Oct 11

With Mets Out, Who Do You Root For?

With the Mets hibernating for the winter, who do you root for in the playoffs? When covering a game or team, I try to be very analytical. But when watching a game where I don’t have a reporting interest, I find myself taking sides. I’ll find a storyline, or a player, or something that makes me pull for one team over another.

What about these playoffs?

Well, two teams – Boston and Texas – are done. Just as well. There’s nothing really compelling about the Rangers, and the Red Sox, frankly, have are boring at times. When they were losing every year, they were the frustrated losers you felt sorry for. However, after winning three World Series, their fans have become insufferable, like they have a sense of entitlement. What other teams does that remind you of?

Let’s look at the field and find that nugget:

Giants: Yes, they’ve won three World Series since 2010, more than most teams have won in a lifetime. The Mets have won only two. But, it is how they play that is attractive. If you were up to 3 in the morning watching Game 3 of their NLDS with the Cubs. They aren’t star based – outside of workhorse Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey – but play as a collective unit. They play baseball the right way, with an attention to fundamentals and hustle. My best friend is a Giants’ fan and I like watching the games with him. They have won ten straight elimination games which is truly amazing. I would like them to send the Series back to Chicago, if for nothing else, to see the panic from Cubs fans.

Cubs: I know their story; they haven’t won the World Series since 1908. I get it, but it isn’t as if this group has been playing for nearly a century. After Steve Bartman, if is hard to empathize with their fan base. On the flip side, I do admire their organization for giving David Wright the third base bag last year after the NLCS. Very classy. But, it’s almost like a badge of honor in how their fan base takes defeat. Outside of Wrigley Field, where is their identity outside of losing. Actually, I think it would be a very cool thing for them not to win until 2018, which would be 110 years between titles.

Dodgers: I’m pulling for a Giants-Dodgers NLCS. That would be historic. That would be run. One of the greatest rivalries in sport highlighted in a Championship series. I’ve met Vin Scully, but he’s not calling the games anymore. Their arrive late-leave early fan base in annoying, but it’s Southern California. What can you do? The Dodgers have some great players to watch, like Clayton Kershaw. Would like to see him break his postseason funk. He’s going today. Of course, you could always root for Chase Utley.

Nationals: You can always root for Daniel Murphy, and I see nothing wrong with that. The Mets have had so many rivals through the years and the Nationals are the current team on their dislike radar. To me, there’s nothing compelling either way that would make me want to either cheer or boo them. Not even Bryce Harper.

Indians: I grew up an Indians fan and watched them struggle for years. This truly is a frustrated fan base. I have a good friend who works for the Indians, plus I have all those years going to that big, empty stadium. I still have the boxscore from the first game my dad took me to, plus that memory of he taking me and my brother out of school for Opening Day. I used to take a tape recorder and sit in the upper deck and do play-by-play.  Often I had an entire section to myself. Rocky Colavito, Sam McDowell, Ray Fosse, Sonny Siebert, Luis Tiant. Those were my guys. Plus, Cleveland Stadium had the world’s greatest mustard. Like the Giants, they also have a lot of players under the radar who play the right way. Credit Terry Francona. It’s good to see him back in the playoffs after he was unfairly run out of Boston.

Blue Jays: When I covered the Orioles and Yankees, Toronto was one of my favorite spots on the tour. Love that city. And, they are the only franchise I know that has their own song that they play during the seventh-inning stretch. The Canadian version of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.”  Nice fans, except for the moron who threw the beer can. How can any team sell beer in cans these days with the high jackass factor? The Blue Jays are a fun team to watch. Their World Series teams in 1992 and 1993 were underrated on the all-time greatness meter. This is a very good team with a lot of great players. Could either Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista be future Mets if Yoenis Cespedes leaves?

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Aug 07

Three Mets’ Storylines: Will Walker Be Around In 2017 To Save Them?

Just when it looked as if things couldn’t get bleaker for the Mets, Neil Walker rescued them Sunday afternoon with a two-run, ninth-inning homer.

WALKER: Will they keep him. (AP)

WALKER: Will they keep him. (AP)

It wasn’t the first time Walker picked up the Mets by the scruff of the neck and made me wonder if Walker will be around to save them in 2017. He’s free to leave after this season and there’s been no word on what the Mets’ plans are – or Walker’s.

The Mets were lucky to get him from Pittsburgh after Daniel Murphy left last winter. Ben Zobrist was their first replacement choice, but they were never going to afford him. GM Sandy Alderson let Murphy walk for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which Dilson Herrera as their fall back. Well, Herrera now is in Cincinnati’s farm system.

If they let Walker go as they did Murphy, they will be forced to find a second baseman. Will they go outside? Will it be Wilmer Flores, whom they never want to give a fair chance? Will it be Jose Reyes? Will they bring back Kelly Johnson or try Matt Reynolds?

Whoever they choose, it’s unlikely he’ll match Walker’s production, which will become even more important should Yoenis Cespedes leave and David Wright doesn’t recover. What Walker did Sunday is to remind us how important he has been to the Mets and fragility of their offense.

As has been the case with the Mets a lot lately, the game boiled down to the late innings. Manager Terry Collins pulled Jacob deGrom with the bases loaded, two outs and a one-run lead in the seventh, but Jerry Blevins couldn’t keep Detroit from tying the game and the Mets were in danger of being swept and falling further behind in the wild-card race.

However, the Tigers ran themselves out of the eighth inning to set up Walker’s 19th homer, a drive well into the right-field seats that carried the Mets to a 3-1 victory.

After a sizzling April, Walker went into a dismal slump, but regained his stroke after the All-Star break and took a .489 stretch (22-for-45) into the game. With Cespedes basically a non-entity since early July, Walker kept the Mets afloat; he has three homers and nine RBI over his last dozen games.

Walker approached his at-bat against Francisco Rodriguez wanting to get a fastball early and stay away from the closer’s put-away changeup.

“You hope he leaves something up in the zone and that’s what I got,” Walker said. “With most closers you want to get to them early [in the count] because they have a devastating out pitch.”

Considering the Mets’ overall lack of prowess hitting with RISP and their injuries, one shudders to think where they would be without Walker. For one thing, it’s doubtful they would be three games over .500.

Walker has been crucial to the Mets’ hanging around, and as dismal as they have played, they are one good week from getting a foothold in the wild card race. They are currently nine games behind Washington in the NL East, so that boat is pulling out of the harbor. Still, the wild card is possible, as they trail the second slot by 1.5 games.

Walker’s homer was the headline of the day for the Mets, followed by deGrom’s start and my favorite Ernie Harwell story.

DE GROM START WASTED: The only real concern the Mets have with deGrom is not being able to score runs for him. Sunday marked the 11th time in his short career in which he gave up one or fewer runs and the Mets didn’t give him more than one run.

DeGrom had a 1-0 lead entering the seventh, but the Tigers loaded the bases on Justin Upton’s single, a walk to James McCann and Andrew Romine’s squibber that died near the third base line. Enter Blevins, who was greeted by Ian Kinsler’s weak chopper past the mound to tie the game and ensure deGrom’s seventh no-decision.

Collins said he thought deGrom was losing it after the walk when asked why he didn’t let him finish. For his part, deGrom said, “it was probably the right call,” to pull him.

As for Kinsler’s hit, deGrom said: “You’re trying to get weak contact there or a strikeout. It was a little too weak. It’s all part of the game.”

Fortunately for the Mets, on this day it wasn’t the definitive part of the game.

MY FAVORITE HARWELL STORY:  This series in Detroit reminds me of the late Tigers’ Hall of Fame broadcaster, Ernie Harwell, will always be one of my favorite people I’ve met in sports.

I always heard about his kindness, but experienced it first hand by his selfless gesture toward me in the Tigers’ clubhouse years ago. I was just starting out covering the Indians at the time when I ventured into the Tigers’ clubhouse to get a Kirk Gibson quote.

I waited patiently until the circle around Gibson was breaking up when I approached him. He looked at me and gruffly said, “I’m done for the day,’’ then turned his back. I was more than a little miffed when a TV guy stuck his mike in Gibson’s face. What could I do, show Gibson my resume and clips portfolio?

“What the hell?” I thought. Harwell saw this and walked up to me and said, “Don’t worry about it. That happens all the time.”

I always remembered that and remained grateful for Harwell’s compassion and kindness. He didn’t know me and didn’t have to do that, but that was Ernie.

When I was covering the Yankees I always made it a point to visit with him whenever I was in Detroit.

He was the best. The very best.

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Apr 18

Mets Wrap: Wright’s Power Now A Bonus

The Mets were once a team built around the power of third baseman David Wright. Injuries sapped his power in recent seasons, and with Michael Conforto seemingly set as the No. 3 hitter, Wright is entrenched hitting second, a position in the order that doesn’t demand a lot of power. And, with Yoenis Cespedes and Lucas Duda batting fourth and fifth, not to mention Curtis Granderson at leadoff, the Mets have sources of power from other than Wright.

So, when he has games such as he did Monday, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say his power is now a bonus. However, how he went deep was what we’ve come to expect from Wright when he’s on his game. When Wright hit a pair of opposite-field homers in Monday night’s 5-2 victory at Philadelphia, it shouldn’t come as a surprise of his power to right field. When Wright is going well, he usually drives the ball to right or up the middle.

“It’s something that when I’m feeling decent up there, I can take a pitch out over the plate in that direction,” Wright said.

In doing so, Wright continued to make Citizen Bank Park his personal playground, hitting .293 with 22 homers and 69 RBI in the Phillies’ home stadium.

“Star players should never surprise you with what they can do,” manager Terry Collins told reporters after the game. “He’s dangerous here. In this ballpark, if he puts a good swing on the ball he can be dangerous.”

And, with the other boppers in the Mets’ lineup, their whole order is dangerous.

Mets Game Wrap

Game:  #12  Record: 6-6  Streak: W 2

SUMMARY: Noah Syndergaard struck out eight Phillies – giving him 29 over his first three starts – and backed by the two homers from Wright, and solo drives from Lucas Duda and Neil Walker, the Mets evened their record and have now won three of their last four games on the road.

KEY MOMENT: Back-to-back homers from Duda and Walker broke open the game in the eighth.

THUMBS UP: Asdrubal Cabrera doubled and started a double play in the field. He keeps doing the job. So far, he’s been a big plus. … A scintillating barehand pick-up and throw by Wright to end the third. … Cespedes legged out a triple with two out in the sixth, a sure sign his legs are feeling better. … Duda followed the double with an opposite-field double. … Four homers by Walker already.

THUMBS DOWN: A dozen more strikeouts from Mets’ hitters, including two more from Cespedes, who now has 18 in 12 games with only four walks. The Mets have 98 strikeouts in 12 games (8.16 per game average). … Jeurys Familia was hit hard, but survived the ninth.

EXTRA INNINGS:  Great news. Jacob deGrom took his son, Jaxson, home from the hospital. DeGrom will throw a bullpen Tuesday and could pitch in Atlanta this weekend. … Kevin Plawecki started behind the plate. Collins said d’Arnaud could be available Tuesday. …

QUOTEBOOK:  “He’s gotten so good, so fast, that it is remarkable,” – Collins on Syndergaard.

BY THE NUMBERS: 11: Mets’ homers in their last four games.

NEXT FOR METS: Logan Verrett starts Tuesday night against the Phillies’ Vince Velasquez.

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Apr 17

Mets Wrap: Matz Dominates Indians

Steven Matz came through with a performance both he and the Mets needed. After not making it out of the second inning in his season debut last week against the Marlins, Matz stifled the Indians with seven scoreless innings and nine strikeouts.

Matz showed us exactly what the fuss about him has been all about. He rebounded from what could have been a demoralizing start to up come with the Mets’ most important start of this young season.

MATZ: A stud today. (AP)

MATZ: A stud today. (AP)

Manager Terry Collins said it was a game both Matz and the Mets needed.

“It was a great start,” Collins told reporters. “We needed a big start. It was something both of us needed. He showed us what he can do. I thought he pitched a great game.”

Matz’s  94-pitch effort was good for his psyche, but in the wake of Matt Harvey’s poor start and the uncertainty of Jacob deGrom’s immediate availability, not to mention how much the bullpen has been used lately, his response might represent the Mets’ most important start.

Matz was in command from start to finish and never seriously threatened. In just his eighth career regular-season start, Matz showed us why the Mets so highly regard the left-handers’ future.

What I liked best was when Collins could have pulled him after the sixth, he sent him back out for one more inning. He could have gone eight.

“I was attacking the hitters not pitching scared,” Matz said. “I was trusting my stuff and not trying to nit pick.”

In short, he was a stud today.


Game: #11 Record: 5-6  Streak: W 1

SUMMARY:  By establishing his fastball early, Matz dominated for seven innings, and the Mets put away the game with three runs in both the first and second innings. The game was never in doubt.

KEY MOMENT: After the Mets staked him to a 3-0 lead in the first, Matz set the Indians in the bottom of the inning. The Mets, aided by Indians center fielder Rajai Davis’ two misplays in the sun, scored three more in the second.

THUMBS UP: The Mets went 5-for-7 with runners in scoring position and scored four of their six runs with two outs. … Mets pitchers struck out 15. … Addison Reed and Hansel Robles were strong in relief. … Kevin Plawecki had two hits. … Curtis Granderson’s selectivity continues to improve. … Asdrubal Cabrera bunted home a run in the second and makes all the plays at shortstop. … Lucas Duda’s two-run single. … Michael Conforto keeps raking with two more doubles. Collins said Conforto would stay in the No. 3 hole for a while, except against lefties.

THUMBS DOWN: Ten more strikeouts by Mets’ hitters, including two more from Yoenis Cespedes.

EXTRA INNINGS: Very positive news about Jacob deGrom’s baby. Collins said the couple hopes to take the baby home Monday. … David Wright had the day off as did Travis d’Arnaud. The latter, who has a bruised left forearm, is expected to sit again Monday in Philadelphia.

QUOTEBOOK: “He’ll wind up hitting there one of these days full time.” – Collins on Conforto hitting in the No. 3 hole.

BY THE NUMBERS: 7.27: Matz’s ERA. It was 37.80 at the start of the game.

NEXT FOR METS: Noah Syndergaard starts Monday night in Philadelphia.

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Apr 16

Is It Time To Wonder About Harvey?

Matt Harvey clearly doesn’t have it, and it is time to wonder, not if, but what is wrong with the Mets’ pitcher. Is something bothering him physically or didn’t he get enough work during spring trainiing?

HARVEY: ``Nobody is more frustrated than I am.'' (AP)

HARVEY: “Nobody is more frustrated than I am.” (AP)

After cruising through four innings Saturday in Cleveland, Harvey suddenly lost it and ended up giving up five runs in 5.2 innings to lose his third straight game and watch his ERA balloon to 5.71.

While those are numbers, they are also the product of a fastball in the low 90s. So are opponents hitting .452 in the fifth and sixth innings. In that span his ERA is over 10.00. His sixth-inning ERA is 27.00 alone.

That’s not the stuff of aces.

“The one thing I saw was he was pounding the zone early and then he got some pitches up,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “Right now, I am worried about how he’s cruising along and loses it so fast.”

Harvey doesn’t have an answer, either, but dismissed the idea he was injured.

“I’m fine,” Harvey said. “I’m not hitting a wall. I have to figure out how to get through the fifth and sixth innings and right now I’m not doing that. It’s not only location; everything fell apart. My job is to keep us close and I didn’t do that. I’m going to have to start over and flush this one.”

This leaves greater credence to the theory he didn’t get enough work in spring training. Also supporting that theory was pitching coach Dan Warthen suggesting Harvey might be pressing because of a mechanical issue. Not only is his fastball down, but his slider has no bite and he only threw one significant curveball against the Indians.

If there’s nothing physically wrong, I’m inclined to go back to my initial theory he didn’t get enough work in spring training. Most starters aim to get in 30 innings, but Harvey got only 12, hardly enough to build up the arm strength needed to snap off a breaking ball, especially his slider.

Maybe that theory is wrong, but this much is certain. Something is not right.

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