Wednesday, September 25, 2013

There's Still Something

The Cincinnati Reds clinched a playoff berth with their win Monday night, along with the feel-good story of the year, the Pittsburgh Pirates (their first since 1992). These two teams continue to jockey for position, along with the St. Louis Cardinals, as they all try to avoid the Wildcard Play-In Game. But, at least for one night, the Reds looked like the team that was packing it in for the Winter, and the Mets looked like they were fighting down to the wire. For a majority of the game, the Reds sort of loafed around, their starting pitcher Mike Leake got knocked out in the 2nd inning after the Mets bombarded him for 8 hits in the first 12 batters and in the end, the Mets came away with a rather energetic 4-2 victory.

The tone was set rather early. The Mets came out firing against Leake in the 1st, as Young singled and stole second, and moved to 3rd on a hit by Wright. They might have gotten more out of this rally had Lucas Duda not been hitting cleanup; his strikeout took the air out of the inning. The Reds threatened in the bottom half against Jonathon Niese, getting 3 hits, but ultimately they didn't score either, thanks primarily to Juan Lagares' picture perfect throw home to get Shin-Soo Choo after a rare hit from Ryan Ludwick. Niese also helped his cause by striking out Joey Votto and Jay Bruce.

In the 2nd, the Mets didn't find such bad luck. Mike Baxter led off with what was generously scored a double after Jay Bruce halfheartedly went after his hit, and then fell down when it became clear the ball was going to skip past him. d'Arnaud worked a deep count before striking out, but Wilfredo Tovar, who may as well be playing Shortstop for the duration since I think we've all had enough of Quintanilla, picked him up with an RBI single and went to 2nd on the throw home. Niese tried to help his own cause by singling, but Jay Bruce, who by now had woken up, threw out Tovar at home. Not to worry, though. Young's ground-rule double was followed by a 10-pitch At Bat from Daniel Murphy, who fouled off pitch after pitch before finally sailing a fastball from Leake into the Right Field seats for a 3-run Home Run (or, more appropriately, the Anti-Duda), his career-high 13th of the season.

I'll expound more on Murphy next week, but I've dropped some jabs here and there about growing tired of Murphy. He's woefully unexciting a majority of the time and hasn't shown any signs that he's going to get any better than he already is, and yet you look up and he's 3rd in the league in hits and closing in on 40 doubles, and more impressively has managed to make it through 157 games this season without getting hurt, something very few Mets have been able to boast.

Meanwhile, the 4-run lead was just fine for Niese, who took the runs and basically coasted through 7 innings, allowing single runs in the 2nd and 5th, but nothing further. He tied up Bruce and Votto all night and generally put forth one of those really good Jon Niese efforts that make you think he's got a chance to be really good if he can string a number of these together. I've been very impressed, for the most part, by the way Niese has come back from his long DL stint and made something out of what was kind of a lost season for him. It also helps, perhaps, that I haven't been around or able to watch his few bad starts.

Niese departed after 7 innings and turned things over to Scott Atchison, who channeled his inner Mike Pelfrey and got 3 ground ball outs, and then to Vic Black, who boasted that he should be the closer when he was recalled earlier this month, and only now got an opportunity to do so. Black, who I've quickly become a big fan of due to his good stuff and ballsy attitude, could potentially become an excellent complement to Parnell going forward; having a pair of pitchers out of the bullpen that throw gas like that is something the Mets really haven't had. Black did what he needed to do, although the inning was made unnecessarily hairy due to a Wild Pitch on the 3rd strike to Frazier, but Black, unfazed, got Cozart to hit into a game-ending DP instead.

I suppose it is somewhat silly to get too excited when the Mets are getting their 72nd win of the season on September 24th. But as has been the mantra all year long, this year is about evaluating what's here and what of that will be here going forward. Sometimes, you look for the performance in little challenges like playing a Reds team that's still got something to play for and see who's got what.

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