Saturday, May 17, 2008

Could Be Worse: We Could Be the Mets

Wow, a whole month -- OK, 30 days -- without a new entry. For the few of you reading this, I apologize.

How have things changed since then? Mike Mussina has returned to pitching well. (Because he's not pitching to Manny Being Manny, perhaps?) Andy Pettitte is pitching better. Chien-Ming Wang has been a staff anchor, if not a genuine ace. (Must a pitcher have a blazing fastball to be an "ace"?) And Darrell Rasner, at least through two games, has been a big help. Mariano Rivera remains the best. Joba Chamberlain has earned the right to pump his fist anytime he wants. (Shut up, David Dellucci: If you'd shown that kind of passion as a Yankee, you might still be a Yankee.) Even Kyle Farnsworth, who gave up yet another gopher ball in my first live game of the season (a loss to the Detroit Tigers), has been unusually effective. The hitting is a little better. Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano and even Jason Giambi have improved. Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera have hit well all along.

So has Derek Jeter, who picked up his 2,400th career hit, leaving him 600 short of the magic number 3,000, and just 321 short of Lou Gehrig's team record. (Babe Ruth had 2,873 hits, a season ahead of Gehrig's 2,721, but not all of those were for the Yankees. Paul Waner, Dave Winfield and Wade Boggs are members of the 3,000 Hit Club who played for the Yankees, but no player has gotten Number 3,000 as a Yankee. Jeter and A-Rod, who's got about 2,275 as I write this, have good shots at it.)

On the other hand, the hitting isn't that much better. Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada are hurt. Philip Hughes is hurt and may be out for the season. Ian Kennedy has nothing. Kei Igawa is now officially a blunder. Jose Molina is an excellent defensive catcher, and has even gotten some clutch hits, but he cannot call a game or handle young pitchers; missing Posada hurts even more in that way as it does when we need his potent bat. And Jonathan Albaledejo, who looked so good for a couple of weeks, is also hurt.

And yet... Despite all the injuries, the Yankees are just two games under .500, about where they were at this point in each of the last three years, and they made the Playoffs every time, despite the Boston Red Sox being a powerful team. And the Sox are not especially powerful at the moment. The Yankees are really just one good week -- or one bad week by the Sox -- away from being in good shape. And A-Rod and Posada will soon start their rehab games, so if we can just get their bats back in the lineup, and the other hitters can hold the fort until then, the Yankees will be back in business.

Anyway, it could be worse. The Yankees could be where the Mets are.

Met fans want Willie Randolph fired. Of course. The Mets have been a .500 ballclub over the last 150 or so games, and it can't be the players' fault.

After all, the Mets have Jose Reyes, the most exciting player in baseball, the best shortstop in baseball -- certainly, the best shortstop in New York. (No, they're not just talking about his fielding.) They have David Wright, the most valuable player -- note the lower-case letters -- in the National League in each of the last two seasons. (If you don't count October '06 and September '07, that is.) They have Carlos Beltran, New York's best center fielder since Willie Mays. ('Scuse me while I roll my eyes.) And they have Pedro Martinez, John Maine, Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey, a better prospect than either Hughes or Kennedy, in their rotation. And now, to the best team in baseball -- at least, the best team in New York -- they have added the world's greatest pitcher, Johan Santana!

No, it can't possibly be the Met players' fault that they've been a .500 team for roughly a full year now. It must be the manager. It must be "Witless Willie."

Right now, the Mets have a slightly better record than the Yankees. Which team's fans are panicking?

Yankee Fans know their team has been through tough times before and has reached the Playoffs. Met fans, the Flushing Heathen, are used to their team choking, used to their team playing like garbage. They're idiots, but they do have the experience to know that seasons like 1962, 1977, 1982, 1993 and 2003 are much more common than years like 1969, 1973, 1986, 2000 and 2006. And that finishes like 1973, 1988, 1999, 2006 and 2007 are more common than finishes like 1969 and 1986.

But not this time. "Ya Gotta Believe." "Always Believe." "The Magic Is Back." The players are too good to be a .500 team. It can't be the players' fault. It just can't be.

So "Fire Witless Willie!"

Like I said: Idiots.

So here we are, in a new "Subway Series." (The phrase made some sense starting in 1997. But since October 2000, it has sounded so stupid.)

Game 1, supposed to be Rasner vs. Santana -- after Rasner pitched both of his earlier starts on the same day as Santana and pitched better both times -- was washed out by rain. So what should have been Game 2, today, becomes Game 1, and keeps that matchup.

Then there's the Mets' closer, whose late-season screwups have now hurt three teams: The 1997, '98, '99 and 2001 Houston Astros (lost in the Division Series all four times); the 2004 and '05 Philadelphia Phillies (missed the Playoffs by two games both times), and the 2006 and '07 Mets.

Billy Wagner is a hero. He wants his teammates to be men, not mice. He called them out Thursday, after the hitters didn't back up Pelfrey, who took a no-hitter into the 7th, and the Mets still lost 1-0 to the Washington Nationals -- a team usually known as The Lowly Washington Nationals, but they ain't so lowly when playing the Mess. Wagner asked the press, "Why are you talking to the f---ing closer? I didn't even play today! Go talk to them! Oh, that's right, they're gone. Big f---ing shock." While his talent level has dropped, he still speaks the truth.

Billy Wagner is also a fool. What kind of a moron wears a New England Patriots cap? Knowing that the Pats are a bunch of unrepentant cheaters? And wearing it in the City (OK, the metro area) with the most reason to hate the Pats? And, on top of it all, in the City (metro area) that taught the Pats a big freakin' lesson in the Super Bowl? A close win, nonetheless a total humiliation. Come on, Wags, call guys out when you must, but don't do it while wearing a Cheatriots cap!

Anyway, Wagner, a man of some individual accomplishments (over 300 career saves) but not a big team player, has given the Mets a Cher-slap: "Snap out of it!" Of course, he's still more accomplished than any of them, with the exception of Pedro the Punk, and where is he? Rehabbing his shoulder. Even if he was there, would he take up a leadership role? Has he ever?

These teams came into this "Subway Series" both underachieving. Yet Yankee Fans are cautiously optimistic, while the Flushing Heathen are foaming at the mouth calling for "that Yankee," Willie Randolph, to get fired, because it couldn't possibly be the fault of the players that Willie didn't put together. Or Omar Minaya, the genius general manager who did put them together.

So what are we talking about for today's game? Either Darrell Rasner outpitches Johan Santana again, or Santana pitches great, and the Mutts' bullpen turns out to be just the jumpstart the Yankee offense needs.

The Curse of Kevin Mitchell lives.

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