Aug 11

Three Mets’ Storylines: Is Collins Rant Too Late?

The closed-door meeting following a press conference rant is the last act of a desperate manager and what we got from Mets manager Terry Collins.

Collins has tinkered and tweaked for months – today he wrote his 89th different lineup – but nothing has worked. A few days ago he challenged his team to loosen up and have fun.

How did they respond?

COLLINS: Loses it. (SNY)

COLLINS: Loses it. (SNY)

In the never-ending search for absolutes, today’s 9-0 humiliating loss to the Diamondbacks was unquestionably the Mets’ worst game of the season. Incidentally, that’s the same score given when a team forfeits a game; when it quits.

In the past, Collins criticized his pitching, his hitting, and his defense. He has gotten specific like not hitting with RISP and pitchers not holding runners. What he hasn’t done was criticize his players’ effort – until now.

Noah Syndergaard, who greatly contributed to the loss by emotionally unraveling on the mound, called it a “nice team meeting,” but it was far from that as Collins gave his team the message all players need to hear.

“For those who don’t want to get after it, I will find somebody else who does,” Collins said. “In Las Vegas there a whole clubhouse who wants to be here.”

Too often this year we’ve heard about injuries, about how this team doesn’t know how to manufacture runs, about the need to hit in the clutch, about a lot of things.

What we haven’t often heard is about the need to play the game the right way and being accountable. Collins isn’t stupid, he knows his job is on the line so it is only fitting he let his players and coaches know their employment is also temporary.

“I’m the manager here,” said Collins, whose rant immediately went into crescendo mode. “It starts with me. I don’t care who is not here. There are no excuses. These are major league players. The names on the back and front of their uniforms say they are major league players.

“You have a responsibility to the fans to grind it out.”

The player Collins pointed out as an example was Neil Walker, who kept working at-bats and eventually raised his average 30 points after a 2-for-32 slide. Collins mentioned how Walker was at second base on a fly ball he hit and didn’t peel off halfway to first.

There is a right and wrong way to play this game and for much of the season, the Mets have played the game the wrong way.

“Some guys are having a bad time, but you can’t say `whoa is me’ at this level,” Collins said. “Everybody is humbled. Those who get their way out of it stay in this game. I want the ones who stay.

“There has to be a passion. People pay to see us play and deserve our best effort. You play the game correctly. … Starting tomorrow we’ll get after it.”

Maybe the Mets will come out with passion tomorrow against the Padres, but a lack of fire doesn’t fully explain how this team plays. The attention to fundamentals isn’t there. Collins is right; there’s a right way to play this game and the Mets just don’t do it.

Part of that is on him and the coaches. It’s also on GM Sandy Alderson for how he put this team together.

It goes a lot deeper than running out a fly ball and getting after it tomorrow might be too late.

Collins dressing down his team was the main storyline of the day and perhaps the season. The other key storylines were the unraveling of Syndergaard and the math that defines what the Mets are up against.

SYNDERGAARD LOSES IT: Do you remember when Syndergaard challenged the Royals during the World Series?

Just as the Royals ran on him, so did the Diamondbacks, who stole four more bases today and 13 for the series.

Again his pitch count was way too high (91) for the innings (five) he gave the Mets. We can talk about location and too many foul balls, but more alarming was how he unraveled emotionally during Arizona’s three-run fourth inning.

Syndergaard was animated after balls that dropped and went through his infield. He let his emotions get the best of him and acted like a Little Leaguer.

Syndergaard said, “all of us are feeling the pressure,” and he was aggravated because “I’m aware mentally of what I’m doing wrong and keep doing it.”

THE SCARY MATH: The Mets also have to be mentally aware of the math.

They fell to .500 today at 57-57. Syndergaard said he never thought the Mets would be .500 again after their hot April.

They finished April 15-7, but have gone 42-50 since. In many circles, it is believed 87 wins could get a team the wild card. For that to happen, the Mets would have to go 30-18 in the 48 remaining games.

Starting tomorrow?

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Oct 21

This Series Could Be Special

For as long as I have loved baseball, first as a Little Leaguer with an active imagination, and then as a journalist covering the game I was not good enough to play on the major league level, the World Series always held a special place for me.

I remember bits and pieces of the 1969 Series, but confess I was shocked like most of the country. I admit to playing hooky from school to watch the 1970 Series, but maybe it served me right because I pulled for the Reds.

searchMy favorite Series was the 1975 Red Sox-Reds. Although disappointed in the outcome, it was compelling because of it went seven and Game Six was arguably the best game in history. There was Bernie Carbo’s game-tying homer; Carlton Fisk’s game-winner; and Dwight Evans’ game saving catch.

One of the great stories coming from that Series was Pete Rose telling Fisk something along the lines of, “this is a great game, isn’t it?’’

Next up was Twins-Braves with the classic Jack Morris-John Smoltz Game 7. If not the Fisk game, maybe this was history’s best.

I covered all the Yankees’ titles under Joe Torre, but the most dramatic of them was one they lost, in 2001, to Arizona. Go figure, perhaps the worst throw of Mariano Rivera’s career was after fielding that bunt in the ninth inning of Game 7.

A lot of historic homers were hit in that Series, but my favorite moments the fans chanting Paul O’Neill’s name; the bald eagle Challenger scattering the Yankees before the anthem; and George Bush throwing a ceremonial pitch perfect strike.

Each Series has its defining moment or story line, and I can only imagine what it will be this year.

Some match-ups are more compelling than others, but Giants-Royals – regardless of what ESPN says – will be a Series worthy of our attention. There was actually a Sports Center lead-in actually daring to ask if these teams “deserved,’’ to be there.

The fact is, baseball itself bears responsibility for the appearance of an “unworthy’’ match-up because it tampers with the integrity of its season with interleague play and the unbalanced schedule forcing teams to run different courses to the finish line.

However, these teams, based on being a wild-card entry, each played an additional game. They took on all comers – each having to beat the team with the best record in their league.

They also play the game the way it should be, with pitching, defense, timely hitting and solid bullpens. Both can also hit the long ball when needed, but neither survive by the homer, which is refreshing.

I believe this one has the capability of going seven, which defines “classic,’’ to me. Both teams have reason to believe they can be considered a team of destiny.

I can’t wait to find out which one.

Aug 09

Last night is why we watch

It was a habit I picked up as a Little Leaguer, and that is to hang around until the last out. As a reporter, I had no choice, but as a casual viewer there were times I shut things down when the game got out of hand, which has happened more than a few times in recent seasons.

The Mets: Primetime entertainment last night reminds us of what's good.

But, not so much this year, and definitely not last night.

There’s a resiliency about these Mets that make up for their void in talent. There is a likable quality to this team because they overachieve. They hustle where previous Mets teams did not.

Mike Pelfrey was frustrating as he squandered a three-run lead, and then the bullpen blew up. Normally, that would be the story line, but this time the offense – which had been stagnant – responded and thankfully made us forget about Pelfrey.

Normally, when the Mets get hit with a four-spot in the eighth, it is time to look away, but they quickly put two on with one out, and there was the curiosity factor with Mike Baxter coming up.

Of course, I wanted to see the local kid. He’s a good story, and I always root for good stories. His double and Ronny Paulino’s sacrifice fly made it a two run game. They made it worthwhile to keep watching.

I thought about Scott Hairston’s homer in Washington, and Lucas Duda’s ninth-inning, game-tying homer the other day. OK, they still lost, but the situation was there again and it made me wonder.

Jason Pridie singled, and one out later, so did Justin Turner, who is becoming one of my favorite players to watch this year. He hung in on Heath Bell’s breaking ball and dumped it into left. It was a pitch that could easily have eaten him up.

David Wright singled in a run, and all of a sudden the winning run was on second after another wild pitch by Bell.

Up again was Duda, who for some reason reminds me of Lucas McCain of The Rifleman TV series. There’s the name, Lucas, of course, but Duda is bull strong like the McCain character. Connors, by the way, played briefly for the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Dodgers before turning to acting.

The Mets are counting on Duda for power, but it was great to see him go with the pitch and take it up the middle. Professional hitting at its best.

It has been a summer with a growing injury list, the saga of the Mets’ finances and the future of Jose Reyes and where he’ll take his tender hammy next year.

But, for one night at least it was good to get away from all that and watch the Mets show their heart.

After all, games like last night is why we watch, and maybe it was the first game for somebody who became hooked on your ball club.

Last night was a game that reminded us why we are baseball fans and that the baseball clock ticks in outs, not minutes.

And, when outs remain, so does hope.