Nov 10

Mets Should Go With Smith At First

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the Mets’ need for a first baseman and where Dominic Smith fits into their plans. By any numerical system – conventional statistics or analytics – Smith did not have a good debut with the Mets last summer.

SMITH: Give him a real chance. (AP)

SMITH: Give him a real chance. (AP)

Smith, the 11th overall pick in the 2013 draft, exceeded his rookie status in 49 games and 167 at-bats last season. He hit .198 with a .262 on-base percentage and .658 OPS. However, those are just numbers, just like his 49 strikeouts (matching the number of games played) and only 14 walks. However, of his 33 hits, nine were homers.

All this has led to columns about the Mets going after Eric Hosmer or reuniting with Jay Bruce – cue singer: “To dream, the impossible dream.’’ – or maybe Carlos Santana, Logan Morrison or Adam Lind.

Smith will earn the major league minimum of $507,500.

Of all the names mentioned, Washington’s Lind, who earned $500,000 last season, is the one most likely to fit into GM Sandy Alderson’s budget. However, Lind has a lifetime .272 average with 200 homers, including 14 last year, so the Mets shouldn’t be so eager to celebrate – or write any checks.

At 34, Lind is probably looking at his last contract. That he also played in 25 games in the outfield last year could work to the Mets’ advantage. His age means he’ll be more likely to accept a one-year deal.

At 31, Santana, who hit 23 homers with 79 RBI for Cleveland, earned $12 million last year. He’ll be looking for at least a three-year deal. He’s too expensive.

At 30, Morrison, would be a great addition. He hit 38 homers with 85 RBI, but would want significantly more than the $2.5 million he made last year with Tampa Bay. Morrison is reported to be interested in Kansas City as the Royals will lose Hosmer.

As for Bruce, it is reported he wants $90 million over five years, but has a lower estimated landing price of $40 million over three years.

Either way, that’s too rich for Alderson’s blood.

All the names linked to the Mets are predicated on them being as competitive as Alderson believes. If they really are – and I’ve heard of nobody other than Alderson who thinks that way – then go for it.

The Mets won 70 games last year and one NL Scout thinks they’ll be lucky to win 80 in 2017, which won’t do it.

“They have too many holes,’’ the scout said. “Even if all their pitching issues work out for them, they just don’t have enough to contend. They need a second baseman and third baseman, and who knows how Amed Rosario will pan out over a full year? There’s also questions at catcher and first base, plus there are concerns about the health of Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto.’’

With a reported $30 million Alderson has to spend, and a large part of that will go in arbitration cases (Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Travis d’Arnaud and Wilmer Flores.

So, where does that leave us with Smith?

I don’t think the Mets will be as good as Alderson thinks, but you already knew that, being the negative SOB that I am. If the Mets were a player away and money wasn’t an issue, I’d say go for it.

But, they aren’t.

The Mets will be lucky to finish .500, so why not go with Smith and Flores? Let’s give Smith at least to the All-Star break to see what he has, or platoon him with Flores.

In what figures to be another losing season, let’s see if they can find a nugget in Smith. It’s a better option than throwing a lot of money at a player who won’t turn things around and will be gone in a couple of years.

Oct 25

Beltran Is Why I Am Rooting For Astros

In games I don’t cover and just watch for fun, I have to take a rooting interest, otherwise why bother? So, it is a no-brainer for me to pull for the Houston Astros, who entered the National League in 1962 with the Mets.

I also worked for the Astros right out of college and still have a lot of friends in Houston. Outside of those links, there are two reasons why I am pulling for the Astros.

BELTRAN: My World Series hook. (AP)

BELTRAN: My World Series hook. (AP)

I understand why but don’t like the Dodgers leaving Curtis Granderson off the World Series roster. We all know how much he brings to a team and clubhouse and how he delivers in the clutch.

Logically, I understand their reasoning. With shortstop Corey Seager now active, Chris Taylor was moved to center field. My argument took a hit when Taylor homered on the game’s first pitch.

Even so, I do have a sentimental bone and love watching Granderson, and this could have been his last chance to play in a World Series.

It would have been sweet if Granderson homered to beat the Yankees in the World Series – at Yankee Stadium, of course.

And, I always liked Justin Turner, who homered again last night. Mickey Callaway said at his press conference that he is going to go out of his way to show the players he cares about them.

Frankly, Turner was run out of town and not appreciated by the Mets. The same applies to Carlos Beltran. This will be Beltran’s last chance to play in a World Series and I can’t help but feel happy for him. Beltran has always been one of my favorite players to cover.

Win or lose, he was always stand-up after games. He always answered questions no matter how he played. He often played hurt, playing with a fractured face from an outfield collision in 2005. Even so, arguably the Mets’ best all-time position player was never truly appreciated by fans of the team, but certainly was in the clubhouse.

I hated how Beltran was treated by the team at the end of his Mets’ tenure when GM Sandy Alderson didn’t appreciate the gravity of Beltran’s knee injury and the player went and had surgery on his own.

My two favorite Beltran plays was a circus catch while running up that ridiculous incline in center field in Houston. And, of course, there was his game-winning homer to beat Philadelphia.

Another thing I’ll always remember was a story I wrote about him recalling his experiences in spring training as a rookie with Kansas City. He spoke about being so lonely to the point that he holed up in his hotel room and cried.

Beltran has come a long way since that troublesome spring in Fort Myers, Fla. He’s gone from lonely rookie to a borderline Hall of Fame career.

I will miss him. Granderson, too.

Feb 13

Today In Mets’ History: Cone Tries Comeback

On this date in 2003, hoping to recapture the glory of his career, David Cone came out of retirement to sign a minor-league contract with the Mets. Cone compiled an 80-48 record from 1987-1992 with the Mets.

CONE: One more time. (AP)

CONE: One more time. (AP)

Cone made the team and went 1-3 with a 6.50 ERA in five games with the Mets. Cone beat the Expos in his first start, 4-0, giving up two hits in five innings, but the feel-good comeback soon fizzled as he lost his next three starts.

His last game came in relief, May 28, with two scoreless innings at Philadelphia.

Cone compiled a 194-126 record over 17 seasons. He twice won 20 games, going 20-3 with the 1988 Mets and 20-7 ten years later for the 1998 Yankees.

Cone won the Cy Young Award in a strike-shortened 1994 season with Kansas City going 16-5 with three shutouts.

Cone carved out a reputation as a big game pitcher with an 8-3 postseason record, including 2-0 in the World Series.

ON DECK: Syndergaard Is Unquestioned Ace

 

 

 

Dec 17

Cold Weather Has Me Thinking Spring Training

There’s a foot of snow on the ground, the wind chill at 20 degrees, Christmas eight days and the Dolphins crushing the Jets. What better time than this to think about spring training?

Spring training has always been one of my favorite times of the year, for reasons both on and off the field.

From landing in Florida and taking off for the chill that’s still in New York, it’s a great time and a terrific experience.

The best part was the time you could spend with the players. Earlier in his career, the ten minutes David Wright said he’d give you could turn into a half-an-hour with the conversation touching a wide ranging variety of subjects, to playing the bunt, to going to the opposite field, to watching North Carolina play Duke in the ACC Tournament, to dozens of other topics.

I remember a long conversation with Carlos Beltran, who told me of his rookie season while with Kansas City. His eyes watered when he spoke of not being able to speak English.

I used to love talking pitching with Mike Mussina and David Cone, with Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez, with Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom. With Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner.

How great is it to go to work wearing shorts and a windbreaker?

I remember running laps around the fields after practice in Port St. Lucie. That was, until somebody on the grounds crew told me snakes came out at dusk.

Better still was playing basketball after practice, then going out for seafood and a movie. I played a lot of miniature golf and went to the dog track.

You never knew who would show up to spring training. Sandy Koufax was terrific. I ran into him one day told him of the time my dad told me “you have to see this guy pitch.’’ When he asked what game, I sheepishly told him of a game the Mets shelled him at Shea Stadium, 10-4. His response? “I remember that game, too.’’

There were others, too. Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson.

There have been dozens of cross-state drives passing through places like Yeehaw Junction, a truck stop of a town with a population of 240. There is also the long drive across the state on Alligator Alley, named for the obvious reason

It was a lot of fun to sit in the stands behind the plate and talk with scouts.

There was so much more. Countless hours watching the NCAA Tourney … picking my Home Run Derby team with the other writers … eating at hole-in-the-wall barbeque joints. … it is Florida, so good pizza and Italian was hard to find.

By my calculation, I spent over 120 weeks in Florida for spring training. I’m looking forward to going there again next year.

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.