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)||97.1||37||34||70||77||39||12||3.14||1.12||10-6|
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.