ST. LOUIS - Watch the New York Mets for one game, and the similarity is striking.
Despite the heartbreak of the past two seasons — both of which ended with them just missing the playoffs — the Mets have not changed a whit. They remain a high-risk, high-reward team that is prone to giving away games it should win.
If the Mets miss the National League playoffs by one game, as they have in each of the past two seasons, they can point to games such as Tuesday night's 6-4 loss to St. Louis as the reason. The defeat provided another example of sloppiness trumping talent.
"We have to play better all the way around," said center fielder Carlos Beltran, who ran into one of two outs at the plate. "That's all there is to it."
Three of the players who make the Mets such an unpredictable team:
LHP Oliver Perez
The Mets made a long-term commitment to the enigmatic Perez by giving him a three-year, $36 million contract this past offseason. New York gambled that Perez, at age 27, finally would find the consistency that has been lacking in his career.
The hunt continues.
Perez has made it past the fifth inning just once in three starts this season. He showed "Good Ollie" and "Bad Ollie" against the Cardinals on Tuesday.
"Good Ollie" started and shut out the Cardinals for the first four innings. "Bad Ollie" took his turn in the fifth and could not get a 4-0 lead through the inning. Perez never recovered after allowing a leadoff single to pitcher Todd Wellemeyer. The outing ended with a defining Perez moment: a bases-loaded walk to Khalil Greene, the No. 7 hitter.
"Ollie wasn't at his best, and I know it's as frustrating for him as it is for us," said Mets manager Jerry Manuel, repeating a line that follows most Perez starts.
Perez still does not understand how to fix his delivery when it gets out of alignment during a game. He served up five walks for the second time this season and has given up walks at a staggering rate of 7.2 per nine innings this season. A year ago, Perez had the fourth-highest walks-per-nine-innings rate (4.87) in the majors.
OF Daniel Murphy
Everyone in the game raves about the 24-year-old Murphy. Scouts already rank his left-handed swing among the best of the game.
Murphy began Wednesday's play with a .315 average and a .391 on-base percentage in 181 career at-bats. The Mets already have paid a steep price to get his bat into the lineup.
With no room at second base or third base, the Mets turned Murphy into a left fielder. His inexperience in the outfield showed again in the eighth inning Tuesday. Murphy took a false step on a line drive by Brendan Ryan, and slipped and fell when he tried to recover. The ball carried over him for a triple that set up the game-winning rally. Had Murphy stayed upright, it would have been a line-drive out.
This marked the second time in the past eight games that Murphy's defense cost the Mets a game. In a rambling response, Manuel started by saying he is "somewhat" concerned about Murphy's defense but concluded by saying that through hard work, Murphy can become an "adequate" outfielder.
"I would just like to see him relax out there," Manuel said. "I don't see this as an on-going situation. I see him at some point getting comfortable out there."
Murphy admitted he is not there. He is struggling to keep up to the speed of the major-league game.
"I feel like I'm slowing the game down, but I could definitely relax more," Murphy said.
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