K-Rod can't finish what Livan started

K-Rod can't finish what Livan started

BALTIMORE -- Prior to Thursday, Francisco Rodriguez's only brush with imperfection came due to a dropped popup and an unearned run. Baseball's single-season saves leader was otherwise 16-for-16 in end-game opportunities, giving the Mets abnormal stability at the back end of their bullpen.

So when his first legitimate blown save arrived on Thursday, a measure of shock accompanied it. The Mets had lost, 5-4, due to K-Rod's curious lack of control. And they had dropped a three-game series to the Orioles at a time when they could ill afford to do so.

Afterward, teammates scratched their heads in the clubhouse where they could have been beating their chests. The lone exception was Rodriguez, who sat at his corner locker and brooded.

"I'm a human being," Rodriguez said. "Unfortunately, days like this are going to happen."

In his three months with the Mets, Rodriguez had blown only one other save -- just last weekend, in fact -- though that one came when Luis Castillo dropped a popup with two outs in the ninth vs. the Yankees on Friday.

This one was quite different. After rookie Matt Wieters lined a pitch with good sink into left-center field for a double, Rodriguez unraveled, walking pinch-hitter Nolan Reimold on five pitches. The next batter, the speedy Brian Roberts, laid a perfect bunt just up the third-base line, where catcher Omir Santos pounced on it and fired to third base.

Santos had no play at first, he explained afterward, due to the speed of Roberts. And he hardly had a play at third. Felix Pie, who pinch-ran for Wieters, reached the bag a fraction of a second before the ball, prompting third-base umpire Tim Timmons to extend his arms to both sides and Mets manager Jerry Manuel to climb the dugout steps in protest. After a brief argument, Manuel acquiesced -- he knew that Timmons had been correct. And he knew that his dispute, like Santos' throw, was futile.

"That was the only play that I had," Santos said. "That was a good bunt, and I knew if there wasn't going to be a throw at third, there was no chance at first. He runs well, but I thought I had it."

Still, there was baseball to be played. Rodriguez was pitching even if the Orioles weren't swinging, taking first-pitch balls in four of their first five ninth-inning at-bats -- all except the bunt. K-Rod loaded the bases on a walk to Adam Jones, then struck out Nick Markakis on a fastball at the knees.

Santos, realizing the passivity of the Orioles' hitters, called for a get-me-over curveball to begin the ensuing at-bat against Aubrey Huff. But Huff was neither passive nor inert. He crushed the pitch into right field for a walk-off single, plating Reimold and sending his teammates into hysterics.

"Every now and then, that's going to happen," Manuel said of Rodriguez. "Even to a guy that's been as special as he's been for us."

Rodriguez, who blew seven saves during his record-setting 2008 season, was a somewhat harsher critic.

"It was awful, an awful outing," K-Rod said. "I didn't get the job done."

That Huff came through with the game-winning hit was fitting. Struggling to retire Huff all series, the Mets lost Wednesday's game, 6-4, when he crushed a tiebreaking home run off lefty specialist Pedro Feliciano in the seventh. And they began to unravel on Thursday when Huff touched Feliciano for a double in the eighth.

Huff, purportedly a trade target of the Mets, came around to score on Luke Scott's RBI groundout off Sean Green. And the Mets, for the second time in two nights, lost due to a bullpen that entered Thursday's play tops in the National League.

Rodriguez had been close to perfect, not allowing an earned run in his past 25 2/3 innings. Green had been similarly good, hurling 14 consecutive scoreless innings. And -- excepting his Wednesday battle with Huff -- Feliciano had been spotless against lefties, holding them to a .125 average.

"You know at some point during the course of 162 games, they're going to give up something," Manuel said after they did just that. "You just hope that it doesn't happen when things are going the way they are for us offensively, because we're not giving them much margin for error."

Virtually none, in fact. The Mets are not hitting homers, sapping them of their quick-strike ability. Their only runs Thursday came on two RBI singles, a run-scoring double and a sacrifice fly. And so their hopes for a series win hinged on Livan Hernandez, who answered that challenge with seven innings of two-run ball.

It wasn't enough. In line for his fifth consecutive win, Hernandez instead settled for a no-decision. K-Rod gave him no choice.

"He's the best closer in the game," Hernandez said. "We can't ever doubt he's going to close the game, but sometimes that's not the way that people see it. He tried, and it just didn't happen."

"I didn't get the job done," Rodriguez said. "I'm not a guy that's going to find excuses. I didn't get the job done, and I'll make sure that it doesn't happen again."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.