I just shead a tear for Keith Law
The Mets paid the ultimate price for their inability to get the Cardinals' worst hitter out, and the National League's best team was toppled by its sixth- or seventh-best team, giving us Fox's worst nightmare of a World Series -- and a pretty sizable mismatch to boot.
Yadier Molina is a terrible hitter who had his Brian Doyle moment, fluking into a good series and hitting the series-clinching homer on a hanging changeup from Aaron Heilman in the ninth inning. The Mets had been challenging him with fastballs, perhaps knowing how weak he is, and he made one adjustment, just trying to make contact even if it usually meant going the other way, and a larger-than-expected number of his hits fell in. Thursday, Heilman decided to go to the changeup, a mistake given Molina's lack of bat speed and Heilman's velocity; pounding Molina hard in and going away with the changeup once ahead in the count is the best way to pitch to him. Still, if Heilman didn't hang the changeup, Molina probably would've missed the pitch entirely.
Jeff Suppan wasn't as sharp as he was in Game 3, but he stayed out of the middle of the plate and forced the Mets hitters to choose between waiting him out or swinging at pitches that were very difficult to drive. They chose the latter, letting Suppan off the hook despite his four unintentional walks and a hit batsman. Suppan was also able to work mostly off of his fastball-cutter-change combo, keeping his curve -- which had good depth Thursday -- as more of an occasional pitch to use to try to get a strikeout in a critical situation.
The Cardinals' bullpen did outstanding work yet again. Randy Flores not only did his assigned job of getting Carlos Delgado out in the eighth inning (on a couple of big-breaking sliders), but he also struck out right-handed-hitting David Wright before getting Shawn Green to ground out to first base to end the eighth. People will talk about Suppan's performance, but Flores retiring two of the Mets' three best hitters with the third already on first base was the pitching performance of the night.
Adam Wainwright did a bit of a Billy Wagner (or Todd Jones) impression in the ninth, but he was nails in striking out both Cliff Floyd and Carlos Beltran looking. Wainwright froze Floyd with his plus curveball; with Floyd just sitting on the fastball, it was almost a foregone conclusion that he'd try to put him away with a two-strike curveball, and he ran a big risk when he went with a 1-2 fastball up. (It's worth mentioning that strike two on Floyd, while technically a strike, was about six inches above the top of the de facto strike zone. It's pretty awful to suddenly call that pitch a strike in the ninth inning of Game 7 and is yet another instance of the Heisenberg Strike Zone affecting a game.) Wainwright then did the near-impossible by walking Paul Lo Duca -- who'd been averaging 0.8 pitches per plate appearance in the series -- but then froze Beltran on another curve, one that just about everyone knew was coming and that still managed to turn Beltran into a $17 million-a-year statue.
The critical decision for the Mets came in the sixth inning, when Willie Randolph let the struggling Jose Valentin bat in a bases-loaded, one-out situation with the game tied. Scott Rolen threw a routine groundball into the stands, creating a second-and-third, one-out situation. The Cardinals walked Green -- is there a greater sign of disrespect in baseball than having someone walk Shawn Green to face you? -- to bring Valentin to the plate, and he hacked at a couple balls in the dirt like he was trying to dig them out of a sandtrap. The Mets should have pinch-hit for him, although their bench has been limited all series because they chose to carry Floyd on the roster.
There were a few other head-scratchers from the Mets. In the bottom of the fifth, shortly after Fox showed a graphic pointing out that 43 percent of hitters who reach with no outs end up scoring (one of the most informative graphics you'll ever see on a baseball telecast, by the way), the Mets let Oliver Perez -- who had thrown five innings and only given up one run -- lead off the inning. It was a colossal mistake, because Perez was an automatic out, whereas even the worst pinch-hitting option (Anderson Hernandez) had at least a fighting chance to reach base. Perez had given the Mets good results to that point, but he'd also been doing a salamander dance in and around the fire all night and was leaving way too many balls over the plate, including very hittable 0-2 pitches to Molina (in the second inning) and Ronnie Belliard (in the fifth). It's Oliver Perez, not Pedro Martinez. He should've been taken out for the pinch-hitter there.
It's clear that leaving Perez in to face Rolen was also a mistake, one that only a Web Gem from Endy Chavez could erase. Neither Chad Bradford nor Heilman pitched poorly, and the Mets should absolutely win any game when they only give up three runs. The reality of the NLCS is that the league's best offense really didn't show up, and only some of the credit can go to the Cardinals' pitchers, many of whom were mediocre at best during the regular season. Wright was AWOL. Lo Duca approached his at-bats like he was double-parked outside Shea Stadium. Valentin and Green both looked like players who should be contemplating retirement this winter. You can't win a series when that many of your hitters underperform unless your pitchers are close to perfect; the Cardinals pitchers were, and the Mets pitchers weren't.