The gap isn’t as big this time, but the pressure on the Mets sure is.
A year after a New York collapse helped Philadelphia steal the NL East title, the teams open a pivotal series in which the Mets could double the size of their division lead or the Phillies could cut it to nothing.
“I think Friday is the most important game for us because we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “We’ve got to win some games. I think if we keep falling back we’re going to get in trouble.”
Philadelphia (76-64) is three games back of New York (79-61) with 24 to play and these teams will not meet again in the regular season after Sunday.
The Mets were up seven games on the Phillies with 17 to play last year, and the lead was at 6 1/2 going into the clubs’ three-game set from Sept. 14-16. Philadelphia’s sweep triggered New York’s 5-12 tailspin to end the season, and the Phillies won the division on the season’s final day.
“We understand what happened last year. It’s a new season. We just have to play every day,” Mets pitcher Oliver Perez said. “We’re playing well, we have to continue to do the same.”
New York has won four straight, including this week’s three-game sweep at wild card-leading Milwaukee, and is 17-5 since Aug. 11. Then again, the Mets were playing well going into last year’s final series with the Phillies, having won 10 of 12.
One difference this time is New York has controlled the season series, winning 10 of 15, after the Phillies went 12-6 versus the Mets last year.
“They’ve come out on top the way we did last year,” Phillies catcher Chris Coste told the team’s official Web site. “I don’t think any team has the advantage. … We know it’s going to come down to the last couple of innings. It’s more fun that way anyway.”
Another difference for the Mets is the availability of Carlos Delgado - an injury forced him to miss last September’s series versus Philadelphia. Delgado has 14 homers and 44 RBIs in 44 games since the All-Star break, including three homers and seven RBIs in five games against the Phillies.
Delgado is 7-for-17 (.412) against Myers, who is 5-1 with a 1.42 ERA in his last seven starts. The right-hander has 13 walks and 46 strikeouts over 55 2-3 innings during that span.
Myers, who did not get a decision in his only start versus the Mets this year, has won three straight starts. He’s surrendered two runs in 23 innings while striking out 25 in those games.
Pelfrey has been nearly as good lately, going 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA and two complete games over his last four outings. He has not faced the Phillies since a pair of starts in April and he pitched five innings in each, going 1-0 with a 5.40 ERA.
Chase Utley is 3-for-8 with two homers against Pelfrey and is hitting .393 in his last 15 games overall, but he hasn’t homered in 12 games. Pelfrey has not allowed a homer in five straight starts, but now faces a Philadelphia team which has an NL-leading 185 home runs.
Ryan Howard is the major league leader with 39 homers and five have come against the Mets, though he’s never hit one off Pelfrey.
Howard had two homers and four RBIs on Wednesday, but the Phillies lost 9-7 at Washington to drop two of three against the NL East’s last-place team. Batting .236 for the season, Howard has a 10-game hitting streak as he’s gone 14-for-41 (.341) with five homers, five doubles and 11 RBIs.
Carlos Beltran has had his power stroke working for New York, with five homers and 13 RBIs in the last 10 games while batting .395 (15-for-38).
The Mets have homered in 14 consecutive games and have also showed off some speed lately, with 13 stolen bases in the last nine games. They’ve scored 55 runs during that stretch.
“We’re in a position to do some good things,” New York manager Jerry Manuel said. “We’ve got another big series coming up, and we’re playing pretty good baseball right now.”