By Mike Steffanos
When I read Steve Popper's Rick Peterson article on NorthJersey.com today it reminded me of why I can feel optimistic about the pitching this season:
When Oliver Perez arrived in New York last season, he admitted that he was lost. The simplest solution was for Rick Peterson to provide a map.
... Once a promising star, the left-hander had struck out 239 batters in 2004 while posting a 2.98 ERA. But after opening the 2006 season as the Pirates' opening-day starter, his career went into free fall. He was 2-10 with a 6.63 ERA and was shipped to the minor leagues before the Mets obtained him. And even he began to doubt that he could turn it around.
"Yeah, because in that time I was lost," Perez said. "I didn't believe in myself. I'd just go to the mound and I wasn't sure what to throw, how to pitch. That was the problem for me. I didn't get it because my body was OK. The problem was my mind."
Sometimes circumstances converge though and find a person in the right place at the right time. If Sanchez had not been injured, the Mets likely would not have needed to make the deal. But they did, and the left-hander found himself now working with Peterson, a coach who focuses as much on the mind as on the delivery. There were no 10-minute guarantees, but Peterson found a pitcher without a plan on the mound, or a map in his mind.
"When you look at what his plan was, there was no plan," Peterson said. "There was no recipe. There was no map. The first question is, 'Where do you want to go? And where did you come from?' Then you lay out a plan and help them understand that. Not only was he lost, but he was driving in the wrong lane. He thought he was in England. We're driving in the right lane.
"It became a simple thing because he got it very quickly. Just like if you're lost and someone gives you directions, all of the sudden you go down a quarter of a mile, make a right and go, 'Jeez, I know exactly where I am.'
"Because if you look at what he did in 2004, how lost are you? You were one of the dominating pitchers in the National League. So when you look at it from that perspective, it's different."
If you've ever competed in sports at any level, you understand just how big of a factor believing you can succeed is to your ultimate performance. While there remains a tremendous amount of skepticism in both the press and on talk radio towards Oliver Perez, John Maine and some of the other pitchers, the Mets and their somewhat eccentric pitching coach have created the type of atmosphere that breeds success. So, while no one can guarantee that Oliver Perez can bring his game back to 2004, I think Rick Peterson's approach gives motivated pitchers like Perez the foundation to succeed.
There is a lot of negativity in the way this team is being covered, particularly in the national media, and more particularly in regards to the starting rotation. To read these stories it seems the question isn't whether the Mets starting pitching will implode, but rather when the inevitable collapse takes place. While it doesn't surprise me that many are skeptical towards Oliver Perez, given his struggles in 2005 and 2006, I find it somewhat amazing that so many are writing him off as if he has already failed. I think they're in for a surprise, both with Perez and with the staff in general. I don't believe that the Mets will have the dominant starting pitching the White Sox won with two years ago, but I think it will do the job in getting games to the bullpen with a lead.
The most important thing is that Oliver Perez believes in himself now, because when it all comes down to it, he's the one standing out their on the mound with the ball and the hopes of Mets fans in his hand:
After success in last season's playoffs, Perez now has a destination set on his map. He is penciled in tentatively into the Mets' 2007 rotation, one of the three front-runners with John Maine and Chan Ho Park to fall in line behind Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez. And he is happy, content that he is found.
"I'm back," Perez said. "I'm happy. The last few games I was feeling really good. I know that's me. After the season I was trying to continue to learn and understand about what happened last year. Now that feels like a long time ago. The Mets believed in me. I understand I can do this. That's why I'm here."
I haven't written much about the home that Lisa and I are in the process of buying because I understand most of you are here to read about the Mets, not me. A few people have asked me about the progress lately, so here is a quick update. The home inspection turned up some asbestos insulation on the heating ducts in the basement and also in the floor in the kitchen. It took a while to negotiate with the seller on who pays for what in the removal. We finally got past that, and should have a final closing date this week. It might still be six weeks off, and then there is some work to be done before we move in.
We once hoped to be moved in by April, but that certainly won't be the case anymore. Still, we're happy with how everything is going -- we even qualified for some money to fix the place up a little, but this unfortunately slows the process a little more. Bottom line is that April is looking a lot more like June before we are all moved in.
By the way, I'm in the process of writing my conclusion to the NL east previews, and hope to have it up by tomorrow.