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.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

D Turns To C

It was really cold at Citi Field on Saturday Night. It was the sort of weather you expected for a game in late October, a bit of that early April Night Game chill, combined with the fire that comes along with the Postseason. That is to say, of course, that it was really cold, but nobody cared. Put on an extra layer and enjoy the show. 

The further you go into the Playoffs, the greater the level of intensity. That's not really saying much, but it's been a while since we've seen this in demonstration in these parts. There's a much more frenetic energy to the NLDS; I've seen that magnified this year by being at both home games, and I can tell you that I felt much more on edge prior to those two games. I suppose it has to do with the fact that both players and fans are still trying to feel their way through this thing, and also the 5-game Division Series seems to come and go in a bit of a blink. That being said, the 7 days that the NLDS encompassed felt like 2 or 3 weeks. Now that we're in the Championship Series, where there's 7 games scheduled over 9 days, these 9 days will probably feel like a month and the deeper into this we get, the intensity level will continue to rise. 

There was a good amount of intensity at Game 1 of the NLCS last night. I'd call it less anxiety, which is what I was feeling last week, and more a general desire to scream really loud for an extended period of time. Game 1 isn't so much a "do-or-die" anxious feeling, it's more of a "Let's make a statement and get off on the right foot" feeling, and with that in mind, the Mets took advantage of a fired-up home crowd and a fired-up Matt Harvey and rolled to a 4-2 victory to give them a 1-0 lead in the series.

As it was a Saturday, I wasn't sitting at work bouncing my legs all day to get out to the stadium. I could move at my own pace, which was nice, although I still left for the game at around 5:15, a good 3 hours before game time. Part of this is because I don't know what the hell to do with myself, part of it is to beat the crowd and do whatever needs to be done before the game starts. I met George at around 6:30, in front of the portable Budweiser Beer garden that had sprung up outside the stadium, went in, collected my 3rd Rally Towel (quite a pile is developing) and went upstairs. 

Citi Field this week has been a mass of humanity at every game. I know there's more open space to move around here than there was at Shea Stadium, but at capacity, Shea Stadium's 57,333 didn't feel quite as full as the 44,287 that were on hand last night. I'd noticed a smattering of Cubs fans on hand; it seemed inevitable that there would be a few, however unlike in July, when they kind of took over and talked a lot of trash, they were real quiet now. The specter of what's going on for them is probably about as overwhelming as it is for us Mets fans, so while they've probably got their own level of anxiety, it doesn't really read on a road game, particularly when you're outnumbered by about 100:1. To wit, while I saw a few Cubs fans on the train, and a few outside the stadium, and a few inside the stadium, they kind of blended in and faded away once everyone sat down and the game started. 

Of course, once we got through the ceremonial stuff (which I've been kind enough to record for posterity, loyal readers can click through here as opposed to embedding), there was a game to be played, and if the Mets were looking to get off on the right foot in the series, they did a really good job of accomplishing this. For one, Matt Harvey came out with his A+ stuff, probably both determined to shut everyone up about innings and pitches and questions about his character and any other crap people want to say about him, and also fuming over his poor showing last week. I've mentioned a few times that Harvey often looks like he pitches with smoke coming out of his ears and last night certainly was one of those nights. With the spotlight on him, Harvey pitched the kind of game that you expect him to pitch, essentially stopping a red-hot Cubs lineup cold and holding them to 2 runs over 7.2 innings, allowing all of 4 hits and 9 strikeouts and let's face it, if Juan Lagares gets a better jump on Castro's fly ball in the 5th inning, that's 1 run and 3 hits. Harvey ruled the night, and were Baseball not such a genteel game with less of a war-like atmosphere than an NFL game, Harvey might have come storming off the mound at the end of the game and delivered an interview that sounds kind of like this
While Harvey let his pitching shut up the non-believers, the Mets went out and tried to crack Jon Lester. Of course, it was Daniel Murphy who fired the first shot, taking a 1-1 pitch with 2 outs in the 1st and drilling it off the face of the Pepsi Porch, which of course got everyone alternately roaring and wondering what the fuck is going on with Daniel Murphy. I'd be more surprised by all this if he weren't Playoff Chosen, but if it wasn't clear that he was beforehand, after last night it must be. His HR in the 1st inning was not only his 4th of the Postseason and his 3rd in 3 games, but it was his 3rd off a Lefthanded pitcher. Go Figure.  

It was, then, back to the pitchers for the next several innings. Harvey was just mowing the Cubs down and was actually perfect through 4 innings. Lester was good, too, weaving in and out of mini-jams in the 2nd and 4th. In the 5th, Harvey broke, and it was probably my fault. Following the end of the 4th, I needed a bathroom break and as the inning ended, I made a mad dash to try and beat the inevitable line, but I was unsuccessful. I was still on line with Howie Rose on the call when Harvey hit Anthony Rizzo on an 0-2 pitch, which I assume happened because of Rizzo's propensity to stand on the plate, and then Starlin Castro followed with a fly ball that Juan Lagares usually catches 99 times out of 100, except that this was the 100th time and he misjudged it and couldn't recover until the ball was over his head. Rizzo scored, the game was tied, and only then did I get back to my seat and George told me I couldn't leave my seat for the rest of the game. Quite honestly, I'm superstitious enough to buy into that, so I was planted for the duration. Harvey was mostly undaunted by this turn of events, and although Javier Baez singled through the hole with 1 out, Yoenis Cespedes came up with a clutch defensive play, throwing a strike home and nailing Castro at the plate by a good 10 feet, enough of a distance that Castro couldn't try some dopey trick slide to get around the tag. 

The Mets offense was undaunted, too, and with 1 out in the 5th, they got back-to-back singles from Wilmer Flores and Juan Lagares, and although Harvey couldn't get a proper bunt down and Flores was forced at 3rd, Curtis Granderson continued his solid postseason by flaring a single in front of Dexter Fowler to score Lagares and give the Mets the lead once again. In the 6th inning, Travis d'Arnaud lit the house on fire by blasting a majestic Home Run through the teeth of the wind and off the Home Run apple to extend the Mets lead to 3-1. The Mets finally knocked Lester out of the game in the 7th when Lagares singled, moved to 2nd on a sacrifice, and, with the Cubs infield shifted way over for Granderson, stole 3rd. This proved to be a key steal, because Granderson followed by lofting a fly ball to not-so-deep Left Field. Kyle Schwarber, the oafish Rookie Slugger with no position, made the catch and made a decent throw home, but Miguel Montero, who'd been inserted in the game that inning, failed to do a decent job of blocking the plate, and Lagares simply slid in under his attempted tag and the Mets opened up their lead to 4-1. 

Harvey, meanwhile, kept the Cubs off the board in the 6th and 7th, shaking off some minor irritants like taking a Dexter Fowler line drive off his shoulder (and then demanding the trainers get the hell away from him) and a 2-on, 1-out jam in the 7th. Although there was some brief action in the bullpen, Harvey came out for the 8th inning as well, and why not? He'd kept his pitch count down the majority of the evening—the Cubs helped him out plenty by hacking away—and got the first two batters in the 8th inning before Schwarber reached him for a mammoth Home Run. That was mostly a minor irritant since it drew the Cubs closer, but in the grand scheme of things it wasn't so bad. But Terry Collins came out to get him there, and while it was a sour ending, you can't argue with the end result of Harvey's outing. The Mets needed him to pitch a big game and he certainly did that, and the crowd responded with a rousing ovation as he left the mound. 

Jeurys Familia then came in and although he walked Baseball Jesus, he then got Rizzo to ground out to finish the 8th, and then in the 9th, with everyone on their feet, he got the first two batters before allowing a single to Miguel Montero. That, of course, got everyone good and nervous, and Tommy LaStella followed by hitting a smash toward second that might have been ticketed for another hit, but Daniel Murphy again showed his magic touch by making a diving stop and throwing LaStella out to end the game and give the Mets a leg up in the NLCS with a 4-2 victory.

Harvey, of course, was the talk of the game afterward and deservedly so. I keep saying it, but Harvey's performance was of enormous importance for an infinite number of reasons. Most of the talk going in to the series was the fact that the Cubs were favored, and they had the hot hand, and sure, we can't know how the rest of the series will play out, but at least for this night, it was the Mets pitching that came up big time, and for the Mets to win, that's what needed to happen. And the massive human traffic jam that ensued following the game in the stairwells and on the Subway was much happier than the silent murmur that followed Game 4 of the NLDS. 

So, the Mets now have one game in their pocket, which is helpful considering they'll be facing the hottest pitcher on the planet in Jake Arrieta tonight. But the Mets will counter with their own fireballer, Noah Syndergaard, and if he's up to snuff in this game, it won't be easy for the Cubs either.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Mid-October Night's Dream

I was walking down 19th Street near Park Avenue yesterday afternoon, just going to the bank and other assorted, work-related errands, when I saw a real giant of a man, kind of Nordic-looking, with bright blond hair walking south on Park. A second look revealed that it was, in fact, Noah Syndergaard. Unless you followed the Mets or knew what he looked like, I suppose you wouldn't recognize him out of uniform. I debated whether or not to say something to him, and I decided, what the hell. The conversation went something like this:

ME: Hey! Great job last night! You're awesome!

NOAH SYNDERGAARD: (Nods) Thank you.

And he kept walking, and I went to the bank.

But my day was then complete.

Syndergaard, I suppose, might not be so used to getting recognized on the street now, but he may have to get used to that (others might go incognito altogether). Now that the Mets are among the final 4 teams playing in this 2015 season, they're starting to get a little notice.

I'd say "notice," but not really "respect."

When the Mets made the playoffs, I read an overwhelming number of articles, the summation of which was "The Mets are a nice little story, but they can't hang with the Dodgers," and the Mets were pretty much universally picked to lose the NLDS, because 15 of 20 ESPN analysts can't be wrong. But they were.

Now, they're here against the Cubs, and I guess on some level the entire world is rooting for the Cubs because they're the Cubs and they're eternally the sad-sack team in Major League Baseball. But all this attention and all those Rookies bombing Home Runs all over the place have turned them into the favorites. Dare I say it, but given the streak they got on down the final two months of the season, and the fact that they've got the most unhittable of unhittable Pitchers, they're The Hot Team right now. And you know what happens when anyone deigns to step up against The Hot Team.

The Mets played the Cubs 7 times this season and lost all 7. But the Mets were a different team back then. These games were in May and July and the Mets of May and July wouldn't have made it this far. Anyone who wants to look at those games as some barometer of how this series will go is welcome to do so, but it won't do you much good. Maybe the Cubs are similar, but the Mets are not.

Still, the Cubs are heavy favorites, and I guess that makes sense. Consider how public they were this season. They were on Sunday Night Baseball basically every other week, and every time they were, Jake Arrieta threw a No Hitter and Baseball Jesus Kris Bryant hit 3 Home Runs. The Mets, on the other hand, received almost no National exposure, and when they did, it was usually against the Yankees, and the Mets usually made asses of themselves. So if you didn't know any better, you'd assume this was a mismatch and the Cubs would wipe the Mets out completely.

But it's never quite that simple, and as I've been saying about the Mets all year long, this is a good Baseball team and nobody wants to admit it. They're far better than anyone will or wants to give them credit for, and that's one of the reasons they've made it this far. Just listen to the Cubs fans all over the place. They're licking their chops right now and in their minds, they've already crowned themselves World Series Champions. But these games have to be played and, well, the Mets stand a very good chance of giving the Cubs fits. Lest I remind you what happened back in 2006, when the Mets played a Cardinals team that was nothing?

The Mets surely don't have the offense to hang with the Cubs and their Galaxy of Mashers, but what they do have are four Pitchers, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, who can be counted on to give the Mets a good outing and at absolute worst keep them in games. The Cubs rotation is not as deep. Unlike in a 5-game series, the Cubs can't line themselves up to have Lester and Arrieta start every other game and even so, when the Dodgers did that with Kershaw and Greinke, they still lost. This is the sort of stuff that can turn a series upside down. The Cubs more or less floated here by bombing the Cardinals C-level pitching into submission, while the Mets had to ride their pitching and create their own breaks facing Kershaw and Greinke 4 times in 5 games. They've already had their crucible. The Cubs haven't had one yet.

Point is, I'm not making any sort of a prediction here because whatever happen will happen and regardless of who I pick you all know who I'm rooting for. But for those of you who must, this series isn't as cut and dry as everything you might read. And for you Cubs fans that think you have this thing won, don't get too comfortable. This Postseason has already shown us how general logic can and will get thrown out the window.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Saga Continues...

Every Postseason, I write something about how October is a different beast, and things that happen a certain way during the regular season never seem to follow the same script. Players who are usually counted on to come through scuffle and other, lesser players step into the spotlight because it's simply their time. The Playoffs chose them.

Your Playoff Chosen Met for 2015 is none other than Daniel Murphy.

To say that I've given Daniel Murphy a hard time this season would be kind. I'd say that over the past several years, I've raked Murphy over the coals countless times, and deservedly so. He's been here for a long time and for the most part has if nothing else been there on the team. Never has he done anything special and often has he done things that make you scratch your head and wonder what the hell he's doing in the Major Leagues, because he makes mistakes that a veteran ballplayer shouldn't make. It's nothing more than a desire to perform well, but with Murphy, things like that just never seemed to work.

And then the calendar flips to October and all of a sudden everything falls into place for Daniel Murphy, because of course it did. Murphy hit Home Runs off of Clayton Kershaw in Games 1 and 4 of the NLDS, in Game 3, he drove in a key run off another lefty, he played mistake-free in the field, and all of that was merely the prelude to what he did in the decisive Game 5 last night. And that's the beauty of Major League Baseball.

Murphy interjected himself into the game rather early. After replay showed Curtis Granderson beat out a ground ball into an overshifted infield, Murphy came up and drove a Zack Greinke offering over everyone's head, off the wall for an RBI double to give the Mets an early lead. Yes, he was stranded there. But if nothing else he'd broken the ice and made the statement that even if the Mets had looked lifeless on Tuesday night, they weren't dead yet.

This was important, because Jacob deGrom had to battle and battle hard to get himself through this game. The Dodgers banged out a series of ringing hits in the last of the 1st inning, plating two runs of their own and appeared ready for the kill before deGrom got his bearings and struck out Yasmani Grandal and Enrique Hernandez. deGrom, of course, had to get his bearings back all night long lest the game get away from him, but whenever he absolutely needed to make a pitch, he did. 2 men on in the 2nd, he struck out Seager and Adrian Gonzalez. 1st and 3rd in the 3rd, he got a Double Play. More of the same in the 4th and 5th.

Meanwhile, the Mets still had to try and solve Greinke, and of course Daniel Murphy was the one who did it, because, again, that's Baseball, and he'd been chosen. Murphy led off the 4th inning with a single, his 2nd hit of the night. Cespedes flied out, but Lucas Duda subsequently drew a walk, which tells you absolutely nothing about the intricacy of what actually happened. The Dodgers, as is their wont, swung their infielders way over to the right side with Duda at the plate, essentially leaving 3rd base uncovered. When Duda took Ball 4, it seems that rather than return to their traditional positions, Corey Seager and Justin Turner decided to kick the dirt and hang their heads. Murphy made some sort of mental note about this, and as he approached 2nd base, he decided to go for it, took off for 3rd base.

Now, had Daniel Murphy tried to pull off a stunt like this in the regular season, he probably would have been thrown out by 20 feet and we'd spend the remainder of the game talking about "The Typical Murphy Play," where he tries to do too much and ends up making a mistake.

But because it's the Playoffs, and Murphy was chosen, nobody's paying attention, Murphy's safe by miles and then he scores the tying run when Travis d'Arnaud hits a sacrifice fly.

And, of course, for good measure, Murphy comes up in the 6th, takes a middle-in mistake from Greinke and blasts it out into the Right Field seats and gives the Mets the lead they'd been chasing since the 1st inning.

Now with a lead came the tension, because there were still 12 outs to get and deGrom hadn't thrown a clean inning all game. Still, although it seemed like there were 3 or 4 times when it looked like he was going to cave, and certainly Noah Syndergaard appeared to be warming up every inning between the 3rd and the 6th, he just kept on plowing through and eventually he got through the 6th inning, and of course that 6th inning was his only clean inning. By that point, I'd started thinking about how to piece together the final 3 innings. Syndergaard, in my opinion, would have been a good choice were it the 4th or 5th. But deGrom somehow got through 6 and now I was thinking that the Mets would be wise to just throw the sink out there in the 7th, and hope someone can get some outs, and then let Familia throw the 8th and 9th. Or maybe just let Colon go out there and work his magic. Or just say screw it and tell Familia to get a 9-out Save. But Syndergaard ended up being the call, and it seems that warming up so many times really didn't bother him much because outside of walking Gonzalez, which was probably the safe thing to do, and then he made Justin Turner, who by that point had 3 hits in the game and was hitting about .970 for the series, look silly on a curve in the dirt for an inning-ending strikeout.

Syndergaard looked so good, in fact, that I then mused that maybe HE should go back out there for the 8th. Collins, of course, disagreed with me, which is just as well and the results proved once again why he's a Major League Manager and I'm sitting on my couch picking my nose. Familia came in for the 8th, in a situation where a double-switch might have been in order with the pitcher's spot due up 5th in the 9th inning. But the guy he was double-switching in, Juan Lagares, hit before the Pitcher's spot anyway. I'm assuming Collins just said "Fuck it," and went with his guy. Familia retired the Dodgers on 9 pitches in the 8th. Of course, the Mets then got a couple of men on in the 9th inning, resulting in Familia having to take a turn at bat, but the way the game was going at that point it was probably more advantageous to have Familia in the game as opposed to cocking around with the rest of the bullpen with no margin for error just to get to him. Familia struck out, went back out to the mound and polished off the Dodgers with another 1-2-3 inning, finishing things off by quick-pitching Howie Kendrick for the final strikeout and, amazingly, sending the Mets off to the NLCS with a 3-2 victory.

That did happen, didn't it?

That seems to be something I've been saying a lot about the Mets recently, but it's happened. They went from nowhere to Division Champions to a do-or-die game on the road and they won that too. They won with their best pitcher pitching with less than his best stuff. They won by virtue of the heady play of a guy known best for being decidedly un-heady. They won because their #2 starter was turned into a 1-inning terminator for a night. And they won because the Closer who wasn't supposed to be the Closer when this thing started came into the game needing 6 outs to get the biggest Save of his life, and Goddammit, he went and did it. In the Playoffs, you need not only the random luck but the skill to take advantage of it, and that's basically how the Mets won this series. They took advantage of whatever break they got and that's how they were able to tilt things in their favor.

So, the story continues for the Mets. Even though 24 hours ago I felt truly miserable at the prospect of the game and went through the day on Thursday suffering the side effects of Pennant Fever, everything of course felt much better after they locked down the win. Next, then, is the Cubs, and perhaps these are two teams that could be mirror images of each other, at least considering the way they've been put together. To say nothing of the spate of Cubs fan run-ins I'm sure to be subjected to over the coming days. Have I mentioned I'm not especially fond of the Cubs?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Elation To Deflation

Tuesday night was the 7th Mets Postseason game I'd attended. Through Monday, the Mets had won all 6 of the prior games. Unhappily, I had my Postseason Loss Cherry popped in totally deflating fashion as the Mets were the unlucky recipient of a couple of ill-placed batted balls and the pitching of Clayton Kershaw, as they lost, 3-1, and failed to close out the Dodgers in Game 4 of the NLDS at home.

There's so much that could be said about this game and yet in reality very little that could have gone differently. Kershaw, pitching on short rest, basically mastered the Mets, took the crowd out of the game and refused to let them get back into it. Prior to the game, there was that same frenzied, frenetic energy pulsing through the stadium. But it felt a bit more nervous than it did on Monday night. I certainly felt a bit more nervous. I and probably everyone else knew that the Mets were in a tenuous position. Win, of course, and the series was theirs, and a date with Destiny's Darlings, the Chicago Cubs on Saturday. Lose, and it's not over, certainly, but instead of a few days to recharge, instead a cross-country trip back to Los Angeles and a game Thursday night against Zack Greinke.

But a lot had to go right in order for the Mets to win. It would mean beating Kershaw for the second time in 4 days. Not impossible, but difficult enough. It would also mean that Steven Matz, making but his 7th Major League start, would have to get the ice in his veins extra cold in order to stand with Kershaw. Early on, he did, as the two matched zeroes through the first two innings. Matz got through the first with relative ease. Kershaw muddled a little bit, and perhaps the Mets could have broken through, but aside from a 1-out walk to David Wright, the best the Mets could muster was making Kershaw throw 18 pitches.

The game, for all intents and purposes, was decided in the 3rd. Kershaw singled with 1 out, and was subsequently forced out at 2nd by Enrique Hernandez. Seemed as though Matz had it under control, even after Howie Kendrick hit a 47-hop single up the middle that barely snuck by Wilmer Flores (perhaps Tejada fields it? Debateable. Were it hit slower, certainly) and moved Hernandez to 3rd. Matz then got Adrian Gonzalez to hit a little floater to Center, perfectly placed between the Cespedes-Lagares-Flores Bermuda triangle and, groan, in for a hit to score Hernandez. Justin Turner, who's simply murdered the Mets in this series, followed by drilling a ball down into the Left Field corner, plating Kendrick and Gonzalez and placing the hands of everyone in Citi Field firmly under their own respective asses.

True, I mused, the Mets were down 3-0 the night before early in the game. However, it wasn't against Kershaw.

Kershaw only improved as the game went on, and for as much as the fans wanted to get back into the game, it wasn't happening. The Mets didn't do themselves any favors either; where in Game 1 they made him work and throw a lot of pitches early in the game, this time they were hacking, flailing and generally helping him work through things quickly. Only when Daniel Murphy, who apparently just owns Kershaw, hit a Home Run in the 4th did we come to life. Otherwise, it was pretty much deadsville through 7 innings.

Fortunately, Matz allowed no further damage after the 3rd inning, although his location slipped a bit and he found himself in trouble multiple times before departing after 5 innings. Bartolo Colon, who's filled the Sid Fernandez role to a tee in this series, came in for the 6th and stopped the Dodgers cold for two innings once again. Colon, who was simply heroic working in a bridge role on Monday and again last night, did his best to get the crowd back into the game, but once again, Kershaw took everyone right back out of it.

In the 7th, Cespedes led off with an infield single off of Kershaw's glove, and that got everybody up again. The 7th was when Kershaw came unglued in Game 1, too. If only the Mets could sustain something here...but it didn't happen. d'Arnaud, who's just missing pitches, fouled out, Duda got a hold of a pitch and hit it well to Center, but not well enough, and Flores could only ground out.

Kershaw departed in the 8th, after only 93 pitches, and I was shocked that Mattingly removed him there. The Mets weren't solving him, certainly not with the bottom of their lineup coming up, and at 3-1, the game certainly wasn't out of reach. And if he was going to pull Kershaw there, why not just go right to his closer, Kenley Jansen? But instead, he went for Chris Hatcher, and immediately the Mets countered with a pair of Pinch Hitters, in Michael Conforto and Kelly Johnson, but neither of them could solve anything. Curtis Granderson worked a walk, though, and only then did Mattingly go to Jansen. Jansen, however, was wild, as he can sometimes be, and he walked Wright, and if there was ever an opportunity for the Mets in this game, this was it. And it was Daniel Murphy, who I and everyone else has killed for years for one reason or another. But if he could come through here, that might erase everything. I think everyone sensed this, maybe not the historical part, but certainly the opportunity part, and everyone was whipped into a proper frenzy, chanting and screaming and imploring Murphy to come through, or at least just continue the inning. Murphy worked the count full and had the runners in motion before he swung and hit a blooper, headed in a similar spot to Gonzalez's hit in the 3rd. But the ball hung up and was caught. The inning was over. The threat was over. And once again the air was just sucked out of the stadium.

The 9th inning seemed formality, even with the middle of the order coming up. For as much as the scoreboard tried to get everyone to rev up their energy, and for as much as we tried to energize ourselves to try to will the Mets on, the best we could muster was mostly muted agony as Jansen got the Mets in order to finish off the game and send everyone back to Los Angeles for a Thursday Night showdown. Except that 44,000+ people trying to cram down the staircase and onto the Subway at the same time was a bit more than Citi Field was able to accommodate and the resulting human traffic jam resulted in my getting on a train close to 45 minutes after the game had ended (on a normal Tuesday night, I can be out of the stadium and on a 7 in under 10 minutes).

On the one hand, I guess you could say that the story of the game was two bloopers, one that didn't hang up (Gonzalez) and one that did (Murphy). In reality, though, it was Kershaw. Though Kershaw has been maligned for some poor performances in October, you knew that if you gave a guy like him enough chances, eventually he'd come through and he came through big time last night. The Mets and everyone in the building knew that the potential for that to happen was there—perhaps that's why everyone was so anxious—and that's what happened.

So, the season comes down to one game for the Mets now, Thursday night in Los Angeles. Jacob deGrom will get the ball for the Mets, we know that, and probably everyone else within reason is available. Again, it's a deflating loss, and I hate that this is how my Postseason winning streak had to come to an end—or that it had to come to an end at all—but don't lose perspective. The Mets are still alive if nothing else and they'll have their guy going in the 5th game. Of course, Greinke will certainly be equal to the challenge. We already saw these two match up in what turned into a staring contest. There's a pretty good chance that Thursday could go the same way. The team that blinks goes home. The best we can do, I suppose, is try to shake off the blah from last night and re-mobilize ourselves. We owe it to these guys after breaking their asses for six months to get to this point.