By Mike Steffanos
Oliver Perez took a symbolic journey back to 2004 last night in St. Lucie, putting up the type of dominant performance that made the then 22-year-old the toast of baseball for one magical season. Perez has looked a little better each time out this spring, and it actually seems possible that he just might be able to justify the confidence the Mets have in him.
Despite tiring a little in his fifth and final inning, Perez dominated a Red Sox lineup tonight that included David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, who he struck out back-to-back twice. He kept his fastball down in the strike zone for most of the night, and displayed the nasty sharp down-breaking slider that embarrasses hitters. Perez stated after the game that his slider was as good as it was in 2004.
The final pitching line: 5IP, 0ER, 3H, 9K, 0BB
Perez is going to have to prove that he can do it on a regular basis. Two years of sometimes dreadful pitching rightfully has earned him a lot of skepticism. But Perez seems to have the confidence of his manager and pitching coach, and he has the right attitude. He's been working hard to throw strikes and repeat his delivery, and he is making steady progress. I don't know what more you could ask of him at this point.
Pedro Feliciano and Joe Smith were effective in relief, Scott Schoeneweis was a little wild, and Billy Wagner resurrected memories of some of his worst struggles. Shawn Green had a pair of hits, including a homer off Josh Beckett to dead center field. His bat really is showing some signs of life, and I wonder if he could give the Mets 25 HR and 75 RBI in 450-500 ABs. We'll leave those thoughts for another day. Tonight belonged to the line-hopping lefty.