With each passing day, the New York Mets draw closer to its first division title since 1988.
With each passing day, the Mets look more and more like the favorites heading into the National League playoffs.
Saturday, the Mets reduced their magic number for winning the National League East to six with a 3-2 victory over the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers in a battle of division leaders at Shea Stadium.
New York has won 17 of its last 22 games and increased its division lead to 16 games over Philadelphia. A Phillies loss to the Marlins Saturday evening would knock down New York’s magic number to five.
With its loss, Los Angeles (75-67) leads San Diego in the NL West by one game. The Padres and Giants faced off Saturday afternoon in San Francisco.
New York’s Orlando Hernandez (10-10) tossed seven masterful innings of work allowing one earned run on four hits striking out six to pick up the win. Hernandez retired 15 straight at one point thanks to a well-used repertoire of fastballs, off-speed pitches and breaking balls.
David Wright provided the clutch offense for the Mets, who improved their league best home record to 47-25. Wright went 3 for 3 on the afternoon including a go-ahead two-run single with two outs in the sixth scoring Jose Valentin and Carlos Beltran.
New York’s 88th victory of the season ended unlike the previous 87 wins on a “strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out” double play to give Billy Wagner his 36th save. Wagner struck out Olmeido Saenz then catcher Kelly Stinnett threw out Jason Repko at second to end the contest for the Mets, who have taken two of the first three games of the series against the NL West leaders.
Carlos Delgado broke a scoreless deadlock in the second by sending a letter-high Greg Maddux fastball over the right-centerfield fence for his 37th home run of the season to give the Mets a 1-0 lead.
Hernandez and Maddux then kept the opposing team’s offense in check until the top of the sixth. Kenny Lofton, who was 10 for 26 lifetime against Hernandez, smacked a game-tying single scoring Russell Martin. Nomar Garciaparra almost broke the deadlock smashing a hard grounder to third but Wright made a nice grab starting a rundown in which Maddux was tagged out by Hernandez near home. The next batter, JD Drew, followed with a single to center scoring Lofton for a 2-1 Dodger lead.
Maddux started the bottom of the sixth by getting Jose Reyes to fly out to center. However, Valentin smacked a double to right and Maddux intentionally walked Beltran. Maddux was then lifted for reliever Tim Hamulack, who got Delgado to fly out to center. On the play, Valentin and Beltran moved to third and second, respectively. Wright followed by smashing a 3-2 low fastball off Brent Tomko up the middle driving in the tying and go-ahead runs. Wright almost didn’t get a chance to provide the game-winning hit. On the previous pitch, Tomko just missed high on a called third strike that would have ended the inning.