Saturday, April 30, 2016

Turnabout's Fair Play

I mentioned this to George, and basically everyone who would listen to me after Friday night's Mets bombarding of the San Francisco Giants: Last season, I went to a Mets/Giants game and watched the Mets get No Hit by Chris Heston. I watched the 9th inning of that game stewing in silence as the true horror unfolded.

Last night was the exact opposite of that. Rather than not hitting, the Mets hit, and hit, and hit some more in a 3rd inning that just kept on steamrolling until the Mets had plated 12 runs, something they had never before accomplished in team history.

These games usually begin innocuously, as most games tend to do. It was, of course, Friday, which means I got a Free Shirt and as I was coming off the train before going inside I passed the WOR tent, where they were giving out free shirts for answering trivia questions. I'd planned not to stop, except that I knew the answer to the question that was asked, so essentially, I shouted it out as I passed by and got a second free shirt, which appears to be a leftover from last season. Inside, it was crowded, as you'd expect on a Friday night against a contending team like the Giants and a team with a fan base that travels well like the Giants. I expected to see large swaths of Black and Orange and I certainly did, and the Finnerty's crowd was in full force out in Left Field. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary.

Steven Matz was on the mound for the Mets, against Jake Peavy for the Giants. The discussion that spurred involved things like George not knowing that Peavy was still in the league, twice confusing him with Brad Penny by assuming he'd pitched for the Marlins and the Dodgers, and neither of us being able to remember which teams he'd actually pitched for outside of the Padres and Red Sox. It was raining at the start of the game, kind of lightly, intermittently, but then somewhere around the 2nd inning, it started raining a little harder. My scorecard was getting wet and I had to pause and put it away as several people ran for cover outright. Someone several rows down from me put up an umbrella and blocked my view of home plate, which was just lovely. It was turning into one of those nights.

In other words, nobody knew what was about to ensue.

The Giants had been dinging Matz around over the first few innings, picking up 5 hits, but nothing of consequence. Peavy didn't allow the Mets much over the first two innings. That, of course changed rather quickly.

Peavy's control hadn't been great to begin with and of course when he walked Curtis Granderson and David Wright to start the 3rd inning, he was asking for trouble. Michael Conforto followed, and generally Conforto with men on base has been a winning proposition for the Mets. So it wasn't surprising that Conforo smashed a double to the left-center field gap to score Granderson with the first run of the game. Yoenis Cespedes followed with a single that scored both Wright and Conforto and got the Mets out 3-0.

At this point, George and I were discussing clich├ęs to describe Peavy's situation. At this point, we felt he needed to minimize the damage and let the game come back to him, but instead he only made things worse by walking Lucas Duda and giving up a long double into the Right Field corner to Neil Walker to score Cespedes. At this point, Bruce Bochy had had enough of this and removed Peavy from the game, I suppose in an effort to stop the madness, but his choice of pitcher, Mike Broadway, only managed to make things worse.

Broadway was greeted by Asdrubal Cabrera drilling another double up the alley in Left Center, the Mets 3rd double of the inning, that plated Duda and Walker to make the score 6-0 and officially close the book on Peavy's forgettable evening. Kevin Plawecki walked. Matz followed and at this point, with 6 runs home, George and I were wondering whether or not he should be bunting, or what the protocol for proper sportsmanship was in this place. Surely, Matz has proven himself capable of swinging the bat, but it seems bunting isn't quite his bailiwick and he struck out on 3 attempts.

That's the first out of the inning, after 9 batters, if you're keeping score.

Here's where the inning began to get completely out of hand. Granderson followed by smoking a Broadway offering deep to Right Field, into the dopey alcove where nobody can hit Home Runs. It looked for a brief moment like it might land in the Pepsi Coca-Cola Porch, but it didn't, and Hunter Pence I guess was distracted by whatever signs were prepared for him because he got a glove on it but didn't hold on, and instead the ball fell, Cabrera scored and Granderson was aboard on what was charitably called a very long single. At this point, any sort of wheels that remained on the Giants had come off, and the Mets were either just going to keep on hitting forever. The inning was by this point well over half an hour long and the Mets had tied my personal best inning with 7 runs. So I just wanted to see how much further they could take this. Wright dunked a single in to load the bases. Conforto did his part by lining a single to right to score Plawecki and make it 8-0, and then Cespedes followed, and basically the thought in everyone's mind at this point was that he was either going to swing like he was trying to hit a grand slam, or that he was actually going to hit a grand slam, and really, that was the only result of that at bat. And, of course, he launched the 1st pitch into the seats in the Left Field corner for said grand slam and capped off the first 12-run inning in Mets History.

So at this point, everyone was bouncing off the walls with joy, George and I are both dumbstruck by what we've just witnessed and, of course, there's still a whole rest of a game to be played with the score 12-0. And there was still only one out in the inning. But as these things tend to do, Cespedes' grand slam killed the momentum and the next two batters grounded out. That didn't take anything away from the 13 batters that came to the plate before that and the crowd responded with a standing ovation.

But as I said, there was still 6 innings left to play, and by this point, after an inning that took close to 45 minutes and an unheard of 67 pitches, 30 from Peavy and 37 from Broadway, the clock was nearing 9pm...and the game started at 7:10. Also, Matz had to sit around through that long inning. But for the most part, both teams played like they wanted to get out of there quick. Matz didn't help himself by coming out a bit wild in the middle innings, probably because it's not especially easy to

pitch with a big lead like that, and he kept walking guys and giving up hits, but again, the Giants didn't cash in, Matz finished out his 6 innings, and Jerry Blevins, Logan Verrett and Antonio Bastardo each pitched sloppy innings to finish out the night. I could expound on how messy the Mets were on the pitching side of things, but that really isn't the story of this game.

The 3rd inning of this game is of course what everyone will remember, because never mind that the Mets have never done it, but you just don't see 12-run innings very often altogether. It takes a rare combination of contact and momentum steamrolling out of control, combined with a pitcher who has the poor fortune of just having to suck it all up, which is the case of Mike Broadway, who aside from being subjected to a litany of Broadway Musical jokes had to just do his best to navigate his way through a completely hopeless situation. I'll remember it because after Matz came to the plate, I turned to George and said "The Mets have officially broken the scorecard," as you'll see here. It's not often I have to run an inning across two columns and then shove each subsequent inning down the list, but that's what happened here.

The Giants and I are now even, I believe. This sort of a game seems proper retribution for what they made me witness last season. I suppose watching Matz throw a No Hitter might have been nice, but History is History and all the better that I was there to witness it.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Easier Than It Looks

After several days of Met-Deprivation, I was back in my rightful place on Wednesday night watching a game as it happened, live from my regular perch in Section 513 at Citi Field for my 3rd game of the season.

It was on the chilly side, as most April games tend to be, not nearly as Arctic as my last game but nonetheless far from pleasant. My other half had rejected an invitation to join me ("I'll wait until it's warmer out," she says) so I was there by myself, dashing out after work and trying to navigate the incessant security lines that are now the norm at Citi Field—a prescient reminder of what happens when you have a winning team and the chance to see a marquee pitcher most every night.

But Matt Harvey, though slowly improving, still isn't quite there yet. I hadn't yet reached my seat when Zack Cozart hit his 3rd pitch of the game into the Left Field seats, which spurred all sorts of catcalls and Harvey-bashing. Ivan DeJesus Jr followed by lining a pitch off of Harvey's ass—and quite squarely off his ass—for a single and at that point, Harvey was clearly steaming because he went into "enough of this fuckery" mode and struck out the next 5 batters he faced. That was the Harvey we were used to, but it didn't last long. The Reds, still boasting a Scheblerrific lineup featuring Joey Votto and his band of lesser men, kind of dinged Harvey to death. They loaded the bases in the 3rd inning, and only by some clever gamesmanship by Michael Conforto did they not score outright (One would think Billy Hamilton should have easily scored on Votto's floater, but it seems as though Conforto faked Hamilton into thinking he had a play on the ball and thus Hamilton could go no further than 3rd). They did score in the 5th, in a rather irritating sequence where several bloopers fell in, and Eugenio Suarez, their mighty cleanup hitter, drove home the run on what can only be described as a really well-placed flare. In the end, Harvey managed to make it through 6 innings and struck out 7, but when he had to battle, he really had to battle. It's still a work in progress, this fellow's season.

And yet, the game was never in that much doubt. Although the Mets were down early, they struck back quickly against Jon Moscot. Alejandro De Aza led off the 1st with a single and scored when Scott Schebler Scheblered on a Lucas Duda fly ball for an Error, and then Neil Walker drove home Duda. In the 3rd, Walker Daniel Murphy'd on a ground ball in the top of the inning which made things difficult for Harvey, so like a good teammate, Walker made up for this by hitting a Home Run in the bottom of the 3rd, which was my inaugural Mets Home Run for the 2016 season. After the Reds closed to 3-2, the Mets got two men on in the 6th against Brad Blake Wood. Rather than trying to play matchups, which I think Bryan Price intended to do on Tuesday night, he instead relieved Wood with another righty, Drew Hayes, to face Michael Conforto, and of course Conforto responded with his almost-daily extra-base hit, a double to the wall in Left-Center that scored both runs, put the Mets ahead 5-2, and made the rest of the game totally academic. The Mets seemed to have this game under control even when they fell behind early, and even Familia got the night off, as Collins went to Addison Reed in the 9th to finish off the game and give the Mets their 6th win in a row.

So, things now are really clicking for the Mets and they look like the genuine threat we knew they were capable of being. It's easy to be high on them when they're beating up on some lousy teams like Atlanta and Cincinnati, and it's not really to make light of them because everyone's trying to win, but really, all the Mets are doing right now is beating the teams that they're supposed to be beating, and that's what's most important here. A team that's got legitimate Championship aspirations shouldn't go 11-8 against the awful Braves or 4-3 against the Reds. They should be 15-4 and 6-1 against these teams. Let them go 11-8 against Washington, I'd take that. This was a really easy win against a team that they should have easy wins against.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Good Time Guys

So it's officially a streak. For the 5th day in a row, I saw none of the game, followed things partially on the internet, and the Mets won.

This particular game seemed to require a bit more work than the 4 victories preceding it. The Mets were down early to the Reds, a team they swept the season series from last year and really ought to do the same thing to again. But the Reds got to Bartolo Colon in the middle innings and ran out to a 3-0 lead. In other years, when the Reds lineup featured names like Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips and Todd Frazier, this might not be much of a surprise, but those players are either injured or on other teams, and so when you're getting beaten by guys named Tyler Holt and Scott Schebler, and the cleanup hitter is Eugenio Suarez, well, it's as bad as it looks.

It didn't help that the Mets were stymied by Brandon Finnegan, whom the Reds acquired in the Cueto deal last Summer. Finnegan's had a bit of a crucible in spite of his young age and paucity of experience, having been a part of KC's run to the 2014 World Series, so him showing poise isn't a great surprise, but still, the Mets ought to have been able to solve him.

It took until the 7th inning for them to actually do so, when with 1 out, Finnegan walked Juan Lagares and Kevin Plawecki singled. At that point, with over 100 pitches under his belt, Bryan Price was probably well within his right to pull Finnegan there and let him leave with a job well done and some good vibes. But after some cat-and-mouse act and a lengthy mound conference, Finnegan remained in to face Yoenis Cespedes as a Pinch Hitter and, well, that didn't go well for Finnegan. For Cespedes and the Mets, it was great, since Cespedes drilled the first pitch he saw for a 3-run Home Run to tie the game, one of those frozen moment shots that we'll probably see all season long.

Then, of course, Price removed Finnegan from the game.

Two batters later, the Mets had the lead thanks to a Curtis Granderson triple and a David Wright single, and by that point, the Reds were probably both stunned and demoralized and did fairly little for the remainder of the night.

But, lest that be a lesson. The Mets can, in fact, do that to you now. Even if it seems like they've been mostly sleepwalking through a game. I guess this is what happens when you're playing the also-ran instead of being the also-ran.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Walker Strikes Again

So, for the 4th day in a row, I saw none of the Mets game and only sort of caught some of the action online, and the Mets won. Maybe there's something to this?

For once, on a night when Noah Syndergaard pitched for the Mets, he wasn't the story of the game. That's not to say Syndergaard pitched badly, in fact from what I understand he pitched just fine. But when you're used to such a high bar—and in this early part of the season Syndergaard's set an especially high bar—an outing where the scoreboard isn't lit on fire seems kind of pedestrian.

The Reds, another one of these downsizing teams,  didn't really generate much against Syndergaard. They just made well-placed contact when they had to. Syndergaard allowed 7 hits in his 6.2 innings, but 6 of them didn't leave the infield, and when he departed, following a 9-strikeout effort, he was in position to come away with a win as the Mets held a precarious 3-2 lead. But Antonio Bastardo couldn't get out Joey Votto, another instance where the "lefty specialist" doesn't get the lefty out, and the game was tied.

Then, the game was untied, because Neil Walker struck again.

I know that the guy that used to play 2nd base for the Mets is off in Washington hitting .400 and loving Jesus, but we all knew that was going to happen. Just wait until he starts getting overeager and spends the next 3 months grounding out to 2nd base. I know I keep saying that but I feel like I need to remind everyone because we all know it's coming. I'm looking forward to May 17th at Citi Field when he tries to score from 1st on a single or throw a runner out at home while running into the Outfield. The Mets now have Walker, whose career is marked with less of the severe mental mistakes his predecesor used to make, and more consistency. Walker's warmed to New York well, and his 7th inning Home Run, his 8th of the year, put the Mets ahead for good. It's nice to get hits, but Walker's been making his count. I don't know how long this power surge will last for him, but I feel more inclined to think that once he regresses to his mean, he'll still do useful things and not try too hard and make absurd, head-scratching mistakes.

Jeurys Familia closed out the win with what was probably his best inning to this point this season, so maybe he's rounding into his regular form. Over the previous road trip, it seems like most of the team has kicked themselves into gear, and now the pitching staff is starting to get going too. Granted, the Mets aren't playing the stiffest of competition, but you should beat teams like this and now the Mets have been doing that. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Stop the Presses.

Yes, if you can believe it, the Mets actually swept a series in Atlanta, finishing off their weekend with a 3-2 victory on one of those painfully sunny Atlanta afternoons when the Mets almost never win because I guess that Atlanta sun bakes everyone to the point that the equilibrium just tilts in Atlanta's favor. It almost happened again on Sunday, as Jeurys Familia had to survive a bit of a hair-raising 9th inning, but in the end the Mets ended up victorious.

This was a completely lost weekend for me Baseball-wise. I watched none of the games, and in fact I didn't even watch part of any of the games. Like Saturday evening, I was stuck in front of a computer again for the proceedings and even then, I didn't get going with that until the 8th inning. By that point, Jacob deGrom had finished out his work for the day, a regroup outing for him after missing two weeks for personal matters, but if nothing else it seems like his fastball was in a bit better shape. The Braves dinged him for 8 hits, but just like against Matz on Saturday, it seemed to be of little consequence as he only allowed 1 run in 5.2 innings. He also only struck out 3 batters, a low number for him, but if deGrom can still throw a quality outing out there with less than his best stuff, that's OK with me. There will be better days and hopefully those will happen against better opponents.

So the Mets now return home after a 7-2 road trip, and considering the teams they were playing, 7-2 was about the minimum I would have expected. Really, they could have easily swept all three series they played, but for a momentary lapse in Cleveland and a night when nothing worked in Philadelphia. Now, let's see if this can carry back home, where they'll see a couple of lesser teams in Cincinnati and Atlanta sandwiched around the Giants over the weekend, which ought to be an interesting matchup.