Mets walk off on Granderson's sacrifice fly in 14th
Stellar bullpen work led by Dice-K's three hitless innings sets stage
NEW YORK -- Call it a case of hitless redemption.
Curtis Granderson came into Sunday's game against Atlanta on an 0-for-10 skid, and he went hitless six more times to sink to a .127 batting average for the season. But that was only half the story.
Granderson, batting for the seventh time, found a way to render his statistics irrelevant. The veteran outfielder came up in a tie game with two runners on base in the 14th inning on Sunday, and he helped end a marathon affair by lifting a walk-off sacrifice fly to give the Mets a 4-3 victory over the Braves.
"I needed something positive," said Granderson. "You've got to keep trying different things, continue to keep working. Things will turn. I understand that. I've done this before. It's just a matter of time."
Indeed, the Mets (9-9) have thought the same thing about Granderson, and they don't want to get too worried over three weeks of results. Manager Terry Collins did make one move, though, switching Granderson out of the cleanup slot Sunday in order to bat him a little higher in the lineup.
And on this day, that move put Granderson in a perfect position to help his team win. The Mets used 20 players on Sunday, a sum that included every reliever except Jeurys Familia. Both teams got seven scoreless innings from their bullpens, and Granderson's sacrifice fly sent everybody home.
"I'm really happy for him," said Collins. "We don't know what's going to happen, but we hope this is something we can build on and move forward and start getting it going. As I've said before, it's early in the year. We're going to look up and this is all going to be forgotten in July, when he starts putting up his numbers. He's just got to battle through some tough times, and he has the ability to do that."
The extraordinary part, in this case, is just how much adversity had been lumped on Granderson's plate. The former All-Star popped up with the bases loaded in the second inning, and he uncorked a wild throw that chased one run home and set the stage for Atlanta's three-run fifth inning.
Each of the game's first six runs scored in an inning marred by an error, but the Braves spread their miscues out over a few different rallies. Atlanta (12-6) made three errors -- all in separate innings -- and the Mets turned each one into a run but could never get the big hit to break the game open.
The Mets used six of their seven relief pitchers, and Jose Valverde could claim redemption in much the same way as Granderson. Collins decided before the game that Valverde (1-0) would no longer be the team's closer, but the veteran earned the win after throwing a scoreless 14th inning.
Valverde was just one of several relief heroes for the Mets. Former starter Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched three key innings while striking out five for New York, and situational southpaw Scott Rice got a double play on the only pitch he threw. Gonzalez Germen, Carlos Torres and Kyle Farnsworth also pitched in the win.
"It's kind of funny the way it works. Sometimes you need a lot of pitches, sometimes you don't," said Rice of his one-pitch outing. "I was teasing Torres that he had to work a little bit harder today."
Matsuzaka, making just his third career relief appearance, was pitching on back-to-back days for the first time as a professional. The right-hander didn't give up any hits and struck out five of the 10 batters he retired, and Collins credited him for holding the score stable in a crucial part of the game.
"If we go back, it was the job Daisuke did," said Collins. "That was big for us."
Matsuzaka entered the game in the 11th inning and walked the first batter he faced, but then he struck out the side to escape the threat. The top of Atlanta's batting order came up in the 12th, but Matsuzaka retired them in order before pitching a perfect 13th and giving way to Valverde.
"This is my role for the time being, so I just have to do what I can and make sure I pitch well whenever I go out there," Matsuzaka said via interpreter Jeff Cutler. "It was a very big win for the team, and personally, having thrown three innings and contributed to the team that way, it was also very satisfying."
The Mets finished 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position on Sunday, and they're batting .179 in those circumstances at home this season. Outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis led off the 14th with a walk, and he moved up two bases on the strength of a sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch.
The Braves could have pitched to Eric Young Jr. in that situation, but instead manager Fredi Gonzalez elected to intentionally walk the Mets' leadoff hitter. That brought Granderson to the plate, and after lifting a fly ball to medium-depth left field, his teammates grabbed him and started a raucous celebration.
"I'm hoping we get a chance to win. I'm hoping I have something to bring to it," said Granderson of his mindset during the game. "Anybody can go ahead and help us get the victory. That's all I'm for. If it happens to be me, that's great. But any one of the 25 guys on this team, I'm happy."
Granderson, to be sure, didn't fix all his problems with one swing. He's still batting .127, and he has struck out in nearly a third of his at-bats (20 times in 63 at-bats.) But that's a number to work on tomorrow. For now, Granderson is back in the winner's circle, and his teammates are thrilled for his success.
"There's not a finer guy that you'd ever want to have," said Collins. "All you can do is root for him, and everybody does. To have him come through, his teammates were genuinely excited for him."