It's probably harsh and unfeeling to suggest that for the rest of the year, Johan Santana be given carte blanche to pistol-whip any Met reliever whenever he wishes. (“Coach! Schoeneweis fell down the stairs again! Yeah, just like Heilman!”) But maybe he should at least be allowed to give them a vigorous shaking. What is it about this man that Horflitz and Przyblr must constantly mess up his work? Are Met relievers reluctant to toe the same rubber made holy by the touch of his foot? Do they feel so diminished by his aura that they perform down to their deepest fears of being mere fallible flesh and blood?
At least today's eventual win does damp to embers what otherwise would have been a typical Gotham sports brushfire — His Johanness was clearly Not Pleased to be taken out after a couple of bleeders at the beginning of the 8th, stalking off the mound without adhering to the new Met protocol of waiting for the reliever and plunking himself down on the bench with little exclamation points and cartoon lightning zig-zags visible over his head. (Can you blame him? I was pissed. I'm willing to predict Greg was pissed. Everyone in attendance at the matinee was pissed, including the campers. It was like watching the co-ed in the nightgown go back into the sorority-house basement.)
If my eyes didn't deceive me, Duaner Sanchez then pulled the same immediate stalk-off, but seeing how he turned in one incompetent pitch instead of Johan's 104 mostly masterful ones, he can shut it. The Mets escaped Duaner's disaster on a smart play by Argenis Reyes, a dumb play by Scott Hairston to not go home with the tying run, and a Reyes-to-Reyes-to-Evans double play, with Evans turning in a contortionist save on a wild heave by Jose. In the top of the ninth I got called into an office for a brief chat, came out, and would like to say I was surprised by what awaited me on the TV. Stupid [Insert Name of Reliever Here] — in this case, Schoeneweis.
To dwell on the pen's misdeeds would be justified, but it would also be no fun. Because it would ignore a lot of stuff that made for a pretty enjoyable afternoon. (And after all, it all came out OK.) The Junior Mets' flair and foibles made for a faintly sickening but ultimately entertaining turn on the see-saw. Take Argenis, who popped up with Jose Reyes on third with one out, got tangled up with Fernando Tatis and then nearly with Jose, yet turned a nifty, instinctive 4-4-3 double play in the sixth and then wisely came home for a key out in the eighth. Take potential Met cult hero Daniel Murphy, who made an ill-advised dive to let Hairston take an extra base, but went 2-for-4 and drove in the Mets' first run. Or Evans, who was sprung from left field to play his more-natural position, immediately turned a successful pickoff into a Padre steal, but then drove in the (first) lead run against a tough pitcher in Cla Meredith and, of course, made that amazing, disaster-deferring stretch in the dust. (Does Cla Meredith now lose another letter off his first name, so he's Cl? I would support that.)
And, amazingly, we somehow got to Heath Bell. Bell became a blog cause celebre in the spring of '05 (including bringing our little blog its first boost in traffic based on this post), but then seemed to shut the bloggers up by posting ERAs of 5.59 and 5.11, which got him and Royce Ring sent to San Diego for the useless Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins. After putting on West Kamchatka taupe and blue and camo, he promptly became an extremely valuable member of the pen.
How'd he manage that transformation? Gary and Ron were discussing Bell last night, and noted that he was continuously yo-yo'ed between AAA and the bigs before finally deciding he was a guy who just needed a change of scenery. Thing is (warning: Jace math ahead), Bell didn't need a change of scenery so much as he just needed his luck to even out. His Met career covered 108 innings pitched, during which he struck out 105 guys and walked just 30, which is pretty damn good. Meanwhile, his BABIP (batting average on balls in play, one of the cooler stats out there) was .374 in 2005 and .394 in 2006. This is not pretty damn good — the big-league average is around .300. To call Bell snakebit is like comparing the cowboy who got his ankle nipped by a rattler and limped 10 feet into the apothecary with the cowboy who fell into a nest, became a pincushion amid a crescendo of rattling and never came out. And if you don't think Bell's reputation wasn't hurt by the way he looked — big belly, big thighs, teeny feet — you're not cynical enough about baseball. The guy looked vaguely like a cartoon hippo doing ballet, pitched like Joe Btfsplk, and that was more than enough to get him sent to the other end of the continent.
So in West Kamchatka Bell turned in a lucky BABIP of .260, and hey presto! He was immediately a star. (Look here.) This year, he's up in the .290s again — with a little help from Endy Chavez, David Wright and that cruel mistress, Dame Regression to the Mean.