Monday, May 08, 2006

ATTACK OF THE KILLER ZAMBIES, PART IV: THE FINAL CHAPTER

The Mets got crushed last night. It was the first of those "We Got Smoked" games. They happen. Of course when injuries and a lack of pitching depth mean that Jose Lima & Bartolo Fortunato are pitching for your squad, it's a bit tougher to laugh it off. It's downright unfortunato.

* * *

As you may know, Ralph Kiner's been making an appearance on TV games for a couple innings every Friday night (you may know this if, like me, your Friday night involves watching baseball games. Ohhh, my wife, such a lucky woman). Ralph's at a crossroad right now. On one hand, he still seems lucid enough to hold his on for a few pitches at a time, but whether due to deafness, aging, or the stagnancy that comes from Gary Cohen patronizing him a bit too much, he's teetering on the edge of "Old Man Land."

Ralphie was always good for a malapropism or verbal gaffe. But -- and only those fans who've watched hundreds of games will understand this -- he was smart, he was sharp beneath the dopey mistakes. Maybe he drank a few before hitting the Korner, maybe he just had the nonchalance for detail that comes from being a seven-time home run champ. The man dated Jane Russell & Liz Taylor, for crissakes. He's gonna remember that Jose Hernandez and Juan Martinez aren't the same guy? And of course the Bell's Palsy only made things seem worse the past few years.

But now when he comes in, Cohen treats him like a doddering old man, leading him into the familiar stories and anecdotes about the '62 Mets, Casey Stengle, Gil Hodges, etc. If you're a Met fan you've heard them all 50 times. But, maybe he is a doddering old man at this point. And if so, that's sad. But I'm glad to have him in the booth a few times. He won't be around forever, but he's a living connection to the past: the Mets, baseball, and as a testament to a time when home run champs drove Cadillacs and dated actresses, to America.

But I'll always miss the little things. Not just the Kinerisms & the Korner, but his idiosyncrasies, the things that every announce does, that make the fans feel like they're in a familiar place. Ralph's:
Razzing Fran Healy about his poor hitting, his goofy commentary, and his never-dying love for the stolen base as offensive strategy.

Getting downright angry when someone pulled a hittable pitch foul. I can remember Ralph getting on HoJo, who possessed one of the fastest bats in the majors, when he turned too quickly on an inside heaters. "That's just bad," Ralph would lament, "you have to take advantage of pitcher's mistakes and keep it fair."

Admonishing hitters for walking with ducks on the pond. I'm not sure I totally agree with him on that one, but it was always nice to hear a smart guy, a "good percentages" hitter in his day, remind the sabermatrician in me that the ultimate goal is to score runs, not just to get on base. When Dave Magadan (who ran about as well Junior Ortiz) drew a late inning walk in a tie game, with runners on 2nd & 3rd and two outs, I think Kiner was probably right to criticize him for not swinging the bat.

And finally, insisting that the solution to all batting woes was to get close to the plate and step up in the batter's box. Adhering to the batting style that Hank Greenberg famously taught him in Pittsburg in 1947 (when he mashed 51 HRs), Ralph wanted all the young Met hitters to crowd the plate, get close to the pitcher, and pull inside pitches. Hell, it worked for him in his day. Who am I to say he was wrong?

So here's to many more Friday nights with Ralph Kiner. Now, if we could just get a few Kinerisms, then we'd be talking. Anyway, let's get straight to the Random Thoughts:

The Beltranator: He's just kicking ass right now. The guy's been spectacular. 11 of his 20 hits have gone for extra bases; 21 BB in 70 AB. 4-for-4 in steals, 21 R and 16 RBI in 21 games. He's been the All-Star they thought they were getting last year. I think we're in good shape from the three hole.

Reyes: He needs a nickname. He's too much fun to watch, too exciting not to carry a cool moniker. Any suggestions?

He has a .340 OBP through 31 games. Admit it; you'd have been psyched if I told you on March 15 that Reyes would carry a .340 OBP into early May. Ironically, you'd have been even more excited if I told you he'd accomplished that by walking more than once every 10 at-bats, rather than through a gaudy, and unsustainable, .334 BA, right? Hard to know how I could be more excited about this kid. But I'm sure he'll surprise me again.

Lima & Zambrano: Victor Zambrano's single-minded mission to destroy the NY Mets continues without a glitch. Recognizing that one bad starting pitcher, a mere mortal, was too weak to kill a team as talented as this, the Killer Zambie broke out his most devious plan yet: The switch from Daylight Time to Lima Time. Only one starting pitcher possesses the requisite skills to sink a great team's pennant hopes all by himself. Unfortunately for the Mets, that one pitcher is now in their starting rotation.

Now I don't know how long Brian "More Walks than Strikeouts" Bannister & John "Forget the" Maine will be out. I'm not pining for their imminent returns either, but I'd rather have them on the hill over Lima! Anyhow, it's high time for the plan they should have implimented on opening day: Aaron Heilman in the rotation. There's just not much else to say. Jose Lima and Darren Oliver have shown that they can't succeed as starting pitchers (The Baseball Crank has a good, short piece on Oliver's abilities as a starter vs. reliever). Heilman did ok in that role last year. At least til Bannister or Maine are ready, Heilman over Lima seems a no-brainer.

The Jorge Julio Counter: I'm not even sure how to address this. In a short span following the revelation of my "Blowout Loss Theory," which posited, simply, that Jorge Julio had the perfect combination of powerful but unharnessed stuff to pitch in games the Mets trailed badly. Homers and oodles of strikeouts would supply nothing but frivolous entertainment, as the boys played out the string in the waning innings of games already booked for the L column. And then . . . something happened.

First, on Thursday night, Big George pitched in a blowout . . . win. Nothing earth-shaking, but a surprising deviation from the plan. Then, in Friday's extra inning extravaganza, after Wagner, Heilman, Sanchez & Bradford did their thing, Jorge's made a real appearence, in a game still in the balance. At that point, I was beginning to contemplate The Rapture, The Return of the 12th Imam, as well as Pete Rose on the podium at Cooperstown, thanking his mom & Sparky Anderson, while defaming Bart Giammatti's name. All bets were off. Anything was clearly possible.

And then it happened. The moment that may have singlehandedly finished The Jorge Julio Counter: That's correct, folks. On Saturday, giving respite to a beleaguered bullpen, Jorge Julio earned his first NY Met save. I'm wracked with doubt, I'm not sure where to turn. But, sometimes you just have to keep on keeping on.

Or something like that.

So, in regognition of PT Barnum's truism (but with a sad & heavy heart), the show'll go on. Without further delay, in recognition that one more real "game" appearence may sink this gag before it reaches June, I present to you . . . the Jorge Julio Counter:

16 1/3 IP, 18 H, 14R/11ER, 7 BB, 29K, and 4 HRs.

The homers have all-but ceased to be an issue at this point. As one reader pointed out, the National League single season leader in homers yielded has joined Jorge on the Met staff, so the ever-magnanimous Julio has apparently stepped aside in deference. The K's still come in bunches though. Assuming 75 IP, our man Jorge Julio would compile his 6.06 ERA with 18 HRs, 32 BB and 133 K.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Applesaucer said...

I enjoyed most of this post, but the stuff on Ralp...whoah. Way to pick on an old man.

With friends like you, does Ralph need enemies?

And the stuff about Ralph drinking before Kiner's Korner -- is there anything to back that up? If he's talked about doing it or if there's something there, please accept my apologies, but this is the first I've heard about that.

5:09 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I love Ralph! The stuff about him today was supposed to be complimentary . . . and strongly so. Man, I screwed that up.

As to the drinking before the Korner, I think I've heard a joke or two about that through the years, but who knows. At times he seemed a bit foggy during games.

Anyway, I didn't mean anything by it. To repeat, I'm a big fan of Kiner the announcer, and Kiner the ex-ballplayer. I'm psyched to hear him again on Friday nights, and I'll miss him when he's gone.

7:10 PM  

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