Can Any Mets Here Play This Game?

Cecil HarrisCorrespondent IJune 13, 2009

NEW YORK - JUNE 10:  Luis Castillo #1 of the New York Mets in action against the Philadelphia Phillies during their game on June 10, 2009 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Clearly, it's time for Jimmy Breslin to update his wonderful book about the 1962 Mets, Can Anybody Here Play This Game?

It’s time for a sequel about the 2009 version of New York’s National League baseball team—the team whose second baseman, Luis Castillo, gift-wrapped Game One of the Subway Series and handed it to the Yankees, 9-8.

Either you watched Castillo’s comedy act on television or in person Friday night at Yankee Stadium or you’ve seen the video:

Derek Jeter represents the tying run on second base and Mark Teixeira the winning run on first with two out in the bottom of the ninth.

Mets lead 8-7 after rallying from a one-run deficit with a run in the seventh and then a run in the eighth off Mariano Rivera.

Alex Rodriguez, hitting a measly .235, has a 3-1 count against closer Francisco Rodriguez (no relation).

Fans stand and roar at the nearly sold-out stadium.

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A-Rod is 1-for-14 lifetime against K-Rod.

Now, he’s 1-for-15 after K-Rod gets him to hit a routine fly ball behind second base. A-Rod breaks his bat on home plate in utter frustration.

But thanks to Castillo, A-Rod's failure in the clutch never looked so good.

From Day One in Little League, players are taught to always catch a fly ball with two hands.

"Two hands!" coaches shout from Maine to Albuquerque.

But major leaguers like Castillo are too cool for that.

Two hands? That’s for kids. We’re men. Big leaguers. We like to show a little flair.

Three things struck me about Castillo’s failed attempt at a one-handed catch that allowed Jeter and Teixeira to score:

(1) After Castillo picked himself off the ground and recovered the ball, he threw it to second base, not to home plate. Evidently, he thought he was playing against the notoriously non-hustling Mets instead of for them. That’s the only way he could have thought he could still get a force play at second;

(2) Neither Jeter nor Teixeira assumed the game was over when A-Rod popped up. Both ran hard, especially Teixeira, who had 270 feet to travel. It’s interesting to hear so many people praising Teixeira for doing what a major leaguer is supposed to do—hustle; and

(3) Castillo surely will use two hands the next time he camps under a fly ball, but eventually laziness will creep back into his game and he will again try to one-hand everything. Just watch.

That, unfortunately, is the way of the contemporary multimillionaire ballplayer:

Style over substance.

Coolness over fundamentals.

Looking good over playing well.

The Mets lost an Apr. 12 game against Florida when left fielder Daniel Murphy dropped Cody Ross’s fly ball.

They also lost a May 18 game in Los Angeles when Ryan Church missed third base en route to not scoring the go-ahead run.

In a loss at Washington last Saturday, two Mets base runners passed each other between first and second.

Carlos Beltran has been tagged out on the basepaths because he failed to slide. Injured Mets Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado routinely fail to run hard out of the batter’s box.

Even rookie Fernando Martinez, in his second big-league game, did not leave the batter’s box after popping up.

Gee, I wonder where he learned that?

And now, the Blunder in the Bronx by Castillo—a three-time Gold Glove winner who once set a major league record (with the Twins) with 123 consecutive errorless games at second base.

You would think the 2009 Mets would be setting the major league standard for fundamentally sound play after choking away playoff berths with September collapses in ’07 and ’08.

You would think the Mets would understand better than any other team the importance of not letting a game get away. After all, they’ve cost themselves a shot at a one-game playoff in the National League two years straight.

But you would be wrong. The Mets still don’t get it.

And that’s why there is still reason to ask: Can anybody here play this game?

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