I wonder how many Ollie Perez starts Johan Santana would have to make to have me look at him in anything but awe. Even after he gave up five runs in five innings Sunday, when I saw him giving postgame interviews, all I could think was, “There’s the man who threw a three-hit shutout on three days’ rest with everything on the line the second-to-last day of 2008.” And I reflexively swooned.
We Mets fans might hold grudges, but we also cling to goodwill for quite a long time if given anything at all to which to cling. Of course Johan has given us some very nice days since 9/27/08, including last Monday, so his benefit of the doubt is heftier than anybody else’s on the team. He might give up another grand slam like the one he gave up to Josh Willingham en route to an inarguably dispiriting defeat, but I’ll never give up the image of him being The Man against the Marlins when it counted most.
The rest of this team has a shorter leash. Jeff Francoeur is surely lengthening his — what an arm, and what a lousy 90 feet of baserunning from Adam Dunn in the third; Mike Jacobs finally earned a link in the chain for the first time in almost five years (he always did hit well at home in losses to the Nationals on Sundays); and never let it be said Raul Valdes has ever done anything wrong in a Mets uniform, but overall this was a cheerless game at the end of an erratic homestand, to put it kindly.
Baseball being baseball, the 2-4 Mets are not far removed from being the 4-2 Mets. Tatis is a little quicker or shrewder Wednesday night, and that’s a win. Barajas is schooled in the dangers of hitting it to Harris Saturday, and that’s a win. If that’s the case, we’re talking about a team that either clubs teams to death (as the Mets did Monday and Friday) or one that never says die and finds ways to win.
Sadly, they didn’t find ways to win the games they lost and they have died four times, if indeed a team can be said to have encountered death after six games. By the one-third measurement discussed here recently, the Mets have won one game they were going to win (Opening Day), lost two games they were going to lose (today and Thursday, because how are you supposed to touch the likes of Livàn Hernandez and Burke Badenhop?) and are 1-2 in those games that determine your season, slotting the Pelfrey game, which was 2-2 entering the seventh, in this category. It’s an inexact science, but based on what we’ve watched, 1-2-1-2 reads about right.
There are some encouraging signs around this team. Jeff Francoeur is a six-game superstar to date, and that’s on top of his solid second half last year. Rod Barajas has demonstrated a pulse, a bat and a presence behind the plate. The unknown quantities comprising the bulk of the bullpen — Igarashi, Takahashi, Nieve, Mejia and now Valdes — have acquitted themselves mostly well. Frankie Rodriguez saw fit through those awesome goggles to answer Willie Harris’s yapping (if he wanted to hit you, he would have found your back, not your inside elbow) and I only wish the minor kerfuffle that ensued would have found heretofore yappy Brian Bruney taking one from K-Rod. A few other Mets have played fine to dandy for moments or stretches, and that is fine as well as dandy.
On the other hand, whatever the starting pitching occasionally has going for it, length has not been among its attributes. No starter has seen the seventh from the mound. One can accept that the first time through the rotation if one isn’t too demanding, but now we go to Coors Field, where bullpens tend to get leaned on, and Busch Stadium, where Mt. Pujols looms in the distance. Our lineup in any given deficit situation has been a disheartening exercise in anticipation. Depending on the daily configuration — which is to say whether Francoeur is batting fifth or sixth — you take a deep breath and hope something happens with the batters who are best described as “…and the rest” à la the Professor and Mary Ann before the Professor and Mary Ann earned their own ID in the The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle.
Best news? Six goes into 162 27 times. The first 1/27th of the schedule has not been optimal. Yet it’s the last 26/27ths where the stories of seasons are told.