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In error-filled finale, Mets fall to Phillies

In error-filled finale, Mets fall to Phillies

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NEW YORK -- The E and the numbers under it that were so conspicuous on the scoreboard were evidence of the defensive mistakes the Mets and Phillies had produced in the first 2 1/2 innings of their matinee engagement Monday. The Mets had committed three errors, the Phillies two. But baseball's least appreciated vowel could just as well have stood for "entertaining." For even when the day was done, even after the Mets had lost again to the best team in the National League East and sloppiness had played such a role, this one had retained a sense of entertainment.

It hardly was great baseball that either team played in the Phillies' 6-2 victory. But it did provide entertainment in a Norm Crosby-malaprop sort of way. Crosby probably would have called it an "excavating game." And he might have been right.

The focal points of this one were the two majestic home runs by Ryan Howard that accounted for five of the runs and seven innings of precision pitching by Cliff Lee, perhaps the best American League import by a National League club since Rick Sutcliffe (Cubs, 1984).

Howard's 33rd and 34th home runs were quite entertaining, though not to the Mets or losing pitcher Bobby Parnell, who served them up. The first was hit to the opposite field, left-center, with an inside-out swing more characteristic of David Eckstein, but remarkably powerful.

"If anybody's going to do that, it's probably him," Parnell said.

The second landed in the second deck in right field after following a parabolic path. Equally impressive. Meals were served on both flights.

Bouyed by that support, Lee allowed two runs, neither earned, in seven innings, gained his fifth victory in five starts with the Phillies, put his National League ERA at 0.68 and joined John Smoltz in emphasizing the notion that the American League has superior offensive teams. Then again, the Mets' depleted batting order -- no Jeff Francoeur on Monday -- hardly can be used as an authentic measuring stick.

But there was so much to enjoy in this one.

For the second straight game, the Mets' leadoff man, Angel Pagan, scored with an assist from the Phillies' defense, before a second Mets batter approached the batter's box. Pagan hit a catchable pop that second baseman Chase Utley should have handled without incident. But not only did Utley drop the pop, but when he retrieved it and tried to throw out Pagan at second base, his wide throw reached foul territory beyond third base for a second error that allowed Pagan to score.

The two-error, four-base mistake was right from the playbook of Casey's Mets of '62. Rod Kanehl couldn't have done it worse or better.

The two errors not only were a career first for Utley -- he never had made two errors in one game, much less one play -- but they also were the third and fourth errors in a sequence of five plays by the Phillies' defense, including the two in the ninth inning Sunday. And before the four, the Phillies had the fewest errors in the league.

"If Utley was playing second [Sunday]," Francoeur said, smiling, "I probably would have had a knock."

Which was to suggest -- facetiously, of course -- that Utley might not have executed the unassisted triple play that ended the Mets' Sunday loss as well as his understudy Eric Bruntlett. (Incidentally, Bruntlett started the game at shortstop Monday, and one day after producing the 15th unassisted triple play in history, he was removed for defense.)

The Mets' errors were far more pedestrian. Catcher Omir Santos made an errant throw to second base on an attempted steal in the first inning before Howard crushed his three-run home run. Left fielder Gary Sheffield dropped a fly ball in the second and third baseman Fernando Tatis was guilty of a throwing error in the third after Howard had hit his two-run home run.

None of the Mets' errors will make a highlight film. Utley's probably will. The Phillies fess up to their mistakes. They led their 1979 highlight film with footage of the damaging error Gold Glove center fielder Garry Maddox committed in the 10th inning of the decisive fifth game of the 1978 NL Championship Series. That's entertainment.

By the time Howard stopped abusing the baseball and both teams stopped kicking it around, the totals for this game were bizarre: Phillies -- five runs, two hits, two errors; Mets -- two runs, two hits and three errors.

"I saw that when I came out to the dugout," said Francoeur, who hadn't played because of a left thumb injury that might end his season.

But what Francoeur had noticed on the scoreboard made him cackle. That's entertainment, too.

Only the hit totals changed dramatically thereafter. The Phillies scored in the ninth, too, to secure their 40th victory in 61 road games. They have won nine of their 11 most recent games and nine of 14 against the Mets this season.

Having lost three of four games in the series, the Mets now are 16 1/2 games from first place. Their record after 17 losses in 25 games is 11 games under .500.

Crosby might say they're unflappable.

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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