Nats' Loss to Mets Has Familiar Feel
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
NEW YORK, April 15 -- The headlines in Flushing on Wednesday morning will belong to David Wright, because he hit a home run and drove in five runs. He will share them with Mike Pelfrey, because he shut out the Washington Nationals over seven innings. They were the keys to the New York Mets' 6-0 victory Tuesday night, and they are the most significant reasons why the Nationals started a three-city road trip in lackluster fashion, losing for the 10th time in 11 games.
But before the game, in the tunnels under the stadium, pleasantries were exchanged. The Mets' right fielder Tuesday was Ryan Church, and at this point last year he was in left for the Nationals. The Mets' catcher was Brian Schneider, and at this point last year -- and ever since baseball returned to Washington in 2005 -- he caught for the Nationals.
Now, both are part of the caldron that is Shea Stadium, where the memory of last year's monumental fold for the home team is under every seat, around every corner. The Mets pulled back to .500 Tuesday, a start considered slow here. Thus, Schneider and Church -- always told that winning would come in the future in Washington -- are experiencing the flip side.
"The biggest thing is the expectations, the pressure on you," Church said. "This team's built to win now."
The Nationals are not, and so the pressure can seem all but nonexistent. Consider third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the club's franchise player. In the third inning of a 2-0 game, Zimmerman came up with one out and the bases loaded. He popped Pelfrey's first pitch -- "A good pitch to hit," he said -- sky high. Nick Johnson struck out. The Nationals didn't score.
In the eighth, trailing 4-0 with a man on second and one out, Zimmerman lined a Aaron Heilman pitch just foul down the line in right, then popped up again. Johnson walked, but Austin Kearns -- 0 for 4, now hitting .217 -- grounded into a forceout. Again, no runs.
Zimmerman is now 1 for 17 with runners in scoring position. Yet he said he feels no pressure.
"I don't ever feel pressed, to tell you the truth," he said. "You want to get hits every time, and you can't. You got to learn to deal with that."
Schneider and Church are learning to deal with different standards. Neither played a particularly significant role in beating the Nationals on Tuesday. Church went 1 for 3 with a single, a sacrifice bunt and a walk. Schneider went 0 for 4, dropping his average to .293, but he showed why Mets General Manager Omar Minaya wanted him. In the first, after Lastings Milledge -- who was booed by the Shea crowd -- hit a one-out double, Schneider gunned him down trying to steal third. With no outs and a man on first in the third, Schneider picked up Odalis Pérez's bunt and made a perfect throw to second, getting the forceout.
Throw in Wright's performance -- a two-run homer in the first, an RBI double in the seventh and a two-run double in the eighth -- and the Mets were cheered for one of the few times this season, which has begun with some angst. Right-hander Pedro Martínez is hurt. The Mets haven't hit, so they shook up their lineup. The bullpen looks shaky. The focus is intense.
"It doesn't matter what New York team you play for," Schneider said. "You have to win now. There's some added pressure to that. There's a lot of expectations, and they're different expectations than I've ever had before. It's different to come out here and know you're supposed to win every day."
Which is what the Mets did Tuesday night, albeit against the last-place team in the division. Both Schneider and Church admitted they were relieved to get off to decent starts, lest the Shea faithful serenade them the way they did Milledge, who went 1 for 3 with two strikeouts.