Monday, July 17, 2006

New York Minute

Games 90 through 92 – Mets

Mets 6, Cubs 3
Cubs 9, Mets 2
Mets 13, Cubs 7
Record: 55-37

Just about the time Rob was penning his latest post, I was feeling precisely the same way about the Mets that he felt about the Sox. With the Metropolitans down 5-0, looking like they were heading toward dropping the series to the hapless Cubs, all I could think about was the massive pile-up of media scribes who have already awarded the division to them. From New York dailies with their fingers supposedly on the pulse of the club to Podunk publications who have effortlessly written off the division at its halfway point, there was unanimity in the high praise of all things New York Mets over the Break. And as of the middle innings of last night’s game, it appeared that no collection of people had been reading such material with more interest than the Mets themselves.

For a pastime that is a marathon of mostly shallow-grade hills and dales, as Rob noted, it’s peculiar that momentum – and the flurry of sentiments that are derived from it – can change so dramatically, so quickly. Frustration and ire became pleasantness, then awe in mere minutes. Such is baseball, strange to say.

For the first three innings, the Mets seemed completely helpless in the quest to solve the puzzle of Chicago pitcher Sean Marshall. Meanwhile, the Cubs batters took a chapter from a legendary but unnamed Chicagoan, leaving “Bad, Bad” El Duque looking like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone. (Kudos to Darren Oliver and an array of relievers, Errant Heilman excepted, for stopping the bleeding.) My agitation was growing as I watched the Mets’ lackluster effort against the Cubs on the heels of their coronation as the NL’s best team. Meanwhile, the Braves, after leaving the city of San Diego as shell-shocked as they’d been since CBS pulled the plug on “Simon & Simon,” seem to be tiptoeing towards making things interesting. (Yes, I’m not glossing over a 12-game lead, but it’s not out of the question, especially when every day brings more doubt about the New York rotation.)

After a couple of Met homers served only to make me gripe that they were of the solo variety, the top of the sixth started slowly but quickly became an avalanche of Met offense. The Cubs decided to remind the Mets that it was no accident that they were 35-55, with former MLC subject Todd Walker botching a pair of plays that kept things rolling along. Juan Pierre missed a tough diving play and the outbound wind picked up even more, setting the stage for . . . well, for what happened. First, Cliff Floyd took an outside pitch over the left-field bricks for a grand slam to give the Mets a 6-5 lead. Then the Mets loaded the bases again, plating a run in the process. Then Carlos Beltran took an outside pitch over the left-field bricks for a grand slam to give the Mets an 11-5 lead. Two batters later, David Wright hit an opposite field tater to add another pair of runs. 6-2 became 13-6 in the blink of an eye, and the storm cloud dissipated instantly. And there was much rejoicing.

In truth, there is still plenty to fret about in Metville today. The three Met starters over the weekend – at this time, the top three arms in the active rotation – were decent, half-decent, and disastrous, respectively. Pedro “The Riddler” Martinez seems to be carrying around more question marks than ever. Young fireballer Henry Owens was knocked around so hard on Saturday that he woke up in AA. Rumors continue to swirl about acquiring a starter, and they make me simultaneously eager and anxious. Reyes’s finger, Beltran’s knee, Delgado’s foot (the one between his bat and the ball much of the time) . . . it’s reasons for doubt to at least knock on the door.

Keeping worries at bay, however, is a Met team that continues to find new, different, and often creative ways to win. Last night was a fireworks display. Not sure what’s ahead, but it should be interesting, and a single inning of play last night has me looking forward to it with anticipation rather than dread. Plus, a dosage of appreciation was spoon-fed to everyone in Mets Township last night –wow, is it nice not to be a Cubs fan right now.

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