Sunday, April 18, 2010

Why I Love Baseball: Exhibit B

I try to make it a point to watch as many Mets games as I can during the year, which most seasons is a disastrous mistake. The jury is still out on whether or not 2010 will be as painful as some of its predecessors, but it's already provided plenty of interesting moments, and in all likelihood, the most interesting so far was yesterday in St. Louis.

I have seen some crazy baseball games in my life. But I'm not sure I've seen anything as crazy, wild, or absurdly enjoyable as the Mets' 2-1 win over the Cardinals yesterday in a 20-inning epic. In fact, I'm fairly sure I haven't since it was the longest game the Mets have played in my lifetime. But what makes early season epics like this one so much fun is not the triumph of victory so much as the amusing peculiarities that come about in the course of exhausting your bench, your bullpen and, yes your starting rotation.

To wit: Jerry Manuel used four fifths of his starting rotation in this game -- and only two of them as pitchers. While Johan Santana started and tossed seven magnificent shutout innings and Mike Pelfrey came on in the 20th for his first Major League save, John Maine appeared as a pinch runner in extra frames, while Jon Niese was a pinch-hitter. The game was so wild and crazy that by the time it ended no one seemed to remember that St. Louis starter Jaime Garcia actually was pitching a no-hitter at one point, having taken it into the sixth before the Mets finally got a base knock.

And the oddities don't end there. Here's a strange list of the peculiarities produced by the most fun game of the season as per ESPN, and the Star Ledger.

-- This was the fourth 20-inning game in Mets history and the fourth in Cardinals history. The Mets had been 0-3. The Cardinals were 3-0.
-- The game was scoreless for its first 18 innings, the first time that had happened in a Major League game since the Dodgers and Expos pulled it off in 1989, going 21 innings without a run on Aug. 23, 1989, according to STATS LLC. The Dodgers won that one 1-0 on Rick Dempsey's leadoff homer in the 22nd.
-- Having warmed up every inning from the 8th to the 19th, Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez estimated that he had thrown 100 warm up pitches before finally taking the mound for his first save opportunity of the season.
-- Rodriguez blew the save.
-- Rodriguez was the pitcher of record however, and after the Mets won it in the 20th, he got the win.
-- A closer won the game (Rodriguez), a starting pitcher saved it (Pelfrey) and a position player lost it (Cardinals outfielder Joe Mather).
-- Two position players took the mound for the Cardinals (Mather and utility infielder Felipe Lopez). While Lopez was pitching, Cards pitcher Kyle Lohse played left field.
-- The Mets won despite allowing a run in the 19th, and despite producing a total of nine hits in 20 innings.
-- Jose Reyes finally pushed the winning run across, with a sacrifice fly off Mather in the 20th. Despite getting the game-winning RBI, Reyes finished 0 for 7 at the plate, calling it "the happiest 0 for 7 I've ever had in my life".
-- Jeff Francoeur plated the game's first run with a sacrifice fly in the 19th.
-- Mather had not pitched competitively since his sophomore year of high school.
-- Tony La Russa, a man who is generally considered one of the best managers in the game also has a tendency to overmanage, which he did yesterday. La Russa began shuffling his lineup early, and his biggest mistake may have come in the top of the 11th inning, when he double-switched cleanup hitter Matt Holliday out of the game because he had been ill. This left the pitcher to hit after Albert Pujols for the next nine innings.
-- In maybe the craziest inning, the Cards put men on second and third with no outs in the 14th. Mets reliever Hisanori Takahashi struck out Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick in succession, intentionally walked Pujols, then struck out pitcher Blake Hawksworth -- batting in Holliday's spot -- to end the threat.
-- The Cardinals also loaded the bases off Fernando Nieve with two outs in the 10th, but Alex Cora -- who entered the game having played four innings at first base in his 13-year career -- tumbled into the stands to make a highlight-reel grab of Holliday's foul pop to send it to the 11th.
-- The Cardinals left the bases loaded three times in extra innings, in the 10th, 12th and 14th, and couldn't score each time.
-- Angel Pagan, who scored the winning run on Reyes' sacrifice fly in the 20th inning, was 3 for 6; the rest of the Mets combined to go 6 for 55 (.109).
-- The teams combined to have 19 different men pitch.
-- The Cardinals were 1 for 18 with runners in scoring position, while the Mets were 0 for 7. The teams went 24-for-130 overall, and left a combined 35 men on base.
-- Of those 35, St. Louis stranded 22 runners, including 14 in extra innings.
-- David Wright and Jason Bay were a combined 1 for 13 with 7 K's.
-- St. Louis left the bases loaded in the 10th, 12th and 14th and stranded 22 runners, including 14 in extra innings.
-- Mets nemesis Yadier Molina, who forced a 20th inning by driving in Albert Pujols in the bottom of the 19th, caught the whole game and went 3 for 9.
-- Mather, who would wind up the losing pitcher of record, didn't even enter the game until he hit for Colby Rasmus in the 10th inning. He played center and third before taking the mound in the 19th for his first major league pitching appearance.
-- Mather became the first St. Louis position player to register a decision since Jose Oquendo got the loss in a 7-5 setback against Atlanta on May 14, 1988.
-- When Mather pitched it was readily apparent that he couldn't hit the strike zone to save his life, and the Mets, for some unknown reason, continued to swing the bat.
-- It was the Mets' longest game since they lost 4-3 to St. Louis in 25 innings on Sept. 11, 1974.
-- The game set five stadium records for the current Busch Stadium: most strikeouts by Cardinals pitchers (16), most strikeouts by opposing pitchers (19), most combined strikeouts (35), longest game by time (six hours, 53 minutes) and longest game by innings.
-- The last time two position players pitched in the same game in the Major Leagues was July 20, 1990, when Dave Martinez and Junior Noboa pitched for the Expos in a 12-6 loss in Houston.
-- When the Cardinals went 18 innings without scoring a run, it tied the longest scoreless streak by them in one game since the legendary Carl Hubbell pitched an 18-inning shutout for the Giants on July 2, 1933.
-- The last 20-inning game in the Major Leagues was two years ago to the day, April 17, 2008. Colorado beat San Diego in that game, 2-1, in 22 innings -- with current Cardinal Matt Holliday playing all 22 innings.
-- There were 652 pitches thrown. There were 159 plate appearances.
-- Pelfrey became the first full-time Mets starter to earn a save since Dwight Gooden did it on Sept. 19, 1989, against the Cubs.
-- Cardinals utility infielder Felipe Lopez may have been the most impressive performer on the day. The only hit he surrendered, bizarrely, came from Mets reliever Raul Valdes, who gave up a decisive grand slam to Lopez the night before and pitched to Lopez in the top of the inning. Valdes promptly was thrown out trying to reach second after the Cardinals' short stop overthrew first baseman Albert Pujols.
-- The game lasted six hours and 53 minutes, featured 46 players (including every Met except pitcher Oliver Perez), had 19 walks and 35 strikeouts.
-- The game had a grand total of three extra-base hits.
-- Supposedly, Jeff Francoeur was scheduled to pitch for New York in the 21st.
-- New York Times Sports Editor Tom Jolly reported leaving his home in the 10th to see a movie with his wife and returning in time to see the first runs scored.
-- Three NHL playoff games were played yesterday, with two of them going into overtime. The Mets-Cardinals game spanned all of them.

Make no mistake. This was a truly crazy and nutty game, with shades of the 2008 MLB All-Star Game that very nearly featured David Wright pitching and Scott Kazmir playing in the outfield.

And what might have been the absolute craziest, nuttiest, bizarre aspect of the afternoon? Two high school teams were scheduled to play on the field after the game. And they still did, as noted by Ledger writer Brian Costa, who reported that the game was 1-0 in the third inning before he left the stadium well after midnight. Cost did take a picture as evidence that the game was, in fact, being played.

The Mets and Cards are particularly lucky in that they won't be playing again until 8:05 tonight, having drawn the Sunday Night Baseball game on ESPN, so they may actually get to be well rested before first pitch. In the meantime, the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which have been phenomenal so far, particularly Washington's wild OT-winning rally over Montreal yesterday, are continuing this afternoon and I will be ready, wearing my brand new Zach Parise Christmas Tree jersey for the Devils pivotal Game 3 with Philadelphia.

Of course, if you're too tired from watching the Mets yesterday, well, I guess I couldn't blame you.

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