Baseball, man — it'll kill ya.
Good luck teasing the storylines out of this one. First we pounded poor Ricky Nolasco, who must be seeing orange and blue ghosts in his sleep. Then — and it feels like we've done this too often — we went to sleep at the switch. 6-0 became 6-1 became 6-2 became 6-3 as the Marlins pecked away at Trachsel. Trachsel was Trachsel; Roberto Hernandez was unlucky, seeing a strikeout turn into a baserunner and his teammates let his runners score to make it 6-5; and David Wright…well. David Wright may be The New Franchise, but even The New Franchise isn't immune to slumps and wearing down during the dog days. Wright twice came to the plate with the bases loaded and nobody out, and came up empty both times. Ten men left on base. Ouch. Somebody please give the guy a breather.
Speaking of 23-year-old superstar third basemen, Wright and Miguel Cabrera sure had opposite games: Wright was hopeless at the plate, but made a sparkling play in the field; Cabrera drove in four, but managed the difficult trick of having a 3-for-5 night that he should be ashamed of. This Marlins team could be a beast pretty soon — they're young, talented and play hard. At least most of them do. Their All-Star third baseman, amazingly, routinely sulks and loafs his way through games. It was startling to see Cabrera get lectured about setting himself on throws in his own dugout; it was even more startling to note that the person delivering the well-earned lecture was Dontrelle Willis, a 24-year-old pitcher. Cabrera is far too good to play a game this beautiful this badly. Even though it benefited us tonight, it's a shame to see.
Back to our struggles: It didn't help that in the late innings we had to take on both the Marlins and the home-plate ump. Mike Reilly's incorrectly calling Jose Valentin out on a pickoff was excusable — bang-bang play, not a great angle — but Andy Fletcher didn't give Chad Bradford two pitches he deserved, and then gave Joe Borowski one he didn't. I kept waiting for the Andy Fletcher mask to get torn off and reveal the demonic visage of Angel Hernandez.
Even once Cliff had been excused for the night, I was hoping that Valentin might let us exhale by hitting one over the fence and setting up Heilman (very good once again) for a cakewalk save. But I knew better. Baseball being baseball, it had to come down to Billy Wagner back in the fire, didn't it?
C'mon, admit it: After Wes Helms singled and Wags somehow hit Brian Moehler, you thought we'd lost, didn't you? When Helms got on base I got up from my desk where I was listening to the radio and took up my sometimes-lucky post on the steps, but the thing I was keeping uppermost in my mind was this: When the Marlins tie it or beat us, don't wake up Emily and Joshua screaming obscenities.
But somehow Billy found his location (and wasn't distracted by the odd sight of Joe Girardi pinch-running for a pinch-runner, something I'm pretty sure I've never seen before) and also found a little luck. Hanley Ramirez couldn't bunt, he fanned Dan Uggla, and then here came Cabrera, doing the one baseball-related thing he reliably cares about doing. That rising fastball was a thing of beauty — kept the back pages safe for Billy, our butterflies at bay and snuffed talk (at least for now) of any kind of post-Braves letdown.
Great game — once we had it won.
On Another Front: I was heartened to see the Mets send Pelfrey down and hand the fifth starter's spot (at least for now) to Maine, particularly since I figured they'd do the opposite. To me, this wasn't a question of 17 scoreless innnings and rotational justice — ask Aaron Heilman about that — so much as it was about choosing strategy over splash, something the Mets haven't always been good at. Maine has the kind of swing-and-miss stuff that's scarce in our rotation right now, and wouldn't seem to have a lot left to prove in AAA. If he can build on what's been a successful year so far, he might have an important role to play in the postseason — and I don't think there's a better way for him to study up than to get repeated, relatively low-pressure starts.
Pelfrey is in his first months as a professional, and obviously looks like a big piece of our future. We can see that, and we don't need an extended audition to be reminded of it or to be convinced to come to the ballpark. But he's not ready: Like a lot of young pitchers, his primary battle is still against himself, and his to-do list begins with harnessing his other pitches and refining the location on his fastball. The big leagues isn't the place for him to do that — not yet, and not if it comes at the expense of what Maine needs to do. Pelfrey will be back, but for now, it was right for him to go. Good move by the Mets.