Monday, April 09, 2007

What An Inning at Shea! Why Baseball is the Greatest Game! Opening Day at Shea. The new stadium is going up in the parking lot, but for now, the old rat trap is still home for the Mets. I'm listening on the radio, as the game is sold out. The Phillies take a 1-0 lead off of sophomore John Maine, in the third inning. The Mets are having all kinds of trouble with the Phillies' own young hurler, Cole Hamels.

This brings us to the incredible fourth inning. There may be games that are more exciting to watch on television, but there is no better sport to listen to the radio. It's perfect. The fourth inning was as exciting an inning as I've ever had the pleasure of listening to on the radio.

In the top of the fourth, the Phillies loaded the bases with a lead-off single and two walks. Maine faced his opposite number, Hamels, with the bases loaded and nobody out. Hamels grounded towards first base. The charging Carlos Delgado fielded the ball and threw home for the first out of the inning. Then Maine got the play he desperately needed when Jose Valentin fielded Jimmy Rollins hot smash, threw to Jose Reyes for one out, and Reyes gunned his throw to first to beat the speedy Rollins and complete the improbable double play.

In the bottom of the inning, Carlos Beltran led off with a single, and advanced to third on Delgado's single. Facing men on the corners and nobody out, Hamels also buckled down. He struck out David Wright swinging, and Moises Alou looking. After a walk to Shawn Green loaded the bases, Hamels faced Jose Valentin. Valentin laced one to left field, scoring Beltran, and also Delgado who slid under the tag, to the inside of home plate. The tension in the fourth inning was as good as it gets. If you're a Mets' fan, the results were pretty fantastic, too.

In the fifth, Maine got in trouble, A home run by Chase Utley tied the score. Then, Maine loaded up the bases. With two outs, Ambiorix Burgos cam in from the pen to try and keep the Phillies from taking the lead. He got a grounder to Delgado to end the threat. Two innings in a row, the Phillies had loaded the bases, but could not score any of the runners. So, the teams go into the bottom of the fifth, tied 2-2.

In the bottom of the fifth, Jose Reyes led off with a pop-up. The Phillies' defense struggled with it, and the ball fell to the ground when Ryan Howard ran over Abraham Nunez. Reyes, running all out, had already reached second base, and entertained ideas of getting to third. Paul Lo Duca did advance Reyes with a grounder on the right side. A walk to Beltran put runners on the corners, but set up a possible double-play with the slow-footed Carlos Delgado coming to bat. Delgado wins the battle with a long sacrifice fly ball to score Reyes. Beltran was picked off of first during the next at-bat, but the Mets were back in the lead.

It was a lead that didn't last very long. In the sixth inning, Burgos faced Ryan Howard, last years's league MVP, with two-out and two on. Surprisingly, with first base open, the Mets chose to pitch to Howard. He made them pay for such arrogance. Howard drove one to deep right for a three-run home run, putting the Phillies on top, 5-3. As the game moved into the later innings, the question for the home crowd was whether the Mets had another rally in them, on this day.

As it happened, it took two rallies, because the first fell a little short. In the seventh inning, Delgado singled home one run to cut the Phillies' lead to 5-4. David Wright came to bat trying to extend an 18-game hitting streak, but Wright was robbed by a shoestring catch made by Shane Victorino to end the Mets' rally in the seventh inning. The Mets, however, weren't done. The first two hitters reached base, but Jose Valentin's attempted sacrifice bunt wasn't good enough, and Alou was thrown out at third. With one out, and runners on first and second, the pinch-hitter, Julio Franco walked on four pitches.

This brought up Jose Reyes, with the bases loaded. The Phillies needed the kind of improbable double play that Rollins hit into during that thrilling fourth inning. They almost got it. Reyes hit a grounder sharply towards Rollins, who knew he had to hurry if he was going to double-up the fastest man in baseball. Rollins tried to hard to hurry the play and ended up dropping the ball, as the tying run crossed the plate. The go-ahead run scored on a wild pitch. The Mets added another run on a sacrifice fly by Beltran, and broke the game open when David Wright crushed a double off the wall, missing a home run by a few inches. Alou closed out the scoring with a two-run single that was his second hit of the inning.

Billy Wagner, who had started warming up when the Mets were just starting their eighth inning rally, came on to close out an 11-5 opening day victory that thrilled the Mets' faithful -- actually an opening-day record crowd at Shea that was happy to forget the two tough weekend losses in Atlanta. The huge crows witnessed an incredibly exciting fourth inning, and a thrilling come-from-behind victory for the home team.

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