- Marlins 4-Mets 2:
* I have to stop here for a moment because as I was writing this, the TV was on with the closing ceremonies of Shea Stadium and I got up to have a look at the players being introduced after hearing the names Nolan Ryan, Hubie Brooks, Mookie Wilson, Ray Knight etc. expecting to see the former players walking out and waving and instead saw cameras panning the stands, the outside of the stadium, the bullpens and whatever as if it were the stock footage that used to fill the screen in the 60s and 70s while people onscreen were having sex. Can they do anything right?
...and any team that gets no performance from their bullpen and no production from half their lineup cannot expect to win. A gutty effort from the erratic Oliver Perez was wasted; a clutch homer by Carlos Beltran to tie the game was wasted; and a solid job of managerial mixing and matching by Jerry Manuel was wasted.
It can be argued that the Mets were lucky to get as far as they did with that bullpen; as far as they did with that patched together lineup laden with journeymen and rookies; as far as they did with only 2 1/2 reliable starting pitchers; but winning teams don't complain; nor do they find excuses as to why they lost. The Brewers had every reason to throw their hands up in the air with problems that were almost identical to those of the Mets, but they rode their courageous ace C.C. Sabathia and clutch hitting from Ryan Braun into the playoffs. Their current circumstances don't bode well for them to get past three or four games in the playoffs, but at least they're there; at least they're going to be able to say they made it and they'll give their young players that experience for however long it lasts.
There are hitters that it's acceptable to give up a home run. I don't consider Wes Helms to be among their number and it's a testament to the Mets problems that Scott Schoeneweis was unable to retire a mediocre infielder with little power simply because he's right-handed. Then Luis Ayala, who did pitch well more often than not for the Mets, allowed another homer to Dan Uggla, effectively sealing the Mets fate.
There are many ways to dissect why the Mets didn't make the playoffs again. It could be said that they were too reliant on one superstar starting pitcher and their stars in the lineup; it could be said that they pushed the envelope too far and wasted too much money on ancient veterans like Moises Alou and Orlando Hernandez; it could be said that they waited too long to replace former manager Willie Randolph; but that might have been the case whether they made the playoffs or not. That they didn't make the playoffs and that fact being a direct result of a combination of these factors doesn't alter the reality; and that reality is they were outgunned in the bullpen and tried to make do with pitchers and players who weren't able to handle their jobs and there were too many question marks in their lineup and on their bench. Some of that was due to a misreading of talent; some was due to injuries; but whatever the cause, the end result is that those faults cost the Mets a playoff spot.
The implications of similarities between the collapse of 2007 and the loss of 2008 are inaccurate and unfair. They played as hard as they could with what they had, but simply didn't have the performers to get the job done. Instead of whining about what might have been, they can move forward in their new ballpark and take steps to correct those issues so they won't be in that exact same position for a third year in a row in 2009.
- Brewers 3-Cubs 1:
It would be a knee-jerk reaction to overtly blame Piniella for the Cubs loss, but it wasn't exactly sporting of him to treat the game as a spring training exercise and use seven different pitchers, none of whom are going to be relied upon heavily (if at all) in the playoffs during do-or-die situations. While it's understandable for Piniella to rest catcher Geovany Soto before the playoffs begin, Mark DeRosa, their best hitter this year, couldn't play? They couldn't use Kerry Wood? They couldn't use Carlos Marmol? Was one game going to bother them either way heading into the playoffs to maintain the integrity of the pennant race?
Sabathia's heroism probably would've been rewarded somehow no matter what Piniella did; the Brewers were playing with a little more than destiny on their side as they overcame everything from a collapse that was worse than that of the Mets in 2007, a desperation managerial change and functioning with only one reliable starting pitcher, they deserve to make the playoffs; but Piniella didn't help the cause of competitiveness by not taking the lead of the Marlins and Nationals and fighting to the best of their abilities to keep the game pure. Might Piniella have had it in his mind that he'd rather face the Dodgers than the Mets and Johan Santana in a short series? It's certainly possible and he's well within his rights to try and manipulate the situation to his team's best possible advantage in the playoffs, but that doesn't mean that it's completely fair.
The Mets did lose their game, so if they wanted to avoid having to rely on another team andanother manager, they could've taken care of their own business and kept destiny in their own hands, but the situation is what it is. This isn't an accusation of any wrongdoing on the part of a great and honorable manager in Lou Piniella, and his team is heading to the playoffs so he has a justifiable argument for holding out his most imperative stars, but that doesn't make it appear any better in the box scores to see those names when there were the names Marmol, Wood and DeRosa available just as the Marlins were fighting to win the game as if they were the ones in the pennant race.