The Mets’ recipe for winning: one part starting pitching, one part defense, one part timely hitting, and a dash of relief, was missing the two most important ingredients.
Orlando Hernandez had his monthly bad outing, and the Mets RBI men were unable to come up with key hits.
After two outstanding performances against the Cardinals and the Braves, El Duque was flat for the Nationals, allowing a lineup made of mostly AAA players look like All-Stars for a day.
But this is part of the deal with throwing El Duque once every five days. One day, he looks magnificent, another, he looks like he needs to retire. In that way, Hernandez is similar to Oliver Perez — another mind-boggling enigma. This is the frustration that Mets fans must come to terms with: it is unlikely that Hernandez and Perez will compete for the Cy Young Award, but both will occasionally pitch games where you wonder how anyone can beat them.
In truth, El Duque didn’t pitch an awful game, and should have had a better chance to win with the Mets’ lineup supporting him. His breaking pitches were flat and rarely in the strike zone, and when hitters can tee off on his pedestrian fastball, it’s difficult for him to be effective — even against a minor league lineup. Meantime, Nats starter Shawn Hill was surprising in keeping the Mets bats at bay — though he didn’t seem to have fantastic stuff. Rather, the Mets batters were a bit over-aggressive, falling away from their early-season approach of getting into deep counts and seeing good pitches to hit.
For example, Jose Reyes — who until today had shown to be remarkably patient — twice swung at the first pitch he saw, despite there being no one on base and the Mets behind on the scoreboard. He and several other Mets batters looked like they might be guessing early in counts, and guessed wrong, putting themselves into 0-1 or 1-2 holes. Maybe it had something to do with it being an afternoon game, as lapses in concentration can be caused by fatigue. Or perhaps the patience of Jose Reyes and Paul LoDuca set the tone for the rest of the hitters (LoDuca sat out and Endy Chavez batted second). In the end, the Mets managed only one walk in seven innings against Hill, a guy who will never be compared with Brad Radke.
Wright Robbed – Again
David Wright continues to get robbed by great catches on hard-hit balls, as Nats centerfielder Ryan Church stole a homerun from him in the bottom of the eighth. The two Carloses were on base, and the homer would have changed the momentum in the game and brought the Mets within one. Instead, Church snatched the ball over the top edge of the wall, and Shawn Green bounced into a double play a few pitches later. Had that ball not been caught, Chad Cordero’s struggles in the ninth could have been more critical. If I’m David Wright, I might consider seeing a soothsayer or voo-doo expert to see if someone has put some kind of curse on him.
Doctor Visit for Beltran?
Further, if I’m Carlos Beltran, I’m getting myself to see an optometrist. Through these first eleven games, Beltran has struck out 12 times, and at least half those times it’s been looking. As announcer Gary Cohen pointed out, Beltran has been arguing strike calls frequently, and from my comfy living room chair, he hasn’t yet had a beef. Most of the time, it’s occurring when batting from the left side of the plate, which could mean something — or it could just be because he hits more often from that side.
One of three things is happening: 1. Carlos is standing in a different position, or at a different angle in the batter’s box, than normal, and therefore misinterpreting the strike zone; 2. both of his eyes are not tracking the ball all the way into the catcher’s glove — for example, perhaps he’s turning his head slightly and his left eye is losing the ball; or 3. his vision is deteriorating, and needs glasses / contact lenses. Number three can be determined or eliminated in about 20 minutes by seeing a doctor, and should be the first possibility to investigate.
Although the starting pitching was far from stellar, the Mets’ bullpen was outstanding. Ambiorix Burgos, Scott Schoeneweis, and Joe Smith combined for four innings of hitless relief, striking out eight. Burgos’ velocity is increasing as the season wears on, as he threw a few riding fastballs that had to pass the 95-MPH mark. Smith’s ERA remains three goose eggs.
El Duque Tossed
In the sixth inning, Orlando Hernandez plunked opposing pitcher Shawn Hill after giving up a solo homer to Ryan Church and a two-run homerun to Chris Snelling. The decision was preposterous, considering that El Duque’s release point was inconsistent all day, and with his struggles, the last guy he’d want to put on base would be the one guaranteed out in the lineup. Shame on home plate umpire Mike Winters and more shame on Bud Selig for giving the umpires carte blanche to toss pitchers in such situations. If someone with influence doesn’t call out Selig on this insanity, baseball will soon return to its early days, when the batters told the pitchers where they wanted the ball thrown.
Sunday’s game was rained out, and the nor’easter may well knock out the 7:05PM start against the Phillies in Philadelphia on Monday night. Going by the calendar, it is Oliver Perez’s day to start on Monday, but I’d be surprised to see John Maine’s turn skipped. If they both miss their turns, I wonder if they’d consider a combination game — starting Perez, letting him go only 3-4 innings, then bringing in Maine for one time through the lineup, then using Pelfrey for an inning or two. It’s doubtful, but with the rainouts it might be worth thinking about a way to work at least two of them in one game. A Maine-Pelfrey combination would seem to be a recipe for almost guaranteed success. Who knows, ten years from now we might see teams scheduling two starting pitchers, with each expected to go four innings. No one in 1985 would have believed that a six-inning starter would command a $60M salary.
Dog Day at Shea
On another note, next Saturday April 21st is Dog Day at Shea. Humans pay $32, dogs $5, and all dogs get to parade around the warning track prior to the game against the Braves. A portion of the proceeds go the North Shore Animal League, and if you want to bring Fido, you need to buy the tickets through their website. I will be there with my Italian Greyhound if you’d like to meet me; I’ll post reminder later in the week.