NEW YORK - After Vance Worley's first two impressive starts this season as a fill-in for the injured Joe Blanton, it was easy to sense the Phillies fans' growing infatuation with the rookie righthander with the Mohawk and thick-rimmed glasses.
In his previous outing, Worley labored against the Reds but averted disaster despite four walks. Afterward, he attributed his problems to not being properly stretched out.
Well, the Mets put him on a rack and stretched him until it hurt in the Phillies 9-5 loss at Citi Field Sunday in the wrap up of a three-game series in which the Phillies took the first two.
In short, the 23-year-old Worley didn't have it, which is why he almost suffered whiplash watching one line-drive single after another whiz into the outfield. The Mets put up a pair of fours in the first two innings, and the 8-0 lead was too much for the Phillies to overcome on a day when manager Charlie Manuel rested Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Carlos Ruiz.
Actually, the Phillies did have opportunities to make the Mets sweat, but more about those botched chances later. This defeat was mostly on Worley, who had little control over where his pitches were going.
"He had a hard time really getting going," Manuel said. "He was up and he was in the strike zone and he was [pitching] to what I call the big part of the plate. He got hurt early and he was having trouble getting out of it. I've seen him have better stuff, of course, but he was just having trouble getting the ball where he wanted it to go."
Worley didn't see his first serious beat-down in the big leagues coming. He said he felt good and that he'd had a productive week honing his cutter. Then the game began.
"I didn't really locate very well and I don't think I went to the off-speed enough," said Worley, who gave up eight runs, five earned, and 12 hits in three innings. "I think they were sitting on the first couple pitches and then when I did go off-speed it was too late. I felt good. The last couple bullpens went well. Everything was working really well in the bullpen. I just got out there and it wasn't there."
Jimmy Rollins had two hits but otherwise contributed to the defeat with a first-inning error and an inning-ending baserunning mistake in the eighth, when the Phillies had the Mets nervously looking over their shoulders.
Worley could have gotten out of the first allowing just one run, but Rollins failed to handle a hot one-hopper hit by Angel Pagan. Jason Bay scored on the error and Josh Thole and Ruben Tejada followed with run-scoring singles to complete the Mets' most productive first inning of the season.
"We put up some runs late but we spotted them," Rollins said. "I helped spot them three extra runs which would have made it a 6-5 ball game and it would have been a different situation. But they kept hitting. They didn't stop hitting today."
After two innings, three Mets had two hits apiece, yet the Phillies had lefthander Jonathon Niese in trouble in the third. They had the bases loaded and one out and were down seven runs, but Raul Ibanez popped to the catcher and Ben Francisco struck out. Ibanez later homered and Francisco subsequently singled and doubled, hits that would have come in handier in the third.
The Phillies were down by 9-5 in the eighth and had Domonic Brown on first when Rollins ripped a ball down the right-field line. But Rollins took the Phillies out of the inning trying to stretch it into a double. Rightfielder Jason Pridie made a terrific play.
"I was going down the line and Pridie with his fast stuff got over there and came up with a good throw," Rollins said. "But I was going to push it, get myself in position, keep the pressure on the pitcher - a hit and we're down two runs - but Speedy got shot down."
Speedy did steal two bases and extend his hitting streak to six games, during which he is batting .323 (10 for 31).
"He'll make that nine out of 10 times," Manuel said of Rollins. "He was hustling and he was thinking double, and that rightfielder got the ball quick and he made a real good throw. [Rollins] knows he's supposed to make it, but at the same time you've got to give that guy a little credit too. It's tough to get thrown out there, but that happens."
The bottom line is the Phillies took two of three from the Mets, which made Sunday's loss a bit easier to take.
"The object is to win the series," Rollins said.