I believed. I really did. Then again, I always do.
It was January of 2008. A friend of mine said the Mets couldn't win the NL East because their rotation wasn't that good. I took offense to that. Why? Because they're my team and I always defend them. So to make my case I tried to make arguments that at least sounded believable, aka, convincing. Mind you, this was BEFORE the Mets traded for Johan Santana, so there was some work to be done. But my mind works quickly and I can rationalize anything. Ask my wife. So I quickly pointed to Pedro Martinez's promising 3-1 record and 2.57 era in his '07 September cameo. I noted that Tom Glavine was still capable and Mike Pelfrey was our young stud ready to take a big step forward. But the #1 argument that rings in my ears was this, "John Maine and Oliver Perez each won 15 games last season. They're 26 and 25 years old. Who's to say that they're not getting better and won't at least repeat those performances?" John Maine won 18 more games as a Met. Oliver Perez won 13. Injuries and inconsistency marred their remaining time in New York. Perez was the biggest enigma, among the biggest to ever wear a Mets uniform.
Ollie caught my eye in 2004 when he was on the Pirates. 196 innings pitched. Only 145 hits. An astonishing 239 K's, which was good for a league leading 11 k's per 9 IP. The 3.7 BB/9IP was easy to overlook because that could be fixed. Lots of big strikeout pitchers started their careers a little wild and figured it out. This was a 22-year old lefty who threw in the mid-to-low 90's with a nasty 3/4 delivery, some times dropping down laredo-syle, a wicked slider that could make any hitter look downright silly. When the Mets got him in a trade in '06 I was secretly fired up. "He's out of Pittsburgh," I rationalized "Who can focus there when all they do is lose? Bring him to a contender and let Rick Peterson work his magic. This is going to work." Perez made 7 starts for the Mets in the '06 regular season. In one of them he threw a 5-hit shutout while walking only 1. (See, he can do this!) In the other 6 starts, he never pitched more than 5 innings and walked 16 batters in 27.6 IP. (It's ok, he's still young. It's a work in progress.)
|too much this|
|and not enough this|
Then came the playoffs. Pedro and El Duque were hurt and the Mets had no choice but to give Ollie the ball. They did it in game 4 of the NLCS down 2-1 in the series. There were few fans who had high hopes, but there was no choice. (Hey, maybe he'll be Good Ollie tonight.) Ollie wasn't exactly lights out with his 5.2 IP, 9H, 3 HR, 5 ER performance. The Mets bats bailed him out and he got the win in an outing in which every inning it seemed the roof would cave in but he always got the critical 3rd out. He came back in game 7 and was excellent. 6 IP, 4H, 1 ER, only 2 walks and 4 K's. Admittedly, Endy Chavez saved him from being the goat with one of the greatest catches ever made in the postseason, but in the minds of Mets fans, Ollie had delivered in the clutch. (See, Rick Peterson's magic is starting to work.) So when Ollie cranked out 15 wins in 2007 it was easy to think he was on the way up. But in September of '08, when a faltering Mets team really needed him, he stunk. 6 starts, 32.6 IP, 33 hits, 5.79 era and 21 walks. In the off-season the Mets rewarded Perez with a 3-year, 36 million dollar deal when the only competition for his services was between the Mets and the Broncos de Reynosa of the Mexican league. There were crossing guards in New York City who did less walking than Perez, yet the deal was given to him. Perez pitched in the World Baseball Classic and came to camp overweight and it was clear giving him 36 million dollars was as prudent as investing with Bernie Madoff.
2 years, 3 wins, 24 million dollars and a league worst 6.81 over-that-time-period era later, and the Mets finally said "Ollie, Ollie set him free." Perez had so many people in the Mets organization scratching their heads you would've thought his only contribution to the team was a giant case of lice. That electric left arm from 2004? A distant memory. Those glimpses of great potential in '06 and '07? Washed from our memories like drawings on the beach with every verbal wave of "Ball 4" splashing over our frustrated faces.
And now he's gone. I believed in him. Why? Because he pitched for my team and I wanted him to be good. Because I saw what others saw in '04, including the Mets front office, potential to be good. On Monday the Mets finally admitted it, and so will I, we were wrong.