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Along with most rational and reasonable fans, I would expect
that rookie ballplayers, fresh off their recall from the minor leagues, will
run hard and play hard at all times in order to make a good impression. With
that in mind, it is with some sadness that I feel motivated to discuss Fernando
Martinez’ decision not to run out a
pop-up on Wednesday night. As Washington’s Wil
Nieves dropped the ball, Martinez
remained near home plate and nearly 90 feet away from first base, when he
should have been crossing the bag.
How can this possibly happen, especially in what was only
the second game of Martinez’
major league career? Believe it or not, there is an explanation. Martinez , the
No. 1 prospect in the Mets’ farm system, has obviously been watching too many major
league highlights from his Triple-A perch with the Buffalo Bisons. For the last
two and a half seasons, the major league Mets have made a painful habit of not running out pop-ups, not running hard on drives to the
outfield wall, not understanding that
you don’t make the third out at third base, and not sliding on close plays at second base or home plate. The Mets
epitomize all that is wrong with the sorry start of baserunning in today’s
game, where the notion of running hard three to four times a game has
mindlessly become optional for too
many contemporary players. (Since when is it so strenuous for major league
athletes to run hard a few times a game?) The Mets have set a terrible example
for fans and young ballplayers, an example that top prospects like Martinez have become all
too obliged to follow.
Frankly, the Mets’ baserunning problems have become so
embarrassing that the situation has reached a boiling point. It’s time for
manager Jerry Manuel to take off the kid gloves and adopt a zero tolerance
policy toward lackadaisical baserunning. He needs to say something to this
effect to his ballplayers, veterans and rookies alike: if you don’t run hard, you will sit the bench the following day. If the
problem persists and you again don’t run hard, you will ride the pines for two
days. And so on and so forth. At this point, the threat of the bench is
perhaps the only way to get through to the Mets’ thick-headed players.
Unfortunately, the Mets have been so thick-headed when it
comes to baserunning that if Manuel adopts such a policy, he will probably run
out of players within a week…
Two years ago, Colorado’s
Clint Hurdle and Arizona’s
Bob Melvin were on top of the world, both men leading their teams to the 2007
National League Championship Series. Both are out of jobs now, after Hurdle was
fired on Friday in what may be the least surprising ousting of a manager in
major league history. The Rockies have played brutal, uninspiring ball all season
for Hurdle, a veteran of seven seasons as Colorado’s skipper. Hurdle has displayed
some unusual tendencies, like often playing for one run during the early
innings of games at the Coors Field hitter’s haven. He has also failed to
motivate his players to play hard, always an indictment of a manager. Of
course, Hurdle has also had to play shorthanded. His best player, Matt
Holliday, is now in Oakland.
His best pitcher, Jeff Francis, is out for the season after surgery. His best
reliever, Brian Fuentes, is now an Angel.
While some observers could build a reasonable case that
Hurdle deserved longer rope from the Rockies,
there is no reasonable case for the hiring of Jim Tracy, the team’s bench
has failed badly in not one, but two managerial stops: first with the Dodgers
and then with the Pirates. Most successful managers possess either a fieriness
that helps them motivate or a strategic acumen that gives them an in-game
appears to have neither of those qualities…
More names continue to be added to the list of participants for
the first Hall of Fame Classic. Former Yankee Kevin Maas, a one-year wonder in
the Bronx, is the latest retired player to commit to the June 21st old-timers game here in Cooperstown. He will
join other ex-Yankees Phil Niekro, Jim Kaat, Dennis Rasmussen, and Lee Smith,
who all made prior commitments to the game. There have been rumors that two
other former Yankees, Mike Pagliarulo and Chad Curtis, will play in the Hall of
Fame Classic, but neither has been formally announced.
Several retired Red Sox will also play at Doubleday Field,
including Steve “Psycho” Lyons, Joe Lahoud, Ferguson Jenkins, Bill “Spaceman”
Lee, and Mike Timlin. Thus far, only two ex-Mets have signed up for the game:
George Foster, better known for his hitting exploits in Cincinnati, and Jeff Kent, who retired after the 2008 season.
Having watched Sunday night’s extra-inning thriller between Los Angeles and Philadelphia, I can’t for the life of me figure out what’s wrong with the Dodgers. Despite banging out 13 hits, the Dodgers managed to score only two runs at the hitter’s haven of Citizens Bank Park. They also blew a ninth-inning lead, effectively capping off their third straight loss at the hands of a good-but-not-great Phillies team.
How is this Dodgers team, with its talent base of established veteran stars and prime young talent, not winning a weak division like the NL West by five or six games? The Dodgers field a lineup that includes two legitimate All-Stars in Russell Martin and Manny Ramirez, two young studs in Matt Kemp and James Loney, and two future Hall of Famers in Ramirez and Jeff Kent, the latter still a productive player. Rounding out the starting nine are Andre Ethier, who leads the team with 16 home runs, and third baseman Casey Blake, who is at least a league-average player. There is only one position that can be called a black hole; that is shortstop, where the Dodgers continue to audition the Angel Berroas of the world because of injuries to Rafael Furcal and Nomar Garciaparra.
In terms of the pitching staff, injuries have taken away Brad Penny and Takashi Saito, but there is still plenty in the way of talented arms. The starting rotation features two solid veterans in Derek Lowe and the newly acquired Greg Maddux, along with the live young arms of Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw. The bullpen is vulnerable without Saito, but still has Jonathan Broxton’s 98 mile-per-hour fastball and a top-shelf left-hander in Joe Biemel. Throw in the unheralded duo of Corey Wade and Hong-Chi Kuo, and a surprisingly good Chan-Ho Park, and you’ve got the makings of a very good bullpen.
And yet, in spite of this assemblage of talent, the Dodgers are now a mediocre 65-65, having lost three straight games to fall three games off the pace in the NL West. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see how this team is still playing only .500 ball with the calendar just a few days shy of September…
When you give up home runs to Brad Ausmus and Darin Erstad in the 10th inning of a tie game, you have to figure that you’re not very good. Mets fans had already come to that conclusion about the New York bullpen prior to Pedro Feliciano’s implosion on Sunday afternoon against the Astros; they’re now absolutely fit to be tied after Feliciano fell victim to Ausmus (he of 78 career home runs in 16 seasons) and Erstad (who hasn’t reached double figures in long balls since 2002).
So what is Jerry Manuel to do? He is facing heat from Mets fans who have criticized his bullpen use (didn’t we hear much of the same about the deposed Willie Randolph), but he doesn’t have any surefire options to lock down the opposition in either the late innings or extra innings. Feliciano is an excellent situational reliever, but has never been asked to assume the role of bullpen ace, which requires the handling of right-handed hitters, too. The same can be said for fellow southpaw Scott Schoeneweis. Aaron Heilman has the best stuff of any Mets reliever, but he is also the most enigmatic, prone to walking batters or giving up tape-measure home runs at inopportune times. Duaner Sanchez has not thrown with consistent velocity since returning from shoulder surgery. And then there’s newcomer Luis Ayala, who has made four scoreless appearances since coming over from the Nationals, but has little experience as a closer (ten saves over five seasons).
Perhaps Manuel should roll the dice with Ayala. His Nationals’ numbers were not good, but he had been a highly effective middle reliever over his first four major league seasons. It might also be time to call up Al “The Taser” Reyes, who is tuning up at Triple-A New Orleans after being signed off the waiver wire. Reyes pitched decently as the Rays’ closer in 2007 before running afoul of the organization because of his involvement in instigating a bar room fight, followed by a stretch of poor pitching. At this point, the Mets may be willing to try anything…
I’m sure I’ll get in trouble with Hunter Wendelstedt again, but that interference call by Doug Eddings against the Rays on Sunday afternoon was highly irregular. Rays third baseman Willy Aybar was called for interfering with the White Sox’ A.J. Pierzynski during a crucial 10th inning rundown, negating what would have been the second out of the inning. I saw the replay twice afterward; it seemed pretty obvious that Pierzynski initiated the contact, which was fairly minimal, with Aybar. Eddings, who made the call against Aybar, should have made no call at all, allowing Pierzynski to suffer a more legitimate fate on the basepaths.