Monday, June 02, 2003

Games 54 through 56 - Mets

Flippin' Braves 5, Mets 2
Mets 4, Daggone Braves 2
Mets 10, Whiny Braves 4
Record: 26-30

It's official: this is the happiest I have been about the Mets' season all year long. The 12-game proving grounds ended with a 7-5 record, and the mighty Metropolitans won three of the four series. Last night's 10-4 win, sparked by a huge 8-run sixth inning, was one of the few times I could be seen punching the air over a Mets game with glee instead of fury. Jeromy Burnitz's Baltimore Special to cap the rally was the only time all season my wishful visions for an at-bat played out exactly right. There was timely hitting, solid defense, strong pitching, and aggressive play. Sure, there was foolish aggressive play (Jason Phillips running them out of an early inning), some bullpen angst-inducing (immediately after the Mets' big inning, David Weathers walked the first two batters), and the usual amount of annoyances up until the big inning, but it was great to see a game like this that didn't go down to the wire.

The best part of this series, which was big but by no means a season-saver, is the aftermath. The Mets feel like maybe this second season, the one featuring no-name kids instead of overpaid has-beens, might show some progress and promise for the future. Meanwhile, the mama's boy Atlanta Braves, having gotten stung in merely one three-game series, do not have the decency and professional courtesy to say that they had their asses handed to them in a 10-4 bludgeoning. No, sir. From Bobby Cox on down, they are all blaming the new Questec Umpire Information System for shrinking the strike zone, implying that this caused the loss. Let's set aside for the moment that this is generally just a bunch of infantile, sour grapes whining that discredits the Mets' actual performance. Beyond that, here is what's wrong with the argument:

1. To blame the computer and the effect it has on the ump for the loss is to ignore the fact that the Mets also utilized a pitcher for nine innings in the game. Each team had six walks. If the zone was squeezed, it was so for both teams.
2. Ray King and Darren Holmes were the pitchers assaulting the new system the most loudly. Between them, they faced seven hitters and neither issued a base on balls. Granted, they are claiming they got to 2-0 and 3-1 counts because of the strike zone shrinkage, but they were the ones who grooved the subsequent pitches to hitters. They retired just two of those seven hitters; give a little credit where it's due, take a little blame where it's due.
3. Granted, this is more technology at work, but the ESPN K-Zone graphics illustrated in nearly every case that the balls called were indeed balls, not strikes, no matter what strike zone was being used. Frankly, some of the ones Darren Holmes (who definitely should have been run, though the ump knew the Mets really wanted him still in there) bitched about most vehemently weren't all that close.
4. Players and coaches, projecting their own faults on the new system, will probably eliminate the first and only means Major League Baseball has ever instituted to regulate its umpiring crews. For years MLB has been the only major sport not to strictly monitor its officials and hold them accountable for their performances, giving them carte blanche to affect the outcome of ballgames unduly. Now that there is a measuring stick in place (in pilot mode), baseball players -- never folks who come off as a group of people alternately playing baseball and putting in hours at MENSA -- are going to kill it. And come October, when an ump with a track record for inconsistency, surliness, and horrible calls goofs yet again, someone needs to be there to remind the players that they really have no leg upon which to stand. The umpires, of course, are probably the ones to be blamed. They don't want to be regulated -- naturally, they like infinite job security and little to no performance appraisal -- and when MLB tries to rein them in, they say things like the ump said to Curt Schilling. The notion that they would change the way they call balls and strikes, when all batters ever really want is consistency, simply because they're scared of what the machine might say about them, is beyond preposterous. It's all about adult human beings holding themselves accountable for their job-related performance. If you suck, just say you suck and quit looking to blame the only 100% consistent entity in the mix. Be men, for Pete's sake, not . . . Braves.

On the injury front, Mike Stanton and Pedro Astacio have become the latest DL entries. Mike Bacsik, last seen issuing four-pitch walks and gopher balls on Opening Day, is back in the rotation. His numbers in AAA were startling (0-5, 6.00 ERA, .328 opponents' BA); I can see why they'd want him for a batting practice pitcher, but the rotation? With Coney finally retiring, the youth movement continues. Somehow, though, touted prospect Jose Reyes remains in Norfolk. The Tides currently have the second-best record in the International League and a 2.5-game lead in the South Division (ahaead of the Richmond f-Braves) despite a flurry of comings and goings and a lack of real up-and-comers. I'm fairly dubious in regards to odds of the Mets' continued long-term success with this slew of rookies, journeymen, and career minor leaguers. Still, I have to revisit my initial statement here: Whitney is a happy boy for now.

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