Archive: September 24th, 2007

Mets Game 156: Loss to Nationals

Nationals 13 Mets 4

Yikes.

I’m not sure what’s more disconcerting — the fact the Mets could manage only three runs against Matt Chico and Saul Rivera, or that the worst offensive team in MLB has now scored nine or more runs in a game against them in three of their last four meetings.

It’s OK if the Nats have a blowout against the Mets once or twice … it’s called an anomaly. But to pound out nearly 40 runs in four games? That’s called a red flag.

Mike Pelfrey cruised through three, then unraveled. The suddenly slugging Nats scored two in the fourth, three in the fifth, and two in the sixth — Pelfrey charged with all seven runs (though Joe Smith didn’t help, allowing two inherited runners to score on a double).

Pedro Feliciano pitched a scoreless seventh, but the Nats jumped all over Guillermo Mota and Dave Williams in the final two innings, adding another three in each frame. The scoring was capped by a three-run, pinch-hit homer by Ryan Langerhans — he of perhaps the worst offensive output of any position player this year.

Notes

Moises Alou extended his hitting streak to 28 games with a double in the sixth. David Wright was 3-for-5 with a double of his own — his 41st of the season. Carlos Delgado his his 30th double of the year, and went 2-for-5.

If there was one positive in the game, ironically, it was the negative performance by Dave Williams. It sounds crazy, I know, but consider this: there’s no way Willie Randolph can lose sleep over the decision to allow Humber pitch on Wednesday after seeing Williams pitch the ninth. In fact, it’s mind-blogging that there was even a question between the two. As Omar Minaya stated about Humer, “he’s our best available option.”

Anyone notice that Ronny Belliard gets REALLY up for the Mets? He’s batting over .300 against the Mets, with 11 RBI (one-fifth of his total output). Is it possible the Bronx native was miffed that the Mets wouldn’t give him a look to fill their second base position last winter?

The last 11 runs scored by the Nats came on two-out hits. Ouch.

Tomorrow, we as Mets fans must root for Chuck James and the Atlanta Braves. I think I may be sick.

Next Game

Tom Glavine takes the ball in an absolute must-win against Jason Bergmann. Not to put any pressure on you, though, Tommy. Game time is 7:10 PM. I’ll be biting my nails in the Loge, section 20. Please stop by and share several adult beverages with me if you attend the game.

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Awake from a Long Slumber

Philip Humber pitching for the minor league MetsFinally, many Mets fans — including several MetsToday diehards — will see the MLB debut of Philip Humber as a starting pitcher, on Wednesday against the Nationals.

Yes, we know he made his MLB debut in a five-minute stint at the end of last September, and we know he’s pitched three garbage innings this year. But Wednesday will mark his true baptism — by fire, no less — throwing his first meaningful innings as a New York Met. By then, with some help from (ironically) the Braves, the Mets could have first place wrapped up. However, it could also turn out to be the most vital game of the season — because, if the Mets lose on Monday and Tuesday, and the Phillies beat the Braves on Tuesday, only one-half game will separate the Mets from the Phils. In other words, a loss on Wednesday could potentially put the Mets in a first-place tie, less than two weeks after being seven games ahead. Talk about pressure for your first MLB start.

But it didn’t have to happen this way.

Philip Humber spent the entire season in AAA, pitching for the New Orleans Zephyrs. His numbers were only so-so on paper, but fairly promising considering that the PCL is a hitter’s league. And he finished with a flourish, taking a no-hitter into the ninth in his second-to-last start on August 22nd. He won his last game on August 27th, and was briskly promoted to the big club on September 1, leaving his Zephyrs teammates behind to begin the AAA postseason.

Strangely, though, Humber was forgotten in Willie Randolph’s bullpen, and was never considered for spot starting. If he wasn’t going to be given a decent look by the Mets, then why didn’t he stay in New Orleans to help the Zephyrs in their postseason?

The explanation is likely similar to the reason why Humber was not brought up for a spot start earlier in the season, when the Mets were giving the ball to Jason Vargas, Brian Lawrence, Dave Williams, and others. First of all, 2007 is Humber’s first full season after Tommy John surgery, so the Mets were going to make sure he didn’t do anything that might cause a relapse or a step backward. In spring training, with little chance of making the 25-man roster, Humber was overthrowing, in an attempt to catch the attention of Mets management. Well, he caught their attention, all right — and as a result they made the decision to keep him at AAA all year, lest he reinjure himself. No doubt, someone in Port St. Lucie was part of the Mets organization the day Tim Leary blew his arm out overthrowing in his MLB debut, or remembered similar issues with Jason Isringhausen, Grant Roberts, Bill Pulsipher, etc. The Mets have invested millions in Humber’s right arm, and nursed it back to health, and were not taking any chances in him reinjuring it.

Secondly, the Mets did not want to make the same mistake with Humber they did with Mike Pelfrey in 2006. Pelfrey was rushed to the big leagues, and overmatched when he arrived. As a result, he had a less-than-stellar rookie season, and after losing his confidence early in 2007, looked to take a step backward. Because they see a bright future for Humber, they decided to keep him back to continue honing and polishing his stuff, so that when he’d face MLB hitters, he’d be better prepared than Pelfrey was in his debut.

Indeed, the Mets did a fine job of protecting Humber for five months and three weeks of their regular season. When the Zephyrs made the playoffs, they promoted him, perhaps, to keep him from throwing too many pitches in his first full year back. By the way he’s been used, it’s clear the promotion was similar to last year’s September callup: a reward for the hard work he’d done all year. Get a taste of big league life, to motivate him to make the team next spring. To have the opportunity to rub elbows with, and perhaps learn from, legends such as Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine. And maybe once or twice before the end of the season, he’d get the chance to throw pitches to big-league batters, in a big-league park, in front of a big-league crowd.

Well, the plans have been amended.

Humber will indeed pitch in front of a big-league crowd — likely the sellout variety — at Shea Stadium. If the Mets are lucky, it won’t be as big a game as is possible. For example, if the Mets win the first two games, the magic number will be down to 3 (at minimum). If the Phillies also lose, it could be down to two. Not a lot of pressure for the big strapping Texan.

However, if the worst-case scenario is realized — if the Mets lose the first two games and the Phillies win one — then Humber’s start will be the biggest game of the year for the New York Mets. The Phillies would then be a half game out of first, and a loss by the Mets would either create a tie for first or drop them into second place for the first time since May, with three games left to play. I’m feeling a bit of tension simply typing out this possibility, so we can only imagine how a quiet youngster with four innings of MLB experience might react.

The shame of this falls on Willie Randolph, who for unknown reasons thought it best to start Brian Lawrence — rather than Humber — last Monday against the Nationals. Prior to the start of that game, the Mets had been swept by the Phillies at home, but were still 3 1/2 games ahead. In other words, no time to panic. If Humber had the jitters, so what? The Mets had a decent cushion, and didn’t it make sense to let the youngster get his feet wet then, rather than now? This shouldn’t have been suprising, of course — the decision was completely in line with Willie’s premature paranoia, the same fear that forces him to bring in Aaron Heilman, rather than a fresh arm, on back-to-back days when the Mets are leading by three runs. It’s the same fear that makes Willie walk out to the mound to remove Pedro Feliciano after three pitches in the ninth inning (again, with a three-run lead).

That same fear in Willie instigated the illogical explanation of starting Lawrence last week — because Lawrence was “on schedule” and Humber was “just a baby”. Randolph’s exact words:

“You don’t take a young guy like that who’s never done it and force-feed him,” Randolph said.

Willie! You were up by more than three games! If THAT was a “force-feed” situation then what the heck is this Wednesday?

Exacerbating the situation is the fact that Randolph had been reluctant to give Humber more than a scant few garbage innings, despite having several opportunities. The kid has pitched three innings since September 1st. THREE. Two innings against Cincinnati in a 7-0 blowout on September 5th, and one lousy inning in a similar situation on September 11th. The opportunities where there, however. He could have been used against Philadelphia, after the Mota meltdown, for example, or against the Nats after Lawrence faltered the next day. He could have been given an inning in the game the Mets blew out the Astros 11-3 — but we supposed he couldn’t be trusted to hold an eight-run lead for an inning or two. In any case, Humber hasn’t thrown enough game innings to be sharp — and don’t think his three-inning “simulated game” in Port St. Lucie counts. EVERYTHING changes when you walk onto the mound in a REAL game. It’s silly to believe that you can use tired A-ball players in a vacant park to prepare Humber to face big leaguers in front of 55,000 New York fans. It could have been a little easier had he done it before — say, last Monday.

Hopefully, the Mets will take the first two against the Nats and thereby reduce the tension for Humber’s start. Maybe, it won’t matter — maybe we’ll find out Humber has the stomach to handle the biggest game of the season.

Luckily, his manager won’t be adding any pressure to the situation.

“We hope he’s real sharp,” Manager Willie Randolph said of Humber, who appeared twice in relief last season for two innings. “Go out there and throw a gem.”

Great, Philip — just go out there and throw a gem (and nothing less).

Let’s hope the “baby” grows up — real fast.

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More Games By Milton Bradley

Padres manager Bud Black restrains Milton BradleyNo doubt you heard about the latest games being played by Milton Bradley. As if it weren’t bad enough that his team was being wiped out of the Wild Card by being swept at home at the hands of the Colorado Rockies, and as if it weren’t bad enough his big feet knocked teammate Mike Cameron out of the game, Milton Bradley had to have a meltdown with an umpire, get kicked out of a game, likely suspended, and in the process injured his knee while being wrestled to the ground by his manager Bud Black.

But that’s not all. In this latest episode in the drama that is Bradley’s life gets even nuttier — his manager, his first-base coach, and the Padres General Manager are all blaming umpire Mike Winters for the incident.

The situation as reported by the North County Times (I’ve taken the liberty to bold some of the more questionable details):

The incident started in the fifth inning when Bradley was called out on strikes by home-plate umpire Brian Runge. Runge told The Associated Press that Bradley “flipped the bat right in front of me, about 5-10 feet from me.”

When Bradley came to bat in the eighth, Runge questioned Bradley about the bat toss.

“I asked him if he had thrown the bat at me the time before,” Runge said. “He said ‘No.’ I told him I didn’t think he did.

“(Bradley) said, ‘Did (Winters) tell you that I threw at you?’ (Bradley) started to point at Mike.

“I said ‘No, no.’ I then threw my hands up and told him to calm down.”

When Bradley reached first base after lining a single to center, he confronted Winters.

“I asked the first-base umpire if he said I had thrown my bat, and he said he did,” Bradley said. “I asked him why, and he started yapping at me.

“Then someone in the crowd yelled ‘You suck’ to the umpire, and I pointed at him (the fan).

“That’s when (Winters) called me a (multiple-word expletive). He kept talking. Meacham was right there. It was ludicrous.

“I went after (Winters), but I didn’t want to hurt him. The crowd was loud by this point, so I went up to him so he could hear me.

“He should be reprimanded for this.”

After the game, the mild-mannered Meacham was as upset with Winters as Bradley.

“In 26 years in the game, I can honestly say that was the most disconcerting conversation I’ve heard between an umpire and player,” Meacham said. “It was so bizarre.

“I can’t tell you the umpire’s exact words, but it was something like ‘You play, and I’ll umpire.’ It was like he was trying to agitate Milton.

“But I can tell you, Winters absolutely used foul language. The way he spoke to Milton was so angry and vindictive.

“It got to the boiling point when he called Milton a name. That’s when I stepped on the field. His tone was so angry and ridiculous. It smacked of racism.

Milton did a great job of holding it together.

Meacham said that when the umpires got together to discuss the situation “Winters lied” about what happened.

“Todd Helton (the Rockies’ first baseman) is the only one not involved who knows what happened,” Meacham said.

Tracked down in the family room deep in the bowels of Petco Park, Helton was cautious.

“I know I’m the impartial third party here, but I don’t want to get in the middle of it,” Helton said. “Let’s just say, it was a very interesting situation.”

Bruce Froemming the second-base umpire Sunday and the crew chief, who is retiring after 37 years in the game and was honored by the Padres before the game, refused to make Winters available to the media.

“(Bradley) got grumpy with Mike Winters,” Froemming said. “He has been around a long time. Winters told him to knock it off, and he continued it.

“There is no covering up what (Bradley) did. He had to be physically restrained. We’re not going to put up with it.

“If he wants to talk, we’ll talk.”

The same incident, from another point of view; this from the Press-Enterprise:

“I have never hurt nobody,” he said. “When does the harping on me stop? All I do is go out there and try to play baseball hard. I think I’ve done everything in my power to do things the right way.

“He’s going to file a report. If he tries to say that I did anything wrong whatsoever, it’s completely ludicrous. Now because of him, my knee’s hurt. If he costs me my season because of that, he needs to be reprimanded.

“I’m going to take some action. I’m not going to stand pat and accept this because I didn’t do anything wrong,” Bradley said.

Padres CEO Sandy Alderson used to work in the commissioner’s office, where one of his duties was overseeing umpires.

We’re not going to sit by and see an umpire bait a player,” Alderson said. He added that if the commissioner’s office concludes the situation was handled appropriately, “I’ll be shocked.”

First base coach Bobby Meacham said Winters provoked the fracas.

“They way he responded was so bizarre,” Meacham said of Winters. “I can’t tell you exactly the words he said, but it was like ‘Hey you just play baseball and I’ll umpire.’ It was almost like he wanted to agitate Milton.”

Meacham said Winters cursed at Bradley.

“I was just appalled. That’s why the game stopped,” Meacham said. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”

Meacham said the language was not racial, but “the whole tone angered me so much, like I’ve never been angered in 26 years (of baseball). It was ridiculous and unfair.”

Bradley had to be helped off the field. He was to be examined Sunday night and was expected to join the team today in San Francisco.

Black wouldn’t discuss what he said to the umpires.

“We’re trying to win ballgames and when guys are passionate about their play sometimes you see arguments and you see passion shown on the field,” Black said.

Here’s one more, from SignOnSanDiego:

Then, shortly after Bradley arrived at first base via a single, he and Winters were exchanging barbs that, according to Padres first-base coach Bobby Meacham, were inflammatory on the umpire’s part.

Bradley said Winters called him “a (expletive) piece of (expletive).”

Said Meacham: “In my 26 years of baseball, that was the most disconcerting conversation I have heard from an umpire to a player. The way Winters responded was bizarre. It was almost like he wanted to agitate the situation.

“I was appalled. That’s why the game stopped.”

Meacham moved toward the foul line and turned toward Winters from the distance of about 10 feet.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” said Meacham. “Milton did not use foul language. The umpire, absolutely. He called Milton a name (apparently after Bradley had pointed in the direction of a fan who was booing Winters). That’s when I stepped on the field and said, ‘You cannot do that.’

“Even before that, I was saying this is wrong, this is ridiculous. The name that Winters called Milton, had he said it to me, I would have rushed him. No one is going to take that.”

Asked whether what Winters said had racial overtones, Meacham, who, like Bradley, is black, replied, “It smacked of that tone.”

After reading these rundowns on the events of Sunday afternoon in San Diego, I don’t know where to begin in trying to understand the insanity. And what’s more bizarre — Bradley’s blowup, Meacham’s support of Bradley, Bud Black’s support of Bradley, or Alderson’s hinted support of Bradley? Or is the racism / not racism issue the most bizarre?

Maybe I’m crazy, but it appears to me that the San Diego Padres’ management has gotten sucked into Milton Bradley’s warped sense of reality. They appear to agree that Bradley was “baited” by the umpire. Apparently, throwing a bat in the vicinity of the home plate umpire after striking out is “OK”. Apparently, mouthing off about the issue two innings later to the first base umpire is also “OK”. Apparently, listening to the fans in the stands rather than focusing on the game is “OK”. And apparently, completely losing your cool to run after an umpire is “OK” as well (as long as you “don’t want to hurt him”, but merely want to make sure he can hear you).

It’s amazing how a player’s batting average and homerun prowess can turn an entire organization’s morals go off the deep end. How a team can take on an individual’s personality, and insulate themselves from the pain of failure by simply blaming others, and removing their own responsibility from a situation. Heck, there’s even some evidence that San Diego has bought into Bradley’s lifelong paranoia about racism, and that the whole world is against him — though the articles cited seem to be conflicted about whether Bobby Meacham felt Mike Winters was being racist or not. (I, for one, am having a hard time trying to find the racism in calling someone a “f**king piece of sh*t”. But what do I know … people don’t say things like that to me. Further, Meacham might need a hearing aid — I heard plenty of foul language from Bradley on the replay on MLB TV. Oh, wait, maybe he meant Winters was speaking while standing in foul territory?)

Does the San Diego Padre organization realize how ridiculous it looks right now? That the entire team looks like a bunch of infants to the rest of the world? Anyone who watches the video of the game can see very clearly that Milton Bradley started the incident. He rapped a base hit up the middle and then immediately badgered Mike Winters. A video close-up of Bradley taking his lead easily caught a string of expletives that the worst lip-reader could figure out. Maybe at that point Winters was jawing at him, but that didn’t mean Bradley had to respond. Had Bradley been focusing on the game, rather than at what Winters was (or wasn’t) saying, he’d have taken second base easily on a pitch in the dirt to Josh Bard, but he was too busy carrying on his conversation.

It’s absolutely possible that Mike Winters lost his cool. Most of the time, I am in agreement with the idea that umpires have too-large egos lately, and that they bark too much with the players, and that they shouldn’t be noticed by the spectators. However, in this instance, you can’t give Winters all the blame (if any at all). It wasn’t Winters who struck out a few innings before, and it wasn’t Winters who threw the bat toward home plate umpire Brian Runge. And it wasn’t Winters who held the bat-throwing incident bottled up for two innings, and it wasn’t Winters who initiated the conversation between the two. No, in all those cases it was Bradley, who once again can’t comprehend why the rules that apply to everyone else in MLB must apply to him as well. Why can’t MLB simply ignore the rules when it comes to Bradley? Doesn’t big, bad, white MLB know that Milton has special needs, and should be treated differently? It’s just not fair!

Sadly, the Padres think they are doing a favor for their slugger by supporting him. Nothing could be further from the truth. By supporting Milton Bradley’s loss of control, they are vindicating him and his infantile view of the world that he thinks revolves around him. The Padres agree: the rules apply to everyone else, but not to Milton Bradley.

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Series Preview: Mets vs. Nationals

Washington Nationals baseball logoNow it’s getting down to the nitty gritty, and the schedule makers were kind to the New York Mets. After all, the Mets — who go into their last seven games 2 1/2 games up — have the benefit of finishing the season in Flushing, with 6 of those 7 against the two weakest teams in the NL East. However, there is one problem: the games have to be played, and there’s no guarantee that the first-place team will dominate the last-place teams. We can cite every statistic, analyze every matchup, and come up with all kinds of odds, predictions, and permutations, but none of it means anything. All the numbers go out the window, because the bottom line is, the games will be played on a baseball field — not a 2007 Strat-O-Maticboard — and the team with more runs at the end of each is granted the victory.

In order to guarantee at minimum a tie in the NL East, the Mets must win 4 of these last 7. If they do, and the Phillies win all six of their final games, Philadelphia and New York will finish in a tie. Of course, we’re counting on the Phillies to lose at least one or two of their final six; if they go 4-2, for example, then the Mets can finish 3-4 and still win the East outright. Enough for now … there are too many different combinations and numbers make me angry. Let’s focus on the three-game series with the Nats and get on with the pitching matchups.

Game 1: Mike Pelfrey vs. Matt Chico

Pelfrey appears to have turned a corner, and though he’s far from realizing his much-hyped potential, he has at least evolved into a guy who can keep the team in the ballgame over 5-6 innings. After losing his first seven decisions and getting demoted to AAA, it looked as though 2007 might be a “lost” season for the big righthander. However, he has won his last three starts — including his last against the Nats on September 19th — and is brimming with confidence.

Meanwhile, the Mets have seen Matt Chico three times and therefore the Wandy Rodriguez Effect no longer applies. If Chico sticks to his M.O. — poor command of mediocre soft stuff, often left up in the zone — then the Mets’ offense should provide plenty of support for Pelfrey. Let’s hope all goes according to plan.

Game 2: Tom Glavine vs. Jason Bergmann

Tommy has pitched very well down the stretch, and though his most recent start was less than stellar, the previous four were excellent. He’s also manhandled the Nationals, allowing only two runs in 13 innings against them.

Bergmann, on the other hand, has been troubled by elbow issues all season, struggling to a 5-5 record despite a 1.19 WHIP. However, he appears to be healthy again, as he has pitched through the sixth inning in all of his last five starts and most recently pitched a very strong game against the hot-hitting Phillies. The Neptune, NJ native and Rutgers alum pitched only once against the Mets, tossing seven innings of two-hit ball — but lost the game 1-0. His low-90s fastball has a lot of movement, and is complemented by a sharp slider — a combination that can be deadly (think: John Maine on a good day). The over-aggressive Mets lineup will have to focus on letting the ball get deep, taking the slider as it falls out of the strike zone, and going the other way if they hope to hit him. Otherwise, if Bergmann’s on, we’ll see lot of wild swings and misses from the Mets.

Game 3: Philip Humber vs. Shawn Hill

A week ago, Philip Humber was too much of a “baby” to start a game for the Mets. After all, Willie Randolph was “trying to win games” at the time — why else would one start Brian “Cy Young” Lawrence instead of Humber against the Nats in the heat of a pennant race?

With Lawrence and his 6.83 ERA long gone, Humber finally gets his first MLB start. What he’ll do is anyone’s guess. He had a fairly decent AAA season in a hitter’s league, and finished strong. However, he hasn’t made a start since August 27th and he’s pitched a grand total of three innings since. So even if does have the ability to pitch at this level, who knows if he’ll be sharp?

Against him will be Shawn Hill, the poor man’s Brandon Webb and a guy who has pitched well against the Mets in two tries, allowing only four runs in 14 innings. If Hill throws 90 pitches, 88 of them will be sinkers. Let’s hope that he either has a bad day, or that the Mets batters have seen enough of him already to have figured him out. For some reason the Wandy Rodriguez Effect doesn’t apply to the opposition, so we can’t count on Humber beating the Nats solely on unfamiliarity.

Bottom Line

The Mets have to take two out of three, at minimum. Whether they do so remains to be seen. I don’t like the idea that the Nats are throwing their two best starters in this series while the Mets are countering with their two worst, but what can you do. Nationals manager Manny Acta has already shown that he’s taking the role of spoiler very seriously, and will approach each of these games like it’s the seventh game of the World Series. Hopefully, Pelfrey and Glavine can take the first two games (or the Phillies can lose one) and remove the pressure from Humber in the finale. Regardless, the Mets will need a big game from the big Texan — he of four innings of MLB experience. Let’s root for Humber to rustle a win from those Nats.

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