Thursday, June 30, 2005

Turning the Corner

Game 77 - Mets

Phillies 6, Mets 3
Record: 38-39

Some days you win. Some days you lose. Some days it rains. And some days . . . it rains and you lose. Think about it.

Kaz Ishii "turned the corner" in the fourth inning last night. Turning the corner is a phrase I usually reserve for people like my friend Jay Saunders. Jay's a great guy, apart from the fact that he's an Atlanta-bred Braves fan living in Manhattan, but when he drinks to excess (God love him) a strange phenomenon occurs. One moment he'll be in the midst of an interesting conversation with you on a topic such as bluegrass music, home brewing, journalism, the price of oil, or marathons, and the very next moment he'll be stumbling around, spouting non sequiturs, and generally channeling Otis, Arthur, and Jim Ignatowski all at once. It's a split second between in control and completely out of control, and once the out of control guy shows up, it's best to try to get him to bed as quickly and painlessly as possible. Such is the way of Kaz Ishii.

Ishii pitched the first three innings without incident, then turned the corner without warning.

Home Run

Skip Willie, who at this point recognizes a corner-turn when he sees one, raced to the mound and ushered Kaz out of the game and into the showers. Kaz, a Dr. Pepper Big Gulp and a chicken-fried steak should ease the hangover, buddy.

I'm easily amused, but I laughed at this quote:
"I don't think my control was too off. I think I just became a little too
cautious that inning," Ishii said through a translator.
If his control ever does reach the "too off" point, Mr. Met had better take refuge in the clubhouse, and the safety net behind home plate probably isn't large enough to protect the fans.

That's about all for today. The Mets play the rubber match this afternoon, weather permitting. Pedro Martinez versus Jon Lieber, and it's their rubber match as well, sort of. Lieber and the Yankes beat Pedro and the Sox in Game 2 of last fall's ALCS, but that was BC (Before Comeback). Pedro's Mets beat Lieber's Phils earlier this year. Cue the Fox Sports melodramatic pseudo-intensity: This time it's . . . just not personal in the least.

Oh, and a good Mets site has popped up on the blogosphere radar. The Musings and Prophecies of Metstradamus is a worthy addition to the links at right. You'll laugh, you'll cry (because he posts the current standings at all times), it's the feelgood blog of the summer. Makes me wistful for the heyday of East Coast Agony, RIP.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Baseball Fever

Game 76 - Mets

Mets 8, Phillies 3
Record: 38-38

Great night to be an Extra Innings ticketholder (unless you like the Boston Red Sox, of course, but I'm not sure I know anyone who fits that description). Every night's a good night to have made the investment, but this one was just about letter-perfect in timing and result.

The Mets sculpted a convincing win over the sagging Phils. And there was much rejoicing. But follow along for the post-game fun.

Moments after Danny Graves puts the finishing touches on an outing seemingly designed to provide Braden Looper a little job security breathing room, I jump channels just in time to see Brian Roberts hit Mike Stanton's one and only pitch of the night into the left-field stands to end the Orioles-Yankees game. Bedlam in Baltimore, with the best news for the O's being that Mike Stanton can probably go again tonight (and the best camera shot of the night being a post-walk-off glimpse of random, wide-eyed box seat fan Calvin Ripken mouthing "Wow . . . great game.") I can't stay in the Inner Harbor for long, though, as I'm onward and upward to Beantown. The Sox had turned a 5-3 deficit into an 8-5 lead, but now it's 8-7, thanks to a pair of runs allowed by Mike Timlin.

[It should be noted that both Peter Gammons and Rob Russell had heralded Timlin's '05 performance in the very recent past; PG selected Timlin among three guys he hoped would make the All-Star team, while double-R spouted, "Mike Timlin's been as good as any setup man in baseball with his 1.21 ERA as evidence." More fodder for the reverse mojo whammy Rob and his Sox enjoy.]

Anyway, no time to worry about runs 6 & 7 because run #8, a.k.a. the game-tying run, is on-base in the 9th. Keith Foulke is sweating, but his fans are even more. He struck out the first batter on a pitch that was decidedly outside, but the second batter doubled. After retiring Aaron Boone (somebody should), Foulke goes 3-1 but gets the same outside "strike" called. The home plate ump, one QuesTech night away from calling games in our softball league, later squeezed Foulke on a key pitch that led to a critical walk, but for this at-bat, he merely set the table for some karmic justice: Jhonny "B. Godoe" Peralta slapped the next pitch (also outside) into right to tie the game. After a couple of walks, a mound visit, some more sweat-pouring, and an 0-2 count to Travis Hafner, the Foulke Implosion concluded when Hafner took advantage of quirky, old Fenway Park's short porch down the line. Grand Slam. A speedy 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth later, the Sox were embarrassed again and more importantly, I was off to the next game.

While no other games had quite the finish of these two, the slate was full of tight games of some consequence, including an extra-inning set in Texas and tense one-run contests in Detroit, St. Louis, Washington, and especially Colorado, where the Rockies managed five in the eighth to top Houston and ruin a sure Roger Clemens win. [tear] (I know you're wondering: Johnny Franco had only a small hand in the Astro bullpen collapse.)

Okay, so for those folks who actually thought this might have some Mets content, here's a crumb or two . . .

Victor Zambrano was Al Leiter last night. 5 innings, 101 pitches, 1 run allowed. Those were Senator Al's numbers for most of the first four months last year. (There isn't room here to type his numbers from the last two months, but you can find them in the official Mets document Reasons Why We're Not Giving Al Leiter $7 Million.) It's tough on the 'pen when you can only get five from a starter, but you really can't complain too loudly about this outing from Zambrano. He struck out seven and walked just three; one of those walks became the only run he allowed, highlighting exactly why he needs to keep those BB's down. Relief came from Heath Bell, Royce Ring (insert bell-ring jokes here), and the aforementioned Danny "Digging My Own" Graves. Graves stepped in for two innings, permitting just two hits. That they were a pair of bombs to left field is worth mentioning, I suppose. Still, his gopher balls were inconsequential thanks to the flurry of hits recorded by a recently reinvigorated offense.

Carlos Beltran had himself a nice night, doubling and tripling to cap off and initiate rallies, respectively. He also hit a lazy fly ball to left that Keith Hernandez slyly noted would have been a home run in the wiffle ball park Phillies use as a home stadium. Mike "Your Starting NL All-Star Catcher" Piazza continued his slow, plodding ascent toward decent numbers with a two-run home run and an RBI single. He's hit .321 in June, and though his power stats continue to trickle away, he's still capable of producing, probably best suited for the 6-spot.

David Wright collected his 41st RBI on a single in the fifth and his 13th error on a throw in the eighth. Equal parts pleasing and distressing.

And finally, newly promoted Jose Offerman notched his first hit and ribbie as a Met with a pinch-single. Offerman's call-up was remarkable only in that the Mets now have the worst two players from the Boston Red Sox' 2002 starting lineup. Seriously, if you could have any two guys from:

C Scott Hatteberg
1B Brian Daubach
2B Jose Offerman
3B Shea Hillenbrand
SS Nomar Garciaparra
LF Manny Ramirez
CF Carl Everett
RF Trot Nixon
DH Dante Bichette

. . . would there be any two you'd want less (acknowledging that Bichette is retired)? Nomar is a nearly permanent DL resident and Everett is a jackelope, but the reuniting of Daubach and Offerman gets slightly fewer people a-titter than that of Peaches and Herb. But what do I know? They both drove in runs last night.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Little Bighorn

Games 75 & 76 - Red Sox

Indians 7, Red Sox 0
Indians 5, Red Sox 3 (in progress)

Let me get this out of the way quickly, in hopes of keeping the Sox in tonight's game:

The Red Sox suck, and I don't think they have any real chance of doing much of anything this season if they continue to suck at their present levels of suckitude. Generic complaint about pitching. Generic rant about underperforming hitter. Generic disgruntlement with Mark Bellhorn.

There, now that we've got that settled, we can move on. Uncanny, just un...freaking...canny the power I hold to influence the Sox' fortunes one way by merely mentioning that I think they're tacking in the opposite direction. "Dominant," I called them in my last post. "It's almost unfair," I added. Hence the text that started this entry.

In addition to my work here, I also:
  • Worked on Howard Dean's presidential campaign. I was the guy that convinced him a contrived yelp of emotion would energize voters across the country.
  • Convinced IBM execs that they should focus on hardware - no way anyone would need an operating system built by a nebbishy Harvard dropout.
  • Served briefly as David Caruso's agent, until right after Jade. Also, it was me who told Craig Kilborn that The Daily Show really didn't have any legs.
  • Authorized the Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen deal.
  • Greenlighted both Gigli and Battlefield Earth.

(Shhhh. While I'm typing this, well, let's just say things are happening. The Sox still suck.)

  • Told Eddie and Alex that, sure, Gary Cherone was a good fit.
  • Sold lots of real estate in the D.C. area in the mid-90s and invested the profits in AOL/Time Warner stock.

Now that you know the whole, sordid story, you'll understand if I can't be trusted to know my head from my backside. Read my blatherings at your own peril, gentle fan.

Monday, June 27, 2005

And for Dessert, a Kick in the Gut

Games 73 through 75 - Mets

Mets 6, Yankees 4
Mets 10, Yankees 3
Yankees 5, Mets 4
Record: 37-38

That was agonizing. After the beauty of Games 1 and 2 of this series, watching last night's contest was like tweezing my eyebrows out hair by hair. (Robby Alomar used to do exactly that in the Mets' clubhouse, coincidentally.) There was a palpable sense of doom throughout, aided mostly by mental errors, shoddy defense, a stunning lack of pitching control, and a thorough lack of fundamentals.

Kris Benson demonstrated what he learned from the Tom Glavine School of Nibbling, and although he was effective -- giving up only two runs through six, and one of them because of David Wright's 12th error of the year -- he was, at times, torturous to watch. He walked five guys, and always seemed to be picking away at the strike zone. It confounded the hitters, it fooled the home plate umpire (another in a long line of tough outings this year from the strike-callers), and it bugged me. Immediately after the Mets broke through for three runs (largely on the Yankees' own blunders) and gave him a 4-1 lead, Benson walked the leadoff hitter and was pulled. Not fundamentally sound.

Aaron Heilman promptly balked the runner to second; I promptly balked at him with many a foul word. Derek Jeter singled in that run a couple of pitches later . . . and took second on an ill-advised throw home from Carlos Beltran. Fundamentals, Carlos. If we get on our outfielders for making that obvious mistake in casual, beer-soaked, men's league softball, what should be said to you?

Two outs and one Gary Sheffield ejection later, A-Rod singled home Jeter. 4-3. Yes, the Yankees have been struggling mightily, and yes, the Mets took the first two ballgames, but if you leave a window open for them, they're coming in. It's that simple.

When Roberto Hernandez came on in the 8th with one on and one out, Joe Morgan (and many a Met fan) wondered why. Hernandez is a power pitcher, and the four batters he'd face were fastball hitters. Okay, Jeter can hit most anything, but Posada, Bernie, and good grief, especially Ruben Sierra are sitting dead red on nearly every pitch. Inserting Hernandez is playing to the Yankees' strengths, and just not fundamentally sound managing. Managing the bullpen should be a bit more of a cerebral exercise and less of a gag reflex than a number of skippers make it; Willie fell into a by-default move, and it very nearly cost them. A bases-loaded deep fly by Sierra was gloved, and the Township exhaled.

Mariano Rivera is superb enough that he needs no extolling here, but nobody goes 1-2-3 during the insurance-run-quest quite as frequently or weakly as the New York Mets.

And on came Braden Looper, the most fundamentally shaky of the major league closers (now that Danny Graves lost his job in Cincy; whoops). Like Benson in the 6th and Hernandez in the 8th before him, Looper opened things up with a walk. To the slump-adelic Tino Martinez. To get to A-Rod, the good Matsui, and Giambi. There aren't enough expletives in the English language, I decided about then.

A-Rod doubled down the line with David Wright playing so far off the bag he looked like he was employing the Giambi shift. Fellas: when Joe Morgan is hounding you about poor mental play half the night -- and he's right -- you need a refresher. "No doubles" time means infielders play the line and the outfielders give the batters a few steps. Unbelievable.

Matsui was intentionally walked, the only time all inning Looper looked comfortable. Giambi singled in two runs and ended the game, of course, because if you make it easy for a team like the New York Yankees, they will rub your nose in it. Looper's line was hideous and his future has to be in doubt. Every time out is a thrill ride for him. Omar Minaya was interviewed during the game and reiterated that he's looking for bullpen help; middle relief was figured to be the target, but maybe not?

In the end, there's a larger piece of the baseball puzzle the Mets seemed to be lacking. Fundamentals. Are there any on someone's trading block out there?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Zen and the Art of Baseball Fandom

Games 66 through 74 - Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Pittsburgh Pirates 5
Pirates 2, Red Sox 0
Red Sox 8, Pirates 0
Red Sox 10, Cleveland Indians 9
Red Sox 9, Indians 2
Red Sox 5, Indians 4
Red Sox 8, Philadelphia Phillies 0
Red Sox 7, Phillies 1
Red Sox 12, Phillies 8
Record: 44-30

Wicked hot streaks have a way of making a body philosophical about baseball. The Sox blew a 7-run lead this afternoon to the Phillies, as Fat David Wells literally melted in the mid-afternoon heat. Were this 2 weeks ago, I probably would have broken something. Were this last season, I certainly would have been headed to Home Depot to replace the window through which I'd hurled the remote. Today, I muttered a mild expletive about Alan Embree (which my daughter repeated - I really am Father of the Year) and briefly changed the channel to watch a bunch of 17 year-old girls and Korean women play really crappy golf.

I also went for a bike ride shortly after the Sox gave away the entire lead, and in an eerie echo of the game that ushered in the Era of Positivity in 2003, the Sox rewarded my calm with a stirring win. Maybe I should re-examine the value of deep, cleansing breaths and mystical stoicism in all areas of my life.

I'm a bit apprehensive at resuming my blogging activities, what with the Sox having ripped off 8 wins in 9 games since I last tickled the ebonies (black keyboard - go with it). Coy and Vance did a great job filling in for me and Whit, and the Sox have taken advantage of my failure to clog the information superhighway with my usual lyrical cholesterol to rocket into first place. Thanks, by the way, to Whit's arch-nemeses in the dirty south for taking 3 from the finally earthbound Orioles to ease the Sox' transition into the division lead.

The way the Sox have been winning has been remarkable. Over the last 13 games, 12 of them wins, Sox starters have been 9-0 with a sub-2.00 ERA. It's almost not fair that the offense has averaged nearly 7.5 runs per game over that span - even with a shutout at the hands of the Pirates in the mix. Opponents are averaging less than 3 runs per game over the same stretch. The Sox have simply been dominant. They expect to win, they play like it, and the results speak for themselves. Manny's hit 8 homers in his last 10 games. (Random aside - Manny should only have 7 in his last 10, but Citizen's Bank Park in Philly is ludicrously tiny. Philly pitcher Brett Myers was caught on camera mouthing "How the fuck did that get out?" after Manny's routine fly to right drifted into the seats in right for his 19th career grand slam.) Tizzle is unpitchable at the moment. Even Eeyore blistered the ball this afternoon. Meanwhile, Matt Clement is 9-1, 3.33, Good Wake has resurfaced after a long hiatus, with 1 ER and 13 hits in his last 22 innings, Mike Timlin's been as good as any setup man in baseball with his 1.21 ERA as evidence, and Keith Foulke's only given up a run in 1 of his last 10 outings. At the moment - and that sound you hear is the vigorous knocking of wood - it's almost unfair. Add the news that Curt Schilling may be back by the All-Star break, and it's easy to understand why things are carefree in the Nation.

It's a simple game, baseball. You hit the ball, you throw the ball, you catch the ball. Right now, there's not another team in the world doing those things better than the Sox, and that's all the zen I need.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Return of the Prosaic Prose

Games 67 through 72 - Mets

Mariners 5, Mets 0
Mariners 4, Mets 1
Mariners 11, Mets 5
Mets 8, Phillies 5
Phillies 8, Mets 4
Mets 4, Phillies 3
Record: 35-37

Rob and I probably shouldn't take vacations together like that -- this site might wither away to nothing. Somebody's got to stick around to comment on the good, the bad, and horrendous as it pertains to the Mets and Red Sox. Thanks go out to The Wheelhouse's Jerry and Gheorghe's TJ for semi-standing in; I can already see them forming their Leno/Letterman battlestations to fight each other for the MLC post when I retire and fade into obscurity.

A couple of trends extended themselves while we relaxed in the sun, i.e., chased our children around, got thrashed by mammoth waves, and drank beer as if our very lives depended on it. The Red Sox kept winning, for one. They've won nine of ten, and while my fortunate friend can elaborate on what this means for Boston's title defense, I only know that in the Case Bet, the Mets have gone from a ½-game to 6 ½ games behind the Red Hot Sox in two weeks. This bodes ill. Violently ill. The kind of ill a certain R. Russell of Virginia illustrated for parking lot wanderers a few weeks ago at the end of his boozy birthday celebration.

The other pattern that received continuation over my time away was the one where if I pay no attention, the Mets lose, and if I tune in attentively, they win. I've spent too many keystrokes already this season discussing the notion, but it just keeps happening. I went away, and the Mets replaced their equipment with balsa bats for their hitters and lacrosse balls for their pitchers. They were swept by the Mariners. For effect, I'll repeat: They were swept by the Mariners. This feat alone puts them into exclusive company; only the Kansas City Royals, a more obvious candidate for contraction than antidisestablishmentarianism, have managed to drop three straight to the M's like the Mets did. The new Big Three of the AL West -- Jamie Moyer, Ryan Franklin, and Gil Meche -- shut the Mets down. And throughout this wretched series, I saw nary an inning and almost no highlights. (The powers that be at ESPN have oddly opted not to profile bad games between last-place teams at the start of the hour.)

I didn't get to catch much of this Phils' series until yesterday's win. Now that I'm back in the New York Mets groove (Ace Frehley is rolling over in the mausoleum he sleeps in), I once again watch with the confidence that if I'm actively aboard the Metwagon, they stand a better-than-good chance of pulling it out. (Not to be confused with the better-than-good chance of Steve Phillips pulling it out at a company function.) Sure, part of me was anxiously waiting for the inevitable inning where Kaz Ishii would walk the bases full, even as he was polishing off one of his best performances of the year. Sure, I was dreading Doug Mient-K-wicz with the stick even after he homered yet again in the Citizens Bank wiffle yard. Sure, I was just certain Carlos "119 million dollars, 1 million All-Star votes, 8 home runs, 1 stolen base" Beltran would ground into a double play to kill a rally, even as he was doing exactly that. But I also had as much faith in the Mets' ability to claw their way to a fairly key win.

It was key only in that it saved them from another series loss and a general deepening of their nosedive out of contention. By taking two of three from the Phightin's, the Mets gave themselves a shred of confidence heading into Yankee Stadium this weekend. Of course, that shred may be decimated by the agitated Bombers, who find themselves just two games better than the lowly Mets after losing their seventh game in ten tries against the Devil Rays. (Tampa is 19-44 against the rest of the league, 7-3 against the Yanks. Love that.)

The Yankees seem to get periodically pissed off that they're losing to substantially lesser teams, snap out of their funk, and play like a $205M team for a noticeable stretch, then come unraveled against the weakest of opponents like Kansas City and Milwaukee. The 2005 New York Mets, currently stooped over at 35-37, must qualify as one of those weak opponents, whether they (or anyone in the Township) would want to admit it or not. Teams handcuffed by Joe Blanton, Ryan Franklin, and every struggling, two-pitch youngster on every crap club in the league are not usually a threat to post a host of crooked numbers against the likes of Moose and the Big Eunuch, not to mention the struggling, two-pitch youngster who throws Saturday for the Yankees. The Mets counter with Pedro, Glavine, and Benson, but the outcome of the series depends predominantly and simply on which Yankee team shows up -- the well-oiled machine that went on a 15-2 tear through the dregs (A's, M's, Tigers, Mets) and is 10-5 against National Leaguers, or the old, tired, achy, fat, contented but confused bunch of Shriners wheeling around the infield in their tiny Rolls-Royces and finding a way to lose to any team at any time. (By the way, that latter squad is my second favorite team in baseball to watch.)

The good news for the Mets -- aside from the developments of releasing Mike "My Career Is In" DeJean and DL-ing Kaz Doormatsui -- is that my two months of gallivanting about the nation with reckless abandon (where watching Mets games is concerned) have come to a close. I'm stuck here with little to do for the next six weeks except watch the Mets put the pieces together and make the surge back into divisional relevance. Hey, if the phriggin' Phillies can do just that, the Mets certainly can. And with Lucky Lester logging hours in Extra Innings, blogging ad nauseum and willing the lads to victory, you should find the ensuing turn-around neither surprising nor accidental. As The Undertones crooned so many years ago, "It's going to happen."*

[*1981 New Wave reference added for the benefit of Mike at East Coast Agony.]

Thursday, June 16, 2005


Games 64 through 66 - Mets

Athletics 5, Mets 0
Athletics 3, Mets 2
Mets 8, Athletics 3 (in progress)
Record: 32-33 and falling

See, Mets, when I give you a pass for a losing weekend, a pair of consecutive series losses, a middling 6-6 homestand, and a general lack of firepower, you're supposed to reward me with a level of effort that doesn't drive me to break stuff. Instead, you chose to operate at a level a few notches below "going through the motions." Honestly, the Mets look bored with this whole 162-game thing, as if they might actually have somewhere else they'd rather be. This is wholly unacceptable.

Tuesday night's game was the kind that drives a man to drink. I sat through inning after inning of eyesore baseball, waiting in vain for the Mets to shake off the extended nap they were taking at the Coliseum, but it never happened. The Mets scratched AA off Joe Blanton's itinerary and wrote in "Cooperstown." I kept thinking that I myself probably could've held the Mets to seven or eight runs Tuesday night. Just one game, though, right?

I'll repeat: Tuesday night's game was the kind that drives a man to drink. And drink I did last night, out and about with the minds behind Jerry's Wheelhouse. Fortunately, I paid little attention to the Mets' loss while it happened, and whatever memories I might've had of another bad loss to a bad team were washed away with cold draught beer. There was one lovely kick in the gut to the game: Marco Scutaro delivered the game-winning hit. Marco Scutaro, the former Met. The same Marco Scutaro who etched .213/.333/.347 numbers into the New York Mets record book two years ago. Nice.

Speaking of old acquaintances, Rob surely remembers old Sox 1B Brian Daubach, who was just called up from Norfolk with Miguel Cairo heading to the DL. Daubach was a former Met draft pick who spent a few solid seasons with the Red Sox, as I recall. I have fleeting memories of three-day-old stubble, a cockeyed stance, and a big plug of chew in his cheek. A better than occasional long ball, but not the lofty BA. Never great, never terrible. Welcome, Brian. I hope your stay aboard the baseball equivalent of the Titanic is enjoyable.

The latest contestant on "Whose Career Can We Resurrect Today?" is Ryan Glynn, starting pitcher for the Oakland A's. He's just made his way through four innings of one-run, one-hit (that's all we got, one goddamn hit?) ball against the Mets, whose new team mantra is "My Mama Always Told Me Not to Hit." Glynn, who hasn't had such an easy two trips through the lineup since his college days down the road at VMI, did walk the bases loaded last inning, but a groundball off the bat of Ramon Castro quickly ended that threat. Apparently the pitching coach came out and instructed Glynn, "You basically just walked three pitchers. Throw a strike."

Matsui is batting ninth in the AL park to get him fewer AB's. Willie's toying with doing this back in the NL parks as well. David Wright is finally batting second after every blog in Mets Township decried the idiocy of batting him sixth for the first two and a half months. (He's 0-for-2 today. Way to sell it, Dee-Dub.)

Wow. In the time I was writing the last paragraph (I type slowly, I guess), Kaz Matsui doubled, Jose Reyes singled him to third, and David Wright singled him in. Knowing full well how the Wheel of Inversely Proportional Blogging And Result (WIPBAR) works, if I simply log on and bash my boys all game long, is there a chance they'll never make an out? Carlos Beltran just homered to give the Mets the lead and I hadn't even gotten to berating him yet! Holy freakin' premonitions, Batman. I have to run, though, (getting ready for the beach trip Rob mentioned) so let me get this all out of the way quickly.

You are all really terrible baseball players without a prayer of competing on a major league level.

[Bases are loaded.]

32-33. How'd we ever win 32? It's a miracle.

[Bases-clearing double! 8-3! Seven runs in one extended rant!]

You lollygag the ball around the infield, you lollygag your way down to first, you lollygag in and out of the dugout. Do you know what that makes you? Rob?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Fine Line Between Irony and Idiocy

Games 62 through 65 - Red Sox

Red Sox 8, Cubs 1
Red Sox 10, Cincinnati Reds 3
Red Sox 7, Reds 0
Red Sox 6, Reds 1 (in progress)
Record: 35-29

I'd call it ironic, the obvious connection between my flogging of the Sox and their near-immediate resurrection, if it weren't such well-trod ground, such a predictable pattern. I bemoan the Sox' passivity, they start bludgeoning people. I call out Edgar Renteria, he goes on an epic tear. I tell the world (all 55 of you) that Manny's invisible, and he rakes like a Vermonter in late September. David Wells gets the gasface, and then rips off 2 stellarborderingonspectacular starts. Fuck it, I've already admitted that I know less than nothing about this team and this game - I'm just playing on emotion from now on. (I just got back from Happy Hour. Can you tell?)

I'm really only blogging tonight because I'm headed for a week's vacation on North Carolina's scenic Outer Banks with my colleague and his family and my puritan work ethic is nagging me not to go another 10 days without giving the world this kind of Grade A entertainment product. Me, Whit, 2 wives (ours) and 4 girls under the age of 4. And no Extra Innings package. Tell me again why we're doing this? I hope we've negotiated a good Father's Day package. 6 uninterrupted hours in a beach bar with the U.S. Open on the telly would be the best gift ever.

Back with more next weekend, at which point the Sox will nearly certainly have pissed me right off about something. For instance, the rapid rate at which Mike Timlin's trying to blow a 5-run lead would be an excellent topic for a rant. Commence reverse jinx

Monday, June 13, 2005

And There Was Much Rejoicing.

Games 60 through 63 - Mets

Angels 12, Mets 2
Mets 5, Angels 3
Angels 4, Mets 3
Record: 32-31

Over the course of my weekend in New York, the Mets reclaimed sole possession of last place in the NL East. Feels like home, doesn't it? But it doesn't matter. And what with the Nationals ripping off a stunning ten in a row, last place isn't spitting-distance from the top spot like it was a week or so ago. Doesn't matter. The Mets got walloped on Friday night as the Halos added a grand slam in the ninth for an after-dinner gutpunch -- as if dumping Mo Vaughn on the team a few years back weren't insult enough. Doesn't matter. And after winning on Saturday, the Mets lost a Pedro start Sunday when a David Wright error allowed the winning run to score in the 9th inning. Fine work, gents. But you know what?

Doesn't matter.

None of that other stuff matters to me because of Saturday night. Amid a stretch of games played as if the Mets were skunked on hooch, the squad came up huge. I was in a tiny bar in a tin can town throwing back cold beer, listening to a band of nobodies crank out some music, and keeping one eye on the television over the bar. Flanked by family at all sides doing the same, we talked and drank and even danced, reluctantly, all while monitoring the progress of the beloved Mets. When Marlon Anderson collided with the Angel catcher only after sliding a cleat over the plate for a rare, bizarre, ridiculous inside-the-park home run, it became clear the entire bar was dancing/drinking/playing/serving with one eye on the ballgame. The place went nuts, with folks jumping up and down like idiots, high-fiving sloppily, and reveling in the company of strange barmates. It was fantastic.

And then Doug Meant-to-get-my-glove-down missed an easy grounder that led to the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th. Groans and resigned returns to their music or beers. Abbreviated seminars confirmed that yes, defensive replacements hitting .208 who strike out miserably in their only at-bat should probably be able to handle routine ground balls. Tangents about not whether the Mets should trade for a first-baseman but whether Todd Helton or Mike Sweeney should be the target. And then a jerky little roller-coaster ride.

Reyes managed a bloop, and Cameron eked out a walk. The bar crowd packed in around the TV. Beltran and Piazza struck out quickly and weakly. Curses flew through the air, and some stormed off in anger, but most of us hung in there, just needing a Cliff Floyd hit to score Reyes.

When I say I hung in there, by the way, I mean I didn't give up my bar seat or anything, but hell, yes, was I sure the Mets had lost. And I was pissed. And let down. And determined to remind Jerry that my supposedly "seriously negative outlook" was more suitable than he'd considered.

When Floyd jacked a ball down the right field line, there was that pandemonium poise in the bar, and when it landed just foul, there was an even more severe letdown. That was it. That was the best good chance the boys had of pulling this one out. Dammit.

And then something odd happened. Jose Reyes took third with Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly holding the ball. Donnelly looked like he wasn't quite sure what had happened, or how, and maybe, just maybe that bugged him just enough so he'd be a fraction off on his next pitch, which . . .

Oh, my. Cliff Floyd hit a bomb to center and the celebration from before looked sleepy in comparison. What a blast, and what a blast ensued.

It was Game 62 of 162, one tiny win that couldn't offset the handful of recent losses -- couldn't even fend off last place, and yet it was enormous. It was the only game I caught a significant portion of over the weekend, supporting my newfound good luck charm status. It was the Mets' first win when trailing into the ninth inning this year -- after 26 failures. And it capped off a marvelous weekend of memorializing my Met-lovin' grandfather. Even the most secular-minded among us was alluding to there being something to the timing of things and our being together in the ol' town for this game. As an aside, if I'm tapping away at these Met posts five years from now in my new domicile inside the confines of Tuxedo Park, my life has worked out exactly as I'd wanted.

It'd be hard to argue convincingly that this was a win upon which to build, since the Mets turned right around and blew Sunday's game. Still, I don't think the events of Saturday night are to be discounted, as remarkable as they were. This club still has a ton of work cut out for it, but they have a certain intangible quality to them that sapsucker sportscasters would label "special" and Apollo would call "the eye of the tiger" but I'd prefer simply to call "sand." They've got more sand than the beach that Rob and I will be reclined upon by Friday, and that's a 180-degree spin from those Met teams who, annoyingly, haven't quite faded from my rearview yet.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Boggling of a Mind

Games 60 & 61 - Red Sox

Chicago Cubs 14, Red Sox 6
Cubs 7, Red Sox 6
Record: 32-29

The above-titled boggling comes courtesy of Joe Morgan in the intro to tonight's ESPN telecast of the Sox/Cubs series finale. He said something that rings completely and totally true to me - which is just shocking enough to utterly alter my worldview. Up is down, white is black, the Sox suck on ice (oh, wait - that part's dead-on)...

Morgan said, "The Red Sox don't seem to have any sense of urgency." And Morgan is right smack on the button with that assessment. Batting Kevin Youkilis 3rd in a game that the Sox must win in order to avoid a sweep is evidence of Terry Francona's lack of urgency (and literally as that sentence enters the ether, Youkilis takes a ball over the fence for his first homer of the season - like Morgan, I remain a freaking moron. Though Doug Mirabelli's base-running brain fart redeems us just a little.) Urgent teams don't wander through the season's first 2 1/2 months, underperforming on a daily basis. The silver lining, if there is one, is that the Sox had an even longer stretch of doldrums after last year's hot start, and snapped out of it in time to...well, you know what they did.

On the other hand, Yogi Berra once said, "You are what you are." Okay, he may not have said that, but it's true. At some point, the Sox are what they are. And what they are with 101 games left in the season is me-di-o-cre. Cue showtunes:

M is for the way Mark Bellhorn misses the ball - a league-leading 68 Ks in 185 at bats. And if it seems that I've spent a lot of energy in this space taking shots at Bellhorn, well, I have - he's the posterboy for the reason why baseball people take shots at Moneyball philosophy. There's a fine line between patient and catatonic, and Bellhorn's about to need a crash cart.

E is very, very extraordinary, and so is Alan Embree's level of suck. Keith Foulke's not been far behind. In fact, the entire pitching staff sports a 5.08 ERA - dreck.

D is either for dreadful, which describes Tim Wakefield and Bronson Arroyo over the past month or so, or for disabled, which has been fitting for too many important cogs - most notably Curt Schilling.

I is for invisible, which fits Manny to a T thus far in 2005. The enigmatic slugger's carrying a .248 average and a sub-.900 OPS into mid-June, and he's been even quieter than those numbers suggest.

O is for one of the bright spots - Ortiz. Papi seems hell-bent on proving that his eye-opening 2004 was no fluke. I can't name 3 more fearsome hitter in the AL.

C is for calm, which is not an apt description for me during Sox telecasts - of which I've seen significantly more during this, my initial foray into the joys of the Extra Innings package. Too much of a good thing, indeed.

R is for road warriors, a pretty good description of the Sox to date. Boston's played 35 of 61 (36 of 62 after tonight) in opponent's parks, and they haven't played well in those parks. The Sox are 17-9 in Fenway and 15-20 elsewhere. Their ERA is 1.18 runs higher on the road (5.60 vs. 4.42) while their OPS is .807 at home and .773 away from the Fens. If nothing else, having 55% of the rest of their games at home is something to hold onto. A meager something, but beggars can't be choosers.

And finally, E is for eh. Eh, because I'm watching this team underperform and I can't muster more than surface-level angst. Eh, because I'm giving them what they're giving me - uninspired performances. Eh, because after winning the World Series - and I hate this, but I can't shake it - they get a little bit of a pass this year. Bill Simmons is right. I get breaking-stuff angry during individual games, but unlike previous seasons, I've mostly been able to let it go from day to day. My moods haven't been colored by winning and losing streaks - and thank God for that. Lotta ball left, and if this flat play continues and the Sox continue to be on the outside looking in at the playoffs I leave open the possibility that I will unleash a full-scale nutty. Just isn't gonna happen tonight.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


Games 49 through 59 - Red Sox
Um, 59-game Checkup

Red Sox 7, Yankees 2
Orioles 8, Red Sox 1
Red Sox 5, Orioles 1
Orioles 9, Red Sox 3
Red Sox 6, Orioles 4
Red Sox 7, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (!) 4
Just Plain Angels 13, Red Sox 6
Red Sox 6, Angels 3
St. Louis Cardinals 7, Red Sox 1
Cardinals 9, Red Sox 2
Red Sox 4, Cardinals 0
Record: 32-27

Possible excuses for my performance over the past 2 weeks (part of each of these statements is true - see if you can guess):

  • I turned 35 and have been in a peyote-induced waking dream trying to find my inner spiritual core, accompanied by a pudgy little Hispanic gentleman who looks unnervingly like a miniature Rich Garces.
  • I broke my thumb playing softball a few weeks ago, and it's hurt so bad to type that I've been podcasting all my Sox-related thoughts.
  • I got an "enhanced" iPod for my birthday and have spent every moment since trying to figure out how Whitney had the time and money to amass 6,254 songs, let alone download them to my new toy. Thanks, bro.
  • I knew that the Sox would be featured on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy this week, so I spent the last 10 days scouring haberdasherys (ies?) along the East Coast for a (much) smaller version of Doug Mirabelli's striped ensemble so I could play the home version. Backwaxing really is more pleasure than pain. [Shit, was that typed out loud?]
  • I've been compiling 80s hits in a very special playlist to send to ECA Mike so he sees the error of his young ways. Limahl says hi.
  • I'm a very important man at the office, and I simply have not had time to focus on trivia like this. (Okay, so no part of that one is true - I just like seeing it in print.)
  • I've run out of ways to describe my complete and utter lack of insight into this team's performance.

The last of those bullets hits pretty close to home, mostly because I've not been able to follow the Sox over the last 2 weeks in any meaningful way. I've watched several games over the span, but haven't been online, haven't read anything in depth, haven't looked closely at box scores, or read SOSH and The Globe, or watched Tom Caron on NESN. Not much effort, frankly. Even watching the games has been a vacation of the mind, tuning in as I have to escape from newfound real-world pressures.

No excuses, though, gentle readers. You won't be getting a lot of baseball analysis today, but you will get the first ever haiku-style 59-game checkup (I say haiku-style, because I'm not really counting the syllables. Sue me). If I can't give you insight, never let it be said that I can't give you crappy Japanese poetry. Forthwith:

  • Wake's fluttering ball/sometimes makes bats wave limply/mostly makes me yell
  • Matt Clement's chin tuft/looks a lot better on him/than Fat David Wells'
  • Bellhorn is Eeyore/shuffling back to the dugout/after one more K
  • Embree and Foulke/keeping Fenway scoreboard ops/alert and active
  • Question for Manny:/is it possible to be/here and yet not here?
  • Tizzle swings bat/baseball explodes again/I love Big Papi!
  • Whither Curt?/mediocre Red Sox/crying out for ace
  • Apologies to/torrid-swinger E-Rent/catch a popup
  • Advice to Millar/you talk better than hit/reverse is better
  • Olerud's helmet/funky accoutrement/Ricky still forgot
  • Youkilis' jawbone/hewn from Greek marble/wish he had more power
  • Trot just shows up/every day rain or shine/AL's most underrated
  • Billy Mueller's feet/sure can't get out of the way/think about moving them
  • Forty million/is seriously long green/Tek deserves it

A twofer in honor my favorite unsung hero:

  • Badass namesake/nancy-boy guitar hero/study in contrast
  • Skinny leg-kicker/buzzes hitters up and in/Bronson no deathwish

  • Johnny D. Rockstar/runs through, hits balls off walls/gas that fuels the engine

And finally - pay attention, as this captures the season in a nutshell:

  • Hangover's a bitch/but you gotta remember/what happened last night

Insert 'year' for night, and ladies and gentlemen, your 2005 Boston Red Sox.

Saluting a Charter Member of the Township

Game 59 - Mets

Astros 4, Mets 1
Record: 31-28

The Mets lost. Zambrano pitched so-so, the Mets couldn't solve Brandon "Wacky Tub" Backe, Dan Wheeler faced his old mates and lowered his ERA to 1.35, and Township fave Heath Bell served up a toffee-ball that Orlando "My Cousin Has 500, I have 19" Palmeiro took out of the yard, which in and of itself may require Bell's demotion to AAA. Eh. That's about all I have to say about this game.

I am leaving tonight to head to Tuxedo Park, NY, former residence of Lou Piniella, and more pertinently, my grandparents. The family is convening to honor the passing of my grandfather, who recorded his final out a month or so ago. I mentioned Grampa Jack in my solemn take on the Win It For thread in March, saying:
Win it for my Grampa Jack, who lies either on his death bed or a few rooms down
from it. He's bled Dodger Blue and Giant orange (that'd be Met brown) since 1962
and he's only seen two World Championships. Although these titles have been
astounding ones that fascinated the world -- of baseball and otherwise -- they
simply don't measure up to the treasure trove of trash that has entered and left
Shea since '86 (and beyond), with results on and off the field that wear away a
man's soul. Grampa, if you're reading this, (1) stop stealing other people's
computers, and (2) this year is going to be for you.

If the Mets do pull off the largest Miracle since '69, it'd be a startling tribute and the stuff of blog lore. It's definitely asking too much, but it doesn't hurt to ask. In a peculiar side note, Grampa Jack grew up on the South Side of Chicago (he and Leroy Brown), and his team was the White Sox as a kid. They haven't won the Series since he was two, so that would be even more noteworthy. (And it might take some air out of the BoSox bandwagon blimp.)

Anyway, that's where I'll be, eulogizing the old man with more than one mention of the Mets. I'd ask once again for the Mets to win for him -- just against the (appropriately monikered) Angels this weekend -- but you know, considering how many of the 3500+ Mets losses he sat through with that mock scowl, it'd be more fitting if they lost for him.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

No No-No's, No Worries

Game 58 - Mets

Mets 3, Astros 1
Record: 31-27

Yikes, zoiks, holy shnikes, and every other nonsensical expression ever uttered. That Pedro character is some kind o' good. Unlike most people who write about sports, I'll own up to my own errors of the past. I begged the Mets not to sign him, thereby ensuring my place outside the realm of baseball general management. He's been stunning, most clearly so last night against the 'Stros. I actually missed the bust-up of the no-hitter in the 7th, but I got to see plenty of Pedroness along the way.

For now Pedro is healthy, happy, and hurling humdingers by most of the National League. He's given up a few long balls along the way, but most of what he's fired at home plate hasn't been contacted with much force.

His line from last night: 9 IP, 2 H 1 ER 1 BB, 12 K

Not too shabby. I really am an idiot . . . sometimes.

Of course, all of the talk today is about the 6 1/3 no-hit innings he pitched, and how the New York Mets still . . . still . . . have recorded nary a no-no in their franchise history. As I discussed with Wheelhouse manager Jerry, no-hitters are something of a novelty without any real bearing on the overall success of a franchise, but come on -- 43 years without one? That's pretty damn hard to do. How common are no-hitters? Let's find out.

Since the Mets first took the field in 1962, 59 no-hitters have been thrown by National League teams. It stands to reason, somewhat, that at least one of those might've been tossed by a Met. After all, there were only 10 NL teams back then, and all of 16 now. Then again, it takes a while for expansion teams to get their feet underneath them, so maybe that's not a fair angle at this.

There are 15 teams who came into existence (or moved to their current location) since 1961. Here's how the Mets stack up against them in no-no's since then:

Angels (1961): 8 no-hitters
Twins (1961): 4
Colt .45's/Astros (1962): 10
Braves (1966): 3
Athletics (1968): 5
Expos/Nationals (1969): 4
Royals (1969): 4
Brewers (1970): 1
Rangers (1972): 5
Mariners (1977): 2
Blue Jays (1977): 1
Marlins (1993): 3 (!)
Diamondbacks (1998): 1

and then . . .

Mets (1962): 0
Padres (1969): 0
Rockies (1993): 0
Devil Rays (1998): 0

That's 51 no-hitters and none by your Metropolitans. Do you get the sense of how hard it must have been to avoid this honor?

The following Mets left the team and then threw a no-hitter:
Tom Seaver
Mike Scott
Dwight Gooden
David Cone
Hideo Nomo
AJ Burnett

and oh yeah, Nolan Ryan seven times. Seven times!

The following guys had no-no's before they joined the Mets, but couldn't reproduce the magic:
John Candelaria
Bret Saberhagen
Kenny Rogers
Al Leiter

And yes, Hideo Nomo. Annoying.

No-hitters, not to mention perfect games, are in many cases, freakish occurrences not reserved for the game's best pitchers. Bud Smith, Jose Jimenez, and Kent Mercker won't draw too many votes for the Hall, but they've accomplished what no one wearing the royal blue pinstripes has managed. Victor Zambrano, this means you.

Anyway, while we while away the middle innings of games where Met foes haven't blemished the "H" box, hoping against hope for someone, anyone, to just get us off the schneid, there's not supreme angst associated with this failure. There are always two championship trophies upon which to fall back, and several of those teams listed above can only herald the no-no's while yearning for one title. And then there's those damnable Marlins. 12 years, three no-hitters, two World Series wins. No fans, of course, but I guess that doesn't really matter that much.

Still, it'd be kind of cool to notch one. Keep throwing, Pedro. I'm not putting it past you to put it past them for nine straight.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Unintended Sabbatical

A combination of really crushing workload, poisoning at the hands of my "friends" during a birthday celebration, and the usual laziness has conspired to keep me from this space over the past week+. At the same time, I've really only been able to casually follow the Sox, even when I'm watching them play most games - it's almost as if I've been on vacation from the Nation for the last 2 weeks. Not saying that to make any particularly large point, just sayin'. Hope to be back blogging soon, but the light at the end of the tunnel is so small as to appear the size of the gap between the top and the bottom of the NL East.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Catch-Up & Check-Up

Games 52 through 57 and Fiftysomething-Game Check-up - Mets

Diamondbacks 7, Mets 0
Mets 2, Diamondbacks 1
Mets 6, Diamondbacks 1
Mets 5, Giants 1
Giants 6, Mets 3
Mets 12, Giants 1
Record: 30-27

NL EAST -------- W L - GB
Washington..... 31 26 -
NY Mets..........30 27 1
Atlanta.......... 30 27 1
Philadelphia..... 30 28 1.5
Florida........... 28 26 1.5

Ridiculous. But what's most ridiculous?
  • The other divisions feature last place teams anywhere from 9.5 to 20.5 games out.
  • Every other first-place team outside of the AL West has a buffer of 3.5 games or more between themselves and the second-place team.
  • The Marlins are in last place.
  • The Phillies aren't. (Well, they weren't when I started writing this yesterday.)
  • The Nationals are in first place.
  • The Braves aren't.
  • The Nationals have scored the fewest runs of the NL East teams and have given up the 4th-most runs.
  • The division is excitingly tight, and I haven't bothered to say anything about it.

What's become obvious in the last two weeks is that this is anybody's division. Yes, even the Phillies, even though I took to mocking them some weeks ago. They'd won 9 of 10 before yesterday, and I haven't the vaguest sense of how -- though I did see a bogus home run call go in their favor Sunday, which says a lot.

Through most of the first two months, the Braves and Marlins had fired a few flares signaling that this would eventually become a two-team race. Suddenly, the division is closing in around them, and they've got to feel like Luke and Han being squashed in the compactor amid trash named Phils, Mets, and Nats. The Mets have done their part in this divisional equivalent of communism, winning 4 of 5 and 7 of 10. Beating the foes you should beat, winning the winnable games -- these are the baby steps that make me think the Mets aren't a toe-stub away from plummeting into the abyss of another 90-loss season. (Even if they just might be.)

The interesting truth about the NL East as it's shaken out is that nobody is great, and nobody's terrible. This is NFL-style parity. They're all two games or more over .500, so it's not like the NFC (L)east of a few years back. Still, while there may not be any Devil Rays to beat on in this quintet of clubs, neither is there a dominant team like the . . . Orioles??? Didn't I boldly predict about a month ago that the O's would soon collapse like the house of cards their pitching staff seemed to be? Well, maybe it's not all card tricks, smoke and mirrors, and sleight of hand going on in Baltimore, and until they do tumble from the top, I won't slight their arms any further.

Back to the topic at hand: How can anyone make any sense of this mess? The current standings are just silly, oddly bringing to mind the song "fat guy in a little coat." We need another month, at least, for these jokers to figure themselves out before we can try to gauge who's for real. Right now, the Nationals and Phillies have won 7 and 8 of their last 10 (like the Mets) while the Braves and Marlins have dropped 7 and 8 of 10, respectively. These streaks will subside, and what happens soon thereafter could be a good indicator. The Braves have been wracked with injury (breaks my heart, it does), while the Marlins seem to be in disarray. The Phillies look to have been playing over their heads for the past two weeks; they're far from devoid of talent, but I just can't see them maintaining this consistency for that long. (Phillies insiders predict they'll hang in there just long enough so they don't trade Billy Wagner for a valuable prospect, then take a nosedive.)

The team that, beyond all comprehension, impresses me the most, is the local Washington Nationals. These guys started with a subpar base of talent ($47 million roster) and suffered a spate of injuries (their bullpen's been decimated), but they haven't paused for one moment to point out their shortcomings. Instead, they've managed a quiet, tortoise-like march through the first two months, nickel and diming opponents out of wins here and there. Once they manage to find an owner (it's currently slated for August of 2013), they might be able to add some real talent, which could make them an even more viable contender . . . still, that's no guarantee for success (see Mets 1993, Mets 2003, etc.), and right now it's a lot of fun to watch ol' Frank steer these scrappers towards a winning record. Digressing from a digression is usually a bad sign, but here goes: the current Washington Nationals are a nearly exact negative image of the current Washington Redskins, with the only feature a Hall of Famer at the helm. Of course, there's a big difference between Frank Robinson and Joe Gibbs these days: one's pleased as punch with his players, the other one would be pleased to punch his players.

So where does all of this leave the Mets? Despite their current whereabouts (2nd place, 1 GB, at Shea for the next six games) I have a vaguely uneasy feeling about them. The Braves, Marlins, and Nationals have mustered the same or a similar record as the Mets while enduring downtime for key players -- "downtime" meaning guys getting hurt or struggling through slumps. Meanwhile, the Metmen have fared no better while operating at nearly 100%. This doesn't bode well.

The Marlins haven't been bitten by the injury bug too badly, but their closer was shelved early, and Luis Castillo and Paul LoDuca have missed time. They've been killed more by guys slumping, though, with Mike Lowell currently throwing up .218/2/20 numbers, Juan Pierre's .311 OBP, and Al Leiter's 6.45 nightmare. If these guys do start to turn it around, you have to like the chances of a Willis-Beckett-Burnett trio down the stretch.

The Braves haven't been bitten by the injury bug so much as stomped on by the injury elephant. Mike Hampton, John Thomson, Chipper Jones, and (last night) Johnny Estrada have all gone down; these guys are integral to the Braves' success, obviously. Meanwhile, Horacio Ramirez has been very disappointing, Tim Hudson and John Smoltz have been slightly less than their stellar selves, and closer Dan Kolb has made Braves fans pine for John Rocker. Rafael Furcal is hitting .222, Marcus Giles has been unimpressive (3 HR's, 46 K's), and Julio Franco has been showing his age. These are guys they counted on not as question marks with an upside but as keys to their success. And yet the Braves are but one game out. They've been relying on scary young talent like Wilson Betemit and Kyle Davies -- if and when some of the other cats rebound or get back from the DL, Atlanta will very easily vie for yet another NL East title. I'd love to revel in these Braves misfortunes, but until they drop lower than second place, it's going to be difficult.

Then there are the Mets. The Mets' unforeseen woes consist of . . . what, again? They had a few wounds early on in Mike Cameron, Kris Benson, and Kaz Ishii, but those guys have all been back for a while now, and performing about as well as can be expected. (Moreso for Cameron.) Who's vastly underachieving? Maybe -- maybe -- Tom Glavine was, but he's pitched wonderfully enough over his past few starts to almost get me retracting statements. (Almost.) A 4.63 ERA is about as much as anyone can ask of him these days. Zambrano's been spotty, the bullpen has sucked, and Pedro's been on fire. This we knew coming in -- in fact, Pedro's been better than we knew. There have not been any supreme disappointments in the pitching; in fact, given the emergence of Aaron Heilman and the resurrection of Roberto Hernandez, you could argue that the Met arms have had more pleasant surprises than letdowns.

On the offensive side of the street (where I always reside), the only real eyesore is Doug Mientkiewicz's .205 average, and (a) he could only have projected a fair bit higher, plus (b) he has hit seven taters. David Wright's been great, Cliff Floyd began on fire and has only chilled a tad, and the aforementioned Cameron is hitting 110 points higher than his '04 average. Reyes and Piazza have done about what we could expect. The bench has been surprisingly effective, with Marlon Anderson on pace to break pinch-hit records, Victor Diaz having filled in brilliantly for Cameron, Chris Woodward playing all around the diamond while hitting .323, and Miguel Cairo close to supplanting Kaz Matsui at second base. Speaking of the Kataztrophe, he has stunk up second base and the 2-spot in the lineup with equal amounts of stank. And yet, going into this season, who among us was convinced he'd be better? This is, sadly, who Kaz Matsui is, and who he'll probably remain, at least while he's in New York.

There is, actually, one guy you can point to who's made noticeably less of an impact than he was supposed to this year. Carlos Beltran was the biggest fish Omar landed, and while he's dodged the heavy criticism by registering solid stats, I think, if pressed, most of Mets Township would say we're a little bit disappointed in what he's brought to the Mets thus far. He was great out of the gate (another reason he's relatively unscathed), but the fact that it's June 7 and he hasn't homered in a game where Pedro didn't pitch has sunk below bizarre to downright annoying. He doesn't lead the Mets in any offensive categories -- not a one. Floyd, Wright, Reyes, and Cameron can all claim some statistical lead. Even the decidedly downhill Piazza has more doubles and as many RBI's. The "five-tool player" has one stolen base in three tries. It's all fairly weak -- for him.

As much as the numbers tell the story, there's more to it than that. Beltran has not been clutch for quite a while. He came up huge a few times early on, but lately he's seemed to thrive when the Mets need him the least. Again, it hasn't been chronic, and it's probably only obvious in the shadows of Cliff Floyd's heroics, David Wright's ascent towards the elite, and Jose Reyes's flash. Beltran has been pretty good, and his numbers do reflect it (.291/.348/.460), but "pretty good" will never meet the inevitable expectations that come with his much-heralded arrival. The biggest worry is whether this is slumping for Beltran (in which case . . . wow) or if this is generally what we can look for from him in the long run (in which case . . . also wow). If he were out-and-out terrible, we'd have a deep-rooted fear that New York was gobbling him up like a Mallomar and spitting him out like an Alomar while actually believing that before long he'd bust out like he did in Houston and thrill us to the nth. The way it is now is nearly as perplexing.

It all adds up to a general discomfort that the Mets are very nearly living up to their potential at 30-27. When the inescapable potholes in the road of the next four months rumble the Metwagon, a drop-off seems likely, sad to say. A big injury or a deep slump from someone with higher expectations than Doug the Freshmaker could unsettle what hasn't exactly been a picturesque landscape so far. A fierce Carlos Beltran surge in the coming weeks could assuage those very fears almost completely. I've got a fever, and the only cure is more Car-Bel.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

And Now for Something Completely Different

In the words of the gallant knight from the legendary Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I'm not dead yet - just unbelievably busy.

And neither are the Sox, after Papi's 2-out, 3-run bomb to beat the heretofore unbeatable B.J. Ryan.

Back with a fury (a soft, disheveled fury) in the next day or so, coming correct with a 54-game checkup and all sorts of other bloggy goodness.