Friday, May 12, 2006

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.

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