Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Let the Idiot Speak

Game 117 – Mets

Phillies 13, Mets 0
Record: 71-46

You’ve got to be kidding me. No, seriously. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

I spend six paragraphs explaining why I should enjoy this easy coast towards the playoffs, and the Mets promptly ruin my evening. Of course, it’s just one game, but if you didn’t see it, you missed one of the most thorough pants-wettings in Mets history. Honestly, when’s the last time you saw:

1. The ace give up six “earned” runs (the Philly scorekeeper was apparently a surrealist) in the first inning, then leave with an injury
2. Said ace plunk two guys, including one to force in a run, as well as balk in a run . . . all in the first inning
3. The ace make an error on a throw-over, the statuesque first baseman (once again) make no play on a shot to the right side, the second baseman get no jump on a dribbler and toss the ball over the first baseman for an infield single, the rookie right-fielder (once again) make no play on a ball that landed 15 feet from where he stood, and the All-Star centerfielder make a weak stab at a ball that skipped by him to the wall, plating extra runs . . .
all in the first inning

And that was just the start of it. There were gopher balls given up to singles hitters (granted it, was the wiffle ball park the Phillies call home), a passed ball on the third strike – followed by an errant throw to first), and a Mets baserunner hit by a batted ball for a third out. (The only solace there was that a MetsGeek game thread commenter had predicted it innings earlier in a “What else can go wrong?” post.) It was a farce of a charade of a circus.

There was also an utter lack of hitting against Cole Hamels, the young Phils phenom who was at first highly touted, then highly pounded by opposing batsmen. While teams had recently pressed Hamels for more than a few runs per outing, the Mets were baffled all game long. The night at the plate was capped off with Julio Franco making his best contact in weeks, flinging his bat into the stands and clunking a woman in the head. (He would proceed to strike out on the next pitch for the second time in two trips to end the game. But at least he didn’t/couldn’t hit into a double play.)

Lastings Milledge continues to reside on my bad side for one reason or another. (And trust me, people you don’t want that, because . . . I don’t know why.) In addition to getting no jump / making no effort (let’s call the whole thing off) on the fly ball that was an integral part of the rally that ruined the game, he also bobbled a ball down the line that meant the difference between a runner just barely scoring and just barely getting tagged out. And, of course, he was the guy who got hit by a Jose Reyes grounder to end the top of the 8th. Sometimes this guy just shoots himself in the foot.

Truly, none of these things is so terrible, but it just doesn’t look like the kid is ready for the Mets in '06. (Too bad we traded away our rightfielder, eh?) Speedy centerfielders who oversee the outfield usually don’t have this enormous a learning curve to play the corner spots. And if he’s just unique like that, why was he playing center in Norfolk? As for getting hit by the ball, you just feel like maybe he’s got way too much going on in his head – nervousness and the uncontrollable distractions of playing big league ball in New York -- replete with the boos that have started to come, and I can't endorse those, speaking of shooting onself in the foot, Mets fans. I realize we’ve been spoiled by Reyes & Wright (“The Left Bank”), and he’s way too raw to be but so judgmental. Maybe the bar’s too high, or maybe he’s just not ready to make the leap.

Doesn’t really matter, though, he’s here to stay. So get your head out of your Phanatic, Mr. Milledge, and play baseball.

(Momentum-draining side note: the “Milledge People” at Shea make me chuckle every time. Not a full-on guffaw like they induce in Ron Darling, but it’s a chortle for sure.)

Speaking of the corner outfielders, Cliff Floyd was last spotted wearing an ankle boot and doing nothing baseball-related. In addition to being worrisome information for those of us interested in seeing the Mets’ powerful lineup meet its full potential sometime in the next two months, this information is pertinent for those trivia buffs looking for the answer to “What do Clifford Floyd and Elton John have in common?” You’re welcome.

And ah, yes, we can’t mention Mets worries without touching on Pedro Martinez’s calf strain that truncated his bizarrely gruesome outing. He’s currently day-to-day, but the flurry of injuries – albeit below-the-belt ones, thank goodness – represent Exhibits A-E why Rob’s Red Sox wouldn’t commit to a long-term Pedro. It’s not . . . it’s not good, Al.

And finally, what would one of my over-reactive, fly-off-the-handle posts be without a nice dig at our fearless leader? 99% of what happened last night was beyond the control of most managers, let alone our skipper, but I managed to find fault nonetheless. You see, when the bullpen was unfortunately shuffled thanks to that taxi debacle in Miami, Darren Oliver took on more of a set-up role. He had been long relief and spot-starter all year long, and would have been perfect to step in last night in Pedro’s stead. However, since the rearrangement, he’s gotten a lot of consistent work over the past couple of weeks – frequent, short stints like most set-up men see, including a few batters’ worth Sunday. Because of this, he wasn’t as fresh or geared for the long haul that Willie signed him up for (or the U-Haul Willie threw him under, depending upon your outlook).

Gary Cohen fell short of chastising or pleading with the manager, simply reminding viewers on a consistent basis for four innings that Darren Oliver was gassed from overwork. Meanwhile, Oliver was smacked around for seven runs in three-plus, including surrendering four on back-to-back long balls by sluggers Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. At the same time, somewhere across town, down the block from the Philadelphia Art Museum, there sat a version of The Thinker. From what I could see, Rodin’s masterwork had a fair degree more motion and reaction to him than Willie Randolph did perched in the dugout. (Some might postulate that which thinker had more cognitive thought is up for debate, but I’ll not sink that low.)

Was Willie in a predicament? Oh, most definitely. Because of the aforementioned Sanchez injury, the rippled repercussions have the Mets’ pen in a state of flux. The Mets have six pitchers who aren’t starters or closers on the roster, and each of them is being used as a set-up or situational reliever. They don’t have a true mop-up man, not since Oliver’s role has morphed. (You could argue that Royce Ring would be a candidate, but the guy’s been a closer in Norfolk, so he’s hardly equipped for the duty any better, either.) Given that, Randolph and Rick Peterson were fairly well screwed, even if it was by their own (add in Omar here) doing. Still, letting your pitcher – in this case, a guy whose done plenty for you this campaign – die a slow death while you bear witness doesn’t do the club any favors in the short or long terms. As Oliver handed the ball off and brusquely exited, he had a look of “Willie, if I need Tommy John, the tendon’s coming out of your forearm.”

To clarify, re-clarify, and take a baseball bat to Traveler’s corpse, it’s not that it was an easy situation to manage Monday night, but the New York Mets organization doesn’t pay its manager and coaching staff to handle the easy situations. Hell, you can get the Admiral Stockdale of MLB managers, Charlie Manuel, if you want that. It’s assessing the serious problem and seeing your way through it today with an eye on tomorrow that separates the Caseys, Earls and Sparkys from the Arts and Gradys. In this case, it was a jam to be worked out of with precision – an array of brief to moderate appearances by several among those six arms, refusing to sacrifice the series for this one game but just as steadfastly refusing to sacrifice one reliever for the team. It begins and ends with the coaches having all ten fingers on the pulse of their players at all times; when it has come to gauging his pitchers on a daily basis, Willie’s had his hands in his pockets for as long as he’s been around.

Nota bene, Signore Randolph, that the aforementioned Sparky rode his “Captain Hook” moniker for pulling pitchers early all the way to Cooperstown; where your reluctance to do so will take you remains to be seen. Styles will vary, though, and frankly your Walter Alston cool is respectable, especially when compared to, say, Larry Bowa’s on-his-sleeve sentiments that alienated many a player. Somewhere in the fray, however, calm under pressure can become hesitation to act in the moment, and the 100th “I’m not worried about that” starts to sound like “What, me worry?” The players seem to respect and admire you; the importance of that should not be understated, but it can be overstated if the rest of the managerial skill set is lacking.

Even more finally, if you thought I would get through this diatribe without turning the barrel around to my own self for committing an obvious karmic infraction, you don’t know me well enough. It was apparent sometime halfway through the bottom of the first inning last night that I was being disciplined for my flippant acknowledgment of the Mets’ imminent successes. I had tried like hell to take a diplomatic, hex-free stance on the whole thing, but I think we all saw last night that there’s no toeing this line. I presumed and reveled prematurely, and I was sternly rebuked for it. I, along with you, fair readers, was offered an appropriately administered reminder of the Mets’ weaknesses, problem areas, and full capability of resembling the league’s rubbish on a given night. Duly noted, cosmic law enforcement, and it shan’t happen again soon.

It was just one game, a laugher at our expense that should be deposited on the compost heap forthwith. Still, if we don’t learn the lessons contained within it, history will be repeated like it was Rob’s sophomore year when he was addicted to “Days of Our Lives.” (Actually, I think it was a Government class, but that didn’t suit the gag.) For even if I have joined the legions among the Township who’ve been declaring the rest of the regular season a formality for months, the dreaded thought of losing at home in a Divisional Series to some sad-sack NL opponent like the Cincinnati Reds became a slightly more plausible fear last night. And that should be more than enough to keep me cautiously optimistic about September and concerned about October.

Still happy, of course, but concerned.

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