In the long run, of the 2010 baseball season and certainly of the cosmos, there is almost zero significance to the Mets’ most freshly discovered way to lose and the frustrating loss that followed it against the Yankees on Friday night. The universe laughs at the significance of May baseball, as everyone but Red Sox fans knows, and given that the Mets do not seem destined to compete in the National League East it’s probably unwise to get too excited about one loss of what will surely (surely) be many. But I’m going to kind of do it anyway.
The thing that allows me to get too fired-up about the Mets doing dumb shit is not the dumb shit qua dumb shit so much as what I (over/mis)perceive as the significance of that — thus the 1200 words on trading for Gary Matthews Jr., because that indicated to me that the decision-making of the front office reflected a bafflingly opaque and seemingly unsound process. As incredibly terrible as Matthews has been, he’s also just a fifth outfielder — that he’s been used primarily as a Designated Pinch-Bunter of late really is more of a Jerry problem than an Omar problem — and thus isn’t really that damaging an on-field presence. But what GMJ represents, that’s what got to me: he himself is just a washed-up outfielder with a couple of cool highlights to his name, but trading for him, and pursuing him for months before finally doing so, suggested a front office driven crazy after years alone in a self-designed echo chamber reverberating with their own deep-doy organizational buzzphrases: False Hustle and The Little Things and Pitching-and-Defense (but somehow also neither pitching nor defense). Trading for Matthews meant more than adding an overpaid backup to a pantry cluttered with them; it was a reaffirmation of a weirdly retrograde mindset defined by a disconcerting certainty in defective truisms the rest of the baseball community disregarded some time ago. What went down with John Maine (above) on Friday is somewhat similar to this, but it’s different. It’s simpler. It was just what it was, and that’s bad enough for me.
So, as you maybe know if you follow insignificant news about a last-place NL team: John Maine started for the Mets on Thursday and was removed from the game after five pitches and one batter, very much against his will. Reliever Raul Valdes, who came on to pitch five solid innings for the win, was warming up in the bullpen while Maine was warming up on the mound in the bottom of the first. The optics of the whole thing were weird — Jerry Manuel didn’t leave the mound at the same time as Maine, and Maine was visibly dismayed both on the mound and in the dugout; there was no real reason cited for removing Maine so quickly, during or after the game. And true to Mets form, everyone who stepped in front of a microphone to explain what happened was absolutely lights-out retarded: Jerry burped up one of those undifferentiated strings of qualification, cliche and vagueness that are his rhetorical trademark; pitching coach Dan Warthen, in attempting to flatter Maine’s warrior spirit, somehow managed to call his pitcher “a habitual liar.” Maine said he didn’t feel like he had to go see a doctor; management said otherwise, and he went. Whatever Maine was told was evidently both vague and bad: he was placed on the 15-day DL on Friday with “shoulder weakness,” proclaiming all the while that he didn’t need to be there.
As Gerard noted and SNY’s Ted Berg reiterated, there was actually something noble about Manuel and Warthen pulling Maine from that game, in apparent disregard for the increasingly hot managerial seat on which he sits. That neither Manuel nor anyone else involved with the team was able to explain this decision without (metaphorically) setting fire to the clubhouse and then tumbling down a flight of spiral stairs is typical, but the impulse here was correct insofar as the team has an investment in Maine that they were (uncharacteristically) protecting in a fairly forward-thinking way.
It could be argued that Jerry was either too quick with the hook, or ought not to have let Maine start at all, but in general the decision to lift a player before that player suffers a serious injury was both pretty unobjectionable and a welcome-as-hell departure. So this is where Maine and Matthews diverge, symbolically: the Maine thing was a good-ish decision poorly explained; the Matthews deal was an inexplicable decision that remains unexplained. And the endurance of which is still more or less unexplainable beyond the team’s willingness to assume a sunk cost or admit a bad decision, given that Matthews has produced 44 outs in 54 official at-bats, 21 of those coming via strikeout.
Where all this becomes challenging for a Mets fan, beyond the usual challenges of cheering for a lousy and overmatched team, is in the flubbed aftermath — the inability and unwillingness to explain anything in a way that makes sense, and, in the case of Maine, the seeming inability to communicate a simple message without continuing to botch the delivery, ladle disrespect on the object, and generally give the impression that no one involved at any level has any idea what the hell is going on. In the New York Times, David Waldstein goes behind the scenes at this gong show and writes what just has to be the most damning updating-an-injured-player story in history:
Although Maine did not complain of pain or discomfort, the Mets did not believe him… œI think there is something there physically, Manager Jerry Manuel said before the game, œbut I could be totally wrong.
Manuel and Maine got into a heated argument in the Mets™ dugout Thursday when Manuel lifted Maine from the game after he had thrown only five pitches. After a sleepless night, Maine arrived at Citi Field on Friday to do his normal work… [and found out he had been placed on the DL] œI want to pitch, [Maine] said. œRegardless, if I have to go out there and throw left-handed, that™s what I want to do because I want to go out and pitch. I understand their side of it.
But that more accommodating sentiment could change after he hears that his manager was making light of the situation. Manuel must have heard what Maine said about pitching left-handed because he used it to make a joke that Maine was unlikely to find amusing.
œWe can™t afford to watch him pitch left-handed, Manuel said about 30 minutes after Maine spoke to reporters. œThat™s out of the question. But he might have more stuff lefty, I don™t know. We™ll have to try that. No, we couldn™t afford to do that.
In general, I’m not as offended as some by Manuel’s enduring tendency towards comedy riffage, which has been revealed as kind of a nervous tic over the last year or so. At least in the quote above, Manuel was trying to make a joke. What makes this whole goofy saga maddening — makes it (maybe, or at least to me) more than just an ineffective mid-rotation starter going on the DL with a tired arm — is not that Manuel and the rest of the Mets defective managerial crew aren’t taking this situation seriously enough. Instead, it’s that — Manuel’s nervous japery aside — they are indeed taking this seriously. This is what it looks like when they’re trying. That’s not funny, but it is a joke.