Monday, July 1, 2013

Christmas Tree

I'm paraphrasing "Bull Durham" slightly since the quote isn't readily at my fingertips at this late hour, but at some late part of the movie, after Nuke LaLoosh gets called up to the Majors, he meets with his catcher Crash in the locker room. Crash, in imparting some final words of wisdom, tells Nuke, "These guys are going to light you up like a damn Christmas Tree at first. You be cocky and arrogant, even when you're getting beat."

This could effectively be applied to Zack Wheeler after Sunday's beating at the hands of the Nationals.

Sunday was my 10th game of the season, and my 2nd unplanned game of the season. Given a free Sunday afternoon, a nice day, the potential to see the home debut of a future phenom and a steep discount on good tickets from the Mets a couple of weeks ago, I couldn't pass it up. Only later did I realize that in addition to all that, it was David Wright Bobblehead day.

We, as fans, obviously can't help but think the most optimistic of thoughts on days like this. I remember feeling this way about Bill Pulsipher's debut in 1995. I went to that game expecting the shutout and the Cy Young Award all at once. But after a 5-run 1st inning, reality set in. Given the hype surrounding Wheeler, one couldn't be blamed for having similar feelings. You go into the stadium, get your bobblehead, and go up to your seat thinking you're going to see Wheeler go out, throw 7 shutout innings and the Mets cruise to victory. And after Wheeler zipped his fastball around, struck out the first 2 batters and got through the 1st inning without breaking a sweat, you thought this just might be that day.

Then, the rest of the game happens, and you get the good reality check you were hoping wouldn't happen. Yes, there will be better games, much better for Wheeler than the one he pitched on Sunday. There have to be, because the Nationals belted him around pretty good. After Byrd and Satin let Gio Gonzalez off the hook in the 1st, the Nationals dug in and teed off on Wheeler, who appeared to have a mysterious drop in velocity and a loss of location. His first pitch to Adam LaRoche was clanged off the Pepsi Porch, and things pretty much went downhill from there. Ian Desmond and Denard Span hit similarly well-struck shots, sandwiched around a mishandled grounder by Quintanilla, added up to a 4-run deficit, and Jayson Werth's long, loud Home Run an inning later hung a 5th run on Wheeler's ledger.

Admirably, Wheeler stuck it out, and was an out away from completing the 5th inning before a final walk to LaRoche sealed his fate. But in spite of his poorest outing to date, at 4.2 innings, 6 hits, 5 runs, 2 walks and 5 strikeouts, he still departed to a hearty ovation from fans who recognize that dreams are dreams, and reality is reality, and the reality is that even though Wheeler was made the proverbial Christmas tree, there remains the potential for much greater days to come.

Unfortunately, there was still more of a game to be played after Wheeler's departure, and boy, it wasn't pretty. The Mets, who found scant opportunities to cut into their deficit against Gio Gonzalez, were cut off each time. The Nationals, after knocking around Wheeler, also made a Christmas Tree of Brandon Lyon, running up 6 runs in the 8th inning, much of it done in the midst of a drizzling rain that drove most of the crowd to the exits. When the game reached 8-0, I turned to my other half, who had been enjoying herself most of the afternoon, and said one of those rare, embarrassing things that I don't like saying:

"I think, if you want to leave, we can go now."

It was raining, the Mets were losing and everything was terrible. I was actually hoping she'd say yes, and she did, so we packed up our Bobbleheads and got out of there, sparing ourselves the remaining 3 runs in the 8th inning, and the sight of having to see Anthony Recker mop up in the 9th and serve up 2 more runs courtesy of an Ian Desmond Home Run that I'm told landed in somebody's Acela Club soup.

So, that happened. I left early for the second time this season, and quite honestly I don't see how I could be blamed either time. But I hope to not have to do this again anytime soon. Particularly when you consider the next game on my plan is—Surprise, Surprise—Tonight against Arizona, where I'll have the high pleasure of seeing another Shaun Marcum start.

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