Saturday, October 14, 2006

FRIDAY THE 13TH (AND HOPEFULLY, THERE'LL BE NO SEQUEL)

That sure wasn't pretty. One night after FundamentalFest '06, the Mets completely unravelled. Terrible defense, horrendous bullpen work, questionable managerial moves. Ugly.

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.

12 Comments:

Anonymous John Royal said...

Okay, as the former employee of the Houston Astros, I've got to weigh in on a little issue. Billy Wagner is not, repeat, IS NOT, the reason the Astros flamed out in the playoffs. True, he did have issues with Chipper Jones -- but who doesn't?

The Astros flamed out because, in the pre-Lance days, the team absolutely refused to score runs. People talk about A-Rod not being to hit in the clutch, hell, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell would've loved to have had A-Rod's post-season stats in those seasons. I still remember that there was one playoff year when the Astros best clutch hitter was Chuckie Carr.

And the media in Houston loved Jose Lima and Shane Reynolds, but those two blew playoff start after playoff start. And the clutch starting pitchers, Randy Johnson, Mike Hampton, Daryl Kile continously lost games by scores of 2-1, 1-0, 2-0.

And while people look at Rivera as a post-season god, Mike is right to remind everyone that he's been known to blow a few games himself. The Angles, BoSox, ChiSox, Marlins, and D-Backs have been able to get to him in the past several seasons. I'm sure the Tigers would've beat him up a bit this year, but the Yankees starting staff did an impression of the Mets starting staff (sorry, couldn't resist) and he wasn't needed.

Okay, enough of my rant. The problem for the Mets isn't Wagner -- still one of my favorite ex-Astros -- it's the starting pitching.

And don't complain too much about Willie's managing. You could be stuck with Garner.

12:18 PM  
Anonymous Applesaucer said...

John,

I enjoyed your comment, but with all due respect, I think you've understated Wagner's playoff futility and you've understated Mariano's playoff dominance:

1. Sure, the Astros mostly stunk it up teamwide, but so far as I could tell from perusing boxscores, Wagner was 0 for 2 in save opportunites for them: (1) Game 2 against San Diego in 1998 (which the Astros lost 3-1); and (2) Game 1 against the Braves in 2001 (which the Astros lost 3-0).

2. Mariano has never faced the Chi Sox in the playoffs (the Chi Sox beat Boston, California and Houston last year)and he hasn't blown a save against either of the Angels or Marlins.

In fact, Mariano has blown four post season save opportunities that I can identify:

1. Game 4 against Cleveland in 1997;

2. Game 7 against AZ in 2001;

3. Game 4 against the Red Sox in 2004;

4. Game 5 against the Red Sox in 2004.

Now, not to make excuses for Mariano, but let's recall that blown save number 4 was simply Mariano allowing a sac fly with an inherited runner on 3rd. Blown save number 3 was a walk, a stolen base and a few sacs (or maybe a hit -- I can't remember). Blown save Number 2 was bizarre, to say the least, and Mariano committed a key error and gave up some hits, but it was really one of the more freakish half-innings I've seen. Blown Save Number 1 he gave up a home run to Sandy Alomar Jr.

Finally: Wagner has saved 2 of 4 opportunities (including this year); Mariano has saved 34 of 38 opportunities. Wagner has given up 8 earned runs in 25 innings. Mariano has given up 10 earned runs in 112.7 innings;

So, yes, Wagner is a post season failure and Mariano is a post season god.

Applesaucer

2:19 PM  
Anonymous John Royal said...

Okay, when all else fails, go with the childish insult: YANKEES SUCK!!!!!

Seriously, I could've sworn when typing the last that the Yankees lost to Chicago last season.

But, I'll say this, as long as FOX and ESPN and Sports Illustrated keep shoving Rivera as God down my throat, I'm going to call him overrated.

And I'll take Wagner back on the Astros in a second. But Wagner speaks his mind, and Drayton McLane doesn't like that. I just don't recall Wagner being that bad in postseason (yes, the numbers don't lie, but if numbers were all that counted, Oakland "Moneyball" A's would be up on Detroit). Not up there with the general suckiness that was the rest of the Astros team in the playoffs.

But, the bad news for Mets fans, that's Wagner. When the guy flames out, he flames out. Though, unlike a certain Astros closer who shall remain nameless (Brad Lidge), Wagner doesn't let it get to him.

So, how soon until Tom Glavine can pitch again?

2:48 PM  
Anonymous John Royal said...

Oh, and to continue my defense of Wagner...

Mike, do you want Looper back? What about Benitez? I'm sure Tony would be willing to work a deal for Izzy. I'm sure Dombroski would work a deal for Todd Jones -- Wagner's predecessor in Houston (otherwise known as Fire Can). Billy Beane might talk to you about Huston Street, but it's doubtful, and he'd probably rob you blind.

Face it, of the 4 closers left in the playoffs, Wagner's the best. Hell, who, technically, is the Cards' closer at the moment? I know it's not Looper -- LaRussa may be overrated, but he's not stupid.

3:09 PM  
Anonymous Applesaucer said...

"Okay, when all else fails, go with the childish insult: YANKEES SUCK!!!!!"

I hate the Yankees -- Insult away!

"if numbers were all that counted, Oakland "Moneyball" A's would be up on Detroit). "

No, if numbers were all that counted, Oakland would not be up on Detroit. This past regular season, Detroit scored 822 runs and allowed 675 (a 147 run differential); Oakland scored 771 runs and allowed 727 (a 47 run differential). As we all know, anything can happen in a short series, but if numbers determined the winner, Detroit would be it.

Frankly, I wouldn't really need numbers to tell me that Wagner is not to be trusted. He loses the plate at times and when it comes right down to it, he can't put the ball where he wants it in key moments. Similarly, one just has to watch Mariano (and opposing batters' knees buckle) to know that he puts the ball almost exactly where he wants it about 90% of the time.

I'm a Met fan and I'd gladly give you Billy Wagner for nothing. This way, the Mets wouldn't have a proven playoff loser as their annointed closer and couldn't justify blown games with the old "we-relied-on-our-closer" excuse.

Applesaucer

3:14 PM  
Anonymous John Royal said...

Look, when you've got Dan Wheeler as your closer (because Albert Pujols made Brad Lidge afraid of his shadow), you'll gladly take Keith Foulke as a closer. Of course I'll take Wagner back.

I should never get in a numbers game when I'm at work.

As much as I rag Rivera, he's about the only closer I'd trust in the playoffs. That said, I'll take Wagner over the rest of them still left.

3:24 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

when my son was still in diapers he would be on my lap at padre games, we used to ask him "it's the top of the ninth, what should dick do?" the boy would raise and slap his right arm and shout "GOOOOOOSSSSEEE!"

The Mets looked dominant except at the very end. I still hold great hopes. although i fear tigers this time of year (i remember getting swept brutally the last time they were in the series)

3:41 PM  
Anonymous Applesaucer said...

"...do you want Looper back? What about Benitez? "

Why does a team need defined "closer?" The Mets could do just fine mixing and matching with Feliciano and Wagner from the left and Heilman, Bradford and Mota from the right. What's the purpose of designating some guy a "closer" and then limiting him to the 9th and the 9th to him.

Since the closer has been used in its current form -- basically since Eckersley in the late '80s, though it kind of started before him -- there's only been ONE closer that's been annointed as such and been consistently successful for World Series winners -- Mariano. None of the other World Series teams could have been said, prior to the seasons in which they won, to have had premier closers, with maybe a few exceptions:

2005 White Sox - Jenks was a late season sub and he stunk it up in the World Series anyway;

2004 Red Sox - Foulke was hardly a premiere guy and he was actually the one Oakland A who blew a save opportunity over the four As playoff series losses (so don't point to the As as an example of no closer being hazardous to a team's playoff health. Besides, they had a closer);

2003 Marlins - Who closed for them, again? Urbina? Looper?

2002 Angels - Troy Percival. A premiere closer.

2001 Diamondbacks -- BYKim. Please.

1996, 1997-2000 Yanks - Wettland & Rivera. Both premiere closers, though Rivera was NOT a big free agent signing. The lesson here is that a team needs to have Mariano, not a premiere closer.

1995 Braves - Wholers. lol. He was good that year though.

1993 Blue Jays - Ward. Very good that year and a few others, but not a big free agent signing.

1992 Blue Jays - Henke. Very good.

1991 Twins. Aguilera. Very good, but one of a bunch of guys traded by the Mets for Frank Viola.

1990 Reds - Myers, Dibble and Charlton. A great bullpen. Mike can say whatever he wants but Myers was NOT a great closer pretty much ever.

1989 As - Eck. Great. But he had his share of high profile failures.

1988 Dodgers. Jay Howell? Alejandro Pena?

1987 Twins. Jeff Reardon. Very good in his time.

1986 Mets. Orosco and Mcdowell shared duties, though Orosco got most of the chances. Orosco was great earlier in his career and in the playoffs, but I think he was on the downside of his career by then (but that downside last for another decade and a half!)

The closr role is just a way for managers to justify not making tough decisions and to justify decisions gone wrong.

They just go to the closer in the 9th and if he blows it the manager can just say "I lost with my closer." It's an example of the cover your ass mentality that pervades major league baseball front offices.

3:44 PM  
Anonymous John Royal said...

Hey, something positive did result from last night's ballgame. Steve Lyons, one of the worst broadcasters on the national level -- and that's saying a lot Joe Morgan and Chris Berman and Joe Buck and Tim McCarver -- was fired for making racists comments during the game.

5:55 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Closer: Creation of the player's union, to add an additional high-priced "position" to MLB rosters. In addition to the CYA patch in the manager's first aid kit.

Steve Lyons got fired? What'd he say?

Goose. Is there anyone better who's qualified for induction, but isn't in the HOF?

Goose, Santo, Blyleven?

11:53 PM  
Anonymous John Royal said...

Well, because FOX insists that all Mets games be in primetime, I actually had to work during the Friday Tigers/A's game. But, according to the New York Times, during the game, Lou Pinella (I can never spell his name correctly) made a comment about expecting some sub to make great plays day after day is like expecting to finding a wallet on Friday, then expecting to find a wallet again on Saturday and then on Sunday.

Then some time passes, and Lou says something in Spanish while they're talking about some Hispanic player. Then Pyscho, joking, makes a comment that, since Lou's talking in Spanish, he's kind of worrying about the location of his wallet and he doesn't know if he wants to sit next to Lou anymore.

The Times then says that everybody in the booth laughs loudly and that they continue with the game. Then, according to the Times, Lyons is fired at the end of the game.

Apparently, Lyons has been warned several times about comments. He'd gotten in trouble several weeks ago for making fun of Mets fan who was virtually blind, and he got in trouble several years for making fun of Shawn Green's "supposed" Jewishness and sitting out games for Jewish holidays when he didn't marry a Jewish girl, doesn't go to Jewish religious services, etc.

It's a crime that Goose isn't in the Hall. I still remember, after he didn't make it last season, that Keith Olbermann was doing his bit on Dan Patrick's show, and Patrick was on one of his vacations and they had some substitute on the show, and the sub tried to say that Goose didn't deserve to be in, and Olbermann just tore the guy a new one. I haven't heard that guy since.

But, as for also deserving, Buck O'Neill probably deserved the call from the Hall before he died. And I think Dale Murphy deserves some more respect from the Hall.

2:42 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Lyons said that? What an idiot. You know, maybe I'm in a minority of my own: people who thought Lyons had improved the past two years. He didn't bother me nearly as much as Brennemann does. Now there's a bag of hot air.

Buck O'Neill was a sweet guy, a helluva story-teller, and a pioneer in a lot of ways. But as a player, based on my (limited) knowledge of the Negro Leagues, he was nothing special -- a good glove, ok bat 1st baseman.

I'd have had no problem with the HOF giving him something along the lines of a "Lifetime Achievement Award," along the lines of what the Oscars do for aging stars & directors. But a straight induction as a player, along with Ruth & Mays & Wagner & Jackie Robinson . . . and Judy Johnson & Cool Papa Bell & Oscar Charleton & Josh Gibson & Satchel, etc?

No way! He wasn't in their class as a player. No one gets in for being a nice guy, or for being a pioneer. Doesn't work that way, and it shouldn't.

That's nothing against O'Neill. I liked him as much as anyone. But that's irrelevant.

8:30 AM  

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