By Mike Steffanos
Fact: Aaron Heilman gave up the home run to Yadier Molina in game 7 of the NLCS last year.
Fact: Aaron Heilman has struggled early this season.
The above two facts are undeniable. What rather bugs me is the beating that Aaron takes from some of the faithful. Heilman is still an important member of this bullpen, and has done a good since moving to the 'pen during the 2005 season. Every player has his ups and downs over the course of the year, but whenever Heilman endures a rough patch he becomes the whipping boy for a lot of fans' frustrations.
We all know Heilman wants to be a starter, but the notion of some that he is "sulking" about not being a starter whenever he goes bad is baseless. While Aaron makes it clear that he would like a chance to be a starting pitcher, he's never issued any ultimatums or acted unprofessionally about his role with the team.
Heilman's biggest public relations problem seems to be that he's somewhat nerdy and low-key. While both he and Duaner Sanchez slumped at the same point last year, fans seemed quicker to forgive the guy with the big personality and the cool goggles.
Questions about whether Heilman strikes out enough batters or has the great stuff that we like to see from our late inning guys are somewhat moot until someone clearly demonstrates they are a better choice for the bridge to Billy Wagner. Perhaps Joe Smith will continue to shine brightly, but I'm cautious about a kid whose big league career has spanned all of a month. I'm optimistic about him, that's for sure, but I'd like to see him do what he's doing after the league gets a good luck at him before I feel comfortable that he's more than a good righty specialist. He's done well against lefties so far, but he's only faced 13 ABs against them. That doesn't quite qualify as a track record.
Perhaps Guillermo Mota will come back and perform as he did in his brief time with the Mets last season, or perhaps he will revert back to the ineffectiveness of most of the previous two years.
Maybe Ambiorix Burgos will become all that he could be. I don't really trust him at this point, however. Do you?
Heilman doesn't have the personality to inspire love from a New York fan base. It's easy to write off his accomplishments and concentrate on the negatives. For me, though, I respect a guy who has a track record of being able to do one of the most important, yet thankless, jobs in baseball in the white-hot glare of this market. He's proven that he can bounce back from adversity. He's been booed, but not cowered. He may indeed be a nerd, but he's a nerd that has proven he can handle -- even thrive -- under pressure.
It may be that the Mets will have guys will step forward this year and take the eighth inning job for their own. If that happens, Heilman may indeed be traded elsewhere to fill a need for this team. For now, though, there simply isn't a better option for the end of games. In any case, I will always respect the job that Aaron Heilman has done for the Mets these past couple of seasons. I remember all too well the countless leads squandered away by the Ricky Bottalicos, David Weathers and Mike DeJeans of this world. Heilman hasn't been perfect, but he's been pretty damned good at his job.
Our fiend Gary Sparber has some great pictures from yesterday's game posted here.