Mets 5 Nationals 2
It took three starts, but John Maine “finally” earned his first win of 2008.
Maine threw 6 2/3 innings, allowing only five hits and two runs, in evening his record to 1-1. He ran into a bit of trouble early on, walking leadoff batter Cristian Guzman to begin the game and then watching the Nats manufacture a run in the most classical way (hit and run, sac fly), but Maine eventually settled down and cruised through the next five innings. He gave up a solo homer to Austin Kearns in the fourth but otherwise had no troubles at all until walking two batters in the seventh with two out.
Joe Smith was brought on to strike out Ryan Zimmerman — who looked completely uncomfortable against the sidearm slinger — and he proceeded to pitch a perfect 8th before giving the ball to Billy Wagner for an effortless save.
Meanwhile, the offense gave Maine plenty to work with, scoring five by way of the long fly ball. Jose Reyes and Ryan Church hit solo shots over the fence, and Carlos Beltran provided the big blow, a three-run bomb that took all the air out of the Nationals.
Smith is looking great, both with the movement on his sinker and his confidence. The pessimist in me, however, wonders if his early success is due to the change in his motion — in other words, what happens when he doesn’t look “new” anymore?
Lastings Milledge got plunked in the eighth inning by Joe Smith. About five seconds before it happened, I remarked to my wife, “wow, Lastings is really on top of the plate … he must be worried about that slider off the outside corner”. Then, “plunk”. Looking at the replay, Milledge didn’t even try to get out of the way — he actually strode into the pitch, seemed surprised that it was so far in, and by then it was too late to get out of the way. This isn’t Lastings’ problem so much as young players in general, who no longer are taught to get out of the way and who generally are not exposed to inside pitches. IMHO this is one of the biggest differences in baseball over the last 20 years, and a huge factor in the recent offensive explosion in MLB — in short, the batters have no fear. It was a whole different ballgame before body armor and pitchers thrown out of games for throwing inside.
Chad Cordero looked awful in his one-inning stint. He looked like he was playing darts in a pub with those weak 77-MPH “fastballs”. He makes Orlando Hernandez look fast by comparison (remember El Duque?).
David Wright and Carlos Beltran are on fire — both seeing and hitting the ball well. Beltran’s numbers are not as gaudy as Wright’s right now, but they don’t bear out how “locked in” Carlos is so far this season. Beltran is having great at-bats, waiting for his pitch, taking walks, and when he swings, is stinging the ball all over the place. Yes he’s under .300, but many of his outs this season have been hard line drives and long fly balls. His approach is reminiscent of 2006 — he appears focused and prepared, like a patient tiger twirling its tail and waiting for the right moment to strike its prey.
I said it a few days ago, I’ll say it again: I thought Ryan Church couldn’t hit lefties? Last time I was reminded of his vs. LHP stats, which weren’t great. My point then, and is now: Church is hitting the ball solidly off lefties — regardless of his average. Now he’s hitting close to .300 vs. lefties, and has proven he’s capable of handling southpaws — it’s not like he can be paralyzed simply because a guy throws with his left hand. Whether he can keep up this pace is another question.
Mets and Nats do it a final time — until next week — at 7:10 PM. Nelson Figueroa makes his second start of the season against John Lannon