Friday, April 4, 2014
Yet, there was a much larger crowd on hand than I would have anticipated. After Thursday afternoon's particularly paltry attendance, with the team 0-3 and completely directionless, and bad weather in the forecast, I would have expected to be one of a mere handful of people on hand for the affair. I had dreams of some embarrassed staffer coming up and rescuing my colleague and I from the rain in the Promenade and sending us down to the warmth of the Delta Club. But as it turned out, people showed up. I don't know whether it was the lure of free T-Shirts (one size fits some), the lure of a Friday night at the Ballpark or the contingent of Cincinnati Reds fans that live in New York, but somehow, it felt like a reasonably decent crowd for a Baseball game. Granted, most fans seemed to have congregated in one of the indoor areas (a brief trip to the Promenade Club revealed a packed house) or underneath one of the few overhangs (which is where I ended up, as opposed to the seat I actually had a ticket for), but nonetheless, plenty of people were there, many of them wearing silly-looking David Wright T-shirts.
Fortunately, the people who braved the irritating drizzle that fell throughout the game combined with a whipping wind that came in at around the 8th inning and blew the rain sideways were ultimately rewarded with the Mets' first win of the season, finally. It wasn't exactly the prettiest of games, but certainly a little gem in its own right, as most Mets victories tend to be.
Lucas Duda of all people stepped up and won the game for the Mets offensively. This is pretty damn noteworthy in and of itself given how frequently and how voraciously I've flogged Duda over the past couple of seasons because of his general lack of ability to generate positive results. I was gearing up to write this long-winded post about the foibles of the Mets 1st Base situation and how giving the job to Duda over Davis, at least for now, couldn't possibly be the right answer. And who knows how it will play out from here, Duda could go back to being Duda and just standing around watching pitches without any particular sense of urgency, and striking out with men on base, and doing other such things that make him so Duda, but at least for one night he showed a bit of the potential he holds if he can ever get his ass in gear. Not only did he hit one Home Run with a runner on base, in the 4th inning off Mike Leake, which shocked the hell out of me, but two innings later, he came up with David Wright on base and damned if he didn't hit another Home Run. Now I was completely dumbfounded. Lucas Duda actually shut me up. And if that wasn't enough, by his next at bat, those who weren't completely frozen at Citi Field went so far as to chant his name.
The Beneficiary of Duda 4, Reds 1 through the 6th inning was Jenrry Mejia, who pitched great in his first start of the year in spite of borderline absurd conditions for pitching in a Major League Baseball game. Mejia, who's sort of become the lost man among the bigger-name pitching prospects and the more-established veterans, seemed to me to be the only truly viable candidate for the 5th Starter's job, and at some point he would make that evident. Collins made the right move picking Mejia over Molasses Matsuzaka and Levittown Lannan, and Mejia's effort, 8 strikeouts, 1 run and 4 hits in 6 innings against a particularly good Reds lineup is a bit of a statement. The 5 walks weren't so good, but for a control guy throwing a wet ball on a windy night, I think we can give him a pass. Mejia has been somewhat star-crossed since his ill-fated year being misused by Jerry Manuel, missing a season with elbow surgery and other such injuries, but last year he looked to finally turn a corner and I suspect he could be a rather pleasant surprise in the middle of the Mets rotation this season, enough so that he could conceivably change the strategy of who to keep and who's a pretty trade chip.
But, if there's one drawback to Mejia, it's that like most starting pitchers, he's only efficient enough to get himself through 6 innings, which is all well and good, but that left 3 innings and 9 outs for his bullpen to pick up for him, and that's not exactly gone well for the Mets so far this season. 4-1 quickly became 4-3 when John Lannan struck. Lannan, who's so bad I can't even waste the energy describing it in detail, was entrusted to specifically get the 3 lefty hitters at the top of the Reds lineup out. He managed to get two of them, Bernadina and Joey Votto (who's off to one of those starts where it seems his batting average is going to be .429 until Memorial Day), sandwiched around a Brandon Phillips single, but, of course, Jay Bruce got to him for a 2-run Home Run. Like one of those train wrecks that you can see coming and yet you can't look away. 4-1 was now 4-3, Collins was out to get Lannan out of the game and in came Kyle Farnsworth, who also fails to inspire much confidence. This didn't look good.
But Farnsworth, to his credit, stoned up and got 4 key outs. This despite the fact that he a) Had to contend with a windy rain that began whipping around so hard that if you're a glasses man like I am, you were having a difficult time seeing things and b) Had to contend with Billy Hamilton, who was sent in to Pinch Run after he walked Brayan Pena. Hamilton, who'd been off to a simply shocking 0-12 start at the plate, hadn't attempted a steal yet this season—because he hadn't managed to get on base to steal—so all eyes were on him as he went out to run. But to this point, running on the Mets has been a dicey proposition for him; last year, he was caught for the first time by Juan Centeno and tonight, Anthony Recker got him on a perfect strike of a throw. This pretty much cut short any chance the Reds would have off of Farnsworth, and so the game was left to the soap opera show that was a Jose Valverde 9th inning.
Valverde, in his first attempt to close a game with the Mets, did exactly what he's known to do: create all sorts of drama and then manage to get out of it. He walked Bernadina and gave up a hit to Phillips, just so he could have the high pleasure of trying to get through Votto and Bruce with men on base to save the game. I had sick, horrible visions of bloops and gap hits and Reds circling the bases, but somehow, Valverde induced Votto to swing at a sucker pitch and pop out to Left, and then struck out Bruce altogether, allowing him to jump around and pump his fist just like every other Mets fan who stuck it out on this miserable night, hoping to see the Mets finally nail down their first win of the season. They certainly managed to nail it down, at the expense of sanity and comfort, but as has always been the case, A win is a win, no matter how ugly it may have worked out.