Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Delgado's Opening Day at Shea

Lost amongst the Mets spending the winter and spring talking about putting the collapse behind them and then playing Tuesday’s home opener against the Phillies in a way that was somehow more collapse-ey than anything that they did in September ‘07, was the fact that Carlos Delgado had himself what I can only imagine is a fairly unusual game-- hitting a home run (2-4 overall), turning an unassisted double play, and committing a costly throwing error—which, perhaps more than any other non-Heilman/ Schoeneweis factor, lost them the game.

Jason Werth led off the Phillies’ second with a single. The next batter hit the ball hard up the first base line, as Werth started, but only just started, to head for second. The ball came exactly at Carlos Delgado, who was standing between Werth and the bag, and turned the double play by grabbing the ball, stepping on first base, and applying a tag to Werth—all the work of about half a second, since, at the time the ball came to Delgado’s glove, Werth, ball and bag, were all within two feet of each other. The highlight of the play was Werth, whose move was theoretically to run towards second and get caught in a run-down, but opted instead to stand frozen just off of first base, his head turned down, his body askance, and one arm dangled downwards at an angel to cover his crotch: the position was probably the result of him being frozen in the first motions of running to second, but looked very much like some primal expression of embarrassment.

Delgado led off the Mets half of that inning and hit a towering home run to center field, giving the Mets a 1-0 lead. Delgado had been having a seemingly good start to the year, hitting for some ridiculous, small sample-size average, but most of his hits have been singles, and pretty much attributable to a run of good luck on balls put in play. This was an old-school Carlos Delgado monster shot, and it was really great to see. At the same time, Jamie Moyer is no John Smoltz, and it is important to remember that almost all of what the Mets accomplished, and didn’t accomplish, came against the only active MLB player older than Shea Stadium.

In the next inning, Delgado was part of the sequence that scored the Mets second run. Beltran had drawn a one out walk, and moved to second on Delgado’s single. Pagan then got an infield hit on a questionable play by Utley, and Beltran scored on a Ryan Church groundout. Moyer then intentionally walked Brian Schneider to load the bases and struck out Oliver Perez. Perez’ at bat included the oddest attempt at bunting for a hit: as Moyer released the ball, Perez quickly swung the bat into the position used to bunt, and, as the ball reached the plate, dropped the bat and began to sprint towards first without awaiting the results of the ball/bat encounter—they missed each other completely and Ollie took a strike.

In the bottom of the seventh, Ryan Howard faced Scott Schoeneweis with the bases loaded and one out-- Chase Utley was the runner on first. Howard hit a ground ball that Delgado fielded, as the runners went in motion. Delgado threw the ball to Jose Reyes at second. Ideally, Reyes would have tagged second, getting out Utley, and then tossed the ball back to Delgado at first to get out the slow moving Howard and end the inning. Delgado’s throw, however, hit Utley square in the back and then bounced into the outfield, allowing both the runners ahead of Utley to score, and leaving runners at first and second with still only one out. Those two runs tied the game, and Utley scored latter in the inning, to give the Phillies the lead. Utley was running outside of the base path when he was hit by Delgado, and while the thing was obviously a rotten break, it was also the result of sub-optimal defense by Delgado and Reyes- the latter should not have positioned himself with Utley between him and Delgado. Oddly, Utley had reached base by being hit by a pitch: it was the third time he had been hit that day (although the first two had made more contact with his uniform than with actual Chase Utley), tying the major league record for HBP in a game.

So, when was the last time that a player turned an unassisted double play, hit a home run, and committed a run-scoring error in the same game? And what does it tell us about players who accomplish this feat? Probably not very much…although I’d be pretty impressed if anyone has done it twice.

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