DENVER - There is frustration, and then there is the scorched-earth kind of rage that Mike Pelfrey was feeling when he was lifted from Tuesday's game after four terrible innings against the Rockies.
The furious Pelfrey stormed into the clubhouse, where he switched his uniform for running gear, and then left the stadium.
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"I was so upset, I had to get outside," Pelfrey said Wednesday afternoon. "I had to get some fresh air. I had to breathe."
Once he found himself standing in the middle of the parking lot, Pelfrey began running laps, each about 13 blocks long, as his teammates struggled through the late innings of an 8-3 loss to Colorado.
Speaking about it the following day, only moments after a closed-door meeting with Jerry Manuel that lasted 30 minutes, Pelfrey knew he had behaved irrationally. But the need to blow off that steam was unavoidable.
"If you had talked to me in the sixth inning," Pelfrey said, "I would have done something I would have regretted."
Later that night, Pelfrey described his outing as "embarrassing" and added that he "didn't belong on the field." He allowed six hits and seven runs over four innings, as well as five walks. But Pelfrey's problems appear much worse when his last two starts are combined: 17 hits, 12 runs and 10 walks over 92/3 innings.
It didn't get much better for the Mets in last night's 5-2 loss to the Rockies. Tim Redding allowed only two runs over 62/3 innings, but Jason Giambi's pinch-hit, two-run single off Brian Stokes (1-4) snapped a 2-2 tie in the eighth.
As the Mets have plummeted, so too has Pelfrey, the last man standing from the Opening Day rotation. He consulted a sports psychologist in May to help him deal with a case of recurring balks. Last month, Pelfrey became a first-time dad with the birth of his son, Chase. On top of it all, Pelfrey has fought to contain a competitive fire that sometimes pushes him over the edge.
"I think he's tense," pitching coach Dan Warthen said. "I see him get irritated at one bad call. I don't know if all these things that have happened over the year have worn him out mentally. Physically he's fine. The delivery is in great shape. His bullpens have been fantastic. But the tension of this year has really beat him up."
Manuel noticed yesterday that Pelfrey had reached a tipping point, which is why the manager called him into his office shortly before batting practice. During the half-hour discussion, Pelfrey said that Manuel "challenged" him to finish strong and let the pitcher vent a little of his anger.
"Nobody expects more from me than myself," Pelfrey said after the meeting, "and I'm not happy. I'm frustrated with the way I've pitched this year. There was so much talk about how I could have been this or I could have been that. Then I don't go out and perform.
"I just want to do better and I expected to do a lot better than I'm doing. I'm in a little funk right now and I know I'm going to get through this. Hopefully next year I can look back on this season and laugh about it."
But Pelfrey isn't quite there yet. He earned $2.237 million in the final season of his four-year, $5.25-million contract and the Mets hold a $500,000 club option for 2010, so it's not like his future with this team is in imminent danger. As they evaluate their team for next year, however, the Mets want Pelfrey to be part of the solution.
"We've got to find a way to unlock that because this is not what we anticipated as far as his progression," Manuel said. "What I hope happens for these last couple starts is that we see a little better than what we have seen. Because if we don't, we'll begin to question the upcoming season. We believe that Mike Pelfrey is a franchise-type pitcher. That's what we believe."