Screw the post-season, the Mets are making history. Think about it: teams make the playoffs all the godamn time; someone does it nearly every year. No team in the history of Western civilization, has ever, even once, failed to make the playoffs, while holding a seven game lead in mid-September; the Mets have a really good chance at being the first. They are not satisfied with routine, or traditional achievements, they are striking out for new, never-before-accomplished goals, opening new frontiers of failure.
You knew that they were kind of screwed when Minaya sighted Philip Humber’s work in the college world series as a reason to feel confident giving him the ball for his first career start in a critical game in a Pennant race. That’s sort of like if the good guys were in a Martial Arts competition and they decided that the guy that they would send to fight the Black Ninja would be the guy who was really good at “Mortal Combat.”
Actually, Minaya’s college world series line about Humber isn’t as dim as all that, and gets at one of the arguments against clutch performers: major leaguers are the elite, and represent a miniscule fraction of aspiring athletes-- to even be considered to appear near a major league baseball team, you need to have proven yourself on all other level’s of the sport, you have to have already faced pressure and shown that you can handle it. It is not as if, at the time that it happens, pitching in a high school championship is more intense, for its participants than pitching in the major leagues, or a pennant race. In fact, the highschooler (or collegian, or little leaguer) is in some ways under more pressure, because they know they need a good performance in order to ever be considered for a gig in the majors. It seems sort of ridiculous that there could be ball players who advanced through the minors, oblivious to their surroundings, coasting completely on natural talent, and feeling no sense of urgency until they end up in a critical situation in the majors. Once you’ve made it to the major leagues things are kind of all-right, even if the Post calls you a choke artist. First off, you get to call yourself a major leaguer and then even Joe Smith makes a couple hundred grand a year. He is a year younger than I am, the losing pitcher in last night’s game, and he could still afford, if he was so inclined, to hire me as his personal sub-sub-librarian.
Unfortunately, I suspect that the decision to go with Humber had less to do with the an understanding of the flaws in the concept of clutch and more to do with a desire to ape the successes of the Yankees that has been with the Mets ever since they hired Casey Stengal (also, see Matsui). Someone in the front office was looking over at the Bronx and happened to notice the success that they were having with unproven, young arms; they formed a committee, looked over some scouting reports, and, by the last week of the season, decided to give it a shot. In fact, I can imagine the conversation pretty clearly:
Omar Minaya: Willie, it’s ok, we’ll let you use Humber on Wednesday, but you have to follow the Philip Rules.
Willie Randolph: um…ok…Philip Rules?
Omar: Yeah, the Philip Rules.
Willie: Right… um…what are the Philip Rules?
Omar: uh…well… how about putting him on a pitch count?
Willie: Rick Peterson’s the pitching coach, fucking everyone is on a pitch count.
Omar: and…hmm… how about he gets, like, eight days between starts or something?
Willie: Well, the seasons only lasts another five days…
Omar: Right. So don’t use him again for another eight days.
Willie: Yeah, you got it, shouldn’t be a problem.
Omar: So I have your word that you’ll stick to the Philip Rules? Even if it causes tension in the clubhouse?
Omar: and do you…do you think you could do something for me? You think, when you talk to the media, you could maybe mention the Philip Rules to them? Sort of explain what it’s all about?
Willie: um…no. I’m not gonna do that.