Mets Game 114: Loss to Braves

Braves 7 Mets 6

Sometimes, it can be very difficult to be a passionate student of the game, while also root for the team playing Bobby Cox’s Braves. Because anyone who is truly into the little things that win games, has a hard time not respecting and appreciating “the Braves way”.

It was nice to see the Mets fight back and try to come from behind in the last inning; it showed chutzpah, and gave the fans something to get excited about. However, do not fall for the ruse that they “came up just short”; had they played solid, hard-nosed baseball for the other eight innings, they might not have had to resort to dramatic fireworks at the end of the game to make it close — and would have had a better chance to win the game.

While the Mets are exciting, the Braves are boring — yet at the end of the game, the scoreboard shows the Braves as the winning team. This contest was typical of any Bobby Cox win from the last 16 years. It’s called fundamentals folks … and it may be hard to swallow for the passive Mets fan, who is used to waiting for their team to hit a three-run homer.

Though, the Braves were helped by the ball over the fence in this contest — it just was more of a surprise than part of the plan. If you watched the game, you saw the Braves execute the following:

1. consistently taking the extra base on the basepaths (this included their catcher)
2. dropping perfect bunts
3. playing both solid and extraordinary defense
4. throwing strikes
5. putting the ball in play
6. advancing runners with outs
7. scoring runs with outs

When a team constantly performs the above, it will almost always put itself into position to win the game. If a team does all the above, AND hits the ball over the fence, it’s gravy and they score seven runs. This is what’s called “grinding out” wins. It’s also what Willie Randolph wishes his team could do, as he was a “grinder” as a player — but hasn’t been able to get his team to play similarly for the most part (though, some of that is due to the personnel at his disposal; trying to get guys like Carlos Delgado, Ramon Castro, and Moises Alou grind is akin to forcing a square peg into a round hole).

Anyway …

John Maine did not have his good command in this game, and had one of his 2006-like flake-outs in the fifth, which resulted in a three-run homer by — who else? — Larry Jones, which put the Braves ahead 5-2. The Mets got one back in the bottom of the inning on an RBI single by Carlos Delgado, but didn’t do anything else until the ninth, when Ruben Gotay TOOK A STRIKE before smacking and infield hit, and was followed by a Jose Reyes double. Gotay scored on a grounder by Luis Castillo, and then Reyes scored on a David Wright bomb over the fence.

Notes

Mark Teixeira made an outstanding diving play on a ground ball over the bag in the fifth inning, with Reyes on first, that killed a potential double and likely a run. The play made pretty clear why Teixeira won a Gold Glove in the AL. Willie Harris made TWO outstanding defensive plays in leftfield, first stealing a double from Moises Alou early in the game, and then stealing a homer from Delgado in the bottom of the ninth. These three plays were the difference of the ballgame, and should be helpful to those who wonder why some teams care so much about defense.

Marlon Anderson left the game in the fourth inning after diving for a ball and spraining his wrist. Lastings Milledge replaced him, but was also seen getting his wrist taped up by the Mets trainer between innings. What kind of a voo-doo spell has been put on the Mets outfielders this year?

Against the Braves, the Mets’ lack of sound fundamentals are much more glaring than against lesser teams. On defense — and in stark contrast to the Braves — the Mets made several defensive gaffes — none of which resulted in errors but many of which led to the loss. For example, in the third, Marlon Anderson got a poor jump on a Kelly Johnson drive that ended up being a triple. We understand that Marlon’s not a centerfielder, but that’s exactly the point: he’s not a centerfielder. Luckily, Johnson didn’t score, but it gave the Braves an extra out and forced Maine to throw more pitches. Later, in the sixth inning, Yunel Escobar slapped a base hit, stole second, and made it to third when Ramon Castro threw the ball into the dirt, it skipped into center, and Milledge was nowhere near the ball and allowed Escobar to get to third. Shame on Castro, both Reyes and Castillo, and on Milledge. Then, with two strikes, Tim Hudson dropped a suicide squeeze to score Escobar, as Delgado had no chance to make the play. Now maybe the Mets can’t defend that play, but kudos to the Braves for executing it. Later in the inning, Castro made an awful attempt to block a pitch in the dirt, which put runners on second and third for Larry. Larry popped out to end the inning, so it didn’t matter, but it was another example of poor execution. Those were just a few of the issues that the average fan likely doesn’t notice, but when you add up all these little things, it’s easy to see how a team can lose or win a game.

On offense, the Mets’ fundamentals pale in comparison to the Braves, partly because of their lack of athleticism. Case in point: Moises Alou drives a ball down the leftfield line with two outs and Delgado on first. 99% of MLB players are athletic enough to get a good two-out jump at the crack of the bat and score on that drive. Delgado, however, slowly jogs into third. Another example: eighth inning, down by four, Ramon Castro takes a pitch that almost hits him, then swings at the next pitch and grounds out to short. Milledge follows by grounding the first pitch to Larry at third. Down four runs, the Mets are out on five pitches — the only reason there are five is because Shawn Green leads off by (correctly) taking a strike and Castro is nearly hit by a pitch. Strange, it doesn’t feel like June, yet the insanity of that month has returned.

I know I’ve stated this before, but the Mets pitchers need to make opposing batters dance once in a while. Larry and Teixeira, in particular, are WAAAAAAAAY too comfortable in the batter’s box. Beanballs are not necessary — but a pitch on the inside, making the batter move his feet, is all that’s necessary. Or did you not notice Hudson, Soriano, and Smoltz getting Mets batters to dance several times in the series?

The Mets finally turned a double play against the Braves, but it resulted in a run being scored. Another head-scratching moment for Willie, as it came in the seventh with the Mets down by three. Someone please explain why the infield was back in that situation? Very, very strange that two nights earlier, down by four, Willie is changing pitchers like it’s the seventh game of th World Series, but down by three in this game, he gives away the run. My theory? Willie doesn’t care for, nor feel the need to win, weekday afternoon games.

Next Game

The Mets host the Marlins in a 7:10 PM start. Brian Lawrence goes to the hill against Scott Olsen — who remarkably is not behind bars this week.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.