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Mets outslugged as Perez hit hard

Mets outslugged as Perez hit hard

NEW YORK -- The most unorthodox of five double-play balls on Sunday bounced directly into Prince Fielder's glove, leaving the Brewers first baseman with a simple course of action. Already standing on top of the bag -- a convenient place to be, no doubt -- Fielder fired home in time for his catcher to slap an easy tag on Brady Clark, who broke for home plate at contact. Play completed. Inning over. Rally squelched.

On this day, the misfortune was nothing new. Double plays in five straight innings prevented the Mets from making good on their rallies, and from capping them with anything more than a shrug. There was something more to this than coincidence.

"Bad execution," said Ryan Church, the victim of one of those double plays.

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"It wasn't good luck," Brian Schneider added.

Yet there was even more to it than that -- more to a game that saw a visibly upset Mets manager stalk into his Shea Stadium conference room after its conclusion, complaining about lack of execution, a lack of efficiency, a lack of productivity. Willie Randolph was irked and his team was unhappy, too, bemoaning the effects of a 9-7 loss to the Brewers.

"The best way to describe it," David Wright said, "is just sloppy."

For a time, that wasn't so. The Mets were winning -- though not quite cruising -- in the early innings, when Wright knocked a homer, Schneider rapped out three hits and starter Oliver Perez limited the damage. None of those successes would last, the ugly eventually enveloping the good. The possibility of a series win, however, did once seem likely, so Randolph had reason to enter his conference room with shades of a scowl.

"If we're going to be a solid ballclub," he said, "we can't play like that."

That would be the ultimate goal, though the Mets haven't provided much evidence that they've reached such a plateau. Mental errors and a lack of focus caused these Mets to face a deficit. Poor luck and a lack of execution prevented them from erasing it.

That Perez ultimately crumbled was no surprise, considering his strain throughout the early innings. After four innings on Sunday, he was at 87 pitches, eventually leaving with 99 of them to his credit. Often, Perez is able to wriggle out of situations such as those, relying on his abilities to win in spite of inefficiency. On Sunday -- a day in which he was self-admittedly "all over the place" -- he was not.

Instead, the Brewers battered Perez for four runs in the fourth inning, getting to him for six in all. Even that, however, did not completely sink the Mets.

What did was a stretched-out bullpen -- Jorge Sosa allowed two more quick runs and Joe Smith, betrayed by Carlos Delgado's fielding error, gave up another -- and a spotty offense. So many times throughout the middle innings, the Mets tormented Brewers pitching, only to hit into double plays that quickly erased any semblance of a threat.

Some of those double plays did have their roots in nothing more than luck. Carlos Beltran drilled one ball -- "a laser beam," Schneider called it -- directly at first base, where Fielder nabbed it on a line and easily doubled Luis Castillo off the bag. Inches marked the difference between a double play and a run-scoring hit.

"There's nothing I can do about it," Beltran said. "My job is just to hit the ball hard, and it didn't find a hole."

The Mets rallied in each of the next four innings, hitting into double plays in all of them. Some of those were routine. Others, such as the one Castillo hit into, were not.

With men on first and third in the eighth inning, Castillo grounded his ball right toward Fielder, who tagged first base for an easy out and then threw home. Clark's dash down the line at contact -- a critical mistake, Randolph said -- made him an easy target, and though former Shea Stadium scapegoat Guillermo Mota then loaded the bases in the inning, the Mets couldn't translate that into a single run. So although Mets fans booed Mota as he walked onto the field, they booed their own players as he walked off it.

"I don't think about that," Mota said of his reception. "You have to pitch in any situation. They rang the phone for me, so I want to be there. Any situation, any place."

Now, nearly through their longest homestand of the season, the Mets are left with a losing record and a bitter taste. They can erase both troubles with a win on Tuesday, billed as a festive Jackie Robinson Day at Shea. Perhaps they will, though Randolph couldn't even consider another game after his Mets had just played their sloppiest one of the season. He could only harp on what he had just seen.

"Well, that put a damper on a nice day off, huh?" Randolph said, referring to Monday. "Geez."

Anthony DiComo 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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