Mets 6 Braves 5
If you were to hear the following statements just two weeks ago, would you believe them?
1. Victor Zambrano would pitch 1 1/3 innings, strike out three, and you would be disappointed that he had to leave the game.
2. Bartolome Fortunato would not only be on the team, but would get a win vs. the Braves in a game where Tim Hudson was the starter.
3. Kaz Matsui would come through with the biggest hit of the game.
4. Jorge Julio would be the hero at the end of the game, collecting his first save of the year, against the Braves, just one day after earning his first win of the year, also against the Braves.
It was a crazy game, in a lot of ways, and its level of rarity had much to do with the 14-inning grinder of the night before. If nothing else, this 3-game series has already shown that the Mets are not only the more mentally tough team, but definitely the deeper team, especially with the pitching staff. Who would believe that the Mets would prove to have the better arms between these two teams? And the crazy thing is, the Mets still have Heath Bell rotting away in AAA!
There were so many fantastic things about this game, not the least of which was the Mets burying the Braves ten games behind them. For one, Kaz Matsui had a huge hit, in front of the Shea faithful, and has thus laid the first layer of bricks to the wall of endearment of the NY fans. I truly believe that Kaz’s continued progress, combined with evolving confidence and ensuing fan support, will propel him to near stardom. There’s no doubt he has immense physical skills, and he seems to have great instincts. His main issue has been game-time execution, and I think a lot of his failure had to do with a lack of confidence and the negativity of the fans. With a dose of confidence, and the fans cheering him, he will come up with several more big hits in 2006.
Just as important was the performance of Jorge Julio. Only two weeks ago, I had called for his head, begging the Mets to send him to Norfolk (though I did believe he had the stuff to make it at this level, eventually). Julio has done a remarkable turnaround, gaining a bit of confidence with each outing. Last night, the Mets needed him to perform, and he did. Today, they once again had no one else to turn to, and he did it again (albeit with a bit of tension). Though it’s true he came quite close to blowing the game, in the end he didn’t, and the fact that he hung in there to finish off the save should mean a lot going forward.
There is one thing that scares me about him though: he does not do well once people reach base. If no one gets on, he’s absolutely devastating, and seemingly untouchable. However, once a runner gets on, he’s a train wreck. I don’t think it has anything to do with pitching from the stretch — though he is one of the few relievers in the game who use a windup with bases empty. What frightens me, is that he starts talking to himself when things get hairy. And it’s not like a few words of self-motivation; that guy is having a conversation with himself. Hopefully, it’s not a big deal. Maybe he’ll continue to progress, and get so good that the Mets can put Aaron Heilman in the rotation.