Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Tales from my Log 2

7/21/05 Th San Diego 3-0 Ishii # 2-0 W 11-0

A five-year absence from America meant a five-year absence from Haagen-Dazs, daytime TV, and Shea Stadium. It would be hard to rank which I missed more, but today I could definitely tell you which was more satisfying.
The Stadium had not changed since I'd last been here, but I had. Gone was the happy little boy who knew about as much about baseball as high finance, giving personal nickanmes to players and thinking that every inning the teams started batting from the top of the order. Instead, here in his stead was a seriouser, stats-oriented geek who simultaneously loved the Mets more and was more cynical about them than ever. The situation was also different: instead of a mass family outing, with siblings and cousins galore, this was a private affair, with just one brother and one grandmother.
I was hard at work putting on a happy face for said grandmother. After all, how could she have known that the tickets she'd bought had gained us admittance to witness a performance by the worst pitcher on the Mets and, possibly, all of baseball?
Kazuhisa Ishii, the 32-year-old Korean fastballer, was a walking pit of despair for the 2005 Mets. After three mediocre years on the Los Angeles Dodgers, he'd been acquired as a new Rick Peterson "project". The Jacket's incompetence shone through, as his protege immediately sank like a stone to the bottom of the rotation and like a lead weight around fans' necks. Coming into the dreaded (for me) game he was 2-8 with an unlovely 5.57 ERA.
And just to put the icing on the cake, he was matched--outmatched--up against Jake Peavy, the up-and-coming young ace of the San Diego Padres' pitching staff, his stat line reading like the inverse of Ishii's: 8-3, 3.03 ERA, with 132 strikeouts thrown in for good measure. His previous outing had featured seven innings of one-run, eight-K ball. Besides, the team had displayed a magnetic attraction to the .500 record all year--indeed, they would not shake it until the very last week--and was coming off a three-game winning streak, so even the odds were against me. No way was I witnessing a win today.
I put on my happy face for pre-game photos, but as we settled into our seats I grew gloomy. After three innings, my doubts had still not been dispelled. Ishii had walked three and allowed an equal number of hits (including a single for Peavy, earning him a chorus of boos), and only the defense had kept the Pads off the boards. I knew it was only a matter of time.
Meanwhile, the Mets couldn't touch Peavy. Then first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, who was known more for his glove than for his bat, lofted a leadoff home run into the bleachers in the bottom of the inning (his 10th of the year, oddly enough, though was to hit only one more the rest of the way), giving his team a 1-0 lead. I applauded the dinger but assumed that such a slim lead would not last long. I was right. It was widened.
After Ishii tossed his first clean innings in the fourth and fifth--six up, six down--the Mets pounced.
"Minky" got it started by working a one-out walk. Backup Castro Ramon Castro drove him in with another homer. Mets 3, Padres 0. Ishii walked. The electric Jose Reyes singled, stole second like every single damn person in the park knew he would--his 31st of the year--and when the catcher overthrew second, both runners advanced. Mike Cameron doubled, bringing the score up to Mets 5, Padres 0, and I was practically dancing in the aisle.
It was the next inning they really cut loose. Seven hits, one walk, a sacrifice fly, one pitching change and eleven batters later (personal favorite David Wright collected two hits, including a two-run double), and the score was now an officially ridiculous 12-zip.
Ishii had been pitch-hit for in that crazy sixth, so the relievers paraded through. Dae-Sung Koo and then Heath Bell came in for a pair of clean innings. After I savored my way through watching future career-saves-record-holder Trevor Hoffman work their eighth, Willie Randolph sent Danny Graves out to the mound for the final frame.
A rain of boos came hailing down. At least, I can definitely state that some hailed from me; some may or may not have emanated from other throats in the ballpark. I didn't notice. I was directing every fiber of my being into booing the most gutless, untalented hack on the 2005 Mets' pitching staff. Did I say Ishii was the worst before? Scratch that. Graves was the worstest. They probably had to coin a new word to described the level of suckiness he exuded. In his past 10 games he'd given up 10 runs, driving his ERA up to an incredible eight point seventy freaking one.
Two of the first three Friars up singled, putting runners on the corners, while I continued to shower the only Met ever born in Vietnam with vocal indignation. "You're ruining the shutout!" I bellowed. "For God's sake, somebody yank him already!!"
Nobody yanked Graves. The didn't have the time to do so. The next two batters went quietly, and just like that, the Mets had an official blowout shutout on their hands.
I didn't know, but probably could have guessed, that we had witnessed Kaz Ishii's last Met and major league win. He wound up 3-9, 5.14, and out of a career. After five more appearances, so was fellow countryman Koo. Bell wound up on the Padres via a trade. Nine appearances later, Graves's ERA would land on the 5.75 mark, still way too laughably high; he was gone in December. Marlon Anderson, the only starter besides Ishii without an RBI, would leave and come back. Cameron and Mientkiewicz would leave and not, and good riddance--Cameron for failing a drug test, Stinky Minky for mouthing off about the fans. Castro, Jose Jose Jose and D-Wright are still there.
"It's good to be the king," quoth Mel Brooks; and on July 21st, 2005, it was good to be a Mets fan.

TODAY'S BOOK: "Assassination Vacation", by Sarah Vowell ((c) 2005)

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