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9/28/2007 08:26:00 AM

The Wild Card: The Fantastic Finish

By Cliff Corcoran

"We were playing as if we were waiting to lose."

That quote is not from Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca. What Lo Duca said after the Nationals completed their sweep of the Mets on Wednesday night to reduce the Mets' lead in the NL East to one game was, "It seems to me we're all waiting to lose."

The quote at the top is from Johnny Callison, the slugging right fielder of the 1964 Phillies, who endured the most infamous September collapse in major league history (though, statistically speaking, only the 10th-worst). Callison made the statement in 1994, reflecting on the state of the team after a loss reduced the Phillies' lead, which had been 6½ games with 13 left, to half a game. The full quote from Callison: "It was as if [manager] Gene [Mauch] didn't know what to do to stop the losing streak. The panic set in after that game. We had lost our confidence. After that, we were playing as if we were waiting to lose."

Lo Duca couldn't have said it better himself.

The '64 Phillies lost again the next day to slip into second place. They lost the next three days as well to extend their losing streak to 10 games. They'd win their final two games, but it was too little, too late.

Thursday night, the Mets also lost again to slip into a tie with, ironically, the Phillies.

Amazingly, with just three games left in the season, not a single team in the National League has clinched a playoff berth, and there are still seven teams fighting over the four playoff spots. That's because five of those seven teams -- the Diamondbacks, Padres, Mets, Phillies, and Rockies -- are all within two games of each other, meaning there's still a chance, albeit a slim one, that the team that currently boasts the best record in the league (the Diamondbacks at 89-70) could miss the playoffs entirely.

The race that was closest last week is the one that's closest to being decided today, that being the NL Central, where the Cubs hold a two-game lead over the Brewers with the Cubs in Cincinnati and the Brewers hosting the Padres over the final three days. The Brewers are 0-4 against San Diego thus far this season, including last night's 9-5 Pads win. Greg Maddux starts for the Padres against Chris Capuano tonight in Milwaukee. Carlos Zambrano, who lost to the Reds on short rest last week, starts for the Cubs on regular rest against Bronson Arroyo. If the Cubs win or the Brewers lose, the Cubs clinch a tie. If both happen, the Cubs will clinch the division, becoming the first NL team to earn a playoff berth.

The Padres, meanwhile, are just a game behind Arizona in the West and are still leading the Wild Card race, though the Phillies and Mets are just a game behind them. So are the surging Colorado Rockies, who have won 11 straight, including a sweep of the Padres last weekend, to thrust themselves into the playoff picture. The Rockies finish the season by hosting the division-leading Diamondbacks, whom they trail by two games. The Rockies don't control their own destiny, however, because, even if they sweep the D'backs, the Padres could win the division by sweeping Milwaukee. The pitching matchups for Colorado and Arizona are aces Brandon Webb and Jeff Francis tonight, Edgar Gonzalez versus Mike Redman tomorrow night and Doug Davis against Ubaldo Jimenez in the finale. The surprising name there belongs to Redman, who was released by the Braves in late May, signed a minor league deal with the Rockies in late August, was called up three weeks ago, and earned a rotation spot with five scoreless relief innings against the Phillies. Since joining the Rockies, Redman has lowered his ERA by nearly three runs (though it's still at 8.67).

That brings us back to the East. No one expected the Washington Nationals to be a factor in the pennant race, but the Nats have taken five of six from the Mets over the last two weeks while dropping three of four to the Phillies in between, and it is the Nationals who are traveling to Philadelphia to decide the outcome of the Phillies' season. Meanwhile, the Mets host the Marlins, who could prove to be the Mets' saviors, as the Mets' 4-10 record over the last two weeks includes three wins (in four games) over the Fish in Miami.

Both the Phillies and Mets are 10-5 against their final series opponent this year, but the events of the last two weeks, which have seen the Mets fritter away their seven-game lead in the NL East, likely have more relevance on how the two teams will play this weekend. The Phillies, who have gone 11-3 over that span, have young ace Cole Hamels starting tonight followed by Adam Eaton and Jamie Moyer over the weekend. Amazingly, Hamels has yet to contribute to the Phillies' surge, having pitched poorly in his first start since coming off the disabled list last Tuesday (a game the Phillies won in 14 innings), then turned in five solid innings in the one game the Phils lost to the Nats last weekend. For their part, the Mets will send Oliver Perez, John Maine, and Tom Glavine to the hill this weekend. Perez dominated the Marlins last Saturday in Miami (8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K), but Maine has struggled of late, posting a 8.24 ERA over his past four starts. Maine did fairly well against the Marlins on Sunday (5 IP, 3 R, 9 K), but that sort of five-inning outing is what's killing this bullpen-strapped Mets team.

Over the last 12 games, the Mets' starting pitcher has lasted more than five innings just three times. Pedro Martinez went seven last night, Perez pitched eight frames in the above start against the Marlins, and rookie Mike Pelfrey lasted 5 2/3 against the Nats on Monday. As a result, the Met bullpen, which, until Orlando Hernandez went out there Wednesday night, was really just three-men deep, has been exposed. That domino effect of failure by the pitching staff has been the No. 1-reason for the Mets' collapse. Just three of the Mets' losses over the last two weeks have come in games in which their opponent scored fewer than eight runs. What's more, the Mets got out to early leads in six of those 10 losses, rallied to tie up a seventh, and came within one run of tying an eighth with a six-run ninth inning Tuesday night against the Nats. The Mets' three low-scoring losses over the past two weeks were the first two -- a pair of heartbreakers against the Phillies that saw the Mets get out to early two-run leads only to have the Phillies rally to win 3-2 in 10 innings and 5-3 -- and last night, when the Met offense finally ran out of gas, managing just three hits and a walk in a 3-0 loss to Joel Pineiro and the Cardinals. Maybe they were just tired of waiting to lose.

Cliff Corcoran wrote about the 1964 Phillies for the recently released It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over: The Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book.
posted by SI.com | View comments |  


The pitcher for the Rockies is Mark Redman, not Mike. Perhaps you're confusing him with catcher Mike Redmond?
Posted: September 30, 2007 4:10 PM   by Anonymous
Ha ha ha. The Mets and all their dancing prove yet again that they don't deserve to win. The NYC media circus will sit around and talk about their teams, scratching their heads when no one else outside of NYC cares. The Mets lack leaders. They're just a bunch of overpaid, overhyped, "exciting" sexy nonclutch players. Jose Reyes wasn't even the best young SS on the field today. I would take Hanley Ramirez many times over Jose. Guess we can watch Jose on Dancing With the Stars and ogle over David Wright and Carlos Beltran while watching the Mets staff and Degado get older.

-10x champs STL fan
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