Friday, April 11, 2003

Game 9 - Mets

Marlins 4, Mets 3
Record: 4-5

Peter Gammons is once again going to have to start spewing stats to prove how good Armando Benitez is. This game was won, and he lost it. He and David Weathers and Roger Cedeno and a few others, but mainly just him. You can't open up the bottom of the ninth by allowing a single and a double and expect to have much of a chance.

Glavine pitched five shutout innings, and the Mets got long homers (solo shots, naturally) from Ty Wigginton and Cliff Floyd. They also plated one other run in the 4th -- of course, they had bases loaded and one run in with nobody out but fanned three times in a row. (11 more strikeouts for the hitters. Unbelievable.) So it was a 3-0 lead going into the 8th. With Weathers pitching, CF Cedeno played a single into a triple. The fundamentals of protecting a lead, Chapter 1. Weathers then took a comebacker off the foot and had no play, so that run scored. On the next play, Weathers was credited with an error for a pickoff throw gone awry, but the replay showed that defensive replacement 1B Jay Bell just kind of waved at it. Predictably, this came back to haunt the Mets, as the runner advanced to third and home on groundouts. Benitez came in to get the last two outs of the 8th, and he looked strong.

I probably am wasting space and digital energy (energy in my digits) when I type that the Mets went 1-2-3 in the top of the 9th. If there's one thing worse than being a lousy-hitting team, it's being a worse situational-hitting team on top of it. The Mets gave themselves opportunities throughout this contest to score 8 to 10 runs. But this is what strikeouts do to you. No runners advance, there is no chance of misplay, it's just another out in the books. Roger Cedeno is a joke of a leadoff hitter. He struck out three times last night, and if I am not mistaken, he went 0-2 in each at-bat. He is the most fundamentally unsound player, both at the plate and in the field, among a squad of guys void of discipline and basic awareness. He's currently hitting .161 with a .235 OBP. Beyond the stats, if I'm Art Howe, I can't justify his presence in the lineup, much less atop it, given the atrocious play he's contributed thus far. Shinjo and Timo are free swingers themselves, but their D is better and they just seem to have better heads for the game.

So, Benitez was tasked with pitching more than the closer standard one inning, a phenomenon in recent years but another day at the ballpark for relievers of earlier decades. He entered the 9th with a 3-2 lead and looked like a different guy than had pitched the 8th. Mike Lowell promptly drilled a single, then Derrek Lee roped a double. One intentional pass -- that nearly tied the game, as Ball 3 almost went sailing over Piazza's head -- and two outs later, nearly out of the trouble he had caused himself, Benitez threw something that slap hitter Juan Pierre turned on and sent down the first base line, scoring two and ending the game. The Marlins, not exactly the pride of the National League, had made Benitez look bad four days after the Expos had done the same. What are we in store for when the Mets play the Astros, D-Backs, and Cards to close out this month? Then again, save situations may not be all that likely in those games.

Many Mets fans have seen just about enough from Armando Benitez. He seems to go in the tank when you need him most. We still remember Game 1 of the 2000 World Series, and how he blew the save in the 9th en route to a 4-3 loss in 12. Might have set the tone for the Series. Two years ago, with the season on the line, Benitez was beaten by Brian Jordan several times to seal the division title for the Braves. We in DC still recall his Oriole days, giving up that huge tater against the Yanks with the game in the balance -- but coming right back with a beanball.

Maybe the Mets should pull a Derek Lowe and make Armando Benitez a starter. Lowe never had the right mentality -- in fact he was one step away from the sanitarium -- but now that he can get away with a mistake or two over seven innings, he's a top-tier starter. Benitez has the arm to do well in the league -- just not in his current role. I think at this point you have to look at other options.

On another, equally annoying note, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced that they are cancelling the celebration of the 15-year anniversary of Bull Durham because two of its stars, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, have taken part in anti-war protests and spoken out against the president. Hall president Dale Petroskey indicated that their actions could "undermine the U.S. position, which ultimately could put our troops in even more danger." And for that, the whole gala is off. What immediately was brought to light by Robbins and every sports columnist from here to Cooperstown is that Petroskey has spent much of his life working for Republican politicians, including a stint as President Reagan's assistant press secretary. That last part is hard to believe, considering the ill press he has swiftly brought an already controversial Hall of Fame. Petroskey has made it seem like he is trying to separate politics from the Hall, while in truth he has ushered them in through the front door. It's a shameful act, and one that should probably cost him his post. Just as Pete Rose isn't bigger than the game, this man isn't bigger than one of the most revered sports shrines on the planet. I don't much get into Robbins & Sarandon's political parade, but Bull Durham is one of my favorite movies of all time and to ruin a nice tribute to it because of political leanings is worthy of its own censure. The movie still deserves some hoopla; perhaps those running the show in Cooperstown don't deserve to host it.

And finally, the Mets's weekend series is another match-up with the Expos, this time away . . . in Puerto Rico. Admittedly, I am looking for this to be a disaster so that MLB feels increased pressure to send the Expos to DC, but it will certainly be interesting. It's probably good for the Puerto Ricans to see some real baseball, for all they've provided the league, but it just seems like a concept better suited for the NFL, or at least the XFL. The think tank that is the league office has put so much energy into creative -- and sometimes downright shady -- solutions to the Montreal problem when they could so easily fall back on the one age-old remedy of putting the damn team where they'll make money. How much longer is Bud going to make us wait?

Prediction: The PR middle infield of Sanchez and Alomar turn 10 double plays in the series, but Javier Vazquez no-hits the Mets on Monday and the Expos win 3 of 4 on this "home" stand.

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