Wednesday, April 12, 2006

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.

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