Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Meet the Mets

At last summer's trading deadline, the struggling New York Mets, long out of the pennant race, wanted to make a splash. And so on July 30th, the Mets General Manager-at-the-time, Jim Duquette traded Scott Kazmir, their top pitching prospect to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for mediocre starting pitcher Victor Zambrano. Hailed by many as the second coming of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, the hardthrowing Scott Kazmir was considered one of the best pitching prospects in the minors. Zambrano made three starts for the Mets, promptly got injured, and ended up on the disabled list for the rest of the year. Some splash.

The end of the season came with no playoff fanfare (big surprise), but did signal the return of former Mets Assistant-GM Omar Minaya to take over for Duquette. Minaya had left the Mets a few years prior to take over as GM for the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals), and he is one of the main reasons that this year's Nationals team has been able to remain competitive, and even held first place for a long stretch of time. In an effort to turn things around at Shea Stadium, Minaya worked hard to land arguably the two top free agents last winter - pitching superstar Pedro Martinez, fresh off of the first Red Sox world championship in 86 years, and Carlos Beltran, widely regarded as one of the best young, all-around great baseball players. At Beltran's first New York press conference, he announced that this was to be "the New Mets." After years of disappointments since reaching the World Series in 2000, Beltran was more or less promising to fans that this year would be new and different.

New Mets GM Omar Minaya poses with 'the new Mets' - Carlos Beltran & Pedro Martinez.

This year, although noticably most vibrant and more exciting than Mets teams in recent years, is still just a mediocre ballclub, hovering around the .500 mark. With the National League as competitive as it is, however, the Mets remain in the hunt. For the most part, the pitching has been outstanding. The checks to Pedro seem to be money well-spent as he has been nothing short of spectacular. Kris Benson, also acquired in a less-disastrous trade at last year's deadline
has been a solid number two man in the rotation. The aging Tom Glavine has shown glimpses of his vintage years, and although its obvious his best years are behind him, Glavine is still tolerable. The real problem with the Mets has been the startling lack of offense. Beltran has been okay at best, certainly not the what had been hoped for. Mike Piazza, still one of the best offensive catchers in baseball, is not even a shadow of the player he once was. Even with Cliff Floyd having one of of the best year's of his career (9th in the National League with 24 home runs) , and the brilliant sophomore year of blooming superstar David Wright, the Mets are constantly struggling for runs.

This past week leading up the trading deadline on July 31st, the Mets traveled to two of baseball's best hitting parks - Coors Field in Denver, where the air is thinner than Lindsay Lohan on a good day, and Minute Maid Park in Houston, where Verne Troyer can blast home runs with ease. In five of the seven games, the Mets scored three runs or less. After being embarrassed by a terrible Rockies team in Colorado for two games, they were able to come back and plate nine runs in the series finale. The Astros series was going to be a crucial four-game set with a hot team with whom the Mets were in direct competition with for the Wild Card playoff spot. The Astros beat them three days in a row, and once again the Mets plated nine runs in the series finale to avoid the sweep.

Back in New York City, trade rumors began to swirl. Minaya, noticing an obvious need for a big bat in the Mets lineup, talked with the Texas Rangers about former Yankee Alfonso Soriano. The power-hitting second baseman would fit in perfectly with the Mets, but the talks quickly broke down after Texas reportedly asked for way too much. The real frenzy started when the Manny talk began.

For the past ten years, Manny Ramirez has been one of the best baseball players in the world. He has over 400 home runs, nearly 1400 RBI, and has a lifetime .314 batting average. So why would the Boston Red Sox ever trade the guy that helped them win a world championship? Easy. Manny asked. And he didn't just ask, Manny demanded. Manny demanded to be traded on more than one occasion. But the Red Sox had said publicly that it would be a difficult task trading a player of his stature because of contract and talent issues. That is, until July 29th. That's when the rumors of one of the biggest blockbuster trades in all of baseball history first started making rounds. It was to be a three team deal involving the Mets, Red Sox, and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. It would look like this:

New York Mets get:
- Manny Ramirez (from Boston)
- Danys Baez (from Tampa)
Boston Red Sox get:
- Mike Cameron (from Mets)
- Aubrey Huff (from Tampa)
Tampa Bay Devil Rays get:
- prospects Kelly Shoppach & Anibal Sanchez (from Boston)
- top prospects Lastings Milledge & Yusmeiro Petit (from New York)

It was all set to go, Manny would get his wish and leave Boston. He'd come to New York to hang with his best bud Pedro. But then the deal started to quickly fall apart. Tampa Bay demanded prospect Hanley Ramirez from Boston, and in turn Boston wanted more for what they were giving up, so they asked to get Milledge instead of Tampa. The deal quickly unraveled, and nothing ever materialized for real. No trades for the Mets at all.

Tonight the Mets played their first full game after the trading deadline. They were back at Shea after the disastrous road trip to Denver and Houston. They were to play the lowly Milwaukee Brewers. And who was on the mound? Our good friend Victor Zambrano. If there ever was a time for the New York ballclub to prove something, this was the time to do it. But after two innings of play, it didn't look like this would be the night. After giving up only nine home runs all season coming into tonight's game, Zambrano gave up four home runs in a span of five Milwaukee batters. Quickly, the Mets were down 6-2 after only two innings. And then someting miraculous happened: the Mets battled back. They tied the game at 7 with three runs in the 7th inning, and after the Brewers took the lead 8-7 in the top of the 9th on Geoff Jenkins' second home run of the game, it looked like the Mets were done.

But up came Mike Cameron. With one out in the bottom of the ninth, the same guy who had been the center of trade rumors for the past year, blasted a home run off red-hot Milwaukee closer Derrick Turnbow to tie the game at 8. Two innings later in the bottom of the 11th, the bases filled up for pinch-hitter Mike Piazza. Benched tonight in favor of backup catcher Ramon Castro, Piazza came off the bench and strutted to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. But Piazza didn't do what he used to be so famous for. He didn't crush the ball out of the ballpark with a monstrous swing. No, in fact, he didn't even swing at all. Piazza waited as Milwaukee's Julio Santana threw four straight balls to Piazza to walk in the winning run in the bottom of the 11th inning.

Mike Cameron celebrates with teammates in the dugout after tying the game with a ninth inning home run.

The Mets pounded out 18 hits in the game, but the real story here is probably Mike Cameron, who went six-for-four including the game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth. Cameron knows now that he's a Met, at least for this season. And at least for this season, who needs Manny?


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