Aug 02

Three Mets’ Storylines: Welcome Jay Bruce

The reception was cordial and polite – reserved actually, as if the crowd was guarded about their expectations – when Jay Bruce went to the plate for the first time Tuesday night in a Mets uniform. You might even say it was business as usual, because after all, the trade that brought him to New York from Cincinnati has been brewing for a long time.

“I feel like I’ve been getting traded to the Mets for over a year now,” Bruce told reporters in his introductory press conference prior to Tuesday’s 7-1 victory over the Yankees. “You never know what’s going to happen until it actually happens. Last year there was some crazy stuff during the deadline. I try not to jump to conclusions or assume anything. So I waited until I got the call.

“And when it happened, I was very, very excited.”

DE AZA: Home run swing. (AP)

DE AZA: Home run swing. (AP)

Bruce joins the Mets as the NL leader in RBI with 80 built on a .360 average with RISP. Conversely, the Mets are last in the majors with a .205 average with RISP. Bruce had an uneventful 0-for-4 as he flied out to left in the first; grounded out to first in the fourth; and struck out looking in the sixth and seventh.

It might have been jitters, but no worries on the night. The trade was the right move and the Mets will be beneficiaries soon enough.

“I know he was nervous, even though he’s an established star in the big leagues and is trying to fit in,” manager Terry Collins said.

As expected, Bruce’s first game was the primary storyline. Here are the other two.

DE AZA SHOULD GET SHOT IN CENTER: When the Mets signed Alejandro De Aza – prior to signing Yoenis Cespedes – they did so with the intent of platooning him with Juan Lagares. But, with Lagares on the DL – where Cespedes should be – why are the Mets still in a funk about who can play center field?

After a slow start and was on the brink of being released, De Aza started getting more playing time and since July is batting .342, including a two-run homer Tuesday night.

“I just want to keep working and help the team win,” De Aza said. “I’ve been working hard in the cages to shorten up my swing.”

THE MYSTERIOUS MIND OF COLLINS: Jacob deGrom was superb, but what I will take out of this game most – outside of Bruce’s debut – was Collins’ decision to pinch-hit Cespedes for De Aza in the seventh.

The Mets were up by five at the time, so why bat for the player who homered and is your best defensive center fielder? Cespedes’ RBI infield single was a moot point and foolish risk.

“I just wanted to get him an at-bat,” said Collins, as if Cespedes would forget how to hit before starting as the DH Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.

“I felt a little discomfort running down the line,” Cespedes said. “But once I got back in the dugout it felt better.”

No, Cespedes didn’t get hurt, but what if he reinjured his strained quad? Why take that chance with the game seemingly out of reach?

Sometimes, Collins makes me scratch my head and wonder. Other times he makes my want to throw a shoe at the TV.

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Aug 02

Mets Lineup, August 2, Against Yankees

Good evening. Not surprisingly, Yoenis Cespedes in not in today’s lineup against the Yankees. Hard-luck losers Monday night, today the Mets behind Jacob deGrom unveil Jay Bruce at Citi Field.
As expected, the Mets placed shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (strained patella tendon of left knee) and outfielder Justin Ruggiano (strained left hamstring) on the 15-day disabled list, optioned reliever Seth Lugo and outfielder Brandon Nimmo to Triple-A Las Vegas, and recalled infielder Ty Kelly and lefty reliever Josh Edgin. The Mets also added Bruce and LHP Jon Niese to the 25-man roster.
Here’s the Mets’ lineup for tonight against the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka.
Alejandro De Aza – CF: Went 0-3 with a strikeout last night. … Is 6-14 (.429) on the homestand and .310 lifetime (45-125) vs. Yankees.
Neil Walker – 2B: Went 0-5 with a strikeout last night. … Is .444 (12-27) on the homestand and .125 (2-16) vs. Yankees.
Bruce – RF:  Acquired at the trade deadline. … Is batting .265 with 25 homers and leads the NL with 80 RBI. … Is .089 (4-45) lifetime vs. Yankees.
James Loney – 1B: Went 2-5 last night. … Is .276 (8-29) on the homestand and .340 (80-235) lifetime against Yankees.
Wilmer Flores – 3B: Went 2-4 with a homer last night. … Is batting .286 (8-28) on the homestand and .318 (7-22) lifetime against Yankees.
Michael Conforto – LF: Went 1-2 last night. …. Is batting .067 (1-15) on the homestand and .143 (1-7) lifetime against Yankees.
Travis d’Arnaud – C: Went 2-5 last night. … Is batting .238 (5-21) on the homestand and .150 (3-20) lifetime against Yankees.
Matt Reynolds – SS: Went 2-4 with a homer last night. … Is batting .500 (2-4) on the homestand and lifetime against Yankees.
deGrom – RHP: In two career starts vs. Yankees is 0-2 with a 5.25 ERA. … Is 4-2 with a 2.18 ERA this year at Citi Field.
COMMENTS:  After last night and his lifetime numbers (0-6 with two strikeouts) not surprised Curtis Granderson is sitting. … Third is the appropriate spot in the order for Bruce. … No word on whether Yoenis Cespedes is available to pinch-hit. … I would have slotted Flores between Bruce and Loney. … With addition of Bruce I wonder if Mets are giving up the idea of batting Conforto third. …. I thought Mets liked Rene Rivera catching deGrom. … Bruce is hitting .360 with RISP.
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Aug 02

Sad Anniversary For NY Baseball Fans

NOTE: This is a Mets-oriented blog, but I sometimes venture into New York baseball and baseball in general. Today is the sad anniversary of the tragic death of Yankees catcher Thurman Munson. A long time ago, I interviewed Munson’s widow, Diana, about that day a long time ago, It’s not about the Mets, but of a New York baseball icon. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Thanks. John

****

It was one of those bitter cold days. The kind where the wind whips your face, where your fingers ache and even your eyelashes hurt.

Diana Munson doesn’t remember the year but recalls the afternoon when she and her husband, Thurman Munson, the captain catcher of the New York Yankees, were running errands in Manhattan and drove into a gas station.

alg-munson-action-jpg“The guy wouldn’t come out, so Thurman got out and started pumping the gas,” Diana said. “He was wearing jeans and a flannel jacket and boots – kind of a typical Ohio guy out of place in New York at the time.”

Diana sat in the car as her husband pumped the gas and a car pulled in behind theirs.

“I remember, the guy said, `Hey buddy, when you’re done with that fill this one up,’ ” Diana said. “If he only knew who he was talking to – he never would have believed it. The cutest thing about this story is he filled it up for him.”

Diana Munson’s voice paused, it softened, it became reflective.

“Those are the things about him that I just loved,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite stories about him. I think about that a lot.”

Her memories are more frequent now as she is reminded of the cruelest day of her life – on August 2, 1979, her husband was killed in a plane accident near their offseason Canton, Ohio, home. It was a Thursday, an off day for the Yankees, and Munson was practicing take-offs and landings in his twin-engine Cessna Citation.

Later that day, he was to meet her at an office to sign papers dedicating “Munson Street” in a nearby housing development. However, Munson was always busy and for him to be running late wasn’t unusual. Diana dismissed it and went to the grocery store and continued home.

“I was unloading the groceries and the people from the airport came to my house,” Diana said, her voice trailing to a whisper.

“Nothing has ever compared to it in my life,” she said of the chill – far more numbing than the one she experienced that day in New York – that ran down her spine.

“I’ve lost lots of people in my life, but it was the way that it happened. You’re not supposed to lose someone who is that young. You’re not supposed to lose someone on a beautiful day … not in the middle of baseball season. Thurman was the best father that I had ever watched. Looking at those little kids and knowing what they were about to go through just about killed me.”

Within minutes, the news was on the wire.

Yankees reliever Goose Gossage was getting dressed for a night on the town when he got the call from owner George Steinbrenner. Bobby Murcer was “stunned when I heard the news … I cried a lot at that time.” Yankees first baseman Chris Chambliss was driving with his wife when he heard the news on the radio.

Former Yankees manager Joe Torre, then the manager of the Mets, was in the dugout when the message flashed on the scoreboard.

“It was up on the board,” Torre said. “Just shock. Lee Mazzilli was in the batter’s box. He got out of the box and looked at me, `What do I do?’ It was such an eerie sensation.”

That sensation has never left Diana Munson, but, “it took me a long time to come to peace with this.” Her memories of Munson and the life they shared have softened. Some – like the one at the gas station – have aged like a fine wine.

She remembers a thoughtful husband and loving father to Tracy, Kelly and Michael. Sometimes, she remembers that Munson considered quitting flying. That’s not so pleasant … it gnaws at her. She remembers when she first knew she was going to marry him: “I was 10 years old at the time and I wrote Mrs. Thurman Munson on my notebook.”

Murcer and Gossage recalled Munson’s work ethic, and Diana remembered him getting up at 6 in the morning to caddy at a golf course, then cut lawns before going to baseball practice. She recalls the three-sport star at Canton’s Lehman High School, and that he loved real estate and listening to Neil Diamond.

“My poor children knew every Neil Diamond song before they knew their nursery rhymes,” she said.

She remembers his laugh – “always the loudest one in the room,” she said – and the time he drove to a Brooklyn church from Canton in a snowstorm for a Christmas party to distribute toys to underprivileged children. Munson brought with him the Yankees’ fine money for that season, nearly $5,000.

She remembers for months after his death receiving letters from charities, thanking her for Munson’s generosity. “Believe it or not, there were many that I had never heard of,” she said. “But, that was like him. He never did it for the recognition, he did it for right reasons.”

Sometimes, her memories, like at Old Timer’s Games, drift to the days when Munson was a special baseball player.

The public memories of Munson are of a gruff, grouchy, squat catcher. They are of his feuds with Reggie Jackson – “The straw that stirs the drink” – and Carlton Fisk, the taller, thinner, chiseled catcher for the Boston Red Sox.

The Yankee championship teams of 1977 and 1978 were loaded with stars – Jackson, Chambliss, Graig Nettles and Lou Piniella – but Munson was captain. He was a six-time All-Star and the Most Valuable Player in the American League in 1976. He hit .512, .320 and .320 again in his three World Series appearances. He was the 1970 Rookie of the Year and hit over .300 five times.

Nothing meant more to him than being a Yankee captain.

“He loved the Yankees. His heart was a true Yankee heart,” Diana said. “He didn’t want to be captain because whenever you single yourself out like that you feel like you’re not as much a part of the team. He was uncomfortable with that, but at the same time he was so proud of that.”

Munson was the real straw in the drink.

“He was the leader on those teams and everybody knew it,” Murcer said. “We all looked up to him because of his toughness and his ability to produce in the clutch. He had such an uncanny ability to come through when the pressure was on.”

Twenty years later, Yankees catcher Joe Girardi – now the team’s manager – saw for himself when he was channel surfing when on his screen popped the unmistakable image of Yankee Stadium.

“It was Classic Sports, and they were showing the Kansas City game,” Girardi said of the pivotal Game 3 of the 1978 American League Championship Series.

“I’ve heard a lot about that game and what he did. I wanted to see how he played so I kept watching.”

The series was tied 1-1 and the Yankees trailed 5-4 in the eighth inning when Munson – not normally known as a power hitter – crushed a line-drive, two-run homer off Royals reliever Doug Bird to give the Yankees a 6-5 victory.

Munson was named Most Valuable Player in the series and the Yankees went on to beat Los Angeles in six games in the World Series.

Hall of Famer George Brett played in that game. His Royals and the Yankees were one of baseball’s hottest rivalries in the 1970s.

“We hated the Yankees,” Brett said. “But we also respected them – and we all respected Thurman. He was so tough in the clutch and we feared him because he usually came through. However, the thing I’ll remember most about Thurman wasn’t that home run, but of something that happened in a fight we had against them.

“I slid hard into third base and Nettles and I started shoving each other. The benches cleared and it got real ugly. I remember being on the ground and Thurman was on top of me. I thought, `Uh, oh, he’s going to crush me,’ but all he did was whisper in my ear, `Don’t worry George, I won’t let anything happen to you.’ ”

Diana Munson said she gets sad when she returns to Yankee Stadium because it’s a reminder of what was and what could have been. It will be emotional for her tomorrow when she returns as the Yankees honor Munson on the anniversary of his death. The feelings will be a mix of pain and pride when she goes into the clubhouse and sees Munson’s locker that remains intact in his honor.

When the fans cheer her, they will be cheering their memories of her husband as a Yankee. But, if she hears it, she’ll love the Brett story, because it’s an appreciation of the man she loved – and always will.

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Aug 02

Time To DL Cespedes Now

There’s no word to Yoenis Cespedes’ availability for tonight’s Mets-Yankees game at Citi Field. The belief is manager Terry Collins is saving him for the upcoming five games in American League parks where he can be used as a designated hitter.

This makes sense on the surface, but does it really?

CESPEDES: Time to sit him. (AP)

CESPEDES: Time to sit him. (AP)

I understand wanting to get his bat in the lineup, where he might run into a pitch and give the Mets a game. I get all that, but the Mets are taking an unnecessary gamble.

Suppose Cespedes makes it through the DH games without incident, then severely reinjures his right quad to the point where he needs to go on the disabled list. That means the Mets would lose the five DH days (six if you include Tuesday) where they could have back-dated the start time of a DL stint.

If they DL Cespedes now hopefully he will come back sooner – and healed.

At the time I understood wanting to wait until after the All-Star break, but Cespedes came back no better than when he was first injured. Had Cespedes been placed on the DL after the break, his quad could be a moot point. That’s water under the bridge and nothing can be done about it now, however with the addition of Jay Bruce, and Michael Conforto, Curtis Granderson and Brandon Nimmo, the Mets – barring further injuries – have enough outfielders to get them through the next two weeks.

What Cespedes needs is rest, which he won’t get in a DH role. If he can’t run in the outfield, he can’t run on the bases. This day-to-day stuff is paralyzing Collins in terms of making out his lineup and in-game management. If Cespedes can’t, or won’t, play center, his value to the Mets is diminished.

Frankly, I’d rather be without Cespedes for two weeks in early August than lose him for a longer period at the end of the month or worse, in September. The Mets need to DL Cespedes now to set up for the stretch drive.

The season depends on it.

Aug 01

Three Mets’ Storylines: Bullpen Blows Game As Collins Overmanages

Blame this on the Mets’ bullpen and their continued inability to hit with RISP.

The Mets were poised for their second come-from-behind victory in as many games when Matt Reynolds hit a three-run homer in the sixth.

It wasn’t to be when Mets manager Terry Collins over-managed by bringing Jerry Blevins in to start the eighth inning instead of going with Addison Reed, who was flawless in July in hold situations, but traditionally has problems bringing him in with runners on base.

GREGORIUS: Ties game. (AP)

     GREGORIUS: Ties game. (AP)

“They are pretty frustrating,” Collins said of the bullpen meltdown. “But it’s baseball.”

The bullpen let the game get away and the 6-5 loss to the Yankees in 10 innings dropped the Mets to 54-51.

Blevins walked Brett Gardner and struck out Jacoby Ellsbury. Enter Reed, who struck out Mark Teixeira, but gave up a single to Brian McCann to put runners on the corners. After a wild pitch put pinch-runner Ronald Torryes on second, Didi Gregorius tied the game with a two-run bunt single to left.

Playing shorthanded in the bullpen, Seth Lugo relieved Jeurys Familia to start the tenth. Lugo walked Ellsbury and gave up a single to Teixeira. Pinch-hitter Ben Gamel bunted but Lugo’s throw to third was not in time. (Blame this on catcher Rene Rivera, who signaled Lugo to go to third).

You knew this was going to end badly, and it did when Starlin Castro hit a sacrifice fly to right.

The Mets threatened against Dellin Betances by putting runners on second and third with two outs, but Curtis Granderson was overmatched and struck out to end the game.

The Mets played shorthanded with their bullpen after trading Antonio Bastardo to Pittsburgh for Jon Niese. Part of the reason why they’ve been playing shorthanded was GM Sandy Alderson’s reluctance to make a move, and also that their Triple-A farm team is located in Las Vegas, nearly four hours away.

The other key storylines were Reynolds and word Zack Wheeler will pitch in a minor league game Saturday.

REYNOLDS’ BIG NIGHT WASTED: Reynolds doubled and hit the three-run homer as the replacement for Asdrubal Cabrera, who is expected to go on the disabled list when Jay Bruce joins the team Tuesday.

The Mets’ bullpen appears stabilized with Wilmer Flores at third, Reynolds at short, Neil Walker at second and James Loney playing first.

WHEELER TO WORK IN GAME: The Mets finally got some encouraging news Monday with news Zack Wheeler would begin a rehab assignment Saturday.

Wheeler, who underwent Tommy John surgery in March of 2015, threw 23 pitches – his fastball timed at 93 mph. – in a simulated game in Port St. Lucie Tuesday.

Wheeler is now expected to join the Mets after the rosters are expanded, Sept. 1.

It’s a positive note considering all the Mets’ recent sobering injury news, with Jose Reyes and Juan Lagares going on the disabled list within the past week. Cabrera is expected to join them Tuesday.