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The Thing With Feathers

Emily Dickinson long ago wrote a poem about a thing with feathers.

She didn’t mean Mike Pelfrey, which was for the best, as Mike Pelfrey with feathers would be horrifying in a Big Bird Turned Primal Nightmare way, sticking his tongue out and clomping around the mound on scaly clawed feet. Shudder.

She meant hope — which manifests itself frequently among baseball fans, less often among Mets fans in this current benighted era, and far less often among Mets fans in this current benighted era when they think about Pelfrey. He’s replaced Luis Castillo as my personal Mets scapegoat. Greg ably summed him up as the Human Pelfing Bag [1]. Patrick Flood, in a great post of his own [2], compared him to a rock neurotically licking itself. (That’s an oversimplification, but he did.) As Flood notes, Pelfrey’s somehow managed to become the second longest-tenured Met, behind the stalwart, star-crossed David Wright, and has climbed the ranks of the Mets career leaders, coming into sight of the franchise’s top 10 list for starts and wins. With a lot of players, you’d hear that and look forward to seeing the milestone on the scoreboard. With Pelfrey, you hear that and get depressed, thinking that our baseball team sucks even more than you thought.

Mike Pelfrey. Goodness we’re sick of being sick of him.

So where’s the frigging hope already? Jesus, Fry, we know all this bad stuff. Show us the thing with the feathers.

It’s here, in this Anthony DiComo article [3] for MLB.com, and this Times article [4] by Andrew Keh and this Applesauce [5] by Amazin’ Avenue. At the suggestion of Dan Warthen, Pelfrey started raising his glove high to start his windup, as he did in his college days. The results against the Cardinals were pretty horrible yesterday, but Big Pelf didn’t walk anybody and his fastball was sitting between 92 and 94, at least on an always-suspect spring-training gun.

That’s something, right?

A couple of years ago, the Mets had Big Pelf’s college coach on during an inning for the usual pleasantries, which featured Gary Cohen asking about Pelfrey as a college pitcher. His coach, apparently unaware he was supposed to be following a predictably bland script, expressed bafflement at what had happened to his once-prized pupil: Pelfrey didn’t throw hard any more, had scrapped his most successful pitches, and didn’t seem to know what he was doing. The interview ended on an awkward note, with the pretty clear impression that as far as Pelf’s old coach was concerned, the Mets had screwed him up. (Here’s more along those lines [6] from John Sickels last winter.)

I was inclined to believe it then, because what hadn’t the Mets screwed up? I don’t know what to think now, but it’s pretty obvious that Big Pelf is a mess — constantly adding and subtracting pitches, altering his mechanics and rethinking his approach, until he seems baffled by what to do with himself out there. His consistently inconsistent results might be more acceptable to Mets fans if we didn’t constantly have the feeling — perhaps justified, perhaps not — that one of the key problems isn’t in Pelfrey’s arm or his defense, but between his ears.

From that point of view, maybe Pelf and Dan Warthen tinkering in the bullpen isn’t good news. Maybe there are no feathers on this particular bird.

But Pelf isn’t that old. He’s never had a significant injury. The kid who was a star At Wichita State has to still be in there somewhere. Maybe, after all the false starts, a silly thing like lifting his hands can bring that prospect out again.

Maybe not. Probably not. He still hasn’t had a decent start this spring.

But what the heck. It’s March. Isn’t March the time for hope? Even when it involves Mike Pelfrey?