When a 26-year-old home-grown starting pitcher gives you nine terrific innings and a 23-year-old home-grown first baseman hits a game-winning home run, how can you not feel good about your team?
One could say that last night's win over the Padres was the best win the Mets have had this season. Mike Pelfrey was brilliant, needing just 103 pitches to get through nine innings of five-hit, one-run ball. He deserved a win for his efforts, but Padres starter Clayton Richard combined with two relievers to match Pelfrey's brilliance step-by-step in regulation time.
Could Pelfrey have gone out and pitched the tenth inning, considering the fact that he was due to lead off in the bottom of the tenth? Absolutely. He was pitching on six days' rest and had gotten through the ninth without incident. He was still pitching efficiently, having thrown only 28 pitches across the eighth and ninth innings.
Jerry Manuel, of course, saw differently. Manuel is a very nice man with what apparently passes for a charming wit. His players seem to genuinely like him and like playing for him. He is not a good manager, however; a man far too devoted to the orthodoxy of conventional thought and lacking either the ability or the desire to think outside the very narrow box of baseball dogma. Manuel will not be with the Mets in 2011, not if they harbor any serious championship aspirations.
Pelfrey could have started the tenth inning. Instead, Manuel double-switched after the ninth inning ended and brought in Francisco Rodriguez, who needed only 13 pitches to dispatch of the Padres in the tenth. Then, despite the manuever that should've allowed Rodriguez to stay in the game, K-Rod was gone once the 11th inning began. Sigh.
In the grand scheme of things, Manuel should not be the focus today. Manuel is part of the past, and will one day be spoken of in hazy tones when Mets fans try to bridge the gap between the worst manager in franchise history and future skipper Wally Backman. Ike Davis, however, is very much a part of the future - his heroics last night will be remembered for a long time to come.
Davis stepped to the plate in the 11th inning and put an end to Manuel's usual shenanigans. He took a Mujica pitch deep into the night, finally landing halfway up the Pepsi Porch about 15 minutes after he crossed home plate. It reminded you of some of the majestic home runs Mike Piazza used to hit - crushing blows that seemed to take ages before they fell to earth.
The Mets were winners - a common story when they play at Citi Field these days - and moved four games over .500 for the second time this season. Toward the end of Spring Training, after analyzing the Mets' off-season moves and projecting what the 2010 roster was going to look like as a result, I picked them to finish 78-84 and to finish in fourth place.
Since then, the Mets have replaced Mike Jacobs with Davis. They have released Frank Catalanotto and Gary Matthews. John Maine and Oliver Perez are right where they belong - on the disabled list and out of the rotation. The Mets are still a flawed team, but they are a better team today then they were on Opening Day.
Mike Pelfrey has blossomed into a staff ace. Ike Davis is a middle-of-the-pack National League first baseman right now, with room to grow into one of the better ones in the league. Jon Niese is the #3 starter, not the #5, and showing signs that he could fill that role for years to come. Sure, there are still holes on this team. Pelfrey, Davis and Niese are filling three holes that were there when Spring Training ended.
There is hope.