Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Game 130 - Mets
Dropping Ballgames Like Galileo Dropped the Orange

Marlins 6, Mets 4
Record: 60-70

This loss was a microcosm of the entire Mets season. Starting pitching that begins the game/season beautifully but falters down the stretch, middle relief that wipes out leads as soon as the hitters can build them, and a depleted lineup incapable of rallying at the end. Oh, and Armando Benitez sticking it to the Mets just for a little knife-twist. I watched this game, and can tell you that there were 11 good minutes of elation among the two hours and 59 minutes of ball played. Not a good ratio, and not a great case for the three-hour hunker-down when I could be doing something less frustrating, like trying to solve the energy crisis, or attempting to figure out the MLB relocation committee's logic.

Al Leiter pitched well, allowing one run into the sixth, but a walk and a meaty gopher ball served up to Miguel Cabrera put the Mets down, 3-1. With Dontrelle Willis hurling for Florida, and given a lineup that predominantly features premature call-ups, throw-ins, and players to be named later, those three runs loomed large. For two batters. Cliff Floyd ripped a single through the right side, and clearly-not-premature call-up David Wright fought off a number of tough pitches, then smoked a fastball over the right-center wall. Two pitches later, the much-maligned Jason "On the Atkins Diet So I Hit Above My Weight" Phillips crushed a ball way, way gone to left. 4-3, Mets. Bedlam ensued among the Expos-numbered fans at Shea and in my house. There's a little-known corollary to the "Don't count your chickens" adage:

If you know your eggs are all going to be duds eventually, cracking and
rotting and scoring no chicks, count them all immediately and do the funky
chicken all around the nest while you still have the chance.
As applied to the New York Mets baseball organization, it translates: If you know full well the Mets will blow the lead, hell, you might as well go ahead and celebrate. Any lead is rare these days, and we all need something to cheer about on this dark desert highway towards the completion of this season.

And so, with the Mets (a) rebounding immediately to take the lead, (b) touching up the young phenom Willis, (c) hitting back-to-back taters in impressive fashion, (d) saving Senator Al from the loss and setting him up for a win, and (e) not injuring themselves while doing so, there was great cause for some Met merry-making. Better hurry, though, as we know what's around the corner.

Top 7, enter Heath Bell. The burly lad (6'2", 244 lbs) is one of many Mets/Tides/Mets/Tides/Mets who've shuttled back and forth at least once or twice between the big leagues and the big city (Norfolk, VA; population: 241,000) this season without much rhyme or reason. Bell got his rung almost immediately. He registered a quick K, but then gave up an infield hit to Juan Pierre (so fast he didn't draw a throw on a grounder just to the left of short). Damion Easley, who hasn't finished out a contract since the 90's, followed with his 7th home run of the year, quickly turning a Mets' lead into a deficit. Good thing we had that fiesta when we did. (I needed to go to the store last night for orange juice for the kids, about a 12-minute trip -- had I elected to go in the sixth, as I almost did, I would have missed the only sunshine in yet another dismal outing.)

Denouement: Marlins tack another one on, Mets can't touch Piazza's buddy Mota or Born-Again Benitez, Mets lose. Again. The Mets have lost 10 of 13 to the Fish this season. Nine of Armando's 39 saves have been against the Metropolitans. Neat.

Who knows what this means for Bell -- if the pattern holds, he's en route to SE VA already. Kid, there's no pain that a pair with slaw, fries, and a limeade can't ease, so head on down to Doumar's for some curb service when you get in. Actually, two sandwiches (they're on the small side) may well not be enough for Heath "Taco" Bell.

On the plus side, Mike Piazza finally returned to the lineup (and first base) last night, and he even homered in his second at-bat. And . . . well, that's about all I can come up with on the plus side. I could get into more negative stuff, like articles about Art Howe having lost the team, or how he's about to sink below .500 for his career record, or how the New York Post pointed out the Mets are only 2 games better than they were at this point last year, but why would I want to mention stuff like that?

Something I noticed during the telecast: The Mets' relievers now enter the game not to a song on the PA but an inspirational quote from the film Tombstone, when Kurt Russell hollers: "Tell them I'm coming and L's coming with me!" Boy, do I wish that weren't true.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Games 126 through 129 - Red Sox
Remember That Time...

Red Sox 4, Tigers 1
Red Sox 5, Tigers 3
Red Sox 5, Tigers 1
Red Sox 6, Tigers 1
Record: 76-53
August Record: 20-7

As I get giddier and giddier about the Sox' play over the past 2 weeks, I worry that I'm becoming a little bit like Chris Farley describing his overzealous sales techniques in 'Tommy Boy'. Much like Farley's Tommy Callahan killed his imaginary sale by smothering it, I agonize over the fine line between confidence in this team's chances (they're good) and the realistic possibility that my public acknowledgement of those chances (did I mention that they're really good) is the single factor that will tilt the scales - forever dooming the 2004 Sox to the same fate as their counterparts over the past 86 years. And if you think that last sentence is anything less than serious, well, you haven't been paying much attention, have you?

The recent excellent play by nearly everyone in contention for American League playoff spots has tempered my optimism, if only a little. While the Sox have ripped off 12 wins in 13 games, Anaheim's won 10 of 11, Oakland's on a 7-game winning streak, and Texas - while fading ever so slightly - hasn't disappeared from the picture. On the other hand, a certain pinstriped outfit has seen its double-digit margin in the AL East shrink to less than 5. We at MLC will not be mentioning any specifics related to that last sentence - see sentence 2 in paragraph 1 above for explanation; if you think I'm tugging that particular superhero's cape you definitely haven't been reading our little psychodrama closely enough to pass the post-season quiz.

The Sox swept Detroit on the strength of sick pitching - 6 runs and 22 hits in 4 games - and timely offensive contributions from just about everyone. After floundering about for the better part of the season against mediocre teams, the Sox are hitting on all cylinders, and absolutely mashing the weak sisters of the AL. Tomorrow begins a huge test, though, as their 3 big brothers come a-callin'.

9 games in the next 10 days against Anaheim, Texas, and Oakland. 9 games against the Sox' only competition for the AL's final playoff spot. 9 games against good, hot squads in the heat of the early-September playoff race cauldron. Tomorrow's game is a huge tone-setter, and one of the reasons the Sox got Curt Schilling in the off-season. Big moments have brought out the best in #38 over his career, and he kicks off September in one of this year's biggest, facing the eminently bludgeonable John Lackey (really? is that a word? forget it, he's rolling). Baby steps, baby.

And, in the interest of forced literary symmetry, if the tension gets any greater over the next 6 weeks - a near given - there's a pretty good chance that I'll be doing a spot-on imitation of another great Farley character, foaming, ranting, and breaking things like Matt Foley. Good thing there's nothing in my house from anywhere other than IKEA.
Worth Mentioning

During my massive digression I was unable to mention that Dan Wheeler was traded to the Astros for OF Adam Seuss on Friday. (Kudos to T.J. Doyle for reminding me.) That's the Houston Astros, who are zipping back into the fringes of contention despite taking on the second explosive Met reliever this season. Wheeler promptly made the news Sunday, firing a retaliatory plunk at a Cub and getting tossed after a surprisingly solid outing. The same day the 'Stros nabbed Wheeler, they dumped David Weathers. Question: once Wheeler implodes for the 12th time for Houston, can we send them Mike Stanton?
Games 127 through 129 - Mets
Mining for Meaning

Mets 9, Dodgers 2
Dodgers 4, Mets 2
Dodgers 6, Mets 2
Record: 60-69

Way back on August 15th, life was far more blissful than it seemed at the time. Even now, I wouldn't call those times the salad days – maybe the egg salad days, but the fortnight since then has shredded the few positive notes that existed on 8/15. Joni Mitchell warned us that you don't know what you've got till it's gone, but perhaps I was too caught up in lamenting another lost season for the Mets to heed it. 15 days gone and things just got worse – about 576 fluid ounces worse.

On the 15th, the standings in Case Bets I & II were, respectively:
Boston 64-52
New York 56-60
Games left: 46
Games to give: 14

Baltimore 57-59
Need them to go: 18-28
On August 30th, the standings are:

Boston 76-53
New York 60-69
Games left: 33
Games to give: 6

Baltimore 58-71
Need them to go: 17-16

What we saw was a startling turn of events in the wrong direction for my pecuniary purposes. I was coasting to victories in both my "Mets finish less than 22 games behind the Sox" and O's win 75 games" wagers, and now I am looking a pricey trip to the package store, to put it in the Sox-guy vernacular. I claimed I wasn't counting my chickens, but I think perhaps I was. I know, though, that I was busy bemoaning the status of the standings you'll find in the sports section and failed to appreciate the standings I posted above. I will not make this mistake twice.

The excitement of these two races is alive and well, despite the dent the past two weeks dinged into my chances. The Mets still have a six-game cushion, and though common sense says that the white-hot Red Sox will likely be cruising past the 22-win milestone by Labor Day, I think the Mets can make this interesting for me. Meanwhile, the Orioles have 20 games against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Twins (4-16 would be a moral victory) and 13 against the D-Rays, Blue Jays, and Tigers (so you're telling me there's a chance). Hideously bleak, and yet I know that the Orioles are just a month or two removed from going 20-11 to start the second half, including an eight-game winning streak.

Of course, we all have Rob Russell to thank for the Birds going in the tank, as he egregiously failed to appreciate the resurgent Orioles' succession of knock-offs of Boston's foes in the wild card race. After lying down and dying against the Sox' divisional opponents in the early part of the season (and yet scrapping out a few against Boston), the new and improved O's took 2 of 3 from Minnesota, swept a 4-gamer against Texas, and won 2 of 3 versus Anaheim. Then Baltimore won another series against Toronto just for good measure. About this time, Mr. Russell threw out the aside "Jesus, can I hate that team any more?" while mentioning Pedro's struggles against them. At no point did he thank the Orioles for helping his boys out, or even acknowledge the boost. The O's, tired of this thankless work, determined to show Rob just how bad they could be, dropping seven games to the A's, plus three to Toronto for good measure. They were on their way to a sweep at the hands of the Rangers when I chastised Rob for his comments and lack of gratitude for what the Birds accomplished earlier. Sensing that his grievous error might really cost his club, what with two BAL v. NYY series on the immediate horizon, Rob admitted his mistake and asked forgiveness from everyone in Baltimore "except that jackelope Peter Angelos." And lo: Orioles 7, Rangers 6. Lee Mazzilli, having salvaged his job and then chucked it back into the fire, may just make it through if Russell's damage can be undone.

This multi-layered drama, plus the Mets/Sox showdown, should provide the last vestige of compelling excitement for the royal blue-titled postings here. Some might say I am hyping the unhype-able, grasping at very thin straws, and pulling a cheesy network TV maneuver of adding faux tension where none truly exists. That is complete bunk, and to those imbeciles who would cast such misguided aspersions upon me, I would simply advise them that we don't need their kind tuning into A Very Special Month of Baseball here on MLC.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Game 126 - Mets
I guess those people who were expecting a win are feeling a bit stupid, eh, Padre?

Padres 10, Mets 3
Record: 59-67

And the Mets Season-Long Diamond Party rolls on. Yesterday provided this cup of chicken shit for the soul:
  • Adam Eaton (9-11) completely handcuffed the Mets for seven shutout innings. Eaton may possibly be most renowned for needing a DL stint after stabbing himself in the gut with a pocketknife while trying to open DVD packaging. Perhaps some of the Mets can take a page from him and perform this scaled down hari-kari.
  • The Mets should have been shut out entirely, and would have were it not for the insertion of Padre reliever Marty "No, Biff, Not This Time" McLeary in the ninth. Marty wished he could go back in time and throw some different pitches, as he gave up three runs on two taters.
  • Steve "Flying Off the" Trachsel was torched by the San Diego lineup to drop to 10-11. The trend of the weary Met starters faltering in August tumbles on.
  • The high-flying relief tandem of Dan Wheeler and Pedro Feliciano lit up the afternoon sky once again. "FedEx" Wheeler once again excelled at the home delivery of inherited runners, needing just a couple of pitches to score a leftover baserunner and close the bad horror novel of a book on Trachsel. Feliciano, for his part, pitched just the 8th but handed out singles like it was his bachelor party, allowing four runs to score.
  • In Feliciano's defense . . . well, he actually had very little defense, as Wilson Delgado confirmed once again that there is a curse on the glove of any man who assumes the role of Mets' shortstop. We're going to need a live chicken to fix this problem.

Outside of this three-hour spanking, the good news keeps piling up.

  • The Mets lowballed Kris Benson on a "long-term" offer -- 2 years, $12M. Dammit, remember you're from New York and pony up the green, mo-rons.
  • ESPN.com mastermind Buster Olney once again proved a stunning lack of insight, comparing the Mets' deadline deals with (a) Milt Pappas for Frank Robinson, (b) cash for Babe Ruth, and (c) Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell. Premature and hyperbolic, perhaps (maybe not, as time will tell, but ignorant for sure, mainly because his commentaries have been predicated on the notion that the Mets were only dealing in order to contend in 2004. It doesn't take a landscape of perspective to see that this wasn't the case. Worst of all, The Logic-Buster instructed the Mets to pay Kris Benson, a la bullet point #1, meaning we agree on something. My resignation is forthcoming.
  • After dropping four to the Pad Squad, first place L.A. comes to town for the weekend. Adrian Beltre may hit 10 home runs this weekend.

In other news, a Jim Thome & Pat Burrell for Mike Piazza & Mike Cameron deal has been offered up . . . by Phils fan Nick Luketic. He elaborates:

Thome is the ultimate good guy and a great clubhouse addition. Pat the Bat will
be worth 5 wins by virtue of joining rather than playing vs. the Mets.
Piazza is a Philly guy and will be a crowd favorite. Cameron can hit 40 homers
in the friendly confines of "The Bank." On the surface, not much of a change
except that it is change.

I took the deal. I hate to part with Piazza, but the Mets can't figure out where to play him, anyway. Look for the news of this deal in your local press soon.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Games 118 through 125 - Mets
Gazing Up at Rock Bottom

Mets 10-4, Rockies 3-2
Giants 7, Mets 3
Mets 11, Giants 9
Giants 3, Mets 1
Padres 9, Mets 4
Padres 3, Mets 1
Padres 4, Mets 0
Record: 59-66

These aren't meaningful games; these aren't even meaningful players. After a very long weekend at the beach, I have returned to the somber reality of the 2004 New York Mets. Injuries piling up (I believe the Zambrano injury bumps the Mets past the Sox again), lackluster performances from fading players, and an increasingly ridiculous carousel between Shea Stadium and Harbor Park in Norfolk, with the average big league stint expectancy at 1-2 appearances. The ownership think tank is getting hammered in the press, the Art Howe Fan Club is a ghost town, and players are starting to sound off. The team building for next year now sees not only a dead '04 but a scary-looking '05. Contract talks with Kris Benson haven't gone well, Zambrano's elbow could be the most blunderous joint since Mo Vaughn's knee, and Mike Piazza's health, best position and future with the Mets are equally emboldened question marks. In addition to Benson and Piazza, decisions must soon be made regarding the tenures of Richard Hidalgo, Al Leiter, Cliff Floyd, and John Franco. (For Franco, it's simply how to get him off the roster without losing any more face.) Scott Kazmir is now in the bigs for Tampa, and he pitched five shutout innings in his first start. Don Baylor appears to be headed to a managing job elsewhere, while Rick Peterson appears to be in over his head with the staff of stiffs. The Mets are 14-23 since the break, are 13 games out, have dropped four in a row (and counting), and the losses that had been predominantly close ones all season are early-inning laughers more and more. The Mets are as close to the pitiful Expos as they are to the middling Marlins. And, just as an added punt in my ribs, those Expos appear to be headed nowhere near the DC area if the Jerry Lewis Impersonators Club that is MLB's Relocation Committee. (This is a topic for another dreary day; better stick to the Mets' woes for now.)

There's nothing but worse news every day, and there's little positive to point to right now. There might be tomorrow, but not right now. I can't justify spending any more time bemoaning the sad state of affairs in Metville. I can't even make a joke here. It's just that numbing.
Games 120 through 125 - Red Sox
Ignorance is Bliss and Payback is a Bitch

Red Sox 10, White Sox 7
Red Sox 10, White Sox 1
Red Sox 6, White Sox 5*
Blue Jays 3, Red Sox 0
Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 4
Red Sox 11, Blue Jays 5

Record: 72-53
August Record: 16-7

Looks like I should ignore this blog more often. Last year, I took an intentional sabbatical, and the Sox ran off 5 wins in 6 games. Last week, a combination of beach-side antics and the resulting catch-up days at work kept me away from MLC, and the Sox...ran off 5 wins in 6 games. I'm sensing a theme here.

(Random aside that has no relevance at all, but will ring true to Whitney: taking a vacation with two kids under the age of 3 is not relaxing. Not at all.)

The Sox are playing some top-notch baseball at the moment, right as the Mets are drawing the curtain on my friend's enthusiasm. If I recall correctly, he jumped squarely aboard the Sox bandwagon in the late stages of 2003. There's plenty of room in the Nation, my man, just make the call and I'll get you a good seat. We could use the luck you brought during the playoffs last year, because it looks like white-knuckle time could last a couple of months this season.

The final game of the White Sox series is denoted with an asterisk because it may well be the game we look back upon as a seminal moment in this season. The Sox spotted Derek Lowe a 4-0 lead, which he gave back on two mistakes - giving up homers to Paul Konerko in the 5th and Carlos Lee in the 7th. Boston trailed 5-4 as Manny came up to begin the top of the 8th. Two pitches later, the Sox led 6-5 on round-trippers by Ramirez and Ortiz. Mike Timlin was flat-out nails in relief, stranding the tying run to get out of a 1-out, 1st and 3rd jam.

Timlin did it again two nights ago against the Blue Jays, wriggling out of a bases-loaded, 0-out quagmire with 2 strikeouts and a groundout. He's having a fair-to-middling season, but his last 2 appearances bring back happy memories of his stone-cold assassinations of 2003 postseason opponents. If the Sox are going to do anything this season, he will be critical, along with Alan Embree, Keith Foulke, and...anyone, anyone, Mueller, anyone? Do you sense my concern about the depth of the Sox' pen? Does the fact that I'm holding out hope for Byung-Hyun Kim's successful return to Boston betray a savvy baseball mind, or a delusional moron? Don't answer that.

The next two weeks are capital-H Huge for the Sox, who face Detroit (4 games @ home), Anaheim (3 @ home), Texas (3 @ home), and Oakland (3 on the road) before closing the month with 14 games against Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Baltimore sandwiched around 6 against the Yankees. 8 wins in those 13 games are not inconceivable, and less than 7 will be a big setback.

And speaking of the Yankees, because it always comes back to them, don't look now, but a certain team is only 5 1/2 games behind the suddenly mortal-looking Bombers. As recently as last week, I wouldn't have thought that those 6 games in September would mean much - and they still may not - but I'm all aquiver (as are ticket "brokers" along the entire Eastern Seaboard) at the possibility that those 2 series' could decide the division.

In a minor housekeeping note, I added a link to Jose Melendez' Keys to the Game, a wickedly funny and long overdue blog by one of SOSH's cleverest posters. Jose's gameday Keys (posted in Sox game threads on SOSH) are by turns snarky, snappy, erudite, and beer-out-the-nostrils funny.

Finally, this item on the Mets' new policy against the wearing of paper bags over the heads of distraught fans at Shea struck me funny. Sorry for piling on, Whit.

Friday, August 20, 2004

That's Some Amazin' Stuff

Nice work on the trade analysis by Whitney. I'm sitting here slack-jawed about the fact that Jesse Orosco was involved in a trade in 1978.

I'm not going to do a similar piece about the Sox, mostly because of my well-documented laziness, and because the Best/Worst Sox trades in my lifetime have been covered ad nauseum in the sporting press. Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen still makes Peter Gammons wake up in a cold sweat, but Heathcliff Slocumb for Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek is the stuff that bad fantasy GMs get fired over - let alone major league personnel bosses.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Trading Aces, Head Cases, and Second Bases

Last week I ineptly deleted a piece that contained a look at the best and worst trades in Mets history. As you'll soon see, it probably wasn't worth the time to re-issue it, but as discussions go, this is . . . one of them.

The David Weathers for Richard Hidalgo (not addressing the lesser inclusions) deal looks extremely lopsided at this point. Hidalgo received new life when arrived in New York, and Weathers . . . well, he's been getting clubbed just as much in Houston as he did for the Mets. Even the Mets' narcoleptic bats woke up against their former mate.

Meanwhile, Mets Township is fearing the worst after Victor Zambrano's elbow news, while Scott Kazmir is lighting it up and could be on his way to the bigs as early as next week. That one might leave a mark.

So, my question is: what were the best and worst trades in the brief but adventuresome history of the New York Mets? We'll start with the worst.

The Worst

December 10, 1971: Received Jim Fregosi from the Angels for Nolan Ryan, Don Rose, Leroy Stanton, and Frank Estrada. Frego had a .232/5/32 year and was sold to Texas mid-way through the next year. Nolan Ryan . . . oh, don't make me type out what he did.

April 5, 1972: Received Rusty Staub from the Expos for Ken Singleton, Mike Jorgensen, and Tim Foli. Rusty was a good player, but Singleton was very good, and Jorgensen & Foli were good enough that the Mets later re-acquired them both.

December 3, 1974: Received Del Unser, Mac Scarce and John Stearns from the Phillies for Tug McGraw, Don Hahn, and Dave Schneck. Unser also lasted a year and a half, while Stearns was serviceable; Tug went on to similarly inspire the Phils to a World Series.

June 15, 1977: Received Bobby Valentine and Paul Siebert from the Padres for Dave Kingman. Bobby V was awful, and Kingman was two years from a HR title. (He was also another re-acquisition.) But this wasn't even the worst trade of the day.

June 15, 1977: Received Steve Henderson, Pat Zachry, Dan Norman, and Doug Flynn from the Reds for Tom Seaver. Tom Seaver. TOM SEAVER. The franchise's all-time wins leader (still). Of course, the Mets picked him back up six years later after he'd won 71 games for the Reds. Meanwhile Steve Henderson contributed only mildly for the Mets until 1981, when he was traded to the Cubs for . . . Dave Kingman.

May 29, 1981: Received Ellis Valentine from the Expos for Jeff Reardon and Dan Norman. Another 1.5-year man for a guy who had recorded just 10 of his eventual 367 saves. And Dan Norman, of course, whose only claim to fame is being a throw-in on two of the worst trades in Met history.

December 10, 1982: Received Danny Heep from the Astros for Mike Scott. I always liked Heep. I guess I'd forgotten what his presence cost the Mets.

December 11, 1986: Received Kevin McReynolds, Adam Ging and Gene Walter from the Padres for Shawn Abner, Stan Jefferson, Kevin Mitchell, Kevin Armstrong, and (not the) Kevin Brown. Three years later McReynolds still hadn't fit in, while Mitchell was MVP.

June 18, 1989: Received Juan Samuel from the Phillies for Lenny Dykstra, Roger McDowell, and Tom Edens. Every time I think about this one, it's a punch in the gut. Hold on . . . gotta catch my breath.

July 31, 1989: Received Frank Viola from the Twins for Rick Aguilera, David West, Jack Savage, Kevin Tapani, and Tim Drummond. Frankie V won 20 for the Mets, but he only lasted a couple of seasons with the Mets while Tapani went on to win 143 games and Aguilera to save 311.

July 29, 1996: Received Carlos Baerga and Alvaro Espinoza from the Indians for Jose Vizcaino and Jeff Kent. Not only was Kent on the verge of breaking out, it meant we essentially got Baerga and Espinoza for David Cone.

December 1, 1998: Received Armando Benitez from the Orioles for Charles Johnson. The numbers say this wasn't a bad deal. The years off my life say it was.

July 31, 1999: Received Billy Taylor from the Athletics for Jason Isringhausen and Greg McMichael. I guess with Benitez, all those saves weren't necessary.

July 28, 2000: Received Mike Bordick from the Orioles for Lesli Brea, Mike Kinkade, Melvin Mora, and Pat Gorman. The only team to deal with the Orioles over the last decade and lose, the Mets got three months of subpar Bordick for Mora, who has proven versatile in the field and a batting title candidate at the plate.

December 27, 2001: Received Mo Vaughn from the Angels for Kevin Appier. I think we've talked enough about this one, no?

Whew, we need some good news . . .

The Best

December 15, 1967: Received Tommie Agee and Al Weis from the White Sox for Tommy Davis, Jack Fisher, Billy Wynne, and Buddy Booker. Two World Series heroes for . . . not a lot.

[skipping the 1970's: see Trades, Worst for what happened during that decade]

February 10, 1982: Received George Foster from the Reds for Alex Trevino, Jim Kern, and Greg Harris. Cincy still felt bad about the Seaver deal.

April 1, 1982: Received Ron Darling and Walt Terrell from the Rangers for Lee Mazzilli. The Mets reacquired Maz for the title run in '86, Darling was a rock for the 80's, and Terrell got them HoJo.

June 15, 1983: Received Keith Hernandez from the Cardinals for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey. Keith's off-the-field escapades helped the Mets rob St. Louis blind.

December 8, 1983: Received Sid Fernandez and Ross Jones from the Dodgers for Carlos Diaz and Bob Bailor. Another piece in the rotation puzzle.

December 10, 1984: Received Gary Carter from the Expos for Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham, and Floyd Youmans. I liked Hubie, but Carter was the final piece. Oh, wait, we need to make one more deal for karmic purposes . . .

November 13, 1985: Received Bob Ojeda, Chris Bayer, Tom McCarthy, and John Mitchell from the Red Sox for Calvin Schiraldi, Wes Gardner, John Christensen, and La Schelle Tarver. There we go. We'll take Ojeda, and you just make sure Schiraldi pitches in Games 6 & 7.

March 27, 1987: Received David Cone and Chris Jelic from the Royals for Ed Hearn, Rick Anderson, and Mauro Gozzo. Should've kept Cone for much, much longer.

February 6, 1998: Received Al Leiter and Ralph Milliard from the Marlins for A.J. Burnett, Jesus Sanchez, and Robert Stratton. Burnett is emerging as a future star, but I love Leiter.

May 22, 1998: Received Mike Piazza from the Marlins for Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall, and Geoff Goetz. Ditto for Wilson and Piazza.

December 1, 1998: Received Charles Johnson and Roger Cedeno from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Todd Hundley and Arnold Gooch. Hundley turned out to be a one-season wonder; that he netted the Mets Benitez and Cedeno should file this under Worst, but it was a good deal at the time.

April 3, 2004: Received Chris Widger and Wilson Delgado from the Cardinals for Roger Cedeno. Uncool.

Not Sure Where to Put These

December 8, 1978: Received Greg Field and Jesse Orosco (named later) from the Twins for Jerry Koosman. A longtime Met starter for a longtime Met reliever, both of whom helped them win a World Series; that Orosco was on the way up and Koosman was approaching the twilight (though he did win 20 for Minnesota in '79) gives the Mets the edge, I'd say.

December 7, 1984: Received Howard Johnson from the Tigers for Walt Terrell. Both went on to produce for a number of years.

December 6, 1989: Received John Franco and Don Brown from the Reds for Randy Myers and Kip Gross. A star for a star, this was great for the Mets. Until now.

December 11, 1991: Received Bret Saberhagen and Bill Pecota from the Royals for Gregg Jefferies, Kevin McReynolds and Keith Miller. A few fairly big names that ended up disappointing.

September 1, 1992: Received Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson from the Blue Jays for David Cone. Didn't end up working out as well as it might have.

December 11, 2001: Received Roberto Alomar, Danny Peoples, and Mike Bacsik from the Indians Matt Lawton, Alex Escobar, Jerrod Riggan, Earl Snyder and Billy Traber. Stink. Stank. Stunk.

So where does that leave us? I'll go with the Nolan Ryan deal for the worst all-time, with the Juan Samuel debacle a close second. Both seemed to set a tone of bad deals for a decade. The best would be either the Keith Hernandez or Gary Carter pick-ups; together they were the pieces de resistance of GM Frank Cashen (arguably the most brilliant fellow ever associated with the Mets). I'm sure there are others I've forgotten, but these comprise many of the biggies. Depending on Hidalgo's off-season contractual progress and Zambrano's elbow/Kazmir's future, these could make their way to the list. Stay tuned.
Game 119 - Red Sox
Who Are These People?

Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 4
Record: 67-52
August Record: 11-6

I'm struggling with vocabulary today - just can't think of a certain phrase. There's this thing, when a team is victorious in more than 2 consecutive contests...stro, streee, strii - I don't know. Whatever it is, the Sox are in the middle of one, and it's about freaking time. Yes, they've won 3 straight against the lowly Blue Jays, but beggars definitely can't be choosers, especially since:

1. The Rangers have won 6 in a row but not been able to gain much ground on the Sox, and;
2. The Yankees have lost 3 in a row (including 2 straight to their heretofore prison concubines, the Minnesota Twins - will wonders never cease).

Last night's win was a workmanlike effort right on the heels of a scintillating walk-off victory. Solid and professional, two things that have been missing all season. Dare I begin to hope that this team is finally coming together? 9 wins in 12 games says maybe so, but I'll hold off on the ticker tape parade until the Sox sweep into the south side of Chicago and avenge last week's series loss to the White Sox. Baby steps. (Hmmm, that sounds an awful lot like a mantra.)
Game 118 - Mets
"Let's Lose Two!"

Mets at Rockies, PPD (Presumably Pummeled in the Doubleheader)
Record: Still 56-61

After getting backhanded all over the field for all 10 games of the past five doubleheaders, rainouts present doubly gloomy horizons for the Mets. Observe the uplifting analysis from after the last go-around:

(6/28/04) The Mets 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.

Oh, my. One has to figure that today will be their best good chance to snap the ugly streak of double-dipper sweeps, especially with Kris Benson and Al Leiter on the docket. I mean, the outlook is certainly better than that of the September 13 two-fer coming up against the Braves, right? Unfortunately, speaking of outlooks, it's supposed to rain all afternoon in Denver, so there's a chance there will be no games played today. And what with Rockies vs. Mets nowhere on the rest of the 2004 schedule and with neither club near postseason contention, these games may not happen at all. Leaving 9/13 as the likely only shot of ending the doubleheader drought this season. How convenient.

* * *

Yesterday I had a chance to peruse some of the other Mets blogs out there, and as usual, I was verily impressed -- both in the strong content (as in solid and using strong language) and in the confirmation that other people out there have as much time to dedicate to the literary, analytical equivalent of banging our heads against a wall. I decided it was time to stop being lazy / xenophobic and post some links to these blogs, encouraging Rob to do the same for the Sox blog world. After all, we are all in this together, and as the season worsens with every passing day (or media release), we'll need each other more and more.

One particular column that caught my eye was from Kaley over at Flushing Local, whose loyal optimism continues to shine through the storm of negativity emanating from Shea. Consecutive posts of pure positive energy (1) working out the math necessary for the wild card run and (2) "clinging to my precious hope" despite having to issue sincere lamentations for Victor Zambrano are breaths of fresh air. She is to be admired for her never-wavering spirit and to be pitied for her complete and utter insanity.

Anyway, there's a treasure-trove of good stuff out there -- better organized, better informed, and better designed. That's not to say you shouldn't keep coming here for our unique perspective -- hey, we didn't win Longest Post Without a Discernible Point earlier this year for nothing.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Game 117 - Mets
The Excavation of a Landfill

Rockies 6, Mets 4
Record: 56-61

On the surface of this game, i.e., in the only lasting record of it, i.e. i.e., in looking at the box score, this was just another loss in a losing season -- a nondescript, meaningless defeat that doesn't warrant detailed examination. But wouldn't you agree that very little is ever what it seems on the surface, excluding today's pop music, Sly Stallone's acting, and Mike Piazza's pure love of baseball? We'll dig into this game just a wee bit deeper, pausing momentarily for a Parental Advisory for scenes that may turn Met fans' stomachs.

One facet of this game that does jump out at you is Victor Zambrano's 1 2/3 innings pitched. His ineffectiveness stemmed from a "sore elbow," two great words that don't go great together. (Though not, as Rhys Lloyd always points out, as explosive a combo as "cash bar," two wonderful words on their own that wholly sour upon compounding.) Zambrano's next start is in question, as is the deal that brought him here if this ailment turns out to be more than a minor tweak in a long season of fireballing. He did leave the game, however, with a 2-0 lead, albeit with a couple of runners aboard. Enter Dan Wheeler. I repeat: Enter Dan Wheeler. While we're wasting time overanalyzing phrasing and diagramming sentences, I'll just say this: "Enter Dan Wheeler" is one I never enjoy reading, unless through some strange set of circumstances I happen to catch sight of a Brooklyn proctologist's to-do list.

So Wheeler comes into a small jam in the second, up by two with two outs and two on. Jason Jennings at the plate. That'd be Jason Jennings the Rockies pitcher. Yes, Jennings is a decent-hitting pitcher, and yes, it's Coors Field, but if Dan Wheeler is ever going to be a not-abominable pitcher, these are the outs he must record. Needless to say, he didn't; Jennings singled in one run on the first pitch, the next batter singled as well, and the lead had evaporated into the very thin air. After Richard Hidalgo doubled in a run in the third to reclaim that lead, it took Wheeler a mere three pitches to hand it right back. Efficient, if god-awful.

He did settle down for a few innings after that, much like the Mets' bats did. I figure they were tired of battling the Human Lead Eraser. The 3-3 tie went into the sixth when Matt "Every Day's a" Holliday "When You're Facing Danny Wheeler" parked one with the bases empty. By the time Pedro Feliciano "relieved" (if you will) Wheeler in the seventh, Wheeler's line didn't look so awful (2 runs over 4 1/3), but it's a misleading line. Fortunately for you, I dig a little deeper and tell the real story.
What Dan Wheeler's Line Doesn't Say (Explicitly or at All)
1. Two inherited runners, two inherited runners scored.
2. While his ERA was a reasonable 4.15, his WHIP was a lofty 1.84.
3. The Rockies hit .381 against him during those 4 1/3 innings.
4. Their freakin' pitcher was 2-for-3 with an RBI.
5. He sucked. Didn't he suck, Jack? He sucked.

I have arguably given poor Mr. Wheeler more than his fair share of abuse at times. At least he didn't walk anybody . . . but who's taking pitches when you're hitting .381 against him?

As alluded to, Feliciano came on and did his best "When in Colorado . . ." rendition. After getting the heart of the lineup out routinely, he issued walks and meatballs to the bottom of the order, and two more came across for the Rockies, making it 6-4. These guys are pitching in key spots but are more suited for mop-up than Hong Kong Phooey. Is this the best the Mets can throw out there?

Naturally, despite being handed a pair of walks and an error, the Mets managed just one run in the ninth, fading out on a strikeout and a popup. Wheeler got the loss, which was about the only telling stat in his line.

The altitude aided the Mets little to not at all, as they rapped out an unalarming seven hits and scored four runs -- three earned. Jason Phillips saw his average drop below .200 for the first time in a while, Mike Cameron dipped below that mountainous .240 plateau, and Cliff Floyd fell back below .270, marking a BA low since the Break. At least Hidalgo is ripping the ball again. It makes it harder to collect RBI's when guys don't get on very much, but somehow he had three, i.e., all of the team's ribbies. Colorado air, the Mets muster 3 RBI's. I can hear Skip & Larry:

"Three RBI's."

"Three RBI's . . . How'd we ever knock in three runs?"

"It's a miracle."
Games 117 & 118 - Red Sox
Fenway to Go

Red Sox 8, Blue Jays 4
Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 4
Record: 66-52
August Record: 9-6

Fenway Park is old, weird, smelly, and cramped. Singles become outs in leftfield, while homeruns become singles and popups become round-trippers. Rightfielders get lost trying to track down balls that hug the fence, or watch little bloopers hit the Pesky Pole. The infield is reputed to be the worst in baseball, as are the clubhouse facilities. In other words, it's a fabulous edifice. For all its blemishes, Fenway serves as a reminder to all of us that the beauty in baseball lies in its unpredictability.

Last night brought the home team another in a long line of memorable moments that would be inconceivable in nearly any other stadium. Johnny Damon led off first with 1 out in the bottom of the 9th inning of a tie game. Orlando Cabrera - coming off a 2-error game and sporting less than robust offensive numbers - ripped a shot towards the Green Monster in left-center.

First thought: that's a double, and Damon's gonna score to end the game.

Second thought: shit, this is Fenway - it might be a single, and there's no way Damon scores.

Then the ball hit the top of the metallic manual scoreboard that dominates the bottom section of the Monster, and instead of caroming directly down to the Jays' Vernon Wells (who was perfectly positioned to make the play) shot straight into the air, describing a lazy arc as Damon sped towards third.

Third thought: Ha! Only in Fenway.

Dale "Go, Go, Go" Sveum sent Damon home, and the speedy centerfielder beat the Jays' relay easily to send the home crowd into delirium, give the Sox their 7th win in 10 games, and leave the Jays standing with their hands on their hips wondering what had happened. Somewhere, Wally the Green Monster smiled as he shuffled back to his lair.

In unrelated, but irritating news, the Sox placed Kevin Youkilis and Dave McCarty on the DL yesterday, making their injured roster almost as large as their active one. While I appreciate the fact that the Mets have had their share of bad luck on the injury front, the Sox are currently without the services of Trot Nixon, Pokey Reese, Scott Williamson, Youkilis, Mark Bellhorn, and Ellis Burks. That's two starters (Nixon and Bellhorn), two critical reserves (Youkilis and Reese), the team's best right-handed pinch-hitter (Burks), and the team's best setup man (Williamson). And McCarty, whose best position may actually be Disabled Hitter.

The situation is so bad that Doug Mientkiewicz started at 2nd base for the Sox on Monday night. Forgetting for a moment that he actually played really well (and that, frankly, he hits like a 2nd baseman), the fact that Francona chose Dougie M. over Ricky Gutierrez - who is a middle infielder by trade - causes me to wonder out loud why Gutierrez is still on the major league roster. Could be worse, I suppose. Cesar Crespo could still be wearing the Sox uniform.

I'm making this part small because I don't want to say this too loudly, but Derek Lowe pitched really well on Monday. He had awesome stuff, and gave up 4 runs (3 earned) only because Cabrera made 2 errors in 1 inning. I'm just saying.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Games 113 through 116 - Mets
Technolo-gee, That's Annoying

Mets 2, Astros 1
Mets 10, Diamondbacks 6
Mets 4, Diamondbacks 3
Diamodbacks 2, Mets 0
Record: 56-60

Although this sounds like a load of . . . untruthfulness, I wrote quite a lengthy piece on Friday, only to have the quirks of modern technology erase any trace of it. Miller Time never arrives more quickly than when a box of wires and chips undoes my hearty effort. I lack the abundance of time and/or memory of my own work to reproduce the column, but here's the abbreviated version:

1. Hilarious intro
2. Detailed recap of the Mets' 2-1 victory over Houston
3. Clever witticism
4. Insightful analysis on the surprising Mets win, including mockery of the starting lineup
(this I will reproduce)

G Williams LF
J McEwing SS
T Zeile 1B
R Hidalgo RF
M Cameron CF
D Wright 3B
J Phillips C
D Garcia 2B
V Zambrano P

5. Mention that only two of them were in Opening Day lineup (this point was raised in a national publication two days later) and those two are averaging .220
6. Punny joke; very, very funny, I assure you
7. Laud Victor Zambrano for his great outing
8. Knee-slapping zinger about Kaz Matsui (ouch!)
9. Trash David Weathers again for kicks
10. Segue into a list of best and worst Mets trades of all time -- this I might actually have to re-write someday
11. Tear-jerking closer (no, not Armando Benitez)

Okay, so maybe my four-day-old memories of this may be a bit embellished. But I permit myself such liberties after that stunning display of self-control Friday, i.e., refraining from gravity-testing my government-owned computer from the rooftop.

Then the weekend came, and with it the arrival of the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks at Shea Stadium. After breezing through Friday's and Saturday's contests, the Mets were squelched by Randy Johnson on Sunday, eliciting perhaps the only (albeit brief and fleeting) moments where I wished the Big Donut had been traded to the Yankees. So, after swapping sweeps with Milwaukee and the Cards, your New York Metropolitans have won consecutive series . . . at home against the National League's most disappointing teams (outside of Philadelphia).

Speaking of the Quaker City, the Phlailin' Phillies continue their free-fall into pennant race obscurity, threatening to disappear from the "Wild Card Standings" graphic any day now. Larry "Feather" Bowa is still gainfully employed by the club, outlasting most of the media prognostications, probably because injuries have taxed the Phils a lot more than any manager could. With Jim Thome now out with a shoulder problem and Pat Burrell being advised to call it a season (well, some of the more vocal Phils fans have been advising him to do this for two years now), the chances of a late season rebound just don't look good. I mean, for Pete Incaviglia's sake, the Phillies are only two games better than the Mets.

While my cohort contends that the Red Sox have endured a more deleterious rash of injuries, the Mets' past few weeks have brought a crippling series of wounds. Mike Piazza's absence is brutal. Four relievers are on the DL, including two who were breaking out just before they got hurt. The middle infield is gone with a stress fracture and an ailing back -- the irony being in the lack of load-shouldering these two have provided. (Of course, Kazoo Matsui has taken it upon himself to collect most of the team's errors; he's got 23 -- the next highest total on the current roster is 6. What a workhorse.) Finally, they're not on the DL, but Cliff Floyd plays hurt more than Nine Inch Nails and Tom Glavine's teeth are lodged in the back of a cabbie's seat (right in Shea Stadium on the NYC map, from what I hear). This is all without mentioning the portly gent from Norwalk, CT who remains on the Mets' Disabled List despite retiring last year. The Sox' woes make their goal of postseason play harder and harder to achieve; the Mets' woes make it harder and harder to recognize their players. Yesterday they called up first baseman Craig Brazell, about whom I have absolutely nothing to say.

A recall I am familiar with, unfortunately, is pitcher Dan "Double Dealer" Wheeler, last seen handing out extra base hits like they were buffet coupons in an Atlantic City casino. Up came Wheeler and down went Matt Ginter, whose solid spot start last week was rewarded with an all-expenses-paid trip to lovely Norfolk, VA. Sure, there was no place for him in the rotation and he'll get more innings in AAA, but this kid could use some more major-league innings before next season.

Speaking of the minors, Mets cuttee "Come Back" Shane Spencer signed a minor league deal with his old club, the Yankees. This guy digs the five boroughs as much as the Beasties, or maybe he's got the hook-up in a few of the bars in town and doesn't want to start over. Spencer, recently ranked at #2 on Loaded Magazine's list of "Shanes Most Likely to Make the News for an Alcohol-Related Incident" (Shane MacGowan will forever hold the title spot), is headed for AAA but could wind up in AA, which just feels right, doesn’t it?

The Mets visit Colorado this weekend, a site I vaguely recall being a house of horrors last year. Something about a 7-0 lead in the 7th going away quickly, and a similar choke the next night. (I can't bring myself to scroll down and refresh my memory.) And as the Mets fly into Denver with a bullpen that blows more leads than a Broadway groupie, it could be more of the same, I'm sad to report. The pitching match-ups seem to favor the Mets, but has that ever mattered for the New York nine? Nay, I say, nay.
Playing a Different Game

As of yesterday, Barry Bonds had a .605 on-base percentage. In a sport where reaching base 40% of the time is considered great, he gets out 40% of the time. His OBP is 33% better than the next-best player in the league (Lance Berkman at .459). .605!!! Damn.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Games 114 through 116 - Red Sox
At Least We've Got the Olympics

Chicago White Sox 8, Red Sox 7
Red Sox 4, White Sox 3
White Sox 5, Red Sox 4
Record: 64-52
August Record: 8-6

Thankfully, I saw/heard/read/cared very little about this weekend's 3-game set with the ChiSox. Another disappointing series loss - this time at home - against a decent opponent. 2 more 1-run losses sandwiched around a (gasp!) 1-run win. Back to a flat-footed tie for the Wild Card lead with both Texas and Anaheim, and only 2 1/2 games up on the fast-closing Cleveland Indians.

This team just can't get over the hump. Winners of 5 of 6 games headed into this series, gaining steam as the post-Nomar roster began to gel, and then...pffft. Again. Karl Ravech noted last night on ESPN's coverage of the Cardinals/Braves tilt that both teams entered the contest with at least 30 wins in their last 40 games (St. Louis was 30-10, Atlanta 31-9). I'd give Terry Francona naming rights to my next-born child if the Sox could rip off a stretch like that. He'd ponder it for a while, trying really hard to do what he thought Theo Epstein wanted, then he'd fuck it up by bringing in Mike Timlin to help name the kid, even though Timlin had named 6 kids in the past 3 days, and despite the fact that the kid was left-handed and Alan Embree hadn't named any kids in days. At least Curt Schilling would be happy.

Thank the Good Lord that the Olympics are on 37 different channels for the next 2 weeks. Despite the insufferable homerism displayed by the NBC team (I never thought I'd hear myself shit-talking Bob Costas' visage on my TV screen - seriously, he must have to wash his hands for hours after each shift to get the scum off after shilling so blatantly for the IOC's image), and the well-documented corruption of the muckety-mucks that drive the Olympic movement, I'm still a huge sucker for the Olympic Games.

Which is a good thing, because I need a distraction from the Red Sox for the next fortnight. So, hello Michael Phelps, Carlos Arroyo, Iraqi soccer players, Greek steroid cheats, Svetlana Khorkina (you naughty little minx), Larry Brown's disbelieving eyes, Marion Jones, Tom Pappas, Inge de Bruijn, and all the rest of you. Manny, Pedro, David, Curt, and the boys - I'll check back with you in 2 weeks, let's see if you can put a little distance between yourselves and the rest of the league. Maybe call those Cardinal guys for some advice.

(Preemptive qualifier for Whitney - this is all poetic license, I'm not planning to take another blog vacation, even though it was highly effective last season.)

Friday, August 13, 2004

Game 113 - Red Sox
Pretty Bird, Pretty Bird (or, In Praise of Petey)

Red Sox 6, Devil Rays 0
Record: 63-50
August Record: 7-4

Statistically, 2004 has been the worst year of Pedro Martinez' career, at least by several measures. After yesterday's complete-game shutout, he's now 13-4 with a 3.72 ERA, a 1.14 WHIP, and 9.24 K/9 IP. Digest that for a minute. He's putting up numbers that place him solidly in the top 5 if the Cy Young vote was taken today - 2nd in the league in Ks, top 10 in ERA, top 10 in WHIP, tied for 2nd in wins - and the vast majority of Red Sox Nation (present company included) wonders what's wrong with Pedro.

The bar has been set so high for Pedro that even meeting expectations is well nigh impossible. I'm going to look back 20 years from now and marvel at the fact that I got to watch this guy pitch on a semi-regular basis. Every Red Sox fan from Bangor to Bangkok should genuflect in adulation every time the Dominican Diva steps to the mound, and bask in the reflected glow of his indescribable genius. Instead, we elevate marginal scrappers like Lou Merloni to cult icon status. It's as if the light that Pedro gives off is so bright as to obscure his talent from view. We can't look directly at it, or we'd be spoiled for any other player that ever takes the field for the Olde Towne Team.

I hope that I'm not watching the final act of the Pedro Martinez Show in Boston, but even if I am, his current run of brilliance (and 12-2, 2.91 marks against all teams not named the Baltimore Orioles - Jesus, can I hate that team any more?) portends positive things for the next 2 months. And if he winds up somewhere else next season, I'll count myself lucky to have witnessed - up close and personal - the best stretch of pitching in my lifetime. It's really as simple as that - nobody else has even been close to Pedro during his tenure in Boston. Red Sox Nation would do well to remember that more often.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Game 112 - Mets
Seeds and Snuff --> Cortisone and Percocet

Astros 5, Mets 4
Record: 53-59

Sloppy conditions, another hurt Met, and what Astros current general Phil Garner called an "ugly win." I've got an inkling the recap will be no prettier.

Pats on the back should be administered to Matt Ginter, who threw an admirable six innings with just a pair of Houston runs on his watch, and David "Can I Blame This" Weathers, who gives up a pair of earned runs every time I check the box score. He was as effective in Shea as he had been earlier this year, enabling the Mets to tie the game after . . . well, read on.

Middle fingers go up to Ricky Bottalico, who permitted as many Astros to score through his first five batters as Ginter had in six innings, and Roy Oswalt, who drilled Cliff Floyd and ended his game. I'm not saying the plunking was intentional; wire reports pointing out that there was a base open and that Floyd hit a grand slam off him the last time Oswalt faced the Mets didn't say it was intentional, either. They just found those factoids interesting.

Mike Piazza's on the DL now, Tom Glavine wath thcratched from hith thart yethterday (it's a wonder he can walk), Kaz Matsui has a slew of problems, and Jose Reyes sat out with some "lower leg" problems (hey, you try fielding grounders with your shins and see how it feels). The injury-plagued theme was slow to develop this year, especially compared to '03, but when the tone is set by your highest-paid player being Mo Vaughn, how it could it play out any differently? That the up-the-middle combo of Danny Garcia and Joe McEwing made no errors in a mucky infield is a rather substantial accomplishment, but such miracles are likely in short supply.

The rubber match of this series is a daytimer today. Victor Zambrano takes the mound for the Metros, with Andy Pettitte throwing for Houston. Let's hope Rick Peterson's magic dust has started to sink into Zambrano. Actually, forget that; let's just hope for an injury-free game. Of course, I uttered precisely the same words before the Redskins preseason game Monday, and look what happened. Dear lord. Duck and cover, people.
Game 112 - Red Sox
Wicked Millaaaah

Red Sox 14, Devil Rays 4
Record: 62-50
August Record: 6-4

Kevin Millar went 1 for 15 in a 4 games against the Angels and Mariners on July 15-19. During the Mariner game that concluded his fine little run (and neatly coincided with Millar earning - and deserving - my scorn for his corpse-like efforts) he studied Mariner catcher Miguel Olivo's batting stance during breaks from pondering this season's team catchphrase. The same Miguel Olivo who's posted a .240/.292/.407 career avg/obp/slg line.

In the 19 games since opening up his own stance to mirror Olivo's, Millar's batted .470 with 7 homeruns and 25 RBI, and posted a 1.300+ OPS. Put simply, he's been the best hitter in the major leagues over that span. Yesterday, he went 4-for-4 with a homer and 4 RBI to pace the Sox to an easy win over the D-Rays.

As a result, I now call for any Sox regular who struggles at the plate (as of this moment in time, this means you Manuel Ramirez, you Bill Mueller, you Orlando Cabrera, and for good measure, you, too, Gabe Kapler - even though you're actually swinging a decent bat right now) to find a mediocre major leaguer to emulate. Manny, go study Robert Machado's sweet stroke. Billy, have a look at Scott Spiezio. Angel Berroa's making a trip from AA Wichita to work with you, Orlando. And Gabe, Alex Gonzalez has some free time - take a look at his film and give him a call. I expect history-making results.

And now for something completely different, or, here's a screeching segue from out of nowhere. In Gabe Kapler and Kevin Youkilis, the Sox have the league's largest contingent of practicing Jews. (I think. I have no research to back this up, but I can't imagine any other team has more than one, can you? Hell, I'm not even sure Youkilis is Jewish, but if he's not, Mientkiewicz must be, right? Johnny Damon looks like Jesus, if nothing else, and as we know, Jesus was Jewish. Can you tell I'm struggling for relevant things to write about the Sox?) This sets up all kinds of allusions to wandering in the wilderness, chosen people, kosher beef franks, circumcision, etc. for the good people in the national news media. I'm really rather surprised that it hasn't happened yet, to be honest, though Youkilis' non-Hebrew last name may have thrown off the reliably lazy members of the sporting press.

This can't be a bad thing for the Sox. Jews, like Sox fans, have been persecuted for ages. Like Red Sox Nation, the Nation of Abraham has sought succor from the One above for lo, these many years. Sox fans, like Jews, are forced to endure ritual pain - and, in fact, endure it one an annual basis, instead of once at birth. In much the same manner that the Hasidim stand out by wearing those funky curls, Sox fans purchase those awful blaze-Red Sunday jerseys to attract more attention to their plight. The Sox are good with money, as are many Jewish businesspeople. I could go on, but my next several comparisons are even closer to the border between good and bad taste than my last. I think you see my point, though. Some day, the Sox will be delivered to the Promised Land, as it is written in the Book of Ted. I just hope I'm alive to see it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Games 110 & 111 - Red Sox
Dog Day Afternoon

Devil Rays 8, Red Sox 3
Red Sox 8, Devil Rays 4
Record: 61-50
August Record: 5-4

Wait, you mean the Sox blew a chance to go on a three-game winning streak by choking away a game against a mediocre opponent, even though they had their best pitcher on the mound? Feh. I can't even work up the righteous indignation to make that sentence worth a crap. How is it possible to care so much about something and not at all - at the same time?

After 4 innings last night, the Sox had sent 12 men to the plate against Jorge Sosa (I don't know who he is, either) and 12 men had returned to the bench without reaching base. David Ortiz led off the 5th with a single - the same Ortiz who's now batting cleanup because Terry Francona's decided to make Manny Ramirez as uncomfortable as possible as punishment for the league's second-worst haircut - and came around to score on Jason Varitek's two-run double, and the floodgates were open in support of Bronson Arroyo.

Speaking of Arroyo - and almost nobody in baseball is - I'll give you a shiny new penny if you had any idea that he had the 16th best ERA in the American League (4.14), stood 9th in the AL in strikeouts (102), K/9 (7.55) and K/BB (2.76), and was the best starter in the AL since the All-Star break as measured by the extremely esoteric Defense Independent Pitching Statistic (DIPS) ERA. Don't ask. Arroyo is clearly the Sox no. 3 starter at the moment, and only his misleadingly poor win/loss record (5-8) is keeping him from garnering more notice for the very effective season he's posting. Hey! A bright spot.

I've really got a whole lot of nothing else to say about this team right now - at least nothing that I haven't already said ad nauseum in the paragraphs below this one. Is it football season yet?
Game 111 - Mets

Mets 7, Astros 3
Record: 53-58

Wouldn't it be nice if this solid, impressive win were somehow critical in a pennant race? Of course, Houston is in an even worse boat (one whose 2004 voyage has proven Lusitania-like) than the Mets, as they have similarly bottomed out but with much loftier expectations. Now they're not just tape-measure distance from contention -- they're dropping bad games to the New York Mets. They're on their second manager, they've squandered high-priced talent (including mid-season rental Carlos Beltran), and cast-off Richard Hidalgo has out-produced his former mates in the Houston OF by a long shot. Not a good time to be from Houston. (Hush, now, that's just not nice.)

Steve "Back On" Trachsel issued his prototypical 7 IP, 3 ER line, and David Wright provided the fireworks with a towering bomb, but the seven runs -- six of them unanswered after trailing, 3-1 -- were thoroughly a team effort, as the ten hits were nearly evenly dispersed. Every position player had a hit except Jason Phillips (who did ground into a 6-4-3 rally killer, though -- Vance, how's the melon doing?), and every one of them had either a ribbie or a run scored. Mike DeJean continued his metamorphic alteration since arriving from the Charm City, firing another pair of scoreless innings to drop his ERA under 2.00. Even more impressive, the Mets played nine innings of defense with nary an error. (Baby steps don't boot the grounder, baby steps don't throw it into the stands.) All in all, it was a fine, complete effort. Not that it means much when you're 10 GB in August, but we'll take a night like this ten times out of ten. (Actually, if that happened . . .)

The result of this game, trivial as it was, was overshadowed by the news that Tom Glavine was in a taxi accident en route from LaGuardia to Shea. Glavine had his two front teeth knocked out and suffered some minor cuts in his mouth, which is relatively fortunate. We all know what that cab ride can be like in traffic, and like me, Whistlin' Tom probably didn't adhere to the cautions of Tony Bennett or the Rockettes and buckle up. Freak injuries the Mets need like a hole in their head. Glavine will miss today's start, meaning Matt Ginter "Of Our Discontent" gets a spot start versus Roy Oswalt, who's been unhittable of late. Well, maybe I'll just re-run the previous paragraph tomorrow in a display of revisionist history. In truth, though, we just hope Glavine is okay. Word out of Queens is that this Christmas he will not be asking for his two front teeth, instead requesting "some friggin' run support" and maybe "a defense that knows its ass from a hole in its glove." Fair enough.

In other parts of the baseball universe, the Baltimore Orioles have won eight in a row. Though the O's are hosed, much like the Metropolitans, their win streak has meaning for several reasons. First, they're doing it against wild card contenders, playing the spoiler to perfection -- much to Boston's delight. Second, they're showing promise for a better tomorrow, and giving me something semi-palatable to watch. And third, they're coming back from the dead in my case-bet on 75 wins. At 54-57, I need them to go just 21-28 in their final 49 to propel me to cold, crisp, full-bodied, golden victory. Not sure yet, but if I win, I think I'll go with something Baltimorean, maybe Degroen's or even Natty Bo. But I won't count any chickens just yet -- this is a franchise just a couple of years removed from a stunning 4-32 finish over its last 36.

Elsewhere in the AL East, the crosstown Yankees hit a tiny speed bump yesterday against the Rangers when Kevin Brown was clobbered, but they're rolling along without even the blur of a Red Sox squad in the rear-view. The Yanks may well win 100 games without a .300-hitting regular. Already at 71-41, their lineup features Hideki Matsui at .302 and Gary Sheffield at .295. All of the others are below .290. They have only Kevin Brown below 4.00 in the ERA department for regular starters, and one or two more outings like yesterday's may change that. I wail on about the Yankees' unfair advantage ad inifinitum, but they're well-managed, they're clutch, and they play well as a unit -- rallying at the plate, maximizing baserunners, and excelling in the field. Damn Yankees. I think I'm supposed to mutter something about "payroll" here.

And on a final note, ESPN continued its dead horse brutalization last night (something we here at MLC never, ever do!). They aired its list of the last 25 years' biggest "chokes," and when the Angels of the '86 ALCS appeared at #5, you just knew what was destined for yet another dredging up. Actually, it's not really dredging if you keep it just below the surface to whip out every couple of weeks to torture Sox fans. In this particular case, if you concede that the list itself is warranted, then you'll probably go along with the Game 6 giveaway as a necessary inclusion -- and a justified number 1. What was odd, however, was that though inexplicable choices like Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield's ear off made their way into the list, the 1978 Red Sox collapse was nowhere to be found. And don't give ESPN credit for not wanting to pile on, as the Cubs, Angels, Chris-Webber-led teams, and Greg Norman each were graced with multiple mentions. If you're going to be the bastard and highlight people's plummets, do it right.

Anyway, this wouldn't be fresh for an MLC column (we've bludgeoned the programmers there before for this indulgence), except that the Game 6 montage featured a couple of interview clips from Bill Simmons, a.k.a. the [Boston] Sports Guy. I've read his hilarious but sad takes on the Game 6 debacle, but I'd never heard his voice before, and all I can say is I can finally rest knowing what happened to Wyatt from Weird Science. Holy cow -- I guess he does have the last laugh over Anthony Michael Hall now after all. Anyone who can get me a clip of SG saying "Gary here was just takin' a shit" gets big bucks from me.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Games 108 through 110 - Mets
Three Up, Three Down

Cardinals 6, Mets 4
Cardinals 2, Mets 1
Cardinals 6, Mets 2
Record: 52-58

The sweep in the Badger State (ah, the good old days) had me threatening to sing Randy Travis -- "is it still over, are we still through?" and sporting the reality blinders one last time. The sweep in the Show-Me-the-Gate State has me kicking the desk and looking ahead to football season. This Mets season is over, gone now, done for, doomed. And like anyone who just got dumped, I'm fairly bitter about it today.

The Mets certainly had their chances against the Cards, or so it seemed. Glavine, Benson, and Leiter as the three starters should have garnered them at least one win, right? They led or were tied in the latter half of the first two ballgames, but couldn't get it done. One problem was that the St. Louis pitchers didn't throw slow pitches without movement like they saw in Milwaukee, damn them. Matt Morris outpitched Tom Glavine, the Cards' bullpen outpitched the Mets', and Jason Marquis outpitched Al Leiter. You knew their defense would outshine ours. And the Cardinals outhit the Mets -- not so much outslugged them from start to finish, but were more timely in their success. They're clutch, and the Mets aren't. That's part of why St. Louis has 72 wins and New York has 52.

And the more I reflect on their taking it in the wazoo in ol' Mizzou, the more I feel like they didn't have their chances. The Cardinals are so much better than the Mets from top to bottom -- definitely to include their manager -- that it wasn't a fair fight.

Notes from the weekend: There was more adventure at the shortstop position. Kaz Matsui returned from injury and made a throwing error just like that. Sunday Matsui had to leave hurt again, this time with spasms (though I think that's just how he throws, doc), and Jose Reyes, who'd already made one error, slid over to short. Stay tuned . . . Al Leiter looked awful for the first time in a long, long while Sunday. He was due . . . Saturday Mike Stanton looked about the same as he has for a while. Which was awful. Stanton may have to join John Franco in Mets Relievers I Only Want to See Pitching on ESPN Classic . . . There is a series of articles unleashing the behind-the-scenes dirty little secret that Mike Piazza has been playing hurt. Stunning. 60 Minutes they are not. He's been slumping badly, and may as well be shelved in this floating corpse of a season. Just pull him out for big games like spoiler time in Atlanta.

And, as if to rebut my post last Thursday, the Sports Shark has once again bashed Bull Durham. Ignoring the fact that any writer who can pen 3,500 words on Varsity Blues should not be consulted for opinions on great sports films, and refraining from posting my 37 Reasons Why Bull Durham Is Not a Chick Flick (offhand, Reason #23: the words "cock" and "pussy," in the same sentence no less, are not uttered in any chick flick), I'll elect to take the high road. Bull Durham is a baseball fan's flick. Those most entertained by it seem to be those most empassioned by the national pastime. That collection of folks does not include the Sports Guy, who is a huge Red Sox fan but not much of a baseball fan. This depiction can be slung upon an enormous quotient of Red Sox Nation, unfortunately. People who follow / bitch about the Sox every season aren't necessarily big baseball fans; in fact, most aren't. It doesn't require much to be able to lump yourself in with those oppressed, denied masses of Sawx fans across the globe; you don't even have to keep up with them in The Globe. You just have to be from Boston, or the Boston area, or have had a relative once who lived there, or not. And then you can buy your Burleson-era blue-on-red cap and support the Sox and bitch about The Curse and holler "Yankees Suck." I must mention that this wicked label cannot be applied to Rob Russell -- not even close -- nor a few other friends of ours, nor a great number of folks on SOSH, Kyle at ECA, Peter Gammons, etc. But I'll bet you dollahs to dunkin' donuts that for every Sox fan with a broad base of baseball knowledge you've got a twelve-pack of folks who are "die-hard" fans because's it's fashionable, and who couldn't care less about baseball outside of Beantown, yet they blather with just as much bravado, perhaps more.

And if you're Sports Guy, you can have a national sports column without ever writing about anything baseball-related that isn't Sox- or Yankees-related, save an occasional "I went to the All-Star Game and all I brought back was this lousy column that reads like MTV News" piece to mix in with needless minutia about the NBA, rah-rahs on the Patriots, and which team his dog picked in the Browns-Bengals game. And in failing to ever illustrate any deep-rooted interest in baseball beyond Boston's borders, Sports Guy takes himself out of the candidacy of the baseball fans who most enjoy and appreciate Bull Durham. They aren't women, they're baseball fanatics. Maybe if it had been called Bull Braintree or Spinner Lowell, he might have been reeled in. But, no. Maybe, as rumored for years, John Cusack will finally adapt (and likely destroy) Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch (as a Sox National's plight instead of an Arsenal fan's) and that with resonate with him. In the meantime, lay off Bull Durham. Just because certain idiots like it doesn't mean it isn't great.

Wow, that came off as much nastier than I intended. I guess that wasn't the high road. I told you I was bitter today. I could assuage the anti-Sox fan sentiment by explaining that the ratio is far, far worse within the Yankee fan contingent, but I won't. And let's not get into Mets fans, please; Cuckoo's Nest comparisons hit a little too close to home.
The Burden of Always Being Right

I wrote this before the season started:

Last spring I was guardedly optimistic about the Sox, but didn't really know how high to set my expectations - and was rewarded by a rollicking season that kept me entertained, apprehensive, and exhilarated until the bitter (and I do mean bitter) end. The 2004 Red Sox enter the season with extremely lofty aspirations, boasting a re-tooled pitching staff with, arguably, the best front 3 starters in the American League, a rock-solid middle relief corps, and a stud closer. The offense is one year removed from one of the all-time great seasons, and while almost certain not to reach 2003's ridiculous peak, is still among the league's most potent and most balanced. On paper, the Sox and the Yankees are clearly - clearly - the two best teams in the AL. Which, to be honest, leaves me with a vaguely knotty feeling in my stomach.

I played a ton of golf before my daughter was born, at my best routinely scoring in the mid-80s. Not a great player, but good enough to expect reasonably good things every time I teed off. As a result (in combination with my limited ability to control my temper), when things went wrong, as they always do in a round of golf, I'd get frustrated, then pissed, then volcanic, nearly every time I played. I was cursed by my own expectations. Now, I might play 5 rounds a year, and never, ever go to the driving range to practice. When I do play, though, golf's a lot more fun, because every great shot is a revelation, and I can shrug off every miserable shank as a function of my lack of practice. I don't care about my score, and I enjoy myself a lot more. And the dirty little secret is that my average score hasn't got much worse because I'm a lot more relaxed on every swing.

In a nutshell, then, I worry that the Sox 2004 season winds up more like my pre-child golf game than my current game. Lots of promise, but lots of tension followed by gnashing of teeth and underperforming. Maybe they should go knock up some groupies.

Seriously, it's a curse being this prescient.
Games 107 through 109 - Red Sox
Doing Just Enough to Eke By

Detroit Tigers 4, Red Sox 3
Red Sox 7, Tigers 4
Red Sox 11, Tigers 9
Record: 60-49
August Record: 4-3

At various points this weekend, I was incensed, bitter, euphoric, disgusted, melancholy, mildly pleased, and simply done with the 2004 Red Sox. I can't decide whether I love or hate this team. After Friday's loss (the Sox are now 7-15 in 1-run games), they were 2 games out of the Wild Card chase and I was seriously contemplating a Soxbbatical - hell, it worked last year. At the end of the weekend, thanks to the Orioles (finally!), the Sox closed back into a flat-footed tie with the Rangers and Angels - but I'm still not convinced that they've turned anything around.

The good people over at SOSH are placing bets in the Sox' standing with regard to the Wild Card at the end of August. A sizable majority of the group likes the Sox to be at least a game or 2 in front of the competition. To which I say, please ship some of what you're smoking to suburban Washington, DC. Or, more to the point, what about this Sox team gives you any confidence that they'll play up to their potential in August when they haven't come close in any other month?

I'm waiting, waiting, waiting for that singular event that defines this team's championship chase, but after a month that reads like some kind of morse code cry for help from one of Whitney's old girlfriends (Since July 10, the Sox' ledger reads L, L, W, L, W, L, W, L, L, W, L, W, W, W, L, W, L, L, W, W, L, L, W, W) I'm beginning to wonder if this season's symbol will be a treadmill. If they can't rip off at least 7 of 10 during the upcoming homestand against Tampa Bay, Chicago, and Toronto, well, then...they'll be 10 games closer to ending this maddening season. Jesus, I sound like a mental patient. I simply cannot put my finger on the things that are making me crazy about this team.

One historical note from the weekend's series (and, not coincidentally, one of the most aggravating episodes) came from Tim Wakefield's "performance" against the Tigers yesterday. Like the nursery rhyme says, when Wake's good, he's great, and when he's bad, he's awful. (You don't know that one? Perhaps you should read more.) The 6 homeruns he allowed to the Tigers yesterday placed him squarely in the latter category. He's the first pitcher since 1932 to allow that many homeruns and win a game, and only the third in history. Kudos, Timmy!

Tried to call Whitney while I watched Art Howe walk Larry Walker to get to Jadier Molina in the bottom of the 9th on Saturday. Probably better that I couldn't reach him.

Apologies for the fragmented ramblings, but at this point in the Sox season, my writing resembles their play.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Game 107 - Mets
Too Good for Milwaukee's Best (Blasphème!)

Mets 11, Brewers 6
Record: 52-55

It was an afternoon game, and by the time I was able to grab a score, the top of the first had finished. 6-0, Mets. Victor Zambrano had to be happy with his new team now, eh? And since more than 10 minutes had elapsed since Rick Peterson began working with the pitcher, that should be plenty of run support for him, correct? Well . . . the jury appears to still be sequestered on this particular matter. Zambrano promptly allowed three hits, two walks (the stat that Met fans are watching most closely), and three runs to let the Brew Crew back in it.

Before we go further, we should take a minute to praise the first-inning barrage. A 2-run double by Mike Cameron, who was moved up in the lineup following yesterday's request, immediately followed by a 3-run homer off the big bat of David "If Jacking Balls Out Is Wrong, I Don't Wanna Be" Wright, immediately followed by another poke from Vance Wilson, who was behind the plate after yesterday's complaint from this forum. Six quick ones. Gorgeous.

After "Uncle Zam" Zambrano handed out a little welfare to the Brewers in the first, the Mets went in order in Top 2. The Brewers then could have cut away further but ran themselves out of a run when Scott Podsednik, the infrequently-caught base stealer, was gunned down by Vance Wilson. That's Vance Wilson, folks, Exhibit A for the managerial scribbling of "Piazza - 3" into the scorecard every day. Podesednik's CS preceded a Bill Hall triple, one which Zambrano escaped unscathed after a big strikeout of Geoff Jenkins.

The Mets struck again in the fourth, this time with some more help from the increasingly shaky Milwaukee infield. After two quick outs, consecutive ground balls were mishandled a la Mets vs. Braves last weekend, opening the door for a Hidalgo single, a Cameron walk, and a David Wright 3-run double. That'd be 6 RBI's for Wright, i.e., two more than he had totaled in his two weeks in the majors. After the Mets tacked one on when Wilson singled home Wright in the 6th to make it 11-3 (these two guys need to go out and hit a brewery tour together after this day at the plate), and what with Zambrano settling down nicely, things looked comfortable. Too comfortable.

In the last of the 6th, Vance Wilson was doing a little daydreaming about his previous AB's and committed a little catcher's interference. (For his part, Dave Wright had another error in the 3rd -- harmless in retrospect, but still not a great sign.) The next batter grounded one to Wright, who fired to Joe McEwing at second . . . who dropped it.

[Dammit, I knew I forgot something in yesterday's long-winded extravaganza. Super Joe McEwing had had consecutive outstanding nights at the plate -- multiple-hit, multiple-RBI stints in the hobbled Kaz Matsui's stead. (Not sure which of the gang hobbled Matsui, maybe they flew Kathy Bates in, but it was a good call any which-a-way.) And I forgot to applaud Super Joe. Sure, he'd committed a throwing error when they put him at SS (then they put Reyes there the next game and he had one as well; I guess you can pretty much ink in an E-6 every game no matter who they throw out there). But his contributions were finally of some consequence instead of the usual "hustles down the line every time, even though the throw beats him by three steps," "has excellent dugout chatter," or "the most patient 5/1 K/BB hitter in the league." And I failed to say something. In a moment of blink-and-you'll-miss-it, the window closed. Granted, it was a window smaller than those on my daughter's Fisher-Price Little People house, but I should have seen it coming. 0-for-5, one costly error.]

Zambrano struck out the next guy but gave up a single to the following batter, and the bases were full. Enter Pedro "Feliz Navidad" Feliciano, as in "I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas by tossing you a meatball for you to clear the bases with a double." Nice relief of Victor Zambrano. It's like taking a Tums and realizing you swallowed a sand burr. Feliciano, after delivering all three of his inherited runners safely home, walked a batter and induced a fly-out before getting the hook. Ricky Bottalico stepped in, though, and was yet another hero of the day. Two and a third innings worth of work without any damage helped the Mets cruise to the 11-6 victory.

Knocking the schlitz out of the Milwaukee Brewers in this series didn't salvage the Mets' situation -- they didn't even gain much ground in the division thanks to the Strohs' debacle last night against Atlanta (thank you, David Weathers). But a sweep at Miller Park is undeniably a sorely needed step in the right direction. David Wright certainly demonstrated what he's capable of doing; he's not quite a threat to break Mike Schmidt's records just yet, but keep an eye on him. And Vance Wilson, one of the few Mets' genuine draft picks that made it all the way up the ladder, has been solid with the bat and the glove (minus the interference and the occasional pabst ball). Sure, he's an icehouse on the basepaths, but that's his only drawback. Yes, we're still worried about Jose Reyes's hamm's, and the bullpen is capable of pitching like someone slipped them mickey's, and Kris Benson could crumble under the media-meisters brau-beating him and his wife on Page 6. But there's no time to think about that stuff now -- when a little lite shines on your season, enjoy the high life.

Hmm -- while writing the last paragraph, I was reminded of Shane Spencer. Not sure why.

Next up: the St. Louis Cardinals . . . at Busch. Oh, I don't have the energy for this now.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Game 106 - Mets
What Made Milwaukee Famous . . . Wasn't Their Baseball Team

Mets 6, Brewers 5
Record: 51-55

This clinches it. No, not the division, or the wild card, or a .500 record, or my bet with Rob, or even the plateau of the not-awful-season. No, this clinches that I will be trading in my NFL Sunday Ticket next year in exchange for the Extra Innings package. It's too agonizing to struggle to keep abreast of updates while sitting through Orioles-Mariners (a.k.a. the dull teen comedy), A's-Yankees (the predictable horror flick), and Red Sox-Devil Rays (the slow-developing but ultimately uproarious dark comedy). Flipping between three or more games with expert dexterity is fun . . . for everyone except a wife, but I should be watching the Mets, that's all. And I will be -- next year in their glorious title run.

Not that promises made in this space are necessarily worth the paper they're not really written on. Consider this entry from a certain writer we'll simply refer to as "rob":

May 31, 2003
Whitney will be pleased to know that I'm days away from pulling
the trigger on DirecTV, a move that was finally catalyzed by my digital cable
cutting out during the Sox' scintillating comeback against the Yankees on
Wednesday. My wife doesn't know it yet, but we're getting the Extra Innings
package. I'm gonna feed this addiction, baby.
Isn't it funny how typos can change the entire meaning? Leaving out "1,000" before "days away" resulted in a misleading message. Poor "rob" with his priorities all out of whack, putting things like kids' education before Red Sox viewing.

Anyway, the Mets staved off what would have been a bad loss after coming back from a 3-1 hole in the 7th. Thanks to some Mettish defense by the Brew Crew in that inning, the Mets posted their third 5-run inning in two games and took a 6-3 lead, one that neither Mike Stanton nor Braden Looper could ruin with gopher balls in the 8th and 9th, respectively. Always exciting, nothing routine, and that's what makes the case so strong for getting to watch games rather than follow them online or via the ticker. Yes, blood pressure will rise and stomach ulcers may appear. All part of the scar tissue any club worth its salt leaves on its fans.

Mike Cameron hit another home run last night. Another solo home run, to be specific, as of his 23 swats, something like 18 or 19 have been without men on base. If I'm an opposing pitcher, I'm considering going into the stretch against Cameron with the bases empty. If I'm Art Howe, I'm considering moving him up in the lineup (despite his .236 average) to try to generate some RBI's for this cat. If I'm Whitney Lester, I am rather enjoying this recent power display despite the uncanny dearth of runners being knocked in by it.

Mike Piazza has been playing a lot more games behind home plate, enabling (a) Todd Zeile to extend his 2-for-21 slump a bit at 1B and (b) the Brewers to pad their baserunning stats (3 SB's last night). After all of the clamor surrounding Piazza's 90-foot relocation, it seems the Mets have the same sort of memory lapses that plague me after the word "another" meets the phrase "Jameson on the rocks." Piazza's still not a good defensive catcher, Vance Wilson and Jason Phillips still are (though Phillips, who I claimed couldn't hit his way out of a paper bag this year, has in fact hit his way out of the lineup), there is still no solid first baseman Piazza would displace, and he'd still have to miss games regularly if he's catching. Art, what you're doing with Mike Piazza . . . I'm not seeing it.

[Dammit, if Hoosiers can invade my television with the ubiquitous infestation of termites -- pleasant, likeable termites -- then I can rerun a joke here. Without exaggeration, this fine film has aired within the last three months on each of the following stations: ESPN, ESPN Classic, AMC, FMC, TCM, Bravo, Spike, TBS, TNT, USA, probably a network or two, and last night on CMT (Country Music Television; Hoosiers is not known for its country music, for those who have no television). The film is one of the best sports movies ever, make no mistake, but overexposure destroys even the best things, sometimes beyond recovery. (It took me over a decade to re-appreciate Born in the U.S.A. for the brilliant album it is.) The Sports Guy broke the film down online (very cleverly), ESPN named it the best sports movie of the last 25 years, and they've issued several collector's/director's cut/etc. editions of the flick on DVD already (including one with the alternate ending where Hickory loses by 42 and Coach Dale is fired for sexual harassment after telling the players he loves them). Speaking of that moment -- that's what the real problem is for me; I can't help but tune in even if just for those special scenes that fire and/or choke you up. The "I love you guys" quote, heard twice bookending the final game, is worth tuning in 1,000 times. Rocky has been aired to death, but "Ain't gonna be no rematch/Don't want one" is a moment where your thumb locks up and you cannot flip away before it's uttered. The Natural is being shown more often than the news, but you are morally obligated to wait for "Pick me out a winner, Bobby" and the ensuing light show if you come across it. The same rules apply to "You wanna have a catch?/I'd like that," "You didn't get me down, Ray," and "I love Brian Piccolo, and I'd like all of you to love him, too; tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him." The lighter side even warrants hanging around until "Just a bit outside," "Old time hockey," and especially "Hey Yankees, you can take your apology and your trophy and shove it straight up your ass!" Along with any line from Bull Durham. The promise of these scenes to come sucks you in like a tractor beam, and as such, they should be treasured like the jewels they are instead of thrown around on cable channels willy-nilly. Hoosiers on CMT can only lead to Eight Men Out on Court TV, Field of Dreams on Sci-Fi, Bull Durham on the Travel Channel, and Brian's Song on MTV. Please keep our cinematic masterpieces sacred, people.

Speaking of Bull Durham, apparently after it topped several online sports movie lists, it's received a bit of backlash from half-wits in every corner of the Internet. The fire was lit by Ye Olde Sports Guy, who called it something of a travesty of a mockery of a sham that it was #1, if only because of Tim Robbins' pitching delivery was implausible. Anybody who could be that bothered by Robbins' intentionally loopy throwing style needs only to see one Kevin Appier start to clear out this mental blockage. Appier's form makes Nuke LaLoosh look like Tom Seaver. Anyway, it's a brilliant work, and it certainly doesn't need me to defend it, but peanut gallery numbnuts who ride in the wake of a (clearly misguided) columnist's wave hurling baseless insults at such a worthwhile film are about as artful as a Yankee Stadium catcall. Anyway, Will Rogers once said, "Sports film lists are a good deal like elections and marriages, there's no accounting for anyone's taste. Every time we see a bridegroom we wonder why she ever picked him, and it's the same with Public Officials and lists about sports movies." He was ahead of his time, that Will Rogers. Now back to the show.]

Today Victor Zambrano makes his Mets debut against Victor Santos and the Brewers. It's the first time two Victors have squared off on opposing mounds since . . . ever? At least since the 40's, it seems. Well, let's hope Zambrano's premiere fares better than one Kristin (real name, making Whitney look macho . . . never mind, not possible) Benson. Let's hope he's the victor. Let's hope he makes Santos the Victoria. Let's . . . not continue this unfunny circuit any more. Go Mets, sweep them Brewers.
Games 105 & 106 - Red Sox
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Red Sox 6, Devil Rays 2
Devil Rays 5, Red Sox 4
Record: 58-48
August Record: 2-2

Good thing I turned over a new leaf on this team, or yesterday's gutpunch of a loss might have had me well out on a ledge. It's one thing to lose a game when the other team outplays you, or because of dumb luck. It's another thing altogether ("It's another thing.") to lose because your coaching staff shits the bed.

Two major game management faux pas cost the Sox last night, and kept them from entering today's off-day with a great deal of confidence and momentum. Bronson Arroyo had been dealing for 6 innings, allowing just 1 earned run on 3 hits and 88 pitches. The Sox held a 4-1 advantage when the first two D-Ray hitters in the bottom of the 7th reached base (on a single and a walk). Thanks for your service, Mr. Arroyo, the bullpen will pick you up now. Right? Um, not so much.

Julio Lugo reached on Kevin Youkilis' error to load the bases with nobody out, bringing up the left-handed Toby Hall. Okay, Bronson, tough break - Embree's gonna get you out of this mess. Thanks for a gutty performance. Right? You'd think, but, again, no.

After Hall hit the predictable grand slam to give the Rays a 5-4 lead - and make Arroyo's numbers look a lot worse than his performance might dictate, again - the Sox had a chance in the top of the 9th to scratch back into the game. With fleet Dave Roberts on second and nobody out, Doug Mientk...whatever singled to center. As strong-armed D-Ray centerfielder Rocco Baldelli scooped the ball - his momentum driving him towards the plate - Roberts was two steps shy of third base. Sox third base coach Dale Sveum brought back terrifying memories of "Wave 'em in" Wendall Kim, windmilling his arms as Roberts sped for home.

Baldelli's accurate throw beat Roberts by 10 feet and Hall's proficient block of the plate stopped the Sox outfielder well short of his planned destination and gave the D-Rays a much-needed out. So, in summary, Sweum sent his guy home against long odds with nobody out in a one-run game. Brilliant. And, of course, the 2004 Anti-Rally Sox folded like a cheap suit and failed to plate Mient...Chocolate Chip from 2nd with 1 out.

Bravo, Terry, and Huzzah, Dale - if we can't lose on our own merit, let's find ways to gold-plate victories for our mediocre opponents. I particularly enjoyed Francona's post-game comments, when he noted that Arroyo had "earned the right to get out of the inning." Really, player-friendly monkey-boy? I believe I've earned the right to play naked Twister with Jennifer Love Hewitt, but her management - not to mention my wife - will certainly frown upon it. By virtue of your job title, you've earned the goddamn obligation to make hard decisions that increase your team's chances of winning, not the right to get a pass because you're a nice guy. To paraphase Alec Baldwin's character from Glengarry Glen Ross, I don't give a fuck if you're a nice guy. If you want to stay here, CLOSE, dammit!

(Edited to correct the misspelling of Sveum's name. I had it with a 'w' before. Silly me, should have known that this guy wouldn't have a 'w' anywhere near his name.)