ATLANTA - Jerry Manuel said he didn't need to talk with Daniel Murphy about getting thrown out at third for the final out of the eighth inning in Sunday night's 1-0 loss to the Phillies. It was that obvious.
Murphy, after battling Pedro Martinez for nine pitches, ripped a double into rightfield and stood at second base as the tying run. Two pitches later, with Jeremy Reed at the plate, Murphy bolted for third on a ball in the dirt and was thrown out easily by Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz.
Martinez, watching from the mound, could hardly believe his eyes. He had just thrown pitch No. 130 and manager Charlie Manuel had visited him on the mound and was getting antsy in the dugout. Then - poof! - the Mets, with yet another dumb baserunning mistake, put a gift bow on Martinez's eight-inning gem. Afterward, the former Met sounded like he was ready to mail Murphy a thank-you card.
"It's not something you see happen very often," Martinez said, smiling. "But I was glad I got to throw less amount of pitches."
And so it goes. The injuries are one thing. Blame it on bad luck, bad medical advice, whatever. But the Mets' dangerous habit of running into outs or inexplicable behavior on the basepaths suggest at best a lack of focus, or at worst, a poor comprehension of how the game is played.
Forget Ryan Church missing third base that night in Los Angeles. It was way back in May, which now seems like several years ago. A mistake like that is so random, and so rare, that it must be considered a fluke.
What Murphy did Sunday night was premeditated. He made a decision to try for third, with two outs, when an extra 90 feet was hardly worth the risk. Manuel has preached aggressive baserunning since the first days of spring training, and the Mets lead the National League with 110 stolen bases.
But there appears to be a fundamental flaw with his team when it comes to running the bases intelligently.
Manuel said over the weekend that he is not in favor of pulling players from games, or even benching them for these types of repeated slipups. He'd rather get the message across in more discreet ways rather than "show up" the player. But the Mets haven't learned much over the course of this lost season and Manuel believes that being a good baserunner is not something that always can be taught.
"I think that issue lies with the individuals more than with the entire team," Manuel said. "I just think we have to continue to address the individuals that those things seem to follow or crop up.
"We have been somewhat aggressive on the bases - aggressive and smart we haven't been. We haven't been very smart as baserunners. That's also part of the evaluation. Baserunning is a tremendous instinctive trait in a player, and if you don't see that, that goes into the evaluation of the player."
In other words, that's another box that will be checked next to a player's name over the remaining three weeks in looking ahead to 2010.