Sep 26

Three Mets’ Storylines: Marlins Won Emotional Battle From Start

Unquestionably, the Miami Marlins played – and won – the emotional card Monday night in beating the Mets. The pre-game ceremonies honoring Jose Fernandez were touching and emotional; not a dry eye in the house.

The trumpet solo of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,’’ was beyond belief. Who would have expected that? Then there was the emotional meeting of the Mets and Marlins at the pitcher’s mound, reminiscent of the night of Mike Piazza’s homer when the Mets and Braves embraced.

“This is bigger than baseball,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “This kid touched a lot of people. They jumped on us early and took the air out of the balloon.”

CESPEDES AND GORDON EMBRACE (AP)

CESPEDES AND GORDON EMBRACE (AP)

While it had to be tough for them, the Mets’ players conducted themselves with class and dignity and understood the anguish of the Marlins and let them have their moment.

“This team is first class,” Collins said of his players. “Our organization is first class. … They respected the night.”

None of that can be planned. That has to come from the heart.

“There’s no script for this,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly.

Dee Gordon immediately captured the hearts of the crowd by leading off the game with a home run. He first honored Fernandez by taking the pitcher’s right-handed stance and wearing his helmet. After one pitch, he switched to his normal left-handed stance and homered and broke down in tears when he reached the plate.

The game was emotionally over then, but the Marlins put a nice touch on the night when they circled the mound and left their caps on the rubber that was Fernandez’s domain.

Collins understood the emotion of the night, that didn’t but didn’t share the fans’ enthusiasm with the Marlins’ 7-3 victory.

“It’s hard,’’ Collins said. “It’s always for Jose, but I like to win. … I said yesterday I would be glad when this day is over, and I’m glad it is over.’’

Through it all, the Mets caught a break when Cincinnati routed the Cardinals in St. Louis.

Emotions, of course, was the main storyline. The others were Bartolo Colon’s short night and the Mets’ listless offense.

COLON DIDN’T HAVE IT: Colon flexed his legs that made us wonder if something is physically wrong with the Mets’ only remaining healthy pitcher.

Colon gave ups seven runs on eight hits in 2.1 innings. He hadn’t had a start this poor since only four innings, Aug. 15, in Arizona.

“He didn’t have his good stuff tonight,’’ Collins said, adding he hopes it is different Saturday in Philadelphia.

Collins thought something was wrong with Colon’s calf, but said the pitcher is fine.

THE OFFENSE DISAPPEARED: The Mets scored 44 runs in their four games against the Phillies, but came up empty tonight.

The Mets produced only seven hits against nine Marlins pitchers.

Jay Bruce started again and got another hit. Perhaps he’s turned it around.

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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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Sep 21

Three Mets’ Storylines: Bad Night For Collins

If you thought last night was bad for Mets manager Terry Collins, it wasn’t anything compared to Wednesday night.

For me, it began with his starting lineup and decision to not start Jay Bruce, but spiraled out of control with the handling of his late-inning bullpen, which had been a strength, but unraveled in the Mets’ 4-3 loss to the Braves.

FAMILIA: Fifth blown save. (AP)

FAMILIA: Fifth blown save. (AP)

Bartolo Colon pitched another gem, but was pulled in the seventh shortly after giving up a two-run homer to Anthony Recker to slice the Mets’ lead to 3-2. Colon was yanked for Addison Reed.

All season, the primary formula for the Mets’ success was their eighth-ninth inning duo of Reed and Jeurys Familia, but Collins – like a man poking the coals at a BBQ – couldn’t resist toying with success.

I would have stuck with Colon for another hitter because he’s gotten out of so many jams. Yes, Reed got out of the seventh. But, after Ender Inciarte reached on James Loney‘s error to open the eighth, Collins pulled Reed in favor of Josh Smoker to face Freddie Freeman. The Reed vs. Freeman history is small. Maybe no Met has been better at his job this year than Reed, but Collins was seduced by the lefty-lefty matchup.

“Freddie is 2-for-4 [against Reed lifetime and I just said this guy is too hot,” was how Collins began his Magical Mystery Tour of an explanation. “I thought [have him] face a power lefty. Got jammed, poke it in, you know. Again, we get the ground ball to start the inning (Loney’s error). … if we get that ground ball, we’re not in that situation.”

If. If we had ham, we’d have ham and eggs, if we had eggs.

Freeman singled to chase Smoker in favor of Familia for the five-out save attempt.

After a double-steal, Matt Kemp tied the game on a sacrifice fly for Familia’s fifth blown save.

The Mets had their chances in the eighth, but Yoenis Cespedes dogged it on a fly to left and barely made it to second  when Kemp couldn’t track down his fly ball. Cespedes mighty have made it to third – which he eventually stole – but died there to end the inning.

With two outs Collins pinch-hit Eric Campbell for Kelly Johnson. Then he hit Kevin Plawecki for James Loney – who entered the game hitting .357 in the previous nine games – to once again over-manage the lefty-righty nonsense.

The Braves scored the winning run against Familia in the ninth on Inciarte’s RBI grounder. Even so, the Mets had a chance in the bottom of the inning, but Inciarte robbed Cespedes of a three-run homer to end the game.

“A tremendous catch,” Collins said. “You won’t see a better catch.”

The catch was the play of the game, but the storyline was Collins’ use of his bullpen. The others were that the Mets might have already made a decision on Bruce and wasting Colon.

DECISION ON BRUCE: By pinch-hitting for Bruce Tuesday and not starting him Wednesday, one might surmise the Mets already made the decision to give him a $1-million buyout opposed to picking up his $13 million option.

It was an “uncomfortable” decision Collins made last night in sending Campbell to bat for Bruce. Campbell produced a RBI single, but the Mets still lost and there’s this fallout, so one can’t really say everything worked out for him.

Especially considering, with how the game was on the line tonight in the ninth inning, he sent Bruce up as a pinch-hitter. Tonight’s situation was even more dire. This is what aggravates me about Collins: Bruce isn’t good enough one night, but is the next.

There’s no disputing Bruce has not produced, but this has nothing to do with “playing in New York,” as the media likes to suggest, but simply a player trying too hard to produce for his new team. Collins wanted to give Bruce a mental health day, but used him as a pinch-hitter, so how can he say the player had time to collect his thoughts and let the rest work for him as it did Neil Walker, earlier?

That’s typical of Collins; he says one thing but does another.

The Mets traded for Bruce to jumpstart a dismal offense the same way Cespedes did last season. It’s clear Collins lost confidence – even though the Mets are 21-8 and back in the race without Bruce hitting – and obvious the Mets are writing him off for the rest of the way.

COLON SUPERB: Another game, another wasted start by Colon, who gave up two runs in 6.2 innings. The way it is stacked up now, Noah Syndergaard would start the wild-card game with Colon probably getting Game 1 of the Division Series against the Cubs.

That is if the Mets get that far.

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Sep 19

Syndergaard Spits Bit; Owns Responsibility

Let’s put the brakes on this conversation about the Mets having a cupcake schedule, and while we’re at it, Noah Syndergaard being a Cy Young Award candidate. All games are vital at this point, and the last thing the Mets need is for their best pitcher to respond as poorly as Syndergaard did Monday night in a game they had to win – and with him getting an extra day of rest.

SYNDERGAARD: Doesn't have it. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Doesn’t have it. (AP)

“It stings a little bit,” said a dejected Syndergaard. “These last two weeks, every win is critical. It’s a disappointment. I didn’t go out there and get my job done.”

I love that. No excuses. Pointing a finger only at himself.

Syndergaard asked for the day and produced the third-shortest start of his career, giving up five runs on eight hits in 3.2 innings in the 7-3 loss to Atlanta. You knew Syndergaard and the Mets were in trouble with his 35-pitch second inning. He encored that with 29 more in the third. Syndergaard finished with 99, of which 26 were foul balls.

“I lost control of my fastball and couldn’t get my slider over,” said Syndergaard. “Baseball is s funny game. Once you think you have it figured out, it knocks you down.”

After a rough stretch in midseason where his pitch count mounted, Syndergaard had been very good over the past month, giving up four runs in his previous five starts and going 4-1 in his last five decisions.

His location had been better, as was his slider. He was pitching the way an ace is supposed to pitch.

“He’s our guy,” manager Terry Collins said. “Certainly [Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman] have stepped up and done a great job, but you’re going to go into the playoffs looking at Noah Syndergaard as the guy. If there’s a big game to be pitched, he’s the guy you’re going to turn to.”

Syndergaard is lined up to start the wild-card game, as is San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner, Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw and St. Louis’ Carlos Martinez. At this point, all might be slotted ahead of Syndergaard as a Cy Young favorite.

We saw all the foul balls again tonight, an indication he didn’t have sharp movement on his pitches and couldn’t put away hitters.

Collins said Syndergaard was throwing in the high 90s, but again, velocity isn’t nearly as important and movement and location. And, no, nothing was bothering him physically.That wasn’t the case,” Collins said. “He wasn’t making any pitches.”

“That wasn’t the case,” Collins said. “He wasn’t making any pitches.”

With the way the schedule pans out, Syndergaard will get two more starts. He can’t afford to let one more get away.

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Sep 16

Mets Must Take Advantage Of Schedule

We’ve heard for the past month what an easy schedule the Mets have down the stretch compared to St. Louis and San Francisco.

However, it doesn’t matter how easy the Mets theoretically might have it if they don’t win. With the Cardinals and Giants beating each other this weekend, the Mets have three games with the Twins, who have the worst record in the majors.

“We’re going home in the wild-card hunt,” manager Terry Collins said after the Washington series. “Our fans should be excited. It’s the last homestand. … We caught up a lot in the last couple of weeks. We’ve got ourselves right where we need to be.”

There will be a myriad of reasons to blame if the Mets don’t make it, not the least of which is their record against several of the National League’s cupcakes. They are a combined 17-24 against Colorado (1-6), Arizona (1-5), Philadelphia (6-6), and Atlanta (9-7).

Their combined 2-11 record against the Diamondbacks and Rockies, by itself, could derail the Mets.

Here are the remaining schedules of the Mets, Cardinals and Giants:

Sept. 16: Twins at Mets; Cardinals at Giants.

Sept. 17: Twins at Mets; Cardinals at Giants.

Sept. 18: Twins at Mets; Cardinals at Giants.

Sept. 19: Braves at Mets; Cardinals at Rockies; Giants at Dodgers.

Sept. 20: Braves at Mets; Cardinals at Rockies; Giants at Dodgers.

Sept. 21: Braves at Mets; Cardinals at Rockies; Giants at Dodgers.

Sept. 22: Phillies at Mets; Cardinals OFF; Giants at Padres.

Sept. 23: Phillies at Mets; Cardinals at Cubs; Giants at Padres.

Sept. 24: Phillies at Mets; Cardinals at Cubs; Giants at Padres.

Sept. 25: Phillies at Mets; Cardinals at Cubs; Giants at Padres.

Sept. 26: Mets at Marlins; Reds at Cardinals; Giants OFF.

Sept. 27: Mets at Marlins; Reds at Cardinals; Rockies at Giants.

Sept. 28: Mets at Marlins; Reds at Cardinals; Rockies at Giants.

Sept. 29: Mets OFF; Reds at Cardinals; Rockies at Giants.

Sept. 30: Mets at Phillies; Pirates at Cardinals; Dodgers at Giants.

Oct. 1: Mets at Phillies; Pirates at Cardinals; Dodgers at Giants.

Oct. 2: Mets at Phillies; Pirates at Cardinals; Dodgers at Giants.

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