Friday, April 28, 2006

Turkish Song of the Damned

Games 21 & 22 - Red Sox

Indians 7, Red Sox 1
Indians 15, Red Sox 3
Record: 13-9

After completely missing Wednesday's game (and it seems I should be thankful) while engaged in recreating my youth with Whit, I tuned in last night just in time to see the Indians whaling away on the wall and the stands, battering Josh Beckett just like they did all Red Sox pitching throughout the 3-game set.

Sox starters gave up 16 earned runs (and 19 total) to the Tribe in 16 innings, for a tidy 9.00 ERA - guess my hunch about Cleveland's level of irritation following a series loss to Kansas City was accurate. All told, the Sox yielded 28 runs to the potent Indian lineup (as an aside - damn, but those guys can rake) and were lucky to escape the Jake with 1 win in 3 contests. The Cleveland offensive fiesta took a little bit of the bloom off the Sox' pitching rose, leaving Boston struggling now on both offense and defense.

I was well into a 2nd helping of whiskey in a jar before last night's game got out of the 4th inning, which helped a bit, I suppose. The Sox appeared as lethargic and hungover as I was, so we were good company. On the sunny side of the street, the Sox' performance allowed me to catch a new episode of The Office, so I've got that going for me, which is nice. On one channel, a comedy of errors involving urine testing, ill-fitting uniforms, and unrequited love - on the other, a sitcom.

3 games in Tampa Bay this weekend for the stumbling Sox, 2-5 over their last 7. The Devil Rays are beat up, and the Sox need to get healthy lest their early season success be worth nothing more than a bottle of smoke. The Yankees come to Boston next week for Johnny Damon's Fenway debut in pinstripes. The 2 teams are headed in different directions at the moment, so the Sox need to shake of their recent doldrums if they hope to recreate 2004's fairytale of New York.

I could go on, I guess, but it all sounds like so much yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah at this point, so I'll spare you.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

They Might Be Giants

Games 20 & 21 - Mets

Mets 4, Giants 1
Mets 9, Giants 7 (11 inn.)
Record: 14-7

I wasn’t able to catch last night’s action, as I was in DC with Rob taking in a concert. (Guess which show?) Looks like I missed a dandy, with enough good in the destination (a huge extra-inning win after blowing the lead) to outweigh the bad in the journey (Brian Bannister strained his hamstring, David Wright made a crucial error, and Billy Wagner was taken out by that fellow with the 11 5/8 cap). Most of the Township seems to be in agreement on one thing: the Mets of yesteryear lose this game 10 times out of 10.

That the “new, new Mets” did not lose has been filed away in our Reasons to Believe folder. Just one game, sure, but it’s another sandbag on the wall of confidence.

Dee-Dub raised some eyebrows among the faithful not only for another costly bungle at the hot corner but also for a thinly veiled potshot at Carlos Beltran’s frailty. I was wondering how he’d take to all of the Golden Boy adulation; if this is the extent of how David Wright breaks bad, I think we can let it slide, no? Before any more is made of it in the clubhouse, though, let’s replay an old tape of Monsignor Mike Piazza: “Play baseball.”

Some exciting match-ups loom over the weekend. The Mets head to Atlanta in hopes of reversing the result of the Shea series – the only series they’ve lost this season. Tomorrow night’s Pedro v. Smoltz showdown has some major potential. Glavine and Trachsel have been moved into the next two slots, bumping Victor Zambrano out of the Braves series because of what Willie Randolph called “seriously sucking.” I’ll be honest: I’m excited about this weekend’s games. Almost as excited as my brother-in-law Patrick, who suggested that the Mets could “bury” the already-5-games-out Braves. Well, as much as you can bury someone in a foot of dirt, but I relish the notion anyway.

The next three days of Mets games could be riveting enough for me to actually be glad I’m tuning in instead of spending time in a sunny haze at JazzFest in New Orleans. That’s probably something of a stretch, but you loyal readers should at least be glad it means my next week’s worth of posts aren’t incomprehensible, sparse, babblings. Moreso than the usual twaddle, that is.

* * *

In permitting Barry “Big Sur-ly” Bonds to smack home runs numbers 710 and 711, the Mets have nudged me into addressing a man and a topic we at MLC have generally avoided. The media chatter about Bonds and steroids is deafening, despite the fact that it’s inevitably speculative and hypothetical at this point. Opinions on the matter generally fall into the categories of either trite or insane. I will attempt to capture a bit of both. Hey, if Wags fans him yesterday, we’re all out of here without further damage. Blame him.

I’m pretty sure we all agree that steroids are a bruise on the otherwise juicy peach of a game of baseball. I think we also share the notion that Bud “With My Head in the Sand I Just Can’t” Selig and the rest of the masterminds at MLB did everything but buy the drugs for the players by looking the other way for more than a decade. We’re glad to see that testing is finally taking place, we still don’t think it’s even close to being sufficient, and we have no clue what to do about the statistics of the last 20 years. Let’s just consider these a given in this discussion.

Oh, unless, of course, you are John Hieleman at New York magazine. My dad sent me this article, in which Hielemann suggests that we shouldn’t ban steroids in baseball. His article seems to be based on the fact that lasik surgery is legal and the supposition that surgeries of the future will enhance the body in much the same way that performance-enhancing drugs do. He missteps frequently, from suggesting that “the physical risks of steroids—taken under a doctor’s supervision and not in excess—are relatively mild” to touting “better coaching and parenting” instead of a steroid ban to completely ignoring the fact that steroid use is a federal crime whereas surgery is not. There is some tongue-in-cheek humor contained within, but nothing to lead me to believe that the entire article is a farce. Which means that it’s idiotic.

Among the statements that irritated me were proclamations like “The truth is that all the talk in baseball about the sacredness of its records is little more than another tactic in the long-running campaign waged by its overseers to mystify the game. To treat baseball as if it were something more hallowed than mere entertainment.” While there may be some truth in that statement, every baseball fan worth a damn buys into this practice 100%. Long-standing records and the players who set them are considered venerable, which seems silly to outsiders but makes every bit of sense to those sucked in by baseball’s charms.

A quote the author uses dramatically is “If fans like spectacular plays made possible by performance-enhancing drugs more than the loss of historical comparisons and the risks borne by the players, [then] allowing enhancements makes sense.” Again, this only serves to expose him as one of the mindless masses, one of the “fans” by virtue only of holding the ticket and not via any sort of dues-paying. There ought to be a creed for the die-hards, something that details, among many other facets, how our enjoyment of the game and the number of long home runs and blips over 100 on the gun are share no proportionate tie. The beauty of baseball isn’t in the flash and sizzle, clearly. The 11-9 slugfest, much like Top 40 radio, reality TV, designer drinks, and implanted breasts, entices hordes of peripheral fans with its accessible nature and eye candy but fails to impress us – that core contingent labeled “purist snobs” but who simply have the passion and patience to delve a bit deeper into the pastime.

There’s little point in continuing this barrage on such a silly article, but it did help to clarify in my own mind what my aggressive stance on the steroid issue is. I have a couple of points that I’ve not seen articulated, which isn’t to say they are therefore unique.

1. A New Record Book. Like it or not, casual fans, baseball’s record book is the sport’s Old Testament. There are historical accounts of baseball more colorful, descriptive, and telling than this compilation of long lists of accomplishments, but like America’s Constitution, this is the document most quoted, misquoted, and referenced in arguments. The problem is, of course, that there is zero context within these numbers. Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt, and Ken Griffey Jr. are all listed in a row as if they were peers in the same era, no matter that there was virtually no overlap of the four careers. And as much as baseball prides itself on being a game that has remained true to tradition over its history, it simply isn’t a fair comparison from generation to generation – especially in more recent times.

That Barry Bonds is about to pass Babe Ruth warrants attention, but even steroids aside, it’s not a one-to-one numerical accomplishment. With ballparks, balls, league size, and, yes, illegal drugs all tampering with the modern numbers, it’s just not a valid comparison, yet the sports world accepts it at face value. Sadaharu Oh’s 868 homers aren’t taken into any consideration when baseball records are discussed, but that figure has as much relevance as Bonds’ 711 or any other in today’s game.

This is why I believe in a revised record book, one that stresses the value of being the best of a particular time in history. I will give Bonds this: he is by far the best steroid-assisted home run hitter of this period. Bar none. Beyond focusing on different eras, when the inevitable quest for all-time domination comes about, league-adjusted numbers that take into account all that differs over the years can be drawn up with relative ease. Baseball boasts (kind of) the most geeks per capita of any major sport; don’t tell me it’s too complicated to execute. A new acronym appears every year that represents some stat with supposed insight into a player’s value. If the brainpower plugged into baseball statistics were channeled into economic growth, we have a surplus by the All-Star break. We can do it. I want a new, revised record book with entries that reflect with some certainty how the numbers stack up against players of different eras. This way, and only this way, can we celebrate the accomplishments of players in “The Steroid Era” without asterisks, exclusions, or just a whole lot of head-shaking doubt.

2. Keep Digging Up the Past. There has been some debate as to whether anything can truly be gained by rummaging around in players’ pasts to find evidence of steroid use. I’ll make this point quickly: at this moment, the threat of being caught red-handed with a positive drug test is almost no threat at all. The drugs usually can’t be detected; hell, human growth hormone isn’t being tested for at all. The stiff (finally – thanks, Bud) punishments would be a good deterrent if there were a chance of getting snagged, but there isn’t; all the teeth in a shark’s jaw mean nothing if he’s in a cage. What can bring these guys down, though, are investigations into such activity. Someone will always flip when squeezed by the right authority, and that will have guys sweating. Jason Giambi can take all the HGH he wants and it won’t show up in the lab, but he can ill afford another go-around of abuse if some scrub with a little scoop on him gives him up. And by digging into guys’ pasts, guilty players will never feel out of the woods. Look, there has to be something to make guys think twice. They will not do it on their own, that much we know.

3. Barry Bonds Is Being Singled Out, But Not Unfairly. Barry Bonds’ portrayal of himself as a victim may make for good reality television (a contradiction in terms), but it doesn’t actually have any proximity to the realm of truth. He is being singled out for a crime hundreds (or thousands?) of baseball players have committed, but it’s not because he’s black. It is because he is close to overtaking – by the archaic methods of record-keeping (see above) – the Babe’s once-sacred apex, but there’s more to it than that. He can’t understand why America embraced Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa (another person of color, mind you) but turned its back on him. It’s very, very simple. Mark McGwire is a nice guy. Sammy Sosa seemed like one at the time. The world responded accordingly. You, Barry, are a Grade A douchebag. You are recognized as a douche the world over, except in France, where douche means “shower.” There you are a merde-tête. And so we root against you. I don’t like the jackass in my office to get the promotion, I don’t like the conniving bastard politician to win the presidential election, and I don’t like the arrogant prick of an actor to take home the Oscar. When Good Things Happen to Bad People is a pet peeve. There’s no conspiracy, there’s no racist agenda (except by the bigot letter-writers who actually serve to make you seem a better guy), and there’s no victimization here. It’s grade school backlash against a bully, and you’re the cheating, lying, whining, pouting, no-good bully here. Except the recess bell just rang, and there’s a gang of schoolkids looking to see you bleed this afternoon. Batter up.

So that’s my foray into the world of steroids. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Desperate Times

No, not in Red Sox Nation, just in my own little parcel of it. See, I lost my SoSH password, and the email account I used to register it is no longer active, so I can't use the lost password function on EZBoard. No big deal for a while, as I never post much (at least much of value) anyway. But the SoSH Dopes (not an insult, to the uninitiated) recently closed the game threads to non-members, and I'm dying - last night's game put me over the edge, as I would love to see the gnashing of teeth after the baserunning free-for-all.

All of which lead me to this - if any SoSH member lurks here at MLC, I'd appreciate your help in getting me in contact with a Dope so I can figure out how to log back in, if only to see the Game Threads. I promise I won't make any trouble.

Oscillate Wildly

Game 20 - Red Sox

Red Sox 8, Cleveland Indians 6
Record: 13-7

I had a good friend over last night with his wife and 3 month-old daughter, which - in addition to the several pale ales I consumed - went a long way in helping me maintain a facade of sanity watching the Sox careen from the sublime to the mind-bogglingly absurd and back again in the span of 9 innings. He's an Indians fan, so I suppose I got the better end of the deal, seeing as how the Tribe deserved to win this one 4 times over. Let me recount the ways:

1 out in the top of the 3rd, score tied 2-2, Indian pitcher Jake Westbrook struggling with his control and the recently hot Mike Lowell at the plate, Manny chose to be Manny, and Varitek thought it looked like so much fun that he joined in. Westbrook wheeled from the rubber, catching Manny mesmerized by the lazy flight of a low-flying bumblebee and snaring the Sox leftfielder in a rundown. As Aaron Boone ran Manny back to 2nd, he suddenly threw the ball over the head of his nearest teammate - just in time to catch Varitek, who was trying to sneak into 2nd on the back end of the play. And since Manny was 3/4 of the way back to 2nd, he was out easily when he headed back to 3rd, giving the Indians the routine 1-5-4-6 double play and killing a rally against a scuffling pitcher.

Varitek played a role in another Alan Quatermaine-esque adventure on the basepaths in the 7th inning with the Sox up, 5-4, and runners on the corners. Willie Harris grounded to 1st, Varitek edged off 3rd but held. After Indian first-sacker Ben Broussard threw to 2nd for the force, Varitek pointed his leaden feet towards home and was out easily on the throw from Jhonny (too easy) Peralta, ending another inning with a runner in scoring position.

That run became important in the bottom of the 7th, as Curt Schilling returned to the hill to protect the slim lead. Schilling had battled his stuff (and the tiiight but consistent strike zone of plate umpire Bruce Dreckman) all night in the 40 degree chill, having thrown 110 pitches through 6. Done for the evening, you'd say, right? Silly mortal. Schill went back out for the bottom of the 7th, throwing 23 more pitches with limited effectiveness, and yielding a run on a Grady Sizemore single and failing to get out of the frame. 133 pitches in the cold in April after 4 straight 100-pitch starts is a great recipe for destroying a 39 year-old pitcher 1 year removed from a major leg injury.

The magical baseball stylings of Willie Harris continue to confound those who wonder why Adam Stern's not on this roster. Harris, presumably in the game for his mastery of fundamentals and defensive capabilities, meekly popped a bunt attempt up to Westbrook in the 4th, and then cost the Sox a run in 8th by dropping a fly ball - yes, he made a diving attempt, but it wasn't a difficult dive, and the ball hit him in the glove. Top that off with his robust .079 average and .349 OPS, and it's hard to imagine a worse option for the Sox in centerfield.

And with all that crap going on, and carrying the dead weight of Alex Gonzalez and the aforementioned Willie Harris, the Sox still managed to plate 8 runs off Indian pitching, because they finally delivered a handful of clutch hits. Mark Loretta backed up Kevin Youkilis in the top of the 2nd after the Greek God of Having an Awesome April struck out with the bases loaded and 1 out. Loretta's 2-out single scored 2 and got the scoring started. After the Indians had taken a 4-2 lead, a Youkilis sac fly (he wound up 2-3 with a walk) drew the Sox to within 1, and then Papi hit Scott Sauerbeck's only pitch of the night waaay into the rightfield stands to tie the game at 4. I knew that Sauerbeck would be valuable to the Sox someday.

After the Indians had tied the game at 5 in the 7th against a tiring Schilling, Youkilis singled and stole second (his first big-league steal - the kid is doing everything for the Sox right now). The open base at first tempted Indian skipper Eric Wedge into walking Papi to face Manny. Cue the Jaws music. Guillermo Mota put the chum in the water, throwing Manny a fastball, and Manny, being Manny, hammered it to right. As he struck his now-familiar I-just-hit-the-shit-out-of-that-so-I'm-gonna-stand-here-for-a-second pose, I shot out of my seat. 8-5, Sox.

The rest was relatively academic, despite Harris' best efforts. Foulke keeps looking better and better, whiffing Sizemore on a sick changeup to end the 8th, and Jonathan Papelbon brooked no trouble in the 9th to end things. A 'W' in the standings for the Sox, and the Indians were left wondering how the hell they blew that one.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Same Old Song and Dance

Games 18 & 19 – Mets

Padres 7, Mets 4
Giants 6, Mets 2
Record: 12-7

As the Mets’ season wears away from tightly knit to slightly frayed, we along for the ride have to keep reminding ourselves that we’re still a long way from totally unraveled. Sometimes that’s hard to do. Irrationally, the last few years ‘round these parts have us beaten dogs flinching at minor departures from the early success. Rationally, the Mets are still prone to doing some of the infuriating things they’ve been known for in seasons past, and this can only make us associate them with the era of suck that preceded them.

Case in point: last night the Mets once again allowed a young, promising but heretofore scuffling pitcher to dominate them. Exit Kyle Davies a week ago, enter Matt Cain. Cain had been knocked around for several starts, then he threw perfect baseball into the sixth against the Mets. It’s not that these young arms aren’t good – it’s that the Mets’ lineup, as good as they are (even – still – missing Carlos Beltran), shouldn’t be the ones to kick-start these guys’ seasons.

But this is what they’ve done for a long time. Give us your tired, your poorly pitching, your wretched refuse claimed off waivers, and we can turn them into world-beaters. Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy, even Woody Williams – those pitchers are going to have your number once in a while, though it’d be nice if they didn’t each dominate the Mets within one week; but the age-old habit of losing to members of the rotation with limited résumés and gnarled recent histories has to stop. That’s just not a characteristic of a contender.

Though the game last night should have been more of a Met-sided match-up, there was one facet announced by the Giants crew that I figured might work against them, and clearly it did. Home-plate ump Eric Cooper was noted as a guy who calls the high strike but not the ball off the edges of the plate. Advantage Cain, a hard-throwing guy who drifts upward in the zone. Meanwhile Tom Glavine pitched reasonably well, didn’t get the necessary fringe calls east and west of the dish, and made a few mistakes. These can be factors in the outcome, but let’s not go ahead and wholly blame the men in blue for this loss.

One quick camera shot from Glavine indicated, however, that he might want Xavier Nady to pony up the blame for at least one run. In the first inning, Xavier Nady let a ball drop in front of him, and when I say “in front of him” I mean “a few inches in front of him.” It nearly caromed off his toe as he watched it. Inexplicable -- it was almost as if he expected Kaz Matsui to try an Anderson Hernandez leap, which is funny just thinking about. After it fell in, TG shook his head, moseyed back to the mound, walked Bonds, and gave up a tone-spoiling three-run tater to Moises Alou. What with the Mets using Wiffle bats all night, that was enough.

The Metropolitans have now dropped five of seven and are looking imminently beatable. The Fates of baseball are a fickle sort, so there is nothing that says they can’t be mowing through teams again by next week. It’s becoming more apparent, however, that they appear to be not as good as touted by the masses (mostly outside of Mets Township, mind you) when they were cruising through the NL East’s excrement, and not as bad as when their bats are muted by less than All-Star caliber guns. Granted, without a healthy line-up, long-term analysis is guesswork, but this may be a roster the Mets are working with for quite a while. Valleys in the order (Reyes, Floyd, Chavez) need to be filled either by letting them play out of the rut or shaking things around. Someone needs to figure it out, though, and quickly. (Psst . . . Willie, wake up . . . by "someone" I mean you.) Meanwhile, we’re seeing that Glavine’s fountain of youth isn’t impervious to drought, Bannister is due for a pasting with all of the runners he’s permitting, and Victor Zambrano . . . wow, I wish I could type his name without clenching my fists.

It’s still early. Such is the refrain regurgitated by the would-be sages in the game. Well, we’re into May next week, and I’d like to think that the reason I can’t see what’s on the road ahead is because it goes uphill, rather than because I’m donning the blinders once again.

Monday, April 24, 2006

7 Worlds Collide (Distant Sun)

Game 19 - Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 3

Record: 12-7

Hi, everybody! I'm back from the ledge, vacationing for a spell here in the land of reason and perspective. Took me a while, though, what with yesterday's game tying a record for Least Comfortable Relatively Easy Win.

By rights, the Sox should have pasted the Jays after sprinting to a 4-0 lead in the 3rd inning. Through a combination of untimely hitting, dumb baseball, poor defensive execution, and a clutch pitching mistake, the Sox let the Jays hang around and nursed a 4-3 lead into the game's late innings.

Of note, the Sox left the bases loaded in both the 5th and 6th innings, stranding a total of 14 baserunners - Kevin Youkilis and Mark Loretta each came to the plate 6 times in a game where the Sox only scored 6 runs. Tremendously efficient. Jason Varitek helped by trying to bunt for a basehit with runners at 1st and 2nd and 1 out in the 5th - his failure not only handed the Jays an out, but it allowed Jays skipper John Gibbons to walk Mike Lowell to get to Willie Harris. Brilliant. Prior to that, Mike Lowell tried to give a fan a souvenir after fielding a grounder to 3rd, throwing a ball 10 feet over Youkilis' head. Matt Clement compounded Lowell's error by grooving a 2-strike fastball to Greg Zaun, and nearly broke his neck turning to watch it land in the cheap seats.

The Sox bullpen picked up the rest of the team, with Keith Foulke defining high-leverage and retiring all 5 men he faced with the Sox clinging to a 1-run lead in the 6th and 7th - that's truly what the Sox' braintrust had in mind 3 years ago when they were derided for their bullpen-by-committee approach. The approach is right, but the personnel weren't in 2003. Mike Timlin recovered from his recent struggles to post a scoreless 8th, and Jon Papelbon...well, let's examine young Papelbon for a moment, specifically his hair.

Papelbon "won" a bet with Youkilis by stringing together 10 scoreless innings to start the season. His prize - a brand new haircut styled after California Penal League MVP Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn. I'm all for paying homage to a solid baseball film, but after Papelbon let the first 2 Jays reach in the bottom of the 9th, bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of scorching hot Vernon Wells, my thoughts ran to the Granddaddy of all baseball films.

"Never fuck with a streak," cautioned Crash Davis way back in 1988, and his advice is as sound today as it was then. By trimming his hair, Papelbon was fucking with a number of streaks, including his goose-egg run and his consecutive save stretch. The Baseball Gods let young Jon know, forcing him to work for his supper, but he took a deep breath and stoned the Jays, striking out Wells and inducing a game-ending 5-4-3 off the bat of Troy Glaus to save the Sox from an ugly sweep. Thus endeth the lesson.

A well-deserved off day before the Sox head to Cleveland to face the Indians, who are sure to be highly irritated after dropping 2 straight to the Royals. Manny seems to be rounding into form, increasing his OPS by nearly 200 points in the Toronto series. Youks continues to make me look good, reaching base 3 times yesterday and sparkling in the field – makes a guy wonder why the Sox need J.T. Snow as a defensive replacement, especially since Hee Seop Choi’s lefty bat is languishing in Pawtucket. If we could solve the Dustan Mohr/Willie Harris centerfield black hole (as it looks like Coco Crisp won’t return before mid-May), all would be happy in my little mental ward.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Outtasite (Outta Mind)

Game 17 - Mets

Mets 8, Padres 1
Record: 12-5

Every year, one of the surest signs that baseball season is in full swing is when Rob swaps out his Roget's for George Carlin's Seven. Glad to see we're already ankle deep in the 2006 campaign.

On the other hand, the Mets were 3000 miles away and the furthest thing from my mind last night. While Pedro was mowing down Padres and Carlos Delgado was rocketing blasts out of a pitcher's park, I was entranced by a Wilco concert at my alma mater. The Mets have occupied much of my conscious of late, as they tend to do in April. While I am counting on them to do so for a significantly larger portion of the season than in recent memory, last night was a nice visit to a vacuum void of baseball, and I return to the 'sphere today refreshed and ready to resume my regular writing.

Except . . . my mind is a blank. Going back to my old school and behaving like an old schoolboy has drained my brain fairly completely.

Here's what we do know. It's over 10% of the way through the season, and the Mets are beating the teams they need to beat with some consistency. They aren't perfect, they aren't particularly deep, and the high-arching performance of the initial chapter of '06 is flattening out considerably. Taking three of four from San Diego would be a very nice rebound from the Braves fizzle. With a trip to Atlanta next weekend, it would be key to fine-tune a few things (and get a couple of guys healthy) to rev things up before taking another crack at those clowns.

Oh, and on an exclusively MLC note, my brother-in-law pointed out to me that June 27-29 on the schedule appears as Mets @ Red Sox. It'll be tough to make it up for any part of a weekday series, but it's certainly food for discussion. Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


Games 17 & 18 - Red Sox

Blue Jays 7, Red Sox 6 (12)
Blue Jays 8, Red Sox 1
Record: 11-7

(For the record, I'm ditching the expanded game results in the header because, frankly, I'm really lazy - and, much like the Sox today, I feel like going through the motions is a much easier option.)

As if I needed another reason to be annoyed with my mother-in-law, her presence in my house last night meant that I had to make continued trips upstairs to follow the Sox. Which was fine for a while, as they built a 6-2 lead behind Manny and Tek's awakening bats and Josh Beckett's extremely economical 7-inning, 78-pitch effort. I headed down to rejoin my wife and her parents after the top of 7th fairly confident that the Sox were headed to an easy win.

"Mother...fucker!", was the first thing that went through my mind as I snuck back upstairs just in time to see Troy Glaus tattoo a Mike Timlin fastball deep into the leftfield seats to tie the game at 6 in the bottom of the 8th. For the 2nd time in 3 games, Terry Francona had sent a Sox starter back to the mound late in a game after a significant wait on the bench, and for the 2nd time in 3 games, the Sox had blown a late lead. And, while we're at it, for the 2nd time in 3 games, Mike Timlin had shit himself on regional television.

Papelbon and Foulke kept the Sox in the game until the 12th, but got no help from the offense and Lyle Overbay's double in the bottom of the final frame put the Sox out of their misery, and cost them their first really wrenching loss of the season.

The hangover was obvious this afternoon as the Sox ran Lenny Dinardo out to oppose Roy Halladay. As I walked into my house after my daughter's soccer game, my wife said, "You're not going to like the Sox score". And when Don and Jerry returned from a commercial break and told me that the Jays led, 5-0, in the top of the 4th, I pretty much wrote off any chance of a comeback, given that Francona had chosen to start most of the Pawtucket lineup.

It's probably too early to worry about a 3-game skid, but given the fact that the Sox suddenly have seemingly very little pitching depth - especially with Timlin slumping - the offense continues to disappoint on the whole, Francona's made a handful of questionable decisions this week, we're counting on Matt Clement to keep the Sox from a 4-game skid, and my in-laws don't leave until tomorrow, well, I'm gonna exercise my God-given right to be a miserable fuck for the next few days.

Red-Eyed and Blue

Game 16 - Mets

Padres 2, Mets 1 (14 inn.)
Record: 11-5

Thursday night's late-night battle was worth staying up to watch; last night's was not. I'm beat from this west coast trip and it's only two games in.

I foolishly stayed up through the 12th, wisely conceding defeat before the Mets themselves did two innings later. Watched the last two innings this morning, then wished I hadn't. Not a ton to say about this one, except that the powerhouse Mets of the first week or two are officially still on hiatus. Hurry back, lads. These oft-swinging, rarely-hitting stand-ins are a pale imitation.

Chad Bradford lost it in the 14th, but he actually did a hell of a job holding down the fort in the last few innings. He can't be expected to throw up goose eggs all night, like, say, any Padre pitcher against the Mets, or any pitcher in the bigs against the Mets at this point.

This is going to seem like piling on, and it may be, but here's this game in a nutshell to me.

1. With two outs in the 5th inning, Kaz Matsui could not make a play on a grounder in the hole. It went off his glove, the tying run scored, and my gut reaction was that Anderson Hernandez (when he's done with his slow heal) makes that play just about every time.

2. With two outs in the 7th inning, San Diego 2B Josh Barfield made an incredible play on a grounder in the hole. He gloved the ball, threw out a pinch-hitting Carlos Beltran, and the would-be go-ahead run was stranded.

3. Then the game went 14 innings and the Mets lost.

That's pretty much all you need to know. (Oh, that and Brian Bannister pitched alternately awful and amazing baseball, escaping every inning except the one mentioned. The bell may toll for Bannister eventually, but he's been living right thus far.)

Get some hits, you bastards.

Friday, April 21, 2006


Game 16 - Red Sox

Devil Rays 5, Red Sox 1
W: Kazmir (2-1)
L: Wakefield (1-3)
Sv: Miceli (4)
Record: 11-5

A hearty round of thanks to the Wilpons from this side of the MLC aisle follows on the heels of my colleague's recent similarly-focused rant. That Victor Zambrano for Scott Kazmir trade has really paid dividends for the entire MLC family in the past several days.

Devil Ray lefty Scott Kazmir continued his relative domination of the Sox last night, spinning 5 2/3 4-hit innings (and leaving only because he got cramps in his hand and fingers - aside: other than chronic masturbators, who gets cramps in their hand and fingers?) as the Sox kept their appointment for the scheduled Wakefield-inspired offensive sabbatical. Boston bats have now tallied 9 runs in Wake's 4 starts, and 5 in his 3 losses. He's gone 17 innings in his last 2 outings, giving up a total of 4 earned runs, and he's 0-2 for his troubles.

Also, in an entirely related note, Josh Bard still sucks.

Continuing with the early-season theme of turning lemons into lemonade, the Sox once again scrapped to the game's final out, loading the bases in the bottom of the 9th with 1 out, and bringing Trot Nixon to the plate as the tying run. (Former Metfave Ty Wigginton was a huge boon for the Sox in this series, making 3 errors that helped the Sox extend rallies - his boot of a potential game-ending double play last night made the 9th inning far more interesting than it probably should have been.) Trotman didn't dog it, expending a substantial amount of (misplaced) energy trying to tie the score with 1 swing when a base hit could have ignited a rally, but I can't fault his effort. Jason Varitek popped to short left to end the game, and the Sox lost a game that they deserved to lose.

Julian Tavarez continued a different early-season theme, that of the middle of the bullpen impersonating FEMA officials in the midst of a crisis and turning negative situations into full-fledged apocolypses. The Sox trailed by 2 entering the 9th, but came to the plate in the bottom of the frame down 4 thanks to a collection of Tavarez meatballs that would make the Swedish Chef's mouth water. Tavarez and Seanez and Riske, oh my.

On the road again to Toronto, with 3 tough pitching matchups facing the offensively-challenged Sox in the form of A.J. Burnett (tonight against his former teammate Josh Beckett), Roy Halladay, and Josh Towers. Sure would be nice if Messrs. Ramirez and Varitek found their strokes in time to give the pitching staff a bit of a break.

My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)

Game 15 - Mets

Mets 7, Padres 2
Record: 11-4

The Mets played a doubleheader of sorts last night in San Diego. Game 1, if you will, was Jake Peavy's seven innings of lockdown baseball in which the Mets only scored on . . . you guessed it . . . Kaz Matsui's inside-the-park-homer in his first at-bat of the year. (More on that in a sec.) Other than that freakish play, it seemed the Mets had brought west the "C" game they'd been sporting at Shea for a couple of days, much to Steve Trashel's chagrin. As with Tim Hudson, and to a lesser degree Kyle Davies, you have to give Peavy credit for being a brilliant pitcher throwing a brilliant game, but this successive futility was starting to look less like the opponent had three aces and more like we had a hand of unmatched garbage.

Game 2, of course, consisted of the 8th and 9th innings of the same contest. Down 2-1, Xavier Nady doubled to lead off, but Matsui -- returning to form ever so predictably -- flubbed the ball to the left side, failing to advance Nady. At that point, it looked like "Game 1" all over again. I cursed everyone and everything -- Kaz Matsui; the foundering, floundering Mets; myself for staying up well past midnight to watch this rubbish; and Kaz Matsui. Even the omni-stoic Willie Randolph seemed on the verge of losing his composure, though his version of a Lou Piniella tantrum is to clench his jaw, purse his lips, step back away from the dugout steps, and run his fingers down the bill of his cap emphatically. Seeing him in "Serenity Now" mode made his grinning exhalation 30 seconds later that much more gratifying.

It was almost as if Julio Franco took a look around, shook his head, and said, "I do it myself." Father Time Franco cracked one high and deep to right, took full advantage of the quirky right-field configuration, and dropped one into the "jury box" jutting out from the wall. It was a two-run, game-altering, historic, and clutch as all get-out home run to take the lead. There was muted bedlam in my house and the kind of joy in Metville only available after the tiniest seeds of doubt had started to take root.

Any fears we had about a gut-wrenching letdown by the bullpen were assuaged immediately after Franco's shot, for the Metmen seemed to be instantly roused from their three-game slumber. Reyes singled, stole second and moved to third on a flyout. Endy Chavez, subbing in after Carlos Beltran's hamstring and an entire Township were freshly aggravated, knocked a bunt single to bring home Reyes, and the other Carlos belted one that skipped off the top of the fence in right-center for a four-bagger. I feel very good about the Mets' pen -- they were super-sharp again this night -- but I felt even better after David Wright walked, stole second, and came home on a Cliff Floyd single.

7-2, sitting comfortably, everyone hitting, energy restored, going from sputtering to overdrive in an instant. A thousand thank-yous, Julio Franco. That he went into the books as the oldest player (47) ever to homer is just gravy. Notable is the fact that Kaz Matsui's wild, uncanny, just silly inside-the-park job could not muster the same rally-ability as Franco's. The Matsui play, which also drew ink in the annals for being the third homer he's hit in the first at-bat of his three years here, was certainly a stand-up-and-cheer affair for his teammates, but that's where the invigoration ended. Perhaps it was the fact that it was only the third inning; perhaps it was that it only tied the game and didn't take the lead; or perhaps nothing Kaz Matsui or players like him ever accomplish can be done with same gravity and lead-by-example influence that a man as respected as Julio Franco can with a single opposite-field swing of the bat.

I'd been neither ecstatic nor critical about the arrival of Franco on this team, appreciative of the elder statesman clubhouse influence and mildly dubious of his accounting for a roster spot with steady but limited on-field upside. You can spend plenty of time with Rob Neyer and his ilk calculating guys like Franco's win shares, VORP, and relative value on the team, and I don't discount that stuff, but in my mind, last night's jack carries some serious weight, and here's hoping there is more momentum to be garnered from it yet.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Game 14 - Mets

Braves 2, Mets 1
Record: 10-4

Nothing happens to the Mets that isn't exploded to the extreme. Hell, nothing happens in New York that isn't reported 100 different ways, all of them in a different hyperbole. Losing two of three to the Braves . . . well, it sucked, don't get me wrong, but there is no long-term analysis to make over losing a single series.

Unable to get to MLC headquarters until now, I've had a range of thoughts rational and emotional about the first bump in the Mets' long road. The overarching sentiment I've felt, though, is that none of the thoughts are worth going berserk over, so I won't. I'll only make one quick point -- game's on in a few minutes.

I'm not fretting in the least over the dearth of hitting; it's been hideous to witness, but you have to remember one thing. You may tell yourself: This is not my beautiful team. These are not my beautiful Mets. Endy Chavez, Jose Valentin, Chris Woodward, and Ramon Castro do not start for my team. When they do, this will be an aberration from the expectation, and -- so long as they will not be needed on a semi-permanent basis -- little can be judged from the negative results at this time. Fear not, Township, and godspeed, Carlos, Clifford, and Anderson.

Beltran and Floyd should be back soon, but Anderson Hernandez could be gone a while, hitting the DL with a bulging (enunciate -- I've already bungled it once in mixed company) disc. We're in luck, though, because boos-hound Kaz Matsui is getting healthy at just the right time. What fortune! On the plus side . . . uh, still taking suggestions for the plus side.

You'll note I said that "little can be judged" from the past two games of hitting gone AWOL rather than "nothing can be judged." Here's what we know: the New York Mets have a startling lack of depth. Woodward, Chavez, Valentin, Castro, Franco -- these fellows range from mildly serviceable to woefully inadequate, and based on the AAA Tides' face plant into the mud out of the gate, the Mets' aren't waiting to unveil something spectacular. Ask most Mets fans' about the state of the farm, and you'll get "Lastings Milledge . . . Mike Pelfrey . . . and, um . . . a lot of dreck." It's not that bad, in truth, but if the Mets expect to make a run, they are going to have to be able to perform from time to time without their starters. Take a quick gander at how the Sox did when Coco and Trot (for the unfamiliar, they're baseball players, not entrants in a dog show) went down. That is how teams with a postseason future handle the adversity of injured regulars.

. . . As opposed to the Keystone Mets of the past two days. David Wright made three (3) errors yesterday, two in one inning that handed the Braves a run. Of course, we still love and admire Dee-Dub with the kind of affection real men do not speak of . . . so let's move on.

Meanwhile, the random flailing, ahem, the hitting, as it were, was rather light. And we all know the cure-all for that is a trip to Petco Park against Jake Peavy. Well, getting away from Shea and the rumors of the impending apocalypse may well be good for these guys. They'll get to see (and steal bases off) Mike Piazza, and every series is a new series. Here we go.

You(k) Are So Beautiful

Games 14 & 15 - Red Sox

Red Sox 7, Tampa Bay Devil Rays 4
W: Timlin (2-0)
L: R. Lugo (0-1)
Sv: Papelbon (7)

Red Sox 9, Devil Rays 1
W: Schilling (4-0)
L: Waechter (0-1)

Record: 11-4

Kevin Youkilis' fame to date has largely derived from his Moneyball-inspired nickname, the Greek God of Walks, as author Michael Lewis used Youkilis as an example of the type of ballplayer lusted after by Oakland GM Billy Beane. Since the book's release, Youk's spent the better part of 2 seasons on the Boston/Pawtucket shuttle, mostly because he had Billy Mueller ahead of him at third, and the Sox wanted him to get as many opportunities to play as possible. Entering this season, he had a career OPS of close to .800 (and a World Series ring - c'mon, you didn't think we could go this long into the season without mention of 2004, did you?), despite his inconsistent playing opportunities.

After the first 15 games of the 2006 season, I think Youks deserves consideration for a new nickname. Like the Greek God of Being a Fucking Stud, or something equally literary and pithy.

After being handed the starting job at first base, all he's done is put up a .969 OPS (with a .448(!) OBP), filled in spectacularly in the leadoff role in Coco Crisp's absence, and flashed elite-caliber leather in a new position. His double drove in the winning runs in Tuesday's win over the Rays, and his homer to lead off the bottom of the 1st last night got the Sox jump-started to an easy win. He's 2nd on the Sox in RBI, batting average, and hits. All that, and his lumpy-headed, goofy-grinning charm fits perfectly with a team that's not necessarily a bunch of idiots, but sure seems to be looser than your average bears. I was unsure what to expect from Youks before the season began, but the early returns indicate that he'll be a critical component - and his work at the top of the order will give Terry Francona some decisions to make once Crisp returns from the DL.

Curt Schilling's solid performance last night, coupled with an offensive outburst, was critical in sparing the high-leverage elements of the bullpen after Tuesday's nail-biter. After Mike Timlin was uncharacteristically awful (vulturing his way to the win Matt Clement deserved), Jonathan Papelbon had his first really labored outing. The Rays battled the young righty better than any opponent to date, forcing the Sox' closer to throw 34 pitches to record the 3-run save. Only Adam Stern's sprawling (and ill-advised) effort to snare Damon Hollins' game-ending liner saved Paps from his first earned runs of the season. Sox management was so excited by Stern's play that they sent him down to Pawtucket after the game (to be fair, that was the plan from Day 1 this season).

Schilling's telling folks that he's not totally comfortable on the mound yet, which bodes ill for AL bats, since he's 4-0 with a 1.61 ERA, an 0.75 WHIP, and a .495 OPS against. Wake goes tonight against the Rays before Josh Beckett gets a chance to hold serve in his intramural battle with Schilling.

I spent yesterday in Atlanta, where the Mets/Braves series has people's attention, especially after the Mets' win in the first game. The Braves' subsequent 2 wins have the Dirty South repeating Ric Flair's mantra, "To be the man, you gotta beat the man". Haven't seen Whit's musings yet today, but I suspect he'll echo that sentiment.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Where Have All the Good Times Gone?

Game 13 - Mets

Braves 7, Mets 1
Record: 10-3

It was retro night at the ballpark tonight, as the new, new Mets were channeling their brethren of yesteryear. I have to admit, the Mets have been so good to us so far that the refrain above, or something similar, crossed my mind before reality set in. A different Davies (Kyle) forgot all about his early-season shellings and whizzed all over the ticker-tape parade already forming in Flushing. There's nothing like having your head jammed in the toilet to bring you back down from your high horse. I do speak from experience.

Ah, baseball, where the league's best teams are knocked off 60 times a season. Where the sport's best hitters will all -- to a man -- experience games filled with their own ineptitude. Where the best that ever lived were gotten out more than they got on. Prideful Need Not Apply, says baseball. "It's a lot like life, and that's what's appealing," as Depeche Mode once sang about America's game. (Or sado-masochism, your choice.)

So, we can slough this loss off freely as "one of the 35 predetermined ones," according to baseball analyst Robert L. Russell, or at least one of the 60+ that are coming the Mets' way. We can superstitiously acknowledge our triscadecaphobia about Game 13, and how winning it might bring the ill will from beyond. We can acknowledge some dings and bumps that have this lineup bearing only a passing resemblance to the one that has torn through opposing rotations and pens. But would that be any fun?

Let's talk, if we may, for a moment about Victor "The Misnomer" Zambrano. I relish the gag-reflex mention of Scott Kazmir in these moments about as little as Zambrano does himself, but with every disappointing outing, it's increasingly obvious that neither Zambrano, Jim Duquette/MENSAWilpon, nor the Mets were the "victor" in that exchange. Inevitable comparisons (hey, baseball's a slow game with geeks for fans) with his namesake and fellow Venezuelan Carlos Zambrano find him anything but the "victor" there, either.

And that's fine. Really, it is. It's when he cannot play the "victor" when held up against fellow 4/5 starters making a few million dollars a year that the fans really turn on him. He's really just an unimpressive pitcher -- surprising, since the only part of his game that gives him trouble is keeping runners off base. Rick Peterson thought the guy just needed his tutelage and a change of scenery, but the truth is that he's the same exact pitcher he was going on two years ago. With park- and league-adjustments, his numbers are nearly identical. His walks are down a bit, and so are his strikeouts, while his hits allowed are up. Two starts don't warrant a big change in direction, but has he ever shown a spark that's made any of us sit up and take notice?

Meanwhile, the Mets' lineup looked horrible tonight. They just didn't have it. Granted, the umpire's strike zone was clavicle to shin and three inches on either side. He had the proverbial plane to catch, not that Zambrano took advantage of it. Still, not all of it can be blamed on shabby umpiring. There just wasn't anything in the tank tonight.

At the same time, a very small dose of bad luck has seeped into camp. Right after Victor Diaz was Norfolked in favor of the Mets' 12th pitcher, Cliff Floyd joined Carlos Beltran in the dugout. Unless someone goes on the DL, Diaz must remain in the promised land for 10 days. This means Endy Chavez and Jose Valentin are minding the gaps in center and left. Not to pick on Chavez and Valentin, but let's. Last year Endy Chavez was a "project" that was abandoned . . . by the Washington Nationals. The Nats' roster has more projects than science class in southeast DC, so when they give up on you, it's not because they didn't have the time or patience. You just couldn't play. Meanwhile, Jose Valentin is just a year and a half removed from a 30-HR season, but all that remains from his heyday is the molestor-moustache and the love of the swinging K. Troubled times in the Mets' outfield.

Oh, and if you think it hasn't crossed my mind that someone should "pull up lame" and take a 15-day vacation for the betterment of the team, you're fooling yourself. Honestly, I'm not suggesting that Jorge Julio "fall" down the clubhouse stairs and have a trash can full of bricks land on him. More like Valentin -- now 0-for-12 on the year -- straining something (his numbers speak to juicing, which lead to such injuries, anyway) or Julio Franco going on the DL due to "natural causes."

Of course, I get it that we're not all in a panic after but one (putrid, awfully stank) loss. But just like when Jorge Julio rescued Geoff Jenkins from the doldrums and gave him the boost he needed (Jenkins homered again last night) to get back on track, so, too might Zambrano and the sleeping Metbats have done it for Kyle Davies and the Braves tonight. You can dismiss this game as a small patch of dry, dead, infected, scabby skin on an otherwise nicely-complexioned body of work so far, or you can think about it, look ahead, work to get on track, and by all means, mock some dudes.

* * *

Balls are flying out of parks at a peculiarly high rate this year. By my count, 38 have been hit tonight, and there's still a bit of ball left to be played. Chris Woodward hit a liner that I was just hoping would get over the left-fielder's head, but it left the yard. Tigers' 6-hitter Chris Shelton has 9 already. (See for some Sheltonian humor.) Ty Wigginton already has 6!

The most fun take on this power surge is, of course, that the balls are juiced. And that it's a strategy by Bud Selig and Company to inject power into the game to offset any loss from 'roid-junkies gone clean, keeping those nimrod homer-minded fans happy and avoiding statistically parabolic arcs of The Steroid Era. Oh, if that were true and came out, what a story that would make. It's probably not, but it's just fun to see the similarities (real or perceived) between the alternately inept-and-evil leaders in MLB's Commissioner Bud Selig and 24's President Charles Logan.

Friends of P.

Game 12 – Mets

Mets 4, Braves 3
Record: 10-2

I’ll give my diminutive cohort credit: the Sox would definitely rather have Josh Beckett under contract for 2006 and beyond than they would Pedro Martínez. Beckett has looked nothing less than ace-ish so far for them. Meanwhile, the Mets aren’t forced/permitted to make such a choice.

For the Mets a year and a half ago, it was simply Pedro or not Pedro. Maybe it was more like Pedro Martínez or Carl Pavano or Kevin Millwood or Russ Ortiz or Derek Lowe. Or Al Leiter, of course. Whatever the scenario of the 2004 off-season, right now we on this side of the aisle are pleased as Punch (or, in a slightly more up-to-date expression, pleased as Ponch) with Pedro’s presence. Tonight the steel-toed wonder racked up his 200th victory, always a notable feat but even more extraordinary when paired with his mere 84 losses. Even his most vocal detractors have to button their lips and tip their caps to his considerable career.

Most of those 200 wins, the most remarkable of those wins, and the most meaningful of those wins came while throwing for Rob’s Red Sox, but the guy still has a bit of life left in him. He won’t light up the radar gun any more, and he’ll often get lit up on a pitch or two every game, but make no mistake, all maps to big-picture success this season originate at Pedro’s Place.

I’ll be honest, I never much cared for Martínez when he was a Sock. The antics, the melodrama, the bravado, the fastballs at guys’ heads when he’d never have to bat. The goofy face and silly hair, the look of a skinny muppet or a fraggle in a baseball uniform. I knew he was a star, but I was glad to be able to root against him. Yes, that’s right, there were vines full of sour grapes entangled in that sentiment.

Of course, this was all before I thought the Mets could and would garner Pedro’s services for a few years. Naturally, that changed everything; it’s by far not the first time that the era of free agency has made a hypocrite of someone. Since I already went and packed my soul away in the attic when the Mets took their rightful, wrongful place among the big-market, big spenders I’ve bashed for years, I figured there was nothing to present any internal conflict for me. If I can reconcile myself with embracing the Money Mets, I can do the same with supporting Pedro. And truth is . . . it’s really pretty fun pulling for this clown.

* * *

Notes from around Shea . . .
Carlos Beltran has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury. It’s the news that generates a bevy of furtive glances at each other amid the Township, but he’s supposed to return tomorrow, so they say . . . Hastening his return could be the absence of Cliff Floyd, who left tonight’s game with a rib cage strain. After sending Victor Diaz down here to Norfolk earlier today, Willie had to put Jose Valentin in left. The Valentin-Endy Chavez-Xavier Nady outfield held fast, but I don’t want to see it again any time soon . . . Speaking of Xavier "Three Times a" Nady, he had a trio of hits, including a dinger, to raise his average to .400 . . . While Jorge Julio’s pyrotechnic work has the fans clamoring for Kris Benson (who was last seen getting torched himself in the Charm City), Duaner Sanchez is making all but the punsters forget Jae Seo. He pitched out of another jam tonight, adding an extra scoreless frame to boot. Wagner polished off Atlanta for another save . . .

I am very much digging the Gary Cohen / Ron Darling / Keith Hernandez triumvirate in the Sportsnet New York booth. Insightful commentators really do enhance ballgames for us, and guys who can add perspective, history, statistical relevance, anecdotal evidence, a bit of bias, and more than an ounce of humor make a three-hour game fly by. (Conversely, relative dullards droning on in support of some other club make baseball the interminable spectator sport some claim it to be.) After Orsillo and the Rem-dawg had me chuckling this morning, the Mets men had me paying closer attention to tonight’s game than usual. A good day for baseball fans everywhere. No, there is no comedy of the absurd with Ralph Kiner and Fran Healy’s jaw-dropping interplay, but I’m a fan of SNY’s team.

And finally, as if it needed mentioning, beating the Braves has not lost one iota of its luster.

Monday, April 17, 2006


Games 10 through 13 - Red Sox

Red Sox 2, Seattle Mariners 1
W: Schilling (3-0)
L: Moyer (0-2)
Sv: Papelbon (5)

Mariners 3, Red Sox 0
W: Pineiro (2-1)
L: Wakefield (1-2)
Sv: Guardado (2)

Red Sox 3, Mariners 2
W: Beckett (3-0)
L: Washburn (1-2)
Sv: Papelbon (6)

Red Sox 7, Mariners 6
W: Timlin (1-0)
L: Guardado (0-1)

Record: 9-4

Perspective's a wonderful thing, and a 162-game baseball season is uniquely designed to offer moments that both validate and instantly change it in the context of fandom. One pitch thrown a little differently today has me lamenting a home split against Seattle, exacerbated by the Sox' early-season clutch hitting woes. Instead, Mariner closer Eddie Guardado got a lot more of the plate with that pitch than he intended, and Mark Loretta ripped it into the Monster seats for the sweetest of all baseball poetry - the come-from-behind walkoff.

I'm watching Pedro pitch for the Mets right now, and I must admit that there's a wistful little part of me that still gets a thrill watching that whip of a right arm make the ball do otherwordly things (despite the fact that Andruw Jones just hit one to Manhattan - holy shit). Even so, after the season's first 2 weeks, I'd be lying if I wished he were still on the Sox staff, especially if it meant that Josh Beckett wasn't. I said somewhere in this space that Beckett was Pedro Lite - a "young, potentially dominant power arm entering the prime of his career". Beckett's trying his damnedest to make those words define understatement.

A gorgeous Spring weekend had me away from much of the Sox' action against the Mariners, though I did see all of Schilling's gem on Friday, and all the scoring in Beckett's effort on Sunday. If not for Wily Mo Pena's rude introduction to the vagaries of Fenway's vast rightfield, Beckett may have been unblemished, but even as his runs were attributed to woeful defense, the young righty still fist-pumped his way through his 3rd consecutive 7-inning, 1-earned run outing. I completely missed Tim Wakefield's hard-luck loss on Saturday, but was heartened by his complete game performance, if not so much by the continued slumber of the Sox' offense.

The Sox are now 4-1 in games in which they've scored 3 or fewer runs; they were 3-22 in similar outings in 2005. Schilling and Beckett account for all 4 of those wins, which enlightens both the promise and the peril of the 2006 Sox. The 2 stud righthanders seem poised to feed off each other all season long, health permitting. The rest of the rotation, though, with David Wells now on the DL, Matt Clement opening poorly, and Wakefield being Wakefield, seems a lyric in search of a song: Schilling and Beckett, and ahhh, feck it (The Shane MacGowan version). Beckett and Schilling and Dontrelle, Lord willing (the Bud Selig money-is-power remix). Feel free to play along at home, and use Lenny Dinardo's name for bonus points - the lefty did his job today, getting through 5 innings with only 2 runs against in a spot start.

Despite the rotation's 3-5 woes, and the power shortage from all sources not named Papi, the Sox are still 9-4, a testament to terrific bullpen work (2 more dominant saves from Papelbon against the Mariners), mostly excellent defense, and just enough hitting to win, if not comfortably. The injury-slowed lineup starts to get better now with Trot Nixon back today (and 3-4 with a pair of doubles) and Coco Crisp returning in a few days, so I expect the offense to perk back up. Just a little bit of help for Schilling and Beckett, and my optimism may start to match my colleague's, even if not as publicly.

I still think he sandbagged the case bet.

I Believe

Games 9 through 11 – Mets

Mets 4, Brewers 3
Brewers 8, Mets 2
Mets 9, Brewers 3
Record: 9-2

All right, all right, all right. After a fortnight of non-committal and emotional hedging, I have given in to the momentous forces flying around Shea. It’s time for us snake-bitten, trigger-shy, beaten dogs of age-old fans to believe in these Mets the way that the outside observers, talking heads, and fair-weather fans have been believing for two weeks now. It’s been a long, long time, but these Mets have to be regarded as one of the best teams in baseball and a heavy favorite to go far this season. Probably. (Work with me here, people.)

Now that I think about it, this may be the first time since 1989 that the New York Mets have sported a team that has elicited the “favorite” label. Favorites in 1989. Acknowledging the other popular entities of 1989 (“Who’s the Boss?”, “Look Who’s Talking,” and New Kids on the Block), I probably should have seen the lengthy ill that this boded, but I didn’t. Consider that the teams of ’98-’01 were always picked to finish behind the Braves, and even the World Series team of 2000 was a wild card underdog. I only crossed over from hoping and praying that they’d win to expecting they’d win in that year’s Series, and you saw how that went. Since 1989, it’s been an assumption that the Mets would be at best a second fiddle, at worst a fifth kazoo, to true juggernauts like the Braves. And even then, expectations of the Mets of the last 17 years to provide us teams that were “decent,” “fair,” or “middling” have left us disappointed and defeated. The 2003 and 2004 seasons in particular – chronicled here ever so painfully – did quite a number on my ability to get on board with this franchise. It’s no 86 years, but there have been such putrid efforts since That Championship Season that two decades can feel like two centuries if – and here’s my point – I let myself get caught up in the fortunes of this team.

I think this fairly well explains why I might be reluctant to go all-in on these here Metropolitans.

That said, although on-paper winners have consistently translated into on-field losers of late, try as I might I just can’t ignore all that this team has going for it. Solid to superb top to bottom, rejuvenated spirit, remarkable confidence. Barring freak injuries or Wilponian blunders (knocking on wood, of course), they should be there when the dust settles on the regular season.

What directly led to this belated affirmation for me was yesterday’s ballgame against the Brewers. The Mets had impressively constructed a three-run lead in the middle innings with a perfect combination of long and small ball, that ideal equilibrium this team has been able to achieve with outstanding consistency thus far. Brian Bannister, meanwhile, had demonstrated almost no control whatsoever, yet he managed to do just enough when it mattered to hold the Brewers to a single run (on six hits and five walks) over five innings. Enter Darren Oliver, another in a long line of aged veteran pitchers the Mets seem to pick up in hopes of an unlikely revival (see Astacio, Baldwin, Erickson). Alas, on this Easter Sunday, Oliver’s Met resurrection fell a little short.

The stage was set by two things: Carlos Delgado’s game-long display of DH-level first base work, and an event in Saturday’s loss to the Crew. Delgado had already waved at a sharp grounder and a line drive at his head during yesterday’s game, the latter of which led to Milwaukee’s only run against Bannister. After Oliver gave up a single and retired the next batter, Oliver picked off the runner. Well, he would have, if Delgado hadn’t heaved the ball into the dirt and by Jose Reyes into left-field. After the next batter whiffed – which should have been the third out – up came Geoff Jenkins. And we flash back 24 more hours.

Jenkins had entered the series against the Mets in a serious season-starting slump. He’s a streaky kind of hitter, though, and the last thing you want to do is provide the spark that will later burn you. That spark, of course, was a meatball Jorge Julio (natch) served up on Saturday afternoon. Down 5-2, Willie Randolph had brought in Julio in an effort to get him into any sort of a groove. After Julio grooved one to Geoff Jenkins, however, it was the Milwaukee slugger who was energized and not the New York pitcher. As the ball sailed over the wall, I was heard to utter, “What do you want to bet that comes back to haunt us tomorrow?”

And so it did. Jenkins crushed the pitch off Oliver (to go with his single and double Sunday), tightening it up to 4-3 in the 6th. It’s moments like that one that usher in a Pavlovian “I’ve seen this game before” black cloud of an exasperated exhale. Here we go, here’s where they blow this winnable game. I’ve seen it 100 times before.

But they didn’t blow it. I hadn’t seen it 100 times before. And that has made all the difference. Delgado atoned for his error beautifully with a three-run rope over the right-field wall in the 8th that took the Brewers’ legs right out from underneath them. The Mets added two more, unforeseeably, essentially ending the contest. They gave Billy Wagner the afternoon off and provided a cushion even Jorge Julio couldn’t relinquish in the 9th. (Just a long double and a wild pitch . . . baby steps don’t blow the game; baby steps don’t totally and completely rot.)

That’s the thing about this season . . . it’s all new to me. Successfully staving off comebacks, closing out games against subpar opponents, battering pitchers early and often – these kinds of games mostly eluded the old Mets. Even last year’s “new Mets” couldn’t sustain a stretch of these games. But the “new, new Mets”? I believe they can. I believe the poles are shifting. I believe my humor’s wearing thin (do I hear a second?), and change is what I believe in. I guess what I’m trying to say is . . . I believe in these New York Mets.

Bring on the downturn. I can take it.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Perfect Day

Game 8 - Mets

Mets 13, Nationals 4
Record: 7-1

Such a perfect day. Great seats (thanks, Mike), beautiful afternoon, great friends, cold beers, tasty dogs, and the Mets clubbing the ever-living snot out of the poor Nats. We got to RFK just in time to see three Met homers in the top of the 1st, and the barrage wasn't contained therein. Beltran-Delgado-Wright-Floyd: 9-for-18, 7 ribbies, 8 runs, a dinger apiece. Beltran's was another upper-deck blast that led off the scoring and raised eyebrows throughout. Livan Hernandez sailed cartoon balloons over the plate all day, and it was just one of those games that was over before it really got going. For a change from Mets seasons past, it went in their favor.

"The businessman's special" -- what a worthy concept. Taking in a ballgame on a warm spring day, throwing back beers, gambling extensively, and yukking it up in the lower tier with three longtime friends had me wanting to be nowhere else than right where I was. I could do that every week and it would never lose its flavor, though the fact that I cannot actually do it every week made me that much more appreciative.

Baseball season brings an annual arrival of two things -- baseball fans waxing blathersome (case in point) about the national pastime and the morning dew on the diamond, and non-baseball fans piping up to cast aspersions on the game. Friends, colleagues, strangers, lunatics babbling on the street -- more than ever, people seem to be coming out of the woodwork (around me, at least) to rain on our parade, calling baseball, "slow," "boring," "not a real sport," and "optic drudgery." (Well, that last one is too literary; all poets are baseball fans.) I do my best to represent those taken with the sport with diplomacy -- by berating and belittling the naysayers and their collective lack of intelligence. "It's a thinking man's game, which explains a lot," is a quick retort you should apply to anyone who's sour on baseball. At any rate, days like yesterday have a universal appeal to folks around the dial on baseball fandom; you didn't have to be anything close to a baseball zealot to be seen soaking in the grandeur at the park. It was just that good.

Okay, back out of the Walt Whitman territory of pastoral poetics and into the Whit-man territory of snide sarcasm. Boy, oh, boy, is Jorge Julio something special. The former O (and current O, Lord) had another accident in the eighth inning, and the Mets may be calling AAA very soon. Fortunately, the Nats looked like they had somewhere to be, so Julio's single gopher ball provided only the humor of his haplessness. It seems he is good for some relief, and we all know what kind.

I'm as excited as the rest of Mets Township about the brilliant start and the prospect of a fantastic season, but eight games against shallow talent show us very little. Tonight's game against the newly resuscitated Brewers franchise initiates a stretch that may be a bit more telling. Here's a quote you can scan the first three years of this site and not find (in blue-headered type): I cannot wait to see how the rest of this season unfolds. Let's go Mets.

Comfortably Numb

Game 9 - Red Sox

Blue Jays 8, Red Sox 6
W: Lilly (1-0)
L: Clement (1-1)
Sv: Ryan (3)
Record: 6-3

I caught the final 3-4 innings of this one in a beer-soaked stupor after spending the afternoon with Whit and others at first the Nationals/Mets game and then a succession of watering holes in the Greater Washington metropolitan area. By the time Whit and I reached my living room, the Sox trailed 8-1 and I didn't really care all that much.

While the result obviously doesn't thrill me, my mood was improved by the performance of the Sox' bullpen after Matt Clement's 4-inning self-immolation, and I was further cheered by the lads' refusal to buckle under after Toronto took a 7-run lead into the 7th inning. Keith Foulke turned in 2 scoreless frames to lead the pen's 5-inning, 4-hit, 1-run effort.

The Sox plated 2 in the bottom of the 8th on the indomitable Papi's 4th homer of the year, a laser that would not have reached the seats in any other park in the majors (though it would have been a wall-rattling extra-base hit). Fenway giveth.

As Kevin Youkilis came to the plate with 2 on and 2 out in the bottom of the 9th, I turned to Whit and said, "If they give Papi a chance, yikes". A Youkilis gap-shot double and a Mark Loretta flare single later, and Ortiz came to the plate as the tying run, prompting Jays' skipper John Gibbons to bring in B.J. Ryan to close out what should have been a laugher. Though Ortiz' first-pitch skyscraper of a fly ball settled easily into Alex Rios' glove provided a serious anti-climax, the Sox showed some onions in a losing effort. For what it's worth, Ortiz' game-ending fly probably would have been out of 50% of the parks in the league. Fenway taketh away.

It's really way too early to stress over a 2-game losing streak, especially since the Sox showed some heart in both losses. Might not be too early to stress over the weakness of the 3-5 slots in the pitching rotation, but I'll give Messrs. Wells and Clement a few more outings before I commence fingernail gnawing. Schilling does have his first big stopper opportunity of the season tonight against the Mariners.

As for the more enjoyable portion of my day, I must say that the Metropolitans are for real. They may not go 161-1, as the volume of media ballwashing may imply, but I'd be shocked if they don't cruise through the poop-laden NL East. The Nationals, handcuffed by "ownership" issues and a real lack of talent, compounded those negatives by showing less sack than a herd of eunuchs - I hope Frank Robinson tore Jose Guillen's still-beating heart from his chest or at least upended a postgame spread after that flaccid effort.

Still working on my postgame hangover, so signing off here and hoping that I don't pass out in my office.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Right Place, Wrong Time

Game 7 – Mets

Mets 3, Nationals 1
Record: 6-1

The New York Mets have the best record in baseball, a three-game lead over the rest of their division, and seem to be clicking on all cylinders. MASN’s Tom Paciorek praised the Mets as a “seemingly flawless,” “championship-level” team. Every facet of the team is playing at or near its peak.

That’s great. Really, it is. Dammit.

And, of course, today is April 12. I’ve been waiting years for the Mets to re-emerge as exactly what I described above, yet now that they are exactly that, all I feel is the angst of an inevitable downturn from the lofty heights in which they’ve been floating for a week. It’s coming, but the question as to whether it will be a mere slip or a massive plummet has me edgy.

Tonight Pedro Martinez pitched, and pitched well. He gave up a solo shot to Jose Vidro, but when Vidro came up later with no outs, the bases stuffed, and the Nats down a run, Pedro induced a desperately-needed K. A brilliant 6-4-3 escape job followed, preserving the Mets’ lead. Billy Wagner got the save, though we’d really like to see a little more domination out of the fireballer. Either the MASN radar gun was flaky, or Wagner’s fastball was, clocked at 89-98 mph. Let's assume that he was changing speeds as a tactic and not laboring to get some mustard on those things.

Right now the rest of the NL East looks like wreckage on the highway. Everyone else is sub-.500, and most of the teams have limped out of the gate. All of this will change – and quickly – but I’m asking for just one more day of this bliss. Rob and I are headed to RFK tomorrow for Livan Hernandez versus (gulp) Victor Zambrano. Yikes. I’d better pack a parachute.

Fat Man in the Bathtub...

...or maybe in the showers, if this doesn't improve. 2 innings in this evening, and David Wells has started his season by giving up 5 runs on 8 hits. Chris "Boy am I gonna make sure you know that my nickname is Boomer, too, and isn't it a great nickname, too?" Berman and Joe "check out for clever nicknames to insert here" Morgan keep noting that Wells' performance is to be expected, because "this is like Spring Training for him". That's neat and all, but these games count, and if Wells isn't ready to pitch I guess I'd prefer the Sox explore their other options and let the chubby dude stretch things out in Pawtucket.

Game 8 - Red Sox

Blue Jays 8, Red Sox 4
W: Chacin (2-0)
L: Wells (0-1)
Record: 6-2

Even in this game that defined "feh", the sun shone on several corners of the Sox roster, illuminating some tantalizing possibilities. While the aforementioned butterball gave up 10 hits and 7 runs in 4 innings, Lenny DiNardo pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the top of the 6th and only allowed 1 run while eating 3 innings. Rudy Seanez recovered from a putrid first week to record 2 hitless frames.

Offensively, all the Sox' runs came courtesy of the chick-pleasing longball. Of note, Wily Mo Pena demolished a Pete Walker breaking ball, driving it into the camera well in straightaway center for his first homer in a Sox uniform. Dennis Eckersley had a difficult time containing himself during the post-game recap as he discussed Pena's power, the former pitcher's eyes flaring wide open in alarmed fashion, almost as if he was picturing himself having to face the burly Dominican. Pena also singled sharply to right and (gasp!) walked, while not impaling himself or injuring any small children while playing the field.

Speaking of burly Dominicans, David Ortiz homered, doubled, and walked twice, reaching base in all 4 of his plate appearances in his first game after inking a 4-year contract extension. Some have quibbled about paying a designated hitter $13m+ per year, but I'd have gladly greenlighted the deal - even as I nod my head in understanding at the game's statistically-driven analysis, I still believe in the intangible, and Ortiz' presence matters in this Sox clubhouse and in the stands. And if his buddy Mr. Ramirez decides he'd like to join the rest of the Sox in producing offensively, well, that'd be just great, too.

Daytime baseball today for me and Whit, as we continue our recently-started tradition of taking an afternoon off to watch early-season action. Sox/O's 2 years ago, Mets/Nats today. The Sox won the World Series the first time we ditched work to see them, so that's gotta make Met Nation (Met Borough?) feel pretty good.

Five Get Over Excited

Game 6 - Mets

Mets 7, Nationals 1
Record: 5-1

It really is getting easier to get overexcited about these Mets after just five wins. Yesterday afternoon on a gorgeous afternoon at RFK Stadium, the Mets #5 starter, a rookie who even loyal Mets fans knew little to nothing of before this spring, shut down the Nationals. At the same time, the Met bats hammered away at a veteran starter, notching 12 hits and seven runs in the game. It’s just nice to coast to a win the day before Pedro Martinez pitches.

For some reason, this game felt like it was in the Mets’ pocket from the get-go. Perhaps it was the fact that although Ramon Ortiz cruised through the first few frames for the Nats, nearly every out was a bullet that was scooped or snared. The Mets came ready to hit. Or, perhaps it was Brian Bannister picking up where he left off last week, mixing fastballs and changes with the occasional knee-buckling curve to keep Washington off-balance all day. Or, perhaps it was the U.S. Vice President throwing out the first pitch, creating an atmosphere in which the wealthy teams thrive and less fortunate souls are required to pick themselves up by their bootstraps. Whatever it was, there was a noticeable tack of tension to this game from the vantage point in MetLand.

The Mets finally had their liners start falling in during the 4th inning. Carlos Beltran started the rally with a single, Carlos Delgado followed suit, and the white-hot David Wright pulled one down the left-field line for a double. After a sac fly from Cliff Floyd, it was 2-0. Hits by Jose Reyes and Paul LoDuca added two more in the 5th, and the Mets were on their way.

Bannister’s only mistake came in the 7th when Alfonso Soriano cranked a behemoth of a blast off the upper deck in left, quite a feat considering the stadium. Two pluses in that minus – Bannister came back and retired the final out right away, and in a show of “wise beyond his years,” possibly attributable to being the son of a former major leaguer, he cracked a wide smile in LoDuca’s direction after Soriano’s bomb. When I give up enormous dingers at the softball field, I do the same thing, but it’s a slightly different setting. Brian Bannister looks cool as a cuke, something you cannot put a price tag on in New York. It’s possible . . . and I hesitate to admit it . . . that the Mets knew what they were doing when they sent Aaron Heilman to the pen in favor of this kid.

Beltran later countered Soriano’s shot with one even more prodigious to right field in the 9th. His two hits marked his first two from the left side this season, and he seems to be getting more comfortable with every game.

Everyone’s hitting pretty well right now, except maybe Anderson Hernandez, who appeared marginally less prepared at the plate than Bannister (who went 2-for-4 with a double). Of note is Jose Reyes, who’s looking significantly improved at the plate thus far. It’s true, the pitching he’s faced isn’t the league’s finest, so the enthusiasm we’re feeling for what he – as well as the rest of the club – has done so far must fall short of “unbridled.” Still, there’s a discernable ease in his at-bats that wasn’t there before. Last year he seemed to struggle with his patience at the plate; whether he was swinging aggressively, or forcing himself to take pitches, it usually seemed the wrong choice at the wrong time. Again, staff aces may once again make him look the fool up there, but right now, things are clicking with Jose.

Reyes’s case mirrors that of the whole club right now. We all recognize that the Mets should win these games, and so we can’t tell too much about the season so far. Still, the favorable schedule has set the table for the Mets to come out strong, gain some confidence, stave off the scrutiny, and settle into this season nicely. And that’s just what they’ve done so far.

Open Arms

Game 7 - Red Sox

Red Sox 5, Toronto Blue Jays 3
W: Beckett (2-0)
L: Towers (0-2)
Sv: Papelbon (4)
Record: 6-1

Big shout out to Whit for keeping me apprised of the events of yesterday's game, as I was trapped in St. Louis for business and in the middle of meetings as the Sox took on the Jays in their home opener. Of note, I toured the Cards' new stadium (well, I drove around it slowly) and can report that it's a snazzy yard in a cool downtown location. I got into town after their opener and left before they played last night so I didn't get to see a game, unfortunately.

For the 2nd time in as many starts, Josh Beckett scuffled through the first inning and shut down opposing bats for the next 6 innings. At this point, given his dominant performances through innings 2-7, there's little cause for alarm, but a few more of these early-inning dramatics and the brilliant minds on Yawkey Way may be running to Bill James for a solution. Hyperbole, of course, and it's really cool to see Beckett once again overpowering the opposition.

Mike Lowell earned the undying love (okay, bought himself a boo-free week) with a 4-4, 3 2B debut performance as a Sox (Sock sounds odd, no?) in Fenway. Good thing Whitney lifted him from the starting lineup of the fantasy squad we co-manage.

Wily Mo Pena, on the other hand, not so much. In addition to a Sorianoesque (Sorianoian? Sorianoiac?) effort at the plate - wave, wave, wave at outside breaking crap - the new outfielder misplayed a Frank Catalanotto (natch) drive to right into a gift homerun. With Trot Nixon now injured for 5-7 days and Coco Crisp on the 15-day DL, the Nation may have to grit our teeth and bear Wily Mo's downside while benefiting from his prodigious offensive potential over the next 2 weeks. On the plus side, Adam Stern had another solid game in center and at the plate - fingers crossed for a few weeks.

Speaking of fingers crossed, David Wells is slated to make his first start of the season tonight on national television. Tune in here tomorrow to see how it goes.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Best of What's Around

I just did a little overdue house cleaning in the links to our peers at right; Rob should be following suit before long. Please don't take offense if your work isn't linked -- it's a purely unscientific method we use to figure out which sites to include. We're actually bloggers of easy virtue when it comes to those links. Just drop us a comment or look for us at the Mets/Nats game on Thursday. We'll be the two guys in (someone else's) good seats, working on our slugging percentage as we take in the game and exchange trivia questions about Tim Naehring, Rico Brogna, and Curtis Pride.

Among the additions to the Mets Links you'll find a new blog by some kid named David Wright. We'll see how he stacks up against the Scribes of Shea. He does have a comments section where over 100 folks a day write personal messages to him. People, if gets hooked on blogging and replying to your comments, it'll be like Kevin McHale's mad quest to count the bolts and we'll lose him forever. It will be interesting to see if he is interested in a Schilling/SOSH like convergence of player and fans, or if he just tests the waters, reads some of our inane blogs, and goes frantically crawling back out of the 'sphere. If he ever happens to venture over to MLC Lane, here's hoping it's not today, when I intermittently fawned over his skills and questioned his sexual orientation. Nice work, Mr. Lester.

And finally, if you haven't seen this incredible effort, forwarded courtesy of Deadspin, enjoy.

One Week

Games 4 & 5 – Mets

Mets 9, Marlins 3
Marlins at Mets, PPD (Rain)
Mets 3, Marlins 2
Record: 4-1

I don’t how many baseball games = 1 foot, but I am willing to go on record as saying that the New York Mets have gotten off on the right foot this season. Rob and I are both experiencing the same early-season rock/hard place squeeze, caught between excited, optimistic enthusiasm and rational, tempered restraint. For him, this is familiar territory; I’m still looking around in wide-eyed intrigue at this alien land.

Ay, here’s the rub. The Mets have gone 4-1 in five-game stretches dozens of times in the last few wretched 162-game run-throughs. They’ve actually done even better, rattling off hot streaks of some note ‘twixt fortnights of futility. Mathematically, what the Mets have accomplished thus far is akin to winning the first half of the first NFL game of the season, so full-on rejoicing isn’t even in the conversation. It’s just a couple of things that have me nodding enthusiastically at all things Mets right now; one, they haven’t started a season this well in recent memory, and two, even objectively speaking, they appear to be a team that warrants a bit of reckoning.

Pocketing the rose-colored specs for a sec, winning two series at home against a pair of clubs that are projected among the league’s worst isn’t but so impressive. Now the Mets hop aboard the Metroliner to kick off a wicked . . . three-game road trip in the nation’s capital before coming right back for six more at home against Hank Aaron’s old teams. Perhaps the league’s schedulers had as much to do with the Mets’ fine start as anything else. Either way, I’ll take it seven days a week and twice on Sunday.

Speaking of twice on Sunday, the Mets will be playing twice on a Saturday in July thanks to some April rains over weekend. It’s a mildly unfortunate occurrence for New York; as much as the Mets are playing solid ball, the rookie- ridden, no-name Marlins are taking this premier stint in the season to evaluate themselves, gain some experience, and develop some confidence in these young players. In April that’s hard to do, but this team does have talent, and by July they may well put forth a far greater challenge for the Mets.

Meanwhile, the Mets took advantage of these Marlins this weekend with a Friday night drubbing and a Sunday afternoon comeback. Veterans Steve Trachsel and Tom Glavine both impressed during their respective six-inning outings. Through Week 1, the starter who has struggled the most is a certain wiry Dominican closing in on 200 career wins. He can rectify that on Wednesday in Washington – so long as last week’s plunk-athon doesn’t linger and distract.

And then there’s David Wright. There’s so much right about David Wright, I don’t know what to write. He hits singles or sac flies or home runs – just tell him what you need. His plays at third range from solid to surprisingly so. He says all the right things. He’s personable. He’s from southeastern Virginia. He’s almost too good to be true, prompting my brother-in-law to cynically say, “He’s probably gay.” (The rumors swirled around Piazza when he seemed too good to be true, too.)

Jose Reyes, Xavier Nady, Paul LoDuca, Carlos Delgado. All first-rate first weeks. Cliff Floyd, Carlos Beltran, Anderson Hernandez -- coming around? Starters starting well, middle relief looking very sharp, closer glossing over a blown save. All is well, right?

Very nearly. Jorge “Coolio” Julio had another fantastic voyage Friday night, nearly steering the erstwhile laugher into serious territory. He got himself into another quagmire (2-for-2 this season) all by himself, but he needed a little help getting out of it. After getting two called strike threes, Julio allowed a two-run single with the bases loaded, but youngster Jeremy Hermida foolishly tried to go first-to-third on the play. Nady had other ideas: he gunned him, killed the mini-rally, and saved Julio from further trouble. Stay tuned to Jorge’s big adventure.

Such is the story with these fresh-faced Fish; with a bunch of games under their belt, they might surprise some doubters . . . for a few games here and there. You can’t really expect this equivalent of a AAA All-Star Team to contend, can you? They’re relegated to spoiler from Game 1 of the 2006 season because of baseball’s deservedly maligned economic “system,” but in an odd twist, it’s not so much the lack of a league-imposed payroll maximum as it is the lack of a payroll minimum. The total payroll on their current roster is $14,998,500. That’s startling.

1. It’s several million dollars less than half of the next-lowest payroll (Tampa at $35.4M).
2. The Yankees have five players who each earn more than the Marlins’ whole team.
3. The Nationals have no owner and can legitimately gripe about MLB purse strings, but their payroll is over four times that of their division opponents in Florida.

While baseball’s financial lunacy is anything but limited to the Marlins’ situation (hey, Jorge Julio makes nearly seven times what David Wright does), Fire Sale II: In Breaking Training warrants more negative press than it’s received. Maybe it’s because the Marlins execs were more shrewd about the prospects they received for the top-tier guys they dealt this time. I don’t know. But Wayne Huizenga was appropriately vilified in 1998-99 for the torpedo job he did on his team to make back some bucks after buying the trophy; meanwhile, Jeffrey Loria, who’s been dealing from the bottom of the deck since his days in Montreal, seems to be escaping the wrath of baseball’s talking heads for duplicating the effort. (Actually, it’s worse, since this payroll is lower while the median salaries MLB-wide have risen.)

Several years ago, Major League Baseball tried to contract Loria’s Expos, as well as Carl Pohlad’s Twins. It was a poorly-orchestrated sneak attack on many fans (most of them Minnesotans) and failed miserably. The next collective bargaining agreement eliminated the possibility of future such efforts for a handful of years, but that contingency expires soon. If there were ever an obvious plea for mercy killing, one exists in southern Florida. Wipe them out, and take out the Devil Rays, too. Baseball can exist in Florida – in February and March. That’s the only time of year it’s been a viable business.

Bob Costas wrote a book called Fair Ball: A Fan’s Case for Baseball six years ago. Buy it. Read it. It made sense then, and fortunately for his book sales, baseball has taken nearly none of his advice, so it still applies today. There are still too many teams, there is still no salary cap, and this is still no payroll minimum, which he strongly advocates. He pleaded for a new system that reduces the highest salaries, raises the lowest, enhances revenue sharing, and puts teams on a significantly leveled playing field. By his own admission, this isn’t revolutionary dogma. It makes sense from a fan’s perspective, and though my team is indeed one of the lucky few who can buy their talent at more than market price, I’m all for it.

Until that day comes, however, the ludicrous, lopsided nature of the league will not lessen my loyal love of these Mets. Only continuously inept play, poor decisions, and a lackluster effort from key players can do that to me. And while those elements are far from eradicated, let me reiterate my optimistic outlook at this early juncture.

4-1 after one week. Just one week, but it was a good one.

Particle Man

Game 6 - Red Sox

Red Sox 4, Orioles 1
W: Wakefield (1-1)
L: Lopez (1-1)
Sv: Papelbon (3)
Record: 5-1

For the record, let it be known that the Baseball Gods have a wickedly clever (though good-natured) sense of humor. Further, let it once again be proven that I'm an idiot.

On Saturday night, I praised the Sox for solid defense, singling out Alex Gonzalez for his glovework and Mark Loretta for his grittiness. Less than 24 hours later, Loretta let the very first ball of yesterday's game go through his legs for a bush-league error. In the 2nd inning, after Loretta's gaffe cost the Sox a run, Gonzalez failed to execute a basic doubleplay turn, putting Tim Wakefield in one of the numerous jams he pitched through yesterday.

At this point, I'm looking forward to a 14-2 Orioles laugher, and planning to throw myself on the mercy of the court for my hubristic (even if jesting) comments in this space.

Then, Loretta failed to run out a groundball that Melvin Mora kicked, giving the Oriole 3rd-sacker way too much time to make a play, and costing the Sox a baserunner. If Manny had done the same thing, they'd be readying his gallows in Dan Shaugnessy's office. Without even checking, I'm gonna assume that there's nothing in this morning's Globe about it. Even though the Sox were still in the game, I was awaiting cosmic retribution of a biblical nature.

Last week, I cast aspersions about Josh Bard's ability to catch Tim Wakefield, and expressed concerns about Wake's effectiveness. Today, Bard was solid, and Wake went 6 innings without allowing an earned run.

Finally, I chose Saturday night to laud young Jonathan Papelbon's dominant start, noting that the new Sox closer had not allowed a baserunner in his first 3 outings. As Luis Matos doubled to lead off the bottom of the 9th, and Papelbon hit Miguel Tejada after inducing Mora to fly to center, I was certain that Jay Gibbons would tie the game as payback. Then, when Gibbons popped harmlessly to Bard (natch - the Sox' catcher made a terrific sliding play to record the out), I was equally certain that Kevin Millar (he of the embedded Red Sox description) would turn around Papelbon's heat in a spasm of poetic justice.

And after Millar popped to J.T. Snow to end the game, I realized that the Gods were toying with me, giving me just enough angst to remind me that I don't know what I'm talking about while serving notice that this Sox team is pretty damn solid. Point taken.