|May 23: Mets 9, Phillies 8 (16) W: Oliver (1-1) L: Madson (4-3)|
|May 24: Mets 5, Phillies 4 W: Feliciano (1-0) L: Cormier (2-1) S: Wagner (10)|
|May 25: Phillies 5, Mets 3 W: Myers (3-2) L: Feliciano (1-1) S: Gordon (14)|
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I don't think there's any shame in being beaten by the best. Mike Piazza, for nearly eight years the signature player on the New York Mets, is the best hitting catcher of our time, arguably of all time, and over his career he's beaten the Phils silly: in 160 games, nearly the equivalent of a full season, the Norristown native has tormented his hometown team to the tune of a .315 average, 43 home runs, 125 RBI, and a .986 OPS. There's also not much shame in being beaten by the pretty-good: Cliff Floyd, another Mets veteran who's spent most of his career in the NL East, also has great career numbers against the Phils, with 26 homers (by far his most against any oppoent) in 490 at-bats and a .901 OPS. For what it's worth, I imagine this is how Mets fans feel about Pat Burrell, who famously has hit their team harder than any other opponent: 32 homers, almost twice as many as his next-most victimized team (Montreal/Washington), in just 374 at-bats, and a .937 OPS.
No, the problem as I see it comes when your opponent's scrub hitter, the guy whose offensive game is a joke across baseball, burns you again and again. From 1996 through 2002, the Mets had such a player who repeatedly seemed to beat the Phils. His name was Rey Ordonez.
An undeniably talented defender whose arrival from Cuba by way of defection caused great excitement in the Big Apple, Ordonez quickly established himself as a hitter who aspired up to "miserable." In 1996, his rookie season, Ordonez batted a semi-respectable .257, but 116 of his 129 hits were singles and he drew only 22 walks in more than 520 plate appearances for an OPS of .592. He never got much better, "peaking" at .636 in 1999 and .635 two seasons later. As a Met, Ordonez hit more than one home run in a season just once, in 2001, and he retired after 2004 with a career OPS of .600 on the dot.
Against the Phillies, however, he frequently resembled a major-league hitter. In his rookie year, Ordonez batted .303 against the Phils, with his lone home run of the season. He was even better against them in 1998, with 19 hits in 47 at-bats for a .404 average in a year when he hit .246 overall. In 1999, he tripled (one of his two for the year) and homered (the only one) against the Phils; two seasons later, he went deep again and his two of his four triples in 59 at-bats facing the Phillies, putting up a healthy .852 OPS. The Phils finally held Ordonez to a more representative performance in 2002, his last year as a Met, when he hit just .208 with a .486 OPS against them--though, again, he notched a triple, one of his two for the year.
For his career, Ordonez batted .265 with a .689 OPS against the Phillies, with three home runs, five triples and 31 RBI--by far his best against any opponent in all three categories. I've wondered for years why the Phils couldn't get him out. A bad scouting report probably had the most to do with it: Ordonez was almost as helpless as you or I would be against any kind of breaking pitch, but he could turn around on a high fastball--and the Phils seemed to keep feeding him those.
This probably too-long historical digression is still relevant because Rey's current successor at shortstop, Jose Reyes, has shown similar signs of bedeviling the Phils in his brief big-league career. In 2005, his first full season, Reyes hit .273 overall, with a .686 OPS. Against the Phillies, though, he looked like a very different player: in 75 at-bats, Reyes batted .333 with four doubles, four triples, two homers and a .940 OPS. It wasn't just a matter of familiarity; in about as many plate appearances, the Braves held him to a .757 OPS, Washington limited him to a .656 mark, and the Marlins shut him down to just .479.
(In fact, take out what he did against the Phillies last year and Reyes' '05 season doesn't look so much better than a typical Rey Ordonez year.)
Fast-forward to the current season. When the Phils and Mets first tangled at CBP two weeks ago, Reyes wasn't much of a factor: 2 for 13, with a homer in the Mets' blowout win on May 10. Overall, though, the 22 year-old leadoff man seems to be raising his offensive game: Reyes' current numbers project to him setting new career highs in virtually every offensive category, and his patience is markedly better (18 walks thus far, 27 for all of 2005).
So maybe Reyes' success against the Phils last year was a fluke. Maybe it was the result of a bad scouting report that's since been tossed and replaced. Or maybe what he did to the Phils last year was just a preview of what he's started to do against other clubs this season. The answer to the question could go a long way toward determining whether the Phils can keep pace with and eventually overtake their rivals to the north.