Carpet bomb ’em. You understand? Chew ’em up. Spit ’em out. So we understand each other, right?
—Mayor Lucy Rodell (Dillon, Tex.)
As we and us prepare to watch our team encounter their/our first postseason in six years, keep this in mind:
If we can get six innings from John Maine or Joe Vermont or whoever is going to take the ball, we have a fine chance. That’s not an appraisal limited to Maine. Six solid innings from any starter and we’re relatively golden.
This team’s foundation is its bullpen. There’ll be lots of bullpen from which to choose, with Royce Ring shockingly tossed into the salad this morning. He’s the 12th pitcher, presumably (so much for the brilliant three-catcher strategy as DiFelice is dropped and Chris Woodward is the emergency everything). Oliver Perez takes El Duque’s place on the roster as the Game Four starter. Well, he take’s Maine’s spot and Maine is in for El Duque who is out for the series.
When it comes to Met starters, we are all our own grandpa.
The pen, though, has been a rock all year. Even without Duaner Sanchez, whose presence is missed, it has held steady to spectacular. Its hiccups are in its past. Wagner is tough. Heilman is hard. Mota is unbelievable. You have to trust Bradford to get out righties and Feliciano to get out lefties. Roberto Hernandez can overcome a threat. Oliver can pick up others’ slack.
This is baseball in the 21st century, more pronounced but not altogether different from what it was six years ago when it was as much the combined work of Rusch, White, Cook, Wendell, Franco and (occasionally) Benitez that saw the Mets through to the World Series as it was several excellent outings from Al Leiter, Mike Hampton, Rick Reed and Bobby Jones. Certainly Met victories in the second and third games of that year’s NLDS and Game Two of the NLCS owed to bullpen excellence.
Our last postseason rotation doesn’t jump off the page as phenomenal, but they were pretty substantial. Pretty substantial or at least pretty good is what this team needs right now. Pretty good has described its starting pitching over the past four months, since Pedro’s aches acted up and Glavine slipped out of sorts. It’s been about relief pitching when we’re on defense. Give us six solid innings and I’ll take my chances.
Quick, how many World Series did the supposedly stifling rotation of Mulder, Zito and Hudson win for the A’s? How often did Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz steamroll the postseason competition after 1995? Which victory parade included Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano? I don’t mean to denigrate great pitching. When you get it, you’re close to unbeatable. But I’ve heard over the past decade repeatedly in advance of October baseball how some ace or set of aces was going to dictate the terms of engagement and proceed to carry their teams on their shoulders to nirvana.
It hardly ever happens that way. Yes, a Schilling and a Johnson in their primes were something to see. They had the reps and they lived up to them. Otherwise? Was anybody fearing the White Sox rotation last year — especially in comparison to Clemens, Pettitte and Oswalt — before it proved infallible for a couple of weeks? Did the Marlins of ’03 strike terror into the opposition until after the fact? How about those highly offensive Angels in 2002?
On Tuesday, Johan Santana pitched a whale of a game. His team lost. Jake Peavy came in considered a top gun. He didn’t do so well. Would I hand the ball to either of them again? Of course, but it just goes to show that there’s no telling what will happen in a game, regardless of the month it takes place.
You don’t want your starters to go three innings and out. But it’s a myth that World Series — or even Division Series — are won because you’re sporting three famously strong arms. There are too many variables in a baseball game. Fielding is a variable. Baserunning is a variable. Managers’ decisions are a variable. The bullpen is a variable. And a stacked lineup, like that of the Mets, does occasionally supercede good starting pitching.
I’d rather go into this with the pitchers we anticipated a couple of weeks ago, even a couple of days ago. That doesn’t seem to be happening. But we’re still here, with our bedazzling leadoff hitter, our gamer catcher, our all-world centerfielder, our imposing cleanup man, our clutchrageous third baseman and their assorted superfriends. The Dodgers are good, but they don’t have Reyes, Lo Duca, Beltran, Delgado, Wright, Green, Floyd and Valentin. They don’t have Wagner, Heilman or Mota either. We have some positive difference makers and very few negative ones.
We’re also still here with John Maine, who was a very valuable contributor to the Mets in the second half of the year. He was gonna pitch a Game Four? So he’ll pitch a Game One. They’re all baseball games. We know how to win those.
If it ain’t over ’til it’s over, then it’s damn sure not over before it’s begun.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go start yelling at us. I’ll let you know how that turns out.
And oh yeah…buy a shirt.