Dec 30

Looking back at 2010

As the clock winds down on 2010, a disappointing, yet transitional season for the New York Mets, let’s take a moment to look back at the significant moments, games and issues of the season.

Spring training began with a myriad of issues and questions that never dissipated during the long and tumultuous summer.

Among the more intriguing moments and issues were:

The turnover: Sandy Alderson in for Omar Minaya as general manager and Terry Collins in for Jerry Manuel as manager. Manuel seemed in trouble from the outset with early reports Bobby Valentine would take over. That didn’t happen, but this will be the year where the Met could have turned around their culture. We shall wait and see. So far, Alderson has played it conservatively in terms of player acquisition. To date, Alderson’s plan is to hope for the physical returns of Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay and that nobody else gets injured. It doesn’t sound like much, but the goal is to build a base for 2012 when deadweight salaries are cleared off the books.

Blanking the Phillies: On the field the Mets had two spurts that pushed them into contention, but nothing stood out at Citi Field like the three-game, shutout sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies, featuring R.A. Dickey, Hisanori Takahashi  and Mike Pelfrey.

Draining the Bay: The Mets’ free-agent splash of signing Jason Bay from Boston busted out. A slow start that never got started flamed out with a concussion that kept him out for most of the second half. The $66 million hire that was supposed to energize the Mets’ offense produced just six homers.

Beltran’s relationship and knees sour: Botched communications between Beltran and the Mets front office over off-season surgery led to a rift that only shows signs of thawing under the new administration. Beltran returned after the All-Star break but never showed consistent signs of being healthy and strong. In actually, this was mishandled at the end of the 2009 season when Beltran should have had surgery instead of waiting.

Reyes never settles: Jose Reyes missed the first month of the season with a thyroid illness, then returned to the lineup as the No. 3 hitter. Manuel stuck when the results were clear it wasn’t working and later conceded it was a mistake. Reyes ignited when he was returned to the top of the order, then strained an oblique muscle and was never the same. This injury was compounded when Manuel rushed him back into the lineup.

Mike Pelfrey’s development: Pelfrey took a major step forward, regressed at midseason then showed recovery signs to win 15 games. With a little bit of luck he could have won 18 or 19. With Johan Santana out at the beginning of the season Pelfrey will have to pick it up again to assume the ace role. The pessimistic feelings about Pelfrey at the beginning of the season were replaced by confidence and optimism.

Oliver Perez and John Maine implode: The Mets had questions entering the season about their rotation that were answered in the negative with Perez and Maine. If one player personified the troubles of the Minaya regime it would have to be Perez, who lost his spot in the rotation, and then refused an assignment to the minor leagues to work on his mechanics. Perez forced himself back on the 25-man roster after a stay on the disabled list, then languished untouched in the bullpen until the last game of the season when Manuel pitched him as a parting gift.

The rise of RA Dickey and development of Jon Niese: Out of adversity, Dickey, Niese and Takahashi stepped up and filled the voids left by Maine and Perez. They kept the Mets competitive until the All-Star break. Dickey was rewarded with a new contract and he and Niese will enter spring training with rotation spots. Takahashi left as a free agent.

Johan Santana injured: The Mets were cooked by the time Santana’ shoulder was injured late in the second half. Santana didn’t pitch with his usual brilliance on a consistent basis and undergoing surgery for the third straight off-season must raise concerns of his durability during the remainder of the contract. If not Pelfrey, the Mets need to start thinking about a No. 1 in their rotation for the future.

The emergence of Angel Pagan: With Beltran out Pagan emerged as a budding star in centerfield and will win a spot in the 2011 outfield. Pagan improved dramatically in his outfield and base running decisions and developed into one of the team’s clutch hitters.

The young kids come through: The Mets’ long-maligned farm system bore signs of progress with first baseman Ike Davis and catcher Josh Thole, both of whom enter spring training penciled in the lineup. Both showed rawness, but enough glimpses to warrant optimism. Ruben Tejada also saw time but will open the season in the minors. As far as young pitchers go, Bobby Parnell improved over 2009 and will compete for the closer’s role.

David Wright goes deep: After hitting ten homers with 72 RBI in 2009 and sustaining a concussion, there were concerns about Wright’s ability to hit the long ball. Those questions were answered with 29 homers and over 100 RBI, production that could have been higher with a healthy Beltran and Bay. There aren’t any questions now about Wright’s power.

Twenty-inning marathon: In a thrilling display of endurance the Mets won at St. Louis, 2-1, in 20 innings. Santana started and was superb with seven scoreless, but the Mets’ bullpen was clutch in extra innings, leaving the bases loaded in the 10th, 12th and 14th innings, and 22 runners overall. Pitching on his throw day, Pelfrey earned the save.

K-Rod explodes: Maybe the ugliest moment of the season came when Francisco Rodriguez punched out his father-in-law outside the family room at Citi Field. Rodriguez was arrested and the Mets sought to void his contract. The two reached an agreement, but the relationship remains tenuous. If Rodriguez finishes 55 games this season his option for $17.5 million will kick in.

Jul 28

Tonight’s lineup vs. Cardinals

Ike Davis gets the night off, to be replaced by Mike Hessman. Jason Bay’s concussion will keep him sidelined for the second straight game.

Here’s the lineup:

Jose Reyes, SS

Luis Castillo, 2B

Angel Pagan, LF

David Wright, 3B

Carlos Beltran, CF

Mike Hessman, 1B

Jeff Francoeur, RF

Henry Blanco, C

Johan Santana, LP

Apr 06

April 6.10: Wright steps up for his team.

David Wright spoke in basic, but his smile told a much more complex story.

First inning, Citi Field, yesterday afternoon and Wright was rounding the bases after hitting a two-run, opposite-field homer off Josh Johnson … his smile carrying him as much as his legs.

Wright, who seemingly talked himself out of hitting for power early in the season, and later that lost summer was felled with a concussion after taking a Matt Cain fastball to his head, had just gotten the Mets off to a fast start in turning the page from a disastrous 2009.

Could one swing of the bat set the tone for a summer?

“I don’t put too much stock into home runs,’’ said Wright, who hit only ten of them last year, one of them last Opening Day he was quick to remind when the “tone’’ word surfaced.

Logic says no, that Mets 7, Marlins 1, was simply one game, but the game gave us a glimpse of what could happen when Wright’s team puts it all together for an afternoon. Yesterday was a blue print of what needs to happen.

The Mets need pitching more than power and Johan Santana was superb. And, with their suspect rotation, they need the bullpen late and Fernando Nieve gave them two sterling innings and Francisco Rodriguez was perfect.

Last summer, the Mets hit a major league low 95 homers – the only team not to hit 100 – so their offense must generate runs and take advantage of what is offered. So many opportunities were wasted last year, but yesterday they parlayed three Florida errors into four runs. A gift, yes, but too many times last year they came away empty in similar spots.

The new guys, Gary Matthews, Jason Bay and Rod Barajas had two hits apiece, and Matthews showed he can cover center until Carlos Beltran’s return.

“I think it was an all-around good effort,” Wright said. “We caught the ball, we pitched well and obviously had some timely hitting. You can’t ask for much more than that, first game of the season.’’

Wright is correct, it’s only one game, but it’s better than if it had been one game the other way. For a team coming off two late season collapses and a free-fall summer, that played with frustrating mediocrity this spring, winning sure as hell beats losing.

“By no stretch of the imagination are we where we want to be right now,’’ said manager Jerry Manuel, who looks at winning in a more personal, job-preserving vein. “The important thing is that as you put the pieces into place that you win games.

“We played well. We played all 27 outs.’’

There will be times this summer when they don’t. All teams, even champions, have those moments. And, there will be times this summer when the smile Wright wore yesterday will be a frown.

But, it was finally nice to see him smile.

“It’s good to see David get started,’’ Jeff Francoeur said. “David has to step up. It has to be his team.’’

And, yesterday it was.

Oct 01

Mets to announce Minaya contract tomorrow

Four more years.

Four more years.

The Mets scheduled a telephone news conference for tomorrow to announce a new contract for general manager Omar Minaya. After Minaya, the Mets are then expected to finalize a contract for manager Jerry Manuel.

I’m sure plenty of you have thoughts on this, many of them heated as the Mets lost on the final day of the season for the second straight year.

This season brought several defining moments in Minaya’s career, beginning with the trade for two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins. Minaya also traded prospect Lastings Milledge to Washington for outfielder Ryan Church and catcher Brian Schneider.

The Mets, and Minaya, were criticized for their handling of Church’s concussion, and for circumstances surrounding the firing of manager Willie Randolph.

Minaya’s first order of business will be signing manager Jerry Manuel to an extension and patching a bullpen that blew 29 save opportunities.