Archive: September 23rd, 2007

Number Five

John Olerud swings for the New York MetsThere have been a multitude of Mets who have worn the number five on their back. Steve Henderson, Hobie Landrith, Joe Foy, Sandy Alomar Sr., Ed Charles, Brook Fordyce, Mark Johnson, and Tsuyoshi Shinjo were just a handful (I didn’t say they were good, only that they were many). But before David Wright, only one #5 stands out:

John Olerud.

The Mets stole Olerud from the Blue Jays for a song — journeyman pitcher Robert Person. At the time, it seemed an unreal deal, and looking back, it’s even more of a head-scratcher. But the Blue Jays had to clear some salary and the first base position to make room for a young slugger named Carlos Delgado, so Olerud made his way to Flushing.

Olerud had come off a poor season, batting only .274 — mostly because his coaches in Toronto were trying to get him to pull the ball more and hit more homeruns. Former manager Cito Gaston questioned his toughness and his love for the game, and told newspapers that the 27-year-old might retire after the ’97 season — and that he might not have the proper personality to play in New York.

Boy was Gaston wrong.

Johnny O not only handled the tough New York crowd and pressure of playing in the media capital of the world — he flourished, and became a fan favorite to boot. Olerud had so many clutch hits in a Mets uniform, it got to the point where you expected him to come through with the impossible base hit in the bottom of the ninth to win the game. Platooned in Toronto, Olerud vowed that he’d make it difficult for new manager Bobby Valentine to take him out of the lineup — and delivered on his promise. Allowed to hit “his way” — often to the opposite field — Olerud hit 22 HRs, drove in 102, and batted .294 in his first year as a Met. But that was only the beginning. He followed it up with a .354 season in 1998, finishing second for the batting title. In 1999, his average dropped to a shade under .300 but nearly every one of his hits counted as he drove in another 96 runs, while playing in all 162 games. He also walked 125 times that season and scored 107 runs, setting the table for Mike Piazza and Robin Ventura.

In addition to his bat, Olerud did it with the glove, playing the right corner so well that some questioned whether Keith Hernandez was the best-fielding first baseman in Flushing history. He was part of the Sports Illustrated cover article — pictured with Edgardo Alfonzo, Rey Ordonez, and Ventura — that proclaimed them “The Best Infield Ever”.

Unfortunately, it was easy come, easy go, as Olerud took advantage of free agency to go West to play for the Seattle Mariners in his home state of Washington. Sadly, he did return to New York, but as a Yankee, in 2005. However, he’ll forever be remembered in New York as a Met — for three years one of the classiest and most clutch players ever to wear the orange and blue.

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Mets Game 155: Win Over Marlins

Mets 7 Marlins 6

John Maine was downright dominating, but couldn’t hang around long enough to pitch the team to victory. Riding a hard (94-95 MPH) fastball with a lot of life and movement, Maine struck out nine and allowed three runs through five, but all those strikeouts took a toll on his pitch count, and he was out after the fifth.

Remarkably, Pedro Feliciano, Jorge Sosa, and yes Guillermo Mota combined for TWO scoreless innings to keep the Mets in the game.

Meantime, the ghost of Wandy Rodriguez was living in young lefty Chris Seddon, who despite a near-nine ERA against everyone else, was able to hold the Mets to a measly two runs on three hits in five innings. Those two runs came on a Paul LoDuca two-run homer to left in the fourth.

Seddon was removed from the game after five frames and 74 pitches, and the Marlins bullpen held the Mets scoreless for two more innings.

With the Mets down by one, David Wright drew a walk leading off the eighth. Marlon Anderson followed with ANOTHER pinch-hit, chasing Wright to third. Moises Alou then drove in Wright and simultaneously extended his hitting streak to 27 games with a game-tying single.

Then Carlos Delgado reminded everyone why he’s in the lineup.

Delgado sent a pitch to the moon (though it eventually dropped into the stands behind the right-center fence) — a three-run blast to make the score 6-3.

However, Aaron Heilman couldn’t make it easy. With a three-run lead, Heilman walked the first two batters and then gave up a two-run double to Todd Linden. He threw two straight balls to Miguel “I’ll Swing If I Can Reach It” Olivo before inducing a harmless groundout. Heilman was insistent on blowing the game, however, and allowed a base hit to the next batter, nearly blowing the lead — except Alou threw out Linden at the plate for the second out.

Billy Wagner must have taken his Doan’s pills, because he came on in the ninth. Unfortunately, Dan Uggla was sitting on a full-count fastball and may have busted a seat in the upper deck stands above left field to tie the game. He finished the inning without further incident, taking the game into extra innings.

Alou and Delgado led off the tenth with singles, and LoDuca dropped a beauty of a bunt to move them (interesting call, I would have let Dukey hit). Carlos Gomez then popped up the first pitch to him into short right field, and Alou had to stay on third. Endy Chavez flied out to center to end the top of the tenth.

Joe Smith pitched a perfect bottom of the frame to send the game to the eleventh.

The Mets started another rally in the 11th, beginning with a leadoff walk by Jose Reyes. Strangely, Reyes didn’t attempt to steal second — and it appeared that Luis Castillo may have purposely taken a perfect strike two thinking he’d be running. No matter, he slapped the next pitch into leftfield to set the table for the meat of the order. David Wright responded with a two-strike basehit to left to score Reyes and send Castillo to third. David Newhan worked the count full before striking out, but Wright took second on strike three. Alou then ripped a shot right at Miguel Cabrera, who stepped on third for a quick double play.

Aaron Sele entered the game in the bottom of the inning, looking for his first career save. Hanley Ramirez helped him out by swinging at the first pitch he saw — a fastball at his eyes — and tomahawking it to Reyes for the first out. Endy Chavez made a nice running catch on a liner by Uggla for the second out, and it looked as though Sele might just notch career save #1. But, Willie Randolph decided to bring in Scott Schoeneweis to face hot-hitting lefty Jeremy Hermida. The Show earned his dough (and got the save), getting Hermida to ground out to Delgado to end the game.

Notes

The Marlins’ organist played Green Acres, The Mexican Hat Dance, and the theme to the Addams Family (among other ditties) — none of which have anything to do with baseball.

I’d like someone to check out Heilman’s career numbers when pitching in the latter of back-to-back games. My eyes over the last three years have told me he’s not effective on that second day, but would like to see the numbers supporting that “hunch”.

I am SO SO tired of the ridiculousness of Willie, Keith Hernandez, and every other baseball fogey who thinks it’s smarter to leave in a veteran pitcher who is obviously having a terrible day, and has no command, rather than bring in a rookie pitcher because the rookie “hasn’t been in this situation before”. It’s absolute nonsense — and even more ludicrous playing in front of a stadium crowd of barely four digits. Heilman (and Randolph) was damn lucky to get out of that 8th inning situation down by only one run. And in the end, they had to go to Smith anyway, in the tenth. It boggles the mind as to why a three-run lead has to be protected by Heilman — he should never have even began the inning.

Luis Castillo’s wheels are really trudging these days. He’s pretty tough, though, witnessed by his attempting a bunt for a hit in the ninth. His range, however, is greatly diminished, as evidenced by a grounder in the eighth that got past him but probably would have been eaten up a couple years ago.

Gratefully, the Nationals were able to hold on and beat the Phillies.

Next Game

The Mets begin a three-game series against the Nationals at Shea, to start their last regular-season homestand. Mike Pelfrey takes the hill against Matt Chico.

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Number Seven

Ed Kranepool New York Mets baseball cardChuck Carr, Daryl Boston, Gary Bennett, Jason Phillips, Juan (ugh) Samuel, and several others wore number 7 for the Mets — not quite the level of player who wore the same digit in the Bronx.

But then, there was also Todd Pratt — he of the clutch pinch-hit homerun. And Hubie Brooks, who for a short time in the early 1980s was the Mets’ closest argument for the All-Star team.

However, there’s only one Met deserving of the honor today: Ed Kranepool — who switched to 7 from 21 when Warren Spahn joined the club.

Expectations were high when Kranepool was signed out of James Monroe HS as a 17-year-old in 1962 — after all, he played the same position at the same school as the great Hank Greenberg. Also, like Greenberg, Kranepool was 6’3″ and 210 pounds — a strapping young lad. Unfortunately, that’s were the comparisons end, as Eddie K’s career .261 average and 118 HRs in 18 seasons will attest.

While Kranepool never fulfilled the stardom that was hoped for him, he did in many ways embody what it was to be a Met. He was average or below-average in every facet of the game, and even as a teenager resembled the over-the-hill veterans that studded the Mets’ roster in the early 1960s. During his rookie season, manager Casey Stengel once quipped, “He’s only seventeen and he runs like thirty.” As a 19-year-old, his play prompted one Polo Grounds fan to hang the banner, “Is Ed Kranepool Over the Hill?”.

“Steady Eddie” was the Mets’ starting first baseman from 1964-1969 by default — somehow the Mets couldn’t come up with any better first sackers during that time period. That is, until Donn Clendenon showed up. The slugging first baseman picked up from the Montreal Expos took over Ed’s duties and helped hit the Mets into their first Championship. However, Kranepool did play one game of the 1969 World Series, and hit a solo homer.

Kranepool’s batting dropped below the Mendoza line in 1970 (before anyone knew who Mario Mendoza was) and he was sent to AAA Tidewater. At age 24, Ed Kranepool was considering retirement.

However, he eventually resurfaced, and rebounded with the best season of his career in 1971 — batting .280 with 14 HRs and 58 RBI and leading NL first basemen with a .998 fielding percentage. From there on, he quickly evolved into a part-time player and then a pinch-hitter — a role in which he flourished. Besides extending his career to 1979, Kranepool batted .396 as a pinch-hitter from 1974-1978, including a .486 mark in 1974, finally endearing himself to fans. If nothing else, “Steady Eddie” had longevity — 18 seasons and 1853 games as a New York Met.

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