Sep 17

Mets’ Fade Makes One Yearn For A Pennant Race

Every morning I take a glance at the standings and the pennant races. There’s nothing like the drama and intensity of a pennant race. It is the essence of the sport.

For the record, this morning the Mets are 14 games under .500 and 23 games behind the Nationals with a schedule that could plummet them to 20 below.

So much for a pennant race involving the Mets. Even the collapses of 2007 and 2008 gave those Septembers more meaning than this excruciating month. Of course the remaining schedule is of importance to the Phillies, Pirates and Braves, all in wild card contention. There are six games left with the hated Marlins in the battle to stay out of last place.

Major League Baseball added a second wild card in the hope of creating spice and interest in more cities. So far, it has worked in both leagues.

Sort of.

In the American League there are eight teams – including the three division leaders – that could end up with a wild-card berth. In the AL East there is a dogfight between the Yankees, Orioles and Rays. But, what kind of fight is it really if all three were to qualify for the playoffs? Mathematically it could happen.

In the National League, seven teams are in serious wild-card contention with all three division leaders having comfortable margins.

For all the drama – is it really manufactured drama? – in the wild-card races I think of perhaps the greatest pennant race in history, that being 1967 in the American League when five of the then 10 teams in the league were alive in September, but only one would survive.

For much of that tumultuous summer, the Red Sox, White Sox, Twins, Tigers and Angels were all packed at the top. The Angels were the first to drop out, then with over a week remaining the White Sox’s woeful offense finally wore down their marvelous pitching staff led by Gary Peters and Joel Horlen.

I remember it vividly because I spent that summer in New England and started following the Red Sox on the radio at night. My Indians, of course, were like the present day Mets and well on the outside.

The Red Sox, Twins and Tigers were alive heading into the final weekend. Carl Yastrzemski’s Sox and Harmon Killebrew’s Twins would eliminate one of those teams. All three were alive the final day. Boston eliminated the Twins early, then had to wait until the Tigers lost the second game of a double-header before clinching.

There have been many great pennant races, but for the amount of teams involved, that one had the most.

It’s not the same intensity when so many are involved for a play-in game.

If the old, no-division format were in place today, the Nationals and Reds would be having a great race, with the Braves and Giants on the fade.

The American League would have a spicier race with the Rangers, Athletics, Yankees and Orioles within five games of each other. That combination would give 1967 a run for its money.

Perhaps, because I was a kid and was just developing my passion for baseball

the 1967 race stands out. But nearly four decades later, it is still special reading about it.It is one for the ages.

Sep 04

Red Sox Doing Valentine Wrong

Whether you like him or not, you have to admit Bobby Valentine is getting a raw deal in Boston. Big deal owner John Henry said Valentine’s job is safe through this season. If ownership really wanted to send a message to that dysfunctional clubhouse the Red Sox need to extend Valentine’s deal through at least next year.

Management put Valentine in an impossible position when the hired him by giving him that toxic clubhouse. The Red Sox helped themselves with that trade, getting rid of over $200 million is salary and clubhouse cancer Josh Beckett.

With all their payroll flexibility, they can add several good pieces and Valentine should get the chance to work with them. It would be unfair to sack him. It is even more unfair to let him twist in the wind. If there’s any chance he won’t be back, they should do it now.

But, if they did, it would be giving in the inmates for the second straight year.

 

Jul 26

Marlins Deal Ramirez; Where Were Mets?

I don’t know about you, but I had to laugh when I heard about the Hanley Ramirez trade, and also news the Marlins might be shopping Jose Reyes.

Evidently, the Marlins put a lot of thought into the Reyes signing.  Or, at least a minimum of good thought.

I look at the prospects the Dodgers gave up for Ramirez and Randy Choate and wonder where the Mets were at the time. Surely, they had prospects equal to that of the Dodgers, but the Marlins didn’t want to trade within the division.

It’s simple actually, but it does tell you how screwed up the Marlins are as a franchise. Word is they are taking offers for Josh Johnson, and the Red Sox are at the front of the line.

There’s a week remaining before the trade deadline and already some primetime names have moved. Wonder who’ll be the first to raid Flushing?

Jun 03

Johan Santana No-Hitter Fallout

Much like Red Sox fans who said, “now I can die and go to heaven (although that might be a bit presumptuous),’’ after their team finally won the World Series, so too are Mets fans saying the same thing after Johan Santana’s no-hitter Friday night.

SANTANA: Taking another bow yesterday. (AP)

You’ll start reading stories about long-time Mets fans who missed the event, just like there will be those who saw history in their first game watching the team. It’s all part of the fate when it comes to baseball. You just never know.

It does remind me of when I started covering the Yankees in 1998. I worked a month straight before my first day off – which turned out to be David Wells’ perfect game.

It’s all part of the maddening charm that is baseball.

R.A. Dickey said following Santana would be a tough act to follow, but a shutout isn’t a bad way to do it.  Dickey’s gem yesterday is part of the fallout of the no-hitter:

* The Hall of Fame will be collecting items from the game for display in Cooperstown. Sadly, he won’t be using it for a while, but a nice touch would be to show Mike Baxter’s glove. We knew Baxter was injured selling out to make that spectacular catch, but he’ll be gone at least six weeks. Ouch. Baxter’s absence hurts the Mets on several levels in that he played good defense but was also a pinch-hitting savant.

 

* From the “It Can Only Happen To the Mets Department,’’ reliever Ramon Ramirez strained a hamstring running in from the bullpen for the post-game celebration. He went from sitting for three hours to a full sprint, so it isn’t all that hard to imagine.

* Manager Terry Collins is considering bumping up Chris Young’s return date next weekend to give Santana extra rest. Wise move. Pitchers are a creature of habit, so it will be interesting to note if Santana changes his routine at all this week.

* Speaking of Collins, imagine the pressure he was under in deliberating keeping Santana in the game. The human part of him wanted to extend Santana so he’d get the no-hitter. Then, there was part of him that wanted to protect his pitcher. Coming off surgery, it was a gamble, one in which we might not know the outcome for awhile as it isn’t always the next start in which the 134 pitch-count could come into play in a negative way. Here’s hoping it never does.

Finally, a classy comment from Carlos Beltran, who had a extra-base hit taken away by a blown call from umpire Adrian Johnson, saying he was happy for Santana and was being rewarded for all his hard work in his rehab.

Apr 22

Add Phil Humber To The List

Add Phil Humber to the list of ex-Mets to throw a no-hitter. Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan seven times, David Cone and Dwight Gooden. Meanwhile, the Mets’ franchise doesn’t have any.

I liked dealing with Humber when he was with the Mets. He was always pleasant to speak with and had a good sense of humor. At the time, I was happy for him when he was traded because I knew it gave him a chance to pitch, something that wasn’t going to happen any time soon with the Mets.

The Mets, of course, shouldn’t lament the trade of Humber because it brought them Johan Santana. At the time, I know few people regretted the deal.

HUMBER: Nice thing for a nice guy.

I don’t write this to rip the Mets. Far from it. I mention it to point out how fickle baseball can be.

Here we are, watching the Mets blow a ninth-inning lead when their rising young outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis overruns a pop-up only to win the game in the bottom of the inning on a wild throw. Amazing stuff. It really was.

Of course, it paled to what happened in Fenway Park. The iconic ballpark – celebrating its 100th anniversary – has been the site of hundreds of memorable moments with dozens of Red Sox collapses. So, why not celebrate that history in grand style? Down 9-0, the Yankees stormed back to back-to-back monster innings to rout the Sox, 15-9.

If Bobby Valentine has a magic touch as a manager, now is the time to use it. Games like yesterday can carry a psychological impact. For the Mets, it could right them after a three-game losing streak. For the Red Sox, as the papers point out this morning, it could carry devastating consequences.

Then again, it could carry no impact. That’s the fickle nature of the sport and one of the reasons it drives us crazy. And, one of the reasons why we love it so.