Anatomy of a Series
Braves-Mets, September 10-12, 2007, not a sexy matchup by any means. The Mets finally took advantage of the mediocre play in the NL East and moved comfortably ahead at the end of August, and they'll be taking their second division crown in a row soon. The differences between these two teams are minute, and in baseball that often means the difference between winning and losing.
The Mets took 2 of 3. After winning 3-2 in the 1st game and getting smacked 13-5 the next, the Mets tooks advantage of weaknesses in the Braves defense and situational hitting to win 4-3 in the rubber match. Let me ask you something...when the starting pitcher (in this case, Mets pitcher John Maine) is walking the whole ballpark, walking Andruw Jones of all people with the bases loaded to allow the Braves to tie 1-1 early in the game, you would make John Maine throw a strike before you ever swing the bat, right? This is good, sound baseball. However, Matt Diaz, who has been a hitting machine and has come up with some clutch hits, decides on a 1-0 count to swing. And he grounds out to end the inning, the Mets get out of a tough situation without having to do anything. Whether the pitch was fat or not, you make the pitcher throw a strike and keep the pressure on him, you exploit the situation. Otherwise, you play into their hands.
The Braves' catcher Brian McCann has thrown out around 23% of runners trying to steal bases this year, which is awful. We, of course, cannot blame just McCann; the pitcher has a responsibility too and more often than not, he's the big culprit. I saw the Mets steal at will this series, and I'm not sure McCann ever had a chance at any runner. When Carlos Beltran led off the bottom of the 8th with a single, with the score having been miraculously tied 3-3 in the top of the inning on a Jeff Francoeur bases-loaded hit, he did what so many runners this year have been able to do with no problem: steal second. Moises Alou then grounded to third, and despite Yunel Escobar's looking Beltran back to second, Beltran made a great play by running to third as soon as Escobar threw Alou out at first. There was nothing much the Braves could do there, unless they had anticipated the move, which would have effectively shunned the out at first; and if Beltran decides not to go, you have two men on and no one out.
But here's where the mistake comes in: Shawn Green, who has had a good day at the plate, is up. You have first base open. YOU WALK SHAWN GREEN TO SET UP THE DOUBLE PLAY. Paul Lo Duca, a big double-play candidate because he's a slow catcher, is the next batter. Instead, the Braves pull the infield in, which is the equivalent of football's prevent defense (in other words, it doesn't work very often), and pitch to Green, and he singles. Mets up 4-3. Lo Duca grounds into a double play to end the inning. I get frustrated. Perhaps, and this is the cynical side of me, they were worried Green (10 stolen bases; not bad, not exactly a speed demon) would just steal second anyway, since no one can throw out anybody.
But, I enjoyed coming out to the games. I may have been a little more upset had the games meant more than they did (OK, a lot more). But had they meant more, I would have had a better team to root for out on the field. It's fun to watch the Shea faithful; they're always into the game no matter what. Last night, with the score 9-1 Braves, the Mets fans roared when Paul Lo Duca hit a 2-run HR to make it 9-3, even though they were still way behind. They lustily booed Guillermo Mota, an underachieving relief pitcher, when he was asked to hold a 3-1 lead with the bases loaded tonight. And, he was even more lustily booed when he gave up the lead. They don't like him for many reasons, but they're probably just as upset about his positive steroids test after the 2006 season. It is because of this that I've heard the nickname "Guilleroids."
And, the oddball people come out, and drink, and this leads to a number of back-and-forth shouting matches between opposing fans. There's either good-natured ribbing or, rarely, fights. Tonight, for some reason I'm still scratching my head over, and perhaps it had to do more with pre-game alcohol more than anything, girls dressed in Phillies attire attended the game, holding up a sign that touted the Phillies 4-game sweep a week ago. The Phillies were in Philadelphia tonight getting blasted by the Rockies, a fact that many of the fans would update the girls on every time the outfield scoreboard changed. Is it any surprise that the "Alcohol Police" had to escort these ladies out later in the game? And that the entire section of fans cheered very loudly (some standing) when it happened?
Baseball is fun. I wish I could get tired of it sometimes, but it will always have an allure.