Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Kids Are Alright

Games 47 through 51 - Mets

Marlins 5, Mets 1
Mets 7, Marlins 4
Mets 7, Marlins 3
Mets 8, Diamondbacks 7
Diamondbacks 7, Mets 2
Record: 31-20

Looks like I picked the wrong week to start sniffing glue, or whatever the hell it was that precluded me from blogging at great length about the comings, goings, ups, downs, and all-around happenings at Mets Central. So much has happened, there’s not enough time or room to expound loquaciously about it all – and I just saw you wipe your brow, relieved by that fact. Bastards.

Since we started to sweat it a few weeks ago, the Mets have managed to win two series against legitimate contenders and one against the team whose payroll mimics that of an elementary school. They have a chance to notch another series W tonight with Pedro on the hill; despite the fact that the Metros have lost the last four games in which our cure-all “Tylenol P.M.” has started, and despite facing the 8-0 Brandon Webb, I still like the Mets’ chances.

The loudest news around Shea is that prospect A-#1 Lastings “Greenwich” Milledge made his big league debut last night. With Xavier Nady shelved with an appendectomy (and a bad back), Milledge was called up for at least a fortnight. His premiere went reasonably well: he appeared appropriately nervous, drove the ball well a couple of times, and went 1-for-4 with a garbage time double. Obviously the jury will be out for a long while on this kid, but you have to like what you’ve seen of him in various arenas thus far.

Meanwhile, Brian “Months Over My Hammy” Bannister is now on the 60-day DL, Lazarus Valentin has supplanted Kazarus Matsui, Cliff Floyd has officially transferred the title of his slump over to Carlos Delgado, the old new kid David Wright has resumed his reliably clutch role, and Steve Trachsel has failed to do much of anything worth a damn.

The rotation remains in flux to some degree; El Duque was somewhat solid in his first start, but Alay Soler was hit rather hard last night. With Trax looking incredibly ordinary at the moment, the Mets need Pedro to have one of those masterful outings tonight to demonstrate a rock-solid 1-2 to offset a gravelly 3-4-5. The offense has picked up the arms repeatedly, though last night you could sort of see a look of “look, are you guys even going to try to keep their runs down?” emanating from the dugout.

The Mets as a unit remain a promising squad that has work to do. They haven’t run up an ostentatious streak lately, mainly due to the unrest in the starting staff. That said, it doesn’t take a math whiz to realize that a progression of taking two of every three will lead them somewhere very comfortable. Enough holes to occupy their thoughts, enough success to keep them from pressing, enough non-baseball items on my personal agenda to keep me from doing much except watching the games and nodding along.

I do have to say: watching homegrown talent come through is a more inherently rewarding experience than seeing store-bought production do its job. I can only hope that Wright, Reyes, and now Milledge will bring me infinitely more moments of enthused excitement. These boys are ready to play – they ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm team no more.

Black Hole Sun

Games 46 through 50 – Red Sox

Red Sox 8, Devil Rays 4
Red Sox 6, Devil Rays 4
Red Sox 5, Devil Rays 4
Blue Jays 7, Red Sox 6
Blue Jays 8, Red Sox 5
Record: 30-20

I’m gonna hold off on the 50-game update for a few days, wait until game 54 and the 1/3 mark, because I’m in a foul, foul mood at the moment, and I really don’t think the Sox’ .600 record warrants the bile that I’d likely spew if I had to contemplate their season right now.

That won’t stop me from ranting about the events of the past few days, though. It seems that ownership of the Sox has been transferred from the Baltimore Orioles to the Toronto Blue Jays, with custodial rights to Vernon Wells. The Sox are 3-7 against the Jays thus far, largely because the pitching staff keeps throwing him fastballs middle-in and Wells keeps crushing them into the stands. Wells has 8 homers against the Sox this season after hitting 3 last night. He’s carrying a 1.449 OPS against his personal gimps on the Boston staff, chief among them Josh Beckett, who’s surrendered half of Wells’ longballs. Mayhaps a fastball to his ear today, gentlemen?

The Sox’ continued inability to beat the Jays is an annoyance, but the systemic meltdown of the last week is cause for grave concern in the Nation, masked as it was by the quiescence of the Devil Rays competitive spirit. (As an aside, perhaps the Rays should consider a more fitting moniker, like the Bunnies, or the Smiley Faces. They could establish a Stuart Smalley-inspired support group with the Kansas City Sleeping Dogs.) Exhibit the first is Matt Clement’s continued and excruciating lack of…hell, fill-in-the-blank: stones, skill, control, heart, etc. Like many Sox fans, I had high hopes when the Sox acquired Clement before last season, and those hopes seemed rewarded after his blistering start in 2005. Since then, perhaps influenced by the wicked liner he took off his head against the Bunnies, he’s been simply one of the very worst starting pitchers in baseball. His 6.91 ERA and 1.76 WHIP this season are bad enough, but his mental fragility compares unfavorably with that of long-departed Derek Lowe – like clockwork, the moment he faces moderate stress, Clement turns into a pumpkin. A pumpkin that gives up a ton of walks and puts an inordinate amount of strain on the bullpen.

Clement’s struggles exacerbate the Sox’ sudden pitching depth problem, especially since David Wells suffered a freak injury in his first start back from nearly season-long shelving. (Come to think of it, Wells was also hurt by a liner off the bat of a Bunny – those fuckers are owed some serious payback.) In addition to Wells, Mike Timlin is on the DL with shoulder tightness, meaning that the Sox will be counting on Jermaine Van Buren and Manny Delcarmen in increasingly high-leverage innings. Rookie David Pauley makes his major league debut this evening after never pitching an inning above AA – conveniently against the majors’ best offense. Couple that with back-to-back punchbowl turds courtesy of Beckett and Clement, and Mark Loretta may be asked to pitch in a mop-up role tonight.

Except that Loretta’s also on the list of walking wounded, missing last night’s game with a deep bruise after being hit on the toe with a pitch on Monday. Wily Mo Pena’s on the DL with wrist troubles, Manny’s missed a handful of games with nagging injuries this week, and Alex Gonzalez still can’t hit his way out of a paper sack. (Sorry, reflex)

And the real pisser here is that I can’t complain all that much about the Sox’ injury issues because the Yankees’ aches and pains are comparable. That’s another thing that’s chapping me at the moment – the Sox have had a chance over the season’s first third to gain some separation from a limping Yankee club, and every time they’ve found themselves with breathing room, they’ve handed it right back. Now that the grind of the regular season has caught up to the Sox, so have the Yanks – and asking David Pauley to rectify that circumstance was probably not part of the blueprint Theo drafted in March.

Luckily, in a way, I’m playing softball tonight, so I won’t get (have?) to watch as Tito sacrifices young Pauley to Vernon Wells and Troy Glaus. Traveling for work tomorrow and Friday, so you’ll have to wait for my reaction – the wounds won’t be as fresh by the time I get back here.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Play That Funky Music

Game 45 - Red Sox

Red Sox 4, Devil Rays 1
Record: 27-18

Good thing this music project is in full swing, because last night's game was probably the most frustrating victory I've seen since we've started this blog. The Sox left 329 men on base, taking 13 hits to score 4 runs - what should have been a laugher got not so funny after Jonathan Papelbon had to close the door on a Rays rally in the 8th.

But the musical meandering is underway, which helps take my mind off the suddenly anti-clutch hitting. Without further delay, the pitching staff:

Curt Schilling – I figure Schill would want something red, white, and blue, something pure rock and roll, something in keeping with his self-image as a warrior and a team leader. Springsteen’s No Surrender fits the bill, though Born in the USA or Glory Days would work great musically if not for the irony in the lyrics. Not many ballplayers would get that, but Schilling probably would.

Josh Beckett – rollicking rockabilly for the Sox’ new gunslinger, and one of my favorite songs: Old 97’s, King of All of the World is perfect for Beckett.

Matt Clement – Okay, I’m making an editorial statement here, one that’s not likely to help Clement get fired up, but his recent performances make Radiohead’s Creep the disappointing choice. “What the hell am I doing here/I don’t belong here”. Indeed.

Tim Wakefield – Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee is a classical choice for the classiest of the Sox’ hurlers, on and off the field. That it describes his pitching style is a bonus.

David Wells – The pudgy no. 5 starter takes the mound tonight after a lengthy rehab. I fairly certain that he ingested his fair share of these while he was “working out”, making Cheeseburger in Paradise by Jimmy Buffett ruefully apropos.

Lenny Dinardo – Though he was never supposed to pitch as many high-leverage innings as he’s had to in the season’s first 50 games, Dinardo was game but overmatched. Which leads us to his theme song, Your Love by the Outfield, from the album Play Deep. Insert your wry smile here.

Rudy Seanez – I think Seanez is Mexican-American, but even if he’s not, Los Lobos’ Come on, Let’s Go is a pretty damn catchy song.

Julian Tavarez – Patsy Cline and Dave Matthews were bidding for this role, but Ozzy Osbourne bit both of their heads clean off. I think Crazy Train for Tavarez is the best match of player and music I’ve yet made.

David Riske – I don’t know a damn thing about Riske, and I don’t think I’ve seen him pitch yet, so I’m making a completely random choice, just because I love the song, and going with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Righteous and the Wicked.

Mike Timlin – the hard-throwing righty from Texas deserves some home cooking. George Strait’s The Fireman is not only a terrific tune, it describes Timlin’s sterling efforts since he’s been with the Sox.

Keith Foulke – Pearl Jam’s Jeremy works here, as Foulke was recently voted Most Likely Spree Killer by his teammates and the media.

Jonathan Papelbon – I really struggled with this one, as a number of great choices came to mind. Welcome to the Jungle, Hell’s Bells, Are You Experienced, Thriller (only for the Vincent Price spoken-word part) were all worth consideration. I landed on an obscure but classic selection, with Paps entering games to Zodiac Mindwarp’s Prime Mover – perfect combination of tempo and theme for the AL’s most dominant closer during the first 3rd of the season and maybe the single biggest reason for the Sox’ overall success to date.

This is fun - I may yet do the coaching staff.

If Music Could Talk

Games 45 & 46 – Mets

Mets 5, Phillies 4
Phillies 5, Mets 3
Record: 28-18

There is much to discuss in Metville right about now: the emergence of Olay Soler, the arrival of El Duque, the acquisition of Dave Williams, the fadeout of Jeremi Gonzalez, the power surge of Jose Reyes, the resumption of the hero’s role for David Wright, etc. There are 15 good (and by good, I mean verbose and self-indulgent) paragraphs of material today.

And so, without further delay, I will jump right into the fun game Rob started. At the very least, it won’t be a rehash of what’s been better articulated elsewhere in the blogosphere . . .

Jose Reyes – Looking for something with some speed and a little power behind it, and a great leadoff track, I was tempted to go with Pearl Jam’s “Go,” envisioning batteries around the league harmonizing “Don’t go on me.” But since I spent my Eddie Vedder quotient on the 25-game check-up, I’ll go with another fast-paced album opener with a little muscle, as well as some ties in geography and content. Give me “Rhymin’ & Stealin’,” courtesy of the Beasties.

Paul LoDuca – The Brooklynite gets an oldie from neighbors John & John, They Might Be Giants. “We’re the Replacements” references the amazing job he’s done to make everyone forget (not forever, but for now) the beloved Mike Piazza.

Carlos Beltran – He’s beginning to tear the cover off it lately, and there are crossed fingers throughout the Township that he continues to ascend that long road toward the unreasonably high expectations. At the same time, even as he smashes big dingers, we’re still worried he’s a little too sensitive for this town. Cue R.E.M., “Crush with Eyeliner.”

Carlos Delgado“Spanish Bombs.” Enough said, amigos.

David Wright – Dee-Dub gets his own album; yeah, he’s that special. I’ll throw one of my favorite albums from one of my favorite bands to one of my favorite players. Old 97’s Too Far to Care describes the tape-measure “Timebomb” he hit the other night. Meanwhile, Wright has traveled from the “Streets of Where I’m From” to “Broadway,” and there have got to be a limitless number of “Curtain Calls” in his bright future. As for a particular song to play while he strides to the plate, I’ll take “Four Leaf Clover” – it’s ominous-sounding, and it’s what the kid has meant to the Mets so far in his young career.

Cliff Floyd – Well, depending on whom you ask, his song should either be “Fade Away” (by either Springsteen or the BoDeans) or “Not Fade Away” (by Buddy Holly and hundereds of others). Come on Cliff, tell us how it’s gonna be.

Xavier Nady – While it’s most fun to tweak certain song lyrics towards his surname (“Three Times a Nady,” “Dude Looks Like a Nady,” “Voodoo Nady,” “Play Nady Play,”), when I think about his actual contributions, I’d say that so far he continues to, like fellow outfielder Joe Jackson, “Look Sharp!”

Kaz Matsui – I had to overlook “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down” by Elvis Costello and Jim Croce’s “New York’s Not My Home” because nothing – nothing – tops Alphaville’s “Big In Japan.” I honestly believe he could win a few of those boo-birds over if he actually went to bat to this song for comedic effect.

Julio Franco – There’s a one-track commentary on Franco – his age. “Born in the 50’s” and “Time in a Bottle” might fit, but the way he’s treated his body to stay as young as he has is worthy of R.E.M.’s “Life and How to Live It.”

Chris Woodward – His defensive lapses this year have grown in number and severity. He can “Catch the Wind” (Drivin’ ‘N’ Cryin’) and that’s about it -- it's usually what he comes up with a glove full of these days.

Ramon Castro – I wanted to throw some Ramons (sic) at the back-up backstop, maybe “I Just Wanna Have Something to Do." On second thought, I’ll go with another NYC troupe's “Slow and Low” for the burly catcher.

Jose Valentin – Give us Spoon’s “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentin” and its reference to the one guy who hit brilliantly for a series or two and another guy who’s flailed away all season. Without that brief spell of competence, we’d have to suggest “I Missed Again” by Phil Collins.

The pitchers’ tunes will follow Rob’s. Happy listening, sports fans.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

London Calling

Game 44 - Red Sox

Yankees 8, Red Sox 6
Record: 26-18

Since I didn't see this game, and it seems good that I didn't, now it's time for something completely different.

SoSH luminary Jose Melendez points out the surprising and sublime fact that Sox’ third-sacker Mike Lowell approaches the plate to the strains of London Calling, by legendary rockers The Clash. Setting aside for the moment the fact that Lowell will now automatically become Whitney’s favorite player, this nugget of triviana got me to pondering the most appropriate theme songs for the rest of the Sox lineup.

Kevin Youkilis – How can we go wrong with Hava Nagila here? Gets the crowd up and moving, puts a little rhythmic hop in Youks’ step, confuses the hell out of the opposing pitcher. Count it.

Mark Loretta – Must resist the urge to take the easy way out, and drop Coal Miner’s Daughter on the Sox’ second baseman. But what to do for a guy that defines stoic, solid, and nondescript? Let’s roll with Steady, As She Goes by the Raconteurs. And if you don’t know that song, you will, and you should.

David Ortiz – so many options for Papi, but I think we’ll let the big man stride to the plate to the tune that most often goes through my head when he steps up, the Violent Femmes’ Gone Daddy Gone. That title describes the baseball’s destination often enough that we’ll forgive last night’s 0-for-5, 4K performance.

Manny Ramirez – the Sox’ most enigmatic offensive force gets some help from one of rock’s most prolific shape shifters, arriving at the plate to a medley of offerings from the Thin White Duke, including Rebel Rebel, Fame, and Heroes.

Trot Nixon – lessee, something rednecky, grimy, gritty for the Sox’ original dirt dog. I love Copperhead Road, by Steve Earle, and I bet Trot does, too.

Jason Varitek – the taciturn captain has always longed to let his hair down, and we’re here to oblige, spinning Loverboy’s Turn Me Loose, which doubles as a prayer from the Nation to Tek’s bat.

Coco Crisp – with a name like his, Coco’s a perfect fit for The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana), the theme from The Banana Splits, as sung by Liz Phair.

Wily Mo Pena – I don’t know much from Latin music, but I think Sean Paul’s Temperature works for the erratic Wily Mo, in that Sox fans never know from at bat to at bat whether he’ll be scorching or arctic.

Alex GonzalezHigh Hopes fits for the noodle-stick shortstop, because I’m trying to remain optimistic, and because he reminds of the ant that’s trying to tackle the rubber tree plant during most trips to the plate.

Doug Mirabelli – I can’t get George Thoroughgood’s image out of my head while thinking about ‘Belli’s theme, but we’ll avoid the cliché by going with Who Do You Love.

Alex Cora – the reputed brainiest player on the Sox roster gets rewarded with a tune from rock’s reigning valedictorians, accompanied by They Might Be Giants’ Don’t Lets Start.

Willie Harris – the Sox’ only African-American player (and, wow, is that a testament to the fact that baseball gets no run at all in the black community) goes with the Godfather of Soul, firing himself up to the funky stylings of James Brown’s Get on the Good Foot.

J.T. Snow – the quietly disgruntled and essentially discarded Snow gets Solitary Man, by Johnny Cash.

Dustan Mohr – last, and most definitely least…I stayed away (reluctantly) from the very punny Dust in the Wind, (get it, Dustan…the wind?) but that didn’t leave me with much. Instead, the equally punny (just takes a little more thought) Rebel Yell, by Billy Idol gets Dustan to the plate.

In the interest of time, and in recognition of the limitations of my creativity, we’ll get to the pitching staff in a later installment. Viewer suggestions are welcome – like Bill Simmons, we’re not above milking the combined wisdom of the giant throbbing brain of our readership for a cheap blog entry.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Games 41 through 43 - Red Sox

Phillies 10, Red Sox 5
Red Sox 9, Yankees 5
Yankees 7, Red Sox 5
Record: 26-17

And by loser, I mean me. I've got 5 minutes before I need to leave to play softball, and I have no realistic expectation that I'll be anywhere near this blog in the next few days, so I'm at least gonna ensure that I don't go 6 games without commenting on something.

I also mean Alex Rodriguez, in the sense that he's such a predictable stat-monger right now. As he came to the plate on Monday with a runner on and the Yankees down, 9-1, I said to my mother, "He's going deep here - no pressure." Boom goes the dynamite. Apparently the New York media crushed him for the same perceived flaw after the game. He did redeem himself last night, driving in the eventual winning runs on a ball he thought he popped to short.

I've been watching the games, and reading Whitney's commentary, but my new job has been kiiiillllling me in terms of getting here to say anything. Apologies to our many fans, and much appreciation for my colleague, who's been at the top of his form this year - much like his team. Me, eh. Get used to it.

Stay Up Late

Game 44 - Mets

Mets 9, Phillies 8 (16 inn.)
Record: 27-17


I don't have it in me to actually enter prose into the formula above, so you'll just have to fill in the blanks. 16 innings, five hours and 22 minutes, 14 pitchers, so many heroes, so few goats (Trachsel, Heilman, maybe Delgado, if really pressed). A Carlos Beltran bomb to right ended the affair in the middle of the night, mercifully.

I wrote the Mets off more than once in the original nine innings (like when a short-hop on an otherwise splendid chuck from Endy Chavez handcuffed Paul LoDuca, eventually costing the Mets four runs), then felt sure that the underbelly of the bullpen would falter. My crabby pessimism was rewarded time and time again. Several times I stood up from the couch, aimed the remote at the screen, and made thumb contact with the power button; though I was remarkably manic, the button was never depressed. I'd sit back down, cuss the Mets, and glance at my watch for another projected "okay, I'm going up at" time . . . which would be laughably discarded later.

I knew I had to get up at Tony Orlando's vantage point to drive three hours to work, but good night's sleep never ascended higher than see what happens in my agenda. More than once I've TiVoed the end of a Mets game and woken up early to catch the finish before seeing the box score, but this game had been too wild, too Loch Ness Monstery to relegate to groggy, early morning spectating. The post-midnight logic, of course (and you've been there before), is that if a game is worth watching for 14 innings, it's surely worth watching through at least [enter meaningless number here] innings. And so it went. How long would I have lasted? At some point my (and others') health on the road would have been seriously jeopardized, but I managed to log six hours of snooze time between radar guns reaching 91 mph. Good enough.

Carlos Beltran.

A big, big win to say the least. A losable win, as we like to say. A comeback (x 4), extra-inning, walk-off, emotional, barn-burning, blah blah blah . . . it was a great end to a gut-wrenching, five-hour marathon. And now I'm spent. It's too bad Rob's Red Sox are on a premature All-Star hiatus or something, because this space could get awfully stale if I fall asleep for the next four or five days.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Here Come the Bastards

Game 43 – Mets

Mets 4, Yankees 3
Record: 26-17

Yep, here they come. No, the bastards we (Les Claypool and I) are referring to aren’t the New York Yankees, coming back time and time again. The Yanks made it interesting yet again on Sunday, with some help by Duaner Sanchez and Billy Wagner. Fortunately for the mental health of Mets fans everywhere, the rallies fell short. Meanwhile . . . well, I could blather on and on about back-to-back bombs by Carlos Delgado and David Wright, but I won’t. Things of beauty, though they were.

The bastards also aren’t the members of the club from the City of Your Motherly Love, kicking off a three-gamer at Shea tonight. The Phightins are still very much in the thick of things, and frankly, the pitching match-ups in this series look rather unsightly, but they’re not who should have you, the Met supporter, most taking notice.

No, the bastards I speak of are the once and future “friggin’ Braves.” They have quietly tiptoed right back into the fray without much fanfare. Their rotation, though it resembles the Mets’ to a degree (a pair of aces, a keeper, and several discards), has been increasingly solid as the Mets’ has begun to wobble. Their formerly maligned bullpen has righted itself uncomfortably well. At the same time, their lineup, which had been underachieving even to its uninspiring potential, is now catching fire. Slumps are being dug out, streaks are being ignited, and the Braves are rolling. Their 13-4 run began on a Sunday during Lima Time’s New York premiere; Lima starting their hot streak that day was the most impressive start he made.

Clearly, this day was coming. Any of you out there who actually counted the Braves out before now are the same people who breathed a heavy sigh of relief when Jamie Lee stuck the hanger in Michael Myers’ eye. Just silly of you. If you listen closely now, you can hear John Carpenter’s eerie music starting up again. Dammit, I knew they weren’t dead.

That’s not to say the Mets should be looking over their shoulders or fixating upon any target other than the one at hand, the Philllies. Anything less than a stellar effort versus the Scranton Seniors and the already tenuous division lead could shrink to nothing. As I mentioned before, the prognosis as dictated by pitching probables is quite the eyesore, so we’re going to need to the Metbats – fresh off rescuing the team over the weekend – to stay strong in support of some pitchers with sizeable question marks attached. Hit early, hit often, and I won’t have to hit the bottle (any harder).

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Thank You for Being a Friend

Games 39 & 40 - Red Sox

Red Sox 5, Philadelphia Phillies 3
Red Sox 8, Phillies 4
Record: 25-15

As Whit noted earlier this week, timing is everything. He has no idea how right he is on that count, though today's MLC-related action affirmed his genius.

2 major league baseball teams took 4 run leads into the clinching half of the 9th inning today. 1 of those teams closed out their opponent in 1-2-3 fashion, and the other plays in Queens - and played like queens in the last 3 frames. The Sox are doing their part, systematically dismantling the reeling Phils in the first 2 of their set. With Lenny Dinardo on the hill tomorrow for the Sox, my guys need their pals to step up - I'm looking at you, blue and orange.

I had a slightly different vantage point that my friend for the Mets/Yanks tilt, though I appreciate the explanation of his afternoon travels, as it explains why he didn't answer the phone when I tried to call and ask "What the fuck?!?!" We're having some landscaping done, and the architect was in my dining room as Wagner melted down. I'm not sure he appreciated the fact that my attention was oddly divided between choosing patio finishes and the Mets' closer self-immolating, but I'm about to stroke him a pretty big check, so I figure he'll get over it. For what it's worth, Whit, you're really better off not having seen that inning. It drove me batshit, and I'm not a Mets fan.

On the other side of the coin, fun doings tonight in Philly. Josh Beckett pitched 7+ strong innings, and would have gone 8 if not for J.T. Snow's "defense" and Citizen's Bank Park's extremely friendly confines - that park is tighter than a Kennedy at 2:00 am on a Saturday morning. In addition, and much more interestingly, the duck-legged righty went 2 for 4, driving in the Sox' first run, scoring their second, and hitting the first homer in 34 years by a Boston pitcher. Caused me to blurt out a "Holy Shit" in front of my mother. When Alex Gonzalez went deep in the following inning, she said the same thing, which tells you how bad A-Gon's been A-going of late. (Editor's note - that last sentence might be slightly embellished for literary purposes.)

Back to the timing thing, this evening offered yet another example of how 1 play, 1 inch, 1 moment changes everything in baseball. Phils starter Randy Myers had held the Sox to 1 hit through 5 innings, and when he struck out Wily Mo Pena to start the 6th with Gonzalez and Beckett to follow, it sure looked like he was well on his way to a dominant performance. Then, in the blink of an eye, Jimmy Rollins airmailed a routine throw from short to allow Gonzalez to reach 2nd, Beckett singled to right center to tie the game, and the floodgates swung wide. The Sox tallied 4 in the 6th, 2 in the 7th, and 2 more in the 8th to end the shouting. Every time the camera swung to Rollins, the Phils' terrific shortstop looked like he wanted second base to slide aside to reveal a hole into which he could dive.

In all likelihood, Billy Wagner'd be there to greet him.

Good Times Bad Times

Games 41 & 42 - Mets

Mets 7, Yankees 6
Yankees 5, Mets 4 (11 inn.)
Record: 25-17

How quickly the wind can change, and today's game, much like the wind, blew to a significant degree. The first two games in baseball's overhyped Battle of the Boroughs were tense, late-finishing contests, if not classics. (I hesitate to extol the greatness of a game that features seven errors and a hideous blown lead.) That said, both were somewhat excruciating to me, thanks to modern technology.

Last night's exciting, 9th-inning win -- on a David Wright smash over Johnny Damon's head -- was eye candy for Mets fans, but the Extra Innings package had us all on a strict diet. For some reason, despite an uncanny bias towards mass-airing every Sox-Yanks game, pre-game, post-game, and re-enactor dramatization, the magic of television couldn't bring me the Yankees-Mets "Subway Series" Game 1. Agonizing. It ran on WPIX in the tri-state area and nowhere outside of it. I followed along on the ticker and entertained our houseguests to no end.

Today technology actually provided a great deal of enjoyment, as I sat on the beach for several hours with a cooler of suds and XM radio delivering WFAN's coverage of the game. It was brilliant, and quite an enjoyable means of experiencing the Mets win the second game. Except that it wasn't.

Somewhere after Billy Wagner threw his second pitch of the inning, the battery -- and my ability to hear the disgusting events that followed -- conked out without warning. I raced home soon thereafter but arrived after 4-0 had become 4-4. My chance to see Jorge Julio surrender the winning run and my exhaustive efforts to try to learn and comprehend what had gone down in my moments of blackout and why -- well, they only added to the gut-wrenchingly helpless malaise that settled over me like a fast-moving fog.

For those that might contend that I was blessed and not cursed by the slow, painful aggravation of hearing this loss in real-time, the frustration of missing it is amplified by my irrational belief that my battery failure affected the outcome of the game. What, after all this, you came here for sanity?

Predictably, Willie Randolph is taking a beating in the 'sphere, even moreso than Billy Wagner. While Wags has struggled more than we'd like, there's more of a track record to fall back on in blind optimism for his improvement than Willie's. I'm usually well between the poles of extreme accusation; in this case, while we can't overlook the ride of the Valkyries Wagner took us all on today by any means, Willie Randolph's gaffe was doubly fallible. Let's examine.

Randolph brought Wagner into the 9th inning of a 4-0 game. The sages at Baseball Tonight take as much time to make calculated judgments as I do to answer "Should I make that a double?", so Jeff Brantley issuing an edict like Never bring your closer into a non-save situation and using 20/20 hindsight to stare down anyone offering exceptions shouldn't mislead anyone; on the contrary, I usually applaud bullpen creativity. Managers who use their stoppers only in save situations and for just an inning at that lack the ingenuity to take their team to the so-called next level. At the same time, those who throw time-tested practices out the window completely are destined for high-profile abuse. The happy medium of strategic exceptions to every rule is a worthy path. That's why on its face, I won't join the hordes looking to pike Willie's head for violating that principle alone.

What really gets me about the ol' skipper is his seemingly stark unfamiliarity with his pitcher's pulses. In addition to ignoring obvious signs and trends about his pitchers (like, for instance, that Wagner's precision is usually down in consecutive appearances), it feels as if he is the very last person in the ballpark (or in the television viewing audience) to realize when his guy is toast. If his hook were any slower, it wouldn't move at all (and presumably Tom Glavine would still be pitching from his Opening Day start). I'm not asking for a quick one, but when it's brutally obvious that your pitcher -- no matter how great an arm, reputation, and contract he has -- just does not have it, leaving him in the game is akin to surrendering.

Billy Wagner was off, and off became awful very quickly. The consensus on when he should have been pulled is debatable, somewhere between 1-3 batters before he actually departed . . . assuming you believe he should have been in the game at all. After Duaner Sanchez sliced through the eighth, Willie went to Billy and everything got silly.

Here's a point: the chances of a pitcher going from ace to disgrace on consecutive nights are much, much higher than that of a pitcher doing the same in consecutive innings. Appreciate it when the man on the hill is dealing, and keep it in the back of your mind that nobody on this or most big-league rosters is able to eradicate bad outings entirely. Overreaction in the other direction is foolhardy, too, wearing guys out consistently, but when you know your more-than-solid set-up guy is throwing well in the 8th (on very few pitches), don't be afraid to give him the chance to finish off a 4-run ballgame. It sounds like hindsight, but it's what we've been preaching for a long time.

So . . . in conclusion . . . if you are going to break with tradition and use your closer in a non-save situation (look, I know it's only been two days since I asked Willie to do exactly that, but I meant in tie games, not comfortable leads, dammit), know something about the history and state of your pen, be able to spot an alarming meltdown taking place before the hook-and-ladders arrive, and don't be afraid to bail on the decision before it bites you in the ass. By striking out on these three managerial necessities, Willie Randolph has invited the histrionics of the Township and beyond, and better him than me to deal with the fall-out.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Time of the Season

Games 39 & 40 - Mets

Cardinals 1, Mets 0
Cardinals 6, Mets 3
Record: 24-16

Timing. It's one of the most critical elements of baseball and life, if you care to differentiate the two. "Timing is everything" is an oft-used axiom that is somehow an understated exaggeration, which is either oxymoronic or just moronic, I realize. Within the national pastime, the word goes beyond descriptions of bat meeting ball. The hometown team can have an abundance of talent, shrewd management, inspirational coaching, clubhouse chemistry, and a healthy roster, but without the intangible known as good timing, the results can very easily disappoint.

The New York Mets dashed out of the gate this year with many of the aforementioned qualities, kicking around a couple of the league’s more destitute franchises and leaving those of us in the cheapies optimistic. As the season has begun to develop from the amorphous blob of those first few weeks into something with more definition, it’s become disturbingly clear that the Mets’ timing seems ever so poor. Timing is equal parts finding fortune and making your own fortune; neither has been easy in recent weeks for our lads.

Two nights ago Steve Trachsel pitched his first great game in a while, only to be outdone by Mark Mulder. Bad timing. Today the Mets touched Jason Marquis for a few runs, but with it being Central Daylight Lima Time in St. Louis, it just didn’t work out in their favor. As much as poor providence dictated this pair of scenarios, the Mets also suffered from their own untimely letdown. They were able to populate the basepaths in both games – including during the final innings when game-tying or go-ahead runs entered the batter’s box – but were unable to find fruition, and when runners don’t become runs, frustration ensues.

With every year a few more baseball statistics and associated acronyms come out, some of which only truly serve to cloud our judgment but a few of which are meritorious supplements to the age-old stats of significance. OPS (along with OPS+) is a fine example of that. I’m less sure about DIPS, BABIP, VORP, and SNLVAR, but I do actually think that MUAFSHG is one of the most telling new-era stats around. (Bob Ryan wrote a nice, brief review of Baseball Prospectus’s new book Baseball Between the Numbers that’s in line with some of this thinking.) In the ever-continuing quest to find the quotient which yields objective answers to subjective questions such as “who’s the best?”, there are few universally accepted standards. One stat that has achieved widespread acknowledgment for approaching the answer to “who’s the most clutch,” however, is RISP2, a player or team’s offense with runners in scoring position with two outs. Bear with me as I delve deep into numbers-crunching geek vernacular to describe how the Mets have been at RISP2 hitting: really, really, sucky.

The Mets simply haven’t done themselves any favors with their performance when opportunity has knocked. Their overall numbers rank in the top five or so of the National League, and they’ve even put up decent marks over their recent 3-7 stagger; unfortunately, it doesn’t tell the story of their woes. Until we develop categories such as “Rallies Squandered,” “Great Performances Wasted,” “Clutch Moments Gacked,” “We Were Good, They Were Better Tonight,” “They Were Lousy, We Were Worse Tonight,” and “We Played a Great Game and Inexplicably Lost,” you’re just have to put aside the stat sheets and keep watching these Mets play ball to come away with any conclusion.

Trachsel’s fine outing Wednesday night was another dreary example of the Metropolitans’ day-late, buck-short M.O. over the past fortnight. If they’re going to live up to our inflated expectations, timing of all sorts has to work out better. The hitters need to start driving balls when it really matters, pitchers have to make that key pitch when the situation most calls for it, and the defense must bear down at the most pressing of moments.

On the “out of their hands” side of this Timing conundrum, the schedule needs to lend itself to the Mets’ favor more; catching an elderly Yankees squad now, fairly early in the season, is usually less advantageous than when they’re inevitably waist-deep in broken hips, cataracts, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s come late August, but this year the pains have caught up with the Bombers early, so maybe it’s a break upon which the Mets can capitalize this weekend. And as much as the Phillies now look like a pest that won’t be going away for some time, if they limp into Shea next week after a painful sweep by the Brew Crew and the Sox taking at least two of three (a deal is a deal), the timing would be just right for the Mets to step on their collective throat. Unfortunately, the new, new Mets have been reluctant to do just that thus far.

Speaking of injuries, the Metmen suffered a rash of starting pitcher wounds to the point where Lima Time! has made multiple appearances on the Mets’ schedule. Sure, it was a problem foreseen by nearly every resident in our neighborhood of the blogosphere after Omar dealt away two starters this winter, but it can still sort of, partially, somewhat be considered bad luck . . . –ish. The club hasn’t been able to shake it off and keep the pace despite the tough breaks, which bodes ill for the long term, but they just need to keep trying keys until one fits the lock. Aaron Heilman may not be the skeleton key that we have touted him as, but it’s clear that Jose Lima looks more like a piano key (a minor, flat one at that), one I seriously doubt will be unlocking anything in the near future. In the meantime, rapping out a clutch RISP2 hit now and then might go a long way into solving the riddle of timing that has plagued the Mets for some time. There is every reason to believe that this team is going to keep setting itself up with chances to tilt the majority of games in their favor; unless they learn to come through in those spots with some regularity, potential will never evolve into performance, and more frustration will ensue.

All Apologies

Games 36 through 38 - Red Sox

Red Sox 11, Orioles 1
Red Sox 6, Orioles 5
Orioles 4, Red Sox 3
Record: 23-15

The title of this post refers to my recent efforts in this space, and to my take on what Willie Harris' post-game must've been like last night. I'll note for the record that my performance isn't likely to get better any time soon, and I'll note for Mr. Harris' sake that his sure as hell better.

Though the law of averages dictated that the Sox would eventually lose to the Orioles at some point after 13 straight wins, there's nothing written in that law that requires capitulation. Harris' inexplicable decision to try to steal 2nd with fastball-mashing Trot Nixon up against fastball-hurling Chris Ray with 2 out in the top of the 9th was about the single stupidest play of the Sox' season. That he did it in direct contravention of Terry Francona's orders means that Willie should be shopping for a nice rental in northern Rhode Island, if he's lucky enough to avoid outright waivers.

We've reached the "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" portion of the schedule, with the Mets lined up against the Yankees this weekend while the Sox take on the Phillies. Time for Whitney's boys to take the next logical step on their road to the league's elite by whipping their cross-town brethren. If the Mets will be so kind as to take at least 2 of 3 from the Yanks, I guarantee the Sox will return the favor. Me and Rasheed, baby, mark it down.

And in the absence of any material or a brain agile and rested enough to conjure it up, I'll leave my colleague with that little nugget.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Where Is My Mind?

Game 38 – Mets

Mets 8, Cardinals 3
Record: 24-14

Now this was more like it. Tom Glavine continued his unwavering pace last night, and the Mets rewarded him with a win – they scratched across a run to take the lead in the seventh, and the bullpen took it from there. The weather actually cooperated with the Mets this time, too, as a rainstorm delayed but did not truncate the game, allowing the go-ahead run to stand.

I was unable to observe any of the game save the highlights, wining and dining my wife in the nation’s capital for an early birthday celebration. While treating her to some of the finest cuisine, tastiest beverages, and wittiest charm available in DC, I couldn’t help but wonder how my beloved Mets were coping in St. Louis. After lambasting them to some degree in my latest post, I felt the remorse of the reprimanding parent, feeling justified on most counts but questioning the severity of the scolding. Somewhere in the District dusk, the New York Mets crept into my otherwise romantic evening, and they were there to stay.

We began the night at Hank’s Oyster Bar, an upstart establishment with an obvious menu. A Brooklyn lager was the first and most literal of many mental segues to all things Mets, and the queens strolling through the Dupont Circle neighborhood brought my mind even closer to Flushing. The first round of oysters included some Wellfleets, a name which always takes me back to long afternoons throwing back a bucket of suds at The Beachcomber on the Cape, as a Mets fans stuck in Sox territory watching Mo Vaughn tear it up for the Sox. The last clause in that memory, like the aftertaste of the oyster, left me salty.

Another beer, another round of oysters. The beer was a Pilsner Urquell, which despite my best cerebral efforts invariably made me think of Urkel, but which conveniently slid into wondering how my chums over at MetsGeek were undoubtedly following the game in my stead. (Rob had to figure I was coming his way with that one.) The oysters were Blue Points from Long Island, say no more. While hoping that I’ll be able to order up some “Lynnhavens” in the not-too-distant future, the ones I had were top-notch. I excused myself to find a men’s room and a game score, and returned with a mission only half-accomplished. Hammerin’ Hank’s it was not.

Dinner followed at another relatively new DC joint, Komi, and just as many avenues to MetLand were stationed therein. The first course, a soft shell crab, was fantastic but its mere mention inevitably reminded me of Carlos Beltran in those first couple of weeks. The wine was pretty good, somewhat aged, didn’t last too long, and I can’t remember where it was from. Call it a bottle of Jeremi Gonzalez. The main course was sea bass, which, no matter how resolute a man’s dedication to his team is, has only one mental connotation. At that point I hoped the Mets were kicking the Cards’ ass, and wondered if either a Braves’ loss or the film in question was airing on TBS – both have occupied many a slot on that station's schedule this season. It was at this juncture that I (and now you) had to wonder about my psychological stability.

And so the night went. After a quick walk (Brian Bannister), we made the questionable call (every umpire of every Mets game these days) to hit the Townhouse Tavern -- an old, rundown hole in the wall (Shea Stadium) where the beers are cheap but enjoyable (David Wright) and always ice cold (Cliff Floyd). The bartender was inattentive but not to an obvious degree (Willie Randolph), and the bar was just how I remembered it – still kind of crappy to look at, but fairly underrated and undeserving of the abuse it takes (Kaz Matsui). They do have the best juke in town (Jose Reyes), and bad-talent pool (Norfolk Tides) is always in effect. It’s a wonderfully eclectic place, where every kind of weirdo (Jose Lima) fits in just fine.

Finally, at last, I was able to catch the rain-delayed final and a few replays of the game’s pivotal moments. That the Mets could execute this osmotic seepage into my cerebrum on such a night is frightening. There’s no fighting it, though, so I’ll embrace it. The origin of “fan” from “fanaticism” isn’t a technicality by any means. Tonight I’ll be out and about again in Washington, carousing with comrades. With the game on ESPN, the night should provide as pleasing a mélange of my passions as thinkable. With my previously dormant hangover now awake and raging, we’re going to need tonight to start real soon.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Feeling Gravity's Pull

Games 35 through 37 – Mets

Brewers 9, Mets 6
Mets 9, Brewers 8
Brewers 6, Mets 5 (10 inn.)
Record: 23-14

Normally, I’d respond to my cohort’s potshot with something long, detailed, analytical, wry, and, yes, long. Tonight, I just don’t have it in me. My feelings on the Mets are all over the map, if you’ve got yourself a map of Purgatory. The monotony of pointed criticisms in my mind, developing more rapidly that a junior varsity player on testosterone, is broken up only by the influx of a hyperactive feeling of helplessness, i.e., I’ve got eight additional fingers beyond the pair that have perched parallel to the picture box for most of the weekend, and there just aren’t that many true sources of blame.

Melodramatic and chicken littlish? You bet. The Mets are 23-14, still leading the division even after dropping five of seven, and still possess an itinerary chock full of rendezvous with those teams from Southeast and South Beach.

An accurate depiction of life in my lower esophagus? You bet. While head and heart – two entities that share space as frequently as Clark Kent and Superman where the Mets are concerned – were both locked into eschewing overconfidence in this early going despite the April triumphs, I will admit to feeling (falsely) secure somewhere along the way. Ridiculous, but true. If you’d bought into what some vendors in the Mets blogosphere were selling, the only real challenge left in this regular season would the heavyweight wrestling match between me and my conscience over whether it’s proper for me to revel in pre-paid Mets’ successes after railing against the system ad nauseum. And I bought a few knick-knacks there.

With that pesky squad from Philthadelphia now a game back and brazenly cutting in on the Mets’ dance, things are getting a little uncomfortable around here. This was supposed to be a nice waltz to the title, and if there were going to be any competition for our heroes, all signs pointed to the Billy Zabka of the division, those bully-minded Braves. The Phillies had more of a spazzy sidekick kind of feel to them than actual enemy – maybe Robert Downey’s character in Back to School or, at worst, those Asian dudes looking to drag souped-up sedans in Better Off Dead. Right now, though, they’re getting their cheesy sneer down pat.

So what is it that has me bunched up and bothered? Like I said, I don’t feel up to any sort of science, math, or even philosophy right now, so let’s USA Today it with some quick-hitter lists. These are in no particular order – order is an aspect of the organized, rational mind and therefore not welcome here.

1. The bullpen – previously extolled by manager and GM as being too well-oiled a machine to tinker with by moving Aaron Heilman into a starting role – has been gasping and hissing and wheezing with some regularity. After Heilman himself made a fool of just about everyone with an opinion, nearly everyone in the pen has produced an outing to forget. Formerly unhittable Duaner Sanchez went Bizarro last night, leading the clumsy charge. What was a sure strength has looked terribly weak.

2. Willie Randolph has begun making ’05-esque misreads. Blame Omar if you want for some of the personnel moves being questioned, but the “Fire Willie” madmen have been given some fodder for their cause. Handling the pen has been Randolph’s greatest uphill climb, and there’s been serious slippage of late. His use of Wagner only in pure closer situations has garnered some abuse, but first keeping Sanchez – a guy who thrives on work – on the pine for four or five nights, then failing to note his hideous struggle and give him a quick mercy-yank (Rob received more than one of those in college) just looked inept. Everyone in the park knew Duaner wasn’t even close to his normal lights-out well before he got lit up. Ugh. At least when Sanchez was erroneously tossed, Willie threw a fit, several innings after some ire should have reached umpire ears for their wretched misread of a "home run" off the right-field wall. There are other examples . . .but let’s move on.

3. Jose Lima and Jeremi Gonzalez and John Maine and Brian Bannister and Olay Soler and Mike Pelfrey and Evan McLane and how about Whitney Lester, what say you? This is not a criticism. File this under the helplessly hapless feeling, like we’re supposed to be talking contention and two of this cast of cameo-capable clowns will comprise 40% of the starting staff? Alrighty then. What we’ve seen hasn’t been that bad. Or that good.

4. The Mets must be feeling confident, because they haven’t been getting defensive any more, yuk yuk yuk. The defense has begun to erode a tad lately. Dee-Dub has only mixed a few errors into his otherwise sharp game; that every single one seems to come in the ninth inning of a tied or one-run game makes us frantic. Stop, please. Chris Woodward, your homage (it’s pronounced “om-ij”, you Frenchy wannabes out there) to Wright in your limited duty is duly noted. Also stop. Mr. LoDuca, I really really have no complaints about you, but if you get the chance, maybe try throwing out base-stealers on the right side of second base. It’s rare that they round second, then come back into the bag from the left. Mr. Nady, a man’s got to know his limitations with the leather glove, but again, we aren’t giving you too much grief.

5. Pedro has been asked to answer the Bat-signal a couple of times and has shown up as something more like . . . Aquaman. Still a superhero, clearly, but he doesn’t necessarily always look like it, and the powers he provides aren’t exactly up to the Mets’ need at that moment.

6. Jose Valentin is coming around nicely – he had a huge weekend. And this means he will be around for a while. Like his benchmate, Julio Franco, this makes for a feelgood story, but coincidentally, that makes two guys on the roster whose at-bat music was the then-hit “Dr. Feelgood.” I’m kidding – these guys are so old, their music was an organ going “Dunt dunt dunt dunt” . . .

7. Cliff Floyd. I believe a platoon is in order for him soon, and by that I mean someone on his own squad is going to shoot him, a la Platoon. Not really, of course, as he is beloved by teammates and fans, which makes the necessary barb that much more agonizing. An “over the cliff” type of gag isn’t even funny enough to warrant mean-spirited (if painfully accurate) usage.

8. The last-place AAA Tides give a warm, fuzzy feeling to my heartburn-torched throat.

9. Have I mentioned the ph-ing Phillies? The only solace I can extract from their amazing charge is that they are playing the best baseball they will play all year right now. And it’s May. Peaking at the right time, a riddle the Red Sox took many years to finally solve, and what I hope escapes those bastards.

10. Jose Reyes (in a metaphor bound to make many of you uncomfortable) is that super-hot girlfriend that you realize isn’t all that good for you. She turns heads galore, but once you get to know her, spend time with her on a daily basis, and fully realize all of her flaws . . . there’s somewhat of a loss of sizzle.

11. Just to avoid a nice, round number that might disguise a complete lack of forethought, here’s an eleventh: The umps are getting worse, just when you thought it impossible. Home plate umpire Tim Tschida (pronounced “da cheatah”) overruled the first base ump to make the horribly wrong call on Prince Fielder’s “home run.” Quite a set you have there, sir. Later, after he had the perfect view to watch Sanchez miss his spots by 1-3 feet for several batters in a row, including two easy gopherballs to tie the game, he ejects Sanchez for a 1-0 HBP that puts the go-ahead run on first base in the bottom of the eighth inning. From both game-scenario and eyewitness perspectives, it was so very clearly not a beanball, and to bypass all warnings in favor of running Sanchez was (well, the best thing that could have happened, since Willie seemed reluctant to pull a guy who appeared to be throwing with his off-hand and this gave another reliever time to get warm, but) a block-headed and pig-headed call by the man calling the game. What a buffoon.

My apologies for my absence over the weekend, and I have no excuse – other than the fact that for whatever reason, this series had me feeling like the Mets were going to work on my innards with tools of advanced dentistry. And with series against the Cardinals and the always-rough Yankees on the horizon, I’m not hearing an instruction to “rinse and spit” just yet.


Game 35 - Red Sox

Rangers 6, Red Sox 0 (5 1/2)
Record: 21-14

Biblical rains in Boston this weekend mean an All-Star style break for the Sox, and a whole lotta channel surfing for me. Saw some Mets action, but nothing that Whitney's gonna want to hear me repeat. Caught a little bit of NCAA Lacrosse tourney action - always forget what a great game lax is to watch. Some NBA playoffs, including the end of the Spurs/Mavs game last night, which is the most pro hoops I've seen in years. Even a smidge of LPGA golf, but only because it was televised from my old "home course" in Williamsburg.

A lot of crap, indeed, but no Red Sox, except for Friday's pre-destined loss. As my Calvinist ancestors would be quick to note, some things are gonna be what they're gonna be, and the Sox losing the first game of the Ranger series right on the heels of a 3 games in New York was simply gonna be.

I start a new job on Tuesday, so the blogging may be light - though no lighter than Whit's output from the past several days. A rested Sox roster takes on the Orioles in Baltimore this week, so let's hope that Noah and the boys move out to sea and spare the Nation a few ballgames.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Why Do Fools Fall in Love

Game 34 - Red Sox

Red Sox 5, Yankees 3
Record: 21-13

Really a very elementary explanation for last night's Sox win. Jim kissed Pam. Easy, peasy, just like that. What, I need to clarify that? Alrighty, then.

After 6 of the most exasperating innings in recent memory (and a microcosm of the Sox' clutch-hitting woes so far this season), and one more failure to get a 2-out hit with runners in scoring position, I was so frustrated that I turned the channel to The Office. Since the bottle of wine I was near finishing wasn't blunting my insanity (my wife literally called me a lunatic last night, and by the look in her eye, I'm guessing she meant it) I needed something to take the edge off.

I won't bore you with all the details, but I'll note that the ongoing unrequited love between Jim, the young slacker sales guy (and a remarkable proxy for Whitney, now that I think about it) and Pam, the cute receptionist engaged to a troglodyte, is one of my favorite sitcom plotlines. And last night, as Jim finally laid one on Pam - at the very moment, to be sure - Mark Loretta ripped a ground ball that Derek Jeter couldn't handle, and the Yankee shortstop's hurried throw pulled firstbaseman Miguel Cairo from the bag. When Cairo's tag attempt ended with the ball rolling towards right field, the Sox had plated 2 runs to take a 4-3 lead.

In much the same way Pink Floyd's The Wall serves as a burnout's perfectly synched soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz, so too did Jim's taking matters into his hands time exactly to the Sox' reversal of clutch hitting fortunes. Hapless for 6 innings, leaving a total of 15 runners on base for the game, the Sox finally got it right - Kevin Youkilis followed Loretta by ripping a 2-out single in the 9th off Mariano Rivera to give the Sox some much-appreciated breathing room.

Mike Timlin, Keith Foulke, and Jonathan Papelbon dominated the stunned Yankees in frames 7 through 9 after Tim Wakefield battled through 6 mostly solid innings. New York was reeling both from their inability to hold an early lead (each losing team in this series had a 2-run first inning advantage) and from the freak wrist injury to Hideki Matsui that will cost the left fielder 3 months. The Yanks will be going with an outfield of Bernie Williams, Johnny Damon, Bubba Crosby and/or Melky Cabrera for the next few weeks. I'll leave that sleeping dog to lie.

Mark Loretta's bat warmed nicely in the Yanks series, as the second sacker went 9 for 16 to raise his average to a more expected .280 from his .207 nadir a few games ago. Papi, it must be noted, took an 0-for-5 collar, and was a prime culprit in stranding many of those baserunners. That's lost in the glow of a series win in Yankee Stadium, as it should be.

Ah, young love and 3 of 4 over the Yankees to start the season. We're all rooting for those crazy kids.

Hate to Say I Told You So

Game 34 - Mets

Phillies 2, Mets 0 (5 inn., rain)
Record: 22-12

On Tuesday over at MetsGeek they ran their usual preview of the upcoming series' pitching match-ups. It's always a useful segment, and one that elicits a multitude of comments from the loyal readers. On this day, the piece described the struggles of one Gavin Floyd in enough detail that you'd almost feel sorry for him, were he not a Phriggin' Phillie. It certainly sounded promising for the Mets, that's for sure. Below the post, however, in one of the first dozen or so comments, I read something that struck a chord with me:
The Mets — even the new, new Mets to some degree — have been notorious for
helping struggling pitchers off the mat. I was salivating for a half-second at
the thought of what they might do to Gavin Floyd, but I quickly recalled the
frustrating trend they have of advancing the careers of no-name rookies,
has-beens, and busts. There will be no time to mess around in Thursday night’s
game with Trax on the hill for us. Be patient, pick out some pitches, drive some
When I say "I read something that struck a chord with me," I should say that I wrote something that came true, and as is part of the charter around this place, I must now present it to the court as Exhibit JJJ in the case to exonerate me from labels of total idiocy and lunacy. I'm not suggesting that I should be made bench coach (the travel schedule is a bit hectic), I'm just saying that if I saw this coming down Main Street, it may be more of a problem than we think. Killer instinct is not something in the Mets' arsenal just yet.

After Gavin Floyd dodged first-inning trouble, the Mets failed to inflict any damage whatsoever in this rain-shortened affair. It appeared, a la Game 1 of this series, they were biding their time and waiting for the late-inning rally that only Mother Nature could prevent. With ominous-looking storm clouds hovering above the park as if they were taking in the ballgame themselves, there really should have been more offensive immediacy in the Mets’ dugout. And there’s the rub – Floyd’s lack of precise command begs batters to remain calm and take their time, while the impending downpour initiated an instinctive impatience that played into right into the pitcher’s hand.

As much as the pitcher and the rain had to do with this game’s result, the story of this game can easily be told in one play. With two outs and the bases jacked in the first, Xavier Nady drove a ball to deepest right-center. Phils CF Aaron Rowand got on his horse at the crack of the bat, raced to – and nearly through – the wall, snaring the ball and crashing face-first into an exposed pole atop the fence. It would have been a brilliant catch without the collision, but the self-sacrifice (he broke his nose and cut open his cheek) made it an all-timer. Alligator arms and fetal positions when warning track becomes wall seem to be the order of the day much of the time, but there was zero hesitation in Rowand's leap. Even after he came crashing to the dirt in obvious pain, he held the gloved ball aloft so there would be no question that he'd made the catch -- a spectacular, wince-inducing catch. Hypothetical scoring is usually fallible, but three runs definitely would have been plated if Rowand doesn’t do exactly what he did, and there isn’t a lick of doubt in my mind that the Mets win this game if that happens. This isn’t bitter complaining about the outcome; this is admiration for one guy’s amazing play.

In an era where the phrase “selling out” has almost universally sour connotations, the exception is the “selling out” of the body, sacrificing physical health for the good of the team. Rowand’s gutty play was the dictionary-definition of such a notion, and frankly, it has me worried about the Phightins. I’m increasingly concerned that acquisitions like Rowand helped Philadelphia “go Grinch” this off-season, with their heart growing three sizes this winter. One of the guys in the SNY booth noted that Rowand’s predecessor in center for the Phillies, Kenny Lofton, once remarked that he wasn’t dumb enough to crash into the wall for a catch. Well, it may just be that these here Phillies are now “dumb” enough to get themselves into the post-season.

Here’s hoping that Aaron Rowand is okay (beyond the busted shnoz). I’d love to be able to set aside conscience and hope that a division rival has to play without its (now legendary in their town) centerfielder, but that’s not happening. It's a similar feeling to the one after the Beltran-Cameron collision last summer, where you hope they heal quickly and shake off any lingering fears of similar crashes.

The Mets spend the weekend in Milwaukee, while I’ll spend it with what made Milwaukee famous. Sounds like I came out ahead on that one. The match-ups this weekend have me reminiscent of my college years -- cheap pitchers of the mediocre stuff -- but head over to MetsGeek if you want any more of a preview than that.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Jesus, but these fuckers are going to drive me to drink. More. Would it kill somebody in road grays to get a 2-out basehit? And that thing Loretta just did doesn't count.

Do It Again

Game 33 - Mets

Mets 13, Phillies 4
Record: 22-11

What with the aforementioned softball, bar, and XM-less trip home, I was unable to catch much of the game -- just a couple of garbage time innings on the FAN on the way home. The Phillies hand-wrapped a gift of a game for the Mets, and I wasn't able to see the exchange. It would've been a shame if I weren't otherwise occupied with an enjoyable evening.

I won't waste your time with any further analysis, except to say that this rubber match tonight feels like a big game. After Tuesday night's groaner and last night's laugher, it'd be nice to see a stunner in the series finale. Steve Trachsel could do a lot for the emotional state of the Township, making us feel a whole lot better about the rotation's stability with one of his workmanlike quality starts tonight. The bats need to stay relatively hot, and hey, maybe even take avatnage of playing in a softball park.

Oh, and if the Phils feel like throwing the ball all over the place again tonight, let's go ahead and allow them. Show me last night's game replayed tonight.

Me, Myself, and I

Game 33 - Red Sox

Yankees 7, Red Sox 3
Record: 20-13

Yesterday, I quoted myself during a barside conversation about the Yankees and Red Sox, breaking out the Melky Cabrera as Zeppo Marx comparison from my previous post to mild approval. Today, in an effort to complete the circle of self-referential backpatting, I offer you a reprise of my take on Yankees fans from the same beer-aided discussion.
"Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has not heart; and any man who
is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains." -- Winston Churchill

A little-known corollary to Churchill's famous quote (which, according to these guys, was never actually uttered by the legendary orator), is that any man who is a Yankee fan has no soul. And who am I, a humble internet scribe, to argue with that.

I only caught a few innings of last night's Sox/Yanks game, mostly at the aforementioned bar after a rousing doubleheader sweep by my softball squad. I was hunkered down with a cold domestic draft just in time to see the Sox turn a 3-1 lead into a 7-3 deficit, and happily ensconced in the company of a cadre of Yankee fans. Our softball squad has changed dramatically over the past year, with an infusion of much-needed new blood making us much more athletically competitive. Unbeknownst to me, it also made us much more Yankee-centric in our rooting interests. Take the good with the bad, I guess.

Jason Giambi's 3rd-inning blast off of Curt Schilling (who was decidedly unimpressive last night), and the subsequent "Giambino!!!" outburst it preceded was the impetus for my Churchill reference. Conflating the steroid-pumped Giambi with Babe Ruth is uniquely the province of Yankee rooters who completely miss the irony. In the case of my teammates, I'm gonna give them a pass because they're young (and clearly don't know any better) and because most of them can hit the snot out of a softball.

Timmy Wake gets the ball tonight to try lead the Sox to a series win in the Bronx. As friend of MLC Jerry from the Wheelhouse noted last night, it seems that Sox/Yanks fatigue has finally set in (no thanks to ESPN), with even fans of the 2 teams less frantic about the outcome. I know that's true for me right now - as much as I want the Sox to win and the Yanks to lose, the end-of-times apocolyptic atmosphere has faded, probably for the better. I certainly reserve the right to restate that position in Kerryesque fashion several months from now.

And ESPN Classic is showing Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS right now. Good time for me to be unemployed.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Number Three

Game 32 - Red Sox

Red Sox 14, Yankees 3
Record: 20-12

To paraphrase They Might Be Giants, there's only 2 paragraphs in me today, and I just wrote the third. Spent the day at the National Zoo with the kids, got stuck in traffic on the way home, and have to turn around quickly and head back into town to play softball. Such is the life of the unemployed - if only temporarily.

Just a really nice night at the old virtual ballyard yesterday, watching the Red Sox benefit from the Yankees' largesse. The Sox didn't win so much as get out of the way of the Yankees while the Bombers did their best Kansas City Royals impression. E-Rod made 2 and submitted meekly to Josh Beckett at the plate. Melky Cabrera (he's like the Zeppo of the Cabrera clan) dropped a wind-aided popup to plate 2 Sox runs with 2 outs. Aaron Small grooved a 2-strike meatball to Alex Gonzalez, putting the ball perhaps the only place the Sox' noodle-bat shortstop could take it out of the park. Gonzalez obliged, to my utter shock, with a 3-run blast to make the score 10-2 and take the wind completely from the Yankees' sails.

Watching the YES broadcast turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Kay, Kaat, and O'Neill spent the evening sounding like someone had stolen their dog. I know it's a long season, and I know the Sox will be on the short end of their share to the Yankees, but winning by a football score sure makes for a fun evening.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Perfect Way

Game 32 - Mets

Phillies 5, Mets 4
Record: 21-11

I am so very ashamed of myself for not seeing this one coming until right before it happened. I spent an embarrassing amount time scrolling through Metblogs today, reading and thinking and writing all about the Mets' current dilemma. I joined a chorus more robust and harmonious than “We are the World,” one filling the airwaves and lines of sight with a plea for the move of Aaron Heilman into the starting rotation. Omar, Willie, and Rick (the original, less famous Pep Boys) have filled an egg carton with deaf ears and blind eyes, however, wanting to keep a brilliant rotation intact.

I read it over and over and over and over today, and yet it didn't cross my mind until Heilman took the mound after the Mets had dramatically rallied to tie the game in the top of the ninth inning; Aaron Heilman is going to blow the game, making fools of both the professionals who touted his relief value and the masses of commoners who saw him as the rotation's savior. It was just too perfect, it had to happen. And it did. I give myself credit for the premonition minutes before its arrival, but I'm truly disappointed in myself for not recognizing the obvious opportunity for a hearty, ironic groin-kick.

Not that this episode will – or should – alter the thinking of either party in this stalemate. One inning does not a season make, whichever direction you're headed. And the list of blame or credit for this outcome has many more names on it than Aaron Heilman's.

Credit: Brett Myers threw a brilliant game, and the Phillies lineup scratched crucial runs across whenever they saw an opening (including the game-winner as well as one very key run off Duaner Sanchez in the 8th -- the first he's allowed this season). They did what they had to do.

Blame: Pedro was slightly off in the early going, though he settled down nicely and eventually fanned 10. He managed to keep the Phils in the yard but still was touched for three in the second. Jose Reyes made a dunderheaded baserunning play to end an inning, even though he appeared safe in slow-mo, as well as live action, super-fast speed and even with the television on the fritz after I hurled the remote at it because of the bad play/bad call.

More blame: the Mets' hitters seemed to think it's as simple as swinging upwards and the ball will fly out of the Bank; David Wright lifted several lazy flies to left. It was only when they decided to simply go for frozen ropes (after two full turns through the order and then some) that the band box came into play.

Still more blame: it's been fun to hurl some discredit the umps' way lately, and this game was no different. I will say this: it's been long accepted that some umpires have a strike zone that clearly extends 3-6 inches off the plate on either side, and I think it's total bullshit. Home plate umpire Doug Eddings is notorious, according to Keith and Ron, for a wide zone. Well, his zone got awfully tall, too, especially when Kaz Matsui struck out looking on an at-least-letter-high curve with two out and two on in the ninth inning. It was egregious enough that the normally cool and calm Julio Franco got tossed from the dugout for vocally objecting. (I disagree with the blank check that that rule about not arguing balls and strikes gives umps, too, but that's a beef for a different meal.) I just think it's ludicrous that the league condones – almost to the point of endorsing – an ump-by-ump strike zone. It's difficult enough some nights for a hitter to get settled in and adjust to what the pitcher’s throwing and the way he's swinging the bat that game without having to take a few innings to get used to pitches that are called for balls 98% of the time being consistently rung up as strikes. Punch-outs are exciting, sure, but when they happen to several batters in a row and none of the strike threes actually went over the plate, it's crap. It goes both ways; Pedro got helped out of a few jams with the same shady practice.

Obviously some strike zones are inevitably going to vary with the human factor, and that's fine. But don't embrace this inexact science; while other sports are creeping towards officiating precision with instant replays and umpiring crackdowns, MLB is throwing a whole new sub-set of ground rules at batters and pitchers from night to night. Look, it's relatively simple: if Doug Eddings tends to increase the plate width by 1/2 a dish, instruct him from the league office to rein it in. The autonomy that umpires have with how they call a game invariably leads to hostilities between themselves and players; players who feel cheated because liberties are being taken at their expense (more than just blowing a call) are going to do things like, oh, say, throw a bat at an ump. Lock down the strike zone – as best you can – and you can limit your blow-ups to the normal inept officiating and hot-tempered brats in stirrups.

People say "as long as it's consistent, you have no argument." I call bullshit again. You can do better than that. Consistency should be on a seasonal basis, not night to night. Keith mentioned the importance of knowing your umps' tendencies, and he's dead right in the current scenario, but really, can't we expect better? Does anyone really go to the park anticipating (even at the bottom of a long list) the exciting strike zone of Harry Wendelstadt? Of course not. It's a sad tale that we want to dehumanize officials by making them as robotic and uniform as we can, but that's what we want.

I was mildly irritated by Eddings' ridiculous zone (best pinned down as "anything east of Wayne and west of Wilmington") for most of the game, but it was only when Heilman entered in the final inning – and got inexplicably squeezed on three pitches – that my frustration went from "(I need another beer" to "somebody's going to have to read some serious whining because of this." It was uncanny; minutes after Matsui was rung up, Franco was run, and the rally was slain by another iffy strike, Heilman gets jammed up by the most generous umpire since Enrico Pollazzo. It was akin toNBA refs’ swallowing their whistle in the last few ticks of a big game, except the consequence was completely one-sided, making it even more atrocious. Whether it directly impacted the finish is conjectural at best, and to insinuate that this annoyance was the story of this game is misleading. I'd have ranted about it win or lose, though undoubtedly far shorter after a win.

And just so I can get it out of my system in one post (hey, I didn't blather on interminably when the umps crapped themselves in Sunday's Braves game), big thanks to the man in blue covering second base tonight. In addition to calling Jose Reyes out on principle (which is fine – I just hope to God he didn't think he was actually tagged), he facilitated a bizarre fielder's choice in an otherwise rally-licious inning by waiting until Pat Burrell had trapped, dropped, picked up, dropped again, and regained the baseball before making the out call. His hesitation – aided by his being noticeably out of position, same as in the other play, duped Pedro into running back towards first, sealing his fate. Fine work, sir. Preesh.

Anyway, enough. The Mets actually had a fairly sub-par ballgame in toto – Reyes, Beltran (who watched three consecutive "strikes" sail by in one at-bat), Sanchez, and Heilman all had less than stellar games, Pedro was just imperfect enough to hurt, and yet (thanks to Nady and Delgado's two-run pokes), they were in it until the end. An end that had Heilman fielding a swinging bunt instead of LoDuca and awkwardly chucking it into no-man's land as the winning run trotted home, but a close play to end a close game nonetheless.

Ratchet it up a notch tomorrow, dudes. The Philistines are just three games back now and there will be no let-up just yet. Oh, their spirits will crumble and the fans will turn on them before it’s all over, because that’s what they do in this town, but no time soon.

Owner of a Lonely Heart

MLB Extra Innings is using the YES Network feed tonight - if you see me tomorrow and notice the blood caked on my ears, you'll know why. Right off the bat, Michael Kay's fellated Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter for long first-inning at-bats...despite the fact that both of them saw fewer pitches than Kevin Youkilis did (10) to lead off the game. Jim Kaat, though, seems pretty good thus far - he's not been kind to Randy Johnson as the Yankee lefty struggles with his command. Kaat basically just called him a pussy.

Monday, May 08, 2006

When Problems Arise

Games 30 & 31 – Mets

Mets 6, Braves 5
Braves 13, Mets 3
Record: 21-10

Just as my compatriot extols the successes of our respective teams, the New York Mets reach the most perplexing point in this previously positive season. The Mets blogs are ablaze with activity right now, and the content is of a far more pressing nature than earlier waves (such as why Carlos Beltran isn’t hitting second and whether when you play the horrible, new Mets song backwards it actually sounds better). The Township is sounding off, and there is a palpable urgency within the articles, posts, comments, and sound bites resounding within MetLand. We aren’t at panic level by any means, but then again, we may be slightly closer to panicked hysteria than we are to unconcerned confidence.

The alarm sounded when the news arrived that Victor Zambrano’s latest injury is a torn tendon in his elbow, a season-ending one at that. Apparently Zambrano had been playing with pain all season long, trying to tough it out in vain. With the 5-slot in the rotation already in a state of unknown, this loss essentially cuts the Mets’ staff down to three stable entities and two very sizeable question marks. (Of course, that’s pretending that Zambrano himself was stable, a rather risible notion, but since the guy’s already suffering and it’s moot, anyway, let’s move on.)

Willie & Omar haven’t tipped their hands yet about exactly which path they’ll follow in hopes of exiting this quagmire; their options are plentiful and uniformly unappealing. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, depth is not a quality the New York Mets possess on an organizational level, and injuries . . . well, they hurt. Both Brian Bannister and John Maine are due to depart the disabled list before long, so in theory, a mere stop-gap solution might be in order until that happens. The trouble (short-term), of course, is that Bannister was promising but shaky while Maine was wholly unimpressive before getting hurt, so there’s not an abundance of confidence that these guys can buoy the back end of the starting staff upon their return. Additionally (long-term), few serious title runs are attempted, much less realized, with a pair of unheralded rookies comprising 40% of the rotation.

The prognosis is sketchy at best; unfortunately, the proving grounds for whoever assumes these two spots in the next ten days will be especially harsh. A seriously daunting stretch commences tomorrow in always-friendly Philadelphia (where cans of corn become souvenirs, much to a the detriment of a young pitcher’s psyche), then continues in Milwaukee and St. Louis. A road trip with The Bank, then Miller, then Busch on the itinerary brings back dozens of happy memories for me; for whoever mans the hill after Pedro/Glavine/Trachsel, it could look far less pleasant in the rear view.

I’ve spent a good deal of time lurking amid the comments of the Mets’ quotient of the blogosphere, trying to get a bead on what the collective feels are the best moves for now and down the road. That proved impossible, as the only consistency was the diverse array of opinions. I’ve compiled a few of the sentiments I read, highlighting not the consensus but my own stance based on reviewing most of the suggestions.

What’s your take on Zambrano being out for the year?
o This is devastating and jeopardizes the Mets’ hopes significantly.
o This is the actually best thing that could have happened.
o This is a setback; he was inconsistent but at least he could shoulder some of the load. Now, there are too many unknowns to have any idea how this will play out, and that’s not where the Mets want to be.

How do you feel about Zambrano saying he was playing in pain?
o He’s full of crap.
o This is the Mets fans’ fault. They compared him to Kazmir unfairly, and when he didn’t measure up, they booed him incessantly. By trying to go above and beyond the call of duty, he injured himself worse. He should be praised and pitied.
o While that is true to some degree, he also left the Mets in a bigger hole because he wasn’t up-front with Randolph & Peterson. They counted on him, and although there was some level of guts on his part for playing in agony, there is also some blame for the current quandary.

Can we stop talking about Scott Kazmir now?
o People need to shut up about Kazmir and move on.
o People need to be reminded that bad trades hamper the future, and so that Omar doesn’t duplicate the Duquette/Wilpons error, his name should continue to be brought up.
o People should try to forget about Kazmir, but we all know that human nature being what it is, Tampa’s box scores will still be checked in hopes that Kazmir doesn’t turn out to be the incredible performer he probably will be. It doesn’t keep us up at night, but in moments like this, it takes a whole lot of will power not to “what if” it.

Does yesterday’s beating at the hands of the Braves bode ill for the future?
o Yes. Lima Time!™ is a disaster, and moves need to be made pronto.
o No. There are 162 games, this was one and you can’t take anything from it.
o Not really. It was bound to happen, and the Mets overachieved by not losing Saturday, too. It never feels good to get creamed by Atlanta, but if this is more of the Mets’ collectively laying a goose egg once or twice a week and excelling otherwise, so be it.

Long-term, what should the Mets do about their rotation?
o Trade Lastings Milledge for Barry Zito.
o Trade Lastings Milledge for Dontrelle Willis.
o Sign Roger Clemens immediately.
o Trade Victor Diaz for a solid 3- or 4-starter.
o Lastings Milledge is and should remain untouchable. Offers will come, but don’t get suckered into relinquishing the best prospect you have for four months of a starting pitcher. Diaz will probably not net you a 3- or 4-starter. At this point, though, even someone to shore up the fifth spot would be worth losing Diaz, a guy with a cloudy future at Shea. As for Clemens, it might sound like an attractive option, and hell, maybe it makes sense, but I just don’t want him anywhere near this clubhouse. Gut instinct.

Short-tem, what should the Mets do about their rotation?
o Hurry Bannister and Maine back after some spot starts.
o Use Lima and Darren Oliver, two veteran starters.
o Promote Jeremi Gonzalez from AAA.
o Promote Mike Pelfrey from AA.
o Promote Olay Soler from AA.
o Work with a combination of these options, getting Gonzalez up to the bigs, monitoring the progress of Pelfrey and Soler with an eye on getting them to the Tides, using the vets for scratch starts and hoping Bannister and Maine return even stronger. First and foremost, however, get Aaron Heilman into the rotation right now. This minute.

This last entry is the one with the most uniform opinion across the Township, from what I am reading. Heilman has long been admired by the fans and ignored by the management. The guy has proven himself more than capable of being a starter; he’s got a one-hitter under his belt, and he’s shown the ability and make-up to make the leap. Yet it’s been one closed door after another into the Mets’ rotation for Aaron Heilman, and it continues to puzzle the folks penning blogs and articles.

The latest logic from the Mets is that Heilman is too valuable in a steady-clicking bullpen right now. This makes little sense to me; this is like spending your last dollar on wiper fluid rather than gasoline – not having either may present problems, but one is more essential to the operation. Games are won or lost based on starting pitching at a significantly higher rate than based on the pen. Additionally, Heilman’s contribution as a starter would be an exponentially larger chunk than he can provide in middle relief. With Feliciano and Bradford able to work the middle frames to get to Sanchez to get to Wagner, Heilman is a luxury, not an integral part. How many games will the Mets have to consecutively lose from Mystery Starters #4 and #5 before Aaron Heilman is even considered??

So that’s where we are today. We’re still thrilled to be perched at 21-10 through 31 games, but to dismiss the current crossroads as unrelated to the eventual outcome of this season is short-sighted. It should be an interesting week, and the heat in the Mets’ kitchen just got turned up a few degrees. Let’s go.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Smokin' in the Boys Room

Games 29 through 31 - Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Orioles 3
Red Sox 9, Orioles 3
Red Sox 10, Orioles 3
Record: 19-12

As the noted philosopher and St. Louis Cardinals fan Nelly once opined, it's getting hot in here. And by here, in mean MLC - today's Mets result notwithstanding, and even with the Metros misfortunatos the 2 squads nearest and dearest to our hearts have taken a combined 9 of 11 on their current homestands. We will not, to the relief of our female fans, be taking off all our clothes.

My disdain for the Baltimore franchise is well-documented in this space, especially since they seemed to reserve their best efforts over the past 2 seasons for the Sox. Seemed is in past tense on purpose, as today's rout marked Boston's 11th consecutive victory over the O's. In all the excitement, I'd kinda lost track. Or never actually noticed, whichever. Either way, that's a happy-making "fuck you" to Peter Angelos that comes with a boost in the standings - the very best kind of doubleheader.

The Sox blew through the reeling O's this weekend on the strength of a well-rounded, solid but definitely not spectacular team effort. Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, and Lenny Dinardo(!) all did their jobs, recording enough outs to keep games close, and sitting back to collect Ws as the offense hit the skidding O's staff early and often. The here-maligned middle relief had moderate success, with Julian Tavarez and Rudy Seanez (again, !) contributing and keeping Jonathan Papelbon's arm from falling off for another week or so. Tavarez, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Freddy Krueger, appears moments away from grabbing a machete from his pants leg and disemboweling an unfortunate batboy, but he's getting outs at the moment.

Offensively, Mike Lowell is scorching, putting up 4 doubles in the series (he's now got a league-leading 17) and reaching base 7 times in 13 plate appearances. Manny detonated a homer over the Monster seats last night, which generally presages a 10 to 15-game streak of otherworldly mashing. Jason Varitek's bat woke up this weekend, capped by his granny off of ex-Met Kris Benson in today's opening frame. Mark Loretta is slowly creeping back to respectability, with a 3-for-4 today. The Greek God of Sweet Swinging raised his average to .330 with a 7-for-13 series and has touched off debates across the Nation about whether he's stolen Coco Crisp's leadoff role when the latter returns from the DL later this month. Says here in MLC that he's earned the spot, especially given the fact that he'd likely be on base 5% more of the time than Coco, but I don't wear the manager's uniform. Though I do like to dress up like the Dread Pirate Roberts while my wife...oh, too much?

The only downside of late is the recent swoon of everybody's favorite gregarious Dominican. Papi's 1 for his last 20, and although the 1 hit was a game-winning 3-run double on Friday, it looks to this rank amateur that the insane overshifts employed by opposing managers are in his head. I've seen at least 5 hits stolen by the shift in the last week alone, so the strategy is obviously working at the micro level. Even more worrisome, I think Papi's depressed, at least in a baseball sense. He's seemed resigned to his fate in the past week - time for some radical therapy.

I took my daughter to her first big-league game today - if you can count a Pirates/Nationals tilt as such. As expected, her attention span lasted about 2 innings, though she very much enjoyed the Racing Presidents on the RFK Stadium Jumbotron. We lasted a total of 5 frames, mostly through sugar-related bribes, but did get to see Jose Guillen crush a Zach Duke offering into the 400 level. Positive experience for dad and daughter, which was the goal.

Big week ahead for the summer-hot MLC squads, with the Sox in the Bronx and the Mets at the Phillies. Terrific pitching matchups abound in the Sox/Yanks series, as Beckett, Schilling, and Wakefield face Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, and Shawn Chacon. Roll the balls out and let's see which team stays hot.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


Game 29 – Mets

Mets 8, Braves 7 (14 inn.)
Record: 20-9

That . . . was . . . awesome.

While Rocky’s domain is up in Philly (where the Phightin’s are starting to make a noticeable run, by the way) last night’s sensational bout at Shea certainly had a Creed-Balboa kind of feel to it. It’s debatable which team would be which fighter, whether it was a case of the longtime division title winner trying to stave off the sad-sack-for-so-long upstart or the heavily favored slugger battling the less talented but indefatigable scrapper comparison. The way the scoring progressed, with the seesaw never tilting the Mets’ way beyond sea level until the contest’s final pitch, it was reminiscent of a Rocky II result. Whatever the parallel with cinematic legend, it’s within the standard sports journalism hyperbole to label last night’s affair an “epic battle between longtime adversaries” and “one for the ages.”

Earlier this week Rob spoke of the playoff atmosphere at Fenway with the Bombers in town; this game had all the trimmings as well. While the Sox-Yanks match-up was rife with drama from the get-go (Damon, Mirabelli, etc.), the Mets-Braves showdown evolved into a high-intensity affair as it went on. The Braves would take leads of 1-0, 2-1, 6-2, and 7-6 before it was over, only to have the Mets almost instantaneously even it up at 1, 2, 6, and 7. There were big errors, crucial home runs, and an emptying of the benches the old-fashioned way – by using every player on the roster. (Darren Oliver was the only player on either club who did not play, not counting other members of the rotation . . . and Atlanta used one of those, too.) There was strategy, counter-strategy, and blind luck. What a game.

Meanwhile, for the folks in the stands and at home, there was an inordinate amount of tension and anxiety for an early May fixture. 14 innings of back-and-forth will do that to you, but there was more to it than that.

For starters, it was the Atlanta Braves the Mets were facing, and much like the backstory of any Yankees-Red Sox encounter, there’s simply more baggage involved with every game against the baseball version of America’s Team than needs rehashing here. For the fans more than the players, of course, this is so; as the Met-roster turns over and over in this age of mutual disloyalty, only we morons with our outdated jerseys, blaze orange parkas, frayed caps, balding pates, clownish facial hair, and elephantine . . . memories still carry the torch of passionate abhorrence for all things Braves – and sport the burn scars it has rendered. Still, there’s no way any Met player in possession of a heart and/or soul can be part of this endeavor and not feel the heat.

This rivalry may have lost some of its zeal in the last four or five years for Braves fans – or maybe that’s just what they say as a condescending dig towards a team that has averaged just 73 wins over the last three years. (And if so . . . touché, Atlantans. Touché.) The level of contention has been full-on down on the streets of the Township, that’s for sure. Just as a mere mention of the “Evil Empire” has Rob bristling and his venom overflowing, so it goes with me for the Braves, and I don’t stand alone in the Met blogosphere. (Please don’t get ECA Mike started on Larry or Andruw unless you’ve got some time on your hands.)

And so all of the ingredients were on the table last night: Shea Stadium, Friday night, Atlanta Braves, Cinqo de Mayo, three parts Patron, two parts Cointreau, one part Rose’s Lime Juice, ice, rock salt, a lime, a belly full of fish tacos, SportsNet New York with Gary and Keith, and five hours of intense baseball on the telly. What with it being the first week of May and all talk of pennants at this point referring to concession stand wares, this was about as good as it gets.

As for the game itself, Steve Trachsel endured a second pedestrian outing against Atlanta in a week, and Chad Bradford took the Mets out of the frying pan and into the toilet. Down 6-2 in the seventh, however, the New York nine began to come alive. A double by Paul LoDuca with Jose Reyes aboard would have scored him if it weren’t a ground-rule variety, so Carlos Beltran came up with second and third and none gone. In a pivotal moment that would turn the tide the Mets’ way, Beltran offered a fungo-equivalent 6-4-3 tailor-made special to Edgar “I Don’t Practice” Renteria. As the ball slid directly between his size 11’s, scoring Reyes and avoiding a sure rally-killer, that’s when it became apparent that this game had legs.

Three singles later, the score was tied. Decreasingly rare kudos to Kaz Matsui, who tied it up with his base-knock – he had a pair of stellar sacrifices later that should have led to game-winners, and he stood in there on a double-play ball earlier in the game as well. I’ll wait till he collects his 5th RBI of the year and raises his average above .260 before depositing too many words of praise on him, but being unable to mock him incessantly is actually a pleasant change.

So the game went extras, and Billy Wagner entered the game. Wagner had met with some difficulties in recent nights, but the tenth provided a nice salve to those concerned about the closer. The eleventh, however, was a whole other story, as pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit crushed a Wagner offering over the fence. 7-6, Braves. Wagner tried to overpower the underrated Betemit, ignoring the tequila-drenched pleas of a fan in the Virginia night, imploring him, “Billy, don’t be a hero.”

Last week I referenced Cliff Floyd’s plate-side conundrums in this embryonic stage of ’06. I hoped the problems would just work themselves out. Well, the woes have continued, yet one memorable blast such as last night’s rocket into the right field overhang to lead off the bottom of the eleventh – countering Betemit and rescuing Wagner – can earn back much of the faith in Floyd that might have begun to wane within the Flushing fanatics. For me, his bomb took me back a little more than a year: to a roadside dive on Route 17 in Orange County, NY, watching with extended family after my grandfather’s memorial as Cliff Floyd ended a wild game against the Angels with a long foul ball followed by a long fair ball. Evoking such memories with one swing has to mean good things for Floyd, so says this guy.

And on went the game after Floyd tied it, with benches and pens being depleted by the inning. Eventually, Bobby Cox had to use projected Sunday starter Jorge Sosa, while Willie Randolph was backed into bringing Jorge Julio into the game. When Willie & Cox go to their Jorges, you know the game will get interesting. And that it did.

Beltran walked with one out in Bottom 14, and after Delgado popped out, Carlos made one of the key plays of the game. A pitch to David Wright got away from Braves catcher Brian McCann, but only by about five or six feet. That was enough for an alert Beltran to make an extremely heads-up, gutsy dart towards second. It was a great instinct, a great result, and a great sign for those of us uneasy about the condition of the guy’s hamstring. When D-W’s line drive bounded over the fence and into the bleachers on one hop, the game was won and the place went crazy, but I’ve seen no recognition of the fact that without Beltran’s bold advancement, he’s held at third by another stingy ground rule.

At any rate, Wright did finish it off with his seventh hit in two nights (slump be damned), and there was another round of hushed frenzy in living rooms, dens, and bedrooms throughout Metville. The Mets picked up their 20th win to go with but nine losses. I don’t much like the looks of the next two games versus Atlanta [Victor Zambrano against Tim Hudson and John Maine (or Jose Lima) against . . . whomever], but I don’t much care, either. The Mets can pull either of those games out with the way this team is rolling now, and even if they don’t, it matters little. I’ve reaped more from this crop of New York Mets baseball in six weeks than I could have imagined. While I trust they won’t linger too long on these laurels, the team has us riding too high to worry right now.