The more Gary and Keith patted Mike Pelfrey on the back and/or the head tonight — and the more their sentiments were echoed by Willie's commendation of Pelfrey's “baby steps” in the postgame gaggle — the more I recalled Dana Carvey doing his impression of the first George Bush, specifically when the 41st president would praise Dan Quayle for “still gaining acceptance” as his perpetually underdone VP.
It wouldn't be prudent to pick on Pelfrey, for he authored the 2008 Mets equivalent of a masterpiece in the night half of the Saturday doubleheader: six innings, 106 pitches, two runs. It was encouraging that he squirmed out of trouble in the first (on the radio, Wayne and Eddie noted Ramon Castro darted to the mound to talk him through his troubles, an area where Raul Casanova hadn't been asserting himself) and that he settled into an effective enough groove against a hot-hitting lineup that sure knows how to work counts. This loss was not Pelfrey's by any means. The win, despite the unraveling that sucked the competitive air out of the eighth and ninth, was all Arroyo's. He mastered the Mets, and not for the first time.
Pelfrey, though…is it impatient to note that Mike Pelfrey just started his 23rd Major League game and we're still supposed to be beside ourselves with joy that he made it through six innings and pitched well enough to win? Perhaps if all 23 starts had come in the same rookie year — last Met rookie to start 30 games in one season was Jae Seo in 2003; before him, Doc and Darling in 1984 — I could recognize genuine progress. Even if we accept that this is not just the third season in which he's pitched in the bigs, but the third season in which he's pitched in the pros, it still seems like slow going, especially considering the next time he throws six or more innings in two consecutive starts uninterrupted by a minor league stint will be his first. Every start seems to be a fresh one for Pelfrey. He's learning to pitch with his tongue out. Or in. Or with a mouthpiece. Or without. Or to Schneider. Or to Casanova. Or to Castro. Or with something resembling confidence. And aren't college pitchers supposed to come along quickly?
I admit I'm historically spoiled when it comes to fastballing righties and accelerated learning curves. Tom Seaver did a one-year hitch in Jacksonville and then, at 22, turned into the Franchise. Dwight Gooden was barely two years out of Hillsborough High when he was making National Leaguers look like sophomores at Chamberlain, Plant and King. It took Jae Seo a while, but Jae Seo wasn't the Mets' No. 1 draft pick, Jae Seo wasn't the third pitcher chosen overall and Jae Seo wasn't 6'-7″. Jae Seo wasn't supposed to be the first homegrown Met ace since…geez, when did the last homegrown ace actually sprout here?
Does it matter? Santana from Minnesota is obviously the man and Maine from Baltimore was kidnapped young and Pedro, citizen of the world, will maybe be Pedroesque from June on, though you'd be nuts to count on it. If Pelfrey can keep giving the Mets six competent innings, and if the Mets don't face Bronson Arroyo too often, won't that be enough? Even with the bullpen working three innings almost every night — sure would be sweet if Ollie could limit their load Sunday — won't that be reasonable to accept at this stage of the kid's career?
It is only 23 starts and he is only 24.