Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tonight, at least, Omar gets last laugh

Last year, the Mets had three of the top seven RBI leaders in the National League. David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado each had at least 112 RBI.

So which of the three sluggers came through with the first-ever Met RBI at Citi Field on Monday night and the first walkoff RBI tonight?

That's right, it was Luis Castillo. The RBI machine drove in another run in the first, doubling his total for the year to four.

I'm still doubtful about Castillo justifying that four-year deal, but at least he's contributing so far this year.

Omar Minaya has probably been criticized more for the Castillo deal than for anything else over the last couple of years. But for me, signing Gary Sheffield was even worse. Until tonight, there seemed to be no good reason to have him on the team.

Tonight, though, Sheffield offered two good reasons. First and foremost, he showed he could still hit the ball out of the park, and in a critical spot. Sheffield's pinch-hit homer tied the game in the seventh. I'm less concerned about it being number 500 because that number has nothing to do with the Mets. Milestones also don't mean the same in the steroid era, particular when the player involved has been implicated.

But there were two good things about 500 as far as the Mets were concerned. First, while it seemed to take forever for Sheffield to get a hit, much less a homer, it ended up taking only eight plate appearances to reach the milestone, and three of those were walks. Compare that to other players in recent years, such as Alex Rodriguez, who took eight days and 28 plate appearances to hit his 500th. And that was in the middle of a year in which A-Rod hit 54 homers.

The other good thing about Sheffield's milestone was that the Met players seemed genuinely happy and excited for Sheffield. Even Ryan Church, just two days after being benched unfairly for Sheffield, gave him a big hug.

Aside from whether or not Sheffield could still hit or field, there was also the issue of how he would affect team chemistry. I wasn't as concerned here because, let's face it, how good can team chemistry be when you collapse for two straight years. But Jerry Manuel and many Mets claim that Sheffield actually helps the clubhouse, and tonight's on-field celebration supported that notion.

If Gary Sheffield can be a productive pinch-hitter and a good guy in the clubhouse, then he can help this team more than I initially thought he could. I'm still very skeptical about giving him too many starts in the outfield. And the Mets should not send down Jeremy Reed if they need to bring up a pitcher to fill in for Mike Pelfrey, since Reed is now that much more valuable as a defensive replacement in the outfield.

Time will tell if Sheffield's homer is a last gasp or the start of a productive year. And Castillo will not continue to hit .387. Nor are the Mets unlikely to continue to win every one of Livan Hernandez' starts. But some of Minaya's more questionable moves sure looked good tonight.

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