Is it only the presence of the designated hitter that makes games in American League parks so intrinsically boring? Is it the knowledge that the Mets are just passing through? That these games couldn't possibly count even though, after 13 seasons of this, they obviously do?
The Mets are 4-3 in A.L. parks in 2009, though it would be more gentlemanly to describe them as 4-2-1 vis-à-vis Friday night, and we'll surely take a winning road record wherever it's compiled, but boy are these games a contest of endurance when it comes to paying attention. That includes the sublime (when Omir hit the replay home run off Papelbon) to the ridiculous (the aforementioned gum on our shoe from Friday) to the inane, which was Tuesday at beautiful Camden Yards.
OP@CY is my favorite park still in operation and second only to old Comiskey Park all-time. Regular access to Oriole home games was one of the reasons I used to revel in MLB Extra Innings. But you put the Mets there and…yawn. Better to yawn in victory than defeat — by their defensive unpredictability, I glean that O's is obviously derived from castill-O — but still. I've watched the Mets hit every town in Ban Johnson's wildcat circuit since 1997 and I am almost never captivated. I went to Baltimore the first two years of Interleague play and saw them play the Birds three times and, as theoretically awesome as it was to see my favorite team play in my favorite park, the sensation was somehow less than scintillating. And that was when we had guys who could hit home runs out of a bandbox.
I haven't been a kneejerk Interleague basher, at least not in terms of relying on the common complaints you hear this time of year. I get why it exi$t$. I don't automatically dismiss the non-glamour matchups, a.k.a. any that don't involve the Yankees or Red Sox. I'm not going to roll my eyes at some putrid pairing of perennial basement dwellers because you never know when a series between two such teams won't look so bad (Rays vs. Rockies three seasons ago would have been the skunk at the garden party, but now they're the last two Cinderella stories facing off and they've both been sizzling). I've never subscribed to the notion that it's not fair we have to play six games against a well-funded neighbor while whoever we're fighting for a postseason birth inevitably gets a half-dozen shots at the Dregsville Dimwits or Kansas City Royals. We live in New York — we should play the other team from here if we're going to do this at all, and I like the home and home for it gives each fan base a chance to howl at the moon.
But these games, when in the A.L. yard, inevitably trend several degrees south of interesting, no matter the novelty or the occasional throwback appeal of a Fall Classic rematch like that which is in progress. Part of it is the hit & run nature of it all, the unfamiliarity of the opponent, the strangers passing in the night. But mostly, when we're the road team, it's the frigging DH. The frigging DH has been in the A.L. rulebook for 37 seasons now and I still see it as a cheap, transitory gimmick. For 150-some games every year I don't worry about it. For however many times we visit the places where it's allowed to roam free, I hate it. I despise it. I detest it. Somebody hand me a Thesaurus so I can find other things to do to it.
Gary Sheffield just hit a couple of homers at Yankee Stadium III as the DH. If it weren't for naked self-interest, I'd figuratively throw them back. I don't want the Mets to have a DH. I don't want anybody to have a DH. It may save Sheff some wear on his knees, just as it may have kept Piazza's bat in the lineup once upon a time, just as it gave Beltran a break in Boston…but it's wrong. It's not baseball. It's phony. It's a fraud. It's a sham. (Thesaurus, please…) It's a tenth man who doesn't do anything most of the time. Where I'm from, we call that someone who's not playing.
I'm not saying a darn thing you haven't heard before or perhaps thought yourself. That it's been repeated incessantly doesn't mean it's not worth restating when it's in our face. There is no defense for the DH, and I don't mean in the Delgado Shift sense. I don't care if it let Hank Aaron hit 22 extra homers or that it gave Edgar Martinez a Hall of Fame career or made David Ortiz lovable and beneficial to the Greater Good. It's artificial. The National League doesn't play on artificial turf and it doesn't use artificial players — artificially enhanced on occasion, but it's nine men and pinch-hitters and managers making decisions and complete games being actual complete games. It's baseball! Our National Pastime! What they've got in the American League is a longer, noisier, watered down imitation.
But as long as we're indulging them, good to do it more or less the way we did it Tuesday night. Nobody played ball like David Wright, who is presently batting .365, or a point a day to keep the doubters away. It's a bit of a weird .365, with more strikeouts than you usually see and, to date, a paucity of power (which makes him fit in perfectly among the popgun Mets), but it's freaking .365 which, if you're from Long Island, you understand as freaking awesome.
And the .365 was only the second-most impressive thing about David as we went about humoring the American League with our guest appearance Tuesday. Did you see him read the riot act to Mike Pelfrey on the mound during the righty's now-regular middle innings cry for help? That was just the warmup act. Pelf was out of the game already when David commenced to lecture him about the facts of life on the bench in the bottom of the sixth. He went on for several minutes and appeared to rise several decibels as he proceeded. In that episode, David Wright was a stand-in for every single one of us — fans, bloggers, what have you — who has wanted to grab a Met by the scruff of the neck and shake him for not maximizing his potential. That was toughlove David was dealing (seemed to be giving a bit of it to Brian Schneider as well) and it's what I've been dying to see any Met give to another Met these past three seasons. Maybe it happens out of camera view regularly. I'm guessing no. Later Pelf seemed pretty pleased to have been singled out for the older man's attention. David said something about lending guidance to the younger players.
David Wright is 26; Mike Pelfrey is 25. Way to take care of those kids, Dave.
In other positive news, Sean Green and Pedro Feliciano continue their stellar setup work even as Bobby Parnell slumps. Together they retired six consecutive Orioles and haven't been the cause of any discomfort lately. They have worked so well in tandem that I have come to consider them Sedro Greciano. They could be Pean Feen, but I like the first formulation better.
You know what makes a game in an American League park really interesting? Being distracted for the first several innings of it by METSTOCK: 3 Hours of Pizza and Baseball, which is arriving in Manhattan, Thursday, June 18, 7:00 PM. Meet your favorite Skyhorse Mets authors — Stanley Cohen (A Magic Summer), Jon Springer (Mets By The Numbers) and yours truly (Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets) and dig on pizza, beer and shared hatred for the designated hitter rule while we relive the 1969 World Series and wallow in other great Mets moments. Details and directions here.
How's that? You still haven't secured YOUR copy of FAFIF: AIPHOTNYM? Or a copy for a loved one? Don't despair, just get to a Metropolitan Area bookstore or let your fingers do the clicking at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. We wouldn't want your dad and/or grad to go without a copy. Or you! Also, it makes everybody better informed for when they join the discussion at Facebook.