What Aubrey Huff demonstrated in the seventh inning of Wednesday's game is that often, those body blows work best. His was a tiebreaking two-run homer off the previously scintillating Pedro Feliciano. And the result was a 6-4 loss to the Orioles that a more powerful Mets team may not have had to endure.
"They can put instant runs on the board," Manuel said. "We haven't been able to do that."
The knockout sequence came in rapid succession, mere moments after Feliciano entered the game. Called upon to retire the left-handed Nick Markakis with one out in the seventh, Feliciano -- who entered the game unscored upon in 29 of his 33 appearances -- instead allowed a hard-ground single up the middle. Feliciano then ran the count to 2-0 on Huff, a powerful left-handed hitter whom the Mets have reportedly pursued to replace the injured Carlos Delgado.
Recalling an at-bat Tuesday in which he struck out Huff on a cut fastball inside, Feliciano shook off Brian Schneider's call for a slider and threw a cutter instead. But the pitch caught far too much of the plate, and Huff drilled it over the out-of-town scoreboard in right field.
"I hung it inside," Feliciano said. "He had a good swing."
"He has given us some tremendous outings in some clutch situations," Manuel said. "That one he just kind of left out over the middle of the plate."
The Mets, lacking home run punch of their own, went relatively quietly against Orioles relievers Jim Johnson and George Sherrill over the final two innings. And in doing so, they lost whatever modicum of momentum they had gained Tuesday, dropping a fifth game out of their past seven.
It's not that the Mets can't score -- entering Wednesday's play, they ranked sixth in the National League with 290 runs, thanks in large part to a league-leading .279 average. It's just that in games such as these, when they fall behind late, they're dependent upon a lengthy rally to draw them back into the game.
A home run or two would be far more efficient.
Take Daniel Murphy's day, for example. Mired in a 5-for-37 slump heading into the game, Murphy rapped out three quick hits in his first three at-bats. But they were all singles, and the Mets could do little to take advantage of them. In the second inning, Schneider grounded out to strand Murphy on first. In the fourth, Schneider hit a sacrifice fly, plating a run but effectively stunting a rally. And in the sixth, the Mets loaded the bases on Schneider's single and two walks, the latter one plating Murphy.
But Fernando Tatis bounced into an inning-ending double-play off new reliever Mark Hendrickson, leaving three men on base.
"I felt good, but at the end of the day, they scored more runs than we did," Murphy said.
The runs the Mets did score were scattered -- two coming in the early innings off O's starter Koji Uehara, and two coming immediately after Uehara's exit from the game. Gary Sheffield scored a rare run, homering off reliever Brian Bass with one out in the sixth. And the Mets tied the game when Hendrickson walked in a run just before he faced Tatis.
But the Mets, who rank 28th in the Majors with 41 home runs -- and who would rank dead last if not for Sheffield, a mid-April signing who has now hit eight on the season -- could do nothing more against one of the least successful bullpens in the American League. They were spent.
They received enough from starter Tim Redding, who walked four and allowed seven hits in 5 1/3 innings, but who also left the game clinging to a 4-4 tie. Redding's so-called big mistake doubled as the first career home run for Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, who dropped it just over the glove of a stumbling Fernando Martinez in left.
"I thought that ball was probably going to go three or four feet in front of the warning track," Redding said. "It's hard to give up someone's first big league home run by six inches, especially coming straight down over the wall."
And it's hard to lose again, especially to one of the worst teams in the AL. It seems the Mets, whether due to lack of power, lack of continuity or both, are still struggling to click.
"Every club goes through that streaky period where everything works," Manuel said. "We have not really gotten there yet. But I think we will."