I don't know what our new closer's entrance music is. I look up in the top of the ninth and he's on the mound. A few minutes later, there's a receiving line of Mets exchanging hearty congratulations.
A fella could get used to this.
Best wishes and speedy recovery to one William Edward Wagner, as indicated here and there. Sorry to learn his son is having a tough time dealing with his dad's immediate future (so did John Franco's boy when he went out for more than a year, if you recall). It's a tough break for Billy Wagner.
It could still be a blow to the Mets, but for now, life with Luis Ayala is agreeable. He throws strikes. He remains calm. And he enters games with no fanfare, no different from anybody else in the Met bullpen.
The cult of the closer is no longer in effect in Queens. It's refreshing. That's not a knock on Wagner. It's a knock on Wagner's role…Rivera's role…Hoffman's role…the role of everybody paid astonishingly big bucks for an inning's work. As exciting and as assuring as guys like those have been and can be, we've seen how terribly awry games can go when closers are crutches, when managers robotically hand them the ball in the ninth because there is a three-run lead and three outs to go. Last night, actually, I would have been just as happy to have seen Brian Stokes pitch another inning after he threw eleven effective pitches in the eighth.
Anybody have Stokes-Ayala in the pennant race setup-closer pool in March? Just wondering.
Your first-place Mets are built on those you didn't see coming, oodles of newbies and reams of reclamations. It's not at all surprising that Tatis Fever should spread to the relief corps. It's no longer shocking that I see Fernando Tatis is starting and breathe a sigh of relief. And it should no longer be in dispute that Carlos Delgado is a legitimate Most Valuable Player candidate.
I've been watching Mets baseball for forty years. I've seen Dave Kingman go on mammoth home run tears. I've seen Darryl Strawberry ride ginormous power surges. I've seen Mike Piazza drive ball after ball over wall after wall. But brothers and sisters, I've never seen anything like Carlos Delgado these last few months, not for sustained performance, not for clutch timing, not for sheer impact on the Mets' fortunes. He comes to bat and we're no longer earthbound. We're living on Planet Delgado. There is no gravity in this place. Everything is up, up and away!
Calibrate all you like. Weigh his crappy first half if you must. Bring up Pujols and Braun and Howard and Ramirez and every worthy you've got. Parade Wright and Reyes down Main Street as you see fit. But Carlos Delgado is the true candidate of change in the National League. Carlos Delgado began hitting, the Mets began winning. Carlos Delgado hits at the most opportune times. Carlos Delgado gives the impression he cannot be retired. It takes a nation of millions to hold him back, and even then I'd put my money on Carlos. If Roy Hobbs hops off a train to fire one past Carlos Delgado, Carlos Delgado naturally ends Roy Hobbs' pitching career before a single bullet is fired (and boy, wouldn't moviemaking have been better off?).
In the past three weeks alone, he's defeated Atlanta, destroyed Houston, demolished Philadelphia twice, demoralized Milwaukee and diminished Washington until they were reduced to nattering nabobs of negative Nationalism. The Mets are where without him? Stuck forever in the middle of June.
You probably can't give points for this, but oh the electricity every one of his at-bats generates at Shea these days, last night no exception. When he was deprived of his last swing in the eighth on a bizarre batter's interference call, it smacked of professional wrestling, as if somebody in a gray uniform rigged the process to deprive the crowd of its hero…but just you wait until the crooked ref — I mean ump — turns his back, 'cause Carlos will prevail in the end. You can just feel it. The 35 homers, 103 RBI and standing of his team confirms it if you require less ethereal proof.
If I were filling out an MVP ballot, Delgado is first and maybe I'd split the tenth-place vote between Howie Rose and Wayne Hagin, at least for Tuesday night. My meticulously choreographed September Sheagoing grazed another pothole perimeter when my companion for the evening had to bail in deference to a most unfortunate emergency. I missed him, but I resorted to trusty Plan B: use the unoccupied seat for my stuff and fish out my radio and listen while I watched live. I haven't done that since the last time somebody couldn't make it, circa 2001. It felt very comfortable. Maybe not enough to get up and yell a lot at a game that invited much vocal angst — do that and you're the weirdo who came alone — but plenty appealing in its homey pure play at Shea way. I wasn't planning on having a final solo game this month, but I wasn't really planning on plumping on behalf of closer Luis Ayala and savior Carlos Delgado either.
Make all the plans you like. Baseball will do what it wants.