If New York does challenge for the top spot in the NL East, they are going to need someone other Johan Santana to pitch effectively. They may have such an arm in Mike Pelfrey, who now has three of his team’s six wins, after pitching seven strong innings against the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field.
By virtue of a 4-0 whitewash, the Mets have their first two-game winning streak of the young season. On the flip side, the Cubs have now lost four in a row, and have scored just six runs during their freefall.
Pelfrey has been personally responsible for three of New York’s last four wins, with seven clean innings in Colorado last Thursday and a save in St. Louis on Saturday. In fact, Pelfrey was the Mets’ first full-time starter since Pat Zachry in 1982 to gain a save between starts. (while the game notes stated that Dwight Gooden had accomplished this feat back in 1989, Doc’s relief appearance was during a rehab stint and, therefore, does not qualify.)
His mound opponent was Carlos Zambrano, who was 4-2 with a 3.71 ERA in 10 career games v. New York. Yet, that didn’t seem to matter, as the home team threatened in their very first at-bat.
Jose Reyes snapped an 0-18 slide with a hit, and Luis Castillo -who has owned the Cubs’ righty (.529 average, with eight walks in 26 plate appearances)- also reached. After David Wright lined a frozen rope to Alfonso Soriano in left, the $91.5 million pitcher was primed to hold the Mets, er, at bay.
Jason Bay, who has hit .359 (14-39) and slugged five home runs against Zambrano, fanned for the 20th time in 50 at-bats. Jeff Francoeur, whose averaged has suddenly nosedived, also followed suit.
New York ultimately cracked the seal in the next stanza when Angel Pagan, who has filled in nicely for the injured Carlos Beltran, singled down the rightfield line. Pelfrey walked, which further enhanced his on-base percentage; he already has two hits this season. Reyes reached the gap in left-centerfield to knock in both runners and, when shortstop Mike Fontenot threw home, his 74th career triple was in the books.
Pelfrey, who was last scored upon in the second-inning by the Washington Nationals on April 9, did not allow a hit into the fifth. When Bay executed a fine running catch on Soriano’s fly ball for the first out, some fans may have thought this was going to be THE night. No Met pitcher, according to nonohitters.com, had ever tossed a hitless game over the franchise’s 7,657 regular season, and 74 postseason, games.
But, after Fontenot lined a single down the leftfield line, all hope of witnessing history evaporated. And, when Koyie Hill grounded another hit to right, the shutout appeared in doubt, as well. However, Zambrano bunted through a pitch, and Fontenot was picked off second by 38 year-old catcher Henry Blanco. Pelfrey then induced Zambrano to hit into a 6-4 force play.
Soriano, who was briefly in Lou Piniella’s doghouse after he settled for a 415’ two-base hit on Monday, doubled to left with two out in the seventh. But, Fontenot –who had yet to be retired by Pelfrey- grounded to second, and the scoreless streak, now at a career-best 19 innings, was preserved. The right-hander struck our six, while allowing three hits and three walks.
Collectively, the Mets starters have yielded a paltry four earned runs over the last 38 innings.
With Jeff Gray pitching in the seventh, Reyes knocked out his third hit. Castillo walked, but Wright bounced into a 6-4-3 double play and, after Bay was hit by a pitch, Francoeur grounded out to end the threat. Overall, Wright and Francoeur combined to leave 11 runners on base.
Ryota Igarashi replaced Pelfrey to start the eighth, but strained his left hamstring while misplaying Hill’s bunt. Chad Tracy, hitting for Gray, advanced Hill with an infield out, and Kosuke Fukudome skied to Bay for the second out. At that point, Igarashi departed and Fernando Nieve was called in to fire a third strike past Jeff Baker.
Ike Davis walked to open the eighth, and was sacrificed to second by Pagan. After Blanco flied out, pinch-hitter Fernando Tatis hit his first homer to put the game out of reach. Reyes later grooved his fourth hit of the game, and promptly stole second. But, he was stranded there as Castillo lined softly to Derrek Lee at first.