The Mets have buried no team, least of all the self-proclaimed "team to beat." And now their lead in three games -- down from seven, their losing streak is four and, after another troubling defeat Wednesday night, there is considerably more to lament.
The Mets didn't create a margin for victory, much less a margin for what they considered an error -- a final play call by second-base umpire C.B. Bucknor. Consequently, they lost a game and ground to the Phillies and reintroduced tension to the NL East race.
After a 3-2 defeat and a week's worth of hand-wringing, they left Citizens Bank Park with orders to sleep fast and return with purpose, hunger and at least a semblance of the offense that has been missing for four days.
Before Bucknor's call denied the Mets the tying run, awarded the Phillies the 27th out and touched off the Mets' grousing, they hardly had asserted themselves, prompting Randolph to say, "That's what I'm talking about. That's why I harp on it. We score five, six runs like we should have, and we're not talking about this."
But the final play was the only subject in the visitors' angry clubhouse.
"You can't end a game on a call like that," Billy Wagner said. "You can't just say, 'Here it is.'"
The play in question developed after the Mets had put runners on first and third -- Marlon Anderson and Endy Chavez, respectively -- with one out against closer Brett Myers. Pinch-hitter Shawn Green hit a slow ground ball that shortstop Jimmy Rollins charged. Rollins' flip to second baseman Tadahito Iguchi forced Anderson, but left no time for successful relay to first. Chavez crossed the plate.
An instant later, Bucknor ruled Anderson had crossed the line. The former second baseman somehow slid, touched second base with his foot and then barreled toward Iguchi, extending his hands. Iguchi's throw, which would have been late regardless, was off line as well. The Mets thought the score was tied.
"It's obvious that Marlon Anderson went after the second baseman with the intent to break up a double play," crew chief Joe West said.
And the Mets had no quarrel with that.
"It's exactly what I did," Anderson said.
"He did not touch the bag, nor could he have touched the bag -- which has no bearing at all," West said. "The way he slid, C.B. Bucknor, the second-base umpire, called the play as he should [have]. He [Anderson] went out of his way to interfere with the play and that created the interference. C.B. made a great call, a gutsy call and didn't back down. Granted, it's a tough way to lose a game, because there's a lot of tension, but he made the right call. The Mets will see that if they look."
|"You can't end a game on a call like that. You can't just say, 'Here it is.'"|
|-- Billy Wagner, on C.B. Bucknor's interference call|
The Mets had reviewed the play without reading the rules, as had the umpires, and contended Anderson was within the baseline and within the rules.
"They're not used to seeing guys slide that aggressively," Randolph said. "It was a hard takeout slide. Marlon didn't do anything wrong."
"I played second base," Anderson said. "As long as I've been playing, that's a pretty routine play as long as you touch the base. That's the way the game is supposed to be played. I had coaches teach me, tell me, 'If you don't want to get hit [as the second baseman], get behind the base or get out of the way."
"If we're in that situation where we're trailing, obviously to take out second base or shortstop is a must," Iguchi said, through an interpreter. "But at the same time, he used his hands at the end. That made it obvious."
All that aside, the Mets would have made the entire episode academic had they scored a half-dozen runs, something they have needed three games to accomplish in this series. No team this season, the Phillies included, has scored so few runs in three successive games at this "plays small" park. Indeed, not since the Mets scored only four times in three successive games here last August has one team been so unproductive in three games.
The Mets scored two runs for the sixth time in 14 games against the Phillies, games in New York included. They have lost all six and the two in which they scored three times.
David Wright's 24th home run, against winning pitcher Jamie Moyer in the first inning, provided losing pitcher Oliver Perez a 1-0 lead. But Perez surrendered a leadoff home run by Rollins and, two batters later, another home run by the Mets nemesis Pat Burrell, who now has 39 career home runs against the Mets, the most among active players.
It was the run that Burrell drove in with a bases-loaded, one-out sacrifice fly against Perez in the fifth inning, though, that was decisive in the Mets' eighth loss in 14 games against the team Rollins identified as the "team to beat" in the offseason.
And it was the leadoff walk to Moyer that inning that irritated Randolph. In six innings, Perez (12-9) allowed the leadoff batter to reach base five times, three times on walks.
The Mets had tied the score in the fourth on a leadoff double by Carlos Beltran and a one-out single by Carlos Delgado. But they managed six more baserunners before the ninth against Moyer (12-10) and Myers' bullpen predecessors. Moyer had pitched six innings and allowed 10 baserunners. One of his 10 was Jose Reyes, who led off the first with a bunt single, his lone hit in the series. But Reyes was picked off then and again, following a one-out walk in the seventh.
Perez allowed 10 runners, too, five on walks, and struck out 10. He limited the damage in the fifth after Burrell's sacrifice fly by striking out Ryan Howard and Aaron Rowand. But the first inning stood as his -- and the Mets' -- undoing. At least until the ninth inning knocked them down.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.