Oct 28

I Want Bartman To Throw Out First Pitch Tonight

Despite the years 1908 and 1945, can you really call the Chicago Cubs the “underdogs’’ or sentimental favorites in this World Series?

I don’t think so because the Cubs entered the season as heavy favorites to win it all this year. Their off-season shopping of Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and John Lackey, not to mention their in-season acquisitions of Aroldis Chapman and Mike Montgomery, meant they were built to win.

BARTMAN: Cubs need to do right thing. (FOX)

BARTMAN: Cubs need to do right thing. (FOX)

In some ways, how this team was put together was reminiscent of the Yankees and Theo Epstein’s Red Sox. They played by the economic rules of the game, so I don’t have any problem with how they were constructed. When you consider the youth of their team and management’s willingness to spend, they should be good for a long time.

But, that hardly makes them the underdog. Cleveland’s budget, style of play and lack of fielding a winner since 1948 makes them more a sentimental favorite.

All season we’ve been bombarded with Chicago’s history, about curses and bad luck, but that’s not why they haven’t won.

They haven’t won because of how this team was put together. For decades, Cubs ownership and management – much like the Red Sox did – sold the experience of their quaint, historic stadiums over fielding a winning team.

Cubs’ fans, like Red Sox fans prior to 2004, relished the role of lovable, hard-luck losers.

Nowhere was that more emphasized than in 2003 when Steve Bartman did most any fan would have done when Luis Castillo’s foul pop came down on him. He reached for the ball.

We’ll never know if Moises Alou would have caught the ball. But, the bottom line is the Cubs couldn’t put away the Marlins in the eighth inning. Mark Prior went on to walk Castillo. Alex Gonzalez botched a potential double-play grounder and the inning unfolded and before it was over the Marlins had scored eight runs.

I’ll give you the Bartman play being bad luck, but championship teams have to overcome adversity and the Cubs did not. As the game slipped away from the Cubs, Bartman was showered with debris and threats. The Cubs public relations department had to sneak Bartman out of Wrigley Field for his own safety.

In case anybody forgot, the Cubs blew a 5-3 lead in Game 7. Bartman was in hiding at the time, so how could be be blamed for that one?

The Cubs, who once held a 3-1 games advantage, would be denied again. Bartman was vilified, made out to be the personification of 95 years of bad luck, much the way Boston fans vilified Bill Buckner for his Game 6 error in the 1986 World Series.

When a team loses in horrific fashion, there’s a lot of blame to go around. For Alou and Cubs manager Dusty Baker pin it all on Bartman was inexcusable.

For the past 13 years, Bartman kept a low profile. He did not benefit financially in any way despite the offers. He hasn’t sold his story to the press. Hell, he didn’t even come away with the ball.

Speaking through a friend, Bartman apologized profusely and said he wanted nothing more than his childhood team to win a World Series.

How Cubs’ fans – most whom would have reached for that foul ball themselves – treated Bartman through the years has been reprehensible.

Eventually, the Red Sox and their fans kissed and made up with Buckner. The Cubs could go back to being sentimental favorites once again if they invited Bartman to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before tonight’s Game 3 at Wrigley Field.

It would be a magnanimous and classy gesture. I don’t know if they’ll extend the invitation, and I don’t know if Bartman would accept, but it would put a very human face on this World Series.

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Sep 28

Lugo Puts Mets On Cusp

The Mets aren’t closing in on a wild-card berth for a lot of reasons, not the least of which has been emergency starter Seth Lugo.

An after thought in spring training, Lugo figures to be the Mets’ third starter in the NL Division Series should they advance that far.

LUGO: Puts Mets on verge. (AP)

LUGO: Puts Mets on verge. (AP)

The victory, coupled with the Cardinals losing at home to the Reds, reduced the Mets’ magic number to two over St. Louis. The Mets are off Thursday then have three games over the weekend in Philadelphia, while the Cardinals have four games remaining.

Lugo is as much an unsung contributor as anybody to have the Mets in this position.

“This kid has come here and done nothing but save us,’’ manager Terry Collins said of Lugo, who hasn’t given up more than three runs in any start.

In beating the Marlins, 5-2, Wednesday night, Lugo won his fifth game, and the Mets are undefeated in his last seven starts, impressive numbers as he helped fill the voids created by injuries to Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom.

Couple what Lugo did with three wins by Robert Gsellman – Friday’s starter in Philadelphia – and the Mets wouldn’t even be sniffing October.

Credit Lugo’s five victories in large part to his batting-average allowed with RISP to .149.

COLLINS SHOWED CLASS: The Mets and Marlins exchanged embraces prior to Monday’s tribute game to Jose Fernandez.

But, after the game Collins walked towards the Miami dugout to exchange hugs with Marlins manager Don Mattingly, hitting coach Barry Bonds, second baseman Dee Gordon, outfielders Christian Yelich and Jeff Francoeur, and later club president David Samson.

During the series, numerous Marlins – notably Gordon – had high praise for the Mets, who signed the Fernandez jersey that hung in their dugout presented it to the Miami front office.

“We have a special group of guys they are respectful of the game and respectful to people,’’ said Collins, who lead the way.

BRUCE, GRANDERSON STILL SMOKING: Jay Bruce’s miserable slump is behind him as he homered for the third time in four games.

After being benched and on the verge of being written out of the Mets’ postseason plans, Bruce regained his spot in the lineup.

Bruce has 32 homers overall and seven with the Mets.

“He’s locked in for me,’’ Collins said. “It couldn’t come at a better time.’’

Bruce said his timing is a lot better and spoke with a feeling of relief.

“Ever since the day I got here I wanted to play good baseball and be a contributor to the team,’’ Bruce said. “This is a good team and I’m having a lot of fun being here.’’

Also having a lot of fun is Granderson, who went 4-for-4 and reached base five times, and eight straight overall.

Once mired below .180, Granderson is up to .233 with a .331 on-base percentage.

Granderson’s surge coincides with Yoenis Cespedes’ return from the disabled list, which enabled him to settle in at the clean-up spot.

“He’s been a different animal since he moved to fourth,’’ Collins said. “He’s been getting walks and hitting home runs.’’

EXTRA INNINGS: If the Mets have a playoff berth wrapped up by Sunday, they are likely to skip Noah Syndergaard’s start to have him ready for a start Wednesday. If the Mets need to win Sunday to secure the home field for the wild-card game, they are still likely to skip him. … Lucas Duda, who had two hits Tuesday, was scratched with soreness in his lower back. James Loney was back in the lineup and homered (eighth). … Addison Reed registered his 39th hold and Jeurys Familia his 50th save. … Tim Tebow homered on the first pitch he saw in an Instructional League game.

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Sep 27

Good Postseason Signs For Mets In Rout

The Marlins would have been hard-pressed to continue to ride the emotional wave from Monday’s ceremonies and victory over the Mets following the tragic death of pitcher Jose Fernandez.

That would be hard to do when you run into the kind of pitching they faced against Noah Syndergaard. It also didn’t hurt their offense resurfaced with a pair of two-run homers from Jay Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes in Tuesday’s 19-hit, 12-1 mauling of the Marlins.

SYNDERGAARD: Good sign. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Good sign. (AP)

It was the first time since Bruce was acquired that he and Cespedes homered in the same game.

As the Mets look ahead to a possible postseason appearance, they took numerous positives from the game.

The most important, of course, was Syndergaard, whose last start was scratched because of a strep throat. Syndergaard last pitched, Aug. 19 in a loss to Atlanta, gave up a run on five hits with eight strikeouts.

“It was huge,” Syndergaard said about getting back into a groove. “I tried to keep each pitch simple. I felt I could locate my sinker on both sides of the plate.”

It was a smart move by manager Terry Collins to pull him when he did after 93 pitches. Syndergaard is next in line to pitch Sunday in Philadelphia. If the Mets don’t need that game, Collins will undoubtedly hold him back to start the wild-card play-in game, Wednesday, perhaps against San Francisco.

Maybe in a match-up against Madison Bumgarner at Citi Field? Or, perhaps in St. Louis against Adam Wainwright?

If there’s a three-way tie, it is presumed Syndergaard would start Sunday, which would probably leave the start to Seth Lugo.

There aren’t any questions about Syndergaard’s health or endurance, which considering the announcement earlier in the day that Steven Matz will have elbow surgery and be lost for the year.

If the Mets are to go anywhere in the playoffs, a lot will fall on Syndergaard.

After Syndergaard, the other key storylines were Bruce and Lucas Duda and the lengthening of the Mets’ batting order.

Bruce, who has started three straight games, has five hits in that span, including two homers. His two-run homer in the second put the Mets ahead for good.

After a dreadful slump sent him to the bench and raised questions about his spot on the playoff roster and even if the Mets would bring him back for 2017.

“It’s been very encouraging,” Collins said of Bruce’s resurgence. “If he’s back, we’re going to have a different line-up.”

Bruce said the slump was a difficult stretch, but he never lost faith of his talent.

“I feel comfortable at the plate,” Bruce said. “I just kept preparing and kept working. I just focus on preparing and always think today is the day I’ll come out of it.”

Curtis Granderson, who drove in three runs on two hits, is now entrenched in the clean-up spot with Bruce hitting fifth.

Duda drove in three runs on two hits and again played the field. At first, the Mets thought Duda would only be used as a pinch-hitter. That notion could be gone now, which could make it a Duda (two hits and two walks) vs. James Loney battle for a playoff roster spot.

“It’s definitely tough,” Duda said of his return from back surgery. “The more I play the more comfortable I get. It’s a work in progress. From rehabbing to here is a pretty big jump. The speed of the game, both offensively and defensively, is faster.”

While these were positive signs as the Mets gear for the playoffs, one negative is Wilmer Flores’ wrist, which could sideline him for the rest of the regular season and put his spot on a playoff roster in jeopardy.

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Sep 06

Three Keys For Mets: Montero, Granderson And Bruce

Rafael Montero gets the ball tonight for the Mets in Cincinnati in replacing Jacob deGrom. He’ll be making his second start of the season.

Montero walked a career-high six in fine innings in his first start against Miami.

Command is always important for him and is among the keys for victory for the Mets.

FIRST KEY: Montero has to cut down on the walks. He was lucky the Marlins didn’t knock him out. He can’t afford a walk an inning. It will bounce back to bite him.

SECOND KEY: Curtis Granderson is showing signs of warming up. He was given Monday to rest and is batting seventh today. The Reds are starting LHP Brandon Finnegan.

THIRD KEY: Jay Bruce has hit more homers (135) than any player at Great American Ball Park. Maybe the friendly surroundings will continue to warm him up. He is 8-23 (.348) with two homers and four RBI in his last six games.

ON DECK: Tonight’s lineup.

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Aug 31

Mets Today: Young Pitching Steps Up; Walker Update

There was a lot to like about the Mets’ victory over Miami Tuesday night. After winning the first two games of this series with Miami, the Mets moved ahead of the Marlins and are tied with Pittsburgh 2.5 games behind St. Louis.

“We’re trying to get into the postseason,” manager Terry Collins said after Tuesday night’s 7-4 victory over Miami. “We know where we stand. We know we have to take care of our own business and try to win as many games as possible.”

The Mets won the first two games of the series with Rafael Montero and Seth Lugo as the starters. Montero outlasted Jose Fernandez Monday.

“Our young guys have stepped up,” Collins said. “These guys have literally saved us.”

The Mets have Bartolo Colon (tonight) and Jacob deGrom (tomorrow) in the last two games of the series before Washington comes in this weekend.

Later today I’ll look at Neil Walker’s injury and the possible impact it will have in the future, including whether it will preclude him coming back next season. Collins said he doesn’t know if Walker will play or whether Wilmer Flores will be in the lineup again.

Today is the last day the Mets can make a waiver trade and have that player eligible for the postseason. They are not expected to make a major acquisition.

ON DECK: Looking at Neil Walker’s back situation.

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