Sep 29

Mets Matters: Braves Prez John Schuerholz Tells It Like It Is

You have to love Braves president John Schuerholz, the architect as general manager of Atlanta’s spectacular playoff run.

He’s always been a straight shooter and last night during the Chipper Jones’ ceremony said something you don’t hear from Major League Baseball executives when he called Hank Aaron, “the true Major League Baseball home run champion.’’

Finally, an executive with the guts to put the steroid mess in its proper light. Baseball cherishes its records and the home run records – career and single season – are the most revered.

We all know Barry Bonds used steroids, and like Mark McGwire, will be shunned by the Hall of Fame voters. He won’t get mine unless there’s a drastic revision in the process.

The Hall of Fame is a baseball museum honoring its history, and history is sometimes messy. If there was a provision where on the player’s plaque there was a notation he used PEDs, I’d be more inclined to vote for him.

Until then: No.

Bravo to Schuerholz for telling it like it is.

Niese to have heart procedure: Jon Niese, who pitched brilliantly last night to earn his career high 13th victory, said he’ll have a heart procedure at the Cleveland Clinic to correct a rapid heartbeat that resurfaced in June.

Niese said after the game he wants to build off this season.

“I’m never satisfied with the number I put up,’’ Niese said. “With what R.A. (Dickey) has been doing this year, having a season like that is something to look forward to.’’

Niese said the next step is to reach 200 innings, 15 victories and increase his starts total (he had 30).

Parnell will close out season: Frank Francisco is finished for the year with elbow tendinitis and Bobby Parnell will be the closer for the remaining five games.

Parnell has the stuff to be a closer, but has spit the bit in every opportunity he’s been given. There’s nothing wrong with his velocity, but there are times when his fastball flattens out and becomes easier to hit.

Duda flashes power: Coming out of spring training there was a lot of optimism surrounding Lucas Duda’s power potential.

He has the strength to reach 30, but will finish with at least half that number. He hit his 15th last night, a three-run blast to beat Tim Hudson.

Even more impressive than the distance was that Duda was behind 1-2 in the count, but worked it full.

“Obviously I can improve in every aspect,’’ Duda told reporters last night. “There’s not really like a number I can put on it. Obviously it wasn’t the season I wanted to have — getting sent down and things like that.’’

Sep 28

Mets Matters: Last Time Facing Chipper Jones

The Mets are in Atlanta tonight to start a three-game series against the Braves and long-time nemesis Chipper Jones.

Jones has taken his farewell tour among National League parks and has been given numerous gifts ranging from a pop-art painting of Shea Stadium from the Mets, a surfboard from the Padres, and maybe the best of all, an autographed Stan Musial jersey from the Cardinals.

The Braves will honor him prior to tonight’s game and he’ll have three more shots at tormenting the Mets.

Jones will go down as one of the top four switch hitters in history, along with Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray (both over 500 homers) and Pete Rose (the career hits leader).

He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Niese starts for Mets: Jonathan Niese will make his final start of the season. The pre-season goal was 15 victories, but Niese stands at 12-9 with a very respectable 3.49 ERA, and an improved 1.18 WHIP (from his career of 1.36).

He has a very good 152-46 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, but needs to cut down on homers allowed (21).

Perhaps most importantly, Niese will end the season injury free with 30 starts.

Gee goes home: Dillon Gee is at his off-season Fort Worth, Texas, home today, having been sent home by the club after the Citi Field 2012 finale.

Gee threw a bullpen session Monday, his first time on the mound since July 13, when he had surgery to repair an artery in his pitching shoulder that caused numbness in his arm.

Gee said he had never thrown off a mound this soon after an extended down period and came away pleased.

“All I wanted to do was see how much I could build up before the end of the season,” Gee said. “And, to be honest with you, normally I’m not on the mound this early. So to be up on the mound this early and feel pretty good is encouraging. That was a goal.’’

It was important for the Mets to see Gee throw before winter, even if it was only 25 pitches so they could get a feel of his physical status.

Gee said he’ll start working out immediately after the season and begin throwing in December, as he does every year. That there are no restrictions on him is very encouraging.

Citi Field, 2012, numbers: The Mets finished 36-45 at home, a number that must at least be reversed if they are to become regarded as a contender. They scored 287 runs, their fewest at home since 1994, when they scored 235 runs. They did homer 67 times, their most at home since opening the park, but were outhomered by five.

Sep 28

Dickey Relates To Fans The Way Few Have

It is in part because of his tell-all book that revealed both his flaws and his character. It is in part because of the road he has traveled – full of potholes – to get to 20 wins. It is in part because of his exuberance. It is in part because of his honesty.

Maybe, above hall it was the way he hustled down the line after hitting that dribbler down the line – against his manager’s orders. That’s the competitor in R.A. Dickey and why he’s related this year to Mets fans the way few have.

As he came to the plate that final time, the crowd responded by chanting his name. Dickey heard it and it moved him.

“I would hear this kind of growing surge,” he said. “And it was really neat. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced that before, and maybe I never will again.”

Neat? Who but a kid at heart would say that? That relates to us on so many levels, greatest of all is the thrill of playing the game we’ve all played in our youth and dreamed of playing at the highest level and hearing in our imagination the chants Dickey heard.

It was why he swung.

“How can you not be motivated to go out there and give the fans and your teammates and yourself all that you have?” Dickey asked.

Dickey said he was gassed after six innings, but at Collins urging – who told him ride with the moment – that he kept going.

“I wanted to give them that gift,” Dickey said of the fans and why he staying in the game.

He wanted to give us a gift? What athlete has said that lately?

The Mets asked him and David Wright to record thank-you messages to the fans. They represent the heart and soul of the Mets and relate to us in a special way.

It is fitting Wright reached the club’s career hit milestone and Dickey won 20 games in this final homestand before the coldness of winter and the snows bury Citi Field and another poor season.

I wrote yesterday how it would have been good theatre for the Mets to announce extensions for them both prior to the finale. It would have generated an incredible buzz and sense of optimism for the future.

After this homestand, and seeing how the fans related to Wright Wednesday and Dickey yesterday, it is now imperative the Mets find a way to sign them both this winter and not drag this out into next season the way they did Jose Reyes.

Don’t play with the heart and soul of your team.

 

Sep 27

Mets Matters: The Home Season Finale Today

There’s always a twinge of sadness prior to the last home game of the season. It represents finality and dreams lost.
There was little optimism coming out of spring training, but the Mets created interest, relevancy and excitement for the better part of three months. More importantly, they created optimism for a fan base that had none.
I don’t know why, but the off button was hit in the last series of the first half when they lost two of three to the Cubs, including getting pasted that last Sunday. Something just happened that was more than injuries to Dillon Gee and Johan Santana. It was as if a cloud of listlessness consumed them.
Sandy Alderson rattled off a bunch of numbers the other night. The one that was most important to me was pitches faced per at-bat. The Mets were no longer patient, no longer hitting with two outs, no longer using the whole field. They were consumed, top to bottom, with poor fundamentals.
Then the starting pitching became spotty for awhile and the bullpen imploded. As you watched July burn into August you could see on a daily basis the season slipping away. The low point? Perhaps that extra inning loss at Washington when they came from behind only to lose two leads late. By the time of the 16-1 Philly debacle, the competitive part of the season was long gone.
Once they dipped a couple of games below .500 I didn’t think they could recover. And, doing nothing at the trade deadline was another definite sign. Alderson wanted to wait and see, and what he saw was a team in decline. By then, it was too late.
The rest has been hell to watch, and I don’t need any statistics to know I was watching bad baseball. Really bad baseball.
Well, there are six games on the road after today, and it’s for Mets junkies only, much like the second half.
The Mets had a feel-good moment last night with a strong effort from Jeremy Hefner, who gave up seven runs in his previous outing. At least he leaves this season with a better taste in his mouth.
David Wright has the club hit record and today R.A. Dickey goes for 20. Wright, who had a great first half struggled in the second and is righting himself before winter. Dickey, except for a string of a few starts has been the most consistent player the team has had.
We’ll be watching today rooting for Dickey, but wondering how aggressive the Mets will be in bringing them back. If the Mets had a sense of theatre, they’d announce extensions for both today.
They won’t.
Sep 26

Alderson On Wright And Dickey

Listening to Sandy Alderson last night on SNY gave me little hope the contract extensions for David Wright and R.A. Dickey will reached any time soon, but he did say there’s more a sense of urgency with the latter.

“R.A.’s situation is a little bit different in the sense that there is more immediacy there,’’ Alderson said. “Here’s a guy that’s 37 years old and is pitching and presumably doesn’t have the same horizon that a David Wright might.

“So at the end of the season we’ll talk with R.A. and see what he’s thinking and try to have him back. He’s been a great story this year. He’s been a great asset over the last three years, really.’’

Dickey has been solid since getting here, but this season has been a breakout one for him as he’s on the cusp of winning 20 games. While Wright has already had one payday, this will be Dickey’s only chance.

Dickey said he’d like to stay, but also realizes what’s at stake. Just last week he said it would take more than one piece to make the Mets a legitimate contender. He and Wright are two of those pieces, but the team needs more, including the bullpen, the outfield and catcher.

Based on published reports, the Mets aren’t going to splurge in the free-agent market, with their resources earmarked for these two. Subsequently, you can’t expect 2013 to be much different than this year. The hope for improvement is from within and injured starters Johan Santana and Dillon Gee coming back.

Both players said they’d wait until the offseason, which is now a little more than a week away. Both have stated a preference of staying with the Mets, but also acknowledged the economics of the sport.

“Our intent is to work hard to try to keep them both,’’ Alderson said. “They’ve both been great for us this year. David has been here and is the face of the franchise — has been. We’d very much like him to stay. I think he wants to stay. I’m sure he wants to know where we’re headed and the things that we intend to do to make it a winner. We’ll have that conversation at some point.’’

That last comment is in response to Wright saying last week there are no moral victories in finishing strong and it is all about making the playoffs.

If a deal can’t get done, Alderson said trading becomes an issue.

“If we felt that there absolutely wasn’t any way that we were going to get something done, then we would probably approach something,’’ Alderson said. “But I think we tend to be optimistic and see where it takes us.’’