Monday, September 30, 2013

Bedtime!

I'll expound on the Mike Piazza ceremony in a future post, as Mike Piazza holds high enough stature with me to merit his own posts. But, in brief, I was there for the closing day Hall of Fame induction for Mike Piazza, and I was there for the subsequent final game of the 2013 Mets season. I would have been at the game whether there was a Mike Piazza ceremony or not; even if the Mets season has dwindled down to a series of games that occur simply because the schedule says so, they're still the Mets and I still feel it's my duty as a Mets fan to be there to send them off to wherever the offseason may take them. I have a feeling that, for many fans in attendance at what probably wasn't quite the sellout it was announced to be, that probably wasn't the case (though Citi Field wasn't full, it certainly was more full than I'd seen it since Opening Day, even if a few non-believers left after the ceremonies ended).

I was accompanied to my 18th and final game of the 2013 season by my other half, who came to 3 games with me this year, matching her total from 2012. Though she's not a baseball fan on my level (and very few are), I've done a reasonably good job of converting a woman from Philadelphia into a Mets fan. After the Mike Piazza festivities ended, I was ready to watch a Ballgame. She was ready to take a nap, and asked me several times if there was a place in the Promenade Club for her to lie down. I told her that since it was the final game of the season, both teams could well be swinging to get out of there quick, and so the game probably wouldn't be too long (unless it went extra innings, as the Mets were often wont to do this season). Ultimately, the game was quick, despite starting a good 30 minutes late, it was over in 2 hours, 23 minutes, by far and away the fastest game I attended this season.

For a good portion of the game, it appeared the Mets were destined to fade into the Offseason with a whimper. After Eric Young, Jr. zipped around the bases in the 1st inning, firing a haymaker at his competition for the Base stealing crown by swiping 2nd and 3rd, the Mets went silent. The Brewers didn't do very much either, looking very much like, as I surmised, a team that just wanted to go home. They scored a pair of runs on 5 hits in the 4th inning, and probably could have gotten more had Young and Juan Lagares not both thrown out runners at the plate, much to everyone's delight. But down 2-1, the Mets had no particular means of responding. A 4th inning single by Daniel Murphy, who finished his season with a fine 188 hits, was all the Mets could manage against Marco Estrada. Niese departed after 6 innings, and was immediately followed to the bench by Lucas Duda, who was mercifully pulled from the game after going 0-for-3 on Sunday and what felt like 0 for his last 53 for the season (and probably about 2 weeks later than he should have been benched).

By the 8th, I was getting depressed. The season was about to come to an end with the Mets getting swept by the Brewers at home, in front of a packed house that came to celebrate a real Met Hero. But just as it appeared that there would be no Hero to save the Mets on this day, the Mets came to life, spurred by a trio of Rookies that were barely part of anyone's consciousness when the keynote was fired on Opening Day. Juan Lagares reached on a ground ball that Jeff Bianchi threw slightly wide to first, but in plenty of time to get the out. Problem is, Sean Halton, the 1st Baseman, barely seemed conscious that anything was amiss and made no effort to make sure he got the out. Juan Centeno, who despite appearing in all of 4 games this season has struck me as a player with reasonably sound fundamentals, laid down a fine bunt that certainly would have moved Lagares to 2nd, except that 2nd Baseman Scooter lollygagged his way to cover 1st Base, ran into the Umpire, and then alligator-armed Jonathan Lucroy's throw, allowing the ball to trickle out into Right Field and Lagares to score all the way from 1st. Matt den Dekker ran for the fast-as-Zeile Centeno, which was key because Wilfredo Tovar's bunt was fielded by Halton, who decided he'd better be a hero to make up for his earlier gaffe and try to get the runner at 3rd, but the throw was nowhere near close and the Mets now had the lead run on 3rd with none out, bringing everyone to their feet.

Unfortunately, a man on 3rd and no outs hasn't exactly been a high percentage proposition for the Mets this season, but if they could just muster a slow roller or even a bunt, that ought to get the job done, particularly the way the Brewers were kicking the ball around. Josh Satin didn't do it, his fly ball would have scored a more daring runner, but den Dekker was wise not to chance it. Eric Young (who did dare to score on a shallow fly in the 1st and made it), however, did what was necessary and hit a slow roller towards 1st base, allowing den Dekker to score without incident and give the Mets a lead.

Frank Francisco, who's been an afterthought all season and whose season I thought was over after taking a line drive off his wrist 2 weeks ago, came in for the 9th to attempt his first save of the season. Well, why not? It may have not been the most conventional choice, and LaTroy Hawkins probably deserved the opportunity after the yeoman's job he did for the Mets this year, but Francisco got the ball and got the results in what's probably his final appearance as a Met, retiring the Brewers in order in the 9th, punching out Aramis Ramirez for the final out of the Mets final win of the 2013 season, sending everyone into the offseason on a happy note.

The 3-2 victory was the Mets 74th of the season, equaling their total of 2012. Before the season, I predicted the Mets to go 76-86, so I was close enough, I guess. Either way, as a team, I don't know if the results equal the progress I might have hoped for out of this season. Some of the individual performances certainly were encouraging, but there's still quite a few holes, and nobody seems to have much, if any, confidence in the ability of upper management to fix them. Time will tell, of course, and everyone's got their own ideas, but one thing I've liked about the Sandy Alderson regime is the lack of unnecessary moves that were a hallmark of the Minaya era. The moves that are made serve a purpose and I feel confident that, if nothing else, this will continue to be the case as the 2014 Mets take shape.

So, that's it for 2013, gang. I'll be continuing on here in the coming days with some words on Mike Piazza, as well as the always-anticipated Mets Report Card, and probably checking in here and there with some notes on the Playoffs (I'm rooting for the Pirates, as is about 95% of the country, I would have to believe). The San Francisco 49ers are also in full swing so there will be plenty said on that front as well. As for the Mets, well, I've given the Game Hat its goodnight kiss and tucked it into bed for the Offseason, setting the alarm clock for Opening Day on March 31st, 2014.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Stumbling Home

I took it upon myself to listen to a majority of Friday night's game on the radio, just to get the last vestiges of the WFAN Mets Radio Network out of my system. I also turned the radio on at the outset of Saturday's game, if only because the WFAN has replaced their normal opening of Exciting 2013 Mets clips (of which there have been few) with some classic clips from happier times and that pleases me. Unfortunately, the highlight of both games were the audio flashbacks, because the subsequent games were snoozefests of the highest order.

Friday night, the Mets fell behind early thanks to Carlos Torres' usual case of 1st inning-itis and couldn't catch up. Their best opportunity was cut short when Daniel Murphy had one of those spastic fits he's often prone to and attempted what was essentially a delayed steal of home on a passed ball that really didn't get far enough away to be a passed ball. Murphy was out by a good 20 feet. The Mets mounted no further threats and they lost, 4-2.

Saturday brought an odd 4pm start time amid the day's earlier news that, barring some unforeseen circumstances, Terry Collins would be resigned for 2 more seasons. This news really wasn't news to me (and it bothered me that that it was that two-faced ass Ken Rosenthal breaking the story). I'd more or less assumed Collins would be back since a) How much can you blame him for not making the team better when he hasn't had a real team to work with, and b) the players seem to like him. More can be said about it, I'm sure, but I'll expound on it when I wrap up the season next week.

There was still a game to watch, and like Friday, there wasn't much to enjoy. The Mets fell behind, tied the game, and in the 7th inning were primed to go ahead, with the bases loaded and none out, but in succession Eric Young, my main man Lucas Duda and David Wright all failed to get a run home. Predictably, the Brewers went ahead in the 8th, but the Mets once again had a golden opportunity to win the game in the 9th, following a pair of walks and an RBI double from Young. This brought up Duda in a situation where, were a more fearsome bat at the plate, an Intentional walk would have been in order. But since it was Duda, the Brews went after him, but to the poor fortune of Mr. Hand, he hit Duda. However, Wright followed by hitting into a DP. And, of course, the Brews made the Mets rue their missed opportunities by scoring 2 in the 10th to win their 3rd straight 4-2 game.

I spent a majority of Saturday's game getting my books in order. As I've mentioned in passing, I score every game I attend and keep my scorecards in a binder, which has now expanded to two binders and is really in need of a 3rd binder. At the end of each season, I gather up all the programs from the games I went to, tear out the scorecards, make any necessary corrections and put them in the binder with the ticket stub stapled to it. Though the season hasn't yet concluded and I have one more game to attend, I decided to do this bit of housekeeping today just so I'd clear up some clutter and not have to worry about it later.

This afternoon will be my 18th game of the season, which was composed of 13 of my 15 plan games and 5 other games of random attendance. My 18 games will represent the highest number of games I attended since 2007, when I attended 19. My record for the season currently stands at 8-9, a win would make 2013 the second consecutive year that I managed a .500 record (I was 8-8 for 2012). My 5-year record at Citi Field is currently 38-38 (after a 5-11 record in 2009, it's been an uphill battle to .500 ever since) so tomorrow's game will determine whether I go into 2014 over or under .500. The first 17 games of the season included 3 Matt Harvey starts (none after May 7th), 3 Zack Wheeler starts (his first and last home starts of the season included), 3 Dillon Gee starts (none of them good, unfortunately), 3 Shaun Marcum starts (one of which they won, if you can believe it), 2 from Niese and 1 each from Jenrry Mejia, Jeremy Hefner and Aaron Harang. 2 games went to extra innings, both of which the Mets won. Several more only felt like extra-inning games due to poor pace or poor results or, in many cases, both. An overwhelming majority of them were attended in a stadium that was mostly empty, a testament to the general distaste fans have had for the team after 5 lost seasons. Today, however, the stadium should be full as the honoring of Mike Piazza has drawn everyone out. However, I'm not totally convinced that a large majority of people aren't going to show up, stay for the Piazza ceremony and then leave. But, we'll see.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Right Decision

I mentioned earlier in the week that I had tickets for last night's Mets game, and I was torn between going to the game or selling the seats and going home to watch the 49ers, who were also playing last night in the asinine Thursday Night Football game. I posed the question to several sources and received a myriad of mixed responses. Ultimately, though Thursday was a nice night for a game, I was also tired from a long work week and successful in selling the tickets, so the winner for the night was the 49ers. This turned out to be the right call on my part; the Mets played a mostly unmemorable game, losing 4-2 to the Brewers. The 49ers, who were battered on and off the field the last two weeks, got their act together and laid the smackdown on the St. Louis Rams, coasting to a 35-11 victory.

This was a pretty important win for the 49ers. I realize that every win is important in the NFL season, but this was particularly important. For one, the 49ers really got embarrassed these past two weeks against Seattle and Indy, not just losing but really looking bad in doing so. Injuries to key players were mounting and fans were jumping off the Colin Kaepernick bandwagon in droves. If that wasn't bad enough, the 49ers now had to go to St. Louis to play the Rams on 3 days' rest. I've mentioned my personal distaste for the Rams plenty, but the 49ers had to be pretty sick of them too, after the pair of epic turdbombs that they played last season. The Rams played the 49ers tight and tough, taking both games into Overtime, winning one at home and playing to a rarely seen tie game in San Francisco. In general, the Rams just gave the 49ers fits, and this was the last thing they needed, sitting with a record of 1-2 and the season perhaps hanging in the balance.

It took the 49ers a while to get going last night. The 49ers started off all right on defense, but the offense was unable to generate much of anything. After trading punts, the Rams capitalized on a missed Field Goal from Phil Dawson and what would turn out to be a rare sloppy play from the defense, a facemask penalty on Justin Smith. But on a 3rd down play, with Austin Pettis open for a sure Touchdown, Rams Quarterback Sam Bradford overthrew the pass and the Rams settled instead for a Field Goal and a 3-0 lead.

Still, the 49ers could mount nothing in response. Kaepernick was wild, over and undershooting receivers and the passes that were good were generally either well-covered or broken up. Though Vernon Davis was back from his hamstring injury, he was far from 100% and appeared to be in more for purposes of blocking. After trading punts twice more, the 49ers finally got off to a positive start in a drive when Frank Gore, who'd been running well all night, bolted for 27 yards, putting the ball at their own 47 yard line. The 49ers followed that up by putting in LaMichael James, who caught lightning in a bottle late last season but has been missing in action to this point this season, and James showed none of the burst we saw from him last year, twice running straight into the line and netting -1 yard to bring up 3rd down and 11. The 49ers hadn't converted a 3rd down all night and that didn't appear likely to change. Another decent opportunity was about to slip away, and I was beginning to wonder whether or not the entire season was slipping away with it. Down on the road, unable to show any signs of life...Where was this ship going?

Colin Kaepernick answered this question by firing a strike to Anquan Boldin that went for 42 yards, down to the Rams 11 yard line. This play just snapped everything back into order and the rest of the game just fell into place from there. The 49ers got hit with another penalty one play later, but facing another 3rd down and 16 yards to go, Kap hit Boldin on a crossing route and Boldin did the rest, breaking a tackle and launching himself into the End Zone for a Touchdown that gave the 49ers their first lead since Week 1.

Things got better from there. Though the Rams moved themselves into decent Field Position, the drive was cut off when Bradford threw on a 3rd and 1 play, tossing up a lollipop pass that was batted by Tarell Brown and intercepted in the End Zone by Donte Whitner. On the ensuing possession, Kap and Gore moved the 49ers down the field with ease, although a pair of reviewed and reversed plays put the 49ers in a 4th down situation at the Rams 34 yard line. Too long for a Field Goal and too close to punt. The call to go for it was easy, particularly with the clock running down and the Defense playing well. So, go they did, and gone was Frank Gore, who took a handoff, shot through a hole and didn't stop until he hit the End Zone without a Ram laying a finger on him.

For Gore, who was frustrated after last week's game due to his lack of use in the 2nd half, this was the kind of game he needed in response, and the kind of game that the 49ers needed him to have. Gore had 104 yards on the ground by halftime and ended up with 153 for the game in the sort of performance that has come to typify The Inconvenient Truth: Stepping up his game when it's needed most.

The second half was more or less a continuation of the second quarter. Although Gore fumbled on the 49ers first possession, the defense continued to tee off on the Rams. Daryl Richardson, forced into the role of featured Running Back with Steven Jackson gone and Isaiah Pead awful, proved functionally useless, as the Rams ended up with more rushing attempts (19) than rushing yards (18) for the game. Sam Bradford found no luck passing either. Navorro Bowman, in particular, played the kind of game that earns accolades. Bowman ended up with 6 tackles, 2 sacks and a forced Fumble, and generally was all over the field wreaking havoc even when he wasn't earning stats. He pretty much ended up in Bradford's face on most pass attempts and regularly snuffed out rushing attempts. Much like Gore, Bowman had to step up in this game as well, with Patrick Willis injured and out. Bowman and company forced a 3 and out following the Fumble, and the 49ers responded by zipping right down the field for another Touchdown, this one a pass from Kap to Vernon Davis, on a corner post route that seems to have become very popular between these two.

With a now comfortable lead, the 49ers seemed content to let the defense continue to pound on the Rams offense, and let their running backs eat up the clock. The 49ers tacked on a pair of touchdowns in the 4th Quarter, one an Anthony Dixon run that came after a Bradford fumble deep in the Rams territory, and the second a Kendall Hunter run where he broke a tackle and the Rams seemed to lose track of him from there. The Rams scored a touchdown as well, capitalizing on the lone 49ers turnover of the night, a fumble by Kaepernick after a bad snap and a missed handoff. But that came after the game was well in hand and by game's end, the Rams basically said "No Mas," kneeling out the clock at the end of the game rather than trying to score some prideful garbage time points. So, the 49ers played the kind of game that they really needed to play and beat an opponent that they should have beaten to even their record at 2-2.

This wasn't the prettiest of games for Kaepernick, who, deserving or not, was the focus of a good deal of the criticism (and responded to it in typical Kap fashion, by going around and favoriting all the negative tweets about him) surrounding the team this past week. And early in the game, he didn't look any better than he did in the past two weeks. But with Frank Gore being so effective, that took some of the pressure off him, and he eventually settled down and had a good game, completing 15 of 23 for 167 yards and 2 touchdowns, numbers that might have been better had the game dictated it. But Gore's 153 yards and Kendall Hunter's 49 ensured that Kaepernick could take it easy as the game wound down. Still, Kap can be better, he seems to be favoring his first targets on passing plays rather than looking for the best option too often, and the Rams defense picked up on this and nearly forced some interceptions. But, that didn't happen.

The Defense, on the other hand, played their best game of the season, hands down. The past two weeks weren't pretty, but the defense had held their own reasonably well before wearing down late. Last night, there was no wearing down. This was the kind of effort we'd seen out of the defense a lot the last two seasons and the kind of effort they need to have if this run of success will continue.

So, call off the alarms. It's not an emergency situation. But the 49ers can be better and their schedule doesn't really ease up. Fortunately, although they play the Texans next Sunday night, next Sunday night is 10 days away, so those ailing (Davis, Willis, et al) have plenty of time to heal up. Hopefully the good vibes can carry on through this break.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dead Air

This afternoon's game was kind of bittersweet for me, although what went on during the game itself had very little to do with it. It's no secret that the Mets won't be on WFAN any more after this season. Although my initial reaction was of disdain and disgust for the Wilpons for allowing this to happen, I later found out that apparently WFAN lowballed the Mets during negotiations. But regardless of that, it's really the end of an era, since I basically grew up with the Mets on WFAN (and, yes, WHN before that), and WFAN and the weird, wild voices of New York have sort of become the background noise for my life. Sure, you get all sorts of perspectives and personalities, and I tend to agree with very few of them, but it's almost always entertaining. And, of course, this station that seems to be the quintessential New York station was the home of my team. And now, it's not going to be. And that's really weird.

So, at any rate, this was the Mets last Weekday Afternoon game of the year, and as such it was going to be the last time I'd be listening to the Mets on WFAN in my office. As I've mentioned, I usually stream WFAN, but thanks to Slick Bud, the Mets games are blacked out from streaming audio unless I open up my wallet. It's for this reason that I keep a portable radio on hand. Unhappily, after making it through the entire season without an issue, only today did the batteries in the radio die. That wasn't so bad, except that the radio is one of the 6 devices remaining on earth that uses "C" batteries. I know this because if you go anyplace to buy "C" batteries, they're usually buried at the bottom of a rack, covered in dust with an expiration date about 4 years shorter than any other type of battery. Compounding the problem even further was the fact that the battery cover on the radio was stuck. I couldn't open it with my hands, and found no success with a variety of other tools and objects. So, no matter how hard I tried, there would be no final WFAN with Howie and Josh this Wednesday afternoon.

Relegated to MLB Gamecast, the game really existed on a rumor level. I know it's hard for me to follow the game in my office on the radio. On Gamecast, forget it. It may as well have not gone on at all. I clicked it on, started working on something else and by time I looked at it again, it was the bottom of the 8th inning. What I missed, apparently, was Daisuke Matsuzaka dialing the clock back to 2008 or perhaps back to Japan, because he basically stepped on the Reds throats completely over his 7.2 innings of work. The Mets got a run on a little scratch of a single through a drawn-in infield by Eric Young, Jr and that was it for the scoring. The rest was all Daisuke, who, amazingly, started out looking like one of the worst embarrassments in Mets history and has improved, start by start, to the point where hey, maybe he is part of the discussion. How the hell that ever became possible, I don't know, but his last 4 starts, all of them Met wins, have certainly done wonders for his public opinion among Mets fans. And his swan song today (assuming this is his last start this season), against a Playoff-bound Reds team, was easily his best start yet.

Matsuzaka is certainly the story today, and if he's not back (and I'm still hard-pressed to think he will be), he's if nothing else proven he's still able to compete. Today, although he didn't get much help offensively, he made his 1 run stand up, partially due to his Catcher Juan Centeno, who became the first Catcher to successfully throw out the hotshot speedster Billy Hamilton after 13 straight successful steal attempts to start his career. The rest of the game, from what I could gather, was fairly uneventful. Pedro Feliciano and LaTroy Hawkins finished things out for Daisuke, and the Mets, long since left for dead, went into Cincinnati and kind of pissed on their parade a little bit, making them look bad last night and lifeless in Wednesday's 1-0 victory, beating them 2 games to 1 in the series, and giving the Pirates and Cardinals a decided leg up as they continue to fight for position. Then again, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh play this weekend, so maybe they'll just beat each other up before they meet in the Wildcard Play-In Game (more of a mouthful than it needs to be).

So, the Mets are done for this season on the road, where amazingly they ended up just barely over .500 at 41-40. Their problem, obviously, lies at home, where they come now for 4 final games to close out the season. The Milwaukee Brewers—Remember them?—are the final team to visit, and they arrive fresh off a near-riot in Atlanta caused by old friend Carlos Gomez. Unfortunately, Gomez was in the wrong in this particular incident, so it's hard to get on the Braves too much, but they seemed to be doing an awful lot of whining afterwards (and while we're on the subject of teams I don't like, Wednesday night officially confirmed what was brewing for weeks—New York will be Baseball-free come Sunday night, although don't be surprised if fans of the other team continue to insist that "Dey still gotta chance (garble snort drool)!"). But that's scarcely the concern of the Mets. Right now, the plan is to keep what could be a really nice, strong finish going through the weekend.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

There's Still Something

The Cincinnati Reds clinched a playoff berth with their win Monday night, along with the feel-good story of the year, the Pittsburgh Pirates (their first since 1992). These two teams continue to jockey for position, along with the St. Louis Cardinals, as they all try to avoid the Wildcard Play-In Game. But, at least for one night, the Reds looked like the team that was packing it in for the Winter, and the Mets looked like they were fighting down to the wire. For a majority of the game, the Reds sort of loafed around, their starting pitcher Mike Leake got knocked out in the 2nd inning after the Mets bombarded him for 8 hits in the first 12 batters and in the end, the Mets came away with a rather energetic 4-2 victory.

The tone was set rather early. The Mets came out firing against Leake in the 1st, as Young singled and stole second, and moved to 3rd on a hit by Wright. They might have gotten more out of this rally had Lucas Duda not been hitting cleanup; his strikeout took the air out of the inning. The Reds threatened in the bottom half against Jonathon Niese, getting 3 hits, but ultimately they didn't score either, thanks primarily to Juan Lagares' picture perfect throw home to get Shin-Soo Choo after a rare hit from Ryan Ludwick. Niese also helped his cause by striking out Joey Votto and Jay Bruce.

In the 2nd, the Mets didn't find such bad luck. Mike Baxter led off with what was generously scored a double after Jay Bruce halfheartedly went after his hit, and then fell down when it became clear the ball was going to skip past him. d'Arnaud worked a deep count before striking out, but Wilfredo Tovar, who may as well be playing Shortstop for the duration since I think we've all had enough of Quintanilla, picked him up with an RBI single and went to 2nd on the throw home. Niese tried to help his own cause by singling, but Jay Bruce, who by now had woken up, threw out Tovar at home. Not to worry, though. Young's ground-rule double was followed by a 10-pitch At Bat from Daniel Murphy, who fouled off pitch after pitch before finally sailing a fastball from Leake into the Right Field seats for a 3-run Home Run (or, more appropriately, the Anti-Duda), his career-high 13th of the season.

I'll expound more on Murphy next week, but I've dropped some jabs here and there about growing tired of Murphy. He's woefully unexciting a majority of the time and hasn't shown any signs that he's going to get any better than he already is, and yet you look up and he's 3rd in the league in hits and closing in on 40 doubles, and more impressively has managed to make it through 157 games this season without getting hurt, something very few Mets have been able to boast.

Meanwhile, the 4-run lead was just fine for Niese, who took the runs and basically coasted through 7 innings, allowing single runs in the 2nd and 5th, but nothing further. He tied up Bruce and Votto all night and generally put forth one of those really good Jon Niese efforts that make you think he's got a chance to be really good if he can string a number of these together. I've been very impressed, for the most part, by the way Niese has come back from his long DL stint and made something out of what was kind of a lost season for him. It also helps, perhaps, that I haven't been around or able to watch his few bad starts.

Niese departed after 7 innings and turned things over to Scott Atchison, who channeled his inner Mike Pelfrey and got 3 ground ball outs, and then to Vic Black, who boasted that he should be the closer when he was recalled earlier this month, and only now got an opportunity to do so. Black, who I've quickly become a big fan of due to his good stuff and ballsy attitude, could potentially become an excellent complement to Parnell going forward; having a pair of pitchers out of the bullpen that throw gas like that is something the Mets really haven't had. Black did what he needed to do, although the inning was made unnecessarily hairy due to a Wild Pitch on the 3rd strike to Frazier, but Black, unfazed, got Cozart to hit into a game-ending DP instead.

I suppose it is somewhat silly to get too excited when the Mets are getting their 72nd win of the season on September 24th. But as has been the mantra all year long, this year is about evaluating what's here and what of that will be here going forward. Sometimes, you look for the performance in little challenges like playing a Reds team that's still got something to play for and see who's got what.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Faces Familiar and Forgotten

With just a week's worth of season left for the Mets, I'm now starting to get kind of wistful. I have tickets to Thursday night's Mets/Brewers game. I got them as part of my plan. I'd figured I would use them, until I a) began to question the utility of going to a meaningless game on what's probably going to be a cold night when it's dubious I can get someone to go with me and b) realized the 49ers were playing the Thursday night game. So, I made an attempt to sell the tickets on StubHub and, not surprisingly, nobody's bought them. But only today, I began to reconsider not going. I mean, I'll be there on Sunday, so it's not as though I'm passing on my last game of the season, but, hey, why not get the extra game in when I've got the tickets? Plus the Mets already have my money, and I'll laughably be counted as the paid attendance whether I show up or not. I've posed this question on Facebook to a mixed response. I suppose it remains to be seen. It is supposed to be nice on Thursday night.

Meanwhile, the Mets still have these final 3 road games of the year in Cincinnati, one of those NL Central towns where the Mets only go once a year and, like Chicago or Pittsburghe, if you blink, you'll miss it, and at this time of year, a majority of Mets fans are blinking. But I watched this game from start to bitter end tonight, and what I came away with was a pretty clear picture of who should be here and who shouldn't going forward. I'll spare an exegesis of the game, since what basically happened was the Mets wasted opportunities, tied the game instead of going ahead, and kept the game tied long enough to lose in 10 innings. That said, let's go down the list:

TRAVIS d'ARNAUD: Should be here. Looked outstanding behind the plate tonight. Threw out 1 runner trying to steal, and probably should have gotten Choo twice, once early in the game, when he threw a bullet to 2nd only to have Daniel Murphy not tag the runner and later in the 9th inning when he had Choo picked off 2nd, but got rooked by a non-interference call when Brandon Phillips stepped in front of him. He probably wouldn't have thrown out Billy Hamilton in the 8th, but it would have been nice to see him get an opportunity except that Frank Francisco botched the pitchout. Also blocked several balls in the dirt, particularly saving Aardsma's ass in the 9th.

LUCAS DUDA: Should not be here, surprise surprise. If you really need the evidence, here it is: Runner on 1st, 2 out in the 1st, Duda grounds out to 2nd. Bases loaded, 1 out in the 3rd. A long hit could swing the game in the Mets' favor. Duda takes a mighty hack...and lofts a fly ball to Center that's fortunately deep enough to score Aaron Harang. 2 out, none on in the 6th, Home Run to right center. 2 on, 1 out in the 8th inning, Ground ball double play. I rest my case.

ERIC YOUNG, JR: Should be here, but not as a starter. I like his attitude and his style of play, but he is better suited in the role once filled by a guy we all know and love named Endy Chavez. Has Chavez's flair for defense. Lacks Chavez's heady instinct on the bases, as evidenced by his completely unnecessary attempt to steal 3rd base with 2 outs in the 3rd. That he looked to be safe and was called out probably served him right.

DAVID AARDSMA: Should be here, I guess. Middle relievers, in my opinion, are a dime a dozen, and Aardsma's certainly had his ups and downs, but he showed me a lot tonight by not giving an inch to the Reds when his ass was really in the fire in the 9th. He inherited an instant mess when he picked up for Byrdak after Choo's double, and of course I already mentioned that Choo probably should have been picked off second. But Aardsma stoned up after that, getting Phillips to ground out weakly, Ludwick to pop out meekly, and Frazier to fly out, sandwiching the predictable intentional walks of Votto and Bruce in between (Nobody's that stupid). It's unfortunate that this didn't spur the Mets on to a victory, but it put a little juice in the proceedings.

GREG BURKE: Should not be here. Should never have been here in the first place. Any reliever who's been back and forth from AAA 5 times in one season probably isn't sold out to be part of a team going forward. I'm not quite sure why he was in the game at all, although I suppose in a game where the Mets used 8 pitchers, his number had to come up eventually.

I'll stop here, since that's the extent of the key players in this game, plus come next week, I will once again post my annual Mets report card, which stands to be a real doozy since the Mets have run 53 players out there so far this season and a lot of them weren't very good. Should be the snarkmongers delight.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Re-Humbled

One would have thought that the 49ers, coming off a game where they were not only beaten, but really humbled by the Seattle Seahawks, would respond with a performance where they took out their frustrations on the Indianapolis Colts. Unfortunately, this didn't happen. The Colts, who lack the defensive prowess of the Seahawks, nonetheless had their way with the 49ers, running the ball down their throats and preventing the offense from getting any sort of momentum going, eventually pulling away late and skipping town with a 27-7 victory.

Nothing good happened for the 49ers on Sunday, the second straight time I've had to say that. It's not only Colin Kaepernick's first home loss since becoming the starting Quarterback, it's also the first time under Jim Harbaugh that the 49ers have lost 2 games in a row. Their record, now 1-2, isn't at all where anyone would have figured they'd be at this point, and places them in worse standing than teams like the Jets or the Cowboys.

Injuries, something the 49ers really haven't had to deal with much over the past few years, have struck the 49ers and right now, it's catching up with them. The loss of Michael Crabtree is severely hindering Kaepernick right now, and compounded with Vernon Davis not being able to play due to last week's hamstring injury left Kap, well, hamstrung. Stuck without a real weapon at receiver, the Colts were able to jam Anquan Boldin at the line of scrimmage and stick him in tight man coverage. The other receivers, Quinton Patton, Kassim Osgood and Marcus Marcusson, were non-factors and will continue to be so unless they can prove themselves worthy of the position. More alarmingly, Kap appeared gunshy after being beaten down by the Seahawks. This is a Quarterback who threw for over 300 yards in the Super Bowl, and two weeks ago topped 400 yards, and two weeks in a row he's looked like a skittish Rookie, afraid to zing the ball into a tight target. The 49ers one Touchdown drive came primarily on the ground. If they're going to have success, Kap has to get over this fear and just throw the ball down the field. The reason the 49ers got to the Super Bowl last year is because of this, and he's got to be able to find that confidence again.

Yes, the ground game worked for the first time all season, with Gore rushing for 85 yards, or, 25 more than he'd gained to this point all season, and Kendall Hunter chipped in with a nice rushing touchdown. But the 49ers have scored 10 points in the last 2 weeks with only one of these departments working, and in general neither has really worked that well.

Defensively, the 49ers did OK, but just OK. A general lack of discipline has led to a rash of penalties, which started biting the 49ers in the ass from the very first play of the game when Donte Whitner was flagged for a helmet hit (despite the fact that the replays revealed he hit with his shoulder, not his helmet). And they were costly penalties to boot, several of which helped the Colts continue drives and control the tempo of the game. The Colts raced down the field on their opening possession of the game and scored a Touchdown. Their subsequent drives over the 2nd and 3rd quarters either resulted in Punts or Field Goals, but by continuing to run the ball and smash the 49ers in the face, they a) Controlled the clock and b) Wore down the 49ers Defense. Much like last week, the game was very much in reach after 3 quarters, with the Colts hanging on to a 13-7 lead. All it was going to take was a good, solid drive that ended in a Touchdown. But the 49ers, unable to sustain a drive, could barely move the ball past midfield, and eventually, the Colts wore the 49ers down and Andrew Luck, the former disciple of Jim Harbaugh, beat the 49ers at their own game with an Option run for a Touchdown.

Now in desperation mode, Kaepernick was sacked and fumbled the ball back to Indy, giving the Colts the opportunity to rub some salt in the wound by scoring another Touchdown to put the game out of reach. With nothing left to lose, Kap completed some passes, but ultimately a desperation drive was stopped by an end zone Interception, to finish off a wholly miserable effort.

The 49ers really need to make a concerted effort to try to get back to basics. The read option that Kaepernick excels in hasn't really been utilized that much to this point this season. Perhaps it's a bit of playing possum, but I'm hard pressed to think that Jim Harbaugh would coach that way, particularly when it's led to a couple of losses. More likely, it's just that Kaepernick doesn't have the weapons he had last year. Crabtree's injury has screwed things up more than anyone will let on, and Anquan Boldin, good as he is, is better suited as the complimentary receiver than the go-to guy. And add the loss of Vernon Davis to the mix, and all of a sudden this offense is looking kind of ordinary.

But one thing the 49ers have going for them is that Harbaugh is a good, smart coach and Kaepernick is really talented. And it's only Week 3 and there's plenty of time to right the ship. But there's a lot of room for doubt to creep in, particularly given the sprint that the season is, and the fact that Seattle junked the Jaguars to race out to a 3-0 start and a 2-game lead in the Division. One fear I've had is that this could end up being a repeat of the Mets/Phillies rivalry in '07. The 49ers were a whisker from a Championship last season and appeared universal favorites to get back. But their chief rival, Seattle, thinks they're the better team and has gone out hell bent to prove it, while the 49ers are muddling away. And we know how this turns out. The Phillies won a World Series Championship while the Mets are still trying to get their thumbs out of their asses. Hopefully this is just one of my irrational cross-sport theories that doesn't work. But the 49ers need to fix some things right now, and they've got a quick turnaround this week, as they have the high pleasure of going out to St. Louis to play the Rams on Thursday night. The Rams, who gave the 49ers all sorts of fits last year on a short week? This doesn't exactly look encouraging for the 49ers right now. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

For Pride

Two teams playing out the string doesn't quite have the panache as Mets/Phillies September matchups of recent years, but it's still nice for the Mets to go down there and come away with a sweep. These are a pair of teams that still have a good rivalry, and although they've both suffered through some years loaded with injuries and inconsistent play, they both still want to beat each other.

Fortunately, the Mets, who appeared energized by the return of David Wright, capitalized on an early Wright Homer to win Friday, and Wright homered again on Saturday as the Mets won a rain-shortened affair 5-4 in 6+ innings. Wright's homer was supplemented by another homer from Daniel Murphy and a 2-run triple from Juan Lagares in support of Dillon Gee, who got credit for the rarely-seen 6-inning Complete Game. Gee, who pocketed his 12th win of the season, was solid early and then stopped a 6th inning Philly response rally before it got out of control, while the weather was unpleasant, at best. The rains eventually stopped the game in the top of the 7th, and some time later, when I came back to check, the game had been called.

Sunday, the Mets completed the sweep behind Carlos Torres and newbie Wilfredo Tovar, who came through with 2 hits in his Major League debut. On an afternoon where Citizen's Bank Park was just about sold out for the Phils' final Home Game of the season, the situation seemed to dictate that Cliff Lee would go out and stifle the Mets. And early on, he certainly did that, striking out the side in the 1st and going from there. But in spite of opportunities, his offense couldn't score him many runs. A single run in the 2nd and another in the 6th was all they could manage. Meanwhile, the Mets just sort of hung around. They scored a run of their own in the 3rd with a little small ball, but it wasn't until the 7th when they struck. Lagares' single was followed by a double from Anthony Recker that the Philly outfielders just didn't make much of an effort to catch. This set the stage for the Rookie Tovar, who picked a good moment for his first career hit, a single to left that scored Lagares and when Domonic Brown booted the ball, Recker scored the lead run. Lagares drove in an insurance run in the 8th, which was important because Philly got a run back off Vic Black in the bottom half, but LaTroy Hawkins finished things off in the 9th, closing out the 4-3 victory and the sweep with his milestone 100th career Save.

So, the Mets are now done with divisional games for the season. For the year, they end up winning the season series 10-9 from the Phillies. But you figure the Mets will more or less split the Phillies for the season anyway. It's their performance against some other division foes that they'll rue when they look back at the season. One final road swing to Cincinnati before the Mets return home to close out the campaign.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Professionalism

I was out a majority of the evening on Friday and didn't see any of the game. In fact, because I was seeing a show, I could only check the score at sporadic moments in the evening. But I was already in good spirits before the show began because I'd noticed that David Wright, in his first At Bat since coming back from the DL, had hit a 2-run Home Run off Cole Hamels that staked the Mets to an early lead.

By intermission, that lead had dwindled, but as the show and the game ended at relatively the same time, I was able to leave the Theater and get buzzed by my phone with the final score within a couple of minutes. The lead ultimately held up and the Mets came away with a 6-4 victory in Philadelphia, which is always nice no matter what the circumstances.

I can't really expound much on Matsuzaka, although from what I was able to grok, he pitched reasonably well and got betrayed by his defense a little in the 4th. That's the 3rd time in a row he's been OK, but just OK. I'm still not convinced he'll be anything more than a September fill-in, but hey, September fill-ins are still Mets, and I still want them to do well (I want all the Mets to do well, of course. Even Lucas Duda, except that he seems constantly unable to do so). So, really, the story of the game is Wright, who came back to finish the season when he certainly couldn't have been blamed for shutting it down and coming back fresh next season.

But has anything David Wright has ever done since he arrived on the Mets almost 10 years ago ever indicated that he would do something like that?

Of course not. Say what you will about David Wright, but he's never laid down. And you can only imagine that the last thing he wanted to remember from this season was that his ended with him getting injured and unable to come back. It's a testament to how much he cares about his place in the history of the Franchise and how much he respects the fans that root for him. So, in spite of the Mets playing out the string once again and in spite of the fact that he may not have been 100%, Wright came back, and hit one out in his first AB, and that spurred the Mets on to a win. A performance like this probably wouldn't have saved the Mets for the season, but having him in the lineup, and then thinking about what the Mets had been throwing out there over the last 6 weeks, well, you have to imagine that maybe there might have been a little more juice in the team if he'd been healthy. It might not have led to more wins, but it certainly would have meant a little more excitement.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Take Back The Night!

After two consecutive nights and 17 1/2 innings of Mets/Giants Baseball, I was fairly nauseous. The Giants and spates of their fans had basically come into our house and humiliated us and our team. Tuesday night was a 4-hour debacle of a game and Wednesday was shaping up as a shorter version of the same story. And in spite of having a plush Delta Club seat dropped in my lap earlier in the day, it appeared I was destined to witness another lifeless Mets effort, followed by another train ride home full of mirthful San Franciscans (who I have to say, even though they annoyingly took over our ballpark, are actually lovely people, and yes, maybe I got in their good graces by mentioning I root for the 49ers). The "Lets Go Giants" chants were overpowering as another unmemorable 4-1 Met deficit moved to the bottom of the 9th.

Then something funny happened. The Mets came back.

In what has to go down as the least likely Mets comeback I've ever witnessed, the Mets, after 8 innings of muddled mess and Lucas Duda being horrible, the Mets got off the mat, strung together a rally and ultimately quieted the Giants and their fans when Josh Satin punched a 2-run Walkoff single with 2 outs and 2 strikes. But, of course, it was quite a journey to get to that point.

I'd come into some Field Level seats for this game courtesy of a vendor, and being that it was a work-related kickback, I'd invited a co-worker to come with me. He backed out early in the day, but around that same time, the owner of a nearby establishment came in saying he had an extra seat behind Home Plate and asked if I wanted it. I mentioned I already had tickets, but he showed me the seat, which was better than the one I already had, so I said I'd take his ticket and give away the ones I had. Fortunately, I work in an office where offering free anything is generally jumped on, so that was easy. Additionally, a repeat performance of the 7-train fiasco of Tuesday was also avoided, which was also nice.

Tuesday night, I looked over at the Sterling Level seats and mused that I'd probably never sit there, so I guess somewhat karmic that I ended up there the next night. It's rare that I sit in the Field Level in general, and pretty much every time I've sat there, I never paid full price (and sometimes I never paid at all). The Sterling Level and the Delta 360 Club is certainly nice, a little slice of how the 1% lives, but I can't say I was blown away by it. The Pat LaFreida Chop House seems to take up a majority of the area, and a glance at the menu revealed prices not outrageous considering the price point of Ballpark food. That being said, I don't see myself ever eating there, because I don't see the utility of having a sit-down restaurant at a Baseball game. But, that's me. I went out the fancy doors into the seating area, where the view was about as good as I expected, and the seats themselves fully cushioned, office-style chairs that quite possibly ruined me from sitting anywhere else in the ballpark (but, you know, I'll sit in them anyway). I was immediately greeted by Angelo, one of the in-seat service waiters. With the lack of a real concession stand in the Sterling Level, these guys get a lot of work. He handed me a menu. I had a menu from the regular Field Level in-seat service, which seemed rather plain, a generic assortment of food you could just as easily get up and get. The Sterling Level (or, more appropriately, Delta Club) seat service menu is vastly different. They'll deliver Shake Shack directly to your seats if you sit there (and given what those seats cost, I suppose that's the least they can do)! Blue Smoke! El Verano Taqueria! All at your fingertips without having to move. So, of course, I ordered up a Shackburger, my first of the season, thereby filling my quota for the year.

Then, there was a game to watch. In those seats, the game is sort of a blur. I somehow found myself behind Pizza purveyor Phil Hartman and the actor Luis Guzman, who attracted a modicum of attention until they left around the 6th inning. I thought, in these seats, I might be spared from too many chanting Giants fans (the Finnerty's crowd safely in the Outfield can be heard no matter where you are), but somehow there were several sitting around me. The game itself was mostly just happening. Aaron Harang pitched admirably well, which is to say that he kept a decent pace and didn't get embarrassed. He threw a lot of pitches and struck out a lot of batters, but also gave up a bomb of a Home Run to Gregor "I will turn you into a Bug" Blanco, and wasn't helped later on when Andrew Brown whiffed on a lazy fly ball. On the other side, Matt Cain, who hasn't pitched well this season, pretty much tied the Mets up in knots all night, which wasn't really such an accomplishment considering that he had to face Lucas Duda 3 times, along with a bunch of other guys who generally looked overmatched. For a majority of the evening, it seemed that the Met highlight of the night was going to be Juan Centeno, making his Major League Debut, getting his first career hit in his 2nd At Bat, thereby becoming the 3rd Met player this season that I've witnessed get his first career hit. Through 7 innings, the Mets had yet to get a runner past 2nd base, and only managed to do so in the 8th thanks to a throwing error by Buster Posey when den Dekker attempted to steal 2nd. Josh Satin's Sac Fly got den Dekker home, so, if nothing else, the Mets wouldn't be shut out. But at 4-1 going to the 9th, there appeared little reason for Mets fans to stick around, and many, including the fellow that gave me the ticket, left.

The Mets had made a bit of 9th inning noise against the Giants bullpen on Tuesday night, and here, amid myriad "Lets Go Giants" chants so loud that the Mets contingent couldn't boo loud enough to drown them out, the Mets started to cobble a little rally together once again. Against Santiago Casilla, Andrew Brown worked the count and eventually worked out a 7-pitch walk. Nobody seemed convinced it would lead to anything, particularly when Lucas Duda followed with the predictable strikeout. But Juan Lagares, who does work counts, though not always with positive results, worked Casilla over enough to a) make him throw a wild pitch and b) walk him on 7 pitches, which led to c) Bruce Bochy removing Casilla from the game in favor of Tony Sergio Romo.

Romo, who always struck me as sort of a non-entity until he caught fire last Postseason, is now apparently the Giants #1 Folk Hero, since the fans went nuts as soon as they saw him coming in. Romo had some difficulty shutting things down on Tuesday, and Wednesday he didn't fare much better. Zach Lutz, hitting for Ruben Tejada (who apparently broke his leg in an Outfield Collision with Brown earlier in the 9th inning, and yet stayed in to complete the inning), didn't seem like a promising candidate to keep this little rally going, but after laying off that trademark Romo slider, finally got hold of a fastball and pulled it fair down the left field line, scoring Brown, sending Lagares to 3rd and making it to 2nd himself. So, now the Mets were at least going to make it interesting. The Giants fans still seemed nonplussed.

But it got even more interesting when Centeno followed with a first pitch flare towards the Shortstop. It appeared that it might slip into the Outfield for a potentially tying hit, but Brandon Crawford came up with it and made a desperation throw to 3rd, too late to get Lutz. Lagares scored and the Mets now had the tying run on 3rd with 1 out. Surely someone ought to be able to get this run home. den Dekker followed by looking at a couple of strikes and then looking at 4 consecutive balls, drawing the Mets 3rd walk of the inning and moving the winning run, now Anthony Recker (inserted as a Pinch Runner for Centeno, who looks slow for a Catcher) down to 2nd.

The Pitcher's spot was to follow, and the Mets countered with...Omar Quintanilla?! This was the best the Mets could produce at this point? I was sort of convinced that a Pitcher might have been a better option, but then again, the Mets had produced enough mojo and their remaining fans were getting just enough into it that maybe, just maybe, he'd produce a gapper to win the game. But, then again, this was Omar Quintanilla, and although he did hit a fly ball, it wasn't anything remotely deep enough to get Lutz home. With 2 outs now, the Giant contingent was roaring with approval, thinking the drama was going to be averted much like it was on Tuesday.

Josh Satin stood as the last chance for the Mets. But Satin, as was the M.O. of most of the Mets in this inning, continued to lay off Romo's slider, waiting for him to slip a fastball in there. It took to the 5th pitch of the AB, but Romo threw that fastball, and Satin was ready for it, lining it inside the left field line to score both Lutz and Recker and set off a celebration that I didn't consider a possibility about 15 minutes earlier. I screamed myself hoarse and high-fived strangers in the kind of jubilant atmosphere I hadn't felt at a Mets game in a long time. And yeah, maybe it's just one win in another losing season, but considering that they'd done nothing this entire game, and this comeback was accomplished primarily by a bunch of kids just trying to prove they're worthy of a spot in the Major Leagues, it's something worth celebrating. I've been to almost a half-season's worth of games in Citi Field's 5 year existence, and I think between the seat and the comeback, this one will always rank among the most memorable.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Travel With The Light

It was a difficult night all the way around for me, as I attended the penultimate game on my 15-game plan last night (and I have to say last night because the proceedings dragged on long enough that I was unable to arrive home before midnight). Difficult to get to Citi Field, difficult to sit through and difficult to get home from.

I work in the East Village, so getting to games after work is usually pretty easy for me, just hop on the 4/5 at Union Square, take it one stop and switch to the 7. Not much to it. Tuesday night, however, was a different story. I was meeting a friend by the apple at 6:15. However, I was slightly delayed leaving work, but that generally is the case and it's never actually been a problem, since even if the trains are running slowly, I can get there in about 40 minutes. So I texted him and said I'd be there closer to 6:30. I arrived at Union Square and got a 4 train, which sat there for a few minutes before creeping uptown. This, again, is nothing new. The 4 is always slow, especially during rush hour. It was when I got to Grand Central when things really went haywire. I arrived on the 7 train platform to see people standing about 4 deep. The 7 is one of the few especially efficient subway lines and can run like clockwork during rush hour, so already I knew something was up. I stood around for a few minutes and a train came by going to Times Square. I took that as a good sign, since what goes down has to come back before too long. But nothing was running to Queens. And I was starting to get concerned because my friend was probably sitting out at the apple wondering where the hell I was, and I couldn't text him since I was underground. Finally, a Queens Express came by, but people had packed into the train so tightly that there was no possible way to even get a foot on, so I had to let it go. After about another 10 minutes of waiting, and an announcement of a "Police Investigation," another Times Square-bound train showed up. This time, I was taking no chances. It had to come back the other way, so I figured if I get on now, I'll be able to get it back out to Queens. Or, there'll be another train I can get on. And, sure enough, there was an Express at Times Square, about to leave. It was about as packed as the prior Express, but I managed to shoehorn myself in and finally get myself out to Queens. By this time, of course, it was about 6:45 and making first pitch was a lost cause. It wasn't a total disaster, however. By sheer happenstance I ran into Faith and Fear's Greg Prince getting off the train at Citi Field. I've communicated with Greg several times over the years, but we'd never actually met. We both seemed a bit amused by the folly of meeting due to the MTA's mishaps.

I eventually found my friend, who had also found himself stuck in the delay, but nonetheless had still been sitting there for a good 30 minutes waiting for me. He demanded I buy dinner, although I eventually negotiated my way out of it. Perhaps the free seat upgrade, that took us from section 512 down to section 112, worked in my favor. Nonetheless, by time we were seated, we'd missed the first inning almost entirely.

In the grand scheme of things, missing the first inning didn't matter too much, since we ended up sitting through more than our share of ballgame. The remainder of the game dragged on endlessly, with no particular rhythm and loads of raucous fans that were unfortunately rooting for the Giants. Ostensibly, we missed the first 10 minutes of a 3 hour, 55 minute mess of a game that started ugly and ended uglier, with only a small bit of good in between.

Zack Wheeler, who is probably just about at his innings limit at this point, faced off against his former team and looked like a guy who was probably ready to shut it down for the Winter. He was all over the map in the 2nd inning, walking 4 guys, including the opposing pitcher Yusmeiro Petit with the bases loaded, gave up another run on a dying quail by Angel Pagan, and a 3rd on a Fielder's Choice. He looked not long for the game, but somehow managed to settle down enough to get through 5 innings, barely.

Meanwhile, the Mets exploded for 4 runs in response, thanks to rallies centered mostly around some good fundamental play. Ruben Tejada doubled to lead off the 3rd, went to 3rd on a Wheeler sacrifice, and scored on a Young groundout. My friend, always quick to call for sound play, was a fan of this. In the 4th. Wilmer Flores rang an RBI double off the wall and later, when Matt den Dekker got himself in a rundown long enough to distract the Giants infielders, scored the go-ahead run.

Sadly, the Mets decided to abandon the fundamentals after the 4th inning. The Giants re-tied the game in the 5th thanks to Zack Wheeler forgetting to cover 1st following a fine Lucas Duda stab of a Brandon Belt line drive (Wheeler was, perhaps, stunned that Duda managed to come up with the ball&madsh;I certainly was). Later, with Josh Satin on 1st and none out, neither Eric Young nor Juan Lagares attempted to move him along, where he would have scored on Daniel Murphy's subsequent double. My friend, at this point, was screaming and tearing his hair out.

And it all pretty much went down the toilet from there. Angel Pagan homered and tripled and the Giants fans chanted and cheered, and Lucas Duda, who the Giants for some reason was walked intentionally in the 5th inning (the Giants must not have bothered to send advance scouts), generally fouled up some rallies. By the 9th inning, it was pushing 11pm and just about all the Mets fans had left. In spite of having the lead, Bruce Bochy kept insistently changing pitchers (as opposed to Terry Collins, who kept changing pitchers because they weren't getting any outs), finally landing on Tony Sergio Romo, who allowed the Mets to load the bases and bring up Duda as the potential winning run. I'm sure I wasn't the only Met fan thinking back to Friday when Duda shocked the world and hit a 3-run Homer. Surely, he was more than capable of running into a Fastball. If he could do it here, maybe some of his foibles could be forgiven. But, sadly, it was not. Duda worked the count full before taking a mighty swing and popping out to 3rd. Andrew Brown's final out was pretty much academic. And after 3 hours and 55 minutes, the game had mercifully come to a close.

But I still had to get home. And I had to get home amid swarms of Giants fans, because they were more or less the only people left. A large group convened in the Outfield seats, but others were scattered about. My friend and I ended up with several in our subway car going back into the City. We got to talking to them, and I of course was all too happy to mention that I root for the 49ers. Apparently, the Giants are going to play the other team here right after they finish with the Mets. Many San Franciscans seem to be making a holiday of it, going to see the Giants play the Mets, and then again in the Bronx. Though the fans in the outfield seemed intent to endear themselves to nobody, the ones we rode with on the Subway were more than pleasant and provided good discussion to pass time on the ride back to the City.

In the end, I suppose, it's always good to find people to talk to in transit. It helps to remind everyone that there's more to the game than what goes on on the field.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Shoved Off The Floor

It's really no secret to anyone that the 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks are going to be the two teams duking it out not just for supremacy in the NFC West, but perhaps in the entire NFC altogether. This particular rivalry has become one of the NFL's hottest. It was always a good rivalry, albeit a fairly recent one since they weren't in the same division until the NFL realigned in 2002. Since then, the 49ers and Seahawks have rarely been good at the same time, so nobody paid much attention. But now, their home-and-home matchups have become must-watch. And on the big prime time stage, the Seahawks threw a haymaker at the 49ers, controlling the game behind their raucous home crowd and booting them out of the building in a 29-3 blasting that showed just how dangerous a team the Seahawks are.

It's hard not to overreact to the results of big matchups like this, and I know everyone has basically anointed the Seahawks as NFC Champs here in Week 2, but it's important to remember that it is, indeed, only week 2. There's still a lot of season to be played, and another matchup between these two teams forthcoming in San Francisco in December. That being said, for the 49ers, this game was probably worse than the score might indicate. In a game that was overall a pretty sloppy, chippy affair marked with multiple penalties on both sides, it was the Seahawks who eventually exerted their will , getting ahead and rather methodically putting the game out of reach.

The game kicked off in a pouring Seattle thunderstorm that would eventually cause an hour's delay late in the 1st quarter. By that point, the 49ers had come out prepared to hang tight in the noise tunnel that is The Kingdome Pearl Jam Starbucks Century Link Field (or, The Clink, as it's appropriately referred to). When the 49ers got smoked there late last season, Colin Kaepernick had trouble in the huddle and calling plays. Last night, he came out prepared with a system of codes and hand signals and a semi-no-huddle offensive attack. This was good by design, but Seattle's defense was ready for whatever Kaepernick had to throw at them. The 49ers defense was prepared, too, coming after Seattle Quarterback Russell Wilson early and scored the first break with a blocked punt that occurred when a rogue whistle may or may not have blown and distracted the Seattle punt squad enough to let the rush slip by. Pete Carroll bitched and moaned about it plenty, but the resulting 49ers drive was snuffed out when a Kaepernick pass was batted and then intercepted in the End Zone by Earl Thomas.

This, unfortunately, was probably the best sequence for the 49ers all night. Following the weather delay (prompting me to muse as to why Seattle, a city where it probably rains about 65% of the year, decided to build a Football stadium with a giant hole in the roof as opposed to a retractable roof stadium like their Baseball team has, directly across the street), the Seahawks took charge and never looked back. Buoyed primarily by their defense, Seattle forced 5 turnovers and didn't give the 49ers an inch. For the second week in a row, Frank Gore and the 49ers running game couldn't get an inch. Gore was stymied in week 1, but last night he was functionally useless, as were Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon. The 49ers ended up with 100 yards rushing for the game, 87 of which were by Kaepernick, a majority of which were gained after the game was out of reach. Kaepernick found no luck passing either. Anquan Boldin, who ran wild last week, was blanketed by the loathsome Richard Sherman (who is loathsome, and yet oddly during a pregame interview came off as surprisingly well-spoken and intelligent) and was shut down completely. All told, Kaepernick threw 3 interceptions and lost a fumble in what was easily his worst performance since he took over as starter last season.

Defensively, the 49ers did whatever they could to keep the game somewhat in reach. Unfortunately, the multiple turnovers (and a Safety caused by an unconscionable holding call in the End Zone by Bruce Miller) resulted in the Seahawks having short fields on multiple occasions. They did their best—after 3 Quarters, the score was only 12-3—and Russell Wilson had a performance not much better than Kaepernick's (his one interception was in the midst of an 0-for-8 start), but Marshawn Lynch, who just has the 49ers' number, plowed and plowed and plowed his way for 3 Touchdowns, ultimately wearing down the 49ers defense to the point where he was just blowing defenders away by game's end.

The 49ers lone score came late in the 3rd Quarter on a Field Goal that came at the end of one of their few sustained offensive drives (comprised primarily of Kaepernick scrambling). At that point, down 12-0, I questioned the move. From the Seahawks 3 yard line, they might have been wise to at least attempt to get a Touchdown. That being said, they'd had such little success to that point, that the thinking there could very well have been to just take the points and not get shut out. And whatever momentum they had from that drive was given right back when a pair of damaging penalties, one a 40-yard Pass Interference on Nnamdi Asomugha and the second a Facemask on Aldon Smith, extended the drive long enough for Seattle to score a Touchdown and for all intents and purposes put the game to bed.

The lack of a running game was alarming enough. Although Kaepernick certainly won't have many games as bad as last night, he also won't through for 412 yards every week either, and the running game has been so important to the success of the team these past few seasons. Gore, who through 2 games has mustered a paltry 60 yards on 30 carries, and company really need to find themselves and quick. But even more alarming were the undisciplined penalties (the most egregious of which I've mentioned) and the injuries. One key to the success of the 49ers has been their ability to stay healthy these past two seasons. Already without Michael Crabtree, the 49ers also saw injuries to Ian Williams, whose broken ankle may cost him the remainder of the season, Eric Reid, the rookie who performed so well in Week 1 and had an Interception last night suffered a concussion, and Vernon Davis, who came up with a hamstring injury. Reid and Davis' injuries didn't appear serious, but the 49ers could ill afford to lose them for any extended period of time. So...yeah. This game was about as disastrous as you can get. But, one of the trademarks of the Jim Harbaugh-era 49ers is how well they've responded after losses, particularly bad losses. This isn't a team that wallows in self-pity for too long, which is why they're usually able to bounce back quickly.

There's very little to defend about the 49ers performance in this game, but I suppose if anyone is willing to take any solace, it's that nobody was going to win that game in Seattle last night. I know that they pipe in crowd noise at the Clink, and the walls are built out of some reverberating aluminum material that makes sound carom all over the place, but this team just feeds off the crowd noise and it drives them to another level. Or maybe it's all the amphetamines Pete Carroll keeps feeding them. Whatever it is, they went undefeated at home last year, and if they took the 49ers apart like this last night, I have a very hard time believing anyone is going to go into that building and win this season. And the rest of the NFC better hope they don't end up as the #1 seed, because if they're at home through the Playoffs, they probably will justify the hype everyone's casting on them and go all the way to the Super Bowl.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Learn On The Fly

The Mets won 3 of 4 from the Marlins this weekend in the type of series that, if they'd played like this the other times they played the Marlins this season, maybe we wouldn't be in this mess.

It wasn't so much that the Mets did anything particularly great over the weekend, but they did whatever was necessary to get wins. After getting stymied and looking lifeless in the opener of Saturday's real Doubleheader, they rode the surprisingly strong pitching of Daisuke Matsuzaka to a win in the nightcap. Matsuzaka, who has actually improved over his last couple of outings (not that this is saying much considering how miserable he was), did what should be done against the Marlins and shut them down, giving up one run in 7 innings while working at a much more brisk pace than we're used to. Daniel Murphy homered, Lucas Duda homered (I'm still not convinced, particularly since nobody was on base), and the result was a 3-1 win. Feats like that really shouldn't have been so hard to duplicate, but I digress.

I was out on Sunday and missed all of the game, but it appears to me that once again the Mets won by doing the absolute minimum necessary offensively. I think you can classify scoring 1 run as such. But when you have Dillon Gee on the mound pitching great, you can get away with that. Gee's 8 scoreless innings were certainly win-worthy, but the bats didn't get him much of anything. It took until the 12th inning before the Mets finally scored, at which point I'm sure the fans in attendance were starting to worry about a 20-inning rerun, when Travis d'Arnaud singled home the winning run, giving the Mets the 1-0 victory.

d'Arnaud hasn't shown a great deal offensively to this point, although I feel hard-pressed to get on him for that since he's been in the Major Leagues barely a month. He can only improve and given the approach he's taken, I think he has it in him. What I see out of him is a hitter who doesn't give away at bats. He's more often than not made contact, although 15 strikeouts in 77 ABs isn't an outstanding ratio, but a lot of his solid hits just haven't fallen in. Law of averages dictates that should change. He's a slasher, not a masher, so once he gets hot, you figure we'll be seeing a lot of line drives in the gaps. Defensively, well, when every pitcher on the staff (except, oddly, Matsuzaka) has raved up and down about throwing to him, I suppose that speaks for itself. Most importantly, though, what I've seen out of him is a guy who really looks the part. He looks and sounds like a real Field General, someone who is going to someday be a leader on this team and the kind of catcher that won't be afraid to chew a pitcher out. There's probably something to the fact that the Mets gave him #15, which might be more closely associated with Carlos Beltran, but long ago, that was Jerry Grote's number, and Grote probably epitomized the take-no-crap leader better than anyone (Josh Thole, by the way, was probably the least-leaderlike Catcher). d'Arnaud is being groomed for this role and once he grows comfortable in the Majors, I like his chances of becoming this kind of player.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Stop The Presses!

So, a day after I took several not-so-subtle shots at Lucas Duda and how I feel he's really not cut out for the direction of the team, he of course goes out and hits a 3-run Home Run to win tonight's game against the Marlins.

It's nice that Duda went and did this. It's not the first time he's hit a 3-run Home Run, although given his general in-aptitude for situational hitting, it certainly feels like it's the first time he's done something like that. But it actually annoys me that he did this. Bear with me here, but this will make sense. See, I've made mention somewhere in the 6+ years worth of archives here about how Oliver Perez was the worst kind of loser, because he was a loser with talent. Oliver Perez would throw a great game every so often, 7+ innings, 4 hits, 2 runs, 8 strikeouts and we'd be drooling because we were fooled into thinking he might actually be putting it together. But then the next time out he'd walk 7 guys in 3 innings and we'd be smacking our heads. I'm convinced that Lucas Duda is the same kind of player. A loser with talent. Duda came up with the reputation as a patient power hitter, and while he's shown flashes of power and flashes of patience, it's amounted to very little extended production or success. And what kills me is how much attention he gets when he starts doing things right. I mean, yes, we all WANT Duda to do well, he's a Met, he came up through the system and whatever, but at some point we sort of have to figure that he might not get much better than he already is. He's basically a big, meaty mountain with 30 Home Run potential and no general idea when it's time to swing for the fences or just make contact and try to get a hit. With men in scoring position, Duda is hitting .169 for the season and last night's Home Run was his first of the year in such a situation. It's all or nothing and it seems like it's been like this with him for as long as he's been here. For a guy who was supposed to have middle-of-the-lineup pop, hitting .230 with 13 Home Runs to produce 30 RBI is not going to cut it. And that's to say nothing of his defensive prowess, because he has none, so there's nothing to say about it.

The thing is, Duda is just this big oafy kid and so many Mets fans seem to like him, particularly after he finished strong last year, that just about every positive thing he does is met with an overabundance of joy. He walked a lot to start the season and everyone was crowing about how he was near the top of the league in OBA for April, overlooking the fact that a guy who's supposed to be hitting for power and driving in runs can't do that if he's walking all the time. Then, he stopped walking and the air came out of his numbers. Then, he got hurt. So, there's another thing for the Duda lovers to hang their hats on. But then he came back and, since the team mercifully decided he wasn't an Outfielder anymore, decided to bury him on the bench behind Ike Davis. Fortuitously for him, Davis got hurt, giving him one more chance to try to show us what he's got. And to this point, I've seen nothing worthwhile out of him, outside of a bunch of singles with nobody on base. Until last night, when he hit this 3-run Home Run. And I'm quite certain we're going to be hearing about this 3-run Home Run for weeks, because everyone loves harping on the few times this guy has done something right. I woudn't be surprised if it's December and I hear, "HEY, REMEMBER THAT TIME DUDA HIT THAT HOME RUN!?"

I don't mean to pick on Duda so much, but the point is, I've seen enough. I've seen him and I've seen Ike Davis, and Ike is better, even if he's had lousy seasons. Duda hasn't been especially great either. But, the organization seems to like Duda and dislike Davis and they just keep spoonfeeding Duda to us in spite of the fact that he's mostly been a disaster. I realize I'm no "expert," but what I've seen of Duda is enough to make me think that he's got a nice future as a platoon DH for a team in the AL West. That's of course assuming the Mets either a) Can trade him or b) Don't decide that he's somehow the future here.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Window's Closed

I missed writing about Wednesday night's game. That's actually not true. I just didn't write anything about it because what the hell was there to write about? I could have gone on some more about Zack Wheeler pitching great and continuing to improve for the 37th time, but how many times can I keep writing about the same thing? It's bad enough that that's the only positive thing I can take out of this month-long shit show that's been Mets Baseball. I could sum Wednesday night up in about 4 sentences. Wheeler pitched great. Wheeler got victimized by one bad pitch. The Mets couldn't score a run or get a meaningful hit. Wheeler took the loss because of that.

Thursday was more or less the same story. Washington just blew threw here and blasted the Mets right out of their home ballpark. For the 4-game series, Washington hit 13 Home Runs. The Mets hit none. For anyone complaining about the dimensions at Citi Field, one need not look at the ballpark, one need look at the players playing in said ballpark. Any reasonably good power hitter can hit the ball out of any ballpark, and right now, the Mets are devoid of simply anyone who can do that. How could you expect the Mets to make a peep against anyone with the lineup they've been throwing out there on a day-to-day basis? It's been going on all season, but now that some of the more useful pieces the Mets have had this season are either hurt or on other teams, the ineptitude of the offense is really coming to the forefront. The Mets scored 3 runs on Tuesday night and compared to the rest of the series, I feel as though I witnessed an avalanche of offense from the Mets. They scored 2 runs combined over the other 3 games this week!

Aaron Harang, who is basically the Mets Warm Body du Jour, was the latest victim of the no-stick crew. Harang, who arrived here about a week ago and has basically no expectations attached to him, actually pitched decently well. He gave up a trio of Home Runs in his 6 innings, but that was OK. They were all solo shots, and besides, Washington was hitting Home Runs against everyone. He only gave up 4 hits and amazingly struck out 10. But, you know, the Lucas Duda brigade was behind him, so the game was basically over once that 3rd Home Run left the yard. Which is unfortunate. The flipside of the argument is how much should I be sticking up for Aaron Harang, since he's been here all of 2 seconds and probably won't be around beyond the end of the season, but you want guys that go out there to at least look alive or something. Harang did that reasonably well and given the circumstances I have to give him that credit. It's better than spending an entire paragraph talking about how terrible Lucas Duda is.

The Mets were eliminated from playoff contention on Wednesday night, which was probably the least surprising thing that's happened to them all season, and Thursday they actually hit their low water mark for the season at 17 games under .500. Their 81 losses have assured them of a 5th straight losing season. About a month ago, I would have lauded the Mets for not rolling over and dying like they usually do in the 2nd half, but here they've gone and done it again. I realize that the Harvey injury and the Byrd/Buck trade took a lot of the starch out of the team, as well as the injuries to Wright, Davis and Parnell, but a majority of the players on this team, for example Lucas Duda, are in no way assured of continued Major League jobs. If I were them, I would be absolutely playing my ass off to no end in order to make an impression on someone of importance. But instead, an alarming number of these guys who are auditioning, like, say, Lucas Duda, have been so putrid that simply calling them inept would be kind. Lucas Duda had a good game 3 weeks ago, and somehow this was reason for excitement?

The Mets needs for this offseason are pretty cut and dry. But I have also often talked about addition by subtraction, and sometimes getting rid of some of the "promising" dead weight can be better than bringing in the big name because it relieves you of the "whatif" factor. With many of the players that we're going to be subjected to in the remaining 17 games this season, I think this needs to be the case. There's too many players on the Mets right now that it seems to me only would have jobs in the Major Leagues with the Mets. No other team would take them. I mean, sure, maybe Lucas Duda has a future as a DH with the Seattle Mariners, and maybe he'll hit 25 Home Runs with 47 RBI and be happy as a clam (You know, sort of like how I always felt Aaron Heilman was cut out for the AL West). But I don't see why any team with aspirations of contention would have half of these guys on their roster. And, really, neither should the Mets.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

No Luck In That Shirt

A little over a month ago, I wrote about the Montreal Expos T-Shirt I purchased during a recent trip to Montreal. I'd promised, after some heavy consideration and discussion, to wear the shirt to the next Mets/Nationals game I was in attendance for, which happened to be tonight's game at Citi Field. My logic seemed sound: The Nationals have done very little to honor their roots and the memory of the team they once were, they've unretired all the numbers and make no mention of a franchise that came within an inch of going to the World Series in 1981 and might have been the best team in Baseball period in 1994. Therefore, my wearing an Expos shirt is not so much supporting the Nationals in a vague sense, I believe it is showing disrespect to the Nationals, because they don't respect their time as the Expos. So, F--- You Nationals. My promise was kept, and the Expos shirt was worn tonight at Citi Field.

Unfortunately, the shirt brought no luck to the Mets. In reality, the shirt probably had nothing to do with it. A Mets attack that featured the heavy involvement of players like Justin Turner, Lucas Duda, Omar Quintanilla, Josh Satin and Mike Baxter may have had more of an impact on the outcome of the game.

It could be argued that Dillon Gee might belong on that list as well, and certainly Gee didn't look good in the early going. The Nationals were stinging line drives all over the place in the early innings, primarily off the bat of the hideous Jayson Werth, who Homered in the 1st inning and drove in a run with a long double in the 3rd. Adam LaRoche also chimed in with a longball, and it appeared a long night was in store for all 7,000 or so in attendance. But to his credit, Gee settled down and made it into the 7th inning, perhaps pitching better than his final line might have indicated. His near-Houdini act to almost get out of a severe jam in the 6th was undercut by a 2-out RBI single from Wilson Ramos, but in the end, (SILVER LINING ALERT!!!) he kept the game respectable when it certainly looked like a repeat of Monday was possible early on.

The Mets chipped away bit by bit, first on an RBI single by Justin Turner and later on, a 2-run single from Matt den Dekker made it a 4-3 game. Surely, the Mets could find a way to scrape across one more run against a fairly porous Nationals bullpen, right? Apparently that was a bit too much to ask, because they couldn't do it in the 7th or 8th in spite of having men on base, and then in the 9th, Tim Byrdak spared us all of an interesting 9th by allowing a truly monstrous Home Run to Scott Hairston, which sent a majority of the few remaining fans to the exits (the case of Collins overmanaging by going to Byrdak in that spot instead of leaving Frank Francisco in the game to face that Tim Dwight fellow (or whatever his name is) is sort of moot; at this late part of the season, is it really worth drawing out the second-guessing argument?).

But even the dreariest of losses have their bright spots. (SILVER LINING ALERT!!!) Earlier in the day, I received an e-mail from the Mets about a free seat upgrade for all Ticket Plan holders, good through next week. All I needed to do was bring my plan ticket to the ticket booth and exchange it. So, instead of perching myself up in 512 as usual, I was treated to a much better view of the action down in Section 113. And, since I've got tickets to another game next week, I can do it again! It is, of course, the least the Mets could do, after everything we've had to go through in this long and often miserable season. Nice, but not enough to convince me that there wasn't an ulterior motive. I mused to George prior to the game that the Mets could conceivably have done this as a means to clear out everyone from the Promenade level and not have to open any of the concession stands. Given the other outrage-inducing news I heard from the Mets today, I wouldn't put it past them.