Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Charlie Rich

Game 51 - Mets

Giants 3, Mets 0
Record: 33-18

It was Milestone Wednesday at Shea Stadium, with a couple of semi-pleasant ones and one bucket of crud. Let's review:

  1. Paul LoDuca doubled to record his 1,000th hit.
  2. Guillermo Mota returned from his 50-day vacation for really good vitamin intake*, looking sharp and throwing two scoreless innings.
  3. The Mets were shut out for the first time all year.
Captain Red Ass getting a ball for his trophy case was nice enough, but Mota seeming to be in nearly mid-season form was far more gratifying. Oh, about that asterisk...

* I assume it was some form of steroids for which Mota was busted; can't seem to get official word on what exactly the substance was. Oh, and speaking of the MLB truth-cloaking office, interesting that Guillermo Mota and Roger Clemens begin their seasons within a week of each other, no?? I can stand Barry Bonds no more than the next guy and think the racism defense when it comes to his juicing accusations is a joke; that said, the baseball world's rightful resentment towards Bonds and blind eye to Clemens represent Exhibit A for a claim of discrimination.

Anyway, the chafe of the night was Milestone #3. Barry Zito remembered how to throw Uncle Charlie for a strike. The Mets, who'd had the last laugh of the '06/'07 Zito Sweepstakes until tonight let the heretofore struggling Zito make them look like Uncle Charlie at the plate. And it could be argued that the fellow in black manning home plate saw about as well as Uncle Charlie. (See paragraph 3 in the link.)

I'm enjoying Vizquel less with every barehand grounder he fields. Where, again, is Jose Mesa? I'm just asking.

Eh. Not much to like about this one, not much to say. I'm not even as prolific as this guy tonight.

The Rolling Stones

Games 47 through 50 - Mets

Mets 6, Marlins 2
Mets 7, Marlins 2
Mets 6, Marlins 4
Mets 5, Giants 4 (12)
Record: 33-17

Memorial Weekend was a blissful blur for me, a series of cookouts, cocktails, and cavorting that was finished off with a carriage ride down Constitution as the masses cheered me on. (I was Abraham Lincoln in the National Memorial Day Parade. Normally I don't do carriage rides, much less get applauded by anyone.) Somewhere in the mix, I merely checked in on and distantly followed the Mets' three-game plow through the Florida Marlins. With the Braves dropping their weekend's worth as well, I wished a tad that I'd had a slower schedule of events. As it was, it was a pleasant backdrop to a nice few days.

Last night, however, I was back to cheering on the New York nine. After playing -- and winning, finally -- a tennis set that lasted an hour and a half (one featuring more Deuces than a KISS Army tape trading convention), I parked it at the bar for a few pints and the end of the Mets-Giants game. Or so I thought. As the game went into the 12th, I headed home, only to be stuck watching replays of Omar Vizquel reaching the plate just before Paul LoDuca could tag him. Annoying.

As an aside, let me throw out there that I have never much cared for the San Francisco Giants. Love the city; it's the one place on the West Coast I could tolerate living for an extended period. Hate the team, or more appropriately, just never liked them. I don't possess the kind of impassioned loathing for them that I have for the Atlanta Braves (and at times, the Phillies, and oh, yeah, the Yankees, and . . .). That hatred also contains respect from time to time; meanwhile, I have nothing but uninterested disdain for the Giants. Not really sure why that is; I'm certainly much too young to harbor resentment for Horace Stoneham bailing out on the Big Apple for the City By the Bay. (And championship-denying karma seems to have enacted retribution in ways I cannot muster.)

It may well have been because the Giants always seemed to have the Mets' number over the years, even when they weren't a better club. That trend has waned in recent seasons, but in all likelihood it's been that fellow with the inflated . . . everything . . . that has further kept me from embracing the franchise in the least. Of course, Omar Vizquel bugs me as well, making astounding plays in annoying ways that make me wish against all logic for Jose Mesa in our pen. Ugh.

Whatever it is, there's more gnashing amid these teeth when our boys take on San Fran than there should be for an NL West club under .500.

And so my annoyance with missing the fourth SF run was inexplicably exacerbated. Right . . . up . . . until . . . yeah, right up until they announced Armando Benitez coming into the game as I was walking towards the kitchen. "What are you, nuts??" I questioned Bruce Bochy from a quiet Virginia den. I had been heading to the kitchen to leave an empty and return empty-handed, but with that, I knew I needed the nightcap's nightcap to accompany the fireworks that seemed so inevitable. It is not simply hindsight told-you-soing. I knew for sure there would be trouble, and I know I was not alone.

I just didn't know how random and ridiculous it'd be. After Jose Reyes walked -- vintage Benitez, by the way; all of my suspicions about his fragility became iron-clad once that happened -- first base ump "Balkin' Bob" Davidson inserted himself unnecessarily into the conversation with a balk call. Multiple replays showed nothing balk-like about any of Benitez's motion. You shouldn't have to go the Zapruder route to discover the tic that Davidson calls with freak regularity. If the pitcher feints at all in a way that's going to cause the runner and even the batter to be unfairly unready, call it. That's why it's in the book. Eye-blinks, toe-wiggles, nostril flares, sweat-drip drips, and wind blowing baggy pants side to side are not what the spirit of the rule outlaws. Just another umpire who needs to be bludgeoned about the head and chest with the hardback version letter of the law that he hides behind.

Anyway, uh, we'll take it when it goes our way.

As it turned out, Balki Bob's phantom balk did have an effect on the outcome of the game. After a sacrifice, the 3B ump saw a real live balk -- a knee-jerk, or as they were calling it in the SF dugout, a Bob Davidson. 4-4, new life. It was mere seconds before Benitez took us for a little stroll down Memory Lane -- except altered in a way where the Mets win, like watching that director's cut of "Halloween" where you find out in the end Michael Myers is actually the hero and Jamie Lee Curtis and everyone else are Nazi stormtroopers. Or something like that; my mind is always scrambled when Armando Benitez enters the fray.

Anyway, Carlos Delgado hit his second homer of the night, a blast into the bullpen that ended the game -- in exactly the way every one of us who lost sleep, hair, and sanity from 1999-2003 because of him saw coming down Broadway. When will it be enough payback for us? Cuando, 'mando?

The Mets are cruising of late, when not playing those loathsome Braves. They're not putting the kind of distance between themselves and their foes that the Red Sox are, but there's plenty to like out at Shea these days.

The Beat Farmers

Game 51 - Red Sox

Red Sox 4, Indians 2
Record: 36-15

This is beginning to get ridiculous. Papi's out three days? Who cares, and frankly, who even notices. Lugo can't hit his way out of a paper bag? Whatever. We have to start Wily Mo Pena in left? Talk to me when I need to worry. J.D. Drew's making Trot Nixon look like a viable option in right? Yawn. Papelbon's not available? Is Okajima? Yes? Back to sleep. Coco Crisp is hitting worse than Count Chocula? That's a horrible joke, and don't you realize that this team leads the AL East by 11.5 games? Josh Beckett missed 2 weeks? Yeah, but he came back to strike out 7 in 7 innings, and would've gone scoreless if not for Drew's misadventures in the right-field corner. The Sox are winning, and winning a lot, without firing on all offensive cylinders.

Luck's a big part of baseball, and the Sox have had their share thus far, especially in terms of injuries. That said, they're winning games based on the tried and true formula of good starting pitching, fundamentally sound defense, a solid bullpen, and extreme patience at the plate. They are not, importantly, relying on mashing the ball all over the yard - that hasn't really started to happen in any consistent manner if you discount the Kevin Youkilis Experience. The things they're doing are all sustainable, at least at some level. Will they play .705 ball for the rest of the season? History says that 114 wins is pretty unlikely, so I'm gonna say no. Can they play .600 ball over the last 111 games to wind up with 101 wins? Sure looks like it.

I'm eagerly awaiting Whit's recounting of last night's Mets win over old "friend" Armando Benitez and his San Francisco Giants. It'd be hard to top the sheer ignominy of Benitez' predictable failure. I'd be remiss in not noting that I'm also awaiting Whit's recaps of the 3 or 4 games that preceded last night's. I was traveling hundreds of miles this week - I await my colleague's excuse.

50-game recap to come, though I suspect it'll be largely predictable. Hard to find much to complain about thus far.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Musical Youth

Games 47 through 50 - Red Sox

Red Sox 10, Rangers 6
Red Sox 7, Rangers 4
Red Sox 6, Rangers 5
Red Sox 5, Cleveland Indians 3
Record: 35-15

Apologies for the lengthy hiatus, but tonight's Sox/Indians game is the first live Red Sox action I've seen since last Sunday. I spent the Memorial Day weekend at my parents' house in Myrtle Beach, SC getting lots of sun and throwing munchkins around in the surf. Mom and Dad's crib is an Extra Innings-free zone, and their computer is in the guest room, meaning that the internet was off-limits from the time my daughters crashed for the night. For all intents and purposes, I was transported back in time 3 years, reduced to following the ESPN Ticker, carefully reading the box scores in the morning paper, and catching whatever highlights I could on SportsCenter before lighting out for the beach.

I was sad to miss Trot Nixon's return to Fenway, but Sox fans welcomed him back with open arms, as well they should have. In small part because it's better for all involved that he be playing in a different uniform this season, but in much larger part because he gave everything to the Sox for his entire career in the Boston organization.

Since it sure seems like the Sox didn't miss me, I'll limit my remarks regarding their efforts to just a few, lauding Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, both in the top 5 in the AL in OPS in May. Pedroia's very quietly crept over the .800 mark for the season after a very slow start, while Youks just notched a hit in his 21st straight game tonight, and recorded a stand-up inside-the-park homer last night. Youks now sports a .981 OPS for the season, while Pedroia's hot streak has taken him to .814, good for 4th among regulars.

Schilling responded brilliantly to the recent concerns about his stuff, spinning 7 innings of 10 K, 1 run ball against the Tribe last night. Paps tried to make things interesting in the bottom of the 9th, allowing the first three runners to reach and putting the tying run on second with nobody out, but he retired the final three Indians to close the game., certainly a good thing that my Dad and I didn't have to watch that live.

The lack of Sox action didn't spell complete baseball withdrawal, however. The family took in a Myrtle Beach Pelicans/Wilmington Blue Rocks Class A Carolina League tilt on Sunday night. The Pelicans completed a rousing comeback with a walk-off basehit in the bottom of the 10th. Only slightly less exciting to me was the fact that my daughters made it through the entire contest, juiced by an overdose of ice cream and the promise of post-game fireworks. In a nod to one of this blog's secondary passions, I note with some glee that the pyrotechnics were accompanied by a cheese-metal soundtrack perfectly fitting with Myrtle Beach's Redneck Riviera vibe. Equal parts Guns n' Roses, Ratt, Crue, Skid Row, Winger, and Whitesnake had Coastal Federal Field rocking, and my 3 year-old daughter clapping in time. I tried to teach her the three-fingered devil horns metal sign, but her little fingers aren't yet dextrous enough to hold that position. In time. In due time.

Indeed, the ballyard music ranked highly on my list of appealing elements from a night replete with them. As is the custom in most stadia, the home team's batters each came to the plate accompanied by music of their choice. The Pelicans roster is a microcosm of professional baseball in 2007, with a broad mix of ethnic and geographical backgrounds, and their musical choices echoed that diversity, spanning rap, country, rock, and, um, Marvin Gaye. We'll get to that one later.

Leadoff batter Jordan Schafer betrayed his Jamie Kennedy wanna-be impulses, channeling Malibu's Most Wanted in his choice of Young Jeezy's "I Luv It". Good song for a leadoff guy - catchy, bouncy beat, positive vibe, drug-slinging references. And if you think I knew who Young Jeezy was without Google, I'm sorry to tell you that you're not that bright.

Venezuelan shortstop Elvis (Yep, Elvis) Andrus went with Unk's "2 Step". Decently catchy rap, fairly popular with the kids - pretty straight play for Elvis in the two-hole for the Pelicans.

Things started to get a little interesting with third baseman Eric Campbell's selection. Campbell, a big, rawboned (and importantly, very white) kid from the heart of Middle America, got my attention with Wild Cherry's iconic "Play That Funky Music". I nodded in solidarity, and assumed that he was in on the joke. Campbell's walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th won the game for the Pelicans, one day after his homer plated that game's winning runs, making a pretty good Memorial Day weekend for the funky white boy.

Cleanup hitter Isaiah Ka'aihue was a bit of a disappointment, choosing a generic rap song that didn't register at all in my memory. The big Hawaiian had lots of choices to honor his heritage, from the obvious Don Ho, to Poi Dog Pondering, to Hawaiian rappers Sudden Rush, among others.

DH Roberto Alvarez was similarly uninspired, which bummed me out for a bit, until catcher Jerry Verastegui stepped up to the familiar strains of Alabama's "If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)". I knew he was a Texan before I looked it up (he's from Atacosa, wherever the hell that is). Great choice - honors his heritage, gets heads nodding and feet tapping in the crowd (at least the whiter portion thereof, and in this corner of Myrtle Beach, that's pretty much all of it), and puts him in a comfortable place as he gets into the batter's box.

Then, diminutive outfielder Matt Young stepped up and blew my ever-lovin' mind, going way outside the box with the aforementioned Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On". Young's still in A-ball at almost 25, which doesn't bode well for his professional prospects, but may explain his musical choice - he's basically at the "fuck it" stage in his career, so why not go for cheeky irony and excellent music. It even works as a subtle challenge to the pitcher, though most of them at this level hear the song and think about the Baseball Annie they banged last night, so the subtlety may be lost on them. The snippet played at the yard included the sublime, "Let's love...sugar" drop that Jack Black appropriated so brilliantly in High Fidelity, which was an added bonus for me. Mr. Young, I salute you.

Fleet outfielder Quentin Davis picked something vanilla and rappy, and if my age and ethnicity show in that sentence, then please forgive me. You are right on both counts.

Second baseman Derrick Arnold closed out the order with the potentially subversive "Real Good Man" by Tim McGraw, which features the following lyrical couplet: "I may be a real bad boy/But baby I'm a real good man". Cheddar, to be sure, and actually a pretty lame choice if Arnold was playing it straight, but I choose to believe his target audience was the legal-age ladies in the crowd, and not the opposing ballclub. If I'm correct, I applaud Arnold's priorities, as his career .220 average doesn't augur well for his pro prospects.

You've certainly been kind to read this far, and in recognition of that, and of the fact that I'm both really tired and running out of things to say, I'll hold Part 2 of MLC's Music at the Bat documentary series. In tomorrow's episode, Whit and I will collaborate on an exposition of the perfect tunes to accompany a purposeful stride to the plate.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Blind Boys of Alabama

Game 46 - Mets

Braves 2, Mets 1
Record: 29-17

There were moments to enjoy last night, elements of the Mets' game to appreciate. But I won't / can't name them. Willie indicated that the Braves just wanted the game more, which is a backhand to his club cloaked as a compliment to his competition. David Wright, who reverted to the form he found right after his Home Run Derby experience last summer and fanned three* times, said that they just ran into a buzzsaw, that of John Smoltz. Smoltz picked up his 200th win while keeping the Metmen just off-balance enough (and benefiting from a stellar infield defense). Either way, the Mets didn't get it done in Atlanta.

I had a very strong, very wrong premonition that the Mets were going to tie it up in the 9th, which makes losing to the Braves that much more of a punt in the groin. Crap.

*Really, Wright only whiffed twice. The first base umpire (who shall remain nameless, as well as useless) inexplicably called a standard check-swing strike three to end the inning with the bases loaded. At every angle it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad call, but before we rage against the dying of the at-bat, let's acknowledge that it was 0-2 and Dee-Dub almost certainly would have struck out anyway. He did nothing before or after to convince us otherwise.

And then there was the home plate umpiring. Just two nights from draining the tub on a Mets rally with a ridiculously sorry attempt at umpiring second base, another nameless, soulless man in black seemed to be fired up for Smoltz (or, as Ron Darling pronounced it all night, Schmoltz) to get the big W. Glavine was squeezed in ways his former teammate was not, and not in the good way. Consistency is what the players demand, and there was little tonight in the unarguable land of balls and strikes. Didn't change the fact that Smoltz had better stuff, just enhanced it.

And finally, we'll go ahead and actually name the 2B ump who continues to frustrate (in lieu of another f-word) the New York Mets at every interval. Angel "of Death" Hernandez botched a pretty easy pickoff call in the middle innings. Didn't change the outcome of the game, I just wanted to mention that guy once again. Just lousy.

See, guys, irrational idiots like myself spend time bemoaning your affect on the ballgames we watch, and that's lame, but it's games like you had last night in Atlanta that keep us clamoring for improved umpiring (and in extreme cases, calling for your untimely demises). The Braves were better than the Mets last night and deserved the win, but both squads had far better nights than the fellows calling the game. Step it up.

That's about it. All of the idle chatter about losing 6 of 9 to the Braves thus far is just that. 10 more regular-season contests to figure them out, but we have bigger fish to fry in the interim. Like, say, the Marlins tonight. There's a Julio Franco / Santiago slag brewing up in my head, but it pales in comparison to the classic quip I'll close this brief post out with, one from Jason at Faith and Fear in Flushing that echoed my precise sentiments at the moment and made me cackle:
Can't argue for Gotay bunting the tying run into scoring position. Could argue with Julio Franco, whose considerable contributions to this team can't preclude noting that such contributions are increasingly intangible. Gary noted that Julio's got a lot of experience in this spot; I rather sourly noted that I could walk down to the VFW Hall and find guys with experience storming beaches, but that wouldn't make a repeat a good idea.
Weak effort here today. Clearly, my peers in the 'sphere just wanted it more. Oh, or maybe I just ran into a buzzsaw of a day's worth of tasks to get done. Something like that.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Bad Brains

This Fire Joe Morgan post is required reading for anyone who despises media hackery in all its guises. In addition to being simply and demonstrably false, the author doubles down on my hot buttons by attacking the unassailable Tim Wakefield. Douchebag, thy name is Wallace Matthews.

Jack Johnson

Games 44 through 46 - Red Sox

Yankees 6, Red Sox 2
Red Sox 7, Yankees 3
Yankees 8, Red Sox 3
Record: 31-15

I think Dan Shanoff captures my feelings regarding this series about as well as I could have, saying: "Yankees beat Red Sox: Really, do I have to? (Sigh.) Andy Pettitte beat Curt Schilling. There: Whee." I can't ever remember feeling this mellow after a Sox loss to the Yankees.

A combination of work-related dinners and mediocre (really, that's being kind) softball kept me largely away from the television over the past three nights. I saw the nerve-wracking 9th inning on Tuesday, when Jonathan Papelbon walked the first two batters before settling down to end things and I caught the frustrating first frame yesterday from the comfort of a too-loud bar during pre-softball "warmups". Other than that, it's been radio score updates and quick perusals of box scores, and frankly, the break was a little bit refreshing.

Heading into the series, I convinced myself that the Sox needed to win 1 of 3 - anything more was gravy, and a sweep by the Yankees would raise my angst levels to borderline unhealthy readings. And the Sox did just barely enough, getting one decent start in the series (Julian Tavarez, you magnificent lunatic bastard) to keep the Yankees 9.5 games back.

Not a ton to say at the moment - I feel like I've been away from the season for a lot longer than three days. I will note that Curt Schilling's been lousy since his public bashing of Barry Bonds, giving up 29 hits and 11 earned runs over 17.1 innings in 3 starts. If this is just a rough patch, no worries. If this signals something more, like maybe the inevitable decline of an older power pitcher, the crimson pennants are readying their grommets in preparation for hoisting.

Oh, and A-Rod once again demonstrated his status as a Class A douchewhistle, flagrantly going out of his way to upend Dustin Pedroia with a wide elbow while trying to break up a double play. I'm really very disappointed that he didn't get a fastball in the middle of his back last night.

(Edit - Here's Pedroia's quote regarding the A-Rod slide, courtesy of Seth Mnookin:

“He went in late and kind of threw an elbow. A little cheap, but no big deal….He’s the one who slid in like that. Some people play like that and some people slide in, good, clean slide. I think he probably got a little carried away. It happens.” Pedroia then made clear that at least he knew the correct way to get down and dirty: “I have to turn two against the Yankees 19 times a year. I know now that when he’s coming in, my arm slot gets dropped to the floor. That’s it. No big deal.”

As Mnookin writes, yet another reason to love that little scrapper.)

Off day today before a set with the hot bats of the Texas Rangers. I'll be out of town sans Extra Innings package, so Sox withdrawal will be raging fully in my bloodstream by Tuesday evening when I return. If you see me in Myrtle Beach mumbling something about Dwight Evans' mustache, just gently steer me away from the oncoming traffic.

The Cure

Game 45 - Mets

Mets 3, Braves 0
Record: 29-16

Over the course of our run here at MLC, my cohort and I have drummed into your heads a series of principles both borrowed and original. We've seen recent references to a couple of these core concepts -- the tried "30 wins and 30 losses are predetermined and it's the other 62 that make or break a season" and the true "the lesson here is that I'm an idiot." Another adage repeated with some regularity in this space revealed its verity last night in Atlanta: "Momentum's only as good as tomorrow's starting pitcher."

The Mets could have been characterized as having a bit of momentum going into last night's game, most of it the downward kind. With Maine and Sosa having rough nights of late and Carlos Delgado looking like Wilson Delgado for two months, it was as uneasy a feeling as a team sporting the best record in the league can emanate. Cautiously pessimistic, I was described. It's amazing what expectations a season-plus of success can create. "Just happy to be here in the mix" is right out. This team is championship-capable, where so many are not, and thus the angst over a mere modicum of mediocrity. On the plus side, "tomorrow's starting pitcher" was all I needed to breathe easy and re-engage the peaceful, easy feeling in Metville.

Oliver Perez was the perfect answer for the Mets' Atlantan woes. He's now 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA against the Braves this season; his counterparts in the rotation, meanwhile, are 0-5 with an ERA several times that. When he's dealing like he was last night, Ollie's as calming an influence as anyone in blue and orange can be. When he's not, he's a train wreck you can't turn away from, but that's happening with less frequency all the time.

Though the axiom that underlined this post was attributed by some to Earl Weaver, the Mets got on the board with a very un-Weaverian run. Walk, single, double steal, and score on the errant throw (errant catch on a perfect throw, actually; that was terrible); it's the antithesis of Earl's "waiting for the three-run homer" philosophy, but the Mets play small ball in ways that Boog, Brooks, Belanger and the boys never could. After a station-to-station trio of singles in the 4th, the Mets notched a second run on a sac fly, and in the fifth, the long ball did come into play as Dee-Dub drilled one into the left-field seats. Those three runs were all that Perez, Joe Smith (looking unhittable), and Wags needed.

Most notable for the offense was that Wright's tater came from the clean-up spot. Yes, after a couple of weeks of Township rumblings and a couple of days of mass media spotlight, Willie slid Delgado down a couple of spots in the order. The result: 2-for-5 and a night at the plate that was even better than the numbers. He's not back to belting homers and doubles on a nightly basis, but by the end of the night, the Braves had abandoned the shift -- that says plenty if you've watched Carlos flail away this year. I give Willie Randolph credit -- at times he's been more stubborn about such matters, but by most accounts it seems to be the right move. Now, if we can just keep DW from slipping back into home run swing territory, because he's just getting into his groove now.

Momentum is now Tom Glavine going against John Smoltz tonight in a sizeable showdown. "Need" is too desperate a term here, but the Mets and their fans really want this game. For the Mets, dropping the third of three series against the Braves to date would be the kind of storyline the team has ducked this far, and losing three of four as they head to Florida for the weekend would be something to avoid. For the goodly people in Mets Township, it's even simpler . . . man, do we hate the fuckin' Braves.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Icicle Works

Game 44 - Mets

Braves 8, Mets 1
Record: 28-16

An otherwise fine day was . . . mildly marred, but not spoiled by a bad loss to the Confederate States of America's Team. I happily took in the Norfolk Tides' 2-0 afternoon defeat of the Rochester Red Wings. (Thanks go out to Rob for promptly answering my inquiry as to which MLB club the Red Wings aligned themselves with after the midwinter shuffle: the Twins.) There are few finer ways to enjoy a 75-degree afternoon of sun and breeze than with $11 box seats and some minor league baseball. It didn't disappoint in the least.

I dropped another set on the tennis courts last evening, but it hardly mattered; the calories burned out there were quickly restored with a few pints nextdoor. A little competition, a little conversation, a little consumption. No disappointments here.

As for the Mets game . . . oh.

My initial frustration stemmed from my realization that I'd forgotten to record the game against the Braves. That, of course, vanished quickly enough after I asked the barkeep to tune one of the wall-hung flat-screens to TBS. I instantly watched 2-0 become 5-0 just like that, as if I'd just requested a punch in the face. It wasn't worth watching in the least, but the instinctive, occasional glance seemed to always induce a wince. If it wasn't Aaron Sele getting taken deep by the friggin' pitcher, it was the second base ump's dunderheaded hampering of the only Met rally (one cannot transfer what one has never possessed, nimrod) or Angel Hernandez's "Strike Zone by Picasso." Eyesore all around.

Jorge Sosa emulated veteran ace Tom Glavine by blowing up upon his return to Atlanta. It's uncanny the way these former Braves refuse to show up their old employers. We need Ollie Perez to be the non-disastrous Ollie Perez tonight, lest the Mets dip into a little slide.

Speaking of which, my brother-in-law, after hollering at me and lumping me in with the Township's most ridiculous element last week, conceded my point this morning: "OK, maybe Delgado should be dropped down in the lineup. Have a bad feeling a team batting slump is about to occur."

I refuse to write any more about Delgado: the big boys have begun doing that for me. One thing of note: see the lead segment in this Times piece and then read the item three sections down the list. I'm not suggesting that Bobby Cox needs to be blindly mimicked. Food for thought, that's all.

Crap end to a great day. Can't stay down, though -- the weather is just as good today, I have just as few obligations, and in baseball, redemption avails itself five nights a week.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Pure Prairie League

Headed to a businessperson's special at the park formerly home to the Mets' AAA club. They're still the Tides, but there's definitely something amiss at Harbor Park this year. Call it the "Angelos taint," two words I wish I'd never typed together.

Anyway, it's a gorgeous day here on the southside, so I'm taking my Met-lovin' grandmother to a ballgame. Beers, dogs, Cameron Frye-style chatter, and minor league baseball this afternoon. Mets-Braves this evening. Glory be.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Randy Newman

As of this very moment, Dustin Pedroia (.725) has a higher OPS than J.D. Drew (.724), Manny Ramirez (.723), Julio Lugo (.687), and Coco Crisp (.611 - gack). In fact, Pedroia ranks 5th out of 9 offensive starters in OPS. And the Sox are still 30-13. That's the biggest wow! moment of the season for me thus far, in a season already full of them.

Quiet Riot

Games 42 & 43 - Mets

Mets 10, Yankees 7
Yankees 6, Mets 2
Record: 28-15

The "Subway Series" phenomenon has generated plenty of press over the decade of its interleague life, most of it the dollar-store balloon quality of coverage. On the plus side, it's not as ridiculous in volume or melodrama as the 19+ annual Yankees-Red Sox media explosions are; in addition, the Bronx Bombers always, always dominate the spotlight, no matter what the scenarios are coming into the series. The Yanks are dominating? That's the story. Sucking? Even more of a story. Cruising along in between? Hell, make up some pseudo-compelling sidelight to draw camera crews from Stamford to Scranton to Singapore. Joe Buck took note of this practice during Saturday's telecast as if the Mets deserved more of the story. Gracious, no, Joe, we don't want it.

Nothing the New York Yankees Baseball Club does these days goes without media mention. Everything from Phil Hughes' hamstring massage schedule to Brian Cashman's toenail-biting woes are chronicled in print and online. The Red Sox are a close second, and the Mets come in somewhere down the list, if only because they dwell in a pinstriped shadow. Such worldwide attention brings bandwagon fans out the ying-yang, unnecessary scrutiny, and TV-made controversies galore. Playing in one of the five boroughs, the Mets are never going to fly under the radar, but relatively speaking . . . well, they kind of do. And it makes my following them with a close eye for 162 games more enjoyable.

That's why it's all right that the Mets let last night's contest drop like a bloop in short right. To say I didn't really want the Mets to win would be sour grapes and a lie, but once they couldn't solve the riddle of adolescent pitcher Tyler Clippard (honestly, Jeffrey Maier looked older), it's not such a bad thing that they couldn't execute the sweep. Rubbing the currently-but-not-permanently beleaguered Yanks' faces in the infield dirt would end up being its own storyline in some new saga and future bulletin board material, stuff the Mets do not need.

Take two of three, move along in workmanlike fashion, and fixate on the Atlanta Braves waiting at Liberty Media Field. That's the target. That's the story. That's the rivalry. There isn't even bad blood these days between the Mets and Yankees. The most ire you could drum up would be the Yankees pissed off at the Mets for telling them Doug Mientkiewicz would be a "half-decent" off-season pick-up. Even the creative writers in the tri-state media can't make a storyline here . . . until . . .

Oh, yeah. When Roger Clemens comes to town, things will be different. Granted, nobody on the team remembers the 2000 World Series or the Piazza-plunking that added fuel to it. Willie Randolph was even in the other dugout. No, it won't be a real issue, not with the players, but we fans will want blood. The blood that should have emanated from the Rocket's mouth after Piazza jammed that broken bat into his bloated belly. Uh, okay . . . maybe that's too much. Back away from the keyboard, Whitney.

Anyway . . . for now two of three from the Yanks is indeed a good thing. John Maine unfortunately continued his three-week, gradual stroll towards mediocrity last night, helped out in large part by Shawn Green's mastery of right field. First-step back, especially with two outs is great, but two steps back, fours steps to the side, then a mad charge in as the bloop falls in and directly leads to four early runs is grating. It's a darn good thing for him he's still hitting the ball. Speaking of which, in a not-so-much kind of way . . .

I bit my tongue in April while David Wright appeared to be holding the wrong end of the bat. He's now demonstrating why such reservation was prudent. It's taking all I've got to do the same for Carlos Delgado. He has been clean-up quicksand for most of the season, and last night was a trial size container for the national viewing audience. Bad swings, bad judgment, terrible timing. Two K's, a GIFDP, and his best effort, a groundout to first. Carlos Delgado is an MVP candidate year in and year out, a few more good seasons from HoF consideration, and a great all-around fellow. He's more than capable of brilliance, which is why it's so painful to watch him flounder in his current state. He's had wrist issues, and maybe he needs some time off to heal so we can get the real Delgado down the stretch. (What's working against that is his replacement, Julio "Pet Rock" Franco, who's basically becoming a useless novelty on the Mets' bench.) For now, though, I promise to lay off the big guy, acknowledging his résumé and knowing he will be an integral part of this club's success. I just might time my beverage refills to coincide with his at-bats for a while.

This is simply the kind of chatter murmured at low volumes among concerned fans. We certainly don't want public dissection of the matter; that's a reasonable expectation, what with all of the attention on Jason Giambi's idiotic ramblings, Joe Torre's clouded future, or Carl Pavano's new Brazilian. To quote a Township all-time fave, "Just play baseball."

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Ass Ponys

Game 43 - Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Braves 3
Record: 30-13

I come here not to praise MLB's television packages, but to rub their noses in my not-quite potty-trained daughter's crap-filled underwear. I'm not a television executive, nor do I draw a paycheck from a professional sports league - it seems clear to me after years of experience that I'm way, way overqualified to serve in either capacity. This weekend's events, hard on the heels of MLB's DirectTV nose-thumbing at the most dedicated portion of its fan base, serve as an object lesson in the anti-consumer evils of a monopoly system.

I'm quite certain that lawyers, MLB execs, and television honchos could point out the valid and logical reasoning behind their byzantine shotgun marriage. I'm not here as a representative of valid logic - I'm here as a pissed off baseball fan who wonders why it's so goddamn hard to actually enjoy a product for which I've shelled out a reasonably large sum of money.

Friday's rain brought a Saturday twinbill, and gave me an opportunity to watch much of Matsuzaka's start, or so I thought. Silly me, I forgot that the complexities of moving a game to a different day resemble rocket surgery. As I turned first to NESN, then to Sports South only to find the damnable "Program Not Available In Your Area" blackscreen, my blood pressure rose measurably. I called Whit, saying, "I'm gonna need you to talk me off this ledge." Fortunately, the Sox' 13-3 victory and an opportunity to show my daughter how the ESPN Gamecast works served as a bit of a salve.

Then, yesterday, morning rains delayed the scheduled Sox/Braves start from 2:05 to 4:35. Worked out great for me, as I was busy until 3:30 or so. I was watching from my kitchen as I prepared dinner (tuna and grilled vegetables served in butter lettuce wraps - brilliant idea from a taste perspective, completely asinine when you factor in the need to explain to two children under the age of 6 how to eat lettuce wraps), when the NESN feed blacked out at the stroke of 6:00, victim of the ESPN Sunday Night blackout rules. I was frantic for a moment before realizing that TBS was carrying the game, and avoided the blackout for whatever clusterfuck of logic.

I understand rightsholder's claim on the post-7:30 period on Sunday, at least a little, but the Sox game was all but certain to end before that time, and frankly, Sox and Braves fans care a hell of a lot more about their game than they do Mets/Yankees. A smidgen of flexibility was all that was required to make baseball fans from Macon to Maine grateful to MLB. Why, again, would you punish your most ardent fans, those who've shelled out $175+ bucks to ensure that they get to watch all 162 games? If David Stern was alive, none of this would be happening.

Deep breathing, and moving on to the action on the field, my man Whitney sure seems prescient after predicting the Sox would tally 6 against Tim Hudson. I'd like to know how Dancing with the Stars turns out, Whit, if only to make sure that my wife stops watching that dreck two nights a week. Kason Gabbard, hippie for "not Devern Hansack", acquitted himself quite nicely over 5 innings, striking out 7 and keeping the Braves scoreless until Brendan Donnelly allowed 2 inherited runners to score. Javier Lopez cleaned up Donnelly's mess by getting Scott Thorman to hit into an inning-ending 3-6-1 twin-killing with the bases loaded.

Kevin Youkilis, the Greek/Jewish God of Hitting Baseballs in May, continues to sizzle, "blasting" a homer just inside the Pesky Pole to plate the Sox' 6th run. Youks has a 13-game hitting streak, and is 6th in the AL in OPS over the past 30 days with a 1.022 mark. Mike Lowell and David Ortiz are 5th and 7th, respectively, over the same span.

Jonathan Papelbon came in to pitch the 9th inning with a 4-run lead, and proved once again the adage that closers don't function optimally in non-save situations. Paps looked human, allowing a run on 3 hits and bringing the tying run to plate with 2 out. Fortunately, it was Andruw Jones, who offered one of the worst hitting performances I've seen, striking out swinging 5 times against Sox pitching yesterday. His ineffective waves against a hanging Papelbon curve and a Lalooshian fastball to end the game probably (hopefully?) took the Sox out of the running as potential free agent dance partners for Jones this offseason.

In semi-related news, I hate the Yankees, but it's hard not to feel sorry for them after losing yet another starter to injury. Hard, but possible.

Speaking of the Yankes, the Sox head to New York for three in the Bronx starting tonight. A combination of work-related dinner meetings and a scheduled softball game mean that I'll likely not watch much of any of them. At this point in the season, I'm up in the air about my feelings on that. The nail-biting is difficult when actually watching a Sox/Yanks game, but it's almost matched by the singularly sick feeling in the pit of your stomach waiting for the score to load on the computer or cross the ESPN Ticker. That concentrated moment of nauseous uncertainty is unique to the lunatic sports fan. I love it.

Headed to Myrtle Beach this holiday weekend to see my folks. The Braves' high-A affiliate is based on the Grand Strand, and Mom & Dad love them some Pelicans. They spent some time yesterday recounting all the ex-Pels on the Braves roster - I'm starting to wonder where their allegiances lie. We'll be taking in a Pelicans game on Sunday night - great little ballyard with terrific family amenities. I'll try to bring back souvenirs.

The Smithereens

Games 41 & 42 - Red Sox

Red Sox 13, Atlanta Braves 3
Braves 14, Red Sox 0
Record: 29-13

From the sublime to the seriously ridiculous in the span of a single afternoon.

The Sox coasted in the first game of interleague play, taking a 12-0 lead behind Mike Lowell's 5 RBI and Daisuke Matsuzaka's 6 innings of shutout ball before the Braves broke through with 3 meaningless runs in the 7th. I, of course, saw absolutely none of it thanks to the inability of MLB's television partners to figure out the rocket science involved with rescheduling games called due to inclement weather.

The second game was long overdue, as the Sox have been firing on all cylinders for so long. Frankly, you're pretty much gonna lose a John Smoltz/Devern Hansack matchup, so you might as well lose it big.

NESN's cameras caught a fittingly absurd dugout scene midway through the Game 2 carnage. Coco Crisp fouled off an inside breaking pitch directly into the Sox' first-base dugout. As the ball bounded into the seating area, Jason Varitek attempted to knock it down with the butt end of the bat he was holding. Much like unprotected sex in Haiti, bad idea. The ball caromed off his bat directly into Wily Mo Pena's forehead, from which it ricocheted off the ceiling into the jaw of starting pitcher Devern Hansack, requiring medical attention. Hansack later left the game after taking a batted ball off his wrist in the 4th inning, and was on the hook for the loss. Probably not going in his personal MLB highlight scrapbook.

Kason Gabbard against Tim Hudson doesn't offer a great deal of additional confidence, but the Sox have hit Hudson hard in recent action. Whitney's predicting 6 runs for the Sox, but offers the key question: will it be enough?

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Game 41 - Mets

Mets 3, Yankees 2
Record: 27-14

The game so nice, I enjoyed it twice. Got home very late after a "wine club" gathering we were invited to -- oddly, one where I drank beer all night. Sam Adams Summer Ale, to be precise, and it just kept flowing from the portable neighborhood kegerator. (Not our neighborhood -- we need to call a meeting on our block pronto.)

I capped off a fun night by reclining on the couch and watching the TiVoed Mets-Yanks contest. I'm quite certain I enjoyed it immensely; I can't say for sure, because when I awoke this morning, I couldn't even remember who'd won. Technology saves the day again, as I simply turned on the tube and cruised through it once more. (The Mets won again.) I felt like H.M.; were I he, I'd save this game permanently and watch it every day, rejoicing anew each time. As it is, I have to scrap it to make room for each new contest.

Endy Chavez continues to embed himself further and further into the hearts of Mets Township in new and exciting ways. His unlikely two-run blast off Andy Pettitte was out of nowhere, perhaps enabled by a high fastball intended to thwart an assumed bunt attempt. Unbelievable. That you can buy a Kaz Matsui Mets jersey and a Lastings Milledge Mets jersey in the official store but are relegated to making your own Chavez #10 shirt is just silly. As is this quick glance at his past, thanks to

April 29, 1996: Signed by the New York Mets as an amateur free agent.
December 11, 2000: Drafted by the Kansas City Royals from the New York Mets in the 2000 rule 5 draft.
March 30, 2001: Returned (earlier draft pick) by the Kansas City Royals to the New York Mets.
March 30, 2001: Traded by the New York Mets to the Kansas City Royals for Michael Curry (minors).
December 20, 2001: Selected off waivers by the Detroit Tigers from the Kansas City Royals.
February 1, 2002: Selected off waivers by the New York Mets from the Detroit Tigers.
February 22, 2002: Selected off waivers by the Montreal Expos from the New York Mets.
May 14, 2005: Traded by the Washington Nationals to the Philadelphia Phillies for Marlon Byrd.
December 21, 2005: Granted Free Agency.
December 22, 2005: Signed as a Free Agent with the New York Mets.
Who knew? Only Omar, I guess. We can only hope Endy will continue to perform with even a fraction of the heroics he's graced us with thus far.

As Rob mentioned, the Nation & Township have issued requests for mutual back-scratching this weekend. The Mets initiated the symbiosis last night, and at this writing, the Sox seem to be responding in kind. See how nicely it can all play out if we work together?

Going out again tonight, could be another late one. Here's hoping by tomorrow morning I've seen four Mets wins this weekend.

The Housemartins

"I say, don't they know it is wrong/It makes me anxious"

The denizens of the Nation are busy this week poring through historical records and building statistical models devoted to determining just how certain the Sox are to win the AL East for the first time since 1995. You'll forgive me if the neurotic baseball fan side of my brain trumps that portion that was schooled at the graduate level in statistics.

Yes, the Sox have a 10-game lead on May 18, and sure, they're carrying the best record in baseball at the quarter pole. I'd have neither fact any other way. However, the law of small sample sizes (in this case one season) renders moot any previous analysis of similar circumstances - way too much can happen over the next 122 games. Beckett's injury could be worse than projected. Jon Lester could fail to provide the expected boost. Julian Tavarez' mental illness could infect his new best friend, Daisuke Matsuzaka. Curt Schilling could pull a phalange furiously typing a response to a typically bitter and joyless Shaugnessy diatribe. Manny could stop being Manny, cut his hair, and pull a hamstring running out a routine ground ball.

I guess my point, to the extent I have one, is that it's a little bit early for a coronation, or even to begin looking ahead. The Sox look for all the world like a well-balanced, well-tuned machine. You'll just forgive me if 36+ years of fandom have conditioned me to take the skeptical view (with a nod to those 2 glorious weeks in 2004 where we walked through the looking glass). No chickens to count, no capes to tug, no ladders to walk under for this ball of baseball anxiety.

And the superstitious part of me needs to write this post as a talisman to ward off the encroaching giddiness with which I view this club - let's not forget that part.

Oh, and Let's Go Mets. We'll see what the Sox can do against Atlanta in their second twinbill in 3 days.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Milli Vanilli

Another soggy day in Boston means another twin bill tomorrow. Devern Hansack gets the ball in the early game, with Matsuzaka taking his turn in the evening.

Interesting juxtaposition over the next 3 days, as Whit and I get to root more fervently than usual for our counterpart's squad as they go head to head with our respective nemeses (nemesii?). Lemme be the first to say, Let's Go Mets!

With Hansack going tomorrow and Kason Gabbard pitching Sunday, I gotta believe the Mets have a better chance against the Pinstripes than the Sox do against the Braves. Sorry, pal - we'll do our best.

Shonen Knife

Games 39 & 40 - Red Sox

Red Sox 2, Tigers 1
Red Sox 4, Tigers 2
Record: 28-12

Apologies for the quick and dirty post - clearing the decks here for the weekend, and I am quite certain that the rest of my day will be a clusterfuck.

Hideki Okajima hasn't allowed a run in 19 appearances. His ERA is lower than the legendary Doug Nelson's freshman GPA. One of us will regale you with the Legend of Nelson at a later date.

Eric Hinske had a bizarro superhero game in the second of yesterday's games, flopping around in the outfield like a stoned frisbee dog for a few innings, then making a spectacular diving catch before hitting a 2-run blast to give the Sox their winning margin.

Alex Cora's game-tying hit in that second game embodied the Sox season to date, as his cue shot squibdink never even reached the infield dirt but plated a run. They simply keep winning.

Josh Beckett's on the 15-day DL, and J.D. Drew's banged up, as well. First real adversity for the Sox - we'll see how they handle it with 3 against Atlanta and 3 against the Yankees over the next week. (Added at 12:44 - For the record, I'm cutting off any discussion of the long-term implications of the return of Beckett's finger woes with an emphatic, "LALALALALALALALA" and placing my hands over my ears.)

Oh, and Wily Mo Pena walked 3 times last night. Kiss your loved ones, as the world may soon be ending.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Subdudes

Game 40 - Mets

Mets 6, Cubs 5
Record: 26-14

Rob invented -- or just as likely pirated -- the concept that there are a certain number of games, ~35, that are destined to be wins and the same number that are predetermined losses. You take a glance and just know that there were too many factors going for or against the hometown team, and to borrow from the other Bruce, that's just the way it is. Without a doubt, this afternoon's series finale was very clearly a loss in the making, if not a total concession. Observe:

E Chavez CF
R Gotay SS
S Green RF
C Delgado 1B
J Franco 3B
D Newhan 2B
R Castro C
C Gomez LF
J Vargas P

No, seriously, that was the real lineup today. We've talked about Strat-o-matic a lot lately, this looks like one of those makeshift lineups when you keep rolling 1-12 popout plus injury.

Somehow, someway, when I tuned into the game in the bottom of the 5th, it was a 1-1 game. Now, lately my watching ballgames has had a primarily positive effect on the outcome, no matter who was playing; e.g., the other night after Gary Cohen informed us that Cole Hamels had a perfect game going on, I flipped over and the batter Hamels was facing reached on a walk. The next one homered. I'm carrying that vibe these days, people.

So you can understand why I was feeling a little nonplussed when the Cubs racked up a pair of two-run jacks in their next turn at bat. It seemed Jason Vargas finally conjured up memories of N'Awlins and his 0-4, 9.00+ recent past -- and with the sub-filled lineup, that'd be it. I stuck around just in case. Good call.

Although what ensued seems, at first glance, to be a case of the star starters stepping in and saving the day, it was triggered by and kept alive by the corps of major league professionals my counterpart calls "scrubeenies." David "Who" Newhan singled to lead off; Lou Piniella should have seen Ryan Dempster didn't have it right then. Carlos Gomez did the same two batters later, and Carlos Beltran took a pinch-BB to load 'em up.

After Endy walked to cut it to 5-2, two managerial decisions were made. Lou kept Dempster in; I'm not saying he had a wealth of options, and his pen is chock full of lead-blowers, but the guy was visibly toast. Meanwhile, Willie kept his stud-filled dugout at bay and let Ruben Gotay hit away, raising eyebrows in the SNY booth and my den. A single to left later, it's 5-3, Willie is brilliant, and we're morons.

Enter Dee-Dub, shaking off the slump. First pinch-hitting at-bat ever. One pitch, one line drive up the middle. 5-4. Deep, dreamy sigh from the Township.

Enter Carlos Delgado, navel-deep in a slump. I've exhanged some thoughts with my brother-in-law that could be construed as premature panic about Delgado's plate problems. I am not, I repeat NOT, suggesting there are any alternatives to Carlos Delgado in this lineup, but I admit to thinking out loud about the possibility of moving him down in the otherwise malleable order until he works out the kinks. (Later level-headed thought saw no solid clean-up to replace him, and I'll walk away from the notion.) I just kind of know what it is to be inexplicably unable to return to the perfect timing that led to proficiency at the plate, I know what it is to be out in front of every single pitch (ask Rob, it's hideous), and I know that sometimes it takes more than sheer at-bats to make the necessary adjustments.

I guess I'm suggesting that we need a hitting coach version of Rick Peterson. Is that too much to ask? (Maybe.) I heard the counter-argument that Delgado has 400 home runs, so quit freaking -- he'll figure it out. My retort invoked the Beelzebub of Flushing, Robby Alomar, and how he was a sure-fire Hall of Famer before he came to New York . . . and how during the year and a half of utter mediocrity that he displayed at Shea, people kept figuring he'd work it out. Hey, Tom Glavine really is a Hall of Famer, and it took Peterson to alter what had worked for him for so long. So let's not rule out that someone might be able to work with Delgado effectively. It's not a slag against Rick Down, necessarily. Okay, maybe it is.

And all of this witless banter took place as the Mets were constructing this rally. As the debate rolled on, Delgado came up, hit a medium-pace bounder to the right side that got through, and won the game for the Mets with two clutch ribbies. Although the stubborn jackahole in me issued the thought "it was three feet from being an game-ending double-play ball," the overriding sentiment was something in the neighborhood of "yahooey!" And there's no telling what a big lift like that can do for a man's swing.

Ignoring this pointless sidetrack, the Mets pulled out a losable win -- hell, they turned an obvious loss into a huge victory. Rob's theory has lost credibility of late thanks to both the Sox and Mets. Not the first time one of his ideas has turned out to be bunk.

Midnight Oil

Game 39 - Mets

Mets 8, Cubs 1
Record: 25-14

A mere placeholder for tomorrow morning to demonstrate my dedicated fandom. (Yeah, I'm unemployed.) I actually witnessed two Mets wins tonight, waiting out the three-hour delay by watching the 1988 division clincher on SNY until the tarps were cleared, then taking in this dandy after cracking open my primer can at 10:15.

More tomorrow after some sleep. Prayers for Jose's hammy.

I was really quite surprised that they were able to get last night's game in. Delays and postponements have been peppering the scoreboard over the last 48 hours, and the downpour early in the evening had me watching the aforementioned "Mets Classic" as if that'd be the only bit of Metropolitans I'd get to see. Then about 10:00, they rolled 'em back and got set to play. 40,000 screaming fans provide a palpable sense of excitement, but a few thousand die-hards who stuck it out to see the Mets go past midnight added a great deal of fun just the same.

You need an inning or two to see how the rain delay will affect the starters; in last night's case, Cub stalwart Rich Hill was just a bit off his game, while Met fill-in Jorge Sosa (who etches himself a more permanent role with each outing) was decidedly on. Sosa went seven-plus, allowing one goddamn hit and one run -- the latter coming only after Joe Smith squandered his inheritance. With El Duque supposedly en route back to active status, Jorge may well take residence in the 5-spot that Mike Pelfrey recently relinquished -- the same one that call-up Jason Vargas will assume today. (Vargas!) Like an unsuspecting liver, Vargas has taken a beating in New Orleans lately. Time to channel Jorge Sosa and defy all expectation. (Vargas!)

On the other side of the box, Rich Hill dug himself a 4-0 hole by the fourth inning, as we hoped against a mirror image of the prior night's unfolding. The real damage came from another Damion Easley tater, this one a two-run high strike deposited somewhere beyond the left-field bullpen. In a story oddly similar to Sosa's, Easley was an off-season pick-up not expected to contribute much -- or need to -- who's had opportunity fall in his lap and who's made the very most of it. Stunning turn-arounds for each, and it looks like we'll need them to keep it up for a while.

The Mets' lineup was the first in baseball history to feature three players named Carlos, thanks to the inclusion of dazzling rookie Carlos Gomez. Not that exciting, no. Gomez went 2-for-4 with a double and a pair of ribbies, zipping around the outfield and the basepaths much of the night. For Met fans, very exciting. (Especially as Moises Alou finally hits the DL, as expected.)

Speaking of injured personnel, Jose Reyes seemed to tweak something in his left hamstring last night in the eighth inning, freezing the Township in panic. Early reports say it's just minor soreness, nothing to worry about. Yeah. Don't tell us what to worry about, okay?

And finally, in a non sequitur that can be reached with no sensible segue (hey, Latin and French; what a cunning . . . never mind), Keith Hernandez made his second mention of the timeless board game Strat-o-matic Baseball in two nights. With Jorge Sosa on the verge of notching wins in his first four outings as a Met, SNY flashed the stat about Mets who'd accomplished the feat before, including a pitcher named Bob Shaw on the 1966 squad. After Gary remarked that Shaw might not be a household name, Mex somehow pulled out that he had also been a San Francisco Giant. After it was confirmed that Shaw had, in fact, been a Giant the year before, Keith conceded after a pause, "I only know that because I'm playing the 1965 season in Strat-o." God bless him. Only the sickest of baseball addicts will trudge through a whole season of Strat-o-matic. Full-circle Seinfeldian conclusion: in 1990, I played the 1985 New York Mets season in Strat-o (while Rob took John McNamara's spot for the summer), featuring guess-who as my first baseman? Oh, yeah.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Mental as Anything

Game 38 - Red Sox

Tigers 7, Red Sox 2
Record: 26-12

I damn near had an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind moment there. Tonight's Sox/Tigers tilt was postponed due to rain, rescheduled as part of a day/night twinbill. I've got nothing much to say about last night's loss. The time's passed for any pithy comments, and the game wasn't really worth a recap - in a nutshell, one bad inning each for Wake and Brendan Donnelly combined with a nice outing by Justin Verlander, and voila, Tigers win.

Since even the most fertile areas of my blogging mind are currently channeling Ed McDunnough's womb, the seeds of creativity finding no purchase, I figured tonight's rainout and tomorrow's doubleheader offered me an opportunity to wax nostalgic about one of the great baseball days of my life, September 26, 1991. As I was digging into to get the details, a little light started flashing deep in my subconscious. I ignored it for a few minutes, happy in the recollections found in the boxscores, until I started writing. Then, the light was joined by the klaxon of recovered memory, and a quick search of the MLC archives revealed this, written on June 4, 2003:

"One of my fondest baseball memories was made possible by a rainout. During my senior year of college, the Sox were neck and neck with the Toronto Blue Jays for the AL East title. In late September, a series of storms in the Baltimore area forced the Sox and the O's to schedule a rare afternoon doubleheader. It was the last season for Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, and the home team was woeful, so Cap Noonan, John Kelleher, and I - Sox fans all - decided on a whim to try to get to Baltimore from Williamsburg, VA in time to make the first pitch of the first game.

We left the 'burg at around 9:00, and gametime was scheduled for 12:30. Cap drove while Jake studied in the back seat for an upcoming exam. The baseball gods smiled on our noble quest, parting traffic all along the Eastern Seaboard, and slowing time to aid our cause. We reached Balmer at around 12:20 - 3 hours 20 minutes from Williamsburg to Charm City is pretty damn good - just in time to park, get tix, and get into the stadium, which was flat out empty.

We spent the whole afternoon following the sun, as total attendance for the two games was 10,728 (many thanks to retrosheet for the details), and drinking watered down beer. The Sox took the first game, 2-1, behind a stellar 10-strikeout performance by Roger Clemens, who hadn't yet entered his "I get paid, so why should I keep myself in shape" phase. Heading into the 9th inning of the second game, the Sox held a 5-4 lead, and were positioned to sweep the series and tighten the race with the Jays to a game or two. Then, the ghosts of Memorial Stadium stood up for one last time, and after Cal Ripken singled in a run to tie the game at 5, and Randy Milligan walked to load the bases, Dwight Evans came to the plate against Greg Harris.

Evans, who was in his swan song as a player, batted .270 with 6 homers and 38 RBI in 1991, his final season, and only campaign with the O's after 19 standout seasons with the Red Sox. And though he was a shell of his former self, I turned to Cap and Jake and said, "We may as well leave, because Dewey's going to beat the Sox." Sure enough, Evans worked a walk, and Mike Devereaux crossed the plate with the winning run. The Sox lost 9 of 11 to end the season, including this game, and wound up fading to 7 games behind the Jays. And it was all Dewey's fault."

On the plus side, I didn't actually repeat myself, and even if I had, that was indeed one of the great days of my life - maybe top 5 for days that didn't involve a young lady taking pity upon me. On the other hand, I understand what happens to comedy writers when they deliver the same jokes without even knowing they've done so. I'll try to be a little more forgiving, Ms. Fey.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Crash Test Dummies

Game 38 - Mets

Cubs 10, Mets 1
Record: 24-14

The Lord works in mysterious ways. I hit the clay courts tonight for a vigorous set (lost, 6 games to 4) and a nightcap (won, 6 beers to 5), but failed to broker a deal with my friend the TiVo to record the Mets game. After realizing my mistake, I was busy lamenting how nice it would've been to breeze through the game in stop 'n' start fast-forward over a few Dale's Pale Ales when I caught the score. Satisfyingly abysmal.

According to the best Mets writers, as well as those who actually get paid to do it, here's what I missed:

- Carlos Zambrano good, John Maine not so much. Downward trend displeasing.
- Met relievers relieved themselves all over . . . themselves. Again.
- Aramis belted a grand slam off Schoeneweis, strutted out of the box like the cock of the walk. Somewhere d'Artagnan weeps. Earplug forthcoming.
- Sele still unshorn, still unsharp.
- D. Wright back to old ways after revelry in my last post. Hex non-believers take heed.

Eh. I'm just glad I didn't see it. The flashing of the score on the screen brought instantaneous flashbacks of the very first game ever recapped on this side of the MLC aisle. Ugh.

The only thing worth discussing beyond that is a productive, 3-for-5 night from old hand Clifford Floyd. Miss that guy. Moises Alou's stats are a smidgen better than Cliff's so far, and he's a DL-dweller, so why'd we get rid of the fan fave? It just doesn't seem right. Let's take a gander at the Cliff Floyd Years (2003-2006), montage-style, shall we?
"Cliff Floyd gives the Mets the first legitimate outfield bat since . . . Darryl Strawberry?"
"Cliff Floyd hit a mammoth 2-run shot over the bullpen in right ..."(Game 2 of the season)
"...the Mets got long homers (solo shots, naturally) from Ty Wigginton and Cliff Floyd." (Game 9)
"...Cliff Floyd leaving with a strained Achilles tendon..." (Game 11)
"Cliff "Man Among Boys" Floyd added a dinger and 5 RBI while clearly playing hurt (still)... And there Clifford Floyd is, hobbling out his home runs and doubles, making plays in the outfield."
"...gimpy Cliff Floyd legging out a triple"
"Cliff Floyd probably deserves acknowledgment for his solid contributions while playing hurt. I actually can't believe, with all of the All-Star voters in the NYC area, that Floyd can't break into the leaderboard of 15 OF's."
"Cliff Floyd turned on one and drove it off the right-field wall, missing a game-resuscitating homer by two feet. Duncan scored, Reyes went to third, and Floyd . . . well, he paused for a moment in the batter's box, he slowed down before touching first, he realized he probably should get a double out of such a shot, and then he made a bad decision. Gimpy guys who didn't break at the crack of the bat should not try to stretch these kinds of long singles into doubles."
"If Cliff Floyd gets so hurt that he ends his season soon (a real possibility), it will be likely that no Met will hit 20 home runs this year. In this era, that's horrible. The Mets' hitters will also fail to reach the 20-plateau in stolen bases, meaning they lack speed as well as power. Though no pitcher will nearly win 20, Steve Trachsel has already allowed 20 HRs. And Glavine is probably one start away."
"Hey, thank the Lord for Clifford Floyd!"
"As sadly predicted a month ago in this column, what with Floyd cashing in his chips with 18 homers, it doesn't appear that any Met will hit 20, a remarkably pathetic feat."
"Unfortunately, the Mets are forced to violate the Gospel According to Crash Davis and fuck with a winning streak; today Cliff Floyd ends his long, painful season and gets his Achilles tendon operated upon. Floyd had a season to be proud of when he announced his decision to go under the knife; these past few games have elevated it to something heroic. In his final trio of ballgames, he went 10-for-11 with 5 runs scored and 5 driven in, even swiping two bases. Gimpy as he has been all year, he has toughed it out and earned the respect of teammates, coaches, fans, and even opponents. He never blamed his array of dings, pulls, and bruises when his level play dipped; hell, his level of play never really dipped. He quietly showed up every day and played his hind quarters off while Mets with significantly lower thresholds for pain visited the DL like it was their beach house. Here's to Mr. Floyd, and may he get 100% healthy by the spring."

"Worse news came from Cliff Floyd, who strained his quad as he was streaking (we're going streaking in the quad!) down the first-base line. Floyd, who homered Friday night, went on the DL today."
"Cliff Floyd is a trooper who toughed it out for most of the season last year before succumbing to a slew of injuries. His last few games of 2003 had him limping to the outfield like the fife player in that "Spirit of '76" painting. He's definitely down in the dumps after getting nicked so early in this campaign, but here's hoping his return to active duty is a speedy one."
"Cliff "Pretty [Much Injured All the Time] Boy" Floyd was back in action last night, going 1-for-5 and driving in a run."
"A minute later, Cliff Floyd lined one to right that dropped in, scoring Garcia and winning the game."
"In addition to the losses, Mike Cameron and Cliff Floyd crashed into each other awkwardly -- it looked like a bad little league screw-up -- and each appeared hurt. What with the injury bug flocking to Floyd like cicadas to my trees, the wound was unsurprising except in origin."
"...Cliff Floyd plays hurt more than Nine Inch Nails..."

"Cliff Floyd homers to make it 6-3, just part of his 3-hit day. Clifford, old buddy, . . . all that stuff about dumping you this off-season? We were just kidding, of course."
"Cliff Floyd . . . man, are there a lot of us who need to fess up to some winter ignorance. So many of us called for the Mets to ditch the fragile guy other Metbloggers labeled 'Mr. Glass' in the off-season. I know I did, though I begged for it not to be in any deal for Sammy So-So. The obvious question is not whether he can keep up this torrid pace, but whether he can simply remain on the field in relative working condition."
"How about Cliff Floyd? They Might Be Giants observe:
I was hot for five straight weeks, but now I'm slightly colder
And now I'm even colder
And now I'm even colder
Sixty points in seven days, and dropping even colder
And now I'm colder still"
...the normally adept Floyd disappeared as the ball skipped underneath his horizontal frame and rolled to the wall. Tie ballgame."
"I failed to mention that Cliff Floyd was plunked in the kneecap, making his presence in tonight's series opener in Los Angeles unlikely as well."
"Cliff Floyd sends one deep to the on-deck circle for out number one. . . Cliff Floyd drives a ball deep, to just right of the pitcher’s mound, and there are two outs."
"cheering on the normal rootables like Cliff Floyd – who homered to cap off an utterly impressive season (not sure what stands out more, the 34 HR’s or the 550 AB’s)"

"Hastening his return could be the absence of Cliff Floyd, who left tonight’s game with a rib cage strain."
"Cliff Floyd has been stuck down a well most of the season. Keith Hernandez notes his shoulder flying out early, others point out his trouble with the off-speed stuff, and MetsGeek aficionados fret over his frighteningly paltry .572 OPS. I still like the guy a lot, and he has done enough hard time in the Met-itentiary of the last few years to be given a break, but it’s all going pretty badly for Clifford so far. He has been good with the glove and plays hard every game . . . I’d like just to check back after 25 more and pray for a rebound."
"Last week I referenced Cliff Floyd’s plate-side conundrums in this embryonic stage of ’06. I hoped the problems would just work themselves out. Well, the woes have continued, yet one memorable blast such as last night’s rocket into the right field overhang to lead off the bottom of the eleventh can earn back much of the faith in Floyd that might have begun to wane within the Flushing fanatics. For me, his bomb took me back a little more than a year: to a roadside dive on Route 17 in Orange County, NY, watching with extended family after my grandfather’s memorial as Cliff Floyd ended a wild game against the Angels with a long foul ball followed by a long fair ball. Evoking such memories with one swing has to mean good things for Floyd, so says this guy."
"Cliff Floyd. I believe a platoon is in order for him soon, and by that I mean someone on his own squad is going to shoot him, a la Platoon. Not really, of course, as he is beloved by teammates and fans, which makes the necessary barb that much more agonizing. An 'over the cliff' type of gag isn’t even funny enough to warrant mean-spirited (if painfully accurate) usage."
"Cliff Floyd – Well, depending on whom you ask, his song should either be “Fade Away” (by either Springsteen or the BoDeans) or “Not Fade Away” (by Buddy Holly and hundreds of others). Come on Cliff, tell us how it’s gonna be."
"Cliff Floyd has ownership of the only .232 batting average that has me pleased with where the hitter is headed."
"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."
"Hip-hop legend Cliff Floyd, a.k.a. 'HBP,' has fallen on some hard times. It feels like he hasn’t had a hit in years, it seems like eons since his classic 'Bombing Anaheim,' and his once cutting-edge production now sounds dated. He’s still got more talent in his pinky toe than most urban acts can cram into a room full of bodies, so I refuse to believe he’s done wowing us. He’s a guy, when the setting is right, than can knock one out of the park, if you will. It just happens a lot less these days."
"Speaking of the corner outfielders, Cliff Floyd was last spotted wearing an ankle boot and doing nothing baseball-related. In addition to being worrisome information for those of us interested in seeing the Mets’ powerful lineup meet its full potential sometime in the next two months, this information is pertinent for those trivia buffs looking for the answer to 'What do Clifford Floyd and Elton John have in common?' You’re welcome."
"Losing Floyd should be neither under- nor overstated. His veteran (and fairly bad-assed) presence in the outfield and the lineup will be missed, though we’ll assume he’ll still be in the clubhouse. Clearly, he still has some pop, as Derek Lowe found out in Game 1, and despite the erratic year he had, I like the Mets’ chances better with him in the mix. That said, his year was erratic, with too many stints of ice cold in the batter’s box or icing down another body part instead of taking the field."
"The quick and efficient dispatching of Los Angeles didn’t come without a price, as Cliff Floyd’s latest battle wound (a strained Achilles tendon) might keep him on the shelf for the duration of the Mets’ time in the playoffs. The irony of Floyd suffering that particular injury is fairly thick, what with that part of his body so obviously not his only weak spot."

Hmmm. Yeah . . . yeah, okay, maybe it's better we let him go. But I still miss that guy on this club. I've spouted ad nauseum about it here, but that frozen moment in June '05 is and will forever remain an all-timer for me. Thanks, man.

Johnny Paycheck

Game 37 - Red Sox

Red Sox 7, Tigers 1
Record: 26-11

Animal Planet is pleased to present Employment Crossroads Week for Team MLC, which has the blogging a bit slower than usual. Preoccupation is not exactly a tonic for writer's block. That said, we don't want to disappoint you two folks, so we persevere, if a bit erratically from this side of the aisle.

Awesome outing from Daisuke Matsuzaka last night against the Tigers, tossing the Sox' first complete game of the season and the first of his career. New reports suggest that Matsu's been revisiting some of the between-starts rituals he used in Japan, including notably a 100+ pitch bullpen session on Saturday. There was some concern that he'd actually been too fresh for some of his earlier starts. Whatever the reason, he's seemed far more comfortable over his past 2 outings, allowing 9 hits and 2 runs over 16 innings against the Jays and the Tigers.

The offense repeated the now-familiar formula for success, waiting out Tigers starter Nate Robertson to the tune of 115 pitches over 5 innings before pummeling the Detroit pen for 4 runs in the 8th. Jonathan Papelbon was up in the pen with a 2-run lead, but sat down once the score got out of hand to open the door for Matsuzaka to finish up his 124-pitch CG. Daisuke completed 10+ games last year in Japan, and has some legendary pitch counts in his still-young career, so we'll eschew the hand-wringing here and applaud the decision.

Kevin Youkilis singled in the bottom of the first in tonight's game against the Tigers to extend his hitting streak to 9 games. After that at-bat, he's hitting .485 over that stretch to raise his overall numbers to .328/.428/.463/.891. Might like a little bit higher slugging numbers from a corner infielder, but we'll not quibble over that line from (mostly) the second spot in the order. Youks seems to always have a plan at the plate, and continues to be the poster boy for the uber-patient Sox offensive approach. Maybe Billy Beane was on to something.

As Whit noted this afternoon, things are looking pretty good for the Olde Towne Team through the season's first 36 games - up 8 1/2 games in the division and carrying the league's best record. As I noted back to him, they've been both very lucky and very good - that luck applying both to their health and a few on-field breaks. At the same time, the offense still hasn't completely hit its stride, with guys like Manny, J.D. Drew, and Coco Crisp still well below career norms and no single regular wildly overperforming expectations. All that said, there'll be no chicken-counting from either half of the MLC staff - unless Perdue's hiring.


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.

Monday, May 14, 2007

TV on the Radio

Game 36 - Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Orioles 5
Record: 25-11

I've got a mere 10 minutes here this morning, as I'm off to do my part for charity by chasing a golf ball around an exurban grassy field complex. I promise I'll round out this post this evening, because this game was...well, it was something.

My mastery of the Tivo and channel guide led me to believe that the game was not being televised in my neck of the woods, which served me quite well for nearly 96% of the game. As the Sox bats whimpered softly and the skin on Josh Beckett's finger tore apart, I was quite satisfied to catch fleeting updates on MLB Gamecast in between lawn-mowing, child-chasing, and Mother's Day-related wife-pampering.

Then, at about 5:30, I came into the house to start working on dinner (a delicious compendium of garlic-grilled shrimp and tomato, mozzarella, and basil salad, in case you were wondering), I checked the computer one more time just to see how bad the Sox had been drummed. When I saw that they'd posted 6 in the bottom of the 9th to win the game and the series, my apathy regarding the broadcast situation turned quickly to fury. And I sent a text to Whitney to express said rage.

That anger turned into chagrin when my colleague informed me that the game had actually been televised on a secondary local channel and I whiffed on the whole thing. Later today, you'll get...the rest of the story.


As it turns out, no, you won't. I'm sunburned, tired, a little bit tipsy, and in the middle of watching tonight's game (highlight thus far: the Japanese headbands worn by Remy and Orsillo), so it's all I can do to handle that simple chore.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

What Made Milwaukee Famous

Games 34 through 36 - Mets

Mets 5, Brewers 4
Brewers 12, Mets 3
Mets 9, Brewers 1
Record: 23-13

If not famous, what made Milwaukee newsworthy over the first few weeks of the season was a dominance over the National League's wretched refuse, one that had catapulted them to the baseball's best record coming into the weekend. Thanks to the Mets, with a helping hand from the Curse of Peter Angelos, that's no longer the case. The Brew Crew's barstool still stands a little taller than the remainder of the Senior Circuit, and they're still seven games and counting better than the five other NL Central "teams," none of whom can claim a .500 record. That said, the Metropolitans' series win gave the Brewers notice that the road to the pennant may prove bumpier than the cruise control straightaway of the first six weeks.

Make no mistake, Milwaukee can mash the ball, and in flashes they illustrated the top-to-bottom prowess at the plate that will keep them in any game. The Mets' starters, however, managed to keep a lid on things most of the way. Jorge Sosa, Mike Pelfrey, and Ollie Perez posted a 3.15 ERA over the weekend; Pelfrey suffered the worst damage, 4 ER in 5 IP, and that outing bought his ticket to New Orleans for him.

The bullpen struggled mightily, however. The Mets relievers kept whipping their heads around towards the bleachers like they were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the "Bad" video. The answer to "Who's bad?" this weekend was fairly obvious. Friday night Errant Heilman made everything a lot more interesting when he served up a two-run shot to J.J. Hardy. The next day, a 4-3 deficit in the middle innings became . . . well you saw the final score. Pedro Feliciano, Joe Smith, and Scott Schoeneweis (walked into a bar?) surrendered eight runs over the final pair of frames in a scene not seen since the days of Dan Wheeler's Blanket Party Bingo. Hardy's grand slam may have at last impressed upon the Mets that he's not the hole in the Brewer lineup they might have figured.

But it was just one loss, and in truth, the only lasting damage might have come in another ding in that old vessel H.M.S. Queen Moises. Prospectus Extraordinarius Carlos Gomez passed Pelf on the elevator last night, and the young outfielder's ascension -- and 2-for-4 with a double and 2 runs debut -- has the Township crossing fingers, what with Alou spotted performing the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch more often than not lately. As we saw with a certain unnamed OF hopeful last season, however, stirring big-league openings don't always have a lasting effect.

This afternoon the story, once again, was Oliver Perez. The story is always Oliver Perez when he pitches; sometimes it's a happy story, sometimes it's a horror story. Today he took a one-hit shutout into the ninth, added an RBI single to raise his average to .353, and looked electric. O.P. has displayed that electricity with some frequency this year -- it's just that every other outing, it seems that . . . O.P. shorts. (Sorry, really sorry.)

Well, I guess Perez was half of the story. The offense came alive against the previously unbeaten Chris Capuano, then gave the Crew a taste of their own medicine when Milwaukee reliever Elmer Dessens came unglued. (Thanks, same show 8 and 11.) Everyone hit (save Julio Franco, who looked 84 instead of 48), but of note was Damion Easley continuing to make everyone forget Jose Valentin's bat, if not his glove or moustache. He homered yet again, breaking open the scoring in the first inning. Dee-Dub also raised eyebrows by swiping three bags and adding fuel to the notion that his early-season stank is fading fast.

Oh, and Jose Reyes finally shaved his head. Good to have him aboard the train, leaving only Aaron Sele unshaven. Sele supposedly had a family portrait to have taken that precluded him from going the way of the shears. Now it's unclear what keeps him from joining his teammates in this silly solidarity. If it's the dread of receiving a head-shaving and an unconditional release within days, I'd say that's a fair point.

Two solid starts, six home runs, 27 hits, and a pair of wins over the NL's top dog. Not a bad weekend. Next up: the Cubs for four, the Yanks for three. These are two teams who shelled out a lot of money for their losing records to date. Two teams with plenty to be pissed off about. Two teams far better than their performance thus far. No letdown, boys.