Citi Field’s Suicide Bombers

Just when you thought the New York Mets’ incendiary bullpen looked like they had it together, for just one Sunday afternoon game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, they figured out another way to put out a fire with a nuclear weapon. After—count ’em!—three innings of pristine relief Sunday afternoon at Citi Field. Why does it feel as though you just knew it was too good to be true?

Jon Niese had a respectable start, surrendering three runs on eight hits before handing off to the Mets’ bulls. Tim Byrdak and Jon Rauch—combined on a scoreless eighth. The Mets tied it in the ninth. Bobby Parnell—two innings spotless, one-hit work. Ramon Ramirez . . .

Uh, oh.

Ramon Ramirez pitching in the top of the twelfth . . .

Ramirez just couldn’t let his spotless first inning of work go unmolested. The arsonist of the hour started the twelfth with leadoff singles to James Loney and Tony Gwynn, Jr., the latter a bunt barely fieldable. He got Mark Ellis to pop out right back to the mound and Matt Kemp to force Gwynn at second. Two outs, men on the corners, Andre Ethier getting the free pass to load up a play anywhere for pinch-hitter Matt Treanor.

No sweat.

Not much.

No way . . .

Treanor dumped one into shallow center on which Loney and Kemp scored. Luis Cruz singled on a line into shallow left, sending Ethier home. And Adam Kennedy—erstwhile Angel and Cardinal, once a postseason hero (three bombs in the ALCS clincher for the 2002 Angels)—doubled into right to send home Treanor and Cruz.

Byrdak, Rauch, and Parnell could have been forgiven if they’d wanted to stick their heads into the oven.

Elvin Ramirez relieved Ramon Ramirez in a bid to keep the Met deficit at a mere five, and his first attempt turned into a full-count walk (to A.J. Ellis) on which he was never ahead in the count. He got Loney, making a return engagement, ahead 1-2 before luring him into a pop out to second to stop the inning’s carnage at a mere five runs.

Bad enough the Mets had three chances to win the game behind the pen and lost every one of them. First, Lucas Duda grounded out for the side in the ninth, after the Mets tied it up on an infield out, with men on first and second. Then, Ruben Tejada ended first and second with one out in the tenth by dialing an inning-ending Area Code 5-4-3. Then, David Wright—who’d gotten aboard with a one-out single—got nailed trying to purloin second before Ike Davis flied out to right.

These Mets spent the first half of the year defying their maiden-season ancestors’ larger-than-life manager. That was 1962 and Casey Stengel: Come an’ see my amazin’ Mets. I been in this game a hundred years but I see new ways to lose I didn’t know existed yet. This is 2012 and incumbent manager Terry Collins, who’d spent the first half bucking impressively for Manager of the Year honours, could say easily enough: Come an’ see my amazin’ Mets. I haven’t been in this game a hundred years yet but I see new ways to win I didn’t know existed yet.

It was enough to keep the Mets in a pennant race through the All-Star break. Since the break, these Mets have spent most of their game time watching their starting rotation come under further injury compromise, with Johan Santana turning out to have been pitching long enough on a balky ankle and Dillon Gee likely gone for the season with  shoulder blood clot surgery recuperation. Watching their hitters find ways to cut and paste runs, often as not at the eleventh hour. Watching their bullpen turning the Mets’ once-vaunted late-inning surprises into none-too-well-envied self-immolations.

This bullpen needs its own emblem. How about a blow torch? Baseball has the suicide squeeze. The Mets have suicide bombers where their relief pitchers are supposed to be.

Daniel Murphy opened the bottom of the twelfth with a double. He should have known it might have been the beginning of something futile. Not that the Mets didn’t put out some solid effort. Hell, they went down swinging. Duda flied out to left, Kirk Nieuwenhuis swished, and Jason Bay—still fresh off the disabled list, pinch-hitting for the second Ramirez against Dodger reliever Josh Lindblom, taking him to deuces wild and then a full count—fouled one off and then swished for strike three, game, and Dodger sweep. At least they didn’t keep the bats on their shoulders.

Now the Mets have fallen a game under .500 for the first time all season long. Believe it or not. Since the Fourth of July, the Mets have lost eight of twelve, including a six-game losing streak in which they proved easy enough prey for the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Nationals, even if the streak began with a loss to the Chicago Cubs.

The non-waiver trade deadline looms. It wouldn’t be impossible to think that, if the Mets still think they have a shot this season rather than counting it a building block toward 2013 and beyond, they’re in the market for at least one reliable starter to help shore up and a bullpen overhaul if they can get one.

Right now, with Santana and Gee on the DL, and number five man Mike Pelfrey out for the season, R.A. Dickey is their most reliable starter, and Niese their second-most but a distance enough behind Dickey. Good luck if the Mets think they can just ride the two of them for much longer no matter how well they pitch. Miguel Batista, given the spot start in Saturday’s loss, was designated for assignment, which was thought to be a way to make room for prospect Matt Harvey, their number one two years ago. They thought about Harvey coming up in time for a series with the Arizona Diamondbacks, after they tangle with the Nats twice, but Harvey was lit up in Buffalo (AAA) Saturday.

Closer Frank Francisco is due back from the DL (oblique strain) soon enough. Whether it’s too late to stop the Mets’ pen from continuing to blow up the season is anybody’s guess. Even Francisco wouldn’t guess. Rehabbing in Port St. Lucie, he can’t even bring himself to keep the Mets’ games on his laptop after a certain point in the late innings.

He quickly says he’s only kidding. But it’s no laughing matter anymore.

When the Original Mets finally stopped their season-and-lifetime-opening nine-game losing streak, the instant gag became “Break up the Mets!” When a team sees itself going nowhere and decides the rest of the season should be a regrouping/re-evaluating, they say, “Blow up the season.” They won’t dare say that about the Mets. The bullpen’s been dress rehearsing it all too literally.

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