I’m taking a big risk.
My last post was before the July 4 game against the Phillies. The Mets lost that game 3-2, on the strength of a Shane Victorino walk-off single against Duaner Sanchez. On that day, I nearly wrote a post about how the season was over, and it was time to look ahead to football season. But I decided this team was not worth the effort (besides, no one reads this blog anyway. You know who you are. Or maybe you don’t, because you’re not reading this. What an odd paradox.)
After all, the Mets had shown little real improvement under Jerry Manuel. They were still playing win-one, lose-one, .500 baseball. The bullpen was still blowing games for Johan Santana, as they did on that night. And they were still struggling to score runs. Losing the first game in a four-game set to the Phillies seemed like an ominous note of doom. The Mets could very easily have been swept into fourth place by the Phils with little hope for a comeback. But sometime during that weekend, a switch flipped.
The advice from new Pitching Coach, Dan Warthen, suddenly sunk in. Oliver Perez moved to his more comfortable spot on the mound, the middle of the rubber, and pitched a gem on Sunday. The bullpen held the lead for John Maine on Saturday after he left with forearm stiffness. And on Monday, seemingly poised to blow a seven-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, effectively repeating, on a small but concentrated scale, their 2007 collapse, Billy Wagner miraculously coaxed the final out of the game from the same team that crushed their dreams.
Since then, the Mets have gone on a streak that no one could have seen coming. They dominated the punchless Giants and the foundering Rockies, by a combined score of 31-4 over a six-game span. Jerry Manuel is now 17-9 as manager.
So what changed?
Every Mets starting pitcher has a winning record. The bullpen has been near-perfect. They have shed the one-size-fits-all approach of Rick Peterson. No longer are they restricted to Peterson’s “.190 line,” which forced them to only throw knee-high pitches. Now, they work around the letters as well. For power pitchers like Maine, Perez, Santana, and especially Mike Pelfrey, that can be a powerful weapon.
Pelfrey has been the biggest revelation. He struggled after being rushed to the major leagues. Now, he’s mixing his 91-mph sinker with his 95-mph four-seamer, slider, and changeup, while tossing the occasional slow curve. He’s always had the kind of stuff to be an elite pitcher, and now he has the confidence and proper guidance he’s always needed.
At the plate, the two most maligned players in the lineup have been red-hot. Jose Reyes is hitting .320 since May 1st, and Carlos Delgado has found the fountain of youth. Unable to react to the fastball anymore, Delgado has learned to work the count to get into a fastball situation. Then, he’s able to cheat on it and crush it.
Jerry Manuel has loosened up the clubhouse. David Wright praised him for making it fun to come to work every day. The Mets have shed the corporate atmosphere propagated by Willie Randolph, and adopted more of a…well, more of a baseball clubhouse kind of atmosphere. And sure, Manuel has a reputation as a laid back guy, but for someone who follows the teachings of Ghandi, he certainly argues with umpires a lot. He’s more intense than Randolph, and he’s less of a politician. He’s exactly what the Mets needed.
So, why am I taking a big risk?
I haven’t blogged since the beginning of the Mets’ nine-game winning streak. As I write this, I may be jinxing the Mets. If they win their next game after the all-star break, I can exhale. Until then, here’s hoping that some other superstitious fan is doing something silly that’s keeping this streak going.
Or maybe it’s just that the Mets are playing well. Nah.