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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Spare Parts and Broken Hearts

“This is Country Time lemonade mix. There’s never been anything close to a lemon in it, I swear!”
—Kid from Shelbyville, “Lemon of Troy,” The Simpsons

Upset that the Mets don’t have a plan? Please. The Mets have never had anything close to a plan in them.

I swear.

It would be too easy to say “plan” is a four-letter word to the Mets. I’d say it’s a no-letter word, given that the Mets plan nothing where baseball is concerned. Nothing from nothing, as Billy Preston advised us in 1974, leaves nothing. And you gotta have something if you plan to win again in our lifetimes.

By win again, I mean a title, though at this point I’d settle for a game.

Wednesday night, the Mets seemed close to snapping their losing streak that has now reached four but feels like forty. When the brainlessness of Mike Jacobs and the carelessness of Jose Reyes combined to let pitcher Aaron Cook score from third with two out and give the Rockies a 5-3 lead in the fourth, I braced for the worst. I braced for 2009 because that was a play straight out of last year.

What had kept my spirits from sinking through the wan homestand was that even though the Mets were losing, it was standard-issue losing. It wasn’t the fall down in left, don’t touch third, I GOT IT! I GOT IT! I don’t got it ineptitude that defined the previous season. It was a teamwide LOB slump that was bound to turn and mediocre starting pitching that could be attributed to arms still loosening (if you believe in the arm fairy). They didn’t look great, but they didn’t appear irretrievably irredeemable.

Then came the third inning Tuesday night, the Rockies leading 3-0, Maine struggling but surviving. Clint Barmes bounces one hard to the pitcher. The pitcher knocks it down. Alas, the bouncer knocks the pitcher down at the same time. The pitcher crawls, lunges, grabs and throws the ball somewhere toward Fort Collins. Two runs score to make it 5-0 and, six pitches/two Smiths later, it’s 8-0.

Seven games into 2010, and the Mets recalled 2009 from their Hades farm club. To make room on the roster, they designated immediate hope for assignment.

Of course the Mets would go on to lose 11-3 and look every bit the 2-5 team they were becoming. There was even a Dodger Stadium-style outfield interlude in the eighth. Last year it was Beltran and Pagan so successfully calling each other off Xavier Paul’s fly ball to deep left center that Paul wound up on second. Tuesday night, with Pagan in center and Bay in left, there was a replay of sorts, with the Jason the kind Canadian and Angel the polite Puerto Rican each practicing international diplomacy on Miguel Olivo’s similarly placed fly.

Sir, I would not deny you the pleasure of catching…

No, my good man, I cannot possibly allow myself to overstep…

Forgive my interruption, but truly that ball belongs to…

Now I will risk terrible uncouthness and interrupt you to say, really, I want you to have…

Olivo wound up on second. He didn’t score, but the point was made. The Mets sucked this year as they sucked last year. And the point was underscored again last night when Jacobs didn’t think to look Cook back to third and Reyes didn’t think to look up from not quite tagging out Dexter Fowler (who wasn’t too bright, either, but he’s Colorado’s problem) at second. While Mike and Jose weren’t thinking, Aaron was crossing the plate with the fifth Rockie run. It was 5-3 and I fully expected the floodgates to not so much open as come unhinged.

When they didn’t — when it remained 5-3 under the auspices of the Mets’ suspiciously effective bullpen — I began to have a feeling we weren’t quite dead. This was a game the 2009 Mets would have thrown away by the sixth or so inning. But Valdes bailed out Niese, Nieve bailed out himself, and two non-’09 Mets, Bay and Barajas, built themselves a run in the seventh. Feliciano was felicitous in the eighth, setting the stage for the top of the ninth when the Mets were the beneficiaries, not the instigators, of some shoddy defense. Gary Matthews was hilariously credited with an infield hit; he took off for second and wound up on third when Chris Ianetta’s throw just kept going. Luis Castillo brought Matthews home with a fly ball.

Igarashi kept things tied through nine, the fifth consecutive scoreless inning posted by Met pitching dating back to Niese’s last. When Jacobs launched a deep fly to right through that thin Coors Field air, it seemed the tables had finally and definitively turned in the 2010 Mets’ favor. Except the ball hit the high scoreboard, which was fine, and Jacobs had broken into a home run trot, which wasn’t. He stood on second with one out when he could have been standing on third.

Advantage Rockies — and 2009 Mets.

Everything after that was fairly predictable. Our best hitter, Francoeur, would be walked to set up a double play. In the midst of Barajas batting, Tatis was sent in to pinch-run for Jacobs. Tatis’s talents are limited, but I’d take his bat over his feet. Barajas grounds out, Tatis is on third, Francouer is on second and Cora comes up. Cora could have pinch-run and Tatis could have hit. Instead, Jerry Manuel went the characteristically unorthodox route.

It didn’t work. Nothing ever works. Cora hit a soft liner to second to end the threat. Ianetta made up for his lousy throw against Matthews by ending the game by taking Jenrry Mejia to school. As we learned long ago from ex-Rockie ace Mike Hampton, Denver has awesome schools.

So it’s 2009 again. Or maybe it’s 1992, the last time the Mets lurched to a 2-6 start. That season turned out so well that it was immortalized in its very own book, The Worst Team Money Could Buy, co-authored by John Harper, who continues to write for the Daily News and has, in today’s paper, a story on how Joel Piñeiro — 1 ER in 7 IP against the Yankees yesterday — sure would have liked to have been a Met, but said the Mets’ approach toward obtaining his services was “just weird”. Joel would have liked a million dollars more than the Mets were offering (an annual sum less than that currently being deposited in Kelvim Escobar’s account) but they never really got their act together. Like the man said, weird.

Was Piñeiro the answer? Were any of the free agent pitchers the Mets passed on answers? I don’t know, since I’m just a fan, but it’s obvious Omar Minaya and his merry band of talent evaluators didn’t know, either. They didn’t have an idea, and from a distance, it appears they didn’t have a plan.

Because they never have a plan. The Mets never have anything close to a plan. The Mets just take shots at players and hope some of them work out. This isn’t hyperbole. This is how the Mets have operated for more than a decade. Sometimes the pants-seat method pays off — fire sale Marlins, Quadruple-A journeymen finding themselves, high-priced free agents whose first year as Mets are their last years as topline stars. It’s great when the dice are rolled and come up sevens and elevens. It’s not so great when the Mets throw whatever at the wall and nothing sticks.

Not much is sticking at the moment. Jeff Francoeur wasn’t a plan, he was a division rival’s project, yet thus far the project has developed into something sturdy. Rod Barajas wasn’t a plan. He was approximately the third catcher, after Bengie Molina and Yorvit Torrealba, the Mets tried to convince to come aboard, and they seem to have found the charm. The various relievers who’ve not made us regret their innings weren’t a plan. They were inventory, to use of one of those charming Mets front office words for when they’re stockpiling and hoping to not run out of arms.

When things work out, nobody really questions how they came to be. Nobody cared in the late ’90s that Al Leiter and Dennis Cook weren’t the result of charts, graphs and scouting; we were just happy to scoop them up when Wayne Huizenga was going out of business. Nobody except hard asses with Players Association cards in their fat wallets cared that Rick Reed came out of nowhere in 1997. We were just thrilled that he chose to arrive as a Met. When Pedro Martinez in 2005 and Billy Wagner in 2006 did their best work immediately, not a lot of us wondered and worried about the years that remained on their pacts.

But when things don’t work, everything is up for grabs and under the microscope. That’s reasonable. We don’t have wins, so we want answers. If we have answers but not wins, we’ll want heads. That’s also reasonable. We’re not in this to be or fully satisfied by process or more than temporarily distracted by potential. We want to be 6-2, not 2-6. If we’re 2-6, we want a hint that we won’t be 4-12 before long. When we’re 2-6, we can’t believe we won’t be 2-160.

Ideally we’d like some long-range telescope that can see past whatever morass has semi-conditioned us to accept 2010 as a regrettable holding action against the promise of 2011, but in the Age of Minaya, there is no next year, just more of last year. And the year before that.

How the Mets nearly won the National League East or a Wild Card spot in 2008 continues to defy understanding. We had five great players — Reyes, Wright, Beltran, Delgado and Santana — playing great, and a cast of thousands slipping through Shea’s last set of revolving doors. I bring this up not just for hits and giggles but because I noticed something recently among one of the many Met lists I keep.

Every year there are players who make their major league debut as Mets. They are what an online acquaintance calls Born A Met. Conversely, every year there are players who play their last major league games as Mets. They are what this same gentleman calls Died A Met (died in the Jim Bouton sense of the word from the April 14, 1969 entry in Ball Four: “I died tonight. I got sent to Vancouver.”). This happens on every team every year, nothing unusual in that. Every player is going to debut somewhere, every player is going to stop playing somewhere, though that’s usually a trickier proposition. Few players take Ripkenesque farewell tours. They play until nobody wants them.

The thing I noticed in retrospect about the 2008 Mets is — pending any unforeseen comebacks — twelve different players played their last major league games in our uniform (not counting two youngsters, Eddie Kunz and Carlos Muniz, who were up in ’08 and are still in our system but haven’t been on the Mets since). None of them, from what I could tell, was bowing out gracefully. They were hanging on and, if somebody else would have had them, they’d still be hanging. Some are still doing so in minor, independent and foreign leagues. But two years later, twelve of them have been out of the major leagues for more than a full season and don’t show tangible signs of making it back

That’s a lot of players taking their last halting lap on the same team, a lot of players nobody wanted after we had them. As many players Died A Met in 2008 as Died A Met in 1963. That indicates the Mets of two years ago grasped at a lot of spare parts to fill in when they got desperate. They got desperate a lot in 2008, which is what they’ve been fairly often in the Minaya Era. (We can’t determine for sure yet all who Died A Met in 2009 as some not presently active aren’t technically prohibitively done.) It implies this is the way they’ve been doing business and it’s the way they still think.

In case you’re wondering, these were the 2008 Mets (besides Kunz and Muñiz, who still have a conceivable shot at returning) who haven’t been major leaguers since they were 2008 Mets:

• Brady Clark

• Gustavo Molina*

• Matt Wise

• Abraham Nuñez

• Raul Casanova

• Moises Alou

• Trot Nixon

• Tony Armas, Jr.

• Chris Aguila

• Brandon Knight

• Ricardo Rincon

• Damion Easley

Individually, Alou was supposed to be the starting left fielder, but age and injury took him out. Easley inherited second base for a spell, but age and injury took him out. The rest were essentially a series of stopgap moves. Collectively, the dozen Mets who nobody else has placed on a major league roster since totaled a 2008 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) rating of -1.0. That’s roughly a quarter of your players  — the Mets used 50 in 2008 — who were statistically disposable at best.

That’s not a plan. That’s the scrap heap come to life. That’s bad luck as the residue of lack of design. That’s hoping for the best and expecting nothing in particular. That’s not even accounting for journeymen like Argenis Reyes and Ramon Martinez and Robinson Cancel whose journeys would continue with the 2009 Mets. Even as we understand injuries take a toll and spit happens and all of that, the Mets under Minaya have constructed the planet’s busiest space shuttle. They shuttle used players in and out, and a lot of space is taken up in the process.

That’s the background. The foreground is the annual splashy winter signing: Santana prior to ’08, Rodriguez in advance of ’09, Jason Bay for 2010. They and the “core” pieces in the Metropolitan collection give us reason to believe the Mets can be pretty good. Most of the background players — truly “extras” in the Ricky Gervais sense — ensure we probably won’t be.

Is it early? Is it not early? It almost doesn’t matter, ’cause it’s almost always like this.

*Molina returned to the majors in 2010 with the injury-plagued, catching-strapped Red Sox.

47 comments to Spare Parts and Broken Hearts

  • Dak442

    I was surprised the booth didn’t take Jacobs to task for not being on third. Maybe Bobby O or Tor Johnson did on the postgame, but I couldn’t be bothered at that point.

    I hope some voice of authority in the clubhouse gave him what-for, but am not banking on it. Because just who would that be, Jerry the Jester? Our happy-go-lucky team leaders?

  • CharlieH

    Brilliant, Greg.

    And with props to DAK, the Mets’ plan does look a lot like PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. A rough cut, anyway…

  • Is it wrong that I’m seriously considering some of those ’08 afterthoughts as potential replacements for the current roster?

    I loved Big Brother.

  • jack

    “Took out her wedding dress (Beltran? Santana? Reyes?) tied that ring up in its sash//Went straight down to the pawn shop man and walked out with some good cold cash.”

    I really do not trust Omar.

  • Chris

    This is a great post again, Greg. The lack of planning is maddening, and has gone on for years. You would think the Wilpons might want some return on their investment, but it seems that they don’t care if the team is competitive. Collapsing at the end of the season is the best they expect for all those millions, I guess.

  • Omar Minaya = Darren Lamb
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmGaW-z2g3Y
    (still haven’t looked up the HTML code for links)

  • You’ve touched on something I’ll probably make into a post of my own: Even a few years ago, most every baseball team was run stupidly — as you note, there never really was a plan. Which was fine for a while. When everyone is more or less equally stupid, being rich and stupid is a big advantage.

    But post-Moneyball, more and more teams are run smartly. And some of them are rich to boot. That’s a pretty unbeatable combination. The Mets, meanwhile, continue to try and lap the pack being rich and stupid, which ain’t gonna work unless EVERYTHING breaks their way. (This assumes the Wilpons are still rich, which is the invisible elephant that may or may not be somewhere in this room.)

    Less conceptually: If last night didn’t amply demonstrate why Mike Jacobs shouldn’t be on this roster, I give up. Even the double play he started early only happened because he didn’t come off the line with the runner as he should have. Lucky once, dumb and/or lazy the rest of the time. Someone please pack his bag.

    • It’s a different era, perhaps, but I just did a quick run-through of the ’86 postseason roster. Eleven of 24 players were homegrown and three others were obtained as young minor leaguers in trades. Seven of them were acquired in trades for mostly homegrown yong talent. Three were scrap heap pickups, one of whom became an enduring regular (Rafael Santana) and one of whom became a valuable piece for several years (Lee Mazzilli — who was a special case given his Met background).

      Not a major league free agent in the bunch. Granted, it took money to secure Hernandez and Carter to long-term deals, but it wasn’t a matter of headlines and bidding wars. Those were the guys they needed.

      Frank Cashen could be maddening as the years went by and he eschewed free agency, but at a time (give or take a little collusion) when free agency was a commonly deployed option, he built a champion internally. It doesn’t seem any of his successors have tried that for more than five minutes.

    • Jacobs27

      I haven’t been able to watch, but it’s a testament to the cogence of your point that I am convinced of it, re: Jacobs.

  • Matt from Sunnyside

    As David Waldstein pointed out in the Times today:
    “Other free-agent pitchers who signed elsewhere might feel the same way, but none have had the same early success as Pineiro. Marquis wanted to be a Met, but he signed with the Nationals and is 0-2 with a 12.96 E.R.A. Garland is 0-2 with a 5.40 E.R.A. for the Padres, Randy Wolf is 0-1 with a 4.05 E.R.A. for Milwaukee and Smoltz is a broadcaster for TBS.”

    Omar didn’t sign another free agent starter this offseason because this free agent class was full of pitchers asking for way too much money and too many years for what we would likely get in return. Maybe Pineiro has a good year, and hindsight is 20/20. But, this “Mets are dumb because they didn’t sign Pineiro” storyline is only getting press today because he pitched well and ended up winning against the Yankees, and beating the Mets while they’re down is New York’s favorite pastime lately.

    • But Matt, I (and many folks who are a lot smarter) was advocating going after Pineiro this winter. I don’t think it’s fair to call that hindsight. It was dumb not to go after Pineiro, whatever he did yesterday. And the way the Mets handled abortive discussions with him is really disturbing.

      • Matt from Sunnyside

        Yeah, you’re right. And I definitely remember you being an advocate for Pineiro. Personally, I was afraid he’d return to pre-Cardinal form after being away from Dave Duncan for a few months, and we’d be stuck paying tons of money for basically a second Oliver Perez.

        And, although I am generally an optimist, I am having a hard time giving Omar the benefit of the doubt anymore. I mean, there really wasn’t much out there this offseason. And several of the players who maybe could have helped us were probably like “OK, the Mets, promise an extra $2 million per season over every other reasonable offer and I’ll think about it.”

        But you look across town at Mike Tannenbaum (who everyone said would be hamstrung by all of the free agent signing restrictions placed on the final four NFL teams in an uncapped year), and that guy is cutting crazy deals out of thin air. All of which have answered obvious needs on the Jets.

        I know it’s two different sports, but I think what bothered me about Minaya this offseason was that I could understand, on a deal to deal basis, why some player or another might not be the best solution for the Mets. When I look at this past offseason in aggregate, though, you’re right. Minaya didn’t do much besides sign Jason Bay and fill our bullpen with a ton of long relievers. I guess I have started to accept the theme that you and Greg have been harping on for at least a year and a half now–Minaya basically wishes it was still 2006.

        I like our lineup a lot, especially when Beltran gets back. I hope our pitching goes from scary to average soon, so I can start just chilling out and enjoying a few games, you know?

        • I know! I desperately want them to go on an 18-2 stretch and force me to spend the rest of a sun-kissed year explaining to anyone and everyone why I was wrong about Omar and Jerry, regret all the nasty things I said about them and am trying to learn from this.

    • There is a rationale for not jumping at the first available guys whose core equity was their availability. The Mets went that way in 2001 and it got us an overpriced Kevin Appier and an underwhelming Steve Trachsel. There is also a rationale for not accepting as gospel the results of not quite two starts apiece from the rotation. But this management was banking on results from four pitchers who were either largely unproven or who need to reprove themselves because of injury or poor performance. There has to be a better option than crossing their fingers and hoping Maine and Perez are OK or dredging up this year’s Livan Hernandez and Tim Redding. One or two years for one of the guys you mentioned (not swearing they could have signed them to relatively favorable terms) would give one a somewhat increased sense of security.

      Then again, early season results in the past couple of years were used to hit the Mets over the head for not signing Derek Lowe (durable but declining) and for trading Brian Bannister (who is still struggling albeit less so than Ambiorix Burgos, wherever he is). I’m not sure I wouldn’t have passed on any of the aforementioned Class of ’09-’10 free agents, but I would have gone hard for the one I wanted most, whoever it might have been.

  • Alan Yudma

    YES!!!! That is exactly what I’ve been saying for over a year! If the Mets had a plan, a direction fans could get behind, then we’d suffer the losing because we could see the route to the top of the mountain. But Omar & the Wilpons don’t have a plan & that’s what frustrates us more than anything. Greg, you mentioned Pinero. He went to a team with a definite plan. Living in L.A., I watch the Angels & marvel at how they’ve come up with a PLAN & stuck to it. I dream of the day the Mets embrace the P-word, because that means the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an ambulance taking one or players for an MRI.

    • Guy Kipp

      Exactly the gist of my post in here yesterday, Alan.

      Chris Carter batted .393 with 4 HR in the spring, and Ike Davis is batting .348 at Buffalo. But Carter didn’t make the cut, and they’re still saying there’s no plans to recall Davis.
      Of course not. Must make sure we get 400 at-bats for the likes of Fernando Tatis and Mike Jacobs, because that’s a real means to an end.

      And, while we’re at it, whose wife or loved one did Nick Evans disgrace to become so buried in this organization that he’s now back at AA??

  • Matt

    The “home-run trot” should be outlawed for anyone wearing a Mets’ uniform.

    • CharlieH

      Ummm…what?

      • Joe D.

        Know what Matt means. As pointed out by Dak, Jacobs would have been on third had he not had a home run trot. On Friday, Wright might have also had a triple had he busted out of the box.

        And I was also surprised Gary and Keith didn’t say anything about Jacobs trotting to a double, especially when it was in extra innings and could have put the go-ahead run at third. Perhaps they figured we as fans know it and are just tired hearing it.

        The spirit of Carlos Delgado resides in the Met clubhouse.

        • CharlieH

          Oh, NOW I get it!

          JaKKKKKe pulled a Timo…

          • Look up “Timo Perez” in the dictionary and you’ll find the Met team picture.

          • Jacobs27

            I guess I oughta change my username, huh? How frustrating and disappointing.

          • Jacobs27

            I just watched the double in the ninth on the MLB.tv Rockies feed. They didn’t show or mention trot or no trot. Did Jacobs actually pull a Timo or is he just really slow? Was that triple material for him?

          • He hit it, he thought it was gone, he trotted. He didn’t start running ’til he was close to first and realized it hit off the scoreboard.

            Just don’t change your screen name to Jacobs35, and you’ll be fine.

  • cropseymonster

    Under the Wilpons’ stewardship, the NY Mets are right on track for becoming the modern day version of the St. Louis Browns (complete with the indignity of a WS loss to the cross-town rival in the one year being the blind squirrel finding a nut), destined for irrelevance to all but the most die hard of fans

    • Wow, that’s pretty good as pretty bad scenarios go.

      • CharlieH

        So does that mean that over the next 13 years — or so — they’ll build up a dynastic pitching staff and make a lopsided trade for the modern equivalent of Frank Robinson?

        • cropseymonster

          Only if they first move to another city and change their team name to leave their past behind (which I don’t believe MLB will permit), so we’re gonna be stuck with the “NY Browns” for as long as the Wilpons own the NL franchise in NYC

  • I think it means we’re on the verge of signing Wally Bunker.

    • CharlieH

      Cool! Can’t hardly wait!

    • Joe D.

      Knowing Omar, we’re probably more on the verge of signing Robin Roberts.

      • Guy Kipp

        The ex-Phillie Hall of Famer, or the co-host of Good Morning America?
        I think either one would be more likely to give us 5 good innings than Ollie Perez.

        • Joe D.

          Good one Guy, but since we’re talking about the old St. Louis American League entry, it would be the one who went 1-10 with the Phillies in 1961 with an ERA near six. One wonders why he was picked up the Yankees of M&M with such a bad record. When released by the Yankees we don’t know if he was just so awful that even the 1962 Mets with our own M&M (Marvelous Marv) considered him. He made a tremendous comback with the Orioles going 42-36 over 3-1/2 seasons before fading out with Houston and the Cubs.

          • RR (the ex-Phillie) was my college team’s baseball coach. I interviewed him once about the game that had just been played. He didn’t put down his sandwich.

  • March'62

    I’m so glad to have found this current e-VENTING location (quite close to Roosevelt Avenue, very far from Easy Street). I will readily admit to your Yogi premise of it getting late quite early around here. But to start ascribing wisdom to other team’s ‘plans’ whose roster has produced an underwhelming 3-6 start (see Angels – home of the Pineiro), or to blame Manuel when the all-knowledgeable Joe (where’s Pete Falcone when you need him) Torre is only 3-5, is too much of a rush to judgment for this tortured-soul Met fan. Clearly, Minaya’s ‘plan’ involved taking a team that was good enough to reach the NLCS in 2006 and add a few parts (closer, righty power bat). Unfortunately, he has failed to exorcise the sweaty-palm-syndrome left behind by a knee-buckling Wainwright curve ball. I believe that what is needed (and I can’t believe that I am actually looking to that obnoxious, blow-hard team to the north of Queens) is a cream pie to the face of the first person that actually gets a hit in a key spot with a runner in scoring position. Maybe making it fun will actually relax our Metsies and get the fans excited again. I really do believe (ya gotta) that the core of this team is talented enough to win. We (both players and fans) need to sit back a bit and let the magic come back. (Now where did I hear that before?) Of course, that being said, if they’re in last at the all-star break I would fire the lot of them.

    • Welcome to our humble abode. And not for nothing, whether talking long-timers, first-timers or sometimers, the last couple of days have made clear we have the best commenters in the whole blogging world.

  • As we were saying, everything’s fine.

  • Joe D.

    Greg,

    38 replies to today’s blog and and 63 from yesterday for a total of 101 responses – does this come close to a single or two day record for you and Jason? (If you count this one it makes it a total of 102.)

    • I know Ich Bin Ein Phillie went over 100 by its lonesome. (To my surprise: I was so blinded by my Yankee hatred that I was gobsmacked to find Mets fans who hate the Phillies with the same intensity.)

      Someday I wanna see 100+ because we’re all chatting about how happy we are.

      • Joe D.

        Hi Jason,

        With victories last season and the first 11 days of this one being so far and few between, you might get that wish tonight with the new post regarding Pelfrey’s great pitching performance.

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