Any franchise, any team, any general manager, any manager plays the game to win. That’s as it should be. Every day the Mets put on the uniform and take the field, I’m pulling for them to win. That’s the case in the first week of the season and the last. With that said, there is no escaping the altered dynamics during the final month of a baseball season when your team has no realistic chance of post season play. Two kinds of baseball players round off the rosters of under performing teams at the close of the season.
These teams are willing to sign on ‘second chancers,’ guys who once excelled on major league diamonds, fell from grace, and are looking for at least one more go around. They also seek to elevate youngsters from the minor leagues on an upward climb hoping to get a jump on seeing if they belong in the big leagues. Managing a team going nowhere in September has to be a tricky proposition. How do you fit everybody in? You can’t totally ignore the everyday players, guys hoping to use their stats to squeeze out a better deal the next time they sign a contract. And, a lost September seems like a perfect opportunity to evaluate young prospects or ‘second chancers’ who could figure into future improvement plans. What’s a manager to do?
Perplexing is the only word I can use when trying to determine why the Mets have started Mike Baxter in the last two games against right hand starting pitchers in Cincinnati. Like all Met fans, Mike Baxter holds a special status as the guy who saved our one-and-only no-hitter with his courageous catch in left field. But, like him or not, Mike Baxter has no real place as a day-to-day option in the future plans of the Mets. In fact, down the stretch, if the Mets wanted to utilize Baxter realistically, it would be in an off the bench role, a possible role he could play in Flushing next year.
That’s not the case for Matt den Dekker. Unlike Baxter, den Dekker is brimming with potential. His athleticism equates to speed on the base paths, pop in his bat, and defensive theatrics in the outfield. In addition, den Delker’s professional baseball pattern is to struggle in his first stop at every level of professional play, then excel during his second stay at the same level. It makes sense in a lost September for the Mets to maximize every opportunity to see what the young outfielder can do. Placing den Dekker in the lineup is also playing to win. In his limited time with the big squad, den Dekker has batted at least as well as Baxter and his outfield play is decidedly better. Try as I might, I’m struggling coming up with a rationale to justify omitting den Dekker from the lineup.
The same could be said today during the ninth inning when Terry Collins called on LaTroy Hawkins to save the game. Hawkins has been brilliant pinch-hitting as a closer for the Mets after Bobby Parnell went down. The Hawkins story is inspirational, a 40-year old pitcher finding his groove and still throwing his fastball at 95 and 96 mph. Itmade sense that Hawkins gave the Mets their best chance to win today’s game. Yet, nursing a one run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning, I was excited to think the Mets might hand the ball to young Vic Black. Black had earned his first major league save the night before in an impressive ninth inning of the Mets 4-2 win. The kid was bold, confident, and attacking on the mound. When Collins had him up and warming in the eighth, I was genuinely excited thinking we might get a chance to see if Black could make it two in a row.
What a boost that would have been for the young flame thrower. Imagine earning two saves against a team headed into post season play, your first two saves in your first two tries in the big leagues. From an organizational perspective, with Parnell recovering from surgery and Collins openly worried about his health in his post game press conference the night before, why not use a 1-0 ninth inning lead as a chance to see what you might have in Black. No matter how brilliantly Hawkins has filled in as a closer this season, no one expects a 40-year old seventh or eighth inning reliever to take the closer role into St. Lucie next spring. That’s not necessarily the case for Vic Black.
With that said, kudos to Terry for staring Wilfredo Tovar two games in a row. We have seen enough of Omar Quintianilla this year to adequately evaluate his potential future role on the Mets. Not so with Wilfredo Tovar. In a minuscule playing sample, Tovar continues to exhibit that same gritty playing style he showed in Binghamton all summer long. You have to love his double play transfers, his gritty at bats, and his always dirty uniform.
With four games to go, I’m pulling for a four game sweep over the Brewers. Play to win, that’s how it should always be. But, the jury is out, there are many questions about who might be a part of a future Met roster. Play to win but use our final games to sneak a peak at some kids who might someday be difference makers.