Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My Aquamarine Heaven

For the second night in a row, the Mets played one of their patented "Stupid Games Against The Marlins." You know the kind of game I'm talking about all too well. This one had all the elements. Mets pitcher takes No Hitter late into the game while nursing a slim lead. Slim lead evaporates amid a flurry of dinky singles. Mets let golden opportunity to regain the lead pass by the wayside. Marlins win on another series of dinky hits, the last of which probably traveled about 65 feet and came with 2 outs.

Only for the second night in a row, the Mets didn't lose the game. They won the game, and they won it because in spite of losing their lead, the bullpen came in, held the line, kept the game tied and kept it tied long enough for the Mets to re-awaken and finally re-gain the lead. Then, Bobby Parnell, who doesn't have that late-game ennui that used to eat guys like Scott Schoeneweis or Aaron Heilman alive, kept the lead and closed out the game, thereby giving the Mets two things that they've been sorely lacking this season: A win in Miami and an Extra Inning win.

I suppose Wheeler is the star of the game, although by the end of things, his very solid outing appeared a distant memory. Wheeler has performed at about the level you would expect out of a 23-year old rookie to this point; lots of promise and some hiccups. But he's also shown just how good he can be when he puts it all together, and Tuesday was one of those nights when he put it all together. In his 7 innings of work, Wheeler allowed only 3 hits to go with his 3 walks and 5 strikeouts. It's only his poor fortune that those three hits and one of those 3 walks happened consecutively, saddling him with 2 runs and a no-decision.

I don't think anyone is expecting Zack Wheeler to go out throwing No Hitters, and certainly not in his 8th Major League start. And even after he'd made it through 5 innings without allowing a hit, I didn't really think it particularly likely that this, of all nights, might be the night of the 2nd No Hitter in Mets History (certainly not after what I saw Matt Harvey do earlier this season, only to get turned away at the altar). Perhaps, after Johan Santana accomplished the unthinkable last year, we, as Mets fans, don't have to pay attention with baited breath every time someone takes a No Hitter past 4 innings anymore, and that's why I wasn't so into Wheeler's potential gem. Then again, once you get into the 7th inning, you can't not start dialing in. Of course, that's when the Marlins finally broke through, with Boring Ed Lucas doing the honors. And, once that happened, the Marlins ended up rallying to tie the game. But, just as disaster appeared imminent, Wheeler got Jeff Mathis to ground into the DP and get him out of the jam.

The Mets appeared primed to get Wheeler a win after Marlon Byrd tripled to lead off the 8th, but then again, just because you hit a leadoff triple doesn't mean you're going to score, and we've learned this the hard way many times over. But, if nothing else, it set the stage for a moment that typifies these Marlins: Chad Qualls strikes out Omar Quintanilla to end the inning Qualls is so gassed up from getting out of the inning that he rears back, pumps his fist like he's Francisco Rodriguez in the 2002 World Series, and slips and falls flat on his face. I could only think that it serves him right for acting like another idiot Marlin, but then again he seemed to take it in stride, so maybe not.

Comedy relief aside, there was still a game to be won, and once things moved into Extra Innings, one couldn't be blamed for feeling skeptical. But, the Mets did what they had to do, thanks to David Wright and Marlon Byrd for getting on base, Steve Cishek for being wild, and John Buck for taking advantage of all of this, singling to plate the two winning runs and turning the game over to Bobby Parnell. Parnell once again managed to inexplicably walk Fielding Mellish with 2 outs, but this time Mount Rushmore wasn't the on deck hitter, so it was OK, and the Mets once again escaped with a win.

I give the Mets no style points for these last two games, because they haven't especially been classic wins, but any win, particularly when it's against the Marlins, is a little gem in its own right.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Escape From Alcatraz

Visiting the Puke-Green Hell Hole more formally known as Marlins Park has hardly been pleasurable for the Mets this season. Not that visiting their former home in the football stadium was any great joy, either. Usually, no visit to South Florida has been complete without something stupid happening to the Mets, with the end result being Marlins players jumping around the field like they just won something worthwhile. But this season has been particularly bad, because for the most part the Marlins haven't been able to beat anyone except the Mets, and as usual, they seem to find ways to beat the Mets that border on the excruciating.

Monday night's affair seemed to have all the makings of another such affair. The Marlins, who had started off with a lineup consisting of youngsters mixed in with aging retreads, have gone through a makeover of sorts, benching the retreads in favor of more youngsters, which sort of gives them a roster composition that, if you take away Cool Papa Pierre, Greg Dobbs and that Ed Lynch fellow, looks like they should be on their way to Social Studies class, not taking the field in a Major League Baseball game. To make this situation even more absurd, it appears that they now boast a roster comprised mostly of people named after characters in Woody Allen movies.

So, what happens? Well, after the Mets spotted Jeremy Hefner a 3-run lead early on, thanks to Daniel Murphy (who appears to be on one of his sporadic hot streaks)'s 2-run single and another key hit from David Wright. Jeremy Hefner in June might have locked this one down, but his recent regression to the norm reared its ugly head once again, and that 3-0 lead was gone lickety-split in the 4th, courtesy of a bunch of walks and some ringing hits, and capped off by a disgusting error from Omar Quintanilla. The Marlins got to Hefner again in the 6th, courtesy of more walks and more hits and the result was 2 more runs that knocked Hefner out of the game and appeared more than likely to sink the Mets.

But, the Mets responded to this particular adversity by striking back in the 7th. Eric Young, Jr led off with a one out double and scored on a floater from Murphy (exactly the kind of hit that usually works against the Mets). One out and a wild pitch later, there was Marlon Byrd, who has been in the thick of pretty much everything for the past several weeks now, coming up with the 2-out hit to tie the game. And one pitch later, there was Marlon Byrd, moving at a speed far beyond what you would expect from a husky 35-year old veteran of 12 Major League Seasons, making it all the way home with the lead run thanks to a long hit from Ike Davis. Ike Davis' long hit was probably a story in and of itself, since that's the first time we've been able to say Ike Davis, who was already named after a character in a Woody Allen movie, came up with a really clutch hit in months. But, if there was ever a spot to do it, this was probably it, in Miami where nothing ever seems to go right for the Mets.

So, somehow, the Mets have now come back and taken the lead in Miami, which hasn't happened all season. It's now up to the bullpen to keep it that way. First, it was Josh Edgin, getting the Marlins in order in the 7th, including a strikeout of Fielding Mellish and a groundout from Giancarlo Stanton. LaTroy Hawkins got through the 8th with similarly little drama, save for a single from Leonard Zelig, but Zelig was subsequently thrown out stealing, even though he wasn't. But, hey, it's about damn time the Mets caught a break in that stupid ballpark.

Parnell came in for the 9th and immediately gave up a hit to Greg Dobbs, much to the surprise of nobody. But, he got two out and all he needed to do was get Mellish, who just last week was graduating High School. But, Parnell nibbled and nibbled rather than just going after him, and eventually Parnell walked Mellish to bring up Stanton, with 2 on and 2 out and a 1-run lead. And I'm sure I wasn't the only Mets fan flashing back to every horrible thing that's happened to the team in Miami since ever, because we all knew where this was...Oh. Stanton grounded out. The Mets win. That was oddly anticlimactic.

So, we can delay the full-blown panic attack at least for another day, because for once the Mets stoned up and beat the Marlins. Can you imagine if they'd stepped on the Marlins' throats like this all season? Maybe we wouldn't be in this mess.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Clothes Make The Game

At around 4pm on Friday afternoon, the optimism in Metville was overflowing. After a solid homestand, the Mets went into Washington and smoked the reeling Nationals 11-0, behind a shocking 7 shutout innings from Jenrry Mejia, 5 RBIs from Daniel Murphy and a 3-run Home Run from Ike Davis. This win put the Mets at 46-53, a mere 7 games under .500 and a far cry from the 15 or so games under that they were about a month or so ago. They were also mere percentage points away from leaping over the Nationals and into 3rd place in the division, something few thought possible. And, given the way they were playing, and the general listlessness that their division rivals had shown of late, maybe, just maybe, a second half run towards contention was possible. And to top it all off, they had Matt Harvey pitching the nightcap of the doubleheader, primed to step on the Nationals' throats.

Then, the Mets stopped hitting, Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off Home Run to win the nightcap, and the rest of the weekend went down the toilet from there. The Mets managed all of 3 runs in the remaining 3 games of the series and the optimism of Friday was pretty much gone by late Sunday afternoon.

While I was on vacation in Montreal, I'd purchased a Montreal Expos T-Shirt. I'm generally not in the business of supporting teams in other cities, but being that I was in Montreal and the Montreal Expos don't exist anymore, I thought I should get something Expos-related. Also, I think that the Mets and Expos had a good rivalry over their 36 years of existence, and, in general, the franchise got screwed over by a large number of people, not just Bud Selig and Jeffrey Loria. Montreal is a great city and they deserve a MLB team. They have the fan base. They just had a facility that was probably among the worst places conceivable to play Baseball in.

Preachiness aside, I hadn't yet worn this Expos shirt, and on Friday, I was about to snip off the tags and put it on, until I thought to myself, "Hey, should I really be doing this today? The Mets are about to play a doubleheader with the Nationals, and the Nationals used to be the Expos. Isn't that some sort of bad karma?" I put the shirt back in the drawer, saving its maiden voyage for another day. But I wondered if this really was the right thing to do. I posed this on Facebook and several people responded with a variety of comments, which bordered from insightful to completely irrelevant. Perhaps the most useful comment suggested that I should have worn the shirt, because it meant that I was supporting the Expos, and showing appreciation for their rivalry with the Mets. The Nationals, in spite of retaining the Expos team records and statistics, have made little to no effort to acknowledge their years in Montreal. They have even gone so far as to "unretire" the Expos retired numbers, #10 in honor of both Rusty Staub and Andre Dawson, and, of course, Gary Carter's #8. None of the Expos players have any particular attachment to Washington the way they did for Montreal. In the meantime, Montreal continues to honor the Expos by having their retired numbers hang from the rafters in the Centré Bell, where the Montreal Canadiens play, and recently, they named a street for Gary Carter (that said, it is surprisingly difficult to find any sort of Expos-related paraphernalia, and in the gift shop at Olympic Stadium, there is nothing to be found).

Ultimately, I probably should have worn the shirt on Friday. Though I felt pretty smart late in the day on Friday, I now think that by chickening out, I may have actually put a reverse jinx on the Mets by not showing my disdain and disrespect for the Nationals by acknowledging only their past, and not just their past, the past that they, themselves, do not seem to want to acknowledge. Washington comes to Citi Field in early September, and I have tickets to one of those games. You best believe I will be wearing this Expos shirt at Citi Field on that evening.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Hitting Shoes

For all the ways in which Zack Wheeler has been compared to Matt Harvey, I really think the two could not possibly be more different.

For one, the Mets seem to score runs in bunches on days he pitches, for the most part.

Whereas Harvey arrived at the Major League level one year ago today with all the polish and poise of a seasoned veteran, Wheeler has often looked like what he is: A Rookie making, in yesterday afternoon's game, his 7th Major League start. He hasn't been bad, he's had some bad outings, but at no point have I come away from any of his starts thinking that he's a flop. He's just trying to figure it out. Fortunately, in the games he's pitched, the Mets have been able to outhit him getting it together. It's happened against Milwaukee, Atlanta and again, Thursday was a prime example.

Wheeler's general problem to this point has mostly been command. He throws hard, yes, and he seems to have a very easy time of it. So easy, in fact, that it appears his fastball becomes too light and moves around so much that it gives you the impression that he's wild. Sometimes, he is, based on the number of walks (to this point 20 in 38.2 IP) he's allowed. Against Philadelphia last weekend, this particular problem bit him in the ass to the point where he couldn't get out of the 5th inning, in spite of a lead, costing himself a win. Yesterday, it nearly got him again. Spotted a 4-1 lead, Wheeler allowed guys on base, eventually got burned for a pair of Home Runs and that 4-1 lead all of a sudden became 4-4. But, the point with Wheeler might not be to simply look at the results, it's how he responds to adversity. He's handled tough situations rather well for the most part; one of the upsides of the fact that he's allowed so many baserunners is that it's helped him toughen up and get himself out of jams. He got himself out of some hairy situations multiple times yesterday, and managed to work his way through 6 innings.

And, as has become the case multiple times, the Mets managed to get him some runs as he was departing the game in order to give him a win for his efforts. The Mets scored in bunches in this one, and these were primarily generated by Marlon Byrd, Daniel Murphy and David Wright, who I believe combined for 8 of the Mets 14 hits, and John Buck, who drove in 3 runs in assorted spots and has started to hit a little bit again. In fact, everyone, in some way, has been hitting a little bit recently, which has helped the Mets go on this nice little run that's got everybody feeling optimistic in Metsville these days. The split against Atlanty is nice, sure, it could have been better; if Justin Turner's shot falls in on Monday night, perhaps this is a 3-1 series win and a 5-2 homestand, but for as badly as the Mets have played at home, 4-3 is pretty good.

Washington today, where the hallowed tradition of the Day-Night Doubleheader will take place.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Keep On Watching

Unlike Tuesday night, when I had a myriad of other things to do while the Mets game was on, I was not so busy last night, and thus I ended up paying attention to what ended up being an eminently forgettable Mets game, or at least I paid attention as much as a Mets fan could stand paying attention to a game as terrible as this one.

The Mets did nothing offensively against Tim Hudson, unless you count David Wright breaking his bat over his own head, and that was merely offensive to watch. Jeremy Hefner, who has apparently turned back into a pumpkin (quite literally, when you consider the garish orange uniforms the Mets were wearing), got bludgeoned for the second consecutive start at the hands of a division rival. Once again, Hefner was victimized by multiple mammoth Home Runs, leaving him to mope around the mound with a Shaun Marcum-like puss on his face. Once his 3rd Home Run of the night, surrendered to Overrateton Simmons, landed in the seats, Terry Collins, who was trying to squeeze that 5th inning out of him, could take no more and removed him from the game.

Here's where I probably should have tuned out altogether. But noooooo. I instead toddled around on my computer for a bit, perhaps in some blind hope that the game would suddenly be over. When I looked up, things were still going on, and then, of course, things got delayed by the horrific-looking injury to Tim Hudson (what nobody's talking about here is that stone-brained Bitch Freeman probably could have saved his pitcher had he bothered to try and field the ball cleanly), which, after seeing the replay once, I couldn't bear to watch again. As a victim of multiple ankle injuries, that's generally the one type of injury I really hate seeing. And this one looked particularly bad, and there was absolutely nothing Eric Young could have done to avoid it. But, late word is that Hudson has a fractured ankle, which certainly doesn't seem quite as severe as the injury looked to be. Of course, it's also easy to say that when I only watched it on TV.

That having put a damper on the evening from the standpoint of either team, I felt somewhat obligated to see the rest of the game just in case someone had anything to say about Hudson. Lord knows nobody was going to have anything good to say about the Mets on this night.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tuning In To Tune Out

Much like Monday, I spent a reasonable amount of time on Tuesday morning debating with myself over whether or not I should go to the game that night. Much like Monday, I ended up with the same conclusion: It's too hot, I'm too tired and I'd rather just go home.

I have a fairly standard routine when I'm watching games at home, usually it involves making dinner of some variety, and of varying intensity of labor involved in the preparation of said dinner. Tonight, I also had some laundry to do, so I was in and out of the apartment and up and down stairs from the Laundry Room (and it is only my own good fortune to live in a building that has laundry internally; in another era of my life, I would have had to go down the block to the laundromat).

But, as I'd mentioned, I was tired, and so when I arrived home, which was just about 7pm, I decided to sit down and collect myself before I set off on the evening's tasks. So I was paying attention to the game at the outset, and I saw Overratelton Simmons hit a Home Run on the 2nd pitch of the game from Carlos Torres, which was bewilderingly followed by Keith Hernandez burying his head up Simmons' ass. I swear, the ink this guy gets, you would think he was a Yankee Prospect, but I still think he's basically Rey Ordonez with a little more pop. I'll be vindicated. I think.

After shaking my head over Simmons, I figured it time to spring into action. I got my laundry together and ready to go. This is a tricky proposition, since there are only two washers and two dryers in the building, so it's always a crapshoot as to what's available, and I had a lot of laundry, so I'd planned on hogging everything for my 2 loads. Both washers were empty, but the two dryers were full, with different times remaining. But I'm in no mood to cock around, so I put my laundry up and set the timer on my phone so I wouldn't get stuck.

Meanwhile, I've also got a dinner to make, which involved concocting a paste of assorted ingredients (Olive Oil, Garlic, Oregano, Cumin, Chili Pepper, Black Pepper, Kosher Salt & Chicken Broth, if you're keeping score) and spreading it over some chicken, which I then planned to oven roast for about 35 minutes. So, here's my plan: Get everything prepped while the laundry is in the washer. Go downstairs and switch one load to the dryer, which should, by this time, be available. Get everything cooking. Go downstairs again and flip the second load of laundry. Hope I don't lock myself out of the apartment with food in the oven (and my other half not due home for another 45 minutes). The first load in the dryer should be finished just about when I sit down to eat, and the second load should be done by time I'm done eating. Ready? Go!

Oh, yeah, there's a game on, too. At some point, the Mets had tied the game, I know that, and apparently it was Carlos Torres helping his own cause by driving in the run. I didn't see the hit, but I heard Gary Cohen say something about the 8th RBI by Mets Pitchers this season (or something to that effect), and I of course figured the other 7 were by Matt Harvey. And so, I go back and forth and up and down and everything is going along just as I'd planned it. But, of course, the sacrifice here is that I'm now not really paying any attention whatsoever to the game. My laundry finishes, my dinner is great, and only as I sit down to eat do I see Ike Davis coming through with the double that ultimately drove home the winning run against the similarly over-hyped Kris Medlen, who looks the part of the kind of guy you might run into at a College frat party. The Mets continued their little rally against Medlen long enough to score 2 more runs and knock him and his flat-brimmed cap out of the game.

I then went back to my other business, finishing dinner, getting the remainder of my laundry from the dryer, folding everything up and doing dishes (a testament to how well-domesticated I am); by this point my other half has come home and so we discuss a variety of things, and I look back at the TV to see Bobby Parnell on the mound. Wait a second. Bobby Parnell? I look at the score box. 9th Inning already!? 10pm!? Where the hell did this evening go?

So I saw the beginning of the game, and I saw the end of the game, and Parnell looked much better than he did last night (and looked to be pitching pissed off). But I can't say I saw much of the meat of the game, so I can't really offer too much of an informed opinion on the matter. Carlos Torres appeared to pitch well enough. He gave up a load of hits, but got out of jams, which has been the M.O. of Met pitchers lately, and outside of the Simmons HR, nary a run. So that was good. Ike Davis got a big hit, which we haven't seen in months. Also good. Parnell shook off last night, good as well. Dinner was good. Laundry was good. Good night all around.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Not Sorry I Missed It

I spent a good chunk of the day Monday thinking I might actually go to the Mets/Braves game. I didn't have tickets for it, it wasn't in my particular plan, but I thought, what the hell. The Mets were playing better, Dillon Gee was on a roll, why not go out and walk up? I used to do that all the time back in the days of Shea Stadium.

Then, I thought better of it. It was disgustingly humid and intermittently rainy all day, with no breeze or relief to speak of. The heaviness in the air sucked all the energy out of me and made me feel uncharacteristically tired all day. Ultimately, I decided against going.

For a while, I rued my decision to stay home. But in the end, I made the right choice, because by staying home, I missed the Mets 2013 specialty: A sweaty, 3+ hour game where they got great starting pitching, didn't hit at all, blew a late lead and ultimately lost a game played mostly through a rain shower that was hard enough to bother the players but not stop the game.

Dillon Gee, for the most part, was the Mets for this game. All he did was go out and stop the Braves dead in their tracks for pretty much all of his 7 innings. He started off with a 12-pitch slog with Overratelton Simmons that ended with a ground out. Things got much more efficient from there, so much so that I'd actually kind of tuned the game out. The only thing that really got my attention between the 1st and 6th inning was Marlon Byrd's line drive that Ratso Upton dove and didn't catch, resulting in a triple and later a run when Ike Davis followed with a rare single. Gee made this run hold up, and it wasn't until Gary Cohen made some thinly veiled mention of it did I realize that Gee was actually throwing a no hitter. Of course, then, I thought, "Shit, he's going to throw a No Hitter the night I decide not to go." Fortunately, or unfortunately, Bitch Freeman led off the 7th with a hit. Meathead Gattis also got a hit, but Gee muscled up, getting out of a bases loaded jam with all the ease of, say, Matt Harvey.

LaTroy Hawkins pitched a fine 8th, and Bobby Parnell came on for the 9th and things looked good.

Then, things didn't look so good. Parnell gave up a pair of quick hits, but got a Fielder's Choice and appeared to have things under control, but then came the Passed Ball that more or less sank the battleship. I'm stating the obvious, but this Passed Ball basically turded the entire game from that point forward. Parnell got the ground ball that would probably have ended the game out of Chris Johnson, except that it instead resulted in the tying run scoring. Reed Johnson followed by hitting a pitch off his lips for the lead-taking single. Choker Kimbrel was ripe for the taking in the bottom of the 9th, storming around the mound, bitching and moaning about the rain and wiping his hand on any surface possible, but Justin Turner's line drive that seemed destined for paydirt ended up instead in the outstretched mitt of Jason Heyward, and this frustrating slog of a game was over.

Perhaps, the only upside to all this is that once the game ended, I did not have to make my way home on two subway trains in the muck that was this Monday night. I instead could just shut the TV off, go in the bedroom and sit in front of my air conditioner and write about what a mess this game was, and how I'm not sorry I missed it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Better Than Fine

But, for 18 innings this weekend, it appears that maybe the Mets will be OK the second half this season. Maybe it won't be the prettiest thing ever, but, hey, you take what you can get. After the alarming bludgeoning that the Mets suffered on Friday at the hands of the Phillies, the hope was that the firm of Harvey and Wheeler would set things straight over the weekend. Or, at least, they would not let the game get out of hand before the fans had even reached their seats.

Saturday, Zack Wheeler took the mound and really wasn't effective, so much as he out-uglied Cole Hamels on the other side. After Jimmy Rollins led off with a Home Run, Wheeler settled down and went about his business allowing 2 runners on base every inning and running up his pitch count, but not allowing any runs. Hamels, on the other hand, was also letting guys on base, but unfortunately, they were scoring. After falling behind, the Mets rallied for 3 runs in the last of the 1st on a series of line drives and a well-placed bloop from Josh Satin. This gave Wheeler a cushion to work with, and he ran with it, for the most part. At least until the 5th, when he started walking guys, and then more or less ran out of gas. In spite of everyone's best effort to try to coax that 3rd out out of him and get him out of the game with an opportunity to win, Wheeler gave up a run, and then another walk before Collins mercifully came to get him.

Gonzalez Germen, who I was certain had already pitched for other Major League teams (or perhaps I was thinking of Cristhian Martinez or Jair Jurrjens), followed Wheeler to the mound and had one of those "unsung hero" outings, bailing Wheeler out of the 5th inning jam and carrying things clear to the 7th inning before he departed. His 1 2/3 hitless innings were enough to merit his first Major League win, and also bridge the game to LaTroy Hawkins, and, eventually, Bobby Parnell, who survived the 9th inning in spite of giving up his first Home Run of the season to Chase Utley. This probably shouldn't have happened, had Josh Satin been able to come up with Rollins' screamer, the game would have been over, but, Utley could have hit it to the moon and it still would have been a 1-run game. So, a little closer for comfort than it should have been, but a win is a win, and when you're worried the Mets will fall into the abyss, every win helps.

Sunday, of course, brought Matt Harvey to the mound. Harvey has not had those rookie hiccups that Zack Wheeler has had thus far. Harvey just started the All Star game. The only concern here was that prior to his 2 innings in the ASG, Harvey hadn't pitched since July 8th in San Francisco. So, this was his first outing in anger in close to 2 weeks. Innings limit or not, that's a long layoff. Then again, when has anything like that ever bothered Matt Harvey? Harvey went out and had what I've begun calling "The Typical Matt Harvey Outing." 7 innings, 0 runs, 4 hits, 0 walks, 10 Strikeouts, and, since he was backed by a trio of Home Runs, a win to show for it.

This was the perfect capper to what was basically "Matt Harvey Week" in New York, between his assorted Magazine interviews, the Jimmy Fallon bit, the All Star Game, and now his first start back. One might think the media attention would be a distraction, but, again, when has any outside stimulation bothered Matt Harvey? To this point, it hasn't, and so in this case, you have no choice but to believe the hype. The runaway freight train that is Matt Harvey just keeps rolling on.

Atlanta next, and hopefully the good vibes keep coming.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Not What We Were Looking For

The Mets resumed their season last night at home against the Phillies, with somewhat high hopes that they might be able to avoid the general stink that seems to overtake the entire team after the All Star Break every season.

I realize it's only one game, but last night was not encouraging.

Jeremy Hefner, who's pitched well enough of late to garner a smattering of recognition for it, was terrible. No two ways about it. He got tagged for 4 in the 1st, by the 3rd the score was 11-0 and the toe tag was on this one. I don't know whether it was the week off that did it to him, but Hefner looked like the old lousy pitcher we'd been seeing early in the season as opposed to the guy with a bit of bulldog. Some questionable (I'm not sure because I didn't see it—circumstances and the placement of air conditioning led me to listen to the game on the radio) defense didn't help, but Hefner just didn't make his pitches, didn't put hitters away and eventually the Phillies just started smoking him. This could also be the case of Philly just having his number, because they've done this to him before, but whatever the reason, Hefner put the Mets in a hole that they couldn't get out of.

Not that they didn't try. I have to give the Mets some credit for not just rolling over and dying last night, because they certainly had every right to after the score went from 11-0 to 13-3, but they continued battling and at one point were a long hit away from actually being in the game. But 11-run comebacks tend to require the right amount of luck and opponent's ineptitude that they don't happen very often, and last night was an example of that. It took quite a bit of effort for the Mets to trim the deficit to 13-6, and eventually they got it to 13-8, but that's where things ended.

Not quite the start we wanted to see, particularly when you think about the Mets really making a concerted effort not to completely unravel in the 2nd half of the season. The hope here is that with Harvey and Wheeler scheduled over the weekend, that will put a stop to this before it gets started and we can have a nice, enjoyable, forward-looking end to this season.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Visiting Old Friends

I mentioned that my other half and I took a vacation to Canada last week, and if you weren't paying attention, that was why I didn't write anything last week, and if you didn't care, then it didn't make a difference either way, but I was indeed in Canada, most notably in Toronto and Montreal, cities which either are or once were homes of Major League Baseball teams. I was fortunate enough to see both of these stadia on my trip, and even go so far as to see a game at the stadium that still has a team playing there. My trip to the Rogers Centre was motivated primarily by the opportunity to not only see a new stadium, but also to pay a visit to our old friends Jose Reyes and R.A. Dickey, who currently ply their trade for the Jays. Unfortunately, I'd missed Dickey's turn in the rotation by a day, but Jose Reyes was still in the lineup for the Jays this afternoon.

Rogers Centre is located in the midst of downtown Toronto, in the shadows of the CN Tower. When it opened, in 1989, it was looked upon as a modern marvel, the first stadium with a retractable roof, world's largest scoreboard, etc. Now, it's sort of a relic from a former era of monolithic multipurpose stadiums, one of the last in the Major Leagues to boast an Astroturf field, and currently the only MLB stadium outside of the United States.

It was a miserably humid day in Toronto, with rain in the forecast, and apparently any time there's rain in the forecast, they close the roof. That's all well and good, but the problem with the Rogers Centre is that there's no Air Conditioning inside (Being in Canada, it seems AC is not widely utilized since I suppose days like this are relatively rare). Thus, as you can see from the above photo, it not only appears as though we're sitting inside a cave, but it feels like you're sitting in a sauna that's been placed in an airplane hangar. Sound echoes off of all the walls and caroms all over the place; the crack of the bat can be heard clear as a bell in the farthest reaches of the ballpark.

The fans in Toronto are surprisingly passionate, both about their team and their country. Even when there's not a game in town, Torontonians are generally seen wearing some form of Blue Jays gear, and on game day, you could sneeze and hit a Jays fan, even if you're not in the relative vicinity of the stadium. Inside, both anthems were sung prior to the game. The last time I'd been to a multi-anthem game was the final game in Expos history at Shea Stadium, back in 2004. Here, the US anthem was sung first and greeted with polite applause. But as soon as "O Canada" was sung, the fans all sang along with the woman performing the anthems, and when the song was over, the stadium erupted in massive patriotic cheers. Also, the Jays mascot, a Blue Jay named "Ace" was prevalent throughout the game. Here, he's accompanied someone out to the mound to deliver the game ball, which was in a box. After they delivered the ball, Ace then took the box and placed it on the head of the poor slob who came out with him.

The game was fairly unmemorable. The Jays jumped out to an early lead on the Minnesota Twins and more or less cruised to a blowout 11-5 victory. Our old friend Jose Reyes was modestly involved. Here, he's batting in the 1st inning. In the 5th inning, Reyes, who may have sensed the mojo of the Mets fan in the building, Homered to left off of Binghamton alum Scott Diamond. Later, he would reach on a Fielder's Choice and score on a triple by Edwin Encarnacion. He was later seen in the dugout laughing and doing one of his patented secret handshakes with Jose Bautista. One thing of note would be that the Toronto fans do not serenade him with the "JO-SE, JOSEJOSEJOSE..." chant. It appears that this is reserved for Jose Bautista. Reyes, a newbie in Toronto, has not earned the same level of adoration.

R.A. Dickey does seem to get a bit of adoration in Toronto. Outside, I took note of a giant R.A. Dickey banner hanging from the side of the stadium. Dickey is also centrally featured in several Blue Jays advertisements and other such ephemera that is in and around the Toronto area. Here, he's holding court in the dugout, and I believe that's Mark Buehrle sitting next to him. Josh Thole is sweeping up behind them. The bald gentleman is a coach of some sort, I would have to assume. A good telephoto lens was about as close as I was going to get to R.A. on this day.

Some other odd Rogers Centre things: The Blue Jays have their own theme song, much in the vein of "Meet The Mets." However, unless you are either a) From Toronto or b) Have attended a Blue Jays game in Toronto, you probably didn't know this. The song is called "OK Blue Jays," and they play a shortened version of it during the 7th inning stretch before they sing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." I was told that the full version of the song takes a number of shots at the Yankees, Red Sox and Billy Martin, to show you how old it is. The concession stands are typically overpriced, as most stadium food is, but maybe it's not, depending on what the exchange rate between the US and Canadian dollar is that day. You can get Poutine at Rogers Centre, if you look in the right place. However, the cake-taker was probably when the grounds crew came out to drag the infield. Since it's an Astroturf field, there's only those dopey "sliding boxes" around the bases, so the gimmick here is that they boast the "World's Fastest Grounds crew". At the end of the 5th inning, a bunch of guys in Orange shirts come dashing out from the Left Field corner, sweep up, change the bases, and then make a mad dash back from whence they came. Ace was out there as well, and at first it appeared they were chasing him off the field, but they eventually ran past him and shut the door in the fence, leaving Ace stuck on the field with no place to go. So, like any good bird, he scaled the wall and left the field.

With the game out of reach and the conditions inside the dome getting sweatier by the minute, my other half and I decided it best to leave after the 7th inning and, like any good Tourist in Toronto, went right next door to the CN Tower, where we got a nice view of the roof of the Rogers Centre from 447 Metres up in the air. And, thus, was my first visit to the Rogers Centre, my first Baseball game outside the United States, and my first game in a dome.

Later in the week, we were in Montreal. I was aware that Olympic Stadium, former home of the Expos, was still around, the tower that hangs over it was an observatory of some sort (noted for being the world's highest inclined tower). The problems that have plagued Olympic Stadium through its checkered life span are well-noted, and it currently sits in some sort of demented limbo, with no real tenant and no particular good use, and is in constant need of maintenance of one kind or another. I would have thought, it being a bit of a tourist attraction, with the tower and nearby Montreal Biodome, that they might have put a little more effort into its upkeep. However, I was mistaken. Olympic Stadium was built for the 1976 Olympics and it looks very much as though very little has changed since then.

Olympic Stadium is situated (if you choose to go by Métro), by the Pie-IX station, which actually leads directly into the Stadium without actually having to go outside. I found this rather touching ad in the corridor leading to Olympic Stadium, honoring Gary Carter, who, since becoming the first Hall of Famer in Expos history, has become a much-beloved figure in Montreal, perhaps even moreso than he is among Mets fans. Montreal also named a street after Carter near Jarry Park, where the Expos used to play. I was, at one point, nearby Rue Gary-Carter, however I was not able to actually find my way onto the street itself. I also heard that there was a Park being named after him, but whether or not that happened, I am not sure.

Then, there's the entrance itself. The corridor that leads from the Pie-IX station to the stadium is sort of creepy, in that "where the hell does this thing lead?" sense. You know where it's headed, but you're not quite sure, and you also know that you can't actually get into where it's going, so you're not quite sure if you're going to have to turn back or not. Eventually, there is an exit which leads outside to Boulevard Pierre de Coubertin.

But, since the stadium itself isn't actually open (and lord only knows what's inside), I can only show you what it looked like from the outside. It looks, more or less, like some demented Zeppelin-like contraption that crashed into the side of a mountain. Perhaps it's more like a frisbee or the Starship Enterprise. I'm not sure. I know it wasn't exactly aesthetically pretty from the inside, and it's not much better from the outside.

Here it is, folks. In all its glory. Former home of the Montreal Expos, place where Darryl Strawberry once hit a ball off the roof and a site that hasn't played host to a Major League Baseball game since September 29, 2004. The tower was built to hold up what was supposed to be a retractable roof, but the roof never worked and eventually kept failing, leading to a continuation of fiascoes over what state the park should remain in. For one season, 1998, the stadium was actually open-air. But by that time, a once-vibrant Baseball community had evaporated, and the Expos languished in Baseball Hell for multiple years before finally vacating Montreal for good after 2004 in one of Baseball's more unacknowledged tragedies.

 The roof is permanent now, supposedly, and here's a view of it from inside the tower. The promenade (or Ésplanade, as it's called) around the stadium appears to be mostly closed off, and there were several construction workers working on top and around of the Stadium, although for what purpose I'm not quite sure. The stadium was built to look futuristic for its time, and I suppose for 1976 it did, but in 2013, it looks every bit like you've just stepped into a time warp. A time warp where just about everything is in French. Just about all of the signage inside the tower is in French, including the buildings you're looking at from the observatory. Downstairs, at the bottom of the tower, there is a little gift shop that sells Magnets and other such tchochkes of Olympic Stadium, as well as shirts and whatnot for the 1976 Olympics. But...No Expos stuff. Where's the Expos stuff? There's also a small exhibit of "The World's Great Towers." And then there's an entrance into a large hall with large swimming pools, that was full of construction dust. Nonetheless, the doors were quite open, revealing what apparently must have been the Swimming venue from the 1976 Olympics. It's now a gym of some sort, but the pool is being renovated. Regardless, any such signage that would indicate this is non-existent, in French or otherwise. Fascinating.
And back outside once again. Au Revoir, Les Expos. You had the honor of playing in what's probably the oddest-looking Major League venue in history. And now, you're gone, and the souvenir shop doesn't even remember you. In fact, most of Montreal in general seems to have forgotten about the Expos, which is a shame. There's a few stores around the city that have Expos shirts or hats, but you've got to search for them a little bit. I can't quite figure why that is. I would have thought, perhaps, that it's out of shame over their team leaving, but in Quebec City, there are plenty of items related to the Quebec Nordiques, and they also moved away 20 years ago.

So, there you have it, the Baseball-related portion of my Canadian Vacation. If only it were 10 years ago, I might have been able to catch two games on my trip, but no. No more Expos. Just the Blue Jays and an empty stadium.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Lighting Up The Night

To say that the game itself is the least interesting part of the All-Star Festivities is probably an understatement. The game rarely, if ever, lives up to the hype; I can only remember a handful of games that might have generated some excitement. They tend to be disjointed, sleepy affairs, certainly not for the short-attention span generation. Recent years have seen me become bored and tune out the game entirely, usually after the 4th or 5th inning, or whenever the Mets representatives had already played.

This year's affair held more juice than normal, if only because it was at Citi Field, my home ballpark, and much of the pomp and circumstance would basically be in my backyard. This wasn't like in 2008, when the whole thing was basically a Yankee lather job. This was the Mets moment in the sun, Citi Field's night to shine. Of course, the game was a dud overall, a 3-0 American League victory that featured great pitching, and more great pitching, and even more great pitching, and little else. But if nothing else, the hosts held up their end of the bargain.

You knew Matt Harvey would be cranked up for this particular start (and probably looking for a little more recognition), especially after the roaring ovation he received upon his introduction. But he nearly had his wheels come off in the 1st after allowing a leadoff double to Mike Trout and then hitting Robinson Cano (who was nice enough to not bother getting out of the way of Harvey's tailing fastball, but Harvey, ever gracious, apologized afterward), but Harvey, who has made a habit of not breaking, struck out Miguel Cabrera and, one out later, Jose Bautista to get out of the inning untarnished. His second inning was spotless, featuring a strikeout of Adam Jones, and thusly, his evening was done after two innings, allowing one hit and striking out 3, which was more or less a normal outing for him (you know, without the hype and getting pulled after 2 innings).

Unfortunately, the National League couldn't muster any runs for Harvey, which has been a recurring theme for him this year. In fact, the NL managed all of 3 hits against the AL. But, one of them was by the All Star Game's de facto Master of Ceremonies, David Wright, who has a habit of getting at least one hit every time he plays in an All Star Game, kept his streak going with a 7th inning single that ended up being of little consequence.

And then, there was Citi Field. The Mets had last hosted an All Star Game in 1964, the first year at Shea Stadium. As a kid, I wondered when, or if, there would ever be another at Shea. As I got older, I realized why there never was: most stadiums were now these shimmering new palaces. Shea Stadium was what it was. Our loveable blue blob. Magnificent in its time, but lacking in pizzazz. The All Star Game needs some pizzazz (usually because the game stinks). Citi Field debuted in 2009 with that pizzazz and, in its 5th season, hosted its first All Star Game. And although I wasn't there because I wasn't approved for a loan, it seemed to me that Citi Field did not disappoint as host. The Mets fans were out in full force, giving the representatives of the Phillies, Braves, Nationals and Yankees their well-deserved jeers (Jose Fernandez of the Marlins didn't appear to draw much of a reaction, probably because he's young and he hasn't pissed us off yet). David Wright, Matt Harvey, Terry Collins and Davey Johnson were given their much-deserved heroes' welcomes. Even departed players Carlos Beltran and Carlos Gomez received warm welcomes. The park looked great, it played fair and a fine time appeared to be had by all.

Now, will it be another 49 years before the Mets host another All Star Game?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Working Forward

It's very easy to complain about several of the bad things that have gone on with the Mets to this point this season. It's also been just as easy to forget that nobody thought the Mets would be especially good to begin with. But, in the thick of the Baseball season, emotions always get the better of us. That's just part of being a fan. The Mets, to this point, have been often maddening, often frustrating and sometimes enjoyable. And with the season half over, it's time to take a look at what the hell has gone on this year.

What's Gone Right:

Matt Harvey: Duh. But what's been surprising about Harvey is just how completely dominant he has looked so early in his career. We knew he'd be good. We didn't think he'd immediately launch himself into a Seaver/Gooden stratosphere in his first full season in the Major Leagues. But that's what's happened. He started off his season with a 7 inning, 1 hit, 0 run, 10 strikeout effort and hasn't looked back, to the point where his good outings usually involve him taking a shutout or a no-hitter into the late innings of games, and his bad outings might be better than the best days of most. Fans have picked up on this. And the reward is that Harvey will now be introduced to the entire nation when he starts the All Star Game tomorrow night.

Bobby Parnell: I was pretty sick of Parnell after last season because he never managed to put it together enough to have an actual role in the Bullpen. And he had a good season last year, but when he was bad, he was awful. That said, when Terry Collins named him the closer in Spring Training, I was all for it, just to see what the hell he was made of, once and for all. And Parnell has responded by, for the most part, having a great season and really carving a niche for himself as a Major League quality closer.

David Wright: At this point, Wright is sort of just doing whatever he can to carry the team. The problem is that he's had no consistent protection or support and so while his numbers look somewhat thin, how much more could he logically do?

The Future: It's going to be interesting, if nothing else. Harvey's proven himself to be such a polished product that he's put a bit of heat on these other young pups that are on the way up. Zack Wheeler has come up and was up and down in his first couple of outings, before putting forward a great start in San Francisco (that I was only able to follow on a rumor level from Canada). Meanwhile, there's also Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero who are lighting things up in the minors. The problem is that although there's a boatload of pitching, there's no offense to speak of, at least as far as I can tell. Wilmer Flores appears ready to ascend, but does he have a position? Does anyone else really register on anyone's particular radars? Which begs the question: Will Syndergaard or Montero really make an impact here, or are they going to be some high-level trade bait?

What's been OK:
Daniel Murphy: Yeah, sure, when he gets on a hot streak, he looks great, but then he goes into one of those funks where he starts grounding out all the time and moping around like Leonard Hofstadter. Strange as it may sound, Murphy is actually one of the elder statesman on this club and it's hard to imagine that he's going to get much better than he already is. That's all fine and good if he's going to be the Murphy who can hit .320. But if he's the Murphy who hits .268, that won't wash.

Jeremy Hefner: Jeremy Hefner deserves some particular commendation for pitching as well as he has of late, because I really don't think anyone gave him enough credit to pitch that well. I certainly didn't, and I've been pleasantly surprised by how well he's performed. His record is still sort of ugly, but it's been a bit more bad luck and less bad pitching as his season has progressed. Yes, he was bad at the beginning, but he's proven himself a valuable part of the rotation, particularly as injuries cropped up around him.

Dillon Gee: Similar to Hefner. Gee had an awful start to the season but he's turned it around, pretty much starting with his outing against the Yankees and working forward from there. Safe to say he's just about back at the level he was throwing at when he got hurt last year. Except when he faces the Phillies.

Other pleasant surprises include: Josh Satin (Expected nothing, got surprising production), Omar Quintanilla (Holds the fort well enough), Carlos Torres (Got people out), John Buck (April only).

What's been bad:
Unfortunately, everything else. Ike Davis got off to the same bad start he got off to in 2012, but this time he couldn't pull himself out of it and now appears to be right on the verge of hopelessness, which is shocking because he hit 32 Home Runs in about half a season last year. Lucas Duda somehow drew all sorts of attention for walking a lot early in the season, which seemed to be to be a whole lot of grasping at straws because he also had numbers that looked something like 6 Home Runs and 14 RBI, which means that he's either walking or hitting a HR, and that only works if your name is Dave Kingman. Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Anthony Recker have run into a couple of fastballs at opportune moments in time but that's about the only noteworthy things they've done. Ruben Tejada made me look like an idiot for casting Edgardo Alfonzo comparisons on him, and after last season who wouldn't have, but his performance to this point has been beyond reproach. Jordany Valdespin has proven himself to be little more than an untalented Lastings Milledge-type and his recent outburst over his demotion may have signed his ticket out of town. The Bullpen, the bullpen, the bullpen. Passes go to LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Rice and David Aardsma but everyone else? No, no, no. I'd go in depth but who needs the aggravation? Jonathon Niese has, to this point, failed to build on his strong year last year and in the process is now injured, the rest of his season in limbo. Shaun Marcum, I only shake my head and at least there was some tangible reason for the fact that he looked like the most miserable man on the planet every time he took the mound.

The past few years, the Mets have come out of the All-Star Break after a reasonably promising first half and proceeded to make complete asses out of themselves each year. This probably won't happen again, if only because they sufficiently buried themselves in the first half, but maybe these pitchers will keep the Mets sort of afloat, and just maybe they'll pull themselves up to around .500 for the season. I don't know for certain if they can pull this off, but they've managed to drag themselves out of the abyss over the last month and one can only hope that this will carry over into the 2nd half. Again, the key word here is hope, because that's the one thing the Mets have left.

Saturday, July 6, 2013


Hiatus for the next week, as I will be on vacation and probably won't have a chance to see much of the Mets as they journey off to San Francisco and Pittsburgh.

Of interest, however, is the fact that I will be paying a visit to old friends Jose Reyes and R.A. Dickey in Toronto this weekend as I make my first appearance to SkyDome in Toronto.

I will also find myself in Montreal, where I will pay tribute to the somewhat-fondly remembered Expos.

Catch everyone at the All Star Break!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Welcome Back to Major League Baseball

The results certainly don't have to be pretty for a Win to count. And Zack Wheeler's 4th Major League start tonight certainly wasn't a thing of beauty, but it was good enough to get him through 5 innings and good enough to get him his 2nd victory.

The fact that the Mets offense generated 12 runs also helps. Much of this offense came from a pair of sources that have been the subject of some vilification at one point or another this season, in Ike Davis and Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

Davis returned to the Mets tonight after a well-deserved month in the Minor Leagues. Usually, in situations like this, the guy returning is placed lower in the order. But not Ike. Ike was called right up and slapped right back into the cleanup spot, a clear challenge from Terry Collins to put up or shut up. Ike answered the bell and was central to a number of rallies, and instead of flailing wildly at off-speed pitches, instead looked a bit more steady and comfortable at the plate. The results were certainly encouraging; Ike went 3-5, drew a walk, drove in 2 runs, scored two runs, legged out a key infield hit, and one of his outs was a smoked line drive that just happened to be right at someone.

Nieuwenhuis has also had his share of critics, though his struggles were certainly not as magnified as Ike's. Nieuwenhuis has also bounced between the Mets and Las Vegas multiple times this season, after he started the season off looking as though he was unable to catch up to most Major League pitching and struggled to bat his weight. Since he's returned, he's been mostly glued to the bench in the middle of a platoon situation that hasn't been much of a platoon because a) The Mets keep facing left-handed pitching and b) Juan Lagares and Marlon Byrd have played so well of late. Nieuwenhuis hasn't especially excelled, but he's made his hits count, between the out-of-nowhere walkoff Home Run against the Cubs, and his 14th inning Home Run yesterday. The problem is, instances like that have been few and far between for Nieuwenhuis. But, tonight, given an opportunity to start, Nieuwenhuis responded with a career game, going 4-4, a pair of doubles and a triple among them, and also drove in 5 runs and drew a pair of walks.

These particular performances certainly made the game, but the Mets were also helped by the fact that the Brewers right now look even more hopeless than the Mets at times have been known to. Early on, this looked to be the kind of game that was the exact opposite of what Abner Doubleday had intended, with balls being mishandled, thrown away, booted or just flat-out dropped. Eventually, the Mets were able to get their act together. But the Brewers appeared to not be able to do so, putting forth a performance that bordered on the embarrassing, and showed just how far a cry they were from the team that was a mere couple of wins from a Pennant just a couple of years ago. Proof, once again, that teams can lose it just like that, as if that weren't already abundantly obvious to the Mets fan.

With a lead, Zack Wheeler was able to settle down somewhat. Sure, the Mets gave him 2 runs in the first inning and he immediately handed them back. Wheeler wasn't helped by an error from Daniel Murphy, but that's besides the point. The key is how does it affect you going forward. The Mets went out and got him more runs in the 2nd, and extended their lead in the 4th. Wheeler responded by keeping the Brewers in check, allowing only a Juan Francisco Home Run over the remainder of his 5 innings. The Brewers loaded the bases with 1 out in the 5th, and appeared destined for disaster, but Wheeler got tough, getting Jonathan Lucroy to pop out and striking out Francisco to finish on a high note. The numbers might not be pretty, 5 innings, 7 hits, 3 walks, 3 runs (only 1 earned) and 3 strikeouts, but he responded well in adverse moments and didn't let things get out of control. So it's something to build on.

All in all, a fine night for the Mets, certainly a much welcomed normal game after the mess that was the Arizona series. Guys hit when they needed to, guys pitched when they needed to and the Mets were clearly helped by the fact that they were playing a team that really looks lost right now. Hopefully, the Mets can continue to take advantage of this through the weekend.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Longest Week

In honor of the 4th of July, we, as always, remind you to take your hat off and keep out of the aisles during the National Anthem.

If the first two games of this series against Arizona were long, the final two were not only long, but also excruciating given the results.

The Mets had already played a pair of games that stretched late into the night for different reasons on Monday and Tuesday, and Wednesday's game was destined to do the same before it even began, thanks to a lengthy rain delay. Rain isn't something that generally bothers Matt Harvey, and for most of the early going on Wednesday night, it looked like every other Matt Harvey start. David Wright homered, Josh Satin homered, there was a full house on hand for Fireworks Night, everything was great!

Then, the 6th inning happened and everything went to pot. Matt Harvey got into a 2 on, 2 out jam, which generally isn't a problem for him, but he threw a slider that our dear friend Cody Ross just managed to get a hold of and sail over the Left Field fence for a 3-run Home Run that changed the game completely. Of course it was Cody Ross, one of those little bitch-faced nuisances that always seems to stick it to the Mets and take a little too much joy in doing so. Monday, Ross homered in the 13th and flipped his bat away like he'd just hit a walk-off. Fortunately, the Mets still had a chance to answer him in the bottom of the inning and managed to stick it in his ear by coming back to win the game. Wednesday night, the Mets had 4 opportunities to respond to Ross and were unable to do so. Harvey faltered again in the 7th inning and the Mets couldn't push enough across to get him off the hook, as he ended up stuck with his 2nd loss of the year in a rather unexciting 5-3 defeat that ended at somewhere around 12:30am, or, generally the same time as Monday's 13-inning game. And, of course, the Mets then shot off fireworks for those who remained at 1am, which was not quite as absurd as when the fireworks went off at 4am in Atlanta that one time, but was still much later than anyone involved in the planning of these things probably wanted.

That set up Thursday's July 4th afternoon game as the last chance for the Mets and D'Backs to get it right and play a nice normal game on getaway day. Unfortunately, they couldn't, as they instead played the longest game of the series in terms of innings and elapsed time. A rain delay was avoided, fortunately, because who knows how late things would have gone had that occurred. I tuned in to the game directly after watching the time-honored tradition of watching grown men shovel hot dogs into their faces in the name of the American Way and followed that up with my usual Sunday tradition of cleaning my apartment with the Mets game on in the background. It appeared that Dillon Gee was mostly efficient, but matched by Ian Kennedy (A former Yankee Prospect, so you know he MUST be good) as both teams managed only two runs apiece as the game moved into the later innings. Surely, for everyone's strength and sanity, someone ought to be able to push across a run before things ran late once again.

Surely was apparently not in the house this afternoon, because both teams went down meekly in the 9th.

Arizona threatened in the 10th, but was turned away by Carlos Torres.

The Mets got the leadoff man on in their half of the 10th, only to have Eric Young, Jr pop up a bunt and turn the inning to Jell-O.

Neither team threatened in the 11th.

The Mets got a couple of men on via walk in the 12th, only to have Kirk Gibson pull a Kirk Gibson and change pitchers with 2 outs and get David Wright to ground out to end the inning.

Finally, in the 13th, Arizona broke through, just as they had on Monday night, as the game steamed closer to 5 hours. Terry Collins' machinations led to David Aardsma intentionally walking Eric Chavez to pitch to Cody Ross and then unintentionally walking Cody Ross to force in the lead run. Then, he started playing matchups in the 13th inning, with Josh Edgin coming in to pitch to Gerardo Parra. Parra grounded into a Fielder's Choice, and then got called out for running inside the baseline. This would become rather important immediately, because Collins then pulled Edgin for Beleaguered Brandon Lyon. Lyon gave up a hit to Wil Nieves. This probably would have extended the lead, but Marlon Byrd threw out Chavez at home with ease to keep the score 3-2.

With 2 out in the bottom of the 13th, Anthony Recker hit a Home Run off Heath Bell to re-tie the game.

Arizona took the lead again in the 14th inning thanks to a series of annoying bloops and bleeders.

With 1 out in the bottom of the 14th, Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit a Home Run of Chaz Roe to re-tie the game.

Arizona took the lead again in the 15th inning thanks to more bloops and bleeders strung together with 2 outs.

Unfortunately, There was no 3rd rabbit to be pulled out of the hat. The Mets managed to get runners to 2nd and 3rd in the bottom of the 15th, but Kirk Nieuwenhuis grounded out weakly to first to end the game, after 5 hours and 46 minutes of bumbling around the field.

It was fairly easy for me to describe Monday's lengthy affair, because not only was I there, the game also featured a lot of interesting little nuances. This game on Thursday defies description, simply because it was just long and you could feel how sweaty and disgusting it was just by watching it on TV. I would consider Monday's affair memorable and a game I was glad I was at, but I think I'm equally as glad that I wasn't at today's game. Of course, had the Mets lost Monday and won Thursday, I might feel differently. So maybe it's not so interesting in retrospect. I have the feeling that the Mets didn't lose on Thursday, so much as they may have just run out of gas first. Now, of course, without a day off, they have the privilege of trekking off on a road trip to Milwaukee, where they'll be right back in action tomorrow night. No rest for the weary, that's for sure.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Another Late Night At The Office

After the Mets played it out until 12:24am on Monday night, last night was another late night, but for a vastly different reason. Tuesday's game was, in fact, motoring along rather briskly, having reached the bottom of the 7th inning before 9pm had struck. Monday night, the 7th inning stretch hit close to 10pm.

The pacing of this game was a credit primarily to Jeremy Hefner, who continues to impress me and everyone else who pays attention to the Mets. Hefner has, of course, been one of my flogs for quite some time now, and early in the season, he certainly deserved it. But somewhere along the line the switch flipped a little bit for him. He pitched rather poorly in the one start I attended against St. Louis, but for the most part he's pitched rather well, particularly against the Yankees, Cubs and Colorados, and last night he was outstanding against Arizona, giving up 1 run in his 7 innings of work and only departing, I suppose, because of the 90 minute rain delay that hit in the bottom of the 7th.

That rain delay, of course, is what slowed things down, and I suppose it was fortunate that it waited until last night to rain, as opposed to Monday, because what a clusterfuck that would have caused. Tuesday was a similar day to Monday in New York; a sweaty, gloppy mess of a day that makes me want to rip my skin off. You hope it rains because you hope that will knock the humidity out of the air, but generally, it just makes things worse. Sitting in 5 hours of it without it raining wasn't great. Sitting around while it rains must have been even worse. So, I guess given the choice, I'd choose the 5 hour game as opposed to the quick game with the hour-long rain delay. Tuesday's game did not end quite as late as Monday, but it was still after 11pm.

Fortunately, the Mets still won the game. Monday, the Mets kept having their rhythm broken by Kirk Gibson's petulant changing of pitchers. Tuesday, the Mets had no such trouble, although the game probably went on about 3 innings too long before the umpires decided to stop. When the puddles forming on the infield are visible and obvious, it's probably a sign that you should pull out the tarp and break out the card game, but hey, I'm no groundskeeper. What the hell do I know?

So, Hefner was great, only made one mistake to Devil Wore Prado in the 7th which accounted for the one run he gave up. The Mets also didn't have much luck against ballyhooed Patrick Corbin, who only gave up one run himself, a Home Run to Anthony Recker.

The Mets finally got something going in the bottom of the 7th, plating a run and loading the bases before the umpires finally stopped the game. I suppose nobody would have complained if they stopped things right there, but they waited 90 minutes and finally got things going again at around 10:15pm. This time, the delay appeared to ice the Diamondbacks, since the reliever they put in, Brad Ziegler, came in and promptly got whacked all over the park by the Mets, as their 2-1 lead went to 8-1 in a matter of a few minutes, removing any and all drama from the remainder of the game. This was actually rather nice, since we could then all sit back and enjoy the end of a game without something hair-raising happening. Given the rain delay and the increasingly late hour, and the Mets big inning, the D'Backs appeared to punt the remainder of the night, so the Mets ended up with a nice 9-1 victory where everyone pitched in to the war effort that saw the Mets score more runs than they've put up at Citi Field in week. And it sets up Harvey tonight with a chance to go for the kill in this series. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

12:24am Lightning

Were I still living at home, last night was the kind of game that I would have arrived back at my Father's house to him laughing his ass off at the folly of my sitting out at Shea Stadium for over 5 hours. Even now that I don't live at home, there is still quite a bit of folly to these ridiculous extra-inning games. 

For whatever reason, I seem to have the magic 13-inning touch when it comes to Mets/Diamondbacks affairs. Monday was the 5th time I've attended a 13-inning game, and 3 of those 5 have come against the Diamondbacks. The last one, back in 2008, was well-documented here. The first, in 2006, was a particular classic. Last night was a little gem in its own right, particularly given the way the game played out.  

I've been more and more skeptical about going to these games of late, particularly given the Mets struggles at home and the general banality of the games I've attended this season (except when Matt Harvey was pitching). I didn't particularly relish the opportunity to see this Shaun Marcum/Wade Miley pitching matchup one day after I was out at Citi Field to see the Mets get pummeled so badly that I couldn't stomach to sit around for the bitter ending. 

It appeared that many people agreed with me. After a crowd of 33,000 showed up on Sunday, it appeared that there were barely 10,000 out on Monday night. The weather, miserable all day, might have been a factor. Who knows. At any rate, it appeared there were so few people out, that you could actually hear the sounds of the game and the shouts of the crowd quite clearly. 

Often, in games like this, I have the tendency to sit there, dutifully keeping score as I always do, and lose myself in thoughts of how I might describe this game for you loyal readers. After an inning, I'd figured I had my storyline: Shaun Marcum, who generally seems to look like he's not enjoying himself, looked particularly uncomfortable out on the mound tonight. He kept flexing his arms and kicking at the dirt on the mound, like something just wasn't right. He hit Aaron Hill on a 2-strike pitch, and then threw to first a few times, before again stalling to kick some more dirt. I could tell that this wasn't going to end well, and I was right, because his next pitch to Mount Rushmore-like 1st Baseman Paul Goldschmidt was launched in the general direction of the Whitestone Bridge for a 2-run Home Run. In response, the Mets started off against Wade Miley with Eric Young, Jr working a walk and immediately getting picked off so badly that he didn't even react to Miley's attempt, instead standing there before making a feeble attempt to run away from Goldschmidt. The Mets then loaded the bases on 2 hits and a walk, setting everything up for John Buck to strike out. This, I figured, would be the game right there. The Mets served it up, missed their chance to respond, and Miley was set to throw a 5-hit shutout. 

The 2nd inning proved more of the same. Marcum, who continued to work at an excruciatingly slow pace, pawed at the dirt some more before giving up a 2-out RBI hit, while the Mets again got men on base and left them there. A long, losing night appeared imminent, but to his credit, Marcum eventually settled down and in spite of the fact that he was apparently dealing with a shoulder problem, gutted it out for 6 innings and kept the game at 3-0.  Unfortunately, the Mets continued to get hits off of Miley, only to fail to break through each time. Thus, I figured, the highlight of the game would have been in the 4th inning, when the sky turned a magnificent shade of pink, bathing Citi Field in such a striking shade of light that you could have shut off the stadium lights and kept playing. 

I knew the Mets would probably rue their missed chances as the game continued, particularly when they finally started to break through against a succession of Arizona relievers. In the 7th, the Mets finally broke through when Eric Young, Jr, who was one of several Mets who was on base all night, drew a walk, moved up on a Daniel Murphy groundout and scored on a key hit from the one guy who's usually good for those, David Wright. Marlon Byrd followed with a flare hit, setting up the Mets for more. But, Kirk Gibson, who seemed to be treating pitching changes as though they were some sort of psychological gamesmanship, went to the mound, removed Brad Ziegler and replaced him with old friend Heath Bell. Bell promptly got Satin to hit into a Fielder's Choice before getting Buck to pop out, a small victory in its own right because to that point, Buck hadn't even made contact. 

The 8th inning brought more baserunners for the Mets. Omar Quintanilla hit a gapper with one out that Gerardo Parra appeared to catch, and the groan from the crowd was palpable. But Parra subsequently face-planted into the warning track and when it became obvious that the ball was resting comfortably on the ground, there was an immediate roar of approval. Quintanilla motored all the way around to 3rd, while Parra lay on the ground, which immediately drew some concern. It's tough to tell, at least from my perch in section 512, what happened exactly, but it didn't look good, particularly given the length of time Parra spent on the ground. But after a lengthy delay, Parra did get up and walk off. It appeared another squandered opportunity for the Mets when Valdespin popped out, but Eric Young salvaged the inning with an RBI double, and moved to 3rd on a Wild Pitch. There he stayed when Daniel Murphy flew out. 

So, the Mets had chipped away enough to make a 3-run game into a 1-run game, and maybe they had built up enough of a groundswell to get one more run across against another old friend, J.J. Putz in the 9th. Hopefully, 2 more runs, so we could all get out of there, since the game had stretched well over 3 hours. Marlon Byrd, another Met who spent most of the night getting on base, very nearly tied the game on his own, but his drive to left landed mere inches shy of a Home Run. Or was it? Terry Collins came out to challenge it, and why the hell not? What's a few more minutes? Plus, at worst, there's still a runner on 2nd. The umpires upheld the double, so Byrd stayed put. It would take at least one more hit. Josh Satin, who's surprised everyone with his performance of late, followed with a flare hit into left. This resulted in one of those moments where everything seems to slow down, as Byrd dashed for home, just as the throw was coming in to the plate. It appeared Byrd was dead to rights, and this game would end with the Mets a dollar short once again. But, somehow, the ball shorthopped the plate and Miguel Montero couldn't handle it. And even if he did, his tag on Byrd was late. Byrd scored to tie the game. The Mets were now in prime position to steal a victory, particularly after John Buck walked. But after a Lagares fly out, Buck, who couldn't catch a break, got thrown out trying to move up on a passed ball. 

So, after the Mets had bumbled their way through much of the evening, they managed to scrape out 3 runs and earn themselves extra innings, as the game rocketed towards 4 hours and beyond. The crowd, thin to begin with, was now dwindling down to a few hearty souls who probably either could survive on little sleep or just didn't have to be up early in the morning. I took this opportunity to move down, into the 400 level, as Bobby Parnell came in for the 10th. As Carlos Torres and LaTroy Hawkins had done before him, Parnell stopped the D'Backs cold. So, the Mets had yet another chance to keep this momentum going. 

Chaz Roe kicked off the bottom of the 10th by giving up a hit to Omar Quintanilla. Quintanilla scooted up a base on a pair of ground outs, but got no further. Parnell repeated himself in the 11th, including netting a strikeout of Roe, who I'd automatically assumed would be pinch hit for and even went so far as to write in his line in my scorecard. But, noooo. Roe handed the Mets even more baserunners in the 11th, walking Wright, intentionally walking Buck (which was sort of silly considering how poor he'd looked at the plate), and then unintentionally walking Anthony Recker. The sight of Anthony Recker confirmed a mild fear of mine; that the Mets had run out of players. But, with a golden opportunity to finish things off, here was Gibson again, interrupting things with a 2-out pitching change, pulling Roe for Tony Sipp, his 7th pitcher of the night, two more than the Mets scorecard allows space for. I was now reduced to writing in margins, which meant things were starting to get out of hand. Quintanilla hit a shot. Unfortunately, it was right at Goldschmidt. 3 more runners left on base for the Mets, 4 and a half hours in the books, and more game to be played.

David Aardsma entered for the Mets in the 12th. With the bench now bereft of position players, I began to think about what the plan was going forward. The Mets now only had Scott Rice and Brandon Lyon left in the bullpen. Rice had pitched about a week in a row and needed a day off. Lyon was coming off getting embarrassed by Washington, so nobody was blaming Collins for staying away. If they needed a starter, their most likely candidate to eat innings, Shaun Marcum, wasn't available because he'd started the game, though that was long enough ago that one couldn't be blamed for forgetting that. Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler certainly weren't options. Jeremy Hefner was scheduled for Tuesday. Bottom line was, hopefully this was all unnecessary thinking. Aardsma did his job in the 12th, and the bottom half of the inning mirrored several others, as Young got a hit, Gibson changed pitchers with 2 out, and the Mets didn't score.

Cody Ross, a Marlins reject who nobody likes, led off the 13th with a Home Run off Aardsma and styled as he did it. Of Course he did. Of course, after 5 hours and 13 innings and 33 runners left on base, that's how it's going to go down. Another stupid night with the stupid Mets. 

But for as stupid as the Mets often looked in this game, they somehow managed to wise up at the right moment. Or maybe Kirk Gibson just got stupid himself after sitting through this mess of a game. With one out, Josh Satin nailed a double to right, his 2nd double and 3rd hit of the game, and his second 3-hit game in a row. Think about this for a second. Josh Satin has had two cups of coffee with the Mets over the past two seasons and did nothing in particular other than being an honorable Landsman and have bushy eyebrows. But, here he is, getting a chance to play because his fellow Landsman, Ike Davis, stunk for 2 months, and all of a sudden he's hitting .380. Where did this come from? He's looked so good at the plate recently that when he was up in the 9th, I actually felt confident that he'd come through. And here in the 13th, he did it again. Kirk Gibson then ordered John Buck intentionally walked. Again, think about this for a second. John Buck struck out each of his first 3 at bats, and looked progressively more and more clueless each time. After his hot start, he's fallen back to earth and I believe he went 3-for-June. And yet not only did Gibson order him intentionally walked in the 11th, he did it again in the 13th, when Buck was the potential winning run! 

The logic, I suppose, was that the pitcher's spot was up next, and the Mets were out of players. The Mets do, however, have one pitcher who can handle the bat rather well, and that would be Matt Harvey. Harvey, who draws a fanfare at the mere mention of his name these days, was now called upon in an unscheduled appearance to lay down a bunt. This in and of itself was controversial, since Collins was giving away an out, but realistically, as good as Harvey looks at the plate, he still hits like a pitcher. A ground ball at someone would have been certain disaster. The safe play was the sacrifice, which Harvey laid down with ease, and allowed Gibson to order yet another intentional walk to Omar Quintanilla. The strategy behind this, I'm again not quite sure. At this late hour, I was only able to come up with one of two reasons: 1) Gibson didn't have a pitcher warming up. Every time the Mets had two outs and men on base, and were ready to go in for the kill, Gibson broke up the rhythm with a pitching change. 2) Gibson really wanted the Mets to set a record for leaving men on base. Whatever the reason, it ended up not working, because Andrew Brown, after falling behind 0-2, got a hold of a high fastball and shot it into the gap in Left Field, scoring Satin and Buck to win the game and earn himself a sunflower seed shower in lieu of the Justin Turner pie. 

Of course, it was Andrew Brown with the winning hit. 2 weeks ago, I had derided Brown as a useless placeholder who wouldn't be around by this point. So, since that point, all Andrew Brown has done is come up with meaningful hits, and none quite as meaningful as this one, at 12:24am, after 5 hours and 13 minutes and 13 innings and 13 pitchers in soupy conditions and mysterious managerial moves,  so that the Mets could peck and scrape and claw and eventually be rewarded with a 5-4 win that defied all logic. Sometimes, you win games like this.

This was not the longest game I had attended in terms of innings, as I do have 4 14-inning games on my ledger. However, it did end up being my longest in elapsed time, and believe me, I felt every bit of those 5 hours and 13 minutes this morning. I'm always happy to see the Mets win, particularly since I'd been working on a miserable 4-game losing streak. But as I've gotten older, I think I'm beginning to appreciate the quicker, 2 hour, 40 minute games much more than these marathons. I'm all for good drama and good stories, but all things considered, this was slightly ridiculous.