Sunday, April 18, 2010

6 Hours and 53 Minutes of Insanity

Even though the Mets lost the night before (4-3, due in large part to Jerry Manuel's curious decision to use Raul Valdes in the 7th inning), I still found myself counting down the hours and minutes to yesterday's game against the Cardinals. It's what a Met fan does. We come back for more, no matter what the latest result was - joyous or painful.

And so it began yesterday at 4PM with a beer - a Peroni to be exact. The Mets were 3-7 and were getting it from all angles. By the 2nd inning, McCarver and baby Albert had become unbearable, so I turned to the radio. When Howie Rose gave way to Wayne Hagin, the radio broadcast also became unbearable. It was then that I turned all the sound off and simply enjoyed the game in silence.

Watching the game in silence is an interesting thing to do. You don't have to shake your head at what the announcers are saying, you're not forced to listen to irritating commercials that become even more irritating on the heels of a bad inning. There's no crowd noise (not that the Cards fans generated much anyway), and it makes your thoughts bounce back and forth in your head as the game goes on.

After Johan recovered brilliantly from his arduous first few innings, and put to rest all of the chatter about his diminishing stuff and velocity (9 strikeouts and closing the game with a 92 MPH fastball will do that), the silence became too much. When the 8th inning began, I kept the game muted and turned to The Lovin' Spoonful and a host of other groups from the 60's to get me through the rest of the game. The optimistic and sunny tunes of the Spoonful acted as the perfect counter to Tim McCarver's biting words.

By the time my girlfriend arrived in the Top of the 13th inning, the game had started to spin out of control. I gave up sitting in the 13th, and put my road grey jersey on for good luck. For the next 8 innings, I was a ball of nerves. I kept moving until I found a spot that I thought worked. When I found myself standing in the same place I was standing last year when Luis Castillo dropped the pop-up, I retreated and stood against the wall. When Hisanori Takahashi put runners on 2nd and 3rd with no one out, I started muttering to myself that the game was over. In an effort to re-assure me and to silence my ramblings, my girlfriend told me to stay positive. She insisted that "she had heard" that each Cardinal that was about to come up "sucked" or "was crap." And she was right. Takahashi K'd the side and the game went on.

I continued to pace back and forth, nearly pulling my hair out...layed down on the floor at some points, stood with one leg up, peeked out from behind my hands, sat on the floor by my couch, and crouched down like a catcher...among other things. And the game went on and on. All the way through Jenrry Mejia's dazzling display and Raul Valdes' tightrope walking. When Felipe Lopez - the infielder - was inserted to pitch in the 18th inning, the game got out of control. Valdes was called out at 2nd base after trying to move up on an error - even though he was clearly safe. CB Bucknor's strike zone was absurd - one of the worst strike zones I've ever seen. It's as if he wanted someone to have to groove something so the game would end - and that's probably exactly what he was going for.

When the Mets finally took the lead in the Top of the 19th, it just didn't seem like the game was destined to end there. Not with Albert Pujols coming up, and not with Francisco Rodriguez (who had thrown over 100 warm up pitches) coming in. And when Yadier Molina arrogantly strode to the plate with Pujols on 3rd and 2 outs, I was suddenly transplanted back to my Seats in Section 22, Row Q of the Upper Deck at Shea. That's where I sat for Game 7 of the NLCS in 2006. Any time Yadier Molina comes up in an important spot, Game 7 is what I think of. And I suddenly felt uncomfortable. When Molina tied the game with a liner that went over the outstretched glove of Luis Castillo, I sunk down in despair.

Of course, the Mets would retake the lead in the Top of the 20th and turn it over to Mike Pelfrey. Mike Pelfrey, who had thrown a 70 pitch side session earlier in the day, had demanded the ball from Jerry Manuel. When Pelfrey induced a soft roller to 2nd base with 2 outs and runners on 1st and 2nd, I didn't have the energy in me to scream. I instead assured myself that the game was indeed over. I knelt down, smiled like a raving lunatic, and immediately began to reflect on the incredible game that I'd just witnessed.

The Mets are 4-7. Last night's unbelievably gutsy and hard fought win doesn't change that fact. What it does, though, is offer hope. Johan Santana was again untouchable. The bullpen, that's been incredible all year, was incredible again last night. Jason Bay looked horrible, and so did David Wright...but who cares? Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday looked just as bad. It was just that type of day/night.

Games like yesterday are what separates National League Baseball from every other sport. Everything else is has to end or pause at a specific time. Even NHL Playoff games that go to overtime have breaks every 20 minutes. Yesterday's game had no breaks. Just an endless string of tense moments and unreal plays. When the game ended, and the Mets were exchanging high fives near the mound, I simply smiled. There was nothing to say. And the season is 11 games old. It's hard to imagine a game like that in October, but if the Mets continue to get pitching like they've gotten lately, we just may. Their 4-7 record be damned.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

It's not Funny, Jerry

While listening to Jerry Manuel give his interview to Mike Francesa this afternoon, I started to forget that the Mets were 2-5 (which would become 2-6 within hours). As Jerry kept tripping over his own words, cackling like he was high, and saying "you right, haha, you right" at least 20 times, the team on the field was all of a sudden not my biggest worry.

Before today's interview, I knew Jerry was a sub-par Manager. I knew he would often laugh stuff off, either as a defense mechanism or in an attempt to endear himself to the tough New York scribes. Today, he finally lost it. And in turn, the Mets fans who listened to his babbling mess late this afternoon have lost it as well...they've lost any last shred of patience they had for Jerry Manuel.

Mets fans are passionate, knowledgeable, and let losses interfere with their mood - often to the detriment of their daily responsibilities. We almost care too much, and having a Manager who lacks any tactical skill laughing his ass off about the state of a 2-5 team is unacceptable. And this determination was made before Jerry Manuel made himself look like a complete imbecile during the 10th inning of tonight's loss to the Rockies in Colorado.

This isn't about the team anymore. The Mets are 2-6, and that hurts. What hurts more, is the fact that they had a chance to win the game tonight, and it was sabotaged over and over again by their own Manager.

With one out in the 10th and Mike Jacobs representing the go-ahead run on 2nd base, Manuel pinch ran for him...after the count to Rod Barajas was 2-2. Instead of pinch running with Alex Cora, he pinch ran with Fernando Tatis - taking the bat out of the hands of the best pinch hitter he had left on the bench. After Barajas made out, the Rockies brought in a lefty to face Cora. Instead of countering that move and using Henry Blanco (since he had already needlessly used Tatis to run), Manuel let Cora hit. And Cora hit it to 2nd base for the 3rd out. Incredible.

In the bottom of the 10th, Manuel turned to Jenrry Mejia, who was pitching on back to back nights. It was the perfect spot for Francisco Rodriguez, who didn't pitch last night, and has the stamina to pitch two innings. Manuel went with Jenrry, though, and the kid served up the game winning homer.

There's nothing to be mad at Mejia for. He's a 20 year old kid who grooved a fastball in the thin air of Colorado and paid for it. There's nothing to be mad at Cora for. He's a backup infielder, and shouldn't have been the go to guy with the go ahead runs on base in the 10th. The anger all goes to Jerry. On a night when the team fought for a win, he put them in position to lose.

If most of the fan base had a choice, Manuel would've been fired after 2008. He wasn't. 2009 and the injuries weren't Manuel's fault, but that doesn't excuse the fact that he's a terrible Manager. The first 8 games of this year prove nothing about the Mets and where they'll end up. But if this team ever managed to get hot and fight their way to the Playoffs, Manuel would be there, ready to sabotage them with his incompetence.

It's time for ownership to step up and fire Jerry. He's a perfectly nice man, but a painfully bad Manager. Wally Backman would be a great replacement, but the Mets probably want him to prove himself in Brooklyn first. Bobby Valentine would be a phenomenal choice, and Ken Oberkfell would be a wise choice as well. A name the fans and media don't seem to be mentioning much is Tim Teufel, who's been quietly moving up the ranks in the Mets' Minor League system. Any one of those four would do.

What won't do, and what will slowly drive the rest of the fans away, is ownership forcing the fan base to watch a team that's run by a Manager who doesn't seem to know what he's doing - who laughs off his problems and the team's issues instead of doing something about them.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hyperbole At Its Worst

I present to you, Captain Hyperbole. The man above represents all of the laughably reactionary fans and writers who have been spewing their incoherent drivel about the Mets over the past 48 hours. I'm not writing this as an apologist, I'm writing this as a realist.

The 2010 Mets are 2-4. If we were to use some 3rd grade math and use these first 6 games to predict the final record, that record would be awful. Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel would be fired, and a complete overhaul of the roster would most likely occur. Watching the Mets lose listlessly to the Marlins in the 3rd game of the season, and watching Johan Santana get smacked up while his teammates were stifled by Livan Hernandez yesterday was not fun. It really, really sucked.

Over the course of 162 games, losses - often ugly, happen. Coming off the 2009 season, lots of fans and writers are waiting for the other shoe to drop. Reacting as if the season is over after 6 games, though, is absurd. The Mariners and Angels are both 2-5, the Dodgers are 2-4, the Cubs are 3-4. Are their seasons over also? 6 games are a tiny sample, a sample that no one should even attempt to draw conclusions from.

The Mets have played 2 crappy games, and 4 pretty good ones. The starting pitching (aside from Johan's bad 1st inning against the Nationals) has been fine, the bullpen has gone nearly 14 innings without allowing a run, and the team has shown fight - both literally and figuratively. In the 2nd game of the season, Gary Matthews smoked what appeared to be a game winning hit in the bottom of the 9th, but Hanley Ramirez was playing behind 2nd base. The Mets eventually lost. On Saturday, Rod Barajas hit a ball with the bases loaded that was ticketed as a game winner (even Gary Cohen thought so), but Willie Harris made what has up to this point been the catch of the any player...on any either league. If those 2 balls found the outfield grass, the Mets would've been 4-2. Instead, they're 2-4.

Even if those 2 balls had found the outfield grass instead of the gloves of the opposition, writers and fans would be calling the Mets' 4-2 start a mirage. "Can't take it seriously after 6 games", they'd say. But the Mets are 2-4, not 4-2. And 2-4 is a record the naysayers and sky-is-falling crowd can rally around. It's extraordinarily annoying, and reading and/or listening to what they're regurgitating over and over and over is a complete waste of time.

Drawing conclusions after the 6th game of an 162 game season is pointless, whether those conclusions are that the team will win the World Series or finish in last place. Would it have been better if the Mets were 6-0? Absolutely. They'd be 4 games better, to be precise. Still, no one would have any idea how that imaginary 6-0 team would fare over the remaining 156 games of the season. Just like no one has any idea how the actual 2-4 team will fare over its remaining 156 games.

Much like the rest of the teams in baseball, save for one Microsoft like operation that spends upwards of $220 million on their payroll, the Mets have issues that may or may not work out. That's what the season is find out just what this group of players can do. To see how quickly Carlos Beltran will return, to find out whether or not the bullpen can keep performing close to the torrid pace they've set for themselves, etc.

I refuse to accept the fact that these first 6 games have shown us anything concrete. Those who mention how none of the starters have seen the 7th inning yet, fail to mention that all of those pitchers (save for John Maine) went 6 innings, and would've gone longer if it wasn't their first start of the year. Facts are for those who actually pay attention, while fantasy and hyperbole is for those who refuse to give this team a chance...those who insist on jumping to conclusions after 55 innings have been played.

If you're a fan who chooses to give up on a season and/or adopt a woe-is-me attitude at this point in the season, I truly feel bad for you. We waited 6 months for the Mets to come back, and the first thing the majority of the fan base is doing a week after the Mets finally started playing regular season games, is forming as one massive cloud, jumping into the sky, and turning their idiotic words and negativity into a thunderstorm of shit that's raining on all of the other fans' season opening parades.

If it's June 1st and the Mets are in last place, feel free to go nuts. Until then, please let the fans who still have faith in this team enjoy a season that's still in its infancy.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Time to Fight Back

According to everyone at ESPN (except for Bobby Valentine), the Mets are going to finish in 4th place this season. According to Bill Madden in the Daily News, the Mets are going to win 77 games. And according to Sports Illustrated, the publication that picked the 2009 Mets to win the World Series, the 2010 Mets will win 79 games and finish in 4th place. Once the pessimism started, after nearly every Met got hurt last year, it ran rampant and it's now become fashionable for every writer on the face of the Earth to doubt/make fun of/unfairly attack the New York Mets.

Negativity sells, so it's no shock that today's New York Post headline screamed "What a Mess," in response to the fact that Jose Reyes would be missing 4 games before returning on April 10th. The sad thing, is that there are people who don't follow the Mets as religiously as some others, who pick up the newspaper and actually believe the stuff they're printing.

When their core was healthy, from 2005 through 2008, the Mets averaged 90 wins per year. Last year, nearly every important member of the team was lost to a significant injury for a significant period of time. If the Yankees lost Derek Jeter, Mark Teixiera, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes and 10 others (like the Mets lost Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, David Wright, Johan Santana, John Maine, Oliver Perez, Jon Niese, JJ Putz and 10 others), they wouldn't have done a damn thing last year. That didn't happen to the Yankees, though, it happened to the Mets. And since it did, the Mets (who averaged 90 wins the previous 4 seasons) have become a punchline for no good reason. That ends now.

Spring Training stats shouldn't matter. To writers and talking heads though, they do (but only ones that can be spun into negatives). The Mets' starting pitchers this spring have high ERA's, so according to the writers and talking heads, the pitching will be a mess this season. The Mets are leading the Grapefruit League in HR's this spring, but no one knows that. Why? Because it isn't negative. A few weeks ago, writers were screaming that Jose Reyes would be out until June. Now, the Mets are being extra cautious with him (with good reason), meaning he should return April 10th. Still, the writers find a way to bash the Mets for the 4 games Reyes will miss. It's a joke...enough to make you shake your head so much it'll eventually lead to chronic neck pain.

Here's what the Mets need to do: Starting April 5th, prove to everyone that the team that averaged 90 wins from 2005 through 2008 wasn't a 4 year abberation. 2009 (and the absurd amount of injuries that led to 92 losses) was the aberration.

Take the field a little after 1PM on Monday the 5th, and take it with pride and a touch of anger.

Take the field and have respect for it, and the fans that fill it day after day, night after night.

Take the field, and if an opposing pitcher throws at David Wright, throw at that team's best player and beat the hell out of their entire team if it comes to it.

Take the field and feed off of us. Feel the energy when we chant, when we rise as one, when we scream for a strikeout.

This offseason has been nearly unbearable. All we've heard is that the Mets have question marks, while the other teams have potential. The Mets didn't sign enough players, but the other teams were fiscally responsible. The Mets, with one of the best cores in all of baseball, are a joke and have no shot.

It's been all words until today. Now, the Mets attempt to fight back with their actions.