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Not Dead Yet

Mike SteffanosMonday, October 16, 2006
By Mike Steffanos

Mets 12 - Cardinals 5
NLCS Tied 2-2

You had the feeling that everyone was expecting Oliver Perez to blow up, the Mets bats to freeze up, and the Cardinals to jump out to a commanding 3-1 lead in the NCLS. Then the Mets decided to go off script. Perez pitched with a level of maturity and competence that no Mets starter not named Tom Glavine has shown in this entire off-season. The Mets squandered a pair of 2-out scoring opportunities in the first 2 innings, and then Yadier Molina singled home a run that David Wright just missed making a play on. It looked like everything was going the Cardinals way again, and the stadium was rocking.

At that moment things looked a little dark, to say the least. But the Mets responded with a pair of solo home runs off of Anthony Reyes in the third to take a 2-1 lead. When Juan Encarnacion tripled home Scott Spiezio to tie the game, the Mets responded again. La Russa elected to go to his bullpen in the fifth, and Carlos Delgado made that decision look bad with a 3-run shot. Tim McCarver and Joe Buck made a lot out of it when the Cardinals came back with a run in the bottom of the inning to cut the lead to 5-3, but the Mets hung a 6-spot on the Redbirds in the very next frame to turn it into a laugher.

Although Reyes and Lo Duca were a combined 2-12 on the night, the middle of the order was huge. Besides the 3-run homer that put the Mets on top in the fifth, Delgado also chipped in with an important 2-run double in the sixth that put the Mets up 7-3 and gave them some breathing room. Carlos Beltran, who had been MIA for a couple of games, came back in a big way with a perfect 3-3 night featuring 2 solo home runs along with 2 walks and 4 runs scored. David Wright had a homer and a walk, Shawn Green had a pair of hits, and Jose Valentin had 2 hits including a bases-clearing double that turned the game into a laugher.

Oliver Perez
I know he gave up 3 solo home runs and had a line that looks quite unimpressive at first glance. The key to me was that he never let the game get away from him when it was close, and the solo homers came in the fifth and sixth when he had a lead and was doing the right thing in trying to throw strikes. For a guy who hadn't pitched in two weeks, Perez was actually fairly sharp. His slider had bite and consistency. When he would lose his delivery and look bad on one pitch, he would come back and throw a strike. He was never dominating, but he always seemed in control.

While the physical consistency of his delivery was not always perfect, his composure was almost shockingly good. We had all seen and heard of Perez' mental melt-downs with the Pirates, and I assumed he was a head case. For all of his ups and downs since coming to the Mets, Perez has shown a maturity level and a veteran equanimity that could serve him well in turning things around and halting his 2-year career slide. In a way, I think his 2004 breakout season was something of an albatross for this kid -- I think he struggled greatly to live up to the hype created by his career year. I think he's at a stage where he's ready to get past that, grow up and do something with his inarguable talent. The Mets would be crazy to deal this kid in the off-season; I still think he has top-of-the-rotation potential.

Your Team
I can't predict what will happen tomorrow. If the Cards win, they'll be right back in the driver's seat, despite the last 2 games being in New York. Hell, even if the Mets win they'll have to take one of 2 in New York with Maine in game 6 and probably Oliver in game 7, and that's no sure thing. Whatever happens the rest of the way, I think we'll all look back with some pride and satisfaction at the way they bounced back today.

Box Score

Comments (18)

Well spoken !!!

No beer nuts? :)

No. your post bellies that. you covered everything. Ollie changed the series, and has swung the momentum back.

1. i thought 5innings was enough. He had no gas in the 6th. but i was content. His command still needs some polish. And he SHOULD throw the curve more.

2. Jose Valentin was underscored both on offense and defense.

3. Yes. I have PUMMELLED Traxx ...for two years+. Ever since he gave up 6 runs to Atlanta in 2 innings(?) in the 2nd most painfull game ever. HE REALLY DOES NOT HAVE ANYTHING. it could be his back. I dont know. Right now I want Darren Oliver more than Traxx in Game 6/7. Or for the next 3 games..Glavine-Maine-Ollie.

4. Is Pelfrey's phone ringing? If Duque cant go in the next rnd we need a righty starter to replace traxx.

I actually went to this game in St. Louis, and it was easily the greatest sports-related experience of my entire life. First off, the St. Louis hecklers are complete garbage compared to New Yorkers. I expected to be eaten alive. More importantly, though, a lot is made out of the Cardinals' fans being the most loyal in baseball, but I saw quite a few people filing out of their seats after the sixth inning. I highly doubt that would happen in Shea Stadium.

Which brings me to my next point. Call me crazy, but I think the Mets have seized the momentum of this series, and they are not looking back. The difference between tonight and last night was that we played our game. The hitters were patient enough to knock Reyes out of the game after four innings despite him only yielding 2 runs, and Perez really looked great in his ground ball production. Additionally, he ALWAYS recovered from those solo homers by retiring the rest of the side. He never looked like he was about to get hammered; the Encarnacion play was more bad fielding on Green's part than good hitting.

In terms of the next game, Jeff Weaver can't keep up this imitation of his brother much longer. He's a head case and a fly ball pitcher, and those fly balls are going to breach the fence a great deal more in Busch than they are in Shea, if tonight was any indication. I think that if we stay patient and continue to work his pitch count, we'll hammer him like the rest of this staff. Also, we must have bulldozed through LaRussa's entire bullpen tonight, and he should pray to God this game gets rained out so they can rest up.

I personally think we take this next game and come back to New York to let Johnny Maine regain his confidence in front of the home crowd and slam the door on the Cards, and I don't think either contest will be close.

One more point I wanted to make, too-- the dudes who have been coming through for the Cards have been no-names who have slammed the worst of the Mets' pitching. Scott Spiezio post-steroids sure can hammer the ball off Steve Trachsel and Billy Wagner in a non-save situation, but I'd love to see Yadier Molina and So Taguchi come up with the same heroics against Glavine. Pujols, Encarnacion, Duncan and Belliard have for all intents and purposes not shown up to this series. And honestly, I'll still take our bullpen against theirs any day of the week. Bring it on.

One thing that kept my hope alive before last nights game,was that in 1986 the Red Sox 2 and the Mets 1 after 3, and that year turned out pretty good for us.For the good of my heart, I hope the Mets win in 6. But I think it may be a nail biting 7th game with Wagner in the 9th. Lord have mercy.

They got it back to NY.... I'll take Spiezio on my team anyday....

Hey Mike- Sorry I haven't been commenting much-I've been busy with the Mets, Jets and Rangers, but I have been reading.
I have to say I don't agree with you on Perez, I thought he was good enough to win that particular game, but had the offense not exploded it would have been a mess. I do like what I see out of him though, he didn't become unglued and he kept his composure and I do see a ton of potential out of him.

Well, I'm sorry Cliffie is hurt but I'm extra glad that Chavez was out there for Perez' start. Oliver is one of the most extreme flyball pitchers on the planet; it was a lock that the Mets were going to be tested in the outfield. And they passed the test; even Beltran's not-quite play was contained and appropriate for the situation, in contrast to Tori Hunter's disasterous attempt in the divisional playoffs. Chavez cost the Cardinals an out on the basepaths, third base no less, back when the game was still close.

For my nickle the game turned on: hard fought at bats, with the Mets seemingly getting behind 0-2 in every turn at the plate and still making something of it; Perez' grittiness, coming back from giving up home runs to resume retiring the next batters; the difference in the two defenses, as the Cardinals fielded a first baseman out in left field and paid dearly, and also misplayed Valentin's catchable flare into a hit. The Cardinals' bad fielding gave the Mets additional at bats, and the Mets batters fought and won a war of attrition with Antony Reyes and the St Louis pen.

Good to see the team coming out focussed and strong -- what did you think of Jose's throw in the first off the deflection from Wright? -- and, as you said, good to see the Mets NOT revert to a simple slash and bash approach at the plate. These guys, they don't rattle easily, do they? What an enjoyable team to follow.

Regarding Spezio, there is a good post at the Only Baseball Matters site, where the site host, a Giants fan, recalls how Scott hurt his team in the 2002 World Series when they pitched him low and inside, and how the Mets were burned in game 2 by pitching him the same way in a ten pitch at bat; which McCarver was in talking about as it happened.

Ah; better. Now I'm wondering what the Mets might have learned from Jeff Weaver's last start. Let's Go Mets!

I don't have much to add, as all of you pretty much covered it all, EXCEPT... I no longer use paper stats to evaluate how good, bad or mediocre a player is, especially when it comes to the Mets. Stats, plain and simple, are deceiving. Look at some former Met pitchers (Benitez/Looper) for proof. On paper a lot of players look extremely solid but they blow up when it really counts. Look at Perez's stats for the year and the first reaction of a "stats person" is: terrible. He stinks. Not so. I like the kid's stuff and I like his heart. I think his biggest problems this year were: (1) pitching for Pittsburgh, (2) falling into bad habits that the Pittsburgh organization folks weren't astute enough to (a) notice, and (b) remedy. Peterson's obviously been working closely with Perez and I think we're going to see a more consistent pitcher in '07. If last night's game is any indication we're already starting to see it. Going into the game all I asked was for him to keep it close, which he did. I also asked for the Met hitters (too good to be shutdown for three consecutive games) to be more patient and come through. Wish number two came through. Let's see which Jeff Weaver we get tonight! ~cc~

Shari and Mike:

1. I posted before when the roster was put out that Ollie (and Maine) should get 5.0 innings no more. Ollie (ala VZ) has been great thru 5 in more starts than not. On (now) 3 occasions I can think of his rhythm/mechanics go awry after the 5th or the 85th-90th pitch. its then the slider does not break as well.

Ed (Anonymous) - I thought how deep he went was remarkable for a guy who hadn't pitched in 2 weeks. I don't blame Willie for trying to nurse him through the sixth with the huge lead.
Matt - I'm not a huge believer in momentum carrying over from one game to another, but as Delgado said last night, I'd rather be 2-2 than down 3-1. I never bought into the best fans in the world crap, either.
Rev - Keep the faith, my friend.
Bean - If taking Spiezio means we all have to wear stupid fake beards in the stands I think I'll pass. :-)
Shari - I've been reading your Rangers blog. I don't Perez pitched great last night, but I think he pitched as good as anyone could reasonably hope for. If Peterson can help him get consistency in his delivery next year he'll cut down on the badly located pitches and stop giving up so many home runs. For now, though, he was great for a work in progress who hadn't pitched in 2 weeks, and certainly better than Maine and Trachsel this series.
dd - The at bats are always the key to this team's offense. When they stop getting themselves out they have a chance against any pitcher. I loved the play Jose made in the first, though I was less than thrilled with his baserunning in the ninth. I don't care what the score is, it's not a mistake you should make on this stage. Still, I remind myself he's 23 and getting better at keeping concentration and focus.
Chuck - I'm hoping that it's not the Weaver we saw in Game 1.
Ed - Agreed. But as I said, with that lead Willie trying to coax another inning was not out of line.

Perez did what needed to be done; hold 'em and let the offense wake up. Great job in what was the biggest spot of the year for the entire Mets team. There is just something about this team...

*gets on soapbox*

I'm of the opinion that LaRussa has zero respect for the Mets and there is obviously a trickle-down effect to Pujols (see Queen Albert's post-game 1 comments about Glavine, which of course Larussa stood behind). His rookie pitcher Anthony Reyes gives up two blasts to Beltran and Wright in the 3rd and LaRussa claims (during in-game interview with Fox no less) it was due to Reyes tipping pitches when pitching from the wind-up. So it had nothing to do with Wright and Beltran being great hitters, nor that Reyes couldn’t find the strike-zone and grooved a couple of pitches when he did? Or is it because your crack coaching staff didn't pick up on his pitch tipping until Game 4 of the NLCS, when you had an entire season to catch and correct it? Which is it Tony, arrogance or plain stupidity? Classless.

In the post-game press conference, LaRussa then claimed all his pitchers made mistakes and gave no credit to the Mets, who by the way, put some great ABs together and worked that weak pen until they broke through. "If you throw the ball down the middle to my line-up, we'll do the same thing" he said, again, nothing to do with the Mets line-up being the best in the National League. This is the same bullpen that couldn’t hold or win a game for almost the entire month of September, barely making the playoffs. Dude, you have Braden friggin' Looper as a setup guy. HELLO!

I get the idea him and most of his team are drinking the ESPN kool-aid. Guess the Mets got "lucky" again in Game 4 eh, Tony? Bottoms up fellas, here's to the Mets getting lucky twice more.

*gets off soapbox, ready to pass it along* Anyone else?!

Best moment of Game 4:

Fox runs a 20-30 second spot as the 6th inning started, highlighting the "vaunted" Cardinals bullpen, 20 2/3 scoreless inning in nice big numbers, with quick shots of their relievers in action. The proverbial kiss of death. BAM! Mets put up a 6-spot on 'em and never look back. For the rest of the game, you could almost hear the pain in McCarver's voice when he grudgingly gave props to the Mets line-up. For awhile there, I thought he wasn't going to even say another word. Too funny...

pyrexia - I've never tried to figure out La Russa, who strikes me as a very odd man. He's got some things to answer for in his game management last night. I agree with you on the unintentional humor of that bullpen thing, I replayed some of the game after it was over and that was good for a laugh.

Hi Mike- The Rangers are a whole other discussion-LOL AWFUL the last few games.
By no means am I down by Perez nor do I blame Willie for throwing him-he's out of options and like rolling dice every once in a while he comes up big-better than Trachsel who one would think could rise to the occassion in the play offs the way he was bitching over possibly not getting a start in the post season when Pedro & El Duque were still in the picture despite winning 15 games. Now I hope he sees why.

Pyrexia- You said it-just like then they said Wagner has not blown a save against St Louis since July of 1998-you knew it was coming.
I hope they flap their gums some more about Cardinal's pitcher's scoreless inning stats again tonight.

Shari - Yeah, it would be a good thing if the Rangers stopped messing around soon. I know my Knicks are going to give me nothing this winter. My point about Perez was that it was incredibly difficult to be a 25 year old picther who has mechanical issues, pitching in your first playoff game ever after not pitching for 2 weeks. For a guy who was supposed to be a head case, he was remarkably mature. Admittedly I'm grading him on the curve.

Hey Mike, Spiezio doesnt have a beard... its a soul patch :)

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