Sep 13

Mets’ Three Storylines: T.J. Rivera Steps Up

Pennant races aren’t just for guys like Yoenis Cespedes and Bryce Harper. They also belong to guys like T.J. Rivera, a undrafted free agent who carried the Mets on this night over their closest rivals.

RIVERA: Blast lifts Mets over Nats. (AP)

RIVERA: Blast lifts Mets over Nats. (AP)

Getting his first start in three weeks, Rivera had three hits including a tenth-inning homer that lifted the Mets over the Nationals, 4-3 in 10 innings, at Nationals Park Tuesday night. The victory, coupled with the Cardinals beating the Cubs in St. Louis, kept the Mets with a half-game lead for the second wild-card (they are even in the loss column).

“Somebody you don’t expect has to step up and tonight it was T.J.,” manager Terry Collins said. “He’s hit everywhere he’s been. He has a simple, short swing.”

In 45 at-bats since joining the Mets, Rivera his hitting .333 with his first career homer and six RBI. He’s also been solid defensively, regardless of where Collins starts him.

“It’s definitely not to hit a home run,” Rivera said of his thinking heading to the plate against Nationals closer Mark Melancon. “I just wanted to put the bat on the ball. When you haven’t been around the team much you want to contribute.”

With Neil Walker out for the season with a back injury and Wilmer Flores currently hurting following a home plate collision Saturday in Atlanta, Rivera should get more opportunities to play. Collins said it was a gut feeling to start Rivera, who won the Triple-A batting title for Las Vegas.

It’s probably a stretch to say Rivera could make the postseason roster, but he’s made enough of an impression to where he can compete for a job next spring.

Rivera was the main storyline, with the others being Noah Syndergaard’s wasted effort and Jerry Blevins picking up for Jeurys Familia.

TOUGH LUCK NOAH: Collins said with the Mets starting their best pitcher, this was a game they had to win. Syndergaard was poised to win his 14th game until Familia blew his fourth save opportunity in the ninth.

Syndergaard gave up one run on four hits with one walk and 10 strikeouts – including his 200th of the season – in one of his best outings of the season. Unlike previous outings where he ran up his pitch count, Syndergaard was extremely pitch efficient throwing 99.

“He was amped up,” Collins said. “He knew we needed to win this game.”

Syndergaard became the second-fastest Met behind Dwight Gooden to reach 200 strikeouts.

BLEVINS PICKS UP FAMILIA:  Familia blew his fourth save opportunity when the Nationals tied it on RBI singles by Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos (an infield chopper over Familia’s head).

After Rivera’s drive, the Nationals to tie the game again, but Blevins struck out Daniel Murphy on a wicked curveball to end the game.

It was his first save since 2012.

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Sep 13

Backman Tells His Side; Could Have Helped Collins This Week

Speaking on WFAN this afternoon, deposed Las Vegas manager Wally Backman insisted the decision to leave was his, and he vehemently refuted published reports citing unnamed Mets’ sources claiming he was insubordinate.

Backman said he would have accepted a coaching position on Terry Collins‘ staff or stayed with Vegas if asked. Whether he would have fired if he didn’t leave hasn’t been reported, but based on what Backman told WFAN one can presume he would have been canned by GM Sandy Alderson.

ALDERSON: In center of Backman sacking.  (AP)

ALDERSON: In center of Backman sacking. (AP)

Backman, who managed in the Mets’ farm system for seven years, including the last five on the Triple-A level with Buffalo and Las Vegas, said he wants to pursue options to manage in the major leagues but didn’t say he had anything immediately on his radar.

“I left on my own,” Backman said. “It didn’t look like there was any future for me in New York. When you work for an organization and do everything, you want to be respected for what you do. I just felt for my time being there the respect wasn’t there. I could be wrong. They could say different.”

Backman defined respect as more than simply guiding Las Vegas to three consecutive winning seasons prior to this year. He said it should include being acknowledged by Alderson in directing the Mets to James Loney, Rene Rivera and Jose Reyes; the last coming after a two-hour conversation that acted as a screening process.

All three paid dividends this summer.

In addition, many current Mets – from Noah Syndergaard to Michael Conforto to Jacob deGrom – played under Backman. He also was instrumental in turning around Lucas Duda and Travis d’Arnaud when they were on rehab assignments last year.

Backman was livid at reports citing unnamed sources he went rogue and disobeyed instructions on playing Conforto against left-handed pitching and batting Brandon Nimmo in the leadoff spot.

“Whoever put that out there, the source within the system, they lied,” a clearly agitated Backman said. “And that’s the part that pisses me off because I did nothing but try to help these guys.”

As for not playing Conforto against left-handers, Backman said he played in 31 of 33 games, hitting .488 (20-for-41) with three home runs against lefties. One game that Conforto didn’t play in was a day he was sent down and didn’t arrive until the fourth inning. The other came on a day prior to an off-day as to give Conforto two straight days off, which is commonplace.

Backman also said Nimmo hit first or second in 84 out of 97 games.

Backman said he got along with Collins and spoke to him frequently. Regarding his relationship Alderson, Backman took a diplomatic approach.

“I’m not going to say we never got along,” Backman said. “I thought he respected me as a baseball person. I guess I wasn’t the prototypical guy he liked.”

That became clear when the Mets bypassed Backman in favor of Dick Scott last December to be Collins’ bench coach.

We haven’t heard much about Scott this year until this past week, which hasn’t been a great one for Collins, who had three major brain cramps, all of which should have been preventable.

First, on Saturday he failed to pinch-run for Wilmer Flores, who was then subsequently thrown out at the plate, injured and hasn’t played since. On Sunday, he admitted screwing up. He said he was preoccupied talking with pitching coach Dan Warthen about setting up his pitching.

Finally, when it was apparent Rafael Montero didn’t have it Monday, Collins kept the shell-shocked starter in the game too long. He could have pulled Montero in the first or pinch-hit for him. He did neither and Montero let the game away. Would the Mets have won had Montero been pulled? Who knows, but it can’t make Collins feel any less angst.

All three events should fall under the responsibility of a bench coach, but not once did Collins point blame in his direction. That fits in with Collins’ makeup. He’s not one to throw his staff or players under the bus. For that matter, he doesn’t take shots at Alderson for leaving him shorthanded at times.

Frankly, too many times.

We don’t know what Scott said, or didn’t say. What we do know, based on reputation, Backman – no shrinking violet – wouldn’t have been shy to make a suggestion.

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Sep 13

Did Collins Fall On Sword For Scott?

It hasn’t been a great week for Mets manager Terry Collins, who had three major brain cramps, all of which should have been preventable.

First, on Saturday he failed to pinch-run for Wilmer Flores, who was then subsequently thrown out at the plate, injured and hasn’t played since. On Sunday, he admitted screwing up. He said he was preoccupied talking with pitching coach Dan Warthen about his pitching.

BACKMAN: Could he have saved Collins this week? (AP)

BACKMAN: Could he have saved Collins this week? (AP)

That day, in a blowout win over the Braves, he left shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and left fielder Yoenis Cespedes – both of whom spent time on the disabled list with leg injuries and still aren’t running well – in the game too long. Blowout wins are rare and represent a chance to grab rest for tired players.

Finally, Monday, when it was apparent Rafael Montero didn’t have it, he kept the shell-shocked starter in the game too long. He could have pulled Montero in the first or pinch-hit for him. He did neither and Montero let the game away. Would the Mets have won had Montero been pulled? Who knows, but it can’t make Collins feel any less angst.

Ironically, the Montero gaffe occurred hours after the Mets split with Triple-A manager Wally Backman.

All three events should fall under the responsibility of bench coach Dick Scott, but not once did Collins point blame in his direction. That fits in with Collins’ makeup. He’s not one to throw his staff or players under the bus. For that matter, he doesn’t take shots at GM Sandy Alderson for leaving him shorthanded at times.

Frankly, too many times.

Scott, it should be mentioned, beat out Backman for the bench coach job last winter. Alderson had his reasons for choosing Scott, but it should also be noted his relationship with Backman is frosty at best.

Many decisions a manager makes these days are on the fly. However, with the abundance of statistics and scouting reports available, the bench coach has come into play. The bench coach has to analyze this information and be able to think two or three moves ahead and give it to the manager when the need arises.

In all three decisions within the past week, Collins didn’t shuffle blame on Scott. That’s not who he is; he’s not one to throw his staff or players under the bus.

We don’t know what Scott said, or didn’t say. What we do know, based on reputation, Backman – no shrinking violet – wouldn’t have been shy to make a suggestion.

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Sep 12

Backman Out; Was Never Going To Get Chance

Mets GM Sandy Alderson said Wally Backman, the one time, popular pepper pot second baseman of the 1986 champion Mets, is out as Triple-A Las Vegas’ manager.

Just like that, he’s out.

Alderson said Backman left on his own, but does anybody really believe that?

BACKMAN: Inevitable happens. (MLB.com)

BACKMAN: Inevitable happens. (MLB.com)

“Wally has decided to move on,” Alderson told The New York Post. “He’s got other opportunities, presumably including possible major league coaching or managing.”

That’s nonsense. The minor league season just ended and the major league season is still going on. There are no current openings. If Backman had another job lined up, he would have said so.

When somebody desperately wants to manage in the major leagues, he doesn’t resign from a Triple-A job without something lined up. Instead, he just posted a mild tweet saying he resigned and thanked Mets’ fans for their support. He posted nothing about Alderson.

Reportedly, Backman was on the verge of being named bench coach for the 2012 season, but something happened at the last minute and the job went to Tim Teufel.

In 2004, Backman was hired to manage the Arizona Diamondbacks but was fired four days later after The New York Times reported he had been arrested twice and was under financial duress.

Amazingly, the Diamondbacks failed to do a background check.

Baseball is noted for giving second chances, but Backman has never gotten another opportunity to manage on the major league level. Instead, he found sanctuary with the Mets, the team he energized in 1986.

SNY analyst Keith Hernandez called Backman, “a dear friend and a great teammate.”

Backman managed Las Vegas for five seasons and guided them to a 70-74 record this year. Although Las Vegas had three winning seasons prior to this year, Backman never was enamored by Alderson, who was very complimentary in The Post.

“I thought he did a fine job for us,” Alderson said. “We had many players come through Las Vegas and graduate to the major league level and establish themselves in New York.

“He was part of that development process. In addition, other than this year, the teams were very competitive and successful on a won-loss basis. He did a good job for us.”

So, what was the problem?

Backman has a reputation as a loose cannon that irritated the button-down Alderson. There always seemed to be friction between them, and Alderson has a reputation for holding a grudge.

There are reports of Backman defying Alderson by not batting Brandon Nimmo leadoff and – heaven forbid – or starting Michael Conforto against left-handed pitchers.

On the major league level, Terry Collins said he would, but never followed through on hitting Conforto against lefties. Backman was also critical of how Conforto was used by the Mets. Come to think of it, who hasn’t been critical of the way the Mets are using Conforto.

The Mets’ current outfield situation, in large part made by their eagerness to placate Yoenis Cespedes, is currently a mess. There are no plans for what to do with Conforto – whom Collins said in April was destined to be the Mets’ No. 3 hitter for the next decade – and Nimmo.

There is actually a chance they won’t have either Cespedes or Jay Bruce in 2017.

Collins was hired to replace Jerry Manuel in 2011 and had four losing seasons. There were opportunities to hire Backman then, but Collins survived, getting the benefit of the doubt by numerous injuries and ownership’s financial problems.

The thinking was the Mets couldn’t fire Collins because he hadn’t been given a representative team. It wouldn’t be fair. However, everything fell into place and the Mets reached the World Series in 2015. And, with the Mets serious wild-card contenders this year, Collins’ job seems secure.

Part of the success of last year was because of the performances of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Conforto and Travis d’Arnaud, players who did well under Backman.

The Mets could have promoted Backman to bench coach after last year to replace Bob Geren, who left for the Dodgers. However, when the job went to Dick Scott, it became clear there was no place for him on the major league level despite Jeff Wilpon’s initial gesture of support when they hired him.

With the friction between Backman and the Mets this year, it was only a matter of time before today happened. Do you still don’t think there isn’t animosity between Backman and the Mets? On SNY during the game, Backman wasn’t mentioned until the seventh inning of a blowout, and ended its Baseball Tonight broadcast with basically a throw-away line. It was the last item, but should have been the first.

Don’t think the Mets didn’t have anything to do with that? It sure looks like the Mets wanted to bury this. Makes you wonder why they didn’t wait until 3 in morning Eastern time – the Mets were on the West Coast at the time – like they did when they axed Willie Randolph.

The bottom line is the Mets didn’t want Backman. That’s too bad, and I hope some team takes a chance on him.

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Sep 12

Mets’ Lineup, Sept. 12, At Washington

When the Mets’ schedule came out last winter, the first thing I searched for were the Washington series. I was disappointed the last two series weren’t played the last two weeks, but that’s the way it goes.

Of course, I didn’t expect them to be nine games out in early September. It’s not as if the Mets don’t have anything to play for. Last year, the Mets buried the Nationals in DC in an all but clinching series. The three-game series in Washington gives the Nationals the chance – and Daniel Murphy will love this – a chance to bury the Mets for the division this week.“We

The Mets’ focus must be on St. Louis and San Francisco for the wild-card. Within the past three weeks the Mets have gone from being all-but-buried to looking at the second wild card and hope it doesn’t entail flying to California for one game, to controlling their own destiny and play the wild-card game at Citi Field.

“We know we can certainly play with them,” manager Terry Collins told reporters Sunday in Atlanta. “We’ve just got to go in there and play. For us, it’s about winning games. I don’t care who they are against. We’ve just got to win games.”

This week, while the Mets play the Nationals, the Cardinals are home to the Cubs. Then this weekend it will be the Cardinals in San Francisco for four games.

Here’s the Mets’ lineup tonight:

Jose Reyes, 3B: Hitting .282 (171-606) vs, Nats. … Hitting .290 (9-31) with RISP. …Hitting .290 (34-114) with .360 on-base percentage in 27 games since coming off the DL. … Has franchise-record 19 homers leading off a game.

 Asdrubal Cabrera – SS: Hitting .270 (20-74) vs. Nats. … Hitting .232 (19-82) with 20 RBI with RISP. … Hitting .385 in 22 games since coming off DL. … Still bothered by sore knee.Yoneis Cespedes – LF

Yoenis Cespedes – LF: Hitting .307 (27-88) vs. Nats. … Hitting .286 (26-91) with nine homers and 50 RBI with RISP. … His 30 homers tie him for fourth in NL.

Curtis Granderson – CF: Hitting .265 (57-215) vs. Nats. … Hitting .130 (12-92) with RISP. … Is batting .289 with six homers – including in four straight games – in last 12 games. … Production coincides with hitting fourth behind Cespedes and drawing more walks.

Kelly Johnson – 2B: Hitting .262 (79-302) vs. Nats. … Hitting .282 (20-71) with 22 RBI with RISP. … Has four pinch-hit homers.

Jay Bruce – RF: Hitting .215 (45-209) vs. Nats. … Hitting .327 (37-113) with nine homers and 59 RBI with RISP. … Mets hold option for 2017.

Travis d’Arnaud – C: Hitting .242 (29-120) vs. Nats. … Hitting .114 (5-44) with RISP. … Opponents hitting .272 when d’Arnaud catches and Mets pitchers have a 4.14 ERA. Mets are 31-31 when he’s behind the plate.

James Loney – 1B: Hitting .313 (42-134) vs. Nats. … Hitting .197 (13-66) with RISP. … Has seven homers, the most in a season since 2014.

Rafael Montero – RHP: Mets won his last two starts despite Montero walking ten in 9.1 innings. … Is 0-1 with a 6.43 ERA against Washington.