Archive: May 3rd, 2007

Mets Game 27: Win over Diamondbacks

Mets 9 Diamondbacks 4

Mets Damion Easley hitting in spring trainingWhy the heck did the Mets sign Damion Easley?

That’s what I was thinking back in mid-November of last year. Here was a little guy with a loopy swing, washed up for five years now. He wasn’t particularly adept with the glove, and not terribly versatile, either. Why were the Mets in such a rush to sign this “never-was”, when guys like Mark Loretta and Adam Kennedy were available?

A few minutes later I recalled similar thoughts from around the same time the previous winter, after the Mets signed Jose Valentin for no logical reason.

Ah, yes, In Omar We Trust.

After a mostly ordinary, often lackluster career — save for a three-year, 20-homer per season spurt — Damion Easley suddenly has a flair for the dramatic. And that loopy swing is connecting at precisely the right times.

With one out and two men on in the ninth, Easley lifted a 2-0 pitch into the leftfield stands to put the Mets ahead 6-4. The blast came against Jose Valverde, who had previously been nearly perfect in the closing role, saving 10 games in 11 chances and entering the game with a marvelous 1.64 ERA. The go-ahead homer, however, clearly affected the volatile Valverde, as he then walked Julio Franco and allowed a base hit to Jose Reyes before being removed from the game. His successor didn’t do much better, giving up an opposite-field homer to David Wright to put the game away for good.

Though it turned out to be an exciting, come-from-behind victory, the Mets nearly gave the game away.

They say the great pitchers seem to get tougher as the game goes along — particularly after they are given the lead. The smell of victory — the blood of the fallen opponent — causes something extra to kick in, a competitive streak that sears the outside skin of the decision, sealing the win inside.

For some reason, however, Tommy Glavine didn’t get tough.

The game was reminiscent of a Glavine start in Atlanta last July, when he was given the lead four times, but handed it right back. Against the Arizona Diamondbacks last night, Glavine fell behind early, but the Mets came back in the fourth to give him a one-run lead. Minutes later, he gave away the lead via a two-run homer to catcher Chris Snyder.

In the top of the fifth, Carlos Beltran evened things up with a prodigious solo homer to right-center. But in the bottom of the inning, Glavine gave up another dinger, this time to Orlando Hudson on a BP-like fastball over the middle of the plate, to untie the game. It was as if Glavine didn’t want to win. Maybe the 300-win thing is getting in his head, causing him to lose his focus


The ninth inning was a buildup of breaks that bewildered Jose Valverde, and may have caused him to lose his cool. First, a Shawn Green grounder bounced through Tony Clark’s legs, and then Paul LoDuca had a tough at-bat, working the count full and walking on a close pitch off the outside part of the plate. Valverde seemed to disagree with several of the ball calls — though they weren’t close enough to bicker about — and after walking LoDuca fell behind 2-0 to Easley. Ten saves or not, Valverde is still a head case.

Is Carlos Delgado ever going to hit again? Besides these little singles, I mean. At some point, Willie Randolph has to acknowledge that this man is in a slump. He’s not hitting the ball hard anywhere, and in fact is swinging and missing at an astonishing rate. And it’s not as if he’s getting fooled — he’s getting beat, he’s swinging over, he’s swinging under. Hopefully he and Rick Down will check out some video and notice that Carlos’ head is moving too much when he strides and begins his swing, in turn causing the ball to “jump” and leave his line of vision. A lighter stride step will keep his head “quiet”, and he’ll get a better, longer look at the pitch coming in.

Speaking of mechanical flaws, Aaron Heilman’s arm action is now identical to Joe Smith’s. But we’ll keep believing Willie’s mantra that it’s a phase Aaron needs to work out of, or that it’s mental, or he’s simply “getting the ball up”. And no, I don’t particularly care that he pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and received credit for the win — the ends do not justify the means in this case.

After going 2-for-2 with a walk, Moises Alou left the game because of a sore knee. Great. A split lip, a sore shoulder, now a bum knee. And it’s only the first week of May.

Shawn Green’s 10-game hitting streak came to a quiet end, though he did walk once and reach on the error by Clark. He also made an outstanding diving catch in the bottom of the ninth, eliciting a big hand from the hometown crowd.

Next Game

John Maine faces Randy Johnson at 9:40 PM EST. If Maine can continue his recent dominance, it would be a major shot in the arm for the Mets, as the last two games of the series will be tough. The D’backs will send their best two starters — Brandon Webb and Livan Hernandez — against someone who hasn’t made an MLB start this year and the shaky Mike Pelfrey. A bit of momentum going into the third game against Webb will be a big lift for the Mets.


Series Preview: Mets vs. Diamondbacks

Mets offense like a 69 Chevy NovaIn the last two series, the Mets played teams they are supposed to beat handily. Instead, they struggled mightily, losing two of three to the Marlins and nearly losing two of three from the Nationals. The offense is sputtering like a ’68 Chevy Nova with vapor lock, the bullpen is clearly not the dominating force it was a year ago, and there is a hole in the #2 spot in the rotation.

Clearly, 2007 is a different season from 2006.

However, it was a grueling West Coast trip in late May of last year that defined the New York Mets as stalwarts in the National League, so perhaps this first jaunt westward can ignite the sparkplugs and get their engine running.

The Diamondbacks’ Situation

The D’Backs are 16-10 so far this year, in second place in the competitive NL West and one and half games behind the Dodgers. They lost their last two games to Los Angeles, most recently a walkoff heartbreaker on Wednesday night, courtesy of a pinch-hit single by Olmedo Saenz. One thing to note is that Arizona has been near the top of the standings despite being without starting pitchers Randy Johnson and Micah Owings for most of April.

Their offense has been struggling, but the team has received outstanding starting pitching performances from Brandon Webb, Livan Hernandez, and Doug Davis — all of whom have sparkling ERAs and routinely pitching into the seventh inning. The bullpen has been anchored by closer Jose Valverde, who is showing no signs of the volatility that caused him to lose his job to Jorge Julio last year. He is 10-for-11 in save chances, with 12 strikeouts in 11 innings. However, he has walked six and allowed 11 hits, so there haven’t been too many 1-2-3 innings.

The Pitching Matchups

Game one: Tom Glavine vs. Micah Owings

Tom Glavine will try for the third time to get career win #294, after pitching well enough to earn it in his last two starts.

Owings is making his first start since going on the DL in mid-April due to a hamstring injury. Since he is a rookie that the Mets have never seen before, it’s possible that the Wandy Rodriguez Effect could come into play, though Owings is luckily a righthander. Hopefully for the Mets, he’ll be rusty due to the layoff. Additionally, there is a chance that the D’Backs won’t push him because of the injury, and so the Mets may get into the Arizona bullpen earlier rather than later.

Game two: John Maine vs. Randy Johnson

John Maine is coming off three brilliant starts and goes to the mound sporting a 1.35 ERA. How much longer will he keep this up? Only time will tell.

Randy Johnson, on the other hand, has had two difficult starts — his first two since offseason back surgery. Reports are that his velocity is OK, but is not quite 100% yet. He may not have the stamina to get beyond the fifth or sixth inning.

Game three: ??? vs. Brandon Webb
Reportedly, Chan Ho Park is penciled in to start against Webb, and he is still on the 25-man roster. That said, we can pretty much assume this game has been handed to Arizona.

Game four: Mike Pelfrey vs. Livan Hernandez

Livan Hernandez has been his usual self — mixing up speeds, going deep into games, and giving his team a chance to win. However, he has been walking more batters than normal — 25 already in 38 innings. Though it’s next to impossible to wear out this workhorse, the Mets might be smart to be patient at the plate and earn free passes.

After a difficult first inning in his last start, Pelfrey fought back to finally show some of the skills that earned his promotion to the Major League roster after a strong spring training. Hopefully, he can build on that experience and progress against the D’Backs. If nothing else, Pelfrey would be wise to watch his rival, Livan Hernandez — who can teach him a few things about backing off on the fastball and keeping batters off-balance. Actually, Pelfrey could learn a lot from watching Webb the night before his start as well. One would think that the sinkerballing Webb would be an ideal example for Pelfrey to follow.

Visit MetsGeek for a more detailed report on the Arizona pitchers.

D’Backs Bats

Orlando Hudson has reached base in all 29 games this year, and is batting .351. However, he is the one bright spot thus far, as the D’Backs have been hit with nagging injuries and offensive slumps similar to the Mets’. Other than Hudson, the only other Diamondbacks batting over .250 are Eric Byrnes (.286) and Chad Tracy (.292), who missed the last two games due to a strained ribcage and is day to day.

First baseman Conor Jackson hit .217 for the month of April, and is currently nursing a stitched-up thumb and a sore hamstring.

Shortstop Stephen Drew, who has also been dealing with a sore hamstring as well as a sore groin, struck out eight times and went 1-for-13 in the series against the Dodgers. He is now hitting .240 with a team-high 19 strikeouts.

Mets Bats

Where are they? On paper, this is the most powerful offense in the National League, and some say strong enough to compete in the AL. Off paper — on the field — the key hits aren’t coming, particularly from the middle of the order. David Wright seems to have broken out of his slump, and Carlos Delgado is showing signs of breaking out of his (though, Willie Randolph will not describe Delgado’s .196 batting average as a “slump” — just what the heck IS it then, Willie?).

Jose Reyes has been outstanding, getting on base at a .431 clip, but not scoring as often as he should. Carlos Beltran has been really hot at times, and is batting .349. Moises Alou started off hot, but now that April is over his batting average has slipped. Shawn Green has a 10-game hitting streak and is hitting around .440 over that span. All these numbers mean nothing, though, as the Mets continue to mount rallies when a.) there are two outs; or b.) the pitcher is coming to the plate. To beat the D’backs’ strong starting pitchers, they will have to start driving in runners on third base with less than two out, get things started early in innings, and improve their overall situational hitting techniques.

Otherwise, it could be a long four games for New York Mets fans.


John Maine and the BABIP Mystery

I have two questions for you — no visiting Baseball-Reference, Googling, or otherwise cheating:

1. What was Yogi Berra’s career batting average?

2. Name one quote attributed to Yogi Berra.

(answers come after the text ads, scroll down)

OK, so how did you do? I’m going to go out on a limb and say you didn’t know — off the top of your head — that Yogi’s career batting average was .285. Imagine if I asked something more obscure, such as his career OPS? (Which was .830, by the way.)

Now, I’m also going to go out on a limb and say you can probably repeat MORE than one “Yogism”. If not, here are a few of the more popular:

“It ain’t over till it’s over.”

“If there’s a fork in the road, take it.”

“90% of the game is half-mental.”

“This is like deja vu all over again.”

“I want to thank all those that made this night necessary.”

and of course, “I didn’t really say everything I said.”

Now, you may remember several others, as there are literally dozens of “Yogisms”. Heck, there were several books published, filled with his quotes, mis-quotes, and malaprops.

What’s that tell you? That Yogi was a better talker than he was a hitter?

Actually it’s a clue to what has made baseball so popular for over 100 years: the stories.

In the last few days, both FlushingUniversity and MetsGeek posted stories that John Maine’s success should be taken with a grain of salt, because his BABIP suggests that he’s merely been lucky.

Thanks for raining on our parade, guys. And you’re both supposed to be Mets fans!

Originally, this post was going to be about how I think BABIP is a bunch of poppycock. (For those of you who don’t know what BABIP is, I strongly suggest you read either of the above-mentioned articles, and/or google the research of Voros McCracken — it’s all fascinating stuff, if you are into numbers.) But two things kept me from explaining why I think it’s skill, and not luck, that has made John Maine a great pitcher so far this year:

1. I don’t want to get flamed again by the statheads over at The Baseball Think Factory

2. I don’t care if John Maine has been lucky. I just want to enjoy the story.

While it’s true that baseball is the most measurable of the major sports — there’s seemingly a stat for everything, and stats based on stats — the words are what have carried the sport through over a century. It began with the stories spun by scribes such as Ring Lardner, JG Taylor Spink, Zane Grey, Hugh Fullerton, and others. It continued over the airwaves, and through the years people have felt comfort from the voices of Vin Scully, Mel Allen, Red Barber, Ernie Harwell, Curt Gowdy, and dozens of others. The most successful writers and broadcasters are remembered for conveying the story that was on the field.

Yes, we count the hits and the homeruns, and acknowledge the milestones — but the numbers are a part of the story, not the story itself. In fact, with the recent controversy surrounding performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, it’s doubtful people will even care about the milestones anymore. For example, how many people outside of San Francisco think Barry Bonds’ career homerun total means anything? Not nearly as many people are talking about 755 as much as the STORY behind Bonds’ getting there.

So in the case of John Maine, the numbers geeks are telling us not to get too excited, don’t get your hopes up, the BABIP tells us that Maine won’t keep this pace up.

Hmmm … so John Maine won’t go 32-0 this year? He won’t finish the year with a 1.35 ERA?

C’mon guys, we already know that — no one expects Johnny Maine to continue pitching like Tom Seaver on steroids. Eventually, there will be a game where he gets knocked out in the fourth inning, and his ERA — and BABIP will swell like a pregnant elephant.

But until then, let us bask in the moment. Let us talk about how confident Maine looks on the mound; how he worked so hard in spring training, believing he had to earn a spot; how he really has command of his fastball; how those new offspeed pitches are keeping the hitters off-balance; how Omar Minaya fleeced the Orioles; how Maine has built on the 2006 postseason. That’s what we enjoy about baseball — personalities, opinions, argument, banter. Drowning oneself in the numbers to quantify performance may give us an idea of what will happen in the future, but in the process you’re destroying the universal appeal of the game — the storytelling.