Game 157: Loss
Braves 12 Mets 0
For one night, it was as if the Mets were the victims of a time machine, making the year, perhaps, 2003. John Smoltz cruised all game, barely breaking a sweat, while the Mets looked inept at bat, on the mound, and in the field.
In the first inning, the Braves showed why they won the division 14 years in a row, while the Mets exhibited the incompetence that made them also-rans during that streak.
The Mets started off the game with men on first and third and no outs, with their 3-4-5 batters stepping up to the plate. Carlos Beltran struck out, not even coming close to a ball. Carlos Delgado did the same, though he nearly poked a single to left field before whiffing. David Wright completed the disgraceful performance by popping up to centerfield.
In the bottom of the inning, the Braves’ leadoff batter Willy Aybar hit a weak popup to leftfield that was so grossly misplayed by Mr. Achilles, Cliff Floyd, it became a standup double. Pesky Marcus Giles followed with a bunt past the pitcher toward second base that became an infield hit. So, the Braves had the same first-and-third start with the meat of the lineup coming up. The difference, of course, is that their #3 guy, Edgar Renteria, did his job by making CONTACT, and thus drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. The next batter, Andruw Jones, lived up to his status as the cleanup hitter by blasting a pitch into the leftfield seats. In the end, both teams put themselves into identical situations, and the result was Braves 3 Mets 0.
Granted, it doesn’t matter — at least not as far as the 2006 regular season. But, it is a glaring example of the Mets’ sudden inability to drive home runs that should and must be driven in. It’s an issue that must not be an issue come playoff time, when the Mets lineup might have to face the likes of Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt, Jake Peavy, or Brad Penny — guys who shut down big hitters and rarely allow more than a few hits per game. Against those types of pitchers, a lineup has to attack as a team, making sure that every out is productive. Though you will occasionally see Paul LoDuca make a productive out by advancing a runner or driving home a run simply by makng contact, his skills are rare indeed among the homer-happy Mets. Too often, you’ll see Cliff Floyd or Carlos Beltran overswing at a pitch when all that is needed is a simple base hit or a well-placed grounder. This has been happening all year, but was buried because of the sheer firepower of the Met lineup.
Oliver Perez had a hard time in this game, as he was bit especially by the home run ball. Interestingly, the homers were on first-pitch fastballs, with the batters swinging so hard it looked like they were about to jump out of their shoes. Can anyone say “scouting report”? Here’s a whisper to Ollie: can you say “chin music” ? If Perez would occasionally buzz one inside to the sluggers, they wouldn’t be so eager to dig in and swing from their heels. It would also help if he could mix up his first pitches a bit.
The problem, I think, is that Oliver never really got any kind of rhythm. Other than the moon shots, he did a pretty good job of placing his pitches, getting ahead, and causing batters to swing and miss. There’s no doubt he has the kind of talent that can make a manager or GM salivate; the question is whether he’ll ever be able to put it together.
Royce Ring was one of the few bright spots of the evening, coming in to retire two lefty batters in the bottom of the sixth with a man on second. This was his third consecutive impressive performance, and you really have to wonder if he’ll get even a moment of consideration for the postseason roster, especially if he strings together a few more great outings.
Heath Bell also had a solid, if unspectacular outing, despite allowing runs in two innings of work. I say “solid” because his first inning and a third were good, but he clearly ran out of gas after that. Naturally, Willie left him out there to die, forcing him to throw over 40 pitches in the eighth inning. Randolph is a cruel, vicious, scumbag for that move. Some please explain how Bell is the only guy who can pitch when you have a 40-man roster? Dave Williams was not available? Philip Humber? Mike Pelfrey? Are these guys around merely to experience the joy of having their bags carried for them? That was a shit move, Willie.
Which begs the question, are the Mets interested in using Heath Bell next year, or are they displaying him as trade bait? Or do they simply not care at all about him, and have decided he’s the janitor? It would seem to me that Bell’s ultimate value to a team is as a one-inning setup guy, and he’s been trained as such, yet Willie Randolph continually uses him as a two- and three-inning mopup reliever. It’s like Randolph is giving him opportunities to fail — and he’s been doing it for two years now. What in god’s name does Mr. Willie have against this guy?
Ron Darling spoke about Bell going into a “caveman mentality”, explaining that Heath tends to quicken his tempo and throw harder after he gives up a few runs. Well, if Ronny were paying attention, he’d understand that Heath is no fool; Bell knows that if he’s pitching more than one inning, in a game where the team is down by five or more, he’s the sacrificial lamb. It’s kind of hard to, 1) remain motivated when you know the manager doesn’t give a crap about you; and 2) pitch effectively when you’re dog-tired. Here’s the deal, Ron: the Mets trained Bell to be a late-inning reliever, having Norfolk use him as their closer most of the year. For five months, he was told to pitch his heart out for one inning, then come back and do the same thing the next night. Since he throws a lot of strikes, he had a lot of 10- and 15-pitch outings. When the human body gets used to throwing 15 pitches, all out, a few times a week, it can be very difficult to suddenly throw 40 to 60 pitches once every two weeks. It’s kind of like asking Billy Wagner to be the playoff #1 starter, and expect him to pitch seven innings. No one would ever expect Wagner to be effective after the third inning, right? So why must people expect Heath Bell to suddenly become the righthanded Darren Oliver? His crucifixion is completely unwarranted, and a disgrace to Mets’ management.
What’s up with Willy Aybar? What does he have against the Mets? Chipper Jones must have brought him into that Friday night poker game with Pat Burrell and Dontrelle Willis, and found out all the tips for killing the Mets. I think the guy is hitting .078 against the rest of the NL, but .990 against the Mets.
Pedro tries again tomorrow, facing Tim Hudson. We’ll guess that John Maine will be ready as the long man? It would be nice to see how Maine does out of the bullpen, since the numnut Mets management is hell-bent on using Steve Trachsel as a playoff starter. Wednesday should be a good opportunity for a long relief appearance, as it’s doubtful Martinez will go more than three or four innings in his second attempt to completely destroy his calf muscle.