Thursday, April 12, 2007

BB King

Game 8 - Mets

Phillies 5, Mets 2
Record: 5-3

Whoa. It was throwback night at Shea Stadium last night, both in the sense of saluting the "gory days" of 2003-04 and also in the sense of throw-up in the back of my mouth.

Come the second inning, the Jekyll/Hyde Oliver Perez was as effective in locating the strike zone as this search. He walked the bases loaded in unsightly fashion (12 balls against two strikes, with a three-pitch strikeout in the middle just for kicks) but escaped trouble by retiring Phillie pitcher Adam Eaton. The next frame began promisingly with a pair of outs, then let us the viewing audience know that Inning 2 was no anomaly. X's cover of the Troggs classic echoed throughout Shea while "Juuust a bit outside" could be heard from every grimacing fan. Lordy.

Fast fact: A skateboard move where you get air without grabbing your board with your hands is called an Ollie.
Fast fact 2: An attempt at said move that results in road rash on your face and neck is called an Ollie Perez.

Aaron "Postur-Pedic" Sele filled in fairly nicely in a not-quite mop-up (swiffer-up?) role after Ollie was -- eventually -- lifted with the score 3-0. Meanwhile, the Metbats were as effective at getting to Eaton as Eaton himself was at getting to his new CD a few years back. And so went the Mets, 5-2. End of story. Fini. That's it.

Oh, right. Like we can leave well enough alone.

The furor in the Mets' tiny corner of the blogosphere over the last day or so has had everything to do with Willie Randolph pitching to Ryan Howard, a move I lambasted below but ultimately cast aside as a one-off blunder. The scrutiny, analysis, and cases made for the prosecution and the defense were everywhere, and from my cursory scans of them, I came away with just one thing: the Township-given nickname for Ambiorix Burgos, "The Amburglar," is one of the best the Mets have ever had. So good.

Wont as I am at times to take Robert Frost's road when it comes to the pervasive sentiments kicking around the Mets' fan base, I didn't dwell on Willie's bungling Monday like the masses did -- instead, I'll flout him for last night's work, which will probably go unmentioned by most. I'm special like that. Anyway, it's the recurrent theme in Mr. Randolph's handling of the pitching staff, his consistent knack for leaving pitchers in the game one to three batters too long. It's a point I've made throughout his tenure here, and it's one contested by more than a few when I've made it, but I won't abandon it just yet.

Based on the second inning's hideous near-miss, Willie Randolph & Rick Peterson should have had the bullpen on high alert, just in case. The aforementioned two quick outs were calming but obviously misleading after the single/walk/walk that followed. And make no mistake -- watching Ollie struggle, it was far clearer than any recap could convey. He didn't have it. A number of his Ball Fours (there were seven of them in 2 2/3 innings, mind you) were two feet out of the zone, high and wide and wild and a sure sign that things were not right with him last night. After he walked Wesse Helms on four not-even-that-close pitches to bring in a run, it was time to go get him.

And then there was that lull, the one where you just know Willie's going to leave him in there. Which was more predictable at that point, the mighty skipper's statuesque, stationary stance or the subsequent base on balls that Oliver Perez promptly issued?

And after that . . . Willie looked on stoically. Okeydokey, Cap'n.

Perez then proceeded to fire a 2-2 pitch off Rod Barajas's knee, so a third Phillie run jogged home. Oh, well, I figured, this is what Willie does on occasion. It's the Alay Soler disaster all over again, conceding victory after a few runs in the early frames. He'll leave Ollie in there to work himself out or die trying, and in turn he saves the bullpen for another day.

And just as the thought crossed my mind, Willie yanked Ollie (turn that around and this site is blocked from work) so that Aaron Sele could come in and face Adam Eaton . . . what??

Well, at least the Met's pitcher spot was second to bat in the bottom of the inning so Sele could hit for himself. I can't comprehend what passes for the handling of pitchers in the Randolph Regime.

I'll refrain from insinuating that this thought process, or lack thereof, was devastatingly egregious, but Willie Randolph's day-late-buck-short hook drives me up a wall. Short of hitting Mr. Met atop the dugout, Oliver Perez couldn't have sent any clearer a signal that he couldn't find the plate last night. When he's on, Smokin' O.P. is unhittable. When he's off, he's also unhittable; some sort of a boat oar or pole vault would have been needed to reach a great many of his offerings. And yet the manager either didn't notice or didn't think it mattered.

In ninth grade, I took the mound for the JV Bulldogs one afternoon with great excitement. I got the first batter to fly out, then walked the next four batsmen on an array of horrible pitches, including one that bounced well before the plate. I was dying out there; I couldn't figure out what was wrong, but nothing was going to help me that day. My manager came out, took the ball, and mercifully sent me over to play first base. (Though I was wishing I could hide my face in the dugout.) The first thing that happened was the old first baseman / new pitcher zipped the ball to me, I tagged out the leaning runner, and it was two down. Refreshed, we came back and won something like 8-3. So maybe that recollection makes me more of a quick hook kind of guy (or maybe it's my softball squad, who let me hand out 41 free passes in 33 innings one season before making a change). Not sure, but I just know there are days when guys "don't have it." Pack 'em up and save 'em for another day.

I can make the standard concessions about using your bullpen shrewdly, patience with pitchers being a virtue, etc., but I'm not being the ignorant fan hollering "Get him outta there!" at every turn. Such hesitation costs the Mets games. Games add up. Last night was even more annoying, since he bailed out on his usual M.O. halfway through it. Look, I can say what I want about the tenets of leaving young pitchers out there to dry, but at least it's an ethos.

All new managers that weren't pitching coaches say that the hardest part of the job is learning to manage the pitching staff during the game. It's Year 3, and this mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up Big Willie Style of working the 'pen seems as "by the seat of the pants" as any greenhorn skipper.

And that's all I have to say about that. For now.


Whitney said...

Phillie-lovin' Nick weighed in to me today:

"I hate to say I told you so but.....

The boys are hitting a robust .180 with RISP. (I believe I covered "lack of timely hitting/intelligent ABs")

The pen has been gawd awful.

The starters are doing admirable work given the paltry run support coupled with the maddening prospect of having to turn their efforts to the band of has-beens and never-was-es.

Chollie, as you astutely noted, cannot be blamed for this all too
predictable slow start. Especially given the cold fact that few teams in baseball have the luxury of a quality pen. Besides, just who was on the market that "Stand Pat" could claim? Besides II, proven relievers on the market are a dicey thing. Even in his short tenure here, Billy Wags was clearly past his prime and not exactly "ballgame over" like he was in Houston. The pen is what it is and will not likely get better unless someone steps up. I really did like the short-lived Grapefruit League
rumination of moving Myers to the closer role and slipping Lieber back into the rotation. I thought it was worth a try. At least it would appear that management recognized and tried to remedy the situation.

The truly sand-in-the cornea, irritating thing about this club probably rings true with 90% of the clubs in the majors today. Stupid, absolutely clueless, situational hitting. I fear I am turning into my father - "in my day, blah, blah, blah....." Still, it's true. Those gashouse gang Phils of '93 have forever ruined me. They were master craftsmen at working a pitcher and making him pay by the 5th inning. Any chance we could bring in Nails, Dutch, Head and Krukkie to run this club? I can only dream.

My prediction appears to be safe - 80 to 86 wins is all I can hope for. (Are you picking up on the reverse psychology I am using on the baseball gods? Shhhh, don't tell 'em.)"

rob said...

we could bring dutch back, but we'd have to borrow bill and ted's time machine to find him. his descent into batshittery is one of my favorite stories.