Posted in Baseball, New York Mets

Lost weekend encapsulates a lost Mets season

The New York Mets are in the middle of one of their most disappointing seasons of my lifetime. And this weekend seemed like a perfect representation of it in miniature.

The Mets opened the second half on Friday in last place, percentage points behind the rebuilding Miami Marlins. But there were reasons to pay a little bit of attention. Sure, after 21 years of interleague play and an actual World Series meeting, the Subway Series isn’t what it was, but it’s still something. And the Mets had Noah Syndergaard on the mound and Yoenis Cespedes playing for the first time since May 13th. If the on-field aspects didn’t draw you in, there’s still the speculation about what the Mets’ would do leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline at the end of the month.

In short, this was about as good as it was going to get for the rest of 2018. And the Mets delivered on the field Friday night: Syndergaard scattered eight hits over five innings and limited the New York Yankees to just one run, Cespedes hit a home run and Michael Conforto drove in three runs to lead Mickey Callaway’s squad to a 7-5 victory.

But that’s never the whole story. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman combined to throw 100 pitches over the final four innings of the game because Syndergaard left with what was termed “a little dead arm” and closer Jeurys Familia was unavailable since the Mets were in advanced trade talks with a then-unidentified team.

And then it got even worse. Cespedes told reporters that calcification in both of his heels was at the root of the leg issues that made him miss more than two months of this season. The only way to fix it is surgery.

When asked if it could be done during the offseason, Cespedes said he was still thinking about it, noting, “The recovery process takes over eight to 10 months.”

The Mets being the Mets, nobody was prepared to deal with this bombshell Friday night. Nobody was prepared to address it Saturday morning, either, though Callaway had to face the press.

This is how Callaway opened his pregame news conference: “I didn’t get to read any of the stuff he said, or hear it. I’m not quite exactly sure what he said. I just know that he came in pretty sore today.”

Cespedes did not play on Saturday, as the Mets lost to the Yankees 7-6. Neither did Familia, who was traded to the Oakland Athletics for minor league RHP Bobby Wahl, 3B William Toffey, and international bonus money.

Seven years ago, I met a 21-year-old Familia outside of Mercer County Waterfront Park in Trenton. He signed a couple of baseball cards for me and tried to teach the small group of Mets fans who waited to see him after the game how to pronounce his first name correctly. (Hey, he was years away from becoming a National League All-Star, and none of us had much more than high school Spanish.)

Familia seemed like a good kid who would go far, and he did. Remember his failings in the 2016 World Series, but also remember that the Mets wouldn’t have made the playoffs that year without him. Familia finishes his Mets’ career with 123 saves, more than all but Armando Benitiz and John Franco.

Was he a perfect closer? No. But then again, there is no such thing. Mariano Rivera came the closest of anyone I ever got to watch, and just ask a Yankee fan about the 2001 World Series if you need proof. But hey, at least Familia has a chance to play in games that matter over the last two months of the season, and that’s more than most of his ex-teammates will do.

The annual sell-off sucks, but how about the players the Mets got back from Oakland?

Well, we’ll probably see the 26-year-old Wahl in New York sooner or later. He made his major league debut with the Athletics last season and was putting up decent numbers in Triple-A at the time of the trade. Lord knows, the Mets need all the bullpen arms they can find since they don’t want most of their starters to face lineups more than twice.

Toffey, 23, was assigned to Double-A Binghamton. He was the 17th best prospect in Oakland’s system and a fourth round draft pick in 2017. Does he have a major league future? Who knows? But if he does, it’s years away. And maybe the international bonus pool money helps the Mets stock their farm system some more.

I don’t pretend to be a prospect expert (very often, anyway) and I was willing to accept this as a reasonable return for two months of Familia’s services… until I saw people with actual expertise criticizing the deal.

Sources from rival teams interested in Familia told The Athletic’s Jim Bowden (subscription required) that they didn’t know why the Mets didn’t approach them one final time to give them a chance to top Oakland’s offer…

I now find myself hoping very strongly that the Mets do not trade off Jacob deGrom, Syndergaard, Steven Matz or Zack Wheeler this month.

Sunday, the Mets finally made one of their three co-GMs available to talk to reporters about Cespedes. (I’m having a very hard time not referring to them as Larry, Moe and Curly.)

“It’s something that he has managed and we have managed with him,” [assistant general manager John] Ricco said. “It’s one of those things he has good days and bad days with it. He brought up surgery with it — surgery is kind of a last resort. The way you treat this is with various conservative methods, whether they be stretching, orthotic, anti-inflammatories, and that is kind of how he’s managed those symptoms over the past few years.”

“To our knowledge, the first [time] he even was considering this surgery was when he said it on Friday.”

Cespedes is planning to see a foot specialist and Dr. David Altchek this week as he tries to decide what to do going forward.

As I currently understand things,

  • We don’t know if Cespedes will play again in 2018 or if he will have surgery.
  • If Cespedes does have surgery now, he will still miss a significant portion (perhaps all) of the 2019 season.
  • There is no guarantee for how well Cespedes will be able to perform, regardless of what treatment he receives.

It really makes me wonder what Cespedes was doing on the field on Friday night, and whether the Mets know what they are doing with their best hitter and highest paid player.

And since it never rains, it pours, there was also a health update on Syndergaard on Sunday. He went on the 10-day disabled list after recently exhibiting symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease, a viral illness that normally affects young children.

You just can’t make this up.

“Sounds like once the blisters and everything — or whatever he’s got going on on his hands — clears up, he’s going to be fine,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said Sunday.

Let’s hope that’s how it turns out this time. Syndergaard’s last trip the the DL was only supposed to cost him one start, too.

The bright side on a rainy Sunday night? The final game of the Subway Series was postponed, giving the Mets a chance to avoid further losses for 24 hours.

Tonight the nightmare season resumes, with the Mets facing the cellar-dwelling San Diego Padres (weather permitting.) The reason to watch tonight? Jacob deGrom, pitching for the first time since the All-Star Game. And then maybe just check the scores and watch the highlights until it’s deGrom’s turn to pitch again….

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Posted in Baseball, New York Mets

Where have you gone, Willie Harris?

The other day I was talking to my friend Bart, who is excited about the start of the Minor League Baseball season. He was telling me about how he did getting autographs at the Trenton Thunder’s annual meet & greet event on Tuesday, and about some of the teams that are coming in to Arm & Hammer Field in April.

First on the slate are the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. “Guess who’s their manager?,” Bart asked.

I had no idea. (I think I’m doing pretty well to know Jay Bell is managing the Trenton squad.)

Willie Harris.”

“Oh, yeah, I remember him with the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals,” I said.

“I’ve got a photo to try to get signed,” Bart said. “In fact, it was one you took when he was one of your guys.”

“Are you sure you don’t mean Lenny Harris?,” I ask.

“You wrote Willie Harris, 2011 on the back,” he said.

“But Willie Harris never played for the Mets,” I say, even though I’m not sure any more.

A quick consultation with Baseball-Reference.com reveals that Harris played in 126 games for the 2011 New York Mets. A check of my photo archive showed that I attended at least one of those 126 games.

And I still have no memory of anything that he did as a Met.

I wonder how many other Mets I’ve completely forgotten about since I started following baseball.

Don’t get old.

Posted in Baseball, Binghamton Mets, Camden Riversharks, New York Mets, Newark Bears

Mets spoil Nationals’ home opener

I’m really enjoying the first week of New York Mets baseball in 2018. Today, they spoiled the Washington Nationals’ home opener by beating them 8-2.

Michael Conforto returned from the disabled list and homered in his first start. Yoenis Cespedes hit his third home run of the season. Jay Bruce made his first home run of the year a grand slam. If Jacob deGrom didn’t quite have everything working, he battled and he got the outs when they really mattered.

I know the Mets are not going to keep up this pace to have a 135-27 season, but I’m gonna enjoy this run while it lasts.

Odds and ends

Posted in Baseball, New York Mets

Get out those brooms (and umbrellas)

The New York Mets swept an abbreviated two-game series from the Philadelphia Phillies this week, but I think the bigger news is that the teams were able to play two out of three after Monday’s snow out.

Rainy-City-Field-IMG_201804
My view of Citi Field from the exit of the Mets-Willets Point subway station

My friend Vinny invited me to join him for Tuesday’s game, but I have to admit I had my doubts that it would be played. It rained most of the afternoon, and a light mist continued to fall through the night.

Rusty-Staub-IMG_20180403_17
Rusty Staub may be gone, but not forgotten. This banner outside the right field gate is one of a few places you’ll find Rusty Staub’s picture at Citi Field.

Continue reading “Get out those brooms (and umbrellas)”

Posted in Baseball

Enjoy baseball marathon memories while you can…

On the second day of the 2018 baseball season, I got to watch the last couple of innings of the New York Yankees’ 4-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays and just enough of the San Francisco Giants’ 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers to see Chris Taylor end Johnny Cueto’s perfect game bid.

That’s probably a lot more baseball than I will find time to watch today, but it’s a lot less than fans who were attending the Philadelphia Phillies 5-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves (11 innings), the Pittsburgh Pirates 13-10 win over the Detroit Tigers (13 innings) or the Miami Marlins’ 2-1 win against the Chicago Cubs (17 innings.)

In the not-too-distant future, games like those will probably be unimaginable. Minor League Baseball is already testing a rule change that puts a runner on second base at the start of each extra inning.

Friday’s marathons are sparking more discussion about making a rule change at the Major League level. It’s coming and I hate it.

One of my favorite baseball memories is a game that didn’t want to end between the Miami Marlins and New York Mets. On June 7, 2013, young stars-to-be Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey matched up and left with a 1-1 tie. By inning 13, journeymen Kevin Slowey and Shaun Marcum were pitching for the two clubs, respectively. They’d been scheduled to start a game that had been rained out the night before, and they took the game to the 20th. It was awesome – the only part I would’ve changed was the end result (the Mets lost.) If tinkering with the rules brought the game to an end in 11 or 12 innings, I guarantee you I wouldn’t remember it five years later.

Sports reporters and baseball managers hate extra innings, because it makes it more difficult for them to do their jobs. I think most fans like them – sure, there’s a point where you have to leave the game or turn off the tv. But that could happen anyway – the deciding game of last year’s World Series lasted over five hours and only took nine innings to play. But if you get to stay for a marathon, you get to see something special and I hate to see that get tossed away in some misguided pace-of-play initiative.

So here’s my compromise proposal: save the extra runners for the All-Star Game, and start inning 10 with the bases loaded. Regular season games that remain tied after 12 innings go in the books as a tie. Playoff games are played to their conclusion without any gimmickry.

It still sucks & fundamentally changes the way baseball is played, but it does so in a way that I can live with.

Other odds & ends:

Posted in New York Mets

We’ll remember Rusty

Rusty Staub passed away this morning due to multiple organ failures. He was 73.

I didn’t really start following baseball until Staub’s 23-year playing career came to an end. I knew him through stories… as one of the best pinch-hitters in the National League… as the guy who hit .400 in the 1973 World Series with a bum shoulder… as the guy Davey Johnson tried to hide in the outfield during an 18-inning game in 1985, when he hadn’t played out there in close to two years… despite Johnson’s efforts to switch him between left and right field to keep him away from chances, Staub managed to make a game-saving catch when Rick Rhoden hit a ball to him.

I remember Staub as a restaurateur and a broadcaster… again, both through stories. I never visited his eatery and we didn’t get the channel he worked for. I remember Staub for the stories about all the work he did on behalf of the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund.

The nice thing about stories is that they never die, as long as we keep telling them. Please share your stories about Rusty Staub in the comments, and enjoy the video of Rusty Staub Day in 1986 from YouTube.

Every time I throw this ball, a hundred different things can happen in a game. He might swing and miss, he might hit it. The point is, you never know. You try to anticipate, set a strategy for all the possibilities as best you can, but in the end it comes down to throwing one pitch after another and seeing what happens. With each new consequence, the game begins to take shape….In fact, the game wouldn’t be worth playing if we knew what was going to happen.

— Commander Benjamin Sisko in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Emissary,” written by Rick Berman and Michael Piller

Seeing what happens