July 1, 2008

Mets exploit Wellemeyer's mechanical problems, tune up own offense in 7-4 win

Yesterday, Mark Mulder got a standing ovation. Today, David Wright would've gotten one, if the Mets were in New York. Or maybe the whole Mets' team, for scrapping inning after inning until they finally busted out to a lead of three or more, then holding on to win 7-4. Tony Armas pitched a rocky handful of innings, but his team kept things in order long enough to get their big inning against Cards' starter Todd Wellemeyer, lighting him up for three runs in the fifth and adding another later, outlasting the Cardinals through the last half of the game.

Wellemeyer got roughed up in the first couple of innings, the Mets able to tally one run on four hits, adding a walk help prove the obvious, that the Redbirds' starter was not on in command of his pitches. In the dugout, pitching coach Dave Duncan made open displays that suggested he was coaching the right-hander on his his arm angle.

The Cardinals provided some breathing room for Wellemeyer early, scoring two in the first inning. Aaron Miles doubled, then was driven home as half of a two-RBI home run into the right field seats by Rick Ankiel. Mets' starter Tony Armas wasn't in much more command than Wellemeyer, giving up the third Cardinals' run in the second. Yadier Molina singled, was sacrificed over to second by Wellemeyer, scoring later on a Skip Schumaker double.

The two run lead wouldn't last, however, Wellemeyer unable to get his off-speed pitches under control. The Mets started sitting on his fast balls, driving even his lower zone stuff for basehits, mounting enough of a rally to tie up the game in the fourth.

By the fifth inning, the Mets showed how they could put together a rally on pitcher that was off his game. Endy Chaves led off with a single. David Wright doubled, sending Chavez to third, and the Mets were in prime postition to rally. Carlos Beltran came up next, a batter that has hit .500 and change when it comes to the Cardinals, penalized the Redbirds again, executing a "move 'em in, move 'em over," ground ball to the right side of the infield, breaking the tie and putting his team up by one at 4-3. Ryan Church punished the Cards further, doubling to right, Wright scoring. La Russa ordered Carlos Delgado walked, putting the double play in order. But Damion Easley gave up only one on a pop out to Ryan at short. Ramon Castro helped push in another run from his eighth spot in the lineup, singling home Church. The rally ended with an Armas line out, but the damage had been done, the Mets exploiting Wellemeyer's inability to keep them off his fast ball when he couldn't deliver on the off-speed stuff.
Brad Thompson took over for Wellemeyer to start the sixth, and did well except for one mistake pitch up to David Wright, who took him deep to left, making up for a weak previous night.
The Cardinals were able to chip one off the Mets 7-3 lead, Troy Glaus scoring on a Molina sacrifice fly into foul territory on the right field side.

Aaron Heilman relieved Armas in the seventh, getting a couple ground outs before Albert Pujols doubled. Mets' manager Jerry Manuel pulled Heilman on the spot, calling in Pedro Feliciano, who secured the third out to get out of the jam.

Thompson sailed through the eighth, and the Mets countered with another reliever, Duaner Sanchez, who took down Glaus, Duncan, and Molina in order.

Once more Thompson held, and once more Manuel made a pitching change, going with closer Billy Wagner, who also pitched down the Cardinals, one-two-three.

The Mets did tonight exactly what the Cardinals needed to do, and that was exploit the weaknesses of the other team. Wellemeyer happened to be that weakness for the Cardinals, the Mets catching him on a night in which he was well off his game and seemed to have trouble with his mechanics, either an arm angle issue or opening up too soon as analyst and one-time pitching great Ricky Horton pointed out in a post-game TV segment.

The game may have hinged on a fourth inning decision to let a struggling Wellemeyer bat instead of pinch-hitting him with the game tied. La Russa played the odds that Wellemeyer would settle down, and that did not happen. Though it could have, as there appeared to be nothing wrong with Wellemeyer's stamina.

The Mets tuned in to Wellemeyer's fast ball so well, it became obvious they were setting up for only that pitch, letting everything else go and coming out okay on count, until they finally would get the fast ball that didn't have the movement pitching coach Dave Duncan would've liked to have seen. That is how the Mets could drive even the hard stuff that was down or on the corners, as they were looking for that speed all the way, and needed only set up their swing, the more difficult part, the timing, no longer an issue.

With the exception of Wright's homer, Thompson was steady, recording a few one-two-three innings and sailing along, giving the Cardinals bullpen all the rest they should need to be at full capacity starting tomorrow.

The Mets did burn some pen tonight, but victories are well worth that trade-off. They may be in the same boat tomorrow night that the Cardinals were in tonight. But kudos to the Mets pitching staff for grinding one out, hanging tough through mid-game, then working hard to make certain no rally got out of hand.

These two teams should make for good, competitive baseball during the last two games of the four-game series.

(photo by Barbara Moore)