It was 25 years ago, when the Milwaukee Brewers, led by such luminaries as Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Rollie Fingers, Ben Oglivie, Cecil Cooper and Gorman Thomas (and his moustache) rolled to an American League pennant. "Harvey's Wallbangers," they were called, in a nod to their Manager, Harvey Kuenn. They were a solid group of hideous looking sluggers, blue-collar types for their blue-collar town.
25 years later, and they haven't been to the Postseason since. A 25 years checkered with misery, losing seasons and failed promise. An ignominious switch of leagues forced upon them by their owner who masqueraded as commissioner in 1998 put them in a crowded NL Central, where they fared no better.
But now, these Brewers are beginning to come of age. Improved scouting and some top prospects are beginning to show their stuff, and some risky trades have begun to pay dividends for Milwaukee, and, all of a sudden, they're now the hottest team in the league, charging into Shea this weekend looking like the '06 Mets, ready to run away with the Central Division!
But have they really been tested? Mostly, they've played within their own division so far, playing awful teams like Pittsburgh, or struggling teams like Houston and St. Louis.
And now, to New York.
Still bald, and ready to rumble.
El Guapo and I were in attendance for Friday night's festivities, making a rare appearance in the Field Boxes, ready to see the Mets get some revenge on Jeff Suppan. It was a steamy, humid night. Really a miserable day everywhere in the city, with no wind, and some sparse showers, but it was pleasant out at Shea. But steamy. You could see the vapor in the lights. Jorge Sosa took the mound for the Mets on Friday, and just like he did last weekend in Arizona, Sosa was brilliant. He walked Rickie "8 days a" Weeks (that's El Guapo's "Bermanism" for the night) to lead off the game, but got out of it on a strike-em-out, throw-em-out DP, with Weeks oddly running on a 1-2 pitch to Prince Fielder (largest ass this side of Mo Vaughn).
The game settled into a pitchers duel for most of the early part of the game. The Mets mounted a thinly veiled threat in the second, courtesy of a Shawn Green fly ball that was dropped by Bill Hall (yes, Billy has pop, but there was a reason that he never was a full time starter until last season—That would be his inability to field a position adequately.
It's a real toolsy outfield for the Brews. I suppose it's a good thing Miller Park has that dome (which looks like a certain part of the female anatomy), because I could imagine that every fly ball hit his way must be an adventure. Jenkins, who still appears to be a dead ringer for Brett Favre (and have they ever been seen together?) always had Kingman-esque power and Kingman-esque strikeout numbers, and sort of lumbers in left (although to his credit, he made a few nice running catches on Friday), and Kevin "WHAT A" Mench seems more suited to a DH role—which he had in Texas.
Fortunately for Hall, LoDuca followed that up by grounding into a double play. No harm, no foul.
Still scoreless into the 4th. In fact, the first hit of the game by either team came on a single by J.J. Hardy (one of the Hardy Boys—My Bermanism for the night) with one out. But Sosa got Fielder to pop out and struck out Hall.
Finally, some action in the 4th. Wright, who may finally be awakening, had nearly hit one out in the first, driving a pitch to the warning track in right that was caught by Mench. What a Mench he was to make that catch, because in the 4th, Wright hammered one that nobody was going to catch, into the bleachers in left for the Mets first run— and first hit.
Good. Finally, we've broken the ice against that twitchy-faced jackass.
Beltran follows by chopping one in between Fielder and Weeks. Fielder ranges way off to his right to try to field it, which he can't, and the result is that now he's nowhere near first base, and there's no way his big ass is lumbering back to the bag. So it's a footrace between Suppan and Beltran. Guess who won?
And Delgado follows up by ripping one into the Brewers bullpen. Second HR in as many games. 3-0 Mets. And let's give El Guapo credit for beginning the "SUP-PAN! SUP-PAN!" chant as the inning got away from him.
It got no better as Alou cracked a double off the wall in Center. It's amazing, sitting in these Field Boxes. Now I understand why people are willing to shell out the big bucks for them. El Guapo put it best. If you go to 15-20 games a year like we do, it's too expensive. But if you only make it to 2-3 games a year, why not pony up for these seats? It's a totally different perspective from our normal perch in the Upper Deck or the Mezzanine. Up there, long fly balls can look like a video game. In the Field Level, you can clearly see the arc of the ball off the bat. You can see the fielder's reactions as opposed to only being able to watch for the ball. But at least we weren't able to see Suppan's annoying tourette's twitches.
Moreover, I had been told that there were more food options in the Field Level, which I find only half true. While you have the food court in the RF corner, and the large Nathans, and the useless Subway and the Dunkin Donuts, the for the most part is just about the same as anyplace else. There's also the imported beer stand, which is a plus, and carries Grolsch, which is often hard to come by, but always welcome (albeit expensive at Shea). My food of choice was the cheesesteak from the BB Sandwich Bar in the food court corner. I'd never heard of the place, and that's basically all you can get there, but it's pretty good for what it's worth. It's no Sausage and Peppers, but, then, what is?
It had been 7 years since my last game in the Field Level. It could be Citi Field before I sit there again...
Meanwhile, on the field, the Mets continue their onslaught on Suppan, with LoDuca lining a single to left, scoring Alou. That would be it for the Mets in the 4th, but the 4 run inning certainly showed these guys what's what.
But the Brewers fought back. First, Jenkins homered in the 5th (who knew Favre had that kind of power?). Fielder homered in the 6th (a bomb—Green didn't even give it a courtesy run as the ball hit the scoreboard in deep right-center.
Sosa would continue his stellar work, otherwise. The 2 HRs notwithstanding, Sosa only allowed 2 other hits in his 6.2 innings, Hardy's single and another scratch hit by Scrappy Craig Counsell, but his first and only real jam came in the 7th, when he walked Jenkins and Scrappy Counsell on a borderline 3-2 pitch. But that was it, Sosa left to a standing ovation and with a 4-2 lead. Another nice outing for Jorge. Feliciano came in and got the last out in the 7th.
And in the last of the 7th, Easley led off with a solo HR of his own, one that looked like windowdressing at the time, but would turn out to be the difference in the game. Again, it's Easley, who has continued to surprise everyone with his key hits, surprising power and strong defense, coming up with the hit that made the difference. It's to the point now that you have to think about continuing to start him when Valentin comes off the DL, or at least using both of them in a platoon. Easley's bat can be just as valuable off the bench, but if he's going to continue to play the way he's been playing, it may be a waste to simply shift him back to a pinch-hitting role once Valentin returns.
It got a little hairy in the 8th, when Heilman came in and promptly gave up a leadoff single to Weeks (although this should have been an out. Heilman was in position to field the ground ball, but he only deflected it with his glove, and slowed it down enough that Weeks was able to beat it out) and Hardy followed by launching a HR to left. 5-4. But Heilman settled down to get the next 3 batters. Wagner for the 9th, and threw only 6 pitches in getting the Brews in order to nail down a nice, crisp and very quick (2:18) victory to start off the series.
I missed Saturday's game completely, for varied reasons, and from what I've heard, I didn't miss much. Pelfrey struggled again, and the bullpen got lit up in the late innings. Ben Sheets was Ben Sheets, and you have to consider the Brewers a team to be reckoned with if he can manage to stay healthy for a full season. I heard some callers on WFAN after the game, and it sounded like there was a lot of nitpicking over certain plays, and a bizarre double play in which two runs scored, and some scuffling over a play between Gotay and Green (which may have been the same play, for all I know). Then, there was the 8th inning Meltdown by Joe Smith, the grand slam by J.J. Hardy (who somehow went from looking like a carbon copy of Joe McEwing last season to looking like a carbon copy of Cal Ripken this season), and a big game from Tony Gwynn, Jr (who, if you heard him on the radio before Sunday's game, sounds frighteningly like his father. But can he hit like his father?).
A lot of the talk also centered around whether Sosa's strong outings may have put him in line to take over as the #5 starter when El Duque returns, with Pelfrey going back to AAA. A few weeks ago, I would have said that premature, but it makes more sense now. We've seen 6 starts out of Pelfrey so far, and he's varied in between barely passable and totally horrible. Whatever he's displayed in his early starts last season, he's not showing now. The ground balls he got in the spring are now line shots. Let him go down, work out his problems, and he'll be back. For now, Sosa's the guy.
And before Sunday's game, that's exactly what happened. Pelfrey got sent back down and Carlos Gomez was called up. With Alou hurting, why not? I don't know what Gomez's numbers were in AAA, but Ben Johnson had been hurt, and Milledge as well, and God help me I don't want to see any more of David Newhan (even if they play that ridiculous "BALLIN!" song when he comes to bat). I've never seen more ink wasted on such a mediocre ballplayer. He reminds me of Rich Becker. Remember in 1998 when Becker had a great spring, and hit 2 HRs in the first week, and played flawless defense, and everyone was raving about him? And then just as quickly, he reverted into the Rich Becker who flailed wildly at every pitch, struck out in 1 of every 2 at bats, and was cut by June. That's who Newhan reminds me of. I expect him gone before too long. But I digress, let Gomez play for a few days until Alou is ready. Why not? And if Alou goes on the DL, give him a couple of weeks in the bigs to wet his feet.
So that was what we woke up to on Sunday, Mother's Day (and a Happy Birthday to Bobby V!), with half the team using pink bats, and Oliver Perez on the mound looking to rebound from his disastrous outing on Monday in San Francisco. And he certainly rebounded. It's a big step for Perez, because we saw on Monday that he can be temperamental, and things can get to him, and you don't know how a bad outing like that can fester, but Perez shrugged it off and pitched a masterful game on Sunday. He looked relaxed, his command was great, he kept ahead of the hitters, it was like a completely different Oliver Perez out there.
But, once again, let's see if he can string 2 or 3 real good starts together. He did it a few weeks ago, with that hiccup in Washington being the exception, leading up to the meltdown in San Francisco. His next start will be telling. Friday night, May 18th. Opponent: New York Yankees.
On the offensive side, the Mets dominated Capuano from the outset. Reyes walked to start, and again it was Easley coming up and nailing a HR into the Brewers bullpen. And the Mets really didn't look back. Wright, hitting cleanup, singled, stole second and scored on a hit from Castro. In the 2nd, it was the new guy, Carlos Gomez, coming up and ripping a clean double into the left field corner in his first Major League at bat. (Joe Buck says: "Carlos Gomez, Welcome To New York!") He moved to third on a groundout by Perez, and scored on a single from Easley. And with Perez in control, the game was pretty much salted away by this point.
Wright came up with 2 hits, a walk, and a career-high 3 Steals...
Perez took a one-hit shutout into the 9th, and even chipped in with an RBI single of his own...
Gomez got his second hit in the 8th, and the fast guy followed that up with his first SB...
And Beltran capped off the scoring, and a 5-run 8th inning by launching a HR just inside the RF foul pole.
And so, the Mets came away with a series victory, taking 2 of 3 from the hottest team in the Majors, and making a statement in the process about who's still in charge here. Yes, the Braves still maintain a slim lead in the standings, but there's still a long way to go here, and we know the Mets aren't going to give an inch.
Next, the Cubs, with their own band of heavy hitters, Soriano, Ramirez, Lee, and our old buddy Cliff Floyd. The Ballclub will be represented on Tuesday, for the rather intriguing matchup of John Maine and Carlos Zambrano, and on Wednesday, for the intriguing matchup of Jorge Sosa and Rich Hill. Thanks to the Mets for bunching all of the seven-pack games together (yes, it's two different packs but still), there are 4 series during this season where we have tickets to more than one game, and often on back-to-back nights. But I digress.