By Mike Steffanos
Cardinals 5 - Mets 0
Cardinals Lead NLCS 2-1
The Mets season is hanging by a thread right now. Steve Trachsel pitched them into a deep hole early, and the offense was almost non-existent. About the only thing that went right for Trachsel last night was picking off David Eckstein in the first after he led off the game with a single. Trachsel was handing out walks and hits with alarming frequency. The first inning was tedious and disheartening, highlighted by Scott Spiezio's 2-run, 2-out bloop triple. The second inning was even worse. After giving up an embarrassing leadoff homer to Suppan, it actually went downhill for Trachsel. By the time he left with a leg injury, the bases were loaded with nobody out. Although he wild-pitched in one run and allowed another to score on a groundout, Darren Oliver did a good job getting the Mets out of the inning still in reasonable striking range.
After that, there was ... nothing. The Mets reverted to the offensive approach that made September such a forgettable month. Suppan was pitching well, but they looked they were pressing and trying to make something happen rather than take good at bats. In the end, despite Trachsel's forgettable performance, it was the offense that was the real goat in my mind. 5-0 after 2 is not an insurmountable lead, but very early on I had a bad feeling about things. The Mets lost this game as a team. Now they must regroup or this all can be over rather quickly.
I held back on writing this recap for a while today because I wanted to try to get beyond my frustration and disappointment and not just write the bitchy, whiny post that I probably would have this morning. Here are some thoughts on some of the guys who have gotten us into this mess.
We pause here for kudos. If the Mets had come back to win last night's game, Oliver's amazing six inning effort would go down with Sid Fernandez' 1986 Game 7 relief effort. Sadly, it will probably be forgotten fairly quickly since the Mets were so anemic. Despite the loss, Oliver may indeed have had his signature moment as a Met last night.
I got tired of defending myself this summer from people who thought I had it in for Trachsel. The way that Steve pitched last night -- and he certainly wasn't much better in the game against the Dodgers -- was exactly how I feared he would pitch in the post-season. In big spots, his stuff just isn't good enough anymore. But while not I'm not here to praise him today, I'm not here to bury Steve Trachsel, either. He pitched this game because two starters went down, and I don't believe his struggles had anything to do with choking.
Trachsel has always been a pitcher who lives on the edge. Although his stuff was decent a few years ago, it was never dominating. Guys like Steve have to be tough-minded to last in the major leagues as long as he has. He needed to live on the corners and never give in to hitters. Of course, sometimes this tough-mindedness turned into just plain stubbornness -- endlessly slowing down the game and making repeated throws to first base to hold base runners that had no intention of stealing. When things went well with Steve, you had improbable one-hitters and clinics in how to outthink batters. When things went badly you had some of the most tedious Mets games of the millennium.
That back injury last year took enough away from Trachsel to produce the diminished Trachsel parody that we have endured in 2006, with all of the tedium and little of the pleasant surprises. How he has pitched in these playoffs is really no surprise, because a patient offense will expose the 2006 version of Steve Trachsel. Two years ago, he might have stepped up and duplicated Bobby Jones' improbable playoff performance. That he was incapable of that this year had nothing to do with choking and everything to do with diminished skills. I think when Trachsel is finished as a New York Met I will try to remember that scintillating division clincher against Florida and not last night's embarrassment. Despite what some of you thought, I have nothing against Steve Trachsel.
Having said that, I don't care how long it takes Pedro to come back next year, there is no sensible reason for the Mets to re-sign Trachsel for 2007, as some local writers have opined they would. There is no reason to think that at 36 years old Steve will pitch better next season rather than decline even further. I'd rather see a young guy like Dave Williams be our fifth starter next year. It's time to write the ending for the Steve Trachsel era in New York. The Mets have a lot of work to do to remake their tattered rotation, and need to look ahead, not backwards.
At the time of the All-Star break, we were still marveling at how well Wright handled all of the pressure of being one of baseball's biggest stars in the bright lights of New York City. Since that time, David has proved to us that he's mortal, and still has some growing up to do. He wasn't very good after game 1 against the Dodgers, and he's been MIA against the Cardinals. He's looking like a kid in the process -- being overaggressive and getting himself out. Jose Reyes has been better, but has looked like a 23-year-old at times, also.
Hopefully Wright can turn it around for the remainder of the playoffs. If he doesn't, there probably won't be many games remaining. Whatever happens, David is going to have a winter to look back on this season and think how he might handle things a little differently next year. Despite his insistence that all the hoopla from the All-Star Game and all of the appearances afterwards didn't effect him, I think he lost some focus. I'm not going to kill him for it, when I was 23 I couldn't have come close to handling everything as well. However, he really needs to learn to manage the entire David Wright experience better. A major league season is a marathon, and he's not Superman.
Now our 2006 season is sitting in the unpredictable left hand of Mister Inconsistency. What a strange ride it's been to get to this point. In a way though, it's oddly fitting. Steve Trachsel has fallen short in his chance to be the unlikely hero -- now that opportunity has fallen into Oliver's lap. He certainly has the stuff to step up and be the man, but we all know how inconsistent he is, and he hasn't pitched in almost 2 weeks. I guess I should be really nervous about this, but I feel oddly calm. I understand that the season could be teetering on the brink of disaster by the end of the evening, but there is also a chance that kid could do something really special.
All the playoffs are about in the end is having that chance of something special happening. There is also the possibility of crushing disappointment. Still, it sure beats having your team go home after 162. Whatever happens tonight, I'm grateful the Mets made it back to the playoffs this year, and then into the League Championship Series. Rather than obsess over the very real possibly that things could go wrong with Perez tonight, I'd rather hope that he makes his way onto the positive side of the ledger of Mets' playoff lore.