NEW YORK (AP) -The Florida Marlins' first win gave manager Fredi Gonzalez nearly a season's worth of discomfort.
Wes Helms slid home headfirst to barely beat Rod Barajas' sweeping tag, scoring on Ronny Paulino's pinch-hit single to help the Marlins beat the New York Mets 7-6 Wednesday night after their flimsy bullpen wasted a stellar outing by Ricky Nolasco.
``It feels like about the 140th after that one,' said Gonzalez, whose team carried a 6-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning.
After Gonzalez emphasized throwing strikes all spring, Florida's bullpen botched its first chance of the season to hold a lead. In 2 1-3 innings, Renyel Pinto, Jose Veras and Leo Nunez (1-0) combined to issue six of Florida's nine walks, two coming with the bases loaded. Throw in a hit batter and a balk that scored the tying run and you're left with one upset manager.
``Throw strikes. That's half the battle for me - or maybe even three-quarters of the battle is throw strikes. You can't put people on base,' Gonzalez said. ``But we shook hands and we go right back at it tomorrow.'
Marlins newcomer Nate Robertson faces Jonathan Niese on Thursday in the finale of the opening three-game series.
Thanks to Paulino's timely hit off Hisanori Takahashi (0-1) and Helms' deft slide, the Marlins got their first win of the season - and Tim Wood earned his first career save.
``When I walked to the mound I just said, 'Pound the zone, pound the zone,'' Wood said.
Nolasco was cruising before he walked the first two batters of the seventh with the Marlins leading 6-1. The right-hander departed after Barajas hit a sacrifice fly for the second out of the inning, and his bullpen gave it all back.
``I think everybody in our clubhouse believes our bullpen is a lot better than that,' Nolasco said, ``and I don't think that's ever going to happen again.'
It could've been worse but the Mets, plagued by mental gaffes last season when they went 70-92, ran out of a bases-loaded rally in the seventh. Veras' first pitch of the night deflected off catcher John Baker with David Wright at the plate, and Fernando Tatis tried to score. Baker made a nice throw to Veras, who tagged Tatis for the final out.
The Mets tied it in the eighth. Nunez, who relieved with the bases loaded, walked Tatis and balked while pitching to Alex Cora, scoring Gary Matthews Jr. to tie it at 6.
``You can look at it as a disheartening loss but I look at the tremendous fight the team put up,' Mets manager Jerry Manuel said.
Hanley Ramirez, Jorge Cantu and Dan Uggla homered for the Marlins, who finished with 17 hits.
Gonzalez said before the game that Nolasco was a top-tier No. 2 starter, and he lived up to his praise. Nolasco allowed just three hits, including Cora's leadoff triple in the first, and struck out five.
And the Marlins' bullpen wasted his effort.
Wright and Mike Jacobs singled leading off the eighth, and Wright scored when Jason Bay grounded into a fielder's choice and Uggla threw the relay away for the Marlins first error of the night and fourth of the series.
NOTES: Mets SS Jose Reyes (thyroid) played five innings in the field in extended spring training and went 1 for 5 with a ground-rule double. ... Marlins OF Brett Carroll, on the 15-day disabled list with a strained oblique, should start a rehabilitation assignment with Class-A Jupiter on Thursday or Friday. ... Mets 20-year-old rookie Jenrry Mejia gave up an RBI double to Gaby Sanchez in his first appearance. ... Mets starter John Maine gave up four runs in five innings. ... The Mets have 18 foreign-born players on their roster, most in the majors. Overall, 27.7 percent of players were born outside of the 50 United States. That is slightly down from 28 percent in '09.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved