Sandy Alderson, you’ve been the best thing to happen to the Mets’ front office since Frank Cashen. I truly believe that, have from the start. Like you, Cashen came to the Mets with a proven track record of success. Like Cashen, you came to the Mets in the darkest of days when money was tight and ownership was , for a variety of reasons, nothing but a headache. Like Cashen, you brought instant credibility to a franchise desperately in need of it and like Cashen you provided a sense that at long last a steady savvy hand was on the tiller. And like Cashen, you’ve made your share of mistakes.
Don’t misunderstand. Your laudable choices far outweigh your poor ones. You were absolutely right not to move heaven and Earth to re-sign Jose Reyes. If Zack Wheeler turns out to be half as good as he appears to be, getting him in exchange for two months of Carlos Beltran may go down in history as your version of Lee Mazzilli for Walt Terrell and Ron Darling. While the revisionists want to give the credit for the likes of Ruben Tejada, Jon Niese, Lucas Duda, et. al. to Omar Minaya entirely, it ‘s still you who decides right now, this year, who is on this roster and who is not, so the credit for the contributions of the youth movement currently powering this team must at least be shared. At the very least, you deserve kudos for judging their character accurately because this group plays hard every single day and has a spine made of cast iron. In this way, they take after their manager Terry Collins, whose hiring may have been the best decision of them all.
What a shame that all the fight and heart you see up and down this squad you assembled so routinely wasted because of the errors you made in constructing the bullpen.
Again, don’t get me wrong: the refurbishment job you did made sense to me at the time. Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, and Ramon Ramirez all brought good lives arms to this team along with track records of at least partial success. Tim Byrdak certainly warranted sticking around in 2012 after 2011 season. Pedro Beato seemed an intriguing talent. Miguel Batista looked like he had something left in the tank. And Bobby Parnell’s ability just captured the imagination. Relievers are so often a crap shoot. You simply never know if success from a year ago will mean success this year. Assessing who can help your bullpen can be a very tough call.
It certainly was here. It was so tough a call, even you, the great Sandy Alderson, got it wrong. Really wrong. The Mets’ relief corps has become the baseball equivalent of the Maginot Line. A last line of defense that appeared rock-solid until the actual shooting started. Once it did, it quickly became apparent that what was thought to be a powerful fortress against the enemy could be easily and demoralizingly thwarted.
That’s the key idea here, demoralizing. The Mets of 2012 have lacked for their shares of what makes a winner, but guts is not the among those missing items. They grind out at-bats. Just when you think you’re home free because you’ve recorded that (as Howie Rose would say) king-sized second out, they strafe you with clutch hits. From Heath Bell to Jonathan Papelbon, closers the league over can tell you about the Mets’ grit, the Mets’ heart. The Mets’ grit and the Mets’ heart is precisely what we should have spent the last 72 hours talking about.
Instead we’re talking about a bullpen that just doesn’t work.
Tuesday night, down 2-0 to the Nationals in a game they absolutely had to have to gain a game on the division leaders, shake off a sluggish start to the second half, and end a losing streak, the Mets entered the 9th inning against one of the best in the business, Tyler Clippard, and promptly greeted him with back-to-back singles. One out later, Jordanny Valdespin, as clutch as any man on a very clutch team, a player crying out to gain legend status somewhere between Jeremy Lin and Victor Cruz, crushed a three-run homer that had to have been the biggest hit of the year. The bench erupts, the only noise to be heard in the stands are from Mets’ fans so hysterical they’ve forgotten all about how crappy the Amtrak train that took them to DC was, the bleeding is stopped, and a team that has captured the hearts of its downtrodden fans all year with its stubborn courage in the face of basement-level expectations, has rekindled its flickering fire. The season is back on. The battle is rejoined.
That’s what we should be taking about. Instead we’re talking about another Bobby Parnell failure in a huge spot.
But hey, don’t throw out that original script, the one that called for the happy ending. The 2012 Mets are not so easily turned aside, do not have spirits that falter so readily as all that. Daniel Murphy and Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Josh Thole show what this group is made of with a pure-hustle infield hit, a perfect bunt, and an RBI double. These boys will not yield. They will not end any game early. If they have to endure the occasional bullpen implosion and mount multiple comebacks, so be it. The hearts of the 2012 Mets beat true.
That’s what we should be talking about. Instead we’re talking about a bullpen that simply cannot do its job, that seems to have no resolve while its teammates seem never to run out of it.
These Mets you’ve put together fight Sandy. Fight hard. In a way that makes us Mets’ fans proud to call them our own. Every game. Every inning. Every pitch. But even toughness such as theirs has its limits. I wouldn’t have thought I would say that about this team, but when that toughness is tested so often and so brutally as it is tested by this team’s bullpen, you start to wonder:
How much more of this can they endure?
How many more times can a team that on the whole seems never to run out of courage make up for a relief corps that seems never to have any when it really needs it? Starting pitchers see fine efforts result in no-decisions. Clutch hitters watch helplessly as their finest hours become afterthoughts. The non-bullpen portion of this team would be well within their rights to feel betrayed by six to eight people who are rarely called upon to do more than record six outs and can’t seem to do it.
Tuesday night left me with as nasty a punched-in-the-gut feeling as I have ever had during the regular season. And I’m just a fan. How must the players feel?
Wednesday was no different. Chris Young did a fine job over the first six innings. The Mets were able to scratch just one run off of Nationals’ pitching, but still they found themselves in the middle of the 7th inning very much in it down 2-1. That’s when the bullpen took over. After Miguel Batista quickly recorded outs on the first two batters, he gave up three consecutive hits and in a twinkling it was 4-1 Nats at the end of 7. This after the Mets made it 2-1 Nats in the top of the 7th.
Awful. Painful. Demoralizing. In the bottom of the 9th, the Mets, as they so frequently do, made a spirited comeback. Solo home runs by David Wright and Jason Bay made it 4-3 Nats. The eventual final score. While I realize that a 2-1 game is played differently than 4-1 game and you can’t assume that the 8th and 9th inngins would have gone exactly as they had in reality, I can’t help but think about what the final score would’ve have been had those two runs in the 7th not been surrendered.
Yesterday, the bleeding was finally stopped thanks to a monster day at the plate by David Wright and 7 and one-third innings gritty innings by R.A. Dickey. Yet as soon as the Nationals put a couple of runners on in the 8th and Dickey left the game with a 9-2 lead, I still found myself thinking “gee, I hope 9-2 is enough.” That would normally be a crazy thing to think. It’s not with this group of relievers who by the way managed to give up 3 runs in 1 and two-thirds innings as the Mets won the tensest 9-5 game you will ever see.
Sandy, I shouldn’t have to be so pessimistic. None of us should. After a home run like Jordanny Valdespin’s last night, I shouldn’t think going into the 9th “it’s not enough. There’s no guarantee this bullpen will make a 3-2 lead and that amazing hit stand up. It could be 9-2 and I still wouldn’t feel safe. ” The hitters shouldn’t have to feel like they need to hand off at least a four-run lead to the bullpen in order for their efforts to have been meaningful. The starting pitchers shouldn’t have to feel like a complete game shutout is their only path to victory. As important as any of it, this team’s valiant character should not be wasted.
To be candid Sandy, the 2012 Mets have earned a better bullpen than the one you’ve provided them. They fight so hard and so well. That effort should be honored with relief pitching that can make sure that it means something. At least most of the time. At least half the time. At least once in a while. At least one whole hell of a lot more than this bunch has been able to do.
There is toughness, heart, and character all over this team. Except in the bullpen. That needs to change. As the GM, it’s on you Sandy Alderson to change it.
Do so then. Immediately.
At 47-45, with the number in the “Game Behind” column and the anguished losses mounting up, there is no time to lose. You can no longer be in a “wait-and-see” mode. You can’t watch the market form up any longer. This is as ineffective a bullpen as you will find anywhere not only in baseball today but in recent baseball history. It needs fixing and it needs fixing on an emergency basis.
Get Huston Street in here. Or Jonathan Broxton. Add Grant Balfour. While you’re at it, Brad Lidge isn’t doing anything right now– he can’t do any worse than what you’ve got now. Do whatever you have to do. Don’t crack the core or offer anyone named Harvey or Wheeler, but for the love of Mike, be aggressive. I know you like to be measured and careful. I know you don’t like act with desperation. The thing is, this team is in fact desperate.
I realize that back in spring training, the chances of this team even being in a pennant race in late July were rather low. I realize that if they even so much as finish above .500 it would rightly be considered a victory for the season as a whole. It’s something of a surprise that a conversation around augmenting this team for the stretch drive is even relevant. So maybe I’m being a bit greedy to have playoff ambitions.
I blame you Sandy. You consturcted a team and a manager that I fell in love with, that Mets’ fans everywhere fell in love with. They ignored all the dire predictions, all the nasty jokes about their ownership, their future, their allegedly low talent level, and crashed a party they hadn’t been invited to. They fight until the very last out, they pull for each other, and they make us as fans pull for them.
Serve them Sandy, as well they have served you, have served us. Get them a real bullpen. Back them up. The character of those last six to eight pitchers ought to be as admirable and reliable as the the character of the rest of the team.
They deserve that much.