Monday, July 10, 2006

Free Baseball II: The Double Header
By Ben Valentine

Sometimes you can’t pass on a free lunch, no matter how dreadful some of the details surrounding it maybe.

When my mother offered Friday to take both me and my sister to the Mets doubleheader Saturday, it was something I could not refuse. With Mike Pelfrey making his first major league start, and having declared how important it was, I simply could not miss the opportunity. Plus it was a rare chance to go to a game where I wasn’t footing the bill for my ticket. This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy my mother and sister, but the latter is your typical “I love baseball because I love David Wright” type. The thought of being subjected to eighteen innings of that made me cringe.

But… Mike… Pelfrey… cannot pass it up. I want to see him first hand so I can write about it for Sportszilla.

I had seen one highly touted Mets prospect debut before, the aforementioned Wright. It was against the Expos and the night for Wright wasn’t pretty--- an 0-4. Of course he’s rebounded since then so when Wright’s inducted into the Hall of Fame twenty years from now, I can say to my kids “I saw his first AB in the bigs.”

(Trivia: Who was the Expos pitcher who started that game? Who was the Mets pitcher? I’ve mentioned it before in this space. But if you know me, there must be a reason I’d remember it. That’s your hint! Guess away.)

Still, I hoped Pelfrey would do better, though I had to curb my optimism. The reports I had seen said he was just a one pitch pitcher right now, that being a sinking fastball. It was good enough to dominate AA, but would it fly here? Hopefully not, as he’d be probably taken yard a lot he gave up lots of fly balls. As I said, I had to see. So, waking up early after getting to bed at five AM Saturday morning, me, my mother and sister got out the door a good hour before game time. And here’s what happened in my eight hour baseball day.

-Rule of thumb; when you’re late, someone or something will go out of their way to make you later. Making a run to Subway for food, as we’re going in, I notice two women, one pregnant, entering. I joked, “quick, we’re in a rush, get in front of the pregnant woman before she orders out the store,” never figuring that I’d actually be victim to an actual cliché. Well ten minutes and fifty bucks worth of subs later, I finally got to place my order.

-We got to the game in the top of the second, just after Miguel Cabrera jacked his 15th homer of the season off game one starter John Maine. A week ago, I called David Wright the best player in baseball under 25. I was wrong. Cabrera, who is six months younger has done more and is currently out producing him. Guess he sure showed me, huh?

-Being of mixed ethnicity and always a fan of humorous things that might be considered risqué, I posed a question to my sister as we entered into the stadium; who has the most white-bread, waspy name? Marlins’ outfielder Josh Willingham, Jets’ QB Chad Pennington or Bengals’ QB Carson Palmer? My sister and I agreed on Chad. What do you think?

-My mom joins us and I ask her the same question as Willingham steps up. She disagrees with us, and goes with the Marlins’ left fielder. Our conversation is interrupted as Joshua deposits a Maine pitch over the left center field wall. 2-0 Marlins. Guess he showed us who’s in charge. I scribble in my note pad: “White Power!!”

-Five years from now when the Mets bring in Miguel Cabrera and have him play the outfield, people will swear David Wright “is more clutch.” They will conveniently forget games like today. In the 5th inning, Marlins starter Josh Johnson manages to walk in not one, but two runs consecutively. At 100 pitches, he’s absolutely gassed. He just issued a free pass to the walking corpse that is Julio Franco, who had to pinch hit for Carlos Delgado due to the latter’s injury. (More on that later) Up steps Wright. Everyone in the ballpark expects a bases clearing double. Why? He’s clearly “clutch”. Joe Girardi, for some reason, decided not to go to the pen. Wright falls behind 0-2, gets the count even and then flies out to left. Inning over.

The lesson? Even the best players in baseball fail two thirds of the time.

-I’ve often asked people who come with me to games what their “at bat music” would be. You know, the music that plays whenever a player steps up to the plate. Well for Hanley Ramirez, it should be Tom Petty’s “Free Falling.” He was hitting in the .300’s a month ago. Now he’s down into the .270’s. Since he’s plays the game similarly to Jose Reyes, or at least the Reyes of a year ago, I nickname him “Jose Reyes Jr.”, despite the fact he’s just six months younger than the Mets shortstop.

So what does Ramirez do?

He homers to left field. 3-2 Marlins.

I’ve got to stop making fun of Florida players.

-An emotional moment; despite being spiked the night before, Reyes emerges from the dugout to pinch run for Franco. The fans go absolutely wild as the 23 year old, who will likely miss the All Star Game because of the injury, risks further harm as he attempts to draw the Mets even. I love the guy and yet I hate him; what good is one game if Reyes busts his hand up further trying to score from second?

-After LoDuca strikes out, Castro comes up trying to get the Mets even. The guy in front of me is screaming for Reyes to run; despite the fact it is a completely unnecessary risk. Reyes is scoring on any hit to the outfield with two outs, and what happens when he slides into third? Well, Reyes runs and does slide into third. The ball was fouled off and the runners must return. Thankfully, Reyes isn’t hurt. Castro eventually grounds out. Despite the fact that LoDuca struck out and Castro grounded out, the guy in front of me is still blaming Willie for not sending the runners. I get on Willie for a lot here, but this one was not deserved.

-Joshua charges in for a short fly ball and collides with Junior Reyes. Willingham shakes it off quickly, but Ramirez is down for the count. The trainers come out and take some time to look him over. I’m guessing concussion. But he stays in the game. We’ll see if he plays game two.

-Lefty reliever Taylor Tankersley enters the game for Florida. Seriously, do the Marlins lead the league in “name alliteration?” They’ve got Alfredo Armezaga in center, Tankersley in the pen and Josh Johnson in the rotation. All that and a guy named Joshua Willingham in left. How can you hate on this team?

Tankersley shuts down the Mets. Apparently, I didn’t learn my lesson from Willingham and Ramirez.

-Tempers flare. Carlos Delgado was nailed in the hand by Johnson in the second inning and eventually had to come out. Cliff Floyd was hit by Tankersley in the eight. So come the ninth, Duaner Sanchez throws his first pitch at Cabrera’s backside and it connects. Warnings are issued as benches clear. Miguel Olivo is looking for blood and has to be restrained by umpires and coaches. I’m looking forward for my chance to see my first live brawl ever. In all my years of watching baseball, I’ve never seen a brawl happen live, on TV or otherwise. But cooler heads prevail, Cabrera takes his base and the game continues.

Josh Willingham strikes out on a borderline pitch. He turns back to the umps and starts complaining. My guess at what he said: “Do you know who my father is?”

Oops I did it again. Guess Joshua goes deep in the second game too.

End of the inning, the Marlins don’t score. On his way back to the dugout, Miguel Cabrera says something and gets run. This ironically enough, is probably good for the Marlins since he is a butcher at third. Armezaga comes in from center to play third. How often do you see that?

-Mets go down quietly in the ninth and lose game one. That’s two straight losses to the Fish. Not pretty, though this one was a tough one. Maine pitched fairly well, but was let down by a miserable offense which is struggling. Beltran and Wright are slumping. Reyes and Delgado are hurt. Valentin is returning to Earth. What if Pelfrey gets shelled in game two?

-With a half hour to kill, I call both Zach and David to mention that I’m at Shea for Pelfrey’s debut. Hey, it’s what sports fans do. I only get David but even between games it’s too loud for me to hear him.

-Pelfrey emerges from the pen and gets a loud ovation from the remaining crowd, which was said to be 41,744 at the start. Surprisingly, many left after game 1. Wasn’t Pelfrey the big story today?

-Opposing Pelfrey is Ricky Nolasco, a talented young arm whom I picked up to start this week for my fantasy team. Well he got shelled by the Nats on Monday, so I’m hoping for better. The ideal result? 1-0 win for the Mets.

-Pelfrey delivers his first pitch for a strike. The crowd goes wild. Seriously, we’re begging for someone to make us forget Scott Kazmir, who, is pitching against the Yankees later that night. Someone in a paper or news show will make the connection and make a comment more vicious than this observation. Mark it down.

By the way, Ramirez is in the lineup for game two but Willingham is not. The Mets are safe, for now…

-Tough times for Pelfrey early. Armezaga reached on an infield single, which was quite close at first. After picking up his first strike out in the form of Junior Reyes, he nips the jersey of Dan Uggla. Part of me hopes Uggla will charge the mound at the 6-7 rookie, but that would have just gotten them both ejected. Cabrera comes up with two on. You know you’re going to find out what this kid is made of.

Ball one. Not good.

Ball two… even worse.

But what’s worse than that? Ball three. Now what? Do you come in to one of the most feared hitters in the game with a fastball, after throwing three out of the zone?

He does… and Cabrera hits it to short. 6-4-3 twin killing. Inning over. That my friends, is guts. A sign of things to come?

-More love/hate: fantasy baseball. I never like anything to damper my rooting interest in the team I love. So as the Mets proceed to destroy Nolasco in the first two innings to the tune of nine runs on six hits and three walks, I’m happy. But I’m also watching my fantasy team’s WHIP and ERA get single-handedly destroyed.

I call my co-owner Lance Medow, and apologize for picking up Nolasco. I also tell him that the next fantasy baseball move is his because I’ve lost all credibility. The Marlins’ righty only gave up 16 runs this week in two starts. I need five John Lackeys just to make up for one week of Ricky Nolasco.

-By the third inning, it’s clear the game itself is over. The question now is whether Pelfrey can persevere for the win. It’s 9-2, but it’s been a mixed bag from the top prospect. His control has been an issue, but he’s generating ground balls like crazy. The Marlins did not put a ball in play in the air in the first two innings. Thanks to a David Wright throwing error, they still got two runs. I’m not sure I’ve seen Wright play worse than he has in these two games.

-Pelfrey finally gives up a fly ball, a pop out by Ramirez. Later on he is nearly killed by new Marlins pitcher Jason Vargas, who shoots one back up the middle. Pelfrey catches it on a line. Also in the fourth inning, he finally throws his breaking ball. In fact he throws four straight to Uggla, and sets him down for his third K of the afternoon.

-The fifth inning rolls around with Pelfrey over 90 pitches. Normally he’d be done. But the Mets want to get him the win. Three balls are smoked off him to the outfield. But guess what? All three get caught. Go figure. The Marlins had five hits off Pelfrey and four were ground balls that found the right spot. The four hardest hit balls were outs. Guess that’s why they tell you to hit em where they aient.

-The onslaught continues; the first two innings were led by Jose Valentin’s grand slam and bases clearing triple. Now Cliff Floyd homers. He’s having a huge day for my fantasy team; on my bench! Meanwhile I look up at the Houston/St.Louis game. With the Astros blowing a two run lead in the ninth, I can only assume that means Brad Lidge has blown another save. Beautiful. My fantasy team is in shambles. They’re the Anaheim Angels of the league, lots of hype, big players, John Lackey one hitters, but god awful in actuality. Too bad we don’t also play in as crutty a division as the AL West.


-Two things about Jason Vargas: first, he looks like a good hitter. I looked up at the score board and noticed he’s batting .357 this year. They should consider him or the D-Train over Reggie Abercrombie and his .622 OPS in center. Two, Vargas is apparently from Seattle, Washington. Normally I don’t care, but since I’ve been friends with Zach, I notice things like that. But hey it works both ways. He now agrees with me about Jessica Biel’s stunning looks. Was there really any debate about her beauty anyway? (Plus it gives me an excuse to use a photo of her, which is a reward for you guys who stuck with this thing this long. If I have any female fans, I apologize. You'll just have to make due with the two player pics from before)

-The rookie parade continues: Henry Owens makes his second appearance for the Mets. He throws gas. But I’m not all that impressed as he struggles with his control. Still he pitches his two innings and saves the pen some.

-The Mets fans in left start chanting Cliff Floyd’s name. Then after he acknowledges them with a wave, they do the same for Beltran. Apparently, they’ve taken a cue from the bleacher creatures in the Bronx. The players seem amused, especially Endy Chavez. When’s the last time a .270 slap hitter ever heard his name said by 20,000 fans without the word “sucks” following?

-Paul LoDuca is apparently slow. Despite getting his name chanted for a good inning, including during his AB, he never acknowledges the fans. Guess he’s never been to the Stadium huh? Well in a blowout like this, it’s all in good fun. I hope someone told him how it works though. We don’t get to find out; Eli Marrero, AKA the guy who the Mets got for Kaz Matsui, comes into catch.

-I realize that with the score 17-3 in the eighth inning, the Marlins have incredibly used just two pitchers, Nolasco and Vargas. It isn’t as if Vargas has been good as he’s given up eight runs himself. But he’s thrown 100 pitches! A complete joke. But hey, with Nolasco long gone, I might as well sit back and enjoy it all.

-Josh Willingham: Human wrecking ball. After trashing Junior Reyes in the first game, he nearly collides with Miguel Olivo on a fly ball in the eighth inning in game two. Isn’t just like privileged kids; running around without looking at what they’re doing and hurting others. Then they get up and walk away unscathed while the others suffer the consequences... I mean… baseball… yeah… 17-3…

-Aaron Heilman enters. Why? I guess someone had to pitch the ninth. Wasn’t Jose Lima available? Even he couldn’t give up that big a lead in three outs.

-Mets win! I remember why I don’t often jump at doubleheaders. I love baseball, but six plus hours in a stiff plastic chair does wonders to your backside. Hey, where were those runs in the first game? Anyway, we get what we all came to see, Pelfrey getting his first “W” in what we all hope will be a 15 year career with the Mets. This makes it a lot more successful than Wright’s debut. By the way, the answer to the trivia question at the beginning?

John Patterson for the Expos, Jae Seo for the Mets

Are you really that surprised?

(For those of who who are new to the site and want to know what the first edition of "Free Baseball" was, click here)

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