Thursday, December 24, 2015

We'll Always Have Paris...

I can't say I'm especially surprised by today's news that Daniel Murphy signed with the Washington Nationals. I'm not particularly upset by it either. I know you don't want one of your own guys to jump to a division rival like this, but let's be real here before we get too worked up. The moves the Mets have made to this point have made it abundantly clear that Daniel Murphy wasn't part of the future plans here. And that's fine.

We've had 8 seasons with Daniel Murphy. I know there's a lot of sentimentality that comes attached to that, but it wasn't going to get any better with age. Mostly, Daniel Murphy played the kind of Baseball that left a lot of us scratching our heads. Yes, there were times when he was really good, and for those two weeks in October he took his version of "really good" to a whole new level. But that wasn't Daniel Murphy. That was Playoff Chosen Daniel Murphy. Nothing exemplifies Playoff Chosen Daniel Murphy more than that Stolen Base in Los Angeles. If Daniel Murphy tries to pull something like that in the regular season, he probably gets thrown out 100 times out of 100. Playoff Chosen Daniel Murphy was safe. But Playoff Chosen Daniel Murphy was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. Regular Daniel Murphy came back to us in the World Series, sometime around the 8th inning of Game 4.

Unfair as it may seem, that's probably going to be the Daniel Murphy that most of us will remember. The guy who was consistently frighting on defense. The guy who would all too often try to be a hero and end up making a semipro-caliber play. The guy who would go on those raging hot streaks and then spend the next two months grounding out to the 2nd baseman. The guy who exemplified the lost era of the Mets when he led the team in Home Runs...with 12. A few years ago, I was watching a program on MLB Network where Daniel Murphy was ranked 10th among MLB 2nd Basemen and I nearly passed out. Murphy was the sort of player that I would watch and after a few years of his schtick I said to myself, "You know, Daniel Murphy is the kind of ballplayer who only has a job because of the Mets. Only the Mets would have a guy like Murphy on the roster."

I guess there's some people who are upset about this, but I can't. I know he went to a division rival, but my feeling is that now, he's going to get himself so cranked up and out of control when he plays the Mets that he's going to do things like try to score from 1st Base on an infield ground out or try to throw a runner out at 3rd base while overshifted into Right Field. These absurd mistakes that he makes are now the problem of Dusty Baker and the Washington Nationals. While he's totally going to hit .340 in April, I feel like more often than not we'll see the Good Ol' Murphy on highlights and silently chuckle.

The other reason people seem to be annoyed really has less to do with Murphy and more that the Mets aren't making those "Bold" or "Flashy" moves. I know general logic would dictate that the Mets should bring back Cespedes and, sure, that makes sense but again, a lot of it comes from that sentimental feeling that most Mets fans seem to have. I mean, sure. I'd love to have that big-time bat back and sure, it annoys me to see the Cubs and Giants gobbling up every big-ticket Free Agent in sight (and if you thought the Cubs had anointed themselves last season...oy veh...), but outside of Cespedes, or possibly Heyward, who sitting out there were the Mets legitimately going to bring in? The idea isn't to make moves for the purpose of being reactionary, the idea is to make moves to improve the team and under Sandy Alderson, the Mets have continually done that. No, I don't especially like the idea that the Opening Day 2016 roster is going to mostly resemble the Opening Day 2015 roster barring a Cespedes Smokescreen. But top to bottom the Mets are a better team right now than they were on Opening Day last season even without Cespedes. Instead of having absolute junk filling out the roster, there's good, serviceable depth here, which is nice to have. Also, I feel like people are forgetting this Conforto fellow. He might be pretty good.

All besides the point. I sort of want to tip my cap and wish Murphy well and maybe that was supposed to be the general intent of this post. I know I really raked Murphy over the coals quite a bit over the years and, well, most of the time he deserved it, but for all his foibles he was a fine Met and it's always a little wistful when a guy who's been with the team a long time leaves. But, that's the nature of the game. Players always leave town and the cynics always win the day. Murph...It's been real.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

To The Rescue!

It's already been a long offseason. In reality, I know it's been less than 2 months since the Mets season ended, and yes, amazingly, they were still playing Baseball on November 1st, but the past 7-8 weeks or so since the season ended has felt like 4 months. Not kidding. The World Series feels like a lifetime ago, and maybe this offseason in particular will feel much longer than most. There is, in spite of what you might read or hear and in spite of the grousing of certain fans, a lot to look forward to for the Mets in 2016.

Generally, as the offseason rolls on, I tend to flip certain things in my head over and over again that pertain to the Mets. I've talked about this before and I'm not sure if it's indicative of some underlying insanity or not, but it's just odd things that came up during the past season. But for whatever reason, the thing that's been popping up the most has been the above clip, featuring our old friend Pedro Martinez expressing his adoration for our relatively new friend, Noah Syndergaard.

I've been thinking about Syndergaard and his place in a stacked rotation, up against Harvey, deGrom, Matz, the returning Wheeler and the ageless Colon. I don't think it particularly crazy to say that Syndergaard has a good chance to be the best of the lot. We knew he was good but he sort of snuck up on us with how much he'd matured over the course of the season. But in the pressure cooker of the playoffs, when, really, everyone among the Big 4 had their moment, Syndergaard seemed to stand taller than most. Perhaps it was because he threw himself into the winner-take-all Game 5 in LA after warming up 3 times. Possibly, it was his World Series performance.

Mostly, though, it was prior to Game 2 of the NLCS, when TBS signed on for their pregame show and Pedro Martinez immediately grabbed a Norse hammer and screamed "THOOOOOOORRRRRR!"

When you're continually drawing the admiration of one of the greatest Badasses in MLB History, you're probably pretty badass yourself. Of all the things I'm looking forward to in 2016, it's to see what this guy can do with a full season and some experience.

But, just so you don't think I'm hung up on one guy here, one other thing that's been flipping around in my head a lot lately is this scene:

I know it didn't end well for Matt Harvey or any of us on that last night, but man. That sound.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Highlight Film

It's been a while since I've talked about the ubiquitous history of Mets Highlight Videos. The sort of thing that was virtually a rite of passage in my youth has kind of faded into obscurity, primarily because is there anyone who really wants to see a 2009 Mets Highlight Video? I'd rather pretend that year never existed.

But I digress. The last time the Mets had a Real Highlight Video, to the best of my knowledge, was in 2006, not surprisingly the last time the Mets made the Playoffs. When the Mets produced their own video, it was boilerplate cheesy in-house stuff. For a while, say 1984 through 1988, the Mets Highlight Video reached near-legendary status, incorporating pop music to underscore dramatic montages. If you're like me (and few people are) and you were between the ages of 7-12 in 1986, you basically have the 1986 Highlight Video committed to memory (How'd we do it? Mirrors!).

Then it sort of faded out. 1999 and 2000 have videos, and then 2006. At some point, I actually saw SNY running "Mets Yearbook" episodes from 2010 and 2011, although I'm sure they cobbled it together themselves just so they didn't have to keep showing the 1976 video over and over again. And even then, the SNY selection chops up and edits many of the videos for cost-cutting copyright purposes, so it's not the same.

And now, here we have the 2015 Mets. The team that rose from the ashes and went on a wild ride all the way to the World Series. I mean, I wasn't alive in 1969, but this was the sort of stuff you'd dream about happening, the year the Mets finally got good again and what it would be like. This was one of those special years. The Greg Prince book is coming. I want a Highlight Video, too. I know it takes a few months for MLB Advanced Media or whoever is now tasked with putting this stuff together to get it in the works, but I think we need a 2015 Mets Highlight video. Come on. I know they have to put in their general fluff about the Mets giving back to the community, but we need some goofy footage about Jacob deGrom's hair and Steven Matz and his family. What about a Bartolo Being Bartolo segment? The "We Follow Lucas Duda" Cam. And yes, even Matt Harvey storming around the mound screaming during the World Series (I believe in taking the bad as part of the good in the big picture. But that's another blog for another time). YouTube has been a great source for some short form Highlight fixes, but I think an official production is in order.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Rolling Heads

As per usual, I've kind of vanished from the Blogosphere the past month or so. Not so much because I've gone into hiding, but because there simply hasn't been much to say. Sure, I could have come back on November 3rd or 4th and done some soppy postmortem on the Mets season and the ride to the World Series. Hell, if they'd won the damn thing, I might have spent a week waxing poetic. But things went badly against Kansas City and now the Mets have to work on getting themselves back. No longer an also-ran, the Mets have proven themselves among the better teams in the league, and, dare I say it, a Team to Beat.

Which is why it's important that some moves get made here. One of the worst things the Mets did in 2000 was approach the ensuing offseason after losing the World Series with the attitude of, "Hey, we went to the World Series. We're good enough!" That sort of approach has really done wonders for the Mets. Just look at 2001 and 2007.

Which is why I'm sort of refreshed to see the Mets go out and make a couple of moves. Not major moves, but moves to tidy things up. Gone is Jon Niese, after spending parts of 8 seasons here, toiling for mostly bad teams in mostly hopeless situations and at times looking hopeless, but he had his moments. He's off to Pittsburgh in exchange for Neil Walker, who as far as I can discern is basically a more fundamentally sound Daniel Murphy. This, then, would mean that Murphy is most likely gone as well, and quite honestly if the Mets are going to just patch some holes, Murphy was one of the holes that needed to be patched. Yes, Murphy has been here as long as Niese and went through the same stretch of terrible teams, and in a vacuum you sort of feel a sentimental attachment, but let's face it. Daniel Murphy basically happened to have a really well-timed two-week hot streak and that sort of changed everyone's attitude towards him. I wasn't particularly fooled then and I'm still not fooled.

Also appearing will be Asdrubal Cabrera, whose signing really kicks Murphy out the door, possibly Ruben Tejada as well, and also moves Wilmer Flores into a more complimentary role. Again, Cabrera isn't a difference maker, but he's also not going to do stupid shit. And more importantly it's a change of pace. A different look.

Still, more to be done. But this is a good step in the right direction.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Remember The Feeling

Losing hurts worse than winning feels good.
-Lewis Grizzard

That pretty much summed up what I was feeling as the clock struck midnight both literally and figuratively on the 2015 Mets season. Though the Mets nearly closed out Game 5 of the World Series behind a Heroic effort by Matt Harvey, the Kansas City Royals once again proved to be far too relentless, too determined to let the Mets keep that door open. The Royals broke our hearts when they tied the game and ultimately won in an absolutely gut-wrenching 12th inning explosion, forcing Mets fans to flee and Royals fans to take over our building as they closed out their first World Series Championship in 30 years

I was, once again at Citi Field on Sunday night, fortunate enough to have been a ticket plan holder, prescient enough to go all in on a full package of Postseason tickets and wind up in possession of seats for all 3 World Series Home Games. Sure, I'd batted around the idea of selling some of these tickets and running to the bank, but my heart won out. How often do the Mets make the World Series period, let alone how often does a schmuck like me end up with tickets basically dropped in my lap? I couldn't pass up the opportunity. Sure, ultimately, it's just a game. But a game at this level of the Playoffs, on November 1st of all days is pretty intense without the teams even setting foot on the field. This would have been the final game of the year at Citi Field regardless. I and the other 45-some-odd-thousand people there were just hoping it wasn't the final game of the year period.

And it started off good, it really did. We all know what happened. Curtis Granderson homered in the 1st. Matt Harvey set out intent on pitching the game of games. Some games, Harvey pitches angry and you can tell from the moment he sets foot on the field. I don't know if pitching angry really does enough to justify how he was pitching. His intensity was palpable throughout the entire stadium. Or maybe everyone was just so anxious because the entire season was on the line. He knew that runs were going to be at a premium. He had to be as close to perfect as the circumstances would allow him to be. Yes, the Royals nicked him early, but they only nicked him, not cut him. Three early baserunners never made it past 2nd base. In the 4th, he struck out the side, something he didn't accomplish in his Game 1 start when he struck out two batters in total. After finishing off the inning by whiffing Mike Moustakas, Harvey pumped his fist and started screaming as he ran off the mound. The further he went, the more intense he got, feeding off the energy of the crowd. Three more strikeouts in the 5th. Worked around a 1-out single in the 6th. The Mets got him a second run off of Edinson Volquez in the bottom of that inning, in a rally where it seemed like they had to do an awful lot of work to just scrape out one run. A third run would have been enormous, but it never materialized.

All this mattered little to Harvey. In the 7th, he gave up a leadoff single, but then coolly set down the Royals, expending all of 9 pitches, and when Alex Rios grounded out to finish the inning, there was more yelling, more pumping of fists, more "LET'S GO!"s. By now, pitch count was immaterial. This was his last shot. He had all winter to rest, so just leave it on the field. Conventional wisdom, I suppose, would have said let him go until he ran into trouble in the 8th, and then bring in Jeurys Familia. But I wasn't thinking that. When he ran off the mound in the 7th, I turned to my friend and said, "He's finishing this shit."

Harvey cruised through the 8th again on only 9 pitches. Ben Zobrist finished by flying out and the crowd was roaring with approval. Then, of course, there was that half inning of trepidation, where we in the stands had no idea whether or not he'd finish what he started. We wanted him to, of course. I felt he should. Harvey obviously felt he should too, and of course when Dan Warthen came and told him he was out, he flatly said "No Way," and ran down the dugout to state his case to Terry Collins.

Obviously, Harvey was persuasive enough, and perhaps had Collins not relented Harvey likely would have taken his Manager's head off, but that set the stage for what would be a legendary finish to a legendary performance. It was sort of an odd scene. After the last of the 8th inning ended, none of the Mets came out on to the field. The song "Seven Nation Army" began playing over the PA. One by one, the Mets position players came out of the dugout from one end. As they entered, an absolutely deafening roar began to rise from the 3rd base side of the stadium as Harvey ran up the steps and charged on to the field, still screaming, still pumping his fists, and Citi Field shook like Shea. He had this. He Had This.

And then he didn't. Instead of crafting the kind of game reminiscent of Jack Morris in '91, or Curt Schilling in '93, or Josh Beckett in '03, Harvey's game melted away into an ending closer to Al Leiter in 2000. Though he was ahead in the count against Lorenzo Cain, he lost him to a walk. It seemed like that was all the Royals needed. Like clockwork. Stolen base, RBI double, lead cut to 2-1, Harvey out of the game and instead of the roaring hero's sendoff, it was more of a horrified murmur. Jeurys Familia came in the game and, of course, things went from bad to worse. The Royals continued to push buttons and cajole the Mets into careless mistakes. Familia got Moustakas to ground out, moving Hosmer to 3rd with 1 out. Salvador Perez followed and with the infield in, hit a ground ball to David Wright. Wright looked the runner back, but Hosmer broke for home as Wright threw to 1st. Lucas Duda secured one out, wheeled and threw towards the plate. A good throw and Eric Hosmer is out by 20 feet.

A good throw is what Lucas Duda didn't make. The ball sailed to the backstop, Hosmer scored, Royals players were skipping all over the place and the game was tied.

More appropriately, the game was, for all intents and purposes, dead.

It really was only a matter of time before the Royals figured out a way to force home the winning run. The Mets had been able to muster 3 hits to that point, and the way the Royals bullpen had been performing, anything beyond that didn't seem especially likely. Meanwhile, the Royals kept grinding. You could probably say this about any At Bat they had in the series. Mets pitchers would get ahead 0-2 or 1-2, and then the sequence of pitches would go something like this: Foul, Foul, Ball, Foul, Foul, Ball, Foul, Ball somewhere in play. Watching the Royals at bats in the top of each Extra Inning was a study in pure torture. Familia set them down in the 10th and Jon Niese, who did yeoman's work out of the bullpen this series, worked the 11th. By the 12th, sitting around, catatonically shaking my legs and chomping on my fingernails became too much. I had to get up and move around somewhere, and my friend did as well. At that late hour, with things playing out as they were, I was doing myself no favors staying where I was. So we got up and moved around, down towards 3rd base. And, of course, that's when the Royals struck.

When that first run scored, a few people started to get up and leave.

When the second run scored, more Mets fans headed for the exits.

When Lorenzo Cain cleared the bases, turning the inning from a debacle to a total bloodletting, the mass exodus occurred. Could you blame them? This seemed to be an almost predictable finish. Just to expedite our exit, which had become a painful process during this Postseason run, we moved down to the Field Level. Unfortunately, we found ourselves directly behind a mass of Royals fans, ready to kick off the celebration of a lifetime in our house. With two outs, I could see Royals players literally hanging over the dugout railing.

I couldn't take it any longer. I couldn't watch them celebrate on our field.

I had to leave.

Oh, I heard that final roar as I reached the plaza. It seemed as though many Mets fans had left before me, perhaps wisely. For as loud as the Royals fans were inside, that's how quiet it was outside.

The ride back from Citi Field on the 7 train can either be a long ride or a short one depending on the circumstances. This night was a particularly long ride. I spent most of the time reflecting on this 2015 Mets season, and really, it's hard to not consider the season among the most memorable in the history of the team. I mean, who the hell though that this was even a Playoff team, let alone a World Series team? I picked the Mets to go as far as the NLCS before the season, but I can be overly optimistic at times. Usually, when that happens, the Mets end up falling flat on their faces. And they did plenty of that this season, but man, when they got it together, they really got it together and for once, the Mets actually overachieved. This wasn't supposed to happen this year, but it did. Somehow, the Mets caught that lightning in a bottle and rode it all the way down to the World Series.

Yeah, things ended up badly, and the Mets ultimately turned to mush at some key moments, but the Royals really forced the Mets into making these mistakes. The Royals played every game as though it were their last. They took the horrible bitterness that came from losing the 7th game of the World Series last year and used that to fuel them through to a World Series Championship this year. And perhaps the Mets could learn from that. Remember this feeling. Remember how awful it was to watch those guys celebrating on our field. Remember how they ran all over us, stealing bases, working pitchers, picking up cheap hits and pressuring the Mets into mistakes. The Royals played like Champions and they earned their Championship. The Mets still have to do that yet.

Remember this feeling, because it's hard to get to this point. But getting back isn't quite in the forefront of my thoughts right now. It's sort of hard to articulate, perhaps because the sting of losing, and losing the last two games the way they did is still fresh. Time passes, though, and the losses fade, or at least I hope they will, and I'll begin to reflect on this 176-game wild ride the 2015 Mets took us on, and how I made it to 27 games this year—my highest total since 1999—and how I made it to 6 Postseason games, and how the Mets Actually Made It To The World Series This Year! I went to a Mets game in Freaking November!

It actually happened this year! Who the hell saw this coming? Sure, there's a lot of bitterness right now. But I'm awfully proud to be a Mets fan.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Horror Story

I've probably been sitting, staring at my computer screen and staring at that photo above and wondering how the hell to explain what the hell I sat through last night at Citi Field. I should say that I've gone into every Postseason game this year feeling some amount of trepidation. Some nights, it's worse than others. My worst night was probably Game 4 of the NLDS, but Friday night's Game 3 topped it. Fortunately, the Mets won. But for some reason, when I walked into Citi Field on Saturday night, I had this odd sense of calm. I was with my other half on this evening, which could have been a reason, or perhaps it was because it was early and I didn't feel rushed, or because the Mets had won last night and somehow had inspired me enough to not be so worried. But in the Postseason and as I'm discovering even moreso in the World Series, there is tension simply by showing up. It will fluctuate depending on how the game ebbs and flows and on Friday, the tension kind of evaporated when the Mets took a big lead. Last night, however, was a much different story.

The game started out well enough. Steven Matz took the ball for the Mets, in one of those "Dreams come true" kind of games for him. I've always been a little leery of Matz's games this postseason, not so much because I think he'll pitch poorly but because he's still so green. He didn't even make 10 starts in the regular season, but here he is, making his 3rd start in the Postseason, and in the World Series no less. But where Matz had been in the habit of coming out and being a little too cranked up early in games, that didn't happen. Matz had, probably, the best of his 3 Postseason outings on this night. He was mixing speeds and pitches, he was throwing off the Royals timing, he was getting into and out of jams, it was some truly beautiful stuff.

Offensively, the Mets still had a hard time figuring out Chris Young, except for Michael Conforto, who led off the 3rd inning by absolutely blasting a Home Run up into the Pepsi Porch. Wilmer Flores followed with a single, moved up on a Wild Pitch and a Matz sacrifice and then scored on a Curtis Granderson Sac Fly which was aided by Alex Rios forgetting how many outs there were and not throwing the ball back in. In the 5th, it was Conforto again, getting a hold of a Danny Duffy pitch and sailing it into the Mets bullpen. That put the Mets ahead 3-1 and Conforto was ready to jump out of his uniform from excitement.

But these Royals make any lead seem perilous. Though they didn't push much across the plate against Matz, they were still dinging him. Mostly, it was their uncanny and wholly irritating ability to waste every single two-strike pitch before putting something in play. They broke through in the 5th on a play that seemed more fluky than anything, Cespedes kicking Perez's line drive that turned into a double, and Alex Gordon singled him home. But that's just how the Royals have been doing it. 6th inning, same thing. Zobrist double, Cain single, Matz's evening finished right there.

It was, of course, at this point when the game started to get really, really tense. 3-2 lead with a spotty bullpen and a relentless opponent seemed to be a recipe for disaster. But still, so long as the Mets had the lead, everyone felt confident. Jon Niese came in to face Hosmer and Moustakas and got them both. Bartolo Colon followed to face Perez and after a horrifying 10-pitch battle, struck him out. In the 7th, Addison Reed, who's been quite solid, got the Royals in order. The Mets bats, at this point, had gone quiet, however, and so the game stayed at 3-2 going into the 8th.

And it was in that 8th inning that the clock struck midnight and Daniel Murphy turned back into a Pumpkin.

Murphy will be the leading culprit in the utter catastrophe that ensued, but he had some conspirators. Tyler Clippard, for one, was simply awful. Yes, he got Escobar to start the inning, but he got ahead of Ben Zobrist 0-2 and walked him, and he got ahead of Lorenzo Cain 0-2 and then threw him nothing close. Handing a team that consistently makes contact and wastes pitches and drives everyone crazy free baserunners is just asking for trouble. Still, with Jeurys Familia coming in, you had to feel, I don't want to say confident, but you had to feel less nervous. Even if he had to get through Sabermetric Murderers' Row. And he got what he needed out of Eric Hosmer, which was a chopper to 2nd base. It would have been too slow for a Double Play, but certainly one out would have been fine here. But it was one of those balls that bounced and bounced and bounced and then stopped bouncing, and of course that was where Daniel Murphy was playing for a bounce...

There is a certain kind of noise that comes from a crowd of people when something really bad happens. I wouldn't categorize it as an "Aww.." or a "Booo..." It's a truly awful, gut-wrenching sound that sounds sort of like an entire stadium getting ready to vomit in unison. And when the ball skipped under Daniel Murphy's glove and trickled far enough away for the Royals to score the tying run and get the lead run to 3rd, well, it was as if we all knew we were totally fucked.

From that point forward, it was the Royals that were playing fast and loose and fancy free, and the Mets were the team that just saw their assholes collectively tense up. Familia was totally rattled and subsequently gave up a pair of RBI singles to Perez and Gordon before finally getting Rios to hit into a DP, but the damage had already been done. The crowd, which had gone through this roller coaster of tension, broke after Salvador Perez singled in the lead run, I heard some loud banging coming from somewhere in the stadium and it sounded like a bomb was going off. The crowd was running the gamut of emotion from stunned to murderous and some people started to leave outright. Most stayed, though, hoping that the Mets would have something left in them to mount a comeback against their closer, Wade Davis.

It wasn't the 8th. Though Collins had double-switched Juan Lagares in for the 8th, for some reason Kelly Johnson was sent up to pinch hit in the bottom of the inning, which to me was a total panic move. Lagares had at least been playing and hitting reasonably well. Why not let him take a shot? But I was, by this point, totally deflated and through trying to figure out Collins' moves. Hansel Robles got through the 9th just fine. In the last of the 9th, the Mets tried to mount something. Daniel Murphy hit with one out, and didn't get booed. Didn't get cheered, but also didn't get booed and got some sort of a murmured reception. But he singled, which if nothing else allowed the Mets to get the tying run to the plate in Yoenis Cespedes, and then Cespedes singled, and Lucas Duda followed, and maybe Lucas Duda could fire that miracle blast and save victory from the jaws of defeat, but in a play that probably was more horrible than the Murphy error, Duda floated a soft line drive to 3rd that Mike Moustakas caught, and everyone then turned their heads in abject horror to see that Cespedes was standing nowhere near 1st base.

This was, to put it as kindly as possible, a total gut-punch defeat. The loss in Game 1 was pretty bad, but that was at least on the road. When it happens at home, well, it can just take the starch out of everything. Daniel Murphy probably undid the month's worth of goodwill he'd built up with his hot streak in about 5 seconds. Cespedes continued a lousy World Series performance with a totally unconscionable mental error. The Mets lost to a Royals team that once again proved to be relentless in their approach at the plate and their ability to come back in any game, and now they stand but one win from a World Series Championship with a chance to close it out tonight on our turf.

It doesn't look good right now for the Mets. The Royals have beaten the Mets best starters and the Mets Closer and basically everyone in between, and gotten them playing tight and out of sorts. But as I keep saying, while you're in this thing, it's really hard to look at it and put things in their proper perspective. It's amazing, in and of itself, that the Mets have gotten to this point this year. And for as bad as two of these losses have been, they're not done yet. Yes, they're down 3 games to 1 and they'd need to win two games on the road in order to pull this miracle off. Not impossible. Not especially likely, but not impossible. They just have to follow the tenet that this franchise was built on and Believe. We, as fans have to to the same, we've just got to keep on Believing. Tonight is the last game at Citi Field this season, whether the Mets win or not, Matt Harvey will take the ball and try to keep the fire burning at least for one more day, and people are going to be there rooting them on, no matter what happens.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Well Worth The Wait

It had been 387 games spread over 29 seasons before I attended my first World Series game and based on the results, it was worth the wait. In spite of some truly horrifying early struggles, the Mets got a clutch pitching performance out of Noah Syndergaard, warming everyone up on a frigid evening at Citi Field and setting the Mets on the way to a 9-3 victory and putting them on the board in the 2015 World Series.

This game was, of course, Citi Field's time to shine on that national stage. You knew as soon as you got on the 7 train that the stadium would be packed, loud and over-the-top intense. They had to be; just given the circumstances of the first two games of the series and how deflating a loss would be, perhaps a lot of the noise was generated by nerves more than anything else.

I was late getting in, not so much because I was late, but because George was late, and while I was waiting outside on the plaza, the energy really was palpable. I found myself jogging in place just to calm down at multiple points. Gone was the Budweiser Beer Garden that had sprung up during the NLCS, replaced by a football field-sized World Series Merch tent, multiple media stages and some other stuff I couldn't quite make out since it was buried among a mass of humanity. Regardless, I hardly, if ever, show up to a game looking for merchandise outside of a program, and so when George arrived and we went inside (and I received my 4th Rally Towel of the season), I got mine from my usual vendor inside the Rotunda before heading upstairs. It was a bit of a mad dash to get up there; by this point the rosters were being announced and we really wanted to be in our seats by time the Mets starters were introduced. It's not the game, nor does it have anything to do with the game, but in terms of tradition, well, you have to be there. That's part of the point of going to the World Series. Though we were ambushed by a broken escalator, somehow we managed to make it just as Terry Collins was taking the field. So we caught that, we caught Billy Joel's National Anthem (whither Glenn Close?), Mike Piazza was there throwing out the first pitch and spurring several "Get Him in the Lineup" comments, and then it was time for a game, oh by the way.

After the Royals had handled Harvey and deGrom in the first two games, everyone knew Syndergaard had to make a statement. Whether he or someone in the media department made the call, it seemed rather fitting that he would come out to the "Halloween" theme song as opposed to his usual entrance music. Not so much because it's Halloween and the Mets are still playing, but because Syndergaard clearly went out there with the intent to intimidate the Royals. To some extent, he did. Alcides Escobar had been looking awfully comfortable at the plate in the first two games of the series and had hacked away at the first pitch both times. So, Syndergaard sent a message by sailing his first pitch high and inside and clear to the backstop at 98mph. This put Escobar on his seat (although the pitch had no chance of hitting him), got the Royals all pissy and got the crowd good and riled up. Syndergaard then blew Escobar out of the box and actually got a swing and a miss from him.

Then, there was trouble. Ben Zobrist, who probably could use a little brushing back too, doubled over Cespedes' head, Lorenzo Cain reached on an infield hit that Syndergaard for some reason didn't field, and then the Royals were on the board when Eric Hosmer hit into a Fielder's Choice that should have been a Double Play if Syndergaard and Duda weren't busy wondering who would catch the ball. This was exactly what the Royals had been doing over the first to games and here they were at it again.

However, the Royals sent Yordano Ventura, who is quite a headcase in his own right, to the mound and he didn't have a particularly good time at all. Curtis Granderson hit a ball into the shift that Zobrist managed to field, but couldn't throw Granderson out. David Wright followed and, with the crowd imploring him to do something, he did, drilling a 0-1 pitch into the Left Field seats for his first Home Run of the Postseason, the first World Series Home Run at Citi Field and basically exactly what the Mets needed at that particular moment. They hadn't been getting the big hits and finally they got one.

But the Royals were just relentless. In the 2nd, they came right back, ringing out a conga line of singles, circling the bases and making my head spin. If this kept up, there was no possible way the Mets were going to do anything, and was this really how it was going to go down? They started out with singles from Perez, Gordon and Rios, tied the game and only by some sheer stroke of luck was Gordon called out at 3rd after a well-advised challenge by Collins. Ventura sacrificed and then Escobar was up again. Syndergaard this time went after him and got ahead in the count, but d'Arnaud couldn't handle a low pitch, the ball got past him, Rios scored and everything was once again horrible. For as well as the Mets pitchers had been throwing, the Royals were continuing to fight off every 2-strike pitch, get every line drive to fall and when they weren't making line drives fall, they were getting bloop hits to fall. It was truly sickening and by that point I was having a hard time seeing where the worm would turn.

It turned when Syndergaard settled down, got his bearings and basically used his right arm to deliver the message "Enough of this fuckery." After Escobar singled and stole 2nd with 2 out in the 2nd, Syndergaard retired 12 in a row and basically restored order to a game that was starting to get out of hand. And by keeping the Royals in check, he also gave his team time to come back.

Come back they did, with a vengeance. Syndergaard served as his own rally in the 3rd by leading off with a single, and Curtis Granderson followed by drilling a pitch straight down the Right Field line and into the seats for his 2nd Home Run of the Series. This, of course, set off the fireworks and set off the noise and put the Mets ahead for good. In the 4th, the Mets chased Ventura thanks to a Lucas Duda single, a double from Travis d'Arnaud and a well-placed grounder from Michael Conforto that turned into an Infield Hit when both Zobrist and Hosmer decided to field the ball instead of cover 1st base. Yes, the Mets wasted an opportunity that inning with runners on 1st and 3rd and no outs, but they got a run and extended their lead, which was an accomplishment by itself.

With Ventura exiting in the 4th, the Royals then went to a succession of their lesser relievers. Danny Duffy escaped the 4th inning jam, before departing in favor of Raul Mondesi Jr, who simultaneously made history and made me feel really old by making his Major League debut in the World Series. Luke Hochevar took the 5th, and Franklin Morales started the 6th, but the Mets lit Morales up completely and put the game out of reach in the process. Following Syndergaard's final great escape of the evening, getting Alexis Rios to ground out with the bases loaded, the Mets went on the attack again. Juan Lagares, who's quietly had a great Postseason, hit for Conforto and singled. Wilmer Flores was hit by a pitch, and then Juan Uribe came up to hit for Syndergaard. And if you wanted a welcome sight, well, Juan Uribe was it. Marc Anthony was blaring, fans were screaming and really, this was just what the Mets needed. Juan Uribe has made a career out of being Playoff Chosen and it wouldn't have surprised me if he put one in the seats right there. He didn't, but his RBI single to score Lagares was similarly effective; it extended the Mets lead and the Mets rally. Curtis Granderson followed by hitting a comebacker to Morales and Morales basically didn't know what the hell to do, because in the process of looking Flores back to 3rd, he lost the play at 2nd on Uribe and was fortunate to not simply heave the ball into the Outfield. That was it for Morales, he departed in favor of Kelvin Herrera, in a desperate attempt by Yost to keep the game in reach, but David Wright attacked his first pitch, nailing a 2-run single, Cespedes followed with a Sac Fly, the Mets had gone ahead 9-3 and could coast home from there. Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia had drama-free innings and the Mets got themselves their first win in the 2015 World Series.

This was about as must-win a game as the Mets could have and maybe that took some of the "Holy Shit I'm At The World Series" out of me before the game, but once the Mets won, I think I started to appreciate the magnitude of the moment more. George did as well. The scope of our discussion afterward, while trying to make our way downstairs amid the mass of humanity, was something to the effect of "Hey, remember how the Mets were in the World Series in 2015 and we went and they won?" That's sort of what it felt like. 29 years, 387 games and finally my first World Series game and I know people say it's an experience to remember so much that it sounds kind of cliche, but it's true. It's hard to get to the World Series. You tend not to recognize it while you're in the midst of it happening, but it is. And it's even harder to get back which is why you want to take advantage of your opportunities. Well, after falling behind 0-2, the Mets have managed to get themselves back in it. Now, they have to keep it going tonight. I'll be back, by the way.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

It's Not Safe

The Mets now find themselves in the unenviable position of being down 0-2 to the Royals in the World Series. That's not good in and of itself, but what's of greater concern is the way the Royals have just pecked the Mets to death over these two games. Losing on Tuesday night was pretty bad and had every sign of being a truly crushing defeat. Wednesday, though the Mets came out with some fight in them, ultimately the Royals just outplayed them on both sides of the coin. I wouldn't go so far as to say they were deflated by losing the first game, they were deflated by a team that has just buzzsawed them in similar fashion to the way the Mets were buzzsawing the Cubs just last week. Jacob deGrom looked brilliant until he didn't, the Mets had figured out Johnny Cueto until they didn't, everything tilted the other way and the end result was a 7-1 loss in which the Mets had all of two hits.

There's not much that can be said about this game, because there was no momentum-changing key moment you could point to, no key misplay that changed the scope of things. Everything was fine through 4 innings. Jacob deGrom was every bit as good as the Mets needed him to be, Lucas Duda had 2 hits and an RBI, the hitters were making Cueto work and it seemed like just a matter of time until they figured him out and got a good rally going. But instead, the roof caved in on deGrom in a nightmare 5th inning that saw deGrom throw just about everything he could possibly muster at Royals hitters only to see them nick every deuce or turn the pitch around for a hit. That tenuous lead vanished and just as quickly turned into a 3-run deficit and all of a sudden the Royals were making deGrom look rather pedestrian. I don't know whether it's a fatigue thing or a tipping pitches thing, or a sign-stealing thing, but let's face it, those are all grasping at straws to try to come up with a reason for a guy who's been just about unhittable for a month now to come unraveled.

The real reason is that the Royals just don't give away a thing. It seems like getting to the edge of it last year just put a fire in this team and now they seem to go after every At Bat as though they're never going to get another one. I'm not saying that the Mets haven't looked like that at times, but over the first two games I see a little more "Happy to be here-ness" in the team. Maybe I'm nuts. It's not in everyone, but outside of Curtis Granderson, Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda, the offense has been a disaster. Michael Conforto has gone back to looking like a Rookie, David Wright looks old, and Flores and d'Arnaud just seem off.

So, yeah. This is pretty bad. The Mets went into this series with Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom starting the first two games and managed to lose them both. Right now, I'm sure they must really rue not being able to close it out on Tuesday, but again, this is more a testament to the Royals tenacity than the Mets inability to execute. That's been the story of the series so far. But because it's the World Series and the entire planet is watching, it seems like theories and predictions and explanations are much more prevalent and from the point of view of a fan that just wants to see his team be competitive, that's not helpful.

The Mets, of course, have been down 0-2 in the World Series before and they came back to win it, so this isn't totally unprecedented. But I'm not thrilled at the prospect of having to win 4 out of 5 games against a team that always seems to have an answer in them. I'm not panicking—I don't feel particularly panicked—but I don't feel especially confident either. A day off for the Mets right now might be helpful, if only to burn off the tension that these first two games have generated. They've got little to lose at this point and they'll now get to come home, and get these guys in their house, with their fans and their rules and maybe that's what they need to get them started in the right direction.

That's the pragmatic side of me. The lunatic fan side of me sounds more like this: Time to get your asses in gear, guys. I know that this team didn't go through all of this just to get to the World Series and go down in flames. People are already starting to laugh at us again. Don't make this another example of the Mets looking like jackasses when the whole world is watching. They haven't knocked you out yet, so time to start fighting back.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Long Night's Journey...

I guess it's somewhat fitting that a night that began so ominously for the Mets ended so wretchedly. For the most part, the Mets stood toe-to-toe with a hellaciously tough Royals team and had worked the game directly the way they wanted it to for the first 8 1/2 innings. But for one night, it slipped away, and in an extra-inning war of attrition the Mets ultimately blinked first, falling to the Royals in 14 innings in the first game of the World Series.

To put it kindly, Game 1 of the World Series was simply excruciating. Not so much because of poor play, but because the Mets and Royals are so evenly matched, and both teams had their gears grinding from the first pitch and the longer these games go, and the longer these series go and games remain well within reach for either team, the more excruciating it becomes. I was plenty anxious before the game even started and as things unfolded and stretched further and further into the night, I only got worse. I was a total wreck at the end of the game, and of course this was only Game 1.

But that's the World Series. And that's the plight of being a fan of one of the World Series teams. You try to do whatever you can to bring the team good Karma, wearing shirts, following superstitions or whatever but in reality all you can do is just sit there and watch the game unfold. That's probably the most painful part of this drama; for as much as fans like to think they have some control, we don't. It all comes down to the execution of the players, and who can create a break for themselves.

The Royals seemed to be creating most of the breaks, certainly early on when Alcides Escobar hacked at Matt Harvey's first pitch of the night and sent a screamer to Center that Yoenis Cespedes probably just didn't see, but whatever happened he didn't catch it and then knocked it away, allowing Escobar to circle the bases for an inside-the-park Home Run. And if that wasn't the worst possible way to start off a World Series, well, I don't know what is. That play basically set the tone for the evening, and the tone was that this wasn't going to go the way of the Cubs series. This was going to be tooth and nail for however many games it takes.

Harvey wasn't his sharpest early in the game, but he settled down, and most of the Mets settled down too, after being stopped by Edinson Volquez over the first three innings. Daniel Murphy, who else, got the Mets first hit leading off the 4th, pulled off another heady baserunning play when Duda singled through the overshift and then scored when Mike Moustakas couldn't' handle Travis d'Arnaud's screamer down the line. Curtis Granderson hit a Home Run in the 5th, and the Mets ran amok on the Royals again in the 6th, this time Cespedes doing the exact same thing Murphy did in the 4th.

At 3-1 and with Harvey cruising, things looked great, or at least whatever part of the game Fox allowed us to see looked great. The only problem was that the Royals are basically an entire team of tough outs and aggressive hitters and it seems as though they become even more difficult when they're trailing. Ben Zobrist seems to embody this better than anyone, because he spent the entire night ripping the Mets to shreds. His first-pitch double in the 6th kick started a 2-run rally that tied the game and ultimately ended Harvey's evening after 6 innings in which he allowed 3 runs on 5 hits, but only 2 strikeouts, because the Royals just don't strike out.

The Mets are tough outs too, and in the 8th they took their shot against the Royals virtually-impenetrable bullpen and somehow succeeded in scratching across a run. This, of course, was solely due to Juan Lagares, who took on Kelvin Herrera and refused to give in, fouling off several pitches of the 100mph variety before finally fisting a single. Lagares then stole second and scored when Wilmer Flores' ground ball hopped past Eric Hosmer at 1st base.

Yes, the game had indeed played right into the Mets hands. Ahead 4-3, the Mets went to Tyler Clippard for the 8th, and Clippard was alternately horrifying and great before departing a 2-on, 2-out situation in favor of Jeurys Familia. This was exactly where the Mets needed to be. Familia got the last out of the 9th and then came back out for the 9th and everything was just hunky dory until he left a pitch just slightly up to Alex Gordon...

...and that was the ambush we weren't expecting.

Familia hasn't been perfect this season, but he's been pretty close to it, which is why Alex Gordon's tying Home Run felt so momentously jarring and unsettling. I still don't think Familia can be blamed for it, certainly not after all he's done to get to this point. But that's still a really bad spot to have something like that happen.

Nonetheless, the game wasn't lost, deflating as that may have been. In fact, the Mets didn't fold at all. Jon Niese came in for the 10th and pitched two brilliant innings and Bartolo Colon followed and was similarly effective, weaving in and out of jams as only Colon can, without breaking a sweat. But the Mets offense had gone completely quiet. Juan Lagares tried to inject some life into things with a bunt single in the 11th, but he got no further than 2nd. Each time the Mets looked like they had something going, either David Wright or Michael Cuddyer would come up and strike out and short-circuit everything. Then Chris Young came into the game and just iced the Mets completely. Either way, the Mets weren't doing anything to help themselves offensively, and of course it appeared to be only a matter of time until the Royals caught a break because they kept plugging away.

It took until the 14th inning, but the Royals finally caught that break. It figured that it would be Escobar and Zobrist in the thick of things because they were doing it all night. Wright misplayed Escobar's grounder for an error, Zobrist followed with his 6th hit of the night to move Escobar to 3rd and you could basically stick a fork in this one because for as well as Colon has pitched, he can only pull his Houdini act so many times. Still, Curtis Granderson probably uncorked the best throw he's made in 5 years on Hosmer's fly ball and made the final play much closer than it should have been, but that didn't change the outcome and moral victories only count for so much.

So...yeah. 5 hours and 9 minutes and an ending time of 1:16am didn't make for a good night's sleep. In fact, I have to say I feel pretty damn miserable right now. This was a pretty deflating loss for the Mets. But just as much as coming from behind has been a staple for the Royals this season, the Mets trademark has been their resiliency and their ability to bounce back from tough losses. I keep saying this but as was the case against LA and Chicago, they just had to split the first two games. Particularly here, playing on the road. These Royals are a bunch of Tigers that have already been through this and although coming back from 0-2 isn't impossible, I'd rather not be in that position. Hell, I just don't want to be in the position of the ennui that comes following a Postseason loss. I was despondent after the Mets lost the 4th game against LA, just imagine how I'm feeling now. The one thing I can take solace in, other than that the Mets have the ability to bounce back, is the guy they're sending to the mound tonight. Jacob deGrom has stood tall in some pretty big spots this year and if there's anyone you want on the mound in a game like this, he's the guy.

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Long Way From There To Here

I have, in prior eras, talked about how I am on an e-mail string with some other Mets fans, and a majority of them seem fully entrenched in using numbers and figures and statistics to explain everything that happens in the game. I understand the logic. I don't necessarily agree with it, but I understand it. One subject on this string has, prior to every Playoff game, sent an e-mail going into graphic detail about exactly how the Mets will lose that night's game. Literally, he's predicted the Mets will lose every night.

So far, he's been wrong 7 times. I think we'd all like him to be wrong another 4 times.

This is all so much to say that yes, there's a lot of good that sabermetrics can do when it comes to analyzing matchups and patterns but at some point, a lot of it can be thrown out the window, particularly when you get down to the World Series, and even moreso when it's your team that's vying for the prize. One need look no further than Daniel Murphy to prove my point. Who the hell saw that coming? What numbers would have predicted this?

For the most part, the Mets and the Kansas City Royals are similar teams that play similar styles of baseball. Nobody hits with tons of power, but they can crush mistakes and make their opponents work for outs. Both teams can shorten a game with their pitching; the Royals do so with an excellent bullpen while the Mets have done it by unleashing their murderer's row of starting pitching. If you're looking for a decided edge on either side, well, I don't think there is one.

By the time the first pitch is thrown on Tuesday night, the Mets won't have played a game in anger in 6 days, the Royals 4. Of course, it's a concern that the long layoff could get the hitters out of their grooves, particularly when you think of how hot someone like Murphy has been. But the Royals hitters have had to sit too. If anything, getting the Cubs series over quickly just as easily works to the Mets advantage. Sure, the hitters have to sit and get cold, but how many of them were cold to begin with? Of greater importance is that the pitchers, specifically Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, get some extra rest. Matt Harvey gets some extra rest too—it'll be 10 days for him—but the last time that happened, he struggled. Regardless, a struggling Harvey can still bring it and get the outs he needs to get. This is in stark contrast to the Royals rotation, consisting of Edinson Volquez, who's rediscovered himself with the Royals, Johnny Cueto, who's been uneven since going to the AL, the most volatile Yordano Ventura and Chris Young, who's resurfaced. The Mets have played nip-and-tuck games with opposing aces all postseason long, but they've eaten lesser starters for lunch. At least 2 of these guys classify as lesser starters. The Royals are a pain-in-the-ass kind of lineup that could make life difficult for the starters and be an abject nightmare if the Mets have to go to the bullpen early in any game. Of course the Royals have a decided advantage later in games, but only when it comes to depth. Certainly, Jeurys Familia can hang with anyone and he's proven it thus far this Postseason.

Not that it's at all of a secret who I'm rooting for, but the key for the Mets, just as it was against the Dodgers, is to just split the first two games on the road, and then come home and take it from there. You could say that the plan was similar against Chicago, except that the Mets made their lives easier by just winning all the games outright. A similar scenario would be great, but not likely. The fact that the Royals were in this spot last year and took the Giants all the way down to a 7th game isn't lost on me. That series was pretty close. I expect this one to be as well.

The fact is, the Mets haven't gotten here based on numbers or statistics. Looking at numbers reveals only so much (and in fact over a full season is inaccurate as it includes days when the lineup included names like "Campbell," "Mayberry" and "Muno"). Mostly, the Mets have gotten here because they've played with a unified front. When one has been down, someone else has been there to pick them up. Every game they've won so far this October has had this kind of a storyline.

A colleague used to say that the worst thing that happened to the Mets was that they went to the World Series in 2000, because it made them think that they were good enough. Making it to the World Series now, probably a year or two ahead of the schedule everyone had made for them, might not be quite as bad, given that there's a smarter front office in place now, along with a much better, and much younger core of players, but if you watched the Mets slog through years like 2001 and 2007 as though they were hung over from the prior October, well, you know that it's not so easy to get back to this point. Nothing is ever a given so this particular opportunity, as unexpected as it's been, needs to be appreciated. Baseball, and sports in general, are littered with cautionary tales of great players who tasted the trappings of victory at an early age and then never got another opportunity. This has been a long, 171-game haul to get to this point. And that's 171 games on the back of 6 seasons of total misery, on the heels of two seasons where greatness was on a platter for them and they couldn't close. You learn to appreciate these opportunities more as a fan when you think about Citi Field during Game 1 of the NLCS juxtaposed against some Tuesday night in September when there were barely 5,000 people in the building.

It's a long journey to get from there to here. Now there's one thing left to do.

Win it.

Win It.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Believe It!

I keep coming back to something I said way back at the beginning of the season. It seems like a lifetime ago now. I feel like I've been repeating it incessantly over the past few weeks, but that's only because as the Mets keep on playing and keep on winning, it's the truth. The Mets of 2015 were a better team than anyone wanted to give them credit for. But the pieces were there. This was a really good team, and all they needed was an opportunity. At some point in the season, they would have that opportunity and they would prove to everyone what they really were.

What they are right now are the National League Champions for 2015.

It seems so strange to actually say that, and to say that the Mets are, in fact, going to play in the 2015 World Series starting next Tuesday, but it's actually happening.

They got to this point, of course, by finishing off a clean sweep of the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday night with an 8-3 victory, one of those games where the magnitude of the accomplishment seems to overshadow what happened in the game itself. That, I suppose is natural, but overlooking this game would be doing a disservice to the spirit in which the Mets got to this point. Though there were standout efforts by one or two particular players, it's been a different player every night providing some kind of key support during this Postseason run and that's the formula the Mets have used all year long.

Wednesday, Lucas Duda provided the punch, after spending the entire NLDS and NLCS in a deep slump, to the point where he was benched for Game 1 of this series. But as he's done all year, Duda persevered, kept working, never complained and of course last night he came through with a 2-out, 3-run Home Run in the 1st inning to give the Mets a lead they'd never relinquish, and with 2 out in the 2nd inning, he hit what was basically a hard line drive that skipped through the infield, through the outfield and all the way to the wall for a 2-run double to give the Mets a 6-0 lead. Duda seems to have a flair for clinching games, lest we forget what he did in Cincinnati.

Steven Matz was on the mound for the Mets and you figured things would be OK for him when he got an At Bat before ever setting foot on the mound. Matz started his evening by blanking the Cubs through 3 innings. In the 4th, though, the Cubs rallied and loaded the bases with no outs. It seemed a bit hairy, and believe me, watching this game was pretty hairy even with a big lead, but Matz did what seems to be the norm among Mets pitchers and stop things before they got out of hand. He got Starlin Castro to line out to David Wright, allowed a run on a Kyle Schwarber ground out and then got Javier Baez to pop up. In the 5th, Matz allowed more men on base and this time was pulled in favor of Bartolo Colon. And, of course, Colon delivered, because that's what he does. He struck out Baseball Jesus to get out of the 5th, worked a spotless 6th, and turned the game over to the regular relievers.

The Mets, meanwhile, certainly had plenty of opportunities to blow the Cubs' doors off, taking advantage of some more sloppy play, particularly from Schwarber in Left. Part of me actually felt bad for Schwarber, who clearly is a fine offensive player but just moves with the elegance of a camel in Left Field and in the last two games this has been exposed to the point of embarrassment. Still, the Mets didn't tack anything on until the 8th inning, when Daniel Murphy hit what is now apparently his daily Home Run, a 2-run shot to put the Mets ahead 8-1. At this point, I'm done trying to explain what's going on with Murphy, because it just defies all logic. But then again, that seems to be the key trait of being Playoff Chosen. Murphy's entire career has been a red-hot April, then 3 and a half months of hitting .248, and then picking it up over the last 6 weeks. But now he gets into October and he's George Brett. It might be the most well-timed two week hot streak anyone has ever had, ever.

Addison Reed worked a clean 7th for the Mets. Tyler Clippard followed for the 8th, and although he allowed a 2-run Home Run to Baseball Jesus, it was of little consequence. An A-Rod Home Run is what I referred to it as, because it basically padded his stats while having zero effect on the outcome of the game. Jeurys Familia came in for the 9th, which nobody was going to argue with, because even with a 5-run lead and the Cubs and their fans totally demoralized, it wasn't worth taking a chance. Familia gave up a 2-out walk before striking out Dexter Fowler looking and the Mets won the Pennant. The Mets won the Pennant!

Seeing how many different names I mentioned in the last few paragraphs just illustrates my point. Yes, Daniel Murphy was the MVP of the NLCS, and deservedly so, but how many other players on this team played a part? Wednesday, it was Duda. Tuesday, David Wright and Yoenis Cespedes. Sunday it was Noah Syndergaard and Curtis Granderson. Game 1 was Matt Harvey. And so on, and so forth. Every game, someone is doing something right to tilt things in the Mets favor, and that's what the recipe for Postseason success seems to be.

The Mets, for these 4 games, completely dominated a Cubs team that really had all the makings of a "Team of Destiny." Certainly, as I'd mentioned many times, their fans seemed to have anointed them as such. They had the flashy names, the breakaway Rookie Sensation, the Pitcher that dominated everyone for months, the rabid fan base—they really were The Hot Team coming in to this series, and the Mets just stoned them completely. The Mets scored runs in the 1st inning in each of the 4 games, and not once did the Cubs ever have a lead. In fact, in the 36 innings of the NLCS, the Mets led for 34 of them. When the Mets clearly needed to come out, make a statement and play their best Baseball of the year, they delivered from start to finish and the reward, of course, is that now they get to go to the World Series.

I'd watched the game at an establishment with some friends and afterward, after some brief reveling, got in a taxi home. The driver asked me if I'd watched the game, and for whatever reason this caused me to open up and start waxing poetic about how I'd been rooting for the Mets for 30 years and I'd watched a lot of games and how in recent years it had been really difficult to be a Mets fan. I mean, you just have to go back over the 9 seasons of this blog just to see how bad things have been at times. But through it all, I and many other Mets fans remained unwavered in our love for this snaffulous team. The Mets are a team that was founded on fans that always believed. How often in some odd moment did I find myself thinking about the Mets and how it might be when they finally turn the corner and get good again. How would it be when they win a Pennant? What's it going to be like to see these guys back in the World Series? Someday, it was going to happen again. Right? If you believe it, it has to.

Believe it! That someday is finally here. And it's better than I imagined it would be.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Not Quite There Just Yet

It takes 11 wins in the Postseason for a team to win a World Series Championship. The Mets are now more than halfway home.

I can't, in all honesty, say that at the beginning of the NLCS that I thought the Mets would run out to a 3-games-to-none lead in the series. But, by virtue of simply stepping on the Cubs' throats last night at Wrigley Field, that's what they did. Jacob deGrom deftly managed his way through 7 innings of work on yet another night when early on it looked like 5 innings would be a moral victory. Offensively, the Mets got their daily Home Run from Daniel Murphy, and also some key hits and clutch baserunning from Yoenis Cespedes and David Wright. The Mets continued to take advantage of a few breaks, manufactured the lead runs late in the game and held on for a 5-2 victory.

This was, once again, a game that I was late in arriving to for reasons involving prior commitments. The last time this happened, Jacob deGrom was pitching in a game of massive importance on the road, battling through some early struggles and eventually finding himself. deGrom got an early lead because the Mets came out hacking and jumped on Kyle Hendricks, one of the lesser Cubs starters, and scored one in the first when Yoenis Cespedes doubled in David Wright. deGrom, however, gave up a Home Run to Kyle Schwarber and went on to slog through a 29-pitch 1st inning. the Home Run wasn't so concerning since Schwarber happens to be one of the hottest hitters on the planet right now. Fortunately, the Mets have the equally hot Daniel Murphy, who continued this mind-boggling Postseason resurgence by swatting his 3rd Home Run of the series in the 3rd inning. But Jorge Soler re-tied the game in the 4th with another solo Home Run.

The Cubs, at this point, removed Hendricks from the game, not so much because he'd been pitching poorly, but because at this point the Cubs just needed to hold the Mets where they were if they wanted to get themselves back in the series and my guess is that Joe Maddon figured he just had to throw different looks at the Mets every time through the lineup. Thus, he began a parade of 7 pitchers for the night by bringing in Clayton Richard, the Padres castoff, and got himself through the 5th. Fat-faced Trevor Cahill entered in the 6th inning and dug his own hole by allowing Cespedes to single, move up on of all things a sacrifice from Lucas Duda, steal 3rd and then score when Miguel Montero unconscionably couldn't block an inning-ending 3rd strike on Michael Conforto. Only by sheer dumb luck did the Mets not extend their lead; Wilmer Flores' sinking line drive to right got past a diving Soler and rolled clear to the wall where it got stuck in the nefarious Ivy and ruled a ground-rule double.

That, of course, was simply the beginning of the Cubs' self-destruction. In the 7th, their entire operation just melted down completely in the sort of sequence that would have typified the Mets of a few years ago. Travis Wood came in the game to try and get the lefty sequence of hitters out and although he got Granderson, David Wright followed with a double. Murphy followed and, no, he didn't hit a Home Run, but what he did was similarly effective as his slow ground ball was fielded by Baseball Jesus, who couldn't grip the ball and that hesitation allowed Murphy to beat the play at 1st. Cespedes followed and Maddon again changed pitchers, this time bringing in Russ Mother Justin Grimm. Grimm got what he needed, a fly ball at someone, except that someone was Schwarber, who apparently plays Left Field in the style of Todd Hundley. Schwarber got a read on the ball but when he attempted to catch it, he instead allowed the ball to clank off his wrist, allowing Wright to score and Murphy to reach 3rd. Laughably, this was scored a hit. Duda followed by hitting a hard grounder right to Rizzo at 1st, and to his credit, Rizzo did absolutely everything he could to try to prevent the run from scoring, but for the 2nd time in 3 games, Montero made no effort to try to block the plate and Murphy instead simply beat the play at home.

By the way, while all this was going on, deGrom had settled down and settled in, and after allowing Soler's Home Run stopped the Cubs cold and managed to get himself some length out of a start where early on it appeared he'd be done after the 5th inning. Somehow, he willed his way through 7 sharp innings, because that's just what he does. And instead of a short outing and exposing the lesser part of the Mets bullpen, he instead bridged things straight to Tyler Clippard, who gave up a double and nothing else in the 8th, and Jeurys Familia, who in this game once again only needed to get 3 outs to finish off the Cubs and lock down this 5-2 Mets victory.

So...yeah. If you're dumbfounded right now, you're not alone. Incredibly, the Mets are now one win away from not only moving on to the next round, but sweeping the Cubs outright. Of course, everything you're reading right now is talking about parallels between the Cubs and the 2004 Red Sox, and yes, in a position like this hearing about that sort of stuff scares the shit out of me. But the Mets seem to be a better put-together team than the 2004 Yankees, and the way the starting pitching has just whipped the Cubs so far makes me believe deep down that they can't come back. But, Baseball is funny and stranger things have happened. We're not there yet.

Regardless, it's hard to not be ecstatic about the way these first three games have gone. The Mets have basically played flawless baseball to this point in the series and the Cubs really haven't, particularly last night. The Mets have been able to take advantage of whatever breaks they could get and while the Cubs seem like the kind of team that could do that too, the Mets just haven't given them any breaks. Through 3 games, the Cubs have never had a lead in the series, and only tonight was the game even tied at a score beyond 0-0. The Mets have effectively buzzsawed the Cubs at every avenue and at least in this series, they seem to be playing more cohesively and cleanly than they've played at any point this season. No, we're not there yet. They still have to win one more game, whether it's tonight or any of the next four games. If we've learned anything from the past, it would be a good thing for the Mets to just wrap it all up tonight.

Is this really happening?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Attack Of The Playoff Chosen

Sunday night's game was the Mets first home playoff game this season that I didn't attend, for a variety of reasons ranging from I was still recovering from freezing my ass off on Saturday, to life was getting in the way of my Baseball, to I wasn't terribly crazy about the pitching matchup. The Mets Game 1 victory on Saturday night was of paramount importance considering the Cubs were throwing the suddenly-unhittable Jake Arrieta on Sunday. Sure, the Mets would send Noah Syndergaard to the mound, who's no slouch in his own right, but he didn't come close to Arrieta's exploits, at least not yet. But as good as Arrieta was this season, that seemed to matter very little to Daniel Murphy and Curtis Granderson, as the pair struck early and often, leaving the Cubs and their ace dazed and in an early hole from which they were unable to recover. Syndergaard, on the other hand, dazzled both with his pitching and his blond locks flowing in that late-October breeze and he, combined with 4 relievers, shut the Cubs down again by a 4-1 score to give the Mets a 2-0 lead in the NLCS.

Since I wasn't at the game, this was actually the first time I'd ever have a chance to see Playoffs Citi Field on TV. I'm still not used to this whole TBS thing; as I'd mentioned before, the only redeeming thing seems to be that Ron Darling is the color guy, but Ernie Johnson is probably only half a rung up the ladder from Joe Buck, which makes things kind of painful. On the other hand, their pregame show features Pedro Martinez, and basically all anyone needs to say to that end is "Pedro Martinez" and I'm already entertained. I hadn't actually noticed until the game was underway last night that TBS had a whole booth set up out in Center Field, otherwise I might have suggested going out to meet Pedro, or at least give him the finger-waving gesture he used to do. Last night, Pedro kicked off the broadcast by picking up a Norse hammer and screaming "THOOORRRR!!!" and my night was complete. Or at least my pregame was complete.

Entertainment aside, there was still a game to be played and it was up to Noah Syndergaard to follow the lead that Harvey set on Saturday night and the hope was to at least try to hang with Arrieta as best he could. He started out just fine in this game, he gave up a 2-out single to Baseball Jesus in the 1st but otherwise struck out Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo. So that was a fine start.

Then, there was Jake Arrieta. I know very little about Arrieta other than he was a prospect that flopped as an Oriole and then blossomed as a Cub. He kind of came out of nowhere to have a decent year last season, but then this year turned into some sort of weird Kershaw clone. I've arbitrarily decided that Arrieta is totally humorless, just a total stick in the mud. I can attribute this to a few reasons: 1) He constantly walks around with a puss on his face. 2) His oversized beard makes him look even surlier. 3) He looks like Billy Joel. Also, I've never seen him say anything particularly interesting in an interview, and even after he threw a shutout in the NL Wildcard Game, he had a rather milquetoast response when someone spoke to him. Even if none of this is true, the Mets probably took care of that by handing him his ass in the 1st inning. Arrieta probably wasn't used to being ambushed like that, since teams seem to have been capitulating to him over the past several months, but the Mets had no interest in that. Curtis Granderson led off by whacking a single through the overshifted infield. David Wright followed by blasting a double over Dexter Fowler's head to score the game's first run. Then, the new Mr. October, Daniel Murphy, followed by taking a curve off his shoetops and tucking it inside the Right Field foul pole for a Home Run, because why not? When you're Playoff Chosen, you hit Home Runs off of every Cy Young Award candidate, and before Arrieta knew what had hit him, he was 3 runs in the hole.

With a cushion, Syndergaard then went right back to work. Chris Coghlan made a bid to hit one out on a 2-strike pitch in the top of the 2nd, but Curtis Granderson put on his Endy Chavez pants and went over the fence to make the catch. In the 3rd, Syndergaard spared any similar theatrics by striking out the side, each pitch filthier than the one before it.

The Mets tacked on a run in the last of the 3rd, when Curtis Granderson walked, stole 2nd after Wright struck out, stole 3rd after Murphy was intentionally walked (and this is how badly Murphy's gotten in everyone's heads—he was intentionally walked by the guy who's probably going to win a Cy Young Award this year in front of Cespedes), and then scored when Cespedes reached on an infield hit.

Arrieta, after appearing close to being run out of the building, did settle down after this, and in fact the Mets wouldn't score a run the rest of the night. The question, then, was could the Cubs somehow chip away and get back into the game. But they couldn't. Syndergaard sufficiently stepped on their throats in the 4th and 5th, and only in the 6th, when Baseball Jesus doubled home Fowler, did they mount anything of consequence. Ratso Rizzo followed and at this point Terry Collins decided to move to his bullpen to try to bring this one home. This made sense, I suppose. Syndergaard had reached 101 pitches by this point and it wasn't worth taking a chance with Rizzo up. That being said, the choice of Jon Niese certainly wasn't what I'd call inspiring, but Niese did what was asked of him, striking out Rizzo and ending the inning.

From there, the game continued to fall into order, as Collins actually played this one by the book and used Addison Reed in the 7th, Tyler Clippard in the 8th, and Jeurys Familia in the 9th (and after 6-out and 4-out Saves, I'm sure Familia liked being able to get a traditional Save) and the trio combined for 2 hits and 0 walks in 3 innings as the Mets won this game, I won't say with ease, because at this time of year there is no ease, but they won the game 4-1.

So now, everyone's got to be feeling really good, heading off to Chicago with 2 wins in their pockets already and now gearing up to face the weaker part of their rotation. I still feel leery about going to Chicago, just because of it being in front of their crowd and their mojo and because dumb things have a tendency to happen at Wrigley Field, but the Mets still have their guy, Jacob deGrom, going in Game 3 and Steven Matz ready for Game 4. Plus, there's at least one guy in the Mets lineup who really likes hitting in Wrigley Field, and for his career, he's hitting .369/.406/.631 with 4 Home Runs and 9 RBI in 18 games at the friendly confines. That, of course, is Daniel Murphy, as if he needed any more impetus to keep his magic carpet afloat.

Still, even though the Mets are halfway to their goal two games into the series, I have a feeling that this is far from over. Teams don't get this far without having some ability to get off the mat and fight back when things aren't going their way and the Cubs certainly seem like a team that's not going to just fade out at the hands of several hard-throwing starting pitchers. They've got an uphill climb, no doubt, but stranger things have happened in Baseball. Their Manager, Joe Maddon, said what they need are several 1-game winning streaks, and that's probably a good way for the Mets to look at it too. At this late part of the season, it behooves everyone to do whatever it takes to win the game you're in right now and then worry about tomorrow when you have to. It's easier to view things that way when you're in the thick of it as a fan, too—do whatever you have to do to get yourself through the game and then worry about the next morning the next morning. Lord knows that's how I'll be when I wake up.