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 www.deadspin.com 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.

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