Friday, September 05, 2003

Mesa, Mesa, Mesa

Here are some of the headlines in the local papers this morning:

  • Lieberthal lifts Phils, bails out Mesa -- Todd Zolecki, Philadelphia Inquirer

  • After Mesa mess, Phils find a way to win -- Marcus Hayes, Philadelphia Daily News

  • Home is where the blown save is -- Rich Hoffman, Philadelphia Daily News

  • Mesa as closer is no longer the final answer -- Phil Sheridan, Philadelphia Inquirer

  • I think the last one is my favorite -- straight to the point, and accurate.

    But, yes, this is the situation we face. The Phillies held a 5-4 lead going to the ninth, and Mesa entered the game. Sheridan described the events as follows:

    Someone named Prentice Redman, a young Mets outfielder with all of seven big-league at-bats on his resume, utterly crushed a Mesa pitch in the ninth inning. Crushed it. Made a sound like a hockey slapshot and then, fittingly, splashed into the net on the left-field foul pole.

    Mesa got a strikeout to follow, and then gave up a single to Timo Perez. Larry Bowa had seen enough, and went to the bullpen. Valerio de los Santos -- recently acquired from Milwaukee -- came on to finish out the inning. He got the win when the offense picked up Mesa in the bottom of the inning. Marlon Byrd led off the ninth with a walk, and two outs later, Mike Lieberthal brought him home with the winner.

    Thank goodness the offense is clicking.

    When Mesa returned to the closer's role a few weeks ago, Bowa said at the time that he would be on a short leash. He has shown how short by pulling Mesa as soon as he has gotten into trouble since then, and he is tightening the reins again. Bowa promised to meet with Mesa and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan to discuss whether or not Mesa will remain in the closer's role. I think that all of us know that if this team is going to make it to the playoffs, it won't be with Mesa at the end of the bullpen.

    If you look at Mesa's stats...well, none of them are good. But the road splits are at least decent. The home splits are...well, awful might be too kind. Sheridan's Inquirer article touches on this, and Hofmann's Daily News piece highlights it. Earlier in the week, Bowa tried to explain Mesa's home troubles on the constant booing he faces. And I'll admit, he faces a lot of it. Hofmann describes last night's scene:

    You had to be there last night, with 19,259 blood-lustful souls in the aging dump, as Mesa made his way out of the bullpen. They were booing him before he reached the infield. You had to be there as the inning began. It was 9:53 p.m. The hitter was the Mets' Prentice Redman, who stepped to the plate without a career home run or RBI in the major leagues.

    The crowd booed ball one. It booed the pitch that bounced to make the count 2-1. It booed the low pitch that made it 3-1. And then the people booed again, louder this time, as Redman swung the bat and launched a shot down the leftfield line. The noise grew as the ball sailed. The crowd was in a full-throated roar even before the ball hit the foul screen for a home run.

    It was 9:55 p.m. The game was tied. No one emerged from the dugout with a hook, or oxygen, or anything. Mesa continued.

    And so did the booing. The fans booed through McEwing's strikeout, and they continued as Perez ripped a single off the right-field wall. They didn't stop until Mesa was long gone from the game, likely escaped from the clubhouse.

    I am sure the booing affects him. But he should be used to it, or at least adjusted to it. And he cannot pin all of his problems on a few boos. Hofmann has the numbers:

    Since Aug. 1, Mesa has a 3.86 ERA away from the Vet. He has not been scored upon in six straight road appearances.

    In that same time span, though, Mesa has an impossible 34.76 ERA at home.

    Yuck. His catcher feels that he has lost control and confidence. I don't have to tell you that neither is a good thing. He may have finally lost his grip on the closer's role. Bowa wanted to sleep on his decision before meeting with the pitcher today. If he's smart, he'll tell Mesa he's done as the closer. The problem is, who's next?

    Some of you may have noticed yesterday that the Mesa Watch is operational again, albeit with a different format. Mesa needs to finish 55 games this season to have his option for next year automatically kick in. He's at 45, with 22 games left. Here's hoping he doesn't reach it.


    On the brighter side, the Phillies won. They got to Glavine in the middle innings, and bit the bullpen late. The Marlins won in the afternoon, keeping the two teams tied. Arizona and the Cubs won to keep pace, while the Cardinals fell another game back. The Dodgers and Expos were off, falling a half-game further behind. We're rooting for the Expos tonight, as they play the Marlins. Padilla hits the mound for the Phillies...let's hope he can throw more than a fastball.