After the sky-high euphoria of Thursday's walk-off win, the Mets nearly surpassed it Friday with an even more inspired comeback effort against Carlos Marmol. But this one fell one run short, and as bad as it was to lose 8-7 to the lowly Cubs, the Mets had to feel even worse after watching another front-end starter stagger through a disappointing performance.
On Thursday, it was R.A. Dickey who flailed away with a "stinky" knuckleball before the Mets bailed him out. Such G-rated language doesn't begin to describe how awful Johan Santana was Friday in allowing 13 hits -- matching a career high -- and seven runs in 42/3 innings, his shortest outing since an April 17 beating in Atlanta.
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"It was a tough one," said Santana, whose scoreless streak at Citi Field was snapped at 24 innings by Reed Johnson's leadoff homer in the first. "Those guys were very aggressive. They were swinging right away and putting the ball in play. I made a couple of mistakes and they hit it out of the ballpark."
Johnson, whose three hits off Santana boosted his average against him to .516 (16-for-31) for the highest of any active player, smacked the game's second pitch into the leftfield seats. It was only the third leadoff homer allowed by Santana as a member of the Mets and first since Jimmy Rollins did it almost three years ago to the day on July 5, 2009.
But the Cubs did most of their damage to Santana (6-5) in the fifth inning, ripping him for five runs and seven hits, including homers by Anthony Rizzo and Jeff Baker, to build a 7-2 lead and inflate Santana's ERA from 2.76 to 3.24.
Santana looked helpless during that stretch, but he said his struggles had nothing to do with twisting his right ankle as he attempted to cover first base on Johnson's opening infield single that inning. In addition, Johnson stepped on the ankle as Santana tied to make a barehanded grab of Justin Turner's off-target throw. Terry Collins and trainer Ray Ramirez rushed out to check on him but chose to let him proceed.
"Obviously, the command of his fastball went awry," Collins said. "But he said it wasn't his foot. He just didn't make the pitches after that."
Santana did say the ankle felt sore after the game but refused to use it as an excuse for his rough night. "I don't think it will be a big deal," he said. "I think I'll be fine."
For the second time in as many nights, the Mets rallied in the ninth inning, and they came close to erasing a four-run deficit against the erratic Marmol. Spurred by Jordany Valdespin's one-out homer, they drew three consecutive walks -- on 18 pitches -- to load the bases before Ike Davis ripped a two-run single into rightfield that pulled the Mets within 8-7.
Next up was Lucas Duda, who homered in the second, and he hit a line drive that Marmol somehow grabbed by lunging to his left. Davis was too far off first and easily was doubled off to end the game.
"We had a chance for sure," Davis said. "We gave ourselves an opportunity to do it, but it was bad baserunning by me and a great play by the pitcher."
Overall, the Cubs piled up a season-high 18 hits and Travis Wood -- another lefthander -- held the Mets to three runs and five hits in six innings despite Collins' infusion of righthanded hitters for the occasion. The previous night, they were 2-for-17 against Cole Hamels and Antonio Bastardo.
Justin Turner, who started in place of Davis, had four hits, but the Mets went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. The one lefthander Collins did stick with, Duda, rewarded him with a long home run that tied the score at 1 in the second inning. It was No. 12 for Duda, tying him with Scott Hairston for the team lead. He just couldn't get lightning to strike twice Friday.
"Anything could have happened then," Collins said. "It just wasn't meant to be."