If Only It Were The Playoffs Already...

To add to the excitement of an otherwise clearly concluded outcome, that of the Mets on the precipice of winning the NL East and a nearly-clinched playoff berth, it was imperative, as noted in yesterday's column, to enjoy this game as though it were the playoffs.

That it, the Mets having split the first two games of the series and now with El Duque facing Greg Maddux in an experience-studded pitching duel.

Maddux has pitched in 31 post season games in his career, starting 29 of them. El Duque has pitched 19 times in the post season, 14 of those as a starter. Maddux, 3.22 post season ERA, El Duque 2.55. Maddux with a career postseason record of 11-14 and El Duque with a 9-3 mark.

It would be a postseason matchup, with the series lead on the line, worthy of what has been to date, a remarkable season for the Mets.

El Duque, after wriggling out of a spasm of lead-off double trouble, goes on to retire the next 15 battters he faced through five innings.

Shawn Green saves El Duque's skin early on.

Maddux surrendered Carlos Delgado's 37th homer of the year to give the Mets a lean 1-0 lead going into the 6th.

One of the luxuries of having El Duque as your third starter in the post season is that he is capable of figuring out whatever problems he is having on the mound on his own. The 6th tested that theory with runners on 2nd and 3rd and only one out. Kenny Lofton singled home a run, his 11th career hit off El Duque, followed shortly thereafter by JD Drew's RBI single to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. Importantly though, El Duque was able to close out the inning without further damage.

And if you've been watching the Mets all season you know that they quite often answer a run spurt by the opponent with a run spurt of their own and with the top of the order coming to the plate in the bottom of the 6th, the time was ripe.

Whereas El Duque was able to wriggle free of trouble, minimising damage to escape the 6th Maddux was not as capable or perhaps as lucky. He didn't last the inning. In fact, Valentin's one out double was going to see Maddux's resolve melt shortly thereafter, intentionally walking Carlos Beltran to face Carlos Delgado who was 4 for 23 against him lifetime.

But Maddux didn't get to face Delgado. Instead lefty Tim Hamulack was waived in to face lefty Delgado. Hamulack, you'll no doubt recall, was sent by the Mets with Seo for Duaner Sanchez and Steve Schmoll.

Delgado responded with a blast that landed two steps from the wall to advance both runners and bring in more senseless numbers by seeing Grady Little bring in righty Brett Tomko to face David Wright, who was 0 for 7 against Tomko in his life.

And I'm thinking to myself Tomko has a 4.56 ERA regardless of how lucky he's been in the past and after all, how long is a hitter like Wright going to go hitless against a mutt pitcher like Tomko?

Not long as it turns out - Wright singles home two runs and the Mets pull back out in front, 3-2.

Game decided by the 6th inning, you'd think.

The Dodgers might not even make the playoffs. I know they're trendy at the moment but this isn't a dangerous team, not as they've played to date against the Mets. It's a plucky team but even if they make the playoffs they won't go far. The biggest worry for the Mets in the National League playoffs will be if the Phillies sneak in as the wild card and we have to pitch around MVP Ryan Howard all series.

And indeed, with El Duque having pitched 7 strong innings, with Aaron Heilman the subtly annointed set-up man since Duaner's late night cab disaster, pitching an easy 8th and Billy Wagner making his 63rd appearance, the game was, for all intents and purposes, over by the end of the 6th. Quite tidy. Wagner, as he is paid to do, getting the save after Grady Little was outsmarted by himself yet again with a strike em out throw em out double play to end the game.

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