Archive: July 7th, 2007

Mets Game 86: Win over Astros

Mets 5 Astros 3

It was a long, hard fight, and exactly the kind of game the Mets sorely needed to win.

Hard to say who the hero was in this game — the Mets’ bullpen, which shut out the Astros over ten innings, or Carlos Beltran, who had not only the game-winning hit but also the game-saving catch.

With two outs and a runner on third in the 14th, Beltran made an unbelievable, running basket catch up “Tal’s Hill” in deep centerfield on a drive off the bat of Luke Scott to end the inning and preserve the tie. Three innings later, the Mets finally scored — for the first time in ten innings — thanks to a basehit by Beltran that scored Jose Reyes with the go-ahead run.

The top of the 17th began with a walk to Reyes. Ruben Gotay fell behind 0-2, and Reyes took off for second on the pitch. Gotay slapped the ball into the hole left by shortstop Mark Loretta, who was covering second on the steal, sending Reyes to third. Beltran followed with a screaming line drive into right to score Reyes and land Gotay on third. David Wright then drove a ball through the drawn-in infield to score Gotay for an insurance run.

Billy Wagner came on in the bottom of the 17th to save the game for winning pitcher Aaron Sele.

Notes

The Astros had the winning run on second base with less than two out five times between the ninth and 17th, but were unable to push the run home.

Tom Glavine threw a fine game, allowing three runs on five hits and one walk in seven innings. Remarkably, Woody Williams matched him pitch for pitch and then some, pitching into the eighth inning and allowing just five hits himself — two of them homeruns. Unfortunately, the Mets were unable to score runs without hitting the ball over the fence (in regulation), as has been the case all too often this season.

Carlos Delgado continued his hot hitting, going 2-for-6 with his 14th homerun of the season. David Wright went 4-for-8 with a solo homer, two RBI, and two runs scored. Other than those two, the Mets’ lineup was pretty miserable — though both Gotay and Green each had three hits. As a team the Mets amassed 17 hits, but it was they were a quiet 17, with a bunch coming after two outs in an inning. Kind of hard to get anything going with that strategy.

Gotay’s slap through the hole on that 0-2 pitch was masterful. The pitch was off the outside part of the plate, and probably a ball, but he saw Loretta covering and simply put the bat in the way of the ball right toward the spot Loretta had vacated. Now that’s heads-up baseball.

In the top of the ninth, with Paul LoDuca on first with two out, Shawn Green hit a line drive single into center and LoDuca tried to make it to third but was thrown out to end the inning. It was a questionable move by LoDuca (don’t ever make the third out at third base), but he would have made it had he not looked back three times on his way there. Ocne he made the decision to go, he needed to put his head down and move forward.

In the bottom of the ninth, Pedro Feliciano bailed out Aaron Heilman with a huge strikeout of Lance Berkman, stranding men on first and second. Joe Smith had a similarly huge strikeout in the 12th, bailing out Scott Schoeneweis and leaving the bases loaded. Great performances all around by seven Mets relievers.

Paul LoDuca caught 16 innings, with both Ramon Castro and Sandy Alomar Jr. hanging around on the bench. Castro was finally brought in to catch the 17th. At that point, what was the difference?

Holy cow … Willie Randolph not only acknowledged Ruben Gotay’s presence in the game, but complimented him on his ability to have good at-bats and “grind it out”. Wow. What an epiphany! We may actually see Gotay play more than once every two blue moons now.


Next Game

The final game of the four-game series takes place at 2:05 PM EST. The Mets offer Dave Williams as the sacrificial lamb to the Astros beast known as Roy Oswalt.

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Who Let the Dogs Out?

The Mets' Doghouse

In case you missed it, Jose Reyes was removed from Friday’s game for not hustling out a ground ball.

The full description, and quotes from both Willie Randolph and Jose Reyes, can be found on MetsBlog.

SNY broadcaster Keith Hernandez applauded the move, saying that Willie had to “nip this thing in the bud”.

Unfortunately, there was no bud left, Keith. Willie had to pull out one flower from a big patch from the roots.

Lazy play has been the trademark of the 2007 Mets since about mid-May. If it took Willie this long to realize his guys weren’t hustling, maybe he should consider another line of work. Even the fans in the upper level, section 48 could see quite clearly that this Mets team is a far cry from the passionate, never-say-die, hustlers and grinders of a year ago. The faces may be the same, but the hearts have changed; these guys expect wins to come easy, and go in the tank the minute the score seems out of reach.

Why Willie chose this game, and this player, to make his point is baffling. But then, many of his moves this year have been head-scratchers. Forget about his in-game strategy (if that’s what you call it) — we know that he’s challenged in that area. What Willie is supposed to bring to the table is player management: the ability to get the most out of every player on the roster, in working as a team toward victory. He did a nice job of it last year, using the bench, taking the youngsters aside and teaching them, playing the hot hands at the right times, and sticking with certain players through rough times. And his players played hard, all the time. That was one thing about the 2006 team: they were relentless. Talent took them a long way, but tenacity separated them from the rest of the pack.

What happened to that attitude this year? It seemed to evaporate sometime around Cinco de Mayo — so maybe it’s the result of long hangover. The team, at the time, was winning, but you could see the breakdown beginning. Here and there, someone would jog the last few steps on a grounder to second base. Carlos Delgado would watch his fly balls bounce off the fence in the batter’s box before taking off for first. Carlos Beltran would “forget how many outs there were”. Damion Easley would let grounders pass by without stretching out his glove — much less dive. Pitchers would be late in covering first on balls hit to Delgado. Little things, but they were there, and not only did the fans see them, but so did Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Gomez, and other youngsters. Next thing you know, D-Wright is making a habit of jogging down to first on grounders. Gomez is watching his homer go over the fence (where do you think he learned that from?). Then the Mets go into a tailspin in June, and sleepwalk their way through two weeks of play. You can see — on their faces and through their body language — that they give up after falling behind by more than three runs. Through it all, Jose Reyes is still smiling, hustling, and maybe pressing a bit in an effort to spark the team.

Finally, though, Reyes slips. He’s played nearly every inning of every game at a high level of energy and enthusiasm. Maybe he’s getting fatigued (yes, Keith, an athlete under 25 CAN get tired). Maybe he’s losing a bit of his enthusiasm, between losing and watching the dogs on his team. Maybe he’s tired of being the main guy going all out, every game. Whatever it is, he loses his concentration, the smile goes away for periods, and he starts missing balls in the field, has some poor at-bats, and once in a while, he doesn’t run 100% on a grounder. Why should he? Other guys on the team jog, why can’t he?

Indeed, it was not a lack of hustle on Reyes’ part — it was a lack of judgment. He sincerely believed his grounder was a foul ball — of that there is no doubt. Of course, he’s not the umpire, and he shouldn’t be watching the ball, and shouldn’t be wondering if it will go fair or foul. But this is what the “leaders” on the Mets have taught him: don’t run so hard out of the box. Take a look first and see. No need to expend your energy. Before “Willie’s Guys” came along and taught him the new way to play baseball, Reyes would have been sprinting to first the moment he made contact.

If you read the quotes by Jose Reyes in response to being taken out, he said mostly the right things. There was one phrase, though, they opened the door to his real feelings :

“I think the ball would be foul, but you still have to run. It was my fault there, so … but I think it would happen to anybody. So, hopefully it doesn’t happen to me next time … “

” … it would happen to anybody …” is the hint. As if not running out a foul ball was akin to a meteor falling out of the sky and onto your head. Not running doesn’t “happen”, it’s something you choose not to do. What he’s trying to say is, he thought the ball would go foul, and it didn’t. And therein lies the problem — Reyes has been “taught” to check out the situation before taking off. Thanks to the Carloses, old man Franco, and other “veterans”.

Further, if you watched Jose in the TV interview, his face told a different story. His words were “I was wrong, I should have been taken out, blah blah blah,” but his face was saying, “out of all the guys in this doghouse, why me? why the one guy who has laid his heart and soul on the field every single game? why not Beltran? why not Franco, who walked to first base in Philly? why not Delgado, who jogs all the time? why not Wright, who’s following Delgado’s lead? why do all those guys get pass after pass, yet the one time I do something wrong, I’m the one taken out?”

Willie Randolph let this fester for two months, and chooses Friday night to make an example of somebody. That’s fine — Reyes probably should have been sat — but it’s too little, too late. The mutiny has already taken place, and the veterans have established the attitude of this team. It will take a small miracle for the dogs to reverse their ways in time to save the season, because the two less-skilled teams behind them — the Braves and Phillies — are making up for their lack of talent with hustle, passion, and focus on fundamentals.

Many are pointing to this move as a defining moment in Willie’s managerial tenure, the move that establishes himself as the ultimate leader of this team. I disagree — I think it’s defining the exact opposite.

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No Hope for Gotay

It’s official: Ruben Gotay will not see regular playing time this year — at least, not unless a lot of people go down with injuries and yellow fever.

Willie confirmed this nonsensical decision in an interview with Joe Benigno on WFAN on Friday afternoon (yes, I tune into the FAN, but because it’s the only place to hear Willie). Listen to it to hear the nonsense for yourself, but the most glaring comments were in regard to MetsToday’s favorite man-crush, Ruben Gotay.

Beningo asked Randolph specifically: “What about Ruben Gotay … ?”

“Gotay is better from the left side … and that plays away from us because that’s also Valentin’s best side … Gotay when you’re facing lefthanded pitchers, Easley’s the guy that can give you more pop from the right side … I’ll mix him in, he’s gonna get a start here and there, but he’s not gonna make much of a difference, he’s really a guy that’s help us off the bench right now, and if we need to spot some guy we’ll put him in but he’s not gonna get any extended time right now, so why you try to run him out there if you’re trying to get Valentin going?”

Brilliant. Awesome. Just … friggin’ … great.

So, Gotay is plastered to the bench, at least until Moises or Endy returns, at which point he’ll likely get a one-way ticket to N’Awlins.

As Randolph stated, Damion Easley offers more pop from the right side of the plate, especially against lefthanders. Indeed, Easley is hitting .322 with 4 homers in 59 ABs this year against lefties (he’s also struck out 15 times — or once for every four at-bats). And Gotay is hitting a meager .125 against lefties. But, uh, that’s based on EIGHT at-bats. Kind of a small sample, dontcha think?

And as far as Valentin goes, he’s hitting much better from the right side this year — .295 in 44 ABs, as opposed to .230 from the left side. That said, why not, against lefties, play Valentin at 2B, Easley in left, and against righties, play Gotay at second and shove Valentin in left to “get him going” ? Oh that’s right — Gotay’s not one of Willie’s “guys”, so that idea won’t play.

Look, I’m all for getting Valentin going — I believe he reinvented his career last season, and is an excellent all-around ballplayer. But he doesn’t have the range to play 2B with that bum knee, and he’s not turning the DP too well either. As long as left field is a black hole, and you have Gotay hitting the crap out of the ball, why not shuffle all three of them between second base and leftfield? Why must Gotay — the best of the three all-around — be the one left out?

It’s really a strange perception that Randolph has, considering that Gotay is in many ways very similar to Willie as a ballplayer. For those who didn’t see him play, Willie was a solid #2 hitter, a guy who took a lot of pitches, had good strike zone knowledge and discipline, drew walks, handled the bat well, was excellent as a bunter and with executing the hit-and-run, occasionally drove a line drive into the gap, had above-average speed and ran the bases well, and was solid if unspectacular in the field — good range, strong arm, good pivot on the DP. If that’s not Gotay in a nutshell, I don’t know what is. Maybe Willie has some strange psychological issue with Gotay’s similarity to himself?

In any case, it appears that it will take a reinjury by Valentin, an injury to Easley, and probably flu symptoms for both Anderson Hernandez and David Newhan before we see Gotay start two games in a row.

There’s always next year.

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