Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Ballclub's Top Ten of the '00s

I've been on sort of an unplanned, unannounced hiatus, not so much because I'm tired of writing about the Mets, but moreso because the Mets simply haven't given me anything to write about. But given that there are only 3 days left in the decade, and many of my brethren have been musing about what the Best Mets Moment of the '00s was, I thought I'd chime in with a few lists. These aren't necessarily the definitive Top 10s, because that's boring. Instead, these are The Ballclub's Top Tens. You can make your own opinion. These are mine.

10) April 9, 2001
The Mets raise the 2000 Championship Banner in the Braves' faces, then go out and hammer the Braves 9-4. Piazza hits 2 HRs and Tsuyoshi Shinjo and his orange wristbands hit his 1st in the US.

9) December 17, 2004
Pedro Martinez signs with the Mets. Though Martinez's Mets tenure was marred with injuries and unfulfilled promise, the signing itself re-legitimized the Mets, showed the fans and other players that the team was serious about winning, and was the catalyst that ultimately propelled the Mets to their success in 2006.

8) September 25, 2008
An odd choice, you might think, given the way the next three days ended up panning out. But this frenetic double-comeback against the Cubs in a game the Mets desperately needed to have was my final victory at Shea Stadium, the final Walk-0ff at Shea Stadium, and a game that featured just about everything, including Pedro's Last Stand, Ryan Church's Dive and Carlos Beltran basically hitting one through Micah Hoffpauir's glove at 1st base to win it. The 2008 Mets ultimately were submarined by themselves, but for one night provided one last gasp of magic at Shea.

7) August 22, 2006
Another one of my favorites, the Pujols-Delgado-Beltran game. I consider this to be the mother of all walk-off wins the Mets would pull off in '06. Pujols almost singlehandedly sank the Mets on this night, hitting a 3-run HR and a Grand Slam in consecutive innings. But the Mets didn't quit. Delgado matched Pujols' slam with one of his own, and in the bottom of the 9th brought Carlos Beltran to the plate, down 7-6, with LoDuca on 1st. And everyone in the stadium was up, because you could sense that something big was about to happen. Beltran smoked the 1st pitch from Jason Isringhausen into the Bullpen. Game over.

6) October 5, 2000
Most fans tend to remember Benny Agbayani's HR in Game 3 as the signature moment from the 2000 NLDS against San Francisco. I prefer to remember Game 2 of this series. Down 0-1, Al Leiter took the ball and basically shut down the Giants for 8 innings. Alfonzo hit a 9th inning HR that proved to be clutcher than clutch when Benitez gave up a 3-run shot to JT Snow in the last of the 9th (which prompted my non-baseball savvy roommate to remark "It's a sad day for Derek Jeter!"). Now tied and playing in a ballpark where they had yet to win, it would have been a good place for the Mets to curl up and die. But they didn't. In the 10th, Daryl Hamilton doubled and Jay Payton singled him home with 2 outs, and the Mets survived a Giant rally in the last of the inning, the game ending when John Franco turned over that signature changeup one more time to freeze Barry Bonds.

5) September 18, 2006
Nothing needs to be said.

4) October 8, 2000
Much like Game 2 of this series, Game 4 gets very little respect as well. And I'm not sure why, because as Bob Murphy said following the game, "The Mets have never had a better ballgame pitched, in their 39-year history!" Given that the Mets have never thrown a no-hitter, and given that, on this day, Bobby J. Jones was probably the absolute last person you'd think would go out and throw a 1-hit shutout, including 8 of 9 perfect innings, Murph might very well be right.

3) October 4, 2006/October 7, 2006 (Tie)
I hold the 1st game in similar esteem to #7. There was simply no way the Mets would allow themselves to lose this game. Even after losing both Pedro Martinez and El Duque, the Mets rallied behind John Maine, Paul LoDuca tagged out 2 Dodgers at home on the same play and Carlos Delgado stole the show with a HR off Derek Lowe that may still be traveling. But Guillermo Mota blew a 4-1 lead in the 7th, and things seemed a little tense. I remember being at this game with El Guapo, and he was apoplectic when LA tied it. "Relax," I told him. "It's in the bag. We got this." And sure enough, they did, behind Reyes coaxing a leadoff walk in the last of the 7th, stole 2nd and scored on Delgado's 4th hit of the game. Wright followed with an RBI 2B of his own, and the Mets willed themselves over the Dodgers. Game 3, same thing. After staking themselves to an early lead, Trachsel turned around and handed it back. But trailing 5-4 in the 6th inning, the Mets did what they had done all season. They got up, dusted themselves off, strung together a bunch of hits and basically overwhelmed the Dodgers, breaking their spirits and eventually pushing them off the dance floor.

2) October 12, 2006
At no point during the 2006 season did I ever feel the Mets were more invincible than on this night, and it's probably true. Glavine pitched what was probably his best game with the Mets (even if Pujols didn't think he was any good), and he was backed up by some of the best defense I've ever seen. Carlos Beltran doubles Pujols off 1st on a routine fly to center. Wright robs Scott Rolen to start a DP. Endy Chavez dives all over the place, including in the seats. Carlos Beltran's monstrous 2-run HR is all the offense Glavine, Mota and Wagner need as they shut out the Cardinals and grab the lead in the NLCS. For now, the Mets appear poised to cruise into the World Series. For now...

1) October 16, 2000
...But nothing can top the game where they actually got to the World Series.

Honorable Mentions
September 21, 2001
Anyone who wonders why Mike Piazza is so revered and loved by Mets fans need only look at this game.

February 1, 2008
Johan Santana, who I expect will figure heavily in the next decade for the Mets, is acquired from the Minnesota Twins.

10) Pedro Martinez, 2005
9) Johan Santana, 2008
8) David Wright, 2006
7) Carlos Delgado, 2008
6) Carlos Delgado, 2006
5) Edgardo Alfonzo, 2000
4) Jose Reyes, 2006
3) David Wright, 2007
2) Carlos Beltran, 2006
1) Mike Piazza, 2000

Hon. Mentions: Al Leiter, 2000 and Mike Hampton, 2000, Cliff Floyd, 2005

TOP TEN WORST MOMENTS (No links to spare everyone's sensibilities)
10) Bobby Valentine's pothead news conference, September, 2002.
9) The Kazmir trade and ensuing fallout, August, 2004.
8) Omar Minaya petulantly picking a fight with the media, August, 2009.
7) Roberto Alomar's entire Mets tenure, 2002-2003.
6) Brian Jordan vs. Benitez, Brian Jordan vs. Franco, September, 2001
5) Duaner Sanchez's Taxi accident, July 31, 2006.
4) Carlos Beltran watches Strike 3 vs. Wainwright, October 19, 2006.
3) The entire 2009 season.
2) Tom Glavine's 1/3IP on September 30, 2007.
1) Losing the last game at Shea Stadium in meek fashion, September 28, 2008.

That's it. Comments and arguments appreciated. Here's hoping the next decade is a little better.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Redemption

I'm more or less fully entrenched in Football season right now, and yesterday I got a rare treat when most of the 2nd half of the San Francisco 49ers/Jacksonville Jaguars game was on TV here. It's rare that the 49ers are on here at all, unless it's on ESPN or whatever. The only time I've had a chance to see them this season were at the very end of a game where they somehow managed to lose to Mr. Media Whore himself on a last-second TD, and another game where they failed to show up and got bombed by the Atlanta Falcons.

But Sunday, the 49ers, who at 4-6 were clinging to their playoff lives, put forth perhaps their best effort of the season in a solid 20-3 victory over Jacksonville, led by Alex Smith. If you haven't been keeping up with the travails of the 49ers, or Smith, let me give you a quick recap.

Taken as the #1 overall pick in the 2005 Draft, Alex Smith has had at best, a checkered NFL career to this point. Handed the reins midway through the 2005 season, Smith struggled as a starter, throwing 11 interceptions to his 1 touchdown. I had my doubts, but he improved in 2006, leading the 49ers from the doledrums of 4-12 to near-respectability at 7-9. I expected big things out of Smith in 2007. Unfortunately, Smith separated his shoulder early in the season, got rushed back by then-coach Mike Nolan and ended up further damaging his arm to the point where he missed most of 2007, and all of the 2008 season. Meanwhile, unknown Shaun Hill had grabbed the reins at QB and appeared to be running with it. After a bad 2007, Hill led the 49ers to 7-9 in '08, and, much like Smith was in '07, appeared to be primed to take the next step with the Niners in '09. It wasn't so much that Hill was a great passer, but he played a smart, instinctual game, didn't make mistakes and generally led the 49ers to victories. On the other hand, Smith was basically forgotten about. He only remained on the team by restructuring his initial contract, and made the team as a backup. If he'd shown anything during his 4 NFL seasons, it was that he wasn't cut out for the job.

Still, Smith persevered. Though he wasn't much in the consciousness of anybody who followed the 49ers, he returned to training camp with an improved attitude and a new sense of focus. True, it was a longshot. True, he still had to prove he was healthy and over his arm troubles. But he was there, and he put in the necessary work. He was ready, should the situation call for him to step in for Hill. And that situation presented itself in a week 7 game vs. the Houston Texans. Hill had been struggling and the offense had been mostly lifeless throughout the first half of a game that saw the 49ers fall behind 21-0. At the start of the 2nd half, Smith was summoned to take over. And all he did was lead the 49ers on a quick touchdown drive, moving the ball smartly down the field and breathing some life into the team. His attempt at a comeback ultimately fell short, but in throwing 3 TDs in the half, Smith had shown more to us than he had, perhaps, in any of his previous 4 seasons in the league.

The next day, Smith was named the starting quarterback outright. He would be given the chance to prove that he was cut out to be in the league.

Though Smith's results to this point haven't been eye-popping (going into Sunday's game, he had thrown for just over 1,000 yards, with 9 TDs and 7 INTs), he at least was keeping the 49ers in games. Over his first 4 games, the Niners only managed a 1-3 record, but Smith was running the offense solidly and keeping the games respectable. They hung with the undefeated Colts most of the way in his first start, and Smith led another furious comeback in Green Bay. But Sunday, it all fell into place for Smith, who threw for 232 yards, 2 touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks. More importantly, the 49ers actually were able to take an early lead and hold the Jaguars at bay the rest of the way. In the process, the 49ers improved their record to 5-6. Not impressive, but for a young team with a QB in the midst of a major career reclamation, it's not bad. It's also good enough to be within 2 games of the Division leading Arizona Cardinals, whom the 49ers beat in Week 1, and whom the 49ers play on Monday Night Football in 2 weeks.

For Alex Smith, it continues to be a long road back to where we hope he'll be. But it's games like this, however small they may seem in the grand scheme of things, that make all the difference in the world as far as building confidence and showing that you're capable, and you belong. Smith was the headliner in the 49ers most complete performance of the season to date, and heading into the stretch run of the season, it could be the beginning of the 49ers peaking at the right time and riding that wave into January.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Decision: 2010

I've been on a bit of an unplanned, unannounced hiatus of sorts, not because of any particular reason, I guess I just didn't have anything in particular to write about. Nothing noteworthy has happened, as far as the Mets are concerned, at least as it pertains to me. And, I suppose, that was probably a good thing. As a Mets fan, there's not much one can do right now except for just lay low. Maybe reflect on some prior glory (Always welcome and needed in these difficult times). Maybe some of us petulantly declared our fandom in open forums such as Facebook (not naming names or anything...!). But, otherwise, just lay low and wait for something to happen. That is, if something happens. There's talk, but then again, there's always talk. I have this somewhat faint hope that Roy Halladay will be sitting under my Chanukah Bush next month, but I fear that not a likely scenario. Stranger things, however, have happened.

There have been odd snippets that have popped up over the past few days about things the Mets are doing to their stadium and their uniforms to try to acknowledge the history of the Mets. And it is a History that shouldn't be ignored. It was mentioned to me late in the 2009 season that the lack of Mets History in Citi Field was, perhaps, the brainchild of the Boy-King, who for some reason felt that our beloved Shea Stadium was cursed and the time the Mets spent there should be ignored. It's hearsay, but if it's true, then the Mets owners are, perhaps, even dumber than we give them credit for being. Asking a Mets fan to ignore the Mets past is, perhaps, akin to asking the Sun to not rise in the morning. It's not going to happen. And if you try to make us ignore it, well, the backlash can be rather nasty. So, the Mets are doing what they should have done in the first place and making Citi Field into a place that will celebrate the history of the team that plays there. Wonderful. After last season, Fabulous Freddie and the Boy-King had better listen to what the fans want. Was that really so hard?

Then, there's this whole cream-colored uniform thing, which is kind of ridiculous, if you ask me. I'll be honest, I don't care what kind of uniforms the Mets wear. They could be beet red with lime green pinstripes and a lavender accent. The uniform doesn't matter so long as the team wins. So, when they announce things like this, I have a tendency to ignore it because personnel moves should be of paramount importance right now, not clothing. However, Paul Lukas at the Uni Watch took this as the impetus to launch a full-scale diatribe at Fabulous Freddie and the Boy-King, saying what I'm sure most Mets fans feel right now. I'll just let Paul do the screaming for me on this matter.

But there was one thing Met-related that did pertain to me this week. On Tuesday, I got a letter from the Mets. I was pretty sure I knew what it was before I even opened it, and, of course I was right. Inside was an invoice for a 2010 Weekday 15-game plan, which included a schedule and a list of the 2010 plan dates. The promised "discount" wasn't much of a discount. I suppose I should be happy with what I get from them. A drop of $20 per plan isn't much, but it's something, right? One thing I didn't expect was that they were expecting me to renew for the same seats I had last year. I've taken many pictures from those seats (and even of those seats).

I seem to be of a small sliver of the Mets fan base who had the following feelings about Citi Field. 1) The seats were, all things considered, fairly reasonably priced for a new stadium where ridiculous ticket prices were thought to be the norm. 2) I didn't have a problem with the seats. Though they were in the last row, they weren't obstructed, they weren't somehow blocking my view of any major part of the field, and they were near a bathroom and an exit. But, they were still in the last row. And I was hoping that I would be able to upgrade these seats. I'm new to this whole season-to-season seating thing, so I figured it would probably be worth my while to call the Mets and see if I could change my seats. Not surprisingly, I got on the phone right away with a woman who was all too happy to help me out, though at first she seemed convinced that I was calling to cancel my plan and tell Jeffy-poo to kiss off. I'm sure she's gotten that call more than a few times. She seemed somewhat pleasantly surprised when I said, "I'd like to renew, but I'd like to see if I can move my seats." She said they could try to accommodate me, but they had to know how many plan holders were renewing for 2010. I can't imagine that every plan holder from 2009 is. But they wouldn't know until December 18th, so I should renew, and they will leave this note on my account and will contact me after December 18th to see if I can be moved. That was, all things considered, rather helpful and nice of them. Hell, if I pay online, I can even pay off the tickets in two separate payments.

There is, I'm sure, a certain segment who would scoff at me for renewing and willingly hand my money over to a pair of half-wits who will probably throw it in the air and run around screaming. But how could I not renew? The Mets are, as many of my loyal readers are aware, my one big luxury in life. Going to games is my escape, it's my sanctuary. I don't think it mattered how bad the Mets were in 2009 or how bad things look for 2010. I'm going to be there. I don't think that was ever in much doubt. Sure, I joked about it. I asked for suggestions such as using the invoice as toilet paper. One friend suggested I go to each game, put a sign on my seat that read "FIRE OMAR" and walk out. No, I'll be there. I may feel stupid for doing it, but I'll be there.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wrong Side Of Town

The problem with this World Series was that the outcome was inevitably going to piss me off. That was how I saw things going in, and that was how it turned out. My plan was to basically pretend it didn't exist. Just shut it off. Why put myself through the misery?

But it's impossible to do that. Not when you're rooting for the team from the wrong side of town, from the perspective of both of the teams present. It was easy to ignore the jeers from Philadelphia. That came from afar. The snibes that come from within eat at you more and more as the games play on. Maybe it's not something that's directed absolutely at you, but it's that sneering, snide arrogance. They thumb their noses at us, and why shouldn't they? We're a laughingstock. We can point at them all we want, but we're on the same field they are, we spend the same money they do, and we try to exploit the same business model they've perfected. But where they can throw their money at the best people imaginable, we throw our money around like we're a 20-something NYU coed walking into H&M.

The end result, of course, is the 2009 season.

Despite my best efforts to ignore it, despite every effort I put in to pretend it wasn't there, I couldn't. The newspaper covers, the radio shows all got to me. By time the series rolled around, I was sure I could avoid it. But there I was, listening on the radio. I couldn't subject myself to it on TV. No way. It's easier to follow when you don't have to actually see anything. And ESPN radio brought me a neutral broadcast from Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. But as that first game progressed, something odd happened. The Phillies were ahead, the Yankees were down. And for some reason, I really enjoyed watching the Yankees lose. So, that was how it had to be. Like most Mets fans, I'm sure. I wouldn't give the Philly fans the satisfaction of saying I was rooting for them. Oh, no. But even though I didn't want the Phillies to win, I wanted the Yankees to lose more. That was my official statement to anyone who asked.

Game 2 was ignored. Game 3, I found myself in the midst of a major Halloween party. Stuck as the head troubleshooter, several parties requested updates of the game for the attending revelers. So, fine. Out comes the BlackBerry to check in periodically. As the night continued and I allowed myself to become as intoxicated as is recommended when one is on the job, I found myself in a private area with a TV. This would be the first I would be seeing of the World Series at all. The Yankees were ahead. Jayson Werth hit a Home Run. As if on cue, I broke into a joyous "JAY-SON WERTH-LESS!" chant. This time, it was supportive. But he was still Jayson Werth-Less. Of course, the Yankees won. Of course, the Yankees ran away with the rest of the series. It seemed somewhat inevitable. Even when many Yankee fans seemed to be going through some sort of bizarre panic between the 5th and 6th games, it was still with that obnoxious "When We Win..." attitude.

Well, they won. Now we're going to have to hear about it all Winter, and probably all the way through next season, too. Should be a treat.

Say what you will about the Phillies, and say what you will about Cole Hamels, who probably ought to think twice before he goes after the Mets again, but they still managed to ride a bullpen that rivaled the 2008 Mets all the way to the World Series (see what happens when your hitters hit?!). Even though they lost and a lot of their players looked bad doing it, they're still by far and away the team to beat in the NL East. The Mets, well, the Mets should be thinking about how the hell they're going to finish higher than 4th place. The Mets certainly have the deep pockets to reinvent themselves the same way the Yankees did. Don't let anyone tell you different. But the question is, are they smart enough? Is the person making the decisions capable of making the right ones? Over the past few seasons, the answer has been a resounding "No," and that's enough to scare the bejesus out of any Mets fan. The Yankees, by winning the World Series, proved that any problem can be fixed if you throw enough money at it. I don't know if the Mets are smart enough to follow suit. Only time will tell.

I've been following this team for over 20 seasons. I was discussing this over the weekend with a fellow Mets fan. I've seen more winning seasons than losing seasons, and it's not even close. These last few years have been bad times for me as a Mets fan. There's no argument on the matter. But during those seasons, the Mets were, at worst, good enough to contend right down to the last day. It just didn't end well. But it's not as though I've suffered through the George Foster years or the Craig Swan era (a fact pointed out to me by my cousin, though the credibility is lacking since he is a Manhasset, NY native who moved to Philadelphia and is now a rabid Phillies fan). The worst I've got is the Bobby Bonilla era or the Art Howe years. Hell, I've even got some pretty sweet Postseason memories of my own. But I was 7 years old in 1986. I'm too young to remember or appreciate it. I've never truly tasted that ultimate victory. I've never really been able to capture that moment and actually be able to say, "Holy Shit, the Mets are World Series Champions!"

Maybe, someday, I will. Until then, I'm just another schmuck rooting for the other team on the Wrong Side of Town.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Don't Care Anymore

I suppose it's only fitting that this season of Mets Misery has come down to one final, horrible matchup between the two teams that we in Mets Nation can stand the absolute least. You could see this coming about a mile away, even when the playoffs started. You could try to use your cosmic strength to pick against them or put some reverse jinx on them, but you couldn't stop either of them, and now, here we are. World Series 2009, Yankees vs. Phillies for all the Marbles.

I want to vomit.

There's been a lot of talk amongst Mets fans about what we should do. How do we react to all this? The prevailing wisdom seems to be that the Mets fan should get behind the Phillies. It's the most sensible argument I've heard. The Yankee fan, smug as he/she may be, will, of course, say to us, "Hey, you're a New Yorker! You have to support your New York Teams. Civic Pride!" tongue in cheek, silently snickering at us. This is what it's come down to for us. It's like the Woody Allen concept of "The Horrible and The Miserable." And right now, those are the choices we've got right now. Fact is, I don't think either fan base gives a shit about who we support. They don't care about us. They're like the two-faced ass of a "friend" you have, who will be your pal to your face and then trash you behind your back. They take some sort of sick satisfaction in our suffering, and being in this situation, after the season we've been through, and given the state of affairs within the franchise, this is about as bad a time as we could ever possibly have as Mets fans.

But there is one other solution, that nobody's really talked about.

Don't watch. Don't care. Don't give any of them the satisfaction. Don't put yourself through this. Shut off your TV and go do something else. Read, or take a walk somewhere, or write something, or sit in a dark room and feel sorry for yourself. Doesn't matter. Just don't do this to yourself. I know that it's the last vestiges of the Baseball season, and I know that we like to cling to them as long as possible. But this season was so awful that we couldn't wait for it to end. So, this is my solution. It's over already. The 2009 Baseball season ended last night, far as I'm concerned. The World Series is just a rumor. I refuse to throw my support behind either team. I don't care who wins. I truly do not. People have already asked me who I root for in the World Series, and I've given them my answer. I'm rooting for the 2010 Mets. That's the next bit of meaningful Baseball I'm going to watch.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Most Beautiful Failure

October 19th, a rather unassuming day as it might seem, is a rather cathartic day for most Mets fans, at least those who remember some of the more memorable games that this team has played on October 19th.

On October 19th, 1986, the Mets played the Red Sox in Game 2 of the World Series. The game itself didn't turn out well for the Mets, but ultimately, they came back to win the World Series. So, in the long run, that wasn't necessarily a failure. But it wasn't especially good, either.

More appropriately, I look to games that the Mets played on October 19th 10 years ago, and three years ago. Both games resulted in losses that ended the Mets season. But it wasn't so much that the Mets lost that stuck with me. It was how they lost.

October 19th, 1999 and October 19th, 2006, both saw the Mets play games that might have been better suited for a stage, not so much a ballfield. This was art. This was pulsating drama of the highest order, and, ultimately, it was failure that left us with a tinge of pride. Beneath the frustration, there was the knowledge that we went down with our heads held high.

Perhaps it's still too soon to lump that Thursday night in 2006 in with its predecessor from 1999. This particular team and era of Mets baseball hasn't lived up to that promise since then, and that night, as harrowing as it was, still leaves a bad taste. After all, we were the favorite. We were in our own building. And we weren't trying to accomplish what, at the time, had never been done before. It was a night of prideful sadness.

And it wasn't the same as it was in 1999.

By all rights, it was enough of a miracle that the Mets had made it to October 19th, 1999. They were dead and buried more than once before getting to this game. They trailed their most hated nemesis, the Atlanta Braves, 3 games to 0 in the NLCS. Their best player was running on fumes. Their Manager was a walking controversy. The starting rotation was in shambles, with half the starting rotation having to work in the latter innings of another game the Mets refused to lose just two days earlier. That one ended up turning out in the Mets favor. Suddenly, the Mets weren't rolling over and dying. Suddenly, 3-0 had become 3-2.

That night seemed to pack every bit of frenetic tension from that month into one magnificent game. The Mets were down early. In fact, they were down so far, they may have been out early. But that was how the Mets rolled in '99. They always looked like they were out. Then they start chipping away and, and chipping away and all of a sudden there's that beaten-down warrior of a Catcher coming up with the biggest hit the Mets had seen in a decade, and a deficit that was once 0-5 had become 7-7. Everyone was chipping in, from the household names to guys you never heard of, like that Outfielder who was from Venezuela but at some point played in China who was all of a sudden playing like a 10-year veteran. Suddenly, that 3-2 becoming 3-4 didn't seem so farfetched.

But that magic ultimately ran out. Those Braves kept fighting back themselves, and in the end just managed to outlast us, to capitalize on one final mistake. It was the ending that hurt the most. But the way the Mets fought to get to that point stuck with us far longer than that ending.

It was 10 years ago today. October 19th, 1999. Perhaps the greatest loss in the History of the Mets.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Hated Pool

October is a Cruel Mistress, especially if you're a Mets fan, and while you'd like to say you could sit back and watch the League Championship Series that begin tonight, but considering MLB's Final Four consists of three teams I despise, and the Anaheim Angels, it's going to be a little tough to enjoy things. Especially considering the way I think these LCS will play out.

Here's the preview you probably weren't looking forward to:

Philadelphia Phillies (93-69, 3-1) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (95-67, 3-0)

Ok, ok, so I don't dislike the Dodgers nearly as much as I dislike the Phillies. That doesn't mean that I like them, even though the whole "Great Betrayal" thing is getting a little stale, even with my Mother, who grew up in Brooklyn. My dislike of the Dodgers has been festering simply since 1988, when Mike Scioscia, Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser basically ruined my childhood. But try as they might, they just don't piss me off the same way the Phillies do, with their AL-style lineup and their loudmouth players who talk their junk and back it up, and, of course, Shane Victorino. These series have a habit of being swayed towards the team that has the hotter hand, and not necessarily the team with the most talent, and conventional wisdom would say that the Dodgers are the hotter team. They pretty much cut through a St. Louis team that didn't show up for the NLDS, and capitalized on a huge break when Matt Holliday dropped a fly ball in Game 2, a play that pretty much handed the series over to LA. Philly, on the other hand, really had to peck and scrape to get past the Rockies in 4, but when they came back to win, they did it in spectacular fashion, and did so aided by a suddenly rejuvenated Brad Lidge. Though Lidge wasn't sharp in Game 3, he did what was necessary, and those kinds of outings can build confidence. I hate the Phillies and it really pains me to say this, but although they may not be on the hot streak the Dodgers are on, they are simply the better team and I think they have proven over and over again that they have the ability to get up off the mat as many times as necessary in order to win games. So I don't see the Dodgers pulling this one off.
My pick: Phillies in 5. Split the first 2 in LA, but once the series moves to Philadelphia, LA has no shot.

Anaheim Angels (97-65, 3-0) vs. New York Yankees (143-19, 3-0)

I kid, but it really feels like it's true. The Mighty Yankees just don't lose very often, and they have bucked that trend that they had fallen into over most of the past several years of falling flat in Postseason series. You need look no further than their hottest hitter right now. Amazingly, it's Alex Rodriguez. It's the New Alex Rodriguez, who has turned around his October struggles and has now, perhaps, cemented his place in Baseball History. Of course, he still has two more steps to go, and the Anaheim Angels are certainly a formidable opponent, but you knew, in the back of your mind, even as a Yankee Hater, there was that fear. That fear that someday, A-Rod was actually going to get his head on straight and show up for a Postseason series. Someday, he was actually going to come up in the big spot and get that big hit. That was bound to happen someday, and now, it's happened. This stands to be a very tight, interesting series, and both teams are certainly playing well. The Angels did to Boston something similar to the Phillies: They played a series of close games, and proved themselves to be just a little bit better at firing that last punch than the Red Sox were. I certainly wouldn't count them out in this series, not at all, because they don't fear the Yankees and they play smart, heady baseball (Unfortunately, the Minnesota Twins also played smart, heady baseball, until it abandoned them), and have a roster of talented, professional and smart players who won't beat themselves. The Angels won't give the Yankees an inch. But still, I see one of those typical stupid Yankee postseason plays, like Derek Jeter leaping into the stands to make a catch and throwing out a runner at Home Plate (Triple Fist Pump!), or someone like Brett Gardner hitting a Game-tying HR and swinging the momentum the Yankees way.
My pick: Yankees in 6.

And, yes, should my picks hold to form, you can rest assured that I will not be watching the World Series.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

2009 Mets: A Season In Futility, Part II

We continue with our 2009 Mets Report Card. Now, the pitchers.

Mike Pelfrey - C
I named Mike Pelfrey one of my 5 Key Mets before the season assuming that he was probably going to build on his very successful season in 2008. I figured he was a prime candidate to break out and be the rock solid #2 starter behind Johan Santana. Wrong. I should have known something was wrong when, in the first game at Citi Field, Pelfrey was so cranked up he fell off the mound mid-windup, and followed that up by allowing 3 runs after 2 were out. Pelfrey had a good stretch during May and June when he was pitching well, but not winning and not getting much press, but he wasn't dominating like he did during a similar stretch in 2008. Then, in the 2nd half, he just fell flat. There was an occasional good start followed by a start when he would get hammered. He seemed to lose confidence in his pitches and he wasn't setting himself up the way he was in '08. There were the "Yips." There were the balks. There was muttering the pitch he was throwing. Put it all together and Pelfrey had basically undone all the good vibes he'd built up during the '08 season. Now, we're right back where we started with him. Talented, great potential, total fucking headcase. And no real way to tell whether or not he'll ever recapture his form from '08. It's possible that this regression was caused by Pelfrey's inning load in '08, and rather than breaking down, he just pitched poorly, and perhaps he'll rebound in 2010. But sometimes, he just looked so out of sorts that it's hard to know whether this just got too in his head. Next year will probably tell us the story. By the time next year is over, we'll know what we have.

Johan Santana - A-
Pitched hurt and it showed when his unconscious start fizzled out into inconsistency and even the occasional alarming bombing. Probably could have pitched through the bone chips, but given that the season was in the toilet and it wasn't worth risking further damage, so it's just as well that he sat out after August and had the surgery. It's a far better end result than that constant fear that he needed Tommy John surgery. He'll be fine by Spring Training, the same old Johan we know and love.

Livan Hernandez - C-
Started out by eating innings, ended up getting eaten. Was about what we expected him to be, which was a C- pitcher and the predictable 5th starter. There was talk about trading him to a contender, but after he got hammered for 8 runs and 13 hits in 4 straight outings, there was no chance anyone was going to take him, and so what happened? The Mets cut him and he ended up going back from whence he came, the only team worse than the Mets: The Washington Nationals. A perfect marriage.

Tim Redding - D+
Redding pretty much put up the same numbers as Livan, but unlike Livan, no good ever seemed to come from him pitching, so he gets a D+. Redding usually had nice outings against Philly, but not against anyone else.

Bobby Parnell - C
Good stuff, annoyingly inconsistent. Which made him a perfect fit for this team. Ended up getting jobbed in as a starter. That didn't go well, even if he had one good start. Better suited in a setup role if he can find some consistency.

John Maine - C+
Maine is officially at a crossroads. Counted on to shoulder the load as the #3 starter at worst, and counted on to show us that he was fully healthy, Maine instead broke down again and missed a huge chunk of the season. This is now two years in a row that Maine has gone into the season with high expectations and fallen flat. So, he's On Notice. I am officially concerned that John Maine, while he has very good stuff and clearly knows how to pitch, does not have the durability to get through an entire Major League season with sustained success. He needs to come out of the gate with the same fire that he showed in 2007, put guys away, minimize damage, go deep into games and come away with wins. Otherwise, he's just another guy who the Mets have sold high to us based on a successful 3/4 of a season and a couple of nice playoff outings in 2006.

Brian Stokes - B
The line says he pitched tolerably well. So I guess he did. Looks like Zach Braff.

Nelson Figueroa - C
I'm giving Figueroa this high of a grade because I saw him make 3 starts this season. On August 3rd (the infamous TERRIBLE!!! game), I quite literally thought his career as a Major Leaguer was over. He got lit up in such an embarrassing fashion that I figured there was no way in hell he would ever take the mound again. Yet, there he was, 2 days later, pitching well. And on September 20th, there he was, making an admirably good start against the Braves, losing only because his offense failed to generate any support for him. And by season's end, October 4th, Figueroa was putting the season to bed by hurling his first Major League Shutout against the Astros. This is one case where he didn't give up, and the Mets didn't give up on him. He's not at all someone to build around, but if nothing else, he's a nice story that can be taken away from this mess.

Sean Green - F
High point of the season came on Opening Day, when he led the New Bullpen Parade and the Mets won. Followed that up by turning into the second coming of the man he was traded for, Aaron Heilman. Dude even had a similar looking windup and a slider that constantly moved low and outside and usually resulted in a Wild Pitch or a hit batsman or a bases-loaded walk.

Francisco Rodriguez - B
He didn't pitch especially well down the stretch, but given that his primary motivation is to come in in late and close situations and shut the door, and given that that just didn't happen very much for the Mets, I'm willing to let it pass just a little bit. But far too often, he came into games where the Mets trailed by a run (mainly because he hadn't gotten an actual save opportunity in God knows how long) and ended up putting the Mets in a deeper hole. Then, there were the two walk-off Grand Slams he allowed. I'm inclined to think he will be better next year, with more consistent work and more consistent opportunities to do what he does best. Then again, there's no guarantee that he'll get those opportunities.

Oliver Perez - F

Pedro Feliciano - B+
People felt I was overly harsh on him last season. So this season, I'm being nice and giving him a high grade because he pitched the whole season, pitched well, got the key outs when there were key outs to be had, and didn't get hurt.

Pat Misch - C
Pitched tolerably well as a starter, sort of in that Parnell mode. Mixed in a good start amongst several bad ones. Perfectly mediocre, back of the rotation/middle of the bullpen lefty.

Fernando Nieve - B
Pitched surprisingly well, far better than anyone would have expected, over several starts, beginning with the surprise outing of the season against the Yankees. So, in typical 2009 Mets fashion, he got hurt running the bases and was done for the season. Surprised? Yeah, me neither.

Elmer Dessens
I laughed every time he took the mound, only to keep myself from crying.

J.J. Putz - C-
Lived up to his name, mainly because he was hurt and somehow was either told he could pitch through it, or decided he could pitch through it. Also because he was a closer in the 8th inning setup guy role that somehow entered to a closer's fanfare, complete with the AC/DC blaring and the vertigo-inducing video display.

Ken Takahashi - F
Can be lumped in with other Japanese Flops such as Takashi Kashiwada, Satoru Komiyama and that other guy who got suspended for using steroids before he ever got to pitch with the team. I can say this based solely on one game, one pitch to Raul Ibanez that basically started the team on the downward spiral. Yusaku Iriki, that's his name. Just another dunce who shouldn't be brought back.

Jon Niese
Too bad he got hurt. He was starting to find himself at the Major League level. Definitely like his stuff and the upside he brings, and would much rather see him in the 2010 rotation than, say, Tim Redding, or Jose Contreras, or Jon Garland or whatever aging loser Omar picks off the scrap heap.

Lance Broadway
Acquired in the Castro trade and led to too many stupid "Broadway pitching on Broadway!" jokes.

Tobi Stoner
With a name like that, all I could think was that he would have been a better fit with the Tony Tarasco-era Mets.

Casey Fossum
When you're throwing Casey Fossum out there at some point during the season, chances are your record is going to end up in the neighborhood of 70-92.

Jon Switzer
I never actually saw him and I don't know who he is, and judging by the numbers he put up, it's probably better that way.

Darren O'Day
Wasn't good in his week plus with the Mets and got shipped off to Texas, where he made his debut with the team under the assumed name of Kason Gabbard.

Billy Wagner
Just give him kudos for coming back and chalking up 2 Ks in his return. Not much more could have been asked.

Jerry Manuel - C-
I'm somewhat willing to give Manuel the benefit of the doubt based on the fact that he had to deal with the injuries and the pieces he was given. But once again, his in-game strategies left quite a bit to be desired, and as the losses mounted, and the team continued to look lifeless, we basically just got treated to Jerry Manuel's nightly chortle. Thing is, many of us failed to find this as funny as he did, or at least found it funny for different reasons. It's one thing to say that Manuel was limited because of all the injuries. But the Mets were barely staying afloat while the guys were healthy. And there's no excuse for how lifeless and hopeless the Mets looked at the end of the season when, given ample opportunity to be the spoiler, the Mets just lay down and died. Where was the motivation? Who was supposed to do the motivating? Who's to say that Willie Randolph did a worse job than Manuel did? Manuel will be back. Fine. I'll give him a full season with the healthy team he was supposed to have, plus or minus whoever is brought in. Let's see what happens. I'm pretty sure that if, and this is a very big IF, the Mets turn this thing around and are a winning team in 2010, it won't be because of Jerry Manuel. It'll be because they have the talent and the chemistry to do it themselves.

Omar Minaya - D
On an even hotter seat than Manuel, and there's a good chance that the only reason he still has a job at all is because he got a contract extension at the end of 2008. I've made my complaints about Omar many times before. He's reactionary, rather than a forward thinker. He makes moves with an eye on the present and not the future. He's built a team that was built to win 3 years ago and didn't make any sort of contingency plan in case of injury, and this was exploited to the point of embarrassment in 2009. He's got a lot to do to convince us, now, that he's capable of the task. 3 years ago, he was on top of the world. He responded by standing pat with a team that had holes to begin with, and managed to make trades that appeared to be for cosmetic purposes only, just to let people know he was awake and alive. Yes, there was the occasional splash, and Omar Minaya made a great trade to get Johan Santana in here, and Jeff Francoeur was similarly a good move. But those also weren't moves that required a great deal of thought. Those were no-brainer deals. Any GM could have gone out there and done that. If Omar wants to get his mojo back, he's going to have to pull off some deals that will shock the hell out of all of us. And I'm not totally sold that he's got that in him.

Citi Field - B
I give it a B for now, and an A- for the future. It's got its flaws, and I know it's got no shortage of critics. But I like Citi Field. It's a very aesthetically pleasing park to look at, I never sat in an obstructed seat (because I sat in the same seat 14 of 16 games), the food was OUTSTANDING, and the bathrooms were nice. No, it's not perfect. The staircases instead of ramps and escalators are problematic. The lack of Mets representation is somewhat appalling (and from what I've been told, is the fault of Jeff Wilpon, the Boy-King, who for some bizarre reason believed that Shea Stadium was cursed, despite the fact that the Mets won 2 World Series Championships there), but the organization is supposedly fixing this (that is, if you can believe what the organization says). And, look, there's not much you or I or anyone else can do. Citi Field is here to stay. Hopefully, we'll create some new, good memories and great times there with the Mets in the future and erase the bad taste of this season. I want to remember the energy of Opening Night, Citi Field full and rocking. Not late in the season, with a tepid crowd of 8,000. It's not the stadium's fault that the team stunk its first year.

So, that about wraps it up. The Mets have a lot of holes and not a lot of means with which to fix them, if they're going to make the trades to do it. The big things are:
1) #2 Starting Pitcher
2) 1st Baseman
3) Left Fielder

Maybe a Right Fielder if you're not sold on Francoeur. But if you really want to dig a little deeper, we can list the following:
4) Rebuild Farm System
5) Better US Amateur Scouting
6) More motivated coaches

Failing all that, we have to start hacking the head. If the team doesn't improve, you're going to hear the grumblings get even louder.
7) New Manager
8) New General Manager
9) New Ownership/Upper Front Office

Nobody will ever know how much the Wilpons were taken for by Madoff. Nobody will know what really goes on behind the scenes with them and Minaya and Dave Howard. If the Mets win, who the hell cares? If the Mets win, everything's wonderful and everyone's doing a great job. But when the Mets lose, and when the Mets lose in manners that make you scratch your heads, manners that are frustrating, mystifying and embarrassing, we blame everyone. It starts with the players, and works its way to the top. And this year, everyone in the organization was well worthy of all the blame heaped on them.

Now, they have to fix it. I don't have the energy to offer all the solutions. None of us do. All I can do is wish them luck.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

2009 Mets: A Season In Futility, Part I

It's no great secret that the 2009 Mets suffered through a totally miserable season. It was disappointing, but in a different way than the two seasons before it. This season started with the same promise as 2008 and 2007. But the early optimism gave way early on to several problems, beginning with the same clutch failures that haunted the Mets down the stretch in '07 and '08, and then was compounded with a rash of major injuries to many of the players that were counted on to carry the load over the course of the season. Mets players logged over 1,450 days on the DL in 2009, by far and away the most in the majors. But it was the result of those injuries that was most alarming.

It's very easy to call out the Mets for a major disconnect between team staff, medical staff and players, and this was one of several embarrassments the club suffered during the season. But what was most galling for me was the relative lack of concern showed by the team's front office. For the powers that be, this season was about one thing and one thing only: Showcasing their shimmering new palace that a large chunk of fans didn't seem to like very much. Players come and go, but Citi Field stands above all. So, as key player after key player found themselves out for a majority of the season, the Mets had no adequate replacement, and made no effort whatsoever to acquire an adequate replacement. The Mets became an utter laughingstock. Uncompetitive, Uninspiring and Uninteresting. The end of the season was met with relief, the kind of feeling I'd never experienced in all my years rooting for the team. The trepidation of the past two seasons was a joy compared to this.

The Mets used 53 players in all during the 2009 season. Most of them were unremarkable. When you use 53 players in a season, it generally means things aren't going well. It also means that I have to split my Final Report card into 2 parts. Today, we'll review the position players. Tomorrow, we'll review the Pitchers, the Manager, the GM and everything else. This is going to be as painful for me to write as it probably is for you all to read.

Omir Santos - B-
Santos was, for a while, one of those unsung welcome rays of sunlight for the Mets. Called up to replace an injured Ramon Castro, Santos came up with several clutch hits, most notably his Replay HR against Jonathan Papelbon in better times. But as the season wore on, Santos came back to earth and eventually, he found himself lost in a 3-catcher shuffle. He stopped hitting, and he rarely, if ever, took a walk. Clearly, he's worth having around. I don't, however, think he's the answer as a starting Catcher.

Brian Schneider - F
One of my problems with Schneider being the everyday catcher for the Mets was the fact that, last season, he had a serious inability to hit at certain moments. This problem dogged him just about all season, as Schneider found himself on the interstate for most of the year. Only a late hot streak (which I guess you could have expected would happen once the season was in the tank) managed to get his average up to a mediocre .218. This was, I suppose, his contract push. It got to the point where every time he started a game, I threw up my arms. There just wasn't any good reason for him to play. It's not that Santos was light years better, but, this is Brian Schneider, perhaps the most boring player on a boring team. Free Agent, won't return if Omar knows what's good for him.

Ramon Castro - D-
It really surprises me how many supporters Castro has out there. It's ridiculous. Castro can hit, but as I've said many times over, he's just not durable enough to be an everyday player. This season played out predictably. He got hurt again, Santos played well, he got shipped out of town and the highlight of his season in Chicago was catching a perfect game from Mark Buehrle. He's a guy that people want to play every day, but he doesn't seem to want to play more than 2 days a week. Nice clubhouse presence, I guess. Nice moments in his 3+ years with the Mets, I guess. But it's mostly fleeting. Won't be missed. You'll see.

Josh Thole - B+
I really liked what he showed in his late-season callup. Won't hit for power, but has great bat control and can put together a good At-Bat that actually ends with a hit and sometimes even a run. What concerns me is that his hot start at the plate was all too reminiscent of Daniel Murphy in 2008, and that did not translate to long-term success. Remains to be seen, but I wouldn't have a problem giving Thole the everyday job at the start of 2010, assuming an established veteran is not brought in (and there are larger concerns for the Mets than Catcher, believe me).

David Wright - C+
I don't know if anyone has an adequate explanation as to why David Wright all of a sudden stopped hitting for power. At the beginning of the season, you figured it was a pretty safe bet that Wright would chalk up a .310 average, 30 HRs and 110 RBIs, without question. We instead got a .307 average, 10 HRs and 71 RBIs that he struggled to get, even before taking a Matt Cain fastball to the head in August. The drop in power is one thing. You can chalk that up to him having little to no lineup protection most of the season, I guess (or am I just kidding myself into thinking that). More alarming were his 140 strikeouts, by far and away his career high. All of a sudden, David Wright became a predictable out. You threw him a slider on the first pitch, he'd swing and miss, come inside with a fastball and he'd foul it off to the right side, and then throw the dinky slider again and watch him wave at it. Bad, bad, bad. Wright has a leadership desire and a bulldog facade, but inside, I have the feeling that he's just an insecure mess. He tries so hard and it makes him crazy when he doesn't succeed. He wears every failure on his face and sometimes I think it snowballs out of control. I don't know if it's quite so cut and dry as to say he needs more practice (Practice?). There's some other problem there that needs to be fixed if we're going to get the David Wright we were used to back in 2010.

Daniel Murphy - C
Daniel Murphy, whether it was deserved or not, ended up being the poster boy for the Mets failures in 2009. After his hot arrival in 2008, he was counted on to carry the load for the Mets in the #2 spot in the order, be that guy to grind out key hits, move runners up or even drive them in if necessary. He had the skill. He had the polish. He had a really cold streak down the stretch that everyone conveniently forgot. We wanted to believe he was more than an overglorified bench player, and whatever the organization sold us, we absolutely ate up. I pointed out, when I named Murphy one of my five key Mets, that there was a lot that could go wrong with Murphy. And a lot did. He proved himself incapable of fielding his position in the outfield, and only got a shot at 1st Base because Delgado was injured. He didn't hit like we thought he would, at least for most of the first chunk of the season, and ended up stuck with a batting average of .248 for about 3 months straight. He showed some spark late in the season, but ultimately only hit .266 for the season, and his 12 HRs embarrassingly led the team. I suppose he'll get another shot to succeed, but I have the feeling that he's not going to be the answer for this team at any particular position.

Luis Castillo - B+
I would have given him an A- were it not for this particular incident, that seemed to typify the Mets season. But in all seriousness, Castillo needs to be given a lot of credit for getting himself back together and having what was for him a respectable season. He knew he was awful in 2008, so he went out and made sure it didn't happen again. We were all skeptical, and we knew we were stuck with his contract, but at least he went out there every day (at least when he wasn't spraining his ankle walking down the dugout steps), and played respectably well, even when nobody else around him was.

Fernando Tatis - F
Chris Woodward was decent in 2005 and was brought back in 2006 and was awful. Moises Alou had a great stretch run in 2007 and parlayed that into returning to play about 10 games in 2008. Marlon Anderson had a great season in 2007, was retained for 2008 and was terrible. Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2009 "One Year Wonder that should have been let go" winner, Fernando Tatis!

Alex Cora - C-
Should not have been playing as much as he did when he ended up getting injured, and should not have been playing much after that. Supposedly a good clubhouse presence, but I refuse to believe that that should be reason enough for bringing him back for 2010. There are better non-tendered guys you can find to fill out your bench with.

Jose Reyes - B-
All of a sudden now Reyes has turned back into the brittle kid he was when he first came up. I'm inclined to think that this was just a freak injury that was mismanaged into something worse. Or maybe that's just my hope. But once Reyes went down, and once it became apparent that he wasn't coming back for the remainder of the season, no matter how hard he may have tried (and I believe he tried as hard as he could), the Mets were screwed. I'm beginning to get a little tired of people questioning his character. Yes, he often leaves you scratching your head and I think his excitement and zeal for the game more often than not gets in the way of his logic on the field. But when he plays, and when he plays well, the Mets play well. Simple as that. But if I'm wrong, and I may very well be wrong, this may finally be the season that Reyes plays himself out of New York, and other teams can stop hating us because of him.

Anderson Hernandez - C
The major midseason move to bolster an injury-riddled infield. Somehow managed to hit more than he did in his first go-around with the Mets, which isn't saying much because he didn't hit at all back then.

Carlos Delgado - B-
Out of all the injuries, this one bothered me the most because I think Delgado was just beginning to hit his stride when he went down. I was sort of looking forward to a season of Carlos Delgado laying a full-scale assault on everyone sitting in the Pepsi Porch, which probably would have happened. It was tough to say what would have happened, given how up and down he was in 2008, but considering how hot he was at the end of the season, and considering he was presumed to be healthy at the outset in 2009, there was no reason to think he would have had a major dropoff. Or that he would have been submarined by a major injury. If this is it for him with the Mets, I tip my cap to him and thank him for 2006 and the stretch run in '08.

Wilson Valdez - D+
Crappy useless retread.

Ramon Martinez - F
Did not use the excellent Speedy Gonzalez music during his at bats this year and also did not provide the same unexpected spark he did during those final desperate games last season. The latter wasn't exactly a surprise. Defensively lived up to his middle initial of E.

Nick Evans - C
Evans got off to a lousy start in AAA ball after a great spring where he got cut on the last day, but when he was recalled in June, he hit, and he made his hits count. But for some reason the Mets organization has decided that they don't like Nick Evans, and so they've decided to just let him sit and rot on the bench as opposed to letting him play, because he's more than likely better than half the garbage they trotted out there for most of the 2nd half of the season. I don't see how, exactly, this is his fault, but so be it. They liked him enough to bat him 5th in the last game of the season in 2008, but not enough to give him any kind of a shot the following season. I don't understand it.

Angel Berroa - D
Useless retread crap.

Argenis Reyes
I thought the Mets had cut him in the offseason. Then he appeared at some point and I realized I was mistaken.

Marlon Anderson
Quite literally was only kept aboard as roster filler for the first 4 games of the season before Livan Hernandez was activated. I don't know where or if he resurfaced, which is to say he did nothing noteworthy this season.

Andy Green
Walked in his first Met plate appearance and this was somehow the impetus for a standing ovation. Yes, things were that bad.

Angel Pagan - B
He looked good quite a bit of the time, and he also looked rather clueless quite a bit of the time as well. He also looked good at the outset last season, but it's easy to forget that he had come back to earth by time he got injured in May. I don't know if this translates to long-term success. I don't even know if this will translate to short-term success. But he does bring something to the team, which is more than I can say for a lot of the players they used over the course of the season. I have the feeling that, similar to Murphy, he will be exposed if he's used every day. But he could be one of those guys in the Endy Chavez vein, that is to say he'll provide a spark off the bench and plays solid defense (I believe he does play solid defense, right?). Should be back, but I don't want to hear everyone get up in arms when he's not named a starter.

Carlos Beltran - B
If only because missing 2 months wiped out what was shaping up to be an outstanding season for him. This was the year he was playing like we expected him to play every year. His numbers were great when he got hurt, and he hadn't even hit one of his ridiculous hot streaks yet. By time he returned, and he should be applauded for returning (which is a good indicator of how bad things had gotten), things were too far gone and there was too little protection for him to make much difference.

Jeff Francoeur - B
There's plenty to complain about as far as Francoeur is concerned, chief of which is the fact that he swings from his ass and doesn't walk at all. His defense is somewhat middling, and is all based on the reputation of his cannon of an arm which is only sporadically accurate. But on the other side, the change of scenery obviously worked for him because he played light years better with the Mets than he had with Atlanta. Far as the trade, it was more or less a no-brainer. I don't recall Church doing anything remarkable with Atlanta and at least Francoeur has some meager degree of upside. His down-home, Southern Boy personality somehow managed to jive in New York, and he fit right in in the clubhouse and appeared to assume a bit of a leadership role with the team. A very affable, likable guy who will probably be back, although I don't know if it's necessarily wise to consider him one of the team's new cornerstones. With hesitation, I'll give him a full season to see what he can do here, but if he's not good, I have no problem with letting him go.

Gary Sheffield - A
Gets an A because he girded up his 40-year old legs and played respectably well when he was healthy, and also to the best of my knowledge was a model citizen for most of the season except for a spat with Omar over a contract, and he diffused the situation himself before it got out of hand. Showed some glimpses of his former self at times, didn't embarrass himself at any point (at least not that I can remember), and even provided the first historical moment in Citi Field with his 500th career HR in April. Wants to come back. Wants to be a Met. I don't know, however, if the organization wants to bring him back and for that matter I don't know if he should be brought back at age 41.

Ryan Church - C-
I wish him well, but it clearly wasn't going to work for him here. The trade was, for the most part, my headache for your headache.

Jeremy Reed - D+
Annoyingly inoffensive.

Cory Sullivan - D+
I know he did something well at some point but I also know that after that he didn't do much of anything. El Guapo and I also couldn't identify his At-Bat music, but we decided it was a song by his band, Sandbag, or Grassfrog, or Asskick, or Dirtbag, or whatever the hell it's called.

Fernando Martinez - D+
Played like an overwhelmed rookie most of the time. Not ready yet. But also may not be as good as the organization wants us to believe. And right now, does anyone believe anything the organization tells us?

Emil Brown

Are you numb yet? More to come tomorrow...

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Happy Prattiversary!

It is the 10th Anniversary of what I consider to be the single greatest Baseball Game I've ever attended. In recognition, I'm reaching into the Annals of the Ballclub and pulling up a classic piece that originally appeared as Part IV of the "20 Days In October" series that chronicled the Mets journey through the 1999 Postseason.

Take a step back in time with me, friends, to Saturday, October 9th, 1999.
* * *
Saturday, October 9
Game 4

It was probably about 8AM when I woke up. I was too amped up to sleep that night, and I was too amped up to stand around at home before I headed out to Shea. I arrived at around 10:30.

I was meeting my friend, who had the tickets, at around 11:30.

So, stand and wait. It was unseasonably warm for early October. The banners outside the stadium, which all season had read the Mets slogan of "ARE YOU READY..." now triumphantly read "ARE YOU READY...FOR THE POSTSEASON!" Everything seemed a little more electric this late morning.

This was real.

My friend finally arrived, with a handful of extra tickets. How he managed to get so many, I'll never know. He had his ways. But he was intent on going around and selling off as many as he could. I wanted no part of it. I was going into the stadium.

Mezzanine Reserved, Section 12, Row K, Seat 20. That's where I was.

First look. D'Backs BP.

Nothing but a simple NLDS logo on the outfield fence. The bunting was up. I'm a big fan of bunting. John Madden said it best: "That's when you know it's a big game. When they get out the bunting, that means it's gotta be a big game."

The scoreboard tells me everything I need to know. Only 3 games today. This 1:10 start time would coincide with Game 4 of the Braves/Astros series, with the Braves looking to put away Houston in the Astrodome. What a matchup that would be, the Mets and the Braves in the NLCS. The bad blood that had been festering since late September was already beginning to brew.
Still, more important things to take care of before we can worry about Atlanta. The Diamondbacks are tough, and certainly won't go away easily. The crowd knows this, and as game time approaches, the crowds coming out of the Subway, back when you could still easily exit the subway, grew larger and larger.

And inside the stadium, it just got more and more electric. Keith and Mookie throw out the first pitches, and we're ready.
All season long, the Mets had used the intro to Pink Floyd's "Time" as their pregame entrance music. For the Postseason, they switched the song. The outro from The Beatles "A Day In The Life" built to its crescendo as the Mets take the field...

...giving way to Bruce Springsteen's "Rosalita," as Al Leiter warmed up. Leiter deservedly was given a hero's welcome, pitching for the first time since his sterling 2-hit shutout in the Wildcard Play-In game last Monday. He would be opposed by Brian Anderson for Arizona, in a somewhat controversial move by D'Backs manager Buck Showalter. The logic dictated that he should hold Randy Johnson back for a potential Game 5 in Arizona, on his normal rest. But trailing 2 games to 1, there's no guarantee that there will be a Game 5. Still, Showalter went with Anderson, a lefty, on this afternoon.

Todd Pratt still starts behind the plate. It's unknown to me, although they mention on ESPN that Mike Piazza's thumb has not improved. It's wrapped so heavily that it's unlikely he's able to even pinch hit should the case present itself. Little do we know the role Todd Pratt will play on this afternoon. What we know is that Tony Womack is stepping in to lead off, and begin what will be a most memorable day at Shea Stadium.

At 2-2 to Womack, the entire crowd, jammed to the rafters, is up and screaming. We're on every 2-strike pitch. Womack hits a screamer into left-center. Darryl Hamilton, in a rare start against the lefty, races back and runs it down.

Hamilton is in there based solely on a hunch Valentine has. He's in for defense behind Leiter, a fly-ball pitcher.

With 1 out, Jay Bell draws the walk. He's running on the 1-1 pitch to Luis Gonzalez, but Pratt's throw is right on the money, and Bell is thrown out. Gonzalez flies to center to end the inning. Off to a good start.

But Anderson will prove to be just as tough in the early going. Only an Olerud single in the first, and through the first 3 innings, that's it for either team in what has clearly started out as a pitchers duel. Leiter continues by setting down the D'Backs 1-2-3 in the top of the 4th.

But Edgardo Alfonzo leads off in the 4th and promptly hits one out, a long, high fly ball out into the left field bleachers. Fans are jumping off the walls as Fonzie rounds the bases, the conquering hero. It's his 3rd HR of the series, and the Mets have the lead, 1-0.

But the lead is short-lived. Still working on a no hitter, Leiter has one out in the 5th when Greg Colbrunn, the righty half of the D'Backs first base platoon, hits a shot even higher than Fonzie's, deep into left field, hooking towards the wall, and the D'Backs bullpen. Rickey gives chase, jumps at the wall, but it's gone. First hit, first run, and a 1-1 tie.

But after a single from Steve Finley, Leiter settles back down and retires the D'Backs. But Anderson continues to mow down the Mets in the 5th. In the 6th, Leiter hits Bell with 2 outs. But nothing comes of it, and the Mets bat in their half of the inning with the top of the order against Anderson.

Rickey leads off the inning by making Anderson completely nuts. After working the count to 2-2, Rickey begins swinging at everything Anderson throws, and Anderson simply refuses to give in to Rickey. Foul after foul after foul. Finally, on the 14th pitch of the at bat, Rickey punches a flare into right field for a hit. After Alfonzo pops out, Olerud follows by ripping a single in between Finley and Gonzalez, moving Rickey all the way to 3rd. Now we're talking.

Agbayani follows it up by smashing a long double off the wall in right center, scoring Rickey, and moving Olerud to 3rd with 1 out. Here's the ice-breaker, the rally we've been looking for all afternoon.

But the Mets can't cash in on the opportunity. Ventura grounds back to Anderson, and Pratt follows by grounding out himself. After all that, it's still just a 2-1 game.

But Leiter continues to be well in control. Through the 7th, nothing, and he appears poised to cruise through the 8th as well. With 2 outs and nobody on, he's cruising. But, uncharacteristically, Leiter walks the pinch hitter Turner Ward on 4 pitches. Womack follows that up by hitting a chopper towards Fonzie. Fonzie seems to have it, but all of a sudden drops it, and that split second's difference is enough to allow Womack to beat it out for an infield hit.

Still, seems no bother. But Leiter is done for the afternoon, and leaves to an ovation larger and louder than the one he received at the outset. Leiter tips his cap to all corners of the stadium as he exits. Benitez is coming in to face Jay Bell.

On ESPN, Ray Knight warns of Bell's power. "Jay Bell loooooooves the fastball, middle in!" he states.

And on the 2-1 pitch, that's exactly what Benitez throws. And Bell hammers it, deep, deep to left. And as the ball flies, the air is sucked out of Shea Stadium. It's off the wall. Melvin Mora, in the game for Rickey, has the ball bounce away from him, and not only does Ward score, but Womack flies in behind him. All of a sudden, the D'Backs, who had looked dead all afternoon, have stormed ahead 3-2.

Shell shock. I feel like crying. Total, out of nowhere sucker punch. Gonzalez is intentionally walked. Matt Williams follows by lining a sharp single through the hole and into left. The Meltdown continues. But this kid Mora charges up on the ball as Bell rounds third, and his throw home is strong, but slightly up the first base line. But Pratt manages to grab the ball and lunge back towards Bell. The tag is barely in time. Bell is out. The rally is stopped. The inning is over.

Funny how it's the guy you least expect making the key play. Mora's throw was huge.

The Twilight Zone is about to begin.

The D'Backs switch their defense around in the bottom of the 8th. For one, Womack moves from Shortstop to Right Field, out in the sunlight. Gregg Olson takes over on the mound, trying to bridge the gap to closer Matt Mantei. Alfonzo leads off, looking to atone for his momentary bobble. Fonzie fouls off a couple of close pitches, but works out the walk. With Olerud up, Showalter immediately summons his lefty, Greg Swindell.

I don't know if Olerud's time at bat was as long as it seemed. Sitting at Shea, it feels like Olerud is at bat for 10 minutes, working the count and fouling off Swindell's pitches. Perhaps Swindell was slow. Perhaps he kept throwing to first to keep Fonzie close. But Olerud keeps himself alive before swatting a long, deep drive out to right. Off the bat, it seems an easy play for Womack. But the ball keeps carrying further and further out to right, and Womack keeps drifting, and drifting after it. And for a split second it might be over his head...But no. Womack appears to settle under it...

...And it bounces out of his glove! He blew it! Finley scampers over in a dead panic, and fires back in, just barely able to hold Fonzie at 3rd and Olerud at 2nd. Just the break the Mets needed in this particular spot.

Cedeno follows, having entered the game as a defensive replacement for Agbayani. And Cedeno hits a long fly ball of his own, towards a similar spot. But this time, Finley will have none of Womack's staggering around. He takes charge from the start, and cuts in front of Womack to make the catch. But it's too deep for him to be able to throw out Alfonzo, Olerud takes 3rd, and once again, the game is tied, 3-3. I can breathe again. Which was good considering that things were only starting to get interesting.

Ventura would be walked intentionally, and following this, Showalter would make his most puzzling move of all. He brings in Mantei, his closer, into a tie game. Not only that, he double switches Mantei into the game, moving Lenny Harris to 3rd, and removing Matt Williams from the game. Williams, his best hitter and best fielder on the infield, had made the last out in the top of the 8th, and you would figure Showalter wouldn't pitch Mantei for more than 2 innings. So why make the switch when you would just as easily have hit for Mantei when his spot came up? Not that I was complaining; better to not have Matt Williams come up in a spot where he could beat us.

Pratt is up, with a chance to get that big hit. But he can't. On a 1-1 pitch, Pratt slaps a grounder right back at Mantei, who charges home and tags Olerud in a rundown. 2 outs.

Darryl Hamilton follows. On 1-1, it appears that Ventura has himself picked off second. But Arizona's catcher, Kelly Stinnett, has no idea where he's going with the ball. He charges out from behind the plate and double pumps twice before finally uncorking a wide throw to second, and Ventura is able to scamper back in safely, averting disaster. Hamilton will work the count full before hitting a slicing line drive down the left field line. It's hooking, but it looks like it might drop in...

...But it hooks just foul. Barely foul. Down the line, the crowd starts cheering as if it were fair, but Charlie Williams, the LF umpire made the foul call.

Cookie Rojas does not agree
. He shouts at Williams, and is immediately ejected. Rojas then flips out completely, charging at Williams before Valentine can come out to restrain him. Williams and Rojas continue shouting vehemently at each other. Valentine holds out his arms to restrain Rojas. But it's not enough. Williams nudges Rojas, and Rojas responds by shoving Williams in the chest. It will take a crowd of Valentine, Ventura and Mookie Wilson before Rojas is finally calmed down enough to return to the clubhouse.

In the booth, Berman and Knight argue over the call. Knight is adamant that the ball was fair, and that Williams had baited Rojas. Replays show that the ball was just barely foul, perhaps by an inch or two. Knight still isn't convinced.

Meanwhile, the Mets are in need of a 3rd base coach. In the chaos, Bobby Valentine takes over at 3rd. He begins by glaring directly at Mantei, as he finally resumes pitching to Hamilton.

"Oh by the way, it's Ball Four." is the call from Berman, as Mantei's pitch is wide.

Ordonez hits next, and Ordonez fouls off a few pitches himself before striking out to end the inning.

After all that, there's still more to be played? Man. I take a few deep breaths just to make sure I'm still alive.

Benitez resumes in the 9th and survives with no drama. 2 strikeouts, and the D'Backs are done. In the bottom of the 9th, Mantei remains in the game. He has to, now. He begins by facing Matt Franco, batting for Benitez. Franco will work out the walk to put the winning run aboard. Melvin Mora is next, and as he would make a habit of doing over these few weeks, he does the little thing. His bunt is perfectly placed between Mantei and Bell, and with no chance to get Franco at second, his sacrifice is successful. And so it's down to Fonzie, and we're all convinced that Fonzie, who has carried the Mets through this recent stretch, come up with every clutch hit and driven in every big run, will deliver the hit here to win the game, and win the series.

But he doesn't. He pops out. And after Olerud is intentionally walked. Cedeno grounds into the fielders choice to send an already crazy game into extra innings.

"Gosh, I love this game!" Knight yells in the booth.

In the 10th, John Franco comes on for the Mets. He strikes out Stinnett. Harris follows by hitting a high chopper between the mound and first base. Alfonzo charges in, but it's Franco leaping off the mound to glove the ball and make the toss to first. Womack grounds out.

Mantei, whose spot still hasn't come up in the batting order, is still on in the 10th. But as a closer who has already thrown 35 pitches, one has to wonder how much he's got left in the tank. Ventura helps him out by swinging at the first pitch and popping out to Womack. Pratt is next, and Mantei's first pitch is a curveball of the 55 foot variety, bouncing into the seats.

* * *

There are certain events where you think back and wonder where you were, and what you were doing at that particular moment. What went through your mind?
As the ball left Todd Pratt's bat, I could see it was hit well. For some reason, I took that moment to reach for my camera. I watched Finley go to the wall and jump. I saw him come down. What happened after that, I'm not quite sure. As the crowd at Shea erupted, I snapped pictures. I remember thinking distinctly to myself "Did I really just see that? Did he really just do that?"

Oh, that's hit well to Center Field! Finley goes back...back...back...(cheers) IT'S OVER! IT'S OVER! TODD PRATT! ONE OF THE MOST UNLIKELY HEROES HAS HIT IT TO DEAD CENTER FIELD! THE METS HAVE WON IT IN 10, 4 TO 3!

Chaos erupts on the field. Mets are jumping all over the place. Rey Ordonez and Luis Lopez run clear across the infield, ready to jump Pratt as he comes around 3rd base. Diamondbacks players are glumly walking off the field. Security personnel are running all over the place. Mounted police line the outfield. Fireworks begin booming beyond the center field wall. And the familiar refrain of L.A. Woman is blasting throughout the stadium.

Mantei's 1-0. And a high fly ball, deep to center field! Back goes Finley, going back! Warning track, at the wall! Jumping! Aaaaaaaaaaaaand...IT'S OUTTA HERE! IT'S OUTTA HERE! PRATT HIT IT OVER THE FENCE! FINLEY JUMPED AND HE MISSED IT! THE METS WIN THE BALLGAME!

-Gary Cohen

The scoreboard reads in big, block letters, CONGRATULATIONS NEW YORK METS ON ADVANCING TO THE NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES!!! And just above that, we see that in Houston, the Braves have wrapped up their series with the Astros. After taking a 7-0 lead, the Braves are able to hold off a fierce late rally and win the game 7-5.
On ESPN, a closeup of Pratt reveals him to be totally awestruck. He can barely describe his feelings in a brief interview, only stating that he was sitting dead red, that he thought Finley had caught the ball, and "We're going to play the Braves!"
Bobby Valentine puts it more succinctly. "Character. It's all about Character (points to Leiter) This here's a character, with character...(tips his cap) Todd Pratt! Todd Pratt! Mike Piazza will be back, but so will Todd Pratt!"

Replays showed that Finley just about had it. But when he jumped for the ball, it appeared that his glove hit the wall, impeding his jump. Had his glove not hit the wall, he might have come down with it. But his glove hit the wall, and the ball just grazed his glove before he landed, looked down, and slumped against the wall; the picture telling the entire story.
For Pratt, it's sweet. Triumph after so many years toiling in the minors, being out of the game, and barely being noticed as little more than Mike Piazza's backup. For John Franco, it's even sweeter. Already having waited so long just to reach the postseason, he picks up his first postseason victory. For the fans, who had stuck by the team and waited so long, it's vindication. Nobody seems to want to leave. PA announcer Roger Luce (who had taken over for Del Demontreux, who had recently been felled by a stroke) announces triumphantly that "The next Mets Home Game will be Game 3 of the National League Championship Series!"

With that, the bile, and the pent up hatred towards the Dixieland Braves begins to pour out. Coming down the ramps, the mock tomahawk chops, and the chants of "LARRY SUCKS!" begin to echo throughout the stadium.

The Braves seem to be biting their tongues. Interviews on ESPN show them to reveal very little. The Mets will hold nothing back. After the indignities they suffered at the end of the regular season, there's no love lost. That's mainly because there was no love to begin with between these two teams.

It's fucking on.

Final Score
Mets - 4
Diamondbacks - 3
(10 Innings)
Mets win series, 3-1

* * *

Did you like what you read? If so, the entire "20 Days In October" series can be read here.