Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Oh My Goodness Mets Fans

Last night, after the Phillies regained first place in NL East via hanging a ninth-inning six-spot on the Mets to complete a thrilling 8-6 win, Frank Helps You Think It All Out is not assigning style points. No way. I was at Shea last night- saw the vacant, stupefied faces of the denizens- and what we collectively viewed defies explanation. It was better than a Toby Keith concert.

Not that Mike Vaccaro won’t try to provide illumination- picking up the ninth inning:
The part that would have been funny, if it weren't so galling, was with Jimmy Rollins at the plate. The game was already tied. The feel-good, everybody-loves-everybody atmosphere that had ruled the night at Shea Stadium had already evaporated.

And there stood Rollins, smiling right through the soul of each of the 55,081 people who booed him so relentlessly all night. He was struggling, and it didn't matter. He was behind in the count, 0-and-2, and that didn't matter. It was like the scene in every bad horror movie ever filmed: You know what's coming. You know it will be bloody.

And still it lifts you out of your seat. Still, as Rollins drilled a Pedro Feliciano pitch down the left-field line for the fourth and fifth runs of a six-run ninth inning, Shea Stadium sounded surprised, even though there is nothing that should surprise them now. Not after last autumn. Not after this.
We know the Phillies are a good, but flawed team. They lack real quality starting pitching- and they don’t hit consistently.

But last night’s game was a nifty composite of why, ultimately, they are closer to good than mediocre. Philadelphia has a lot of quality relief pitching. They have a lot of nights where they don’t do much offensively, but still score five runs or so- mostly cause they hit a lot of homeruns (one mistake equals a crooked number) and they have three-and-a-half very good RBI-style bats: Utley, Howard, Burrell and Rollins. (Rollins only counts for a half because the Phillies stupidly insist on batting him lead-off. His two big RBI via extra base hit in the ninth is proof positive he should hit second or sixth. With Rollins’ OBP, he brings nothing as a lead-off hitter- but his consistent flashes of power ought to be used with guys consistently on base. Wouldn’t be nice to have his bat consistently in situations like last night- two guys on- by design rather than chance?)

And of course, the Phillies really play for Charlie. Like all citizens of Philadelphia, Charlie makes me crazy with his x’s and o’s. For example, I’m still crazy that Hamels will purposely miss the Mets again. But the Phillies play darn hard for him.

I mean, Pat Burrell reads and knows the scouting report: can’t play outfield! But the Mets hit the ball in corner, he hustles after it. He throws a strike to the right guy- a hustle play combined with a smart play- and the Phillies cut off a big inning with an out at the plate.

Did you notice? The Phillies made a ton of opportunistic defensive plays last night- two outs at the plate, Rollins snags one up the middle, Utley stabs a line drive diving- all four examples here made by guys who aren’t “great” defensive players. That is what Charlie brings- alert, if not good, defense and relief pitching and good at-bats even when you’re down four runs on the road. Guys play for him- and play hard and chippy. Three Mets, including Santana, were hit by pitches last night. And that has been true his whole managerial career.