NEW YORK -- Mets general manager Sandy Alderson often stresses that in baseball, outcomes are unpredictable. His task, and the task of the team, is simply to increase the probability of success.
Such was the goal of manager Terry Collins on Friday, when he removed his effective starting pitcher, Chris Capuano, after six innings and 78 pitches. He could not have foreseen the bullpen chain reaction that resulted, ending in Francisco Rodriguez's ninth-inning implosion in a 6-4 Mets loss to the Phillies.
"I understand at that point in the game, runs are kind of at a premium," Capuano said. "We're trying to score some runs there. It was a short conversation. I obviously still felt good, hadn't thrown many pitches, but he's managing to win the game right there."
There is no telling how things might have turned out had Collins not removed Capuano after six. Though the left-hander struck out eight Phillies batters on the night -- including the last two he faced, Ryan Howard and Ben Francisco -- Collins replaced him with pinch-hitter Willie Harris with a man on second and two outs in the sixth. Harris then grounded out on the second pitch Phillies starter Roy Oswalt threw him, ending the inning.
But even three innings later, as the Phillies circled the bases, Collins could not regret it -- the manager had played to win. He could not have envisioned that after Jason Isringhausen gave up the game-tying run in the eighth, Rodriguez would serve up consecutive singles to Carlos Ruiz and pinch-hitter Ross Gload with one out in the ninth. Nor could he foresee that the next batter, Domonic Brown, would hit what appeared to be a routine grounder to the right side of the infield, where it would squirt under first baseman Daniel Murphy's glove for a game-winning single.
"Frankie pitched well enough to get out of it," said Murphy, who was attempting to turn an inning-ending double play. "I've got to make that play. That was a bad play."
The Phillies scored two more insurance runs off Rodriguez before Tim Byrdak entered and quelled the rally. Half an inning later, with the tying runs on base, Murphy then hit into a game-ending double play of his own.
"I was just trying to have a good at-bat," he said. "That wasn't a very good one."
Afterward, the Mets attempted to soften the blow by leaning on the past. They spoke of how Murphy has held his own defensively in the absence of Ike Davis, framing Friday's misplay as an aberration. They talked about how Rodriguez has been close to untouchable at the back end of the bullpen, often putting runners on base but rarely letting them score. They noted that Isringhausen has been nearly as good.
"The only thing we found out today is that the guys at the end are human beings," Collins said. "They have pitched so well."
Rodriguez, for his part, had not allowed a run since April 14. He entered Friday's play with a scoreless streak of 19 2/3 innings, the longest active stretch in the Majors.
"Obviously, it's disappointing," Rodriguez said. "But hey, I'm a human being. It wasn't my day."
"He was getting behind in the count," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He'll come at you. He'll make you beat him. But usually when he's really good, he doesn't get behind in the count. He's in charge."
For the Mets, Rodriguez's struggles produced a sour end to a game that once seemed so promising. In front of 33,882 fans, the largest home crowd they had seen in three weeks, the Mets took a late lead on Justin Turner's RBI single in the seventh inning, plating Jose Reyes (who scored three times in total).
In his first game back from a month-long stint on the disabled list, Angel Pagan rapped out two hits, stole a base and scored the game-tying run in the sixth. And the Mets even received positive news earlier Friday regarding starter R.A. Dickey, whose injury prognosis improved from grim to manageable.
Perhaps it all would have ended differently had the Mets stuck with Capuano, who -- for much of the night -- looked as sharp as he had all season. Perhaps not. The competitor in Capuano wanted to keep pitching; the teammate in him understood the decision. Scuffling to score in recent weeks, the Mets entered Friday's play averaging 2.7 runs per game over their previous nine games.
They already had two against Oswalt, one of the league's best pitchers, with a chance for even more.
Collins saw the opportunity -- the tiniest of cracks -- for what it was. He gauged it as a risk worth taking.
"When we've gotten in situations, we've had trouble scoring," the manager said. "I thought, 'Hey look, if we're hitting this guy, let's take advantage of it right now. Let's see if we can push that other run across, because the back end of our bullpen has pitched good."