Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Game 75 - Mets

Mets 7, Reds 5
Record: 37-38

You know what's really stupid? I've noticed over the course of the past year and a half that a certain percentage, call it anywhere between 5 and 20% percent, of my overall mood on a given day is based on the results of my sports team's latest performance. This is tough to justify, particularly if I were to snap at my children overly harshly on the heels of a sweep to the Pirates. But that doesn't make it any less actual.

During football season, Monday mornings (or the occasional Tuesday, though my team hasn't been nominated for too many MNF outings of late) feature an upbeat or downtrodden demeanor 50-75% of which is easily gauged by checking the very top of the front page of that day's Washington Post. The rest of the week is either hill or valley shaped, as mid-week even-keel reverts to Monday-morning form by the eve of the next game, in either a "we can't lose" euphoria or "here comes another beating" dread. Sunday finds me on edge, and it's back to square one on Monday. It's a cycle more regular than a gymnast's.

Then there's baseball season. There are ten times as many games, and therefore ten times as many highs and lows. Somewhere on a bulletin board inside my brain is the calming phrase "See the Big Picture," intended to diminish the roller coaster of the MLB season. Of course, right under that is witless graffiti such as "I took a big picture of your mom last night," since hokey, pseudo-inspirational mantras like that which find themselves on the coffee mug in your boss's hand and 8 x 12's in airplane magazines aren't worth the cheap crap they're printed on. (Uh, I think I just referred to my brain as cheap crap, but if the Dollar-Store Cerebrum fits . . .) Assuring myself that the season is a long one, so one-game emotions should be tempered by this wisdom just ain't enough Ritalin for this spaz. (Sorry . . . attention-challenged; looks like my PC just crashed). When the jokers from Queens put it together for nine long innings and add another entry in the cavernous W column, adrenaline flows a little, though it may be more of a sigh of relief than true elation. And when they lose, it's deflation. Not all wins or losses are the same (the Montessori approach to reading the standings), so there are varying degrees of weight placed on or lifted from my frame afterwards. But there's more of this weight added and dropped over the course of a season than on a high school wrestling team. And so the mood swing chart of a baseball season looks as erratic and spiky as my cardiogram when I ate half-priced burgers at The Cowboy Cafe fifty Tuesdays in one year. (Did You Know?: There's actually more metaphor than statement in this paragraph. Feeling a bit flowery today, Whitney?) (Did You Know? II: There are also more parentheses in here than in an Emoticon Dictionary.) (Which, by the way, might be the dorkiest thing in a dorky industry.)

Whew. Anyway, back to the Mets. I guess my point here is yes, the season is incredibly long, making games like last night's win over the Reds less than monumental. Especially considering Sean Casey's calf strain and Junior Griffey's cramps (sorry, one cycle gag per column) neutralized the pep in Cincy's order. But do you think I won't take this win and run with it? Come on, now. Little moments in a game often determine the outcome, and little games make up a season. Take the Orioles' loss to KC last night: two umpires' failure to correctly call a two-out, two-strike check-swing that didn't check led to two runs, which ultimately X-ed the O's. And between bad luck like that, lumped in with poor fielding, a rotation with more holes than a wiffle ball, and a closer who closes as well as a car door with Jorge Julio's head stuck in it, have added up to double-digits' worth of winnable losss for Baltimore, making the difference between a successful first half and a disappointing one. The Yankees, already holding the pink slip for their playoff berth, can afford to drop those little cheapies along the way, though, to their credit, they aren't doing so. The Mets, however, need to be miserly with such offerings, and when the meat of an opponent's lineup is sliced from the batting card, they must capitalize. They did, thanks in large part to Cliff Floyd, and so I appreciate yet another little positive in this marathon of a season.

As an aside, when I called my brother-in-law Patrick last night and asked him what he was doing, he replied, "Watching the Mets win." It was 7-1 in the seventh. Two innings later, at 7-5, I hollered towards Manhattan, demanding to know if he'd bothered to read yesterday's drivel about superstition. Please, people, don't do that crap to me.

Man, today's post has more fluff than a Tony Kornheiser column eating smores on a featherbed. My apologies. I guess I'm just on Cloud 9 after a win. Talk to me tomorrow after Cory "American" Lidle silences the Mets hitters and I'm in a funk. And by the way, for those of you buying into Rob "Sick Temper Tyrannis" Russell's cool nonchalance on the other side of the blogtracks, caveat emptor. I'm reasonably certain he hasn't weighed in today on last night's bludgeoning because he smashed his computer.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Games 72 through 74 - Red Sox
Changes in Altitude, Changes in Attitude

Red Sox 12, Philadelphia Phillies 1
Phillies 9, Red Sox 2
Red Sox 12, Phillies 3
Record: 42-32

It's amazing what three days in Golden, CO and the surrounding environs - with absolutely no access to Red Sox baseball - will do for a man's perspective. Nearly all my Red Sox angst has flowed away, and seemingly drifted to Whitney judging by the essay immediately below this one. In its place on the eve of Armageddon, Part III - This Time It Means Something to Steinbrenner, is a strange, laid-back calm.

Granted, that calm will only last until Derek Lowe's first pained expression after walking three straight batters in tonight's game against the Yankees, but I'm better than I was before I went to the Rockies. While I was gone, Martinez and Schilling won and Arroyo lost, the offense had two monster outings and one mediocre one, David Ortiz continued to mash the cover off of the ball, and, well, who knows what else. Ignorance (and a .667 winning percentage, albeit in a small sample) is bliss.

Let's ponder the month that David Ortiz has had, shall we. He entered June batting .274 with a .323 OBP and a .500 SLG average. Since the last day of May, he's put up .365/.382/.698, good for a 1.080 OPS, with 8 homers and 28 batted in. He's struck out roughly once every 6 ABs in June, after posting 1-in-4 numbers during the season's first two months. Those, frankly, are Player of the Month stat lines. Short right field porch in Yankee Stadium, meet Mr. Ortiz.

Speaking of Yankee Stadium, the Sox head into the maw of the beast for a three-game set beginning tonight. Big Stein has declared payback an imperative, as the Sox currently own a 6-1 season mark against the Yankees. From my now-mellow perspective, the Sox have to take 1 of the 3 games - they can't fall to 8.5 back, even in June, because the psychological implications are unpleasant to contemplate. Anything better than 1 of 3 would be sublime, and might make Steinbrenner's head explode. The pitching matchups aren't spectacular for the Sox - Lowe/Vazquez, Wakefield/Lieber, Martinez/TBD (actually, Pedro should dominate TBD) - but neither are they lopsided in favor of the Yankees, depending upon which Tim Wakefield shows up.

I've been searching for a new mantra for this season, and maybe my altitude-inspired (seriously, the Rockies are just freaking spectacular) laissez-faire is the perfect guide. We'll see how the Yankee series goes, but the MLC staff is leaning towards a climbing-the-mountain sort of theme for this Sox club. Just so you know.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Games 67 through 74 - Mets
Not Quite Back in the New York Groove

Mets 4, Tigers 3
Mets 6, Tigers 1
Mets 7, Reds 4
Reds 6, Mets 4
Reds 6, Mets 2
Mets 9, Yankees 3
Yankees 8, Mets 1
Yankees 11, Mets 6
Record: 36-38

And you're still the same
I caught up with you yesterday

There you stood, everybody watched you play
I just turned and walked away
I had nothing left to say

'Cause you're still the same
You're still the same
Moving game to game
Some things never change
You're still the same

No, I wasn't hanging out with Bob Seger last week, though I was forced into consuming a few Silver Bullets -- an unfortunate When In Rome effect. But Seger's lines do apply here, as I caught up yesterday after a week as far removed from all things New York Mets as I will comfortably go. And it was still the same -- seven days away did nothing to change the hideous pattern. Here's how the Metless week went:

On the road for 2 days without baseball -- Mets complete sweep of the Tigers
Out in Aspen with no ESPN -- Mets beat the Reds
Call in to Rob for an update -- Reds beat the Mets
Catch some highlights -- Reds win again
Attend wedding festivities Fri/Sat, oblivious -- rainout and a win vs. Yankees
Read details, catch up on Mets while flying home -- Mets crushed in Game 1
Watch Game 2 of doubleheader -- Mets peppered again

It's such a tired act by now. That it parallels the hot-and-cold Red Sox performances which follow Mr. Russell's rant-or-rave postings has me wondering, though. Is this just the law of averages applying to baseball results, and we're too stupid to realize it? Do all baseball teams go through these ups and downs, and as fans we're just off? It reminds me of Spring Break in Daytona when 14 of us were going through the cycle of party day/hangover day/party day/hangover day and there was just this one ridiculous friend who would be going wild while we recuperated and lying on the floor while we went out. Is that me with the Mets? Pathetic.

If that's true, though, then all I need to do is fake-left-go-right, right? Now that I'm back and it's time to bemoan dropping a winnable series against Cincy and yet another bungled doubleheader, I should just continue to keep a close eye and it'll all work out? Rob just needs to crush the Sox after they took two of three from the Phillies, and the cosmic, anti-magnet force will adjust, no?

No. We've tried this before, and the evidence is mounting. When I follow the Mets' progress closely, they lose. When I hunker down and tune in for the duration, they lose badly. If I were to go to a game, they might fold the franchise. When Rob applauds the Red Sox, they lose. When he trashes them, they win. And the level of vitriol therein is directly proportional to the level of solid play soon thereafter. It's beyond uncanny. It's odder than The Odd Couple, it's weirder than Weird Science, it's stranger than L'Étranger. It's not just bizarre, though, it's painful.

Part of understanding how this continuing phenomenon affects me is understanding my idiotically superstitious nature. If there's any correlation between the amount of attention I give the Mets and how well they perform, this cannot be coincidental. This is real. It's probably a punishment for something I've done, but that's irrelevant. I'm a guy who's afraid to flip around at commercial if my team is playing well, and as an ADD case study, that's saying something. Of course, if they start to falter, I'll flip away, then come back, repeating this measure until they do pick it up. Like many fans, I have lucky jerseys and hats, but past history has taught me that all team paraphernalia has hot and cold streaks just like a sports team, and sometime you have to yank that lucky shirt and go with something else. I've worn absolutely hideous clothing just to shake things up. In college, there was an extended period of time when my Washington Redskins would only play well when my friend Cliff and I would leave the gang watching it on the tube and drive around Williamsburg in his Accord with the game on the radio. The difference wasn't marginal, and it wasn't a vague sense of improvement via karmic alteration. It was palpable, it was plain to see, and it was perfectly obvious. It was real.

I have always been willing to make changes in the way I follow my teams in order to improve their chances. Look, I realize that there was nothing a lucky hat or a special seat at the bar could do to avoid that little stroll through the valley of the shadow of death last season, but there is luck woven into the seams of major league baseball, and acknowledging that there might be something you can do to help is the mark of the fan (short for fanatic). With umpiring calls, bounces, sun location, fan interactions, and the occasional surreal in-game happenings all floating up there in that good luck / bad luck mesosphere, if you can decrypt but one temporary key to good fortune, you have to act upon it. If you say you don't believe in such things, you're just being lazy. Step it up, and perhaps the bad things will start happening to other teams.

I'll flaunt the ugliest piece of crap Mets-wear if I must. I'll watch the game from a 1973 9" RCA if it pushes them over the top. I'll cheer for them exclusively in French, take a lap around the house between innings, or eat a hot dog for every run they score if it seems to be working. Hell, I even donned an A's cap last year to aid Rob's Sox in the playoffs when I realized I was a jinx. (That I refused to wear Yankees garb to help a brother out doesn't diminish the level of friendship, it just magnifies the ill will against a certain crosstown club.)

I'm certainly not unique, though; I saw Rob Russell nearly hospitalize himself when he vowed to take a pair of Bacardi shots for every run the Sox scored in the high-scoring Game 3 of the 1988 ALCS. This self-inflicted torture in the name of the home team is something every true die-hard will levy, and it can pay off twice -- you're helping the team win, which makes you happy, and you'll be able to accept some of the credit for the success, which makes you happier. It also makes you a candidate for some R&R at the Golden Brook Sanitarium, where you can get some prescription happiness to boot.

So what is the point of all of this? I've belabored the point that I'll go to just about any extreme to improve the chances of the Mets winning, but I will not do what this season's empirical evidence leads me to conclude is the necessary measure: I will not abandon my participation in this Mets season in order to see them thrive. I won't give up this column, turn off the tube, and shy away from the boxes on D3. I won't closet the caps, delete the links, and redirect conversations away from the Metropolitans. I don't care if it becomes clear that the Mets are one fan's neglect away from the World Series, I refuse to take myself out of the game. Because deep down in places I don't talk about at parties, I'm not sure I actually believe in any of the cosmic bullshit I just spouted about for four paragraphs. And just in case I'm wrong about all of that, I don't want to have missed even one inning of baseball.

Wow, there's some sound and fury for you. Well, I'll cut it here, keeping me from having to figure out why the Mets can't even salvage a split in doubleheaders. They conceded both games of all four double-dippers they played in 2003, and they kicked off their '04 two-fers with a pair of nut-shots yesterday. Even scarier is how badly they've lost those 10 games -- by a combined 81-31, allowing five or more runs every time. Supposedly the next time the skies are ready to open up on the team, Art Howe is going to grab the PA microphone and lead the crowd in a "No rain!" chant a la Neil Young in Live Rust. It's either that or go 70's retro and build the Shea-dome. Whatever it is, until the Mets come to terms with the fact that doubleheaders aren't optional practices, we'll be keeping our fingers crossed for a drought to follow the Mets' plane route. If this drought has peripheral effects that cause damage to communities around the nation, we'll just chalk it up to Things We'll Endure to Help the Mets, as found in Fandom 101.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Games 69 through 71 - Red Sox
Quick and Dirty (and Shitty)

Red Sox 9, Minnesota Twins 2
Twins 4, Red Sox 2
Twins 4, Red Sox 3
Record: 40-31

My boss has been on vacation all week, leaving me in charge. Lesson: if being the boss means I have to work this hard all the time, I don't want to be the boss.

As for the Sox, I have little time, and little good to say, so here goes:

This team is playing like making the playoffs is a foregone conclusion - all they need to do is go through the regular season motions, and they'll wind up in the inevitable Good vs. Evil ALCS with the Yankees. Which is a load of crap. If they keep losing home series' to inferior opponents, they'll wind up squandering the most talented Sox roster in the last 30 years, which will piss me right off. I'm thisclose to getting really down on this team, because I believe in them so, so much, and they're not rewarding that belief. Turn it on, goddammit.

Gone for the weekend effective right now, so we'll see on Monday how my aimless missive from cyberspace impacts the Sox' performance.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Too Clever by Half

I hate it when my brain thinks it's being funny and forgets to remind my fingers to complete the thought. The headline of yesterday's post reflects the fact that Edgardo AlFONZo hit game-winning homers in each of the Sox' losses to the Giants. Sure would have been nice for me to include that in the actual post itself.

In a related note, the Sox held Barry "Shut Up, You Ninny" Bonds pretty well in check during the series, allowing only 1 hit in 13 plate appearances, though they did walk him 5 times. It gets harder and harder to appreciate Bonds' incomprehensibly good statistics every time he opens his mouth. Apparently, Boston is a racist city, and will never change, according to Bonds - even though he's never played there. As a wise man once said, 'tis better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you're an idiot then to open it and confirm that you are. A pox on his house.

The Whitney Across America tour finds our hero in Denver this morning, after a stop in Kansas City on Sunday night. He and his traveling companion, Dave Pellicane, stayed up until 2:00 am throwing darts and drinking on Saturday night/Sunday morning, then jumped in the car at 6:00 am and drove for 16 hours. Well played, sirs.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Games 66 through 68 - Red Sox
The Gang at Arnold's is Going Bonkers

Red Sox 14, San Francisco Giants 9
Giants 6, Red Sox 4
Giants 4, Red Sox 0
Record: 39-29

I simply cannot get a handle on this team. When I rant and pout about their poor performance, they blitz somebody. When I fill my head with positive vibrations, they shit themselves. One minute I think they're stacked, and with any luck at all will cruise to the inevitable ALCS showdown with the Yankees. The next breath finds me crawling along the floor looking for fissures in the foundation that I'm certain exist. And nearly every waking moment finds me decrying interleague play, if only because the Sox suck so miserable against the Senior Circuit.

After all the soul searching, and the doubt, and the True Sox Fan passion plays, I keep coming back to this: these Sox are wicked talented, and despite losing 4 of 6, only going 24-23 over the last 47, and all-in-all not playing to nearly their full potential, they're still only 4.5 behind the white-hot Yankees and on top of the Wild Card standings. The question that's on the table, then, is this: will the real 2004 Red Sox please stand up?

18 games until the All-Star break, including 12 at home and 3 in the Bronx, and all 18 against contenders (MIN, PHI, NYY, ATL, OAK, TEX). This could well be a defining stretch for this team. 12-6 isn't out of the question, but neither is 8-10 the way the Sox seem to be indifferent for annoyingly long spans this season. I just don't sense any fire in this team, led as they are by another mild-mannered, kumbaya-singing sort of guy. Then again, it's a long season, and they are positioned right where they need to be to make a playoff run.

Cripes, if I flip-flopped any more about this team I'd be John Kerry. I need a slogan, a rallying cry, a fifth starter, and somebody to kidnap Cesar Crespo, but as Stewart Elliott learned to his dismay in the Belmont, going to the whip too early is a sure recipe for disaster. So the Express remains in the garage, and the faint echoes of targets, and "lotta ball" whisper aimlessly around the ballyard, to be collected and harnessed as needed, but not any time soon. Until that time, how 'bout you win a few games in a row, huh?

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Games 65 and 66 - Mets
Mountain a Comeback?

Mets 6, Indians 2
Mets 3, Tigers 2
Record: 32-34

Now this is what playing the AL Central is supposed to be like. After succumbing to the Twins and Royals like it was the mid-1980's or something, the Mets took two of three from the Tribe and opened up the series against Detroit with a dramatic win. Mike Cameron, whose first couple of months only fueled speculation about a Carlos Beltran deal, jacked a ninth-inning off-speeder into the back of the left-field bleachers to beat the Tigers last night.

Tom "Gold" Glavine not only presented another quality start for the Metros but also drove in two with a single in the fifth to tie the game, enabling Cameron to break the tie in the ninth with his solo shot. The legions of writers who declared Mr. Glavine dead in the water after last year haven't yet begun to own up to jumping that gun, and I won't hold my breath waiting, but let me be the first to retract my wholesale rejection of TG last year. An MLC reader recently wrote in with a hypothesis of even year/odd year fortunes and Glavine which he equated to Bret Saberhagen in the 80's, and maybe even the Cincinnati Bengals. We'll look into that one.

Third place, 4.5 out, two games under sea level. I think it's time for a big run by the boys in blue and orange, which necessitates one thing. I need to leave town, not blog on, and follow the Mets only with the passing fancy of, say, a Braves fan. Catch a box score here, a highlight there, have little to no insight on the team. [I know, I know, I have none anyway -- hilarious, Rob.]

Well, that's just what I'll do then. I am packing my bags and heading far, far away . . . the Rockies sound far enough. Alrighty then. Tomorrow morning I will drive to the Colorado for the week. I'll return refreshed and ready to resume my role as the scribe of all things New York Mets. And as long as they have Internet access in Detox, no problem. And remember, Mets fans, I am doing this for you. When it comes to this team, there is no sacrifice I won't make up.

One of Life's Little Questions: can you get a Pabst at Coors Field?

Friday, June 18, 2004

Games 64 & 65 - Red Sox
Playing Under Duress

Rockies 7, Red Sox 6
Red Sox 11, Rockies 0
Record: 38-27

The above-mentioned duress is mine, not the Red Sox', laboring as I am under the pressures of a deadline at work and an impending 4-hour car trip with two children under the age of 3. That's my excuse for the brevity of this offering, and I'm sticking to it. You, gentle reader, should be thanking your lucky stars for even this tiny burst of inspired Soxprose.

It's amazing what an 11-run win will do to a man's perspective, especially when it involves 7 more shutout innings from Derek Lowe. Sure, the Sox lost a series to the bottom-dwelling Rockies, and with it dropped another game to the Yankees. But Lowe's now hurled 19 consecutive scoreless innings, right after the villagers of Red Sox Nation had taken up torches and clubs and begun hunting his monstrous presence in the rotation will malice aforethought. "Nothing to see here," Lowe's performance over the last three games declares, "Go on back home and pray for Curt's ankle." And so we do, sheepishly.

Nomar was 3-for-5 with a triple yesterday, Trot homered in his first game back in the loss on Wednesday, Schilling's MRI reportedly showed no major damage, and the Yankees finally lost to the D-Backs. You won't likely hear from me this weekend, but know that I go into the break with pleasant Soxthoughts flitting through my mind.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

This Just In

All of the pertinent news sources (except WFAN, who says the Mets claim this deal isn't finalized) are telling us that the Mets have shipped David Weathers to Houston for outfielder Richard Hidalgo. I have been harping on Weathers' slow (not slow enough) decline for some time, but what with the bullpen in full-on Colander Mode, this might not be the time to pull a resource. Still, there's no denying the need (a) to make some changes or (b) to add a potentially potent bat. Here's what was said about Hidalgo today:

"Hidalgo, 28, hit 44 homers and drove in 122 runs as recently as 2000, but has fallen off since and is now a part-time player with a .256 average, four homers and 30 RBI in 199 at-bats."

A fallen-off, part-time player with a better batting average than half our starting lineup and with five more RBI's than anyone except Mike Piazza. Wow, the Mets really are putrid at the plate. I have always felt that Hidalgo was a flash in the pan type of player who benefited from Houston's tinker-toy ballpark and who strikes out way too much (3-to-1 K-to-BB this year). His speed on the basepaths is nil, though his arm in RF is solid. He's definitely a question mark, but he does fill a void, somewhat.

Right field, though lacking a marquee player, had not been an area of real need during the first month of the season -- the ex-Yank tandem of Shane Spencer & Karim Garcia had been getting the job done quite nicely. Then Garcia forgot how to make maple meet horsehide and Spencer got dinged up. Gerald Williams has managed a few hits thus far, but at 37 he's not any sort of future. (Hidalgo's 12 million dollars owed if the Mets pick up his option in '05 probably make him no future, either, but never mind that.)

Oh, well, what the hell. We'll try anything at this point. The season's not lost yet, so add a few more elements to the potion. If it blows up, at least you tried. In addition to Hidalgo, the Astros are reportedly sending $4 million to help even out the salary discrepancy. This won't even be that much of a financial investment. I hope this deal is indeed done. I was tired of watching Dave Weathers retire 11% of his first batters, anyway.

In other news, Vance Wilson's strained hamstring is serious enough for a trip to the DL. He's scheduling an appointment with Jose Reyes's doctor so he can hurt his back, too, and return next spring. To replace Wilson, the Mets called up . . . Wilson. Tom, that is, the former Blue Jay catcher who has a little bit of pop, if I recall. The Wilson boys thing is kind of neat, huh? Kind of like a Wilsons thing in the Beach Boys, or the B-52's, or Heart, or even Wilson Phillips? Holy hell, what is it about being named Wilson that when you form a band you have to include your siblings? I guess when Mookie and the Metmen take the stage, he'll need a sib in his back-up band.
Game 64 - Mets
Slop Sloppy Baseball

Indians 9, Mets 1
Record: 30-34

At first glance, this was a throw-away game, one of those 35 games a year that Rob talks about being a predetermined loss. But it wasn't, really, and the problems that led to the 9-1 whipping aren't an aberration and aren't going away with any more firings. The game was 2-1 into the 6th. The 35 doomed games come when you must tip your cap to the other team for simply being better on a given night. Committing two errors, firing a pair of run-scoring wild pitches, and bungling several more fielding plays certainly means the Mets were worse, but were the Indians really that much better last night?

Yeah, okay, pretty much. C.C. Sabathia threw a great game, making the Mets look bad -- fire-your-hitting-coach bad. Their batters had timely hits, the kind the Mets swore off sometime in April. Part of that is top-to-bottom hitting, with every player contributing something. While the Mets haven't been making contact all that well, their timing has been worse. I'm not talking about bat-meets-ball timing, though that could obviously use an overhaul as well. It's times when the 1-2 hitters go 6-for-8 and the 3-4 hitters go 0-for-8, and one run is scored. Last night saw three hits by the 2 & 3 spots and three hits by the 7 & 8 spots sandwiching a fat slice of 4-5-6 oh-fer turkey. How many times have the Mets worked to load the bases and then shot themselves in the spikes? The defense has the excuse of being played largely out of position, but that complaint doesn't really transfer to the offense, unless you count "in the major leagues" as "out of position."

Speaking of playing out of position on defense, that reminds me of a story. Wanna hear it? Here it go. Sometime over a decade ago (yikes), Rob Russell and I attended a Tidewater (now Norfolk) Tides game at Met Park. Met Park was a strange old place. Right off I-64, it was a dated, run-down, very minor-league-looking stadium that sported us to not only good baseball every time we made the trip, but also to something bizarre and usually humorous. From our bellowing buddy Chris dropping a foul pop on TV to Chuck Carr lacing a triple to the gap three minutes after Rob's and my definitive conclusion that you couldn't possibly leg out a triple in that park to this mildly humorous episode, it was always a little bit out there. (Not to mention my touchdown at my high school Homecoming game in the Park -- that was certainly X-files rare.)

Rob and I didn't notice it in the second inning, but I think we picked up on Tim Bogar's position switch to start the third inning. And when he took left field to start the fourth, we knew what was up. It was the last game of the season for the Tides, and starting shortstop Tim Bogar was playing a different position every inning. He made his way around the outfield in the middle innings and took first for the seventh. Rob and I mused whether he'd actually suit up the gear and get behind the plate, and especially whether he'd take the mound. Sure enough, there was Bogar at catcher in the eighth, and doing a pretty good job at it, too. The Tides had a comfortable lead, making this sidelight gravy. Bogar completed the feat as he stepped onto the hill in Top 9. The crowd roared when Bogar fired a strike. That he might be competent at the role was unexpected. When he struck out the first batter, it was a as frenzied as it could get for the postseason-denied Tides; these theatrics were taking a pleasant evening at the ballpark and raising it to a level that obviously embanked itself in my memory. The thought of this infielder possibly coming in and striking out the side to end the season was, albeit in a baseball equivalent of small-town community theater, high drama. And then Tim Bogar reared back and fired a fastball right into the face of the second batter. The hitter was taken to the hospital and Bogar was lifted for a "real" pitcher, who did close it out. Hollywood feelgood becomes black comedy. Awesome. And that, my friends, plus the sinister, muffled laughter Rob and I choked back until we got to the car, is why this little outing is memorable. Tim Bogar did make it to the bigs with the Mets and Astros; his numbers were largely unimpressive (.228 BA), but every time we saw him we'd think of him re-arranging someone's facial structure during his little gag. He actually had a pair of major league pitching appearances, with a 4.50 career ERA. And you think Roger Clemens scares hitters?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

And Now for Something Slightly Different

I've been wildly enjoying SOSH poster Jose Melendez' KEYS TO THE GAME - a must-read component of every game thread. See here for an example. Makes even crappy games like yesterday's highly entertaining.
Game 63 - Red Sox
Rocky Mountain Highly Annoying

Colorado Rockies 6, Red Sox 3
Record: 37-26

I hate getting old for a lot of reasons. Today's particular beef is that getting old means I can't stay up until 12:30 am any more to follow baseball games that start at 9:05 EST to their conclusion. At least, I can't without stumbling through the better part of the morning in a coma. Which leads to:

I hate waiting patiently for the ESPN SportsTicker to scroll through WNBA, Tennis, and Major League Soccer scores before going to commercial just as baseball overnights come up. And I hate holding my breath just to see Red Sox 3, Rockies 6 followed by Yankees 4, Diamondbacks 2. And, apropos of nothing, I hate Gary Sheffield.

Schizophrenia Tour 2004 - Sox Over America continues in full bloom, as I don't know whether to remain positive or start breaking things. Among the positives:

* - Trot Nixon starts for the Sox tonight, marking his first appearance of the 2004 season. Of course, if Nomar's first week is any basis for comparison, I'd probably rather see Gabe Kapler in the lineup.

* - Scott Williamson's back in the bullpen, and throwing fairly well.

* - Curt Schilling is slated to start tonight, which tells this medically untrained fan that he's not too badly injured - though he's going to get an injection of something called Marcaine before the game. That sound you hear is the furious knocking of wood. Not my own.

* - The Yankees have received some fairly negative injury news in recent days, with Kevin Brown heading to the DL (Shocked. I'm shocked.), Mike Mussina leaving a game with a groin strain, and critical relief component Steve Karsay cancelling a rehab start with discomfort. New York's relatively old relief corps (at least the Rivera-Gordon-Quantrill meat of it) will be called on to throw a lot of innings during June and July, which could spell good things for the Sox in August and September.

* - And finally, to continue to beat this drum, the Sox haven't had a full team yet, and they're still within hailing distance of the Yankees and in the Wild Card lead.

On the other hand:

* - They're 4.5 games back of the Yankees, who are on a wicked tear despite the aforementioned injury worries.

* - The Sox seem incapable of going on a serious tear, despite chalking up series victory after series victory. The entire Yankee lead in the division has been built on the strength of an 11-2 run, during which the Sox have scuffled to 6-6.

* - Nomar's not been effective in his first week back - not shocking, but still not happymaking.

* - While Pedro and Lowe had had recent effective starts, Tim Wakefield's allowed 20 runs in his last 18 1/3 innings.

Still 99 games to play, and a handy Prozac/Percoset cocktail stands at the ready on my bedside table just in case. With a sigh, I reluctantly remain optimistic about the rest of the season. As I've said before, I could be a Mets fan.

Game 63 - Mets
I Am Sgt. Shultz

Mets 7, Indians 2
Record: 30-33

Kaz boots a grounder: no, he helped turn a DP
Cameron swings through strike three: no, he singled in a pair in the 1st
The Mets lose, 5-4: no, they won, 7-2
Steve Trachsel surrenders a tater to Matt Lawton: no, he gave up no HR's, though Lawton did go 3-for-4
The bullpen dumps a vat of OPEC output on the fire: no, Franco/Weathers/Looper allowed no runs at all in 2 1/3

Why do I bother? The only thing I got right was that Alex Escobar didn't record a hit, and on that one I cheated -- I had read he was shipped to AAA Buffalo a couple of days ago.

Am I actually a Red Sox fan? Over on their side of the wall, Gabe Kapler made an error, Jason Varitek fanned, Bronson Arroyo gave up the tater, and Alan Embree faltered in relief as the Sox lost, 6-3, very close to the 5-4 prediction. Must have been crossed brainwaves or something.

What I obviously didn't know was that Mets hitting coach Denny Walling was being canned before the game. Don Baylor stepped into the role and clearly scared the crap out of the guys, as the Mets responded wth 14 hits and seven runs.

I do hope yesterday's posting didn't induce the firing of Walling. While I briefly traced the Mets' hitting slump, I didn't mean to indicate it was worthy of the removal of the hitting coach. Maybe it was, though I'm never sure how much influence that role has over the collective offensive output of a team. In some cases, firing the batting coach is like taking Pepto-Bismol for jock itch. Maybe you feel better just doing something at all, but it's probably not a cause/effect action. Then again, as Crash Davis pointed out, if you believe you're playing well because you're getting laid, or because you're not getting laid, or because you wear women's underwear, then you are. And if you believe you're hitting the ball well because of the new hitting coach, then you are. I just feel especially bad for Denny Walling. When I wrote that epic (droning) piece last week on that NLCS Phils-Astros game, Walling was a key factor in it, yet he received nary a mention -- not even when I talked about links to the current Mets. My apologies and condolences to the freshly liberated Mr. Walling.

The Mets did what they were supposed to do with Jason "Shufflin' Off to Buffalo" Davis. 7 runs, 11 hits, 3 walks in 4-plus innings of work. Apparently they decided not to assist yet another struggling MLB player or team. When your charity work gets people fired, it's time to start helping yourselves.

Keeping up with the Joneses: having seen NL Easters the Florida Marlins pinch-hit star pitcher Dontrelle Willis on a handful of occasions, Art Howe penciled in Tom Glavine to pinch-hit last night. Glavine grounded out to short. The Mets were slightly short-handed, having lost Vance Wilson in the 4th to a hamstring strain and having Shane Spencer still day-to-day with a shoulder problem. Interesting decision, but nice to have a decent hitter in your rotation for just such a situation.

Jose "Hamstringing Us Along" Reyes is headed to AA. But really, given the way the Mets' season has gone, aren't we all?

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Games 59 Through 62 - Mets
Losing Mo . . . Again

Twins 3, Mets 2
Royals 7, Mets 5
Royals 4, Mets 3
Mets 5, Royals 2
Record: 29-33

Once again the Metropollyannas capped off a lost weekend with a wee bit of salvage work, though as time wears on, it's an ever-increasing case of too little, too late. The Mets haven't lost the final game of the weekend (Sunday games except for Memorial Monday) since April. The problem is that over the last three weekends, these wins have followed multiple losses. (This time it was 5 in a row.) It's like little kids kissing up when they know they're in trouble: Aw, gee, Pa, don't be sore. See, we can win for you!

Well, Opie, trying to figure you boys out has been like trying to sew buttons on custard pie. I do believe I have a bead on you, though. You're a 4th-place team at heart, maybe with aspirations of 3rd. Sad but true. ESPN's Harold Reynolds was asked point-blank on Sunday if this latest skid marked the end of the Mets' run at contention, and he emphatically said that it's not. He pointed to a National League East without any team pulling away, and to the fact that the Mets are only 5.5 out. Oh, yeah, and it's early still. It's always nice when someone on the tube is telling you your team is still in it, even if he's wrong.

Here are a few of the reasons why the Mets are still in the prologue of what should quickly become a lousy four months -- a June swoon, July goodbye, August disgust and September . . . (football, remember?).

The veteran pitching has been carrying the load, and they will weaken as the summer wears on. When that happens, the foundation will crumble.

The bullpen has reverted to a mediocre form, looking like the bunch of cast-offs, journeymen, and washed-up stars of old they probably are.

Mike Cameron and Jason Phillips are hovering above .200, Cameron and Matsui are fanning once in every 3-4 trips to the plate, and the team's batting average (.246) is now back to the worst in baseball other than the lowly Expos, who, by the way, were better in their last 10 than the Mets.

Pretty dreary. I could go on, but before I need some Prozac just to carry on . . .

At least Jose Reyes is playing baseball again. He's only in A ball, but we'd been seeing more mentions of "relapse" than "rehab" in the past month or two, so that should be promising. All that's really "promising," however, is me promising you that Reyes's return will hit another snag. Sit back and watch the setback.

Meanwhile, on the Comics page of the Mets newssheet we see this:

RHP Scott Erickson pitched five innings for the Triple-A Norfolk on June 14, allowing seven earned runs on 10 hits. Erickson, who has a strained left hamstring, threw 98 pitches.

So he gets clobbered against the Toledo Mud Hens. I kid you not. Speaking of which, I am not making up this roster entry for the Mud Hens on B Ust
Well, we've had a few of those in our organization as well, haven't we? [Further research shows it's a Brant Ust, who's actually hitting pretty well for them.] Tangent off a tangent off a tanget: 25 may be too young to officially tag someone a bust, but former Mets savior-in-training Alex Escobar is testing that theory. After what seemed like years and years and years of waiting for him to develop while turning away big-time offerings, the Mets sent him to Cleveland a couple of years ago, where he got hurt, got healthy, and got to the Opening Day roster this year . . . where he has hit .211 with 1 homer and 12 RBI in 46 games so far. Seeing him flounder for someone else after we dumped him almost gives Mets fans a sliver of redemption about wasting those hopes on him, except that the serviceable (especially this year) Matt Lawton went with him in that same deal . . . for Roberto "Bait and Switch" Alomar and Mike "Make Explosion Noises Here" Bacsik. It looked like one of those Everybody Lost trades except that Lawton's lighting it up now.

Speaking of Cleveland, guess who's coming to town tonight? (Funny how it looked like I didn't know where I was heading in that last paragraph. If you love a train of thought, set it free . . .) Those 30-31 Indians. (That's a game and a half better than the Mets, for those of you into the whole "standings" thing.) The Tribe are just 9-16 away from Jacobs Field and they're starting Jason Davis, whose numbers protrude in all the wrong places, which is why I can pretty much damn well guarantee you the Mets will squander one tonight. Rubbing my crystal ball (it's the left one) here: Kaz boots a grounder, Cameron swings through strike three, and the Mets lose, 5-4, after Steve Trachsel surrenders a tater to Matt Lawton and the bullpen dumps a vat of OPEC output on the fire. Alex Escobar does not get a hit, though. I mean that.

Or it might rain. I'm very precise about all of this.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Games 59 through 62 - Red Sox
Blissfully Unaware

Red Sox 9, Padres 3
Red Sox 2, Los Angeles Dodgers 1
Dodgers 14, Red Sox 5
Red Sox 4, Dodgers 1
Record: 37-25

I spent the weekend in complete isolation from the 21st Century, in a place called Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania, which is near Erie geographically, and near 1955 economically and culturally. Think Dirty Dancing meets any Bruce Springsteen song from The River, only with more tattoos, fewer teeth, and better mullets. The Hotel Conneaut, once-beautiful, now more sad than anything else, offered one communal television, no in-room telephone lines (and hence, no internet), and - in my family's case - no shower facility in our room. (We used my wife's brother's room to shower, in case you were wondering about our hygiene - and thanks for caring.)

As a result, I know next to nothing from the games played Thursday to Saturday, except for the final scores. I do know that Derek Lowe pitched 7 shutout innings, thanks to the Meadville Tribune's sports section (and I stretch the definition of "section" to its bursting point with that choice of words), and I'm pretty sure the 14-5 result means that Tim Wakefield had another subpar outing. (The box score agrees: 4.1 IP, 8ER, and hey!, Dave McCarty pitched a scoreless 9th.) I've also heard that Curt Schilling hurt his ankle, but have no information upon which to base paranoiac delusions about the season's demise - which won't stop me from harboring such delusions.

I returned home last night at 9:30 or so, after 8+ hours in the car with my two year-old and 3 month-old daughters. Desperate for a beer and some televised baseball, I flipped on the Sox/Dodgers telecast just in time to see Gabe Kapler and Pokey Reese hit back-to-back doubles to plate a combined three runs and give the Sox a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the 4th. Parse that sentence for a moment, and you'll realize that Gabe Kapler and Pokey Reese both clubbed extra-base hits with men on base in the same inning. Make sure you're right with your Creator, because I'm nearly certain that I witnessed one of the Signs of the Apocolypse last night.

I also watched Pedro go 7 innings of 1-run baseball, and saw a human being fly with my own two eyes when Pokey leapt as high as I've ever seen an infielder go to snare a liner off the bat of Dave Roberts. The Dodgers' outfielder was left cursing and clenching his fists, and the Fenway crowd serenaded the Sox' second-baseman with a long and loving chorus of "Pokey...Pokey...Pokey" for the better part of 5 minutes. Reese is hitting .264 and fielding his ass off, fast becoming one of the Nation's beloved spare parts. No other player in the majors, with the possible exception of 6'10" Randy Johnson, would have made the play Reese made to end the 7th. Unbelievable is far too pedestrian a word to begin to describe it.

The Yankees keep winning, scoring 4 in the 12th (nice effort, San Diego, you Oriole-wannabe stiffs) to beat the Padres and win their 16th in 19 games. Sox just need to hang in there at this point, and go on their own surge. Trot Nixon's flying with the team to Colorado, and may play this week. 10-15 more days, and the full roster as envisioned in Spring Training is just about in place. Giddyup.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Game 58 - Red Sox
Papa's Got a Brand New Perspective

Padres 8, Red Sox 1
Nomar Garciaparra, 1-2, 1B
Record: 34-24

After the Yankees complete their pummeling of the Colorado Rockies this afternoon, the Empire will be 30-9 since the Sox finished dismantling them in April, and will have opened a 4-game lead on the 2nd-place Red Sox. I note this not because I'm happy about it, but because it gives me renewed optimism about my team. That the Yanks' run only puts them 4 games up on a Sox team that has missed several critical components is damn near cause for celebration.

And speaking of causes for celebration, Nomar's first AB of the 2004 season brought the Fenway crowd to its feet for an extended standing ovation. The taciturn shortstop seemed visibly moved, tapping his heart in Sosa-like response to the cheers. He then swung at the first pitch offered by Brian Lawrence, and all was well in the world. He ripped a groundball single between third and short to open the season on a positive, if belated, note.

Nomar's back, Scott Williamson gets activated tomorrow, Trot Nixon's playing the outfield in Pawtucket and slated to be back in Boston next Tuesday, and visions of a red-and-blue 30-9 streak dance in my head. Three-day weekend beckons along with the first day of the rest of the season.
Game 58 - Mets
Just Can't Get Enough

Twins 5, Mets 3
Record: 28-30

Earlier this week: Manager Art Howe is not a fan of interleague play. "It's not a level playing field," he said. "We play the Yankees six times. Who do the Marlins play? Tampa Bay?"

While I agree wholeheartedly with his assessment of the unfairness in this scheduling, and while I love the out-and-out slag of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization, it ain't exactly "Win one for the Gipper" now, is it? (Very timely reference, no?) If the Mets spend even one half-second, one half-brain-cell thinking about the better-with-every-game Yanks on the horizon, or have one-half a negative vibe, this interleague stint could be a disaster. One that could ruin the season.

Whatever the cause, the Mets have been flat in the Twin Cities. They did manage to come up with a couple of runs late, but it was pretty much over when Steve Back-to-Back-sel gave up consecutive bombs in the 4th. One highlight was newly promoted journeyman Gerald Williams (last spotted charging Pedro in Tampa) sending a solo shot over the fence in the sixth; one lowlight was him fanning with two outs and the bases bloated a couple of innings later.

The Mets hitters apparently hadn't read the papers that explained in gory detail how Johan Santana had been pounded like a gavel his last four starts. Continuing in the Good Samaritan tradition, the Mets resuscitate yet another sagging performer; they're the Quentin Tarantino of MLB. Nifty.

My cohort and I are both off for a few days, paying homage to a great leader fallen -- the recent passing of Bonzo Gipp. Okay, not really, but we probably won't be heard from in this space. Enjoy the silence.

(Did I just quote Depeche Mode??)

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Game 57 - Mets
Recap and Then Some

Twins 2, Mets 1
Record: 28-29

Kaz Matsui struck out with a chance to break the game open. Then he booted a double-play ball with one out in the bottom of the ninth, which led to a spazmo Ty Wigginton (great snare, bad throw/decision) to Jason Phillips to Vance Wilson play which failed to prevent Jacque Jones from scoring from second. There's no way a play that awkward (not to mention a description that bumbling) that went through 1B could have gone on with Mike Piazza DH-ing, right?

Tom Glavine was as on as on can be, I must say, but the Twinkies squeaked one across in the seventh to tie it, and I just knew we were going to get screwed in the Hump-Dome. I figured it'd be Braden Loophole continuing his slide, but Mike Stanton and some unsightly D fit the bill.

Memo to the Kaz: turf bounces are truer and grounders should be easier to handle. If a college intramural softball team can use the artificial surface to go through a season without an infield error, surely you can make it through one game.

Memo to Mets hitters: Welcome to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, know affectionately as the Homer-Dome. Yes, I know they have made alterations to the playing field to lessen the homers over the years, but find me any other series of Twins home highlights that don't feature a drive over the baggie or into the wall of seats or whatever that atrocity is in right field (uh, other than the Twins getting held in check this night by Glavine). You know, that game-ending play was ugly, but this stadium has got to be the ugliest monstrosity in the history of Major League Baseball. And this is from a guy whose team plays at Shea. Forget the loss, boys, just marvel at the stupid dome.

* * *

Speaking of unsightly domes, Monday night I watched an unbelievable game which took place at the once-labeled eighth wonder of the world, the Houston Astrodome. Six weeks ago I griped, "ESPN Classic needs to step it up." I'm flattered that not only do the program directors there read this column, but they also heed our advice. (More advice: Give me your job.)

What with Cubs-Cards and Bucs-Rangers failing to adequately hold my attention, I headed for the satellite space usually reserved for The Bill Buckner & Rob Russell Torture Hour. To my delight, they weren't airing the same ol' same ol', but instead were showing a great game with which I wasn't wholly familiar: the 1980 NLCS Game 5.

In fact, earlier they'd shown A's-Reds World Series games (I'm guessing due to the interleague match-up of the same two clubs that night) in the abbreviated format that I have come to enjoy. The "Drive-Thru" version of classic games is a nice way to get all of the best moments and the feel of the game without having to spend three hours sitting in front of a game whose outcome you already know. Oh -- briefly, speaking of that, I do have a small bitch (not you, Rob) about the way they break for commercial in this format. When the inning ends and they say "Coming up . . ." they show a clip from the next segment, but not just any clip -- they show the key play of the next segment in its entirety, then cut to commercial like they didn't just give away the ending. For example, A's/Dodgers '88 Game 1, just as they cut away before Kirk Gibson's at-bat, they show the friggin' homer! What's my incentive to stay tuned?? Yes, dammit, I already know what happens without seeing that, but that's my point -- the only reason I've settled on channel 208 here is because I want the drama, the build-up, the emotions, the pure tension of that long at-bat followed by the spine-tingling result. This is utter TV premature ejaculation -- without paying the $5.99, though. Eventually I learned to flip to another channel as soon as I hear "Coming up . . ." but I'm not sure that's what those in charge in Bristol really want from their viewers. But I digress.

I didn't really remember the '80 NLCS, probably for a painful reason: I was still a ten-year-old Yankees fan back then, and the Yanks were in the process of finally losing to the Royals in the ALCS. The Yanks/Royals/Dodgers/Phillies dramatic rivalries of 1976-1981 were fantastic (excepting 1979, the bizarre year amid all of this when these four teams finished a combined 42 GB). Observe:

1976 Yanks over Royals, Reds over Phils, Reds over Yanks
1977 Yanks over Royals, Dodgers over Phils, Yanks over Dodgers
1978 Yanks over Royals, Dodgers over Phils, Yanks over Dodgers
1979 Orioles over Angels, Pirates over Reds, Pirates over Orioles (?!)
1980 Royals over Yanks, Phils over Astros, Phils over Royals
1981 Yanks over A's, Dodgers over Expos, Dodgers over Yanks

As a kid, it seemed like only these teams would be competing for a championship every year. (Snide, misplaced aside: who knew that 25 years later, thanks to factors that have little to do with baseball and everything to do with money, the Yankees would in fact compete every year?) Anyway, that Phils / Astros series of 1980 was an erased memory for the most part -- all I remember from that postseason is the Yankees losing, the Phillies winning it all, Tug McGraw jumping around, and every year since then hearing Phils fans bitch about the lack of national sad-sack sentiment for the Phillies a la Cubs/Red Sox just because they won one title in what is now 121 years of play. Truly, there is no sports team whose history quite so prolongedly inept as the Philadelphia Phillies. My friend Nick Luketic can expound upon his Phightin's travails humorously, and I may ask him to in this space sometime, but it's worth a look if you think your team has been bad for a long time. It all started with the 17-81 squad of 1881, and it never really got much better. Just look at the Roaring Twenties for a microcosm of suck:

1920 - 62-91 (8th place out of 8)
1921 - 51-103 (8th)
1922 - 57-96 (7th)
1923 - 50-104 (8th)
1924 - 55-96 (7th)
1925 - 68-85 (6th)
1926 - 58-93 (8th)
1927 - 51-103 (8th)
1928 - 43-109! (8th)
1929 - 71-82 (5th) ("that championship season")

and for good measure:
1930 - 52-102 (8th)

This Baseball-Reference page is a handy place to see the train wreck that is the Phillies' history.

The Phils won the opening game of the 1915 World Series against the Red Sox, then dropped four straight. They were swept by the Yankees in the 1950 Series. That had been their entire postseason history until the 1976 season. And then they lost three straight NLCS's. In a flash, their woes went from ineptitude every year to the close-but-no-cigar tragedies on which the Sox usually have a monopoly. Skip through the '79 aberration to the fall of 1980. This was the year of Philadelphia sports, also known as the year Rob Russell nearly gave up watching athletic competitions. The Eagles, Flyers, Sixers, and Phillies all made it to their respective championships. Of course, what brought Mr. Russell back to the fray was the Eagles, Flyers, and Sixers all getting pretty well stuffed in their finals. By October, the Phillies -- the club among the four with the longest legacy of lousiness -- were the only hope for the City of Otherly Love. (Sorry, that joke just doesn't work unless you can see the limp wrist visual.)

So, just to torture their rooters as much as possible while delivering the goods, the Phightin's muddled through what Howard Cosell called the most amazing five-game series he ever saw. The quick results are eyebrow-raising, yet don't even tell it well:

Game 1: Phillies 3, Astros 1
Game 2: Astros 7, Phillies 4 (10)
Game 3: Astros 1, Phillies 0 (11)
Game 4: Phillies 5, Astros 3 (10)
Game 5: Phillies 8, Astros 7 (10)

Every game was tight and tense, with leads and momentum see-sawing all over the place. Though not remembered as powerhouses of their day, Houston did have names like Nolan Ryan and Ken Forsch and Joe Morgan while Philly had Pete Rose and Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt. More interestingly for me Monday night, guys who've been mentioned on our site semi-recently kept popping up, guys like Forsch and Rose and Morgan and Danny Heep and Larry Bowa and Vern Ruhle and yes, Art Howe. (Nicely cue-balled already.) Beyond Heep (one of my favorites) there was a link to the 1986 World Series, because let's face it, that's the tie that binds on this site, right? Joe Sambito, last seen getting smacked around by the Mets in '86, was the Astros closer in '80. Not a great series to be a closer, Joe. Nice work.

Anyway, all of this is a complete and utter digression from anything relevant, or even interesting, but it's a tremendously long-winded way of saying if you happen to see this game -- or any of the 1980 NLCS -- rerun on ESPN Classic, catch it. Just be sure to flip away immediately after every third out.
Game 57 - Red Sox
Petey's Got a Fast Car

Red Sox 1, San Diego Padres 0
Record: 34-23

This is getting so very old. And by this, I mean my repeated and uncanny ability to be spectacularly wrong (or at least ill-timed) in my predictions, assertions, and lamentations. Less than 1 week ago, I posted the following brilliant assessment of Pedro Martinez:

Pedro is struggling to overcome one of the worst haircuts in modern fashion (picture late-80s A.C. Green combined with Eriq Lasalle in 'Coming to America' topped off with a dollop of Carrot Top, only less attractive), in addition to the least effective stuff he's ever displayed. 11 hits in 5 innings against Cali helped bring his ERA to a pedestrian 4.40. And Petey ain't pedestrian.

I'll stand by the haircut stuff, but the reports of Pedro's demise may have been a bit premature. Last night's line for P. Martinez (W, 6-3): 8 IP, 2H, 0R, 0ER, 1BB, 1HBP, 8K, 115 pitches. And he was bringing 93-94 mph heat to the plate, up 3 or 4 mph from most of his previous work this season. 3 mph may not seem like much, but for a pitcher that lives on changing speeds, it makes the difference between 5 innings of 11-hit baseball, and 8 innings of dazzling work.

One game is just that, so we'll hold off on reserving space at Fanueil Hall for the Pedro's Back $1 Beer Night/Gabe Kapler Barmitzvah, but last night was a glorious treat for the Fenway faithful.

In other Sox news, the following conversation was overheard in Terry Francona's office before last night's game (with sincere apologies to Josh Beckett's ancestors):

You must be happy too, deep down, if you only knew it.
Happy about what?
To have the shortstop back with me again.
Would you say so?
Say you are, even if it's not true.
What am I to say?
Say, I am happy.
I am happy.
So am I.
So am I.
We are happy.
We are happy. (Silence.) What do we do now, now that we are happy?
Wait for Nomar. (Epstein groans. Silence.) Things have changed here since yesterday.
And if he doesn't come?
(after a moment of bewilderment). We'll see when the time comes. (Pause.) I was saying that things have changed here since yesterday.

We'll see when the time comes, indeed.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Games 55 & 56 - Red Sox
Wait, Th...That's Pokey Reese's Music

Red Sox 8, Royals 4
Red Sox 5, Royals 3
Record: 33-23

Random, disconnected thoughts to reflect the conclusion of a random, disconnected road-trip:

1. Sox did their jobs against the Royals, winning the series despite spotting KC the first game of the set. Nothing fancy, just workmanlike winning performances, though Mike Timlin's three hitless innings in back of Derek Lowe on Sunday was impressive.

2. Nomar's starting tonight against San Diego. No, wait, he's starting for Pawtucket. Um, he's 5-12 for the PawSox, and he's moving fine - can we hurry this up, please? At this rate, Paulie Walnuts' Russian will emerge from the Pine Barrens before the Red Sox' once and future shortstop wanders in from the cold.

3. But Trot's telling the world that he's gonna be back by June 15. That's one week from today for those of you scoring at home.

4. Tonight marks the opener of interleague play for 2004. I love the idea of interleague play, and I hate the execution. Mostly because the Sox traditionally suck against their NL brethren (maybe I'm just overly jaded by Boston's 10-20 mark against Atlanta), and the Yankees bludgeon the Senior Ciruit (or at least did last year). I could look it up, but that would detract from the slack, sloppy nature of this post.

5. The Sox play the NL West, in addition to Atlanta and Philly, during this year's interleague period. I must admit that I'm looking forward - in a hands-over-the-eyes sort of way - to seeing the good guys face Barry Bonds at Pac Bell.

6. Caveat to no. 5 above: I'm not at all looking forward to seeing Derek Lowe face Barry Bonds - anywhere.

7. I do think that the Sox should be looking to do no worse than (fingers vigorously crossed) 11-7 against San Diego, Los Angeles, Colorado, San Fran, Philly, and Atlanta. None of those teams are all that good. Hell, the Braves have the same record as the Mets.

8. I bid fond adieu to Larry Bird today, shaking hands with Walter Payton as I enter my 34th year on this planet. Birthdays get more and more useless as I add more of them.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Games 54 through 56 - Mets
W at B III

Marlins 5, Mets 1
Marlins 7, Mets 6
Mets 5, Marlins 2
Record: 28-28

A mostly aggravating weekend of Met-following was capped off with some mostly redemptive work by Al "Heart" Leiter and Mike "Soul" Piazza. Leiter threw five shutout innings, permitting just two dinky bunt singles (one swinging) and a batch of walks. Meanwhile, Piazza hit his third tater in two games and drove in four of the five. Nice to have him in Sunday games, isn't it? Plus, Jason Phillips' rotten season at the plate is much more palatable for a catcher than at 1B. Anyway, the Mets were able to salvage a split in Game 4 of the series and prevent a second consecutive baseball equivalent to Weekend at Bernie's. (Actually, I have a good friend who would consider that utter sacrilege, so I'll say Weekend at Bernie's II.)

Friday night's game made the case for playing baseball on paper, as the not-terribly-bold prediction that the Marlins had Steve "Tied to the" Trachsel figured out and the Mets didn't have Carl Pavano figured out held true. This was like watching Weekend at Bernie's II -- the same annoying story as the first time around, re-told only slightly differently with the same cast, the same lack of humor, and the same outcome. Only the setting was different. Yikes, that's painful, now that I think about it.

Saturday reinforced the Met clubhouse rule that rookies get hazed and pay their dues, not with shaving cream pies or anything but with veteran bullpenners blowing a nice performance by the rookie arm. Matt Ginter pitched well again, only to have each and every one of the five relievers do damage. In fact, when John Franco and Dan Wheeler added to the yuks by surrendering an extra run in the top of the ninth, that allowed Mike Piazza's second homer of the game in the bottom of the inning to be completely wasted. Much like myself by the time this one ended. Symmetry is neat.

The bullpen reeked all weekend, with Franco getting touched in the bad way for one on Friday and Braden "Slip Slidin' Away" Looper allowing a pair in "Garbage Time But Almost Not" yesterday. Buckle up, boys. The game is still nine innings long, though there are rumors that Bud Selig wants to add to his laundry list of legacies by reducing games to seven innings.

Interleague play begins this week. At first glance, you'd have to say the Mets have a soft IL schedule. Twins, Royals, Indians, Tigers. I hereby predict a sub-.500 record over those games for the Mets, simply because I just said that. And so here ends the Era of Positivity II. I didn't like borrowing the label from Rob, anyway. I never really liked borrowing anything from him, what with his considering hygiene a "hobby."

Friday, June 04, 2004

Game 54 - Red Sox (mid-game)
Moderately Desparate Times Call for Pathetically Desparate Measures

Sox are in the middle of a depressingly flat performance against Jimmy Gobble and the Royals, and I'm in the middle of a disappointingly mouth-puckering bottle of Bonny Doon Big House Red. Thought I'd jump on board MLC and attempt some half-drunk mojo.

Two outs, top of the 8th, Royals lead 5-2, Yankees have already won...and I'm numbly resigned to the second 4+ game losing streak of the season. Good teams don't go on 4-game losing streaks, at least not twice in 54 games.

Wait -- You Mean Other People Bother Writing About the Mets, Too?

ESPN used vaulable space on their website to print a passage from a new book about the '86 Mets. If the rest of the work reads like this excerpt, it'll all be a bigger waste (waist) than Mo Vaughn was. And this is coming from someone for whom the 1986 Mets season was a formative moment. If you can't sell me, who's your target audience? As I said a few months ago, people hated this team. Hell, I even loathed a few guys on the team -- guys without whom there would have been no title that year.

The chapter run on is all about the wacky, crazy, zany antics the team pulled on a particular plane flight. Booze, drugs, food fight. It's sad to say, but it's just not enough to shock anybody these days. Jim Bouton did the behind-the-scenes tell-all for baseball thirty years ago; that book was shocking in its time, and it actually still holds up pretty well. Look, fair or not, the Mötley Crüe Behind the Music upped the ante on celebrity high-jinks for our generation well beyond throwing cake around a DC-10. Hell, we have a college story about tainted wine, shattered bottles, violence among friends, fire alarms, and tables thrown fifty feet into a wall that outdoes this yarn. (Nothing to be proud of, Russ . . . fifty feet.) I only make such comparisons (a) because of quotes like "the 'Scummers' took pride in antics that made 'Porky's' look like a documentary on convent life," and (b) because tell-all books have no other intent or redeeming qualities. Eyebrow-leveling shock value, WB-grade humor, and cliche-addled, melodramatic writing. Make the wince-face now and save yourself the trouble:

Ray Knight's arms were numb. Not just numb as if he'd spent a few too many minutes in the snow. Numb numb -- as if he'd just swum two thousand laps in an Olympic-sized pool. As if he'd just sparred eight hundred rounds with George Foreman. As if someone had grabbed a 10-foot machete, reared back, and sliced off both limbs. It wasn't just his arms, either. Inside the head of New York's third baseman a drum was beating. His hands were shaking. His mouth was cotton-dry. His feet were on fire. His uniform must have held twenty pounds of sweat . . . It was exhaustion, more pure and painful than any he had ever felt before. Than any he would ever feel again. "I haven't been in war," he says. "But ... "

But this was war. Or at least the next closest thing.

Okay, quick now -- more tired: Ray Knight that night or the imagery used to describe him?


Then and there the Mets reached a collective decision. Perhaps it was inspired by the popping of a champagne cork. Or the cracking open of a beer can. Or the lighting of a cigarette. Or the primal "Whoooo!" bursting from Wally Backman's throat. Whatever the stimulus, the message was clear and powerful: Before they went to the World Series, the Mets would party their f------ brains out.

My God, this guy could make my old stories sound boring -- to me. It just reads like he's trying too hard to convey the wackiness of a had-to-be-there moment. And since I have thrown this series of scribblings into the public for critiquing, I don't feel bad saying this: This guy is not a very good writer. That he wrote for SI for six years must have been the reason people enjoyed Rick Reilly's "work" by comparison.

If you want well-written, clever writing on the Mets, there is a wealth of good Metblogs out there. A few are highlighted in a recent post at East Coast Agony, which, though it's Bizarro-MLC (their Sox fan is a foot taller than the Mets fan, instead of vice versa . . . okay, not really) and that might weird you out, is itself a fine read. If, of course, you enjoy snide sarcasm, bitter criticism, and clever ways of insulting anyone and anything. Which, dammit, man, I do. [Frag. ment. City.] Before we turn this into a self-perpetuating lovefest, though, I'll just say that there are more and more blogs out there with great Mets and/or Sox material . . . as well as significantly superior layouts and graphics. We might be tempted to spruce up this humble site, but I, for one, hope we just stay the course and let the writing do the . . . talking. (Oh, crap.) We are the Steve Trachsel of the blogworld. We ain't flashy, we ain't all city-fied and sophisticated. We do got a purty mouth, though, boy.
Picking Up Where We Left Off

Hey, big round of applause and thanks to Lee Mazzilli and his band of dipshits for heading to New York and summarily crapping themselves thrice against the Yankees. That makes 6 straight losses for the O's against New York, most of the roll-over-and-beg-for-mercy variety. I could probably go back and find last season's comments about the Twins and cut/paste them in this space to save myself the effort of describing my antipathy towards Baltimore.

Baltimore. Even the name is stupid. Let's break it down, Night Shift-style:

Bal is almost ball, but missing an "L", which is certainly not something the O's can say after this week. They're also not missing a left-handed reliever, which may explain why Mazzilli chose to let consecutive southpaws face 4 Yankee right-handed bats with the game on the line in the bottom of the 7th yesterday. Predictable result: 3 Yankee runs, including the game-winner.

Tim, is short for Timmeh, the handicapped kid from South Park, who would be a better option out of the O's pen than Mike DeJean.

Finally, Ore can be smelted, and the O's performance against the Yankees smelled. But oddly - and irritatingly - not their performance versus the Red Sox. Neat.

So, Baltimore, a bunch of smelly, retarded losers. Please direct your hate mail to MLC Whitney, c/o Misery Loves Company Inc., Shea Stadium, Flushing, NY, USA.

As for the Sox, we've entered the first real wall-punching, cat-kicking phase of the season for me. Three straight losses, combined with the Yankees' dismissal of the aforementioned O's, leave the Sox 2 1/2 games out of first place and reeling just a little bit. I won't mention the bizarre scheduling that had the Sox flying from Boston to Anaheim for a two-game set (well, hell, looks like I just did. I'll be damned.) before heading to Kansas City.

I will mention in more detail my concerns about the pitching staff. The Sox have allowed 67 runs in their last 8 games, and only Schilling has pitched moderately well as a starter in that span. Pedro is struggling to overcome one of the worst haircuts in modern fashion (picture late-80s A.C. Green combined with Eriq Lasalle in 'Coming to America' topped off with a dollop of Carrot Top, only less attractive), in addition to the least effective stuff he's ever displayed. 11 hits in 5 innings against Cali helped bring his ERA to a pedestrian 4.40. And Petey ain't pedestrian.

More to the point, if Petey is now pedestrian, the Sox' white-bright chances of making a serious post-season run just got dimmed to smoker-teeth yellow. Especially if fellow free agent-to-be Derek Lowe can't find his blankie and get back to getting outs. If I'm Theo Epstein, I'm pulling my hair out over Pedro's long-term prognosis, because a misjudgement either puts the Sox on the wrong end of a 4-year, $60 million contract, or lets this generation's best starting pitcher walk for a song with a burr in his saddle (recall that the last burr-assed Sox superstar pitcher won three Cy Youngs after leaving Boston). Better him than me to make that decision.
Game 53 - Mets
Streaking in the Quad

Mets 4, Marlins 1
Record: 27-26

Over the Mets' last 16 games, the progression has looked like this:

Won 2
Lost 2
Won 4
Lost 4
Won 4

Quite a streaky progression. They'll have a chance to break the pattern and move two games over .500 for the first time all season when they take on Carl Pavano (Country Carl) and the Fish tonight. The Mets need to get to Pavano more than they did last Saturday, and Steve "Back on" Trachsel needs to shake off his bad outing against the Marlins Sunday. Based on those two performances less than a week ago, it doesn't look good on paper for the home nine, but they don't play the game on paper, except in Olympic Stadium, I believe.

Last night the story was Jae Seo, who, you may recall, began the season in AAA but has come on quite well of late. He's won three of his last four decisions, has lowered his ERA to a mid-four range, and has kept the Mets in the game most of the time. He won't dominate, and he doesn't eat up innings for you (6 1/3 was his longest outing), but he's a solid 4th starter so long as he can keep his fingernails on. (He was recently spotted at the Short Hills Mall in NJ buying Lee Press-Ons, so we might be all set there.)

Not much else to say about last night's win - Todd Zeile returned to earth with an 0-for-4 night, Mike Stanton elongated a stretch of middle relief goose eggs, and Braden Looper closed it out for his fourth save in four days. Sure, it'd be nice to win by seven and give these relievers a rest, but it's just pleasing to see these guys doing exactly what they're asked to do.

Meanwhile, the Mets advanced to within 2.5 games of first place, the same gap Rob's Red Sox find between themselves and the top spot. (I smell an Oriole-bashing coming soon.) Of course, the Mets are in the crowded house that is the current NL East race. Something so strong hasn't been seen in this division in eons. Four of the five teams (that leaves you, Les Émigrés) are within those two and a half games, making it anybody's guess who will emerge in the coming months.

The Braves, unfortunately, are looking stronger and stronger. J.D. "The City of Brotherly Love Hates My Guts" Drew is finally, finally starting to resemble the player worth the contract he turned down, Johnny "CHiPs & Salsa" Estrada is starting to resemble the player worth Kevin Millwood, and the makeshift pitching staff is overachieving. [Except for the Little Bulldog, sadly (1-6, 5.49).] The Marlins are hard to figure -- they're similarly streaky and have gone 10-10 in their last 20, looking consistently beatable for the first time since . . . about this time last year. Florida was 19-29 last season before going on a McKeon-led tear through October. Perhaps it was a one-year magic spell and they're reverting to an earlier level of play. Or, just as likely, this weekend they'll remind the Mets that they're the Mets and kick it back into gear.

And as for the Phils . . . hmmm. They've sandwiched a meaty 22-11 surge between a crappy end slice of 1-6 and a moldy piece of 4-8. They've been banged up, as have many teams, but every loss to a team like the Mets adds a little more adhesive to the label UNDERACHIEVER. Whitney Lester, Bart Simpson, and the Philadelphia Phillies. (Those aren't just three people who've never been in your kitchen.) Some might say that every series loss is a Bowa Constrictor, but you didn't hear that from me.

I'd love to also analyze the Expos, venting about how moronic it is that they're still playing to crickets chirping abpve the border, but you can just scroll down and read the rehash somewhere below. Same old story.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Game 52 - Mets
Zeile Clubbing

Mets 5, Phillies 3 (10)
Record: 26-26

I saw the film In America the other night. Excellent film, but the best line was when the 10-year-old daughter snaps back at her father, "Don't 'little girl' me. I've been carrying this family on my back for over a year." Similarly, don't "retiring veteran" Todd Zeile -- he's been carrying this team on his back for two nights and counting.

Zeile had a three-run jack to tie the game in the top of the eighth and a two-run jack in the tenth that proved the game-winner. In case your math skills aren't . . . any better than mine, that's 5 RBI. The Mets scored 5 runs. To say he comprised all of the offense is only a mild overstatement.

I was one of the guys who groaned at the offseason acquisition of Todd Zeile. Not just because we needed another 38-year-old like a hole in the lineup. Not just because he never really had that much pop in his bat, or because he's never hit .300 once in his 15-year career. It probably had a lot to do with an arbitrary, rather trivial item from a year prior. When the Yankes had signed Zeile before the '03 season, he was quoted in the New York papers spouting about his admiration of Joe Torre and saying he'd secretly always wanted to be reunited with his old St. Louis skipper. As a Mets fan, the notion of Zeile gazing longingly into the other dugout during the 2000 World Series just didn't jive. And of course Zeile lasted less than half a season in the Bronx, got released, and spewed venom about the Yankee organization.

Anyway, I stand corrected now. If I headlined for, say, The New York Post, you could say I am now a Zeile-ot. For the bargain basement price of $1,000,000, Todd Zeile has now nearly single-handedly won a pair of games to help sweep a divisional foe during a key part of the first half of the season. Sure, he's contributed now and again throughout the past few months, and he'll likely do it again before it's all over. But for now, these two performances justify his presence in the lineup and further prove that you must disregard anything I say as utter tripe.

I said he nearly single-handedly won this game because you can't discount the pitching performances for New York. Tom Glavine continued his frustrating pattern of slow out of the gate, giving up three in three before settling into a groove and throwing four scoreless. John Franco and David Weathers were perfect for a pair, and Braden Looper shut it down in the tenth . . . sort of. The bases were replete with runners when he generated a groundout off the bat of Jim Thome.

The Marlins come to town for four more, starting tonight. Let's see if our boys can avoid another batch of near-misses like they chalked up in Miami last weekend.
Games 52 & 53 - Red Sox
Interim Post for Interrupted Series

Anaheim Angels 7, Red Sox 6
Angels 10, Red Sox 7
Record: 31-22

Profuse apologies in advance, and promises to add to this lame effort later today or tomorrow - a full day of corporate meetings looms ahead (read: hour after hour of pretending to be alert while pondering what the fuck is wrong with Pedro).

In short, two bad pitching performances were too much for the bats to overcome. It's officially time to worry about Pedro, who now sports a 4.40 ERA, and is extremely hittable. The days of chalking up an auto-win when Martinez took the mound are over, unless you mean Anastacio.

And, for what it's worth, Vladimir Guerrero is a studboy of massive proportions.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Game 51 - Mets
Life and How to Live It, New York Mets Style

Mets 4, Phillies 1
Record: 25-26

So I'm lying in my hospital bed last night hooked up with two dozen wires strapped to various parts of my head, chest, and legs, and tubes up my nostrils. [No, this isn't a random passage from Cliff Floyd's diary.] I'm watching ESPN over the doctor's shoulder, enduring one of the ugliest NBA games ever (and that, my friends, is saying something -- we're talking Gheorghe Muresan and Sandra Bernhard lovechild ugly). I'm really watching for the :28/:58 updates on the bottom of the screen, though. At one interval I see:


Good to see Al Leiter has pitched well, assuming he made the start after all, but where's his run support? Millwood's on the mound for the Phils. Not good.

Anyway, approximately half an hour later, the doc comes in and asks me to close my eyes for 30 seconds while he goes in the other room to check some of the connections. As I consent to do so, and just before fading to black, I see the ticker pop up. I know this will surely be my last chance to get an update this night, and it's killing me that I agreed to keep my lids closed while it floats on by. Of course, upon his return and my re-entry into the land of the sighted, the bottom of the screen is just high-tops and sweat puddles.

And so I watch the remainder of what became a great NBA game, catch no updates, click off the tube, and the medical procedure begins. I suppose that's enough bated breath I've caused with my holdout of more info -- your plants are probably all collapsing from the lack of CO2. No, I wasn't having Tommy John surgery for my softball pitching arm, and no I wasn't having John Thomas surgery from a certain Dr. Svensson. And no, what with this unfunny posting, I wasn't having a frontal lobotomy, thanks for asking.

I was merely undergoing a sleep study for snoring and possible sleep apnea. Apparently I'm a snorer, according to family, friends, neighbors, and most of Gallaudet U. I never saw it as that big of a problem; so what if occasionally I have to sleep in the other room and/or re-hang the shutters. After one too many footprints in the small of my back, however, I am being studied for the first time since I enrolled in Deviant Behavior in college.

After having missed the update, the game could only exist in my brain, which was being closely monitored with electrodes. Once I was in REM sleep, they could begin the begin the process, and I believe their monitors showed my dreams of the Mets / Phillies game: a drive, a stumble, laughing, we walk a batter, it's 9-9, our Superman gets up and catapults one, the closer puts a perfect circle in the scorebook, and 1,000,000 people make the pilgrimage to the bandwagon. Talk about the passion these days. (I'm sorry.)

Anyway, of course my wild brain waves, dreams, and nightmares couldn't do justice to the real game. Down 1-0 in the top of the eighth, Todd Zeile welcomed new pitcher Rheal Cormier with a game-tying homer. Ricky Bottalico kept it at 1-1 through part of the eighth and all of the ninth, and in Top 10 the boys broke it open. Kaz Matsui singled and stole second (as 7 Japanese Brothers cheered), and Zeile once again saved the day by singling him home. Vance Wilson homered to right to plate a pair of insurance runs, making Braden Looper's subsequent save an easier task.

Just a game under Even Steven with Tommy Glavine throwing tonight. If hospital stays are what it takes to keep this team in victory lane (dugout), I guess I'll take one for the team in tonight's softball outing.
The Sound of Two Hands Clapping

Noted with approval the recent blogstylings of my colleague. Whit's stepped up his game as the Mets have forsaken theirs. Comedy, irony, melancholy, all topped with a sharp edge that puts the "pun" in pundit. Kudos, my friend, your level of performance is dwarfing mine at the moment (as, to be sure, is your waistline). INSERT YOUR HEIGHT JOKE ABOUT ME HERE. I resolve here to raise my standards in keeping with the grand tradition of MLC.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Mets 50-Game Check-Up

Record: 24-26
NL East: 4th place, 5.5 games out
Wild Card: 10th place, 3.5 games out (!)
Case Bet: 7 games back, 15 above the caseline

Given that last year these check-ups went like prostate exams, it's easy to see why I might be upbeat about a team with a losing record. They're a pair of wins better than last year at this time, though it feels like more than that. More gratifying is that since the Mets stood (squatted) at 10-15 at the last check-up, they've gone 14-11. That there is progress. And that's enough to satisfy us reality-burdened diehards.

The intangible way of encapsulating the last 25 is just to say they've been playing better. Here's a tad more detail:

Reasons to Smile

1. They are winning tight games they blew all over the place last year. They're 4-1 in extra-inning games. Though just 8-10 in one-run ballgames, I have a heightened sense of confidence in the late innings not felt in recent memory. A closer who doesn't go in the tank helps that.

2. Even with the injuries, they've managed to gain some momentum. Al Leiter is scheduled to pitch tonight. Mike Cameron and Cliff Floyd shook off their collision. Jose Reyes is supposed to join the team by the end of the month. We'll see, but healing bodies could be a spark.

3. Guys with slow starts are starting to recover. Ty Wigginton is up to .258, Jason Phillips is at .221 with a recent power display, and Jae Seo has looked mostly strong for a while now. The hot starts quickly cooled off, but it's important for the cold ones to warm up before the end of May, lest they fester like Robby Alomar all season.

4. Out of nowhere, Matt Ginter has been a solid young arm to fill the 5-spot. I still think Tyler Yates has a place in the rotation before long, but you cannot complain about what Ginter has done thus far.

5. The Expos. 16-34, 13.5 games out. And oh yeah, Roger Cedeno is a Cardinal.

Reasons to Frown

1. At 10-15, the Mets were 5 games out. After the 14-11 run, they're 5.5 games out and in 4th place. As predicted, the rest of the division is moving forward.

2. The recent sweep at the hands of the Marlins put a damper on what could be go-time for the jump-start the Mets have needed. The energy level might fade if they drop a couple more like that.

3. Mike Piazza at 1B has had some increasingly obvious growing pains. In case we figured the errors he had at catcher would vanish, they've really just moved 90 feet. These should wane with every game he plays there, but some of them have been costly.

Reasons to Wince

1. The injuries are starting to pile up. If you believe some of the more pessimistic reports, Jose Reyes may not play all season. DL stints could derail good plans we have.

2. The rest of the NL seems to be playing at an even level (one slightly above that of the Mets). See the early-but-stunning wild card standings. Only the Rockies, D-backs, and Expos have demonstrated that they want no part of the postseason.

3. Though I am choosing to ignore it, the hot-and-cold-depending-on-my-optimism pattern continues. It's like John Nash's visions (the Beautiful Mind guy's delusions of G-men and spies, not the Bullets GM's delusions of Calbert, Juwan, and C-Webb breaking .500): I'll accept that it's there, but I won't openly acknowledge it. [Except for right now. Damn.]

Of Note

Last year the Mets blew up during the stretch between the 50-game check-up and mid-season. A reasonable performance over the next 35 games or so could cease all comparisons to this year's team and the atrocities of 2003.
Games 47 through 50 - Mets
Just a Little Bump in the Road

Marlins 2, Mets 1
Marlins 3, Mets 2 (10)
Marlins 8, Mets 6
Mets 5, Phillies 3
Record: 24-26

Okay, I'll admit it. When the Mets were swept by Florida directly following the proclamation of the Era of Positivity Part Deux, I considered abandoning this borrowed, flawed concept (did anyone catch the end of the Red Sox '03 season?). It was just more of the same from my guys -- I get pumped up for them and they immediately sport more L's than Laverne DeFazio. You could almost set your watch by it. But no, I kept the confidence alive, if barely breathing, even encouraging my visiting Met-fan brother-in-law to keep the faith . . . and get himself to some games up there.

The series was a tight one, and that's reason for a wee bit of optimism. Remember, these are your division-leading, World Championship-defending Marlins. Game 1 saw Dontrelle Willis outduel Tom Glavine, Game 2 was a draw between Jae Seo and Carl Pavano that was lost by Braden Looper in 10, and Game 3 was a relative slugfest in which the New York nine erased three-run deficits twice, gave away four unearned runs, and fell by two. They were battles, all of them, they just didn't work out. The good guys don't always win -- have you all re-watched The Bad News Bears yet?

Despite my combing the box scores for positive signs like that weirdo on the beach with the metal detector, every series sweep is a demoralizer. In addition to the losses, Mike Cameron and Cliff Floyd crashed into each other awkwardly -- it looked like a bad little league screw-up -- and each appeared hurt. What with the injury bug flocking to Floyd like cicadas to my trees, the wound was unsurprising except in origin. Other bad signs over the weekend were Steve Trachsel getting lit up, Cameron's average continuing the landslide to .197, the aforementioned bad defense, and Braden Looper suddenly looking "touchable" -- uh, like the mob labeled Eliot Ness's squad in blood in the elevator, not like Miss July.

I intentionally refrained from spelling it out for the first month and a half of the season (there are more occurrences of Superstition on this website than there are on the one cataloguing Stevie Wonder's concerts), but Looper did not concede an earned run during his first 18 appearances (21.2 innings). Over his next four outings, however, he allowed 4 ER and at least one in three of the four. He was starting to look like the Braden Looper of last year: the one who sported a 3.68 ERA and six blown saves, and the one who made us question the offseason commitment of the Mets' front office when they picked him up rather than Ugie "Wonderland" Urbina (6 saves, 5.40 ERA), Billy "Golden Anniversary" Koch (7, 4.19), or Keith "Contemporary" Foulke (okay, he's been pretty good).

Holiday weekends are good for more than just turning Monday from bad-meaning-bad to bad-meaning good. In some cases, that extra game allows the storm clouds of the weekend to dissipate and the sun to shine through, i.e., the Mets won Monday after L-L-L over the weekend. After a couple of lengthy rain delays, they kept their concentration where the Phils could not and pulled out a victory. Of note were Mike Cameron's clutch, two-out, two-run double, Jason Phillips homering again, and the pitching staff fending off the Phightin' offense, though Pat Burrell still co-owns the Mets with Fred Wilpon. (Brian Jordan appears to have sold the stake he owned a few seasons ago.)

Perhaps even more significantly, Braden Looper bounced back and got a save. Even with his brief lapse, he has a mere 1.33 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP, a 19/5 K/BB ratio, and 8 saves. The save count is strangely low, considering how well he's pitched, but sometimes that's just how the season unfolds. Consider that the top of the MLB save leaders list makes little to no sense, with the only expected name being Mariano Rivera (18 saves) in 3rd, behind Danny Graves (24, but with a 2.70 ERA) and Armando (Dr. Jekyll) Benitez (20) and just ahead of Matt Herges and Francisco Cordero (16). Of the 17 guys with more saves than Looper, 12 have higher ERA's, with five of them over 4.00 and a pair over 7.00. So that stat just doesn't tell the story. And since these New York Mets can ill afford any blown saves, we'll need him in that early season form almost every time.

Back on the winning track, keeping our heads up, and above water, and making a wave when we can. Good times ahead. Looking forward to leaping back over that .500 mark for good. Dammit.
Games 48 through 51 - Red Sox/50-Game Review
Summertime, and the Living's...Not Bad

Red Sox 8, Seattle Mariners 4
Mariners 5, Red Sox 4
Red Sox 9, Mariners 7
Orioles 13, Red Sox 4
Record: 31-20

Sitting in a puddle of beer, grilled meat drippings, and coleslaw, slowly shaking off the aftereffects of a long Memorial Day weekend:

Quickly, the Sox' holiday was a lot like mine - lots of good times and great weather mixed with some stumbling around. The series win over Seattle was keyed by David Ortiz' grand slam in the first game, and David McCarty's (!) walk-off homer in the third contest. McCarty saved Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke, who were unable to hold a 5-1 lead in the game. Andy Dominque's first major league hit tied the game at 7 after the Sox gave up 6 tallies to the M's in the top of the 8th in that contest.

The losses could not have been more opposite in terms of the taste left in the Nation's collective mouths. The Sox scrapped their way back from a 5-4 deficit in the middle tilt against the M's, falling just short after spotting Seattle a 5-0 lead in one of Tim Wakefield's least effective outings. The Memorial Day bludgeoning at the hands of the Orioles was yet another in an increasingly long and concerning string of impLowesions by the Sox' no. 3 starter. The difference between Wakefield and Lowe in terms of their handling of adversity is enormous - Wake fought through two tough innings and gutted out 6 2/3 while keeping his team in the game, while Lowe simply self-destructed in the face of adversity and couldn't get out of the 6th inning.

We'll get back to Derek's issues in this installment of the Sox' 50-game review:

The Good:

1. Let's start with the easy stuff - the Sox have the best record in baseball despite losing more games to injuries through 51 games than they lost all of last season.

2. A big reason for no. 1 above is the fact that nearly every member of the 25-man roster (and numerous in-season callups) has contributed. From David McCarty winning two games with his bat, to Andy Dominique tying Sunday's game with his first major league hit, to Pokey Reese playing great defense and even hitting over .250, to Mark Bellhorn leading the American League in walks, to Kevin Youkilis reaching base in 12 of his first 13 big league games, to stellar efforts from Anastacio Martinez out of the pen, and on and on, the role players have - nearly to a man (and we're looking at you, Cesar Crespo) - done their jobs in big situations.

3. Couple no. 2 with the fact that the big names (Ramirez, Ortiz, Damon, Schilling, P. Martinez, Foulke, Timlin, Varitek) have performed well, the Sox have the makings of a pretty damn complete ballclub.

4. Conspicuously absent from no. 3 above are the names Garciaparra and Nixon. And, yes, I'm considering this a good thing because if the Sox are thriving in their absence, how good can they be with 5 and 7 in the lineup? Nomar went 2-for-3 last night in Pawtucket, and may play with the Sox as soon as next weekend. Giddyup.

5. The current league-best record has been achieved despite no single dominant performance (with the possible exception of Keith Foulke). Manny leads the league in HR and OPS, Ortiz is tops in RBI, and Bellhorn is 2nd in walks. Schilling, Wakefield, and Pedro are all in the top 20 in ERA, while Schilling and Pedro are 1-2 in strikeouts. All of those things are great, but none of those guys is dramatically exceeding expectations - you could argue, in fact, that Pedro is performing well below his potential. One or two of the Sox' stars really begins breaking out, and it could carry the team to a monster month.

6. The new Manny is a joyous thing to behold.

7. For the first time since 1998, the Sox don't lead the American League East outright on June 1. Leading the division on the first of June hasn't worked, so I'm heartened by the fact that the Sox intentionally dropped yesterday's game to avoid the jink. And, no, I'm not superstitious at all.

And, Not So Much

1. I could very easily just steal directly from last year's early-season Derek Lowe worryfests and paste them into this space. The sentiment would be the same - what the hell is wrong with DLowe? 4-5, 6.84 ERA, 103 baserunners in 51 1/3 innings. Ugh.

2. Pedro's not been Pedro, even though he's been one of the league's top 20 pitchers. We're used to him being the clear alpha dog in the American League. He's at 5-3, 3.82 and allowed 9 HR in 70 2/3 innings. Good enough, so far, but not Automatic Pedro. I like Automatic Pedro.

3. And, frankly, that's all I've got on the negative side of the ledger. Not much to complain about, until the Orioles go into the Bronx this week and roll over like dogs. They appear to be playing the role of the 2003 Minnesota Twins to some critical fanfare.

Quick and dirty, because this season doesn't seem too complicated. Sox are playing well, overcoming a lot of injuries, but they have the potential to be really, really dominant for long stretches. Nomar and Trot back in the lineup soon, and it'd be great if they find Derek Lowe's confidence laying around somewhere between Pawtucket and Boston and pack it in their carry-on bags. Carry on, boys, long season still ahead.