Last month (see July blog titled "A Message From the Secretary") I vowed not to watch any more Mets games because they were not only losing way too often, they were playing hideous baseball that was unappealing to behold. For the most part I have stuck to that vow, often monitoring the score on the computer so I'd know when I could watch without getting bummed out. Recently I've caught some of their winning efforts, though except for a late-inning grand slam by Fernando Tatis, their best isn't all that exciting. Face it--as competent as Alex Cora and Angel Pagan have been, they can't match the charisma (if that isn't stretching the compliment) of Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran. When their lone active all-star, David Wright, has the same number of home runs at Post-Shea as visitor Mark Reynolds had in last weekend's series, it is not a case of waking up in the morning and thinking, "Oh gee, when is the Mets game on--I don't want to miss their next thrilling exploit!" It has been safer to dip my toes in the Mets ocean lately only after checking the radar reports and scouring the vicinity with binoculars.
So it was that last night I went back and forth between the game, the computer, and reality. The three-run rally in the 2nd inning was a lot of fun, especially Johan Santana's bases-loaded double. He made three fine fielding plays, too: an over-the-shoulder catch of a feeble pop behind the mound; a freakish heel-kick of a ground smash over to Wright, who made a fine barehand stab and throw to rob the batter; and a headlong dive where he failed to make the catch but got an out because this time it was an opposing player who made a brain-dead play, failing to run because he didn't see that he had hit the ball fair. Santana always gives you your money's worth, especially on cable. As a Mets announcer noted late in the game, "It isn't often that a pitcher who gives up five runs is still the best player on the field." Santana, despite getting roughed up, showed the tenacity of a pitcher determined to win 20 games a season no matter how bad the team plays behind him.
My wife and I took a break from the game in the 4th inning, with the Mets ahead 3-1. Next thing I knew, the computer told me it was 4-3 Cardinals, and I wondered whether that slim one-run deficit would kill the suspense, as it often has lately. A little while later, however, I saw that it was 6-4 Mets, so back to the television and TiVo it was, allowing me to watch the whole four-run Mets avalanche which gave them a 7-4 lead. Surely this was a game I'd have to keep watching!
Albert Pujols came up in the 7th inning, and my wife muttered, "he's an asshole." "Why?" I wondered. Pujols scares me at the plate, but I'm not aware that he's done anything distasteful. "Because he always does bad things to us," she explained. I couldn't disagree, but said, "That's true, but you shouldn't call him an asshole. He might take it personally and do even worse things to us." In retrospect, my caution was too late, but I didn't realize it at the time.
It was still 7-5 Mets heading to the 9th inning, and Santana, after yeoman work, yielded to the high-priced closer, Francisco Rodriguez. He's done a fine job for the most part, though his sharpness has suffered lately from a scarcity of the "save opportunities" which seem to bring out the best in a reliever. In he came with a bona-fide save chance gift-wrapped in his lap, and he proceeded to puke all over it. Rick Ankiel led off with a double. Julio Lugo followed with a double. "I can't watch," I growled at my wife, switching her over to the Food Network while I retreated to the computer to see if my other fantasy leaguers were doing any better (oh yeah, K-Rod was my 4th-round pick in the main league I'm in).
A moment later, I saw that K-Rod had fanned pinch-hitter Colby Rasmus for the first out. Okay, I thought, I'll give him a chance. I returned to the television, changed the channel, and saw K-Rod bent over and holding his head. That couldn't be good. It wasn't. Skip Schumaker had singled in the tying run, blowing the win that Santana so thoroughly deserved. He'll get over it. I'm not sure I'll get over the rest of the game. K-Rod proceeded the load the bases, then managed to retire Ryan Ludwick to keep things tied 7-7 and give the Mets a chance to salvage a victory in the bottom of the 9th. But no. The Mets squandered a couple of runners as well, and the game headed to extra innings. I headed back to the computer.
I'm sure Jerry Manuel discussed what happened next in his post-game press gathering, but I didn't have the stomach to watch. Brian Stokes replaced K-Rod and retired the first batter on an easy ground ball. No problem. That was enough for Manuel, who brought in Pedro Feliciano in Stokes' place. The general idea behind this move was that three of the next four Cardinals hitters bat left-handed, and "Perpetual Pedro" is tough on lefties. That logic is good if you're planning on facing four hitters after one man is already out. More to the point (or my point, at least) is that the next two hitters--Ankiel and Lugo--are a lefty and a righty. No matter which reliever was on the mound with one out, he would have to retire a righty and a lefty to get the side out in order. So what was the big hurry in bringing in a lefty? What was the difference? Why not leave Stokes in to pitch to that pair of hitters, and if he didn't get them both out, then bring in Feliciano with two straight lefties due up?
My point is that Stokes had already retired one hitter, and my extensive research on relief pitching tells me that it is better to stick with a pitcher who is doing well than to bring in a new guy who may or may not have anything on the ball. Manuel brought in Feliciano, and he quickly loaded the bases on two hits and a walk. Left in to face that final lefty, Schumaker, he fanned him for the second out, keeping the sharks at bay.
With Mark DeRosa, a tough righty, coming up and Pujols on deck, Manuel switched to Sean Green. Ah, Sean Green! The other guy in the trade with Seattle that brought the since-disabled J. J. Putz to Flushing Meadows but was primarily designed to send Aaron Heilman, the chief arsonist in the conflagration that was the 2007-2008 Mets bullpen, as far across the country as possible. From the start, it appeared that Green was channeling Heilman's deer-in-the-headlight approach to blowing games in the late innings. After allowing 15 runs in his first 15 innings, he was exiled to the mop-up role, where he relaxed and gradually whittled his ERA down to 4.72 before last night.
If Feliciano's efforts brought the disquieting whiff of a possible gas leak, Green was the unsuspecting homeowner entering the room with a lit match. BOOM!! His first pitch nailed DeRosa on the arm, allowing Ankiel to stroll across the plate with the go-ahead run. I was sitting at the computer when I saw what had happened. "Now he's screwed," I thought, "with Pujols coming up." Later, on the lowlights show, I saw that Green got two quick strikes on the big man, got a target from catcher Omir Santos for a slider low and a foot outside, and somehow hung the slider over the heart of the plate. BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOM!!!! Pujols' fifth grand slam of the season blew the game wide open, and there went the suspense.
Apart from the disaster of the last two innings, there was one other debacle last night which makes me more hesitant than ever about getting too close to the Mets. That was the 7th-inning disappearance of Luis Castillo into the Bermuda Triangle inside the Mets dugout. After a harmless groundout, Castillo lost his footing walking down the steps to the dugout, and the result is a sprained ankle which, in light of the little muscle tweak that has cost Reyes two months and counting, will probably spell the end of Castillo's season. He has been practically the only Met to exceed expectations (albeit modest) this season, if Mets fans can bring themselves to overlook that nightmarish dropped popup against the Yankees. Merely staying healthy all season has set him and Wright apart from the rest of the team's M.A.S.H. unit. Now, he's sidelined trying to walk down a few stairs, something even my drunken Uncle Mort managed to avoid doing until he was 83 years old.
What the hell is going on? What's next? I have to keep a safe distance. I'd be afraid to walk next to one of them on the street, lest that proverbial piano dropping from the 20th floor cream both of us. It's bad enough watching them lose. Now we get to watch them killing themselves. Look at what has happened while I was writing this blog. Good news: the Mets lead 7-0 in the 6th inning. Bad news: Jonathon Niese, who has pitched decently as a desperation starter, blew out his hamstring on a fielding play in the top of the 2nd inning. Well, they might hold onto the lead, but we won't be seeing Niese on the pitching mound soon. That's the story these days. They're not going to win enough games the rest of the season to go anywhere but home. And now even getting on and off the field is fraught with danger. Get away from me!