Nov 01

What History Will Be Written Tonight?

Home runs and extra-inning games don’t necessarily define a great World Series. Those things, plus a tight and compelling Game 7 – which could also have aces Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel working out of the bullpen – could lift the 2017 World Series into the category of classic.

Sometime after midnight, and probably for the sixth time during this Series after the sixth inning, MLB will have a new champion, and the 39th crowned after a Game 7.

“This is the biggest stage, the best stage, an opportunity to win the World Series in Game 7,’’ said Astros manager A.J. Hinch.

Hinch’s ace, Justin Verlander, the loser in Game 6 who could be available for a batter or two tonight, said Game 7 was inevitable.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, said the same: “It seems fitting. You’ve got the two best teams in baseball going head to head. Like we’ve talked about from the beginning, these two teams mirror one another. And the compete and fight in both teams is the most important thing I see as similarities.’’

The Dodgers won 104 games this season, while the Astros won 101 games. It is the first time since 1970 – Orioles vs. Reds – that both teams won over 100 games.

This World Series has had just about everything. Outstanding pitching and explosive offense. It has had great defense and crappy defense. It has had stars, both on the field and in the stands – although a few less shots of celebrities would be nice.

There’s been so much to like about this Series. The one thing it hasn’t had is former Mets start Carlos Beltran delivering in the clutch.

Maybe we’ll get that tonight.

Oct 18

Playoff Scheduling Needs Fixing

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said the experience of coming from two games down to beat Cleveland in the Division Series helped them in coming back from two games down to take a three-games-to-two series lead over the Astros with the ALCS heading back to Houston.

While it could have a contributing factor, I think it is secondary to Major League Baseball’s inane playoff scheduling of 2-3-2, which in this case rewards the wild-card team of having three straight games at home.

Such a format neutralizes the home field advantage the Astros earned by winning 101 games during the regular season compared to the Yankees winning 91 games.

Isn’t having the best record supposed to stand for something?

The fairest playoff format in all sports for a seven-game playoff series is 2-2-1-1-1. Baseball doesn’t do it that way, saying it wants to cut down on cross-country travel. Seriously? In October it wants to cut down on the travel?

Beginning with the wild-card games, why do they have to be played on different dates? That’s because MLB cares more about playing as many games as possible in primetime.

Normally, that would carry some weight if we were talking about the major networks broadcasting the games. But, instead there were games telecast on four networks: FOX, FX1, TBS and MLB Network.

I wonder how much of the country missed out on some games?

For the ALCS and NLCS rounds, only four times was each league scheduled on the same date. That’s ridiculous scheduling.

It’s bad enough that if the World Series goes seven games, Game 7 will be played Nov. 1.  I know things will never go back to the way it was, and I know MLB – like all sports – cares more about placating television than the fans in the stands, but c’mon, you have to do better than this.

With some creative scheduling during the regular season, MLB could easily cut a week off the calendar and start the playoffs earlier.

For example, since we have the unbalanced schedule thanks to interleague play, have at least once a month have teams play day-night doubleheaders within the division. Three home; three away.

That would cut six days off the schedule, it would make for more off days during the season, and enable the playoffs to start a week earlier.

C’mon Manfred, be a commissioner for the game and not just the owners.

 

Apr 30

Plenty Of Blame To Go Around In Syndergaard Fiasco

“MRI? MRI? I don’t need no stinkin’ MRI.” – Noah Syndergaard

As I wrote this morning, Noah Syndergaard’s refusal to take an MRI on his sore right arm – biceps tendinitis was the initial diagnosis – smacked of stupidity and arrogance, from both the pitcher and management.

As for Syndergaard, I get it, you think of yourself as the fictional superhero the media and fans label you and there’s the desire to show how tough you are. However, save it for Game 7 of the World Series, not Game 24 in April, when your team’s season and arguably your career, could be on the line.

SYNDERGAARD: Walks away, wheels turning. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Walks away, wheels turning. (AP)

Long before Syndergaard and the Mets were torched 23-5 by the Nationals today, it has been a bad week for the ace, who was first scratched with what was called a “tired arm’’ Wednesday and upgraded to biceps tendinitis the following day, one in which he ripped into a club official in the clubhouse and was subsequently called out in the press.

Finally, there was Syndergaard’s refusal to get an MRI, saying at the time: “I think I know my body best. I’m pretty in tune with my body, and that’s exactly why I refused to take the MRI.”

So, Noah, what’s your body telling you now as you head to New York for the MRI tomorrow morning you refused?

Mets GM Sandy Alderson told reporters it is a “possible lat strain, which may or may not be related to his original problem … we’ll know more after he’s examined.”

While the biceps and lat aren’t physically connected, even so, why push it? There was no mistaking everything about Syndergaard’s performance today was not right. Yes, he threw 100 mph., early, but his command was off and he gave up five runs in the first inning.

Then, it looked as if Syndergaard sensed something wasn’t right and muscled up on his pitches as to throw harder in the second. When he reached under his armpit after throwing a strike to Bryce Harper with one out, you knew the second-guess wheels were spinning. And, not just from Syndergaard.

Alderson, who defiantly said, “I can’t strap him down and throw him in the tube,” after Syndergaard brushed back the MRI the way he would a hitter crowding the plate. Alderson didn’t address whether he should have insisted Syndergaard get the MRI or prohibited from pitching until he did. He also didn’t revisit the issue with his pitcher.

“We didn’t get into that,” Alderson said. “I didn’t think it was necessary at that particular time. He understands something is going on now.”

As for Collins, considering what Syndergaard has physically been going through, it had to be apparent to him the pitcher he wasn’t right in the first.

Collins had to make the decision to pull Syndergaard early if not give him the ball in the first place.

Nobody is blameless in this.

ON DECK LATER TODAY: Mets Wrap: Duda not ready.

Nov 04

How Mets Compare To Cubs

After 108 years, the Chicago Cubs finally won their World Series. The curses are over, so perhaps they can do the right thing and invite Steve Bartman to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day 2017.

It would be a classy gesture, akin to the Red Sox making up with Bill Buckner – who, by the way – felt the curses of both the Red Sox and Cubs.

REED: A priority. (AP)

                    REED: A priority. (AP)

I doubt it would happen, but I always root for the good story. Meanwhile, our Mets have a title drought of our own – 30 long years.

The Cubs won 103 games this summer and the Mets won 87, but is 16 games the real separation between the two teams? The Mets can’t go back to their four-game sweep of the Cubs in last year’s NLCS or a sweep of them this summer at Citi Field.

The Cubs roared past the Mets, and here’s a position-by-position comparison between the franchises:

FRONT OFFICE: Theo Epstein had a plan when he took over in 2012, and it was only four years before he lead a parade in Chicago. Like was said of the Yankees’ Brian Cashman over the years, he better win that payroll. ($171 million and license to spend).

Meanwhile, Mets GM Sandy Alderson’s mission statement when he was hired in 2010 was to get rid of burdensome contracts – Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and Francisco Rodriguez to name a few – and cut payroll, which he did.

The Mets’ payroll was $126 million in Alderson’s first year and jumped to $142 million in 2011 because of existing obligations, but from 2012- 2014 had sub-$100 million payrolls.

It subsequently jumped to $135 million this year for Opening Day.

Unlike Epstein, Alderson does not have free reign to spend because the Mets are still recovering from the Ponzi scandal.

EDGE: Chicago.

MANAGER: Joe Maddon is regarded as one of the game’s best minds, but in all fairness with his moves in Games 6 and 7, it would be accurate to say the Cubs won in spite of him and not because of him.

He abused reliever Aroldis Chapman in the last three games. It was absurd he sent Chapman out for the ninth with a huge lead in Game 6. I was stunned he sent him out for the ninth, but it also showed extreme confidence in Chapman but also underscored an overall lack of faith he had in the rest of the bullpen. That’s something Terry Collins would never have done.

I thought he pulled Kyle Hendricks way too soon, something we’ve seen of Collins frequently.

The bunt call with Javier Baez was foolish. There were other moments, but those stood out the most.

But Maddon caught some breaks. The last two games in Cleveland allowed him to use Kyle Schwarber as the DH. Think about that Cubs fans when you rail against American League baseball.

The Cubs also caught a huge break with the rain delay that gave them a much-needed timeout. It also took steam from the Indians.

Since Collins replaced Jerry Manuel, he was initially hamstrung with a limited payroll and Alderson’s domineering hand of calling the shots.

Collins’ in-game managing can be head scratching, especially the use of his bullpen and bench. He has shown questionable loyalties to his players, notably Matt Harvey, Michael Conforto, Wilmer Flores and Yoenis Cespedes.

He has been let down numerous times, but his players hustle for him.

EDGE: Chicago.

ROTATION: Jake Arrieta won 22 games in 2015 to win the NL Cy Young Award. Either Jon Lester or Hendricks could win it this year. They have one more season with John Lackey and Jason Hammel is the fifth starter.

Most of the pre-season pitching accolades went to the Mets’ young core of Harvey, Jake deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steve Matz. Throw in Zack Wheeler and four of the five are coming off surgery. Bartolo Colon is a free agent, but the Mets want him back.

However, that’s no guarantee he’ll be back. Nothing is assured, including Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman picking up where they left off. They gave the Mets a brief, but an impressive window.

The bottom line is the Mets’ rotation can be terrific, but with the surgeries and relative inexperience, they enter spring training with a myriad of questions.

EDGE: Chicago.

BULLPEN

With Chapman on the free-agent market and Maddon’s obvious lack of faith in his bullpen, the Cubs have serious questions.

Mike Montgomery is 27 and worked a lot in the postseason. They also had Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards and Justin Grimm on the postseason roster. They are under 30, had decent seasons, but Maddon had little faith in them in Games 6 of 7. We’ll never know what Maddon would have done if Game 7 went longer.

The Mets have serious bullpen issues with Jeurys Familia facing at least a 30-game suspension and Addison Reed entering free agency. Honestly, they are in a world of hurt in their bullpen.

If you assume Chapman is gone, the same assumption can be made of Reed, left-hander Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas. They already decided against Jim Henderson. Josh Edgin had a short rebound season from surgery. Hansel Robles is coming off a hot-and-cold season, as did Logan Verrett.

Erik Goeddel and Sean Gilmartin also made appearances, as did Rafael Montero.

EDGE: Even.

CATCHING: Ironically, Maddon’s lack of faith in his bullpen prompted going to Jon Lester, and with him, his personal catcher David Ross. Ross homered to help win Game 7 and retire in style.

The Cubs still list Schwarber as a catcher, but after knee surgery, that won’t happen. Willson Contreras had a good year and enters spring training No. 1.

Travis d’Arnaud was hurt each of the last two seasons and still needs to prove he can hit. Kevin Plawecki and Rene Rivera are back-ups. The Mets need a serious upgrade here.

EDGE: Chicago.

FIRST BASE: It’s Anthony Rizzo (.292/32 HR/109 RBI) for the Cubs against the Mets’ perpetually injured Lucas Duda, and possibly James Loney.

The Mets are also toying with the idea of experimenting with Conforto and David Wright at first. It is a reach.

EDGE: Chicago.

SECOND BASE: When Schwarber was injured, Ben Zobrist played more in left field, and that gave Javier Baez more time at second base.

The versatility of MVP candidate Kris Bryant, who can play the infield and outfield corners, enabled Maddon to keep Zobrist fresh at second.

The Mets were surprised by Neil Walker’s power, but he’s a free-agent coming off back surgery. The most they’ll extend is probably a one-year qualifying. They still have Flores, who they repeatedly showed a lack of faith, and the up-and-coming T.J. Rivera. Kelly Johnson, who filed for free agency. Will they trade for him for a third straight season?

EDGE: Chicago.

SHORTSTOP

The Cubs’ Addison Russell is one of the game’s rising stars, while Asdrubal Cabrera was arguably the Mets’ MVP.

However, Cabrera showed breakdown signs several times last summer. They have him for another year and Collins needs to do a better job of resting him.

EDGE: Chicago.

THIRD BASE

If not Rizzo, Bryant (.292/39/102) could be the NL MVP. He’s 24, terrific in the clutch and can play four positions.

The Mets don’t know if Wright will be back, and if he does, where he’ll play and how much are issues. If he doesn’t, they’ll go with Jose Reyes and Flores.

EDGE: Chicago.

LEFT FIELD

The Cubs have the combination of Zobrist – whom the Mets’ coveted after the 2015 season – and Schwarber. The World Series MVP, Zobrist is also one of baseball’s good guys as he signed autographs outside his Chicago home.

How many remember that Albert Belle chased down trick-or-treaters in his truck?

Zobrist is versatile, has power and hits in the clutch. Small wonder the Mets and Nationals both wanted him. Schwarber, meanwhile, thanks to the DH rule was a factor with awesome power.

The assumption is Cespedes will be gone, leaving left field to Conforto. Curtis Granderson could also get time in left with Jay Bruce brought back to play right field.

EDGE: Chicago.

CENTER FIELD: Dexter Fowler had a terrific season, but is a free agent. He said the Cubs are on his list, but as I did in left field with the Mets and Cespedes, I will assume he’ll be gone.

If the Cubs don’t bring back Fowler, and since there’s no way of knowing who’ll the Cubs will fish for, their internal option is 22-year-old Albert Almora Jr.

Ideally, the Mets wanted Cespedes in center, but he balked. Juan Lagares was injured for a good part of the season, but returned to play well.

Granderson will also get center field time in his last season with the Mets because of Bruce’s presence in right field.

EDGE: Mets.

RIGHT FIELD: The Cubs didn’t get $180 million worth from Jason Heyward. He has a tremendous glove, but his bat went into hibernation this summer.

Bruce struggled after coming over from Cincinnati, but picked it up at the end. Even so, it was a good pick-up, and he’s more economically feasible than either Cespedes or Heyward.

When Bruce isn’t playing, they can turn to Granderson.

EDGE: Mets.

 

Nov 01

Looking For Game 6 History

Whatever happens tonight, I won’t pull a Keith Hernandez and leave before the last out the way he did thirty years ago in Game 6 of the Mets-Red Sox World Series.

I’ll stay to the very end, hoping all the time the Cleveland Indians – the team I grew up rooting for watching on a black-and-white TV set or going to that drafty old barn of a stadium – will hold on to win their first World Series since 1948.

FISK: Historic moment. (FOX)

FISK: Historic moment. (FOX)

There will be unmistakable tension tonight in Cleveland emanating from both dugouts. If the Indians are losing, well, you can read the script running through their players’ minds: “Are we about to blow this?”

Of course, in the Cubs’ dugout, if they are losing and the stadium gets louder and louder, there will be the obvious thoughts of a 103-win season going down the toilet.

For a World Series to be a true classic, it has to go seven games. However, for there to be a Game 7 there has to be a Game 6 first and many of baseball’s greatest games have been a Game 6.

As much as I savor tight, tension-filled baseball, I’d be happy if the Indians did what Kansas City did in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series, which was to rout San Francisco, 10-0.

That night, the Royals were fighting to stay alive, but ran into the buzzsaw otherwise known as Madison Bumgarner, who came back from a Game 5, complete-game shutout to throw five scoreless innings in relief in Game 7.

There have been many memorable Game Sixes, but I’ve chosen five I’ve witnessed personally.

THE GREATEST GAME EVER: To me, this was the best game I’ve seen. I was going to college in Ohio in 1975 and watched the game in the student union. As the game moved into extra innings they kept the building open so we could watch. I was one of the few watching that pulled for the Red Sox in a room full of Reds’ fans.

This game had numerous electrifying moments and produced one of baseball’s most enduring images Carlton Fisk waiving his game-winning, home run ball fair in the 12th inning. That homer was made possible by Bernie Carbo’s three-run, two-strike, pinch-hit game-tying homer in the eighth inning.

Fisk’s moment delayed what Red Sox fans would call the inevitable, as Boston lost Game 7 at Fenway Park.

THE CARDINALS STAY ALIVE: Pitch for pitch, this one compared to the Fisk game as the Cardinals were twice one strike away from elimination in 2011, but rallied to tie with a two-run ninth and two-run tenth to stun the Texas Rangers, 10-9, and force a Game 7, which they won.

The title iced a remarkable season in which the Cardinals overcame a 10 ½-game deficit to reach the playoffs. All too often when a team makes a dramatic run at the postseason, like the Bobby Thomson Giants in 1951 and the Bucky Dent Yankees of 1978, it is emotionally spent by the World Series.

Local boy, David Freese tied it with a two-run triple in the ninth and won it with a homer in the 11thinning.

The game-turned-heavyweight fight featured five ties and six lead changes, and nobody complained that it lasted 4 hours, 33 minutes. That’s one of the beauties of baseball. When it’s compelling and dramatic like these Game Sixes, the games can last indefinitely and will leave you wanting more.

Game 7 was a dud, with the Cardinals wrapping it up, 6-2, the next night.

HAVE ONE FOR KEITH: It will be part of Mets’ lore forever. The Mets steamrolled through the National League, winning 108 games, but their destiny seemed to be derailed when Dave Henderson homered to lead off the tenth and Marty Barrett added a RBI single later that inning.

The Red Sox took a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the inning. The first two Mets, Wally Backman and Hernandez flied out. After getting back to the dugout, Hernandez retreated to manager Davey Johnson’s office where he popped open a beer to watch the Mets’ dreams slip away.

I was watching in my late father-in-law’s den. He was a Mets’ fan and we saw a game at Shea Stadium that summer. Speaking too soon, I told him, “well, it has been a great season for them.’’

But, Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight singled off reliever Calvin Schiraldi to pull the Mets a run closer. Bob Stanley threw a wild-pitch that allowed Mitchell to score.

By this time, we knew the outcome was inevitable. We just didn’t know it would happen in one of the most incredible endings in history when Mookie Wilson’s slow roller squirted through Bill Buckner’s legs for a 6-5 victory.

The Mets went on to win Game 7, 8-5. and overcame a three-run deficit to do it.

That game was made possible because the Mets prevailed against Houston over 16 innings in Game 6 of the NLCS. Hernandez called it a crucial victory as it kept the Mets from facing Mike Scott, who beat them in Games 1 and 4.

MAYBE THE WORST CALL EVER:  One of the game’s most infamous calls came in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series that might have kept St. Louis from winning. Facing elimination and down 1-0 going into the ninth inning, umpire Don Denkinger ruled Kansas City’s Jorge Orta safe at first on a play in which he was clearly out.

The Royals went on to win that game, 2-1, then routed the Cardinals, 11-0, in Game 7.

WE’LL SEE YOU TOMORROW:  That was Jack Buck’s great call after Minnesota’s Kirby Puckett homered in the 11th inning off Atlanta’s Charlie Leibrandt to keep the Series alive for the Twins with a 4-3 victory in the Metrodome.

Puckett’s drive set up Jack Morris’ ten-inning shutout, 1-0, in arguably, outside of Don Larsen’s perfect game, might have been the greatest Series game pitched.

HAIL, THE RALLY MONKEY: I saw this one live, covering the game in Anaheim. I loved the Angels’ rally monkey, which began with a famous movie clip where the monkey was interjected at the critical spot. My favorite was the Animal House screen where John Belushi was on the ladder and instead of the girl undressing you see the monkey.

Often forgotten, perhaps because the game wasn’t decided on a game-ending hit, Anaheim rallied from five runs down in the seventh inning to beat San Francisco, 6-5. The Angels scored three in the seventh and three in the eighth to win.

There as no suspense in Game 7, won 4-1 by the Angels with all the runs scored in the first three innings.

ORIOLES STAY ALIVE:  The Orioles were on the cusp of a championship when they returned home for Game 6 of the 1971 World Series. The Pirates started reliever Bob Moose, who took a 2-0 lead into the sixth. The Orioles chipped away to send the game into extra innings.

The Pirates loaded the bases in the tenth inning, but Dave McNally came out of the bullpen to snuff the threat, and Brooks Robinson won it, 3-2, with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning.

However, was Roberto Clemente’s World Series. He homered in Game 7 (he had two overall with four RBI while hitting .414 to be named MVP) as the Pirates won, 2-1.

This Series was noted for playing games at night for the first time and the game has never been the same since.