Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Most Likely to Succeed

Game 131 - Mets

Mets 6, Phillies 4
Record: 69-62

Last night was the biggest win of the season so far.

Kicking off a torrid stretch of schedule against division/wild card rivals with a . . . “dramatic” doesn’t do it justice, let’s call it “spectacular” . . . come-from-behind victory had to be the most significant feat they’ve accomplished to date. June 11 over the Angels was the most exciting, to me, but this was the biggest.

Hey, I didn’t kick off the season of superlatives. Keith Hernandez did when he referred to Carlos Beltran’s seventh-inning plate appearance as “the most important at-bat he’s had as a Met.” In actuality, it wasn’t an at-bat at all, but the walk he drew led to a run scored on a wild pitch, pulling the Mets within a run of the Phils and setting the stage for the real excitement. Ugie Urbina walked a pair in the bottom of the eighth and hung a scrumptious-looking breaking ball over the heart of the plate; Ramon Castro pounced on it and deposited into the left-field bleachers (the place some call The Bay of Pigs). You could see the mayhem, you could hear the hollering, and you could feel the jumping around, and that was just in my den. The Mets and the 35,000 folks at Shea went as berserk as you can when the game still has an inning to play – especially an inning of Braden Looper versus the top of the order. And it’s [gulp] all lefties.

1-2-3 in the ninth, like there was never a doubt.

And so the Mets continue their quickening creep northward in the standings. They’re still five games out of first in the NL East and in fourth place, but they’re now perched just a half-game out of the wild card spot behind these Phillies and the Marlins, tied with the Astros. It’s a logjam, and all the Mets need to think about is continuing to help themselves and letting the rest sort itself out.

Of additional note last night was a flop of an outing by Jae Seo, just as soon as the rotation controversies left him to swirl around other members of the staff. He allowed ten hits and four quick runs (three on two first-inning homers) through five, setting precisely the tone the Mets didn’t want for this game and this series. Credit the bullpen with sticking their finger in the dike, a by-now antiquated expression that may get this site blocked from your work. Meanwhile, to his credit, Carlos Beltran muffled some of that bad vibe with a first-inning home run of his own. Big night for Beltran. The Mets would be ecstatic to have him reach that level of stickwork he displayed in the last chapters of 2004, but really it’d be nice just to see him produce consistently in that 3-hole. It was funny last night – he had a bang-up night immediately following a sad diatribe from Hernandez lamenting his woes and saying he might not be able to get on track until next year. Well played, Keith.

Random Thought #1: Charlie Manuel was right to argue a blown call on a play at the plate, but his getting tossed may have cost him the game. There were several pitching changes that didn’t happen down the stretch that seemed obvious, even before they resulted in the predictable scenarios that foiled the Phils. Then again, I seem to remember Manuel himself making a few dunderheaded moves earlier this year, so perhaps it would have worked out the same way.

Random Thought #2: There’s scrappy, and then there’s weenie. Chase Utley whined he’d been hit by an inside pitch after the ball just did graze his sleeve in the ninth – after he blatantly leaned in to try to take the HBP for the team. The ump either didn’t see the poly-blend get brushed, or he wasn’t going to award it because of the lean; meanwhile, you could see Castro offer a look like, “Play ball, pansy.”

A great win for the Mets. Greatest, biggest, best, blah blah blah, all that really matters is that they’re right in there and playing winning baseball. I won’t tread on this theme for too much longer, but the feeling our boys have generated in the Township at this point in the season was utterly nonexistent over the past few years. They’re still a fourth-place team and only seven games over sea level, but they’re making me like their chances every time out. I like their energy, I like their hustle, I like their scrap. This has all the makings of what I’d call a . . . what’s that word?

Ah, yes. Resurgence.

When You're Right, You're Right

Games 128 through 130 - Red Sox

Red Sox 11, Tigers 3
Red Sox 10, Devil Rays 6
Red Sox 7, Devil Rays 6
Record: 76-54

I've been trying hard not to put words to my actual feelings regarding the Yankees and their recent run of good play. Then, Whitney goes and does it for me. And he just nailed it in the post below, so I'll refrain from rehashing in too much detail.

Nothing will ever take away from the joy I felt (and some days still feel - like yesterday when NESN showed an interview with Theo Epstein that recapped his October memories) last fall when the Sox went on their run for the ages. That said, a Yankee victory this fall would rapidly accelerate the natural memory-aging process, and it would salve that legion of pinstriped douchebags that cried "fluke" in the wake of the Sox' deflowering of Mystique and Aura. I don't hate the Yankees, per se, I just hate nearly all of their fans. The Yankees are certain to win another Series in my lifetime - just so long as it isn't this one, I'll live comfortably with it. Nice work, Whit.

Speaking of the Yankees, they continued to snap up Red Sox castoffs at an alarming rate. Now Vinny from the Bronx can wax apoplectic about Mark Bellhorn swinging fruitlessly over inside breaking pitches as well as vent splenetically (is that a word?) about Alan Embree's straightball. Eeyore, we hardly knew ye.

Epic win last night from the Sox, coming from 5-0 down to beat the Rays on Trot Nixon's 9th-inning single. Curt Schilling was abysmal in the game's first 2 frames, giving up ringing double after ringing double to the Rays. I was, more than anything, saddened by what I was watching, and ready to pronounce Schilling's season over - the proud warrior defeated by his mortality. Then, number 38 sacked up over his final 4 frames to shut the Rays out - and keep the dogs at bay for at least 1 more outing.

8 more at home before heading to the Bronx for what could be a season-defining 3-game tilt. Gotta take care of business on the home front first.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Dredging Up the Past, Feeling Good About the Present

Games 127 through 130 - Mets

Mets 3, Diamondbacks 1
Mets 1, Giants 0
Giants 2, Mets 1
Giants 4, Mets 1
Record: 68-62

The New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox, as well as their respective fan bases, each have their own reasons to hope and reasons to mope right about now, but there are vastly different vibes emanating from the two camps these days. A quick glance at recent entries on this blog tells the story, and it made me recall Rob's concise, accurate summation of the state of the union at the All-Star break last year:

Perspective's a Bitch
48-38, in 1st place in the Wild Card, and I'm a quivering blob of doubt and depression.
Mets: 44-43, in 4th place in the division, and Whit's quivering too, but it's his ample belly jiggling with gleeful laughter.

Flash-forward to today.
Sox: 74-54, in 1st place in the division, and while last autumn's visit to the mountaintop probably makes "quivering blob" inapplicable to any members of Red Sox Nation, there's definitely doubt, if not depression, and a bit of dread in the tones of MLC's other half.
Mets: 68-62, in 4th place in the division, 3rd place in the Wild Card, and while "gleeful laughter" may be overstating my current demeanor, there is a palpable sense of satisfaction radiating from Mets games in late August that actually matter.
Though the Nation may be giving its club a free pass this season, none of the die-hards are really going to be as flippant as they've waxed heretofore if the Sox tumble out of first place, and especially if they miss the playoffs. You can feel it in Rob's latest posts. Now, if the Sox simply don't repeat, it won't tear down what was built in 2004 for Boston; in fact, it may emphasize how difficult a feat it was and make the fans even prouder. However, there's one scenario in the various blueprints of the 2005 postseason that looms like a virus in the air outside Red Sox Nation's headquarters, and you know what it is. The only true disaster that would tarnish the untarnishable would be if the Yankees take the trophy this fall. And it would be awful.

Sox people know that the quickest way to heal, or at least medicate, the pains of past history is to win that championship. The Yankees and their truest supporters are still smarting from the pants-soiling that occurred at the hands of those Red Sox, though they'd never admit it. [Aloofness and indifference are handy towelettes when one's face is covered in embarrassing egg, but such a display either belies the true heartache of the fan or betrays the true lack of depth to the fanaticism. If you're a Yankee supporter and you tell me you weren't crushed by the events of last year's ALCS, you're either lying or a superficial fan, and in either case you should waive your right to revel obnoxiously when good fortune once again smiles upon the team that paid good money for it. Sadly, there are all too many in the latter category, as "the Yankee faithful" strays into misnomer all too often. At least the Sox fans wear their hearts on their sleeve; to a fault, many times, but it's more endearing than the arrogance.] Anyway, the one sure-fire way to strike back and stuff the recent bad memories into the Yankee subconscious would be to win it all this year, the baseball equivalent to topping a ringer in horseshoes. The Yanks fans desperately need this, and the Sox fans desperately need to avoid this outcome. Hence, all of the tension in those two camps.

Though the Nation is still donning the mask of the winner and may claim to be above the anguish if their rivals succeed them this year, I know it'd sear my salmon if I were a Bostonian. You can already hear the snide, unfunny taunts making their way throughout ballparks and e-mail inboxes everywhere. If the Sox could just guarantee that the Bombers wouldn't be storming the infield and hoisting the trophy after the last game of the 2005 season, they really could breathe easily, get about playing baseball, and let the chips fall where they may. Likewise, Rob and his ilk could enjoy watching the hometown nine give it that old college try without fretting over that one horrific result that might spoil so much good. They can't, and watching their angst from a galaxy far, far away, I'm enjoying the drama.

Meanwhile . . . the Mets have just as many problems as the Sox -- probably more. They just don't seem so pressing, and if those problems topple the Metmen in September, that's a full month to two months later than they've done so in years past. Yes, there are still concerns about second base while Miguel Cairo struggles with batting average anorexia and Kaz Matsui . . . plays like Kaz Matsui. There are still question marks in the bullpen, and exclamation points in the rotation when Steve Trachsel misses a start in favor of Victor Zambrano. Yet while we in the curious collective known as Mets Township reserve the right to pounce on the team at any time for horrid hitting, egregious errors and anything that could lead to the bubble-burst, right now that stuff just doesn’t bother us that much. This year's Mets have given us so much more to relish than the past two seasons combined, and the Mets are still kicking around in that batch of clubs called contenders. Rob can say it again . . . perspective's a bitch, all right.

Just for kicks, I dug up some of my own quotes from late August/early September posts of the last two seasons. This sampling of text should shed some light on why there's a pleasant calm surrounding all things Mets these days, even after the Mets went out to San Francisco and scored one run in each of three games. Enjoy one man's gradual slide into insanity . . .


"Really, really hoping that the Mets would be rained out, since there was no way they could come back from 3-0."

"The Wheel Has Fallen Off the Unicycle"

"Yearning for the Yesteryear of the 154-Game Season"

"Speaking of which, you pretty much know what kind of season it's been when you see that Roger Cedeno has been allowed 443 at-bats."

"So, let's recap the last couple of weeks. Loss after loss after loss, no hitting, no pitching, no fielding, low morale, low attendance . . . How 'bout them Red Sox?"

"What do you call bungee-jumping with no bungee cord? That's what the Mets did for 17 games, sandwiching a tiny win between two eight-game losing streaks."

"In the second half of this aesthetic equivalent of ipecac syrup, the Mets have suffered 4-game sweeps to the Braves, Phillies, and Expos. That leaves just the Marlins, who didn't have a four game series on the 2nd-half schedule. They did get swept in the only 3-game series they played against Florida, and they have the final trio of this season's games to make it 6 in a row. "

"Just a couple of weeks left in the Mets season. Not much ball left, and they're so off-target that you can't quite tell what they were really aiming at in the first place."

"Playing the Mets is like walking into a going out of business clearance sale. They're just giving everything away! Come on down before it's too late!"


"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."

"Gazing Up at Rock Bottom"

"These aren't meaningful games; these aren't even meaningful players. "

"We've go the no-name offense, the no-defense defense, and Fire Marshal Bill in the bullpen. The players just seem to want to get the season over with, a sentiment that corrodes winning percentages in the final months like little else."

"Recaps are for teams worth recapping, and the Mets ceased qualifying weeks ago."

"You Can Go Home Again (Though You'd Never Know It from Mets Baserunners)"

"On a related note, under Things I Learned This Season I can put that on those nights that the Mets are getting stomped by the 7th inning stretch (kind of like saying on those nights the sun actually sets, or on those nights Boston players do something really dorky or effeminate and yet it's still embraced by Red Sox Nation), I can load up on the Jamo's on the rocks, black the whole game out, and enjoy a pleasant good morning from wake-up until Sports Section perusal. Makes starting out the day significantly nicer, even with the headache, rot-gut, and tattered personal relationships."

"So as you can see, we don't need to delve any further into the recent past, especially when the future is now an entirely new shade of midnight black these days."

"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."

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Why Does First Place Feel Like Rock Bottom?

Games 125 through 127 - Red Sox

Royals 7, Red Sox 4
Red Sox 9, Tigers 8
Tigers 12, Red Sox 8
Record: 73-54

If you're counting, that makes 3 losses in 4 games to the Royals and Tigers. Last night's gutshot loss, with Bronson Arroyo unable to hold a 6-0 lead combined with the Royals' Bad News Bears remake against the Yankees trimmed the Sox' lead to 1.5 games over the Bombers, and it feels like only a matter of time before the Sox' fade to 2nd place is complete. I'll say it again - this Sox team just isn't very good right now.

I suppose I've gone through phases like this in each of the past 2 seasons, where my faith has been tested by a run of indifferent play. Unlike those 2 seasons, and despite the fact that the Sox are leading the division in August, I have absolutely zero belief in this team. Last year, I went all-in on the Sox several times - it was either a literary crutch borne of a dearth of creativity or a true believer's mantra; I choose the latter. This year, I'm not folding, but I might be checking...despite the fact that I don't think the opponents are holding very good hands.

That truth is the only thing that's keeping me sane at the moment - the Sox are deeply, deeply flawed, with a truly mediocre (at best) pitching staff, but the '27 Yankees aren't walking through that door, either. That the Nation is holding out hope for 2005 draft pick Craig Hansen to be the bullpen savior come September 1 is either a sign of keen baseball insight or vast desperation. Sadly, again I choose the latter. That New York's key additions are Shawn Chacon and Matt Lawton bespeaks the Yankees' similarly addled situation. Today, though, the Yankee roster is performing at a much higher level than the Sox'.

I got to the point last night where I had to turn the game off - I tuned in just in time to watch Trot Nixon's homer sail into the seats, giving the Sox a 5-0, 3rd inning lead. I took 45 minutes to put my daughters to bed and returned to the telecast in time to watch the Tigers plate their 5th run of the top of the 4th. Several expletives and a handful of innings later, my TV was tuned permanently to Tommy Boy. And I'm here to tell you that I can stick my head in a cow's ass, but that doesn't mean the Sox didn't butcher last night's game.

One minor light note over the last 3 days came from the always entertaining Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo. Roving reporting Eric Frede was interviewing Boston native and Sox fan John O'Herlihy in the Fenway stands, when O'Herlihy introduced his wife by saying, "We've been married for almost 2 years now, but she still has that new wife smell." Remy and Orsillo went into spasms of schoolboy chortling - which lasted for the better part of the half-inning, and had me in tears with them by the end. The lesson: men are pigs. But we're funny pigs, at least to ourselves. Gotta laugh, I guess, because these Sox are making me want to cry.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Closing Time, or, Bully for You

Games 123 & 124 - Red Sox

Red Sox 5, Royals 2
Royals 4, Red Sox 3 (11)
Record: 72-52

Schilling on the mound this evening in his return to the starting rotation - 3 hits for the Royals' first 7 batters. At least he's consistent. Make that 4-for-8. Sorry, 5-for-9. And Kevin Millar's displaying one of the most godawful throwing arms in major league history. 2-0 Royals in the bottom of the 2nd. I'm gonna start drinking. More. Spoke too soon, 6-for-11, 3-0 Royals.

The struggles of the Sox' erstwhile ace cast a recent theory of mine in sharp relief. Lost in the warm fuzzy glow that still tinges all things Red Sox is this simple fact: the 2005 Boston Red Sox really aren't very good. Sure, they're one of the league's top teams, and their offense is still probably the best in the bigs (most nights, though tonight's lineup that eschews Ortiz and Nixon in favor of Kapler and Millar says hi). They're even in first place in the AL East with 37 games to play. And still, they're not very good - at least not nearly as good as they were last year.

As the Yankees creep increasingly closer - only 3 games out as the Sox play tonight, and looking more and more like things are going to get that much more snug - while their pitching staff improves on a nighly basis, the Sox' glaring weakness sticks out like Gabi Reese at a Star Trek convention. They can't pitch. At least not on any consistent basis. The starters are at least mediocre, but the bullpen is flat horrific - next to last in the AL in ERA. Not gonna get it done, to say the least.

So it's taken me 124 games to figure this out, mostly because I'm still luxuriating in the memories of last October. And, to be sure, the American League has no dominant team, so the Sox have as good a chance as anyone to be the Cardinals' punching bag in the World Series. Still, I don't think the Sox can win anything worth writing home about - including the AL East, which my pre-realistic mind considered almost a foregone conclusion - as they're currently consituted. Would be a bit of a nutpunch to watch the Yankees pass the Sox this season, but I'd call it a coin flip at this point based upon what I see today.

The Sox do have 24 of their final 36 games at home, which is a bright spot. About to lose 2 of 3 to the league's worst team - not quite as sparkly. 7 hits in 12 ABs for the Royals against Schilling now. Downright dingy.

Rising from the Ashes in Phoenix

Games 125 & 126 - Mets

Mets 14, Diamondbacks 1
Mets 18, Diamondbacks 4
Record: 66-60

So much for lying in wait and creeping back into the fold. As soon as I urged the Mets toward a "resurgence," they promptly and definitively hung 32 runs on the sad-sack Arizona pitching staff in two nights. Lost in the drubbings will inevitably be the solid pitching performances of Victor Zambrano and Jae Seo, but who cares? There was too much to revel in during the softball-level run-scoring when the Mets were batting. (Who am I kidding? The Mets outscored our softball team over the last two nights.)

David Wright received extremely high praise from the Diamondbacks' broadcast booth (Thom Brenneman and the highly enjoyable Mark Grace) from the moment they took the air, and yet he superseded even those kudos. He hit two home runs last night, including one absolute bomb to center. (Of course, it was so out of hand by that point, the Fox Sports Network Arizona crew was busy interviewing the Ultimate Fighting Champion who'd thrown out the first pitch for fifteen minutes and stopped concentrating on things like the baseball game going on, so there was almost no camera evidence of the mammoth shot, and zero commentary.)

Wright's continued ascension towards the top shelf of hitters in the league was nearly overshadowed by a bigger surprise from a young player. Mike Jacobs homered twice more, doubled, and went 4-for-5 with five runs scored to extend the unbelievable dream that is his inaugural week in the big leagues. To project anything except for a bit of potential greatness from three-plus games in the majors -- against a shell of a team like the D-backs are right now -- would be moronic, but just for fun, look at Jacobs' current stats:
7-for-13, 8 R, 9 RBI, 3 BB, 1 2B, 4 HR, .538/.625/1.538 for a 2.163 OPS

That's just fun to look at, much like his swing. By the way, any pitcher throwing him anything (or any catcher calling for anything) that could even remotely be labeled "down and in" just hasn't done their homework. Jacobs has jumped into the cesspool that has been the Mets' 1B debacle and somehow come out smelling like roses so far. As an added bonus, he's also a natural catcher -- that's how it's phrased, you know, though if anyone can see anything "natural" about a loading up your body with plastic gear, putting on a face mask, and crouching for three hours while one guy throws balls at you, another swings a bat near your head, and a third hollers things in your ear . . . well, maybe you can explain it to me.

Five home runs last night. Jose Reyes hit the one not previously referenced, and it was a long golf shot into the right-field seats. Actually, now that I think about it, David Wright also had a double that hit the wall a foot below the top -- and it was back in that idiotic crevice in left-field, a homer over any other part of the wall. It was just a barrage of big bats, clubbing Russ Ortiz and a band of beleaguered, sweaty, unhappy, overmatched relievers. Gracie and Brenneman were begging for mercy by the fourth inning. This game had everything for a Mets fan . . . including some dark humor. With the score 17-0 in the seventh inning, Victor Diaz tagged up and took third on a fly to center. Everyone in the stadium, Mets included, shook their heads in disappointed disbelief, and at that point it was a question of who'd get plunked. Four batters later, seemingly at random, Tim Worrell decided to retaliate by hitting . . . wait for it . . . Kaz Matsui. In a way, this defused the situation entirely; going after Reyes, Wright, or even Jacobs might have turned into something ugly, but by nailing Matsui, Worrell cracked up every denizen of the Township and had to have the Mets shaking their heads with a wry smile. Here's hoping nothing more comes of it with Pedro on the hill tonight. (As an aside, in the eighth Matsui committed the throwing error I'd thought was coming two nights ago. He's persistent like that.)

The toughest line to toe for Willie Randolph and the coaching staff is to draw every ounce of confidence out of this recent outburst while keeping perspective in the kids. Boys, keep in mind that this is almost like a rehab stint, the way the Diamondbacks are playing this month. They're giving up double-digit scores every fifth game, they aren't hitting worth a damn, and their fielding is the pits. (Every time Victor Diaz hits a ball to the outfield, there's a better than good chance at least one outfielder will get a bad jump, misplay the ball, slip, trip, and/or fall flat on his face. Watch for it.) Don't get over-excited about . . .

Aw, I can't do it. You just don't see an onslaught like this very often, so get fired up, have fun with it, and see what happens next game. What a couple of ass-kickings. If this is the way they respond to my plea for a resurgence, I'll keep saying it. Resurgence.

Monday, August 22, 2005

A Fine Night for the Old TG

Games 122 through 124 – Mets

Mets 9, Nationals 8 (10)
Nationals 7, Mets 4
Mets 4, Diamondbacks 1
Record: 64-60

It’s good to have my cohort back in action – good to get caught up on the Sox, good to get reminded of who won the World Series last year, and besides, as any of you who read the last post or two of mine can tell, a two wheeled-cart missing a wheel tends to go in circles.

Looks like I picked the wrong night to stop covering Met games (in my best McCroskey voice). After detailing the soccer match – minus the grown men rolling around in fake anguish after near-miss trippings – Friday night, I watched but failed to chronicle Saturday night’s romp turned debacle turned redemption. There were roughly 37 things about which I’d have commented, and it’s probably a good thing I wasn’t recording my thoughts, for the sake of you young kids out there. I’m often prone to profane hyperbole when the bottom is falling out, but time has given me a chance to cool down and issue what I consider to me a more thoughtful and level-headed statement on that game: Danny Graves is the worst fucking pitcher to ever throw a baseball 60'6". The Mets’ pen had that look of the night crew on the Titanic, with Graves, “Goodybe, Mister” Koo, and Braden Looper all glancing around like “Somebody’d better go wake up Captain Willie.” Brian Schneider’s fly ball needed just two more feet of lift to give Washington that win, and by the grace of Shea it just missed. Seriously, in Philadelphia that ball’s in the parking lot. Give them, and by them I mean the consistently heroic Chris Woodward, credit for snatching the win out of the jaws of utter humiliation.

We’ll gloss over Sunday, much like the Mets did. With Victor Zambrano possibly on the verge of a demotion or a downgrade, Kris Benson had an outing as if to say, “Hey, my trade wasn’t so great, either!” Everyone was pounding the ball off Benson, and he only managed 2/3 of an inning; granted, it was the longest 2/3 of an inning the Mets have been on the field all season, but still. I knew he was cooked when he couldn’t even retire the one spot at the bottom of the Nats’ order which you always consider an automatic out, Cristian Guzman’s spot. (Nor could he get the pitcher out.) It was ugly early, and while those words bring back a lot of good memories for my blogging partner, it was no fun for me on Sunday.

Now three games out of the wild card, the Mets head off to the land of good sinuses and bad baseball, Arizona. The D-Backs are another team the Metropolitans should beat, and yes, the so-called logic that all of this talent should be resulting in more wins than losses seems more fallible by the day, but I’m stubborn like that. The Mets are old and sick and Dad’s starting to make some calls to that farm where the Mets can go and live happily instead of here with us, but they’re not leaving just yet. RESURGENCE. That’s going to be the new word of the New York Mets very soon, but you heard it here first. It’s a word I want to see in blogs and beats anywhere the locals bleed Met colors. (And not just in ways like, “There’s been a real resurgence of Kaz Matsui-bashing since he came off the DL.” I want in the good way, daggone it.)

Speaking of “The Door” Matsui, he’s back in the starting lineup tonight. Hitting #2. That’s just a slap in the face to the D-Backs, and we’ll see if they use it as bulletin board material to get themselves fired up.

The lineup does include something to make the Township smile; call-up Mike Jacobs, who homered in his first major league at-bat yesterday, is in the starting lineup at first base. We’re smiling because the kid is a breath of fresh air at a position that’s been rife with stale, stank winds for quite a while. Of course, we could be smiling because when your best option at a power position is a AA player, you just nod your head, smile and ignore the dull, throbbing pain at the base of your skull.

Brandon Webb is throwing for AZ tonight, and apparently that information is brought to us by Ricoh. Remember folks, when you’re done using their printer toner, be sure to throw your spent cartridges in Ricoh tubs. And there goes half our audience.

Former New York/Boston/decent player Tony Clark is at first base for the D-Backs, and he snags Reyes’ sharp grounder on the first pitch (shocker) for a 3U start to the game. Somewhere Rob Russell cackles in the distance. Next up is the aforetrashed Matsui, who Ted Robinson proclaims has “entered the Cedeño zone” at Shea, and that’s a great phrase. I may start using that at work for employees in bad standing with us obnoxious management types.

Matsui doubles into the corner. Baseball is a stupid game.

Beltran walks, Floyd doubles. 2-0, and that’s how it stands after the top of the inning. Glavine has as much run support as he has seen in plenty of starts. Throw strikes, Tom.

Glavine walks the first batter. Why do I do that?

It took 29 minutes from the start of the telecast, but they just showed a clip of the Diamondbacks winning the World Series in 2001. Didn’t see that coming, did you? It was actually interesting to see Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling buddying up and hoisting the trophy. How times have changed since then; from teammates and a powerful 1-2 combo to just two guys I wish would go away for a while.

Tony Clark’s numbers on the year so far: 96 games, .323/22/68 with a .370 OBP. Did anyone on the east coast know he was back from the crap heap? You know any team that could use a 1B with those numbers? Glavine’s walk doesn’t come back to haunt him, though. 2-0 after one.

The Mets go down in order in the second, but they start off the bottom of the inning with a fantastic scoop by Jacobs at first to save a more fantastic diving stop play by David Wright. Holy hell. I could watch that play a few times. 2-0 after two.

Beltran walks again, steals second, and takes third on a ball in the dirt. His quad must be doing much better, as his baserunning is definitely starting to resume the form of the guy they signed last winter. The power numbers are still off, but you have to feel they’ll come, and in the meantime, he’s helping this team get more dangerous on the paths by the day. Nothing doing, though. 2-0 after three.

Victor Diaz becomes the first strikeout victim for Webb. If it sounds like the announcers are pronouncing his name “Victor D.H.,” it’s because they are. He just had a lost weekend in right field like some of my weekends in New Orleans. The kid can hit, but when you could describe your outfield instincts as “pensive,” you end up costing your team out there. Now here's Mike DiFelice, giving Ramon Castro a day off and giving Mike Piazza a chance to look fast by comparison. Troy Glaus lost the ball inside his uniform, felt himself up, found the ball, and threw DiFelice out by ten steps.

Matsui looked awkward but made his first play cleanly; he booted the second one but recovered in time to get the out. I predict the next one hits a retiree in the chest. 2-0 after four.

Whoa. Jose Reyes just hit a bomb to right. Three-zip. Not that we want him swinging for it, but man, that’s just gravy. Now Beltran is in a race with the pitcher to touch first, and he definitely seems to have pulled off when it looked like (a) Webb had the out by a step, and (b) a collision might ensue. Anyone who blames him hasn’t broken their face in the last few weeks.

Glavine has allowed one hit and no runs through five innings. I believe right now he is about nine innings from having his option for next year kick in. I may just have jinxed one of these outcomes. 3-0 after five.

1st and 3rd, nobody out, and the Mets don’t score. Mike Jacobs grounded into an inning-ending double-play, and Omar Minaya is seen typing for flights to southeastern Virginia and/or upstate New York. (Steve Trachsel is going to be called up tomorrow, and somebody’s going down; because they haven’t figured out what to do with Trachsel, i.e., they can’t think of a way to tell Victor Zambrano to pack his bags, there’s a decent chance a position players hits the road, and Jacobs is the likely candidate.)

Fran Healy just called Jose Reyes “one of those Wyld Stallyns.” That’s probably not how he intended to spell it, but that’s how Bill, Ted, and I are typing it. It gets a little uncomfortable when Fran drools all over Reyes, describing his physique in overly admiring detail and mentioning twice that Jose is “still feeling himself in this league.” It’s a nice break from Ted Robinson fawning over Mike Jacobs’ “beautiful swing” several times per at-bat, I guess. It’s Uncomfortable Compliment Night at FSN New York. 3-0 after six.

The Mets do nothing in the seventh, while the DB’s start their half of the frame off with a pair of singles. Tying run at the plate, just like that. Glavine is starting to miss his spots just a bit. 6-4-3, right in my face. Shawn Green plates the run with a double, and the Mets’ bullpen starts to loom like a storm cloud in the distance. A nubber to first ends the inning. Choppy sentences. Misdirection. Fun. 3-1 after seven.

Six up, six down, punctuated with another Jacobs scoop that Jose Offerman would be retrieving out of the dugout. 3-1 after eight. This was a damn fine outing by Tom Glavine, and for the last leg of the sprint, he hands the baton to . . . Rerun. Braden Looper warming in the pen.

Victor DH hits a rocket into the second deck in left field, recreating the three-run lead. If only the Mets could eke across another run so that it wouldn’t be a save opportunity and their “best” reliever wouldn’t have to come in the game, I’d feel much safer. Now Willie bats Glavine, meaning:

1. They aren’t interested in adding to the lead.
2. Glavine will stay in, rather than hand over the reins.
3. I just spoke well of Glavine’s outing before it was complete, thereby putting the hex on him. Oh, I am fortune’s fool.

Royce Clayton singles to lead off, ending Glavine’s game. And Rerun gets the baton after all. What’s happening??

Oh, and Victor DH was replaced by Gerald Williams. For some reason I’m reminded of when my wife had a mole removed for cosmetic purposes, but the surgery left an ugly scar. Don’t know why that comes to mind.

Looper’s numbers have been ghastly against lefties this year. He’s looking at facing Luis Gonzalez, Tony Clark, and maybe Shawn Green from the left, with just the power-hitting Troy Glaus from the right. Situational Willie, they call him.

5-4-3, and we’re one out from Willie Randolph being right and Mets Township saying he was just lucky yet again. I haven’t been the biggest fan of the way Mr. Randolph has run things thus far, most notably in his bullpen management, but if you give free agents and rookies that first year to get acclimated, and even New York fans sometimes do, I think you give the greenhorn manager the same bye. And those of us who think we have all the answers need only roll out the Strat-o-matic to see how confounded this game can be, and that’s without the intense spotlight, salary issues, and off-the-field dramas. Just a thought, going against the grain as usual.

Flyout to center (after a walk), and the Mets win, 4-1. Tom Glavine gets it done, evening his record at 10-10. All is well in the Township for another 24 hours. With a quarter of the season still unplayed, the Mets are perched just out of media focus, waiting . . . waiting . . . biding their time and regrouping for the you-know-what. Say it with me: Resurgence.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

End of an Eeyore?

Games 116 through 122 - Red Sox

Tigers 7, Red Sox 6
Red Sox 10, Tigers 7
Tigers 6, Red Sox 5
Angels 13, Red Sox 4
Red Sox 4, Angels 3 (10)
Angels 4, Red Sox 2
Red Sox 5, Angels 1

Record: 71-51

Unplanned blog hiatus this week, as a long business trip combined with a sick wife kept me away from this space. Since I only saw the bookend contests in the 7-game run listed above, you didn't miss much from me in the way of enlightened analysis. Whit drained all the words from the MLC account, anyway.

What I saw in the first game of the Tigers series and the last one of the Angels set doesn't give me a great deal of confidence after hearing that Curt Schilling will rejoin the Sox rotation on Thursday at Kansas City. Schilling threw up all over himself against Detroit, blowing a 6-4 9th inning lead, and then made a laugher against the Angels way too close, permitting the tying run to reach the on-deck circle after opening the bottom of the 9th with a 5-0 lead. I think that 2005 is destined to be a lost season for the iron-willed Schilling, despite his best efforts to contribute. And frankly, after 2004, I'm willing to give him a pass for the rest of his career.

As Schilling continued to author the worst of times, Jonathan (nee Jon) Papelbon - Charles himself couldn't have contrived a more Dickensian name - stepped up and offered the flipside best of times in today's contest. The rookie continued to impress, going 5 2/3 scoreless against the division-leading Halos. Papelbon lowered his ERA to 2.25 in 16 innings, and though he's still looking for his first big-league win has shown signs that he can be counted upon to contribute through crunch time. He's got a big-time fastball, used to great effect in blowing away the lethal Vlad Guerrero with 1 on and none out in the bottom of the 4th. If he regains the control he showed in the minors, he could be a fixture at the top of the Sox rotation for the forseeable future.

The Sox and Angels entered the top of the 8th tonight deadlocked in a scoreless tie. After Edgar Renteria's 2-out, 2-run homer plated the Sox' first 3 runs, the next 2 batters offered an object lesson in why the brilliance of the design of the game of baseball is in the details. David Ortiz, the fearsome slugger with the awe-dropping power, took out 3 games worth of 1-15 frustration by...bunting to beat the Angels' shift. Ortiz reached first easily on what might well have been his first bunt single ever, and as soon as he did, I said to my daughter, "Manny's going yard here". Forget for a moment whether I may have confused a 3 year-old about why a baseball player was on our lawn.

When Manny returned to the dugout after ripping Brendan Donnelly's outside fastball over the wall in right-center, he was rightly congratulated by his happy teammates (likely because they were breathing a bit more easily, almost sure that Schilling couldn't blow a 5-run lead). However, Sox skipper Terry Francona and team mascot Kevin Millar (he must be the mascot, because there's no other explanation for why he's still on the active roster) sought out Papi and knowingly congratulated him for making Manny's blast possible. Great baseball, great result, and one of the little things that make the game such a joy to watch.

I had very little time to follow the Sox' comings and goings this week, but I did note with a mixture of sadness and resignation the likely end of Mark Bellhorn's career in Boston. Bellhorn's .216/.328/.360 line, in combination with his ungodly strikeout rate made him expendable in the wake of Tony Graffanino's stellar start in Boston. I've spent lots of copy on Bellhorn's exasperating failures this season, and he was quite simply hurting the team with his presence, but I'll always remember his death-knell clout in Game 7 of the ALCS as one of the signature moments of my baseball fandom. The amplified sound of his 8th inning homer clanging off the foul pole in Yankee Stadium signalled clearly and finally the end of the Yankees' dominance and the beginning of a new era. Bellhorn also ripped big homers in Game 6 of the ALCS and Game 1 of the World Series, and at the end, it may be the potential evident in those clutch blasts that makes this final chapter even harder to take. Godspeed, Eeyore, as the SoSHers say, you were 1 of the 25, and for that I'll always be grateful. I'm also grateful that I probably won't ever have to watch you swing futilely over a 2-strike curveball.


Bet update, because I need to employ a jinx. Sox are 8.5 games up on the scrappy Mets at this juncture. 13 is the cut line for this year's wager, so I need my guys to make up 5 more games over the season's final 40. Possible, especially in the wake of last season's late-season runs (in opposite directions). But the Mets seem to be making things happen in ways that they haven't during the life of MLC. Fun to watch, admittedly, but I've got quite a substantial gambling winning streak going against Whitney, and I don't want to end it now.

Friday, August 19, 2005

A Needle Pulling the String

Games 120 & 121 - Mets

Pirates 5, Mets 0
Mets 1, Nationals 0
Record: 62-59

Good evening, Mets fans, and welcome to another edition of MLC’s live in-game commentary. Tonight your New York Mets square off against the best thing going in the nation’s capital, i.e., a worthy distraction from the turmoil, chaos, and ineptitude of the administration, the Federal government, and of course, the Washington Redskins. Tonight most Met fans will get to enjoy the aural ecstasy of the usual Metscasters while I am treated to the soothing sounds of former Voice of the Bullets Mel Proctor and future Voice of the Motocross Circuit Ron Darling. It’s always nice to get the unsung Darling back to Shea, where he quietly carried the ’86 pitching staff through the World Series. It’s just too bad that we have to hear his color commentary, which hasn’t made nearly the progress this young team has this year. Enough with the intros, however, because here we go.

Uh oh. John Patterson is going tonight. Last night the offense was absolutely MIA against an unknown Pirate pitcher. Looks like the sleepy bats may be getting a curtain call, as Patterson has been pitching extraordinarily well of late. Nothing like settling in with the laptop and a Heineken, seeing the other team’s starter, and grumbling, “I hunkered down for this?”

Ron Darling flexes his vocabularial muscles early, explaining the Nats’ slump: “They had a tough break coming out of the All-Star . . . break.” (Is it legal to rag someone for repeating words in the same sentence in which you just make up words? Home-field advantage tonight, so we get the call and it stands.)

Wait just a second -- Jae Seo goes tonight for the Mets. Tit for tat, John Patterson, and “Tat” Lester is suddenly excited.

Cristian Guzman has been replaced at short for Washington by Jamey Carroll, a light-hitting utility man with limited range. That move may well hurt the Mets, and I wish I were being facetious. If you haven’t had a chance to watch Guzman in action this summer, you can: rent the original Bad News Bears and watch Walter Matthau’s Buttermaker playing ball after downing a bucket of Buds for a reasonable facsimile.

Seo gets through the first unscathed. A couple of quick outs, a walk, and a laser right at David Wright. Not perfect, and he was missing upstairs early, but once he loosened up and started bending his back more, he settled in and made the pitches he needed.

Jose Reyes singles. Fasten your seatbelts, people. Nats catcher Brian Schneider has a cannon and a quick release but Patterson’s stiffer than a Democratic Presidential candidate in his motion to the plate. I say . . . run him!

After Miguel Cairo flies routinely to left, they do run Reyes, and he’s in there by the thinnest of hairs. Whew. Nice gun by Schneider. Now Beltran walks, making the close call at second simply a stat-pad for Reyes.

Why, why, why must they keep showing the collision? How grisly would it have to be for them not to show it? Would it have to be like in The Naked Gun when the player’s head came off in the highlights? I guess the Nats' producers figure that after the 2003 and 2004 seasons, anyone watching the New York Mets is well beyond “aghast.”

Cliff Floyd drives a ball deep, to just right of the pitcher’s mound, and there are two outs. Double steal! Wow, Schneider went for Beltran at second and almost had him, but now the Mets have swiped three bags in this inning alone. If I’m Frank Robinson, I’m thinking about pitching around David Wright to get to Marlon Anderson, but me telling big Frank how to manage an inning is akin to me telling Mr. Coppola what angle he should use for the next shot.

David Wright gets punched out on a somewhat questionable strike three. Inning over. Threat eliminated. Beer empty. On to the second.

Preston Wilson opens the second with a double down the left-field line, and I am officially retiring from covering the New York Mets forever. Preston Wilson is Mookie’s son?? And I didn’t know that? I thought they were related, but I had no idea. Proctor and Darling both said it, though, so it must be at least 30% true. If it’s true, that’s a hideous oversight by me, and I should be mocked in every corner of the ‘sphere.

Ouch. With one out, Seo fires one off Vinny Castilla’s elbow. I might be mistaken, but I think he just cursed in English. Interesting. How long would I have to live in France before I instinctively said, “Merde” when I hit my head on those low-hanging Old World doorways? Probably a while, but I’ll tell you this: I’ll be saying “Sacre bleu!” just about any chance I get as soon as my plane touches down.

First and third, one out, but Seo gets out of it. I like the way he’s throwing, despite digging himself some divots already.

Marlon Anderson crushes one to shallow pitcher’s mound on the first pitch. Way to make him work, Marlon. Sometimes that early-and-often mentality of the pinch-hitter sticks with a guy even after he gets into the starting lineup. A whiff by Ramon Castro and a meager fly by Victor Diaz, and the offensive output is starting to resemble the bleak turnout predicted in this space.

After some research, it turns out Mookie is Preston’s uncle . . . and stepfather. I’m letting myself off the hook for not knowing he was his “father,” and we’ll let Mookie off the hook for being his uncle and stepfather. We’ll also let Ron Darling off the hook for either misspeaking or not knowing what he should definitely know, only because today is his 45th birthday. Happy Birthday to one of my favorite Mets of all time. They just showed some of his work from the ’86 Series, and I enjoyed this quote from Ron even though it made no sense: “I was accused of having a bad mullet, but it was worth it to strike out Wade Boggs.”

The Nats are down quickly, and Seo moves from the mound to the batter’s box. Mel Proctor makes the rookie “Seo-Seo” joke first used on MLC back in 2003 and used pretty much on every Mets blog/site/column at some point. Like a rite of passage. Nice, Mel.

Reyes singles again and steals again, but after popping up on ball four, Cairo walks like a punished toddler (you though I was going to say Egyptian, didn't you??) back to the dugout. Beltran flies out. Speed kills, but without any production behind him, Reyes’s Speed becomes Speed 2 very quickly.

Preston Wilson’s one-out single is erased when Castro nails him stealing. I think Jose Reyes makes it look a lot easier than it really is. And if you can’t tell the difference between Mike Piazza and Ramon Castro from your lead at first base, for goodness’ sake, Preston, ask somebody. The Nats are swatted in the 4th, and it’s another imperfect but impressive inning from Jae “What Exactly Do I Need to Do to Stay in the Bigs?” Seo.

Cliff Floyd sends one deep to the on-deck circle for out number one. Dee-Dub singles, but gets gunned in ugly fashion trying to steal second. Again, I think Reyes gives people an inflated sense of what they can accomplish on the basepaths by being so adept. Brian Schneider just shot Wright a look like “The pale third baseman’s running on me now? Please.” Marlon Anderson walks and tries to steal, too, but Castro whiffs just in time to save Marlon the embarrassment of seeing the tag waiting for him before he actually went into his slide. Guys, Brian Schneider is pretty handy behind the plate. (Maybe not the handiest Schneider that ever was, but that’s understandable.)

The Nationals go in order, and I just want to warn the Mets: I have a few things to do tomorrow, so if there’s still no score around noon, I’m going to have to bail out here.

Just an observation: Mel Proctor seems to know way more about the Mets than anyone in the Mets’ booth knows about any other team. You can tell that much of it comes from crib notes and stats, but I like the effort.

With two outs, Jose Reyes singles again, and the Mets need to parlay this effort into a run. Except that he just got picked off by John Patterson’s slow-motion move to first. Honestly, pigeons were landing on Patterson as he was throwing over.

Three up, three down for Washington, who have been scoring runs this season as often as the lads from East Coast Agony have been updating their blog. Miss those guys.

Beltran ropes a single, and it goes for naught, naturally. We go to the seventh, there’s a parade of mini-keg cans beside me, and they just announced that if it’s scoreless after 30 innings, the four umpires will vote on who’s had the better game in their opinion, and that will be how they determine the winner.

I just learned that it’s Irish Night at Shea tonight. Whoever decided to schedule Irish Night during a series devoid of any bad blood whatsoever deserves a bonus, but there are going to be a whole lot of antsy drunks when last call comes in the seventh of 42 scoreless innings.

The Mets just turned the fastest double play I’ve seen all season. Sharply hit ball, quick flick from Cairo to Reyes, laser from Reyes to first. Brian Schneider was still following through when the out was recorded.

Ramon Castro just doubled with one out in the seventh. This may be the Mets’ best good chance to score. Hey! Victor Diaz singles him home on an opposite-field drive, running himself into an out to ensure the run scored. 1-0, finally, and we go to the eighth. I certainly wasn’t going to say it, but Mel Proctor just moped that the one run might be enough.

Naturally, the Mets get themselves right into trouble. Victor Diaz was the hero for about two minutes, and clearly he was uneasy with the role. He misplayed a looper toward the line off his glove – it was a ball that Mike Cameron catches 100 times out of 100. Now first and third with one down, and I need to pause for a 12-ounces tribute to Irish Night.

Whew. Jae Seo was the beneficiary of a home plate with love handles for that strike three call. Tom Glavine smiles, “That’s my boy.” A flyball has the Mets escaping, the fans erupting, Jae Seo pumping his fist, and me . . . not quite ready to breathe easy yet.

Jose Reyes, 4-for-4 now after singling to lead off the bottom of the eighth. And they can’t get him in. Man, this is getting old. Gilligan got stranded less often.

Nick Johnson singles, because that’s just Braden Looper being Braden Looper, but Jose Guillen grounds into a 4-6-3 rugpull. The Nats are down to their last out. Now down to their last strike. Now down to their last six weeks of the season with no offensive production in sight. Preston Wilson watched strike three sail into the glove, looking like he was waiting for a wild pitch to score the tying run.

Quick Question: If Steve Trachsel comes back strong, is Victor Zambrano your choice for a bump to the bullpen?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

MLC Live

Games 118 & 119 - Mets

Mets 6, Pirates 2
Mets 5, Pirates 1
Record: 61-58

Good evening, sports fans, and welcome to another addition of MLC’s in-game commentary. We’re coming to you from Shea Stadium via MLC headquarters, and thanks to a rookie TiVo maneuver, it’s already the bottom of the second inning as I tune in. The score is 1-1 with two down and Ramon Castro at the plate. What can we tell from the 1-1 score? Not much, except that Tom Glavine is off to one of his flying starts again.

Oh, uh, before we get going, the Mets won last night. I have nothing to add; I recorded it, then watched it at the end of a long night of whiskey & go-go, and don't really remember it. Get help, son.

Hey, how about that, Ralph Kiner’s on the mic tonight. A lot of people think I sound like Ralph Kiner. At least a lot of people at the bar where I get loaded. I thought -- nay, hoped that it was just Mr. Kiner and Ted Robinson, but Fran Healy chimed in with that inimitable voice and it’s a full boat in the booth.

They don’t call him the best color man in baseball for nothin’. I tune in for 45 seconds and I’m already stupefied. I can play back this exchange 100 times and I still wouldn’t be able to effectively decipher it. They’re flashing back (the Coors Light "Cold Blast," to cool down the hottest of hitters) to Ramon Castro homering off Josh Fogg last month, relevant because that’s who Castro is facing at the moment and because that was his last long ball. Anyway, away we go:
Fran: He got all of that, he knew it, and he was Cadillacking around the bases.

Ralph: Well, you know what they say about Cadillacs . . . home run hitters drive Cadillacs.

F: I tell you, Ralph Kiner coined that phrase many years ago, and kids in the Little Leagues from that moment on said, “Bunt? Forget bunting, I’m going for the long ball.”

R: That’s where that expression came from – he Cadillacked around the bases.

F: Did it come from that?

R: I doubt that.
And by the grace of God, Ramon Castro is punched out immediately thereafter, ending the inning and the uncomfortable silence that must have been torturous to poor Ted Robinson.

Top 3 now…Glavine strikes out his counterpart. 1 down. This just in: according to Ralph, Gene Mauch (mentioned in the telecast because he skippered the league record 23 consecutive losses that the Royals are endangering) knew the rule book so well that he could take advantage, so baseball changed the rules so he couldn’t. Hmmm. In a related story, Gene Mauch used to be able to defy the laws of physics and be in two places at once, simultaneously impressing the hell out of everyone who ever came in contact with him and establishing precedents for losing ballgames that would last for decades.

Ramon Castro makes a damn fine play on a swinging bunt to gun the runner. I’m thinking Mike Piazza doesn’t even make that play in Strat-o-matic.

A double by Tike Redman with Jason Bay (who I see homered in the first) coming up. Intentional walk. Little spot of trouble, but rookie Brad Eldred pops up. With a Pirates lineup that, like Rob Russell’s wallet, is filled with "little protection," the IBB was the wise move.

Three up, three down for the Mets. Don’t want Glavine cooling down.

Aflac Trivia Question: Who was the last Pirate to lead the league in hits? I’m saying a pre-bloat Bonds. Of course, Robby Alomar used to be up there in hits, and he was a pirate of sorts.

Castro makes another good play on another swinging bunt. Pats on the back for Castro and Glavine. Now Glavine gets an old school not-quite-a-strike for a called strike three. Hey, it’s the Pirates; they haven’t gotten that call since the days of the “BB Gunners.” (Worst nickname in sporting news history, and amazingly, I didn’t come up with it.)

Wow, my ears perked up at this exchange (based on a shot of Tom Glavine’s foot not actually touching the pitching rubber in his wind-up):
Fran: If the Pirates see that on TV in the clubhouse, you know what they’re
going to say? “Make sure he’s in contact with the rubber.

Ted: That’s going to be the title, Ralph, of your next book . . .


. . . Pitchers Cheat.
Ted’s having a rough go of it tonight. The Pirates, too, as they can’t score in the 4th.

Carlos Beltran up now. He walked in the first and scored from first base on a Cliff Floyd single. Wow. He just bunt-singled. That horrible collision may have been just what the doctor ordered (some sick devil-doctor, of course) to get the fans back behind him. Now he steals second . . . easily, and the fans really are behind the guy. Love to hear that.

They’re walking Floyd intentionally with D-W in the circle. This is not a proven formula for success. Billy Beane could explain why. Hell, Mr. Bean could tell you why this is not a good idea.

A wild pitch, followed by a two-run single to left by David “You Guys Need to Listen to Whitney, He's” Wright. 3-1, Metropolitans. This is the third time I’ve scolded my television (well, really the people appearing on it, but let’s face it, I’m admonishing an appliance, in reality) about this particular mistake, and the third time I’ve been backed up by my new favorite player.

Jose Offerman grounds into a textbook double play, one worthy of a terrible pun. He’s not an Offerman we can’t refuse. (Sorry.) Anyway, Offerman just dropped in to see what condition his unconditional release was in, and those three runs I’m sure will hold up, so anything more would just be piling on. Yep.

The Aflac answer: Andy Van Slyke. I was wrong with Bonds . . . and Fran Healy was right – he did walk too much for the hits title, even then. I will now punch myself in the face. Andy Van Slyke was always one of my favorites, if only for his quotes. Look them up.

Ralph actually just told a good story. It was about Honus Wagner, and it began, “He loved to drink beer.” More of these, please, Ralph. We know they’re in there. Pirates go down with a whimper in the 5th.

An ad for the Mets fantasy camp appears, and the gang discusses theories as to why so many fantasy camp participants blow out their knees every year. And the Mets marketing department has its collective head in its collective hands, cringing and cursing. The Mets go down in order in the 6th. I’m not very comfortable with this flimsy two-run lead, just in case anyone’s wondering.

Bucs on first and second with one out. For the record, I was significantly more comfortable when I typed that last paragraph. Popped him up on a 3-2 pitch, now two down. Now an easy grounder to first, and the Mets duck the damage. It’s Throwback Tom Glavine, which is infinitely more appealing to watch than “Throw Back Tom Glavine,” that other guy who misses his spots and whines about QuesTech.

Unbelievable. They’re putting Floyd on again to get to Wright. Will they never learn? Now Lloyd McClendon is bringing in a reliever, and it’s brought to us by Levitra. Swell. Here’s hoping Wright gets good wood on a pitch. It’s a double-switch, and Willie Randolph looks like he’s got a pretty good idea of how it works by now.

Miguel Cairo steals third. Kaz Matsui, welcome to “utility infielder” status. The “futility infielder” joke is screaming to be let loose, but I won’t do it. Not here. Not now.

David Wright walks. Not sure if that counts towards the “I told you so” quotient, but I’m declaring victory in the name of Lesteria. This brings up Jose Offerman, a once-solid pinch-hitter forced into mostly-everyday status, which is akin to Ringo fronting a Beatles gig. Just not what the fans were hoping for. I’m having a nauseating premonition involving the numbers 4, 6, and 3.

Giddyup! No, not GIDP, as I so negatively foresaw – Offerman pulled a single to right, scoring two! Hooray for my stupidity! And this closes the book on the second Floyd IBB; verdict: doubly asinine. The four runs that separate the Mets and Pirates all came after McClendon signaled “4” to his battery, and two of those were plated by Floyd himself.

Ah, there’s the 4-6-3 ball, one batter after I called it. Victor Diaz neutralizes any chance of a big inning in a show of “It’s the Pirates, lay off.”

A stellar fielding play by Hampton Roads’ favorite son (David Wright, not me, but I appreciate you saying so). I’ve praised him enough already, but man. Now Tom Glavine coaxes a double play groundball, and the Pirates are swashbuckled in the seventh.

Willie has decided to leave Glavine in (101 pitches) and let him bat for himself. I’m all for letting the pen rest (especially Roberto Hernandez), but I wouldn’t have done it. Yikes – Glavine laces a foul ball into the seats. I’ve let the matter rest, but I’m still on my soapbox about this: someone’s going to die at a baseball game in the near future because the seats are ever-closer to the action, there is no netting over there, and people don’t pay attention. Here’s hoping it’s a true scumbag who gets it instead of a kid like at the hockey game.

Now Glavine is punched out. Still unsure about him staying in, but I’ll defer to Willie for now. And Jose Reyes is called out on a bang-bang play at first. Oops, and he chucks his helmet a la Sheffield, but he’ll stay in the game because he promptly walked away without further insult. Yankees fans will be incensed that Reyes wasn’t tossed, but the difference, and what the yutzes who led the outcry over Shef’s ejection failed to recognize, is that Sheffield was really thrown out for the helmet-hurl plus a batch of pointed and vulgar obscenities directed at the umpire. If he’d chucked the hat and said, “I respectfully disagree,” it would’ve been a different outcome, but the next time those words spill from Gary Sheffield’s lips will be the first time, along with “I’m very happy with my surroundings,” “I’m appreciative of all my blessings,” and “I was discussing Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling with Ruben Sierra the other day when . . . ”

Another close call at first base as Offerman misses tagging the runner. This time the ump got it right, but two tough plays in a row for him. Jason Bay comes up now with a chance to make this annoyingly interesting. (And make me unfortunately right.)

He doubles. And Glavine is gone without retiring a batter in the eighth. Bring on Aaron Heilman. And a Tums.

Whoa. Heilman just froze the rookie on a wicked strike three. And again to the next guy. He’s on, and when he’s on, he’s a lot of fun to watch. I’m suddenly feeling better. A weak pop to second, and the Mets need just three more outs. Great inning from Heilman.

Ted Robinson makes a reference to the game the Mets blew – totally blew – in Pittsburgh last month, as I take another Tums.

Bottom 8, bases loaded, one out, Offerman up. He drove in two last time up, so why am I still doubting him? Ah, because he swings at pitches that bounce before the plate. Strike three. Nice. And there’s Victor Diaz, humming Dion & the Belmonts’ “The Squanderer” as he jogs down to first after hitting another easy grounder to second.

Braden Looper was warming in the pen, and I was all ready to write why I thought it was a mistake to bring him in with Heilman utterly dealing. Lookee there, Willie and I are on the same page for the first time since . . . I don’t know when. Heilman’s still in.

A shot of Cameron’s jersey hanging in the dugout. Hell yes.

Aaron Heilman runs a full count to all three batters, then gets each of them out on his change-up (two by the strikeout). Ballgame. There was a lot to like in this game. Some of it was Lloyd McClendon’s strong desire to award the Mets free baserunners, but a lot more was the Mets taking care of a subpar team. There have been plenty of Monty Python references popping up on the site this year, mostly as a way of mocking the Mets. This time, though, it’s for a much more positive turn. As I was lamenting the demise of my team last week, they were heard protesting:

“I’m not dead . . . I'm feeling better.”

Of course, I’m probably fooling myself, but for now, I feel happy. 2.5 games out of the wild card. I think I’ll go for a walk.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Omen? Oh, Man!

Games 114 & 115 - Red Sox

Red Sox 9, White Sox 8
Red Sox 7, White Sox 4
Rain 1, White Sox 0
Record: 68-47

Quick and dirty to hold you over for a few days, as I'm heading out of town for business and won't be near the internet until Friday.

62 runs now in 6 games (5 more tonight in 5 innings) for the Sox, and even when things go bad, they turn out well. Curt Schilling threw batting practice to the Pale Hose 2 nights in a row, but Big Papi's magic power machine bailed him out twice. The ChiSox pummelled Matt Clement last night, and led 5-2 in the 4th before the heavens opened and the game was washed out. To their credit, the Sox have taken advantage of the luck they've been given, laying on the accelerator to the tune of 14 wins in 16 games.

Interesting fact: the Red Sox have never failed to win a World Series in a year when Phil Mickelson wins a major championship. Last year in this space, a very wise man wrote the following after Lefty won the Masters: "Philly Mick, big-talented, hard-luck loser ends his majorless streak on the same day the big-talented, hard-luck Boston Red Sox pick up where they left off at the end of 2003, winning a game they shouldn't have? Omen? Hmmm? I'm just saying."

Now, 16 months later, Philly Mick, big-talented, somewhat erratic champion finds a way to simply get it done when it matters, while the big-talented, somewhat erratic Boston Red Sox lead the AL East. Omen? Hmmm? I'm just saying.

(Random naked event: FSN Detroit was asleep at the switch as a pair of streakers hit the field at Comerica, ruining the G rating for tonight's telecast. The announcers are reacting as if ritual murders are being committed at home plate. I'm giggling. Naked people are funny.)

Kicked While You're Down

Games 115 through 117 - Mets

Dodgers 7, Mets 6
Mets 5, Dodgers 1
Dodgers 2, Mets 1
Record: 59-58

Man, what a tough weekend. This series held a fair amount of potential for the upturn to the Mets' season, but it played out as a definitive acceleration to the downward momentum that may quickly grow into a landslide. Late leads on Friday and Sunday, had they been held, would have been greater than one win each for different reasons. A win Friday night -- in the face of Thursday's outfield wreckage and the cloud of gloom it created over the Township -- would have felt like some sort of heroic underdog victory. A dominating Pedro Martinez performance, sustained beyond the 7.1 innings it lasted, that led the team to a series win would have extended the fleeting hope in this season. And it's an enormous if, but if Pedro had managed to notch that no-no, oh, my what that would have meant to the Mets.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda. On Friday, Victor Zambrano tired, Aaron Heilman offered little relief, and Braden Looper gave up a prospect's first major league home run in the 10th. Yesterday, Pedro made two mistakes, and that was that. Another series loss, and more disappointment amid an already difficult time for the team.

Kick in the Gut: My associate here at MLC and I were watching the game late yesterday afternoon (we watched most of in super-fast TiVo redux, slowing it down for the painful end). As Pedro's tremendous outing stretched into the eighth inning, I turned to Rob and said, "I just know it's going to be one of those lose-the-no-no/lose-the-game scenarios, dammit." And then it happened. With the Mets, there's such a fine line between pessimism and realism.

Punt in the Groin: After Gerald Williams alligator-armed the wall on the no-hitter-eliminating triple, Rob was quick to point out that Beltran makes that catch without a great deal of trouble. At least the old Beltran would; who knows how timid that outfield (Williams included) is playing these days?

Today provides a much-needed day off; tomorrow begins a brief, six-game homestand against the Pirates and Nationals, two teams that, going into last week, wouldn't have presented much of a problem. If there's any juice left in this season, we're going to need evidence of it between now and next Sunday. If the Mets limp through this week before another seven games out west, it's denouement time in Metropolitan City, and I'm applying for my license to resume full-fledged mockery despite the unfortunate episode of last week.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Flotsam, Jetsam

Games 112 & 113 - Red Sox

Red Sox 8, Rangers 7
Red Sox 16, Rangers 5
Record: 66-47

Chewing on a Rogue Shakespeare Stout while watching the Sox treat Mark Buehrle rudely. Unfortunately, the Pale Hose are returning the favor against David Wells, as the teams head to the 7th tied at 5. Buehrle's fun to watch - works fast, throws strikes, mixed up pitches and locations, goes deep in games. And this Sox offense wears him out like some September call-up.

The Sox have tallied 46 runs in their last 4 games, and have scored 6 or more runs in 7 of their last 9 (winning all 7). They lead the league in runs, average, OBP, and OPS, and are 2nd in SLG behind the Rangers. It just can't be any fun for a starting pitcher to know 4 days in advance that he gets to face these guys. I'm not sure how this is possible, but Manny Ramirez has quietly posted 107 RBI, leading the AL by 12 over the next guy on the list - who, by the way, is David Ortiz (and make that 11, as Tizzle just took Buehrle deep). Johnny Damon leads the league in average, while Jason Varitek - a catcher! - has been in and out of the top 10 all season.

Despite my obvious lack of any redeeming prose, I needed to get a post in today, as Whit's offering just south of this one is the 666th in MLC history - and I'm as superstitious as just about every next guy. That tally combined with the subject matter (really, that collision was worse than the Jackson/Damon post-season braining) has me scurrying to get this entry out of the way. Godspeed, Mike Cameron - baseball fans around the league are rooting for your full recovery.

Oh, No . . .

Game 114 - Mets

Padres 2, Mets 1
Record: 58-56

It's hard to be the guys who operate on the lighter side of the baseball blogosphere when something that serious happens on the field. There are no witticisms available to you after you see that play. When Mike Cameron and Carlos Beltran smash faces while diving for a low liner, all you can do is grip the nearest chair-arm, close your eyes, and will yourself to hope for the best rather than dread the worst.

That this particular line drive led to not only the horrific collision but the game-winning run for the Padres is the most literal employment of "adding insult to injury" I've seen in some time. It also adds fuel to what would have been the primary topic of today's post . . .

Memo to Tom Glavine: You will never, ever reach 300 wins pitching for the New York Mets. Time to relax that no-trade clause, because there is simply no chance of making it to that milestone as a Met. You've known since your first month in New York that the only "run support" in that clubhouse involved Robby Alomar's pantyhose and not hitters driving in runners for you. You're getting older, and those damnable umpires are squeezing your strike zone down to a nearly standard size, but even when you put together a fine outing like last night, something goes wrong. (Very, very wrong in last night's case.) 300 wins in this era is Everest, and you're nearing the peak, but right about now you have to find yourself looking down to see your sherpa has fitted you with roller skates. And if you thought you weren't getting much help before, take a look at what the Mets are probably calling a "lineup" tonight (courtesy of Jeremy Heit at MetsGeek):

Reyes, SS
Cairo, 2B
Wright, 3B
Piazza, C
Diaz, RF
Anderson, LF
Offerman, 1B
Williams, CF

[For the record, I'd like it noted I took a joke off the table that compared the pain of looking at the collision and looking at this lineup. There are some depths to which even I will not stoop.]

I failed to mention that Cliff Floyd was plunked in the kneecap, making his presence in tonight's series opener in Los Angeles unlikely as well. It just keeps getting better for the Mets, doesn't it? When you can't wait for Doug Mientkiewicz to get off the DL for his bat, times are tough. Then again, it's hard to care too much about the weekend series against L.A. when I keep thinking about that grisly impact in right-center. If just for the next few games, New York Mets, try to win some ballgames, but hey -- let's be careful out there.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


Game 113 - Mets

Mets 9, Padres 1
Record: 58-55

Ha ha! Totally suckered the Mets in on that one. Talked them up with lofty language about a new beginning on Tuesday, and Pedro got peppered while the lineup frittered away baserunners galore. Sighed pathetically with utter indifference and bleak resignation yesterday, and last night they registered a nine-spot at pitcher's park Petco while Kris Benson demonstrated the form that led Peter Gammons to misread him as the next big thing. Just so easy.

Benson's fine outing was worth discussing at length, but I won't. All that needs mentioning is that Pedro told him to quit tilting his head, he listened, and he reminded the Pad Squad why they were the only division leader under .500 as of a week ago. He went into the ninth, stumbled just a tad, and Danny Graves came in to relieve him, i.e., hock the shutout in one at-bat. Nice, Danny; we'll get to you in a second, but let's keep the mood positive for now.

Here's a question: when are teams going to learn not to intentionally walk someone to get to David Wright? It's happened quite a bit in the past few weeks alone. Last night Brian Lawrence (under the guidance of Bruce Bochy) intentionally walked Cliff Floyd to get to Wright. It's not that dodging a bat like Cliff Floyd's is foolish, and gaining the platoon advantage is usually wise, I get that. It's just that doing so to get to the killing-the-ball D.W. (pronounced Dee-Dub) just isn't working out for teams these days. Three-run dinger, game out of reach.

Gotta run to meet my blogging cohort to discuss some administrative matters. We'll be looking for the next big MLC concept at the bottom of pint glasses. Wish us luck.

Oh, and Mr. Graves, I haven't the time or inclination to delve into your prodigious amount of putrescence today, but that day may be coming. While the flotsam of bullpen-implosions past seems to have washed up on other beaches as treasure (David Weathers is having a respectable year in Cincy, Mike DeJean is proving he's just a second half kind of guy, and Dan Wheeler is almost dictating that we serve crow down at the MLC cafeteria), Danny Graves is the same piece of soggy driftwood they dumped in the Ohio River not long ago. He's been far from effective, unless you count "defective" as being close to effective. If he's smart, he'll start asking Pedro for some delivery tips, and fast.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Looking Past the Wreckage

Game 112 - Mets

Padres 8, Mets 3
Record: 57-55

You know when you have a stock that's clearly headed for the toilet, one step away from spiraling into oblivion, and you just know you should sell . . . but then it's up 1¾ points one day, and against all logic you begin to think it might turn around and make back your money? You even feel good about its chances and start to rationalize that this company has the potential to go places? Yep. Then it totally craps out a week or two later and you wonder what in the hell you could possibly have been thinking, hanging onto it for so long.

Anyway, New York has a whole lot of stocks and one baseball team just like that, and I should be smart enough to stay away from all of them.

After so many of us pricked up our ears and widened our eyes with casting aside of the Cubs over the weekend, the Mets quickly had us reaching for blindfolds and earplugs with the self-pantsing that went on last night in the Harbor of the Sun. The lads missed a hanging curveball of a chance to really light up the Township; Pedro Martinez versus Chan Ho Park is supposed to be a lopsided match-up, but everything right was wrong again, and the Metropolitans looked bad all around.

Except of course, in David Wright's amazing, stupendous, fan-riffic one-handed snare in short left. If you haven't seen it, go watch it at If you have seen it, and you're a Mets fan, go buy it for 99 cents. I decided to help the economy this morning by purchasing it and six other plays from the library of Windows Media files:
  • The other David Wright catch - the one into the stands
  • The Mike Cameron falling-down catch
  • The Chris Woodward GW-HR
  • A Mike Piazza homer to nail down a win vs. Philly
and my two favorite plays of the year:
  • The Marlon Anderson inside-the-park homer
  • The Cliff Floyd game-winner the same night
Hey, the Mets have won 57 games. Even though they're going to fall short of what we wanted, there's plenty to recall fondly in all of that. It's Silver Lining Day at Misery Loves Company (at least on the Met side of the office), and all I can remember from last night's toe-stub on the ottoman that the Padres are is David Wright's brilliant catch. And another pinch-hit from Marlon Anderson. And the standing ovation the Padres fans gave Wright after his catch. When a certain fictional newscaster said, "Stay classy, San Diego," they were listening, even as they were wincing at watching the worst movie of the last five years.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Beaches, Bets, Bars, and Bed Linens

Games 105 through 111 - Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Kansas City Royals 4
Red Sox 8, Royals 5
Red Sox 11, Royals 9
Twins 12, Red Sox 0
Twins 4, Red Sox 3
Red Sox 11, Twins 7
Red Sox 11, Rangers 6
Record: 64-47

Channeling Jimmy Buffett, badly, in honor of another successful venture to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with 19 of my closest friends. One of the greatest things about my annual pilgrimage to the beach is that the 19 closest friends part of that last sentence isn't an exaggeration. Idiots, all of us, but the fact that 20 guys can still muster up the the energy to spend the better part of 4 days staying up late, drinking cheap beer, recounting oft-told stories, and reconnecting is one of the great pleasures of my life.

Didn't see a ton of ball while struggling to recapture my youth, but the Sox did okay without me. 2 losses to the Twins stung slightly, but the fact that I found out about them reading the Sports section of The Virginian-Pilot on a porch overlooking the ocean dulled the pain to a near-imperceptible level.

Lots of new faces on the roster over the past few days, with Mike Remlinger joining Tony Graffanino and Roberto Petagine on the active roster. Kevin Youkilis rejoined the big club, and with Alex Cora, Chad Bradford and Gabe Kapler, the Sox have shuffled 28% of their active roster over the past month. Jose Cruz, Jr. was traded to the Dodgers after 12 at-bats in Boston. So long, Jose - say hi to DLowe and his wife. Oops.

With all that transition, the Sox are winning at a pretty good clip, going 10-2 over the past 12 games. All that gnashing of teeth for no real reason, apparently. They're mostly winning because they continue to mash the ever-lovin' snot out of the ball, but last night's win over the Rangers was sparked by one of the great all-around games I've ever seen.

Tony Graffanino (wearing no. 10 and making the Nation forget all about Dave McCarty) went 3-3 with a 3-run HR, 4 RBI, and 3 runs scored. He also scored from 2nd on an infield single by Johnny Damon - hustling all the way on the 2-out hit - and scored from 3rd on a wild pitch that didn't skitter very far away from the plate. He topped those outstanding baserunning efforts by saving Petagine's confused bacon on a popup along the fence in foul territory, sprinting headlong into the tarp to end a Ranger threat. If Derek Jeter'd made the same play, the YES Network would have it on continuous loop until Thanksgiving.

Graffanino's another in the well-documented Idiot mode - solid, scrappy, blue-collar - and has fit seamlessly into the Sox lineup. Enough so that Mark Bellhorn's return to the roster is more than a little questionable. I would not be surprised to see Eeyore head elsewhere before the month-end trade deadline. I'd be sad to see him go, if only because he represents a link to last season - though I wouldn't shed a tear if I never had to watch him swing over a low, inside breaking ball again.

Speaking of shedding tears (and of sublime segues), I sat down earlier this afternoon and re-read this blog's coverage of the 2004 postseason. I hadn't revisited that topic in several months, and I was surprised at how emotional I remain about those 3 weeks. Reading my own words again, I'm still struck by the thought that it doesn't seem real - they did it, they really did it, and I've got the words to prove it. Put that way, this season is really gravy, isn't it?

And Strat-o-matic is cursed. Un...freaking...believable. Though I know what happened to John McNamara now - and I still can't forgive him.

Coming Soon to a Blog Near You

Actual content to be added to this blog this evening - still recovering from an extended weekend at the beach and the subsequent hangover/avalanche of work. Carry on, safe in the knowledge that your MLC addiction will be sated soon.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Still In the Race, Still Off the Pace

Games 107 through 111 - Mets

Brewers 6, Mets 4
Brewers 12, Mets 9
Mets 9, Cubs 5
Mets 2, Cubs 0
Mets 6, Cubs 1
Record: 57-54

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. (By the way, what do you hear more, people using that quote or mostly the same people slagging that film heartily.) After the Mets "stepped to the facilities" in the final two games of the Brewers series, our collective confidence in their ability to maintain anything beyond a "fair-to-poor" result had just about evaporated. So, I threw myself into enjoying a baseball-free weekend at the beach with all of the extreme vigor and revelry . . . that I reserve for this trip every year. Then, behind my back, the Mets duplicate their unlikely sweep of the Cubs from late last year; this year's nail in that Wrigleyville postseason-hope coffin wasn't the final one like in '04, but it was a pretty serious spike. Memo to the Cubs: might not want to look past the Mets next year.

Meanwhile, the Mets' own chances for season elongation got another call from the governor in the wee hours. By taking three from the Cubbies, the Mets find themselves still in last place in the NL East, but only 6.5 games back of the Braves. In the wild card race, they're just 3 games behind the Astros -- as well as everybody else in the NL East except the Braves. The division is tight, somewhat evenly-matched, and all solid; five of the top seven teams in the National League are in the East, and the Mets are at least one game better than every team in the West. What does this all mean?

Well, for one, it means that as much as the Braves have been living up to everyone's assessment that they're still the class of the division, they aren't out of the woods yet. All four teams are hovering around the outer perimeter of "striking distance," and if Atlanta stumbles in the near future (though it's a near future plush with NL West daisies to pluck), chances are that one of those four teams should make a run. And the Braves, after starting to pull away, have lost 4 of 7. Something to watch in the periphery, even as the eyes focus more actively upon the wild card standings.

Okay, before I continue to overstate things, the division is probably about four teams deep for the rest of the season. The dream inaugural season for the Washington Nationals has been interrupted by the wake-up call of reality. They're cooked. The Mets commenced the Nats' 8-22 run back before the Break, and there may be no limit to this free-fall. The only solace Frank & the boys -- and the D.C. fans -- can take is that their closest neighbor and future A.L. rival, the Baltimore Orioles, are somehow falling with a greater velocity, with a messier splat a-coming.

Back to the Mets. The biggest problem with any of us getting riled up after a three-game sweep is that the Mets are still only three games over .500. I mean, if through 108 games, a team is 54-54, doesn't that pretty much tell the story of that team? As opposed to, say, the last seven games, in which the Mets are 5-2? True, teams do pull off streaks without any warning, like the Marlins and Astros of '03 and '04, respectively. It's just that the Mets don't. It doesn't seem like it's in them. Take those past seven games: they plunked a two-fer of total squander amid five games that were scattered with excitement, rally, and dominance. Hang onto a pair of leads against mighty Milwaukee and you've got the type of seven-game winning streak that would really fire up the Township. As it stands . . . our heroes have done just enough to keep me interested. Yet again. But I can't complain too loudly; the Royals have just tossed ten in a row into the L column, doing just enough to keep the KC faithful rewinding their Beta tapes from 1985.

* * *

Oh, and speaking of yesteryear reminiscence, my weekend wasn't entirely baseball-free. On Saturday, Rob and I cracked open a few beers and hunkered down to play out the 1986 World Series, Strat-o-matic style. The series only lasted two games, in part because there's only so much geeking-up a beach-and-booze trip can endure, and in part because of the unbelievable (not hyperbole, not even close), nature of the Game 2 finish. Check this out.

After Rob's Clemens-led Sox beat my Mets in a Game 1 that saw Gary Carter suffer a horrible, nether-area injury that would shelve him for the series, the second game came down to the final at-bat. Down a pair of runs going into in the 9th inning, the Mets faced closer Calvin Schiraldi. Normally I'd have been licking my chops at such a proposition, but Rob had used Schiraldi the Sweatmeister to nail down Game 1 in easy fashion, mimicking historical precedent. After fanning pinch-hitter Danny Heep, though, Schiraldi gave up back-to-back doubles to Len Dykstra and Wally Backman. 5-4, Sox, Backman on second, Keith Hernandez at the plate.

For all of the smack-talking Keith has done in the name of calling a spade a spade from the booth since his playing days ended, he didn't get the job done. He whiffs, and the Mets are down to their last out. Have a smoke, Keith. If the Mets don't plate the run, they go down 2-0 at home and there's probably no way they come back from that. (Howls of derisive laughter.)

Anyway, they do plate the run when Darryl Strawberry cracks a double of his own. 5-5, and the Mets fans go wild. (That'd be me, and the Wheelhouse's Jerry, who was watching and serving as a technical consultant.) After intentionally walking Ray Knight and unintentionally walking Kevin Mitchell, Schiraldi hits the showers, unable to get that final out -- in one of a series of beautifully déjà vu moments. Enter Al Nipper. About that time, Jerry calls it. "Grounder to Buckner," he announces. Somewhere in the excitement, Rob Russell had forgotten to bench Bill Buckner, which is so rife with irony that it's too rich to get into. [In truth, we learned that statistically Dave Stapleton wasn't a much better fielder than Billy Buck, but Rob just knew better; Buckner had already made two errors in two games, including a costly one earlier in this contest.]

The roll is 4-11, which is . . . a grounder to 1B. Uncanny. And, of course, there could be no other possible fate than the ball getting through, the runner scoring, and the Mets winning, 6-5. Technically it was ruled a single, but it's still too perfect, it's why Strat-o-matic is such a good game, and it's why we left the game as it lay and threw back cheap suds the rest of the night.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Planned Absence

Just a heads-up for our readership that there likely won't be any new material until Sunday -- Rob and I are leaving tomorrow morning for a seminar on the fine art of blogging about baseball. No, not really, we're headed down for the 12th Annual Outer Banks Fishing Trip extravaganza. I'd suggest that our Comments fields are open and waiting to record your witticisms, but our most frequent commenters will be alongside us in the sand.

Check back at you Sunday, and here's hoping we don't catch anything while we're down there.

WWII (2-Game Win-Streak)

Games 103 through 106 - Mets

Astros 5, Mets 2
Astros 2, Mets 0
Mets 9, Astros 4
Mets 9, Brewers 8 (11)
Record: 54-52

Whew. That was a nice win last night, coming back from the incident we'll call "What Victor Did" to rally multiple times and notch the victory. The wild win prevented what would have been the fourth consecutive series in which the Mets dropped Game 1, and in turn prevented outrageous, unfounded accusations by a certain Mets blog-driver that Willie Randolph's lack of fire was defusing the Mets' verve. Thanks go out to the Mets for avoiding that pickle.

Except Victor Zambrano. As we approach the 60th anniversary of the events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, namby-pamby Zamby's impression of an atomic bomb detonation lasted but an inning and a third, but oh, what damage can be incurred in a short time with a big bomb. Seven hits -- four of them home runs -- and six earned runs. 10 minutes proved not nearly enough time for Rick Peterson to fix Zambrano's problems, but 10 minutes were about all Zambrano's problems needed to fix the Mets but good.

Enter Aaron "Zieg" Heilman. After collecting the win on Sunday for an inning of work, he was pressed into duty in the second because of the aforementioned meltdown. Heilman went two and two-thirds, pitching well and keeping the game close. Meanwhile, with Tomo "row I Won't Be Sore, 'Cause I Could Only Go 4" Ohka on the hill, ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no valley low enough. The Mets battled all the way back, concluding with that free pass/RBI issued to Mike "I'm Not Enola Gay" Piazza.

High praise goes out Mike Cameron, who seems reivigorated since the trade deadline came and went without a new set of poly-blends coming to him. Four hits, including the tater that tied it up in the ninth. He wasn't alone, though, as Miental Case reached base five times, David Wright smacked a ball over the wall in right-center, and Ramon Castro added a couple more hits (despite leaving eight men on base, which is rather remarkable in a 2-for-6 night). Everyone hit well, and everyone was clutch -- including the bench guys, who added two more to up their league-leading total to 45 pinch-hits. The PH-balanced Mets (sorry) are hitting over .350 in those spots, and it's made a difference in their game results and my gut feeling about this team. As an unnamed crooner once sang, "You've got to have faith."

Everyone hit well, that is, except Carlos Beltran. He hit four grounders to first base, one of them good for a DP, and went 0-for-6. The one ball he didn't drive into the ground was a lineout to right that also doubled up Miguel Cairo, who was stealing on the play. Carlos, give us something, anything. With Kaz Matsui still a few rehab starts away from reprising his steady suck at Shea, the blanket of boos is coming your way until further notice.

So where are we now? Last place, 7.5 games back of the peaking-at-the-wrong-time Braves, 4 games out of the wild card. El Wildo Cardo is currently held by the Houston Astros. If only there were a quick and direct way to gain ground on those guys. Oh, wait. Can't worry about the pants-wettings of last week, however, when your hands (and bladders) are full with the still-scrappy Brew Crew. Pedro goes tonight against the 3-11 Victor Santos. Here's hoping for the most boring, goes-as-expected nine innings possible. Put me to sleep, Petey.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

In-Game Blog Designed to Will the Mets to Win

Logging on after the 10th inning here, it's as if the Mets decided to play until I got off my rear end and typed something. I forgot to record the game, so by the time I checked in, it was 6-2, Brewers. Yes, it was all the way into the top of the 2nd inning. Thankyouverymuch, Victor Zambrano. Brewers haven't hit as many balls out of the yard in ten years of Home Run Derbys as they did in 1+ innings off Uncle Zam.

What the Mets did since then, however, has been fantastic to watch. They battled back to 6-4, saw it leak to 7-4, tied it up, and then Geoff Jenkins took Roberto Hernandez to the bad place. Down a run in the bottom of the 9th, though, Mike Cameron belted a 95-mph fastball over the fence in left-center for the game-extender. Cue the Hooters. (And we danced, duh.)

Fast-forward a quintet of bagels and here we are. Bottom 11, bases loaded. The Mets caught a serious break when, with nobody out and David Wright aboard, Milwaukee shortstop Bill Hall misplayed a sure unassisted double play into first and third. After an IBB to the suddenly back-to-lukewarm Doug Mientkiewicz, Ramon Castro popped up. And the stage is set.

Mike Piazza strolls to the plate. He has the advantage here, some would say, as all he needs to do is hit is a flyball semi-deep.

Julio Santana deals. He has the advantage here, some would say, as all he needs to do is throw something low and off the plate and Piazza will hit a ground ball, which will invariably become one of those double plays where he doesn't actually make it onto the TV screen running down to first before the first baseman is inspecting the ball and jogging toward the dugout.

Let's call it an even match-up.

Ball 1. Low.

(By the way, how insanely cool is TiVo; I am pausing between pitches to type.)

Ball 2. Low and away. Oh, boy.

3-0. This game is over. I did not just type that.

Walked him. A stirring walk-off walk. Thrilled to get a much-needed win; deep down, I catch myself wishing I'd stayed up for something a little more . . . thrilling. No complaints, though, it was a big win in a little game for the Metmen. Good night, lads.