For the first three innings of the game on a beautiful day for baseball, Nelson Figueroa appeared to be on his way to another stellar performance against the Cubs at Citi Field on Saturday. He was continuing his amazing strikeout run that he began last week when he fanned a career-high 10 batters at Wrigley Field. Then Figueroa faced the Cubs hitters for a second time through the order and he was done in by the old and the new: old nemesis Aramis Ramirez and new poppa Derrek Lee. The home runs by Ramirez and Lee (followed by Lee’s second home run of the game on the first pitch thrown by Elmer Dessens) helped end the Mets’ modest two-game winning streak and gave the Cubs a 5-3 victory.
The Mets jumped out to an early lead against Cubs’ starter Rich Harden. Cory Sullivan hit his second home run in as many days to give the Mets a 1-0 lead in the second inning. The game remained 1-0 until the fourth inning when Lee and Ramirez combined to give the Cubs the lead. Lee started the inning with a base hit off Figueroa, bringing up Aramis Ramirez.
Ramirez entered the game with a career batting average of .417 (5 for 12) and a home run against Figueroa. His second career home run off Figueroa came in the fourth inning after Lee’s single. The blast gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead.
The lead was short-lived as the Mets struck back in the bottom of the fourth. Cory Sullivan drew a one-out walk from Rich Harden and went to second on Harden’s errant pickoff throw. After recent call-up Josh Thole’s single put runners at the corners, Anderson Hernandez tied the game at 2 when he reached on an infield single. However, the Mets left the potential go-ahead run in scoring position when Nelson Figueroa and Angel Pagan struck out to end the threat and the inning. The two strikeouts gave Harden nine strikeouts through the first four innings of the game.
The Cubs half of the fifth inning was the time for Derrek Lee to shine. After handing out his “it’s a boy” cigars to his teammates in the dugout while Kosuke Fukudome singled to left, he promptly launched the first of his two proud poppa blasts into the left field landing at Citi Field, giving the Cubs a 4-2 lead.
Speaking of poppas, with apologies to Big Poppa (the late rapper Notorious B.I.G.), these altered song lyrics should best describe what happened Saturday at Citi Field.
Figgy, Figgy, Figgy, can’t you see?
Sometimes your pitches just hypnotize me.
Unless your name is Derrek Lee.
Then they end up in the left field landing.
The Mets were able to cut the Cubs’ lead in half in the seventh inning when Aaron Heilman made his Citi Field debut for the Cubs. Yadier Molina’s BFF continued to show why he was so reviled in the minds of the Flushing Faithful. Sole surviving member of the Three Fernandos (seems like ages ago when they had their heyday), Fernando Tatis led off the inning with a single. He later advanced to second on a wild pitch by Heilman. Tatis reached third on a base hit by Angel Pagan and scored on a sacrifice fly by the smaller-helmeted David Wright. The fly ball cut the Cubs lead to 4-3, leading to an early trip to the showers for Heilman, who exited to a growing crescendo of boos. (or were they Cubs fans saying Lou Piniella’s first name as he took Heilman out of the game?) The Mets were not able to tie the game as John Grabow was able to get Daniel Murphy to ground out to second base to end the inning.
The failure to pile it on when Aaron Heilman was in the game came back to haunt the Mets just one pitch into the next inning. Elmer Dessens was called upon to pitch to Derrek Lee, who responded by claiming the left field landing in the name of Lee. So prodigious was the blast that a man attempting to catch the hot potato literally fell head over heels down the stairs while making the play. Despite the inability to remove the “wow” from his lips after Lee’s homer, Dessens settled down and retired the next three batters to get out of the inning.
The Mets had one more good scoring opportunity in their half of the eighth but could not replicate the five-run eighth inning of the previous night. They loaded the bases against Grabow and closer Carlos Marmol with two outs in the inning. Angel Pagan was able to work the count to 3-2, but popped up to center to end the threat and for all intents and purposes, the game as well, as Marmol was able to retire the Mets in order in the ninth inning.
Nelson Figueroa did not pitch badly in his six innings of work, giving up seven hits and two walks to go along with eight more strikeouts (18 Ks in his last two games). However, the four runs he gave up on the two-run homers by Ramirez and Lee were sufficient for the Cubs to end the Mets’ winning streak at two. Still, Figueroa showed that his recent success at Triple-A Buffalo was not a fluke, as he has been very good since his call-up from the Bisons.
Tomorrow is the rubber game of the series, as the Mets hope to finally win a series for the first time since late July. Mike Pelfrey will try to reverse his recent stretch of poor performances against Randy Wells. Game time is at 1:10 PM. The Cubs have had difficulty scoring in this series if not for the long ball. If Pelfrey’s sinker is working on Sunday, the Mets might finally have that long-denied series victory.