Jose Reyes hit a three-run triple to back Johan Santana and lead the Mets to a 6-2 victory Tuesday over the Cubs. Santana (15-7) threw a career-high 125 pitches and struck out 10 over eight innings for the win, which, coupled with Philadelphia's loss to Atlanta, helped New York close to within 1 1/2 games of the Phillies in the National League East.
Sean Marshall, making his seventh start, didn't get a decision, but the lefty did get the nod that he will be in the bullpen for the National League Division Series. The Cubs, who have clinched the NL Central and home-field advantage, will kick off the playoffs on Oct. 1. They just don't know who they'll be playing. If the season ended today, it would be the Mets, who lead the NL Wild Card race.
"Our guy matched [Santana] pitch for pitch there, and actually was doing a little better until the fifth inning," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "We need to get [Marshall] back in the bullpen, where he can help us in the middle. He'll pitch a little in the middle in the Milwaukee series to get ready for postseason."
Marshall was happy at the news.
"That's the first I've heard, and it's a positive for me," the lefty said.
The Cubs' lineup did not include Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Theriot or Geovany Soto, part of Piniella's plan to give guys a breather before the postseason. Casey McGehee, starting at third, doubled with one out in the second and scored on a double by Kosuke Fukudome, who got a rare start against a lefty. Reed Johnson hit an RBI single with two outs in the third to put Chicago ahead, 2-0.
Marshall, making his first start since Sept. 7, had one out and one on in the fifth when Santana hit one of the most bizarre broken-bat singles you'll see. The barrel of the bat actually traveled ahead of the ball, landing behind the mound. Shortstop Ronny Cedeno, who had moved behind the mound to his left, went one way, the ball went another as it hit the busted bat and took a weird bounce.
Instead of a potential double play, Santana was safe with a single. One out later, Marshall walked Luis Castillo, and David Wright then tied the game with a two-run single.
"That one ball, that Santana slash bunt, took some weird hops," Marshall said. "I've never seen anything like that before."
Neither had Piniella.
"Marshall did fine," Piniella said. "The only problem is he hits the eighth hitter [Nick Evans] and then Santana pulls a magic bat trick -- I've never seen that before -- then he gets Reyes and he walks Castillo to get to their hot hitter. It doesn't work usually."
Cedeno had shifted because they expected Santana to bunt, and the lefty delivered the strange slash hit instead.
"It surprised me," Cedeno said. "I've never seen that before. I tried to get the ground ball, but the ball hit right on the bat and took a bad bounce.
"It was unbelievable," he said. "I've never seen that before."
"It happened so fast," Marshall said. "I was trying to track the ball, but the bat caught my attention. I don't know if the ball hit the bat twice -- it hit in front of me and hit it in back in front of Ronny. It definitely was a tough play to make for Ronny or I."
However, hitting Evans and walking Castillo were things Marshall could control.
"I knew [Castillo] was the guy I needed to get in that situation, just with David Wright coming up," Marshall said. "I might have pressed a little too hard to make the perfect pitch, and I didn't make the pitch I needed to and it came back to bite me. We'll learn from that one and move on."
Carlos Delgado greeted Chad Gaudin with a double to lead off the Mets' sixth, and Ramon Castro dribbled the ball to the right of the mound. Gaudin scooped the ball up and overthrew first for an error, allowing a run to score. One out later, Reyes lined a triple down the right-field line to put the Cubs ahead, 6-2. Gaudin gave up four runs on four hits in one-third of an inning.
Gaudin has missed time because of lower back problems and may be running out of innings to show he's ready for the postseason.
"His location's not good," Piniella said of the right-hander. "He's been out a while. We'll keep pitching him and get him work, but I don't see the good sink and I don't see the location."
Marshall learned from the outing. If the Cubs face the Mets in the first round, they'll need at least two lefties in the 'pen.
"I can take some positives from this one," Marshall said. "My curveball was good and changeup and everything felt like it was working tonight. The only disappointment is that we lost the game."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.