Many Drinks Were Needed As Mets Won

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor

The Mets play beautiful baseball sometimes, throwing jabs from all angles until their opponent is ready to drop at a touch. Other times they just throw bombs, leaving themselves open if it will help them land their shots.Yesterday they didn't play beautiful baseball. It didn't matter. They hammered the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the game was really nowhere near as close as the final 6–5 score would lead one to believe.
For the Mets supporter, though, the way their team won should be as encouraging as the victory itself. In the last week of the season, ace Pedro Martinez, whom most had assumed would shake off the injuries that had ruined his season and dominate October, went down with a rotator cuff tear. Tuesday, his replacement, Orlando Hernandez, went down with what was announced yesterday as a calf tear that will sideline him for the duration of the postseason. Down with arguably the greatest pitcher of all time; down with two of the greatest playoff aces of all time; in with John Maine, a gawky right-hander who entered this season with a 6.60 ERA and a reputation as a finesse pitcher without any finesse.
Many a drink was needed to brace the nerves of the Mets fan before the first pitch of yesterday's game, not just because the unproven Maine was on the hill, but because manager Willie Randolph's signal flaw in his two years in Flushing has been his reluctance to take his starters out of the game. Everyone who's watched so much as an inning of Mets baseball this year knows that the winning strategy for the Mets will be to hope for five solid innings from the starter and go to a superb bullpen as early and as often as possible. It wasn't clear if Randolph shared the belief. After yesterday, no one needs to worry.
Maine was more than fine in the biggest moment of his career. He wasn't throwing as hard as he sometimes does, but he was extraordinarily aggressive in throwing strikes, and he kept his composure after a near-disastrous second inning in which he threw 32 pitches, coming right out in the third and retiring the side in order. No one would have blamed Randolph a bit if he'd given him a chance to pitch out of a jam in the fifth inning, in which, after giving up a single, a bunt, and a walk, he faced the heart of the Dodgers' order with one out and men on first and second.
As it turned, though, Randolph agreed with the masses about what he needed out of his starters — acceptable performance, and nothing more — and went to the bullpen, bringing in specialists Pedro Feliciano and Chad Bradford to get the last two outs of the inning and preserve a tenuous 2–1 lead. It was smart, aggressive managing that showed the superficially placid Randolph feels the same sense of urgency as the fans, and his substitutions through the rest of the game — Guillermo Mota for two innings, Aaron Heilman for one, and Billy Wagner for the save — were exactly what were needed. In a tight game and in horrible circumstances, Randolph did his job perfectly.
If the performance and management of the pitching staff was issue no.1 coming into the game, issue no. 1A was the heart of the order. Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, and David Wright came into the game collectively cold and, in the case of Beltran and Delgado, injured. What would they do?
Unsurprisingly, they killed the ball. Beltran is exceptional at every phase of baseball, and with his swing not quite right, he still managed to draw three walks and score a run. Wright played classic David Wright baseball, putting the Mets up 4–1 in the sixth inning with a beautiful opposite-field flare and putting them up 5–4 in the seventh with a cue shot off his knuckles, all wrist strength and quick timing. He may have been cold the second half, but Wright showed about as much terror of the postseason pressure as Derek Jeter did in going 5-for-5 Tuesday night.
The story of the game, though, was Delgado. In his very first postseason game, he went 4-for-5 with a home run and a beautiful fake-out of rookie catcher Russ Martin that put another run on the board. What was best, though, was the calm professionalism of his hits, three of which were straight singles right up the middle.If you talk to 100 baseball players, you'll hear 100 talk about not trying to do too much and staying within yourself, and if you watch them you'll see about 10 of them actually doing that. Delgado didn't try to hit the ball 1,000 feet, he just tried to hit it, and in so doing he did exactly what he was brought to New York to do: He won a big game with his bat.
The Mets made mistakes yesterday. Mota allowed the Dodgers to tie the game because he fell in love with his change-up, and second baseman Jose Valentin gave the Dodgers the opportunity to tie it with an overly aggressive attempt to get the lead runner on an infield dinker rather than taking the easy out at first. Randolph probably shouldn't have allowed Mota to bat with two outs and the bases loaded. Wagner did nothing to reassure those who aren't quite convinced he's a great closer when he gave up a run in the ninth. And above all, the Mets might not have won this game had J.D. Drew and Jeff Kent not made one of the silliest baserunning blunders ever seen, when both were thrown out at home plate on one play — a play that took perfect timing from Valentin and a great throw from right fielder Shawn Green, who had an otherwise awful day in the field, watching several catchable balls whistle over his head.
That's all fine. The Mets took some heavy shots but they gave worse than they got. Delgado and Cliff Floyd homered off the homer-proof sinkerballer Derek Lowe; Maine earned whatever it is Mets earn in lieu of pinstripes, and Randolph convinced anyone who has yet to be convinced that he actually knows what he's doing. It wasn't beautiful, but better the messy victory than the elegant defeat.