Daisuke Matsuzaka's laboring day vs. Braves: 6 runs in a slow three innings
ATLANTA - The doomed excursion began in Washington on Sunday night, when the Mets blew a late lead against the Nationals, then boarded an Atlanta-bound charter for Monday afternoon's date with the Braves.
Players and coaches did not arrive at their hotel until about 4 a.m., far from the ideal way to prepare for a team that has made a mockery of the National League East race.
Then Daisuke Matsuzaka took the mound, and the real torture began.
In three excruciating innings during a 13-5 thrashing by the Braves, at a time when his team could least afford it, he exhibited his most maddening qualities.
The travel-weary Mets sweated through a humid afternoon as the former Red Sox star worked at an agonizingly slow pace, allowing six runs and seven hits and never giving his team a real chance.
Channeling his inner Chipper Jones, Freddie Freeman battered Matsuzaka for five RBIs in the first two innings. He ripped a two-run double over the head of rightfielder Andrew Brown in the first and launched a three-run shot to right in the second that put Atlanta ahead 6-1.
The Braves had 17 hits off seven Mets pitchers.
"Looking at the way I pitched today, if I'm told this is my last start, then it's something I'll have to accept," Matsuzaka -- who for now will be granted a reprieve -- said through an interpreter.
After the blowout, which sent Matsuzaka's ERA soaring to 10.95 in three starts for the Mets, manager Terry Collins said he remains on turn to make his next start. He lines up to pitch Sunday against the Indians -- the organization that released him last month.
"There's no reason why we probably don't run him out there again," said Collins, who played down the start. "He's got to keep going, he's got to keep battling."
The Mets don't possess a bevy of alternatives. But veteran righthander Aaron Harang, who was signed as an insurance policy, easily could be deployed from Triple-A Las Vegas, where he gave up two runs and seven hits and struck out five in four innings of relief Monday.
Yet Collins backed Matsuzaka, even though he has failed in his primary mission. Long past his prime, he was signed specifically to spare the rest of the Mets pitchers from a heavy workload down the stretch.
But in each of his first three starts, he has failed to last more than five innings. Command has been the culprit, just as it was against the Braves. "You guys saw the results, and personally, it was very disappointing," Matsuzaka said. "I'm very disappointed in myself today."
Leading into the start, coaches pressed Matsuzaka to pick up his notoriously deliberate pace. At one point in the four-run second, Collins emerged from the dugout to deliver a pep talk, reminding Matsuzaka that the Mets need him to "get it going."
Still, it seemed as if Matsuzaka needed more time to throw his pitches than the Egyptians needed to build their pyramids. His first two innings alone required 1 hour, 15 minutes.
"I wasn't able to get into a good rhythm," he said. "Maybe sometimes I took too much time, sometimes not enough time. That's an area that I need to obviously work on."
His glacial approach hardly spared him from his worst outing in his short tenure. It was perhaps the most stinging of the horrors that the baseball gods heaped upon the Mets in 20 grueling hours that spanned two days and two cities.
"The difference between my good pitches and my bad pitches were too big," Matsuzaka said. "That needs to change."