Monday, October 19, 2015

Attack Of The Playoff Chosen

Sunday night's game was the Mets first home playoff game this season that I didn't attend, for a variety of reasons ranging from I was still recovering from freezing my ass off on Saturday, to life was getting in the way of my Baseball, to I wasn't terribly crazy about the pitching matchup. The Mets Game 1 victory on Saturday night was of paramount importance considering the Cubs were throwing the suddenly-unhittable Jake Arrieta on Sunday. Sure, the Mets would send Noah Syndergaard to the mound, who's no slouch in his own right, but he didn't come close to Arrieta's exploits, at least not yet. But as good as Arrieta was this season, that seemed to matter very little to Daniel Murphy and Curtis Granderson, as the pair struck early and often, leaving the Cubs and their ace dazed and in an early hole from which they were unable to recover. Syndergaard, on the other hand, dazzled both with his pitching and his blond locks flowing in that late-October breeze and he, combined with 4 relievers, shut the Cubs down again by a 4-1 score to give the Mets a 2-0 lead in the NLCS.

Since I wasn't at the game, this was actually the first time I'd ever have a chance to see Playoffs Citi Field on TV. I'm still not used to this whole TBS thing; as I'd mentioned before, the only redeeming thing seems to be that Ron Darling is the color guy, but Ernie Johnson is probably only half a rung up the ladder from Joe Buck, which makes things kind of painful. On the other hand, their pregame show features Pedro Martinez, and basically all anyone needs to say to that end is "Pedro Martinez" and I'm already entertained. I hadn't actually noticed until the game was underway last night that TBS had a whole booth set up out in Center Field, otherwise I might have suggested going out to meet Pedro, or at least give him the finger-waving gesture he used to do. Last night, Pedro kicked off the broadcast by picking up a Norse hammer and screaming "THOOORRRR!!!" and my night was complete. Or at least my pregame was complete.

Entertainment aside, there was still a game to be played and it was up to Noah Syndergaard to follow the lead that Harvey set on Saturday night and the hope was to at least try to hang with Arrieta as best he could. He started out just fine in this game, he gave up a 2-out single to Baseball Jesus in the 1st but otherwise struck out Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo. So that was a fine start.

Then, there was Jake Arrieta. I know very little about Arrieta other than he was a prospect that flopped as an Oriole and then blossomed as a Cub. He kind of came out of nowhere to have a decent year last season, but then this year turned into some sort of weird Kershaw clone. I've arbitrarily decided that Arrieta is totally humorless, just a total stick in the mud. I can attribute this to a few reasons: 1) He constantly walks around with a puss on his face. 2) His oversized beard makes him look even surlier. 3) He looks like Billy Joel. Also, I've never seen him say anything particularly interesting in an interview, and even after he threw a shutout in the NL Wildcard Game, he had a rather milquetoast response when someone spoke to him. Even if none of this is true, the Mets probably took care of that by handing him his ass in the 1st inning. Arrieta probably wasn't used to being ambushed like that, since teams seem to have been capitulating to him over the past several months, but the Mets had no interest in that. Curtis Granderson led off by whacking a single through the overshifted infield. David Wright followed by blasting a double over Dexter Fowler's head to score the game's first run. Then, the new Mr. October, Daniel Murphy, followed by taking a curve off his shoetops and tucking it inside the Right Field foul pole for a Home Run, because why not? When you're Playoff Chosen, you hit Home Runs off of every Cy Young Award candidate, and before Arrieta knew what had hit him, he was 3 runs in the hole.

With a cushion, Syndergaard then went right back to work. Chris Coghlan made a bid to hit one out on a 2-strike pitch in the top of the 2nd, but Curtis Granderson put on his Endy Chavez pants and went over the fence to make the catch. In the 3rd, Syndergaard spared any similar theatrics by striking out the side, each pitch filthier than the one before it.

The Mets tacked on a run in the last of the 3rd, when Curtis Granderson walked, stole 2nd after Wright struck out, stole 3rd after Murphy was intentionally walked (and this is how badly Murphy's gotten in everyone's heads—he was intentionally walked by the guy who's probably going to win a Cy Young Award this year in front of Cespedes), and then scored when Cespedes reached on an infield hit.

Arrieta, after appearing close to being run out of the building, did settle down after this, and in fact the Mets wouldn't score a run the rest of the night. The question, then, was could the Cubs somehow chip away and get back into the game. But they couldn't. Syndergaard sufficiently stepped on their throats in the 4th and 5th, and only in the 6th, when Baseball Jesus doubled home Fowler, did they mount anything of consequence. Ratso Rizzo followed and at this point Terry Collins decided to move to his bullpen to try to bring this one home. This made sense, I suppose. Syndergaard had reached 101 pitches by this point and it wasn't worth taking a chance with Rizzo up. That being said, the choice of Jon Niese certainly wasn't what I'd call inspiring, but Niese did what was asked of him, striking out Rizzo and ending the inning.

From there, the game continued to fall into order, as Collins actually played this one by the book and used Addison Reed in the 7th, Tyler Clippard in the 8th, and Jeurys Familia in the 9th (and after 6-out and 4-out Saves, I'm sure Familia liked being able to get a traditional Save) and the trio combined for 2 hits and 0 walks in 3 innings as the Mets won this game, I won't say with ease, because at this time of year there is no ease, but they won the game 4-1.

So now, everyone's got to be feeling really good, heading off to Chicago with 2 wins in their pockets already and now gearing up to face the weaker part of their rotation. I still feel leery about going to Chicago, just because of it being in front of their crowd and their mojo and because dumb things have a tendency to happen at Wrigley Field, but the Mets still have their guy, Jacob deGrom, going in Game 3 and Steven Matz ready for Game 4. Plus, there's at least one guy in the Mets lineup who really likes hitting in Wrigley Field, and for his career, he's hitting .369/.406/.631 with 4 Home Runs and 9 RBI in 18 games at the friendly confines. That, of course, is Daniel Murphy, as if he needed any more impetus to keep his magic carpet afloat.

Still, even though the Mets are halfway to their goal two games into the series, I have a feeling that this is far from over. Teams don't get this far without having some ability to get off the mat and fight back when things aren't going their way and the Cubs certainly seem like a team that's not going to just fade out at the hands of several hard-throwing starting pitchers. They've got an uphill climb, no doubt, but stranger things have happened in Baseball. Their Manager, Joe Maddon, said what they need are several 1-game winning streaks, and that's probably a good way for the Mets to look at it too. At this late part of the season, it behooves everyone to do whatever it takes to win the game you're in right now and then worry about tomorrow when you have to. It's easier to view things that way when you're in the thick of it as a fan, too—do whatever you have to do to get yourself through the game and then worry about the next morning the next morning. Lord knows that's how I'll be when I wake up.

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