Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Game 37 - Mets

Mets 5, Cubs 4
Record: 24-13

From 7/24/03:
"I can't stand games like this. I get home from work, grab dinner, and have the kids winding down towards bedtime as the Mets game commences. The Mets go 1-2-3, then Montreal plates 5 in the bottom of the first. Just like that, it's over. It reminds me of those epic games of computer Risk in college when guys would hunker down to spend the next three hours keeping Rob Russell out of Europe, but all of a sudden some total bastard (usually me) would knock some poor schlep out of the game two minutes into it. This night, and all too frequently, the Mets are that total bastard, and I am that poor schlep."
That same dreaded feeling crept over me as the Mets' suddenly pedestrian defense enabled the Cubs to sprint to a 4-0 lead after two innings. I'd just settled in for a few hours of Metball, and was it finished before it began? What eluded me at the time, somehow, was how obviously and drastically different the 2007 New York Mets are from the 2003 variety. I'm a little slow like that.

Glovework has been one of the gold stars of the first month and a half of the NYM season, but somewhere in the night at Shea, things were just a fraction off. Sinking liners that Carlos Beltran and Endy Chavez seem to grab 99% of the time escaped their snare. Damion Easley had an infield-in grounder scoot by his outstretched Rawlings, then played d-back (defensive back, not Diamondback) as he knocked away a flair in short right just before a diving Shawn Green could make the catch.

Not one of the four plays -- which directly led to the four runs -- was given an error, nor did any of them warrant one. But even in replay, they each seemed to be recordable outs -- if only because of how well the Mets' defense has been. That's what happens when the bar is so high; ask Rob how annoying that can be.

What's the difference between a 66-win baseball team and one coming off 97 wins? Well, how does an early four-run deficit look to you? It's gone from seeming to be at the bottom of a deep well to being reclined in a beanbag chair. You'll not always escape the latter, as I know all too well, but it's far more reasonable a hurdle than the "Baby Jessica" Mets giving up a few early runs to a powerhouse like the Expos.

Tom Glavine shook off his mates' early inability and turned in a fine outing, despite what the box score reads. In truth, the D tightened up, or loosened up, or whatever -- they started making plays. Damion Easley in particular made a couple of dandies, an over-the-shoulder snag in right and a huge short-hop backhand up the middle. Meanwhile, the workweek bullpen, back from their weekend off, locked down the Cub bats. And the Metbats looked on as if to say... "So you're telling me there's a chance."

Here at MLC we're ever-conscious, perhaps OCDish, about resisting the urge to tempt the fates and jinx ourselves, so you might never hear me proclaim gleefully that our hero David Wright is back from the depths of slumpitude. This is as close as you'll get: he looks awesome again. His two-run jack to dead right (the surest sign there ever was) cut the Cubs' lead in half. He later singled and scored the tying run. Let the fawning resume, but Dave, buddy, maybe one or two fewer promos and posters as you keep all concentration on the march back towards .300. (He's still 25 points away, but you have to like what you see lately.)

The Chicago Cubs' bullpen is a well-publicized mess, and they didn't disappoint the Township. They immediately helped tack a couple more runs onto Jason Marquis' line in the sixth, thanks in part to Alfonso Soriano playing left-field like a second-baseman. (Vintage Keith Hernandez: "Well . . . that's why he's a 4 in Strat-o-matic.") They settled down for a few frames, but in the ninth, Michael Wuertz found some two-out trouble. After an Easley 1-3 and Julio Franco fanning with less velocity than my grandmother uses to fan herself on the back deck, Jose Reyes singled to center. If there's any question of Reyes-as-catalyst and the effect that his presence on the paths has, this was Exhibit A.

After a swipe of second -- on a pitch-out, no less -- the quickly-rattled Wuertz walked Endy Chavez on four pitches. Instead of yanking him or calming him down, Sweet Lou had Larry Rothschild instruct the pitcher to pitch around Carlos Beltran (the fourth straight ball was intentional) to get to the clearly-off Carlos Delgado. Two problems with this, ones that occurred to me before the SNY booth outlined them. (1) You're putting the winning run 90 feet away, and a lot can happen (wild pitch, balk, infield single, error, and oh, yeah, a walk). (2) You're having your guy hurl eight straight pitches wide of the zone, then expecting him to have control enough to retire an -- albeit slumping -- All-Star clean-up hitter who knows you have to pitch to him. It doesn't make that much sense; it's Tuesday Morning Managing to say it now, but Gary, Keith, Ron, and I were all thinking it before the inevitable happened.

At Ball One I knew the outcome. To his credit, Wuertz battled for a while. To his credit, so did Delgado. A 10-pitch plate appearance finally resulted in a walk. Ballgame. We'll see how this series and this season play out for the Cubbies, but I may have more to say about Lou Piniella's management. Yeah, I know. Bated breath.

Regardless, the Mets' continued ability to withstand it early and rally late is such a reason to believe. We'll curse and sweat along the way, but that makes these games so much more enjoyable in the end. Well worth waiting through -- and wading through -- to get to the finale.

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