The Mets took an early lead on Brian Schneider's first home run of the season, a three-run shot in the second off starter Andy Sonnanstine, then hung on for a 5-3 win at Citi Field over the reeling Rays.
Now the Rays find themselves in the middle of their fifth losing streak of three games or more this season. And the disappointing part is that this latest skid comes right after Tampa Bay had won a season-high six in a row and appeared to be turning the corner. The Rays are now just one game over .500 after they watched their road record fall to 14-22 on the season with two games remaining in their weekend series with the Mets.
Sonnanstine appeared to be his old, efficient self for most of his six innings. Unfortunately for the Rays, that wasn't the case in the second.
After striking out David Wright to start the inning, Sonnanstine gave up a single to Gary Sheffield before walking Ryan Church. Making matters worse, he fell behind 2-1 to Schneider. Any time a control pitcher gets behind in the count, bad things are bound to happen, and they did, as Schneider put a charge in the next pitch, and the Mets had a 3-0 lead before most of the crowd of 38,493 was seated.
"Schneider's home run was obviously the big play of the game, [in the] deep part of the ballpark," manager Joe Maddon said. "The three-run homer has hurt us. We've given up homers the last three games that have hurt us. ... But [Sonnanstine] did settle down and pitch fine."
Sonnanstine is now 1-7 on the road this season and has surrendered five home runs in his last two starts in New York, four against the Yankees on June 8, and Schneider's on Friday night.
"It was tough. I think maybe I didn't give enough credit to Schneider," Sonnanstine said. "It was supposed to be an outside fastball, and it kind of leaked back in, and he kind of made that one hurt.
"It's very frustrating. I'd give almost anything to have that pitch back. I'm just going to have to sharpen it up. Like I've said, location is the key for me. I felt like my pitches were moving a lot tonight. Just one bad pitch really hurt me."
Even more frustrating might have been the fact that the Mets managed to crush one out of spacious Citi Field, while the Rays could not. Evan Longoria hit a ball in the first inning that would have cleared the fences at Tropicana Field by a good distance. Ben Zobrist clobbered one in the sixth that couldn't get out to right, and finally, Dioner Navarro jumped on a pitch in the ninth, only to watch it get caught on the warning track.
"That's a big ballpark," said Navarro in a Citi Field-size understatement.
Trailing by four runs in the sixth, the Rays did manage to get something going when B.J. Upton scored on a fielder's choice. Upton later doubled home two runs off Bobby Parnell in the seventh to make it 4-3 Mets, but that would prove to be the Rays' only clutch hitting on Friday night, a night that saw the offense strand seven and go just 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
"We had chances to score more runs than we did tonight," Maddon said. "We've just got to do a better job. We know it. We're losing way too many close games. We're playing just good enough to lose right now.
"The effort level's good. The intensity's good. We're just missing that magical ingredient that we have to capture somehow. You go back to Colorado, particularly the game [on Thursday]. [We] hit a lot of balls well. [We] hit a lot of balls well today without any kind of good fortune. Sometimes that occurs, and you just have to keep grinding it out. That's just how this game works sometimes. We have hit some balls well at big moments for outs. That doesn't get it done."
Stinging perhaps most at this point of the season is the Rays' lack of success in close games; they are 8-14 in one-run games and 7-6 in two-run games this season.
"I think that was the key to our success last year -- we won those games," Navarro said. "I mean, don't get me wrong, we've been doing a pretty good job. The bullpen has been phenomenal for us, and Sonnie pitched a great game today. One pitch ... that ball went out. He battled, gave us a good six, and he gave us a shot. And we're just not closing good enough. We've just got to keep on battling and try to get those Ws."