Monday, April 30, 2007

That's the Breaks That's the Breaks

The Mets didn't need Chan Ho Park to be a hero tonight; they just needed him to hold his own and keep them in the game. And that he most certainly did not do. To be fair, that nasty third inning saw him victimized by bad luck (the ball bouncing out of Damion Easley's glove) and bad fielding (Beltran giving way to Reyes on what was clearly Beltran's ball all the way). All five of those third-inning runs were earned, technically, but let's call them semi-earned.

On the other hand, CHP made that bed for himself, giving up a single to Scott Olsen then walking Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla. After that, he was able to bear down and make his pitches, but the breaks didn't go his way. At any rate, he did his part to clean up the mess he made in that inning. Then in the fourth the wheels came off the wagon, something about that long third breaking Park's concentration or rhythm or whatever.

It will be interesting to see if CHP stays up to get the two remaining starts that El Duque is slated to miss. Not sure that the other options—Jorge Sosa, Philip Humber, and Jason Vargas—are any more attractive. This was a big start for Park, who chose not to do something that nobody could have blamed him for when he found out he was to be sent to AAA coming out of spring training: refuse the assignment and find a big league job elsewhere. This is a guy who could be a top-of-the-rotation starter for a team like Tampa Bay or Washington, but he elected to take the assignment.

Here's a few notes from the game:
  • This was shaping up to be One of Those Games: the "shit happens" blowouts that you just try to shake off, telling yourself they happen to every team, even the good ones. But the Mets showed a lot of resilience, hanging around, just not ever breaking down the door. Alfredo Amezaga's robbing of LoDuca's liner in the sixth was a real dagger.
  • I had the game on TV, and was disappointed to note that those reprehensible anti-smoking ads are back. Thanks, guys.
  • I never really actually doubted Shawn Green. I was just kidding....
  • Omar pronounces it "Dway-nar Sanchez" and has the strange tic of saying "you know'm sayin'?" after every other sentence. It's great. I'll have to work on an Omar impression once I perfect my Jonny Miller (Car-los Bel-tran).
  • Besides perfecting the Miller impression, there is exactly one more good reason to watch national games on ESPN: they're using Erin Andrews as a sideline reporter!
  • LoDuca had a rough night all around: the Amezaga grab; getting chased down to first by Miguel Olivo; taking a foul tip squarely in the facemask; and mostly that narrowly missed home run in the eighth (at least he worked out the RBI single there).
  • David Wright kept up his reaching-base streak, but still looks absolutely desparate to get going. Seeing his fierce reactions to his outs, I was right about to suggest a Zen Buddhist sort of approach. But you know what? Wright is too deep into that workaholic, perfectionist mode for that. He would take to Zen like a sinner to holy water: looking for salvation but just getting burned. David's just going to have to kick and scrap and fight his way through it. He's going to make it look hard, and it is hard.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Who Reads This, Anyway?

With one month of the season just about in the books, I thought it time to take a look at the statistics of this blog, just to make sure everything was in order as we move further along in the season. Feedburner is the place to do things like this, and one of the more interesting features it has is that you can look up just how, exactly, people landed here.

Now, El Guapo has made a big deal about The Ballclub being the first thing to pop up when you Google "The Ballclub." This is still the case. But, it seems that nobody is searching for "The Ballclub." So, while this is a nice honor, it really means very little.

So, you may ask, what are most people searching for when they happen upon The Ballclub? Well, it might give you some insight as to the clientèle we get here.

Most people seem to land here when searching for "David Wright Girlfriend." I suppose this is my fault, based on the dopey post I wrote 3 weeks ago. But what's interesting is that this isn't even in the top 10 results when that's searched for.

If this is true, then we're probably not getting too many repeat hits from the irritated 16-year old girls trying to find out the dating status of our own Captain America.

Some other interesting searches that land people here.
"David Wright Mets Jewish"
"David Wright Sarah Hughes"
"Fuck Face Baseball Card"
"Leitch Cutting Down The Mango Tree"
"Darren Dreifort Divorce"
"Is The Eephus Taken Out Of MLB2K7"
"Major Baseball Player Wore Fake Mustache Dark Glasses Hat After Being Ejected"
"Vintage Hot Dog"
"Iron Chef America Copper Still"
"Why Did SNY Fire Chris Cotter"
"David Wright Makes Fun of Shawn Green"
"What Type Of Necklace Does Jose Reyes Wear"
"Mo Vaughn Home Run Budweiser"
"Citi Field Iced Coffee"
"Is Casey Kotchman Jewish"
"Jose Valentin General El Guapo"

I know we've covered a wide range of topics, but some of these searches just floor me. Never mind that someone landed here by searching for "Jose Valentin General El Guapo," but that someone was out there searching for this, and was prompted to look here. What makes this all the more frightening is that we are the first site to come up if that's what you happen to be searching for.

And to make matters worse, by writing this post, I'm just ensuring that more people off on the trail of some odd web searches are going just going to land back here. And that the number of young women searching for "David Wright Girlfriend" are going to keep coming back, and being frustrated because neither El Guapo or myself particularly care whether or not Wright even has a Girlfriend. We just want him to get a hit with runners on base, Dammit!

All that said, that should sum up the State of The Ballclub through the first month of the season.

I suppose more could be devoted to the games in Washington over the weekend, but really, is there that much to say? Perez gutted it out on Friday night, and really only made 2 or 3 bad pitches, and one of them ended up costing him the game. He kept the ball down for the most part, and his control was great, and Willie left him in and got him to stretch out a bit, which is good, because we could use some starting pitchers that can pitch into the latter part of games. Saturday, Glavine was Glavine, and Endy came up with another clutch play (sliding home around the tag with the tying run) that will go overlooked. The Bullpen was solid, and the Mets finally broke out in the 12th. Sunday's story was simply John Maine, John Maine, John Maine.

The larger problem is the offense. The starters have been great so far, but the offense hasn't been giving them much wiggle room. Some players are hot, and some players are cold, and that's pretty much par for the course with any team. And the hot bats (Reyes, Beltran, Alou, Green, Valentin) have done enough to win games and lessen the effect of some pretty big names that are off to slow starts (most notably Wright and Delgado, also LoDuca). But the major problem so far has been a wholesale failure to come up with the "clutch" hit; the hit that's going to get that runner home from 3rd with less than 2 outs, or that single with runners on 2nd and 3rd with 2 outs, or any other situational piece of hitting. It's been pretty maddening seeing Reyes lead off with a single or a walk, steal second, get moved to third by LoDuca, and then Beltran pops out to the shortstop and Delgado strikes out. I know guys are pressing, or slumping, and that happens over the course of the season, but if the problem doesn't right itself before too long, it will begin to cost the team some victories. It's beginning to become a major concern.

This week, 3 against Florida, and then the always popular West Coast trip. Maybe an extended road trip will help wake things up a bit.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hope Begins in the Dark

Ben Shpigel writes in today's Times about Mike Pelfrey's tribulations and the debate over whether to send Pelfrey down to AAA to do a little more work. He points out that Jorge Sosa and Philip Humber, two guys who struggled mightily all Spring, are both pitching well (3-0 with a 1.38 ERA and 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA, respectively). I highly recommend reading the whole article: it's thoughtful and very non-knee-jerk in its analysis.

My own knee-jerk reaction is to leave him up and let him take his lumps. I don't think Pelfrey has anything left to work on when it comes to his mechanics or his game plan. What this appears to be, and what Pelfrey himself admits and Ramon Castro and Rick Peterson go along with, is a mental thing; namely, stubbornness:
Pelfrey consistently left his fastball up and over the plate. With the exception of John Mabry’s three-run homer, which capped the Rockies' five-run third, every one of Colorado’s hits off him came on belt-high fastballs.

"I was too stubborn to throw anything else," Pelfrey said. "I just kept throwing them, and they kept hitting them."
This is not a shrinking violet (to invoke a Keith-ism) that we're dealing with here. And in another context, that kind of grim determination and willingness to stick with your best pitch can be exactly what a pitcher needs to grind out a rough start. It seems clear, though, that in this case Pelfrey was overthrowing to power his way out of trouble, and thereby robbing his fastball of exactly what makes it successful: its sink. Obviously Randolph, Peterson, Minaya, et al, know much more about this than the average fan, but it strikes me that the way to teach Pelfrey to cope with that kind of adversity is let him face it and see the results that come from different kinds of reactions. Going down to AAA, where he'll no doubt face hitters who offer somewhat less of a challenge, seems less likely to give Pelfrey the chance to work his way through difficult spots. It might build up his confidence, but it won't let him develop the coping tools he needs.

Two other points Shpigel brings up, both of which I think argue for Pelfrey staying where he is:
  • One, everyone else is pitching well. Maine, Perez, and Hernandez have each had one rough start, but if they each keep up with their more recent paces that gives the Mets, at 13-7, time to let Pelfrey work through his troubles.
  • Two, Maine went through something similar last season, and indeed still says he needs to work on being less reliant on his fastball. Every Mets fan can see the huge strides he's made with his off-speed and breaking pitches and what that's done for him. He's a perfect peer for Pelfrey to learn from.
Looks like Pelfrey is guaranteed one more start, which will be Monday Tuesday versus Florida. That'll be interesting to watch since, for better or worse, the buzz around it will be that he's pitching for his job (at least provided another decision isn't made in the meantime). How he responds to that pressure will demonstrate an awful lot about how he can be expected to handle pressure on the mound as the season progresses.

I love watching Mike Pelfrey pitch when he's right, and I even like that wrong-headed stubbornness. Remember: that could be his biggest asset one day down the line, maybe not to far from now, when he's facing a tight spot and needs to bear down on a tough batter. Does he stick with his best pitch and dammit all? Or does he get scared off of it and toss in a changeup that he hasn't quite put the full force of his conviction behind? I know what I'd want him to do. He's just got to know that throwing it harder doesn't make it work better. Maybe these first few starts have already taught him that.

Pelfrey's Grip on His Rotation Spot Is Becoming Tenuous [New York Times]

Mets DVD Review

The Highlight Video has become a bit of a lost art over time. The Mets used to produce a short and sweet highlight video after each season, recapping the ups and downs and great moments of the past year's team. It was usually produced by the team, with a sponsor, and released the following spring.

The Mets have highlight videos for most of the early years of the club, running pretty much through the 1980s. Most of them are pretty hard to come by nowadays. Of course, it's the 1986 Highlight video that stands above them all, filled with unforgettable clips of the team both on the field winning, and off the field, acting like goofy idiots. I have met several Mets fans who have the video committed to memory, from "Mookie, did it break the glass?" to "The curtain calls and standing ovations, it's a display of emotion from the hometown fans." to Roger McDowell and Ho-Jo's Hotfoot Clinic.

Then, all of a sudden, the highlight videos disappeared. Didn't matter, really. Who would buy a highlight video for the 1992 Mets? Who cared? But the videos reappeared briefly when the Mets returned to prominence in 1999 and 2000. Given away as promotional items at Shea, both of these videos can be found, if you search hard enough. 1999's effort is nice, if uneven. Narrated by Tom Seaver, it's got plenty of clips and a lot of cheesy music. The 2000 video is actually very well done, and highly underrated as compared among other highlight films. Narrated by Tim Robbins, it's a quick moving video that really captures just how exciting that season was, from Japan, all the way to the World Series.

And, after 2000, the highlight videos disappeared again. The Mets did put out some other promotional videos between then and now, but most of them focused on singular games or individuals, rather than any given season. Made sense, again, who wanted a 2002 Mets highlight video?

But, as many of you have seen advertised, there's a 2006 Mets Highlight Video. I guess it's not a video per se, it's a DVD, but it's a season highlight film. The Mets have been plugging it pretty hard over the past few weeks. It's a pretty glitzy package, produced by MLB, and full of extras, in a bright orange case.

Now, it was posed to me by El Guapo as to why one would want to buy this DVD when many of last season's highlights are readily replayed on SNY, and in the TiVo era, clips and games can be saved. In fact, I myself have all of last season's playoffs on tape, but it's a flawed process. Sometimes a tape runs out. Sometimes the cable goes out. Sometimes the box resets itself and records the wrong channel. And, if you have full games, you know that sometimes, you don't really feel like sitting through and watching the entire game (like all 5 hours and 46 minutes of the Grand Slam Single game from 1999). Plus, SNY's highlight programs cover most of the regular season, but none of the playoffs. And they're full of commercials. That's why we have highlight videos in the first place. And, as such, I'd recommend this DVD to any interested Mets fan.

Like the 2000 video, this DVD is narrated by noted Mets fan Tim Robbins (and whether you like him or not, he's still a Mets fan, just like the rest of us). It's a nice effort overall. It's substantially longer than most highlight videos have been (most were between 30 minutes and an hour, this is nearly 90 minutes). But it's uneven in many ways. In the past, most highlight videos stuck to the facts. Loads of highlights, noted games, great finishes, great individual performances, clubhouse camaraderie. This video has all of that. It begins with a brief look back at 2005, from Minaya coming in as GM, to the hiring of Willie Randolph, and the signings of Pedro and Beltran, and the emergence of Wright and Reyes, and the offseason of '05-'06. And then we get rolling with the '06 season, and the wild ride that it was.

But there are some moments in the season that are glossed over, and replaced by some boring "Mets in the Community" features. Now, I'm not saying that the work the players do in the community is unimportant. It deserves to be included, but the DVD devotes nearly 10 minutes to Delgado giving a speech to an Elementary School in Queens, as opposed to, say, Delgado's walk-off HR against the Pirates, or some more in-depth looks at the 9-1 road trip in June.

There's also a good chunk of the DVD that shows the Mets at the All-Star game, including a lot of shots of Wright in the HR Derby. Plus Wright's HR in the All-Star Game from about 16 different angles. Again, necessary stuff to put in, but it becomes a little superfluous.

The team chemistry is not overlooked. There's a short section devoted to the players talking about each other's personalities and nicknames, and some of the dugout antics. But, while it touches on some things, other, more interesting things, such as the origins of Reyes's handshakes and hand slaps, and El Duque's "Rowboat" dance are passed over entirely.

My final major gripe is that there isn't enough in depth examination of the playoff games themselves. Yes, each game is covered, and the wins are fleshed out, and the losses glossed over. Which is fine. But the wins are often covered so quickly, that important details are left out. Delgado's majestic HR and Wright's 2-run double and fist pump in Game 1 of the NLDS are barely even shown. And, while much deserved attention is paid to Beltran's HR in Game 1 of the NLCS, almost none is paid to Glavine's sterling 7 innings, or the sparkling defense the Mets displayed that night. There could have been less Wright at the All-Star Game, and more of the rally in Los Angeles in Game 3 of the NLDS.

Initially, I thought that too little time was spent on Endy's catch in Game 7. I don't feel that way now. In the larger scheme of things, there is a great deal of time spent on Game 7 of the NLCS, beginning with Willie talking about his mood, and shots of the crowd before the game, and the atmosphere in the ballpark. The Catch is given fair coverage within the action of the game itself, and shown from several angles (and not set to Joe Buck). The ending is handled tastefully. No nudity. No shots of Cardinals celebrating. There's a simple shot of the scoreboard with Beltran at bat, and a fade to black, followed by LoDuca in the dugout, talking about how he made sure to watch what was going on, so he could remember it.

Now, I don't know if it's because they didn't want to end on a down note, and that could have been avoided by simply going back and giving a final recap of the regular season, and the division championship, and ending the DVD, but, instead, there's another 5-7 minutes of Reyes, Wright and Maine in their tour of Japan, doing well. It annoyed me, more than anything else, because anyone watching is bound to think, "Well, why didn't they do that when it mattered?!" After going through the entire season, it was really overkill.

The extras are great. There's some nice footage from the Division Championship and NLDS victory celebrations (including a classic shot of Jeff Wilpon dumping a bottle of champagne on Wright, then shoving the bottle down the back of Wright's jersey), a short recap of the Walkoff victories (although some are omitted--where's the Woodward sac fly against the Giants?), a spanish-language feature of Beltran and Delgado, and an overview of Citi Field.

So, I'll give it 4 stars out of 5 (where the '86 video is a 5/5 and the 2000 video is a 4.5/5). I'd recommend buying it, but try to get it on E-Bay or somewhere else online, where it will be markedly less than if you bought it from the Mets website or at Shea.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Getaway Day

Sometimes you tap the Rockies; sometimes, well, sometimes the Rockies tap you.

After last night, does anyone even give a damn? Me neither.

Mike Pelfrey is taking his lumps early on, but I hope no one is starting to panic over it. I didn't get to see the game today, and I didn't bother to listen to it once I got back to my desk and it was already love-6, so I don't know what was happening with his pitches, but my guess is that they were staying up and getting too much of the plate because he was overthrowing. Why? Because he only walked one guy but gave up eight hits. If he's overthrowing, it's a mental thing. He needs to calm down and get in his usual rhythm, to what we saw in spring training.

It's been a little up-and-down, back-and-forth, strikes-and-gutters for most of the starters so far. Friday versus Matt Chico and the Nats ought to tell us something about Oliver Perez that I think we're all waiting expectantly for the answer to: namely, can he string two good starts together, or will he keep up the seasickness-inducing pattern he's begun the season with. In other news, I'm now ending all my sentences with prepositions. I mean, prepositions are what I'm now ending all my sentences with.

Meanwhile, Shawn Green has been busy proving me dead wrong, responsible for three of the five Mets runs today on a bases-clearing double, and I love him for it. Frankly, I thought all that spring talk from him was wishful thinking on his part. Sure, Shawn, you closed that hole in your swing, you've got it all figured out now, okay. But if you look at his approach, it's not so much that he's shortened his swing as leveled it out a little. And he goes the other way, which is something he did back in his 40-homer years in Toronto, too. He looks very fluid. I still don't see this lasting all year, but if it helps hold the fort while Delgado and Wright work out what's ailing them then I'm glad for it.

Instant Lost Classic?

Chalk last night's game up as yet another example of the killer instinct the Mets have had over the past two seasons. While what El Guapo says is true, that it does require some degree of luck to have put up W's in games like this (see, for example, May 5, 2006), there's also something to be said of the intangible qualities that some of the lesser known Mets bring to the table. I'm going to slip into Bob Costas mode for a moment, and get a little schmaltzy (forgive me for this), but this is, indeed, the beauty of baseball. In basketball, when the game is on the line, you want the ball in your best player's hand. In football, you want the play to go to your best receiver. But in baseball, you don't always have that option. Sure, with two out, and nobody on in the last of the 10th, down by a run, you want the guy who can pop the ball out of the ballpark. But that's usually never the case, and sometimes, the last guy you expect to pop the ball out of the ballpark does just that.

That's not a knock on Easley, he's been an All Star, 100 RBI guy. But those days are over for him, and as any ballplayer will attest, it's not easy to just come off the bench, take a couple of strikes and suddenly knock one out of the ballpark. But Easley said after the game that he felt "calm" and "relaxed" at the plate. But that's the kind of player you want coming off the bench. Mostly unflappable under any situation. And Endy is the same way. We've written plenty about Endy in here, so I'm not bringing up anything new, but playing the game the way he has, and helping this team the way he has over the past two seasons really has made him the Mets folk hero. Again, you're looking at a player who can come through under any particular circumstance, and a player who does not panic. He'll get more ink than Easley because he can often do something spectacular, but spectacular or not, he gets the job done, and both he and Easley did exactly that last night.

In the larger scheme of things, this game will most likely be forgotten. You certainly won't see replays on SNY in December. So, let's award last night's game an instant Lost Classic, and another feather in the cap for a couple of unsung heroes. And from a fan's perspective, this is the beauty of this team right now. Here are two players that, when they were signed, we all asked what on earth the Mets were doing bringing in guys like this. But these are the types of players that do the little things to win games that are late and close, and it's what makes a good team with a little luck into a great team with a lot of luck.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The John Starks Corollary

In 2006 the heroic late-inning win became something of a Mets specialty. The statisticians of the baseball world contend that a disporportionate number of one-run wins defines a lucky team—not that you're not good, you're just also lucky. My head knows they're right, my heart says, "Did you see that drag bunt?! En-dy! En-dy! En-dy!" I'm a big believer in having it both ways, you see.

Kevin Burkhardt tells Chavez in the post-game interview that he'll have his own statue outside the stadium before too long. And Endy is already reaching toward that firmament of New York folk hero unassailability next to John Starks, Jeff Van Gundy, possibly a few football players I've never heard of, whoever. Chavez tells us that he didn't plan the drag bunt; he made the decision when he saw the pitch. Imagine! Maybe in the scheme of things it's not that unusual for a professional athlete to make that kind of decision on the fly, maybe it's routine, but imagine from your layman's couch how that works. "Don't know what I'll do here, let's see, ohshitithinki'lldragbunt!"

And by the way, happy first major league win wishes to Diamond Joe Smith.

Good night, kids. I'm off to watch Steve Nash and Kobe and bask in what a ridiculous random Tuesday night of sports this is.

Quick Hits: A Good Night, Uncle Joon, Playoff Hoops, and Biomechanics Nerds

All in all, last night was my favorite kind of weekday night game. Room in the stands (maybe 30K in attendance as a wild guess), quick game, warm night, no bathroom/concession lines, no wait to get on the 7 back to Brooklyn (I even had a relatively quick switch to the G, a minor miracle), cheap seats (five bucks at the gate for Section 6 upper box).

Oh yeah, and we won.

Maine was quietly effective and lasted into the eighth, which Feliciano finished, and then Burgos didn't quite ruin it, walking three to load the bases but getting out of it unscathed.

I almost didn't go, but it provided a nice excuse to get out of playing in my company's first softball game of the season (why do I want to get out of it? A few reasons, but I'll leave it at this: Randall's Island). And I'm glad I did. A classic "This is what it's all about!" game.

And now, a few links:
  • Worlds collide as FreeDarko previews each of the first-round NBA playoff matchups on Deadspin. And they're also, of course, doing their own fine coverage on their home site.
  • Speaking of hoops blogs, I've recently (belatedly) starting reading TrueHoop, which is now part of the ESPN empire. I don't think the style or anything has changed since merging with the mothership.
  • Slate has revived its Sopranos coverage, consisting this time of Timothy Noah and Jeffrey Goldberg debating Tony's fate. Personally, I dug the first two episodes, but Sunday's was a huge disappointment. And I was so psyched for the return of both Paulie and Junior, too. I kind of feel like they showed up Tony's hooker's boobs as a consolation prize, almost by way of apology.
  • Also in Slate, Seth Stevenson wonders when someone will do for biomechanics nerds what Bill James and Michael Lewis did for stats nerds.
So, how often do we get to play the Rockies?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Lost Classics: April 5, 1993

It has been some time since we did a Lost Classic here, and with the Colorado Rockies coming to town this week, with their long and storied history of great classic matchups with the Mets, we take a look back at an era of Mets history that really should never be looked back upon. It should be erased, swept under the rug and forgotten completely.

That year would be 1993.

In a year that will see the Mets thoroughly embarrass themselves repeatedly, and become a national laughingstock, it will be on this day that one of the season's few highlights will take place.

The high point of this Mets season will come on Opening Day, at the expense of one of the league's two new expansion teams, the Colorado Rockies. Ironically, the Mets will eventually see themselves finish with a record that is even worse than these expansion Rockies, as well as the league's other expansion team, the Florida Marlins.

Today, however, is a different story. History is in the air on this Monday afternoon, as the Rockies are set to play their first game ever. I skipped school for the occasion, and voyaged to the Stadium. I am there early, picking up two programs. One to score, as I always do, and one for posterity's sake.

Little do I know that many others have done the same. Programs would be hoarded on this day, and the supply would run out well before the game had even begun. But that didn't much matter to me. The game is set to begin, with the Mets in their new uniforms, ready to reverse the misery that plagued the team during a miserable 1992 season. Dwight Gooden is on the mound, and Eric Young steps in, ready to begin the season, and the franchise of the Colorado Rockies. Gooden's first pitch is, naturally, a fastball strike. He'll get Young to bunt out, before retiring the following hitters in order.

Gooden is trying to rebound from a couple of off seasons. Still merely 28, Gooden is recovering from rotator cuff surgery late in the 1991 season, and an off year in 1992. But while Gooden will have his moments, the year will again be a struggle for him. No longer the dominant force he was in the late 80s, Gooden will finish 12-15. The following season, he will be off to a miserable start before a positive drug test will result in a 60 day suspension. A subsequent positive drug test will earn Doc a year-long suspension, through the 1995 season, and effectively end his Mets career. No Mets pitcher will write a more disappointing history than Gooden.

Gooden's mound opponent, and down in history as the first starting pitcher in Rockies History is David Nied. Nied was picked from the Atlanta Braves in the expansion draft. A hard throwing righty, Nied will do little to distinguish himself in the Majors, his lone claim to fame being that he started this game on this day.

But Nied and Gooden will settle in to a neat pitchers duel. The Mets will threaten a bit in the last of the first. Following a Vince Coleman strikeout, Tony Fernandez, the Mets big offseason acquisition (who will muddle disinterested through the season) will work a walk and be singled to third by Eddie Murray. But Bonilla will pop out and HoJo will strike out to end the inning.

In the top of the second inning, it will be Andres Galarraga, the magnificent Big Cat himself, lining a single up the middle for the first hit in Rockies history. The following hitters will go down quietly. Again, in the second, the Mets threaten against Nied. Joe Orsulak and Jeff Kent will single, before Hundley flies out, Gooden grounds into a fielders choice, and Coleman pops out to end the inning. Again, the Mets fail to get a key hit with men in scoring position. This will be a common theme throughout the season.

Both teams load the bases in the 3rd, mainly due to wildness from both Gooden and Nied. Gooden will issue a walk and a hit batsman, before striking out Galarraga to end the inning. Nied walks the bases loaded with 2 outs before getting a ground out from Kent.

Finally, in the 4th, it's the Mets breaking through. With 1 out, it's Gooden, always focused on his hitting, singling through the hole to right. Coleman will follow with a single of his own, moving Doc to third. Tony Fernandez will chop a groundout to second, scoring Gooden with the game's first run.

Meanwhile, Gooden has settled into a nice groove. He's not striking out many hitters, but he's getting the Rockie bats to miss, usually resulting in weak flies and popups. After his struggles in the 2nd and 3rd, Gooden will retire 17 Rockies in a row, not allowing another hit until the 9th.

In the Mets 5th, Bobby Bonilla leads off. Still with the richest contract in Mets History, Bobby Bo is counted on to be the anchor of the Mets offense. He suffered through a season in '92 that mirrored the rest of the team: Flat out miserable. He struggled, pouted and was booed. But on this day, cheers, as Bonilla hits a long Home Run out into the Mets bullpen in right, for a 2-0 lead.

But the cheers will be short-lived. Bonilla will again struggle in the field and at the plate, and his attitude off the field is often less than desirable. Following one particular loss, he will have a run-in with newspaper columnist Bob Klapisch, who at the time had authored a book (seen above) railing against the Mets and the poor manner in which they had been run. With the Mets floundering in last place, and Bonilla in none too good a mood, he offers Klapisch a ride home from Shea.

"I will show you The Bronx," is the phrase forever noted in Met infamy.

Despite it all, Bonilla will have his most successful season with the Mets, hitting 34 Home Runs and driving in 87 before a shoulder injury in September ended his season. Bonilla will do little to endear himself to the fans following the season.

In the 6th, the Mets plate another run, as Eddie Murray, another surly character mixed into this melange of misfits masquerading as the 1993 Mets would single home the head troublemaker, Coleman. 3-0 Mets.

With the lead, and Gooden cruising, there is little the Rockies can do this afternoon. Galarraga and Bichette single in the 9th, but when Gooden gets Jerald Clark to fly out weakly to right, he has put the finishing touches on a sterling 4-hit shutout on Opening Day. The crowd is optimistic and ecstatic. Little do they know what the rest of the season will hold...

Once again, the high priced talent will either be injured or underperform. Coleman will get hurt again, as will Bret Saberhagen. Bonilla will mope. Murray will be surly. Jeff Torborg will be fired in May, with the team 13-25, spiraling hopelessly out of control. Dallas Green would be hired to replace Torborg, but he will fare no better. Saberhagen will spray bleach on newspaper reporters. Coleman will toss lit firecrackers around parking lots on road trips. Anthony Young will become the symbol of the Mets futility, running a losing streak that will eventually reach 27 consecutive games. They will be ignominiously no-hit by Houston's Darryl Kile on September 8th in the Astrodome. Mercifully, many of the useless older players like Fernandez and Frank Tanana will be shipped away by season's end, allowing younger, more useful players like Kent, Jeromy Burnitz, Butch Huskey, Tim Bogar and Bobby Jones to earn time in the Majors. And at the end of the season, the Mets will finish with a humiliating record of 59-103, and they will have to win their last 6 games in order to finish that poorly, winning their last game in Florida on a mucky afternoon that was so meaningless that they never actually bothered to finish the game.

The Rockies will fare about as well as you could expect from an expansion team. Led by Bichette and Galarraga, and playing in mis-shapen Mile High Stadium (330 feet down the LF line, 375 to RF), will finish 67-95. But they will persevere, and pull off a miraculous turnaround, led by some spotty pitching (due mainly to the rarefied air in Denver) but thunderous hitting, and they will become, at that time, the fastest team to make the Postseason when they became the first Wildcard team in National League History in 1995.

They haven't made the playoffs since. But they play in a much nicer ballpark now.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Remember The Maine!

Wednesday night was a pretty huge night in New York sports. The Rangers wiped the Atlanta Thrashers off the boards, sweeping their first round playoff series. The Devils won to tie their series with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Ice-Landers (my nod to Steve Somers) lost, and trail the Buffalo Sabres in their series. The Knicks season came to its merciful end with a rare victory. The Yankees took out the Indians in the Bronx. The Nets (amateurish as they are) also played, and I think they won too. Elsewhere, Chicago's Mark Buehrle hurled a No-Hitter against Texas. Big games, big performances all around.

But seemingly lost in the shuffle was the effort turned in by John Maine last night in Florida.

Aided by good nights for Reyes, Wright and Beltran, the Mets knocked around Dontrelle, and Maine stifled the Marlins, taking a No-Hitter of his own into the 7th, departing after 7 strong innings, giving up 2 runs and earning his second victory of the season.

We've written plenty about Maine in this blog already, within two short months. As one of five Key Mets players in particular, we feel that he's going to be able to shoulder the load that is being placed on him. Yes, it's a lot to put on someone who had, coming into the season, boasted a 9-9 record in a career spanning merely 29 games and 145 innings pitched in the Major Leagues.

But there's something about Maine. I noted this last week, following El Guapo's post about Perez's miserable outing last week against Philadelphia. I agree with him that it's difficult to really make a solid prediction about just how well he'll do. But with each outing, he gives us good reason to be optimistic about his chances to succeed. Maine finished off last season with a superb outing in Game 6 of the Cardinals series. We've talked about that to death. But he came into the spring with a chip on his shoulder, still feeling like he had something to prove. His outings in the Spring went mostly un-noticed, mainly because, well, they're Spring Training games. I know he did well, he had a couple of rough outings, which was to be expected, but all I seemed to notice was that, while the Mets looked listless and lost a lot of games during Spring Training, none of those key starting pitchers (Maine, Perez, Pelfrey) ever seemed to be the focal point of the losses. So we came into the season with that guarded optimism. And, so far, Maine has come to the forefront as stepping it up once the games counted. Yes, it's barely 3 weeks into the season. Yes, it's only 3 starts. But what's impressed me is Maine's ability to pitch, not simply throw, as many Pitchers often do. Maine has had one "difficult" outing so far, the home opener on April 9th, when it's easy to be overly amped. And in some chilly temperatures (although it was lovely in the sun), Maine missed with a lot of his breaking pitches, gave up 5 hits and walked 6, not making it out of the 5th inning. But, unlike Perez two nights later, Maine only allowed 2 runs, and made big pitches to get himself out of jams that could have turned very ugly. In the 3rd, the Phils loaded the bases with no outs. But Maine was able to minimize the damage, allowing a sac fly to Utley, before striking out Howard and getting Burrell to pop out. Again, in the 4th, Maine would load the bases, but this time, he got a fielders choice on a weak grounder to first by Hamels before getting Rollins to hit into an inning ending DP. Again, making key pitches in key spots.

Now, I'm not saying that Maine isn't going to be perfect every time out, and he's certainly not going to run off a string of starts like his first in St. Louis and last night in Florida. Sometimes, he'll probably be flat-out maddening. But, more often than not, he's going to put forth a quality effort, and I think it's safe to say that we can count on that out of him.

Also noted on Tuesday night in Philadelphia: David Wright had singled (and had 2 hits last night) to extend his hitting streak to 25 games, which would be a club record, that had been held by Hubie Brooks and Mike Piazza. As Gary Cohen astutely mentioned, this is incorrect. Brooks and Piazza accomplished their 24 game hitting streaks in one season, while Wright's streak is over two seasons. Although many seem to insist that the record is officially Wright's, you are dealing with two different categories of streak. Wright is certainly on his way to establishing a club mark, and it appears that his swing is finally coming around (and perhaps he took my advice and dialed up Julia Stiles). So maybe we can put the whole hooha about his struggles to rest. 11 games away now.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

God Bless You, Charlie Manuel

The Mets finally got back there on the field and administered a one-game sweep of the Phils. So convincing and demoralizing was it that Charlie Manuel threatened to fight a Philly radio host.

Turns out ol' Red Devil has some fight in him, more than his team does at this point, seeing as how they went 0-13 with runners in scoring position.

Personally I don't think there's anything wrong with the Phils that a decent middle reliever won't solve, and one of those guys will either emerge or he won't. Why they didn't deal Leiber in the offseason for a good arm they could take a chance on—their version of Bannister-for-Burgos—is beyond me. I assume they tried and the deal wasn't there, but I don't know.

For the Mets, Tom Glavine battled all night to get a feel for his pitches. One of the announcers—I think it was Gary Cohen—expressed surprise that they didn't readjust the rotation to give Glavine a start in Florida instead, given his history of circulation problems and need for a lot of feel in his fingertips to get his pitches over where he wants them. That made some sense to me, but I think a big part of being the ace is being the guy to take the ball on nights like last night. And in the absence of one of those fireballing power guys in the rotation, the guy who needs no such dainty "feel" on his pitches and could fire 96 MPH fastballs unscathed through a tornado, who else would the Mets give last night's start to? Nah, let the old pro handle it and battle through.

I've really—however slowly—gained an appreciation for watching Glavine work. I think most of us greeted him with apprehension, even a little muted hostility, when he came over from the dark side. Like he might just be coming over to spy or sabotage from within. Most of his early results, especially against his former employers, only served to strengthen those feelings. He was never quite the epitome of the Annoying Robot Braves—that was always Maddux, of course—but he was right behind. The Vice Epitome. It took quite a while to even trust Glavine, let alone admire his work. And I'm sure there are plenty of Mets fans who haven't even reached the trust level yet.

Besides the ex-Brave factor and the poor start, Glavine actually has quite a bit more working against him when it comes to winning over your average Joey from Bayside and Vinnie from the Car Phone. He's blandly workmanlike on the mound and aloof off it, the polar opposite to the hyper-charismatic fan favorite Pedro. He hails from Massachusetts and has a whiff of the patrician New Englander about him. He's into hockey. There's something staunch and humorless about his Union-hood: when a sideline reporter breezily asked him, during the NHL strike, whether he'd like to go be a replacement player, he actually bristled at the obviously sore subject. Put simply, he's a serious man doing his job. Jose Reyes he ain't. Contrarian that I am, these are all the reasons I've come over the pro-Glavine camp so strongly (sometimes I think I'm the charter and only member of the pro-Glavine camp). I love the Mets, but I also love the anti-Met precisely because he's the anti-Met. I don't expect any of this to make any sense.

Glavine has jumped out to at 3-1 start and started quickly closing the gap to his 300th win, despite cold conditions and resulting walks. And I've started to enjoy watching him come back doggedly with changeup after changeup, bearing down until he gets the out he needs. It won't ever be as fun as watching, say, El Duque spin a start out of the well of his creative genius, inventing pitches, following whims, tossing in the occasional eephus, conducting a one-man orhecstra. It's something, though, seeing Glaving go about his business. Last night he got out of two-on, no-out situations in the fifth and sixth innings before the Mets had broken open their lead, in the fifth striking Utley and Howard out back to back. Maybe he was never a robot after all.


UPDATE: Word this afternoon that the Phillies have made the bewildering move of sending ace Brett Myers to the pen to set up Flash Gordon. He'll be replaced in the rotation by Jon Leiber.'s Jayson Stark calls it a desperation move (Insider req'd), and I have to agree. Quoth Stark:

The Phillies' Plan A last winter was for Myers to morph into Curt Schilling Jr. at the top of the rotation, and for Garcia to replace Jon Lieber in the rotation, and for Lieber then to get dealt for some reliable bullpen monster who could close when necessary.

But that plan derailed when the Phillies couldn't find a match for Lieber. And now the whole team has derailed, in part because its bullpen has had that train-wreck look since Day 1 of spring training.

I guess poor old Charlie Manuel really has gone batty.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Although much of the Major League slate for today was rained out, it was interesting to see which players would be doing their part to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Some teams, most notably Robinson's own Dodgers, as well as the Astros, Cardinals, Brewers, Phillies and Pirates, wore, or planned to have everyone on the team dress in number 42 for the day.

Robinson's #42 had been retired in perpetuity in a ceremony at Shea Stadium in 1997. Any player who had already been wearing 42 could continue to wear it, but it could never be issued to a new player afterwards. Several players were grandfathered in to the number. The Yankees Mariano Rivera is the only active player remaining. The last player to be issued 42 was Marc Sagmoen, a little known outfielder for the Texas Rangers.

Willie Randolph was to be the only member of the Mets to wear 42 today. He'll instead wear it on Friday evening, when the Mets return home to play Atlanta. 42 has become a symbol of the spirit of Jackie Robinson across all sports, and before it was retired, many players wore the number in his honor, much in the same way that many Venezuelans wear 13 in honor of Dave Concepcion, and Puerto Ricans wear 21 to honor Roberto Clemente.

But although Concepcion and Clemente did leave their own indelible marks on the game, Robinson's legacy outshines both of them. Here's a partial list of the "All 42" team that did or planned to dress in 42 today: Gary Matthews, Jr., Milton Bradley, Rich Harden, Vernon Wells, Frank Thomas, Royce Clayton, Derrek Lee, Cliff Floyd, Jacque Jones, Carl Crawford, Orlando Hudson, Tony Clark, Barry Bonds, C.C. Sabathia, Grady Sizemore, Josh Barfield, Dontrelle Willis, Dmitri Young, Corey Patterson, Mike Cameron, Kenny Lofton, Reggie Sanders, La Troy Hawkins, Coco Crisp, David Ortiz, Gary Sheffield, Curtis Granderson, Craig Monroe, Torii Hunter, Rondell White, Ivan Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and, of course, Ken Griffey, Jr., who started this idea in the first place.

The Mets have had their share of 42s throughout their history as well. None of them ever come close to having the impact on Baseball that Jackie Robinson did, but many of them left an imprint on the Mets. Special thanks to the good people at (temporarily here for a site redesign) for making this search very easy.

Mo Vaughn was grandfathered into the clause while he played with the Boston Red Sox. He maintained the use of 42 while with the Anaheim Angels for two seasons, and the Mets broke out the number for him when he arrived in 2002. Although we all know that Mo's heart was always in the right place, and he came with the perfect outgoing attitude for survival in New York, he proved to be grossly and ridiculously out of shape, coming off a biceps injury that caused him to miss the entire 2001 season. Yes, he had his moments with the Mets, including a game winning HR against Wells and the Yankees, and his scoreboard-shattering HR off the Budweiser sign against Atlanta, but he could barely bend over to pick up a ground ball, and when he dove, it registered on the Richter scale. A chronically arthritic knee forced Mo into retirement in 2003, which proved to be more beneficial to the Mets, as it allowed younger, more able players to see time in the lineup. Among Mo's legacy with the Mets is this sandwich, the Mo-Licious, which was available at the Carnegie Deli. I don't think you can get it anymore. Who would want it? Who can eat that? Just looking at that picture hardens my arteries.

Butch Huskey, in addition to having signed El Guapo's glove a generation ago, was another Met 42. Butch was the original Met grandfathered into the 42 clause, having worn 42 at Shea on the night the number was retired. Huskey's legacy with the Mets is similar to Vaughn's. An engaging personality with tons of promise and power potential that went mostly unrealized, due to injuries and inconsistency. Huskey wasn't nearly as out of shape as Vaughn, and he didn't have a sandwich named after him, but he would give the Mets glimpses of greatness, only to end up stagnating. In 1996, Huskey went on a record setting power binge in Spring Training, whacking 9 HRs, and earning himself the cleanup spot in the batting order, Huskey hit .226 with 1 HR in April, and struggled to keep himself in the lineup the rest of that season. He started on the bench in 1997, but ended up in the lineup by May, and responded with a brilliant season, hitting 24 HRs, driving in 81, while hitting .287. But counted on to provide the spark with Hundley injured in 1998, again, Huskey faltered, only managing to hit .252 with 13 HRs before a hamstring injury in August ended his season, and his Mets career.

Roger McDowell also wore 42, during his time with the Mets. There was no Grandfather involved here, as it was more than 10 years prior to the retirement of 42. McDowell was, while wearing the Mets uniform, by far and away the most successful 42 in club history. McDowell was also one of the most noted characters in team history, and between his hotfoots, his array of masks, and his other assorted practical jokes, he became legendary with all Mets fans for his sense of humor. He performed just as well on the mound for several seasons, where his sinker and his constant bubble-gum blowing were always a welcome sight on some very successful Mets teams. McDowell left in 1989, in the ill advised Juan Samuel deal, but he is forever lionized in the hearts of Mets fans for his role on the '86 Championship team.

Ron Hodges wore 42 longer than any other Met ever did. And he didn't do much to make sure you remembered him. Not related to Gil, Ron Hodges spent the better part of 12 seasons as a career backup catcher, filling in as needed for Jerry Grote, John Stearns, Alex Trevino and Mike Fitzgerald, while never playing in more than 110 games in any given season between 1973 and 1984. Hodges would be the kind of gritty, gutty player you'd remember as being a key cog on a great team, except that none of the Mets teams that Hodges played for were particularly good, and Hodges himself wasn't very good either. But I'm told he was, and probably still is, a very nice man.

Rounding out the Mets 42s, Ron Taylor, a pitcher who was a key swing man out of the bullpen for the 1969 Mets, Larry Elliot, a ragtag Outfielder who never amounted to much, and Chuck Taylor, who was neither a mass murderer or a shoemaker.

None of these players hold a candle to Jackie Robinson. He didn't change the game by himself, but the game couldn't have changed without him.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

What Is an Arm Slot Anyway?

Well, that blew. Last night in freezing cold temperatures Oliver Perez joined the A.J. Burnett All-Stars—pitchers who this season have had one great outing and one bad outing—joining teammate John Maine, Andy Pettitte, to a lesser extent Greg Maddux, and a few others. You probably know the line score by now: 2 1/3 innings, seven walks, and three runs "driven in" by two walks and a hit batsman. (As an aside, why is a batter a batter but when he's hit by a pitch he becomes a hit "batsman"? He's never called a hit batter, and you wouldn't say "Perez has walked seven batsmen tonight." I think we should all start working in "batsman" more often, though not in reference to our co-ed softball teams.)

I was at the game, and the good news was that we were in the mezzanine, and the bad news was everything else. Okay, that wasn't all the good news. The sausage and peppers are still killer, Aaron Sele threw four solid innings of relief that kept the Mets in the game, and I didn't lose any toes to hypothermia. I came to a couple of realizations while trying to maintain feeling in my extremities: 1) Anyone who wants my Section 40 upper-deck seats can have them for face value; I'm devoted to the mezzanine now. 2) This rotation thing is shaping up to be something unpredictable. The first couple weeks have proved that both the naysayers and the blind optimists (including yours truly) have spoken too soon and are in for an up-and-down season. We never had any real right to make bold predictions about Maine and Perez (not to mention Pelfrey). We know Maine's a good pitcher and should succeed, but we also should know that his 15 starts last year don't add up to much in the long run in terms of making predictions that hold water.

And Oliver. Oliver is who we thought he was, which is to say we have no idea what he is, because we never did. His inconsistency makes him so much more of an enigma than Victor Zambrano ever was, because you came to count on Z's lousy outings and trust that he would never be able to pull it together. Perez still holds out the tantalizing promise of masterful outings, when everything is in the strike zone but moving well and dancing away from the bats. His seven walks last night matched his total for 25 2/3 spring training innings. I don't know if it was the cold, if he lost his arm slot, or what. But I think about that start against the Braves and despite myself my optimism comes creeping back.

I'm giving Ollie a pass on this one (appropriate, since he gave a pass to every Phillie last night) and falling back on the ol' wait-and-see.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Visions of Opening Day

As El Guapo noted, we were in attendance for yesterday's Home Opener. I am often apt to bring a camera with me and yesterday was no different. For those of you who were not in attendance, have yet to pass by Shea lately, or are not in New York and just wanted a quick glimpse of our beloved Shea (while it lasts), I offer you the day in pictures.

Get ready for a lot of this, folks. It's the first thing you see as you walk over the ramp coming out of the 7 train. Citi Field is coming, and there's nothing we can do to stop it! Of course, since I got to the Stadium at about 10:30, the ramp wasn't actually open yet. They were still figuring out how to make it as difficult to get in and out of the Subway station.

Here, they're laying out the starting lineup above the ticket booth by Gate E.

And now, they're done. However, take a closer look. Something is not quite right here...

(Not seen: The two guys standing up there yelling at each other, and correcting the mistake)

"Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends. We're so glad you could attend. Come inside, come inside."
-Emerson, Lake and Palmer

Welcome to the Citi Field era. The Stadium is barely a skeleton, but its presence is already felt. Remember the Banco Popular era? Well, it's gone. All the ATMs have been changed over. Now, these cute little Citi ATMs are present every few feet, replete with little informational zippers that often read "LET'S GO METS!" Get used to them.

That we need a Subway at Shea Stadium just slays me. El Guapo and I have just downed our breakfast of Footlong Hot Dogs with sauerkraut from Nathans. That's the quintessential ballpark food. I remember when they first opened the food court in the RF corner in the Field Level. It was basically an overglorified concession stand that they called "Fielder's Choice." No brand names, no chains, just the basic crap you could get anyplace else. More or less. Now the entire area smells from Donuts.

More Dunkin Donuts. Much like the giant Coke bottle in the bleachers at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco, Shea can now boast a ridiculous outfield advertisement. Folks, meet the Giant Cup of Iced Coffee in the visitor's bullpen!

I wonder if the player who banks a HR off the cup will win free Donuts or Coffee? If so, my bet is Carlos Lee comes in here gunning for it.

But Endy's corner lives on.

Here's some better looks at the construction, taken from Section 32 in the Loge.

And a better, and much more frightening look at the cup. The Denszlow Cup it ain't.

And here's Tom Gordon, very classy, tossing a couple of balls to some old guy who was yelling for him to throw him a ball.

It wouldn't have seemed so strange if he'd had a kid with him. But he didn't.

And now, the festivities have begun. The lineups are announced, Jimmy Rollins is heartily booed, as are the rest of the Phillies. Biggest ovations for the Mets? Jose Reyes, David Wright, Tom Glavine, John Maine and Endy Chavez. And why not? Glavine may have been cheered louder here than he was at any point during his first 3 seasons with the Mets.

And with the Shofar about to be blown, we are ready to commence with the season!

And, we're off!

I'm not much for taking pictures during the game, especially from my high vantage point. It's difficult to be ready at specific moments, unless I was going to hold up my camera at all moments. And my batteries would die if I did that. In fact, they almost died at several points during the game anyway. But I have what I have. And here, we have Jose Reyes about to lead off in the 1st.

And the first "Jose-Jose-Jose" chant of the year is about to begin.

Obligatory scoreboard photo, here in the last of the 8th, as Endy is at bat, following the 7 run explosion off the Phils awful bullpen.

And here's Endy at the dish.

Wagner on in the 9th.

A quick 1-2-3 inning, and the Mets have themselves yet another victory in their Home Opener.

And we wish each of you the best of luck trying to get out of the Stadium. If there was a shuttle being run to the LIRR station, we didn't see it. I heard stories of people being stuck for 45 minutes on that ramp. However, El Guapo and I were not among them. For we learned a little trick last season that saved us some time and guaranteed us seats on the train ride back. But don't think I'm making that secret public knowledge. Otherwise, everyone else will do it.

But, thus, a fine afternoon was had by all in attendance this afternoon, and we look forward to doing it again, many times over, with, hopefully, similar results.