Monday, June 30, 2008

The Moment's Over

It's nice, I suppose, to enjoy the fact that the Mets, for only the second time since we've been doing this whole midseason Subway Series challenge, won the season series from the Yankees with their victory on Sunday. After Friday evening and Saturday, it certainly didn't appear that way.

When these games go on, New York tends to become pretty Baseball-centric. Friday afternoon, I had the game on the radio in my office, and people kept poking their heads in to see what was going on. As I had anticipated, the Mets took 3 hours and 54 minutes to thrash the Yankees 15-6 on Friday afternoon. We all know by now about Carlos Delgado's Miracle Game, where he appeared to take advantage of some awful Yankee pitching and show us all what he used to be, blasting 2 HRs and driving in 9 runs, setting a Mets record in the process. But before Delgado took over, the Mets seemed rather fortunate to be in the game, as Pelfrey really bulldogged his way through 5 innings, getting in, and then out of jams, while the Mets did the same to Dan Giese. Meanwhile, the game moved at a snail's pace, and when it finally concluded, it was about 6:02pm, leaving both clubs about 2 hours to get over to Shea for the nightcap. I would assume the teams changed while in the buses over the Triborough Bridge, because somehow, they managed to start the second game at 8:10pm, right on time.

The Mets then proceeded to go out and do the absolute opposite of what they did in the afternoon. Where, in the day game, they got the clutch hit and hit the big home run, at night, they did a pretty good job of making Sidney Ponson look like an Ace, and not a washed-up drunkard. Here, it was Pedro, continuing to show that time may well be catching up with him, coming out and having another Oliver Perez outing, throwing shutout ball into the 4th before allowing the Yankees to dink and dunk him to death. I only paid halfhearted attention to the game, and at some point, I heard a score of 2-0, and then came back some time later and heard a score of 9-0, at which point I shut the radio off. That, my friends, is the epitome of a lost cause.

Saturday, I brushed that game off and caught most of the late afternoon affair, switching between the Radio and TV on a pretty regular basis. It was, more or less a blur, although in many ways, it seemed to mirror this game from last season, not so much because of the score, but in the fact that a) The Yankees managed to win the game on the basis of getting hits when they needed to get them, and b) The Game being delayed by rain, even though it wasn't raining much at all where I was. It was already 2-1 when I moved to the TV, just in time to see Jose Reyes pull a Jose Reyes and get himself picked off second base with 2 outs and David Wright up. It figured, then, that Wright would subsequently hit a HR off Pettitte leading off the next inning, Rain Delay or not. I lost interest during the delay, the Cubs/White Sox game wasn't quite enough to hold my attention, and I was back to the radio by time the game resumed. I went back to the TV later on, around 8pm, in time to see Mariano Rivera make Carlos Delgado look sad on three cutters, and that was pretty much that.

Sunday, of course, I was at the game, my annual trip to the Subway Series. The Mets have had an every other year thing with me at these games. One year, they win and look good doing so. The next year, they lose and look awful. It's been that way since 2004. So, after seeing John Maine get lit up last year, I figured I ought to be in for a victory in '08, and I was. Oliver Perez had a start that was less Oliver Perez and more Oliver's Army, throwing by far and away his best game of the season over his 7 innings of work. While there are games when Oliver could go a few innings and look somewhat shaky before falling apart completely, there are also games where you can tell in the first couple of innings that he's going to dominate, and you could see that yesterday, particularly after he blew Johnny Damon away in the top of the 1st. Perez didn't allow a hit until the 4th, after the Mets were able to scratch out a run in the 2nd, and Delgado got his first hit since Friday afternoon, a long HR in the 3rd, and kept his shutout into the 7th, when Wilson Betemit broke that up with a HR. The start is great, and even more encouraging when you realize Perez didn't walk anyone. But he never seems to be able to build on starts like this. That's why it's frustrating.

The crowd, for the most part, seemed pretty partisan throughout the game. The Yankee fans were there, although it seemed like many of them showed up late, and none of them made much noise until Betemit's HR, when they got up and tried to take over, at least until Perez got out of the 7th. Still, the game was closer than it needed to be, and when A-Rod's long fly ball in the 9th proved not deep enough, the game almost got away from the Mets. 12 hits producing only 3 runs does not a winning team make. But I'll take the win.

So, with the madness now complete, both teams can go their separate ways and get back to the realities of regular Baseball. For the Mets, it's nice to win the season series from the Yankees. Now get over it. The Mets have to go to St. Louis and Philadelphia, two places where there are no fond memories. The Cart'nalls, after not having a good year last year, have resurged as a contender this year, holding a solid lead in the Wildcard race and hanging tough with the Cubs. And Philly is Philly. This week will tell us a lot about the Mets this season. Then again, I've said this before and we didn't learn anything. I guess the only given is that the Mets begin an 8-game road trip tonight.

Coming Tomorrow: The Subway Series from in and around Shea.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Lost Classics: July 2, 2004

This was tied for the winner of the Choose the Lost Classic for 2004 Poll. I guess that means I have to write about all 3 games.

The 2004 Mets were, for the most part, a forgettable team. Led by Art Howe, the Mets featured what looked, on paper, to be a fairly formidable roster, featuring Mike Piazza, Mike Cameron, Cliff Floyd and a Japanese import playing at Shortstop, Kaz Matsui. A ballyhooed offseason acquisition, Matsui was so highly touted as a Shortstop that the Mets went so far as to move top prospect Jose Reyes to second base in order to make room for Matsui. Reyes relented, then proceeded to miss the first two and a half months of the season with a hamstring injury. Matsui homered on the first pitch he ever saw in the Major leagues, and went on to pop several more HRs, all of them leading off the game. But, for the most part, the Mets were pretty flat. But they hung tough in the NL East, and they stood merely 2 games out of first place, behind Florida and Philadelphia, when the Yankees came to Shea for the second half of the 2004 Subway Series. One weekend prior, the Mets took one of three from the Yankees in the Bronx. But the Mets didn't rate against the Yankees, it seemed. There was, in fact, such a lack of interest in the Subway Series this season, that tickets for all three games at Shea remained available up to a week prior to the game. I noticed this while looking at around that time, and immediately called El Guapo. The Guap had recently moved to New York, and jumped at the chance to go to a Subway Series game. So we snapped up a pair of Mezzanine seats for the Friday night game, July 2nd.

We would be in for one of the great surprise performances of the season.

It was a miserably humid day that Friday. We met in Union Square at around 5:15 and took the train out to Shea. The Stadium was moderately full when we arrived, close to 6pm, and fans continued to file in pretty regularly. All told, the attendance would be 55,068 for the game, impressive considering it wasn't sold out a week before. The Yankee contingent was certainly there, although, it seemed, they were mostly confined to the upper reaches of the stadium. In the Mezzanine, section 26, we were surrounded by mostly Mets fans. But where, at times, the crowd will get rowdy and nasty, tonight, for the most part, things seemed calm and harmonious, even before the game, when the rains came and delayed the start for almost 40 minutes. As the rain finally stopped and the tarp was removed, we were entertained by some horrendous singers from a Broadway Musical whose title escapes me. El Guapo and I took this opportunity to go and grab something to eat. Most of the concession stands were jammed, although we found a short line near our section. The pickings were rather slim. We each settled on the Cascarino's Pizza, which sounded like a good idea at the time. We expected a mini-pizza, like you used to be able to get at Shea. We returned to our seats and opened the box. There it was. A sorry, solitary pizza slice that appeared to be a relic from the Bobby Valentine era. It had all the consistency of a manhole cover and the box it came in probably had more flavor. "Here comes Botulism," I said, as I crunched into it. Following a discussion as to what would actually give you Botulism, we vowed never to make a similar mistake again.

Meanwhile, as the singers droned on, the fans began to get restless. "START THE GAME!" I screamed. "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!" The fans around me laughed in agreement. Finally, at 7:52, the game began, with Steve Trachsel taking the mound for the Mets against Mike Mussina. Clearly, a mismatch, though to that point in the season, Trachsel had been outperforming the dainty Mussina, boasting an ERA nearly a point lower. Trachsel started off strong, getting Bernie Williams to pop out, and Derek Jeter, his face all banged up following his signature intangible catch against the Red Sox the previous evening, grounded out. Gary Sheffield flied to left, and Trachsel had eased through the first. So far, so good.

The Mets came out ready to attack Mussina. Jose Reyes flied out and Kaz Matsui followed by grounding out. Piazza followed with a hard single to left, in between Jeter and A-Rod. Cliff Floyd followed by ripping a hard shot deep in the gap in left center. Hideki Matsui and Bernie Williams gave it chase, and it appeared Matsui would run it down. But as soon as Matsui got a glove on it, he slammed into the wall, and dropped the ball. Piazza, running all the way, scored from first, and Floyd was on second on Matsui's error. Richard Hidalgo, brought in in a June trade with the Astros, and enjoying a short-lived hot streak, followed by drilling one well over Williams' head for an RBI double, scoring Floyd and staking the Mets to an early 2-0 lead. Shane Spencer grounded out, but the Mets had broken the ice.

It would only get better.

Trachsel would cruise through the top of the 2nd, only allowing a 2-out single to Jorge Posada. A-Rod led off the inning by getting heckled by just about everyone in the section before grounding back to Trachsel. In the Mets half of the 2nd, the Mets would continue their attack.. Eric Valent poked a rare single to right with 1 out. Trachsel sacrificed Valent over to 2nd. Reyes would follow with a ground ball towards the middle. Miguel Cairo, playing second for the Yankees, made a valiant dive to come up with it, but had no play on the speedy Reyes, as Valent advanced to 3rd. Kaz Matsui followed. After Mussina threw to first a couple of times, and missed outside on the first pitch to Matsui, Kaz swung and lifted a high fly ball out to right. In the humid air, the ball continued to carry and carry, and Sheffield chased it back until he ran out of room, and the ball landed just over the 371 sign for a 3-run HR. Now, we're talking! Now, all the Mets fans are up and making noise. That's the kind of hit we were looking for out of Kaz.

Kaz's 2-out hit put the Mets up 5-0, and put pressure on the Yankees to come back. But with the lead, Trachsel went into lockdown mode, a form that he would exhibit from time to time, but would be all too fleeting when he would need it the most. But this evening, Trachsel cruises, setting down the Yankees in order in the 3rd and 5th, and only allowing a leadoff walk to Jeter in the 4th. On the other side, Mussina settled down as well, retiring the Mets in order in the 3rd and 4th.

But in the 5th, the Mets would extend their lead. Piazza led off with a hard single to left. After Floyd struck out, Richard Hidalgo, after falling behind 0-2, got a fastball from Mussina and absolutely parked it, a no-doubt HR that sailed into the Bleachers in Left. 7-0 Mets. Now, the Mets fans are jumping and dancing and randomly high-fiving everyone, the Yankee fans are shrugging and saying, "Oh, well," and everyone's having a grand old time. Even the lone transplanted bleacher bum sitting two sections over.

Finally, in the 6th, the Yankees break through, capitalizing on some sloppy Mets defense. Kenny Lofton led off, pinch hitting for Mussina, done after allowing 7 runs and 9 hits in his 5 innings, and hit a dinky dribbler in front of the plate. But Lofton, known for his speed, busts it down the line, and when Piazza's hurried throw sails wide and into the seats, Lofton takes second on the error. Williams follows by striking out, but Trachsel then walks Jeter. Sheffield follows by ripping a line shot towards Ty Wigginton at 3rd. It has all the makings of a DP ball, but it goes right through Wigginton's legs for another error. Lofton scores, Jeter goes to 3rd and Sheffield makes it all the way to 2nd. And, even though they trail 7-1, all the Yankee fans suddenly come to life. "WIGGLE MY BALLS!" screams the Bleacher Bum. "MEATHEAD!" we fire back. Still, knowing the Yankees and their propensity to score 7 runs in the blink of an eye, there's a moment of trepidation. Rodriguez follows by flying deep to right, a long drive that carries back to the warning track before Hidalgo runs it down, but Jeter tags and scores to make the score 7-2. Trachsel, however, gets Matsui to ground out to end the inning.

5 runs doesn't seem like enough against this team. We need some more.

Bret Prinz enters for the Yankees in the 6th inning, and with 1 out, he allows a clean single right back up the box by Trachsel. After Reyes strikes out, it's Kaz Matsui up again. Kaz works a 3-0 count, before taking a strike and fouling off a pitch. On 3-2, Kaz swings and blasts another drive, deep and high and out, and, unlike his first HR, there was no doubt about this one as it sails into the Mets bullpen.

There's those runs we needed. The fans are delirious. Cliff Floyd and Mike Cameron need to show Kaz how to take a curtain call, which he takes. A salute to an unlikely Subway Series hero.

With their 7-run lead back, the rest of the game seems more or less academic. Trachsel eases through the 7th, then departs. The Mets add two more runs in the 7th off Prinz, courtesy of a 2-out rally started by a Shane Spencer single, a long Ty Wigginton double to deep center, and a triple from Valent that very nearly goes out of the ballpark before bouncing around the Left Field corner. The Yankee fans give up and depart with an 11-2 score. Most of the Mets fans, and just about everyone in our section stick around, enjoying a rare moment when the Mets and their fans can sit back, relax and enjoy kicking the Yankees' asses. Williams, Jeter, Sheffield and Hideki Matsui are all pulled from the game in the 8th, and Jose Parra and Orber Moreno combine to keep the Yankees at bay in the 8th and 9th, Moreno finishing the game off with a strikeout of Miguel Cairo. We go home full of mirth and merriment, kicking off the Subway Series with a rousing 11-2 victory.

Late that night, El Guapo receives a phone call from Shirts vs. Blouses, who at the time was living in San Francisco. He's out drinking at around 10pm. El Guapo, in New York, is asleep at 1am. El Guapo answers his phone. "KAZ MATSUI!!! KAZ MATSUI!!!" Shirts screams.

The Mets will go on to beat the Yankees again on Saturday and close out their first ever sweep of the Yankees with a victory on Sunday. It's not only the first time they've swept the Yankees, it's the first time they've taken the season series from the Yanks. But although the mojo of this series carries them for a few weeks, ultimately the Mets weaknesses will be exposed after several questionable deadline deals are made. Pitching is brought in, when the Mets sit near the top of the league in ERA, and close to the bottom in offense. Reyes will get injured again, Matsui will struggle both offensively and defensively, and Hidalgo will eventually come back to earth.

But it can't take away the magic of this Friday night, where the Mets asserted themselves and kick started a glorious weekend for us all.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Get Your Metrocards out...

The Subway Series that's about to take place this weekend really has a lot of interesting storylines to it, most notably that this could, perhaps, be the first Subway Series that neither team wins a game. The way both teams are going right now, they could just play 25 innings or more and not come to a conclusion.

It brings me to another intriguing storyline: Today. With the Make-up game from May 16th being played this afternoon at 2pm, both teams will have to make that legendary Bus trip from The Bronx, down the Major Deegan, over the Triborough, across the Grand Central Parkway and out to Shea Stadium for the 8pm start of the second game. In the past (and as documented by Todd Pratt in the 2000 Highlight Video), the teams have been given a Police escort for their trip.

There's one mitigating factor that could complicate this, however, and it does not involve the first game going 14 innings.

With the first game scheduled for 2pm, it will, more than likely, end at around 4:30 or 5pm 5 or 5:30pm (Forgot...It's the Yankees, so we're looking at nothing shorter than 3 hours). This would probably put the players on the road at around 6pm...right in the teeth of rush hour. How, exactly will they manage to get through the traffic? A police escort will help, but in the past, these Same Day/Different Stadium Doubleheaders have been played on Saturdays, when traffic wasn't an issue. Now, you're going to run into every schmo making their mass Exodus from the City to the Hamptons or the Berkshires or whatever Foofy weekend getaway they go to. The Deegan will be a mess, even if the traffic pattern is going in the opposite direction, the Triborough will be a disaster, and I don't even want to know about the Grand Central. A 45-minute trip could take an hour and a half in this kind of traffic.

There's really only one foolproof way to solve the problem.

Send them on the Subway! Bring back the classic Tin Can 4 and the Redbird 7 cars, and make a special Express charter train. On the 4, Yankees get the front 5 cars, Mets get the back 5 cars, switch 'em up at Grand Central, escort them from the 4 down the ramp to the 7, make sure the 7 is ready to go, Mets get the front 5 cars on the 7, Yankees in the back. Assuming there's no trouble, the trip should take about 45 minutes, tops. Have the players wave to the fans from the train. It's a great photo op, and a great way to send out both Stadiums in style.

I'll be at Sunday's game this weekend, a very, very rare Weekend Afternoon appearance at Shea. I had assumed, when I bought the package, that the game would be moved to Sunday night. Obviously, that didn't happen. I'll try to get through it. At least until it rains.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Don't be Fooled

Last night's victory wasn't anything for the Mets to write home about. For about 4 innings they looked rather good in spite of themselves and then reverted to their usual offensive power outage against a bullpen to rival in quality the 2007 Cincinnati Reds.

John Maine continued what has been a rather disturbing trend of throwing too many pitches and had himself gassed after 5 innings. There are 8-2 victories that look outstanding on all fronts, and then there are 8-2 victories like the Mets just had, where you're wondering why they didn't win 13-2 and why they had to use 4 pitchers to get through the game.

When you are playing a team, a real quality team like the Mariners (my pick to win the AL West!), it's important that you put your best foot forward, and, for the most part, the Mets didn't do that this week. They looked tired on Monday, patently awful on Tuesday, and I guess they won last night because they had to win eventually. They seem to have games like that, in the midst of stretches where they're playing miserable baseball, where they come up with an "Accidental Victory," a game where they sort of forcibly string a bunch of hits together, or the opposing team or the opposing pitcher is just so bad that the Mets can't help but rally.

Such is the case of last night's game. David Wright, after taking perhaps the most talked about day off in Mets History, came back and, not surprisingly, popped a pair of HRs, Jose Reyes followed up with one of his own, and the Mets were on their way, having sufficiently beaten up Jon Cunnilingus or whoever the hell was pitching for Seattle (note: I'm in the midst of my summer show, so these games pretty much happen on a rumor level for me) for 8 runs on a grand total of 5 hits, which I know the Mets somehow managed to accomplish earlier this season. I often think that when something like that happens, it's usually a case of the opposing team having a particularly shitty game, or the Mets just happening to come up with a clutch hit.

One out of 3 from the worst team in the league. Two out of three from the best team in the league.

This team makes me want to scream.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Existential Crisis

After Monday night's game, I received a phone call, at around 10:50pm from my co-worker, who was yelling and screaming about the Mets and David Wright and Ho-Jo, and summarily recapping everything that he's been complaining about for the past season or so. It's not so much that I disagree with him, I don't, but the timing and the length of the phone call, the contents of which could sufficiently be recapped in yesterday's post, got me to thinking.

What the hell am I doing?

Is this really worth it? Am I just wasting my time going to games and writing this thing?

Last night's game didn't give me anything more to write about the Mets than what I'd written Monday, or last week, or last month, or last year. There's nothing interesting going on here.

When I arrived home, already knowing the outcome of the game without having seen a second of the action, I looked at for the highlights. I could only find one, of course, Manuel and Beltran's ejections. Clearly, that was the only highlight of the game from the Mets fan perspective.

The game, already a mess at that point, continued to spiral out of control. I would guess there were about 400 people left in the stands. On WFAN, it was even worse. Callers, those who watched and those who were there, seemed frustrated and tired. People were complaining that the Mets weren't trying. We know they're trying. It's beyond the complaint and admission of last year that they weren't trying hard enough.

The problem right now is that they're just not good. This is not a good team, and I think it's making all of us just a little bit crazy right now. Even their wins over the past week haven't exactly been top-notch victories. Then again, as bipolar as the Mets have been, they could just as easily turn around and wheel off 5 of their next 7 or something like that.

But they don't inspire that kind of confidence, do they.

It still makes me wonder what the hell I'm doing this for. I have a feeling, sometimes, that I could just copy and paste one of my older posts and it could apply just as well to the team's current situation. I know it's cheating, but then again, I feel cheated by this team.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Statistical Bullshit

It's a good thing I wasn't watching the game last night.

There are many reasons why the above rings true. Watching the first Grand Slam by an American League pitcher in 37 years hit off of the $20,000,000 ace pitcher actually isn't so high up on that list. There's a lot that can be said about that, however I'll come back to that later.

The larger problem is, once again, the surfacing of the Impotent Offense that has plagued this team on a continuing basis.

In the 4th inning, Jose Reyes led off with a single. Luis Castillo followed by grounding into a Fielders Choice. David Wright followed that by hitting into a Double Play.

In the 5th inning, Carlos Beltran stole 3rd with Trot Nixon batting and 1 out. With Beltran on 3rd, Nixon struck out. Beltran scored on a dumb-luck Wild Pitch.

In the 6th inning, Luis Castillo walked. David Wright then struck out looking.

With the tying runs on base in the 9th inning, Carlos Delgado and Damion Easley struck out to end the ballgame.

When Hernandez's HR sailed over the wall, and it really did sail, it basically nailed the Mets coffin closed right there. There was no way they were going to score 4 runs, against Hernandez or whoever Seattle was throwing at them. After rolling through Colorado and scoring 11 runs in 3 games in a hitter's paradise (7 in one game, mind you), there was little reason for optimism. And, as the results above indicate, the feelings were well-justified.

It once again makes me ask the question: Why, then, when the starting pitching has been doing well, and the offense has been horrible, did it make sense for the Mets to fire the Pitching Coach and not the Hitting Coach?

I'd like someone to give me a good reason, and I mean a good reason, not, "Well, he's the Great Ho-Jo, he's a True Met, an organizational guy!" why this joker still has a job. I'd love to hear anyone's explanation. Please, feel free to comment with this. If someone can present me with an even halfway convincing argument, I will shut up about this. Otherwise, I'll continue to bitch about the offense and how a Good At Bat does not equate to scoring runs in the clutch.

While I'm on the topic of Bullshit, let's re-visit that Grand Slam. With 2 on and 2 out in the 3rd, David Wright, as he does sometimes, made an error, kicking the ball around at his feet and allowing the Mariners to load the bases. The photo on the left, I believe, is pretty self-explanatory. Johan Santana subsequently threw an absolute Meatball to the pitcher, Felix Hernandez, who took a Whac-a-Mole swing and hit the ball over the fence.

That is what it is. What really gets me is that the runs were unearned. So, you could argue, Santana pitched a great game. Only 1 earned run in however many innings he pitched, just a victim of bad luck.

Is it bad luck that he basically set the ball on a TEE for Hernandez to hit it out of the ballpark? Is that the biggest crock of shit you've ever heard? It's the pitching equivalent of a Good At Bat. This drives me nuts. The fact remains that Johan threw a sucker pitch and got burned, and instead of getting an out, he gave up 4 runs. That David Wright made the error was academic. Santana is supposed to be a good enough pitcher to get the opposing pitcher, especially an American League pitcher, out.

My co-worker called me after the game and asked if I was going to wear a bag over my head to the Sunday afternoon Mets/Yankees game. The more I think about it, the less crazy it sounds.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Moving on from the Madness

They do still play these games, from time to time. I don't know if anyone's actually noticed from in between the fallout from last week.

But the Mets have actually been playing games, and actually went 4-2 on this, their last West Coast swing of the season, and now come home to play a team that actually has played worse than their expectations than the Mets have. That's right, my pick to win the 2008 AL West, the Seattle Mariners are in town for the first time since 2003.

The Mets appear to be playing a bit more fast and loose as a whole, which is good to see. No, they're not looking like a great team, and even if they continue to play somewhat better baseball over the next couple of weeks, and pick up some games in the standings, the true test will come July 4th through July 7th, when the Mets go down to Philadelphia for a weekend series.

If the Mets win that series, maybe we can finally take them seriously. If they get their clocks cleaned, well, revert to what I've been saying all season.

But they do seem like they're having a bit more fun, particularly with the pall of the Willie Randolph situation gone from their heads.

Not that you'd notice it if you're reading the New York papers. These guys seem to have no desire to stop trashing the Mets, turning Willie Randolph into a martyr, slamming Jerry Manuel for his "gangster" joke, and trying to drag out a situation that I believe most fans are tired of hearing about. And for the fans who continue to call in WFAN and the like and slam the move, it's time to move on. Get over yourselves. The Mets fucked up the Randolph firing, no doubt. But let's not forget that Willie was doing a lousy job, and Willie deserved to be fired. We don't need a puffy by-line from Willie about it, we don't need stories about how only now, other players are defending him, and we don't need the Post to blow Jerry Manuel's hilarious "I'll cut him" remark out of proportion as if he were serious. Jerry Manuel obviously has a strong rapport with his players. That's not a bad thing.

Besides, this article in Sunday's Newsday brings up a much more pressing matter: The potential end of WFAN's Radio Dynasty, the Mike & the Mad Dog show. If this show goes off the air, what will happen to us all? I think the radios of the world will all melt, and the rest of the Media will cease to exist. Heaven Forbid! How will we live without Dog's screaming and Mike's stammering? How will we go on without a healthy dose of smarmy, anti-Met rhetoric to carry us through our afternoons? To whom can we turn? It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I caught last night's game in fits and starts, between the radio and TV, and watching a tape of Tuesday night's "Deadliest Catch." What I ended up accomplishing was turning off a 4-3 game in the bottom of the 7th, pretty sure the Mets weren't going to come back, and then turning the game back on and seeing a rather mysterious 4-4 tie in the bottom of the 9th.

What I missed was how the Mets tied it, that is being Jose Reyes and David Wright doing something they hadn't done much of: coming through in the clutch. More impressive would be that they did it against Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez, the Trevor Hoffman for the '00s.

But I digress. Damion Easley turned himself back into Damion "Don't Panic" Easley for a few minutes and swatted the winning HR in the 10th, Wagner retired the Angels in order, and the Mets won the game and the series from the AL West leaders.

But if you'd listened to Gary Cohen and Ron Darling on SNY, you might have thought they'd won their division.

"The kind of victory that could turn a season around," [sic] was the quote from Gary. That's all fine and good, and it's easy to get excited over a bigtime comeback and Jerry Manuel's first victory as Mets manager. But haven't we been saying this sort of thing all season? How many victories have the Mets had that were supposed "Season turners?" We've heard this sort of thing several times, but it's a little too late to get overly optimistic. Maybe, with the Willie mess out of the way, the Mets could be playing with a clearer head, but let's get serious for a moment. Does anyone really think this team has a major hot streak in them? They're 5.5 games out of first, with 3 teams ahead of them. They're 6 games back in the Wildcard. In another season, with another kind of team, perhaps it would be easier to believe that this victory could spur the Mets on to a 29-11 kind of run that would put them squarely in the middle of the race. But the way the team has performed to this point, I'm not inclined to believe that.

A big win, yes. I won't deny that. But one win can't turn this team in the right direction. That's already been well established.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hope Dies Last

In the midst of processing the 3AM Massacre Tuesday morning, my hastily thrown-up post might have seemed a bit too sympathetic towards Willie Randolph. That's not to say that Willie isn't deserving of sympathy. Lord knows I've been raking him over the coals for the past however long it was. But, as has been the feeling echoing through Metsdom over the past 20 or so hours, only the Mets could manage to fuck up a move that needed to be made.

I don't know what exactly transpired in that postgame meeting with Willie and Omar, although suffice it to say that it doesn't matter at this point. The situation was too far out of hand to play out any different than it did. There was, in reality, no logical reason to maintain Willie as Manager. But why, then, at this particular moment? Why, after flying cross country and winning? Why, if Peterson, clearly an organizational guy and not one of Willie's guys was fired, was Ho-Jo maintained, particularly when the offense has been an equal, if not a far greater, problem with this team than the pitching. There are many questions on this night that is vastly different from all other nights. Most of them probably won't be answered. That, perhaps, is what is most maddening about this whole saga.

I'm not going to do an about face and defend Willie at all. There's nothing to defend. When a change needs to be made, you look to the top, but, much the same way that Art Howe got a raw deal, Willie got a raw deal. I've mentioned that before as well. It's not necessarily his fault that he was given a team built to win now two years ago. And it's not his fault that when the flaws of the team began to show themselves in repeated fashion, very little was done to fix it. But with that said, Willie's moves often left a lot to be questioned. From Kaz Ishii's 16 starts, to Cliff Floyd, to Schoeneweis and Feliciano, to Philip Humber, to Mike Pelfrey and Wagner. But such is the peril of being a Big League manager operating in a Media vacuum that seems hell bent on imposing their will on whomever will listen.

It doesn't help, then, that the Mets, at the top, seem all too willing to read and absorb what is said about their team. It also doesn't help that someone within the Mets organization, with a cool ear to the inner machinations, is also the owner of lips far too loose for his or her own good. It's one thing to have this go on in silence. Once it becomes public knowledge, once the Media gets a hold of it, there's no stopping the firestorm as it gains power and blazes out of control.

So, then, we are led to Tuesday, June 17, 2008. One of those days that could live up there with June 15, 1977, October 20, 1999 and October 19, 2006 as days that will live in Met Infamy. In his press conference, which I didn't see and only read about much later in the day, Omar was all too willing to point his finger at the press. He's right to do so, but then again, the onus is now clearly on him for the remainder of the season. If Fabulous Freddie and Ruprecht the Idiot Manchild are conscious at this point, and not polishing off their second bottle of Black Label, they'd say something and make this clear. But we don't hear anything out of them.

It's funny, because it seems like it's always been this way with Fred. On the Bonus Disc of the 1986 World Series box set, there's an interview with Wilpon on the podium. It was Wilpon who cajoled Nelson Doubleday into providing him the muscle with which to purchase the team in the first place. Yet, here he is, at the pinnacle of his reign as owner, referring to the team, his team, as "Frank Cashen and his Mets team." Not "our team." Their team. As though he's somehow detached from all this, save for signing the checks. Perhaps he prefers to shrink from the spotlight. That's one thing. But to provide us with an air of seeming disinterested, or uninvolved, particularly when things are spiraling out of control, and leaving his Houseboy in charge to his personal interests, which appear to be an A-Ball team and a new Stadium, is right on the border of complete and total insanity. I guess my point is that the owner of a team should care about what's going on with his team, right? I'm not seeing that out of Right Said Fred.

I'd like to see Omar get his head spun a little bit here. He seems awfully comfortable right now. Again, he's made the necessary move in a rather ass-backwards fashion. He's built a team that consists of two young stars, two outstanding veterans who are signed to insanely large contracts, and a horrendous cadre of Has-beens and never-will-bes. Last year, he dismissed the hitting coach, and replaced him with a hitting coach who has managed to fix absolutely none of the existing offensive problems, and has even served to create new problems where none existed in the first place! And yet, when Omar has decided to cut off the head and hack the limbs, HE LET THIS GUY KEEP HIS JOB!

I refused to listen to Mike & The Mad Dog Tuesday. I wasn't particularly in the mood to listen to those jokers cackling away about what an absolute joke the Mets allowed this situation to become. I avoided it most of the day, aside from a few comments here and there, and a call from my co-worker, out of the office for the day. I missed the early part of the game, but it seems that Jerry Manuel only needed about 5 or so minutes to attain his first controversy, with Jose Reyes at first, stomping off and throwing his helmet after being removed from the game. Manuel, apparently, then spent the better part of the inning lecturing Reyes on growing up. Reyes sounded mostly contrite after the game, which I suppose is a plus. On the field, blah, blah, blah. The games are still scenery, and everyone seemed to be in a fog after this truly bizarre day in what has been a complete train wreck of a season. I know the right move was made. I know it wasn't made well. I also don't know if it's going to make anything better.

I guess there's still hope, right? Hope dies last.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

So Long...

It wasn't pretty and the way it was handled wasn't fair to him. But I hope that Willie Randolph can finally rest easy, now that the circus has finally been put to bed.

Willie, wherever you are, you handled this like a pro. Thanks for the thrills of '06. You and your team couldn't build on it, and that's why we're at this point now, and that's a damn shame.

What the fallout from this will be, I don't know. The upper management of this organization has a lot of questions to answer right now.

Where are we going from here?

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Plot Sickens

By splitting the Single-Admission Doubleheader on Sunday, the Mets managed to take 2 out of 3 from the Texas Rangers.

My, how benign such a sentence sounds. I suppose to tell that to someone who had no idea about Baseball, or didn't live within the Media Vacuum that is New York City, it wouldn't mean much.

If the Mets managerial and coaching situations were unstable before the Rangers came into town, now, it appears to be even more of a mess.

It's not enough to say that Willie kinda sorta might be fired, now, it appears that he won't be fired today, but two of his coaches, Tom Nieto and Rick Peterson, just well might.

Even so, as the Mets depart for what appears to be their 3rd trip to the West Coast in the last 2 weeks, calm is not the name of the game as far as the Mets are concerned. When the Mets return, after their games in Anaheim and Colorado, who knows what the team will look like. And if changes are made, who knows if they'll do any good.

I've done my share of Willie-Bashing over the past several months. That's no secret. Willie has taken the brunt of the criticism for the team's shortcomings. But while the blame that has been put on him is hardly unjust, it's now to the point where Willie has become the new Art Howe. We know he's a goner, he knows he's a goner, and yet this whole mess has been dragged out in such a sub-moronic fashion by Omar, Freddie and his Fan-Boy, that Willie is now the sympathetic figure in this mess. People are beginning to feel bad for him twisting in the wind. He's getting a raw deal, just like Howe got a raw deal. He's basically been given a team, the past two seasons, that was barely cohesive and just about past it. I know I've said it before (or it may have just been in an e-mail circle, I forget), but Omar apparently built a team to win now, only now was two years ago. Now is now, and now, the Mets are no damn good.

Yet, the changes are only happening at the top, as the bullpen is a shambles and the offense is a horrible mishmash of pressing young stars trying to carry the load left behind by aging veterans who can't hack it anymore. Omar has, according to "Rumors" and "Sources" close to the team (one such source is that bastion of drunken, asshole journalism, that dope, that Gin-Blossom Drunk Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, who should be having peanuts thrown at him, not reporting on Baseball), been given the green light to fire Willie whenever he sees fit. He's snuck onto the flight and is headed West with the rest of the team. The only quotes are given in cryptic, half-hearted endorsements, basically saying that Willie is the Manager on a day-by-day basis.

How the hell does he get off running a Ballclub like this?

The games right now appear to be a mere distraction from what has dissolved into a Circus Sideshow. And it's not a good sideshow. People continue to write about the games, but what's the point at this point? It appears to be the same story over and over again. The Mets played the Texas Rangers this weekend, and by Wednesday, who'll remember that? They may as well have played the Podunk Jerkoffs. You come, you show up, Ball 1, Strike 1, Home Run, Hit, don't hit, Pitch, don't pitch, Starter does well, Reliever X screws it up, Yay, Boo, go home. The Mets and Rangers played two games today, the stadium seemed relatively full at the outset, and when I turned on Game 2 in the 2nd inning, there looked to be about 10,000 people in the ballpark, at a game when Pedro was pitching. The Mets appeared to mostly stagger through the afternoon, winning the second game pretty much on dumb luck. Willie, figuring he's got nothing more to lose at this point—and he doesnt—just threw Robinson Cancel up with 2 outs and the bases loaded in the 6th, and somehow, Cancel pulled a Chip Ambres and knocked in the winning runs. Then, the game ended, and the focus went back to the coaches and the Manager and the rumors flying around.

Who starts these rumors anyway? I have a feeling that either the Idiot Boy-King might just have his lips too loose, or he's trying to bag a page from the Daily News, or something stupid like that. Knowing him, the situation just reeks of it. Why are there "leaks?"There's a time to talk, and a time to keep your mouth shut. Is this just a way to let the fans know that the people in charge are actually doing something, or that they just like to act like morons? There's a history of unprofessionalism within this organization, especially when it comes to leaking things that really should remain internal. I wonder if it has something to do with this team's inferiority complex dealing with the Yankees, or the insecurity of the Wilpons, or something else. It goes back to Mike Piazza finding out he was moving to First Base by reading the Post one morning. Art Howe got treated the same way. Now, there's this mess.

I forgot to mention something else El Guapo and I encountered last Wednesday at Shea. I didn't leave it out on purpose, I just forgot, since it was late when I was writing that, and I wanted to go back and put it in, but I forgot to do that too. Sometime in the 10th or 11th inning, there were two guys walking around the Mezzanine with paper bags on their heads. They were, for the most part, getting a positive response. They were each holding signs. One held a sign that said, "OMAR MUST GO." The other said "FRED, PLEASE HELP US!" El Guapo and I had, in a rather jocular fashion, discussed doing this ourselves earlier in the afternoon. When we saw them, we couldn't help but laugh. It wasn't because it was particularly funny.

I wonder if Fred is even conscious at this point.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Doing it the Right Way

I know I did this last year, too, but since today is what today is, I have to do it again...

"Today is Father's Day, so to all you Dads out there, Happy Birthday!"

Now, to the more important issue at hand:

I, for some reason, felt compelled to go out to Shea last night, rather than Friday night. I guess I never really considered Friday an option, and Saturday's game offered a chance to see the same Texas Rangers team that I'd never seen before, a chance to see Pedro Martinez, and, in my opinion, a much better promotion.

This isn't to denigrate Beach Towel night one bit. In fact, Beach Towel day was one of the seminal promotions of my youth. Somewhere, in the bowels of my Father's apartment, lie years upon years worth of Mets Beach Towel Day towels, which used to be sponsored by Met Life, and usually featured some permutation of Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang. As promotions went back in those days, Beach Towel day was usually the best. The game would usually sell out, and the towels would be whirled around, much in the same fashion as the little hand towels they hand out today.

Then, sometime around 1991 or 1992, Beach Towel day disappeared. Or maybe they just held it on days when I couldn't go. At any rate, there were no more beach towels at Shea. Until, mysteriously, it popped up again in 1998, sponsored by Rheingold. It occurred on a sun-soaked Saturday afternoon, where Mike Piazza posted his first Multi-HR game with the Mets, and I was in attendance to pick one up. It's still with me, packed away somewhere in the bowels of my apartment. But I found it recently, when putting away the dopey little Rally Towel I received earlier this season.

Then, it disappeared again. I think I noticed it pop up in '06 or '07 as a kids only promotion, useless to me. And, in fact, I didn't even notice that it was happening this season until earlier this week. Sponsored by, of all places, Fox News. I thought I should go for old times sake, but I had planned to take Friday off, and go Saturday. Saturday being Shea Stadium Replica night, a much more attractive promotion, undoubtedly, particularly with this being the last season for Shea. Much like I just HAD to be there for Endy Chavez Bobblehead night last year, I HAD to be there for Shea Stadium replica night. Why do I have such an attraction to this kitsch?

At any rate, because I HAD to be there, I ended up sitting through about 90 minutes of, perhaps, the hardest rainstorm I've ever seen at Shea Stadium. It's a good thing I was sitting underneath the overhang in the Upper Deck, because there was no way anybody should have been sitting out in the uncovered seats. The rain whipped around to the point where I swear it was falling up. The Field Level seats appeared to be a swimming pool, and the field itself was a quagmire, with the warning tracks reduced to mud. The field was totally unplayable, this was clear at around 8pm. Yet, they announced that the front would move through within the half hour. Well, I guess they would try to play, there were probably about 40,000 people at the stadium, and the concessions were doing a land office business. I kept dialing the Mets Rain hotline for updates, and they said the game "was still scheduled to be played at 7:10pm. But there was no way. I figured I'd stick it out until they called it, at least. Then, around 8:30, several players dashed out of the Rangers Dugout and slid across the tarp. The fans went wild. I couldn't see who they were (and later found out that the ringleaders were Ian Kinsler and Milton Bradley, accompanied by Josh Hamilton, Gerald Laird, Michael Young and Josh Rupe), but they dove around and slipped and slid for a good 5 minutes before they bowed to the crowd, which was mysteriously chanting "LET'S GO RANGERS!" and headed back in. Everyone got a kick out of it, apparently, except for Willie, who would only say, "That's dangerous." Killjoy.

I took that opportunity, then, to call the rain line one more time. Now, they were announcing that the game was postponed. Which was odd, since they hadn't announced it to the crowd. Why should they, I suppose. People were hanging around, eating, drinking and whatever, and the concession stands were packed. It was a good 5 minutes before they finally announced "We regret to inform you that tonight's game has been postponed."

I was a bit nervous that they would pull their new trick of scheduling my favorite, the day-night Doubleheader, today, with tickets only good for the makeup game. They surprised me by bucking the trend and scheduling—God Forbid—A Traditional, Single-Admission Doubleheader! Be still my heart! A real Doubleheader! Of course, I'm not there, but it's the thought that counts. I can exchange my ticket whenever I please, just like the old times. Maybe with the Beach Towels and the Shea Replicas, everyone was feeling a bit of old-time spirit.

Now, if only the team could feel that old-time spirit. Old time meaning 2006, or 2000, or 1999.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ma Nuit Chez Mets

Despite what I might have indicated early in the day on Wednesday, my attendance at last night's game was never in much doubt. It might not have been the greatest idea in the world, but then again, it is, in my opinion, an even worse idea to plunk down money for tickets to a game that will then go unused. Even El Guapo wasn't sure whether or not I was serious about not going, but I was, and we did, and what we were treated to appeared to look like a baseball game, although it seemed to be something taken from the pages of Eugene Ionèsco by the way things played out over the course of the evening.

I should have known something was a little off when we arrived at our seats. We were somewhat earlier than usual, as I took an opportunity to slip out of my office early, and so when we arrived, the Diamondbacks were still taking BP. That's not what I noticed, though. What I did notice, was that while advertisements were running on Diamondvision and on the scoreboard, there was no noise. Everything was oddly silent. No music, no nothing, until the National Anthem, which was performed by a school group from Meatheadville Massapequa, which featured a Tuba player. I mused about how I, although not especially musically inclined, had wanted to play the Tuba, however it was never really taught at the schools I attended.

The 2008 Mets: Where Silence Happens.

Finally, music played and the game began. Predictably, Brandon Webb took his cue and promptly shut down the Mets, retiring the first nine batters in order. But on the other side, Mike Pelfrey unexpectedly matched him zero for zero, helped out by a pickoff of Chris Young in the first, in which Pelfrey appeared to lull Young to sleep before throwing to first, catching Young off guard so badly that he fell down before reaching first base. In the 2nd, a leadoff single by Conor Jackson was followed by an easy DP turned by the Birthday Boy, Jose Reyes. In the 4th, Pelfrey allowed a one-out double to Orlando Hudson before stranding him on 3rd. I mused to El Guapo before the game that the DBacks seem to have a coaching staff comprised of a random mishmash of horrible ex-Major Leaguers (Lee Tinsley? Chip Hale?), and Kirk Gibson. During the National Anthem, Gibson stood by himself, as if symbolically, far away from this motley crew of Major League Dreck. The DBacks lineup seems rather randomly put together as well; there's no real stars, they're all real young, and apparently just get by on pluckiness and Eric Byrnes, who's not even playing right now, so they're surviving on pluck. I don't know too much about guys like Mark Reynolds, Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson, Jeff Salazar or whomever else they threw out there, but they somehow managed to win their division last year, and right now, they appear to be the only good team in the NL West. Go figure.

The 2008 Mets: Where the Unexpected happens.

More bizarre things happened in the 4th. Rather than the DBacks eventually exerting their will on the Mets and Webb continuing to mow them down, it was the Mets somehow forcing themselves into a rally, which began, more or less, with about 60 feet worth of singles, one on a brilliant drag bunt from Reyes (prompting a discussion as to whether or not the DBacks would throw at Reyes later on. Webb had, to that point, been throwing a perfect game, which Reyes dastardly broke up by bunting. However, it was only the 4th, and the game was scoreless), the other on what was tantamount to a swinging bunt from Castillo that Webb threw and Conor Jackson dropped at first, and while he was busy trying to pick it up, Reyes dashed to 3rd. At least, it appeared to us that Webb's throw was good, and Jackson dropped it. Turns out the error was charged to Webb, and only because Reyes went to 3rd. With speed on the bases and Wright at the plate, I begin to strategize. Delayed double steal, is my thought. Somehow get Castillo to 2nd base, distract the defense, and have Reyes steal home. This is probably the best opportunity they'll have against Webb, so they better capitalize. They don't run. Instead, Wright hits a high chopper to 3rd and got thrown out at 1st, with Castillo moving up. Beltran then followed with a clean single to center, scoring both Reyes and Castillo. So, like I was saying, as I turn to El Guapo, you have Wright move Castillo up to 2nd so that Beltran can drive them both in.

The 2008 Mets: Where strategy happens.

Beltran's single is followed by Delgado, the leader of the Clown Car, who hits what might have been the hardest ball he's hit in weeks right back up the box, off Webb's ass, and trickling just out of the reach of Stephen Drew at short and out in to left, allowing Beltran to go all the way to 3rd. It appeared to be a glancing blow, Webb had somehow turned himself so that the ball caught him flush on the backside and just bounced off into no man's land. Marlon Anderson then grounded into a fielder's choice to score Beltran. So now, not only have the Mets managed to scratch out a 3-run rally, they did it against Brandon Webb, against whom I'd seen the Mets score a grand total of 1 run against over 16 innings within the last two seasons.

The 2008 Mets: Where hits off the opposing pitcher's ass happen.

The game continued on in rather unexpected fashion. Where we had expected Pelfrey to implode, he instead got better as the game progressed. I don't know if it was the fact that Arizona's lineup is what it is, or if somehow Pelfrey just managed to put it all together, but he was simply dominant. He blew through the 5th and 6th innings with no trouble. In the 7th, he gave up a leadoff single to Hudson and walked Tracy with 1 out. Now, here we go. The fans, uneasy most of the night, were just about apoplectic. In the bullpen, Feliciano and Heilman were throwing. Pelfrey was nearing that magic 100 pitch mark. Here came the shoe.

Didn't happen. Rather than caving in, Pelfrey muscled up. He got ahead of Reynolds 0-2, and rather than nibbling and nibbling and working the count full, Pelfrey instead went upstairs with a hard slider and Reynolds waved at it. To that point, Pelfrey had made Reynolds look completely silly, striking him out 3 times. As an encore, Pelfrey followed by striking out Snyder as well, pumping his fist as he came off the mound, and exiting to a standing ovation. A job well done over 7 innings and 103 pitches.

Pelfrey came out into the on deck circle in the 7th, although the conventional wisdom, or at least the way the Mets seem to operate, would have dictated that he was finished for the night. I repeatedly told El Guapo that he needed to get the 8th inning. After his spot didn't come up, I watched for that bullpen door to swing open. Nobody had been throwing in the bottom of the 7th inning, though, and after a few seconds, Pelfrey came out to the mound. And his return to the game appeared to energize the entire stadium. And he responded by throwing perhaps his most dominant inning of the night, retiring the DBacks in order on 7 pitches, popping his fastball in at 95mph. Without question, I believed, he should get the 9th. El Guapo wasn't so sure. If the Mets scored a couple more runs, he felt, then Pelfrey should stay in. In the save situation, Wagner needs to come in.

"They need to make the decision fast, then," I said, "Pelfrey's spot leads off."

The 2008 Mets: Where debates happen.

There appeared to be some indecision as to what the Mets were going to do. I saw a #29 briefly step out of the dugout, only to be called back. When Pelfrey stepped onto the field, again, everyone stood and cheered. It was, I felt, the right call. Why not? He'd earned it. And now, if he wants a shot at his first career shutout, well, go and get it. Pelfrey struck out and got another standing ovation.

The Mets then had a chance at a rally sputter to a halt when yet another bizarre sequence happened. Reyes struck out, but reached first when the ball, clearly a wild pitch, sailed all the way to the backstop. With Castillo at the plate, Reyes took off for 2nd, but was thrown out. Castillo walked. With Wright at the plate, Castillo took off for 2nd, but was thrown out. Inning over.

The stadium had, for the most part, been relatively full, a decent crowd for a Wednesday night, particularly with the team struggling. The crowd in my section was fairly mixed. As this was one of my 7-pack games, I was treated to, more or less, the same crowd. A couple of Hispanic women with loud voices, a row of older gentlemen who seemed to be on the fringes of fandom, several office guys who liked to drink a lot, and in front of us, row upon row of dopey ex-frat guys and annoying, trashy, albeit cute girls who may or may not have been their girlfriends. And a few Yankee fans. There's always a few. I suppose it could have been worse. It could have been a bunch of teenage girls in Mrs. Wright shirts screaming about how they want to be David Wright's girlfriend.

There was a particularly dopey looking Meathead sitting a couple of rows ahead of us, and he was there with his girlfriend, a particularly trashy-looking, albeit cute blond girl wearing a shirt that appeared to be of a rather excessively low cut. Not that El Guapo and I minded the show, particularly. But the guy and the girl sat and drank and ate peanuts and whatever, until at some point, another one of the dopey frat guys sitting in a row in between us and them began talking to her. What they were talking about, I don't know. El Guapo paid them some attention. I was more focused on the game. At some point, El Guapo elbowed me and clued me in to the proceedings. While this girl was talking to this guy, her boyfriend began to get progressively more and more upset, shooting dirty looks, first at the guy, then at the girl. This continued throughout the 8th inning, and into the 9th.

When things started to get really fucked up.

Wagner was, predictably, throwing in the bullpen, and Pelfrey was out on the mound, rallied on by the fans. I could taste it. I wanted to see him throw his shutout, and he'd earned every right to do so. He zipped his first pitch to Stephen Drew in at 93. His second pitch was looped towards second, and had Castillo been about 3 inches taller, he would have caught it. Instead, it fell in. No big deal. Worry when the tying run comes to the plate. He's in control. So, of course, here comes Willie, signaling to the bullpen. Of course. El Guapo was adamant in telling me that it was the right move. I wasn't so sure. I know that's why Wagner's here, but still, as dominant as Pelfrey had been, there was no good reason to take him out at that particular point. Willie was booed coming out of the dugout, Pelfrey got slaps from Wright and Delgado, another ovation as he trotted off, and Willie was booed again as he exited. Some gentle "Fire Willie!" chants began, but died out when Wagner struck out Hudson for the first out. Conor Jackson followed with a ringing double to left, which appeared primed to score Drew, but didn't. Wagner struck out Tracy. In the Mets dugout, I could see Pelfrey nervously pacing back and forth in the dugout, ranging from the bench to the rail, with a towel draped over his shoulders. This wasn't any easier for him than it was for us. Wagner went to 2-2 on Reynolds, who hadn't touched the ball all night. His 2-2 pitch was low and inside, and Reynolds appeared to skip away from it. He motioned as if it hit him. I didn't see it hit him. It didn't look like it had come close. Later, I heard that it had probably hit him. Either way, he was still at the plate, the crowd was on its feet, and I was ready to get out of there, a nice, tidy, 2 hour, 20 minute, 3-0 victory.

The sound that a crowd makes when something particularly bad happens on a continual basis to a team isn't so much booing. It almost sounds as though everyone has decided to vomit in unison. That was the sound that was made when Mark Reynolds took Wagner's 3-2 pitch and blasted, and I mean truly blasted it into a part of Shea Stadium where the only other player I'd ever seen hit a ball there was named Piazza. It was a truly sickening noise, followed by an incredibly rapid departure by about half of the crowd in attendance. It wasn't an "Oh, Shit" moment, it was more of a "WHAT THE FUCK!?!" moment. El Guapo silently put his hands on his head and held them there. I silently stood and shook my head. We remained silent for a few moments as the stands quickly emptied out, many people now screaming "FIRE WILLIE!" Finally, I turned to El Guapo.

"You were saying...?" was all I could muster.

Wagner got the 3rd out and was booed off the mound, and deservedly so.

The 2008 Mets: Where victories happen, just not necessarily to the Mets.

Still, all wasn't lost. At least not for the Mets. In front of us, however, things had turned downright nasty. After Reynolds' HR, the random guy who was talking to the girlfriend had left with his friends, leaving the girl and her boyfriend to themselves. Except that the guy was now only silently eating his peanuts, and not speaking to the girl, except to glare at her. The girl beseeched him to speak to her, or something, but he continued to ignore her. Even I now watched intently, half waiting to see what would happen next, half looking down her shirt. This continued. Every few minutes, she would say something to him, and he just wouldn't speak to her. He just sat and ate his peanuts.

The bottom of the 9th came and went. So much for getting home early. El Guapo, not really the night owl I am, was beginning to flag. I figured that the game was heading this way. El Guapo was chewing on nicotine gum. He'd quit smoking 2 years ago. I, on the other hand, was reduced to regular gum, which I'd been chewing all game, and was now chomping with such ferocity that my jaw was beginning to hurt.

The 2008 Mets: Where TMJ happens.

Chris Aguila, who had been inserted for defense in the 9th, putting a face on that mysterious #29, hit with 2 outs in the 9th. I knew I'd heard of him, he played for the Marlins a few years ago, but for some reason, the scoreboard read that this was his first Major League at bat. That couldn't be right. I thought I'd seen him before. Could it have been that it was only during Spring Training? Well, Aguila shot a single up the middle, and play was stopped, and the ball was tossed into the Mets dugout, in commemoration of his first Major League hit. I still wasn't convinced. I could have sworn I'd seen him before. And upon returning home, and checking Baseball Reference, I was right. Not only was this not his Major League debut, it wasn't even his first hit. The Mets and the umpires had just made a big stink and removed the ball from play in honor of Chris Aguila's 52nd Major League hit. Way to go.

The 2008 Mets: Where misinformation happens.

We were both getting a little punchy. With 2 out in the 9th, El Guapo popped a piece of gum into his mouth and said to me, "Bet you wish you had some of this right now, huh?" As the 3rd out was recorded, and I got up to use the bathroom, it was now me glaring at him. "Don't get me started," I snarled, "It figures that they'd blow this game. Just what I need, another stupid game that goes 12 innings!"

The stadium continued to empty out as we moved to the 10th. Arizona mounted a thinly veiled threat. Micah Owings, the power-hitting pitcher, was summoned to pinch hit. He squared to bunt on the first two pitches with Chris Burke on 1st. I wasn't fooled. He might have squared around, but why send him up to bunt? He bunted foul for strike 2. Now, he's not bunting. I was sure of it. He swung through strike 3 and looked like a pitcher doing so. Shows what I know.

In the middle of the 10th, the girl, finally tired of being ignored, got up and left. She shot her boyfriend, if he could be called such a thing by that point, one final, icy glare as she walked out. He sat there and continued to eat peanuts for another 10 minutes or so before leaving himself.

The 2008 Mets: Where relationships die.

The game stretched on, further and further into the night, testing our patience and our resolve. We hit the 11th, and El Guapo received a text message from Shirts vs. Blouses. He'd been out on what he termed, "A bad date." He was wondering what was going on. The Guap responded by saying that "It was too horrible to explain. Just put on Sportscenter." This was as Aaron Heilman trotted in from the bullpen. Shirts is, perhaps, among one of the most virulent Heilman Haters. I told El Guapo that he should tell Shirts that whatever he does, don't put the game on. Meanwhile, the random Yankee fans began to make noise. They were a particularly obnoxious bunch. It was a good thing we hadn't been drinking heavily, otherwise, bad things were sure to happen. There was a discarded aluminum bottle near me. I looked at it, while one of the Yankee guys was standing up and being an idiot.

"My aim is pretty good," I say to El Guapo, "You think I can hit him from here?"

I was dissuaded from doing so, for fear of injuring an ally, or, worse, attracting the attention of security. Moreover, we weren't needed to regulate the Yankee fans, as the group of office guys, who were holding stacks of empty beer cups 8 deep, were holding the court as their own. We were safe, so long as they remained. Fortunately, they were quite likely too drunk to move, let alone drive anywhere by that point in the evening. The jilted girlfriend poked her head back into the stands around the bottom of the 11th. She looked for the boyfriend, but he was nowhere to be seen. She was scanning the stands as Carlos Delgado fouled a pitch back towards our section that damn near hit her in the head. She disappeared off into the night after that.

Meanwhile, Heilman miraculously escaped the 11th and 12th. Not that it was easy to sit through. I was wishing for Scott Schoeneweis at one point. By this time, El Guapo was really beginning to fade. I still had a few good innings left in me. I was still pretty punchy. I mused that my father had probably been asleep, then woke up and put the game on in the 8th inning, and saw it was 3-0. He then did either one of two things. He turned the game off and went back to sleep, and is now waking up again and wondering where I am, or he got up, did his business, put the game back on in the top of the 11th, and laughed his ass off.

Finally, we hit the 13th. The longest game I'd been to in 2 seasons. Claudio Vargas came on and gave up a pair of 1-out hits. The Yankee fans were up. The office guys were firing back, not missing a beat. I figured this was where the axe was going to fall. But no. Somehow, Vargas got Jackson to hit into the DP to end the inning. The Yankee fans left, saluting us all in classy, Yankee fan fashion as they left; middle fingers extended.

By this point, even I was losing my patience. I've mentioned that, after a certain amount of innings, and a second helping of the kiss-cam, I just want someone to score so I can get out of there. At least the game had been relatively quick, still not quite at the 4 hour mark. Castillo reached on an error by Reynolds, who had gone from a Sombrero to a Golden Sombrero with his 4th K in the 11th. But Wright popped out and it appeared Castillo would remain at 1st. Beltran up, and working the count against Cheech McSchmendrick or whoever was pitching for Arizona. I'd forgotten at that point. The count went to 1-2.

"Oh, for fuck's sake, just hit a Home Run and get us the hell out of here," I said to El Guapo, or whoever was listening.

Sure enough, Beltran parked the next pitch off the base of the scoreboard.

"See!? Did I call it!? Did I call it!?" I yelled to El Guapo, as he chuckled and I leapt in the air as Beltran flung his helmet across the infield and leapt on home plate. Somehow, the Mets won the game that they seemed to have made their best efforts to lose. Somehow, this absolute farce of a ballgame ended in a way that El Guapo and I could deem satisfactory fashion.

Fitting that I was wearing my Beltran jersey on this particular night. I'd actually forgotten I was wearing it by the time the game ended. I think I'd also forgotten who'd started the game, as well. Pelfrey's masterful outing seemed a distant memory by the time the game finally ended.

Ended, that is, only about 95 minutes after it should have ended.

Walking to the subway, we tried to make sense of what we'd just seen. I don't think either of us could do it. This game really didn't make any discernable sense. People who watched it on TV were absolutely maddened. People at the game continued to call for Willie's head, long after the game had ended. Perhaps a Pyrrhic victory? I don't know what the hell to call it.

El Guapo summed it up best. "The highlight of the game," he said, "was watching that couple break up."

That seems a proper epitaph for a game like this. Things happened, people were affected, and there was a cost.

The 2008 Mets: Where whatever happens, happens.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Difficult Decision

As per the 7-pack I purchased during the Winter, I have ended up with tickets to tonight's game against Arizona. It just so happens that I'm the lucky recipient of tickets to a game where the already struggling and power-impotent Mets get to send one of their lesser pitchers, Mike Pelfrey, to the mound against one of Baseball's Best in Brandon Webb.

This is actually the fourth straight year I've been to a Mets/DBacks matchup. That's no great shakes. But what is an odd coincidence is that this is the third year in a row that I'm going to a Mets/DBacks game that was started by Brandon Webb (the one that wasn't, in 2005, however, did involve Pedro and the Shea Sprinklers). Webb, clearly on top of his game now, did a pretty good job of shoving the Mets bats up their asses the previous two times I've seen him pitch. Two years ago, this game fell in the midst of a stretch in which every game I attended was an absolute classic. This particular game followed suit, as Webb and Pedro threw zeros at each other all night, until Endy won the game in the 13th.

Last year wasn't quite as good, although as you can see here, I had a nice view of it.

This year, lord only knows. I'm not exactly looking forward to the game. In fact, if I didn't already have these tickets, I probably wouldn't even be going. There are, in fact, people who have told me to just eat the tickets and save my time. True, there are better and more interesting things I could be doing rather than watching the Mets predictably get pounded into submission. Sitting at home gloomily masturbating might be a more productive use of my time. I'm a little torn. Go to the game? Do something else? I've been spending my morning thinking of reasons I should go. At least the weather is supposed to be nicer than it's been. Maybe Pelfrey will throw a No-Hitter. It's Jose Reyes' Birthday, I should celebrate with him.

Or should I just scream?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lost Classics: August 1, 1998

This was the unofficial winner of the Choose the Lost Classic for 1998 poll.

With the current version of the Mets spiraling hopelessly out of control, I guess I should stop channeling my frustrations towards the team into this Blog, and start doing more Lost Classics, and fond memories of the Mets and Shea Stadium as its days wind down.

10 years ago, the Mets were in the beginning stages of their late 90s renaissance under Bobby Valentine. An uneven start to the season turned to a midsummer hot streak, beginning with the Mike Piazza trade of May 22nd. Players like Al Leiter and John Olerud were enjoying career years, and Rick Reed emerged as an All-Star talent.

Say, let's talk a little more about Rick Reed.

In 1998, Rick Reed came into his own. After resurrecting his career in 1997, Reed began '98 firmly entrenched in the Mets rotation. He began to reel off a string of stellar outings, including a tantalizing near-perfect game on June 8th, which would eventually earn him a spot on the National League All-Star team. By the end of July, he stood at 11-7, with a sterling 2.75 ERA. His won-loss record suffered, however, due to several outings in which he would pitch brilliant baseball for 7 or 8 innings, but the Mets bats failed to back him, and his efforts would go for naught.

This pattern appeared primed to continue in his start on August 1st, 1998, against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Coming into this game, a Saturday night affair, the Mets stood at 56-50, 4 games out of the Wildcard spot behind the Chicago Cubs, and a hopeless 14 games behind the Atlanta Braves. The focus right now was on the Wildcard, and several moves were made in a frenzied trading deadline to try to bolster the Mets roster. Gone were players like Bernard Gilkey, and acquired for the stretch run were Outfielder Tony Phillips, acquired from Toronto for a minor leaguer, and pitcher Willie Blair and Catcher Jorge Fabregas, acquired from Arizona for Gilkey and prospects.

The Dodgers were hanging tough themselves. Loaded with talented new faces acquired from their dealing of Piazza on May 15th, the Dodgers stood at 57-52, merely percentage points behind the Mets.

This particular Saturday Night was Hispanic Night, in the midst of the highly popular International Week that the Mets used to hold during the late 90s and into the early 2000s. 42,224 were on hand for this game, on a beautiful late Summer evening, although from my recollection, the stadium seemed much more full.

Unable to find work after my first year of College, I had spent my summer, to this point, volunteering at a Child Services center in The Bronx. It exhausted me and sapped most of my days. Many of my nights that summer were spent at Shea Stadium. In fact, during the 1998 season, I spent 28 such nights (and afternoons) at Shea, often attending games on two or three consecutive nights, and mixing in several doubleheaders. I took a personal three-game winning streak into this game.

Generally, I had been sitting in the Loge, as those seats were both close to the action and, back in those days, affordable. But this night, the Loge was sold out. I asked for the Mezzanine. That was mostly sold out too. I settled for a seat far, far out in Right Field, Section 29, Row K, Seat 9. And I settled in for the 7:10pm Saturday night start.

It is, indeed, Rick Reed on the mound for the Mets, facing off against temperamental lefthander Carlos Perez for LA. And Reed and Perez settle down into a nice pitchers duel from the outset. In the first, Reed allows a single up the middle to Mark Grudzielanek with one out. But it goes nowhere as Sheffield follows by smacking a 2-1 pitch right to Alfonzo at 3rd, who zips a throw to Baerga at 2nd, and the quick turn to first for the DP to end the inning.

In the Mets half, more of the same. A 2-out single from Olerud is for naught as Piazza grounds into a fielders choice.

And so it went. Reed allows a 2-out double to Trenidad Hubbard in the 2nd. Perez walks Baerga and Ordonez with 2-out in the Mets half. Olerud reaches on a 2-out hit in the 3rd, and Perez follows by walking Piazza on 4 pitches. But Brian McRae grounds into a fielders choice to end the inning. In the 5th, it's the newcomer Phillips drawing a 1-0ut walk, but he's erased on an Alfonzo DP.

Meanwhile, Reed is humming along. After Hubbard's double in the 2nd, Reed proceeds to retire 13 Dodgers in a row, a string that lasts all the way to the 7th inning. This string is broken rather rudely when Grudzielanek leads off with a grounder up the middle for his 2nd hit, and Sheffield follows by fisting a bloop single in front of McRae. It's the first real threat by either team all night. If there was action in the Mets bullpen, I certainly didn't see it. Besides, I wanted to see Reed buckle down and get out of the jam. First, that Eric Karros fellow hit a lazy fly out to right. Huskey made the play, but Grudzielanek tagged up and moved to 3rd. Now, the Mets had to shorten up on the infield. The way this game was going, one run might well be the difference. Matt Luke followed, but Reed went right after him. After fouling off the first pitch, Reed gets Luke to whiff at the next two pitches for the second out. Hubbard follows, and on the 1-1 pitch, he slaps a harmless ground ball at Ordonez, who throws him out to end the inning. We all pump our fists emphatically as the Mets go off the field.

But Perez is just as game. In the Mets half of the 7th, Perez again walks Baerga and Ordonez, this time with 1 out. Reed hits for himself—perhaps a questionable move—and flies to center. Phillips, again a chance to be the hero in his Mets debut, hits a smash to 3rd, but right at Adrian Beltre, who throws to Eric Young at 2nd for the force. Perez exits after his 7 taut innings and 99 pitches, allowing no runs on 2 hits, and 4 strikeouts, but an unseemly 6 walks that could have undone him, yet didn't. He would not club any water coolers with a baseball bat following this solid outing.

It's clearly going to take an odd break for something to happen in this game. In the 8th, it appears that it's the Dodgers who are the recipient of a break.

With 2 out and nobody on, it's Alex Cora who bats for Perez. Luis Lopez had entered the game as a pinch runner for Baerga in the 7th inning. As Reed works the count to 1-2, the fans are all up, cheering Reed on for the strikeout. But Cora instead hits a grounder towards Lopez at second. Lopez eases to his right, but boots the ball. Cora is safe on the error. And he's running on the 2-0 pitch to Eric Young when Young turns on the ball and laces it just inside the left field line and down into the corner. The crowd, loud all night, is suddenly quiet as Cora races home with the game's first run, an unearned run at that. Young's double has broken the deadlock and is the first blemish on what has otherwise been a brilliant outing for Reed. Reed follows by getting Grudzielanek to line out to Olerud, finally ending the inning.

In the last of the 8th, it appears that the Mets might work a little magic of their own. Alfonzo leads off against Scott Radinsky by singling to left. Olerud follows by chopping a curve up the middle. It appears as though it might be a DP, but Grudzielanek can't handle it, and everyone's safe on his error. Now, it's the Mets turn to strike. The fans are up as Radinsky departs in favor of Antonio Osuna, the righty in to face Piazza. But the cheers for Piazza quickly turn to those boos that would chase him throughout the '98 season as he flies to Grudzielanek in short left. Osuna follows by striking out McRae, and getting Lenny Harris, pinch-hitting for Huskey, to line out to Sheffield in right.

Undaunted, Reed is back out there for the 9th. Why not? Aside from a 1-out single from Karros, Reed cruises through the 9th, and unless the Mets can come back, appears primed to be saddled with yet another undeserved loss. Over his 126 pitches, Reed allowed 6 hits, no walks, 6 strikeouts and one large unearned run. He deserves a better fate. But as Ace Closer Jeff Shaw trots in for the Dodgers, the chances of a better fate happening seem slim. But we believe. The scoreboard trumpets the Mets Marketing slogan for that season: "BELIEVE IN THE '98 METS!"

Luis Lopez, destined to be the evening's goat, leads off against Shaw by popping out to Young. Matt Franco follows up as the pinch-hitter for Ordonez. And it's Franco who turns the game around. Franco, to this point, had been the Mets key lefty pinch hitter, or at least in tandem with Lenny Harris. He'd been decent, if unspectacular, and he hadn't hit any HRs to this point in the season. Given his reputation, I wasn't exactly expecting one here.

I glance away for a second after the 1-0 pitch. The next thing I know, the entire stadium is on their feet screaming. I look up and see a ball sailing towards me, a bit to my right. I leap up and watch as it comes closer, and closer, and finally sails out of sight behind the end of the right field stands, landing into the Mets bullpen for the tying HR. It's Franco's first of the season, and, man, it couldn't have come at a better time. Shaw appears stunned on the mound. The fans continue to stand and cheer. I swear, if there were 42,000 fans at this game, people must have been materializing because it sure as hell sounded like 57,000.

But the Mets weren't done. Todd Hundley followed, pinch-hitting for Reed. Shaw, at this point, was clearly rattled. Not wanting to serve one up to Hundley, Shaw instead walked him on 4 pitches. Tony Phillips followed by working the count full before striking out for the 2nd out of the inning. It was Alfonzo next. Alfonzo took a pair of quick strikes before swinging at the 3rd pitch. He would send Shaw's offering deep into the gap in left center, splitting Luke and Hubbard and banging off the wall, near the 396 marker. Everyone was up and cheering as Hundley motored around the bases, being waved home. Hubbard's relay throw to Grudzielanek bounced, and Grudzielanek's throw home was nowhere close. Hundley scored standing, and the fans, whipped up into a tizzy by this stirring comeback, were just about ready to rush the field. The Mets streamed out of the dugout to mob Alfonzo near second base. With the Mets appearing doomed, Franco and Alfonzo turned the game around and gave the Mets a huge, 2-1 victory in midst of their drive towards a potential Wildcard berth.

But, lost in the shuffle of these clutch hits was the winning pitcher, the guy who absolutely pitched his heart out only to appear to be on the short end of the stick once again. Instead of an undeserved loss, he would be rewarded for his strong outing with his 12th win of the year. The winning pitcher? Rick Reed.

The Mets would continue to play strong baseball against the West Coast teams through August, and won a number of heart-stopping games in September as well. But their hopes of a Wildcard would be dashed in the end, after a 5-game losing streak hit them at the worst time, losing their final 3 games of the season in excruciating fashion to the Atlanta Braves, who seemed to enjoy beating the Mets a little too much.

Although it wouldn't end well, 1998 often gets lost among some of the better Mets seasons. The '98 Mets played a number of tight, exciting games throughout their season, and it's games like this that often are forgotten because of how the season turned out. It's games like this that are Lost Classics in the truest sense of the word.