Friday, May 28, 2004

Game 47 - Red Sox
Mmmmm, Colon Blow

A's 15, Red Sox 2
Record: 29-18

This was a classic "Shit Happens" game, one in which the good guys had no chance from the moment they strapped on their uniforms. The A's were up 12-0 after 3 1/2 innings, and both teams went through the motions from that point. The Sox had ripped off 5 in a row, while the A's had dropped 5 straight, and both teams were due for a reversal of fortune. So, ces't la vie.

As I believe I've posted before but am too lazy to confirm, every team has a few games like this one each year, and they serve the same purpose as an enema - clean out and refresh the system, and prepare the body/team to get back to its main pursuit. That they also feel like enemas, uncomfortable at first and then downright violating, is all part of the cleansing process.

Looking at the box score, I noted A's starter Mark Mulder's 115 pitches in less than 6 innings. Pitch count (at least for starters) is something I focus intently on in every game I watch (wicked geek alert), because it's intuitive that the earlier the Sox can chase the starter and get to the soft underbelly of the opponents' bullpen, the better their chances of scoring a bunch of runs. The converse is true for Sox pitching - the longer the starters stay in, the better the Sox' chances of preventing runs. Not a concept that requires astrophysics to understand.

The importance of pitch counts, at least as related to understanding and controlling the strike zone, is one of the key tenets of the "new" school of baseball management. So it's no surprise that the Sox lead the major leagues in pitches faced for the season, averaging 162.9 per game, more than 5 per game more than the second-place Oakland A's, and over 27 per game more than the last-place Tampa Bay Devil Rays. At this rate, the Sox will force opposing pitching staffs to throw 810 more pitches than will the A's, and 4,374 more than the Rays. Extra pitches = tired arms = battered pitching staffs = more runs for the good guys.

The Sox are seeing 16 more pitches per game than their pitchers are throwing - 4 full plate appearances per game (at 4.01 pitches/PA, the Sox average). 4 more chances to get on base, drive in runs, make something happen. Over the course of the season, 648 more chances than their opponents. All from being better than anyone else at making the other team's pitchers work.

Apologies in advance to the masses reading this humble blog for the preceding descent into statheadgeekdom. That's the kind of stuff, though, that makes me more and more insane everytime someone like Rob Dibble opens his mouth to blather on about the uselessness of stats in evaluating the game. Simple concept, easy to understand, and easy to measure - in the same way that on-base percentage correlates more directly to runs scored than batting average - so why the hue and cry from the "old school"? No answer from this lonely corner of the blogosphere.
Timing is Everything...and Mine Sucks

Nice to see Whit come storming back from his slumber. Would have been nicer to see it happen after my last post, instead of right in front of it - sort of blunts the message, no?. Simulblogging has its disadvantages.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Game 46 - Red Sox
The Sound of One Man Blogging

Red Sox 9, A's 6
Record: 29-17

Last night's Red Sox battery was enough to make Scott Boras certifiable. The uberagent represents both Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek, opposite sides of the performance coin at the moment. While Lowe got the win last night to even his record at 4-4, his 6IP, 5ER performance actually raised his ERA to 6.22. Tek, on the other hand, belted his 9th homer of the season in the bottom of the 6th to give the Sox their winning margin. Boras should rightfully be sweating at the moment, having turned down the Sox offer of to Lowe of a guaranteed $27 million. He would be sweating, that is, if Satanic spawn actually had sweat glands.

After Anastacio Martinez gave up hits the first (and only) three A's he faced in the bottom of the 7th, the trio of Embree, Timlin, and Foulke slammed the door just like they have all season. Foulke's ERA is a fast-pitch softball-like 0.37, with 1 earned run in 24 1/3 innings. (That sound you hear is Foulke breaking things knowing that I've dropped the MLC jinx on him. Hey, better now than in October.)

That other sound you hear is the soft whisper of wind through an empty keyboard, mournfully singing the ballad of the lost Metblogger.

Games 42 through 46 - Mets
A New Era, an Old Name for It

Mets 9, Rockies 7
Mets 5, Rockies 4
Mets 4, Rockies 0
Mets 5, Phillies 0
Phillies 7, Mets 4
Record: 23-23

Had I merely resisted the urge to blog on and rip my associate, the Mets surely would have completed the mini-sweep of the Phightin' Phils in addition to the more traditional three-gamer against Colorado. But according to the Cosmic Rules of Fan Torture, because I typed something mildly laudatory in this space, destiny was irrevocably altered, and the Mets lost.

This pattern was kind of funny for a while, but it's just excruciating now. When I step away, the Metropolitans thrive as if they were a real baseball team. After I'm sucked back into it, they wilt. Mike Piazza's heave of a potential game-saving DP ball into left field might as well have been right off my forehead. It was in my face.

It seems like this scenario could not possibly be reality. How could my optimism continually yield poor play while my pessimism and/or apathy renders drastic improvement?

Maybe it's not as it seems. Thomas Hardy once philosophized:
"Pessimism is, in brief, playing the sure game. You cannot lose at it; you may gain. It is the only view of life in which you can never be disappointed. Having reckoned what to do in the worst possible circumstances, when better arise, as they may, life becomes child's play."

By quitting on the New York Mets time and time again, I play the sure game. If they continue to lose, I haven't wasted my time with them, and the team has demonstrated why jumping ship was the wise move. If they rebound, even in small doses, I am elated, if also frustrated by my decision to bail out. The unfortunate timing that has intertwined my lapses of attention to my team and their relative peaks of success are coincidental in the particulars but to be expected overall. The ups and downs of a 162-game season are inevitable. The choppy ripples of this squall season so far are not uncanny; that my own biorhythmic waves have formed a double helix with the Mets W-L pattern might be, but it's not the X-Files-worthy material I have made it out to be. If I could simply maintain a more stable, even-keeled approach to the New York Mets season, I'd shake this notion that 30 people in poly-blend outfits and cotton caps are out to get me.

I should have been a psychologist. What a heap of dung. The frickin' Mets are out to get me and everyone else who pulls for them, and they're breaking down mental states in more than the Tri-State Area. The real truth is that even in my moments of supposed stolidity, I am still affected. Even after I've written the Metros off for the season, it's still torturous to watch them languish. Those spring training feelings of hope are real, and they remain there in your head, getting publicly whipped with every miserable defeat in September. If it doesn't bother you, you weren't all that much of a fan to begin with, and you won't be blessed with the overwhelming sense of dream realization when the promised land is finally reached. Did you see the second-coming type of pandemonium after the Marlins won it all last fall? That's because there wasn't any. And don't get me started on the Yankees. Oops, apparently you just did.

One of the problems with YankeeLand being so large now isn't its sheer size. Hey, New York is one of the largest cities in the world, and it's arguably the most important, so a massive fan base should be expected. It's just that the YankWagon was a little jalopy putting along with painfully few riders in the eighties and early nineties. The diehards were there, but they multiplied like wet gremlins when the Bombers started winning again. And although hearing these real Yankee fans' witless chants when the Yanks started catching up to their legacy wasn't any less grating (apparently 17 seasons without a trophy isn't always enough time to breed cleverness), at least the extra-annoying issue of where the hell they were in the dead years (a.k.a. the Donnie Baseball Era) doesn't further agitate you. Those guys loudly overhyping Don Mattingly when he was leading the Yankees to their second last-place finish in 80 years and their first since 1960 truly felt the joy of 1996 as much as they felt the groin tear of 1990. That's the risk in Boston and Chicago: if you don't bleed with the losers along the way, you won't have the scars to pour the champagne salve onto if and when the unthinkable miracle finally happens. Pay your dues, laddies, for you'll receive exponential compensation someday . . you hope.

So this is why my seasonal shuckings of the Mets are only superficial. My head's telling me to find a lifeboat quick before the iceberg sinks the season, but my heart keeps pumping signals of "3.5 games out? We're right in the thick of it!" to my brain. And I get up and the Mets go down and I get down and the Mets go up and the teeter-totter goes on ad nauseum, literally for me.

Mark the date and time -- I hereby renounce my heretofore ritualistic formula of swearing the Mets off and sheepishly sneaking back into rah-rah over and over. To borrow from the other side of the tracks in MLC Episode I: The Fandom Menace, I am entering the Era of Positivity. Here are a few of what will be my trademark slogans:

1. Hey, we're just happy to be here at this point.
2. Did you see 2003?
3. The pieces are there, and you just never know.
4. There's always my case bet with Rob as a fall-back.

and finally, and most importantly:

5. With every loss, we're paying our dues, earning our stripes, and every other rite-of-passage cliche about going through the muck now to sweeten the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. (That's the metaphorical equivalent of leftover soup at your school cafeteria, but you get the point.)

And so I begin the new era with a few reasons to believe. The Mets are at 23-23, the latest they've been .500 in . . . well, just a few years, but it seems like an eternity, doesn't it? They've won nine of their last 13. In May they swept two series but weren't swept. And in the case race, the Mets are but six games back of the Red Sox close to 1/3 of the way through the season -- projecting an 18-game deficit by season's end, on the better side of the all-important 22-game line. There is still a long road to hoe, but the Era of Positivity II isn't completely delusional.

Up next: remember last year's 12-game stretch that was going to be make-or-break time? Yeah, I know, the whole thing was a bust because the Mets went 7-5, still fell further from contention, then dismantled the team the way a good 12-game outcome was supposed to prevent. Well, anyway, it's that time again. The Mets have a similar 10-game gauntlet to run starting Friday. Three at Florida, three at Philly, and four more against the Fish back at Shea. With the exception of the ridiculous NL Central, the NL East is currently the biggest crapshoot in baseball. Four teams within four games, none clearly dominant. If they go 8-2 I'm buying postseason tickets (this positivity thing can be carried too far), 6-4 and I'm happy, 4-6 and I'm worried, anything less and the Era of Positivity has a shorter run than The Bad News Bears Go To Japan, which, of course, I saw in the theater way back when.

And finally, on that note (and on a Rob Russell-style tangent), I just read that they are remaking the original Bad News Bears to star Billy Bob Thornton. This is a mistake. The original 1976 film was perfectly cast, perfectly written, and perfectly acted. The mix of sports, comedy, and sentiment was ideal, the kids weren't too-cute, and the ending was letter-perfect. There is nowhere to go but way, way down, and there simply is no point to a remake. But one thing knock-offs do is bring the original back into the spotlight, so treat yourself to the classic. Because no matter whom they cast as Kelly Leak, there will be no way he can pull off "I got a Harley Davidson. Does that turn you on? Harley Davidson?" quite the same way as the one, the only Jackie Earle Haley.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Game 45 - Red Sox
38 & '24'

Red Sox 12, Oakland A's 2
Record: 28-17

Thoughts while soaring over a sea of dorsal fins, firmly abreast my cyber-Harley:

I'm very appreciative of the Sox scoring early and often during last night's nationally televised contest against the A's. My guys' thorough domination of Oakland's stud, Tim Hudson, allowed me to focus on the season finale of '24' from 9:00 to 10:00 without remorse, especially since Curt Schilling was dealing and the Sox had a 9-0 lead.

Yesterday was my first real opportunity to watch Schilling work, and even though he wasn't otherworldly - 7 IP, 2 ER, 9H, 6K, 113 pitches - he was in complete control. He pitched around a lead-off double to Erubiel Durazo in the 5th when the lead was only 5 runs, then struck out Eric Chavez with his final pitch of the night with the bases loaded and the score 9-2. Unlike a certain basketcase who shall remain nameless, Schilling seems to get better under pressure, almost daring the opponent to string together a series of hits.

ESPN's camerawork provided another interesting insight Schilling and how he fits into the Sox bench dynamic. At various times during the game the cameras caught Schilling in earnest, animated discussions - generally one-sided - with Terry Francona, pitching coach Dave Wallace, Derek Lowe, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz. Schilling and Ortiz talked for nearly 30 minutes at one stretch. Schilling's intensity and preparation seems to have rubbed off on Manny and Ortiz, who combined for 6 hits, including 2 doubles and a homer. It was cool to watch Schill making entries in his notebook, and to see how seriously he takes winning. "Listen to me", he seems to be saying with his words and actions, "I know what the hell it takes to get the job done."

Flipping between '24' and the Sox, it occurred to me that Schilling is Boston's Jack Bauer, the super-intense, super-motivated, and super-effective win-at-all-costs alpha dog. The comparison doesn't suffer from the fact that Schilling and Kiefer Sutherland share more than a passing resemblance. The free world is safe from biotoxins this morning, and maybe the Red Sox have a guy that can drag them to the promised land, hopefully without cutting off Pedro's arm at the wrist. (Whitney is just squirming with Great White imagery as he reads this.)

Lots of offensive stars in this one, as the Sox battered Hudson for 5 earned runs in 4 innings with a combination of extreme patience and efficient hitting when they got their pitches (save for Kevin "LOB" Millar). Mark Bellhorn continued to contribute, falling a triple short of the cycle and driving in 5 runs. Ortiz doubled twice and drove in 3, Manny hit a mammoth blast into the monster seats, Varitek went 3-for-3, and Kevin Youkilis reached base 4 times.

Yesterday also brought news that Billy Mueller went under the knife for a procedure to repair some degenerative damage to his knee. The defending AL batting champion will be out 4-6 weeks, so young Youks(!) will get all the playing time he wants. Good to know that he seems up to the task.

And finally, it was awesome to see Fenway react to Andy Dominique's major league debut. Dominique was called up to take Mueller's roster spot, and pinch-hit in the bottom of the 8th. With the game well in hand, the Sox faithful rose as one, chanting "Andy, Andy, Andy", as Dominique faced former Sox farmhand Justin Duscherererererer. That's gotta be an all-time goosebump moment for Dominique, even though he swung through strike three. He's another in the Morgan Burkhart body by cheesesteak slow white guy mold, which means he'll probably tear it up for three weeks, earn the eternal admiration of Sox fans everywhere, and then fade into oblivion. There are worse fates.

Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

At the risk of turning this portion of MLC into a bad parody of a 100,000-word poetry slam between Bill Simmons and Ralph Wiley (wait, they've already done that to themselves), I must respond to my colleague's harangue. Coming from a guy that I had to literally (okay, figuratively) shake out of a blogcoma mere weeks ago, I find his sentiments a bit hypocritical, if not schoolmarmish (we point out grammatical errors and typos now - that'll be hours of fun for reader of all age (NOTE: that's intentional, serving to note that we only really have one reader, please keep your Chicago Book of Style in its holster)). And if he's trying to say that it didn't take him 6 years to graduate college, well, we all know better than that.

With an entire day off of work to spend crafting eloquent Metprose, I expect something Dickensian, or at least Lupican from our traveling correspondent.
A Dimension Not Only of Sight and Sound . . . But of Mind

I'm gone for five days and:

1. The Mets rattle off four wins.
2. Rob Russell tries to jump the shark with this site.

Now pitching for the Mets: Rod Serling. What's more puzzling? While the Mets won with ease while I was away, reinforcing my ever-solidifying theory that my fandom is a disease to them, Rob's meager three postings read like the final season of a long-running sitcom. Few and far between episodes, limited content, plenty of formulaic retread. He even linked to an old posting of his like a clip show! There were typos, grammatical no-nos, and mathematical errors (my college year total). He linked to a site doing our job better than we were! (For the last five days, for sure.) He quoted the Sports Guy, then blatantly ripped off his mailbag segment, then further emulated the SG by posting a non sequitur non-sports bit without any reference to the topics at hand. (Those still are the Red Sox and Mets, no?) And T.J. Doyle? Was Vince McMahon unavailable for comment? MLC becomes the XFL in five short days. I am scrolling down now to see if there are ads for erectile dysfunction cures somewhere below.

By saying all of this, I heave myself onto the slide and under the microscope for the next few days. I'd better have some good material that doesn't read like vacation slides. Well, I'm technically still on vacation until Thursday AM. So the Mets can keep doing whatever it is they're doing, and Rob can blame his daughters for his Mondesi-like commitment this week.

And if baseball comes to the "D.C. area" but winds up at Dulles, I am back to going to Orioles games - it'd be closer.

Monday, May 24, 2004


Wait, we've got a mailbag? Sweet!

Avid (only?) reader T.J. Doyle from Arlington, VA chimes in with the first-ever MLC mailbag entry:

"Worst sequel, Ghostbusters 2 or Another 48 hours?"

The answer, unequivocally and without question, is Highlander 2, The Quickening. To steal unabashedly from the once and future Boston Sports Guy, I will not argue this. The original Highlander was simply a terrific film, with an intriguing (assuming willing suspension of belief) time-twisting plot, a chilling, pitch-perfect villain (I defy you to watch the scene where the Kurgan describes killing Ramirez and raping Connor MacLeod's woman without the hair standing straight up on the back of your neck), and a bunch of cool swordfighting scenes.

I will admit that Highlander resonates all the more with me for the fact that I've seen it literally dozens of times. It, along with Fletch and Spinal Tap, served as the videotrack for my college years, playing over and over again on the television in my fraternity house living room.

So when the sequel came out in 1991, the brotherhood of Pi Lambda Phi rose as one to attend opening night at the Carmike Cinemas in downtown Williamsburg, VA, anticipating the continuation of the legacy of the One. We knew within the film's first 10 minutes that the sequel was an unredeemable pile of stinking monkey shit. The filmmakers took an epic fantasy, nuanced and clever, and turned it into a hackneyed futuristic cliche. We were laughing at ostensibly serious dialogue less than halfway through the movie, and openly rooting for the bad guys (aliens, as it turns out, fucking aliens) to destroy the earth and with it the screenwriters.

The Quickening? We dubbed it the Sickening. And it's the worst sequel ever even contemplated. Next question, please.

Games 42 through 44 - Red Sox
Sweep Emotion

Red Sox 11, Blue Jays 5
Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 2
Red Sox 7, Blue Jays 2
Record: 27-17

Now that I've got a very active 2 year-old (is there any other kind?), weekends are never terribly conducive to following the Sox closely. In light of that, and of the fact that I've always been extremely lazy, I'm instituting a new Monday policy of Larry King-style weekend roundups.

1. Looks like I've figured out - at least for the moment - the proper mixture of optimism and pessimism to inspire the Sox to victory. Friday's lukewarm endorsement of the Sox' chances against the Jays seemed to be just the right measure of hopefulness and cynical detachment.

2. The Sox bullpen posted 8 more scoreless innings against the Jays, only allowing 1 hit over the weekend. The starters have to be immensely confident knowing that all they need to do is get to the 7th with a lead and the game's all but in the bag.

3. Which is a stronger possibility: the Sox will significantly pick up the pace when Nomar and Trot return to the lineup, or the Yankees are certain to rip off a 40-10 stretch when all their hitters start performing to their capabilities? My personal belief on the topic doesn't make me all warm and fuzzy.

4. Sox face Oakland, Seattle, and California 8 times over the next 9 days, with a single makeup game against Baltimore thrown in for good measure. 5-4 over that time will be a positive result.

5. Sox signed David Ortiz to a 2-year, $12.5 million contract extension with a team option for the third year. I think we'll look back at that deal as a lead-pipe steal when it's all said and done. Love the Tizzle.

6. Something's wrong with the schedule when the Sox have faced Roy Halladay 4 times before the end of June. Something's right with the Sox when they've won three of those four.

7. Newest D.C. baseball stadium plan calls for a ballpark as the centerpiece of a huge retail, commercial, and residential complex near Dulles Airport. To which I say, where do I sign up? The proposed site is 10 minutes from my house, well-supported with infrastructure, and in the middle of the nation's fastest-growing county. All of which conspires to mean that there's no chance in hell that Bud Lite and his cronies will pull the trigger on it.

8. Derek Lowe's given up 81 baserunners in 40 1/3 innings. I'm not a good enough writer to adequately describe that kind of putrescence.

9. It's early, but Kevin Youkilis has acquitted himself pretty well in his first week in the bigs. .850 OPS in 25 plate appearances, with a .300 average and his first major league homer. Plus, it's fun to type and say, "Youks!".

10. Can't wait to see Whitney compare and contract Tom Glavine and David Weathers.

11. And finally, the good people over at East Coast Agony seem to be putting out the same product as Whit and I. Near as I can tell, they're college guys with a lot more time on their hands than us - which led to a debate over whether we'd have been able to pull off a blog of this nature during our time in college. I said we would, as we found time to play marathon games of Risk, complete entire Strat-o-matic seasons, and develop elaborate new sporting events in the living room of our fraternity house during those hours not dedicated to drunken idiocy - all before the advent of the internet. Whit said no chance, which I found interesting coming from the king of doing anything but academic work in his 6+ years in Williamsburg.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Game 41 - Red Sox
Laid Lowe

Devil Rays 9, Red Sox 6
Record: 24-17

After careful rereading of this post, I'm pleased to report that I can safely disparage Derek Lowe, as long as I stick to his performance and not his mental makeup. And right now, his performance sucks. He gave up 7 earned runs in 2 1/3 innings last night - completely melting down after a series of bad breaks in the bottom of the third inning. His ERA stands at 6.02, which would be horrid on the Rockies, let alone the best pitching staff in the American League. He's walked more men than he's struck out. And he's, as always, a headc...dammit,

The rest of the team scrapped back from a 7-0 deficit to make things interesting, scoring three each in the 4th and 5th to make it a 7-6 game before succumbing to the league's worst team. Predictably, Manny went 0-for-5 the day after I sang his praises. Slacker.

Johnny Damon Superstar shaved his beard this afternoon, but left his flowing hair intact. Instead of Jesus Christ, the Sox now have Peter Frampton patrolling centerfield. Look for a Damon Comes Alive! headline in this space in the next several weeks.

End of the week, on the way out the door, apologies abound for this abbreviated and rambling entry. Promise to do better next week after the Sox paste the Blue Jays. And by that I mean after they scuffle against another mediocre opponent.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Game 41 - Mets
I am Lester, Lord of the Idiots

Cardinals 11, Mets 4
Record: 19-22

And I follow up today's earlier guarantee with another: I guarantee you I will never do that again. Holy hell.

Sloppy play, bad pitching, and three runs against non-marquee pitching. The Mets hadn't looked this bad since the first half (the ugly half) of the series in Arizona. I guess the blame's on me for this one, what with that half-baked Broadway Joe imitation.

What have we learned? Anything I write here leads to losses for the Mets. I am at a loss, and so are my guys. I suppose I should pack it in and rename this site "Misery Loves Company But Rob Ain't Gettin' Any," but (a) it's not my style to do the prudent thing, and (b) that title would contain more double entendre than my cohort is comfortable with. So, I press on, right in the face of the facts. The only time the Metropollys have come to life is when I swear them off, curse their stupid-sounding name, and watch other sports. But I won't do that, if only because watching the NBA is like having eyeball acupuncture and watching the NHL is watching a dead man walking. And I refuse to let the Mets defeat my will to watch. Just when it makes no sense to tune in and see my boys get their brains beaten in, I'm cooking up a pair of dogs in my Hot-Diggety-Dogger, cracking open a cold one (six), and telling my kids it's Mommy Time for a few hours. But that's just me. Not too bright, huh?

I am off to vacation for a few days, so I'll be blogless for a series or two. Enjoy my silence and Rob's double-shot make-up for it.
Game 40 - Red Sox
Renaissance Manny

Red Sox 4, Devil Rays 1
Record: 24-16

In October, the Red Sox placed Manny Ramirez on waivers, making him (and his $20 million per year contract) available for anyone who was willing to take on his salary. Then, throughout the holiday season, the Sox actively and openly shopped the enigmatic slugger to the Texas Rangers as part of the ill-fated quest for Alex Rodriguez. Last season saw Manny involved in a seemingly endless spate of minor controversies - expressing his sort-of desire to play for the Yankees, sitting out a game with a sore throat, meeting Enrique Wilson in a hotel bar while sick, and so on ad nauseum. Add all this to Manny's career-long reputation as a flake - deserved or not - and anti-superstar public profile, and Red Sox Nation was less than clueless about what to expect from the team's most prolific offensive force.

Sox fans desperately want to jump on the Manny bandwagon. He's goofy, he's fun-loving, he's an offensive machine. But he's always lacked the one thing that puritanical Bostonians and their spiritual ancestors adore: passion. Boston loves the gritty, gutty guy more than the supremely talented guy who makes it look easy. It's why Larry Bird's the pinnacle - he combined massive talent with an equally massive work ethic - and why Ted Williams had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Sox fans. Despite reports extolling his hard work, Manny's gametime actions have always seemed to lack urgency, from not running out a groundball here and there, to a laconic personal style, even when he was actually hustling.

This year, though, things look a little different. First of all, he's hitting the cover off the ball, posting a .368/.443/.632 (Avg/OBP/Slg) line, good for the 6th-best OPS in the majors. He's also started hitting longballs, with his 9th homerun last night. We expected those things. What's been unexpected, and joyous to watch, has been Manny's transformation into a fan favorite and clubhouse presence. He's been speaking out to the media, defending his teammates, and displaying a sense of humor we hadn't seen previously. He became an American citizen a few weeks ago, and celebrated by running to his position in leftfield at Fenway carrying a little American flag, basking in the cheers of Red Sox Nation as the wind whipped the banner behind him. He'd better be careful, or he's gonna find himself loved by Boston soon.

Schilling goes 7 strong, Manny hits a tater, as does Damon, and Foulke lowers his ERA to a staggering 0.40 with another 1 1/3 scoreless innings. At the quarter pole, the Sox are in a better position than I'd expected. Good times.
Game 40 - Mets
Defense D'Art

Cardinals 1, Mets 0
Record: 19-21

I just can't win. I suggest that the Mets should win, and they lose. I outline exactly why they should lose, and they lose in precisely that way. Well, sort of: Trachsel had no letdown (I am becoming a huge fan of his), but Suppan was great, Rolen won the game for the Cardinals, and the Mets once again found away to lose. 1-0 is such a shot in the gut. These are the opportunities that the Metmen had been taking full advantage of lately, but they just came up short.

Today's New York Post has multiple articles that lay a fair amount of blame on the ol' skipper in this game, including one whose entire contents consist of breakdowns of Art Howe's tactical . . . breakdowns. I love the Post for its very New Yorky, shoot from the hip style. (Not so much for its eloquent sportswriting, skillful composition, or journalistic professionalism; those are niceties monopolized by the Times. Anyway, the "Can Art" movement (not to be confused with Andy Warhol) is rolling, but I'm not so sure it isn't a little premature. His relaxed demeanor doesn't befit a New York manager, though he did blow a gasket last week over a horrible call at second base and get tossed. In addition, his quiet, thinking man style is being questioned more and more often with some head-scratcher maneuvers. Admittedly, Art Howe has forced me (that's my defense, at least) to heave inanimate objects across my living room in frustration more than once over the past season and a quarter. But I refuse to join this misguided lynch mob.

The recent resurgence in Metville has been Art Howe style all the way. Not flashy -- no ostentatious win streaks, just take two of three and call it a series, just effective. It's a slow creep from jockeying with Les Expos for the NL cellar to slipping by the malfunctioning Braves to calmly looking on a few games back while the Marlins and Phillies fixate on each other. Counted out early and often, the Mets have quietly returned to the mix, though the only national articles about them these days are Disabled List updates. (Today Big Al hit the DL; if only I were like Antonio Alfonseca so I could cross more fingers for his quick and successful return.) This is just fine by Art Howe.

I don't think Mr. Howe enjoys any sort of spotlight, which will ultimately be his undoing in New York. The only time his A's received a whole lot of attention was in the postseason, when they folded like origami, usually to the Yanks. So this low-profile drag up the standings is perfect for him. Scrapping him now would undo this season, in all likelihood, and there's too many good times left in it to do that now. Let's see how far he can go flying under the radar, and then, if the Mets continue to improve, let's see what he does when all of the spotlights that have been blinding Derek Jeter & Co. get wheeled towards Queens. All we are saying is Give Art a Chance.

The scariest thing is that the chatter about Art Howe is errily similar to that of Grady Little during the regular season last year, except with half as many wins. Yikes.

Back to my personal problem (one of many): what do I write in this space so as not to steer my boys inexorably downward into another loss? Hmmm, I have yet to guarantee victory. Well, here it is: the Mets will win today, completing another series win, avoiding the gaudy win streak that might draw national attention, and continuing the upward progression. Slow progression, that is, like a trawler that doesn't grab the eye like the neon-colored speedboats that flit about, but which nets the catch and subsequently satisfies my hunger. (I must not have eaten enough at lunch today. Better grab a snack and follow this game online.)

METS WIN. You read it here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Game 39 - Red Sox
Wake Me Up Before the No-No

Red Sox 7, Devil Rays 3
Record: 23-16

We come here not to bury Tim Wakefield, but to praise him. The knuckleballer went 7 innings last night, giving up three hits and one run to raise his record to 3-2 and lower his ERA to 3.31. Even better, I didn't have to watch him, which significantly enhances my enjoyment of the Tim Wakefield Experience.

I've discussed this conundrum briefly in the past. I love Tim Wakefield. I love his durability, I love his sense of team and community, I love that he's evolved into a guy who'll do anything his manager needs, and I love that he throws a weird little pitch and still manages to be a highly effective major league pitcher. Hell, he's won 119 career games, 105 with the Sox. He's only 19 wins away from third on the Sox' all-time list, and a mere 117 innings from being second amongst all Sox pitchers. He's also the Sox' all-time leader in hit batsmen, which brings us back to the conundrum: I love Tim Wakefield, but watching him pitch renders me slowly but inevitably insane.

Maybe it's because he really doesn't have any control over what happens to his flutterballs when they leave his hand, or because every pitch seems fraught with peril - especially with men on base. Maybe it's because it doesn't seem possible that a pitch traveling 60 - 65 mph can consistently fool major league hitters and I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. Wake's game just looks so much different that it feels somehow untrustworthy, and the result is that I'm happy to follow the ESPN Bottom Line to get my Sox results 1 out of every 5 games.

The fact remains, though, that Timmeh's posted 534 1/3 innings with a 3.64 ERA and 7.6 K/9 IP over the last three years - really good for almost any pitcher not named Martinez, and sensational for a No. 4 starter. Just don't make me watch him pitch.

Workmanlike win for the Sox last night, though they waited until the 7th inning to blow the game open. Mark Bellhorn continues to produce, ripping his 5th homer to give the Sox their final 3 runs. Despite only batting .231, Bellhorn is 14th in the AL in OBP (.394) and 2nd in the league in walks (35). He also leads the league in strikeouts, which is a bizarre daily double. Chris Berman must hate him.

Another great memory popped up yesterday as I caught the final inning of Randy Johnson's perfect game against the Braves. TBS flashed a graphic relating the last time an opponent no-hit Atlanta - Houston's Ken Forsch turned the trick in April 1979. As the graphic appeared, I thought to myself, "Hey, I watched that game."

I was 8 years old, watching the game on TV in Huntsville, AL. When bedtime came (probably somewhere in the 4th inning or so), I pleaded with my father to let me stay up, because Forsch was going to pitch a no-hitter. Dad let me do it, surely thinking that the Braves would shortly get a hit and send me to bed. Didn't happen, and I got to stay up for the whole thing. Fathers and sons and baseball - makes you feel kind of good inside.
Game 39 - Mets
Cheers! Cliff Back to His Norm

Mets 5, Cardinals 4
Record: 19-20

Mike Piazza said Sunday that he liked the energy of the team, that there was a definite difference between this club and that of the past two seasons. Not exactly a Tug nugget, but even mildly optimistic vibes are welcome these days. Last night against St. Louis the New York Mets added another chapter of what I thought I overstated yesterday as "inspired play." This team has considerably more scrap to them than we've seen in Mets uni's in some time.

Tom Glavine allowed four in six, which marked his worst start of the year -- but would have been a pretty decent outing for him last season. He's pitched brilliantly thus far, so we'll just keep our fingers crossed this was an aberration. His successors on the night, Orber Moreno and Ricky Bottalico, held fast and, with the aid of an amazing Jason Phillips double play in the top of the ninth, kept a 4-3 Cards lead from expansion. Bottom 9, down 1, time for more Mets drama.

Mike Cameron walked, and Joe McEwing bunted him over. I tend to take the whiz out of Super Joe for his overly emphatic scrappy hustler rep that belies an absence of talent, but laying down a bunt to advance a runner who'd eventually score the tying run during go-time -- well, his fundamentals are super-solid, and I have to tip my cap. With two on and two out, Kaz Matsui splintered his bat but muscled one into shallow right, scoring Mike Cameron and sending Karim Abdul Garcia to third. A minute later, Cliff Floyd lined one to right that dropped in, scoring Garcia and winning the game.

Former Met Jason Isringhausen took the loss, and former Cardinal Bottalico got the victory. Bottalico, the third member of the triumvirate of aged arms left for dead by the rest of the league but scooped up by the Mets this offseason, has been a pleasant surprise. While James Baldwin and Scott Erickson have had seasons soon to be protested by right-to-lifers, Ricky Bottalico has, in a small period of time so far, gotten the job done. At the very least, he helped the Mets win this one.

Jason Phillips hit another home run, was 2-for-4, and made the great play; Jason, if you need a refill on that dosage of ragging at any point, just say the word. I'm good for it.

Steve Trachsel takes the mound against the Cards and Jeff Suppan tonight. Every time it's looked like a game the Mets should win, they've fumbled it, so I'll just say this: Trachsel's due for a letdown, Suppan is underrated, Scott Rolen is on fire, Ty Wigginton should throw his bat in the fire (0 for his last 18), and any time the Mets get close to a breakthrough (a win tonight puts them at .500), they usually find a way to lose.

And one last thing. The Atlanta Braves watched Randy Johnson hurl a perfect game against them last night, one game after Ben Sheets stuck out 18 Braves batters. As the season wears on, it may become more obvious that Atlanta is not the key divisional adversary to root against, but old habits die hard. Heh heh heh.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Games 36 through 38 - Mets
Twists, Turns, Free Falls, Spins, and Loop-a-Circles

Mets 8, Astros 3
Astros 7, Mets 4
Mets 3, Astros 2 (13)
Record: 18-20

You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster. Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride! I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn't like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.
-- Grandma's wisdom in Parenthood

I guess I'm like Grandma, and I like these ups and downs, even through it takes so much out of you. Of course, maybe I'm like Grandma and I'm sitting in the neighbor's car.

The Mets lined up against the SportsCenter-worthy fearsome fivesome and emerged with four wins out of five. Not bad. Not bad at all. Now the stretch where they lost four of five last week has been bookended by an earlier four-game win streak and winning four of five through Sunday. This is Mets baseball: a crazier rollercoaster than any on Coney Island, it induces just as much nausea and clearly isn't for everyone, but for those who are into it, it can be a lot of fun.

Yes, the Mets own an unsightly 18-20 mark now, but you have to feel as though that record could be a hell of a lot worse were it not for patches of inspired play. Sunday's win in Houston was one example of it. Roger Clemens shut the Mets down for seven innings (2 hits, 1 walk, 10 strikeouts). After 91 pitches, though, he exited. Jimy Williams claims he asked out of the game with a blister on his finger; Clemens claims he never did. (Oh, sorry, wrong game.) And although I'd written before that this bleak scenario could only be salvaged with a beanball in Clemens's ear, I was wrong. (Not wrong because it's immoral to wish pain on those you dislike, no, no, wrong because there was a better option.)

Astros closer and former Met Octavio "Don't Ask" Dotel surrendered a leadoff double to ever-improving youngster Eric Valent, then struck out a pair, then got a couple of strikes on Mike Piazza, then threw something that Piazza rocketed over the right-field wall. The shot tied the game and blew Rajah's chance for a record-tying (a stupid, USA Today-type record) eighth consecutive win after changing leagues. More importantly, it pissed Clemens off, which Piazza had to love.

On that note, briefly, here are two passages from the AP recap of the game, just a few paragraphs apart:

"Clemens brought a little heat to their simmering rivalry: he threw a 92 mph fastball high and inside to Piazza in the second, forcing the All-Star slugger to take a step back."

"Clemens didn't have much to say about Piazza afterward. 'I think he's a good hitter. You have to pitch him away,' Clemens said before bolting quickly out of the clubhouse."

What a jackass.

Later in the 13th, in a moment seemingly right out of Rob's blog, Jason Phillips took in the deriding I posted last week, pondered it all for a moment, and jacked one out for the win. Right in my mug. His good couple of games at the plate in Houston only raised his average to .178, but if Derek Jeter can approach June with sub-Mendoza Line numbers, so can Jason Phillips, right?

The only loss of the five featured another spontaneous combustion by James Baldwin, who was promptly designated for assignment. With Al Leiter hurt, the Mets brought up Matt Ginter to pitch Sunday, and he looked strong. Here's hoping he's the plug for that gaping 5-hole in the rotation. Mike Stanton had yet another unsuccessful outing. He's now tied with Cy Young for 13th all-time in appearances. He and Franco are marching up that ladder together, one implosion at a time.

Tonight the boys are back at Shea for an 8-game homestand. The roller coaster ride continues. It was obvious before that the Mets were capable of losing any game against any opponent, no matter how much the odds looked in their favor. After the past week, it's actually starting to look like they can win any game against any opponent. And that makes them watchable again.
Games 36 through 38 - Red Sox
Hands on Knees, Gasping for Air

Red Sox 9, Blue Jays 3
Red Sox 4, Blue Jays 0
Blue Jays 3, Red Sox 1
Record: 22-16

The Sox just finished one of the most brutal stretches of schedule any team in the bigs will face this season, playing games on 20 straight days, with 3 post-midnight arrivals in town in an 8-day stretch (thanks to SoSH's Eric Van for the details). Hopefully they spent yesterday curled in the fetal position sleeping it off and arrive at Tropicana Field refreshed and ready for tonight's game against the Devil Rays.

Of note over the last several days:

1. Bronson Arroyo was dominant against the Jays, pitching 8 innings of three-hit baseball. The Sox' once and future No. 5 starter replaced the ineffective B.H. Kim in the rotation, and continued his stellar pitching. In his last 5 appearances (after scuffling through his first three starts) Arroyo is 2-0 with a 1.56 ERA, allowing only 11 hits and 4 walks in 23 innings, while striking out 20. And he's the No. 5 starter. Those are sublime numbers.

2. Kevin Youkilis made his major league debut in Arroyo's gem, homering for his first hit in the Show. Youkilis was 4-for-8 after two games, sending legions of Sox fans scrambling aboard the bandwagon. It's like the salmon flocking to Capistrano - Sox minor leaguer bursts on the scene with a handful of great games (see Burkhart, Morgan and Merloni, Lou, et al) and becomes cult hero. Youkilis has the added juice of being featured in Michael Lewis' Moneyball as the prototypical new-school ballplayer - high on-base percentage, sees a lot of pitches, knows the strike zone - so the Nation has been eagerly awaiting his arrival. I doubt he'll hit .500 for the season, but if he can add some near-term punch to the heretofore sluggish offense, he'll be worth Billy Beane's weight in gold.

3. The Sox finally lost to reigning Cy Young Roy Halladay in Sunday's game. It's one of the 35 auto-losses, so I'm not losing any sleep over it.

4. Sox posted 6 runs in the top of the 8th on Friday to win another game in which Derek Lowe was somewhat less than effective. He's now walked 20 batters in 38 innings - a dreadful rate for a guy who doesn't strike out very many opponents (only 17 thus far this season). His command seems to be on hiatus, which means he's throwing a ton of pitches, and not going deep into games. He's only thrown as many as 7 innings in one game, and he's only averaging 5.4 innings per start. Will the real Derek Lowe (or at least the 2002 Derek Lowe) please stand up?

5. More important than any of this Sox-related nonsense was my encounter yesterday with one of the truly mythic figures of my adolescence. When I was 16, I was crazy insane for this girl with whom I worked on the high school newspaper. (You know what did it for me - wait, I digress) Very long story short, she and I watched Game 6 of the 1986 World Series together in hotel room in Charlottesville, VA. Between the Sox being one strike away from winning the World Series, and me being a massively horny teenager alone in a room with a pretty girl, I was a mess of pent-up energy. To say that the subsequent events (Sox-related and otherwise) were a letdown is to defame all letdowns in history.

Over the years, she's become legendary in my circle of friends, so yesterday was a lollapalooza of converging threads. First time I'd seen her in almost 15 years. First time any of my friends, save one, had ever met her. Time has a way of wearing away memories, making details fuzzy and long-ago feelings and events lose their sense of immediacy, but I was truly a 16 year-old boy again the instant she gleefully hugged me when we saw each other. It was one of the great unexpected moments of the year for me - and, who knows, maybe it's the end of a cycle - and the beginning of a new cycle of Sox' championship baseball. Too much? Probably.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Game 35 - Red Sox
A Play in One Act

Blue Jays 12, Red Sox 6
Record: 20-15

We're going live to a private conversation that's taking place inside Rob's head between two very different personalities. Put on your helmet and let's listen in:

Pessimist Guy: I'm tired of making excuses for this team. They are flat out mediocre at the moment. Flat. Out. Mediocre.

Voice of Reason: Dude, they've played games on 20 consecutive days, with a hellish travel schedule made worse by the early-season rains. Let them catch their breath.

PG: Don't care why they're treading water - the fact remains that they're 5-9 in the last 14 games against mostly dreck. Meanwhile, the Yankees have been reeling off wins against the league's best teams.

VoR: And the Yankees have to start Donovan Osborne for the forseeable future, while the Sox still have the league's best ERA for starters and relievers.

PG: Yeah, last night's 12-6 certainly provides hope of continued fine pitching performances.

VoR: Small sample size, idiot.

PG: Fine. What do you make of the fact that the Sox are 29th of 30 teams in fielding, smart guy?

VoR: I can make a pterodactyl...

PG: Ahh, make jokes to hide the fact that you, too, are worried.

VoR: Not worried, just mindful of the fact that it's a long season, and that Trot and Nomar are on the way back. Face it, any team that has to use Cesar Crespo, David McCarty, and Gabe Kapler frequently will inevitably perform to just about 20-15. This team is exactly where they should be at this point in the season - within striking distance of the league leaders without their best lineup.

PG: Man, am I getting tired of that refrain. When does it stop being a long season, and start being "down the stretch they come"? And when the Sox are 70-65 at that point, and you've lost your bet to Whitney, what mantra will you use at that point?

VoR: Fire Francona, most likely.

PG: Hey, that brown-haired chick is pretty hot.

VoR: I love this office. What were we talking about?

PG: Who cares.

VoR: Right.
Game 35 - Mets
2-0 Against the Stud Arms; Next Stop: Dis-Astro Land

Mets 7, Diamondbacks 4
Record: 16-19

Vance Wilson's 3-run jack off Brandon Webb gave the Mets a lead they wouldn't relinquish, and our gang pulled out a series split with the D-backs. Wilson's key hit and display of power is promising, too, because what with "The Jason Phillips Problem," there's no question Mike Piazza should be playing 1B most of the time, and Mr. Wilson will undoubtedly be getting more innings behind the plate. Phillips's woes are a shame, because he was one of the bright spots in a dark and dreary 2003 season, but he's just not the same guy out there.

Cliff "Pretty [Much Injured All the Time] Boy" Floyd was back in action last night, going 1-for-5 and driving in a run. To make room for him, New York shipped out miscalculation Ricky Gutierrez, inking in homegrown product Danny Garcia as the everyday second baseman. Oh, but just until Jose Reyes's hamstring gets better or Wally Backman comes out of retirement, whichever comes first. I think Garcia can play there all season if he keeps up his current pace. And what with the negative press about Reyes's botched rehab, it's a nice distraction at the 4-spot.

Jae Seo pitched well enough for five innings, but had to leave with yet another finger problem. Last time it was a cracked fingernail, this time it was a blister. He's really got to find a cure for that leprosy.

The Mets find themselves at 16-19; they were 6-9 20 games ago. That's cool and all, but are we destined to see 26-29? The NL East isn't scaring anyone. The Marlins have the worst first-place record in baseball, but the Expos are the most games out of anyone. The Phils are better than they were, which only means Larry Bowa will probably be around on June 1. And the Braves have been in a tailspin of late. If only the Mets could string something together, there'd be reason to cheer above a chortle.

In other news / punts in the groin, Al Leiter has a sore left shoulder and will likely miss Sunday's start against Clemens and Houston, a.k.a. Ass and the Astros. This cannot be good in either the short term or long term. If pressed for a guess, I'd say Dan Wheeler would be your spot starter there. And scroll down about a foot for Wheeler's last adventure. The other alternative, if Leiter is indeed hurt, would be to DL him and bring up some poor sap who will surely get clubbed by Lance Berkman & Co. in that wiffle ball stadium while the Crotch Rocket shows him how it's really done in the big leagues.

Yeah, my bright-sider tendencies have been squelched. No surprise there, though, eh?

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Game 34 - Red Sox
Lost in the Sands of Time

Indians 6, Red Sox 4
Record: 20-14

Wakefield gave up 6 runs. Sox made 3 errors. Cliff Lee held the Sox to one run through 6 innings. And that's all I know about this game. Game 34 will fade quickly into the ether, and have no real meaning for me. That'll happen in a 162-game season, especially on nights when I've got softball games that keep me out of the house until 11:30.

Yesterday did bring an interesting bit of roster news. B.H. Kim was not only demoted from the rotation, he was sent to AAA Pawtucket to a) get his head on straight, b) fully recover from his arm injury, c) open a new pan-asian restaurant in Rhode Island, or - if you like Johnny Damon's take from this morning's Boston Globe - d) learn to enjoy a little PlayStation.
The sterotype of the inscrutable Asian goes back to well before my time, but in every stereotype there's some truth. Kim has reportedly clashed - passively, perhaps, but clashed nonetheless - with management and the Sox coaching staff about his maniacal physical training regimen. The Korean right-hander is said to routinely throw hundreds of pitches on his off-days, and to run laps of Fenway long after the lights are off after games.

Normally, a fan might applaud a player who gives maximum energy to make himself better. In the case of Kim, a guy who's lost 6-8 mph on his fastball, and turned a swervy heater into "straight ball, hit very far", mayhaps maximum effort in the conditioning department is too much of a good thing. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the team has pleaded with Kim to tone down his side throwing, and - by all accounts - he's ignored those pleas.

On top of all this, a very loose Sox clubhouse made up of an inordinate amount of fun-seeking, back-slapping, silly-seeming guys seems not to know what to do about Kim, a very serious sort. Damon's PlayStation remark was probably a little tongue-in-cheek, but the fact remains that the Sox really don't know what to make of the little Asian guy with the strange, wan smile. Kim's been approached by several of the Sox' veteran pitchers, and politely brushed their advice aside just like he's ignored his bosses.

So, what do you do about an immensely talented, still very young player who doesn't really have an attitude problem, except that he works too hard? Guess that's why they pay Theo and company the big dollars.
Game 34 - Mets
[roll] Three-eleven . . . HOME RUN, Danny Heep!

Mets 1, Diamondbacks 0
Record: 15-19

Whew. You folks were an Alex Cintron or Matt Kata game-winning HR away from reading the thrilling, dramatic saga of Rob Russell and I playing out the 1985 Boston Red Sox and New York Mets seasons via Strat-o-Matic 'twixt pizza deliveries in the summer of '90. Well, Cintron and Kata have just one dinger between them this year, so it wasn't that close. Still . . . whew.

Instead, the Mets won an impressive 1-0 game against Randy Johnson and the D-backs, and I get to talk about it. Impressive was not the meager three hits they scratched out against the Big Unit (by the way, I was tempted to edit the "scratched the big unit" reference, but since Russell tends to work blue, I'll leave it in). Impressive was Kazuo Matsui sending the second pitch of the ballgame over the left-field fence. More impressive was the shutout Tom Glavine and Braden Looper combined to pitch -- against a squad that had scored 21 runs in their previous 16 innings, no less. Glavine continued a first quarter of 2004 that has been spectacular, and Looper . . . uh, he's doing pretty well and I don't want to say anything more about how well.

Cliff Floyd is supposedly going to be activated today, and the Mets may well need him to be in mid-season form fast. All the talk is centered around the All-Star quintet New York will face in five consecutive days, starting yesterday with Randy Johnson. Tonight they close out the Arizona series against young star Brandon Webb, tomorrow they play in Houston versus Roy Oswalt, and Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens follow him. A tough stretch, for sure, but the match-ups aren't horrible (if our guys play up to their ability), excepting the Pettitte-James Baldwin disaster-in-waiting Saturday. Minute Maid Park can be a house of horrors for pitchers, so the Mets will need even more pop than they showed in the first two games in Phoenix, and significantly more than last night.

Of course, if they drop the next three games and things aren't going well Sunday, all we'll ask of our boys is a Rocket beaning.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Game 33 - Red Sox
Could You BE More Wrong?

Red Sox 5, Indians 3
Record: 20-13

This season is starting to test my faith in my baseball knowledge, or at least in my prognostigatory (what?) skills. Mere days after I lamented Dave McCarty's uselessness, the erstwhile benchwarmer won last night's game with a two-out, two-run triple in the bottom of the 8th inning. Earlier in the game, Gabe Kapler belted his first homerun of the season, only a week or so after I lumped him (and McCarty) in with the merry band of idiots at the bottom of the Sox order (which also included Pokey "Two Taters" Reese). If Cesar Crespo wins a game this week with his bat, I'll have hit for a very bizarre cycle. I still want Trot and Nomar back.

(Whispered aside: Let's try something just for fun. There's no chance that John Kerry wins the Presidency in November. We'll check back on this one.)

The Indians have scored exactly 2 runs in the first inning of each of the 6 games they've played against the Red Sox this season. That's just plain weird. Maybe Keith Foulke should pitch the first inning tonight and give way to Tim Wakefield in the 2nd. What should irritate Indians fans is the fact that the Tribe has only won three of those games, mostly because they are a stupid (read: overly aggressive) team with a bad, bad bullpen. They're fun to watch, because they have some good young talent, and they take some liberties on the basepaths and in the field, and because no game is ever over - regardless of how big a lead they may take. They'll challenge for the AL Central in a few years, provided they punt Eric Wedge from his managerial role.

And that's all I've got to say about that, because the only moment I saw from this game was McCarty's logic-defying game-winner.

Game 33 - Mets
Which Reminds Me . . .

Diamondbacks 9, Mets 5
Record: 14-19

So the Mets lose another one out in the desert. Speaking of the desert, there's a place in Daytona Beach (the cheesiest place in which I have ever spent time) called the Desert Inn. It was the source of many, many silly stories from a week spent there for Spring Break over a decade ago. There were jail hosings/macings and rescues, race riots behind us at the Naughty By Nature/Primus/Salt N Pepa/Ugly Kid Joe (??) show, near deaths in the Intracoastal Waterway, Ted Nugent sightings, and just random weird occurrences, like this one:

So we're concluding the nightly jaunt down the "strip" of Daytona, a trek that has become tired even for action-starved college kids from Williamsburg, VA. After the umpteenth terrible wet T-shirt contest (one which featured an O.D.U. student baring it all to win enough cash for a bus ticket back to Norfolk -- I suppose I could have offered her a lift when I was talking to her minutes before her display), a few of us slugged our last dollar-draughts and began to make our way out to the boulevard for the long, long walk home.

In the nightly battle of laziness versus beer money, beer money usually won out and we'd hoof it rather than pay for a taxi. On this night, for whatever reason, someone made an executive decision and hoisted a thumb. After a few cabs whizzed by, a huge, black limo swerved into the parking lot, nearly clipping us, and screeched to a halt next to us. Just before the doors opened, thoughts ranged from the grand (rock stars, porn queens, free mini-bar) to the horrific (gangsters, gay porn queens, obnoxious drunk frat guys like us). The fact that they'd pulled over at all made us even wonder if, perhaps, they knew us. Within the cavernous limousine, however, was none of the above: a few college co-eds who wanted nothing other than to be generous with the free limo service they'd won.

We climbed in and graciously thanked the girls, then painfully staggered into the idle chit-chat which came to us about as easily as Advanced Swahili. Early in the course of the conversation, though, after one of us had mentioned our college, one of the young ladies blurted out, "William & Mary?" and began the inquiry I had heard a million times and snidely mocked a million more. To ask someone from a college of 5,000 students if they know so-and-so is an act of naive optimism usually reserved for bubbly, young co-eds, and this girl fit the bill. Especially when they usually ask if you know John, the brown-haired guy who's about 5'11" with medium build.

Anyway, as she launched in, the impulse to poke fun had already left the brain and was headed toward the larynx when she completed the question and the ears sent an urgent newsflash to halt all speech. This just in:

"Do you know Chuck Carter or Whitney?"

It's hard to gauge whether it was the sheer odds of someone pulling up in a limo, letting us in, and then asking me if I knew me, or if it was the sense that we might be on Candid Camera (nowadays there are a dozen shows who might have pulled this stunt), or if it was the confusion as to who in hell this person was, or possibly the funnels of malt beverage that were bubbling up by now in my belly. Anyway, I stammered a bit, then replied: "Well, . . . I'm Whitney."

I should leave it at that, but here's the boring explanation: Chuck Carter was one of our guys who'd graduated the previous spring, and when his sister had come to visit the year before, this girl had accompanied her. I'd lived in a place with six other guys, including Chuck, and I guess I must have made an impression. I think it had to do with my donning her cow costume (complete with udders) along with Carter for the Halloween party. Anyway, it was a remarkable small world occurrence, and one that ended a few more blocks north.

And this not-that-amusing, had-to-be-there, what-a-coinkidink story is miles more interesting than reporting on the New York Mets flubbing up in Arizona again last night. Please, Mets, don't make me turn this blog into Whitney's Boring College Stories Redux. Win a friggin' game.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Game 32 - Red Sox

Indians 10, Red Sox 6
Record: 19-13

This morning brings news that the Sox have demoted B.H. Kim from the rotation, fast on the heels of his second consecutive subpar outing. After watching him pitch last night, I'm in wholehearted agreement with the decision.

I've swallowed the Kool-Aid parcelled out by sabermetric-minded Sox fans (mostly of the SOSH persuasion), and believe that Kim has the potential to be a highly successful starting pitcher. But even my untrained eye notes with alarm that his pitches aren't moving, his velocity is down, and he's having trouble finding the strike zone. On top of that, he frequently looks peevish and fidgety - not exactly the picture of confidence. This Sox team only has room for one headcase starting pitcher, and Derek Lowe's filling that role.

Bronson Arroyo moves back into the rotation, and Kim becomes a long reliever, which will give him a chance to stretch out his arm over time, regain his confidence, and get back to being the pitcher many people believe will make the difference this season. That, or we'll realize he's hurt and won't ever reach his potential.

I'm reverting to Bad Sox Fan so far this season - prone to profane outbursts when things aren't going well, and wandering away from the good feelings of the Era of Positivity. A 4-5 record against Cleveland and Kansas City will do that. More than the record, though, is the fact that this team hasn't yet had the moment that makes me believe unequivocally. To be fair, last year's team didn't have it until September 1, when Trot Nixon's grand slam beat the Phillies, so they've got time. I'm still highly confident in this team, but they've got to start winning the ones they should win.
Game 32 - Mets
The End of an E.R.A.

Diamondbacks 12, Mets 8
Record: 14-18

What goes up - must come down
Spinning wheel - round and round
Tyler Yates - got sent down
James Baldwin came on up and got beat around

[Insert obligatory mention of the Mets shedding blood, sweat and tears here.]

Ty Wigginton goes 5-for-5, Mike Piazza and Eric Valent go 3-for-4, Mike Cameron homers, even Super Joe McEwing gets a double, the Mets tally 17 hits and 8 runs, and it's not even a close game?? That's about the size of it.

James "And the Giant Peach of a Fastball" Baldwin started off well, retiring the first batter on a fly ball. That's about all I can say for Baldwin, who was making his first big league start since . . . the last time Billy Baldwin was seen in an A-list movie. The second batter tripled, and Luis Gonzalez followed with a homer, one of three he'd hit. This after the Mets had spotted Baldwin a 2-0 lead in the 1st. As if sensing their pitcher's long night ahead, the Mets plated two more in the 2nd. Holding the D-Backs to but one run in the bottom of that inning was a moral victory, we soon learned, because after a scoreless New York third, Arizona rallied for six and the game ceased being a game.

Amid that nasty third inning, James Baldwin was yanked with two on, no outs, and the scored tied at 4. Enter Dan Wheeler"s Are Coming Off the Cart." Wheeler threw gasoline, kerosene, butane, turpentine, some crude oil, a little lighter fluid, an aerosol can, a propane tank, a splash of rubbing alcohol, and half a bottle of Bacardi 151 on the fire Baldwin had started. His 60'6" replica of the Great Fire of Chicago also featured more fireworks than at South of the Border. The ESPN Game Log stenographer called in sick today with early onset Carpal Tunnel from Wheeler's stint alone. Dan "Wheeeeeeeee!" Wheeler entered into a 4-4 ballgame, retired four batters, and left with the score 12-6.

Lost was a dynamite performance by the offense and 4 2/3 scoreless relief innings by pitchers not named Dan. These offensive outbursts are simply too rare to be squandered with putrid pitching. Yes, you can tip your cap to professional hitter Luis Gonzalez, but must you also give credit to Chad Tracy, Robby Hammock, Alex Cintron, Matt Kata, and the other lesser-knowns? A 2004 Arizona Diamondback team without Richie Sexson in the lineup should never, ever score a dozen runs. Except maybe in Colorado . . . with the wind blowing out . . . and an ex-Met on the hill.

This 5th starter hole is starting to be a big problem. After shellings with Yates and Baldwin on the mound two days apart, the Mets' team ERA zipped from 4th in the majors to 8th, teetering on the edge of 4.00 for the first time since Week 1. Leiter, Glavine, and Trachsel have been a stellar (overachieving, I fear) 1-2-3, and Jae Weong Seo seems to have righted himself of late. With Scott Erickson giving me all of the "I told you so" fodder I never really wanted, Baldwin not looking terribly promising, and a clear absence of starting material on the roster, Tyler Yates may be back in the bigs before he can enjoy "two with slaw" and a limeade at Doumar's in Norfolk. And that, my friends, is the real tragedy here.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Games 29 Through 31 - Mets
The Team That Made Milwaukee Famous

Brewers 7, Mets 5
Brewers 6, Mets 4
Mets 6, Brewers 5 (11)
Record: 14-17

Yeah. What Rob said.

Okay, I'll elaborate a little.

If you'd been near me any time between the close of Game 2 and Game 3's finish in this series, you'd have seen a far different picture than after the dramatic climax (okay, as dramatic as Mets-Brewers gets) of the final contest. What went from angst and frustration -- at the Mets and myself for a shard of optimism -- evolved into something mildly dissatisfied. And at that point, mild dissatisfaction was pretty satisfying.

After the first loss, I cursed myself for ever typing anything that might be construed as confidence in this club. I recalled the contentment I oozed going into the Pirates fiasco and saw far too many parallels. In hindsight, though, "Gotta continue to beat the teams you're supposed to beat" isn't brimming with hubris, and I tempered any pleasant reaction to the four-game win streak with plenty of doubt. If the Jinx Police gave me a citation for that posting, I'd have some N.W.A. lyrics for them.

After the second loss, when I figured it was a given that the Mets would surrender the second home sweep to a terrible team in the first six weeks, I had doses of Chuck D.-style vitriol for Kaz Matsui ("Don't Believe the Hype"), Tyler Yates ("6.04 is a Joke"), and Ty Wigginton ("Black Hole In the Hour of Chaos"), among others. By this writing, however, Kaz and Ty had saved a game and Tyler Yates is in AAA. So bringing the noise down on these guys might have been overly harsh, or worthlessly spent.

Late in the third game, after the Mets had magically turned a 3-1 lead into a 5-3 deficit (the Franco-Weathers tandem has produced more meatballs than Franco-American this year), I was beside myself. The Milwaukee Brewers were poised to sweep the Mets at Shea. The Milwaukee Brewers. Last seen contending as they gagged three-games-to-two and three-runs-to-one leads in the 1982 World Series. A team, I argued, for whom finding an All-Star caliber player could be harder than finding the sweet spot on Ricky Gutierrez's bat. One day, one comeback win, and a cursory examination later, I see the Brew Crew as not quite the dead zone I'd torn it down to be. Scott Podsednik gets mentioned among the best leadoff hitters in the league, Geoff Jenkins is a slugger for sure, Lyle Overbay looks like a solid salvage in the Richie Sexson dump, and Ben Grieve was a prodigy not too long ago. Meanwhile, they have a couple of good starters and a good closer, at least so far this year. And they're a game better than the Mets -- thanks in part to this weekend.

So it seems a little time (and one good win) has mellowed the ire that followed the first two games. Sometimes these blogless weekends offer a little retrospective reprieve for the boys in royal blue and blaze orange.

Just to keep the hardcore rap theme rolling, I'll finish with this: "By the Time I Get to Arizona" I'll have forgotten this weekend's screw-ups. Mets vs. D-backs, 9:35 EDT tonight. Fight the power.
Games 30 & 31 - Red Sox
Streak Ends and Look Out BeLowe

Red Sox 9, Royals 1
Royals 8, Red Sox 4
Record: 19-12

The Sox last 15 games (prior to yesterday's result - I'm trying to make a point) are a great illustration of how day-to-day examination of a baseball season can make a body certifiably bi-polar. A detached fan looks at the Sox' 10-5 record over that span and says, "Sweet". A more diehard fan (read: miserable lunatic) parses the stretch into a 6-game winning streak (okay, now we're talking), and 5-game losing streak (moving to the ledge now), and a subsequent 4-game winning run (and...we're up again).

All of which is to say that the beauty of the 162-game baseball season, with its variable but predictable rhythms, is easily lost on people like me, who live and die every day with their teams. Today's another example. The Sox are 19-12, in first place in the AL East, but I'm more down than up because they lost a winnable game against the mediocre Royals and the Yankees made their second 6-run comeback in a week to top the Mariners. (Another AL West team rolling over against New York. Not that I'm bitter or anything.)

Derek Lowe continues to confound, and really isn't making much of a case for a substantial raise in this, the last year of his contract. (His agent, Scott Boras, aka the Death of Baseball, will clearly disagree.) Lowe had two outs and a runner on second in the top of the 6th with the score tied at 2. He'd pitched pretty well to that point, but simply lost his command, walking the bases loaded and giving up a bleeder that opened the KC floodgates. One out and the Sox go on to win the game, because they could have leveraged the bullpen for the late stages of the contest. Instead, Lowe's now 3-3 with a 5.01 ERA, and easily the worst of the Sox starters.

Pokey Reese hit two homeruns in the middle game of the KC series, which means that we should all do the things that we've been putting off, because the world is about to end. Granted, one was an inside-the-park job aided and abetted by KC's Juan Gonzalez, who seemed to believe momentarily that the baseball was a hand grenade. After Pokey's second tater, Dave McCarty touched off his first homer of the season, which was disappointing because it may make Terry Francona believe that McCarty has any redeeming value. Which of course, we know to be demonstrably false.

Curt Schilling pitched a complete game to back Pokey's muscles, which was very cool to see after several seasons of holding my breath when Pedro goes over 100 pitches. I'm sure the bullpen was grateful, too, though they haven't had a ton of work of late. Good thing, because B.H. Kim goes tonight against the Indians, and he's on a limited pitch count.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Games 27 through 29 - Red Sox
No excuses

Red Sox 9, Indians 5
Red Sox 5, Indians 2
Red Sox 7, Kansas City Royals 6
Record: 18-11

Mere weeks after being on the receiving end of a chiding for his blogslack, Whitney's picked up the pace quite nicely and churned out some inspired text. He's also correctly called me out for my lack of hustle of late. To which I respond:

1. Spent Thursday in Boston for work - never even turned on my computer. Sox win Wednesday nite, 9-5.
2. Spent all day yesterday catching up after being out of the office Thursday - never even went online. Sox win Thursday nite, 5-2.
3. Am at this very moment bouncing a very fussy 10 week-old on my knee and will not likely get back to the blog today. Sox win last night, 7-6 in a scintillating comeback.
4. Never fuck with a streak. Haven't you ever seen Bull Durham?

Friday, May 07, 2004

And By the Way . . .

Where in the world is Rob? The Red Sox have done some winning of late; you'd think he'd be eager to talk about it. Oh, don't tell me he's on one of those superstitious kicks where he blames the blog for their woes.
Pick a Spot on the Map

We're starting to drum this subject into the ground here, but it's only because it's near and dear to us. The Montreal/San Juan Expos are slated to get a new home soon. That we are so keen to believe MLB people who tell us a decision should arrive by July is a blinders-wearing, Memento-memory, glutton-for-punishment type of forgiving gullibility not seen since . . . my perpetual penchant for resuscitating Tug's "Ya Gotta Believe" amid dead-end seasons.

So, we think we know a move is imminent, but where will the think tank end up placing the Expos? It depends upon whom you ask. According to this morning's news, DC officials, including the mayor, met with some MLB folks yesterday and got promising indications from them about Washington's chances. They downplayed the notion of Peter Angelos having veto power, and what with the finances being laid out clearly, there would seem to be no logical obstacle in our way.

"Logical" is, of course, the operative word there. From the moment the brain trust executed the shady, backroom deal to acquire the franchise from Jeffrey Loria (who now wants to take his World Champ Marlins to Vegas, baby), nary a decision has been made regarding the team that has had even a tinge of logic to it. The Puerto Rican experiment (not talking about the Robby Alomar trade -- at least that one seemed smart at the time) is the stuff of late-night talk show jokes. And yet it was carried over for another year. Dragging this out has just eliminated a few locations from the pool. (Hello, Portland.) Must I say this for the millionth time: that there is no team in the capital of the nation / 4th largest metro area in the U.S. of A. defies the business logic of even lemonade-stand-level economics and the nationalistic sensibilities of even first-generation immigrants. So "no logical obstacle" is just silly.

Today's Washington Post lists D.C.'s competition as Northern Virginia, Las Vegas, Hampton Roads and Monterrey, Mexico. That Northern Virginia would qualify in ways the District cannot is idiotic, so you'd have to count them out. Las Vegas is probably a financial lock, but the taint of the gambling capital of the world on a sport that considers gambling a greater sacrilege than drug use, steroids, or domestic abuse would seem too much even for baseball. (Again, that's making the assumptive leap that 1+1=2 with these guys.) Monterrey, Mexico is . . . in Mexico! Why would you want to pluck a team out of the muck in Canada and take any sort of international chance in Mexico? You wouldn't. This cannot be a serious candidate, but MLB fails to realize that by keeping them in supposed contention, you waste people's time and money as they devise game plans, ask favors, borrow money, and sell "tickets" to citizens. Baseball can't be bothered to get this done in a timely manner and let people get back to the items that need real attention, though. Nice.

That leaves Hampton Roads, an area feeling a little desolate since, say, 1988. (1993 if you count Williamsburg as a Hampton Roads town.) This is an option probably instantly discounted by 95% of the country: "Where??" As my dad will tell you repeatedly, that market is the single-largest one in the U.S. without a major sports franchise. Primarily known for the Navy, shipyards, and the beach-going tourists, the area has supported the Norfolk (nee Tidewater) Tides for decades. The Tides have been a hit through thick (the heyday of Straw, Nails, and a conveyor belt of talent second only to Atlanta's 1990's stunning farm work) and thin (the last few years, when anyone with a quick bat or a big arm was catapulted to Queens). Now Hampton Roads says they're ready for a big-league squad.

My (not very) secret sources have been in touch with some of the reps of the folks behind the Hampton Roads effort. The money is there, the interim stadium is there, and the fans are supposedly waiting. But would MLB choose Hampton Roads over DC? They say yes, a resounding yes, and here's why: Peter Angelos. He assures them that he will never allow a team in DC. Apparently, he, Steinbrenner, and Reinsdorf hold all the cards among the owners, and that they push the other guys around. Has "the Little General" Angelos deluded himself, or is this a fact? We'll know when moving day comes for the 'Spos, because he is the only conceivable reason they'd keep the Senators' return from happening. And if he has the clout to bar that from happening, (a) I'll have my fingers crossed for my hometown to get the team, and (b) I'll be wishing a thousand curses on Peter Angelos's house. At least may his greed and egomania be Expos-ed.

Somebody's wrong in this scenario, but one thing is for certain: Major League Baseball is handing at least one party a load of crap. Sorry to mix my sports metaphors, but that's par for the course.
Game 28 - Mets
Well, I'm Mike P. and I Get Respect

Mets 2, Giants 1 (11)
Record: 13-15

I was thinking sometime last night that I hadn't said enough about Mike Piazza in yesterday's posting. What he accomplished -- topping Pudge Fisk's mark for all-time home runs by a catcher -- might get lumped in with a bunch of other modern era power records that people view as skewed, but it's actually damn impressive. Playing catcher is no picnic, as I learned at age 14. (I learned at age 16 that playing catcher at 6'4" is just plain stupid.) Piazza has continued to doggedly take his spot behind the plate for 13 years. And while he's no threat to win a Gold Glove back there, nobody persists as hard as he does, and he gets more bad press than he deserves for his foibles.

Meanwhile, Mike Piazza has also applied that persistence to his hitting for a long time. The late, great Evan Lloyd, fellow Phoenixville Phantom, used to recall fondly having gone out boozing with Mike's older brother in high school, only to come home late at night and hear the whack! of Mike hitting baseballs in his garage-turned-batting cage. This focus and determination is why Mike Piazza wasn't just the good high school player who maybe played a little in college, or not at all, and went on to sell insurance in the greater Philly area. This is why he was a 62nd round draft pick, which is about as low as you can go but is still a draft pick. And this is why he has a Rookie of the Year plaque, a .318 career average, over 1,000 RBI, a Top 25 career OPS, and 364 home runs, 352 of them as a catcher. If you had 25 Mike Piazzas, you'd be better off for it. Well, 25 Mike Piazza mentalities. 25 of the player would have astronomical ERA's, infield and outfield errors, and caught stealings. But you get my point.

So amid the feeling like I short-changed the man, I see him step up in the bottom of the 11th last night and smack the game-winner over the left-field fence . . . as a first baseman. This is the new era of Mike Piazza, one which over the course of this year and those to come will be rumored to be heading to another city, which may make sense on paper, but it's one which I hope remains in Shea throughout. You cannot help but love this guy.

Barry Bonds did come back from his sinus infection, but Al Leiter got him out three times, and the relief crew -- who pitched three more scoreless innings -- handed him a pair of free passes. No damage. The Mets arms held the Giants to just 5 runs in 29 innings. Not bad.

Four in a row for the Metropolitans. It's getting close to suck-Whitney-back-in time, but I'm not there yet. The Brew Crew comes to town tonight. Gotta continue to beat the teams you're supposed to beat. A Bonds-less San Fran team is a team you're supposed to beat, and the Mets were up to the task. Keep it rolling, and maybe, just maybe, you can dupe me again, boys. I'm not dangling the carrot out in front here; let's just say I've been burned before.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Game 27 - Mets
Must . . . Resist . . . Urge . . . to . . . Hope

Mets 8, Giants 2
Record: 12-15

This win had little to do with either of its headlines, Mike Piazza passing Carlton Fisk to become top dog in catcher homers or Barry Bonds sitting out another game with a glorified cold. While each had its impact, this game was the tale of two bullpens; it was the best of pens, it was the worst of pens, at least on this night.

The game was knotted at two going into the eighth inning. The Mets had gotten to Giants starter Jerome Williams early for a pair, and the Giants had tied it in the fifth. Replays appeared to show that the Mets had been on the gluteus maximus end of two bad calls on plays at the plate: Mike Cameron was thrown out at the plate following a wild pickoff throw, but it seemed like his hand touched the plate before the tag; an inning later, it looked like Shane Spencer gunned Neifi Perez at the plate, but it was not to be.

When Jae Seo left in the fifth with a cracked fingernail (ugh), the previously wobbly Mets relief crew came on. Ricky Bottalico, John Franco, David Weathers, and Orber Moreno -- those last three have struggled, but at least it was this year and not two years ago like Bottalico! -- combined to pitch four and two-thirds scoreless, hitless innings. Out of nowhere. Bottalico was brought up yesterday when the Mets cut funding for its Grant (Roberts) and banished him to Norfolk or waivers. [As an aside, do you think part of the reason I never had any desire to relocate back to my hometown is that when players on my favorite team really suck, they're sent there like a punishment? Just a thought for our psychologically minded readers.] Anyway, for Bottalico and company, it was a far, far better thing they did than they have ever done, or at least in a long while.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco relievers appeared a series of chuckers, heavers, and tossers when compared to their counterparts in the other bullpen. The bottom of the eighth produced six runs for the Mets, five of them off home runs from Shane Spencer and Mike Cameron. Moreno finished the G-men off with a 1-2-3 ninth.

The Mets are playing a bit better. A week ago, not one Met had double-digit RBI's. Now five do. The pitching continues to excel, though the defense still seems a little shaky. Three wins in a row is certainly nice, but it's only a start. The Giants with Bonds didn't have a winning record -- without him, they're a shell of who we saw in the World Series two years ago. A sweep completed tonight, combined with more impressive hitting and seven or eight beers, and you might spy a tiny glimmer of hope in my eye once again. I'm just that dumb.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Game 26 - Mets
Bonds Bails; Fonzie Jumps the Shark

Mets 6, Giants 2
Record: 11-15

Thanks to Barry Bonds succumbing to a sinus infection (sounds lame, but we'll take it), this was just another game against another opponent. Thanks to Edgardo Alfonzo's comedy of errors at second base, this was a win. When Fonzie left town after the '02 season, he thanked the fans of New York with a series of ads on cabs and buses. Last night he provided an extra thank-you: firing a wild throw, booting a grounder, and letting a bloop single from the pitcher drop in to account for 5 unearned runs in a 6-2 finish. No, Fonzie, thank you.

Steve Trachsel continued his diesel-like ways, scattering hits and walks as he ate up eight more innings to even his record at 3-3. One of the runs he permitted was unearned, thanks to errors by Mike Piazza and Danny Garcia in the second. Then Alfonzo schooled Garcia in how errors at 2B were committed in the old days at Shea. Actually, I always really liked the guy when he was a Met, but the salary he earns from San Francisco ($6.5 million this year) was just too risky. (Instead, they signed Roger Cedeno with the money!) Plus, last year the Giants probably got everything they could from him (.259, 13 HR, 81 RBI, .725 OPS, .966 in the field). Ty Wigginton posted .255, 11 HR, 71 RBI, .714 OPS, .962 in the field for $316,000. Alfonzo provides more than the numbers show, but the man upstairs (Steve Phillips, not God, though some contend he'd say "same difference") made the call and it looks to be one of the few sound ones of that era.

The Mets picked up a game in the division when Armando "O Ye of Little Faith" Benitez blew his first save of the year. True, the run he gave up was unearned, but it was his error that advanced the runner, and he then gave up the critical single with two outs. I always thought pitcher's errors should impact their ERA, anyway. So New York is four back in the standings now. But look out, Montreal has taken two in a row, including last night's 10-run assault. Sacre bleu! Perhaps they do have the savoir-faire, the repertoire, and the je ne sais quoi to battle tres bien in this tete-a-tete, vis-a-vis the rest of the division. We shall see, mes amies.
Game 26 - Red Sox
Working Hard to Lose

Indians 7, Red Sox 6
Record: 15-11

A five-game losing streak? For this team? I'd have not thought that possible with the starting rotation assembled by Theo Epstein. At least it's happening in April and not September.

Derek Lowe got tagged with last night's loss, and while he wasn't spectacular, he certainly wasn't helped by two Bill Mueller throwing errors in the Indians' 5-run 4th. Paging Bill Mueller. Paging Bill Mueller. Will the real Bill Mueller please pick up a white courtesy phone - someone is impersonating you at third base for the Red Sox.

The Sox bats slumbered through another mediocre performance until Johnny Damon jolted them to life with a 3-run homer off noted Japanese gay porn star Kazuhito Tadano (true story - Tadano appeared in a gay porn during college because he "needed the money". Bet he's never needled about that in the clubhouse, no sirree.).

This losing streak is weird, because the Sox have been in every game, and have played hard and got no bounces. Like, um, when they started 15-6 and played hard and got all the bounces - as noted below.

Continuing in the random, directionless nature of this post, today also brings news of another implosion by the Oakland A's against the Yankees. After blowing an 8-4, 8th inning lead against New York last week, the A's (with Mark Mulder on the hill) couldn't hold a 7-1, 3rd inning advantage last night. 2004 Oakland A's, meet the 2003 Minnesota Twins. My antipathy towards Oakland has grown over the past few years - especially after the Sox/A's ALDS and Oakland's whiny efforts. It will not be long before I can officially declare my hatred for the organization. Stay tuned.

B.H. Kim finds himself in the pressure situation of having to win tonight to snap a long skid. Kim and pressure - not exactly chocolate and peanut butter. To paraphrase Al Davis, just win a goddamn game, already.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Mets 25-Game Check-up -- You Usin' the Whole Fist There, Doc?

ESPN and its online presence are, as is increasingly the case (and increasingly annoying), presenting a theme, then beating it like Secretariat. It's what they do. And as much as clever motifs that provide focus for the by-nature fragmented, sprawling, and all-encompassing business of sports reporting can be very interesting, when they are done to death, little pieces of our brains actually die. Did you know??? Well, at least we the SportsCenter/ Tonight/Sports Reporters/ESPNews junkies experience it. The latest omnipresent theme is whether "April matters," i.e., what can you take from stats and standings on May 1, a.k.a. the regular season is only 16% complete, but we want to over-analyze the hell out of it, even if it's analyzing the analysis in a self-fulfilling prophecy kind of brain drain that makes you wonder when the worlds of jocks and nerds collided to create these TV stations and websites.

Anyway . . . we at MLC will follow suit, mindless lemmings that we are. (Actually, since the fable about lemmings has been disproved, if you use that expression, are you yourself a lemming, or . . . ow, now I really think I strained my medulla oblongata.) At any rate . . .

The Mets are 10-15, winning at a percentage of .400, which projects a 65-win season. Can you take April's results and accurately predict the season's results? Usually not. Take, for example, last year's numbers. At this point last season, the Mets were one game better, and they finished with 66 wins. Oh, crap. Wait, let me run those numbers again.

That the Mets are actually a game worse right now than they were in 2003 speaks volumes about the disappointment so far. Injuries happen to every team, but they've taken a big bite out of the grand plans for a middle-of-the-pack Mets finish. There's an article today about how big injuries to other teams haven't diminished their win totals. Without insinuating that the Mets would be challenging the Marlins for 1st place if Cliff Floyd, Jose Reyes, Scott Erickson, and a few others hadn't been shelved, I think we'd be a lot closer to that lofty .500 goal with them around. Still, what with all of the disappointing losses, there are a few reasons to smile at this juncture.

Reasons to Smile

1. The starting pitching isn't as awful as they were on paper pre-season. Glavine's been old school Glavine, Leiter's been tougher than ever, Tyler Yates has shown flashes, Trachsel's been solid, and Jae Seo didn't completely and wholly suck last time out. Hell, Leiter and Glavine are #1 and #3 in the NL in ERA, respectively. Forget what I said -- they're not awful at all. The team ERA is 3.88, third in the league.

2. Braden Looper. A Looper, you know, a caddy, a Looper, a jock. Boy, did the Mets catch hell when they went after Looper rather than Foulke, Urbina, Gordon, and the rest. Braden Looper only has four saves in 12 appearances, but he has yet to allow an earned run. The rest of the pen has been somewhere between shaky and awful (John Franco has allowed 8 ER in 9 innings; Grant Roberts has given up 9 in 4 2/3), but Looper's been right on. This has eased the irritation of watching Armando Benitez skate unscathed in Miami.

3. The Mets' hitting is sneaky-decent. It's better than one might think, looking at their runs scored. Run production is their weakest weak spot (it's not an Achilles heel if the rest of the corpus is this vincible), while pure hitting is just an unsightly blemish. They're hitting .247 and have been outscored by five runs, but they've out-doubled their opponents, 42-27 and outhomered them, 22-18 (in just three more AB's). The RBI's are tied, and they've walked 10 more times. The Mets' OPS is 14 points higher than their adversaries'. They've even stolen two more bases. So why are they 10-15? While you collectively looked over at Art Howe with an accusatory uh-oh look, consider that the New York Mets pitchers have struck out 119 batters while New York Mets hitters have fanned 184 times. We're slipping into reasons to frown, but let's keep it positive with this: cut down on those free-swingin' K's and we've got something to build on here.

4. Mike Piazza moving to 1B. This is what was warranted, and it's happening. Slowly, but it's happening.

5. The Expos. Say no more.

Reasons to Frown

1. As just mentioned, run production is abysmal. Looking at the numbers, there's very little beyond the whiffing issue that you can put your finger on -- or, more appropriately, point your finger at. And when it's an amorphous problem that reeks of strategic failure, the bullseye gets painted on the skipper by default. Art Howe seems like a nice man to go fishing with, but that's not what this job requires. You could have a most pleasant fishing trip with Art Howe, Norv Turner, Gar Heard, and Grady Little, but that doesn't ensure you'll win many games with them at the helm. That's not to say that being a fiery bastard is a lock for success; just ask Buddy Ryan. But Billy Martin, Whitey Herzog, and Davey Johnson proved that you don't have to know how to win friends to influence people. Remember the wisdom you learned from Robin Williams in The Best of Times: When Reno Hightower was a prick, he was the best damn quarterback in the history of Kern County.

Perhaps we just need to give Art Howe some time to work his magic (and for Jim Duquette to do his best Billy Beane and grow some talent, pronto). Howe's records from 1996-2002 in Oakland went as follows: 78-84, 65-97, 74-88, 87-75, 91-70, 102-60, 103-59. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can clean out the system and start fresh. Will New Yorkers be that patient? Not bloody likely. My brother-in-law Patrick showed me this month's New Yorker, or was it New York, or Even Old New York Was Once New Amsterdam? Anyway, there was an article with a recipe for supposed success, one that called for selling off the still-marketable veterans (Glavine, Leiter, Piazza) while they can and acquiring some sure-fire talent to challenge in 2006. Check back in July to see if I'm on board yet.

2. The fielding, something we allegedly corrected in the winter, is still pretty poor. The Mets' fielding percentage is next to last in the National League, and they're tied for the lead in errors. Kaz Matsui, the man they relegated Jose "Moons Over My Hammy" Reyes to 2B for, has five errors. Reyes, meanwhile, is on pace to make no errors all season.

3. The rest of the division, save the Marlins, have been sleep-walking through the spring and could charge into a win streak at any time, dusting the "slow and steady wins 4th place" Mets. You don't get the feeling the Mets are on the verge of a surge, especially with Barry Bonds in town tonight. (Yikes.)

Reasons to Wince

1. Last year's 25-Game Check-Up had me worried about the lack of offense, too many strikeouts, and bad defense. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And nobody was more in need of a makeover than the 2003 New York Mets. Except the 2003 Detroit Tigers . . . but they got one!

2. We haven't squared off against the league's best talent yet, except the Cubs, and you remember that series. The NL Central looks tougher than in many years, the West has fewer patsies, and the Marlins look primed to defend their title. If the Mets split against the Expos last go-around, it could be a bloodbath against real opponents.

3. The Mets just really, really, really aren't very good. The first step to recovery is admitting you suck.

Well, that's the state of the union for now. Five games out and falling. Where will we land? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel, or is that a train? Do I buy Rob's case of beer incrementally, starting now, or keep the delusion alive? These are the questions that keep me up at night, these questions and those two kids.