North side, east side
Willy wears the crown
He’s the best damn shortstop around town
Willy drives them silly
He’s a contact bat
an’ a whole bunch more than that
‘Cos little Willy, Willy won’t go home
But you can’t push Willy round, Willy won’t go
Try tellin’ everybody but, oh no
Little Willy, Willy won’t go home
Lyrics adapted from “Little Willy” by Sweet
I know, I know, don’t get your bowels in an uproar, it was just one game. Oh, but what a game it was. Wilfredo Tovar’s role in the Mets 4-3 victory over the Phillies Sunday was a single game, a sliver of baseball in a baseball game between two teams winding down disappointing campaigns. Even so, Wilfredo Tovar’s debut was proof positive why Binghamton Mets baseball fans have come to love the gritty play of their little shortstop.
Tovar is a tough, gritty baseball player. The little Met shortstop showcased his plucky baseball style matching wits with fabled, veteran, Philly pitching ace Cliff Lee in his major league debut. It was Lee who blinked first.
Customarily, it was Tovar’s glove that got NYSEG Stadium buzzing this summer in Binghamton. A fast first step allows Tovar to make eye popping slight of hand defensive plays at shortstop. But, in his ‘coming out’ major league party, it was Tovar’s bat that served notice. Tovar went 2-for-4 with both hits off Lee including the game winning single.
The ‘good field-no hit’ label is sometimes applied to the Venezuelan shortstop. In a recent post I proposed that tab failed to give justice to either Tovar’s play in the field or his gritty at bats. Tovar is a contact hitter, a guy who batted just under .300 after the All-Star game and was a tough man to strike out. Only two batters with 400 at-bats or more in the Eastern League had fewer strikeouts than Wilfredo this summer.
And, Tovar does the little things well. You may have noticed how he worked over Lee on the base paths after his seventh inning single. Tovar stretched his lead to the max, so far in fact, he had me wondering if the huge distance he strayed away from the bag left him game to be picked at first base. Throw after throw to first base didn’t deter Tovar, didn’t move him back even a whisker towards the bag. Before he was done, Tovar added a stolen base to his list of firsts. Note, although he’s quick, not really fast, Tovar has stolen 10+ bases in every year of his professional career.
What B-Met fans most appreciated about Tovar this summer was his toughness. Headhunt Wilfredo Tovar after one of his rare home runs, especially on a day he hits a pair, and expect to be charged on the mound. When tempers flare and the benches clear, it might be Wilfredo leading the charge. I’m not saying reactions of this kind are always good policy, especially during an elimination game in the playoffs. I am saying it’s satisfying to watch a gritty little shortstop who doesn’t take the game for granted, who gets his uniform dirty every game and, when the chips are down, is not afraid to take a stand.
I don’t know where Wilfredo Tovar will land in the baseball world. Today was simply a tiny audition. I’m grateful Tovar crossed my baseball path many times in Binghamton this season. Should the Mets fail to land a shortstop from outside the system, I only hope Wilfredo is included in the Met shortstops provided a chance to win that spot next year.