Elster's World

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Travel Mates

The fifth installment of Travel Mates, much delayed and (I'm sure) greatly anticipated, is finally up and running. Check it out.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

They Carry News That Must Get Through (Redux)

And so it is done. After almost thirteen and a half grueling hours, a new life enters the world. She was induced two weeks early for fear that she wasn’t growing enough, but she came out over six pounds, the benchmark for the Elsters (who generally crank out small children).

She is beautiful. Less than a full day old, she already holds me in the palm of the smallest little hand. There is too much to say, so I won’t even try. Instead a few thoughts:

- I was going to record the events of the “birth day” and do a sort of real time running blog of the event (Mrs. Elster’s hatred of needles generally makes for some high comedy during IV and epidural insertion), but to be honest, the process didn’t really run all that smoothly. There were peaks and valleys that we weren’t used to and the tension was higher than normal. Instead, I’ll just say this – thirteen hours of trying to deliver a baby – not fun.

-More apologies to those who have been trying to contact me. I received your messages and emails but I simply had no time to respond.

- A new Travel Mates post will be up by the weekend. We all sincerely apologize for (Tomboy’s) the delay.

That’s all for now. Abba’s pretty wiped.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

All Apologies

I cry a thousand pardons for the lack of updates here. Between work and some personal issues, there simply is no time to write anything of value. Yes, even Billy Wagner's Saturday meltdown, the season finale of 24 and a host of other great source material must take a back seat.

Will be updating soon with some big news, some sports rantings and all the other great stuff you have come to love at Elster's World.

OUt.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Lost Boys (Part II)

My buddy Raanan sent me this today. Sadly, I cannot say I’m shocked by this article. There was a time in my life when my initial response to something like this would be shock and outrage, followed by a healthy dose of denial and disbelief.

Unfortunately, I know too much now. Maybe I haven’t witnessed the personal horrors associated with sexual abuse or any of the topics I discussed in The Lost Boys (and Girls) but that doesn’t mean that I can even pretend that they are not prominent problems facing Orthodox Judaism.

Don’t get me wrong, after reading Robert Kolker’s article, On Bended Knee in New York Magazine, all I know is that Yehuda Kolko is probably guilty as sin. I also believe that Kolko is not an isolated incident. However, Mr. Kolker sets forth that the problem of sexual abuse in the ultra-orthodox community is rampant. To sum up, he brings the following proofs – (i) a lot of people told him this is true and (ii) there’s some Jewish blogger who writes about this and gets a lot of anonymous responses from people who have been abused. Not exactly rock solid evidence. And in fact, I believe that New York Magazine jumped all over Kolko’s case and used it as a pretext to smear the orthodox-Jewish community as a whole. Kolker’s whole article has a nice healthy dose of self-hating quality that it left an extremely bad taste in my mouth.

That being said, I still believe that the problem of sexual abuse is extremely prevalent in society as a whole and in the orthodox Jewish world as well. The article makes certain points about a “look the other way” society that I know to be true in other instances and I firmly believe exists here as well.

Honestly, I read that article and I felt sick. Sick for abused kids, sick for a society that let it happen (and worse, covers it up) and sick for our world. Every time a child is molested, another soul is destroyed. Yes corny, but true nonetheless. Every battered woman is a weakened spirit. Every Lost Boy (or Girl) is contributing to the destruction of the Jewish community, a weakening of the links in the chain.

But anger fades and a feeling of emptiness enters in its place. Can this problem be solved? Not if it never sees the light of day. Not if community leaders, blinded by a fear of how the outside world may react, decide that the best policy is one of deception - of lies and cover ups - of forcing people into submission with threats and strong-arm tactics.

Who will step forward into the shadow world and take a stand? Who has the ability? Only the community leader rabbis. The onus is on them. No one else has the power and influence to break the cycle. And they should be called out by community leaders - and damned if they then turn their backs.

What is worse – the breaking of the cone of silence or the destruction of the innocent? Is the corruption so deep that by opening Pandora’s Box, the floodgates will burst forth? Is the problem really that bad? Is the wellspring of evil so deep that it has no end?

I hope that the answer to these questions is a resounding no. But it scares me to think otherwise. It hurts me to think that right now – at this very moment – somewhere a young boy is the object of improper affection, that a man is beating his wife, that a mother is emotionally crippling her daughter. Blink – another second – another instance of abuse. Another of the walking dead created by someone in a position of trust - A father, a mother, a shrink, a teacher a rebbe. How much worse when the damage is done by such a godly figure.

There’s nothing left to say. The rest of this post is a fictional account of what this horror might be. Please feel free to stop reading now:

“Adam, it’s four o’clock,” his mother shouted from the kitchen. “Don’t keep Mr. Parker waiting.” The dreaded words. Uttered by Adam’s mother twice weekly. Mr. Parker. Tutor and big buddy. Soul killer.

Adam takes the muted gray elevator to the lobby, dread a living hand wrapped around his scorched heart. Through glass doors, Mr. Parker’s gleaming silver Audi. Tears burn red-rimmed eyes. “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. I’m just twelve.” The shout doesn’t come but the throat burns as though the scream was long and raw for all of Sixteenth Avenue to hear. “I don’t want to go.” That does come, but only in a whisper. Mrs. Murphy looks at the boy oddly as he passes (“he looks like a damn ghost” she thinks to herself), but collects her mail and disappears back into her corner of the world.

Parker’s car is immaculate. It smells of polish and leather. Parker smiles and makes small talk, but the boy hears only the beating of his small, broken heart – the thudding in his ears like the ticking of a clock winding down to zero hour.

The progression is the same, so rote that Adam no longer can discern truth from reality. Books on the dinette table, then a walk to the bedroom. The boy stands motionless and Parker whispers in his ear – clothes are discarded – unspeakable acts occur. Adam is not there. He is in the place where he goes every Monday and Wednesday at this time. He is staring out the window and a distant point in the horizon. The world is a tiny dot, a point on the cell tower in the city far away. The whole world has shrunk down to this point. In this point there is no shame, no pain, no vulgar hands and whispers in the ear. No shudders and moans from a man to a boy.

And just like that a final convulsion, the ordeal is over - the point recedes and the older man smiles. “Ok, let’s hit the books Adam. You need to get your grades up, your mom is worried about you.” Though the cause of the worry sits across from Adam and tutors him in math and social studies. The cause of worry tells him that he’ll study better if they just take care of the other thing first. The cause of worry tells him that if he ever says anything, the cause will kill his mother.

Another day, another Lost Boy.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mother's Day Blues

Woeful weather outside, woeful sports weekend for Elster. Mother’s Day weekend was not kind to the Mets and was even less kind to the New York Knicks, a team hurtling towards their designation as the worst franchise in sports.

Injuries to the back end of the Mets pitching rotation are proving very costly. Jose Lima and his blond dreadlocks can’t get through the fifth inning, John Maine can’t grip a baseball and Willie Randolph isn’t giving Aaron Heilman the keys to the car. And then there was Duaner Sanchez following up giving up his first run of the season by letting the floodgates open in his next two appearances as well.

This has many repercussions. The bullpen is getting taxed because of more work, there is more pressure on Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine to be great every time out and Steve Trachsel isn’t getting the job done (that’s not a repercussion, just another fact). There is more pressure on the offense to produce runs (and, for the most part, they are living up to that challenge; jumping out to early leads and finding ways to get runs off relievers in big spots). Add to the mix the Phillies recent run and all of a sudden the Mets lead in the East is down to a game (unless the Phils won last night, in which case it’s a half game).

Pardon me for being optimistic (Joe!!!), but every season has bumps in the road. Brian Bannister will be back shortly and the Mets can make a minor move to add a fourth or fifth starter. It’s only May. There really is no need to panic. Carlos Beltran looks great so far this year and it’s only a matter of time until Cliff Floyd and his dead bat wake up.

One interesting side note in all this is Randolph’s steadfast refusal to start Heilman. The rationale is that it will weaken the bullpen and it doesn’t seem like the Mets have anyone in the minor leagues who can come in and shut the door in the seventh or eight like Heilman can (see Heath Bell and his ghastly ERA). I get that. But Heilman really wants to start and to me it looks like he is taking his dissatisfaction onto the field. He always seems pissed off when he goes out there and isn’t bearing doen like he did at the end of last season. And he is a restricted free agent of some sort at the end of the year. He is going to take his 93 mph moving fastball and his deadly changeup somewhere where he will get a chance to start. Just seems like giving him a chance to start is the right answer. Of course, the bullpen is starting to look pretty shaky too so who knows?

As for the Knicks. Ah, the Knicks. Reports began surfacing this Sunday that the Knicks were attempting to buy out the remaining four years and approximately $40 million remaining on Larry Brown’s contract. It seems that they are fed up with the way he alienated his players (especially “star” Stephon Marbury) and took endless jabs at general manager Isaiah Thomas for the team that Thomas had put together. Reports say that Thomas will come in and coach the team this season.

Let’s not play the blame game. I will leave it to the talking heads to apportion percentages of blame. Instead focus on the bigger issues. The Knicks ownership (i.e. James Dolan) and management are so clueless that the finished product on the court will of course be awful. And make no mistake, this Knicks team is such a jumble of misplaced and expensive parts, that I wonder if I could have done a better job myself. But the braintrust wants big names. Big names fill seats. Thus you have three shooting guards on the roster and no one to distribute them the ball. You have a center who cost the Knicks a lottery pick, plus a potential lottery pick again next year (don’t ask, long story) and he only plays hard for the first 5 minutes of the game. Oh and he has a heart condition that was serious enough that his old team wouldn’t sign him to a contract extension. (So there’s a decent chance he might drop dead on the court at any given time. Actually makes for riveting television.) You have a backup center who underachieved his entire career, played hard for one playoff series, and was rewarded with a $48 million contract. Huh? The list, unfortunately, goes on and on.

Thomas is the master of the terrible trade, giving away the expiring contracts that will someday lead the Knicks out of salary cap hell inexchange for past their prime all stars with tons of unpaid money to go (Stevie Francis, Jalen Rose). There is almost no doubt that the Knicks will make a serious run at Kenyon Martin and his bad knees (and $70 million contract this summer).

Keep in mind, Thomas was never a particularly good coach and he was even a worse executive. He ran the CBA into the ground and is in the process of destroying one of the great franchises in sports. And Mr. Dolan is letting it happen. His faith in Thomas is puzzling at best and ludicrous at worst. If I owned a team I would never let a guy like Thomas keep adding to my already bloated payroll like this. It’s just bad business. But again, these guys have no plan.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Saturday Night Live

Some quick Saturday night musings:

- We sent the kiddies away for the weekend. I woke up this morning at 8:25. Honestly, I can't remember the last time I woke up that late. Suffice it to say, it was a long time ago.

Twas a very relaxing shabbos. We slept late (see above), went to friends for lunch, and then sat outside for two hours in the afternoon. Good times.

- Weird Met game tonight. it was alternatively uplifting and disturbing. First they get a big lead. Then they give it away. Then their 2 best middle relievers choke. Then DeLuca bails them out with a homerun and Wagner shuts the door in the bottom of the ninth after another crappy play by David Wright put a runner on base. No way they win this game last year, no way.

- It's too bad the Knicks suck as badly as they do or perhaps I would be more into what is shaping up to be a fantastic NBA playoffs. Many an exciting first round series were played and we are seeing the emergence of the next great superstar in Lebron James. And again, it cannot be stressed enough how important it is to have a white player with floppy hair playing such a prominent role in the league. This cannot be overstated.

- With Mother's Day less than an hour away, I have covered all bases. Flowers? Check. Card? Check. Kids away? Check. Oh wait, that's for me. Even so. I like Mother's Day. Moms all over the land definitely deserve their own day. Or even a whole month. "Mother is the name of G-d on the lips of small children." I actually heard that in a movie (The Crow). I don't know if it was quoted from a "real" place or not, but it still strikes me as a truism.

Wow, I really have nothing to say tonight. My creativity is bone dry. That's the reason why I'm writing. I don't like to be unable to do it, so I will do it when I don't feel I can. If that makes sense to you.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Travel Mates

Newest Travel Mates post is up. Feel free to drop everything and go take a look. No, seriously. Click over. Now. What are you waiting for?

Also, new post below.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Out of the Box

I was recently J-blog hopping when I stumbled here (you need to scroll down 2 posts). It seems that blogger Eli7 was lamenting how she failed to fit into any of the supposedly neat categories of Orthodox Judaism – Modern Orthodox, Chareidi and Ultra Orthodox all failed to correctly and completely define who she was. She decided that she was somewhere in the supposed “middle ground” of Judaism, but then wondered whether one can “straddle the fence” between the categories as it were.

I had replied to say that there is no such thing as a ”middle” ground, because in almost all cases, wherever one is religiously, they are in the middle of something. There are so many subcategories within the categories, the groupings themselves are almost valueless. Besides, I argued, the better way to view orthodoxy is as follows:

Within the world of orthodoxy, there is a giant box. This is the Box of Acceptable Halacha (Jewish law) and Hashkafah (the way a Jew is supposed to live – for lack of a good way to explain it) – a/k/a the Box. Within the Box lies all that is acceptable within Orthodox Judaism. Whether you are Chareidi, Yeshivish, Modern Orthodox or however you so choose to classify yourself, you must be within the Box. The Box , then, represents the entire religious framework. Where, exactly you fall within the Box is about personal choice. Anything outside of the Box is, well, outside the accepted framework.

The good news, then, is that while it is difficult to be a complete individual in Orthodoxy, you can be an individual within the Box. Sure, you still must eat kosher, observe shabbos, etc., but this explanation defies the idea that Judaism is a cookie cutter religion of conformity.

The bad news, though, is that over time, the lines around the edges of the box have become severely frayed. Somewhere and somehow, black and white has become more and more gray. In both directions. Eating certain foods in non-kosher restaurants, a common practice among many “very modern” people (especially in work situations) may very well be outside the Box. But to so many, this is an acceptable balance. “I only eat the fish” is synonymous with, “I don’t eat trief”.

On the other side of the extreme, setting aside rocks to throw at cars on Shabbos? Um, outside the Box.

So, both at the edges of the Box (and worse, in it’s middle), we seem to have lost our way. There is such animosity between the “groupings” that we have all lost sight of the fact that we are all joined by the Box. Instead, the right and the left refuse to admit that the other is credible, everyone calls each other “them” and “they”, as though talking about sub-human form beings. The level of sinat chinam has reached dangerous proportion.

And the simple question is why? Why can’t we be accepting of our practices within the Box, even when they differ from our own? Why can a modern orthodox man be more understanding towards the plight of the black man than he can be towards his Chareidi brothers? At the end of the day, while I wear jeans, listen to more rock n roll than Yeshiva Boys Choir, while I watch tv and see movies, all the hallmarks of, gasp modern orthodoxy, yet I still feel a greater connection to the strange looking dude in the peyos and streimel than I would ever feel with my (seemingly more like me) co-workers.

Why is that? Because me and Streimel Man are both within the box. The co-worker who I can talk to about what happened on Lost last night? Out of the Box. End of story.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Travel Mates Announcement

With Travel Mates about to become the Next Big Thing on the Net, we proudly announce the addition of a third member to the pack. Scraps, a nice Jewish girl originally from "Montana", now living somewhere else, has joined the wildly talented Tomboy and the lesser talented me, in a collaboration which is right off the Richter Scale.

Scrapses (intentional error) first post, and the third in the series, is either up by the time you read this or will be up by Monday at some point. Check it out here.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Ultimate J-Bloggers Roadmap

Editor’s Note: If you have no sense of humor, please stop reading right now. Though I do so look forward to your hate mail later.

The world of J-Bloggers has absolutely exploded in the last few years. If you have a computer, internet access and the ability to come up with a six-letter password you are, well, you’re a Blogger!!! Congratulations. That wasn’t so hard, now was it?

Of course, the downside to this plethora of new blogs is the virtually impossibility to keep track of them all, let alone try and actually read through them. It’s more daunting than attempting to read through a 23,000 page congressional report on germs.

Fortunately for you, Elster’s here to be your spirit guide. Yet I am but one man. There is no way I can stuff all you need to know into one post. On top of that, I only got about five hours of sleep last night.

Yet I have come up with a plan. Instead of trying to list all the blogs (which, if I’m not mistaken, was one of the infamous tasks of Hercules), I’ve broken them out into categories with a few links in each one. From there it’s simple. Just check out links and comments and comments to comments and the link’s links, and you will soon find that ten years have gone by and you have completely wasted your life. Hey, I’m glad to help.

So without further ado, a roadmap to J-Bloggerville:

Jesus, if freaking sucks living in Lakewood: Ah, one of my original favorites. Where else could I have learned all the nitty-gritty details of the internet ban, the best local movie theaters and the fact that the local pizzeria doesn’t allow people to sit down? Good times abound. And to think, Lakewood really does have a pretty lake. Yet everyone still complains. Go figure. http://semgirl.blogspot.com/ and http://semstory.blogspot.com/ are female stalwarts and if then there’s the newly minted http://lakevent.blogspot.com/. Believe me, this list could go on forever. Like infinity forever. I’m just too tired.

Dude, I’m seriously just gonna write whatever pops into my mind. No, really. Anything: Unfortunately, this is a mostly sad group. Why? Because only a few can pull off writing about anything that comes into his mind and not sound like a complete moron - Jack can do it and so can Brownsville Girl (who doesn’t live in Brownsville) . http://yonirants.blogspot.com/ - Now here’s a blog all over the place. Everyone else attempting this method? You suck, give it up. Trust me when I say, no one is interested in what you had for dinner last night. Or how you folded your laundry. Or what books your are reading or…..zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

I’m a zealot, you got a problem with dat?: Ah the zealots. They take may forms. Some are great, some banal and some quite scary. You can be loyal in your love of country (http://muqata.blogspot.com/, http://becsuniverse.blogspot.com/ - in her case even if you don’t live there yet ) your love of your favorite sports teams (http://elstersworld.blogspot.com/, http://jschick.blogspot.com/ http://bloginator80.blogspot.com/ - even though he is a Braves fan). You can be a religious zealot (http://jgoldman.blogspot.com/, http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/ - though he is a GOOD zealot). Or, you can simply be scary – Kudos to you http://datingmasterjerusalem.blogspot.com/. You have the scariest J-blog in existence. And believe me, that’s saying something in your case.

Your blog may very well be good but your posts are too intricate or worse, too damn long: Chana my friend, I have no idea what you are talking about half the time but you sure sound like you know what you are talking about. Kudos to you. But the posts I actually stay awake through really are good.

My blog is a place for insane people to congregate: Traditional Tomfoolery - is the worldwide leader in this category. By logical follow, http://matestravel.blogspot.com/ will probably not be far behind. Loads of religious wackos at http://shomernegiah.blogspot.com/ and a nice number of them at http://eishetchayil.blogspot.com/ - enough, in fact that she was forced to shut it down. Nice going ye raving lunatics.

I’m young, but I have many a weighty issue on my mind: A whole new wave of bloggers are young-uns – fresh off a year in Israel, or out of seminary or some other place of religious persecution. They are ready to face the terrifying realities of the new world and, wow, they seem to have lots on their mind. http://briannaworld.blogspot.com/, http://trophyofthehour.blogspot.com/, http://curiousjew.blogspot.com/, Michelle and http://granddelusions.blogspot.com/ to name but a few. Remember single bloggers, they are too young for you!!! For whatever reason, there seem to be many more young women than young male bloggers. Could be because the guys get out their aggressions by playing sports. Just a theory.

And, finally, we have my favorite category of bloggers – the Sublime: Alas, there are too few of such bloggers. They are the ones which inspired us all. They lift us up, they make us laugh, cry and simply beg for more. To be placed in such lofty company, the blog would probably have to deal with sports, humor, a little dab of fiction as well as a host of serious issues. Oh how I have scoured the J-blogsphere searching for this holy grail of blogs. I have spent endless nights pouring through them, sifting through the sand for those nuggets of gold. And dear readers, let me tell you – it was not easy. In fact, I was almost ready to give up entirely until…well, until I found it. And so, without further ado, I will get you to the end of the roadmap, the place where X actually marks the spot:

http://elstersworld.blogspot.com/.

Have a good Shabbos all, and to all a good night.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Responding To An Absurd Charge

In his latest Anti-Elster rant, Joe (http://jschick.blogspot.com/) has attacked some of my recent positive sports posts. He claims that immediately after I write my good vibe works, the wheels come flying right off the team in question. He then goes on to imply that I am somehow responsible for the annual demise of our beloved Jets, Mets and Rangers. To which I reply: Bah!!

Poor Joe - he is the typical New York (non Yankees) sports fan. So many years of rooting for losing franchises has left him so bitter and distraught, that he actually believes that an expression of optimistic have can actually wreck the direction of his sports team. How utterly insane and deluded.

Did my Rangers post http://elstersworld.blogspot.com/2006/03/picking-up-where-they-left-off.html cause the disastrous downhill slide, or was it the push they needed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in 1,739 years? Did http://elstersworld.blogspot.com/2006/03/jets-update.html make the Jets lose John Runyan to Philly, or did it keep them from overpaying for a 32 year old injury-prone tackle and, therefore, allow them to sign D'brickashaw Ferguson in the draft this year?

I like to think that my positive Karma is bringing a breath of clean air to the smog spewed out by the cold, hard fact - jaded fans such as Joe. So yes, I will take his abuse. I shall martyr myself for the cause. But when the Mets are jumping all over themselves because they just defeated the White Sox in game seven of the World Series, who will be lining up to apologize at my feet? Exactly, no one.

Hey, it's a tough job but someone needs to do it.

Bad Wing

From John Clayton (foorball expert at ESPN)

• How's the rehab?Chad Pennington (shoulder), Carson Palmer (knee), Daunte Culpepper (knee) and Drew Brees (shoulder) will be the most watched rehabs this offseason. Pennington probably has the least chance to play of the three. The other three are trying to be ready for the start of the regular season.

Uh oh.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Travel Mates Part II

The second installment of Travel Mates (and Tomboy's first crack) is now up at the newly redesigned site (see it here - http://matestravel.blogspot.com/). Although I like the look of the new site, I can't take any credit for it. Also, I'm having some problems scrolling down on it. If you are too, let us know and we will correct.

Also note that I have a new Baseball related post directly below this one.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Baseball's Winning Formula

I was watching the Mets 2-1 defeat of the Washington Nationals and it struck me (once again) that this year’s version of the Mets just feels different. There is just something about this team that makes it different than some of the disasters of years past. What is that extra something? Let’s break it down:

- Chemistry. It is impossible to discount the importance of team chemistry to building championship teams in any sport. With rare exceptions (the Kobe/Shaq Lakers and any Yankees team from the last decade), successful teams have great chemistry. The Red Sox “idiots” certainly had it, as did the Patriot teams (running out of the tunnel as one team at the Super Bowl in 2001). And this Mets team has it too. They are cheering for one another. They have intricate seven-step handshakes after homeruns. They a lot. I eve saw Kaz Matsui smile the other night with Jose Reyes. And that dude hasn’t broken a smile in two plus seasons in America. When you genuinely like the guys in the clubhouse, it affects how you play as a team. And when you play as a team, it translates into victories.

- Leadership. You cannot discount the importance of team leaders. When the Mets signed Julio Franco to a 2 year deal despite the fact that he was FORTY-SEVEN(!!!) years old, people scoffed at General Manager Omar Minaya. But the Franco pickup has been nothing short of brilliant. Wouldn’t every team in the league want someone on the bench who ostensible is another coach, only this coach can also pinch hit and steal a base or two? Isn’t that what Franco is? Not only has he won games with his bat, he beautifully diffused what could have been an ugly situation when Carlos Beltran refused to come out for a curtain call after previously getting booed by fans earlier in the season, but watching him interact and teach young kids like Reyes has been great to see. These kinds of “little things” simply cannot be overlooked.

- The difference that a solid bullpen makes. When a manager knows he can give the ball to his bullpen and not have to worry about an implosion, it makes everything easier. It has a domino effect: There’s no need to keep a clearly tiring starter in too long. There’s no need to over-rely on one set up guy (the Mets can go with either Aaron Heilman or Duaner Sanchez and his funky glasses). And, most importantly, when you can give the rock to Billy Wagner and his sub-1 ERA, you know that the game is pretty much over. What a pleasure as a fan it is to know that if the Mets are up in the last inning, you can breath a sigh of relief. While for the most part Armando Benitez was a pretty good closer, you knew that in the heat of a big game, he was going to fall apart like a 1975 Ford Pinto. It was a given. The bigger the spotlight, the fatter the grooved fastball would be. But with Wagner it’s different. The other night nursing a one run lead against the Braves, Chipper Jones led off the ninth inning with a playable grounder to David Wright that was booted for a cheap base hit (should have been Wright’s sixth error of the young season). In years past that would have been it. Braden Looper and his insane grin would have given up a mammoth 2-run homer to Andruw Jones on the next pitch and it’s game over. Instead, Wagner shut the door, preserving the win and a series victory in Atlanta.

- A thumper in the middle. The last time the Mets had real thunder batting fourth (a healthy Mike Piazza), they went on to play in the World Series. Since then, they have had pretenders batting fourth (an unhealthy Piazza, Cliff Floyd). This year, the Mets acquired Carlos Delgado, a true clean up hitter, and he has not disappointed. Last night, he hit his tenth home run of the season, tying the score against the Nats in a game the Mets need to be winning. I still say that with a healthy and productive Carlos Beltran, the Mets have the scariest 3-7 lineup in the league with Beltran, Delgado, Wright, Floyd and Xavier Nady. Thunder like that means runs. Runs plus pitching equal wins.

Baseball is a simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball and you hit the ball. Those are the tangible elements. All teams can execute the tangible elements (to varying degrees of success). The teams with the intangibles are the ones who make the playoffs.