Nov 21

Valentine had his time.

With Bobby Valentine interviewing with the Red Sox there’s been a lot of chatter on the blogs and message boards things would have been different with the Mets if he was still in charge.

I dealt with Valentine several times and always found him engaging and informative, but did not have the consistent dealings other NY columnists had that have them drinking the Kool-Aid suggesting he is infallible.

The chemistry was right in 1999 and 2000 when the Mets reached the postseason, but things between him and then GM Steve Phillips deteriorated, and so did his relationship with several players. There were factions in the clubhouse, as there was with Willie Randolph.

The discipline some are writing Valentine would bring to the Red Sox conveniently forget the card playing during games while on his watch. They also forget there were times when Valentine lacked discipline of his own, such as wearing a false mustache and glasses after being ejected.

The point isn’t whether Valentine should get the Red Sox job – I hope he gets it – but he had his opportunity with the Mets and did well. However, things fell apart and changes were made.

Had the Mets showed patience and stuck with Valentine he might have pulled them out of their post World Series funk. We’ll never know. But, I don’t think the odds of success with Valentine coming back for a second tenure would have been good.

The chemistry, front office, players and economics changed after Valentine left and that would have worked against him. Valentine had his time with the Mets, but a second chance after leaving wouldn’t have guaranteed he would have duplicated the success of his first tenure.

 

Oct 27

Today in Mets History: Pop the corks.

I was driving this morning when I heard Bob Murphy’s call: “He struck him out. He struck him out. The Mets win the World Series.”

It was a chilly Monday night. The Giants were at home to the Redskins, but the real show in town was Game 7 of the 1986 World Series. Game 7′s are usually always a gem, and this was no different, as for the second straight game the Mets rallied to beat the Red Sox.

Everybody remembers Game 6 for the Bill Buckner play, and the conventional wisdom was the Boston would be devastated and fold like a cheap tent. Not so.

A rainout Sunday gave the Red Sox another day to get over the lost and give Bruce Hurst another day of rest. What people forget was the Red Sox taking an early 3-0 lead on Rich Gedman’s homer.

But, the Mets scored three in the sixth and seventh, and two more in the eighth to put away Boston, 8-5.

It was after this game when The New York Times’ George Vecsey became the first to mention a Babe Ruth curse. He didn’t phrase it, “the curse of the Bambino,” but he was the first to associate a curse with the Red Sox.

This was a Mets’ team full of brass and it was supposed to win a string of World Series, but it never happened. Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry had drug problems, Mike Scioscia’s homer off Gooden in the 1988 NLCS derailed the Mets that season, Len Dykstra was traded and the team started to unravel.

What was going to be a dynasty never happened and the Mets wouldn’t reach the World Series until 2000 when they were beaten in five games by the Yankees.

Even so, Murphy’s call was the soundtrack for Jesse Orosco striking out Marty Barrett for the game’s final out. Orosco throwing his glove in the air and falling to his knees as he was mobbed by his teammates has been one of baseball’s most enduring images since.

There was no middle-of-the-road with the 86 Mets. You either loved them or hated them. That was the year I moved to New York from Ohio and started following the Mets. They were a cocky bunch which I didn’t like at first, but they grew on me. I loved how Keith Hernandez and Lenny Dykstra played, and grew to admire Gooden’s dominance. Strawberry, I remember, was a player you couldn’t take your eyes off when he came to the plate. After hitting the scoreboard clock in St. Louis, with every at-bat you wondered how far he’d hit the ball.

Some would say this was the Mets’ last great moment, but I dispute that with their pennant run in 2000 and Mike Piazza’s homer after 9-11. The Piazza homer, Endy Chavez’s catch and Carlos Beltran taking a called third strike to end the 2006 NLCS all provided enduring images.

But, 1986 was the zenith for the Mets, and it is true that they haven’t been the same way since. Makes you wonder if the Buckner play started another curse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oct 26

The shifting market for Reyes.

Reports out of Boston are the Red Sox are close to picking up the $6 million option on shortstop Marco Scutaro, and are content to live with him until top prospect Jose Iglesias is ready.

If the Red Sox go that route, it would preclude them from pursuing Jose Reyes.

With Iglesias at least a year away, holding on to the 35-year old Scutaro seems a prudent choice for new GM Ben Cherington.

While the Red Sox collapsed in September, Scutaro remained a productive player, hitting .387 with a .438 on-base percentage for the month. He finished the year at .299.

With the Red Sox saddled with two $100-plus million contracts in Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, Cherington said they will be prudent in their off-season spending.

Boston learned yesterday it has a pitching hole to fill with John Lackey to miss the 2012 season after he undergoes Tommy John surgery.

These are all variables which would make Reyes not a fit for Boston.

The Red Sox have been speculated as a potential landing spot for Reyes, and there were reports they might be interested at the trade deadline, but that was before he went on the disabled list.

The Yankees and Chicago Cubs are two big-market teams that can afford a $100-million plus contract, but they already have shortstops, and the latter is expected to make a big play for Prince Fielder.

The Angels and Giants have the resources, but San Francisco is also expected to talk with Jimmy Rollins. Should Rollins leave, that would leave the Phillies open as they have declined the options on Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge and have an offensive need with Ryan Howard’s Achilles injury.

 

 

 

 

Oct 21

The makings of a great World Series.

Two games in and I have the feeling this could be the makings of a great World Series. Could it be because we have two teams playing and we’re not caught up in a traveling circus of the Red Sox or Yankees?

Even without them playing, the Red Sox are always in the news. The Yankees have been pretty quiet, but there is the underlying assumption – perhaps coming from their fans’ sense of entitlement – CJ Wilson will come running to them.

He’s a No. 2 starter, but being the premier arm on the market he will make his money. However, he won’t be cashing any checks bearing Fred Wilpon’s signature.

If the Rangers go on to win, it could come down to a defensive misplay by by Albert Pujols in the ninth inning when he failed to field a cutoff throw which enabled Elvis Andrus to take to second and eventually scored what proved to be the winning run on back-to-back sacrifice flies by Josh Hamilton and Michael Young.

Had Pujols cut off the ball, the Cardinals could be up 2-0.

The first two games have been a study in pitching and fundamentals, and that’s what it takes to win. We should see more scoring when the Series moves to Arlington, where the weather will be warmer.

Close, tense games are only part of what makes a great World Series. There are the compelling story lines of the Rangers trying to win for the first time and the Cardinals attempting to come all the way back from a 10 1/2-game deficit on Aug. 25. It would be one of the greatest comebacks of all time.

Of course, the definitive great World Series has to go seven games. Really, outside of the 69 Mets, whose rise was one of the great baseball stories of the ages, there aren’t many Series considered great that run short.

Football season is in full swing, but I’m not ready to let go of the summer. Here’s hoping this one goes seven.

Sep 29

Beautiful history … and Reyes.

It was stunning to see the Red Sox and Braves collapse over the past month, then finally crumble last night. We witnessed two of the great finishes in history, and the nature of it reminded us again of baseball’s magical power and hold on us.

It told us again a game and season are never over until the mathematics dictate it to be true. The winters will be long in Boston – which they are used to by now – and in Atlanta. Both teams seemed givens a month ago, only to turn around and give it away.

Maybe, there will be a new curse in Boston.

A pennant race is the best baseball has to offer, and heading into September there seemed no suspense, not much to make us curious. But, as it has for generations, the sport inexplicably grabbed us by the scruff of the neck and shook us awake.

It made us scramble in the morning to find the scores, to force us to take a peak at the television in bars and restaurants, to ask a stranger if he knew what happened. I was in a restaurant last night that was pro-Boston. It was raucous early in the evening, but a deathly Buckner-like quiet at closing time.

As ugly as it was in Boston and Atlanta, it was beautiful to see in St. Petersburg and St. Louis, and magical throughout the rest of the country. It was truly something historic and made us realize nothing should be taken for granted.

As I thought about the grand scale, I recalled  of how earlier in the day Jose Reyes took his place in baseball history for granted. He got his hit, a bunt hit, then decided to pack it in. He figured the odds were in his favor, Ryan Braun wouldn’t catch him and he’d have is own secure spot in history.

He figured right, but didn’t count on how he’d be remembered. For those of us who follow the Mets, he is the franchise’s first batting champion. But, he backed in. One of the great stories in baseball lore is how Ted Williams refused to sit on his average and insisted on playing both games of a doubleheader in 1941, went six-for-eight and finished at .406.

Williams’ .406 is one of baseball’s magical numbers and we’ll forever remember him. But, there’s nothing magical, or special, about Reyes or his .335. He’s somebody history will forget, and fittingly, take for granted.

The Mets finally have a batting champion, but he’s no champ.