Friday, May 19, 2006

Yankees v. Mets- Game 1
By Ben Valentine

Sometimes you hate to admit you like certain things. It burns you upside because you know it’s wrong, you know it’s stupid and you know you have no business liking it. But you just can’t help yourself and you enjoy that guilty pleasure.

That’s the way I feel about these Yankees/Mets interleague series. It is technically just another series and I hate having to face the Yankees six times a year rather than say, the Orioles or Devil Rays. However, no matter how hard I try, these games do mean more; the victories are always sweeter and the losses more bitter.

Today’s game was interesting because of the strange dichotomy that seemed to be going on throughout. It terrible game and yet a great game all at the same time. The pitching was both atrocious and masterful. There was great defense and miserable fielding at other points. One performance could be interpreted two entirely different ways and make logical sense to both parties. It was that kind of night at Shea. So I’ll run it down bullet point.

-In the first inning Jeremi Gonzalez hands the Yankees two runs before an out is recorded; and that out is A-Rod being thrown out at second on his RBI single in what was a terrible call. He was definitely safe. Gonzalez doesn’t make life any better as he surrenders a double to Robinson Cano and one to the walking corpse of Bernie Williams. After the most pathetic sight I’ve seen in a while, the Mets walking Melky Cabrera intentionally, Gonzalez gets out of the inning by retiring Randy Johnson. It’s always a bad sign when a pitcher hits before he throws. I remark; well maybe the Mets getting shelled will be a good thing. If Gonzalez was mediocre it might just fool the Mets’ brass into thinking they can live with him. I begin clamoring for Aaron Heilman to start for the first time on the night, but definitely not the last.

-In the old days, as in from 1995-2005, surrendering four runs in the first inning when facing Randy Johnson meant you might as well pack up and go home. But not anymore. The Mets outdo the Yankees; plating three before an out is recorded. Jose Reyes walked… for the 17th time this year. Paul LoDuca had a bloop single and Carlos Beltran added a blast, and it was a shot, for his 11th homer of the year. The Mets couldn’t muster any more in the inning, but at that point it was clear the game was far from over.

-Gonzalez hands the Yankees another run in the third inning, but miraculously gets out of it thanks to a brilliant diving stop by Reyes on an infield single by Johnson. An out isn’t recorded, but a run was saved. Gonzalez got Damon to get out of it.

-Xavier Nady, or Professor X as I now like to call him, homers off Johnson. 5-5. It was a shot the opposite way that kept carrying. It really is a new game again. How far has Randy Johnson fallen that he’s pitching as poorly as Jeremi Gonzalez? Could Tom Glavine actually be a better pitcher at this point? Could Chien Ming Wang??

-Gonzalez is yanked after surrendering a lead off double to Jeter. He goes just three plus innings. Leave it to the Mets to trot someone out who could actually stink up the place worse than Jose Lima. Heilman to the rotation! In comes Darren Oliver, who surrenders the run on a single by Kelly Stinnett of all people, but ultimately is bailed out by a diving stop by Reyes, who keeps the ball on the infield and again fails to get an out. Still the runner gets held at third and Oliver gets the final out

-With David Wright on second and two outs, the lesser Matsui by the name of Kaz manages to battle the Big Unit, stroking a single through the left side. With Bernie in left, there is no way Wright is getting thrown out at home. The game is even again. Despite the fact Johnson is well over 100 pitches, Torre doesn’t get anyone up in the pen. This brings up an interesting point; if it wasn’t Randy Johnson on the mound, wouldn’t Torre have yanked him earlier? Perhaps the Yankees have to realize Johnson isn’t the same pitcher anymore and treat him the way they would treat, say, Shawn Chacon. Do you think Torre would have left Chacon in for another batter after the Matsui single?

-In comes Aaron Heilman. He’s got the chance to strut his stuff. And he does. Nine up, nine down. 3 perfect innings. And the dichotomy comes into play again. The Mets announcers, Gary Cohen and Ron Darling, agree this shows Heilman’s value in the pen. They argue he can come out and eat innings, keeping his team in the game when the starters falter. Many Mets fans agree with this. I however, subscribe to the fact that most times when your starter gives up six runs in 3+ innings, you are going to lose. You see most nights, you don’t score seven runs to win. Randy Johnson just happens to be pitching like a fifth starter right now. Maybe if Heilman were starting, the Mets would have been up 6-2 or something like that and could be just handing the ball off the Duaner Sanchez.

-Jose Reyes walks… again. That makes 18 this season. He walked 27 times all of last year. Reyes’ on base is still hovering around .320, which isn’t impressive. However, his average is down around .260, so having an on base which is nearly sixty points higher than his batting average is a huge improvement. It was a good night for Reyes overall; two great defensive plays, two walks, a stolen base, a hit and a run. Plus he made Robinson Cano look silly in a rundown. After Reyes was picked off, Cano thought he could run the speedster down and tag him out. But Reyes was faster than he anticipated, and before Cano could get the ball out of his glove to throw back to Johnson covering, Reyes was safe. Then he went and stole second on the next pitch. He is exciting.

-I hate the guy and always hope a pitcher goes up and in whenever he dives over the plate, but Derek Jeter made the defensive play of the night. Reyes attempts to steal and Stinnett’s throw is about four feet to the second base side of the bag. Somehow Jeter grabs the throw and in one motion tags Reyes out. How big was that play? Well consider that with Reyes’ speed and Johnny Damon’s tendonitis weakening his already poor arm, if that ball gets into center there’s probably greater than a fifty/fifty chance Reyes scores. And amazing play from Jeter, which he has a knack for. That knack is what covers up the fact he is a poor defender he is most of the time.

-Billy Wagner blows the Yankees away in the ninth striking out Giambi, A-Rod and Stinnett. You know it had to feel sweet for the guy, since he’s had to hear all of this hoopla with him being second to Mariano Rivera, so much so he can’t even use his entrance music.

-Joe Torre begins a field day of curious moves in the bottom of the ninth by turning to Rivera, despite the game being tied. Now I realize the top of the Mets lineup was up, but isn’t that why the Yankees are paying Kyle Farnsworth the big bucks? The reliever had little trouble in the eighth, so why not stick with him? Rivera gets Reyes but then gives up a double to LoDuca.

-Curious move #2- With the winning run on second in form of a slow footed catcher, Willie Randolph neglects to use Endy Chavez as a pinch runner. Chavez is a liability at the plate but might be the only guy in the league who could win a footrace against Reyes. So why isn’t he in the game? Ramon Castro is as good defensively if the Mets don’t score and isn’t much worse than LoDuca offensively. What has he got to lose?

-Curious move #3- After Rivera strikes out Beltran, Torre intentionally walks Carlos Delgado with first base open, something I do not understand. David Wright is the on deck hitter. He already has two hits in the game. With a runner on second, two outs and the Yankees’ terrible arms in the outfield, a base hit will win the game. In other words a single is just as deadly as a home run. If you’re looking for just a hit, not a homer, then the unquestioned guy the Mets want at the plate in that spot is Wright; he hits for a great average, goes the other way real well (an asset against Rivera’s cut fastball which breaks away from righties) and is hard to strike out. Plus Rivera is harder on lefties than righties. It made no sense except Torre got wrapped up in whole “he’s Carlos Delgado thing.” Mistake.

-Who says defense doesn’t matter? If Carlos Beltran were in centerfield, Wright’s game winning hit would have been a long out. Instead Johnny Damon misjudged it and could not get back in time to catch it. Mets win 7-6. What a game…

In closing I’d like to say repeat this:

Nine up. Nine down. Enough with Lima and Gonzalez. Start the man already.

Update: Lima time is over! The Mets have designated the righty for assignment. Break out the bubbly. No word on who takes his spot yet...

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