Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy Johan Year!

A Happy New Year from The Ballclub to You.

Here's hoping the rest of the Mets perform with the same intensity as this guy here in 2009.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Classic Ballclub: The 2006 Mets

The 2006 Mets were the Championship Team that wasn't. They kicked off a wild ride that began with aspirations of serious contention for a playoff spot, and ended up taking off with such a fury that, by Mid-June, it was apparent that they were going to run away with the NL East. And, they did. They did not have any serious challenges from any other team in the Division, though there were moments that Atlanta and Philadelphia came close. But as the season went on, things just got more and more fun as the Mets proved themselves to be in every game they played, and got outstanding performances all around, from David Wright, to Carlos Beltran, to Jose Reyes, to Delgado, to unexpected guys like Jose Valentin, Endy Chavez, Chad Bradford and Darren Oliver. The mix of talented youngsters and wily, experienced veterans meshed perfectly, the team playing with constant joy and flair. And it culminated on September 18th, when they nailed down the NL East and touched off a Wild Celebration. In the Postseason, they faced off against the Dodgers, and whenever it seemed that LA would dance and jab, the Mets would respond with a haymaker, eventually overwhelming their opponents and shoving them off the dance floor in a 3-game sweep. Things looked unstoppable. But the injuries and inconsistency finally caught up with them, ending on October 19th in a game of Beautiful Misery. But it was a team that made it fun to be a Mets fan again, and a team that made us Believe.

This capsule, of course, was written shortly after the Mets had won the Division, before the Postseason began. As always, my comments are in italics.

-------------------------
Gentlemen,

With the season winding down, but certainly far from over, I offer to you my team capsule for the 2006 season.

Although we certainly all had high expectations for the Mets this year, for once the Mets actually exceeded that by leaps and bounds. The team won games that for years they never would have. The players had fun, and made fun of each other, and the togetherness showed on and off the field. And the wins continued to pile up, with everyone contributing. The lead in the division grew and by the All Star break, the Mets were actually running away with it. And finally, after 18 seasons, after suffering through more bad and sometimes embarrassing than good, the Mets nailed down the Division title, and seem poised to roll on through the playoffs with the best record in the League. Sure, there were the obvious moments of trepidation. With the recent
history of the team, how could their not be. But once the Mets got going, there wasn't much that could stop them.

Coming into the season hoping to contend for the Wildcard and ending up running away with the Division, you have to consider the season an overwhelming success. But because the Mets were so dominant at times this season, just a Division title isn't enough. The playoffs will be interesting, indeed, and will certainly determine how this Mets team stands against some of the best teams in club history. (This team does stand up as one of the best singular seasons, I believe. But until they show themselves capable of recapturing this particular magic, the era as a whole has to be considered a disappointment.)

And with that said, the part you have all waited for:

MANAGER
Willie Randolph - A-

Willie definitely learned from his mistakes this season. Where last year, he never seemed to light the fire under the team when they were struggling, he kept the team focused and got them to the point where you began to believe they were never out of the game, no matter how many runs behind they were. There were certainly some questionable player moves (Lima), but then, with the lead in the Division squared away by July, Willie had the flexibility to mess around a little. And sometimes, his spare parts just weren't there. He's probably deserving of Manager of the Year this year, but that will likely go to Joe Girardi. Personally, I'd rather have the Division title and best record in the National League. (Willie just had the touch that season.)

CATCHERS
Paul LoDuca - A-

Planted in the 2nd spot in the order, LoDuca really did a great job. He took pitches allowing Reyes to steal bases, and would often follow that up by inside-outing pitches into right field to move Reyes over, or score him. Performed solidly behind the plate and did a great job coaxing some of the younger pitchers through games. No, not anywhere near the galvanizing force of Piazza, but definitely a solid player and a great clubhouse presence. You have to respect a player who answers to the nickname of Captain Red Ass. (It was easy to over-romanticise LoDuca after this season, because he was so good, pretty much all season long. When he regressed to his career norm in '07 and was let go, there was really a large outcry of support for him. But he wasn't going to get any better than he was in '06)

Ramon Castro - B

Yeah, Castro was buried behind LoDuca and didn't get quite the playing time he did last season. But when he went down and we saw what was behind him, well, I for one really missed Castro. Should be back soon and be around for the Postseason. And back as the backup next season as well.

Mike DiFelice
The hell is he doing back here?

Kelly Stinnett
I remember in the 10th Grade I got a super short-print baseball card of Kelly Stinnett. Gabe made fun of me for weeks. (The card in question was a 1994 Topps Stadium Club First Day Issue. A card to forget, no doubt. But I still have it, believe it or not.)

INFIELDERS
Carlos Delgado - B+
Much like Donn Clendenon in 1969, Gary Carter in 1986, Robin Ventura in 1999 and Mike Hampton in 2000, Delgado was the missing piece that put the Mets over the top. Yes, he slumped badly in June and July, but he was enough of a force that he made Beltran and Wright better. And then when Beltran and Wright slumped, Delgado simply picked up the slack. Now, he's going to the Playoffs for the first time. This should be very interesting, indeed. (Delgado really proved himself the difference maker for the Mets that season, and since then, he's proved that he can be whenever he's going good. He, of course, responded to the October Bell by having an outstanding Playoffs, including a HR off Derek Lowe in Game 1 of the NLDS that's still flying.)

Jose Valentin - A
At the end of April, I know we were all wondering what the hell Valentin was even doing on the roster, washed up, done, barely able to hit his weight. And then he did a complete 180, starting off with the weekend in Milwaukee, and never looked back. Shoved Matsui out the door and took off, belting key hits and displaying power he hadn't shown in years. No, you wouldn't expect
him to do this again, but with the pieces around him, he was certainly a welcome, surprising force at the bottom of the lineup. (Part of the problem with the 2007 Mets was that Valentin was counted on to repeat this success, and there was no real plan B for when he inevitably faltered.)

Jose Reyes - A

Professor Reyes es Rapido! Jose put it all together this season. Maybe the OBA isn't as high as Gabe predicted it would be, but he'll wind up with one of the greatest offensive seasons in team history. Close to 200 hits, over 50 SB, close to 20 3Bs. But even more impressive than that were his 19 HRs and 80 RBI, numbers unheard of for a leadoff hitter. Obviously, the power that we thought he had in the minors was there, he just needed a few years to develop. But, of course, most importantly, beyond the power, the RBIs, the steals and the defense, Jose got on base and scored runs in buckets. 119 is the current count. And how many of those 119 gave the Mets early leads? Without Reyes leading things off, the Mets aren't nearly as dangerous a team. Muy Bueno! (This particular season for Reyes showed just how tantalizingly good he can be. We can talk about the reasons he hasn't quite reached these numbers in '07 and '08 to death.)

David Wright - B+
Captain America took the league by storm in the first half of the season, and looked like a surefire MVP candidate before slumping badly after the All Star Break. The overall picture for the season will still look pretty damn good, which goes to show you just how good he was over the first half. For a good chunk of time, Wright basically carried the team to a number of victories, and big, clutch, late game hits were the norm.. Also turned the All Star Game into the David Wright show, where we learned many things about him, such as his penchant for "Rocking the pastel shirts." (I wish I could find that clip on YouTube, but I can't. And it's not worth discussing how he cocked up his swing in the HR Derby and never really got it back.)

Julio Franco - C-
Gets this high of a grade because he continues to play it out despite being older than the Stadium he plays in, and because he has been a major presence in the clubhouse. However, his bat control and speed have deserted him, he can't really run the bases, he's a double play waiting to happen, and for Christ's sake I can't take hearing the Christian Rock they play whenever he comes up to bat! (Again, too much faith in a player who was past it.)

Chris Woodward - C-

Playing with a torn labrum and didn't tell anyone. Still playing it out. Good bench guy, but he hasn't hit at all this season, and can't be counted on as a key pinch-hitter. If the choice were between him and Anderson Hernandez, I would take Hernandez.

Kaz Matsui

Getting rid of this dunce was about as joyful as when the Mets got rid of Alomar or Benitez. I would have taken a bag of beans for him, and that's about what Marrero amounted to, but just to be rid of him was good enough. Of course produced his only highlight of the season in his first AB, with an inside-the-park HR in San Diego. (Kaz had a passably good '07, but there was no way in hell he was ever going to find success in NY, especially the way the crowd would get on him.)

Anderson Hernandez
True, when Hernandez got hurt, it wasn‚t much of a loss offensively because he hadn't hit at all. BUT, his defense is top-notch and he and Reyes make a spectacular DP combo up the middle. I'm still not sure if he'll ever hit at the Major League level. That remains to be seen. If he can produce at all—and I don't mean like Rey Ordonez—I mean some tangible big hits, and not someone who you're afraid will come up in a key spot, but actually hit, I think he can become something. Remains to be seen. (He never showed an ability to hit, be it consistently or at all.)

OUTFIELDERS
Carlos Beltran - A+++++++++++

Before the season, I watched Beltran blast a monster HR against Cuba in the WBC. I turned to El Guapo and said, "Good. Now I want to see that 30-35 more times this year." And he certainly did that. After being lustily booed for the first few days of the season, the Real Carlos Beltran showed up, and showed why he deserved the money he got. The clutch hits and the big smiles that were absent all last year became routine as Beltran put an assault on the team record books that, although he may not reach, were still enough to put the Mets over the top. Case in point: On August 22nd, the Mets trailed the Cardinals 7-6 in the last of the 9th. 1 out. LoDuca had singled off of Isringhausen. Beltran came up. And everyone in the stadium was up because they knew Beltran was going to do something big. He cranked the first pitch out into the bullpen in Right. Mets win, 8-7. (I said it at the end of the '08 season, and I'll say it again here: It's time to get off Beltran's case for the way things ended in '06. It's funny how quickly people forgot that if it wasn't for his standout season, the Mets weren't in that position in the first place. Because of the circumstance, this particular failure is magnified, but I hope that at some point we realize how lucky we are to have this guy on our team.)

Endy Chavez - A
Now we know why everyone loves Endy! He just isn't an everyday player, but use him as a pinch hitter, defensive replacement and spot starter and this guy is All-World! I can‚t tell you how many times this season I've seen Endy do something big. Whether it was a key pinch hit, a spectacular catch in the outfield, whatever. Endy was a huge addition to the club this season, and I expect him to be a major contributor in the Postseason and beyond. Totally surpassed any expectations anyone had for him. (Major Postseason Contribution? Oh, did he ever.)

Cliff Floyd - C+
When Cliff comes up to bat at Shea, they play the theme from "Sanford and Son" over the PA system. It's fitting, because Cliff's legs are in such bad shape that whenever he has to run down a ball in the outfield, he looks like Redd Foxx. Terrible dropoff from his gaudy numbers of last season, but considering his injuries catching up with him it's not too much of a surprise. (El Guapo and I both felt bad, because Cliff really wanted to do well, and he really was a class guy. But by the end of the season, it was clear that he couldn't play it out on a daily basis and was becoming a liability defensively.)

Xavier Nady - B
Too bad he got dealt, but with the injury to Sanchez, I suppose it had to be done. Played great while he was here, although he was a bit streaky. (At the time, I didn't think much of it, and I figured it opened the door for Milledge to play full-time. Milledge, at that point, wasn't ready, though, and the trade ended up turning out to be rather un-necessary, though it did net us Perez. But the point of the deal was to get Hernandez, not Perez, and Hernandez turned out to be vastly useless for us in the Postseason. On the other side, having Nady around in the postseason as another righty bat, when the Mets struggled so badly against lefties, might have been more helpful than we realize.)

Lastings Milledge - C+
Still needs more seasoning. Flashes of brilliance, flashes of youth and inexperience. Still only 21, and just had his first drink last week after the Mets clinched. Has all the makings of a stud, but the Mets need to be careful not to shuttle him back and forth too much. It‚s OK for now, but the
next time they bring him up, they need to decide that he's going to be up and not going back. (It didn't happen until the following July, but he did play passably well. Unfortunately, character questions continued to dog him until he ended up being traded away.)

Shawn Green - C-

The Hebrew Hammer really isn't what he used to be. It looked like he was about to turn a corner against Atlanty, but it appeared to be a mirage. Still, I like him having around, but he could turn into a major liability unless he puts a little bit of a hot streak together. Very John Olerud-esque, even going back to his days with Toronto.

Michael Tucker
Yeah, fine, whatever.

Eli Marrero - B
Only gets this high a grade because Colorado was willing to deal him for Matsui.

Victor Diaz - F
Oof. Too bad that Victor got buried. But, he had the opportunity to win the RF job in the spring. He didn‚t perform well, and I wonder if this was a side effect of constantly being shuttled between AAA and the Majors. Well, he's gone now. I can see it now. Victor ends up the starting LF in Texas next season, and while he hits .220 with 150 Ks, he‚ll hit 25-30 HRs in that bandbox and everyone will be up in arms about how stupid a deal it was. Not really. (Not really was right. VD didn't hit a lick with Texas and Lord only knows where he is now.)

Ricky Ledee
Someone I work with said to me the other day, "What the fuck is Ricky Ledee doing on this team?" (He said the same thing when Ledee mysteriously resurfaced with the Mets in 2007. Bringing up Ledee is basically tantamount to throwing up your hands and admitting "We give up!")

PITCHERS
Tom Glavine - B+

For 3 months, Glavine looked like a totally remade pitcher. Not only was he coming up with key, quality starts, he started striking out guys like he never had before. He hit a wall around midseason, and there was the blood clot scare, but he‚s rebounded and looks strong and poised for the playoffs. Will be back next season and only needs 11 wins (and still a start left this
season) for 300 wins. (Before he basically undid all the good he did with the Mets with his gutless performance in the '07 finale, Glavine really carried the Mets in a pair of brilliant outings in the Postseason. At that particular point, Glavine was the only starter the Mets could count on, and he delivered twice when the Mets really needed him to come up big.)

Steve Trachsel - C+
Trachsel is your typical "Bad ERA but tends to win" pitcher, much in the mold of Freddy Garcia. Problem is, Trachsel was getting so routinely hammered in games that you knew that if the Mets didn‚t score a ton of runs, they were screwed. But that's been Trachsel's story for years. He'd do the absolute minimum to win a game, and was still eating innings, but he was bad or otherwise boring. Except for the start he made the night the Mets won the division, which probably earned him a Postseason start, for better or worse. That was his big clutch outing to this point this year. But I don't know if he'll be able to duplicate that in the Postseason. Hold your breath and keep
your fingers crossed...(...and watch as Trachsel shits the bed.)

Pedro Martinez - B
Pedro was Pedro. I think the fact that he was injured for most of the second half of the season was probably a blessing in disguise. The Mets won without him. Let him muddle through a few starts now, get him sharp and he'll be ready to answer the bell for the Playoffs. Then unleash him. I often feel as though Pedro plays possum an awful lot during the regular season. Sure, be
injured, be ineffective, cry in the dugout. And then when it matters most, he'll turn into Badass Pedro and start ripping off 92-95 MPH fastballs, knee-buckling curves, and sliders from hell, and dominate. (Yeah, this was before we knew about that whole rotator cuff thing.)

Orlando Hernandez - B+
Rock Solid ElDuque was a major cog in the middle of the rotation all season. Sure, he had his bad starts, but the one thing about ElDuque is if he doesn't have it, you know from the first inning, and you can get him out of there quick. But lately, he's been lights out, and his Postseason track
record speaks for itself. I love that we can trot out a horse like this every few games for the Playoffs. (He probably would have helped, too.)

Aaron Heilman - B+
True, he was terrible for a good chunk of May, June and July, and he pouted about not getting to start. But Heilman was so good out of the bullpen early, and especially late (as he was last season), that you can't justify taking him out of the bullpen with the glut of starters that exist on the team now (even though he may be better than most of them). Definitely someone who can be trusted in key spots for now. Also bonus points for using The Clash as his entrance music. (Heilman was, once, an excellent and trusted reliever. He was so good just about all season, and especially after Sanchez got hurt that he got a pass for the Molina HR. There was no argument that he should have been out there at that particular moment. But he hasn't really rebounded from that too well.)

John Maine - B+
True, I'd prefer to have him start in the playoffs over Trachsel. But I'd also like him as the long man (along with Oliver) out of the bullpen in the playoffs as well. Maine looks like he can be a key swing man in the playoff push, and also looks like he can be a very solid mid-rotation starter for the future. Only problem is that he can sometimes struggle with command and gives up a number of walks, often at bad times, and this can lead to him getting hit around a little bit. This can be chalked up to inexperience, though. He's also looked flat-out dominant at times as well. Could be Glendon Rusch from the right side with better upside (Remember how big a
role Rusch played in 2000...). Hopefully the long term results will be better. (Before you kill me for comparing him to Rusch, just think about how many times Rusch came into a game in the 2000 Postseason and held the line. Course, I didn't figure on 2 starters getting hurt and Maine being thrust into the spotlight in Game 1 of the NLDS. But Maine pitched admirably well that day, and again in Game 6 in the NLCS. His efforts and fearlessness endeared himself well to the Mets and their fans, and it was good to see him build on it in '07.)

Darren Oliver - A-
Added to the team as an afterthought, Oliver was huge for the Mets all season. Used primarily as the long man out of the bullpen, Oliver pitched in with some key efforts, eating up innings in a number of games where the Mets looked to be done, only to come back and win. Oliver kept runs off the board and if it weren't for him, the Mets don't win a number of the games they end
up winning over the course of the season. (Would have been better to have around in '07 than Aaron Sele.)

Billy Wagner - B+

Enter Sandman. Sure, Wagner had his moments, but for the most part, he was huge in the closer role, providing stability, and certainly kept the angst of the Franco/Benitez era to a minimum. (At least when he wasn't facing So Taguchi. Prompted El Guapo, Shirts vs. Blouses and myself to start slamming shots of Maker's Mark during the 9th inning of Game 6 of the NLCS.)

Chad Bradford - A-
Same as Oliver. Bradford is another one of those pitchers who never gets a lot of ink, but he's out there making key effort after key effort. Another one who allowed very few inherited runners to score. Also dropped in the ever popular 63 MPH curveball which always kept hitters off-balance. (His success netted him a ridiculously large contract from the Baltimore Orioles, who would subsequently cut him in 2008, where he would end up playing a key role in the Postseason for the Tampa Bay Rays. His replacement, Scott Schoeneweis, was given a similarly ridiculous contract and did not fare quite as well.)

Pedro Feliciano - B
Feliciano did his griping, he and Willie talked it out and Feliciano had a great year, building on the success he had late last season. (Yeah, it's weird how that incident basically got glossed over. When Feliciano started pitching really well and as a crossover guy in the late innings, it was easy to forget it had happened.)

Duaner Sanchez - A

Memo to all players: When you are playing on the road, and you're in your hotel room and you get hungry, and it's about 2AM, PLEASE, just go across the street to the White Castle. Don't get into cabs and drive around Miami looking for Caribbean food. You have no idea what will happen.

Seriously, it sucks what happened to Sanchez, especially considering how good he had been all season. Lights out all the way. All wishes for a speedy and complete recovery so he can be back as the key 8th inning guy next season. (Not to be dramatic, but at this particular point in time, it's not outlandish to say that this injury may well have wrecked his career.)

Alay Soler - C

Not impressed. Except for the two really good outings in LA and Arizona, Soler battled everything everytime out. Unless he really puts it together, I don't see him being a key player in the Mets future. (Which is why I was surprised that there was such an outcry when he was cut in '07. You haven't seen him on the roster of another Major League team since then, and there's a reason for that.)

Brian Bannister - C+
Bannister is very much like Pelfrey without the stuff. Bannister had the knack of getting into and out of trouble in the same inning. Lots of agita and high pitch counts, Lost for most of the season with a hamstring injury when it seemed like he might be beginning to put it together. Deserves a
good look next season so we can know for sure what he is. (Or we'll deal him to KC in another un-necessary deal for a reliever who throws really hard and really flat who will blow out his elbow, get arrested for beating up his girlfriend, and become a suspect in a Hit and Run car accident.)

Heath Bell - D
OK, I'm sick of Heath Bell. I don‚t want to hear about him, or his family and his house in Florida, and I don't want to see him coming into games anymore and either turning leads into squeakers or blowouts into bludgeonings. He's terrible. He's inconsistent. He's ugly too. Goodbye. Go hang out with Mike Stanton and Doug Henry. (I still contend that this was the right move. Bell wasn't ever good with the Mets and never displayed that he would be good.)

Dave Williams
Somehow put together a number of really solid starts. I'm as surprised as the rest of you.

Oliver Perez
If he can throw a few more games like he did against Atlanty, he's golden. Still a reclamation project, but with the upside, it's worth the gamble. Doesn't have the best head for pitching, so it remains to be seen, but Peterson has certainly gotten some encouraging results so far. (Doesn't have the best head for pitching is a very nice way of saying that Ollie is a giant fucking headcase who can throw a brilliant game under the most glaring of spotlights and then stink it up the next time out. But he sure as hell came through in the Playoffs that season.)

Mike Pelfrey - Inc.
Can't say yet. The stuff is there, but he needs to get his command together, and most importantly, his feet under him. Definitely a bit of living dangerously in his few starts. But I think he can dominate someday, and maybe soon. (Soon is here.)

Philip Humber - Inc.

Hasn't pitched yet, although I wonder if Willie would give him a cookie start the last weekend. (He didn't get that cookie start until about a year later, when it wasn't a cookie start, it was a last resort.)

Jorge Julio - C-
Three really putrid outings early in the season really spelled his doom. He was very reminiscent of Armando Benitez which scared the bejeesus out of everybody. Threw really hard, but also flat and straight. Yet somehow was dealt to Arizona for ElDuque, which was a major heist. Julio would perform admirably for Arizona, but ElDuque was much more of a key cog for the Mets
than Julio would have been.

Victor Zambrano - F
He wins the idiot award for continuing to pitch with a bad arm and not telling anyone. He wins the Wilson Alvarez award for multiple Tommy John surgeries. I wonder if he'll actually be a decent pitcher once he's healthy. Of course, since he's a FA, I can't imagine the Mets will possibly bring him back. On the bright side, Kazmir missed a good chunk of the season with a
shoulder problem. The bitch of it is, I actually feel bad for Zambrano. He felt so much pressure from the media and the fans to perform that he basically ruined his arm in the process.

Jose Lima - Z-
Much in the vein of wondering why in the name of God Kaz Ishii was allowed to make 16 starts last season, I am left wondering the same as to why we had to experience Lima Time 4 times this year. Between the blond hair and the kissing all his teammates...Lord. El Guapo and I were at his last start. It was spectacular. Not only did he give up 5 rockets in a row to the bottom of the Marlins lineup, littered with names like Jeremy Hermida, Robert Andino and Billy Mangina, he followed that up by giving up a monster of a Grand Slam to Dontrelle. The kicker? WILLIE LEFT HIM IN FOR ONE MORE BATTER!!! (Yeah, this didn't work so well.)

Roberto Hernandez
So we went out and brought him back, and then basically buried him in the bullpen. True, he doesn't have to be counted on quite as much as last season. But I might have preferred to keep Nady rather than have 'Berto back in a panic move.

Jeremi Gonzalez - F
Almost as bad as Lima. Not as magnified because the Mets came back in a couple of his lousy starts. Mostly I'll remember him pitching the day that Mike and the Mad Dog called the game on WFAN, and Mad Dog exclaimed loudly, "This Gonzalez is singing for his supper here today!"

Guillermo Mota - A-
Great pickup and even better since Piazza isn't around anymore. (Juicing.)

Royce Ring
I'm beginning to think that Ring is just Grant Roberts from the left side. Tons of potential and a 10-cent head. (And he has done nothing to disprove this theory.)

Henry Owens
I wonder what the plan is for Owens? He definitely has good stuff, but his command wasn't there during his week or so in the Majors. I'm interested to see more...

Bartolome Fortunato
Apparently he pitched for the Mets this season. Is there proof of this?

SO there you have it. What to do for next season? Well, first of all, learn from the team of 2000. Don't stand pat. Get better. Get a LF to replace Floyd. Carlos Lee is a FA, Soriano is as well. Get a 2B. Soriano anyone? Get Barry Zito. Get Barry Zito. Get Barry Zito. Build a dynasty. The Mets have the pieces in place to do so. Smash the flea with a Sledgehammer. Become the new Braves. Own the Division for a few years.

But first, On to the Playoffs!

The potential to own the division for a few years was definitely there. I was really hot for Barry Zito, but not at the asinine price the Giants ended up paying for him. In retrospect, letting him go was the right move. However, the moves the Mets ended up making were, for the most part, wrong. The core of the team was led by some younger players, but the team itself was mostly comprised of older players, and rather than taking the route of restocking the farm system and bringing in younger players, the Mets instead brought in even older guys, and injury-prone subs. While Moises Alou, Damion Easley and Marlon Anderson had some positive contributions, they weren't long-term solutions. Other players, like Schoeneweis and Sele, were just catastrophically bad and contributed heavily to the undoing of the Mets in '07, where one of the strengths of the '06 team—the Bullpen—became a glaring weakness. The other problem was that after the ease at which the Mets ripped through the season in '06, the Mets got cocky and rested on their laurels in '07, playing lazy and complacent Baseball for much of the season. They coasted for a while, but eventually it caught up with them, and by time they realized it, things had spiraled completely out of control. In '08, the problem was that the team seemed all too conscious of the way '07 had ended, and appeared to play out the last few weeks wound far too tightly. But the core of the team remained, and remains the same. And I began to wonder, at some point, if it wasn't so much that the Mets underachieved in '07 and '08, but that they really overachieved in '06 and just weren't that good. I'm not totally convinced.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Lost Classics: May 5, 2006

This was the winner of the Choose The Lost Classic for 2006 poll.

The 2006 Mets broke from the gate like a house afire and didn't look back for the rest of the regular season. Having found a solid foundation in 2005, the Willie Randolph-led Mets filled some of the missing pieces and put it all together in '06, becoming a team that would never be out of a game, and at times just flat-out dominate. But early in the season, many of us weren't sure just how good these Mets could be. We saw that they were a much more cohesive unit, with the addition of players like Carlos Delgado, Paul LoDuca, Billy Wagner and Xavier Nady, and they charged out to a 16-8 record at the end of April. But would it last? Was it just a hot start? Would they come back to Earth?

These were the questions I asked myself as I headed out to Shea on a warm Friday night, May 5th, to see the Mets take on the Atlanta Braves, the team that had been the Mets nemesis for so long, the team that had finished 1st 15 years in a row. This was my 6th game of the season; the Mets had won the first 5. One of those games was against the Braves, on April 17th. I suspected that there might have been better things for me to do with myself on a Friday, but I did want to go to the game, it was Shea Stadium tin night, and I had my ticket, UR1, Row V, seat 5. I was ready for a nice, crisp game, featuring a pitching matchup of Steve Trachsel and Kyle Davies.

Little did I know the marathon I was in for.

The game began briskly at 7:10. Trachsel began by giving up a leadoff double to Marcus Giles, a ball that sailed by Xavier Nady in right. Giles moved to 3rd on a Edgar Renteria groundout, and up stepped Larry. It had been 7 years since Larry had become so reviled by Mets fans, but even after all this time, the venom had not died down. The chants and the boos filled the air, but Larry got the last laugh as his grounder to Delgado at 1st was able to score Giles with the game's first run. Andruw Jones struck out, eliciting the famed Strikeout chant from the row of old men who generally inhabited UR1.

The Mets appeared poised to fire right back against Davies. Jose Reyes led off by poking a single through the hole into left, but he was immediately erased when Paul LoDuca hit into a 6-4-3 DP. Carlos Beltran followed, and he took a 1-2 pitch and socked it over the 371 mark in right-center and off the base of the scoreboard for a game-tying HR.

Trachsel got right back to work in the 2nd, getting Francoeur to ground out before Brian Jordan singled and Brian McCann doubled down into the right field corner, scoring Jordan to give the Braves the lead once again. . With men on base, Trachsel slowed down to a snail's pace on the mound, fidgeting, rubbing his cap and stepping off. It slowly became maddening. "A three-hour game! a three-hour game!" sang one of the men in front of me, mocking the Gilligan's Island theme song. Meanwhile, the section filled in. To my left, 3 very large, broad-shouldered men who appeared to be rooting for Atlanta. Just my luck. They were up for McCann's double, but quieted down as Matt Diaz grounded out and Davies flew out to Beltran in center to end the 2nd.

The Mets mounted a thinly veiled threat in the bottom of the 2nd. David Wright led off with a single and Cliff Floyd followed with a walk, but neither would go any further, as Nady flew out, and Kaz Matsui and Trachsel both struck out, eliciting cheers from the gentlemen to my left, and squeals from a group of 4 young folks, one man and three women of Asian persuasion, all of whom were all decked out in a nauseating array of Atlanta hats, Francoeur and Larry shirts and the like.

"Man," I thought. "This could be a long night."

Trachsel continued at his molasses pace in the 3rd. Though he did not allow a run, he did walk Renteria with 1 out. Larry batted, and with the group of girls screaming and chanting, he lifted a drive to center. The girls all started going crazy until the ball died in medium-deep center, in Beltran's glove. Andruw Jones followed.

"Andruw Jones, you need to get a hit NOW!!!" yelled one of the girls.

Jones struck out. The girls sat down. Were I a meaner person, I might have told them where to take their chanting.

The Mets would rally in the bottom of the 3rd. Reyes led off with his 2nd hit of the game, a beauty of a drag bunt up the first base line. He would advance to 2nd on a Wild Pitch from Davies. LoDuca walked. Beltran followed with a golden chance, but could only manage a chopper at Giles at 2nd, who tossed to Renteria to force out LoDuca. But Davies then lost the plate, walking Delgado on 4 pitches, and then doing the same to Wright to force in a run and tie the game, 2-2. The crowd, 47,720, was up as Cliff Floyd stepped to the plate. After a monster 2005 season, Floyd had struggled early on in '06. But certainly he'd get it going before too long. It wouldn't be here, though. After Davies had thrown 8 straight balls, Floyd went up and hacked the first pitch right at Giles, who turned an easy 4-6-3 DP to end the inning. The Braves fans around me were going wild.

Francoeur led off the 4th by lining a double down the left field line, thus ensuring that Trachsel would be working slower and slower. Jordan came to the plate, and was booed loudly. One of the gentlemen to my left turned to me and asked why Mets fans hate Jordan so much. I replied that he was on the Braves team that beat the Mets in 1999, and also hit a pair of killer HRs against the Mets in 2001. He accepted it.

Then, he decided to carry on the conversation. He had said that he really hadn't been paying attention to Baseball all that long. He was from Sweden. I was floored. "So, how do you get to be a Braves fan from Sweden?" I wondered.

"TBS." he replied.

TBS indeed. When you're on a Superstation, I guess your exposure is truly Worldwide.

Little of consequence happened after Francoeur's double, on either side of the ball. Trachsel struck out Jordan and Diaz to get out of the 4th, and allowed only a Renteria single with 2 out in the 5th. The Mets didn't do much of anything against Davies in the 4th, 5th or 6th.

But it was the top of the 6th where the Braves finally broke through. Andruw Jones singled to lead off, but he was forced at 2nd when Francoeur hit a comebacker back to Trachsel. Francoeur then was caught stealing with Jordan at the plate, and it seemed like Trachsel was going to get out of it. But Jordan hit a ground-rule double, and Brian McCann followed with an RBI single to give the Braves the lead once again. "That Trachsel is like Randy Johnson!" one of the old men yelled. "You tie the game and he gives it right back!" Another continued his "Three Hour Game" chant. With the count 0-1 to Diaz, McCann ran. Trachsel threw a splitter in the dirt that momentarily squirted away from LoDuca. McCann slid in easily with a rare stolen base, one which loomed large when Diaz poked the next pitch into right field to score McCann and give the Braves a 4-2 lead. Trachsel set down Davies and that would be it for him on this night, leaving after 6 innings, allowing 9 hits, 4 runs, 1 walk and 4 strikeouts over his 95 pitches.

Chad Bradford took over in the 7th and promptly made a bad game worse. Giles led off with his 2nd double of the game, and moved over to 3rd when Renteria bunted out to LoDuca. Larry was walked intentionally. Andruw Jones then hit a screamer up the middle. Kaz Matsui dove and made a fine stop, but had no play anywhere as Giles scored. Francoeur followed with a clean single to right to score Larry and move Andruw to 3rd. The Braves fans were standing. The old men were growling. I was texting El Guapo telling him that this game had officially become a debacle. I was ready to move, or worse, leave. But Bradford got out of it when Jordan hit into a nifty fielder's choice where Matsui got Andruw in a pickle at 3rd, and then LoDuca tagged him out at home, and then Pedro Feliciano came in to get McCann to end the inning. Still, a 6-2 deficit going to the bottom of the 7th didn't seem too promising.

But these were the 2006 Mets coming to the plate in the bottom of the 7th inning. Jose Reyes led off with a flare single to center, his 4th single of the game. LoDuca followed by drilling a fly ball down the line in Left that took a bounce off the warning track over the wall, a fortuitous bounce for Atlanta as Reyes certainly would have scored. This would be the end for Davies, replaced by lefty Macay McBride as Beltran came to the plate. It looked as though McBride got the job done when Beltran slapped a hard grounder at Renteria. But the ball took a funny hop and went right through Renteria's legs. Reyes scored on the error and LoDuca went to 3rd. Delgado followed by pulling a single to right to score LoDuca. With the score now 6-4, and still none out, McBride departed for Ken Ray. Wright's flyout to right moved Beltran to 3rd, but the Mets continued, as Floyd grounded a single past Giles to score Beltran and draw the Mets to 6-5. Nady followed, and on Ray's 2-0 pitch, the ball ticked off McCann's mitt and rolled away, allowing Delgado and Floyd to move up, putting the tying run on 3rd. Nady was subsequently walked intentionally. Kaz Matsui followed by working a 2-1 count before hitting a sharp single back up the middle to score Delgado, tie the game, and send Shea Stadium into a frenzy. Now, the Brave fans to my left and right were quiet, and I was up. Julio Franco hit next, batting for Feliciano. But almost as a buzzkill, Franco hit into a 6-4-3 DP on the first pitch he saw. The Swede to my left got up and jeered Franco, which I thought a little classless, but whatever. For swinging at the first pitch at that particular spot, he deserved it. Nonetheless, the damage was done, the game was now tied 6-6, moving to the 8th.

Aaron Heilman came on for the 8th and was stellar. He allowed nothing to Atlanta in the 8th, and only a 1-out single in the 9th, helped out in between by a brilliant lunging catch by David Wright on an Edgar Renteria liner in the 9th.

In the bottom of the 8th, though, the Mets would have a golden opportunity. Jose Reyes, already 4 for 4, led off the bottom of the 8th against Oscar Villarreal by lining a hard shot inside the first base line and down into the right field corner. Though Francoeur is known for his great arm, Reyes kept running and steamed into 3rd fairly easily with a triple, putting the potential winning run on 3rd with no outs. The girls got up and left. The Swedes were sticking around until the bitter end. LoDuca checked his swing, but only managed a harmless grounder in front of the plate and was thrown out. Beltran would be walked intentionally, before Villarreal departed for Mike Remlinger, who came in, and got Delgado to line out to Renteria at Short, walked Wright, and got Floyd to roll weakly to Adam LaRoche at 1st. Threat over, Game still tied.

In the last of the 9th, Chuck James entered the game, the 6th Atlanta pitcher. He started off walking Nady, who was bunted over to 2nd by Matsui. But on the bunt, James charged off the mound and stopped awkwardly as Larry picked the ball up. He could not continue and Bobby Cox disgustedly removed him from the game, barking at him all the way off. Peter Moylan, a sidearming Australian, came in and got the Braves out of the jam, sandwiching a Reyes walk between a Chris Woodward strikeout and a LoDuca groundout. Off to Extra Innings we go.

"A Four-Hour Game! A Four-Hour Game!" sang the old man.

"We'll be fine, so long as they don't bring in Reitsma," said the Swede.

Meanwhile, the Mets countered with Billy Wagner in the 10th, who worked an effortless 7-pitch inning. Moylan continued for Atlanta in the last of the 10th and was similarly strong, with strikeouts of Beltran and Wright.

Wagner came out for the 11th, and worked to Wilson Betemit, hitting for Moylan. Mismatch, I figured, but Betemit worked the count to 2-2 and then drilled a shot high and deep to center, sailing towards the Home Run Apple and over the wall for a long, long HR, and giving the Braves the lead once again at 7-6. The Swedes were cheering. The Old Men appeared to be snoring, though few had left this game on a Friday night. Ambush. Wagner walked Andruw Jones with 2 outs before setting the Braves down and departing to a smattering of boos.

In came Reitsma for the Braves. The Swede turned to me and said, "Oh, Jeez, he has to bring this guy in. You'll probably come back."

Nice that he had such faith in his team.

But I realized what he meant when Cliff Floyd led off the 11th, got a hold of a 1-0 Fastball and smoked it, deep and high and straight down the Right Field line, landing just fair, in the Loge Seats for a tying HR. It was the 4th time the Mets had come back to tie the game. The Swede could only shake his head. I, of course, was right back in the game, for however long it was going to last. Reitsma rebounded to get the next 3 batters, sending the game on to the 12th.

Duaner Sanchez and his 0.00 ERA came into the game in the 12th, and promptly walked Adam LaRoche. No worries, however. Sanchez was pitching out of his mind, and quickly got Brian McCann to ground into a 4-6-3 DP. Ryan Langerhans grounded out, and the Braves were done in the 12th.

Two nights earlier, I was at a Mets/Pirates game that had run late, into the 12th inning, before Carlos Delgado hit a Walk-Off HR to end things. Reitsma remained on for the Braves and promptly got Reyes and LoDuca to ground out. But Beltran hit a ringing double down the right field line, and here was Delgado again in the 12th. Predictably, however, he was intentionally walked. Wright followed, and he walked as well. Floyd came up, and got a large ovation following his heroics of the previous inning, But he couldn't repeat these heroics, popping out to Giles at 2nd, sending the game to the 13th inning, and further on into the night.

Sanchez remained in for the Mets in the 13th and did as he did in the 12th, which was allow the Braves nothing. In the last of the 13th, Jorge Sosa took over for Atlanta, their 9th pitcher of the game. I had officially run out of room for pitchers on my scorecard, I now had to create a new column on the other side of the page. Never mind that the Shea Scorecard only went to the 11th inning. Nady walked to lead off and was sacrificed to 2nd by Matsui, in a carbon copy of the bottom of the 9th inning. Ramon Castro followed, batting for Sanchez, and hit a high drive to left that died at the track. Reyes popped out to short, and the game continued, to an inning I'd only seen twice before, and not at all since a memorable night in June, 1999, the 14th.

Jorge Julio came on for the Mets in the 14th. Julio hadn't inspired much confidence in anyone around the Mets to this point, and I mentioned this to the Swede. "You were worried about Reitsma? Well, this is the guy we're worried about," I said. The Swede still didn't seem too confident. Larry led off with a sharp single to left, and I was prepared for the worst. But Julio didn't bend. He struck out Andruw, got Francoeur to pop out to 3rd, and LaRoche grounded weakly to 2nd. Go figure. We continued, standing up for the 14th inning stretch. Many still remained, though the Old Men had mostly left by this point, the game well over 4 hours long, the clock nearing midnight.

Sosa continued for Atlanta in the 14th. LoDuca led off by flying out meekly to Center. Beltran was able to work out a walk, and the crowd was once again up for Delgado. But Sosa jammed Delgado, and he could only pop out to Larry. Things figured to continue, or at least that was how it felt, as Wright came to the plate. Sosa's first pitch was a slider, low and outside, and, similar to what had happened earlier in the game, the ball just nicked off the side of McCann's glove and rolled away, not very far. McCann didn't appear to get up after it too quickly. Noting this, Beltran alertly took off for 2nd, arriving just ahead of McCann's dashed throw. This particular play would be overlooked when Wright drilled the 1-1 pitch over Andruw Jones' head for the game-winning double. But Wright's ball bounced over the fence for a Ground-Rule double. Had Beltran not advanced, he would have had to stop at 3rd, and the game would have continued on. But, instead, Beltran scored, the crowd cheered, the Mets raced from the dugout and pounded Wright to pieces in the middle of the infield, the Swede, gracious in defeat, shook my hand and went on his way. At 11:59pm, the Mets had pulled out an exhilirating, exhausting, logic-defying 4 hour, 47 minute 8-7 victory, in which they trailed 4 separate times and never led until they had won the game.

The kind of game that would come to typify the spirit of the 2006 Mets. Never say die. Never out of a game.

This win moved them to 20-9 on the season, with a 5-game lead over Philadelphia and an 8-game lead over Atlanta. The Mets would continue to charge ahead and not look back until the 2006 Division Title was theirs.

Coming Sunday, Classic Ballclub examines the 2006 Mets.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays! Now Pony Up.

I'd noticed some time ago (aided by the good people at Loge13) that the Mets had relented to the outcry of their fans (remember them? We do exist...) and made available some smaller, partial season ticket plans for those of us not willing or able to plonk down lots of money for a full season plan. It's the logical move, since these plans seemed to sell fairly well.

However, it appears that the 7-packs that may have been even more popular, and which I've held for the past 3 seasons, have gone the way of the Dodo. I don't know this for sure, however it was around this time last year that I was notified of the 7-pack presale, and I've got no such notification. In fact, nobody from the Mets had contacted me regarding 2009 tickets at all, which I think is a bit of a slight, considering I've only been going to Mets games for 22 seasons, and they know several ways to get a hold of me. Hell, in 2004 and 2005, their ticket folks used to call me once a week to try to talk me into ticket packs and plans. But now, with their shiny new stadium on the horizon, nothing.

Well, maybe not.

Tucked innocuously into the corner of the Mets homepage today, I noticed a little box indicating this: "Mets Pack Holder 2009 Citi Field Plan Pre-Sale: Your presale opportunity begins on Tuesday, January 6 at 10 a.m. ET."

It's an offering of the same assortment of 40-game and 15-game plans that the existing Season Ticket holders were offered. But there's no indication as to what they mean by "pack." Is it for prior 7-pack holders? Is it for any old ticket pack? They don't specify. I haven't gotten an e-mail, and I assume I won't get one for another day or two. That's assuming I'll get one at all.

I've actually liked the fact that I was able to get in early on tickets the past couple of seasons. I take very few indulgences in life, and for me, going to my 15-20 games a season is one such indulgence. While there have been some who aren't happy with these plans (mainly because every plan includes weekday games, whether you want them or not), I think they're pretty good, and actually a lot less than I had feared they might be. As someone who attends weekday games almost exclusively (the 4 Sunday games I attended in 2008 were surely an anomaly; remember that 3 of them were Sunday Night games, 2 of which were moved from Day Games), that 15-game Weekday plan is just perfect for me. And it's surprisingly reasonable, all things considered. My seats in the Mezzanine last season were $230 for 7 games, and I could conceivably get 15 games in the Promenade Infield for $355, when I feared that a 7-pack would run in the $400 neighborhood.

I suppose I'll hem and haw about it, but ultimately I'm pretty sure I'll end up with one of these plans, assuming they don't offer anything else up between now and January 6th. That's assuming they're actually making them available to me as a prior "pack" holder.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Classic Ballclub: The 2001 Mets

I promised this about a week and a half ago, however, the recent signings and assorted tidbits of information that filtered in during that time have delayed this until now.

The 2001 Mets really were the team that wasn't. Much like the 2008 Mets, things seemed to always turn out wrong with them because, as a team, they were never quite right. Sure, the pieces seemed to be in place for the team to make a run at a World Series, and after they got there in 2000, there seemed to be no reason to think otherwise. If anything, 2001 proved that the Mets might have overachieved in 2000 by reaching the World Series; many of the key players from that team either failed to perform at previous levels, were injured, or weren't on the team anymore. And the players that were brought in also didn't inspire the same confidence or character that existed on the 2000 team. What ended up happening was that the Mets really struggled to get themselves going for much of the first 4 months of the season, and when they did finally get their act together in September, it was just too little, too late. And the reactionary moves made following the season by Steve Phillips were ill-advised and ended up setting the team back even further.

So, here's my capsule from 2001. As always, it is presented unedited from its original writing, with comments added in italics.

---------------------

Gents,
As the season draws to a close, it does so on a sour note for us Mets fans. Four and a half months of playing with their heads up their asses, and then a few weeks of brilliance, which made us all wonder where they were hiding. At any rate, I'm going to do us all the service of breaking down the team, grading everyone, and starting several arguments amongst each other. But that's why we're sports fans, isn't it? Here goes:

MANAGER
Bobby Valentine - B.
The downfall of the team, I think, really can't be blamed on him. He managed the team as he always would have. Loses points for sometimes not sticking with starters long enough, and relying too much on Benitez. (In retrospect, who else could he have gone to?)

CATCHERS
Mike Piazza - A-.
Really nothing wrong with his performance. Slumped horribly in May, but returned his usual strong self. Hit a number of huge HRs, as he usually does. A little too stubborn as far as the moving positions is concerned. A move to first would certainly help, but the man wants to catch. So long as he continues to put up numbers, can we really complain? (I was relatively new at this whole team breakdown thing, and as you can see, most of my comments are pretty terse and rudimentary. It wasn't until the following season that I started to flesh things out a bit)

Todd Pratt - C-.
Didn't hit until he was dealt to Philly in July. His D was solid as usual.

Vance Wilson - B.
Hit more than Pratt and was a surehanded, capable backup. I like seeing him in the Mets future plans.

Gary Bennett -
Does anyone really care? (He did finish his Mets career with a 1.000 BA)

INFIELDERS
Todd Zeile - F.
By time he started getting some key hits, it was way too late. Otherwise, he basically killed rallys and hit into a lot of double plays. And to make matters worse, the Mets may be stuck with him next season. (They weren't, as somehow he was parlayed into a mishmash involving Jeff D'Amico and Jeromy Burnitz, who was basically Zeile from the left side. Somehow, I thought this was a good move at the time, since Zeile, I believe, became the first man to ever hit into a Double Play with the bases empty in 2001)

Mark Johnson - B.
YES, GABE, I KNOW HE SUCKS. BUT...he performed admirably off the bench, hitting close to .420 as a PH, and had several key late inning hits. (This comment, for some reason, sparked a huge argument from one of the guys in my circle who felt that Johnson just needed a chance to play. But, the reality was that Gabe was right. Johnson was a strikeout waiting to happen. He did, however, hit .407 as a PH)

Edgardo Alfonzo - B-.
Played hurt most of the season and it really showed. Should have spent more time on the DL than he did. But his walk year is next season, and I think he'll rebound nicely. He's too good not to. (He did, but management had soured on him by that point and he was sadly allowed to walk away.)

Desi Relaford - A.
Absolutely stellar season. Performed almost every time he was given an opportunity to. Hit with surprising power in several clutch situations and played great defense. I hope to see him as a key bench player again next year. (Left in the ridiculous and inconscionable Shawn Estes trade)

Rey Ordonez - B.
Showed plate discipline for once, and it paid off for him, with a shocking 3 HRs. Still on the fence as to his future. (I, by this point, was resigned to having Rey's offensive mediocrity at SS and living with it. But when his defense went and his attitude with it, it was time to get rid of the bum)

Joe McEwing - A-.
You gotta love this guy! Played everyday for a good chunk of the season, and did admirably well, hitting over .300 for a long while. Kills fastballs, and some weaknesses were exposed once Ps figured him out. Nonetheless, I was always impressed with what the Mets got out of him. (He was scrappy. That was about it. Scrappy works for a while, but it won't win you any titles, that's been demonstrated over and over again)

Jorge Velandia -
No hits this season.

Robin Ventura - D.
Seemed like he was healthy after belting 2HRs on opening day. That, however, turned out to be a mirage, as he slumped basically the rest of the season. Only key hit after that game was his GW HR off Wendell, which was followed by a month without a HR. Defense was also not up to par. Overall a miserable season, which kills me, because he was always one of my favs.

Jorge Toca - Incomplete.
Hasn't played enough for us to know if he's any good or not. (Wrong! He was never any good. Bad job by me for not realizing that.)

OUTFIELDERS
Benny Agbayani - C+.
Benny's bat was very, very silent most of the season. And not for any good reason either. Broke his hand Sept 1, and an unmemorable season for him was almost forgotten completely. (It was about this time that we realized that Benny had overachieved for most of 1999 and 2000. We still loved him, though.)

Tsuyoshi Shinjo - A.
Made a near-flawless transition to American baseball. Showed an uncanny ability to perform in the clutch. Also played some spectacular defense. Very quickly became a fan favorite, and I hope to see him play a part in the team's future. (See Joe McEwing)

Jay Payton - C.
Had his season curtailed by a hamstring injury which knocked him out for 2 months. Was hitting .315 and scorching the ball at the time, and came back clueless. Heated up late, but not enough to make his numbers respectable. Needs to stay healthy for a full season, and if he does, I think he'll be a good one. (Again, not sure where I was going with this. I still had some sort of overly-romanticized view of Payton because he was a home-grown guy and he was pretty good in 2000. But he didn't last through 2002 and has sort of bounced around ever since.)

Matt Lawton - B.
Brought some much needed speed to the lineup. I really liked the deal to get him, and I expect him to contribute more next season.

Timo Perez - F.
Quickly proved that he was not the gem he looked to be in last year's postseason. Needs a lot of discipline on all fronts if he wants to do more to help out the team-o. ha ha (Walking around the clubhouse in his underwear didn't endear himself to anyone. Somehow, he managed to stick around until 2004, although he really didn't do too much to distinguish himself during that time.)

Darryl Hamilton - F.
Played lousy, didn't play, pouted and was released. Will not be missed.

Lenny Harris - B+.
Lots of pinch hits. (Lots of pinch outs too)

Darren Bragg -
Does anyone even remember him being on the team? (Wore #56 in honor of Lawrence Taylor. Did not posess anything resembling LT's athletic ability)

Alex Escobar - Incomplete.
Didn't see enough of him to know for sure. Was overmatched when he was first called up, then improved the second time around. Nonetheless, this was merely audition time, and he'll figure big in the team's plans. (He did hit 2 HRs in a meaningless game against the Expos at the end of the season, and that tantalized us. Then he went to Cleveland in the Alomar trade and got injured over and over and over again. Never came around for him.)

PITCHERS
Al Leiter - A-.
Pitched hurt and got bombed, went on DL, came back and was, for the most part, the Al Leiter of old. His record suffered because of a lack of run support and some poorly timed blown saves. Chipped in with a key 3B, too. (That triple was probably the highlight of his season)

Kevin Appier - B+.
Performed admirably well in a new league. Had several big outings, which helped cancel out some of his more miserable ones. (He wasn't quite good enough to make up for the loss of Hampton. The subsequent trade for Mo Vaughn turned a bad deal into something that snowballed out of control.)

Steve Trachsel - C+.
Rebounded from an embarassing first half to pitch surprisingly well over the second half of the season. Gave up too many HRs, though, sometimes in key games. If he can continue to build on his strong second half, he could surprise next season. (Trachsel started his Mets career by getting hammered mercilessly every time out. He also ended his Mets career in the same way. I guess you could say he really did come full circle.)

Rick Reed - B.
Was unbeatable early in the season, and at times the only P who wasn't sucking. Dealt to Minnesota for Lawton. I wish him the best. (I hated to see him go, but in reality, he was pretty much past it by the end of the season.)

Bruce Chen - B-.
Flashes of brilliance, flashes of youth. I really liked this deal, though, and I think with more experience, Chen should really blossom. Has a good head for pitching. (It was a good deal and Chen was a nice prospect at the time, before it became apparent that he was just an overglorified trade chip.)

Glendon Rusch - D.
Inconsistency central. Could not build on anything, and would routinely get blasted, then throw a shutout. Needs to put something together, and I'm not sure what exactly he needs in order to do that. (Somehow, Shawn Estes did a picture-perfect job of replacing Rusch's inconsistent tendencies in 2002.)

Armando Benitez - D.
The 40 saves are nice, but he's unfortunately going to be remembered for blowing those two games against Atlanta. Also turned some big leads into squeakers. Most agree that he'll be shipped out of town this offseason. And if he can't close a big game, he really won't be missed. (He wasn't shipped away. Maybe that was part of the problem in 2002.)

Rick White - C-.
Pitched well for a while, then got into the habit of getting the first two outs of an inning, then simply exploding. Enigmatic as most middle relievers are.

Dicky Gonzalez - C+.
Made some good starts while Leiter was out. Also had a key relief outing in Pittsburgh. Could be worth a strong look next season. (Or he could be traded for a relief pitcher who would get hurt and never return)

John Franco - B.
Still gets it done, most of the time, at age 41. Sometimes got hit hard, and was hurt most of the latter part of the season. (Man, why was I so kind to Franco, especially after the Brian Jordan game?)

Turk Wendell - D.
A bad season for Turk got even worse after he got dealt. Hung WAY too many sliders, and got pounded. (He was toast and so was his arm. Funny thing was he ended up blaming the Mets for ruining his arm, when he was the one who wanted to pitch day after day. You can't have it both ways.)

Dennis Cook - C-.
Didn't pitch that great.

Donne Wall - D.
Hurt alot. Probably good because he was murderous when he did pitch.

Jerrod Riggan - B+.
Was up and down five times, and finally stuck. I really like his stuff, and he's matured a lot. Came up looking like a deer in headlights and finished the year with a lot more confidence. He should definitely be a key member of the bullpen next season, possibly a future closer.

Grant Roberts - A-.
Was stellar out of the bullpen, with several strong long relief efforts. Also a candidate to close. Has really good stuff, and was markedly better out of the bullpen than as a starter. (Also a pothead, as we would come to find out)

Tom Martin -
Who cares? (I didn't)

Mark Corey -
Don't even know if he pitched.

Desi Relaford - A.
Pitched a great inning in a blowout loss. A lot better than Matt Franco was.

Well, that's it. Hope you guys all have some responses, or at the very least, enjoy reading it. And Spring training isn't really that far off, hope springs eternal for 2002!

Hope did spring eternal for 2002, especially after wholesale changes were made to strengthen the offense and pitching. A re-tooled team brought us a lot of excitement, but it became apparent early on that the 2002 team just didn't have it. And it was the fault of the 2000 team. It was, perhaps, the worst possible thing that the 2000 Mets got to the World Series, because it made management think that the team was that good as it was. Rather than making major improvements, small tweaks were made to a good team that wasn't a Championship team, and they were exposed in 2001. So, major reactionary moves were made following the season, and what ended up happening was that the 2002 Mets became a melange of heavy-hitting headcases that collectively couldn't turn into a cohesive unit. It took 4 seasons for the Mets to recover from the mess that Steve Phillips created after the 2001 season, plus a lot of embarrassment and snide remarks. The moves looked pretty good at the time, and you couldn't really argue with a lot of the moves they made. But they were acquiring too many of the wrong kind of players, guys who were in the latter half of their career, with a penchant for playing that AL-style, meathead, 3-run HR baseball, and the plan failed miserably.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Celebrations and New Additions


Happy 26th to David Wright, whom I hope is somewhere relaxing and clearing his head.

To celebrate David's Birthday, I'm pleased to announce that The Ballclub is now on Facebook, which I admit that I have finally joined after several months of nudging and prodding from friends and colleagues. Fan us at your leisure!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Spare My Ears

I suppose this sort of Bravado is to be admired, and it is the kind of attitude you want your new closer to come in the door with, but I kind of wish Francisco Rodriguez saved the "Team to Beat" comments for the regular season. As we've seen, the Mets can boast all they want, but until they win anything, they're going to be known as the team that spit up a Playoff spot on the last day of the season two years in a row.

Much like, on the flipside, Cole Hamels can talk all he wants, but it doesn't change the fact that his 2008 pitching line against the team he called "Chokers" reads something like this: 2 games, 12IP, 17H, 10R, 8ER, 6.00 ERA, 0-2.

For a pair of guys who like to talk an awful lot, they have accomplished fairly little against the teams they're aiming their comments at.

I'm sure that this back and forth is going to continue and will probably turn the 18 games these two teams will play against each other into a 3-ring circus, but it would probably spare these guys a lot of headache if they just kept their mouths shut. Rodriguez will probably take it on the chin if he blows a save against Philly, much like Hamels will have to do plenty of backtracking if the Mets pound him in '09 like they did in '08.

The Media probably would never let this happen, I'm sure. Much like Joe Benigno goaded Hamels last week, reporters will be after Mets players from now until April asking them about the Phillies. Perhaps they could save us all a lot of trouble if they just said, "Good for them," when asked and walked away.

Monday, December 15, 2008

End Of The Scho

The deal was a pretty minor one and came about with about as little fanfare as could be expected. But then again, after I spent just about all of two seasons skewering this guy repeatedly, usually after he spent just about all of two seasons skewering games for the Mets, something has to be said about the merciful departure of Scott Schoeneweis.

It's not so much that Schoeneweis was repeatedly terrible, even though he certainly did have some bright moments in his two seasons with the Mets (mostly in the first half of '08), but that his failures seemed to happen at the worst possible moments, and more often than not, it would end with the Mets losing. This appeared to happen with such regularity that by June of 2007, I proclaimed to walk out of Shea Stadium whenever he came into a game I was attending (This never actually came to pass, though I did more than once walk out to the ramps during the innings he pitched).

Whether the perpetual dread surrounding a Schoeneweis outing was magnified by the continued negative crowd reaction to his sight is true or not seems pretty academic to me. There are plenty of players who seem to thrive on the negative attention thrust upon them (see Jones, Larry). Schoeneweis has been, at least for me, the poster boy of the Bullpen malaise that has befallen the Mets over the last two seasons (others might say Heilman. Neither is a wrong answer). The departure of Heilman and Schoeneweis is purging the club of a pair of pitchers responsible for giving up a pair of rather infamous Home Runs at a pair of particularly bad moments. Sure, Schoeneweis had some bright moments. But we're always going to remember him for the last pitch he threw as a Met. Getting rid of these guys is more than simply giving these players fresh starts elsewhere. It's also getting them away from the Mets, and away from the snowballing ill will that they continue to entice.

I have no idea who Connor Robertson is and I don't particularly care. He may never see the light of day with the Mets, but as Omar inferred last week and I echo, there are certain Addition by Subtraction deals that are necessary for the club to move forward from their recent failures. This is one such necessary move. I won't say I had a massive "Good Riddance Schoeneweis" celebration or whatever. But if nothing else, I won't have to spend any more exasparated postgame nights writing about how he screwed it up again for the Mets.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sleeping Dogs Lie

I know that the remarks made by Cole Hamels on WFAN with Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts have touched off quite a firestorm by now. Is anyone really surprised?

In reality, Hamels was basically goaded into calling the Mets "choke artists." And given the amount of disdain the Phillies have for the Mets, which borders on the insanity of the '85-'87 St. Louis Cardinals, I'm not too surprised that he went and said it.

Yes, the argument could very well be made (and has, many times over), that this is somehow some sort of insecurity on the part of the Phillies. After all, they won the World Series in 2008. The Mets got to sit at home and watch. So why kick the Mets when they're down?

I know we, as Mets fans, would like to think that we're above it all. And perhaps most of us are. But we don't like the Phillies, and the Phillies don't like us, and why should their players be concerned with the Mets at all when they're the Champs. The Mets did some talking last year to try to fire themselves, and all of us up, and it ultimately didn't work. Well, the Phillies have been talking pretty much since the beginning of 2007, and they've backed it up with postseason appearances both times. They're the World Champions now, and the Mets have had two straight years of excruciating failures at the end of the season. I can contend that the Mets didn't choke either season, they just weren't that good, and all it took was a Philly hot streak in '07 and the failures of the Bullpen in '08 to catch up with the Mets. My infamously insane co-worker can make the oft-repeated idiot's argument that the Mets had to be the better team since they won 11 of 18 from Philly (a valid point, yes, but not something that's going to change the outcome of the season). A recycled comment, but if we were so good, if we were such a great team, why were we the ones sitting at home in October while the Phillies were playing Baseball in a beautiful late-October Monsoon?

I said it before and I'll say it again. You are going to be remembered by the History you create, and right now, the Mets have created a history that will earn them the label of Choke Artists. The way I see it, Hamels can talk all he wants. There's really not much the Mets or their fans can say in response, despite the amount of chirping going on at Metsblog or any other chatboard or blog or wherever.

Which is just how it should be.

If the Mets want to shut Hamels up, if they want to shut Rollins up, if they want all the Philly fans to stop waving their Championship Banner in our faces, if they want the Choke Artist label to be removed, well, there's really only one thing the Mets can do. And that's go out there in 2009 and beat their asses. Not just the Phillies asses, everyone's asses. And don't stop until Johan Santana is taking a victory lap around Citi Field holding the World Series Trophy.

Otherwise, we should all just shut up.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What A Putz!

The move made to sign Francisco Rodriguez was more or less a no-brainer. And the signing was made even easier given the terms of the contract that the Mets have given him. With the Bullpen being the #1 problem that the Mets had over the past two seasons, this was a clear and necessary move. As soon as the offer seemed close to completion, the e-mails began flying around. I personally loved the move. Consider that 3 years ago, the Mets gave Billy Wagner a 4 year contract worth even more money. Now, consider that, at the time, Wagner was a 10-year veteran at age 35. Consider that Rodriguez is a playoff-tested veteran in his own right with a similar lights-out track record at age 27, and the deal is fabulous for the Mets. 3 years for a closer isn't overcommitting to Rodriguez, and the money certainly isn't a payroll-buster by any stretch of the imagination.

But that couldn't be the only move made to the Bullpen. It could only be a nice start to moving in a positive direction. Other moves would certainly be necessary. Perhaps the bigger names, Fuentes, Hoffman or Wood, would be in the mix, or if not, other, non-tendered guys would have to be brought in to push the existing names that would survive the offseason. But other moves were necessary. As I mentioned in my 2005 Capsule, it's often the names that arrive in trades that you don't necessarily consider. And late Wednesday night, Minaya and the Mets made such a move, in another brilliant deal to bring in J.J. Putz from the Seattle Mariners in a massive 3-team, 12-player deal.

Here's why I like the move:

Putz, at 32, will be the 8th inning answer. In 2007, he was clearly the best reliever in the AL, before being slowed by injuries in 2008. His talent is evident, a 97-99MPH fastball combined with a diving splitter netted him 40 saves and a 1.38 ERA in '07. He's a guy who can get out just about anyone, and not be spotted simply as a situational guy. The change of scenery from a conflicted clubhouse in Seattle to New York should only help.

I also like the spare parts the Mets got as well. Sean Green isn't someone I know much about, but he's a new face and some fresh blood to try out there. Jeremy Reed is a burner who projects as a 4th Outfielder type, but, again, a new face.

Putting Putz in front of Rodriguez (or even having Putz spell Rodriguez on certain days) gives the Mets a 1-2 punch that they simply have not had out of the bullpen in 2 years, and certainly a combination that far outdistances Heilman/Sanchez and Wagner as far as pure heat. These are guys that will, more often than not, get the job done. This was something that nobody could be counted on to do, especially as last season drew to a close. Rodriguez himself could mean a 10-win differential for the Mets. In either of the last two seasons, that would have been the difference between a Division Title and a trip home. Putz as the bridge from the starter (assuming the starter goes 7, I think you can count on that from Santana and Pelfrey on most days, Maine and whoever on certain days) should only strengthen that argument.

The Mets also could have done quite a bit of addition by subtraction in these deals as well. Gone are:

1) Aaron Heilman, who can enjoy going 8-11 with a 5.13 ERA as Seattle's 4th starter. Won't be missing him at all.

2) Joe Smith, who I would have liked to keep, but in reality, he's a situational righty in a bullpen that was comprised almost exclusively of situational guys that always backfired.

3) Endy Chavez, who I hate to see go. Endy will forever hold a place in the hearts of all Mets fans, no doubt. But in reality, you have to give up to get, and Endy Chavez wasn't going to make or break the fortunes of the 2009 Mets. Replacing Endy with Jeremy Reed is more or less a wash, plus Reed is 3 years younger. Besides, the Left Field wall in Citi Field is 16 feet high. Endy isn't going to scale that wall to rob any HRs.

4-7) Jason Vargas (Yawn), Mike Carp (Ditto), Maikel Cleto and Ezequiel Carrera (If you're at all concerned, I've linked to their Baseball Reference pages so you can see that they're not quite what you would consider a Major League prospect).

On paper, yes, the Mets look like they gave up a lot. In reality, this deal could prove to be a heist for the Mets. If nothing else, it's certainly a step in the right direction, and a good step towards completely re-inventing the nightmare that was the Mets bullpen, replacing the question marks with Winners.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lost Classics: July 28, 2001

This was the winner of the Choose The Lost Classic for 2001 Poll.

The 2001 Mets never quite got it going. After their near-miss NL Championship in 2000, the Mets and their fans wanted more. But rather than pull together and charge ahead, the Mets sputtered out of the gates and found themselves buried well under .500, and in the lower half of the NL East. By mid-July, it was apparent that the current mix wasn't working, and trades were made. On July 23rd, popular backup catcher Todd Pratt was dealt to the Phillies for another backup, Gary Bennett. Bennett lasted all of one game with the team. One week later, another deal was made with the Phillies. Mere moments after the Mets had posted a 6-1 victory over the Phillies on Friday night, July 27th, it was announced that Dennis Cook and Turk Wendell had both been sent to Philly, in exchange for talented, but enigmatic lefty Bruce Chen and prospect Adam Walker.

These now-ex Mets merely had to switch clubhouses for the next day's game, a Sun-Soaked, FOX-TV Saturday Afternoon affair between the Mets and the Phillies. I was there, taking in the game simply because I had nothing better to do with myself. I had recently graduated from College and had decided to take the Summer off, before looking for a job. This may or may not have been a good idea, but at the time, I didn't particularly care. I walked up and got myself a seat in UR22, Row H, Seat 2, sat back and got ready for a pitching matchup of Al Leiter and Omar Daal. At the time, it was the Phillies in the thick of things, trailing the Braves by only a game for first place. The Mets were stuck in neutral; their 47-57 record was good enough for 4th place, 11 1/2 games out of first.

Leiter started off strong, allowing only a 1-out single to Rookie Shortstop Jimmy Rollins in the 1st. The Mets, on the other hand, jumped on Daal right away. Joe McEwing, who had taken over the Right Field job after Timo Perez had proven inconsistent and Jay Payton too injury-prone, hit leadoff, and why not? At the time, he was hitting a robust .311. Of course, he struck out. But Todd Zeile followed with a ringing double, and Piazza walked. Edgardo Alfonzo, fighting through nagging injuries, popped out to Travis Lee at first, and it appeared Daal would escape the jam. But Payton and Agbayani hit nearly identical flair singles to Center Field, both of them scoring runs to give the Mets an early 2-0 lead. Ventura, mired in a miserable slump, was buried in the 7th spot in the order, and gave every indication that he deserved so when he struck out and looked bad doing so.

Leiter fought through similar struggles throughout the early part of the game. In the 2nd, he gave up back-to-back singles to Tomas Perez and Todd Pratt (who received a nice ovation in his first appearance at Shea since being dealt), before getting Daal to ground out. In the 3rd, Scott Rolen singled with 2 out. In the 5th, Pratt singled to lead off, was sacrificed to second and moved to 3rd when Doug Glanville singled. But he got no further. Rollins grounded into a fielders choice, Rolen walked, and Leiter zipped a called strike 3 past Bobby Abreu.

Meanwhile, the Mets extended their lead to 3-0 in the 4th, when Agbayani hit a long leadoff HR into the bleachers in left. Things seemed to be running very, very smoothly on this afternoon.

At least, it was until there were 2 outs in the 6th.

Leiter finally ran into real trouble after Tomas Perez, he who had hit 2 HRs all season to that point, got around on a 1-0 pitch and hit it over the left field wall to put the Phillies on the board. Todd Pratt followed with a line drive single up the middle, his 3rd in 3 at bats. Brian Hunter followed with another single, this one a slicing liner that landed fair inside the right field line, moving Pratt over to 3rd. Doug Glanville followed with a shot to left-center that split Payton and Agbayani and went to the wall. Pratt scored, Hunter went to 3rd, and all of a sudden, the lead was slipping away from Leiter. He needed to get that last out. And he did, getting Rollins to wave at a cutter on 1-2. So, it appeared, things were OK.

But the Mets offense had ground to a complete halt. In the last of the 5th, a golden opportunity went by the wayside when McEwing was thrown out at home trying to score from 2nd on an Alfonzo single. Once the Philly bullpen took over, the Mets would muster only one hit between the 6th and the 8th innings. Jose Santiago zipped the Mets in the 6th and 7th, and Turk Wendell came in from the other bullpen, slammed the Rosin bag down, and pitched a 1-2-3 8th inning.

Meanwhile, the Mets tried, and failed, to hold the slim 3-2 lead. Leiter departed after 6 sweaty innings, having thrown 114 pitches. Jerrod Riggan took over and immediately squandered the lead. Abreu doubled with one out, stole 3rd and scored when Pat Burrell scorched one right at McEwing, who got a glove on it, and dropped it. The error was academic, the game was tied, 3-3. But Riggan buckled down and got Travis Lee to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

John Franco pitched a drama-free 8th, and Armando Benitez more or less did the same in the 9th. Scott Rolen singled with 2 outs, but with Abreu up, he inexplicably attempted to steal 2nd and was promptly thrown out by Piazza.

So, it came down to the bottom of the 9th. Robin Ventura was leading off against his former teammate, Turk Wendell. To this point, Ventura was 0 for 3 with 2 strikeouts.

The game, for me, had been more or less a blur to this point. I didn't recall anything out of the ordinary happening, other than I was out in the sun in Left Field, and, like a ninny, I hadn't bothered to put on any sunblock. I was turning a rather frightening shade of red and knew that my night would probably be spent bathing in Aloe. I had also been keeping score in pen, also a departure for me. Why I did this, I can't recall. All I know was that it wasn't something I'd done very often, and it resulted in me making some mistakes that I had to scribble out, rather than simply erase if I'd been using a pencil like I should have. I looked down to try to notate one such mistake on the Phillies side while Wendell worked to Ventura, when all of a sudden I heard an immediate roar. I looked up to see the ball sailing over the Right-Center Field wall, landing softly in front of the scoreboard, and Ventura slowly circling the bases with a walk-off HR against Wendell.

Ventura's somewhat unlikely blow, his 18th of the season, gave the Mets a rather unremarkable 4-3 victory this afternoon. The next afternoon, Mike Piazza would hit another walk-off HR in the last of the 9th inning. But the Mets couldn't build a consistent hot streak off this pair of heroic victories. By the time they made a frenetic run at the Braves in September, there was simply too much ground to make up, and too little time. They made an admirable run, but ultimately came up short, leaving the memory of 2001 a disappointing reminder of what might have been.

Coming next, Classic Ballclub revisits the 2001 Mets...