Friday, May 30, 2008

The Miracle Cure-All!

It's funny how a few victories in a row will change the atmosphere of everything. I mentioned it as a large bullet point at the end of last season, and I'll mention it again: Winning Heals Everything.

The Mets continued to heal themselves and all of us again last night with another victory, their 3rd in a row, and this one a resounding 8-4 over the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had handed the Mets their heads on a couple of occasions earlier this month.

Yesterday, I talked about Endy Chavez, and how he seems to pick his spots very well, and perhaps this is the reason he remains so popular, both among management and fans alike. Starting in Right Field last night, and deservedly so after his heroics on Wednesday, Endy pretty much set the tone for the game in the top of the 1st inning. After Juan Pierre led off with a single, stole second and moved to 3rd on a groundout against Vargas, Russell Martin hit a lazy fly ball to medium right field. It seemed to me off the bat that it would easily score Pierre. But watching Endy charge in to make the catch, I realized that it wasn't quite as deep as I'd thought. Endy caught the ball in stride and fired a dead strike home to nail Pierre at the plate, aided by a brilliant sweeping leg block from Schneider (not Snider, Keith). And when that play happened, I found myself thinking the kind of thoughts I hadn't been thinking in a long time. Like, back in 2006 long. I found I was saying to myself, "The Mets are going to win this game."

Win, they did. It took a while, but the Mets did what they usually do against Brad Penny; rough him up. For as good as Penny can look, the Mets just seem to beat him around like a red-headed stepchild. Wright reached him for a 2-run HR in the 3rd to start things off. Just as it seemed as though Penny would get through the 4th unscathed, Claudio Vargas reached thanks to the infamous Catchers Interference call. I don't know whether it was the call itself, or something else, but somehow, this innocuous 2-out call somehow spelled the complete and total unraveling of Penny, who followed by allowing a single to Reyes, a double to Castillo, which scored both runs when the Dodgers kicked the ball around the infield, and another massive, ringing 2-run HR to Wright to cap it all off. In a matter of minutes, the Mets had done it to Penny again, turning a 2-0 lead into a 6-0 routing. Carlos Delgado returned from his preemptive 2-day benching and played like he actually gave a crap about what had been going on. He played well in the field and hit a pair of authoritative singles. Let's see if it keeps up. The Dodgers made it a little interesting later on in the game, but strong efforts from Carlos Muniz (who might deserve a little more work...), Scott Schoeneweis (Scott Schoeneweis! Can you believe that for as lousy as he looked early in the season, Schoeneweis has an ERA of 1.25 right now?! What the hell is going on here?) and Joe Smith, the Mets salted the rest of the game away without much trouble.

Later, Willie and Kevin Burkhardt had a little laugh on SNY when talking about how the Mets were Illin', and that the recent victories had gone a long way towards curing the illin'. The entire room seemed to get a big kick out of that one.

Yeah, it's pretty funny. Funny how a few victories can change how everyone feels.

Tonight, it's Death Cab going against phenom Clayton Kershaw. Death Cab hasn't looked so hot over his last couple of outings, a pair of road losses. It's time for him to dig deep within his soul for the answer to the question that has been haunting us all. It's up to him to vanquish the ghosts of losses past and use his inner strength to drive him across that vast wilderness, pushing onwards toward that ultimate victory, that one that will keep the streak going, and continue to allow the good feelings to permeate.

Saturday, it's just the Biggest Game in the Nation, the late-afternoon special with the robots and the lasers on FOX. Then, Sunday Night, it's The Biggest Game in The Galaxy, replete with Johan Santana making the start in front of a worldwide audience on ESPN.

What a weekend it could be...

For the 19 games: 7-9.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

"There was Something in the Air that night..."

The game the Mets played last night was quite reminiscent of a number of games they played during the 2006 season, and even a few they played last season. But, for the most part, this is the kind of game that they haven't been able to come up with at all in the early going in 2008.

Those were the kind of games where the Mets would fall behind, sometimes by 3-4-5 or more runs, and yet you felt like the Mets had it in them to come back. This year's version hasn't been able to inspire that sort of confidence. I don't know if this is one of those proverbial "Games you can build on" that never seem to happen for the Mets, but if they have one in them at all, it would have to be a game like last night, wouldn't it?

After pitching as good a game as he'd pitched over the past month, Oliver Perez got burned in the 6th on Cody Ross's 3-run HR. Who else? This is a guy who is barely deserving of a Major League roster spot, and yet he always seems to beat the Mets. And he damn near did it again last night, giving the Marlins a 5-4 lead, and with the Mets offense ready to go to sleep for the rest of the night.

Someone, apparently, forgot to tell Endy Chavez.

I've been rather critical of Endy lately, in other forums and other situations. It's almost as though it's taboo in Mets Nation to be too critical of Endy, and I know there's a contingent of fans who still believe he should start. I'll never change my tune on that. But it had seemed to me that Endy, after failing, for the most part, to duplicate his success of '06 last year, had basically been trading high based on The Catch. This being with the fans and with the organization. Think about it. Endy could very easily have been cut this spring, and if he had been, fans would likely have rioted. But he wasn't playing much, he certainly wasn't hitting, and with Alou out and Pagan getting most of the playing time in LF and Church's hot start, Chavez had basically become a spare part. Then, Alou came back, Pagan got hurt, and Endy resumed his duties as the late-inning defensive replacement in Left. Then, Alou got hurt again, and Church got hurt, and suddenly, Endy was playing everyday. Not particularly well, but playing nonetheless. Endy is the kind of player who won't ever play spectacularly on a regular basis. But, he does play solid baseball, heady baseball, and more often than not, his successes are magnified by the circumstances under which they're accomplished. His lone HR in 2007 served as the winning runs in a game against the Yankees. And his lone HR in 2008 served to tie the game last night in the bottom of the 9th.

So, as I was saying about Endy Chavez...He sure knows how to pick his spots, doesn't he?

So, it was on to extra innings, where, unlike last Friday's game in Colorado, it wasn't particularly a matter of when the Mets would figure out a way to lose the game. It just didn't feel that way. Last Friday, I was listening to the game, and after Wagner allowed the HR to Holliday that tied the game, but got out of the inning, I turned to the nearest person and said, "Oh, come on! Couldn't you have just blown the game there? Why prolong the misery!?" Last night, the plane seemed to favor the Mets, with the back end of the Marlins bullpen being as suspect as it was. But in the top of the 12th, it was Alfredo Amezaga, who's good for about as many HRs per season as Endy Chavez himself, popping one off the banners in RF for the lead run. The way things have gone, it was very easy to expect the Mets to roll over and go down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 12th. But, again, the Mets fought back. Wright walked and Beltran executed a perfect hit and run, and suddenly, the Mets were cooking. But Damion Easley couldn't come through.

That left it to Fernando Tatis. Tatis, who barely even made it to Spring Training, who hadn't played in the Majors since 2006 before hooking on with the Mets, who was regarded as an all-or-nothing, big bat, no head player during his days with Texas and St. Louis, who came up with the big hit. Somehow, Fernando Tatis, after all the years as a journeyman and the struggle just to get back to the Majors, turned into someone appreciative of what he'd had, and someone desirous to get it back. Abba was singing a song for him at that particular moment. And at that particular moment, he lined a double into the corner, allowing Wright to walk home, and sent Beltran streaking home behind him with the game winner, as Tatis rounded the bases with his fists raised. You could tell just by the look on his face how much it meant to him. And for the second night in a row, it was Tatis coming up with a key hit in a key spot to spur the Mets on to victory.

Bill Simmons wrote earlier in the week
about how you can tell how close a team is by how long and how jubilant they are in celebrating walk-off victories. The "Walkoff Mosh Pit," he calls it. After all the talk about how the clubhouse is in dischord, and the Mets don't seem to like each other very much, I'd be hard pressed to believe that after half the team gang tackled Tatis at home plate and wrestled him to the ground.

Maybe they don't do it pretty, maybe they don't do it easy. They're certainly not making it easy on me or anyone else. But maybe, just maybe, the Mets are pulling a "Godfather 3" on us all. Every time we think we're out, we're giving up, and they pull us back in.

Maybe they build on it. I don't know.

For the 19 games: 6-9.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Rare Coup!

Last Night, Johan Santana basically did what he's done every time he's taken the ball for the Mets this season. Over 7 innings, Santana allowed 8 hits, 3 runs, 1 HR, 2 walks and 7 strikeouts against the Marlins. It's been pretty much the norm for him.

However, if I'd spent the night in a cave or, worse, in the Theater, and you told me that that was Santana's line, I'd have a hard time believing that the Mets actually won the game. But win they did, thanks to some early offense, something that the Mets have actually done on a rather consistent basis if you can believe it, the Mets doing something consistent that doesn't involve hitting into double plays or getting picked off base. Just when it appeared that the Mets would let a potential big inning go by the wayside in the 1st, it was a pair of backups, playing in a revamped, righty-exclusive lineup against the lefty Andrew Miller, coming through.

After loading the bases with no outs, thanks to a vapor-lock play by Miller on Castillo's sacrifice attempt and a walk to Wright, Beltran did what he didn't do on Saturday but has done all too often: He popped out. But, in this new, Righty-centric look the Mets offered, it wasn't Carlos Delgado coming up to, predictably, strike out or pop to the 1st baseman, it was Damion Easley. No, Easley certainly isn't going to light things up any more than Delgado would have, but, hey, he wasn't going to be any worse, right? Right. His sac fly plated Reyes with the first run. Still, with Tatis to follow, things weren't looking as promising as they had a pair of outs ago. But Tatis hit and Castro followed with a hit, both to the opposite field, and suddenly, the predictable failure had become the surprise success. And with Santana being Santana, and the Mets adding some late tack-on runs, it became a victory. A much-welcomed victory, if you ask the players and the Manager.

I'm not fooled. During Monday night's game, the Mets were talking about how they needed to have "That Game," the game that gets them going on to bigger and better things. Maybe it was Saturday, maybe it was the two games against the Yankees. Nope. Darling summed it up rather succinctly. So succinctly that it went right over the heads of his booth-mates.

"It's not happening." He said. "If it was going to happen, it would have happened already."

It's a sad truth. One victory does not amount to much, especially when the Mets have been hard pressed to make that one in a row into anything much more than that.

So, enjoy tonight while you can. Tomorrow, Oliver Perez. Which one? I'm not quite sure.

For the 19 games: 5-9.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Here's Plan B...


I actually fell asleep listening to the much-ballyhooed "Press Conference" that took place yesterday afternoon. This wasn't a press conference as much as it was a waste of all of our time. These jokers ought to be ashamed. I'm not sure if you can actually say that Freddie, his Idiot Manchild, Omar and Willie actually talked about anything while they sat over what were probably some very tasty sandwiches, probably catered from a high-class Midtown Deli, and had a nice little chat about life and stuff and things pertaining to baseball, without resolving anything at all.

I suppose Omar's lukewarm endorsement of Willie wasn't any bit of a surprise, but then again, he said the same thing three days ago. What was the point of all this, anyway? Willie stays, at least for the time being, and the team goes out and puts forth a shot-for-shot replay of every lousy game they've played over the past two months against the Marlins.

It's pretty close to the point now where it's time to give up. I had a long series of discussions with my infamous co-worker over the past weekend, against the backdrop of a major Arts Festival.

Right now, there's no way to sugarcoat anything. And nobody should be sugarcoating. It's bad enough that the jackasses on SNY say things like, "Well, the Mets are only 4 games out of 1st place!" Bullshit. These are the same people who kept saying, "They're still in 1st place!" while the Mets played with their heads up their asses most of the way last season. The Mets are no good. They're not a playoff team, they're not even contenders right now. And yet, despite the "collapse" that magnified everything that was wrong with the team, the same cast of characters was retained, with the addition of Santana, who, despite his prowess, is only one guy and can't fix the fact that Delgado is a corpse, Beltran is overrated, Reyes has no head for the game and Wright is pressing while trying to pick up the slack. How would you like to be Santana right now? I don't think he came here expecting to see this. He could throw a fantastic game, 8 innings, 5 hits and 2 runs and there's no guarantee he's getting the victory. Not the way this team has been looking.

It's easy to make Willie the fall guy for the problems with the team. After all, he's the one steering this ship and it's pretty clear that the ship is heading off into the abyss. I've said plenty about my feelings on Randolph already. But the truth is he would be getting a raw deal if he got fired, just like Art Howe got a raw deal. It's not easy to defend either of them, but it's also not their fault that they were given shitty teams to manage. Omar is just as much at fault, and Freddie and Dopey are at fault for not being proactive. This wouldn't have gone on under Nelson Doubleday's watch.

Willie can be the fall guy, and I still think that they're silently giving him another two weeks to right the ship. But the only way I'd feel comfortable truly saying the Mets have a chance is if they turn it around and roll of 12 of 15 or so. I don't think they have it in them. Right now, I'm not totally sure they have 12 wins left in them all season. My co-worker and I discussed this. I think the Mets look like a 77-85 team. He says that's too generous. They look more to him like a 68-94 team. Neither one would surprise me right now.

But the only way the team can really change is if they hit complete rock bottom. Last year wasn't enough. The team wasn't any good, but the "collapse" magnified the problem, yes. But it was all too easy to hide behind the "We were in 1st place most of the way" defense when the same damn team was retained. If they're going to change, everyone, every player on this team needs to come out and say "We suck." This team needs to finish dead last, and everything needs to be broken down and rebuilt. Coaches need to go, managers need to go and players need to go.

So, if after all that's gone on, after the Mets, with their payroll spiraling into the $100 millions, continue to play boring, lackluster, uninspired baseball, Willie is going to remain, what, then, is the plan here? If Willie's sticking around as the indication seems to be, then they have to start going after the players. Cut Delgado. Designate him and eat the contract. That might send a message to these guys. Start breaking things down. Give Nick Evans or Mike Carp some time at 1B and let them figure it out from there. Just show us, PLEASE, SHOW US that there's something being done, and don't just feed us a bunch of empty quotes and stupid cliches that put a happy face on a team that's right on the precipice of being truly terrible.

For the 19 games: 4-9.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Shrug


There's not too much to say except is anyone really surprised?

People can talk all they want and say whatever they feel at this point. I'm too exhausted/frustrated to say too much anymore. What needs to be done is too painfully evident at this point in time.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

You Cannot Be Serious...

I suppose in the back of my mind, I knew this was going to happen. It was, for most of us, a great deal of wishful thinking to honestly believe that the Mets resounding victories over the Yankees last weekend would spur the team on to bigger and better things. Clearly, those victories were an aberration, the Mets taking advantage of a team that appears to be in worse shape than they are themselves. This trip to Atlanta has, so far, proved that.

The Clown Car steamed into Atlanta on Tuesday morning and seems to have been behind by 5 runs ever since that point. Unlike two years ago, when no deficit seemed insurmountable, once this team gets behind, they turn, collectively, into Derek Bell and go into Operation Shutdown.

It doesn't help that the Mets continue to hit singles by the bucketload, getting runners on and then impotently leaving them where they stand. But by time this happens, the games have usually been hopelessly out of reach. It's not that the team is being outclassed by a superior opponent, the Mets just aren't a good team right now. They're underachieving and playing below the level of their competition, which makes it all the more frustrating.

Willie seems to have little to no touch right now. He's won 290 games as the Mets manager, and I'm beginning to be more and more hard pressed to think he's going to see 300. What's worse, even though he reached out to his team and they seemed to rally around each other, it's clear that he himself is suffering from a horrendous case of internal turmoil. His team has been struggling through a crucial stretch in the season. He's heard the ramblings and the words, and, obviously, it bothered him to the point that he blew up about it in the press, made some ill-advised and ill-timed comments, and now he's got to clean up his own mess.

Willie shouldn't go after the fans. We appreciate what he was able to do in his first two years with the team. But with success comes higher expectations and, as a manager, he's failed to do that. I've already hashed and re-hashed the argument from a billion different angles, and I keep arriving at the same conclusion. Yes, the mess the team is right now isn't Willie's fault. It's a combination of the players, the Manager and the GM. The players are put there by Omar. They, as a group, and individually in several cases have underperformed. And Willie has not been able to sufficiently motivate them. He's also quite clearly lost his touch when it comes to managing within the game, something that has always been suspect. Willie is a very sensitive person, and many people who know him have said as much. And with the turmoil and the controversy surrounding him, he was obviously hurt enough to lash out rather than address the problems from within. I certainly don't think Willie is a hateful or a racist person. I don't think anyone on the team is. But he needs to be keenly aware of where he is, where he manages, the voracity of the media that he's speaking to and be careful. Willie should be judged on the merits of the job he's done, and although he has had a bit of success, he's also had a bit of failure as well, and while the successes have been great, the failures have been spectacular.

He can't be solely blamed right now, but as things stand, Willie is the captain of a sinking ship, a team that has pretty much slept its way to a .500 record almost 2 months into the season. Now the controversy.

He's not long for this team
and he knows it. Blame the coaches, blame the players, blame Omar, blame whoever. They're all at fault. But every bad situation needs a fall guy, and he's been the most likely culprit. And you can either defiantly flip your proverbial middle finger at everyone and persevere (see: Bobby Valentine, June, 1999) or you can petulantly fire back at your detractors. Choose the latter, and the results generally are not good. You can see this one coming.

For the 19 games: 3-5.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Greatest.

I suppose I should be talking about the Mets letting all of the air out of their weekend triumphs on Tuesday in Atlanta, but I can't.

The real news of the day, for me at least, concerned the retirement of the Greatest Met of my generation, Mike Piazza.

The resumé Piazza boasts as he calls it a career speaks for itself. A .308 career batting average, 427 HRs, 1,335 RBIs are all outstanding accomplishments, considering the number of years he played, almost all of them spent catching for over 120 games a season.

But what Piazza is measured by, particularly in the hearts of Mets fans, goes far deeper than pure statistics. Deeper than being elected to the All-Star team every year (save 2003) he played for the team.

It is one day short of 10 years since the day Piazza came to the Mets, a lazy Friday afternoon in May. Just a week earlier, the Baseball world had been shaken by the Dodgers dealing Piazza to the Marlins, in a cash dump deal that sent a king's ransom to LA in exchange for Piazza and Zeile. The cash-strapped Marlins were sure to deal Piazza. The question was, when and to whom?

The Mets appeared uninterested. They had an All-Star catcher themselves, in Todd Hundley, though he was shelved for most of 1998 following elbow surgery. The Mets, undermanned and unexciting, were muddling through the early part of the season. I had recently returned home after my Freshman year of College. The first games I attended that season, a weeknight Doubleheader against the Reds, saw barely 15,000 people in attendance. Steve Phillips claim that the Mets weren't going to pursue Piazza, was met with widespread anger. On WFAN, Mad Dog Russo was heard screeching, "THESE FANS ARE SCREAMING FOR PIAZZA! YOU GOTTA BRING THIS GUY IN!!!"

That Friday, I was listening to Mike and the Mad Dog, when around 2pm, they immediately broke in with the announcement that the Mets were holding a Press Conference at 4pm. Something big had happened. Mad Dog had his interns searching frantically for information. It was around 2:20 that they broke the news. The deal had been made. Mike Piazza was coming to the Mets. Rejoyce!

I attended that night's game, and before I went in the stadium, I bought a ticket for the Saturday game. A line for tickets had already formed. The excitement was in the air before he even arrived. The scoreboard displayed a large announcement, "HE'S COMING TOMORROW!!!" Del DeMontreux even announced the trade over the PA before announcing the Starting Lineups.

And it was that Saturday, May 23rd, 1998, that he arrived. He not only brought his bat, but he brought credibility and excitement, two things that had been sorely lacking at Shea through most of the 90s. With one swing—a ringing RBI double off the right field wall—the Mets had a New Franchise, a New Face that would carry them into the 21st Century.

Sure, it was rocky early on. Piazza struggled to adjust to his new environs. His relationship with the fans was acrimonious and his clutch failures were magnified when the Mets fell a game short of a playoff berth. He could have left. He could have told the fans to screw themselves, taken a big money deal someplace else and departed New York a cowardly villain, along with the likes of Bobby Bonilla.

But he didn't. He decided to stay. He risked the boos and decided that this was where he wanted to be, for good or bad, better or worse. What happened was that Piazza became the Greatest Hero the Mets would ever see. So many times in so many situations, Mike found himself at the plate in a key moment, and so many times, he would deliver that big hit that we knew he was meant to deliver.

It began early in the 1999 season. A walkoff HR against the unhittable Trevor Hoffman. The bat flip HR off the Picnic tent against Ramiro Mendoza. A vengeful HR off Kevin Brown to beat his former Dodger teammates. With a retooled and reloaded offense around him, Piazza would match his career highs in HRs and RBIs in 1999 with 40 and 124, busting his ass for 141 grueling games that left him battered, bruised and running on fumes by season's end. Still, he persevered. Playing with a bruised thumb that forced him from the NLDS, a concussion and a strained forearm, injuries that would have had him on the bench in the regular season, it was he who would come up as the tying run in that fateful 6th game in Atlanta on October 19th, with the Mets having trailed 5-0 and 7-3, and smoke a John Smoltz fastball over the right field fence to tie the game. His stone-faced trot around the plate told you everything you needed to know. His postseason drive through the south told you everything you needed to know about how much it meant to him just to be there, to be in that key spot in the big game, and how much it hurt him to be unable to contribute at the level he wanted to.

With that in mind, a decreased workload in 2000 saw Piazza put forth one of the most dominant seasons of his career. Piazza broke from the gate like a house afire, tearing through pitchers on a frightening basis. On May 21st, he hit a pitch from Randy Johnson halfway up the Mezzanine at Shea. One streak in June saw him drive in a run for 15 straight games. It was the 13th game where Piazza would produce one of the signature moments of his Mets career. With the Mets having fought back from an 8-1 deficit against the Atlanta Braves into an 8-8 tie thanks to a 7-run 8th inning, Piazza stepped to the plate with 2 on and 2 out. Terry Mulholland made the cardinal sin of grooving one to Piazza. Piazza swung and unleashed a vicious line drive that would have sailed clear to Flushing Bay had it not caromed off the retired numbers. The sellout crowd went nuts. The normally stoic Piazza let the moment get the best of him, and wildly pumped his fist as he ran to first. The Mets went on to a 11-8 victory, which seemed to spur them on for the rest of the season, as they coasted into the Playoffs as the Wildcard for the 2nd straight year.

Although Mike struggled in the NLDS against the Giants, he worked Mark Gardner for a key walk in the 1st inning of the final game of that series. Gardner thought ball 3 was strike 3, missed badly with ball 4, and grooved his first pitch to Robin Ventura, which he promptly hit for a 2-run HR, setting up a 4-0 victory behind Bobby Jones' 1-hitter.

It was the NLCS where Piazza took center stage and became, quite literally, a monster. Playing the Cardinals in St. Louis, Piazza came up in the 1st inning of the 1st game against Darryl Kile and smacked a double to left, scoring Timo Perez with the series' first run. In the dugout, Mets coach John Stearns screamed, "THE MONSTER IS OUT OF THE CAGE!" in reference to Piazza, the Monster, needing to get that big hit and get out of the cage. Boy, was he ever out of the cage. In Game 2, Piazza blasted a long HR off Britt reames to aid the Mets to a 6-5 victory. In the 4th game, Piazza smacked a long 2B over J.D. Drew's head and off the wall in right, the 3rd consecutive double the Mets would hit in the 1st inning that night. In the 4th inning of that game, Piazza laid into a slider from Mike James and blasted it deep into the night, over the Cardinals bullpen and out of sight. In the clinching 5th game, Piazza hit a double in the 4th inning that preceded Todd Zeile's 3-run double to ice the game. And when the ball came down in Timo's glove, Piazza raced to the mound and led the team in a victory lap around Shea Stadium. He called it his greatest career accomplishment. And although the Mets fell short in the World Series, Piazza didn't disappoint, becoming the first player in World Series history to hit a HR in both Shea and Yankee Stadiums.

In 2001, Piazza again had his typical Piazza year, replete with big hits and big HRs. But it was one particular HR that would stand out far beyond any other he would ever hit. With the City and the Nation reeling following the attacks of September 11th, it was Piazza who delivered a blow that made us forget, at least for a moment, all the pain and the anxiety that followed that day. It was September 21st, 2001, yet another key game against the Atlanta Braves, and it was Piazza, batting in the 8th inning, with the Mets trailing 2-1 with a man on. And it was Piazza, playing the role of Hero once again, coming up and hitting a long, deep drive that clanged off the camera well in deep center field for a 2-run HR, that gave the Mets the lead, the victory, and helped to begin the healing process. It was, for many Mets fans, the moment when Piazza became more than just an ordinary slugger. You knew it from the tears he shed in the pregame ceremony. You knew it when he emerged from the dugout and pointed to the sky. Piazza wasn't just a Hero. He was Our Hero. He was Our Guy, and he would be forever. No matter what would happen, Piazza had cemented his place with the Mets.

The following seasons brought injuries and inconsistency for Piazza. He still put up lofty numbers for a Catcher, but the years and the strain were beginning to take their toll. He missed a large portion of the 2003 season with a groin injury, and talk began to emerge that he should consider a move to 1st Base to ease his workload and, perhaps, prolong his career. But he didn't want it. He would close in on the record for HRs by a Catcher, and it seemed right and proper that he remain behind the plate until the record was his.

It was a Wednesday night, May 5th, 2004, and I was in attendance for my first Mets game of the season with the San Francisco Giants. Piazza had tied the HR record the previous weekend, and on this night, in the 1st inning, on a 3-2 pitch from Jerome Williams, Piazza swung, and kept his date with destiny. The ball sailed deep and high and out, fittingly over the 371 mark in Right Center field, a spot where so many Piazza HRs sailed previously. All I could do was laugh. Piazza had a knack for always doing something special when I was at a game. And here, he'd done it again.

Piazza would play out every day of the 7 year contract he signed with the Mets back in 1999. And when that contract began to wind down, the fans began to stand up. It wasn't ever clear that the Mets would or would not bring him back, but the fans stood anyway. He didn't have to do anything great anymore. We would stand and cheer regardless. Our hero, Our Guy, Our Mike Piazza's career was now winding down, and it was time for us to stand and cheer in appreciation and thanks for all the years, and all the big hits and all the great moments he'd given us. I was there once again that final day, October 2nd, 2005, just as I'd been there on that first day and for so many days in between, and I stood and cheered with everyone else. Several videotaped tributes from Piazza played on Diamondvision, and during the 7th inning stretch, Fan Appreciation day became Mike Piazza Appreciation Day.
A 10-minute standing ovation gave way to fans weeping and saying goodbye. But it wasn't goodbye, it was just until we met again.

It was that following August when Piazza returned to Shea, and the ovations and cheers continued. Piazza hit 2 HRs in his 2nd game back. Following his first HR, the fans cheered so loudly that Piazza was prompted to give a curtain call from the visitor's dugout. A return with the Oakland A's in 2007 was short-circuited by an injury. He brought out the lineup card one night and again received a standing ovation. And that was it for Mike as an active player at Shea Stadium. The next time we see him, we'll perhaps be revealing his #31 on the outfield wall, in tribute to all he brought to this franchise. All the hits, all the moments and all the joy he brought us. All he meant to the team when he kept running himself out there, even during times when it appeared there was no hope left at all. He'd certainly be deserving of the honor. Who would be fit to don #31 for the Mets after all that Piazza accomplished wearing it?

And so, on Tuesday, Piazza hung 'em up. In his typical fashion, Piazza handled the situation with humility and stoicism, only releasing a statement through his agent. All the adulation and love he received from Mets fans was mutual. "...I have to say that my time with the Mets wouldn't have been the same without the greatest fans in the world," he said. "One of the hardest moments of my career, was walking off the field at Shea Stadium and saying goodbye. My relationship with you made my time in New York the happiest of my career and for that, I will always be grateful."

We Love you too, Mike. We always will. We're making our hotel reservations in Cooperstown for Hall of Fame Weekend, 2012. You'll be there. I know you will. For almost 8 seasons, I had the pleasure and the privilege of watching you carry my team on your back, and I enjoyed every moment of it. Thank you for coming, Thank you for staying, Thank you for delivering those hits when we needed them the most. You handled everything with class, dignity and grace. You knew how good you had it here. You appreciated us, and we appreciate you. Maybe Seaver was The Franchise, Maybe Hernandez brought home the Championship, but I never saw a better player or a better person wearing the Orange and Blue.

Thanks, Mike.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Jumping Someone Else's Train

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confidence be damned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the 20 19 games: 3-2.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Idiot's Move

I'd like someone other than Willie Randolph to explain to me why, after Claudio Vargas had pitched brilliantly for 97 pitches over 6.1 innings, allowing only 3 hits and 4 walks, with 6 strikeouts and 1 run, bringing in Aaron Heilman was the right move following Vargas' walk of Elijah Dukes.

I'd also like someone to explain to me why the headline on the Mets website says that "The Bullpen" faltered in last night's debacle.

The Bullpen did not falter. Aaron Heilman faltered. Doesn't matter if it was the right move removing Vargas from the game when he was removed. Why bring in Heilman, and why keep him in after he'd already established he had absolutely nothing? After Wright bailed him out with a Robin Ventura-esque bare handed play on Peña's dying quail, he went 0-2 on Jesus Flores, before he did his trademark nibbling with his dinky little slider on the outside corner, that Flores didn't chase and didn't chase, suddenly it's 3-2 and suddenly Flores pings one up the middle to score Dukes and give the Nationals the lead. Why not remove him then, or after he walked Willie Harris? Why allow him to remain in the game and throw the whole thing down the toilet, giving up 2 more hits to Lopez and Guzman. Why? WHY GODDAMMIT, WHY?!

Why, then, not just let him close it out, since he's blown the game open anyway. Or why not bring in Joe Smith in the first place, since all he did was zip through the 4 batters he faced. With the Mets offense having one of their bad nights (leave it to Tim Redding to shut the Mets down, something straight out of the book of Tom Gorzelanny or Bronson Arroyo), the game was done once those final two runs crossed the plate. Willie came out, removed Heilman, who was loudly and deservedly booed off the field. No excuses. And Willie was booed too, and, again, deservedly so. He managed this game like an Asshole. Maybe the Mets didn't hit, but the Nationals didn't hit either, except when Heilman was in the game. 3 hits in 6.1 innings against Vargas (who has certainly earned himself another start, and certainly deserved a better fate tonight), 3 hits out of 5 batters faced by Aaron Heilman.

I don't know what was said after the game by Willie or anyone else, and I don't particularly care. For the second time in a row, I attended a Mets game that was so depressing to sit through (and seemed excessively long for a game that had been moving at a brisk pace over the first 6 innings) that I somehow slipped into my minor nervous breakdown mode during the 9th inning. The Mets are driving me crazy. Willie is driving me crazy. Heilman is making me crazy. Let him go and be the 5th starter for the Anaheim Angels, throw 196.2 innings and go 7-13 with a 5.05 ERA and be happy as a damn clam. I don't care. If the Mets are willing to eat Sosa's contract, then let's take it a step further and eat Heilman's contract too. They can Can Willie too. That's nothing new. He's managing like an Asshole. I know I'm repeating myself but that Asshole is making me do it. Asshole.

This isn't good.

For the 20 games: 1-1.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

19 20 to Survive

Note: Edited because I forgot that the Mets have a Doubleheader in Atlanta on Tuesday.

I mentioned this briefly yesterday. It had been posed to me in an e-mail on Tuesday morning that the Mets pretty much had to win the final 3 games of the Nationals series because of the upcoming schedule. The Mets, over the next 2 1/2 weeks, will be playing the following teams:

Washington 3 2 (5/13-5/15)
@ Yankees 3 (5-16-5/18)
@ Atlanta 3 4 (5/20-5/22)
@ Colorado 3 (5/23-5/25)
vs. Florida 3 (5/26-5/28)
vs. Los Angeles 4 (5/29-6/1)

19 20 games against some of the league's best. True, the Yankees aren't the powerhouse they have been, but they're still a very good team, and true, the Marlins will likely come back to earth soon, but still, this is a stretch of 19 20 games that should, more or less, determine who the Mets are and where they're going in 2008. Last season, there was a similar stretch in June, where the Mets played, over the course of 3 weeks, every team that made the playoffs in 2006. By and large, they survived, although that's a fairly kind way to put it. They didn't play well over that stretch (8-10 over that 18-game stretch, although it's 8-13 if you add in the 3-game sweep by Philly that preceded it), and the result was that the team was listless the rest of the season. The performance over that stretch pretty much spelled out the rest of the season. It didn't end well.

This stretch ought to tell you about as much. I hate to put pressure on games in May, but let's be realistic. The Mets are basically teetering on the brink of obscurity. Heads are already beginning to roll, and if the team doesn't improve, wholesale changes will need to be made. The first of the 19 20 games was last night, and the Mets won. If the Mets go 9-10 10-10, it's not great. Anything worse than 7-12 7-13, and it may be time to think about rolling some more heads. 5-14 6-14, and it's time to clean house and build for 2009. If the Mets get hot and roll off a 13-6 14-6 stretch, everything's OK. This will be a good barometer for the rest of the season.

So, last night, the Mets beat the Nationals, which they should be doing on general principle. John Maine summoned his greatest inner strength, shunning the black, bleak, looming specter of doom that hovered over the stadium like a dark cloud on a cold, lonely November afternoon, and brought forth another sterling performance. He set the tone early, drilling Felipe Lopez with his first pitch ("It slipped," he said.), perhaps in retaliation for the cheerleading going on in the Nationals dugout on Monday (a word on that: Yes, it was ridiculous. But think of the possibilities. Why isn't Lastings now showered with mocking "Let's Go Millie!" chants?). After that, Maine settled right back into his regular groove, getting out of jams, and departing after only allowing 2 runs and 2 hits over 6 innings, and picking up a win when Ryan Church's line drive somehow sailed over the head of Austin Kearns for the winning double. Washington did make it close late in the game, but the Mets got the tack-on runs they needed and cruised to a much needed 6-3 victory.

Too bad John Maine can't take the ball every night. It's also too bad that Rick Peterson has conditioned him to only throw 100 pitches a game (109 last night) and God forbid he throws more than that. But that's another gripe for another time. 1-0 for the 19 20-game stretch. Claudio Vargas tonight. Why does it seem as though I'm always in attendance when these spot starters make their appearance. I've seen Lima, Jeremi Gonzalez and Chan Ho Park over the last 3 seasons, now Vargas. Well, like I said yesterday. Close your eyes and hope for the best.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Reinforcements

During the 4th or 5th inning of last night's game, I heard Ron Darling talking about how he had been speaking to one of the Nationals broadcasters before the game. He said that the Nationals broadcaster (whose name escapes me) was talking about the team. He said that they had been very inconsistent so far, particularly in regards to the performances they had been getting out of their regulars. He mentioned that when they'd hit, they weren't getting good pitching. When they were getting good pitching, they didn't hit. When they had leads, they couldn't hold them. Sometimes they hit and pitched, but couldn't field. It was never the same from one day to the next. Darling concluded this by saying that this was the sign of a last-place ballclub.

Doesn't that description sound a little too familiar here?

One inning later, it was the Mets doing the imploding, allowing the Nationals to come back from a few one-run deficits and eventually romp over the Mets for 10 runs, mainly off of Nelson Figueroa and Jorge Sosa. Following the game, Figueroa blasted the Nationals for cheering and yelling during the game.

Again, sound familiar?

Seems to me that Figueroa could have circumvented that by simply pitching better against a last-place team, but then, maybe that's asking a little too much. And after their performances last night, both Figueroa and Jorge Sosa have been sent packing, designated for assignment this afternoon in favor of Claudio Vargas and Matt Wise, with Vargas scheduled to make the start on Wednesday evening. Of course, this happens to be the next game I have tickets for, so we'll close our eyes, eat an extra bowl of Matzoh Ball soup and hope for the best.

If nothing else, today's moves (which includes the disabling of Angel Pagan, who'd been struggling anyway, and the recalling of Fernando Tatis), particularly that of designating Sosa, are a sign that the Mets are, at the very least, not going to stand idly by while the same players screw up over and over again. Sosa was set to make $2 million this season, which the Mets have displayed that they are willing to eat in order to somehow better the team. Whether or not Matt Wise is actually going to better the team remains to be seen, but even if he's terrible, he's not going to be any worse than Sosa had been over the first 6+ weeks of the season. In the case of Figueroa, yes, it was a nice story having him return to the Mets after being dealt 10 years ago (for a pair of rent-a-players, Jorge Fabregas and Willie Blair, if you can believe it), returning to his hometown team and pitching well for a pair of starts, but the sad reality of it is that once you're a journeyman, you're forever a journeyman, and once you stop producing, you're likely out of job again. But that's what the 5th starter's spot is for the Mets right now, at least as long as Pedro is out. So, it's Claudio Vargas now. We'll see what happens.

With the Mets embarking on a rather difficult stretch now (next 5 series include @NYY, @ATL, @COL, FLA, LA), they need to beat up on the teams they're clearly better than, such as the Nationals. They should win the remaining games in this 4-game series, and with Maine tonight, that's a good start. But with Vargas tomorrow and Pelfrey Thursday, it's hard to know what the hell you're going to get. The next 19 games are going to tell you a lot about where the Mets are, and where they're going to go this season.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Waking Up

After a weekend that saw him produce a 5-RBI game and a 3-RBI game, it may be that time of year where Carlos Beltran begins to go on one of his hot streaks.

About damn time.

After a rainout on Friday night, which drew the ire of some indignant fans who like to scream and yell on WFAN, the Mets and Reds staged one of my most favorite Baseball Traditions on Saturday: The Day-Night Doubleheader.

In the afternoon half of this mockery, the Mets put up 12 runs, backing Johan Santana, who clearly didn't have his best stuff. This meant that, after Wednesday's game in LA, the Mets had back-to-back games in which they scored 12 runs. Now that's news! News enough that Santana, who didn't look especially dominant in allowing 3 runs on 10 hits, really didn't have to break much of a sweat, as the Mets charged ahead and really didn't look back. Beltran came up in a pair of RISP situations and responded with a 2-run single and a 3-run triple, hits sorely missing from his, and the Mets repertoire across the board. Carlos Delgado added a cosmetic HR and Schneider hit his first of the season, and at that particular moment, you had to be thinking sweep. The Reds are awful, they have no pitching, and the Mets are finally starting to hit.

So of course, the Mets go out and shit the bed in the nightcap. Bronson Arroyo, he of an ERA over 7, comes out and shuts the Mets down. 12 runs one game, 1 run the next. Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2008 Mets.

Sunday could very well have been redemption day for the Mets. Oliver Perez wasn't outstanding, and he wasn't overpowering. But he was a hell of a lot better than he had been lately. Perez generally has been the victim of one really putrid inning that snowballs out of control, and yesterday, he ran into trouble in the 6th inning, allowing 3 runs. But by that time, Beltran and Ryan Church had already hit HRs off of screaming Reds Rookie Johnny Cueto (shades of Jose Lima?) and the Mets held a 6-0 lead, which they were able to salt away even before the Reds managed to bat out of order in a thoroughly comical scene.

So, I don't know what's next for the Mets. Today does not look like a particularly good day for Baseball, although after Friday, it appears that the Mets will wait as long as possible to call a game. Which means that we'll get people who call WFAN that went to the game, actually thinking it would be played, and scream about how it's all Freddie's fault and indignantly shouting "I WILL NEVER GO TO ANOTHER METS GAME AGAIN!"

Yeah, that's right. Get mad! That's how you affect change. Hit that 6-run HR.

Spare me, folks. Just remember, if you don't go, someone else will.

Washington in town this week, which means that the Mets will probably split a 4-game series (assuming all 4 are played). The rotation is jumbled after the rainout. Another rainout might fix it. And the Yankees are coming up over the weekend (It's interleague play already???)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Headlights Look Like Fastballs

Leave it to John Maine to take the ball when the Mets appear to be staring down the bleakest of days, falling deeper into an abyss of lost hope and shattered dreams, sailing into a sunset and watching the season fade into a maelstrom of darkness, as dark as the soul of the loneliest fan in the back row of UR48.

With another solid outing on Wednesday, Maine continued to provide a stabilizing force for the Mets. With his high fastball working well and setting up his slider (and his new looping slow slider), Maine efficiently threw shutout ball into the 9th inning—The 9th Inning!—before the Dodgers finally reached him for a run and he departed after 8.1 very solid and very important innings.

It helps that the bats woke up and gave Maine the backing he needed today, although the offense still remains the larger problem with the club. For once, the Mets situational hitting came through, plating 6 runs after 2 were out in the 5th inning, and even included a 2-run single by Maine himself, his first hit of the season. Ryan Church continued hot, Luis Castillo came up with a pair of hits, Wright finally broke out of an 0-11 skid and the Mets basically had one of those rare days where everything fell into place for them.

Now, I just hope that the Mets can do this without John Maine to provide the light at the faraway end of that dark, bleak tunnel, and play "the kind of game they're supposed to be playing" a few more times as they return home to face Cincinnati over the weekend.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Serves Me Right...

...for trying to be positive.
Last night's game was just like every other game the Mets have played this season in which the offense failed to show up, mirroring games like this one, this one and this one. Last night was one of those efforts that I hate the most, because LA's starter Hiroki Kuroda basically said to the Mets, "Here, you can have this game." And the Mets refused to take it. Of course, they let the Dodgers hang around. Kuroda departed for Hong-Chih Kuo, who, let's face it, is not a good pitcher, except when he faces the Mets (regular season only), and only when he faces the Mets does he start striking out everyone. Blake DeWitt hits an Inside-The-Park HR that's probably still bouncing. Then Broxton and Saito, and Goodnight, Sweetheart.

It's a game straight out of 2007. The Mets were 2 for 13 with RISP last night. As a team, they're hitting a grand .242 with Runners in scoring position, and an even more hideous .167 with 2 outs and runners in scoring position. These numbers won't cut it. And after last year, you'd think they would have learned something. Apparently, that's not the case.

The Mets 16-15 record right now seems perfectly indicative of the kind of team they are: A team with no identity, no consistency and, at times, no direction. It's not a team I'm enjoying to watch and not a team I feel good about. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way, but it seems like I have to ply my fandom based on events of the past. I was watching highlight films from 1999 and 2000 yesterday. Happier times. Times when I enjoyed watching and rooting for the Mets. There was pride then. There's no pride now. I don't know what the hell there is now in rooting for this version of the Mets, other than a lot of headache and mental anguish.

I don't know. Afternoon special at Chavez Ravine today. Can Death Cab for John Maine right this ship?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Here We Go Again...


And it took Oliver Perez all of 3 pitches to undo the good vibes I was trying to bring in here. Every start it's something else with him. If it's not the walks, it's the HRs. And playing from behind, the Mets offense basically went back into their little shell, where they didn't make much of a peep until the game was, for them at least, out of reach.

I know the Dodgers are hot right now, and I know that the Joe Torre Minutiae has spread throughout that locker room, but how are the Dodgers, the Sad Dodgers any different from the Mets, at least as far as the makeup of their clubs? Yet the Mets pretty much lay down and died last night, to the point where it wasn't even worth it for me to hear the end of the game. I was asleep by the time it was over, and yet I felt I wasn't really missing anything. This is not a good sign. And at least one person (whom was mentioned last week) seems to be pretty certain where the finger needs to be pointed...

Monday, May 5, 2008

OK, Alright

After winning 2 of 3 in Arizona over the weekend, knocking the team with the best record in the Majors down a peg and winning against two of their top 3 starting pitchers, I'm going to be positive. I'm not going to rag on Willie or Omar, I'm not going to kill Delgado or the Bullpen (though Sanchez threw up a stinker on Saturday) and I'm not going to stick my head in an oven. This will be a positive Blog today.

The Mets did come into Arizona looking rather bleak. But for the Mets, a trip to Arizona seems to have been a cure-all, at least over the past few seasons. We know about the Mike Jacobs escapades in 2005, and the middle leg of the legendary 9-1 road trip in 2006. Last year, the Mets again went into Arizona and won 3 of 4, looking sharp in the process.

It's as though there's something in that Desert air that agrees with the Mets.

Right from the get-go on Friday, the Mets looked fast and loose, sparked by Jose Reyes, backed up by Ryan Church and finished off by David Wright, blitzing Micah Owings and backing a strong 6 innings from John Maine, who might have been able to go further, but with the game fairly well in hand at 7-2, why burn him out? Saturday, the Mets got buzzsawed by Brandon Webb in a somewhat sloppy 10-4 loss, although Delgado did supply a bit of power in the process. Going up against Owings, Webb and Dan Haren was certainly a difficult task, so you could easily excuse the Mets for losing at least one of those games. Sunday, it was Haren against Santana in a sparkling matchup that came down to a pair of throwing errors. On the Mets side, Ryan Church (notice how he's been everywhere) came up with the game saving play after Pedro Feliciano threw away a bunt attempt in the 8th inning. On the D'Backs side, Conor Jackson's error was the difference as he threw away a grounder in the 9th, allowing the winning run to score for the Mets.

These victories for the Mets once again proved that the quick strike offense that I've spoke of so often in the early going this season is absolutely essential if the Mets are going to go anywhere this season. Friday, and again on Sunday, the Mets got ahead and then stepped on the D'Backs throats. They did it early on Friday, making the game a relatively drama-free affair. Sunday, it happened late, but once the Mets took the lead in the 9th, they tacked on runs and salted the game away. This is something that has happened sporadically for the Mets this season. But there were positive signs this weekend that might lead me to think it's going to be a bit more frequent. First, Reyes. Reyes seemed to be on base all weekend long, coming a HR short of the cycle Friday night and in the thick of things on Sunday. Second, Church. Back in the 2nd hole where he really should be on a permanent basis, Church has basically done what he's been doing all season long: stinging the ball. With Reyes on ahead of him, he's been able to run and then score on hits. Third, Wright. With 2 HRs over the weekend, Wright looks primed to be pulling out of his recent slump. Finally, Moises Alou. He's back. He looked a little rusty over the weekend, and lord only knows how long he'll be in the lineup, but he's there, and when he's there, he hits.

Up next, Midnight Baseball in LA.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Spring Cleaning

There's an article in today's New York Sun, by Tim Marchman, which calls for the head of Willie Randolph. Should the Mets sweep or get swept this weekend in Arizona (and either one is a distinct possibility), Marchman believes Willie should be fired.

Marchman is pretty much right on just about all of his points. I've made my case for firing Willie in the past. Jason at Faith and Fear agrees with Marchman as well. Willie, despite being a very nice, amicable and talkative person, has not been able to accomplish what has been required of him as the Mets Manager, and has consistently fallen short of the goals set forth for him in his 3+ seasons at the helm (You can give him a partial pass for 2006, based on the injuries to the pitching staff, but even so, the Mets should have filleted St. Louis and everyone knows this—they just won't admit it).

It's become my belief (and the theory of my insane co-worker) that Willie Randolph is, for the most part, an over-glorified and flashier version of Art Howe. He's very calm, unfazed, and looks real sharp standing in the dugout with his shades on.

But let's take it a step further. A common argument you might hear against this particular stance is that the Manager can only be as good as the players he has to work with. Of course, it doesn't help that players like Delgado and Beltran have been underachieving, pitchers like Perez, Sosa, Heilman and Schoeneweis are routinely hammered and, overall, guys seem to play like they're in a fog. Any Manager in the Major Leagues will have to deal with his share of malcontents on their team. But when it appears that the roster is overloaded with guys who have cashed in on "trade high" status, it's time to question the guy who put the team together.

That would be Omar Minaya.

Willie is pretty far from blameless in this equation, but Omar should shoulder the brunt of the blame. You can hail Omar as a genius for bringing in guys like Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana, but it's not as though these moves were made out of some great wizardry on Minaya's part. A large number of the gambles that Minaya has made haven't paid off. Sure, one might say, the Nady for Hernanadez/Perez deal was a heist. But the reality is that the deal wasn't necessary. In making the deal, the Mets gave up one of their more solid righty bats (and, yes, the Mets did hit that season, but not when it mattered most) for a reliever that they didn't need and didn't use in the Postseason, and an erratic starter who has mixed brilliance and misery, sometimes within the same game. Sure, one might say, the Bannister for Burgos deal was a wash. Bannister hadn't shown anything, and Burgos had a great power arm. Nobody knew Bannister would go to KC and light it up or that Burgos would get hurt. But, again, it was an unnecessary deal. Burgos wasn't going to make or break the Mets bullpen, and they were already short starting pitching. Bannister deserved a better chance, at the very least.

The point is, and I'll steal the theory brought up in yesterday's Bill Simmons column, that Minaya has made a lot of "Critically Acclaimed" deals. Trades and signings that involved names to light up the sky, but either didn't require a lot of thought (and sometimes a little dumb luck in the case of the Santana deal) or calculated gambles that worked in the short term, but proved to be long term failures. Omar's stock can trade high because he likes to take these risks, but a closer examination would reveal that they rarely have paid off well.

If Willie is going to take the fall for this poor start and the underachieving of past seasons, Omar has to do so as well. Freddie and his Boy-King ought to be smart enough to realize this before things spiral completely out of control.

It's Time To Fire Willie Randolph
[New York Sun]

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A Delicate Balance


I've been mostly absent this week for various reasons, and I haven't actually seen any of this week's games. I did have a chance to turn on the Mets game on the radio yesterday afternoon, however by then it was already the 3rd inning and the game was completely out of hand.

It took me a few minutes to realize that Nelson Figueroa hadn't actually started the game.

The disturbing trend du jour with the Mets now is the failure of Oliver Perez to build on his success of last season and continue to drive his career forward.

My completely insane co-worker (who insisted I refer to him as such) called following the game screaming that the Mets should deal Oliver Perez and Omar Minaya to Pittsburgh for Xavier Nady. He then wondered if it was possible to make an awful team even worse. He figured that Minaya ought to be able to screw up the Pirates even moreso than they already are.

Other people laugh these bad outings off and say that Ollie is bound to throw up a stinker every so often.

This is now 4 in a row, and 3 out of 4 where he's just lost it completely without any real warning.

The truth lies somewhere in between. Perez at least seems somewhat cognisant of his responsibility to the club, and at least he's figured out that outings like yesterday, and the one against Milwaukee, and the one in Washington really aren't acceptable anymore. He already had his one shot at a major breakout in 2005, and he did a pretty good job of unraveling to the point where he was in the Minor leagues in 2006. Wagner called him out after yesterday's game, and from what I'm able to glean from this article, Perez did accept it. We know he's inconsistent, but it's beginning to get to the point where it's more than just hoping he's got the right arm slot tonight. We're starting to get to the point where it may be time to admit that Perez is just not that good, and that those two good seasons he's had were more flukish instances of him being able to put a solid string of starts together rather than the true talent bubbling to the surface. Pitchers like Steve Trachsel and Willie Blair managed to parlay seasons like this into millions of dollars.

It's not as though Perez is working with an ERA over 6. His numbers aren't totally horrible. But last year, there were points where he was absolutely the guy you wanted on the mound in a big game. He's not inspiring that confidence in anyone this season.