Browsing Archive September, 2007

Bones to Pick

The Mets’ recent slide has not simply “occurred” due to bad luck or the baseball gods, and despite Willie Randolph’s all-too-calm demeanor, this team is in a state of disarray. We keep hearing that the “talent is there” and that “this team is too good not to be playing in October”. Spare me — I heard the same crap from 1987-1990. I saw Gregg Jefferies — the man who was supposed to be a switch-hitting George Brett — never win a ring. Dave Magadan was supposed to win a batting title. I watched Darryl Strawberry — “the black Ted Williams” — never win an MVP. Hojo could have went 30-30 every year, but his only ring came in the year he was a backup. A rotation of Frank Viola, David Cone, and Dwight Gooden, with John Franco closing, was supposed to be unstoppable.

We know all about the talent on the present-day Mets. It’s oozing from every corner of the clubhouse, and it’s coming from youngsters and oldsters. But for whatever reason, all this talent has not resulted in WINS. That’s not a sabermetric acronym, and I don’t give a hoot about WHIP, VORP, FIPs, BABIP, or WARP-1, WARP-2, or WARP-3. At this point, the talent doesn’t matter, the stats don’t matter — all that matters is that the Mets have scored more runs at the end of a ballgame than their opponent, and thereby earn a “win”. That said, I have some bones to pick on players and issues that may be keeping the Mets from those elusive “Ws”.


Jose Reyes

In March, and through the middle of April, it looked like Jose Reyes might improve upon 2006 and become a bonafide superstar. He was waiting well on and seeing pitches better than ever, letting the ball get deep, keeping his hands back, taking walks, and swatting the ball the other way. Once in a while, he’d get an inside pitch and turn on it viciously.

What happened to that guy?

Somewhere along the line, he stopped waiting on pitches. He started swinging before recognizing — maybe it evolved from guessing. Going to the opposite field happened less and less, and his line drive swing was affected by hands dropping — creating an uppercut (from fatigue?). This change in his approach and his mechanics resulted in more swinging and missing, and less hits. Which in turn led to reduced confidence at the plate. Which resulted in more guessing, and swinging too early, rather than staying back and trusting his hands.

Lately, he’s added pressure to his slump cocktail. So in addition to the mechanical flaws, the poor approach, and the lack of confidence, Reyes is now pressing as well — trying to do too much. The numnuts who are blaming Rickey Henderson for the demise of Reyes are simply lazy know-nothings who find it easier to pick a scapegoat. If anyone is at fault, it is Reyes himself as well as Willie Randolph and the entire Mets coaching staff for not taking control of Jose’s various issues. How about putting on the take sign, and forcing Jose to watch pitches go by. But not just wave a fake bunt and take for the sake of taking — tell Jose to take his normal stride, keep his head down, get the hands back, and watch the ball into the catcher’s glove. Maybe he’s been forced to do this a half-dozen times — if so, it’s not enough. He needs to do this at least once or twice every at-bat until he’s out of his slump. He needs to then concentrate on zoning middle-out, waiting on the ball, and dropping the barrel on top of the ball, and hitting grounders and liners to the opposite field. Again, he does this occasionally, but needs to do it all the time until he has his “March swing” back. And here’s a crazy idea: how about telling Jose to drop at least one bunt a game? I’ve seen Jose show bunt — but when was the last time he actually bunted for a hit? Does he have even ten bunt hits this year? Shouldn’t he have about twenty? Maybe he does, and I missed them. Yes, I know Willie has mentioned that Jose should bunt more, and Howard Johnson is in his ear about hitting the ball on the ground, but apparently they need to find a new way to motivate him. Fine him if he hits a popup. Buy him a steak if he goes the other way. I don’t know — maybe that stuff doesn’t work with guys who make millions. But the point is, it’s the coaches’ job to get through to him — and Reyes, due to his youth, is one of the few Mets who can still be affected and changed by good instruction.

Mike Pelfrey

Pelfrey looks great for two or three innings, then starts unraveling — what’s with that? How about we look closer … could it be an issue with men on base? It does seem that Pelfrey is less effective when runners are on — and the numbers bear it out. Opposition batting average with nobody on: .287 (yikes, that’s higher than I wanted to know … but not part of the argument). With runners on: .310. With runners on first and second: .391. First and third: .429. Bases loaded: .100. Huh? OK, that last one is a small sample — 10 at-bats — and there is the added glitch that 7 runs have scored despite the low average. However, I’m wondering if Pelfrey’s issues have to do with working out of the stretch? And perhaps, with bases loaded, he’s returning to the full windup?

Granted, no matter which way you look at it, Pelfrey gives up a lot of hits. But then, that’s part of being a sinkerball pitcher. The way his numbers balloon when runners reach base is alarming, and indicative of someone who is very uncomfortable — and inexperienced — with runners on base. It makes sense — he didn’t allow many baserunners in college, and probably was the same way going back to little league. Pitching from the stretch was rather foreign to him until last year, and keeping runners close is likely a major issue for him right now. There’s nothing the Mets can do to fix this now, but a.) it’s clear he won’t be able to help in the postseason out of the pen; and b.) it’s another glaring point toward the fact that Pelfrey was (and is) much further away from MLB-ready than Mets officials’ believed (or let on). He’s nowhere near the “polished” pitcher the scouts told us he was — some comparing him to Mark Prior as far as advancement. Pelfrey needed — and still needs — more game experience in the minors. Had the organization realized this, perhaps they would not have been so quick to part with Brian Bannister. As it is, the team has been depending on Pelfrey to “step it up” in the heat of the pennant race — when he has no business pitching at this level.

Lastings Milledge

Young man, we need your bat, your spark, and your penchant for the dramatic. Please keep your cool and remember that the team comes first. Borrow Pelfrey’s mouthpiece if it will help you keep quiet.

Two-out Hitting

The Mets’ team batting average is .275. Their batting average with runners on is .272. Runners in scoring position, it’s .274. All pretty consistent. However, with runners in scoring position and two outs, it’s a dismal .233 — 25th in MLB and two spots ahead of the Nationals, who managed to score 11 runs on two-out base hits in Monday’s game. In contrast, their opponents are hitting a solid .250 in the same situation — that’s one hit every four at-bats. Not terrible — it places them 18th in MLB. But at least it explains my perception that the Mets’ opponents take better advantage of runners moving at the crack of the bat.

How can a team drop more than 40 points in team batting average in such a situation? Too much thinking? Not enough thinking? Over aggressive? Under aggressive? Apple in the throat? I don’t think it’s bad luck — not in a 660+ at-bat sample. It’s officially an issue. Managing base hits with two outs is a huge advantage, because the runners are off on contact. How many times have we seen our Mets relievers go full-count with two outs and runners on? And how many times have we seen our Mets hitters go full-count with two outs and runners on? Personally, I think it’s a rarity, and would like to find the numbers to back it up — because usually the Mets hitters don’t get that far in an at-bat in those situations. If the stats support that theory, then perhaps it’s an issue of patience and/or pitch selection. Whatever the case, it needs to be investigated — maybe it’s not too late to fix.

Bullpen Management

Oh boy, this could be an entire article unto its own … but I’ll try to keep it brief. Something struck me during an SNY interview with — of all people — Scott Schoeneweis. The Show was asked if he thought the Mets bullpen could have been more effective this year, and his answer was, more or less, that he thought the pen had done a very good job considering the circumstances — insinuating that the relievers were overworked. And you know what? He’s right.

While it’s true the Mets starters have pitched effectively this year, they haven’t show much in the way of longevity in games. (It’s not just the Mets starters, of course, it’s an epidemic throughout MLB, but we’re focusing on our team here.) Out of 156 games started, there have been two complete games. Oh, but not really — those two “complete” games were actually rain-shortened, five-inning games pitched by John Maine and Tom Glavine. So in reality, no Met has finished what he has started this year. And, on average, Mets starters do not pitch past the sixth inning — their 913 innings this year averages out to 5.8 innings per start. That puts them somewhere in the middle of the pack as far as MLB, but the comparison to other teams is irrelevant. The point is, the Mets’ bullpen has had to pick up at minimum 3 1/3 innings every game — remember they also have to pick up all the extra innings in tie ballgames as well. Consider also that the relief corps has been pretty stable, and more or less the same faces since Opening Day — Schoeneweis, Billy Wagner, Pedro Feliciano, Aaron Heilman, and Aaron Sele have been behind the outfield fence nearly every game. Guillermo Mota has been part of the nucleus since late May. The only significant change in roles was Joe Smith replaced by Jorge Sosa, and the only other reliever of consequence was Ambiorix Burgos, who appeared in 17 games.

With the same arms coming out every day, with Sosa replacing Smith as the only “refresher”, the bullpen has been pretty much burned out — and their recent meltdowns shouldn’t be a surprise. Aaron Heilman and Pedro Feliciano have each appeared in 75+ games — nearly half of the teams’ games. Did you know Joe Smith appeared in 52? No wonder he came down with tendinitis halfway through the season. The Show’s been in 67, and Mota 51. I’m not sure how best to fix this issue, but the strain could have been somewhat alleviated if the Mets either used Aaron Sele (33 games) more often, or replaced Sele with someone Willie Randolph had more trust in. While Sele has had a few solid, and important outings (including one a few days ago), the fact he was taking up a roster spot yet only being used once every two weeks was a complete waste of a role. I understand that Darren Oliver defined the role in 2006, but even Oliver got into 45 games — many of them important appearances. Sele was used almost exclusively for blowouts and garbage innings — why? You don’t need a guy hanging around for 162 games to do that. If you get blown out one game, bring in a starter, or ask one of the relievers to take one for the team, then bring up a minor leaguer the next day to cover innings the next few days. Having that one extra guy coming in from the bullpen would have given Heilman and co. more rest, and perhaps the entire corps wouldn’t be gasping for breath right now.

Conclusion

There are other bones to pick regarding this year, but my fingers are tired from hitting the keys. Perhaps if I had a relief blogger to come in, we could go on. But then, you might need a relief reader.

Let’s just beat the Nationals already, and get this thing over with. Waiting for the Phillies to lose is not my idea of “enjoying the pennant race”.

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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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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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