Friday, June 30, 2006

Darkness On the Edge of Town

Game 79 - Mets

Yankees 2, Mets 0
Record: 47-32

On the streets of the Township tonight, people have begun to pass each other with their heads down or facing away, conceding only furtive glances towards their fellow citizens. Any stray eye contact elicits obligatory half-smiles that could otherwise pass as winces or smirks. These fleeting looks are cast only to read neighbors' eyes, scanning them for signs of what's already figured to lie beneath: Doubt, Dread, and Sheer Angst, the Pep Boys of the fan's psyche. Conversations in the thoroughfare won't exhume what's been interred by the Township residents; to fret openly is to show a lack of knowledge of the current situation and a lack of faith in the mission at hand. But every reconnaisance glimpse brings back to camp the unwanted confirmation that the formerly immaculate garden of hope has sprouted more than a few weeds in recent days. And so we walk on silently, going about our business rather than confiding in our kinsmen with the nagging, burning question that reaches out: Should we be worried?

It's In the Way That You Use It

Game 78 – Mets

Red Sox 4, Mets 2
Record: 47-31


Give the Boston Red Sox a ton of credit. They did everything they needed to do to win – and lots more. They were patient in the box, steady on the hill, aggressive on the paths, and flawless in the field. That the series was essentially bookended by Carlos Beltran’s misread of a deep fly to center to get the Sox rolling and Coco Crisp’s ESPY last night to snuff out the Mets’ last viable flicker is rather telling. Boston played textbook baseball while New York played comic book baseball. Even last night, when the Metmen seemed altogether more poised than during their prior outings, they merely played pretty well while the Sox played to near perfection. You have to tip your cap, even as you gnash your teeth and shell out money for four (4) cases of suds.

The Red Sox mashed the ball when they wanted to, manufactured a run here and there when they needed to, hustled, dove, scooped, slid, leapt, froze, gunned, escaped, rallied, and held down the fort at precisely the right moments. For all of Rob’s gloomy resignations a month or so ago, the Sox are clicking as well as anyone right now, and if they can keep up this profile of stellar defense, sound pitching, and steady hitting, this team will be held up as the team to beat. That’s about all I have to say about the Red Sox. They were good.

That said, there’s little point in lamenting this stubbed toe for any longer if you’re the Mets. Being the last team in baseball to suffer a three-game sweep is naturally a good thing. Their division lead is still an overstuffed cushion. Glavine looked like his April/May razor-sharp last night for 5+. Reyes and Wright took the series off, but their cooldown was inevitable and there’s reason to believe they’ll provide plenty more fireworks for the team before long. I’m probably the guy most disappointed and frustrated by the Boston trip, for obvious reasons. (Did I mention that I owe four cases of beer?) And even I am shrugging it off. There’s not a moment to mope, since three games in the Bronx commence tonight, and stumble becomes swoon after two series. You could look it up.

Walk it off, lads. Peaking in June isn’t part of the master plan, anyway. The blueprint for the next three months calls for a slow and steady fade of the NL East foes into the rear view mirror, with a few minor tweaks and tinkerings in store so that this team finds its apex in late September. Doesn’t mean that’s going to happen, but at least we have a plan.

We all knew that this 10-day stretch was going to be a litmus test for the Mets. Over the last few years, when the results of such tests came back extremely acidic, there was a definite feeling of helplessness. Today we’ll chalk these three losses up to running into a buzz saw and apply it towards beating the Yankees this weekend. Just keep a faint taste of bitterness somewhere in the memory bank – so that when the Mets meet the Red Sox in late October, there will be that little extra iota of inspiration.

Murder (or a Heart Attack)


Game 76 – Red Sox

Red Sox 4, Mets 2
Record: 48-28

Whitney may not see things the same way, perhaps a bit jagged from the events of the past 3 days, or soggy from the region’s blinding sheets of rain, but last night’s game was a classic. Coco Crisp was the Sox’ four leaf clover, starring at the plate, on the basepaths, and in the field and perhaps finally winning his way into the Nation’s heart after a standoffish start for the new kid.

Curt Schilling and Tom Glavine both lived up to their reputations for 5 sublime innings, matching each other zero for zero. After Carlos Beltran finally solved Schilling in the top of the 6th (with an absolute timebomb to dead center), I was sort of resigned to the fact that the Sox couldn’t keep winning indefinitely – they’d have to lose at some point, so it might as well be to Whit’s team.

The cumulative impact of age and a lot of pitches got to Glavine in the 6th, with the other shoe dropping as he first gave up a homer to Loretta then a double to Papi. Though it’ll probably be lost in the boxscore agate, Papi’s hustle into 2nd on a ball that might normally have only yielded a single for the big man was a huge play. It was followed by his equally aggressive advance to third on Mike Lowell’s fly to medium centerfield, without which the game-tying run would not have scored on Jason Varitek’s subsequent sacrifice. The masses will demand curtain calls for Papi’s 8th inning blast to center, as well they should, but his command of the fundamental was more important to the outcome of last night’s game.

That same command of the fundamental led directly to the game-winning run in the bottom of the 7th, as Crisp led off with a bunt single, stole second, reached 3rd on Alex Gonzalez’ perfectly executed sacrifice bunt, and scored on Kevin Youkilis’ sacrifice fly to left. A singular sublimely manufactured run from a team that’s clicking on all cylinders. Match that offensive versatility with a defensive effort that now stands with the best of all time (last night was the Sox’ 16th consecutive errorless game, which ties the major league record) and the Sox are playing the best all-around baseball of my lifetime, and perhaps of the franchise’s history.

All of that terrific baseball might have been for naught if it weren’t for one of the amazing defensive plays in my memory. With 2 out in the top of the 8th and the speedy Beltran on first, David Wright lined a bullet to left-center off of Mike Timlin. Double, game tied, fuck were the thoughts that immediately went through the head of this nervous guy. Crisp had shaded Wright to right-center against the hard-throwing Timlin, and the NESN cameras showed him in a dead sprint toward the Monster at the crack of the bat. Just before the ball screamed past him for a game-altering extra-base hit, Coco laid out in full horizontal flight position, reaching his glove hand up and behind himself to snare Wright’s drive with the last bit of momentum left in his frantic gallop. Timlin’s reaction was priceless, moments away as he was from shedding some West Texas teardrops. “Ohhh! Wow! Yeah!”, roared the veteran reliever, who’s seen some stuff in his day and doesn’t strike this observer as a terribly emotional guy. “Holy Shit!” was my equally prosaic utterance. Whit’s was almost certainly something different, at least in tone.

Jonathan Papelbon resumed his ridiculous season, mowing the Mets – well on their way to a much-deserved cryin’ drunk – down in the 9th to preserve the win and the sweep. 12 in a row now for the Sox, and a 4-game lead in the division. It’s a bit early in the season to feel like king of all of the world, but I’m not gonna question the emotion now – the Sox are on an unbelievable roll. Whit might not believe the sincerity, but let the idiot speak: I do feel a little twinge of guilt that it had to come at the expense of his Metros. Only a little, as their 11-game advantage over the dreck in the NL East has been seriously aided by the Sox’ 14-1 run through the division. Nice league you got there. The good guys may need to up the devil’s pay to continue this run, but it’s a hell of a ride for the moment.

After a somewhat surreal 3 games that left me positively giddy about the Sox, and a bit (only a bit) bummed for my buddy and his lonely holiday, the final tally reads 3 wins for the Sox, 3 losses for the Mets, and 96 beers on the plus side of the ledger for me. Far be it for me to tell Whit what to do, but it’s clear that the appropriately literary thing to do would be to add one more something special to the haul, something aged, perhaps. An old 97, if you will.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Nowhere Fast

"Is this some kind of bust?"

"Very impressive, yes."

Well, that was a letdown of extreme proportions. Everything fell into place for my co-blogger and me to watch this game, and everything fell apart in Boston. For all of the hubbub in the sporting world, not to mention Rob's living room, that wasn't a game I want to see any part of ever again. Pedro was tense, Lastings was lost, and once again the whole club looked like they'd been throwing back shots over on Landsdowne Street for a few hours before the game. Dammit, boys, that's my job.

As Rob mentioned, it wasn't very long into the night until discussions strayed away from the game being played at Fenway. As noted, at first it was Mets/Sox trivia, but quickly enough it was Rob pointing out that there are more teams left in the World Cup who speak Portuguese than there are who speak either English or Spanish. Then it was me drawing a parallel between ESPNews's grating anchor Kirk Gimenez and the SNL skit with Jimmy Smits and Bob Costas where everyone is over-accentuating their Spanglish. Later, we held an extended discussion with late arrival Buck on decades-old country music. Readers, who's your pick -- the Gatlin Brothers or the Statler Brothers?

Milledge cost his team yet again with some hideous glove work. The Monster seemed to be in his head the whole time, unnerving him to the point where Carlos Beltran had to save him later with a Kelly Leak play. The kid helped turn the game into a joke, so he'll just have to endure the wisecracks at his expense. And remember, he who laughs at Lastings, laughs best. On the plus side, I was disappointed that I didn't get to see him play when he was down here in Norfolk, but I may well have a second chance. Not that a couple of errors -- even ones of this magnitude -- automatically signify a demotion, but between the return of Cliff Floyd, Willie's penchant for enacting the steady payment of dues among youngsters, and an obvious margin for improvement, I can see it happening.

Meanwhile, David Wright and Jose Reyes have made the Boston folks wonder what all the fuss was about. Garbage time solo shots appear to be the best the Mets hitters can muster. Carlos Delgado seems to have crept out of his slump and into a pattern of whiffing in key spots and homering to lead off an inning after the fact. But the offense isn't even the problem right now. As my brother-in-law called to groan, "Now is when we formerly confident fans start to really worry about this pitching staff."

We just need to get through the weekend until the Mets can start preying upon the hapless clubs in the National League again, I guess. The problem is that I very much need a win tonight for my own reasons, and losing in the Bronx is irritating as hell for all of us. So sack up, lads, it's time to give Schilling a shelling and induce Big Pop-Up all night.

Hate to Say I Told You So

Game 75 – Red Sox

Red Sox 10, Mets 2
Record: 47-28


Well, that was...anticlimactic. What started as the most highly anticipated regular season game in my memory quickly turned into a vaguely unsatisfying rout. In the words of the less-than-immortal Hives, I hate to say I told you so.

Whit and I were well into our stash of thematically selected domestic brews (Smuttynose Pale Ale for me, Brooklyn Pennant Ale for him) in the bottom of the 4th when he turned to me and said, “We need a game to play”. If you know Whit, you recognize that he has a pathological need to be entertained – and Pedro and his Mets failed miserably on that score last night.

Around that same time, yet another rainstorm blew through Northern Virginia, interrupting my DirectTV signal for the eleventeenth time this week. We quickly deemed it a mercy killing, and set to quizzing each other on Mets and Red Sox trivia. If you can name the Mets top 5 all-time homerun hitters without any help, you’re almost as smart as I am. We made calls to Wheelhouse Jerry, who was celebrating the Nets’ successful draft. We watched the American League continue its mastery of the so-called Senior Circuit – 50+ games over .500 now, for all you NL apologistas. Hell, we even watched a few minutes of a Food Network program about pancakes. Anything to avoid focusing on the carnage in Boston.

As I’d hoped, the Fenway crowd showed their appreciation for Pedro with a 55-second standing ovation as he walked to the mound before the bottom of the first. And as I’d predicted, he was way too amped up, costing himself at least 1 run (and maybe 4) by failing to start a double play on a David Ortiz comebacker. I’ve seen Pedro pitch worse, but not by much and certainly not often. To be honest, I was really pretty disappointed – not that he lost, but how he did.

Whit and I concurred on the fact that Lastings Milledge probably couldn’t play outfield for our softball team, and on the near certainty that Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez are celebrating their reunion in the Mets’ broadcast booth by doing lines from the small of a hooker’s back. And if I were to call him now and wake him, he’d likely also concur that drinking that much on a school night is a bad idea, despite our repeated tests of that theory.

Lots at stake tonight as Curt Schilling faces local boy Tom Glavine. The Sox are looking for their 12th straight win, while the Metros are trying to pick up some momentum in advance of their upcoming series with the Yankees. Far more importantly, Whit needs his boys to pick him up, or he faces the unhappy prospect of owing me 4 cases of the finest ale in the land to settle our bet on the series.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Twilight Zone

Game 76 – Mets/Game 74 - Red Sox

Red Sox 9, Mets 4
Mets Record: 47-29

Red Sox Record: 46-28

I'm hijacking Whitney's well-executed recap of last night's contest, both because I'm lazy and because it's a preview of our attempt tonight to make MLC history. Whit and I will be ensconced in the comfortable environs of my living room this evening, accompanied by what promises to be more adult beverages than advisable on a school night. We'll be turning on the laptop and capturing our witty banter as Pedro takes the mound against Ebby Calvin - tune in here tomorrow (or whenever we figure out how to transpose the notes) for groundbreaking blogging.

I tried to call Whit last night right after Reyes got gunned at the plate. He didn't answer, probably because he thought I was going to rub it in. On the contrary, I called to express my stunned surprise at Manny Acta's decision-making. The Mets were down 1 run with 2 on with a chance to load the bases against a talented but struggling young pitcher who'd already walked in a run in the game. On top of that, Carlos Delgado - who'd already taken Jon Lester deep in the game - was coming to the plate, and the Sox had nobody warming in the bullpen. Acta's Sveumian effort was the single biggest play in the game, and damn near got the Mets' hottest player killed. Speaking on behalf of the Nation, my warmest regards to Mr. Acta and his family.

The "game of inches" cliche was fully realized last night, as the Reyes play, the Milledge misadventure, the Loretta catchdrop, and the seemingly dozens of Mets that fouled Lester's pitches straight back all had the chance to drastically change the outcome.

With 1 down and 2 to go, I'm really looking forward to seeing Pedro pitch tonight. He's said all the right things since coming to Boston - I like him even more than I already did. Unfortunately for my Metfan friend, it's been my experience with Pedro that he underperforms when he's emotionally charged up in the regular season. I figure he'll be as superpumped as he's ever been this evening, so my counterintuitive prediction is that he's less effective than normal. Oddly, I hope I'm wrong, because I'd love to him be electric through 8 innings before the Mets' pen blows the game in the 9th.

___________________________________________________________________

This is why it’s good to have some high-profile – if not high-pressure – contests along the route to “meaningful games” in the autumn. It’s good to get the little spaz that lurks within us all to make an appearance in mid-season; that way, when tension heightens later on in the year, we’re familiar with his antics and can pants, swirlie, and trash-can stuff him without delay.

This game was spaz city. (It should be noted that I, like Tiger Woods, mean to poke no fun at cerebral palsy victims or others who might take offense. I refer to a certain caliber of klutz that is best depicted via this common playground term. That I once again cave in to the language refs that consist of the planet’s most thin-skinned, hypersensitive grouches disappoints us all, I’m sure. And I mean no disrespect to people with a literal thin skin condition, nor people who prefer “sedentarily-challenged” to “hyper,” and . . . ah, forget it.)

Anyway, this ballgame might as well have been played on a hockey rink, what with the way the Mets seemed to react to Fenway Park. The New York nine seemed distracted, disoriented (no offense to Asians), and discombobulated from the first pitch. (Maybe it was the kinder, gentler, post-2004 Fenway faithful actually cheering the ceremonial return of Calvin Schiraldi. That sure had me weirded out.)

Memo to the Mets: Fenway is a quirky old stadium with equal parts endearing charm and annoying architecture, it’s not an alternate plane. Stephen King does frequent the place, but just as a fan. The Hitchcock who occasionally played here was Sterling, the Mulder was Mark, and the Palmer was not Laura but Jim. The “zone” Alay Soler tried desperately to reach was lorded over by Tim McClelland, not Rod Serling. For the first five or six innings, that inner doofus was running rampant in a most bizarre way.

In the first inning, “Screech” Beltran set the tone by getting picked off first in clumsy fashion. Minutes later, he misjudged/underestimated/lost/Screeched a deep fly by Kevin Youkilis that he usually catches without breaking a sweat. Youkilis would later score on a two-out, two-run single that might have been prevented. And no, Dustin Diamond, this paragraph isn’t going to get you any closer to having people who’ve never met you
pay for your house.

In the second, “Horshack” LoDuca reacted slowly and effortlessly to a foul pop off the bat of Alex Gonzalez, one which the wind blew back to the first row of seats, where it caromed away without a play. Seconds later, Gonzalez ripped a double off the monster. He’d later score.

Sox starter Jon Lester induced some ineptitude on his own, making some good hitters look bad and some so-so hitters look so-bad. “Skippy” Woodward fit rather snugly into the latter category, whiffing in a key moment to end the Mets’ turn in the fourth. “Arvid” Wright would mimic Skippy’s performance quickly thereafter.

In the bottom of the inning, in a highlight that pretty much encapsulates this entire theme, Manny Ramirez skied a ball to left with two on and two out. “Urkel” Milledge began a series of jerky, reckless spins and twists that resulted in him flat on his back and the
ball plopping down on the warning track beside/behind him. It was surreal to watch; the wind played a part, but it was a mere cameo compared to the scene-stealing star turn by the Urk-meister. The 3-2 lead became 5-2, and the game just seemed to be floating away from the liferaft of misfits that was tonight’s Mets.

“Milhouse” Acta got the coaching staff into the act in the fifth, waving Jose Reyes into a collarbone-crunching (well, it looked that way) collision at home plate on a one-hop liner to left. The theretofore promising rally was a clean, new button down shirt; the base hit was a brand new fountain pen; Acta’s windmill was the foolhardy absence of a pocket protector, rendering both items worthless. That we had to hope that the single hottest-hitting Met of the moment suffered no serious injury on a game-spoiling blunder by the third base coach had me wishing a bevy of melvins on the highly-touted coach.

Sometime about the midpoint of the game, the jitters – or whatever was turning the National League’s first-place team into an AP Calculus field trip – subsided, and the Tri-Lams seemed to revert to old Met form. Unfortunately, they reverted to a series of exasperating traits as well as the ones we love. After “No Argument from” Willie Randolph failed to contest a force-out at second that was ruled a transfer drop but at least merited a conversation, he then demonstrated why he consistently beats out the sport’s knee-buckling curveball artists for Slowest Hook in the League. Willie let a struggling Alay Soler stick around just long enough to give up taters to Marlin cast-aways Mike Lowell and the aforementioned Alex Gonzalez, ending the must-see portion of the game. 8-2: it’s when solo shots by Beltran and new Met Eli Marrero don’t suck you back in. Honestly, a little more Randolph and a little less Nesman might have saved this one from the scrap heap.

This game looks ugly on paper, especially when you see the 15 Sox hits stacked up against the Mets’ six, but the Mets really did have their chances. Here’s the lesson as you take the stage for real after umpteen dress rehearsals against the NL East’s understudies: if you stumble over yourself and wet your pants even a dribble against these guys, you’re destined for a sprawl down the stairs. Come out with the grace and calm you know you can muster tomorrow night, and you won’t embarrass yourselves. Seriously guys, get your heads out of your Clavins. Be cool.

Start the Commotion

Games 73 through 75 - Mets

Mets 6, Blue Jays 1
Blue Jays 7, Mets 4
Mets 7, Blue Jays 4
Record: 47-28


The Mets jetted up to the cleanest major city in North America and made tidy work in two of the three games against the Jays. Although Tom Glavine presented a nice return to form on Friday night, the series was won with hitting, hitting, and more hitting. The hits won’t keep on coming forever, but they’re clearly carrying the Mets during this stretch.

After Glavine’s solid showing in the series opener, Orlando “Chuque & Duque” Hernandez issued a fireworks display not legal back in the States. That his stint was truncated by a bizarre mound-visit ruling that had both Willie Randolph and the umpiring crew under fire was merely a diversion from the fact that Hernandez was lit up. It was the first time he’d really been torched as a Met; while a potent Jays lineup deserves some credit, it underscores a growing nervousness about the rotation even as the Mets’ divisional buffer inflates.

What can you say about this offense that hasn’t already been noted by fans, bystanders, and casual glossers of the daily boxes? Even Toronto ace Roy Halladay got touched for more than his usual allotment, though his roughing up couldn’t measure up to the alley beating El Duque suffered. Jose Reyes is sporting a slow-pitch softball average over the past couple of weeks, Carlos Beltran has already jammed more into the first half of the season than he gave us all year in ’05, and Dee-Dub has men who usually sport more than a sliver of machismo gushing girly sentiment. Even Jose Valentin – well, I don’t know what’s gotten into him, but his rejuvenation has certainly been one of the HiGH points of the month.

Taking two of three from Toronto was a more than satisfying outcome; lately, everyone from Rob Russell on down to the SportGuy have been slagging the National League with little resistance. Losing the series might’ve been an acceptable loss, given the caliber of the opponent, but giving the NL-naysayers more fodder was avoided.

Taking two of three from Toronto without incurring serious injuries in the rapidly aging park formerly known as SkyDome was a coup. Seriously, did anyone see the condition of that turf? It makes the old Vet rug look seamless. Duaner Sanchez experienced some shooting pain in his arm that moved a township from its recliner to its knees in a millisecond, but knock on wood, it doesn’t appear to be the crisis we’d feared.

Phase 1 of the road trip against the “Group of Death” went well, but now we get to the main event. Subway Series Shmubway Shmeries, everything you want to watch is contained within the next three nights, weather permitting. Yes, that’s right, the New York Mets travel to Fenway Park for three games. Let the inevitable chatter about 1986 commence; for once, I won’t cast such nostalgic but meaningless hype to the compost heap of media drivel.

The pitching match-ups are letter-perfect, considering the respective staffs. The undercard will be fought tonight, as newcomers Alay Soler and Jon Lester square off. Soler’s been solid, Lester’s been downright phenomenal in this early going. For once, I’d like to read “Lester got bombed last night” reported in the sports pages instead of the taunting e-mails I receive.

Tomorrow night’s game features the much-anticipated return of Pedro Martinez to the park that sheltered him as he rose from winning the Cy Young to being mentioned alongside Cy Young. Pedro’s a gamer, and I hope and expect him to give it all he’s got for seven strong (a tip of the cap to Grady Little) while treating the fans to a something special. With Josh Beckett on the hill for the Sox, we’ll need it.

The series finale on Thursday brings us no letdown of marquee names, with Glavine going for the Mets and Curt Schilling going for the Sox. Glavine’s had a tough month, but he seems to have weathered what I pray is the worst of it. Lester, Beckett, and Schilling will be the stiffest gauntlet the Mets have run through in some time. Meanwhile, Papi, Manny, and the rest of the mashers present no cakewalk for the Met arms. (Not to suggest that the Mets walk with their arms; this isn’t Cirque du Soleil, despite Orlando “El Cirque” Hernandez’s latest carnival.)

All of this is assuming the weather lets them play. The east coast is waist-deep in rainfall this week, with floods, mud slides, and power outages plaguing the area. Here's hoping this bild-up isn't all for naught, because it's time to get fired up.

We fans have to love pre-Break challenges; it’s excitement without serious repercussions (barring possible injury; you obviously know by now that jinx-breaking prefaces and addenda ride like remoras on every shark that we at MLC ever . . . jump). If the Mets blow up in Beantown, there’s an eternity to regroup, retool, and reevaluate, so all will not be lost. If the Mets slice through the Sox as they have many an adversary of late, it will be another affirmation of the new, new Mets. This series is a challenge, and I can’t wait to see if the Mets are up to it.

Of course, my crony and I are a million amperes more amped than anyone on Yawkey Way right about now. The convergence of the Mets and Red Sox in one stadium ushers a level of excitement into our respective systems that’s not often seen. There are mixed emotions a-plenty; for me to root against a Lester and for Rob to root against Pedro, for each of us to turn the turrets toward each other for three nights – well, you know it’s something big. It’s huge, and it means more than you even realize.

It’s about cheering on our teams, sure, and wanting the stellar success of our clubs to carry on. It’s about pride, bragging rights, and all that jazz, yeah yeah yeah. But’s about something more than that, something that goes deep into our very beings to bring us euphoria and an uninhibited desire to bellow joyful gibberish without termination. I’m talking, naturally, about beer. Cases of the stuff, exchanged on a game-by-game basis with the possibility of a sweep-case accouterment. Two teams will collide in the night somewhere not far from the site where, a long, long time ago, the Boston Pilgrims eradicated the Indians. And just as the consequence of that event has fostered bitterness even while providing the foundation of future history for the peoples who comprised each. . . ballclub (you thought I meant Plymouth Rock, didn’t you? Silly fools, I’m talking about baseball, duh.), the impending showdown at Fenway will deliver much heartache and liver damage to the participants in this lager wager for the ages.

Game on. And someone get me another beer.

Monday, June 26, 2006

More Human Than Human

Games 73 through 75 - Red Sox

Red Sox 10, Phillies 2
Red Sox 5, Phillies 3 (11)
Red Sox 8, Phillies 7
Record: 45-28

Jonathan Papelbon, as it turns out, is human - though perhaps just a tiny bit. David Ortiz, on the other hand, is most certainly a deity of some sort. And Kevin Youkilis remains the Greek God of Being a Goofy Looking On-Base Machine.

I had a whole bunch of other words to support these parallel theses, but the lords of Blogger decided to shred them into the ether. Whatever.

Oh, and the Mets come to town tomorrow. That might be interesting, though I'm traveling to Philly tomorrow and will be unlikely to see much of the series' first game. I bet someone will fill me in.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Listen to What the Man Said

For the second time in a few weeks, Rob’s acted as MLC’s cultural watchpup, issuing his prudent take on the news (and/or media-created events) of the sporting world. And, for the second time in a few weeks, I’ve been poised to provide my own stance on the matter, only to produce the same rejoinder:

Yeah. What he said.

There’s little use in trying to elaborate much further on a point that’s already been made – effectively and succinctly. Anything further would be the reverberations of a man who loves the sound of his own voice. I’ll add a smidgen of Lesterism (because I do love that sound) as it pertains to the Ozzie Guillen debacle and move in a broader direction.

There’s still one thing that America does better than anyone else in the world, even after being lapped by our neighbors in productivity of all kinds. Yes, the American ingenuity is most often applied to our most prolific product of the new millennium: outrage. We can do outrage like nobody’s business, yes indeedy. “Shock and awe” isn’t just the most asinine moniker for a wartime junket yet, it’s also the mantra of the masses in this country. Cross that line and we’ll come down like 1,000 hammers on anyone at any time for any transgression, meting out equal fury for baseball managers with loose lips as we would capital murderers.

There are ironies abound in all of this, as Rob pointed out, not the least of which is the red-state media crying out to defend the very slice of society they work furiously to prevent from wedded bliss. Americans can see creatively comedic forms of the word “fag” seven times per episode of "Will & Grace," but much like the inflammatory n-word, context is everything, and inappropriate usage is an invitation to indignation by the most ignorant of this nation's inhabitants.

Just stop it. You’re not outraged. No, you aren’t. You people sweep the newsbytes on Reuters just for an opportunity to get off the couch and get on the soapbox. You’re sickened by the Duke lacrosse team, then betrayed by the false accuser, then just ashamed of the whole saga. Good Lord. You speak ill of the media, especially those types whose very existence is to batter athletes with loaded questions in hopes of a verbal misstep, then confirm their payday by excitedly diving into the wave of overreaction once it happens. That there are more microphones in the White Sox locker room every night than there are at the Radio Shack service center is stunning. Athletes stereotypically range as far from orators as we have in any profession; somehow, though, they take exponentially more interviews than our commander-in-chief, and even more sadly, what they spit forth undergoes a sterner critique.

If every individual who has wasted media time with its own shock and awe over Ozzie Guillen’s poor choice of words instead had dedicated that time to documenting the deeper, more serious, and more real problems of bigotry, race relations, and the de facto caste system of this country, we’d all have a menu of more enlightened fare to read, watch, and hear. As it is, however, frenzied blowhards spewing self-righteous ire all over the airwaves seems to be the blue plate special, so dig in, fat boy. Just don’t color me insensitive when I turn away and snicker at the whole lot of you.

Glory Days (Fenway 6/28 Remix)

I was going to wait a few days to post this, but Whit's right-on entry below makes it more appropriate today.

Next Wednesday, good Lord willing and the creek don't rise (no small request in New England these days), Pedro Martinez will take the hill in Fenway Park wearing a Mets uniform. And 38,000 will stand as 1 and give him a richly deserved ovation. Somewhere, Johnny Damon will be scratching his caveman head and wondering why. (SoSH has dedicated an entire thread to it today after Peter Gammons publicly surmised that Pedro would be booed. I'd be knocked-on-my-ass stunned if that happened, and more than a little disappointed.)

Whit's exactly right in sussing out the fact that I'm not rubbing it in when I compare Boston Pedro with his New York alter-ego. Every fan should get to experience what the Nation did when Petey was on his game. Quite simply, we got to watch arguably the best 6-year stretch of pitching in the history of baseball - both in terms of stats and moments. No apologies to Sandy Koufax necessary, though he's probably the only other guy in the conversation.

I love Pedro Martinez, even today. I root for him every time he pitches, and I root for him to give Whit a taste of the magic he gave me. Like no player in any sport I've ever seen, Pedro has it - that sense of the moment, that bravado under the gun, that steel in his eyes that says, "I'm your huckleberry". Gammons calls it duende - a word that I'll always associate with Pedro. Even now, the aging gunslinger refuses to give in to time's inevitable march, and Whit's a luckier fan for it.

Even as he takes the mound in the bottom of the first instead of the top, I'll be rooting for him on Wednesday night, hoping for the elegant symmetry of another otheworldly Pedro performance. Rooting for sublime Pedro, to be sure, even while rooting for him to lose, 1-0, on a David Ortiz homerun, just so the Fenway crowd can chant, "Who's Your Papi?" With Whit joining me to watch the game, that would be some cool shit.

Glory Days

Game 72 – Mets

Mets 6, Reds 2
Record: 45-27


The Mets bounced back to salvage a series split with the Redlegs, and Our Beloved Revolutionary Hero David Wright sent two bombs yard-ward to provide the lead and the cushion, but less comfortable was a Pedro Martinez best described as “laboring” for much of the day. Seeing Pedro like this is worrisome, tempered only slightly by the offense picking him up and his own evident summoning of the will to finish off his six innings decisively.

More than once over the past season and a half, Rob has commented to me that while the Pedro Martinez of 2005/6/? will be the dominant, fun-to-watch star of the Mets at times, it simply can’t compare to watching THE Pedro put on a weekly display of utter mastery that consistently left Sox fans of the late 90’s and early 00’s in animated wonderment. Of course, it’s no fun for me to hear that. I don’t relish that we get a pale facsimile of the all-time great. It doesn’t thrill me to know the Mets have a colossal investment in a guy on the wane, or that the Mets’ ace is seemingly incapable of recapturing more than a little of the glory of the days that have passed him by. But I know Rob isn’t rubbing it in – I can tell when he says it that he’s simply waxing nostalgic over fond memories of rooting for the best pitcher he’s ever seen take the hill for the Olde Towne Team. (Typed right in the freshly reinstated Roger Clemens’ face.)

I know such a feeling of blessed opportunity. My grandparents – both the nature and nurture cause of my Met-mania – were in their early 50’s when I was born. My sister and I were treated to a childhood heartily enriched with time spent with them. Summer weeks lakeside in New York were among the greatest memories of my adolescence. Fruitless fishing escapades, nights around the piano, and an unhealthy fixation on the New York Mets – in an era of incompetence between Tug and Doc that the franchise wisely glosses over; it was everything a grandson could ask for, plus a tad more.

Meanwhile, my uncles had their kids a little later in life, so my six cousins range from 11 to 25 years younger than I am. The math and its inevitabilities are obvious; my cousins got grandparents who, while still a hoot, were septuagenarians and upward by the time the kids were old enough to recall. It wasn’t the same for them; I knew it, and my grandparents did, too. My grandmother is the first person to say so – discreetly and out of earshot of the others. “You really got us,” she’ll repeat, just as my grandfather used to do. “We love you all, but you truly got us in our prime.”

And so goes it with Pedro’s tenure as a Met. He still shows flashes of what he once was, he’s still the Mets’ #1 arm, and he is still an All-Star. It’s just that his transition from All-Timer to All-Star, despite being a gradual one, leaves us with an inkling of longing and an occasional contemplation about what folks like Rob got to enjoy not that long ago.

The Needle and the Damage Done

Somewhere, Jeff Spicoli is sitting through a 3-day sensitivity training seminar, stoned to his toes and wondering how he got there. Some time in the next few months, Ozzie Guillen will find himself in the same place, though probably without the same buzz.

Here at MLC, we’re taking a stand against the hypersensitivity of the masses – and in this case, the masses are generally represented by the media. Ozzie Guillen called Jay Mariotti a fag. Sorry if I’m not sent hurtling into paroxysms of white-hot guilt-laden anger. My reaction – big fucking deal. It’s a word, and it’s a word that in 2006 has so very little connection to real bigotry, worn down as it has been by decades of casual use in locker rooms, school buses, playgrounds, and even offices across the nation. ‘Fag’ is the new ‘jerk’.

Why, then is the media making such a fuss over one loudmouth’s choice of insult? Far be it for me to play armchair socio-psychologist, but I don’t think you have to stretch too far to find an intrinsic sense of collective guilt over our society’s long-time mistreatment of minority communities at the root of this hue and cry. We’re at the point societally where supposedly offended groups evince less actual offense than their reflexive defenders in the mainstream. Maybe I haven’t been paying attention (that’d be something new), but I don’t hear gay activists rushing to condemn Ozzie Guillen – probably because they’ve got bigger, and far more real, issues to tackle, like our bizarre national obsession with the partnership choices made by consenting adults. (Don’t worry, we’re not going any further down that road – this is, after all, a baseball blog.)

The media’s hypocrisy in Ozziegate is, once again, almost charming in its clumsiness. The assembled ink-stained wretches celebrate Guillen’s candor and spirit on one hand, then castigate him when those same qualities produce a mildly off-color result. This is the beast you created by dedicating those column-miles to the wacky skipper – can’t gasp in collective Pollyannaism when it turns on you. Sow, reap, repeat.

As in so many life situations, the advice of the immortal Sgt. Hulka is entirely relevant here: Lighten up, Francis. And by Francis, we mean you, America.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Honeysuckle Blue

Games 68 through 70 – Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Nationals 3
Red Sox 11, Nationals 3
Red Sox 9, Nationals 3
Record: 42-28


The pesky real world has intruded upon both sides of the MLC family this week – at least Whit’s got an excuse. Me, just overworked, underpaid, and prone to drinking too much after softball games. I also haven’t seen more than a fragment of any of the games that have comprised the Sox’ recent run of success, which is all the excuse I can offer.

In years past, I’d trot out the pseudo-excuse that my bloginterregnum was clearly benefiting the Sox, winners of 6 straight against woeful NL East opponents. Now, hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Not that my delicate hands are capable of fixing anything, anyway. Though I did hook up a DVD player earlier in the week, and it works. Wait. Where the hell am I going with this?

Anywhere but towards too much focus on the Sox’ on-field play of late is where. The longest winning streak of the season has been a product of mediocre opposition and solid play from nearly all important contributors – with the massive caveat that Julian Tavarez and Rudy Seanez have pitched themselves right out of that category over the past several weeks.

Rookie stud-in-waiting Jon Lester “Bangs” struck out 10 Nats in 6 innings of 3-hit ball last night, and looks for all the world like he’s the Sox’ no. 4 starter for the rest of the year, regardless of whether the front office thinks he’s ready. Quietly, Theo’s mandate to build the farm system’s pitching depth is beginning to pay massive dividends, with first Jonathan Papelbon and now Lester showing early indications that they’ll be elite pitchers. Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen look for all the world like they’ll be called on to carry significant weight in the season’s second half, and even David Pauley held his own in 3 emergency starts in the last month. In a division with significantly flawed pitching staffs, the Sox kiddie corps may well make or break the season.

In sum for this short, rambly, pointless post: winning is good. Life is too busy, and too short to be so busy (that’s a thinly veiled message for a good friend of mine), and I should probably cut back on my alcohol intake.

Not gonna happen this week though, as the Sox and the New York Metropolitans tangle with one another in a few short days. If that won’t spur us to new blogheights, I don’t know what might.

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I composed this before viewing Whit's most recent, Willis Reed-esque offering. Suffice it to say that the slagging of the far superior Junior Circuit is noted and ascribed to the fevered imagination of painkiller-addled mind.

Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun

Games 66 through 71 – Mets

Orioles 6, Mets 3
Orioles 4, Mets 2
Mets 9, Orioles 4
Reds 4, Mets 2
Mets 9, Reds 2
Reds 6, Mets 5
Record: 44-27


The Mets have stumbled through the last week of baseball after their virtual coronation as division winner by just about everyone. The Reds are overachieving, but really shouldn’t pose that much of a threat to a Mets team on a roll, while the Orioles franchise is beginning to resemble the bloated toad that owns it. That the Mets’ week of C-/D+ work arrived immediately following my post chastising the ubiquitous drivel announcing the division race as already over doesn’t really prove anything, but that won’t prevent an “I told you so” tone from seeping in here nonetheless.

The division is not won yet, even as the other contenders bottom out when the Mets hit a minor bump. That said, even if the competition is going to fade away from here on out, if the Mets have their eye on actually making some noise in October, there are plenty of question marks that don’t need leaving until Labor Day to address.

The spikes in the rotation are starting to flatten out, for better and for worse. Before, it seemed to be Pedro and Glavine surging and three nights of shrugging our shoulders with shaky results. Now, as Trachsel, Hernandez, and Soler throw sandbags on the back end of the rotation, Martinez and Glavine appear to be gassed from carrying the load for a couple of months. Fair enough, but it doesn’t take more than two or three pedestrian outings by this formerly high-flying duo before we start to fret.

The bullpen can commiserate. Everyone seems to be chipping in a feeble outing here and there, and Billy “Scally” Wagner took his turn last night. It’s not yet time to question whether something’s wrong with him/them. It’s time to take note but sit back, watch, and hope the other shoe remains impossibly hovering in mid-air like a size 13 Air Jordan circa 1986. There’s every chance it could.

Speaking of impossibly, the Met hitters remain implausibly sweltering. Even last night, when the inexplicable resurrection of the marginally competitive pitcher that was Joe Mays was held at Shea Stadium, you just knew that the Reds’ pen couldn’t hold the lead. And they didn’t, what with Jose Reyes hitting for the cycle, Jose Valentin baffling all doubters, and “clutch” starting to appear more in descriptions of David Wright than in those of the Porsche Boxster.

Despite the continued accumulation of hits, the Mets have dropped four of six; the run-scoring wasn’t as acutely opportune while the pitching suffered letdowns and the defense appeared on vacation at times. Small plays that speak larger, like nobody covering on a throw down to second, had me figuring the Mets were busy reading their own accolades and buying playoff tickets for their peeps. It hasn’t become rampant, and it’s certainly allowable to a certain degree after that masterpiece of a road trip, but it’s time now to refocus on the little things, a practice that had them delivering up to full potential just a week prior.

Why now? The immediate schedule – after this afternoon’s series closer versus Cincy – has granted the New York Mets a truer litmus test than they’ve had in recent memory. The Metmen have piled up on supposed contenders in the NL lately, but starting tomorrow night they travel to Toronto, Boston, and the Bronx for nine important games in the self-assessment process. Each of those three teams is a legitimate playoff threat, and each can hit like gangbusters, but each also has some dips in the rotation – the Met bats will need to keep up their sick pace, and we’ll soon see how they stack up.

Fans of American League teams have long touted their half of the baseball sphere as being a superior product; with the DH, high-scoring affairs, and several of the league’s highest payrolls, the fireworks fly for fans of sluggish intellect, and that’s the way they like it. They can’t be bothered to watch the eyesore that is a pitcher at the plate, and they figure managerial strategy is best saved for parlor games like Chess or Connect Four. If only the AL could allow aluminum bats, or at least adopt designated hitters for middle infielders, players under 6’, and guys in slumps, it’d be a more perfect creation.

Unfortunately for the purists, geeks, and fans of the “real” brand of baseball that’s played in the National League, the AL blockheads are dominating whatever rivalry might exist between supporters of the two leagues. The Junior Circuit has ruled where it matters most – head-to-head competitions. Though it’s not the best determiner of superiority, the All-Star Game hasn’t been won by the NL since 1996. (Though they did record a tie a few years ago. Score.)

Meanwhile, in the contest that actually matters, the National League hasn’t even won a single World Series game in going on two years. The last three NL winners of the Fall Classic sported media guides with less than 10 years of team history. It was hard to get too thrilled about those wins, except that it wasn’t the Yankees. Before those, of course, we had the Braves in ’95, only serving to deny long-suffering Indians fans true celebration and mar an otherwise pristine Atlanta Braves stretch of regular season champions/postseason tramplings. It’s been since the 1990 Reds shocked the A’s that NL rooters could be proud of their league’s performance. And 2006’s outlook offers little relief. When people eloquently remark that the National League . . . sucks, mutter something in a begrudging affirmative and move on, people.

The Mets, however, could shine a little light in the next week – both an enlightening look at how this team really stacks up against some of baseball’s heavyweights as well as a ray of hope for fans of the Senior Circuit as a whole. The AL smoked through last weekend’s interleague contests like they were facing AAA clubs. The Mets’ own division seems to be decaying in unison all of a sudden. (The upstart Marlins excepted, though they did lose last night to complete the NL East oh-fer.) Being Farmer Ted’s “king of the dipshits” and taking the East title would satisfy the Township residents to a high degree; knocking the Braves off the mountaintop and actually dripping some postseason sweat will be a sweet sensation for the boys in royal blue and blaze orange and will have us fans downright giddy. Taking aim at something greater than that isn’t greedy, though -- it’s the wiser move for a bliss more thorough and permanent. And there will be no stretch of the season more telling of how far off the mark the New York Mets are than over these next nine games. Shoot straight, you bastards, and don’t make a mess of it.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Space Between

Games 65 through 67 - Red Sox

Red Sox 4, Atlanta Braves 1
Red Sox 5, Braves 3
Red Sox 10, Braves 7
Record: 39-28

Just jumping in for a minute so I don't end up going a whole week without saying something. Ahem.

Between Father's Day, the World Cup, the U.S. Open and an unusual intermission for a spot of culture (if one calls Spamalot culture), I didn't see a whole lot of this weekend's resurrection. Helluva game, baseball. Lose 4 in a row and send your fans to the ledge, win 3 in a row and provide an entire Nation with Prozac for the baseball fan's soul.

Jon Lester got his first major league win on Friday. In a related note, Whitney Lester did not. Though the latter Lester might have a better shot at a victory than tonight's starter. The Sox' starting pitching woes have reached the point where the Old Towne Team is forced to send Kyle Snyder to the hill against the resurgent Nationals. That's the same Kyle Snyder who was released earlier in the week.

By the Royals.

The Kansas City Royals.

(pause)

That pause was brought to you by the letter 'Y', as in "Yikes", or, "Y can't we come up with anything better than Kyle Snyder?" With Matt Clement officially on the DL with an "arm injury" - sounds so much better than "post-traumatic stress disorder" or "creeping Derek Loweism" - the Sox are sounding the alarm for arms.

Maybe it's all a sop to the Nats, who helped the Sox immensely this weekend by stealing 2 victories from the Yankees in wrenching fashion. Whatever, here's hoping Theo and the gang figure something out before it becomes Lima Time in Fenway.

Friday, June 16, 2006

So Lonely

This post is brought to you by the sound of one man blogging.

Perspective

Games 64 & 65 - Mets

Mets 9, Phillies 3
Mets 5, Phillies 4
Record: 42-23

Yes, that about wraps up the regular season for the Mets, right? Everyone from folks in the mass media (Mike & Mike on ESPN) to denizens of the Township (Wheelhouse Jerry) have concluded that it's all over but the singing for the National League East. While I am relishing the recent dominance of this Met team -- and it has been nothing short of dominance -- I'll abstain for now from crooning along with the legions belting out Glenn Frey's victory song.

Perhaps it's the past few years of disappointment that have me tapping the brakes on this parade float. Perhaps it's the unhealthy amount of superstition that resides somewhere within me. Or perhaps it's the fact that just across the aisle here we have the benefit of painful example. Don't you all recall Rob's Red Sox and their 1978 season? You think you do, but do you?

Most baseball fans know one stat – the Sox were up 14 games on the Yankees in July, and the Sox were down one game to the Yankees after 163 were played. And the drama, high drama, and melodrama of the way it played out down the stretch has been beaten into the ground. But here’s the thing that needs emphasis: the ’78 Sox were playing even better baseball much later in the year than these Mets. (Okay, nobody’s played better than this past week of Metball, but on the season.) The Sox were 62-28 on July 19, a .689 winning percentage. That’s tip-top baseball beyond the Break, just about flawless for the sport. The Mets have posted a .646 pct and it’s still just June 16. It’s way, way, way too early.

June 16. Anyone remember who was in first place over in the AL East last year on June 16? The Orioles were. Up three games on the Sox, six on New York. They’d go on to finish 21 games out, skunking it up in fourth place.

Now, that’s an unfair comparison, because that division was ultra-competitive and the O’s just weren’t; nobody, even down in Fells Point, figured they’d stay there much longer. The ’78 Sox, a legitimate powerhouse of a team, remains the modern standard for regular-season choke jobs, with apologies to my little buddy. The ’78 Mets were also 13 games out on July 19, 1978; they’d finish 24 games out, looking up from last place. This season could still go a lot of directions for these Mets, and since one of those many directions is straight down, while I am living in la-la land at the moment, you’ll not hear me consider this race any thing but still being run.

The Mets are scoring early and often; their pitchers are doing enough to win with the benefit of the booming offense. I’m excited every time anyone even mentions the Mets. This is ground not walked upon in many moons for us Met fans, and it’s easy to take results for granted. I won’t, even as I revel in these high times. Like Buffett sang before he choked away his credibility, don't talk about tomorrow tonight, 'cause I love the now.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Bridge

Games 63 & 64 - Red Sox

Twins 8, Red Sox 1
Twins 4, Red Sox 0 (6th - in progress)

All that warm and fuzzy, kiss-a-bunny, sunshine up my ass, how-great-is-baseball, blahdeefuckingblah bullshit from 2 days ago? I don't know who wrote that crap, but I'm gonna beat him with a rolled up newspaper when I find him.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sorry Again

Games 59 through 63 – Mets

Mets 7, Diamondbacks 1
Mets 10, Diamondbacks 6
Mets 5, Diamondbacks 0
Mets 15, Diamondbacks 2
Mets 9, Phillies 7
Record: 40-23

Well'p, I'm too busy celebrating the Mets' recent success to spend any time analyzing it all. Not because they've achieved any end result yet, but because in this humbling game, good times like these are often fleeting. In truth, I sat down to offer my thoughts on the Mets' good fortune, steroids/HGH, and the state of the game today. Then I got a phone message and apparently I need to go take an Irish Conference Call. Damn my dedication.

More tomorrow. I promise.

Champagne Supernova

Game 62 – Red Sox

Minnesota Twins 5, Red Sox 2
Record: 36-26


The 162-game blur of baseball’s regular season doesn’t lend itself to the celebration of individual games or performances. Every once in a while, though, those that pay attention are rewarded with a singular effort that demonstrates baseball’s unique capacity to amaze and delight, to deliver tension, passion, and drama. Despite the result, and the fact that I had to stay up waaaay past my bedtime, last night was one of those occasions.

The sublime Johan Santana went toe to toe with Curt Schilling for 8 innings last night, and though they were never on the field at the same moment, it seemed obvious that each pitcher was influenced by the presence of the other. Santana struck out 5 of the first 6 Red Sox he faced, and 11 of the first 17. He was so brilliant that I forgot to be pissed at the Sox’ feeble bats. Schilling didn’t put up mind-boggling numbers like his counterpart, but he pitched with a competitive fire and efficiency that forced Santana to try to stay perfect.

When Jason Varitek lined a 2-out fastball into the seats in the top of the 7th inning, I was fairly well convinced that the game was over, given the way Schilling was dominating the Twins. The Baseball Gods had other ideas, though, deciding that neither Santana nor Schilling deserved to lose this game, and delivering their verdict in a masterfully symmetric fashion. Michael Cuddyer returned the favor to Schilling, driving a 2-out pitch over the centerfield baggie to tie the score at 1.

The tally stayed at singles through the 11th inning, with first Jon Papelbon and then Mike Timlin shutting down the Twins (Papelbon pitched around a leadoff double in the 9th, thanks to yet another gem of a defensive play by Kevin Youkilis on a poorly executed bunt by Lew Ford). Joe Nathan and Juan Rincon kept the Sox in check with the help of a sick defensive play by Torii Hunter, who ran straight back and torqued his upper body at an impossible angle to snag a Manny Ramirez liner in the top of the 11th.

Finally, both pitching staffs cracked in the 12th. The Sox loaded the bases with 1 out, plating the go-ahead run on Alex Gonzalez’ fielder’s choice. Minny shortstop Nick Punto made a spectacular dive and flip on the grounder up the middle, nearly turning 2 on Gonzalez. Punto’s effort saved at least 1 run and perhaps more, and may have meant the difference in the final outcome. Coco Crisp and his magic noodlebat flailed inconsequentially to end the inning. (One bitter note – time for Tito to move Youks back to the top of the order, at least until Crisp gets his stroke back. The sublimely named Coco is, at the moment, killing the offense.)

Timlin had been great in the 11th, but this was his first game back after a stint on the DL, and I reluctantly agreed with Tito’s decision to limit his outing to 1 inning. Enter Sandman, in the person of Julian Tavarez, once again putting the Sox’ chances to sleep. After barely avoiding a game-tying double by Justin Morneau (and only because the ball bounced over the “fence” for a ground-rule 2-bagger) Tavarez loaded the bases on an intentional walk to face Jason “Who?” Kubel. Predictably in this season of mediocrity for aged Hispanic relievers, Tavarez ran the count full and served up a flyball that barely found the seats in right for a walk-off grand slam.

Here’s the thing, though. As pissed as I was, and as batshit irrational as a game-ending homer against the Sox would normally make me, sometimes the game has a way of reminding you how damned good it is. And that’s the thought that went through my head as Kubel rounded the bases, not white-hot nail-spitting anger at Tavarez, but appreciation for a classic regular season contest. Man, do I love baseball.

(Oh, and Julian, that better not fucking happen again.)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Prime Mover

Games 58 through 61 – Red Sox

Red Sox 4, Rangers 3
Rangers 7, Red Sox 4
Red Sox 5, Rangers 4
Rangers 13, Red Sox 6

Record: 36-25

Generally, a home split against the Rangers wouldn’t inspire a great deal of optimism from this corner of MLC, but the volume of good vibrations coming from the Fens this weekend dramatically overshadowed any corresponding negatives. The Sox’ pitching woes and the weather-compressed schedule meant that 2 of the 4 games featured rookie starters with a combined total of 2 major league starts facing one of the AL’s top offenses, incessant rains delayed 2 games and cancelled 1, the Sox lost leads in both wins, and Jonathan Papelbon blew his first save – and the good guys still gained 2 games on the Yankees.

Of all the noteworthy events, Papelbon’s performance on Friday night has big ramifications. The Nation’s held its collective breath all season as the first-year closer ran off saves in 20 straight opportunities, knowing that the law of averages dictated that he’d blow one sooner of later and wondering how he’d handle the inevitable disappointment. I don’t think anyone expected Papelbon to pass the test as fully and emphatically as he did. After entering the game in the top of the 8th with 2 on and 2 out and giving up a game-tying single to Hank Blaylock, Papelbon got downright ornery. Mike Lowell got him the lead back in the bottom of the 8th and Papelbon blew the doors off the Ranger lineup in the 9th, striking out the side with a fearsome rage in his eyes. The lesson to AL hitters – don’t get him angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Jon Lester got his first big-league start on Saturday, and thanks to the magic of Fox Baseball’s monopoly I got to watch exactly none of it. He only last 4 2/3 innings, struggling with his command while walking 4 batters and allowing 3 runs, and left the game with the score tied at 3. The Sox web cognoscenti opined that he had good stuff and marginal command – a C+ outing in his big league debut. The bullpen didn’t help much, as first Julian Taverez and then Keith Foulke gave up 2-run frames to the Rangers to cost the Sox the game.

The Sunday doubleheader looked to be headed for a worst-case scenario as the Sox trailed, 4-2, entering the 9th in the first game with rookie David Pauley slated to start the nightcap. Ebby Calvin Beckett pitched better than he had in recent outings, but he only lasted 5 1/3 innings and he gave up yet another longball to a mediocre hitter, letting Kevin Mench take him over the Monster to stake the Rangers to a 2-run lead.

Trot Nixon and Coco Crisp reached base with 1 out in the bottom of the 9th, and my only advice to Mark Loretta was, “No double plays. No double plays.” Loretta dutifully obeyed, lifting a lazy fly to center to bring Papi to the plate.

Sox fans have been so spoiled by David Ortiz’ consistent late-game heroics that we now expect him to deliver us from evil every time he comes to the plate. It’s a measure of his talent and flair for the moment that he seems to always reward that expectation – and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t ever get old. Even down 0-2 to Ranger closer Akinori Otsuka, I felt nothing but confidence, and I knew the ball was gone before Ortiz even swung – Papi doesn’t miss the ball when the pitcher leaves it over the plate on the inside half. As the ball rocketed over the Ranger bullpen, I joined the Fenway crown in an arms-up victory salute, and then high-fived my youngest daughter as we danced around the living room.

With that victory feather in my cap, I took my daughter to a birthday party and didn’t get home until the Sox trailed, 5-0, in the nightcap. The blowout final score hides the fact that the Sox showed some stones, coming back from 6-0 down to get within 2 runs before being betrayed once again by the bullpen (and once again by Tavarez and Foulke, with a little Rudy Seanez thrown in just for fun). Mike Timlin threw a simulated game yesterday, and Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen showed flashes – boy, do the Sox need all 3 of those guys to pitch in, as it turns out Tavarez and Seanez not only respectively bear a physical resemblance to Freddy Krueger and Manual Noriega, they inflict similar amounts of terror. Terry Francona was admittedly constrained by the schedule, but it’s never any fun to see Willie Harris playing leftfield with Manny Ramirez on the bench. At least yesterday Tito had an excuse for his traditional Pawtucket Sunday lineup choice.

So we’ll take 2-2 for the weekend – could’ve been a lot worse. Just ask the people in the Bronx.

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"Editor's" Note: Just below, I noted that the legal aspect of baseball’s steroid scandal isn’t getting anywhere near as much play as it should. Looks like I’m not the only one who thinks that.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Flesh for Fantasy

Game 57 – Red Sox

Red Sox 9, Yankees 3
Record: 34-23


It’s been pointed out to me that my previous post was perhaps a bit premature in its timing and overly gloomy in its tone, and while I’ll cop to just a bit of dramatic license, my basic premise is unchanged even after the Sox’ relatively easy win last night. The fact that the Sox couldn’t make hay against the Yankees this week and over the past several bums me out.

That said, it’s a long season, and the recent announcement that Gary Sheffield will undergo wrist surgery and join Hideki Matsui on the sidelines until at least September clouds things for New York, at least until they go buy someone to take his place. As a fan who remembers Nomar Garciaparra’s travails with a wrist injury, I’d be more than surprised if Sheffield contributes in any meaningful way this year.

The elephant in the room (who, coincidentally, is slightly smaller than Jason Giambi) is tapping me on the shoulder and whispering something in my ear. The timing of Sheff’s injury and decision to undergo surgery is, shall we say, interesting in light of the Jason Grimsley investigation. That’s former New York Yankee Jason Grimsley, who appears to be the first of allegedly many major league baseball players prepared to drop HGH-laden dimes on their colleagues and indict the sport in general in an effort to save their own acne-pocked hides.

Deadspin.com’s Will Leitch, a professed and rabid Cardinal fan, posted a report yesterday, offering educated speculation that one of the redacted names mentioned in Grimsley’s affidavit is Chris Mihlfeld, a Kansas City-based strength training guru. Mihlfeld has worked with numerous big leaguers, but is most publicly associated with Cardinal star Albert Pujols, he of the (perhaps soon to be shed) reputation as baseball’s best clean player. Back to the bugaboo of coincidence – Pujols' recent oblique injury on the heels of his defense of Barry Bonds and right before the Grimsley allegations surfaced…well, that’s one of those things that make you go hmmmm.

We haven’t spent a lot of time on the performance enhancement issue in these pages, with the notable exception of Whit’s excellent rebuttal of a farcically absurd New Yorker piece (and my occasional sniping at Giambi). Having not spoken to Whit about this in great detail, I’ll speculate that we’ve stayed away from the issue because we’re both still idealists at heart – as people as well as baseball fans – and despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we still don’t want to believe that the game is fundamentally unfair at the moment.

It’s that fundamental sense of fairness that gets to the heart of the matter for me, and I think for Whit, as well. I’m easily offended by the callous and hypocritical kabuki dance in which the rich and powerful in our society preach fairness and opportunity on one hand and give each other tax breaks while bankrupting schools and entitlement programs on the other. Performance enhancing drugs in baseball are an extension of that hypocrisy, as players in pursuit of the life-altering benefits of extraordinary wealth are blinded to the ethical sinkhole into which they plunge. The ones who lose out aren’t the fans, really (because, as the commercial says, chicks dig the longball), but those who choose to play by the rules, the innocent in the midst of this jungle of avarice.

What’s the big deal, Pollyanna? I know that’s your question. The players who cheat aren’t really hurting anyone, except perhaps themselves, right? Left unsaid in the midst of nearly all of the Great Steroid Debates of the 21st Century is the fact that 99.9% of performance enhancing drugs used by professional athletes are used in direct contravention of the laws of this nation. Let me say that slowly and clearly for the benefit of Joe Morgan: the users of performance enhancing drugs are morally and ethically wrong because they are breaking the fucking law.

Bringing this back home, I’d be an idiot at best, and the most egregious sort of homeric hypocrite if I said the Sox were untarnished by the reach of this scandal. No current Sox players have been the subject of real scrutiny, but Jeremy Giambi used to play in Boston, and Trot Nixon’s physique has been an interesting study over the past few years. I could probably make a few more semi-informed speculations, but I’ll leave the distanced diagnoses to Dr. Frist. The unfortunate point is that they’re all tarnished by association until baseball and the union come to their senses and realize the extent of the reputational damage they’ve incurred.

I’m on a bit of a soapbox this morning, so forgive me my ranting. At net, baseball’s well and truly fucked. The first rule of crisis management is to control the message regarding a bad situation, get your story out on your own terms and make a full accounting of the issue so you can move on. Bud and the boys have been so afraid of their employees and the possible fallout of a full-blown scandal that they’ve cowered behind any artifice they could find to avoid coming clean. I think the next 6 months will see a landslide of bombshells (how do you like that mixing of metaphors? I considered “firestorm of earthquakes”, too.) that will rock the game back until it has no choice but to initiate sports’ most invasive, most punitive drug testing policy. And I think it’ll ultimately make baseball the cleanest and fairest of all major sports, for at least as long as it takes for the chemists to get ahead of the testers once again.

Oh, and you guys in the NFL’s front offices would be awfully wise to replace those knowing smirks with something approximating fearful grimaces, ‘cause this bell is tolling for you next.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

New Sensation

Game 58 – Mets

Mets 9, Dodgers 7
Record: 35-23


These Mets – the new, new Mets – have demonstrated a noticeable difference from their predecessors, but the change is twofold: half of it is the conspicuous improvement in win-loss results, while the other is harder to articulate; it’s an intangible sort of divergence from recent years that, until two minutes ago, I’d been languishing at fully deciphering. It was only when I was beginning to type this recap that it hit me like a ton of bricks. Here’s how my post began:
Extend the Mets good will, and you shall be rewarded. After yesterday’s show of
support and faith in the New York nine, the boys went back to what they’ve been
doing all season: rescuing a win from the well-trod, downhill path towards loss.
The Mets seem to be responding to a little confidence in ways they never have .
. . [epiphany hits]
There were a handful of consistent occurrences in the Met seasons of 2003, 2004, and 2005, as chronicled here in a fashion more painful and awkward than in a thousand teenage blog-diaries/desperate pleas for help. There was commonality even between seasons with a 17-win differential (’03 & ’05), mostly in things like a fat losing streak that undoes all the progress, a sadly serious interpretation of “Who’s On First?”, and a bullpen sponsored by Maalox and the APA. More constant than any of these facets, the Old Faithful of aggravating aspects if you will, was an unfailing, sure-as-shit kind of law of the land that toed the line between uncanny and truly paranormal. Oh, and it was exasperating as all get-out. By now, you members of the devoted MLC readership know exactly what I’m about to type. Here was the rule:

If I support the Mets, they will lose. The more I believe in their ability, the
more they will lose. The more I follow their progress, meticulously examining,
analyzing, and expounding upon their play, the more they will lose and lose
badly. The more I dedicate myself to championing the Mets’ cause, the more they
will make me wish I had instead dedicated myself to punching myself in the face.

Conversely, as soon as I write the Mets off, they will become
resuscitated and win. If I declare them dead in the water, they will instantly
make me look the fool (late August and September games excepted). If I swear off
watching games, reading articles, and writing about the Mets, they will engage
in a winning streak of some stature. Just enough to lure me back into a state of
confidence and enthusiasm about the team, at which point paragraph one kicks in
like clockwork.

Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

Here were Exhibits A through C of evidence; E through JJJ will remain in the archives at right for the purpose of (relative) brevity:

6/2003
Did you ever have a girlfriend who played mind games with you? If you were affectionate and doting, she'd push away, but brush her off and she was all over you? I can’t stand those girls.

5/2004
This pattern was kind of funny for a while, but it's just excruciating now. When I step away, the Metropolitans thrive as if they were a real baseball team. After I'm sucked back into it, they wilt. It seems like this scenario could not possibly be reality. How could my optimism continually yield poor play while my pessimism and/or apathy renders drastic improvement?

Elaborated upon:
http://nextyear.blogspot.com/2004/05/games-42-through-46-mets-new-era-old.html

6/2004
No. We've tried this before, and the evidence is mounting. When I follow the Mets' progress closely, they lose. When I hunker down and tune in for the duration, they lose badly. If I were to go to a game, they might fold the franchise. And the level of vitriol therein is directly proportional to the level of solid play soon thereafter. It's beyond uncanny. It's odder than The Odd Couple, it's weirder than Weird Science, it's stranger than L'√Čtranger. It's not just bizarre, though, it's painful.

More fully explained:
http://nextyear.blogspot.com/2004/06/games-67-through-74-mets-not-quite.html

And on it went, forming into a full contagion that had Rob and his Red Sox in identical effect at times. This year, however, the unpleasant fog over my love of the franchise seems to have faded, giving way to a more symbiotic relationship. Yesterday I shook aside some of the more manic barbs aimed at the Metmen and saw the silver lining. The Mets rewarded my encouragement with a nice win – nicer than a cursory glance might indicate.

Okay, first off, let’s address the one downside of this contest: Tommy Glavine was putrid. It was his worst outing in recent memory, and the first time he didn’t go six innings in 27 starts. He gave up six runs in five-plus, and didn’t look comfortable from the outset, as evidenced by Rafael Furcal’s leadoff bomb. TG squandered the most run support he’s had in eons from the Metbats. A more worrisome kind of fan might fret mightily about consecutive shabby performances from the Mets’ #1 and #2 pitchers – on a staff where #1 and #2 stand above the rest like the Glimmer Twins tower above the remaining Stones. Not I. Just wasn’t his night, I repeat (hopefully for the last time in a while). And I might know why it wasn’t his night.

The confidence – and maybe that’s not the right word for it; perhaps it’s “zeal,” or possibly “positivity,” to borrow from my counterpart – of which I spoke has to remain tempered at all times for fear of cosmic retribution. [What, you read through the paragraphs above and you still don’t think that there are forces beyond our control impacting what goes on “inside the V” (a little used expression meaning “on the baseball field” for those unfamiliar with the vernacular)?] A man’s got to know his limitations, and avoiding any semblance of jinxing your guys takes precedence over expressing positive vibrations. Over at The Metropolitans (a more than worthy stop along the blogway) yesterday, Mike looked forward to last night’s rubber match with Glavine on the hill with a declaration that seemed to cross the line: “Money in the bank.” Toasty Joe, another fine author within the ‘sphere, admonished him in a comment: “Prepare to be called out for laying the jinx down if Glavine lays an egg.” The beauty of last night’s game is that Mike was able to take a valuable lesson in restrained hex avoidance, yet the Mets still won. It was like watching an episode of Fat Albert.

The minor miracle – and my inappropriate use of “miracle” reminds me of an obscure Richard Lewis (who was in the crowd Tuesday night, just to digress even further) television moment in which he challenged the casual use of “miracle” by explaining that miracles are things like the burning bush, or Moses parting the Red Sea, or the fact that “Benson” was on the air for seven seasons – of last night was that the Mets were able to pick up Glavine with one of the least threatening lineups they’ve used all year. Examine:

C. Woodward SS
P. Lo Duca C
C. Beltran CF
D. Wright 3B
J. Franco 1B
J. Valentin 2B
L. Milledge LF
E. Chavez RF
T. Glavine P

These are not your first-place New York Mets. But with Reyes still sore, Floyd still gimpy, Delgado getting a day off, and the team’s consistently solid second baseman still a figment of our imagination, this eyesore was what Willie drew up last evening. As Howie Rose and Ron Darling (the SNY booth was also missing a couple of pieces in this series) announced it, I winced, but clearly I had underestimated what a little show of faith could do to propel this makeshift squad into offensive overdrive.

After the first two Mets of the game were retired, Beltran and Wright singled. After they stole second and third, Julio Franco hit a crucial comebacker into center to begin the two-out scoring. A Valentin double and a Milledge triple (bad baserunning but great wheels to squeak into third) later, it was 4-0. It wouldn’t be enough for Glavine, who would go on to have hisself a little ac-cident, but it was a hugely opportunistic start against Odalis Perez.

After Furcal’s poke and another Met run in the second, Glavine continued to labor. A walk and a pair of singles plated one run for L.A., then Furcal (he of the 2 HR’s entering the game) smacked another one out to tie the score. In 2006, Tom Glavine does not blow 4-0 and 5-1 leads unless something of a higher authority is pulling strings.

The Metros would manufacture a couple more in the 4th, marking an end to Perez’s night. As if not to be one-upped, Tom Horrific allowed another gopher to the offensively anemic Jose Cruz Jr. He’d leave in the sixth, up 7-6 and struggling painfully. Just not his night.

Amazingly, considering Glavine’s track record of run support since coming to New York, not only would the bullpen machine of Bradford/Heilman/Sanchez/Wagner pick him up, but the hitters would continue to back him -- and the defense even stepped in to lend a hand. Lastings Milledge’s blast to left made it 9-7, and his rifling of an ill-advised stretch by Nomar gave Duaner Sanchez’s uneasy inning an out to start rather than a double. It all worked for the Mets at that point, and it all worked out.

All of this isn’t to say that there won’t be valleys in the Mets’ topography to come, despite our optimistic outlook amid the Township. Nor is it to say that I’ll be sporting the rose-colored specs throughout; there’s still a good deal of mockery to be made at the Mets’ expense if and when they tumble. For now, though, I'm locked in on the Mets and this doesn't seem to be singularly crippling their chances for success. In the world of the new, new Mets, this is the newest and most vastly different experience I've encountered yet.

* * *

A quick aside to wish my little buddy across the MLC aisle a happy 36th. This makes him as old as Jose Valentin, and despite Jose's prowess at the plate of late, I'd still rather have Rob at 2B on our softball squad. Pound for pound, he drinks Valentin under the table, for starters.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Fool to Cry

Game 57 – Mets

Dodgers 8, Mets 5
Record: 34-23


As I chide my collaborator for inching toward the ledge in early June, I should also note that according to my 6-4-3 through the Metblogs today, there are quite a few among Mets Township who’re sounding similarly distressed after but one loss. It happened to be a loss replete with ugliness – in actual play and signs for the future, but it wasn’t without its bright spots, and it shouldn’t cast too much of a pall on even tonight’s game. Take a breath, people.

Pedro Martinez versus Derek Lowe with Grady Little in the dugout, Nomar Garciaparra in the 3-spot, and Bill Mueller riding the pine – it’s as if we scrolled down a few hundred thousand words here and read some of Rob’s brilliance. Alas, it was New York versus Los Angeles, Bostonians’ least favorite markets. After one inning, it looked like the Mets hadn’t stocked up enough on ex-Sox; Lowe’s sinker was looking elusive as ever in the Mets’ at-bats, and Nomar’s two-run jack off Pedro in the latter half happened almost as quickly as Reyes’ tone-setter the night prior.

The Mets came back to tie the game at two, but this just wasn’t Pedro’s night, and the tie was later re-fractured. I guess it hasn’t been “his night” since April, when he last won, but this was one of the few times that he looked as susceptible as he gets. I’m sure the day will come, but we haven’t yet been exposed to a Pedro outing in which he’s truly been off; his game is more like a dining room dimmer, and last night his performance was as poorly lit as we’ve seen during a meal, yet still bright enough to see. In keeping with the theme, Mr. Matinez has also added a hearty helping of taters to his menu, including a pair of the Idaho variety last night. In addition to Nomar’s first-inning, two-run homer, rookie Matt Kemp turned on an inside fastball to morph 2-2 into 4-2 and usher in the scoring in a sixth inning that quickly became a tragicomedy in one act. Of note is that Kemp was fooled badly on a pair of breaking balls just before launching the “fastball” over the fence. Pedro’s heater looked pretty pedestrian most of the night.

Compiling the list of Things That Looked Like the Same Old Mets Last Night, we’ll start with the injuries. To begin with, Jose Reyes was scratched with a bad wrist last night, the product of a swing in his last at-bat Monday night. [Insert free-swinging Reyes joke here.] Then, amid the mini-rally to knot the game at two in the second, Cliff Floyd rolled his ankle . . . slowing up to reach third base standing. And for all of you Metbloggers who’d felt the recent need to point out ad infinitum that Floyd’s notoriety for fragility was no longer pertinent, I thank you and Cliff thanks you for the hex. Finally, Carlos Beltran made one of the best diving catches of the Mets’ season in center field, but seemed to hurt himself doing so. He stayed in the game – because he’s tough, because the team is extremely short-staffed in the outfield, and because he needs more charges of delicacy from the NY press like a hole in his sternum. This is the time of year when injuries seem to come in rashes, and a big enough outbreak can tank a season. (See the Great Beantown Disaster of 2006, RIP.) It’s another factor in the alarm sounding in some corners of the ‘sphere. (Geography never was my bag.)

Then we have the play of the regulars, and the panic/abuse/sound/fury of the masses took aim at the defense. Target #1 was Jose Valentin – just when we’d all phoned in his gubernatorial pardon and he began packing his things to leave death row, he’s back on the firing line. His not one but two errors in the aforementioned sixth inning debacle helped the Mets give the game away. Just when we thought Chris Woodward’s glove had left him behind, Valentin changed his theme music to Georges Bizet’s Carmen and sent a bevy of bloggers into bludgeon mode, with no holds barred and no moustaches unmocked. Before anyone knew it, L.A. had plated six in the sixth, and you couldn’t help feeling when the Mets (as they are keen to do) rallied late, even getting the tying run to the plate, that one fewer gaffe might’ve kept the game in true striking distance for the boys.

Or one fewer hit. Township fave Heath “Pack” Bell has likely kept most of his things in his suitcase, and yesterday’s display won’t get him any closer to finding some tri-state real estate. Everyone roots for this guy, but the widespread support seems to come from equal parts the notion that Willie and Omar have wrongly snubbed him and one quirky neo-stat (BABIP) in which he excels regularly. Watching him groove pitches to unheralded batsmen, however, you start to doubt his long-term usefulness in the Mets’ plans. He seemed all over the place last night, like you never knew if his pitches were headed to the meat, the heart, or the fat part of the plate. In truth, he wasn’t atrocious, but again, if he’d just been a little better, this game might not have gotten out of reach.

Another frequent victim of our underground press, one who's received suggestions for lineup-demotion, scrap-heap, and/or the tar and feather treatment, has been Paul LoDuca. Many among our gang still cling to the statistically supported hypothesis that Carlos Beltran is a “true number two hitter,” which warrants an ousting of LoDuca from that slot. While I do think that David Wright might better help the club upwards of his predominant 5-spot, I haven’t had too many complaints about the lineup – especially Paul LoDuca’s offensive contributions. The Mets’ not-so-prototypical lineup begins with a leadoff man with a puny OBP, so it’s not going to fit most molds from the get-go.

What I have cracked wise in the recent past about, however, has been The Duke’s errant fires toward second base in base-stealing situations. Someone needs to tell him that “coming down” need not also refer to his Caught Stealing Percentage. Yet for all of his struggles, and the gag-reflex clamoring for the days of Mike Piazza, he’s still a defensive upgrade from last year. Out in San Diego, Piazza has allowed just as many stolen bases (37) as LoDuca in far fewer innings with half the number of gun-downs (5 to Pauly’s 10). The new backstop wasn’t one of the more high-profile acquisitions, but he’s become one of my favorite Mets in a short time. By no means will it keep me from groaning as every hurl tails towards short while flat-footed clean-up hitters lumber into second, but I won't be begging for any replacements.

Anyway, what do the fans see on the surface of last night’s defeat? Pedro’s weakening and the pen just can’t do anything for him; Heath Bell just can’t cut it; Jose Valentin is not the solution for what we like to call The 2B Problem; the injuries are starting to tax the Mets; the Braves and Phillies both endured losing streaks and are still within five games; and did you see Lastings Milledge miss that pitch by three feet?; moan, groan, bitch, wail, spew piss and vinegar all over the New York Mets’ chances. In keeping with this theme, I've exaggerated my assessment of the Township’s ranting to a degree, but like in Rob’s last post, the posts and comments of too many among our loyal legion convey a palpable sense of something that registers between concern and dread, and anything close to the latter just can’t be justified at this juncture.

Heart-Shaped Box

Game 56 – Red Sox

Yankees 2, Red Sox 1
Record: 33-23


If ever a game transpired in perfect fashion to elicit muttering of the melancholy refrain, “that’s baseball”, it was last night’s contest from the Bronx. The Sox were long on ifs and buts, but their cousins candy and nuts were in short supply, and the seemingly irrepressible Yankees gobbled up whatever was around.

David Pauley pitched better than any Sox fan could have expected, and as he enticed Miguel Cairo to chop a little grounder to the right of the pitcher’s mound with 2 out and none on in the bottom of the 7th, it looked as though he’d get the Sox through 7 innings of 1-run baseball. Cairo’s bleeder, though, snuck under Pauley’s glove and then skittered away from Mark Loretta’s barehanded attempt. Jerry Remy gave voice to the fears of a Nation at that moment, saying “Boy, you hope that’s not the kind of break that costs the kid the game.”

From his mouth to the Yankees’ ears, as Cairo’s infield single was followed by Johnny Damon’s liner to left and Melky Cabrera’s 4-pitch walk. Terry Francona lifted Pauley at that point, and even as his teammates heartily congratulated the 22 year-old for giving the Sox far more than was expected of him, every person in the building knew that the Yankees were gonna take the lead. The shitty way they did so, with Rudy Seanez walking Jason (“HGH is the new Clear”) Giambi to plate Cairo, was fitting.

The final indignity, and “that’s baseball” stamp on the game was Manny Ramirez’ blast to left off Kyle Farnsworth with 2 out in the top of the 8th. The game-tying run was flying out of the park when Cabrera raced over from left to snag the ball just as it cleared the fence. It was the Yankees’ night by thismuch, but make no mistake – it was the Yankees’ night.

As the season’s story begins to take shape, I can’t help but think that the Yankees’ ability to more than make do – to prosper – in the face of really substantial adversity is telling. The Sox have now lost 4 straight to a New York roster missing numerous key elements, and have fallen 1 ½ games back during a stretch where that seemed all but impossible. The early returns show these Sox to be a paper contender – likely to win enough to keep things interesting into the late summer, but lacking the horsepower to be a viable postseason threat. If history is any guide, we witnessed last night the annual and inevitable ceremony of the Yankees nosing out in front and slowly but inexorably stretching their lead until they disappear from view.

Call me melodramatic, call me a pessimist, call me a naysayer – even as the last 3 years in this space should prove otherwise. There’s nothing about the way the Sox are playing right now that says they’re for real, especially given the recent injuries to key members of the bullpen.

The starting rotation consists of an aging stud, a knuckleballer, 2 seemingly talented massive question marks, and whatever green rookie the front office can find to patch a hole. The offense is stumbling after the manager decided that old-school tradition is more important than production and replaced one of baseball’s best leadoff men (Kevin Youkilis – he of the .430 OBP) with a fast guy with adequate on-base skills. The studs are doing their thing, though the effects of opposing shifts seem to be wearing on Papi (his .257 average, .364 OBP, and .552 SLG are all lower than his worst full-season numbers in a Boston uniform – that a .916 OPS is considered an off-year for him is a testament to how good he’s been since Theo stole him from Minnesota). Jason Varitek seems to be grinding to a halt right in front of our eyes, and while Mark Loretta, Trot Nixon and Mike Lowell are offsetting Alex Gonzalez’ limited offensive skills, the Sox remain a mediocre 8th in the American League in OPS with runners in scoring position.

It all points to a fine club, a decent club, a very professional club, but not one that strikes a whole lot of fear in the hearts of the opposition and not one that inspires the dreams of a Nation. I know it could be worse – this blog could be about the Kansas City Royals – so I’ll try to minimize the whining over the next several months.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Here & Now

Games 52 through 56 - Mets

Mets 1, Diamondbacks 0 (13 inn.)
Giants 6, Mets 4
Mets 3, Giants 2 (11 inn.)
Giants 7, Mets 6 (12 inn.)

Mets 4, Dodgers 1
Record: 34-22

Just getting settled in for tonight’s late Mets-Dodgers series opener. I didn’t have time to “recap” the previous slew of games, i.e., slap together some third-hand remarks about games I didn’t see nor lose sleep over while I was lounging about in North Carolina’s Outer Banks for a few days. Because of that, we’re just going to jump right in with a rare in-game live commentary from MLC HQ in Norfolk, VA. Enjoy.

I’m not sure my temperament is right for the ups and downs of nine innings (much less 162 games) when I just experienced the following bipolar symptoms:
[Game coming on] All right, Mets, let’s—
[Fox Sports West logo] No SNY?? Awww, crap, man, this is . . . oh, maybe Vin Scully?
[“Good evening everybody, wherever you may be . . .”] All right! Not a bad second choice!!

Mr. Scully is about the best in the business and has been for quite a while. Honestly, he jams more information – baseball-related and otherwise – about Jose Reyes into one at-bat than Baseball Tonight will in a season.

Wow. I’m serious, the emotional rollercoaster is already in the loop-de-loop. Follow along if you can…
1. Vin Scully announces that Jose Reyes’ boyhood idol is Roberto Alomar. Outrage on the sofa.
2. A split second later, Reyes drives the ball into the first row of the right-field bleachers. A one-man wave is created in my den.
3. The Dodgers fan who caught the ball throws the ball back, makes a crazy face, and hoists double-birds in the general direction of players and the television viewing audience, taking FSW by surprise. Hilarity ensues.

Damn. Three minutes in and it’s already a great game. Stay tuned.

* * *

After a Beltran flick into center, Carlos Delgado crushes one that . . . just makes it over the right-center fence. Hey, he's slumping and in Chavez Ravine against a usually solid pitcher. We'll take it. As Vin just quipped, "before the seats are even warm, it's three-nothing." In SoCal, though, aren't the seats always warm?

'Twould be very nice if this marked the beginning of the end of Delgado's terrrrible slump. (Guest crossover appearance by Bill Walton, thankyouverymuch.)

If this keeps up, I will in-game blog every game of the rest of the season. And if the Mets quickly blow this lead, I will punch myself in the groin for the obvious jinx.

* * *

The Dodgers go down in the first with just a Nomar single. As odd to see him at first base as it is to see him in Dodger blue, but that's a thought better left to the other side of the MLC aisle.

As the second inning comes and goes without a run scored, a few random thoughts:

-- The Dodgers have joined the ranks of those clubs forgoing the players' names on the backs of their jerseys. I'm not sure if the aesthetic -- and there is a palpable one -- of this look is just a less cluttered uniform or a subconscious appreciation for the eschewing of individual recognition, but it works.

-- L.A. currently sports a lineup that scares nobody -- well, nobody except Dodger rivals, fantasy baseball junkies, and box score buzzards like myself. Casual fans -- and by that I mean both those that exclusively watch ESPN for their baseball coverage as well asthose who are writing and anchoring at ESPN -- have never heard of Willy Aybar, Ramon Martinez, Andre Ethier, or Russell Martin, but these unsung guys are posting more-than-solid numbers and keeping the Dodgers in the thick of divisional contention.

-- Cliff Floyd has ownership of the only .232 batting average that has me pleased with where the hitter is headed.

-- Alay Soler is throwing tonight. He's gotten further without the big inning than he had in previous outings -- look out in the 3rd. I know what you're thinking, though -- so what the hell's his theme music? Yes, I failed to match my cohort's pitcher tunes last week. For Soler, I'll resist "Havana Daydreamin'" but stay relatively close in theme: "Immigrant Song" works for me, if only so I can mimic Robert Plant's high-pitched, siren-like wail when Soler gets himself into more trouble.

* * *

Soler has guided the Mets through five scoreless frames now. He even notched his first career hit, though his teammates could do nothing with it. Still 3-0. More thoughts:

-- Vin Scully has provided the height, weight, hometown, schooling, and multiple stories about just about every Mets player tonight. Die-hard Dodger fans must be the most league-wide knowledgeable fans in the game. Program vendors at Dodger Stadium, starving on the streets, have one man to blame. It's awesome to listen to -- my only (wee) complaint might be that sometimes the anecdotes supplant the play-by-play, which has to take precedence. A small knock.

-- The jury is no longer out. I'm pretty much never, ever going to like J.D. Drew.

-- For some reason, I think I'd feel significantly more comfortable if the Mets could plate one more run right now.

-- There were some who suggested that Soler be bumped for another starter , but word is that Willie Randolph said his gut instinct told him not to pass up on Alay.

Somewhere outside the range of this satellite dish, Keith Hernandez boos me loudly.

* * *

Wow, that was easy. Asked for one run, the very next three batters got hits and there it was. Why I didn't ask for more is what makes me so selfless/stupid.

But while I'm here . . .

For some reason, I think I'd feel significantly more comfortable if someone would ring my doorbell now and drop off 17 million dollars.

* * *

Okay, so obviously that didn't happen, but speaking of ding-dongs, Willy Aybar just ruined Soler's shutout night with a drive into the seats in right. Aybar's surname coughed up horrific nightmares of last April, when Manny Aybar was "pitching" for the Mets. I smile, though, both because he's long gone from the roster and because I remember the nickname Manny Aybar"f a little in my mouth every time he enters the game."

* * *

Bottom 8, Pedro Feliciano on in relief, and Willy Aybar at the plate as the tying run. Dinner: Part Deux is playing out as well as most sequels do.

* * *

Feliciano, then Chad Bradford get out of the mini-jam. In a move I've been beckoning for for weeks, Willie lets Bradford stay in the game, even in a save situation. The frequent work Sanchez, Wagner et al have been forced to endure lately, what with all of the extra-inning affairs, precipitated this strategy, but I'm still giving the skipper credit. As we've noted before, when the reliever looks to be on his game, don't yank him after four pitches just because the closer-save formula might call for it.

A 1-2-3 ninth for the Trolley Dodgers, and the Mets pick up a nifty, bullpen-resting, confidence building, reason-to-believe kind of win for Alay Soler. I can now happily retire to bed with a head full of Vinsight, a belly still full of food, and a heart with 108 pairs of stitches, a Rawlings trademark, and 25 sloppy signatures on it.

Much catching up still to do to approach the level of my peers in the Mets' 'sphere. I guess that can wait till tomorrow, but then some lines of Buffett stroll through my conscious...

It's one o'clock in the mornin'

Runnin' on adrenaline

What I'm tryin' to say is that tomorrow's today

And we got to do it over again