Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Get The Clippers

A better bad start for the still-bearded Dillon Gee got much worse after he left the game, but by that point, it seemed unlikely that the Mets were going to figure out a way to win this game anyway. Gee departed in favor of Josh Edgin, who's generally been patently awful against the Phillies no matter who the batter is, and Edgin continued to perform on the level, giving up a truly monstrous Grand Slam to Chase Utley that officially put the game out of reach. Gee's line ended up looking uglier than he probably pitched, but on the other hand, he's performed about as well as Edgin has against the Phillies over the course of his career too. One night after the Mets outclassed the Phillies, the Phillies returned the favor with a quick and forgettable 6-0 victory.

The Mets had no answer for Cole Hamels, which on the one hand is still kind of galling because it's Cole Hamels and he's a jerk, but on the other hand, he's still a quality pitcher and once in a while he's bound to get his act together against the Mets. Tuesday night, he did to the tune of 8 shutout innings, picking up a victory against a Mets team that he's performed about as well against over the course of his career as Dillon Gee or Josh Edgin has against his Phillies.

Not much redeeming to say about this game, other than I'll have to revisit the topic I brought up last time Gee started and got pasted in Milwaukee, which is that he's still sporting some stubble on his face. Gee's career arc seems to dictate that he's performed markedly better when clean shaven. I don't know about how he's fared against the Phillies, but I'd like to see some research into Gee's numbers vs. the Phillies when he's been bearded as opposed to when he's been clean shaven. I'd venture the guess that it holds to the form of Gee pitching better with a clean shave. What this means is that Justin Turner or Jon Niese or whoever's been handing out the shaving cream pies this season needs to go after Dillon Gee before he next takes the mound and get him with a pie, and then get some backup with a razor to chop off that moss and give Gee his mojo back. Just a suggestion.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Games and Names

Life in general, plus the All Star Break and some lengthy road trips had conspired to prevent me from going to Citi Field for over a month; my most recent game coming all the way back on June 24th when Oakland was in town. That night, Bartolo Colon pitched wonderfully, Travis d'Arnaud hit a 3-run Home Run and good feelings were abound as the Mets cruised to a lopsided victory, a game that I didn't realize until today was my 200th Mets victory.

Last night, my first trip to Citi Field since that night in June produced many of the same results, among them a wonderful outing from Bartolo Colon, who stifled the Phillies into the 8th inning, allowing a plethora of hits that didn't result in runs, a 3-run Home Run from Travis d'Arnaud, whose blast in the 5th inning was a thing of beauty, truly smoked out into the Left Field seats, and a 7-1 Mets victory over the Phillies that felt like a much larger margin of victory than the final score implied.

The game, my 12th of the season and—of some surprise to me—my 4th win in a row, got off to a flying start. I attended the game with a colleague from my former job, whom I've attended several games with in the past. However, many of the games he and I attended together were of the freezing/raining variety early in the past few seasons. The most pleasant weather—80˚ at game time—was in stark contrast to those nights. The Mets offense attacking A.J. Burnett for 4 1st inning runs was also in stark contrast to those nights. Both of these things were most welcome developments, particularly the runs. Curtis Granderson led off with a walk, Daniel Murphy followed by hitting an RBI double, and it was pretty much off to the races from there. Lucas Duda flared a single over the Phillies overshift, and a few batters later Juan Lagares finshed things off with panache, lining a 2-run Double down the right field line to put the Mets out in front 4-0.

The game pretty much flew from there; although Colon gave up 10 hits in his 7.2 innings of work, they were scattered about and mostly inconsequential. The Phillies right now look like a team that's old and tired, and their roster of cagey veterans slowly drifting out of their prime is indicative of that. Ryan Howard, once ferocious, lumbers around the field like late-model Cliff Floyd and somehow the artist formerly known as Grady Sizemore resurfaced with the Phillies, much to my shock.

The interest, then, turned to the people sitting around me, among them Greg from Faith and Fear in Flushing, whom I have read and corresponded with for years, but never actually met within the confines of Citi Field, and ESPN.com's Mark Simon, who provided my friend and I with multiple thought-provoking trivia questions (Most entertaining: The Houston Astros career leader in Batting Average is a former Met. Name him. This resulted in such answers as Jeff McKnight, Mike Hampton, Jeff Kent, Kevin Bass and Jose Cruz before the answer was finally revealed to be Moises Alou. I mused that a good hint would be that the answer holds a Mets club record of some note, but nobody remembers because of other things going on at the time. This produced an answer of Richard Hidalgo later in the evening, who does hold a club record, but not what I was thinking of).

The conversation shared over the course of the game ran the gamut of all things Mets, covering the sort of names and games I often feel like I'm the only one who remembers. It's always good to remember that there's others out there that have devoured the rich history of the Mets—whether it's been memorably good or embarrassingly bad—just as much as I have. One such topic involved a pair of Mets/Phillies games from back in 1990. As the Phillies mounted a 9th inning rally that went nowhere last night, some mention was made of Mario Diaz, whose most noteworthy Met moment was squeezing the final out when the Mets "Won the damn thing [sic]." This prompted me to note another Mets/Phillies game from that season, mostly noted for the bloody Dwight Gooden/Pat Combs brawl and the scandalous appearance of Kelvin Torve in #24, but also for the Phillies, 5-4 losers that night, outhitting the Mets 16-7. With the Phillies outhitting the Mets 13-9 and creaking their way into a 9th inning rally, both these games seemed apropos at the time, but then Vic Black emerged from the bullpen, struck out Ryan Howard to end the proceedings, and a happy, drama-free recap was enjoyed.

It is often the company you share and the stream-of-consciousness Mets Memories that can be discovered that make a game memorable. This game will be memorable for me for that reason.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Corner Turned

One of the more pleasant surprises that's come about for the Mets in recent weeks is the fact that Lucas Duda has finally woken up, started getting a little aggressive at the plate and begun to get some real big-time clutch hits. Friday night was easily the most obvious example of this; his 2-run Home Run in the 9th inning flipped the game completely. With the Mets having put forth a mostly lifeless effort for 8 innings against Yovani Gallardo and the Brewers, the Mets went out against old friend Francisco Rodriguez and lit into him with a ferocity they haven't displayed much of of late. In the span of 3 batters and 8 pitches, the Mets turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead that eventually turned into a 3-2 win that you can more or less say they stole from the Brewers, because they had absolutely no life whatsoever going into the top of the 9th.

The game had, up until the 9th inning, shaped up like another of those games where I'd have to sum up by talking about how well the Mets starter—in this case, Zack Wheeler—pitched, and how he did yeoman's work keeping the Mets in the game, but ultimately it was an effort made in hopeless circumstances. Wheeler continued on his recent hot streak, throwing shutout ball into the 6th, only breaking a sweat when Daniel Murphy made one of his patented spastic fit errors, yakking on a ground ball and then chasing it into the Outfield and making an ill-advised throw to 1st. In the 6th, Murphy gagged once again, letting a Ryan Braun grounder go through his legs completely, and in this particular instance, it ended up costing Wheeler the first run of the game. One inning later, Carlos Gomez took one of his 8-mile swings and hit a Home Run to make the score 2-0, and at that point, Wheeler was done for the night; his 6.2 inning effort was at times dazzling, but to that point not good enough to earn himself or the Mets a win. And that wasn't because of anything he did wrong, it was because his teammates couldn't get a hit off Gallardo and because Murphy had a fit of himself at an inopportune moment.

But then came the 9th, and in came dear old K-Rod, excommunicated from the Mets, shoved into a setup role with the Brewers, traded to the Orioles and then returning to the Brewers and falling into the closer's role by accident when Jim Henderson came down with a case of Being-A-Major-League-Closer-Itis. Somehow, this seemed like one of those nights when the Mets had a rally in them, and I'm not quite sure why I felt that way, and it seems I wasn't the only one who felt that way, and, quite fortunately, the first three batters in the 9th inning for the Mets seemed to feel that way as well. Enough was enough, let's get up there and get some hits, and that's what they did. First, it was Daniel Murphy, who hit an opposite field double to get things started. David Wright followed with the key at bat in the sequence, an at bat where he seemed to have a handle on whatever K-Rod was throwing him, like all those years being his teammate might have worked to his advantage. Whatever it was, it worked, Wright eventually got enough of a pitch to flair it out into Right center to score Murphy, and set the stage for the suddenly clutch bat of Lucas Duda, who perhaps a month or two ago might have taken two strikes before flailing at a slider 10 feet off the plate, but on this night was up there hacking at a first pitch fastball and slamming it out into the Mets bullpen for a lightning-like Home Run that gave the Mets the lead.

If I were Daniel Murphy, I would be taking Lucas Duda out to dinner for the remainder of the road trip, and perhaps for the first couple of nights of next week's homestand for bailing my ass out like that. But more than that, how about the fact that somehow, Lucas Duda has become a trusted power bat in the middle of the lineup? When the hell did that happen. He's more than proved that Alderson was justified in keeping him and dealing Ike Davis, and he's making me look rather foolish for flogging him for as long as I did, but I'll happily admit that I was wrong, particularly if he keeps this up. Very quietly, Duda now has a club-leading 17 Home Runs and 53 RBI, which isn't an eye-popping number, but considering how sparingly the Mets score, it's not a bad number, and a 25-90 season would be a delight. Moreover, the fact that he's now consistently hitting for some power is a much-welcome sight on a team where nobody seemed to step up and take on that role. Imagine how he'd do if he had a little protection around him in the lineup. Hint hint...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Clean Shaven

A lot has been made over the last couple of seasons about Dillon Gee's pitching results when he's bearded as opposed to clean shaven. His performances in general are better when he's shaved before the game. Early in the season, Gee sported a babyface and was off to a fine start until the dreaded lat injury shelved him. When he returned, he had one good start but since then, last night included, he's pitched rather badly and it seems that part of the problem is that Gee's still pitching with a little bit of moss on his face. This clearly doesn't work for him. He got lit up by a poor-hitting Padres team last weekend, and last night, the Brewers knocked him around but good, running out to a 6-0 lead after 3 innings and rendering the game completely unwatchable from there.

You kind of had a bad feeling about this game from the outset. The Mets did win 2 of 3 in Seattle, but they didn't exactly light up the scoreboard. They've gone about a week now without topping 3 runs in a game, only managing to win on the days where their starting pitching has been particularly great. However, this isn't exactly a recipe for extended success. Gee gave up an early Home Run to Jonathan Lucroy and then a series of long hits to Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, and Jean Segura, who's basically Carlos Gomez Lite, and before you looked up, the game was out of reach. The Mets had no particular answer for Matt Garza, who continues to be one of the more mercurial pitchers in the Majors, looking like a top-dollar pitcher on one night and a bearded Dillon Gee on other nights, but that's scarcely the concern here.

The Mets, as comprised right now, putting up 3 runs a night, aren't going to draw much excitement. Unlike most years, however, the farm system is currently rife with decent prospects at some key positions, which has created something the Mets haven't had in several years: Tradeable depth. For years, the Mets probably would never dream of doing something like dealing Daniel Murphy, who's proven himself to be the best Daniel Murphy he can be, sometimes making rather annoying hiccups but generally hitting modestly well at a premium position. But with no decent replacement on the horizon, what benefit was there for the Mets to deal him? Now, the Mets have players like Dilson Herrera, pilfered from the Pirates in the Marlon Byrd trade last season to push Murphy and, perhaps, make him tradeable for some sort of commodity that might provide more immediate help. That's not to say that Murphy should be dealt now, but that he can be dealt and the Mets seem to have a plan in place to replace him. It's just some food for thought.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hard To Imagine

In spite of the fact that yesterday's 3:whatever pm start time precluded me from seeing any of the game live, it did, in fact, allow me to see more of the replay of the game last night than I did of any of the other two games the Mets played in Seattle this week combined. I made it up until the 8th inning of the game before other activities took precedence; by that point I'd seen the story of the game, which was Bartolo Colon rather quietly and effortlessly setting down the first 20 Mariners that came to the plate, finally surrendering a hit to the 21st man, Robinson Cano.

It was mentioned that this was only the 5th time in Mets history that a starting pitcher had retired the first 20 batters that had faced him in a game. One such effort came just last season, when Matt Harvey had perhaps the single best game of his career to this point against the White Sox, a game I was fortunate enough to witness in person. Tom Seaver did it during his "Imperfect" game in 1969. Then, there were the two times in June of 1998 that Rick Reed accomplished this feat, both of which happened to be nights I was in attendance at Shea Stadium. Colon was the first Mets pitcher to carry a Perfect Game into the 7th inning on the road, and this, combined with the bizarre start time, may have served to ensure that this game is kind of lost in the shuffle when it comes to great Mets Pitching Performances. It also doesn't help that Colon unraveled slightly in the 8th, and eventually had to be rescued by the suddenly stellar Bullpen tandem of Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia in order to close out a tenuous 3-2 win over the Mariners. That's not to take anything away from Colon. When you retire the first 20 batters that face you in a game, no matter when it happens or whom your opponent is, it's still an accomplishment.

Colon's effort was backed by a minimal offensive output. The Mets scored a run early off of Taijuan Walker courtesy of Daniel Murphy and at some point other runs were scored but I can't say I remember how they happened. Somehow, the Mets ended up with 3 of them, which was enough to win the game. It would have been a bit of a burn if, after Colon had pretty much stuck the bats in the Mariners' ears all afternoon, they came back and stole the game. But that didn't happen, and thusly, almost 10 years after their first trip out to the great Pacific Northwest, the Mets came away with a series victory in Seattle, evening up their record on the West Coast to 3-3. That's fine and dandy for a West Coast trip, and certainly beats them doing something disastrous like going 1-5 and completely falling off the cliff, but if they're going to prove that they have some life in them for the remainder of the season, 3-3 against teams like the Padres and Mariners isn't necessarily going to cut it. Particularly since they're now leaving the land of Pearl Jam in favor of Jaegermeister and Bratwurst in Milwaukee. We'll see how this goes.