By Mike Steffanos
It seems like almost everyone picked the Dodgers coming into this series, and some of the few who picked the Mets changed their minds when Orlando Hernandez went down with the infamous NLDS eve calf injury. Granted, the Mets were facing somewhat of an uphill battle going in, but much of what they accomplished in 2006 and the manner in which they accomplished it seemed to be conveniently overlooked by these pundits.
If there was one consistent theme that I constantly ran across, it was that the Mets didn't have enough starting pitching to compete, and that was going to overload their bullpen. The problem with this thinking was the strength and the depth of the Mets bullpen, which goes 5 deep in excellent pitchers, and even deeper than that in good quality. Conventional baseball wisdom in the first decade of the twenty-first century has evolved to a philosophy of working the other team's starting pitcher and getting him out of the game as quickly as possible. Middle relief is the soft underbelly of most teams, including LA. This approach is not nearly as effective when a team has one quality arm after another to run out there in relief of the starter.
Funny, but all those good folks who picked the Dodgers coming in seem to have their blinders on when writing about these games. Their stories are full of placing blame on Grady Little. They criticize the play of the Dodgers, and make it seem as if LA lost the first two games and the Mets did almost nothing to win it. More than one of these geniuses has opined that the loss of Joe Beimel to the Dodgers was more important than the loss of Orlando Hernandez to the Mets. They conveniently forget that Hernandez was the Mets top starter for the last 2 months of the season, pitching to a 1.69 ERA and 1.07 WHIP over his last 6 starts. There's a reason why he was the game one starter. But the facts didn't fit in conveniently with their sour grapes view of what happened. They just couldn't give any credit at all to what the Mets did right.
Playoff games are never won or lost in a vacuum, based on what one team does. If you are one of those that picked the Dodgers, I imagine it's very tempting to make them the scapegoat for your prediction going bad. Unfortunately, this sour grapes type of bias cheats both the truth and those looking to you to share it with them. Sorry to say, if you are a reader and you base your understanding of what happened Wednesday afternoon and Thursday night on what you read in their recap and analysis, I have some really bad news for you -- you're missing half of a terrific baseball series.
Yes, the Dodgers have made mistakes both in the field and -- more famously -- on the basepaths. It's simply ludicrous to point to these mistakes as the be-all, end-all of what has happened, yet the most common line of reasoning seems to be, "if only the Dodgers didn't do [insert mistake here], they undoubtedly would have won the game." The problem with this thinking is that changing one thing might change another. If the Dodgers scored more than one run in the second inning of game one, how do you know the Mets wouldn't have responded? It's ludicrous to play this game, and moreover, as someone who has played sports his whole life, I can flatly tell you that this is the type of thinking that losers do. Winners have no time for wistful what-ifs.
Everyone who has picked against the Mets have jumped on their September offensive slump, which was undeniable and excruciating to watch for us Mets fans. The Mets had done a decent job of working pitchers hard all year, and exploiting the weakness of other team's middle relief. They stopped doing this in September, and went from being one of the best offenses in baseball to one of the worst in that sorry month. The mistake the experts made was not in recognizing the possibility that they might turn things around once the playoffs came. Was it not more logical that the team would perform as they did for most of the year rather than how they underachieved in one bad month with nothing on the line? Yet no one seemed to credit the likelihood of this.
So pick on Grady Little all you want. Second guess his moves, and tell me how different it would all be if the Dodgers lefty didn't get into a bar fight, while ignoring the loss of 2 starters in the final week leading up to the playoffs, including your game one starter the freaking day before game one. It's amazing, though, that when you watched the game you missed the simple truth that the Mets offensive approach had Lowe out of the game after 5-1/3 in game one, and Kuo an inning earlier in game two. Meanwhile, the Mets were able to exploit their 5-deep bullpen to pick up the slack for 7-2/3 combined innings for the two games. This would be folly for most teams that only go 3 deep in the bullpen, but it's just business as usual for the Mets. No one had to pitch more than 2 combined innings for the first 2 games, yet they were able to trot out one excellent pitcher after another.
Many ridiculed Omar Minaya early in the year for his strategy of building his bullpen at the expense of his starting pitching, but he always answered them that he believed that bullpens win playoff series. They may have scoffed, but that's exactly why the Mets are sitting on a 2-0 series lead and have a chance of moving one, despite losing two vital starting pitchers in the week leading up to these playoffs. It's why Mets fans can reasonably believe that we can take one of these next two games, even with Steve Trachsel and Oliver Perez taking the hill. For most teams in these playoffs, having the starter exit in the fourth or fifth would mean disaster. The Mets will still have an honest chance to win.
Again, I make no bold predictions here. As easy as the Mets have won the first two the Dodgers could come back and win these two in Hollywood. Baseball is like that, with the hardest game to win of any playoff series being the clincher. It's been a good ride getting to this point, and I'm grateful for the chance to watch tonight's game with my team having a chance of winning this series that very few conceded to us back on Tuesday. That's all we Mets fans could reasonably ask. Just make no mistake, contrary to what you've been told by many, being in this position heading into game 3 has every bit as much to do with what the Mets have done right as what the Dodgers have done wrong. What irritates me is that many who should know better are simply ignoring that. The Mets have overcome a lot to be in the position they are in, and have done quite a few things right to get there. That's the full story.
Dave Murray, the Mets Guy in Michigan, shares with us his personal experience of meeting the late Buck O'Neil.
Help out a fellow Mets fan
"Chuck" left the following comment on something I wrote a couple of weeks ago (scroll all the way down):
It sure does take guts being a Mets fan. By the way, I'm 41 now and have loved the Mets since I was a small child. In fact, the first two major league games I went to were Mets games...one in which Seaver pitched. A few years later, my father, who's a diehard Yankees fan, got a lot of free tickets to many Yankee games, including the '78 World Series, but I was still very young and didn't yet understand that Steinbrenner was really Satan. All the while, up until now, I've rooted for the Mets... a team of true character. Whether they won, lost, made us proud or embarrassed themselves, the point cannot be argued that they've always been a cast of characters, and they've definitely never been the programmed automatons that Satanbrenner's fascist warriors were and still are.
By the way, I know a lot of you are younger than me and perhaps you haven't followed the team as long, but I'm looking for a favor, if anyone can help. Do any of you have OLD Met games on video that you can transfer to DVD? Specifically, I'm looking for ANY games from the mid '70s through just before their mid-'80s renaissance. Back in those days I went to quite a few games at Shea and also watched the teams from this ragtag era play on channel 9, with the great Nelson/Kiner/Murphy broadcast team. Just seeing those guys on video after all these years - Stearns, Mazzilli, Kingman, Flynn, etc., would bring back wonderful memories. Again, if anyone can help please get in touch. I'll gladly reimburse for blank DVD/postage/etc.
Let's keep our fingers crossed for tomorrow in LA!
Since not many people will read something written that long ago, I reproduce it here. If you want to help Chuck out, you can contact him through his MySpace page or e-mail through me and I will pass it along.