Archive: August 14th, 2007

Mets Game 118: Win Over Pirates

Mets 5 Pirates 4

The reason the Mets signed Moises Alou was to drive in runs — bottom line. And in the top of the 8th, that’s exactly what he did.

Alou’s base hit to center with the bases drunk in the top of the eighth scored two runs, putting the Mets ahead — for the first time in the game — 5-3. And it was a lead they did not relinquish.

The Pirates jumped ahead 2-0 in the first frame when Nate McClouth led off with a walk, Freddy Sanchez doubled, Adam LaRoche singled, and Jose Castillo hit a second double. The score stayed that way until the third, when Lastings Milledge hit a leadoff single and scored on a double by — of all people — Mike DiFelice. The Mets tied the game the next inning (the 4th) via a Carlos Beltran homer, but McClouth popped a solo shot of his own in the bottom of the inning. Once again Beltran tied the game, in the sixth, this time on a fielder’s choice grounder that scored Luis Castillo from third base. The game remained tied until Alou’s big hit in the 8th.

Luckily, Alou’s hit scored two, because the Bucs added a run in the bottom of the 8th. Things started off poorly when David Wright misplayed a slow bouncer off the bat of Jose Castillo leading off the inning. Instead of charging aggressively, he stayed back on the ball, and Castillo beat out his throw to reach first safely. One pitch later, men stood on first and second as Ronny Paulino bounced a second ball through the infield. A minute after that, it was men on second and third and one out after a successful sacrifice by Jack Wilson. Xavier Nady then pinch hit and hit a soft grounder to Luis Castillo for the second out, scoring Castillo. Strangely, Willie Randolph then chose to bring in Scott Schoeneweis to face Nate McClouth; Pittsburgh manager Jim Tracy countered with pinch-hitter Josh Phelps, who drove a ball to rightfield that Lastings Milledge should have caught fairly easily, but chose instead to turn it into a nail-biting web gem.

Billy “Automatic” Wagner came on in the ninth with a 1-2-3 inning to earn his 27th save of the season.

Notes

Orlando Hernandez threw six fairly solid innings, striking out 8, walking 5, allowing 5 hits and 3 runs. A lot of baserunners, to be sure, but he did a good job of stranding them. It was REALLY nice to see Randolph leave him in to throw 130 pitches — something I wish he’d let Tom Glavine do on occasion. I don’t care what any doctor or trainer says, a grown man in MLB shape who has efficient mechanics can throw up to 150 pitches in a game without causing any damage. And guys like El Duque and Glavine, who do not put tremendous strain on their arms, should be allowed and expected to go far beyond the ridiculous 100-pitch limit.

Not to be ignored was the relief work by Jorge Sosa, whose 1 2/3 innings kept the Mets in the game. Yeah, things are bad when you’re happy about a pitcher allowing “only” one run in less than two innings of work, but we’ve got to find our silver linings in the Fahrenheit 451 firehouse also known as the Mets bullpen (am I overdoing the Fahrenheit 451 thing lately? Sorry, but it just seems so fitting).


Next Game

John Maine goes against Matt Morris in another 7:05 PM start at PNC Park. Let’s hope that Morris curveball is hanging.

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Quick Preview: Mets vs. Pirates

We did a fairly thorough preview and “inside look” on the Pirates about three weeks ago, and not much has changed with the two teams since. So, we’ll do a fairly quick rundown on the series.

Game One: Orlando Hernandez vs. Ian Snell

While we spent most of the first half trying to decide whether John Maine or Oliver Perez was the Mets’ stopper, El Duque has quietly become the Mets one bonafide ace. Yes, he’s only 7-4, but he missed significant time; had he been healthy, he might have at least 10 wins right now. More importantly, El Duque continues to rise to the occasion, coming up with great performances — often against the opposition’s ace pitcher. All that said, he’ll likely fall flat on his face tonight in Pittsburgh.

Strikeout artist Ian Snell pitches for the Pirates. He has intriguing talent, but is wearing out his welcome in Pittsburgh with his mouth and fascination with the K. If he can show improved attitude and intelligence, the Mets might be interested in dealing for him over the winter (I could see a Snell and Ronny Paulino package) … but that’s for another time. Today, he has to face the Mets. He’s 0-5 since the All-Star break with a 7.31 ERA. If he can get his curve over the plate, he’ll give his team a good chance to win. If the deuce remains ineffective — as it’s been for over a month — the Mets will think the game is extended batting practice.

Game Two: Matt Morris vs. John Maine

I don’t like the smell of this game. First of all, Maine has a 6.46 ERA since July 5th. Secondly, Morris’ struggles have often been independent of his performance against the Mets. He stymied the Mets with a steady diet of curveballs, deuces, and uncle charlies in his one start against them (as a member of San Francisco). Expect to see more of the same, and hope some of them hang.

Game Three: Brian Lawrence vs. Tony Armas Jr.

Lawrence has actually been respectable in his two starts as a Met. Since he has yet to break 82 MPH, and throws a junky breaking pitch, I’m going to guess he learned some hoodoo while in n’awlins. On the other hand, Tony Armas can’t break 82 either, and doesn’t have the benefit of black magic. By all accounts, he should get blasted beyond recognition. But recent non-developments by the inconsistent Mets offense preclude me from making any brash predictions. I’m hoping that Lawrence can hold the Bucs to one run or less, and Jose Reyes can steal home twice.

Mets Bats

One day they score six runs in a game started by Tim Hudson, the next they can’t muster more than three in one started by Daniel Barone. One evening Moises Alou grounds into eleven double plays in only five at-bats, the next night he’s a homerun hero. Throughout the year, the Mets’ offense has been on a rollercoaster; it’s either feast or famine. Generally, if Jose Reyes gets on base, and/or balls carry out of the park, the Mets win. If Jose is no help, and homeruns don’t come, the Mets lose. So no sense going over who’s hot and who’s not anymore — it all comes down to what kind of game Reyes has, or whether the opposing pitcher is feeling homer happy.

Pirates Bats

Last time we did this, I mentioned how Jason Bay was having a terrible season. I think he went out and hit five homeruns during the series. So this time, let’s say, “look out for Jason Bay. he’s hotter than a two-dollar pistol” (strangely enough, Bay has done next to nothing since that series at Shea and one following in St. Louis). After Bay, things get tough for the Bucs. Ryan Doumit is likely out with a sprained wrist, and Xavier Nady has missed a few games with a tender hamstring. If both of those sluggers are out, the Pirates will rely heavily on Bay and Adam LaRoche, who is swinging a pretty good stick lately. Nate McClouth is also hot, hitting .360 in his last 7 games.

Bullpens

The Mets have three Fahrenheit 451-style firemen in Guillermo Mota, Pedro Feliciano, and Scott Schoeneweis. (If you didn’t read the book, you should.) Aaron Heilman has been hot lately, but still makes fans nervous. Willie Randolph will continue to throw Jorge Sosa out there until his arm falls off. Question is, why won’t Randolph consider using Aaron Sele more than once every two weeks? If his role is strictly mopup, then it’s time to replace him with someone with a bit more versatility. The Show can easily fit into the janitor role.

The Pirates ‘pen is not too bad, though not sure what they’re going to do with the third contest. Tony Armas is their guy to bring in for long relief when a guy like Tony Armas is starting the game. Maybe they’ll walk him out to the outfield fence in the middle of the third inning, and have him jog back in like he’s coming in to relieve. Salamon Torres was having a fine enough year to elicit interest at the trading deadline, but has since regressed to his mean — the Pirates should be kicking themselves for not unloading him while his value (Wily Mo Pena?) was peaking. Similarly, Shawn Chacon has imploded — another guy they’d been smart to dump. However, Matt Capps is coming into his own as a topflight closer, and Damaso Marte continues to be the best lefty reliever not in a pennant race (too bad the Mets couldn’t pry him away at the deadline).

Bottom Line

The Mets have played themselves into a pennant race. Unfortunately, that’s what you prefer to say about a team that’s been looking up at the leaders all season, rather than down on the followers. This is the soft spot in the schedule, and with a three-game series in Washington up next, the Mets must go at minimum 4-2, preferably 5-1, before going into the last difficult stretch of the season. Next week begins sets against the Padres, Dodgers, Phillies, and Braves. Is there any argument that they must take advantage of the cellar dwellers, if they wish to keep a hold on first place?

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Becoming a Yankees Fan

A few nights ago I was beside myself because the Mets had dropped two out of three to the fourth-place Marlins. After some careful self-analysis, it became clear: I’d become a Yankee fan.

Now, that doesn’t mean I’ve started rooting for the Yankees — not by a longshot. But as a result of the Mets’ running away with the NL East last year, and spending all of 2007 in first place, I’ve taken on many of the traits of a typical Yankees fan.

For example:

  • I fully expect my team to pulverize second-division opponents
  • I further expect my team to win every single game
  • I don’t understand why my team doesn’t hit more homeruns
  • I don’t know the names of most of the pitchers on other teams — nor do I care to know them
  • I can’t figure out why my team picked up Luis Castillo instead of that kid second baseman in Cincinnati
  • I can’t understand why the Reds wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to give us Brandon Phillips (and maybe thrown in Junior Griffey as well) in return for Steve Schmoll, Chip Ambres, and a bag of balls
  • I often think my team’s manager is a do-nothing idiot who sits on his hands all game
  • I find myself perturbed to see the other New York team making a valiant comeback to join the pennant race
  • I’m further perturbed that the other New York team can bring up rookie after rookie, all seemingly making an impact, while my team’s farm is comparatively barren
  • I’m already thinking about which big-name free-agent my team will sign in the offseason
  • I listen to the Michael Kay Show, and on a few occasions, considered calling in

The above are serious symptoms, and not sure about the cure. It used to be easy to be a Mets fan. The team would be mired somewhere in the middle of the pack, offer momentary runs of excitement, but be nowhere close to matching up with the mighty Braves. The Mets were expected to lose close to half their games, and anything better was gravy. The 2000 Mets were the consummate team for Mets fans — they finished in second, had a remarkable and dramatic postseason, and wound up in the World Series with a team that had no business getting to the playoffs. It was a no-lose situation — they weren’t supposed to win, so if they didn’t, no big deal. If they did, WOW! In other words, the ultimate underdog.

Last year, even though they ran away with the division, the Mets were still the underdog — mainly because the Braves had won the 14 previous titles. And in October, when Pedro became unavailable, El Duque went down, and we had to rely on two untested young hurlers, the Mets weren’t expected to make it past the Dodgers. So while they made it to within one pitch of a World Series appearance, the Mets were still something of a surprise to make it that far.

In 2007, however, all that changed. Suddenly, the Mets were the favorites — at least, to everyone not named Jimmy Rollins. It’s a very strange position to be in for a Mets fan, a place we haven’t been since 1987. Your perspective changes completely.

So here I am, my team atop the standings since Opening Day, and I feel more frustrated and angry with their performance than I ever did before. I’m scared of teams catching up, rather than excited by gaining ground. A victory over, say, the Pirates doesn’t bring so much joy because they’re “supposed” to beat the Bucs — and beat them handily. In fact, if the Mets don’t sweep the Pirates in Pittsburgh, I’ll consider it a disappointment.

Mostly, I’m happy the Mets are in first place. Sometimes, though, I wonder if I’d be happier if they were currently in second place, and making a bid to topple the team at the top of the hill. There appears to be more enjoyable level of optimism from that vantage point.

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