Unlikely Hero powers: Activate! Rookie pitcher John Maine became the latest U.H. in the 2006 National League Championship Series Wednesday night, throwing five and a third shutout innings to help lead the New York Mets to a 4-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals and set up Game 7 Thursday night.
So Maine joins Darren Oliver and Jeff Weaver and So Taguchi and Scott Spiezio as whodathunkit heroes in this exciting series. We can throw in Oliver Perez too, since the commentariat seems to think his Game 4 start, five and two-thirds innings, five runs, was the stuff of gritty October valor rather than just some lousy pitching accompanied by his teammates scoring 11 runs while he was in the game.
I'm willing to go along with that because Mets manager Willie Randolph has thrown his dart at the roster and determined his Game 7 starter will be ... Oliver Perez! The unlikely hero of Game 4! You can't script this stuff, people!
Perez will face Jeff Suppan, the Cardinals' No. 2 starter and a semi-unlikely hero for his shutout win in Game 3. Suppan had a nice year, but whitewashing the Carloses and Reyes and Wright? Whooodathun-- well, you know.
But really it'll be everybody get ready to throw. Oliver, who pitched six shutout innings in relief of the disastrous S-t-e-v-e T-r-a-c-h-s-e-l in the Game 2 loss, figures to get the call at the first sign of trouble for Perez. Tom Glavine, brilliant in Game 1 and KO'd in Game 5, probably has an inning in him, since Thursday would be his day to throw on the side anyway.
The idea will be for that trio and possibly the pokey Trach ... s ... el, who's nursing a bruised thigh after he was too slow to get out of the way of one of the hard-hit balls he gave up in Game 3, to get the game to the sixth inning, when the back of the Mets bullpen -- Chad Bradford, Aaron Heilman, Guillermo Mota and Billy Wagner -- can take over in their regular roles.
The problem with that idea is that Wagner, the closer, has brought a gas can to the mound the last two times he's pitched, in Games 2 and 6, and Mota and Bradford have both pitched two straight days, three of the last four and four of the last six. Rest in November, fellas.
Also problematic: Perez and Trachsel aren't very good and Oliver, Game 2 heroics notwithstanding, is no great shakes either, with a 5.58 ERA after the All-Star break. You don't get to be an unexpected hero unless people don't expect much out of you.
The Cardinals' pen is much fresher. Of the four relievers who have been effective in this series -- Tyler Johnson, Randy Flores, Josh Kinney and closer Adam Wainwright -- only Johnson pitched Wednesday, for an inning and a third. And since Johnson didn't pitch in Game 5 Tuesday, that means none of the four has worked on consecutive days since Kinney did it Friday and Saturday.
So what I'm saying is the Cardinals have a better starting pitcher and a better bullpen. And I'm sticking with my prediction for the series and saying the Mets are going to win Game 7.
Also because this column is in a prognostication slump of unprecedented depth, having whiffed on all four series in the first round, recovering a bit by picking the Detroit Tigers over the Oakland A's. The law of averages, or at least the theorem of the blind squirrel, has to be working in my favor here.
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Spooky stories, starring Chris Duncan [PERMALINK]
Chris Duncan, you are the backward man! You're the Bermuda Triangle! Nothing about you makes sense! If I said the sky were green, you'd say, "No, it's yellow."
In Game 5 of the NLCS, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa brought Duncan, a left-handed slugger who doesn't hit lefties, in to pinch-hit against left-handed Mets reliever Pedro Feliciano. Crazy move.
OK, it wasn't all that crazy considering the game situation and the other options available to La Russa at the time but go with me on this one. It's unusual to see a big-league manager these days, particularly Tony La Russa, the magnifico of matchups, the admiral of advantages, the loofah of lefty-righty, bring in a southpaw pinch hitter to face a southpaw pitcher.
Most managers today, given the choice of pinch-hitting with either John Mabry or Henry Aaron against a right-hander, would go with Mabry. It's called "playing the percentages," mostly by people who wouldn't be able to figure out a percentage even if they took their socks off.
So of course Duncan hit a home run. He's Younger Bear in "Little Big Man"! He bathes in dirt!
Then in Game 6 Thursday, Mets manager Willie Randolph, not to be outdone, did the exact opposite of La Russa's move. With Duncan announced as a pinch hitter, Randolph went to his pen, where Feliciano was warm -- and called for right-hander Guillermo Mota! Whoa! A righty-lefty matchup, chosen voluntarily! Chris Duncan, what have you wrought! Must! Keep! Head! From!
Of course Mota, recklessly using his right hand to pitch, promptly got Duncan to hit into an inning-ending double play. Can you believe it?
Of course you can't. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again. Next thing we know, someone's going to use a closer in the seventh inning.
Previous column: Cards take 3-2 lead
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