MIAMI - The Mets knew that Daniel Murphy would slip up at some point. Learning on the job always involves some growing pains. It's unavoidable.
But the Mets never had an opportunity to recover after Murphy made a critical blunder in yesterday's 2-1 loss to the Marlins. He dropped a routine fly ball - allowing one run to score and setting up a second run - with two out in the second inning of a pitchers' duel between Johan Santana and Josh Johnson that sped by in a 124-minute blur.
In those types of matchups, the team that blinks first ultimately loses, and that's why the Mets headed home for tonight's Citi Field opener with a 3-3 record to show for the road trip.
Santana had 13 strikeouts in seven innings, the most in his brief Mets career, and allowed only three hits, a walk and no earned runs. But he couldn't overcome Murphy's pivotal drop.
"It was just one mistake that he made cost us the whole ballgame," Santana said. "I know he's in a learning process. I'm pretty sure he'll be back and trying to do better. But we have to bounce back.
"We cannot afford to make a lot of mistakes. We were out by one game last year, and every game is very important. We have to do the routine plays. I'm pretty sure he was trying his best right there and it didn't work out. Tomorrow is a new day, and hopefully, everything will work out for him."
Santana retired the first five Marlins, striking out two straight before walking Jeremy Hermida on a 3-and-2 pitch. That's when Cody Ross lifted a high fly ball to leftfield that should have been the third out.
Murphy, who was wearing sunglasses, took one step in, then backpedaled, giving no indication that the glare was a problem as he drifted back and camped under the ball. But as he reached up to catch it one-handed, the ball kicked off his glove.
"Inexcusable," Murphy said. "I was lazy. I was lazy to the ball and I got exposed for it."
Santana watched the play as he walked to the dugout. When the ball deflected off Murphy's glove, allowing Hermida to score from first base, Santana whipped his head to the side in disgust. Ronny Paulino followed with an RBI single to left for a 2-0 lead.
Putting Murphy in leftfield this season is a calculated risk. The hope is that he helps produce more runs with his bat than he gives away with his glove. He homered on Opening Day, is hitting .296 and seems comfortable in the No. 2 spot, so the Mets still are on the plus side of that cost-benefit analysis.
Murphy also hustled to make a running catch of Hanley Ramirez's long fly ball in the eighth inning, which indicates that he did not let his first error snowball into more shaky outfield play.
"I'd like to say I turn the page really quick," Murphy said, "but it's something hopefully that I'll get better at. I can't say I let it go right away."
Afterward, the Mets were curious to see how he would handle his first taste of big-league adversity. As Murphy dressed at his locker, many of the players looked up from their dinner plates as the group of reporters closed around him. It's a rite of passage in New York.
"Everybody's been there," David Wright said. "He knows he's going to be under the microscope this year. All you can ask for him is to go out there and work hard. Errors are part of the game, and that happens. Everyone else needs to step up a little bit and pick up the slack."
Santana (1-1) did what he could. He retired 16 of his final 19 batters in his first loss since July 9 against the Yankees. During that undefeated streak of 18 starts, he was 10-0 with a 2.07 ERA.
"He was awesome," manager Jerry Manuel said. "Johan has been very impressive early. Normally, they say he's a second-half pitcher. We've got a lot of stuff to look forward to. Gonna be looking for 16, 17 punchouts."
Incredibly, Johnson was even better. He didn't allow a hit until Luis Castillo's one-out single in the sixth inning and surrendered five overall in the 113-pitch complete game. At one point, Johnson retired 15 straight, and he improved to 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA in six career starts against the Mets.
With two out in the ninth inning, Carlos Delgado's double and Carlos Beltran's single ended Johnson's shutout bid. But Brett Carroll made a lunging shoestring grab of Ryan Church's sinking liner to leftfield to strand the tying run.
"We'd like to win series, but unfortunately, today we ran into a guy that was throwing the ball extremely well," Wright said. "There's not much you can do offensively when he's throwing the ball like that."