Thursday, April 17, 2014

Change Of Frequency

Loyal readers of this blog will know that I've been know, on certain days, to keep a portable radio in my office and listen to those occasional weekday afternoon games on the Radio. They may also know that I have, over time, become an avid streamer of WFAN programming in general. It's not necessarily because I have some great and deep affinity for Joe Benigno, Evan Roberts or Mike Francesa, it's more because I find the background noise somewhat soothing while I work. It was easy to get away with; for one, I had my own office space at my job, and in general, certain things, like the ubiquitous 1-877-KARS-4-KIDS commercials, would tend to ward off the riff-raff.

Still, it is, as I said, background noise. Even when I would have to pull out the portable radio for game broadcasts. Work is work, and it's got to be done, and more often than not, I'd end up tuning out those lazy afternoon games altogether, only paying attention when the intonations in the voices of Howie Rose or Josh Lewin distracted me (Ed Coleman was also good at knowing when to draw focus. Other fill-in announcers like Jim Duquette were useless non-entities). If things didn't go well, it stood to reason that an entire Mets game could happen and I'd have no idea what went on until I heard Howie Rose talk about being back with a recap in some desultory tone of voice.

I knew that there would be wholesale changes coming in 2014. For one, the Mets weren't going to be on WFAN anymore, after a breakdown in negotiations. I wasn't thrilled about this; although it meant very little as far as the Mets presence on the radio, since they'd just move to another station, I preferred keeping my radio on one station, so I could listen to the dulcet tones of the insane New York sports fans and hear the Mets without touching the dial. The Mets didn't move far, only from 660 to 710 on the AM dial, but a change is still a change. I also didn't particularly like that the Mets were replaced by this other team and their games were now pre-empting the afternoon voices with their voices, which I find highly unpleasant to listen to.

But it's all now a moot point. For one, the portable radio that I had in my office died an untimely death, as most cheaply-made electronic devices are wont to do. I could have anted up for a streaming audio subscription, but I couldn't really justify paying for something that I could listen to for free, and in reality, I only listen to so many games on the radio a season. To date, though the Mets have had multiple weekday afternoon games this season, I've gone without listening. But an even greater change happened when I got a new job, and moved to a new office, where, rather than an office space, I now have a cubicle (the tradeoff is worth it for a multitude of reasons not worth discussing). Unfortunately, this means no more radio games, though when you think about it, without a radio in my old office, I was kind of in the same situation anyway. Considering I have yet to hear a Mets broadcast on WOR (a station whose "Radio 7-10, W-OHH-RRRR!" jingle was one of those sounds of my youth), maybe it's not that much of an adjustment.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Can We Stay Here?

Maybe the Mets should just stay in Arizona.

It was a quick turnaround, after flipping the mostly lifeless D'Backs and inflicting a rare beating on usual Met-Nemesis Bronson Arroyo on Tuesday night, the Mets came out on Wednesday afternoon and won again behind Dillon Gee to sweep Arizona, go over .500 for the first time this season and finish what looked like a hellacious road trip with a 6-3 record.

It helps that, as I mentioned yesterday, the Mets were going up against a pitching staff that basically had its guts cut out before the season started and a team that just generally looked more and more befuddled as each game drew on. After letting up a single run in the 8th inning on Monday night, Met pitchers allowed the D'Backs offense nothing until Jose Valverde served up a pair of Home Runs in the 9th inning this afternoon, a fine accomplishment in its own right, but one made somewhat easier by the fact that the Met offense scored plenty of runs for the pitchers to work with.

Tuesday night, with the entire roster clad in the symbolic 42 jersey in honor of Jackie Robinson (but, of course, with every bit of respect to Mr. Robinson, I still can't look past a Mets player wearing 42 and not think of Butch Huskey—which I suppose is OK considering Huskey wore 42 in deference to Robinson), the Mets cruised. Jenrry Mejia basically got to coast through his outing after the Mets ran out to a 9-0 lead after 4 innings. Things started with Eric Young, Jr. reaching base to start the game, which kicked off a sequence in which the Mets jumped on Arroyo with a ferocity, mostly swinging at first pitch fastballs and ringing hits all over the ballpark. This generally isn't how the Mets have fared against Arroyo, but on this night, the hits kept falling, 12 in all. Young had 3 of those hits, and 3 more were had by, of all people, Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Nieuwenhuis had basically become a forgotten man in the Mets system. He was shoved out of consideration by flashier or more consistent players and left to languish in the Minor Leagues after barely batting his weight last season (his only noteworthy moment for 2013 being when he caused the downfall of Western Civilization). But after the Outfield Massacre on Monday night, it was Nieuwenhuis, and not the ancient Bobby Abreu, who got the call, and given the opportunity, Nieuwenhuis took it and ran with it, driving home a run with a 1st inning hit and following up with a 4th inning Home Run that keyed a 6-run rally, sent Arroyo to the showers, Kirk Gibson to the latrine and the game mostly to bed. Mejia left after 5 innings with a blister issue (fairly benign as compared to Monday's drama) and Gonalez Germen played the Carlos Torres role from there, closing out the game with relative ease.

Wednesday, Dillon Gee did most of the heavy lifting, throwing shutout ball for 7 innings and departing well before he could get himself into any particular trouble. By that point, the Mets had scraped out three of their five runs for the game, the first coming courtesy Anthony Recker's second Home Run of the road trip in the 2nd inning. Recker, who continues to play better than a backup Catcher, joined Lucas Duda as the only Met players with more than 1 Home Run. This, combined with his 13th inning lightning over the weekend and the fact that most of his Home Runs have come in similar key circumstances have led to some talk that maybe he ought to get some more playing time, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Anthony Recker's a great backup catcher, but give him 400 At Bats and he'll look like Omar Quintanilla. Nonetheless, he got the Mets started and chipped in with another rally-extending hit later on in the afternoon, and the Mets put the game away in the 9th when the D'Backs decided they'd had enough of trying to field the ball. Jose Valverde came in after not appearing since his Saturday night debacle and did his best to make things unnecessarily hairy, but the best he could do in that endeavor was to turn a 5-0 game into a 5-2 game.

So, now the Mets return home and have the high pleasure of getting to play America's Sweethearts, the Braves and the Cardinals, before Miami comes in, and they haven't exactly been a picnic for the Mets either. Last season, the Mets had this bizarre thing about winning on the road and looking stupid at home. I really hope this season doesn't hold more of the same. Especially since I have tickets to 4 games on this 10-game homestand.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Good And Less Good

One good way to shake off the general malaise caused by too many long extra inning games and a blowout on the West Coast can be to take the field against a team that's probably in worse shape than you are. Fortunately, the Mets found themselves in such a position last night when they went out and beat the Diamondbacks 7-3.

The Diamondbacks were, by some reports, a potential dark horse surprise candidate in the NL West. But multiple injuries to their pitching staff (including Patrick Corbin, who was expected to be their ace), combined with the hangover of their overseas trip to Australia have spelled instant doom, and Arizona has sprung from the gate with a whimper, pitching poorly and hitting equally as poor, and the result is more or less just what the Mets needed at this particular point in time.

The Mets, who have a history of rolling into Arizona and performing well (their 13-game win streak in 2004-2007 is the stuff of legends) came in this time reeling a little bit after too much Anaheim Angels. Fortunately, the Mets got to go up against Josh Collmenter, who wasn't supposed to be in the starting rotation for Arizona until things went haywire. The Mets jumped on Collmenter early and often and got some runs on the board in support of Zack Wheeler.

No one particular player stood out for the Mets offensively; everyone seemed to benefit from a trip to Arizona. Lucas Duda had 4 hits, Daniel Murphy and Eric Young, Jr. had two each, and the Mets had 13 overall, a far cry from the strikeout brigade we'd been witness to over the first couple of weeks of the season. Wheeler was the lucky recipient of this offensive explosion, and I'm sure it helped him relax, since he had his best outing of the young season, allowing 2 runs and pitching into the 7th inning en route to his first win of the season. Carlos Torres, who's been surprisingly reliable of late, picked up for Wheeler and carried the rest of the game home, a tidy enough effort to net himself a rare Save.

But, of course, since this is the Mets, there's always got to be some kind of downer to offset what was generally a good, positive night for the team, since 2/3rds of the starting Outfield managed to get hurt, leaving the Mets stuck having to trot Lucas Duda out to Left Field for a cameo appearance late in the night. Curtis Granderson crashed into the chain-link Outfield fence early in the game and banged himself up pretty good. He managed to stay in the game for a spell before the bruises caught up with him and he departed. Given his slow start, a day off or two to clear his head might not be the worst thing in the world. Of more pressing concern, however, is the injury to Juan Lagares, who's been the best thing going on the Mets to this point. Lagares came up with the dreaded hamstring pull running out a Fielder's choice in the latter innings. It didn't, at first glance, appear bad, but as we all know, these are the kind of injuries that you can fake your way through and then you end up with what happened to David Wright last season and you're out 6 weeks. So it's of no surprise that Lagares departed immediately, in spite of the fact that he tried to be slick and grab his hamstring while nobody was looking, like it was some kind of natural motion for him to make, but nobody was fooled. Annoyingly, he's probably headed to the DL (Late note: He is, indeed, on the DL, replaced by (trumpets) Kirk Nieuwenhuis).

It seems almost fitting that two Outfielders would go down the same night, particularly considering Chris Young is set to come off the DL on Friday, and also considering I'd laid out some particular thoughts as to whom should emerge in the Mets crowded Outfield situation the other day. The Mets, in one night, went from too many Outfielders to too few, and the replacements, which range from the recalled Nieuwenhuis to habitually creaky Bobby Abreu, are hardly palatable. A typically Metsian problem to have.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bad And Less Bad

Given that the Mets had flown cross-country after a Thursday night game in Atlanta and then managed to play two extra inning games on the West Coast, I suppose you couldn't blame the Mets too much for getting absolutely blasted on Sunday afternoon. The 14-2 pasting they received was, more or less, just one of those games that happens to a team that's gassed, although all the fearmongers are probably having a field day with it. The fact is, they were due for a true, first-rate stinker after walking a tightrope for a couple of games. Bartolo Colon got wrecked thanks to back-to-back-to-back Home Runs and everything pretty much went downhill from there. It's only my good fortune that I was out for a chunk of the afternoon and by time I arrived at home, the score was 9-2; the majority of the damage already done.

Long forgotten, then, was the fact that the Mets pulled their own asses out of the fire mere hours before, in a Saturday night affair that dragged well into Sunday morning on the East Coast. Their 13-inning, 7-6 win was more a stroke of good fortune rather than a great team victory. It would have simply been a good team victory had the game been closed out without any particular drama. The Mets got a Home Run from Lucas Duda, and a pair of key hits from Anthony Recker and, of all people, Omar Quintanilla, guys who seem to shine in Super Sub roles, and went into the bottom of the 9th with a 6-3 lead. Then, of course, Jose Valverde ran across his old nemesis Raul Ibanez, the game ended up tied, and an easy night turned into an endless, angst-y slog. But, against all odds, Scott Rice, Gonzalez Germen and John Lannan navigated their way through 4 perfect innings, long enough for Recker to finally run into a Matt Shoemaker fastball and hit it into the Orange County night for the game-winning Home Run.

The Saturday win was nice, and kind of helped take the sting away from the fact that they spit up the game on Friday. But, 24 innings in 2 games for an East Coast team playing night games on the West Coast isn't exactly a recipe for success, so as unwelcome as Sunday's debacle may have been, it can't really be considered a surprise. The best thing the Mets can do right now is to just pretend it didn't happen, shake it off and come out tonight in Arizona ready to go. A Major League team is probably much better-equipped to shake off games like this than we as fans are.

Then again, the Mets and D'Backs seem to have their own recent case history of absurdly-extended games, so maybe a trip to Arizona doesn't bode quite so well...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

I've Seen This Before

A few times each season, the Mets have games like this: They get off to a nice start, score a couple of early runs and maybe tack a couple more on in the middle innings, in support of one of their starters, who's pitching a nice game. Maybe he's given up a run or two, but mostly it's been smooth sailing, and the Mets go into the back end of the game with a lead, somewhere between 2- and 4- runs.

Then, things start to go haywire. The starter generally runs out of steam without much warning, and before a reliever can get ready to come in, the tying runs have either been put on base or already allowed to score. So now, the Mets are stuck in a tie game, and in a desperate situation to keep the game even. What ensues is that there's a rapid parade of relievers that are brought into the game to pitch to specific batters and specific situations, just to try to keep the game tied. Usually, the relievers alternate between good and bad, and you can expect at least two relievers will be used simply to pitch to one batter. This is all combined with the hope that the Mets bats will get off the mat and score a couple more runs, but generally what happens is they've already gone in the tank. They will get a man on base, move him along and maybe even get him to 3rd, but usually there's a key strikeout involved and a pop fly.

The game almost always ends up going into Extra Innings, which puts the Mets at a competitive disadvantage, because by this point, they've burned through the useful part of their bullpen, leaving them forced to use one of their back-end relief pitchers for longer than they'd like. This works for an inning or two, as the pitcher walks a tightrope and weaves in and out of trouble, but eventually, the opposing team gets to him, he gets too deep into the stew and ultimately loses the game in some excruciating fashion, like a wild pitch, or a walk-off grand slam, or hitting a batter with the bases loaded.

Last night was one of those games. Things started off great, Dillon Gee was cruising along, Travis d'Arnaud hit a Home Run and the Mets seemed on their way to a nice win. Then Gee hit a wall in the 6th, J.B. Shuck tied the game with a Home Run before anybody could react to what was going on, the Mets exhausted their useful relievers just to extend the game into Extra Innings, and finally ended up with Jeurys Familia hanging out to dry, working in and out of all sorts of peril in the 9th and 10th innings before finally losing in the 11th when, of course, he wild-pitched the winning run into scoring position, ended up having to intentionally walk the bases loaded, and then managed to hit Hank Conger with a pitch to lose the game 5-4.

I know there's more to say about this game than to simply boil it down to 1 paragraph concluding with Familia did a bad job. For one, Familia did do a good job for the first two innings he was in the game, although he's beginning to strike me as more Thrower than Pitcher, which doesn't bode well. There were other things, like Gee's durability issues and the bewildering Curtis Granderson fan incident, but I fail to see how the intrigue to the game would have affected the outcome. Once the proceedings went past 1am and into Extra Innings, I knew things weren't going to end well. Especially when they were returning to Anaheim for the first time since this happened.