Aug 07

Three Mets’ Storylines: Will Walker Be Around In 2017 To Save Them?

Just when it looked as if things couldn’t get bleaker for the Mets, Neil Walker rescued them Sunday afternoon with a two-run, ninth-inning homer.

WALKER: Will they keep him. (AP)

WALKER: Will they keep him. (AP)

It wasn’t the first time Walker picked up the Mets by the scruff of the neck and made me wonder if Walker will be around to save them in 2017. He’s free to leave after this season and there’s been no word on what the Mets’ plans are – or Walker’s.

The Mets were lucky to get him from Pittsburgh after Daniel Murphy left last winter. Ben Zobrist was their first replacement choice, but they were never going to afford him. GM Sandy Alderson let Murphy walk for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which Dilson Herrera as their fall back. Well, Herrera now is in Cincinnati’s farm system.

If they let Walker go as they did Murphy, they will be forced to find a second baseman. Will they go outside? Will it be Wilmer Flores, whom they never want to give a fair chance? Will it be Jose Reyes? Will they bring back Kelly Johnson or try Matt Reynolds?

Whoever they choose, it’s unlikely he’ll match Walker’s production, which will become even more important should Yoenis Cespedes leave and David Wright doesn’t recover. What Walker did Sunday is to remind us how important he has been to the Mets and fragility of their offense.

As has been the case with the Mets a lot lately, the game boiled down to the late innings. Manager Terry Collins pulled Jacob deGrom with the bases loaded, two outs and a one-run lead in the seventh, but Jerry Blevins couldn’t keep Detroit from tying the game and the Mets were in danger of being swept and falling further behind in the wild-card race.

However, the Tigers ran themselves out of the eighth inning to set up Walker’s 19th homer, a drive well into the right-field seats that carried the Mets to a 3-1 victory.

After a sizzling April, Walker went into a dismal slump, but regained his stroke after the All-Star break and took a .489 stretch (22-for-45) into the game. With Cespedes basically a non-entity since early July, Walker kept the Mets afloat; he has three homers and nine RBI over his last dozen games.

Walker approached his at-bat against Francisco Rodriguez wanting to get a fastball early and stay away from the closer’s put-away changeup.

“You hope he leaves something up in the zone and that’s what I got,” Walker said. “With most closers you want to get to them early [in the count] because they have a devastating out pitch.”

Considering the Mets’ overall lack of prowess hitting with RISP and their injuries, one shudders to think where they would be without Walker. For one thing, it’s doubtful they would be three games over .500.

Walker has been crucial to the Mets’ hanging around, and as dismal as they have played, they are one good week from getting a foothold in the wild card race. They are currently nine games behind Washington in the NL East, so that boat is pulling out of the harbor. Still, the wild card is possible, as they trail the second slot by 1.5 games.

Walker’s homer was the headline of the day for the Mets, followed by deGrom’s start and my favorite Ernie Harwell story.

DE GROM START WASTED: The only real concern the Mets have with deGrom is not being able to score runs for him. Sunday marked the 11th time in his short career in which he gave up one or fewer runs and the Mets didn’t give him more than one run.

DeGrom had a 1-0 lead entering the seventh, but the Tigers loaded the bases on Justin Upton’s single, a walk to James McCann and Andrew Romine’s squibber that died near the third base line. Enter Blevins, who was greeted by Ian Kinsler’s weak chopper past the mound to tie the game and ensure deGrom’s seventh no-decision.

Collins said he thought deGrom was losing it after the walk when asked why he didn’t let him finish. For his part, deGrom said, “it was probably the right call,” to pull him.

As for Kinsler’s hit, deGrom said: “You’re trying to get weak contact there or a strikeout. It was a little too weak. It’s all part of the game.”

Fortunately for the Mets, on this day it wasn’t the definitive part of the game.

MY FAVORITE HARWELL STORY:  This series in Detroit reminds me of the late Tigers’ Hall of Fame broadcaster, Ernie Harwell, will always be one of my favorite people I’ve met in sports.

I always heard about his kindness, but experienced it first hand by his selfless gesture toward me in the Tigers’ clubhouse years ago. I was just starting out covering the Indians at the time when I ventured into the Tigers’ clubhouse to get a Kirk Gibson quote.

I waited patiently until the circle around Gibson was breaking up when I approached him. He looked at me and gruffly said, “I’m done for the day,’’ then turned his back. I was more than a little miffed when a TV guy stuck his mike in Gibson’s face. What could I do, show Gibson my resume and clips portfolio?

“What the hell?” I thought. Harwell saw this and walked up to me and said, “Don’t worry about it. That happens all the time.”

I always remembered that and remained grateful for Harwell’s compassion and kindness. He didn’t know me and didn’t have to do that, but that was Ernie.

When I was covering the Yankees I always made it a point to visit with him whenever I was in Detroit.

He was the best. The very best.

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Aug 06

Three Mets’ Storylines: Looks Bad Collins Didn’t Challenge

Another day, another head-scratching moment for the Mets. There were all those lost opportunities during the game, but the most puzzling moment came after the game’s final play when manager Terry Collins eschewed the opportunity to use his challenge.

As long as there’s a chance, and replay gave the Mets that chance, you go for it, but Collins did not. Earlier this week in dealing with the issue of perception vs. reality in the Yoenis Cespedes golf matter, Collins angrily said he didn’t care about perception and dealt in reality.

In not appealing, the perception is Collins doesn’t care – which I know isn’t true – against the reality, which he admitted that he wasn’t thinking.

BRUCE: Game ends in controversy. (AP)

BRUCE: Game ends in controversy. (AP)

The Mets finally appeared to get a hit with a runner in scoring position when Travis d’Arnaud grounded a single into right field, but Jay Bruce was thrown out at the plate to end the game when his cleat was caught in the dirt.

Once down 6-1, the Mets’ comeback fizzled at 6-5, but in this day of instant replay – when you never really know – Collins didn’t even bother to challenge the call. Replays showed Bruce was out, but clearcut replays have been reversed before, so why not?

It’s like on fourth-and-18, instead of throwing into the end zone you just take a knee.

“It was a tough way to end it,” Collins told reporters. “I thought for sure he was going to make it.”

Would Collins accept a base runner’s explanation he “thought for sure,” the ball was foul as to why he didn’t run? I don’t think so.

“That might be one of those plays where you might as well just take the chance anyway and see what happens,” Collins said. “I didn’t think about it.”

That’s a terrible thing for a manager to admit.

Bruce couldn’t say whether he was safe or out.

“I’ve seen it challenged before, but that’s not my decision,” Bruce said. “It’s a judgment call and I wasn’t part of the judgment call.”

It has been a rough season and a rough week for Collins, but that’s no excuse. Instant Replay, at least in Cespedes’ world, is a mulligan and Collins should have used it.

Not doing so, along with the Mets’ ineptitude to hit with RISP (2-for-12, 10 LOB, three double plays) was the main storyline. The others are the Mets’ fifth spot in the rotation and Zack Wheeler‘s rehab game.

TAKING THE FIFTH: For the most part, Logan Verrett has given the Mets a chance to win most of his starts in place of Matt Harvey. He didn’t Saturday night in giving up six runs in 3.2 innings. Considering how poorly the Mets’ offense has been, he gave them very little chance.

“I talked with [GM] Sandy [Alderson] about some things and we’re going to certainly look at some options,” Collins said when asked whether Verrett will stay in the rotation.

An option to replace him is Jon Niese, who pitched a scoreless 2.1 innings in relief.

WHEELER MAKES REHAB START:  With the Mets nine games behind Washington and 2.5 behind Miami, and tied with Pittsburgh for two games behind the final wild-card berth, the season is rapidly fading.

Given that, they would be foolish to wait for Wheeler’s return from the disabled list, because by the time he’s ready the season could be over. Wheeler threw 17 pitches in a rain-shortened rehab assignment with Class A St. Lucie. His fastball ranged from 90-96 mph.

Wheeler’s rehab assignment, barring a setback, will end the first week in September.

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Mar 06

Harvey’s First Impression Of Start

Matt Harvey’s first start coming off Tommy John surgery was a good one with two perfect innings Friday afternoon against Detroit. Harvey struck out three and threw 25 of his prescribed 35 pitches, and finished his session throwing on the side.

HARVEY: Good first start. (AP)

HARVEY: Good first start. (AP)

“I wasn’t nervous. It felt good. … It was great,’’ Harvey said in a SNY interview from the Mets’ dugout. “This was the team I faced when things started crumbling. It is the biggest step so far.’’

Harvey’s last appearance was Aug. 24, 2013, when he was routed by the Tigers. He had surgery two months later.

While there is considerable talk about limiting Harvey this summer – much of it to be determined – he has one idea of his own.

“I think the main thing to work out is in between starts was that I was throwing too hard and too long in bullpens,’’ Harvey said. “The big thing is toning down the bullpens.’’

What Harvey didn’t mention, which I hoped he would, was to be more open about disclosing aches and pains. If you recall, he tried to pitch threw discomfort in his right forearm prior to the 2013 All-Star break.


Mar 06

Harvey Gets The Ball

While it is cold and snowy in New York, but today marks the real start of baseball season because Matt Harvey will make his first appearance in a game since Aug. 24, 2013.

He walked off that game against Detroit with pain in is right elbow that two months later required Tommy John surgery. By coincidence, he’s facing the Tigers again Friday.

HARVEY: All eyes on him today. (AP)

HARVEY: All eyes on him today. (AP)

Harvey blew a lot of smoke leading up to this start, telling reporters: “I’m looking at it as getting ready for a season. I’m not really putting any extra pressure on that there isn’t anyway. I’m looking at it as getting work done and preparing for a season like nothing has ever happened.’’

LOL. That’s rich. A quick show of hands please. How many actually believe that? Thought so …

Harvey isn’t fooling anybody. He literally begged the Mets to pitch last season, but GM Sandy Alderson held the course, which was the right thing to do.

Harvey is scheduled to throw 35 pitches over two innings – 40 tops – and it wouldn’t be natural if the adrenalin weren’t flowing full course. He’s as anxious as anybody to find out about his elbow.

Even pitching coach Dan Warthen anticipates Harvey’s competitive nature – which makes him a special prospect – to surface. It’s unavoidable, he said: “There’s no way you’re ever going to dial Matt down. It’s competition. He’s going to do everything he can to get that person out. So he’s not going to dial it down.’’

While the Mets have been pointing to Harvey’s return as the driving force for their drive to the playoffs, let’s be sure about one thing, and that is he is still a prospect with only 36 career starts, 178.1 innings and just 12 victories.

In the grand scheme of things, that’s not even one full season.

But, there’s a lot of pressure and angst tied into this start.

It’s only natural.


Feb 23

Spring Training TV Schedule

SNY and WPIX announced their spring-training telecast schedule Monday. All of the televised Mets games will be in Port St. Lucie and begin at 1:10 p.m.

6 Tigers, SNY
7 Braves, PIX11
8 Red Sox, PIX11
9 Marlins, SNY
12 Nationals, SNY
13 Braves, SNY
14 Nationals, PIX11
17 Marlins, SNY
19 Astros, SNY
20 Cardinals, SNY
22 Yankees, SNY
24 Astros, SNY
28 Nationals, PIX11
30 Marlins, SNY

1 Cardinals, SNY