Mets 3 Nationals 2
A few notes regarding Opening Day …
It was an enjoyable game to watch, but hardly a solid Mets win. The Mets were very lucky to pull out a win, as there were a few calls that went the Mets way (Soriano was safe at home, but called out, for example), but more importantly, several missed executions that seem like nothing but are difference-makers over the course of a season. For example, Anderson Hernandez could not get a bunt down with no outs and a man on second base, and ended up striking out on a third-strike foul bunt. I don’t see Hernandez hitting more than .230 this year, which means he HAS TO get bunts down in order to be helpful on offense. There were also chances for Met baserunners to take an extra base and they didn’t; I’m hoping that was due to the wet grounds. On defense, aside from his game-ending assist, Carlos Beltran did an awful job of returning the ball to the infield. At least twice, he missed the cutoff man and gave the hitter or runner an extra base. Granted, there was no guarantee that hitting the cutoff man would have resulted in an out, but overthrowing the cutoff results in a guaranteed extra base. A Major League outfielder should know when he can and cannot reach a base on a fly.
Finally, the Mets’ ability to hit with runners on base looks no better than it was a year ago. There were several situations where the Mets had a runner on second with less than two out and did not get good swings. Forget about advancing the runner or driving him in; I was seeing strikeouts, popups, and weak infield grounders. Granted, it’s only the first game of the year, and perhaps it’s too early to criticize. However, these little things are called “fundamentals” and the reason they’re called fundamentals is because executing them is fundamental to winning. Great teams — winning teams — execute fundamentals consistently, not sometimes or once in a while. Watch the Braves for a few weeks and you’ll understand why they have no fans despite winning constantly: they’re boring! Rarely do you see a 12-1 win, or back-to-back homers, or four home runs in a game. Rather, you see broken-bat singles, hit-and-runs, sac bunts, runners scoring on groundball outs, and other remarkably unexciting plays. And at the end of the game, most of the time, they’re on the winning side.
On the positive side, Tommy Glavine looked great. Except for one inning where he forgot where the plate was, he threw lots and lots of strikes, and pounded the inside part of the plate to both righties and lefties, with both the fastball and the changeup. Also, both Glavine and Heilman pitched very tough with runners on third and less than two out. Heilman’s command was a little off, but he may still be pissed off about being sent back to the pen; he’ll be fine. Another great thing to see on the mound was the presence of Billy Wagner. As soon as he steps on the mound, you can feel the electricity, and you can see the other team frightened stiff. He “only” hit 95, but it’s clear that Wagner will bring a new kind of excitement to the end of ballgames this year.
In addition, I am very impressed with Paul LoDuca behind the plate. He has no arm, but he’s otherwise very solid and savvy back there. He calls a great game, in my opinion: lots of fastballs and inside pitches. I really like the way he receives the ball as well, with soft hands. I never understood writers and broadcasters who would talk about Piazza being a good defensive catcher who was discredited for a poor throwing arm. The fact is, Piazza is an awful catcher in nearly every facet. He did not call a good game, he did not block balls well, and he was very stiff behind the plate with jerky, rocklike hands. Pitchers lost a lot of borderline strikes because Piazza constantly over-framed and jerked the glove into the strike zone. Watch LoDuca, and you will see him simply hold a borderline strike right where it hits, occasionally just bringing it a hair into the zone. That’s good framing. Tom Glavine thought Questech was his bane when he came to Shea; he’ll find out this year it was Piazza, as LoDuca will coax strikes out of the majority of the borderline pitches.
I suppose I should say Xavier Nady’s hitting was a positive, but I just don’t like this guy’s bat; he looks streaky to me. Which is fine as long as he’s hot. But I’m just too much a Victor Diaz fan to give the X man credit just yet. Nady will have to really impress me, through July, to win me over.
I can’t decide what looks worse: Carlos Beltran’s hair or his cheesy wannabe goatee.
And what is the story with some of the ballplayers having facial hair? I thought that was a no-no in Willie’s Yankeeology. (Willie’s mustache looks really cheesy too … he needs to get rid of that with Victor Conte back in the spotlight.)
Further to the point, the Nats’ Nick Johnson has a really bad cheesy mustache himself. It looks so out of place, or like a stick-on. Meanwhile, Carlos Delgado looks like a teenager sans goatee.
Delgado, in fact, doesn’t look “right” to me. Not sure what it is, exactly. Maybe his uniform is too loose. Or maybe it’s the lack of facial hair. Or that stupid new vented helmet. His bat speed looks awesome: he’s going to hit some bombs this year. There’s just something about his appearance that’s not right. I’m wondering if someone gave him Mo Vaughn’s old uniform, and he was wearing longjohn layers underneath to keep warm.
Anyway, that’s game one. I call ’em as I see ’em.