Jonathon Niese was cruising along at Citi Field Sunday night. The New York Mets starter pitched eight effective innings, allowed one run and struck out six Atlanta Braves. And then the call to the bullpen and everything went wrong, but, according to closer Frank Francisco, everything went right.
Francisco, who has had his problems closing games, making his second appearance since coming off the disabled list Friday, was ineffective. He walked two with the bases loaded in the ninth, and gave up a two-run double to Martin Prado.
He squandered a 6-1 lead, could not find the strike zone and gave the ball to Jon Rauch with the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on second. Afterwards, as the Mets dressed and left town with a 6-5 win, losing two of three to Atlanta, Francisco could not be serious.
“They wore me out a little bit, and I’m a little bit out of shape,” said Francisco. That was the serious part. After that, you wonder how much Francisco is serious about being an effective closer.
A major part of the Mets second half collapse has been their inability to drive in runs with two outs, and ineffective starting pitching. Sunday night, Niese (9-6) bounced back from a bad outing against the Marlins on Tuesday.
As the Mets did so effectively in the first half, Ruben Tejada and Ike Davis drove in a run apiece with two outs. Thursday, in their only win against the Marlins, R.A. Dickey got the complete game win, his 15th, and New York drove in five of their six runs with two out hits.
Jordany Valdespin continued to make an impression with manager Terry Collins. Inserted in left field, Valdespin hit a solo home run in the sixth inning, his eighth off losing pitcher Ben Sheets (4-2) that built a 5-1 lead. Collins intends to give him more playing time.
“I appreciate the opportunity to be given the chance and show why I can play here,” said Valdespin about a role in the outfield and also being used in the infield.
However, a constant for the Mets woes is having the most ineffective pen in the game. Before Francisco got the ball, rookie Josh Edgin got the call. He walked two and hit a batter. Francisco could not get the third out and Rauch put out the fire when Jason Heyward swung and missed a slider in the dirt.
But, according to Francisco, the Mets got a win and everything is alright.
The closer, after his comments Sunday night may be the laughing stock of New York baseball. He could not provide the proper answer as to his inability to throw strikes, and make it easy for his manager Terry Collins and those left in the crowd of 24, 891.
“We got a win, that’s the important thing, “commented Francisco about his shaky outing. And then, he ridiculed media by his locker when he said, “It was easy. I’m a bit out of shape. I just got tired. I feel great. You know why, I feel good. That’s it, no more questions?”
Of course, no more questions because Francisco can’t give the answers. Niese watched from the dugout hoping it was not another collapse.
“That was tough,” he said. “I can’t sugarcoat that by any means. But they got the job done,” commenting about the pen, “and that’s all that matters.”
And Collins, looking forward to a day off in Cincinnati Monday, before New York begins a three-game series with the NL Central leading Reds, needed the win. Then it is three more at NL east leading Washington.
It was the Mets ninth win in their last 30 games that has put them out of contention.
“We needed this, we have not played well,” said Collins. “I am not making any excuses. We have not played well on any side of the ball. So this win helped. I don’t care how It came about. I’m glad to get it.”
And for Francisco, apparently he does not care how the win came. The Mets won, however, their closer, ineffective as he was, said he feels good. Though Mets fans, and Collins can’t continue to have that good feeling about his inability to close games.
e-mail Rich Mancuso: [email protected] and at facebook.com/Keep It in the Ring.