Ooof … just what the heck happened here?
The most talented offensive force in the National League — the New York Mets — were facing possibly the worst starting pitcher in all of MLB, Matt Chico. Chico’s ERA was nearly six and a half, he had never gotten past the fifth inning (only got through the fifth once), and in 18 innings had given up 15 walks and 24 hits. His numbers, mediocre stuff, and lack of experience — he’d never pitched above AA before this April — seemed to add up to an early exit and massacre at the hands of the New York Mets.
Ah, but then the Wandy Rodriguez Effect took hold.
For the uninitiated, this is the hypothesis stating that the New York Mets cannot beat a rookie lefthanded pitcher they’ve never seen before. It’s named for a late July evening in Houston in 2005, when then-rookie Wandy Rodriguez looked like the second coming of Sandy Koufax against the New York Mets — despite entering the game with a 6.18 ERA.
The “Wandy Effect” has played itself out many times over since that night, executed by such talents as Eric Stultz, Hong-Chih Kuo, Jorge De La Rosa, Jason Vargas, Paul Maholm and Cole Hamels. (OK, Hamels and maybe Maholm are decent, but they were green nobodies when the Mets saw them.) Why the Mets have such a struggle against unknown lefties is curious; perhaps it’s a curse. Now that they have a minor league team based in N’Awlins, you’d think the Mets would talk to a voo-doo expert or soothsayer about the issue.
What should have been an easy win for Oliver Perez turned into a wasted effort. Ollie pitched seven strong innings, giving up four runs on eight hits and no walks, striking out nine. But the best thing that happened was the worst thing that happened — he gave up a 3-run homerun to Austin Kearns in the first inning. How can that be the best thing? Well, it wasn’t the homer itself that was great, it was the way Perez responded afterward — it didn’t affect him at all. Perez shrugged off the Kearns blast and proceeded to retire 16 of the next 18 batters, before giving up another run in the sixth and pitching a scoreless seventh.
I’m sure I’m not the only one holding my breath every inning Ollie pitches, wondering if this will be the inning he has a meltdown. Kind of like walking on eggshells, it’s like waiting for something to set Ollie off. After the two singles and homer in the first inning, there was every reason for pessimists to believe that it was going to be another long outing for Oliver. However, he fixed whatever the issue was, in game, and rebounded beautifully. The Mets may have lost the game, but Oliver Perez took a giant step forward — he responded to adversity by making the proper adjustments before all hell broke loose. If he can continue to correct himself — rather than relying on nine days of bullpen sessions — then the Mets may really have something here.
Unfortunately, Ollie did not get the support expected from a lineup facing Matt Chico. Most likely, the scouting report stated that Chico had control problems, but the little lefty went against what he’d been doing previously and became a strike machine. The Mets hitters had been overly aggressive of late, and chose the wrong day to start taking pitches, as Chico got ahead of everyone in the first three innings. Thrown for a loop by the sudden change in approach, the Mets seemed clueless at the plate, and were unable to string together more than two hits in a row. Their timing was impeccably awful; every time they put runners in scoring position, there were either two outs or the pitcher coming to the plate.
Shawn Green had two hits with no one on, but couldn’t come through with runners in scoring position in his other two at-bats (so maybe he should be a leadoff batter? ha ha). Twice Oliver Perez came up with runners in scoring position — once with two outs. Willie Randolph might have been tempted to pinch-hit for Perez in the top of the sixth, as there was one out and bases loaded, but with him pitching as well as he was, it didn’t make sense to pull him after only five innings. Pundits may point to that at-bat as the turning point in the game, but in reality, the problem was that the Mets failed in many opportunities to get the big hit, and could have run the bases more aggressively.
For example, in the eighth, Moises Alou doubled in David Wright with none out, then inexplicably remained anchored to second base while two deep fly balls were hit to right field by Green and Jose Valentin. Surely he could have advanced on one, if not both of those flies. Had he advanced on Green’s fly, he definitely would have scored on Valentin’s. Instead, he stayed put, until Julio Franco flied out to center to end what could have been a productive inning.
Similarly, there were two situations in the game where previously over-aggressive third base coach Sandy Alomar put up the stop sign. In the fourth, with his buddy Carlos Delgado on second base, Shawn Green singled to right but Delgado was held up at third — probably the right idea, because Delgado’s speed (can you call it that?) is comparable to a sloth towing a ’64 Plymouth. Then in the sixth, with David Wright on second base, Jose Valentin hit a bloop single to left-center that Michael Restovich might have had a chance to catch, but he pulled up at the last second and allowed the ball to drop safely. Again, Alomar had to hold him up, and you can’t blame Wright for playing it safe … it was just one of those games where things simply didn’t happen they way you’d want them to — a frustrating night of too little, too late.
David Wright drove a double to deep right in the eighth inning. Does that mean his slump is behind him? Hope so, because we can’t keep counting on Alou, Green, and Valentin to get all the big hits.
Speaking of, the corner outfielders were a combined 5-8 with an RBI. Alou is now batting .397, and Green is “only” hitting .358.
Jose Reyes had only one hit, but it was a double, and he stole third (13th SB of the year) and scored moments later on a sac fly.
Mighty Joe Smith pitched a scoreless 8th inning, walking one and striking out two.
Moises threw out Ryan Church trying to stretch a single into a double to end the bottom of the sixth, but Dmitri Young scored before the out was recorded. How is it that Dmitri “The Fridge” Young can score from second on a single and Carlos Delgado can’t? It’s gotta be the shoes.
Tom Glavine faces Jerome Williams in a 7:05 PM start. If the Mets do not pulverize Williams and get Glavine his 294th win, I may consider paying attention to the NHL or NBA postseason … or start watching Martha Stewart reruns (whichever’s more painful).