Browsing Archive June, 2006

Game 78: Loss

Red Sox 4 Mets 2

How many times were people going to mention “the Mets are the only team in the Major Leagues to avoid a three-game losing streak” before this game? Didn’t they realize they were jinxing them? Were any of these people REALLY Mets fans? Plainly, no.

So this is what the opposing teams felt like when the Mets were on their hot streak.

Aaron Heilman lost the lead, but you can’t fault him as much as give credit to the Red Sox for doing everything right. Known more for their slugging prowess, the Red Sox proved they could play NL-style “small ball”, taking extra bases on long fly balls, using the bunt to perfection, and making productive outs. They are a red-hot team and the class of the AL East (sorry Yanker fans).

And then there’s the breakfast cereal kid, Coco Crisp. His 7th-inning leadoff bunt single, steal, advance to third on bunt, and score on sac fly put the Bosox ahead. The Mets came back in the top of the 8th, and would have tied the score had Crisp forgotten his cape. As it was, Superman did return, in CF at Fenway Park, and stole an extra-base hit from David Wright that would have scored Carlos Beltran easily.

Just in case the Mets thought that would be the play to keep them from winning, Big Papi David Ortiz woke up from his slumber and blasted a home run to dead centerfield in the bottom of the eighth, about six minutes after Superman’s catch.

Not much else to say. Tom Glavine pitched as well as a soft-throwing lefty could throw in Fenway, the Mets could manage next to nothing against Curt Schilling, and every time the Red Sox rolled the dice, a seven came up. On to the Bronx …

Notes

It’s a shame Lastings Milledge has to go back down to Norfolk. Although he clearly needs to work on polishing his game, I’m not so sure that AAA is the place he’ll be able to smooth the edges. He was not overmatched at the big league level, and in fact he has been slowly adjusting to the competition. For example, in his first two at-bats vs. Curt Schilling, he swung early in the count and wildly, and got nowhere. In his third at-bat, with Endy Chavez on second base, he took the first two pitches and worked a 2-0 count. Unfortunately, he squandered a 2-1 advantage by over-reaching for a ball low and away, but you could see that he made an adjustment and had a better at-bat. He needs to continue to see the best pitchers in MLB to further his development; I don’t believe that AAA pitchers will challenge him and force him to adjust the way a Schilling will.

At the same time, the Mets are suddenly missing Uncle Cliffy’s bat. David Wright and Jose Reyes have cooled off in the last few days, Carlos Delgado has a rib cage issue, and the various stragglers (Chavez, Valentin, et al) have not been providing the magic lately. With the short porch in Yankee Stadium’s right field just a short fly ball away, it’s a great time for Cliff Floyd to come in and start mashing.

El Duque vs. Mike Mussina … how many staff aces in a row are the Mets going to face? Halladay, Beckett, Schilling, now Mussina …. well nobody said it was going to be easy. I’m beginning to look at the All-Star break with excitement (though I likely won’t watch the game), as it will give some of the Mets a breather. By the way, fans, STOP voting! Let’s give Reyes, DWright, LoDuca, and Beltran a few days’ rest!

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Game 77: Loss

Red Sox 10 Mets 2

Ho hum.

What was billed as a pitchers duel turned into a laugher.

Pedro gave up eight runs in three innings, and the Mets went directly into the tank. Not realizing they were in Fenway, where anything can happen any time, they quit.

Whatever … luckily they have a double-digit lead in the standings and the rest of the NL East is also getting pounded by AL teams. Tomorrow is another day.

Glavine vs. Schilling. Tommy is our stopper, let’s hope he can stop the bleeding.

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Game 76: Loss

Red Sox 9 Mets 4

Fenway Park is the most unique baseball stadium in the world, and can be both difficult and intimidating to players visiting for the first time — especially pitchers and left fielders.

Unfortunately, the Mets trotted out rookie Lastings Milledge to left field and rookie Alay Soler to the mound, and neither looked comfortable in their positions.

Soler looked to be pitching with fear; certainly plausible, considering that the Green Monster hovered just a few steps behind his right shoulder. He tried to peck at the corners, fell behind hitters, and likely enraged the home plate umpire with his body language on the rare pitches that were close to the edges. He had a chance to squeak through the first four innings, until Lastings Milledge lost a ball in the wind / lights of Fenway with two outs in the fourth, allowing two runs to score. Things didn’t get better in the fifth, as Soler fell behind Mike Lowell and Alex Gonzalez, who both responded by lifting fly balls over the Monster.

The turning point in the game came just minutes before the Lowell and Gonzalez blasts. With the Mets three runs behind, the bases were loaded with two outs and David Wright at the plate. D-Wright worked the count to 3-2 and fouled a few pitches off rookie Jon Lester before Lester won the battle (and the game) by getting Wright to swing through a 70-MPH curveball. A base hit would have turned the tables on the Bosox, and who knows what might have happened. With that short left field wall, a little fly ball could have put the Mets ahead by one. Instead, Lester got the strikeout, and the momentum went to the Sox. The two homers in the fifth were the final nails in the coffin.

Notes

Mets fans everywhere were given a tremendous scare in the fifth, when Jose Reyes was caught between sliding around, or knocking over, Jason Varitek, as he tried to score. Reyes did neither, and ended up semi-barreling, semi-falling off of, Varitek (and getting called out). Reyes was down for several minutes, and left the dugout for treatment. However he did remain in the game and appears to be OK.

What Manny Acta was thinking on that play, by the way, is anyone’s guess. It was a hard-hit ball by Carlos Beltran that took one clean bounce into Manny Ramirez’s glove. Reyes was just approaching — and had not yet stepped on — third base when the ball was in Manny’s hands, and Manny was only about 150 feet from home plate. Sure, Reyes has great speed, and Manny’s far from a gold glover, but it didn’t take a great throw to beat Reyes by several steps. The only thing I can think is that Acta believed Manny was going to concede the run and throw into 2B.

Heath Bell brought his mop into the game in the fifth, and pitched brilliantly. He was completely unfazed by the Fenway dimensions, as he stuck to his regular “game” and went right after the hitters. The result? Three strikeouts and two hits over an two and two-thirds innings. One of the strikeout victims was David Ortiz, and he induced a groundout from Manny. One of the hits was a cheap infield hit by Coco Crisp that bounced off Bell’s leg, and the other hit was a two-strike single by Trot Nixon. His performance cutting through the Red Sox lineup like a hot knife through butter should earn him at least an occasional meaningful outing — something which may be possible as the Mets monitor Duaner Sanchez’s nerve issue.

Speaking of, good to see Dirty Sanchez back in the game. He seemed to be fine. Let’s hope he stays that way.

Although the misplay in the fourth by Lastings Milledge was not the reason the Mets lost, he seemed to be trying to make up for the mistake by swinging. He swung at nearly everything within his reach in his subsequent at-bats, as if he could hit a five-run homer. I wonder if Julio Franco or one of the other veterans will pull him aside and talk about forgetting mistakes and separating fielding from hitting.

I mentioned in the last post that D-Wright has been swinging at a lot of first pitches lately, and was very surprised that he swung away on the first pitch he saw from rookie Craig Hansen. First of all, he was the leadoff batter of the inning with the Mets down by five, and secondly, he’d never faced Hansen before. It was a clear situation where he should have been taking a pitch, and instead swung away and grounded out to third. I’ll let it go, this time …

Yesterday, with no Mets game, I tried to watch the Yankee-Braves game. Problem was, I couldn’t root for either side. Maybe if the Braves weren’t 15 games out, I could have rooted for the Yankers (eek). Instead, I forced myself through two innings, then hunted for bad reruns.

Pedro vs. Beckett tomorrow. Should be mildly interesting …

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Game 75: Win

Mets 7 Blue Jays 4

The Metropolitans passed their second test in their grueling interleague swing, winning the series against a hard-hitting Toronto ballclub. Of course, the batters are only going to be hitting harder and harder on this trip, as the Boston Red Sox are on deck and the Yankees thereafter.

Steve Trachsel pitched adequately, giving up four runs on three walks and six hits in five innings. Nothing spectacular, but he held the lead long enough to give the reins to the Crisco Corps, who did a fine job. Once again, Chad Bradford was sparkling, throwing two shutout innings, and Aaron Heilman seems to be well over that frightening slump of a few weeks ago. Billy Wagner, on the other hand, is making me nervous, as he had trouble with his command once again.

Strangely, Wagner has pitched poorly when Ramon Castro is behind the plate. What I thought was just me coming up with another conspiracy theory was backed up by numbers published on MetsBlog.com. As noted in the post, it is a small sample size, but there may well be something to it. My guess: a combination of Wagner not trusting Castro’s pitchcalling (or Castro not calling well for Wagner) and Wagner not liking the way Castro sets up behind the plate. And when I suggest Castro’s calling, I don’t mean to say that Castro doesn’t call a good game. Rather, it could just be that Castro and Wagner are not yet on the same wavelength — Castro calling a pitch opposite to what Wagner might be thinking about throwing — and the discrepency is throwing Wagner out of rhythm. Yes, Wagner is a professional and these things shouldn’t matter, but the pitcher-catcher chemistry is a delicate thing, and pitchers tend to be finicky. Of course, it could be dumb luck that Castro happens to be catching every time Wagner loses control.

Hopefully, there isn’t a physical issue with Billy the Kid. In years past, I remember that the game was over — door slammed shut — whenever his team was up going into the ninth. He came in and threw 100-MPH, knee-high BBs seemingly with his eyes closed; it looked so effortless and fluid. Since he’s come to the Mets, however, he looks to be struggling. The spring training scare with his finger sheath further fuels my fear. Maybe he doesn’t have a good feel for the ball, or can’t get the right grip. It does look like his release point is all over the place: sometimes too early, sometimes too late, sometimes at different angles. Perhaps more concerning is the fact that Rick Peterson can’t help him, mostly because Wagner doesn’t respect him — nor any other pitching coaches. Wagner has mentioned in a few interviews his disdain for coaches. OK, he never really came out and said he doesn’t like pitching coaches, but in his roundabout way, if you listen between the lines, it’s clear he puts more faith in fellow bullpen pitchers than in any coach.

Enough of the arms, let’s talk about the batters! Who’s hotter, Carlos Beltran or Jose Reyes? Beltran has been belting home runs and driving in runs like an MVP candidate lately, but Reyes has been hotter than a flaming vodka shot this past week. He had ANOTHER four-hit game, his third in a week, and has raised his average 40 points in ten days. Don’t look now, but he’s currenly over .300. Interestingly, though he hasn’t walked once in the last ten days, he is definitely taking lots of pitches, going deep into counts, and patiently waiting for his pitch. Watching him at the plate this last week is like watching some other man. Someone please find out what he’s eating for breakfast! By the way, if he doesn’t receive NL player of the week honors, the voters should be shot.

Notes

Beltran, Reyes, and Jose Valentin all went a yard in the game, giving David Wright a rest from jogging around the bases. Valentin has been stroking hard liners the entire series, and seems to be settling in quite nicely as the irregular second baseman. Shame on me for wanting him hanged or sent to a faraway island earlier this year. His production notwithstanding, I still think Omar is going to pull off a deal for a second sacker, but it will be a big-ticket such as Jose Vidro rather than an Adam Kennedy or Mark Grudzielanek.

Ramon Castro broke out of his slump, and should be back on track toward being the best backup backstop in the NL.

Julio Franco continues to amaze. He hit a 99-hop single up the middle that barely got out of the infield, bouncing just off the glove of a diving Aaron Hill, and stretched it into a double. I believe that makes him the oldest player to turn a 99-hop grounder into a double.

Endy Chavez had no hits today, but managed another outfield assist, nailing Reed Johnson as he tried to turn a single into a double. It was a good gamble by Johnson, as the ball went into the corner and only a perfect throw would get him. Unfortunately for Johnson, Chavez made a perfect throw.

Monday is a travel day but then on Tuesday, hoo-boy, it’s Fenway. How the series will turn out is anybody’s guess. It’s Soler vs. Lester, Pedro vs. Beckett, and then Glavine vs. Schilling. On paper, it looks like it will be a series of dominating pitching, but the games will be played at Fenway, which makes everything a crapshoot. Though each game should be great entertainment, in a way I’d rather see Glavine in Yankee Stadium. As well as he’s pitching, I have a queasy feeling about a flutterballing lefty facing an avalanche of righthand hitters targeting the Green Monster. Since El Duque threw only two innings in his last start, and would be getting a full four days off anyway, it wouldn’t be out of the question to flip-flop he and Glavine. As it stand now, it’ll be Hernandez, Trachsel, and Soler against the Yanks. While the bottom end of the rotation has been outperforming the top two of late, I’d much prefer to split up the aces against the top two teams in the AL East. Then again, if Reyes, Wright, the Carloses, and Valentin stay as hot as they are, it won’t matter if LimaTime is on the mound (I did NOT just say that…)

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Game 74: Loss

Blue Jays 7 Mets 4

It was an off-day for El Duque, and something we’ve learned quickly is that when Orlando Hernandez is off, he’s really off. Like, LimaTime off. However, we’ll deal with the off days, because he will mix in some great days to balance things. Moreover, we can deal with these bad days, because in the end El Duque’s true value to the team will come in the postseason. Like the special amps employed by Spinal Tap, El Duque’s dial goes to eleven; he just doesn’t turn it up that high till it really matters.

The game was over early, by the second inning. A shame, really, as Darren Oliver did a bang-up job in long relief and another remarkable hitting display by Jose Reyes was wasted. Just a couple days after hitting for the cycle, Reyes had another four hits. More importantly, he’s taking a LOT of pitches, and getting deep into counts. Jays’ ace Roy Halladay walks few people, yet he went to three balls against Reyes twice in the game before giving up a hit. Hopefully, Reyes is understanding that his patience and his current steaming hot streak are not a coincidence.

Notes

Is it me, or is David Wright swinging at a lot of first pitches lately? Not that I care, as he hit a homerun the other day on a first pitch. Seems like he might be doing the “keep ‘em honest” trick that Mike Piazza employed so well in his good days.

The Mets did have once chance to make it a game, in the eighth, with the bases loaded and one out. Halladay was chased from the game, and a single would have made it a one-run game. However, after semi-intentionally walking Wright, reliever Justin Speier got Jose Valentin to pop up on a first-pitch fastball, and struck out Xavier Nady on four pitches.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad game, considering the Mets were facing one of the toughest pitchers in MLB. Chalk it up.

Trax vs. Josh Towers. Towers is 1-8 with an 8.76 ERA this year. Normally, you’d think that would be a good thing, except that it was less than a week ago that the Mets made Joe Mays look like Bob Feller.

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