Browsing Archive July, 2006

Game 95: Win

Mets 4 Reds 2

Tom Glavine failed again in his attempt to win his 12th game, but he likely bought Chad Bradford dinner for avoiding his 4th loss.

Glavine was throwing an excellent game until the seventh, when Ryan Freel led off with a double, was sacrificed to third, and then was joined on the bases by Adam Dunn and Rich Aurilia, who both walked. ChadBrad came in and struck out Scott Hatteberg — one of the most difficult batters to K in MLB — and induced a harmless grounder from Brandon Phillips to end the inning unscathed. It was a magnificent performance by the Chad, and it completely destroyed the Reds’ hopes of winning the game.

However, it took three more innings for the Mets batters to react to the performance, when they finally broke out with two runs in the top of the tenth. It started with a leadoff double by Xavier Nady. As it’s often been in the late innings this year, Endy Chavez drove in Nady with the go-ahead run with another double. Carlos Beltran, succumbing to the power of suggestion, added a third double to drive in Chavez and seal the victory. Billy Wagner finished off the Reds in the bottom of the tenth without so much of a whimper coming from the Cincinnati bats.

Notes

Cliff Floyd stayed hot with another bomb, and he’s borderline unconscious right now. Carlos Delgado added a bomb of his own, on what looked like a very tough pitch to hit, so we’re hopeful he’s on his way back to being the monster we saw in April. If Delgado can resume his mashing now, while Floyd is hot and Beltran and Wright continue to be rock-solid, the NL East race could be over in a hurry.

Don’t look now, but the Braves are on a hot streak and just picked up Bob Wickman from the Indians. It took three and a half months for all the writers, radio buffoons, and other pundits to write off the Braves for ’06, then they go and become significant again. True, they’re 12 games back, but they’re the Braves, and therefore as Mets fans we need to be concerned. If they continue rolling and then sweep the Mets in Atlanta next weekend, all of a sudden it’s a race and we might not have the arms in the rotation to handle a September dash.

OK, I admit that’s just the longtime Met fan in me looking in the rearview mirror. Just the same I’d like the see the Mets sweep the Braves next weekend and bury them for good.

El Duque vs. Taylor Buchholz tonight. After getting bombed by the Cubs on July 5th, Buchholz strung together five strong outings, then was mediocre against the Marlins in his last start. At times he’s looked dominating, other times like an overmatched 24-year-old.

In comparison, El Duque has been either lights out or bombs away. Which Hernandez shows up today is anybody’s guess. After getting chased from the game in the second inning on Sunday, El Duque will hopefully leverage his pride for a good outing.

It would be nice to take two of three from the ‘stros, and we have John Maine on Saturday facing Brandon Backe, who is making his first start since April. How Backe will do is a crapshoot, but there’s a good chance he’ll be less than stellar. On Sunday Mike Pelfrey will face Roy Oswalt, which sounds like a daunting match for the rookie, but Oswalt has been struggling with a nagging back injury for the last month or so. This could be as good a time as any for the Mets back-end rotation to be matching up against Houston.

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Game 94: Loss

Reds 7 Mets 4

Steve Trachsel proved not even a Vulcan can overcome a two-hour rain delay.

Why Mr. Willie put the pointy-eared Mr. Finicky out there after such a long layoff is anybody’s guess, especially when he had both Darren Oliver and John Maine fresh and ready to go. Maybe he was confused by Trax’s moniker “The Human Rain Delay”. Or maybe he was performing an experiment and measuring the amount of lactic acid built up in two hours by a pitcher who has thrown two innings.

Whatever was going through Randolph’s mind, it certainly didn’t resemble logic nor sense. Luckily, Trachsel didn’t injure himself. It could have been so easy to tell Trax that his day was over, and he’d throw again on Saturday; he’d only thrown about 30 pitches before the game was called, and would have had no problem bouncing back in a few days.

Meantime, the Mets batters, who came out like gangbusters in the first two innings, must have had their fire extinguished by the downpour. After the delay, not one batter looked like they were interested in anything other than getting the at-bat done as quickly as possible. It wasn’t until Carlos Delgado’s double in the 8th that a Mets hitter gave some semblance of intensity. Unfortunately, his gapper was not enough to inspire his teammates, who went down 1-2-3 without much of a whimper, despite the 4-4 score. As a team, the Mets were “out of it” — physically, mentally, and emotionally. One wonders what clubhouse activities were taking place during the rain delay. Team sauna? Zen meditation? Watching Lifetime movies? Reading Homer? Powerlifting? Dope smoking? It was clear that the offense wanted no part of the game once play resumed.

I suppose we can forgive our heroes this time. After all, a rain delay can’t be easy to deal with, especially now that greenies are forbidden. The shame is that the Mets had to waste great relief pitching for a lineup that was too tired and unmotivated to score runs.

One of the major mental lapses came from Jose Reyes, whose attempt to throw out Scott Hatteberg at third base in the 8th was the turning point of the game. With one out, Reyes should have gone to first, allowing Hatteberg to man third base with two outs. Granted, Jason Larue smashed a double in the next at-bat, but maybe Duaner Sanchez pitches him differently with first and second base open and the pitcher’s spot on deck. The bottom line is that it was a poor fundamental play by Reyes, because the sac fly and infield out to score a man from third are eliminated with two outs. No reason to give the other team extra opportunities to score.

Notes

Will someone please explain to me this phenomena known as Jason Larue? He’s a stubby, slow-footed catcher, batting eighth in the lineup and batting below the Mendoza line. However, it seems like every time he comes to the plate, the Mets pitch to him like he’s Barry Bonds. He’s had about ten at-bats so far, and in at least nine of them he’s run the count to 2-0. Throw a friggin’ strike! Even Mario Mendoza would get hits if he was always two or three balls ahead on the count.

Not sure what was more frustrating … the waste of good bullpen arms in a game the batters didn’t want to win, or the loss of two hours’ sleep staying up to watch the lousy game. All I can say is thank goodness I didn’t pay for a ticket, or else I’d demand my money back. I can’t get those two hours’ sleep, back though.

Rubber game has Tommy “Dozen Win” Glavine vs. Bronson “Suddenly Sandy (Koufax)” Arroyo. Hopefully the bats will be re-motivated tomorrow … I mean, today … zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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Game 93: Win

Mets 8 Reds 3

Is Mike Pelfrey the answer?

For six innings, it sure looked like he might be. Of course, it was only his second ML start, and even Mr. Willie was barely interested in the results. He thoroughly downplayed Pelfrey’s performance, keeping to his “even keel” way about things, and vehemently insisted that one cannot get too excited about one or two starts by a young pitcher. And he is quite right to feel that way.

But then, Mr. Willie still won’t admit that Jose Valentin is the starting second baseman, so everything he says must be taken with a grain of salt.

As Met fans, we are allowed to be excited. Yesterday’s Pelformance began to fulfill our hopes that Mikey is the second coming of The Franchise Himself, Tom Seaver.

True enough, he threw about 90% fastballs, and many “experts” have already stated that he’ll need more than a fastball to win at this level.

However, he threw 90% fastballs and still stifled a very strong Cincinnati lineup. Which leads one to wonder how much more effective Pelfrey will be if and when he actually does establish a second or third pitch. After all, with “just” a fastball, he struck out Adam Dunn and Junior Griffey, among others, instigating 12 ground balls and allowing only 2 fly balls. He showed his breaking pitch — looks to be part slider/part curve — just enough to keep the batters guessing, and did very nicely, thank you, relying on the command of his sinking fastball and infield defense. If he can continue to pound the lower part of the strike zone with his 92-96-MPH heavy ball, all the “experts” saying he needs another pitch will change their tune to ” … he’s a lot like Brandon Webb … ” (interesting, isn’t it, that no one every says Webb needs another pitch?).

Pelfrey’s strong outing was well supported once again by the powerful Mets lineup; this time the hero was Carlos Beltran, who hit his second grand slam in as many days. Beltran turned on and cah-reamed a hanging curveball far into the upper deck in left field. His monster shot gave the Mets a five-run cushion and blew the air out of the Reds’ collective balloon. Interestingly, Reds starter Eric Milton pitched around Paul LoDuca to face Beltran, who thus far has put up weak numbers from the right side of the plate. That stuff might work with Strat-O-Matic, but unfortunately for Milton he had to face the real, live Beltran and not one-dimensional card stock; and he had to toss a real baseball rather than a pair of the dice.

Notes

Cliff Floyd went 0-4 but pounded the heck out of the ball. He is looking great.

As usual, it took only four relievers to close out innings seven through nine. All arms were effective, though it took the group a total of 60 pitches in those three innings. That said, it’s possible Mr. Willie will have to go to a combination of Heath Bell and Aaron Heilman in game two.

Crazy when you think back about 25 years, and guys like Goose Gossage pitched three full innings in one game to earn a save. Of course, the Goose didn’t always have to come back and throw the next day, as pitchers often finished what they started back then.

Speaking of the old days, Edgardo Alfonzo went oh-fer-four in his AAA debut. Those who remember Fonzie’s early days know that he skipped that level and came straight to the bigs from AA.

Steve Trachsel looks to keep his winning streak alive vs. Aaron Harang tonight. Meanwhile one wonders who the Mets are scouting tonight … Benson vs. Zito, Javy Vasquez, or Greg Maddux? Or did they see Mark Redman lose a 1-0 gem this afternoon vs. Boston?

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Fonzie Back; Lima Won’t Leave

While nobody was looking, the Mets signed free-agent Edgardo Alfonzo to a minor league contract and assigned him to Norfolk.

Fonzie’s return comes after being dumped by three teams in the past two years; after three so-so season with the Giants, he was shipped to the Angels for Steve Finley, but was released after batting .135 in 50 at-bats, then picked up and released by the Blue Jays after just 37 at-bats.

The Jays were — and still are — desperate to upgrade their middle infield production, and Fonzie seemed like a worthwhile, cheap gamble. But after a dozen games, the Jays figured they were better off with Aaron Hill at 2B.

How about the Mets? Can Fonzie be the answer? What can Alfonzo do for the Mets that he couldn’t for two other teams that needed a second sackman?

Actually, the question may be more directed to how and why Alfonzo’s stock has dropped so low so quickly. A few whispers mention steroids, since he had 25-HR campaigns in ’99 and ’00 but never again came close to those numbers. More likely, the power loss was due to back problems, which were the main reason the Mets let him leave for the West Coast after the ’02 season. There is also the question of his age; his Venezuelan birthdate is listed as 1973, but some wonder if his real DOB was in the 1960s. His age, his injuries, and a 2-HR, 43-RBI campaign in 2005 forced the Giants to send him packing, and he has been godawful in 2006.

However, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. It was only two years ago that he batted .289 and drove in 77 runs — not bad for a second baseman. Unfortunately for Alfonzo, those are mediocre numbers for a third baseman, which was his primary position that year. Had he been at 2B, he might very well still be considered a productive player. His poor production last year could be partially attributed to his difficulty in transitioning from an everday player to a bench guy. And looking closer, his 2005 wasn’t really THAT bad … he did hit .277.

As for 2006, I’m going to go out on a limb and say his terrible performance was due mainly to the switch to the AL. Many, many ballplayers have had a major problem switching leagues at first, especially those who spent their entire careers in the other league. Playing in the same league, you learn the parks and the tendencies of the pitchers and catchers, and you apply that education to your advantage when hitting. Alfonzo had not only a new league with new pitchers to adjust to, but also had to adjust to a new team, new manager, and new role (bench).

Let’s also throw something else out there: Jose Valentin. On May 12th, Valentin was batting .167. I was one of many people calling for his head, wondering why in the world the Mets were keeping such a lousy, over-the-hill, useless spare part on the roster, especially with guys like Jeff Keppinger chomping at the bit in AAA. However, the Stache turned it around on May 13th, and is proving to be a vital cog in the Mets machine. Who’s to say that Edgardo Alfonzo — if given the opportunity by the Angels or Blue Jays — wouldn’t have turned himself around?

The cost to bring back Fonzie was next to nothing, the only negative being that he likely will take at-bats away from Keppinger and Anderson Hernandez. There are a few factors playing in his favor. First, if he is truly 32, he may not yet be washed up. Secondly, he’s a veteran with playoff and World Series experience; at one point some opposing managers considered him the best overall player in the NL. If not the most talented, he’s always been known as a very smart ballplayer. And as Mets fans will remember, he was also a clutch hitter, routinely getting big hits late in games. Finally, over his career, Alfonzo has put up better numbers after the All-Star break.

Though Fonzie is a shell of what made him the Mets’ 40th-anniversary team all-time second baseman, he just might be effective enough to platoon with Jose Valentin at 2B and provide some big hits. Granted, Chris Woodward has done a great job as the Mets’ “other” second baseman as well as Mr. Everything, but it would be nice to see Fonzie come back and help the Mets to another playoff berth.

Meanwhile, another move that snuck under the radar was Jose Lima’s assignment to AAA Norfolk (again). This is what, the third time he’s been DFA’d? He — and more frightening, the Mets’ brass — still believes he can pitch at the ML level. This time, though, he’s going to work on a split-finger fastball. Unless he can learn a Bruce Sutter-like splitter in two weeks, I’d be very surprised to see LimaTime reappear on the Mets’ roster. Of course, dumber things have happened …

Speaking of smarter things, Mike Pelfrey throws tonight. How great would it be if he can settle down, spot his fastball, and shut down the formidable Cincinnati lineup? I’m having visions of Tom Seaver, circa 1967 …

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Game 92: Win

Mets 13 Cubs 7

OK, I’ll admit it: in the second inning, after El Duque gave up two walks, seven hits, and five runs, I was ready to to turn off the TV and do something else with my Sunday evening.

Then came the sixth. Hooo boy!

Two grand slams, 17 batters, about 75 pitches and eleven runs later, the Mets were ahead 13-5 and the Cubs were not only losing but completely demoralized.

It was a great game for just about everyone, save El Duque and Aaron Heilman, whose performances are getting more and more concerning. In particular, it was a great day for Cliff Floyd, who seems to have erupted in his hometown. With Carlos Delgado putting up Mientkiewicz-like numbers over the last month, some production from Uncle Cliffy is just what the Mets need. Hopefully this successful Chicago trip will parlay into a great second-half for Floyd.

Notes

The Mets bullpen — other than Heilman — was practically perfect in relief of Orlando Hernandez. Heilman, though, has pitched so poorly I wonder if the Mets will consider sending him to AAA to get back on track. Wishful thinking has me plotting to send him to Norfolk as a starter: stretch him out with 3, 4, 5, then 6-inning starts over the next month, then have him ready to join the rotation at the end of August. Presto! there’s your #3 playoff starter.

Of course that will never happen, but if Henry Owens hadn’t self-destructed on Saturday, one must wonder if there was a real possibility of Heilman being moved — to Norfolk or elsewhere. Heath Bell threw a strong inning in his first appearance back from AAA, and a string of good outings could put him in Heilman’s 7th-inning role. With the ChiSox desperate for relief pitching, and dangling Minaya favorite Javy Vasquez, it’s easy to envision a deal sending Heilman to Chicago. Personally, I’m hoping for the aforementioned AAA starter plan … and yes, I continue to dream …

Jose Reyes missed another game. No biggie, and I see no reason to rush him back with the Mets dominating the division. Let him get completely healed and hungry to play; we’ll need him in September and hopefully October.

Same goes for Pedro. I’d be fine with Pedro missing his next five starts and not returning till late August. Let him rest up and get ready for the playoffs; John Maine and Mike Pelfrey can pull up the slack, and don’t we have Brian Bannister coming back soon?

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Game 91: Loss

Cubs 9 Mets 2

Early on, Tommy Glavine looked to be back to his usual self, though the home plate umpire seemed to be squeezing him on the corners. It’s apparent in this stage of his career that if Tommy isn’t getting the corners, he’s going to stuggle; though he can still be effective, it will take him many more pitches. With Mr. Willie’s 100-pitch program, that makes it tough for Tommy to go deep in such games.

As well as Glavine pitched, Cubs’ starter Carlos Zambrano was that much better. He cruised through the first five innings, breezing the ball past the Mets’ batters in an effortless style.

Then came the sixth inning, and both pitchers faltered.

Zambrano gave up a leadoff triple to the Stache, and eventually allowed two runs to score. Little did we know that would be all the scoring the Mets would do on the afternoon.

Glavine gave up three of the five runs scored in the bottom of the inning, though it really wasn’t all his fault … and he certainly didn’t deserve to be removed from the game. The leadoff triple he allowed to Ryan Theriot should have been caught had Endy Chavez not lost the ball in the sun. After the triple, he wisely gave Derrek Lee nothing to swing at. Unfortunately, Aramis Ramirez drove in Theriot on a ball that just got by Chris Woodward, and Mr. Willie inexplicably removed Glavine from the game in favor of Chad Bradford. Why? No one’s sure. Glavine didn’t look like he was tiring, despite throwing 90 pitches.

Let’s take another look at the situation. You bring in Bradford, presumably, to get a ground ball double-play. Well, isn’t that Glavine’s forte? The DP grounder? I understand removing a guy like Steve Trachsel, who isn’t known to get very far beyond the fifth inning, or a youngster, but a veteran workhorse like Glavine, who used to be a bonafide ace — and who may very well be the Mets’ current ace — should be kept in the game to work out of the inning. He’s done it hundreds of times before, and unless there is a physical issue (injury, exhaustion), I just don’t see how you remove a top dog like Tommy Glavine from the ballgame after throwing just five innings. I have before and will continue to be against this seventh game of the World Series strategy. It’s fine once in a while, such as when your bullpen is abnormally well rested or other circumstances allow it, but to apply this quick-hook strategy every single game is dangerous over the long haul. First, you burn out your bullpen, and second, your starters never learn how to pitch through tough situations. Eventually, you condition starting pitchers to pitch to the predefined limit, and then they have little or no chance of going past that limit — mentally or physically. Which means that when playoffs arrive, you MUST rely on the bullpen every game. And there is no bullpen on the planet that can pitch every single day and be perfect.

Had Glavine remained in the game, the Mets still would have lost, since they stopped scoring. But he may have been able to wiggle out of sixth without too much damage, and possibly thrown at least another inning. Instead, the Mets used four relievers, including rookie Henry Owens, who had a meltdown in the seventh. Maybe Glavine throws the seventh instead, then gives way to a reliever in the eighth, and then the Mets have used only two pitchers in the game instead of five.

Sure the Mets are so far ahead of everyone right now that the point seems moot. However, I’m looking ahead, to the end of September and beginning of October, when we’ll need starters who, when they’re pitching effectively, can remain in the game through seven or eight innings. And if we need to go to the bullpen, I want them fresh and healthy, not overworked and riddled with tendinitis all around.

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Game 90: Win

Mets 6 Cubs 3

I missed the game … I hate 1pm games on workdays …

Sounds like Uncle Cliffy’s bat has woken up … thank goodness … though just in time to fill in an RBI slot for Beltran, who may be having another one of those hurt-but-not-enough-for-DL spurts.

Glavine vs. Zambrano … should be an interesting game.

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Game 89: Win

Mets 7 Marlins 6

After a few weeks of easy wins and blowouts, the Mets finished the first half of the season in much the same way they started it: with a dramatic, come-from-behind, late-inning, one-run win.

Who was the hero? C’mon, now, you know it had to be David Wright. D-Wright hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to give the Mets the lead plus a much-needed insurance run that became the winning run when Billy Wagner surrendered a solo homer in the ninth en route to his 18th save. (Hmmm, Billy was doing things like that earlier in the year, too … guess he didn’t want to feel left out of this nostalgic win.)

Notes

Though he threw into the seventh, Tommy Glavine was not vintage, again. He’s leading the NL in wins, but that is more to do with excellent run support than great pitching. In his last 10 starts, he’s allowed four runs or more five times, and has pitched seven innings plus only three times. Now, some might say that he’s pitched a number of “quality starts” in the last ten, but this is a guy who we are leaning on to be a co-ace. Giving up four runs over nine innings is OK, giving up four in less than seven is not good enough. He needs to at least pitch further in games, as he was in the first two months of the season. He pitched through at least six innings in all of his first 12 starts, and gave up three runs or less in all of those starts but one. Since that 12th start, however, he has had trouble getting to, and through, the sixth. Hopefully the pre-June Tommy will reappear after the All-Star break.

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