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Wouldn't It Be Nice

It might have been Joe Morgan who said something about computers not playing baseball. (Apparently humans do.) Or maybe it was Tim McCarver. Could have been John Kruk. One could safely assume, in any event, that whoever said such a thing owned a David Eckstein jersey stained with blood and mud and grit and heart. And that owner has no plans to wash the jersey.

[You are encouraged to hum, or sing along, as this graf progresses. Start here.]

Wouldn't it be nice if Mike Pelfrey were a computer? If he were Mr. Clanky, from the old Backyard Baseball series? Then we wouldn't have to wait so long... for him to regress to the mean in a particularly ugly game last night. One-and-a-third innings, 74 pitches, seven hits, two walks, six runs. All of this you probably remember, if you were unable to successfully drink yourself asleep after Chris Young singled to start the game.

These 9:40, air-conditioned-desert start times bring back fuzzy memories for most Met fans, memories of a day when Omar Minaya didn't have to do any paperwork to succeed, of a day when this Manuel fellow was just a goofy bespectacled Buddhism-spouting bench coach. The Mets were 11-1 in Arizona in 2005, 2006 and 2007 back when discrimination was just a glint in the eye of Maricopa County.

[Aside: any chance they can round up this Mexican national? When he tries throwing his breaking pitch, it's probably tantamount to assault with a deadly weapon. And he's involved in an ongoing massive swindle, pocketing $12MM a year to... pull his socks up? Occasionally jump over the first base line? Be fairly surly? Not sure what it is. Must be some kind of money laundering.]

But things have gone sour in the desert since then. 3-3 in 2008 and 2009. Sure, it's a small sample size, but we can assume the fun's over in Phoenix. (Perhaps due to this awful roster. But we can try to pretend otherwise.)

Last year the Mets offered Cory Sullivan (he of the career 79 OPS+, he, cast off from the 38-55! Houston Astros this year) as their leadoff hitter and left fielder against the Diamondbacks. Oliver Perez allowed six hits and six walks in five and a third while facing Arizona last year. (He somehow only allowed one run. Call it the Pelfrey Problem. We know how it bites a team in the ass as time passes, cf. last night's debacle.)

Jeremy Reed (he of another 79 career OPS+, he, also without a major league job anymore) had his share of plate appearances, too. And you'll remember Omir Santos and Daniel Murphy and Jeff Francoeur and Anderson Hernandez and Elmer Dessens and Alex Cora, those 2009 Metastases who earned their fair share of unwarranted praise (is there any other kind?) from Jerry. Thankfully, they're all no longer on the team. Wait, what? You're kidding. Oh no.

All of this is to say, in a rather circumspect fashion, that Mike Pelfrey drives far too many of us crazy, with no good reason. Kevin Burkhardt tweets things like, "Mets have no shot of being a playoff team if Pelfrey can't find his old form. He needs to figure this out." Andy Martino, at the Daily Snooze, writes that Pelfrey's pitches aren't effective, or something.

Um, yeah. That's the problem. Sure. His pitches aren't good enough. Specific as hell. Not a catch-all. Or we're supposed to believe some garbage about a fluky-good April/May/June Pelf needing to return to "his old form." One can't help but marvel when noting how Pelfrey's "old form" alternates between good and bad depending on who's writing.

What we do know about Mike Pelfrey, aside from silly speculation, has nothing to do with phantom neck injuries suffered on planes or sports psychologists or teeth grinding. What we know is that his strikeout rate's slightly higher this year than it used to be (5.51/9 against a career 5.23/9.) His walk rate is a little higher too (3.46/9 versus a 3.41/9 career total, though that total is slightly inflated by his putrid control in 2006 and 2007). His home run rate is back down from last year's unexpected spike, to almost exactly what it was in 2008.

And so, as you might expect, his performance this year contains no mystery, no enigma, no dead-arm phase. Rather, he's the Mike Pelfrey we'll come to know and kinda like, with an ERA and FIP hovering around four, middling strikeout and walk rates, and occasional help from the double play, despite some shaky surrounding infield defense. He probably won't be as lucky as he was in 2008, or as he was during the first three months of this season, yet he won't be as unlucky as he was during 2009, when each Big Pelf start made us yearn for Livan's next turn. (That was hyperbole.)

Wouldn't it be nice, though, if he could stop finding new ways to get destroyed in the early innings? Wouldn't it be nice if he were a computer, and could throw up nine innings of four-run ball each time he pitched? I think "consistency" is the word a baseball analyst might occasionally use. Wouldn't it be nice if these games didn't start so late? Oh, wouldn't it be nice?

  • Yikes. I'm a little worried, even though we could have seen this coming. With Pelfrey and Takahashi taking half of the starts, and R.A. Dickey always ready to turn into a pumpkin... yikes. That's all one can say. Is John Maine coming back anytime soon? Can we get Trachsel to unretire?
  • I think I'll be returning to this space on a fairly frequent basis, but I don't want to say anything premature. Keep your fingers crossed.
  • Hard to believe what two weeks out of the lineup (sans rehab innings) can do to a certain shortstop's once-miraculous fielding ability. He can get a free pass for last night.
  • Ugh, Nieve.
  • Did I forget to say ugh, Barajas? I meant to say that. My word, he's terrible.
  • Ugh, Andy Turner. Is that his name? Pete Turner? Pete Phillips? Justin Johnson? I won't bother. Suffice it to say, if you can pick up a 26 year-old who posted a .750 OPS in the minors last year, you have to do it. Idiot Omar. Idiot Jerry. Now I'm beginning to remember why I stopped writing about this team in the first place.
In any event, thank you for your continued and endlessly valued patronage of Crosstown Rivals, your home for great coverage of something or other.


Smooth(ish) Sailing

So it may take an ersatz five-for-five night for Carlos Delgado to sweep the Braves at Shea, but it apparently takes more than that to put together a blog post, and I'm quite sorry.

But, hey, don't you already have enough to be happy about, what with the 9-1 record in the last ten and the incredible starting pitching? You don't need my whining about Nick Evans' inability to take a walk, Carlos Beltran's power slump, and Duaner Sanchez's drop in velocity.

When Anderson Hernandez and Lastings Milledge are putting the heat on Philly in Philly, while Jimmy "THE UNDISPUTED MVP" Rollins is putting the heat on himself in the very same, how can things get better?

How about two errors for the Holy Father of Shea Jones alongside a handful of balls he and fellow disliked Brave Kelly Johnson just couldn't quite reach?

Dayenu, it would have been enough, but the Yankees make it even sweeter! They lost 14-3 to the Blue Jays, they're double digits behind the division-leading Rays, and running six games back in the Wild Card.

Do things get any better right now for the Mets fan dabbling in schadenfreude?

Ryan Church comes back tonight, and Johan Santana is taking the hill. Now there's something to get excited about.


SNY, Knowing AL West Baseball Since... Never

Perhaps this doesn't fall under my purview, but from tonight's broadcast, your AFLAC Trivia Question:

What [sic] is the last team to have an infield with each player hitting 20+ HR in the same season?

The answer, which, admittedly, I did not know, is the 2005 Texas Rangers. If I recall correctly, they weren't much of a pitching ballclub, but they could hit.

In any event, Gary Cohen and Ron Darling attempted to guess those infielders with the sterling accolades:

Ron: Teixeira.
Gary: Teixeira. Young. Kinsler.
Ron: A-Rod.
Gary: He would be good.
Ron: Blalock.

Let's sort this out.

Mark Teixeira is correct - he is good at hitting home runs. He had 43 of them for the 2005 Rangers while playing first base.

Michael Young, the Texas shortstop not renowned for his power, would also be correct - he had 24 taters.

Hank Blalock, the recently injury-riddled third baseman, did hit 25 home runs for that team as well.

Now here's where it gets interesting:

Ian Kinsler, currently the Rangers' second baseman, made his major league debut in 2006, a full year after this powerful infield's prominence, and in that year he hit only 14 home runs. He hit 20 in 2007.

A-Rod is a great guess - after all, he won the MVP in 2005! Surely he must have hit 20 homers! In fact, he hit 48, playing for the New York Yankees, for his second year. Anyone who followed baseball might have remembered the 2004 ALCS, which happened to feature A-Rod. So, yeah, Ron, about two years late on that one. It's not like you're a baseball analyst for a New York team, or even make appearances as an analyst on national TV.

And, of course, you guys strangely agreed on an infield of five men, only three of whom played for the Texas Rangers in 2005 – you might have left out that homer-hungry former Hiroshima Carp legend Alfonso Soriano, who walloped 36 dingers in his second and final season in Texas.

Hey, it wasn't like Soriano was traded to a team in the Mets' division right before 2005 - and Ron Darling certainly wasn't the Nationals' analyst before becoming getting the SNY gig, or anything.

Keep up the good work, guys.


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(Though judging by the Mets lately, if you have a fix, I'd say rehab is a stop in your future.)


Move Along, Nothing to See Here

The Mets didn't do anything today. They did less than the Yankees, even, who after acquiring one beloved former Met (the X-Man), were hungry for another (last graph, obvs).

Instead, the sellers had this club in a holding pattern, asking the Mets for hard-throwing lefty Jon Niese or human tool-shed Fernando Martinez in exchange for crummy used goods, like Raul Ibanez.

The Mets couldn't acquire a difference-maker for the corner outfield spots or for the bullpen without surrendering serious talent, it seems. And, hell, they couldn't even acquire a non-difference maker without surrendering something substantial.

Desperate times call for desperate measures: Omar even tried to grab Luis Ayala, in hopes of reassembling his Expos squad in Flushing.

ASIDE: How has no one pointed this out yet? As Mets GM, Omar has acquired Brian Schneider, Ryan Church, Endy Chavez, El Duque, Fernando Tatis, Claudio Vargas, Tony Armas, Ron Calloway, Wil Cordero, and Val Pascucci, all of whom were his subjects at one point when he was master of the most useless domain in baseball?

Today, he tried to acquire Luis Ayala! The same Luis Ayala of the 5.54 ERA and 1.49 WHIP! He is actually trying to recapture the glory of those Expos days, when Matt Loughlin would eat french fries with cheese curd (it's called poutine!; right) and Fran Healy and Ted Robinson would lull us to sleep telling us how sneaky-delicious those fries were, while Eric Valent hit for the cycle.

Good times - who knew they were being reassembled beneath our nose at Shea? If it's any luck, Brad Wilkerson will soon be patrolling a corner outfield spot. Or maybe Peter Bergeron will. On second thought, Bergeron will probably be running the poutine stand at ShittyField. I'm sure there will be one.


In any event, we Mets fans should be mildly pleased that the team made no moves.

While Manny would have been a welcome addition, the Mets have no prospects, outside of Martinez, who would be capable of even carrying Andy LaRoche's jockstrap. And while LaRoche (and the heretofore unheralded Bryan Morris) may seem to be quite a mild price for a masher of Manny's caliber, there always exists the possibility that Jeff Kent will be dead at Ramirez's hand by the end of the season.

I've already reserved FreeManny.com to secure funds for his legal defense.* (Actually, this is not true. Please don't register this website. You will have stolen my idea - consider investing in KentHadItComing.com)

In any event, there really wasn't that much out there for the Mets. Considering that Griffey wouldn't have waived any clause to come here (and he's only a minimal upgrade anyway), and that the price for Bay was so high, it looks like the Mets did the right thing by standing pat.

Placidity was a theme in the NL East today, as the Marlins acquired but Arthur Rhodes, while the Phillies only have that Blanton deal to go on. While both teams had previously been mentioned as potential homes for ManRam, his incurable psychosis (if he's on your team, this may be called "Manny Being Manny," or, alternatively, fun-loving attitude) may have scared them away.

In fact, it makes sense that the Dodgers' Ned Colletti was the only GM in baseball ultimately able to swing a trade for Manny - Colletti's methodology for acquiring players involves a simple set of questions:

1) Was he good five years ago?
2) If you answered yes to the first question, acquire him. If no, could he be described as either "gritty" or "a gamer"?
3) If you answered yes to the second question, acquire him. If no, did he ever play for the Devil Rays?
4) If you answered yes to the third question, acquire him. If no, is he Ramon Martinez?

The Dodgers have done everything possible to take at-bats away from James Loney, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp in that outfield – and by everything possible, I mean Andruw Jones' 218 PA of .167/.268/.250 and Juan Pierre's 311 PA of .279/.325/.316 baseball out of a corner outfield position.

Angel Berroa is also logging time at short with a line of .204/.260/.247, but hey, he won Rookie of the Year only a few years back!

While it won't take much to win the NL West, I'm still terribly excited for the pissing match that will ensue over the next couple months. Even though the Dodgers have Manny, that team is still managed by veteran-loving Joe Torre with Colletti calling the roster shots upstairs. Here's to hoping Manny rides pine for the rest of the year after refusing to cut his braids and Casey Blake grinds out his career 106 OPS+ in a corner outfield spot opposite Juan Pierre.

In any event, the Mets didn't bite on any offers and still have Fernando Martinez, Jon Niese, Bobby Parnell, Dan Murphy, Nick Evans, Mike Carp and Raul Casanova (wouldn't have been able to cope had we traded him.)

What's nice is that this team is no less equipped to win tomorrow than it was yesterday, even if that game didn't turn out so well. It wasn't like trading Nady for Bert, Kazmir for VZ, or doing anything that would give Luis Castillo a larger share of the team's at-bats. The Mets haven't changed, for better or for worse.


Playing With Fire

Sure, it was crushing.

But this game, unfortunately, was lost on Saturday night.

Sure, one might say that the Mets squandered the lead twice in this game – and that it's hard to lambaste the team when the starting pitcher went fewer than five innings because of an injury – but this one was really over Saturday night.

You might remember Saturday night's - well, maybe Sunday morning's - Mets game, a 14-inning thriller chock full of comebacks, contributions from journeymen, and guys on base (even if the Mets couldn't drive them in.) They lost, 10-8, to the Cardinals, when a dog-tired Aaron Heilman served up a two-run shot in the top of the 14th to Albert Pujols. He's good.

That game, in which the starter, Brandon Knight, only went five innings, really set the tone for tonight's matchup. For, you see, that game taxed the Mets' most effective reliever of late, oddly enough Aaron Heilman (in fact, this space hammered him for an almost identical incident last year).

Heilman, with Duaner Sanchez's arm acting like it's in a Miami cab, Pedro Feliciano turning into a rancid pumpkin (in July, batters have been hitting .409 against him, and he's already served up more homers this year than he has in either of the past two), and Joe Smith and Scott Schoeneweis only ROOGY and LOOGY at their bests, and Carlos Muniz and Willie Collazo being Carlos Muniz and Willie Collazo is now this pen's non-Wagner ace, or N.W.A. (I am sure I am the only one who finds this joke funny.)

Heilman, though, was treated on Saturday like Darren Oliver in 2006, or Aaron Sele of 2007 - he was the LONG MAN. And as the LONG MAN, one takes a pounding, knowing that he will not be called upon to pitch night after night. This individual may even have more than a week between appearances - which is not a bad thing, given that the infrequency of work for a long man means that starters are going deep into ballgames and that the Mets are taking care of things in regulation.

It's not hard to notice, though, that this bullpen, under Jerry Manuel, has contained no such figure. There are two situational pitchers, a closer with an iffy shoulder who occasionally has trouble controlling his slider and his mouth, a righty who spent more than a year out of baseball and is trying to find his gas, a lefty who appears to have hit some sort of wall after two years of nonstop contributions, and the warm body who knows the MSY (N'Awlins Airport) to LGA flight quite well. There is no once-great (or, well, for Sele and Oliver, once-average) starter who occasionally will be asked to make a pseudo-start if the game goes into extras or a starter can't give the team much.

Let me reiterate: this team has no long reliever.

Now, I titled this missive "Playing With Fire" because I do not believe this has to be the case. Jerry Manuel could, quite easily, designate Carlos Muniz his long man. Muniz would not make brief appearances early in ballgames, as he has been doing of late, only to give back leads. I know it hurts, Carlos, but it's something vaguely resembling the truth.

But would you believe me if I told you that Muniz, who has allegedly been the long man this season, has made no appearances of more than two innings? Not one.

Jorge Sosa, who was supposed to fill that role - before being released, made only one such appearance, in the second game of the season! Tony Armas, who might have been that player, made two appearances of less than two innings before being placed on the DL. Claudio Vargas, who was something of a long man, made two appearances of more than two innings - including one of great success after Ollie Perez's meltdown in San Fran. He, along with Nelson Figueroa - another potential longman, currently toils at AAA. Maybe Willie Collazo, currently on the roster due to Pedro Martinez's bereavement leave, could even be a long man.

Although not one of these men would likely contribute in the way that Oliver did while filling that role in 2006, any one of them would be an upgrade over "Oh, shit - this game's going into extras. We've used everyone but this guy, because we were trying to rest him after working plenty on consecutive days. Well, what choice do we have? Let's throw him out there!"

Hell, maybe the Mets could even trade for Manny or Teixeira - I hear they're available - and make one of them the long man. Even if they couldn't pitch well, it would still be nice to designate someone in that role.

Look at the number of relievers the Mets have used in their recent contests excluding Santana's (ill-advised) complete game:

7/22: 4
7/23: 3
7/24: 2
7/25: 4
7/26: 7
7/28: 5

Keeping in mind that there are only seven relievers on a team, how is this kind of usage pattern sustainable? That question becomes even tougher in road games, when a manager will not use his closer without a lead.

Manuel is more aggressive than Randolph; we knew that when he was coming in. But his aggression with the bullpen cost the Mets this game – if one only makes the conservative assumption that a well-rested Aaron Heilman would have been better than Muniz, Smith, Schoeneweis and Co.

Recall this game, last year. The Mets still had Billy Wagner ready to go to slam the door in the 17th! Against the Cardinals on Saturday, Oliver Perez was warming up in the 14th.

Certainly, the Mets' bullpen is going through tough times right now. Smith is hitting a wall, perhaps, as is Sanchez, and Feliciano hasn't been able to get anyone out for over a month. Carlos Muniz is not a capable major league pitcher, and Billy Wagner won't be pitching eighth innings because no one else can.

The problem is not that starters aren't going deep into games (ARGH, THESE BABIES WITH THEIR PITCH COUNTS! SATCHEL PAIGE DIDN'T EVEN KNOW HIS OWN BIRTHDATE! MORDECAI BROWN HAD THREE FINGERS! OLD HOSS RADBOURN THREW 678 INNINGS IN A SEASON!), but that the bullpen isn't getting anyone out (and is giving up plenty of runs), and Manuel is managing aggressively to keep the Mets in these games.

Problem is, managing aggressively means you sometimes have to pitch Aaron Heilman until his arm falls off, even though you know it will hurt the team.

Managing while paying due attention to the bullpen wouldn't be all that difficult, though - it means getting lots of innings out of Carlos Muniz (or whoever the long man will be) and perhaps in the process conceding a less important game and saving the bullpen for the next contest, or, if the game is still definitely within reach, charging ahead with all hands on deck.

But the Mets can't have it both ways.

ADDENDA: This is the second straight post within which I have spoken about debunking the philosophy of the Met manager. I love Jerry, just so you're sure. But I will depart from the discussion of baseball philosophy to plead for a few things:

1) Scott Schoeneweis is a situational lefty. Lefties are hitting .149 against him; righties .309. In his inning of work tonight, he faced one left-handed batter (whom he should have retired if not for David Wright's premature sprint to third), out of seven total. I know there were pinch hitters and the like, but he is not on this team to face right-handed batters (again, this speaks to the problem of a short-handed bullpen, but I'll move on.)

2) Schoeneweis is a better situational left-handed reliever than Pedro Feliciano. We knew that going into the season, provided we believed that Schoeneweis was truly injured last year and for that reason he pitched poorly. However, Pedro Feliciano was expected to do well against left-handed and right-handed batters, as he had both last year and the year before. That has not been the case. Pedro has been unable to retire righties of late - which might explain this news that the Tigers have been looking into snagging Schoeneweis. If this is the real Feliciano, then the two cannot peacefully coexist in that bullpen. There is only enough room for one situational lefty. Although your author would prefer Schoeneweis be the one to stay, his value is probably greater to interested teams.

3) Cannot the Mets acquire a reliever? Moreso than an outfield bat, a set-up man would be a welcome acquisition, it appears. While your author fondly remembers previous midseason relief acquisitions that have proved a little less than fruitful (Mel Rojas, Steve Reed - for Jason Bay, Billy Taylor - for Jason Isringhausen, Roberto Hernandez's Act II - the lacking success of which I forecasted correctly here, save for the Perez stuff), this corps simply cannot be trusted. Perhaps relief (intended, obvs.) comes from within: in the form of Jon Niese or Bobby Parnell, power arms that could be converted to bullpen help for the stretch. The Mets have Eddie Kunz, too, a former college closer ready to contribute. Maybe former Philly legend Eude Brito brings some help. But this bullpen, in its current state, ain't goin' nowhere.

4) What is up with this three catchers thing? I presume Manuel's still carrying three catchers because either Castro or Cancel is a better pinch-hitting option than Chris Aguila or Val "I'll be honest. Who is he?" Pascucci. But Castro has had four at-bats as a pinch-hitter this year. 4. Sure, he's probably been double-switched in a few times - and therefore not technically a pinch-hitter, but the fact remains that Manuel isn't using his third catcher to give Castro at-bats off the bench... he's using Castro as a third catcher (on days when he's not starting) to get Robinson Cancel at-bats! Cancel has 8 pinch-hit ABs, despite having been on the roster quite a lot less than Castro has. I'm not going to make an argument that Castro should be the everyday catcher - he's in too poor shape for it to ever happen. But, Jerry, let me plead: if the Mets are to carry three catchers (thereby hamstringing the rest of the bench), can it at least be designed to give ol' BigHead some extra at-bats, and not SlightlySmallerHead Cancel some plate appearances to write a fairytale?

5) Manny? I think Manny would be a good fit - I really do. And for the first time ever on WFAN, I even heard an intriguing potentially feasible trade proposal: Manny and Jacoby Ellsbury to the Mets for Carlos Beltran. The Mets would probably be asked for a little more in that hypothetical deal, but I digress. Its feasibility gives me pause. To get Manny, this would not be a simple trade - regardless of how much of a clubhouse cancer the slugger is, and despite the boatload of money still owed to him (including two option years he might want the new team to pick up) – the Red Sox have hopes of repeating as World Series champs and would need a player of Beltran's caliber in return. Prospects would be of no use to them. My gut would tell me that Beltran, who has a full no-trade clause, would not want to go to Boston. And if giving up Beltran seems a tough pill to swallow, imagine losing the only other comparables: Wright, or Reyes. The Mets wouldn't benefit on the field from trading either one (and it would be an off-field nightmare), and moving Beltran would be only slightly better. While this author has a sneaking suspicion that other potential tradebait (ie Fernando Martinez) is tremendously overhyped and will not be an elite major leaguer, the Red Sox should not be interested in prospects at all. So we must wait. Perhaps he comes here as a free agent this offseason, though your author would prefer another lumbering free-agent left fielder: Patrick Brian Burrell.


On the whole, though, there's a lot to like about this team. Despite two blown ones from the bullpen out of the last three, first place is still theirs - at least until tomorrow.

Tuesday night's matchup: Oliver Perez (6-6, 4.15 ERA) goes against Scott Olsen (6-5, 4.07 ERA), in the Dolphin Tank in front of a few thousand fishmongers. 7:10 p.m. is your start. If you have an unaddressed fetish for mercurial (read: immature) lefthanders, this is a must-watch game. This author hopes the two will have been in fisticuffs by the third inning.



The Mets' acquisition of Johan Santana was largely symbolic.

Sure, there was that whole acquiring arguably the best pitcher in baseball thing - but in looking at how the Santana trade was viewed by Mets fans and pressfolk - it was a symbolic trade.

Johan going to the Mets, rather than the Red Sox or Yankees? Symbolic - there's a new sheriff in town.

Omar Minaya nabbing Johan with dogged persistence, and doing so without giving up Fernando Martinez or Mike Pelfrey? Symbolic - in him we had lost confidence after fumbling away Brian Bannister and an entire relief corps; now, it was In Omar We Trust all over again.

The Mets managing to get a negotiating window with Santana, and then signing him to that big deal? Symbolic - big-money signings since the Minaya regime came into power notwithstanding, there were still some who complained that the Wilpons were not willing to open up their checkbook, and there they were inking an elite pitcher to a big money, long term deal.

So, why, then, is Johan still treated like a symbol?

Sure, I know they won (handily), and everything, making them 15-4 in their last 19 and giving them some momentum heading into the Dolphin Tank, but there was something not to like about Johan today.

He pitched great, having exceptional pitch economy while limiting hits for the first chunk of the ballgame. It looked, for a while, like he would have more hits than he gave up.

But then Santana started to run out of gas in the seventh - the Mets were up by plenty, and he served up a near homer to Ryan Ludwick before serving up an actual homer to Phat Albert. It was fine, he set the Cardinals down in the eighth. His day should have been over.

What is that, you say? Contrarianism? How dare you?

Johan Santana went out and pitched the ninth inning. He finished it, gave up some hits in that inning, and gathered his final out on the 118th pitch of the day. He had retired 27 batters in one game, the highest total posted since Oliver Perez's immortal second-half of a doubleheader showing against Atlanta in September 2006. (Dave Williams had started the first game. He was better than Ollie then.)

But he threw too many pitches doing it. It's one thing to ask someone to throw that many pitches in a playoff game, or even in a close game, where the gassed starter is a much better option than the reliever likely to get the call.

It's quite another when the Mets have six and a half more years of Santana, at a steep price, and are up by seven runs on the Cardinals in bad weather. Willie Collazo, no matter how much he is Willie Collazo, easily could have pitched the ninth en route to a painless victory.

This victory won't be painless, though. Johan's more likely to be injured now than he was before this start, and it doesn't help that his velocity dropped after a non-taxing season in Minnesota last year. Sure, his number of pitches per start is roughly the same as it has been for the last few years, but that, according to most research done on the topic, isn't the health risk.

Johan has thrown or exceeded 110 pitches in a start eight times this season.

In his previous full seasons as a starter, he has done the same this many times:

2007: 6
2006: 4
2005: 6
2004: 7

We're not even into August, and Santana has extended himself more in starts than ever before. Today, the reason for doing this was wholly symbolic. The game was won, and the taxed bullpen had relief, even if it happened to come in the form of Willie Collazo (though the bullpen would have preferred a suppository.)

Baseball Prospectus found Johan Santana to be the 26th most-abused starter in baseball, measured by total Pitcher Abuse Points. Imagine what happens in the wake of this effort.

The Mets aren't stupid - Santana, in fact, is the only Met pitcher in the top 30, while noted crusty ol' baseball men like Lou Piniella and Charlie Manuel each have two pitchers in the top 15 (is it any wonder Carlos Zambrano always seems to have a DL stint and Brett Myers is out of gas? They're both up there. Good news, too - Cole Hamels is #7... just wait until his arm falls off.)

So why do they kowtow to goofy WFAN hosts/callers, and this woman (left) (writing here), and other idiots from the peanut gallery?

She wrote a book about Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, which apparently makes her qualified to determine the physiology of pitching.

I wrote a book about the Prague Spring, and yet I don't claim to know anything about women's tennis.

Ed.: Yes, he does. And Kundera's lawyers, please look away.

The Mets lost on Tuesday not because of Johan Santana, but because of an inept cast of characters who toil in the Shea bullpen. That is obvious. The fact that Santana did not pitch the ninth has nothing to do with Sanchez, Feliciano, Smith & Co.'s inability to retire anyone.

The argument for Johan to finish that game could have been made thusly: he's the team's best pitcher - and his inning, regardless of how many pitches he's thrown, would be better than the bullpen's; we want to avoid using Wagner; Feliciano's been struggling lately; something like that.

Nowhere in arguing for Santana to pitch that ninth would one bring up the following things:
1) He's getting paid $137.5 million.
2) He has a seven-year contract.
3) He's thrown 105 pitches.

And yet, those were the hindsight crew's points about why he should have pitched the ninth! He's getting paid all of this money - he should be out there pitching every day! He's got seven years of salary coming to him - he should earn his damn keep! He's thrown 105 pitches - come on! Juan Marichal threw 220-something to beat Warren Spahn! Or was that Pedro Astacio...?

The money spent on Santana is an investment, and the seven years granted in his deal are a reflection on the Mets' hope that he will keep up his current pace. Johan should not be treated like a rag doll just because of his contract.

And all of this thinking about Tuesday and its wake brings me to today, when Johan Santana willingly engaged in that which shall be called "arm harm."

Jerry's Kids gave into all of this hot air spewed from the media this week, and Johan first among them. Manuel and Warthen asked him if he was okay to throw all of those pitches, and he said yes. And while this blogger does not doubt that Santana felt confident in the instant of throwing those pitches (after all, he uses J.R. Watkins Apothecary Liniment), it is certain that the Mets just absorbed plenty of risk for zero reward.

What does the team gain from the CG next to Santana's name on the box score? Momentum? Ha!

Earl Weaver said, "Momentum is the next day's starting pitcher." It's John Maine, facing Ricky Nolasco, by the way.

Does one really believe that had Santana left after eight innings, and Willie Collazo done all he could have not to surrender seven runs, that the Mets would have a better chance of winning on Monday in Florida?

Can one honestly think that John Maine is going to pitch especially well tomorrow, now that Johan's gone deep into the game?

In fact, Maine's last especially good start really generated plenty of momentum for the next day's pitcher. Look at that line: 7 2/3 innings, one hit, no runs, 14 strikeouts.

If momentum exists, think about the kind of show that the next day's starting pitcher put on.

(I'm quite sorry I had to bring this up, by the way. Devastated, in fact. I know that I'm a Mets fan first, and a stathead second, but the overwhelming contention that some intangible effect of Santana's abuse would help this team has driven me to crazy things.)

Simply put, Johan Santana did The Job Of An Ace™ today, but there was no need to extend him through the ninth, especially after all of the times he's been extended earlier this year. He does not have a rubber arm, and whatever rubbery things exist in his arm will wear down on the Mets' dime if the team continues to batter him like they have so far.

When the Mets acquired Johan, it meant a lot of different things. It helped turn the tide for this team after an embarrassing collapse in 2007.

But he's here now. When all's said and done, he will most likely have made more starts as a Met than as a Twin, where he fashioned two Cy Young Awards and collected the bulk of his now 101 career victories.

Mets fans are smart enough to know that Johan Santana is right now way more than a symbol, way more than a device. He's ours, for the long haul. Let's treat him like it.

LINK: This article on Pitcher Abuse Points might be useful to you.


Was There Any Doubt?

It's the bottom of the eighth inning in the All-Star Game. Home field advantage is at stake.

Was there any doubt who would give back the NL lead?

None whatsoever.

Billy "Big-Game" Wagner is your once and future culprit. Get used to this, if you weren't already.


"They Win the Fuckin' Thing!"

In the words of Bob Murphy... wait, did I mishear him?



Pedro Martinez isn't the Mets' ace, anymore. That title, for the foreseeable future, belongs to Johan Santana, although an old friend is making waves across town.

But he can pitch like it tonight.

Pedro was really only the Mets' ace for that woefully underrated 2005 season, where he wowed stat folks (a ridiculous .949 WHIP) and goofy old traditionalists (4 complete games) in the way only he could. By 2006, his hip was cranky, and then his shoulder exploded - and we grew to love an aceless club.

2007 was lost, for the most part, and 2008 has been Pedro's worst showing to date, with really very few mitigating factors. He's not striking anyone out, he's walking well more than usual, giving up more hits, and more home runs than ever before.

Really, the only thing that could make us have any faith in Pedro is that he's been throwing hard - harder than last year, certainly, and harder than much of his brief 2006 work.
And, well, that he's Pedro. Armed with freakishly long fingers, and at various times a (now deceased) pint-sized Dominican horror film actor, at left, a Jheri-curl, and roosters to cockfight with Juan Marichal - he has managed to be perhaps the most dominant pitcher in the history of baseball, leading everyone in ERA+ (a park-adjusted, league-adjusted figure).

Now, tonight, he takes the hill for the Mets in what, regrettably, is a very serious game. We don't like playing serious games this early in the season, but when a team has been as disappointing as this club has, sometimes it's necessary.

Pedro has a checkered past in these matches: one might remember his six no-hit relief innings to clinch the 1999 ALDS, or perhaps his start in early April 2005, with the Mets 0-5 and facing John Smoltz in Atlanta: 9 innings, 2 hits, 1 run, 9 strikeouts.

But an anti-Pedro pundit might offer his eighth-inning meltdown against the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS - although it's primarily blamed on Grady Little, Pedro gave back a three-run lead with a chance to clinch a World Series spot for the Sox.

And hell, Pedro is now physically nowhere near the pitcher he was in any of those games. His stuff has changed, too: more cutters, more sliders, fewer curveballs. And Pedro's cutter has recently appeared to be a special variety: the meatball cutter.

But then again, he's Pedro. He still has the ability to power this team, due to his still quite good repertoire, and his fearlessness on the mound. Tonight will be his first test - as this game is far more important than a rainy affair against the Cardinals. The Cardinals don't matter. They won't be an obstacle to the Mets' postseason chances (though given their 2006 comeback and Joel Pineiro's 2007 stunner, maybe I'll eat my words), while the Phillies, moreso than any other club, ought to be.

Tonight, Pedro, slayer of demons, faces Adam Eaton, slayer of Mets. Eaton is 5-0 career against the Mets, with an ERA against them a run and a half below his career average.

The Mets won with Eaton on the hill in April, in a twelve-inning affair, but lost to him a few weeks later (despite his poor performance: 4 runs in 5 innings).

It may appear to be just another early-July game against the Phillies, one that the Mets can lose and still split the series, but we all know it's far more pivotal than that. The Mets, with a win, can push themselves over .500. And, sure, momentum might be overrated, but who wouldn't want to be winners of three straight with the Rockies and Giants coming to town before the break? Those teams are a combined thirty games under .500.

So here's to Pedro being Pedro. We all know what he can do - now it's time to see it.


Some Notes/Links: