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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Oct 15

Mets Play DeGrom Chip In Game 5

One of the best things about baseball is there is always tomorrow; theres always another game to help erase a bad one. However, eventually the security of a tomorrow fades into the stark reality of one last game. For the Mets, they hope  “another game” won’t be replaced by winter.

For either the Mets or Dodgers, finality could be tonight when Jacob deGrom and Zack Greinke clash with the singular hope of keeping alive their team’s summer.

DE GROM: The one the Mets wanted. (Getty)

DE GROM: The one the Mets wanted. (Getty)

DeGrom said he’s mentally ready, saying he’s had the Subway Series, All-Star Game and Game 1 of this series to expose him to the pressures of big game pitching. You want to believe deGrom, but the truth is he’s never faced the pressure of a Game 5 or a Game 7.

This is a whole new animal.

“We want to make it to the World Series and this is one step toward that,’’ said deGrom, who struck out 13 in a Game 1 victory. “I just think we never give up and we battle until the end.’’

Manager Terry Collins often refers to Matt Harvey as his ace, but deGrom is the one he wanted most to start Game 1, because it meant he’d have him for Game 5. You wouldn’t be incorrect if you thought that was because of Harvey’s innings limitations, but deGrom has been the better pitcher this year.

“If anybody was going to pitch two games in the series for us it would be Jacob deGrom,’’ Collins said. “So it worked out that way. Fortunately we didn’t have to bring him back on short rest. He hasn’t done it, and he’s uncomfortable doing it. So we’re lucky he’s got an extra day.’’

After deGrom, should the Mets need it, they have Noah Syndergaard and Harvey to bridge the gap to closer Jeurys Familia. That’s because the regular-season bridge of Tyler Clippard, Addison Reed and Hansel Robles has been largely unreliable in recent weeks.

Say what you want about the Chase Utley play, but the Mets lost Game 2 because they couldn’t safely get to Familia.

The Mets lost Game 4 mostly because of Clayton Kershaw, but the common thread in the two defeats was another regular-season flaw, that being inconsistent hitting. In the case with Kershaw, it was no hitting.

“When you’re facing Kershaw and Greinke in four of five games you know that runs are going to be at a premium and they have definitely been that with those two guys on the mound,’’ said David Wright, whose bat disappeared this series.

Tonight’s winner gets the Cubs in the NLCS. Although the Mets lost all seven games against Chicago this year and lament the chance to put away the Dodgers Tuesday, Collins likes his team’s attitude.

“Our guys are upbeat,” Collins said. “Nobody wants to fly all the way across the country for one game. But I think we’re as excited as we were [for Game 1].’’

They are in Los Angeles because they kicked away the home field advantage in the final week of the season, but the important thing is they have one more game.

Let’s hope they use it wisely.

ON DECK:  Mets’ Bats Need To Come Alive

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May 13

Mets Lose, Rangers Win In Dramatic Fashion

The TV remote has to be one of the greatest inventions of all time, and it allowed me to switch between the Mets and Rangers tonight. When my eyes weren’t glued on Matt Harvey and the Mets, they were focused on Henrik Lundqvist and the front of the Rangers’ goal.

HARVEY: Great effort equals no decision. (AP)

HARVEY: Great effort equals no decision. (AP)

There’s an obvious disconnect in the paces of the two sports, but each has their different kinds of mounting tensions.

Seconds after Jeurys Familia walked Chris Coghlan to force in the winning run in the ninth inning, Derek Stepan put a rebounded shot in from the left wing in overtime to win a classic Game 7.

There was a slowly, mounting tension as Familia entered a bases-loaded jam in the ninth, and as each pitch missed the strike zone you could see Harvey’s brilliant effort slip away. Meanwhile, at Madison Square Garden there was an incredible steady pressure as the Capitals were literally camped in front of Lundqvist.

Whether it was the Garden or Wrigley Field, there was no margin for error for either New York team. The Mets could afford their third straight loss because after all, it is only May. But, in Manhattan one mistake and the Rangers would welcome in summer instead of Tampa Bay for the Eastern Conference finals.

Harvey entered the game with the plan of using more breaking balls to start off hitters and it worked. A tough luck loser in his last start, Harvey gave up three hits with nine strikeouts in seven scoreless innings. He left with a 1-0 lead, but his sixth victory would not to be as Carlos Torres gave up the tying run in the eighth and loaded the bases to put Familia in a precarious jam he could not escape.

Meanwhile, as Familia struggled the Rangers cleared the puck into the Washington zone and after a brief flurry the puck came to Stepan and he knew what to do with it.

Perhaps, in several months when the Rangers are starting a new season, the Mets might be playing in a Game 7 of their own.

Oct 21

This Series Could Be Special

For as long as I have loved baseball, first as a Little Leaguer with an active imagination, and then as a journalist covering the game I was not good enough to play on the major league level, the World Series always held a special place for me.

I remember bits and pieces of the 1969 Series, but confess I was shocked like most of the country. I admit to playing hooky from school to watch the 1970 Series, but maybe it served me right because I pulled for the Reds.

searchMy favorite Series was the 1975 Red Sox-Reds. Although disappointed in the outcome, it was compelling because of it went seven and Game Six was arguably the best game in history. There was Bernie Carbo’s game-tying homer; Carlton Fisk’s game-winner; and Dwight Evans’ game saving catch.

One of the great stories coming from that Series was Pete Rose telling Fisk something along the lines of, “this is a great game, isn’t it?’’

Next up was Twins-Braves with the classic Jack Morris-John Smoltz Game 7. If not the Fisk game, maybe this was history’s best.

I covered all the Yankees’ titles under Joe Torre, but the most dramatic of them was one they lost, in 2001, to Arizona. Go figure, perhaps the worst throw of Mariano Rivera’s career was after fielding that bunt in the ninth inning of Game 7.

A lot of historic homers were hit in that Series, but my favorite moments the fans chanting Paul O’Neill’s name; the bald eagle Challenger scattering the Yankees before the anthem; and George Bush throwing a ceremonial pitch perfect strike.

Each Series has its defining moment or story line, and I can only imagine what it will be this year.

Some match-ups are more compelling than others, but Giants-Royals – regardless of what ESPN says – will be a Series worthy of our attention. There was actually a Sports Center lead-in actually daring to ask if these teams “deserved,’’ to be there.

The fact is, baseball itself bears responsibility for the appearance of an “unworthy’’ match-up because it tampers with the integrity of its season with interleague play and the unbalanced schedule forcing teams to run different courses to the finish line.

However, these teams, based on being a wild-card entry, each played an additional game. They took on all comers – each having to beat the team with the best record in their league.

They also play the game the way it should be, with pitching, defense, timely hitting and solid bullpens. Both can also hit the long ball when needed, but neither survive by the homer, which is refreshing.

I believe this one has the capability of going seven, which defines “classic,’’ to me. Both teams have reason to believe they can be considered a team of destiny.

I can’t wait to find out which one.

Nov 02

Mets Gambled And Lost On Johan Santana; End Era By Buying Out Contract

The New York Mets took care of business and officially parted ways with often-injured Johan Santana when they paid a $5.5-million buyout Friday, and the classy left-hander, who always wanted to do more – sometimes to his detriment – did the same and thanked the franchise and its fans for their support.

In a statement, Santana said: “I want to thank the Mets organization, my teammates, and, of course, a big thank you to Mets fans, who have been behind me from day one and stood by me through all the good and bad.’’

SANTANA: Era ends.

SANTANA: Era ends.

It was a noble gesture from Santana, something he didn’t have to do after completion of the six-year, $137.5-million contract that made him the highest-paid Mets’ pitcher.

The Mets have not ruled out bringing back Santana at a low-cost deal – which would be on top of the buyout – and toward that end, the left-hander lobbied on his behalf.

“I am not sure what the future holds, as this is all new to me,’’ Santana continued, “but I have every intention of pitching in 2014 and beyond and I am certainly keeping all my options open.’’

After losing in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS and kicking away a seven-game lead with 17 games remaining in 2007, and in dire need of pitching, the Mets gambled big on Santana. They sent four prospects to Minnesota – one of them turning out to be All-Star outfielder Carlos Gomez – to acquire the already damaged left-hander. Then they signed him at the time to the richest contract in franchise history.

Santana became available because both the Yankees and Red Sox backed off, so in essence the Mets were bidding against themselves, and arguably could have had him for less. Subsequently, they issued a contract they didn’t have to at that price. Clearly, they mis-read the market. The deal turned out to symbolize then-GM Omar Minaya’s tenure that included a run of lucrative, underachieving contracts.

Outside a 15-7 record with a league-leading 2.53 ERA in 34 starts in 2008, his first season with the Mets, Santana never completed a full year in New York and didn’t pitch at all in 2011 and 2013 because of shoulder injuries. If a full season is considered 34 starts, Santana left 95 starts on the table. That is more glaring than his production of 46-34, a 3.18 ERA and the only no-hitter in franchise history.

That no-hitter came in just his 12th start after rehabbing from shoulder surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule. To this day, manager Terry Collins laments letting him throw 134 pitches.

Ironically, it was a tainted no-hitter because a blown call on what should have been an extra-base hit for Carlos Beltran was ruled a foul ball. If that call is made correctly, then Santana doesn’t throw that many pitches, then, who really knows?

Santana made only 10 more starts for the Mets before he was shut down in August of 2012. In spring training of 2013, in an angered response to GM Sandy Alderson’s comments he didn’t report in shape, Santana went against his prescribed rehab routine and without Collins’ knowledge, threw off the mound and aggravated the injury.

In another dose of irony, the pitcher often fueled by pride was done in by the same. Santana re-tore the capsule and underwent a second surgery.

To this day, Santana never acknowledged his mistake of throwing off the mound, and Anderson never admitted whether his dig at the left-hander’s condition was meant as motivation and backfired.

Either way, at least publicly, both sides are open for a return. But, don’t bet on it.