First, you gotta start with how it ended, which was with Liván Hernandez, the human petrol pump, dispensing every last pitch the Mets' tank would require. How many? I heard 127. Did it matter? Not really. Honestly, what does Liván Hernandez have to do but pitch? Everybody else's arm is always being saved for a next start. Liván's not about conservation. Liván's about mileage. The sense at Citi Tuesday night was he would come out after seven; he shall be leavin' 'cause that's what Mets starters do after seven. But Liván was stayin'. When he batted for himself in the eighth, it was a surprise but it made perfect sense — and not just because he's got 11 points on Ramon Martinez in the batting average department (though Bring 'Em Home Ramon is suddenly up to four RBI). Hernandez's groundout was the most heartily greeted 6-3 at-bat Flushing has seen in ages.
Liván finished off the Nationals in the ninth. Granted, finishing off the Nationals is the baseball equivalent of a meal made solely of Totino's Pizza Rolls. It shouldn't take you long to clean your plate. But anybody remember all the way back to the first game of this series and how it took four relievers to negotiate nine outs via seventeen National batters? Our big three of Parnell, Putz and Rodriguez were all worse for the wear from Monday night. I was already girding myself for Sean Green Roulette 24 hours in advance when I remembered we'd be getting Liván and Liván gives us innings — lots and lots of juicy innings. You never expect nine, but when the pump is registering one “ding!” after another, you wonder why not.
Now the middle, as in the middle of the Mets order. It's all that separates us at the moment from morphing into Nats North. Our record is a dozen games better than Washington's at the moment, but how can you tell us apart? Not from the Pagans, Santoses, Tatises and Ramon Martinezes (even if they've all been admirable gamers of late), but because we have David Wright and Gary Sheffield and they don't. Wright comes up and it's man against lesser men. Sheffield comes up and that rarest of species, the Citi Field home team home run, soars as much any fly ball can in that canyon. Wright we knew from. Sheffield? Were you expecting this? Remotely? I was mildly enthused to pick him up because it had been rumored we'd be doing so for nearly twenty years. All right, I said, let's see what Gary Sheffield in a Mets uniform actually is. I never dreamed he would be lifesaving, cleanup guy.
Sheff may be the best take-a-flyer acquisition in team history since…Liván Hernandez. Throw in Luis Castillo's as nearly unlikely rebound season and the 1997 World Champion Marlins alumni society is making a case for Reunion of the Year honors.
Gary's at-bat music, however, lurks a bit on the blue side as it seems to involve a lyric about doing something unfortunate to a stepsister (and this from one of our elder statesmen). I will not repeat it in polite company, but it makes repeated commercials for Drag Me to Hell seem gosh darn appropriate for a baseball audience. Maybe my friend Sharon and I were just hearing the lyric incorrectly. The more a Met hits, the better his taste in music gets, you know.
Finally, the beginning…the beginning of Fernando Martinez's big league career. Like the presence of maybe half the roster, it's kind of surprising to find him here in May 2009, though if you're a student of Met phenomology, this is exactly when our outfield prospects seems to bubble up. The Mets have a knack for getting hurt and desperate in May. As previously reported…
• Darryl Strawberry debuted May 6, 1983.
• Preston Wilson debuted May 7, 1998.
• Alex Escobar debuted May 8, 2001.
• Lastings Milledge debuted May 30, 2006.
• Carlos Gomez debuted May 13, 2007.
And now, on May 26, 2009, it is Fernando Martinez's turn to try to spin his prospects into pure gold. Good luck with that. As we see from five of the most glittering examples the Mets' minor league system has had to offer in the past three decades, we don't really build outfielders to last. Straw was Straw, and that was great. The rest of them together were barely a stem in a Mets uniform. Wilson, 34, is one of Gary Carter's Long Island Ducks these days. Milledge was given the Oscar Madison treatment by the Nats earlier this year when he was asked to remove himself from his place of professional residence. Carlos Gomez isn't tearing it up in the Twin Cities at last check. And Alex Escobar…you get the point.
None of this augurs a damn thing for Fernando Martinez, given that he's his own self. Everybody says he's very talented. His birth certificate says Citi Field's vendors can't sell him a beer. In the first hour of the day Fernando Martinez was born, Orel Hershiser was inducing Kevin McReynolds to fly out to John Shelby to seal Game Four of the 1988 NLCS and, by the reckoning of some, the Mets' ill fate for the next decade. No Met has ever been born in 1988 before. Or 1987. Wow he's young.
Is he ready? He'll let us know. F'tinez looked willing and reasonably able from the other side of Promenade, if only somewhat ready. He did sting a grounder effectively enough to gain an RBI on a fielder's choice and he did run like the wind down to first, which is always a welcome sight. He also struck out twice, and a line drive to the gap in right kind of played him, but it wasn't a particularly catchable ball and Met corner outfielders not flashing leather is hardly a novelty this season. It's fun to try out phenoms even if it's no fun when desperation's the reason they're here. But let's see what the kid's got.
And let's not see Mets stay active when they are clearly suited for sedentary purposes only. It's fitting that the Mets would go west and assume the mantle of kings of wishful thinking when it came to roster management. Omar Minaya was playing deep in WTF? territory with his hesitancy to definitively disable Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes and — oldie but goodie — Ryan Church when it became painfully apparent that none was healthy and none would contribute. Delgado was shown the DL door while the Mets were on the coast and now the other two aching athletes have joined him. Each man, too injured to participate, was apparently too valuable a spirit to put on the shelf for fifteen or more days. I'm not a doctor or a trainer or anything more than an observer from far away. But I figured out guys who are hurt can't help without first healing. Why couldn't Omar? You'd rather have Delgado and Reyes and Church than the raw rookies and cooked journeymen who dot the roster, but you can't always get what you want. For now, it's a crazy quilt of Mets and a lineup that is stitched too loosely to be accurately labeled patchwork.
Some nights, somehow, they're just what the doctor ordered.
Two quick Citi Field observations from Tuesday night:
1) I used to have to fight the Shea sausage guy (every Shea sausage guy) for onions without peppers. I'd even accept mostly onions, understanding these garnishes were hopelessly enmeshed on the grill. But time and again I was told the separation I craved could not be achieved let alone attempted. This time, on the occasion of my first Italian sausage in the new ballpark, I asked and not only got no argument, but received one onion after another painstakingly plucked from the mountain of peppers I so detest. I didn't get the man's name, but the fellow working the Premio stand on the first base side of Promenade around 7:00 couldn't have been more conscientious or customer-friendly.
2) As captured by Matt Cerrone, all seven of the Mets' postseason banners are now technically on display. Very technically. Why they've been posted on a wall in the Bullpen Gate area as opposed to within the field of play begs an entire course of analysis that might get at the heart of the Mets' shame spiral. This strikes me as a very passive-aggressive concession to team lore by an organization that can never shake its self-loathing. “You asked for them to be in the ballpark, so here they are — you happy?” Not with this placement I'm not, not really. While there are flags for '69, '73, '86 and '00 on the Pepsi Porch (where four poles have been eliminated), the '88, '99 and '06 banners are essentially hidden from the view of most of the fans. It's a ballpark, yet the Mets act as if their best baseball stuff belongs in some out-of-the-way basement rec room. “Don't bring that junk into my nice living room! You might leave marks where the people in the Caesars Club could see them!”
For a deeper look at what was going on while Fernando Martinez was on the brink of being born, read Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.