Monday, April 30, 2007

So it begins...

Drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, listening to nimrods on the am radio go on and on about hockey, waiting and hoping that they say something about if El Duque is healthy enough to pitch. An add for the star-registry follows someone whose system will eliminate your credit card debt. Jose Valentin might also be headed for the DL- the Dailey News makes a brief reference to calling up Anderson Hernandez or Ruben Gotay…Gotay, I think I remember him getting a hit or two in Spring Training, that’s nice.

Well, it is a team of old men, and we all knew it would get here sooner or latter. [someone says that the Yankees would be justified in firing Joe Torre, someone else thinks they’d be crazy- they talk about this for a while… Torre won’t be fired] I kind of hoped that we could make it for another month or so, before dipping into the minor leagues and seeing things like a Chan Ho Park start… Tiger Woods wants me to get laser surgery on my eyes, a perky woman asks if I want to be a millionaire she offers to teach me how to sell things on the internet…

With El Duque we definitely knew it was coming, sooner or latter, and if the offense does what it’s supposed to (hit far, far better than they have for the last week) they could weather a month of Park. But an extended absence of Valentin might screw them completely. I really wish they had went and got a second baseman in the off-season. The good performances form Valentin were like finding a twenty that you didn’t know you had in your pants… it’s pretty cool, but shouldn’t really be the backbone of a long-term financial strategy. Valentin was just so freakishly and unexpectedly good- both at fielding his position and getting some hits. Particularly with all the ground-ball pitchers and the double play being such an important aspect of the Met's game so far this season, you dread going back to being defensively weak at second.

If Chan Ho Park knows what’s good for him he’ll pitch us a good one tonight: with Pelfery the way he has been, there are clearly starts on this club for a guy who steps up, and Park is getting the first shot at being that guy.

One factor in the tension between Mets and Yankee fans is stuff like this: I want to hear about Jose Valentin’s knee, but ‘Boomer’ just keeps on talking about weather or not Jeter should defend Torre to the press, and so why didn’t he defend A-Rod.

There was an interesting and slightly poignant moment during Saturday’s broadcast. Shawn Greene, along with Sele, Schoenwise, and Newhan had been to see the Holocaust museum (presumably while Reyes and Wright hit up the Air and Space Museum for freeze dried ice-cream), which led Ron Darling and Gary Cohen to discuss the different edifying sights in Washington. Darling praised the Vietnam memorial and spoke about the mass of names. He alluded to having lost two cousins in the war, and was starting to describe the experience of finding their names on the memorial, when Beltran got the Mets first hit of the game. Darling acknowledged the hit and said another sentence or so about the memorial while Beltran was running the bases, but then the baseball took over and he and Cohen began discussing Beltran’s hit, and he never brought up the Vietnam Memorial again.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

NL East Thoughts

In a season in which many landmarks and records are at stake- Tom Glavine closes on 300 wins, several players are approaching 500 home runs or 3,000 hits, and Bonds within easy reach of the all time home run record- one record that stands to be broken has not gotten that much attention: during Spring training, everyone liked the Nationals chances to break the Met’s single season record of 120 losses.

As a point of nostalgia and pride, it is the duty of every Met’s fan to hope that the loss record stays with the franchise, and to wish the Nationals well (we wouldn’t be Met’s fans if we found nothing appealing about an underdog). The terrible early years are a crucial part of franchise lore, and if the 1962 team were to stop being measurably the worst of all time, some of the magic would be taken away. It seems that the current team shares my nostalgia.

Fortunately, as of now, the Nationals are not on pace to threaten that record (they actually are currently posting a wining percentage only thirty-three points behind the Yankees)- but they are still a pretty awful baseball team. And while I appreciate the efforts that the 2007 Mets are making to protect the ’62 loss record, they have to move on from that and start beating the Nationals mercilessly.

One of the things that tells against the Nationals, is that, other than themselves, the division has the potential to be fairly competitive- certainly far more competitive than it was last year. The Marlins are probably not going to take anything, but they have an interesting mix of young talent, and the potential to win some games. The Phillies initial assessment of their position within the East seems to have been wildly optimistic, but they still have some guys who can pitch and some guys who can hit, and have the potential to do something as the season progresses. And, as always, the fiercest competition comes from the Braves, who have an improved bullpen and long, long, history of bringing out the worst in the Mets.

In fact, commentators have pointed out that success in the NL East is going to be heavily influenced by who can take the best advantage to their meetings with the Nationals and most effectively gouge wins out of the struggling ball club. This is even more important to the Mets than to their division rivals, since the Metropolitans got completely hosed by the schedule maker and will play every single American League team that made the playoffs last year- while other NL East teams dew opponents like the Kansas City Royals and ‘whatever little league team A-Rod’s kid plays for.’ The Mets have absolutely no wins to give away to the Braves and the Phillies, and they have to know that those teams are also going to be looking for wins from the Nationals over the course of the summer. When the Mets face the Nationals they have to realize that they are facing one of the easiest sources of wins they will see all year, and to know that when they don’t get those wins, their division rivals will.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Robot dressed up his hair like Pete Rose

I found today’s Achewood far more enjoyable than today’s Mets game. They have actually been onto the stoned softball thing for a couple of days now, if you want to go over to and check it out. Also, Achewood creator Chris Onstad’s blog, which you get to through the site, has a recent description of going to a Giants game, which is a decent read.

Achewood it pretty great in general. Graphically, Onstad is a master of showing a wide range of very specific emotions in characters who are made up of a few simple lines. And there is something about his ear for dialog and ability to create distinctive voices that is really special… and not ‘special’ like a team that gets beat 5-11 by the Rockies.
(You got to click on the cartoon to be able to read it, sorry. I’m new to the whole ‘image in the blog’ thing)

“You have to trust your [urine soaked] hands.”

Moises Alou attributes his recent success at the plate to trusting his hands. And, Mr. Alou, is there anything unusual that you do, regarding these hands of yours? Funny you should ask… In a 2004 conversation with an ESPN reporter, Moises Alou attributed his success in hitting without batting gloves to “urine therapy” or more bluntly, pissing on his hands, which he claims makes them harder, while preventing calluses.

After some internet research it turns out that, as a skin treatment, urine therapy is not entirely deranged. Urine contains urea, which is found (in synthetic form, they claim) in many skin creams. The thing, though, is that urea is supposed to soften the skin, rather than make it harder.

When Alou signed with the Mets, I was saddened and skeptical. Saddened, because his signing meant the end of Cliff Floyd, and skeptical, because, after the addition of Shawn Green, I felt that the team was set for aging out-fielders who hit a lot of homers in the late ‘90s. But Moises Alou is one hard-ass dude: he has been hitting over .300 and recovering from potentially career ending injuries for almost as long as some of the younger Mets have been alive; when asked if, like Julio Franco (who is 48 and lives on egg-whites), he had a special diet, he said he drank light beer; during the cold weather, when all the other Mets were wearing those cowls and looking like shivering ninjas, Alou was just hanging out in left field in shirt-sleeves.

So, while your urine, or my urine, might make skin softer, Moises Alou’s provides that perfect degree of callous-less hardness- ‘cause that’s just how tough he is.

Last night’s game, the season’s first foray into extra innings, was won on hits by bench players Damion Easley and Endy Chavez. Which begs the question, since none of the starters were hitting, why weren’t they brought in sooner? Also: GOD DAMMIT TO HELL, NEW YORK METS, WON’T YOU STOP STRANDING RUNNERS ON BASE? Although, if the next time Reyes goes 0-5, they still manage to win 2-1 after twelve innings, I’ll take it.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Some Thoughts

The problem with the Mets right now, is not so much the starting pitching, the bullpen, or the defense but that they aren’t getting the key hit with runners in scoring position. Several Mets have said as much themselves, but sports writers seem to love blaming Aaron Hielman.

While hanging out at the beer garden, and keeping half an eye on the Red Sox-Yankees game, my friend Andrew, a New Englander, became increasingly afraid that the Sox would come away with a win. He is not a sports person, but, having grown up in the company of Red Sox fans, his only desire from sports is that it bring those people misery. There is a basic similarity between this and my feelings about the Yankees- but the consensus is that Red Sox fans really do leave something to be desired. My boss, a Californian who attended Harvard, became a Yankee fan as a result of indignities that he suffered while attending a game at Fenway in an A’s hat.
Perhaps what Beantown really needs is a scrappy, yet historically incompetent, National League team, to distract them somewhat from their overbearing, history-rich AL franchise; to remind them that it is just a game, played at different levels of competence- and that charm, eccentricity, and heart can be nearly as rewarding as success. It’s a pity that the Expos didn’t end up in Boston.

I think it was nice of Major League Baseball to schedule rivalry series for both New York teams for the weekend Basketball playoffs started; it was as if they knew (and, lets face it everyone did) how miserably the Knicks would do, and that, come playoff time, New Yorkers could use some cheering up.

Apropos of the Knickerbockers, I would like to make it known that ‘Sam’s Mets Blog’ supports Coach Thomas. Basketball is definitely a second favorite sport, and I don’t have any particular team loyalties- especially since the Pistons lost Big Ben Wallace. But for a dilettante fan, the Knicks were a great team to be able to watch on cable during the crappy months where there is no baseball and seasonal affect disorder sinks its teeth in: they were amusing, scrappy, and it was easy to cultivate a low-intensity, love-hate relationship with them. I think Isiah Thomas did a nice job coaching the dubious players that he had- the irony, of course, being that he assembled these dubious players himself. Also, in Clyde Frazier they got by far the best of the “Just For Men” color commentators (sorry, Keith). I wish them luck, and hope they make the playoffs next year: but if the Mets are playing the Braves again when the games start, don’t count on me to be watching.

One last word about hoops: I predict that at least one of the three most heavily favored teams, the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, and San Antonio Spurs, won’t make it out of the first round.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

In Which a Sacrifice is Made by the Author

I get off work at 9 on the Upper East Side on weeknights, and live in Queens, so that puts me in a little bit of a bind for night games. Normally, I follow the first bit on Gameday, and then hurry home and am able to catch the last couple innings, and that is alright. But tonight’s game had me worried, not about the outcome, which never seemed in any particular jeopardy after the Mets put up four runs against Dontrelle Willis in the first, but about he zeros that kept coming up under the Marlins hits. If I took the subway home was I going to miss precious innings of the first no-hitter in Mets history? Well, almost certainly not, and earlier I might have accepted this, and gone home as I had been planning to do, straighten out the apartment, do some writing, and go to bed early. But as I was leaving work I realized I have a blog, god dammit, and anything that I missed would be the internet’s loss as well. So, much against my inclination, I went and got a beer at Phoenix Park.

Phoenix Park is an Irish sports bar on the Upper East Side. The food is actually good, and the bartenders are friendly, but it attracts the sort of young, and much less young, professionals who like to drink to excess on the Upper East Side in the presence of sports.

When I got to the bar, Maine was pitching and there was a runner on first. The bar was nearly packed, although this was clearly unrelated to the game. I tried to find out what had happened, but everyone who was watching anything was watching the Yankees. Someone told me that the bartender was a Mets fan, but when I finally got his attention to order a beer, it was obvious that he was too overworked to have seen much.

Without any particular warning, a woman climbed up on the bar and preceded to dance- at no point was her motivation for doing this in any way clear. She was dark haired, perhaps in her thirties; she was one of a small minority of women in the bar. She undulated to the music and encouraged her meeker, more awkward blond friend to join her. I had seen her around there before, drinking with the men who, unsatisfied, were hooting for her to take off her clothes.

Although she demurred on her friend’s requests, she was encouraged into increasingly sexual positions with a column over the bar. Glassy eyed, pudgy men in suites kept coming out of the back of the bar to take pictures with their cell phones and offer encouragement. At some point the Marlin’s hit a home run off of Maine, and someone said “there goes the no hitter” and went back to watching hockey- I latter realized that the no-no had been gone since I got there. The blond climbed onto the bar and they thrust their pelvises in each other’s general vicinity.

I watched another inning while I finished my beer, and reflected that, while I spend some time in some fairly low bars in Queens, that do not have much in the way of standards regarding temperance or human behavior- this was, at least for nine o’clock on a Wednesday, something of a first. And in places where my beer would have cost me four dollars, instead of six, I would not have had to worry about running into the dancers again, and coping with mixed feelings of arousal and disgust over a burger and a pint, or listen to their male friend’s illuminating discourse on finance, relationships, and the news, while wondering under what circumstances they looked at their cell phone pictures.

Monday, April 16, 2007

more El Duque

Twice now, I have made it into the bar near where I work with the Mets trailing by one, and gotten to watch the decisive inning. I liked the first time, last Monday, a lot better: the Mets put up seven runs to take the lead for last time. On Saturday, I arrived in time to watch El Duque’s nightmare inning, where he gave up two home runs, and than hit the pitcher and was ejected.

It was worth watching, actually, if only to see the generally calm Hernandez franticly arguing his ejection, and being restrained by Willie Randolph. El Duque’s complaint was that he had unintentionally hit the pitcher and was not retaliating for the home run; I suppose that it does him credit that he was mortified that his action was interpreted as malicious. On the other hand, El Duque had just hit the pitcher and given up two homers, and it is extremely hard to think that it would have been in anyone’s interest for him to stay in the game.

It raises some interesting questions about the psychology of athletes, particularly pitchers in intense situations. If you had been allowed to go onto the diamond and ask him, I am sure that El Duque would have told you with complete confidence that he knew what the problem was with his delivery, was not tired, felt fine, and was going to retire the next four batters who faced him, some of them on strike-outs. Everyone else watching the game, and a whole bunch of people listening to it on the radio, knew perfectly well that El Duque no longer had his stuff that outing and that there was no sane reason for him to stay in the game and keep on giving out hits to what might be one of the worst teams in the history of baseball- but El Duque, for all his experience, believed firmly that his ejection was an injustice and that, if given the ball, he would perform.

That level of confidence, and that ability to divorce one’s self from certain aspects of reality, to refuse to learn from immediate experiences, is essential to maintaining the mindset that can throw strikes with runners on base and the game on the line. If El Duque did not believe that he could retire every batter, he probably would not be able to retire any batters. Keeping track of reality, making adjustments to compensate for failings is why managers have jobs- perhaps the most important aspect of the managerial role is that they accept the burden of reality, so that every player is free to believe that they are either Babe Ruth, or Cy Young.

El Duque can be forgiven for thinking that he was in no trouble and was fit to stay in the game; he might even have been right. It is interesting, though, to wonder how far this mindset it extends, and to think about lesser players, whose contracts, salaries and playing time would give the lie to their excellence. Does Jose Lima believe that every pitch he throws is going to be a strike? Does he feel that every hit is a fluke, and that it is only a matter of time in each outing before he finds the adjustment that he needs and becomes un-hittable?

It’s raining in New York right now, but I don’t care- I just hope that it clears up in Philadelphia by the afternoon.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Two People Who Really Piss Me Of Right Now

1) writer, John Donovan: The guy did a peace on how Oliver Perez might have been successfully reclaimed and was going to be a key to the Mets future, actually mirroring thoughts that I had had myself. It was about two pages of glowing reports on Perez’s potential. There is a weird, unnatural joy in reading about how your favorite athletes are really very good. Reading this one, I was torn between being extremely gratified, since I have always liked Perez, and the strong feeling that putting this thing on the web a matter of hours before Perez’s next start was just jinxing the hell out of him. Perhaps, I should be grateful, since Donovan’s piece allowed me to enjoy a last couple of Perez-positive hours, before Ollie lost all concept of a ‘strike-zone’ and walked in the decisive runs in last night’s loss. A baseball fan is offered myriad instances of just how little connection there is between what is written on the web, and how well anyone actually does (and, of course, one bad start does not qualify Perez for permanent bum status, and hopefully Donovan will be proved right yet) - but the temptation, at least when they write things that you want to hear, is to go along with it. Reading Donovan’s bit on Perez was like dating a pathological liar with amazing tits: the depth of the desire to believe outweighs all instincts towards rational thought. And when, as they generally are, the ridiculous expectations are cruelly dashed, it hurts.

2) Whoever re-designed Gameday: following the game on Gameday is a little bit like drinking your own urine to avoid dieing of thirst: it will work, at least in the short term, but it is a situation that you don’t ever want to be in in the first place. At least the old Gameday got you accurate information and updated itself in a more or less coherent fashion. The current version looks a lot better: instead of the primary colors and sharp lines of old Gameday, this one has lots of shading and bubbles that make it look like it might be how they catch games on the Starship Enterprise. However, all the different aspects are rarely in agreement with each other: the graphic of the diamond will show runners on first and second, and the list of the at-bats in the corner will tell you that only one man came to the plate so far that inning; comparing the list of at-bats, to the line-up, and then checking the person who they are showing as hitting at the time, will reveal a batter or two that simply cannot be accounted for, at least until they re-appear after an update, leaving you to wonder if you are losing your mind. The old Gameday wasn’t flashy- and it forced you to realize that there was far more to the game than just a vaguely animated box-score, and to desperately wish that you were hearing it on the radio, but it got the job done. The update has essentially sacrificed coherence and brevity for a visual style that people three years from now will find repulsive. The fact that, as a culture, we routinely make that same decision is the reason our grandchildren will probably grow up speaking Chinese.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lastings Milledge

What I’d like, thanks for asking, is for Willie Randolph to give Lastings Milledge a start before he sends him down to New Orleans on Friday to make room for Mike Pelfry. On some level, Randolph should just do it for the fans: we seem to be generally interested in the kid and it would be nice to see him play a game or two before he gets traded off for some geriatric pitcher.

On the other hand, giving Milledge a start, and Green or Alou a day off, seems to be generally in keeping with Randolph’s philosophy, at least in regards to the relatively inexperienced members of the bullpen. A couple of times now, Randolph has drawn the ire of sports writers and fans for leaving untested relievers in the game in tight spots. The logic behind doing that, I believe, is that with their line-up and the vast majority of the season still to be played, the temporary damage done by a bad relief outing is worth risking for confidence that these relievers stand to gain from success, and the information that Randolph and Rick Peterson stand to gain from watching them compete against big league hitters in meaningful games. By a similar token, it would be valuable to see the “new, improved” Lastings Milledge in a major league game while the opportunity still presents itself.

On larger levels, Milledge poses an interesting question to the club. With super-sub Endy Chavez on the bench; Francisco Martinez and Carlos Gomez, two outfield prospects who collectively embody all the qualities of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and The Flash, waiting in the minors; and Beltran signed to a long term deal, there is not much long-term future for Milledge with this club. His value to the team, at this point, seems to be primarily as insurance in case Green or Alou gets injured- or someone else gets injured and they need to make a quick trade.

It all goes back to last season, when Milledge spent some time with the club and exhibited a “bad attitude.” His crimes consisted of high-fiveing fans in the stands after hitting his first home run, showing up late for a game, and a couple of mistakes in the outfield. Also, he did something during his September call-up to inspire someone to leave a note on his locker saying “Know your place, Rook.” [UPDATE: at some point over the summer it became generally accepted that the note was left by Billy Wagner]

To me, all of that seemed like a classic case of sports writers creating a story out of a series of trivial incidents merely to have something to say, something with which to fill their quota of column inches for the week. All of Milledge’s transgressions seemed in keeping with a guy who was twenty-one years old, playing his first handful of games in the majors. The club itself, at least publicly, never seemed concerned about his behavior; if there had been any better off-field story lines (Paul Lo Duca’s divorce was a little messier, Pedro Martinez took a month off to attend space camp, David Wright dating Paris Hilton) we might have never heard of Milledge as anything other than a prospect having a slightly disappointing first outing.

Opening the real can of worms, I can’t shake the feeling that the media’s perception of Milledge, a black guy, was racially charged. Milledge’s crimes, showboating and laziness, are the particular shortcomings that the media likes to subtlety associate with African-American athletes. Given the paltry evidence available to me, the problem with Milledge seems to have been constructed- and the fact that it was constructed around Milledge, and not someone else, likely has something to do with his race.

The amazing turn-around that Milledge has exhibited, losing all that weight in the off-season, exhibiting a better attitude, and working harder, seem like the natural maturation of a very young player learning the ropes and coming into his own. However, the way that it is written about, serves to emphasize his initial delinquency- which I am inclined to believe was slightly fictional in the first place. Neither Milledge’s attitude nor his performance would have had to have been very bad for a little experience and a little more maturity to have led to a significant improvement.

As for the note on his locker, it seems to me that the real question is not what he did to deserve it, but what is so weak and vulnerable about the order of the veterans that it could be threatened by a 21-year old kid, and needed to be enforced with an anonymous note.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Games 2-6

Since I last said anything about them, the Mets have been playing .500 ball, gaining dominant wins over St. Louis and then Atlanta, before losing to Atlanta twice. The two losses seemed mainly to do with breakdowns of their defense and bullpen, whereas the victories seemed defined by commanding offensive performance coupled with solid starting pitching. This is, more or less, what we are lead to expect from the team: we are told that their line-up is the most powerful in the National League, and team officials see this as mitigating any shortcomings from pitching and defense. When they all hit, the Mets are fairly close to unbeatable- but all offences are prone to periods of stagnation, and over the course of 162 games, the laws of probability indicate that there will be a bunch of them where they don’t hit, or don’t hit very much- and these are games that the Mets have a perfectly decent chance of losing, at least until Mota, Sanchez, and Pedro get back.

Looking back at yesterday’s game, it seemed obvious that Willie Randolph has been reading this blog, and took to heart my thoughts on the desirability of having David Wright hit in the two-hole. With Lo Duca taking the day off, Randolph had Jose Valentin (who did miserably) batting second, and Wright, same as ever, hitting fifth. Shawn Green had better be extremely careful.

Reflecting on today’s home opener, and the six games that preceded it, it seems that the thing that Mets fans should hope for most fervently is the emergence of either John Maine or Oliver Perez as the real ace on the rotation. This is in no way a criticism of Glavine or El Duque: both of them are, and have been, great pitchers and will be both useful and essential to the team this season. The best thing that can be said for either of the youngsters is that they have shown that they might, at some point, be capable of doing what El Duque and Glavine have already done: survive in the big leagues for many years as an unquestionably dominant pitcher. At least the potential to do this has been shown by both Maine and Perez, and the chance to see how they perform over a full season is one of the most exciting things about the 2007 Mets.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Annals of Baseball Weirdness

Perhaps the most unusual player in the history of the game, James Barron Grierson played his entire career in the minor leagues for the Yoknapatawpha County Furies, with the exception of a small handful of games during a brief call up to the Cardinals in the late fifties. As a result of a childhood trauma, Grierson suffered from multiple personality disorder, however, he was unusual even among people afflicted with that rare ailment, in that both of his personalities were baseball players. Jimmy was a left-handed batting outfielder, and J. Barron was a sinker-ball throwing right-handed relief pitcher. Although the managerial complexities that Greirson’s condition caused were numerous, the Furies were perpetually short staffed, and Greirson’s versatility was extremely useful and led them to accommodate him. And, while bringing a player on in a double switch for himself is not technically allowed by the rule book, the league in which the Furies played was a small one and not known for exacting standards in regards to regulations.

It was the short-stafedness of the Yoknapatawpha County Furies that led them to experiment with signing the Griersons, but the initial expectation was that he would be physically unable to perform at both positions, at least not on a regular basis. However, as his career progressed teammates, managers and fans were truly shocked at how completely unrelated the performance of the “two” players was. In fact, Grierson initially attracted the attention of the Cardinals when Jimmy went on a twenty-game hitting streak, while J. Barron was on the DL with a bad elbow. The Cardinal scouts were put-off when J. Barron returned and they began to grasp the complexities of the player, but, having a need in the outfield that they thought he could fill, they got Jimmy to agree to a short-term deal, and bribed the management of the Furies to fire J. Barron.

It was only in St Louis that the dual nature of Grierson’s life took a toll on his game: unemployed, J. Barron fell into a depressive alcoholic cycle, and this meant that Jimmy frequently ended up playing drunk, or extremely hung over. The final straw came after a series of opposing managers complained about the Cardinal outfielder who would approach them smelling of whisky and very earnestly ask if they had any openings in their bullpen. After a few weeks, in which he hit just over .200, Grieirson was released and returned to Yoknapatawpha County.

After some initial wrangling and hurt feelings, the Furies signed both Griersons a second time, and the two of them recorded several more decent years playing in Yoknapatawpha County, where his uniqueness had lead him to be beloved by the fans. Perhaps the high point of his career came during a game in 1961 in which Jimmy went three for four with a home run, and J. Barron pitched a scoreless eighth inning with two strike outs.

Grierson retired in 1964 and became the radio voice of the Furies for many years; J. Barron did the play-by-play and Jimmy provided the color.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

El Duque

More than anything else, the career of Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez is a reminder of the subjective nature of truth, the impossibility of correctly identifying anything using only the metrics derived from our rational experience of the world. Blinded by his arthritis, and hamstrings, and disputed birth certificates, we had forgotten that El Duque was also a ferocious competitor, possessed of a devious wealth of baseball savvy- an unquestionable asset to the team.

Don’t get me wrong, there is no reason to believe that last night was any particular indication of how the season will go: the Cardinals played terrible defense again, and were pretty bad over all- and until the Mets win the World Series or are eliminated from contention I’m not going to stop having nightmares about El Duque going down for the rest of the season. But the thing is that you just never know with El Duque. At one point last night Ron Darling said that it almost seemed as if El Duque would invent new pitches in the course of an inning- slightly altering his delivery, tinkering with the velocity, searching for the perfect pitch and keeping hitters perpetually in confusion. Of all the athletes in baseball, it is perhaps most fitting that we don’t even know when El Duque was born, because there is simply no way of quantifying or predicting what he brings to the game. Outside of the fear of injury, the only constant with El Duque is some sort of Faustian sympathy that he has with the game of baseball, perhaps most strongly evidenced by his occasional offensive contributions: the fact that he had never done it before was no reason to believe that he would not steal a base, the fact that he was a negligible hitter over the course of his career was no protection against last night’s two RBI double.

Anyway, it does seem silly to attribute much predictive merit to last night’s game, but, whatever happens over the course of the season it seems a reasonable assumption that El Duque is going to help keep in interesting.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Opening Day

In the 48 hours proceeding last night’s game I had worked myself on into a frenzied state of anxiety about the rotation and the bullpen. The low point came when I was on my way home on Saturday night, and got into a conversation with a fan on the N train, who shared my apprehensions about Wagner (he disagreed, however, with my assertion that we had to wait seventeen hours for the start of baseball, dating the start of the season to when he began ‘drinking and watching movies’ with his friends, which event was apparently scheduled for somewhat earlier). By Sunday I was capable of nothing except for watching the re-play of the 2006 division clincher on SNY, which, for some reason, I found fascinating.

Anyway, it is pretty difficult to want the opener to go much better than it did. Scoring five runs off of Chris Carpenter is always a good thing; six innings of one-run ball from Glavine is always appreciated. The defense, which has been maligned by sports writing sources lately, was fantastic- Reyes and Valentine showing themselves to still be double-play artists, Beltran with an excellent outfield assist, Lo Duca more than solid behind the plate, and, perhaps most pleasantly, a very nice diving catch from Alou. The bullpen, despite their best efforts, pitched three innings of scoreless relief.

Actually, for all the base runners they allowed, I am most impressed with the relievers. Particularly, since I skimmed a piece in the Daily News calling it into question, I think the choice to use Joe Smith for most of the eighth was excellent. What is best about it is that Willie Randolph is telling everyone who cares to listen that the individual win is less important to this club than the information about how one of their young relievers will perform under pressure. Randolph doesn’t need to play mind games with the Cardinals, and the opportunity to see what Smith would do against Albert Pujols (walked him) was more irreplaceable than the opportunity to notch up a W- Randolph seems to think that they will have opportunities to do the latter all season long.

As for Smith’s actual performance, there are a couple of ways of looking at it. He faced three batters and gave out a walk and a hit, and recorded one strike-out. On the other hand, barely out of college, in his first-ever big league appearance, he faced three batters from the reigning world champions, including the best hitter in baseball, and didn’t give up any runs, and that’s pretty good.

It seems sort of unfair that they have an off day today. But after waiting all winter for game 1, I guess I can wait until Tuesday for game 2- barely.