So perhaps I’ve been unfair, and the Mets had a Plan B for their starting pitching all along: “If, somehow, John Maine’s chronic injuries don’t disappear and Oliver Perez doesn’t stop pitching like Oliver Perez, we’ll just substitute a knuckleballer who’s a dead ringer for the Cowardly Lion and a 35-year-old who had a good but not great career in Japan. OK, we’re done here — wait, Beltran did WHAT?”
At least for 48 hours, Plan B has gone swimmingly.
I first really appreciated Hisanori Takahashi watching him battle Javier Vazquez to a standstill: He’s a done-with-mirrors location/finesse type, which doesn’t give you enormous hope for the future — every discussion of those guys begins with Greg Maddux with a local detour to Rick Reed, but ignores how few of those guys get Greg Maddux/Rick Reed results. Still, guys in that mode are enormous fun to watch when they’re on and showing you how pitching is supposed to be done — changing speeds here, putting the ball there, and either being one step ahead of the guy with the stick or having been so consistent about being one step ahead of the guy with the stick that he guesses what’s coming but still can’t hit it solidly. I wonder how long that double hesitation in Takahashi’s delivery — the tiny pause at the top of the windup and the freeze frame with one leg high — will keep scrambling hitters’ timing, but even when it becomes familiar he’ll know what he’s doing out there. I wonder if Oliver Perez has ever been able to say that.
Unintentional bringdown note from ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin: “Takahashi became the first Mets pitcher since Grover Powell in 1963 to allow no runs in either of his first two major league starts.” Who was Grover Powell? Not someone whose career path Takahashi would be advised to emulate. Powell was a Penn econ major who got thrown off the baseball team, agreed to sign with the Mets for $8,000, saw his bonus cut to $2,500 and signed anyway. (Wonder if they covered that at Wharton.) He was called up in 1963, beat the Phillies in his first start (wearing No. 41) and had logged four scoreless innings in his second when Donn Clendenon smashed a line drive off his cheek. He retired shy of 50 innings pitched and that first win was his last. In 1985 Powell drove to the hospital after his son was in a near-fatal crash, wound up seeing a doctor himself, was diagnosed with leukemia and died the same year. His tombstone bears an image of his baseball card — the only one he ever had.
But for now, let’s not worry about what might befall Hisanori Takahashi in 2032. In fact, let’s not worry at all. I’ve done plenty of that about the 2010 Mets, just as I’ve done a bit of pinching myself and thinking they’ll turn out just fine despite their various flaws. Either way, every time I find that I’m a lagging indicator: The Mets have either looked unbeatable or hapless, which is one way to be average but puts a lot more mileage on stressed-out fans than repeatedly winning one and losing one. Is the current run of good starting pitching a fluke, or guys who figured out how to pitch getting a chance to prove it? Are the statistical cylinders lining up favorably at the moment, or has Jason Bay relaxed and Jose Reyes returned and Angel Pagan matured — which might give David Wright the peace of mind to ease up on himself? Have the Mets caught the Phils and Yanks in a lull, or found a formula that should work for a while? Who knows. Tell me when to tune in and I’ll hope for the best.
And maybe I’ll even see some of it. Last night I put Joshua to bed with my eyelids already trying to stay above half-mast and trudged upstairs to the couch. I fell in and out of dozing, but sat bolt upright when I saw it was the sixth and the Phils had runners on first and third with one out and Ryan Howard at the plate. Takahashi sliced away at the strike zone and erased Howard on an evil low-and-away changeup. I sank back into the couch, but struggled up to one elbow as Jayson Werth and his ridiculous facial hair arrived. Werth promptly hit Takahashi’s first pitch to the moon, but he was too early, so more accurate to say his drive went harmlessly left of the moon. Takahashi, chastened, went back to work, got Werth to hit a harmless fly to Jeff Francoeur, and I let my eyes close. It was only 2-0, but something told me it would be OK, and it was.