A long Sunday afternoon, made longer by the requisite rain delay at Citi Field, was the appropriate ending for a long weekend which prompted -- what else? -- long faces among the Mets. Mike Pelfrey pitched effectively for four innings before the Rays battered him and his weary relief and extended the Mets' June swoon.
The Interleague loss, New York's 12th loss in 18 games overall this month, extended, to four, the number of consecutive series the team has lost and left its record one game over .500 after 67 games. And it effected another day of somber, sobering soul searching for this so-so team.
Because the Phillies can't win in Philadelphia, the 34-33 Mets are merely two games from first place. "Within striking distance" is how David Wright characterized the Mets' standing before he noted, "Some problems need to be fixed. We're not playing very well."
The Rays scored their runs in their final five turns at bat to put their Interleague record at 8-4. The Mets have lost seven of 12 games against the American League. The Rays scored four times in the fifth and seventh and twice in the eighth, and New York's offense essentially stopped after it had scored once in the seventh.
Pelfrey didn't maintain his stuff, as was the case in his previous start, against the Orioles on Tuesday, and thereby left too many innings to the bullpen. And two members of the 'pen, Bobby Parnell and Sean Green, were inadequate, facing four and three batters, respectively, and retiring none. Moreover, Jerry Manuel's use -- he identified it as overuse -- of the bullpen jeopardized the Mets' late-inning readiness for subsequent games when the opponents are the formidable late-inning teams from St. Louis and the Bronx.
Pelfrey's departure wasn't premature, it was warranted. He shut down the Rays on three hits for four innings, but he surrendered hits to the first five batters in the fifth, when Tampa Bay produced the first of its two four-run innings. Six relievers were used to achieve the final 12 outs, which links this loss to several from September 2008, including one in Washington when Manuel used six pitchers to produce nine outs.
The manager caught himself -- albeit belatedly -- this time, acknowledging afterward, "I have to trust the other people I have down there [in the bullpen]." He said he was at fault.
Manuel had wanted to give Pedro Feliciano a day off or limit him to one batter as he had Friday night. Instead, the only proven left-handed member of the 'pen, who leads the big leagues in appearances with 40, faced four batters and threw 23 pitches after he was summoned to follow Green, who had loaded the bases on singles with none out in the eighth when the Mets already trailed, 8-5.
The last time Feliciano didn't appear in a game, the Mets lost, 15-0, in the Bronx; he has pitched in six straight games. Green has pitched in four straight, and Parnell, the losing pitcher Sunday, in four of the past five.
Manuel more than occasionally speaks of "managing fatigue," yet after Brian Stokes had pitched a quiet sixth in relief of Pelfrey and a three-run home run by Brian Schneider had regained the lead for the Mets at 5-4, the manager had Fernando Tatis pinch-hit for Stokes with no one on base and two outs. A rally was unlikely.
Trust in Stokes -- particularly in light of Parnell's recent workload and recent struggles -- might have afforded Parnell the day off the manager now says is essential. Manuel explained his call for Parnell oddly, saying he didn't want Parnell in the 'pen fretting about his recent shortfalls, and, "I was looking forward to getting Parnell back on the mound," Manuel said. "I was probably overanxious in that. I could have gone the other way."
After allowing four hits -- they lead to four runs -- to four batters, Parnell has retired merely 12 of his past 28 batters. He has lost his past three decisions, all this month.
Much of the problem Sunday could have been avoided if Pelfrey had completed at least the sixth inning. That would have given the Mets three successive starts -- Fernando Nieve, Johan Santana and Pelfrey -- of at least six innings. And the shortfall bothered Pelfrey.
"I didn't get the job done," the righty said. "I need to avoid the big inning and pitch deeper."
The four-run fifth inning marked the sixth time in 13 starts Pelfrey has allowed at least three runs in an inning. And it led to the 10th time this season the Mets have allowed at least 10 runs. Scoring six runs ought to be enough to win. But some games, they get the pitching and other days they get the hitting, and some days the bullpen stubs its toe.
One of the Mets was reciting that lament, or something close to it Sunday after the loss. It prompted recall of another assessment spoken about another Mets team that only occasionally put all the parts together.
"That," pitcher Craig Swan said long ago, "is the sign of a bad team."