Friday, August 22, 2008

Justifiable Confidence

Unless there is some unforseen change in plans, at least for me, last night was the final Mets/Braves tilt I will attend at Shea Stadium.

And if this is the case, well, that's one hell of a way to go out.

Things seemed to begin all wrong last night. For starters, Pedro Martinez did the exact same thing last night that he had done in the last game I attended. I was running somewhat late to the game and I was just barely settling into my seat, UR6U9, when Yunel Escobar popped the first pitch of the game into the bleachers. "Are you fucking kidding me?" I thought. "Two games in a row?!"

It was quite fortunate that the rest of the game did not unfold in similar fashion to that Wednesday against San Diego 2 weeks ago, when not much went right for the Mets. In fact, for the most part, this played out as the sort of game that a good team will figure out a way to win. This is what the Mets managed to do.

Last season, Will Ohman gets to the bag in time and receives Martin Prado's throw in stride to get Delgado and end the 7th.

Last season, Omar Infante makes a brilliant sliding catch on Delgado's sinking liner and doubles Wright off 2nd base with ease in the 9th.

In 2008, these things don't happen.

I don't know whether its a different attitude or a heightened sense of urgency, but even when this game appeared to be slipping away, I felt rather confident throughout that the Mets would win. I can't say that this is a feeling that will hold true throughout the remainder of the season, but for the way the Mets have been pulling games out, and for the way that they have, at least lately, been beating the teams that they're supposed to be beating, even with the state of the Bullpen, the Mets have been inspiring a healthy amount of confidence.

Think about the manner in which they put together their rallies.

In the bottom of the 1st, Jose Reyes poked an 87-hopper up the middle. Yunel Escobar dives, but can't come up with the ball. It's a hit for Reyes. 2 outs later, with the infield shifted for Delgado, Carlos hits a high chopper up the middle. Hampton leaps but can't reach it. Escobar again makes a desperate dive, but he can't get it either. It's a hit to score Reyes and tie the game 1-1.

In the bottom of the 3rd, there's 2 outs and Wright on 3rd with Delgado at the plate. Delgado hits a hard grounder in a similar spot, perhaps a bit further to the right. Kelly Johnson, one of those annoying little guys in the Keith Lockhart mode, dives, but it's just beyond his reach. It's another seeing-eye RBI single for Delgado. Both times, if you're following, with 2 outs.

In the 7th inning, it's again Delgado at the plate, with 2 outs, and the Mets now trailing by a run, after Pedro's plot to pitch around Larry went awry in the 6th. Nick Evans is on 2nd and Carlos Beltran is on 1st, after the Braves pitched around Beltran and brought in the lefty Ohman to pitch to Delgado, a move that did not work on Tuesday night. Delgado hits a hard grounder to the right side. This time, it does not have eyes. Martin "The Devil Wore" Prado (apologies for the Bermanism) dove and came up with the ball. But he's now on the ground, well off the base. Delgado is chugging down the line. Will Ohman, for some reason, was standing on the mound watching. By time he breaks, it's clear that this is going to be close. Ohman appears to have a step, perhaps, on Delgado, but he's still waiting for the throw from Prado...which is slightly behind him, bouncing off his glove and trickling away as Evans scampers home with the tying run.

The positive vibes continued in the 8th inning, even if the offense did not. Pedro, who rebounded after his first pitch problem and actually pitched a solid game, emerged for the 8th inning, and why not? He'd only thrown 99 pitches to that point, and if Manuel is going to squeeze as many innings as possible out of his starters, more power to him. But Escobar clearly had his number, as he had also started the Atlanta rally in the 6th, and kicked off the 8th with a clean single up the middle that nobody could dive for. Out went one Pedro, in came another, and Feliciano managed to get Mark Kotsay to drop a miserable bunt about a foot in front of home plate, which Castro turned into a most unorthodox 2-6-4 DP. Feliciano followed by getting himself into a bit of trouble, walking Larry and giving up a hit to McCann before departing for Luis Ayala. Omar Infante, he who ended the 7th inning with a small jib at a fan. He who would hit a screamer out to Center Field, one that appeared ticketed over the head of Carlos Beltran. Expletives were flying out of the mouths of everyone within earshot, until Beltran managed to reach up and snag the ball, ending the threat.

The Mets didn't do much in their half of the 8th, but for a dropped popup by Larry, which only served to make the evening that much better for everyone in attendance.

With the game still tied, moving to the 9th, I was thinking extra innings. Given my history, I think I was well-justified. Still, I thought, it would be fitting if Nick Evans popped one out to lead off the 9th, or perhaps if David Wright did that instead.

But nooooo. If my 21 years attending games at Shea Stadium has taught me anything, it's that you really can't ever expect a game like this to end the way you think it's going to end. That would mean that Wright would double with 1 out, after working back from 0-2 to 3-2, and Atlanta would intentionally walk Carlos Beltran just as the magical F went up next to the Washington/Philadelphia game. A Spanish gentleman in front of me tapped me and started yelling, "LOOK! LOOK AT WASHINGTON! LOOK AT WASHINGTON!"

So, right. Walk Beltran to pitch to the guy who's 4 for 4. So Delgado hits a sharp liner to left that off the bat looks like it's going to drop in. I see Wright taking off and motoring towards 3rd. I see Omar Infante closing on the ball, and...uh oh...He's going to catch the bastard, and Wright is basically standing on 3rd. Instant disaster. So Infante starts to slide, and the next thing I know, the ball's on the ground, and Wright is all of a sudden reversing course and dashing for home, making a graceful dive and getting pounded by a mob of Mets at the plate. This is how it would end. A hit that's almost a double play that turns into a hit. A sweep of the team that has, arguably, caused the Mets the most grief over the past 10 years. A somewhat satisfying sore throat for me this morning. I was in such a good mood after the game that it didn't even bother me that some woman snuck through the turnstile on my Metrocard Swipe (and I use an unlimited), or that I had to stand on the 7 train back into Manhattan.

Good teams are supposed to win games like this, and right now, the Mets are playing like a good team. Last season, they were supposedly a good team and they didn't play as such. People who like to reference the end of last season as a "collapse" like to ignore the larger picture, that which would show you that the Mets played like that all season. It just caught up with them at the worst time. They've played in similar fashion this season, too, and there's a lot of baseball left in this season. But they haven't played like that very much lately.

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