I recently had four days off from work (two days off for the Fourth, and no one told me), and nowhere to go, so I figured I’d take a trip down I-45 from my current home in Dallas to the land of National League Baseball in Texas, Houston. That’s right, Houston, where concrete mingles with cow manure and barbecue, and the local baseball team has quietly put together a pretty successful franchise over the last couple of decades.
I’d been to the Astrodome, but not to the new ballpark, so I figured I’d hop in my A4 and make the four-hour trip to see the Los Angeles Dodgers take on the Astros in a getaway-day, 1:05 PM matchup on July 3. I couldn’t find anyone to go with me (the only reason Texans ever go to a baseball game is because the Cowboys or Texans aren’t in town, anyway), so I figured I’d go by myself.
After dodging Texas state troopers for three and a half hours, I arrived at Minute Maid Park (Formerly known as Enron Field. We all know what happened there. After Enron, it’s like they decided to go with the least offensive name possible. I guess “Webkins Park” was taken, so they settled on Minute Maid.).
The exterior of Minute Maid Park is brick, accented with green steel. If you go to Minute Maid, get used to green steel. There’s a lot of it. And it’s not that pleasing hunter green either, it’s more like the color of something that might come out of Linda Blair’s mouth. In fact, the interior, framed by lots of green steel, takes on a kind of Linda Blair Green tint no matter where you look.
The retractable roof was mercifully closed on this 100-degree Houston day, and the temperature inside was perfect. Ducts and vents were evenly dispersed throughout the
stands, allowing every patron to feel the freon love. The concourse featured classy displays of notable past Astros like Nolan Ryan, Glenn Davis, Jeff Bagwell, and The Cheater…er, I mean Mike Scott. The scoreboard was adorned with the retired numbers of former Astro greats – all nine of them. That’s right, the Astros have retired NINE uniform numbers, including Jackie Robinson’s, since their inception in 1962. The
Mets, who came into existence that same year, have retired a grand total of four, including Robinson’s. And of those four, the only Mets PLAYER to have his number retired is Tom Seaver. The Mets have won two World Series. The Astros have won a grand total of NONE. There’s something wrong here.
If the Mets have retired to few (Gary Carter and Mike Piazza should be up there on the outfield wall, maybe Darryl and Keith, too), the Astros have retired too many. Nolan Ryan, Jeff Bagwell, Jimmy Wynn, Don Wilson, and Jim Umbricht (the latter two due to their untimely deaths) are no brainers. Jose Cruz is borderline. He was a popular Astro, but he only hit 165 career home runs to the tune of a .284 lifetime batting average. But Larry Dierker? He had one 20-win season in 1969, and finished with a mere 139 career wins. And Mike Scott had five good years with Houston – thanks to the fact he learned how to put the same three scratch marks on every ball he threw and somehow managed to get away with it.
But, anyway, back to the ballpark. It’s clean, comfortable, has great sight lines, and great food (lots of Texas BBQ!). The closed roof does kind of give it an airplane-hanger feel, but it is quite necessary. My only complaint were the lines to get into the men’s rooms. I mean, you expect that sort of thing with the ladies, but I’ve never seen lines quite so long at any other men’s facility in any other ballpark.
The field is natural grass and well-maintained despite the thinning grass around the warning track. The replica steam engine above the left field wall actually does run, and moves back
and forth after an Astros home run. And, of course, Minute Maid Park features the two most thoughtless and dangerous “features” in any of the new generation of ballparks.
Tal’s Hill. Someone decided it would be a good idea to move the center field fence back to 436 feet and have a grassy hill abruptly climb from the warning track to the middle of the wall. Then, they decided to put the flagpole smack dab in the middle of the hill – IN PLAY. This way, if the center fielder doesn’t snap his Achilles tendons climing the hill, he’ll smack his head on the flagpole. Of course, this did lead to a
spectacular catch by Carlos Beltran last year. I just think it’s an unnecessary and dangerous gimmick.
The visitor’s bullpen. The bullpen is located in left-center field, between Tal’s Hill and the Crawford Boxes (which, incidently, offer a unique view of the field). The visitor’s bullpen causes two problems. First, it is bordered with a chainlink fence. Chainlink fences are made from interwoven metal which can tear up an outfielder while he makes a crashing catch against the fence. Second, a ball is deemed to be a home run if it hits the wall above a
yellow line painted above the visitor’s bullpen. This causes lots of confusion, and leads to missed home run calls.
The game was nothing to write home about. The Dodgers beat the Astros 5-2. Chad Billingsley was outstanding for LA, and Brandon Backe continued to frustrate Astros fans, striking out eight over seven innings, but surrendering long home runs to Andre Ethier and James Loney.
R.A. Dickey may very well be the single worst pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball. And he shut out the Mets.
Felix Hernandez never had an at bat in the major leagues before. And he hit a grand slam off of a 94 mph fastball out of the strike zone (with his eyes closed – check the video).
Johan Santana has a 2.04 ERA in his last four starts. And he’s 0 and 4.
Only the Mets.
They are now 3-4 under Jerry Manuel. Guess it wasn’t the manager after all, huh? Clearly, their chance to win it all was in 2006. It’s time to cut the dead weight (Delgado, Castillo, etc.) and rebuild around Reyes and Wright.
The rest of us get to live with the embarassment of being Mets fans. But we’re used to that, aren’t we?
The Mets are fighting momentum. It’s a big, fast, heavy train loaded full of irrelevance was headed right for them. They held it off last night, after that train ran over Billy Wagner, but Carlos Beltran responded by driving a game-winning, two-run homer with enough force to slow the train down.
Today, the train plowed into Wagner again, but the Mets simply couldn’t stop it anymore. Now, they are officially unwilling passengers on the Train of Irrelevance, on their way to a meaningless purgatory of a season.
Chances of slowing this train down and jumping off are getting slimmer by the moment. Judging by this series with the Diamondbacks, the Mets are in for a long ride.
Remember 2006? Way back when, when Billy Wagner, Carlos Delgado, and Paul Lo Duca joined an already strong lineup headed by Jose Reyes, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran? Remember the walk-off wins, grand slams, and automatic bullpen? Remember the
champagne, Lo Duca hosing off the fans, and Gary Cohen saying, “After running roughshod over the National League, the Mets are NL East Champions,” as Cliff Floyd ran the final out in from lef field? Remember the reunion of the 1986 Mets, and how that ceremony at Shea seemed like the passing of the torch to the new can’t-miss champions from Queens? I do. And I miss those days.
It seems like so long ago. Maybe because since then, the Mets were upset in the 2006 NLCS, have blown a seven-game lead with seventeen to go in 2007, endured the sudden, Titanic-like decline of Delgado, and are now struggling to tread water at the .500 mark like many other National League teams with half the Mets’ payroll.
In 2006, they would have never lost two straight one-run games to the Padres while scoring a grand total of two runs. They would have never let their momentum run out against a last-place team. And they would have never been 5.5 games behind the Phillies in early June.
The time to blame Willie Randolph has passed – he can’t do anything more for a team that is aging, injured, and inconsistent. The scary chill running up your spine is the nagging notion that this team is simply past its prime, and can’t win with its current roster.
Reyes and Wright are hitting, Beltran is streakier than a window cleaned with motor oil, but will probably get on a tear before all is said and done, but the supporting cast is clearly subpar.
The Mets don’t need an overhaul, just a tune up. But it just doesn’t seem that one new part here or there will get this jalopy firing on all cylinders again. That means there is plenty of hope for 2010. That also means there is little hope for 2009.
Ohm. Ohm – say it with me – Ohm. Ohm.
The Mets had a rough week. They lost three of four to the Washington Nationals. Their closer called out their position players. Mr. Met suffered a concussion. Well, OK, I don’t know about that last one, but when you have a head like that, any injury is a big injury.
But, this Saturday and Sunday, they swept the New York Yankees – THE NEW YORK YANKEES – in the Bronx in a rain-shortened two-game series.
Johan Santana pitched 7 – 2/3 solid innings to pick up his fifth win of the season on Saturday. And Billy Wagner came up with a huge four-out save to slam the door. And a note to the poorly educated caller who called WFAN after the game on Saturday – Johan has pitched a “decent” game as a Met. In fact all of his games have been “decent.” No, he hasn’t been the “ace” every single night, but he has given them innings, strikeouts, and a chance to win every night. Who can possibly question the impact Santana has had on this team?
Meanwhile, Oliver Perez turned in his best game of the season on Sunday, mixing his fastball and slider with masterful precision. Why he was taken out with two outs and none on in the eighth is beyond this blogger. But that’s Willie for you. And why wasn’t Willie thrown out instead of Jerry Manuel following the worst call of 2008 – no home run on Carlos Delgado’s blast off the foul pole in left? Willie was clearly jawing at Bob Davidson, Bob Davidson cleary told Willie to shut up. Woudn’t that get you fired up? Instead, it was Manuel who lost it, barking lots of well-earned colorful adjectives at Davidson, resulting in his ejection.
And what was with Jon Miller saying the ball was foul, when it was clearly fair? Miller tends to take the opposite position of his color man, Joe Morgan, whether he is right or not. Fortunately, as the game went on, Miller saw the error of his ways. Let’s see, black paint missing on the foul pole, black paint on the ball? Two plus two equals what, Jon?
In any event, the 2008 Mets looked like the 2006 Mets this weekend, pounding the Yankees in a convincing series sweep. This is the kind of series that should propel the Mets forward into the next month and the rest of the season.
The Mets have picked up in 2008 exactly where they left off in 2007.
- Jose Reyes isn’t hitting
- El Duque, Pedro Martinez, Duaner Sanchez, and Moises Alou are hurt, and nowhere near coming back
- The bullpen can’t get anyone out
- Luis Castillo is looking like he is on the decline, and his knees are bugging him again (Gee, it would have been nice to have Ruben Gotay around right about now, huh?)
- Oliver Perez is still flaky – he hasn’t allowed a run in two starts, but at the end of his last start today, he was barely even throwing the ball in the general direction of home plate
- Despite his great Spring, John Maine now looks more like Burt Young than Cy Young
- Their opposition is making big plays in the field, and coming up with clutch hits. The Mets aren’t
- Willie Randolph is actually getting WORSE at handling the bullpen. Why did he double-switch in Jorge Sosa today just to take him out the very next inning? You double switch in a pitcher when you want to get multiple innings out of him. Willie’s been in the National League long enough. He should know how to handle pitchers by now.
It’s early, but there is no reason to think the Mets haven’t gotten over their 2007 collapse. Maybe it wasn’t a collapse, maybe it was just the Mets playing as well as they can. Maybe they’re just not that good.
Johan Santana must be feeling very lonely right now.