The New York Mets’ ace came through when they needed him most. They’ll need more of the same from Oliver Perez as they try to move closer to a playoff berth and continue to put last season’s historic collapse behind them.
Perez will try to follow up Johan Santana’s stellar outing, and deliver a second straight win for the Mets as they continue their four-game series against Carlos Zambrano and the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday night.
The Mets (87-70) gained ground in one playoff race on Tuesday by getting eight solid innings from Santana in a 6-2 win. The two-time AL Cy Young Award winner gave up two runs, seven hits, walked two and struck out 10 en route to winning his eighth straight decision and 15th this year.
Santana also sparked the offense with an unusual broken-bat single while throwing a career-high 125 pitches.
“Every big game that we needed in Johan’s turn, (he) was filthy,” Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. “He stepped up. He stepped up big tonight.”
The victory also snapped the Mets’ three-game skid and moved them within 1 1/2 games of NL East-leading Philadelphia, which lost to Atlanta.
But New York remained one game ahead of Milwaukee in the wild-card race. Prince Fielder’s walk-off homer with two outs in the ninth inning lifted the Brewers to a 7-5 win over Pittsburgh.
Last season, the Mets wasted a seven-game lead over the Phillies with 17 games to play, and their recent play before Tuesday’s win may have brought back some bad memories.
“That’s one of the biggest wins of the season for us,” said Jose Reyes, who had a three-run triple for his 200th hit this season.
Now, the Mets turn to Perez (10-7, 4.10 ERA), who has only one win in his last seven starts. New York has gone 5-2 with the left-hander on the mound over that span.
Pitching in Atlanta on Friday, Perez gave up four runs and six hits over six innings of a 9-5 victory. It marked the third straight start in which he failed to get a decision.
Perez hasn’t faced the Cubs since April 2005 when he was with Pittsburgh, and is 0-3 with a 5.74 ERA in his last five starts against them. He’s given up seven homers in 26 2-3 innings during that five-start stretch.
The Cubs, meanwhile, are anxious to see Zambrano solve some inconsistency in what is likely his final start before the postseason.
Playing in a game shifted to Milwaukee due to Hurricane Ike, Zambrano (14-6, 3.77) became the first Cub since Milt Pappas in 1972 to toss a no-hitter on Sept. 14. But in his next start, Zambrano lasted a season-low 1 2-3 innings and allowed eight runs, six hits and three walks in a 12-6 loss to St. Louis on Friday at Wrigley Field.
Manager Lou Piniella told the Cubs’ official Web site that Zambrano needs work.
“He missed two starts prior to the no-hitter (because of tendinitis in his right shoulder), and the last start was an inning-plus,” Piniella said. “He needs work, it’s obvious. We’ve got him on his fifth day, and we’ll let him work as much as possible Wednesday.”
Grief may have played a part in Zambrano’s poor outing - he flew to his native Venezuela last Wednesday following the death of his grandmother, but returned in time to make his next start.
“My legs didn’t respond when I was warming up in the bullpen,” the right-hander said. “You do the best you can to battle in the game and give your team a chance to win the ballgame, and I didn’t do that.”
Zambrano is 2-0 with a 3.62 ERA in his last four road starts, but 2-1 with a 4.00 ERA in three career starts at Shea Stadium.