Sunday, September 30, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 2001

Part 40 of our 50-year cool customer...
What is it: 2001 Topps #205, Edgardo Alfonzo

What makes it interesting: Topps really went all out for their 50th Anniversary set in 2001. They had a glitzy logo and hideous green borders. After a number of years of running short sets, with 400-500 cards, this is the first year Topps went back to a 792 card set, and this years' Mets team set included a number of lesser known players, including Pat Mahomes, Rick White, and the rookie card of Tsuyoshi Shinjo.

Mention the name Edgardo Alfonzo around any Mets fan, and you're bound to get a big smile in response. One of the best home-grown talents to ever come out of the Mets farm system, Alfonzo arrived in the Major Leagues at the age of 21 in 1995 following several outstanding seasons in the Minors. A reserve player at first, Alfonzo was nonetheless noted for his exceptional intangible skills. Alfonzo may have been a young rookie, but he played with the instincts of a sage veteran, rarely committing a mental mistake and playing with exceptional polish. Following the dispensation of Bobby Bonilla, Alfonzo began to play more regularly. Though he was a Shortstop by trade, Alfonzo was also versatile, playing most of his games at 3rd Base or 2nd Base when needed. Though he only hit .278 for the season, he hit .310 after the All Star Break, with 4 Home Runs and 41 RBI. Alfonzo's second season started out in similar fashion, with Alfonzo playing the role of supreme reserve player. His numbers, .261 average with 4 Home Runs and 40 RBI mirrored his rookie season.

It was in 1997 that Edgardo Alfonzo then took off. Handed the starting 3rd Base job early in the season, Alfonzo took off and ran with it. After a slow start in April, Alfonzo caught fire in early May, and by June 10th, pushed his batting average over .300, where it would remain the rest of the season. Alfonzo began to show more power at the plate, and an uncanny knack for coming up with clutch hits, either to drive in a key run, or to get on base and score a key run. His defense, always solid, was first-rate at 3rd Base. His .315 Average, along with 10 Home Runs and 72 RBI cemented his place as a rising young star, and a fan favorite. He even garnered some MVP attention, finishing 13th in the voting as the Mets unexpectedly won 88 games.

1998 saw a slight regression for Alfonzo at the plate, but only in the sense that he didn't hit for as high an average. Though his average slipped to .278, he still hit a career high 17 Home Runs with 78 RBI. After the season, Alfonzo was asked to switch back to 2nd Base following the signing of Robin Ventura. If he was unhappy by the move, he certainly didn't show it. In fact, Alfonzo responded with two of the finest offensive seasons in Mets History.

1999 saw Alfonzo establish his place as one of the National League's best 2nd Basemen. Though his numbers would be overshadowed somewhat by the bigger names around him, Mets fans know how important he was to the team. Though it had been 2 seasons since he'd played 2nd Base on a regular basis, Alfonzo made 5 errors for the season, serving as a key member of The Best Infield Ever. Between him and his keystone mate Rey Ordonez, the spectacular became routine. Alfonzo's offense also improved to an elite level, as his average jumped back up to .304, and he set career highs with 27 Home Runs, 108 RBI and scored a then-team record 123 Runs as the Mets made a push for the postseason. Among those games was one career night on August 30th in the Astrodome. That night, in a 17-1 Mets victory, Alfonzo had the game of games, going 6 for 6, hitting 3 Home Runs, driving in 5 and totaling 16 bases. On the regular season's final day, Alfonzo had a huge hit in the bottom of the 9th inning, singling Melvin Mora to 3rd base, where he would eventually score on a wild pitch, putting the Mets in a One-Game Playoff for the NL Wildcard in Cincinnati. That night, Alfonzo set the tone, hitting a 2-run Home Run off Steve Parris in the 1st inning to send the Mets on their way to a 5-0 victory. One night later in Arizona, Alfonzo stole the show. His 1st inning Home Run off Randy Johnson gave the Mets an early lead, and he would bookend his night by hitting a Grand Slam off Bobby Chouinard to lead the Mets to an 8-4 victory in Game 1 of the NLDS. Alfonzo would add another Home Run in Game 4 of that series, as the Mets beat the Diamondbacks that day to advance to the NLCS. Alfonzo continued to raise his game with the moment. Although he only hit .222 for the NLCS, he made each of his hits count, aiding rallies in Game 1 and Game 2. But perhaps his most important moment was an at bat where he gave himself up. In the 15th inning of Game 5 of the NLCS, with the Mets down a run and 2 men on base, Alfonzo selflessly laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, setting the stage for the Mets to tie and ultimately win the game. In Game 6, his leadoff double in the 6th inning began the Mets uprising from a 5-run deficit to tie the game. Ultimately, the Mets would fall short. But Alfonzo had clearly placed himself in national consciousness, finishing 8th in NL MVP voting.

Alfonzo was just as good in 2000, as he started off hot and stayed hot pretty much the entire season. Alfonzo was in the thick of just about everything the Mets did all season long, and finally got the recognition he richly deserved when he made his first, and only, All Star team. Alfonzo's regular season was so consistently great that there isn't one single moment that stood out, because he stood out all season long. His career high average of .324 was supplemented by 25 Home Runs, 94 RBI, 95 Walks and 109 Runs Scored. Come the Postseason, Alfonzo simply continued on as he had all season, coming up with big hits at big moments. In Game 2 of the NLDS against the Giants, Alfonzo hit a 2 run Home Run in the 9th inning, giving the Mets a 4-1 lead. His hit would prove massively important when J.T. Snow's Home Run tied the game. But the Mets would get up off the mat and win the game in 10 innings. Back at Shea Stadium in Game 3, Alfonzo was once again up in a big spot, with the Mets trailing 2-1 in the 8th, with the tying run on 2nd and Giants closer Robb Nen on the mound. No biggie. Alfonzo drilled a huge RBI double into the Left Field corner to tie the game and hand Nen his first blown save since July, as the Mets would go on to win in 13 innings. The next day, with the Mets one win away from knocking out the Giants, Alfonzo nailed a 2-run double in the 5th inning that put the game out of reach as the Mets won 4-0 to clinch the series. In the NLCS vs. the Cardinals, all Alfonzo did was hit .444 with 4 RBIs as the Mets wiped out St. Louis in 5 games. Alfonzo also set a Mets record by hitting in 13 consecutive postseason games, starting with Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS and ending with Game 2 of the 2000 World Series.

Unfortunately, the 2000 season would be Alfonzo's peak, as a nagging back injury limited him to 124 games, and knocked his average down to a miserable .243 with 17 HR and only 49 RBI. Not totally recovered, Alfonzo nonetheless hit .308 in 2002. Though it still appeared that Alfonzo was still a useful player, and he was always loved by the fans, the Mets decided not to offer him a contract following the 2002 season, and Alfonzo's tenure with the Mets was over. After he signed with the San Francisco Giants, Alfonzo, in a move that displayed the classy, genuine person he was, purchased a full page ad in the New York Times thanking the Mets fans for their support during his time here. The feeling was mutual. Though Alfonzo ultimately found himself on the downside of his career after departing the Mets, he did have one more great run with the Giants, hitting ..529 in the 2003 NLDS as the Giants lost to Florida.

Alfonzo, to this day, continues to receive the warmest of welcomes whenever he comes around Citi Field. The ovation he received during the Shea Stadium closing ceremonies was among the loudest for anyone not named Seaver, Piazza, Strawberry or Gooden. His numbers with the Mets, a .292 average with 120 Home Runs, 538 RBI, 614 runs scored, 212 doubles and 1,136 hits, all of which rank among the best in Mets history. And for those two seasons, he was not only the best all around player the Mets had, he may well have been the best all around player in New York.

Card back:


Saturday, September 29, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 2000

Part 39 of our 50-year Iconic Moment...
What is it: 2000 Topps #300, Mike Piazza

What makes it interesting: The 2000s are nice, I guess. Only slightly better than the '99s, and probably only because they switched from a gold border to a silver border. The design overall is fine. I have no complaints.

Few Mets are held in the same regard as Mike Piazza. Few Mets ever did more for the team in the time they were here.

Early in 1998, the Mets were a bland, boring team with no identity. Few fans bothered to come to Shea Stadium. Mike Piazza was playing out his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Disenchanted with the direction of the team, he was intent on becoming a Free Agent following the season. But fate intervened in the form of a massive, 7-player trade between the Dodgers and the Marlins. Piazza was shockingly dealt to the Marlins, who were in the midst of a massive selloff. Everyone knew Piazza's time in Florida was limited, at best. Within days, trade rumors were flying. Initially, the Mets expressed no interest. But after vociferous campaigning from Fans, and Mike & the Mad Dog, the Mets got involved, and on May 22nd, 1998, swung the deal that would make the Mets relevant again.

The following day, in front of a crowd that tripled in size following the announcement of the deal, Mike Piazza made his Mets debut. He got standing ovations every time up, and when he nailed an RBI double for his first hit, the crowd erupted. And thus began the love affair.

But it would be a rocky relationship at the start. Piazza and the Mets would struggle at times, and over the course of the long Summer, fans began to turn on their new star. Often times, he would be booed when he didn't come through. When the Mets ultimately fell a game short of a playoff spot, fingers would be pointed. It seems hard to believe it now, but Piazza didn't have to stay. He could have licked his wounds and signed someplace else. He probably would have been remembered as a villain and a coward. But it didn't happen. Mike didn't want to go down like that. And so, risking the boos, Piazza stayed, signing what was a record contract at the time. And with that security, Piazza went out to change everyone's opinion, and over the following 7 seasons, he would cement his reputation as a Hero, a Leader and (all due respect to David Wright) the Greatest position player in Mets History.

The Numbers Piazza put up over those years are pretty hard to forget. Sure, they're brought up a lot, but they never get old. Piazza set a club record with 124 RBIs in 1999, while hitting 40 HRs and hitting .303. Along the way, there were the iconic moments you expected out of your biggest star. He and the Mets finally found themselves back in the Postseason in 1999, but Piazza, by that point, was running on fumes. Bruised and battered from a season in which he caught 141 games, Piazza nonetheless dragged himself out there, often at times when he probably shouldn't have been playing. Though an aching thumb forced him out of the NLDS vs Arizona (and created an iconic moment for his backup, Todd Pratt), he returned for the NLCS, where his Rasputin-like Home Run of John Smoltz in Game 6 tied the game and nearly willed the Mets one game further. But the Magic ran out that night. Drained, Piazza needed to take a 2-week drive around the south, living in anonymity just to get himself back together.

In 2000, Piazza was even better. After a slow start, Piazza started hitting and didn't let up for about 3 months, leading the Mets on a Summer Rampage through the National League. Piazza drove in a run in 15 consecutive games, among them a 3-run Home Run against the Atlanta Braves that nearly collapsed Shea Stadium with joy. Though a September Slump knocked some of the air out of his numbers, and probably cost him a much-deserved MVP award, Piazza's numbers were still gaudy, at .324, with 38 HRs and 113 RBIs. In the Playoffs, a rested and healthy Piazza was a true Badass. Though he slumped in the NLDS, he awoke in the NLCS against St. Louis, and after his 1st inning 2B plated the series' first run, John Stearns let us know that "THE MONSTER IS OUT OF THE CAGE!!" Boy, was he ever. Piazza hit .412 in the Mets 5-game victory, including a Home Run off Mike James in Game 4 that I think is still traveling. When the Mets clinched the NL Pennant, Piazza jumped around the field like a kid and led the team in a victory lap around Shea Stadium. In the World Series, Piazza did everything he could, knocking out 2 Home Runs, but it wasn't enough as the Mets fell in 5 games.

But it was in 2001 that Piazza truly became New York's Hero. We all know what happened on September 11th, and we all know what happened in the days that followed. I was at Shea Stadium on September 21st, for the first game back in New York. I saw the teams gather on the field in friendship. I watched the game with anticipation. And when Mike Piazza came up with the Mets down a run in the 8th inning and hit that Home Run, I exploded with everyone else there that evening. Though I didn't think about it at the time, once it sunk in, I knew that I'd watched Mike Piazza provide one great healing moment for New York, and one of the greatest Home Runs in Mets History. Though the Mets had a regression after their two postseason runs, Piazza still put up the numbers we came to expect from him, hitting .300 with 36 HRs and 94 RBI. Piazza had another fine season in 2002, but often in futile situations, as the pieces around him flopped and Piazza was left to carry a sinking ship.

The latter years of Piazza's Mets tenure were marked with injury and controversy, but nonetheless, Piazza managed to find ways to have some more great moments. His Home Run on May 5th, 2004 was his 352nd as a Catcher, setting an all-time record. The next night, he hit a Walkoff Home Run in the 11th inning. As age began to catch up with him, Mike's numbers regressed, but his stature among Mets fans never did. Piazza ultimately said farewell to the Mets following the 2005 season, but not before a grand sendoff on the final day of the season, culminating in Piazza receiving a 7-minute standing ovation from the fans. When he returned in 2006 as a Padre, the ovations continued, and when he hit a Home Run, the fans cheered for a curtain call.

Piazza retired in May, 2008. His numbers speak for themselves. A 12-time All Star, who made the NL squad 7 times in 8 seasons with the Mets. A career .308 hitter with 427 Home Runs and 1335 RBIs, Piazza hit .296, with 220 of those Home Runs and 655 of those RBIs with the Mets. But more than that, Piazza brought the Mets respectability again. His acquisition breathed life into the team, and set the stage for the two great seasons that followed. His Home Run on 9/21/01 helped, in some small way, to make us forget about everything that had happened in the days prior. Following his retirement, Piazza returned to Shea for one final time as part of the Shea Stadium closing ceremonies, and was greeted with the loudest of ovations. The Mets showed the esteem in which they hold Piazza by selecting him to catch the Final Pitch from the Greatest Met ever, Tom Seaver, a scene they would repeat the following April at the opening of Citi Field. Piazza remains, and will always be revered as one of the Greatest Heroes in Mets History, and without much debate. Oh, and he's up for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame next year, too.


Card back:


Friday, September 28, 2012

Certified

In what has become a mostly lost season, we, as Mets fans, are left to sort of pick at whatever positive, whatever silver lining we can take away as the Home Season has ended and the Regular Season is down to 6 remaining games. And for a down year, the Mets have had a reasonably decent share of nice stories to store away through the offseason. The ascent of Matt Harvey has been great. David Wright breaking the Mets club records for RBIs and Hits are also nice. Johan Santana's No Hitter, of course, will last a lifetime. But, with one Home Game remaining, there was one order of business still left to accomplish, and that was to get R.A. Dickey his 20th victory of the season. This was a milestone that, not only had not been accomplished by a Met since Frank Viola in 1990, would stand to certify Dickey as having completed a resurrection beyond anyone's wildest dreams. A man long since forgotten, tossed aside and considered a washup, somehow had overcome it all, through his mastery of the most elusive of pitches, and made himself not just a good pitcher, but a great pitcher, a guy who the Mets could count on to take the mound every 5th game and deliver a solid performance. He had one last opportunity to take the mound in front of fans who have been behind him all the way, who turned out for one final game to see our team and revel in what would hopefully be the final exclamation point on a magical season.

Dickey delivered that exclamation point, winning his 20th game with a performance that seemed to exemplify the story of the journey it took for him to get to this point.

It certainly wasn't smooth sailing for Dickey. Though I ached sorrowfully for not being there, I did tune in on the radio in my office for one final Afternoon with R.A., a combination that has usually meant victory this season. A prior engagement meant it was the 2nd inning by time I tuned in, and Dickey was already down 1-0, and shortly thereafter was down 2-0 after a difficult 2nd inning. But Dickey got out of that jam without any further damage, something he's done all season. Right away, Ike Davis hit a Home Run that cut the lead in half, and Howie Rose noted that Ike rounded the bases with a little extra "Oomph" in his step. Howie surmised that Dickey's teammates wanted to win this one for him even more than Dickey himself. A few batters later, Mike Baxter made a bid to tie the game, but for a miracle, Endy-like catch from Travis Snider. Momentary Met Rod Barajas hit a Home Run of his own a couple of innings later, making the game 3-1 Pittsburgh. This was a bit disconcerting, because Dickey clearly wasn't on top of things, as can sometimes happen with a pitch as fickle as the Knuckleball. And, of course, you could never be too sure whether or not the Mets could generate enough offense to hit their way to a win.

The answer, ultimately, would be that I shouldn't have worried. Dickey settled down after that and stopped the Pirates cold. The Knuckleball fluttered elegantly, away from Pirate bats and into Josh Thole (or any waiting fielder)'s glove. On the other side, the Mets scraped out another run in the 4th, Daniel Murphy tied the game in the 5th, and David Wright followed by delivering the knockout with a 3-run Home Run, giving the Mets and Dickey the lead for the first time.

Now ahead by 3 runs, Dickey went back out and completed the 6th and 7th innings. After 7 innings and 111 pitches, I assumed he was done. But, Terry Collins felt otherwise. Though he may have been out of steam, Collins wanted Dickey to take the mound one more time, to soak in the cheers one more time. He'd earned this. Dickey took his at bat to a thunderous ovation, and then took the mound one final time. He struck out two more batters in the 8th, to tie his career high of 13 in a game, and 222 for the season (another number not reached by a Met since 1990). But, after a two-out walk, that was enough. Collins wouldn't leave him hanging, and so once a man got on base, Dickey was removed, and given one more grand sendoff. Though Jon Rauch's effort was slightly ugly, he bridged it to Bobby Parnell, who drove it home, sealing Dickey's milestone victory and certifying an already great season as one that will live on in Mets lore, and perhaps one that will end with an even more significant victory come November.

I don't know, in my 27 seasons of following the Mets, that I've ever seen Mets fans rally behind one pitcher for one game quite like this. Nobody's worked harder to get to this point. Nobody deserves the accolades more.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Milestone Men

Wednesday night was a coronation of sorts for David Wright, as he broke Ed Kranepool's 36-year old team record for Hits. In a style that seemed almost fitting, Wright's record-breaking 1,419th career hit came on a 60-foot scratch single in front of Pedro Alvarez in the 3rd inning. I suppose ultimately it didn't matter what kind of a hit it was, it's in the books nonetheless. It took Ed Kranepool 18 seasons to amass 1,418 hits, but Kranepool spent many years as a part-time player and the latter part of his career, he served as a pinch-hitter altogether. But since he departed, nobody ever seriously challenged his career Hits record. Cleon Jones was the only player within earshot for years. Edgardo Alfonzo mounted a challenge in the early 2000s, but he was let go before he could make a final push towards the record. David Wright, on the other hand, seemed to be primed for a moment like this from the day he joined the team in 2004. Jose Reyes, who now sits 3rd on the all-time list with 1,300 hits, also could have been a contender, but for all his exploits never held quite the same regard as David Wright has. Though Wright's arrival in New York wasn't greeted with the same amount of anticipation as, say, Darryl Strawberry, it was still an important day moving forward for the Mets. Wright's career has had the highs and lows that anyone's career could have, but he has basically been regarded as the Mets' cornerstone ever since he arrived here, and he's done little to dispel that. He arrived with a great deal of poise and polish that belied his 21 year old self. His performance has varied little from season to season, anomalous seasons like 2009 and 2011 came because he was either injured, left stranded without any support in the lineup, or both. But through it all, Wright has been pretty much everything you could have asked for in a young star player. No, he's never been the breakaway superstar he's sometimes hyped up to be; his best seasons have come when he's been a key cog working with other big names (hitting in between Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran usually helped). Sometimes, he's drawn criticism for his failures. But he's always been there, day in and day out. And now, he's begun to put his stamp on his career as a Met. Last night, his 1,419th career hit came in his 9th season, half the time it took Kranepool to establish the former standard. It remains to be seen what he'll accomplish here, certainly his contract status and the state of the team going forward will have a lot to do with that. If he continues here, he has the opportunity to set organization standards that look much more respectable than the ones he's been breaking. Either way, however, people said of Wright when he first arrived here that he stood a good chance of owning every meaningful offensive record in Mets history before he turned 30. He turns 30 on December 20th of this year, and right now, the last club record he's chasing is Darryl Strawberry's record of 252 Home Runs. If he sticks around, he'll get that one, too.

Not to be overlooked, however, is R.A. Dickey's first attempt at 20 victories this afternoon. It's been 22 years since Frank Viola won 20 games for the Mets, and only Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Dwight Gooden and David Cone have reached that plateau with the Mets. Dickey certainly seems, at first glance, out of place among those names, but given the work he's put in, and the resurrection of a once-thought-dead career, nobody deserves this recognition more. Winning 20 games would, perhaps, be the final chapter to one of the most Amazing stories in Mets history. R.A. Dickey did not arrive on the Mets with any kind of regard in 2010. In fact, I decried his promotion as grasping at straws, and assumed he'd pitch 2.2 innings, give up 7 runs, and be gone quicker than Chan Ho Park. I've been wrong about many things, but never moreso than I was about Dickey. It's 2 and 3/4 seasons later, and Dickey has gone from a last resort to an All Star, and, perhaps, a Cy Young Award winner. His is the kind of story you couldn't make up. Dickey's 2012 season has already been incredible enough. One more victory would put it right up there as one of the best in Mets History.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Off Balance

Another random Midweek Football post. I would have rather done this on Monday, but since things more relevant to this Blog were going on, they obviously took precedence. Besides, I'm not so sure there are too many people coming to a New York Mets blog to read about the San Francisco 49ers, but I could be mistaken.

The 49ers took their first loss of the season on Sunday in Minnesota, a 24-13 defeat that was particularly frustrating for a few reasons.

1, the 49ers lost on the road in a game against a Vikings team that was clearly an inferior opponent, so much so that the 49ers were almost universally picked to win the game walking away. But, the NFL is a funny league sometimes. That's why they play the games.

2, The 49ers didn't lose the game by doing anything particularly wrong. Yes, there were a pair of 2nd half turnovers that really hurt them, and they turned the ball over 3 times overall, while only getting two takeaways, but most of these turnovers were of little consequence, coming after the game was already decided. They simply were beaten by a Vikings team that put together a perfect game plan and then executed it. They kept the 49ers off balance by moving their quarterback, Christian Ponder, around constantly, keeping plays alive until he could either run the ball or find an open receiver. They used Adrian Peterson sparingly early, and then pounded him late, after the 49ers were starting to wear down on defense. They controlled the ball from the beginning of the game, kicking things off with a touchdown drive that ran 16 plays and ate up more than half the first quarter.

3, The 49ers could not get any sustained momentum, something that they were able to do early in both of their prior victories. Down 14-3 late in the 2nd quarter, the 49ers put together a long drive down the field, moving the ball well into Minnesota territory. But after the drive stalled, the 49ers Field Goal attempt was blocked. Minnesota responded by taking the ball back and kicking a Field Goal of their own as the half expired. Now down 17-3, the 49ers started the 2nd half in great shape after Kyle Williams returned the opening kickoff inside the Minnesota 20 yard line. But the 49ers could not move the ball at all and had to settle for another Field Goal, trimming the deficit to 17-6 instead of 17-10. When they did finally score a Touchdown late in the 3rd quarter, the Vikings responded with another long drive that ate up yards and clock, and culminated in another Touchdown that would ultimately put the game out of reach at 24-13.

Games like this are going to happen to every team during the course of an NFL season. It's just the nature of the game. No team, except with rare exception, is good enough to win every game, and no team is bad enough to lose every game. That's the nature of the league, and as such, the 49ers were bound to lose a game somewhere that they probably shouldn't have lost on paper. It's early enough in the season that you can overcome these things. But, the flipside of this is that because Minnesota played the 49ers so well, it can cause some concern that other teams with similar ability can cause the same kind of problems for San Francisco. This doesn't, however, mean that the season is in jeopardy or expectations for the 49ers should be tempered. What it does mean is that maybe everyone dials back their enthusiasm a little bit. The 49ers will have another tough, 1pm Eastern Time road game on Sunday right here against the Jets. To make up for the time difference, the 49ers will be spending the week in Ohio, rather than going back to California. This worked out well for them last season. It remains to be seen. The 49ers look for all the world to be a better team than the Jets, but if last Sunday was any indication, stranger things have happened.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Goodnight, Citi!

The unfortunate placement of the Jewish Holidays and work scheduling has unfortunately made it impossible for me to get to the final Home Game of the season this Thursday, doubly unfortunate that I'll be missing R.A. Dickey's attempt to win his 20th game of the year. This will be the first time since 2002 that I'm missing the home closer, so Monday night's game against the Pirates was, somewhat unceremoniously, my Citi Field Finale for 2012. Fortunately, the results made it all worthwhile.

I kicked off the evening by figuring out where to have my final Citi Field meal of the season. Some past choices have included Shake Shack (because the line was short enough) and the El Verano Taqueria (a place I've unfortunately neglected these past couple of seasons, and I've made the mental note that I must return in 2013). Tonight, I made the wise choice to mosey out to Center Field to check out my options. Wise, because most of the higher-end choices usually available in the Promenade level haven't been open these past few weekday night games. With a mild crowd in the neighborhood of 5,236 on hand for this meaningless affair, I figured tonight would be no different. I settled on the newest taste sensation sweeping over Citi Field, the Pat LaFreida steak sandwich that had, on busier days, been drawing  lines comparable to Shake Shack. Tonight, there were no such problems. While I certainly had to check myself when I noticed the $15 price tag, after taking a bite, I didn't question myself. This thing is incredible! I'm only marginally aware of Pat LaFreida, but Holy Crap! The man knows how to turn out a good sandwich. This ought to give Danny Meyer a run for his money. Not to keep gushing about this, but I'll leave you with this thought: Anyone balking at the price of the sandwich should just swallow their pride and pay for it. I assure you, it's worth it. The Ballclub gives Pat LaFreida its 100% ironclad seal of approval, with extra onion-flavored belches.

Then, there was the game, which was a game. It took the Mets about 3 hours and 13 minutes to churn out their 6-2 victory, and it took a very quick latter half of the game to get it in at that rate. Though Jenrry Mejia was effective through his 5 innings of work, he worked at a pace that rivaled Steve Trachsel or Sid Fernandez, and seemed to go to deep counts on just about everyone who came to the plate. Nonetheless, the Pirates, after a very good start to their season, seem to have melted down just as badly as the Mets did, and are very much in danger of their 20th losing season in a row. It's unfortunate for them, because if they ever get in a pennant race, they'll instantly become America's Darlings, but, then again, I'm not a Pirates fan, so the hell with them. I came to see the Mets win a game. Mejia's pace was rivaled by his counterpart, Kyle McPherson. Both pitchers worked at a snail's pace. Fortunately, both were gone by the 5th inning.

By this point, Ike Davis had already launched his first Home Run of the night, which also happened to be the first Home Run I'd seen him hit in the 16 games I've attended this season. Of course, I gave him a hearty Mazel Tov! for that, which he must have liked, because he came up the next inning and hit another Home Run, stealing the show and putting the game out of reach in the process. With the drama having mostly evaporated, we could then sit back and watch the Parade of Relief Pitchers on both sides, including an appearance by old friend Hisanori Takahashi out of the Pittsburgh pen, and listen to Josh Thole's puzzling usage of K-Pop hit "Gangnam Style" as his At-Bat music (Ridiculous, yes, but no more ridiculous than Bobby Parnell's Country music, or David Wright resurrecting "Jump Around."). It was chilly out, so even though our hearts were warmed by a relatively safe Mets lead, we were still rooting for things to wrap up quickly, and most of the later innings went by fast enough. Pittsburgh mounted some minor rallies late, but not enough to pose an actual threat, so the Mets closed out my 2012 season with a nice, tidy win, and after all the problems they've had at Citi Field recently, I managed to end up at .500 for the year, 8-8 for my 16 games.

As is my tradition, I made my final exit of the season from Citi Field through the rotunda, gave a pound to one of the pillars, said "See you in 2013," and got on the Subway. Although it's not the final Home Game of the year, and although I do feel somewhat maudlin about that, It's as good a sendoff as I could have asked for this season. Citi Field, see you in April.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Dickey Show

A few years ago, I wrote about The Santana Show, the instance where the game was completely taken over by Johan Santana. Other such pitchers to command this attention have included (but are not limited to) Pedro Martinez (who could also steal the show even when he wasn't pitching) and Dwight Gooden. The Mets have a new showstopper these days, a bright light and a drawing card even in the most miserable of stretches. It is, obviously, R.A. Dickey.

Despite having been to 14 games to this point in the season, I'd only managed to catch Dickey once during his magnificent season, way back in April, a game in which he faced off with Mark Buehrle and the Mickey Mouse Marlins, and won handily. The win was Dickey's 3rd of the year. 15 wins later, he was on the mound Saturday, against the very same Mark Buehrle and the significantly neutered Marlins, a team that has proven themselves so inept they managed to make the Mets look good. With a rare off day, and nothing planned, and with the final home game of the season plunked on a day I'm unable to go, I realized I had to get out to Citi Field so I could watch and appreciate R.A. Dickey one final time this year. I scoured StubHub in search of a deal, but it seemed I wasn't the only one who realized that the opportunities to see Dickey were fleeting. True, it could have been the hordes of people who came with dogs, or the kids out to see the latest incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but deep down, it had to be Dickey. After weeks of seeing tickets on sale for a pittance, this game appeared to be selling rather well for a late September affair. Nonetheless, I snagged a seat in the Excelsior level and dashed off to the game. I paid to see Dickey pitch and win, and although it was hairy at the end, I got what I paid for.

Dickey did what he's done all season in mastering the Marlins, beating them for the 5th time this season. Buoyed by a pair of Home Runs from Jason Bay and Scott Hairston, Dickey settled in and took control of the game. The Marlins mounted a couple of thinly-veiled threats, but each time, Dickey responded by fluttering the Knuckleball around and getting out of the jam, twice retiring Jose Reyes to end the inning and delight the fans in attendance. Dickey also helped himself out at the plate, butcher boy-ing a hit (that was scored an error) in the 5th to move along a rally to plate a 4th run, and bringing the crowd to its feet by nearly hitting a grand slam in the 6th inning that was robbed on an excellent catch by Bryan Peterson at the wall. By the 9th, with Dickey in command and the crowd chanting his name, it appeared he was in line for yet another shutout win. But, the Marlins intervened by reaching him for a walk and a double, and he was pulled from the game. Jon Rauch came in and nearly drove all of Mets-dom off a cliff, by giving up a 3-run Home Run and then allowing the tying run on base. With 2 outs, I couldn't help but flash back to Wednesday's debacle as Gorkys Hernandez fouled off several two-strike pitches. But, unlike Ryan Howard, Hernandez ultimately struck out, and everyone was all smiles.

It appears that the Marlins, who look every bit as bad as their record, were the right antidote for the Mets. After beating them again yesterday, the Mets had managed to nearly double their number of home victories since the All Star Break, and they swept the Marlins for the third time this season. The Mets will also close out their season in Miami next week. It's little solace in the big picture, but it's nice to beat up on a team that's stuck it to the Mets so many times, and has fallen flat on their faces even worse than the Mets have, after an offseason spending spree. If only the Mets could have played the Marlins more often. We might not be in the mess we're in right now.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1999

Part 38 of our 50-year Sweet Swing...
What is it: 1999 Topps #32, John Olerud

What makes it interesting: Topps did something they probably shouldn't have done in '99, which was basically that they tried (badly) to replicate the 1998 design. Once again, a gold-bordered set, but with a player name that's a bit more difficult to read, and a team name placed ignominiously in the corner so it got lost on most cards.

I've always been unabashed in my affection for John Olerud. Owner of one of the sweetest swings you'll ever see, Olerud was basically handed to the Mets prior to the '97 season by the Toronto Blue Jays, who paid the majority of his contract and accepted nothing more than Robert Person in return. Olerud, who replaced the popular Rico Brogna, basically made everyone forget about Brogna by showing that he was a better hitter and fielder. Despite only spending 3 seasons with the Mets, Olerud made every one of them count, which is why he's remembered so fondly.

The Mets needed a bat like Olerud's in the worst way. They had power in Hundley and Huskey, but nobody who could hit for average and move runners around the bases. Olerud did that from the moment he arrived. Olerud was the glue of the lineup, hitting in the #3 spot pretty much the entire season. A rather taciturn type, Olerud was thought to not be the best fit in New York. But he acclimated well, even becoming one of the rare players who would ride the Subway to Shea Stadium. Olerud also had his quirks, including wearing a batting helmet at all times due to an aneurysm he suffered in college. These things, combined with his ability to come up with several clutch hits, made him an instant fan favorite. Olerud was, in general, always in the thick of a rally as the Mets returned to prominence in '97, and his big hits included a walk-off HR against Colorado, and, despite being notoriously slow, a night when he hit for the Cycle against Montreal. He also finished with a flourish, topping the 100 RBI mark on the final day of the season, to go with his 22 HRs, .294 AVG and .400 OBA.

Olerud was even better in '98, when he just hit everything in sight with regularity. Having previously won a batting title in Toronto, Olerud flirted with a batting crown again, setting a club record with his .354 AVG. Supplementing these numbers were a .447 OBA (also a club record), 22 HRs and 93 RBIs. As usual, Olerud was right in the thick of just about everything the Mets accomplished that year, even playing in 160 of 162 games. The Mets may have fallen flat at the end that season, but it certainly wasn't Olerud's fault.

In 1999, John Olerud was as steady as ever, providing the anchor for The Best Infield Ever. In addition to his usually solid defense, he provided his usually solid and clutch hitting. Olerud played out 162 of the Mets 163 games in '99, hitting .298, with 19 HRs and 96 RBIs, and supplemented that with a team-record 125 walks, giving him a .427 OBA. Among his notable moments that season were a Game Winning hit off Curt Schilling to cap off a 5-run comeback, a Grand Slam against the Cardinals in the midst of a 6-run rally, and, of course, the Grand Slam off Greg Maddux in late September when the Mets desperately needed a win.

When the curtain rose in October, Olerud raised the level of his game even more. In Game 1 of the NLDS in Arizona, Olerud hit a 2-run Home Run off Randy Johnson in the 3rd inning. This was no small feat. At that point, Johnson was at the peak of his game, and hadn't allowed a Home Run to a left-handed batter in over 2 years. Even more impressive was that Olerud had gotten around and pulled the ball, something lefties generally did not do. Back in  New York in Game 3, Olerud chipped in a key 2-run single in the Mets 6-run 6th inning as the Mets coasted to a 9-2 victory. Against Atlanta in the NLCS, Olerud plated the first runs in both Game 4 and Game 5 with a pair of Home Runs, one off John Smoltz and the second off Greg Maddux, and in the Bottom of the 15th inning in Game 5, it was Olerud who was intentionally walked, loading the bases for Todd Pratt in the midst of that fateful inning. In the 6th game, Olerud was right in the middle of the Mets game-tying rally in the 7th inning, singling home a run, and scoring on Mike Piazza's Home Run. The Mets miracle ride would end that night, but Olerud was certainly a big reason that they were able to get that far.

Olerud would depart the Mets following the '99 season as a Free Agent, opting to return to his hometown Seattle Mariners. Maybe it was because he wanted to be closer to his family. Or maybe it was because Steve Phillips stupidly didn't offer him a contract. Nonetheless, he was gone after 3 excellent seasons in New York, as a major part of the Mets resurgence in the late 1990s. Olerud would go on to win 3 Gold Gloves with the Mariners, before spending the final seasons of his career bouncing around to the Yankees and the Red Sox, and retiring following the 2005 season. Olerud, who never spent a day in the Minor Leagues, was considered washed up before he arrived in New York, and in his time with the Mets, he not only resurrected the team around him, he resurrected himself. Though his time here was brief, it was certainly not forgettable, and the Mets were fortunate to have had him here.

Card back:


Saturday, September 22, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1998

Part 37 of our 50-year dependable #3 starter...
What is it: 1998 Topps #132, Rick Reed

What makes it interesting: The 1998s are another nice effort from Topps. Nice front, nice back, although sometimes the gold foil names gets lost among the gold borders. Nonetheless, it's one of their better, cleaner designs, similar to the '96s in concept.

It's hard enough to find a Rick Reed baseball card in general. We all know Rick Reed's story, how he was a journeyman who became a replacement player during the 1994 strike out of necessity, how he was then removed from the MLBPA, eventually ostracized by many players and forgotten about. Because most baseball card companies negotiated with the MLBPA, they were not allowed to make cards of Rick Reed. But Topps, who signed players individually, was still able to produce cards of Reed. And after not appearing on any kind of card since 1993, Reed was back on cardboard in 1998. The story goes something like this:

Reed was signed by the Mets as a Free Agent prior to the 1996 season. He spent all of '96 in AAA, playing for Bobby Valentine, who by the end of the '96 season, was managing the Mets. Reed came to Spring Training in 1997 and impressed everyone, so much so that he was named the Mets 5th starter. Despite not being fully accepted by many teammates (John Franco, in particular, was a bit nasty to Reed), Reed took the ball and then took off. After a pair of solid outings that didn't end the Mets way, Reed finally won his first game on April 22nd, against the Cincinnati Reds, a Complete Game effort to boot. I was at this game, and when Reed came to the plate late in the game, fans yelled "SCAB!!" at him. But as the season progressed and Reed continued to pitch well, the jeers stopped. Reed's ERA remained under 2.00 into June, and after winning his 10th game on August 4th, Reed had matched the number of wins he had in his entire career.  Reed finished up the year at 13-9, with an ERA of 2.89. He walked 31 batters in 208.1 innings. The afterthought was now a mainstay.

If Reed was good in '97, he was great in '98. Reed picked up right where he left off, being the steady, dependable presence in the middle of the rotation. He never blew anyone away, he relied on an arsenal of pitches that were always on target and simply kept batters off balance. Not once, but twice in the month of June '98, Reed took Perfect Games into the 7th inning. Reed's perseverance would be rewarded by a trip to the All Star game that year, and his 16 wins and 3.48 ERA were buoyed by 29 walks in 212 innings pitched.

Reed's numbers weren't quite as lofty in 1999 and 2000. Multiple trips to the Disabled List undercut his season in '99, and his numbers regressed to 11-5, 4.58. But with the Mets desperate for victories in the final week of the season, Reed saved his best performances for when they were needed most. Reed's final start of the regular season came on a Saturday Night against Pittsburgh, with the Mets one game out of the Wildcard. Reed would deliver a Complete Game, 3-hit Shutout with 12 strikeouts, keeping the Mets alive and well, and ultimately allowing them to make the Postseason. In the Playoffs, Reed was just as good. His 6 inning effort against Arizona in Game 3 of the NLDS kept the game close until the Mets pulled away for a 9-2 victory. Against Atlanta in the NLCS, Reed was even better in Game 4, pitching shutout ball into the 8th before being felled by a pair of HRs. Nonetheless, the Mets rallied to win the game, and the next day, Reed was in the bullpen, ready to pitch if the game stretched beyond the 15th inning. Had the Mets been able to force a 7th game, Reed would have been on the mound. 2000 was a similarly uneven regular season for Reed, as he finished with an identical 11-5 record, and a 4.11 ERA. Nonetheless, Reed was on the mound on several important instances, including taking the start the night the Mets clinched their second consecutive Wildcard, keeping the Mets afloat and in the game in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Giants, and, of course, a fine 6-inning effort in Game 3 of the World Series.

Reed was off to a fine start in 2001, making his second All Star team and keeping his walk numbers at their usual low level. But with the Mets floundering and pieces being moved around at the trading deadline, and despite signing a 3-year contract in the offseason, Reed would be dealt to the Minnesota Twins in an ill-advised deal for Matt Lawton. Reed was heartbroken, and although he would pitch through 2003 with the Twins (and had an excellent 15-win season in 2002), Reed always considered leaving the Mets as the day "baseball kinda died" for him.

Rick Reed was a consummate competitor and a true rags-to-riches story. Reed pitched with a ton of heart and a ton of smarts, and it served him well in his time with the Mets. Reed departed with 59 wins, a 3.88 ERA and a legion of fans who went from calling him a scab to appreciating everything he brought to the Mets in his 5 years here. Rick Reed was a key member of one of the most successful eras in Mets History. He wasn't always great, but when it was needed most, Reed always delivered with a great effort, and this always endeared him to fans and teammates alike.

Card back:


Friday, September 21, 2012

OutMetsed!

The Mets won a game at home tonight, although it seems that in order to actually accomplish this, they had to play a team that's even worse then they are. Only a game separated the Mets and Marlins from last place, and both teams appeared to play like the last place contenders they were. But, fortunately for the Mets, the Marlins proved more inept than even the Mets were able to muster, and the result was that the Mets scored 3 runs in the 1st inning, led 5-0 after 2 innings, and in the end scored more runs in a game at home than I believe they've scored all month combined.

This isn't something to necessarily be proud of, since the Marlins seemed to do everything possible to hand the Mets this game. Maybe it was Terry Collins' lambasting of the players following Thursday's debacle—something he wrongly backtracked on (keep the heat on these guys!)—that woke them up, since they did seem to have slightly more spark this evening. But, probably not. The Mets looked about the same as they did every other game, except that they were playing a team that seemed to have a hard time simply catching a fly ball.

A team's ineptitude is obviously contagious, and it reflects on everyone on the roster and the coaching staff. Multiple times tonight, Gary, Keith and Ron made mention of the fact that just about everyone in the Marlins hierarchy is on the hot seat, particularly Manager Ozzie Guillen. And seeing the Marlins mostly going through the motions tonight, it's not an unreasonable argument. But the same could be said about Terry Collins, and yet a majority of Mets fans seem to be in his defense. True, the Marlins were built to win, and win now, and they fell on their face and ended up dealing away just about every marketable asset they had. Nonetheless, people are calling for Guillen's head. The Mets were not built to win now, and it's debatable as to whether or not they're built to win any time in the foreseeable future. The defense for Collins is that he can only be as good as the players he's got, and the players he's got, as a whole, aren't very good. But then, when they overachieve, Collins is lauded as a hero who has maximized the effort he's gotten. So, when things fell flat, as they did last year as well, and no pieces of consequence were added or subtracted, and it spiraled out of control, mostly Collins avoided any heat. But maybe he's deserving of some heat, just as Guillen has been getting. Too often, the excuse "It's not about this year" has been thrown around. Too often, a singular positive, say,  Matt Harvey's performance, or Jon Niese's performance, has been cited amongst a string of miserable performances from the rest of the team. Tonight, finally, Lucas Duda was yanked from the game for not running out a popup. And Collins probably gets some praise for that. Duda is contrite and taking it like a man. But why wait until now to start doing this? Why wait until things were completely out of control? I know that this is one specific example and not everyone is guilty of it, but the attitude seems to have been prevailing for the past month or so. So why hasn't Collins been more of an ass-kicker?

It's a double-edged sword with this sort of stuff, and Collins is all too aware of that since it backfired on him in Anaheim. But this is the kind of team, a young team that needs to learn how to win, that needs a good ass kicking every once in a while. And by not doing that, or by waiting until it's far too late to do something about it, you give the attitude that it's OK to play lazy, boring baseball. I realize the Mets are outmanned, and I realize that Collins can only be as good as the pieces he's got. But he got a great effort out of this team for half a season two years in a row, and then watched as everyone fell flat. This may not cost him his job this year, but it's something to be aware of going forward.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Stink

With 2 outs and nobody on in the 9th inning last night, I was standing up, stretching, ready to hop on the train home and write about how the Mets had finally won a game at home, in spite of themselves, and how great Matt Harvey pitched in his final game of the year, and how I'd been to 3 Mets/Phillies games this season and the Mets had won all 3, and how things were maybe starting to look up a little bit...And then the rest of the game happened.

I've made mention before about how losing begets losing, and once the stink takes over it's impossible to wash it off unless some heads are rolled, and that's basically what happened. Josh Edgin, in the game specifically, I assume, to face Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and get them out, got neither of them out. Utley walked after a couple of borderline pitches and then forgetting that Ball 4 was Ball 4, and then Ryan Howard, who looked slow and injured and mostly foolish all night, caught hold of a high fastball and Goodnight, Nurse. The punchless Mets couldn't punch their way out of this, and thus came their 8th straight Home Loss, their 22nd loss in their last 23 games at home, my 4th loss in a row, and basically killed all the good vibes flowing among the 236 or so people that were at this game (21,741 my ass).

But it shouldn't have had to come to that. The Mets managed only 2 runs on their 9 hits. On multiple occasions, Kelly Shoppach came up with men in scoring position and managed only to strike out. Lucas Duda fared no better. Andres Torres had, perhaps, the most unconscionable AB of the night, with the bases loaded and 1 out in the 8th, at a point where a measly fly ball would have produced a huge insurance run. Torres predictably slapped a ball right to Utley, who started a comically fast Double Play to end the inning and set the stage for the disaster in the 9th.

That's the epitome of stink, but in reality, the stink was percolating all night long. Matt Harvey, who was certainly more than deserving of a win after his brilliant 7 innings of 1-run, 1-hit ball, kept the stink at bay, but it really was there all night long. I could tell as soon as I got on the 7 train out to the game, when I noticed that, at about 6:10pm, I was the only one on the train wearing anything Mets related. I could tell when I got into the Stadium, walked around the Field Level for a while, found myself by Shake Shack...and found that there was nobody there. I mused to myself as I ate my first Shackburger of the season, "What would happen if the Mets had a game and I was the only one who showed up?" It certainly seems like things are heading that way. Tonight, I could have probably counted the number of people in Section 518 on two hands, and for my final game of the season next Monday, I wonder if I would even need that many.

There's all sorts of fan griping going on after this one, from the Mets failure to retaliate to Cole Hamels hitting Scott Hairston following Wright's HR (ridiculous—didn't seem to me like Hamels did it on purpose, and why should Harvey hand the Phillies the tying run on base when the Mets can't score in the name of macho postyring), to the Mets failure to retaliate to Howard's Home Run (at that point, what was the use?). But the calm, reserved nature I seem to have taken here might sum it up. The stink is so bad that I can't even get angry about it anymore. If this team were in a Pennant Race and this crap was going on, there might be some real sparks flying. But what's the point? You can only yell about the same thing so much before you ask yourself if anyone's really listening.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Lonely Ones

So, the Mets finally found a surefire way to not lose tonight: By getting rained out.

This works out fairly well for me, since I have tickets to Wednesday night's game, the second of the Futile Three September games I lucked into this season. Last time, I got to see Matt Harvey pitch admirably well, but just well enough to lose 2-0 in his next-to-last start of the season. He was scheduled for tonight, but with the rainout, and the Mets opting not to play a Doubleheader Wednesday, I'll now get to see Harvey in his final start of the season take on My Man Cole Hamels, instead of the less-than-scintillating Jeremy Hefner. My expectation is that  Harvey will once again pitch well enough. The hope is that it's not just well enough to lose because the lousy Mets can't score any runs. With the Lefty Hamels on the mound, I suppose I'll be treated to a lineup that features Jason Bay, Scott Hairston and Andres Torres, and probably not Josh Thole, fortunately. I'll also probably see Lucas Duda at first base, since as we know, it makes the most sense to platoon the lefty power bat out with another lefty bat that's not quite as good.

When you've been as bad as the Mets have, I don't think I can be blamed for being a little cynical.

Since we're on the topic of Lucas Duda and Ike Davis, a little news item popped up on WFAN earlier today, hot off the ESPN.com press, worth bringing up. It seems that the Mets are considering trading Ike Davis, because of his unwillingness to take coaching advice and also because the team feels he spends too much time cavorting around town after games.

My first reaction was something to the effect of, "Really? Really? I thought this shit was done with once Omar Minaya was fired." It seems like there's always some mysterious anonymous source in the Mets organization who just loves to stir things up for whatever reason. I really thought the Mets were beyond this sort of behavior, but it seems I'm wrong. They always have to grab a headline for the wrong reason. I mean, sure. Ike Davis. A nice, clean cut Jewish boy coming to the Big City and doing well. Well liked by fans, generally well-spoken and well presented, and, most importantly, EXACTLY THE KIND OF PLAYER THE METS NEED THE MOST! A corner infielder who doesn't necessarily hit .300, but can blast Home Runs at any given time! Think about it. After the miserable start he had this season, after missing a majority of last season, Ike Davis is probably going to end up with 30 HRs and 90 RBIs, both figures good enough to lead a team that's starved for a power threat that drives in lots of runs. So, yeah, screw him. Let's trade him because he's staying out late and likes to do things his own way. It seems to me that however he's living his life, it's been working out for him just fine. Terry Collins and Ike Davis have every right to be incredulous about this. It's truly shameful that the Mets just can't help continuing to perpetuate the stink.

I get the playing Lucas Duda over Davis, at least for now, because the Mets, I think, know what they have in Ike Davis, but not in Duda. Duda has all the makings of a brainless masher, not quite the threat Davis has shown he is, but not worthless either. Nonetheless, I know from having watched both of them plenty over the past 2 years that Ike Davis can be a cornerstone on the Mets going forward, and I don't think Lucas Duda can be. Perhaps Duda's natural position is First Base, but he's nowhere near as good a defender as Davis is, and he hasn't proven himself to be a consistent offensive threat the way Davis has. Davis might not be able to carry the team the way someone like Carlos Delgado used to, but given some time to develop, he might be able to post Delgado-like numbers. That's not outlandish. I would think it would take beyond a career year for Duda to develop such pop. So, of course, the Mets clearly want to paint Ike Davis as some sort of malcontent, because this is the only way they can justify shoving him out the door to give the job to the less-talented, less-marketable Duda. I'm sure there is some AL team that would love to have Duda as their DH. In fact, just about any player that shows a modicum of Major League ability is marketable. Hell, multiple GMs took a chance on Lastings Milledge, even gave up serviceable players for him. If the Mets don't feel like they have room for both Davis and Duda, I'd think Duda would be the obvious one to go. Trading Ike Davis at this point, when he clearly has a good jumping off point for some solid seasons to come, would be at best quite stupid. This is why the classless rumor-mongers that exist in the Mets organization have to leak these rumors to stir up negative sentiment.

Listen. The negativity surrounding the Mets is already bad enough. We don't need to needlessly add to this at the expense of one of the brightest stars on their mostly miserable team.

Monday, September 17, 2012

One Step Ahead

The NFL has its own version of The Biggest Game In The Galaxy, which is, of course, a game that's generally slightly overhyped, overspun and overproduced. It used to be Monday Night Football, but that was back in an era when these things were a bit more pure, in the era of Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell and Dandy Don Meredith, until Hank Williams, Jr. arrived on the scene and the phrase "ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL!!" entered the American Lexicon. Since then, the NFL decided to make that Biggest Game In The Galaxy into a Sunday Night affair, with Monday Nights being given less credence, shoved off to ESPN with matchups less appealing. I've never been much of a fan of Sunday Night as the Big Game, it seems to me that Monday always made more sense, but I digress. Part of the reason I feel this way is because of the innumerable times the 49ers appeared on MNF, when their great players always seemed to play their greatest.

But over the past number of years, the 49ers hadn't appeared on a Prime Time game very much at all. Since The Biggest Game In The Galaxy was moved to Sunday Nights, the 49ers had appeared on SNF but once, an embarrassing loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in which Alex Smith was booed off the field and Candlestick Park chanted for his backup. Times have changed since then. The 49ers are now scheduled to appear on The Biggest Game In The Galaxy more than once this season, the first being last night, and the atmosphere may as well have been an Alex Smith Love-Fest.

There was a lot to like about the old ABC Monday Night Football, and NBC's attempt to replicate this for Sunday Nights is part of the problem they've created. First, is the start time. NBC now runs a pregame show that's a bit disjointed, starts well before the 4pm games have ended and runs way too long. It also knocked ESPN's NFL Primetime, off the air (even if you dislike Chris Berman, you couldn't not enjoy NFL Primetime). This pregame show features very little pregame (about 10 minutes out of 90 appears to be devoted to the game you're about to watch) and a lot more show, culminating in the completely emasculating opening theme from Faith Hill. I don't know who this is catering to, exactly, but nothing puts me less in the mood to watch football than Faith Hill butchering Joan Jett over video clips of the NFL's favorite masturbatory obsessions: The Green Bay Packers and Ray Lewis dancing.

After all the ceremonial crotch-grabbing, we're finally ready for a game here, and for the 49ers, a chance to show the nation that last week's resounding victory over Green Bay was no fluke. Facing the Detroit Lions, a lesser but still capable opponent, the 49ers wouldn't have to be perfect to win. They certainly played a less than perfect game, but were still able to come away with a 27-19 victory, buoyed mainly by another outstanding performance from their defense, and a pair of clutch drives, one very early, one very late, from the Offense, each culminating in a Vernon Davis touchdown.

The Lions, still a team in their formative years as far as their roster goes, boast a pair of exceptional talents in Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, and the 49ers game plan appeared to be to keep them as under wraps as possible, and dare them to try to run the football. This formula seemed to work to a tee. Faced with a short-and-long coverage scheme, Stafford could not hit Johnson for long passes, only short, and every time he hit Johnson short, it was generally right in position for him to immediately get belted by either Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman. The Lions run game had a similar problem. They could make short gains, but not long ones. The result was that while the Lions has some sustained drives, they inevitably stalled out and Detroit had to settle for a series of Field Goals. Not until the game was out of reach did the Lions manage to move the ball inside the 49ers 10-yard line. Too little, too late.

The offense started out gangbusters, ripping right down the field on their first drive for a quick touchdown pass from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis, giving the 49ers an early lead about 3 minutes into the game. But following that, the offense seemed to stagnate a bit. They were off the field for a while, as a Special Teams fumble from Kendall Hunter was sandwiched between a pair of Detroit Field Goals. But, given a short field following a Dashon Goldson interception, the 49ers marched down the field, caught a break when a Detroit defender was penalized for Running into the Kicker on a Field Goal, and eventually, Frank Gore punched the ball into the End Zone. But mostly, the 49ers offense did no better than Detroit's, starting off drives nicely, but only managing to kick Field Goals, of which David Akers had two. One particularly frustrating instance had Alex Smith with a first down well in Detroit territory, and three perfect passes to three separate receivers were all dropped.

But, after a Lions Field Goal with 9:20 to play in the 4th Quarter cut the 49ers lead to 20-12, the 49ers set out on a drive that paid homage to one of the NFL's great adages: "Great players aren't always great, they're just great when they have to be." Starting at their own 21-yard line, the 49ers chewed up yardage and the clock, as they moved smartly down the field. The way Alex Smith played on this drive made that miserable night in 2010 seem a distant memory. On three separate instances, the 49ers were faced with a 3rd down play with at least 7 yards to go for a 1st down. Each time, Smith effortlessly hit Michael Crabtree with enough space for Crabtree to make the necessary moves for a 1st down. Smith also took a shot on the face on a play where he was forced to scramble. Smith got up, bloodied but unfazed, hit Crabtree on the next play, and two plays later, with blood streaming down his nose, hit Vernon Davis, who outran several defenders into the end zone for the game-clinching score.

So the 49ers kick off their season winning a pair of games against teams that made the Playoffs last season. Last night's victory was not the impressive, resounding victory that the win over Green Bay was, but I'll still take it nonetheless. If the 49ers can go out against a good team, and play less than their best for a majority of the game, and still come away with a victory, you can't help but feel good about it. You get the feeling that the 49ers can win a lot of games playing the way they have so far this season.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1997

Part 36 of our 50-year Home Run Record...
What is it: 1997 Topps #145, Todd Hundley

What makes it interesting: Another nice-looking issue from Topps in '97. Although the matte names and glossy photo is a bit gimmicky, it's still OK with me, particularly considering that it's enough of a difference from the good '96 design, and far enough away from the lousy '94 design.

It's hard to remember, particularly considering the magnitude of his replacement, but as the starting Catcher for the Mets through much of the 90s, Todd Hundley was as much a Mets Lifer as anyone. Hundley was somewhat rushed to the Majors just shy of his 21st Birthday in 1990. Known primarily for his defense, and not much for his hitting, Hundley didn't disappoint. In fact, throughout his first several seasons, Todd provided first-rate defensive play, but very little otherwise. The result was that he bounced between the Minors and Majors a bit before sticking for good in 1992. Though he did have some pop occasionally, that was about it, as he never managed to hit any higher than .237 through the 1994 season. He also began to have some injury problems, particularly in 1994 and 1995, when a nasty wrist injury knocked him out for several weeks. Lost in this, though, was the fact that Hundley was actually beginning to develop into a solid hitter to match his defense. He went .237/16HR/42RBI in 1994, and .280/15HR/51RBI in 1995. Not eye-catching numbers for a full season, but consider that he only had 566 At Bats between those two years. Put it together, and Hundley had numbers that translated to 31 HRs and 93 RBIs, to go with a .257BA.

Not many people took notice of this, which is why it was so monumentally jarring to see Hundley develop into an All-World talent, almost overnight. Healthy all season, Hundley started the '96 season on a power binge that didn't let up, and put a full-scale assault on the Mets Record Book for HRs in a single season, and the Baseball record book for HRs by a Catcher in a single season. He also made his first All Star team, and the darling of all Mets fans who watched him grow up. Were it not for that Catcher playing for LA who would eventually become Hundley's replacement, Hundley was probably the premiere Catcher in the National League. By September, Hundley made his mark on the record books, first becoming the first Met ever to hit 40 HRs, and then later passing Roy Campanella's mark for HRs by a Catcher with his 41st. Though his average wasn't great at .259, his 41 HRs and 112 RBIs cemented Hundley as a force in the middle of the Mets lineup.

1997 saw Hundley continue where he left off. He made his second straight All Star team and even began to raise his batting average a bit. But after a hot first half of the season for the resurgent Mets, an elbow injury began to slow him down and sap his power. Hundley would eventually be shut down for Tommy John surgery, rare for a Catcher, in September, but his 30 HRs and 86 RBIs were still good enough to help the Mets remain in contention until the final weeks of the season.

1998 would prove to be a year of rehab and turmoil for Hundley. Knowing that they would be without their anchor for a majority of the season, the Mets tried their damndest to cobble together a lineup. This involved a Catching platoon of Alberto Castillo and Tim Spehr, and also included appearances by journeymen such as Rick Wilkins and Jim Tatum. The Mets were, needless to say, languishing. But despite the sudden availability of that other Catcher from LA, the Mets maintained that they would stay loyal to Hundley. Until they didn't. On May 22nd, the Mets swung a deal to bring in that other Catcher. So, now, the Mets had two of the Best Catchers in Baseball on their roster, and they both wanted to Catch. Hundley was clearly unhappy, but did his best to be diplomatic. Something was going to have to be done, and eventually, it was decided that Hundley would be the one to move, switching from Catcher to Left Field. Todd Hundley returned to the Mets Lineup on the 10th of July as their new Left Fielder. It was an experiment, and Hundley gave his best shot, but it was clear that he was neither cut out to be an Outfielder, nor fully recovered from his elbow operation. Hundley played 34 games in Left Field, and committed 5 errors during that time. His offense also tailed off sharply. Unable to hit for much power, or much at all, Hundley hit .161 with only 3 Home Runs (though his final one did win a key game in Houston). At the end of the season, the Mets re-evaluated the situation. Hundley couldn't play the Outfield, that much was clear. Ultimately, the other Catcher was given a lucrative new contract, and Hundley was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a confusing 3-team trade that brought Roger Cedeno and Armando Benitez to the Mets. Hundley went on to have some successful, if uneven seasons with Los Angeles and, later, his father's old team, the Chicago Cubs. But he never again reached his lofty, dominant numbers of '96 and '97.

Todd Hundley was a raucous fan favorite while he was with the Mets, and remained so for several years after he left. Many Mets fans would not warm to the other Catcher for years, because he had pushed Hundley off the team. Hundley's career would also be tainted in 2007 when he was named in the Mitchell report as a Steroid user. But, then again, so many of his peers were also Steroid users, so who could legitimately damn him. Hundley provided a great deal of thrills for some moribund Mets teams, and for that, we remain grateful.

Card back:


Saturday, September 15, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1996

Part 35 of our 50-Year Pitching Phenom...

What is it: 1996 Topps #144, Bill Pulsipher

What makes it interesting: After several years tinkering with some flashy designs that didn't look very good, Topps finally got it right with the '96s. One of the better sets they put out this decade, the '96s are a combination of what generally works for Topps, simplicity and design.

Few Mets left a more tragic story than Bill Pulsipher.

Pulsipher, a 1991 Draft Pick, was everything you could have asked for in a pitcher. He moved up the ladder towards the Major Leagues at a regular pace, and consistently improved along the way. By 1994, he began to reach everyone's radar screen. Pitching for AA Binghamton, Pulsipher was the ace of a team that would win the Eastern League Championship (and included several future Mets, including Edgardo Alfonzo, Jay Payton, Rey Ordonez and Jason Isringhausen). During the Eastern League playoffs, Pulsipher even threw a No Hitter. By time 1995 rolled around, Pulsipher was clearly the Mets top Pitching prospect and the question wasn't if he'd make the Majors, but when. He, along with fellow pitching prospects Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson, were anointed the saviors that would bring the Mets out of the doledrums and back to respectability. They were billed as "Generation K." Of the three, Pulsipher was always my favorite.

Pulsipher had the makeup and the stuff to survive in the Majors. An offbeat character, Pulsipher's eccentricities included shaving his head before starts and hopping over the foul line. On the mound, Pulsipher was all business, featuring three plus pitches, a mid 90s Fastball, a hard curve and a slider. Pulsipher's highly-anticipated Major League debut arrived on June 17th, 1995, a Saturday afternoon game against the Houston Astros. Of course, I'd dashed out to Shea Stadium to watch it. How could you not root for a guy who used Nirvana's "Come As You Are" as his entrance music? Pulsipher immediately made his presence known...by sailing his first pitch to the backstop. His first inning didn't go very well, although he wasn't helped by his fielders, particularly Brett Butler, who misplayed a Jeff Bagwell fly ball into a double. Nonetheless, Pulsipher left that first inning down 5-0, but ended up pitching 7 innings in a 7-3 loss. Two starts later, on June 27th, Pulsipher would have his first Major League win, pitching into the 8th inning of a 2-0 victory at Florida. Though Pulsipher started 2-5, he slowly began to improve every time out. One thing he was accomplishing, more than anything else, was the ability to go deep into games, at the behest of Manager Dallas Green. Of Pulsipher's 17 starts that season, only twice did he fail to make it to the 7th inning. A complete game victory over the Pirates on July 31st kicked off a stretch where he would lower his ERA over a point over the next month. His final few starts were spotty, and ultimately, Pulse would be shut down with a sore elbow in September. But overall, there was little to dislike from Pulsipher's first taste of the Majors. His good friend Jason Isringhausen had also arrived in July, and had performed even better. The winter of '95-'96 was spent salivating over what was to come. These guys were set to carry the Mets into the next decade.

But just as that optimism peaked on Opening Day of '96, the news came down that Pulsipher's sore elbow turned out to be a torn ligament. Pulsipher would have Tommy John Surgery and miss the entire '96 season. When he returned to pitching in '97, the Mets decided that his violent delivery was the cause of his problem, and set out to alter it. The results were not promising. Pulsipher found himself unable to throw strikes and was eventually demoted to Single-A. His inability to find success at a level of pitching he had previously dominated sent him into a bout of depression. Eventually, with some professional help, Pulsipher overcame his depression problems and began to rebound. By '98, he was back in AAA, and by midseason, he had returned to the Mets, albeit as a reliever. Pulsipher appeared in 15 games with the Mets, making one start, but he struggled. Though he wasn't wild, he also wasn't especially effective, posting an ERA of 6.91 and giving up 23 hits in just 14.1 innings. Then, on the eve of the trading deadline, the Mets traded Pulsipher to the Milwaukee Brewers for Mike Kinkade. Though the trading of Pulsipher officially signaled the end of the hope that was Generation K, the hope had died long before that. Both Isringhausen and Paul Wilson were vastly ineffective in '96, and both ended up injured and missing the majority, or in Wilson's case, all, of the next few seasons. 

But Pulsipher would, in fact, return to the Mets in a deal for Luis Lopez before the 2000 season. His time in Milwaukee had not been successful, he didn't pitch especially well in the remainder of '98 or '99 before a back injury ended his season. Pulsipher started the 2000 season in Norfolk, but he would return to the Majors for two starts in May. This would be his final hurrah with the Mets. In his first start, in San Francisco, he was bad. His second, in Florida, was even worse. Pulsipher could not get out of the 4th inning either time, and his ERA for the season stood at an embarrassing 12.15. In early June, Pulsipher was traded again, this time to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Lenny Harris. 

Pulse spent the remainder of his career bouncing around from team to team. He went from the Diamondbacks, to the Devil Rays, the Red Sox, the White Sox, the Rangers, the Yankees, the Orioles and the Mariners. He didn't appear in the Majors at all between 2001 and 2005, when Isringhausen, whom he remained close friends with, beseeched the Cardinals to give him a shot. In 5 games, Pulsipher posted a 6.75 ERA. A career that once looked unstoppable had reached its final stop.

Pulsipher is generally looked upon with distaste by Mets fans for failing to live up to the hype. But I don't think that was really his fault. Many teams saw what happened. Pulsipher pitched deep into games just about every time out in '95, part of the tough guy regiment imposed by Dallas Green. There was probably something to the fact that both Pulsipher and Isringhausen went down with significant arm injuries early in their careers. It probably didn't help that the Mets screwed around with his mechanics following his injury as well. Under a different set of circumstances, Pulsipher might have gone on to have a very successful career. Perhaps, as teams do quite frequently nowadays, the Mets might have been more careful with his 21-year old arm. But such is the case in Baseball. Pulsipher should be remembered mostly as a cautionary tale about the handling of young pitchers.

Card back:


Friday, September 14, 2012

Miracles Never Cease

Oh,  how nice!

After a homestand where I don't think the Mets scored 7 runs in total, they went out and scored 7 runs in one game in Milwaukee.

I don't know if it's a mental block that the Mets have when they play at Citi Field or something else, but it's certainly demoralizing to a team and their fans when they go out and play well on the road, and then when they come home with the fans who WANT them to do well backing them up, they spontaneously throw themselves down the toilet.

On the road, it's wonderful. Murphy homers, Duda homers, Wright pulls himself within 7 hits of the Mets team record, and everything is nice and rosy pink.

At Citi Field, the Mets could get 10 hits in a game, but you can be guaranteed that they'll all be singles, and about 8 of them will come with 2 out and nobody on, and the other ones will be followed by double plays.

I can't figure it out. Hopefully it changes before I go to my final two games of the season.