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Aftermath: Game #24 - Mets vs Braves

Well whaddaya know? The Mets proved me wrong in so many ways I'm inclined to think that they read my pregame comments and moved to act in complete and utter discordance of same. Here are some of the things I flurked up.

The Mets would lose the game

This one had all the makings of an old-school Mets-Braves bloodbath, with the ever-confident Braves playing the part of the Braves and the downtrodden Mets playing the part of the Mets. In this performance, Intrepid hurler John Smoltz would be played by the crusty and seemingly-agless John Smoltz, while Nelson Figueroa would be astutely cast as Anonymous Met run cougher-upper.

We've seen it a hundred times before, yet on this day the principals eschewed the same tired script and applied their improvisational background to craft a scene that was at once refreshing and natural. John Smoltz had nothing resembling his best stuff (except against David Wright), and the Mets plated four runs in four innings before Smoltz was driven from the game with a sour puss and hurt feelings. Coughing up an epic blast to Raul Casanova can have that effect, but more on suavely-named Mets catchers later.

Smoltz's fastball was noticeably slower than we've grown accustomed to; perhaps as much as five miles per hour, enough to transform the Braves' ace from "godless killing machine" to "pretty good pitcher that we can kinda wail on". Smoltz's control was spotty to boot, and the Mets took advantage to the tune of seven hits -- three for extra bases -- and two walks before Smoltz's premature ouster after just four innings of work.

For his part, Figueroa hung in there long enough to win his second game of the season, but his performance was not the sort of thing we write short stories about. Seven hits plus three walks (equals ten baserunners!) in 5.1 innings was enough to get the job done today, but a pitching line like that would normally be a 4-1 loss when you're facing Smoltz. All of this is not to rag on Figueroa; he has been a pleasant surprise for the Mets, exceedingly adequate as the fifth horse in the stable. If we consider the laundry list of has-beens and never-will-bes that the Mets have miscast as starting pitchers over the past few seasons, Figueroa has been a good smell in Stinkville. For those with shorter memories than my own -- either by choice or otherwise -- here are some of those retreads and ne'ertreads:

Kazuhisa Ishii (2005)
Alay Soler (2006)
Dave Williams (2006)
Jose Lima (2006)
[G|J]eremi Gonzalez (2006)
Brian Lawrence (2007)
Chan Ho Park (2007

Figueroa has already outperformed each and every one of those losers, and though the shine might come off this turd at some point, anything Figgy does from here on out is gravy. He has been far better than even my best-case expectations.

The bottom of the lineup would be teh sux0rs

I was 73% wrong about this. Endy Chavez did his part to suck up plate-apps and spit back outs, though he did manage to draw a walk, an event that should equally horrify both man and child. Figueroa picked up his first base-knock in fifteen years with his infield single in the second, so that's a base hit more than I thought he would get.

Number one catcher Raul Casanova (crikey!) had his best game as a Met, going 3-for-4 including a two-run homer off of Smoltz, raising his OPS 213 points in the process. His offense was looking sparse to that point, and it may very well stumble back into uselessness starting tomorrow, but for one afternoon he made us forget that our regular numero uno is actually Brian Schneider, staph infection and all. Casanova has also thrown out two-of-three would-be base-stealers, a percentage rivaling that of my hyphen-usage in this very sentence (seriously; go back and re-read it). So he's got that going for him.

But enough about the Figueroas and Casanovas of the world. The real star of the game was Carlos Delgado, who broke out of his weeks-long slump with two homeruns: one to the opposite field and one mammoth shot up the scoreboard in right-center. He also picked up two walks -- one intentional -- and on foam-finger day at Shea he was 1-for-1 in allegorical middle-fingers-to-the-fans, sending their pleas for a curtain call to the dugout answering machine.

Gary Cohen and Ron Darling ruminated on Delgado's decision for a solid ten minutes, and ultimately Cohen came to the following salient conclusion: Fans want players to be as animated and emotional as they are. When the Mets lose, fans expect the players to be pissed off, frustrated and otherwise upset. Similarly, when a player like Delgado busts out of a long slump, fans celebrate the relief and excitement of the event and they want the player -- in this case Delgado -- to celebrate along with them. Delgado took a pass, saying after the game that he had only taken two previous curtain calls: when he hit four homeruns with the Blue Jays a few years back and after his 400th homerun in 2006 with the Mets. This wasn't the right time for him, apparently. Of all of the silly and obnoxious things that Mets fans do, I think curtain calls are fun and I generally encourage their solicitation.

Other stuff

Luis Castillo is suddenly swinging a hot bat, picking up three more hits on Sunday including his second extra-base hit of the season, a double in the sixth. He has raised his on-base percentage to a solid .369, though his slugging percentage is a depressingly low .311. He is 6-for-6 in stolen bases, and he has been adroit in the field, so despite a horrendous stretch there he appears to be settling into the role we always thought he would. He will manifestly never hit for any power, ever, but if he can get on base at a .380 pace, swipe some bags and remain defensively adept at second base, then none of us can honestly claim that he's not who we thought he was, to paraphrase the late, great Dennis Green (ed note: Dennis Green is still alive).

So, as I alluded to in the pregame notes, after all of the trials and tribulations of the first four weeks of the season, the Mets are two games over .500 and within shouting distance of first in the NL East. They haven't played well, and their record reflects that, but they play their next three games against a pretty crummy Pirates team, and face the prospect of heading to Arizona next week at least a game or two better than they are now. The Diamondbacks are the best team in the league right now, and unlike last season their run differential actually supports their lofty record. The Mets are right where their run differential says they should be, but they'll likely have to get a lot better than that if they want to outpace their division the rest of the way.