Friday, September 29, 2006

Don't Think Twice, It's All Right

Game 160 - Mets

Mets 4, Nationals 3
Record: 95-65

Actually, losing Pedro isn’t as bad as many might believe. I mean, he missed most of the latter half of the season, he’s been shelled more than he’s mowed ‘em down lately, and he seems to have lost his flair for the moment – not his charismatic appreciation for it, just his dominance in the face of extreme odds. Frantic friends amid the Township need to bear in mind that we lost the 2006 Pedro Martinez, not the turn-of-the-millennium Petey.

Yeah, okay, it pretty much blows.

Watching him would have been awesome, and who’s to say that he didn’t have a dandy of a postseason awaiting him? He certainly was rested. It now makes the Mets’ staff that much less fearsome – El Duque will take the hill in Game 1 for the Metropolitans . . . and there’s a statement I’d have fallen out of my chair upon hearing back in April.

It remains to be seen whom Hernandez and the Mets will face in the NLDS; as New York rests, hones, and simulates real-game situations against Washington this weekend, showdown upon showdown occurs around the league. The Mets could end up squaring off against San Diego, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Houston, or even Cincinnati – it’s that up in the air, even as there are only two or three games left on the docket. The only potential playoff team they won’t play in Round 1 is the Phightin’ Phillies, whose unbelievable fortnight was seemingly undone by a pair of unlikely losses to the scrappy Nats this week. They’re the team I’ve said I least want to face in October, due to their familiarity with and success against the Mets, plus their recent record. But they’re by far not the only club that induces a bit of worry, and there are too many teams in the mix tonight to figure it out.

It’s chaos, National League style, and it would only be fitting if a team or two backed into the postseason on a loss. The Mets are the duly crowned kings of the dipshits, but losing their ace has tightened the race significantly. Their 1-2-3 arms are among the worst in the running, save maybe the Cards and the long-shot Reds. That’s at first glance, of course; those of us who’ve caravanned alongside the Metmen throughout this marathon have more faith in our pitchers. Each of them has shown at least sporadic, sometimes even consistent prominence this season. Each has it in him to get it done, especially with the stalwart lineup clicking. Unfortunately, it’s also equally true that each of them has it in him to implode in an altogether messy display.

The first inning has seemed to plague Glavine and El Duque for much of the year. Dodging trouble in the premier frame with either of these two guys on the hill won’t assure anything, but I’ll breathe a sigh of relief if it happens. If Hernandez has that wicked curveball sliding all over the plate and Tommy G is working that in-and-out with a curve to boot, I’ll take my chances. If not . . . boys, bring them bats.

Steve Trachsel . . . I just don’t know. You know how Rob loves Timmy Wakefield but can’t bring himself to endure the spectacle of a Wake outing? It’s like that, except that I don’t love Trax at all. He’s absurdly frustrating to watch, “deliberate” in his approach to a fault and picking away at the corners while I pick away at my fingernails. Grass-growing or Steve Trachsel throwing – they’re neck and neck in speed as well as in the pleasure to bear witness. And while he’s fully capable of delivering, he’s been wholly mediocre for a large part of this season. It was just a few weeks ago that he was being penciled out of the postseason rotation, but for obvious reasons, he’ll get his shot. And I’ll have to watch.

The offense has simply got to show up. Every bit of it. There cannot be a lag after a meaningless tail end to a brilliant regular season. We cannot have Carlos Beltran reverting to ’05 form (after one of the more impressive seasons in Met history) when the bright lights click on; although he’s thrived in the NLDS/NLCS spotlight before, we’re left to hope that the pressure of top-heavy expectations doesn’t bring back his Punxsutawney Phil persona. The young guys need to appear experienced beyond their years. Willie needs to keep the team loose. In short, they just need to keep these wheels rolling. There’s every reason to expect it, and every fear at play that they won’t.

Clearly I’m already approaching basket case status with the playoffs still days away. Maybe it’s watching all of these battles for contention; tonight has been one of the greatest nights to have the Extra Innings package in memory, and every implication-laden outcome has me on edge. And yeah, my team clinched relative eons ago.

Gotta shake off losing Pedro. Deeply talented teams like the Mets can do that – or pretend to – a lot better than some of these barely-strung-together overachievers vying for next week’s contests. In a vague stretch of a parallel, I am reminded of one of my first rugby practices in college when I stopped to attend to a scrimmaging teammate who’d fallen with an obvious and painful injury. One of the veteran seniors told me after the play that I shouldn’t do that, that there was little I could do for the individual but that I could cost the team further in a match. He acknowledged the callous nature of such a notion, shrugging it off as part of the game. That’s where the Mets are right now; pausing to reflect any further on what losing Pedro might mean only serves to distract the gang from the mission and open holes for the enemy. Play on.

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