Browsing Archive May, 2006

Game 52: Win

Mets 1 Diamondbacks 0

When the Mets broke camp at the end of March, I couldn’t figure out how or why both Endy Chavez and Jose Valentin made the big league roster. I was convinced that both of these guys were dead weight, and would be gone long before the end of May.

At the end of April, I still couldn’t figure out why both of these incompetents were taking up space on the bench, and worse, taking a number of at-bats while youngsters such as Jeff Keppinger and Victor Diaz rotted away in Norfolk.

Now that we’re on the cusp of June, Chavez and Valentin are not only proving their worth, but becoming integral parts of the first-place Mets.

Valentin has wrested the second base job away from Kaz Matsui (though, according to Mr. Willie, Kaz has remarkably not lost his job … he’s just keeping the bench warm while Valentin plays), and is red-hot over the last two weeks. Chavez has been a more gradual improvement, first showing signs of value when Carlos Beltran was injured early in the year, and continuing to be a sparkplug and clutch hitter in his limited role off the bench … a role that is becoming less limited every day.

Tonight, it was Valentin who smashed an opposite-field double to lead off the 13th, doing a very nice job of stroking a tough sinker off the outside edge of the plate. It was not an easy pitch to hit, much less drive to the outfield. After pinch-hitter Ramon Castro grounded out to short, moving Valentin to third, Chavez, who came in earlier as part of a double switch, ripped a high line drive over the drawn-in outfield to score Valentin and win the game. Another walk-off, extra-inning win for the Metsies, who are fulfilling my prediction that if nothing else, it would be a fun and exciting season.

Player notes ….

Lastings Milledge started for the second consecutive day in right field, in place of the disabled Xavier Nady, and looked so-so at the plate. In the field, he dropped a line drive hit straight at him, but more than made up for the miscue later in the game with a laser-beam throw to third base that retired Craig Counsell, who attempted to move from first to third on a single. His throw was electric, and had plenty of mustard; it harkened back to the days of Ellis Valentine (remember him?), who quite possibly had the strongest and most accurate outfield arm in Mets history. The scouting reports were dead-on: this kid has tools. If and when he puts it all together, we’ll have an all-around star. With his raw skills, he should at the very least become an all-around better ballplayer than Steve Henderson, possibly as good as Darryl Strawberry, and likely somewhere in between.

Carlos Beltran took a nasty foul ball to his knee, and I’m guessing Endy or Lastings will be starting in center for the remainder of the week.

Pedro Martinez threw another gem, eight innings of shutout ball, and left the game with another no-decision. This is the first time in his career he’s gone an entire healthy month without garnering a win. Shame on you, Mets batters.

Pedro, Billy Wagner, and Duaner Sanchez combined for 13 innings of shutout ball, giving up 7 hits, one walk, and 11 strikeouts, and they did it all in only 143 pitches (99 for strikes). That’s downright dominating, and amazingly efficient.

Taking another look at what was just stated: Duaner Sanchez threw 27 pitches (20 strikes) in three innings. That’s nine pitches per inning. Wow.

Carlos Delgado suffered another oh-fer, but all is not lost. He mashed a bomb to the centerfield wall but was robbed of an extra-base hit as Eric Byrnes made a spectacular catch. Delgado is hitting the ball hard and driving it well again, so it is only a matter of time before he starts finding the gaps again. What made his performance more encouraging was the fact he had these good at-bats against arguably the toughest pitcher in the league this year, Brandon Webb.

Byrnes, by the way, either just happens to be red-hot right now, or has become a Mets Killer. Maybe he’s ticked off at Omar for not being signed in the offseason to play right field. As I remember, in the week before the Delgado trade, there was a lot of talk that he would come in and compete with Victor Diaz for the spot, while Xavier Nady would platoon with Mike Jacobs at first base. (Personally, I like Byrnes, but I’m pretty happy the way things turned out.)

Anyone notice that Brandon Webb, Brandon Lyon, and Brandon Medders held the Mets to no runs on six hits, one walk, and 10 strikeouts. If the D’Backs had one more Brandon on the staff, this game might still be going on…

Off day for the Mets on Thursday, then the San Francisco Giants come into town on Friday. Tommy Glavine vs. Matt Cain.


Game 51: Loss

Diamondbacks 7 Mets 2

So much for Soler.

Alay Soler really looks to have good stuff, a decent head on his shoulders, and good command. Unfortunately, the Arizona hitters took a liking to his pitching and battered him around for most of the five innings he performed.

Even taking away the homerun by Eric Byrnes — which again was a nine-iron shot off a pitch about an inch off the ground — Soler got hit pretty hard. Not sure what the issue is, but I’m guessing he’s either getting too much of the middle of the plate or his fastballs don’t move much, because he seems to have pretty good command of his pitches and changes speeds well.

Of course, it could just be the issue that he is still a AA pitcher, and not yet ready for prime time.

The problem, however, is that he needs to be, and this fact was struck home even stronger with the placement of Brian Bannister on the 60-day DL. That does not bode well, considering the only options left for the Mets are John Maine, who is just starting to come back from his finger injury (and still an unknown quantity), and newly acquired Dave Williams, whose ERA was over seven before being DFA’s by the Reds. Hopefully, Soler will bounce back and prove to be at least more effective than the Jeremi Gonzalez-Jose Lima debacle that we were forced to endure.

On the other side of the field, Miguel Batista did something that Mr. Willie has never seen before, and probably will never allow a starting pitcher to do in 2006: complete a game. Yes, that’s right, here it is in the 21st century, and somehow, some way, perhaps with the aid of modern medicine, synthetic designer supplements, and/or the grace of God Himself, a pitcher threw an entire nine-inning game. Randolph, of course, was shocked, flabbergasted, and in complete awe of this remarkable human specimen / freak named Miguel Batista. And unbelievably, Batista threw 124 pitches in his effort! No doubt Mr. Willie is wondering whether D’Backs manager Bob Melvin will be shot — or at least publicly flogged — for allowing a fragile professional arm to endure so many pitches in one evening.

Anyway …

Cliff Floyd and Jose Valentin were the only bright spots, both going two-for-four on the day with extra-base hits (Valentin a home run). The other interesting aspect of the game was the MLB debut of Lastings Milledge, who smashed a line-shot out to the shortstop in his first at-bat and later collected his first ML hit, a double, in the seventh. While it’s doubtful Milledge will remain on the big-league roster when Xavier Nady returns from his appendectomy, Lastings did exhibit his trademark lightning-quick hands, and showed the raw tools that predict future stardom.

Lost in the Lastings promotion is Victor Diaz, who was ignored when Nady went down. Is this Omar and Willie sending a message to Vic?

Wednesday night should be a barn-burner: Brandon Webb vs. Pedro Martinez. My prediction: Pedro tosses 7 innings of shutout ball, matching a one-run-allowed performance by Webb (the only run a solo homer by David Wright). Pedro is taken out for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh, as he has already thrown 101 pitches. Webb stays in the game and gets the win, as the Mets’ bullpen blows another Pedro masterpiece and the Mets lose, 4-1.


Game 50: Win

Mets 8 Diamondbacks 7

Bottom of the ninth, tie game, bases loaded, no outs, Carlos Delgado at the plate, David Wright on deck … if you’re the visiting pitcher, how do you get out of it ?

The answer is obvious: you don’t.

The only question was who was going to do it to you. As it turned out, David Wright was the hero — or at least one of them; you have to give huge credit to both Endy Chavez and Jose Reyes for their heroics in tying the game.

Delgado, by the way, had a godawful at-bat, especially in that situation (pitcher struggling, infield drawn in, all pressure on the pitcher). He is really struggling lately … in fact, he is in the exact same place Cliff Floyd was in a week ago: over aggressive, flying open, ahead of everything. Delgado has been known to go the other way, and you could tell by the weak, foul popups in various at-bats that he is trying to go to left to break out of the slump. However, his front shoulder is flying up and open so quickly on the pitch, he can’t keep the hands back to drive through the ball. No biggie, he’ll figure it out soon and start mashing the ball all over the place again.

Three amazing things in the ninth inning: first, how did Endy Chavez NOT get a triple out of that drive past LGonzo? I’m guessing the wet basepaths slowed him down. Secondly, how did Jose Reyes NOT get a sac bunt down? As it was, neither issue mattered, as Reyes came through with another clutch hit RBI, driving in Chavez from second with a single. But finally, how is it that the D-Backs keep LGonzo out there in left field to finish the game? Do they not have a late-inning defensive replacement?

I nearly expected Mr. Willie to tell Paul LoDuca to bunt Reyes to second, despite his being already 3-4 on the night and red hot. Thanks, Willie!

Poor Steve Trachsel pitched what Mets officials consider a “good outing”: six innings, four runs … yet he was unable to grab a victory. He must feel like Pedro Martinez, whose last four outings were slightly better than Trax’s, and yet the Mets lost all four.

Now that Aaron Heilman is clearly ineffective as the seventh-inning reliever, it may be time to start thinking about finding him another role somewhere on the staff, as he does seem to show flashes of skill and competence. Since Darren Oliver appears entrenched as the Mets’ top mopup reliever, Mr. Willie might have to consider banishing Heilman to the starting rotation (perish the thought!).

I know, I know, it’s only been a few poor outings in a row for Heilman, and I may be a little overanxious in moving him out of the ‘pen. However, as we all know, the bullpen is the Mets’ strength, and the most valuable component on the team. If Heilman continues to give up hits and runs in his relief outings, Mr. Willie will have no choice but to get him out of there. Maybe Omar Minaya can pull off a blockbuster deal for a good seventh-inning reliever, such as Ray King or Scot Shields. Sure, it may cost us a Lastings Milledge, but we’ve got to fill that hole, and fast. Who knows, with the Royals in such disarray, maybe we can pry away Elmer Dessens, in a straight-up deal for Mike Pelfrey (Pelfrey doesn’t look to have much potential anyway; the Mets envision his future as a starter).

Tuesday night will be Alay Soler vs. Miguel Batista. It should be fun to watch Soler again; I’m rooting for him and hoping he is the real deal. Who knows, he may pitch effectively enough to be promoted to the bullpen!


Game 49: Win

Mets 7 Marlins 3

El Duque made his Mets debut in fine fashion, fulfilling the team’s need for a fifth starter to get through the fifth inning. He looked pretty good, outside of a three-run second inning, and likely would have been able to pitch into at least the seventh had he not been under Mr. Willie’s stringent 100-pitch limit.

Carlos Beltran remains on fire, and is producing the way he was expected to when he signed the $120M contract. At this rate, he’ll finish the year with over 30 HRs and 125 RBI.

As will David Wright, who went “only” two for four in this game. Wright has jacked up his average to .333 after going 7-9 over the last two games.

Another guy who is staying hot is Jose Valentin, who has now more or less established himself as a semi-regular. As long as he hits (and keeps his urine clean), he’ll be in the lineup.

Heath Bell finally made an appearance without giving up a run, though he did allow five baserunners in 2 2/3 innings. Part of his issue may be his adjustment from being a one-inning closer at Norfolk, where he said he “…put everything on the table,” to the two- and three-inning stints he’ll be expected to produce with the Mets. Whereas he was gassing it up for a few batters in the minors, he now has to pace himself for 30-50-pitch outings. Interesting, that his conditioning for one-inning bursts would have been a perfect fit as the seventh-inning replacement for Aaron Heilman, had Heilman been put in the rotation.

Steve Trachsel opens the homestand on Memorial Day vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks.


Game 48: Win

Mets 7 Marlins 4

Ah, back on track … losing to the Marlins with Pedro on the mound against not-Dontrelle was a bit hard to swallow. Not sure what was more remarkable about this game: the fact that the Mets hitters had an easier time against D-Train than Josh Who?, or that it STILL takes three relievers to win a game when a Mets’ starter pitches two outs into the eighth.

Tom Glavine was once again, well, Vintage Glavine. And to boot, he struck out another nine in 7 2/3. He may very well finish in the top ten in the NL in strikeouts when it’s all said and done.

Aaron Heilman pitched less than stellar once again in relief, but it’s probably too late for him to claim a starter’s spot. I was really hoping he’d have a string of awful relief outings to convince the Mets brass that he wasn’t so valuable in the ‘pen. But, if he keeps pitching ineffectively, maybe the Mets will swap him into the rotation and make Pedro a reliever, since the bullpen is so damn important …

Carlos Beltran continues his torrid hitting, with two doubles in four at-bats. I’m no good at math, but it seems implausible that his batting average is still in the .260s, the way he’s been hitting the last three weeks.

David Wright came back from a day off and went four-for-four; maybe he should get a few more off days. In all seriousness, he sat due to back spasms, and complained that he still had pain, despite the 4-4. That’s just a little bit scary for Mets fans, who are hanging most of their hopes on the Golden Boy.

Carlos Delgado was given a day off against the lefty Willis, and Julio Franco filled in admirably, going 2-4.

Speaking of replacement players, Ramon Castro continued to establish himself as one of the top backup catchers in the game, blasting a solo homer in the fourth, and Chris Woodward had a double, a walk, and two runs scored as the leftfielder. It appears that Mr. Willie will be sitting Cliffy at least against the tough lefties, which is probably a good idea for two reasons: first, because he has been atrocious vs. lefties over the last 2-3 years, and secondly, he’s the kind of guy who definitely benefits from frequent days off. Even when not seriously injured, he manages to get himself banged up one way or another, and at the age of 33, is at the point where his body can use a little rest every once in a while. Watch him come back strong after the off day.

Big game tomorrow afternoon, as El Duque makes his Mets debut vs. some guy named Nolasco at 1pm.


Game 47: Loss

Marlins 5 Mets 1

It’s a game against the Marlins after a day off, so everyone is well-rested. Pedro Martinez is pitching for the Mets, and D-Train is NOT pitching for the Marlins; they’re throwing some schlub rookie who was promoted from the bullpen to stop a gap. You figure it’s an easy win, right?

Hold on, let me add that Pedro pitches another brilliant 7-inning outing, striking out ten and allowing only two runs. You’re still wondering what is there to be concerned about, right?

Well, um, the Mets batters apparently forgot to hit. They managed only two hits in nine innings against Josh Johnson, some guy named Kensing, and the Bayonne Bullet, Joe Borowski.

There isn’t much more to say, or contemplate. The Mets lost to a Triple-A team, on a night their ace threw seven awesome innings.


Game 46: Loss

Phillies 5 Mets 3

As expected, Jeremi Gonzalez was awful again, giving away the game in the first inning. Though he pitched “well” after the first inning, the damage had been done. Not even the heroics of “slugger” Jose Reyes, who hit another home run as well as a double and a single, could deter the loss to Brett Myers and the Phils, who held the Mets’ 3-4-5 batters to a combined oh-fer-eleven.

Thankfully, we won’t be seeing Gonzalez for a while, as he was DFA’d immediately after the game to make room for newly acquired Orlando Hernandez. Chances are, no one will be claiming him on waivers, and he’ll return to Norfolk in a week to join fellow incompetent Jose Lima.

In other news, the Mets picked up another arm for the bullpen, to eat up all the useless inning Jorge Julio used to handle. Dave Williams, a lefty who was traded for Sean Casey just a few months ago, was picked up in a DFA deal with the Reds. At only 27 years old, and capable of throwing a baseball with his left hand, Williams shows an inkling of potential. He’ll be assigned to Norfolk immediately, but may be up as early as next week, following Alay Soler’s next start. This is a no-loss gamble on the Mets part, not unlike their signing of Danny Graves last year. Who knows, he may help out a bit down the road.

Tomorrow it’s Pedro vs. Marlins. We better get two out of three this weekend.


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).