Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Bottom Line

Game 25 - Mets

Mets 2, Nationals 1
Record: 17-8

These are the games that are "must-win" in a rather unorthodox sort of way. They defy the normal nature of the expression, of course. They aren't the back-against-the-wall, pressure-packed variety; instead, they're simply the contests that ballclubs with October intentions must win with consistency. Among 162 match-ups, there are going to be more than a few that appear to have your club predisposed to win; what your boys do with that advantage is what separates the wheat from the chaff, or the chafe as it pertains to the fans' experience. So far this season, the chafes of old have been properly soothed by these balmy Metropolitans. Those jock strap sand burrs of yesteryear have mostly been plucked and sent to far-off places from Missouri to Southern California, keeping that familiar winced visage and tender gait mostly absent from the denizens of Mets Township this year.

Let's examine how the Mets snuffed out the Nats last night, using MLC's trademarked 5 Steps to Beating Beatable Teams:

Step 1: Don't allow yourself to play down to the level of your competition.
Hmmm . . . well, the Mets didn't quite execute that. Victor "Sandpaper Underwear" Zambrano shed his nickname, his rough April, and his penchant for mediocrity to baffle the Nationals for six strong innings. It was a fair bit uglier than his numbers would indicate, but there are no style points in baseball. At the same time, however, Ramon "The Pest" Ortiz somehow convinced the Mets batters to look equally ineffective.

Step 2: Don't make foolhardy, overaggressive plays simply because you know you should win.
Nope, no check-mark here. Jose Reyes tried to leg out a triple on a ball to straight left field. After being offered the gift of Alfonso Soriano's misjudgment, Reyes handed it right back -- so silly that he stopped halfway to third. Jose, these guys are 8-18, they're not amputees.

Step 3: Don't rely on the long ball; stringing together a few rallies will unravel a subpar squad.
Entering the 9th inning, the only Mets run had been scored on a Carlos Delgado home run. That he muscled it through a swirling breeze to the opposite field did make it enjoyable enough to forget about those so-called "rallies."

Step 4: Get to their pen early, and inflict damage against some mid-grade arms.
Clearly, this wasn't happening last night.

-- Makes you wonder how the Mets won if you didn't see the game, huh? --

Step 5: If the other team is inclined to fall on its own grenade, start running and don't look back.
Check! In the bottom of the 9th (after an utterly dominant frame from Billy Wagner), the free-falling Nationals morphed an easy inning-ending double play into a blooper reel keeper. Gary Majewski gloved a comebacker, turned, saw both Royce Clayton and Jose Vidro running towards second, and hurled the ball towards both and neither of them at the same time. The end result was pinch-runner Endy Chavez trotting home to end a game that just didn't warrant going extras.

And people, this is what you have to like about the new, new Mets. They can go 1-for-5 but still find success on the bottom line. The horses are on the track.

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