Scoreless Through 18, Mets Finally Deal Cards a Wild 2-1 Loss
Longest Victory in Mets History Ends With Save by Pelfry; all 25 Mets Involved
Copyright Â© 2010 Evan Pritchard for Amazine
With Mets manager Jerry Manuel under fire for poor coaching, it seems like Tony LaRussa, the Cardinals’ legendary pokerfaced high stakes gambler of the dugout, wanted to make Jerry look good by comparison. Tony made every kind of move except those that made sense, and it led to a somewhat bizarre contest between two really great pitching staffs (staves?) at the mercy of two unconventional ( to say the least) managers.
A day earlier, it was hard to say about the 2010 Mets, “What’s not to like?” “Okay,” you say, “I like Howie Rose and Gary Coleman, Cow Bell Man, and the Big Home Run Apple, and I especially admire the banjo player’s flawless performance in the ‘Meet the Mets’ jingle. If you listen really hard with the volume up, you can hear it mixed in with the other instruments. It really is a fine job, except that the recording was probably made forty years ago, and the nameless banjo man is probably dead.” Then came April 17
Add two pitching aces, Santana and Garcia, a bunch of remarkably feeble highly-paid sluggers, and participation from 46 out of the 50 players legally allowed to play, and you get the longest, toughest W in Mets history.
A day earlier, it was hard to say about the 2010 Mets, “What’s not to like?” “Okay,” you say, “I like Howie Rose and Gary Coleman, Cow Bell Man, and the Big Home Run Apple, and I especially admire the banjo player’s flawless performance in the ‘Meet the Mets’ jingle. If you listen really hard with the volume up, you can hear it mixed in with the other instruments. It really is a fine job, except that the recording was probably made forty years ago, and the nameless banjo man is probably dead.” Then came April 17th.
Although the Times, Poughkeepsie Journal, and other so-called dailies went to bed too early to cover the end of this day game, which started 4 PM EST, Amazine stayed the course for you. Obviously these other rags got confused, ran out of score card, and gave up, and went home to get ready for church. Call me a sinner for baseball, but I stayed up and watched it to the stunning finish. Now the Mets faithful have something to squawk about. Although at times it looked as if both managers were deliberately trying to spoof their way into the record books by trying hard not to score, the result was successful, a record-breaking game, and a single win for the Mets.
In my opinion, the Mets should get two wins, as the game was actually longer than a regulation double-header. It was as long as a double header where both games go into the tenth! It was the longest Mets game since May 31st, 1964. It seems clear that the Mets are like Avis, they are going to have to try harder to beat the Cards, who are like Hertz, as they are number one, and we Mets fans have been feeling like number two. Although the Mets had played in longer games three other times, and had even gone longer in a scoreless contest, they had never won those games. Team records tumbled for both teams on a day when anything could and did happen.
Mets ace Johann Santana had pitched seven innings of nine-K shutout ball, and starter for St. Louis Garcia had a no-hitter into the sixth, but no one remembers that. Santana came back from the showers to see what was going on, and stood there at the railing for the last eleven innings, just amazed. He and several veteran players agreed it was the craziest game they ever saw.
The most important move of the game was hardly noted at the time, but it cost LaRussa nine innings of sheer agony, which he deserved from things he said in the 2006 post-season, not forgotten by Metropolitan geeks. He pulled his slugger Matt Holliday from the cleanup position in the lineup, (after failing with the bases loaded in the tenth; reports are that Holliday had become seriously ill and had to leave the stadium) and double switched with a pitcher so that Motte and Hawksworth ended up both relieving and hitting cleanup. (Lohse, a .162 lifetime hitter, and Anderson, with a .000 lifetime batting average, also ended up in that hotseat behind Pujols). Who would have guessed that putting the number nine spot, the pitcher’s position in the number four spot, the cleanup hitter’s position, would eventually bear consequences down the road? Well, just about everyone who was paying attention. It was one of those things they teach you in Junior High School never to do, and I too looked at the tube with puzzlement, but thought, “That La Russa, he’s such a genius, he must have some secret weapon we don’t know about. This move only appears to completely neutralize both Holliday and MLB’s top hitter, Albert Pujols. With a pitcher following him, Pujols is an automatic W every time.” When he placed another weak hitter, Craig, in the six spot after Molina, I was sure of his wacky genius. All three of his big guns, taken out of commission. I guessed he had some new rookie Godzilla pinch hitter in hiding under the stands. “Isn’t he afraid of Pujols coming up with two on and two out?” I pondered.
Well, that’s what happened, only in a repetitive manner that reminded me of Bill Murray’s “Groundhogs’ Day!” Not only did they walk Pujols, but walked him to load the bases… a zillion times. And instead of facing the .317 hitter Holliday with the bases loaded, they faced…people we never heard of. People who never batted before while sober and shaven, people who couldn’t hit the side of a barn, people who just got out of prison (I presume), people who had recently decided to try relief-pitching for a living. I was surprised that LaRussa himself didn’t grab a bat and stand up there. LaRussa’s idea to double switch 9 for 4 was possibly one of the worst executive decisions in American history…okay, I can’t back that up after all the bailouts and Bush-era blunders that have left the country struggling. But it was one of the great blunders in National League managerial history and it couldn’t have happened to a better guy from a Mets’ standpoint. It helped Jerry Manuel show what he was made of. Jerry’s variety of new pitching talent, many of whose first names I can’t spell, were brilliant. Apparently, Jerry is taking a hint from the 1999 Twins, who did well with guys with weird first names, Jacque, Torii, LaTroy, Benj, Midre, and Cleatus, etc. He is having great luck with middle relievers named Ryota, Hisanori, and Jenrry, and it really paid off during this 20 inning weirdness expo. Ryota now has an ERA of zero, Hisanori’s ERA is 1.5, Jenrry’s is now 2.17. Learn these names, Mets fans. They are going to keep this franchise afloat!
The worst Mets pitching performance of the entire day and night was clearly from K-Rod, our most expensive reliever, and $37 million dollar All Star closer, who got a BS (that’s a Blown Save not a Bachelor of Science) and a Win in the same game. It turns out Francisco Rodriguez had thrown hard in the bull pen every inning since the ninth and was exhausted, having already turned in a 100-pitch Complete Game by the 19th, which was when Manuel finally gave him the call. During his first 9 innings of hard throwing, I’m sure that, at least in his mind, Rodriguez had not given up a single run, a CG shutout the likes of which Tom Seaver would have envied, but now facing real hitters it was a different story. Already having reached his pitch limit before even toeing the rubber, he gave up the Cards’ first run and it took the win away from Valdes, who could have used it after giving up a granny in the seventh to Lopez, and a loss the day before. K-rod was dragged from the field in a tie game, and after the Mets got a curvy number on the board, he was replaced by the real closer, who turned out to be Pelfry. For all his efforts, K-rod was given the same win that Tom Seaver would have gotten for a much more demanding nine inning masterpiece. The difference was that K-rod had already been sent to the showers when the winning run scored.
Much of the Mets win can be traced to LaRussa’s double switches leaving pitchers and other batter’s box losers in the 4th position behind Pujols. But its more complicated than that, a lot more complicated. On the other hand, Manuel did a lot of things right, saving his closer for what looked like the end, keeping his position players in the game, switching some batting positions with pitchers, but using his bench wisely. When Pelfry entered, he was the 25th man of the 25 man roster participate, because Maine had pinch-run for Barahas and Oliver Perez had stood on deck to pinch hit but did not get to the plate before the third out. Manuel rationed out his resources, somehow knowing it could go 20 innings, saving the best for last as it were. If Pelfry failed, Manuel had already decided to bring in Jeff Francour from left to pitch, a guy who hadn ‘t pitched since High School, his sophomore year. Having only had 20 warm up pitches, Pelfry struggled at first but got his first career save. Manuel got nothing but fine pitching performances from each of his middle relievers, which should give Mets fans a lot of hope for the coming season. As it was, thanks to Reyes’ run and sacrifice fly RBI in the waning hours, we didn’t need to see Mike Jacobs or David Wright pitch. (Jacobs has a great arm, just watch him in warm ups some time!)
Here’s a quick guide to LaRussa’s managing madness: He kept Schumaker, Ludwick and Pujols in the lineup the entire game, and in their 1, 2 and 3 batting positions. Holliday, a lifetime .317 hitter, was batting cleanup and was not having a good day. He struck out in the eighth with two on to end the inning. In the tenth, with the bases loaded, Holliday made that pop foul that Cora did a Jeter Jump into the stands, placing him on Play of the Week’s top five. It was only his third time playing first. Cora had just been put in at first base a minute earlier, mid-frame, during Pujol’s intentional walk, making Jerry Manuel look like a frigging genius. He inserted Cora batting ninth, which means he could replace him with Matthews, then Jacobs, which he did almost immediately, and which turned out to be a game winning move! Matthews struck out in the 11th, but Jacobs batted in that 9th spot thereafter. In the 16th Jacobs made a sac bunt that allowed Pagan to go to second, and reach third before the inning ended. In the 18th, Jacobs flied out, but in the 20th, Jacobs singled sending Pagan to third where he was sent home on a sac fly from the bat of Reyes, still playing leadoff, to score what became the winning run. An A plus for Manuel for a remarkable double double switch. Meanwhile, LaRussa was making decisions that will haunt him the rest of his miserable Hall of Fame career. (At least one Mets fan hopes so!)
In the 11th, Tony (yeah, like I know him) put lifetime .071 batting rookie left fielder Craig in the sixth spot, making Molina relatively ineffective in front of him. He put rookie reliever Trevor Miller in the cleanup spot, his puny .167 lifetime batting average notwithstanding, rendering Pujols ineffective as well. Who wouldn’t walk league leading Pujols to get to Miller? Molina led off the 11th with an out, then weak hitting Craig, now replacing Holliday in left field, walked, but was followed by Lopez (still batting seventh) who grounded into a double play.
In the 12th, Joe Mather batted eighth (as he had since the top of the 10th) and Brendan Ryan batted ninth (as he had since the eighth) both making outs. Then Schumaker singled, and Ludwick got awarded first on a strange, little-seen call, where the bat touched the glove of veteran catcher Barajas as he was reaching to catch the ball, and the batter was awarded first. Then Pujols was walked intentionally to load up the bases because the relief pitcher Motte (replacing Miller) was on deck instead of clean up hitter and monster long ball man with 155 homers lifetime, Holliday. It was only Motte’s second at bat in the majors, and he struck out, preserving for now his lifetime .000 average, and leaving three birds on the wire. There were a lot of ducks on that pond flying home in the breeze of that bat.
In the 13th, Molina led off again with an out, but the inexperienced Craig was caught stealing after a base on balls on a remarkable play, then Lopez struck out. For one inning, LaRussa could enjoy the game without wanting to kick himself in his own asterisk-spangled lineup card.
In the 14th, Mather (batting 8th replacing Colby Rasmus) doubled to lead off the inning. Ryan followed with a sacrifice bunt but was safe on a Takahashi’s fielding error. He then took second on defensive indifference as Mather was at third. Then Takahashi struck out Schumaker and Ludwick, bringing up Pujols with first base open. Now it was Hawksworth on deck, the relief pitcher, who had never so much as held a bat in the major leagues, so it was an easy decision to walk around Pujols to load the bases for Hawksworth. Does Holliday have 598 lifetime RBI’s? Yes. Would Manuel had put up his four fingers if it was Holliday on deck? No! What did Hawksworth do? He struck out, leaving the bases loaded. Deja vu all over again.
There were no bizarre incidents in the 15th, but in the 16th, the four spot jumped up to bite LaRussa again. Schumaker made the first out, but then Pujols singled, sending the potential winning run to second. LaRussa had been holding back his rookie backup catcher Anderson, in case anything happened to Molina, but now he played that card in the cleanup position, hoping for a pinch single. Anderson, in only his second at bat in the majors, hit into a 4-6-2 double play. He hit it to Castillo who threw to Reyes covering second where Pujols was taking him out with a slide. As he did so, Ludwick boldly ran past third and headed for home, and then stopped as Reyes recovered and threw to home on a heads up play. Ludwick was caught in a rundown as the substitute catcher Blanco chased him back to third where Ludwick fell on his knees as if begging for mercy and was tagged out, all of which made Manuel look like a genius for putting in Blanco for defensive purposes, and LaRussa a fool for putting the untried Anderson in such an important spot.
The 17th and 18th were uneventful, except that Felipe Lopez was brought in to pitch to the Mets in the 18th. The infielder, immediately showing good control, and seeing perhaps a new career path, was surprisingly effective. Rookie starting pitcher Kyle Lohse was put in left field at the same time, and pencilled in to bat in…guess what…the cleanup spot. But in the 19th, substitute outfielder Mather was brought in to pitch and gave up the first run of the game, walking Reyes, Wright, and Blanco, and hitting Bay with a pitch. With the Mets leading 1-0, Ludwick led off for the Cards with a walk, but was caught stealing at second, a poor decision with Henry Blanco behind the plate, one of the best in the game at nailing runners. LaRussa’s decision to run Ludwick turned out to be the worst of all of them, in 360 hindsight, as Pujols followed with a double that would have scored the tying run for the Cards. Instead, we had Pujols at second with one out and whoever happened to be hanging around the watercooler to bat next. The catcher Anderson had already batted, and LaRussa had elected to keep Molina behind the plate, so there was noone to pinch hit for pitcher-turned-left fielder Kyle Lohse the .162 lifetime rookie starting pitcher and so LaRussa told him to go up there. Lohse grounded out, but then Molina finally got a hit and drove in Pujols for the tying run, one that would have been a winning run if it wasn’t for that steal sign to Ludwick. Craig, the .071 hitter, now in the sixth spot, could have knocked in the winning run, but struck out instead. No surprise, there.
That brings us to the fateful 20th inning. The Mets scored in the top of the 20th off Mather, the substitute outfielder who was now pitching his second inning of relief. (See above) It was the second run off Mather in the game, who must now be listed in Baseball Encyclopedia under pitchers with a 9.0 ERA. The Cards came up in the bottom of the inning behind 2-1, now facing Pelfry, who had been itching to get in the game as a pinch hitter, but was happy to get his first save in five years, working on three days rest. Lopez, now a position player once again, came to bat for the ninth time in the game. He grounded out. Then Mather, the (current) pitcher, came up to bat in the eight spot, pinch hit for himself, and got out. Then Brendan Ryan (batting ninth, the usual pitchers’ position) slapped a single to keep it alive. Schumaker walked, so it was two on and two out for the Cards. Ludwick came up for the tenth time in the game, with Pujols on deck, but Pelfry turned on the juice and got him to roll a grounder to Castillo at second, and Luis threw out the runner at first to end the game, making Manuel look like a genius for bringing in Pelfry, a starter who is scheduled to appear at Citifield on Tuesday.
It would have been interesting if the runner had beat the close throw at first, because that would have left the bases loaded for Pujols with two out and Lohse on deck. What would have LaRussa done then? What would Manuel have done? Would he intentionally walk Pujols to tie the game and get out whoever LaRussa could put up in the cleanup spot? Would LaRussa then go with Lohse? Who would then pitch the 21st inning for St. Louis? As Lopez was still in the game, could he then be brought in yet again to pitch? Pelfry would have pitched carefully to Pujols, and perhaps walked him anyway after going to 3 and 2. Pelfry would then have gotten Lohse out. Francour would have pitched the 21st. What could have happened after that is anyone’s guess. The event horizon then fades into a fog of baseball calculus beyond the mental capacity of Tony LaRussa, and even the marginally brilliant Jerry Manuel, who can now be declared a managerial genius by Mets fans, as at least for one day, he out-noodled his arch-rival Tony LaRussa in a very long hand of poker that people will be talking about for years to come. In fact, the Hall of Fame wants the bat that Reyes used to pop that winning sac fly as well as both score cards, to put on display. They can have it, unless of course they are outbid by the Poker Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, Nevada. That would be worth the price of admission, wouldn’t it?
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