Game 45: Win
Mets 5 Phillies 4
The Mets have the best record in baseball in one-run games, but I really wouldn’t mind if they won by two or three once in a while.
Actually, the number of one-run games at this point is a little scary. It is reminiscent of a team from last year that was very similar to these Mets, the Washington Nationals. This time last year, the Nats were on top of the NL East, winning an extraordinary number of one-run games, and relying heavily on a deep, effective bullpen. We all know how that went: by the end of July, the Nats were effectively out of the race, their bullpen completely burned out and the one-run games taking their toll on the team.
However, the 2006 Mets seem to have a lot more depth, and a lot more hitting than last year’s Nats, so we shouldn’t see a similar dropoff in Flushing. Now that Cliff Floyd is heating up, the Mets lineup is a juggernaut.
Carlos Beltran, David Wright, and Jose Reyes all stayed hot, as they were the offensive heroes. The big story of the game, however, was the MLB debut of Cuban-born Alay Soler. After a jittery first inning in which he gave up three runs, Soler settled down to pitch a very strong game. Despite his lack of experience in the US, Soler looks to have the stuff to compete at this level.
Though not overpowering, Soler does have the command of three pitches and mixes them well. He looks like a Leo Mazzone pupil: working the corners, spotting pitches all over strike zone, concentrating on the outside corner for outs, and attempting to make good pitches all the time. There’s a fine line between making good pitches and trying to be too perfect; tonight, Soler looked to be on the right side of that line. After the first inning, his performance seemed effortless, and full of confidence; there was no intimidating this guy.
Even more news today involving a Cuban pitcher: Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez was picked up from Arizona in exchange for Jorge Julio. If nothing else, this deal solidifies Aaron Heilman’s role in the bullpen, as his only chance of escaping was continued improvement from Julio.
I’m a little mixed on this deal. I was starting to really become attached to Julio, and was rooting for him to come all the way back from his frightening start to become a dominant force out of the ‘pen. I still believe he’ll one day become another Armando Benitez—meaning a guy who will save 30 games a year — but in my heart of hearts I knew he might never have the emotional makeup to handle the pressure of New York. So in the end, it is probably better for him to get away from the spotlight of the big city.
As for El Duque, he looks to be a good fit for this team. While his 2006 performance thus far has been miserable, he has traditionally been a slow starter, and particularly poor in May. Plus, he’s coming off a strong 7-inning start (no decision), so it’s apparent that he still has something left.
More importantly, El Duque’s role will be to pitch in October. Playoff series are won with great pitching, and most championship teams have at least three strong starters. Currently, the Mets have two strong starters and a bunch of question marks. With El Duque’s history as a big-game pitcher with four World Series rings, the Mets will be able to match up well when and if they reach the postseason.
That’s not to say that Hernandez will be the Met’s #3 starter; far from it. He’s at best a #4, but probably closer to a #5, as he’ll have a mix of starts where he dominates and gets shelled (not unlike Steve Trachsel). However, he is a tough competitor, and I think he and Pedro will really feed off each other, as they are very similar in their approach and their repertoire. And naturally, he would seem to be a good influence on Alay Soler, if the Mets decide to keep him up with the big club.
Good thing the Mets took the first two, as tomorrow’s game figures to be a loss (Jeremi Gonzalez is starting).