Saturday, March 22, 2008

Grapefruit League Tour 2008: Mets at Indians

As has been par for the course, I arrived late to Chain of Lakes Park, spring home of the Cleveland Indians. Although I made good time to Winter Haven, traffic leading into the ballpark was so bad, by the time I bought my ticket I missed the entire first inning.

Speaking of tickets and seating, because of the large crowd and my late arrival, I was limited to standing in the outfield berm beyond wall in left center field. Of course, I was not alone. There were a few hundred other people sprawled out on blankets or portable chairs. But without something to sit on and the ground wet from a day of drizzling rain, I was forced to stand the whole game. To be honest, I couldn't expect much more for my seven dollars.

Like many of the old spring parks throughout Florida, Chain of Lakes Park has the sentimental feel of an old-time ballpark from the 20s or 30s. There is nothing fancy about the park, from the old fashioned metal overhangs to the limited scoreboard in right center. It hosts baseball the way it oughta be - without the bells, whistles, and trappings geared for the 15-second attention span.

As for the game itself, as I mentioned, I missed the first inning. I arrived in the top of the second, in time to see the Mets go down in order against Cleveland starter Cliff Lee. Lee pitched well throughout his five innings of action, not allowing a run, scattering four hits, and striking out five.

Lee's counterpart on the mound, the Mets' Oliver Perez, suffered an opposite fate. After retiring the side in order in the first, Perez failed to get the lead-off man out in any his other four innings. In the second, he allowed a lead-off home run to Victor Martinez, and after walking the lead-off man in the third, gave up another lead-off homer in the fourth, this time to Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Whereas in the first three innings, Perez was able to regain composure, in the fourth he struggled, giving up longballs to Casey Blake and Ben Francisco.

Perez pitched one more inning before leaving the game after five. Sure enough, he put the lead-off man on in that inning as well, issuing a walk to Franklin Gutierrez. Joe Smith and Nelson Figueroa would relieve Perez in the sixth and seventh respectively, and although they didn't give up any runs, they too both allowed the lead-off man to get on base in their innings. You don't win games doing that.

As for the Mets offensively, there was not much to talk about. Carlos Beltran hit a home run in the top of the 6th off recycled journeyman Scott Elarton and obscure has-been Fernando Tatis drove home a run in the top of the seventh. Fernando Tatis. Seriously.

Unlike my previous two spring excursions, Saturday's game did not end 8-4. Instead, after the Indians batted in the bottom of the seventh, the skies opened up, rain drenched both field and the fans, and the umpires finally called it a day with the final scoring being 5-2 Indians.