Mesa courts a suspension as Phils drop 4th in a row

Posted: August 20, 2001

ST. LOUIS — Jose Mesa has spent the season earning saves for the Phillies.

Yesterday, he capped the Phils' ugly 9-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium by likely earning a suspension.

Frank Robinson, major-league baseball's dean of discipline, hands out suspensions like Halloween candy. It would be difficult to imagine Robinson not suspending Mesa after he reads the umpires' report on an incident that resulted in the reliever's ejection in the eighth inning.

Pitching simply to get some work in the midst of the Phillies' four-game losing streak, Mesa was ejected after hitting Jim Edmonds in the side with a 1-2 fastball. Three pitches earlier, he had dropped Edmonds to the ground with a head-high fastball and received a warning from plate umpire Lance Barksdale.

Phillies manager Larry Bowa, who by rule was also ejected, said that there was no intent in either pitch, and he disagreed with the issuance of the warning, saying that Mesa was just trying to pitch Edmonds inside.

Mesa was dismissive in refusing to talk to reporters after the game. However, according to Rick Reed, the chief of the umpiring crew, Mesa had given some damning testimony on the field when he had gotten in Barksdale's face after hitting Edmonds.

"He admitted he did it on purpose," said Reed, who worked first base. "He told Lance that before he left the field. He said he wasn't throwing at Edmonds when he got the warning on the first pitch, and he admitted he did it on purpose when he hit him. It was intentional. That's what he said. That's what the report will say."

The usually loquacious Edmonds also refused comment, so it wasn't clear if there was bad blood between him and Mesa from their days in the American League.

After being pushed away from Barksdale by Reed and Bowa, Mesa refused to leave the dugout while the new pitcher, Cliff Politte, was taking his warm-ups.

Even as Politte was about to pitch to Mark McGwire, Mesa remained on the bench. He didn't leave until Cards manager Tony La Russa left the dugout and protested to the umpires, who didn't know that Mesa was still around.

While La Russa was on the field, an angry Mesa yelled toward the Cardinals' dugout and made a motion as if he were calling someone out for a fight.

The umpires' report will note that Mesa didn't immediately leave the dugout and made a scene when he was forced to.

"He decided to prolong his exit by doing whatever," Reed said. "He made a lot gestures that were Everettish."

That reference was to Carl Everett, the emotional Boston Red Sox outfielder who head-butted an umpire last year and made an obscene gesture toward Seattle pitcher Jamie Moyer last week.

The incident was the first black mark on Mesa's Phillies ledger. Mesa, arguably the team's MVP, has been a stalwart on and off the field all season, racking up 31 saves in 33 chances and providing leadership among the relievers.

For the Phils, Mesa's eighth-inning meltdown was a fitting capper to three dismal days in St. Louis. They arrived Friday leading the National League East by a game. They lost all three games and ended up a game behind first-place Atlanta.

"We haven't played good the last three games," Bowa said.

And against the Cardinals these days, you're not going to win if you don't play well. The Cards have charged into serious contention, winning 11 in row. They were 8 1/2 games out of first place in the NL Central entering August. Now they are just 2 1/2 out.

The fact that the Cardinals are now entrenched in a division race was probably the reason they did not retaliate after the Mesa incident when they got the ball in the top of the ninth.

"We ran into a buzz saw," Phils reliever Ricky Bottalico said of the Cardinals. "Their hitters aren't missing many pitches right now, and their pitchers are pitching well."

The Phils received a creditable start from David Coggin - six innings, nine hits, three runs - but Cards starter Matt Morris was too much to handle for the Phils' bats. Morris pitched seven shutout innings, running his record to 16-7. He is 12-2 at home.

"Against anyone else, we might have had a win," Bowa said. "David threw well. We just got nothing going."

The Phillies collected 28 hits in 104 at-bats for a .269 average in the series, but they left 30 runners on base. They left the bases loaded twice in Saturday night's loss.

The Phils were outscored by 19-6 in the series and finished their six-game road trip with two wins. Things will get no easier with Houston and Arizona, two talented and playoff-thirsty teams, in Philadelphia for the next seven games.

"We took a pretty good beating today," third baseman Scott Rolen said after yesterday's Phillies loss. "We have to go back and play the Astros tough and hope for some brotherly love."

Jim Salisbury's e-mail address is jsalisbury@phillynews.com.

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