By Mike Steffanos
Mets 11 - Phillies 5
Back quite a few years ago when I worked second shift there was little to do after work except hit the bars for a couple of hours. We had a regular group that used to hang together, mostly single people in our twenties that enjoyed each other's company.
There was one guy that was a part of the group who stands out in my memory. He was a fairly quiet, intelligent and easy-going guy most of the time. Unfortunately, after a few drinks his personality underwent a dramatic shift. He became oddly desperate to make himself the center of attention, even if that meant getting people pissed off at him enough to want to kick his butt.
I can't tell you how many times we talked some stranger out of beating on this kid. It probably didn't hurt that several of us were fairly large guys, but it got tiring after a while. Since I managed to stop getting myself into fights while in High School, the near-melees that this kid kept getting us involved in finally just got old.
The night finally came when enough was enough. Our nuisance friend went out of his way to annoy a girl who was in the bar with her boyfriend and several other male friends. We talked to the guy, who was justifiably furious, and asked him simply to keep the fight one-on-one. Since he outweighed our friend by about 50 pounds, he was only too happy to comply. We hoped the beating would serve as some sort of wakeup call to him, but our unfortunate psycho actually seemed to take the same sort of perverse pleasure in the attention he received from an ugly a**-whooping. The lesson learned, I guess, is that even negative attention is satisfying to someone who is desperate for the spotlight.
What brings this all to mind was Jimmy Rollins' encounter with the faithful at Shea in yesterday's opener. Even being mocked as the goat in the eighth inning didn't seem to phase the Phillies shortstop, who is clearly an attention wh*re in the same vein as the idiot from my past. While I won't question your right as a Mets fan to boo him, I myself will not give him that satisfaction if I attend a Mets-Phillies game at Shea.
As for the game itself, my colleagues Dana Brand and Joyce Mandelkern have already done a wonderful job of sharing the experience of actually being there. As for me, I settled for watching it on tv. Here are a few observations.
I was actually somewhat impressed with John Maine's performance, although I would hope not to see a repeat anytime soon. He never stopped battling, despite fighting his control to the tune of 104 pitches in only 4-2/3 innings work. Young pitchers can learn something from this kind of a game, and it was clear that Maine was fighting his command rather than nibbling and shying away from contact. I know it's a cliché, but it's an important sign of a pitcher's growth when he keeps his team in games when he doesn't have it.
I was disappointed in the booing of Ambiorix Burgos. Years ago we booed guys who we thought weren't playing hard. Now we boo for failure to perform, even when it's a young guy doing his best. Burgos made a terrible pitch to Howard and paid the price, but his outing was not without merit. He came into a tie game with the bases loaded and retired Nunez to get Maine off the hook.
He was a little unlucky to set up that fateful sixth inning, bouncing a splitter into Rollins and then giving up a weak single to Victorino after jamming him with a very good pitch. Then Burgos battled Chase Utley for 12 pitches without giving in, culminating in a strikeout. He almost had Howard struck out, but the big guy managed to spoil a great pitch on the outside part of the plate before Burgos hung that meatball splitter that put a damper on festivities for a while.
Take none of the above to mean that I think Burgos is ready for the eighth inning of big games, but he wasn't that bad yesterday. He seems to be making progress, and I see none of the fragile mentality in him that we saw from Jorge Julio last year. I could fault him for throwing too many splitters to Howard, but he made him look really bad on 2 swinging strikes and a weak foul on that very pitch. He didn't appear to shake off Lo Duca at all during that at bat. Although I heard nothing definitive on who called the pitches, it appeared to be Lo Duca.
I liked the way Burgos battled against Howard and Utley -- the homer came on the 7th pitch to Howard after the dozen pitches to Utley. Then Burgos kept his composure enough after being beaten for Howard's bomb to retire Burrell and keep the game at a run. In his eventful inning-and-a-third Burgos threw 23 strikes and 14 balls. If he hadn't hung that split, it would have been a terrific effort from the kid. While he didn't deserve a star of the game pick, I don't think his effort warranted boos from the home fans while walking off the field. Maybe I'm just a fossil from a kinder, gentler era, but I wouldn't personally have done it.
Enough bloggers have weighed in on the whole question of why Willie pinch ran for Shawn Green in the eighth inning rather than Alou. It says something about how far Green has slipped defensively over the last few years that Randolph feels more comfortable with Alou in the field in a tight game than with Green. Both corner outfielders are slow, but Alou plays pretty smart and seems to get better reads on balls to the OF than Green. Alou is a notoriously bad baserunner, however, and got a poor jump on what was admittedly a poor bunt by Jose Valentin in the fateful eighth inning.
One thing that Shawn Green probably deserves more credit for than he receives is the quality of his at bats. On a team that sometimes struggles to be patient enough and work pitchers, Green usually does a decent job at this. Against a team like the Phillies, this is of vital importance. When you can get a Cole Hamels out of the game and replaced by a member of that bullpen, your chances of scoring some runs rise dramatically. Still, Green really needs to produce offensively to offset his defense and baserunning.
Finally, I mentioned Jose Valentin's poor bunt in the eighth. I should also point out he had a huge at bat in the fourth when he broke up Hamels' shutout with a 2-out, 2-run single. He might only be batting a buck fifty for the young season, but Valentin has a knack for making contributions to wins.