ST. LOUIS -- Reporting to the Mets in such a hurry, new Mets outfielder Rick Ankiel arrived at Busch Stadium on Monday without a glove or cleats. He hastily borrowed pitcher Jon Niese's leather as he waited for his own gear to arrive from Houston.
Neither player could have imagined that the loaner would play such a starring role. With Scott Rice on the mound, Ty Wigginton's seventh-inning fly ball popped out of a diving Ankiel's glove, becoming the double that keyed St. Louis' winning rally in a 6-3 Mets defeat.
The Mets were stuck in a 3-3 tie when Wigginton lifted a one-out fly to shallow center, where Ankiel misread it off the bat and dove in an attempt to catch it. The ball landed squarely in his borrowed mitt, but squirted out as he hit the ground.
"I don't want to make excuses," Ankiel said. "I do think if I have my glove, it stays in there. But I'm the type of person that I feel like if I got a glove on it, I should have caught it."
A batter later, Matt Carpenter hit a comebacker that Rice attempted to knock down with his foot, knowing he would not be able to glove it. He succeeded, but as the ball dribbled toward the first-base line, Rice and catcher John Buck both scrambled after it. That allowed Wigginton to race home to an unguarded plate.
"I was in no-man's land," Rice said. "It happened so fast. As soon as I realized there wasn't a play at first, I looked up to see where the runners were and I saw the guy rounding third."
"That was outstanding baserunning, heads-up awareness of knowing where the guys were," Carpenter said. "That was a big play for us."
Any chance the Mets had to avoid their 12th loss in 16 games dissolved quickly after that, when Matt Holliday crushed a two-run homer off Scott Atchison to provide a three-run cushion. Atchison revealed afterward that he was pitching through numbness in his fingers, which he believes has roots in an elbow injury.
Consider it one last gut-punch for the Mets in St. Louis, where the Cards sucked all the drama out of a late-blooming pitchers' duel. Starters Jeremy Hefner and Lance Lynn both gave up three early runs before turning unhittable in the middle innings.
For Hefner, a leadoff walk and a pair of first-inning hits resulted in two of the runs, before three more singles in the second inning generated the other. For Lynn, imperfect defense allowed the Mets to score twice on Daniel Murphy's hit -- which former teammate Carlos Beltran misplayed into a double -- and once on David Wright's infield single.
Neither team's offensive momentum lasted, with Hefner and Lynn combining to set down 19 consecutive batters from the third through seventh innings. Hefner departed having retired 10 in a row, giving the Mets six innings of three-run ball. Lynn lasted an inning longer, needing 124 pitches to do it.
It was Hefner's fourth quality start in his last six tries, but it ended in similar fashion. The Mets lost, as they have done every time he has climbed atop the mound this season.
"Not everything is gauged on wins and losses, although winning is the most important thing -- especially in the big leagues," Hefner said. "I need to keep the runs down early in the game, build some momentum and confidence for myself and the team, and hopefully we'll come out on the winning side more often than not. Obviously that hasn't happened this year, so maybe there's some tinkering that needs to happen."
Certainly no strangers to tinkering, the Mets watched their latest patch arrive at Busch Stadium around two hours prior to Monday's first pitch. Because the Mets do not have a left-handed throwing outfielder, Ankiel borrowed a glove from Niese, a lefty pitcher. His regular gear became "stuck" in Houston, as he explained it, after the Astros designated him for assignment last week.
Ankiel initially borrowed Rice's glove, taking it to the field with him for his first batting practice session as a Met. But he exchanged mitts just before game time, using the outfielder's glove that Niese usually uses to shag fly balls.
"It's a lot different," Ankiel said. "But like I said, I just feel like if I can get a glove on it, I should catch it. That's something that I felt like I should have caught, but I didn't. And it stinks."