Memorial Day Weakened

32For a team that lost a mighty middle-of-the-order slugger to a broken back, had a once-unstoppable pitcher deliver two of the worst outings of his career, had two guys in the lineup looking for their first major-league hits, has a leadoff hitter struggling to hit above .200, saw starters at shortstop and third base need time off for their own aching backs, had its top bench player and starting catcher on the disabled list, and played the first-place team in their division six times, the Mets didn’t do all that bad this week.

Key to that were terrific starting performances from Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, a bullpen that got-er-done when needed, a bounceback from Bartolo Colon (also dealing with back stiffness) and just enough good luck to make it all sitck, recording an underwhelming sweep of Milwaukee and a series win in Washington this week following a harrowing series loss at home the week before — its fourth straight series loss.

Along the way we were were re-introduced Classic Daniel Murphy, whose iron glove in Wednesday’s game loomed very large when it was all over.

5And so the 2016 Mets head into Memorial Day weekend with a wobbly kind of momentum. Regardless of how underwhelming Los Angeles looked the last time we saw them — how could a team with that kind of financial power wind up relying so heavily on clowns like Kike Hernadez and Justin Turner? — the Mets are going to need to continue to do everything they possibly can right until they unravel what’s ailing Granderson, and d’Arnaud and Duda heal, Conforto and Plawecki’s slump ease, and Harvey stops being such a momentum killer.

What can you say about David Wright? He’s quite obviously not David Wright anymore, his strikeouts, especially looking, are way up, but the guy is winning us some games.

Let’s hope we see Flores return to active duty — and first base — on Friday as the ’86ers return to town.

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Putting the Stress in Stress Fracture

21Lucas Duda has a broken back, I have a broken heart, and Duda will miss “significant” time on the disabled list, the Mets said Monday. The Mets recalled veteran minor league multi-position player and Spring Training All-Star Ty Kelly to take Duda’s place on the roster, while Dario Alvarez was whacked from the 40-man roster to make room for Kelly.

55Kelly will wear No. 55, as he had this spring inheriting the jersey from another Kelly (Johnson) who wore it last. In Las Vegas, Kelly did about all you could do, leading all of the minors with a .391 batting average and a .478 on-base average, and he’s a switch hitter who can play 5 positions (including a little first), which is great. He also makes funny YouTube videos. But he’s not a power hitter like Duda. Make no mistake, we’re gonna miss that big goofy guy.

I guess this also means still more Eric Campbell, at least till Wilmer Flores gets back.

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Mayday!

36Hate to have to point out the obvious but May’s been a terrible month for the Mets so far, with nearly the entire lineup slumping, injuries to a starting pitcher and catcher, and a schedule that’s only starting to get difficult.

Travis d’Arnaud wasn’t doing much at the plate or behind it before a shoulder injury nicked him but he’s not getting out of his slump on the DL. I’ve always been a little wary of Steven Matz’s health and so his elbow soreness worries me too.

Reinforcement arrived late this week when lefty Sean Gilmartin was recalled and Wilmer Flores hit the DL. Gilmo is back in the familiar No. 36 and strirrups. Down Flores and d’Arnaud, we’re especially vulnerable to lefties.

Can we get Curtis Granderson (.146/.196/.333 in May); Neil Walker (.121/.216/.152); Lucas Duda (.189/.318/.459) and Michael Conforto (.143/.200/.262) going again? Now? Thanks!

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Harvey Hi33tory

33Congrats are in order for Matt Harvey, whose fifth strikeout last night helped him surpass John Maine to become the Mets’ all-time leader in strikeouts by guys who wore 33.

Harvey raced to his current career total of 470 whiffs in just 455.1 innings pitched, a pretty impressive feat for a guy I love to hate.

In other races we’re watching this year, keep an eye on Jacob deGrom as he mounts an assault on Aaron Heilman’s all-time mark of 395 strikeouts by a 48: At his rate, that’ll be sometime in June.

34Harvey, deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz in the meantime have quite the battle on their hands for strikeout supremacy, between themselves and their extended numerical families. Matz ‘ Team 32 has the current lead among them at 2,034 career K’s, with Syndergaard’s 34s currently at 1,946; Harvey’s 33s at 1,934 and deGrom’s 48s at 1,909.

It’s possible that all four of these jerseys surpass 16 to move into the top five of all time before the season is over. Not that we need reminding, but these are the good old days.

 

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Mets Feel the Bern

My inaugural trip to CitiField last night was a chilly but special one as I shared the evening with a special guest: Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

The Senator may be used to chilly conditions in Vermont but was cranky as the 7:10 game began.

My special guest at tonight's #Mets game: The one and only Bernie Sanders #feelthebern🔥

A video posted by Jon Springer (@jon.springer) on

The Reds taking an early 1-0 lead did little to improve Bernie’s mood, as did other distractions in Flushing.

#BernieSanders unhappy with events in New York #Mets #feelthebern🔥

A video posted by Jon Springer (@jon.springer) on

A nice play by Neil Walker brightened the mood a little, and caused Bernie to reflect on events of the past.

Bernie Sanders impressed with Neil Walker. #Mets

A video posted by Jon Springer (@jon.springer) on

52The Mets were still down in the polls when Yoenis Cespedes thrilled the candidate with a surprise pinch-hit 3-run home run.

Bernie Sanders reacts to #Cespedes home run.

A video posted by Jon Springer (@jon.springer) on

Donald Trump may build a wall, but it takes a champion of the middle class to hit a ball over it, the Senator later explained.

Cespedes: Strong, like a strong middle class. #feelthebern🔥

A video posted by Jon Springer (@jon.springer) on

After an RBI single by David Wright gave the Mets a lead, Addison Reed and Juerys Familia closed it out, as the Reds “felt the Bern” of the Mets’ 5-game winning streak.

Bernie Sanders with the #Mets happy tecap

A video posted by Jon Springer (@jon.springer) on

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Stand in the Place Where You Were

Green-R.E.M.44If you ever had a vinyl copy of the GREEN album by REM, and sat around your dorm room listening to it instead of going to class or planning a future, you might have noticed that if you tilted the cover just the right way toward the light, a feint opaque image of the number “4” appeared wherever an “R” did.

I was reminded of that this afternoon when word came that Travis d’Arnaud was hurt — you don’t say — and that Class AAA catcher Rene Rivera was called up to take his place. Not that you’d want to, but if you could tilt Rene Rivera to the light just the right way, maybe you’d see this RR reflects a 44. Cuz, you see, that’s his number, according to the lightning fast fingers of ESPN’s Adam Rubin, reporting from CitiField where Rivera makes his Met debut tonight as Kevin Plawecki’s backup.

Rivera, a 31-year-old veteran of four other organizations, signed a AAA contract with the Mets earlier this month and had been hitting .280 in Las Vegas. He wore 44 as a member of the Padres and Rays.

Guys, I’ll be making my Citifield debut tonight. Should we talk about the weather?

 

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Happy Roger McDowell Day

42retiredToday, players throughout Major League Baseball will all wear jersey No. 42 in honor of former bon vivant Mets sinkerballer Roger McDowell, whose groundbreaking comedy props and courageous bullpen mischief broke the Prank Barrier in the 1980s.

Roger Alan McDowell was born on Dec. 21, 1960 in Cincinnati, the youngest of Herb and Ada McDowell’s three children. He attended Cincinnati’s Colerain High School and attended Bowling Green University on a partial baseball scholarship, arriving on campus just as Orel Hershiser, a 17th round draft pick of the Dodgers in 1979, departed.

McDowell was a stalwart of the Falcons’ pitching rotation, earning All Mid-American Conference honors when he was selected by the Mets in the third round of the 1982 draft.

A slender right-hander listed at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, McDowell made his living on essentially one pitch — a sinking fastball he could throw at various speeds, almost always for strikes. McDowell also threw a slider and occasional change-up but the sinker was his featured delivery. “He never shakes me off,” catcher Gary Carter once said. “There’s nothing to shake off, actually. He just throws the one pitch.”

McDowell rose through the ranks of the Mets’ minor league system quickly but an elbow injury suffered at Class AA Jackson in 1983 cost him nearly all of the 1984 season. Rehabbing the injury in the Instructional League, McDowell made a slight adjustment in arm angle and discovered his signature sinker broke even more sharply than the one he threw before the injury.

mcddowellThat impressed manager Davey Johnson enough to usher McDowell onto the opening-day roster in 1985, the second straight year he’d championed a rookie pitcher to the club unexpectedly: He’d done the same with Dwight Gooden a year before.

McDowell earned a win in his debut appearance in the big leagues, throwing a scoreless 11th inning on April 11, 1985 in a game the Mets would win on Danny Heep’s bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the 11th, 2-1. After two so-so starts early that year — the only starts among 700 big-league appearances, he emerged as a late inning weapon whose sinker was talk of the league.

“He’s got a wicked sinkerball. I know it, and so do other hitters,” teammate Keith Hernandez said that summer. “They come down to first and talk to me about the kid’s nasty sinker. He is awesome.”

McDowell went 6-5 with 17 saves and a 2.83 ERA in ’85, finishing 6th in Rookie of the Year voting.

Although a New York Times article that summer described McDowell as “a mild-mannered, laid-back, inoffensive and polite young man,” a colorful personality soon emerged. McDowell wore a stylish spiky haircut, blew gigantic pink bubbles while he pitched and by 1986, his mischief became legend.

His specialty was the “Hot foot” — clandestinely securing a book of matches to the spikes of unsuspecting teammates’ shoes and igniting them with a burning cigarette. Coach Bill Robinson was a favorite target. Despite the difficult nature of the stunt: McDowell often needed to crawl beneath the dugout bench undetected — he was never caught in the act.

But burning socks were only part of McDowell’s repertoire:

  • When the Mets honored retiring legend Rusty Staub in a 1986 pre-game ceremony, teammates emerged from the dugout in garish red wigs to greet them, provided by McDowell.
  • Before a game in Los Angeles in 1987, McDowell appeared on the field wearing his uniform upside down, pants stretched over his head and spikes on his hands.
  • He made light of an administrative crackdown on ball-doctoring in 1987 by conspicuously wearing a carpenter’s belt in the bullpen, complete with sandpaper, lubricant, a file and a chisel.
  • He once got the attention of fans around the the visiting bullpen of Dodger Stadium, and threw open a door to reveal teammate Jesse Orscoso on the toilet.
  • After Phillies’ teammate Tommy Greene threw a no-hitter in Montreal in 1991, the pitcher was fooled by a prank phone call from McDowell who pretended to be Canada Prime Minister Brian Mulrooney and had Greene on the line for 20 minutes. “It was a tossup who was fooled more that day, the Expos batters or Greene,” writer Paul Hagen observed.

McDowell backed his humor with results. In 1986 he won 14 games in relief — still a Mets team record — while also notching a team-best 22 saves, one more than lefty counterpart Jesse Orosco. Although they split saves down the middle, Johnson deployed his stoppers differently: While Orosco was a typical one-inning guy, McDowell averaged more than 5 outs per appearance in ’86.

McDowell was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 1986 World Series, benefitting from the Mets’ three-run seventh inning rally despite giving two of those runs back in the eighth.

morethangame6Surgery for a hernia cost McDowell the first several weeks of the 1987 season but he returned to lead the club with 25 saves. In 1988 McDowell notched another 16 saves despite losing the closer title to Randy Myers. Though he rarely allowed home runs, Kirk Gibson connected for the game-winning home run off McDowell in Game 4 of the 1988 NLCS.

In a regrettable deal the Mets traded McDowell and teammate Lenny Dykstra to Philadelphia for Juan Samuel in June of 1989. McDowell never wore No. 42 again despite turns with the Dodgers, Rangers, Orioles and White Sox and now, 10 years as the Atlanta Braves pitching coach. The number was subsequently taken out of all of baseball in 1997 to honor his pranking ways.

In all seriousness, it’s not Roger McDowell Day. Or Ron Hodges Day, Larry Elliot Day, Butch Huskey Day or Chuck Taylor Day. But celebrate!

The above info on McDowell was adapted from my biography appearing in the new book, THE 1986 METS: THERE WAS MORE THAN GAME SIX, a quite good SABR book now available in print and download versions. I contributed 4 chapters in all!

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The Ex Files, 2016

Andrew Beaton’s welcome-home profile of new Mets second baseman Neil Walker includes this fascinating detail: Walker, it turns out, has taken over the Upper East Side apartment lease of Jon Niese, the man he was traded for over the winter.

18And no, Jon Niese didn’t move into Walker’s parent’s home in Pittsburgh, but he did turn up wearing Walker’s former uniform number, 18, in Pittsburgh, making the trade a Reverse Uni Swap. Niese you may have seen, started the other day for the Pirates and was positively Niese-like: 5 innings, 4 earned runs, 7 whiffs, and a no-decision.

Here’s a look at a few other ex-2015 Mets and their new numerical identities:

Daniel Murphy is wearing No. 20 in Washington, where fans say #TheyreWith28 when it comes to outfielder Jayson Werth.

In Milwaukee, Kirk Nieuwenhuis has suited up in No. 10 and Carlos Torres in 59, changes from their respective 9 and 52/72 here. Kirk beat out former teammate Eric Young Jr. for the reserve outfield slot with the Brewers.

Departed heroes of 2015’s famous bench-strength acquisition: Atlanta Brave Kelly Johnson wears No. 24, while Juan Uribe is wearing No. 4 and a skicap with the Indians.

We unfortunately didn’t get deep enough into Kansas City’s bullpen earlier this week to see Dillon Gee, who reverses his customary 35 with the World Champs, wearing 53.

Phinally in Phoenix, irritating short reliever Tyler Clippard wears No. 19. He was 46 last time around in New York.

Scattered rubble of the National League champs including Scott Rice (Arizona), Eric O’Flaherty (Pittsburgh), Wilfredo Tovar (Minnesota), Jack Leathersich (Chicago Cubs), Alex Torres (Atlanta), Anthony Recker (Cleveland), Darrell Ceciliani (Toronto) and Bobby Parnell (Detroit) didn’t crack opening-day rosters.

Welcome home Mets!

 

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This One Doesn’t Go to 11

11So sure enough opening night there was Tim Teufel, “along the lines at third” and wearing No. 11, shedding the No. 18 he’d worn he’d worn as a Mets coach since 2012.

Teufel as we know spent more than five years as Mets player wearing No. 11. And though 18 was never a good fit for him (it belonged during parts of his tenure to Darryl Strawberry, who according to reports cruelly tormented Teufel while they were Mets teammates) his retaking No. 11 represents something of a break with tradition too. Teufel is not only the first coach or manager ever to wear 11 but his occupation of it denies the jersey its distinguishing element: No number has appeared in as many games as No. 11 — 4,442 regular-season games through 2015, or nearly 52% of every Mets regular-season game ever. And until this year, only four seasons since the founding of the Mets have gone without at least one player appearing in No. 11 — 1967, 1968, 1997, and 2002.

No. 7 (4,273 games) and No. 5 (4,208) are the next-most frequently employed jerseys in game action for the Mets but each are more than a full season behind even as they maintain compilers in Travis d’Arnaud and David Wright, respectively.

34Guys I’m sorry to have discovered all my fears of a lackluster spring training play out in front of us on opening night. As I write a few hours before Game 2 I’m thinking we have an obligation to make a statement and an ideal opportunity as well: They’re starting a right-handed slowballer, and we have Noah Syndergaard. And while any victory is acceptable, I’d really like to Mets to find out which of the Royals reserve infielders can also pitch.

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Sweet Sixteen

Glad to see the Mets get off the schneid just once before we go to war Sunday night in Kansas City. As noted below this was hardly the most encouraging warmup I’ve ever experienced but I’m thankful we’ll be answering the bell with relatively good health and a ton of promise. Hopefully, we kick the shit out of Kansas City.

The opening roster, announced yesterday, indicates we’ll soon be welcoming the following men to the All-time roster:

13 Asdrubal Cabrera
16 Alejando De Aza
20 Neil Walker
51 Jim Henderson
59 Anotnio Bastardo

They would bring the scrolls through 1,013 1,012.

Joining the field staff for the first time is bench coach Dick Scott, wearing No. 23, while Kevin Plawecki and coach Tom Goodwin pulled an offseason trade, with Plawecki taking 26 and Goodwin 22. Reliever Jerry Blevins is in a new number, 39, and coach Dan Warthen in 38.

11Ruben Tejada’s departure in the meantime opened up No. 11 should third-base coach Tim Teufel want to return to the number he wore as a Mets player: The roster posted at Mets.com indicates that’s the case but I thought I spied him ont he televised game from Vegas the other day still in 18. Any help?

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