Before the game was nine batters old, the Mets trailed, 6-0. Then, with three outs remaining and after they had put themselves in position to right the wrongs of Oliver Perez and produce what would have been an electrifying victory, their plug was pulled, their charge turned away. Even the most promising situation is undone by a triple play.
The Phillies did more than deny the Mets in the ninth inning, they made a historic stop -- an unassisted triple play by second baseman Eric Bruntlett that rendered all other components of their victory all but meaningless.
Once before in the game's grand history had a game ended as the Mets' final turn at-bat ended Sunday, in 1927. In this case, Bruntlett caught a line drive hit by Jeff Francoeur and, in the next instant, stepped on second base to double off Luis Castillo. Daniel Murphy, the runner at first base when Brad Lidge threw the final pitch, had been running on the pitch. He was easy prey for Bruntlett.
If you're scoring at home, that's a snag, step on the bag and a tag.
"The most unbelievable play I've ever been involved in," Francoeur said. "And the sickest ... To end the way it did was a little disheartening."
"It happened so fast, there was nothing I could do," Murphy said.
And Bruntlett said: "It really is true. When you think you've seen it all, you'll have something you've never seen before happen."
In one way, the Mets saw it as just another indication that the unseen hand that had guided this season gone south is not averse to piling on. It was another "Are you kiddin' me?" moment for this star-crossed team, a final-play episode that exceeds Castillo's dropped pop against the Yankees in implausibility. The Phillies have turned 33 triple plays, but only one of them unassisted (Mickey Morandini, 1992). The Mets had hit into eight, none unassisted, until Francoeur's line drive. Other players have dropped last-pitch popups.
"I just sat there in the dugout," is how Francoeur described his reaction to the play. A gallows humor teammate suggested the triple play had been the right fielder's final initiation; now he is a 2009 Met. Francoeur had completed another right of passage in the top of the ninth, injuring his left thumb, making a diving Ron Swoboda-like catch on a ball that Bruntlett hit to right-center. At first, second-base umpire Rob Drake ruled Francoeur had trapped the ball. Bruntlett thought he had a triple.
"The most unbelievable play I've ever been involved in. "And the sickest ... To end the way it did was a little disheartening."|
|-- Jeff Francoeur|
Instead, he had a triple play. And Francoeur had a new entry, unwanted as it was, for his personal video scrapbook.
"Even with the runners going, I didn't expect [Bruntlett] to be there," Francoeur said. "The only place he could catch the ball was where he was."
X-rays of Francoeur's thumb were negative. But he is to be examined Monday morning. He planned keep the thumb wrapped around a glass with ice and unspecified liquid overnight. He injured the same thumb playing high school football.
"There may be some bad stuff still in there," Francoeur said.
And given the Mets' 2009 injury history, more damage was expected.
"When are you going to St. Lucie [for rehab]?" Brian Schneider asked Francoeur -- half kidding.
The Mets' objective Sunday had been to upstage, overshadow or, in some manner, obscure the presence of Pedro Martinez. They wanted to beat him as well, of course. But the idea of ol' Pedro turning his return to Queens into his day was nothing the Mets embraced. So in that regard, at least, they succeeded. The 14th unassisted triple play in regular-season history made Martinez's return and even his victory sidebar material. And before he threw a pitch -- but not before he took three, all balls, from Perez -- his performance was obscured.
Perez's performance was that poor. The Mets' $36 million starting pitcher beat the deadline on the final day of the government's cash for clunkers program with the worst/shortest performance by a Mets starting pitcher -- six runs in two-thirds of an inning -- since he allowed six runs in one-third of an inning against the Giants in June last year.
Perez had surrendered two three-run home runs -- Jayson Werth and Carlos Ruiz had hit them -- and fallen behind Martinez when manager Jerry Manuel pulled him. He threw 47 pitches, 20 for balls and a dozen to Werth, in his second start against the Phillies this season. He has allowed 10 runs, nine hits and eight walks in three innings against Philadelphia.
Perez put his team too far behind the most productive team in the league; almost matching his dreadful performance against the Giants. He allowed six runs, five hits -- two of them home runs -- and two walks in that one. He allowed merely four hits and walked two Sunday. In neither game did he strike out a batter. He described -- rather than explained -- his performance, saying the Phillies hit his pitches.
The deficit was too great for the Mets to overcome, despite their late resistance and two home runs by Angel Pagan, one an inside-the-park home run that prompted a double-take and warranted an asterisk. Perez (3-4, 6.82 ERA) hadn't yet reached the showers when Pagan led off against Martinez with a base hit that bounced to the wall in left-center field and lodged under it. A triple was likely until center fielder Shane Victorino signaled "double" with his hands rather than retrieve the ball. Pagan kept running while left fielder Raul Ibanez returned to the ball to the infield, and he completed the first inside-the park home run at Citi Field.
The Mets scored again in the first on Francoeur's triple and twice in the third. Martinez pitched six innings for the first time in his three starts, allowing seven hits, a walk and four runs. He has a 2-0 record and 5.14 ERA. The Mets scored once each in the seventh, eighth and in the ninth (it was unearned because of errors by Bruntlett and Ryan Howard). But Bruntlett made amends and history in about two seconds, pushing the Mets' record 10 games under. 500 for the first time this season and putting their deficit in the standings to a season-high 15 1/2 games.
Those numbers and even the score didn't seem to matter, though. The ending was what picked at the Mets' many scabs.
"Brutal," Francoeur said. "You get back in the game and it ends like that? Brutal."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.