Tomorrow night will be the 167th game of the New York Mets’ 2015 season, potentially the final one.
I haven’t written about the Division Series games… when they finish at or after midnight, it’s tough to find the time before the next day’s news cycle makes any further thoughts about them seem stale or redundant.
And after Saturday night’s game, I was just too angry. I’m willing to let Chase Utley‘s slide go at this point – he was just playing the game the way he has for his entire career… he’s not going to change now. I’m still angry that Chris Guccione is a Major League Baseball umpire even though he either doesn’t understand the rules of his sport or else he just does’t have the guts to enforce them properly. And I can’t believe that Joe Torre would bother to suspend Utley and then Major League Baseball would decide to wait until after the Division Series is over to hear his appeal.
But I didn’t log in today to rehash something we’re all tired of talking about.
Whatever happens in Los Angeles Thursday, I’m proud of the New York Mets. When we heard Sandy Alderson‘s projection of 90 wins for this team in spring training, most of us laughed. I know I did – another Stand Up Sandy joke at the expense of Mets fans, I thought.
The Mets proved us wrong. They got amazing pitching pretty much all year. They had that phenomenal early season winning streak based on that pitching and timely hitting. They overcame injuries and suspensions to stay in the thick of the race until the trade deadline, and they convinced Alderson to make some moves to give them enough pieces to take the next step. And once they got Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Michael Conforto and Tyler Clippard, they made us all believe.
We got to watch the Mets win their first division title in nine years and we got at least five games of playoff baseball. Our team outlasted both the Pittsburgh Pirates (98-64, lost the Wild Card Game to the Chicago Cubs) and the St. Louis Cardinals (100-62, lost the NLDS to the Cubs in four games.) And if Jacob deGrom has a better night than Zack Greinke, we’ll get to watch our Mets have their own crack at the Cubs. Wouldn’t it be something to revisit the ghosts of 1969 and quell all of the Back to the Future II “prophecy” talk?
And if Greinke has the better night? I’ll tip my cap… as much as I want the 2015 season to go on for the Mets, a loss tomorrow night takes nothing away from what they’ve already accomplished.
And I’m proud of us. I couldn’t be at Citi Field for the first playoff game in the ballpark’s history, but the electric atmosphere came through the television broadcast and people’s Periscope feeds from the ballpark. Clayton Kershaw gave Mets fans less to cheer about last night, but when they had opportunities, the fans responded. Citi Field will never be Shea Stadium, but at some point it stopped being the Brooklyn Dodger monument we never wanted and just became the Mets’ home.
I planned to go to my last game of the season on Friday, Oct. 1… the first home game since the Mets clinched the National League East division title the week before. While Hurricane Joaquin spared our area, a nor’easter drenched us on Thursday and Friday and that game was rained out.
Because I had to work on Saturday, I wasn’t able to use my tickets for the rescheduled game. (I will have to exchange them for a game next April when I might have the chance to check out a new Mets’ World Series pennant.)
But I was off on Sunday and was able to score $11 tickets to the Mets’ final regular season game… which became significantly more important to me when I realized I hadn’t been to a game at Citi Field since Chris Heston no-hit the Mets in June. It seemed like a bad way to close out my year at the ballpark. When I saw that Jacob deGrom was scheduled to pitch Sunday, I knew it was meant to be… deGrom started all but one of the Mets games I went to this year, and they won all of those starts.
A lot of people must have had the same idea… or else they bought the tickets back when it seemed like the final series of the year could have playoff implications. Either way, Citi Field was packed. I arrived just after the gates opened, but didn’t get inside until almost 1:30.
There were people everywhere in the gift shops, mostly focused on picking out playoff souvenirs. Last year, I was able to find bargains and bought deGrom and Travis d’Arnaud shirseys. Sunday, everything was full price, so I just picked up a 2015 NL East Champs pin for my collection. I met up with my friend Vinny, who was purchasing a pin and pennant, and we wandered around the ballpark for a while.
We stopped to take pictures of the new NL East pennant the Mets are flying below the American flag. I was really happy to see it. I will be even happier if it is gone next April, replaced by a World Series pennant.
Like nearly every game I’ve been to at Citi Field, there was no particular significance to Game 162 of the 2015 season. But it was still nice to get one more afternoon at a ballpark, watching a baseball game with a friend.
And for a little while, we got to wonder if we might see something more. DeGrom pitched four innings without allowing a hit before he departed, having reached his pitch target for the afternoon. Bartolo Colon kept the no-hitter going through five. Logan Verrett did his part in the sixth. And we started trying to remember if any team had ever thrown a “revenge no-hitter” against the team that had no-hit them in their previous game.
Vinny was livid when Jon Niese came in for the seventh. He was sure that Niese would give up the Nationals’ first hit. I was less concerned about that possibility than the idea that we could be watching a repeat of the final game of 2010, which didn’t end until Oliver Perez walked in the winning run in the 14th inning.
As it turned out, Vinny was prophetic. Clint Robinson hit a hard smash to shortstop that deflected off of Ruben Tejada on its way to right field with two outs in the seventh. That chased Niese and brought in Addison Reed to finish out the inning.
It’s probably for the best. Terry Collins used seven pitchers on Sunday – Howie Rose and Gary Cohen would probably even have trouble remembering all of them a few years down the line if they needed to tell the story of the second no-hitter in franchise history.
In the eighth inning, we got word that Ichiro Suzuki was pitching against the Philadelphia Phillies in the Miami Marlins’ final game of 2015. I’m sorry I didn’t get to see it.
But Curtis Granderson wanted to make sure we got to watch the Mets earn their 90th win – fulfilling Sandy Alderson‘s pre-season prediction that was once a source of bitter laughter. He hit a solo home run off of Nationals reliever Blake Treinen.
Despite a 9th inning double from Bryce Harper, Jeurys Familia was able to wrap up his franchise record-tying 43rd save and put the 2015 regular season in the books.
For the first time in nine years, the Mets will keep playing after Game 162. Vinny will have at least one more baseball game to watch at Citi Field this year. I will be watching the playoffs on TV.
That’s ok. For all of its frustrations and disappointments, this season has been a gift. The Mets made us believe again.
Last night, Matt Harvey pitched like an ace for five innings, but left after 77 pitches under the usage limit compromise the Mets negotiated with Harvey and his agent. Nine pitches later, the Mets’ 1-0 lead was gone. Before it was over, the bullpen managed to surrender a total of 11 runs.
The Mets still have a six game lead over the Washington Nationals with 13 left to play, so it’s not time to panic yet.
But I’m certainly beginning to feel uneasy.
There’s no escaping the Harvey question.
“More than anything, I want to be out there,” Harvey said after Sunday’s game. “I want to be out there more than anything. I know where I want to be, and that’s on a mound, pitching for the Mets.”
And yet Harvey was sitting in the dugout watching someone else pitch for the Mets in the sixth inning last night.
And ok, fine… maybe it’s a good idea to save those pitches for games that mean more. But when Harvey starts against the Dodgers in the NLDS next month, he’s gotta have a chance to pitch seven, eight or maybe even nine innings, right? I certainly hope so… but there’s no guarantee that we won’t see a repeat of Sunday night’s early exit.
But that’s only one source of concern.
Jacob deGrom pitched like a Cy Young candidate in the first half, but since the All-Star Break he’s looked… ordinary. Every team would take a pitcher who posted a 3.48 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .239 batting average, but the overall trend is worrying. In April, batters hit .278 off of deGrom. In May, he lowered that to a miniscule .195. In June and July, he got even better: .157 and .151. But in August, that opponents’ batting average stat climbed to .228 and in September it soared to .343. It’s no wonder the Mets are skipping his turn in the rotation tomorrow… we can only hope that rest solves deGrom’s problems.
Noah Syndergaard has been impressive in his rookie season, posting an 8-7 record and 3.39 ERA while limiting hitters to a .233 average. But over his last seven starts, he’s gone 2-2 with a 5.09 ERA. Syndergaard’s home and road splits are even more stark. At home, he’s looked like an All-Star: 7-2 with a 2.57 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. Away from Citi Field, Syndergaard is 1-5 with a 4.47 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. Good luck trying to figure out what to do with those numbers when setting up a post-season pitching plan.
Steven Matz has a sparkling 4-0 record and a 1.80 ERA in five starts, but his entire major league career consists of 30 innings. I like what I’ve seen so far, but the biggest game Matz has pitched as a pro to date was a Double-A playoff game for the Binghamton Mets.
Bartolo Colon has played like he’s discovered the Fountain of Youth. No one could have asked for more than he’s given the Mets this season. And yet at age 42, how much can you trust what Colon has left? Is he part of your playoff rotation? Your long reliever in the bullpen? A reserve in case someone on the playoff roster gets hurt? It’s a fascinating question that I’m glad I don’t have to answer.
Ideally, you’d be auditioning Jon Niese as a potential playoff reliever over the season’s last two weeks. But innings limits and extra rest needed by other starters precludes the Mets from doing this. I could even envision circumstances where Niese is a part of the Mets’ playoff rotation despite having the worst numbers of any starter on the roster.
And then there’s the offense. Yoenies Cespedes had a ridiculous hot streak that pretty much carried the Mets for most of August and early September, but he’s returned to earth. The Mets managed to score seven runs in 27 innings against the Yankees this weekend. I can tip my cap to Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and even CC Sabathia, but the Yankees’ bullpen is filled with guys who probably still have to pinch themselves to make sure they aren’t dreaming that they’re in the major leagues.The Mets hitters are going to have to figure out how to deal with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Grienke in a couple of weeks. Does that worry anyone else?
I hope that these worries are things that we can laugh about in a few weeks… hiccups and challenges on the road to a World Series title. But right now, I’ve definitely got that uneasy feeling.