Punchless Mets spoil Santana's gem

WASHINGTON -- A trio of New York Mets backups on the bench had successfully figured out earlier this season when Johan Santana was about to throw a changeup, based on the left-hander's glove widening as he gripped the pitch.

So pitching coach Dan Warthen enlisted the veterans' help again this week, after having the ace adjust where his glove is positioned at the start of his delivery.

With Santana having allowed four or more runs in four straight outings, Warthen had Santana's between-starts bullpen session filmed and asked teammates Henry Blanco, Alex Cora and Fernando Tatis to review the footage to see if they could again discern which pitch Santana was about to deliver.

They could not.

So with Santana's pitch-tipping issue apparently satisfactorily resolved, he took the mound at Nationals Park on Thursday and held the Washington nationals scoreless into the seventh inning.

But the Mets, who had arrived in their hotel rooms in the nation's capital after daybreak following a late-night flight from San Juan, suffered another walk-off loss to squander Santana's performance.

Reliever Ryota Igarashi, summoned with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning, surrendered a sacrifice fly to Ryan Zimmerman as the travel-weary Mets lost to the Nationals, 2-1, on Thursday night.

Santana, whose glove has now been lowered to his belt area at the start of his delivery, had been lifted after 97 pitches with the game tied 1-1 entering the eighth inning.

"Jerry's the manager. He's the skipper. He makes the decisions," Santana said. "And he decided that was good for me, so I just came out of the game."

The Mets had trudged into Washington, D.C., after salvaging a series finale against the Florida Marlins in Puerto Rico that ended after midnight. Reliever Bobby Parnell had evidence of precisely what time the plane landed -- 6:22 a.m. -- because he sent a text message upon touchdown. He also knew what time he got to his hotel room -- 7 a.m. -- because he called his fiancee.

Right fielder Jeff Francoeur figured he would sleep in and still comfortably make it to the ballpark without need of an alarm clock. Or so he thought. Francoeur eventually awoke and noticed the clock on his nightstand reading 3:32 p.m. He scrambled to get to Nationals Park, never imagining it would have been humanly possible for him to sleep that late, even after spending a taxing three days in the Caribbean heat and humidity.

If the Mets are presented with a similar situation next season, GM Omar Minaya said the team would request an off-day after such a trip, and there appeared to be annoyance in some corners of the clubhouse with the travel rigors.

The Mets' bats appeared sleepy against Hernandez, despite the veteran right-hander having tailed off considerably since topping Santana at Citi Field during the season's opening week.

The lone run in Hernandez's seven innings of work came via a first-inning RBI single by rookie first baseman Ike Davis that scored Jesus Feliciano -- manager Jerry Manuel's pick to replace Jose Reyes in the leadoff spot.

Perhaps the offensive funk was understandable for a more significant reason than the early morning arrival: Reyes and Angel Pagan, the customary Nos. 1 and 2 hitters, both were out of the starting lineup with issues with their right sides. Manuel also opted to rest Jason Bay, even with the other starters out. Pagan, during the last trip here, had been a human highlight film. On May 19, he became the first major league player in 55 years to initiate a triple play and hit for the cycle in the same game. Pagan did enter as a pinch runner in the sixth, hit from the left side in the ninth and predicted he would be in Friday's starting lineup.

For a while, Santana was living right.

Ian Desmond led off the bottom of the fifth with a shot to the deepest crevice on the left side of the outfield at Nationals Park. The baseball struck the very top of the angled wall and bounced back into play, which was confirmed by a one-minute video review by the umpiring crew. Santana ultimately stranded Desmond at third base by retiring Nyjer Morgan on a flyout to left field. An inning later, confronted with two Nationals on base, Santana struck out Josh Willingham with a 91-mph fastball and retired Mike Morse on a fly out to preserve a 1-0 lead.

In the seventh, Santana's scoreless effort fizzled. Desmond led off with a single and was bunted to second. Alberto Gonzalez pinch hit for Hernandez and struck out for the second out. But a wild pitch advanced Desmond to third base, and Morgan followed with an RBI single.

In the end, after Feliciano allowed the Nationals to load the bases in the ninth and Igarashi surrendered the sacrifice fly, the Mets had suffered their ninth walk-off loss of 2010. Only one other time in franchise history have they had that many by July 1. That came in 1978, when they ultimately matched the team record of 14 walk-off losses in one season.

Manuel -- who in San Juan had tactfully tried to portray the walk-off losses as a positive, that it showed the Mets are in games on the road -- was more blunt in his assessment Thursday. He asserted that it demonstrated a weakness in the bullpen leading into closer Francisco Rodriguez. His analysis came while reasoning that a tie score with the bases loaded in the ninth is not the proper time to insert K-Rod.

"All the walk-off losses on the road is indicative of an eighth-inning guy," Manuel said, referring to their collective lack of proficiency this season. "That's where an eighth-inning guy pitches. It's basically that simple."

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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