Monday, June 2, 2008

19 Games: What Did It Prove?

Three weeks ago, I wrote about how the next 19 games the Mets would play would very likely tell us quite a bit about the fortunes for the 2008 Mets.

19 games later, what have we learned?

After 13 of those games, it appeared to be an unmitigated disaster. After the full 19, it appeared to be less so. For the 19 games, the Mets posted a 9-10 record. They played some of the worst baseball conceivable for about a week. They sandwiched that with some pretty damn good baseball. Their Manager was embroiled in all sorts of controversy, then saved his own hide. Questionable personnel moves were made. Some necessary ones were made as well. And after 19 games, the Mets appear to be no better or worse off in the standings or overall then they were at the beginning of the stretch.

So what have we learned? Not a hell of a lot. This team probably isn't quite as good as we might have thought at the outset of the season. They're also not as terrible as we sometimes seem to think they are. Right now, they're just there. They're not even who we thought they were. But if the type of games they've played over the last week are any indication, they might slowly but surely be turning the corner and being able to do what is necessary to win games on a more frequent basis. Then again, as we've seen so often from the Mets, your really can't tell.

There were plenty of positives out of the weekend's games with the Dodgers. There were also some pretty lousy moments as well. After they pretty much blew the Dodgers out of the water on Thursday night, the Mets came back on Friday and played one of their lousy, idiot games. It started with Maine having another poor outing, digging himself an 0-3 hole before the fans had even settled into their seats, followed by him settling down and pitching tolerably well. This isn't unprecedented for Maine; last season, he had a first inning problem as well at times. But it tends to come down to how he responds to these things. While the remaining 5 innings of his outing were certainly encouraging, his line would have looked a lot better had the Dodgers not smacked him all over the park on Friday. Nonetheless, the Mets came back, which is by far and away the most encouraging thing we've seen from them this week. So often, and so frustratingly this year, the Mets have gone into the tank after going down by a few runs. This week, the Mets came from behind to tie games 4 times, winning 3 of them. But just when it seemed like the Mets were primed to pull off the victory, in came Aaron Heilman in the 8th, and there went the game. Heilman, pitching mostly in BS situations, had been throwing better of late, except for the outing in Colorado on the 23rd, but he reverted to shitty Heilman on Friday night, in what was basically a carbon copy of his outing on May 13th against Washington. He gets ahead, he starts nibbling with his stupid slider, then he hangs a pitch and it gets drilled for a hit. And this was repeated about 4 or 5 times on Friday, so that by time the dust cleared, the game was hopelessly out of reach, and the Mets had allowed 9 runs to a team that can't hit. Bad baseball. Idiot baseball. Idiot managing by Willie to bring him in in the first place when he should be relegated to mopup duty right now until he gets his shit together. So, throw Friday's game down the toilet.

Saturday was more or less the exact opposite. For 7 1/2 innings, it appeared that the Mets were slipping back down the slope, hung over from the misery of Friday night's game. Lifeless on offense. Pelfrey pitched tolerably well, and probably was fortunate to only have given up a pair of runs over his 7 innings. But nonetheless, there the Mets were, down 0-2, with the Dodgers 1-2 punch of Broxton and Saito looming. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the Mets struck back. First, it was Beltran, delivering one of those clutch hits that the Mets had seemed to be devoid of all season, drilling a long 2-run HR to tie the game. Following a single and a walk, Fernando Tatis punctuated the comeback with what seems to be his specialty, a key hit, plating Nick Evans with the lead run, and before you fully grasped what was going on, the Mets had stormed back to take the lead, and Wagner quickly closed the door with a dominant 9th inning, striking out the Dodgers in order and making them look pretty silly in the process.

A game like this can be telling, because it appeared for all the world that the Mets were going to just fade themselves out, but they didn't A few weeks ago, they might have. Maybe it wasn't pretty the whole way through, but the Mets, particularly guys like Wright and Beltran, came through when the Mets needed them to, and that was something that had been missing.

Sunday night brought The Biggest Game In The Galaxy, a truly cheap and ridiculous promotion (the freebie battery-operated handheld fan that perplexingly came with no batteries included), and myself to Shea to watch Johan Santana throw the kind of game that we expect Johan Santana to throw. After giving up a double to Pierre and a single to Kemp to start things off, Johan then proceeded to simply eat the Dodgers alive for the next 7.2 innings, giving up little more than some bouncing singles, fooling them with a baffling array of pitches that always seemed to go exactly where he wanted them, and a pair of beautifully turned double plays hit into by the Venomous Jeff Kent, first by Reyes, who robbed what appeared to be a single into CF in the 3rd, the second even better, Wright getting spun around by a hard smash, yet still having the wherewithal to get the ball in to Castillo, who then hopped over Kemp to complete the DP, and earning Wright a Standing Ovation and a chest pound from his pitcher.

Santana, for the first time, truly looked like the completely dominant force we knew we were getting when he first arrived in New York. Once the Mets took their 5-run lead in the 3rd, I knew the game was pretty much over. The only thing left to question was how long would he go. He lasted to the 8th, over 106 pitches, and departed after a walk and a single with 2 outs. I would have preferred he finish the 8th, and for as dominant as he looked, I would have given him the 9th as well, but I digress. He pitched like a master, and left to a well-earned Standing Ovation and a tip of the cap.

On the offensive side, the Mets pretty much took full advantage of Hiroki Kuroda coming completely unglued with 2 outs in the 3rd inning, in such spectacular a fashion that following Beltran's HR, Kuroda was shown on Diamondvision with a completely dumbfounded look on his face. It was reported to me by El Guapo, watching the proceedings on TV (Eye-popping ESPN-HD, I'm sure) that Kuroda was crying on the mound. He may have simply been sweating, but the Shea DJ took the opportunity to play The Pretenders' "Stop Your Sobbing" during a mound conference before Ryan Church came up, and Church responded by hitting a long HR into the bullpen, which for all intents and purposes was the death knell for Kuroda. Church, in the starting lineup for the first time since suffering his concussion over 10 days ago in Atlanta, seemed to show no ill effects; in addition to his HR, Church drilled a long double over Kemp's head in center and also added a single later on. Tatis certainly played well and made his hits count in Church's stead, but I'm certainly glad to see Church back on his feet, especially after the struggles he seemed to have recovering.

So, the Mets close out the 19 games on a particularly positive note, winning a pair of games in solid fashion, and closing out a 5-2 homestand by winning 3 of 4 from LA.

So, it's back to the road for the Mets, and back to the West coast, where their trip to San Francisco will also bring us the return of Pedro. On Baseball Tonight, Peter Gammons said that having Pedro active again "gives the Mets their swagger back."

We'll see just how much swagger they have.

No comments: