By Mike Steffanos
Mets 4 - Braves 1 (Game 1)
Mets 8 - Braves 0 (Game 2)
Dave Williams doesn't really wow you when he takes the hill. He lacks overwhelming stuff, but he pitches quickly, throws strikes and has given the Mets a decent chance to win all of his starts. It looked like an overmatch when Williams went up against John Smoltz in game 1 of the doubleheader today, but it was Smoltz who was not up to the task.
So far in his young Mets career Williams has struggled against the first batter he faces in an inning. Today was no exception as the Atlanta leadoff batters had hits in the first 3 innings against Williams, including Brian McCann's solo homer on the first pitch of the second inning that put the Braves up 1-0. The Mets were able to tie the game in their half of the second when Jose Valentin doubled home Shawn Green. Willy Aybar led off the third with a single, but Williams quickly erased him with a pickoff, and the game settled into a pitcher's duel.
In the fourth and fifth Williams retired the leadoff hitters, but allowed singles to the second batter. Still, he matched zeros with the Braves' ace. It was Smoltz who cracked first in the bottom of the sixth, allowing Lo Duca's leadoff single and Delgado's long home run. It could have beeen worse, but Ricky Ledee, hitting for Williams, grounded out with the bases loaded. 3-1 Mets.
Pedro Feliciano took over in the seventh. A leadoff single by Diaz was erased when Delgado initiated a nifty 3-6-3 double play. Guillermo Mota came in for the eighth and survived a 2-out Aybar double with no damage. Shawn Green, who had been in a bad slump until busting out in a big way today, gave the Mets an important insurance run with an opposite field homer in the eighth, and Wagner pitched a perfect ninth for his 35th save.
Thoughts on the game
Give this kid credit, because he's figured out something that some veterans haven't -- the simple truth that you can get away with being a little hittable if you don't give up walks. Sure, he's given up more than a hit an inning with the Mets, and gets touched up for some home runs, but he's a joy to watch. He knows how to pitch, pitches fast and keeps his defense in the game.
His curveball wasn't as effective as we've seen it in other games. He didn't have great control of it. He got good mileage out of his change and threw his fastball for strikes. He did a good job of throwing high fastballs out of the zone that enticed batters like Andruw Jones to chase. Williams probably doesn't have a spot on the post-season roster, but has to be in their thinking for next year as a fifth starter or middle relief/spot starter role. Great job by a kid who has earned my respect. When they picked him up I thought absolutely nothing of the deal. That's why Omar is a highly-paid GM and I write a blog.
Delgado hit the big home run to break a deadlocked game, but it was Shawn Green who had the big breakout offensive performance, going 3-4 with the solo homer.
I have a feeling that Willie went up to Oliver Perez and told him, "I got good news and bad news. The good news is that you are getting another start. The bad news is that you're pitching for the Junior Varsity." After being told that the debacle in Colorado would be his last start for the 2006 Mets, Ollie was handed one more chance to end on a positive note. But if he was to win, he would do it with a lineup behind him that didn't include Lo Duca, Delgado or David Wright. It didn't matter -- the free-falling Braves were no match for Perez and his mates. And Perez did have Carlos Beltran and Cliff Floyd returning to action backing him up.
After Perez pitched a 1-2-3 first, the Mets jumped out quickly on Braves starter Kyle Davies. Jose Reyes homered on the first pitch Davies threw, and Julio Franco singled home Beltran to the Mets up 2-0.
After that there were a lot of zeros on the board as both starters pitched effectively. I thought a crucial point of the game came in the top of the fourth. Renteria led off with a soft single to second. This brought up Jeff Francoeur, who was talking a lot of trash before the Mets put the Braves back into a skid last time they saw each other. Francoeur, in the midst of an awful day, lifted a foul ball that Julio Franco had a bead on until a fan clearly reached over and interfered with the catch. Called out on interference, the frustrated Francoeur threw a little tantrum and was joined by his manager Bobby Cox. Although neither was tossed, I thought as I was watching them beg for the call that they both knew they were toast in this game. It was just a matter of time.
Time ran out on Atlanta's slim hopes in the bottom of the sixth. The Mets scored 2 on Chris Woodward's double and another pair on Endy Chavez' triple. Up 6-0, the only suspense was whether Perez would pitch the complete game shutout. He pitched a 1-2-3 seventh, and saw his lead balloon to 8-0 on Shawn Green's 2-run homer in the bottom of the seventh. He set the Braves down in order in the eighth. Marcus Giles singled leading off the ninth, but was erased when Tony Pena grounded into a double play. The Mets fans started taunting the Braves with a sarcastic tomahawk chop chant. Jeff Francoeur walked, but Perez enticed Brayan Pena to ground out to Jose Reyes to put the Braves out of their misery.
Thoughts on the game
Just for the heck of it, here is what Oliver Perez has done in the three games he has pitched for the Mets.
A complete game shutout against a team that was desperately trying to hang onto their dim playoff hopes was quite impressive. I think this would be a good place to shut Perez down for the 2006 season, at least as far as live games go. Keep working in the bullpen with professor Rick, and head into 2007 on an up note. One walk in 9 innings was almost a miracle. He was throwing hard, and the slider which was flat and hittable against the Rockies was sharp and breaking down again. He had some nice plays made behind him, and was fortunate on a couple of hard outs, but this was the kind of dominating performance that gives hope for next year. It's not an exaggeration to say there were times in this game and the Phillies game when Perez was electric. He was certainly never boring to watch.
Shawn Green was again the big hitting star with 3-4, the 2-run homer and a pair of runs scored. Green, who was slumping and clearly pressing going into the doubleheader, was 6 for 8 on the day with a double and 2 home runs. Anderson Hernandez, on the other hand, was 0-5 and continues to show that he just can't hit at this level right now. He's packing a ton of leather and no lumber at all.
Braves fans, it's time to turn your attention to the Falcons, college football and NASCAR. Hasta la vista, baby. See the helpful graphic below: