NLDS: Mets vs. Dodgers: Shifty Business

They’ve really got to rethink that infield shift, those Dodgers. Every time the Mets’ Carlos Delgado came to bat against them yesterday, their infielders shifted toward first base, knowing that the lefty Delgado is an extreme pull hitter. Unfortunately, Delgado doesn’t pull quite as much as the Dodgers seem to think, and he hit two sharp groundballs just to the right of Rafael Furcal and one just to the right of Jeff Kent; hits the Dodger infielders couldn’t reach; hits that figured in four of the Mets’ six runs.

For good luck, Delgado blasted one that can beat any shift, over the centerfield fence, and led the Mets to a 6-5 victory.

Delgado’s 4-for-5 performance wasn’t the highlight of the day, however. That distinction goes to the base running of Kent and J.D. Drew, the coaching of Rich Donnelly and two great relays by Shawn Green and Jose Valentin. These characters collaborated on one of the more unusual plays I have seen.

It was the top of the second and the Dodgers were threatening against emergency Mets starter John Maine. Kent was on second and Drew on first when Russell Martin roped a double into right. I’ll never understand why Kent didn’t score easily on the play (and ESPN’s lack of a replay didn’t help), but Green pegged a perfect throw to the cutoff man Valentin, whose even more perfect one-hop relay easily reached catcher Paul Lo Duca before Kent for an out at home.

But to add Dodger insult to injury, Donnelly waved Drew home as well, about 10 yards behind Kent. Lo Duca turned around, saw Drew barreling along, and tagged him out, too. Yup, two outs in one, when there should have been runners on second and third and a run scored.

It reminded Vin Scully of an old Dodger joke (thanks to Deadspin):

You know, there’s an old joke they used to tell about the Brooklyn Dodgers (only he would know this and remember). There’s a guy outside Ebbetts Field and a guy inside Ebbetts Field watching the game. The guy outside calls out to the guy inside and says, hey, how are the Dodgers doing? And the guy inside says, excitedly, they’ve got two on! And the guy outside says—what base?

Marlon Anderson’s subsequent run-scoring double almost made it worse. Four consecutive hits, two outs and only one run scored.

John Maine pitched well in his emergency start, allowing only one run in 4.1 innings. But he didn’t look terrifically sharp—the Dodgers’ Derek Lowe was more in command—and Willie Randolph showed that he has some playoff moxie by employing advanced bullpen management in the fifth.

The Mets were leading by one (thanks to home runs by Delgado and Cliff Floyd) and the Dodgers had runners on first and second with one out and Kenny Lofton and Nomar Garciaparra due up. So Randolph pulled Maine and brought in LOOGY Pedro Feliciano (who made Lofton look just silly striking out) and rightie Chad Bradford (who got Garciaparra to ground to Reyes for the third out).

It was a great move by Randolph, recognizing that his starting corps is weak but his bullpen is deep. If he is to lead the Mets through this postseason, aggressive bullpen moves will have to be part of his strategy. Unfortunately, he left Guillermo Mota in a little too long the next two innings (and even let him bat with the bases loaded in the sixth), almost wiping out the smart moves he had made in the fifth. Still, I give him an overall plus for recognizing what needed to be done.

The Dodgers did manage to tie the game against Mota, with Garciaparra delivering a huge double with two out in the seventh, tying the score at 4. According to my calculations, he got a WPA credit of .273 on that play alone.

Prior to Garciaparra’s big blow, Marlon Anderson had executed a perfect drag bunt for a single (I may sound like a kid, but drag bunts are awesome) and Valentin made a poor judgment play trying to get him at second on Betemit’s groundball (WPA on the error of .117). After Rafael Furcal delivered a run-scoring single, Garciaparra delivered his blow.

Brad Penny (or, as Dodger fans call him, Bad Penny) was brought in to pitch the seventh, and he did about as well as Mota. The Mets took a 6-4 lead on a couple of walks, a single by Delgado and a double by David Wright (his second run-scoring double of the game). The Dodgers made things interesting against Billy Wagner in the ninth, and Garciaparra came to bat representing the winning run. But his mojo wasn’t quite working at the end, and Wagner struck him out to end the game.

Here is what the game looked like:

(To read more about this type of graph, read this article).

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The Mets’ WPA leader was Delgado, with .410 WPA “points.” Wright was second with .131. Wilson Betemit led the Dodgers with .114, Anderson had .110 and Garciaparra had .088.

The big story before the game was Maine’s emergency start, of course. He pitched about as well as can be expected, and Randolph’s aggressive use of the bullpen helped bring the Mets home. But losing Pedro and El Duque is all about depth, and the bigger test of the Mets’ pitching depth will come in the following games. Still, with all of the focus on the pitching, this game reminded us that the Mets had the best everyday lineup in the National League this year.

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Dave Studeman was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Follow his sporadic tweets @dastudes.

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