After wild finish, Mets have final say vs. Giants
After Nieuwenhuis' miscue, error on his grounder produces walk-off
By Thomas Boorstein / MLB.com | 4/21/2012 6:37 PM ET
NEW YORK -- For much of Saturday's game against the Giants, the Mets appeared on track to a crisp victory that would have been highlighted by Mike Pelfrey's strongest start of the year. But the game devolved into a series of errors.
Much to the Mets' relief, the Giants erred last and the home team prevailed, 5-4, at Citi Field.
Moments after committing a critical misplay that turned what would have been a game-ending pop fly into a game-tying double, Kirk Nieuwenhuis set the wheels in motion on a wild sequence in the bottom of the ninth inning. The rookie center fielder hit a bases-loaded grounder to first baseman Brandon Belt, who threw home to catcher Buster Posey for a forceout. But Posey's throw back to first sailed into right field, allowing Ruben Tejada to score the winning run.
"At this level you're going to escape death a few times, and sometimes you're going to be shot," manager Terry Collins said. "And today, fortunately, we escaped."
With the Mets one strike away from a win in the top of the ninth, Jon Rauch induced a pop fly to shallow center field from Belt. But Nieuwenhuis' sprint for the ball took him too far, and the ball landed behind him as two runs scored.
"I was playing deep, playing no-doubles there," Nieuwenhuis said of the play, which came with the potential tying run on first base. "It was a high fly ball. I just overran it. I was coming from a long way out. It was my ball all the way. I just overran it."
"I didn't think it was over [when the ball was popped up]," Rauch said. "It's not over until the last out is made. It's an unfortunate thing that happened. But these things do happen. If the game was easy, we'd all be playing, and we'd all be making 10 bucks an hour."
Nieuwenhuis was due up fifth in the bottom of the ninth inning, which Lucas Duda started with a leadoff walk. The Mets pinch-ran Scott Hairston for Duda, Josh Thole bunted the runner to second and Ruben Tejada walked.
Justin Turner then hit a grounder to short that could have been turned into a fielder's choice or possibly a double play. But Aubrey Huff, playing second base for the first time in his Major League career, didn't cover the bag, and Turner reached first. That set the stage for Nieuwenhuis' fielder's choice, which might not have resulted in an error if Hairston hadn't slid into Posey.
"I knew I was going to be out by a mile," said Hairston, who clipped Posey's right foot. "But the play's not over after that. My goal was just to make him not be able to throw the ball to first. My intention was not to hurt him in any way. I just wanted him to alter the throw."
Rauch pitched to Belt because Mets closer Frank Francisco retired just one of the four batters he faced in the ninth before making way for Tim Byrdak, who struck out pinch-hitter Hector Sanchez.
"I'm going to talk to Frankie tomorrow," Collins said when asked about the state of his bullpen. "I don't like to do too much right after the game. He pitched as well as he did early in the season. It could be something. I don't know what it is, but I want him to understand [closing games is] why he's here."
The most prominent of the miscues occurred in the ninth inning, but the sloppiness began in the eighth. Ike Davis (picked off first) and David Wright (caught stealing at third) helped prevent the Mets from adding insurance runs -- and as it turned out, might have prevented Pelfrey from finishing the game.
Pelfrey threw 102 pitches over eight innings, walking one and striking out three. But his pitch-to-contact approach worked against the Giants, who scored once in the fourth but did not get a runner to second base in any other inning against the right-hander. He appeared set to pick up his first win of the season when Tejada doubled home two runs in the seventh. According to Collins, Pelfrey would have come out for the ninth had the Mets added to the 4-1 lead.
Instead, Pelfrey went to the trainers' room and rooted on his teammates.
"I said, 'Let's go celebrate,'" Pelfrey said when he saw Belt's pop fly. "And I turned around and walked, and people started screaming behind me and I said, 'What the heck?' I didn't even see it. I said, 'Oh, my gosh.'"
"It was a roller coaster," Nieuwenhuis said of the ninth inning. "I'm just glad we came out on top."