Game 124: Win
Carlos x2 + Reyes 8 Albert Pujols 7
What a difference a day makes.
Just 24 hours ago, the Mets were scrambling in reaction to the possibility that Tom Glavine might be gone for the year, experiencing a potentially life-threatening problem. This latest issue was perhaps the straw that might break the playoff camel’s back, compounding the Mets’ questionable starting rotation, bullpen issues since Duaner Sanchez’s season-ending injury, and the spectacle of a maligned mix of Lastings Milledge, Rickey Ledee, and Mike Tucker manning at least one corner outfield position come October.
Then comes Tuesday, August 22nd. First, and most importantly, Tom Glavine’s angiogram states that his life is not in danger, nor his season. In fact, he may be ready to pitch within a week and a half, assuming he keeps popping St. Joseph’s aspirin.
Second, the Mets finally acquire Shawn Green in a trade, sending borderline lefty prospect Evan MacLane in return.
Third, Aaron Heilman pitched another great inning, Chad Bradford pitching magnificently again, and newcomer Guillermo Mota showed flashes of what made him the best setup man in baseball a few years ago. Bullpen, confirmed effective.
Finally, the Mets accomplish a remarkable come-from-behind, walkoff victory against the St. Louis Cardinals — Shea visitor Bill Clinton’s favorite team — in one of the most exciting games of the year. So exciting, in fact, that Clinton was completely exhausted by the on-field fireworks and was caught by the TV cameras falling asleep late in the game.
If you missed the game, spend the three bucks and download the replay on MLB.com; it’s well worth the money. Not convinced? Consider that Mr. Willie Himself — with whom I have a frustrating love-hate relationship — was absolutely JOVIAL in his post-game conference with the media. JOVIAL. When was the last time you saw Randolph JOVIAL ? He was downright giddy, iin fact, winking at least a dozen times, cracking jokes, smiling ear to ear, and expressing more outward emotion than anyone has seen from a Mets’ manager since Bobby Valentine left for Japan. As a late August game for a team that is 14 games ahead it meant little; but as an uplifing victory in a game that resembled a playoff preview against the second-best team in the NL, it meant everything.
This game meant a lot on many levels. First, and perhaps most importantly, it proved that Jason Isringhausen is human. Not that it ever was a question, but when the playoffs come, and they’re behind in the ninth against St. Louis, the Mets can look back to this game and think, “hey, we’ve done this before … and recently”. Second, it showed that Albert Pujols is pretty much the entire offense for the Cards. Third, the game — and the two home runs by Pujols — were important lessons for young John Maine to draw on.
In the fifth inning, with Maine obviously struggling, Mr. Willie left him out on the mound to find a way out of the mess he created. At first, I was ticked that Maine remained, as it was clear to everyone that he was having trouble and likely not getting out of the inning unscathed. However, I flipped my opinion, and now understand completely why Randolph left Maine out there: to pitch to Pujols again and learn a lesson. Had Maine worked out of it, he’d have developed confidence. Instead, he failed, but I surmise that he will learn from his mistakes, and understand that it’s OK if Pujols beats you — so long as the other Cardinal batters don’t. This is a lesson Maine can draw from come October, if he’s given the opportunity to pitch a playoff game against these same Cardinals.
In relief of Maine, Mota came out of the bullpen and threw 96-MPH bullets mixed in with 85-MPH changeups that didn’t fall, but downright vanished off the table. If Rick Peterson and bullpen coach Guy Conti could turn the fragile-minded Jorge Julio into a pennant-contender’s closer, imagine what they can do with this talent.
Pedro Feliciano was awful, but ChadBrad was absolutely phenomenal, getting Albert Pujols to bounce into a key double play in the seventh, and inducing another DP in the 8th. Aaron Heilman was his suddenly usual perfect self in preserving the Mets’ chance to win. With Heilman, Bradford, Roberto Hernandez, Billy Wagner, and a Mota that can come close to the effectiveness he had just two years ago, I don’t see any team beating the Mets when it comes down to a battle of the bullpens.
The bullpen held the fort while the two Carloses for the price of one went about their duty of destroying opposing teams’ lesser pitchers. Given a 7-1 lead, Jeff Weaver showed why the Angels, Dodgers, Yankees, and Tigers gave up on the miraculous underachiever. He started by giving up a leadoff walk to the hardly dangerous Ricky Ledee. A questionable error by leftfielder Chris Duncan on a blooper by Jose Reyes and a single by Paul LoDuca loaded the bases. Carlos Beltran handed Weaver a gift: a weak grounder right back to the mound. Instead of firing the ball to home plate, Weaver meekly underhanded the ball to catcher Yadier Molina, who then had no time to double-up the speedy Beltran at first. Then, Weaver fell behind Delgado 3-1 (once the count got to 2-1, it was obvious what was going to happen). Newsflash: you can’t load the bases then fall behind 3-1 to a red-hot Carlos Delgado, and expect to escape. Weaver tossed three straight inside sliders to Delgado, and Carlos golfed the third one into the rightfield seats as if it were off a tee. After that blast — which encouraged the crowd to demand a Carlos curtain call — the momentum shifted to the Mets, and even though they were still down by two, there was something in the air that said this would be a victory for the Flushing Fabulosos. The feeling was similar to what happened when the Mets faced the Padres not long ago; no matter what the score, it just seemed like the Mets had the game in the bag. There’s a way this Mets team carries themselves with confidence — less obnoxiously than the outwardly cocky ’86 Mets, but not completely unlike them — that can be seen in their body language. And it’s damn cool.
One roster move made today has baffled me: Victor Diaz was designated for assignment to make room for Shawn Green. While there is no question that Diaz has fallen from favor, and has been absolutely awful this year — batting about .220 — I don’t see how you DFA Diaz and keep Ricky Ledee on the roster. Since Ledee and Mother Tucker have joined the team, Tucker has proven himself to be more valuable, hands-down. With Green joining the team, I don’t see the Mets needing both Ledee and Tucker, even if Lastings Milledge is sent down. And if Ledee were DFA’s, I don’t see anyone picking him up, meaning you can put him back in AAA if you think you might need him in September. Diaz, on the other hand, is still only 24 years old, and has time to reverse the backward step he took this year. Ledee is a never-was who at best may become a fifth outfielder and sixth-inning pinch hitter. In other words, garbage time. Why keep garbage over young talent? Even if Diaz is not part of the Mets’ future plans — and that has become apparent — you can’t tell me that he wouldn’t be valuable as a trading chip in the offseason. The good thing out of this is that Diaz will definitely get picked up by someone else — most likely Jim Duquette’s Orioles, the Royals, the Nationals, or the Pirates — and will get a legitimate shot to win a job come 2007. Good luck, Vic.
Delgado’s granny was also career homer # 400. Talk about memorable.
Paul LoDuca went 3-5 and made an amazing tag on Ron Belliard attempting to score on a Molina double. Magnificent play that can now be seen as highly important.
Also something that must be highlighted: Jose Valentin’s perfect sac bunt in the sixth, pushing Endy Chavez to third base (he subsequently scored on a Jose Reyes groundout). It was textbook perfect, the kind of bunt you show to little leaguers as an example of how it is supposed to be done. You can’t say enough about Valentin’s overall contribution to this team this year. He’s been more than admirable — and occasionally outstanding — in the field, has cut down his homer-happy swing to become a reliable bat, and he’s performed all the little things as well, this bunt being a more obvious illustration. Shame on me for dismissing him in early May, and kudos to Omar and Willie for giving him the chance and sticking with him through the tough times.
Wednesday pits the vulcan and streaking Steve Trachsel vs. the struggling Mark Mulder. It will likely be Lastings Milledge’s last start before Shawn Green arrives, so we hope to see the Milledge People show up in support.