Oct 28

I Want Bartman To Throw Out First Pitch Tonight

Despite the years 1908 and 1945, can you really call the Chicago Cubs the “underdogs’’ or sentimental favorites in this World Series?

I don’t think so because the Cubs entered the season as heavy favorites to win it all this year. Their off-season shopping of Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and John Lackey, not to mention their in-season acquisitions of Aroldis Chapman and Mike Montgomery, meant they were built to win.

BARTMAN: Cubs need to do right thing. (FOX)

BARTMAN: Cubs need to do right thing. (FOX)

In some ways, how this team was put together was reminiscent of the Yankees and Theo Epstein’s Red Sox. They played by the economic rules of the game, so I don’t have any problem with how they were constructed. When you consider the youth of their team and management’s willingness to spend, they should be good for a long time.

But, that hardly makes them the underdog. Cleveland’s budget, style of play and lack of fielding a winner since 1948 makes them more a sentimental favorite.

All season we’ve been bombarded with Chicago’s history, about curses and bad luck, but that’s not why they haven’t won.

They haven’t won because of how this team was put together. For decades, Cubs ownership and management – much like the Red Sox did – sold the experience of their quaint, historic stadiums over fielding a winning team.

Cubs’ fans, like Red Sox fans prior to 2004, relished the role of lovable, hard-luck losers.

Nowhere was that more emphasized than in 2003 when Steve Bartman did most any fan would have done when Luis Castillo’s foul pop came down on him. He reached for the ball.

We’ll never know if Moises Alou would have caught the ball. But, the bottom line is the Cubs couldn’t put away the Marlins in the eighth inning. Mark Prior went on to walk Castillo. Alex Gonzalez botched a potential double-play grounder and the inning unfolded and before it was over the Marlins had scored eight runs.

I’ll give you the Bartman play being bad luck, but championship teams have to overcome adversity and the Cubs did not. As the game slipped away from the Cubs, Bartman was showered with debris and threats. The Cubs public relations department had to sneak Bartman out of Wrigley Field for his own safety.

In case anybody forgot, the Cubs blew a 5-3 lead in Game 7. Bartman was in hiding at the time, so how could be be blamed for that one?

The Cubs, who once held a 3-1 games advantage, would be denied again. Bartman was vilified, made out to be the personification of 95 years of bad luck, much the way Boston fans vilified Bill Buckner for his Game 6 error in the 1986 World Series.

When a team loses in horrific fashion, there’s a lot of blame to go around. For Alou and Cubs manager Dusty Baker pin it all on Bartman was inexcusable.

For the past 13 years, Bartman kept a low profile. He did not benefit financially in any way despite the offers. He hasn’t sold his story to the press. Hell, he didn’t even come away with the ball.

Speaking through a friend, Bartman apologized profusely and said he wanted nothing more than his childhood team to win a World Series.

How Cubs’ fans – most whom would have reached for that foul ball themselves – treated Bartman through the years has been reprehensible.

Eventually, the Red Sox and their fans kissed and made up with Buckner. The Cubs could go back to being sentimental favorites once again if they invited Bartman to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before tonight’s Game 3 at Wrigley Field.

It would be a magnanimous and classy gesture. I don’t know if they’ll extend the invitation, and I don’t know if Bartman would accept, but it would put a very human face on this World Series.

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Oct 27

Today In Mets’ History: Knight Named MVP To Complete Series Win Over Boston

While we all remember the ball that got by Bill Buckner in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, but sometimes we forget Game 7 also produced a memorable comeback.

Ray Knight's Homer Wins World Ser

                 Ray Knight’s Homer Lead Mets

Perhaps it is because after Game 6 winning the title seemed a foregone conclusion. The Mets steamrolled through the regular season – coming out of spring training manager Davey Johnson said they would dominate – much the way the Cubs did this year.

The Red Sox hardly seemed devastated from their meltdown as they took a 3-0 lead in the second against Ron Darling on back-to-back homers to lead off the inning by Dwight Evans and Rich Gedman, and Wade Boggs’ RBI single.

Meanwhile, Red Sox left-hander Bruce Hurst was on his way to being named Series MVP until the sixth, when the Mets pulled within 3-2 on Keith Hernandez’s RBI single and Gary Carter’s run-producing groundout.

Ray Knight tied the game, 3-3, when he lead off the seventh with a homer off Calvin Schiraldi. The Mets increased their lead to 6-3 later that inning on Rafael Santana’s RBI single and Hernandez’s sacrifice fly.

However, the Red Sox pecked away for two runs in the eighth, but the Mets responded in their half of the inning on Darryl Strawberry’s homer and Jesse Orosco’s RBI single.

While the Mets were tormenting Boston’s bullpen, one question hung over Shea Stadium, and that was why the Red Sox didn’t go to their Game 6 starter, Roger Clemens, for an inning or two?

It might have been pushing things, but Schiraldi spit the bit in Game 6, as did Bob Stanley. Boston used five relievers in the last two innings, so it really never had a chance.

Knight, who drove in five runs and hit .391 (9-for-23), was named Series MVP.

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Oct 21

Kershaw For Dodgers in Game 6 Reminiscent Of Seaver In ’73 – Sort Of

One of the great things about the playoffs is its ability to remind you of great moments past, and Clayton Kershaw going for the Dodgers tomorrow brings to mind the Mets’ decision to start Tom Seaver in Game 6 of the 1973 World Series.

But, that was 43 years ago, and time has a way of blurring details.

SEAVER: Yogi's Waterloo in '73.

SEAVER: Yogi’s Waterloo in ’73.

While the headline of the Dodgers and Mets each going with their aces in Game 6 is the same, there are substantial differences in the situations. The subplots are different.

The first being a sense of urgency. There was none for Yogi Berra’s Mets. Berra started Seaver on short rest to start the game that would have given the Mets the championship. They were ahead 3-2 in the Series and Berra had George Stone, who was 12-3 during the season, for a Game 7. Berra wanted to finish off the Athletics and figured Seaver was his best chance.

However, the Dodgers trail 3-2 after losing twice at home and need the rested Kershaw to keep alive their season. If he does, the Dodgers will attempt to advance with Rich Hill, who, like Stone, is a 12-game winner.

While the situations differ other than each team playing its ace, a Game 6 gets the mind racing and it brought back the memory of Berra’s most difficult and controversial decision.

Visiting the past is one of baseball’s greatest gifts. Too bad it was a lump of coal for the Mets.

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Oct 04

Mets-Giants: Five Key Battles

There are games within the game – the key match-ups – that could determine the winner of Wednesday’s Mets-Giants, wild-card game. The winner goes on to play the Cubs in the NL Division Series. There were alternating times this season that both teams thought that might not be possible.

Because of its Game 7 winner-take-all format, there’s a fragile balance to the individual match-ups, with the slightest play or decision determining whether a team’s season ends or winter begins.

SYNDERGAARD: Mets' biggest key. (FOX)

SYNDERGAARD: Mets’ biggest key. (FOX)

Here are my five most intriguing match-ups:

BATTLE OF THE MANAGERS: While there have been reports the Mets’ Terry Collins could have been fired in August, the Giants’ Bruce Bochy could be a Hall of Famer. Based on winning three World Series titles, I would vote for him. Collins deserves kudos for keeping his team together during a string of adversities and controversies. Doing that should merit serious Manager of the Year consideration. It should be noted some of those controversies were self-induced.

In the end: When faced with a decision Bochy won’t waffle as Collins did in Game 5 of the World Series when he stuck with Matt Harvey.

BATTLE OF THE ACES: Madison Bumgarner vs. Noah Syndergaard is as intriguing as it gets. It is a dream for those loving a pitcher’s duel. While Syndergaard is in his first full season – really hard to believe – Bumgarner is an established postseason presence with the lowest road ERA 0.60 ERA (minimum of 25 innings) in playoff history. Bumgarner’s performance two years ago against Kansas City, when he won Games 1 and 5, then came back on two days to throw five innings in relief for the save in Game 7, is arguably one of the most impressive performances in postseason history.

The Mets like to boast of their young arms – and rightfully so – but Harvey, Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz had a long way to match Bumgarner.

In the end: Syndergaard has the stuff for greatness and he’s pitched hurt. It wouldn’t be surprising if he spins a shutout, as he’s that dominant. But, if you get on you can steal on him, rattle him and drive him from the game. In a big game, there are a handful of names you want: Sandy Koufax (4-3, 0-95 ERA), Cliff Lee (7-0, 1.27 ERA), Andy Pettitte (19-10, 3.83 ERA), Orel Hershiser (8-3, 2.59 ERA), John Smoltz (15-4, 2.67 ERA), Curt Schilling (11-2, 2.23 ERA) and Bumgarner (7-3, 2.14 ERA).

BATTLE OF OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHIES: All season, Collins sang the refrain the Mets were a team built on the home run. The Giants, meanwhile, are a better at stringing together innings and putting pressure on the pitcher. Statistics is baseball’s yardstick. We can get caught up in the new-age numbers, but there are only a few that give a clearer picture.

It’s all about runs.

Mets: 671 runs scored; 218 homers; 649 RBI. Giants: 715 runs scored; 130 homers; 675 RBI.

Batting averages count, too.

Mets: Hit .225 with RISP and .187 with two outs and RISP. Giants: Hit .250 with RISP and .220 with two outs and RISP.

Other important numbers.

Mets: On-base percentage of .316, with 517 walks and 1,302 strikeouts. Giants: On-base percentage of .329 with 572 walks and 1,107 strikeouts.

Summary: The Mets’ inability to hit with RISP has been a storyline all season, and they can’t afford to squander whatever opportunities they’ll get against Bumgarner. While the Mets do live on the homer and clearly have more power with three hitters – Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson hitting over 30 – the Giants outscored them by 44 runs. The Mets don’t prolong innings with walks let too many chances get away by striking out.

BATTLE OF THE STARS

When it comes to the stars, it’s Cespedes against Buster Posey and their contrasting styles of power vs. patience.

Cespedes hit .280 with 31 homers, but only 86 RBI. For all his homers there should be more run production, especially since he hit .278 with RISP. However, his production is offset by 108 strikeouts compared to only 51 walks. In the clutch, pitchers are able to get Cespedes to chase.

Cespedes is an imposing figure at the plate, but his MVP candidacy faded with mediocre numbers after the All-Star break of .246, ten homers and 34 RBI. One red flag entering the postseason was Cespedes’ numbers since Sept. 15, when every one of the Mets’ 15 games was crucial. In his span, Cespedes hit .220 (13-for-59) with one homer and seven RBI, with ten strikeouts and seven RBI.

Another was his non-presence in the Mets’ clubhouse celebration. I appreciate his disappointment in how he ended the season, but this was a team moment and reminiscent of a NFL wide receiver. Yoenis, meet Odell Beckham Jr.

When it comes to needing a homer, you want Cespedes, but what about Posey?

Posey’s.288 average only a handful of points higher than Cespedes, but with only 14 homers. However, he drove in 80 runs creating speculation how many RBI he could have had if matched Cespedes’ power?

He’s a gap hitter with 33 doubles (Cespedes had 25) and better in the clutch with a .311 average with runners on base and .287 with RISP. Posey hit only .221 after the seventh inning, but that’s when he hit five of his homers with 21 RBI.

After the All-Star break, Posey hit .282 with three homers and 38 to pump the brakes on the Giants’ second-half skid. Since Sept. 15, Posey hit .306 (19-for-62) with two homers and 16 RBI (averaged one a game for 16 games) with nine strikeouts and seven walks.

Summary: It depends on what you want. If it’s a homer, go with Cespedes, but Posey is more apt to drive in a run in other ways and keep an inning alive with 68 strikeouts and 64 walks. It comes to this: Who do you want at the plate in the ninth inning, with the game tied with a runner on third with less than two outs?

BATTLE OF THE BULLPENS

Of all the stats, perhaps the most important could leave the others useless, and that’s the Giants’ 29 blown saves, including nine in September. Santiago Casilla (31 saves) lost his closer role to Sergio Romo (four saves), but the Mets’ eighth-inning duo of Addison Reed (40 holds) and Jeurys Familia (51 saves) is the most reliable in the majors.

Summary: Both teams need to get through seven, but with different reasons.

The Giants need to string together enough runs and work Syndergaard’s pitch count to get into the middle of the Mets’ bullpen. If they do that, and Bumgarner gets through the seventh and into the eighth, they can win.

The Mets need to get to Bumgarner enough to a lead entering the eighth. If they do that, and Syndergaard takes the Mets to the Reed-Familia finish line – something he’s done 12 times in 30 starts and only twice in his last five, we could see Bartolo Colon Friday in Chicago.

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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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