Sometimes three quarters of the battle can be won by just showing up — or at least showing up healthy. In the playoffs last year Orlando Hernandez couldn’t say he did even that. The pitcher the Mets traded for in mid-season, based largely on his postseason prowess, hurt his calf just before his scheduled start in Game 1 of the NLDS, forcing the Mets to go with the inexperienced John Maine. El Duque might have been able to return for the World Series, but since the Mets fell short of the Fall Classic, Hernandez had to wait all offseason to pitch in another meaningful game. Sure enough, the injury bug plagued Hernandez in spring training as well, with various ailments keeping him from pitching the number of live innings the Mets had hoped he would throw.
So when Hernandez took the mound last night with a one-run lead in the bottom of the first, it was hard to know which El Duque we would see. Would it be the injury-ridden, aged starter who sometimes throws pitches at Little League speed, or would it be the healthy, ageless wonder who mixes speeds in a way that drives even the best hitters crazy? The answer became clear to me in the second inning, after Adam Kennedy grounded into the second 1-6-3 double play of the ballgame. Last night on the mound El Duque proved that as long as he stays healthy he can be a valuable member of the rotation. That wasn’t really a surprise, but what he did at the plate was. Hernandez went 2-3, with a two-RBI double in the sixth with two outs and the bases loaded.
Just like opening night, however, the game wasn’t over after the starter left with a comfortable lead. After Scott Schoeneweis got the first two batters he faced as a Met, he walked David Eckstein on four pitches and gave up a single to Chris Duncan, putting runners on the corners. Willie Randolph had wisely gotten Aaron Heilman ready in the bullpen in case Schoeneweis ran into trouble and was able to bring him in to face the great Albert Pujols. After falling behind the Cardinal first baseman, 2-1, Heilman brought the heat high and inside and got a whiff to level the count. After running the count full, Heilman got Pujols to fly out to Beltran in left center and effectively seal the 4-1 victory.
Aaron Heilman has thrown only 8 pitches in three days, but it feels like so much more. He got Rolen to hit into a huge double play in the eighth on Sunday (with a little help from Valentin) and then got Pujols yesterday. Nice job, Aaron . . .
The Mets have gotten some unexpected offensive production to start the season. David Newhan and Endy Chavez both have pinch-hit singles, and Glavine and Hernandez have combined for three hits . . .
The Mets will face an old *cough* friend *cough* in Bradon Looper tonight. Looper will be making his first-ever major league appearance as a starter and will be countered by John Maine. Looper is lucky his debut is coming at home and not at Shea, where the crowd was brutal to him during the NLCS last year, when he appeared as a reliever . . .