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Mets unable to shake Phillies' hex

Mets unable to shake Phillies' hex

NEW YORK -- Their process of elimination has been stalled beyond any reasonable anticipation. The Mets have allowed tension and doubt to seep back into the National League East race. A lead that was seven games and growing Wednesday night has been halved in four days. If not for their own stumble, perhaps the Mets might hear the steps of the Phillies.

With 14 games remaining in their season -- none against the second-place team in the division -- the Mets are not all that concerned with the Phillies. Whatever their anxiety is, it is a by-product of their own dreadful performance Sunday and the three-game sweep that resulted. For now, they're worried primarily about themselves.

The Mets fell flat and, in the words of David Wright, embarrassed themselves in a game that they considered less than critical but more meaningful than most. They understood that the 10-6 pasting they'd endured was bad enough on its own merits -- or demerits. But what made it worse was that they knew they were far more responsible for it than were the Phillies.

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A pinch-hit grand slam by Greg Dobbs in the sixth inning did them in. But what directly preceded Dobbs' home run were three of the 11 walks the Mets surrendered and one of the six errors they committed.

"They just took what we gave them," Wright said. "And we gave them a lot."

This remarkable defeat -- the Mets were incredulous about it -- came replete with the errors, the walks, a hit batsman, four unearned runs, more mindless execution and enough bad karma to fill Ryan Howard's uniform.

"[That was] as ugly a game as I've ever been a part of or watched," Tom Glavine said. "I don't know that there's ever a right time for a performance like this, but it certainly wasn't today."

And coming as it did after unsettling losses Friday and Saturday and the sweep in Philadelphia in late August, the Mets clearly are less sure of themselves than they were following their "right-the-ship" sweep of the Braves.

"It's hard to believe we're the same team," one of them said. "Every season has ups and downs. But this drastic? At this time of year?"

Before the Phillies arrived on Friday 6 1/2 games in arrears, the Mets had discretely wondered whether they might clinch their second straight division championship during their pending trip to Washington and Miami. Now they must execute another U-turn, as they did against the Braves following the first sweep, to add some security to their lead and repair their damaged sense of self.

"Hopefully, it will mirror what happened last time," Wright said.

The Mets were proud and sitting rather pretty just three days after that four-game sweep at the hands of the Phillies. And manager Willie Randolph, steadfast in his optimistic outlook, leaned on the sweep of the Braves during the postmortems Sunday.

"You saw how quickly things can turn around then," Randolph said. "And we had a decent homestand before this [the Mets had won five of six games at Shea Stadium against the Astros and Braves prior to Friday]."

The manager didn't dismiss the loss -- "It was a bad time we picked to play bad baseball. It was a terrible game for us." -- and he hoped his players wouldn't fixate on the loss, the Mets' eighth straight against the Phillies and 12th in 18 games against them this season.

"I think we'll turn the page and play well in Washington," Randolph said.

The Mets play three games against the Nationals and four against the Marlins before their final seven-game homestand begins Sept. 24.

The race may be settled by then. As one of the Mets said of the Phillies on Saturday, "They save their best bullets for us and then have nothing left."

But now, more than ever, the Mets are relying on the Phillies to fade, rather than saying the race is theirs to win.

Glavine said, "I still would rather be in our position." But at the same time, one Met mentioned, "Phillies are four out in the loss column." He had done the math. Teams looking forward don't care about the loss column.

The Mets ought to be looking forward, if only to avert their eyes from their performance Sunday. More Russian Roulette Relief -- with no empty chamber -- dragged them down after a three-run home run by Carlos Beltran had tied the score at 5 in the fifth and offset another inadequate performance by Oliver Perez. Undermined by the errors, including two on one play by Jose Reyes, Perez allowed five runs, two earned, and walked six in 4 2/3 innings.

He allowed the leadoff batter to reach base in each of the first five innings and walked the opposing pitcher in a critical situation.

But this loss fell on the bullpen, as had seven of the Mets' first 11 losses to the Phillies. The Mets' relievers allowed 10 runs, seven earned, in 9 2/3 innings in the series. In contrast, the Phillies' relievers allowed one run in 11 1/3 innings in the sweep. It came on the home run Wright hit against winning pitcher Geoff Geary in the seventh inning that reduced the Mets' deficit to 10-6.

The home run had significance beyond the score, making Wright the 30th player in history to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season.

"It came in a situation ... that was not the most joyous of moments," Wright said.

By then, the tag team of Jorge Sosa and Guillermo Mota had done its work. Mota was summoned shortly after Beltran's 29th home run.

Mota did as Perez had done. He put the leadoff batter on base, as Pat Burrell walked. Then Luis Castillo committed his first error with the Mets -- in his 37th game with them -- and the team's fifth of the game. He mishandled Howard's hot ground ball, which had some double-play potential, and his rushed throw to second base, with Wright covering because of the overshift against Howard, bounced away.

Mota walked Aaron Rowand, loading the bases before Sosa was called. A walk to Jayson Werth put the Phillies ahead. Dobbs' slam, the Phillies' second pinch-hit slam this season, followed. It was the sixth grand slam against the Mets, who have hit none, and the 10th home run Sosa has allowed in what now is 105 2/3 innings.

Until that point, the play that most exasperated the Mets was the double error charged to Reyes in the second inning following Perez's unpardonable two-out walk to starting pitcher Adam Eaton. Jimmy Rollins hit a routine ground ball slightly to Reyes' left, and the Mets shortstop played it properly.

But an unexpected high bounce denied him a play, and his rushed, hard and relatively short throw handcuffed Castillo and bounced away. Both runners scored on the two errors by a player who hadn't committed one in 43 games, and who had just established a career-high errorless streak Saturday. Moreover, no Mets shortstop or second baseman had made an error in 44 games, the longest such streak in franchise history. Moises Alou, Paul Lo Duca and Jeff Conine also were guilty of errors in the Mets' first six-error game since Sept. 13, 2002.

But the poor play went beyond errors. Beltran threw to third base -- with zero chance of throwing out Howard -- while Werth advanced to scoring position on Wes Helms' sacrifice fly in the third.

Perez, speaking generally, said, "We're better than that." Randolph said it, too. But the Mets hardly showed it Sunday. "We were in position to bury them," Wright said. "And we failed miserably."

That wasn't concern about the race that came out of his mouth.

"We either step up now or allow this to be in the back of our minds when we go to Washington," Wright said.

That is concern about the Mets.

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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