After all their blowout victories, this was the type of win the Mets needed to execute — one that required extra innings, the resilience to come back from behind, and the efforts of everyone on the bench.
Before bench players Damion Easley and Endy Chavez could provide the heroics, however, the story of the game was El Duque.
Orlando Hernandez threw another gem, pitching seven shutout innings, allowing only four hits and two walks. He was masterful, mixing his usual array of curves and changeups with a hard-running fastball that started off the outside part of the plate then veered over the corner, backdooring righthanded batters all evening.
However, Aaron Cook matched El Duque inning for inning, stymying the Mets bats with his sinkerball. Batters one through four in the starting lineup were 1-19, with Paul LoDuca stroking the lone single in the 11th inning. By contrast, the seven through nine hitters — El Duque included in that group — went 4-9 with two doubles and a triple. Time for a lineup shuffle?
Willie Randolph nearly blew the game by leaving closer Billy Wagner in the game to pitch the tenth inning after throwing 17 pitches in the ninth. While Wagner was working on plenty of rest, it was a bit surprising to see him come back out after a relatively long inning — especially when he is conditioned to throw 15-25 pitches per outing. The decision would have been less questionable if he had a 9- or 10-pitch ninth — and now he won’t be available for tomorrow afternoon’s game. Wagner’s command was spotty — only 22 of his 40 pitches were strikes — and really lost his touch as he got deep into the 10th inning. As his pitch count swelled, he had trouble throwing strikes and bounced a few balls, including one that got by LoDuca and allowed pinch runner Willy Taveras to advance from second to third. Taveras scored moments later with the go-ahead run when Wagner allowed a double to Troy Tulowitzki that bounced off the centerfield wall.
The game appeared to be over, as Rockies closer Brian Fuentes got two quick outs in the bottom of the tenth, then started out 0-2 against pinch-hitter Damion Easley. Easley took some ugly swings, and things didn’t look good … until he redirected a Fuentes fastball four hundred feet into the left-centerfield bleachers, about thirty paces to the right of where he dropped his Saturday afternoon homer against the Braves.
Scott Schoeneweis rebounded from his awful appearance against Atlanta, pitching one and one-third hitless innings before handing the ballgame to Mighty Joe Smith. Smith thew three pitches — all strikes — in earning what would become his first Major League win.
After Schoeneweis and Smith held the Rox in the top of the 12th, Shawn Green led off the bottom of the inning by working a ten-pitch at-bat that resulted in a walk. A perfect sacrifice bunt by Jose Valentin pushed him to second, and a bizarre balk by pitcher Ryan Speier sent him to third base. David Newhan missed out on a mitzvah by striking out. Perhaps if Newhan would accept Jesus as his lord, he would have had enough character to drive the run home (imagine if Newhan drove in Green to win the game … that would’ve gone over like a fart in church to the holy-rolling Rockies!). Jose Reyes was then walked intentionally, setting the stage for Endy Chavez. Chavez took one look at second baseman Clint Barmes playing in the rightfield grass and made the brilliant decision to drop a bunt towards him. It was a beautiful drag, nearly getting by the outstretched glove of Speier, but all the pitcher could do was meekly tap it in the direction of the first base bag. Chavez beat the ball to the bag easily and Green trotted home with the winning run.
Jose Reyes is in a two-game slump due to being over-aggressive at the plate. In this game, he suddenly went away from his previously patient approach, swinging at the first pitch in three of his at-bats. He needs to return to taking more pitches and being more selective.
Aaron Heilman was VERY lucky to pitch a perfect 8th inning. He gave up a rocket of a line drive to John Mabry that was snared by Carlos Delgado, and a long fly ball to the deepest part of the park in right-center off the bat of Steve Finley that was caught by Shawn Green. As mentioned previously, his elbow at release is too low, and he’s getting under the ball, causing his pitches to be up and flat. To be effective, Heilman’s pitches must sink, and the only way they’ll sink is if he releases from a slightly higher angle, with his fingers on top of the ball. Why this hasn’t been corrected yet is remarkable considering the Mets dicey bullpen situation this year.
Shawn Green showed a few flashes of the all-around ballplayer he was about five years ago. In addition to the excellent at-bat that led to his scoring the winning run, he had an infield single in the fifth, surprised everyone in the seventh by stretching a routine single into a double, and made a fine running catch on the aforementioned fly ball by Finley in the eighth. Who knows, maybe he’s having a Jose Valentin-like rejuvenation.
Speaking of, Jose Valentin continues to play a strong second base and is swinging the bat with authority. He made a nice play on a ground ball by Todd Helton that was turned into a double play in the ninth inning — though it was a team effort to complete the DP. What was nearly lost was the second half of the play, as Carlos Delgado nonchalantly handled the short-hopped throw by Valentin — he made a fairly tough play look easy. Despite Delgado’s limited range and supposed “rock hands”, he actually is very good at scooping balls in the dirt, and therefore much better in the field than most people give him credit for.
Troy Tulowitzki made a big-time, big-league play in the ninth, going deep into hole and making a diving stop on a David Wright grounder. He got up quickly and fired a perfect strike to first base to nail Wright by half a step, but the umpire called Wright safe. Over the next five to ten years, I can see Tulowitzki and Reyes duking it out for the Gold Glove.
David Wright went 2-4 with a walk to break out of an 0-15 slump. It was apparent that Wright took a different approach to each at-bat — one where he was focusing on letting the ball get extra deep, and picking balls to drive to the opposite field. The strategy paid off, as he had two solid hits, and worked an especially impressive, focused at-bat in the 11th to draw a walk. It may take him a while to start hitting for power again, but all the Mets need him to do in this lineup is have good at-bats and spray singles around the field.
Who Would’ve Thought …
… that the crosstown Yankees would be in last place, behind the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and forced to use two AA starters in their rotation at this point in the season?
By the way, isn’t it funny how well Alex Rodriguez performs for last place teams? Makes Wrigley Field as his next home seem all the more fitting …
Wednesday afternoon’s 1 PM start pits Mike Pelfrey vs. Josh Fogg. Fogg might win five or six games this year, but none should come against the Mets. If Pelfrey can hold the Rox to 4-5 runs over 5-6 innings, the Mets offense and bullpen should be able to handle the rest. Look for Aaron Sele to make an appearance, and Amby Burgos to earn his first save of 2007.