Monday, November 2, 2015

Remember The Feeling

Losing hurts worse than winning feels good.
-Lewis Grizzard

That pretty much summed up what I was feeling as the clock struck midnight both literally and figuratively on the 2015 Mets season. Though the Mets nearly closed out Game 5 of the World Series behind a Heroic effort by Matt Harvey, the Kansas City Royals once again proved to be far too relentless, too determined to let the Mets keep that door open. The Royals broke our hearts when they tied the game and ultimately won in an absolutely gut-wrenching 12th inning explosion, forcing Mets fans to flee and Royals fans to take over our building as they closed out their first World Series Championship in 30 years

I was, once again at Citi Field on Sunday night, fortunate enough to have been a ticket plan holder, prescient enough to go all in on a full package of Postseason tickets and wind up in possession of seats for all 3 World Series Home Games. Sure, I'd batted around the idea of selling some of these tickets and running to the bank, but my heart won out. How often do the Mets make the World Series period, let alone how often does a schmuck like me end up with tickets basically dropped in my lap? I couldn't pass up the opportunity. Sure, ultimately, it's just a game. But a game at this level of the Playoffs, on November 1st of all days is pretty intense without the teams even setting foot on the field. This would have been the final game of the year at Citi Field regardless. I and the other 45-some-odd-thousand people there were just hoping it wasn't the final game of the year period.

And it started off good, it really did. We all know what happened. Curtis Granderson homered in the 1st. Matt Harvey set out intent on pitching the game of games. Some games, Harvey pitches angry and you can tell from the moment he sets foot on the field. I don't know if pitching angry really does enough to justify how he was pitching. His intensity was palpable throughout the entire stadium. Or maybe everyone was just so anxious because the entire season was on the line. He knew that runs were going to be at a premium. He had to be as close to perfect as the circumstances would allow him to be. Yes, the Royals nicked him early, but they only nicked him, not cut him. Three early baserunners never made it past 2nd base. In the 4th, he struck out the side, something he didn't accomplish in his Game 1 start when he struck out two batters in total. After finishing off the inning by whiffing Mike Moustakas, Harvey pumped his fist and started screaming as he ran off the mound. The further he went, the more intense he got, feeding off the energy of the crowd. Three more strikeouts in the 5th. Worked around a 1-out single in the 6th. The Mets got him a second run off of Edinson Volquez in the bottom of that inning, in a rally where it seemed like they had to do an awful lot of work to just scrape out one run. A third run would have been enormous, but it never materialized.

All this mattered little to Harvey. In the 7th, he gave up a leadoff single, but then coolly set down the Royals, expending all of 9 pitches, and when Alex Rios grounded out to finish the inning, there was more yelling, more pumping of fists, more "LET'S GO!"s. By now, pitch count was immaterial. This was his last shot. He had all winter to rest, so just leave it on the field. Conventional wisdom, I suppose, would have said let him go until he ran into trouble in the 8th, and then bring in Jeurys Familia. But I wasn't thinking that. When he ran off the mound in the 7th, I turned to my friend and said, "He's finishing this shit."

Harvey cruised through the 8th again on only 9 pitches. Ben Zobrist finished by flying out and the crowd was roaring with approval. Then, of course, there was that half inning of trepidation, where we in the stands had no idea whether or not he'd finish what he started. We wanted him to, of course. I felt he should. Harvey obviously felt he should too, and of course when Dan Warthen came and told him he was out, he flatly said "No Way," and ran down the dugout to state his case to Terry Collins.

Obviously, Harvey was persuasive enough, and perhaps had Collins not relented Harvey likely would have taken his Manager's head off, but that set the stage for what would be a legendary finish to a legendary performance. It was sort of an odd scene. After the last of the 8th inning ended, none of the Mets came out on to the field. The song "Seven Nation Army" began playing over the PA. One by one, the Mets position players came out of the dugout from one end. As they entered, an absolutely deafening roar began to rise from the 3rd base side of the stadium as Harvey ran up the steps and charged on to the field, still screaming, still pumping his fists, and Citi Field shook like Shea. He had this. He Had This.

And then he didn't. Instead of crafting the kind of game reminiscent of Jack Morris in '91, or Curt Schilling in '93, or Josh Beckett in '03, Harvey's game melted away into an ending closer to Al Leiter in 2000. Though he was ahead in the count against Lorenzo Cain, he lost him to a walk. It seemed like that was all the Royals needed. Like clockwork. Stolen base, RBI double, lead cut to 2-1, Harvey out of the game and instead of the roaring hero's sendoff, it was more of a horrified murmur. Jeurys Familia came in the game and, of course, things went from bad to worse. The Royals continued to push buttons and cajole the Mets into careless mistakes. Familia got Moustakas to ground out, moving Hosmer to 3rd with 1 out. Salvador Perez followed and with the infield in, hit a ground ball to David Wright. Wright looked the runner back, but Hosmer broke for home as Wright threw to 1st. Lucas Duda secured one out, wheeled and threw towards the plate. A good throw and Eric Hosmer is out by 20 feet.

A good throw is what Lucas Duda didn't make. The ball sailed to the backstop, Hosmer scored, Royals players were skipping all over the place and the game was tied.

More appropriately, the game was, for all intents and purposes, dead.

It really was only a matter of time before the Royals figured out a way to force home the winning run. The Mets had been able to muster 3 hits to that point, and the way the Royals bullpen had been performing, anything beyond that didn't seem especially likely. Meanwhile, the Royals kept grinding. You could probably say this about any At Bat they had in the series. Mets pitchers would get ahead 0-2 or 1-2, and then the sequence of pitches would go something like this: Foul, Foul, Ball, Foul, Foul, Ball, Foul, Ball somewhere in play. Watching the Royals at bats in the top of each Extra Inning was a study in pure torture. Familia set them down in the 10th and Jon Niese, who did yeoman's work out of the bullpen this series, worked the 11th. By the 12th, sitting around, catatonically shaking my legs and chomping on my fingernails became too much. I had to get up and move around somewhere, and my friend did as well. At that late hour, with things playing out as they were, I was doing myself no favors staying where I was. So we got up and moved around, down towards 3rd base. And, of course, that's when the Royals struck.

When that first run scored, a few people started to get up and leave.

When the second run scored, more Mets fans headed for the exits.

When Lorenzo Cain cleared the bases, turning the inning from a debacle to a total bloodletting, the mass exodus occurred. Could you blame them? This seemed to be an almost predictable finish. Just to expedite our exit, which had become a painful process during this Postseason run, we moved down to the Field Level. Unfortunately, we found ourselves directly behind a mass of Royals fans, ready to kick off the celebration of a lifetime in our house. With two outs, I could see Royals players literally hanging over the dugout railing.

I couldn't take it any longer. I couldn't watch them celebrate on our field.

I had to leave.

Oh, I heard that final roar as I reached the plaza. It seemed as though many Mets fans had left before me, perhaps wisely. For as loud as the Royals fans were inside, that's how quiet it was outside.

The ride back from Citi Field on the 7 train can either be a long ride or a short one depending on the circumstances. This night was a particularly long ride. I spent most of the time reflecting on this 2015 Mets season, and really, it's hard to not consider the season among the most memorable in the history of the team. I mean, who the hell though that this was even a Playoff team, let alone a World Series team? I picked the Mets to go as far as the NLCS before the season, but I can be overly optimistic at times. Usually, when that happens, the Mets end up falling flat on their faces. And they did plenty of that this season, but man, when they got it together, they really got it together and for once, the Mets actually overachieved. This wasn't supposed to happen this year, but it did. Somehow, the Mets caught that lightning in a bottle and rode it all the way down to the World Series.

Yeah, things ended up badly, and the Mets ultimately turned to mush at some key moments, but the Royals really forced the Mets into making these mistakes. The Royals played every game as though it were their last. They took the horrible bitterness that came from losing the 7th game of the World Series last year and used that to fuel them through to a World Series Championship this year. And perhaps the Mets could learn from that. Remember this feeling. Remember how awful it was to watch those guys celebrating on our field. Remember how they ran all over us, stealing bases, working pitchers, picking up cheap hits and pressuring the Mets into mistakes. The Royals played like Champions and they earned their Championship. The Mets still have to do that yet.

Remember this feeling, because it's hard to get to this point. But getting back isn't quite in the forefront of my thoughts right now. It's sort of hard to articulate, perhaps because the sting of losing, and losing the last two games the way they did is still fresh. Time passes, though, and the losses fade, or at least I hope they will, and I'll begin to reflect on this 176-game wild ride the 2015 Mets took us on, and how I made it to 27 games this year—€”my highest total since 1999—€”and how I made it to 6 Postseason games, and how the Mets Actually Made It To The World Series This Year! I went to a Mets game in Freaking November!

It actually happened this year! Who the hell saw this coming? Sure, there's a lot of bitterness right now. But I'm awfully proud to be a Mets fan.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Horror Story

I've probably been sitting, staring at my computer screen and staring at that photo above and wondering how the hell to explain what the hell I sat through last night at Citi Field. I should say that I've gone into every Postseason game this year feeling some amount of trepidation. Some nights, it's worse than others. My worst night was probably Game 4 of the NLDS, but Friday night's Game 3 topped it. Fortunately, the Mets won. But for some reason, when I walked into Citi Field on Saturday night, I had this odd sense of calm. I was with my other half on this evening, which could have been a reason, or perhaps it was because it was early and I didn't feel rushed, or because the Mets had won last night and somehow had inspired me enough to not be so worried. But in the Postseason and as I'm discovering even moreso in the World Series, there is tension simply by showing up. It will fluctuate depending on how the game ebbs and flows and on Friday, the tension kind of evaporated when the Mets took a big lead. Last night, however, was a much different story.

The game started out well enough. Steven Matz took the ball for the Mets, in one of those "Dreams come true" kind of games for him. I've always been a little leery of Matz's games this postseason, not so much because I think he'll pitch poorly but because he's still so green. He didn't even make 10 starts in the regular season, but here he is, making his 3rd start in the Postseason, and in the World Series no less. But where Matz had been in the habit of coming out and being a little too cranked up early in games, that didn't happen. Matz had, probably, the best of his 3 Postseason outings on this night. He was mixing speeds and pitches, he was throwing off the Royals timing, he was getting into and out of jams, it was some truly beautiful stuff.

Offensively, the Mets still had a hard time figuring out Chris Young, except for Michael Conforto, who led off the 3rd inning by absolutely blasting a Home Run up into the Pepsi Porch. Wilmer Flores followed with a single, moved up on a Wild Pitch and a Matz sacrifice and then scored on a Curtis Granderson Sac Fly which was aided by Alex Rios forgetting how many outs there were and not throwing the ball back in. In the 5th, it was Conforto again, getting a hold of a Danny Duffy pitch and sailing it into the Mets bullpen. That put the Mets ahead 3-1 and Conforto was ready to jump out of his uniform from excitement.

But these Royals make any lead seem perilous. Though they didn't push much across the plate against Matz, they were still dinging him. Mostly, it was their uncanny and wholly irritating ability to waste every single two-strike pitch before putting something in play. They broke through in the 5th on a play that seemed more fluky than anything, Cespedes kicking Perez's line drive that turned into a double, and Alex Gordon singled him home. But that's just how the Royals have been doing it. 6th inning, same thing. Zobrist double, Cain single, Matz's evening finished right there.

It was, of course, at this point when the game started to get really, really tense. 3-2 lead with a spotty bullpen and a relentless opponent seemed to be a recipe for disaster. But still, so long as the Mets had the lead, everyone felt confident. Jon Niese came in to face Hosmer and Moustakas and got them both. Bartolo Colon followed to face Perez and after a horrifying 10-pitch battle, struck him out. In the 7th, Addison Reed, who's been quite solid, got the Royals in order. The Mets bats, at this point, had gone quiet, however, and so the game stayed at 3-2 going into the 8th.

And it was in that 8th inning that the clock struck midnight and Daniel Murphy turned back into a Pumpkin.

Murphy will be the leading culprit in the utter catastrophe that ensued, but he had some conspirators. Tyler Clippard, for one, was simply awful. Yes, he got Escobar to start the inning, but he got ahead of Ben Zobrist 0-2 and walked him, and he got ahead of Lorenzo Cain 0-2 and then threw him nothing close. Handing a team that consistently makes contact and wastes pitches and drives everyone crazy free baserunners is just asking for trouble. Still, with Jeurys Familia coming in, you had to feel, I don't want to say confident, but you had to feel less nervous. Even if he had to get through Sabermetric Murderers' Row. And he got what he needed out of Eric Hosmer, which was a chopper to 2nd base. It would have been too slow for a Double Play, but certainly one out would have been fine here. But it was one of those balls that bounced and bounced and bounced and then stopped bouncing, and of course that was where Daniel Murphy was playing for a bounce...

There is a certain kind of noise that comes from a crowd of people when something really bad happens. I wouldn't categorize it as an "Aww.." or a "Booo..." It's a truly awful, gut-wrenching sound that sounds sort of like an entire stadium getting ready to vomit in unison. And when the ball skipped under Daniel Murphy's glove and trickled far enough away for the Royals to score the tying run and get the lead run to 3rd, well, it was as if we all knew we were totally fucked.

From that point forward, it was the Royals that were playing fast and loose and fancy free, and the Mets were the team that just saw their assholes collectively tense up. Familia was totally rattled and subsequently gave up a pair of RBI singles to Perez and Gordon before finally getting Rios to hit into a DP, but the damage had already been done. The crowd, which had gone through this roller coaster of tension, broke after Salvador Perez singled in the lead run, I heard some loud banging coming from somewhere in the stadium and it sounded like a bomb was going off. The crowd was running the gamut of emotion from stunned to murderous and some people started to leave outright. Most stayed, though, hoping that the Mets would have something left in them to mount a comeback against their closer, Wade Davis.

It wasn't the 8th. Though Collins had double-switched Juan Lagares in for the 8th, for some reason Kelly Johnson was sent up to pinch hit in the bottom of the inning, which to me was a total panic move. Lagares had at least been playing and hitting reasonably well. Why not let him take a shot? But I was, by this point, totally deflated and through trying to figure out Collins' moves. Hansel Robles got through the 9th just fine. In the last of the 9th, the Mets tried to mount something. Daniel Murphy hit with one out, and didn't get booed. Didn't get cheered, but also didn't get booed and got some sort of a murmured reception. But he singled, which if nothing else allowed the Mets to get the tying run to the plate in Yoenis Cespedes, and then Cespedes singled, and Lucas Duda followed, and maybe Lucas Duda could fire that miracle blast and save victory from the jaws of defeat, but in a play that probably was more horrible than the Murphy error, Duda floated a soft line drive to 3rd that Mike Moustakas caught, and everyone then turned their heads in abject horror to see that Cespedes was standing nowhere near 1st base.

This was, to put it as kindly as possible, a total gut-punch defeat. The loss in Game 1 was pretty bad, but that was at least on the road. When it happens at home, well, it can just take the starch out of everything. Daniel Murphy probably undid the month's worth of goodwill he'd built up with his hot streak in about 5 seconds. Cespedes continued a lousy World Series performance with a totally unconscionable mental error. The Mets lost to a Royals team that once again proved to be relentless in their approach at the plate and their ability to come back in any game, and now they stand but one win from a World Series Championship with a chance to close it out tonight on our turf.

It doesn't look good right now for the Mets. The Royals have beaten the Mets best starters and the Mets Closer and basically everyone in between, and gotten them playing tight and out of sorts. But as I keep saying, while you're in this thing, it's really hard to look at it and put things in their proper perspective. It's amazing, in and of itself, that the Mets have gotten to this point this year. And for as bad as two of these losses have been, they're not done yet. Yes, they're down 3 games to 1 and they'd need to win two games on the road in order to pull this miracle off. Not impossible. Not especially likely, but not impossible. They just have to follow the tenet that this franchise was built on and Believe. We, as fans have to to the same, we've just got to keep on Believing. Tonight is the last game at Citi Field this season, whether the Mets win or not, Matt Harvey will take the ball and try to keep the fire burning at least for one more day, and people are going to be there rooting them on, no matter what happens.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Well Worth The Wait

It had been 387 games spread over 29 seasons before I attended my first World Series game and based on the results, it was worth the wait. In spite of some truly horrifying early struggles, the Mets got a clutch pitching performance out of Noah Syndergaard, warming everyone up on a frigid evening at Citi Field and setting the Mets on the way to a 9-3 victory and putting them on the board in the 2015 World Series.

This game was, of course, Citi Field's time to shine on that national stage. You knew as soon as you got on the 7 train that the stadium would be packed, loud and over-the-top intense. They had to be; just given the circumstances of the first two games of the series and how deflating a loss would be, perhaps a lot of the noise was generated by nerves more than anything else.

I was late getting in, not so much because I was late, but because George was late, and while I was waiting outside on the plaza, the energy really was palpable. I found myself jogging in place just to calm down at multiple points. Gone was the Budweiser Beer Garden that had sprung up during the NLCS, replaced by a football field-sized World Series Merch tent, multiple media stages and some other stuff I couldn't quite make out since it was buried among a mass of humanity. Regardless, I hardly, if ever, show up to a game looking for merchandise outside of a program, and so when George arrived and we went inside (and I received my 4th Rally Towel of the season), I got mine from my usual vendor inside the Rotunda before heading upstairs. It was a bit of a mad dash to get up there; by this point the rosters were being announced and we really wanted to be in our seats by time the Mets starters were introduced. It's not the game, nor does it have anything to do with the game, but in terms of tradition, well, you have to be there. That's part of the point of going to the World Series. Though we were ambushed by a broken escalator, somehow we managed to make it just as Terry Collins was taking the field. So we caught that, we caught Billy Joel's National Anthem (whither Glenn Close?), Mike Piazza was there throwing out the first pitch and spurring several "Get Him in the Lineup" comments, and then it was time for a game, oh by the way.

After the Royals had handled Harvey and deGrom in the first two games, everyone knew Syndergaard had to make a statement. Whether he or someone in the media department made the call, it seemed rather fitting that he would come out to the "Halloween" theme song as opposed to his usual entrance music. Not so much because it's Halloween and the Mets are still playing, but because Syndergaard clearly went out there with the intent to intimidate the Royals. To some extent, he did. Alcides Escobar had been looking awfully comfortable at the plate in the first two games of the series and had hacked away at the first pitch both times. So, Syndergaard sent a message by sailing his first pitch high and inside and clear to the backstop at 98mph. This put Escobar on his seat (although the pitch had no chance of hitting him), got the Royals all pissy and got the crowd good and riled up. Syndergaard then blew Escobar out of the box and actually got a swing and a miss from him.

Then, there was trouble. Ben Zobrist, who probably could use a little brushing back too, doubled over Cespedes' head, Lorenzo Cain reached on an infield hit that Syndergaard for some reason didn't field, and then the Royals were on the board when Eric Hosmer hit into a Fielder's Choice that should have been a Double Play if Syndergaard and Duda weren't busy wondering who would catch the ball. This was exactly what the Royals had been doing over the first to games and here they were at it again.

However, the Royals sent Yordano Ventura, who is quite a headcase in his own right, to the mound and he didn't have a particularly good time at all. Curtis Granderson hit a ball into the shift that Zobrist managed to field, but couldn't throw Granderson out. David Wright followed and, with the crowd imploring him to do something, he did, drilling a 0-1 pitch into the Left Field seats for his first Home Run of the Postseason, the first World Series Home Run at Citi Field and basically exactly what the Mets needed at that particular moment. They hadn't been getting the big hits and finally they got one.

But the Royals were just relentless. In the 2nd, they came right back, ringing out a conga line of singles, circling the bases and making my head spin. If this kept up, there was no possible way the Mets were going to do anything, and was this really how it was going to go down? They started out with singles from Perez, Gordon and Rios, tied the game and only by some sheer stroke of luck was Gordon called out at 3rd after a well-advised challenge by Collins. Ventura sacrificed and then Escobar was up again. Syndergaard this time went after him and got ahead in the count, but d'Arnaud couldn't handle a low pitch, the ball got past him, Rios scored and everything was once again horrible. For as well as the Mets pitchers had been throwing, the Royals were continuing to fight off every 2-strike pitch, get every line drive to fall and when they weren't making line drives fall, they were getting bloop hits to fall. It was truly sickening and by that point I was having a hard time seeing where the worm would turn.

It turned when Syndergaard settled down, got his bearings and basically used his right arm to deliver the message "Enough of this fuckery." After Escobar singled and stole 2nd with 2 out in the 2nd, Syndergaard retired 12 in a row and basically restored order to a game that was starting to get out of hand. And by keeping the Royals in check, he also gave his team time to come back.

Come back they did, with a vengeance. Syndergaard served as his own rally in the 3rd by leading off with a single, and Curtis Granderson followed by drilling a pitch straight down the Right Field line and into the seats for his 2nd Home Run of the Series. This, of course, set off the fireworks and set off the noise and put the Mets ahead for good. In the 4th, the Mets chased Ventura thanks to a Lucas Duda single, a double from Travis d'Arnaud and a well-placed grounder from Michael Conforto that turned into an Infield Hit when both Zobrist and Hosmer decided to field the ball instead of cover 1st base. Yes, the Mets wasted an opportunity that inning with runners on 1st and 3rd and no outs, but they got a run and extended their lead, which was an accomplishment by itself.

With Ventura exiting in the 4th, the Royals then went to a succession of their lesser relievers. Danny Duffy escaped the 4th inning jam, before departing in favor of Raul Mondesi Jr, who simultaneously made history and made me feel really old by making his Major League debut in the World Series. Luke Hochevar took the 5th, and Franklin Morales started the 6th, but the Mets lit Morales up completely and put the game out of reach in the process. Following Syndergaard's final great escape of the evening, getting Alexis Rios to ground out with the bases loaded, the Mets went on the attack again. Juan Lagares, who's quietly had a great Postseason, hit for Conforto and singled. Wilmer Flores was hit by a pitch, and then Juan Uribe came up to hit for Syndergaard. And if you wanted a welcome sight, well, Juan Uribe was it. Marc Anthony was blaring, fans were screaming and really, this was just what the Mets needed. Juan Uribe has made a career out of being Playoff Chosen and it wouldn't have surprised me if he put one in the seats right there. He didn't, but his RBI single to score Lagares was similarly effective; it extended the Mets lead and the Mets rally. Curtis Granderson followed by hitting a comebacker to Morales and Morales basically didn't know what the hell to do, because in the process of looking Flores back to 3rd, he lost the play at 2nd on Uribe and was fortunate to not simply heave the ball into the Outfield. That was it for Morales, he departed in favor of Kelvin Herrera, in a desperate attempt by Yost to keep the game in reach, but David Wright attacked his first pitch, nailing a 2-run single, Cespedes followed with a Sac Fly, the Mets had gone ahead 9-3 and could coast home from there. Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia had drama-free innings and the Mets got themselves their first win in the 2015 World Series.

This was about as must-win a game as the Mets could have and maybe that took some of the "Holy Shit I'm At The World Series" out of me before the game, but once the Mets won, I think I started to appreciate the magnitude of the moment more. George did as well. The scope of our discussion afterward, while trying to make our way downstairs amid the mass of humanity, was something to the effect of "Hey, remember how the Mets were in the World Series in 2015 and we went and they won?" That's sort of what it felt like. 29 years, 387 games and finally my first World Series game and I know people say it's an experience to remember so much that it sounds kind of cliche, but it's true. It's hard to get to the World Series. You tend not to recognize it while you're in the midst of it happening, but it is. And it's even harder to get back which is why you want to take advantage of your opportunities. Well, after falling behind 0-2, the Mets have managed to get themselves back in it. Now, they have to keep it going tonight. I'll be back, by the way.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

It's Not Safe

The Mets now find themselves in the unenviable position of being down 0-2 to the Royals in the World Series. That's not good in and of itself, but what's of greater concern is the way the Royals have just pecked the Mets to death over these two games. Losing on Tuesday night was pretty bad and had every sign of being a truly crushing defeat. Wednesday, though the Mets came out with some fight in them, ultimately the Royals just outplayed them on both sides of the coin. I wouldn't go so far as to say they were deflated by losing the first game, they were deflated by a team that has just buzzsawed them in similar fashion to the way the Mets were buzzsawing the Cubs just last week. Jacob deGrom looked brilliant until he didn't, the Mets had figured out Johnny Cueto until they didn't, everything tilted the other way and the end result was a 7-1 loss in which the Mets had all of two hits.

There's not much that can be said about this game, because there was no momentum-changing key moment you could point to, no key misplay that changed the scope of things. Everything was fine through 4 innings. Jacob deGrom was every bit as good as the Mets needed him to be, Lucas Duda had 2 hits and an RBI, the hitters were making Cueto work and it seemed like just a matter of time until they figured him out and got a good rally going. But instead, the roof caved in on deGrom in a nightmare 5th inning that saw deGrom throw just about everything he could possibly muster at Royals hitters only to see them nick every deuce or turn the pitch around for a hit. That tenuous lead vanished and just as quickly turned into a 3-run deficit and all of a sudden the Royals were making deGrom look rather pedestrian. I don't know whether it's a fatigue thing or a tipping pitches thing, or a sign-stealing thing, but let's face it, those are all grasping at straws to try to come up with a reason for a guy who's been just about unhittable for a month now to come unraveled.

The real reason is that the Royals just don't give away a thing. It seems like getting to the edge of it last year just put a fire in this team and now they seem to go after every At Bat as though they're never going to get another one. I'm not saying that the Mets haven't looked like that at times, but over the first two games I see a little more "Happy to be here-ness" in the team. Maybe I'm nuts. It's not in everyone, but outside of Curtis Granderson, Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda, the offense has been a disaster. Michael Conforto has gone back to looking like a Rookie, David Wright looks old, and Flores and d'Arnaud just seem off.

So, yeah. This is pretty bad. The Mets went into this series with Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom starting the first two games and managed to lose them both. Right now, I'm sure they must really rue not being able to close it out on Tuesday, but again, this is more a testament to the Royals tenacity than the Mets inability to execute. That's been the story of the series so far. But because it's the World Series and the entire planet is watching, it seems like theories and predictions and explanations are much more prevalent and from the point of view of a fan that just wants to see his team be competitive, that's not helpful.

The Mets, of course, have been down 0-2 in the World Series before and they came back to win it, so this isn't totally unprecedented. But I'm not thrilled at the prospect of having to win 4 out of 5 games against a team that always seems to have an answer in them. I'm not panicking—€”I don't feel particularly panicked—but I don't feel especially confident either. A day off for the Mets right now might be helpful, if only to burn off the tension that these first two games have generated. They've got little to lose at this point and they'll now get to come home, and get these guys in their house, with their fans and their rules and maybe that's what they need to get them started in the right direction.

That's the pragmatic side of me. The lunatic fan side of me sounds more like this: Time to get your asses in gear, guys. I know that this team didn't go through all of this just to get to the World Series and go down in flames. People are already starting to laugh at us again. Don't make this another example of the Mets looking like jackasses when the whole world is watching. They haven't knocked you out yet, so time to start fighting back.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Long Night's Journey...

I guess it's somewhat fitting that a night that began so ominously for the Mets ended so wretchedly. For the most part, the Mets stood toe-to-toe with a hellaciously tough Royals team and had worked the game directly the way they wanted it to for the first 8 1/2 innings. But for one night, it slipped away, and in an extra-inning war of attrition the Mets ultimately blinked first, falling to the Royals in 14 innings in the first game of the World Series.

To put it kindly, Game 1 of the World Series was simply excruciating. Not so much because of poor play, but because the Mets and Royals are so evenly matched, and both teams had their gears grinding from the first pitch and the longer these games go, and the longer these series go and games remain well within reach for either team, the more excruciating it becomes. I was plenty anxious before the game even started and as things unfolded and stretched further and further into the night, I only got worse. I was a total wreck at the end of the game, and of course this was only Game 1.

But that's the World Series. And that's the plight of being a fan of one of the World Series teams. You try to do whatever you can to bring the team good Karma, wearing shirts, following superstitions or whatever but in reality all you can do is just sit there and watch the game unfold. That's probably the most painful part of this drama; for as much as fans like to think they have some control, we don't. It all comes down to the execution of the players, and who can create a break for themselves.

The Royals seemed to be creating most of the breaks, certainly early on when Alcides Escobar hacked at Matt Harvey's first pitch of the night and sent a screamer to Center that Yoenis Cespedes probably just didn't see, but whatever happened he didn't catch it and then knocked it away, allowing Escobar to circle the bases for an inside-the-park Home Run. And if that wasn't the worst possible way to start off a World Series, well, I don't know what is. That play basically set the tone for the evening, and the tone was that this wasn't going to go the way of the Cubs series. This was going to be tooth and nail for however many games it takes.

Harvey wasn't his sharpest early in the game, but he settled down, and most of the Mets settled down too, after being stopped by Edinson Volquez over the first three innings. Daniel Murphy, who else, got the Mets first hit leading off the 4th, pulled off another heady baserunning play when Duda singled through the overshift and then scored when Mike Moustakas couldn't' handle Travis d'Arnaud's screamer down the line. Curtis Granderson hit a Home Run in the 5th, and the Mets ran amok on the Royals again in the 6th, this time Cespedes doing the exact same thing Murphy did in the 4th.

At 3-1 and with Harvey cruising, things looked great, or at least whatever part of the game Fox allowed us to see looked great. The only problem was that the Royals are basically an entire team of tough outs and aggressive hitters and it seems as though they become even more difficult when they're trailing. Ben Zobrist seems to embody this better than anyone, because he spent the entire night ripping the Mets to shreds. His first-pitch double in the 6th kick started a 2-run rally that tied the game and ultimately ended Harvey's evening after 6 innings in which he allowed 3 runs on 5 hits, but only 2 strikeouts, because the Royals just don't strike out.

The Mets are tough outs too, and in the 8th they took their shot against the Royals virtually-impenetrable bullpen and somehow succeeded in scratching across a run. This, of course, was solely due to Juan Lagares, who took on Kelvin Herrera and refused to give in, fouling off several pitches of the 100mph variety before finally fisting a single. Lagares then stole second and scored when Wilmer Flores' ground ball hopped past Eric Hosmer at 1st base.

Yes, the game had indeed played right into the Mets hands. Ahead 4-3, the Mets went to Tyler Clippard for the 8th, and Clippard was alternately horrifying and great before departing a 2-on, 2-out situation in favor of Jeurys Familia. This was exactly where the Mets needed to be. Familia got the last out of the 9th and then came back out for the 9th and everything was just hunky dory until he left a pitch just slightly up to Alex Gordon...

...and that was the ambush we weren't expecting.

Familia hasn't been perfect this season, but he's been pretty close to it, which is why Alex Gordon's tying Home Run felt so momentously jarring and unsettling. I still don't think Familia can be blamed for it, certainly not after all he's done to get to this point. But that's still a really bad spot to have something like that happen.

Nonetheless, the game wasn't lost, deflating as that may have been. In fact, the Mets didn't fold at all. Jon Niese came in for the 10th and pitched two brilliant innings and Bartolo Colon followed and was similarly effective, weaving in and out of jams as only Colon can, without breaking a sweat. But the Mets offense had gone completely quiet. Juan Lagares tried to inject some life into things with a bunt single in the 11th, but he got no further than 2nd. Each time the Mets looked like they had something going, either David Wright or Michael Cuddyer would come up and strike out and short-circuit everything. Then Chris Young came into the game and just iced the Mets completely. Either way, the Mets weren't doing anything to help themselves offensively, and of course it appeared to be only a matter of time until the Royals caught a break because they kept plugging away.

It took until the 14th inning, but the Royals finally caught that break. It figured that it would be Escobar and Zobrist in the thick of things because they were doing it all night. Wright misplayed Escobar's grounder for an error, Zobrist followed with his 6th hit of the night to move Escobar to 3rd and you could basically stick a fork in this one because for as well as Colon has pitched, he can only pull his Houdini act so many times. Still, Curtis Granderson probably uncorked the best throw he's made in 5 years on Hosmer's fly ball and made the final play much closer than it should have been, but that didn't change the outcome and moral victories only count for so much.

So...yeah. 5 hours and 9 minutes and an ending time of 1:16am didn't make for a good night's sleep. In fact, I have to say I feel pretty damn miserable right now. This was a pretty deflating loss for the Mets. But just as much as coming from behind has been a staple for the Royals this season, the Mets trademark has been their resiliency and their ability to bounce back from tough losses. I keep saying this but as was the case against LA and Chicago, they just had to split the first two games. Particularly here, playing on the road. These Royals are a bunch of Tigers that have already been through this and although coming back from 0-2 isn't impossible, I'd rather not be in that position. Hell, I just don't want to be in the position of the ennui that comes following a Postseason loss. I was despondent after the Mets lost the 4th game against LA, just imagine how I'm feeling now. The one thing I can take solace in, other than that the Mets have the ability to bounce back, is the guy they're sending to the mound tonight. Jacob deGrom has stood tall in some pretty big spots this year and if there's anyone you want on the mound in a game like this, he's the guy.