The Mets' recurring, curl-your-hair, white-knuckle trips through the late innings can be as spooky as they are exhilarating. And Friday night, the urge to summon pitching cavalry became even more acute when the Los Angeles Dodgers immediately punched out previous ace Johan Santana and eventually prevailed in a drawn-out 7-6 scrap.
The lurking danger to the Mets' pitching staff appeared to be spreading when Santana, losing his bid for a second no-hitter to L.A.'s very first batter, Bobby Abreu, on an infield single, was gone after just three innings, already down 6-2. The wreckage included seven hits, a pair of two-run homers surrendered to Matt Kemp and Luis Cruz, and an unseemly battle with his control. Santana walked three, one with the bases loaded in the second inning.
"He's not hurt, let's put it that way," Mets manager Terry Collins said of Santana. "But we're going to talk. We're going to try to get some energy back in his arm," possibly by having Santana skip a start or even sending him to the disabled list, the manager said.
"I'm OK," Santana insisted. "I'm just going through a tough time, not able to execute my pitches."
Both men insisted that Santana has no lingering effects from the effort of his June 1 no-hitter, the first in Mets history. "That no-hitter, that was a long time ago," Santana said. "That has nothing to do with it."
Still, in eight starts since conjuring that magic, Santana has allowed an unsightly 31 earned runs in 422/3 innings and been tagged with 11 home runs (compared with four in his first 10 starts). Though Los Angeles previously had been one of Santana's easier touches (he had been 5-0 in five previous starts, when they hit only .173 against him the Dodgers on Friday night batted .431 against Santana.
Sundry and various events gave the Mets hope Friday night, not the least being Jordany Valdespin's two-run homer -- his fourth as a pinch hitter this season -- to pull the Mets within one run in the seventh inning. Daniel Murphy, for the fourth time in his career, collected four hits, and drove in a run. David Wright (66) and Ike Davis (53) added to their team-leading RBI totals with sacrifice flies.
The Mets already were dealing with the league's worst bullpen ERA (5.03) before their post-All Star break sky-is-falling experiences -- six losses in seven games -- which noticeably has dampened their spirits. Even veteran closer Frank Francisco, who might have been able to buck up the Mets' rag-armed bullpen if he hadn't been recently rehabilitating a strained abdominal muscle in Florida, said he would "get scared from the outside" watching the blown saves and almost-lost leads on television. "I shake, yeah. I get nervous."
Francisco was not disrespecting his fellow pitchers, merely making the point that it is easier to pitch in those tight spots than to watch. "You got it," he said.
But now add the latest dent in Santana's armor. So in need of arms are the Mets that righthander Jeremy Hefner will be summoned from their Buffalo affiliate Saturday, and Collins said the team's current ace, R.A. Dickey, could be used in relief.
What if Francisco, who hopes to pitch in a minor-league game as soon as this week, were available? Would that save the day? Francisco sighed. "Don't ask me that," he said. "Everybody has their struggle, you know. I think we'll be OK."