Game 128: Win
Mets 11 Phillies 5
After the first four innings, it looked like Omar Minaya might have caught lightning in a bottle with the Xavier Nady trade, as “throw-in” Oliver Perez resembled the 2004 form that made him more highly coveted than, say, Dontrelle Willis.
Perez didn’t just breeze … he ripped through the Phillies batters like a gas chainsaw through warm butter, striking out six and allowing no hits through the first four innings.
Then came the fifth.
All hell broke loose, as Perez suddenly lost his command, walking two — including pitcher Jon Lieber — and hitting one before giving up a grand slam to Ryan Howard. When the inning was over, the Mets’ 2-zip lead was transformed into a 5-2 deficit, and Perez was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the inning.
However, Jon Lieber’s mastery of the Mets came to an end in the bottom of the sixth, as Carlos Delgado drove home himself and Carlos Betran with an absolute blast over the left-center wall. The Phillies brought in Rick White in the seventh inning, and the Mets began to feast.
After the first three Mets got on to load the bases, Carlos Delgado — again — delivered a long fly ball. This time it stayed in the park, but Jose Reyes scored on the sac fly to tie the game. David Wright was intentionally walked to load the bases again and give reliever Aaron Fultz an advantage against newly acquired lefthanded hitter Shawn Green. Green fell behind 0-2, watched a waste pitch, then hammered the 1-2 offering into left field for an opposite-field double that drove in two and gave the Mets the lead.
Fultz apparently didn’t learn from the first intentional walk, as he then intentionally walked Jose Valentin to load the bases again and face lefty hitter Endy Chavez. It was deja vu all over again, as Endy doubled to deep right, scoring Green and Wright. Chris Woodward followed with another hit, a single, to clear Chavez and Valentin, and by the time the inning was over the Mets had an 11-5 lead that stood to the end of the game.
Though Perez fell apart in the fifth, he looked downright awesome through those first four. If nothing else, it is apparent that he still has a huge amount of talent. From what I understand, his issue in Pittsburgh was partly mechanical, partly a decrease in velocity, and partly a change in style. In other words, his problem wasn’t a matter of losing concentration or succumbing to sudden big innings. Considering that he was hitting around 93-94, and was using a one-two combination of overpowering fastballs and deadly sliders, this was a very positive outing and a step in the right direction. Before the fifth, Perez looked confident, excited, and dominating, turning feared hitters such as Ryan Howard into non-entities. Even if Perez doesn’t evolve into a playoff starter by the end of September, he looks to have enough stuff to be a vital component of the bullpen come October.
Speaking of the bullpen, how about Guillermo Mota? After falling off the face of the earth — possibly gone to the same place as Perez — Mota has resurfaced with the same stuff that made him one of the most dominating setup men in baseball in 2003-2004. My guess is that he’s suffered from minor injuries and too many changes since his days as a Dodger. Based on his success as a setup guy, the Marlins gave up the farm and banked on him being a closer … a role he never quite embraced nor could succeed in. Since failing as a closer, he’s been passed from the Marlins to the Red Sox to the Indians, and now the Mets in the course of ten months. If he continues to pitch like this, he’ll have an enormous impact in the playoffs.
Shawn Green’s go-ahead double was exactly the type of clutch hit that will seal his endearment to the New York fans. He was already warmly welcomed, witnessed by a standing O in his Mets debut at-bat, and you could tell the fans were hoping that he’d come up big so they could cheer for him. By coming through in the clutch so quickly, the pressure is off and he can relax through September; and a relaxed Shawn Green should be a very productive one.
In the bottom of the sixth, Julio Franco pinch-hit for the pitcher, Darren Oliver, with the bases loaded and one out and the Mets still down 5-4. Maybe I’m crazy (OK, there’s no maybe involved), but I would have considered allowing Oliver to hit for himself in that situation. Oliver is a good-hitting pitcher, with a .228 career batting average, and had pitched only one inning. At the time, I completely understood why Mr. Willie had Julio Franco up there, though I firmly believe Oliver would have had a better at-bat than Franco’s first-pitch swinging into a double play. Since the Mets have been carrying so many pitchers, I wonder if Willie has Oliver take “real” batting practice with the regular players, or if he only swings with the pitchers — which is generally a more limited session. With an athlete like Oliver available, you’d think one would take advantage and have him as a hitter and a pitcher.