Billy Wagner returned to the Mets to make his first appearance in the major leagues in over a year, entering to a thunderous ovation from the Flushing Faithful. However, the Citi Field premiere of Enter Sandman did not help send the Braves to Never Never Land. Brian McCann pulled a long home run into the Pepsi Porch off Johan Santana in the fourth inning, which proved to be the difference maker, as the Braves held off the Mets by the final score of 3-2.
Johan Santana was looking for his 14th victory when he took the mound for the Mets and pitched decently, but had a difficult time against the Braves’ left-handed hitters. Atlanta got on the board first in the top of the third inning. Lefties Adam LaRoche and Ryan Church ripped back-to-back doubles to score the first run for the Braves. After a successful sacrifice bunt by Braves’ pitcher Kenshin Kawakami moved Church to third base, second baseman Omar Infante was able to drive in the second run with a sacrifice fly.
The Mets responded quickly in the bottom of the third inning. Luis Castillo, Daniel Murphy and Cory Sullivan all picked up singles to cut the lead to 2-1. Unfortunately, the Braves got that run back in the top of the fourth inning, when catcher Brian McCann (another left-handed batter) smoked a Santana offering into the Pepsi Porch to give the Braves a 3-1 lead.
The score was still 3-1 when Santana was removed after throwing only 77 pitches (of which an astonishing 60 were strikes). His low pitch count for seven innings of work can be attributed to his no walk, two strikeout performance. However, he did give up nine hits, including the three extra-base hits to LaRoche, Church and McCann.
The man replacing Santana on the mound needed no introduction. All you needed to do was close your eyes and hear Kirk Hammett’s opening riff to “Enter Sandman” and you would know that Billy Wagner was back on the mound for the first time since August 2, 2008. He showed that he had recovered well from the Tommy John surgery that kept him out for a year. Wagner pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning, picking up two strikeouts (the same total Santana had in the first seven innings).
The feel-good vibes of Wagner’s return in the top of the inning continued in the bottom of the inning, as the Mets put another run on the board. The rally began when Larry Jones’ throwing error allowed former teammate Jeff Francoeur to reach first base. After a two-out walk to Fernando Tatis, Omir Santos laced an RBI single to center field, scoring Francoeur to make the score 3-2.
Unfortunately, that was all the Mets could muster against the Braves’ bullpen, as Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless ninth inning to prevent the Mets from taking the series from the Braves. The Mets have not won a series since taking three out of four games from the Rockies in late July. Since losing the finale of that four-game series on July 30, the Mets have split two series and lost four others.
Santana is now 1-5 in eight career starts against the Braves, despite giving up only 13 earned runs in those eight starts (2.21 ERA). With the loss, his record dropped to 13-9.
The Mets will now begin what looked like a crucial four-game series against the Phillies when the schedules were originally released. Mike Pelfrey will be opposed by Cole Hamels in Friday night’s series opener. Game time is at 7:10 PM.
If the Mets do trade Wagner before August 31, at least he gave the fans a taste of the special pitcher he had been for them over the past three seasons. Any good outings he has between now and the end of the month will enhance his trade value and could bring back important pieces that could help the Mets in 2010 and beyond. The Mets may have lost the game, but there were still good feelings at Citi Field with the long-awaited return of Billy Wagner to the mound.