Tuesday, April 05, 2005

A Little Too Early To Have My Head Buried In My Hands

Game 1 - Mets
Reds 7, Mets 6
Record: 0-1

My post yesterday seemed schizophrenic and spastic, and a few hours later anyone could see why -- that's my natural mental state where the Mets are concerned. Nine innings of New York Mets Opening Day baseball ran a gamut of highs and lows it takes many clubs a month to experience. That the wave of emotions would culminate in a colossal punt in the groin was utterly predictable, but here's hoping it's just another valley awaiting the inevitable ascent up the next peak.

Consider this roller coaster:

  • Kaz Matsui homers in his first at-bat of the season . . . again! What a tease this guy is.
  • Pedro allows single-single-homer in batters 2-3-4 of his first game as a Met. Made the call to Rob to thank him and his Red Sox for steering their waste management to Queens, NY.
  • Carlos Beltran homers to tie the game. Just happy to see a high-priced free agent paying off, even just once.
  • Pedro slides into a nasty groove and strikes out 12 through five. Rob calls back to say, "You're welcome."
  • Beltran breaks the tie with a single off David Weathers. Memo to David Weathers: please stay in the National League, old friend.
  • Cliff Floyd homers to make it 6-3, just part of his 3-hit day. Clifford, old buddy, . . . all that stuff about dumping you this off-season? We were just kidding, of course.
  • Manny Aybar keeps the middle relief a large question mark by allowing a run, but Dae-Sung Koo pitches well to keep the lead a two-run one for Braden Looper to close it out.
  • I wander across the street to The Dubliner to catch the end of the game on the tube. The Nationals are on, but after Kenny Lofton goes deep (a bad omen for the Nats if there ever was one), it's 7-1 and I ask the kindly barkeep to switch it over to watch the Mets.
  • Braden Looper comes on and promptly surrenders a single, then another prodigious bomb to Adam Dunn. As soon as Dunn connected, I bellowed an "Oh, God!" that startled my neighbors at the bar who weren't paying close attention, including a self-proclaimed (several times) Mets fan who proceeded to wow the crowd with trivial sports facts and figures that were astonishingly inaccurate for the frequency and verve with which they were delivered.
  • The very next batter, Joe Randa, ends the game with a towering ball over the left-field fence. While Dunn's launch was a no-doubter, this one seemed like it might possibly get gloved, but alas, it was gone. When Cliff Floyd turned his back, though, another sinful groan seeped out of my mouth, and the flurry of painful phone calls sent and received began.
  • I asked my bartender friend to, upon any future requests from me to flip over to the Mets game, punch me in the eye. He quickly agreed.

The interesting thing brought to light is that throughout most of the Met analyses offered up by my comrades in bloggery, Braden Looper didn't stand out as an area of grave concern. While the rest of the pen is sketchy at best, his performance last year was solid enough to overlook him as a 2005 worry. Here's the thing . . . coming into last year, there were alarm bells sounding all over the place about the tenuous closer spot. His 2003 Marlin record was woeful enough to frighten Mets Township going into '04, but he effectively laid those fears to rest by appearing in 18 Mets games before allowing an earned run. This year he didn't even throw 18 pitches before giving up two. His ERA is infinity, he has a blown save and a loss without recording an out . . . yeah, it is only one game (if either Rob or I have to hear that tired refrain again, someone's taking one in the ear), but what a horrible, horrible start to the season. We've done the Scary Closer thing before, and, uh . . . thank you, no. Just when you thought your ulcer had cleared itself up . . .

Unfortunately, it's not that uncommon, especially in Metville, for seemingly solid players to see the bottom drop out of their game one year after a respectable season. Ask Jason Phillips about it. Or David Weathers, or Mike Stanton, or especially Roberto Alomar. And it's not always drugs or booze or a rash of injuries or wealth-bred complacency. It's quite simply that these players forget how to play baseball. They come back from the winter and they just cannot remember how to hit, throw or catch. I remember asking Robby Alomar before the '02 season how he managed to hit so well, and he shrugged it off with a smile, saying "Aw, I don't know." Two months later, while stitching up my Little Robby voodoo doll, I faintly recalled seeing him pause a beat after saying that and give a look like, "Oh, crap, I mean I really don't know!" It happens, and if you think it doesn't, you're fooling yourself. It happens on a grand scale, like it did to Mark Wohlers, Rick Ankiel, and I think Steve Blass in the 70's, not to mention our own Mackey Sasser. It even happens in other sports, like Ian Baker-Finch and David Duval in golf and Kevin Costner in baseball movies. It even happened to me -- actually it happens on an ongoing basis to me, when I throw darts after 10 beers. You wake up and you cannot, for the life of you, remember how to play the damn game.

The weird thing about the Mets' occurrences is that, with the dead-horse exception of Robby "I actually retired in 2001" Alomar, it's normally a case of pretty-good becoming pretty-bad instead of the massive downturns that receive massive press. Jason Phillips was a prime example. So surprisingly solid two seasons ago, he kept us all wondering last year when he was going to revert to that form. But we should have known -- he wasn't slumping, he just forgot how to hit well. Like it was a set of car keys Rob lost on the beach during a love escapade, or a pair of glasses Rob lost on the beach during a love escapade, (note to Rob: get a friggin' room, cheapskate), he just misplaced his ability and he can't seem to get it back. He's a good kid, I hope he does find it one day. (I'm talking about Jason -- Rob's a good kid, too, but his stuff is just gone, man.)

Anyway . . . what we learned on Opening Day can be summed up in three points:

  1. Pedro and Beltran should make for an exciting season.
  2. The bullpen -- top to bottom -- should make for an exciting season.
  3. Exciting seasons make my palms sweat, and when my palms get sweaty I tend to lose my grip on reality rather quickly.


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