Too bad the story is apocryphal. Too bad lefty Giant reliever Don Liddle — after retiring lefty Vic Wertz in Game One of the 1954 World Series with two on and none out — didn’t actually declare to his teammates upon being pulled in favor of righty Marv Grissom, “I got my man.” It’s too bad because Liddle got his man on account of Wertz having the bad luck to blast Liddle’s pitch to deep center field in the Polo Grounds…where the incomparable Willie Mays raced to catch it.
It’s too bad because “I got my man,” given the context, is one of the great lines in baseball history.
Yes, Don Liddle, brought on in relief of Sal Maglie specifically to face Wertz, got his man — albeit with a little help from his friend Willie. No, Don Liddle didn’t stroll into the dugout and casually take credit for his perfect third of an inning. “Not in front of Leo the Lip” he didn’t, Liddle’s son Craig told George Vecsey on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of The Catch in 2004. “My dad heard people tell this story on television. You would never say something like that while the game was still on.”
But Don could be wry after the game, once Dusty Rhodes‘ tenth-inning pinch-homer sent the New Yorkers to victory. In the clubhouse, Liddle could shake manager Durocher’s hand and take deadpan credit for putting down Wertz.
“My dad told Leo, ‘I got my guy,'” Craig Liddle recalled to Vecsey. “But this was after the game, not during it.”
Nevertheless, the legend usually outstrips the truth. Thus, “I got my man” still gets around. Getting one’s man, however one does it, is worthy of remembering and retelling. It’s worthy of our respect, whether it’s a matter of taking care of a dangerous hitter in the eighth inning of a World Series game or somewhat less intense circumstances.
The 2009 Mets ran out of intensity pretty early in their dismal campaign, but one Met lived up to the pressure with which he was presented over and over — and over and over — again. It is for being out there as much as he was and getting his man repeatedly that we proudly announce the Faith and Fear Most Valuable Met of 2009 is Pedro Feliciano.
Yes, Pedro Feliciano. Yes, the lefty specialist. Yes, one of the most anonymous figures of any significance in Mets history even if he has been in our midst longer than some of our most indelible figures ever were.
Yes, it was that kind of year.
But this award is based on something more than wryness. It is in appreciation for a player who, when all around him were crumbling, stood tall…or as tall as the 5′ 10″ Feliciano could. He stood tall and he stayed in there. Few Mets could make that claim in 2009. Most every Met, it seems, disappeared for discernible stretches of time last year. Injuries eliminated many of them. Others vanished in plain sight, victims of their recurring shortcomings. Few Mets could have measured up to Woody Allen’s barometer for success in life, that most of it is just a matter of showing up.
Not Pedro, however. Pedro kept showing up. Pedro kept getting the call and, more often than not, Pedro kept getting the key out. Maybe it was only one out, but Pedro got his man.
One man in particular, who literally towers over Pedro Feliciano, was made to look small in his presence. That alone was awfully impressive in an otherwise depressing campaign.
Ryan Howard has six inches and 70 pounds on Pedro Feliciano if you believe official listings. Goodness knows you couldn’t trade Pedro Feliciano for Ryan Howard. But would you trade Pedro Feliciano knowing Ryan Howard is looming somewhere on your schedule over and over — and over and over — again? When the Mets dismantled most of their disaster-laden bullpen after 2008, they left one mainstay in place. No more Heilman. No more Schoeneweis. No more Smith or Sanchez or Ayala. But yes, more Pedro Feliciano. Always more Pedro Feliciano.
Why? Beyond why not? On the surface, a surface strewn with shattered late-inning hopes from ’08, you might not have noticed if Pedro Feliciano had been among the missing entering ’09. You wouldn’t miss anybody from that bullpen. Pedro didn’t stand out in a crowd. If anything, he was the kid in gym class who survived those thuggish dodgeball games by loitering in the back behind the more aggressive kids. Still, he had a couple of things going for him:
1) a functioning left arm;
2) an uncanny knack for using it to retire Ryan Howard of the division rival Phillies.
Have you heard of Ryan Howard? Big fellow. Hits lots of home runs, drives in lots of runners. Plays every day. A constant threat. But not to Pedro Feliciano, a gentleman who know a bit about constancy himself. In 2008, Howard came up to the bat against the Mets seven times only to see his personal Kryptonite staring him down from sixty feet, six inches away. It was Kryptonite in a blowout: Ryan Howard went 0-for-7 against Pedro Feliciano.
So, sure, that could be useful. Out went Heilman, Schoeneweis and the rest of the relief debris of 2008. But we’ll keep Feliciano. We’ll keep him and we’ll send him out there in record-breaking fashion per usual. We used him 86 times in ’08? We’ll use him 88 times in ’09. We’ll see more of the southpaw specialist than we’ll see of Carlos Beltran. We’ll see more of Feliciano than we will of Carlos Delgado and Jose Reyes combined. We’ll see only seven position players on the Mets more than we’ll see Feliciano. And unlike most of them, we’ll generally like what we see out of Pedro.
Especially when it comes to Ryan Howard.
Ryan Howard took his cuts against Pedro Feliciano a dozen times in 2009. Ryan Howard departed those encounters almost uniformly extremely disappointed. Twelve plate appearances, two bases-empty walks, no hits. None. There were four groundouts (one that resulted in a double play) and six strikeouts, all swinging. The last of them, on September 12 with the bases loaded in the eighth inning at Citizens Bank Park, proved crucial in securing perhaps the most satisfying Mets win of the year, the 10-9 comeback over the Phillies — a.k.a. Damn Thing III.
Across two seasons, Pedro Feliciano has pitched to Ryan Howard 19 times. Ryan Howard is 0-for-17 against him, producing 18 outs. Ryan Howard is a lefty threat. Pedro Feliciano is a lefty nullifier. The nullifier has won every time.
This is not to be underestimated as a positive factor in any season, particularly one as bereft of them as 2009. Feliciano’s role in a given game was to come on and get the big lefty hitter on the other team. There was no bigger lefty hitter on the Mets’ docket last year than Ryan Howard. Feliciano always got his man.
Perfect? On the 2009 Mets? Within the parameters of Feliciano v. Howard, you betcha. Otherwise, nothing and nobody was perfect, not even our MVM. Pedro mowed down Howard, but others got to him now and then. He had been marvelously successful against that other lefty scourge of the N.L. East, Chase Utley, in ’08 (1-for-6), but was far less so in ’09 (4-for-8). He balked in the winning run in Citi Field’s first game. Only once was he stretched out beyond six batters. Twenty-three appearances were one batter and one batter only.
But that was his job and he did it well as a rule. How many Mets could say they did even that much last year?
2009 was the kind of season when you didn’t want to watch much more than one at-bat in a typical Mets game, yet don’t dismiss the value of an assignment the likes of which Pedro Feliciano tackles. Years have turned on the guy who came in to get the big lefty and were, instead, gotten by the big lefty. Mets fans with any kind of long-term memory would do well to recall the concept of the lefty specialist as it’s played out over the past quarter of a century or so. Carlos Diaz acquitted himself nicely for a season (1983) and was then packaged with Bob Bailor to acquire Sid Fernandez. Dennis Cook was solid for a couple of seasons (1999-2000) when not blowing his top. And Mark Guthrie was regularly effective during his limited tenure (2002). Otherwise, it was a parade of paws whose talent had essentially gone south or rarely materialized:
Tom Gorman; Joe Sambito; Randy Niemann; Gene Walter; Bob McClure; Jeff Musselman; Dan Schatzeder; Doug Simons; Rich Sauveur; Paul Gibson; Lee Guetterman; Jeff Kaiser; Eric Gunderson; Don Florence; Bob MacDonald; Ricardo Jordan; Yorkis Perez; Tom Martin; Jaime Cerda; Graeme Lloyd; Mike Stanton; Dae-Sung Koo; Royce Ring.
The lefty specialist was the bane of the Mets fan’s existence from the mid-’80s to the mid-’00s. Then came Pedro Feliciano, first for a while from ’02 to ’04 and then for good in ’06, and suddenly we weren’t cringing with every lefty Verizon Call to the Bullpen.
Sixty-four appearances in 2006. Seventy-eight appearances in 2007. Eighty-six appearances in 2008. Eighty-eight appearances in 2009. In each of the last two seasons Feliciano set a club record while leading the league in this department. Overuse seemed to be getting to him by September 2008. Come September 2009, he was thriving on it. Pedro gave up exactly one hit over his final twelve appearances, walking only four. For the season, he registered a WHIP of 1.163, the lowest of his career.
And consider his mindset. He, like us, had to watch the Mets from the beginning of the game to whenever he entered. Pedro didn’t enter any game before the sixth inning; eighty-four times he came in in the seventh or later. The game had already taken on its shape by the time he was deployed, and being that it was 2009, it couldn’t have been a very good shape. It was enough to make fans bury their heads in their Blue Smoke by the middle innings most nights. But Pedro went out there and got ’em. He got his lefties. He got a lot of his righties. He got his men.
Pedro Feliciano has done it quietly, for what that’s worth. Except for one run-in in 2006 with Willie Randolph, Pedro hasn’t annoyed or embarrassed anybody in the organization, at least publicly. He’s the lefty who does the right thing. The Mets needed somebody to trot outside Citi Field before a late September game to pose for pictures with a sponsor, and in came Pedro. The Gary, Keith & Ron crowd huddled in the Bullpen Plaza needed a reason to stay cheerful during an extended rain delay the final Saturday of the season, and there stayed Pedro. No other Met made himself available to the fans, but Pedro sidled up to the chain link fence and signed anything and everything the fans tossed him for fifteen or twenty minutes. There were no coaches, no PR caretakers, nobody but Pedro getting the job done.
It may surprise you to learn Pedro Feliciano is the last surviving Met to have played under Bobby Valentine. He survived Art Howe, too. He was away for a year in Japan, but returned to help Randolph win a division title. He gave his arm over to Jerry Manuel and Manuel has not been shy about taking it out at every opportunity. Of Mets who have never pitched for another major league club, none has pitched in more games than Pedro Feliciano. He leads Jeff Innis by 79 Met-only appearances. Naturally, that mark of distinction could go away if he goes away, but where’s he going, exactly? Feliciano’s been here almost continuously since 2002. He hasn’t sat around, either. Only John Franco, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jesse Orosco have pitched in more games as a Met than Pedro Feliciano. If he pitches in ten games in 2010, he’ll trail only Franco and Seaver; if he pitches in at least 35 games next year, he’ll edge ahead of Tom Terrific.
Pedro Feliciano, Met icon? By the numbers he’s getting there. For a franchise that doesn’t maintain its most identifiable players indefinitely, Feliciano has carved a niche. He came up when Pedro Astacio was here and he has outlasted Pedro Martinez. His seven seasons in a Mets uniform are more than those posted by Gary Carter, Tommie Agee, Ron Swoboda, Lenny Dykstra, Robin Ventura…you get the idea. “Perpetual Pedro” the announcers started calling him in 2009. “Everyday Pedro” came up, too, which was just as fitting. Not only did he pitch seemingly every day, but every day in every way, unlike just about every other Met, he kept getting better and better.
FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS MOST VALUABLE METS
2005: Pedro Martinez
2006: Carlos Beltran
2007: David Wright
2008: Johan Santana
Still to come: The Nikon Camera Player of the Year for 2009.