By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
The stats may have still counted, but the Mets sure didn't play the sudden death playoff game against the Reds like it was the last game of the regular season. During the last 14 days, the Black-and-Blue Boys rode a virtual Coney Island Cyclone from strutting into Turner Field in Atlanta only a game out, to all but being embalmed by the end of their six-pack against the Bravos, to a small miracle against the Pirates (dial 1-800-ST-ANTHONY, operators are standing by . . . ) but throughout it all there was one constant.
This was a team that wasn't playing its game. The much-maligned Mets starters held up their end of the bargain, but over the course of the final two weeks, the team with the best on-base percentage in the National League (.367), couldn't/wouldn't buy a walk. They were held without a base on balls no fewer than three times during their seven game slide, with even Mr. Deep Count, Rickey Henderson, going nine games without a free pass. Statistical oddity? Nope. This run-starved team was taking its cues from stressed-out manager Bobby Valentine and his misplaced sense of urgency. (Joe Morgan gets the Ralph Kiner Freudian malaprop award for his second-inning observation: "Since Thursday, the Mets were on a suicide watch . . . ") But on Monday, with Valentine suddenly looking like a poster child for Prozac, Met hitters danced with who brung 'em, tapping the Reds for eight walks, making Denny Neagle throw 49 pitches in his two-inning stint, until it looked like his arm would fall off Tom Browningstyle.
The only disappointment: Valentine had no cause to argue balls and strikes, so he didn't get tossed and bring out the fake nose and glasses. Will the walkathon continue against Arizona? Not if Buck Showalter has anything to say about it. The D'Backs staff sported the second best ERA in the NL, largely because they held opposing batters to a trifling .320 OBP.
Et Tu, Roger?
Everybody loves old things once they're dead. (Just you wait any month now we're going to be subjected to a six-part A&E Biography series on The Political Genius That Was Ronald Reagan.) So with three old ballparks set to meet their maker this off-season if the Astrodome, which isn't even old enough to run for president, can really be called "old" the nostalgia pumps are running full-bore, as every publication in the country gets in its last licks at the Astrodome, Tiger Stadium, and 3Com "Don't Call Me Candlestick" Park. The various reminiscences read as if these doomed stadia were quaint but tiresome relics of an earlier era, like gas lighting or influenza epidemics.
Both Baseball Weeklyand The Sporting News neither of which ever met a wrecking ball they didn't like ran glowing eulogies for the unlucky trio last month; meanwhile, The New Yorker's Roger Angell, the erstwhile defender of baseball's pastoral tradition, weighed in for the literati. In annotating a series of commemorative ballpark paintings by Mark Ulriksen, Angell observed that the images are filled with "whining and regret" (making it "plain that [Ulriksen]'s a fan," noted the oh-so-wry one) while promising that the new parks "will accrue a comforting quirkiness of their own" never mind that with their acres of corporate suites and high-tech scoreboards and ad signage, these new behemoths will be difficult to retrofit as warm and fuzzy.
None of which should come as a surprise, given that Angell, a Red Sox and Fenway Park fan of long standing, has steadfastly refused to give any support to Save Fenway Park!, the grassroots group working to retain that historic structure. Some traditionalist.
The Song Remains the Same
It's been a tough year for the umpires, from the mid-season mass-resignation fiasco to the last-day phantom double-play call that helped the Mets get to their one-game playoff (both Pirate runners were clearly safe, but called out, at a crucial point in the Amazins' 2-1 victory on Sunday). But life was always thus for the men in blue (or red, these days). A recently aired PBS special on Yogi Berra included an ancient artifact of the long-standing hate heaped upon the umps one very colorful song. Written for a 1905 musical comedy called The Umpire, the tune implied that the stuffy arbiters of the game were due a much worse fate than pink slips and severance pay:
An umpire is a cross between a bullfrog and a goat He has a mouth that's flannel-lined and breast tubes in his throat He needs a cool and level head that isn't hard to hit So when the fans beat up his frame they'll have a nice place to sit How'd you like to be an umpire? / Work like his is merely play He don't even have to ask for / All the things that come his way When the cullions knock his block off / "Soak him good," says every fan Then who wants to be an umpire? / The brickbats whizz When he gets his / Oh, the umpire is a most unhappy man
Dodger manager Davey Johnson, who parted acrimoniously from his previous managing jobs with both the Mets and the Reds, has been known to hold a grudge. Had L.A. defeated Houston Sunday, both New York and Cincinnati would have benefited, but for some reason, Dodger ace Kevin Brown didn't start that game. The L.A. Timesreported that "the Dodgers," not Johnson, held Brown out of the contest because he had no chance to win 20. His rookie replacement gave up four runs in a third of an inning, and L.A. got spanked. The Times, however, did not specify who kept Gary Sheffield and Todd Hundley out of the game.