Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pinstripes Look Good in Blue, Too

Mets 3B David Wright with SNY's Kevin Burkhardt after his game winning hit May 9 in S.F.
It's been said that we die hard Mets fans put too much energy into hating the crosstown rival Yankees (after all, we don't have to beat the Yankees to win the National League Pennant). It's not hard to hate the Bronx Bombers. They are (appropriately I might add) arrogant, tough and worse, for the most part in recent years, good citizens and professionals. It might be said that no franchise in the history of sports have been so consistently good for so long. Are we Mets fans just player haters? Maybe, but I feel like it's part of my personal history.

First, I'm a Mets fans and in New York you can be one or the other but not both (if you are, you're a phony or a fence-sitter and I can't be your friend). Second, my family spent summers on Cape Cod and back when I was yae high, they didn't have cable. You couldn't live in Massachusetts ity and watch the New York baseball teams. You could in some cases in some places -- especially where a team was representing a larger regional area -- but basically you were stuck with your home town team. So those summers, I came to root for an appreciate and die for the Boston Red Sox. And of course the Damn Yankees were as big of a thorn in the side of those Red Sox as they are today (though the humiliating, history-making 3-0 comeback by the Sox in 2003, did a lot to ease those previous failures).

But I digress. The reason I'm talking about the Yankees is this weekend begins the Subway Series -- the first of two regular season series between the Mets and Yankees.

For a change, it's the Mets who come into the series on a high note, having just taken three-of-four from the Cubs in dramatic fashion. This after taking two of three from the Brewers last weekend who when they came into Shea had the best record in baseball. The big win Thursday (the Mets overcame a four-run deficit in the last of the ninth inning to win at home) coupled with the Braves' loss in Washington (in a game they led 3-1 late), gives the Mets sole ownership of first place in the NL East. The Mets have the best record in the National League and the second -best in the Majors, trailing only Boston.

The Mets victory today was stirring. S.O.L. might have had something to do with it. With the Mets trailing 5-1 going into the ninth inning, I was just finishing up my workout on my new toy (a refurbished Precor EFX that I got for my birthday - yay me!). I decided superstitiously, to continue the workout until the Mets made the last out. Who knew that last out was never going to come?

The wonderful thing about this game -- and about the Mets in general since Willie Randolph took over as manager two seasons ago -- is that the bench played a big role in the comeback. Utility reserve David Newhan was among five non-regulars to start today's game. Randolph sat Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Paul Lo Duca and Damien Easley to rest them after last night's rain-delayed game went well past midnight. With the Yankees coming this weekend (and the second-place Braves after that), Willie was thinking ahead.

Newhan singled up the middle off of Cubs closer Ryan Dempster -- it was Newhan's second hit of the game one fewer than his total for the entire season. After Ramón Castro made an out (a line shot to right that Newhan nearly blundered into a double play), rookie Carlos Gómez, playing his first week in the majors, singled to right. First and third, one out.

Willie sent up Beltran, the Mets superstar centerfielder to pinch hit. Dempster was already rattled, throwing more balls than strikes, and notoriously fiery manager Lou Pinella was starting to steam in the dugout. With a four-run lead, the Cubs let Gómez take second -- killing any chance for a game-ending double-play. Beltran has only three pinch hits in his career (in 15 at bats) and his hot start has been slowed by leg soreness, but he worked out a walk, loading the bases.

After a visit to the mound by Pinella wherein pitcher and manager were screaming at each other, Endy Chavez came up to bat, fought off some tough pitches and he, too, walked. Only his walk plated Newhan, cutting the lead to 5-2.

Willie surprised a lot of people, including Rubén Gotay, by sending up the backup infielder to hit for himself. Gotay was hitting .150 coming into the game but he'd already stroked a run-scoring single earlier -- leading to the Mets first and until the ninth, only run. The decision looked awful as Gotay (pronounced Go-Tie) went to 0-2 against Dempster.

“I’m not going to lie to you, I thought I was going to be pinch-hit for,” Gotay told the New York Times.

The something remarkable happened. The little infielder rewarded Willie's confidence in him and belted a clean single beyond the reach of slick fielding shortstop César Izturis, plating run number three. That was all Pinella could stand and he almost ran out of the dugout waving his left arm frantically to call on lefty reliever Scott Eyre to face Shawn Green. Willie countered by sending up David Wright to pinch hit - his first pinch-hitting appearance of his career.

The unwritten law about pinch-hitting is to go out their hacking and that's what Wright did, perfectly placing the first pitch up the middle and into centerfield. Cubs 5, Mets 4. Still only one out and the batter Mets cleanup hitter Carlos Delgado coming to the plate.

To say that Delgado, one of the nicest, coolest, most thoughtful guys to wear spikes anywhere, has been in a slump is putting it mildly. A home run hitter, he's only got three this season and his batting average has hovered around the Mendoza line all year.

But on a 1-0 pitch from Eyre, Delgado hit a sharp grounder between second and first and the Cubs sure-handed second baseman couldn't get to it and it bounded into right field for a single. The throw from right wasn't even close as Gotay came all the way around from second to score the winning run. Wow. Amazing. And thirty extra minutes on the workout machine for S.O.L.

It was the largest ninth-inning comeback for the Mets since May 23, 1999, when they scored five runs off of Curt Schilling to beat the Philadelphia Phillies.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have lost four of six and have posted a losing record since Roger Clemons announced he was coming back to New York to an adoring crowd at the House that Ruth Built. The Yankees are not in first place and at 18-21 are currently nine games behind the Red Sox (who still have the second game of a double-header to play tonight).

Friday night pits the young enigmatic Mets starter Oliver Perez against steady as she goes Andy Pettit. Perez has been as schizophrenic a pitcher as there is in the league, going win, loss, win, loss so far all season. Though his last outing was special, as he gave up just one hit in a win over the high-scoring Brewers. Pettit is 2-2 but is also coming off of a solid game, although the Yankees inability to put runs on the board lately, hurt him in what was a loss to Seattle.

Saturday it's Tom Glavine (4-1, 3.31) for the Mets going after career win no. 296 vs. Darrell Rasner (1-2, 3.28) and then last season Yankees ace Chien-Ming Wang (2-3, 4.54) pitches Sunday in the finale against the Mets John Maine (5-1, 2.15) who was the NL pitcher of the month for April, but has only one win so far in May.

NOTE ADDED: The Yankees manager Joe Torre announced today that he would not start Wang on short rest on Sunday. Instead, the New York Times reported that Tyler Clippard was removed from the game "after striking out the side in the first inning Thursday for Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, a strong indication that Clippard will start for the Yankees on Sunday."

Clippards, 22, is a righty who compiled a 3-2 record (2.72 ERA) for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He has 41 K's in 39 2/3 innings. He would be the seventh rookie and the 11th different starter to pitch for the Yankees this season. The Mets have started seven different pitchers this season.

The Mets lead the NL in hitting and pitching but this will be a real test for them, even against a Yankees team that (shhhh) isn't really that good. Both teams get up for the Subway Series (even if they claim they don't). They get into it because the fans seriously get up for it and everybody seems to play a little bit harder.

The Mets have big-time momentum and with the Braves waiting in the for an early-season critical series in Atlanta next week, I predict the Amazin's will take care of business.

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