Oct 12

Appreciating Carlos Beltran; Wondering About Return To The Mets

There are a lot of people who tell me if the New York Mets aren’t in the playoffs, and if there’s no arch enemy such as the Yankees to root against, they don’t bother watching the playoffs.

Too bad, because they missed a classic Friday night, and another example of Carlos Beltran’s post-season excellence to marvel over.

BELTRAN: I would take him back. (AP)

BELTRAN: I would take him back. (AP)

Beltran will be a free agent this winter, and because the man can still play and one must wonder if the Mets will make a run at him.

You do remember, that rather than pick up his $18.5-million option, the at-the-time rebuilding Mets chose to trade him to the Giants for Zack Wheeler.

I understood what the Mets were doing at the time, but even so I always appreciated Beltran, who is arguably one of the top five position players in franchise history.

I don’t know if Beltran is a Hall of Famer, but he’s a very good regular season player and an off-the-charts October performer.

Beltran drove in all three Cardinals’ runs and threw out a runner at the plate in a scintillating 3-2 victory over the Dodgers.

Add them up now and Beltran is hitting .345 with 16 home runs, 12 doubles and 34 RBI in 40 career postseason games. He also has 42 runs scored and 11 stolen bases. He’s played in October with the Astros, Mets and Cardinals, but has never played in the World Series. He is, however, an eight-tim All-Star.

“It’s just fun to watch him do his thing,’’ Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said last night.

A lot of Mets’ fans don’t want to hear that as they are instead they are caught up on one pitch Beltran took for a called third strike to end Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS.

Hopefully, Mets’ COO Jeff Wilpon was able to convey that to Beltran, along with the organization’s apologies for how his tenure in Flushing ended. You’ll remember, with the competitive part of the 2009 season over, instead of Beltran having knee surgery they opted to bring him back to play in 19 meaningless September games and was eventually shut down.

Then, in the offseason there was a snit between him and the organization – when Omar Minaya was still general manager – over knee surgery and Beltran had it on his own.

Beltran, as the team player he is, had no problem moving to right field for first year manager Terry Collins. Then came the trade for Wheeler and again the remembrances of the called third strike he took from Adam Wainwright.

That was a monster pitch that froze Beltran. It would have frozen Ted Williams. It would have frozen Babe Ruth. It was that good a pitch.

Instead of appreciating what Beltran gave the Mets during his tenure. Instead of acknowledging how he played hurt for the Mets, including with a broken face after his horrific collision with Mike Cameron, a great many Mets’ fans failed to recognize what they had.

Beltran, a free agent this winter, said he’d be open to a return to the Mets. I’d love for him to finish out his career here, where he’d take the pressure off David Wright and would be a tremendous influence to the Mets’ young outfielders in Juan Lagares and Matt den Dekker.

Then, when 2015 rolls around with Matt Harvey’s expected return, we might enjoy seeing Beltran in another Mets’ October.

Jul 17

Mariano Rivera’s Light Burns Bright In All-Star Game

For the New York Mets it might have been “Matt Harvey Day,’’ but Mariano Rivera stole the night. It isn’t often you can orchestrate things in Major League Baseball, but that’s what happened. While no player is bigger than the game, there are some who define it by their presence and their greatness transcends the moment.

There was Ted Williams in 1999, surrounded by both teams in the Fenway Park infield. The Team of the Century Game, you might recall. They didn’t even need the game, they would have cheered Williams all night.

RIVERA: Stands alone.

RIVERA: Stands alone.

It was that way when Cal Ripken’s streak was broken and Joe Torre’s Yankees stood at the top step of their Camden Yards dugout in a long ovation. And, how about Ripken’s last All-Star Game, when he homered in Seattle?

Great theatre and it was such when Rivera ran out for the eighth inning and took his bows with nobody else on the diamond. That was symbolic as there is nobody like Rivera. For nearly two minutes they cheered the greatest closer in history. It didn’t matter he was a Yankee; all of baseball honored him.

“I didn’t know how to act,’’ Rivera said. “At that moment, I didn’t know what to do. It almost made me cry. It was close. It was amazing. I will never forget that.’’

As he often has, Rivera set the side down in order 1-2-3, and as he jogged off the field, Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder – whose father, Cecil, won a World Series ring with Rivera – pressed the ball in the modest closer’s glove.

Justin Verlander greeted Rivera first after the eighth with a long embrace. I couldn’t help but wonder if Verlander whispered in his ear, “I wish you had been on my team all these years.’’

Then again, there’s probably not a starter in the game who hasn’t wondered the same.

American League manager Jim Leyland is as old school as they come, but did a marvelous job planning the moment. Ideally, it should have been the ninth inning, but if the National League had taken the lead Rivera wouldn’t have gotten in the game.

“I wanted to make sure I got out of here alive,’’ Leyland said.

It was interesting to see Rivera’s peers – the opponents he has tormented over the years – respond to him. The Orioles Chris Davis could be seen shooting a video of Rivera on his cell phone. David Wright would tell Rivera how proud he was of how he handled himself.

“Things like that, that come from young boys like that, it is good,’’ Rivera said. “They know why you do it. That’s great.’’

While others had a bigger role in the game’s outcome, Rivera was voted the Most Valuable Player in a gesture of appreciation and respect.

With Rivera working the eighth, it was Joe Nathan who pitched the ninth to earn his first All-Star save. The ball will never make Nathan’s mantle as he gave it to Rivera.

“It showed respect to me,’’ Rivera would say. “It was a classy thing to do.’’

Classy and respect. That’s what Rivera has always been about.

NOTE: Please accept my apologies for the erratic posting lately. My server has been down and it was unavoidable. Hopefully, the problem has been resolved.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Apr 26

Does Ike Davis Even Know The Fundamentals Of Hitting?

Ike Davis should log on to his computer, Google the book, “Ted Williams: The Science of Hitting,’’ and order a copy.

Maybe it is time both he and the Mets realize Davis isn’t just struggling, but that perhaps he doesn’t know too much about hitting. Davis homered yesterday, but for my money I would rather he slapped a single to left in the sixth with runners on second and third and two outs.

DAVIS: Another strike out. (AP)

DAVIS: Another strike out. (AP)

Instead, he struck out. Again. For those scoring at home, it was the 24th time he has walked back to the dugout in disgust, compared to just 12 hits. Old stats, new stats, it doesn’t matter, Davis is not producing.

Davis has four homers and seven RBI. He’s hitting .174 with a .260 on-base percentage, .348 slugging percentage and .608 OPS. However, the number that kills me is he’s on pace for 194 strikeouts.

I spoke with Davis about strikeouts and using the whole field and he told me he’s a home run hitter, he likes to hit home runs, and strikeouts are part of the equation. He’s missing the boat with that reasoning, much like he’s missing the breaking ball away.

Suppose Davis cut his strikeouts in half to 97, which is still a lot. That would be 97 times he would be putting the ball in play instead of throwing his bat. Think how many more homers he’d produce in those 97 at-bats, not to mention productive at-bats when he’ll drive in a run with a hit, sacrifice fly or ground out.

“It’s about contact,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “These big home run hitters, they’re going to strike out. That’s part of the program. Ike, when he’s going good, he gets hits. He just doesn’t get home runs.

“You go back two years ago in the first half where he drove in everybody who was standing at second base. They were base hits. They weren’t always home runs. I think if he again starts using the field more – especially the opposite field – it also takes that shift away from them, which a lot of teams play on him. And I think it’ll make a difference.’’

That’s what Williams preached in his book. Teams used the shift against Williams, and this is when he didn’t use his own advice. However, Williams was so good he produced over his own stubbornness. In his wildest dreams, Davis isn’t half as good as Williams.

Williams might have been the greatest hitter ever, even considering Babe Ruth. Williams’ average year was .344 with 37 homers and 130 RBI. When you factor in he lost five prime years of his career serving in World War II and the Korean War, his lifetime numbers would have been through the roof.

When you boil it down, Williams’ fundamental advice about hitting was get a good pitch to hit. Williams was so precise he broke down the strike zone into baseball-size segments to where he had each area had its own batting average.

“As we’ve studied his at-bats, they’re just killing him away,’’ Collins told reporters after Thursday’s loss.

Williams calculated the low-and-away pitch at best would produce a .230 average. Davis isn’t even giving the Mets that much. That average would increase, Williams said, if the hitter went that way instead of trying to pull. Instead, Davis is chasing everything, which means the pitch doesn’t have to be that good.

Collins sees that: “If he starts going that way to where he’s going to use more of the field to hit, he’s got some better opportunities to drive some runs in.’’

Unfortunately, Davis does not: “Sometimes they’re helpful. Sometimes they’re not. Me slapping the ball the other way early in the count is probably not helpful.’’

Rebuttal: How would Davis know if he hasn’t tried it routinely? He did when he first came up, but rarely since.

Either Davis doesn’t know the fundamentals of hitting, or refuses to listen to his coaches and manager. And, Collins and GM Sandy Alderson are wrong for accepting this kind of performance.

Listen, I don’t know how to build a watch, but I know how to tell time, and the time has come for Davis to change. Either him, or the Mets should.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

 

Apr 13

Mets Notes: Frigid Temps Fire Up Mets Offense

OK, I was wrong, the Mets should play in 30-degree weather all time, where their record in those conditions is probably better than that of the Jets.

It was a wild game last night and I wouldn’t be surprised if SNY’s ratings spiked for those who tuned in to watch the train wreck of playing in Antarctica, where the only things missing were penguins and Kate Upton frolicking on top of the dugouts between innings.

I admit, the weather made me curious, but that went away when it became apparent they weren’t going to call it. Most likely they played on because the forecast for Sunday is rain all day.

Several things caught my attention last night, among them:

* How does Jon Niese feel today? When it is hard to grip the ball pitchers tend to compensate by overthrowing which taxes the arm. He said he didn’t have a good grip and his command was off. We’ll see.

* The Mets played well because they were warmed by the fire that is John Buck. He’s on a historic start. He will catch Matt Harvey this afternoon, count on it. However, if they play Sunday he should DH as to rest him while keeping his bat in the lineup.

* Speaking of lineups, Jordany Valdespin needs to play until he cools off. Never mind the left-hander today, keep him in there and give him a chance to stay in a groove. Valdespin has never been a full-time player. It’s time to find out.

* Ike Davis doesn’t have to look any further than Lucas Duda for an example of what he should be doing at the plate. Duda hasn’t been Ted Williams, but lately he’s about patience and waiting for his pitch. Take the walks, cut the strikeouts, and you’ll make the pitcher come to you. If it was easy, everybody could do it. Duda is and Davis isn’t.

* Ruben Tejada had a few gems in the field, and a play, well, not so good. However, he’s a talented glove who’ll eventually settle into a good fielding zone.

* Scott Atchison, who had a bad elbow, never should have pitched last night. He didn’t need that kind of work. Let’s keep an eye on him, too.

* David Wright entered the game in a slump and ended it hot. Still no homers, but he drove the ball and came through with runners on base. That had been missing.

* Bad news about Jose Reyes, who severely sprained his ankle and could be out for up to three months. The karma hasn’t been kind to Reyes since leaving the Mets.

The Mets played a terrific game under horrible conditions. The best sign is they kept focus and didn’t allow the conditions to beat them. It definitely was something they can build off of.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jan 20

Baseball Mourns Losses Of Musial And Weaver

The television sound was off, but I didn’t need words to know this was sad news. Why else would there be grainy black-and-white images of Stan Musial unleashing that powerful swing out of an awkward stance?

Musial passed away last night, not long after former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver died, and the sports world was suddenly without two legends. Despite polar opposites in terms of temperament, both were unique and left an indelible mark on baseball.

MUSIAL: Stan the Man.

Weaver was the fiery manager of the Orioles who built his championship teams with superb starting pitching and the three-run homer. Musial was overshadowed by Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, but was as lethal with the bat as any of them. Others were more spectacular and played in flashier markets than St. Louis, but Musial personified baseball in his town and throughout middle America.

Having worked in Baltimore covering the Orioles, I learned quickly now woven Weaver was into the fabric of that town, and traveling numerous times to St. Louis, and saw that city embrace Musial to where two statues of him are outside Busch Stadium.

The beauty of baseball is how the sports rolls on with one generation of greatness following the other. However, there are those few who transcend their times and will be remembered through the ages.

There’s sadness in the losses of Weaver and Musial in that they are gone, but also that many of us never got a chance to witness their greatness in person. And for that, we are all the poorer.