By Mike Steffanos
Mets 3 - Dodgers 2
All I have been reading lately is how the Mets have no starting pitching, and for the most part I've watched one solid start after another from this club. Orlando Hernandez' start this afternoon was no exception. He stood toe to toe with Greg Maddux, and he was the last man standing as the Mets won a playoff-caliber game from the Dodgers at Shea.
After allowing a leadoff double to Rafael Furcal in the first, Hernandez retired 15 consecutive Dodgers until Russell Martin led off the sixth with a single. While El Duque was dominating, the Mets were able to break through against Maddux with Carlos Delgado's solo homer in the second.
That 1-0 lead stood up until the top of the sixth, when Martin led off with a soft single. Maddux came up in a bunting situation, and with the Mets playing aggressively for the bunt, Maddux tried to slap the ball past Reyes, who was covering second. Reyes made a nice adjustment to come up with the ball, but rushed the throw to first and put it in the dirt where Delgado couldn't come up with it. He was charged an error. It was a tough call, but probably fair. He had more time to make a better throw.
Furcal sacrificed both men over, then Lofton tied the game on a single to center, with Maddux stopping at third. With Lofton running, Garciaparra hit a grounder right at David Wright. Wright's only play should have been Garciaparra at first, but Maddux wandered down the line and was tagged out in a run down. Dumb play by someone who had been around long enough to know better. Hernandez had a chance to escape with a 1-1 tie, but Drew singled to center to put the Dodgers up 2-1.
The Mets came right back against Maddux in the bottom of the sixth. Reyes flied out leading off, but Jose Valentin -- in the number two spot with Lo Duca sitting out -- lined a hard double into the RF corner. Maddux intentionally walked Carlos Beltran, then was lifted for former Met Tim Hamulack facing Delgado. Carlos lifted a deep fly to the warning track in center field, with both Valentin and Beltran tagging up and advancing. Beltran's heads-up baserunning by going from first to second would pay off in a big way. Brett Tomko replaced Hamulack as Grady Little played righty-lefty, but Wright -- who had doubled off Tomko last night -- singled up the middle on a full count to put the Mets up 3-2.
Hernandez walked Ethier leading off the seventh, but retired Betemit, Martin and Marlon Anderson to complete his terrific outing. Aaron Heilman only needed 7 pitches to induce 3 ground outs in the eight, and Billy Wagner came in to try to nail down his 36th save in the ninth. After retiring Drew for the first out, he allowed Jeff Kent to single on a 3-2 slider. Jason Repko came in to run for Kent. Wagner went full again on Olmedo Saenz, and Little elected to send the baserunner to stay out of a double play. The move backfied as Wagner struck out Saenz and Kelly Stinnett gunned down Repko at second for the game-ending twin killing.
Thoughts on the game
Let's look at Orlando Hernandez chart:
|TOTAL (6 Games)||35.1||20||19||31||34||16||3||4.84||1.33||3-3|
|TOTAL (5 Games)||31.1||9||8||21||29||12||1||2.30||1.05||3-2|
As I did last time, I show his numbers with and without the beating he took against the Phillies. My feeling, for what it's worth, is that if El Duque is healthy enough, he would be my third playoff starter. I certainly still feel that way. This was a game with a playoff feel today, and El Duque was on top of his game. He may be 100 years old, but he still has some gas and he's still fun to watch when he is on top of his game.
For the second day in a row Wright was the offensive star of the game, only this time he had enough help to pull it out. Jose Valentin had a big double off Maddux, and has been all that could be asked for and then some at second base. In all my years of watching the Mets, he might be the biggest surprise as far as a player coming out of nowhere to be a big-time contributor.
Note to Gary Cohen and Ron Darling:
You both have made Mets games much more watchable this year. Gary is a terrific announcer, and Ron has come a long way as a color man. When I have the misfortune of hearing the awful announcers that most teams have, I feel fortunate, indeed. Having said that...
Next time you feel the need to spend the whole afternoon in a love-fest with Greg Maddux, please get a room and do it privately. We really do understand what makes Maddux great as a pitcher, we just don't care for him as a person. We've endured his little prima donna act for years. We watched him simper and sulk his way through games. We really can't stand the bastard.
Does some of this have to do with the way he has beaten us over the years? Sure, but John Smoltz has beaten us plenty, and I don't have the same revulsion towards Smoltz. All I really need to know about Maddux was revealed in the manner that he absolutely quit on the Cubs this year. Smoltz wouldn't have done that, neither would a lot of guys that I have respect for that pitch for other teams. Why is no one willing to call this guy on the fact that he took millions from the Cubs this year and barely showed up when things started going bad? To me, that's the opposite of greatness. Greg Maddux may be a wonderful technician on the mound -- when he decides he wants to pitch -- but he is far from a great human being.
By the way, I was waiting for one of you to call Maddux on his baserunning blunder when he got caught off third base in that pivotal fifth inning, but that was one thing he did today that you didn't feel the need to talk incessantly about. You really did give me a headache after a while.