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In Something Approaching Praise of Steve Trachsel

Steve Trachsel is a hard Met to love. He showed up here as an afterthought, introduced himself with incompetence and has done his best work under suspect circumstances. Even when he has succeeded, he has engendered little to no loyalty. There are no T Tallies to record each of his pop outs. There is no section of Steven's Stevedores, loading and unloading baseballs in his honor. Fans don't clap when he gets two strikes on a hitter. They look at their watches and wonder when he'll attempt to throw strike three. The lack of feeling is mutual. The next commercial in which the pitcher invites fans to “come out and get on the winning Trach with me!” will be the first.

There was never a Steve Trachsel bobblehead day per se. Instead, the Mets gave out his nodding likeness to a random row of patrons during his home starts. I think it was in his contract.

The Steve Trachsel oeuvre has been pretty well summed up in his past three Shea starts, all of which I've witnessed first-hand. On September 10, he didn't make it out of the third inning and was mostly booed. On September 18, he shut out the Marlins into the seventh en route to the Mets' clinching their division and was given a standing ovation. Yesterday, he plodded his way into the sixth before he was removed, trailing 3-1. He was mostly grumbled at.

In all three cases — pitching terribly, pitching brilliantly, pitching OK — Trachsel left the mound quietly and without acknowledging what was going on around him. Even when positioning himself as the first star of the game on the night the Mets became N.L. East champions, he kept his head down and kept walking.

That's Steve. Whether it's because he's ridden the rollercoaster of “who have you struck out for me lately?” far too many times or because he hadn't forgotten being unloved eight days before being showered in adulation or because he's steady as he goes, you're not going to get a lot that is warm or fuzzy out of Trachsel.

Check out this picture [1], the one appropriately entitled Joy. Carlos Beltran has just launched a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals 8-7. At one point, the Mets were down 7-1. In what was then considered a National League Championship Series preview, the Mets had gotten the best of their most serious opponent. There was no stoppin' us now.

Beltran, not the most animated centerfielder on the block, is enraptured. His teammates are rushing home plate to embrace him. Dave Williams, a Met all of five minutes at that point, is joining in. And on the outskirts, lightly applauding as one might at the opera? It's Steve Trachsel, the longest tenured Met. Steve was pitching the next night. Maybe he didn't want to risk injury in a dogpile. Or maybe that's just Steve, a man who hasn't lasted as long he has in one place by getting too high or getting too low.

If you catch a replay of Mets Weekly this week, there's a ton of neat footage of the clinching celebration, lots of tape of the players frolicking on the field after they sprayed themselves silly in the clubhouse, lots of champagne bottles being swigged from. And there's Steve Trachsel standing off to the side, small smile creasing his face, holding a champagne flute. Ever the dedicated oenophile, Steve — the first Mets pitcher to win a division-clincher since Ron Darling — wasn't going to drink his sparkling wine in any way but the correct one.

Again, he was just being Steve Trachsel. The way he carries himself, the way he acts and doesn't react, the way he takes his time with runners on base, the way he gets little support when pitching exceptionally well, the way he gets loads of support when pitching a little too typically poorly…that's Steve Trachsel. There may not seem to be a lot of there there, but there he is: here.

When the Mets won in 1969, Ed Kranepool had seen it all, going back to the Polo Grounds. When the Mets won in 1986, Jesse Orosco could tell you what it was like in the last, dark days of the de Roulet administration and Mookie Wilson could add a few sentences on how far the team had come since the crowds barely equaled quorums. When the Mets made it back to the playoffs in 1999, all eyes turned to John Franco and the longevity he symbolized through a slew of bad and embarrassing seasons. In 2006, the Met who's been around longest is Steve Trachsel with six seasons of service. Yet there's nothing about him that suggests legendary perseverance or smacks of “this one's for Steve!” He signed a series of contracts starting in December 2000 and the latest one is still in effect. Result? Longest Met tenure. Save your tears for someone else.

He's pitched well over the years. Rarely great. Occasionally awful. He began about as badly as one could. In his first 7 starts, his ERA topped 8. He accepted a demotion to Norfolk and, in layman's terms, got his shit together and pitched like a professional for the rest of 2001. He was better in 2002 and 2003, but the Mets got worse. When his team turned a corner in 2005, they did so without him. By the time he was recovered from surgery, he was an afterthought. He was back for 2006 because his option was a relative bargain. He has taken every start this year because he's been healthy, the only starter from the original rotation of Martinez, Glavine, Zambrano, Bannister and Trachsel who's been able to say that.

Trachsel has the second-highest amount of wins, 15, among National League pitchers right now, one behind Brandon Webb, Carlos Zambrano and Brad Penny. His ERA, 4.97, is 34th among 39 qualifiers for the N.L. title. He has struck out 79. He has walked 78. This season, he has passed Bobby Ojeda, Craig Swan and Rick Reed on the Mets all-time victory chart. Steve Trachsel is now No. 10 among all Mets pitchers ever in wins. Bobby Ojeda was a World Series hero, Craig Swan won an ERA title, Rick Reed a two-time All-Star.

Steve Trachsel is Steve Trachsel, y'know? It's not even a matter of Good Trachsel and Bad Trachsel. There's just Trachsel. Sometimes what he's throwing works, sometimes it doesn't. He'll have one more start in the regular season and will probably be handed the ball at some critical juncture in the postseason. He will pitch and we will hope he succeeds not because he is Steve Trachsel but because he is on the Mets. However he accounts for himself next month, whether he produces a stifling conquest of the other team's batting order or an utter implosion that gets the bullpen cranking immediately, it will probably be the last we see of him. His contract is up, his manager doesn't seem terribly attached to him, his potential successors in the organization and on the open market are already looming.

And that will be that.