Game 144: Win
Thank you, Joe Girardi, for leaving Taylor Tankersley in the game. Tankersley got out of the seventh by the skin of his teeth, then gave up two hits in the top of the 8th to set the stage for Carlos Delgado. How Girardi allowed Tankersley to take the mound in the 8th was crazy enough, but to let his fatigued rookie flip his flat slider to Delgado was insanity. Delgado responded as expected, by depositing his second offering over the fence in dead-center. How great is it to have Carlos Delgado in the lineup this year?
David Wright followed with a homerun of his own — almost. His deep flyball to left actually bounced off the scoreboard and remained in play, missing a homer by about 15 feet. Didn’t matter, because Uncle Cliffy smashed a drive to almost the same spot to send D-Wright home easily.
How about that Mets bullpen? Chad Bradford, Guillermo Mota, and Aaron Heilman combined for three scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out three. Most impressive: 43 pitches, 30 for strikes. That’s 70 percent for you non-math majors. Actually, if you remove Mota from the equation, the ChadBrad-Aaron numbers are unbelievable: 33 pitches, 28 strikes: 85%. Wow.
Billy Wagner, of course, had to make things interesting, putting the tying run on base, and allowing Miguel Cabrera to arrive at the plate as the potential winning run.
The pitching before the bullpen, however, was so-so — though encouraging. After an extended rain delay, Oliver Perez finally took the mound and was roughed up early, giving up a two-run double to Wes Helms in the first and a two-run homer to red-hot Josh Willingham in the third.
However, it was not as bad an outing as it looked. In fact, it was a very impressive performance on several levels.
First of all, Perez had ten strikeouts by the end of the fourth inning. TEN. (He finished with 11 in five.) Secondly, he was throwing a lot of strikes (66 out of 101) — hence the reason for the double and the homerun. Like Heath Bell on Monday, Perez was throwing strikes, but not always good strikes; he left a few too many balls over the heart of the plate, and as a result was hit hard.
A third good sign — if the Marlins / SNY radar gun can be trusted — was his continued increase in velocity. In his last game, he topped out at around 94 MPH. In this game, he hit 96 a few times and even touched 97 once or twice. Now, the problem is that speed can vary by as much as 2-3 MPH from gun to gun, so he may not have been throwing any faster than before. If that’s the case, we can at least be encouraged by the fact that he’s defintely pitching into the mid-90s — whereas he was having trouble hitting 90 MPH while still with the Pittsburgh Pirates. (Although, it seemed like the gun was fairly reliable, as it was tracking Billy Wagner at 97-98 on most of his fastballs, which is about right or slightly slow.)
Another thing I liked to see was Oliver’s demeanor on the mound. From his first appearance as a Met, he’s carried himself with the confidence of an ace, and is intimidated by no one. He attacks the strike zone with his fastball the same way whether the batter is the opposing pitcher or Miguel Cabrera; it’s as if he doesn’t even see the batter, and doesn’t care who’s up against him. Further, he doesn’t let adversity affect his focus. In this game, he fell behind quickly, and was hit pretty hard, but he remained unflappable. No fear, no worries … he went right back to business.
While I’m on my Perez-loving diatribe, I may as well add one more thing: he’s downright colorful and a joy to watch. Although not to the extent of Jose Reyes, Oliver Perez clearly shows that he is enjoying himself on the mound. His gestures, antics, and exuberance harken back to guys like Turk Wendell, Fernando Valenzuela, and Mark Fidrych. If he continues to improve, and can regain the dominance he had in 2004, this guy could become the kind of New York star that puts fannies in the seats. Time will tell …
Oliver Perez is nearly as exciting to watch at the plate as he is on the mound. Whether he’s making wild attempts to drag bunt, taking ferocious swings, or slamming his bat on the ground after striking out, he exudes the same intensity, color, and excitability you see when he’s pitching. He’s a helluva competitor.
Cliff Floyd hit some scorching line drives, and it looks like he has his dangerous stroke. I’d be happy with either him or Endy Chavez in the postseason lineup.
Shawn Green struggled at bat, striking out four times and popping out with the bases loaded in the ninth. He was able to get ahead on the count early against Josh Johnson, but wasn’t able to do anything with the advantage. It looked like he wasn’t picking up the ball out of Johnson’s hand, and as a result was starting his swings too late — even when he was obviously trying to go the other way. He might have too much movement in his stance, and maybe should lock his head still earlier in the pitcher’s delivery. Although, in a no-out, first and third situation against reliever Taylor Tankersley, he seemed to see the lefty’s slider just fine, but was either unable to pull the trigger or didn’t deem the pitches as strikes (the ump was all over the place). In his defense, the first strike against him was a questionable check swing, and the third that caught him looking seemed to be low and nasty.
Tankersley, by the way, was lucky as balls to get out of that seventh inning. Two of the strikes against Shawn Green were questionable, and a 1-1 pitch several inches off the plate to Julio Franco was called a strike, putting Franco into a 1-2 hole. If that pitch were rightly called a ball, he likely would not have thrown a slider in the dirt on 2-1. Further, he hit Jose Reyes on the foot with a pitch, which would have forced in a run, but the first-base umpire ruled that Reyes swung at the pitch. The Mets announcers said it was a great call, but I disagree; it looked to me like Reyes started to swing, then held up, but couldn’t keep the bat from moving further forward because he was jumping out of the way of the pitch. Sorry, check the book … that’s not a strike, because he was not attempting to hit the ball. So instead of a run scoring and Paul LoDuca coming up, Tankersley was handed another 1-2 count. Bunch of crap.
LoDuca was vocal in his leadoff at-bat in the next inning, letting the homeplate umpire know about a called strike and nearly getting tossed. Instead, he fought back to hit a liner up the middle. Interestingly, the ump gave Carlos Beltran at least one or two pitches in the next at-bat. Payback?
Actually, the payback seemed to come in the top of the ninth. First, it looked like Carlos Delgado had been struck out looking, but instead he walked. Later, with two out and runners on first and second, David Wright had struck out looking on a great, low, down-and-in fastball by the Bayonne Bullet, Joe Borowski. Except, the ump called it a ball, and on the next pitch D-Wright blasted a grounder through the hole between short and third to keep the inning alive. Endy Chavez followed with a walk, forcing in a run. As much as I love the Mets, I had to feel a little bad for Joe, a hardworking bulldog and local guy who deserved better in this game. But that feeling faded fast … after all, he’ll pitch in other games, against other opponents.
On defense, LoDuca made a great, quick throw to catch Hanley Ramirez attempting to steal in the seventh, but it was Jose Valentin’s fantastic snatch and tag that completed the play. Great job by both vets to pull it off.
Lastings Milledge was way too aggressive in a pinch-hitting appearance in the eighth, then looked foolish taking strike three over the heart of the plate. This guy needs at least another year or two of seasoning in the minors … and even then, I’m not sure he’s going to turn out to be much more than another Jay Payton.
Mets magic number is 3. If they win tomorrow, and the Braves sweep the Phillies in their doubleheader, it’s all over.