Archive: April 24th, 2007

Mets Game 19: Win

Mets 2 Rockies 1

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 …

Next Game

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.


What’s Wrong With Wright?

David Wright thinks about his batting slumpDespite hitting safely in the first 14 games of the year, David Wright has not been … well … “right”.

Nearly one-eighth of the way into the season, and through 69 at-bats, Wright is batting .261 with no homeruns and 4 RBI, and has struck out 20 times. These are not the numbers a team expects from its #5 hitter. Luckily, the bottom third of the Mets order — Moises Alou, Shawn Green, and Jose Valentin — have more than picked up the slack, so Wright’s woes have not been a big deal. But eventually, David must hit. So what’s the problem?

As many have suggested, it may have something to do with issues that have been festering since last year’s All-Star break.

This isn’t the first place you’re hearing someone surmise that the 2006 Home Run Derby was the beginning of Wright’s problems — and despite David’s denial, the fact is, he’s hit only 6 homers since the tater contest. All the pundits point to Bobby Abreu’s similar sapping of power after he was crowned the home run king, and there is something to the theory.

First, you have to wonder if Wright made some kind of preparations prior to last year’s home run contest. Maybe he altered his swing during the last dozen balls in batting practice for the week or two before the All-Star break, to get more lift on the ball. Wright, after all, is a line-drive hitter — similar to Abreu — who hits homeruns more by accident than by trying. As much as we love David, it’s clear that he’s taking full advantage of all New York has to offer — specifically when it comes to self-promotion. That’s not a knock — heck we’d all do the same — but it’s possible he went a bit too far in gaining popularity. Winning the home run contest wouldn’t hurt Wright’s national exposure, and he knew full well the commercial impact of beating celebrity sluggers such as David Ortiz in front of millions of TV viewers.

If you throw out that notion, you must admit that Wright is extremely competitive, and would do everything in his “power” to win even a meaningless homerun contest. Again, nothing wrong with that — his competitive fire and ferocious work ethic are much of the reason we love David Wright. David did not enter the 2006 Home Run Derby to lose, and thus likely made some mechanical adjustments to his swing in order to compete.

David Wright taking a swing in home run derby vs. Ryan HowardAnd the results were amazing — Wright knocked 18 balls over the fence in the first two rounds, and lost a close race with Ryan Howard 23-22. During the competition, Wright definitely altered his swing to give the ball more loft. Keith Hernandez has pointed out several times that his swing is more “up” this year than last. So did that homerun contest have a carryover effect into the second half of the 2006 season, and through this April?

The numbers are inconclusive, as Wright hit .305 after the All-Star break — but with a startling drop in power and RBI production. He slumped mightily in August, batting only .245 for the month, but came back to hit .360 in September — though with only 2 homeruns. Logic would suggest that an “up” swing would result in more fly balls, and thus more — not less — homers. Or would it not?

Anyone who has played some competitive baseball knows that trying to hit a home run almost always results in failure (unless you are magnificently gifted). After realizing that he could put a ball over the fence by altering his swing, perhaps David Wright began to use that swing in games — in certain situations of course. Maybe every once in a while, he picked a particular at-bat, against a specific pitcher, and took the approach that he’d put one over the fence. And maybe, little by little, that idea creeped too far into his usual style — in turn screwing up both his thought process and his swing.

But perhaps the high-average, moderate power output is the true David Wright. Maybe Wright’s power surge in the first half of 2006 was an anomaly — or simply a product of luck. Further, maybe Wright is trying to change who he really is — trying to become a 40+ homer guy when in reality he’s a natural 20-25 slugger with a .300 average. There’s nothing wrong with the latter; George Brett built a Hall-of-Fame resume doing just that.

Certainly, Wright is now pressing — and he’s trying to hit his first homerun of the year. Last year, Wright had the same simple approach on every at-bat, every pitch: let the ball get deep, swing at good pitches, and hit the ball up the middle or to the opposite field. On occasion, the pitcher would make a mistake inside and he’d rip one down the third base line or over the left field fence — but for the most part, he’d employ the inside-out swing and hit line drives toward the middle of the field. In the first week or so of the season, Wright seemed OK — not great, but not as bad as he is now. Sometime after that first week, the fact that he was homerless must have entered his mind, because he started swinging at pitches he never offered at before, and let meatballs ride right by. The only time that happens is when a batter is guessing — and that’s what Wright is doing now. Instead of reacting to pitched ball, he’s sitting on what he thinks the pitcher is going to throw, and getting fooled. Instead of trusting his instincts to jump on mistakes, he’s looking for them — anticipating that a breaking pitch will hang where he can bang. As a result, he’s waving at pitches he should be taking, and allowing the hitter’s pitches to glide by untouched. On Sunday afternoon in particular, there were at least two flat sliders that John Smoltz left up in the zone that David should have crushed — but he never considered taking a swing.

In last night’s game against the Rockies, Wright finally drove a ball to the opposite field. It was a great step in the right direction — but it’s kind of scary that we’re getting excited about a flyout. Hopefully, Wright will get his first knock over the fence sooner rather than later, and take that pressure off his mind. More importantly, we should hope that Wright goes back to old approach, and let the homeruns come naturally — by accident. With his swing and strength, David Wright should have no problem generating 25-30 “accidents”, without even thinking about it.


Metal Bats Banned in NYC

DeMarini Vexxum Baseball BatMayor Bloomberg’s veto of an aluminum bat ban in New York City high school baseball leagues was overturned by the City council. Beginning in September 2007, metal bats are outlawed in New York high school baseball competition.

You may think this has nothing to do with our New York Mets, and you’re right — not now, at least. But since we follow a New York team, this issue hits home.

Aluminum alloy bats — particularly in the last 10 years — have completely changed the face of baseball in more ways than one can imagine. Because of the advancements in technology, alloy bats have larger, longer “sweet spots” in the barrel, yet are lighter than ever before. In addition to requiring less effort to swing at high velocity, many of these bats also flex, adding a frightening whip action to the impact on the ball. In turn, these new bats have created “metal bat swings” — hitters who rely almost completely on bat speed and can therefore get around on any speed ball, and, wait much longer on pitches than if they held natural wood in their hands. They also turn average talents into superheroes, as bat speed creates batted ball speed, which thereby creates wicked line drives and elongated fly ball distance.