Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mets For Sale

The Cardiac Mets were at work once again on Tuesday night, having moved their show to Chicago for the 2nd time this season. However, unlike when they play the Cubs, this time I was around and able to watch the game, so, odd as it may seem, I now have more of a recollection of the Mets playing the White Sox in Chicago than I do them playing the Cubs. Yes, it may also help that I saw the Mets play the White Sox when they came to New York earlier this season. But this is purely backstory to another bizarre game.

The attraction for the Mets, of course, was Zack Wheeler's second Major League start. The real attraction ended up being his opponent, Chris Sale. Sale, who appears sort of wild-looking and wire, poses as sort of an Oliver Perez/Ubaldo Jimenez type pitcher, except that he has control and smarts. He was, at some point, actually scheduled to face Matt Harvey when these teams met in New York, and given how well Harvey handled the White Sox, one can only wonder what sort of hijinx would have ensued had Sale opposed him that night.

The Mets, fresh off their explosion in Philadelphia on Sunday, actually came out guns blazing against Sale. Eric Young, Jr was the catalyst, which is basically what he's been ever since he showed up last week, and his leadoff double and steal of 3rd set the stage for him to score on a shallow sacrifice fly from Marlon Byrd. It was a ballsy play by Young; I would think that most would have given pause to tagging up, but Young took off, and scored when Alex Rios sort of lollygagged the ball back to the infield. A second run scored thanks to David Wright stealing second and scoring on a hit from Josh Satin.

So, the Mets gave Zack Wheeler a lead for his second start. Last time, he didn't get any runs until after he left the game, so this may have felt like a wealth of riches for him. Wheeler, as I heard was requested of him by Dan Warthen, was throwing more off-speed pitches this time out; the result this time out was that he managed to keep in the strike zone a bit more than he did his first start, but at the cost of strikeouts (he had 1 in his 5.1 innings), and he also kept getting pinged to death by the Sox hitters, so his pitch count was still less than economical. This isn't to say that Wheeler was ineffective, but my feeling is that if he's going to find success, he's probably going to get it when he's throwing smoke and mixing the off-speed pitches with "effective" wildness.

The White Sox really didn't kill him, but they made their hits, and outs, count. In the 1st, it was Alejandro De Aza reaching on an infield hit, stealing a base, moving up on a ground out and scoring on a Sac Fly. Tyler Flowers' Home Run in the 3rd was their best legit shot; the Sox plated two more in the 5th with more small ball—a walk, a steal, a hit batter, a wild pitch and a pair of run-scoring outs—ultimately taking a 4-3 lead. After that particular battle, I'd figured Wheeler done after 5 innings. But surprisingly, Collins sent him out for the 6th. After another walk, however, he was done, 5.1 innings, 4 hits, 4 runs, 3 walks, 1 strikeout.

After his rough first inning, Chris Sale settled in and looked every bit the pitcher he's hyped to be. Andrew Brown reached him for a 5th inning Home Run, but other than that, the Mets got nothing off Sale. At one point, Sale had K'd 8 of 10, and allowed all of 2 hits and a walk between the 2nd and 8th innings. But, he too had his limits, and after he topped the 100 pitch mark, he seemed to go away from his fastball and start nibbling with changeups. Not that the Mets could do much with that, but if nothing else, it got him out of the game, because the way he was looking through the middle innings, a complete game seemed a real possibility. Fortunately for the Mets, it's not 1976 and the Complete Game isn't as prevalent as it was back in that bygone era.

So, it went to the 9th, with the Mets trailing 4-3 and the White Sox closer David Addison in the game as opposed to Sale. Remember, for a majority of the season, the Mets could usually be counted on to go down in order without much of a peep. But the re-energized Mets of late June don't seem to follow this path. David Wright, who continues to hit everything, singled to lead off, and promptly stole second. But after Marlon Byrd struck out and Josh Satin's well-struck shot was tracked down by the other Danks brother, it appeared it wasn't their night. I'd already questioned why Daniel Murphy hadn't hit for Satin, but here he was, hitting for John Buck. And here he was, popping up on the first pitch. Defeat sealed, Wheeler's first loss in the books.

The flashbacks evoked by the ensuing play need not be mentioned here, but sometimes, you have a feeling about a play when the ball goes up in the air and seems to hang there a little longer than you're used to. And that's sort of what I felt when Murphy's popup went up in the air. I saw Addison clear out of the way, sort of, and Dizzy Gillaspie charging in from 3rd base, and then Gordon Beckham charging in as well. But it appeared that Gillaspie had it lined up. For whatever reason, this didn't seem to matter to Beckham and in a blink, there was Beckham tripping over Addison, crashing into Gillaspie, both players crumpling to the turf and the ball bouncing safely on the ground, and David Wright across home plate with the tying run. Never mind the obvious thought, but the real comeback comparison might have been to Saturday's game, with the same cast of characters getting the job done for the Mets, under similarly bizarre circumstances. Whatever it is, the Mets had managed to get up off the mat and tie the game when defeat appeared certain.

Unfortunately, also like Saturday's game, the Mets got off the mat, tied the game...and ultimately lost. This was a bit more excruciating than Saturday, which was over in 2 pitches. This involved LaTroy Hawkins giving up an infield hit, then gagging horribly on Beckham's bunt, which I know has one of those foreign psychological terms that I'm not thinking of at this late hour, but that's what it was, a thing of a thing, and, sure, Hawkins almost got out of it by getting a force out and a pop up, but in the end, there was the 2-out, game winning hit and the loss that was a loss all along just got delayed by a few minutes.

Silver linings? Sure, there's a couple. Once again, as I said, the Mets didn't just take it lying down. Zack Wheeler didn't take the loss, and although he wasn't as good as he was in Atlanty, he certainly wasn't bad and it certainly gives us what to look forward to, particularly in his home debut on Sunday. And they continue to make slight strides forward offensively, which I think can mostly be attributed to Eric Young, Jr, who, even if he's lousy is still a better option in the leadoff spot than anyone else the Mets have put there this season. A month ago, they likely would have been shut out on 2 hits by Sale, but they're starting to make things slightly more respectable. In a lost year, I suppose that's all we can ask for.

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