Sep 13

Mets’ Three Storylines: T.J. Rivera Steps Up

Pennant races aren’t just for guys like Yoenis Cespedes and Bryce Harper. They also belong to guys like T.J. Rivera, a undrafted free agent who carried the Mets on this night over their closest rivals.

RIVERA: Blast lifts Mets over Nats. (AP)

RIVERA: Blast lifts Mets over Nats. (AP)

Getting his first start in three weeks, Rivera had three hits including a tenth-inning homer that lifted the Mets over the Nationals, 4-3 in 10 innings, at Nationals Park Tuesday night. The victory, coupled with the Cardinals beating the Cubs in St. Louis, kept the Mets with a half-game lead for the second wild-card (they are even in the loss column).

“Somebody you don’t expect has to step up and tonight it was T.J.,” manager Terry Collins said. “He’s hit everywhere he’s been. He has a simple, short swing.”

In 45 at-bats since joining the Mets, Rivera his hitting .333 with his first career homer and six RBI. He’s also been solid defensively, regardless of where Collins starts him.

“It’s definitely not to hit a home run,” Rivera said of his thinking heading to the plate against Nationals closer Mark Melancon. “I just wanted to put the bat on the ball. When you haven’t been around the team much you want to contribute.”

With Neil Walker out for the season with a back injury and Wilmer Flores currently hurting following a home plate collision Saturday in Atlanta, Rivera should get more opportunities to play. Collins said it was a gut feeling to start Rivera, who won the Triple-A batting title for Las Vegas.

It’s probably a stretch to say Rivera could make the postseason roster, but he’s made enough of an impression to where he can compete for a job next spring.

Rivera was the main storyline, with the others being Noah Syndergaard’s wasted effort and Jerry Blevins picking up for Jeurys Familia.

TOUGH LUCK NOAH: Collins said with the Mets starting their best pitcher, this was a game they had to win. Syndergaard was poised to win his 14th game until Familia blew his fourth save opportunity in the ninth.

Syndergaard gave up one run on four hits with one walk and 10 strikeouts – including his 200th of the season – in one of his best outings of the season. Unlike previous outings where he ran up his pitch count, Syndergaard was extremely pitch efficient throwing 99.

“He was amped up,” Collins said. “He knew we needed to win this game.”

Syndergaard became the second-fastest Met behind Dwight Gooden to reach 200 strikeouts.

BLEVINS PICKS UP FAMILIA:  Familia blew his fourth save opportunity when the Nationals tied it on RBI singles by Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos (an infield chopper over Familia’s head).

After Rivera’s drive, the Nationals to tie the game again, but Blevins struck out Daniel Murphy on a wicked curveball to end the game.

It was his first save since 2012.

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Aug 23

Strawberry Needs To Shut Up About Gooden

There’s no doubt Darryl Strawberry’s concern for his old teammate Dwight Gooden’s health and possible dive back into the black pond of drugs is sincere and valid.

He is also wrong in how he’s going about it.

STRAWBERRY: Out of line. (AP)

STRAWBERRY: Out of line. (AP)

I’ve known addicts, and I’ve been in an intervention. It isn’t fun. It is awkward and it could be terrifying. A cocaine addict, when high, has no fear, no inhibitions, and if he’s strong like my friend was, there’s a feeling for your safety if provoked, which is often the result.

Frankly, I feared getting my ass kicked. He could have clobbered me sober, but if under the influence awith no conception of control, he easily could have killed me or anybody else in that room.

Addicts don’t like to be outed in small groups, much less in the papers.

Nothing can be gained by what is happening now and there’s good reason to believe their friendship has fractured beyond repair. If Strawberry really wants to help his friend he should stop by his house and talk face-to-face, man-to-man. Come alone or with another trusted, but mutual friend. Anything more than that and Gooden would go further into denial and resist all efforts to help.

Suggesting Gooden regressed and is using again is counter productive. It puts Gooden further on the defensive. Right now he feels cornered and it seems to him there’s no escape, no safety net. At one time that net might have been Strawberry, but that’s gone.

If using, Gooden feels totally alone. If Gooden is using again he needs serious help and needs it now. What he doesn’t need is for what was a trusted friend to talk about hit problems in the press. He feels betrayed.

Sure, Strawberry makes good copy. Better copy is an obituary nobody wants to read.

Strawberry should make one more public announcement about Gooden, and that’s an apology. He should make it, shut his mouth about Gooden in the future, and do everything he can behind the scenes to help him.

Finally, it must be considered Gooden was a no-show for their scheduled appearance because of a different issue. Maybe he needs help with that, which he’s not getting from Strawberry.

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Aug 17

Has Syndergaard Turned The Corner?

UPDATED: Adding quotes by Syndergaard and Collins.

For awhile last night it appeared Noah Syndergaard turned the corner and all would be right with the Mets again. However, as has been his pattern, he ran into the wall otherwise known as the sixth inning and was haunted by familiar ghosts.

I won’t go into the bone spur issue because when you live in a 98 mph., neighborhood, your arm has to be sound. Stolen bases are a problem – the Diamondbacks had four more Tuesday night and nine in his two starts against them – but one he should eventually solve with his experience.

SYNDERGAARD: Good and bad signs. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Good and bad signs. (AP)

The main issue with Syndergaard has been his pitch-count efficiency and inability to put away a hitter or shut down an inning. It’s why he doesn’t give the Mets the number of innings he should considering the number of pitches he throws.

Of his 23 starts, he has gone at least seven innings only nine times. Only twice did he venture into the eighth inning. Twice.

Last night he cruised through five innings and was good as advertised but unraveled in the sixth. Yes, he was hamstrung by T.J. Rivera‘s defense, but when you’re supposed to be an ace, you must find a way to get out of the inning. The Mets survived the inning, but not Syndergaard.

This is not what you’d expect from somebody deemed an ace, much less a Super Hero.

Roughly one of four pitches he throws is fouled off, meaning he’s not putting away hitters. He averages over a strikeout an inning, but only four times has he reached double-digits in strikeouts, the last being June 15 against Pittsburgh.

Double-digit strikeout games signify going deep into games. Syndergaard went deep with a two-run homer in the fifth but was done an inning later. He expects more of himself.

From how he overpowered the Diamondbacks early in the game, his final line of four runs on seven hits in 5.2 innings was a disappointment despite going to 10-7 in the Mets’ 7-5 victory. Also discouraging was he threw 106 pitches.

Syndergaard took a six-run lead into the sixth. He should have coasted the way he did against Pittsburgh and the Cubs on July 3, his last win before last night. He went into the eighth in those games.

Jake Lamb reached on Rivera’s error and moved to second on a wild pitch. Syndergaard struck out Yasmany Tomas, but gave up a single to Wellington Castillo and two-run triple to Mitch Haniger. A second error by Rivera let in another run. After an infield single, Syndergaard left in favor of Jerry Blevins and the last image of him was throwing his glove in anger in the dugout.

Sure, blame the inning on Rivera, but it’s up to the pitcher to overcome disaster and put away the next hitter, something Syndergaard didn’t do. With his mounting pitch count manager Terry Collins didn’t have the confidence to let him finish the inning.

When Syndergaard cruised early in the game, he challenged hitters inside, his command was sharp and his curveball had bite. All encouraging signs.

“In the middle innings I thought he threw the ball great,” Collins said. “When he commanded his fastball in the right spots they weren’t able to do much against him.”

But, he couldn’t sustain. Whenever he loses it quickly, it raises the question about the bone spur. The Mets believe – and Syndergaard concurs – this is a pain tolerance issue. The spur is something that should be dealt with by surgery in the offseason as it will be with Steven Matz.

“My arm felt great,” Syndergaard said. “I was fluid in my delivery. I felt it was a step in the right direction.;;

There are games, like those against the Pirates and Cubs – and for five innings last night – where he dominates and pitches to the ace-like levels of Dwight Gooden and Tom Seaver. But, he’s not there yet on a consistent basis.

The elbow spur bothers me, and I’m sure it bothers Syndergaard more than he lets on. Of his last seven starts he reached the sixth three times before being pulled. Is it the spur or did hitters catch up to him?

Before last night, Syndergaard had four losses and two no-decisions in his previous six starts. In looking for an explanation for what’s happening one thing surfaces.

This is Syndergaard’s first full season and there are growing pains. His fastball averages 98 and his changeup averages 89, but there’s more to pitching than throwing hard. Just because he throws lightning and is built like a linebacker doesn’t mean he’s automatically Don Drysdale.

Syndergaard is ahead of most with his experience level, but not where he envisions himself. He needs more polish. He must learn to take something off his pitches; to reach back for the 100 mph., heater when he needs it, not with every pitch.

The bone spur is an issue, but one surgery should resolve. The real problem with Syndergaard is the expectations are exceedingly high from the Mets, his teammates, the media, and the fans. Everybody expects more of him – including the pitcher himself – than he is capable of giving.

Too many expect him to be the second Seaver instead of letting him develop into the first Syndergaard. He is still growing. He’s not the force he expects of himself to be.

Not yet, anyway.

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Apr 25

Today In Mets History: The Doc Is In The House

It was early on when we first thought this guy could be pretty good when on this date in 1984, Dwight Gooden became the first teenager since Bert Blyleven in 1970 to strike out ten hitters.

GOODEN: Big start in Montreal. (AP)

GOODEN: Big start in Montreal. (AP)

In a 2-1 victory in 11 innings at Montreal, Gooden struck out ten of the 24 batters he faced. He gave up two hits and walked one in seven innings.

Gooden was 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA as he won the Rookie of the Year, made the All-Star team and finished second in the Cy Young Award balloting.

The Mets scored the game-winner when George Foster drove home Keith Hernandez with a single to left.

Jesse Orosco picked up the victory in relief.

ON DECK: Tonight’s Mets Starter: Noah Syndergaard

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Apr 09

Today In Mets’ HIstory: Carter Hits OD Game-Winning Homer

On this date in 1985, the Mets’ drive to, as manager Davey Johnson said, “to dominate,” began with Gary Carter‘s 10th-inning Opening Day homer gave them a 6-5 victory over St. Louis at Shea Stadium.

Carter Gary Plaque_NBL_0The Mets acquired Carter in an offseason trade with Montreal for Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham and Floyd Youmans.

The Mets’ championship team of 1986 was built around draft picks Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, but the trades for Carter and Keith Hernandez were largely regarded as the final pieces of the puzzle.

The Mets finished second to St. Louis in 1985, but the die had been cast. During spring training in 1986, Johnson said the Mets would “dominate,” that year. The Mets cruised through the regular season, outlasted Houston to win the NLCS with a dramatic win in extra-innings. That was a crucial win because Mike Scott – who was clearly in the Mets’ head – was the Astros’ Game 7 starter.

The Mets rallied to win Game 6 of the World Series in another epic game, to set up Game 7. The Mets came from behind to win that game, also. Carter hit .276 in the World Series with two homers and nine RBI.

Carter played only five years with the Mets and released after the 1989 season. He played three more years in the majors with San Francisco (1990), Los Angeles (1991) and retired after the 1992 season with a farewell tour with Montreal.

After falling short in several votes, Carter was finally inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.

Carter died, February 16, 2012.

ON DECK: Mets Should Skip DeGrom’s Next Start

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