Derrek Lee Wins Battle With Bell, Cubs in 10, 4-3

All anyone seemed to be able to talk about for the majority of the game was the bitter, somewhat unpredictable wind blowing in from left field and the blustery conditions. Granted, 14 mph gusting is no ideal condition for a baseball game but in the end, it was more the tremendous 11 pitch at-bat of Cub star Derrek Lee against Met reliever Heath Bell in the bottom of the 10th that proved the undoing of the Mets yesterday. His walk off homer gave the Cubs the victory and their first series victory since April 25-27. The Mets went home the losers for the third time in their last four games.

Bell should not be the scapegoat though as he did get the Mets out of a Mike DeJean and KooKooKaChoog-induced jam in the bottom of the 9th when he entered the game with the bases loaded and one out and after nearly hitting batter Neifi Perez to knock in the winning run, induced him into a short and sweet 1 to 2 to 3 double play that ended the inning. Perez was was booed by Cubs fans for not trying to get hit by the pitch to win the game which simultaneously demonstrated the mercilessness and genius of Wrigley Field fans.

And although not much more could be expected with the Mets sending Victor Zambrano out to pitch for them against Cub ace Mark Prior, with the aggressive Cubs being 2nd to last in the league in walks taken, Zambrano's characteristic wildness was an issue only briefly, a flash of incoherence and wildness in the second inning when all the damage was done.

Surreal Second

After a 19 pitch first inning, Prior came back out for the 2nd, blowing on his hands and obviously cold and unhappy. Cliff Floyd, who has cooled down to almost subzero, now 2 for his last 23 after last night's game, opened the inning with a walk after eight pitches driving Prior's pitch count to 27 after only the first four batters of the game. Mike Piazza, who does seem to be hitting the ball hard of late even if the results aren't usually successful, bounced one to second baseman Jerry Hairston for what should have been a double play but Hairston muffed it and suddenly the Mets had men on the corners with none out and Mientkiewicz coming to the plate. Mientkiewicz walked to load the bases with none out and we're all thinking by then, now's the time to bust open on Prior who will eventually find his groove and cuff us the rest of the game if he doesn't reach 100 pitches by the 3rd.

David Wright, who had been 0 for 8 and battling a bruised left foot, struck out looking bringing up hometown Victor Diaz who last season hit a late-inning homer to help knock the Cubs out of the playoffs that last time he was in a game that Prior started. Diaz smacked a shot off the right field fence that the wind kept from being a grandslam and with the slow footed Piazza and Mientkiewicz on the basepaths, only two managed to score to make it 2-0 Mets. After this theatre, Prior calmed down for good, striking out Zambrano and inducing Jose Reyes into an inning-ending grounder. The result was two runs on two walks an error and one hit, the only hit Prior would allow until Victor Diaz singled in the 7th inning.

So at the break, it's easy to imagine things are going well for us. Up 2-0 against Prior who has a heavy pitch count and Zambrano possibly able to coast against a Cub team that will swing at almost any crap he throws so long as it's "somewhere" near the plate.

When Jose Macias grounds out to short to start the inning the confidence grows but then, inexplicably, Zambrano begins to unravel as though his brain has been taken over by Cub-loving aliens and being subconsciously directed to lose complete control of himself and his pitches.

First he hits Jerry Hairston with a pitch. Then the weak-hitting Henry Blanco gets a wind-aided single that lands between Beltran and Matsui which Matsui should have been able to take himself were it not for the winds changing the pattern of the ball at every rotation. Suddenly there are men on first and second and the crowd can sense that Zambrano is in dire need of some electroshock therapy to bring him back to his senses.

He follows that up by balking to advance the baserunners in a move so blatant that all four umpires signal for it. Then he throws one in the dirt against Prior who should be an easy second out before throwing the next pitch wild past Piazza allowing Hairston to score from third. Suddenly it's 2-1 and Zambrano is performing the most exaspirating yet comical meltdown you can only witness in a Zambrano performance. He then WALKS Prior to put men on first and third with one out.

Somehow managing to get a grip, he induces Corey Patterson to hit a grounder to Mientkiewicz at first. Mientkiewicz steps on first for out number two and then throws home to try and nail the advancing yet sloth-footed Henry Blanco at the plate but the throw home is short hopped and defensively apoplectic Piazza who OF COURSE can't handle it because it isn't right there in his glove and the next thing you know, Blanco has scored and it's 2-2.

Neifi Perez comes up and smacks the first legitimate base hit of the inning to score Prior and suddenly it's 3-2 with the dreaded Derrek Lee coming to the plate. Perhaps wisely or perhaps just because he has no control, Zambrano walks Lee to put two men on for Jeremy Burnitz who does what we all in Mets Land remember him doing best: SWOOSH! He strikes out swinging! Way to go Jeremy!

So by the time the dust clears, Zambrano has managed to pinch out an abominable inning which included a hit batsman, a base hit, a balk, a wild pitch, a walk, another basehit and another walk. Stellar performance. Coming into the game Zambrano had allowed an almost unfathonable 67 baserunners in a mere 32 innings of work. That was through 21 walks, 41 hits and 5 hit batsmen.


In the end, everyone settled down thereafter and the game lulled us all into a false sense of boredom with WFAN announcers milking every opportunity they had to whinge about how cold and blustery and windy it was and how uncomfortable the players were and how bad the "elements" were, winding this around dull and lifeless chatter punctuated with the usual array of idiotic repartee that almost makes one wish one were deaf and merely reading the teletext AP pitch by pitch account instead.

It does afford me the opportunity however to hear my All-Time Favourite Baseball Phrase again when the WFAN duo start discussing Cub injuries and finally get around to Aramis Ramirez's CRANKY GROIN. Oh, how I love that phrase. It encompasses so much with so few words, everything from a groin pull to premature ejaculation.

It also reminds you that the Cubs are playing almost at half-mast with Garciaparra and Ramirez and Todd Walker out of the batting order.


Prior keeps rolling, retiring the next 13 straight Mets in order before Diaz's single off him in the 7th signals his fatigue. After seven innings, 110 pitches and about 8,000 references by WFAN broadcasters to him blowing on his hands and fingers to keep warm, Prior finally leaves the game allowing us the luxury of planning for the future with the de rigueur ineptitude of the Cub bullpen the only thing preventing us now from winning the ball game.

And sure enough, although we have to wait an inning, in the 9th, the Mets rise up against Cub closer Ryan Dempster in his first actual save attempt with or without the shaved head, of the season. Piazza narrowly misses a game-tying homer that goes foul before he strikes out. Then Mientkiewicz walks and is followed by a David Wright single, his only hit in his last 12 at-bats. This of course, brings hometown Victor Diaz to the plate who had the only two hits off Prior in the game. Inexplicably, he doesn't have the same luck off Dempster and strikes out giving the Mets two outs and two men on with....oh my, Eric Valent coming to the plate.

Valent, now the 5th outfielder on the squad and not even the main bat off the bench, 1 for 10 of late and ZERO runs batted in on the season, comes to the plate with no options other than Tom Glavine to pinch hit.

But Valent hits a single that scores Mientiewicz and causes even Dusty Baker to hang his head over another closer cockup before Jose Reyes kills another rally by popping up to end the inning. Nevertheless, the Mets tied the game and it was only then, when the real battle of creeping ineptitude bullpens got underway that the game once again became a rollercoaster ride of excitement.


It should be noted that Roberto Hernandez is excluded from the Blunder Brigade's crappy bullpen membership for the time being. He threw another two scoreless innnings of work last night, this time with three strikeouts to boot, and has not given up a run in his last 8 1/3 innings which encompassed his last seven outings, earning a save and a win in that time whilst lowering his ERA to 1.10.

DeJean allowed a bunt single and a walk on four straight pitches before David Wright's drop-attempt at a double play on a popped up bunt effort doesn't cut the mustard keeping two men on but getting only one out.

Koo was brought in to do one job, lefty-on-lefty and what does he do? Walks the lefty on four straight pitches to load the bases. Well done!

But it allows Heath Bell to come in, play hero for one inning and goat the next and that, as they say was that, done and dusted. Chalk another one up in the LOSING column for the Mets. Not as bad as expected, but could have been alot better with the Mets coming home for a 9 game homestand to face the Cardinals, the Reds and the Yankees.


Fortunately for the Mets, the Braves own crappy closer, Danny Kolb, blew another save and earned another loss last night, this time in Colorado, which caused the Braves to lose even their grip on first place. The Marlins won behind D-Train's 7th straight victory and the Phillies and Nats both lost.

What that means for the NL East standings is that the Braves are still up by a mere half game over the Marlins, the Nats three games back, the Mets three and a half back and the Phillies an almost-distant 6 and a half games back with a malingering 15-20 record.

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