There's one silly story going around that's getting loads of attention and one fascinating story that should be obvious but has gone generally unreported.
The silly story regards Steve Trachsel and his place in the rotation. Oh yawn. Please, Steve, you couldn't be any more boring if you tried. And goodness knows you've tried.
You pitched a two-hitter over eight innings? Great. We loved it. We'd love to see you do it again. And you know what? We'll get the chance to see you try.
Why, oh why must so many fans and reporters have the attention span of a tick (apologies to ticks) and get distracted by this stuff? Why is every possible move that Willie Randolph might and often make doesn't so relentlessly skewered before it's shown to work, not work or never take place? Are we really that incapable of entertaining ourselves on off-days?
Let's think back to the big story of spring training, that David Wright is going to bat eighth. That's what Willie said. That was the law. And immediately Willie Randolph was an idiot.
How many times has David Wright batted eighth? Go grab yourself a doughnut and find the answer. The only thing Randolph did, really, was not anoint David Wright the second coming of Rod Carew. He let him get comfortable. He took the pressure off. He said this is a kid and we're not going to lean on him…yet. Now it's late August, we're in a pennant race and we're leaning on David Wright. David Wright was just named National League Player of the Week. I'm sure he's been anointed Human of the Millennium in some quarters.
Is it possible that Willie knew what he was doing?
Hey, remember fretting over Roberto Hernandez's inclusion in the Mets' bullpen? How about going apoplectic over the idea that the Mets would even consider Roberto Hernandez for the bullpen? It's an affront to progressive thinking! The Mets are operating in the 13th century! Why isn't Heath Bell closing?
Well, not every veteran reliever is going to contribute. DeJean didn't. Aybar didn't. Matthews didn't. But Hernandez did. He wasn't them. Nobody's not worth a look. It doesn't have to wreck an organizational philosophy to conjure a few things up on the fly. What's that bit about foolish consistency, hobgoblins and little minds? I don't understand why Roberto was dismissed out of hand before he ever threw a pitch or why Heath was hailed so quickly (and may he someday validate it). Why is the favorite player of so many Mets fans the one they've never or hardly seen?
Lineup…bullpen…rotation now. The Mets are out of their minds for not dumping Zambrano for Trachsel. That's because Victor Zambrano has had a couple of bad games mixed in with mostly good ones (and had the gall to be traded for the greatest pitcher almost no Mets fan ever saw) across the balance of an entire season and Steve Trachsel — when did he become the peepul's cherce? — had one very good start after back surgery.
Blame Jae Seo for blowing the precious order that we apparently all crave. He was supposed to be a stopgap. He wasn't supposed to make himself indispensable (I'll be the first to admit surprise/shock at his staying power). If he's not going anywhere, and we know the three high-priced vets who have been healthy most of the year aren't, what are you gonna do?
You're gonna do what you can do. You're not gonna give up on Zambrano just because his existence waves a red flag at so many fans. There's a reason they keep stats like how each pitcher does in each ballpark against each team. If you have evidence that Victor Zambrano is superstudly against the Marlins at Your Name Here Stadium then why wouldn't you use him? Granted, he's a better candidate for middle or long relief than Trachsel, but sayeth Herm Edwards, you play to win the game and, to put it in a baseball context, you start so you don't have to use long or middle relief. (Don't make me quote football guys again.) Plus we're hours removed from roster expansion. Some guy we never saw will be recalled and be the best pitcher ever if we need him to be.
So I'm advocating a shunting of Steve Trachsel now and forever, right? No, and neither is Willie. Think a sane manager (Don Zimmer doesn't count and he never did) would really avoid using a reliable veteran with an outstanding outing in his back pocket? I don't think so. I think we're gonna see Steve Trachsel as soon as next week as long as the Mets don't do anything self-destructive like trade him.
The Mets have a surfeit of starting pitching. And how often does that kind of thing hold up? What contending team trades starting pitching during the last two days of August? Stuff happens. It rains. Somebody stubs a toe or hyperextends a joint. The last guy you'd suspect gets shelled and needs to take a seat. Steve Trachsel has a right to feel wronged but has he been so immersed in his rehab and his wine to not notice that almost nothing is forever where Willie Randolph is concerned?
Let's pick a year at random…1987. OK, I lied, it wasn't at random. That was the year the Mets were a sure thing to repeat because they had so much pitching. The five horsemen of '86 would all return, right? And in addition to Gooden, Ojeda, Darling, Fernandez and Aguilera, we stole David Cone from the Royals.
None of those guys made it through the season unscathed. It was a year to mix and match Terry Leach and Don Schulze and John Mitchell and Tom Edens and, come September, John Candelaria. There is no such thing as too much pitching then or now. (Need additional proof? What are Shawn Chacon, Aaron Small and our ol' buddy Al doing these days?)
We overreact. We panic. We're fans. We're goaded into it by all manner of media (this one included), but let's pick our spots. There'll be so much more to go nuts over between now and October 2 that we won't remember what will have passed, in near-future retrospection, as fleeting lunacy.
So that's the silly story. The fascinating one is the Mets are playing the Phillies toward the end of the year in a game crucial to each team's fortunes. You knew that? Did you know it's the first time in the shared history of the two teams that this has happened?
Seriously, it is. Think about it. When the Mets have been good, who have they battled? The Cubs…the Pirates…the Cardinals…the Marlins once…the Braves too often…do you remember a pennant showdown involving the neighbors? Me neither. That's because it's never taken place. The Mets and the Phillies have never taken their closeness literally and have thus skillfully avoided concurrent success. Maybe they thought it would cause a lethal backup on the Turnpike.
This is the 44th season of Mets baseball and, by extension, Phillies baseball with the Mets as an opponent. The two teams have had winning records in the same season only four times: 1975, 1976, 1986 and 2001. Only in '01 were the two even remotely embroiled in the same September cauldron, but by the time the Mets got serious, the Phillies were off their schedule.
There's been lots to link New York and Philadelphia. Ashburn…Tug…Lenny…Rico…Burrellnitez…Bunning's perfecto…the Mets winning the Damn Thing at the Vet…Tom's homecoming against Lefty at Shea…that 26-7 embarrassment in '85 (they were us and we were the Diamondbacks)…the sweep that delayed our division-clinch in '86…a far more painful broom job that almost denied our playoff spot in '99.
There have been great Mets teams and great Phillies teams but somehow they missed each other. No more. It's the Big Apple versus screw them I'm not going to refer to them by some cute nickname.
It's time to hate the Phillies in a whole new light.
The Mets-Phillies rivalry, or the lack thereof to this point, is so compelling a story that it is explored more in-depth at Gotham Baseball.