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.

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