By Mike Steffanos
So Pedro manages to grab his historic 200th career win last night, in the process helping the Mets build a historic 5-game lead on the Braves. While it's silly to place undue significance on April baseball, it was extremely important for the Mets to set the tone early in 2006. Maybe we can't bury the Braves yet, but we can send them scampering back to Atlanta with a few doubts.
As Omar was constructing this team during this past off-season, Braves writers were haughtily comparing the winter of 2005-06 to the unfortunate winter of 2001-02, as if Carlos Delgado was Mo Vaughn, and Billy Wagner was Kevin Appier. The natural order of things demanded that everything the Braves touch turns to gold, while what the Mets touch turns to something that is much less precious and smells a whole lot worse. (Hint: you'll often find this substance on the unwashed hands of Braves' fans when they exit the bathroom.)
[Note: I meant to say Shawn Estes in the above paragraph rather than Kevin Appier. I do realize they were traded for each other, but got caught up in my own little literary moment. Sorry folks.]
Maybe that's the way it will eventually play out in 2006, and I'll spend another winter curled up in the fetal position, cursing the gods of baseball and screaming out, "why damn it, why?" But this year, as early as it is, has a different feel to it. Admit it -- when the Mets failed to pad their lead last night, and the game progressed, you were just waiting for that moment when something bizarre would turn the game in the Braves favor. I still haven't regained my normal heartbeat since that moment when Nady caught Andruw Jones' flyball at the fence. When Lo Duca had to throw Todd Pratt out at first to end the game, there was that one split-second when you could picture that throw sailing over Delgado's head and down the right field line.
But none of those things happened. Pedro pitched good enough, Nady and Delgado did what they've been doing all April, and Duaner Sanchez worked his way a little deeper into the hearts of Mets fans. Yes, it's so damned early, but you can't help but feel a difference. Most of the Mets that were traumatized by the Braves for so many years have moved on. Meanwhile the Braves, though they'll be much stronger when Larry and Renteria return, look like the team that's somewhat poorly constructed and out of synch.
We know things can change in a hurry, and nothing that happened last night will matter unless the Mets take at least one of the next two games and win the series. I just can't help but state the obvious, though -- there is a different feel to these two teams that goes beyond one's fast start and one's slow one. I'm not afraid of the Braves this year as I have been in years past. They're still a good team, and will be better than they've shown so far. It's just that the Mets are better, and I have a feeling that they know this, and so do the Braves.
Daily News: Cliff's Injury
Peter Botte reports on Cliff Floyd's injury, strained muscles on the left side of his rib cage. He quotes the Mets' left fielder:
It's not as bad as I thought it was going to be ... But I guess when it rains it pours sometimes. I think I'm going to be OK, so hopefully things will turn around for me soon, and all this will be forgotten.
... I'm not even thinking about (the disabled list) and all that. I'm gonna come in here with the intention of trying to play. If it doesn't allow me to swing or feel comfortable, then I won't go out there, but I will come in here with good intentions.
I'm really not looking forward to missing any games, especially with Carlos out. The last thing you want to do is put the team at a disadvantage if you can play. ... I don't want to do anything to jeopardize the good thing we've got going on.
You have a feeling that, at the very least, you're not going to see Cliff in the game tonight.
New York Times: Pedro's 200th
Ben Shpigel recaps Pedro's historic win.
Newark Star-Ledger: You're yesterday's news
Dan Graziano pens a great column opining that the Mets should stop deferring to the Braves' history, come right out and accept being the team to beat in the National League east.
Bergen Record: Roger McDowell
J.P. Pelzman profiles former Met pitcher Roger McDowell, the beleaguered pitching coach of the Braves.
Faith and Fear in Flushing: Success is Killing Me
Greg has a funny take on the early season victory train.