Apr 23

John Buck: From Trade Bait To Indispensable?

Several times this season John Buck’s fast start fueled speculation that with Travis d’Arnaud’s promotion the Mets might deal him at the trade deadline.

After all, who doesn’t want a hot-hitting catcher who calls a crisp game behind the plate? Most every team would and that includes the Mets, who, along with Buck exceeded early expectations.

BUCK: Proving very valuable.

BUCK: Proving very valuable.

It’s not as if Buck has gone from trade bait to indispensable, but he isn’t going anywhere any time soon. And, that has more to do than with d’Arnaud’s broken foot that will keep him out for two months. Buck is simply the Mets’ best offensive weapon and has been solid behind the plate, drawing raves from Matt Harvey and Jon Niese.

However, manager Terry Collins said it best: “John Buck seems to be in the middle of everything that’s good right now.’’

Buck homered in the Mets’ 2-0 victory over Washington Sunday, a comprehensive display of the fastest start of his career. There was the homer, giving him seven and a league-high 22 RBI, but also his defense and the game he called for Dillon Gee.

The Mets’ pride is their young pitchers, and Buck could be the same steading influence Jerry Grote once was to Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack.

Harvey has been the darling at 4-0 and a sub-1.00 ERA, swears by Buck. There’s no way the Mets break up that duo.

Harvey said he’s shaken off Buck maybe five or six times this year ins describing the same instinctual chemistry a quarterback would have with his best receiver.

“He already knows what’s coming,’’ Harvey said. “It’s really fun every time I take the mound and see him back there. It’s just positive energy. It’s more fuel.’’

It’s not luck or coincidence that has Buck putting down the correct fingers. It’s the culmination of hard work spent in the first nine years of his career. He keeps copious notes on his pitchers and opposing hitters, and they complement the game plan drawn up by pitching coach Dan Warthen.

On the day of the game Buck meets early with Warthen and the pitcher to go over the scouting reports and film. Later, he’ll meet with the pitcher privately. However, he talks to all the pitchers throughout the week, not just on the days they start. The communication is constantly flowing.

Harvey said Buck’s preparation is inspirational to the point where he’ll incorporate what he’s learned throughout his career.

“He knows what the hitters are going to do,’’ said Harvey. “The studying that he does and the video that he watches and the plan that he comes up with for each individual pitcher, it’s something that I’m learning still. And it’s awesome.’’

Buck and d’Arnaud’s lockers were side-by-side in spring training, and it wasn’t by accident, either.

“I like to pick his brain,’’ d’Arnaud said this spring. “He’s very easy to talk with and I’ve learned a lot from being around him.’’

Buck said in spring training he understood he was brought here to help d’Arnaud and that attitude hasn’t changed despite the latter’s injury. It’s not as if when he heard the news he moved out of his apartment and bought a house.

“My stance is still the same,’’ Buck said. “I truly feel if I do good, then he does good. I’ve been around too much to take positive thoughts out of something bad happening to someone else. … Until someone tells me otherwise, I’ll just keep going about my business.’’

Nobody will be telling Buck otherwise any time soon.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Apr 20

Matt Harvey’s Star Keeps Burning

Tom Seaver. Mike Mussina. Roger Clemens. Dwight Gooden.

Matt Harvey has been compared, whether it be stuff, demeanor or franchise history, in some way has been compared to them all.

Yes, it is not fair. Yes, it places unreasonable pressure. But, that’s the nature of covering and following sports. Managers, general managers and players all do it, too.

HARVEY: Keeps burning. (AP)

HARVEY: Keeps burning. (AP)

Harvey is getting a lot of that these days, and after beating Stephen Strasburg last night, he’ll be getting more.

Gooden, who tweeted Harvey is “the real deal,’’ was spotted last night on the Citi Field video board giving a thumbs-up sign. It was in part acknowledging the ovation; it was in part recognition of who he was watching.

“Yeah, absolutely,’’ Harvey said when asked if he was aware of Gooden’s presence and tweet. “It made it special. I grew up watching that guy. I wanted to be like that guy.’’

Whether Harvey has a career like Gooden, Mussina or Mike Pelfrey, we can’t say now. What we can say is all the arrows are pointed in the right direction.

“A lot of guys can throw 98,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “I like his competitive make-up. … Fear of failure is not in Matt Harvey’s make-up.’’

Harvey doesn’t just want to be a good pitcher; he wants to be the best. Collins said Harvey was in tune with the expectations of going against Strasburg, and the Mets’ present and future ace admitted to being amped early.

When it was over, Harvey was all humility – one of his more likable qualities – when asked about the “Har-vey’s better, Har-vey’s better,’’ chant that consumed Citi Field.

Harvey, in his first full season, is composed enough to know he’ll face Strasburg many more times in the future, and the Mets play the Nationals 18 times a season. This isn’t the NBA; there’s no trash talking. Harvey knew better than to stir the pot.

“It’s nice to hear, but I’ve got a long way to go,’’ Harvey said. “I appreciate the fans and the support and all that. But we’re here to win. We’re the New York Mets. It’s not just one guy out there. Every time I take the ball I’m trying to win for the team.’’

That all sound good, but Harvey knows words are cheap and he has to do it on the mound. That’s why Harvey was more satisfied with getting out of a bases-load, no-outs jam in the seventh rather than the two-hit shutout he had after the sixth.

“I knew I would have to pitch there,’’ Harvey said. “I knew I would have to throw strikes.’’

The Mets took a 4-0 lead into the inning, but the panic meter was running high when the Nationals had a run in and loaded the bases. Harvey knew what was required of him.

“That was a big challenge – bases loaded with no outs,’’ Harvey said. “That’s a tough lineup. At any point it felt like it could unravel and things could have gone the other way.’’

It didn’t because Harvey wouldn’t let it.

“That’s the mark of an ace right there,’’ Collins said. “That’s why we can’t say enough things about him. Games like this can lead to a great season.’’

Harvey has a strong work ethic, but that runs deeper than conditioning and working on his breaking pitches in the bullpen. Not only does Harvey work his body, but also his mind and that’s part of the package.

Harvey pitched seven innings last night in improving to 4-0. His goal is over 200, so there’s a long road ahead.

“I’m going to take the 24-hour rule and definitely be happy about this start and this win,’’ Harvey said. “And after it’s over, tomorrow, it’s time to work hard and get prepared for the next start.’’

They said Seaver once said the same in comparing Harvey to him. Perhaps one day they’ll say that about another hot property when they compare him to Harvey.

Apr 14

Harvey Proving To Be “The Real Deal”

It is a misnomer to say Matt Harvey is the first Mets’ pitcher worth anticipating watching since Dwight Gooden.

The Mets have had several pitchers who made you wonder in anticipation before their starts over the years, but it was what they might do that day or for that season.

HARVEY: How good can he become? (AP)

HARVEY: How good can he become? (AP)

However, they have had three in their five-decade history that by the magic in their arms and icy cold demeanor forced you to wonder if you weren’t watching one of the great ones.

And, when you knew you were, you considered yourself lucky.

There’s Tom Seaver and Gooden, of course, now it is Harvey making you wonder.

Yesterday Harvey lost a no-hitter with two outs in the seventh inning in what turned out to be a 4-2 victory in frigid Minnesota. In that game, Harvey not only lowered his ERA to a microscopic 0.82, but became just the third pitcher since 1945 to start the season with three consecutive starts of three or fewer hits allowed in seven-plus innings.

The others were Nolan Ryan, who threw seven no-hitters, and trivia-question answer Jim Rooker.

So far, Harvey has given up six hits and six walks with 25 strikeouts in 22 innings. We could spend all day discussing some of Harvey’s early-season numbers, not to mention what he could finish with in 15 years.

Harvey didn’t throw a no-hitter in the minors or at North Carolina, but had a couple in high school in Connecticut.

Pitchers will frequently say they weren’t aware they were pitching a no-hitter, but Harvey knew. He has a unique sense of awareness for someone with only 13 major league starts.

“No, I knew. I knew,’’ Harvey said. “I peeked a couple of times, but I really didn’t know until the fourth or fifth inning or so.’’

He just seems to know, and that’s what makes him special.

In a tweet, Gooden called Harvey, “the real deal.’’

It sure looks that way.

Apr 09

Is Harvey The Best Mets Pitcher Drafted Since Gooden?

matt harveyLast night, at least six times, I heard fans, beat writers and announcers drawing comparisons to Tom Seaver when talking about Matt Harvey. He’s quickly becoming not just a Mets story limited only to the five surrounding boroughs, but a national baseball story as well. A cover on the front of Sports Illustrated or ESPN magazine is not far away.

Harvey, 24, had his second consecutive scintillating start in a row on Monday evening, holding the Phillies to just one run and three hits over seven innings of work. The righthander struck out nine and now has 19 strikeouts in 14 innings.

The seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft is tearing down long-standing records for pitchers who are breaking into the majors and after 12 starts he even had the great Doctor K himself saying, “I am sitting here watching Matt Harvey… this kid is better than advertised … looking forward to watching him every 5th day.”

One thing I found impressive came from former major leaguer turned ESPN analyst Doug Glanville say, “He has four plus pitches – make that plus, plus pitches. And even if he only has three of them working he’s going to pitch a great game. Even if he has just two of the working, he’s going pitch a good game.”

Manager Terry Collins kind of backed that up after the game, “Obviously he wasn’t real sharp, but he was still very good,” Collins said. “The fact that the change-up has helped him. He threw some very good breaking balls today. He just wasn’t as sharp with the command of his fastball…It just tells you what the quality stuff can do and when you make a pitch you have to make, you get people out.”

Can Matt Harvey become the best pitcher the Mets have developed since – well since – Dwight Gooden?

I’m starting to believe that it’s certainly a possibility. He may be the best pitcher a Mets GM has drafted since Frank Cashen took selected Gooden fifth overall in 1981. That was six general managers and 32 years ago.

Is it too early to make such a claim? Maybe. But I’ll stick to my guns and wait ten years to see if I was right.

Apr 05

Mets Summer Of 1973: The Birth Of “Ya Gotta Believe.”

gal-70smets-13-jpg

TUG McGRAW: Coined one of the best slogans ever.

As far as team slogans go, the 1973 Mets’ rallying cry “Ya Gotta Believe’’ may not rank with Knute Rockne’s “Win one for the Gipper,’’ but it stood the test of time, lasting far longer than Reingold beer’s “Ten Minute Head.’’

Had it been a movie, the late and great Roger Ebert would have given it a thumbs down for it’s corniness.

Going into the season, the 1973 team was arguably more talented than the 1969 Miracle Mets, with the additions of Rusty Staub, Jon Matlack, John Milner and Felix Millan. This was a team to be feared and sprinted out of the gate at 4-0, and was in first place by late April. However, overcome by injuries, the Mets nose-dived into the cellar, 7 ½ games behind by July 26. They dropped to 12 games below .500 with 44 games to play on August 16.

Even so, they were still within shouting distance in the mediocre National League East. It would be tough, Mets Chairman of the Board M. Donald Grant thought, but there were all those tickets to home games in September that needed to be sold.

MCGRAW: You win with heart, too.

MCGRAW: You win with heart, too.

Grant addressed the team and told them not to quit because there was time to turn things around. After all, he had had recent history to fall back on as the 1969 team overcame an eight-game August deficit to the Cubs.

That’s when closer Tug McGraw stood up and shouted, “that’s right, we can do it, Ya gotta believe.’’ It was a moment of “was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor,’’ exuberance that stuck with those Mets.

The Mets, Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs tripped over each other for much of September, but Yogi Berra’s team was the most consistent, and had to be considering the ground it had to make up.

The Mets won 24 of 35 games to make up those 12 games and move into first place on Sept. 21, with a 10-2 rout of Pittsburgh behind Tom Seaver.

It was a fragile lead as only 2 ½ games separated them from fifth-place Chicago.

“We’ve been hot,’’ Berra said at the time. “But I have to say it’s still wide open.’’

The Mets swept a two-game series with St. Louis and split a two-game series with Montreal before heading into Wrigley Field that final weekend with a one-game lead. On Friday the Mets were rained out, but Montreal beat Pittsburgh. The scenario repeated itself on Saturday.

By now, St. Louis leapfrogged Pittsburgh and trailed by 1½ games going into Sunday. The Mets split a double-header to go to 81-79 while the Cardinals were 81-81.

That set up another double-header for Monday with the Mets needing a split to win the division title, which Seaver gave them by winning the first game.

This might have been the Mets’ grittiest team, and it’s soundtrack being McGraw screaming “Ya Gotta Believe,’’ as he slapped his glove on his thigh.

Although McGraw repeated the slogan with the 1980 Phillies, and Philadelphia fans tried to resurrect it several years ago, it didn’t have the same impact as it did when it woke up New York, the team and the city, during the Summer of 1973.

ON DECK: Jeremy Hefner and lineups.