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?

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