Posted Thursday, July 26, 2007
FLUSHING, N.Y. -- The Pirates mixed in one longball with several dozen cheap hits and used the Mets’ hangover against them to avoid being swept at Shea.
The Mets — or shall we say Jose Reyes — jumped out to another first-inning lead to begin the game 1-0. Reyes led off with a single, stole second, advanced to third on a groundout, and scored on a shallow fly ball. Anyone who doesn’t believe that “speed kills” hasn’t watched Jose.
Oliver Perez was nasty — for five innings. Through those first five he was nearly untouchable, striking out eight, with great command of his fastball and a downright filthy slider. Think he was amped?
With the dominating stuff Ollie had, there was only one way the Pirates were going to score against him: with a lot of luck and mistakes by the Mets. In the sixth inning, they got both. First, eighth-place hitter Nate McClouth got sawed off and bounced the ball just over the head of Ollie and it squeaked into the outfield for a cheap single. Then, with an 0-2 count, pitcher Paul Maholm drew back the bunt and stuck it back out butcher-boy style and dribbled the ball over a drawn-in David Wright for an infield single. With men on first and second, Cesar Izturis dropped a perfect bunt that was thrown away by Perez, scoring McClouth and putting runners on second and third. Ollie settled down to induce two consecutive popups, and seemed to be out of the inning when he went 2-2 to Xavier Nady. The next pitch was another nasty slider, but Nady blistered it off of Wright’s knee, and both runners scored (the play was scored a hit, but it was questionable). Perez went 2-2 to the next batter, Josh Phelps, but allowed a two-run homer into the bleachers. Ollie completely lost his focus and his fight after that blast, and walked Jose Castillo after going to a full count. Finally, Perez struck out Ronny Paulino to end the inning. By that time, the score was Pirates 5-1, and Perez had expended over 100 pitches.
The Mets started fighting back immediately in the bottom of the sixth, as Lastings Milledge went deep to make the score 5-2, but the Pirates scored three more in top of the seventh off relievers Scott Schoeneweis and Joe Smith.
Ruben Gotay drove in a run with a sac fly in the seventh, and Jose Reyes blasted a solo shot in the eighth, but it was too little, too late.
It’s really hard to say that Oliver Perez was entirely at fault in letting the game get away, though it may have looked that way. The key, I think, was Perez going to a 3-1 count to McClouth with the pitcher on deck. McClouth, as the 8th-place hitter, should never have seen three balls in his at-bat. But he fought to a full count, broke his bat, one thing led to another, and next thing you know the Pirates are winning. If Perez disposes of McClouth quickly, he very well might pitch into the eighth inning.
A similar snowball effect occurred in the seventh — bad luck, bad bounces, compounded by some poor pitches that followed. It’s too annoying to re-live the play by play.
Joe Smith’s velocity is down, and slider has lost some bite. It’s fairly clear that he’s fatigued, which is to be expected considering he’s never handled this kind of a workload before. It may be time to demote him to AAA, have him pitch just once or twice a week to continue building his endurance (for next year), and add another arm to the bullpen. Have Smith disappear for the month of August, get him some rest, and bring him back up just before rosters expand, so he can be a situational righty in the postseason.
Ruben Gotay looks more tense and aggressive, with less strike zone discipline, from the right side. He doesn’t seem as cognizant of strikes and balls, probably because he’s right-eye dominant. One wonders why switch-hitters who can be so Jekyll and Hyde don’t simply give up the weaker side of their ballgame, and concentrate on one.
The Mets host the Nationals for a three-game set beginning on Friday night at 7:10 PM. Jorge Sosa takes the mound against former Met Mike Bacsik.
Read more from Joe Janish at: www.metstoday.com