Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Little Things

Game 83 – Mets

Mets 7, Pirates 6
Record: 49-34

The Township has been amok lately, with the loudest voices wailing away at the recent slide and the proudest voices chastising them for their collective lack of faith, perspective, or support. One sentiment shared by nearly every resident, however, is that the unwelcome return of Jose Lima to the New York Mets bodes acutely ill for the short-term while taking the extended outlook several degrees south. When the kingdom’s court jester is tasked with a significant role in defending the castle, things aren’t quite right in Camelot.

The rotation – if that’s what you want to call this jumbled array of arms – is in shambles right now, thanks to tweaks, pulls, bruises, and horrendous outings. For all of the winter wranglings that made Omar Minaya the toast of the town, we noted even then that starting pitching stood out like a forgotten stepchild. Omar fixed holes in the bullpen and lineup brilliantly, but he not only failed to bolster a moderate staff, he depleted it further. Granted, the Jae Seo for Duaner Sanchez deal looks terrific now, but John Maine + El Duque = Kris Benson doesn’t work out in the Mets’ favor when you can only insert one of them into the game at a time. Moreover, the new era of Moneybag Mets should have meant a free agent of some merit could have been lured Shea-ward. Didn’t happen, and now the Minaya & Randolph Custodial Company is left to clean up the mess. The result has been that, much like a janitor with his huge chain of office keys, the duo is trying the lock with every key on the ring. So far, there hasn’t been a match.

Despite these woes, what the Chicken Littles among our peers didn’t notice (and what the rose-colored homers will overstate) is yesterday’s comeback win, rife with tiny elements to induce optimism. Let’s examine.

Throughout much of the game, the Mets were on that same dismal autopilot they’ve been running on for a while. Collect a few hits, plate even fewer, drop a ball or two, and play largely uninspired baseball. By the time I bothered to tune in – hey, Independence Day means many things to many people, and to me it meant a day independent of being irritated by my baseball team – it was 6-4. Almost immediately, however, everything began to change. Giving myself credit for the heroics, that’s just me being me.

A pair of walks, a slap double the other way (the Endy Special – he warrants more of a shift than Delgado does), and a clutch opposite-field single by Xavier Nady illustrated a return to the patience and precision that helped carry the Mets to so many early wins. Taking pitches, hitting the ball where it’s pitched, and running aggressively – doing the little things rather than taking Reggie Jackson body-twisting hacks in hopes of a three-run game-changer. It was as promising a half-inning as there has been in weeks.

Most positive of all, though, was the iffy, Met-swaying call by home plate umpire Angel Hernandez when Chavez slid either into or under the catcher’s mitt before skimming the dish. Replays have offered little conclusive evidence either way; Jim Tracy and the Bucs are convinced they were rooked, while Met coaches, players, and fans are sure the right call was made. I myself remain gratefully doubtful. All I do know is that this was one of those calls that the Mets didn’t get in years past, did get in April/May/early June of this year, and hadn’t caught a whiff of since the first day of summer. Angel Hernandez is known more for his rampant douchebaggery than his penchant for making right or wrong calls, but his track record calling Mets games had me certain he’d punch Chavez out. Then the Mets would have once again (a) squandered an opportunity, (b) run themselves out of an inning, and (c) followed the Manny Acta Windmill into an out. But just when I’d begun calling in a telegram to Mr. Acta (holding is a penalty in most sports STOP not baseball STOP please stop STOP), Angel spread his wings and put the go-ahead run on the board for the Metmen. It’s a little moment that will be long-forgotten a month from now, but these little moments can be huge.

Sure, you might say that actually needing a late rally and a fortunate call to defeat the NL’s scrap heap is fairly feeble. Sure, winning just their second game in eight isn’t necessarily “back on track” for the Mets. Sure, the pitching problems didn’t evaporate with one exciting win. What I’m opting to focus upon today, however, is a return to the New York Mets doing the little things to win ballgames. Like my old chum Jim Infantino (and his Big Ego) sang a few years back, it’s the little things that get you when you weren’t paying attention. To see the Mets refocus their attention to the minutia and watch the breaks instantly slide their way was as refreshing an inning and a half of baseball I’ve witnessed in some time.

But speaking of “Time” . . . nah, I’ll wait until his start is actually imminent before I launch into that one.

No comments: