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Can the Mets be Clutch?

By Jason Levy

After a week at Citi Field and 12 games under their belt, the New York Mets have revealed their biggest flaw in the early going of 2009. It’s a flaw that has haunted them the past three seasons: Clutch hitting. The Mets batter are all getting their hits, but they can never get them all at once. Two batters will get on, only to be followed by strikeouts, pop-ups, weak double-play grounders or a hard hit ball right to a fielder, who just happened to be in the perfect spot on the diamond. And it afflicts everyone in the lineup at the most inopportune times.
In the Mets loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday, the Mets got 12 hits but scored only two runs, going just 2-13 with runners in scoring position. The Mets nearly squandered another gem from Johan Santana, squeezing out a run after an error. And the Mets couldn’t hit their former pitchers in the San Diego bullpen, who if they ever pitched like that in New York would still be here.
This lack of clutch hits plagued the Mets throughout the past two seasons, always becoming more pronounced in September, when every game has a playoff atmosphere. It started in game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, when Carlos Beltran was caught looking with the bases loaded and two out and the Mets down 3-1 to strikeout and send the St. Louis Cardinals to the World Series. But it’s not just Beltran, Carlos Delgado, David Wright, and Jose Reyes have had their anti-clutch moments over the years, as have all the Mets who ultimately came to bat with the game on the line. Its why the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series last year while the Mets watched. We all know what September 2009 will be like if the Mets can’t get the big hits again.
But it’s only been two weeks into the season. With 150 games left, there is a lot of time to work out the problems. The Mets are still adjusting to the nooks and crannies of Citi Field. Home runs will be hard to come by unless you go right down the line. The high wall in left field, the Modell’s Corner in right and the diagonal wall that creates deep alleys and a deep center field fence will keep the Mets home a predominantly a pitcher’s park, hopefully that can allow more gems from Santana and the rest of the staff. But all that outfield space can allow for a lot of doubles and triples (and maybe even some inside-the-park homers for Reyes) that the Mets hitters will need to learn to take advantage of. If all these runners keep getting left on base, it will be us Mets fans left in the dark once again in October.

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