Postgame interviews after a Mets loss are the baseball equivalent of snuff films. I don't see how anybody could possibly enjoy watching them. After a win, especially when winning is typical Met behavior, they're white (or Wright) noise. Yes it was good to get a pitch I could handle. Yes it was good to make that play. Yes it was good for the team to play well.
Yes, it would be good to see what's on other channels.
But now that Mets wins have grown as rare as the Kissing Lincolns penny, I find postgame sitdowns and standups a valuable insight into the souls of those I live through. Free of the strain of deciding whether every word they utter will reflect badly on them or their desire to save (or destroy) Willie Randolph's job, they can just talk about baseball. And who doesn't like to talk about baseball?
I caught two of the stars of last night's game in their afterwards utterances last night. First, there was Johan Santana, sitting before the wall of floating logos that befits the thoughts of superstars and barely employed managers, the left side of him wrapped in enough ice to make it appear as if he took a break from donning his Michelin Man get-up for the team costume party (it was enough that the Mets came to the park disguised as competent). Johan gets the press conference treatment because it is assumed there is an overflow audience straining to hear his every thought.
I keep waiting for Johan Santana to say or do something that requires a briefing room. He's affable, all right, as affable as he's been generally effective. On the starting pitcher personality chart, he's well north of Kris Benson (we know who wears the personality in that family) if miles south of Pedro Martinez (but who isn't?). He can be as dull as a drain pipe off the mound as along as he's cool as a cucumber on it. Last night's game required length and gut. He demonstrated both, culminating in the seventh-inning strikeout of Dan Uggla that thwarted the second-to-last best hope of the first-place Fish.
So what did he have to say about his triumph? I have to be honest, I don't remember. It was indeed affable in tone. It came in complete sentences, which athletes don't always dispense with ease. It seemed thoughtful. Johan looked comfortable taking questions and issuing answers. We're at a point when we're grateful that the wealthy young men in our midst don't curse out their interlocutors. Hey, he's a not bad guy AND he pitches for us! I don't think Santana would do that. He was booed a little in his first Shea start and concealed his contempt reasonably well, which was a good sign. Johan Santana seems sane and centered enough not to threaten to show any reporters his condo, languishing nowhere near the level of solipsism it takes to declare that they pay him to play baseball, not to think (even if Johan's batting average is slightly higher than Carlos Delgado's). He might not permit Pat Jordan to drive him to Shea as Tom Seaver once did, but we live in a different era from 1972.
I don't know what $137.5 million dollars is supposed to buy you these days when starting pitching statistics have been devalued so immensely. The suck-it-up three-run, eight-hit, seven-inning start as the moral equivalent of a complete game shutout is unrecognizable to anyone who remembers Tom Terrific completing 13 games in '72 and being gently admonished for not turning in a typically terrific Tom year. Getting on Johan Santana for being basically a pretty good Koosman to date (and Koosman was pretty good) is counterproductive. It's akin to considering the price of gasoline today and placing it in the context of C. Montgomery Burns calculating the purchasing power of a nickel:
A nickel will buy you a steak and kidney pie, a cup of coffee, a slice of cheesecake and you still have enough left over for a newsreel and a trolley ride from the Battery to the Polo Grounds.
That was then. This is 2008. In 2008, Johan Santana's seven innings are worth their weight in J.R. Watkins Apothecary Liniment (it's what Johan uses).
Not getting quite the roadblock coverage his Santanac majesty merits were the postgame thoughts of Fernando Tatis. Tatis was almost as much the reason the Mets ceased to lose last night as Johan was: a two-out RBI single in the first; a two-out RBI single in the fifth. The difference in the game was two runs. You do the math.
Fernando Tatis once walloped two grand slams in the same inning. That's about all I knew of Fernando Tatis when the Mets signed him to an obscure minor league contract in 2007 (he walloped them off Chan Ho Park, which was about all I knew of Chan Ho Park when the Mets signed him to the same type of deal around the same juncture of the same spring). The universal reaction of the snarky fan whose team signs a Fernando Tatis, a veteran who has slipped undetected from the earth's face, is we're screwed if we actually have to depend on him at some point this season. In Metsland, the secondary reaction was they can't keep Fernando Tatis over Brady Clark, they just can't.
They didn't. Brady Clark was here. Now he's gone. He left a hole on the bench to carry on, as has just about everybody who would fill the boots of Rando's Commandoes. Last night Fernando Tatis was boots on the ground and that commodity you love to see: a professional hitter professionally hitting. He's batting .429 and, for now, doing the 17 on his back proud as few in the past two decades have.
I have a spot in my heart the texture of Palmer's Cocoa Butter for wise old hands attached somewhere up the arm to wise old heads. They are not fashionable to embrace, they are not usually productive for long (as witnessed by the pre-hamstring deterioration of Marlon Anderson), they are not what you market a franchise around. But when they're here and they're hitting, they seem like such a good idea, like such good guys. I look forward to hearing what they have to say because they've been around, because they don't seem bothered to be asked.
There was a clutch of microphones and notebooks around Tatis' locker after his 2-for-3 night of filling in. Never having contemplated what Tatis sounded like, I half-expected some unintelligible mumbling. No, actually, Fernando Tatis spoke clearly and forthrightly, like someone who, at 33, has seen enough to have something to articulate and has been down far enough so that he has nothing to lose by speaking it out loud.
Now that I've built him up, I can't tell you exactly what Tatis said without checking for sidebars. Only one paper, the Post, bothered to use his quotes. Brian Lewis' story captures the sense I got during two minutes of listening:
“I'm enjoying every day. It's amazing for me to be here in the big leagues. When you're not winning, you've got to play hard. You've go to show the other team you want to win, that you play this game the right way, that you respect this game.”
Tatis was patient as the questions grew more pointless. There was one about whether he thought the reserves like Easley, Castro and himself should be out there again (sure, he said, in so many words); another about whether the “energy” on the field felt different in a win as opposed to all those losses (sure, he said, in so many words); still another asking whether it was important for the Mets to win (sure, he said, without adding “DUH”).
On SNY's site, Brendan Kuty mixes in a couple of drops of well-traveled wisdom from someone whose first pro year was 1994, whose only remotely big year was 1999, whose most recent 100-game big league year was 2001, whose injury-plagued stat sheet omits 2004 and 2005 altogether, whose 2007 was spent exclusively as a New Orleans Zephyr:
• “I'm feeling pretty good so far. We needed this win tonight, for everyone here.”
• “You need to work every day. You need to be working every day and you need to be focused on the game and you need to be consistent so that you can help this team.”
• “I'm just happy right now.”
The mind ran away, as it's entitled to after that rarest of good nights…
Tatis can hit. Tatis can stay. Tatis can be the extraordinarily capable supersub this team is missing. Tatis can be the wise voice this team is dying for. Tatis can be Ray Knight for a new century, taking the pressure off our stars who are too callow or too reticent or too insolent or too dim to really handle all these reporters who surround you after every game, win or lose. Fernando Tatis is just what we need!
The mind comes back, realizing it just pulled a long thought foul. In the meantime, I'm glad someone associated with the Mets is happy and he knows it and he really wants to show it. I'm glad someone handles the microphones and the notebooks with aplomb. I'm glad someone who speaks with experience lends substance to thoughts that would be easy enough to scoff away as “good Lord willing” clichés. Listening to Fernando Tatis, I heard a guy who's genuinely happy to be here. That's not a bad thing to hear.
Plus, the .429 is great to see.