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Winning Is Harder When You Have Something to Lose

Mike SteffanosMonday, September 1, 2008
By Mike Steffanos

Game 135: Mets 5 - Marlins 4 (Friday)
Game 136: Marlins 4 - Mets 3 (Saturday)
Game 137: Mets 6 - Marlins 2 (Sunday)

Sorry for being MIA for a couple of days. It's been a busy holiday weekend for me and Lisa.

The title of this post came to me when I was watching the end of Sunday afternoon's game. I was noting that the Marlins looked tight, particularly on offense, and remembered how loose they were last September 30 when Tom Glavine was tossing up meatballs and our season went up in flames. It's a lot tougher when it's your season that's on the line, isn't it?

Of course, the same goes for the team we root for, and you can tack on the words "and your bullpen sucks" to the end of that title.

There was a while this season when this team was pretty hard to watch and to root for. They're a lot easier to root for, but definitely no easier to watch. On Friday night emotions ran the whole spectrum to stunned elation when they mounted a successful late comeback to absolute horror in the bottom of the ninth that they might let that win get away.

They held onto that one, but 24 hours later showed us why no September lead should be considered safe. Even yesterday's 6-2 win was not without some nail biting moments.

On Saturday night I was out with Lisa at an outdoor café on Long Island where her niece was singing. I figured I owed Lisa a decent night out, so I studiously avoided looking for a tv with the Mets game on. Of course, eventually I stumbled into one just in time to see Heilman walk in the winning run. (Bad decision by Manuel to load the bases, by the way)

A couple of months ago, the sight of something that depressing would have made me lousy company for the rest of the night. As it was, I was able to shake it off enough to avoid sulking mode. As I've mentioned a few times, I've already made my peace with this team that contains all the ingredients for tremendously exciting highs and soul-crushing lows -- to the point where you can see these things on back-to-back nights.

Just a few scattered thoughts on these games:

Last year Marlins closer Kevin Gregg had four blown saves on the season. Counting Friday night, he had three blown saves in August alone and nine on the season. There hasn't been a single month in 2008 where he hasn't blown at least one save. That's the problem with relievers in general, particularly late-inning relievers. You go into a slump, lose some confidence, and next thing you know you're having a lousy season.

It's why I wouldn't be in favor of trading multiple prospects for a Brian Fuentes type. What I would like to see is the Mets groom a few more alternatives for the bullpen in their own system. This is starting to happen, and I think it's a good sign.

I seem to get some angry emails every time I defend Aaron Heilman, but please consider this for a moment. I do think that Aaron has never been the same as a late inning guy since allowing the home run to Yadier Molina in the 2006 NLCS. It's gotten to the point now where he is no longer adequate in that role. That he is still on that role is more of a reflection of just how bad this bullpen is right now.

Still, to suggest that the Mets should just get rid of him is silly. He's young. He's got a mid-90s fastball, a great changeup and a pretty good slider. Why sell low?

The Mets are likely to need starters next season year with Pedro and Ollie both free agents and the questions surrounding Maine's shoulder, and that would offer Heilman a fresh start in a new role. He's been a starter, and seems more temperamentally suited for that job. At least Heilman already knows what it means to pitch in New York and has done better here than some folks are willing to give him credit for.

Even if the Mets like John Niese long-term, it probably wouldn't hurt to allow him to earn a job here next season. Even if he starts in Triple-A, we all know that the Mets aren't likely to make it through the season with five starters.

Speaking of Pedro, I liked his curveball a lot better yesterday than what I've seen from him so far. I just wish he could make it through the first inning or two of a game without digging a huge hole for himself.

Finally, I know a lot of fans question the decision to give Luis Ayala the interim closer job, but I agree completely. No, he's not great, but he throws strikes. You don't see him come into games and walk the leadoff man and go to 3-2 on every single batter. Losing always sucks, particularly losing late, but it always sucks more when you lose on walks rather than making the other team earn it with hits. If I was the manager, Ayala would be closing for me, too.

Happy Labor Day, everyone. Like most, I don't love the matchup of needing to start three lefties against the Brewers, including one making his major league debut. On the other hand, I doubt very much that September will be easy on the Mets and their fans, so we might as well embrace all of the uncertainty now.

View Oliver Perez's Full Season Stats
View Mike Pelfrey's Full Season Stats
View Pedro Martinez' Full Season Stats

Game 135 Box Score
Game 136 Box Score
Game 137 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 (2)

I said the same thing about Ayala the other day. I can almost guarantee that every other person in this bullpen has walked the first batter they've faced on more than one occasion this season. Ayala doesn't do that.

When Heilman walked Hanley Ramirez to lead off the ninth Saturday, we all knew the game was over. Hanley would get to second (SAC), get to third (WP) and score, (walkwalkwalk). I got the obligatory, "are you upset?" from my wife. "Nope, saw this one coming from a mile away"

I think you're right. I know the big relievers -- Heilman, Sanchez, Smith, Feliciano, Schoeneweis -- have been guilty of walking the leadoff man numerous times.

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