LADIES & GENTLEMEN, YOUR FIRST PLACE NEW YORK METS
What's that they say about being lucky, about being good?
Actually, it's not that simple. With 228 runs scored, and 194 allowed, the Mets have exceeded their Pythagorian Record by only two games. The Phils, by comparison, have also exceeded their expected 22-23 record by a game, while the Braves "should" be 26-21 or 25-22, but have underperformed to the tune of 24-23. Whatever. With only about a quarter of the season completed, it's hard to find meaning in any of this.
But a 5 game lead in late May? Plenty of meaning to me. Soo-weet! On to the Random Thoughts:
1. The 9th man to start a game for the Mets this season (at this pace, I'm slated to take the hill on August 6. So no blog that day; just a heads-up), Alay Soler, looked good last night against a solid-hitting Phils squad. His first inning was nearly a Hindenburg-scale disaster, but he settled down after walking the entire Phillie line-up on 3 pitches, getting out of the first on "only" three runs. His line after the first inning? 5 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5K. Set your clocks forward, folks. Lima Time is over!
2. Speaking of gas-filled zeppelins & Cuban pitchers, allow me to make the first of the extremely tenuous associative transitions I plan to break out today, and discuss the older brother of the only other . . . shall we say, rotund Cuban in the major leagues that I'm aware of. Yes, that's right, the Mets rotation will soon feature its 10th starter, the big bro of Livan "El Gordo" Hernandez's . . . El Duque. Yes, indeed, Orlando Hernandez is returning to New York, this time to bring his wild assortment of slop, strange arm angles, and stubborn mound demeanor to Queens.
I like it. Despite a bloated 6.11 ERA, he's K'd over 10 per 9 IP, with a K/BB ratio of about 2.5:1. He's given up too many walks and too many homers, but he's definitely pitched better than his ERA indicates. Most importantly, he's better than Jose Lima or Jeremi Gonzalez. I've been tough on Omar, and I'll continue to be I'm sure, but El Duque and John Maine for Kris and Anna Benson is looking good to me.
And yes, I'm sure you've noticed the piece of the puzzle I keep avoiding. I'm dancing around it to keep the pain & sorrow at bay. But I'll do it: The Mets moved Jorge Julio to get El Duque. But . . . to those of you who follow my posts carefully (don't throw your necks out nodding in recognition), you undoubtedly remember that, in near-clairvoyent awareness of this coming day, I retired the World-Famous Jorge Julio Counter last week. Bwahahahahahah!
Omar, who obviously reads this blog religiously (albeit in its alternate, Spanish language version), knew the Counter was sent out to pasture, felt the pain & frustration of Met Nation, and to his never-ending credit, did the right thing and cosmetically excised the scar, the very reminder of past glories no longer present. He may not know much about baseball, but Omar knows how to heal the emotions wounds of Met fans everywhere.
Perhaps more importantly, he knows how to compile a starting staff composed entirely of AARP members. The average age of the Met starting staff is now 79, one year past life-expectancy. Minaya is reportedly in negotiations with Juan Marichal's agent, and has one of his personal necromancers attempting to resurrect Lefty Gomez.
And we'll soon get the spectacle guaranteed to bring a smile to the faces of geeks all over the globe: a Cuban defector pitching to a man named Castro.
3. Speaking of Castro, Ramon runs juuuuuuust a bit slower than Fidel. I'm a big fan of Ramon Castro, who's done nothing but kick ass in his role as back-up catcher. But what was he thinking last night??? In the third inning, Woodward tied the game at 3 with an RBI single, and Ramon made the final out of the inning at third base . . . with Soler on-deck. Oh, my. Making the final out with the pitcher due up by trying to score is an excellent play. Trying to go first-to-third (the equivalent of a mini-marathon for Mr. Castro) is not. More damaging than ending the inning with two ducks on the pond, was the failure to clear the pitcher's spot. Soler ended up leading off the following inning, and predictably made an out.
4. And, while we're talking about Castro, it's time for one of the Required Elements of any Mets post on my blog: The What Was Willie Thinking Moment. I think I'll call this the "3WTM" from here on. Ok, here's what we have. Sometime in the late innings of Tuesday's extravaganza, with the pitcher due up, Castro was the only position player left on the bench. To break it down, nice & plain, no one was available to catch if LoDuca (that would be the 34 year-old catcher, squatting for the 14th straight inning at that point) had to leave the game.
Tom Glavine, who can swing a decent bat, was on the bench wearing his batting gloves. That was one option. But even better, let's look at the man that Randolph brought in to pitch the following inning: Darren Oliver. Oliver's hitting .333 with a double this season. And, no, it's not a fluke. Throughout his 2 1/2 century career, Oliver has hit 231/266/298, including 11 doubles, one homer, and 7 walks in 208 ABs! The guy can swing the bat. Plus, he's faster than Castro. Do I know this? Not exactly. But since Mike Piazza could outrun Ramon Castro while carrying Paul LoDuca on his shoulders, I'm giving Oliver the edge in that foot race.
Willie should have allowed Oliver to hit before he took the mound, thereby saving Ramon to either catch or pinch hit if the game went into 20+ innings, or something equally bizarre.
5. Simple Question: Even though his game-tying homer on Tuesday was a fist-pumping moment, can we get a show of hands from everyone juuuuuuust a tad concerned about Jose Reyes getting Uppercut Happy for a month or so.
And, yes, I do feel stupid when I realize I pump my fist while sitting on the couch watching the game. Even more stupid when my wife catches me doing so and makes that "Is he for real?" face. If only she could see me watching the game in a bar after a few. On second thought, maybe not.
6. Speaking of concern: Kaz. He's now hitting 227/261/309. His OPS is 6 points higher than Darren Oliver's career number. Oof. Kaz's major league totals through nearly 900 plate appearences? 260/312/370. Woof.
This experiment isn't working. And that's even before I remember that he looks like a bulging-eyed fish when he checks the signs before digging in. Hey, I'm impressed with his D at second this season, I like his attitude, I like his hustle. But, he can't hit. He can't. Most alarmingly, he's showing a marked decline through his first three seasons, as he continues to age past his prime years. Since landing at JFK two years ago, his batting average has gone from .272 to .255 to .227. His walks per 10 ABs? 9--->5--->4.5. Isolated slugging? 124 to 97 to 82. 82! When you're sporting a .261 OBP, your isolated power needs to be well over 200. Maybe closer to 300.
Send him to the bench, send him to Norfolk, send him to the Orix Blue Wave. But the Mets can't keep penciling him into the starting lineup. Good to see Woodward in there last night. How's about Anderson Hernandez?
7. Just to show that I'm not picking on Willie (not too much) and to prove that I am a Met fan, I will not spend the next paragraph bitching about Willie's decision to leave left-handed specialist, Pedro Feliciano in the game to actually throw strikes to right-handed Met killer, Pat Burrell. Nope.
And yes, during Omar's inning in the booth last night, he did call his own pitcher Jose Feliciano. Insert your own Light My Fire/Blind Singer/Feliz Navidad joke. We're done? Ok.
Just to make myself perfectly clear, let me reitterate that I will not use this space to sneak in a second 3WTM, and attack Boneheaded Willie for allowing Pat Burrell, the man who has hit 755 homers against the Mets in his short career, to face a left-handed reliever while protecting a one-run lead in the late innings of a key divisonal tilt. It's hard, but I'm not gonna go there.
Instead, I'll state without qualification or equivocation, that Charlie Manuel may be one of the stupidest managers I've ever seen. I assume you've all watched the same games I have, so no need to run down his manifold blunders. I'll just note that one inning after the odd decison that Willie made (the one I steadfastedly refuse to mention), Manuel did exactly the same thing, when he allowed Rheal Cormier (is he still in the majors???) to face David Wright. Yes, the same David Wright hitting .389 vs. lefties this season, and .338 for his career.
Where do they find these guys, and why do they allow them to manage once they find them? I don't get it. But, I'm glad to see the Phils in his hands. Now, if we could just get Jeff Torborg to replace Bobby Cox . . .
8. And finally, while we're talking about David "Derek Who?" Wright, check out this little nugget he bestowed on the reporters after last night's game: "We continue to chip away. We never say die. We never roll over. That's the type of team we have. It's the kind of character we're made of."
Whoa! Five phrases, five cliches. He's hitting .389 against lefties, but a perfect 1.000 vs. the press. And people wonder if this fella's going to Cooperstown some day. Pul-leeze. He was born to be a ballplayer.
Nonetheless, I must ask. Since the Mets have brought in Rickey to instruct Jose "19 Walks in 200 ABs" Reyes, and seem clearly to have signed Crash Davis to tutor young Mr. Wright, why can't they get Brooks Robinson to help him out at third sack?
Now if we could just resurrect John McGraw or Casey Stengle to give some guidance to Willie . . .