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Mets draw a blank vs. Santana

Mets draw a blank vs. Santana

NEW YORK -- The New York Mets, the still-in-first-place-despite-all-that's-happened New York Mets, would like to make this perfectly clear: their performance Tuesday night, as unbecoming and inadequate as it was, was not a return to the unsightly baseball they played last week in Los Angeles and, before that, in Detroit.

They would like the world to know that losing as they did, by the score of a forfeit to the Twins, was a loss with no connection to any of the 12 -- in 16 games -- that preceded it, that the 9-0 Interleague defeat was merely a rejection by the Twins rather that a relapse by the still-in-first-place-despite-all-that's-happened New York Mets.

Connected or not, this one looked as ragged as any of the 30 losses that preceded it in this increasingly schizophrenic season. A team that produces as many hits as it commits errors (four), that draws no walks in nine innings and whose starting pitcher is removed after achieving merely 10 outs -- well, that team can't look anything but ragged.

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And playing against the fundamentally-sound Twins only made if look worse, if that were possible.

But the Mets are certain they didn't take a step back Tuesday night. They just got ambushed by the Twins and Johan Santana and that, for good measure, they shot themselves in the foot four times, too. These games happen, they said.

"We would have lost this game if we were in the middle of a hot streak," Shawn Green said.

But this one, their 13th defeat in 17 games, happened in what they must hope is the end of a sequence of unthinkable losing. And it certainly did bear resemblance to some of the uglier ones this season. Twice previously the Mets had lost by nine runs, though in each instance, they scored. Three times before Tuesday, including twice last week, they drew no walks. Once previously, they had fewer than four hits. They had been shut out once previously, but lost by merely three runs. But in no game had they committed more than two errors.

Pat Zachry, the Mets pitcher from the late '70s and early '80s, used to liken such performances -- and there were many in his Mets tenure -- to a particular General Motors product. It was spelled B-u-i-c-k. Zachry pronounced it as if he were sick to his stomach -- byu-ik.

But the Mets are sure their 17th loss in 35 games at Shea Stadium was not related to their other flawed performance in this swoon in June.

"I think we snapped out of it [Monday] night," Green said. "I don't think how we played tonight reflects anything real bad. We fell behind a very good pitcher early. When a pitcher like Santana has a seven-run lead, he pretty much has all the cards."

Santana (7-6) used them expertly and pitched the first complete game against the Mets this season. He dealt from the top of the deck, challenging them with fastballs and using the dimensions of Shea Stadium to his advantage. The Mets feared his slider and devastating changeup late in the count, so they took their chances with early-in-the-count fastballs designed to avoid the sweet spots on their bats.

So 13 of the Mets' 31 batters saw one or two pitches. Santana threw 92 pitches, never more than 14 in an inning. He challenged his own outfielders as much as he challenged the Mets. He struck out one, but achieved 12 out of fly balls to the outfield, seven of which reached or almost reached the warning track. Four other batters lined out to infielders.

"Not this wasn't a relapse," Paul Lo Duca said. "It was a very frustrating game. What did we hit, 15 balls to the warning track and a couple of other at 'em balls?"

Indeed, the Mets were encouraged by the 30 at-bats the produced four singles.

"After the way we hit the ball [Monday] night," David Wright said, "and the contact we made tonight, I think we're moving forward."

Manager Willie Randolph had a similar sense of it.

The reversal in the Mets' season continued nonetheless. They won 11 of the first 14 games in which they were opposed by a left-handed starter. Now, they have lost eight straight in games started by Cole Hamels, Barry Zito, Santana and their left-handed brethren.

But this loss had as much to do with flawed defense and the break-don't-bend pitching of Jorge Sosa. As poorly as the Mets have performed of late, they have thrown and caught the ball with some degree of precision in the majority of their games.

That hardly was the case early. Carlos Delgado (in the first inning), Carlos Beltran (in the second) and Wright (in the fourth and fifth) made errors. The Mets hadn't committed so many errors in one game since July 18, 2003, when they committed five.

Sosa (6-3) hardly was up to that challenge. He surrendered eight hits -- some well-struck, some well-placed -- and walked two. The Twins scored five runs (all earned) in the second and two in the fourth (neither earned).

But the Mets made it clear: what happened Tuesday was not related to their poor play of last week. They were sure they put an end to that Monday night. Indeed, Wright characterized that performance as "flawless."

FYI: the Mets' performance Tuesday night wasn't connected to Monday night, either.

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

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