Defense lets Mets down in loss

New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada leaps over

New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada leaps over San Francisco Giants' Aaron Rowand, bottom, but is unable to complete a double play during the first inning of their baseball game in San Francisco. The Giants' Miguel Tejada was safe at first base on a fielder's choice. In the background is Mets second baseman Justin Turner. (July 9, 2011) (Credit: AP)

SAN FRANCISCO -- This past week, Terry Collins expressed some concern about an upcoming stretch in which his Mets would face a formidable string of All-Star pitchers.

But three games in, the manager should be more worried about his defense. A lack of crispness among his young infielders cost the Mets in Saturday night's 3-1 loss to the Giants before a sellout crowd of 42,117 at AT&T Park.

San Francisco scored all three of its runs on potential double-play grounders -- some easier than others -- and the Mets missed a fourth chance when Lucas Duda failed to handle a low throw. That flub by Duda was the one that set up the Giants' two-run first inning and vexed Collins the most.

"We didn't turn the double play," Collins said. "That was the biggest difference. We turn the double play, we're out of the inning. They shouldn't have scored."

It wasn't going to be an easy night anyway, not with two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum on the mound. The Freak was the third straight All-Star pitcher to face the Mets, but just as they did with Ryan Vogelsong on Friday, they ran up his pitch count despite scoring few runs. Lincecum (7-7) totaled 114 in only six innings and the Giants went to the bullpen.

Still, Lincecum struck out six, and the Mets cooled off after taking a 1-0 lead in the first on back-to-back doubles by Carlos Beltran and Daniel Murphy. From there, they went 1-for-4 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight.

"That guy goes out there and always gives his team a chance to win," Murphy said. "We had four hits and he bore down when he had to."

The Giants got themselves a rematch in the ninth inning with Scott Hairston, whose tiebreaking homer off closer Brian Wilson sparked the Mets' 5-2 win Friday. This time the tying run came to the plate after Javier Lopez walked Ruben Tejada with two outs. Manager Bruce Bochy called on Sergio Romo because Wilson had pitched three straight days. There was no suspense. Romo whiffed Hairston on three pitches.

Chris Capuano (8-8) allowed four hits and two runs in six innings as his winning streak ended at three games.

Betrayed by his defense in the first inning, when the Giants manufactured two runs with only one ball leaving the infield, he shook off that frustration to retire 10 straight.

But as Capuano stifled the Giants, Lincecum did the same to the Mets, who failed in their limited opportunities. In the fifth inning, after Justin Turner's two-out double and a walk to Beltran, Lincecum fanned Murphy. In the sixth, Josh Thole ripped a two-out double but Tejada whiffed.

Lincecum was 1-2 with a 3.07 ERA in six career starts against the Mets entering the game, and he threw seven scoreless innings May 4 at Citi Field in the Giants' 2-0 victory. That streak ended early Saturday night, however, on the back-to-back doubles by Beltran and Murphy.

Murphy's RBI double upped the Mets' total of two-out runs this season to 169, which moved them past the Phillies for tops in the National League and second overall behind the Red Sox (172).

Murphy was coming off Friday's three-hit game and entered Saturday batting .358 since May 21, the fourth-highest average in the majors during that span.

The Mets, dogged by defensive miscues the previous two games, suffered from the same problems in the first inning as the Giants took a 2-1 lead. They botched three double-play attempts that would have let Capuano escape any damage.

"They weren't exactly tailor-made,'' he said. "They were in-between and they were tough turns. As a pitcher, the first thing you've got to look at is yourself."

After Aaron Rowand's leadoff single, Miguel Tejada hit what looked like a routine double-play grounder to short. It was -- right up to the point that Duda somehow dropped the ball.

Pablo Sandoval's double to leftfield put two runners in scoring position and a walk to Pat Burrell loaded the bases.

Then Nate Schierholtz hit a bouncer up the middle that Tejada scooped on the run as he moved to his left. The problem was that Tejada already was too far past second to touch the base and whiffed on his attempt to tag Burrell. Still on the move, Tejada rifled a throw to first, but that was too late as well.

"Ruben was trying to make a play right there," Murphy said. "At the end of it, you think just get an out right there, and we end up a tie ballgame. But he's made some fantastic defensive plays. He was trying to make one right there. Nine times out of 10, he makes that play, it's a double play, and they get nothing. He's a hero. I don't second-guess that at all."

The first run scored on that infield hit, and the Giants got another run on Aubrey Huff's grounder to Turner. Again, it should have ended the inning, but the Turner-Tejada combo was too slow to turn the double play, so the Giants led 2-1 with only one ball leaving the infield.

With one out in the seventh, singles by Rowand and Miguel Tejada off Bobby Parnell put runners at first and third. The Mets again couldn't turn two on Sandoval's grounder to short, and the Giants led 3-1.

Said Collins, "I don't know. Those choppers up the middle are tough to turn. You end up getting that second baseman and the shortstop at a tough angle to receive the ball. It's a little different when it's a bouncing ball over the bag, but we certainly could have got out of the one inning.

"I thought we had a chance to turn it with Bobby. Again, we only got four hits. It would have been a tough struggle anyway.''

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