So it was Tuesday night at Citi Field. This stinging and maddening defeat took 10 innings, and it took imagination, as well. No dropped popup this time, no missed base. The Mets lost, 12-7, to the Cardinals largely because they pitched poorly at the end, but also because Albert Pujols is an extraordinary talent. But it's not as simple as that; it seldom is with the '09 Mets.
One night after their bullpen did its best work in two years, it undermined Johan Santana and played the primary role in the kind of loss that marked the team's past two Septembers. One inning after Frankie Rodriguez squandered a save opportunity and cost Santana his 13th victory, Pedro Feliciano and Sean Green allowed five runs in the 10th -- four on Pujols' second home run of the game and fifth grand slam of the season.
This one had turned before the best hitter in the game equaled the National League record for slams in a season -- Ernie Banks hit five in 1955. Green had replaced Feliciano with the bases loaded, needing one out to afford the Mets another shot at the Cardinals' bullpen. But Green's first pitch struck Mark DeRosa, and the decisive run scored. And how many times do you see that?
And how often does Feliciano walk a left-handed batter on four pitches? He did that with Colby Rasmus to load the bases two batters before Green was summoned.
And how often is a player injured walking down the dugout steps? That happened to the Mets, too. A freak accident may cost them Luis Castillo for a while. The second baseman was carried from the dugout to the clubhouse in the seventh inning after he tripped, trying to avoid a glove on the steps. Castillo had sprained his left ankle; he limped as he left the park. X-rays were negative.
"A strange game," David Wright said. And no one disputed that assessment.
There were the Mets, scoring seven runs in five innings against their nemesis in the making, Joel Pineiro. And with Santana pitching eight innings -- for the first time this season -- and K-Rod pitching the ninth, they allowed eight runs in the final three innings, one of course scoring on a hit batsman with the bases loaded.
Strange days, indeed, Most peculiar, mama.
In his previous appearance, Green's first pitch was wild and allowed the go-ahead run to score. "I've been erratic with my location the last couple of times," Green said.
What Mets manager Jerry Manuel said was: "It's concerning because it's happened a couple of times now."
Of course, neither Feliciano nor Green would have pitched Tuesday had Rodriguez, who has 24 saves, not squandered a save opportunity for the fourth time. With the Mets winning by comfortable margins or losing (more of the latter) since the All-Star break, K-Rod has become an infrequent participant. He denies the effect of the inactivity. But his manager, pitching coach and fellow relievers recognize his need for more regular work.
He hadn't thrown a pitch since Saturday, and on Tuesday, he surrendered doubles -- and a run -- to his first two batters, Rick Ankiel and Julio Lugo. Two batters later, Skip Schumaker singled to score Lugo with the tying run, denying Santana his 13th victory and affording Pujols another opportunity to excel.
"A poor outing by me," K-Rod said. "I fell behind every single batter. You do that, and you're going to get hurt."
So unpleasant was this loss, the Mets' fifth in six games, that distracted them from the common cause. The postmortems were more about losing a game Santana should have won, about Rodriguez's need for more regular work and about the utter grandeur of Pujols. He had been slumping, the stats sheet said, going hitless in 12 at-bats before he flied out in the first. In his five subsequent plate appearances, he hit two home runs, doubled, singled, walked, scored three times and drove in five runs.
Now he has seven hits, five of them home runs, and 24 RBIs in nine at-bats with the bases loaded.
How is a mortal supposed to pitch to him? "I got ahead. I tried to throw a slider in the dirt," Green, a mortal, said. "It didn't make it to the dirt. That's what he does with a bad pitch."
With Pujols' 36th home run went any chance for a Mets comeback. And how often do they exceed seven runs anyway? They had scored three in the second inning and four in the fifth against Pineiro, who had produced a 3-0 record and 2.91 ERA in five starts against them since the beginning of the 2006 season. The Mets accumulated 11 hits against him six weeks after he had pitched a two-hit shutout against them, and they scored more earned runs than he had allowed in any one of his previous 10 starts. Pineiro walked none and struck out none.
Santana was less than special, but he was effective enough to have the lead when he was removed. He allowed nine hits, including Ryan Ludwick's 18th home run and Pujols' 35th, and struck out six, while walking none. He also drove in the Mets' first two runs with a double and made three rather unusual -- for a pitcher -- defensive plays. He dove toward the third-base line in the third inning when Schumaker hit a soft and short popup and deflected it. Wright made the throw on the 1-5-3 putout.
When DeRosa hit a soft pop fly behind the mound in the seventh, Santana caught with his back tot he plate -- a la Willie Mays -- closer to second base than the mound. And he purposely kicked a ground ball hit by his last batter, Yadier Molina, directing it, by chance, to Wright for their second 1-5-3 putout.
"You try to make plays. You try to do what you can do to help," Santana said. "You try to win."
And they lost. Not remarkable at all.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.