Monday, September 29, 2008


Oh, for Christ's sake.

NEW YORK -- Despite all the expectations, the what-ifs and the could-have-beens, Mets CEO Jeff Wilpon managed to muster a few positives Sunday on the final day of his team's 2008 season.

"I think we overachieved based on what we had," Wilpon said ...

"I think we underachieved last year, and I think we overachieved this year," Wilpon said. "Look who our second baseman was. Look who our left fielder was. Look who was in our bullpen. No Billy Wagner, no John Maine. You can go right down the list of what happened."

And so the Mets, Wilpon insisted, had succeeded simply by being in playoff contention on the season's final Sunday. Though he stopped short of lauding manager Jerry Manuel, saying he needed first to discuss the issue with general manager Omar Minaya, Wilpon indicated that he was quite pleased with the bulk of his uniformed personnel ...

The Mets might not see any momentous personnel changes between now and April, but that's not grounds for pessimism.

So when asked if the Mets are planning on making any significant changes in the coming months, Wilpon simply grinned.

"We are," he said. "We're moving to a new ballpark."

How could Fred Wilpon have made so many millions of dollars in real estate while simultaneously producing a human being so tone-deaf and out of touch? How can you say something like this just hours after the second straight mortifying collapse to end your franchise's season? When is someone finally going to lock Jeffy in the converted luxury suite/ apartment that Daddy made for him so he can stop embarrassing himself and his family?

If this the type of thinking we can expect from the man allegedly in charge of baseball operations, then as fans we may as well just burn this entire franchise to the ground. Hey Sonny Boy, who gave guaranteed contracts to the second baseman (Luis Castillo) and the left fielder (Moises Alou) that you're referring to? Better yet, who counted on Orlando Hernandez to be the #5 starter or signed Marlon Anderson a two-year deal in the offseason? Who put together this $138 million band of "overachievers" that suddenly stopped overachieving in mid-September for the second straight year?

The guy you're about to give a four-year contract extension to, that's who.

Oh, and Billy Wagner was actually on the active roster for four months, Jeffy, and he led the league in blown saves while he was trying to close out games. John Maine only missed the final month of the season, and the Mets went with a four-man rotation nearly half of the time. Why are you making excuses for these losers?

It looks like the manager is coming back, too, although Jerry Manuel's return is far more justifiable than Omar Minaya's. No changes from above, and now the owner's kid is saying not to expect many changes from below either. Exactly what, then, is going to prevent this particular trend from continuing?

2007 Mets: 5-12
2007 Phillies: 13-4

2008 Mets: 7-10
2008 Phillies: 13-3

Sunday, September 28, 2008


The 2008 season ended in fitting fashion - at the hands of a bullpen that has more blood on its hands than Lady MacBeth.

If Jerry Manuel made one mistake today, it was in believing that Scott Schoeneweis could get a right-handed batter out when Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez inevitably pinch-hit for Jacobs leading off the eighth inning. He obviously wasn't going to get the lefty-lefty matchup that he wanted; should Manuel have simply let Brian Stokes face Jacobs and take his chances? Well, the result tells us that Stokes couldn't have done any worse.

Then it was Luis Ayala, whose batting practice 3-2 fastball ended up in the bleachers courtesy of Dan Uggla. At that point it was time to offer silent prayers to the God who has ignored us so many times before and hope that somehow, the Cubs would find a way to outlast the Brewers. Minutes later Ryan Braun hit a two-run homer to give the Milwaukee the lead; don't expect to see me in church anytime soon.

So it's over now, with the death blow delivered by the Florida Marlins for the second straight season. Blood should flow throughout the concourses of Citi Field this off-season, from the general manager's office all the way down to the home team's clubhouse. Massive change is badly needed, but with the Wilpons inexplicably leaking word of a four-year extension fpr Omar Minaya earlier this week, there's little reason to believe that such massive change will take place.

This isn't Jerry Manuel's fault, of course, but he probably has to go too. Any reminders of the horrors we've seen over the last two years must be completely scrubbed out, and that includes the job of a man who really deserves better. Manuel will land on his feet; he deserves a shot at one of the vacant managerial jobs in the off-season.

As for me, I'd still love to see Bobby Valentine or Wally Backman given the manager's chair, but the Wilpons will probably hand the job over to a retread with a recognizable name and a timid personality. This is a loser franchise, after all, and they will surely go for another loser instead of taking a chance on someone who might upset the apple cart while winning ballgames.

There can be little to complain about with Oliver Perez's performance, even though he probably shouldn't be asked to return next season. He was simply brilliant for five innings, and economical enough that he could've easily lasted eight innings if he remained effective. Cameron Maybin's double to lead off the sixth came on a 1-2 pitch at the conclusion of a tough at-bat, and the Marlins dunked in two straight singles that were really more about fortuitous placement than getting good wood on the ball.

Manuel was right to go to Joe Smith when he did, with one out and the bases loaded in the sixth inning. The 1-1 pitch to Josh Willingham was a strike, but that doesn't excuse the next two pitches that were clearly out of the strike zone. Smith made the best of a bad situation after that, getting a pop up and a ground out to get out of the inning. The game was going to be in the hands of The Arson Squad at that point, and we all knew what that was going to mean.

My only other quibble was starting Ryan Church in right field, who has looked terrible this weekend and for large portions of the second half of the season. He looked completely lost at the plate again today, striking out in his first three at-bats, and Church brought nothing to the table that couldn't have been replaced or improved by Endy Chavez or even fan favorite Daniel Murphy.

Then again, Nick Evans made a rookie mistake by throwing to third on Mike Jacobs's deep fly ball to left, and that may have indirectly led to second run of the sixth inning. There are people don't understand why the Mets would shop for a natural left fielder after the season. They think that a platoon of Murphy and Evans should suffice.

What those people do not undertsand is that an infielder's instincts are not easy to overcome and do not automatically translate to the outfield. If you have any doubt about that, look at the play Chavez made to reel in the third out of the seventh inning. Is there any doubt that ball would've sailed over the head or Evans or Murphy and driven in the go-ahead run for the Marlins?

That's not a knock on either rookie, each of whom may have a place on the 2009 Mets anyway. Murphy has spent most of his professional career at third base, while Evans has mostly played first. It's not enough to go out and read Outfield Fundamentals for Dummies; a true outfielder understands that the ball absolutely must go to second base there, to keep the baserunner on first and allow the pitcher an opportunity to get a double play.

If Evans throws to the right base after corralling that first out, Perez might have been left in the game to face Dan Uggla, who has struggled mightily this season against left-handers. Uggla has only grounded into 10 double plays this season, but he has also struck out over 170 times and would've been a great match-up for Perez. It's all academic now, but the simple act of having to play two rookie infielders out of position for so much of the season had a profound effect on this game.

As for me, I don't know when I'll be able to come back to this blog again. It is a catalogue of failure, six months of abject failure, and there is no other way to look at this lost season. I have had my heart ripped out of my throat by this baseball team for three straight years now, and I don't know how or why I'm supposed to come back for more. Perhaps the closing of Shea Stadium closes a chapter of my life even more completely than I could've ever imagined.

I just don't see how much longer this relationship can continue.


Florida - Top of 1st
(Johan Santana pitching for New York)
H Ramirez flied out to right.
J Baker struck out swinging.
J Cantu singled to left.
J Willingham grounded out to pitcher.

My first Mets game was September 8, 1986, against the Montreal Expos. One of my aunts - whose deepest connection to the New York Mets was her undying affection for Lee Mazzilli - got tickets and took me to the game with a friend of hers. I had already been to three Yankee games with my father and one more with other family members, but this was the first time I had ever stepped foot in Shea Stadium.

The game itself wasn't memorable except for the promotional giveaway - a 1986 Mets pennant that hung on my bedroom wall for many years afterwards. But after the game, my aunt let me wait outside the Diamond Club to see if I could get autographs from the players. I saw Tim McCarver and Ralph Kiner and may have even gotten their autographs; Sid Fernandez nearly knocked me over as rushed through the crowd to his car. But the highlight of that night was briefly meeting current Met broadcaster Ron Darling, who stopped to sign my pennant and to talk to me.

"Relax kid!" Darling laughed as he signed his name. "You're only 10 years old and you're going to have a heart attack!"

Florida - Top of 2nd
D Uggla struck out swinging.
C Ross grounded out to shortstop.
W Helms struck out swinging.

I've only been to one Mets game with my father, but it's a game that we still talk about to this day. It was August 20, 1989, and the Mets were playing Los Angeles at Shea. The Dodgers had a young pitcher named Ramon Martinez on the mound and a Dodger fan behind us told his buddy to "keep an eye on this kid, he's going to be good." Martinez would win 20 games for the Dodgers the very next season.

You wouldn't have known it that day; the Mets knocked Martinez out before the fifth inning was over and held a 3-1 lead going into the ninth inning. Don Aase, in the twilight of an unremarkable career, had taken over for Sid Fernandez in the seventh inning and was still on the mound to close it out. Can you imagine - a reliever like Aase being asked to get an seven-out save!?

But there he was, mustache and all, still on the mound after getting the first two batters out in the ninth inning. Then Lenny Harris stroked a single, Alfredo Griffin bunted (!) for a base hit and the game was suddenly in doubt. Manager Davey Johnson had Randy Myers available in the bullpen, but decided to stick with Aase to see things through.

The next batter took the very first Aase offering and deposited it over the right-field fence to give the Dodgers a shocking 4-3 lead. It was his first home run in 463 at-bats that season and, in my opinion, sounded the death knell of the 1989 season for the New York Mets. Had they held on to win, the Mets would've only been 1.5 games behind the N.L. East-leading Cubs. Instead, they went 19-20 the rest of the way and finished well out of the money.

So who hit that season-changing home run, you ask? Willie F***ing Randolph, that's who. The man has been haunting me for nearly 20 years now!

Florida - Top of 3rd
J Hermida struck out swinging.
R Nolasco struck out looking.
H Ramirez grounded out to third.

I didn't start going to Mets games regularly until I was freshman in high school. I don't know how we pulled it off, but me and Joey Walnuts somehow got permission to leave school early to go to Opening Day 1991 against the Phillies. It was the first of 14 straight home openers I attended at Shea, an annual ritual that has spanned so many chapters in my life.

In high school, when tickets at Shea were cheap and plentiful, I used to go to 15-20 games a year. Most of those games were in the upper deck, including June 25, 1992 against the Cubs. It was the final day of our sophomore year of high school, so Walnuts and I rounded up a bunch of people to go to the game. The Mets took the field that season to the tune of "What I Like About You" by the Romantics - the same song playing on Friday night when Mike Pelfrey came to bat for the Mets.

I remember sitting in my seat next to a girl that I met for the first time that day - a friend of Big Boy who he grew up with in Forest Hills - and kicking our feet in rhythm to the song. We were all having so much fun - even after the Cubs put up seven runs in the first inning - that no one really noticed Greg Maddux was pitching a no-hitter. Chico Walker finally broke it up with two outs in the sixth inning, but the Cubs still cruised to a 9-0 win.

Florida - Top of 4th
J Baker grounded out to second.
J Cantu popped out to shortstop.

J Willingham walked.
D Uggla grounded out to third.

The girl from Forest Hills was the first girl I ever went to a baseball game with. At this point in my life, the only girl I'll take to Shea Stadium is my fiancee. Although she roots for the Yankees and only puts up with the Mets out of necessity, she still likes to go to a game with me on occasion. Last month, realizing that she was running out of chances to see Shea Stadium one last time, she asked if I would take her to a game before the season ended. On a Friday night in August, we saw Johan Santana and Roy Oswalt lock horns in a terrific pitcher's duel that ended 3-0 in the Mets' favor. The seats were in the upper deck, but only three rows into the upper reserved seats. It was as high as she was willing to go.

The Franchise and I have been to several games since we started dating five years ago, and each time we go she only has one request. She doesn't like the steep upper deck at Shea and doesn't want to sit in any seat high enough to make her nervous. I know she's going to like Citi Field much better than Shea Stadium - she'll never have to sit that high up again!

Florida - Top of 5th
C Ross singled to left.
W Helms flied out to center.
J Hermida walked, C Ross to second.
R Nolasco sacrificed to catcher, C Ross to third, J Hermida to second.
H Ramirez intentionally walked.
J Baker lined out to right.

I've been to four playoff games in Mets history and the Mets have won three of them. I've been lucky enough to see two of the most exciting moments in Shea Stadium's playoff history - both walk-off home runs by unlikely heroes.

Walnuts and I saw Todd Pratt lift the Mets into the 1999 National League Championship Series with a game-winning home run off Matt Mantei that just missed Steve Finley's glove as it sailed over the center-field fence. As the stadium wildly celebrated afterwards, Walnuts was heard to scream over and over again, "We're the Champs! We're the Champions!" When asked what, exactly, were the Mets now the champions of, he stopped for a moment and screamed, "We're the Champions of the Wild Card!"

Nearly a year to the day later, Suburbia and I braved the elements to watch Benny Agbayani hit a game-winning home run in the bottom of the 13th inning to give the Mets a 2-1 lead in their NLDS series with the Giants. I brain-locked before leaving the house and wore shorts to the game; this even though we were sitting in the upper deck for a night game in October with the winds swirling throughout the stadium. I have never been so cold in my life!

Florida - Top of 6th
J Cantu flied out to right.
J Willingham flied out to center.
D Uggla struck out swinging.

Not all of my memories of Shea are so kind. I was in the ballpark for the final game of the 2000 World Series, sitting in the upper deck and surrounded by Yankee fans. I saw every hop of Luis Sojo's ninth-inning RBI single that proved to be the margin of victory, and I will tell you to this day that Rey Ordonez would've fielded that ball with ease. I saw Mike Piazza hit a ball in the bottom of the ninth inning deep into the Shea night, that I was sure was going to land somewhere in the bleachers and tie the score. It landed in Bernie Williams' glove instead, and the nightmare of watching the hated Yankees celebrate a World Championship in Shea Stadium makes me cringe to this day.

My night didn't end there, though. I had gotten the tickets from an ex-girlfriend who worked for a TV sports outlet, and had to wait outside the stadium for 90 minutes afterwards for their coverage to finish up so I could drive her and a co-worker back to Brooklyn. It was 90 minutes of watching Yankee fans giddily celebrating their third straight championship and mercilessly taunting Mets fans. It was the kind of night that made you question your faith in a benevolent God.

Florida - Top of 7th
C Ross flied out to center.
W Helms flied out to left.
J Hermida grounded out to third.

In 2002, I went on a 12-day "Tour of Baseball" with Scoop and GI Joe, where we saw a ballgame in 11 different stadiums between New York and Chicago. (We spent one of those days, between Boston and Toronto, at Cooperstown). It was an amazing trip that I will never forget, because I got to watch a ballgame in some of the best stadiums in the country.

You see, if you grew up a baseball fan in New York in last 45 years or so, you have no idea how badly you've been cheated. Shea Stadium, for all the memories it has given me, is the worst stadium in the National League. It is ugly, it is dirty, it lacks concessions or other amenities and has all the charm and ambiance of a municipal football stadium from the 1970s. (And trust me, Yankee Stadium is nearly as bad; anyone who waxes poetic about Yankee Stadium is either delusional or has never been in any other major league ballpark.)

I got to see PNC Park in Pittsburgh on my Tour of Baseball, the most beautiful venue for watching a ballgame I've ever been to. I saw the new Comiskey Park in Chicago, which is a lot like Shea Stadium except that it is cleaner, more visually appealing and has an outdoor shower in left field for cooling off on hot days. Even old Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, a charmless cookie cutter of a ballpark that featured artificial turf for a playing surface, was cleaner and more interesting than Shea Stadium.

The Tour ended at Shea Stadium, where we invited family and friends to meet us in the deepest reaches of the upper deck in left field. After 12 days on the road, it was great to be home and to see friendly faces, but sitting in Shea paled in comparions to the wonderful ballparks we had just seen. I realize now that the 15 or 20 games I used to be good for steadily turned into 5 or 10 a year after that trip. Shea Stadium has always looked better on television than in person.

Florida - Top of 8th
P Lo Duca hit for R Nolasco.
P Lo Duca flied out to center.

H Ramirez grounded out to shortstop.
J Baker struck out looking.

I can't believe that this is happening all over again. The Mets entered the final weekend of the 2008 season with three home games against the Marlins, desperately needing to win at least two out of three to make the playoffs. The Mets lost the first game of the series last night, just like they did in 2007. The difference was that, unlike 2007, I was in the ballpark yesterday to see their lifeless performance in person. There's not much more to be said about the game, other than to say it was so bad that I had to convince myself to go to the ballpark today in the hopes that it would leave me with a better final memory of Shea Stadium.

As it turns out, I was also in the ballpark for the second-to-last game of the 2007 season. John Maine provided what was, to that point, the best pitching performance I had ever seen in person. He went 7 2/3 innings before giving up a hit, to the backup catcher Paul Hoover, who nubbed a ball between third base and the pitcher's mound to beat out an infield single. If I ever meet Paul Hoover on the street I will punch him in the face for ruining my best chance at seeing a no-hitter.

That game was also memorable because it was the only game I have ever seen from a luxury box at Shea, courtesy of my cousin's wife. We stayed in the suite for well over an hour afterwards, watching the Phillies play the Nationals and praying for a Washington victory. Things went completely to hell less than 24 hours later.

Florida - Top of 9th
E Chavez in left field.
J Cantu struck out swinging.
J Willingham doubled to deep left center.
D Uggla struck out swinging.
C Ross flied out to left.

Upper Deck, Section 1, Row K, Seat 9.

This is where I sat to watch the last game I will ever see at Shea Stadium. I've been to over 300 games in the last 22 years and have sat in every single part of the stadium at least once. I have actually been on the playing surface of Shea Stadium on two occasions, one of those times during the off-season when Walnuts and I were still in high school. We snuck into the stadium and ran around like children, leaping against the outfield fence and robbing batters of imaginary home runs the same way Endy Chavez did in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. The other time was after a long-forgotten day game during a DynaMets Dash, when Rock Star and I jumped over the field level barrier and ran the bases with the rest of the little kids. Frank Howard was the first-base coach then and he slapped hands with me as I rounded first base.

I don't know what's going to happen on the final day of the 2008 season, so I wanted to write this down before the emotion of what's about to happen clouds my judgment. My greatest Shea Stadium memory was also my last, and I walked out of the stadium today still amazed at what had taken place.

It was the greatest pitching performance I have ever seen in person, in any stadium, and Johan Santana did it under the most adverse of conditions. He was starting on three days' rest for the first time in his career during the regular season. He did it on a rainy Saturday afternoon on a day the Mets could've been eliminated from the playoffs. He did it in front of a fan base that was ready to turn on their team at a moment's notice, and may well do so tomorrow afternoon if Oliver Perez can't turn in a quality start. It was nothing less than heroic.

Tomorrow's game is all that matters now, and I will never step foot in Shea Stadium again. I hope whoever goes to the game tomorrow will get to look back on their final memories of Shea as fondly as I will of mine.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Well, I didn't see that coming.

If the Mets are still standing on Monday morning, it will be because of one of the ugliest plays in baseball you could ever hope to see. I don't know how Ryan Church evaded Koyie Hill's tag and I don't want to know. I will simply choose to think of that play as a small sign from the baseball gods that maybe, just maybe, this team isn't dead yet.

It's the type of play that becomes part of a franchise's folklore, something that fans flash back to years later when recalling their memories of a particular season. And of course, because these are the Mets, it has to be said that the play never should've happened in the first place.

Church brainlocked earlier in the inning and didn't follow Carlos Beltran on the back end of a double-steal attempt. Instead, Church had to try to score from first on Robinson Cancel's double and by all rights should've been a dead duck.

That's the Mets for you - why do things the easy way if there's a more difficult and agonizing path to take?

Church blows the double-steal and Luis Aguayo sends him around third base even though the throw home beats him to the plate by 15 feet. Somehow it works out. Daniel Murphy brain-locks in the ninth and tries to bunt three balls out of the strike zone, one of which was on a 2-2 count while Jose Reyes gets a tremendous jump on a steal attempt. Somehow it works out.

These are the games the Mets have been losing for the last two weeks or so. Last night they finally reached a point where, as hard as they tried to bumble away another desperately needed victory, they simply could not close the deal. For once, we can be glad about that!

So three games to go and the division is still realisitically in play. The Phillies are playing the Nationals and there's no reason to believe they won't take 2 out of 3. The Marlins are back in town to finish the regular season against the Mets and itching to play spoiler again. Everyone remembers how 2007 ended; the Mets have a unique chance at redemption against the team that delivered the final blow last season. Win all three games and the Mets clinch at least a tie for a playoff berth, and since I don't see the Brewers sweeping the Cubs this weekend, it will guarantee at least the Loser's Reward.

I'm supposed to have tickets for tonight's game, but I have little hope it's going to actually get played. From what I understand of the weather pattern, tomorrow's game is in jeopardy as well, which threatens the commissioner's office mandate to finish the regular season by Sunday night. Maybe Saturday's game turns into a 7:10 start and they play a single-admission doubleheader on Sunday?

It's been terrible rooting for the Mets for the last two weeks, but at least we're playing meaningful baseball this weekend. That's more than I can say for the guys on the other side of town!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Once Again, Nice and Slow ...

Playoff teams win games like these. I've been taking shots here for the last 48 hours by making one simple declaration - the New York Mets do not deserve to make the playoffs this season. After another embarrassing loss tonight and after having lost 7 of their last 11 games, who could possibly argue otherwise?

Baseball Prospectus has a sortable Run Expectancy Matrix on their site, which highlights just how profoundly the Mets failed tonight once Oliver Perez left the game in the fifth inning. The Mets got the leadoff runner on base on five straight occasions, between the fifth and the ninth innings. The REM shows that the average team in 2008 can expect to score 6.83 runs in those situations. The Mets scored one run. Tell me again why this team deserves to be in the postseason?

As for Ollie, he was just awful. I haven't even addressed the looming specter of Omar Minaya's undeserved four-year extension yet, but if it's true and the Mets are stuck with Minaya until 2012, my first request is that he lets Perez walk in the off-season. No one was asking for a repeat of Johan Santana's wonderful performance last night, but I don't think a quality start is too much to ask from a guy who thinks he deserves a multi-year deal averaging at least $10 million a season.

Four games to go and the Mets are still trailing the Phillies by 1.5 games. The Brewers have pulled even in the race for the Loser's Prize. What fresh horrors await Met fans this weekend? I don't even want to think about it.

Where's Jack?

See if you can find the Featured Blogger in these pictures:

I Must Be in the Front Row!

Chicago stopped into my office around 2 pm yesterday and casually asked me what I was doing later that night. Turns out, he had tickets for the Mets-Cubs game and the guy he planned on going with couldn't make it. Something about not having enough time to get a baby-sitter for his newborn baby - is there any better argument for postponing procreation?

Anyway, I jumped all over it and had my student worker run across campus to pick up the ticket from him later that day. I knew something was up when she handed it back to me - Field Level, Section 147, Row AA. I had never even heard of that row, but a quick check on the soon-to-be-outdated seating revealed that we would be sitting in deep right field. Box seats at Shea!

Fast forward to about 6:45, when I hopped off the 7 train and met Chicago in front of Gate D. We walk into the stadium, grab a few beers and find our way to the section. As I start to walk down the aisle to find the seats, I begin to notice that it's taking an awful long time to reach Row AA. As we get closer and closer to the field, our progress was stopped by a simple chain blocking off the auxiliary stands from the regular orange seats. No usher was there to direct us, but all of a sudden it dawned on me - Chicago had come up with front-row seats for the game!

I have only sat front row once before - a Mets-Pirates doubleheader in the early 90s on a sweltering June day that was so hot I actually considering leaving the stadium to find some air conditioning. Those seats were behind the Mets dugout, the seats where you actually place your drink on the top of the dugout itself. These seats had nothing but a small plywood wall blocking access to the field and allowed for a ground-level view of the entire stadium. It was amazing.

Now Chicago, as you may have guessed from the nickname, is a Cubs fan. He is not shy about this fact. Actually, Chicago isn't shy about much of anything, as I soon found out. The last time he went to a Mets-Cubs game at Shea, he happily informed me, he had an entire beer poured over his head for celebrating too enthusiastically. When I asked how that matter was resolved, he cryptically informed me that he "took care of it."

The chatter began from Johan Santana's first pitch and didn't end until Chicago left in the bottom of the fifth because of a late-night staff meeting on campus. He leapt out of his seat in celebration for every Cubs hit and cheered wildly for every Mets out. He happily celebrated along with the many Cubs fans around us and laughed off the verbal assaults from the Mets fans who weren't expecting his antics.

I used to be like that. I used to have so much joy and enthusiasm for being at a Mets game that I would be rooting along with every at-bat, standing and clapping for every two-strike pitch, screaming at umpires for every bad call. Now, I sit sullenly and complain about the noise betwen every pitch, the incompetence of the worst players on the field or the lack of vision the front office has for roster construction.

Somehow, Chicago has retained the simple joy of going to a game and rooting hard for your favorite team. Maybe that's what happens when you still actually like the team you root for, instead of following them out of force of habit.

I realized last night that I haven't really liked the Mets for years. I like individual players, of course, and I want the team to win every time they play, but there is an animosity toward the Mets always bubbling right beneath the surface. It probably started sometime around 2003, when the Wilpons decided Art Howe could light up a room with his winning personality. Things eventually got so bad that I actually began a personal boycott after the 2005 season, in response to how disgusted I was with The Former Manager's ineptitude. In that wonderful 2006 season I only went to three games, all because someone dropped free tickets on me.

Last year, of course, was a disaster that shook the foundation of any Met fan's faith. Watching them spit the bit in 2008 has brought all that animosity right back up again, as you have no doubt noticed in the last few days.

Anyway, Chicago's enthusiasm rubbed off on me a bit. I started chattering as well, exhorting Santana through the difficult early innings and rooting on the Met hitters to finally break through against Sean Marshall. The fifth and sixth innings finally brought some satisfaction, although it was disappointing that I didn't have a chance to give Chicago a taste of his own medicine at the end of a 6-2 victory.

As for the game itself, Santana was brilliant. He strugled through the early innings, no doubt, but acted like an ace by finding his rhythm, continuing to grind away and pitching a scoreless eighth inning to take some pressure off of The Arson Squad. The off-season trade for Santana has been an unqualified success, at least for 2008, and there's no reason to believe he won't be a top-of-the-rotation ace for years to come. If he's pitching in the last game of the season with a playoff berth on the line, the Mets will be in capable hands.

The seats were, as I mentioned before, amazing, and it was a terrific way to see my second-to-last game at Shea Stadium. I'll be there one last time on Friday night, in Row C of Section 24 in the Upper Deck (you can buy me a beer if you're there). Here's a picture of me and Mr. Met last night - don't bother using the tired old joke about who has the bigger head, it's played out!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Loser's Reward

Two weeks ago today, the Mets had a 2-game lead on the Phillies and were looking at a favorable two-week stretch of games against the Nationals and the Braves in front of them. Since Washington and Atlanta happen to be the two worst teams in the N.L. East, the Mets seemed to be in prime position to have a comfortable lead in the division coming into the final week of the season.

Instead, the Mets went 6-6 against mediocre competition and today find themselves 1.5 games behind the Phillies, who won 10 of 13 games against much tougher competition (the Marlins, Brewers and Braves). If Philadelphia holds on to win the division - and really, there's no reason to believe that they won't - it will be because they earned their crown. The Phillies have won big games when they needed to and have played well enough in September to end up with home-field advantage in their Division Series.

The Mets, on the other hand, do not deserve to make the playoffs. They are an incomplete team, one with fine starting pitching and an occasionally dangerous lineup that sometimes struggles with consistency. They also have a terrible bullpen, headed by a makeshift closer and six specialists of varying effectiveness. When the postseason party begins next week, the Mets have no right to be holding an invitation.

And yet, despite yakking 3.5 games in the standings in the last 14 days, the Mets are even closer to a playoff berth today than they were two weeks ago. That's because the Milwaukee Brewers have gone 3-10 during that stretch to drop 1.5 games behind New York in the Wild Card race.

I'll probably go more into it at Flushing University this week, but every year some undeserving team makes the playoffs because of the folly that is the Wild Card. If the Mets can simply be less incompetent than the Brewers over the next seven days, they will be that undeserving team this year.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Arson Squad Strikes Again

Playoff teams do not employ lefty specialists who cannot get out lefties.

Scott Schoeneweis had a .167/.236/.271 line against lefties going into today's game. That meant nothing to Casey Kotchman, who singled home the game-tying run in turned out to be a 7-6 Braves victory. It was the third time a Braves left-hander had gotten a hit off Schoeneweis in the last eight days - and two of those hits ended up directly contributing to Met losses.

Just last Saturday, Schoeneweis was called upon to bail out Johan Santana in the eighth inning of a 2-o game and instead promptly gave up a single to Kotchman. Schoeneweis then turned the ball over to fellow members of The Arson Squad, and the Braves' first baseman eventually came around to score the winning run in a devastating 3-2 loss.

One day later, Schoeneweis was again called upon for eighth-inning duty. He gave up a single to right-handed hitting Martin Prado and retired switch-hitting Chipper Jones before Brian McCann stepped to the plate. McCann is left-handed and therefore should've been easy pickings for Schoeneweis; instead he smacked a single and forced Jerry Manuel to go to the bullpen to get out of the inning. Joe Smith got the Mets out of trouble in the eighth, but Luis Ayala and Pedro Feliciano fell apart in the ninth inning of a 7-4 loss.

It's not just the Braves' left-handers that have Schoeneweis' number lately; Nationals rookie Roger Bernadina smacked a single off Schoeneweis in the ninth inning of a 7-2 Mets win on September 18. That's four lefty batters who have beaten Schoeneweis in the last eight days, and if he can't get out the likes of Bernadina you have to wonder what on earth Schoeneweis is still doing here.

Manuel's only other alternatives at this point are Pedro Feliciano, who can't get anyone out either, and the well-traveled Ricardo Rincon. Met fans will be calling for the general manager to restock the bullpen in the off-season, but Scott Schoeneweis is Exhibit A for why you don't give multi-year deals to middle relievers, no matter how bad your bullpen was the year before.

As bad as Schoeneweis has been lately, he'll be here next year as well, costing the Mets $3.5 million to take up space in the back of the bullpen and to give up big hits to left-handed batters when you need him the most.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

As The End Drew Near (Flushing University)

As the Mets continue their second straight September stumble, the final inning of Tuesday night's game played out in disappointing fashion. Disappointing - but hardly surprising. Read more here ...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Not Again

This is simply unacceptable.

John Lannan and Odalis Perez were blitzed by the Mets last week at Shea, each lasting only three ineffective innings before surrendering the baseball to Nationals manager Manny Acta in games the Mets eventually held on to win. One week later, Acta handed the ball right back to his two top lefties – and they responded with back-to-back dominant performances.

It’s one thing to give up late leads and lose games when your beleaguered bullpen finally starts pitching down to their skill level. It’s quite another to be completely handcuffed by two mediocrities such as Lannan and Perez, each of whom had just been beaten up by the Mets a week earlier. The result? The New York Mets are a second place ball club now.

If it wasn’t for the Milwaukee Brewers, perhaps the only team in baseball more pathetic than the Mets right now, the Mets would be completely out of the playoff picture with 13 games to go. Neither team deserves to be in the playoffs, but I guess one team will wind up being even less deserving than the other and will earn the right to get swept out of the Division Series.

More at Flushing University tomorrow.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Weekend in Review

It hurt like hell to watch the Mets drop two out of three to the Braves this weekend. The lead in the NL East is down to one game and the comparisons between 2007 and 2008 have been flying for about two weeks now.

Here's the difference: the tough losses the Mets have had this September haven't been particularly out of the ordinary. In 2007, the Mets were losing games that they simply had no business losing. Everything fell apart against inferior teams - the starters pitched poorly, the bullpen blew leads and the lineup didn't hit.

This year's team has a glaring and obvious weakness - its bullpen. Yes, the lineup did a very bad job of tacking on runs this weekend, but the relief corps bears the brunt of responsibility for the most recent losses. That is exactly what you would've expected to happen to a team running out a series of mediocre or worse hurlers to nail down important games in a pennant race.

Bad set-up men give up leads in the eighth inning. I was actually happy that Jerry Manuel let Johan Santana start the eighth on Saturday afternoon, because it showed me that he knew his "tired" starter was more effective than his bullpen. Scott Schoeneweis is a bad reliever, so it's no surprise he couldn't get the batter he was supposed to. Brian Stokes has given the Mets 25 good innings, but his track record suggests that he is a bad reliever. It's also no surprise when he fails to get the job done and gives up the lead.

Bad closers blow leads in the ninth inning, the way Luis Ayala did in Sunday's loss. There's a reason why the Mets were able to pick up Ayala at the low, low cost of Anderson Hernandez last month. Ayala simply hasn't been that good since ruining his elbow in 2006. He's given the Mets 10 good innings this year and has filled in servicably for Billy Wagner, but we're not exactly talking about Eric Gagne in the prime of his career here.

The Mets are a very good team with a very bad bullpen. Those teams are going to struggle to win consistently when the bullpen is always on the verge of giving away a lead. That's why this feels nothing like 2007 to me, because it's unfair to expect this team to keep winning at the rate they have been with such bad relievers.

One final note: I originally went on a vitriolic rant about how the Mets are screwing ticket holders like myself for Friday night's rainout by only offering an exchange to any game the rest of the 2008 season. Perhaps you already know this, but this is the final season the Mets will play home games at Shea Stadium, so ticket sales for the final homestand have been selling ... somewhat briskly.

I could not understand why the Mets would not offer fans the option of sitting in the cheapest seats for a game of their choice (subject to availability, of course) at Citi Field next season. I noted that the Mets could even limit exchanges to "bronze" or "value" games and it would still have been looked upon as a good-faith gesture that many fans (such as myself) would appreciate the opportunity to have.

And now I'm confused. Originally, the word was that the tickets could be exchanged for one of the final six games of this season. But following the links from the team website, I'm getting the message that you can exchange them for Citi Field games next season. Anyone know the definitive answer to this question?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Daniel Murphy - Present and Future

Some good chatter over at the Flushing University message boards, where the topic has turned to Daniel Murphy's readiness for taking over the second base job in 2009. If you read the column (go back and read it now if you haven't), you will see that I don't think he's ready yet.

It's not that I don't think Murphy can hit and that he's not a player with a future. It's that I don't think he's ready to be productive major league regular. He's been great for 85 at-bats, but he hadn't played above High-A ball before this season. He still has no positon, learning LF on the fly even as his future may be at 2B.

I say put him in Triple-A next year, where he can rake a little and spend time getting familiar with second base. By August 1, he may be ready to take the position over full time, or serve as a useful utility player for the rest of the season. Murphy's true ETA is probably 2010.

Not everyone agrees, of course. Murphy has shown an ability to hit major league pitching this year and his approach is professional. He's getting good at-bats even when he's not stroking line drives and looks like the kind of hitter who can succeed at the major level. Why not give him a chance to see what he can do over a full season?

I gave my opinion on that in the column, but if Murphy is given the second base job and finds himself batting .230/.300/.340 with 10 errors on May 15, what then? Send him down to Triple-A and get him the experience he probably needed in the first place, or continue to suffer with an inadequate 2B?

The Indians did that with Asdrubal Cabrera this season - gave him the starting second baseman's job even though he wasn't ready to be a starter. By mid-June he was back in Buffalo, getting his head on straight. Cabrera started hitting again, returned to the Indians a month later and has put up a .304/.389/.439 line since. Perhaps if he had been at Buffalo in the first place, the Indians would've gotten a full season's worth of such production from Cabrera.

A Little Luis Now, A Lot of Luis Later (Flushing University)

Luis Castillo hasn’t seen much playing time since rejoining the Mets in late August. Problem is, the fewer games he plays now, the more likely he is to be a Met in 2009. Read more here ...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

You Know It Don't Come Easy

The lead is the half the size it was at this time last year, but a 3.5-game cushion with 17 games to go still feels pretty good.

The Mets swept the two-game series with the Nationals tonight, by outscoring a Nationals' attack that's suddenly firing on all cylinders. Anyone who thought the Nationals were going to be pushovers because they're in last place haven't been paying attention. The offense is almost completely healthy, for one, and ended up scoring 18 runs in the abbreviated series with the Mets. Cristian Guzman-Ryan Zimmerman-Lastings Milledge-Elijah Dukes is nobody's idea of a juggernaut, but the men in the middle of the Nats' lineup have all had solid second halves of the season. Since the All-Star Break:

Guzman: .307/.346/.457
Zimmerman: .321/.386/.473
Milledge: .286/.352/.472
Dukes: .296/.406/.630

Luckily for Mets fans, New York simply has a deeper and more talented lineup and are a vastly superior defensive team. David Wright broke out of his short slump in a big way during this series, with six hits in the last two games, and suddenly appears to be locked in at the plate again. The Phenom has taken a step back from his 2007 numbers, but a big playoff series or two will re-establish him as one of the five best players in baseball. If it wasn't for Wright, the results of the last two games might have been wild Washington wins, and Phillies fans wouldn't be wondering tonight if their luck has run out.

So the Mets are surging and the Phillies are stumbling, even though the pitching performances from the last two nights are causes for concern. There was a lot of sarcasm directed Oliver Perez's way after last night's stinker, with the recurring theme being that his perceived free agent demands will need some readjusting. After the way the Nats smacked around Mike Pelfrey tonight, though, some people might owe Ollie an apology.

Aaron Heilman, though, that's another story. Heilman's Met career certainly seems to be drawing to a close; he is so unpopular with the fan base right now that he is veering dangerously close to Doug Sisk territory. It's not entirely fair - Heilman gave the Mets three excellent seasons in middle relief going into this year - but he has been so consistently ineffective this season that it's hard to justify giving him a baseball at a meaningful point in a game again this season.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Get a Goddamn Grip

You've been playing a child's game professionally for 16 years. You've made over $65 million in salary alone. You're going to make $10.5 million in 2009 for not working.

So what the hell are you crying about? Because your 10-year-old son wants to keep watching you pitch? C'mon now. Buy the kid a video game and some ice cream and let him stay up a half-hour later tonight and he'll be fine. (Can you tell that I'm not a parent?)

I will never understand the tearful press conferences athletes hold when they have an injury or when they retire. I happen to like my job too, but if someone told me I could retire tomorrow and be incredibly rich until the day I died, the only tears that would fall from my eyes would be tears of joy. I have to go to work tomorrow, Billy. You don't. I should be the one crying.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Why Whine Over Wagner?

Has a season-ending elbow injury to a playoff contender's All-Star closer ever seemed less anti-climactic?

Billy Wagner's Met career is over, unless he's willing to take a one-year, incentive-laden deal for 2010. (Wagner has talked before about retiring from baseball at the end of his Mets deal, but I don't think he'll allow his career to end like this.)

Well, Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care. The Mets bullpen hadn't given up a run in its last 22 innings before Philadelphia tacked one on at the end of last night's win. The Mets are 22-11 since Wagner last pitched on August 2. Despite the odds being against them, the Mets are not only surviving, but they are also thriving.

Now look, it's obviously not a good thing that Wagner is out for this season and all of 2009. He's still the best reliever in the Mets' bullpen by a country mile (pun intended). The Mets' bullpen is still a carnival sideshow these days, hot streak notwithstanding. The Mets may well hold off the Phillies to win the division, but I find it very hard to believe they can win a playoff series without a legitimate reliever in the bullpen.

(Notice I didn't say a "legitimate closer," because that underestimates the state of the Mets' bullpen now. A closer is important in today's game, but it's much more important to have several multi-inning relievers who can get lefties and righties out at a reasonable rate.)

Wagner wasn't bad as a Met; he saved 101 games and kept an ERA under 3.00 in all three seasons. But his WHIP in 2006 and 2007 was in the 1.100 range - far behind his performance in six of the seven previous seasons and a strong indicator that Wagner's most dominant days were behind him. That's the problem with signing closers in their mid-30s - you're paying for past performance, and it's extremely likely that the future performance won't match up.

He also blew seven saves this season and has developed a reputation among Mets fans for being unreliable in big games. I generally don't put much stock in playoff stats - sample size is a very big issue - but Wagner has a career 9.58 postseason ERA and has given up runs in six of 11 appearances. Mets fans won't soon forget how poorly he pitched in 2006 against St. Louis, blowing Game 2 and very nearly blowing Game 6.

The Mets will survive without Wagner, one way or the other. Now the question is this - who is the closer, both short-term and long-term? Luis Ayala's high-wire act will continue for the rest of the season, with Brian Stokes perhaps next in line if Ayala regresses to the mean. It is a scary thought - the Mets with a one-run lead and three outs to go to clinch a playoff series, and here comes Ayala or Stokes out of the bullpen to try to nail things down. At this point, what else can you do? Pray hard, my friends - and not for an oil pipeline in Alaska.

Long-term, Luis Ayala is not your closer. The Mets will unfortunately go out and invest too many years and too much money in a closer in the off-season, because that's what they do. The Mets never groom young guys to take over for the many overpriced veterans who leave the team with a fork sticking in their back. Why not have an open competition in spring training and see which reliever is ready to claim the job? Because that doesn't sell copies of the Daily News.

I am honestly starting to belief that Little Jeffy goes out and buys a few packs of baseball cards, and then directs the general manager to go out and sign the first free agent that isn't stuck to a piece of bubble gum. I guess that means I have to hope that the Francisco Rodriguez cards are under-produced by Topps this off-season. Not much chance of that!

Santana the Savior

All over the media universe on Monday morning, in newspapers and on radio shows, in blogs and on message boards, some variation of the same theme will be shared with baseball fans of all stripes.

This is what the Mets got Johan Santana for.

I'm writing the same thing tonight, but with a twist. The Mets got Santana to be a stopper, to turn the tide against the most frightening storm of the 2008 season - two straight home losses to the Phillies and a third game on national television. A third loss would've meant squandering the three-game cushion the Mets had built on Philadelphia and no doubt would've caused Mets fans to come together on the verge of the collective nervous breakdown.

Not for seven innings and 110 pitches and leave it to the bullpen with a three-run lead. Santana started the eighth inning, just like an ace is supposed to do. But not for 7 1/3 innings and a man on second with one out, so Pedro Feliciano can match up with Ryan Howard and Brian Stokes can take on Pat Burrell.

The New York Mets signed Johan Santana to get those outs on his own, and then to hand the ball over to whoever's closing the door for the team these days.

Feliciano did his job and Stokes did his, so it's hard to argue with the results. And Santana certainly turned in an admirable performance, even if it wasn't quite as long as it needed to be. The end result is that the Mets have a two-game lead in the National League East, the fan base is letting out a sigh of relief and the 2008 postseason remains a distinct possibility.

Earlier in the day, Pedro Martinez silenced any remaining voices who thought it prudent to offer him a contract for the 2009 season. It still pains me to say it (even though I wrote my "Pedro is done" column a few months ago), but Martinez simply isn't good enough to compete for a starting job on a team with championship aspirations. His upside is an average #5 starter who might give his team six good innings on occasion. When he's not on ... well, you saw the results against the Phillies.

The sad performance - 4 innings, 6 runs, 8 baserunners - will surely convince even the most ardent believers that the old Pedro is gone and he's never coming back. I mean, these are the moments that you are supposed to pay experienced veterans for, right? If you can't retire the #8 hitter with 2 outs in the second, a base open and the pitcher on deck, and if you can't keep Greg Dobbs in the park in the fourth, what are you bringing to the table that, say, Glendon Rusch can't?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Batting Seventh, Luis Castillo

Overnight rain washed away the second game of the Mets-Phillies series today, so I have another day or two before I really start to panic. Jerry Manuel has been putting a new-look lineup out for the last five games, with his left fielders (Daniel Murphy or Nick Evans) batting second and his second basemen (Damion Easley and Luis Castillo) in the seventh hole.

First of all, I hope this just happens to be a coincidence and not a concerted effort by Manuel to assign lineup order by fielding positions. Met fans constantly complained about the former manager's head-scratching propensity for batting his second basemen in the second spot in the order, no matter who was playing the position that day. I will choose to assume that Manuel simply thinks his rookie left fielders will benefit from having Jose Reyes on base in front of them and the protection of the 3-4-5 hitters behind them. Doing so theoretically forces pitchers to throw more fastballs - both to prevent Reyes from stealing and to avoid walks that would put two guys on base in front of David Wright.

There is an added bonus to the structure - "fan favorite" Castillo belongs at the bottom of the lineup, where his .320 SLG and his 83 OPS+ is more at home. I was surprised to see him seventh though, and was initially annoyed that Manuel didn't bat Castillo eighth - something I've been advocating all season.

However, I realized something earlier today, which may explain why Castillo is a good fit for the seventh spot. Both he and Brian Schneider have similar numbers this season:

Castillo, overall: .257/.357/.320 with 3 HRs and 15 SB in 269 at-bats
Schneider, overall: .257/.343/.356 with 7 HRs and 0 SB in 292 at-bats

Castillo, righties: .266/.362/.300 with 0 HRs and 11 SB in 203 at-bats
Schneider, righties: .278/.360/.404 with 7 HRs and 0 SB in 230 at-bats

The obvious difference is that Schneider has more power (although that certainly is a relative term!) and less speed, and therefore seems like a more natural fit to bat seventh. However, on my Strat-o-Matic team I often like to bat a speedster seventh or eighth, if the bottom two or three hitters in my lineup have similar on-base numbers.

Why? Because a base-stealing threat changes the pitcher's approach in a way that benefits the hitter. The pitcher throws more fastballs, for one, and is generally preoccupied with a man on first. In Strat, holding a runner on base increases a batter's chances of getting a hit by about 3 percent (which translates into roughly 25 points of batting average). If you bat the slow runner in front of the fast runner, the fast runner gets no such benefit when the first batter gets on base in front of him.

If given the choice between two batters of roughly equal on base percentage, it always makes sense to bat the faster runner higher. The variable, of course, is the difference in slugging average. Ryan Church's SLG is 168 points higher than Castillo's, even though they have a similar OBP. The difference in SLG is large enough that it wouldn't make sense to move Castillo in the sixth spot and Church into the seventh, even if it might lead to a small jump in Church's batting average.

So it looks like Jerry Manuel may have stumbled upon the ideal place to bat Luis Castillo - on the days he decides to play him. I hope he remains in the seventh spot for the rest of the season.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Something Tells Me I'm Into Something Good

I'm finally starting to get excited.

Watching the Mets finish off their sweep of one of the best teams in the National League in their home stadium finally stirred something inside of me today. It took a come-from-behind win on Monday, an extra innings thriller on Tuesday and finally, an easy romp on Wednesday to complete a very successful 6-2 road trip. The Mets come home from Milwaukee with a three-game lead over the Phillies and a fan base that is slowly allowing itself to shrug off the devastation of last year's collapse.

The starting pitching looks exceptional at times, and it seems like every night there's a chance to see someone spin seven innings of shutout ball. The lineup is healthy and hitting the ball well. Even the much-maligned bullpen is holding its own, although Jerry Manuel is doing far too much mixing and matching for my tastes.

The New York Mets are a dangerous team, and for the first time this season I'm starting to believe that they are a playoff team.

The Mets still aren't the best team in the National League. Chicago is the class of the Senior Circuit and my pick to make it to the World Series. The Cubs' lineup is simply devastating, and if Carlos Zambrano is healthy, their starting pitching is no joke either. A three-man grouping of Zambrano, Rich Harden and Ted Lilly is on par with Santana, Perez and Pelfrey. Don't even bother comparing bullpens - Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol are light-years beyond anything the Mets can throw at you.

The Brewers, despite playing the victims this week, competed in a three-game series without starting their best pitcher - CC Sabathia. The big lefty is the best pitcher in the National League right now and I would hate to see him three times in a seven-game series. The Cubs are in a different stratosphere, but the Mets and the Brewers are two evenly matched teams with similar flaws - specifically, an untrustworthy bullpen.

Arizona is doing everything it can to hold off the Dodgers in the NL West and they probably will. The Diamondbacks aren't a bad team - I happen to think they are better than their record indicates - and a rotation of Brandon Webb-Dan Haren-Randy Johnson can take care of anyone in a short series.

No matter. The Mets are a team to be reckoned with, and if they hold off the Phillies in the East they will be just as dangerous as anyone else when playoff time rolls around. Something tells me that this September won't bring the same heartache that the previous one did.

Not Ready For Prime Time (Flushing University)

Jon Niese had his chance on Tuesday night, but the left-hander's major league debut wasn't so memorable. Looking ahead, which September call-up might be next in line? Read more here ...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day Stuff

I'm on my way up to Rockland County to celebrate the last day of summer - hopefully you all are doing something to enjoy the long weekend. Just a couple of quick hits from articles I read this morning, with comment:

Dugout Central posted a speculative look at which numbers MLB teams are going to retire next. I was unimpressed with the Mets' list. From the blog:
  • Dwight Gooden (16)

Both “Doc” and Darryl Strawberry are very tough calls. Both were gifted players who would have been better except for their self-destructive behavior. If either gets honored, I’d go with Gooden first.

I'm still beating the "retire Mike Piazza's number" drum, but I am on the fence about Gooden. He spent over a decade with the Mets, but injuries and drug use tarnished his career. No pitcher was more electric in 1984 and 1985, but something changed in 1986. I've read that then-pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre changed Gooden's approach to focus more on contact and less on strikeouts. His K/9 rate never dropped as significantly as people tend to believe, but Gooden's aura of dominance was never the same. There was an ERA spike in the 1990 season that never came back to 1980's levels and he nearly washed out after the 1994 season, when his ongoing drug use caused baseball to ban Gooden for the 1995 season.

All that said, I have to admit that every time a Met is given #16, my first thought is, "that's Dr. K's number." If he cleans himself up and increases his profile over the next few years, I could see the justification for retiring the number.

Meanwhile, Cody Ross refuses to shut up and act like a man, still whining about getting plunked by Mike Pelfrey on Saturday. Ross made a fool of himself by throwing a temper tantrum between home and first and causing both benches to empty - sound and fury signifying nothing. Pelfrey was mostly amused by the incident and said as much after the game, which is only making little Cody angrier. From the article:

Pelfrey said he did Ross a favor by hitting him with a 2-2 pitch. He also accused him of fake charging the mound Aug. 10, when he hit Ross between the shoulder blades with a fastball after giving up a two-run double in the fifth for a 6-1 deficit.

"I didn't fake charge," Ross said. "He hit me, on purpose, and I jumped up and ran to first. I didn't take any steps toward the mound. I jumped up and ran to first. I never looked at him.

"Apparently he can't control his sinker. He has no idea where it's going. If he wants to pop off, I'll let him pop off. I figure you would do that if you were 3-0 against a team and not 0-3, but it is what it is."

Cody Ross = tough guy! Look, batters sometimes get hit by pitches in baseball. Pelfrey has hit Ross twice this season and both times the game situation made it clear that it was unintentional. He acted like a fool on Saturday night and still hasn't shown enough grace and common sense to shut up and let the whole silly episode blow over. I know Ross used to pal around with rodeo clowns, but the time for being a clown is over. You're a baseball player now, Cody - try to act like one.