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'Pen provides eerie reminder in loss

'Pen provides eerie reminder in loss

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ATLANTA -- As much as the Mets want to expunge their 2007 season from their rap sheet, they can not do so -- not readily, not yet, not if their bullpen performs as it did on Saturday in a most unbecoming loss. Simply losing to the Braves wasn't, on its own demerit, particularly reminiscent of what the Mets endured late last summer and into their fall. But parallels were easily drawn between the method of losing then and how they lost, 11-5, on Saturday.

Not all that much went right for them in their fourth game. Their starting pitching and hitting were insufficient. No aspect of their performance, though, was as ineffective as their relief pitching. John Maine emerged as the losing pitcher because the scoring rules mandated that he must. The four pitchers who succeeded him were more responsible and far more generous. Their group performance was entirely too reminiscent of last season.

Eyes and memories appropriately will focus on the pinch-hit grand slam that Kelly Johnson hit against Jorge Sosa in the seventh inning. But the two runs the Braves scored in the eighth against Nelson Figueroa and the one they scored in the sixth against Joe Smith and Scott Schoeneweis also appeared as if they were scenarios borrowed from the Mets' slippery slope last September.

After pointing a finger at himself and two untimely outs he made in critical circumstances, David Wright said, "But you give up 11, and there's not too much the offense can do."

As Wright had pointed out a moment earlier, "Every time we answered, they answered us bigger and better." During the Final Four weekend, he said, "We couldn't get a stop defensively."

And had the Mets' bullpen held, their offense probably could have put a scare into the Braves, who had lost three times already in their opponents' final turns at bat. As it was, the Mets did score twice in the eighth inning, two innings after winning pitcher Tim Hudson had departed. But by then, Schoeneweis had allowed the runner he inherited from Smith to score.

And Sosa, who can make contact with a home run swing with the best of 'em, had enhanced that reputation. Sosa has been cast in a later-inning role because Duaner Sanchez still is in Florida. On Saturday, he wasn't so much Sanchez as he was Guillermo Mota -- a difference maker. Sosa slipped on the wet mound delivering his first pitch, but struck out his first batter. Then a double by Brian McCann, a single by Jeff Francoeur, a second strikeout and a walk to No. 8 hitter Martin Prado loaded the bases.

Johnson, who hit three home runs -- two of them quite damaging -- against the Mets last season, hit a 3-2 pitch into the right-field stands. Jorge Mota, Guillermo Sosa. Is there a difference?

The Mets' relievers were asked to cover the final five innings because Maine needed 96 pitches to achieve merely 12 outs in his 2008 debut. Eight of the 96 became hits, none that were particularly well struck. Twelve produced three walks. "And," Maine said, "there must have been another 60 they fouled off."

The figure was actually 22, but still inordinately high. "I don't think they were trying to spoil pitches," catcher Brian Schneider said. "John's pitches have so much movement, they jump at you. They couldn't make good contact, but he was getting too much plate sometimes. Away to left-handed hitters and inside to right-handed hitters, he was fine. But he couldn't get his pitches inside to left-handed hitters."

Whatever the reason, Maine's pitch count and ERA rose like a Dave Kingman popup. And the ones the Braves did hit hardly were crushed. "I don't think I pitched so bad," Maine said.

It all made for a humbling afternoon for the pitcher, who arguably was the Florida Cy Young in March. "After such a good spring, I hoped for something better than this," Maine said. And the Mets had anticipated so much more. Just three days earlier, Smith had said casually "Obviously John's gonna have a great year," based on what Maine had demonstrated in Spring Training.

Then again, the Mets' offense looked better in Port St. Lucie than it did against Hudson (1-0), who allowed six hits in six innings and three successors who allowed four more, none of the 10 too damaging and none of them by Wright, who's hitting streak, carried over from last season, ended at 20 games.

The Mets produced a tying run in the second inning and two runs in the fifth when the reversal of an incorrect call on a sinking line drive struck by Jose Reyes changed an inning-ending double play into a run-scoring single. But even that assist from the umpires was insufficient.

The Mets had loaded the bases with one out on singles by Ryan Church and Angel Pagan and a hit baseman, pinch-hitter Brady Clark. Reyes' line drive to left-center field followed. Center fielder Mark Kotsay dived and caught the ball on one bounce. Almost everyone saw that except third-base umpire Bruce Dreckman. He called Reyes out. Pagan kept running and passed Church after he rounded third.

"I saw the ball drop," Pagan said. "If you see the ball drop, you have to take off."

The Braves’ 8-2-4 relay doubled Pagan off second, and the Braves left the field.

Third-base coach Sandy Alomar and then Willie Randolph disputed the call with Dreckman. "He didn't want to change it," Randolph said later, "because he didn't know where to put the runners. Is that my fault? He wanted to leave them where they were."

Randolph eventually persuaded Dreckman to ask for input from the other umpires and won his case when they reversed the original decision. Reyes was awarded a hit and an RBI. Pagan scored just the same on the ensuing infield out by Luis Castillo. Neither team was shortchanged. "They got it right eventually," Randolph said.

The play had almost no bearing on the outcome. "We didn't have any big hits today, that's the bottom line," Randolph said. That too was an echo from last summer.

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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