Monday, May 7, 2012

Wild and Mild

I sat through Friday night's rather frustrating loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks with my free cup and couldn't help but think to myself that this had been fun while it lasted. After a nice quick start that kept optimism and hope alive, the bottom was finally falling out. Following a 3-game sweep at the hands of the miserable Astros, the Mets had come home and had their bullpen blow a tenuous lead, with an assist by some key moments where the Mets bats just couldn't come through and get those tack-on runs. So, one would have had to figure that with a team of reasonable quality in town, the Mets would just fold their tents and fade off into the obscurity that we'd figured they were destined for.

Then, Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey took the mound over the weekend, and things were OK again.

Mets history has been dotted with several "dynamic duos" of starting pitchers who you could count on to go out there and always give a quality start. Seaver and Koosman were the norm in the 60s and 70s. In the 80s, there was Gooden and Darling, or Gooden and Cone, or Gooden and Fernandez. 2000 had Mike Hampton and Al Leiter. '05 and '06 had Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine, and you could even say that John Maine and Oliver Perez in '07 were such a pair. Now, it's the somewhat incongruous duo of Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey who are filling this role.

That's not to say that they've been great every time out. Every pitcher has a stinker from time to time, and this has to be expected from a pitcher like Santana who's fresh off major shoulder surgery, and R.A. Dickey, a pitcher who relies on the bizarre and elusive knuckleball. But somehow, they've made it work. Though Santana can't be relied upon to blow people away anymore, what he can do is just go out there and throw whatever pitch he wants and make it work, perhaps the hallmark trait of any truly great pitcher. Though it's only been 6 starts, you'd have to consider his comeback a resounding success; except for his one bad outing in Atlanta, he's looked nothing less than the Johan Santana we've come to expect great things out of. Until Saturday, he didn't have a win to show for it, but of course it's not his fault if his team doesn't get him any runs (and he can't always do it himself). But, Saturday, he did his thing, and his teammates helped him out for a change and he got that elusive win, and stopped the bleeding in the process.

Sunday, it was R.A. Dickey going out and doing what it seems like he's done just about every time out this season: go out there, flutter his knuckleball around and make the other team look mostly foolish. By all rights, he should have finished the game, but for a walk and a double to start off the 9th inning, Arizona didn't seem to have much of a clue against him. For that matter, nobody's really had much of a clue against him, and this has gone back to the middle of last season. Strange as it may sound, this ragamuffin has become the steadiest pitcher in the rotation, and given the shelf life of knuckleball pitchers, he's probably got a lot of life left in him.

It's good to have a pair of dependable arms like these guys. It's going to keep the season afloat for the immediate future. If only the same could be said about the rest of the pitching staff.

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