For the past three years, more or less, Met fans have tended to have the same thought every five days, which is: Which Ollie are we going to get tonight? Of course, I am referring to the current fifth starter for the Mets, Oliver Perez.
I have tried for several years now to figure out Ollie. In 2006, he clearly stepped up, coming through for the Mets in several games against very tough teams, most notably against the St. Louis Cardinals in game seven of the 2006 League Championship Series, despite the team's loss. Since then, however, he has become incredibly inconsistent. And it never tends to be an "average" outing. It is either a masterpiece or a disaster. Ollie's first two starts of the 2010 season are a perfect example. In his first start last week against the Washington Nationals, Perez gave up four runs in 5 2/3 innings, walked four batters, and really did not look comfortable out on the mound. He was missing his spots, there was little movement on his pitches, and his velocity barely reached 90. The only thing keeping me confident was the fact that Johan was pitching the next day, who turned out not to be much better.
Now let's fast-forward to Friday night's game against the Cardinals. First batter: double. Second batter: walk. Suddenly, it was the first inning and the Cardinals had men on first and second with no one out and arguably the best hitter of the last decade up at bat. I can't lie, I turned to my father and said, I will bet you every dime I have in the world that Pujols hits a homerun. Thankfully, he failed to respond before Pujols hit into a double play. Ollie was stellar from there. He went on to allow one run in 6 1/3 innings before manager Jerry Manuel lifted him after allowing a base runner in the 7th. Now, do I criticize Manuel for replacing Perez with Fernando Nieve? I'm not sure. Perez didn't look like he was slowing down anytime soon but then again every Met fan knows of his ability to let an inning get out of control, and that may have been what Manuel was afraid of. Bringing in Raul Valdes though to follow Nieve? Wrong move. Yes, Pedro Feliciano, who would generally be best in that situation, was unavailable last night to pitch because of a stomach bug. But it was as recent as Thursday that Manuel said Ryota Igarashi would be his man in late innings to protect slim leads. I guess he didn't mean it.
The bottom line: Ollie was great. Despite the loss and the quickly sinking below .500 Mets, I was encouraged. He fooled Albert Pujols three times last night, who seemed more confused than I've ever seen him. And he wasn't trying to place the ball, he just pitched, knowing that he has eight guys behind him to catch the ball. It's all about Ollie just finding his comfort zone. He needs to maintain the confidence he felt Friday night and to carry it over to his next start. Maybe bad Ollie has gone away for good.
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