Friday, July 20, 2007

Let's Go Mets

The Game, Healdsburg, CA July 2007
It's the second half the baseball season. The All-Star game is over and the division leaders are in place and now it's time to separate the contenders from the pretenders, time to see who's for real and who's going to be playing golf come October.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that S.O.L. is Mets fan central so over the course of the rest of the season, I'll mostly be talking about my boys from Flushing.

It's true I've been down on my favorite team for a few weeks. After a really great season where they established themselves as the team to beat in the National League, stalling only one game from getting to the World Series, they have sputtered and struggled and completely confounded me.

Injuries have been a problem, yes but they don't explain everything. The Mets have been without three starting pitchers, four outfielders and two infielders for long stretches of the season, not to mention two important relief pitchers. But the poor play has been mostly mental. Last year, the Mets won games with a precision that was impressive. They played great defense, their starters pitched well and they got big hit after big hit. This year, it feels like they've lost their focus.

Earlier this month, they got swept by the Colorado Rockies, a young, improving club but no where near as good as the Mets should be. At various times this season, key offensive players have struggled badly. When Carlos Beltran was hot, Carlos Delgado couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. When José Reyes was getting on base, Paul Lo Duca and David Wright couldn't get him home.

But since the All-Star break, the Mets have begun to put a run together. They took three-of-four from a lousy Cincinnati team and even as they lost two-of-three in San Diego, they played well in all but one of the games. Tonight, they took their second in a row in a four-game series against the Dodgers -- the same team that swept them in June.

As usual with the Mets, however, there is bad news mixed with the good. They have lost yet another player. Starting second baseman José Valentín fouled a ball off his shin in last night's victory over the Dodgers in Los Angeles and is expected to miss at least six weeks with a broken tibia.

The silver lining here might be in the body of young backup second baseman Ruben Gotay, who is hitting .354 in limited playing time but has been impressive in getting important hits at big moments. Gotay was in the middle of the Mets five-run, ninth-inning comeback against the Cubs in May, for example. Can he handle the load as an everyday player. For now, it appears he'll be given a chance to show what he can do, at least until Damion Easley returns from bereavement leave.

The good news is the Mets won two games this week in very different ways. Thursday they took a six-run lead before taking the field in Los Angeles and held on through a wild game for a 13-9 victory. Tonight, behind a wonderful effort by starting pitcher Oliver Perez, the Mets won 4-1. I love it when the Mets win in Los Angeles for a lot of reasons, not the least of which I’ve seen the Mets play at Chavez Ravine more times than anywhere else. Being a fan of the visiting team will always draw the ire of the hometown crowd but it’s worse when the fans don’t seem to understand or even care about baseball. Yes, I’m generalizing but still, it was in Los Angeles when a fan yelled balk to a pitcher when there was no one on base and every single Dodgers game I’ve been at, the stands have been filled with bouncing beach balls, more often than not when there is actual action on the field. One day some knucklehead is going to be beaned by a foul ball because he was too interested in batting around a fucking beach ball than paying attention to the game. No doubt in my mind this will happen.

Saturday’s game will be tough for the Mets as they face the Dodgers best starter in Brad Penny. He’s 11-1 this season but has a piss poor record against the Mets (a 5-plus E.R.A.) and I’m hoping the stats bear up. There is one other interesting matchup between Penny and Mets rightfielder Shawn Green. Back in June, Penny accused Green of either stealing signs (either while he was on base or during an at-bat when he was peeking to see where the catcher was position).
In the long and fascinating Unwritten Rules of Baseball book, it’s consider old school to steal signs from the base paths but a batter who looks down at the catcher while he’s in the box, that for whatever reason, is a no no. Green is widely considered a smart, old school player who plays by the rules but something riled up Penny – and the Dodgers. In game one of the series, Dodgers second baseman Jeff Kent (another old school veteran) clearly said something to Green when he cruised into second for a double. I wouldn’t be the house on it, but it sure looked like Green used a few choice words in response.
In any case, it sets up an interesting scenario for Saturday’s nationally-television game. Sure be fun watching what happens.

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