By Mike Steffanos
Mets 3 - Nationals 1
The Mets offense continued their lost weekend in the nation's capitol, but fine pitching by Steve Trachsel and the bullpen, combined with some shaky play by Washington, gave the Mets a win in the rubber game of the series.
We saw a Steve Trachsel this afternoon that we haven't seen much of in 2006. He was aggressive in the strike zone, getting ahead of hitters and making them swing at his pitches. The result was as dominating of a performance as we've seen from Trachsel this season. Soriano's homer in the fourth was the first baserunner off Steve, and with a little luck he could have made it through 7 complete innings. The Mets offense, meanwhile, made Tony Armas, Jr. look like the top pitching prospect he was a few years ago rather than the injury-plagued mediocre pitcher he is now. There were a lot of "day game after a night game" at bats for the Mets through Armas' solid 7 innings, and if not for Marlon Anderson's error in the top of the seventh Armas would have left the game with the lead.
It was Trachsel's turn to be unlucky in the bottom of the seventh. After retiring the first 2 batters, Trachsel gave up a ground single to Anderson and a soft hit to Brian Schneider. With Steve just under 100 pitches, Willie elected to bring in Royce Ring to face Daryle Ward, who was pinch hitting for Armas. Ring walked him on 4 pitches, surely not endearing himself to Randolph. This brought Soriano to the plate with the bases loaded and 2 outs. Willie brought in Chad Bradford on a double switch that saw Michael Tucker replace Ledee in LF. On a 2-2 count, Bradford threw a good sinker that Soriano topped up the middle. Jose Valentin made an acrobatic play to nip him at first, aided by a nice scoop by Delgado. Soriano not running hard right out of the box made the play possible, and kept the game tied 1-1.
Jon Rauch came in to pitch for Washington, and faced the newly inserted Tucker with 1 out. Tucker took his first pitch out deep to the power alley in right-center to put the Mets up by one. Bradford stayed in the game for the eighth, striking out Felipe Lopez before allowing Ryan Zimmerman's single. Willie brought in Darren Oliver to face lefty Nick Johnson, and Oliver got Johnson to fly out to Beltran on the first pitch. Zimmerman forgot how many outs there were and allowed himself to be doubled off first. It was an efficient 1-pitch outing by Oliver, to say the least.
The Mets tacked on in the ninth against Rauch, thanks to a wild pitch and Jose Valentin's sac fly. Wagner came in for the second consecutive game to pitch the ninth. He retired the first two batters, then allowed Anderson's single and a walk to Alex Escobar. On a 1-0 pitch pinch hitter Brandon Harper lifted a foul ball near the first base stands that Carlos Delgado made a terrific sliding catch on for the final out. The save was number 28 on the season for Wagner.
Thoughts on the game
Trachsel has taken some deserved heat in this space, but today he gets only love. I only wish he would pitch like this more often -- instead of rooting against him to have a playoff start, I would be rooting for him. Admittedly this was against a depleted Nationals lineup, but if we consider the battle for fourth starter is between him and John Maine, this weekend's round went to the veteran. Let's update his chart since June 1:
The irony is that the 2 games at the top and bottom of this table were by far the best 2 Trachsel has pitched all year, and they both resulted in no decisions. Still, Trax has sent Randolph a clear message that he will fight for a post-season start. He'll need to show he can do this more than once every 2 months, but if he follows this up he can change the playoff rotation picture in a hurry. All things being equal, his experience will probably earn him a start. Anyway, we won't get ahead of ourselves. He has to follow this up with another sharp, crisp game.
The Mets left 9 runners on base this afternoon. Delgado and Wright combined for 7 of the 9. Beltran had a good day with a hit and 2 walks, while Michael Tucker has established himself as the frontrunner if we consider that he and Ricky Ledee are battling for one position on the team. I forget, why were we mad at this guy?
I think we all wish Carlos Delgado would start hitting again. Whenever a guy his age goes into a protracted slump there is worry that he is entering a career decline. What has impressed me is that he has been able to contribute with his glove while struggling with the bat. Ask Billy Wagner how grateful he was for the nice play Delgado made for the final out. For the Mets to go somewhere in the playoffs, however, they need Delgado to produce with the bat.
MLB and Viagra may not have considered him worthy of nomination, but in a fair world your 2006 Comeback Player of the Year is Mr. Jose Valentin. Case closed. Garciaparra has been impressive for the Dodgers, but no one in baseball has come so far with so little expectation. In April, the only question about Valentin seemed to be when he would be cut. Now we're not even surprised when he makes a game-saving play and drives in the insurance run with a clutch sac fly.
Bradford was once again clutch in a bullpen that has been somewhat spotty with inherited runners. If you didn't see the game, Wagner was better than his line would indicate. He threw well pitching in a day game after a night game, and a favorable call by the umpire with Anderson at the plate would have meant a 1-2-3 inning. I've been tough on him here at times, but the bottom line for closers is saving games. Wagner has saved 14 of the last 15 opportunities. As with Trachsel, it's time he gets a little love.
This game is being discussed in the MetsMerized Mets Talk Forum.