- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

A Friendly PSA for Our Opponents' Fans

Opponents' fans, as New York Mets bloggers we would like to remind you to come to the game early. Like you, we like nothing better than to bask in all the joys a few hours at the ballpark can bring: The sights and sounds of batting practice, that first bite of a hot dog, warbling the Star-Spangled Banner, having your buddy hand you a cold beer, watching your kids lick stray cotton-candy fibers off their fingers, appreciating the arcs and lines of the ball going around the infield while the pitcher warms up, and of course just relaxing in the sight of all that green grass. We love all these things too, and we want to ensure that you and your guests get to enjoy them. So please — make sure you have enough time to savor your surroundings. Because by the second or third time through the New York Mets' batting order, your time at the park will no longer be so enjoyable. By then it may hurt quite a bit.
Between St. Louis and now Atlanta, we've wrecked two bitter rivals' home openers and probably driven 75,000 Braves and Cardinals fans out of their seats and home early. (Kudos to former President Carter and Rosalynn for not being among them.) Tonight, before the napkins and plastic bags had stopped flying from first base to third base and the baseballs had stopped flying from Met bats to all points, Turner Field was a gallery of portraits of misery. Some of those were our own: John Maine in his knit cap, with nothing whatsoever to do but try to stay near the heater; Damion Easley huddled on the bench, now the lone Opening Day Met not to take the field; and Carlos Delgado standing at first with his arms folded over his chest, looking like he'd almost rather be somewhere else, if not for the hits and the runs and the winning. Fortunately there were more-wretched expressions on the other side: Roger McDowell, looking increasingly grim each time we see him (sorry, Roger); poor Brayan Pena chasing a week's worth of errant balls in a miserable inning-plus of catching Macay McBride; the entire Braves' defense during that endless 8th; and of course Bobby Cox. But then Bobby Cox always looks that way. Joe Torre may have perfected looking imperturbable until the final out of the World Series, but Bobby Cox always looks like a guy who accidentally sat in a puddle and now doesn't see how moving would improve things.
Rick Peterson, on the other hand, looked about as happy as a man spending several hours outside in a biting wind could look. As he should. For proof of the Jacket's value, look no further than the inaugural 2007 starts of John Maine and Oliver Perez. Not the results, though those were wonderful, but the approach that led to those results. Maine blitzed the Cardinals with an arsenal that looked totally different than anything he had last year, when you admired his guts but worried about his vulnerability to the long ball and what would happen once the league saw him a few times. Maine has worked to remake himself as a pitcher, and while it's just one start, that one start should be viewed as the hard-earned sequel to a spring training spent wisely. Perez, to my eyes, wasn't as good tonight as his numbers might indicate — in the middle innings his release point wobbled around and his focus seemed to wander, and he benefited from a Braves team that didn't seem inclined to let a pitch go by. But that said, his game plan, too, looked different. His release point was mostly consistent. His focus was mostly on Lo Duca, home plate and the batter. And he seemed able to rein himself in when he needed to. (And hell, aggressive Braves or not, he didn't walk anybody.) Those are big steps in remaking him not into what he once briefly was, but into an entirely new pitcher who should have a longer lease on life.
On the offensive side, it's easy to admire Jose Reyes triples and Carlos Beltran doubles. (And I do, believe me.) But the two at-bats I found most cheering were from Shawn Green and Jose Valentin in the eighth, when it was all over but the shouting. Up 10 runs on a cold night, Green worked a walk. Up 10 runs on a cold night, Valentin hit a little ground ball and raced toward first like a dog after a dropped Quarter Pounder — and almost beat out a hit. Neither at-bat led to a run tonight, and they were all but lost amid the blue-and-orange Blitzkrieg [1]. But as with the continuing maturation of Maine and the rebuilding of Perez, those at-bats were signs of success in what might be the hardest part of baseball for these incredibly gifted athletes: How to bear down mentally time after time after time, whatever the score and the situation. The at-bats that get you wins in the dogfights and in the dog days of August don't happen in a vacuum — they date back to doing the right thing in games that are already won on cold nights in April.