Despite Mike Piazza hitting the decisive 8th inning RBI double in the Mets’ 2-1 win over Arizona last night, you can add ESPN’s Buster Olney to the chorus of those who think the New York catcher is washed up.
Went to Shea Stadium on Tuesday night and spent the first few innings astonished by the play of Mike Piazza.
Some day, he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, probably on the first ballot; he’s got my vote. Sometime later this year, or maybe early next year, he’ll hammer his 400th home run. The Mets probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs in 1999 without him, or reached The Subway Series in 2000, for that matter. His legacy is secure.
And, in 2005, there may not be a player who has less life in his actions “ in how he moves, in the energy he projects “ than the Mets’ catcher.
He walks everywhere. After drawing a base on balls in his second at-bat, he walked to first base, and when Cliff Floyd hit an inning-ending chopper toward second baseman Craig Counsell, Piazza barely jogged to second “ and then slowed to a walk and then stopped, as Counsell threw to first. Had Counsell juggled the ball and botched the play at first, he could have thrown to second for a force play.
Piazza walks out to his position; he walks back to the dugout. Not in a steady amble, either; it’s a slow my-knees-are-killing-me or oh-man-do-I-have-to-catch-another-inning stroll. Some hitters stride purposefully toward the plate as they are announced, like they can’t wait to hit. On Tuesday night, it was as if Piazza dragged his bat to the batter’s box.
During the last decade, the Yankees’ Joe Girardi and Jorge Posada would be in full sprint up the first base line on ground balls, bouncing in full gear up the line behind the base runners, just in case the throw to first got away. Gregg Zaun of the Toronto Blue Jays might be the most active catcher in the game, doing everything at full speed.
Piazza is at the opposite end of the movement spectrum. Whether there are runners on base or not, he will give the signal for the hitter and then shift his body once to set his target. And stay there. For one second. Two. Three seconds. Sometimes more. If there are no runners on base and the hitter has any kind of peripheral vision, he would have every opportunity to see where Piazza is setting up.
And if there are runners on base “ particularly a runner at second “ they are afforded eons to signal the pitch location to the hitter. Piazza shifts his body over the outside corner, lifts his glove, and never moves, for what must seem like an eternity to the baserunners; they’ve got enough time to place a cell phone call to hitters.
Maybe he deserves a pass. Maybe he doesn’t. The Mets are trying to win and change the direction of the franchise, and Piazza’s body language and energy could not be worse.
Wednesday at Shea, Jose Reyes (3-4) had the 2nd 3 SB game of his career, Mike Cameron made a tremendous catch to rob the D-Backs’ Luis Gonazalez of extra bases in the 3rd inning, and Victor Zambrano (above) took a 5 hit shutout into the 9th, his longest outing of 2005. 2B Miguel Cairo, seemingly the Mets’ everday second baseman in light of Kaz Matsui’s struggles, exited in the 7th inning with tightness in his left hamstring.