Sunday, December 30, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 2012

And One more for Good Measure!
What is it: 2012 Topps #279, R.A. Dickey

What makes it interesting: It's the best design we've seen out of Topps in several years. It's simple, which I've already said is what works.

R.A. Dickey was probably the most unlikely hero in Mets History. His story, already well-documented, led him all over the country before he landed with the Mets in 2010. Summoned to the Majors in Mid-May, nobody expected to see much out of him, which is why it was so jarring when, after a no-decision in his first start, Dickey reeled off 6 consecutive victories. Out of a career in tatters, a star was born. Dickey's success that first year, coupled with his outspoken, offbeat personality that seemed to befit the Knuckleball he threw, endeared him instantly to Mets fans, who embraced him almost immediately. Dickey won 11 games that year, including a pair of masterful complete games, a 1-hitter against the Phillies and another solid game against Pittsburgh, but he also won over legions of fans. Dickey regressed somewhat in 2011, injuries and some inconsistency with his knuckleball played a part, but after a lousy start, he had a fine second half, despite his record ending up at 8-13. He finished his season on a high note; in spite of a no-decision, he carried a perfect game against the Phillies into the 7th inning in a game the Mets eventually won.

But nobody expected what was to come in 2012, when R.A. Dickey went from a good story to a National Phenomenon, an All Star, and a Cy Young Award Winner. He was already off to a pretty good start, 7-1 at the end of May, when June began and things really took off. Dickey and Johan Santana had pretty much been carrying the Mets to that point, and the night after Johan Santana's No Hitter, Dickey followed with a 7-hit Shutout of the Cardinals. On the heels of that game, Dickey salvaged a game in Washington with 7.1 shutout innings in a winning effort. Next, an outing in Tampa against their ace, David Price. And Dickey responded with a tremendous effort, out-pitching Price and ending up with a 1-hitter, striking out 12 and only losing his shutout in the 9th inning on an unearned run. And if we thought that was his peak, he outdid himself the next time out, throwing another 1-hitter in a shutout of the Orioles, with 13 strikeouts.Watching Dickey pitch had become akin to watching a symphony orchestra. Dickey had become a master of his craft, the Knuckleball, and he was now displaying just how good he could be. Soon, the accolades would begin to come his way, beginning with a selection to the All Star Game, and a scoreless inning in Kansas City. Dickey continued to win games in spite of the Mets falling apart in the second half, and by September, the chance for him to become the first Mets pitcher in over 20 years to win 20 games was well within reach. Dickey got that 20th win in the Mets final home game of the season, amid a raucous crowd that came out and rallied behind him all game. Dickey's final numbers for the year were outstanding by any measure. His 20-6 record was built on a 2.73 ERA, good for 2nd in the NL, with a league-leading 233.2 Innings Pitched, 230 Strikeouts, 5 Complete Games and 3 Shutouts. Dickey's season was justly noticed and rewarded when he took home the National League Cy Young Award, only the 3rd pitcher in Mets History to do so, the first since Dwight Gooden in 1985.

It was impossible to be a Mets fan and not like Dickey. Even when he struggled, fans seemed to support him. That's why the ending of the Dickey Story is so bittersweet. Despite the Mets attempting to work out a contract extension with Dickey, he became a valuable trade commodity. The Mets sorely wanted to keep him, and he sorely wanted to remain a Met. But with the team strapped in so many different areas, and the opportunity to improve those areas at the expense of Dickey available, the Mets traded Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays for an impressive haul of prospects. It was sad to see him go. But from the standpoint of management, it had to be done. Dickey understood that just as much as anyone. A classy, genuine individual, Dickey wrote a farewell column to Mets fans in the Daily News following the trade. He's a Blue Jay now, and we wish him well in Toronto. But we'll always have those three wonderful seasons here with the Mets, when he was truly a bright spot in a down era of Mets Baseball.

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 2011

Part 50 of our 50-year Landsman...
What is it: 2011 Topps #290, Ike Davis

What makes it interesting: The design is OK. But just OK. The current era of Topps cards really isn't very special anymore. They appear to use the same design for Baseball and Football cards, take it or leave it. At least the design doesn't overpower the player photo.

Like David Wright, the jury is still out on Ike Davis. The son of bespectacled former American League Pitcher Ron Davis, Ike was a #1 Draft Pick by the Mets in 2008 and projected to be a slugger. After an ill-fated experiment involving Mike Jacobs at 1st Base, Ike arrived with the Mets in Late April. Debuting in #42 for Jackie Robinson night, rather than his regular #29, Ike singled in his first At Bat and later drove home a run. Mets fans were immediately enamored. Later, Ike showed that he was one of the few Mets on the roster who would have no trouble with Citi Field's spacious dimensions when he blasted his first Major League Home Run almost to the Shea Bridge. As it became more and more evident that Ike was a Bona Fide power threat, he was installed as the cleanup hitter by Jerry Manuel despite having only a month's experience in the Major Leagues. This didn't faze him; he made his hits count and by season's end had put together a very respectable rookie season, hitting .264 with 19 Home Runs and 71 RBI, good enough to finish 7th in Rookie of the Year Balloting.

Ike's 2011 season appeared to be off to a blazing start. By early May, he was hitting over .300 and leading the team with 7 Home Runs, many of which were of the tape measure variety, something he had made a regular occurrence. However, misfortune struck in Colorado when he collided with David Wright on a popup, injuring his ankle. Though the Mets medical staff, as they are wont to do, said he'd be back in a couple of weeks, Davis frustratingly ended up missing the remainder of the season with constant setbacks. How good could he have been? We'd have to wait until 2012.

2012 came, and Ike, despite being diagnosed with the mysterious Valley Fever, had a fine Spring Training. But once the season began, he didn't hit anything. For two months, we watched as Ike flailed away at pitches, rarely making solid contact and hitting well below .200. The hot word was that he needed to be sent back to the Minors to figure it out, but many teammates, and his manager came to his defense. Ultimately, they would be rewarded, as Ike found himself in June, and, although he wasn't able to pull his average up to a respectable level, managed to end the year, his first full one in the Majors, with a team-leading 32 Home Runs and 90 RBI. Consider that the majority of his power numbers came after June 1st, and it looks even more impressive. Included in his season were key Home Runs against the Yankees, Orioles and Astros, and a 3-Home Run game in Arizona.

The prevailing thought on Ike is that he's going to be a Dave Kingman-type, who can hit a ton of Home Runs while batting .220. I don't believe this to be true. Given that Ike basically missed an entire season, and then was sick all of Spring Training, it probably made some kind of sense that he'd start slowly. That doesn't make it good, but at least it's sensible. I think Ike Davis is, behind David Wright, probably the best hitter the Mets have in their lineup right now, and it's going to be interesting to see what he can do when he's healthy for a full season. I've said it multiple times, but Ike Davis is the kind of player that the Mets need most: a masher who can hit Home Runs in any ballpark at any moment, even if it's in Citi Field. And, most importantly, Ike is currently the Mets lone Jewish player, the first on the team since Scott Schoeneweis.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 2010

Part 49 of our 50-year Face of the Franchise...
What is it: 2010 Topps #60, David Wright

What makes it interesting: 2010 marked the year that MLB decided to only license Topps to produce Baseball Cards. Once again the only game in town, Topps' effort improved, if only slightly, with the '10s. There's a little too much design at work here, with the color circle sweeping across the edge of the card, which takes away the emphasis on the player photo. But at least you always know the team the player is on.

The book isn't yet closed on David Wright's career. But if anything is certain, it's that David Wright will become the most meaningful offensive player ever produced by the organization.

It seems as though Wright was warranted to be a Met from day one. A Norfolk, Virginia boy, David was raised on the Mets AAA team and grew up as a Mets fan. Selected as a compensatory pick in 2001 after the Mets lost Mike Hampton, Wright was heralded as a future star all the way up the ladder before making his Major League debut in 2004. Immediately handed the 3rd Base job on a full-time basis, Wright has never relinquished his hold on the position. He arrived on the scene with a professional attitude and the polish befitting a veteran, knocking out 14 Home Runs and driving home 40 that first half-season and only going up from there. He proved himself a star in his first full year in the Majors, batting .306 and driving in 102 runs along with 27 Home Runs. A hot start in 2006 earned him the first of currently 6 All Star Game appearances, and his defense developed to the point where he earned a pair of Gold Gloves in 2007 and 2008. In 2007, Wright hit a then-career high 30 Home Runs to go along with his career high of 34 stolen bases, becoming the first Met since Howard Johnson to post a 30-30 season. Though injuries and a depleted lineup led to a down year in 2009, Wright hit the first Mets Home Run in Citi Field. By 2012, Wright began to make his mark on the franchise record books. Already the team leader in Doubles, Wright claimed Mets records for RBIs in April, Runs Scored in June, and with a scratch single on September 26th, passed Ed Kranepool with his 1,419th hit. His new 7-year contract almost ensures that he'll own basically every meaningful offensive record in Mets history by time he's through.

That's not to say that Wright has been perfect in his years here. He's come under fire for several instances where he's failed in the clutch. His failures, in particular down the stretch in 2008, and over the course of the season in 2009, have stood out because of the circumstances surrounding them. But Wright has had quite a few great clutch performances. A consummate team player, Wright has often had to bear the burden of carrying the team on his back, and it's caused him to press a bit more than he should. As he's grown, he's begun to learn to avoid this. The result was that in 2012, he got off to one of the best starts of his career. A bad slump in the second half dragged his numbers down, but considering that nobody around him was hitting, many pitchers were either pitching around him, or simply not giving him anything to hit. Wright's best years were when he had Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran surrounding him in the lineup. Early in 2012, he had people like Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy getting on base ahead of him, and allowing him to see good pitches to hit. When he's had good protection, he's had success. It's cliche, but it's also true.

I've mentioned before that it's tough to find Wright's real place in Mets history just yet, because it's a story that's still in progress. The numbers he's put up over his first 9 seasons have assured him a place in Mets History. The personal results are great, but ultimately, the Mets haven't reached the team goal that he and everyone watching would like to see. Wright's career has already placed him among the lofty heights of such Met luminaries as Hernandez and Piazza. A few more really good years and he could be considered among the real greats like Gooden and Strawberry. It's a long way from calling it a possibility right now, but should the Mets finally return to the Postseason and bring home a World Series Championship with Wright in the mix, it's quite possible that he could be considered among Tom Seaver as the very best to wear a Mets uniform. Time will tell.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 2009

Part 48 of our 50-year Ace...
What is it: 2009 Topps #310, Johan Santana

What makes it interesting: The design is a marked improvement of the kiddie crap that Topps rolled out in '07 and '08. It's not a vast improvement, but for a contemporary baseball card design, I suppose it's OK. But this set is also full of errors and variations, which left me with the impression that Topps sort of half-assed this one.

Johan Santana arrived with the Mets as a savior. He'll leave an Immortal.

In between, though the Mets as a team never achieved the greatness we'd hoped, Santana continually took the mound, often hurting, often in hopeless situations and pitched his heart out each and every time.

From the first time he took the mound in Florida on Opening Day of 2008, we knew we had something special with Johan. His resume, which featured a pair of Cy Young Awards with the Minnesota Twins, was impressive, which is why the Mets gave up a boatload of prospects and a boatload of money in order to get him. Though it took him a few games to hit his stride, once he got going, Johan proved himself worth every penny. Santana didn't lose a game after July 1st that season, going 9-0 and missing out on several other wins because the bullpen kept blowing his leads. So, he started pitching deeper into games. In that 2008 season, Santana was not just the Mets Ace, he was a horse. He led the league in Games Started, Innings Pitched and ERA, throwing 3 complete games and 2 shutouts, the latter of which came on the second to last day of the season, on three days' rest and a torn meniscus, in a game where he demanded the ball. That game right there showed everyone what kind of person Santana was. He put it all on the line in order to help the team.

Though injuries marred every other season he's been with the Mets, including wiping out his entire 2011 season, Santana  still provided several other moments of glory, including wins on Opening Day in 2009 and 2010, a big victory over the Yankees on a Sunday Night in 2010, and the night he not only shut out the Cincinnati Reds, but he also hit his first, and to this point only Major League Home Run.

But no game will ever stand out for him, for the Mets or for their fans more than the game he pitched on the night of June 1, 2012. That night, Johan Santana did the one thing no Mets pitcher could do for, to that point, 8,019 games in the 50 year History of the Mets. Only a handful of starts removed from major shoulder surgery that had cost him all of the 2011 season, Johan Santana went out and threw the first No Hitter in Mets History against the St. Louis Cardinals. He did it on a stamina-testing 134 pitches, something his manager would agonize over, but there was no way Santana was ever giving up the ball that night. Not when he worked through inning after inning without allowing a hit. Not with history so close. It was the same kind of determination we saw out of him on that final Saturday at Shea Stadium. Nothing was getting Johan Santana to give up the ball until he finished the job he started. And he did, with a flourish, striking out David Freese and pumping his fist before his teammates and a bizarre interloper in a Gary Carter jersey stormed him at the mound.

There couldn't possibly have been a better pitcher or a better person to hold the honor.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 2008

Part 47 of our 50-year Pitching Prospect...
What is it: 2008 Topps #171, John Maine

What makes it interesting: Now this is just ridiculous. Topps didn't do well with color splotches scattered on the '07 cards, so damned if they don't come back with the same hair-brained idea in '08 by placing the team name in hideous color balloons along a pasty white border. Some team names (ie Diamondbacks) were so long that Topps instead abbreviated the name rather than having a line of tiny bubbles. Ish.

John Maine ultimately turned into one of the bigger flash-in-the-pans in Mets history, although for several seasons, many of us held out hope that that wouldn't be the case. After arriving with the Mets prior to the 2006 season as an afterthought, a throw-in in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles that rid the Mets of Kris Benson and his trashy bride, Maine surprised everyone by ascending to the Major Leagues in July and immediately hopping into the Mets starting rotation. Though he struggled early, Maine found himself on a July night against the Astros, pitching a 4-hit shutout that eventually turned into a 26-inning scoreless streak. Though he would come back to earth a bit late in the season, Maine clearly proved he belonged, and would be vital in the postseason once Pedro Martinez went down with an injury. Maine figured to throw in relief in the playoffs, but when Orlando Hernandez also got hurt, Maine suddenly found himself shoved into the spotlight and handed the ball for a Game 1 start in the NLDS against the Dodgers. A lesser rookie might have wilted under the pressure, but Maine showed his fortitude by pitching 4.1 solid innings, not enough to win, but good enough to keep the Mets afloat. His start in Game 2 of the NLCS vs. St. Louis wasn't so hot, but come Game 6, with the Mets needing a victory to keep their season alive, Maine responded with an excellent outing, giving up 1 hit and no runs in 5.1 innings and picking up a crucial victory.

Given Maine's solid performance in '06, it was widely believed that he would develop further in the 2007 season. Expectations on him were high enough that he was the #1 Key Met on this Blog for 2007, in the first post by your author. Early on, Maine didn't disappoint, starting the '07 season red hot. He kicked off the season by throwing 7 shutout innings against the Cardinals, and later had a No Hitter into the 7th inning against the Marlins. By April's end, Maine was 4-0 with an ERA of 1.35, good enough to be named NL Pitcher of the Month. Maine fell back to earth rather sharply in May, but by late June had righted himself enough to garner All Star consideration, if not a selection. His second half was somewhat more of the same. Though he was a bit inconsistent, he was great when he was good, including an outing where he hit his first, and only, Major League Home Run against the Pirates, and a crucial victory in a game in Atlanta at the beginning of September. But his signature game came on the next to last day of the season. With the Mets collapsing and ill feelings all over the place, Maine stopped a 5-game losing streak and nearly No Hit the Marlins, taking a gem into the 8th inning and striking out a career high 13 in a blowout victory. But we know how the season turned out, and the good vibes generated from Maine's outing went for naught. Nonetheless, Maine's 2007 season was an undeniable success, as he went 15-10, with a 3.91 ERA and 180 strikeouts.

Unfortunately, Maine wouldn't ever build on that. In fact, Maine spent the remainder of his Mets career struggling to get back to that level. Though he had flashes of brilliance in 2008, including a near-shutout of the Dodgers, he struggled with high pitch counts and rarely went deep into games. Too often, Maine would get 2 strikes on a batter, but be unable to put him away. The result was that Maine would spend more time moping around the mound, generally frustrated with himself rather than getting things accomplished. But clearly, something wasn't right. He left a start in Philadelphia in July with shoulder problems, and eventually it was revealed that Maine was pitching with a bone spur in his shoulder. Maine went on the disabled list following a miserable outing against the Astros in August, and although he tried to come back, his season was ultimately over, finishing with a disappointing 10-8 record and 4.15 ERA.

Counted on to rebound in '09, Maine instead had a season that mirrored '08, where he would have tantalizing moments that would lead you to believe he was going to make The Leap, but then regressing. Another shoulder injury forced him to the DL in June, and there he stayed before returning in September to make a few token starts, but by then the season was long gone and Maine was simply trying to prove he could still get the job done. Given one final shot in 2010, Maine did nothing to inspire anyone, and eventually ended up embarrassing himself in the process. After one start where he opened up by throwing 12 consecutive balls, Maine was pulled from a game in Washington after 1 batter because Jerry Manuel thought he didn't look right. Maine protested and argued with his manager, but Manuel was right. Not only was Maine headed for the DL again, but that would prove to be his final outing with the Mets.

Whether it was injuries or inconsistency, John Maine could have had a brilliant career under a different set of circumstances. A quiet, generally likeable kid, Maine's strong start to his career endeared him to a lot of Mets fans, who generally rooted for him to succeed rather than bashing him for his failures. I include myself in this group. Since leaving the Mets, Maine hasn't resurfaced in the Majors, bouncing through the systems of the Rockies, Red Sox, Yankees and now Marlins. Hopefully, he'll find himself someday.

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Monday, December 24, 2012

The Hot Team

If Sunday Night's debacle in Seattle for the 49ers taught us anything, it's that nothing ever makes sense in the NFL.

Coming into the game, the 49ers were humming along, having staved off a ballyhooed team in their own building, a place that's generally considered an impossible place for a visiting team to win. They were going to play a ballyhooed team in their own building, a place that's generally considered an impossible place for a visiting team to win. Things like this tend not to faze the 49ers. Seattle has been tough all season, and Seattle has always been a tough place to play. This is something I've always found rather bizarre; for a city that's generally known as a rather genteel, laid-back West Coast city, Seattle for some reason turns into a Lion's den at feeding time when the Seahawks take the field. The Kingdome was like this, and their new stadium, Qwest Starbucks Paul Allen Pearl Jam Century Link Field was built in such a way that the crowd noise reverberates off the structure and back onto the field, creating a noise tunnel that's deafening.

The Seahawks also are the "Hot Team" right now. The 49ers were being anointed following the win in New England, but the Seahawks are on a pretty good streak of their own. Their defense had been very solid all season, mirroring the 49ers in the fact that they have been equally tough against the run, not so much in the pair of Defensive Backs who were suspended for positive banned substance tests. But I digress. Behind ballyhooed Rookie Quarterback Russell Wilson, they'd ran up some staggering point totals in their past two games, beating Arizona 58-0 and following that up with another 50-point performance against Buffalo. But that's Arizona and Buffalo. The 49ers certainly weren't going to let the Seahawks, their rival, whom they already beat this season in a real slug-fest, punch them around like that, were they?

Unfortunately, the answer was yes, they would. They didn't give up 50, but they also saved their worst performance of the season for the worst possible moment. Perhaps the game wasn't over when NBC opened the game with their usual montage of Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, accompanied by Faith Hill, but I suppose it may as well have been. Right from the outset, the 49ers appeared tight and unprepared, the noise got to Colin Kaepernick early, and the Seahawks jumped all over them. The tone was set no less than 4 minutes into the game, when Kaepernick opened with three passes, all of which fell incomplete. Andy Lee's good punt was met with a good return by Leon Washington, followed by a 15-yard penalty, and two plays later, the Seahawks were in the End Zone when Marshawn Lynch thundered in from 24 yards out.

It only got worse from there. It was 14-0 by time the 49ers finally managed to get something going on offense, but their good drive was stopped short thanks to a vicious hit by Kam Chancellor on Vernon Davis, not only breaking up a sure Touchdown pass, but also knocking Davis out of the game with a concussion. Forced to kick a short Field Goal, David Akers' kick was instead blocked and returned 90 yards for a Touchdown, making a bad 14-3 score into a miserable 21-0 score, and essentially removed any sort of drama from the game.

That's not to say that the 49ers stopped trying once they got behind, but it was pretty much impossible for them to muster much of anything. Frank Gore was unable to establish anything on the ground, and by time they got so far behind, they had to abandon the run anyway. Kaepernick was flustered by the noise and inaccurate with his passes; though he only threw one interception, it was in the End Zone on a pass where he clearly never bothered to see if there was a defender closing. Davis was out, and later Mario Manningham was knocked from the game with a knee injury. By time they managed to score a Touchdown, it was in complete garbage time in the 4th Quarter, and only enough to make the score a humiliating 42-13 (as opposed to the mortifying 42-6). They weren't helped by the fact that Seattle didn't stop trying either, as their coach Pete Carroll, who nobody really likes, continued to have Russell Wilson pass and pass and pass in spite of the fact that his team was way ahead. It's merely an observation, and Carroll has taken some flak for this, but he also did this in the prior two 50+ point efforts from his team. In case you were wondering why the Seahawks suddenly turned into the '98 Vikings.

The victory by Seattle clearly cemented them as The Hot Team and The Team Nobody Wants To Play In the Playoffs. Their win not only clinched them a playoff berth, but it also prevented the 49ers from clinching their second straight division title. Thanks to their earlier tie, the 49ers still hold a half game lead on Seattle, and only need to beat Arizona at home next Sunday to wrap up the Division and ensure Seattle will play nothing but road games in  January. But the loss also knocked the 49ers out of the #2 seed in the NFC, behind Green Bay, which would force the 49ers to come back and play in the first round of the playoffs, instead of having a bye week to rest, and potentially have to play these very same Seahawks in said first round. One saving grace, perhaps, is that while the 49ers have to play the lowly Cardinals next week, Green Bay must play in Minnesota, against a Vikings team that must win in order to make the playoffs. Regardless of all that, however, Seattle is certainly not someone to be taken lightly as the calendar turns to January and the Playoffs begin. True, they more than likely will not have a chance to play in front of their screaming fans, but they'll be a problem going forward.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 2007

Part 46 of our 50 Year Masher...
What is it: 2007 Topps #125, Carlos Delgado

What makes it interesting: Oh nice, another Topps Acid Trip. But just to cross you up, now they put these bizarre color swatches on a black background with the unreadable foil names. It's not the nightmare of 2004-2005, but it's pretty close.

Carlos Delgado only played three full seasons with the Mets, plus the beginning of a fourth that was derailed by injuries. In his time here, he probably conjured up every possible sentiment you could have towards a player, which I suppose makes sense because his Mets career ran the gamut from totally awesome to embarrassingly miserable.

Few Mets were as badass as Carlos Delgado was in 2006. He arrived in the midst of a Marlins fire sale after spurning a free agent offer from the Mets the winter before. Whether he wanted to be here or not, he was here, and he certainly made the best of it that first season, hitting 38 Home Runs, most of them of the monstrous variety and driving in 114 runs. His presence in the cleanup spot was the piece the Mets needed to become a championship contender. He provided more than adequate protection for Carlos Beltran and David Wright, who both took off that season while surrounding him in the lineup. Among his signature moments that season were a walk-off Home Run against the Pirates in May, a 3-run Home Run on a Sunday Night against the Yankees, and his 400th Career Home Run, a Grand Slam against the Cardinals that helped the Mets on their way to overcoming a 7-1 deficit. Delgado was also a unifying presence in the clubhouse, a charismatic leader who helped bring the club together and on to greater things. It's no shock that the Mets ran away with the NL East that year, aided by Delgado's huge season. After many years toiling away on losing teams in Toronto, Delgado would finally have his first taste of Postseason Baseball.

Delgado was great in the regular season in '06, but he was outstanding in the Postseason. He registered 4 hits in his first 4 At Bats against the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS, including a bomb of a Home Run off Derek Lowe that tied the game in the 4th inning, and a single to drive home the go-ahead run in the 7th inning. He also chipped in a key hit in the clinching Game 3. After a pair of Doubles in Game 1 of the NLCS vs the Cardinals, Delgado followed with a pair of Home Runs and 4 RBI in Game 2. In Game 4, Delgado hit another Home Run, and tied a Mets Postseason record with 5 RBIs as the Mets won in a rout. Unfortunately, few of his teammates matched his offensive output, and the Mets ultimately fell to the Cardinals in 7 games. In that 7th game, Delgado was walked 3 times.

But, for as good as he was in 2006, that's how badly he regressed in 2007. Delgado got off to a slow start and never did get going. The power wasn't there anymore, he didn't hit his first Home Run until April 23rd, and he was languishing with a sub .200 batting average. Nobody could put a finger on the problem, whether it was some operations he had on his wrist for carpal tunnel syndrome or something else, Delgado had just flat-out lost it. He still had his moments, including a walk-off Home Run against Armando Benitez (the famous "double balk" game) in May and a 3-run Home Run in a key game in Atlanta in August, but come September, Delgado would be knocked out of the lineup altogether with a hip injury, and though he would return, it wouldn't be enough. An errant fastball from Dontrelle Willis on the final day of the season broke his wrist, and much like the Mets themselves, Delgado's season ended crumpled in a heap outside the batter's box. His 24 Home Runs and 87 RBI the worst numbers he'd posted in years.

Clearly, Delgado was on the hot seat going into 2008. Whether or not he'd be able to rebound was very much in doubt, given the multiple wrist injuries and the hip impingement he'd been diagnosed with. The Mets needed Delgado to be Delgado, badly. But Delgado's start in 2008 was, perhaps, even worse. He was so poor in April that he was booed off the field and eventually benched for a few days. When he returned, he responded with a 2-Home Run game, but then went right back in the tank. On June 25th, Delgado was hitting .229 with 11 Home Runs and 35 RBI.

Then came that game at Yankee Stadium. 2 Home Runs and a club-record 9 RBI that turned both Delgado's season and the Mets season around. From that point forward, Delgado was like a freight train, hitting the same monster Home Runs we'd been accustomed to seeing from him. With the Mets in a fierce battle for a spot in the Postseason, Delgado stepped up and carried the Mets. He went 5-for-5, including the game-winning single in a game against Atlanta. 3 days later, he backed Mike Pelfrey with a pair of 3-run Home Runs against the Astros. Later that week, after a disastrous bullpen meltdown in Philadelphia, Delgado hit 2 more Home Runs, aiding the Mets to a comeback victory against their rival. In Milwaukee, he hit a key 2-run Home Run in the 8th inning to lead the Mets to a win. When the Phillies came to New York, Delgado stole the show on a Sunday Night, blasting 2 Home Runs off Cole Hamels that may still be traveling, and followed that up with another 2-Home Run game against Washington. Delgado wasn't just back, he was beginning to earn chants of "MVP!" at Shea Stadium. Delgado hit the final Grand Slam at Shea against the Cubs, after working Carlos Zambrano into a frenzy. Ultimately, the Mets fell short once again, but Delgado was a huge reason that they even had a chance to contend that final day.

Delgado's contract option for 2009 was picked up by the Mets. How could it not be after his awesome finish to 2008, that brought from the depths to 38 Home Runs and 115 RBI. But which Delgado would show up in 2009? That was still a question mark. The Mets could ill afford to have the bad Delgado. But though he got off to a decent start, the ultimate answer was that they would have No Delgado. The hip injury he suffered in 2008 had worsened to the point where he needed surgery. It was initially thought that he might be back before too long, but he ended up missing the remainder of the season. After another hip operation, Delgado ultimately retired, his final game coming innocuously on May 10th. Not surprisingly, the Mets as a team began to sink when Delgado was forced out of the lineup.

Carlos Delgado, for his 3+ years with the Mets, hit 104 Home Runs and 339 RBI, which is pretty damn good, and when you think about what the injuries and slumps did to him, well, his numbers could have been astronomical for those three seasons. For his career, Delgado retired with 473 Home Runs and 1512 RBI over his 17 seasons. His legacy with the Mets is somewhat mixed, I suppose, but I'll always remember him fondly. It helps that I witnessed many of his best moments in person. Perhaps seeing him being great colors my perception, but I think that deep down, most Mets fans will agree with me.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Two Plays

With just over 6 minutes remaining in the 3rd Quarter on Sunday Night, the 49ers appeared well on their way to a major statement victory. They were blowing out the Patriots, they of the legend of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and their 5 AFC Championships and 3 Super Bowl Victories, of the 10-3 record and another Division Championship, of the record-setting offense. They had forced the Patriots into a series of mistakes, and although they themselves hadn't always capitalized, they'd done enough to race out to a 31-3 lead, which appeared virtually insurmountable given how well their defense had been playing. They had intercepted Brady twice and forced two fumbles. Offensively, though they had several sloppy moments, including a fumble by Delanie Walker inside the New England 10, and another missed Field Goal from Akers, they were having little trouble. Colin Kaepernick came out firing, undaunted by the cold, rainy weather, and tore the Patriots pass defense apart for 3 Touchdowns. Things were great.

With 6 minutes and 43 seconds remaining in the 4th Quarter, Danny Woodhead took a handoff from Tom Brady at the San Francisco 1 yard line. The entire 49ers defense had muscled up in the middle, expecting a Brady sneak. Instead, Woodhead slipped to his left and walked into the end zone untouched. This New England score tied the game at 31.

In the span of less than one game quarter of time, the Patriots had managed 4 consecutive Touchdown drives around 3 consecutive 3-and-out drives from the 49ers. This game that had appeared a cakewalk had all of a sudden gotten away from the 49ers, and now they were in danger of being on the wrong end of what would tie the greatest comeback in NFL History (a record these same 49ers set back in 1980). The Patriots offense finally kicked into their regular high gear, and their defense, suspect most of the night, adjusted and eventually stopped the 49ers cold, forcing Kaepernick into scrambles, bad passes and sacks. As a whole, the 49ers were reeling, and not only was the game slipping away, but perhaps the entire season was starting to fade as well. A loss would have meant that the 49ers would have merely a half game lead over the Seahawks, whom they are traveling to Seattle to play on yet another primetime affair next Sunday. A loss in Seattle, and the 49ers would no longer lead the division, and a playoff berth would be a dicey proposition. To say things looked bleak was an understatement. This was right on the verge of a full-blown disaster.

And in two plays, everything was fixed.

LaMichael James, the rookie Running Back who hadn't been active much this season until Kendall Walker's injury, had also taken over for Hunter on Kickoffs. A speedy, elusive player, James was deserving of whatever opportunity he could get his hands on. And in this crucial situation, he knew a short return wouldn't cut it. Pinned in their own end, the 49ers had struggled to do much of anything while the Patriots were storming back. To this point, their second half offense had consisted of a pair of one-play drives. They needed a jolt, something that would give them good field position to start. And James delivered a huge return, following a lane-clearing block from Delanie Walker and scampering 62 yards to the New England 38 Yard Line. One play later, the ball was in the End Zone. Kaepernick, facing a big blitz from the Patriots, threw a short screen pass out to Michael Crabtree, who shook a tackle from the only New England Defender anywhere close to him, Kyle Arrington, and ran the remainder of the 38 yards to Paydirt. The 49ers regained the lead 38-31, and although they still had 6 minutes of game to go, the Patriots didn't have another comeback left in them, eventually falling in a wild 41-34 affair that lasted nearly 4 hours.

Just like that, the 49ers had taken back the game, taken back the momentum, and perhaps taken back their season. A loss would have undone every bit of good that they had accomplished in this game and pretty much everything they had accomplished under Colin Kaepernick these past few weeks. In reality, little blame could have been put on Kaepernick, short of his inability to handle a direct snap from Center Jonathan Goodwin. In terrible conditions, Kaepernick came out and zipped passes through the rain that were almost always on target, save for one Interception early in the 3rd Quarter that was of little consequence. Though it was his final Touchdown pass that proved to be most important, the other three he threw were pretty key as well. Without his work, and the help he received from Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree (and even Randy Moss, who opened the scoring with a long Touchdown catch), the 49ers wouldn't have been in the position of having such a large lead to cough up.

The Defense comes away from this game looking less than great, considering they were the prime culprits in the loss of a 28-point lead. But, on the other hand, it wasn't as though they gave up a 28-point lead to some piker, this was Tom Brady and the Patriots. They have made an art form out of the No-Huddle offense, and few Quarterbacks have Brady's killer instinct. Brady ended up throwing 65 passes on the night, and the Patriots ran 92 plays, an astronomical number. But once the 49ers took back the lead and took back the momentum, the wind appeared to be let out of the Patriots' sails. Brady would be sacked twice on the possession following Crabtree's score, and after another 3-and-out from the 49ers, Brady ended up badly overthrowing Woodhead on a 4th and short play, giving the ball back to the 49ers deep in New England's territory. By the time the Pats had the ball for a final possession, they were the ones in the desperate situation, and eventually, the clock just ran out on them.

So, no, this was not the prettiest win for the 49ers. But it was a statement nonetheless. The Patriots are notorious for their unparalleled record of success both in their home stadium and late in the season. The 49ers proved themselves hearty enough to go cross-country, into a hostile environment in bad weather and come away with a victory. Not many teams have been able to sock the Patriots in the mouth the way the 49ers did for most of the game, and fewer still have the fortitude to be able to get up off the mat and fight back after blowing a lead as quickly as they did. So, rather than heading into Sunday night's Divisional Championship Showdown in Seattle reeling and hoping to survive, the 49ers come in on a high, having already won a big time road game under the Prime Time lights, having assured themselves of a spot in the Playoffs, and continuing to be in the drivers seat in the  NFC West. One victory in their final two games will clinch the Division, and two victories will earn them a first-round bye. At this point, the 49ers appear ready to do win by any means necessary. Sometimes, that's what it takes.

Monday, December 17, 2012

In a Future Age

I'll put it rather bluntly: I am going to miss having R.A. Dickey on the Mets. I'm sure just about every Mets fan will. Dickey was the kind of player that you couldn't possibly dislike, and the reasons for that went far beyond the success he found in his 3 seasons with the Mets. He turned from a journeyman to a star, a quirky, quotable personality with a story of survival like no other. Mets fans rallied behind them and, in 2012, they were treated to the kind of special season only comes along so often. But, Baseball being the fickle business it is, just as Dickey's amazing story was reaching its culmination, he was dealt away before the Mets and their fans ever really had a chance to celebrate his Cy Young Award with him. I'm sure I'm not the only Mets fan who aches sorrowfully about this, and Dickey himself tweeted as much earlier this afternoon. I'm thankful that we had this time together. 

All that being said, we have to be careful, as fans, not to become overly sentimental about the Dickey trade. Or any trade, for that matter. It's the way Baseball works. Things may not seem so great now, but I'm of the belief that sometime in the near future, this trade will end up making a lot of sense for the Mets. The reality of the situation is that Dickey wasn't going to get any better than he was last season. Yes, he's a knuckleballer, and knuckleballers can go on forever, etc, etc. But wisely, Sandy Alderson dealt Dickey when he was at the peak of his value, and the haul of prospects he brought back is clearly evidence of this. Sentimentality aside, this trade was a no-brainer for the Mets. The arguments I've heard, and there have been several, against the trade seem to come from 3 places. 1) People thinking with their hearts rather than their heads, 2) People who don't seem to realize what the point of making this trade was for the Mets, or 3) Complete ignorance.

With Dickey, the Mets were able to deal from a position of strength. The Mets were not a good team in 2012, and the chances of them being a good team in 2013 are fairly slim, Dickey or no Dickey. The Mets have many, many problems, like the lack of a decent Catcher or a viable Major League Outfielder. But one thing they did have was plenty of good starting pitching. Dickey was the headliner, obviously, but behind him, Jon Niese was beginning to come into his own. Matt Harvey ascended and immediately showed he belonged. Dillon Gee was proving solid before injury struck. Johan Santana was there too, and pitched really well for a couple of months before things unraveled for him. But while the Mets got a lot of really good starting pitching, most days they didn't hit and the end result was a lot of Met losses by a score of 3-1 or 4-2. The Mets will bring back all four of these pitchers next season (My somewhat blind and also probably foolish hope that they would bring back Mike Pelfrey ended today when it was announced he'd signed with Minnesota). In addition, other pitchers in the vein of Zach Wheeler and Jenrry Mejia are ready to ascend. Point is, the Mets don't really need to worry a great deal about their starting pitching, unless injuries strike, and that could, and will, happen to anyone. Dickey was at a point where he became expendable. Not because he did anything wrong, but because he happened to be a commodity that could bring back good value.

The prevailing thought is, obviously, that you can never have too much pitching, and that's true. But as I keep saying, you can't win if you don't hit, and the Mets offense was pretty miserable, enough so that it just doesn't make sense for the Mets to keep all this starting pitching at the expense of being able to generate any runs to back their starters. David Wright and Ike Davis will hit, but they appear to exist as an island in the middle of the Mets lineup. Being able to bring in a prospect the stature of Travis d'Arnaud is huge for a multitude of reasons. Those unfamiliar with d'Arnaud should know that he was originally drafted by the Phillies in 2007. He wound up in Toronto prior to 2010 in a trade whose centerpiece was none other than Roy Halladay. In AA ball in 2011, d'Arnaud blossomed, hitting .311 with 21 HRs and 78 RBI, and was off to a fine season in AAA in 2012 before a knee injury undercut his season. Prior to 2012, he was ranked the 17th best prospect by Baseball America, and the top prospect in the Blue Jays system. And, he's a Catcher. Last time I checked, the Mets were throwing out a virtual shit stew at that position, involving the punchless Josh Thole, the talentless Mike Nickeas and the retread Rob Johnson, all of whom combined to generate absolutely nothing worthwhile. d'Arnaud is projected for stardom, and even if that doesn't come immediately, I see no reason why he shouldn't start immediately and why he couldn't easily surpass the production from the iron triumverate. Conveniently, the Mets shipped out Thole and Nickeas with Dickey, so d'Arnaud shouldn't have much of a challenge earning the role as starting Catcher.

d'Arnaud is the impact player that Alderson was after when he shopped Dickey, but for good measure, Alderson managed to poach another top prospect from the Jays' organization in 20-year old Pitcher Noah Syndergaard. Syndergaard is still a ways from being a factor, having just finished a season in A ball, but he's built like Mike Pelfrey, boasted a K/9 rating of over 10, and has drawn comparisons to such pitchers as Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay. By time he ascends, he'll probably have learned a bit more stamina and polish, the kind of things necessary for a front of the line starter. Plus, by then, we'll know for sure what the Mets have in Harvey, Wheeler, Mejia and whoever else is kicking around the organization.

The bottom line here is that yes, Dickey will be missed. It sucks that this deal had to happen, but I trust what Alderson is doing here. This is exactly in line with the plan he's set forth ever since he took over. Alderson has targeted specific guys and held out until he was able to get the trade he wanted. So he's flipped Dickey and Beltran and acquired multiple pieces that stand to help the Mets for several years looking forward. It's a slow, tedious process, and it's going to mean another year of probably not competing very much. There are still a lot of holes. But the Mets, as built, weren't going to be any better if they didn't make the trade. Alderson has dealt depth for improvements at a sorely needed position. There are still holes here, but for the first time in several seasons, I think we can actually begin to feel slightly optimistic about the Mets chances. The hope, I think, is that 2013 plays out something like this:

1) The Mets tread water for the season and hopefully finish around .500. Maybe those 3-1 losses start to turn into 4-3 wins every so often.
2) Ike Davis plays healthy all season long and develops into one of the NL's best 1Bmen, like I think he's capable of.
3) Ruben Tejada builds on his solid 2012 season and, to some degree, Daniel Murphy does as well (I'm more optimistic about Tejada than Murphy, but at least Murphy won't embarrass himself).
4) Matt Harvey continues to step up and Zach Wheeler ascends.
5) Someone in the Nieuwenhuis/Duda/Valdespin Pu-Pu Platter turns into a reasonably respectable OF (smart money is on Nieuwenhuis I suppose, but none of them appear likely to pan out).
6) Come the offseason, once Santana and Bay come off the Books, and the Mets can go after a bigtime Outfielder and a solid Starting Pitcher (assuming this is necessary based on the performance of the current rotation).
7) Contend seriously in 2014.

World Series Championships have been won on similar lines of thinking. But in order to get to that point, the person driving the bus has to be willing to make a move that's unpopular or risky. Alderson has made a name for himself making moves like this just about every team he's worked for. Yeah, these are calculated risks he's taking with the Mets. It may not work. But I trust his judgement. He has made the moves necessary to rebuild a farm system stripped bare from mismanagement and short-sighted thinking. This will begin to pay off eventually. It won't be immediate, but this too shall pass.

Monday, December 10, 2012


A family gathering precluded me from following yesterdays 49ers/Dolphins game much, if at all. It wasn't on TV in New York, so even if I was home, I would have been relegated to streaming audio. As I mentioned last week, my 0-2-1 record when streaming left much to be desired, so maybe this was for the best. The downside to this, however, is that I don't have much, if any, idea of how the game played out. But I'll do my best to try to sum it up.

The 49ers and Dolphins meet only once every 4 years, but they did once meet in a Super Bowl, number XIX. The 49ers blew out Miami 38-16, behind Joe Montana in the first Football game I ever watched, and the reason I became a 49ers fan in the first place. Their subsequent meetings have come in years where one team was usually quite good and the other quite bad. This year appears to be no different. Though the 49ers came into the game at 9-3-1, their lead over the suddenly resurgent Seattle Seahawks was merely a game and a half. A matchup that will more than likely determine the division champion will take place in 2 weeks in Seattle (a game that's been flexed into Prime Time). In addition to that, the 49ers have only a half-game hold on the #2 seed in the NFC ahead of Green Bay and their annoying bandwagon, with that all important first-round bye at stake. On the other side, Miami is Miami. The point here is that the 49ers could ill afford to look past the Dolphins, inferior as they may be, because a poor performance could bite them in the ass, much like it did last week in St. Louis, and then all hell would break loose. In addition to their game in Seattle in 2 weeks, they also play at the New England Patriots next Sunday. never an easy place to visit. So, the 49ers would have been well wise to get their act together.

Given the result and the way the game played out, I'm not sure that the 49ers totally got their act together, but they did enough to win the game. Though Colin Kaepernick and the offense really didn't seem too much in sync, the defense did what they always do, and make life difficult for the opponent. The defense did plenty to keep the Dolphins from doing very much of consequence; the lone drive they had in the 49ers Red Zone was cut off by a sack and ended in a Field Goal. But the 49ers could only manage Field Goals of their own, and only led 6-3 at halftime.

The 49ers didn't catch a break until Miami muffed a punt early in the 3rd quarter, which ended up recovered by C.J. Spillman deep in Miami's end. Frank Gore punctuated the short drive with a Touchdown, making the score 13-3 and giving the 49ers a bit of breathing room. But they never really pulled away. An Anthony Dixon score made it 20-6, but Miami responded with a Touchdown of their own, and then stopped the 49ers on their ensuing possession. With about 5 and a half minutes to go, Miami was now in possession to tie the game.

Fortunately, the defense, which has been every bit as good as they've needed to be this season, came through once again. Miami only advanced the ball on a roughing the passer call, and eventually was forced into a 4th down attempt which failed. Miami hoped to be able to stop the 49ers running game and get another opportunity, but though they stacked the box, Kaepernick ran through them all anyway for a game-clinching 50 yard Touchdown Run to cap off a mostly unexciting 27-13 victory.

Kaepernick was, once again, somewhat underwhelming. He didn't make the same mistakes he did in the Rams game, but outside of his TD run, he also didn't do anything truly spectacular, at least not that I was able to glean. I'm not totally sure if Kaepernick is still trying to figure it out or if the play calling is limiting what he's allowed to do, but these next two games are going to tell us a lot about where this team is going. New England might not have the world's greatest defense, but they can muscle up against the run, and everyone knows how they operate on offense. Seattle already slugged it out with the 49ers once this season and I'm sure they're itching for another crack. Though things still seem to be firmly in hand for a postseason spot, it could get ugly if things don't break the right way. Interestingly, with the flexing of the Seattle game, the 49ers will be on Sunday Night Football in back to back weeks, which means we'll all be getting a nice healthy dose of Faith Hill and fawning over Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 2006

Part 45 of our 50-year Big Ticket Free Agent...
What is it: 2006 Topps #520, Carlos Beltran

What makes it interesting: After a few years of designs that were bad, boring or both, Topps came back with one of their better efforts in '06. If it wasn't already obvious, I like a nice, clean, clear design, and this set does it all, and it's a good thing they did because after the stink bombs of '04 and '05, they appeared headed into short-attention span hell.

I've often used these "50 Years in Cards" pieces to run down the Mets career of the player depicted on the card. That's not going to change, but I feel there's more that can be said about Carlos Beltran than simply reciting his numbers and the moments he had with the Mets.

Carlos Beltran is easily the best Center Fielder the Mets ever had, and without a doubt one of the best players in team history. He was in the top 10 of the "50 Greatest Mets" program and the starting CF of the 50th Anniversary team. Yet many Mets fans appear, unfairly, to remember him for watching an essentially unhittable curveball that just nicked the strike zone to end the 2006 season. The Mets have never fully recovered from this loss, but the reason for that was never Carlos Beltran.

From the moment he arrived with the Mets in 2005, Beltran drew criticism for being a mostly soft-spoken person who played the game with such grace and ease and stoicism, one might have had the impression that he was a little complacent. Not so. Though he had a poor year in 2005, he played through a leg injury and also got banged up pretty good in an ugly outfield collision with Mike Cameron in San Diego. Perhaps his somewhat stormy relationship with the fans started here, because he was a frequent target of boos that season, but come 2006, he turned into the player that the Mets hoped they had brought in with that big contract. On a team that had plenty of star power, Beltran might not have been the matinee idol that David Wright was, or the sparkplug that Jose Reyes was, or hit the monster home runs like Carlos Delgado, but what he did do was bring them all together and carry the team all season long. In addition to hitting 2 Walk off Home Runs, Beltran hit 3 Grand slams in a month and set a team record for runs scored that year. In the playoffs, Beltran proved once again that he was at his best when the lights were brightest. He almost singlehandedly won Game 1 of the Cardinals series, cutting off a Cardinals rally with a key assist and driving in the only 2 runs of the game with a majestic Home Run. His two Home Runs in Game 4 aided the Mets to a blowout victory. He hit, and he hit consistently, and without him in the lineup, there would never have been a Game 7 for him to end.

The subsequent seasons ended rather poorly for the Mets, we all know that, but if there was a constant, it was that Carlos Beltran would shut up, hit the ball, and get dumped on for that damn strikeout. Beltran followed up his elite 2006 seasons with performances in 2007 and 2008 that were every bit as good, and produced hits that were often of the clutch variety. Down the Stretch in '07, with the Mets fading fast, Beltran injured both his legs making a game-saving catch in a game in Florida. True to form, Beltran shut up and got himself out there the next day. In 2008, Beltran started slow, but got hot in midseason and didn't slow down, even when many other Mets continued to crumble around him. As usual, his big hits were often of the variety that more often than not saved the Mets asses. He produced the final Walk-off hit at Shea Stadium, a screaming single against the Cubs that nearly tore the 1st Baseman's glove off. And on that miserable Sunday, Beltran was the only Met who bothered to show up offensively, hitting the final Mets Home Run at Shea Stadium, driving in the only runs they would score.

By this point, I'd already begun to grow tired of how under-appreciated Beltran was, and 2009 seemed to underscore my point of just how valuable he was to the Mets. Beltran got off to a roaring start that year, and  appeared to be a serious MVP contender. But he went down with a knee injury that was probably mishandled by the brilliant Mets training staff. The Mets had already lost several players, but losing Beltran was too much to overcome. The Mets ultimately went in the tank. But although he didn't have to, Beltran came back in September and played out the remainder of the season. Beltran's knee ultimately needed surgery, which resulted in a somewhat nasty feud between the Mets and Beltran, but after 2009, who could have blamed Beltran for not wanting to listen to the team doctors? In 2010, the Mets overachieved somewhat without Beltran, and then fell apart when he returned. Of course, Beltran took some heat for the Mets slump, but looking at it realistically (and combined with the performance of the Mets in 2011 and 2012), the Mets just weren't that good to begin with. Beltran would ultimately be traded in July, 2011, and few seemed to care. One of the best players in team history was gone, and nobody seemed to be too broken up about it. Not two months later, Beltran's old number 15 was slapped on the back of hideous journeyman Valentino Pascucci.

In his 6 and a half years with the Mets, Beltran hit .280, with 149 Home Runs and 559 RBIs. He walked 449 times and scored 551 runs. These are great numbers! The Mets had probably the Best Center Fielder of the time in his prime, and he was great for several years. But he could never live down that stupid strikeout, and that was a damn shame. Beltran returned to Citi Field in 2012 with the St. Louis Cardinals and received a lukewarm response. But he made one more meaningful contributuon to the Mets that night, hitting a ground ball that was just foul, keeping a hit off the board on the night Johan Santana threw the First No Hitter in Mets History.

Card back:

Monday, December 3, 2012

Stink Bomb

Suffice it to say, I've had enough of the St. Louis Rams. I can't say I've ever had much of a warm spot for them, considering their rivalry with the 49ers extends back to their days as the Los Angeles Rams, and has included a number of tense, terse battles. For years, the Rams were a doormat, and the 49ers would pound them accordingly. Then, Steve Young retired,  Kurt Warner ascended and the Rams were the frontrunners, despite the fact that I refused to give them or their "Greatest Show on Turf" garbage any sort of respect. The fact that they only managed to win one Super Bowl in that era was bad enough; they are basically the Braves to the 49ers Mets in my eyes. I can't stand them. And after seeing them slog through nearly 10 quarters of football, only to finish 0-1-1 for the season against them, I'm a bit disgusted.

The Tie game 3 weeks ago was bad enough. The Rams knocked Alex Smith out of the game and kicked off this Quarterback Controversy which has ended up with Colin Kaepernick getting a baptism by fire while Alex Smith scowls on the sidelines. But at this point, it's not really worth getting into the Kaepernick vs. Smith debate, because Kaepernick is a) Continuing to start and b) The future of the team going forward. Still, it puts an undue amount of pressure on the remainder of the team to be perfect and coax Kaepernick through games at times.

Sunday's debacle against the Rams was one such instance of the remainder of the 49ers needing to coax Kaepernick. As it stood, if you took a pair of really hideous mistakes by Kaepernick off the board, the 49ers would have won the game, probably 10-0. Not exactly a clean victory, but enough that the 49ers defense would have ground it out. After a Frank Gore Touchdown capped off the 49ers second drive of the day, the offense pretty much ground to a halt. With the game not on TV in New York, I was relegated to streaming audio on my phone (Mets fans will be interested to know that former TV voice Ted Robinson does the radio call for the 49ers on KNBR in San Francisco). It's not perfect, but it's effective, although the 49ers boast an 0-2-1 record in games that I've streamed, so maybe it's not great from a superstitious standpoint. The point being that not being able to see the game, it's sort of tough to say exactly what happened, but it seemed to me that the Rams made some adjustments on defense and started really putting the heat on Kaepernick and the running game. After a solid start, Frank Gore was pretty much shut down completely, and without Kendall Hunter as the change of pace, Brandon Jacobs was also stone quiet. Kaepernick was making passes, but the Rams pass rush got after him enough to keep him from getting too comfortable. They also sacked him multiple times, something neither the Bears or the Saints were able to do.

On the other side, the 49ers defense was superb. After their outstanding effort pretty much won the game against the Saints, they set out stopping the Rams in their tracks pretty much all afternoon. Although they didn't force any turnovers, they also didn't allow the Rams any extended drives. The one time the Rams managed to make it in to the 49ers Red Zone, the defense stopped them on 4th down, keeping them off the board.

But despite all this, the 49ers weren't able to extend beyond a 7-0 lead, which was somewhat troubling, and even moreso when Kaepernick, facing heavy pressure from the Rams on a pass play from his own 17-yard line, bizarrely retreated all the way back to his own end zone before floating a worthless pass toward nobody in particular. The resulting Intentional Grounding call gave the Rams a Safety, putting them on the scoreboard at a rather bizarre 7-2, something that looked more like Giants/Cardinals than 49ers/Rams.

Undaunted, the 49ers defense went out and stopped the Rams again and eventually the offense got themselves tracked enough to kick a Field Goal and extend the lead to 10-2. The defense remained strong, and with a little over 3 minutes left to go, the 49ers had a chance to run out the clock with an unimpressive, but welcome victory. Teams here tend to play safe and just run the ball, although the 49ers hadn't had much success running the ball in the second half. But that really doesn't explain why, on 3rd down, Kaepernick ran a read option play, and instead of just running with the ball and trying to get a few yards, Kaepernick decided instead to lateral to Ted Ginn, Jr. Badly. So badly that rather than just flipping the ball to Ginn, Kaepernick appeared instead to sail the ball over Ginn's head, where it bounced around freely long enough for the Rams to scoop it up and score a Touchdown. This was, basically, a complete disaster. The combination of a poorly chosen play, combined with incredibly stupid execution that conspired to hand the Rams a gift Touchdown and, following a 2-point conversion, a 10-10 tie in a game where the Defense still hadn't allowed any points.

On the 49ers ensuing drive, Kaepernick appeared to have redeemed himself, ripping off a 50-yard run before destructing again, missing a wide open Delanie Walker for a potential go-ahead Touchdown, and then stepping out of bounds after a 3rd down scramble to stop the clock, allowing the Rams to save a time out. David Akers kicked a Field Goal to give the 49ers a lead, but the damage had already been done. Almost predictably, the Rams scrambled enough of a drive together to get into Greg Zuerlein's range, and his 53-yard Field Goal sent the game into Overtime. Overtime with these clowns once again.

The Overtime in this game played out quite similar to the Overtime in the prior game, which is to say that both teams had opportunities and both teams managed to screw them up. The 49ers had a golden opportunity after the Rams handed them a 14-yard punt, giving them the ball at midfield. But they couldn't generate any sort of offense, and then stupidly set up for a long Field Goal attempt from David Akers. Kickers in the NFL are sort of like any MLB Relief Pitcher. Most of them are erratic and mercurial, with only 1 or 2 sure things in the league, and even they have their moments. Every so often, one of them will have a hot season and then coast on that reputation for a while. Akers is one such instance. After a great year in 2011, Akers has been middling this season. Setting him up for a 51-yard Field Goal last year would have been OK. This year, not so much, which is why I wasn't completely surprised that Akers kick missed just wide right, keeping the game tied and giving the Rams one final shot in a game that appeared to be primed to end without a winner once again. Though the Rams did their best to screw it up, they somehow managed to get just far enough to give Zuerlein, whose penchant for long Field Goals has earned him the nickname "Legatron," to boot home a 53-yard Field Goal with 30 seconds left in OT. No false starts, no delay of games, just a clean Field Goal, and finally, a winner in this mess of a game. Unfortunately, on this day, it wasn't the better team that won.

It's fortunate that the 49ers are now done with the Rams, because they just seem to bring out the worst in the Niners. I'm sure anyone on the team will say they've had enough of the Rams. Two games in which they played 30 seconds short of 10 Quarters of football and they couldn't find a way to win either game, sometimes it's just the opponent. The Rams are a young team and they've figured out a method of playing the 49ers particularly tough. They play the entire division tough. So, the 49ers now sit at 8-3-1 for the year, still holding a game and a half lead in the Division over the Seattle Seahawks and a 1 game lead over the Giants for the #2 seed in the NFC. Nothing is a given, particularly considering the 49ers have a pair of really difficult road games remaining on their schedule, at the New England Patriots in 2 weeks, and at the Seattle Seahawks in 3 weeks. The Miami Dolphins lie next, however, and we'll see how the 49ers come out after this wreck of a game.