Aug 09

Three Mets’ Keys For Tonight

The Mets have been playing win one, lose one for a month now. If October is going to happen, then this has to happen:

Get to Greinke Early:  It’s the same with Zack Greinke as most good starters and that’s to get at him early to run up his pitch count.

Pitch economy for Matz: Steven Matz is 8-8 after a 7-1 start, and the bone spur is the primary reason. Matz can’t throw his slider effectively, which hurts his other pitches. Throwing 100 pitches in six innings doesn’t make it.

Hit the ball: Whether against Greinke or the Arizona bullpen, the Mets have to capitalize on their opportunities. Their numbers with RISP are historically bad.

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Aug 09

No Need To Rush Wright

When it comes to recovering from injuries, David Wright has often been his worst enemy. Too often he tried to play through pain to stay on the field for the Mets.

He missed over four months last year dealing with spinal stenosis. He will miss the rest this year following surgery, June 16, to repair a herniated disk in his neck. I know this drives him crazy, but knowing he won’t come back is a good thing because he can’t force the issue.

WRIGHT: Take it slow. (AP)

WRIGHT: Take it slow. (AP)

Wright, speaking to children at the Coleman Country Day Camp Monday, said he’s been making steady improvement. Although, his reply of “I hope not,” when asked if his playing career could be over, spoke volumes about the seriousness of the injury and its possible ramifications.

“I’m feeling very good,” Wright said. “Now it’s just a matter of time taking its course and allowing the bone to heal. It’s been explained to me like a broken bone, it just takes time to heal. I feel good. I still don’t have the range of motion that I did before the surgery, but that’s why it takes three, four months for a full recovery.

“Now it’s just a matter of being patient and allowing the screws and the plate to [get in] place and fuse together so that hopefully there’s no more problems in the future.

“Hopefully” is a big word. So is “patient.”

The agreement Alex Rodriguez reached with the Mets Sunday reminds us of the fragility of careers and how quickly they could end.

Wright is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. I’m sure a lot is going through his mind, especially at two in the morning when he’s up feeding daughter, Olivia Shea, or changing diapers. Wright is a genuine guy who does real things, and I’m betting he lets wife, Molly, sleep.

Of all the athletes I have covered, Wright is one of my favorite. I miss seeing him play and believe he’ll come back. I really do.

But, there’s no rush to see him, so it doesn’t matter if he’s ready for Opening Day 2017, or needs another month or two.

Wright is a family man now. He doesn’t need the money. As much as he wants to play, he also knows he’ll be playing with house money the rest of his career.

Hopefully, he’ll finish healthy and walk away on his own terms, something Rodriguez will not do.

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Aug 08

Why I Believe Collins Will Return

Terry Collins has not had a great season – with last week especially tough – but barring a total free-fall I see him returning next year as Mets manager.

If the Mets remain in contention until the end, and since “playing meaningful games in September,’’ is the Wilpons’ mission statement that should be the first points in Collins’ favor.

01-terry-collins-080915-getty-ftrjpg_dduuxh7xyqfg1ckk33738rts9Not returning to the World Series isn’t a failure; a failure this year would be not competing. To fire a manager for not returning to the World Series would be grossly unfair if the circumstances are ignored.

As much as I disliked how Collins handled the Yoenis Cespedes Golfgate, it is reflective how he mostly has the backs of his players. The Mets don’t hit with RISP and frankly they haven’t done a lot of things well, but they always hustle.

Barring the occasional Cespedes lapse, his players bust it for him and that’s a sign the manager has the clubhouse. That wasn’t the case when the Mets fired Art Howe, Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel.

Also working in Collins’ favor – and he’s benefitted from this before – have been the multitude of injuries. The Mets are two games out of the wild-card today, but their situation would be a lot better if they had Matt Harvey, David Wright, Lucas Duda, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jim Henderson and Juan Lagares, and Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard were completely healthy.

Bad years will happen, which has been the case with Curtis Granderson, Travis d’Arnaud and Michael Conforto, but their lack of production – in normal seasons – would have been off-set if the other guys were healthy.

But, that hasn’t been the case. Injuries happen and championship teams overcome, and so far the Mets are still afloat. That can’t be underestimated.

Finally, working in Collins’ favor is his relationship with GM Sandy Alderson, which I wrote last week has a disconnect. Alderson wasn’t complimentary of Collins in his autobiography and evidenced by Cespedes last week, there are still problems.

Collins manages the team Alderson gives him, and there are plenty of things to call the general manager out on regarding how he put this team together. However, Alderson is smart enough to know if Collins is made the scapegoat, then it will be he who takes what will be considerable heat.

For now, as long as the fans and media go after Collins, then he’s insulated. Collins’ presence is his safety net.

Look, I’ve gotten on Collins a lot this year, but to be fair his team is weathering the storm. I believe he will, and should, have next year.

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Aug 07

What If The Mets Signed Alex Rodriguez In 2000?

Alex Rodriguez’s career has less than a week remaining following today’s announcement he will stop playing Friday to become an adviser/instructor for the team with whom he fought, embarrassed and will pay him $27 million to walk away.

Whatever you think of Rodriguez – he’s a polarizing figure both ways – I will always attach two words to his career: “What if?”

RODRIGUEZ: What if? (AP)

RODRIGUEZ: What if? (AP)

What if he didn’t use PEDs? What if he never left Seattle? What if he went to Boston instead of the Yankees? What if he wasn’t such a distraction off the field? What if he didn’t break down physically at the end?

Regarding the Mets, I wonder “what if Rodriguez signed with them instead of Texas after the 2000 World Series?”

It was the winter of that year and the Mets were among a handful of teams interested in signing Rodriguez. Some had him as the front-runner. The Mets’ GM at the time, Steve Phillips, cited several factors in backing away, including reportedly a refusal to meet Rodriguez’s non-salaried demands of a private plane and luxury box; an office with four employees in Shea Stadium; and a billboard presence.

Phillips made a point of saying he wasn’t going to turn the Mets into a “24-plus-one-roster” and destroy the chemistry of the team. Then, of course, there was his salary. The Mets were willing to go over $120 million, which is what Cleveland’s Manny Ramirez signed for with Boston that year.

However, the Rangers’ ten-year, $252-million contract was beyond comprehension.

What if the Mets were willing to give Rodriguez what he wanted? What if?

The Mets were coming off a World Series appearance and obviously a good team. Adding Rodriguez to a lineup that already included Mike Piazza could have devastated the National League, and it wouldn’t have been hard to envision another World Series. Maybe two. Maybe more.

If that was the case, might Bobby Valentine survived, and in doing so, the Mets avoided the parade of Art Howe, Willie Randolph, Jerry Manuel and now Terry Collins?

Would we have ever seen the Sandy Alderson era?

With Piazza and Rodriguez hitting back-to-back, how many more homers could each have hit having the other for protection?

In 2000, the Mets were nine years away from moving into Citi Field. If they signed Rodriguez, would that have delayed or sped up the plans for Citi Field, which hit the drawing board in December of 2001?

On the field, what would Rodriguez have prevented or enabled the Mets to do?

For one thing, signing Rodriguez would have delayed bringing up Jose Reyes, unless they were intent on playing him at second base. They certainly would have had no use for Kaz Matsui with Rodriguez at shortstop.

Then again, if the Mets’ thinking at the time were to move Reyes to third, would that have delayed the arrival of David Wright?

The Mets went back to the playoffs in 2006, but how far might they have gone with an infield – from third to first – of Wright, Rodriguez, Reyes and Carlos Delgado?

With Rodriguez, would the Mets have been in position to go after Delgado and Carlos Beltran? As pricey as Rodriguez’s contract was, if his presence put the Mets in the playoffs several times, how would this have impacted the Wilpon’s financial situation?

Reyes, Rodriguez, Wright, Delgado and Beltran would have comprised a formidable offense, and if they still added Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine, then Johan Santana, could the Mets have been a dynasty in the 2000s?

There are no guarantees in sports, but it’s fun to speculate how different things might have been. Mets’ history and overall baseball history would surely have changed had Rodriguez ended up in Shea Stadium during the winter of 2000.

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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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