Saturday, May 2, 2009

Reversal of Fortunes

The Mets put forth one of their more inspired, energetic efforts in beating up on Chan Ho Park and the Phillies last night, and it was a departure from the kind of game that the Mets had been playing, both in general for 2009, and against the Phillies in past years.

I'm echoing the sentiments of Jason over at Faith and Fear, among other things, but last night was the kind of game that the Mets usually ended up losing to the Phillies last year, no matter where they were playing. Or the Phillies ended up making it much more close than it needed to be. Last year, the Mets would have charged out to the 5-0 lead, the Phillies would have chipped away to 5-3, the Mets might have extended to 6-3, then the bullpen would take over in the 6th, Chris Coste would have scored on Reyes' errant throw, Shane Victorino would have hit a 2-run single, Utley would have hit a 2-run homer, and then the Phillies would have won in the bottom of the 9th on a 2-out walk, a 60-foot single and another hit that was dunked inside a foul line, and then Shane Victorino would have yelled and squealed and run around waving his Homer Hankie. Sort of like any one of these three games from last season.

But Noooooooo! It didn't quite turn out that way this time. Rather than the Mets throwing the ball away, it was the Phillies who screwed it up, running themselves out of the 6th inning while the Mets made a trio of very scary looking throws around the infield. But when Reyes bobbled Rollins' grounder and fired in the relative direction of Wright, I'm sure all of us were having acid flashbacks of every stupid game in that ballpark where the Mets charged out to a big lead and the Phillies chipped away and came back. And the Phillies certainly had their opportunities in to make it close, but for the most part it was a trio of sterling efforts from Pedro Feliciano, J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez that did what they were supposed to do, and squash the Phillies right where they were. Utley homered off Feliciano in the 7th, but other than that, it was Goodnight, Sweetheart.

What a difference. The Mets actually being able to go into Philadelphia, get a lead and hang onto it through the late innings. What a novel idea!

I'd have to imagine the Mets were also helped, both by the sight of their primary nemesis, but also just getting out of New York for a while, away from the negativity from the press and the fans, and just go out and play their game. It seems like a trend that the Mets have been a very solid road team over the past few years, and I think it has a lot to do with the chemistry within the team. No, I'm not in the clubhouse, and all I can do is formulate a cockamamie theory based on the way the team plays, but I've never felt that chemistry was a problem with this particular group. Sealing the deal has been an issue, but not chemistry. And I think this manifests itself particularly when they go on the road. The team looked loose and relaxed, they're playing in a ballpark where the ball flies out instead of getting swallowed up in the outfield, Murphy bangs out a 2-run HR in the top of the 1st and by the 3rd inning it's 5-0, and we're on our way. True, one win doesn't fix all the problems. The Mets didn't score after the 5th inning, which is a problem they continue to have, that of adding on late in the game. But when the guys in the back end of the bullpen can come in and be counted on to get the necessary outs to stop the other team, that particular pressure won't be there anymore. Last year, the Mets offense was clearly pressured to continue to add on because you had no idea how the bullpen would be able to manage the final few innings. But I think we're going to find that, more often than not, this Feliciano/Parnell/Green to Putz to Rodriguez lineup is going to not only do their job, but relax the guys on the offense. They haven't had much of a chance to do it yet this year, but these things have a tendency to turn, and when the Mets can go into Philadelphia and win against the Phillies using this particular formula, it's a start. There's a lot more to do, but it's a start.

Of course, Oliver Perez could go out there today (in the Biggest Game in the Nation) and screw all of this up with another bad outing. We'll see.

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