Thursday, July 31, 2008

So Excellent A Fishe

I guess I must have angered the Fish gods or the Stadium Gods or the Florida Gods with my post yesterday, since the Mets apparently didn't put forth their best efforts on Wednesday evening. Not that I had much of an idea as to what happened. As I mentioned, with a major show opening on Saturday, my opportunities to even check out what's going on on the internet are slim. I saw a 5-4 Marlins score in the 6th, and then when I came back, it was over, a 7-5 finale. I'll take this to mean I didn't miss much, other than Pelfrey having what was his worst outing in some time. I think we'll forgive him for this one, although with Philadelphia's victory, the Mets reign as Kings of the NL East is over after a brief, tantalizing 6-day stay. Something tells me this lead may well change hands more than a few times over the last two months of the season.

With the Trade Deadline upon us, apparently the hot topic of discussion around the Mets, or perhaps all of the NL East is if anyone is going to land Manny Ramirez from Boston. These Manny trade talks seem to pop up at least once a season, once "Manny Being Manny" gets a little too tiresome or he wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, or wrenches his neck brushing his teeth or whatever. I had heard him going to Philadelphia for Pat Burrell, among others. Although I'd hate to see Philly gain his bat, I have to think it's a rather silly move for them, after already dealing their top prospect for ragtag pitcher Joe Blanton, and offense not being much of a problem for them. I wouldn't be particularly sad to see that Jerkoff Burrell depart, but then again, put Manny in Steroid Field II and he's likely to hit Baseball's first 800 foot HR. The Mets probably are the best fit for Manny, but I don't think the Mets have the chips to make such a deal. So, now, we have Florida, for whom Manny would be the ultimate Rent-A-Player. They certainly have the chips, guys like Jeremy Hermida or Josh Willingham or any other of their Outfield Pups would certainly be welcome by Boston, and Florida would have the benefit of Manny's bat in their lineup for the next two months, when the low-budget Fish will predictably let him walk to the highest bidder.

It's all rumors to me, I have no idea what's going on. But then again, I guess everything you hear is a rumor this time of year.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Ballpark Time Forgot

I know that these games have been happening and that some good and some bad has gone on with the Mets the last two nights, but with my show opening on Saturday and me wrapped in rehearsal, I don't have too much to say about anything, at least as far as things pertaining to the Mets.

I don't know why, but it seems like this usually happens whenever the Mets go into Joe Robbie Pro Player Huizenga Dolphin Stadium. The Mets haven't been to Florida since the opening series of the season. That seems like another lifetime. This is a different team with a different set of guys getting things done.

I don't know why, but it seems like I have little to no memories of the Mets playing games at this miscast hell-hole of a Stadium. Even last season, when the Mets appeared to briefly resurrect themselves in September, the games in Miami had a rather forgettable nature to them, particularly after the way the following week played out.

I don't know if it's the fact that the Mets seem to go to Florida specifically during periods of time when I can't see the games, or that it's just that I can't get into a game that's played in front of 8,000 people, or the long time between trips to Florida, or something else. The games early in the season were nice, I guess, excluding the game that Billy Mangina won late, but since that time, a lot has gone on. Now, the Mets are back in Miami, and the two games in this series so far haven't produced much, if anything, in the way of stellar, memorable baseball. It won't be long, in fact only a month, until the Mets return to Florida to finish out their season series in Miami, over Labor Day weekend.

It's not a matter of whether or not I'll see those games. I very well might. But the real question is will we want to remember them when we look back on this season?

Monday, July 28, 2008

On A Plain

Presumably, the Mets would have settled for the win on Sunday. But that simply wasn't enough for Johan Santana. Following Saturday night's affair, which seemed more like battle of wills than simple Saturday night in July, Santana saw his team reeling from a 5-hour loss where his team exhausted every man in their bullpen, and clearly took the mound on Sunday with one thing in mind: Finish it off. Give these guys a break, and make sure they don't blow it for me again.

Well, he did just that.


In pitching the Mets first true Complete Game in almost 2 seasons, Santana preserved his bullpen for the day, ensuring that they'll all be fresh and ready in Miami tonight. Backed by an offense that continues to score plenty of runs (albeit lacking in key hits, particularly on Saturday, but at this point, the Mets fan might feel a little comfortable saying the phrase, "Hey, can't win 'em all"), Santana baffled the Cardinals all day and didn't really find himself in any sort of pressure situation, and throwing the kind of game we've been waiting for him to throw.

Yes, the victory is first and foremost. Yes, it was more important to secure the series from the Cardinals and bounce back from Saturday. But Johan took that extra step on Sunday, perhaps the first step on his way to the kind of second-half dominance that he's displayed so often in his career.

In the words of Kurt Cobain, "I'm on a plain, I can't complain."

Long Day's Journey Into Night

I'd be remiss if I didn't say anything about Saturday's game, which was another one of those games that I seem to find myself at, except that I wasn't there Saturday night. I probably could have gone, but because of my rehearsal schedule, I wouldn't have arrived until the 4th or 5th inning, and I think the game was close to, if not completely sold out.

Instead, I ended up catching most of the game on TV. My rollicking Saturday Night schedule (admittedly, following running a 6-hour rehearsal) involved little more than watching the game and doing my laundry. I figured that, with the game moving along, I'd wait for the game to end, then put up the wash. It was already 4-4 when I tuned in, and I'd missed Brandon Knight (odd seeing KNIGHT 28 rather than KNIGHT 22 at Shea, but I digress) put forth a start of The Late Jeremi Gonzalez proportions (and they kind of look similar on the mound). So I saw the Mets briefly go ahead, and then just as quickly fall behind, and then Delgado hit his 2nd HR, and it was 8-7, and I was having some visions of another Mets/Cardinals game from a couple of years ago, and even moreso when Fernando Tatis tied the game with a HR that I could have sworn Ankiel caught.

So, the game goes to the 10th, and I figure someone'll get a big hit for the Mets and I can get to doing my laundry. But they didn't. Then, I figured it would be the 11th. Delgado came up and Gary Cohen immediately started talking about how no Met had ever hit 3 HRs in a game at Shea, which was, of course, the immediate jinx. Then, I started to get antsy. I had to do laundry, lest begin a recycling process that I would have preferred to avoid. I also didn't want to be up until 2am doing my laundry. Delgado hit into a DP, which Gary Cohen practically had ensured.

With the game moving to the 12th, and beginning to take on the eerie, farcical feel of a game I had already attended and chronicled in depth a little more than a month ago, I decided I could wait no longer. I said screw it, went downstairs and put up the laundry, which took up the top of the 12th. Living in an apartment building 7 washers and 5 driers, I figured I'd have little competition for space as I went downstairs. Foolish me. There were 4 washers running and all 5 driers were full, albeit stopped. Who the hell knew Saturday Night was such a big Laundry night? A gentleman was loading up two machines, leaving me to take the last remaining empty washer. He started his cycle a couple of minutes before me. I knew it would be a race to get to the driers before him. I went upstairs and was not surprised to see that I missed little of consequence. The Cardinals trotted out a pitcher who seemed to be a Social Studies classmate of Tyler Clippard, and the Mets couldn't score off him despite the fact that he seemed all too happy to hand the game over to the Mets. But try as he might, the Mets just wouldn't take it. So, to the 13th. And by the bottom of the 13th, it was time to head back downstairs and jockey for a drier. I was quick. I was stealthful. I entered an empty laundry room. My washer had stopped. The other guy's washer had stopped. There was now only one empty drier, with the other 4 driers now running. I knew I had to strike quickly. I immediately tore my laundry out of the washer and flung it haphazardly at the empty drier, my only chance to secure it. I made it. I loaded up the drier and got out of dodge just as the other gentleman was returning to get his laundry. I win. And I get upstairs and it's the 14th inning, with the game over 5 hours. Of course, as soon as I walk in, it's that guy who's no good stepping up and sending one out, tilting this ridiculously extended game in the Cardinals favor.

That's when I knew this wasn't my kind of game after all. The Mets usually win when I'm at games like this.

At least my laundry was clean.

Friday, July 25, 2008

What The Deuce?!


I'm not quite sure how the hell this team is in First Place, but somehow, they're in First Place.

They're in First Place because after vomiting up a game in perhaps the most excruciating way possible on Tuesday night, the Mets managed to come back and play as if it had never happened the next two days, knocking around the Phillies the same way the Phillies did it to them last season, pushing them around and eventually shoving them off the field.

They're in First Place because guys who had spent the first three months of this season in a fog, like Carlos Delgado, or in limbo, like Oliver Perez, or in obscurity, like Robinson Cancel, have all of a sudden come around and began playing the way they're supposed to play.

They're in First Place because after muddling through stretches where they were unable to perform in any manner resembling a winning baseball team, playing over their heads and under their expectations, they've suddenly managed to pull it all together, coming back from a large deficit and winning games until they were finally able to put themselves back where we thought they'd be: At the top of the Division.

They've come this far. Now, they've got to stay there.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

EASTER BUNNIES!!!

Sing a little song with me, if you will. Make up your own tune. I don't mind.

Happy Day
Everything's Fine
We're Okay
Back in a Tie
Wagner's Back
Hold the Lead
Mets get the win
Good as can be

Much like last night, I didn't have a chance to see any of the game, except for a brief moment when I had a chance to watch some assorted highlights on MLB's Gamecast. My first look came with the Mets leading 6-3 in the 8th. The cast member who was dumbfounded last night came in my office and saw I was watching. "Should I even ask what's happening?" he said to me. I told him that the Mets were up 6-3 in the 8th, but what did that mean anymore? He agreed.

With a real closer back in the mix, the 3-run lead was pretty safe in the 9th. So, after 24 hours of unadulterated agony, the Mets are officially no better or worse than they were two days ago. Just as I had suspected. After a loss that could have surely spelled instant doom, it appears that the instant doom is merely the creation of a fan base that's spent too many years getting kicked in the teeth to think that anything might actually work out in their favor. But this is the Mets we're dealing with. Every time you think they're going to go one way, they end up doing the exact opposite.

As Keith Hernandez would say, "Such are the vicissitudes of Baseball."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Second Rate Team

So, I guess I'm showing a good deal of restraint by not writing a post consisting solely of the phrase "WHAT THE FUCK?!" repeated over and over and over again until the readers eyes spin out of their head. Even then, I'm not sure what sort of a coherent post I can muster at this late hour. I should be asleep, but the rigors of rehearsal and the compounding agony of the evening make it a bit difficult to rest right now.

Last week, I mused about how maybe I wished I could watch these games now, despite being stuck in rehearsal. Tonight, I'm glad I wasn't there and I'm really glad I wasn't watching. I would guess the 55,081 at Shea were all vomiting in unison. I clicked the game on my computer at an off moment and saw a 5-2 score in the 8th, and felt good.

Then, the text messages began filtering in.

I spoke to a fellow Mets fan in the company of the show I'm working on after rehearsal had ended, already having been apprised of the happenings by El Guapo, who must have had to put a blindfold on or something by night's end, and he looked at me, speechless and dumbstruck.

How on earth do you manage to blow a 3-run lead to your biggest rival in the 9th inning. I know Wagner's hurt, but someone, SOMEONE out of Sanchez, Smith and Feliciano should have been capable of getting three outs before giving up three runs, right?

RIGHT?!?

Apparently, this is giving this particular group too much credit.

On a night when Johan Santana needed to step up, he apparently did, although the early part of the game is more or less a rumor to me. I know he's getting ripped to shreds on WFAN right now for not starting the 9th inning, and at 105 pitches, perhaps that's justified, particularly in a game like this.

But then, I'm sure Johan Santana felt pretty damn confident that the guys behind him would get the necessary outs to sew up the victory. Nay. Once again, Santana saw a victory disappear because the guys around him shit the bed. Santana's reaction, perhaps, might have been a much more muted version of my reaction, while sitting and listening to some singers mangle a song that they should just shut up and learn to sing correctly, and my phone repeatedly buzzing with bad news followed by more bad news. All I could do was smack my forehead and look down. By the end of the night, I was grabbing the microphone from the director and cursing out actors, even though they probably deserved it. I'm usually relatively relieved and punchy when rehearsal ends. Tonight, I was borderline angry. Almost as if I worked for a ravioli factory. But Santana can't curse out his bullpen. You have to be diplomatic in Baseball. Theater not so much.

The fact that this is one game, and the Mets are but a game out of first place with an awful lot of season left to play are certainly evident. But this is the kind of loss that could very well wreck a season. Then again, the way this year has gone, the Mets could very well turn around and win tomorrow night. But the most frustrating thing about a game like this is that it seems to always happen to the Mets. This will forever be a second-rate team until they can close out games like this, when the closer is injured and the remaining guys in the bullpen have to finish the job. It shouldn't be this difficult, especially when the bottom of the lineup is coming to bat.

WHAT THE FUCK!?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Step Up

Despite the fact that the Mets played a largely uneven series in Cincinnati over the past weekend, that showed both sides of this team, the Mets return home tied for first place with Philadelphia.

And Philadelphia just happens to be coming into town for 3 games this week.

It's time for the Mets to show us what the real face of this team is. Johan Santana is the poster child for this. After a patently awful outing on Thursday, and a good, but not dominant season to this point, now is the kind of game where Johan needs to step up and show us why the Mets went out and spent $138 million to get him. If there was ever a time for him to show up and rip off one of his signature games, now is that time. He's pitched two very good games against Philadelphia already, although he wasn't backed up by his offense in one of them, and the bullpen almost blew the other. If he rises to the occasion tonight like we know he can, maybe neither of those things will matter.

On the other side, Philly is countering with the newly-acquired Joe Blanton, a ragtag righty who was a middle of the rotation guy with Oakland, coming East to be a middle of the rotation guy with Philly, except that moving from spacious Dungbeetle Stadium to Steroid Field II in Philly might not bode well for his ERA. The argument across the board seems to be that he's a better fit in the Philly rotation than Adam Eatme was, and maybe this will put Philly over the top in the quest for the division. I know Joe Blanton. I had him on my Fantasy team last season. He's not the answer for Philly, particularly when you don't know how Wednesday's starter, Brett Myers, is going to respond after returning to the Majors following a stint in AAA ball. On the other side, Death Cab for John Maine just hasn't had anything over the past month or so, to the point where you have no idea what you're going to get from him. That game looks like a tossup on paper, so my guess is that both starters will throw shutouts into the 8th inning. Thursday, the 12pm Businessman's Special or Senior Citizen's Special or Camp Groups special or whatever the hell they call these ridiculous afternoon games. At least I'll be able to hear it on the radio at work. Ollie on the mound against Jaime Moyer in a rematch of Opening Day. Hopefully this will produce better results.

Both teams are, right now, erratic and inconsistent enough that there could very well be a sweep on either side. True, after the series in Philly earlier this month, the Mets might be in the Phillies heads a little, but after last season, Philly was in the Mets heads. The Mets could win tonight 10-0 or lose 3-1. But if they really want to assert themselves and kick Philly in the nuts, they need a sweep. 2 of 3 won't do. Looking at the available tickets on Mets.com (you know, just so I could see what kind of seats were available for games I can't go to), I noticed that there were still seats available for all 3 games this week. Mezzanine Boxes were plentiful, as were seats in the Upper Deck. If the fans here want to try to affect things somehow, I'd suggest that you go out and snap up the remaining tickets fast, before the opposing team's folks get a hold of them. This series is really getting a lot of hype. Let the fans show up and act like it. With the Ace tonight, it's time for a Tuesday Night Sellout.

An interesting week, indeed.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lost Classics: May 13, 1997

This was the winner of the Choose the Lost Classic for 1997 poll.

The 1997 Mets had no idea what they were about to embark on.

A mostly unheralded bunch of players, led by one breakaway star, one established star and one emerging star in Todd Hundley, John Olerud and Edgardo Alfonzo, the Mets weren't expected to raise much of a peep in the NL East in 1997. There were too many holes, too little pitching, not enough depth. Through the first month of the season, that seemed to hold to form as the Mets went 12-14 for April.

But that seemed to turn in May. After a sluggish start, the Mets went on a road trip to Colorado, Houston and St. Louis, and returned home with 5 wins in 7 games, including a sweep of the Cardinals, to bring them back home at 19-18, still in 4th place, and still 7 games out of first place, but over .500 was an accomplishment for Bobby Valentine, in his first full season managing the Mets, and his team that wasn't expected to compete.

The Mets returned home for a quick, two-game series against the Houston Astros, beginning on a Tuesday night, May 13th. The Astros, themselves barely a .500 team at 20-18, held a slim half-game lead for first place in the NL Central. But they had stars. They had the Killer B's, Craig Biggio, Derek Bell and Jeff Bagwell. They had vicious starting pitchers like Shane Reynolds and this evening's starter, Mike Hampton. Surely, the Mets would come back to earth.

At the time, I was in my last month of High School, pretty much playing out the string before getting ready for College in the Fall. I had met up with a friend after school and we headed out to the game. Back in these days, tickets were pretty easy to come by, particularly if you ran into the right guy outside the stadium. Back then, scalpers were prevalent, although since the Mets weren't much of a draw—and tonight's game would only draw 13,997—good seats could be had rather cheaply. Through this method, two seats in Field Box 228G were procured for barely face value. Once inside, the stadium being rather empty, and none of the ushers paying much mind to a couple of High School kids minding their own business, we were "upgraded" to seats much closer to the field, about 10 rows back of 3rd base. It's rare that I'm this close to the action. It's even more rare nowadays, when seats like these command a premium.

Though the stadium was, for the most part, pretty empty, there was one thing that caught our eyes. There were two banners, rather conspicuously posted, on the Loge level, right next to each foul pole, draping in fair territory. Whomever had brought them obviously had brought two and hung them both.

"NOW IT BEGINS!" the signs read.

I wondered what it meant. My friend wondered what it meant. No matter, I suppose. We're here and we're ready for the game, a 7:40 start time, Armando Reynoso against Mike Hampton.

The early innings are more or less a blur. Derek Bell singles to left with 1 out in the 1st, but Jeff Bagwell follows that up by hitting a hard smash that appears headed right at my head. It zooms over me, well foul. Two pitches later, Bagwell hits a similar shot, but this one is right at Edgardo Alfonzo at 3rd. Fonzie spins and throws to Carlos Baerga at 2nd, and Baerga throws to Olerud at first for a nice 5-4-3 DP.

In the bottom of the 1st, Carl Everett leads off by smoking a ball just fair, inside the 3rd base line for a leadoff double. He moves to 3rd on Alfonzo's groundout. Olerud, the newcomer, follows. Known for his sweet swing and placid demeanor, Olerud was acquired from Toronto in the offseason for, almost quite literally, a bag of balls. OK, fine. It was a Person. Nonetheless, Olerud was, perhaps, one of the largest reasons for the Mets resurgence in '97. Olerud came over and hit and hit some more, and played solid defense, and pretty much endeared himself to everybody. At the time, he was hitting over .350, having rediscovered the contact stroke that he had been idiotically weaned off of in Toronto. Here, Olerud chops the ball to first. Bagwell appears primed to field the ball, but he bobbles it. Olerud is safe and Everett scores the game's first run.

Bernard Gilkey follows. After his standout 1996 season, Gilkey earned a hefty contract and immediately fell flat, his average tumbling into the mid .100s, and his power disappearing. Here, he does no better, slapping into an easy 6-4-3DP to end the Mets threat.

The Astros get their leadoff man, Luis Gonzalez, on in the 2nd, but a pair of nifty picks, first by Alfonzo, then by Olerud, keep runners from advancing past first base. Brad Ausmus singles, but Bill Spiers grounds out and the inning is over.

The score remains 1-0 Mets until the 3rd, when Armando Reynoso comes to the plate. Reynoso, more or less a journeyman, had pitched tolerably well for the Mets, and also had a reputation as a halfway decent hitter. His batting stance would not indicate as much. He looks like a pitcher at the plate, with his hands held far out in front of him, and his knees and torso bent in such a way that his ass is left hanging far behind him, as if he's inviting the pitcher to just throw the ball at it. But Hampton does not throw at Reynoso, he throws to Reynoso, and Reynoso puts an ugly looking swing on the ball and the next thing we know, the ball is sailing deep to right center and over the wall, directly in front of the scoreboard to the left of the 371 mark. Holy Crap! Reynoso goes deep! It's actually Reynoso's 3rd career HR, but that doesn't make it any less of a surprise.

The Mets continue their rally later on, when, following Everett's groundout, Alfonzo hits a smash up the middle. Biggio ranges far to his right and dives, and manages to get his glove on the ball, but he has no chance to get Alfonzo. This proves key when Olerud drives the ball deep to right and over Thomas Howard's head, off the wall. Alfonzo comes all the way around to score, and Olerud is on 2nd. And the Mets have come out, undaunted, and attacked Hampton for 3 runs.

Now it begins, indeed.

In the 4th, however, the Astros begin a comeback. Bagwell and Gonzalez lead off with consecutive doubles, Gonzalez's a deep drive that Everett can't catch up with, to make the score 3-1. At this point, it begins to rain. First, it's a drizzle. But as Reynoso works his way out of the jam, retiring Sean Berry on a popup, then Howard and Ausmus on grounders to Ordonez, the rain begins to pick up in intensity. The Mets go quietly in the 4th. By the middle of the 5th inning, it's raining pretty hard. I've got an umbrella out. My friend tells me I'm an idiot. At least I'm a dry idiot. It's pouring, and I'm wondering why they don't stop the game. In the 5th, Ordonez singles and is picked off before Reynoso can attempt to bunt him over. So we root for another HR. Predictably, Reynoso grounds out.

As the 5th comes to an end, so does the rain. And it's almost as if it just suddenly stopped. It goes from pouring to totally dry in a matter of minutes. Reynoso begins the 6th by getting Bell and Bagwell to ground out to Alfonzo. He then works a full count to Gonzalez before walking him. Sean Berry follows, but no worry. Berry is hitting .185 at this point in the season, with no power. This, I think, as Berry swings and the ball sails into the Astros bullpen for a tying 2-run HR.

"JESUS, HE'S A .185 HITTER!" I yell. I was big on the obvious in my younger days.

In the Mets half of the 6th, Alfonzo reaches on an error by Biggio, but Olerud follows by grounding into a 1-6-3 DP, the 3rd double play the Mets have hit into in this game. Hampton is finished after 6 innings, 6 hits and 3 runs (2 earned) with no walks over his 87 pitches. Reynoso, however, is not done as the 7th begins, and Brad Ausmus, himself a pretty weak hitter, smokes the ball deep and high and well over Everett's head, off the center field fence. Ausmus, a catcher, chugs around the bases, all the way to 3rd. Jesus. First, a HR to a .185 hitter, and then a triple to the catcher? What's next, Armando?

Well, I'll tell you.

After striking out Spiers and getting the pinch hitter Bobby Abreu (yes, he did play for the Astros once upon a time) to pop out, Reynoso then proceeds to hit Craig Biggio. Biggio is on his way to becoming the Majors all time leader in getting hit by a pitch, so that's no great shakes. But Reynoso follows that up by hitting Derek Bell as well! Now, we're apoplectic. After doing his best to get out of his own jam, Reynoso just manages to make it worse, and he's done. Valentine removes him from the game after 6.2 innings, 6 hits and 3 runs over his 107 pitches. Greg McMichael enters from the bullpen to pitch to Jeff Bagwell, always a welcome sight. And Bagwell drills the second pitch like a shot to center. But Everett, playing deep, charges in, dives, makes the catch and rolls over. He holds the ball, the inning is over. "THANK GOD!" I yell as I look to the skies.

Russ Springer is in the game for the Astros in the last of the 7th. Todd Hundley leads off by grounding to short. Butch Huskey follows. Huskey began the season as a man with great potential that never quite showed it. Given opportunities to start at 3rd base and Right Field, Huskey couldn't quite hold the job. Pressed into duty as the cleanup hitter in 1996, Huskey struggled to bat his weight. Still, with his potential, he deserved a shot. And when injuries finally made him the starting right fielder, Huskey responded with a standout year in 1997, a year that tantalized us with the promise and power he displayed.

It was such power that he would display at this particular moment, when he took a 1-1 pitch from Springer and cracked it deep and high to left. I don't know if it was the heavy, humid air, or the silence in the ballpark, but that crack of the bat echoed throughout the stadium, and as I looked up, there was the ball, sailing over the bleachers, over the Astros Bullpen and out of sight, deep into the night, to give the Mets a 4-3 lead. The Mets shouldn't have had a 4-3 lead in this game! There was no way! But somehow, they had the lead. It was one of the longest, loudest and most gratifying Home Runs I had ever witnessed. If, after all this, they still lead the game, there's no way they can lose now.

And they don't. McMichael retires the Astros in order in the 8th. John Franco comes in in the 9th and allows a 1 out single to Ricky Gutierrez, but promptly picks him off first. James Mouton follows by watching strike 3, and the Mets win a stirring 4-3 ballgame. "I LOVE THIS GAME!" I yell skyward as the Mets charge out of the dugout.

Now it begins, indeed.

Now it begins held true for the Mets all season long, as if it were a silent rallying cry that nobody ever really knew about. The Mets would win games like this all season long, and although they seemed overmatched, or outmanned, or out of the game, they never gave up. The 88 wins they produced under Bobby Valentine brought hope. The first winning season they'd had in 6 years. A resurgence in Queens, for a team that had been buried in a Bronx Tsunami. The character and resiliency that they began to build this season would carry them to their accomplishments in this year, and beyond, all the way to the NLCS in 1999 and the World Series in 2000. Perhaps it's overly dramatic to think so, but I think of those teams and I think back to this night, and I think about Now It Begins.

Maybe this is where it began.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Back to the (Back to the) Beat, Y'all (Beat, Y'all)

Well, anyway you slice it, this is pretty cool.

As I'm entering the rehearsal process for my Summer Show, as I do every year, the games are more or less reduced to a glimpse here and there on MLB's Gamecast when I have a chance to look at my computer. When I first put it on, the Mets had coughed up a 2-0 lead and were trailing, first 3-2, then 5-2 as Santana clearly didn't have his best stuff. When I looked again, as I was closing up for the night, the Mets were down 8-6 in the bottom of the 8th. I figured this was now where the shoe was going to drop, the streak would end, and the Mets would prove unable to carry over the hot streak through the All Star Break.

Nope.

I walk into my building and my doorman immediately gives me a high-five and says that the Mets just won it. No kidding. A 4-run rally in the 9th. So much for a letdown.

The offense is really clicking right now, and enough that they were actually able to offset a rare game (of late) where the pitchers didn't have it. Santana was tagged, Heilman and Schoeneweis struggled, but no bother. The Mets beat around the Reds pitchers pretty soundly, it would appear. Carlos Delgado continues to be raging hot, as is Fernando Tatis, both coming up with Home Runs and key hits in the 9th, Carlos Beltran chipped in with a rally-extending hit, and David Wright, off a relatively mediocre All Star Game performance, came up with the biggest hit of them all, a resounding opposite field HR to tie the game in the 9th, the kind of hit that he hasn't been coming up with of late.

With that, the Mets have now won 10 in a row for the first time since 1991 and sit a game shy of equaling the longest winning streak in team history. What makes this even more astounding is that, as everyone keeps saying, there was no indication whatsoever that this team had a streak like this in them at all at any point during the first three months of the season. All of a sudden, everything's clicking at once, and the jigsaw that hadn't really been seen since Opening Day in Florida is falling into place like we'd hoped it would.

It's Death Cab tonight, who hasn't been very Death Cab of late, and perhaps it's been because I haven't been referring to him as such. Actually, I think I just forgot about it, what with everything else going on around the team and elsewhere. Can he see the light and lead the Mets further out of the bleak misery of their dark days and spark them to ultimate triumph?

I kinda wish I could see these games now.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mets DVD Review: Shea Goodbye

There has, over the past couple of months, been a rather large influx of Mets DVDs hitting the market. Of course, by rather large, I mean two. But where one of them, the 6-DVD "Essential Games of Shea Stadium" set has been getting all the hype, the other one, the much more useful "Shea Goodbye" DVD seems almost an afterthought.

It's not to denigrate the Essential Games set, but let's face it: Any of the 6 games included are pretty readily available by watching SNY (except for the Grand Slam Single game, but you could readily read all about that game here, and what's besides the point, it's not clear whether the DVD contains the original NBC Broadcast with Bob Costas or the awful NBC-I broadcast with Gary Thorne), and I don't know what the bonus features are like, but suffice it to say that I don't see myself plonking down $40 for that. Let's wait until the secondary market kicks in and you can find it on E-Bay for $10. You know it's coming.

Then, there's "Shea Goodbye." This one pretty much squashes the "Essential Games" set down to all the bits and pieces of the games that you really wanted to see, plus some other clips of forgotten men and forgotten moments (Steve Henderson! Joe McEwing!) and condenses the history of Shea into a rather taut 85 minutes. Rather than telling the story in a linear fashion, however, the DVD jumps from era to era and back again with regularity, encapsulating the early days of Shea and the Mets, and even the Jets, the teams of '69, '73, '86, '00 and '06, and intersperses it with some clips of great plays, great players and great moments. Special attention is paid to the Shea Experience itself, the initial fan reactions to Shea (and Bud Harrelson gushing over it), the effect of airplanes, the seasons that Shea was a 4-team stadium, and even the many concerts held at Shea, and also to several specific moments such as the Grand Slam Single, Piazza's HR after 9/11, Seaver's Imperfect game and Endy's catch.

However, there's one great, inherent flaw with this DVD, and I suppose it's a flaw in just about any team highlight DVD. If you're not a big Mets fan, or if you only have a casual interest in baseball, you won't get most of the DVD. Many things are presented in such a way that you'd only understand it if you were as nutso a Mets fan as I am (eg: The Black Cat game in 1969 is sort of dropped in as if they expect you to know what's coming, in sequence with the rest of 1969). This isn't to say that I have a problem with it; for me, and for fans like me, it's great.

There are many cameo appearances in the DVD, and not just from Mets players. There are plenty of Jets players, such as Wesley Walker and Greg Buttle who appear, WFAN's Joe Beningo (credited not from WFAN or SNY, but of Saddle River, NJ, oddly), Fred Wilpon is there, Radio DJ Pete Fornatele and, however much it may sully the credibility of the DVD, George W. Bush and Mr. Larry Wayne Jones appear as well.

The extras are solid. While the last outs of the '69 and '86 World Series are expected, the inclusion of Ventura's Grand Slam Single, Agbayani's HR, and the final outs of Bobby Jones' one-hitter and Mike Hampton's masterpiece against St. Louis in 2000 are certainly welcome additions, particularly since they are all set to the narration of Bob Murphy and Gary Cohen. The DVD itself is narrated by longtime Mets fan Matthew Broderick, which is a departure from the era of Tim Robbins' narration. Does this mean a Jerry Seinfeld-narrated film is in the works? Broderick does a fine job of telling the story without getting too schmaltzy, which is, more or less, what the DVD dissolves into by the end.

Following a brief recap that brings you to the present time, covering the Piazza era (but not Piazza's last game—and while we're on that topic, I think Piazza, for everything he meant to the team, is woefully underrepresented here) to the Reyes/Wright era, to now. Willie Randolph poignantly says a few words about looking to the future, a future which he wouldn't be around to see, ultimately, and then the closing begins, with shot after shot of players, coaches and whoever saying Goodbye to Shea, and closing with the lights going off at Shea, one by one.

So, I suppose I'd recommend that anyone who's enough of a fan to read this should probably go out and buy the DVD, but, as with any DVD, try to find it cheap. You can do it. It's a good addition to any Mets video library, although with the Mets 50th Anniversary just around the corner, I sense even more DVDs on the horizon...

My Review: 3.75/5 stars.

Monday, July 14, 2008

What the Hell do I Know?


Last night, I attended The Biggest Game In The Galaxy, the Sunday Night Mets/Rockies game that officially closed out the first half of the season for both teams. I felt oddly confident all day, and justifiably so, especially with the Mets having won 8 in a row and progressively looking more and more dominant in doing so.

In the top of the 1st, Mike Pelfrey quickly allowed a leadoff single to Scott Podsednik (punctuated by some doofus in UR2, Row V yelling "ONCE AGAIN, NO NO HITTER!" and me wanting to walk over and smack him in the teeth) and then quickly falling behind Clint Barmes 3-1, looking shaky, missing with his sinker and throwing his fastball at 86-88 MPH.

"Shit," I thought to myself. "He doesn't have it. Figures, it's the game I go to."

Pelfrey then zipped his next pitch in at 94 MPH, and Barmes responded by slapping the ball directly at Jose Reyes, who spun and turned a rather easy 6-4-3 DP.

A relatively brisk 7 innings later, Pelfrey, after getting the Rockies to basically pound the ball into the ground all night, punctuated yet another sterling effort by getting Podsednik to pop out to Wright, capping off 8 shutout innings over 119 pitches, walking off the field with the crowd chanting his name and even getting called out for a curtain call.

Were it not for the fact that he had to waste so many pitches on Omar Quintanilla (12 in the 3rd inning, another 8 in the 8th), Pelfrey certainly would have been in line to close out the game himself. I figured as much, and by the end of the 2nd, with the Mets already up 4-0 and the rest of the game feeling pretty academic, boldly texted El Guapo that Pelfrey would throw a shutout. So I was off by an inning. Close enough.

The point of all this is, basically, what the hell do any of us know? After spending the better part of the first three months of this season watching uneven, uninspired baseball that was frustrating, and made many of us lose faith and hope, and declare this team an unwatchable, unlikeable mess, the Mets go into the All-Star break on a 9-game tear, standing at 51-44, half a game behind the Phillies for 1st place.

After all that, the Mets are half a game out of 1st place. Go figure.

Pelfrey himself could be the poster boy for this dramatic turnaround. So many times, Pelfrey was considered the weak link, and one more bad start away from a ticket to New Orleans. Then came that outing against Arizona. And that was just a tantalizing preview. Instead of regressing, Pelfrey built on that strong outing and followed it up with more strong outings, to the point where, this past week, he threw 7 shutout innings against San Francisco and 8 more against Colorado, good enough for him to be named the NL Player of the Week. Now, who the hell thought that was going to happen 2 months ago? El Guapo and I discussed it via text during the game. His point, that it was hard to argue with Pelfrey's talent, but he spent too much of the time that he would have spent in the Minors harnessing it trying to figure it out in the Majors is a valid one. It's difficult to be jarred straight to the Majors less than a year after being drafted, and there's a reason that it rarely happens, particularly for Pitchers. Only now does Pelfrey seem to be finding his legs and building his confidence, fully harnessing the talent that he's always had.

The Mets have pretty much gone the same way. A month ago, we would have been happy with a 4-2 homestand against weak teams like San Francisco and Colorado. We would have been happy with a split in Philadelphia. But the Mets clearly have turned a corner, flawed as they are, and managed to rip through Philly and keep it up during this recent homestand. Players who have gotten hot have remained hot (Carlos Delgado, for one, has been especially hot; his HR on Sunday Night looked, off the bat, as if it was sailing towards Mo Vaughn territory near the top of the scoreboard, or perhaps even over the scoreboard), and other bit parts such as Fernando Tatis (who is now getting the ABBA treatment for his base hits, which I'm embarrassed to admit I approve of) and Damion Easley, whose Game-Winning HR on Friday night was reminiscent of, well, just about every other HR he's hit for the Mets. Or it's the pitching coming through, like they did on Saturday, spreading a 1-hit shutout over 5 pitchers who all threw rather effortless games. Even FOX's drunken, arrogant jackass Ken Rosenthal couldn't throw a damper on the Mets, much as he tried to discredit their hot streak by basically saying, "You can't take them seriously because they're beating up on the lousy Western Division." Rosenthal then interviewed Wagner after the game. I know you have to be diplomatic, but if I'd heard Rosenthal trashing the Mets throughout the game and then he tried to interview me after the team won, I probably would have told him he was an asshole and walked away. Even if the West is lousy, and they are, you still have to go out and win the games, and the Mets, for the first time all season, have actually been going out and doing so, and they should be credited for that.

So, now, the All-Star Break, at a rather inopportune time. It remains to be seen what the rest of the season will hold for the Mets. It's not even a given that they'll be able to keep their winning going after the layoff, although it helps that they're going to play another weak team in the Cincinnati Reds over the weekend, but this has all the makings of a 2-2 split or losing the series 3-1. Momentum can disappear very quickly. But El Guapo said it best: "Whatever happens this season, this is awesome right now."

Two odd notes for the All-Star Break:

1) Yabba Dabba Yankees!
In case you hadn't noticed, the All-Star Game is at Yankee Stadium, and Major League Baseball, ESPN, and just about anyone else with a pulse has taken this opportunity to heap oodles upon oodles of nauseating praise on the Yankee organization, thus turning the game into little more than a massive ass kissing session and another reason for the team and their fans to heighten their sense of self-importance. Not that they need such a thing. All I'll say is that if Mike Pelfrey were a Yankee, he'd be the toast of New York right now, and people would be screaming about how he's not on the All-Star team. Wagner is there, and so is Wright (however reluctant I feel about that; as he's one of the few Mets not hitting right now, I'd really rather he had the rest), although not so you'd notice. Wright, diplomatically, called this a celebration for New York on ESPN tonight, but I think we all know the truth.

2) The Passing of a Legend
It's not Bobby Murcer. Red Foley, who served as the Shea Stadium official scorekeeper for pretty much forever, passed away today at the age of 79. You always knew he was there, even if his presence was almost always never known. I'll remember Foley most for his quick and fair judgment call on Robin Ventura's Grand Slam Single, sorting out the chaos like the pro he was. As someone who has scored every game he's attended, I tip my cap to Red, whose work I always followed so that my scorecard was always up to date.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Choose The Lost Classic, Part 2

As you may have noticed, I have been keeping a more diligent schedule of Lost Classic games here of late. Following the success of the poll I posted in March, I've decided to put the voting in your hands once again. There are tons of Lost Classics out there, so I've picked some of my favorites and I'll let you decide which ones I should write about. SNY should take note, rather than re-playing the same games over and over again. These are games that might not have made a huge difference, but they deserve recognition nonetheless. Last time out, we covered 1997, 1998 and 2004. This time around, let's try 1999, 2001 and 2006.

1999:

1) May 20, 1999 - Mets 11, Brewers 10, Mets 10, Brewers 1. Robin Ventura hits Grand Slams in both games of a Doubleheader.

2) July 24, 1999 - Mets 2, Cubs 1. Octavio Dotel shuts down the Cubs.

3) August 22, 1999 (Game 1) - Mets 8, Cardinals 7. Mets rally from a 6-1 deficit to win.

4) August 23, 1999 - Mets 3, Astros 2. Matt Franco's parachute single in the bottom of the 9th is the Game winner.


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2001:

1) June 19, 2001 - Mets 4, Expos 1. After being shut down for 7 innings, the Mets rally to win in the 8th.

2) July 17, 2001 - Mets 1, Blue Jays 0. Leiter's 7th inning effort and Benitez's 9th inning escape act is Mets2Moon's 100th victory.

3) July 28, 2001 - Mets 4, Phillies 3. Robin Ventura hits a walk-off HR off Turk Wendell.

4) September 1, 2001 - Mets 3, Marlins 2. Jay Payton's 11th inning RBI double is the game-winner.


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2006:

1) April 3, 2006 - Mets 3, Nationals 2. Mets win on Opening Day, thanks to Glavine, Wright and some clutch defense.

2) May 3, 2006 - Mets 4, Pirates 3. Carlos Delgado hits a Walk-off HR in the 12th inning.

3) May 5, 2006 - Mets 8, Braves 7. Mets come from behind 4 times before finally winning on David Wright's double in the 14th inning.

4) May 31, 2006 - Mets 1, Diamondbacks 0. Pedro Martinez and Brandon Webb hurl zeros at each other before Endy Chavez's game winning hit in the 13th inning.


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Friday, July 11, 2008

Don't Feel Too Bad...

Although many of us, and perhaps David Wright himself, feels that it's an injustice that he's not on the All-Star team, we shouldn't feel too bad that he won't be there.

Yes, after being an elected starter for two years in a row, and after putting up numbers in the first half of the season that are certainly worthy of a place on the All Star team, Wright is certainly as deserving as the other 3rd baseman on the NL All Star team (Larry, for one, and Aramis Ramirez, the other). In fact, Wright has, for the course of the season, outperformed Ramirez, but it's Ramirez getting the call instead of Wright.

As if being outvoted by Larry and snubbed for Ramirez wasn't enough of an indignity, Wright was then subsequently beaten in the Final Vote selection by Corey Hart, a mystery in and of itself. The Mets and many of their fans, and media outlets pushed hard for Wright's selection, to no avail. Admittedly, Wright was disappointed. In an era where many big-name, big-ticket players see this exhibition as a waste of time and often don't show up, Wright's desire to be there is refreshing. I think many Mets fans are disappointed as well, particularly with the game in New York (although, clearly, the game itself is just going to be a World-Class Yankee Lather job), and particularly with the lone Mets All-Star being Billy Wagner, whose performance may be All-Star worthy, but at the expense of all of our stomachs.

If there were a Met who by all rights deserve to represent the team at the All-Star game, it would be David Wright, wouldn't it? Jose Reyes can make a strong case for himself as well, but it really would be Wright. He's been the Matinee-Idol, Face of the Franchise, Captain America or whatever you want to call him for the past 4 seasons. His performance is generally graded at a higher curve than anyone else on the team. He got his first "Reputation" award last season, earning himself a Gold Glove that had many people scratching their heads. But since most of these things are, inherently, popularity contests, it should have been that Wright, given his exploits on the field and his popularity off the field, should have been elected.

The problem arises when you have too many dopes, like the slovenly, 13-year old kid in Anaheim who goes to games wearing a hat 2 sizes too big and wears a Vladimir Guerrero jersey covered in chocolate ice cream stains who sees that the Mets, as a team, faltered last season, and thinks to himself, "Hey, the Mets suck. Their team sucks! I'm voting for Aramis Ramirez since the Cubs are in first!" and proceeds to mass-punch 75 ballots with Aramis Ramirez. It's nice that the All-Star Game is a democratic election process, but, similar to the Electoral process in this country, if you have too many idiots making the decisions, you'll eventually end up with something pretty bad for everyone.

And what of Wright? It certainly wasn't his fault that the Mets played poorly last season. True, he started slow, but the end result was Wright's finest season to date, boasting a .325 BA, 30 HRs, 107 RBIs, 34 steals and even 113 runs. Numbers not just All-Star worthy, but almost MVP worthy, had his team turned out a little better. This year, Wright got off to a similar slow start, and he's scuffled quite a bit at times, with his protection in the lineup lacking. His BA is a little low right now at .288, but with 17 HRs and 70 RBIs, the power numbers are right there, and certainly better than Ramirez's numbers (Larry's too, although Larry is currently hitting .375).

So why, then, should we not feel so bad for Wright's being severly snubbed?

Here's why:

More often than not, Wright has looked as if he could use a day off here and there. Until Jerry Manuel purposely sat him one night against Seattle, Wright had played every inning of every game the Mets had played, to that point nearly a half season, and he looked every bit of it. The season is a haul, and Wright could use the 3-day break. True, even if he gets in as a last minute replacement, the game is in New York, and Wright could still have the luxury of sleeping in his sprawling Flatiron pad, Wright would still have to truck his ass out to the Bronx on Monday night for the ceremonial crotch-grabbing, and again on Tuesday for more crotch-grabbing and then playing 3-4 innings in the game itself, being out late, being fawned over and having to put his best face on all the time. Wednesday would be no better, since he'd have to then fly himself out to Cincinnati for Thursday's game.

If Wright has the 3 days off, he'll go home to Virginia, horse around with his brothers, have a few nights of mom's cooking and a chance to relax and not deal with the pressures of being David Wright and having to impress everybody every time he steps into the spotlight. He can sit home, lie in bed, pick his nose and enjoy a few days off. Not having to deal with having to impress anyone should be good for him as the season wears on. Wright has, in the past, been a strong second half performer. Maybe, with this little break now, Wright will be better served in the long run.

So, sure, we can feel bad that Wright's going to miss out on this year's All-Star game. But let's think about it this way: In 2006, Wright went, did the Home Run Derby and sufficiently cocked up his swing and had a lousy second half. This year, the extra rest now might mean a few more big hits later in the season.

You know, when the Mets might really need them.

(Note: At around 3:45, I was informed that Wright was indeed selected to the All-Star team as a replacement, not for Chipper Jones, but for Alfonso Soriano. So much for him getting some rest. But good for him nonetheless. He deserves it.)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Go To The Mirror, Boy!

Granted, it's only been enough victories to push the Mets to 4 games over .500, and granted, there are still many flaws with this team, but the Mets current 6-game winning streak, extended earlier today with a sweep-completing victory over the Giants, has pretty much turned everything around. Gone is the constant griping, the malaise and the misery that the early part of this season brought us all.

The victories, by themselves, have gone from frightening to hair-raising, to surprisingly complete, but what's most encouraging about all of this is that each win has brought another win, rather than a middling loss in between each win. It's not much to win 6 games. But this is a team that hasn't displayed the kind of guts to be able to put together an extended hot streak. At least, not until this particular point in time, where they've now exceeded their longest win streak from last season.

Which is what happens when you finally get your act together and start playing better than you did last season.

It helps when you're playing some paltry competition. The Giants boast some quality pitchers, however they have no offensive threat to speak of. When it's mid-July, and John Bowker is your leading HR hitter with 9, you're not scoring too many runs (one inning against Oliver Perez notwithstanding, but it's kind of funny how the Willie Randolph era now seems like a generation ago). But I digress. When Johan Santana comes out and throws darts for 5 innings, and guys like Ramon Castro and Argenis Reyes are coming through to back him up after he left following a mini-monsoon, while your resurgent Bullpen finishes everything off, it's a pretty solid victory, even against a bad team. In fact, let's state the obvious: IT'S THE KIND OF VICTORY YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO HAVE AGAINST A LOUSY TEAM THAT YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BEAT! Heaven forbid the Mets should string together a few games like that! When the Mets, earlier in the season, were going out and splitting series against lousy Washington, or losing series to San Diego or Colorado, that was what was killing us the most, because if this team was playing with any sort of intensity, they would have pummeled these teams on sheer will alone.

Sort of like what they've done over the past 6 games.

Unlike the case of Tommy Walker up there, it's not so much a Miracle Cure as much as it's been just having a different voice, a different style leading the team. I think that's been the best part of the Jerry Manuel era so far. It's clear that, as the myriad articles by The Sun's Tim Marchman, an ardent Randolph-basher, had stated, many times, it's not that Willie's a bad manager or a bad person. But this team clearly needs a specific style of management, and Willie Randolph's style was the wrong one. Maybe Jerry Manuel isn't the right answer for managing this team for the long haul, but if he's shown us anything in his first month as Manager, it's that he is, indeed, managing players who care. And he cares as well, even if his methods of showing it are a little offbeat. This team is actually playing like they want to win, and that's been exemplified by the recent performance by Jose Reyes, who has, rather quietly, started putting up the kind of numbers that he put up in 2006, a tantalizing glimpse of the player he should be. David Wright has been uneven, at best, but his numbers all of a sudden are there as well. Carlos Beltran was completely filleted last weekend on WFAN, but he's rather quietly gotten hot as well. Even Carlos Delgado has been hitting a little better of late, even if he is a shell of his former self.

It's certainly not better coaching, since Ho-Jo is still standing there clapping with his shades on. But when you're a high-priced star on a high-profile team, and you're watching guys like Fernando Tatis, or Damion Easley, or Argenis Reyes, or Brian Schneider, or Joe Smith come up with clutch performances, you begin to rally around that and it raises your level of play. And, before you know it, you've won 6 in a row, and you're suddenly right back in a pennant race that, a month ago, it looked as though you'd be lucky to be on the fringes of.

I keep saying it. Winning heals everything. But, this team is far from perfect. With Alou pretty much done for the season, and with Church's season in doubt as well (which could turn out to be more of a blow than you'd think), the Mets are, perhaps, in a similar position that they were in the off-season. There's no sure thing in either corner outfield position, and it's going to be difficult to swing a trade with a depleted farm system. It's not likely that guys like Easley, Chavez, Tatis or whoever will be able to carry the load for two positions over the remainder of the season. It's nice for now, but we already know it's too much to ask to expect Fernando Tatis to continue to hit Game-Winning HRs for the rest of the season. But if there's one good thing we can take away from all this, it's that this team can give you a lot of different looks and come at you from a lot of different angles. They're not as bad as we thought. They still may not be as good as they should be. But they're playing for us. Sometimes, it may be difficult to believe, but they are playing for us.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Oh, For the Sake of Momentum

I keep writing about the coming of age of Mike Pelfrey as if he's going to, at some point, revert back to his old, inconsistent self. But the more time passes and the more he continues to pitch like the stud #1 pick we drafted, it's clear that that's really not the case at all.

Perhaps the Giants aren't the best barometer for this, but I think it's safe to say it now, now that he's won 5 consecutive starts, with 3 more very good starts before this streak began, that Mike Pelfrey has officially arrived as a Major League pitcher.

It's not as though Pelfrey has been completely lights out over this 8-start run, but he's made big pitches and gotten big outs when he needed to. Last night in the first inning was a prime example. After loading the bases with 2 outs on an error, a hit batsman and an infield single, Pelfrey reached back for a little something extra to strike out John Bowker for the 3rd out. His offense, in turn, walked off the field and came up with 3 runs for him in the bottom of the 1st against Tim Lincecum, who's no pushover in his own right. This pretty much set the tone for the game. Pelfrey went on to dominate the Giants over the next 6 innings, and the Mets won without breaking much of a sweat, carrying the momentum from their victories in Philadelphia into this series.

For the first time this season, it actually appears like the Mets are going to build on some of their positive victories, and now, the momentum that they built up over the weekend in Philadelphia may actually carry them for a little while. At least, that's how it appears. I was pretty well convinced that after Monday's near-miss, the Mets would predictably go back in the tank. But after they jumped a very good pitcher in Lincecum (who appears to deliver the ball in an almost Japanese-style motion, particularly when he works from the stretch) and won going away last night, and with Philly getting shut out by the Cardinals, the Mets all of a sudden are only a game and a half out of 1st place. 3 or 4 weeks ago I was pretty sure that the Mets would be 14 games out by the All Star break. But when the Mets were really put up against the wall during last week's 8-game road trip, the team responded by going 5-3, with 3 wins against the team they're pursuing for 1st place, and apparently knocking the wind out of their sails in the process.

The signs are encouraging, for once. For the first time this season, this team looks alive. Particularly Pelfrey, who's pitching with confidence and guts, popping his fastball in the mid 90s and getting batters to drill his sinker into the ground. This is more like it. It's nice when you can feel comfortable sending a pitcher to the mound and knowing you're going to get a good outing. You can feel that way now with Pelfrey. Last month, when I went to the Mets/DBacks game where Pelfrey pitched against Webb, we were expecting an 8-0 washout, with Webb throwing a 2-hit shutout. That was, perhaps, where this streak started for Pelfrey, who ended up throwing shutout ball into the 9th. That was the corner for him, and it seems like he hasn't looked back from there. Since then, he's been the kind of pitcher we've expected him to be since his tantalizing spring of 2007.

Compared to the Hell on Wheels he used to be.

(is that with two "F"s?)

(Cut to Melora Walters snorting cocaine off her living room table as John C. Reilly knocks on her door.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Worst Win Conceivable

It's funny, in a very frightening way, that the Mets managed to win three out of four games in Philadelphia over the weekend, in a series where they could just as easily have lost all 4 games.

The finale of this series should have been a walk in the park. But nooooooooooo. First, Tony Armas, then Heilman, then Wagner allowed Philly to stay around, and creep closer, and closer, and closer until we were all sweating and chewing on things we shouldn't be chewing on, and people like Shane Victorino are in the middle of things again, and the Mets are expending just about every bit of energy they have to hang on to a 10-9 victory that had no business being as close as it was.

Of course, when you win, you can laugh and joke, and invoke the spirit of Bob Murphy by yelling, "They win the Damn Thing!"

This wasn't a pretty game for either team. For the Phillies, it might be a worse loss than it was an awful victory for the Mets.

My co-worker said to me on Monday afternoon that the Mets are clearly in the Phillies heads. I don't know if this is some residual reverse bad feelings from the way last season played out, or something else. Neither team is an especially good team, and, much like last year, they're just going to trip over themselves all season, and whichever team can't get up first loses. But the Phillies seem to play as if the Mets are in their heads, because they could have easily won every game in this series, and managed to lose 3 of them. That's the kind of thing we'd often see out of the Mets. How do you manage to Out-Mets the Mets? That's quite an accomplishment.

Both teams seemed to play out this series with controlled desperation. But it wasn't desperation to win, it appeared as though it was more out of desperation not to screw themselves up, and each of these games turned into a battle of who would screw up the worst. On Friday, it was the Mets, first, with Johan swinging through pitches, then with the rest of the team swinging through pitches, and finally spitting it up when Philly had a momentary lapse of getting their act together in the 9th. Saturday, the Mets screwed up first by letting Philly tie and then take the lead. Then, J.C. Romero, Tom Gordon and Rudy Seanez screwed up by not only letting the Mets tie the game, but take the lead and pull away. Sunday, it was Wagner, screwing up against Werth. He was outdone by the Phillies offense, who couldn't get a key hit in extra innings when they had the winning run on base constantly. And then, there was last night, which defies explanation. First, the Mets bombard Adam Eaton, who they've never hit, for 8 runs in 3 innings. Then, Pedro departs, and the Mets bullpen, which, for the most part, has pitched well of late, takes over and immediately lets Philly build up some momentum and charge back into the game. Burrell homers, Howard homers, Jenkins homers, and all of a sudden, 10-1 is now 10-7 in a ballpark where you can blink and score 3 runs. Now, all of a sudden, the Mets fans who had turned the game off and gone to bed or wherever are sweating. Now, the team is poised to shit the bed in a most remarkable fashion, and who's coming in but the All-Star himself: Billy Franco Benitez Looper Wagner. And who's up first but little Shane Victorino, who kicks everything off with a double. And pretty soon, it just turns into two teams crawling to the finish. Wagner walks Eric Bruntlett and yet strikes out Ryan Howard. Pat Burrell hits a heart-attack inducing fly ball that stays in the park. Pedro Feliz reaches Wagner for a hit that scores a run and then scores another run when Beltran stupidly tries to throw Bruntlett out at 3rd. Then, it's Spiezio-Lite, who did it to Wagner Sunday. And somehow, Wagner gets him to pop out. Holy shit. The inning that took 10 years off my life.

Philly must feel like they've been kicked in the nuts right now. You lose on Saturday and Sunday, spitting it up both times, and then tonight you pull off this near-miracle of a comeback and still fall a run short. All that, and you still lost 3 of 4. That's not to say that the Mets should hold their heads high by any stretch. They won two games that they could just as easily have lost, and then nearly blew a 9-run lead in the finale.

Usually, when the Mets have a win as lousy as last night's, they end up going into a funk, losing 4 or 5 or something like that, and not hitting at all. I have a bad feeling about what this series has taken out of the Mets.

But they'll still hang around. Look who they're chasing.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Maybe This Weight Was A Gift...


Sometime around 10pm Saturday night, when Brian Schneider's well-struck double had landed, Delgado and Marlon Anderson had scored, and somehow, someway, the Mets had come back from a game they probably shouldn't have trailed, but did, to take the lead, a voice emerged from my radio, and probably echoed throughout all of New York, and all of Mets Nation, wherever it may reach.

"FINALLY!" yelled the voice.

That voice belonged to Howie Rose, and it punctuated the first of three rather unlikely performances by three unlikely players for the Mets in Philadelphia this weeekend. When the dust cleared, the Mets won on Saturday going away, and again in Sunday's ridiculously extended game, and could just have easily won Friday's game as well.

Then again, the Mets could have very easily lost all three of these games in Philadelphia.

It's a testament to both teams and their fan bases. Listening to WFAN on Friday afternoon, and an interview with a Philadelphia beat writer, there's not a great deal of confidence in the Phillies from among their own fans. They have a loaded lineup, but they've been going through a widespread slump, the starting pitching has been spotty, inconsistent to the point that their supposed Ace, Brett Myers, was sent to the Minors to get his head together, and just when it looked as though they were going to pull away from the rest of the division, they played some AL teams and fell flat on their faces.

The complaints in Philly seem an awful lot like the complaints of Mets fans, where we have good starting pitching, a shaky bullpen, and an underperforming lineup that boasts some of the worst situational hitters in Baseball.

The real attraction when these two teams meet, however, is the fabled warring factions. Although I didn't see any major fistfights breaking out in the stands, it's always interesting to hop over to The 700 Level and see what the good folks there have to say. Mmhmm, Example A, Example B, Example C. Nope, no surprises here.

What was surprising was the result of Friday night's game, which, given the current state of affairs with the Mets, probably served notice to all of us that this was going to be a very long weekend. Santana did what he needed to do, but once again got a pathetic amount of run support from the Mets continually stagnant offense, and he departed a tie game in the 9th inning, when it was debatable whether or not he should have pitched the 9th after only 95 pitches. It's academic. Bash Santana all you want, but you're going after the wrong guy. He showed up. The rest of the team, you know, the team that's supposed to provide him with adequate run support? They apparently were still in St. Louis. After being mostly shut down by Muppet-faced Rookie J.A. Happ and Chad Durbin, the Mets spit the game up in the 9th when the Phillies did what they seem to do what they always do against the Mets: Score runs with 2 outs. Bah. This time, the culprit was one of my favorites: Puny little Shane Victorino. I hate this guy. I really hate this guy, almost as much as I hate Matt Diaz or Jeff Francoeur. I swear to God, this guy should be leading the Kiddie Clown Parade at a McDonalds in Upstate New York instead of being a Major League ballplayer. I think his At Bat Music is a Kazoo Calliope. I get erections bigger than this fucking guy, and here he is, getting his little game winning hit and getting pounded to pieces, and here we go again. This had all the makings of another 4-game Philadelphia washout and an early Football season.

Saturday appeared to be playing out much the same way. Maine was solid, if uneven through the early part of the game. He was staked to a 3-run lead, which of course he couldn't hold, because, first, he went and hit Victorino. I can't say I blame Maine for doing that, because I look at Victorino and want to throw things at him too, but doing it during the middle of a Major League Baseball game might not be a good idea, particularly when the Phillies have quality hitters like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard hitting behind him, and when Utley walked and Howard flicked his wrists, the game was, rather quickly, tied. Maine subsequently went back to business, at least until his arm cramped up and he had to leave. By that point, I was listening to the game with half an ear; I figured it was only a matter of time before the Phillies scored another one of their ridiculous runs, probably on an error by Reyes and an infield hit from Victorino.

It turned out not to be Victorino driving in that go ahead run in the 7th. It was the equally annoying Jayson Werth, or, as he should be more familiarly known, Spiezio-Lite. Werth singled home a run off Feliciano and the rally would have continued had he not gotten himself thrown out taking an extra base on a missed cutoff throw.

So, I figure that's that. Little do I know.

I went back to tuning the game out to the point where I didn't even know who was pitching, and I wasn't aware that Easley and Delgado had singled. In fact, I wasn't even aware that anyone was on base until Gordon's wild pitch scored Easley with the tying run. If Schneider's subsequent 2-out double was the uprising, then this wild pitch was the awakening. This was probably the turning point of the entire weekend. And Finally, FINALLY, the Mets got up off the mat and fought back. Energized from their rally in the 8th, the Mets tacked on enough runs in the 9th that the Grounds crew in Philly thought it would be funny to make up a rain delay, pulling the tarp on and off a dry field and serving to do nothing but make everyone sit around for an extra 18 minutes. So, as it would turn out, the rest of the game was academic, but on the good side.

That's right. What the hell do I know?

This brought us to Sunday's game, which started off as a taut pitchers duel, and Oliver Perez picking up where he left off last weekend, hurling zeros at Philadelphia for 7 innings and looking rather dominant in the process. The Mets offense picked up where they left off, picking up 9 hits and scoring only 1 run.

Then the rains came.

Then the rains continued.

Then I was making dinner.

Then, it was 7:20 or so and I clicked on channel 11 to see if maybe they'd finally called the game like they should have, and sure enough, they're still playing, and Heilman is on and nearly making me choke on my steak and then getting out of the jam.

Then, the game turned into the same kind of Ionesco farce that I had attended last month. It wasn't even Wagner's nearly-predictable blown save that made me think so. It started with Carlos Beltran picking up David Wright and knocking in the tack-on run that proved to be vital mere minutes later. Wagner came in and gave up a leadoff single to, who else, Shane Victorino. He then got the next 2 outs before Spiezio-lite hit the tying HR, a bomb of Mark Reynolds proportions into that Steroid Field jet stream. Perfect. It's just a matter of time before Schoeneweis or Smith or whoever the Mets have left gives up that monstrous HR to Ryan Howard, and the Mets snatch defeat from the jaws of victory yet again.

In the 10th, Schoeneweis came in and struck out Howard and Jenkins.

In the 11th, Joe Smith got Werth and Utley to fly out.

In the 12th, Fernando Tatis hit a 2-run HR off Chad Durbin.

Yeah, Fernando Tatis. Come the 12th inning, the man's unstoppable. He hit a shot that, similar to Werth's HR in the 9th, appeared to be little more than a high fly ball that got caught up in that ridiculous Steroid Field jet stream and carried into the center field seats.

FINALLY! A break for the Mets, a chance to win a game that appeared lost. This was the second unlikely performance for the Mets this weekend, and it proved to be just as critical as Schneider's, since it proved that, once again, the Mets aren't going to fold their tents just yet. You could tell, when Tatis returned to the dugout, and got three emphatic high-fives from Jose Reyes, that they're all there, even if they don't always appear to be.

Then, it was Joe Smith, the final unlikely hero of the weekend, capping off a gutty, 2.1 inning performance by navigating his way through Rollins, Howard and Jenkins, before making a nifty barehanded play on a slow roller by Pedro Feliz, the kind of roller that, in another time, in another place, Smith either wouldn't have been able to pick up cleanly, or would have thrown away. Instead, Smith picked it up and threw his best strike of the evening, capping off the Mets second straight victory in Philadelphia, and second straight victory that featured them getting pushed around and pushed around, until finally, FINALLY, they pushed back.

One more in Philly, tonight. With feeling.