Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Message From The Secretary

Yesterday someone asked me how I was handling the fact that the Mets looked so horrid in being swept at home by the other New York team over the weekend.

"Who are these Mets you speak of?" I replied. "I do not know of such an entity. I am not familiar with their actions."

Yes, it has come to that. Remember the warning on the tape delivered to Mr. Phelps at the start of "Mission: Impossible"? That's right: "If you are caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions." It seems like an impossible mission at this point for the lodgers at Post-Shea Stadium to regain their once-esteemed standing in the National League, or to inspire hope and enthusiasm in their fans. They're like Greg Morris or Peter Lupus dangling over the edge of a cliff by one foot--but without a scriptwriter to get them out of danger.

Last night I didn't watch a single at-bat as the Mets lost their fourth game in a row, 10-6 at Milwaukee. The game wasn't that close. Their best pitcher over the past month, Fernando Nieve, was drilled for 11 hits in less than four innings, and it took a 4-run 9th inning to make the final score that close. I recorded the game on TiVo, checked the score a couple of times, and was spared the sour taste of watching them throw away another game.

The weekend games pretty much sucked the enjoyment out of seeing this team in "action" (using the term loosely). My wife and I lasted only two innings on Friday night, enough to see throwing errors by David Wright and Alex Cora contribute to a four-run 2nd inning which killed the suspense in a 9-1 final. Saturday night, the suspense lasted all the way to the 6th inning, with Tim Redding dueling A.J. Burnett into a three-run homer by Jorge Posada put the anemic Mets hopelessly behind. They got exactly one hit in that game, on the heels of eight hits combined in their previous two games.

Surely that had to change on Sunday night, when they faced the worst starter in the majors this season, Chien-Ming Wang, who had somehow dropped his ERA to just over 11 runs a game after being pulverized for 23 runs in his first three starts this season. It seemed a fair battle: the Mets, with nine hits in three games, facing a pitcher who was subject to give up nine hits in one inning. Instead, the Mets made Wang look like a decent pitcher, swinging at bad pitches and ripping a grand total of four hits before he left in the 6th inning en route to raising his record to 1-6. The game was essentially over in the top of the 1st, thanks to Daniel Murphy. A nightmare in the outfield, Murphy has looked relatively competent at first base (though his offense has largely disappeared), but on Sunday his inexperienced killed him. After a leadoff double, he fielded a sharp one-hopper and got the brainstorm to throw Derek Jeter out at third base instead of taking the easy out at first. He double-clutched on the throw, and Jeter was safe. Later in the inning, he dropped a throw on what should've been a double play, and that cost the Mets another run. It was 3-0 Yankees before the Mets had a shot at Wang, and they never caught up.

My wife and I were done with the game by the 3rd inning, but I did sneak a peak at the top of the 9th, with the Mets close at 3-2. That's when I got to witness what might be considered the absolute low point of the season, Francisco Rodriguez walking Mariano Rivera with the bases loaded and two outs to force in an insurance run that wasn't needed but was assuredly appalling. Rodriguez had no trouble throwing a strike on the first pitch to Jeter with two runners on and the ESPN announcers shitting their pants because he wasn't walking him intentionally to get to a relief pitcher who had come to the plate only twice in his 15-year career. He did walk Jeter, then threw the first two pitches to Rivera off the outside corner. It was almost as if he were nibbling the plate against a real hitter. Insane. Then a called strike, and a lusty swing by Rivera at a fastball. Somehow frightened by the prospect of Rivera getting his bat on a strike, Rodriguez threw the next two pitches a foot out of the strike zone, and Rivera became the oldest player since Satchel Paige to record his first career RBI. Oh, and by the way, he mowed the Mets down in the bottom of the 9th to add his 500th career save to his big night.

I've been trying to think of the right analogy for K-Rod walking Rivera in a one-run game. Remember the worst play in NFL history? That would be Garo Yepremian in the Super Bowl, looking like a four-year-old girl attempting to pass the ball. Suppose the defender had let someone catch that ball. That gives some idea of it. But it isn't close enough. Nothing in basketball or hockey is a parallel situation. How about this: Roger Federer double-faulting on set point--against a ballboy. There you go. Nice job, K-Rod!

That was too much to take, and enough for me to feel comfortable about boycotting them for the time being. They simply aren't fun to watch. They remind me of a scene in one of my favorite movies, "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House." Blandings calls on several contractors to determine whether the house he has just bought is worth salvaging. One of them takes a long look at the house's structure and advises him, "Tear it down. If your timbers was okay, I'd say keep it. If your sills was okay, I'd say keep it. But your timbers is shot, and your sills is shot. Tear it down."

That's what the Mets are like these days. Their timbers (offense) and sills (defense) are both shot, and their foundation (pitching) is crumbling, too. Their most exciting players are on the shelf, and from one game to the next their lineup is a patchwork of also-rans and never-weres. They're giving away runs, falling behind early, lacking the fire-power (and seemingly, at times, even the desire) to fight their way back, and leaving their fans disgruntled. The only good news is that the rest of their division is mediocre, so they still have time to gather themselves, get their stars back on the field, gain some momentum, and put together that three-game lead they can blow in September like usual.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to boycott them, at least for the time being. I know a lot of Mets fans are ready to kick Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel out of town, prepared to trade anybody and everybody to get somebody who might help, and willing to turn their backs on the team entirely. I'm not that disgusted. This isn't 1977, when The Great Betrayal occurred, the trade of Tom Seaver which caused a lot of fans (including this one) to abandon the team. I ignored them completely from the day of the trade until 1984, when the arrival of Dwight Gooden got me interested again.

This estrangement isn't like that one, and it won't last that long. But circumstances have made it clear that the current squad is trapped in a maze of mediocrity, blundering their way deeper into danger, and since I cannot do anything to help, I am forced to disavow all knowledge of their actions. Go ahead and watch them if you dare. Call me a frontrunner if you wish. I just want it to be fun to watch them. Last season I paid close attention right up to the last out of their latest disaster. Just let me know when they've escaped the trap and are back to playing a brand of ball worth watching, win or lose. Is that too much to ask?

Next day......I really mean it this time. I made a big mistake last night. Set the TiVo to tape the Mets and Brewers, figuring that at least Johan Santana would be worth watching as he tried to be the first NL pitcher to win ten games this season. Working on the computer, I saw that the Mets took an early lead on a home run by David Wright. Who would've imagine something like that would happen? Wright, who has been doing a Mookie Wilson impression with 19 stolen bases and 4 home runs, somehow hit one over the fence. That was promising. I checked the Mets box score a couple of times, and they were leading 2-0 in the 3rd inning, enough to get me over to the TV set to see what Santana could do with the Mets' first lead in five games.

I watched the early action quickly and caught up with reality just as Santana allowed a run in the bottom of the 3rd, but he pitched out of further trouble, giving me the illusion that I might enjoy watching more. That's how I got ambushed by the team's latest version of Little League ball in the bottom of the 4th. First, center fielder Fernando Martinez got his feet tangled on a routine fly ball, took a divot the size of a Tiger Woods 3-iron, fell flat on his face, and made a pathetic flail with his glove as the ball dropped safely for a gift double.

That kind of thing has been happening to Santana all season, sabotage by his fielders, and this time, instead of two outs and a runner on first, he had one out and runners on second and third. Seemingly afraid to let the next batter hit the ball, he threw four straight balls for a walk that loaded the bases. Just what he wanted to do with Ryan Braun up next. Braun already had two singles in the game and was 6-for-11 in his career against Santana. No problem. Santana got him off-balance with two straight change-ups which he weakly tapped foul. A waste-pitch fastball for ball one was just what he needed to set up another change-up. That's what I thought, and that's what he thought.

More importantly, that's also what Braun thought. The pitch came in maybe six inches off the ground, the recipe for a double-play grounder, but caught the middle of the plate, and Braun was waiting for it. He rocketed the ball over Gary Sheffield's head in left, and it was a parade around the bases. The Mets had half a shot on the relay to catch the third runner at the plate, but the throw clanked off Omir Santos' knee and went back to the backstop. That's where Santana picked it up and, seeing Braun making a too-wide turn around third, winged it to David Wright to salvage an out. Well, that was the theory. In fact, the throw sailed way over Wright's ahead, allowing Braun to saunter home. Four runs on a double, and that was the ball game.

Once again, the Mets gave away a game, and once again I felt suckered by even caring enough to watch. Reportedly, manager Jerry Manuel lectured the team for 25 minutes after the game. I'm not sure what he could have said to them besides "good luck" and "isn't it about time you guys got your heads out of your asses?"

Realistically, what can be done about the Mess? Omar Minaya isn't exactly dealing from strength if he tries to make a trade. About all he can do is make sure all the contract-insurance policies are paid up. The only consistently productive spot in the lineup has been at catcher, where their corps leads all major league catchers in RBI. Their best hitter, Wright, is terrific with the bases empty, but his averages are atrocious in all run-producing situations. Gary Sheffield has been solid, but he's 40 years old with bad legs that are going to limit his playing time. The defense has been horrible, the bullpen has reverted to the ugly form of the last two seasons, and now the starting pitching is in shambles, too.

Of course, they're still only three games out of the division lead, albeit now in third place. So it's too early for an official panic. A simple boycott should be enough to dull the pain. It's TiVo time for me, and no watching until the game is over, I know they've won, and I want to see how the hell they did it.

Actually, the fact is that there is nothing wrong with this franchise--nothing, that is, that a no-hitter wouldn't cure. Yeah, I'll just wait for one of those. How long could it take?


cheeseblab said...

Independence Day night, and I'm just wondering . . .

Just wondering how long you stayed with today's game . . .

Just wondering whether there has been a major league team in the past 47 years with so much trouble just . . . catching . . . the ball . . .

Just wondering whether McCarver takes as much glee as he seems to in declaring (quite objectively) the team that once employed him to be a sad excuse for a big league team . . .

Just wondering whether Tim holds to that superstition about deaths coming the 3s . . . like, say, M-initialed show-bizzers (Michael, Malden, . . . ?) whose sizable talent was manifest early in their careers but who later became grotesque self-parodies? Just wondering . . .

Gabriel Schechter said...

I've pretty much stuck to my vow. I watched the Wedn-Thurs wins after the fact, speed-viewing on TiVo. Friday we were in town for dinner and the fireworks display, checked the score on the radio a couple of times, and were spared watching any of it. Same thing yesterday. Linda worked, I taped it, and we did not watch a single pitch. So we were doubly spared -- no Mets incompetence, and no McCarver babbling.

But Tim will be around for awhile, as I think Steve McNair fits the criteria spelled out here.

GG. said...

Great blog! I love reading your articles. They are always at the highest level.

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