Sep 12

Backman Out; Was Never Going To Get Chance

Mets GM Sandy Alderson said Wally Backman, the one time, popular pepper pot second baseman of the 1986 champion Mets, is out as Triple-A Las Vegas’ manager.

Just like that, he’s out.

Alderson said Backman left on his own, but does anybody really believe that?

BACKMAN: Inevitable happens. (MLB.com)

BACKMAN: Inevitable happens. (MLB.com)

“Wally has decided to move on,” Alderson told The New York Post. “He’s got other opportunities, presumably including possible major league coaching or managing.”

That’s nonsense. The minor league season just ended and the major league season is still going on. There are no current openings. If Backman had another job lined up, he would have said so.

When somebody desperately wants to manage in the major leagues, he doesn’t resign from a Triple-A job without something lined up. Instead, he just posted a mild tweet saying he resigned and thanked Mets’ fans for their support. He posted nothing about Alderson.

Reportedly, Backman was on the verge of being named bench coach for the 2012 season, but something happened at the last minute and the job went to Tim Teufel.

In 2004, Backman was hired to manage the Arizona Diamondbacks but was fired four days later after The New York Times reported he had been arrested twice and was under financial duress.

Amazingly, the Diamondbacks failed to do a background check.

Baseball is noted for giving second chances, but Backman has never gotten another opportunity to manage on the major league level. Instead, he found sanctuary with the Mets, the team he energized in 1986.

SNY analyst Keith Hernandez called Backman, “a dear friend and a great teammate.”

Backman managed Las Vegas for five seasons and guided them to a 70-74 record this year. Although Las Vegas had three winning seasons prior to this year, Backman never was enamored by Alderson, who was very complimentary in The Post.

“I thought he did a fine job for us,” Alderson said. “We had many players come through Las Vegas and graduate to the major league level and establish themselves in New York.

“He was part of that development process. In addition, other than this year, the teams were very competitive and successful on a won-loss basis. He did a good job for us.”

So, what was the problem?

Backman has a reputation as a loose cannon that irritated the button-down Alderson. There always seemed to be friction between them, and Alderson has a reputation for holding a grudge.

There are reports of Backman defying Alderson by not batting Brandon Nimmo leadoff and – heaven forbid – or starting Michael Conforto against left-handed pitchers.

On the major league level, Terry Collins said he would, but never followed through on hitting Conforto against lefties. Backman was also critical of how Conforto was used by the Mets. Come to think of it, who hasn’t been critical of the way the Mets are using Conforto.

The Mets’ current outfield situation, in large part made by their eagerness to placate Yoenis Cespedes, is currently a mess. There are no plans for what to do with Conforto – whom Collins said in April was destined to be the Mets’ No. 3 hitter for the next decade – and Nimmo.

There is actually a chance they won’t have either Cespedes or Jay Bruce in 2017.

Collins was hired to replace Jerry Manuel in 2011 and had four losing seasons. There were opportunities to hire Backman then, but Collins survived, getting the benefit of the doubt by numerous injuries and ownership’s financial problems.

The thinking was the Mets couldn’t fire Collins because he hadn’t been given a representative team. It wouldn’t be fair. However, everything fell into place and the Mets reached the World Series in 2015. And, with the Mets serious wild-card contenders this year, Collins’ job seems secure.

Part of the success of last year was because of the performances of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Conforto and Travis d’Arnaud, players who did well under Backman.

The Mets could have promoted Backman to bench coach after last year to replace Bob Geren, who left for the Dodgers. However, when the job went to Dick Scott, it became clear there was no place for him on the major league level despite Jeff Wilpon’s initial gesture of support when they hired him.

With the friction between Backman and the Mets this year, it was only a matter of time before today happened. Do you still don’t think there isn’t animosity between Backman and the Mets? On SNY during the game, Backman wasn’t mentioned until the seventh inning of a blowout, and ended its Baseball Tonight broadcast with basically a throw-away line. It was the last item, but should have been the first.

Don’t think the Mets didn’t have anything to do with that? It sure looks like the Mets wanted to bury this. Makes you wonder why they didn’t wait until 3 in morning Eastern time – the Mets were on the West Coast at the time – like they did when they axed Willie Randolph.

The bottom line is the Mets didn’t want Backman. That’s too bad, and I hope some team takes a chance on him.

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Sep 12

Met On The Mound: Montero Pitching For Spot On Playoff Roster

I’m not crazy about the Mets having to start Rafael Montero tonight in Washington, but I’m glad they have an experienced arm to turn to and manager Terry Collins isn’t forced to alter his rotation by flipping him with Noah Syndergaard.

MONTERO: Pitching for playoff spot. (AP)

MONTERO: Pitching for playoff spot. (AP)

It’s a smart move on Collins’ part not to toy with Syndergaard, who is showing signs of regaining his command after a stretch where he was bothered by a bone spur and poor command.

The Mets have been fortunate to win both of Montero’s starts despite his wildness. Collins likes that Montero throws hard – ten walks in 9.1 innings – but said command is the central issue.

Command will be a deciding factor if the Mets get down to making a playoff roster. Montero has the experience and is capable of giving the Mets innings. Montero must show tonight and in possibly two remaining starts that his control won’t be a liability.

The Mets have no choice but to stick with Montero for now because both Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz are now throwing off flat ground. They are likely two weeks away.

So for now, Montero has his immediate destiny in his hands. The Mets won’t have five starters on their playoff roster, and unlike last season, unless Matz and deGrom return, Bartolo Colon won’t work out of the bullpen.

I never imagined I would write that with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman ahead of him – and barring no returns from the DL – Montero has tonight and possibly two other starts later to make the impression he belongs.

Yes, there’s always next year, but Montero has a chance to pitch in the playoffs this season and these opportunities don’t come often.

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Sep 11

Three Mets’ Storylines: Lugo Continues To Shine

Every pennant winner needs that player who comes out of nowhere to fill a huge void, which is exactly what the Mets have in Seth Lugo. More to the point, where would they be without him?

LUGO: Cruises to win. (AP)

LUGO: Cruises to win. (AP)

Lugo has given the Mets’ rotation a sense of stability after injuries to Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz. Lugo, who joined the rotation Aug. 19, was superb in Sunday’s 10-3 rout of Atlanta, giving up two runs on six hits in seven innings.

Now 4-2 with a 2.40 ERA, Lugo figures to get three more starts and if he runs the table could tie deGrom with seven victories in his rookie season.

“He has a feel for pitching,” said manager Terry Collins. “He knows how to get a ground ball to get out of trouble. You see him bear down and his fastball gets a little better.”

If there was a turning point, it came in the fourth, when the Mets held a 6-1 lead but the Braves had the bases loaded with one out. However, Lugo got Dansby Swanson to ground into an inning-ending double play.

“He mixes his pitches well,” said catcher Rene Rivera. “When he gets a runner on base, he focuses and executes.”

The Mets were never seriously threatened from then on.

Lugo’s domination on the day the Mets said good-riddance to Turner Field was the clear storyline. The others were Collins’ questionable handling of two of his key injured players and finally, some production, from James Loney.

MORE COLLINS HEADSCRATCHING: Less than 24 hours after Collins took the blame for not running for Wilmer Flores only to have him thrown out, and injured, on a play at the plate, he foolishly kept the gimpy Asdrubal Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes in a blowout game despite the expanded rosters.

Cabrera has been playing with a sore knee and Cespedes a bad quad – injuries that forced both to the disabled list in the second half of the season – so you would think Collins would use every opportunity to rest them.

For all practical purposes, the competitive aspect of the game was over when the Mets took a 10-1 lead in the fifth.

Even so, Cabrera and Cespedes remained in the game despite the expanded rosters.

Collins said they wanted to stay in the game to beg the question: Who is managing this team anyway?

Heading into Washington for three games against the Nationals, who would like nothing better to cap the division with a sweep of the Mets, and on a stretch of 19 straight games without an off day, it’s beyond foolish to keep players coming off injuries in a blowout game.

LONEY RESURFACES: When Lucas Duda went down with a back injury, the Mets caught a break when they picked up Loney.

He’s been solid defensively and hit .294 in June and .280 in July, but only .213 in August.

However, he’s been warming up in September, and Sunday went 2-for-4 with a double and homer

Nobody can say for sure if Duda will return, so it would be important to have a hot Loney for the last three weeks.

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Sep 10

Translating Alderson: Mets Not Expecting DeGrom, Matz Soon

Recent history tells us when Mets’ brass speculates on the return of injured players, it usually takes longer than announced. So, when GM Sandy Alderson refused to comment Friday on the progress of Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, I can’t help but conclude they aren’t coming back anytime soon.

“I’m not going to talk about them,” Alderson said. “The players who have gotten us here are the players who are healthy and the players who have performed. It doesn’t do anybody any good about talking about when, or if, certain players are going to come back.”

ALDERSON: Easy to conclude his words. (AP)

ALDERSON: Easy to conclude his words. (AP)

DeGrom threw on flat ground Friday. He’ll throw on flat ground again in a couple of days. Then, in a few days, he’ll throw off the mound, which should be in a week.

So, with me doing what Alderson won’t, I’m guessing the Mets will skip deGrom’s spot in the rotation at least twice.

Matz, who will throw off the mound Saturday, is slightly ahead of deGrom. Assuming all goes well, he’ll go off the mound again in several days. The best case scenario for him will be after next weekend’s series against Minnesota.

Figuring that time frame for both, each could get about two or three starts before the end of the season.

Until then, the Mets will continue with Robert Gsellman, who have up four runs Friday in Atlanta, and Seth Lugo, who has a blister and will be pushed back to Sunday.

“We have the players who we have,” Alderson said. “We hope they continue to do the same job they’ve done. It’s really not constructive to talk about the players who aren’t here, or the players who aren’t close to being here. Talking about injuries is history.”

The operative words being “aren’t close to being here.’’

If they were, Alderson would have said so. Right?

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Sep 09

Is There No Turning Back For Mets?

This certainly isn’t your father’s Turner Field for the Mets. This place used to torment the Mets not too long ago. Just ask David Wright; if you want to go back further, there’s Armando Benitez.

Not Friday night. In the first game of their final series for the Mets here before Turner Field closes after the season, they rallied from four runs down to beat the Atlanta Braves, 6-4.

JOHNSON: Hits game-winner. (AP)

JOHNSON: Hits game-winner. (AP)

With the all-hands-on-deck victory, the Mets have won six straight games and 15 of their last 19 to move a season-high nine games over .500 and remain a half-game ahead of St. Louis for the second wild-card spot.

“Right now, things are falling our way,” manager Terry Collins said. “That’s what you have to have. We had a lot of games this year when they weren’t falling our way. We have to keep plugging.”

On Aug. 19, they were 5.5 games out of wild-card contention and fading fast. Tonight, I can’t help but wonder if there’s no turning back for the Mets.

There were plenty of Mets to pick up Robert Gsellman, who has two wins in picking up their injury-ravaged rotation.

* It began with Curtis Granderson, who started the comeback with a two-run homer in the sixth. It was the fourth straight in which the now hot Granderson has homered.

* The bullpen of Jim Henderson, Josh Smoker, Hansel Robles, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia combined to throw four scoreless innings.

* James Loney started a 3-6-3 inning-ending double play in the sixth after the Braves opened the inning with runners on the corners. Smoker relieved Henderson to strike out A.J. Pierzynski and get Ender Inciarte to hit into the double-play.

* Alejandro De Aza’s walk jumpstarted the Mets’ four-run eighth, keyed by Yoenis Cespedes’ sacrifice fly – he always does something – Granderson’s game-tying single and Kelly Johnson’s go-ahead pinch-hit double.

Players who have struggled all year are playing big; players who weren’t even on the team on Opening Day are making contributions.

Everything is clicking for the Mets. Every decision Collins is making is working. With 21 games remaining, the Mets are playing like they are counting on October.

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