- Adam Rubin, ESPNNewYork.com
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SAN DIEGO -- Johan Santana did not allow a run in 15 innings on the road trip. Yet the ace came away with two no-decisions.
Worse, the Mets lost both starts by Santana in painful fashion. The latter came Wednesday at Petco Park, when closer Francisco Rodriguez blew a save on a two-out, two-strike pitch to David Eckstein in the ninth and Adrian Gonzalez belted a walk-off grand slam off left-hander Raul Valdes two innings later.
Santana became the first pitcher in franchise history to have consecutive scoreless starts end with team losses.
"It's been crazy, but there's not much I can do," said Santana after the Mets' 5-1 loss to the San Diego Padres in the rubber game of the series. "I just have to keep playing and support my teammates. K-Rod has been doing this for a long time, and I trust him. It's just one of those days where things didn't work out. That's about it. Now we go back home and start winning games again."
Santana has won only once since April 27. The Mets have scored a combined 10 runs in his last five starts. Despite Santana allowing only three earned runs in his past 36 2/3 innings, the Mets have lost four of his past five starts.
"The thing that's frustrating more than anything, I think, is we need to win when Johan starts," said right fielder Jeff Francoeur, who hit .550 on the trip. "What are we, 6-6 now when he starts? That's unacceptable. When he starts, we've got to be winning 75 percent of the time. He's our ace."
Santana admittedly did not have his best stuff Wednesday. He walked five as he struggled to locate his changeup and dealt with an unintended cutting action with his two-seam fastball. He needed 123 pitches, two shy of matching his career high, to get through seven innings, which Jerry Manuel was willing to allow because Santana will get a week off before his next start.
But K-Rod couldn't complete a four-out save. Eckstein delivered a two-out, 0-2 hit up the middle in the ninth to score Tony Gwynn from second with the tying run. Rodriguez, motivated by the failure, ultimately logged 2 1/3 innings and matched a career high with 46 pitches.
"After you made your mess, I would like to clean it up," Rodriguez said. "I felt like I had enough, like I had enough energy to go back out and try to keep us in the ballgame."
Regardless, Valdes replaced Rodriguez for the 11th and ultimately served up a walk-off grand slam to Gonzalez. Santana became the first Met to have four straight road starts end with a walk-off loss, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Afterward, asked how he can manage such an ineffective bullpen, Manuel dryly said: "I think the best way is to continue to get seven, eight innings out of the starter."
Then, more seriously, the manager added: "Other than that, we might have to take a look at it and possibly make some adjustments."
The Mets also lost on a walk-off grand slam in San Diego last season, when Everth Cabrera took K-Rod deep on Aug. 7, 2009.
With the rubber-game loss, the Mets (27-27) still have not won a road series this season.
"Thankfully we've been able to take care of business at home," third baseman David Wright said. "Now if we could just find a way to be decent on the road, we'd be in pretty good shape. But it hasn't been the case. We are where we are because of not being able to get the job done on the road."
11hESPN Stats & Information