CLEVELAND - All around him, the cheers rose up from the stands Friday night, filling Progressive Field with the unmistakable sound of anticipation.
Indians lefthander Scott Kazmir looked in for the sign, then reared back to throw. At the plate, Andrew Brown unleashed a long swing, though he had little chance of catching up. The fastball crackled across the plate at 95 mph.
It was the final flourish in a performance nine years in the making for Kazmir, who struck out 12 in six shutout innings to send the Mets to an 8-1 loss to the Indians.
But it wasn't revenge that pushed Kazmir against his former club, the one that traded him away nine years ago. His motivation stemmed from something more pressing.
"It's great, but I'm at the point where we're playing for a playoff spot right now," said Kazmir, who helped the Indians keep pace in the wild-card chase. "That's the one thing that I'm thinking about when I'm going to the mound."
Nevertheless, in a battle of current and former Mets phenoms, Kazmir (8-7) outmatched 23-year-old Zack Wheeler (7-4). In his shortest outing in more than a month, Wheeler allowed three runs in five innings.
He battled with his command, reversing what had been an encouraging trend. Since walking five batters Aug. 4 against the Royals, Wheeler had sharpened his repertoire. In his next five starts, he went 3-1 with a 2.51 ERA, mostly because he fanned 31 and walked only six. But against the Indians, Wheeler issued five walks, tying his season high.
"It's never good when you walk five guys," said Wheeler, who upped his season total to 156 1/3 innings, pushing him closer to his cap of about 180. "You make it a lot harder on yourself."
Carlos Santana knocked in a pair of runs against Wheeler. In the eighth inning, former Yankee Nick Swisher capped the rout with a grand slam against lefty Tim Byrdak.
The Mets drafted Kazmir in the first round in 2002, sent him to the Rays in an ill-fated trade for Victor Zambrano in 2004, then watched him earn All-Star honors twice with the Rays. From there, the lefthander, now 29, was nearly driven out of baseball, eventually landing in the independent Atlantic League before reviving his career this season with the Indians.
Against the Mets, he delivered arguably his best start of the season, allowing only four hits to his original team.
"Real good stuff," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Best I've ever seen him pitch, and I saw him pitch in Tampa for a while."
Kazmir's 12 strikeouts were his most in a game since he fanned 13 for the Rays on Aug. 25, 2007. It also was the highest strikeout total for any Indians pitcher since 2009. That it came against the Mets, the pitcher insisted, was nothing more than coincidence. Said Kazmir: "It was a long time ago."
Notes & quotes: Scott Rice will have season-ending surgery Tuesday for a hernia that has bothered him since late June. That will close out the 31-year-old rookie's season, which came after 14 years in the minors. Rice held lefties to a .174 average, putting him in position to maintain his hold on a bullpen spot next season . . . The Mets called up lefty Sean Henn from Triple-A Las Vegas. Henn, 32, went 3-5 with a 2.81 ERA in 52 appearances. Henn, a former Yankee, last appeared in the big leagues in 2009 . . . Rookie Wilmer Flores made a throwing error in his first start at third base since Monday. He has been battling two sore ankles.
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