By Mike Steffanos
The great thing about the playoffs is that you have so little time to bask in the glow of a great win before you're worrying about the next game. Still, as I wrote last night, that win ranks up there with some of my personal favorites all-time. It seemed like everyone was picking against the Mets in the series, especially after Orlando Hernandez went down. Of course, that's the way it's gone this season. When the Mets came off that terrific west coast trip in June, everyone was opining that they were a sure thing to represent the NL in the series. That sentiment lasted about 5 minutes. Every time a key Met was injured or the Braves and/or Phillies got hot for a week, all of a sudden you'd be reading one thing after another about just how vulnerable the Mets were.
Still, the Mets kept rolling, despite auditioning a new starting pitcher every other week. They kept playing very well, despite their big lead, until the month of September. The bats went cold, particularly against lefties, and it became more and more apparent with every start that Pedro Martinez was unlikely to be a difference maker in October. Meanwhile, the inconsistent Dodgers and Padres started playing better. Next thing you knew, an entire season of overcoming obstacles and being the only NL club playing consistent winning baseball all year seemed to become irrelevant. Both west coast clubs were the bandwagon destinations while the Mets were consigned to being a "first round exit waiting to happen." Starting pitching was never the strength of this club all year, but the fickle pundits chose to stress their weaknesses in that area over their strengths in possessing the finest bullpen in baseball and a vastly superior lineup to any of their NL counterparts.
It didn't really bother me that a lot of the so-called experts were picking against us. Given their track records from previous post-seasons, this is probably a good thing. After a while, though, I found the constant stream of negativity irritating -- and this was before El Duque went down. As I tried to get news of his condition Tuesday, I was bombarded with dire predictions of post-season doom for my team. I'm as tough-minded as any when it comes to that, but it started to get to me. I fell in love with this team this year; in my opinion, they were the most fundamentally sound and resilient Mets team ever. I wanted to be able to enjoy at least a decent post-season run, and wondered if perhaps they might be quickly tossed out of the party.
Then I just got pissed off. I was determined not to let all of the nay-sayers ruin my October experience. As I watched the team battle back yesterday, I realized that they weren't, either. They did us proud last night. When the Dodgers came back on them, they came right back on the Dodgers. The Mets worked some good at-bats against Derek Lowe, and got him out of the game. Once they did that, the Dodgers own weakness -- a thin bullpen -- was exposed. The Mets are facing a tough left-hander today, and they'll have to battle him the same way that they did Lowe. Every at bat needs to be a quality at bat, and that's something they have been inconsistent with this year, particularly during the September struggles. But if they can do that, they can beat anyone in the National League. They can overcome their starting pitching weakness with quality offense and their bullpen.
The formula worked yesterday, despite what you might have read. If you read someone like ESPN's Buster Olney, you might come away with the impression that yesterday's win had very little to do with the Mets at all. Buster spent a lot of words blaming yesterday's loss on Grady Little's decision to use Brad Penny in relief and the crushing loss of left-handed reliever Joe Beimel, who assuredly would have come into the game and retired 27 Mets in order if he didn't lose a battle with something made of glass in a bar. Umm, Buster -- we lost a couple of important pitchers, too, remember? Oh sure, maybe Pedro and El Duque don't have quite the importance of LA's lefty specialist...
Then Buster goes on to talk about the second inning baserunning blunder that many other pundits are insisting was the play that "cost the Dodgers the game," as if the Mets would have had no chance to come back if they fell further behind in the second inning. What you don't find in the almost 1,200 words that Olney used in discussing the game is anything that might hint at the fact that the Mets actually did something that won the game. Then again, Olney is one of the experts who picked the Dodgers to win the series. Later on in his piece, Olney accuses Billy Wagner of playing the "Nobody-Believes-We-Can-Win Card." Perhaps Wagner feels this way because almost no one seems to believe the Mets can win this series, including Olney himself. Olney couldn't even move himself to give the Mets credit for winning the game they had already won. Thanks, buddy.
Anyway, all the Mets really accomplished yesterday -- besides making a few pundits scramble to find a way to blame yesterday's loss on Grady Little and a beer bottle -- was to give themselves at least 3 more chances to win another one. I hope that they can continue to play as well as they did last night. Despite what you may have been led to believe, the Mets have three significant advantages in this series: a much more powerful lineup, a much better defense and a much deeper bullpen. They'll have to continue to show the discipline at the plate that they did yesterday, especially if this kid for the Dodgers has his best stuff. If they maintain their approach from yesterday, they can win this series. If not, the experts will all have the last laugh. Just make no mistake, the Mets won that game yesterday -- nothing was handed to them.
Got an e-mail from someone connected with For Him magazine suggesting that this story on the 1986 Mets by Bob Klapisch might be of interest to my readers. I get frustrated by Klapisch, a great baseball writer who has a gift for piling on the melodrama at the expense of real analysis, and someone who falls too easily into the trap of viewing the Mets through Yankees-colored glasses. Still, this long feature is Klapisch at his best, and is worth a look. Check it out.
You never forget your first time
The Mets have so many talented people blogging them it's almost an embarrassment of riches. One who has consistently entertained me the past few months is Mets Grrl, who is sharing with all of us her first season as a baseball fan. This provides a unique point of view which makes me remember fondly back a zillion years or so when I first fell in love with the game. On top of this, she is an excellent writer who is truly gifted at sharing her experiences and insights in a very entertaining manner.
There's nothing cute or silly about her blog, and it's not cool "because she's a girl". I always felt that baseball was a sport you either "get" or "don't get." She is another in an impressive line of female Mets bloggers like my friend Shari from Take The "7" Train who "get" the game. Indeed, Mets Grrl understands more about baseball already than many life-long fans I know. Still, it's all new to her, and that's what makes her really fun to read. She has even helped me to understand the serious problem of a lack of quality women's Mets attire.