Johan gets his support as Mets take series

Johan gets his support as Mets take series

NEW YORK -- Sixteen games have now come and gone, affording the Mets ample opportunity to accumulate statistics. David Wright has hit three home runs, for example. Mike Pelfrey is the proud owner of three victories. And now Francisco Rodriguez -- finally -- has a save.

"It's about time," he said after closing out the Mets' 5-2 victory Thursday over the Cubs.

It had been quite some time indeed. On only one other occasion had Rodriguez attempted to close out a game this season, last Saturday in St. Louis. That night, in the 19th act of an eventual 20-inning victory, Rodriguez estimated he had thrown more than 100 pitches in the bullpen before even entering the game. Naturally, he blew the save.

Thursday, he ensured, would be different.

Entering with the bases loaded, the tying run on first and one out, Rodriguez induced a shallow sacrifice fly before striking out pinch-hitter Tyler Colvin to end the threat. Then he mowed down the top of Chicago's order in the ninth, whiffing two batters before Derrek Lee flew out to end the game.

For the first time this season, Rodriguez patted his chest and pointed skyward.

"That's the kind of mentality that I always have," Rodriguez said. "Bring me in a tough situation. Put me in the pressure. I'm pretty sure I'm going to go out there and be more aggressive and be able to get people out."

After Saturday's 20-inning game, Rodriguez admitted to being somewhat gassed when he finally did take the mound to pitch. So Mets manager Jerry Manuel took that lesson and applied it to Thursday's game, using his closer for five outs rather than having him sit back down on the bullpen bench.

Rodriguez, naturally, was pleased with the decision. Despite requiring a few pitches to shake off the rust, he quickly ended the eighth without incident.

"And after that," Rodriguez said, "everything was easy."

Easy -- that's how things should be when Johan Santana pitches, and especially when he pitches well. Thursday was one such day, with Santana allowing nothing more than Kosuke Fukudome's pinch-hit RBI single in the seventh. Striking out five and walking one, Santana also managed to put a check mark in the statistical column that had frustrated him most: wins.

"Santana's good, but I don't think it's just Santana," Lee said. "I don't want to take anything away from him -- he's one of the best pitchers in the game -- but this whole season, we haven't scored many runs."

Case in point: the seventh inning, when Santana departed and Fernando Nieve allowed a hit to the only batter he faced. With one out, Pedro Feliciano then induced a ground ball and retired Lee on a fly ball to escape the jam.

The Mets, meanwhile, were scoring just enough -- something they haven't done with much regularity this season. After Cubs starter Tom Gorzelanny retired the first 10 batters he faced, the Mets finally broke through on David Wright's RBI double in the sixth. Jeff Francoeur then snapped his 0-for-24 streak with an RBI single to right, and both he and Rod Barajas scored on Fontenot's fielding error.

Both teams added runs in the eighth, keeping the save situation intact. And with their first series win in the balance, the Mets were only too happy to turn to their closer.

Recall that just two years ago, then with the Angels, Rodriguez set the Major League record with 62 saves. Last year, despite a down season both for him and the Mets, he saved 35. This year, he is on pace for 10 -- and he's looking to record them any way that he can.

After Saturday's marathon, for example, Rodriguez joked that he wanted to trade his win for Pelfrey's 20th-inning save. Five days later, he cracked that he would appeal to the Commissioner's office to get the swap done.

But for a starting pitcher such as Pelfrey, a rogue save comes with plenty of pride. Pelfrey, who volunteered for 20th-inning duties last Saturday with Rodriguez physically unable to go, is ready to do it again.

"If needed, I'll be able to," he said -- only half joking.

But Pelfrey's status as a late-inning whiz is quickly disintegrating. After Thursday, he is only tied for the team lead in saves.

"Now he can't talk anymore," was how Rodriguez put it.

To the rest of the Mets, that's all just pettiness. Let Rodriguez and Pelfrey joke all they want. Winning games is serious stuff, and Rodriguez is still a critical means to an end.

"There's not much I can do once I'm out of the game," Santana said. "But these guys did a pretty good job and K-Rod took care of business. It was good to see that."

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