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A Hollywood Ending to a Decent Western Swing

Mike SteffanosMonday, July 23, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

Mets 5 - Dodgers 4 (10)
Played Sunday, July 22, 2007

Chip Ambres, this Bud's for you...

I gave some thought to what I might write about yesterday's game, and have to admit to coming up a little dry. I won't insult your intelligence by talking about the importance of coming from behind and bailing out one of the starters for a change, as that's obvious to all of us. I won't b*tch about taking so long to solve Eric Stults, as that's become a very worn out topic this season, and frankly I'm just grateful that they solved him at all.

El Duque certainly wasn't at his best yesterday, but gave the club a workmanlike start that was primarily marred by hanging a slider to Nomar in the sixth. Still, he gave us a chance to win, but for the longest time that didn't look like it was going to happen.

Orlando Hernandez (Last 5 Starts)
Season (16 Games)97.13734707739123.141.1210-6

View Orlando Hernandez' Full Season Stats

I suppose some of you expect me to rip into Ruben Gotay, who had a rotten day at the plate a day after blowing a crucial double play in the field the day before. Well, you're wrong. I still see Gotay as a complementary piece rather than a starting 2B down the road, but he's earned this chance. He's given the club a shot in the arm with the bat, played with energy and worked his at bats better than some of the veterans.

I suspect the knowledge that he needs to prove that he can be the starting second baseman for this team has made him a little tight these past couple of days. Besides, he is a bad right-handed hitter (as was Valentin), and will not be playing against lefties when Easley returns. He needs to get back to what he was doing before Valentin was hurt. A day off today is probably a good thing for the kid.

What worries me more about Ruben Gotay than the struggles of this past weekend is the simple fact that it gets tougher when you're the starter because the pitchers you face will be more ready for you. To some extent, although this is not his first taste of the majors, Gotay was able to sneak up on other teams when he was playing sporadically. That won't be the case any more. Which, by all means, doesn't guarantee failure, but explains why players who can look really good in a part-time role can be exposed as a starter. Still, I think Gotay has a chance to be a decent option at 2B if he allows the game to come to him. I'd be surprised if Omar wasn't at least kicking the tires on available infielders, though.

Speaking of Valentin, why is it that many Mets fans out there are so smugly sure that Valentin opting out of the knee surgery until after the season was simply a greedy decision to try to vest that option in next year's contract simply for a payday? Did it ever occur to you guys that, at 37-years-old, any athlete understands that he is standing on the precipice of the end of his career? Valentin was a starting shortstop for more than a decade in the majors. I'm going to guess that he's not clipping grocery coupons every week. I think he loves being a ballplayer, and didn't want to give up a full season at this stage of his career. He knows full well there aren't many more of them ahead of him.

I know how it felt for me when knee injuries suffered playing high school football sapped the last of my ability to compete at any sort of higher level when I was in my 30s. I never played for anything more than love, but my last year in a competitive sport was spent playing in a softball league with a hamstring so badly torn the whole back of my thigh was black-and-blue. It wasn't for the glory, wasn't for the money, but I knew there wouldn't be a next year in any competitive sport. I suspect most of the people voicing the opinion that Valentin played only for a 2008 contract never went through the end of something that meant so much to them. I guarantee you that Valentin will return in September if he can, when there will obviously be no chance of accumulating 400 plate appearances for the season. It's up to Omar and the coaching staff to decide if he could help them or not.

That's my Valentin vent, back to the Mets. This has been an interesting week. Last Sunday the Braves were coming off a 3-game sweep of the Pirates and looking at 7 games at home against the soft underbelly of the NL. The Mets were heading out of town on a tough west coast swing. While the Mets were dropping 2 of 3 in San Diego, the Braves inexplicably allowed the Reds to sweep them in a 3-game set at home. The Cardinals came in for 4 games while the Mets were in LA for a 4-game set against the Dodgers. The Braves could only manage 2 wins while the Mets took 3. 1-1/2 games out of first last Sunday, it seemed a foregone conclusion the Braves would be in first place by today. Instead, they lost 2 games in the standings.

Which isn't to say that Mets fans should get cocky. The Mets come home to face the Pirates and Nationals, and both of these clubs have given them trouble. The Braves go out west to face SF and Arizona, neither of whom has been playing all that well lately. This is a season to take nothing for granted.

The Mets have done okay since the All Star break, taking 3 of 4 from the Reds at home and then going 4-3 on this tough road trip. They're starting to get a few breaks here and there after a stretch that featured bad luck as well as bad play. As tempting as it would be to declare that the team has definitively righted the ship, however, I reserve judgment. Still, they don't look like the lost souls they were early in the month.

It's important for Mets to build on last week. Since the struggles began in June, this team has struggled to maintain good play for more than a few days. If they are legit this year, it's time to prove it. This week at home is a good place to start.

Box Score

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (7)

They seem to have a better approach at the plate, and more sound in the field albeit a few miscues here and there. I thought they'd take two from the Pads, but I can live with a 4-3 record from a tough road trip facing the west's 1 and 2. I too hope this momentum can carry over into the homestand.

Thoroughly agree about Valentin and Gotay. Alot of people are forgetting that the 'stache was hitting quite well before he got injured agains the Nationals earlier in the year. His leg injuries have clearly hurt his abilities- both at bat and in the field. You can see it's taking it's mental toll on him (check his reaction to all of his errors in the field, people). That being said, he just wasn't hitting well since coming back and not putting surgery off. I can understand him wanting to play, but after a while wishful thinking that "maybe if I grind it out it'll be ok" doesn't work. Batting .240 at the best isn't cutting it.

Gotay is a good platoon player. If the Mets had another hitter that could fit better into a platoon, I'd go for it. But they don't. Therefore- the Mets should get a starting 2nd baseman who can fit into the #2 hole in the lineup seamlessly- Luis Castillo, Mark Loretta, Brian Roberts, Brandon Phillips. All of them hit for average (especially the first two) and Phillips is a potential breakout star.

If they can't get a starting 2nd baseman, then a cobbled together platoon of Gotay/Easley/Anderson will have to do.

Forgot to add- if the Mets can get Ty Wigginton, I'd jump for joy over that. He's proven that his power surge as a Mets player wasn't a fluke, and he'd lengthen the lineup quite well with that kind of power.

To your comments about Valentin Mike, I simply say here here.

As for Gotay, as much as he struggles batting righty, I still believe him to be the best option for the Mets at 2nd, both on this team or any other. His bat has not just been good, it has been explosive. He ignites rallies, drives in runs and fires up the team. Yes, his glove leaves alot to be desired, but his offense more than makes up for that weakness. One bad play in LA doesn't negate all the good he has done for this club since coming up.

I personally believe it would be a huge mistake to replace him with a Loretta or Castillo. This situation eerily reminds me the last Mets team to go to the World Series, after losing their defensive stalworth shortstop to injury in July. Melvin Mora did nothing but hit when given the chance, but the call for a better defensive option prompted trading him for Mike Bordick.

While Bordick hit a HR in his first at bat as a Met, he basically did nothing for the rest of his Met tenure - except maybe plot his return to Baltimore in the winter. Meanwhile Mora blossomed into the solid offensive player he was showing Met fans he could be. History has a tendency of repeating itself in a cruel way for those who choose not to learn its lessons.

I add my voice to the others; Jose Valentin deserves more respect that he has been getting in the Mets' kingdom.

Sometimes I wonder how Valentin avoided becoming a bigger star player. You look at his numbers from the core of his career, say from age 26 to age 34, and essentially you have Cal Ripkin's batting line, only in 20% fewer at bats. Jose WASN'T Ripkin, of course; he wasn't as good, certainly not as durable nor will his career be nearly as long; all's I am saying is that it was hard to make much of a name for yourself in Milwaukee in the 1990's.

Gotay....he has earned a shot of course. I hope the hits keep falling, because when they stop the focus will be on his shortcomings at the second base position. Ruben impresses me as a pretty serious, hard working player, as did other players like Backman and Rod Carew, who also never quite mastered the intracies of turning the 6-4-3. Sometimes you can live with it. If you hit.

And, to rephrase a late comment I made to another post: those Dodgers can sure hit and pitch, but they aren't great shakes at playing baseball, are they? How many foul-ups and mental errors did we witness in a four game series? No big surprise, I guess; after all we got the condensed version last fall with that double tag-out at home plate.

Late hit: That Baseball-Reference.com is such a treasured resource. I took a look at Jose Valentin's career stats before commenting on him earlier. The stuff you see; Jose missed being a teammate of Willie Randolph's by one season. He played, or at least shared bench space with Yount, Molitor, Mike Boddiker, Jesse Orosco, and the double play duo for Houston that never quite was, Billy Doran and Dicky Thon.

I don't know, it's interesting to me is all, how this guy played with that player, and so on all the way back to Ty Cobb or somebody. I remember poet Allen Ginzberg once traced a series of illicit love affairs from himself all the way back to Walt Whitman, so I suppose it isn't merely a baseball obsession.

L. J. - I feel the same way. Sustaining momentum hasn't come easily for the Mets since late May. As for Wiggy, I'm not sure how much I'd be willing to give up for him, but the right deal would make sense.
Jason - I could only imagine what a good 2B would cost on today's market. Keeping in mind that he is replacing the guy who batted 8 in the lineup, I see no problem with a Gotay-Easley platoon if Gotay can play decent defense. Then, if Gotay doesn't really look like the guy they can try to upgrade this winter.
Salman - I said I'd be surprised if Omar wasn't kicking the tires on other 2B, but I'm not predicting a deal. As mentioned above, their in-house options could get the Mets through this season.
dd - Valentin admitted that he tried a little too hard to hit the long ball early in his career, and that held him back some. Some guys just get it later in their careers. Ed Kranepool is an example I can remember.

The Dodgers have sacrificed defense for offense, haven't they? Their OF is pretty bad. Some of those guys can really hit, though. I always felt that any decent athlete can improve to at least average defense through hard work, so it guess it depends on what the org. demands of them.

By the way, how come I never read about this Whitman guy on page 6?

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