There are few frustrations worse than slowly watching your team lose a game that was theirs for the taking.
The Mets did just that in Washington on Thursday night. It didn't feel good when the opening lineup featured Jesus Feliciano, Ruben Tejada and Chris Carter in place of Angel Pagan, Jose Reyes and Jason Bay. The first two were ailing, which makes the decision to rest Bay as well a curious one by Jerry Manuel. The worst fears were realized as the offense mustered a single run against Livan Hernandez in support of a resurgent Johan Santana.
After the Nats finally got to Santana to tie the game it became a diamond version of Chinese water torture. Drip after drip after drip fell on the helpless victims as Manuel stuck with Pedro Feliciano against several righthanders, even after he walked the banjo-hitting Willie Harris with one out in the bottom of the ninth. By the time Ryota Igarashi relieved him, the bases were loaded and the eventual result was in very little doubt.
It was a bad loss and it's the kind of loss that the Mets have had far too many of this season. They've fallen nine times in the opposition's final at-bat, a mind-boggling figure that will surely haunt the team's fans if they finish a couple of games out of a playoff spot when all is said and done.
That would be a shame because the Mets have done enough right this season to deserve a better fate than the one such late-game bungling foreshadows whenever it rears its ugly head. The reasons for this dismal record are varied, although many of the roads lead back to Manuel and the way he handles decision-making on a night by night basis. In the past three games, Manuel has twice driven the team right into a ditch because of his bullpen management -- Fire Jerry Manuel has a damn fine wrap-up of how he messed the bed last night -- and it isn't enough to say, as Manuel did, that the team just doesn't have an eighth-inning guy.
They don't need one. They need a manager who maximizes the pieces he does have available to avoid being stuck in a situation of his own creation like the one in the ninth inning on Thursday night. Francisco Rodriguez pitched with the team down two runs in the eighth on Tuesday because he "needed work." He couldn't have worked in the ninth on Thursday? Igarashi couldn't have started the inning?
Feliciano is a fine pitcher, so long as you don't have him face any righties. He's proven too many times that he can't get them out consistently to keep allowing the same thing to happen and then throw up your hands behind the fallacious eighth inning guy argument. The job is called manager for a reason: You have to manage the game and manage your resources to come up with the desired result. Manuel fails at this far too often and that's scary for a Mets team entering a very big month.
The Phillies are going to play July without Placido Polanco and Chase Utley. Maybe they make a trade to replace them or maybe they try to address their pitching shortage, but they probably can't do both. That makes them vulnerable and the Mets need to help make it impossible for them to stick around. Jason Heyward is on the disabled list in Atlanta, leaving the Braves with a team that isn't markedly better than the Mets can throw out there. Right now is where the Mets can strike and solidify their playoff aspirations.
Cliff Lee could be coming to Queens or it could be other moves to bolster the rotation and/or bullpen. That will help the team make the most of the moment afforded to them right now but it won't mean a thing if they insist on giving away winnable games on a regular basis.