Jun 13

These Mets Made You Watch

Yoenis Cespedes has turned out to be one of those hitters, the kind that grab your attention and keep your eyes transfixed to the plate, whether you’re at the ballpark or watching on television. When he steps up, whether you’re heading to the concession stand or the refrigerator your heads turn to him like a rubber necker staring at a highway accident.

STRAWBERRY: Stirred us. (AP)

STRAWBERRY: Stirred us. (AP)

Everything can wait until you see what Cespedes does. It could be another home run; a line drive into the gap; or he could screw himself into the ground striking out. It doesn’t matter because it was an event.

Cespedes is one of four Mets that I believe who mesmerized us with their power.

Dave Kingman was the first. He was long and lean, once a pitcher. But, strong and launched 154 homers in his six years in two stints with the Mets, most of them high, arching moonshots.

Kingman came to the Mets from San Francisco, purchased for merely $150,000. He was the total all-or-nothing slugger with 442 career homers and 1,816 strikeouts.

Another was Hall of Famer Mike Piazza, who hit 220 homers eight years with the Mets. Piazza came to the Mets from the Dodgers – after a week layover in Miami – and lead them to the 2000 World Series. Piazza’s swing uncoiled, almost in slow motion, but the ball jumped off his bat.

Piazza authored arguably the most memorable homer in franchise history with his game-winner over the Braves in the first pro sports event in New York following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Others hit longer or higher home runs. Others hit them in October. But, Piazza’s was undoubtedly the most emotional and will never be forgotten,

Finally, there was Darryl Strawberry, the only one of the group who was home grown. He hit 252 homers in eight years with the Mets, and things froze at Shea when he came to the plate. Strawberry played for the Mets, Yankees, Dodgers and Giants – all four of New York’s baseball teams.

If there was one Strawberry blast that defined his power and strength, it was his blast off the scoreboard clock in old Busch Stadium.

There were other Mets who hit significant, if not dramatic, home runs. David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado. Lenny Dykstra, Rod Swoboda and Tommie Agee also hit memorable home runs for the Mets.

But, Strawberry, Piazza, Kingman and Cespedes made us stop and watch.

 

May 06

Today In Mets’ History: Happy Birthday Willie Mays

In 1969, the 100th Anniversary of Baseball, Joe DiMaggio was voted the game’s greatest player. That was wrong then and certainly was for the next 30 years of DiMaggio’s career. The voters slighted Mays.

You could make valid arguments for Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Hank Aaron. You might also lobby on behalf of Willie Mays, who on this day in 1931 was born in Westfield, Ala.

My vote goes to Babe Ruth as the greatest player in history, with Mays second. In addition to his prodigious power and five tools, Mays will always be remembered for his catch in the 1954 World Series (video) against Cleveland.

Mays’ professional career began in 1947, the same year Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. His major league in 1951, the year DiMaggio retired. They faced each other in the World Series that season.

Mays is first, and foremost, a Giant. He became a Met in 1972 when he was traded for Charlie Williams (perhaps the ultimate trivia question answer) and $50,000 in cash. The driving force behind the trade was, of course, money.

MAYS: Not the best memory. (AP)

MAYS: Not the best memory. (AP)

Giants owner Horace Stoneham, who moved the Giants to San Francisco, was operating a team hemorrhaging money. Mays was nearing retirement and the Giants could not guarantee a job when he stopped playing. The Mets could and brought the icon back to New York.

/a>Mays played a year-and-a-half with the Mets, appearing in only 133 games, but played in the 1973 World Series, in which in went 2-for-7, but is best remembered for falling down in the outfield and his plea after being called out at the plate.

Mays looked like he was playing hurt, and later said, “growing old is a helpless hurt.’’

Mays’ last at-bat was grounding into a force play in Game 3. He retired after the season with a career .302 average with 660 home runs. He appeared in a record 24 All-Star Games. He was a 12-time Gold Glover and three-time MVP.

Mays was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979, the first year of his eligibility, but amazingly didn’t appear on 23 ballots.

May 05

Today In Mets’ History: Pitching Classic At Shea

When Madison Bumgarner went against the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard last Sunday it was a fun matchup featuring the established veteran against the promising phenom. However, on this date in 1965, Shea Stadium was the site of an underappreciated pitching duel between two future Hall of Famers, the Mets going with retread Warren Spahn against the Phillies’ Jim Bunning.

SPAHN: A Met for a moment. (TOPPS)

SPAHN: A Met for a moment. (TOPPS)

Bunning, who pitched a perfect game against the Mets the previous season at Shea, bested Spahn on a four-hitter, winning 1-0, in a game when both pitchers went the distance in a nifty 1:52. The only run scored that day off Spahn came on Bunning’s homer in the sixth.

Spahn pitched 21 years in the majors (20 with the Milwaukee Braves) and compiled a 363-245 record. Many forget he |was 4-12 for the Mets in 1965 before he was released July 17. He signed with the Giants two days later. Spahn won three games with the Giants and retired after that season.

It is conceivable Spahn might have won 400 games had he not spent three years (1943-45) serving in the military during World War II.

The most Spahn ever made during his career was $73,500 in 1965. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973. Spahn died in 2003 at 82 and is buried in Oklahoma.

Bunning was 18-11 with a 2.48 ERA in 36 games (34 starts) lifetime against the Mets, including 10-6 at Shea.

Bunning went 224-184 in nine seasons with Detroit, six with Philadelphia, two with Pittsburgh and one with the Dodgers. He was inducted in the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1996.

 

May 01

Mets Wrap: Is Running On Syndergaard A Big Deal?

Like a shark senses blood in the water, a team will jump all over a pitcher when it detects a weakness, especially when it’s somebody such as the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard, who doesn’t have many.

The book on Syndergaard is you can run on him. No, make that you can run all over him – that is, if you can get on base.

SYNDERGAAARD: You can run on him. (AP)

SYNDERGAAARD: You can run on him. (AP)

Runners have been successful in all ten of their stolen base attempts against Syndergaard, but what the Mets have to figure out is if it is a big deal or something they can live with.

The Giants’ running game resulted in four runs in San Francisco’s 6-1 victory Sunday over the Mets.

“We have to do a better job of holding runners,’’ manager Terry Collins told reporters. “He can’t be that slow to the plate. He can’t be that deliberate. What I don’t want is to get him out of sync.’’

Scoreless going into the fourth, the Giants had runners on the corners with one our following singles by Matt Duffy and Buster Posey. With the count full, Giants manager Bruce Bochy sent Posey to stay out of the double play, which undoubtedly would have been the case on Brandon Belt’s hard-hit ball to second.

So, instead of being out of the inning with no runs, the Giants scratched out a manufactured run, and Hunter Pence followed with a two-run homer.

The Giants eked out another run off Syndergaard in the sixth when Duffy singled and stole second. After a walk to Belt chased Syndergaard in favor of Hansel Robles. Pence followed with a RBI single to pad Madison Bumgarner’s lead.

Syndergaard allowed three steals Sunday – the Giants stole four overall – and five in his previous start against Cincinnati. In his short 15-start career, runners have stolen 27 bases in 29 attempts.

Collins said Syndergaard could incorporate a slide-step to the plate, which is harder for runners to time. The downside is a possible loss in velocity, or worse.

“You don’t want him to lose command,’’ Collins said.

Another downside of a slide step is it could force Syndergaard to tip his pitches, telling the hitter a fastball is coming.

As it is, if a runner gets on against Syndergaard, especially a speed guy leading off an inning, it’s almost a sure double.

Syndergaard is a rising star, but his Achilles Heel is not being able to hold runners. It hurt him Sunday, and will continue to do so in games in which he doesn’t have his best stuff or when the Mets don’t hit.

It’s a flaw that can be corrected, but pitching coach Dan Warthen isn’t likely to make any major mechanical adjustments during the season. This is something the Mets will work on with Syndergaard during spring training.

Or, they could decide Syndergaard is pretty good now the way he is and don’t want to mess with him.

METS GAME WRAP

Game: #23 Record: 15-8  Streak: L 1

SUMMARY: Bumgarner outpitched Syndergaard in a dynamic pitching matchup and was backed by Pence’s three RBI.

KEY MOMENT: By sending the runner to stay out of what would have been an inning-ending double play, the Giants scored a scratch run and set up Pence’s homer.

THUMBS UP: Two hits from Juan Lagares, David Wright and Neil Walker. … It was Curtis Granderson Socks Day, so we don’t have to see any more of those commercials.

THUMBS DOWN: Two runs against the bullpen, including Posey’s homer off Logan Verrett. … Syndergaard threw 98 pitches in 5.2 innings. … The Mets left 12 runners.

EXTRA INNINGS: The Mets’ winning streak was snapped at eight, but they have won five straight series. … Granderson and Lucas Duda sat against Bumgarner. Duda appeared in the eighth as a pinch-hitter for Eric Campbell and grounded into a force out. Granderson also appeared in the game and struck out. … Michael Conforto’s streak of reaching base ended as 17 straight games, also ending a stretch of hitting a double in six consecutive games.

QUOTEBOOK: “He’ll be all right. There will be days like this.’’ – Collins on Conforto going 0-for-5.

BY THE NUMBERS: 0.62: Bumgarner’s career ERA at Citi Field.

PUT A CLOCK ON IT: A pitching coach or manager has 30 seconds from the time he steps out of the dugout to deliver his message and leave the field. Yet, instant replays drag on. There were two replays Sunday, both over a minute.

TOMORROW’S STARTER: Bartolo Colon (1-1, 3.42) goes against the Braves, who have not named their starter. Colon is 8-2 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts against the Braves.

NEXT FOR METS: The Mets close the homestand with three games against the Braves, whom they swept last weekend in Atlanta. After Colon, Matt Harvey (2-3, 4.76 ERA) and Steven Matz (3-1, 3.86) will go for the Mets.

Apr 30

Revisiting Top 20 Mets’ Questions

Entering the season I suggested  20 questions the Mets would need to answer in the positive for them to return to the World Series. From performance to health to various intangibles, every team faces important questions and they don’t disappear just because it played in the World Series the year before.

At the time, I wrote I would periodically revisit those questions to measure how the Mets are progressing.

Here’s how they are doing:

Q: Will they have a World Series hangover or let down?

A: There were a few red flags and a 2-5 start, but they closed the month with a power surge, clubbing 31 homers in their last 14 games. Last April they won 11 straight. They closed the month winning eight straight and 13 of 15. There’s no appearance of any hangover and it looks as if we’ll have our Mets-Nationals pennant race.

WALKER: Mets' player for April. (AP)

WALKER: Mets’ player for April. (AP)

Q: How will manager Terry Collins respond to being a favorite?

A: So far, so good. I wasn’t crazy about him calling the eighth game of the season “must win.” And, I didn’t like him playing David Wright for the whole game Friday with the explanation he wanted him to face the Giants’ lefty relievers in preparation for facing Madison Bumgarner Sunday. What, Wright has never faced a lefty before? But, I do like him moving Michael Conforto to the No. 3 hole, which was the catalyst for the offensive surge. I also liked how he let Hansel Robles face Freddie Freeman when he could have played the lefty-righty percentages. Best of all, I liked how he admitted the Mets might have made a mistake in not giving his starters enough work during spring training. Overall, he’s done a solid job worthy of his extension.

Q: What’s going on with Matt Harvey?

A: After a 7.50 spring training ERA and 0-3 start, there were understandably questions about Harvey. A lot is always demanded from Harvey, and after making it through last season without any problems following Tommy John surgery, the expectations are even higher. He’s pitched better in his last two starts, both wins. No reason for concern right now.

Q: Will Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard pitch to ace status?

A: Syndergaard has been incredible consistently throwing in the high 90s. His secondary pitches have also been dominant. DeGrom missed time with a strained lat muscle and tending to his family because of complications following the birth of his son. Both child and lat are doing fine. He didn’t have a smooth start Saturday against the Giants, but as usually the case with him, he finds a way to pitch through trouble.

Q: What can we expect from Steven Matz?

A: I would say an awful lot. He was hammered in his first start, but won his last three. Matz has been terrific, but like deGrom and Harvey, he’s throwing too many pitches for the innings he works. That eventually could catch up to the bullpen.

Q: How long can the Mets ride Bartolo Colon?

A: Nothing has changed, the plan remains for him to be in the rotation until Zack Wheeler is brought up, which should be around July 1. He would then move to the bullpen.

Q: How thick is Jeurys Familia’s skin?

A: So far, it has been like leather. Familia recently has worked his way out of a tough stretch. He’s converted all seven of his save opportunities with a 2.45 ERA.

Q: How sturdy is the bridge to Familia?

A: This might have been the Mets’ most important pre-season issue, but the bullpen has been solid in all phases. Addison Reed has been a very capable set-up reliever and Antonio Bastardo has pitched well despite a poor spring training. Jim Henderson and Logan Verrett have been more than pleasant surprises. Robles is getting more chances to shine and he’s delivering.

Q: Paging Travis d’Arnaud, are you there?

A: Nope. Once again, he’s on the disabled list, this time with a strained rotator cuff. The Mets still don’t know what he can produce over 500 at-bats and might not find out this year, either. He wasn’t hitting or throwing well at the time of the injury.

Q: Will Lucas Duda be more consistent?

A: When Conforto was moved to the No. 3 hole, Yoenis Cespedes went to clean-up and Duda was dropped to fifth. He’s hitting .240 with four homers and 14 RBI, and again has proven streaky. Four homers a month will give him 24 for the year, which is short of his expectations. Also short of what the Mets want from him.

Q: Will Neil Walker make people forget Daniel Murphy?

A: Walker has been the Mets’ Player of the Month for April with nine homers, tying him with Dave Kingman (1976), Carlos Delgado (2006) and John Buck (2013) for the club record. Sure, Murphy was a terrific month, but Walker has been better than advertised. The question now is: How hard will the Mets try to bring him back?

Q: Is Asdrubal Cabrera an upgrade over Wilmer Flores at shortstop?

A: Cabrera has done it both in the field and at the plate. There’s no uneasiness when a grounder is hit to him.

Q: What can we expect from Wright?

A: Still nobody knows. It takes him two hours to get ready for a game and his back is always a question. Which is why it was foolish to let him play nine innings in a blowout game Friday night. Why push the envelope? Wright has two homers and only five RBI hitting mostly in the second spot in the order. He’s only hitting .143 (3-for-21) with RISP. It’s not about hitting for power, it is about hitting a single when you need it.

Q: One and done for Cespedes?

A: That’s the chance the Mets took when they gave Cespedes an out clause after one season in his three-year deal. If it does happen that way, it has been a fun ride. Cespedes still has his lapses in the field, but he’s locked in at the plate with seven homers and 23 RBI for the month. However, he is on pace to strike out over 200 times.

Q: A breakout year for Conforto?

A: it is sure looking that way. Conforto lit the offense on fire since moving to the No. 3 hole. He closed the month reaching base in 17 straight games and tying a club record with doubles in six straight. He has four homers in his last 14 games. Everything he hits seems to be hard and on a line. Plus, he’s making the plays in the field. He’s not a star in the making. He already is a star.

Q: Will we get another 90 walks from Curtis Granderson?

A: After a slow start Granderson is on a roll. He’s scored 15 runs in his last 13 games and has a .350 on-base percentage. He also has four homers. Granderson still strikes out a lot and isn’t trying to steal anymore.

Q: How deep is the bench?

A: Kevin Plawecki is now a starter with d’Arnaud’s injury. Collins needs to find a way to get Alejandro De Aza and Flores more at-bats. Eventually, the Mets will need them. Rene Rivera is now the backup catcher.

Q: Who gets injured?

A: That’s always the wild card. Right now it is d’Arnaud. Cespedes missed several games with a bruised right leg, then hit a pinch-hit three-run homer to tie a game this week against Cincinnati. Harvey entered the season a question because of a bladder infection. He’s fine now. DeGrom’s lat was a scare, but he’s also fine. Wright, of course, is always a concern.

Q: What’s going with the Nationals?

A: The Nationals sprinted out of the gate and opened up a five-game lead on April 16 that is now down to a half-game. MVP Bryce Harper is playing as if he wants to win it again. Their pitching has also been strong and Murphy is playing well.

Q: Can the Mets get off to another fast start?

A: An 11-game winning streak keyed a 15-8 April record last year and gave them a buffer to overcome injuries and a drastic hitting slump. The Mets had another strong April this year at 15-7, which they needed to keep pace with Washington. The Nationals come to town for a three-game series, May 17-19, and the Mets are in Washington, May 23-25.

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