SAN DIEGO - As unsettling as it was Monday night for the Mets to see Hisanori Takahashi appear human or Raul Valdes resemble a 5-year-old throwing darts, nothing brings down the curtain quite like a call to the bullpen for Oliver Perez.
Yes, that's how bad it got for the Mets in an 18-6 loss to the Padres at PETCO Park. Jerry Manuel, after burying Perez in the farthest reaches of the bullpen, actually summoned He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named in the sixth inning.
Perez served up a long homer to Chase Headley in the seventh inning and Lance Zawadzki's RBI single in the eighth, which gave the Padres a PETCO Park-record 18 runs. It was the most the Mets had allowed since losing to the Expos, 19-10, on July 26, 2004.
Said Manuel, "Well, I think the fact that we didn't throw strikes, that always bothers me, it always raises a great deal of concern for me because you can't defend that. If you get hit and those types of things, sometimes they're going to be hot and bang you around a little bit, but when you don't throw strikes, that's the thing that's discouraging for me because you can't defend it.''
Perez wasn't even close to the team's worst pitcher as the Mets stumbled to 1-3 on this trip and 7-17 on the road for the season.
In the fifth and sixth innings, the Padres sent a total of 19 batters to the plate (with Adrian Gonzalez batting three times) and scored 10 runs. San Diego also had the first three batters of an inning reach base four times in the first six innings.
Takahashi (4-2) served up a grand slam to Jerry Hairston Jr. in the second inning for the first runs he had allowed in 13 innings as a starting pitcher. Takahashi gave up eight hits and six runs in four innings.
"It's a fluke, especially for Takahashi and Valdes,'' said catcher Rod Barajas, whose two-run homer cut the Mets' deficit to 10-6 in the sixth. "It happens. We know next time [Takahashi] is going to be that guy that showed up against the Yankees and Phillies. We know he's going to bounce back."
"He didn't have the command that he usually has,'' Manuel said. "He was missing early and they did a good job of making him come over to the heart of the plate and he just happened to not have the command. I thought the velocity was there, but the excellent command that he has shown in the last couple of games was just off a touch for him, and they made him pay for it.
"They were very patient with him and made him get it over the plate. Every now and then, you'll get some of those calls that are borderline. A lot of them were borderline, they weren't strikes but they were borderline. Some of those calls you get on occasion, and he just wasn't getting any of those tonight.''
Which brings us to Valdes, who did not retire any of the five batters he faced in a four-run fifth. After the Mets closed to within 6-4, Valdes allowed two singles and walked three straight, forcing in two runs in the process.
"I don't know what happened there,'' Manuel said. "That's just one of those things where maybe because of the lack of usage that he wasn't as sharp. He's been a guy that pitches a lot and we thought we were doing him a favor by giving him a good breather here, but that wasn't the case, and he just couldn't find the strike zone, and that's definitely not him. He's a guy that for us is the one guy that we can be sure is going to come in and throw strikes, and he wasn't able to do it.''
Jenrry Mejia let in two more of Valdes' runs, allowing a two-run single to Luis Durango to give the Padres a 10-4 lead.
After Barajas' two-run homer cut it to 10-6, the Padres tacked on six runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, courtesy of Ryota Igarashi and Perez. San Diego sent 10 batters to the plate that inning, squashing any more thoughts of a Mets comeback.
Manuel said of Igarashi, "Well, he didn't seem to be able to get a feel for the baseball. He felt that it was dry air and he couldn't really get that tacky feel on the ball that he normally does, but yeah, that's somewhat of an issue as well. We really haven't seen what we saw before he went on the DL. There were bumps on the road there, but not what we're seeing now.''
Could it be physical? "I think it could be mechanical because I still see good arm strength and good arm speed on his splitter, but just not having the command. Everything is over the heart of the plate and straight. Doesn't matter if it's 96-97, if it's straight at this level, it still gets hit.''
The first subtle hint of trouble for Takahashi came in the first inning when he walked Gonzalez with two outs. It was Takahashi's second walk in the 13 innings since he became a starter on May 21 and was an early indication that maybe he might be a little off with his usual pinpoint command.
There was nothing subtle about the second inning, however, when the Padres opened with three straight singles. In his first two starts, Takahashi had been able to wriggle free of tight spots, and he almost did this time when Durango popped up and Padres starter Kevin Correia (5-4) struck out.
Takahashi even got ahead of Hairston 0-and-1, but when he tried another fastball, the former Yankee turned on the 90-mph pitch and launched a long home run that reached the second balcony of the brick warehouse high above the leftfield wall. It was the first grand slam for the Padres this season at PETCO Park, usually a pitcher's paradise, and the first runs allowed by Takahashi in 14 innings as a starter.
They would not be the last. In the third inning, Takahashi gave up a pair of singles and Hundley followed with a two-run double into the leftfield corner. But the Mets stayed within 6-1 when Angel Pagan threw out Hundley at the plate trying to score on Oscar Salazar's fly ball to center. Barajas tricked Hundley into not sliding by looking as though he didn't expect a strong throw, and the catcher was able to slap a quick tag on him to complete the double play.
That seemed to be huge when the Mets scored three runs in the fifth to trim the deficit to 6-4. After Jeff Francoeur was nailed on the wrist, Gary Matthews Jr. stroked a double for only his fourth hit in 19 at-bats as a pinch hitter. Jose Reyes followed with a two-run triple and scored on Alex Cora's groundout.
The Mets fought back but couldn't find a pitcher who could get outs. Said Manuel, "That was difficult, that's always a tough thing, because we had a number of guys available; we just couldn't find the right combination. In the course of the year, maybe that will happen here or there, but hopefully that's not a thing that becomes a pattern for us because we pride ourselves on the fact that we find the right matchups and put people in the right spot, so to have this happen tonight, we just have to add it up as one of those things that was somewhat unusual for us.''