Perez dominates, outfield shines in win

Perez dominates, outfield shines

NEW YORK -- Their starting pitcher came within two outs of a one-hit shutout. Their homer-happy second baseman provided the bleachers with a souvenir. And their lineup generally abused a previously unbeaten pitcher and steamrolled the team with the best record in the game. And on this day when the Mets asserted themselves to the nth degree, nothing else they did was so compelling as how they defended Shea Stadium's expansive outfield.

Their outfield alignment -- from left to right, Endy Chavez, Carlos Beltran and new man Carlos Gomez -- covered all that acreage as Woodward and Bernstein covered Watergate. The three cleverly moved the foul lines closer together and the warning track closer to the plate and, with the direction of Oliver Perez, defused the same offense that had produced 12 runs on Saturday.

As much as the Mets did offensively in their 9-1 victory against the Brewers on Sunday, it should be noted that Milwaukee scored only because Bill Hall hit a ball beyond the wall. To hit 'em where they ain't, the Brewers had to hit 'em where they couldn't get it.

On a high-sky, breezy Mother's Day that would have made playing the outfield an edgy proposition for anyone, the Mets didn't beat the Brewers so much as they aired them out. Perez achieved 25 outs before the Brewers notched their second hit, which ended the Mets starter's day; 13 of those were fly balls that fell into the gloves of Chavez, Beltran and Gomez. He struck out six batters, leaving the infielders only a half-dozen assignments.

Beltran had as many putouts in center field -- six -- as Julio Franco had at first base.

Damion Easley touched the ball more often as a batter -- three hits, including his two-run home run in the first inning -- than he did at second base, where he combined with the rest of the infield for three assists.

Shea hadn't seen this kind of air show since the days of Sid Fernandez -- or Joe Namath. The only hits Perez allowed in his 8 1/3 innings were in the air as well, a bloop single down the left-field line by opposing pitcher Chris Capuano in the third and Hall's second Mother's Day home run in two years, a solo shot in the ninth.

"We were very busy," said Chavez who handled only two fly balls but made the game's outstanding catch, leaping at the edge of the warning track in left to take an extra-base hit away from Hall in the fourth inning.

Gomez, recalled from Triple-A New Orleans on Saturday night, achieved the final out of the inning on the next play, diving forward in right to catch a sinking line drive hit by Johnny Estrada. He had broken back at first, having initially misjudged the ball.

Beltran ranged back and forth, from gap to gap like a windshield wiper, making more mundane catches. (Actually, there were no gaps on Sunday.)

"I've always wanted to have three center fielders in the same outfield," general manager Omar Minaya said afterward. He recalled a game from his days with the Expos when Pete Bergeron, Chavez and Vladimir Guerrero, center fielders all, lined up left to right, but conceded that, as a threesome, they couldn't match the speed or the arms of the three Mets.

Willie Randolph thought of Whitey's Rabbits -- Vince Coleman, Willie McGee and Andy Van Slyke -- with the Cardinals in the 1980s. They may have matched the Mets' speed in left and center and the skill in right. But as Shea Stadium learned, Coleman as an outfielder was a great base stealer.

"That's as much speed as you're gong to see in one outfield," Randolph said of his three defenders. "We closed the gaps pretty quickly today. I liked the way that looked. I like the way we played."

The Mets, their sense of self soiled on Saturday by a poor performance, played with purpose.

"I think we took it personally when we got spanked," David Wright said.

So the team executed a U-turn on Sunday, beating up Capuano early and burying the Brewers bullpen in their final turn at bat to take the series, 2-1, from a team that had lost just one series previously.

And all the while Perez (4-3, 3.00 ERA) threw fly balls. He didn't pitch a complete game -- Hall's home run with one out in the ninth prompted his departure -- but the Mets nearly played one.

"Did you see us? Did you see all the talent we had on the field at one time?" Billy Wagner asked rhetorically. "I mean we kicked their butts with straight talent -- Ollie, the kid in right field, Reyes. Straight talent. That's how you say it: We out-talented them."

Wagner had participated in a brief bullpen discussion about team speed, i.e., which of four Mets burners -- Reyes and the outfielders -- would run anchor on a 4x100 relay team. Even Reyes defers to Gomez.

The 21-year-old rookie was summoned when the Mets demoted Mike Pelfrey and because Moises Alou's left quadricep is an issue. Whatever the reason, Gomez reached the big leagues -- how else? -- quickly, with just 140 Triple-A at-bats under his belt and fewer than 1,500 Minor League at-bats.

Upon his arrival, Gomez did everything quickly -- a hit and a run in his first at-bat, a second hit, his first stolen base and his second run in the eighth. And his peer-pressure haircut was taken care of within his first three hours in a big-league clubhouse.

"Jose [Reyes] told me, 'Go ahead and play,'" Gomez said. "'Don't be scared.' I liked it. It was a great day for me to be here and have everybody see how I play."

He hadn't played right field in two years, he said. And Shea is a difficult outfield for veteran outfielders. The high sky -- sky-blue pink for Mother's Day -- made it worse. Gomez had five putouts.

"We all did OK," Chavez said.

Perez acknowledged his outfielders -- "You feel safe when they hit fly balls," he said -- as he admitted that the early runs had put him at ease. The Mets scored three times in the first inning and once in the second against Capuano (5-1), who, in seven starts, had allowed one run before the third inning.

They beat him with running and hitting. Wright, who had a career-high three steals, and Reyes, the league's stolen-base leader, swiped bases against Capuano in the first and fourth innings, respectively. No runner had so much as attempted a steal with the Brewers lefty pitching in 39 innings before Sunday. Only seven bases had been stolen against him in his previous 482 innings.

And Capuano had surrendered just two home runs before Easley hit his fifth with Reyes on base in the first. Easley has averaged 10.6 at-bats per home run, a sensational ratio. But his power, Wright's speed, a triple by Reyes and even Perez's polished pitching were obscured, to a degree, by the take-away outfielders.

They took away the gaps, they took away the hits.

And as Minaya said, "They can take your breath away."

Marty Noble is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.