Monday, April 28, 2008


Today's header isn't some sort of thinly veiled reference to Derek Bell.

No, it's about the travails of the 2008 Mets.

I went to Friday night's game against the Atlanta Braves, for some reason. I say for some reason, because by the end of the night, I found myself having the beginnings of a nervous breakdown because I should have been able to find something better to do with myself for 3 hours and 6 minutes that evening, rather than subject myself to the epic crapfest the Mets put forth.

I should have turned back when I got to Grand Central at around 5:45, and while waiting on the 7 train platform, there was an announcement that there was no Express service into Queens.

I continued.

I should have turned back when I got to Shea, walked up to the ticket booth by Gate E and found that the Upper Reserve was, for some reason, completely sold out.

I ponied up for the Mezzanine and continued.

I knew it was a bad idea.

The seemed just about indistinguishable from several I'd attended over the course of the 2007 season. The Mets didn't hit, they only scored when Jair Jurrjens lost the plate in the 3rd inning, and then pretty much went into the tank after that. Pelfrey had his own issues with the strike zone, coughed up the 3-1 lead in the 5th, and let the game slip away in the 6th, giving up a Home Run to Kelly Johnson, another one of those annoying little middle infielders who always seems to kill the Mets.

The atmosphere around Shea was Murderous at best. Between the normal animosity focused towards Atlanta, there was a good deal of antipathy towards the Mets as well. It was spreading, as noted by Jason at Faith and Fear over the weekend. The introductions of the starting lineup were greeted with applause that was lukewarm. Booing was frequent. The Mets managed 2 hits against a pitcher who seemed all too happy to hand the game over to them. By the end of the 8th inning, just about the entire crowd got up and left. The 9th seemed like mere formality.

Sitting in the Mezzanine, the fans seemed to range from apoplectic to half asleep. Of course, I was sitting about 8 rows behind some Napoleon Dynamite jerkoff in a Chipper Jones shirt who kept squealing and maniacally clapping and doing a solo tomahawk chop throughout the game. Some people yelled at him. I just wanted to throw peanuts at him. By the end of the game, nobody had the energy anymore. There was also a guy sitting in front of me with his girlfriend. She kept making him get up and go stand on line for food. He missed about 2 innings before returning with an order of french fries, which he then proceeded to start to feed to her before she whined that there was no ketchup, which he went back for, and took another half inning,then he disappeared for another 3 innings getting sausages and beer while she sat and sent text messages. He might have seen about 3 innings worth of the game. Something tells me he ended up getting the better end of the bargain.

I knew I was a little off when, following Pelfrey's pathetic departure in the 6th, I was almost delighted to see Scott Schoeneweis trotting in from the Bullpen. That was the warning sign. By the 9th inning, I began to wonder what the hell I was doing. Why had I gone? Why wasn't I somewhere else getting drunk, or trying to pick up a nice Jewish girl somewhere? What posessed me to go to this game? Walking down the ramps after the game, everything began spinning. I think I blacked out. Next thing I knew, I was sitting in the last car of a speeding 7 train, listening to the dulcet tones of Sarge (one of the folks who occupies UR1 most nights, I know that's not his name, but it seems to suit him well enough) absolutely BELLOWING about how the Mets suck and the Rangers suck. Then he started talking about the Pennsylvania primary.

"That's it," I realized. "I've died. The Mets have actually killed me. And this is Hell."

So, just when I was feeling my worst, the Mets managed to go out and win on Saturday and Sunday. How they managed that, I'm not quite sure. They bunched their hits when they needed them, all in the 3rd inning on Saturday, and on Sunday, Carlos Delgado, who was lustily booed during his cameo appearance on Friday, hit 2 HRs and permeated good feelings all around despite the fact that he didn't take a curtain call. I'm with Steve Somers on this one: Let Delgado not come out for a curtain call many more times over the course of this season. Beware, though. There was a stretch last season where he went on a little power streak, and people thought the real Delgado was going to show up, and it didn't happen. Take the HRs when you can. Who knows when they'll come again.

I don't know what else to say other than this team is basically a Yo-Yo. They're up, they're down, you don't know who's going to screw up one day and who'll be good the next. I can't figure it out, and right now, I'm not so sure I want to. They lose a few and people are jumping out of windows. They win a couple and now they're the best.

Such is life as a Baseball fan in New York.

Friday, April 25, 2008

La Dee Da!

Below is a dramatization of what the Mets are prompting me to do:
Every day it's something else with this team. I'm beginning to wonder whether or not this is really worth it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I'll Do It Myself!

I guess Johan Santana decided to take the offensive struggles of the Mets into his own hands last night.

In addition to his normal sterling pitching performance, Santana also helped himself at the plate, hitting a pair of doubles, bringing his season total to 3.

That also being the sum total of hits he has this season.

It was just about imperative that he try to help himself out, given that his team didn't generate much offense of their own. The 7 run outburst is certainly nice, and I'll take it, but the Mets managed to plate their runs in the following fashion:

1) RBI groundout by Delgado
2) Slow roller to short that Castillo miraculously beat out
3) 70 foot roller to 3rd that Zimmerman threw away
4) Roller in the Bermuda Triangle between P-1B and 2B that Pagan beat out
5) RBI groundout by Schneider

Ryan Church's 2-run single in the 9th was the only solid hit the Mets managed with runners on base. And had Willie not finally come to his senses and flipped Church and Delgado in the lineup, even that might not have happened.

It's true that playing the Nationals seems to bring the Mets out of whatever funk they've fallen into so far this season. But after tonight, the Mets don't play Washington again until May 12th, and after that, a 4-game series at Shea, these teams don't cross again until August 12th. It's good that the Mets have been able to smash the flea with a sledgehammer, but that can only count for so much. As always, I'll take the victory. But don't think that I'm satisfied with the way it played out. The same culprits are making the same stupid mistakes, and most of the Met runs scored by virtue of luck and the fact that the Nationals are the Nationals.

Ollie tonight, in Nationals Park, which I really like. The grey brick behind the plate and the sharp outfield corner in CF are a nice touch.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Never Happened

I actually forgot that the Mets were playing a day game today until around 5pm, when my infamous co-worker called and asked if I had the game on.

I immediately turned the game on and realized I hadn't missed much. Or, rather, I hadn't missed anything that I hadn't already seen out of the Mets.

Then, about 10 or so minutes after I put the game on, Ronny Cedeño hit his grand slam and that was pretty much that.

With the extent of the Mets/Cubs games in Chicago coming and going within the span of 24 hours, I fully expect to have no memory whatsoever of the Mets at Wrigley Field this season. It's probably better that way, given how things have turned out.

I suppose the brunt of the blame will focus on the pitching, specifically the Bullpen, and while they haven't been very good, or very consistent at all over the first few weeks of the season (Heilman and Sosa repeatedly victimized over the past few days), it's too easy to heap all the blame on them.

Look at it this way: Aaron Heilman came into Monday night's game with the Mets trailing 2-1 in the 8th. Aided by a Jose Reyes error and some long hits, a 2-1 deficit turned into a 7-1 deficit, the runs unearned. Unearned, yes, but given up nonetheless.

Going further, however, is the fact that had Heilman pitched well, and held the Cubs, then the Mets would have lost the game 2-1, rather than 7-1. Heilman and Sosa wouldn't have magically taken the Cubs runs off the board.

The pitching can do what they can, and whether they do it or not, it doesn't make much of a difference if the Mets could only muster 2 runs over 2 games. If the bullpen does right itself, and start to pitch with some authority, it'll certainly be nice, but will it matter if nobody not named David Wright hits?

Carlos Beltran languishes with a .215 average and 1 HR. Carlos Delgado is barely off the interstate at .208, 1 HR. These are major players in the Mets offense, and for them to not be hitting creates a lot of problems and a lot of pressure on the rest of the team. It's an awful lot like last year. The Mets seem to win when they have a spark, like a bigtime outing from Santana or a 4-hit game from Wright or Reyes. But these guys can't and won't carry the load day after day, and it's not realistic to expect them to do so. More disconcerting is that there's still no anger or chip on the shoulder, especially on the day after they got their heads handed to them. We expected there to be some kind of difference, especially after basically the same team muddled through most of last season, and after the air of confidence and cockiness had seemed to return during Spring Training.

I know Beltran is a streak hitter, and he could right himself and put together one of those weeks where he hits .485 with 5 HR and 16 RBI and everything would be better. I'm less sure about Delgado, to the point where perhaps Moises Alou or Angel Pagan should be taking First Base lessons.

I keep saying this, but especially after the way last season went (and I'm not going to refer to "The Collapse" specifically anymore, and neither should anybody else, because the Mets were lousy all season, and everyone knows this as truth), it's really really easy to panic even though it's only April. But they're not playing consistently good baseball. Sure, they won 5 games in a row last week, but that could just as easily have happened by accident. It's a step up from last year, however, when they didn't manage 5 wins in a row until September, but what's that saying? They're the same team now that they were then? I don't see much of a difference.

Yes, yes, it's very early to panic. But this season, right now, looks like it has all the potential to get real ugly real quick. But so I don't sound too pessimistic and upset the optimists out there, I will say that last year, at this time, the Mets looked like a World Series team, and that pretty much fell apart starting in June. These things can turn around.

At least, I think they can...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Perfect Nickname

I really didn't see enough of last night's game to write anything informed about it. Suffice it to say that what I was able to see through a bar window on my way home, that being Felix Pie joyously pumping his fist, I gathered things didn't go well.

The upside to last night, if there was any, was that John Maine, for his third straight outing, threw fairly well, only allowing 2 runs on 5 hits over his 6 innings. His walks were down and his strikeouts were up, so hopefully he's starting to find his legs and will eventually return to the form he displayed during Spring training and throughout most of last year.

Speaking of Maine, there was a long discussion on Opening Day between myself, El Guapo and SVB involving finding a better nickname for John Maine. The standards, "The Maine Event" and "Maine Man" are nice, but a bit too formulaic. The Bermanism, "State and Maine," isn't so great either. There were other names suggested, such as John "The Destroyer" Maine and "Remember the Maine," but none of them seemed to suit him well enough. It seemed a lost cause until SVB came up with what we felt was the winner.

We would like to introduce Maine's new nickname: "Death Cab for John Maine."

I'm not sure what the thought process was for this whatsoever. I don't think this means SVB thinks John Maine is a Cutie. I'm pretty sure, based on his use of Metallica as his entrance music, that Maine doesn't even listen to Death Cab for Cutie (I can't vouch for SVB, but I don't). In fact, there's a fairly good chance he has no idea who they are. Although Maine can be soft-spoken, he's certainly not Emo, at least not from what I've been able to gather from interviews. Maybe it has something to do with his offseason impostor's proclamation that he was a "Piece of Ass." But, if nothing else, it's a thought-provoking nickname that makes me laugh (despite the fact that the thought might be "What the hell are you talking about?"). So let's spread the word on this one.

Death Cab for John Maine. Hopefully, it'll stick.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

When we last saw Steroid Field II, late last August, it was for a miserable 4-game sweep that pretty much signaled the beginning of the end for the 2007 Mets.

Since then, the Mets blew their lead, Philly got swept out of the playoffs, the Mets got Santana, words were exchanged between fans and players on both sides, and these Mets/Phillies games began to take on the feel of a mini-war each time they played. The games may not necessarily be long, but, man, do they feel long. Especially as the game winds into the late innings, both teams continually get runners on, and the game is in the hands of both teams' suspect bullpens. Greg at Faith and Fear describes the kind of games that the Mets and Phils have played perfectly here. Basically, it's impossible to relax until the last out is recorded. Win or lose.

At least that's what it seemed like this weekend. Although the three games at Shea certainly held their own drama, things were mostly quiet in the stands, except for the three fistfights on Opening Day, which usually happens every Opening Day, no matter who the Mets are playing. But Philly, even going back to the days of The Vet, seems to have been a stomping ground for Mets fans to invade the opponent's home ballpark and wreak havoc. Yes, there were plenty of Philly fans in New York, particularly at the final game of the series, but it seems like Mets fans really seem to haunt Philly in droves. This year, it seemed to reach a new height, with Mets fans planning a major invasion on Saturday afternoon. Philly fans reacted with a planned counter-invasion in September. The question for the Mets was, could they continue to erase the ghosts from last year, go into Philly, and win? Would the rival factions in the stands kill each other first? Little of column A, little of column B.

We began on Friday night, with The Guap and I reassuming the same positions we held for the previous Friday night's game, ready to watch what shaped up as a dream matchup between Johan Santana and Cole Hamels.

They didn't disappoint.

If, perhaps, the Mets do move on to bigger and better things as the season progresses, I'd like to look at Santana's outing on Friday night in particular as a turning point. Through his first three games, Santana had been good, albeit prone to the longball, as was his habit back in the AL. But, for 7 innings on Friday night, all I could do was watch and think to myself, "This is why we got him."

What Santana basically did was deal as only he can, mixing in his fastball, slider and changeup like the Master Painter he is. El Guapo and I watched him make Burrell look silly in the 5th, one of his 10 Ks, in which he got ahead with the fastball, wasted a slider, and came back with a dead fish that Burrell didn't even come close to.

On the other side, the Mets 2-0 lead had an almost Pyrrhic feel to it, especially after Reyes appeared to knock himself silly on a stolen base in the 4th. The replays showed him sliding headfirst directly into Chase Utley's knee, which could have been particularly dangerous for both parties, but it appeared Reyes took the worst of it. With the game muted, and the captions bad, I had no idea that the Philly fans were, as they have been known to do, cheering Reyes' injury, thereby setting the stage for a weekend's worth of Met fan ire. We were pretty well convinced that Reyes was done for the game, but after a few minutes, he hopped up, dusted himself off and stayed in the game, scoring when Wright tripled on the next pitch.

The way Santana was rolling along, the game seemed pretty well in hand. Utley's solo HR in the 7th was countered by a prolonged Met rally in the 8th that plated 3 runs, extending the Mets lead to 5-1.

Foolish to think the game was anywhere close to over.

Santana emerged for the 8th, as well he should have, but quickly allowed 2 hits before departing in favor of Aaron Heilman, who would face Greg Dobbs, who seems to be one of these players that's nothing but a spare part, and anybody who can play 3rd Base for Philly is pretty much a spare part, but for some reason, he always kills the Mets. Damned if he didn't do it again, hitting what appeared to be a classic SF2 HR, a pop fly to right that just carried forever and landed a few rows in the seats. 5-4.

Well, why not?

This is where we all took a collective shit, I'm sure. Heilman on the ropes yet again (his split, something like .080 against right handed batters and .455 against lefties, should say enough) in a one-run game, in this house of horrors. This had all the makings of a pure, unadulterated disaster. But Heilman got Jenkins and Werth, Feliciano came in to get Utley, and all of a sudden my face returned to its normal color. The Mets manage to tack on an insurance run against Brad Lidge, albeit an unearned run, but an insurance run is an insurance run in a game like this, and Wagner worked a relatively drama-free 9th inning, giving the Mets the victory.

And about a minute or so later, the Rangers finished off the Devils in the 5th game of their series. Good night all around.

Saturday, I actually didn't see any of the game, being out most of the afternoon, and at a Seder in the evening. I could only rely on a late text message from El Guapo for the score, and even then, I didn't know what happened in the game until much later. Basically, from what I could gather, it went something like this:

David Wright, Jose Reyes, Bullpen, Heilman , Bullpen, major fistfight in the stands.

If I'm wrong on this, someone let me know.

The Mets jumped ahead thanks to David Wright, who seems to be just about the hottest player on the planet right now (or at least right up there with another 3rd Baseman in the same division who is apparently named after some sort of mulching device), Oliver Perez sweat his way through 5.2 innings, Jose Reyes hit a HR off Madson, the Phillies chipped away in the 7th and 8th, Heilman redeemed himself by getting out of a bases loaded jam in the 8th, replete with strikeouts of Jenkins and Werth, and Wagner pitched a drama-free 9th, giving the Mets the victory.

That's the short form of saying that the game was pretty well similar to Friday night.

The talk afterwards, however, had nothing to do with the game, but with the behavior of the fans at the game. Although I didn't know anyone who was there, I'm sure there are some readers who made the trip to Philly for Saturday's game. Whether it's true or not, I heard that several fistfights broke out between Mets fans and Philly fans, including a major rumble in the lower deck in the 9th inning that apparently delayed the game because it was either going to spill onto the field, or because the players were too entertained to continue playing. Either way, is anyone really surprised? The folks at the 700 Level didn't seem to be.

Most of the callers on WFAN seem to be condemning the whole thing. I'm certainly not in favor of it, but let's face it. I've been to enough games, and so have many of you reading this, and you get some loudmouths, and people who go out there with the intent to start trouble, combined with a healthy dose of alcohol, and these things happen. Last year, at the Sunday night Mets/Yankees game at Shea, several sections in the Upper Deck in Right Field erupted to the point where security guards were standing in front of each section from the 5th inning on. Fans of the road team in your home park can really get under your skin sometimes. I know from experience. The key is to keep a calm head. And keep your mouth shut.

Not that that will ever happen.

Sunday night brought the series finale, the ESPN game, or as I like to call it, "The Biggest Game in the Galaxy," with the Mets primed to pull off the revenge sweep. But Pelfrey didn't have his good stuff at all. He was OK through the first few innings, but he was missing all over the place with his sinker, giving up a few fly balls that were lucky to not go out of the ballpark, and a pair by Chase Utley that did. And with the Mets again unable to solve Adam Eaton (which I can't ever understand, because he's not good), it appeared the Mets would go quietly, which was fine, I was perfectly happy to take 2 out of 3 in Philly, enough to move the Mets into 1st place.

But the Mets came back. It was, once again, the quick strike offense doing the job. In the blink of an eye, a 4-0 deficit was immediately 4-3 (thanks to, who else, Reyes and Wright), and then 4-4 after a steal from Beltran and an RBI single from Church (no thanks to Delgado, who repeatedly yakked with men on base all weekend). And all of a sudden, I'm thinking sweep again. We've got them right where we want them.

But the Feliz HR off Feliciano was kind of a buzzkill. You can't argue the move, though. With Utley and Howard to follow, Feliciano was absolutely the guy to have in the game there. Feliz hit for Dobbs and burned him. It happens. I'd still keep running P-Fel out there in those spots so long as he continues to be successful.

Besides, the Mets had every opportunity to come back from the 5-4 deficit, particularly in the 9th against Lidge, who I guess has officially supplanted Flash Gordon as the closer. I don't think Lidge has ever really recovered from that mammoth bomb he gave up to Pujols in the 2005 NLCS. He used to be completely lights out. Now, he's basically been incredibly lucky as opposed to good. He walked Easley and basically knocked down a potential DP ball from Reyes, turning it into a single, and the Mets were right there, ready to strike.

But Castillo, who seems to only be able to bunt anymore, couldn't lay one down. Then he swung badly through a biting slider.

But Wright, who seemed to absolutely rake everything Philly threw at him this weekend, hit a foul pop that hung just long enough for the wind to blow it back onto the playing field, allowing Howard to make the catch.

But Beltran, whose 2-run single in the 6th was the key cog in the tying rally, hit a screamer directly in the same spot—but for Eric Bruntlett, who last week looked like he was playing with a cinder block for a glove making a game-saving stab and throw to get Beltran at first to close out the game, a game that played out much like the other two, only with the shoe coming out on the other foot.

The kind of games we can expect to see more than just a few more times out of these two teams.

Catch your breath yet? I haven't. These two teams are primed to treat us to a lot of second-rate first-class baseball over the course of this season. Get your Xanax ready.

Up next, a trip to the Windy City, where the Mets will blow through town in just about 24 hours and won't return again this season. Didn't there used to be a time when the Mets and Cubs would play 18 times a season? Now, if you blink, you'll miss them.

Friday, April 18, 2008

My Kind of Game

By all rights, I should have been at last night's game.

My plans to actually attend were thwarted somewhat by a friend calling to see a show, then said friend not showing up, leaving me to see the show by myself.

The Mets must have sensed my intent, since last night's game was truly the kind of game I seem to have attended most of my life. In fact, the most recent game I attended was that kind of game.

What kind of game? Why, it's the ridiculously extended Extra Inning game, of course!

These are the kind of games that run 12-13-14 innings, end around 11:30 or Midnight, and then I come home and my father laughs at me. The only thing that could have made it more perfect would have been if it had rained. Those tend to be the games I seem to attend, at least 2-3 times a season. Generally, the Mets have won these games, particularly if they've extended past the 12th inning. Good thing, too, because I can only imagine that I wouldn't be too pleased on the ride home if I'd sat in Shea for 4 and a half hours and they'd lost.

I've been to three 14-inning games in my life, most recently in 2006. 12 and 13 innings? Too many to count, although I know I've been to a 12-inning game in each of the last 3 seasons.

Last night would have been my 4th, if I'd gone. What I missed was a game that certainly would have had me shaking my head by the time it concluded, at 11:57pm, on a walk-off Wild Pitch, something (and this would be a question for Mets Walkoffs) that I don't believe has happened since Melvin Mora.

Generally in these kinds of games, there's an unlikely sort of break that leads to the winning run. Last night, it was Damion "Don't Panic" Easley doing what he seems to have done so often for the Mets these past couple of seasons, getting a hit and getting in the middle of things. I said it last year, and I'll say it again. You can laugh all you want about certain intangibles, but it's usually a guy like Easley, not the most talented player, but certainly the most heady player, who gets the job done when his team needs it the most.

First, he got the leadoff single. After Reyes popped out on his first-pitch Bunt attempt, Joel Hanrahan threw a pitch on 1-1 to Ryan Church that seemed to trickle just a few feet away from Wil Nieves, his catcher. Alertly, Easley took off like a shot. Nieves' throw was there, and Easley likely would have been out had Cristian Guzman (who I'd forgotten was even in the majors) been able to hold the ball. Two pitches later, Hanrahan had Easley picked off at second, but somehow his low throw only managed to bank off of Guzman's leg into left field, setting up Church needing only to hit a fly ball to end the game.

Church struck out. And he knew he blew it.

Wright and Delgado were both walked intentionally, setting up a scenario straight out of 1999. With Jorge Sosa, the pitcher, due up, Willie sent Brian Schneider to the plate. Schneider was batting even though the only pitcher remaining, Scott Schoeneweis, hadn't started to warm up until after Schneider was announced. If Schneider had 1-pitch at bat, Schoeneweis would likely have had to come into the game cold. Willie looked to be painting himself into a corner...

...Until Hanrahan bounced the first pitch, a 55-foot curve, well in front of the plate, bouncing over Nieves' head and allowing Easley to trot home with the winning run, capping off a long night (in which my father suggested I head out to Shea at around 11pm so I could pitch the 18th inning) and capping off a Sweep of the Nationals, a team that the Mets should be sweeping, no matter how ugly it may seem.

Funny thing is, most of us on the East Coast probably went to sleep. Then, as I found out this morning, I realized that the Mets hadn't even come close to playing the longest game of the night! By the time the Mets game had ended, the Rockies and Padres were just warming up for their little 22-inning marathon, the longest game in the Majors since 1993.

Tonight, Santana vs. Hamels at Steroid Field 2. Who will hit more Home Runs tonight in that bandbox?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Quick Strike Offense

We've seen this a few times this season, and it happened again last night.

If the Mets are going to beat you, it'll happen pretty quickly.

After a frighteningly shaky start from John Maine, who nearly unraveled completely in the 1st before Lastings Milledge helped him out by swinging at a sucker pitch, the Mets trailed 2-1 in the 5th, before storming back with 4 runs in the span of about 2 minutes. First, Reyes, then Beltran popped their first HRs of the season in a lightning strike that left the Nationals stunned and basically tilted the game decidedly in the Mets favor.

This is, apparently, the kind of offense the Mets have, although I don't know yet if this means that this is the kind of offense they have when they're going well or not. It's too early to know that for sure.

But given how putrid the offense has looked at times, I'll take whatever they give me for the moment. I'll also take the two wins in a row.

Tonight, Figueroa and a chance for the sweep before heading into Steroid Field 2 for the weekend.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Welcome Back

Tuesday Night saw the Mets provide me, and the rest of their fans a reason to not boo them. 4 hits from Jose Reyes, a Home Run and 5 RBIs from David Wright and 7 shutout innings from Mike Pelfrey added up to a resounding 6-0 victory over Washington that provided several encouraging signs.

Pelfrey was able to build on his successful outing against Philadelphia last week, in better weather, this time spreading his 100 pitches over a 7 inning effort that probably ranks among his best performances in the Majors. Yes, he was pitching against a mostly punchless Washington team. But considering that he had been on thin ice to begin with, and considering that the news on Pedro and his hamstring was pretty far from good, Pelfrey needed to step up and put together some consistent outings. Last night, he did just that, pitching the kind of game we've been expecting out of him for some time.

But perhaps more encouraging than that was the return of Duaner Sanchez, after the injuries, the inconsistency, the attitude problems, and the lengthy rehab. Adding Sanchez to a bullpen that has been lacking in reliable depth, and has been an increasing cause of concern to everyone is more than a good sign. In March, I anointed Sanchez the Most Key Met for this season. I fully expect him to play a major role from here on out, taking pressure and innings away from guys like Jorge Sosa and Aaron Heilman, who are already suffering from overuse. Whether or not he'll be as effective as he was in 2006 remains to be seen. But he did the job tonight, allowing a single, making Ronnie Belliard look silly in striking him out, and basically held the fort in the 9th inning to close out the game. Great to have him back.

42, Redux
After last season, when select players on each team wore #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson's first game in the Majors, most teams this season had their entire roster suit up in #42. Willie Randolph was the Mets lone #42 last season. This year, everyone wore #42. It is always a symbolic gesture for a great, groundbreaking ballplayer. However, it must have been hell for the official scorers, or anyone at the game watching. I only saw brief parts of the game, and every time I looked at the TV, I saw 42 at the plate and thought Butch Huskey was batting. Unless it was a lefty batter. Then I thought it was Mo Vaughn. Then, I remembered that nobody on the Mets is quite as large as Vaughn was.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Good News!

The Mets did not hit into any Double Plays last night! Hooraaaaaaay!

Then again, the only Met who was batting was David Wright, and that was on West 53rd Street, taking batting practice against David Letterman.

The day off should, if nothing else, allow the Mets to regroup from their miserable efforts over the weekend, in which they looked bad and the fans let them know it, both in the stands and elsewhere.

I've already made mention of the lack of patience the fans are going to have with the team this season. The first, last and only reason is because of the way last year ended. You didn't have to be a genius to know that if the Mets got off to even a slightly lethargic start this year, the fans would immediately be up in arms, getting on players, getting on Willie, getting on Omar and everyone else. Nobody's been immune.

It's not going unnoticed by the players. This article in yesterday's NY Times talks about what appears to be an increasing rift between players and fans. Some of the players, Scott Schoeneweis in particular, would prefer to ignore it. Brian Schneider seems upset by it. It's not so much that the fans expect the Mets to go undefeated, as Wagner seems to intimate, but that the Mets seem to lose in ways that are lifeless and lethargic.

The kind of losses that they seemed to have through most of last season.

It's not unlike Mets fans to boo their own players after a particularly bad performance. Or, in the case of Bobby Bonilla, all the time. But the fans reaction this year hasn't been directed at any one particular player, it's been directed at everyone. If they were or weren't on the team last year, they've got to carry the weight of last season.

What they don't seem to understand is that it's not so much the losing that bothers the fans, although it does bother the fans. But to lose in a continued fashion, exuding the intensity of a bowl of rice pudding that really seems to make the fans nuts. It's repeatedly being entrusted with a lead and repeatedly failing that drives us crazy. It's constantly getting men on base and hitting into double plays each time that makes us tear our hair out. If you want the fans to stop complaining, Play Better Baseball, dammit!

It's enough to make me want to call up SNY and ask them to stop replaying last season's games.

Fans Have Not Forgotten, or Forgiven, the Mets [New York Times]

Monday, April 14, 2008

Return of the Double Play Brigade

The Mets started the following pitchers, in order, over the past weekend.

1) Nelson Figueroa
2) Johan Santana
3) Oliver Perez

Now, let's say, for the sake of argument, that you just flew in from Mars, and you only knew of the career patterns of these three pitchers. And let's say that I told you that one of these three pitchers took a perfect game into the 5th inning over this past weekend, while the other two pretty much got shelled.

You probably wouldn't have guessed Nelson Figueroa. But that's what happened.

Friday night, the Mets pulled through with the kind of victory you'd expect them to have more often than not over the course of this season. They'll hit a marginal amount, probably score just enough to win, and rely on some steely pitching to get them through the game. Friday, it was Figueroa, followed by Smith, Heilman and Wagner shoving the Mets through to a 4-2 victory over the Brewers that was just a joy to watch, because it seemed so easy. And, I was drinking. And, the Rangers were beating the Devils on the other TV in the bar. But I digress.

After watching that game, you figured the Mets were a lock to at least take the series, with Santana on Saturday and Oliver Perez on a hot streak Sunday.


Saturday, Santana didn't have it. After being staked to a 2-run lead, Santana battled through his first home start with the Mets, getting tagged for 3 HRs, being victimized by 2 errors from Wright and basically being stuck in a scene from Johan! The Musical!, on the wrong end of a pretty miserable all around effort from the Mets.

A word about Wright: Yes, he made 3 errors in 2 games. This does happen to him sometimes. The problems he seems to be having throwing to first are a bit disconcerting, though. It bears watching, if only because it could turn into a form of the dreaded Disreturnophobia, the bizarre affliction that befell Mackey Sasser a generation ago. But by this point, we know what we're going to get out of him, and whatever kind of a liability he creates with an iffy glove that really isn't that iffy, he's going to make up for with his bat. His bat, by the way, that's waking up. I mentioned to El Guapo Friday Night that Wright, basically, is just a slow starter. He seems to do this every season. Lousy in April, hitting in the low to mid .200s, poor power numbers, and yet by season's end, he's hovering around .300 or above, 25-30 HRs and 100+ RBI. He'll be fine.

So will Santana, for that matter. Just about everyone I've heard talk about his outing yesterday seems to be up in arms, and, yes, Santana did give up 33 HRs last year, but he's a fly ball pitcher. He throws a fastball and a hard slider, and those are the kinds of pitches that will get popped up when he's good, and drilled out of the park if he's not. And more often than not, he'll be good. Relax.

Then, there was Sunday.

Howie Rose, on WFAN, referred to Sunday's game as "Excruciating," several times over the last few innings. I don't know if that's the word I would use. Words like "Head-Shaking," "Nauseating," and "Miserable" come to mind.

Sunday saw the Mets take a page from the 2007 season, which involved breaking out to a large early lead, scoring a lot of runs for once, whacking around Jeff Suppan good and proper, and then Oliver Perez having one of his bad days and handing the lead right back, only getting removed before he could completely butcher the game. Instead, Willie gave the ball to Jorge Sosa, who assumed the role of "Horrible Relief Pitcher" for the day. He did the job just fine.

Meanwhile, the Brewers pitchers didn't really make much of an effort to hold the lead, but try as they might, the Mets wouldn't allow them to hand the game back to them. It was straight out of last season. I don't think I've ever seen a worse offensive display out of the Mets. Every inning between the 2nd and the 8th, the Mets got the leadoff man on base. In the 2nd and 3rd innings, the Mets got key hits and scored some runs.

Then, the Double Play Brigade made its first appearance of the season. Every kind of double play you could think of, the Mets managed to hit into it on Sunday. Most galling was the last one. With Guillermo Mota on the mound and looking just like the Guillermo Mota we came to despise so much last season, Luis Castillo came up with runners on 1st and 3rd and no outs and chopped one to first for an easy out, which would have probably moved up Pagan and set up 2nd and 3rd, 1 out. Except that Brady Clark decided to run on contact, and was easily thrown out at home. Just to turn that knife a little more, Mota then walked the next two batters, before Delgado flew out and that settled that.

So, currently, the 2008 Mets seem to be floating around aimlessly through the first two weeks. They're 0-for-weekend games so far. They pitch but can't hit, or hit but can't pitch or one guy can't pitch, or one guy can't field. It's like they're bipolar. The only medication for this would be a string of 6-3 or 7-2 victories, where the starting pitcher throws 7 innings and the Mets coast. I just hope they have it in them.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Midnight Angel

Some time after last night's game, as I was heading up the escalator at Grand Central, I thought to myself, "Maybe this is a different team."

For all the world, this looked like another game the Mets were destined to lose to Philadelphia. After a solid, if uneven, 6+ innings from John Maine, the bullpen—rather, Aaron Heilman—turned around and handed the lead right back. I wasn't even sure why Heilman remained in the game after allowing Howard to basically hit the ball into Citi Field, and walking Burrell on 5 pitches. I know pitchers go through rough spots, but this has been ridiculous. He hasn't held games when the Mets were behind, and tonight, he just blew the lead, and blew the game for Maine. And there I was, when he came into the game, thinking to myself, "Gee, this has been a relatively drama-free game so far." 4 batters later, 2 runs home, Philly fans getting rowdy, and all I can do is shake my head.

And with the Mets still struggling to plate runs and get key hits, and with a tie game heading into extra innings in the hands of the Mets bullpen, Neither I, nor any of the Mets fans sitting around me at the game, felt all that confident about the Mets chances.

But something funny happened. The Mets didn't blow it.

In the 10th, Joe Smith walked Geoff Jenkins, and looked bad in doing so. But he got Feliz to pop to Beltran, and Coste lined to Delgado.

In the 11th, Smith opened by allowing about 100' worth of singles to Jayson Werth (Spiezio from the right side) and Cole Hamels, two plays where it was the Mets poor luck rearing its ugly head. But Smith managed to get Bruntlett to foul off a bunt attempt with 2 strikes. Smith departed, and we all held our heads. Entering the game, Scott Schoeneweis, to face Utley and Howard.

We were apoplectic. A row of 5 Philly fans sitting directly in front of me (why this always seems to happen to me, I have no idea) were on their feet. Schoeneweis quickly ran the count to 2-0 on Utley, and I figured this would be the perfect time for the Mets to pack up their tents. Here comes the fastball on the outer half of the plate, and here comes the 3-run HR.

But it didn't happen. Utley fouled off a few pitches, before smacking liner right at Easley, who turned an easy 4-6-3 DP. Amazing.

I turned to a few fans behind me and asked, "Did I just die?"

In the 12th, Schoeneweis was a Damion Easley error away from a 1-2-3 inning, before departing to cheers. Cheers! Loud cheers for Schoeneweis. Even I cheered Schoeneweis. And he deserved it, too. Sosa came in, threw one pitch for the 3rd out, and it was back to the grind for the Mets, who at that point hadn't managed a hit since Reyes beat out a grounder to short in the 8th.

With Schneider, Brady Clark and Reyes due up, I didn't feel inclined to think that would change. Especially with Reyes sure to be swinging for the fences. That's exactly what he was doing, and for some reason, he'd been doing that most of the night, as evidenced by 3 fly ball outs and a strikeout in the 10th. But this time, Reyes got a pitch from Tom Gordon that he could handle, and promptly smoked it off the wall for a double. A sign of life!

Angel Pagan has been one of the few Mets who has actually shown a sign of life at the plate on a consistent basis. I'm not sure what, exactly to say about that, but he's been in the middle of everything, carrying his great Spring into April, and earning himself more playing time at that. Pagan cashed in with 3 hits last night, including the Game Winner, a comebacker that snuck through the infield, sending Reyes home and crashing into Chris Coste just ahead of the tag (Just ahead? Just barely. I was among a few fans who stuck around to watch the replay after the game. Another fan thought he was out. I said, "Well, he very well might have been out, but he was safe, so does it matter?") and somehow, someway, the Mets won this game. A game that they had blown, and probably could have lost about 30 different ways before it was over.

A game that, last year, they would have lost. Maybe the breaks are indeed turning for the Mets. This is now two games in a row that they've won against Philadelphia because Philadelphia has shown themselves to be just as vulnerable as the Mets. They could make the argument that the Mets have beaten Philly without Jimmy Rollins, sure. But the Mets are playing without Moises Alou, who only hit .340 last season. Alou wasn't the MVP last year, but .340 is .340. Rollins' replacement, Eric Bruntlett, made 2 errors on Wednesday night, and last night managed to go 0-for 6. Alou's replacement drove in the winning run. It's a cliché (at least I think it's a cliché), but You make the best with the pieces you can put out there each day.

Towels and Trains...
Last night was Rally Towel night, in which we were all handed these cute little hand towels before the game. Even the Philly fans got them, which really bothered me when they started waving them in our faces after Philly tied the score. Then again, they handed out these things almost every game down the stretch last year. But I digress. It seemed like it took a while for the Mets fans to get used to them. In the first few innings, hardly anyone was waving them. By the 6th inning, most of the crowd was twirling them, and at the end of the game, just about everyone who remained was spinning their towels as they walked down the ramps.

There were moments where they prompted us to wave our towels, showing a clip of Mets fans at a packed Shea waving towels, and a sign that read, "Rally Time."

The last time the Mets handed out towels was Game 7 of the NLCS 2 years ago. That was the video clip they were showing. I don't know if anyone else picked that up, but I was a little disturbed by it.

On a much cheerier note, the Postgame 7 Express service is indeed back. In fact, the MTA ran a special Nostalgia Train to Shea on Tuesday morning before the game, replete with the David Wright wax statue from Madame Tussaud's to hype this up. I've made no secret about the fact that I'm a subway fan. I wish I'd known about it. Apparently they were handing out Shea Stadium Metrocards. Did anybody ride out on this train on Tuesday?

At any rate, the Express service back into Manhattan after the games is indeed back in full force, and in fact, it's probably better this year than it has been. Rather than making all the Express stops on the way, the Express only stops at Woodside, Queensboro Plaza, and then Grand Central, skipping Junction Blvd, 45th Rd, Hunterspoint Ave & Vernon-Jackson. A 7-stop ride for me has now been cut to a 3-stop ride, and despite the fact that the game last night ended at 11:08, and I probably wasn't on the train until 11:20, I walked in the door at 11:50pm last night. Now, we're talking.

The Express service is even running after weekend games, too, which is a first for service on the 7 line altogether. If you're like me, and you really rued the long ride back after the game, well, the MTA listened to us.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Good Enough?

It wasn't pretty, but like any victory, I'll take it. Especially the way the past few games have gone for the Mets.

After it was a key error that turned Tuesday's game in Philadelphia's favor, the Mets were finally the recipient of a few breaks in the form of 4 Philly errors on Wednesday, which combined with 9 walks by Philly pitching, served to mask yet another paltry 5-hit effort from the Mets offense.

Jimmy Rollins and his sprained ankle couldn't save the Phillies tonight, as his replacement, Eric Bruntlett, made two errors which contributed heavily to the Mets 6-run rally in the 3rd inning, capped off by Angel Pagan's two run double.

Seems like Pagan is one of the few Mets able to cash in with any kind of regularity, lately. The meat of the order, Wright, Beltran and Delgado combined for a paltry 1-for-12 (although Wright reached on two errors and seems to be hitting into a lot of bad luck lately) last night, which really can't continue if the Mets really want to consider themselves contenders. I maintain that neither Philly or Atlanta are especially good teams, and if the Mets play the way they're supposed to (ie not like they did in Atlanta, or on Tuesday, or as they generally have since June, 2007), they would easily romp through the division. At least, that's what you'd think. But I digress. Philadelphia does just as good a job as the Mets of looking like world beaters one day, and not able to get out of their own way the next.

It could very well be that the NL East could be won by a 79-83 team. That's the way these top 3 teams have looked in the early going.
If there is a good thing to take from last night, other than the Mets finally beating Philly for the first time since last June, it's that Mike Pelfrey managed to pitch well enough to earn his first victory of the season in his first outing of the season. Though he certainly didn't dominate, and appeared downright skittish at times, Pelfrey held the line and got the outs he needed to get over 5 innings and 100 pitches, before Sosa, Feliciano and Muniz finished up. I'd like to see him spread those 100 pitches over 6 or 7 innings, but then again, I'd like to see most of the Mets starters do that. More 7 inning outings means less Scott Schoeneweis, and maybe even less Aaron Heilman, too.

I guess I shouldn't be complaining so much. I should just be happy with the win. But Philly isn't so bad that they'll hand games away every night. The Mets need to get consistent, both on offense and in the bullpen, before I'll feel comfortable.

Maine tonight, looking, I'm sure, to prove that last weekend in Atlanta was a minor hiccup.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Silver Lining

And, thusly, the Final Home Opener at Shea Stadium has come and gone. What began with excitement, anticipation and reflection had given way to misery and depression, another loss at the hands of our nemeses, and trying somehow to find a silver lining on a day that had gone horribly wrong at the hands of a continually impotent offense and a pair of pitchers that can't get the outs the need to get.

So, with that in mind, let's take a look at some photos to remind us of what we can look forward to, after having spent a warm, sparkling spring day in Queens.
Rolling up on the 7, my first look at Shea in 2008. One last season about to get underway. You can see the Citi Field light towers rising above Shea as you pass 111th Street.

The crowds were already pretty good by time I arrived, which was around 11:30. But I was about to experience firsthand what I'd seen in photos prior. You have no idea until you see it for yourself.
First, there's this. Rather than walking out and sucking in that fresh Stadium air, now we exit the subway, to mostly darkness. The staircase was indeed finished in time, and here it is, in all its glory.

Then you step out, and this is the first thing you see. Citi Field itself, rapidly nearing completion. Gone is most of Stengel Plaza, the road that the ramp used to go over has been truncated, now beginning near the Shea ticket booth.
In its place, mass MTA presence. The Metrocard Mobile on one side...
...A cute, canopied token booth on the other side...
...A new area to meet and convene...
...Some dirt and dust...
...And a reminder that we are, indeed, almost home.

Given the opportunity, I took some time to walk through what is now a new parking lot, built to the right of the new staircase (if you're walking down it), away from Shea, and towards Citi Field. Here's what I saw.
Plenty of people were out and tailgating before the game, more than I've seen in a long time. It's an odd juxtaposition, with the construction literally going on in the background.
A closer look at the Rotunda...The construction elevators are a nice touch. There's the David Wright elevator and the Carlos Beltran elevator...
I'm a big fan of the light towers...
And down by 126th Street...

And looking back...

Making my way back towards Shea...
Past the stairs (It's awfully weird without the ramp, but given the way Citi Field is being built, the space needed and the configuration of the plaza, it really was more in the way than I had thought)...
Past meets present...
And...Welcome to Shea!
There's not much new inside Shea this year. That wouldn't have made much sense, considering it's days are dwindling. Outside, however, we have a veritable tent city. First, where the tents used to be, there's now a satellite team store...
The ticket booth, which remains unchanged...
And about a zillion vendor tents lining the perimeter of the stadium. Finally, through the masses, to Gate C, and inside...
"Well, here we are, Pismo Beach, and all the clams we can eat!"
-Bugs Bunny

(Better shot, without the netting)

It's difficult, but I tried to capture a shot of what things used to look like here...
The Cup, The Strength, and the signs...
Views from the Upper Deck...
A nice view from our seats...
And, some bonus video, too! First, the introduction of Johan Santana...

And the Mets starting lineup...

A closer look reveals the construction workers looking in on the festivities...
Here's the moat around Citi Field...
Citi Field LF corner...
And the blowing of the Shofar, and the beginning of the 2008 National League season in New York!

Oliver's Army...
Wright at the plate in the bottom of the 1st...
At some point, there was some rhythmic clanging echoing in from Citi Field, at a point in time when there were two strikes on a batter. We initially thought it was a new noise being played. Turns out there was work going on...
Schmoozing in the 6th...
Things were pretty much downhill from there.

This game wasn't any different than the two games before it. The Mets can't hit, and they didn't hit a mediocre pitcher in Jamie Moyer, or the three relievers who followed, at all. Schoeneweis and Heilman then vomited the game up in the late innings. Yes, Schoeneweis got the DP ball he needed, and lost it when Delgado pegged Utley in the back, but he dug his own hole before that anyway. We were wondering where Feliciano was, and it turned out that he didn't even arrive at Shea until the 7th inning. This for reasons that have yet to be explained. But Schoeneweis did it to himself is what it boils down to.

It's depressing, especially when you consider that the Mets bullpen is just as lousy as every other bullpen in this division. But at least those bullpens seem to get it done when they really need to. The Mets bullpen can't do that. Two games in a row now, Heilman has been entrusted to keep a 1-run deficit at 1 run and managed to turn the deficit into 3 runs. Not good, and not acceptable.

The Mets are too good of a team to play like this all season, that's a given. Teams go through bad spells and play poorly, that's a part of the game. And the division isn't good enough to get away from them. But if there's more to this slump, if there is truly a nagging tightness with this team working as if it were a hangover from last year's finish, well, we're probably screwed before we even get started.

I hope I'm wrong. Just like I hope they somehow manage to get their act together with the egress problems.
Even with a lot of people leaving early, it was still jammed at the staircase. The line to get on the Passerelle to the LIRR was even worse. Police were blocking people from walking onto Roosevelt Avenue for some reason. I don't know. We ended up walking down to the Main Street station and taking the train back. Of course, by time we got back to the Shea stop, it was empty.

So, what, if any, silver linings could we take from today? We spent the train ride home asking ourselves this over and over.

It was a nice day out. Really nice. The sausage and peppers were delicious, as always. There was a really cute girl sitting in front of us. We didn't get into any fistfights (although there were several). We got to take a nice walk and get a good cardiovascular workout on a nice afternoon after the game. We got seats on the subway on the ride back. We didn't get angry and strangle each other.

We should have started a Car Fire...