Better living through chemistry

Just before noon Saturday, Rod Barajas sat near his locker cradling a portable iPod dock. The speakers blared Biz Markie, then Snoop Dogg, then Pearl Jam. Some Mets lip synched Biz’s rhymes or nodded along to Dr. Dre’s beats, then sang with Eddie Vedder. Alex Cora emerged from a back room of the clubhouse with a Guitar Hero controller just in time to mimic Mike McCready’s solo on Yellow Ledbetter.

Done with their hitting, stretching and infield practice and still with more than an hour to go before their matchup with the Braves, the Mets were having fun.

Who could blame them? They arrived in the clubhouse the winners of four of their last five games, the latest a neat 5-2 victory on Friday in which Jason Bay finally showed signs of life and Ike Davis blasted his first Major League home run.

They went out and won that day, fueled by a few late runs and a series of missteps by their opponents. Then they won Sunday, too, a rain-shortened contest in which Mike Pelfrey tacked five more innings onto his career-best scoreless streak despite yielding, on average, two baserunners per frame.

So what happened? How did the 4-8 Mets, the lifeless, hapless crew with a near-riotous fanbase become the likable gang of winners that swept the Braves to move above .500 and into second place?

Maybe Barajas’ excellent taste in music catalyzed a clubhouse chemical reaction that synthesized a dominant ballclub. Maybe Mike Jacobs’ departure inspired his teammates to start winning for fear they, too, would be ticketed for Buffalo.

Or maybe we are once again wracked by the wrath of randomness, searching for reason where it does not exist.

What has changed in the Mets’ last seven games since they stopped being a 4-8 team and became a team that wins six of seven?

There’s Ike Davis, sure. And Davis inarguably represents an improvement over Jacobs on both sides of the ball. But Davis entered the lineup with Jeff Francoeur and David Wright — the team’s hottest hitters in the first two weeks of the season — enduring wretched slumps.

Angel Pagan, too, marks an upgrade over Gary Matthews Jr. But since securing the Mets’ starting center-field spot, Pagan has notched a downright Matthews-esque .558 OPS.

Over these seven games, the team’s pitching has been great, for certain. Mets hurlers have thrown 59 innings with a 1.98 ERA. But in that stretch, they’ve allowed 91 baserunners. They’ve let runners reach base at a higher rate than in their first 12 games, when they yielded a 3.77 ERA.

Perhaps sometime in the past two weeks Dan Warthen uncovered some ancient secret to allowing tons of baserunners without letting them score (not allowing home runs certainly helps), but it’s way more likely that Mets pitchers have been fortunate to withstand so much peril and emerge relatively unscathed.

It’s way more likely the Mets reaped the benefits of playing two consecutive series against struggling teams.

Lucky, you might say.

And that shouldn’t discredit their performances, at all. So much of baseball — and so much of what’s awesome about baseball — is comprised of luck, randomness and chance. It’s the reason one of the game’s oldest and most well-worked cliches states, “That’s the way the ball bounces.”

Though the Mets lost eight of their first 12 games, they were never a team bad enough to lose 66 percent of their games. And though the Mets won six of their last seven games, they are not a team good enough to win 86 percent of their games. That both those things happened likely demonstrates, more than anything, the dangers of reading too much into too small a sample.

Now the Mets stand at 10-9, and perhaps that record presents a better indication of their true talent level. Maybe the Mets are a team that can win a little more than half of their games. But 19 games are, like 12 games and 7 games, too few to really tell us anything.

Every win the Mets add to their total is inalienable, and so we should enjoy these stretches because we know the Mets will need every victory they can get across the 162-game season.

And winning makes baseball fun for everyone, from the guys bobbing and singing and guitar soloing in the clubhouse Saturday morning to all the Mets fans who braved the rain to enjoy the short victory Sunday night.

But to pretend the Mets have turned some corner in these seven games, and will by some magic continue winning without appreciable production from some of their best hitters and despite far too many opposing hitters reaching base, is silly.

The Mets will again suffer rough stretches, fans will again call for the heads of Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya, and members of the media will again wonder how a team of professionals could play such mindless baseball.

Then it will get better again. And then worse. It’s baseball. That’s the way the ball bounces.

2 thoughts on “Better living through chemistry

  1. Luck is a big thing in sport, Ted, and we have had none for a long time now. Just none. Less than none. The only way Philly took 2008 was Lidge being perfect (and our closer being injured). Is Lidge actually a guy who should do that? No. Randomness plays a big part in baseball, even over 162 games, strangely enough..

    We are SO due, god willing.

  2. You are absolutely right. Rationally, I know that. I will say, however, that part of the fun I have in following a baseball team day to day is believing in all of the intangible bs. I can’t help myself.

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