Today I had the opportunity to watch the Las Vegas 51s here in El Paso to fasce the Chihuahuas. After snapping their 14 game winning streak on Friday, the 51s roared back on the arms of several relievers Saturday to win again and with now staff ace Steve Matz shifted to the Mother’s Day Sunday game, it seemed highly probable a second winning streak was about to begin.
When the lineup was posted it was clear that Wally Backman was following suit of quizzically benching several starting players on the same day, I was disappointed not to see Matt Reynolds, Darrel Ceciliani and Alex Castellanos. Mike Rohlfing was catching, though with Kevin Plawecki and Johnny Monell both in Queens, it’s pretty slim picking s behind the dish.
Leading off for the Mets was little Danny Muno who would twice today drive opposing outfielders to the fence to display power that is surprising given his diminutive size. Fellow Smurf Wilfredo Tovar was batting second and playing shortstop. His offense has been something of a pleasant surprise this year but his defense and baserunning speed are what keeps him in the game. It was refreshing watching balls hit towards shortstop and not holding my breath wondering whether or not the play would be made cleanly. “Soup” Campbell was stationed at the hot corner where he made several nice fielding plays and throws across the diamond to newcomer but veteran minor league presence Brooks Conrad. The outfield left to right included Cory Vaughn, Kyle Johnson and slugger Travis Taijeron.
Matz is a tall but skinny looking presence on the mound and his first inning was not too impressive. He walked his first batter on four pitches, bounced a wild pitch and generally looked ill at ease on the mound. His reputation is spreading, as local Chinhuahua’s fans around me were well aware of his talent. The first few innings were more of the same, but somehow Matz kept pitching himself out of trouble and actually had a no hitter through the first 4 innings. By the time his day was done he allowed a few harmless hits but shut out the hometown Ankle Biters. The most impressive thing about Matz is that he was able to weather adversity on a day when he wasn't at his best.
The former outfielder Jason Lane was doing almost as well against the 51s. He did give up a long ball to catcher Rohlfing who smacked the foul pole to give the 51s a 2-0 lead. It looked as if this meager output was going to be enough to cinch the vicotry.
Matz gave way to reliever Zach Thornton who came to the Mets in the Ike Davis trade. He pitched a flawless 8th and looked ready to begin the 9th (though Ceciliani was on deck to hit for him if they reached his spot in the batting order).
Wally Backman then switched to lefty Jack Leathersich to start the 9th against former Astros lefty slugger Brett Wallace. The move was a little puzzling since he’s always had reverse platoon splits throughout his career, manhandling righties but struggling against lefties. Sure enough, Wallace lined a laser beam up the alley in right center but Travis Taijeron channeled his inner Lagares and made a diving catch at full extension to rob Wallace of a leadoff extra base hit. Now with righties coming up, one out and no one on base it looked like a sure victory for the 51s, but Backman inexplicably felt compelled to go to his closer Chase Bradford.
Immediately Bradford gave up a hit. Then another. Then another. Then another. At some point a reasonable person would say, “Chase, it’s just not your day” and move to bring in another pitcher, but Backman stuck with Bradford and paid the price when he gave up yet another hit and lost the game 3-2 in the bottom of the 9th after coming in with bases clear and one out.
In addition to his stellar catch in the 9th, Taijeron hit two balls right to the wall, showing the impressive power we’ve all read in accounts of his game. Twice in the game 51s players inexplicably stole 3rd base with 2 men out. It worked, so I can’t get too upset about it, but it seems to violate a basic tenet of the game in that if you have the speed to steal then you have the speed to score from second when running on impact with two men out.
Matz’s middle innings were very impressive, but at no point did he look dominant. In fact, if you wanted a parallel, he kept hitters off-stride and awkward much like Bartolo Colon does, yet you kept shaking your head wondering why he was able to get people out without showing dominant stuff. Still, you can’t argue with success. It's too bad that Bradford squandered his fine effort.
Getting the win for the Chihuahuas with a 9th inning scoreless performance was none other than former 51 Cory Mazzoni who went to San Diego for Alex Torres (and his cap). So far it looks as if Trader Sandy Alderson got the better of that deal despite today with the Padre farmhand getting the victory.