Tuesday, September 27, 2016

An Escape

Baseball, as simple as it often is in a generally absurd world, possesses wonderful powers of healing and verisimilitude, as though at times it plays out the way life ought to be, but mostly the way life is. The point I'm trying to make is that when we need it to help us forget what ails us and get us centered again, it does that. When we need it to be the first step in a healing process, that's what it is. We as Mets fans know this from way back in 2001, at a time when the world was in mourning, I know it on a personal level from last year, and of course the Marlins players and fans experienced it last night.

I've made plenty of bones about my feelings on the Marlins as a franchise, but for one night it takes a back seat. For one night, even I would have rather seen Jose Fernandez strike out Yoenis Cespedes in a key moment and rip his jersey off in exuberance. I'd then grouse about it afterward in yet another tongue-in-cheek rant. Instead, I watched his teammates, his fans, and even the Mets have to play out this game on the verge of tears the entire night, mourning the man and the talent and joy he brought to the game on a daily basis. I would have rather the Mets had the opportunity to go out and beat him, so I could crow about how the Mets went out and beat their best. I'd rather have to write about so many other things than this.

But that's how the world works. A really unique and talented ballplayer is gone far too soon. And even in the midst of a Pennant Race, if the Mets had to be the foil, that's just the way it had to be. Baseball was Jose Fernandez's muse, his Art. But for the Marlins, it now has to be their escape from the sadness and the beginning of their healing process. We move forward from here and slowly try to get back to normal. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Asking For More

The Mets 2016 Home Finale fell upon me much quicker than I'd anticipated this season. I mentioned it at the beginning of this homestand and it seems much more prescient a thought today because now the Mets are done at home for the regular season...but none of us have any idea whether or not there's more to be said at Citi Field for 2016. If Sunday is to be it, well, the Mets went out with a bang, as they hit continually, and Philadelphia's horrible bullpen seemed all too happy to hand them baserunners and once things got rolling, they couldn't stop and so the final score wound up at 17-0, which is quite an accomplishment for a team that spent 4 months of the season looking like they were hard pressed to score 17 runs in a week.

The game of course began with the horrible Jose Fernandez news. There isn't much I could say on the matter that hasn't already been said more eloquently than I ever would, and of course rooting for a rival team of his I viewed him with trepidation because I knew he was lurking in the shadows every time the Mets and Marlins met. I had the good fortune to see him pitch in person twice during the 2016 season, but sadly I won't get to see him again.

That seemed to be hanging over Baseball as a whole on Sunday, and in tribute Yoenis Cespedes was seen hanging a Fernandez Mets jersey in the dugout prior to the game. But then the bell sounded and it was time to get back to work, as much as possible. George and I were once again present, I for my 21st game of the season, and oddly enough my 400th Mets game overall, and just trying to salvage this finale and finish out an uneven year on a winning note.

The Mets, of course, were kind enough to commemorate the occasion by plating 17 runs, which was not only a personal best for me but also tied a club record for runs in a home game and largest shutout victory. For the shutout part, we have to thank Robert Gsellman, who after three days in which the bullpen was utilized early and often, stabilized everything by tossing 7 shutout innings and not really breaking much of a sweat in the process. This gave everybody key involved another day off; neither Reed nor Familia has pitched since Thursday and at this late part of the season, getting them some extra rest could be as crucial as anything.

Gsellman also added to his exploits by picking up his first Major League hit, a 3rd inning bunt single that neither Ryan Howard or Jake Thompson seemed to want to pick up until it was too late. I didn't realize this until after the fact, but it seems Gsellman has a rotator cuff injury in his non-throwing shoulder and can't swing a bat, so all he can do is bunt. And the Phillies still couldn't do anything about it. Gsellman didn't score, but he was one of the few Met baserunners on this day that managed to not do that.

Thompson and a succession of other pitchers once again had a really hard time. I mean, that goes without saying when you allow 17 runs in a game, but those 17 runs came on only 14 hits. The Phillies pitchers threw 201 pitches, and in the process hit 4 batters, walked another 9 batters and threw 3 wild pitches in a performance so embarrassing that a kinder blogger might spare them from having their names associated with this mess, but in case you were wondering, Thompson was succeeded by Phil Klein, then Colton Murray, Frank Herrman, PatRick Schuster and finally Luis Garcia.

When this happens, well, everyone has a good day at the plate. Jose Reyes for one managed to bat with the bases loaded 4 times, and ended up walking twice and hitting a 2-run double in the 8th that probably should have only been a single except that he kept running and forced Brandon Nimmo to 3rd. Asdrubal Cabrera hit a Grand Slam in the 7th. Curtis Granderson hit his 30th Home Run of the season in the 4th. Rene Rivera, T.J. Rivera and even Jay Bruce chipped in with 2 hits each. But when you get to 17 runs, you sort of have to just keep going, and that's what happened in the 8th inning. The Mets already led 11-0 and Schuster had in fact managed to get two outs before the inning caved in on him, and it seemed as though once Rivera reached he just lost his bearings and things spiraled out of control from there. Reyes hit his double, Eric Campbell hit a 2-run single and after Schuster was mercifully removed, Michael Conforto finished out the scoring with a 2-run double of his own.

And, so, it was down to that wistful final half inning of the afternoon, and with a chant of "WE WANT PLAYOFFS!" echoing throughout Citi Field, Jerry Blevins finished off the day and the home season with a scoreless 9th inning.

So...now what? Now comes another week of games, beginning with what's going to be a really emotionally charged series in Miami on Monday, and then a visit to Philadelphia where they'll get to see this pitching staff again. Fortunately, there's an off day in there, too, so the Mets will only have to use 4 starters from here on out. Colon, Syndergaard, Lugo, Gsellman...and that's what we're riding with. However it may fall, it falls.

For the 2016 regular season, I am done. For the second season in a row, I managed to make it to 21 games, although not necessarily in the way my plan intended me to. I took liberal advantage of the ticket exchange policies and that's what made this possible. The Mets were not as cooperative this season as they were in past years, as my record for the year was 10-11, marking my first losing season since 2009. But, the 10 wins mark three years in a row that I've seen 10 wins. I can thank teams like Atlanta (0-3) and Washington (2-2) for their contributions to this losing season. The Phillies (3-0) were much easier for me, to the point where I am now on a 9-game winning streak against Philadelphia. Far as milestones, yes, I'd mentioned that today was my 400th game (this does not include Postseason games). This season, I saw the Mets win two extra inning games on Walkoff Home Runs, I saw them score 12 runs in an inning and 17 runs in a game, both personal bests. I didn't see any one starting pitcher more than most others, the count ends up with Harvey, Syndergaard and Matz 4 times each, Colon 3 times, deGrom twice, and Montero, Verrett, Lugo and Gsellman once.

Now, as I keep saying...when am I back? Will it be October 5th? Will it be October 10th? It could be April 3rd, 2017 for all I know. But it will be at some point. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

No Cigar

This game will forever go into the books as a 10-8 Mets loss, simply because they couldn't overcome the 10 runs that Sean Gilmartin and Rafael Montero spotted the Phillies early in the evening. And I know that at this time of the year losses really can't be viewed as positive anything.

But the Mets did show me something in their spirited comeback on Saturday night, which is that all of these young fellows that have gone back and forth from the Major Leagues and Las Vegas, they can play. This sort of output in a mostly hopeless situation kind of underscores the depth the Mets have built for themselves through the organization, and when you have guys like T.J. Rivera, Brandon Nimmo, Gavin Cecchini and Ty Kelly really raring to get into games and break their asses, it's a positive. Teams need players like this on their roster. None of them are stars, none of them are going to light the world on fire, but they're going to go balls to the wall in every opportunity they get just to show you that they can do it at this level. And these guys, particularly Rivera and Nimmo, have been in the middle of a lot of rallies this month, and Cecchini and Kelly had their noses in plenty last night.

In the continuation of my "Summer of Long Island," I was out all day and so I didn't see any of the game, I only heard about it in bits and pieces. When I got word that Sean Gilmartin hadn't made it out of the 1st inning and allowed 5 runs, I sort of moved my thoughts to other things. This one was clearly done before it started and so whatever else was going on around the Majors was just antimatter. I'd found myself in a diner on Old Country Road at some point in the evening, when the game appeared totally out of reach, and a large group of people--multiple families, it seemed--came in. Most of them were dressed in Mets gear, which led me to believe that they'd been at the game, although based on where we were and the time of night, if they were at the game, they must have thrown in the towel after 2 innings, so perhaps we were just solidly placed in the Middle of Mets country (although for whatever reason the TV in this diner did not have the Mets game on). But at any rate, over the course of the evening, they were loudly discussing the Wildcard race and the Mets chances in a Mansplaining sort of fashion, but in no way did I want to involve myself in going over to the table and correcting them. I try to make it a point not to get involved in other people's affairs like that. They were also talking about the Home Finale coming up on Sunday and discussing how Philadelphia's scheduled starter "Was no good" and they "should beat him." I'll agree with the "should beat him" part. But I don't know enough of Jake Thompson to say that.

I know about as much of Alec Asher as I do of Thompson (SEGUE MASTER), and Asher shut the Mets down but good for 4 innings, and then allowed 4 runs in the 5th inning, but part of that was the result of a pair of errors and so none of the runs were unearned. And by this point, the Mets had emptied their bench so whatever rally they could put togther had that cosmetic feel to it, just to let everyone know they were still there and doing the best they could.

Then, of course, in the 6th, Philly went to their awful bullpen and the Mets kept ploughing away, scoring on Cecchini's first Major League hit among other things, but at this point I was still in "At least they're making it interesting" mode. By this time, we were driving again, and as it usually does when we're on the way back from Long Island, our route took us directly past Citi Field, where I noticed that the video board facing Northern Blvd didn't actually have the score on it, which I thought made no sense, but then I looked and on the top of the stadium, behind the Left Field seats, there is a board that has the score on it, and even lets you know that you can tune to WOR 710 to listen to the game. This didn't happen for reasons I've already covered, but at least I got the score.

At that point it was still 10-6, but the Mets continued to creep back against the Pu-pu platter that is Philly's bullpen. Cecchini drove home a second run in the 8th and the Mets had the tying run at the plate, but Rivera popped out and so did Nimmo. In the 9th, the Mets made one more run at it against Michael Mariot. Jay Bruce pinch hit with one out and hit a Home Run, which felt like his first hit in a Month, to make it 10-8. And by this point I'd gotten home and turned the game on, just in time to see Mariot walk Eric Campbell and Michael Conforto to bring up Lucas Duda, certainly a good candidate to fire the winning blow. But he popped out and flung his bat away in such a display out of character. Travis d'Arnaud followed and, well, he could pop one out too, but he didn't either, instead grounding back to Mariot and the Phillies hung on to win.

You try not to get too worked up about these losses, which are bound to happen when you go from the specter of Matz and Syndergaard starting games to Ynoa and Gilmartin. This patchwork rotation stuff can only carry you so far and tonight it bit the Mets in the ass. Fortunately, the Mets might be able to get through the rest of this thing with only 4 starters thanks to a well-placed off day so maybe we don't have to do this again. Either way, the Giants won, the Wildcard race is tied again, and now the Mets have one more Home Game left, and I'll be there, and I have no idea if it's going to be the last time I'll be at Citi Field for 2016. So it stands to be a really weird day all around.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Encore, Encore

After the breathless exuberance of Thursday night's game, the Mets, one would imagine, would be hard-pressed to come up with a fitting encore. And although it required far fewer players and two fewer innings than it did on Thursday, the Mets still did what was necessary in order to win on Friday. A 3-run Home Run from Michael Conforto capped off a 6-run 5th inning that brought the Mets back from an early deficit, and in spite of Gabriel Ynoa only pitching two innings and the bullpen figuring out the rest of the game, the Mets still managed to beat the Phillies 10-5 to keep pace in the standings for another day.

If you blinked, you missed Ynoa on this night. I did my usual Friday Night trick and came home and fell asleep, so I missed him entirely. I'm told, although I haven't seen for myself, that he wasn't especially good, and gave up 2 runs in the second inning before Terry Collins started stirring his Pot-o-Ballplayers and pinch-hit for him in the bottom half of the inning with men in scoring position. The ploy didn't work there, and in fact Logan Verrett followed Ynoa to the mound and allowed a Home Run to Maikel Franco in the 3rd, but that was it, as he pitched two innings before turning things over to Josh Smoker in the 5th.

The Mets didn't managed much of anything off of Jeremy Hellickson early, although they'd had some earlier success against him. Travis d'Arnaud's RBI double represented his first RBI in close to a month, but until that 5th inning, the Mets hadn't done much. But then they started hitting, and it turned into one of those groundswell rallies, where they load the bases, and then start moving the chains. Curtis Granderson singled to drive home a run, Kelly Johnson singled to put the Mets ahead, Hellickson was done for the night, and his replacement, Frank Herrmann, allowed the 3-run Home Run for Conforto that extended the Mets lead to 7-3.

These Phillies, as I've said all season, are game though, in spite of their porous pitching staff, and they fought back in the 6th against Smoker. Darin Ruf hit a 2-run Home Run to make the score 7-5, and in the 7th, both Erik Goeddel and Josh Edgin had a hard time as they loaded the bases and brought Tommy Joseph to the plate. Collins then went to Hansel Robles, who is an adventure in and of himself, but Robles on this night was game to the challenge and induced Joseph to ground to Reyes, who started the 5-3 Double Play to end the Philly threat.

From there, it got easier, as the Mets took advantage of the awful back end of Philly's bullpen to tack on 3 more runs, and Robles ended up pulling a reverse of what he did in an emergency against KC and finishing out the final 2.2 innings himself en route to his first Major League Save.

Then, of course, it was on to watching the scoreboard, since this game, while not as lengthy as Thursday's 4 hours, 23 minutes, ran a good 3 hours and 40 minutes, overlapping the start of the Giants in San Diego. The Padres did what they needed to do in order to help the Mets, winning 7-2, and once again giving the Mets a lead in the Wildcard race, however temporary it may seem. And with now 8 games to go, it all has a temporary feel to it. Tomorrow will bring what it will.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Combination Of All Things

The adage goes, I believe, that each time you go to a Major League Baseball game, you have a chance to see something you've never seen before. Last night at Citi Field was my 20th game of the 2016 season and my 399th in total. I've seen lots of things happen at a Baseball game.
But I don't think I've ever been to a game that packed all of these things into one crazy night, with the backdrop being the Mets in the thick of a Pennant Race and coming off a 3-game losing streak. In spite of all sorts of things going wrong, the Mets managed to get up off the mat and tie the game in the 9th inning on a lightning-like Home Run from Jose Reyes. In the 11th inning, the Mets fell behind again, and with the clock pushing midnight, Asdrubal Cabrera tolled the bell for a 3-run Home Run to give the Mets a 9-8 victory that has to rank up there with some of the most rousing games I've ever been to.

This long night of Baseball began innocently enough, with Seth Lugo on the mound for the Mets and Adam Morgan for the Phillies. The imminent drama that would unfold over the course of the evening barely seemed plausible given a matchup like this. The Mets jumped ahead in the 2nd on a Curtis Granderson 2-run Home Run, and with Lugo mostly humming along, everything seemed fine. The Phillies scored a run in the 4th after Cesar Hernandez hit what was kind of a fluky triple to lead off the inning, and Roman Quinn followed with an RBI groundout.

Then, of course, the Phillies ambushed Lugo in the 5th. They'd been hitting fly balls off of Lugo most of the night, and of course the perfect storm for bad tends to be the combination of a fly ball pitcher on the Mets and Ryan Howard. And of course, Howard led off the 5th and blasted a Home Run out into the night of the Center Field seats. This, of course, is mere rite of passage for Lugo, since Howard has hit what, 79 career Home Runs against the Mets? However, when Cameron Rupp followed with a Home Run of his own to put the Phillies ahead, that wasn't a rite of passage, that was a sign that Lugo was probably done for the night and thus the parade of relievers would begin.

The Mets managed to rally back in the last of the 5th. Ty Kelly hit for Lugo and walked, moved up on what was charitably scored an infield hit by Cabrera and a Morgan Wild Pitch, and then scored when Yoenis Cespedes stuck his bat out and flicked a single to right. In the 7th, Cespedes put the Mets on his back again, finishing off a two-out rally against Michael Mariot by nailing a double to score Reyes.

The Mets have been using their bullpen liberally and often lately, which has been a side effect of a decimated starting rotation combined with taking advantage of every possible expanded roster spot. As such, it took Sean Gilmartin and Erik Goeddel to complete the 6th and Fernando Salas to pitch the 7th, and once Addison Reed hit the mound in the 8th, it seemed like things would be stable. Of course, how wrong I was. Reed allowed about 20 feet worth of singles sandwiched around a sac bunt and the Phillies had runners on 1st and 3rd and 1 out and Maikel Franco at the plate. I mused that what Reed needed was a Mike Pelfrey Special—the bowling ball that's chopped right at the Shortstop for an easy DP. What Reed got instead was something completely different—the ball flying over the fence and into the Phillies bullpen for a 3-run Home Run that put the Phillies ahead 6-4 and sent a multitude of fans streaming for the exits.

A rather fair-weather fellow with a man-bun sitting directly in front of me stood up, slapped his cap down and started screaming, "HERE IT IS, THE GREAT COLLAPSE OF 2016!" This, of course, was not helpful at all and turned into one of those moments where, were I more of a hothead, I might have kicked him in his bun or smacked the shit out of him. I know that there's this general trepidation because the Mets are in a pennant race with 10 games to go, and I know that there's a whole quadrant of Mets fans that think Terry Collins just fell out of the stupid tree. But how is it a collapse when the Mets just came back from 5.5 games out altogether, ran past 4 teams and somehow sit tied for the 1st Wildcard just 27 games later? And never mind that, how about the fact that the Mets have done this while 3/5 of their starting rotation is hurt (and if you want to throw Wheeler in the equation, that's 4/6), 2 guys that were in the Opening Day lineup still standing, and the team is basically stuck throwing out lineups that include Alejandro De Aza, Rene Rivera and on this night Eric Campbell, and they're relying on unknowns like Brandon Nimmo and T.J. Rivera for meaningful contributions? The fact that the Mets are in this position at all is a minor miracle. This is a team that's refused to throw in the towel all season. But this jackass is screaming collapse. Really, I think he should have just admitted he actually was a fan of the other New York team rather than continuing his charade, but as the 8th moved to the 9th and he continued his nonsensical rants, I realized I was doing myself no favors sticking around where I was, and I did something rather out of character for me—I left my seat and walked down to the Field Level, where I ended up just standing around the concourse, figuring that if this was going to end, at least I'd get out of there quick and get away from Yelly McDoofus.

Hansel Robles cleaned up Reed's mess in the 8th and he and Josh Edgin got the Phillies in the 9th, while the Mets managed nothing off of Joely Rodriguez in the last of the 8th, and while he apparently was ready to come out for the last of the 9th, Pete Mackanin decided to get cute and once Travis d'Arnaud was announced to hit for De Aza, he pulled Rodriguez in favor of his closer, Jeanmar Gomez, which you had to figure was coming because why the hell would Joely Rodriguez be closing games? And at this point, Terry Collins decided to just throw his entire roster at the wall. He called back d'Arnaud and sent up Brandon Nimmo, who got a hit in a similar spot on Wednesday, and of course Nimmo did what he does best and hit a line drive single. Jay Bruce followed and was met with bewildered looks, calls of "Where's Duda?!" and, oddly, cheers, because hey, if Bruce could get a hold of one and tie the game, maybe all would be forgiven. But that didn't happen. Although Bruce hung in for a while he still struck out, which was only helpful in the sense that he didn't hit into a Double Play, which was quite fortunate because Reyes followed by drilling a 2-1 pitch into the Mets bullpen to tie the game and spark a frenzy of crazy people jumping all over the concourse.

So much for quietly slinking off into the night. Rather than a silent finish, the real action was just getting started. Mackanin, now having burned his closer, removed Gomez from the game in favor of Hector Neris, who walked Cespedes but allowed nothing more of consequence. So, it was off to Extra Innings, and after not catching an Extra Inning game for the first 5 months of the season, I was now in for my second in less than a month, and this one was coming on the heels of an already long game, as the clock was pushing 10:40 and although it was Thursday, it was still a school night. At this point, I decided I was good for one more inning, and then I had to get out of there, loath as I was to do so.

Jeurys Familia came in for the 10th and worked a quick, uneventful inning, and Severino Gonzalez did the same, in spite of the fact that Lucas Duda came up as a pinch hitter for Rivera and came within about 6 inches of hitting a Game Winning Home Run. In fact, as it was more or less directly in front of me, I couldn't quite see just where the ball landed and for a second I, and the people standing near me, thought it was gone. But Duda pulled up around 1st and wheeled back to the plate...where he then struck out.

Familia came back for the 11th and I held my ground...The 10th was quick. One more inning, I tell myself. Next thing I know, it'll be 1am and the 15th inning if I'm not careful. Freddy Galvis led off by lining a double in the alley in Left, which wasn't helpful at all. Familia then rebounded by striking out Aaron Altherr and getting Tommy Joseph to ground out. With two outs, he then walked Hernandez intentionally, which was the right move with A.J. Ellis and his .190 batting average on deck. If Ellis beats you, he beats you. Unfortunately, that's what Ellis did, floating a little dying quail of a single in front of Nimmo to score Galvis and put the Phillies back ahead. Collins then did nobody any favors by continuing to run more guys in from the bullpen in an attempt to get the 3rd out. Jerry Blevins came in and hit Odubel Herrera. Collins then removed Blevins for Jim Henderson. Henderson walked Maikel Franco after an excruciating 10-pitch At Bat that was like watching paint dry. Now the score was 8-6 and at this point I was ready to leave right then and there. The Mets had pulled a July move and resurrected themselves from the dead only to shit the game right back out again. Only then did Henderson manage to get the last out of the inning as more people vacated and I stood around stewing.

The Phillies brought in a fellow named Edubray Ramos for the last of the 11th in order to pick up the Save for them. This was the Phillies' 9th pitcher of the night, which is a lot, until you remember that through 11 innings the Mets had managed to run through 10 pitchers, which is the sort of thing you can only accomplish in a game like this, at this time of year when you carry 20 pitchers on your roster, and this combined with the 16 position players they'd used tied a club record. I didn't realize this at the time. I was too busy thinking about a) who was left on the bench to hit in the Pitcher's spot which was due up second and b) If the Mets tie this game again, who's left to pitch? After Nimmo grounded out, I got one of my answers when Michael Conforto emerged from the dugout, remained patient and walked on 4 pitches. Reyes followed, and I started thinking that Reyes might turn back into the Homer Happy ninny he used to be after his 9th inning heroics, but instead he did what his M.O. normally is and singled the other way. And this brought up Cabrera, and at this point all I was hoping was that he didn't hit into a DP just so Cespedes would have a chance. And, of course, Cabrera rendered this hope and my second question irrelevant by nailing the second pitch he saw over the fence for the Game Winning 3-run Home Run. He knew it right away, I think everyone else did too. It was just one of those hits that had that arc, sort of like Reyes' did. These fly balls look a lot different when you're sitting downstairs and I'm used to the view from the Promenade.

Whew. This was exhilarating, but also exhausting. As I said, I know I've seen a lot of crazy, wild things happen at Baseball games, but never one that seemed to cram so much action, absurdity and intrigue into one 4 hour, 23 minute melange of madness. Hell, I watched the last 3 innings standing, that's how messed up things got. But this game was truly emblematic of the fact that the Mets refuse to simply lie down, no matter how much they have to absorb as far as injuries and inconsistency. As weird as it seems, the Mets are now essentially run by these three gentlemen at the top of the lineup, Reyes, Cabrera and Cespedes, and they're winning these games just because they're getting things done. Go back and look at that scorecard again. The Mets had 9 runs and 11 hits for the game, and these three guys accounted for 4 runs, 8 hits and 7 RBI. Think about it: That's 3 out of the 27 players the Mets used in this game accounting for that much offense. But these guys are paving the way. They refuse to throw in the towel and dragged the whole team back into this game and didn't stop until it was won. I don't know how far it will take them over the next 10 days, or if they play beyond that, but they've kept the Mets alive and at this point I don't think there's more we can ask of them.