Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Continued Improvement

If you blinked, perhaps you missed last night's 3-2 Met win in Washington. As the season has dwindled down to a mere month's worth of games, it's nice to see that some of the pitchers that we expect to see around here going forward have become significantly more economical while continuing to pitch well. We saw Jonathon Niese do this on Tuesday, when his Shutout was accomplished in a mere 2 hours, 20 minutes, and last night it was Dillon Gee continuing his run of solid pitching as he kept the Nationals mostly in check into the 8th inning.

Gee's remarkable turnaround over the last 3 months has been as pleasant a surprise as any we've seen on the Mets this season, and after wondering what, exactly, he was after struggling early, he's righted the ship and has pitched well enough to be a 10-win pitcher for the 2nd time in his 3 Major League season. Ultimately, he's become exactly the kind of pitcher the Mets hoped he would be, and perhaps even better considering that the expectations were that Gee would be sort of a 6-inning, back end of the rotation guy who wouldn't kill you. He's certainly not killing the team; even his poor outings (ie last Sunday vs. Detroit) have been solid enough to keep the Mets in games. But when he's been good, he's been great, and last night, he was great. The offense managed to get him just enough runs to offset a pair of Home Runs, and when he departed, after 7.2 innings, the Mets were in position for a victory against a Nationals team that's been on a bit of a hot streak.

Certainly, Gee (and everyone watching at home) would like a bit more of a cushion, and certainly, Gee has been victimized by a lack of run support as much as any Met pitcher this season. But one thing Gee has always been able to do is pitch smart, and pitch to the situation and the score of the game. Given his slim 2-1 lead for a majority of the game, Gee worked carefully and navigated through the National lineup over the middle innings with little drama to speak of. Once the Mets got him an insurance run, courtesy of an ill-advised throw from 3rd by Ryan Zimmerman coupled with some heady baserunning from Daniel Murphy (who has decided to start hitting again—we'll see how long this lasts), Gee went back for the 8th and started getting a little more aggressive. Yes, he got burned by a rare Home Run from shrimpy Steve Lombardozzi, Jr., and yes, he tired shortly thereafter and couldn't complete the inning, but Scott Rice and LaTroy Hawkins finished up nicely and the Mets stopped Washington in their tracks.

While we're on the subject of continually improving Mets pitchers, there's another one on the mound tonight in Zack Wheeler, who comes with a significantly higher ceiling than Gee, one that he's slowly but surely begun to live up to.

Friday, August 30, 2013

One Lazy Afternoon

Thursday's game, yet another of the fabled Radio Afternoon Specials for me, was, perhaps, a good example of a team just letting their frustrations out after a spell of misfortune. After a week where nothing went right for the Mets, between injuries, inconsistency and Miguel Cabrera, this 9-game homestand had seen the Mets go 2-6 and look really bad in the 6. But, with one chance to get it right and if nothing else split this interminably long 4-game series with the Phillies, the Mets went out, smacked around that Ethan Hawke fellow, scored 11 runs and came away with a resounding win in support of Carlos Torres, pitching in the now-vacated Matt Harvey spot in the rotation.

A majority of the people in my office cleared out early in the day yesterday, in anticipation of the holiday weekend. I, however, did not leave, opting instead to take advantage of a rare quiet day in the office. I used this opportunity to provide myself with the company of Howie Rose, along with replacement announcers Eddie Coleman and the always-dreary Jim Duquette. I don't like this particular combination, because often, I have a tendency to not listen, and then I realize I'm listening to Coleman and Duquette and wondering where the hell Howie Rose is (This happened today—even when there's not many people around, I can still lose myself in some work). I bring this up because, in the 4th inning, I heard Coleman announce that someone hit a Home Run. I missed who hit it, and I got excited for a second, because I knew that Matt den Dekker had been called up and was making his debut this afternoon. That would have been a hell of a start! But, no, it wasn't den Dekker. It was another guy who'd been recalled with him, Anthony Recker, who continues to hit very little, but make what hits he does get count.

In fact, it appeared as though just about everyone other than den Dekker was hitting for the Mets on this day, particularly Recker, Daniel Murphy (for once), Andrew Brown and Eric Young. Though I predictably drifted in and out of the game, I did hear the Mets scoring several runs, and it appeared that those 4 were particularly front and center in these rallies. And the rallies were plentiful. The Mets scored at least once in every inning from the 3rd to the 8th, which feels like something they haven't done in about 15 years, and they cruised—cruised—to a 11-3 victory.

Strange as it may seem, the Mets only have two road trips left this season. It feels as though it's snuck up on us, but all of a sudden, this season is almost over. This penultimate road trip takes the Mets to Washington, where they will make a rare appearance on The Biggest Game In The Galaxy on Sunday night, followed by, in one of the more asinine scheduling quirks ever, a Monday Afternoon game in Atlanta. Nice of MLB to do us that solid. After that, a visit to my relatives in Cleveland, which should be fun. Haven't been there in a while.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Not Fit For Public Consumption

I had tickets for last night's game, but for a variety of reasons, I couldn't attend. I attempted, rather halfheartedly, to sell the tickets, but I couldn't find a taker. After getting home to find the game in the 5th inning at close to 9pm, I can say without hesitation that I'm not only really glad I didn't go to the game, but I'm also glad I didn't foist the tickets onto some poor slob who would have gone out to Citi Field and been subjected to the utter quagmire that was this 3 hour, 32 minute slog of a baseball game.

It was bad enough that Daisuke Matsuzaka didn't have it. Worse, perhaps, was the fact that the Phillies weren't able to hit him solidly, thereby allowing him to survive into the 5th inning in spite of the fact that he'd a) thrown about 271 pitches and b) worked at a pace that was somewhere in the neighborhood of Shaun Marcum times the square root of Steve Trachsel to the Oliver Perezth power. This immediately equaled no good whatsoever, and yet only after he departed following a hit batsman with the bases loaded did the Phillies finally break open a game they should have broken open 3 innings ago. It is only a small miracle that the Phillies didn't win this game 15-2, and perhaps it's a testament to their own ineptitude that they didn't score so many runs. Matsuzaka has shown so little of value in his first two starts that I'm hard pressed to think that he'll be remembered as anything more than simply a warm body who can vaguely get the ball over the plate and eat up some innings in his time with the Mets. And I'm dubious as to just how many innings he can eat because the ones he's pitched, he's done more harm than good.

In a season where I've left games early multiple times, I shudder to think how I would have reacted to being at this game. It was one of those miserably humid nights where you wish it would rain, but it never does, and the heaviness of the air combined with the absolute crawl of this game could very well have combined to make me leave after the 5th inning, once our good buddy Cole Hamels slapped a 2-run single to effectively ice the game at 4-1.

Based on what I saw on TV, I see I wasn't the only one who seemed to find this night a near perfect storm for disaster. With the Mets in complete Buzzkill mode and having dealt away enough pieces to boast a lineup featuring 6 rookies, can you blame people for not wanting to show up? There looked to be about 800 fans at Citi Field at best, sporting absurd bow ties and not looking especially pleased to be there. I usually hate missing games I have tickets to, but after seeing the results, I have to say I don't feel bad about not being there tonight. I missed absolutely nothing and spared myself a lot of self-examination about why I keep going to all these games. Fortunately, I've avoided the existential crisis. At least for one night, that is. I still have tickets to 4 more games this season.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Other Pitchers

I guess the 5 stages of grief have, at least for me, come and gone. After Monday's misery, I guess I had kind of gotten over the whole Matt Harvey thing. It happened and we'll move on and move forward, and the Mets will still be here, just without Harvey. There's still a whole other team here and we're still going to root for them.

That team got a bit thinner early in the day on Tuesday when the news came down that both Marlon Byrd and John Buck were dealt to the Pirates. A colleague of mine scoffed at the trade when he heard it was for a High-A ball infielder and player to be named later, but those more logical among us knew it was a deal that had to be done. Yes, it strips the Mets of a pair of popular guys, but let's tell it like it is: Neither of these guys were "career Mets," and it really wasn't likely that either of them were going to be around past this season anyway. You're talking about a 33-year old journeyman Catcher and 36-year old journeyman Outfielder and, yes, both of them had nice seasons, but neither of them could be counted on to duplicate these seasons. Neither of them were going to be a long-term solution and, in particular, John Buck was simply brought in to be a placeholder for Travis d'Arnaud. His hot start was a pleasant surprise and he certainly had a great rapport with the pitchers (Harvey, in particular), but he wants to play every day, and that currently didn't seem likely to happen with d'Arnaud now in the fold (True, he's backing up Paul LoDucu in Pittsburgh, but he runs hot and cold and Buck could well see himself playing a key role with the Pirates). So, these guys are gone, and we hardly knew them, but it's good for them that they managed to parlay strong seasons into being traded right into a pennant race. Go Pirates.

Much like Monday, the Mets still had to go out and play a game, and Tuesday, the results were much better than the night before. This is solely due to the efforts of Jonathon Niese, who, since returning from the DL, has looked every bit like the pitcher we were hoping he'd be at the beginning of the season. Not only did Niese stick it in Philly's ear all night, ending up with a 3-hit CGShO (his second career CGShO), he also provided the lion's share of offensive output, walking and scoring in the 3rd inning (and his running through Tim Teufel's stop sign at 3rd might become one of the more hilarious moments of the season), and later on, whacking a 3-run Double in the 6th inning. In all, Niese was involved in 4 of the 5 Met runs, which on this night was 4 more than he ultimately needed, but then again, the cushion probably allowed him to stay on the mound and finish what he started. Niese was masterful last night, not allowing a walk until the 9th inning, and most importantly boosted the morale of everyone who pays attention to the Mets.

Harvey is probably gone until 2015 (in spite of his optimistic thinking), but there's still other pitchers on the team that can carry the load. Jonathon Niese is front and center among them because he's just about the elder statesman on in the Starting Rotation. He took a major stride forward last year and began to establish himself as one of the better lefties in the league before struggling at the outset this year. But whatever injury woes he had seem to have healed and since that point, he's looked just as good as we hoped he would look, and that's certainly cause for optimism. But he's yet to really put it together over a full season. I know this is what the prevailing thought was on Niese at around this time last year, and the shoulder injury sort of undercut his 2013 season. So now 2014 is really a big season for Niese. The hope (and hope is a word that we've had to throw around an awful lot these past few days) is that he can really put it together over an entire season, and have one of those years where he pitches 200+ innings, wins 15 games and pitches to an ERA in the high 2s or low 3s with a WHIP around 1. It won't make up for the loss of Harvey, but that'll go a long way towards solidifying his status as a top-flight pitcher and keeping him a part of what's shaping up to be a really good starting rotation.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Rudderless

I'd say that the Mets as a team probably went out Monday evening suffering from one of those head-splitting hangovers where you feel like you just ate a 12-pack of crew socks and you want to vomit, but you just cant. And for all I know they may well have, but since the Mets hadn't done anything to get excited about in the 4 games preceding Matt Harvey's injury, you might not have been able to tell much difference.

The game certainly had a bit of a funereal atmosphere, though I wasn't there, it certainly felt like it given the way the SNY broadcast sounded. It might not have felt so bad if the Mets could have rallied behind Zack Wheeler and pulled out a win against the Phillies, a team that the Mets have been jockeying with for 3rd place for several weeks now. Wheeler, who's now like the Rodimus Prime of the Mets, certainly pitched like he meant it, but even though he only gave up 2 runs on a handful of hits in his 6.2 innings, the Mets could only muster 1 run against Cliff Lee and so Wheeler was hung with a not-well-deserved loss.

Then again, even if the Mets had won, the game appeared secondary to the Harvey news. Though Harvey has only been with the Mets but a year and a month, he's certainly carved a hearty niche for himself and appeared to be well on his way to continuing down the road of many of the all-time Mets pitchers. That may yet still happen but it's going to be delayed indefinitely and in the wake of the news is a club that not only was struggling without their Captain, but now has lost their rudder, the guy who was going to go out there every 5 days and capture everyone's imagination, win or lose.

Under normal circumstances, all eyes would have been on Wheeler, who has shown continual improvement each time he takes the mound. Even when he hasn't won, such as tonight, he's looked solid in defeat. But his solid outing tonight was overshadowed by Harvey sitting on the bench with a hangdog look on his face. That seemed to be the look on the face of every Met by the end of the evening, and the end of a really long day where very little went right for the Mets.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Endless Malaise

Without sounding too defeatist, a rather mundane Monday afternoon in the office turned completely morose at around 3:15pm when Evan Roberts on WFAN made an announcement about Matt Harvey going for an MRI. Almost immediately thereafter, Mike Francesa called in to WFAN to report that Harvey had an elbow injury and started throwing around words like "Tear," "UCL," "Surgery" and "Press Conference." A combination of words that served to ruin every Mets fan's day.

Ultimately, the Alderson/Collins/Harvey Press Conference didn't shed much light on just how severe Harvey's elbow injury is, but the funereal attitude all three men seemed to take didn't inspire much in the way of confidence that we'd see Harvey back on the mound anytime soon.

The game going on right now seems sort of secondary to this news, even with Zack Wheeler, who was supposed to be Harvey's partner in crime as the Mets returned to prominence, on the mound. I suppose I'm still trying to wrap my head around this whole thing, so if this seems a bit disjointed, I apologize. The prevailing thought I keep having is something to the effect of "Why the hell does this shit keep happening to us?"

It's a bad attitude to have, and injuries can crop up for any team at any time without any sort of warning. You can protect and baby young pitchers all you want and sometimes that major elbow injury always seems to happen. It's not just the Mets that these sort of things happen to. You could read a laundry list of great pitchers who were coddled and still ended up hurt, from Stephen Strasburg, to Adam Wainwright, to Josh Johnson and so on.

The reason I, and probably 95% of all Mets fans keep thinking about this always happening to the Mets is because we've lived through the past 5 years. We've seen the horror of continual injuries to key players, and misdiagnoses, and lack of communication, and with Matt Harvey now the latest to take the fall, that feeling is beginning to come to a head. When is enough enough?! Being a Mets fan hasn't exactly been a joyride these past 5 years. Do I have to rattle off the names? Remember Carlos Delgado? Jose Reyes? Carlos Beltran? Johan Santana? Shit, Ryan Church wasn't even that good and he got snowballed as bad as anyone. Even David Wright hasn't been immune. In the blink of an eye, the Mets went from one inning away from the World Series to a comic laughingstock of epic proportion. And now, just as it appeared the team was right on the precipice of returning to respectability, this happens. What. The. Fuck.

The hope now is that Harvey, who has already shown an incredible work ethic and desire to be the best, can use this to his advantage as he rehabilitates. The fear is that he turns into another Bill Pulsipher and we're left holding our jocks again. I'm sorry I had to be the one to say that, but I can't have been the only one who thought it. I have to keep reminding myself that whatever this injury is, it's not anyone's particular fault. The Mets took as much care of Matt Harvey and his arm as you could possibly expect them to. These injuries just happen sometimes, whether you guard against it or not. And as bad as it seems, it's not going to end Harvey's career. It will delay it, but not end it.
 
This injury is going to throw a real shitburger into the optimism for 2014, but considering the boatload of young, talented arms the Mets have stockpiled, maybe someone else will have the opportunity to step up and prove themselves. The fact is that, yes, while 2014 was supposed to be The Year that the worm was going to turn for the Mets, it probably wasn't going to end in a World Series Championship unless the team caught lightning in a bottle and the planets aligned. Yes, it was possible. Yes, it was also unlikely. Yes, 2015 might have been a better bet. But this injury, if it's as bad as everyone fears (and it probably is), certainly means 2014 isn't going to be that magical year for the Mets and we won't see Harvey back again until 2015. You know, assuming that Cortisone Shot Ramirez or any of his Jerry Lewis Lookalike assistants don't cajole him into delaying a necessary operation for too long.

I don't know. I'd like to close with some kind of silver lining, but I don't know if I can come up with one right now. Can anyone?

Drip, Drip, Drip...

There's no shame in getting swept by the Detroit Tigers. They currently sit as not only the defending American League Champions, but they have to be considered the odds-on favorite to repeat and go back to the World Series. Their lineup relentless, they didn't pound the Mets into submission (unless Miguel Cabrera was involved) so much as they just sort of station-to-stationed them to death. After their unsurprising beating of Daisuke Matsuzaka on Friday night, they combined for 33 hits in the two games on Saturday and Sunday, 29 of which were singles. What this proved is that even the most sedentary of teams can beat you, particularly if they string enough hits together.

Their 3-0 victory over Matt Harvey on Saturday was a good enough example of this. The Tigers banged out 15 hits. There was a double from Andy Dirks and a double from the pitcher Max Scherzer, and 13 singles. Matt Harvey managed to Houdini his way out of allowing more than 2 runs, but the Tigers tacked on another run late and, offensively, the Mets had no answer for Scherzer or the suddenly revitalized Tigers bullpen.

Sunday was, perhaps, an even better example of just how difficult the Tigers are. I was making a very rare Sunday appearance at Citi Field. I probably wouldn't have gone to this game, but if you can believe it, this was actually one of the games I selected as part of my 15-game plan. For whatever reason, I picked this game, probably because I was plotting on being free that day, or because I wanted to see the Tigers, or because I thought they might have something interesting going on (besides a Tom Seaver Bobblehead giveaway). Nothing particularly special came to pass, so for all intents and purposes, I was there simply because I had the tickets. I was somewhat hopeful that the Mets, who would be sending one of their hotter hands in Dillon Gee to the mound, might be able to salvage this game and avoid being swept. For a spell, it looked like it might happen. Though Miguel Cabrera struck for a monumental 2nd deck Home Run that disappeared into the Acela Club, Gee settled down and allowed the Tigers little more than a bunch of singles after that. Meanwhile, the Mets struck back, and actually took a lead for the first time all weekend when Travis d'Arnaud hit his 1st Major League Home Run (and even earned himself a curtain call) in the 4th inning. But Andy Dirks snatched that lead back 2 innings later with a Home Run of his own.

The two Home Runs from Cabrera and Dirks aided the Tigers to a 4-3 lead, but they also were the only two extra-base Hits the Tigers would generate on this afternoon. Going into the 9th inning, they'd managed 11 hits, but only 4 runs and the Mets certainly had to feel like they had a puncher's chance in the bottom of the 9th.

Then, the Tigers started getting singles. And more singles. And more singles. And more singles....And even more singles. Tigers kept moving station to station around the bases until they reached home. It was like some sort of demented water torture, watching these dunkers drop in or sneak through the infield and baserunners trotting slowly from base to base. The runs mounted up. LaTroy Hawkins couldn't stop it, and by time he mercifully departed, the damage was done and a 4-3 deficit had become an 6-3 deficit. Scott Atchison came in and was probably even worse, allowing a few more hits and garnished the shit stew with a couple of wild pitches, and by time the inning was done, 11 men had come to bat, 7 had hit singles, 1 had walked and 7 runs had scored. 4-3 had turned into 11-3 and a good game had gotten real ugly.

The point is, the Tigers can do it to you quickly, or they can do it to you slowly. But somehow, it appears, they're going to do it to you, and the best you can hope for is that it just remains respectable. The Mets were only vaguely successful in this endeavor. Fortunately, the Mets only have to face the Tigers once every few years, so it's not of such alarming concern.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Not Much to Talk About

I didn't write anything yesterday about Wednesday's game because, for one, it ended terribly and two, I had it on the radio in the midst of what was a particularly busy day in the office, so anything I had to say would not have been particularly well-informed. This hasn't stopped me in the past, but hey, it's my blog and I do as I please.

It was another game where I lost track of time and didn't put the game on until the 2nd inning. Not that I'd missed much, but I did hear Josh Satin's Home Run, particularly because Josh Lewin's guttural screaming clued me in. The rest of the game was a blur; the kind of weekday afternoon game that kind of just happened and then I'd prick up my ears in time to hear Howie Rose say "Put it in the Books" or something desultory if the Mets lost. Then I was in another office in a meeting for a while, and when I came back, I heard Josh talking about guys getting ejected and the Braves leading 4-1 in the 10th inning. A colleague was sitting at another desk in my office. The following discussion ensued:

Me: 4-1?! What the fuck happened?

Colleague: What? I wasn't listening.

It was that kind of afternoon.

Just as well, I suppose, since it was certainly the kind of game not worth remembering.

Fortunately, the Mets made an addition on Thursday as bit of a smokescreen to make us all forget about Wednesday's mess. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had been lost in the shuffle for a couple of years after his flashy career in Japan and misanthropic few years in Boston, was brought in, presumably just to eat some innings and prevent any more Carlos Torres starts. Matsuzaka will get thrown right into the fire and face the Detroit Tigers, who have been a bit like the AL's version of the Dodgers tonight, so we'll get a good idea of what, if anything, he's got left very quickly.

To call this a stopgap move is probably the understatement of the year. Matsuzaka hasn't pitched in the Major Leagues this season, and hasn't pitched effectively since 2008, which, by the way, was the last time he pitched a full season in the Majors (and only his second since jumping from Japan to America). A phenom in Japan as a teenager, Matsuzaka has probably reached the end of his useful rope, so I can't say I think he'll be around much more than the 6 weeks remaining in this season (the early results are not encouraging, he's given up 5 runs in 2 innings, including a rocket of a Home Run to Miguel Cabrera). But, playing out the string, with several of their young pitchers on innings limits and others likely not to reach the Major Leagues this season, he probably is the best option out there, particularly since it's costing the Mets very little and they have no particular obligation to him beyond this season.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ignore the Surroundings

Tuesday night's game was my 13th of the season at Citi Field and my 3rd non-plan game. I'd made the decision to go a couple of weeks ago after I realized that, for whatever reason, I didn't pick this game on my plan and, more troubling, I actually hadn't picked seats for any Mets/Braves matchups this season. I make mention from time to time about seeing teams more or less often (particularly teams like the Cardinals, Dodgers and Cubs), but the Braves are a team I see basically every season. Going back to 1998, I have been to at least one Mets/Braves game every season, so with Tuesday night being my last chance to see the Braves (the afternoon game today not an option), I had to go. Usually when this happens, and there's no discount via the Mets, I try my luck on StubHub, where I've had good success finding a good seat at a decent price, and last night was no different. I found a single seat available in section 419 (still the Promenade, but in the boxes, where I rarely sit unless it's late and people have left).

Unfortunately, as I found out, my single seat was sandwiched in between the following "undesirables."

- The family of kids all dressed in Boston Red Sox garb, replete with the dottering father who spent the majority of the game looking at a Fantasy Football magazine.
- Two Braves fans.
- A group of about 8 guys, one of whom was excessively drunk to the point where I wasn't quite sure if he had too much to drink or he had Special Needs, until he started speaking, which he did quite often, punctuating his nonsensical rants with excessive profanity, and at a decibel level reserved for Michael Buffer.
- An older, heavy-set gentleman who kept engaging the drunk guy while yelling about how "Wheeler's gotta get it together" and "d'Arnaud's goin' back to Triple-A!"
- The group of 3 20something girls out for a birthday who also drank too much and screamed really loud.
- A pair of catatonic-looking guys who moved very slowly. I paid them no mind until, when they announced the Braves lineup, I heard him say "Andrelton Simmons is a MORTAL LOCK to win Rookie of the Year."

When I find myself surrounded by know-nothings like this, and I'm by myself, the best I can do is try to keep quiet and focus as much as I can on the game. Sometimes that's difficult. Especially when the Mets are losing. Then I just hope that people leave early.

Fortunately, thanks to Zack Wheeler, that didn't happen. Wheeler continued his dominance over the Braves, zipping his fastball around with aplomb and shutting out Atlanta and their Overrated Rookie (Simmons is proving my "overglorified Rey Ordonez" comment as truth since although he has 11 Home Runs, he's hitting all of .240), and their Meatheaded Rookie (Evan Gattis and his 15 Home Runs, 11 of which were in April), and their annoying 1st Baseman (though for as much as I dislike Freeman, from what I've heard he's actually a pretty likeable guy). Wheeler continues to look better and better with each start, and although he still has room for improvement, pitching shutout ball into the 7th inning against a team running away with their division is pretty good. There's always things to pick on, like the fact that he gave up too many 2-out singles and threw too many pitches early on, but can you really complain too much? He got into trouble in the 7th, but having thrown over 100 pitches, he didn't quite have the juice to get out of it. This was all well and good, except that Carlos Torres then gave up a 3-run double to Overratedton Simmons, and then had a hand in nearly throwing the game away altogether. After an ill-advised and lousy throw home by Quintanilla allowed Simmons to take 3rd, Torres then heaved an even worse throw back to 3rd that was ticketed for Left Field, but for Daniel Murphy of all people alertly backing up the play. This saved the tying run and then Scott Rice, Gonzalez Germen and LaTroy Hawkins did the rest.

The Mets also hit a little bit last night too, which was great, because their small-ball approach could only get them so far. It got them their first two runs, at least, since Eric Young, Jr was all over the place. He stole a base and scored a run on an Ike Davis single in the 1st, and reached on a beauty of a bunt in the 6th, stole another base and scored when Brian McCann's Mark Sanchez-like throw to 2nd sailed into Center Field. He also robbed McCann in the 6th with a ridiculous diving catch, after which he immediately hopped up and styled for the cheering crowd.

Marlon Byrd and Ike Davis supplied the rest of the offense with a pair of no-doubt Home Runs, Byrd's a skyscraper that hung in the air for a long enough time that I actually lost track of it, only seeing it land in the seats, and Davis' a Home Run Derby-esque bomb that landed near the top rows of the Pepsi Porch to supply a sorely-needed insurance run in the 8th.

By the last of the 8th, with the Mets ahead 5-3 and seemingly in control (though you never take these things for granted), the only remaining drama would be whether or not we'd have a chance to see Travis d'Arnaud finally get his first hit. d'Arnaud received a hero's welcome when he was announced before the game, and although the cheering for him was unwavering, he'd struck out twice and clearly didn't impress the guy sitting in front of me. He also almost beat out a slow grounder on a hit-and-run play in the 5th. But all for naught and he sat at 0-for-10 with 5 walks, not exactly the most auspicious entry to the Majors. You hate to see these things drag on, because it can wear on you from a psychological standpoint. But Davis' Home Run provided him with one last shot in the 8th inning, and he took advantage of the not-so-fondly-remembered Luis Ayala, shooting a line drive double up the Left Field gap for that elusive first hit, therefore putting a good capper on the night's proceedings.

In the end, it was a good night for the Mets and a good night at Citi Field. Yes, I had to watch the game amongst certain undesirables, but by time the game ended, most of them had left (or been thrown out), and even if they were still there, they wouldn't have dampened the good vibes generated by a solid performance from Zack Wheeler, a pimp catch from Eric Young, a pair of Home Runs, Travis d'Arnaud's first Major League hit and a 5-3 win over the Braves. The win, obviously, most important.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pit Stop

This game had to be made up at some point, since MLB isn't really fond of letting teams punt games entirely, even if it holds no bearing on any sort of playoff berth. And I guess Minneapolis is sort of halfway between San Diego and New York, if you're going by way of Pickle Lake, so why not drop in and play a Baseball game? It ain't no thang.

Man, I'm this snarky after the Mets won? Imagine if they'd lost.

Fortunately, they didn't lose, and so the road trip from April that saw 2 games snowed out, a 3rd game frozen out and 5 of 7 games played in conditions bordering on the inhumane is now finally complete, with the Mets having made two of these little "side trips" and coming away with two wins.

Monday, the Mets essentially had a brief layover in Minneapolis, arriving in town late Sunday night to play a Monday afternoon game that was, for them, quick. So quick, in fact, that if you blinked, you probably forgot they even had a game today. I didn't, although I was engrossed enough at work that I actually missed the beginning of the game. I've made mention at times that I will often keep WFAN streaming on my computer at work, but if there's a game on, I have to switch to a portable radio because for whatever reason, MLB blacks out the internet stream of live games. But they're not consistent with it. And sometimes, if I'm not paying attention, I'll all of a sudden start listening again and wonder why I've got a replay of Boomer and Carton on. This is what happened today, so by time I tuned in, the Mets were already up 2-0 and Dillon Gee was cruising right along.

Gee, who's been a large part of the Mets resurgence, came through with another fine start on the heels of several other fine starts he's had, and it's gotten to the point that people are actually starting to recognize Dillon Gee as a good pitcher in his own right, and as pivotal a part of the Mets rotation going forward as anybody they've got in the system. Sure, he doesn't have the general panache of Matt Harvey or Zack Wheeler, or really any other pitcher in the rotation right now (Not including Carlos Torres, since he really doesn't count in deference to Jenrry Mejia), but what he has done is get people out consistently over a stretch of time where it's been pretty important for him to do so. Particularly when things like, say, his job were on the line. But he's proven up to the challenge and today was another good example of that. Given an early lead, Gee set out and smashed the flea—in this case an overmatched and anemic Twins lineup—with a sledgehammer, only allowing 1 run in 7.2 innings of work, and even that was unearned courtesy of an error by the irritatingly spastic Daniel Murphy. The end result was about 12 well-spent hours in Minneapolis, before finally and in some cases mercifully heading home.

Other items of housekeeping: Perhaps the least surprising move of the season is the non-return of Travis d'Arnaud to AAA with John Buck returning to the team tomorrow. d'Arnaud doesn't have a hit in 3 games, but I don't see anyone going nuts about that, particularly considering the fact that he's drawn 5 walks in the process. He's also probably going to see a majority of the playing time down the stretch, which is, of course, what he's here for. Gone is Anthony Recker, whom I'm sure we will remember about as fondly as, say, Vance Wilson or any other light-hitting backup Catcher. Braves in this week and I'm making an unannounced appearance tonight, in order to continue my streak of having seen at least one Mets/Braves game every year since 1998. This may or may not be a good idea, but with Zack Wheeler on the mound it will at least be interesting.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Long Long Long

After a pair of games where the Mets looked peppy and played with a bit of a spring in their step, it seemed like the air went out of them over the weekend, where they slogged through a pair of really long, sweaty San Diego games, the kind of games where nothing goes right, they go on too long, and they end up losing.

In spite of starting 90 minutes earlier than any other game they'd played in California this week, Saturday's game was submarined by Jenrry Mejia's sore elbow knocking him out of the game in the 4th inning. To that point, things seemed to be breezing along and the only noteworthy story of the game was Travis d'Arnaud's debut. If d'Arnaud's first game ended up being the big story of the night, that would have been OK. But, instead, Mejia ended up leaving hurt, and in his stead, David Aardsma inspired little confidence as the Padres wrecked him for 3 runs in the 4th and another in the 5th. Worse than that, however, was that after Mejia left, the game just slowed down to a crawl, and by time Jedd Gyorko's Home Run sealed the deal in the 8th, it was pretty much midnight and you wouldn't have known the difference between an 8:40 start time and a 10:10 start time. The box score says 3:36, but it felt like about 4:40 the way things were proceeding, and I really have no idea why this happened. It's as if every pitcher on both sides took a dose of Shaun Marcum pills before the game started.

After all that went on, I guess d'Arnaud's debut kind of got lost. I saw Kevin Burkhardt interview his family, a very happy-looking group, during one of his at bats, but he ultimately seemed secondary. In 4 at-bats, he walked twice and generally looked patient, and grounded out in a key spot in the 5th on a slow roller that a faster runner might have beaten out. But that's OK. He also had some difficulty stopping balls in the dirt but that's also OK, because Aardsma was all over the place, and Feliciano throws a lot of sweeping breaking balls, and Carlos Torres is Carlos Torres.

d'Arnaud's Sunday was more or less a mirror image of Saturday, where he walked twice, looked patient at the plate, and didn't get a hit, but hit into a Double Play in the 2nd inning. Thusly, he departs San Diego hitless, so hopefully Minnesota will treat him a little better. You'd obviously rather this not turn into one of those things.

The Mets' Sunday was similar to Saturday only in that they suffered an annoying loss that took too long. Nobody got blasted and nobody got hurt, which was good, but Matt Harvey ended up sitting idly by while yet another good outing ended up squandered thanks to a lack of offense and a porous performance by the bullpen. Harvey pitched well, as usual, but got victimized by a hit batsman and some bleeders and his tenuous 2-0 lead evaporated. The Mets got him another lead in the 7th, but Gonzalez Germen couldn't hold it and Pedro Feliciano gave up the death blow by Will Venable in the 9th inning, which was terrible, because the Mets lost a game they probably could have won had they hit at all, but good, because it prevented the perfect shit storm for the Mets, which was an Extra Inning game on the West Coast on a Getaway Day when they had a Makeup game scheduled on what was supposed to be their Travel Day. That probably would have been worse, so if they had to lose the game, at least they lost it in a 9 inning game that took too long instead of a 13-inning game that went even longer.

So, California has come and gone and the Mets ended up 2-5, leaving them at 4-6 on the road trip to this point. They now get the high privilege of spending their day off playing the aforementioned makeup game in Minnesota, something I'm sure everyone must be thrilled about. The Mets have had success in this sort of scenario already this year, but I have this eerie premonition that the game will end up being somewhat more annoying. We'll see.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

WELCOME TO...San Diego?!

The door has finally been opened for Travis d'Arnaud to make his long-awaited Mets debut, probably tonight in San Diego. I suppose most of us in Metsdom would have hoped this would come at home, but circumstances, or, more appropriately, John Buck's paternity leave status, prevented it from happening until now.

That's not to say that we might not see d'Arnaud in New York before September anyway. Though d'Arnaud is, essentially, a 3-day replacement for Buck, and those 3 days end on Monday in a makeup game in Minnesota, there is no particularly good reason for d'Arnaud to return to AAA at that time. Although it is an audition and he, of course, has no MLB track record, he is one of those names we've been waiting for all season, as though the name "Travis d'Arnaud" had become sort of a buzzword for the future of the Mets, perhaps even moreso than the names "Harvey," "Wheeler" or "Syndergaard."

It may simply be because all the other major Mets prospects are pitchers, and d'Arnaud is a Catcher, and will more than likely play every day. It may be because d'Arnaud was acquired for the wildly popular R.A. Dickey and everyone hopes he'll be just as popular. But I suppose more than anything else, it's the hope for the future that his callup symbolizes. I guess it's not much different than Harvey or Wheeler making their debuts in and of itself. Perhaps it's because Harvey and Wheeler are both pitchers in an organization that seems capable of churning out solid starters by the bucketload. The rotation, as it's comprised right now, is almost entirely home-grown (Only Wheeler was acquired, everyone else started with the Mets), and going further down the list are names like Montero and Syndergaard. Offensively, the Mets are challenged, both at the top and down the system. But d'Arnaud is supposed to be one of those prospects that can hit. He's done it all the way up, and if he shows us something in this brief audition, maybe he takes over on a permanent basis now as opposed to next year.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Late Night with Zack Wheeler

It was nice of Zack Wheeler to strike out 12 Padres batters last night for a variety of reasons, all of which bear listing here:

1) It made me feel like staying up past midnight to watch the Mets was at least somewhat worth my while, after 3 other nights of doing that this week were completely futile.
2) It proved that the Mets were not going to go down the toilet after being swept in Los Angeles.
3) After Wheeler's strong outing in Arizona, it was nice to see him follow up with another strong outing rather than fall back into that good outing/bad outing pattern we'd been seeing.

Of course, Wheeler ultimately didn't get the win because it took until the 8th inning for the Mets to finally get a bit of a lead, but then again, if Wheeler didn't have a good outing, then it's probably not tied 1-1 in the 8th inning anyway. But Wheeler, in addition to striking out batters like crazy, also showed some of the moxie he's displayed in difficult situations. Faced with a runner on 3rd and 1 out in the 3rd inning after Ruben Rivera's Home Run was saved—but not caught—by Eric Young resulting in a triple, Wheeler muscled up and struck out Tyson Ross and Venable to get out of the inning unscathed. He looked to be in a heap of trouble in the 4th when the Padres loaded the bases, but he managed to get Jaff (not Jeff) Decker to hit a sac fly, and then struck out old friend Ronny CedeƱo. He escaped again in the 5th, when the Padres threatened to Padre him to death, getting singles and men on base, but again with multiple men on and 1 out, he struck out Franch Headley and, although he gave up a hit to Yonder Alonso (who could be the Padres' version of Yo La Tengo), Juan Lagares bailed him out by throwing a strike to home to nail a runner at the plate.

Wheeler finished after 6 innings because it still takes him a lot of pitches to strike out 12 batters and it wouldn't have been prudent to let him go further, but that's OK. Right now, we're more interested in results as opposed to length. Wheeler got some nice pats on the back when he came off the mound, as well as what appeared to be a bit of a lecture from Matt Harvey.

So it was then up to the bullpen to keep the game tied and hope that the Mets offense would wake up a little bit, lest this turn into every other game the Mets have ever played in Petco Park and they lose 2-1. That, fortunately, did not happen. Scott Atchison zipped through the 7th, and the Mets finally broke through against Gregerson in the 8th, thanks to a 2-run double from Marlon Byrd that Denorfia probably should have caught, but then again, no he shouldn't have. John Buck added an insurance run in the 9th inning with a Home Run, and that was the 4-run quota for the Mets on this night.

Gonzalez Germen, whom I have written comparatively little about since he arrived here rather unceremoniously last month, finished off the game for the Mets with 2 sterling innings of work, pitching around a pair of walks in the 8th, capped off by a strikeout of Jaff, and when the Mets added a run in the 9th, Collins must have said, "Well, all right kid, go finish it off," and Germen appeared somewhat motivated by this, since he didn't fuck around and went right after the Padres, retiring them in order in the 9th to cap off the 4-1 victory and make me feel better about staying up until 1:15am.

Tonight, the Mets have another 10pm game, their last of the year. There was a point in my life when I enjoyed these excessively late west coast games, but after slogging through this week, I think those days are over. I'm glad the Mets are done with west coast trips after this weekend.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Dodgefather, Part III

You know, I kept talking about the Hex of The Hot Team coming back to bite the Mets this week in Los Angeles as if it were a joke, but the way these games played out this week, It's hard to not think there's something to it, like some higher order is at work that's willing the Dodgers to win all these games. It's not just the Mets that have fallen victim to this, it seems to be every team that the Dodgers have played. The Rays had been on a pretty good run themselves, and they came to LA last weekend and got swept out of the building. And for a majority of last night's game, I thought I was wrong. The Mets jumped out to a lead, Dillon Gee and the Bullpen were keeping the Dodgers at bay for the most part. But in the end, this game turned out just like the two games that preceded it, like it was the almost unwatchable 3rd part to a trilogy that was good enough after the first two versions. And when Andre Ethier's pinch hit Home Run tied the game in the 9th inning, I could only think that somewhere, Al Pacino was screaming "Every time I think I'm out...THEY PULL ME BACK IN!!!"

I suppose there was good reason for optimism after Marlon Byrd hit a 3-run Home Run and the Mets were up 4-0 with Dillon Gee cruising along. Gee has been in a great groove of late, but if Matt Harvey isn't immune to The Hot Team, then nobody is. The fact is, the Mets could have been ahead 10-0 and it probably would have been hard for me to feel comfortable about this game. I heard some talk about the injuries that have struck the Mets over the past few weeks coming back to bite them, but I don't know if David Wright and Bobby Parnell could have stopped the Dodgers from roaring back in any of these games.

It's unfortunate for Gee, who didn't so much run out of steam as much as he just ran into the Dodgers, because you knew they had a rally in them to make the game close, and after watching the Mets fail to tack on runs on offense in every game this week, I can't imagine it's the bats not hitting (particularly after they knocked Arizona around last weekend), but the bullpen of The Hot Team just getting every key out they needed to get. And so, when the Dodgers ultimately tied the game in the 9th and things moved into Extra Innings, I gave up. I shut the game off, knowing that it was only going to be a matter of time before the Dodgers found a way to do it to the Mets once again (the fact that it was closing in on 1:30am didn't help either). And, sure enough, when I woke up this morning, I saw the ESPN notice on my phone that the Dodgers had indeed won in the 12th, with Yasiel Puig hopping around the bases as a central figure to the winning rally.

So, nothing to be done for the Mets. Even if they sucked us in and gave us hope for a little while last night (and every night, really), they really had no logical chance to stop the Dodgers, not with the voodoo hex working its nauseating magic, turning the Mets to Jell-O at every avenue, making them look silly and ultimately sweeping them right out of town. So, just lick your wounds and move south to San Diego, and hope that maybe they can get over those Petco Park problems they always seem to have and get this road trip back on track.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Et Tu, Harvey?!

Seems I was wrong. Even Matt Harvey is not immune to the Mojo of The Hot Team.

That's not to say he was totally raked by the Dodgers, but in a game that felt eerily similar to the one that preceded it on Monday night, the Dodgers just sort of pecked and clawed at him like a vulture until they finally drew blood in the 5th inning.

Harvey wasn't at his sharpest last night, and even the best pitchers have bad games like this, but the fact that Harvey managed to keep the Dodgers at bay as long as he did when he didn't have his best stuff was a testament to his guts. They were nicking him every inning, but early on, Harvey managed to get that key Double Play ball when he needed it. Until the 5th inning, when that luck ran out and the Dodgers broke through for a pair of runs to turn the game in their favor. Relentless, the Dodgers went back out and scored 2 more in the 6th, making the remainder of the game more or less academic. Harvey seethed and fumed on the mound and although I didn't hear his comments after the game, I'm sure it was a lot of subtextual jargon masking what would likely have been the kind of expletive-laden diatribe that's generally reserved for people like Tommy Lasorda.

That said, the Mets certainly had their chances offensively, but, you know. The Mets managed little more than a bunch of singles after Juan Lagares' first inning Home Run, and when a single would have been useful, they didn't get one.

I suppose, given that the Mets are going up against The Hot Team, they'd be lucky to come away from this series with 1 out of 3. I'm dubious as to whether they can overcome the voodoo right now, so I feel like they might be better off just punting tonight, licking their wounds and getting the hell out of LA as quickly as possible. Not that San Diego has been a pleasure palace for the Mets, but it's clear that the best the Mets have been able to do is just slow the Dodgers down for a few innings before they strike. Maybe if it's a blowout, I can go to sleep instead of staying up until 1am waiting for a Godot-like clutch hit.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Fix Is In

During the last Football Season, I wrote about The Hot Team, in reference to the Seattle Seahawks. They were a team that got on a roll and basically started catching every break, getting every close call and riding that wave to an extended string of rousing success.

The Hot Team applies to Baseball, too. The Hot Team in Baseball right now is the Los Angeles Dodgers, who came into their series last night with the Mets in the throes of a 37-8 stretch that has seen them go from a potential laughingstock to everyone's darlings. All of a sudden, Don Mattingly is a genius, Clayton Kershaw is the second coming of Sandy Koufax, and hotshot rookie Yasiel Puig is everyone's flavor of the week. They're on such a roll that they've even managed to leap the Atlanta Braves as everyone's darlings.

It's enough to make you want to puke.

After spending a majority of my evening watching assorted programming that did everything to drill into your head just how wonderful the Dodgers are (you know, in spite of the fact that they haven't actually won anything yet), I was really looking forward to the Mets maybe going into Los Angeles and kicking the Dodgers in the nuts a little bit. Nobody wants to talk about the Mets at all right now, but someday, they'll be The Hot Team too, I'd have to guess, particularly considering the fact that they currently boast a starting rotation that could rival any in the majors as far as level of talent goes.

But, you still have to go out and win the game on the field, and one of the frustrating things about playing against The Hot Team is that you not only have to beat them, you have to beat them in spite of all the breaks they're bound to get. Worst of all, The Hot Team seems to invariably have a particularly annoying mojo that makes their opponent turn to mush at the worst possible moment. Think about how many times in recent memory the Mets have played lights-out, brilliant baseball for weeks, only to turn into a bunch of schmucks against a team like the Braves, Cardinals or that other team that plays in New York. There's no logical explanation for it, like there's some sort of hex that The Hot Team can just will onto their opponent. Last night's game seemed to exemplify this to a "T."

Things were going swimmingly for the Mets as last night's game entered the 6th inning. They were ahead 2-0, thanks to a 2nd inning rally against old friend Ricky Nolasco, who I believe was pitching against the Mets for the 271st time in his career. Even in Los Angeles, he appeared to be as sweaty and sullen as I remember, although I'm sure he's enjoying himself more now that he's no longer stuck in Baseball Purgatory. Jenrry Mejia was looking even better, continuing his resurgence with 5 shutout innings and really showing the Dodgers what's what. He'd struck out The Great Puig twice and made him look bad, causing Puig to throw his helmet and pout around the dugout for a while.

But leading off the 6th inning, Carl Crawford hit a dinky little grounder to 2nd that Daniel Murphy gagged on, and by time he picked it up, it was too late to get the speedy Crawford. For whatever reason, it was scored a hit. For The Hot Team, sometimes that's all it takes. That little bit of voodoo hits one player and spreads like the plague. Mark Ellis followed with a little flare that somehow hiccuped off of Murphy's glove for another hit, then Dante Hicks Adrian Gonzalez roped a single to center that scored Crawford and eventually scored Ellis when Juan Lagares, found himself in the crosshairs of the Dodger Hex and had his strong throw to 3rd bounce off Ellis and into the seats, thus allowing Ellis to score and Gonzalez to go to 3rd. Puig followed with a sacrifice fly, and just like that, a 2-0 lead turned into a 3-2 deficit and made a loser out of Mejia through no real doing of his own.

The Mets certainly made their best effort to try to come back, but by that point, the hex had already taken hold and had spread to the Umpires, which was just about enough to give you the impression that the fix was in. The Mets loaded the bases with 1 out, prompting the Dodgers to bring in reliever Ronald Belisario to face Juan Lagares. This was, of course, the setup for the perfect storm of horrible. First, Lagares got rooked on a check swing with a 2-0 count, getting charged a strike when he didn't swing. But Lagares, undaunted, worked the count further, eventually getting to 3-2 when Belisario threw a pitch that appeared to not only be high, but a good 4" outside. Under normal circumstances, this would have been a bases loaded walk to re-tie the game 3-3. But not under the Hex. Under the Hex, Ball 4 was egregiously called Strike 3 by Home Plate ump Chad Fairchild, who put a little extra mustard on the call just to make sure everyone knew it. Given just how outrageously bad the call was, I have to applaud both Juan Lagares and Terry Collins for their restrained behavior, because I, probably every other Mets fan, Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez were all probably ready to blow their collective stacks at Fairchild.

The Mets still had a chance to cash in with 2 outs, but Aurelio Lopez-like lefty Paco Rodriguez came in and Daniel Murphy's shot in the gap probably would have hit the wall and scored 3 runs under normal circumstances, but, again, the Hex, and there was Yasiel Puig to pick off the liner and end the inning.

None of the rest of the game is worth discussing, unless you really want me to go off on a diatribe against Danny DeVito or something. The Hot Team won again, not that that was at all surprising, and sometimes, when you're a young team that's learning how to be winners like the Mets are right now, there's just not much you can do except try to keep your cool and not let things snowball out of control from there. Fortunately, the Mets have Matt Harvey on the mound tonight, who for the most part has proven himself impervious to such outside stimulii as The Hot Team. But the rest of his teammates have to follow suit. We'll see what happens. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Reappearing

Early last month, the Mets and Diamondbacks played a stupefyingly long series at Citi Field that featured the elapsed time of approximately 6 Baseball games into 4 actual games.

This past weekend, the Mets and Diamondbacks played a series in Arizona, where the Mets have had their share of success over the years, and did not play an extra inning game, nor did they play a game that had a rain delay or some bizarre set of circumstances that caused the game to run abnormally long. The Mets won two of three said games primarily based on the efforts of several players who did not have anything to do with the Mets' prior series against Arizona.

Friday night's game certainly appeared headed towards extra innings. For most of the night, the two teams appeared to be trading jabs and barbs. The game was tied, then it wasn't tied, then Arizona was ahead, then it was tied again. Jeremy Hefner, who did appear against the Diamondbacks in New York, was pedestrian once again, and by the weekend he'd be shipped out to the minors after it appeared as though he might end up being the one season-long constant in the Mets rotation this season. Hefner's probably been pitching hurt, which may have explained why he'd been so lousy of late. Of course, the more popular reason for that might have been simply "because he's Jeremy Hefner." Either way, the Mets were behind, but then tied the game in the 8th thanks to a pair of RBI ground outs from a pair of Mets who did not play against Arizona the last time these two teams met, Justin Turner and Wilmer Flores. For Turner, who was on the DL last month, this was his 3rd RBI of the game, so he made his rare start count. It seemed likely that extra baseball would be in order as the game moved to the bottom of the 9th, but Scott Atchison, who also was on the DL and did not appear against Arizona last month, surrendered the game-winning Home Run to Paul Goldschmidt at a moment where I'd dropped attention to the game, and so I was annoyingly brought back to the action just in time to see Goldschmidt getting dowsed with water at home plate.

Saturday turned out better for the Mets, thanks primarily to Zack Wheeler, who also did not appear against Arizona, having been on the wrong end of a shellacking at the hands of the Washington Nationals the day before the D'Backs got to town. Wheeler came through with another solid performance, pitching shutout ball into the 7th inning before Aaron Hill caught up to one. Wheeler has been up and down, much like you'd expect from a young pitcher in his first season in the bigs, but when he's been good, he's been impressively good, and Saturday was another such outing. In his 6.1 innings, Wheeler allowed 6 hits, just the 1 run thanks to Hill, and for the first time since he'd reached the Majors, no walks. By time he departed, he had a 2-1 lead which got stretched to 4-1 in the 8th inning thanks to a clutch 2-out, 2-run single from Wilmer Flores. Flores, who did not play against Arizona last month due to the fact that he was still in the Minor Leagues, was all over the place this weekend, particularly on Saturday when he drove in 3 of the 4 Met runs. The Mets bullpen also did Wheeler a solid by getting through a couple of tough jams, highlighted by a bases loaded strikeout by Pedro Feliciano, who also did not appear against Arizona last month, to finish off the 8th inning. LaTroy Hawkins, who has somehow found himself the closer for the moment, finished things out from there and the Mets had evened the series with a nice, tidy 4-1 victory.

Sunday brought the return of Jonathon Niese to the mound for the Mets. Niese missed the Arizona series last month due to a rotator cuff injury. Although he wasn't at his sharpest in his return, he was effective enough to gut his way through 6 innings, while the Mets offense broke out and scored what is for them an astronomical 9 runs. Niese got 4 runs right out of the chute thanks primarily to Paul Goldschmidt, who gagged on a ground ball off the bat of Mike Baxter (guess what—didn't play against Arizona last month!) with the bases loaded and then stood there with a big ol' puss on his face while Mets dashed around the bases. Heavily involved in multiple Met rallies on Sunday was Ike Davis, who, you guessed it, didn't play against Arizona last month because he was in the Minors getting his shit together. He seems to finally have done that because all of a sudden he's become an OBA machine. Ike appeared to get on base in some form just about every time he came to the plate this past weekend. If he wasn't walking, he was getting a hit, and just about every time you looked up, there was Ike running around the bases with his helmet about to fly off his head. For the series, Ike was 3 for 5, but also walked 5 times and scored 4 runs, 3 of which came on Sunday. When the game got tight in the late innings, the Mets offense generated the necessary runs in order to put the game away, particularly Andrew Brown, who has become a bit of a Diamondback-killer after his 3-run, pinch hit Home Run extended the Met lead from 5-4 to 8-4, and Wilmer Flores, who again showed his worth by blasting his first Major League Home Run in the 9th (and then had his teammates' silent treatment botched by a spastic Daniel Murphy).

So, the Mets move on, having finished their season series with Arizona, and now go on to Los Angeles to see the Dodgers, whom the Mets have not played since April. Much has changed on both sides. 10pm starts all week, so break out the cappuccino maker.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Complete Opposite

Last August, the Mets met their Waterloo in a home series against the Colorados where they neither hit, pitched, fielded or performed any particular actions consistent with the acceptable play of a Major League Baseball team. The end result was a Thursday afternoon affair that saw the Major League debut of Collin McHugh where McHugh mysteriously struck out 9 batters and threw 7 shutout innings. But the Mets didn't hit and in the end some poor fielding ended up costing them the game in a 1-0 loss. I listened to this game with contempt on the radio, and if the disgust in Howie Rose's voice wasn't enough, immediately following was one of Mike Francesa's most vitriolic rants against the team. He summed it up by simply saying "NNNNNEY STINK!" and he was right. Ney did stink.

One year later, we're seeing just how different the attitude is around the team. Today, the Mets played the Colorados in a Thursday afternoon finale to a series in which they played smart, heady baseball, they hit, pitched and (mostly) fielded well against a Colorado team completely decimated by injuries and general malaise, and the end result was that they scratched out enough runs to take a lead and the pitching, led by Dillon Gee and capped by LaTroy Hawkins, put the Colorados AAA lineup in their place in a 2-1 victory that finished off a series sweep. They are doing the sorts of things that you expect to see out of a young team that's only starting to learn how to win. The puzzle is complete, but you see the signs and the talent is certainly starting to surface. They didn't play outstanding baseball against the Colorados; they only hit sporadically, but they made their hits count. The pitching just stepped on the Colorados' throats, only allowing 3 runs in 3 games. Last season, 3 runs in 3 games might have been enough to beat the Mets in all 3. This year, the results are different.

Having a series like this against the Colorados isn't going to save this season, and had it happened last season it wouldn't have done anything to make that year more worthwhile either, but if nothing else, it's shown that the Mets now have a pulse. They have some direction and they have talented pieces that are useable going forward. They got great performances from their starters each time out, they played fundamentally sound, made productive outs, got productive hits when they needed them most, and parlayed some heads-up baserunning plays into important runs that ultimately won games. This is the sort of inspired play that makes fans want to show up and watch the team, even if they're hopelessly out of any sort of real contention for a playoff spot. Because it inspires HOPE for the future. Last year, at this time, there was no hope. There were islands of talent in a wasteland. Earlier this season, there were still islands, but the roster has been tinkered with and changed around until finally, a cohesive mix has begun to form. Guys who weren't on the team or weren't in anyone's consciousness at this time last year are now the guys making the plays, like Juan Lagares, or Eric Young, Jr, or Jenrry Mejia, or Marlon Byrd. Hell, they got two Saves this week from LaTroy Hawkins in a pinch.

The upcoming West Coast trip could prove to be the Mets' Waterloo, given the standing of some of the teams they're playing or, in the case of San Diego, the general bad luck they have in that stadium, but for whatever reason, I don't think that will be the case. They have, in general, been playing too well as a whole of late to think they will just roll over and die on the West Coast.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Style vs. Suspense

I had this internal debate during the 9th inning of tonight's game. While I was certainly glad to have been present at Tuesday night's win, would I have preferred to have been at tonight's game to see Matt Harvey get his first career Shutout? I don't know that I gave myself a definitive answer. Certainly, I always take the win first. Certainly, Tuesday's game had in drama what tonight's had in style. But ultimately, I suppose I gravitate to the landmark pitching performances first and foremost. The CGShO is kind of a dying art form in today's game, so when it happens, particularly when a Met does it, I have to give it a particular nod. Hell, the plain old CG is often worth taking note of.

I've certainly been to my share of CGShOs in my years of going to games, and I've seen them thrown by a wide variety of pitchers. Bobby Jones, of course, threw my most memorable CGShO, but I've also seen them come from Dwight Gooden, Johan Santana, Al Leiter, Rick Reed and even some bizarre names like Nelson Figueroa and Miguel Batista. I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting.

Yet Matt Harvey probably threw a better game than anyone I'd just mentioned at a game I attended earlier this season, on May 7th against the White Sox. We already know this game, but just to refresh your memory, Harvey threw 9 innings, gave up 1 hit, no runs, no walks and struck out 12. Were Alex Rios a step slower or Ruben Tejada a bit headier, Harvey probably would have thrown a Perfect Game, because I've never seen a team look as completely outclassed like the White Sox did that night. Surely, Harvey would have been rewarded with his first career CGShO on that night, except that, in a theme that has typified his season, his teammates couldn't get him a damn run. Harvey departed his masterpiece with the score 0-0 and instead rooted on as Bobby Parnell ended up vulturing a victory that probably should have been his.

Tonight, Harvey was just as dominant against the Colorados as he was against Chicago, if only with fewer strikeouts (the idea that Harvey was more "economical" tonight is a myth—Harvey threw 106 pitches tonight but actually threw 105 against Chicago). The Colorados managed only 4 hits, Harvey didn't walk anyone, struck out 6, and only allowed a runner past 1st Base in the 9th inning when Charlie McCharlieface advanced on Indifference (this after smashing a line drive off of Harvey's knee on an 0-2 pitch that probably gave every Mets fan a heart attack, except that Harvey tends to treat these things as minor irritants and immediately told Ray Ramirez to get the hell away from him). But performances like this have become commonplace for Harvey, as he's taken his place as one of the best pitchers in the league. More important on this night was the fact that his teammates backed him up with 5 runs, a virtual avalanche of support. Harvey also didn't have the specter of history on his back, since he gave up a 2nd inning hit to Todd Helton. Instead, he had a lead, he had a team starting a B-lineup and he could just rear back, pitch his game and cruise to the finish. By the 7th, with his pitch count still low, you could see he began to taste it and come the 9th inning, he had that Johan Santana look on his face like he'd boot Terry Collins into Flushing Bay if he tried to remove him from this game. Of course, such a decision was not necessary and Harvey finally finished off what he started, picking up what had been a somewhat elusive first career CGShO.

So, yeah. I suppose deep down I probably would have rather been at tonight's game. The drama and intensity of last night was great, and I'm certainly not complaining, nor am I going to give back the Win (a loss, on the other hand...). But when Harvey pitches, everyone stops and watches, because you never know when you might get a performance like the one he had tonight. Most important, however, is that tonight's game was played in a brisk 2 hours, 20 minutes, and was over by 9:30, or, one hour earlier than last night's 3+ hour slog. Not only is Harvey talented, he's also quick.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Pick Up The Pace!

I have scored all of the now 330+ Mets games I've attended, going back to 1987. I keep all my scorecards in a large binder. Sometimes, in the long offseason, I go through them. Every so often, I'll come across a game and think to myself, "Hey, I was at that game?! I must have been if I scored it."

I have a feeling that tonight's game against the Colorados will someday become one of those games. Why, I'm not quite sure, particularly since the Mets won, but I feel like there was nothing of particular note that might distinguish this game for me. Then again, now that I'm blogging about it, maybe this will someday serve as a reference point for when I do inevitably forget that I went to this game.

I hadn't been to Citi Field in over a month. So long, in fact, that it appears I missed out on Issue #3 of Mets Magazine. But if that's the case, then issue #3 wasn't available very long. I was at the first game of the Arizona series on July 1st. That was my last game. I got Issue #2 at that game. A month and 5 days is fairly long for me to go without going to a game, but sometimes that's the way it goes. I'd made mention of waffling over going to a number of games during that time, but ultimately deciding against it. That said, there were only 13 home games in between then and now. 13 games, assuming the Mets released Issue 3 on July 2nd, which they probably did not, is not a very long time for them to have an issue available. More than likely, it was only available for 10 games, starting after the All Star Break. Anyone who wants to verify this for me is more than welcome to. But I digress. Tonight, I got there, picked up Issue #4 and went on my merry way.

Ultimately, the game was more or less a testament to how much I've aged and become intolerant of long ballgames. I seem to have attended a number of games that have extended past 3 hours for one reason or another this season, whether it was high scoring or extra innings or what have you. Tonight's game was 3 hours and 20 minutes, which is right about when I start to get a little cranky. I thought it kind of strange that this game went so long, because 1) the score was only 3-2 and c) both pitchers were working at a fairly brisk pace.

Jenrry Mejia for one was particularly impressive, especially in the early going. He seems to have begun to trust his stuff more and was really keeping the Colorados off balance. Problem was, in keeping them off balance, he was allowing them to foul off innumerable pitches which ultimately drove up his pitch count. They only scored thanks to a somewhat egregious error by Ike Davis on a bad hop. It seems to me that only thing that really slowed him, and the game in general, down was the lengthy delay in which umpire Manny Gonzalez was injured. It wasn't quite clear what had happened to him and they didn't show a replay in the stadium, but for whatever reason, it took an abnormally long time for things to get going once again. By that time, Mejia, who left the field altogether, lost his rhythm, gave up a Home Run to pinch hitter Charlie McCharlieman and then nearly blew the game altogether. Only by the grace of Eric Young, Jr did the game stay tied. With 2 out and the bases loaded, Todd Helton hit a sinking line drive that appeared destined for Horribleville, except that Young did his best Endy Chavez impression to pick it off and end the inning.

It was also by the grace of Eric Young, Jr. that the Mets won the game altogether. It took until the 8th inning, which felt like an eon after the 6th. Young led off with a walk and and it appeared he'd stay glued there because neither Murphy nor Marlon Byrd laid down a bunt. This primarily because I don't think either of them are particularly capable of laying down a bunt, but that's just a testament to the state of baseball today. Young did manage to tag up and go to 2nd on Byrd's fly out, but that only set the stage for Ike Davis to be predictably walked. At this point, I was pretty certain that another Extra Inning game was in the cards, particularly when Juan Lagares hit a chopper on the right side of the infield. But the ball, rather slowly hit, managed to get past the pitcher and bounce toward the 2nd Baseman, D.J. LaNoseHair. He made the play and shuffled the ball off to 1st, but it was too late to get Lagares. This, of course, created enough of a distraction for Young, who never really stopped running, and by time I glanced up, there he was, streaking for the plate and easily beating Helton's throw home. Sometimes, you just have to make it happen yourself, and that's what Young did, instead of standing on 3rd and waiting for another hit that wasn't guaranteed to come.

By doing this, Young saved everyone from sitting around Citi Field longer into the night than we already had, since Closer du Jour LaTroy Hawkins kept the Colorados off the board in the 9th. Not that it was easy. It took the Colorados not being aware enough to have a Pinch Hitter ready with the pitcher's spot coming up (I mused that Walt Weiss may have tried to send Dante Bichette up to bat). All that cockarocka just so Yorvit Torrealba could hit a check swing line drive that Ike Davis made a circus catch on to end the game. And it was only 10:30.

Well, I don't know. This game had quite a bit going for it. Mystery, intrigue, Wilmer Flores' debut, good defense, clutch baserunning...Maybe I will remember it after all.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Royal Mess

I missed large swaths of what ended up being a mostly lost weekend for the Mets against their most ferocious of rivals, the Kansas City Royals. I had, for a split second, batted around going to Sunday's game, simply for the novelty of seeing a game against the Royals (something I have never actually done) and also to see Zack Wheeler pitch (since I was rooked out of the chance to see him tomorrow night). But, I was tired and felt like sleeping in on Sunday, so I passed. Ultimately, I made the right call because although I missed out on a beautiful sunny Sunday, I also missed out on the latest episode of Mets Follies.

I didn't see any of Saturday's game, which was just as well, since I was spared the 2013 Mets Special: An Extra Inning game. I don't have much to say about it, but sometimes, I feel better for not having seen a game at all as opposed to sitting through and watching while it keeps on going and then sucks me in to the point where I'm stuck watching a game for 5 hours. I realize that Saturday's game wasn't 5 hours—it wasn't even 4 hours—but an Extra Inning game is an Extra Inning game and, let's face it, I saw one on Friday night. At least the Mets won that one.

Sunday, Zack Wheeler started out OK, but then again he always starts out OK. But then the clown car arrived in the 5th inning and the Mets forgot how to field. We've seen Right Field at Shea and now at Citi Field play havoc on Outfielders when the sun is out like that, but, let's face it: When you play your home games in said Outfield, you probably should be used to catching fly balls in any condition. What's beside the point is that I didn't see any of the Royals Outfielders battling the sun the way Byrd was. I realize that sometimes you just have those moments of vaporlock, but twice in one inning is pretty bad. Particularly when it turns a 1-run game into a 4-run game. Then again, Wheeler didn't help himself by going all Shaun Marcum on us and throw 3 Wild Pitches in that inning either. Also, the Mets didn't hit, but they never hit, and without David Wright around to regulate, the Mets really didn't hit. The end result was that I spent the latter half of the game occupying myself with other activities and I see I missed little of consequence.

I mean, I guess this weekend might have taken a bit of the starch out of the Mets, but, really, how much starch did the Mets have in them? The Royals are also on a bit of a roll of late, and boast a really good young pitching staff, loaded with a lot of guys you've never heard of unless you're really into Fantasy Baseball, most of whom seem to throw 95+MPH. So, maybe it's not just the Mets. Then again, maybe it is. We'll see this week when the Colorados come to town. Last August, the Colorados came around and swept 4 games in a row from the Mets in a series that sent the entire season swirling down the proverbial toilet. The Colorados seem in a bit better a shape this time around, but they still have one of the worst pitching staffs in the NL. We'll see tomorrow night, where I'll be on hand for my first game in over a month (not counting that game in Toronto).

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Over Before Midnight

The Mets have made it a bit of a habit this season of playing these ridiculously extended games that run far into the depths of the night, postgame festivities be damned. That's one of the reasons why I found Eric Young, Jr's game-winning Home Run in the 11th inning Friday night to be sort of jarring.

Another reason would be that, after David Wright's 2-run keynote address in the 1st inning, the Mets went back into shutdown mode, mustering lots of hits and getting lots of men on base, until they got into scoring position, at which point the Mets then decided to not get any more hits. This continued on until the 11th inning when, with 2 outs, Young, in rather out-of-nowhere fashion, cracked one over the wall in Right. And when I say cracked, I mean cracked, because the ballpark appeared to have been lulled to sleep until that hit happened.

The fans probably couldn't have been blamed for being a little listless. The Mets/Royals matchup isn't exactly a heated rivalry. In fact, these are two teams that have met all of 6 times in their history, and not at all since 2004. So that can kind of de-starch an audience, and even the allure of a postgame concert from [insert bland-sounding semi-popular rock band here] wasn't enough to fill the stadium. And, yeah. The Mets didn't do much in the way of generating key hits. This was all fine and good most of the way, because Dillon Gee was keeping the Kansas City Royals lineup at bay (or making them look like Jason Bay, your pick). But, come the 8th inning, Gee tired, and thus began this circus parade of relievers that Terry Collins continued to summon, which was kind of interesting because he didn't have his closer, Bobby Parnell, thanks to a neck injury. But, willy-nilly, he kept them coming, first Scott Rice and LaTroy Hawkins to get through the 8th inning, then a failed attempt at David Aardsma closing in the 9th, followed by the heartwarming return of Pedro Feliciano to clean up Aardsma's mess. This left Collins with little choice but to turn to Carlos Torres in the 10th inning, thereby screwing up his rotation for the rest of the weekend, since Torres was scheduled to start today, and also screwing up my plans, because I was scheduled to attend Tuesday night's game and see Zack Wheeler...until he got bumped up to Sunday.

So, the bullpen, which had been quite good of late, coughed up this one, and so once again the Mets were in extra innings, where they got a nice turd in their punchbowl when David Wright came up lame in the 10th legging out an infield hit. I'd have to assume that this injury, what is currently being called a strained hamstring, will land Wright on the DL. One can only hope that Ray "Cortisone Shot" Ramirez will keep away from him long enough so that a 3-week injury doesn't turn into a season-ending injury. Wright's injury, combined with Collins' machinations, once again ended up with Zack Wheeler pinch-running (akin to Harvey's pinch hitting appearance against Arizona), where, although he can run, he proved himself to be completely sedentary on the basepaths, not even bothering to break for home on Buck's inning-ending DP.

By the 11th, people were already beginning to get punchy, and it wasn't even especially late. But we've seen this enough times out of the Mets that one can't be too sure. Keith Hernandez chimed in with his usual Extra Inning wisdom, stating "If there wasn't a concert tonight, I'd sneak into one of the suites downstairs and sleep on one of the couches." Ron was astute enough to point out that SNY has its own suite, so no sneaking around would be necessary. That probably wouldn't have stopped Keith.

But, just as we appeared destined to forge deeper into the night, Eric Young hit his Home Run, his inaugural shot with the Mets, and a good time for it. He probably put it best in his postgame interview, following his first career pie courtesy of LaTroy Hawkins. "We got it over before Midnight."

I'd have to think everyone, even the Royals, could agree with that.

Friday, August 2, 2013

That Stupid Team

I know there's a thing about every great pitcher having one team that always gives him fits, and unfortunately for Matt Harvey, it's the Mickey Mouse Marlins.

Thursday's game was another Radio special for me, so I wasn't fully cognizant of what was going on (case in point: I was asked multiple times what the score was, and after answering 0-0 a couple of times reflexively, I had to pause for a second, pensively, before saying, as matter of factly as I could, "I don't know."

At that point, I didn't. But it was still 0-0, and the game was dragging along, as these weekday afternoon games usually do, because when the Marlins finally broke through against Harvey, I was convinced it was the 7th inning and not the 6th. The Mets were doing their usual "no runs for Harvey" act, and Harvey was pitching the way he usually pitches, until he got himself into a jam in the 6th and, at least as far as Howie and Josh would lead me to believe, just expended too much mental energy striking out Giancarlo Stanton and eventually, the Marlins just sort of vultured him to death. I couldn't be bothered to watch any replays, but it seems to me that a flare hit, a hit batsman and another flare hit led to 3 runs and that sort of took the air out of everything. The Mets couldn't hit Tom Koehler or anyone else the Marlins plopped out there and the end result was that the Mets lost and ended up 2-2 in what is fortunately their final series in Miami this season.

It's the 3rd such start that Harvey has made against the Marlins where they've just sort of nicked and pecked him to death this season, and I'm sure he's had more than enough of it. I'm sick of it, but then again, I'm sick of anything that has anything to do with the Marlins. Of course it's the Marlins. They're the team that seems to just bedevil the Mets the most, even when their leadoff hitter is the President of San Marcos.

I have nothing else to say. I'm thoroughly exasperated. At least the Mets don't have to go back to Miami this season. They went 3-7 this season in the Aquarium of Horrors, but it felt like 1-13. I wish that place would just sink into the ground.