of club that can make a lot of mistakes, and when you give teams as good as the New York Yankees, or anybody else in the big leagues, multiple-out innings, they’re going to get you.”
However, after giving up two quick runs to Tampa in the first inning, righthander Chris Young gutted his way into the sixth inning as he gave the Mets a chance to catch up as they scored six runs in the seventh inning enroute to a season high 11 runs, earning Young his first win in his second start since returning from last year’s season ending shoulder surgery. Ike Davis provided cause for optimism as he crushed a three home run and rookies Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Jordany Valdespin batted at the top of the lineup and combined for five hits and five runs as Valdespin added a career high four RBI.
In the wake of recent struggles by reliever Jon Rauch in the setup role, Terry Collins announced prior to Tuesday’s game that reliever Bobby Parnell would see more eighth inning setup
opportunities while 41-year-old Miguel Batista would also assume more of a late inning role. Additional bullpen help could be a few weeks away as Jenrry Mejia begins working in relief for Triple-A Buffalo as he continues his comeback from Tommy John surgery.
Mets enter play on Wednesday with a record of 33 and 29, in third place, one game out of second, and five games behind the division leading Nationals. With a record of 9 and 1, R.A. Dickey is tied for the National League lead in wins. Lucas Duda has hit five home runs in his last 12 games and Scott Hairston is batting .406 with five home runs since May 24. Leftfielder Jason Bay returned to the lineup this past weekend after being disabled on April 24. The Mets return to Citi Field on Friday June 15 to start a nine game homestand against the Reds, Orioles, and Yankees.