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Well, the Mets just finished up a big 4-game series in Philadelphia, and I decided that I'd write my first solo, non-fantasy baseball-related article in about 12 years. Let's see if I remember how this goes. Oh, and I wrote this introduction after I wrote the article, because I felt I needed to warn you about some things. First, there are a couple of things in here which absolutely don't belong in a Mets-Phillies recap, but this article is Posnanski-like in its diversions (in style, not substance, I'm not 1/100th the writer that guy is), and you can just skip those things if it's not something your into. And second, although I use what appears to be a Dirty Harry-esque literary device here, I've actually never seen any of the movies. Of course, I can blame that on only being 20 (21 next Sunday, but that's not important). See, here I go again. I can't help myself.
I’m going to break this down, Clint Eastwood style. There was good, bad, and ugly for the Mets in their 3-1 series victory over the Phillies this weekend. Let’s jump right in, shall we? Shalln’t we?
First off, the obvious. The Mets won the series and are now only 2.5 games out of first in the mediocre NL East. Also, they’re over .500 for the first time in a month, with series at home against less than overwhelming opponents (3 games against the light-hitting but thoroughly spectacular pitching of the San Francisco Giants and then 3 against the crippled Colorado Rockies) before the All-Star Break. But, delving a little deeper, there’s positive signs everywhere for the Mets.
The starting pitchers for the Mets were just great in this series. Johan Santana, John Maine, Oliver Perez, and Pedro Martinez combined for 30 IP and only 7 ER. Most crucial to the success of the Mets is the ability of Perez and Pedro to pitch effectively.
Perez, after being largely ineffective for almost two months (from May 5 to June 24, he went 3-3 with a 5.96 ERA in 10 starts, walking 31 in 54.1 IP), he has put together 2 great starts. Last Sunday against the Yankees, he went 7 innings, giving up 1 run on 3 hits, no walks (very important), and 8 strikeouts. Then, against the Phillies on this Sunday, he again went 7 innings, and was again impressive, as he gave up no runs on only 4 hits, 2 walks, and 6 strikeouts. This change can (at least partially) be attributed to a change in his windup, a little hitch in his motion that serves as a timing mechanism. Dan Warthen, the new pitching coach for the Mets, convinced Perez to make this change, and it appears to have made a huge difference.
Pedro, let’s face it, has been awful overall this year. Coming into his start tonight, he had an ERA of 7.39 in 7 starts, with a 1.726 WHIP and 29 ER given up in 35 1/3 IP. But tonight, he was a different guy. His hard stuff was the same speed it’s been all this year (88-90 MPH fastball, with flashes up to 92), but he was finally able to locate his offspeed stuff, especially the curveball, which was very effective tonight. Of course, it’s also helpful to have an 8-0 lead. In any case, it’s a good start out of Pedro, the first one this year, and a welcome sign for those of us who realize that an ineffective Pedro means that there will be no playoffs in ’08 for the Mets.
Everybody knows about Fernando Tatis’ story, and his struggle to return to the major leagues. He hasn’t been great this year, but has been decent enough as a role player. His 12th-inning HR on Saturday night was fantastic, and it marked the first time this year that I’ve gotten worked up enough to yell at the TV (incidentally, the latest in 3 years that I’ve done that. In 2007, it was in May, when Endy Chavez won a game against Colorado with a walk-off drag bunt, and in 2006, it was pretty much every game from the first game on. I loved that 2006 team), and it is indicative of how strong the Mets’ bench is. With Ryan Church out of action again (more on that in a little bit), Moises Alou shockingly (I mean it, I’m shocked) on the DL for the majority of the season this far, and Luis Castillo operating on about a half a knee at this point (yeah, he just spent the last 2 years on the unforgiving turf of Minnesota, and his main attributes are his defensive range and speed. Let’s give him a 4-year deal!), the Mets have to be deep to overcome these injuries. In this series, the role guys really shone. Damion Easley, Chavez, and Tatis went a combined 20-41 in the 4-game series, which is just ridiculous production out of your bench.
Yeah, Reyes is kind of a punk. He sulks sometimes, doesn’t always focus, seems like a baby, tries to fight Keith Hernandez on planes, and has fallen way behind Hanley Ramirez in the contest for best shortstop in baseball. But he has really come on as of late. Several times this weekend he showed the outstanding defensive form that was developed in 2007, in particular making several plays on the 2nd-base side of the bag that were just fantastic. And his dynamic offensive presence has finally started to show, as he’s raised his batting average to a solid .300. He was on base a total of 9 times in 4 games, and while he didn’t make the All-Star team (somehow Miggy T made it over him, which is ridiculous), he’s definitely turned a corner in his season.
This is a special shout-out to Joe for his effort in Sunday’s game. He went 2 1/3 innings and gave up only one hit. With only Tony Armas available in the bullpen after the Mets depleted their pen to set up Billy Wagner (that worked out well), Joe needed to keep the game under control long enough to get a win for the Mets. And he was simply outstanding. I really like this kid.
Johan Santana’s Run Support:
Who would have thought that the only game the Mets would lose in this series would be the matchup between Santana and the immortal J.A. Happ (it’s true, I stabbed him once with a mini-harpoon. He just laughed at me.), he of the career 7.27 ERA? Well, technically Santana didn’t lose (that was Duaner Sanchez’s doing), but he hasn’t gotten a win since June 1st, and he’s starting to become frustrated. Of course, I’d be frustrated too if I had a 2.96 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 121 2/3 IP, but only a 7-7 record to show for it. If the Mets continue to not hit for him, he may increase the volume of his displeasure, which would be a very very bad situation.
You know, I was having a good day today. I made the top 10 in the Weekly User Report Thing (somehow), went and saw Get Smart today (which, by the way, I loved. It was hilarious, and just so it’s sports-related, Dwayne Johnson was hilarious in it. Steve Carrell was his usual very funny self, and I think Anne Hathaway is absolutely gorgeous. I may be in love with her. Critics didn't seem to like it, but then again, I think the idea of critics are stupid anyway. "Let's have somebody go watch this and tell me what I should think about it." That's the dumbest idea since, well, I don't know, I'm not good at comparisons. Let's just say it's the worst idea ever), and very early in the game the Mets were up 8-0. Of course, then the Phillies came back much of the way (which was not totally unexpected. They’re too good to be kept down the entire game), as will happen when you have Mr. Armas pitch for any length of time. When the game went to the 9th with the score 10-7, it became evident that Wagner would be entering the game, and I took solace in punching the wall (I took less solace in the pain it produced). As a respected member of this community said to me earlier, “he’s really a shell of his former self,” and I couldn’t agree more. I mean, he dialed his fastball up to 97 tonight, but that used to be his low-water mark, and his slider doesn’t have the consistent bite on it that it used to. As a Mets fan, I’ve never had good luck with Mets closers, and Wagner never makes me think that the game’s over. But hey, he’s the Mets only All-Star (even though Santana, David Wright, and Reyes all make better cases for the team), and good for him, I guess. I’d rather have him than another All-Star.
Ryan Church’s Medical Status:
Enough has been written about this, but I’ll still sum it up for you. Church had two concussions in short order, tried to come back from the second one too early, and was out about a month with post-concussion symptoms. Now, after returning for a few games, he’s out again with dizziness. And Omar Minaya says that at this point, they’re taking the decision of when to come back out of Church’s hands. Hey, Minaya; YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE THAT FROM THE START! Church is a professional athlete. He’s been trained since youth to want to play all the time, play through injuries, etc. He’s not a doctor, and especially not a head trauma specialist. He should have been shut down immediately after the second one, and a medical professional should have been the one to clear him. The Mets’ front office behavior this season, both with the Willie Randolph situation and this Church situation (with this one being much more serious) has been deplorable, classless, and utterly ridiculous.
Taking all this into account, while the Mets appear to be heading in the right direction going into the All-Star break, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them lose 4 out of 5 or 6 of 8. This team has been so damn inconsistent, it would be great to see them make a move on the Phillies in the next week. I'm not great at endings, so I'll just stop typing in the middle of this sen