Thursday, May 12, 2005

Chicago Yo-Yo

So the wild swings and streaks of the Mets 2005 season continues. Lose 5 to start, win 6 after that. Lose 4 in a row, win 7 of 9 after that. And now, two straight losses to the Chicago Cubs...this one a 4-3 ten inning heartbreaker on a Derrek Lee home run off of reliever Heath Bell.

This was a wasted opportunity to capitalize on a surprisingly strong start by Victor Zambrano. Zambrano had a hellish inning in the second (and not the first, if you can believe it), giving up three runs and comitting the cardinal sin of walking the pitcher (Mark Prior) which cam back to haunt him. But all you can ask of 5th starter Zambrano at this point is to keep the Mets in the game, which he did. Zambrano and Roberto Hernandez kept the Mets close until the ninth when the Cubs bullpen blew yet another save. Ryan Dempster, who had his issues against the Mets on Monday, walked Doug Mientkiewicz with one out, and gave up a single to David Wright which sent Mientkiewicz to third. After Victor Diaz struck out, pinch hitter Eric Valent singled home the tying run as Dempster put a pitch on a tee.

Heath Bell came into the game in the ninth after Mike DeJean and Dae Sung Koo struggled (they seem to be making a habit of that), and got Neifi Perez to ground into the 1-2-3 double play to end the threat. Bell then started the 10th and challenged the best hitter in the league with fastball after fastball after fastball. On the 11th pitch however, Derrek Lee finally got a hold of one after fouling pitch after pitch back. Lee hit one into a stiff wind and barely got it in the left field basket to give the Cubs the series win.

It is tough to blame anyone today, especially after the way Bell saved the Mets bacon in the ninth and fell victim to a heck of a hitter in the 10th, but this was a wasted opportunity to take advantage of a struggling team, and to win a game with your shakiest pitcher starting. And now comes a huge test...sixteen games starting with a nine game homestand against the Cardinals (the N.L. Champs), the Reds (who are swooning but swept the Mets to open the season), and the Yankees (the Yankees), then on the road for the Braves (who are in first place and who consistently kick the Mets' tail), and the Marlins (Willis, Beckett, and Burnett. Oh Joy.)

The Prophecy: To me, the magic number is nine. The Mets have to take 5 out of 9 on the homestand, and 4 out of 7 on the road against the division leaders. Going into this homestand with their second loss in a row leaves them vulnerable to another losing streak against the Cardinals. Martinez winning Saturday's game would take the pressure off the Mets for the rest of the homestand. Winning two of three from the Cards would be a huge step forward for the Mets confidence. This stretch is a chance for these new Mets to prove they have arrived as a contender, and to prove they can beat the Braves (for once). Nine out of 16 (just over .500) is a good step forward.

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