Monday, May 19, 2008

Jumping Someone Else's Train

Just as it seemed like the Mets were pretty close to slipping off into a season of mediocrity, replete with a clueless Manager presiding over an uncontrollable, unhappy group of uninspired players who seemed more interested in griping to the press about each other rather than trying to right a sinking ship, the Mets were met with...rain.

Friday night brought torrential downpours and the postponement of the first Subway Series game of the year in the Bronx, the fourth game of the 20-game stretch that could very well define their season. After a 1-2 start against the weakest opponent they'll face, the Mets went into the Bronx with a whimper. Not exactly the way the Mets wanted to head into the important games that everyone likes to downplay as unimportant—Especially when the Mets are struggling.

It also brought a closed-door, closed-lipped team meeting, called by their suddenly embattled manager. If this couldn't turn the tide, well, what was left to be done? The rain continued well into the night, and it wouldn't be until the following day that we would see how, if at all, the Mets would respond.

Two days later, the response has been loud and clear: This team cares. They want to win, and they will rally around each other to make it happen. Neither game started especially well for the Mets, but working behind their quick-strike offense that only sporadically shows up, they got themselves going in the 4th inning both days. The start on Saturday was certainly inauspicious, beginning with Santana walking Damon and giving up a HR to Jeter, but then again, Cap'n Jetes always homers against the Mets, doesn't he? Later, it was Church continuing to play unconsciously solid baseball, contributing a key relay throw to nail Damon at home plate on a brilliant plate-blocking job by Schneider. The Mets held the Yankees where they were, and finally, the Mets responded against Pettitte in that 4th inning, stringing together a few hits, a bases-loaded walk (to Schneider, who was unassumingly in the middle of everything Saturday), and capped off by a 40-foot roller by Castillo, the kind of lucky fluke hit that seemed to be eluding the Mets over the course of the season.

With the ball in Santana's hands, things settled down. Yes, he allowed 3 HRs. But when 3 HRs produce only 4 runs, and those 4 runs are the only runs he allows, all he needs is his offense to show up and produce. And after the Mets got those 3 in the 4th, they added on with 3 more in the 7th, on a pair of HRs from Reyes and Wright. Yes, Reyes HRs aren't always welcome, and he certainly hasn't been playing the kind of ball he should be from a fundamental standpoint. And the more he does it, the more he seems to think he's a 50-50 candidate. But a HR is a HR is a HR nonetheless, and when it serves as an insurance run in a 3-2 game, how can I complain too much?

On the other hand, Wright's HR was a thing of beauty; the shot drilled to the opposite field that seems to have been lacking from his repertoire this season. You know Wright is on top of his game when he starts hammering pitches to the right-center field gap. His HR on Saturday was a good start. It remains to be seen if he can keep it up.

Santana departed in the 8th, bridging the gap all the way to Wagner, the center of the controversy, who got himself a rare 4-out save, preserved the bullpen and gave the Mets a resounding 7-4 victory in a game they pretty much had to win.

But one win does not a season make, and the Mets have been hard-pressed to string victories together. And considering how inconsistent Oliver Perez has been lately, confidence wasn't exactly inspired going into The Biggest Game In The Galaxy on Sunday night.

Confidence be damned.

After a fairly sloppy start, with Perez and Wang dueling zeroes through 3 innings and Reyes getting nabbed on another head-scratching intangible-lacking play in the 4th inning, the Mets again appeared primed to go back into the tank. Only a matter of time until the Yankees strike against Perez, and Wang will go right back to being unhittable.

Instead, the Mets did something they hadn't done in a while: They played patient offense, waiting out Wang, laying off the dinky little sliders and sitting on the strikes, pushing 4 runs across the plate that could have easily been 6 had the umpires gotten the call on Delgado's non-HR right (funny how these HR/non-HR calls always seem to happen to the Mets in Yankee Stadium...).

In the bottom of the 4th, Perez responded by giving up a hit to Jeter, and a HR to Hideki Matsui. Two batters later, he hit Robinson Cano. Here we go again. Perez was about to meltdown into one of his innings where he gives up 6 runs, gets frustrated and things snowball. Delgado came to talk to him, Schneider came to the mound, and so did Peterson.

Whatever was said worked. Perez regained his composure, got out of the inning and allowed 1 hit the rest of the way, working all the way out to the 8th inning. Go figure. Instead of being the Ollie who makes me tear my hair out, he stopped, caught his breath and turned back into Big-Game Ollie, the pitcher who tossed shutout ball against the Yankees last year on that very same mound. Ollie did his thing through the 5th, 6th and 7th, and the Quick-strike offense did their thing in the 8th, buoyed by another Reyes HR (Fine, if you plan on hitting singles and stealing bases the following week, Jose), and plated 6 runs, eliminating the drama and putting the game out of reach, cementing their second straight crisp, clean, resounding victory against the Yankees, sweeping the abbreviated Subway Series (the completion of which still remains a mystery).

You can't help but be pleased by what you saw over the weekend, even if you're the most pessimistic kind of Mets fan. But these Mets have a habit of exciting you, then pulling the rug out from under you. This week won't be any easier for the Mets, as they go on a 7 game road trip, beginning with a Tuesday Doubleheader in Atlanta that will surely set the tone for the rest of the week.

It's going to be very interesting to watch. Death Cab will be on the mound in the opener against The Devastator. If the bats are indeed coming around, if the Mets are indeed now a unified team ready to take on the world, well, we all know what the results should be. But we just have to hold our breath and watch.

For the 20 19 games: 3-2.

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