Mets drop opener to Hamels, Phillies

Mets drop opener to Hamels, Phillies

PHILADELPHIA -- The Mets were in fourth place then, as they are after Friday night's 4-2 loss. Standing on their toes, though, wasn't necessary to glimpse first place and its occupants, the Phillies. It was July 10, and one extended sequence of well-played baseball could have moved them so close to Philadelphia, they could have heard Jimmy Rollins sweat.

Jeff Francoeur joined the Mets that day, and as any new man would have done, he consulted his handy pocket schedule. He would return to Atlanta in less than a week and again in September. And every player checks to see whether a trip to San Diego is in the offing. And then Francoeur noticed Sept. 11-13 as if the dates had been printed in neon. Three days, four games and untold excitement. The Mets would be in Philadelphia for certain, and it was likely, he thought, they would be relatively close to full strength and closer to the Phillies.

"Huge," he said to himself. "That series will be huge."

When the Mets rolled into Philly early Friday morning, full strength was the question and only a modicum of anticipation existed. They would spend the weekend playing the Phillies, and the best part of that would be that the schedule would be shaved by four games by the time they departed. That's as huge as it would get.

That said, the Mets have completed the first stage of their revised mission. They and Phillies began the "What might have been" series in cozy and saturated Citizens Bank Park on Friday night with a game bereft of genuine emotion and, for the visiting team, significant consequence. That the Mets lost the series opener was of greater importance to the Rotisserians and seamheads than to the team with only a semblance of a batting order and the remnants of a rotation.

"It could have been electric," Jeremy Reed said.

When he was traded to the Mets in December, he, too, had checked to see when "us and them" were scheduled to play in the season's gunlap month.

"There would be all that stuff going on in the stands, all that rivalry stuff -- I was looking forward to it," Reed said.

Instead, "us and them" staged a decidedly routine game, won by the better team. The teams that some thought would compete for the 2009 National League East championship performed as they have most of the season. As a consequence, the Phillies moved closer to their third consecutive October, and the Mets stepped back to where they must crane their necks to see the third-place Braves.

"Definitely not what we were hoping for," general manager Omar Minaya said well after his team had fled the visiting clubhouse.

The series being essentially empty adds another layer of disappointment to the Mets' season. Not only will the season pass without reward, the chance to compete in a critical series has been denied as well.

"It is what it is," Francoeur said. "Disappointing."

Their fourth consecutive loss -- they haven't had so much as a lead since beating the Cubs on Sunday -- left the Mets 19 games behind the Phillies with an elimination number of four. Should the home team win two of the three games remaining in this series, the Mets' mathematical chances of unseating Philadelphia will go the way of their real chances.

"I thought this series would determine the fate of us going forward," manager Jerry Manuel said during the postmortems of his team's 79th loss. "When I saw this series on the schedule [it became a four-game series because of a postponement in May], I figured it would be one that told us how far we'd come from two years ago and last year [when the Phillies caught and denied the Mets]. But it hasn't panned out."

The Mets' 10th loss in 15 games against the Phillies this season hardly was so lopsided as the three games the Mets lost to the Marlins this week at Citi Field. But once Philadelphia created a 2-0 lead in the third, a sense of fait accompli developed.

Nelson Figueroa started for the Mets and somehow reached the sixth inning. He allowed two runs, but had two runners on base in each inning, including the sixth, when he was replaced by Ken Takahashi. The Phillies battered Figueroa (2-5) with nine hits and walked five times. But they didn't deliver a telling hit. He struck out three after striking out 10 and eight in his two previous starts.

The Phillies (80-59) scored against Elmer Dessens in the seventh and Brian Stokes and Pedro Feliciano in the eighth.

The Mets (62-79) didn't score until the seventh inning, when a sacrifice fly by Luis Castillo drove in Wilson Valdez against winning pitcher Cole Hamels. They scored in the ninth as well, against Ryan Madson (seventh save), on a double-play ground ball. They have scored 13 runs in the four consecutive losses, 10 on outs.

The Mets managed seven hits and a walk against Hamels (9-9), who had lost his only decision against them this season. And they so wanted to face Hamels in a game of consequence. At least they did five months ago, when this series had potential.

Now what it has is three more games.

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