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On Steroids and Dookie

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Great job by the Mets tonight. Wait, not great, actually. What's the word I'm thinking of? It's *like* great, except that it means the complete opposite. Craptastic? That'll do. Ok, let me try this again.

Craptastic job by the Mets tonight. Yea, that's better.

Barry Zito came into the game with a 4.70 ERA, while the Mets came into the game with a penchant for bludgeoning left-handed pitching. While those two facts might seem to have swung the pendulum in the Mets' favor, apparently they just cancelled each other out. The result was the Mets scattering six hits over nine innings. The most amazing part of it all was Zito, who came into the game with a 1.07 strikeout-to-walk ratio, struck out seven batters and walked just one tonight. That's almost a sevenfold improvement over his previous mark. What made tonight's loss even more depressing was its juxtaposition with last night's twelve-inning drama-fest, likely the most exciting game the Mets have played in the first two months of the season.

To Zito's credit, he took full advantage of Bob Davidson's creative strike zone, alternating 65 mile-per-hour curveballs with 79 mile-per-hour heat to keep the Mets' hitters off balance all night long.

Really just a couple of bright spots for the Mets. First, the continued surge of Paul Lo Duca, hitting machine. Dookie picked up his 1,000th career hit tonight, collecting two of the Mets's six hits and improving his average to .327 and his on-base percentage to .380. He has basically zero extra-base ability at this point in his career. His double tonight was just his sixth of the year, and coupled with his two homeruns give him a less-than-stellar .399 slugging percentage. I'll gladly take a .780 OPS from the catcher position, especially one that is nabbing 42.3% of would-be base-stealers. Lo Duca has been pretty shabby in that department for five years running now, but prior to that he was actually a prolific gunman behind the dish, throwing out 39.2% of base-stealers in 2001 and 40.7% in 2003. Did he forget how to throw for a half-decade before suddenly remembering this season? Did someone notice a disparity in mechanics between early-days Lo Duca and the latter day version? Who knows. Maybe it's just a smallish sample size fluke and he'll soon return to his noodle-arm ways of recent memory.

The second item of encouragement from tonight's game was the return of Guillermo Mota, who famously served a fifty game suspension for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs following last season's playoffs. Mota was sharp in allowing just one hit over two innings, firing 17 of his 22 pitches for strikes and whiffing two batters in the process. His fastball was surprisingly lively, hovering consistently in the 94-95 range, and he used his mid-eighties changeup to good effect as well. I'm not as bothered by steroid (I'm using the word "steroid" to mean "performance enhancing drug") use as some people. I don't believe that it has ruined the game as some feel, and I don't feel the need to vilify those who have tested positive and certainly not those who have tested otherwise.

That said, there are a number of steroids which are now banned by baseball, and whose presence in a player's bodily fluids following a drug test are grounds for a 50 game suspension for first time offenders. These people are "cheaters", and pay their debt to baseball by serving said suspension (subsequent failed tests result in longer suspensions). Mota apologized for his actions, admitted that he made a mistake (was the mistake taking steroids, or being foolish enough to be caught doing so?), served his time and now he is back. Forgiveness is a virtue, and I don't think it unreasonable that Mota be given a chance to redeem himself. The Mets obviously felt so, to the tune of a two-year, $5 million contract. Though, that may speak more to the dearth of reliable bullpen arms than to their humanitarianism.

As usual, reaction to Mota's presence will ultimately have little to do with his past and everything to do with his future. That is, his performance on the field. If he pitches well, most fans probably won't have tremendous difficulty with forgiving his past transgressions. If he tanks hard, as he did in Cleveland last year before joining the Mets, he will be booed, and pundits will waste no time blaming his failures on his de-juicification. Whatever, I say. Players who have been guilty of far worse than Mota have been given second chances, often many times over. Julio Lugo slammed his wife's head into the hood of a car a few years back. Hood-slamming, apparently not worse than using steroids, comes with a zero game suspension and, as we found out last winter, a four-year contract from the Red Sox.

Anyway, I hadn't intended to digress like that, but I digress.

The Braves beat the Brewers today, so after all of yesterday's hoo-hah the Mets are back where they were before Delgado's walkoff homerun: Four games up on the Braves. El Duque takes on Matt Cain in the rubber match tomorrow night. The Mets are 33-18 through 51 games; they were 31-20 at this point last year. Not too shabby.