By Mike Steffanos
I woke up this morning. Nothing really special about that, I've done it over 17,000 times in my life. This one was different, however, and at first I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Then it hit me, the remarkable thing about this morning was that I woke up. It was at that moment that I realized that, even without Pedro Martinez, my life was going on.
Since that startling revelation this morning, I've read quite a few things in the local dailies that have attempted to dissuade me of the truth of my wakeup time moment of clarity. They tempt me to walk out on the ledge while they are tossing banana peels at my feet. For instance, Bob Klapisch of the Bergen Record, in his trademark style, wants me to not only feel bad about the post-season, but also next year and the year after:
At age 34, Pedro is aging faster than anyone could've imagined, including the Red Sox, who had a sixth sense about not giving him a fourth year on a proposed contract during free agency. What Pedro needs is time. Not just a few more days, but months. If the Mets aren't careful, Martinez will show up in spring training no better off than he is today. Which is another way of saying, forget about the last $27 million they have invested in him through 2008.
... Of course, the Mets don't dare to speak of Martinez's career in the past tense. They'll continue to insist he'll be a elite-caliber pitcher for years to come. But no one really believes that. His margin of error had been reduced to almost nothing this year. By 2007, his body will be one year older, more susceptible than ever to a million nagging injuries, so it's doubtful Pedro will ever make 30 starts again in a summer.
Ah, vintage Klapisch. Let's just write off the rest of Pedro's career, with absolutely no hope that he can effectively lead this team again. The one thing I would agree with is that it would behoove the Mets not to depend on Pedro Martinez being the ace of their staff for the last two years of his contract. Certainly the pitching staff they will head into 2007 with will be markedly different from the one with which they will go into the playoffs, and it seems likely that Omar will do everything in his power this off-season to find a top-of-the-rotation starter. It would be smart to plan with the assumption that Pedro won't be a horse the Mets can ride throughout the regular season and playoffs next year. I'm just not sure I'd be willing to bet the ranch that Pedro won't find a way to be a key piece of the puzzle, and he wouldn't need to start 30 games a season to lead this team's staff through the next two seasons.
For the short term, it's not unreasonable to hope that the definitive loss of Pedro Martinez for the post-season might serve to galvanize the team. At the very least, it's a good thing that the will he, won't he distraction has been removed, because it had become clear that Pedro wasn't going to be Pedro any longer in 2007. I'm not convinced that the loss of Pedro Martinez will be the crushing blow to the psyche of this team that Bob is trying to make us swallow with his overwrought melodramatic prose.
Hey, we all know this is a huge loss. A pitching staff headed by an effective Pedro Martinez was much more formidable than one without him. The problem with Bob's reasoning is the Mets didn't lose something yesterday that they've had for most of the season. Pedro hasn't really led this staff since May. As Mike Vaccaro points out in the New York Post, the idea that the Mets lost their invincibility when Pedro went down is an illusion:
And here's the thing to remember: The Mets spent most of this summer without Pedro. And they spent most of the summer winning without Pedro. In many ways, Pedro has been the Mets' placebo over his two years with the team: When he was on the mound, the Mets felt like they were practically unbeatable. But the reality is, their winning percentage since the first day of the 2005 season is over 40 points higher on days when Martinez doesn't pitch than on days that he has. It's true. You can look it up.
... For most of the season, Pedro's presence, and personality, have been far more valuable, and relevant, than his performance. That won't change now. He'll still be around the team. He'll still be there. And make no mistake: If he were himself, if he were healthy, he would still be the Mets' most significant weapon.
But he isn't. And he isn't. And before you start wringing your hands about Pedro not being available in October, you should ask yourself this question: Knowing what you know, seeing what you've seen, would you really feel better if he was?
The simple truth is that every playoff team is vulnerable, and the Mets' most glaring area of vulnerability has always been their starting pitching. If Pedro's season hadn't ended yesterday, there was no guarantee that he would be an effective starter in the playoffs. Everything would have needed to go right. If Pedro started game 1 of the NLDS and had gotten shellacked, what would that have done to the team's psyche? Now they have to regroup and go forward behind a top 3 of Orlando Hernandez (who has been their ace for much of the second half), Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel. They can win behind these guys if things go right. If they accept the challenge, they might even be better than if they were led into the post-season by a Pedro who was only 60 or 70 percent right. Sometimes having adversity to overcome galvanizes a team. The Mets probably won't be picked as an sort of overwhelming favorite in the playoffs, which isn't a bad thing if the team takes this as a challenge.
One last inevitable result of Pedro's injury is this from Fox's Ken Rosenthal:
Sorry, the Mets shouldn't be shocked that right-hander Pedro Martinez is out for the postseason. If anything, they should be grateful that the fragile Martinez is their only rotation casualty.
Left-hander Tom Glavine is 40. Right-hander Steve Trachsel is 35. Right-hander Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez is believed to be significantly older than his listed age of 36. And now he's the Mets' Game 1 starter. Think maybe now the Mets regret keeping outfield prospect Lastings Milledge when they could have traded him for left-hander Barry Zito before the July 31 non-waiver deadline?
Rest assured, A's general manager Billy Beane would have dealt Zito for Milledge and a pitcher of modest accomplishment. Milledge's stock has since fallen, and he never was more than a promising corner outfielder to begin with.
I personally find it hard to believe that the Mets refused to make a deal for Zito that involved Milledge and a "pitcher of modest accomplishment." I think one thing Omar has done this year is earn my trust that the moves he has made have balanced the needs of this current team with the future. Any moves that he didn't make would have been because the cost was too high. And that's fine with me -- I want to root for a team that wants to be a winner for more than a year or two. Also, I think Rosenthal jumps the gun in writing off Milledge based on 163 major-league at bats. Then again, Ken Rosenthal isn't the GM for the Mets, and doesn't have to answer for what happens down the road. Hey, I haven't trusted all that many Mets GMs -- and for good reason -- but I trust this one. He was busting his hump trying to deal for starting pitching, and I think he would have made any reasonable deal. Key word: reasonable.
Rosenthal's story also has the usual anonymous citations with dire predictions of impending doom for the Mets:
Even before the team announced Thursday that Martinez would not pitch in the postseason, one National League executive predicted that the team was a first-round knockout waiting to happen.
... One scout who saw the Mets this week says their top hitters are vulnerable to "gas in" -- fastballs inside. [my emphasis]
I'm curious about these National League executives who are so often quoted. If they're so wise, how come their own team has performed so poorly? After all, the NL sucks this year. Just how exactly did the Mets manage to stumble into being the superior team in the league with geniuses like this running the competition? I wish Rosenthal would share with us which team this executive is from so we can watch how well his team performs next week -- if his team is even still playing after Sunday.
These shadowy scouts and team executives have been quoted all year that the Mets wouldn't even win the division. Now that they have, we're now a "first-round knockout waiting to happen." Big shocker. The simple truth is, any playoff team is a "first-round knockout waiting to happen" given one set of circumstances, and a candidate for a ticker-tape parade given another. I know very well that my team can be beaten this off-season, but I swear we have been subjected to more negativity this year based on unnamed "insiders", and none of it has come true so far, yet if the Mets do falter I'm sure the "I told you so's" will fly fast and furious.
I agree with my fellow bloggers cited below:
Can't Stop The Bleeding: Much as I can understand the panic surrounding Pedro's indisposal, and without disagreeing with Rosenthal's assertion that "The Padres boast the league's best overall staff. The Astros, Phillies and maybe even the Dodgers all boast strong rotations than the Mets," I don't think it is a stretch to claim the Mets have a better everyday lineup, and a far surperior bullpen to any of the clubs cited. But if we're supposed to be terrified by the prospect of young arms like Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux or the Sultan of Sloth facing the Mets in the playoffs, by all means, why not just forfeit now and spare us the embarrassment?
Metstradamus: This is not a one man team. Omar Minaya made plenty of other acquisitions in addition to Pedro Martinez that are designed to play some winning baseball. These aren't the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, where the loss of one of their two big starting pitchers would have been disastrous.
You know, two years ago this team was just another in a long line of laughingstock New York Mets squads. We were worth only the occasional passing sarcastic jibe from the baseball pundits. The renaissance of this franchise has earned us a sprinkling of praise and a season's worth of gloom and doom predictions. I guess that's the price that Mets fans pay for some small success after years of frustration. Maybe it will indeed end badly. Most seasons do. I just refuse to give in to this endless parade of pessimism that I'm subjected to.
As does any team entering the playoffs, the Mets will begin with a 0-0 record and a set of strengths and weaknesses. If things go well, the team will ride their strengths to a championship. If not, they will lose. If that happens, I will deal with it at the appropriate time, but I'll be damned if I'll let this constant negativity rob me of all my hope or detract from my enjoyment of what has been -- and continues to be -- a special season.