Mets bats blow up again, complete sweep of Rays

It was great that the Mets were able to score 11 runs in a series opening win against the Rays on Monday, and Tuesday night’s nine runs that backed R.A. Dickey’s gem were more than enough. Yet, the Mets spoiled their fans today with another assault on Tampa Bay pitching that made up for a sub par Johan Santana outing and led to a 9-6 victory in the series finale.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis had the first two-homer game of his career and Ike Davis struck a couple of key RBI hits to lead the attack for the Mets. Tampa starter Jeremy Hellickson never really got comfortable in this one. Nieuwenhuis led off the game with a home run pulled down the right field line and Jason Bay struck with a solo shot of his own in the second inning.

Although the Rays would rally to take a 3-2 lead in the bottom half of the second, the Amazins struck back with another pair of runs in the third. Jordanny Valdespin singled and David Wright doubled to set the table, and then Lucas Duda’s opposite field drive was tracked down by Desmond Jennings for a sac fly. Now with two outs, Davis notched the first of his two RBI with a liner that eluded Ben Zobrist at second base. Wright dashed around from second to make the score 4-3 New York.

Zobrist brought Tampa back with an RBI double in the bottom of the third, but the Mets were still not done with Hellickson. In the top of the fourth, the 2011 American League Rookie of the Year appeared to settle down by getting the first two batters out, but Omar Quintanilla legged out a infield single and Nieuwenhuis followed with an opposite field blast that reached the seats for a two-run homer.

Now with the score 6-4, Hellickson appeared to be a bit unhinged. He hit Valdespin on the foot and walked Wright to bring Duda to the plate with two runners on base. A meaty fastball gave Duda the opportunity to crush a line drive over B.J. Upton’s head in center field. The double brought in both runs and gave the Mets an 8-4 lead.

The Duda at-bat was the last for Hellickson, who finished with eight runs allowed with nine hits and a walk in just 3.2 innings. Santana wasn’t quite as bad, but he wasn’t impressive either. Although Johan had a good strikeout rate going (six Ks in five innings), he also walked four and let up three damaging extra base hits.

Matt Joyce’s double with two aboard in the second inning erased New York’s early 2-0 lead, and Zobrist’s first double tied the game at 4-4 in the third. The man called Zorilla hit another double in the sixth that led to Santana walking Joyce to load the bases with nobody out. This turned out to be a big moment, as Terry Collins brought in Jon Rauch to relief Santana, and although I expected the big man to bring gasoline to the party, he was actually spectacular.

Rauch struck out Sean Rodriguez with a high fastball, then froze Jose Lobaton with an outside corner heater for the second out. Elliot Johnson smoked a grounder to the left side, but Wright snagged the ball and threw to first for the out to end the threat. Could this be the end of Rauch’s striekout troubles? That would be very nice indeed, but for now we’ll take this one moment of brilliance.

The rest of the game went by rather quickly. Cesar Ramos and J.P. Howell were solid in relief for Tampa, while Bobby Parnell and Tim Byrdak each pitched a perfect frame for the Mets. In the ninth, the Mets got an insurance run when Ike Davis hit a single off of the right field wall and Wright scored from second base.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Mets ended up sorely needing that extra run, as Miguel Batista allowed a walk and a pair of singles after getting the lead-off man out. Fortunately, Frank Francisco continued his stretch of solid play by shutting the door with a pair of strikeouts.

Here’s the box score. The Mets are now 35-29 and they start a three-game series against the Reds on Friday night with Bronson Arroyo going against Dillon Gee.

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