Jul 17

Mariano Rivera’s Light Burns Bright In All-Star Game

For the New York Mets it might have been “Matt Harvey Day,’’ but Mariano Rivera stole the night. It isn’t often you can orchestrate things in Major League Baseball, but that’s what happened. While no player is bigger than the game, there are some who define it by their presence and their greatness transcends the moment.

There was Ted Williams in 1999, surrounded by both teams in the Fenway Park infield. The Team of the Century Game, you might recall. They didn’t even need the game, they would have cheered Williams all night.

RIVERA: Stands alone.

RIVERA: Stands alone.

It was that way when Cal Ripken’s streak was broken and Joe Torre’s Yankees stood at the top step of their Camden Yards dugout in a long ovation. And, how about Ripken’s last All-Star Game, when he homered in Seattle?

Great theatre and it was such when Rivera ran out for the eighth inning and took his bows with nobody else on the diamond. That was symbolic as there is nobody like Rivera. For nearly two minutes they cheered the greatest closer in history. It didn’t matter he was a Yankee; all of baseball honored him.

“I didn’t know how to act,’’ Rivera said. “At that moment, I didn’t know what to do. It almost made me cry. It was close. It was amazing. I will never forget that.’’

As he often has, Rivera set the side down in order 1-2-3, and as he jogged off the field, Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder – whose father, Cecil, won a World Series ring with Rivera – pressed the ball in the modest closer’s glove.

Justin Verlander greeted Rivera first after the eighth with a long embrace. I couldn’t help but wonder if Verlander whispered in his ear, “I wish you had been on my team all these years.’’

Then again, there’s probably not a starter in the game who hasn’t wondered the same.

American League manager Jim Leyland is as old school as they come, but did a marvelous job planning the moment. Ideally, it should have been the ninth inning, but if the National League had taken the lead Rivera wouldn’t have gotten in the game.

“I wanted to make sure I got out of here alive,’’ Leyland said.

It was interesting to see Rivera’s peers – the opponents he has tormented over the years – respond to him. The Orioles Chris Davis could be seen shooting a video of Rivera on his cell phone. David Wright would tell Rivera how proud he was of how he handled himself.

“Things like that, that come from young boys like that, it is good,’’ Rivera said. “They know why you do it. That’s great.’’

While others had a bigger role in the game’s outcome, Rivera was voted the Most Valuable Player in a gesture of appreciation and respect.

With Rivera working the eighth, it was Joe Nathan who pitched the ninth to earn his first All-Star save. The ball will never make Nathan’s mantle as he gave it to Rivera.

“It showed respect to me,’’ Rivera would say. “It was a classy thing to do.’’

Classy and respect. That’s what Rivera has always been about.

NOTE: Please accept my apologies for the erratic posting lately. My server has been down and it was unavoidable. Hopefully, the problem has been resolved.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jul 12

Jeremy Hefner On Roll For Mets

There is a likeable quality to New York Mets pitcher Jeremy Hefner. He’s modest and unassuming, and has been stand-up in the bad times.

However, recently it’s been good times for Hefner, Friday’s starter in Pittsburgh, who will be trying for his eighth straight strong outing. Hefner is coming off a one-run performance in seven innings last weekend in Milwaukee. Hefner has 12 quality starts, and had he any support earlier this year might have a winning record.

HEFNER: On a roll. (AP)

HEFNER: On a roll. (AP)

Roughly a month ago Hefner appeared the odd-man out in making room for Zack Wheeler, but his roster spot was preserved because of injuries to Jon Niese and Shaun Marcum.

Hefner told ESPN he knew he was vulnerable.

“I was maybe one or two bad starts from being in Las Vegas,’’ Hefner said. “So something had to change.’’

In seven starts since June 4, Hefner has a 1.64 ERA, which is better than Harvey over a similar span. He has given up two earned runs or fewer in those seven starts. The Mets have won his last five starts.

Hefner said he didn’t feel pressure in his turnaround: “It was a challenge for me. And I embraced it. And I’m doing pretty good.’’

Part of his turnaround is mechanical, in that he twists his torso to give the hitter a glance at his back. The intent was deception, but the bonus was increased velocity.

Hefner is one of the Mets’ bright spots this season. There’s some talk about him being dealt to a contender, but the Mets are better off keeping him because they don’t know if Niese will need surgery and Marcum is gone for the year.

Hefner moved up the pecking order for a promotion during spring training when it was apparent Jenrry Mejia wasn’t going to be healthy. Mejia is pitching in Double-A and is scheduled to pitch six innings Saturday. Apparently, there was no thought of bringing him up to replace Harvey that day.

Here’s the Mets’ lineup tonight behind Hefner against the Pirates’ Charlie Morton:

Eric Young, LF

Daniel Murphy, 2B

David Wright, 3B

Ike Davis, 1B

Marlon Byrd, RF

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, CF

Anthony Recker, C

Omar Quintanilla, SS

Jeremy Hefner, RHP

METS MUSINGS: Reliever Frank Francisco – remember him? – pitched one inning in a Gulf Coast League game over the weekend. He gave up an unearned run on one hit with on strikeout. Francisco is recovering from surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow. Francisco is making $6.5 million this season and is not in the Mets’ plans.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jul 05

Ike Davis Promotion Imminent; Mets Have Decisions To Make

Reports are the New York Mets are about to recall first baseman Ike Davis from the minor leagues in time for Friday’s game in Milwaukee.

Davis was demoted June 10, and although his Triple-A Las Vegas numbers are good, the timing is interesting. When Zack Wheeler as in Vegas, the Mets harped on disregarding statistics because the atmosphere was conducive to hitting.

DAVIS: Hope he's gotten things ironed out.

DAVIS: Hope he’s gotten things ironed out.

Using that logic, Davis’ .293 average with seven homers, 13 RBI and .424 on-base percentage must also be looked at skeptically. Davis’ mechanics and approach were a mess when he was with the Mets, evidenced by his .161 average with 66 strikeouts in 186 at-bats.

Although Davis’ minor league average is good, he does have 18 strikeouts in 75 at-bats, which is still a high strikeout ratio. Using those numbers, the Mets must wonder if his approach is what it should be.

Las Vegas manager Wally Backman said Davis’ hitch isn’t as pronounced as it once was and he’s taking more balls to left field. They will know for sure when they see him firsthand.

If Davis goes back to his old habits, then he didn’t accomplish anything. If he doesn’t and produces, it gives the Mets’ two options, 1) they could decide they want to extend his contract, and if not, 2) they could opt to trade him.

Should the Mets decide they don’t want to bring him back and make a deal, they have a little less than four weeks before the July 31 trade deadline.

The backdrop to all this is Davis, at 26, has shown signs of being a power hitter with 32 homers last year. The Mets are a rebuilding team wary of finances, and might think his $3.1 million salary that would go up in arbitration, is too high.

However, whatever Davis makes in arbitration – if he becomes the player the Mets envisioned – IS NOT TOO HIGH.

I’ve been writing his salary is a factor because that’s the way it has been for the Mets. However, CEO Jeff Wilpon said the Mets have resources to add a player, and that should also apply to Davis, because for all practical purposes he hasn’t been here all year.

And, wouldn’t they want to add a 30-homer bat?

The Mets have not made any overtures of wanting to extend him, but they rarely do during a season. David Wright and Jose Reyes were exceptions in 2006.

Caught in the middle of all this is Josh Satin, who is riding a ten-game hitting streak and is batting .353. He can’t play the outfield, so it is curious if Davis’ demotion was also an attempt to showcase Satin for a trade.

While this is a transition season, there’s no law saying they have to make all their key moves in the off-season. They could be on the verge of doing something significant now.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jul 03

Matt Harvey Making All-Star Push

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HARVEY: Should be named NL starter in All-Star Game

After tonight’s start for the New York Mets, the next time Matt Harvey steps on the Citi Field mound should be to start the All-Star Game.

Support for Harvey to start has gone on for several weeks to the point of it now being a brushfire. San Francisco and National League manager Bruce Bochy all but named Harvey the starter yesterday in a national radio interview. Speaking on MLB Network Radio, Bochy marveled at Harvey’s dominance and acknowledged the location of the game, “should play a part, if all things are equal.’’

After tonight, factoring in four complete days of rest, Harvey’s next starts should be July 8 at San Francisco in an up-close audition in front of Bochy and July 13 at Pittsburgh. The latter date is the Saturday prior to the break so there shouldn’t be any scheduling snags.

Terry Collins will undoubtedly speak with Bochy when the Mets are in San Francisco, and already said he would change his rotation if it meant getting Harvey a start.

St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright and Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw are having strong seasons, as are Washington’s Jordan Zimmerman and Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee. All are worthy in most years, but Harvey’s season is flying off the charts. He’s not first in wins, ERA or WHIP, but in the top five.

Harvey has just seven victories, but nine no-decisions, with him giving up three or fewer runs in seven of them.

“You look at Harvey, I don’t think what team he’s playing for,’’ Bochy said, which is a polite way of suggesting playing for the Mets shouldn’t count against him

“This guy should be strongly considered to start the game. It hasn’t been determined. That’s how good he is.’’

Starting the hometown pitcher is considered a goodwill gesture by the All-Star manager, but in Harvey’s case Bochy knows there’s no charity involved. Toronto’s Cito Gaston wouldn’t pitch the Orioles’ Mike Mussina in the 1993 game at Baltimore – Mussina made the team – and was booed the remainder of his career in Camden Yards.

Bochy is smart enough to know not to make any enemies if he doesn’t have to.

While the Mets have had a myriad of pitchers in the All-Star game, only Dwight Gooden and Tom Seaver started.

While Harvey is nearly a given to make it three, David Wright is currently running away with the vote over the Giants’ Pablo Sandoval at third base to the point where he has nearly an 800,000-vote lead with two days remaining in the balloting.

For Wright, it will be his seventh All-Star Game and fifth as a starter. Seaver is the franchise leader with nine All-Star Games, while Mike Piazza and Darryl Strawberry each made it seven times.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jul 01

What Will Mets Look Like At The End Of The Month?

Welcome to July 1, which for followers of the New York Mets is the month we find out just how much they want to blow this team apart. The New York Post already reported the Mets won’t add a significant piece, such as Carlos Gonzalez, at the trade deadline.

But, you already knew that, right?

A step forward would be trying to make a run at finishing .500, but we’re not likely to see that commitment. As of now Sandy Alderson hasn’t shown us he’s will to take that leap.

PARNELL: Key trade piece.

PARNELL: Key trade piece.

The names are out there of whom the Mets might deal for draft picks and prospects: Bobby Parnell, Marlon Byrd, Daniel Murphy, Jeremy Hefner and Dillon Gee. They would undoubtedly draw interest from a contender as each fills a need.

Trouble is, as the Mets move forward which they claim is the direction they heading, they are the kind of players they will eventually need, also. They aren’t core players, but essential in the building process. Trade them now, and you’ll need to get similar players later.

Of course, that takes more time. Dealing them tells you the Mets are blowing up what they have now and are taking a step back. It basically tells you there will be another two or three years of wasted Matt Harvey starts.

Then, there are the key prospects Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero, the kind of young talent that could procure a Gonzalez. If the Mets deal them, they are telling us they are ready to contend now. However, if they do that they’ll  need guys such as Hefner and Parnell and Byrd.

Trouble is, the Mets are in no-man’s land. They aren’t good enough to contend now, and we really don’t know just how long it will take until they are able to contend on any level. We have no idea of what this team will look like at the end of the month.

What we do know in the building of a franchise, as they are in Pittsburgh, is go with young pitching and a young star like Andrew McCutchen. The Mets appear to have the young pitching, despite their inclination to force-feed Zack Wheeler, but their young star, David Wright, is no longer a young star.

They need a centerpiece bat like a McCutchen or a Gonzalez, but their chips are Syndergaard and Montero. Alderson has to determine if they add Gonzalez, then what other pieces do they need?

The Mets have failed miserably in their development of young hitters. There’s Wilmer Flores, but the Mets don’t have any idea where they want to play him, or the inclination of seeing if he can hit on this level. It is puzzling as to why the Mets haven’t determined where Flores fits best and just play him at that position. Have they even considered trying him at first base and seeing what they could get for Ike Davis? With Davis possibly not being tendered this winter, he’s the one guy to deal.

The player with the most upside to trade is Parnell, but if they trade for a centerpiece bat and enter contender status, won’t they need a closer?

No, they aren’t a dime a dozen. It has taken Parnell several years to become a closer, and he’s still learning. Trade him and you’d be wasting even more Harvey starts.

If they Mets don’t want to surrender their young pitching, their only chance to emulate the Pirates is to overpay for a proven bat this winter. With Johan Santana’s money coming off the books, they must spend it there, and not on replacing the holes left by trading Parnell or Byrd or Gee.

You can see where this is heading. They’ll probably deal off a few parts whose contract will expire after this season, like Byrd and Davis. Then they’ll deem themselves not ready to spend, or what is out there isn’t good enough, and not add anybody.

They will continue to spin their wheels.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos