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Free At Last?
by Derek Smart
It may not be for longer than a night, but how lovely was it to see The Prisoner finally given a chance to start against a right-hander? And how much lovelier to see him respond with a homer and two RBI on the night, while managing to not make a fool of himself with the glove? Of course, it helps when not a single ball gets out to your field all game, but I'll ignore that detail for now and revel in the fact that my favorite jailbird did little to jeopardize his shot at a job. Word is, he'll be given the chance to win it, so here's hoping he can get it done, because alternative options are as plentiful as ivy leaves in January.
The happy turn in the continuing saga of Mr. Dubois wasn't the only event last night - the best one, of course, being the victory - so as is my way, here I come with a hail of bullets.
The Professor was up to his old tricks last night - or was he? I suppose it depends on your definition of the phrase. If it means that Maddux shut down the opponents offense en route to a shutout victory, then by gum, the shoe fits, as the Mets could manage only three each of hits and walks during Mad Dog's 6.2 innings of work.
However, if your idea of "old tricks" deals more with method than results, then we saw an entirely different version of Maddux on the bump last night. Normally a groundball machine who, while getting his share of strikeouts, rarely registers whiffs that match or even approach his innings pitched, yesterday's game saw our boy Greg get half of his outs via the K, and half of his non-K outs via fly balls.
In fact, until much later in the game, he was getting a lot of his pitches up in the zone, which is generally a cause for concern - in recent years, those pitches tend to get deposited in bleacher seats more often than not - but there was great movement on all of his stuff last night, so even when he didn't get the ball in the spot he might have liked, the pitch was still good enough to fool the hitter, and in the end, that'll do every time.
I know he's the greatest hitter at the position for all time, but seeing Mike Piazza trying to throw out Neifi! as he stole second made me extra happy that we have the new and improved Michael Barrett behind the dish.
Piazza's now thrown out only 4 of 30 would-be base stealers, and Neifi!'s swipe was a good example of why: he got a good but not great jump, doesn't run very fast in the first place, and Piazza made what looked like the strongest, most accurate throw he could - but Neifi! still made it with ease. It's something the Mets simply have to live with when Piazza dons the mask, because as we saw, even when everything goes right, there's a decent chance it's all wasted effort anyway.
Truth be told, he's not having a good season, particularly if there's to be any traction for the notion of him as a leadoff man, but that doesn't take away the fun of seeing Corey Patterson get his jacks. The problem is, despite the minor change to his swing, he's essentially the same player he was last year, minus some walks - like he could afford to let those slip.
The homers themselves - solo shots - also brought into stark relief one of the main issues with batting him at the top in the first place: if his main strength at this point is his power, why hit him in the spot where he'll see the fewest men on base? The hope, of course, is that by hitting there he'll learn better discipline and grow into the role, but the medicine's not taking, and I'm not sure it ever will.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching Corey play, but his lack of any sort of cohesive approach at the dish is a major source of frustration. There were moments last year where he seemed to be getting it, but I have yet to witness any such thing this season. I hope we get to see some lasting improvement soon, because this offense needs Corey to get it figured out.
I just might have to rescind my declaration of the Jeromageddon. True, Burnitz isn't getting on base at the rate I'd ideally like to see, but his .295/.331/.541 line is certainly above what I expected, and perhaps more importantly to Cubs fans, he's actually outplaying the guy he replaced.
We'll see if there's a ballgame today, as the skies look to be dark for the day's duration. However, on a quick side note, if you're in the Chicago area and aren't afeared of the town's other team, come on out to The Cell next Wednesday and hang out with some Toastmasters and other Toaster readers! Scott Long from The Juice is organizing the outing, and he'll be there along with Will and me to hang out, talk some ball, and watch a game. Check here for details, and hope to see you there!