It the MLB bureaucracy was malfunctioning with the absurd attempt to check Terry Francona to see if he was wearing his uniform top, and the order didn’t come directly from Bud Selig to check on Francona’s adherence to the rule in the middle of a game between the Yankees and Red Sox, Selig is still responsible for the mistake made by one of his subordinates. Every time MLB tries to assert itself in such a way as though their main office is in control of their entities, it ends in some form of embarrassing result.
Francona had every right to be angry at the mid-game insinuation of some mid-level security lackey checking his uniform to make sure it met with the standard set by MLB. That being said, I totally agree with the idea that managers and coaches should be wearing their uniform tops rather than some sloppy looking fleece pullover. Even when Selig and his minions decide on and do something that makes sense, they find a way to screw it up.
Much like the attempts to "slot" bonuses for draft picks, this appears to be an attempt by MLB to take control of their league as the NFL has. The difference is that the NFL player’s union is notoriously weak with management that has been accused of double-dealing and ignoring the needs of their constituents. The NFL is a politically well-connected and powerful entity presiding over a known monopoly. The MLB player’s union is so powerful and has been so successful in it’s fights with the baseball’s management that there is no way to legislate many things because they can’t win in court if the players challenge a baseball mandate such as "payment slots" or the like; the only way for that "rule" (which was more of a maudlin request from Selig) is for the players and their agents to acquiesce. The uniform rule is different.
Managers and coaches sitting in the dugout in their fleece pullovers and slick jackets looks terrible. Managers should be wearing their uniforms and, I think, baseball has a right to tell their managers and coaches (who aren’t currently in the player’s union) that they have to wear their uniforms when sitting in the dugout. Even the NFL, which is a stickler for conformity, waits until after the games are over to fine or warn violators of their uniform code. To have a flunky come walking down the runway and check a manager as he’s in the middle of managing an important game is not only humiliating, but it’s an example of why Bud Selig is inept as an administrator and is nothing more than an owner-installed puppet who has no power over his subordinates to do things the right way even when there’s a sensible rule in place.
All things considered, the start to this road trip through Philadelphia and Atlanta could only have been worse for the Mets if a crippling injury to a key player had occurred. That being said, with all the horrendous things that happened to the Mets on this forgettable four game sweep at the hands of the Phillies, some solace should be taken that the Mets are still in first place by two games and the Phillies luck cannot continue to be as heaven-sent as it was this week. Dissecting today’s game is painful, but it must be done as the Mets turn the page on the way to Atlanta.
I wholeheartedly agreed with Willie Randolph’s decision to use Billy Wagner for the eighth and ninth innings today. The Mets needed to win this game to keep the Phillies from actually starting to think they can win the division; Wagner hasn’t pitched since Friday; he’s making a lot of money and if he’s going to be unable to pitch two innings in one game, then he should tell the Mets that and not play this charade of the tough guy. I’d rather have Aaron Heilman out there at 100% for the eighth and Wagner at 100% for the ninth than 70-80% of Wagner for the last two innings. It may be time to make the conscious decision that Tony La Russa made with Dennis Eckersley (that has been misconstrued with La Russa’s creating the "one inning save" closer) and use his guy in the best possible circumstances for him to succeed. It’s become obvious that Wagner cannot pitch two innings and shouldn’t even be asked to do so anymore.
The Mets are a veteran group. As disappointing as this series was, they have to look at the positives. They’re still in first place; the Phillies pitching staff will not be able to continue this level of work for the entire month of September; and the Braves (despite playing excellently against the Mets this season) haven’t been much better. The Mets would have surrendered first place during that heinous stretch in July had there been a solid team behind them. As many flaws as the Mets are showing, the Phillies and Braves have similar problems if not more.
In recent memory there have been many teams that have all but collapsed, righted themselves and recovered to make noise in the playoffs. The White Sox were all but begging for the Indians to catch them two years ago; their manager was on the verge of a nervous breakdown amid a finger-pointing and panicking clubhouse and they steered their ship back on course and blasted through the post-season to win the World Series. The Yankees of 2000 collapsed into a 3-15 final two and a half weeks, looked dead heading into the playoffs against the Athletics, teetered a bit before reverting to their old, clutch selves and won the ALCS and World Series in five games each. Last season’s World Series combatants, the Tigers and Cardinals, both looked like first round punching bags over the last month of the season. The Cardinals couldn’t win a game and almost allowed the Astros to sneak past them; the Tigers blew their division title by losing to the woeful Royals and instead of facing the supposedly easier opponent Oakland Athletics, had to go and play the Yankees. The Cardinals battled their way through to win the World Series and the Tigers shocked both the Yankees and the Athletics.
No one knows what’s going to happen once the playoffs start. Who can say that the Cardinals and Tigers weren’t playing loose and relaxed once they got into the playoffs and every "expert" expected them to be a first round casualty? Who can say that the easy division title won by the Mets last season didn’t dull their sharpness as the weather turned cool and the games turned crucial?
There’s no doubt that this was a difficult series to take and today’s game was a painful loss to swallow; but they’re still in first place; the teams behind them simply aren’t that good and they have games against the weaker teams in the National League to look forward to. The Phillies are due for a major letdown against the Marlins after this emotional, action-packed series and they’ve never been able to make a legitimate playoff run in the past six seasons with basically this same cast of characters. The Mets have to forget about those four games against the Phillies and concentrate on the Braves. Everyone’s on their case now; their veterans have to step forward and carry their team through this rough time. If they don’t, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.
I gave up on most conspiracy theories years ago, but this whole Pedro Martinez thing is curious. What exactly is the point of flying him to Atlanta for a "bullpen session" when there is still a question as to whom is going to start for the Mets on Saturday? The Mets went so far as to yank Mike Pelfrey from his start in Triple A so that he’s rested and ready to pitch on Saturday; but Saturday is September 1st and they’re going to be able to activate Pelfrey whether he’s starting or not. Could this be some ruse to hide the fact that they’re considering activating Martinez and throwing him out there on Saturday without the pitcher having another minor league start? It’s very odd and very convenient that this is all happening at the same time. Martinez will be rested and should be ready to go; another minor league start isn’t going to make all that much of a difference at this point and it would be a bit of an emotional lift if he goes out and throws 85-90 solid pitches when it’s unexpected and there’s no time for the media to build up a lot of anticipation or expectation. It’s a pretty good idea if that’s what they have in mind.
Contrary to popular belief, published books that are seen as biblically sacrosanct and stat-geek propaganda, Billy Beane has made mistakes in his time as the GM of the Oakland Athletics. Trading Aaron Harang was one; signing Esteban Loaiza was another. Loaiza’s three-year contract with the Athletics has yielded diminishing returns (as the financial guys turned baseball "experts" would like to say). Loaiza was injured for part of last season and for much of this season; no one in their right mind would have thought that anyone would claim Loaiza and put themselves on the hook for his $8 million salary next season, but there were the Dodgers claiming Loaiza off of waivers and taking the contract off of Beane’s hands.
Loaiza has been a journeyman for his entire career; he’s had a few solid seasons and one excellent one in which he won 21 games. He never seemed to be able to fulfill immense potential. Now at the age of 35, he was coming off repeated injuries as he finally returned to the Athletics rotation last week. I doubt the logical and notoriously cold-blooded Beane imagined in his wildest dreams that someone would do him the favor of taking Loaiza’s contract two starts after missing most of the first five months of the season.
Beane would never publicly betray shock at another team’s error, but are the Dodgers really confident that Loaiza is going to be much better than their young pitchers and that he’s going to be healthy enough next season to warrant an $8 million investment? It’s a ridiculous move and another example of a team with high expectations and fading playoff hopes doing something desperate that ends up helping Beane. Beane is very effective at exploiting need and desperation in the players he signs and the deals he makes; but he deserves little credit for this one; I’m sure even he was shocked that someone claimed Loaiza and was thrilled that his team is off the hook for money that had been wasted and can now be spent elsewhere on a player that is going to be healthier and more productive than Loaiza was.
As shaky as C.B. Bucknor’s call was on Marlon Anderson’s take-out slide of Tad Iguchi in the Mets-Phillies game last night, I steadfastly believe that had the play stood and the Mets had scored the tying run, someone for the Phillies would have hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth to win the game. Losing the way the Mets did may turn out to be a positive because a walk-off loss after tying the game in the ninth inning is far more aggravating than simply losing the way the Mets did. The play may also serve as an igniter for the Mets stagnating offense in that they may come out this afternoon and take their anger out on Kyle Lohse to end this streak. Anything that wakes them up can only be seen as a positive. Taking their frustrations out on the Phillies pitchers is far better than continually whining about what happened in the past.
He changes their entire lineup when he’s in the game because he has such a short, compact stroke, hits to all fields with power and in the clutch. Chase Utley is becoming the best and most dangerous hitter in baseball. Hitting righties wouldn’t be such a big deal for a left-handed hitter like Utley, but he kills lefties as well. His absence with a broken hand over the past month damaged the rest of the Phillies lineup because he’s such a threat. His strikeouts have been cut down dramatically and his power is increasing. As he progresses, he’s beginning to look like George Brett in that he’s a complete hitter whose short swing is resistant to slumps and has a good eye. He has the power behind him in Ryan Howard to protect him from being pitched around and doesn’t miss fat pitches. The main difference between a journeyman hitter and a superstar is that the superstars don’t miss mistakes made by the pitcher. Utley is a guy that you cannot make a mistake when pitching to him because, in all likelihood, he’s going to rip it somewhere. His fielding is improved as well. By next year, I would expect that Utley is going to be mentioned regularly as an MVP candidate and as one of the top three players in the game. He’s that good.