Sep 26

Mets Face Emotional Night As Marlins Honor Forever Young Fernandez

Given the volatile nature of emotions, it is hard to project how the Mets – and especially the Marlins – will react tonight in the first game following the death of Miami ace Jose Fernandez.

Will the Marlins be so drained and subdued they wilt under the pressure? Or, will they respond the way the Mets did on Sept. 21, 2001, in the first game in New York following the terrorist attacks? Who will be their Mike Piazza?

FERNANDEZ: A smile nobody will see again. (WPTV)

FERNANDEZ: A smile nobody will see again. (WPTV)

Will they respond the way the Yankees did, Aug. 10, 1979, when they flew to Canton for Thurman Munson’s funeral, then back to beat the Orioles on national television?

Bobby Murcer, Munson’s longtime friend, drove in the winning run in the ninth inning. Will the Marlins have their own Murcer?

Fernandez’s death was tragic, yet ironic, and as reports gradually come in, it was avoidable. Fernandez was supposed to pitch Sunday but was pushed back to Monday to face the Mets. Had his start not been changed, it is hard to imagine he would have been out in the black night, after reportedly partying, speeding into the jetty at three in the morning when he would have taken the mound in ten hours.

Then again, it is also to comprehend why the 24-year-old father-to-be, could have been so reckless at a time when he meant so much to his future child, girlfriend, teammates, and Miami’s Cuban community.

Why would he be on a speeding boat in the middle of the night, knowing there were dangerous jetties off Miami Beach?

It’s easy to call Fernandez irresponsible, and 20/20 hindsight says he was. However, when you’re a professional athlete, strong and young, there’s a sense of invincibility. However, nobody is invincible. Nobody is immune to death.

Death has its own timetable, and it doesn’t matter how young, rich or talented you might be, when it knocks on your door, you answer. Death took some athletes because of failing health. Others were taken by violence. It took others because of their own actions, such as drugs and foolish decisions.

Whatever was on Fernandez’s mind when he got onto that boat, we will never know. Certainly playing it safe wasn’t present.

What we know is Marlins Park will be overcome by emotions tonight it never experienced before and hopefully never will again. There will be a video tribute, choked up eulogies from teammates, a moment of silence. There will countless tears and invasive camera shots of Marlins’ players overcome with emotion.

Every Marlin will wear Fernandez’s No. 16 jersey, and the club said it will retire the number.

The Mets will again display a Mets jersey with Fernandez’ No. 16, a gesture Collins applauds and credits Jeff Wilpon for initiating.

“I thought it was it great,” Collins said. “I thought it was a true, genuine, heartfelt respect for what Jose meant to the game.”

By all accounts, Fernandez was a gritty competitor and a giving, humble teammate. I never knew him other than in a pack interview, but he was always gracious and humble. He came across likeable.

Mets’ hitters say Fernandez gave no quarter on the mound, that he played the game the right way. His numbers projected forward – and barring injury – had him on a path towards greatness, perhaps Cooperstown worthy.

That’s what Collins reminded his players of this afternoon.

“He epitomized what the game is about,” Collins said. “He played the game correctly. Our game is bigger than a lot of things, but it will always go on. We will play the game and play it the right way.

“We are all devastated by what happened. It tells you how short life really is. You have to press forward and get through some troubled times.”

The Mets have gone through troubled times this season, but nothing like the Marlins are going through now. It also must be remembered the Marlins are still mathematically eligible for the wild-card. If they run the table, it could be done. It would be a story for the ages.

Maybe the Marlins will be emotionally spent and fade away. Regardless of how this season plays out for them, the words of their club president, David Samson, will ironically ring true that Fernandez will remain a Marlin forever.

The enduring image of Fernandez will be of him whipping a fastball with that special arm; it will be his enduring smile we’ll never see again.

In the words of Bob Dylan, he’ll stay, “Forever Young.”

“May God bless and keep you always

May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young.

When the winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young.”

Staying forever young sounds appealing until you realize what is lost.

He’ll never experience a Hall of Fame career, but that’s not tragic. The tragedy is he’ll never look into the eyes of his girlfriend and unborn child and tell them he loves them more than anything, including baseball.

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Sep 25

Three Mets’ Storylines: Marlins’ Fernandez Honored In Rare Tribute

When we first heard the shocking news Sunday morning of the tragic death of Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, a moment of silence was the inevitable expectation. However, the Mets did more to show their respect to Fernandez, who was scheduled to start Monday.



Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon had a Mets’ jersey designed with Fernandez’s name and No. 16 designed and suggested Yoenis Cespedes – a fellow Cuban – hang it in the dugout during the game.

The Mets will hang it in their dugout for their three-game series with the Marlins. It was an uncommon gesture of compassion.

In a blistering sense of irony, Fernandez was originally scheduled to start for the Marlins Sunday against Atlanta. Had he not been pushed back a day, he wouldn’t have been on that boat.

While Sunday was highly emotional, it will pale in comparison to Monday when the Marlins play their first game at home (their game Sunday against Atlanta was scheduled). With six games remaining, the Mets hold a one-game lead over St. Louis and San Francisco for the wild-card, while the Marlins trail by 4.5 games. So, there is a lot to play for by both teams.

While the Mets have shown, and will undoubtedly display this week the proper respect, they still have a job to complete.

Manager Terry Collins understands the delicate balance of respect and competitiveness.

“Obviously, when we get down there, we will have a meeting – we will get together – so that we keep things in perspective,” Collins said. “It’s going to be really a tough night for a lot of people. Certainly, we lost a great player, but the respect for the game itself – and he had it – it’s got to be played, and it’s got to be played right.

“Because I know that’s how Jose would want to do it. That’s how he would want it played. And so we’ve got to keep that in our minds also.”

Fernandez’s tragic death was the unfortunate storyline on this day. The others were Robert Gsellman’s start and Jay Bruce’s possible revival were the others.

GSELLMAN’S BEST START: The Mets used 27 pitchers in the first three games of their series against Philadelphia and desperately needed a strong start from Gsellman. They certainly didn’t expect seven scoreless innings, which on a normal day would have headlined the 17-0 rout.

“Our bullpen was shot,” Collins said. “When you run 27 pitchers out in three games, you’re out of gas. It was nice to be able to have comfortable innings at the end of the game.”

Assuming the Mets reach the NL Division Series against the Cubs, they’ll go with a four-man rotation with Gsellman fourth in line. That’s one of the reasons why Collins extended him to 107 pitches.

“Hopefully, we get to the postseason. He’s got to be a part of it,” Collins said. “I thought it was really, really important to build him up to the 100 pitches, so whether he throws 70 or 75 pitches in a playoff game, it’s easier for him.”

BRUCE DELIVERS: Bruce, who hit a pinch-homer the previous night, started for the second time in eight games, went 2-for-4 and scored two runs.

He got the Mets going when he doubled and scored in the second inning. You have to figure that to keep Bruce going he’ll start Monday in Miami.

The Mets’ offense also included the Curtis Granderson’s 30th homer and a grand slam from Asdrubal Cabrera.

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Sep 24

Three Mets’ Storylines: No Moral Victories In Pennant Race

Terry Collins spoke glowingly of how proud he was of his team; how the Mets showed no quit. Down by ten early, the Mets battled back to put the tying runs on base in the ninth.

What would have been the greatest comeback in Mets’ history was within grasp when Lucas Duda came to the plate.

CECCHINI: Big night for rookie. (AP)

CECCHINI: Big night for rookie. (AP)

“I thought Duda would hit a home run there to win it,” the Mets’ manager said.

He didn’t, and when Travis d’Arnaud grounded back to the mound, an exhilarating comeback had fizzled and the Mets’ 10-8 loss to Philadelphia was complete and a chance to open up ground in the tight NL wild-card race was lost.

Collins’ bench gave the Mets – or, if you prefer, the Las Vegas 51s – a chance to win, but it couldn’t overcome the hole dug by spot starter Sean Gilmartin and reliever Rafael Montero.

Gilmartin started because Noah Syndergaard was out with a strep throat. The Mets have been living on borrowed time with their rotation for a couple of months now, and tonight it caught up with them.

There were a lot of good things that came out of the night, but in the end, during a taut pennant race, there is no such thing as moral victories.

Collins pulled his key starters – Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Reyes, Curtis Granderson and Yoenis Cespedes – which was the right thing to do. It’s too easy to speculate things might have been different if they stayed in the game, but that’s just guessing.

The Mets have seven games remaining and stealing rest for them was the correct move. There was no pressure on the bench players and they thrived.

“Maybe that might give them some confidence if they are called on this week,” Collins said.

GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE: The Mets caught a glimpse of their future when high draft picks Michael Conforto, Gavin Cecchini and Brandon Nimmo all came to the plate in the fifth and sixth innings.

Grouped with T.J. Rivera and Ty Kelly, there’s a lot to look forward to.

FINAL WEEK PITCHING: Syndergaard threw a bullpen session Saturday, and will be slotted to start Tuesday. Bartolo Colon will start Monday in Miami against the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez.

Colon is in line to pitch the season finale in Philadelphia.

Fernandez is 2-0 against the Mets this season and 3-0 with a 1.34 ERA in eight career starts against the Mets. He’s an incredible 29-2 with a 1.49 ERA in 42 starts at home during his career.

Collins said if Steven Matz does pitch this season it will be out of the bullpen.

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Sep 23

Three Mets’ Storylines: Is Conforto In Mix Again?

Not only was there a Michael Conforto sighting tonight, but he carried the Mets with a three-run homer and double. He did what the Mets have hoped since May. With how they are ignoring Jay Bruce, you have to wonder if Terry Collins plans to use Conforto for the remainder of the season to groom him for the postseason.

A double and homer is a great way to stay in the lineup.

CONFORTO: He does exist. (AP)

CONFORTO: He does exist. (AP)

“It changes it a lot,” Collins said about his plans for Conforto. “What we saw tonight is what we’ve used to seeing. We’ll give him another shot and see how he responds [Saturday].”

Should Conforto hit again tomorrow, it’s pretty hard to imagine Bruce getting another start soon, and a likely bit-player for the postseason.

Conforto had a hot April – Collins projected him as the Mets’ No. 3 hitter of the future – but after going into a slump in mid-May, spent a lot of time on the Vegas shuttle, but despite playing well in the minors, he’s played sparingly since coming back.

“I’ve been sticking with my drills and staying locked in mentally,” said Conforto on how he’s tried to stay sharp despite seemingly needing a GPS to find the plate.

Conforto laid off a couple of tempting pitches, then went the other way to break open the game with a three-run homer in the fifth to power the Mets to a 10-5 victory over Philadelphia.

So, in answer to the question whether Thursday’s dramatic victory had a magical carry-over effect, let’s say, tonight was a decent encore.

Conforto was the easy main storyline, with the others being the patchwork pitching and Asdrubal Cabrera’s leg injury.

BULLPEN CARRIES BIG LOAD: Spot starter Gabriel Ynoa gave the Mets two innings (43 pitches), which could make him available for Saturday with Noah Syndergaard not available because of a strep throat.

With Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia not available, Collins got significant contributions from Logan Verrett (two innings), Josh Smoker (one), Erik Goeddel (1.1), Josh Edgin (two pitches) and Hansel Robles (2.2 innings for the save).

The game’s turning point came with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh and the Mets up by two, but Robles got pinch-hitter Tommy Joseph to ground into an inning-ending double play, with Jose Reyes making a nifty pick-up and throw.

The patchwork bullpen enabled the Mets to also rest Fernando Salas.

“It was a good night,’’ Collins said of his bullpen. “Hansel stepped up and got us through it.’’

For the most part, Robles has had a rough second half, but if tonight was any indication, this is a good sign for the playoffs.

CABRERA BRUISES KNEE: Not so fast, was how Cabrera responded to Collins’ post-game thoughts of resting the shortstop tomorrow because of bruise to his right knee.

Cabrera, who is playing with a sore left knee, fouled a ball off his leg in the fifth.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,’’ Cabrera said. “I will be there tomorrow.”

Collins said his initial plans for to play Reyes at shortstop and play Kelly Johnson (who drove in the tying run in the fifth) at third.

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Sep 23

Mets Magic? To Be Determined

Greetings on the day after the latest Mets’ miracle. There have been times in my coverage of the Mets – which began in 2006 (and since 1998 overall of New York baseball) – where I have been called a curmudgeon, which is not entirely untrue.

I try to take more of a down-the-middle approach in my emotional perspective of the team. I don’t get too high or too low, and believe I’ve fulfilled my responsibility if there’s a balance between those who like my stuff and those who hate me.

COLLINS: Will he be smiling in a week? (AP)

COLLINS: Will he be smiling in a week? (AP)

There are times, I admit, when I take the hatred as a compliment.

Either way, after the Asdrubal Cabrera’s game-winner last night, the bottom line is the Mets remain tied with San Francisco and hold a slim lead over the Cardinals for the wild-card. Cabrera’s moment in Mets’ history is contingent on how this all plays out.

Will it be a Super Nova or a star that forever burns bright, like the ball that got by Bill Buckner?

It’s just stardust if the Mets fade and don’t make it; it’s special if they go on to win the World Series. The moment loses luster if they don’t run the table.

Can we agree this business of the Mets’ schedule giving them an advantage is nonsense if they don’t capitalize? Let’s face it, without Cabrera last night, and what Jose Reyes did shortly before, they would have lost four straight home games to sub-.500 teams.

The remaining schedule is largely irrelevant because: 1) those teams would love nothing more than to put it to these uppity New Yorkers; 2) those players are competing for 2017 jobs; 3) September call-ups add an unknown element to the stew; and, 4) after this weekend the last six games are on the road.

For those who insist the schedule means something, if the beginning of this week didn’t convince you, try this, if the Mets don’t make the playoffs, the biggest statistic working against them is that 26 of their 72 losses (36 percent) have been against sub-.500 Atlanta (10), Colorado (6), Philadelphia (5) and Arizona (5).

They lost another six to Miami, whom they play three games next week on the road.

Perhaps the Mets were due to win last night. Sometimes the odds work in their favor. But, was it magic? I wouldn’t go that far.

After all, there have been several times this season when it would have been easy to conclude they turned it around.

After a sluggish start, they closed April by winning 11 of 12 games, but limped through May with seven losses against cupcakes Atlanta, San Diego and Colorado.

They lost five games in June to the Braves and were swept in a three-game series in Washington to finish that month only four games over .500. The Mets appeared to turn it around with a four-game sweep of the Cubs in July, but gave up that momentum by losing three of four at home to the Nationals heading into the break.

You’ll recall manager Terry Collins saying it was “essential we play well,” in the stretch entering the break and coming out for the second half. They entered the break six games over .500 but ended July only four games over.

The Mets nose-dived to two games under in mid-August before Bartolo Colon stopped the hemorrhaging by beating the Giants in San Francisco. They went 9-2 to close August to give their season alive.

Unquestionably, the Mets have been snakebit with injuries to their young, vaunted rotation. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler are all gone. But, for all their bad luck, they’ve been kept afloat by Colon, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and tonight’s spot starter Gabriel Ynoa, and the bullpen duo of Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia. Today we learned Saturday’s starter, Noah Syndergaard, will be scratched in favor of Sean Gilmartin because of a strep throat.

No doubt, the baseball Gods are toying with Collins.

Bad luck offset by good? Perhaps. But, Lugo has been brought down a peg and Reed and Familia have taken their lumps.

Wilmer Flores helped carry the team for a while, but hasn’t played in over a week because of a bad wrist (Collins took the hit for that by saying he should have used a pinch-runner). The Jay Bruce trade did not work out, but was offset by the resurgence of power from Curtis Granderson.

Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes spent time on the disabled list, but came off smoking. Cespedes is now mired in a slump, although he came through with a big hit last night.

Matt Reynolds, James Loney, Brandon Nimmo, Rene Rivera, Reyes and T.J. Rivera have either come up from the minors or were rescued off the scrap team to produce big moments. However, Michael Conforto was sent down and this season has been a bust for him.

A lot has gone wrong for the Mets – I didn’t even get to the injuries of David Wright, Neil Walker and Lucas Duda – but the flip side is a lot went right to put them where they are today.

Was last night magic? I don’t think so. It was a magical moment but means nothing if not sustainable.

For every reason why I could write them off, there are reasons I can give why they are still alive. Through it all, like they were last season, resiliency is their greatest attribute.

They are alive with nine games remaining, and considering all that has gone, maybe that’s their magic for this year.

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