Thursday, April 16, 2015

Lineup Shakeup

The lineups that Terry Collins has been throwing out there in the early going this season seem to be something out of the book of Bobby Valentine. Every day there's something different. This can get somewhat annoying to the players, I might think, because it prevents them from getting into a real rhythm, but I don't mind it so long as it's just his way of discovering the means to an end. Except when he bats the Pitcher 8th. Collins had to do some crafty shuffling with David Wright now on the DL and Eric Campbell up in his stead. Campbell, though not completely useless, isn't Wright and isn't a #2 hitter. The first experiment in the #2 spot was Travis d'Arnaud.

d'Arnaud, who was already raking out of the gate, responded to the move with 2 hits and his first Home Run of the season. He can stay there.

Behind him, and off to an equally hot start was Lucas Duda. I've already been through the "after so many years of trashing him..." speech, so I don't need to go into how he's proven his worth. But what he needed to do was get off to a good start this season so it didn't seem like last year was a fluke. After whacking 2 hits, including his 1st Home Run of the year, a moonshot that would have been in the seats of the original Citi Field, I think it's safe to say that Duda's not just off to a good start among his teammates, but he's off to the races as one of the hottest hitters in Baseball. True, he'll likely cool at some point, but right now at .353 and even hitting lefties, he's proven that last season wasn't an aberration.

Elsewhere in the lineup, players like Juan Lagares were contributing to back Jon Niese, who pitched just fine for 6.1 innings and even chipped in with an RBI hit of his own, as the Mets scored often and finished off a sweep of the moribund Phillies with a 6-1 victory.

The game was the first Citi Field affair of the season that I wasn't present for (in spite of the way it sometimes appears, I don't actually go to every game), and thus the first time I was home to see a game on SNY with the dulcet tones of Gary, Keith and Ron providing the soundtrack to my Wednesday evening. Of course, I was late to the proceedings, a detour to go grocery shopping meant I didn't get home until the 2nd inning, at which point the Mets were trailing, but at some point they tied the game, then went ahead, and slowly but surely put the Phillies to rest; their first series sweep of Philadelphia at Citi Field since the shutout series way back in 2010.

But the Phillies are basically patsies this season, and the Mets should be handling them. A better test of where things sit might be this weekend, when the Mickey Mouse Marlins, who've put together a cute little team that's gotten people a little too excited, come to town. This should be a good snapshot of where things stand.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Guns Of April

I found myself right back at Citi Field with George on Tuesday night for my second game in as many days. The first, last and only reason I and about 37,000 other Mets fans chose this night was, of course, to welcome Matt Harvey back to Citi Field. What I was treated to was the kind of game and the kind of crowd intensity that felt more appropriate for a Mets/Phillies game from 2008, not so much from a random ragtag Tuesday night in April. Though Harvey was slightly touched up by the Phillies and the game dissolved into about 44 different kinds of weird, things still ended up in the Mets favor as they got ahead early and held on late to beat the Phillies 6-5.

But oh, what a path it was to reach that final result.

The crowd, apparently, was bouncing off the walls before the first pitch of the game was even thrown. I say "apparently," because I wasn't in the stadium yet. I'm not sure if it was just the 7pm rush of things or they're being extra thorough these days, but the checkpoint lines to get in the stadium were longer than I'd ever seen, pretty much ever. I've been to Opening Days, I've been to sold out games, I was at the first game after the Boston Marathon attacks, but I'd never seen the security lines stretching out basically to the stairs to the Subway like they were at around 7:00 last night. So, yeah. By time I was inside the building, I'd missed Harvey go charging out to the mound with the entire stadium screaming in approval, and I'd missed Harvey whipping 97 MPH fastballs to strike out Odubel Herrera and Freddy Galvis, and by time I'd crossed to the escalator to go upstairs, he was about to do the same to Chase Utley. But Utley, who's about as well liked as Saddam Hussein by Mets fans, had other ideas, and jerked a 1-2 curveball down the right field line and tucked it into the seats for a buzzkill of a Home Run. Granted, things like this will happen. Utley, though old and often hurt, is still a pro and can still get it done. But for a nearly packed house of Mets fans that expected Matt Harvey to throw a perfect game and win the World Series all at once, it was jarring. I guess it meant that this shit was on. Harvey rebounded to strike out Ryan Howard's carcass, though, and the crowd came to life once again.

On the other side, the Mets were facing the relative non-entity known as David Buchanan (whom I can only assume is a long-lost descendant of our 15th President), and the fired up Harvey crowd seemed to spur on the bats, as they immediately tied the game thanks to singles from Curtis Granderson, David Wright and (by this time I'd finally reached my seat in section 418) Michael Cuddyer. In the second, Buchanan unraveled some more. He hit Wilmer Flores in the hands, got victimized by a 35-foot single by Granderson and ultimately Lucas Duda cleared the bases for a 3-run Double. Buchanan followed by hitting Cuddyer in the hands. Unlike Flores, Cuddy was forced from the game, which sort of set the stage for the bizarre portion of the game later on.

In the 3rd, Harvey was reached for a Ben Revere single. He looked to be well on his way to getting out of the inning, but a pitch in on the hands of Galvis was ruled to have hit him. From where I was sitting it certainly looked close, but whatever. Get the next guy. But Terry Collins, after some delay, came out and challenged the call. This, then, turned into some discussions going on between the umpires, then a discussion with Ryne Sandberg, then more discussions, then more discussion with the Managers, and then a safe ruling while the crowd chanted for Harvey some more. Finally, after about 4 minutes of crotch-grabbing, it was back to the game and the delay probably threw Harvey off because Utley singled on the first pitch to score Revere. One inning later, Cody Asche belted a Harvey fastball into the Pepsi Porch to cut the Mets lead to 4-3, and this was turning into one of those nights that looked like it might get away from the Mets.

Perhaps in another era, that might have happened to the Mets in the 5th inning, when things started to get really screwed up. I'd picked the bottom of the 4th as the moment to attempt to find food, but the Harvey-inspired crowd created longer-than-usual lines at just about every concession stand, so the top of the 5th inning unfolded while I was still standing on line. Fortunately, I was in front of a TV, so I could see what was going on just fine. Buchanan, who managed to settle himself down after the first two innings, led off by taking a whac-a-mole swing at a Harvey fastball and somehow poking it down the right field line for a double. But Harvey managed to rebound by getting Herrera to fly out and was helped out when Galvis decided to bunt and fouled out to d'Arnaud. This brought up Utley, who to that point was the only Philly batter who displayed any aptitude to hit Harvey, followed by Howard, who looked like a statue. Dan Warthen waddled out to the mound and a discussion was held, the end result of which I can only assume was a decision to put Utley on base. After watching two of his teammates get drilled by Buchanan and given the obvious decision to put the batter aboard, I can only assume Harvey decided to spare everyone the suspense of throwing 4 balls and instead decided to drill Utley in the back, to the delight of Keith, Ron and pretty much everyone in attendance. I guess the pitch got away from him. At least that's what he said. He then proceeded to stare daggers through Utley, just in case Utley had any wise ideas. This strategy nearly paid off as Harvey followed by gassing Howard with fastballs, but on a pitch that Howard caught up with only enough to foul off, the home plate umpire ruled Catcher's Interference. Replays proved to be inconclusive, although from where I was standing (and remember, I'm still on line at the concession stand), it looked to be a BS call. George, via text, told me "this game is stupid." Terry Collins clearly felt the same, since he argued enough to get himself thrown out of the game. After the dust settled, Carlos Ruiz popped out, I got my burger (and after a condiment discussion with George too long to go into here, I'll only say that pushcart onions on a burger is a really good, underrated idea), and finally got back to my seat.

In the bottom of the 5th, the Mets scored when Duda doubled and Travis d'Arnaud singled him home, the play unfolding in such a way that Duda had to score twice, once when he slid past Ruiz the first time, and again when the plate umpire Alphonso Marquez, who was having a hard day, didn't make a call and forced Duda to make a rather ungraceful swan dive back to touch the plate.

Harvey departed the game after an uneventful 6th inning. This was one of those games where he had to make his way through on guile and grit as opposed to just blowing people out of there. He was pitching fine, but the Phillies hit some of his better pitches and he gave up a few runs. Again, he's bound to have more than a few days like this this season. But if his bad day involves pitching 6 innings, allowing 3 runs on 5 hits, with no walks and 8 strikeouts and putting the Mets in position to win, well, I have no complaints.

There was still a rest of the game to be played, and it appeared it might come off without incident. Daniel Murphy became the first Met to challenge the re-reconfigured Outfield fence when he sailed a first pitch Home Run into the bullpens in the 7th inning. Sean Gilmartin pitched the 8th, clearly with the job of getting Utley and Howard out. Utley led off with his second Home Run of the game. Howard grounded back to Gilmartin. That pretty much sums up the Phillies. Gilmartin then departed in favor of Rafael Montero, who came out throwing strikes, getting two-strike counts, and then giving up multitudes of foul balls, prompting me to anoint him with a case of John Maine-itis. This led to a discussion between George and I about how many Mets we've hung our hats on that are now viewed as punchlines. Nobody seems to exemplify this more than John Maine, who was my main man way back in '07, now lost to the annals of time. George invoked the name of Jason Phillips as another such player. By this point, Montero had figured himself out and finished the inning.

In the last of the 8th, however, more strange happenings occurred when David Wright led off with a single and stole second as Duda struck out. It looked to me like he must have jammed his hand, but Wright's usually one to shake these things off. This was fortunate, because thanks to Terry Collins' short bench and Cuddyer's earlier injury, the Mets had burned through all their reserve players not named Anthony Recker, who's usually saved for specific emergencies. If Wright had to exit, then what? Who plays 3rd? Recker? Murphy? Then who plays 2nd? Juan Lagares? Jacob deGrom? Then, of course, Wright walked off and the hypothetical became reality. Recker trotted out to pinch run. As the 9th inning began, and Jeurys Familia (and his trance-club inspired entrance music) entered the game, we waited. Finally, Recker emerged with a borrowed fielder's glove to raucous cheers. Fortunately, things were done quickly; Familia was aided by a slick fielding play from Duda (!), which was fortunate because Jeff Francoeur (who for whatever reason elicits a hearty ovation from Mets fans who I guess remember his year or so here fondly) followed with the Phillies' 4th Home Run of the night to cut the Mets lead to 6-5. But Familia rebounded to strike out Herrera and Galvis and finish off the game, finally, and give the Mets their 3rd win in a row.

This was the kind of game that will probably be the norm once the Mets establish themselves as a good team again. I'd like to think, though, that some of the in-stadium issues, like the security lines and concession stand lines, will suss themselves out. Concession stand lines are inevitable, I know, but in the early going, with a pair of nearly-full or over-full houses, it seems like every stand boasts a line to rival Shake Shack. It's probably the only thing I'll miss about the Tuesday night special, when there's 15,000 people and nobody gives a shit. But so long as there's Harvey day, there will be hordes of people populating the stadium because something interesting is probably going to happen.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Happy Returns

Monday at Citi Field marked the 11th straight year that I was present for the Home Opener, a streak that covers every Citi Field Home Opener. The Home Opener annually has a bit of a "Baseball Woodstock" feel to it. There's a lot of fans there, and people are hanging out and tailgating in the parking lot, and the concession stands are generally understaffed and overwhelmed, and it generally feels kind of disorganized sometimes.

As is my habit, I got to Citi Field, accompanied by my other half for what would be her first Opening Day, at around 11:15 or so. The parking lot was already full, and inside the crowd was abuzz in the kind of way that hasn't really existed pretty much since the first Opening Day at Citi Field way back in 2009 when the Outfield was all black and a giant vacuum for fly balls. Now, 6 years hence, the team is different, the walls are different, the Outfield is still kind of a vacuum in the right kind of weather, but it's still Citi Field, and it's still sort of new, like most of us are still warming up to the fact that the beloved Blue Blob that was Shea Stadium isn't there anymore. We milled around somewhat and looked for new and interesting things, discovering little more than the grilled cheese stand and the bacon-on-a-stick stand, but for the most part things haven't changed that much. The line at Shake Shack is still absurdly long, and the line at Pat LaFrieda's stand could rival it. Blue Smoke, which for my money is probably better than Shake Shack, and the equally superior El Verano Taqueria have less of a line (you're welcome, Danny Meyer). The World's Fare Market didn't have anything new either, unless you consider "Mets" Cupcakes something new and exciting (although I can't determine that they're a new offering since I haven't actually been in the World's Fare Market since at least 2011). Upstairs, even less had changed, except that after a while I realized that there was no more Subway at Citi Field. This is fine, since I was never one to get Subway at a Mets game and I have, in the past, mused as to why this was ever an option in the first place. Something that I can't remember has replaced it in the Promenade level. It must not have been a very exciting option, since I can't tell you what it is. I'll try to do a better job later in the season.

One of my more vehement gripes at prior Opening Days was the lack of pocket schedules. It's been years since you could get a Mets pocket schedule on Opening Day. The Pocket Schedule is a major part of my life during baseball season. I keep one in the pocket of two different coats, usually one in my wallet, several in key locations in my apartment, and one on my desk at work. This way, I always know when there's a game. After years of no pocket schedules on Opening Day, I was delighted to find that the Fan Assistance booth on the Field Level in fact WAS LOADED WITH POCKET SCHEDULES!!! This more or less made the day right there. I made sure to grab several more than I needed, because who knows how hot a commodity these will be in the season's early going.

Oh, and then there was a Shofar Blowing with Howie Rose, and a Game, too. Howie did his usual sparkling job, replete with the typical vitriolic welcome to the visiting Phillies, and the expected wild ovations for such Mets as Matt Harvey, Lucas Duda, David Wright, Jacob deGrom and Bartolo Colon. During the game, it was deGrom who sparkled, in spite of not having his best stuff and kind of throwing too many pitches too early in the game. But he had the benefit of facing a Phillies lineup that's just putrid, which I enjoy to no end. They have some young players like this Odubel Herrera (not to be confused with Oddibe McDowell or Asdrubal Cabrera) fellow and Cody Asche, but mostly this is a roster of creaky old guys, like the Artist formerly known as Chase Utley, Perpetually injured Grady Sizemore, and the corpse of Ryan Howard. deGrom navigated his way through 6.1 innings, allowing no runs to the Phillies in spite of 7 hits and only 3 strikeouts. He was helped by a 4th inning Double Play turned by Daniel Murphy, and by his own fine defense in the 5th, cutting off a sacrifice bunt attempt by Harang and cutting down the lead runner at 3rd.

Still, the Mets needed to find their breaks against the wily Aaron Harang (who can get you on a good day) in order to plate the two runs they were able to generate. They scored in the 4th when Juan Lagares hit a liner off Harang's glove that for some reason Harang decided to look at rather than field, and by time he negotiated his situation, Lagares was safe at 1st and Murphy had scored the first run of the game. An opportunity in the 6th was squandered after Michael Cuddyer's fly ball was lost in the sun by a cowering Sizemore, resulting in a triple. But Murphy followed with a pop out and that killed the inning. It wasn't until the 8th that the Mets finally managed an insurance run, thanks to a Daniel Murphy grounder that was ticketed for DP land until Utley ole'd it and the ball went through his legs. Travis d'Arnaud followed with a Sac Fly and that was the sum total of the Mets offense.

Fortunately, it was enough on this day, as deGrom, Carlos Torres, Jerry Blevins (who had the day's best WELCOME TO NEW YORK moment, punctuating a perfect 8th inning by striking out Howard) and Jeurys Familia, who closed out his second Save opportunity in as many days, thanks primarily to Lucas Duda's slick fielding (who the hell ever thought I'd be saying something like that) as he started a key Double Play to pick up the inning's first two outs. And, thus, the Mets kicked off their Home Schedule with a nice, crisp, 2 hour, 53 minute, 2-0 victory.

Other interesting tidbits: The clock that has mysteriously appeared in the Outfield that read 2:20 prior to the game. It wasn't until I looked up in the middle of the 1st inning and saw the clock counting down that I realized it was one of the MLB-sanctioned timer clocks installed to speed up the pace of the game. I guess they can do it all they want, but they'll still have a hard time keeping the American League games under 4 hours.

It's a quick turnaround for me, as sometimes happens, I've managed to end up with tickets to the first two games on the season. So I'll be right back out at Citi Field tonight, to welcome Matt Harvey back to Citi Field. Me, and more than likely about 35,000 others. The crowd on Monday was over 43,000, a Citi Field record. I guess once the tide turns for the Mets, we can expect more of this. It's nice, but a part of me will miss going to weekday night games where there were 15,000 people in the stands and you could get food without missing an inning and a half.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Holiday!

It poses to be a sleepless night for me tonight, as is usually the case before Opening Day at Citi Field, particularly in the now dozen or so consecutive years that I've had tickets to Opening Day, whether it's real Opening Day or the Home Opener. Currently, I feel as though I might be best served waking up at 7am and running out to the ballpark, but conventional wisdom (and my other half, who'll be accompanying me tomorrow in what will be her first Opening Day) will more than likely win out, I'll stay in bed a little later, and then divert my usual trip downtown onto the 7 train for my first sojourn to Flushing for the year.

I've said in the past that Opening Day really only feels official when it's a True Opening Day, such as it has been for the Mets the past 3 seasons. Still, even though the Mets have been playing for a week already, since I've barely seen much action live, the Home Opener will actually feel like Opening Day for me. The Mets have played 6 games; I've seen 0 live, except for a snippet of Friday night's game, and it's made for some pretty shoddy blogging around here of late. I'll try to do better tomorrow since I'll actually have seen the game.

Also, it's hard to not get fired up when you hear Howie Rose get on that microphone and start yelling, "WELCOME TO CITI FIELD, AND THE START OF THE 2015 NATIONAL LEAGUE SEASON IN NEW YORK!!!"

Other nice things about Opening Day, which can happen whether it's True Opening Day or not, is that it's a nice day off from Work, which I've generally requested and received several weeks in advance (although this year as I've recently switched jobs, my new employers were kind enough to honor my request for a personal day in spite of lack of accumulated service time). It's now a rare game where I feel a legitimate need to arrive at Citi Field 2+ hours prior to game time, just because it's nice to walk around the stadium, see what's new, get some food before the masses arrive and be in my seat at a leisurely pace before the Shofar is blown and the home season gets underway.

Even Opening Day has been a tough sell for the Mets in recent years, but this year, it's completely sold out, so I'd have to guess I'm not the only one raring to get going in the morning, but most, unlike me, will probably be driving. The Mets are encouraging fans to use mass transit but most people don't listen to those kinds of things, so the parking lot should be plenty full. You know where this is going. There has, for my money, been no better Opening Day Omen for a good season than a nice car fire during the game. Opening Day 2006, car fire. Mets run away with the division. 2006 NLDS Game 1, car fire. Mets win a nailbiter over LA. Ever since then, no car fire, and we know how things have turned out. Now that the Mets have moved into Citi Field, you can't even see the parking lot from where I'm sitting, so if there's a car fire, I'll have no idea. But maybe I can just sort of generate one with my mind, and that will carry things forward from there. If not, maybe being able to get a pocket schedule on Opening Day will be a fitting equivalent. It's been a good 3-4 years since the Mets have had pocket schedules available on Opening Day (and of course they have more than they know what to do with at the end of the season), but I think it might be just as good a sign if, by some chance, I could get a bunch of pocket schedules. Let's hope for at least 1 out of 2.

Howie Rose at 12:40. First pitch 1:10. See you then!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

So Much Goes On

The Mets kind of ran the gamut of everything between Saturday and Sunday at around 5pm. It started off with the news that Jenrry Mejia got pinched for Steroids. So if it wasn't bad enough that he was injured, he also had an attack of general stupidity and used steroids. And not just any steroids, he tested positive for Stanozolol (sp), the generic form of Winstrol, which I'm pretty certain is the kind of steroid reserved for people that give off a general trashy/dirtbag vibe (this is, of course, the same stuff Roger Clemens used). That put a damper on Saturday's game, which they lost, in a game I didn't see. Then, Sunday, they won, barely, 4-3 in another game I didn't see, to salvage what was shaping up to be a pretty awful weekend in Atlanta (or, basically, every other weekend the Mets have spent in Atlanta over the last 20 years).

I don't know what happened Saturday other than the Mets lost 5-3, with Dillon Gee taking the loss. Gee, who's gone back to sporting a full beard in spite of the fact that we know he doesn't pitch well with a beard, gave up 4 runs in a 5th inning where basically everyone got a hit for Atlanta. The Mets, on the other hand, did not hit against Julio Teheran and the end result was that the Mets again lost to a team that clearly is inferior to what they aspire to be. But at this point, the Barves sat at 5-0, on top of the Baseball world.

I barely know what happened on Sunday outside of Bartolo Colon picking up his first RBI since 2005. I guess that's not entirely true, I also know that Michael Cuddyer popped out his first Home Run of the season in the 1st inning off of Alex Wood, and I know that Lucas Duda, in the lineup against the lefty, picked up 3 hits and currently is batting .381, which is still somewhat head-shaking to me. But Colon gets all the ink on this day, because in the 5th inning, with Wilmer Flores on 3rd and 1 out, Colon basically stuck his bat out and caught a piece of a pitch. He broke his bat, stung his hands, lost his helmet...but flared the pitch over a drawn-in infield for the RBI hit that basically left everyone in stitches. Probably the cheapest hit you'll see, but it counts just as much and it was of value since the Braves eventually tied the game and the Mets didn't win until Daniel Murphy, in a rare Pinch Hitting appearance, poked a Sacrifice Fly in the 8th inning to score Granderson with the eventual winning run. Jerry Blevins, who's pitched rather well in the early going got out of an 8th inning jam and then Jeurys Familia, in the first of what posits to be several Save Opportunities he'll be afforded, converted, retiring two batters to close out a sorely-needed Mets win, if only in the sense that the Mets just needed to get a W to raise the morale before they now finally head home to kick off the 2015 National League Season in New York.