NEW YORK -- With winds gusting up to 41 mph at game time, the Mets fanned nine times in the first three innings against Michael Wacha -- only the 11th time in the expansion era this has happened, per the Elias Sports Bureau -- a performance so dominant that they appeared powerless to do anything but tip their hats, even as they tried to hold them on their heads.
Wacha, in fact, lost his cap while pitching to Travis d'Arnaud in the second, two innings before he lost the plate. Bases-loaded walks to Ruben Tejada and Kirk Nieuwenhuis enabled the Mets to overcome a one-run deficit and caused manager Mike Matheny to end Wacha's night after four innings and 93 pitches in a 3-2 Cardinals loss.
After Wacha recorded 10 strikeouts, five walks and three hits in the shortest start of his 14 in the Major Leagues, Lucas Duda took reliever Seth Maness deep for a mammoth home run to right-center. It turned out to be the difference, barely, when Matt Carpenter, the potential tying run, was cut down at the plate on a perfect ninth-inning relay of Tejada after pinch-hitter Daniel Descalso hit the ball over the head of center fielder Nieuwenhuis.
One batter later, with Descalso at second, Kyle Farnsworth got Matt Holliday to fly out to the right-field corner to end a game that was maddening on swirling levels. Wacha lost the plate, and Carpenter didn't get there quite in time, a fact that both he and Matheny, who challenged the call by home-plate umpire Marty Foster, agreed was evident from a review that lasted only one minute and 20 seconds.
"I didn't even think there was going to be a play," said Carpenter, who, with the Cardinals trailing, 3-1, had singled with one out in the ninth to move Jon Jay to second. "I was rounding second as the ball was going over [Nieuwenhuis'] head.
"The only chance they have is to make two perfect throws, and they were able to do it. [Tejada] just threw it in a perfect spot. Where [d'Arnaud] was reaching to catch it brought him to me where I was sliding. If the throw is in any other direction, I am sliding around him.
"I didn't feel the tag, but he got me. The call was right."
"I could tell by Carp's reaction, and what I saw, it was close enough that we needed to take a good look at it," said Matheny of his first challenge of the season. "The ball kind of led [d'Arnaud] up the line to where he wasn't blocking the plate. I didn't think that was an issue. It was just a matter of whether he got to the plate before the tag was made. They got the call right."
Thus, what started as an extraordinary night, perhaps even headed toward an historical one, ended in a loss for Matheny's team. As Mets fielders fought blowing popups in the wind, Wacha solved that problem for the Cardinals by avoiding all contact save for Curtis Granderson's solid single in the first inning. Seven of the strikeouts were swinging, but all three of New York's hits off Wacha were hard contact.
Daniel Murphy started the fourth with one of those, a solid single to left and, after he was forced at second on a Chris Young grounder, Wacha lost the plate with a five-pitch walk to Duda. Despite the conditions, third-base coach Tim Teufel chose not to send Young home on d'Arnaud's subsequent solid single to right, only to see Shane Robinson's wind-blown throw sail through Yadier Molina.
That did not appear to be the correct decision, especially with the eighth and ninth hitters due up. But after Wacha saved the tying run by backing up the throw, he gave it to the Mets regardless by walking Tejada on five pitches. Wacha next went 3-2 on pitcher Jon Niese before nailing the inside corner for a called third strike, then walked Nieuwenhuis on five pitches, too, before Carpenter wrestled down Granderson's foul pop.
Matheny figured 93 pitches were enough.
"He looked like he was going to have his stuff," said Matheny. "He was just missing at times for whatever reason, getting a little bit side to side. He looked like he felt strong and was jumping at times, then the next thing you knew, you would see a beautifully executed pitch in the bottom of the zone. Then he was off wide to the side again -- no good explanation. He tried a couple of adjustments, and they didn't work."
Wacha didn't waste any of his wind blaming the wind.
"I don't credit it for losing my mechanics in that inning," said Wacha. "You have to be more mentally tough than I was tonight. Walking in two runs is just unacceptable.
"Looking at the video, mechanically, my arm was dragging. I just wasn't in sync. I felt good through the first 30 pitches, not really sure what happened after that."
What happened after Wacha exited really determined the game. Duda's homer proved to be the difference not just because of the relay in the ninth but because Jhonny Peralta, hitless in his last 21 at-bats, popped up in the seventh after Molina's second double of the game set up runners at second and third and one out.
Molina's first double of the night had scored Carpenter, who led off the game with a single off Niese before Wacha even went to the mound.
Wacha was his own Nor'easter for three innings before blowing himself out.
"As we saw, the conditions were really, really tough, and I'm not sure how much Wacha's had to pitch in conditions like that," said Mets manager Terry Collins. "There were a lot of things being said on the bench, some of them we can't talk about. But one of them was, [let's] make him throw a lot of pitches, see if we can get him out of there, because he's got great stuff, and we finally did."
Jay Greenberg is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.