One mistake dooms Johan, Mets in finale

One mistake dooms Johan, Mets in finale

NEW YORK -- It was not a particularly poor pitch that Johan Santana delivered to Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira: 91 mph, low in the zone, perhaps even a bit inside.

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"If it's 94, 95," catcher Rod Barajas said, "he doesn't come close to doing what he did."

What Teixeira did, though, made all the difference. Dropping the barrel of his bat, he powered it just over the left-field wall for a winning grand slam on Sunday, scoring the only runs in a 4-0 Mets loss to the Yankees.

In doing so, Teixeira also hit upon the recent transformation in Santana's game.

In recent years, with more velocity, Teixeira might have fouled off that fastball, popped it up or swung right through it. But not Sunday. In the finale of the Subway Series at Yankee Stadium, Teixeira squared up Santana's pitch just enough, muscling it out of the park for a slam.

And that was no isolated incident. Though prior to this year with the bases loaded, opposing hitters were 18-for-74 (.243) with two grand slams against Santana, they are now 4-for-6 with three slams this season. Most of that, Barajas said, can be attributed to the fact that Santana, now 31, is operating at slower speeds than ever before.

"He's not striking out as many guys as he normally does," Barajas said."When he could reach back and throw that 94 or 95 mile-per-hour fastball like it was nothing, that made it a lot easier."

Now, Santana must increasingly rely upon impeccable location -- something, to his credit, he has done quite well over the first three months of this season. He is 5-4 with a 3.31 ERA for a reason.

But when Teixeira jerks a fastball into the left-field seats, losing a game for the Mets, the weak points in Santana's game draw more scrutiny. Such is the life of an ace.

"I was trying to throw a fastball inside, but he put a good swing on it," Santana said. "I knew at all times that we had to keep the ball down, but he just hit it well enough."

It was, by any account, a frustrating third inning for a pitcher who did not do much wrong. After the Yankees put their first two runners on base with a clean single to left and an infield hit, Nick Swisher surprised the Mets with a bunt down the first-base line.

Ike Davis, who waited to see how Santana would react before fielding the ball, had only enough time to field, whirl and fire to first base. There, Santana and second baseman Ruben Tejada both attempted to cover, colliding at the same moment that Davis' throw arrived.

The resulting bunt single loaded the bases for Teixeira, who swung through a low changeup before muscling Santana's 91-mph fastball over the fence.

"I thought it was a good enough pitch," Barajas said. "Unfortunately, the ball went about four or five inches farther than we wanted it to."

Compounding the matter was the fact that the Mets could do nothing against Yankees starter CC Sabathia, who fired eight innings of shutout, four-hit ball. Had a 22-minute rain delay not forced Sabathia to the bench, he might have finished off the Mets himself. As it was, Mariano Rivera came in to mow down Angel Pagan, David Wright and Davis in order. And the Mets lost consecutive games for the first time this month, after winning each of their previous seven.

"Just because we lose a couple games doesn't mean that we're done," said Santana, who lasted six innings, allowing eight hits, a walk and the four earned runs. "We've been playing great baseball. We just played against a great team and we felt pretty good. Now we're going back home to hopefully start all over again."

In two series against their Subway Series rivals this season, the Mets finished 3-3.

"They are playing great, they really are, and they played us extremely tough these six games," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "There are no bragging rights until next year, unless we're both fortunate to see each other a little later."

To have World Series aspirations, of course, the Mets must begin to win with more consistency. Reeling off long winning streaks does not help the Mets much if they topple at the end of them, as they did following a separate eight-game streak in April.

This week's slate against the Tigers and Twins -- two teams with playoff aspirations of their own -- will dictate whether or not the Mets can avoid a similar fate. On one side of the scale, they left the Bronx on Sunday frustrated that they couldn't win with Mike Pelfrey or Santana on the hill. On the other side, they departed with a 7-2 road trip in their pocket.

"If you would have told me that before the road trip started," Wright said, "I would have signed up for that."

They all would.

"When you look at it and put it into that perspective," manager Jerry Manuel agreed, "you have to take it."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.