Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Baseball! Here I am, ready to crow about the New York Mets' first division title since 1988 (the year that the Dodgers Mike Scioscia hit an improbable ninth-inning two-run home run off Dwight Gooden to tie game 4 of the N.L.C.S., which Kirk Gibson won with a 12th inning dinger -- yes, the same year that Gibson hit "the most improbable" home run in World Series history). It's been a long-time (fourteen years) since any team other than the Atlanta Braves has won the N.L. East, so the Mets should have been the big story last night. Yup, I was ready to do some crowing, and then those rotten L.A. Dodgers tried to throw some cold water on Mets fans. Last night, the Dodgers staged what may have been the most exciting comeback in a baseball game, ever (OK, us Mets fans still think Game 6 of the 1986 World Series is untouchable because of the circumstances, but last night's Dodgers' game comes close).

Trailing by four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, to the N.L. West division leading San Diego Padres, the Dodgers hit four straight home runs to tie the game. The last of the four came on a first pitch swing by Marlon Anderson, recently traded from the Washington Nationals. Anderson had been surprised and a little disappointed by his trade, but sometimes things have a way of working out for the best. “That was absolutely the most wonderful game I have ever seen in my life,” Anderson said. “It is the best thing that’s ever happened to me on a baseball field.” (see nytimes. com - - link to 2006/09/19/sports/baseball/19dodgers.late.html). You have to happy for him.

Another guy you have to be happy for is Nomar Garciaparra. He's had to live with some real disappointments in baseball. The Red Sox' near misses, including blowing Game 7 of the 2003 A.LC.S. All the injuries. The indignity of being traded for a lesser player, who then got much of the credit for the Red Sox' turnaround in '04. Then, he had to watch his old teammates pull off the greatest comeback in any playoff series ever, to finally beat the Yankees, before finally winning the World Series. For Garciaparra, there were more injuries and disappointment with the Cubs. Through all that, he has landed on his feet in Los Angeles, even though he had to accept a switch to a new position: first base.

With the Dodgers again trailing in the 10th inning of last night's game, this time by only one run, Garciaparra smacked a game-winning walk-off two-run home run. Not only did the Dodgers win the game, but the win catapulted them into first place over the Padres. Garciaparra has always seemed like one of the truly nice guys in baseball. It's great that he could still get a moment like this one. Dodgers' pitcher Brett Tomko told Garciaparra, “It is the greatest thing I have ever seen.” (see nytimes.com -- link to 2006/09/19/sports/baseball/19dodgers.late.html).

For the fans, this was one of the greatest thrills in team history. Ten minutes later, they were still in their seats cheering. An hour later, they were honking their car horns in the Doger Stadium lots and L.A. freeways. If you're a Mets fan, you have to hope that this remains the Dodgers' fans biggest thrill this year. The Mets will be the favorite to get through the N.L. playoffs and represent the N.L. in the World Series.

Frankly, though, the Mets have serious questions going into the playoffs. Their top two starters are coming off injuries, with Pedro Martinez looking absolutely horrible in his first game back. They have no idea who their fourth starter will be. And they have struggled mightily against left-handed pitching ever since they traded Xavier Nady - a trade that left the Mets with a batting order that is overloaded with left-handed hitters.

The Dodgers, on the other hand, have been a much better team since the team made a series of trades at the July 31 trading deadline. Anything can happen in the final two weeks -- the Dodgers may not even make the playoffs. Right now, though, I think they look like a formidable opponent. If they do make the playoffs, I think they may be in the strongest position of any the N.L. contenders.

Of course, if the past is prologue, whoever come out of the N.L. may just be lambs to the slaughter in the World Series. Before losing Francisco Liriano to an elbow injury, the Minnesota Twins looked like the best team in baseball. Right now, that honor probably should go to -- who else? -- the New York Yankees. But, if the Mets can get their pitching back together and get to the Series, they would give the Yankees (or whoever emerges from the A.L. playoffs) a real run for their money.

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