Wagner's off-night a rare sight to behold

Wagner's off-night a rare sight

NEW YORK -- There's been a tinge of imperfection swirling through Billy Wagner's apparent precision over the past two weeks. Yet, in a game where it's the ends -- and most certainly not the means -- that matter, nobody seemed to care. A save is a save, and one's as good as the next.

Wagner had been racking up those saves, and that's all that counted. There's no stat for harrowing saves, nothing that signifies blood-pressure levels rising as the drama grows.

But there is a stat for blown saves. And now, Wagner has another.

The Mets closer coughed up the tying and winning runs in the ninth inning on Friday, spoiling another strong outing from Brian Lawrence, a feel-good return by Carlos Beltran and a string of perfection for the lefty himself. By the time the Marlins closed out the Mets a half-inning later to seal the 4-3 loss, none of those things mattered.

And Wagner knew that more than anyone.

"We got to win this game, there's no doubt about it," Wagner said. "It's one of those games you hate to go out there and have your bad night."

Bad night, singular. The loss marked just Wagner's second blown save of the year, and his first in over two months. He doesn't do this often, plain and simple. So when he does, it stings with the added venom of unexpectedness.

The big blow -- Hanley Ramirez's two-run double just over the shoulder of a retreating Beltran -- came only after Miguel Olivo singled through the infield to open the inning.

"I don't know what pitches to throw to him; he's hit about everything," Wagner said. "A .230 hitter's hitting .600 off me. So it's difficult to say. Of course you don't want to walk him, but you don't want to give up any hits, either."

He did, and now Olivo's average off Wagner stands even higher at .667. But the real damage didn't come until the lefty walked pinch-hitter Jason Wood with one out, putting the winning run on base for Ramirez.

Three batters later, the inning was over, but the damage was done. One of the National League's worst teams had just cut down one of its best closers.

The loss also robbed one of its best hitters from what could have been a day to remember. Beltran, on the disabled list since last month with a strained left oblique, returned with a bang, parlaying the game-time decision to insert him in the lineup into a go-ahead, three-run home run in the fifth. Beltran had expressed doubt all week as to whether or not he'd be ready to play anytime soon, but with one swing, he nearly erased all of it.

"From the left side, I've been saying that I feel good," Beltran said. "It felt great. Even though we lost, I'm happy that I'm back."

Lawrence was another Met happy to be back, his season debut last week earning him a second start against the Marlins. And after a rocky start -- six hits in the first two innings led to two quick runs -- Lawrence settled down to give his team the six quality innings that it needed. He wasn't totally sharp, allowing eight hits in all, but none of those knocks went for extra bases.

And scattered singles can only do so much harm.

"I can deal with that, giving up singles," Lawrence said. "I didn't really change a lot. I got through those two innings and things started going my way."

Lawrence gave way to Jorge Sosa, who mowed through six straight Marlins. And that put a lead in the hands of Wagner, who hadn't allowed a run in 20 consecutive appearances entering Friday's game.

He had, seemingly, been automatic, sandwiching his lone blown save with two separate strings of 13 straight. He went all of July without allowing a run, and he was a third of the way toward doing the same in August.

Yet, despite all that recent success, Wagner had endured some underlying struggles while stringing up zeroes. On Wednesday, he loaded the bases with Braves before finally nailing down the final out. And over his past four outings, he's allowed two hits in three of them -- but never a run, until now.

"Billy's been unbelievable for us this year," said manager Willie Randolph. "But not tonight."

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