Monday, August 31, 2015

Lots To Say To Each Other

I was out of town for the weekend and didn't actually see either of Saturday's or Sunday's games, so basically all I know is what I was able to dig up on my phone, which was easier said than done because I was in a location where phone service was, at best, iffy.

So, here's what I think I figured out. On Saturday, Jacob deGrom pitched well enough to win, except that he had one bad inning where Boston touched him up a little bit, while on the other side the Mets could do nothing against Joe Kelly or his goggles because Kelly was a Cardinals prospect and the Mets just have no luck against Cardinals prospects Past or Present. The Mets drop a 3-1 decision in front of what I can assume was a crowd similar to the one I was privy to on Friday.

Sunday, Noah Syndergaard gamely battles into the 7th inning before David Ortiz reaches him for an 800 foot Home Run that ties a game where the Mets had to really scuffle to get the 4 runs they'd managed up to that point, but the Mets once again get back to scuffling and when Michael Cuddyer singled in the last of the 7th inning, Daniel Murphy scuffled home with the lead run and the Mets ultimately survived to win 5-4, in spite of the fact that Jeurys Familia had what I might describe as a John Franco 9th inning. Yes, Familia got himself into and out of trouble but for whatever reason after the game most of the Red Sox buried their heads up his ass. It's always nice to draw praise from your opponents, but it seems like maybe Boston was a little over the top. Who knows. David Ortiz seemed to have a lot to say all weekend. Lord only knows what he and Daniel Murphy had to say to each other here. I'm sure it was a regular laugh riot. A Republican and a Dominican walk into a bar...

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Overextended

After a couple of weeks in which the Mets basically laid waste to everyone that deigned to get in their way, the Mets came home and sort of muddled their way through Friday night's game against the Boston Red Sox. This was, of course, another one of those randomly placed Interleague series, and one that had a bit of panache to it, since it was in fact the first time the Red Sox had played a regular season series at Citi Field, and also the first time the Mets and Red Sox had met in Queens altogether since 2001. Though the Red Sox are in last place and boast a record to rival the teams that the Mets had basically steamrolled over the weekend, they came into Citi Field looking somewhere awkwardly in between a team playing out the string and a team looking to get in the way of a contender. They did both rather well. In spite of running through 8 pitchers and handing the Mets 12 walks, they bunched several hits together in key moments and managed to burn the Mets 6-4 in a 10-inning sweat-fest.

This game did have all the makings of a Mets romp, particularly early. I was on hand with my better half for this Free Shirt Friday (and those loyal readers who know my wife's disdain for Free Shirt Friday will no doubt be pleased to know that she deemed this shirt unwearable and asked if I would be selling it on eBay approximately 30 seconds after receiving it), as were a whole host of Red Sox fans who unfortunately turned out to be as annoying as I feared they would be in spite of our particular solidarity. Though I will always hold a soft spot in my heart for the Red Sox for what they did 11 years ago, their run of World Series Championships has turned their fans from a more New England Literary BS version of Mets fans into a bunch of chest-puffers. They've become so popular and their fans seem to travel so well that it seems unsurprising that this weekend is very close to being sold out if it's not already. Easily the largest crowd in a game I'd attended this season since Opening Day was on hand as a well-rested Matt Harvey was on the mound. The skipped start heard round the world turned out to be a non-issue as Harvey cruised his way through 6 innings and although he was less than economical, he was still effective. The offense got him two runs off of Henry Owens, who should not be confused with the Henry Owens of lesser acclaim that surfaced with the Mets in another era. It could have been more. It probably should have been more.

By the time the 7th inning rolled around, we all wished it were more, because Logan Verrett, after looking so good against the Phillies on Thursday, came in the game and was immediately greeted by David Ortiz hitting a laser beam of a Home Run into the seats in Left Center. Verrett then got the next two batters and it seemed like an isolated instance, but then he gave up a single to Blake Swihart and was a pitch away from getting the 8 hitter, Jackie Bradley, Jr, but then Bradley hit a ball rather similar to Ortiz that found its way to the seats as well, and just like that, the lead was gone, Harvey's win was gone, and Red Sox fans were whooping it up. 

The Mets, however, battled back in the last of the 7th, thanks mostly to Alexi Ogando and his general inability to find the plate. Ogando's outing was basically the baseball version of a triple-decker sandwich, as he walked a guy, got a guy out, gave up a hit, walked a guy, got a guy out and then walked Travis d'Arnaud to force in a run and tie the game back up. Ogando was then removed for fat-faced former Giant Jean Machi, and of course Machi stopped the Mets cold, and then Tommy Layne worked out of trouble in the 9th, and it was off to Extra Innings, which was about the last thing the Mets needed after what happened on Thursday night.

By this point, the Mets had gone through single innings from Verrett, who wasn't good, and then Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia, who were good, and now Terry Collins tried to squeeze a little more magic out of Carlos Torres, but this didn't work. Swihart led off the 10th with a screamer that at first looked like it might be run down by Juan Lagares, except that it kept sailing and it appeared to me to be a Home Run outright, but it caromed off the wall and about halfway back to the infield. Nobody made a signal, and so Swihart just kept on running while Lagares and Tejada then had to chase down the ball, and by time anyone was able to make a play on it, Swihart had basically circled the bases for the Inside-The-Park Home Run that probably wasn't an Inside-The-Park Home Run. But it was and that's how it stands. Torres then proceeded to allow two more runs on top of that, turning a bad situation into a completely untenable one, as not only were the Mets down 6-3 in the 10th inning, but Red Sox fans were now dancing in the aisles and weeping over their good fortune. 

It probably would have been easier if the Mets had just gone down in order against Junichi Tazawa, who has mysteriously become the Red Sox closer for reasons I forget, and after Tazawa gave up a hit to Flores and a Double Play to d'Arnaud, it seemed like we'd get out of here quick. But instead, Tazawa decided to prolong things and walk 4 guys in a row, which served no greater purpose than to fill us all with false hope while Red Sox fans buried their heads in their hands. Still, with the bases loaded and now a run home, all it would take was Yoenis Cespedes to just knock a single and the game would be tied, and a long hit could potentially win the game. Boston, having had enough of Tazawa's Follies, opted to bring in another pitcher, except that the only pitcher they had left was Left handed Yale graduate Craig Breslow, hardly the matchup they wanted but of course the only matchup they could make. Certainly things looked hopeful at this point but Cespedes just missed a pitch and ended up flying out.

This was a rather meek and anticlimactic ending to this game, which seemed to drag on forever and wound up an excessively sweaty 3 hours and 59 minutes, which should tell you that the Red Sox were the once who dictated the pace of the game, and should also tell you that they really can't pitch very well. The Mets had 20 men on base in the game and could only muster 4 runs, which means their situational hitting decided it was June again and didn't do anything helpful. Say what you will about Collins' use of the bullpen but the fact is the bullpen probably shouldn't have been in that situation in the first place. When a team hands you 12 walks, you probably should score more than 4 runs. But then again, after a 9-game, 12-day road trip that finished with a 13-inning slog, maybe the Mets needed a nap more than anything else.

Friday, August 28, 2015

By Any Means Necessary

It took a long but ultimately gratifying 13 innings for the Mets to finish out their 9-5 win over the Phillies, and by doing so the Mets earned themselves a sweep of their friends 117 miles to their south. To take it a step further, the Mets finished off a road trip to remember, as they won 8 of the 9 games they played, including the last 7.

This finale had just about everything you could ask for in a Baseball game, except for, perhaps, brevity, but that seems to be something that goes out the window when the Mets and Phillies play. I don't recall how long these games went, but I believe the first three games ended close to 10:30, and this last game completed somewhere after 11.

It didn't look particularly encouraging early on. Once again I was a late arrival to the TV, and by that point Jon Niese had already had his Jon Niese inning, where he came unglued and allowed a 2-run single, a run-scoring fielder's choice and finally, with two outs of course, a 2-run Home Run to Darin Ruf. This left Niese glowering at the world and the Mets in a 5-0 hole, and quite honestly, you probably couldn't blame the Mets for putting up a stinker now after everything they've done lately.

On the other hand, the way the Mets have been going lately, a comeback wasn't out of the question either.

Given their standing, the Mets clearly felt it more important to go for the latter and set out to try their abilities against Aaron Harang. This did not take them very long to accomplish, as two innings and three Home Runs later, the game was tied. Travis d'Arnaud, Yoenis Cespedes and Kelly Johnson did the honors in this instance, pulling the Mets even before Philly knew what had hit them.

The game then dragged on further into the night. Harang and Niese both departed after 6 innings and it was then up to the bullpens to decide things. The Mets, of course, have had their relief issues lately and Philly, well, they've had trouble ever since they decided to go to a relief core consisting entirely of guys named Jake. They no longer have Jakes but things still aren't great. Still, they stood toe-to-toe with the Mets. Jeanmar Gomez and newly-anointed closer Ken Giles (who looks like the kind of guy who will light the Mets on fire) got things through the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th, while Logan Verrett, Hansel Robles and Sean Gilmartin did the same for the Mets. Carlos Torres entered the game for the Mets with 2 out in the 10th and, with Jeff Francoeur at the plate, conspired with Daniel Murphy for the play everyone's talking about or, perhaps, the Greatest Example of a Daniel Murphy play I've ever seen. We know what happened, Francoeur hit a pitch off of Torres' heel, the ball carroming to Murphy who dove, knocked the ball down, bobbled the ball, and somehow made a behind the back shovel to Torres who recovered well enough to cover 1st and beat Francoeur to the base. As I've said, Murphy in the field is always an adventure and because of this, for every time Murphy has one of his yips, he also sometimes will accidentally make a play like this. And, of course, Murphy hopped off the field in his usual awkward representation of glee.

However, this simply extended the game further into the night. Elvis Araujo came in for the 11th, pitched to one batter, and then left with a groin injury. Luis Garcia followed and probably tried to be a hero and pitch before he was warm, and the result was he walked two and nearly walked a 3rd except that Murphy helped him out by swinging at a sucker pitch and hitting into a DP.

It wasn't until the 13th that the Mets finally broke through, and of course it was started off by Carlos Torres who singled to lead off the inning and after Granderson singled as well, Daniel Murphy came up and drove them both in with a double to Left Field, moved to 3rd on the throw home and hopped around and screamed some more because, let's face it, this was probably the greatest day of his career. The Mets, however, weren't done against Hector NeriS, who subsequently heaved a throw into the seats and allowed a hit to Conforto that scored two more runs and basically sealed the fate of the game.

This is how it's been going for the Mets lately. They fall behind and come back. They make absurd defensive plays. Players who were the supposed weak links are all of a sudden coming through. The month of August is winding down now and I'm not sure I can remember the Mets having a month quite like this in years.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Late Arrival

I have, all week this week, been late in getting home and putting on the game. It may be less a matter of getting home late and more a matter of me getting home and wanting to fall asleep than me actually getting home late, but at least on Wednesday, my excuse was that I was legitimately home late. Although the way things have been going lately, it doesn't matter what time I get home or what time I start watching the game, the Mets win it anyway.

By time I'd turned the game on, the Mets were already ahead 3-0, having jumped on another in what seems to be an endless line of Rookie Philly Pitchers, Jerad Eickhoff, in the 1st inning. Mets were getting hits and flying around bases and scoring runs once again. The beneficiary of this particular windfall was Bartolo Colon, who, after a pair of games where the Mets bullpen was called upon early and often, needed to give a good effort and he did. Colon continued his good start/bad start pattern with a fine outing, throwing 7 shutout innings at a Phillies team that looked ill equipped to take on Colon.

The Mets stretched their lead to 4-0 against Eickhoff in the 6th when Juan Uribe singled home a run, and in the 8th inning, Michael Cuddyer belted a 2-run Home Run to extend the lead to 6-0. Cuddyer, who's now found himself in mostly a platoon role, has taken to this quite nicely and after spending the first 4 months of the season looking rather Jason Bay-like, he's actually started to get his act together. Although let's face it, for the first 4 months of the season, most of the Mets team was looking rather Jason Bay-like. I'm sure nobody misses the days when John Mayberry Jr or Darrell Ceciliani were hitting 4th and 5th in this lineup.

Then the Mets bullpen got involved and nearly threw the whole thing down the toilet. Of course it was Eric O'Flaherty who started this. O'Flaherty, who's just not proving himself capable of making a meaningful contribution right now, got the right handers out and gave up ringing hits to all the left handers, which would be fine if he wasn't supposed to be a lefty specialist. Carlos Torres followed, faced one batter, gave up a 2-run double that turned a 6-1 game into a 6-3 game, and then was removed, because when Carlos Torres gives up a ringing double to the first guy he faces, you know he doesn't have it and needs to be removed immediately. Tyler Clippard then had to be summoned to rescue the Mets from this mess, and even he gave up an RBI hit before getting the out he needed to finish the inning.

With a 6-0 lead now a 6-4 squeaker and visions of 2007 horror shows flashing through our minds, the Mets took their at bats in the 9th inning with a particular purpose, which was to stomp on the Phillies throats before they got any hot ideas about continuing their comeback. They accomplished their mission by scoring 3 runs off a trio of terrible Philly relievers. By doing so, the Mets avoided having to use Jeurys Familia, got Clippard a Save and reeled off their 6th win in a row and thanks to Washington losing opened up a 6 1/2 game lead in the division. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Fighting Back

The takeaway from Tuesday night's game in Philadelphia is probably going to be more about the fisticuffs-that-weren't-fisticuffs in the 7th inning and less about how the Mets once again got up off the mat, fought back and won a game late, but they're both worth discussing, so here we go.

YES, the Mets won, which in the big picture is the most important thing here. Their 6-5 victory on Tuesday was their 5th in a row, their 6th on this road trip and their 10th over the Phillies in 11 tries this season. The Mets jumped out to an early lead thanks to another Home Run, although Yoenis Cespedes' 1st inning bomb was the only one they would hit in the game, in stark contrast to the 8 they hit on Monday night. But as this road trip has proven, whether they hit 1 Home Run or 8 Home Runs, and whether they score 6 runs or 16 runs, they still come up with ways to beat you. Noah Syndergaard pitched reasonably well, but was still victimized by one bad inning, in this case the 3rd, which nearly did him in. In this particular inning, Syndergaard allowed a rather jarring 2-out Home Run to Freddy Galvis, and after Kelly Johnson booted what should have been an inning-ending ground out, he allowed another Home Run to Ryan Howard. Giving up a Home Run to Ryan Howard is, at this point, merely a rite of passage since he's hit about 870 of them against the Mets, and even though he's about the farthest thing from resembling 58 Home Run MVP Ryan Howard, he can still hit a ball out of the ballpark. And in this case it gave the Phillies a 4-3 lead.

Gamely, Jerome Williams held this lead into the 6th inning until he ultimately ran out of steam, or remembered that he was Jerome Williams, and when he departed, the Mets had 2 men on base and 1 out. Jeanmar Gomez, who I believe used to pitch for the other Pennsylvania team, entered the game and got an out but then totally unraveled, walking Michael Conforto to load the bases, then walking Travis d'Arnaud to force home the lead run (and how deep does the Mets lineup look now that d'Arnaud is batting 8th), and finally giving up a 2-run single to the suddenly rejuvenated Michael Cuddyer that put the Mets ahead 6-4.

This lead would hold up in spite of Eric O'Flaherty inflicting his general O'Flahertyness on the affairs and creating a mess that required Hansel Robles to come in and clean up, which he managed to do but still allowed a run to score to cut the Mets lead to 6-5.

And then there was the 7th inning and the ensuing chaos, for which I'll say this: Yes, Robles was probably a little bush for throwing a quick-pitch when Darin Ruf wasn't really looking at him, and had the pitch gotten away from him it might have been ugly, but on the other hand, I believe Robles threw a change-up. And sure, it's kind of a blow to the pride of the Phillies to have gotten their asses handed to them repeatedly by the Mets this season, so I get how this indignity might set Larry Bowa and Jeff Francoeur off a little bit. On the other hand, Fuck the Phillies. The Phillies have been the embodiment of everything and everyone that has stomped on the Mets over the past 8 years. They're the team that stuck it to us twice in '07 and again in '08 and won a World Series Championship and seemed more interested in taking cheap shots at the Mets. This is a team whose fans would take over our stadium, pick fights and walk around screaming Harry Kalas impersonations in everyone's faces. And now, their short-sightedness has led to them crashing back to Earth in spectacular fashion and they're back to being the league's doormat once again. So you know what Phillies? You get no sympathy from me. You had your fun. Now shut up and take your medicine.

Robles ensured this happened by striking out Ruf and glaring into the Philly dugout as he walked off. For a rookie, give him some credit for not getting rattled after all that. Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia, who are not rookies and are similarly unflappable, finished things out from there. Another win and another day maintaining this division lead.