The Mountain Time Zone and the mountainous rain delay combined to knock me out before the final pitch last night. Hung in there through Mets Yearbook: 1966 and Mets Yearbook: 1967 (which SNY cut away from just as Whitey Herzog was about to announce his intention to draft…what a cliffhanger!) and reveled, as Gary Cohen did, in the fact that it took two pitchers — Mike Pelfrey and Jason Isringhausen — and two batters — Dexter Fowler and Ryan Spilborghs — to complete the same plate appearance when play resumed because of the precipitation interruption and the rash of owwies that were taking down Mets and Rockies left and right. But I was growing very drowsy as their Paulino — Felipe — walked our Paulino — Ronny. And the last thing I remember was something about Willie Harris pinch-hitting.
At which point I assume I closed my eyes in the hopes that he wasn’t really still a Met.
Next thing I knew, it was later. My first thought upon stirring was, “Is it the bottom of the ninth yet? Is K-Rod on? Omigod, what has he done? Is it the fourteenth because he gave up the tying run in typically aggravating fashion?” My second thought was “Mets 4 Rockies 3,” because when my eyes were opened fully, the postgame show was on and the score was on the screen.
“Gosh,” I wondered in the seconds before I conked out again, “I wonder how difficult he made it.”
Color me delighted to have read the pitch-by-pitch transcripts this morning and discover that Frankie Rodriguez kept no one awake. He didn’t extend the game. He didn’t inject anxiety into the game. He didn’t subliminally boost sales for Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, the stuff I noticed advertised over the right field fence where Rockie home runs traveled earlier in the game. As far as I know, he didn’t react to anyone after the game the way he did when the sight of Colorado uniforms (or something) enraged him last August. Rodriguez just went out there, pitched the inning he was signed to pitch, pitched it cleanly and steered the Mets to the clubhouse with a win for all and a save for him.
Big-money free agent joins club and (eventually) performs as intended on consistent basis. Or as the headlines never seem to read, SOMETHING DOESN’T GO WRONG FOR METS.
Because of the creative contract to which the Mets signed Rodriguez, schoolkids no longer automatically associate “55” with Orel Hershiser, Shawn Estes or Chris Young (though Young’s shoulder will likely render him a well-meaning footnote in most Met textbooks). Frankie needs to finish 55 games this season — be the last Met to throw a pitch in just over a third of the scheduled contests — to have an option kick in that will allow him to serve as Mayor of Moneyville for another year. When he was Francisco Rodriguez, expensive, plea-bargaining, unreliable head case, this was cause for shudder. Now that he’s something like the K-Rod of American League legend again…still expensive but relatively reliable and no longer noticeably menacing society…I’d suggest taking an eye off his appearance clock.
Ideally, I’d rather the Mets not be on the hook for seventy-bajillion dollars in 2012 ($17.5 million, technically), but the clause is there and through no unfault of his own, Rodriguez is living up to his part of the bargain. The Mets occasionally take leads to ninth or maybe eighth innings; Terry Collins calls on Frankie; Frankie delivers the goods; Terry’s confidence grows; Frankie gets more calls.
He’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing. He’s also not doing what he’s not supposed to be doing away from the mound. I wouldn’t have blamed the Mets had they figured out a clever way to jettison his contract altogether after he attacked his girlfriend’s father last summer, but the Mets aren’t nearly clever enough to pull something like that off, so he’s here. What’s more, he’s presumably followed his proscribed course for good behavior. If we are to believe in redemption, then we have to believe that anger management programs might actually work.
Francisco Rodriguez will inevitably blow another game as the Mets closer. I wouldn’t be surprised if he blows his top, too, hopefully in a manner that harms neither human beings nor innocent animals. No doubt the guy is suspect, partly for a few too many ninth innings that went awry (in the tradition of all the other closers in whom we’ve misplaced faith for the past twenty years), mostly for what we learned about him in the wake of his temper overtaking him. If he slips in either way, we’re not going to be patient, more for Mets fan reasons than humanitarian ones, but in the meantime, he’s walked the straight and narrow off the field and he hasn’t given away much on it.
And unless we turn back time to when a quality start meant consistently going nine, somebody’s going to have to close games the rest of 2011 and into 2012. If the Mets want to be innovators and figure a better way to do it than automatically handing the ball to the same pitcher every time they’re ahead by three runs or fewer, fine. But until then, we have somebody who’s among the best in baseball at his particular core competency…and we don’t have many of those. We might as well get some use out of him.
As far as the $17.5 million fourth year for a reliever who was losing something off his fastball when we signed him…well, thanks Omar. But I’m disgusted enough that the Mets are likely positioning themselves as a small-market team — and not necessarily a good one — that I don’t want to hear about the need to shed gobs of salary to keep them afloat. Get the minority partner in here and act like a New York team. You don’t have to throw the multimegamillion-dollar deals around to impress us, but making it your priority to “unload” your better performers because you “can’t” re-sign them…it’s patently unacceptable. I don’t want to accept it. If you can honestly plot a trade of Francisco Rodriguez (or some other player whose name keeps coming up in this context but I don’t want to mention because I don’t want to think about him in terms of his not being a Met) to better the team in the long term without shooting it in the foot in the near term, you have my blessing. But nix to M. Donald Redux if it gets to that point.
If it’s late September and the Mets are long out of it and Rodriguez is sitting on 52, 53 appearances, I understand sending for a car and wishing him well as he leaves for the airport. If we’re long out of it with little hope of getting back into it right away, maybe a high-priced closer isn’t a priority (though ninth innings are still ninth innings, whatever the price). But if we’re in position to win games across the balance of this season, and there’s no better answer at the other end of the phone when Dan Warthen calls Jon Debus, then in the name of legitimacy, get Frankie up.
I may even sleep more soundly if we do.