Archive for April, 2009

With One Month in the Books, Is Manuel the Right Man for the Job?

April 30, 2009

Mets manager Jerry Manuel was politely asked by a popular New York beat writer during a recent post-game press conference whether he thought the reporter’s minor criticisms of Daniel Murphy were perhaps, “piling it on.” The reporter was none other than Marty Noble and without delay, Manuel quickly responded with, “Yeah, Marty, I think you’re piling it on. I think you’re piling it on, a bit.”

For most of us, when the five o’clock bell rings it’s time to log-off our computers at work and head home. However, for a select few, thirty to be exact, when the final strike is called it just means there’s more work to be done. It’s no secret that New York demands more from its employees and this especially holds true for its sports figures as well. Sure, we’ve all had to endure a constructive conversation with our superior every now and then. Heck, some corporations make it mandatory. With that, let me ask you this: how would you feel if after completing each day’s work, you had to explain or even, in some cases, defend your decisions? For Manuel, this type of evaluation is par for the course. But lately, it seems that it very well may be taking its toll on the Mets skipper. You could even make the summation that Manuel might actually be looking forward to this next road trip so as to limit his participation in these customary post-game interventions.

After a tough 7-4 loss on Tuesday night in which the Mets bullpen was accused of wear and tear, reliever Sean Green allowed the Marlins to tie up the score and eventually take the lead for good. However, if Manuel would had just yanked the overworked Green and handed the ball over to the lefty, Pedro Feliciano, the Mets might have averted disaster. He was more than ready to pitch to the Marlins left-handed hitting catcher, John Baker, who Green walked to set up Jorge Cantu’s three-run bomb. Manuel’s defense: he felt the offense rolled over and played dead after Florida took the lead in the seventh. No mention of the fact that he kept Green in too long even after it was obvious that his arm had seen enough.

An even more recent case in point took place at the very last play of yesterday’s 4-3 Mets loss. In the bottom half of the ninth inning, the Mets had bases loaded with their catcher, Ramon Castro, due up. Castro had already produced two hits in the game. What does Manuel decide to do? He has Omir Santos, who was still warming up a pitcher in the Mets bullpen, hurry into the dugout to pinch hit for Castro. Result: three Mets stranded on-base and a second consecutive disappointing defeat to the first-place Marlins. Jerry’s defense: “I felt Santos had a shorter stroke which would prove beneficial against the hard-throwing Matt Lindstrom.”

Maybe Manuel and the Mets are due for a vacation, a very long and anxiety-free escapade where they can recite common clichés until the cows come home. But for the educated and long-standing Mets fan, not even their smooth-talking manager can pull the wool over our eyes.

Manuel’s All-Too-Familiar Post-Game Checklist

April 29, 2009

Reyes pops out, check

Starter can’t close out the sixth inning, check

Runners left on-base, check

Taxed bullpen, check

All Mets runs scored in the early innings, check

Bats fall asleep thereafter, check

David Wright strikes out, check, check

Mets lose, check

Will the Real Marlins Please Stand Up?

April 28, 2009

If the Florida Marlins weren’t still sitting atop the NL East division by the slimmest of margins, last night’s 7-1 victory would most likely be nothing more than a tune-up for the Mets as they prepare for their three-game series this weekend against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Since starting the season with an 11-1 record, the Marlins have found themselves losers of seven straight. After being touted as this year’s Tampa Bay Rays, the only truth be told for the Marlins, who are fading fast, is that their payroll hovers near or below Alex Rodriguez’ single-season salary. Not only is Florida hanging by a thread, their All-Star shortstop, Hanley Ramirez, has been listed as day-to-day after being handcuffed by a John Maine fastball. Ramirez was struck on his right wrist in the first inning and immediately taken out of the game.

The Mets however were much more fortunate. The back-up to the back-up catcher, Omir Santos, put the Mets ahead in their bottom half of the first inning, 6-1, with his first career homerun, a grand slam. John Maine had a very strong outing in which he lasted six innings with an unearned run as the only run he allowed. Mets third baseman David Wright showed signs of coming out of his slump by going 2 for 4 with a triple and an RBI, his seventh of the season. The Mets did have their share of negatives. First baseman Carlos Delgado was a late scratch stemming from a sore hip he experienced while running out yesterday’s three-base hit. Second baseman Luis Castillo had to come out of last night’s game with what was diagnosed as back spasms.

Livan Hernandez will take the hill tonight for the second installment of this current three-game series. His start will conclude the latest turn in the Mets starting rotation. If Hernandez can replicate Maine’s performance against the Marlins last night, perhaps Oliver Perez’ previously disappointing outing may not seem so dire.

For further reading, check out this post entitled An Emerging Threat in the NL East.

Oliver Perez’ Recipe for Disaster

April 26, 2009

Pre-heat mound at 3.75 BB/9

Sauté ERA until it looks well above 9.00

Blend 5 ER/9

WHIP mixture at 1.97

Add a dash of velocity and a teaspoon of command

Allow to cool until OBA reaches .411

Serve with a 1-2 record

Along with a side of wildness

With Win, Manuel Decides to Wait One More Day

April 25, 2009

As Nationals catcher Jesus Flores began rounding the bases in the top of the ninth inning last night, Mets manager Jerry Manuel may have felt compelled to turn towards the larger-than-life Pepsi-Cola sign in right field and ask himself, “Why me?” Flores had just slammed a two-run homerun off Mets closer Frankie Rodriguez which reduced a comfortable Mets 4-1 lead down to 4-3. Before the game, Manuel made sure his constituents were well aware that even though his starting pitching was beyond lackluster, he was not going to “jump off a bridge” anytime soon.

Further on into the Mets dugout, the game’s starter, Johan Santana, could be seen opting out of an early shower in exchange for the right to experience how this one would eventually end up. Santana had already done his job. The left-hander pitched brilliantly for six innings recording ten strikeouts and was looking forward to earning his third victory of the season. His only blemish was a solo shot by Washington first baseman Nick Johnson that caused his ERA to jump from 0.46 to 0.70.

Rodriguez, who hadn’t pitched in six days, finally found his groove. He closed out the inning and the game by forcing former Mets castoff Anderson Hernandez to fly out to center. Good job! The Mets, for the time being, are on the upswing and more importantly, they have given their manager good reason to live another day.

Should We Be Concerned?

April 24, 2009

Mets manager Jerry Manuel made sure to choose his words carefully while responding to questions regarding the sullen state of his pitching staff, particularly, the starters. It’s no secret that four fifths of the Mets rotation has not held up its end of the bargain.

Nonetheless, the Mets return home to open up a three-game series against the Washington Nationals, who have yet to win a road game. With the Mets having lost their last four games, something’s got to give. Left-hander Johan Santana, the one starter who is in no need of adjustment, will be made to play the role of stopper once again.

Mets Dugout Beginning to Resemble a Hospital Waiting Room

April 23, 2009

If Mets manager Jerry Manuel had been the only surgeon on-call at the now defunct St. John’s Hospital, he would have had his hands full attempting to explain why his team died on the operating table. Wednesday night’s suffocating defeat at the hands of the Cardinals was yet another setback on the road to recovery. St. Louis starting pitcher Joel Pinero managed to pitch his way into the ninth inning as if he were administering Novocain to the Mets’ bats in tiny little droplets and lulling them to sleep.

Aside from Mets centerfielder Carlos Beltran, you would have thought that SNY’s broadcast last night was made to showcase Cardinals Manager Tony LaRussa’s latest reclamation project. By witnessing another DOA-performance by one of his starters, Mets Pitching Coach Dan Warthen looked a tad queasy and could be seen exhibiting acute erratic behavior on his way back to the dugout. Could you blame him? He now has to phone his beloved wife and tell her that he will most likely be working overtime this weekend.

With a day-game-after-a-night scheduled for today before the Mets fly back to Citi Field, the team has requested a second opinion on their recent diagnosis. Hoping to avoid a sweep, the Mets will call on Livan Hernandez to jumpstart their flagging confidence and revive any notion of a heartbeat before Mets fans decide to pull the plug prematurely.

Murphy’s Not the Only One in the Doghouse

April 22, 2009

Oliver Perez’ performance against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night proves one thing: he’s no Johan Santana. However, ever since the Mets organization has acquired the often unpredictable left-hander he has been given the benefit of the doubt. For fans who exhibit short-term memory loss when Perez takes the hill, they are safe. But for those who can recollect some if not all of his head-scratching performances, I think it’s time to either hire a divorce lawyer or get used to sleeping on the couch.

Last night’s game was undoubtedly a tough one to swallow. After a loss like that, I am usually able to decompress well before the 11 o’clock news. However, because of the 8 o’clock start I was still reeling during the five-day forecast. With the sports segment coming up next, I occupied myself by tying up some old newspapers with the hope that I wouldn’t implode like J.J. Putz in the bottom of the eighth inning. I could overhear Len Berman’s voice echoing from the bedroom. “…. Casey Fossum walks in the tying run” Why did Manuel bring him in? “….Beltran doesn’t slide and he’s called out” Why didn’t he slide? “…Daniel Murphy falls down” I then, with disregard for human life, stormed into the room and said, “You see why I am so pissed.”

I eventually calmed down and felt that the best way to remedy my displeasure was to sleep on it. Fortunately for us fans, tomorrow’s another day. As for my relationship, I definitely will have some reconciling to do.

Very Early Recap

April 21, 2009

With twelve games in the books, the Mets sit at five hundred with a 6-6 record. At face value, it’s easy to be unimpressed with their performance thus far. But there have been some highlights in just a short amount of time. They began the season by taking two of three from the Cincinnati Reds. Johan Santana made his Opening Day start and earned his first win, Frankie Rodriguez got his first save as a Met, and rookie sensation Daniel Murphy hit his first home run of the season. The Mets then headed south for warmer weather and played a three-game series against the Florida Marlins, the first of many games against divisional foes. They lost two of three. The first loss to the Marlins was in walk-off fashion; the second was an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel. The Mets were unable to overcome a tremendous performance from Florida’s Josh Johnson as well as Daniel Murphy’s dropped fly ball in left field. The miscue produced two unearned runs which was all the scoring the gritty Marlins needed as they edged the Mets, 2-1. Since then, the Marlins have maintained a healthy lead in the NL East as they sit atop the division with an 11-2 record ahead of the Atlanta Braves and our beloved Mets.

Searching for a spark, the Mets took their 3-3 record with them to Flushing to kick off the first ever Opening Day at their new digs, Citi Field. Scheduled as a night game, it provided for plenty of fanfare and camaraderie. The inaugural game against the San Diego Padres allowed for the participation of Mets immortality such as Rusty Staub, Doc Gooden, and the ageless Ralph Kiner. The Padres opened up the game with a quick 5-1 lead only to see it disappear because of a three-run bomb off the bat of David Wright. His game-tying blast sent shivers down the spines of those who attended; Tim Robbins and Jerry Seinfeld included, and conveniently defied the curse of a stray cat run amuck. Unfortunately, that rambunctious furry little feline would eventually become a specter for bad things to come as the Padres took that first game on a balk, 6-5. San Diego would also win the series two games to one.

With the Mets new home still acting as their backdrop, the inconsistent starting rotation would enter its third turn against the Milwaukee Brewers. John Maine would begin to see improvement; however Mike Pelfrey would be diagnosed with forearm tendinitis and would miss his next start. Luis Castillo’s hit in the bottom of the ninth inning produced the Mets first walk-off win at Citi Field and gave Castillo some much-needed respect. Within that same game, the newly acquired Gary Sheffield tied the score by smacking his 500th career homerun, the first player to do so in a Mets uniform. Johan Santana would continue his dominance with the completion of seven innings of masterful work in which he refused to allow a base runner to reach second base. The Mets won that game, 1-0. In the final game of the series, bench coach Willie Randolph and the Brew Crew were able to avoid a sweep by squelching numerous Mets rallies in the later innings to capture the win, 4-2.

Tonight, the Mets will begin a three-game series on the road in St. Louis. They hope to improve on their uninspiring batting average of .236 (25 for 106) with runners in scoring position. And most importantly, they’re keeping their fingers crossed that the “good Ollie” will show up to put the Mets over the five hundred mark and into second place.

Walk-off Win Allows Castillo to Be King for a Day

April 18, 2009

At times, the most dangerous player on the field might very well be the player with the biggest chip on his shoulder. For a Mets ballclub that has experienced two consecutive seasons in which both have ended in heartbreaking defeat, you might expect there to be plenty of players left with something to prove. One of those players happens to be second baseman Luis Castillo who this season could be seen as having a slight advantage in that department.

At the completion of the 2008 season, Mets fans and the majority of the media decided unanimously that GM Omar Minaya should just cut his losses and send the injury-riddled second baseman on his way, the sooner the better. Even if it meant releasing him and assuring the fans that he never set foot in the Big Apple ever again, something needed to be done. Fortunately Castillo is a man who possesses a thicker skin than most and has shown that he is intelligent enough not to interpret his critic’s discontent as anything but self-motivation.

So Minaya, being the good diplomat that he is, decided to give Luis one more shot at making it in the Big City. Castillo gave his trusting general manager his word that this upcoming season things would be different. This time around, he would prove to his teammates as well as to the fans that he had the stomach to make it in this town. Since the start of this year’s spring training, Minaya has been Castillo’s biggest supporter. He has defended his everyday second baseman by citing his positive attitude and good work ethic and has allowed him to begin anew seventeen pounds lighter. Castillo then vowed that he had put all the disappointments and fat cells behind him. It was obvious that he had one goal in mind; help his team get to the World Series.

As New Yorkers, we all took what he said with a grain of salt and accepted his previous flaws with the hope that he was destined to improve this season. However, during the Mets first five games, Castillo started in just four of them. He began right where he left off by going 1 for 10 with 3 strikeouts. You could almost hear the boo-birds settling into their new home, Citi Field, preparing for his arrival. Then, out of nowhere, something clicked inside the new and improved Castillo. Perhaps it was the proximity to his native homeland or maybe it was the warm sunny skies of South Florida, but whatever it was, it allowed for a perfect 4-for-4 performance. No matter what he accomplished the next day, it would be more than enough for his detractors to warrant another look. With that offensive outburst alone he was now entitled to hang his hat within the squeaking-clean confines of his team’s new ballpark.

Which brings us to last night’s 5-4 win in walk-off fashion, the first of its kind at Citi Field, by none other than, you guessed it, Luis Castillo.

“He wanted to be in that situation, tonight,” Mets manager Jerry Manuel said.

For further reading, you can check out a previous post entitled, Luis Castillo, A Fall From Grace Or Just a Bump in the Road.