For struggling Mets, miscues are magnified
NEW YORK -- Baseball teams go into slumps. It happens.
When a lineup isn't hitting, though, it becomes more important than ever to do the little things right, to take advantage of every opportunity. The Mets lost to the Cubs, 2-0, Wednesday night in 11 innings at Citi Field. That's frustrating. They also had chances to win before the game even got to extra innings. That's even tougher to stomach.
This goes deeper than being shut out for the second straight game while going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and leaving 10 runners on base.
This is about ending up with two runners on third base in the eighth inning ... and considering yourself fortunate to have only one called out.
This is about not advancing from second to third on a one-out grounder to the right side in the fifth ... and having it possibly cost a run that could have changed the outcome.
Look, you never know. Each play, each pitch can alter what follows. If the Mets had scored off starter Jon Lester in the fifth, Cubs manager Joe Maddon may have deployed his bench or his bullpen differently. The Chicago hitters may have approached their at-bats differently. Mets starter Bartolo Colon and the relievers that followed may have used different sequences protecting a lead.
But those two situations came to symbolize what has bedeviled a team in losing two straight against a team it's competing against for the second Wild Card spot in the National League.
"When you're not scoring, the one thing we've talked about for three days is trying to so something different. What we've been doing hasn't been working," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We figured we had to do something outside the box. Because we've been staying inside the box and it isn't working."
So, for the first time this year, Collins called for a suicide squeeze. It came in the bottom of the eighth after New York got a break. Ruben Tejada, leading off the inning, reached on an error. With one out, Daniel Murphy doubled into the left-field corner.
Under the circumstances, third-base coach Tim Teufel might have considered letting Tejada try to score. It's probably a good thing he didn't. Cubs left fielder Chris Coghlan delivered a strong and accurate throw to the plate. But the Mets were still in business with runners on second and third with one out.
Collins, playing the lefty-righty matchups, sent Darrell Ceciliani to the plate as a pinch-hitter. On the second pitch from Cubs reliever Pedro Strop, he put on the squeeze sign. Tejada got a good break, but Ceciliani didn't get his bat on the ball and Tejada was caught between third base and home.
"It was way outside. There was nothing [Ceciliani] could do with it," Murphy said. "Other than a pitchout, I don't know if there's a worse pitch to try to put down right there."
Tejada was chased back to third, where Murphy had already advanced. For a moment, it appeared both runners might be called out after Tejada wandered off the bag and both were tagged. After the umpires huddled, it was decided that Murphy would remain on third.
Umpires ruled that Tejada "abandoned his efforts to be safe" by stepping past the bag behind third base, giving Murphy rights to it.
"We got very lucky on that play," Collins said, even though once again the Mets still ended up not scoring.
A less noted, but potentially equally critical, play occurred in the fifth after eight-hole hitter Juan Lagares led off with a double to center and Colon struck out, turning the lineup over.
Curtis Granderson rapped a sharp grounder to the right side. For a moment it appeared that the ball would go through, but Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo made a nice stop and flipped to Lester covering for the out. The bigger problem was that, when the play was over, Lagares was still on second even though it appeared that he could have easily moved up.
And that could have been significant. Again, Lester might have worked Tejada differently with a runner on third than he did with a runner on second. But the reality is that he bounced a wild pitch past catcher David Ross that would have allowed Lagares to score easily had he been on third. Instead he was stranded when Tejada struck out.
Lagares had a different view of the play. "I had no chance to go over there," he insisted.
The Mets had the bases loaded with one out in the second. They had the tying runs on base and Murphy was almost picked off second with two outs in the sixth. They hit some balls hard that were caught.
When a team is scoring runs, these sorts of plays can get overlooked. When the lineup is ice cold, as it was again Wednesday night, they stand out like the bright red soda sign high above right field.