Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Nelson Figueroa Is Who He Is

“[The Nationals] were cheering in the dugout like a bunch of softball girls. I am a professional, I take great offense to that. … They won tonight, but in the long run, they’re still who they are, a last-place team.”

Poor put-upon Nelson Figueroa, who had to endure some clapping from the Nationals’ dugout last night as he gave up six runs in five innings (two unearned, thanks to some fine erroneous-baseball-slinging by himself and Carlos Delgado).

Since the Nats are who they are, let’s look at who Nelson Figueroa is: he’s a career 9-20 pitcher with a stellar 4.71 ERA. Sadly, however, he didn’t have the opportunity to contribute to the Mets’ historic choke/collapse of last September. It was a collapse, incidentally, to which these temporarily last-place Nationals were happy to contribute with a 5-1 record against the Mets in that critical division-lead-whittling-away stretch between 9/14 and 9/30. To put it more succinctly, the Nationals were denying making dreadful history while the Mets were embracing it. The Mets' choke job will live on in memory long after these minorly inconvenient Nats' rebuilding seasons are forgotten.

To be fair, Figueroa does know something about last-place teams, having toiled for the futile Pirates of 2003 and 2004, when he pitched in nicely with a 2-4 record and 4.36 ERA. The Mets themselves, of course, know have knowledge of last place teams, having been one themselves not too many years ago, with records of 66-95 in 2003 and 75-86 in 2002 (before rebounding with that 4th place 71-91 finish of 2004).

So that’s who this whiney tool is. The Nationals, as we optimistic types know, are a turnaround in progress. Perhaps a slow turnaround, but a turnaround. They are, for now, a last place team still gradually pulling themselves out of a franchised-sized hole MLB graciously dug for them during years of neglectful hive ownership and hampering. They are a team making tangible gains, as the Master, Manny Acta said towards the end of T-Boz’s sometimes-painfully punny column from yesterday: "Last year [on May 10] we were 9-25," Acta said. "Now we have 15 wins. Wait." Wait. As in, wait until our brilliantly drafted studs and Manny-molded budding stars develop into the division-threatening squad they can be. It’s not that far off, and it won’t take a prone-to-failure $100 million + roster (hi, Mets) to do it.

We also can’t help but wonder why Figueroa was so angered to hear the dulcet Elijah-Dukes-led tones of ‘tism emmenating from the Nats’ dugout (this smells like a symptom of another Manny-led life turnaround, by the way)? Is his New-York heart so embittered that he only responds to the jeers, taunts, and fair-weatherism of the louty Shea faithful? Is the slightest bit of positivity anathema to his dark and heavy soul? Whatever self-loathing and optimism-hating issues may be there, apparently this little bit of cheering and clapping brought them blazing out. That and years of ineffective pitching. He is who he is.

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