I’ve heard it said time and time again in baseball: “Physical mistakes happen, but the key is to limit the mental ones.” I agree, but only to a point. The Mets reached and surpassed that point in their series against the Rockies.
All the talk in Mets Spring Training was about Terry Collins’ emphasis on fundamentals — Terry’s team was going to “play the game the right way.” I don’t doubt that he taught the team well in the areas of baserunning, bunt defense, etc. But what’s a manager to do when his players can’t throw and field? Perhaps the only major mental mishap in the series was committed by Collins himself, when he chose to pitch to Troy Tulowitzki with runners on second and third. The list of physical blunders, on the other hand, is extensive, and looking through them makes it clear how costly they were.
Game 1: (1) Harris loses a ball (in the lights, I guess) in left, leading to the Rockies’ first run. (2) Reyes, covering third on a sac bunt, makes a wild throw to first before the Rocks score their second run. (3) Igarashi makes a wide throw home with the bases loaded, giving Thole no chance to turn two, and the third and fourth runs end up coming home. (4) Parnell makes an even worse throw home, allowing another run to score. Both pitchers were about 40 feet from the plate when they fielded the ball.
(Somehow Game 2 went by relatively smoothly.)
Game 3: (5) Pagán stops short on a fly ball in deep center in the 5th, and a run scores in the inning. (6) In the 6th, Hairston does almost the exact same thing in right, causing two runs to score. (7) In the 7th, Pagán misplays a ball off the wall, making a double into a triple.
Game 4: (8) In the 6th, Beltrán gets an awful break on a ball that drops in front of him for a single. (9) Later in the inning, Brad Emaus bobbles a double-play ball, only gets the lead runner, and the inning continues. An inning that should have ended with the Mets leading 4-3 ends with them trailing 8-4.
All in all, that’s as many as 13 runs the Mets might have been prevented with better defense.
There are plenty of excuses: Emaus is a rookie (and has actually played pretty solid defense so far); Beltrán is adjusting to a new position (and has no knees); Pagán isn’t used to center; Harris isn’t used to CitiField…and so on. These may be valid, and no individual play in this series is anything to lose one’s head (or job) over. But considered collectively, the mistakes are appalling and unacceptable.
While it would be silly to hold the defense solely responsible for the seven leads the Mets blew in the series (Met pitchers had a collective 6.50 ERA, and the offense went 3-for-19 with two outs and runners in scoring position), I have no problem giving the defense a hefty chunk of the blame. The offense gave them those leads, and nearly came back late in Games 1 and 3. The defense is what really held the team back.
Maybe there is a mental aspect to the team’s recent physical clumsiness, but a lack of focus — or as TC has suggested, “trying too hard” — is unacceptable. I don’t expect the Mets to be the more talented team on the field every time they play, and they certainly weren’t against the Rockies. However, that’s all the more reason why they need to execute the basics and make the plays in order to compete.
Terry Collins promised us they would. It’s the least we can ask for.