NEW YORK -- Appearing uncharacteristically erratic on Thursday, Mets pitcher Pedro Martinez not only teased the Reds, he tantalized them and essentially tempted his opponents to beat him. The Reds didn't, or couldn't, accept the invitation. Although it drew five Martinez walks over six innings, Cincinnati went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and passed on some big-time chances. It led to a 6-2 loss to New York before 46,767 fans at Shea Stadium.
"When you get guys into scoring position and don't get a big hit here or there, you'll be in trouble," said Ryan Freel, who was 0-for-5 starting in center field. Austin Kearns and Adam Dunn began the second with back-to-back singles, the Reds' only two hits notched against Martinez (7-3). A sacrifice bunt moved them to second and third base, respectively, with one out. The only run that scored came from David Ross' sacrifice fly before Juan Castro struck out and ended the inning. Martinez nearly lost control of the game when he walked the bases loaded with his first three batters of the fourth inning. Brandon Phillips followed with a sacrifice fly that gave the Reds a 2-0 lead, but they got no more. Ross and Castro both flied to right field, and the threat died. That opened the door for New York against Eric Milton (4-4). On a 3-2 count leading off the Mets' fourth, Carlos Beltran took a fastball that was close, but called ball four. Next batter David Wright attacked a 2-0 pitch and clubbed a two-run home run to left-center field. After Julio Franco's ground-rule double to center field, Xavier Nady's RBI single put New York ahead, 3-2. Neither Milton, nor Martinez, appeared thrilled with home plate umpire Ron Kulpa's strike zone during the game. "He was struck out," Milton said of Beltran's walk. "The umpire made a terrible call. It changed the game for me." It was a 4-2 game in the fifth when Wright's second homer of the game, a shot to right field, put Milton away. The left-hander lasted only 4 1/3 innings, his shortest outing since April 18 -- which was before a knee injury put him on the disabled list for a month. Milton entered with a 3.10 ERA in six starts since returning from knee surgery. It's 4.71 in 10 starts overall. "I think we've seen him have better stuff," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. The Reds had more chances to stay in the game. Martinez issued a pair of two-out walks in the top of the fifth and escaped. After Wright's second homer, the three-time Cy Young Award winner clamped down and struck out the side in the Reds' sixth and was finished with an escalated pitch count of 110. "I got my money's worth on that one," Martinez said. "But I made pitches when I had to. I was missing my spots for most of the day. Luckily, I escaped without giving up any more runs." "It would have been nice to blow it open," said first baseman Scott Hatteberg, who drew two walks from Martinez. "We got his pitch count up. We could have got him out earlier. It didn't happen. No offense to anybody else, but once we got him out of the game, it takes a step down as far as pitch quality. He's about as good as there is." The Mets' bullpen also created enticing situations for the Reds. Two straight singles began the seventh against Heath Bell, putting runners on first and third with no outs. Freel hit a grounder to the pitcher and beat out the double play. But Felipe Lopez grounded into an inning-ending double play. A two-out single by Dunn and Phillips' double in the eighth against Pedro Feliciano also went nowhere. Submariner Chad Bradford ended the rally, getting Ross to look at strike three. Having lost 10 of their last 13 games, the Reds are batting .180 (16-for-89) during the stretch. If not for Wednesday's big comeback win in the ninth, the Reds would be headed to Cleveland having lost three of four in the series. Instead, they're fortunate to get out with a split. It was certainly feasible against Martinez and the Mets on Thursday.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.