Thursday, May 28, 2009

Upon Further Review...

After a couple of frustrating losses early on, I think I have settled into a nice Citi Field M.O. of bizarre things happening just about every time I go to a game. At least the Mets end up winning in the end. Last night was true to that form.

For my 5th trip to Citi Field, I drew the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night, the final game of a 3 game series in which the Mets were going for the sweep with Johan Santana on the mound. I try not to get too presumptuous about these things before I even get to the stadium, but given the nature of the Nationals and given the record of the Mets starter, I had to feel optimistic. El Guapo seemed optimistic as well.

We should have known better.

It's become the new tradition at Citi Field to enter through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, as I'd mentioned, simply for ease. There's an awful lot of people that go in that way, but there's also plenty of places to pick up a program, and generally, we make our way down the 3rd base side and go up the escalator. It's a fine trip upstairs, but I still think there really needs to be another escalator, perhaps closer to Home Plate. One that lands in the Promenade right around section 518 would be great.

Nonetheless, we went up, spent a good 15 minutes wandering around wondering what to eat, I ended up spending another 10 minutes waiting for Sausage and Peppers because the guys at the stand had no concept of taking the orders of the people standing on line, and away we went.

Things started off fairly normal. We sat down and looked at the Mets lineup. "I think calling this a makeshift lineup would be kind," El Guapo mused. I looked at the Nationals lineup and said something similar. El Guapo pointed out that most of the Nationals lineup was comprised of their regular players. Such is the sign of a last-place team.

Santana struck out the side in the 1st, around an infield single by Nick Johnson that featured a great up-the-middle dive by Ramon Martinez and a not-so-great missed scoop on a low throw by Daniel Murphy. Murphy would redeem himself later on, but when Sheffield cracked a 2-run double in the bottom of the 1st, things seemed well on their way. The Mets pushed across another run in the 3rd on a seeing-eye single from Murphy (this followed a particularly interesting play in which Castillo attempted a sacrifice bunt and reached first when the Nationals failed to cover 1st Base). Santana appeared to be cruising. He wasn't 100% sharp, but there was no indication that he wasn't on the way to yet another virtuoso performance. We could just sit back and enjoy the ride, and probably be out of here by 9:30.

Then came the 4th inning.

Even the best pitchers have off days, and Johan Santana is no exception. But I don't know that Santana particularly had an off day last night as opposed to just having an off inning. In the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th, he had guys on base, and he was running some deep counts, but he was basically finishing guys off either by striking them out or getting them to make some paltry contact. In the 4th, none of this seemed to work. I don't know whether or not it was the weather (a heavy fog seemed to be creeping in), the wind (it was windy and fairly cold, in fact I think it's safe to say I was colder last night than I was on Opening Day) or whatever, but that top of the 4th inning just slowed the game down to a crawl. Santana was missing, Nationals weren't swinging, Adam Dunn hit a HR clear to the bridge, Santana was walking guys, all of a sudden he's walking the pitcher and the bases are loaded...And he walks in a run! Now, the game is tied, Santana looks completely befuddled, and people are beginning to clear out of my section in droves. Santana gets the 3rd out and mercifully ends this madness. It had gotten to the point where nobody was quite sure if he could make it out of the inning.

Sometime around the 5th, a young-ish girl, probably in her mid 20s, who was sitting somewhere in the middle of my section, with two other girls about the same age, maybe 8 or so rows down, bolts up and starts down the stairs. Near the bottom, she took a header and landed on her ass. I didn't really notice it until El Guapo told me. According to him, she was fairly drunk. This was in said pocket of the section that seemed to have cleared out rather quickly. All of a sudden, a number of security people came up to the section and started looking around. I figured that someone was going to get thrown out, but there was nobody around to get thrown out. Everyone had left. One of the security guys was yelling about an unattended jacket. I didn't pay it much mind.

Sometime around the 6th, El Guapo went downstairs for a beer. When he returned, he told me why Alcohol Control and security were walking around the section. Turns out the 3 girls were not only completely drunk, but had apparently vomited all over the place before running downstairs.

Right around this time, Daniel Murphy was batting with Sheffield on 1st and hit a towering smash to right, that looked to be headed for the Pepsi Porch until it clanged off the Subway sign and bounced down. Clearly, a Home Run from where I was sitting, and just about everyone else seemed to think so as well. Which is why it was kind of surprising when, after things slowed down, Murphy and Sheffield were still running, and Sheffield was making a horrible dive for Home Plate and getting tagged out. Wait a second...Wait a second! We gotta see that one again. We've seen the replay a bazillion times by now, but it seemed pretty clear to me that the ball hit the Subway sign. El Guapo was telling me about the vomit covered seats as this happened, so he didn't quite see it. Manuel came out to argue, the Umpires gathered in the middle of the field and then ran off to review the play. It seemed like a foregone conclusion to me that the call would be reversed. I don't see how it couldn't be.

So, we stood around. El Guapo and I talked about how it was possible for those girls to get as drunk as they did by the 5th inning. Couldn't be beer alone. Unless they were excessive lightweights. El Guapo's guess was that they were hanging out at the bar in the Promenade Club before stumbling up to the seats and getting sick. By this time, the cleaning crew had come in with a variety of mops and brooms and cleaned up the mess.

The umpires returned with their verdict, a Home Run, to the delight of everyone, or at least everyone on or rooting for the Mets.

The oddities continued for the Mets. Ramon Castro followed Murphy hitting a shot that tailed down the left field line. It kept hooking down into the corner, down into that sliver of the Left Field line that I can't see. Both the ball and Josh Willingham disappeared from view. Everyone goes silent for that split second. I figured either the ball is caught, or it's foul. Turns out Willingham ended up overunning the ball and crashing into the corner as the ball landed...fair. Castro is on 2nd for Fernando Martinez.

Martinez, to this point, clearly looked like he wasn't ready for the Majors. He's been anxious and raw at the plate, and obviously needs a full season in AAA to get himself more prepared. You can't be too hard on him. He's only 20. On the 3-1 pitch, we all know what happened. Martinez hits a high popup on the infield. It was sort of tricky, and it looked like Zimmerman and Wil Nieves had some confusion. Sure enough, it clanks off of Nieves' chest and lands on the ground. Problem was, Martinez had vapor-locked at Home Plate and didn't run. He was easily thrown out at 1st and was subsequently booed off the field, and then back onto the field the following inning.

While such a lack of hustle is inexcusable, and while the culture of the Media instinctually would like to run the kid out of town and blame the attitude of the rest of the team, let's be somewhat reasonable. This kid has looked totally starstruck for two games. He's not ready and, clearly, he's a bit overwhelmed. The kid vapor-locked. It happens. Leave him alone, leave everyone else alone. You don't make the same stupid mistake twice and I'd like to think that he won't. Yes, we'll remember it, but let's not crush his spirit before he's even got his feet wet. If he does it again, then we can let him have it. Then, Manuel can sit him down and let him think about it. But the whole point of him even getting called up was that he was going to come here and play, so why then go completely against that now?

The game continued to move along at a snail's pace. Santana managed to grit his way through 6 innings, and then departed. With a fresh bullpen after Livan's complete game of Tuesday night, Manuel was going to trot out just about everyone in this game, and it seems like he did. Parnell came in for the 7th and sandwiched a Nick Johnson single between a pair of strikeouts. Feliciano came in and struck out Dunn to end the inning, on a filthy selection of pitches.

Murphy hit a 2-run double in the last of the 7th, driving in his 4th and 5th runs of the night, capping a game in which he looked vastly better than he has in weeks, picking up the slack for David Wright, who got into his bad "swing for the fences" habit and responded with his 1st career 4-strikeout game. The 7 runs the Mets scored for Santana tonight were probably more than they've scored for him in his previous 3 starts combined, which has to be good for his morale. Putz and Rodriguez got through the 8th and 9th, and the Mets finished off a nice, long, drawn-out and somewhat sloppy 3 hour and 21 minute victory.

The evening was capped off by walking down to the lone ramp down the Left Field line and followed by an argument over how good the ramp actually was. I think the ramp is great, and much preferred to the myriad staircases going down. El Guapo felt the ramps weren't steep enough and the back and forth repetitveness was annoying. I felt it was no worse than walking down flight after flight of stairs, risking either falling or getting fallen into by someone else. Plus, it reminds me of the good old days at Shea.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Completist

If you were taking bets as to who the first Met Pitcher to throw a complete game this year would be, you probably wouldn't have had many taking Livan Hernandez.

So, of course, he's the first one.

It helps when you're facing a mostly punchless Washington National lineup, but you still have to go out there and pitch your game, and Livan certainly did that last night over his 127 pitch effort. The Mets offense predictably sputtered over the early part of the game. With the Mets already-run-starved bats now missing Carlos Beltran in addition to everyone else, the Mets could be expected to struggle. It was up to some of the lesser-known guys to step up and pick up the slack. David Wright couldn't be expected to do it all alone. They did generate a few early runs, thanks to some 2-out hits from Santos and Ramon Martinez, and in the 3rd got a couple more home thanks to Fernando Martinez's speed earning him his first Major League RBI via a Fielder's Choice.

But it was Livan who really picked up the slack, not only making those early runs stand up, but keeping the Nationals for the most part off the scoreboard. He gave up plenty of hits, which was to be expected, but he minimized damage and kept the runs off the board. The middle part of the game was sort of a blur, at least until Sheffield's HR in the 7th put the game away. With the outcome in little doubt by this point, the only thing left to see was whether or not Livan could finish off the game, which he did without much contest. In fact, there wasn't even anyone throwing in the bullpen, even as Livan worked in the 9th. So, given the opportunity, finish the game he did.

I wonder what this says to some of the other guys in the Mets rotation. "Gee, if this old guy can get out there and throw a complete game, why can't I?" Bet that's what's flashing through Johan Santana's head tonight as he takes the mound. Rain or no rain, I'll be there tonight as well.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

And The Future Arrives Yet Again...

Word on WFAN just came over that both Ryan Church and Jose Reyes have gone on the DL, with Fernando Martinez getting called up and Wilson Valdez being acquired from the Cleveland Indians.

Martinez, as reported on Francesa, will be starting in Right Field tonight. We haven't made much mention here about Martinez, but it's always exciting when someone the franchise has hyped up for a few years finally makes his way to the Majors.

As far as Church goes, who this morning was purportedly saying he was ready to play, this is just another indignity. It's starting to look more and more like he's just not going to be here much longer.

If nothing else, it means that the Mets won't have any more empty spots on their bench, which is helpful. Valdez is the archetypical good glove/no stick middle infielder, and likely isn't even going to supplant Ramon Martinez on a regular basis, and will be gone when Reyes and Cora return, whoever is back first. Fernando, on the other hand, may simply be here for a cup of coffee for now, though the speculation I assume would be that if he ascends and does well, he's probably pushing Church out the door and taking over in the Outfield.

We'll see...

(Note—They also just reported that Beltran is out until Friday, which helps the Mets lineup out even more. Jeremy Reed takes his place in CF for the interim. So much for those empty bench spots.)

Dangerous Game

The Mets went 5-5 on their last Road Trip, something that most fans seem to consider a hearty accomplishment considering all the injuries they've been experiencing. This is, perhaps. true, but if you consider that had the Mets hit at all after their 3rd game in San Francisco, they likely could have gone 9-1 on the trip. Examine:

Monday, the Mets lose to the Dodgers 3-2 in an 11 inning game noticed more for the 5 errors they committed than the 11 hits that generated only 2 runs. Ryan Church's baserunning gaffe gets most of the blame.

Tuesday, the Mets lose 5-3 in LA, mustering only 6 hits. They nurse a lead into the middle innings before the Dodgers rally against Maine. Once behind, the Mets manage only to hit into double plays.

Wednesday, the Mets lose 2-1 in LA, on 7 hits. Once again, the Mets can get guys on, and then only seem to be able to hit into a bunch of Double Plays. Their pitching keeps the game tied, Livan Hernandez has perhaps his best outing of the season, but LA wins on a few singles in the 8th.

That brought us to Boston. My initial feeling was that the Mets would go in and the Red Sox would feed them their lunch. Friday was, in my opinion, their best chance to do anything, with Santana on the mound. With Reyes back on the shelf, and the lower part of the lineup being littered with names like Ramon E. Martinez, I wasn't hopeful. But the Mets came out and basically dinked and dunked Matsuzaka to death in the 5th inning, making him throw too many pitches and eventually giving themselves enough of a lead that the game was safe in the hands of Santana, Putz and Rodriguez, and enough of a lead that it didn't matter that the Mets once again played one of their idiot games, making 3 errors and doing everything possible to keep the Red Sox in the game. An ugly victory, no doubt, that was predicated on some luck, just as much as it was the skill of Santana.

Saturday, the Mets managed to luck out again, in a game that played out somewhat similar to the final game in LA and that appeared to be just as frustrating for the Mets. After the first inning, Pelfrey and Beckett went to work setting down just about everyone in sight over the next 7 innings. For Pelfrey, who continues to improve despite not getting any recognition, it was another solid outing that would be forgotten by game's end. For the Mets in general, it was shaping up like a forgettable game. Against the backdrop of a major Arts Festival, I was in my office with a radio, fading in and out of the game in bits and pieces. As the 9th inning began, I left my office. Of course, I missed all the excitement. It was not quite 5 minutes later when the text messages started pouring in about Santos' HR, which sparked not only controversy, but for the Mets, victory. Once again, the Mets pulled out a game they appeared destined to lose, based on the skill of their pitching and a little luck on offense.

Sunday, the Mets once again managed to eke out their daily quota of 5 (and no more than 5) runs in their attempt to sweep, but their pitching, which had been the primary reason they'd been in all of these games in the first place, had what was for them their first and basically only bad game of the road trip. Redding got a lead and couldn't hold it, Green and Takahashi got the Mets behind, and Stokes got banged around in a 12-5 rout that basically gave you a very frightening look at what the Mets are looking at on days they don't pitch.

The pitching staff has been leading the way for the Mets, whether anyone wants to realize it or not. But if they continue to get such poor support, how long will the team be able to last? Will the pitchers be able to hold up, or will they leave the offense out to dry? It's a scary proposition the Mets are playing right now, as Reyes continues to languish on the Bench with a supposed "Day to Day" injury, Delgado is on the shelf and their replacements and the people around them can only generate sporadic offensive outbursts. The Mets haven't scored more than 5 runs in a game since the 3rd game in San Francisco, and one of those instances wasn't enough to get them a victory. Last night, again, the magic number was 5 runs. Maine was up to the task, but the latter part of the game seemed to drag on forever as the Mets bullpen continually got into and out of jams, and the offense continued to leave men on base. I feel somewhat nervous about the Mets chances with this lineup. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fell On Black Days

The Mets managed to follow up Monday's embarrassing performance with a pair of performances that weren't embarrassing, just uninspiring.

It's getting a little disturbing. I know teams run hot and cold and the Mets have seemed to do this sort of thing already this season, but now, it's coming with a mounting rash of injuries to major players. You could scoot by in San Francisco with some bad defense and middling pitching performances because you can outhit them no matter who's in your lineup. The Dodgers are a different story. Before the season, I wrote that the Dodgers would hit and not pitch. Well, I got it backwards. They pitch, but they can't hit. Basically, the Mets got swept by a lineup that, without Manny Ramirez to hit HRs, is basically a bunch of singles hitters that will occasionally burn you with a longball. The Mets beat themselves on Monday, got beat by that odd longball on Tuesday and just couldn't scratch out a second run on Wednesday. Three games that they could have very easily won, and the Mets lost all three of them.

It's eerily reminiscent of this road trip the Mets took two years ago, back when they were that First-Place team going through a minor rough patch. The difference, I suppose, is that when the Mets got swept then, they looked kind of like they weren't really trying. They're trying now, I suppose. But they're woefully outmanned. This isn't a team that's going to be able to get by without Reyes in the lineup. They were barely getting by without Delgado. They can skate by a lousy team, but the Red Sox are going to feed them their lunch this weekend unless someone proves themselves capable of getting a hit with men on base. Ramon Martinez was a stopgap filler who happened to catch lightning in a bottle for a couple of days at the very end of last season. Right now, he's what, 0 for 10 since being recalled? He's a smart, heady ballplayer, but he's not, nor will he ever be a suitable replacement for anyone in this lineup on a consistent basis. But Manuel backed himself into a corner last night and had to use him lest the Mets tie the game and end up having to use Gary Sheffield at Shortstop.

So, basically, the Mets can't hit, they can barely field, two of their major lineup cogs are injured, their key bench player is also injured, and they're starting actual journeymen at two positions. There's only two guys hitting consistently in the lineup and they stick out so badly that you could conceivably intentionally walk both of them 4 times a game and then let whoever hits 5th ground into a double play.

Again, who knows? Reyes could be back on Friday. The Mets pitching could hold the line. Maybe Tatis has a hot streak in him? Maybe this Murphy at 1B experiment will work out (looked promising last night, at least). But the Mets happen to have the poor fortune of playing the two best Home teams in their ballparks, back to back. They're already 0-3, and they appear to be dangerously close to falling into the abyss of 0-6.

Johan needs to save our hide on Friday.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Here, Have This Game, We Don't Want It.

I think that, instead of sitting down and trying to make some sort of explanation for why his team played like a group of morons for close to 4 hours late last night, Jerry Manuel probably should have sat down for his postgame press conference and said only one thing:

"You're welcome, Joe."

Then, he should have got up and walked away. That's all that needs to be said after the Mets quite literally handed the game to the Dodgers.

I've made some brief references to the fact that the Mets have this rather annoying habit of playing like complete idiots every so often (this particularly seems to come in the last few weeks of the season), but last night, they took this problem to a startling new height.

It's fortunate, I suppose, that this was an extra-inning game on the West Coast. At least most Mets fans were spared the misery of actually watching (or listening) to this disaster unfold. I had the poor fortune of listening to the game on the radio, and you could see this ending coming a mile away. As soon as Ryan Church got called out for missing 3rd base, in a move that has to be considered vapor-lock of the highest and most inexcusable order, you knew that this game was done, the Mets were fucked, and it was only a matter of time before the Dodgers pushed across the winning run. At least they made it quick.

It's one thing to say that the Mets are banged up. And missing a pair of key players and their top sub from their starting lineup doesn't help. But, simply abandoning the fundamentals of baseball just makes matters worse. I'm not sure who, exactly made the 5 errors that occurred in last night's game. I know that Beltran got one because Pagan stupidly didn't pull up on a fly ball, and another one went to Jeremy Reed for his inability to simply throw a strike home to Castro. But nothing is an excuse for Ryan Church, who I figured to be a key player for the Mets this season. The Mets, as an organization, seem to have an unwritten MO with their players: If they like you, they'll hype you to death. But if they don't like you, they will bury you, and take every opportunity to do so. I don't know how or why, but Church is headed down that path. He didn't help himself by slumping after a quick start, but rather than let him work out his problems, Church got pushed into a 5-man shuffle. But nothing is an excuse for missing 3rd base in the 11th inning, when your run means taking the lead. I'd guess he's getting taken to task for it today, and, let's face it, he deserves it.

This game was so disgusting to listen to, I couldn't even fall asleep afterwards. Howie Rose said it best after the game, while doing a commercial for Wendy's. "If you still have an appetite after this game." That about sums it all up. What the hell kind of team is this, that can look brilliant for a week and beat the tar out of the Giants, then go out there and play like a bad reincarnation of the '62 Mets? Where do they go from here?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Yipped Sweep

For the past couple of weeks now, the Mets have probably been playing as good ball as they've played in about two seasons. This past weekend in San Francisco, they continued down this particular road, even when they lost and in a few instances looked particularly bad.

What has helped, more than anything else, has been the offense. Playing mostly shorthanded for a while now with Delgado ailing, and even more shorthanded with Reyes missing the entire weekend with a calf injury, the offense still managed to generate runs. Particularly, the culprit here has been David Wright, who stopped swinging for the fences and started to go with pitches and hit line drives, sort of like the David Wright we were used to seeing. It's been an awful lot of overreaction after his slow start that's made it seem worse, but it was more or less a foregone conclusion that he would adjust and start to hit, and this past weekend, he certainly did that.

Wright and Beltran lead the way, but everyone seems to be chipping in as necessary. Friday night, after the Mets went down 5-1 to Tim Lincecum, most Mets fans might have, and perhaps did, shut the game off completely. I was out for the evening and basically caught glimpses between 4-1 and 5-1 in the early going, and figured the game was toast. I tuned it out until I put on WFAN much later in the evening and was surprised to find that not only was the game still going on, but the Mets had an 8-6 lead! How the hell did that happen? Last month, the Mets would have lay down and died with that sort of a deficit and we'd be writing about how Livan sucks and the team can't show any signs of life when they fall behind. Well, not anymore. Now, it's just a matter of when are they going to start pinging hits all over the place, score a few runs and get back in the game. It's much better to look at your team that way.

Saturday seemed more of the same. Johan pitched what was for him a poor game (For Livan, this is an outstanding effort), though in all reality you can't expect him to go 7 innings and give up 2 runs every time out. These games will happen, and it's all a matter of how his team responds behind him, and his team responded by lighting up Randy Johnson like a Christmas tree for 7 runs in 5 innings, and held off a late rally to win their 3rd game in a row going away.

By Sunday night, you had to feel pretty confident in the Mets ability to sweep the 4-game series. Pelfrey was coming off a great outing his last time out and the offense was clicking. So, of course, the Mets had one of those idiot games where they start hitting into double plays and leaving runners on base. It started early with Cora in the 1st getting stranded on 3rd, was followed by the Jeremy Reed DP, and by the end of the night, a Mets team that was more or less patched together had finally fallen to the Giants. Not that it was a massacre, despite the fact that Pelfrey's case of the "Yips" led him to commit an unfathomable 3 balks (last pitcher to accomplish this was Al Leiter in 1994, the last Met pitcher to do so was Don Rowe, way back in 1963). Despite all this, the Mets were in the game to the end because Pelfrey was able to overcome himself and get out of some jams, keeping the game at 2-0. It's unfortunate that this all unfolded on The Biggest Game In The Galaxy on Sunday night, because the happy-talking trio, particularly Steve Phillips, seem to just love to dump on the Mets and figure out how terrible they are and what they should do to fix it. I didn't watch the game, but I've heard the talk. Trade Carlos Beltran? Give me a break.

So, from San Francisco, the Mets head down the coast to La-La Land where they get to face off with the Sad Dodgers and their best record in the Majors. Another week of late-night starts. I'll be up.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Late Scores from the West Coast

Sometimes these West Coast games are a blur for a lot of us. Many don't even bother to stay up late enough to find out the outcome. I stay up, but listen on the radio, and often my attention drifts so that I'm only listening with half, or in last night's case, a quarter of an ear. The game is sort of some background noise to whatever else I might be doing.

I remember the first inning because it seemed like John Maine was about 2 more pitches away from unraveling into Scott Erickson. The Giants were just sort of pinging him to death, and there were some Wild Pitches mixed in there. By the end of the inning, I thought the Giants had only scored one run, but apparently they had two.

I seem to have a vague memory of the Mets tying the game later on. By time my attention drifted back to the game, I was under the impression that it was 2-2, and was kind of surprised to hear that it was actually 4-2 Mets.

This was, of course, just in time for Bobby Parnell to get himself into all sorts of trouble in the bottom of the 8th. With Putz unavailable, Maine was clearly pushed into starting the 7th, which you have to consider a moral victory considering how poorly he started out. But there were a couple of hits, or maybe a walk, I can't quite recall (again, drifting attention), and the Giants had a run home with the tying run on 3rd. But Howie Rose wouldn't tell me how many outs there were. All I knew was that Rich Aurilia was batting. Parnell struck him out, and by the tone of Rose's voice, you would have thought the inning was over. But it wasn't. And Edgar Renteria slapped one of those annoying infield singles to tie the game.

So, the Mets just went out and won the game again in the 9th, doing it in a manner similar to their 9th inning on Tuesday. Beltran doubled, stole 3rd and scored on a Wright single. Meanwhile, the Mets were just running all over the place against Bengie Molina. I thought he was better at throwing runners out than this? The Mets had already stolen 4 bases, 3 by David Wright, by time the 9th inning rolled around, and they swiped 3 more in the 9th. Not surprisingly, all 3 runners scored, providing the difference by game's end.

The game finished up just around 1am Eastern time, so most sane people were probably long asleep. Not me. And I'm suffering the consequences of that this morning. Nonetheless, I've done it before and I'm sure I'll do it again. It's easier to get away with it on a Friday night.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Instant Classic

I'm a day late with this one, so please forgive me, but considering that Wednesday's game ended in a rather annoying and typically Metsian fashion and I was in attendance for Tuesday's scintillating affair, I'm going to write about that game instead of yesterday's.

Earlier in the week, I talked about how this was the 2nd year in a row I went to a Mets/Braves game that featured a Mike Pelfrey/Jair Jurrjens pitching matchup. Last year, the game didn't turn out so well and it took its toll on me in a rather frightening manner. And for about 8 innings on Tuesday night, it looked like things were heading down a similar path.

Things started off well enough, I'd say. Pelfrey came out throwing darts. He didn't have that great bowling ball sinker working, so he wasn't getting so many ground balls, but he started off by striking out the first two batters after not striking out anyone in his last 2 starts. After a couple of not-so-sharp outings and then a pair of decent ones, this was the first time this season where Pelfrey looked like the Pelfrey of June-July-August of last season. He was popping every pitch where he wanted it, being economical, not overpowering, but getting every out when he needed to.

Unfortunately, his defense failed to cooperate in the 4th inning.

It seems to be a frustrating pattern that the Mets have fallen into, that they somehow manage to blow routine plays at the most inopportune moments. This time, it was Garrett Anderson's popup, that fell into a Bermuda triangle between Reyes, Cora and Beltran. The play was probably Beltran's. But he was playing rather deep, which was strange because Anderson doesn't really have that kind of pop anymore, and the result was that instead of Atlanta having 1 on and 2 out, they had 2 on and 1 out, and one out later, it was another sinking liner by Casey Kotchman that Beltran dove for and was only able to trap that allowed the Braves to score the 1st run of the game.

On the other side, Jair Jurrjens was basically shutting the Mets down completely. He wasn't totally dominant, but he was pretty damn good, and the Mets helped him out an awful lot with some pretty putrid baserunning. Wright got thrown out on a close play while stealing 2nd in the 2nd inning. In the 4th, Alex Cora for some bizarre reason decided to hold up between 1st and 2nd on Daniel Murphy's single to left and got thrown out for a rally-killing fielder's choice. In the 7th, Wright tripled and was tagging up when Fernando Tatis swung at a sucker pitch from Jurrjens and hit a shallow fly to Left. Wright was thrown out with relative ease at the plate. But for the most part, it was Jurrjens just looking sharp and getting people out by any means necessary. Atlanta scored again in the 6th and added a tack-on run off of Putz in the 8th, and the way I saw it, the game was toast. This was going to be another one of those "Why did I bother coming to this game?" games where I start to feel nauseous and end up going into some sort of Panic Attack on the train going home. To that point, the most memorable things about the game were the killer Sausage and Peppers sandwich I ate before the game started, and the streaker that ran onto the field in the 5th and slid into 2nd base. That was it for excitement on this particular night.

But something funny happened in the 8th: The Mets woke up.

I had been saying most of the latter part of the game that the only way the Mets were going to come back is if they could get Jurrjens out of the game. He was making the Mets look silly. But, quietly, Jeremy Reed led off the 8th with a single, and one out later Ryan Church snuck one just barely in front of Garret Anderson for another hit, and now the tying run was at the plate in Jose Reyes. I figured Reyes was going to be swinging out of his shoes in this particular spot. He wasn't going to hit one out. The wind was blowing in, and relatively hard. But he surprised me by hitting a ball in the gap in left field that kept carrying and carrying and eventually fell in by the Warning track. Finally, some life! Reed and Church both scored, but Reyes managed to screw up the goodwill he'd just created by stupidly keeping his jets running around 2nd, and was thrown out at 3rd by half a mile. Ugh! I went on a small tirade about Reyes after that. We all love Reyes, he's a great player, but, man, sometimes he's such a moron. The play was in front of him, at least pick up the ball or a coach or something, don't just blindly run into the tag. Reyes got booed off the field, and after an idiot move like that, he probably deserved it. The upshot of it was that Jurrjens was finally out of the game, now with a 3-2 lead.

Rodriguez came on for the 9th and got through with relative ease. Mike Gonzalez came on for Atlanta. I mused as to whether or not he was actually any good. My friend answered that he was good, just erratic. And you never knew which one would show up. Fortunately, it was the erratic one on this night. Beltran led off, and lately he's inspired enough confidence that you knew he was going to do something. And do something he did, leading off with a double. Wright, who still looks screwed up at the plate, popped out. With Beltran on 2nd and now 1 out, I was pretty sure he was going to try to steal 3rd. I mentioned it to my friend. Gonzalez and Kelly Johnson were trying to keep him close, but he took off on the 0-1 pitch to Tatis and was safe on what was a bit of a controversial call. Not that I could see from where I was sitting, but he looked pretty safe to me. No matter. I've seen this situation before, and given that the Mets seemed to have been playing with their heads up their asses most of the night, the end seemed somewhat predictable. Tatis remained at the plate with an 0-2 count. But instead of that strikeout, Gonzalez came inside and drilled Tatis on the leg. Given new life, Castillo emerged to bat for Jeremy Reed, batting from the right side, his "power" side. Certainly, Castillo wasn't going to drill a Game-Winning HR. The squeeze, my friend surmised, was the strategy behind this. Not a bad idea, but rather than bunting, Castillo drove a pitch to left, just well-hit enough to allow Beltran to score the tying run without a throw.

Somehow, the Mets had managed to squeeze out 3 runs and tie this stupid game. Of course, Gonzalez picked off Tatis for the 3rd out, and so, onto the 10th inning we went. I've talked at length about how I seem to have this annoying habit of attending these ridiculously extended extra-inning games, and here we went again. After the first 8 innings breezed by in barely 2 hours, now, here we were, going to extra innings. Fortunately, it was barely 10pm. Nonetheless, I was kind of tired and had to be up early Wednesday, so I was hoping this would be done quick. I was in no mood to sit around for 14 innings, and Lord knows I wasn't about to leave early. The game probably could have gone 25 innings and I would have stuck around.

Rodriguez came out for a second inning and was accompanied by a host of fun changes on defense. With Murphy and Reed out of the game, Alex Cora moved from 2nd base to 1st base. Castillo remained in the game at 2nd. Fernando Tatis, the starter at 1st base, moved out to Left Field. Ryan Church, who came in the game 2 innings earlier, was now in Right. Got that? Good. Rodriguez made the 10th somewhat hairy when Larry singled and stole 2nd base. Brian McCann was intentionally walked, and again, disaster seemed imminent. Rodriguez hadn't gone more than an inning in 2 seasons, and the situation seemed ripe for Casey Kotchman to hit some stupid blooper that fell in between 3 guys and allowed the lead run to score. But that didn't happen. Reaching back for something extra, Rodriguez got Kotchman and Francoeur to hit lazy fly outs on the first pitch. That's getting out of a jam.

Jeff Bennett, on for the Braves, appeared to have no such trouble in the last of the 10th, getting Santos and Church with relative ease. 14 innings, here we come. Reyes followed, and hit a slow roller out to 2nd base. Kelly Johnson fielded it, but had no play and Reyes was aboard. Cora followed, and we figured it was only a matter of time before Reyes tried to steal, which he did successfully, prompting an intentional pass to Cora. Ramon Castro followed, batting for Rodriguez. All of a sudden, the crowd was re-energized, hoping for that winning hit. It wouldn't come from Castro, as now Bennett seemed unable to throw a strike. He fell behind 3-0 on Castro before walking him. Beltran followed, and somehow, you knew he was going to come through. Every time I'd seem Beltran get that walk-off hit flashed through my mind. Reyes was dashing back and forth at 3rd. Bennett fell behind 2-0. Got a strike. Ball 3. Strike 2. One more time, Bennett threw, low and outside, and that would be that. The Mets, for once, somehow snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat, winning a game that they really had no good reason to have won.

Not that I'm complaining. My Citi Field record, which an hour earlier had appeared destined to slip to 1-3 was now 2-2, and I'd witnessed my first Citi Field Instant Classic. Can't call this a Lost Classic just yet, the last time I did that, the game somehow found itself on heavy rotation on SNY within a month. I have the feeling this will end up being one of those games as well, so let's call it an Instant Classic for now. If, in a few years, this game is lost in the annals of time, then, we can call it a Lost Classic.

So, let's remember this game instead of Wednesday's game, which appeared to be a reversal of fortunes for the Mets, and look forward to this always entertaining West Coast swing, where the Mets will face the Giants who can pitch but not hit and the Dodgers, who can hit but not pitch.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

So Long, Streak

I suppose the Mets were due for a game like last night, one of those absolute stinkers in which nothing they did seemed to go right for them.

It's unfortunate that this sort of a game had to happen on a night when Santana was pitching, but, it did, and so despite the fact that he lowered his ERA from 0.91 to 0.78, Santana ended up on the short end of the stick by the end of the night.

Santana did what he usually does, which is going out to the mound and being mostly brilliant. His teammates, unfortunately, did what they usually do on nights when Santana is on the mound, too. That is to say they flubbed a couple of plays and didn't generate much offense against Derek Lowe, who seems to have an every-other-start thing against the Mets, where he's alternately good and horrible. At least, that's what I seem to think happens.

At any rate, by the time the 9th inning rolled around, and the Mets looked more and more pathetic, I began to think it better for them to continue to screw up. Get it all out of your system now, get drunk after the game, come back tomorrow with a fresh face and a clean slate and start playing well again.

I should hope so. Tonight will be Citi Field, take four for me. My 4th game of the season, and the 3rd time I'm getting Mike Pelfrey on the mound. In fact, this Pelfrey/Jair Jurrjens pitching matchup seems eerily familiar to me...

Monday, May 11, 2009

On The Way

What a difference a week makes.

Last Sunday, following the Mets rainout in Philly, things looked bleak, people were upset, words were being said and nobody seemed all too confident in the hopes of the 2009 Mets. Oliver Perez was removed from the rotation, and both his fate and replacement were a mystery. The Mets were going into Atlanta, where they managed only one victory for the entirety of the 2008 season.

So, of course, the Mets went out and won every game they played since that point. 7 wins later, the Mets are now in 1st place, and everything is nice and rosy pink.

It was easy to think the Mets could have a bit of a letdown playing the mostly punchless Pirates over the weekend, but the Mets kept their hot streak going in impressive fashion, sweeping the Pirates and looking pretty impressive in the process. Yes, two of the three games were close in the late innings, but the Mets won those games by doing things they haven't done often, namely, scoring in the late innings, tacking on, and burying a lesser opponent.

It began Friday night behind Jonathon Niese, making his season debut after a few forgettable outings at the end of last season. And yes, it was against the Pirates who threw Nate McLouth and a veritable Pu-pu platter of slop at him, but Niese showed me a lot by mixing his pitches, showcasing a scintillating curve and a good fastball, getting out of a couple of jams, but, most importantly, keeping his cool after Beltran and Church botched a fly ball, allowing the Pirates to tie the game. Rather than unraveling and allowing the Pirates to go ahead, Niese retired the side and stopped the Pirates in their tracks. More importantly, Niese didn't walk anybody during his 6 innings, and of his 95 pitches, an eye-popping 67 of them went for strikes. It was like watching the Anti-Ollie. It remains to be seen what we'll get from Niese from here on out, and he's certainly going to face better competition than the Pirates, who, with their main power threat in Ryan Doumit out, boast a starting catcher who looks like he's running after his school bus on the way to the 8th grade instead of chasing after a passed ball. Niese's next start will be against Atlanta, who he handled last season. But if this last outing is any indication, Niese could prove to be one of the unusual suspects for the Mets further down the line.

But despite Niese's strong outing, the Mets were held in check by Jeff Karstens, and the game remained tied into the 8th, until the Mets not only rallied, but buried the Pirates by scoring 5 runs, capped by Delgado's rocket of a HR into the Center Field seats (think that's a first), dispelling any drama that had remained from the game. At least until J.J. Putz made the 9th inning unnecessarily hairy (and delayed me going out to pick up some Chinese Food).

Saturday brought a 1-game suspension for Jerry Manuel after his Thursday night ejection (a word on this: From where I sat, it looked like Victorino and Reyes had tapped feet while the play was going on. It wasn't until I saw a replay that Victorino turned, stepped to his right and appeared to throw a shoulder at Reyes before flailing his arms and running. Manuel was right. That umpire, one of the dopey Welke brothers, should have been fired on the spot for calling that interference, and Victorino ought to take a fastball in the ribs for that move. And people wonder why I don't like him?). This, however, did not faze the Mets, who rode the arm of John Maine and the bats of just about everyone else to a runaway 10-1 victory that was pretty much over by the National Anthem. Beltran parked a HR into the 2nd deck in Left Field, and for the first time this season, the Mets managed to plate 10 runs in a game.

So, after two wins, the Mets now found themselves in a position they'd been in three times previously this season: Winners of the first two games in a 3 game series. Each of the first 3 times, the Mets went out and basically played in their sleep, losing each of those three potential sweep games.

It didn't happen a 4th time. Despite the fact that the Mets fell behind Ian Snell and the Pirates early, and in the first few innings, the Mets didn't show much life, they came alive, rallied, took the lead and then once again put the game away in the late innings, scoring a tack-on run in the 7th and 4 more in the 8th to win the game going away, 8-4. Not only that, it was the first time I watched a complete game from start to finish on TV this season, even more impressive considering I have a horribly short attention span and generally listen to most of the games on the radio. Francisco Rodriguez, after a strenuous week that saw him earn 4 saves in 4 days, got the entire weekend to rest up and get himself ready for the upcoming week, with the Braves coming to call and our good friend Larry coming for his first trip to the new Stadium.

You don't know how long these streaks will go on, and we all know that teams tend to run hot and cold, but for now, this hot streak seems to have come at just the right moment for the Mets. Let's see where they go from here.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Third Time's A Charm

Finally, after 3 attempts, I have my first Mets win at Citi Field.

That's not to say that this was an especially pretty victory for the Mets, but, much like any victory, I'll take it. Particularly at the expense of the Phillies.

My third game (but 4th trip) to Citi Field seemed to finally have a much more normal, traditional feel to it than the first two games I attended. El Guapo and I met at our usual Union Square meeting spot (convenient to both of our offices) and trained our way out there. In through the Rotunda, up via the escalators. We toyed with the idea of a pre-game drink at the Promenade Club. This was, in fact, my first trip into the Promenade Club, which features, among other things, a full bar. I'm not sure how much a cocktail runs there, but we decided against that. Back out to the Promenade food court, where I returned to my favorite Shea standby, the Sausage Sandwich. There's two stands out there in the court, and so I went to one and found they were only serving sausage patties, rather than the links I was used to. I didn't realize, at the time, that the other grill had links. Well, whatever. I accepted my patty and ate it. Good enough, but it's not the same as the traditional Sausage Sandwich I'm used to. Next time, pay closer attention to what's on the grill before I order.

El Guapo was musing as to whether or not the Subway featured the $5 footlong that's so ubiquitously advertised wherever you look. There's even a $5 footlong ad in the stadium. I still fail to see the utility in having a Subway at Citi Field altogether. But the Citi Field Subway does not, in fact, offer a $5 footlong. Most of their footlongs are $7.50. There's a little note on the stand that says something to the effect of "Dear Mets fans, this Subway does not participate in the $5 footlong promotion." El Guapo seemed put out and got a hot dog instead. He has become a fan of the Toppings bars that are all over the place (and which I feel will be the impetus for a food fight before all is said and done). He's tried a few different combinations, including raw onion, jalapeno and sauerkraut. At least that's what I think he had. I couldn't really tell, between the mishmash he had and the onion and peppers spilling off my sandwich. We stood at one of the tables and ate, another Citi Field first, rather than walking up to the seats. The crowd out there was fairly thin, and remained so throughout the game. I think most of the people still seem to spend their time waiting on line at the high-end food stands downstairs.

We both seemed to be in one of our overly-analytical moods during the game, or at least our discussion appeared to indicate such early on. Generally, we can cover a full range of topics over the course of a game, and depending on the situation or the importance of the game, it can have very little to do with Baseball altogether. Tonight, it was all Baseball, right from the start. Pelfrey battled through a tough 1st that saw him give up a parachute single to Rollins and and a long double to Howard. The inning appeared to be unraveling on him, but for Raul Ibanez helping him out by swinging at a 3-0 pitch and grounding out to end the inning.

That meant it was Jamie Moyer's turn to unravel, and unravel he did. The Mets teed off on his slop, belting three HRs in the first 2 innings in a power display that seems all too rare from this team. It started when Beltran took a 3-2 "fastball" from Moyer and blasted it deep down the left field line. But he was out in front of it and it hooked foul.

"Bet he won't throw that pitch again," El Guapo remarked.

He threw the next pitch in just about the same spot. Beltran wasn't late, and the ball didn't hook foul.

2 batters later, David Wright swung and hit what appeared to me to be a rather routine fly ball to Center. Victorino appeared to be toddling back, and the ball kept carrying and carrying until it landed all the way out in the black, to the left of the Amorphous Apple for another HR, a real shot considering how difficult it's been to hit HRs to that part of the stadium. Thus, it appeared, the rout was on. Reyes followed up with a shot in a similar spot to Beltran's in the 2nd. In the 3rd, Castro doubled to the base of the wall in Center. By time Moyer made his exit, to a standing ovation in some parts of the park, it was 7-1 Mets, and a laugher seemed imminent.

So, of course, the Mets stopped hitting and the Phillies pecked and scraped. It seemed innocuous enough. Pelfrey managed to settle down after the 1st and was economical, if nothing else. He wasn't especially dominant, not by any stretch. Philly was hitting him, but he was mostly giving up singles and following them up by getting some double play balls on the ground. He wasn't striking out anyone. But he was chugging along, as well as you could expect. A run in the 4th, and a monster HR by Howard into the Mets bullpen in the 6th, and Pelfrey was done after 7 innings that could be classified as "Solid," if nothing else. Turn the ball over to the bullpen, and let's get out of here with a nice, tidy victory and a sweep of the 2-game series.

Things then got a little contentious in the 8th.

Again, it started innocuously. In the bottom of the 7th, Clay Condrey came high and tight on David Wright, knocking him down. Nobody seemed to pleased about that. I said that I was going to run over to the Toppings Bar and throw some sauerkraut at Condrey. This led to El Guapo and I discussing Hot Dog toppings through the rest of the inning. I was talking about how I like mustard and red onion. I must have struck a nerve, because after the 7th inning, he went downstairs and got a hot dog with mustard and red onion. While he was away, things started to go haywire. It started with the crowd. The Mets/Phillies crowds are always lively, which I guess is a nice way of saying that they don't get along especially well, and when you mix in some alcohol, well, you know what can happen. A good looking fistfight broke out in the seats in Center Field. It appeared as though someone had someone else in a headlock, or some such nonsense. It was broken up. At the plate Shane Victorino appeared struck out by Feliciano, but all of a sudden they're calling a foul tip. Sure enough, Victorino singles off Wright. Utley follows by chopping one to Castillo, who moves to tag Victorino. Victorino eludes the tag and Castillo throws Utley out. Victorino is then caught in a rundown and appears to briefly tap Reyes as they pass each other. Victorino being Victorino, he goes flailing wildly before continuing to run, and Reyes gets called for Obstruction. This umpiring crew (featuring our favorite, Angel Hernandez, and the dopey Welke brothers) had been getting on Jerry Manuel's nerves all night. Out he came, for the 2nd time in the inning and the 3rd time in the game. The crowd was behind him. Jerry started yelling and waving his arms and bobbing his head, sort of like how Bobby Valentine used to do. Predictably, Manuel was tossed. Victorino remained at 2nd. Feliciano got Howard to ground out, which would have ended the inning if the Mets had been able to get Victorino out any one of those two chances, and, predictably, Jayson Werth followed with a 2-run HR to make the game 7-5, and now quite hairy. More fistfights seemed to be breaking out, and I thought a sauerkraut fight was imminent. Maybe it happened someplace I couldn't see. I don't know. If there was ever a time for it, it was now.

Bottom of the 8th, and the entire Right Field corner is chanting "JAY-SON WERTH-LESS!" Fistfights erupt in the Pepsi Porch and the Left Field landing. Those of us who remained sane and sober were cautious. This sort of game has happened to us before. Francisco Rodriguez came in for the 9th, attempting to get his 4th Save in 4 days. He could have probably used a rest. But, in a game like this, no rest can be had. Of course, he got the first 2 out. Of course, he walked Matt Stairs on a 3-2 pitch that appeared to be more than just a little borderline. Of course, Jimmy Rollins was up next. Of course, all the Philly fans got up and left with 2 outs...What, to beat the traffic?

Rollins popped out. The game clocked in at a breezy 2:53 that felt like about 3:59, most of it packed into the last two innings. Phew!

And just think, these two teams still have 14 more games against each other. Hell, I still have tickets to 2 more games against them on my plan. Can't wait to see how those two play out. Entertaining might not do it enough justice.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

By Any Means Necessary

For the Mets, last night was probably their most steely and satisfying win of the season so far.

On a night where they couldn't get an inch off of Chan Ho Park, the Mets rode the arms of Johan Santana, Pedro Feliciano and Francisco Rodriguez to the absolute limit, only able to manage two hits and an unearned run in a game that felt like October in May.

It's not much of a surprise that Santana was on his game; for him, rising to the occasion against the Mets closest rival is basically tantamount to saying that Santana basically had a normal day on the mound. As per usual, his teammates didn't give him much. Not that that seems to bother him, he just reared back and fired 7 shutout innings, giving up 3 hits and 10 strikeouts in the process.

On the other side, however, the Mets offense seemed to crawl back into their Citi Field Shell. After they fed Chan Ho Park his lunch last week, Park showed up and looked like the 21-year old Phenom he was when he played for the Dodgers, not the ragtag journeyman who shocks you every time you see him on a Major League roster. Figures that Park would match zeroes with Santana, and even better him by not allowing a hit until the 5th inning.

As the game moved further along, you couldn't help but notice the tension rise. You didn't have to be there to notice it. By the time the bottom of the 7th rolled around, you began to think strategy. With 2 outs and Delgado on 1st, Manuel decided to pinch-hit Tatis for Jeremy Reed. "Bad move," I thought. "In a game like this, you have to have Reed's defense out there."

Sure enough, Tatis hit the broken-bat dribbler that Pedro Feliz probably should have eaten rather than winging it down the Right Field line. If you're the Phillies, you're definitely kicking yourself over that one. Not only did the normally sure-handed Feliz make the wrong decision by throwing the ball wildly, but after the ball kicked around by the stands, Jayson Werth picked it up and inexplicably held it while Delgado charged around the bases. True, he would have had to make a perfect throw, but that's what he did, and the play was close enough that if he'd picked it up, set and fired, he probably would have had a play on Delgado. But in that particular instance, you have to make them make the play, and even if Delgado had been thrown out, it was probably the right move to send him.

The inning continued far enough to allow Santana's spot in the order to come up, and he was pinch-hit for by Ryan Church. Again, I questioned the move, you hate to take Santana out when he's pitching so well and Putz is unavailable, but, do what you have to, go for the jugular. And, again, the move worked when Pedro Feliciano came in and had quite possibly his best inning in well over a year, in spite of the fact that he gave up a Citi Field Double to Shane Victorino and then subsequently wild-pitched him over to 3rd. Outside of that, he managed to jam Rollins, get Utley to reach, and make Howard look simply silly, working him away, away and away with his breaking balls and striking him out.

Rodriguez for the 9th was fairly academic. The Mets caught the ball each time, and pulled off a rather impressive 1-0 victory. Not that it was easy. It certainly wasn't easy to watch. I think most Mets fans have a Relief Pitcher PTSD after last season, and once Santana came out of the game, the general consensus was "Oh, man, here we go." But, at least for tonight, the relievers were up to the challenge.

It's a Ballclub Night at Citi Field this evening, where I will be watching Big Pelf get silly with the Philly once again.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Escape Act

It seems like these "Escape Act" victories are becoming more and more commonplace for the Mets. Each of their last three victories are games they could have just as easily lost if certain things had broken out in certain ways. Last night's game, for one, seemed like many before it in Turner Field, the one that came to me in particular was from 2005, wherein Braden Looper successfully became the first relief pitcher ever to blow two saves in one game, allowing the Braves to come back in the 9th and then again in the 10th innings to win. After Delgado butchered Omar Infante's popup with 2 outs, you could see the inevitable conclusion. Yunel Escobar nailed a ringing RBI single, and then came Larry, primed to jerk one out of the park and stick it to the Mets once again. You can change the bullpen all you want, but you can't stop that Friggin' Larry.

Or not. Larry hit it well, and if you were listening to Howie Rose's call, you might have had a heart attack, but Church flagged it down and the Mets had somehow managed to sweep the 2 game series in Atlanta, thereby officially giving them more wins in Turner Field after one month of the 2009 season than they managed in all of 2008. It was, for the most part, another disgusting victory for the Mets, a game that appeared to hinge more on luck and a few breaks than the actual skill of the team. Though Kenshin Kawakami gassed himself, throwing 113 pitches through 5 innings and allowing all sorts of men on base, as per usual the Mets managed to only have a 2-0 lead, more due to the tenacity of Livan Hernandez than anything else. By the 9th, it was 2-1 and the Mets once again managed to put runners on, which they likely would have stranded had Larry not actually done something helpful for the Mets for once in his life. With Reyes aboard, Murphy was sent up to bunt, which is already a dicey proposition, since we already established late last season that he's probably not a very good bunter. Murphy's bunt was, in fact, terrible, and it would have ended up with Reyes being thrown out at 2nd had Larry not thrown the ball into Center Field. That was the break the Mets needed. Two batters later, the 2-1 lead was 4-1, and it appeared the Mets were going to cruise.

By the end of the night, it appeared that had Larry not thrown that ball away and extended the rally, the Mets would have lost the game.

That's baseball, and that's how things break out sometimes, but sometimes, it's also better to be lucky than good, and what we've generally seen is that the truly good teams, the championship teams are good, but they also have a lot of good luck. Conversely, teams that don't do well have a lot of bad luck. The Mets tend to have a lot of bad luck, and it's screwed them the past two seasons.

So, back to New York, and what should be another Mets/Phillies love-fest for two nights. Should be interesting. I wonder what Ryan Howard will think when he hits one of his pop flies that usually sails out of Steroid Field II and it ends up being a fly ball out to medium-right field. I don't think Shane Victorino will be hitting any Home Runs the next two nights either, sorry, son.

It's very Francesa of me to say this, but I suppose it's the only thing to say at this point: Cannnn Johan Santana, uh, stop the powerful Philly bats and extend this, uh, little streak the Mets have going? Or, uh, will the Phillies come into New York and, uh, stick it to the Mets once again?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Another Wasn't Supposed To

If the Mets played like they did last night in Atlanta a little more often, maybe we wouldn't be in this mess.

That statement can be taken two ways, and both are correct.

1) If the Mets played like this every time they played in Atlanta, that is, to fall behind the Braves like they usually do, and then come back and pretty much overwhelm them by the end of the game, then, perhaps, the past 12 years of misery inflicted on us in that stupid ballpark might have turned out differently.

2) If the 2009 Mets played like this a little more often (and they have at least looked like they have some ability to come back the last two games), that is to say that if they fall down by 3 runs they don't fold up their tents, suck their thumbs and walk on home, maybe we would be in a bit better standing in this early going.

It seemed like, early on, this game had all the makings of just about every other game the Mets played in Turner Field, particularly last season. Remember, when the Mets played 9 games in Atlanta and won all of one? And they had to scrape and claw out a late comeback to do it? Just about every other time, the Mets fell behind early and never woke up. And after Maine slogged his way through a difficult 2nd inning, you figured this game was headed down the same path.

Maine continues to look uneven. He has started to show more instances of looking sharp in his last two outings, but he continues to run into that "Oliver Perez inning," where everything that can possibly go wrong, will. Last night, the 2nd was that such inning, where he starts missing spots, walking guys, getting that hangdog look on his face and making you think, "Come on, man, what are you doing!? Throw a strike! You're Killing Me!" Generally, there's an error mixed in there somewhere as well. And it happens once a game, and until Maine can eliminate that one bad inning from his games, he won't have fully retained his "Death Cab for John Maine" status.

On the other side, the Mets continued to look like the Mets, and not hit. Javier Vazquez continued to mow them down until the 6th, when Beltran and then Wright hit a couple of out-of-nowhere, jarring HRs to somehow give the Mets the lead. Where had this been all season? Last year, the Mets thrived on a quick-strike offense that would put up a big inning and bury you, at least early on in the season. Lately, that seems to have eluded them. Last night, it returned, however spread over two innings as it might have been, but once the Mets were able to turn the ball over to Putz and Rodriguez, things seemed well in hand.

(Though, Putz officially earned his Met stripes by allowing a HR to beloved Larry, his 40th against the Mets, and I would guess his 2nd or 3rd that wasn't in a particularly damaging situation)

And thus, for the 2nd time in the last 3 games, the Mets managed to win a game that they normally tend to lose in some horrible, excruciating fashion. Once again, however, the question remains whether or not they can follow it up tonight with another good performance. Or will they just have another one of their idiot games where they get 13 hits and score 2 runs?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Regroup

Sunday's rainout should have been somewhat therapeutic for everyone, both players and fans alike.

Well, at least the players. The fans are their usual apoplectic selves.

For the Mets, I suppose, it's a good chance to stew and forget about Saturday's debacle in Philadelphia, which I mostly missed, having spent most of my afternoon in a meeting that went way too long and accomplished far too little, arriving home just in time to see Sean Green foul the whole thing up and Shane Victorino act like, well, Shane Victorino.

What I missed appeared to be a string of the somewhat predictable. Unlike Friday night, where the Mets bucked several disturbing trends, the Mets regressed to the normal sort of baseball they play. Perez was terrible early (That's not especially surprising, and it appears that either he or the team or both of them have conspired to create a knee injury to get him out of here for a while, which I'm sure nobody will argue with)and the Mets were in a hole. Ken Takahashi emerged from irrelevance and pitched a few very solid innings, allowing the Mets to battle back and tie, and then take the lead against Moyer and Scott Eyre, only to spit it back up in the bottom of the 6th behind Feliciano disturbingly allowing his 2nd HR to a lefty in 2 games (which I'm not quite so worried about. Consider the hitters, and consider where he gave them up), the Mets get a bunch of hits and leave a bunch of men on base, the game goes into Extra Innings where the Phillies eventually scrape out the winning run and have their little Pizza Party in the middle of the Steroid Field II infield.

Whoopty doo.

After Friday night's game had gone so well for the Mets, you sort of had to figure they had a game like this in them.

So, rather than trying to will their way through a rubber game behind Maine and whoever trustworthy they could run out there after that, the Mets are given a day to lick their wounds and figure out a plan as they fly into my favority city in the world, Good ol' Atlanty and Good ol' Turner Field, where we have so many fond memories. Clearly, Perez is going to be out of the rotation for a while, which is good, considering that his next start would have fallen on Thursday night, a game I have tickets for. With the rainout, now everyone is pushed back a day, so I'm going to end up with Pelfrey Thursday. Right now, I'm not sure what Perez needs, whether it's some time in Extended Spring training to work on being able to get a consistent delivery and retain some muscle memory, or if he just needs a lobotomy, but right now, the Mets have some serious decisions to make to fill this hole in the rotation. I've heard names bandied about from Niese to Takahashi to Figueroa and beyond.

I don't care who they bring up, so long as he can throw 6 innings and get people out. That's all that matters at this point.

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.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Reminder

The Mets don't exactly appear to be burning into Philadelphia like a house afire for this weekend's series. That's not to say that the Phillies have looked great either, but given the way last year turned out for them, they can be excused, just a little bit. It's the Mets who are really looking bad.

With a fan base that's disillusioned and ready to abandon the team, a pitching staff that can't keep its head on straight, a star 3rd Baseman whos swing is so cocked-up it's affecting his entire game and a bunch of players who immediately go into convulsions when a runner gets to 3rd base, the Mets aren't exactly striking fear into anyone's hearts.

Certainly not, you would think, into the hearts of the defending World Series Champions.

I really don't know how this weekend will turn out. Nobody's going to get swept, I'm pretty sure of that, but as a Mets fan, you can't feel especially confident. If the unthinkable happens, there's going to be some heads rolling when the team gets to Atlanta on Monday.

These Mets/Phillies series have taken on a life of their own the last couple of seasons. This year should prove to be no different. The Mets beat the Phillies 11 out of 18 last year, and at times really looked like they owned the Phillies. That 11 could have been 13 or 14 if their bullpen wasn't so bad. But when it came down to it, the Mets didn't play the Phillies all the time, and what they were able to get up for against them, they couldn't against other teams. The Phillies rose to the occasion when they absolutely had to, and rode that particular momentum to a World Championship. This will stick in my throat forever. The Mets clearly lacked the character and resiliency the Phillies had in them. But, the Phillies had one glaring problem: They couldn't beat the Mets. Not only that, the Mets really owned their best pitcher, Cole Hamels, knocking him around real good on two occasions.

Clearly, the Mets are in the Phillies heads. Any normal World Champion would be focusing on themselves, not kicking their nearest rival when they were already down. I heard Howie Rose on WFAN last night with Steve Somers, and he mentioned something about the Cole Hamels "Choker" comments. Whether or not it was something that Hamels was goaded into saying, he still took the bait and said it. Rose says that there are two things that a professional athlete can never stand being called. One of them is "Quitter." The other is "Choker."

Lately, the Mets have been accused of both.

Whether or not these things can really fire up a team is debateable. Over the first 21 games this season, the Mets haven't responded to Hamels' comments like a team that's playing angry. They don't look particularly fearsome right now. But now, they're going to be face to face with this team that keeps poking and jibing them, as if to try to get some sort of reaction out of them. This, in front of you tonight, is the team that went to the place you were supposed to go, got there, and stood and pointed and laughed at you. But this team is internally fragile. Even in winning, they're too quick to point out your faults. They have to rely on a voice from the past to psych themselves up. They, themselves, aren't off to such a hot start.

But there they are, right in front of you now. I don't think you need any more motivation.