Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Never underestimate the Mets

"And this is how you handle bunts, Mr. Met." "Interesting!"

Overheard at Mets' spring training camp, Port St. Lucie, late February 2005:

"Jacobs! No no no, Jacobs! When you field the bunt, don't triple-pump before you make the play. Load and explode. Load and explode, baby! Don't hesitat --- Castro! Castro! What in the Sam Hill are you doing? When you field a bunt, don't run three paces and then toss the ball high underhand! You'll overthrow the first baseman every time!"

They didn't learn, coach.

The New York Mets proved, among other things, incapable of effectively fielding bunts Tuesday night during their
4-2 loss at Shea Stadium---which is fortunate, because the bunt ranks highly among the Washington Nationals' favorite plays.

Managing for the future, Frank Robinson broke out the following Nos. 4-8 in Tuesday's lineup:

---> Preston Wilson, CF (free agent; gone).
---> Vinny Castilla, 3B (old, perhaps replaced by a hotshot, and also really old).
---> Deivi Cruz, SS (free agent; gone).
---> Gary Bennett, C (fungible back-up catcher, de facto platoon partner).
---> Cristian Guzman, SS (nonsensical free agent signing).


Yet, by happy fortune, Guzman last night enjoyed one of maybe a half-dozen good games this season; he went 3-for-4 all told, raising his batting average to a lofty .204. Leading off the third, Guzman stroked a ground-rule double to right field. The next batter, emergency starting pitcher Hector Carrasco, laid down a sacrifice bunt---which seconds later would be scored a sacrifice bunt/fielder's choice when first baseman Mike Jacobs, who had Guzman dead-to-rights at third, held the ball too long. Brad Wilkerson singled in Guzman, and the rally was on. Marlon Byrd and P-Wil also delivered run-scoring hits, and the Nats had wiped out a one-run deficit (acquired by the Mets when Castilla misplayed a Tom Glavine grounder into an infield hit).

Guzman also marked his presence in the ninth, when the Nats added another run. Bennett's, uh, platoon partner, Brian Schneider, who entered the game in the bottom of the eighth, led off with a single to right. Guzman then laid down a well-placed bunt; catcher Ramon Castro fielded it in time to nip Guzman at first but instead took a couple steps and then tossed the ball high, high in the air. It arched high above the first baseman and landed well beyond anyone's reach. Schneider, hustling the whole way, scored from first.

That was more than enough for the Nats' kitchen sink pitching staff, which was not quite so stacked last night. Carrasco---who apparently didn't know he'd start until yesterday afternoon, although
we all pretty much knew it on Monday night---turned in a four-inning outing for the first time since August 6, 1998. (Thanks, Retrosheet!) He surrendered two runs but was generally in command, striking out six New York batters. Four relievers, including Gary Majewski, who was deemed the winning pitcher based on two innings of effective relief, closed the door.

Majewski was enabled by Jose Offerman's baserunning gaffe in the bottom of the seventh. Offerman reached via walk and then, perhaps pondering how first baseman Brad Wilkerson
could draw more walks by being more aggressive at the plate, induced teammate Kaz Matsui into an 8-4 fielder's choice when he didn't run on Matsui's sharp liner to Wilson. That was pretty much the Mets' last threat.

A month or two ago, one could have reasonably expected at least one NL East team to fall off the pace. Who would it be? Philly? Florida? The Nats? Never underestimate the Mets.


A game ball of sorts goes to displaced manager Frobby, who was ejected but before that committed himself to squeezing an extra inning or two out of Carrasco. Big Hector looked pretty much gassed by the end of his outing, but Robinson effectively "shortened the game" and kept his middle and short relief manageable. Bravo, Frank!

Almost makes you forget that starting lineup . . .


As if there wasn't enough evil in the world,
Jeff Smulyan reminds us he's still out there, plotting. Smulyan, who aspires to own the Nats even though he appeared thoroughly miserable owning the Seattle Mariners a decade ago, is trying to solidify his campaign by adding local interests. Two words: Please and no.

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