The Mets are in that predicament as well as fourth place in the National League East at least partially because Santana hasn't lived up to his reputation as a do-everything pitcher. He didn't succeed as a bunter, a defender or a pitcher in the sixth inning, and, for those reasons and others, the Mets lost for the seventh time in 13 one-run games, the sixth time in six one-run games played outside Shea Stadium.
Had Santana bunted successfully in the top of the sixth or made an accurate throw to third base or picked his way through the Padres' modest batting order in the bottom of the inning, he might have emerged from his 13th start with his eighth victory. Instead, he took his fourth loss, his second in 10 starts, and the Mets lost for the fourth time with his as their starter.
A successful sacrifice by Santana following a leadoff double by Endy Chavez would have put the Mets in position to bury winning pitcher Randy Wolf. They produced two other hits, a sacrifice fly and more frustration. Wolf's first pitch to Santana glanced off the pitcher's bat and struck his left shoulder. A second bunt attempt was unsuccessful and a subsequent ground ball led to Chavez being thrown out at third base on a good play and strong throw by first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
"I got a late break to third," Chavez said.
That much was clear.
Successive singles by Jose Reyes and Luis Castillo loaded the bases. David Wright scored Santana -- and nearly cleared the bases -- with a well-struck sacrifice fly that center fielder Scott Hairston caught before tumbling deep in the left center field gap.
"A game-saving catch," Wright said through a forelorn expression.
He knows good teams get breaks, he knows the Mets have a 30-30 record and a 50-50 chance of getting a break.
Wolf (4-4) did walk Carlos Beltran, but he retired Damion Easley to end the threat.
What the Mets needed at that point was a scoreless inning. Instead, Santana (7-4) surrendered a leadoff double by Hairston and then made an errant throw to third base on a bunt by Edgar Gonzalez.
"It's something I practice," Santana said. "I field my position. I got there as quick as I could. It wasn't a perfect throw. They took advantage of it."
Wright made a good play just stopping the one-bounce throw. Even if it had been a force play, it would have been difficult for him to achieve an out.
Brian Giles followed with a ground ball that was headed toward second baseman Luis Castillo but hit so slowly, Hairston was all but guaranteed to score. But Gonzalez, one night after teammate Tadahito Iguchi had been struck by a batted ball, ran into Giles' grounder and was called out, costing his team a run. The Met thought they had caught a break.
Gonzalez's poor baserunning play was offset though when his brother, left-handed-hitting Adrian, followed with a line-drive single to center that scored Hairston. And when Kevin Kouzmanoff singled through the middle to score Giles, Santana was in position to lose. He was removed for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning, having allowed seven hits and a walk. He struck out five.
The Mets loaded the bases for the second straight inning against Wolf in the seventh, but did nothing against Heath Bell in the eighth or Trevor Hoffman in the ninth, and walked off the PETCO Park field wondering where all the positive feelings had gone.