Sep 06

Three Mets’ Storylines: Cespedes Primetime Player

When you’re a star, you come through in big moments. You live for them, and that’s what Yoenis Cespedes does for the Mets.

They Mets got Cespedes, and will likely break the bank for him, for nights like Tuesday when he slugged and threw the Mets into a vital crunch-time victory.

CESPEDES: Has a flair for dramatic. (AP)

CESPEDES: Has a flair for dramatic. (AP)

“When you’re a star, that’s what they do,” manager Terry Collins said. “That’s what Ces does. That’s why he’s here. That’s why he gets paid.”

Of his 70 RBI, seven have given the Mets the lead for good, including his two-run homer to dead center in the seventh inning of their 5-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

“When the team is down, I know I have to focus,” Cespedes told SNY.

As I’ve written several times, extending his current three-year, $75-million contract could hamstring the Mets financially in other areas, but there’s no denying this guy is a primetime player. Cespedes carried the Mets last year into the World Series, and he’s doing the same this summer. Five of his 28 homers have tied a game, while eight put the Mets in the lead.

As if that isn’t enough, Cespedes threw out Brandon Phillips at second to end the eighth.

There’s no other descriptor other than clutch.

Cespedes was one of four Mets’ homers, giving them 189 for the season. Curtis Granderson, Jose Reyes and Alejandro De Aza (he hit their 11th pinch-hit homer of the season) crushed the others.

Clearly, Cespedes was the storyline tonight. The others were Rafael Montero and newly acquired reliever Fernando Salas.

MONTERO OFF: Probably the best thing one could say about the performance of the Montero is it could have been worse.

The problem of command that has been an anchor to Montero dragged him down again.

Montero walked four in 4.1 innings. The killer was the walking Zack Cozart in the third as he scored ahead of Adam Duvall’s home run that tied the game.

The two walks Montero gave up in the first two innings, as well as the six in his first start, didn’t hurt him. But, you can only dance out of trouble for so long. Wildness would eventually catch up, and that’s what happened to Montero.

Throwing 79 pitches in less than five innings is the kind of stuff that has always hindered Montero, and is the obstacle keeping him out of the major leagues.

“He’s working hard to stay out of the middle of the plate and he’s missing,” Collins said. “That’s what gets him in trouble. But, I’m very impressed with his arm.”

SALAS LEADS BULLPEN: The Mets have been looking for a seventh-inning stopper for their bullpen all season.

Hansel Robles spit the bit, but perhaps Salas could fit the bill. The Mets picked up Salas in a waiver deal, Aug. 31, from the Angels in exchange for minor league pitcher Erik Manoah.

Robles was sensational from June 21 to August, going 5-0 with a 1.29 ERA. However, he had a meltdown on the mound at Yankee Stadium, Aug. 3, when Mark Teixeira rattled his cage. Since then, he’s given up 15 earned runs in his last 16 innings.

Salas was the fifth of seven Mets’ pitchers – the September call-ups issue must eventually be addressed – and put the Reds down in order in the seventh.

Josh Edgin, Gabriel Ynoa, Josh Smoker, Salas, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia – who registered his 46th save – followed Montero, just the way Collins drew it up.

Sort of.

Please follow me on Twitter

Sep 01

Wilpon To Get Meaningful September Games

Several years ago Mets owner Fred Wilpon said he wanted his team “to play meaningful games in September.” Well, here we are, Sept. 1, and the Mets – after winning nine of 11 games – are just 1.5 games behind St. Louis for the second wild-card.

WILPON: Meaningful games in September. (AP)

WILPON: Meaningful games in September. (AP)

This week alone they leapfrogged Miami – they can complete a four-game sweep of the Marlins today behind Jacob deGrom – and Pittsburgh.

“I like our chances,” GM Sandy Alderson told reporters at Citi Field.

Manager Terry Collins said he told his players “there would be no more meetings,’’ and he thanked them for not rolling over. Huh? Translation: He thanked them for doing their jobs.

Despite numerous injuries – today Neil Walker will announce his intent to have season-ending back surgery – the Mets are in the hunt for a variety of reasons:

* Walker was scorching since late July before going down.

* Yoenis Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera turned it on after coming off the disabled list.

* Bartolo Colon – who did it again Wednesday night – has kept the Mets in nearly every game he’s pitched.

* Spot starters Seth Lugo and Rafael Montero are responsible for three victories alone.

* The starters have generally been good. Noah Syndergaard overcame his funk; Steven Matz was solid before his shoulder did him in; and deGrom had a stretch of ten straight good starts before his last two stinkers.

* Wilmer Flores has continued to hit, and lately that includes against right-handers.

* The bullpen has been good, and twice needed to work over six innings to help either an injured or battered starter.

* They’ve gotten production from role players Kelly Johnson, Alejandro De Aza and Rene Rivera.

All that together adds up to a team. Yes, there has been praise for Cespedes, but he’s been far from the only one. They are in position to compete because they’ve been the essence of a team.

Last night Colon pitched and Johnson and Flores combined to drive in all their runs. Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia closed it for Colon.

You can’t say they were carried by a star.

Will the Mets get back into the playoffs, much less the World Series? I don’t know, but at least they have a chance.

If told at the beginning of the season the Mets would have been 1.5 games behind the wild card with a month to go, would you have taken it?

I would have.

Please follow me on Twitter

Aug 29

Three Mets’ Storylines: Cespedes Makes Statement

It is hard to say what was the more deafening sound, the Citi Field crowd after Yoenis Cespedes’ game-winning homer or the cash register in Jeff Wilpon’s mind ringing up what the Mets might have to pay to bring him back next summer and beyond.

Cespedes has two years remaining on his contract, but can opt out after this season. The contract calls for him to make $27.5 million this year and $25 million in each of the next two seasons.

CESPEDES: Flexes Mets to win. (AP)

CESPEDES: Flexes Mets to win. (AP)

Cespedes said he’d like to stay with the Mets, but stopped short of saying he will come back. If stands to reason that the better Cespedes performs – he had three hits, including his 27th homer in the 10th inning to beat Miami, 2-1 – the greater his leverage.

To bring Cespedes back, they’ll have to increase both dollars and years. It’s easy to say, “well, just give him the money,’’ after what he did Monday, but the Mets will then have to make a decision on Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson, and what to do with Michael Conforto.

Bruce has done little since coming over from the Reds. They could buy out Granderson. And, in April, Conforto was penciled in to be the Mets’ No. 3 hitter for the next decade.

However, none of them have what Cespedes does, which is the ability to jumpstart and carry a team with one swing. The Mets have had only a handful of players that no matter, they force you to watch and not look away when they come to the plate. Dave Kingman was one, then Darryl Strawberry and Mike Piazza. Finally, there is Cespedes, who carried the Mets last season into October, and has been doing it again since coming off the disabled list.

“He’s that kind of player,” manager Terry Collins said. “You expect to see big things from him each and every time he comes up. People pay to see him. They want to see what he can do.”

Cespedes can be infuriating, such as not running out a pop-up that fell for a hit in the first. Against Jose Fernandez, you knew runs would be at a premium and not hustling into scoring position could have bitten them in the end.

Even with his tight right quad, he should have been on second. However, that gets filed away when he takes control of a game as he did facing off against Nick Wittgren with two outs in the tenth.

“In big moments I really try to focus and deliver,” Cespedes said through an interpreter. “I know they were pitching me away, but I was looking for something in.”

Cespedes’ game-winning drive was clearly the top storyline of the night. Jose Reyes stealing a run in the eighth and the pitching from Rafael Montero and the bullpen were the other two.

A REYES RUN: When the Mets signed Reyes at the end of June, they sold the fan base on the premise he would bring energy and speed to their station-to-station offense. What they had in mind was the eighth inning.

Down by a run, Reyes lead off the eighth with a line double into the right field corner. When it appeared Alejandro De Aza failed to advance him on a fly to left, Reyes tagged and moved to third, then scored on a head-first slide following A.J. Ramos’ wild pitch.

Reyes appeared to be hurt on the play when Ramos fell on the Met infielder’s head and left shoulder. Reyes remained in the game, but we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.

MONTERO FILLS BILL: Montero made the spot start because the Mets believed normally scheduled starter Jacob deGrom – who gave up a combined 13 runs in his last two starts – was fatigued. Montero, brought up from Double-A Binghamton, gave up only two hits in five scoreless innings, but threw 100 pitches in large part because he walked six.

If Collins wanted to see if Montero could respond to a challenge, his concerns were answered in the positive. Montero was in constant trouble and left the Marlins stranded with RISP in the first, fourth and fifth.

Montero left the bases loaded in the fourth and needed a double play to get out of the fifth. With how he pitched, Montero will stay after the rosters are expanded, Sept. 1.

While Montero was the unexpected, the bullpen was something they counted on.

Addison Reed gave up a run in the eighth on doubles by Ichiro Suzuki and Xavier Scruggs. The Mets also received scoreless innings from Sean Gilmartin (6th inning), Jerry Blevins (7th), Jeurys Familia (9th) and Josh Smoker (10th).

Combined, the bullpen gave up one run on three hits, one walk and six strikeouts.

Please follow me on Twitter

Aug 14

Three Mets’ Storylines: Is Bone Spur Issue Over For Matz?

The Mets didn’t get their first no-hitter until their 51st season. It was too much to ask for Steven Matz to give them their second four years later.

Matz took a no-hitter into the eighth inning before Alexi Ramirez lined his 105th of the game into right field. Mets manager Terry Collins jumped out of the dugout as if launched by a spring to answer the question that had been on everybody’s mind.

MATZ: Is spur issue over? (AP)

MATZ: Is spur issue over? (AP)

“I wasn’t going to visit the Johan Santana scenario again, I can tell you that,” said Collins revisiting the night of June 1, 2012, when he allowed the veteran left-hander to stay in to throw 134 pitches in the franchise’s only no-hitter.

Santana, who was coming off shoulder surgery, pitched a few good games later that season, but was never the same.

To this day, Collins regrets letting Santana stay in, and he would later say: “It was without a doubt, the worst night I’ve ever spent in baseball.”

Santana was a veteran, but Matz was making just his 28th career start. This is his first full season in the majors. Collins compared the two through the prism of his baseball roots.

“I can’t get away from my background in player development,” Collins said. “I can see the big picture. I wasn’t going to jeopardize his career for one game.”

The big picture includes that Matz has pitched with a bone spur that will require surgery this off-season. There was speculation he might be shut down for the season. However, he’s been superb in his last two starts.

Even had Matz pitched a no-hitter, perhaps the most important thing coming out of the day is he might be past that issue. Matz threw 105 pitches in beating San Diego, 5-1, Sunday; he threw a career high 120 pitches earlier in the week in a 5-3 loss to Arizona.

“I think it has been out of my mind for awhile,” Matz said of the bone spur. “It has been since I decided to pitch with it. … My arm has been feeling great. I’ve had no problems.”

Matz thanked Collins for letting him stay in for 120 pitches against Arizona.

“I think it’s good when you get deep into games,” he said. “You have to have better command of your pitches when you’re not throwing as hard.”

Matz was the story of the day. The other storylines was the offense and the upcoming schedule.

TACK ON RUNS: The Mets first got on the board with homers from Wilmer Flores and Neil Walker, but more impressive were three manufactured runs in the eighth inning.

In the epitome of a manufactured run, Jose Reyes singled, stole second and went to third on the catcher’s throw into center, and scored on a wild pitch.

They added two more on T.J. Rivera’s two-run double.

The late runs enabled Collins to by-pass Jeurys Familia because it wasn’t a save situation, thereby keeping him fresh for Monday.

THE SCHEDULE: After being swept by Arizona, the Mets have won two of three since Collins’ post-game rant to finish the homestand 2-4. They two victories marked the first time they won back-to-back games since before the All-Star break.

The Mets begin an 11-game road trip Monday in Arizona, with three games against the Diamondbacks, four with the Giants and three in St. Louis.

With the victory the Mets moved one game over .500 and are two games behind the second wild card spot. The Dodgers, Marlins, Cardinals and Pirates are ahead of them.

There have been several times this season when Collins looked ahead at a portion of the Mets’ schedule and defined it as vital. He made no such proclamation before this time.

He didn’t have to.

Please follow me on Twitter

Aug 11

Mets Realizing Last Year’s Magic Is Gone

The Mets have had two moments since late July that should have spurred them on a tear, but they failed to capitalize and run with the momentum. Even worse, they failed to win with those games.

The first was Yoenis Cespedes’ titanic game-tying blast, July 27, against St. Louis. That was the night Jeurys Familia blew his first save opportunity after converting 52 straight.

COLLINS: Realizing the futility. (AP)

COLLINS: Realizing the futility. (AP)

The second was last night when Kelly Johnson put it into the upper deck in right to force extra innings against Arizona. With Familia already spent, they lost in 12 innings when Oscar Hernandez homered off Jerry Blevins.

They would have run with those moments last year. In 2015, they faced a multitude of injuries, bad luck, lengthy hitting slumps and bullpen breakdowns, but somehow found a way to overcome.

“We know (know) tough times,’’ manager Terry Collins said after their latest. “But we’re not coming through when we need to as we did a year ago.”

There are even more injuries this season, and today they will put out their 89th different lineup in 114 games; the team’s collective hitting slump seems longer and deeper, and Collins has made several mind-numbing managerial calls.

Never mind getting on a tear, the Mets haven’t won back-to-back games in over a month. They were supposed to own New York after going to the World Series last year, but today have the same record as the Yankees, who have scuttled their season in the hope of the future.

The Mets trail the Nationals by ten games, so that won’t happen. Talk to most people and 87 wins appear to be the magic number for getting in as a wild card. At 57-56, the Mets would have to go 30-19 in their remaining games.

It’s possible, but they would need to capture the same magical spark they did last year. The home runs by Cespedes and Johnson could have been those sparks, but instead of igniting something, they were snuffed.

The proof this isn’t last year.

Please follow me on Twitter