Jun 30

Mets Get Resilient Effort When They Need It Most

They wouldn’t be the Mets if things were easy. Last year they reached the World Series because of their young arms, a hot month from Yoenis Cespedes, but perhaps most of all, with their resiliency. They overcame injuries and dreadful two-month team hitting slump to find themselves standing at the end.

With those arms, reaching the playoffs this year would be a formality. It sure looked that way with a sizzling April. However, they’ve played sub-.500 baseball the past two months, and after being swept out of Washington, not many gave much for their chances this weekend against the hot Cubs, especially with Steven Matz starting with a painful bone spur in his valuable left elbow.

NIMMO: Scores game-winner. (AP)

NIMMO: Scores game-winner. (AP)

I thought Matz shouldn’t have started, and despite working into the sixth, I’m not yielding on that sentiment. We’ll see how he feels Friday and the days beyond. I really hope I am wrong. The Mets gambled and won when they pushed the envelope with Matz, who overcame a two-run first to throw 104 painful pitches in a thrilling 4-3 victory over the Cubs.

The Mets had to win, because at the same time Matz was ducking a John Lackey fastball to his head, Cespedes was reaching the third deck at Citi Field, and Brandon Nimmo was thrilling us with a timely hit and baserunning, the Nationals were bludgeoning the Reds.

After losing three straight to the Nationals – and five of seven overall – the Mets entered this series realistically needing to win at least three of four games to stay within binocular distance in the NL East. Make that telescopic distance if the Cubs swept the Mets and Nationals did the same to Cincinnati.

Come Friday morning, Panic City is still a couple of exits away.

“I don’t know yet,” manager Terry Collins told reporters as to the magnitude of the victory. “It sure came at the right time. It was a real impressive win.”

It was impressive because outside of Cespedes Home Run Derby type of blast, the Mets did the basic, dirty things they did last year and what they must do in the second half.

It began with Matz, who fell behind 2-0 in the first on a Kris Bryant homer, but gutted his way into the sixth.

“I felt good,” Matz said about his much-talked-about elbow. “I was able to pitch without any issues. I was able to keep us close. I’m happy with how things turned out. I’d say it’s a little relief.”

Down 3-0, the Mets started their comeback – something they did with frequency in 2015 – with Cespedes’ 466-foot drive into the upper deck in the sixth.

“It was a 2-0 pitch,” Cespedes said. “The plan was to swing, and swing hard.”

It woke up Citi Field like a hard slap to the face.

The Mets finally got to Lackey with Travis d’Arnaud‘s one-out single in the seventh that brought in Joel Peralta. Alejandro De Aza, vilified in Washington, pinch-hit for reliever Erik Goeddel and walked. Nimmo, whose exuberance has been a lift, singled home a run after an intense nine-pitch at-bat.

“I was trying to keep things simple,” Nimmo said. “I wanted to be short and get the ball on the barrel.”

The Mets have often been criticized for not being aggressive on the bases, but Nimmo drew a wild throw from Cubs second baseman Javier Baez off Neil Walker‘s chopper and scored when the ball got by the third baseman Bryant.

Of course, there couldn’t be a 1-2-3 ninth. That would be too easy.

The Cubs put runners at second and third with no outs against Jeurys Familia. An intentional walk loaded the bases, but Bryant and Willson Contreras couldn’t resist Familia’s sinker and struck out. With a little discipline, the Cubs would’ve had two bases-loaded walks. Baez then popped out to end the game and for one night at least, we got a reminder of the resiliency this team can still muster.

Jun 28

Mets Messing With Matz

I recently read something pretty funny about Mets pitcher Steven Matz. Actually, not so much funny as it was maddening. Matz, scratched from Wednesday’s start in Washington because of pain in his elbow caused by a bone spur, will now go Thursday against the Cubs.

That’s not the funny part. The punchline is the Mets say they have been assured by team doctors Matz can’t hurt himself any further, at least not to his elbow. How can that be? Are these some kind of special doctors who can see into the future?

MATZ: Doctors can't guarantee anything.  (Getty)

MATZ: Doctors can’t guarantee anything. (Getty)

There are no guarantees in life, especially when it comes to health and medicine. No doctor can project the future with an injury like this. Perhaps the weekend warrior or country club tennis player, can get by being treated with anti-inflammatories, rest or a cortisone injection.

However, Matz is a baseball pitcher, and what he does requires an incredible amount of tension and torque on the elbow.

According to the Mayo Clinic’s definition, a bone spur is when bony projections develop on the surface of the bone. They can cause swelling, pain and depending what rubs against it, tearing of tissue or tendons or ligaments. Reports are Matz’s MRI showed the spurs aren’t in an area where they can imminently rub against a ligament. But, who is to say that can’t change with a violent twist of the elbow?

GM Sandy Alderson described Matz’s condition as a matter of pain tolerance, which is comforting if you’re not named Steven Matz.

“At this point, it’s a function of whether he can tolerate the discomfort while continuing to pitch,” Alderson told reporters. “What we will do is monitor that level of discomfort.”

However, history is full of examples of pitchers who overcompensate for one injury by creating another. Pain in one’s elbow can cause a pitcher to subtly alter his mechanics to where it might impact his shoulder or elsewhere in the elbow.

No doctor can guarantee Matz won’t change his mechanics. Perhaps, the change is so slight nobody will notice, and Matz might not feel anything. At first.

Maybe Matz can give us a John Wayne and pitch through this initially, but it could prohibit him from effectively throwing his breaking balls or prevent him from dialing up his fastball.

There have already been reports Matz might require surgery this winter, so this is far from being nothing. And, considering the Mets’ history in handling injuries, from the Alderson administration to Omar MInaya’s to Steve Phillips, I’m not buying this “it can’t get worse,” theory. There have been too many cases of things going wrong.

Matz won’t pitch Wednesday, but pushing him back one day hardly will make much of a difference. Matz’s career has already been sidetracked by Tommy John surgery, so it’s beyond me why he’d even fool around with this.

Apr 22

Mets List: Mets-Braves Magic Moments

Unlike the Yankees, who always had the Red Sox as a historical sparring partner, the Mets haven’t had what you’d consider a for-the-ages rival. In their infant years, they had the Dodgers and Giants for obvious reasons, then in 1969, they developed a brief rivalry with the Chicago Cubs. Later, it was the Pirates, then the Cardinals, and eventually the Braves.

I have always wanted to run a weekly Mets List feature and plan to do so on Friday.

NO STRANGER GAME

NO STRANGER GAME

With the Mets in Atlanta today for the start of a three-game series, I have come up with five of the most memorable Mets-Braves moments. If you have others, please share.

Post Sept. 11 homer: On Sept. 21, in the first professional sporting event in New York following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the Braves were in town. Emotions ran high, but boiled over when Mike Piazza hit a go-ahead homer off Steve Karsay.

The Mets trailed by a run entering the eighth when Piazza delivered.

The 1969 NLCS: The Mets’ reward for overtaking the Cubs was to face the powerful Braves in the first year of divisional play.

The Braves were loaded with the likes of Hank Aaron, Rico Carty and Orlando Cepeda, but the Mets swept the series, winning 9-5 and 11-6 (at Atlanta) and 7-4 (at Shea Stadium).

Tom Seaver, Ron Taylor and Nolan Ryan were the winning pitchers. From there, the Mets continued to stun the sports universe by beating Baltimore in the World Series.

The Grand Slam single: The Mets trailed in the 1999 NLCS 3-to-1 in games and 3-2 entering the bottom of the 15th inning. The Mets tied it, 3-3, when Todd Pratt drew a bases-loaded walk.

Robin Ventura followed with what appeared to be a grand slam, but was only credited with a single when the Mets stormed the field to congratulate Ventura. In the process, Mets’ runners passed each other on the bases necessitating the call. VIDEO

The Mets would lose Game 6, 10-9, when Kenny Rogers issued a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth.

The Subway Series against the Yankees would have to wait another year.

Late night fireworks: On July 4 and 5, 1985, the Mets had one of those games. The Mets tied it, 8-8, in the top of the ninth on Lenny Dykstra’s RBI single off closer Bruce Sutter.

The teams slogged around for several innings before Howard Johnson’s two-run homer off Terry Forster in the 13th inning. However, Atlanta tied it, 10-10, on Terry Harper’s two-run homer off Tom Gorman. The Mets regained the lead in the 18th on Dykstra’s sacrifice fly off reliever Rick Camp, but the Braves tied it again on Camp’s homer off Gorman.

The Mets seemingly blew open the game with five runs off Camp in the 19th, but pesky Atlanta pulled within 16-13 off Ron Darling.

The game ended shortly before 4 a.m., but the Braves went ahead with their fireworks night. That prompted many calls to police claiming their neighborhood was under attack.

Double-header treat: In a night that might have symbolized the passing of the torch was near, Mets started prize pitching prospects Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler combined for a double-header sweep on June 18 in Atlanta.

Harvey, who would pitch in the All-Star Game that year but eventually wind up on the disabled list and need surgery, won the first game, 4-3. Wheeler, who grew up near Atlanta, won the second game. 6-1.

Rarely had the Mets won in Atlanta, but sweeping a double-header was unfathomable.

ON DECK: Matt Harvey Tinkers With Mechanics

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Oct 22

Classy Gesture By Cubs To Wright

Every once in awhile you read something that makes you feel good about sports and what they are supposed to be about, and that includes a very classy gesture extended by the Chicago Cubs to Mets captain and third baseman David Wright when they presented him the third base bag used in Game 4 of the NLCS.

Wow!

Cubs Recognize Wright: FOX Sports

Cubs Recognize Wright: FOX Sports

That was my first thought. The Mets just crushed them in the playoffs, sweeping them without trailing for one moment in the series. Not a second.

They did it because of their respect for Wright and what he’s meant to the sport. They didn’t have to considering what just happened to them.

When a player retires, and this isn’t to suggest that’s what’s going on here, other teams usually present him with gifts. These guys, and that includes Wright, can afford anything they want. Wright once told me he’s embarrassed when he goes out to eat and the restaurant comps his meals.

He can afford to buy the restaurant, much less the meal. He understands why it happens. But getting something like the third base bag from Wrigley Field is something he would cherish more than say, a power boat or television.

The Mets took unfair heat when they made similar gestures to Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. The pitching rubber from Citi Field meant a lot more to Rivera than anything they could have bought.

I covered the Yankees for a long time and know what meant lot to Rivera. I’ve also been around the Mets since 2006 and know this means to Wright.

This is Wright’s 12th season, but only his second in the playoffs. Who better than the Cubs would appreciate a playoff drought? After all, some of the best players in their history, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Ferguson Jenkins and Billy Williams, never played in the postseason with them.

The Cubs understand and should be commended.

I don’t know whose idea this was, whether it was manager Joe Maddon, or Theo Epstein, somebody in marketing, Kris Bryant or one of the concessionaires who sells that terrific deep dish. It doesn’t matter. The bottom line is a classy player was recognized for his class and integrity.

And, someday the Cubs will be rewarded for their class.

Oct 17

Murphy And Harvey Lead Mets In Game 1

Matt Harvey was brilliant, while Daniel Murphy was spectacular from the beginning – and at the end – and together they combined to give the Mets a 4-2 victory in Game 1 of the NLCS over the Chicago Cubs at a frigid Citi Field.

The Mets were 0-7 against the Cubs in the regular season, but one more time, this isn’t the regular season. It is rapidly becoming a special offseason for the Mets, after their scintillating performance in disposing of the Dodgers in the NLDS and what we saw tonight.

MURPHY:  Does it again. (Getty)

MURPHY: Does it again. (Getty)

Harvey put down the first dozen Cubs he faced, and after taking a line drive in the back of his pitching arm in the sixth, worked into the eighth.

Here is how fortunate Harvey was … after the ball hit his arm it floated into the air and bounced off his back. Without that bounce, the Cubs’ Dexter Fowler would have beaten Harvey’s throw to first.

“I wanted this game bad,’’ Harvey said. “The most important thing was starting this thing right. I knew I had to set the tone early.’’

Working on regular rest, Harvey gave the Mets 7.2 innings, and gave up only four hits and struck out nine. He is expected to start Game 5 when the NLCS returns to New York.

Meanwhile, Murphy who accounted for all three runs in the Mets’ Game 5 win in Los Angeles, put the Mets on the board with first-inning homer off Jon Lester. Murphy has hit four homers this postseason, one of Jake Arietta and Lester, and two off Clayton Kershaw.

Murphy then ended the game when he robbed Tommy La Stella of a hit with a diving stab.

Of course, Murphy credited everybody but the hot dog vender after the game before charming us with his typical Gomer Pyle “aw shucks’’ attitude.

“This is a lot of fun,’’ Murphy said. “I like doing these interviews because it means we won. What a nice start to the series.’’

As Murphy continues to rake, so does the storyline of his pending free-agency. The Mets aren’t likely to sign him to a multi-year deal, but they could lock him up with a $16-million qualifying offer. If they don’t, GM Sandy Alderson will be hard-pressed to explain his reasoning, especially if the Mets go on and win the World Series.

Meanwhile, considering the Mets built a three-run lead, it is curious as to why, considering their lead, the cold and the bruise on the back of Harvey’s arm, why manager Terry Collins let him work into the eighth before going to closer Jeurys Familia.

If this goes seven games as many expect, Collins will have to use his normal regular season relievers.

Doesn’t he?

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