Mets, riding four-game skid, host Phillies

NEW YORK -- Not much has gone right this season for the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. On Monday afternoon, though, the clubs will be able to take solace in sending to the mound two pitchers who have provided unexpectedly memorable moments in an otherwise lost summer.

The Mets and Phillies, the bottom two teams in the National League East, will begin a three-game series Monday, when New York's Rafael Montero (3-9, 5.12 ERA) is scheduled to oppose Philadelphia's Mark Leiter (2-4, 3.88 ERA) in a matchup of 26-year-old right-handers at Citi Field.

The Mets (58-78) fell for the fourth consecutive game Sunday, losing 8-6 to the Astros in Houston. The visiting Phillies (52-84) edged the Miami Marlins 3-1 in 12 innings to cap a series in which they took three out of four games.

Montero is an unlikely candidate to serve as a stopper for the Mets, who haven't won since Montero earned the victory in his best performance as a major-leaguer last Wednesday. He carried a one-hitter into the ninth inning and allowed three hits over 8 1/3 innings as New York beat the Cincinnati Reds 2-0.

The win was just the fourth in four seasons for Montero and the most convincing evidence yet that he has turned a corner since his most recent promotion from Triple-A Las Vegas on June 14.

In his past 15 games (11 starts), Montero is 3-5 with a 4.27 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 72-30 in 71 1/3 innings. He opened the season by going 0-4 with an 8.24 ERA in his first 13 games (two starts), a stretch in which he struck out 20 and walked 17 in just 19 2/3 innings.

"It's been kind of building here the last month, month and a half," Mets catcher Kevin Plawecki told Newsday regarding Montero, who has allowed just six runs in 25 2/3 innings over his past four starts.

Leiter is not far removed from his own burst of brilliance, though he took the loss in his most recent start after allowing three runs over 6 2/3 innings as the Phillies fell to the Atlanta Braves 5-2 on Wednesday.

That start came immediately after Leiter's best outing of his rookie season on Aug. 23, when he earned the win by tossing seven shutout innings of one-hit ball in an 8-0 win over the Miami Marlins. Eighteen days earlier, Leiter opened some eyes by striking out nine batters in 4 2/3 innings of shutout relief against the Colorado Rockies.

The strong August ensures Leiter will finish the season in Philadelphia's rotation -- an impressive feat for a former 22nd-round draft choice who didn't even receive an invitation to major league spring training in February.

"Every day you come in and try to prove yourself," Leiter said Aug. 23. "You've got to believe in yourself, and when you get opportunities, you have to try to do your best."

Montero is 0-2 with a 9.39 ERA in six career appearances (two starts) against the Phillies. Leiter, the nephew of former Mets star left-handed pitcher Al Leiter, allowed one run over five innings of relief in his lone appearance against the Mets on Aug. 10.
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