For Mets, the Perfect Villain
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
There could be no better team cast as the villain in the Mets’ season than the Los Angeles Dodgers. Historical precedent, from their theft of Brooklyn’s birthright to the nauseating sanctimoniousness of the Lasorda/Hershisher axis that brought down the 1988 Mets, works against them. So does their thoroughly dislikable 2006 roster. From second baseman Jeff Kent (the biggest Texas redneck ever to hail from Berkeley) to shortstop Rafael Furcal (twice convicted of drunk driving), the Dodgers’ roster is in no small part comprised of miscreants, derelicts, and plain goons. The Mets fan can feel secure in jeering this collection of scofflaws.
A real Frankenstein’s monster of a team, the Dodgers are comprised of expensive dimmed stars like Greg Maddux, J.D. Drew, and Nomar Garciaparra, and no-names like Andre Ethier and Hong-Chi Kuo, a rookie last seen in Shea Stadium throwing six scoreless innings against the Mets. The manager is Grady Little, the notorious bonehead best known for being the one person in America who didn’t realize Pedro Martinez was cooked in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. Disreputable, mercenary, and somewhat phony, the Dodgers lack everything that makes the Mets what they are — competent leadership, unquestioned professionalism, and a cohesive identity. They’re also excellent bets to end the Mets’ dream season. In my estimation they enter the series as favorites.
This has less to do with the Dodgers than with the Mets, and with circumstances.
Among those circumstances I do not count the loss of Martinez to a laundry list of injuries. The Mets won 95 games this year, and in only two of the season’s six months did they have their ace at anything like his usual effectiveness.The very thing that allowed them to do so well without him, though, is the thing that might prove their undoing over the next week: The Mets are built around depth.
This isn’t to say that the Mets lack frontline talent — obviously no team with Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, David Wright, and Billy Wagner wants for star power. Still, this is a team that started the season with huge question marks at second base and right field, in the rotation, and in the bullpen. What separated them from the competition was that every hole was filled well or adequately. Endy Chavez, Jose Valentin, Guillermo Mota, and like players came through every time, preventing the Mets from ever squandering at-bats or innings on substandard talent.
That plays well during the course of a season, but in a short series the most important elements for a club are dependable starters, a solid defense, and a reliable bullpen. The Mets have a great defense and a great bullpen, but they certainly don’t have the dependable starters, and their greatest strength, the heart of their order, is particularly vulnerable right now. Beltran is playing hurt, and Delgado and Wright are cold. Past that, their real collective strength is power; between playing these games in Shea and Dodger Stadium (neither a homer friendly park) and the fact that preventing home runs is a key strength of the Dodgers’ starters, the Mets are going to be at a disadvantage.
All this said, the Mets have the guns to win. Even if we assume that cold weather, sinkers, and big yards will degrade their power attack, the Mets have onbase skills and are hell on the basepaths, something they’ll be able to take extra advantage of with rookie catcher Russell Martin starting for the Dodgers. They also have a good enough defense that the Dodgers’ main offensive strength — contact and line-drive hitting — should be somewhat nullified, especially since the Mets’ starters pitch to contact.
For the Mets to win they’ll have to get on the bases and be aggressive once they get there. On defense, they need to catch the ball behind the starters so the relievers can start coming in after five or six innings.
This is hardly an impossible task, and further, the Dodgers’ staff is not comprised of men 10 feet tall. Maddux, brilliant as he’s been since arriving in L.A., is still an elderly man who can’t break 85 with the wind at his back.And no matter how many shutout innings Kuo pitched against the Mets a month ago, he is still a rookie with less than 60 innings logged in the major leagues.The Mets certainly have it in them to bash these Dodgers into submission and make my doomsaying look foolish.
All around, though, this series looks like it might tilt towards the hated Dodgers. The Mets’ best players are banged up and cold, they’re weaker in the rotation than they’d like, and they may find that their best friend, the 3-run home run, isn’t going to play. Whether they can overcome it all, we’ll see, but don’t be surprised if the Dodgers break New York’s heart. Again.