Monday, June 23, 2003

Game 72 & 73 - Mets

Yankees 5, Mets 0
Yankees 7, Mets 3
Record: 33-40

For the non-believers, let's all say it together: Whitney was right. Once again now: Whitney was right. Just when you, and when I say "you" I mean all of us, started to think maybe Armando Benitez had turned it around, he makes his most important appearance of the season and craps the bed. You can point to saves he made against the Braves or Phillies, but this game was huge for the Mets. To beat the Yankees, and boy was this game won, would have been important. Forget Friday's game. This was the one on national television; the Mets had clawed away at David Wells and held the Yanks' bats fairly silent, and it was time to put them away. And it never should have come to this.

Benitez did not blow the game in that "wow, they were just better than us tonight" kind of way. If he could find the plate at all, the hitters weren't doing much with the ball. But he was blatantly missing his spots on every pitch. His breaking ball didn't, and his fastball wasn't -- not that it mattered when it was a foot wide of the plate. Joe Morgan and Jon Miller analyzed to death how Benitez continue to throw outside to the lefty hitters, but it looked like utter fear. And this is what it's all about. Anyone can tell you that a significant percentage of the closer position is mental preparedness for high-pressure situations, and Benitez scores a big, fat zero in this area. He can gun a pitch 98 mph under everyday circumstances. But when the real pressure -- that big time, New York City, you'd better come through or 55,000 enraged luntics will be wanting you dead kind of pressure -- is on, he clenches up, tightens up, does something where his mechanics are thrown out of whack and he simply is not the same pitcher in these (the, uh, most mission-critical, wouldn't you say?) situations. And so, we present once again the book on Armando Benitez: 27 chapters of fluff -- page after page of meaningless statistics about meaningless saves -- and one climactic chapter where you learn everything. Judge him as a closer not on how many saves he can record; judge him on the fact that when the biggest of the big games are coming down to the wire, you want Armando Benitez three states away.

I don't know how this latest addition of evidence to the same, tired argument I have been spouting for 73 games (plus several seasons) affects his trade value. There were rumors over the weekend about the Yanks dealing for him, which has been refuted and seems to make little sense, except in the Red Sox-thwarting value. But a deal has to be made soon, if only for my own sanity. A couple of posthumous (after this game was dead and gone) quotes that have me teetering on the edge of cracking a molar whilst gnashing my teeth in frustration:

1. "I think it was a strike,'' Benitez said.
Hey, dummy, it was high and outside. And not all that close.

2. "He's our man. We're going to win it or lose it with him at that point,'' Mets manager Art Howe said.
And this assertive outlook is based on . . . ??? I don't care if Batman is on the mound -- if he walks the bases loaded on 13 pitches in the ninth inning with a one-run lead and looks absolutely horrible doing so, Commissioner Gordon at least thinks about making a move. Aren't managers there to assess the performances of their players and determine who gives the team the best chance of winning in every scenario from the first pitch until the last? Such a simplistic, blind faith credo as the one Art Howe professed comes off as a little fatalist, a little lazy, a little dodgy, and a lot foolhardy. It's an attempt at escaping culpability cloaked in a weak compliment / vote of confidence. It's not quite as cut and dried as that, Mr. Howe. He made the wrong call in the face of what was painfully obvious and now acts like it was part of a larger plan, still stuck on this looking to the future while digging himself a hole that makes the future irrelevant. Protecting Benitez's confidence, what little of it must be left, by not yanking his overgrown baby ass out of the game, is not high on the list of priorities, even with him on the trading block. Just win the damn game.

Bring back Bobby V.

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