24.6.05

Roberto, Roberto, My Hero Roberto! Mets Take Series, 4-3

The stage was all set for a Met Meltdown.



Having led the entire game, the 7th inning was proving more than formidable for the Mets. Kaz Ishii had withered after 6 2/3 innings of decent pitching, two outs more than his usual effort and after Todd Pratt had belted one to make it 4-2, with Rollins on first and Jason Michaels coming to the plate, Manager Willie knew the Invinshible Ishii was hanging by a thread.

So in came Heath Bell who immediately conspired with Mike Piazza to allow Rollins to steal second and then gave up a run-scoring single to Michaels to make it 4-3.

Out came Bell and in came Royce Ring to face Bobby Abreu. After a long at-bat, Abreu walked to put the winning run on first base so out came Ring and in came Roberto Hernandez with the game riding on his shoulders.

Only the night before the bullpen was the scourge of the Mets, costing them a possible victory and tonight, after smooth sailing for almost seven innings, here we were again, out of paradise and into the boiling cauldron of Phillie trouble.

Roberto Hernandez was facing Met Killah Pat Burrell and the tension in the air was tangible. Yes, Burrell is 0 for 7 with four strikeouts against Hernandez but either you are on a roll or you are rolling off and if this was ever the perfect opportunity for surprising disappointment, it was also the perfect opportunity for bullpen redemption after the failure of Bell and Royce.

According to the game plan for the last several weeks, this was the perfect opportunity for another disappointing finish, watching a victory slink off into a loss, watching a possible series victory against a division rival morph into yet another series lost, a stumble further still into the darkness of the NL East cellar. But Roberto Hernandez was having none of it.

"I just went after him like I've always done," said Hernandez, who was let go by the Phillies after last season and has become the Mets' primary setup man with a 2.03 earned run average. "I'm the kind of pitcher who is going to attack. But by no means was it easy today."

And attack he did, striking out Burrell looking and although it won't be recorded as such in history, saved the game and the series for the Mets going into this weekend's frothing Subway Series at Yankee Stadium.

*****

We could gush over Ishii's admirable performance, especially after deriding him so loudly and trotting out Heilman as our man of the hour in his place but let's face it, one game does not a season make and let's not forget that this was only Ishii's second win of the season and even with three runs allowed, his ERA still hovers in the 5.25 area. He was no Japanese Sandy Koufax out there. He got the job done, as well as you can expect from a fifth starter and it was a nice change of pace. Saved his starter's role for another week, presumably. But if he falls off the wagon again and offers up another hideous performance his next time out, this will all be forgotten and Heilman will be waiting in the wings.

*****

Even with Mike Piazza behind the plate, the Mets stole more bases than they allowed last night thanks to Jose Reyes, who had three all by himself.

Because of his hitting history in Philly and because Mike Cameron still isn't up to speed, Manager Willie let Reyes back into the leadoff spot and Reyes responded with three hits and three stolen bases, enough to give the Yankees something to think about.

This was the snapshot of the Reyes we need batting leadoff if we are to become formidable in the NL East. I was daydreaming about the 1999 version of Roger Cedeno last night after Reyes' third stolen base, remembering what it was like to see him hitting .313 for the season with 66 stolen bases and a fat .396 on-base-average. I was dreaming about how intimidating the Mets order would become if Reyes were to suddenly blossom this season like that hitting leadoff.

Of course at this point, we should all be thankfully that Reyes hasn't torn a hammy or suffered from an ingrown toe nail to knock him out of the order all together - let's not forget, this is his first full season, his first healthy season and although there is promise, there is a spirited up-and-down quality to his youth which makes it difficult for him to put together the string of games he needs to fully begin to terrorise pitchers and catchers and begin altering the face of games.

*****

So, the Mets head to Yankee Stadium with their heads held higher than they might otherwise have held them had Hernandez not held their lead. They took their first series in almost three weeks after losses to the Astros, the Angels, the A's and the Mariners. They remain firmly planted seven games from the lead in last place but after a dreadful trip out West, the Mets now face another crucial stretch in their schedule up to the All Star break.

After leaving the Bronx, they will host the Phillies and then the Marlins before hitting the road again for a crucial series in Washington DC and followed by a trip to Pittsburgh who are precisely the sort of team to kick the chair out from underneath the Mets heading into the break.

*****

I won't go into deep analysis of the Subway Series. Pedro faces Mike Mussina in the Opener and that says it all right there - Pedro's return to Yankee Stadium to face a Moose looking for his 4th consecutive victory.

Saturday's game is not so exciting so hopefully that wasn't the game you got tickets for. Tom Glavine, whom we might consider trading depending on how the rest of this first half of the season plays out, will face someone called Sean Henn, LHP (0-2, 10.29) -- if you remember how the Mets performed against the wretched staffs of the A's and the Mariners you will know this is nothing to laugh about, the sort of nowhere pitcher who shines brilliantly and inexplicably against the Mets.

And finally on Sunday, Kris Benson will take on Randy Johnson to close out the series.

Archie Bunker's Army predicts the Mets will sneak two of three from the Yankees and begin to build some momentum back. Wishful thinking or the workings of a visionary? Haha. Tune in later this weekend for the answer for the result of

Willie's Return To The Bronx

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