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Sloppy inning costs Mets Subway opener

Sloppy inning costs Mets Subway opener

NEW YORK -- Every team rises above it all from time to time, and each team falls to the occasion -- occasionally. What does it mean that the Mets can follow one extreme with the other, that they can play neat, crisp baseball for nine innings one day and trip coming out of the dugout the next? What is it that causes such on-field schizophrenia? What causes a team with a record barely above .500 to take a step forward and then a longer step backward, all in a two-day period?

Well, these are the inkblot Mets; make of them what you will. And try this on for size before you do. Had they beaten the Yankees on Friday night, the Mets would have been the first-place team in the National League East. But they didn't. Instead, they lost, 9-1, with E's, committing three errors in one hideous second inning, and they emerged from the first Subway Series game at Citi Field with a 37-35 record, wearing a neck brace because of the whiplash of the preceding 18 innings.

One night after they gave one of their best all-around performances in beating the Cardinals, the Mets played one of their worst defensive innings in years to put the Yankees in position for another victory in this intracity, Interleague competition. The score was less lopsided than the 15-0 spanking in the Bronx 12 days earlier, but none of the Mets found any reason for encouragement in the smaller margin.

That game was grotesque; this was merely unbecoming. If only the remains of the Mets' batting order could swing like the pendulum this team is.

"Some of [the extreme inconsistency] is due to the amount of players we have missing," manager Jerry Manuel said. "With that many missing, you're not going to get consistency."

And who could argue that? Consider the Mets' totals for five games this week: Monday -- six runs, 14 hits, no errors; Tuesday -- no runs, two hits, one error; Wednesday -- 11 runs, 16 hits, no errors; Thursday -- three runs, five hits, one error; and Friday -- one run, three hits, three errors.

The opposing starting pitcher, of course, has influence. The Mets managed two hits in nine innings against Joel Pineiro's ground-ball machine on Tuesday, and three -- all in one inning -- across seven innings against winning pitcher CC Sabathia and none in two against Brett Tomko on Friday. The Mets had no other baserunners. They struck out nine times. Their run was provided by Gary Sheffield, who led off the fifth inning with his ninth home run.

But then, this loss, the Mets' third in four games against the Yankees, turned first on misplays by their infield, three in a sequence of seven batters that -- if you choose to connect the dots -- completed some sort of sick cycle that involves only Friday night games against the Yankees. Second baseman Luis Castillo, as he was reminded several times in this latest loss, made one error for the ages on June 12. It came on the final play. Before the 14th Yankees batter on Friday night, the other three infield positions -- David Wright, third base; Alex Cora, shortstop; and Nick Evans, first base -- had contributed to the chaos that led to four runs against losing pitcher Mike Pelfrey.

"At one point, I started laughing," Pelfrey said. "I must not be living right."

He allowed four hits and, after the four runs had scored, a walk in the Mets' first three-error inning since May 2004. The hits were legitimate, but not particularly well-struck. The errors were earned; only two of the runs were.

This is how it happened: Leading off, Melky Cabrera reached second base on an infield single and an errant throw to first by Wright. After Pelfrey struck out Francisco Cervelli, Ramiro Pena doubled down the left-field line, scoring Cabrera, and Sabathia singled though the middle to score Pena. Brett Gardner singled softly down the left-field line, the second of his five hits, to advance Sabathia to second. Cora cleanly handled a ground ball by Johnny Damon but made a wide throw to second for an error that allowed Sabathia to score, Gardner to reach third and Damon to advance to second. Then, when Evans misplayed Mark Teixeira's ground ball for the third error, Gardner scored.

"It was one of those nights -- we played badly," Manuel said. "Our biggest satisfaction tonight is that everyone else in the division lost."

Sometimes, the amount of progress is measured by how slight the regress is.

So the Phillies' 6-1 loss to the Blue Jays made this Mets loss more palatable.

"What it means," Ryan Church said, "is that we're one game closer to the end of a rough stretch against good teams -- and we're right there, a half-game out only."

The Mets have that standing, though they have lost 14 of 23 games this month.

They now have lost four of Pelfrey's five most recent starts. He surrendered six hits and two walks in five innings on Friday. Pelfrey (5-3) has pitched fewer than six innings in four of the five as well. He was hardly pointing fingers.

"I have to pitch deeper," Pelfrey said. "I have to do my job better."

So do Elmer Dessens and Sean Green, who allowed three and two runs in the eight and ninth innings, respectively. Dessens surrendered the 564th home run of Alex Rodriguez's career and Gardner's third of the season. But those runs and home runs were produced for the sake of the Rotisseriens. The Mets' defense had settled the issue hours earlier.

"It hasn't been easy, and it's not going to get a whole lot easier for a while," Church said. "But we're in this to finish first, and right now, with all our problems, we're as close as you can get without being in first. I'll take it -- for now."

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

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