Johan, Mets done in by one pitch

Johan, Mets done in by one pitch

NEW YORK -- The plan sometimes is flawed. Other times, the execution is lacking. Instances exist, though, when the plan is well-conceived, its execution is proper and the results are quite acceptable. Then there are those instances when the implausible joins hands with the absurd, and they make a moment that convinces any skeptic that someone other than Commissioner Bud Selig is running the game.

So it was at Shea Stadium in the top of the second inning on Monday night. Good plan and proper execution were allies. And the result was a grand slam by the opposing pitcher who hadn't swung a bat in more than a year and the four-letter reaction from his victims -- "C'mon!"

It left the Mets to ponder a 5-2 loss on Monday to the Mariners and the forces that produced it.

No, it wasn't merely a "go-figure moment" when Felix Hernandez thwarted the Mets' well-conceived plan and Johan Santana's unflawed execution. When a pitcher swings at a pitch in his eyes and hits a ball to the opposite field and beyond the fence, it also goes beyond the feasible. Hernandez's swing didn't go against plan, so much as it went against all logic.

The Mets had expected a popout or, at worst, a swing and miss, and eventually a safe return to the dugout.

"We could throw that pitch 250 times, and you know he wouldn't [do it again]," Santana said.

Instead they endured something akin to what Davey Johnson once called a "C'mon moment," filled with surprise and annoyance, more of the latter. It's a close cousin to "Are you kidding me?" and "That can't happen."

"That's exactly what it was," closer Billy Wagner said. "C'mon. You can't believe what you see, because you didn't expect it, and you didn't expect it because you did everything right against a guy who probably couldn't do it again if you told him what was coming. You can't explain it."

But it can be characterized, and Ramon Castro did so.

"The ball hit the bat; the bat didn't hit the ball," the Mets catcher said.

As a result, the Mets lost for the third time in six games since Jerry Manuel succeeded Willie Randolph as manager, the fourth time in 10 games overall, the third time in nine Interleague engagements and the 15th time in 35 games at Shea. And they were reminded that this U-turn they hope to make won't be easily executed.

One of the primary entries on the to-do list that Manuel created last week was to make winning at Shea Stadium a daunting task -- for visiting teams, of course. He hoped to enlist the support of Shea's patrons and create a sense of home-spun superiority. And what better way to initiate that effort than to play the Mariners, the team with the worst record in the game and the worst record in the American League in road games.

Alas, the first home game of Manuel's Mets managership hardly produced the desired results, even with Santana pitching. Instead, Hernandez beat the Mets without emerging as the winning pitcher. He was removed because of an injury, one out shy of qualifying to be the winner. In his first swing of the season, his first since June 15 last year and in the 10th plate appearance of his career, he did what no American League pitcher had done since 1971 -- the slam -- and what no Mariners pitcher had done in franchise history -- the home run.

"That's why you should never comment about a game before you play it," Santana said, "because you don't know what's going to happen. People who think they know everything should be afraid to speak when something like that happens."

The Mariners had loaded the bases on a leadoff single by Adrian Beltre, a two-out single by Jeff Clement and an error by David Wright on a ground ball hit by Willie Bloomquist. Wright misread the ground ball -- he thought it was hit harder -- backed up on it, rushed the transfer, bobbled the ball and lost the third out.

"We didn't execute; we didn't make the routine play we have to make to be a winner," Santana said.

The error was Wright's first in 28 games, the second longest streak of his career.

Santana and Castro agreed Hernandez would be anything but selective.

"I know how excited a pitcher gets in these [Interleague] games. He wants do everything," Santana said. "So we threw a high fastball. In his eyes. He closed his eyes when he swung."

When he opened them, the Mariners had four unearned runs, a 4-0 lead and a sense that all things were possible. And when the Mets could muster merely four hits against Hernandez and four successors, a Mariners victory was quite possible.

And until he suffered a sprained left ankle in the fifth, Hernandez was pitching as he well as he was hitting, though he was doing so with his eyes open.

"We couldn't have a hiccup the way he was pitching right from the start," Wagner said. "And then he hits a slam. You kiddin' me?"

Hernandez suffered the injury covering the plate on a wild pitch that allowed Carlos Beltran to score the Mets' first run.

"He was in the way," Beltran said. "I saw the plate between his legs.

Clement, the catcher, retrieved the ball and tried to tag Beltran with a dive. Hernandez was uninvolved except for his position.

Beltran contacted Hernandez to inquire about his condition. "He'll be OK; it's only a sprain," Beltran said.

Hernandez's slam was the first home run by a pitcher against Santana, and the first grand slam by a pitcher since Dontrelle Willis hit one against the Mets two years ago. The 14th home run allowed by Santana this season was the second slam he has allowed in his career.

He pitched well otherwise, allowing one other run -- it was earned -- and seven hits and two walks overall. But the loss goes on his record, now 7-6, nonetheless. He is winless with three losses in his past four starts. And the Mets are winless as well in his last four.

He tried to take the loss philosophically. "Nothing is for sure," Santana said.

But even if he had expected the worst, Santana couldn't have foreseen what happened. No one could.

Manuel's immediate reaction to Hernandez's slam was, "Wow!" It's the politically correct way of saying, "C'mon."

Marty Noble is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.