Archive: May 5th, 2007

Mets Game 29: Win over Diamondbacks

Mets 6 Diamondbacks 2

Going against reigning Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb, not much was expected of Jorge Sosa. The Mets hoped he could somehow get through five innings and hold the Diamondbacks to a few runs in what promised to be a low-scoring game. In other words, keep the Mets in the game, keep things close enough to give the bats a chance to win. If he could do that, Willie Randolph would be ecstatic.

Instead, Sosa gave Willie six and one-third innings of shutout ball.

In those 6 1/3, Sosa gave up 4 hits, 2 walks and 1 earned run, striking out 3 in the process. 65 of his 101 pitches were strikes, as he mixed a 95-MPH fastball with a diving slider. Simply put, he did more than keep the Mets in the game — he handed them an opportunity to win.

Sosa seemed a bit nervous in the first inning, giving up a single and a walk, but settled down to end the threat without a run. Few believed it would be Arizona’s best chance to score for the next five innings.

In the top of the second, Shawn Green dropped an opposite-field, two-run homer over the leftfield fence to provide a seemingly fragile lead that stood for much of the game.

Then the dam burst.

It started out simply enough — two walks issued to the two Carloses by Brandon Webb to start the inning. Paul LoDuca followed with a line drive single to leftfield that went under Jerry Hairston’s glove and to the wall, scoring Beltran and Delgado and landing LoDuca on third. A few pitches later, Shawn Green jumped on a high change-up and sent a grounder up the middle to score LoDuca. Green stole second and was advanced to third on a chopper back to the pitcher hit by Damion Easley. Endy Chavez followed with a sacrifice fly to score Green and make the score 6-0.

Other than the homer to Green, Webb had pitched very well up to that point. He clearly had run out of gas but D’Backs manager Bob Melvin was caught blindsided by the sudden lack of effectiveness, and had no one getting ready in the bullpen. It was up to Webb to get himself out of the inning, and luckily for the Mets, he wasn’t up to the task.


Brandon Webb had a lot of fun in the early innings displaying his overhand curveball. His 12-6 deuce is a prime example of why I disagree with Rick Peterson’s decision to ditch Mike Pelfrey’s curve. I simply do not buy into the idea that sinkerballers have to be sinker-slider pitchers, nor that the slider is a more appropriate complement to a sinker than a curve. The reason I prefer a curve is that it can and should be thrown in the strike zone; it’s a pitch you throw for strikes. In contrast, the slider is a pitch that is more effective when thrown OUT of the strike zone; when pitchers force it over the plate, it tends to flatten and be very hittable. Even John Smoltz’s nasty slider is vulnerable when thrown for a strike. OK, I’ve stepped down off the soapbox … just had to get that off my chest.

David Wright had shown signs of breaking out of his slump, but is now 1-13 in this series. He’s still taking more of an uppercut swing as opposed to the more level, line-drive cut he used previous to last year’s All-Star game. Last week, Keith Hernandez also pointed out a more pronounced front leg lift, which may also be throwing things off. Until he corrects these issues, Wright can forget about being a .300 hitter again.

Delgado, on the other hand, is stroking the ball better, though he is still swinging too hard on occasion. Watch him and you’ll see that both of his feet leave the ground when he swings and misses — he’s actually jumping at the ball. He’ll be fine once he starts staying back and taking a more controlled swing.

Sosa may have benefitted from a weak Arizona lineup. His inability to throw anything other than the fastball for a strike could make him vulnerable to stronger offenses. (Similarly, John Maine had trouble spotting off-speed pitches on Friday night, but it didn’t seem to matter much against Arizona’s weak bats.) However, you can’t knock his guts and ability to rise to the occasion in this standout performance. At the very least, he deserves another start — if needed.

Joe Smith did what he needed to do to preserve the shutout, inducing a routine double-play grounder from Chris Snyder in the seventh. However, Jose Reyes botched the transfer from Damion Easley, and Snyder reached base safely to extend the inning. Pinch-hitter Miguel Montero doubled over the head of Endy Chavez to score two runs. Smith then struck out Eric Byrnes to end the inning.

Pedro Feliciano and Aaron Heilman did their usual thing to close out a game that had been over since the second inning.

For those that missed it, Amby Burgos was sent down to make room for Sosa. So, Lino Urdaneta may yet get a chance to turn that sideways eight into a real number.

Next Game

Mike Pelfrey faces Livan Hernandez at 4:40 PM EST in a Sunday afternoon game.

In the 9th inning of the first game of this series, things looked bleak for the Mets. They were down 4-3, Jose Valverde looked to be on his way to an 11th save, and the possibility of being swept seemed entirely plausible. After all, John Maine was due to take a loss (wasn’t he?), the always-tough Brandon Webb was on the hill on Saturday night, and if they had lost the first three, it seemed very unlikely that Pelfrey would have a chance to beat the wily veteran Hernandez.

However, the combination of a meltdown by Valverde and one sweet swing of the bat by Damion Easley turned not just the game, but the entire series around. Now, a sweep is indeed possible, but by the Mets OVER the D’Backs.


Are the Mets Too Old?

Were the critics correct?

The preseason pundits told us that the Mets would not repeat as NL East champions because:

  • The starting pitchers were too old or too young to be effective
  • Moises Alou was too old and injury-prone
  • Shawn Green’s bat was slowing down, and at the end of his career
  • Jose Valentin was too old, and would never repeat his 2006 renaissance season
  • The bullpen would sorely miss Duaner Sanchez, Chad Bradford, and Guillermo Mota

For the first few weeks of the season, the 2007 Mets seemed on the road to disprove the naysayers. Shawn Green stroking a base hitThey began the season with an exclamation point, sweeping the reigning World Champion Cardinals in St. Louis. Their starting pitching was clearly the team’s strength, as the four-man rotation of Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez, John Maine, and Oliver Perez was routinely pitching into and past the 7th inning. Moises Alou was red-hot, leading the NL in batting for a short time, and the “slow” bat of Shawn Green was right on his heels. Jose Valentin was hitting around .270, getting clutch hits, but more importantly, flashing a gold-like glove around the keystone.

Then May came, and the wheels fell off.

All at once, it seemed, the Mets were breaking down — just as the pundits predicted. El Duque developed bursitis in his shoulder; Jose Valentin tore his ACL; Moises Alou split his lip and injured his shoulder; Mike Pelfrey’s sinker was pilfered; Aaron Heilman was looking like a deer in headlights; and neither David Wright nor Carlos Delgado could buy a homer, hit, or RBI.

And all that happened BEFORE the Mets lost two in a row at home to the Florida Marlins, getting shut down by the 6.27 ERA of Scott Olsen and Ricky Nolasco, a guy who went 0-3 with a 19.72 ERA against the Mets in 2006.

In the meantime, the Braves took over first place, the barking Phillies continue to creep up in the standings, and the pundits are patting each other on the back.

Since losing the series to the Fish, the outlook has been mixed. On the one hand, David Wright finally broke out of his slump, hitting his first homerun of the year. On the other, Alou can now add a knee problem to his growing list of ailments. Additionally, Chan Ho Park looked absolutely abysmal in El Duque’s place, and despite a win, Aaron Heilman still looks lost. One thing going for the Mets is that they are starting to get the clutch hits — though Delgado still isn’t stroking the ball the way he should, and 48-year-old Julio Franco is currently outperforming him at bat and in the field. And, after winning their first two games in Arizona, the Mets are back in first — though in a tenuous tie with Atlanta.

Is it time to panic? Are the Mets really too old, too fragile, and too challenged in the pitching department?

Probably not. There are still five months to turn things around, and close to 85% of the season lies ahead. The good news is, the future looks bright, and help is on the way.

For one thing, consider that the Mets started out 15-10, a half game out of first, while getting next to no production from their #4 and #5 hitters. It is silly to believe that Carlos Delgado’s batting average will remain below the Mendoza Line, and Wright looks to be on the way back to his old self. Getting those two bats back into swing of things is a wonderful thing to look forward to, and key to jumpstarting the slumping offense.

Similarly, we can look forward to pitching help arriving from the farm. For example, though Chan Ho Park appears to be a bust, the reclamation project of Jorge Sosa looks to be going very well. Pitching in the homer-happy PCL, Sosa has a 4-0 record and a 1.12 ERA — a considerable achievement, considering that his biggest bugaboo has been allowing balls to fly over the fence. His quick start undoubtedly would have earned him a promotion over Park, but the scheduling didn’t work in his favor. We’ll see tonight if Sosa is the real goods or if his four games in AAA were a fluke.

Philip Humber fires a pitchAnd if Sosa is not the answer, youngsters Philip Humber and Jason Vargas continue to progress, and appear to be on the brink of being helpful at the big league level. Sosa’s hot start means the Mets don’t have to rush either of those arms, and let them develop on their own pace. If they keep improving, one or the other — or both — could be at Shea by mid-June, if needed.

Speaking of June, that’s when Guillermo Mota should be back to help Aaron Heilman with the 8th-inning setup role. Additionally, Dave Williams could be back to provide some middle relief — or starting depth — if needed. And though no one’s counting on him for this year, Pedro Martinez continues to be slightly ahead of schedule in his comeback from rotator cuff surgery. Anything Pedro provides will be a bonus.

In the field, Damion Easley is already filling in nicely for Valentin, providing a flair for the dramatic with the bat and turning double plays. Plus, the nearly forgotten Ruben Gotay has leapfrogged over Anderson Hernandez, and could be a pleasant surprise. Meanwhile, the nagging injuries suffered by Alou offer Endy Chavez an opportunity to prove why he’s the best fifth outfielder in MLB, and give the Mets a boost of speed and defense. And let us not forget Lastings Milledge is chomping at the bit in New Orleans, ready and waiting for another shot with the big club. With plenty of talent in reserve, the Mets are well-equipped to handle the myriad breakdowns that occur on all teams in a 162-game season — old and young alike.

There may be some bumps and bruises over the next month, but during that time several players will define their roles, and the 2007 Mets will start to take shape.

And if you’re still worried about their race for the pennant, consider that at this time last year, Jose Lima and Jeremi Gonzalez were anchoring the back of the rotation, Jorge Julio was taking up space in the bullpen, Kaz Matsui was the starting second baseman, and Jose Valentin was batting .154. So things could be a lot worse … and yet, look at how that 2006 team turned out.