Thursday, April 24, 2014

Still Out

The first three games of this Mets/Cardinals series has been a showcase of real National League Baseball. In the three games, a grand total of 10 runs have scored, 5 on each side, and the defensive play and starting pitching on both sides has been generally dominant. These have been the kind of games that, were the Mets in better straits and the weather of better quality, you'd probably have close to 40,000 fans each night on the edge of their seats, replete with the potential of a Bill Clinton cameo appearance.

After shutouts on Monday and Tuesday night, last night's game at least featured some runs on both sides, sparing as they may have been. With absurdly strong winds whipping throughout Citi Field (the kind of weather that usually occurs when I am in attendance), a crowd of what looked to be a few souls short of 10,000 bundled up to see the Mets try their luck against yet another budding Cardinal great in Michael Wacha, last year's Playoff Sensation. Jon Niese went out for the Mets, and after Ruben Tejada blew a rundown play on Matt Carpenter with 2 out in the 1st, and Ratso Molina followed with an RBI double that probably could have spelled instant doom for the Mets if Wacha pitched at all the way Adam Wainwright did the previous night.

Wacha certainly started out just as good as Wainwright, recording his first 9 outs via strikeout, which is of note because it doesn't happen very often. The downside, however, is that 9 strikeouts in the first three innings of a game can serve to drive up your pitch count, and the result, of course, is that Wacha became so badly unglued in the 4th inning that he ended up walking in two runs and damn near walked Niese to force in a 3rd, before finally departing the game after throwing 93 pitches in said 4 innings of work. Wacha was replaced by Seth Maness, who put his stamp on the game by giving up a bullet of a Home Run to Lucas Duda and then getting blown off the pitcher's mound for a balk in a rather nightmarish 6th inning that served to put the Mets ahead 3-1.

Niese departed with 2 outs in the 7th and it seemed like the Mets were going to make it through the remainder of the game unscathed. Kyle Farnsworth, the Mets Closer du Jour, came in for the 9th inning and had what we've come to know and love as the "Typical Outing for a Mets Closer." With one out, he gave up a pair of singles to Jon Jay and Matt Carpenter, bringing up Daniel DeScalso as the potential go-ahead run. Farnsworth would have been wise to get a ground ball, but instead DeScalso roped one off the Left Field wall, a drive primed to tie the game. But Kirk Nieuwenhuis played the carom off the wall well and threw the ball in to Ruben Tejada. When there appeared to be no shot that he'd be able to throw out Carpenter at home, Tejada did just that, firing a strike in to Travis d'Arnaud, who somehow managed to keep Carpenter off the plate and swipe a tag on him in one fell swoop. One of those "How the hell did they do that?!" plays. I'm not sure whether Mike Matheny actually thought d'Arnaud missed the tag or if he was grasping at straws, but his replay challenge was rather quickly proven to be merely an exercise in prolonging the inevitable, because for as unlikely as it seemed, the tag was made. Still, Farnsworth had to get out Matt Holliday and he did, barely, as Curtis Granderson ran down his wind-blown fly ball just as it appeared headed for disasterville and the Mets escaped with a 3-2 victory that was, twice, inches away from being a tie game and, perhaps, another one of those ridiculously extended extra inning games.

So, the Mets can now do no worse than split this 4-game series with the Beautiful Cardinals, which considering the troubles they've had scoring runs and/or pitching well at times in the early going this season is a pretty decent accomplishment. The starting pitching continues to be admirably good and the bullpen after a miserable start has gotten it together a little bit. If only they could hit...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Free Shirt Tuesday!

Strange as it may sound, lots of good things happened at Citi Field last night.

First of all, last night was the first time in my now 5 games at Citi Field this season where the weather was actually pleasant. I'm aware that it did rain in fits and starts, but I'll tell you why that didn't bother me. See, my seats are up in the Promenade, uncovered, so generally I'm exposed to the elements. When it rains, and it often does, I'm forced to run up for cover under the paltry little overhang, or, duck into the Promenade Club, where I'm among the privileged with access. But, last night, while I was on my way up to my seat, I was approached by a Stadium cop. He asked me where my seat was, and then pulled out an excessively large stack of tickets. He wanted to know if I was going to use it for club access, or if I was going to sit in the seat. I told him I was going to sit in the seat. So he handed me a ticket in the Excelsior level, out in Right Field. Who am I to forgo a completely unannounced seat upgrade? So I never made it to Section 512, never made it to the food court, just walked to the nearest staircase and down one level, to Section 306, well covered by the Promenade overhang. Rain fell, but you wouldn't have known it from where I was sitting.

The seat upgrades were probably being handed out so liberally because there just weren't that many people out at the game. It seemed like the cop that gave me my seat probably just canvassed the Promenade level to fill things out. The Promenade was mostly empty even when I got up there before the game, and a glance over at the Pepsi Porch revealed a crowd that you could count on your hands. The ploy, I suppose, was to concentrate enough of a crowd in one part of the stadium so that they could have a camera crew along with Kevin or Brandon or whatever the name of the guy that's on all those in-game contests and TV commercials is camp out there throughout the game. In the 3rd inning, he was on my left, giving out Beatles CDs. In the 5th, he was hanging out with the T-Shirt launch crew. In the 7th, he was behind me trying to pump everybody up for the Dance Cam (he had to offer a $100 prize for Fan of the Game to get people excited—fortunately he was standing behind me so I wasn't in any danger of actually having to be seen attempting to dance).

I mentioned that the T-Shirt launch crew, or at least a T-Shirt thrower was hanging out with Kev-Brand in the aisles. Sometimes, these folks go up to the Promenade and throw shirts to those areas where the T-Shirt cannon won't reach, but most nights they seem to not bother with the Proletariat. So, it was one of those rare moments where I was actually within shouting distance of getting one of those dopey shirts. It didn't seem like it was going to happen (I am generally a repellant of these kinds of things), until the gal tossed one in the general direction of a group two rows behind me. In what can only be described as a brilliant stroke of luck, the shirt somehow managed to get juggled and bounced off the hands of 4 separate people before finally landing directly under the seat behind me. With nobody in that row, and nobody sitting on either side of me, I managed to have a free shot at a free shirt. Miracle of Miracles! After being around for a pair of Free Shirt Fridays, I now found myself present for the elusive Free Shirt Tuesday.

See, plenty of good things went on at Citi Field. The only problem is that none of it happened on the field, where the Mets were completely mastered by Adam Wainwright, who would have thrown a shutout if not for a 7th inning injury. Dillon Gee did his best, and he certainly needed to do his best to prevent an ugly 4th inning from getting completely out of hand. Still, the 2 runs that the Cardinals did score were more than enough for Wainwright and the tack-on run they added in the 9th inning was just salt on a wound. The Mets cosmetically made it interesting by drawing a pair of walks in the last of the 9th, but Tyler Rosenthal snuck a couple of borderline strikes by David Wright, and then got Murphy to ground out, capping off a mostly forgettable game. But, in keeping with the theme of the night, at least it was over before 10pm.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Next Step

It's pretty easy to have overlooked Jenrry Mejia at the beginning of the season. Over his career, he's gone from a miscast and underutilized reliever to a failed spot starter to reconstructive elbow surgery to minor league inconsistency to generally being a forgotten man among the flashier names on the Mets pitching staff. That's not so much a knock on him as much as it's just the hand he'd been dealt. Since he debuted in 2010 as a 20-year old, he'd made all of 11 starts in the Major Leagues, the proud owner of 2 Major League victories.

Those of us in the know, however, know that Mejia always had the stuff to succeed in the Major Leagues. Jerry Manuel's asinine experiment to use him as a relief pitcher in his rookie season ultimately set him back 3 seasons, because one year was wasted with him working out of the bullpen and not developing his secondary pitches, a second year was wasted because of the Tommy John surgery he ended up receiving, probably as a result of his misuse, and then a third year recovering and getting himself back into form. It wasn't until he resurfaced in the middle of last season that we got a glimpse of his potential.

Still, there seemed to be a general reluctance to give Mejia the credit he was due; throughout Spring Training, he was stuck in a 3-way battle for the 5th spot in the rotation that he probably shouldn't have been in at all, considering his competition consisted of John Lannan and Daisuke Matsuzaka, both pitchers he was clearly better than, in spite of his lack of experience. The Dog and Pony show that was this battle somehow wasn't decided until the weekend before the season opened. Perhaps, this was by design, a ruse cooked up by Terry Collins and company to motivate his young pitcher.

Whatever it was, something was done right, because in case you haven't noticed, Jenrry Mejia has been the best pitcher the Mets have thrown out there so far this season. He pitched admirably well in his opening start against Cincinnati in spite of bad weather that affected his control. Though he regressed slightly in Atlanta, he's followed that up with a pair of outstanding efforts against Arizona last week, and another last night against the nauseating St. Louis Cardinals and their "professionals." If you were going to discount Mejia's start against Arizona because he left with a blister issue after 5 innings, you have to give him credit for keeping the Cardinals off balance and off the scoreboard into the 7th inning on Monday night, because it was truly a thing of beauty. After relying primarily on his fastball in his last couple of starts, Mejia mixed it up a bit more last night, baffling Cardinal hitters with a mixture of curveballs and change-ups that resulted in little more than 4 hits and 7 strikeouts. Though the offense didn't provide him much backing—just two runs courtesy of David Wright and Travis d'Arnaud RBIs and a ballsy steal of 3rd Base by Daniel Murphy—the 2 runs was enough to net Mejia his 3rd win of the season, or, more appropriately, one more than he had in his entire career going into this season.

Jenrry Mejia still may not get too much credit, even after his strong outing against the defending NL Champions. And who knows what this will lead to, but I'm of the belief that before too long, people are going to start taking notice of Mejia. He's not a flashy superstar-type like Matt Harvey and he's not a phenom like Zack Wheeler, and he's not a towering monstrosity like Noah Syndergaard. What he is is one of those little Pedro Martinez-type guys who get overlooked and fly under the radar until out of nowhere, they're blowing up. That's what I think Jenrry Mejia has in store. Whenever this fabled Mets resurgence comes to pass, Mejia is going to be a key player in it. You can take that to wherever you take such bold predictions.

Monday, April 21, 2014

One More Inning

Sunday Afternoon's game at Citi Field was my 4th game of the season in which the weather was intolerably cold, and my first with my other half, whom I have mentioned is somewhat less-enthused by a day at Citi Field than I am. Particularly on a day when the temperature up in the Promenade level felt a good 10 degrees colder than the 54˚ that was laughably displayed on the scoreboard throughout the proceedings. How cold was it? It was so cold that we willingly spent innings 6 through 9 sitting in the warmth of the Promenade club—obscured view of Home Plate be damned—and not once did I feel I was missing out by not sitting in my seat.

It figured, then, that on a day like this, the Mets and Braves would engage in a 14-inning battle of wills. We did not make it to the end of the game; had I been by myself or with someone a bit heartier, I might have been more likely to stick around. But my other half was cold, and for that matter, I was pretty cold too, and, perhaps fearful of a game like this breaking out, we took our leave after the 11th inning. I was somewhat torn, there was a general feeling of guilt associated with coming or staying, but after so many years of going to games, I've sort of drawn 11 innings as the point where an extra inning game goes from being quaint to a little excessive. And having actually sat through 14-inning games 4 times previously, I know that by time that 14th inning comes around, I've begun rooting for ANYONE to score, not just the Mets. For my other half, any sort of extra inning is met with an assortment of gripes, and usually a discussion about the longest games ever. Being reasonable, at the end of the 10th inning, I asked if she wanted to leave. She said it was up to me. I said I would use a facility and think about it. When I came back, to assorted glowering, I said to her, "One more inning."

The inning came and went, and nobody scored, and with a 12th inning going on, we took our leave. What we ended up missing was, as I followed the game on my phone, two and a half innings of nothing, followed by the Mets winning in the last of the 14th.

Getting to that point was, to be kind, sloppy. Of the 6 runs that were scored over the first 13 1/2 innings of the game, 4 of them were directly due to a variety of errors, 3 of which were committed by the Braves. Eric Young Jr reached 2nd in the 1st inning thanks to Ratso Upton gagging on a lazy fly ball to Left. Young eventually scored on an RBI Groundout by David Wright (who by game's end would have nailed out 4 hits—but not a key one). One inning later, Zack Wheeler hit with the bases loaded and swung at the first pitch, producing a hard grounder in the hole between 1st and 2nd. A run was sure to score, but Dan Uggla, always known for his sure hands, ended up inexplicably dropping the ball while in the process of throwing to 1st, and thus a second run was plated. The Mets had a nice opportunity to open up a lead at this point, but both Young and Curtis Granderson failed to do anything useful.

A Granderson error played key in the 5th inning, which ended up being the only inning in which the Braves scored at all. Ironjaw Heyward slashed a double down the Right Field line that would have put runners at second and third with one out. But Granderson decided, rather than throwing to a cutoff man, to throw the ball in the general direction of the Braves dugout, managing to land the ball perfectly down the dugout steps. This would be 2 points in Curling, but unfortunately they weren't playing curling, and so a run scored and the stage was set for Atlanta to plate two more and grab a temporary 3-2 lead. The Mets, however, took advantage of more vintage Uggla defense in the last of the 6th, when he booted a sure Double Play ball off the bat of Lucas Duda, which allowed Wright to score and tie the game 3-3.

The game then settled into a battle of bullpens, both of which either pitched exceptionally well or just took advantage of some complete offensive ineptitude. In the 7th, the Braves had a golden opportunity to strike, getting a pair of runners on with one out, but with "Baseball's Hottest Hitter" Freddie Freeman coming up, Scott Rice came in and got the sorely-needed Double Play on his first (and only pitch), keeping the game tied. Carlos Torres, Kyle Farnsworth and Daisuke Matsuzaka followed, and in the 6 innings they covered, allowed 1 hit, 2 walks and 8 strikeouts. Matsuzaka's effort was most impressive, covering 3 innings and 5 strikeouts worth of work and generally keeping things in check. Atlanta's bullpen had a similar amount of success, behind 5 relievers covering close to 7 innings and allowing the Mets all of 3 hits of no consequence and a hit batsman, Lucas Duda, that led to one of those bewildering moments that only seems to happen in a game like this, seeing the line "L. Duda stole second base" pop up on ESPN's Game feed in the 13th inning.

Then, there was the 14th, which happened while we were somewhere between Woodside and Court Square. Jose Valverde, deposed as Closer, entered the game in kind of an Oliver Perez "There's nobody else left out here" role. Expecting the worst, Valverde allowed a 1-out single to Gus Schlosser, the Barves' long reliever, but followed that up by getting Meathead Gattis to hit into a DP. In the bottom of the inning, the Mets managed to scrape across a run by doing the absolute minimum necessary. Kirk Nieuwenhuis led off with a walk. Ruben Tejada followed by sacrificing him to 2nd. Eric Young Jr. was then walked intentionally, to get to Curtis Granderson. Granderson, to this point in the game had gone 0-for-6, including a ground out with the bases loaded, a strikeout, a horrible error and boos that had begun to reach Jason Bay-level. But Schlosser basically dropped the game in Granderson's lap when he wild-pitched the runners up a base on the first pitch, and then Granderson hit a fly ball out to Ratso Upton in left that was just deep enough to get Nieuwenhuis home with the winning run. It seemed fitting that it would be Granderson getting the winning run home after the lousy day he'd had, but at the same time, it typified the lousy start he's had that he could only managed to get the run home when it was basically served to him on a silver platter. Sometimes these things can be tide-turning, but I guess that remains to be seen.

The 14 innings, despite the fact that I wasn't there for the last three of them, ties my personal record for longest game by innings. As I mentioned, this was the 5th such time that I've been subjected to such a long game. Fortunately, of the 5, the Mets have won 4 of them. At 4 hours, 37 minutes, it was far from the longest game I've ever been to. That honor was met just last season, in a 13-inning game against Arizona that lasted 5 hours, 13 minutes, and believe me, when you're at games that extend that long, you feel every bit of it afterwards. Even if you leave before the game's actually over.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Can't Go Home

I'm 3-for-3 at Citi Field in the early going this season.

Yes, I've been to Citi Field three times in 2014 and each time, I have successfully managed to freeze my ass off while watching a Baseball game.

Between the weather and the performance I was subjected to, this evening's game will certainly go down as one of my least favorite games. I'd drawn some odd looks for wearing my winter coat on a 50˚ day, but I know better. 50˚ in the daytime can turn to low 40˚s at night, and whatever the air temperature is, it's generally a good 5-10˚ colder in the seating bowl at Citi Field. You may as well dress for an Arctic expedition when you go to one of these April night games, and yet stupid me, I still keep getting tickets for them (generally because the bulk of the "Super Value" nights, when tickets are cheapest, are in April and September. Also, I had to find some way to fill 20 games).

But the weather ended up being only slightly more pleasant than the game itself, where I had the high pleasure of sitting down and watching the Mets very nearly get No-Hit by Aaron Harang and his band of merry men. This was one of these things that was really slow in developing. Aaron Harang, who was a Met-for-a-Minute late last season, was hardly what you'd call "dominant." He was mixing pitches well and had the benefit of facing the Mets at Citi Field, where they seem to immediately forget that they're Major League quality hitters. The Mets hit balls well, but in every instance they were directly at people. They were also drawing walks, so they had men on base, but every time they had men on base, someone struck out and ended any reasonable shot at a good rally. Jon Niese pitched admirably well in a situation that was shaping up to be rather hopeless; in his 6 innings, he only allowed 1 run, which kept a decent amount of drama in the game until Gonzalez Germen became the Met Reliever du jour to crap the bed and send most of the audience to the exits after a 4-run 8th inning. With the Braves ahead 5-0 instead of 1-0, many of the lesser fans in attendance began actively rooting for Atlanta to finish off the No Hitter, even with Harang out of the game. Fortunately, David Wright saved us all from any further indignities by singling with 2 outs in the 8th inning. By that point, however, the damage had been done and between the cold and the general lack of hope, I was very close to departing early. I did ultimately stick it out until the end, but admittedly, I walked downstairs to the Field Level and watched Dainty Jordan Walden retire the Mets in order in the 9th inning, and then sped off for the Subway.

The game itself was a bit secondary to the news of the Ike Davis trade to Pittsburgh. I'm reluctantly OK with it, as I, along with most Mets fans, probably have this haunting suspicion that as soon as Ike Davis gets traded he's going to turn into Chris Davis and start running off 40+ Home Run seasons. He may well do that, but in the majority of the past 3 seasons, he's shown little to make us think something like that's a given. Still, I'd always liked Ike; he seemed to have the right kind of personality for New York, and fans generally took to him pretty much from his Major League debut back in 2010. Even when he didn't hit, he seemed to carry himself with the attitude of someone who still felt he was worthy of a Major League role. And he did manage to turn a disastrous start in 2012 into a respectable season. It all comes back to the fact that the organization just didn't like him, for whatever reason, and once that happened, he was done here. They would keep smearing him and burying him until they got rid of him, and now they've finally gotten rid of him, so I hope they're happy. For all we know, the second half of 2012 could have been the anomaly. Or maybe the change of scenery will spur him on to better things. Either way, there was only so long that this tenuous Duda/Davis sideshow could continue before one of them had to go. Lucas Duda, who as loyal readers will know is hardly one of my favorites, has actually played reasonably well by his standards since being named the full-time starter, so he stays. That being said, he'd better get his shit together and fast. He's The Guy now, and the team has in no uncertain terms told him that by dumping Davis. For now, he'll platoon with Josh Satin, but he's going to get the majority of playing time and he's going to have to prove he's earned it. No more standing around watching strikes and no more plopping on the infield in an attempt to field a Ground Ball. He's got to look the part in order to play the part. Davis had the look, but he's no longer our problem. Duda's now got to prove that the Mets made the right choice.