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For the Love of the Game

For the Love of the Game

For the Love of the Game

“And you know Steve you get the feeling that Billy Chapel isn’t pitching against left handers, he isn’t pitching against pinch hitters, he isn’t pitching against the Yankees. He’s pitching against time. He’s pitching against the future, against age, and even when you think about his career, against ending. And tonight I think he might be able to use that aching old arm one more time to push the sun back up in the sky and give us one more day of summer.

That was a quote by Vin Scully in the 1999 Kevin Costner movie “For the Love of the Game.” Costner played a broken down former Cy Young Award pitcher who was trying to cap his career with a no-hitter. Billy Chapel, the fictitious pitcher, completed the feat against the Yankees at the old Stadium. It was the perfect couple’s movie: baseball drama for the guy and a love story for the lady.

Johan Santana didn’t no-hit the Cardinals in front of a sold out crowd at the House that Ruth Built, nor do I think this is his final day in the sun. His feat, however, had tons of similarities to that film. Most importantly, you saw on display what the game is all about.

As a former Cy Young Award winner in the sunset of his career coming off an injury, it was hard to imagine Santana pitching again after his shoulder capsule injury, much less producing at an elite level. What you saw last night was a testament to his desire and competitiveness. You have to really love what you do in order to put the time and effort into the type of rehab Santana experienced. How else can you explain this unlikely comeback from an injury that no one has ever successfully rehabbed from before. It was irony that this happened in the season where the organization is celebrating its 50th anniversary. You saw on display a lot of what I have been discussing as reasons for the Mets success.

Logic says yesterday shouldn’t have happened. Santana is throwing in the high-eighties and no longer has the command we saw in his Minnesota prime. The Mets don’t have Carlos Beltran- he was actually playing in a St. Louis uniform-Jose Reyes or Carlos Delgado. Their lineup is littered with young players trying to prove themselves, and component pieces getting their only shot at staying in the big leagues. The only established “star” is David Wright, who some may say is second-tier. Don’t forget the opponent was a St. Louis team that is averaging over five runs per a game- more than 14 American League clubs. Logic states yesterday, or this season, shouldn’t happen.

You saw Mike Baxter put his season on the line to preserve the no-no. You then saw him discuss in the postgame how he is going to get treatment and try to play through the pain. He looked uncomfortable talking about the catch to reporters as he reminded everyone last night was about Santana, not his play.

You saw this club embrace the moment as a team. It’s rare that 25 guys get along and enjoy each other’s company, but it wouldn’t surprise you if this Mets team actually did. The locker room scene on SNY was a priceless moment. It was sincere and not rehearsed, that is what made it so special. Most important, this team appears to be there for each other on the field and tries to play the game the right way. I am not sure we have seen much of that the last decade; even in 2006.

Last night you saw a bunch of guys having fun, playing a baseball game and making history. In true Mets fashion it wasn’t a perfect situation. You had Terry Collins stressed about Santana’s pitch count and an umpire blow a call on what should have been a Carlos Beltran double. For the last 50 years the story would have been “returning hero ruins an historic night.” Last night the baseball gods weren’t going to have it. This franchise had suffered enough.

Forget about the pitch counts, biomechanics and sabermetric analysis. There is plenty of time for that the rest of the season. What we saw last night is what baseball and sports is all about: passion, heart, celebration and teamwork. Is t is cliché? For sure. But it’s at the root of all we discuss on a daily basis. It’s why we watch these games.

Maybe there is something to that old saying “for the love of the game.” I know it appeared to be on display last night.

***

I was glad to see Mets fans give Carlos Beltran a warm reception.

I have discussed ad-nauseam the wrongful criticism of Beltran during his tenure. When he signed his 7-year/$117 million dollar deal in the winter of 2004, the expectations were that Beltran would perform like he did in the postseason with Houston.

No one could have produced a better October than Beltran did that season (8 HRs, 14 RBI). He proved he was an elite player during his initial foray into the national spotlight.

It was unfair, however, to believe he was going to perform at that level over the course of a season. No one can. He was also not the dynamic personality that New York likes and respects. Funny, Beltran did what so many other free agents haven’t throughout the course of Mets’ history: played consistently well at a high level throughout his contract. He should be celebrated for that, not scorned.

Is there a better player on both sides of the ball in Mets history? Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement puts him third all-time behind Darryl Strawberry and David Wright. I would argue that his first season, which was full of injury and adjustment, and his final two years, where he was injured and traded, robbed him of the top spot. He was a Top-10 hitter in his prime who played gold glove defense at the most premium defensive position on the field.

Fans mistook Beltran’s smoothness for not caring. This wasn’t Kevin McReynolds, who enjoyed duck hunting more than baseball; we were watching a borderline Hall of Famer. The fact that he worked to return from a bone on bone knee injury is proof of that. He could have easily took the money and sat out the rest of the deal.

There was so much hang-wringing over the Mets decision to pass on Jose Reyes this winter. For as much “energy” Reyes displayed, he wasn’t the cog of those successful Omar Minaya teams. That group goes nowhere in 2006 without Beltran 41 home runs and 116 RBI. There isn’t a Game 7 Adam Wainwright curveball to complain about if Beltran didn’t perform as he did during the regular season. Don’t judge him by his cover. Beltran is more substance than style; the antithesis of Reyes.

The Mets had to make the deal with San Francisco last July. Re-signing him to a multi-year contract was too risky due to their financial situation and Beltran’s health. Besides, it probably was time for both sides to part ways. There was too much water under the bridge from the 2010 controversy over how to handle his knee injury. It may turn out that $117-million dollar investment continues to pay dividends if Zack Wheeler turns out to be the ace everything thinks. It’s the gift that will keep on giving.

Despite that, it’s hard to not imagine where this current Mets club would be if Beltran was in right field and Lucas Duda in left. Everyone talks about the Mets missing Jose Reyes, but I really think they miss Carlos Beltran.

It’s about time the fans showed their appreciation.

by: Michael J. Silva

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By Mike Silva
Saturday, 2 Jun 2012

 

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New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals

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