FRIDAY THE 13TH (AND HOPEFULLY, THERE'LL BE NO SEQUEL)
Willie's love of Guillermo Mota went one illicit evening too far, as Aaron Heilman, who's only been the Mets best relief pitcher the past two seasons, sat on the bullpen pine during a series of key at-bats in the 7th. Willie chose not to double switch on any of the late-game pitching changes, thus meaning that Heilman, who hadn't pitched since Saturday, had to come out of a tie game after facing four batters, handing the game to Billy Wagner, who'd worked the previous night.
And let's get something out of the way right now: Wagner sucked, he blew it without a doubt. But I've fully expected this sort of thing since before the season began. All relievers not named Mariano Riviera blow big games against good teams in October (and even Big Mo hasn't been exactly lights out since 2000 -- see Gonzalez, Luis; Ortiz, David; et. al.). Plus, early in his career when the Astros reached the playoffs four times, Wagner showed a penchant for pitching poorly: an ERA of 7.71 on 8 H and 4 earned runs in 4+ innings. He was one of the reasons those great Astros teams failed in October.
Whatever. As I said, I fully expected this, so I'm not even surprised. In fact, here's what I wrote on June 26, not long after the end of the World Famous 9-1 Road Trip, in the middle of an otherwise (embarrassingly) praise-filled paeon to my beloved Mets:
I'll acknowledge that the team has one glaring concern, which could cost them dearly . . . mark this now, Wagner will screw it up in October. Unless the Met bats and starters are soooooo dominant come post-season, they'll blow their best chance in 20 years to win it all because the closer isn't up to snuff. Wags has always had the rep of coming up small in big games . . . the Mets winning three straight rounds in the post-season with Billy Shakester coming in for the saves is also unlikely. As my friend, who we'll call F.I., asked me last week, do you hear the sound? The sound of a Billy Wagner trainwreck?Ok. So was the purpose of this to show off, to demonstrate my negativity-filled prescience at this most inappropriate time?
Well, I'll admit it. A bit.
But mostly to deflect the rage and anger away from Wagner, in order to rationally look at last night's debacle. To repeat, and then move on: Wagner blew a game. We knew he'd blow a game. He'll probably blow one more if the Mets overcome this and reach the series. That's just how it goes. And that's why I find Willie allowing Mota & Wagner to lose a game when The Team's Best Reliever was rested, ready (and on fire lately) . . . and on the bench, most inexcusable. C'mon, Willie. Get in the game!
Anyhow, the bullpen and manager had help: A terrible error in the 2nd inning by Delgado, preventing a likely double play, and at the very least put an extra run on the board for the Cards. But, he also put 4 runs on the board for the Mets, and his glove's been great so far, so how can I blame him?
Green failed to catch Spiezio's triple after it hit his glove. But he also prevented it from leaving the yard altogether, and he's been quite good at the plate, so how can I blame him?
LoDuca's pitch selection on the Spiezio triple and the Taguchi homer (if -- god forbid -- this ends badly, his name may be up there somewhere with Pendleton & Scoscia) was poor. Both blows came with two strikes. But Paul's been hitting great, so how can I blame him.
But, as you see, there are a lot of guys who took back much of what they gave. David Wright also showed zero range on a number of shots down the third base line. And, his bat has gone into dormancy: 2-for-14 with no XBHs since game 1 against the Dodgers. The mysterious second half power surge continues. I'll say this, and I'll say it loud-and-clear: if any Met is invited to participate next year in the Fucking Home Run Derby, if he accepts, he has to go through me to get into the ballpark that night.
Yeah, I know that's not too scary, but someone's gotta step up and do his part. I volunteer.
All that said, there's plenty of good, even in the loss, and I also wanna do my part to keep the Good Vibes Train rolling. So, a short list of what was good:
Jose Showed Up: This is a very, very, very good sign. After really struggling at the dish through four games, Reyes was in the house last night. Drawing walks, running the bases, driving the ball, hitting liners up the middle. I like it. If he shows up like this tonight, it takes so much pressure off Met pitching. All they'll need is one of the Big Three to be at his best, and the crooked numbers'll be going up, and going up early.
Delgado: Scary. Man, he's zoned in.
Maine Wasn't Really That Bad: Look, I'm not blaming the ump, since he called the game equally for both pitching staffs: equally horribly & inconsistently. Neither Maine nor Carpenter had a chance the way he was squeezing them early on. Both guys were uncharacteristically "wild," walking a number of batters. Carpenter issued more free passes last night in five innings (four) than he has since May 9, when he walked 6 Rockies in 7 innings. Maine looked like he had good stuff last night, and I'm actually confident to have him going in game 6 or 7 if it goes that far. With a normal strike zone, I think he goes deep into the game last night. Whereas Carpenter's troubles were related to more than the shrunken strike zone. Hey, what can do? Game's in the books.
Valentin Looked Better: Even though the hit came from the right side, he looked patient at bat last night. Seemed to be trying to stroke the ball, rather than crank it into the seats. The Mets need his bat at the bottom of the line up.
Green, The Secret Weapon: Not to overstate something that may be meaningless, but he's looked as good as I've seen him with the Mets the past three games. His swing is strong, he's identifying pitches early, laying off those downward breaking curves and sliders he often swings over, and when he makes contact, he's been driving the ball with authority. I have a very good feeling about this, heading into the games in St. Louis.
We'll see. Back tomorrow, hopefully with the Happy Recap.