Archive: October 13th, 2006

Glavine, Beltran Come Up Big

Mets 2 Cardinals 0

The New York Mets had to get a vintage Tom Glavine performance, one where Tommy goes deep into the game, is efficient with his pitches, and pitches just well enough to win. The veteran lefthander succeeded on all three counts.

The St. Louis Cardinals — Albert Pujols included — were unable to get good wood on Glavine’s slop all game, as Tommy cruised through seven marvelous innings. Perhaps as important as Glavine’s ability to preserve the bullpen was getting out of the game in under 90 pitches, as it looks as though he’ll need to pitch on three days’ rest.

While Tom Glavine produced another stellar, clutch performance, Carlos Beltran did the same, rocketing a Jeff Weaver fastball off the scoreboard to give the Mets the only runs they needed. This is the stuff of which New York legends are made. A few more blasts like that and you will never again hear Beltran booed in Flushing.

Beltran’s homerun was inevitable, as he looked very comfortable in the box against Jeff Weaver in every at-bat, getting good swings and making solid contact all game. In fact, even when Weaver snuck a strike past him, it appeared to be a gift from home plate umpire Tim Welke — who was easily a ‘pitcher’s umpire’ for both sides throughout the game. Welke continually gave Weaver the sinker dying over the outside corner, but it was only a matter of time before Weaver made a mistake with a ball that got too much of the plate. It finally happened in the sixth, when Beltran got all of a flat fastball and deposited it over the right-field wall.

Weaver clearly took the Mets’ batters by surprise in this ballgame, changing several aspects of his style. First, he was aggressive, going right after the strike zone (although, it could be argued that Welke was giving him a lot of strikes). Second, he changed his arm angle, throwing more over the top. Third, and as part of the arm angle, he was mixing in changeups and overhand curveballs. Up until last night, Weaver has always been a three-quarter / sidearm sinker-slider pitcher who got into trouble because he couldn’t change speeds and nibbled off the corners. How Jeff Weaver was able to make an overnight transformation is a testament to Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan’s ability to get the most out of his hurlers. Either that or an investigation needs to be initiated to determine if, in fact, it was Jeff Weaver out on the mound and not his brother Jered.

Glavine’s performance was all-important for several reasons. First, he’s the only legitimate playoff starter the Mets have, and it was vital for the Mets’ psyche for him to step up, be an ace, and give the Mets a 1-0 lead in the NLCS. Imagine what would be going on in the Mets’ minds if they were unable to take the first game, at home, with their best starter, facing a journeyman like Jeff Weaver? How much confidence would the Mets have today against Chris Carpenter facing off against rookie John Maine? In contrast, Glavine’s win last night puts the Mets in an excellent position to overtake Carpenter, who suddenly has momentum and the Shea stadium fans against him. The pressure is squarely on Carpenter’s shoulders, as the Cardinals do not want to go home down 2-0 with their best pitcher not throwing again until — or if — the series returns to New York.

That said, I’m liking the way this Carpenter thing is shaking out, and surprised Tony LaRussa didn’t stick with his original plan to save his ace for St. Louis. While its understandable to want to throw your ace early in a series, and not want to fall behind 2-0. However, Carpenter is a MUCH better pitcher in his home ballpark. How much? His home ERA is 1.81 and his away ERA is 4.72 — that’s just about THREE RUNS PER GAME. And the past few years have been similar, so it’s not a one-year phenomenon.

Another thing to consider are the teams Carpenter has faced this year, en route to his sparkling record. In interleague play, he drew the Tigers, Indians, and Royals, shutting down the Indians but getting rocked by the Royals and Tigers. Against the NL he faced the Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, and Cincinnati Reds four times each — significantly padding his ERA and won-loss record against these hitless wonders. Remarkably, the Cubs had the highest batting average of these four teams — hitting .268 — but that’s nullified by the fact they were second-to-last in the NL in runs scored (the Pirates were last). While there’s no question that Chris Carpenter is one of the better pitchers in the NL, there’s also no question that his stellar numbers have been boosted by pitching against anemic offenses.

One thing that is of concern, however, is the fact that Carpenter has not faced the Mets at all this year. Historically, the Mets have struggled mightily against pitchers they’ve never seen before — though generally those pitchers have been rookies. There’s no clear explanation for the Mighty Mets making guys like Billy Traber and Hong-Chih Kuo look like Sandy Koufax, but hopefully the issue lies with incomplete scouting reports on youngsters, and it is something won’t be an issue with an established veteran such as Chris Carpenter.

Whatever the reason, the Mets need to invert their performance against first-seen starters and pound Carpenter early in Game Two. Based on the aforementioned facts, it seems plausible, especially when you add in Carpenter’s more human numbers against lefties, and the Mets’ lefty-heavy lineup. Now if the Mets do get to Carpenter, and John Maine can put up a late-July-type performance, the Mets have a chance to go up 2-0. Should that happen, the momentum going into St. Louis might be too much for LaRussa’s bunch (Pujols is already cracking under the pressure), and this series might not return to New York.

Let’s hope that it can be that easy.