Alex Cora upped his major league experience at first base to 4 1/3 innings in Saturday’s 20-inning win against the St. Louis Cardinals. His Derek Jeter-style catch -- or David Wright-style in Seattle circa 2005, if you prefer -- while manning the position potentially helped change the direction of the Mets’ season.
With the teams scoreless in the 10th, Cora entered on a double-switch, when manager Jerry Manuel summoned right-hander Fernando Nieve with two on and two out and slugger Albert Pujols due up. Nieve pitched around Pujols, issuing an unofficial intentional walk. On Matt Holliday’s ensuing bases-loaded pop fly in foul territory, Cora dived into the first row of the stands while making the catch. He departed for pinch-hitting Gary Matthews Jr. the following half-inning when Cardinals manager Tony La Russa inserted left-hander Trever Miller.
“I saw it up there and I said, ‘If I’ve got a shot, I’m going to get it,’” Cora said. “I knew I was getting close, so I jumped. I was like, ‘Let me go up there and get it because I’m about to hit the fence.’ I guess I had some room. But, still, I would have ended up in the stands.”
Cora had been taking ground balls at first base on the road trip, which allows Mike Jacobs to be held back as a pinch hitter on days Fernando Tatis starts.
“In ’07, I played one inning, made two errors on one play,” Cora recalled.
CALL-UP: With the bullpen tossing 13 innings Saturday, the Mets appeared leaning toward calling up a pitcher from Triple-A Buffalo for Sunday night’s ESPN-televised game. Bobby Parnell may have been the best candidate. But he may have disqualified himself because he’s not fresh. Parnell, who broke the franchise rookie record for pitching appearances with the Mets last season with 68, tossed a scoreless inning with two walks Saturday for the Bisons. Parnell has allowed three hits and issued four walks in 5 2/3 scoreless innings in the minors.
TRIFECTA: Johan Santana became the third straight Mets starting pitcher to contribute a gem. Coming off an outing in which he was outpitched by journeyman Livan Hernandez, Santana blanked the Cardinals for seven innings Saturday. That matched the performance Mike Pelfrey turned in Thursday in Denver in a victory against the Colorado Rockies. And it continued the positive starting pitching showings that included Oliver Perez departing with one out and a runner on second base in the seventh inning Friday, when reliever Raul Valdes ultimately served up a grand slam to Felipe Lopez and Perez was charged with a run.
COULD STOMACH IT: Left-hander Pedro Feliciano got his matchup with Lopez a day late. On Friday, Feliciano was receiving intravenous fluids and feeling ill, prompting manager Manuel to use Valdes against Lopez in the seventh inning. That confrontation became a game-turning grand slam. Feliciano entered to face Lopez in the ninth inning Saturday and induced an inning-ending double play.
STILL ALL WRIGHT: Jeff Francoeur went 0-for-7 with a sacrifice fly, snapping his season-opening 10-game hitting streak. Wright owns the longest hitting streak to open a season in franchise history -- 14 straight games last year. Francoeur’s streak ranks tied for second with Darryl Strawberry (1987), Robin Ventura (1999) and Wright (2007).
K WATCH: Jason Bay’s production drought to open the season continued. Bay, whose average dipped to .222, went 0-for-7 with four strikeouts and remains stuck with no homers and two RBI through 11 games. Bay’s career-high strikeout total is five, which happened last July 1 against the Baltimore Orioles.
PASS LIST: At Yankee Stadium, Alex Rodriguez hit his 584th career homer, passing Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire for eighth place all time.
WALKING MAN: Wright walked three times, increasing his MLB-leading total to 17.
GUNS BLAZING: John Maine threw bullpen sessions three straight days after allowing a career-high eight runs in three innings in Colorado on Tuesday. He’s determined to fire fastballs when he opposes Adam Wainwright in Sunday’s rubber game, as the Mets try to go 3-3 on the road trip.
Did Maine do too much work between starts?
“Probably,” Maine said with a laugh. “I was pissed off.”
As for his scrapping a strike-throwing approach for his ’07 reliance on fastballs and, perhaps, high pitch counts, Maine said: “It works most of the time. Sometimes you get burned by it. But that’s just the way it goes. I’ve got to go back to doing what I feel comfortable doing. I hope it works out. You never know. You go out there thinking, ‘I’m going to have success,’ but sometimes it doesn’t happen. I just have to go out there and feel comfortable.”
Maine’s velocity has sagged this season as he’s thrown more breaking balls and been less reliant on the fastball.
“I think the fastball is one of those things that if you don’t use it, you lose it,” Manuel said.
Still, Manuel insisted the emphasis on strike-throwing in spring training wasn’t a detriment, as some have suggested last year’s curveball drill had contributed to the Mets being content slapping the ball the other way at the expense of power.
“I think those are two different issues,” Manuel said.
Wainwright will make his first appearance against the Mets since the 2006 National League Championship Series. You can read about that any other Mets misery in Mark Simon’s piece here.