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Series Preview #15: D-Backs vs Mets

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MLB: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Prologue

It should be said that Kai was a strikingly good looking man for his age. Despite the war he experienced as a 22 year old in the Ugandan Army fighting against the incursion by the imperialist Tanzanian President (may Yahweh spit on his grave) Julius Nyerere, he had come out relatively unscathed. The only time he encountered enemy fire was during a skirmish in the coffee fields near Hoima where his small brigade performed a quick strike and retreated into the woods toward Masindi. He had been trained as a soldier but admits to himself now that he was too afraid as a young boy.

Kai escaped to Congo after the fall of President Amin where he encountered a group of Christian missionaries. With them he learned more about the religion his father had taught him, and had come to know Jesus as well as himself. He felt ashamed of the wife and daughter he had left behind in Uganda, but he knew any attempt to go back would most certainly mean his imprisonment.

During his time with the missionaries, several trips were made to their outpost by various humanitarian groups. One day a UNICEF entourage came to the camp inviting all of the women and children to receive free vaccinations. Kai decided to see if he too would be eligible, but was met with resistance by the escort when he tried to enter the make shift tent set up by the team. While he was arguing with them, he caught a glimpse of a woman with long red hair, a freckled face, and the warmest smile he had seen in his life.

This was quite astonishing to Kai since Ugandan’s are well known for their warmth, hospitality, and big smiles, but hers seemed bigger. That night Kai could not get her face with all of it’s freckles, and glimmering smile out of his head.

Not Prologue

Now, 40 years later, that same warm freckled smile is aimed at him. His wife Joanna had asked him a question. Kai looked back at Joanna, and grinned. Of course he knew the batting average of the Mets non-pitchers was .242, a whole 18 points better than the Diamondbacks. But he countered back, their slugging percentage was almost identical with the Diamondbacks holding at .391 and the Mets at .396 amongst non-pitcher at bats.

Kai thought back to his life in Uganda before the war, and how he loved the game of baseball. He would play it with the neighbor kids in his home town of Jinja on the shore of Lake Victoria. He thought back to that young boy and decided there was no way he could have known his current favorite two players Paul Goldschmidt and Jay Bruce would be slumping through the month of May. It has gotten so bad for Bruce and Goldie that Kai wished he could help comfort them, both Bruce with his 7 for 38 and Goldschmidt on his 5 for 55 through the month of May.

He pushed on though and continued, “I’ll bet you didn’t know the Met’s team ERA+ is a whole 38 points lower than the Diamondbacks 129”. Joanna shifted in her seat and gave Kai a look of disappointment. “Kaikara Nzeogwu, you should know better than to use that Saber-tooth metrics or whatever you call them on me. I’m a purist. I care more about the Mets having a team WHIP that’s .160 higher than the Diamondbacks. That’s all I need to hear to know they can’t pitch themselves out of a paper bag”.

This caused Kai to stop for a moment and think of the most relevant stat he could tell her. Unfortunately all he could think of was FIP with would have probably been to Sabre-Metricish for his wife, so he dare not share the fact that the Mets were at 4.19 and the DBacks were at 3.73. So instead he went back to tradition and said, “Well clearly the Diamondbacks are superior at pitching if you look at their ERA of 3.31. The Mets are all the way up at 4.30”! Joanna seemed satisfied with this statistic.

A little time passed in the game they were attending, when manager Mickey Callaway went out to pull his best reliever Seth Lugo who had an ERA of 2.13 and had left 87.3% of runners on base. A question came to Kai’s mind. With no left-handers in the Mets bullpen, who was Mickey going to put in? It was too early in the game to insert closer Jeurys Familia with his 3.14 strikeout to walk ratio. With Hansel Robles on the 10-day DL and Matt Harvey now pitching for the Reds, he could only imagine it would be AJ Ramos coming in to face Christian Walker who had just been called up from the Reno Aces after AJ Pollock had been put on the 10 day disabled list with a left thumb fracture.

“Too bad too” thought Kai to himself. “AJ was having another All-Star year”.

Joanna seemed to also notice this was a bit unexpected for their best reliever to be pulled but was sure it didn’t matter much. The Met’s hadn’t used up too many relievers during the game 1 matchup of Zack Godley against Jacob deGrom. Zack had a good game considering his 4.08 coming into the game. Zack had been struggling with his command, but had found a way to get more swinging strikes against the impatient Mets hitters with his devastating curveball. She noted also that deGrom had pitched outstanding in that first game and lived up to his 1.83 ERA. That 94 mph average fastball is up this year compared to his 92 mph career average. She pondered to herself if there was some substance helping him out in that arena.

Kai interrupted Joanna’s train of thought. “I can’t believe we’re watching this Greinke and Syndergaard matchup in game 3. I mean, these two are having great years this year but I think Greinke is really vulnerable when he’s away from home. That .324/.342/.549 opponent slash line in away games is going to cost him the Cy Young this year.”

“Well yes dear, but the weather isn’t very nice. It is hot, raining, and there are thunderstorms in the area”! Joanna replied. This seemed to sour the mood a bit between them. Kai was particularly upset because game 2 was postponed due to rain, and game one took several extra hours after rain delays to get in. He wasn’t going to be able to recoup his money from the tickets he had bought on Saturday. He was sure that the matchup between Patrick Corbin and Steven Matz was going to be the pivotal game of the series. Patrick's devastating slider was buckling knees while Steven Matz’s change-up was getting much more swing and misses when complimented with his sinker. He was sure the 2.53 ERA Corbin was going to beat Matz’s 3.86 though.

“GET YOUR HOT DOGS!! HOT DOGS HERE!” shouted a vendor walking down the aisle.

“Oh babe, can you get me one” Joanna nudged Kai.

“Sure”. “WE’LL TAKE TWO” shouted Kai back to the vendor.

“That’ll be twelve fifty.”

Kai reached into his back pocket for his wallet and pulled out a twenty. He handed it to the person sitting next to him who then passed it on down to the next person, who then handed it to the vendor. “JUST GIVE ME BACK A FIVE” shouted Kai.

The process reversed itself and the vendor handed the person in the aisle seat the hot dogs and a $5 bill. They were in turn handed to the person next to Kai, who then received the wares and thanked everyone.

Kai handed one of the hot dogs to Joanna and thought it would be a good time to bring up how at the start of the series the Mets were in 4th place in their division behind the Braves, Phillies, and Nationals with a 20-19 record while the Diamondbacks were still at the top of their division with 2 game lead over the Rockies and a 25-18 record before coming to town. But he thought better of it and instead mentioned how the Diamondbacks had lost the last 7 of 8, while the Mets had lost 2 series and split two series leading up to the matchup.

This seemed to upset the gentleman sitting next to Kai who was an obvious Mets fan. He gave Kai a look of disappointment and said “Yeah, but they still have a winning record jack ass”, clearly still upset that his manager can’t handle lineup cards correctly.

Kai had grown accustom to these harassing remarks from the New Yorkers around him, but it still gave him pause from time to time. This gentleman’s lack of respect seemed to nag on Kai’s good senses just a little more than usual. Perhaps it was because it was being done in the presence of his adoring wife. Perhaps it was because his hot dog had leaked a bit of water on his pants. Or perhaps it was the unrelenting ennui which had been accompanying him after news that game two was postponed until a later day due to inclement weather. Whatever it was, Kai had decided in this moment it was time to fight back.

“I came to this country with the woman I love, a fire in my belly, and a warriors heart. You sir are going to find out what the Ugandan version of Krav Maga is.”

Kai took his 62 year old frame up out of the chair and stood over the man who was wearing a baseball cap with a giant Mr. Met head protruding from the top.

“Kaikara Nzeogwu, you sit your butt down right this minute!” cried Joanna. But it was too late, Kai had made up his mind that this New Yorkers attitude had been too much for the day.

“CRACK....ffffffffftt....THUMP”

A baseball had hit Kai directly in the back off the bat of the down 1-2 Jake Lamb who had just come off the DL during the series, startling and making him fall onto the gentleman. The Mets fan put his hands up to guard against Kai’s weight falling onto the pretzel he held in his lap, and Kai’s hand grasped for something to hold onto only to find the Mets fan’s beer in it’s cup holder.

“Are you alright man?” asked the Mets fan.

The shock of the moment and the sudden kindness of the New Yorker had made Kai’s feelings of angst subside. They were now replaced with pain and heightened reflexes. Kai’s amygdala had ground itself into overdrive much like an AMC Gremlin trying to compete off the line with a Dodge Challenger.

Kai took a moment to catch his breath and replied, “I am fine”.

Kai was not fine however as the baseball had broken one of his ribs and caused severe pain with every breath. A giant bulge of skin was starting to form where the baseball had hit and as Kai reached back to feel for it he noticed the bulge.

Joanna jumped into action and called for one of the medics to come attend to Kai who was now not sure if he should sit or continue to stand. He was sure the pain would increase if he stretched his back by sitting, but his reflexes were to sit down after being injured.

As the medic approached with Kai still standing up, Kai could hear the crowds reaction as the jumbo-tron replayed the incident for all to see. It was at this time Kai thought about all of the injuries suffered by the Mets and Diamondbacks players. AJ Pollock with his broken thumb, Robbie Ray with his strained right oblique, Tijuan Walker with his torn UCL, Todd Frazier with his pulled hamstring, Yoenis Cespedes with his right hip flexor, Kevin Plawecki with his left hand fracture, Hansel Robles with his sprained right knee, and Anthony Swarzak with his sore left oblique. He wondered if he too could go on a 10 day DL from his work.

While being attended to, Kai was being told to keep standing and turn around. Joanna’s eye started to well up a bit as she knew Kai was hurt. She decided to try and keep Kai’s mind occupied by reminding him of her prediction before the series started that the Diamondbacks would sweep the series. Kai’s eyes lit up as he saw the love on his wife’s face and knew what she was doing.

“It is too bad the weather was so bad that your prediction could not come true honey. Perhaps next time we won’t schedule our trips to New York when there is bad weather” replied Kai.

Joanna reached for the ground and picked up the Diamondbacks hat that had fallen on the ground during Kai’s dressing down of the Mets fan. She reached back up and placed the hat on Kai’s head and told him, “Don’t worry babe, with a team ISO of .160 when the Diamondbacks play the Mets again on June 14th at home, they’ll beat their .146 ISO, and we can watch the whole thing at Chase”.

Kai smiled back at her and said, “And with the Diamondbacks defensive score at 27.6 while the Mets is only 5.5, I think it will be another sweep.”

The medic placed an ice pack on Kai’s back and told him to lift his shirt so he could wrap a bandage around his waist to hold it steady. “I think you have a broken rib” explained the medic. “You should probably have a doctor take a look at it”.

The Mets fan stood up and handed Kai his business card.

“Rob Manfred - MLB Commissioner” it read. Kai burst out laughing which hurt his ribs incredibly. “I didn’t recognize you commissioner”.

“I like to keep a low profile when I’m at Mets games. I grew up in New York and have been a lifelong fan” replied Rob. “When you’re the commissioner you have to be sure your bias against the small market teams isn’t noticed.”

“I KNEW IT” shouted Kai. “So many of our replay reviews go against us, there just had to be a reason”.

“Shhhhhh, don’t tell anyone” said Rob “and I’ll pay for that doctors visit”.