Eight is just not the Mets' magic number. If only they could skip from the seventh inning to the ninth, the way hotel elevators jump from the 12th floor to the 14th as if No. 13 weren't there.
This week, they made it Hisanori Takahashi's turn in the rotation. Not the starting rotation, which is where he had been, but the eighth-inning carousel that has made a setup man of just about everyone in the bullpen other than Oliver Perez and closer Francisco Rodriguez.
It just keeps turning into a setup for frustration. Takahashi, like the many Mets eighth-inning relievers this year, could not quite get all the way through to the ninth. Then Manny Acosta turned it into another nightmare, leaving the fans at Citi Field booing after a 2-1 lead became a 6-2 deficit.
Takahashi had been really close to getting his new job done for a second night in a row. There was a borderline two-strike call on Todd Helton with two outs and the bases empty, but it was called a ball. Helton singled and Carlos Gonzalez walked. Acosta came in and, after a really high and tight pitch, intentionally walked Troy Tulowitzki. Then Melvin Mora blasted a 2-and-2 pitch into the leftfield seats for a grand slam.
That Perez has an outside chance to start in place of Takahashi Saturday shows how desperate the Mets are for a setup man. Kelvim Escobar's season was finished by shoulder surgery before it began. Ryota Igarashi, Fernando Nieve, Pedro Feliciano and Bobby Parnell all failed to hold onto the job.
"We came out of spring training looking for that,'' Jerry Manuel said. "We have yet to solve that, to be honest with you.''
Takahashi's late-inning career started well Tuesday. "In a 1-0 situation, one pitch can change everything. I was a little nervous about it, but in the eighth inning, I'm supposed to do a scoreless inning," he said through an interpreter before last night's game.
"He knows how to pitch," Manuel said before the game. "It doesn't seem to bother him whether it's the eighth or the first or the fifth or the sixth.''
But even before he'd been told definitively if his new job was permanent, Takahashi was charged with a defeat last night. "I haven't done many eighth innings before, so I'm not sure if I'm supposed to hear from the coaches or not," he said. "In a winning situation, every pitcher has a responsibility."
In the Mets' situation, though, the eighth-inning pitcher often takes the loss.