Yesterday it was announced that Mike Piazza has been elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In a weird way, I think this might be the last time I will genuinely get the joy out of a baseball player earning this honor.
I was 11-years-old when Piazza was traded to the Mets. At that age baseball was life. Who am I kidding? I’m about to turn 29 and not much has changed on that front. But, the fact remains that Piazza arrived at the utmost important time of my fandom. The franchise was struggling and desperately needed a shot of life. Piazza provided just that, and more.
From the moment he arrived the Mets instantly became relevant again. Those late-90’s and 2000 teams certainly weren’t the most talented. In fact, they were far from it. However, you’d be hard pressed to find a more likeable bunch. Bobby Valentine, who is quite the personality in his own right, coached a cast of characters that became my first true love.
His teammates in New York were the likes of Edgardo Alfonzo, who was a coach’s dream. He played the game the way it was meant to be and was the player, along with Edgar Martinez, that I actually tried to mimic at the plate. Robin Ventura, the sure handed veteran with pop in his bat that provided the comic relief. Rey Ordonez, whose defensive highlights are something I still watch in awe (but you couldn’t pay me to watch one of his at-bats). Al Leiter, who always looked like he was on the brink of a nervous breakdown as he sweat on the mound (similarly to Shaq on the foul line) with every single 3-2 count. John Olerud was the silent assassin who was able to somehow ride the subway to Shea Stadium every day without being recognized. Turk Wendell wearing that alligator tooth necklace and slamming down the rosin bag out of relief. Has there ever been a backup catcher who contributed more with his energy in the dugout than Todd Pratt? Names like Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton, Timo Perez, Darryl Hamilton, Jay Payton, Todd Zeile, “Super” Joe McEwing, Matt Franco, Lenny Harris, Armando Benitez, Rick Reed and Bobby Jones filled out those rosters. If you aren’t getting my drift by now – these were Mike Piazza’s teams.
Piazza was a one man wrecking crew who led this rag-tag bunch. While the Mets had their share of bonafide professionals on those teams, Piazza was the lone super star. Win or lose, the burden was put on the shoulders of Piazza. And you know what? More times than not, those wins could be attributed to his heroic efforts. During his tenure with New York it felt like every time a big hit was needed, Piazza stepped up to the plate and delivered in the clutch. He had a knack for rising to the occasion like few others, if any, in franchise history.
There are a few moments that will always stand out in my mind.
- Picnic blast: Piazza’s star shined brightest when it came time for the Subway Series against the Yankees. Facing reliever Ramiro Mendoza, with the Mets trailing 6-4, Piazza took him deep with a shot to left center that I’m not sure has landed yet. The ball cleared the old picnic tents in Shea Stadium. He flipped his bat in celebration, which I never saw before or after out of him, as he knew, along with the rest of the stadium, that he hit a ball further than many believed was humanly possible. (Side note: Matt Franco hitting a walk-off single against Mariano Rivera to end that game was a great thrill of mine) Click to watch…
- Epic comeback: It’s impossible to discuss the Mets of the late-90’s-2000 without mentioning their arch nemesis, the Atlanta Braves. The Braves were the bully who had been stuffing the Mets in their locker for years without putting up much of a fight. But then Piazza arrived kind of like Linderman in ‘My Bodyguard’ (That’s a 1980 movie reference, go watch it) and gave New York a fighting chance. In a mid-summer matchup in 2000 with the Mets trailing 8-1 in the eighth inning, it appeared all hope was lost. Then, miraculously, the Mets rallied to make it an 8-8 score with Piazza up and two men on base. Wouldn’t you know it, Piazza hit an absolute laser down the left field line that was gone in the snap of a finger to complete the Mets epic comeback. If you go back and watch that highlight keep an eye on the emotion that comes out of Piazza as he makes his way down the first base line. That sums up just how much that home run meant. Click to watch…
- Lifting a city: Maybe the moment that will immortalize Mike Piazza forever in New York lore was his game winning home run post 9/11. The Mets played the first game in New York after that tragic day. It was a weird time. Nobody really knew how to think or how to go about returning to their daily lives. I remember watching that game and turning over to the news networks between innings who were still trying to grasp that horrific day. It was surreal. With the Mets trailing in the eighth inning, Piazza hit a monumental blast off the TV tower in center field that made everything feel alright in the world, at least for that moment. It was something that the city so desperately needed. That home run will mean so much more to fans than Piazza himself may ever realize. Once again Piazza stepped up and carried not only his team, but the city, when it was needed the most. Click to watch…
I know that Piazza has already expressed his desire to be enshrined wearing a Mets cap. I also know that it isn’t his decision to make. The reality is that it’s very likely the Hall of Fame decides to put him in with a blank cap, given his split time playing for both the Mets and Dodgers. There is an argument to be made for both sides and I’m not going to delve into the statistical comparison. I simply challenge any Hall of Fame voter to close their eyes and relive a Piazza moment(s) in their head off memory. I feel pretty confident in saying that they will come up none from his days in L.A. and have several vivid memorable moments of him wearing a Mets cap engrained in their heads. That should put an end to that debate, in my opinion.
As I mentioned earlier, this might be the last time I genuinely receive joy out of a player receiving this honor. I’m at an age now where players are my own age and in many cases, younger. It hasn’t changed much. Other than my frustration that I’m not in the Majors. I still admire players’ talents and have as much of an appreciation for the game as I ever have. Maybe more so now that I have a full understanding of how gifted these players truly are.
One thing that I have noticed is that you begin to root for your favorite teams and players in a different fashion as you get older. Sure, you still tune in with a keen eye and express your emotions. Although now I find myself getting far more upset with losses than I did when I was younger and somehow less excited over a big win. Funny how that works. The biggest difference? I don’t hold players in the same reverence that I did for Mike Piazza. He is the last of his kind, for me. I haven’t been to Cooperstown since I was young. I was maybe 12 at the time (I’ll have to check with my parents on that). Now, with my childhood hero set to be enshrined, I have the only reason I need to go back.
Sometimes last minute plans are the best plans. A spur of the moment decision led me to Citi Field to witness the Mets complete their sweep of the Nationals. The Mets, who have so often been on the butt end of a joke in recent memory, made a statement last night with the help of their fans that they aren’t fooling around.
After a bizarre couple of days around the trade deadline, I don’t think we need to recap what has already received enough coverage, the Mets played some of their best baseball when they needed it the most. Fantastic pitching performances and dramatic endings on Friday and Saturday set the stage for Sunday night.
I wasn’t even in the stadium yet and I knew it was going to be a different kind of night at the ballpark. While searching for tickets on Stubhub there were only 250 tickets available at the 5 o’clock hour. For those of you unfamiliar with the secondhand ticket service, there are generally an abundance of tickets available for Mets games. It’s not uncommon to see a few thousand tickets available on the cheap hours before a game. Not yesterday. Despite being an 8 o’clock game on a Sunday night, fans wanted to be there.
From the moment I stepped foot into Citi Field you could just feel the buzz. Something I may have felt in small doses while attending various opening day games, Harvey nights or during the All-Star game. But it wasn’t a passing moment. This energy was there for the long haul.
The third inning was something special in its own right. Curtis Granderson’s two-run shot brought the crowd to their feet. Daniel Murphy kept them up with a tape measure bomb on the very next pitch. Then Lucas Duda nearly brought the house down two batters later with a moonshot off of the Pepsi Porch facade. Citi Field was ROCKING.
From there on out it was a raucous crowd. Every opportunity the fans had to cheer, applaud or get on somebody – they did. Just ask Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth. Harper, who seems to have become public enemy No. 1, was on the brunt end of quite a bit of heckling. I’m all for giving opposing stars a hard time out there. After all, this is New York. A visiting club should never feel too comfortable in our city. That’s the way it should be.
In the top of the eighth inning Noah Syndergaard, who had been mowing down the Nationals lineup all night, had one more showdown with Harper with two outs and a pitch count well over 100. It felt reminiscent of the closing scene in ‘Major League’ with Rick Vaughn going mano-a-mano and his fastball lighting up the radar gun. The fans willed Syndergaard to get everything left out of that arm for one last batter as he touched 99 MPH on his final pitch right through Harpers swing. A standing ovation followed that led perfectly into the Piano Man sing-along between innings.
Wilmer Flores, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth, received possibly the loudest ovation of the night when he stepped up to the plate. “Willlllmerrr” echoed throughout Citi Field. The fan favorite ripped a ball into left center that was only a few feet shy of leaving the park. If that had gone out I think the crowd would still be cheering.
Newly acquired, and former National, Tyler Clippard closed things out to the chants of “SWEEP! SWEEP! SWEEP!” as the Flushing Faithful erupted for one last roar.
I’m not saying it’s time to start printing those postseason tickets. It’s still August. Early August at that. But this fan base so desperately needed that. I needed that. But what we really need is for that to be only the beginning of more nights like that things to come.
After suffering a brutal loss on Saturday (I witnessed it firsthand) the Mets have done what they have all season – bounced back.
Just a day after a bullpen meltdown led to an extra innings loss, Dillon Gee imploded on Sunday afternoon allowing eight runs in just 3 2/3 innings of work. It appeared the Mets were well on their way to a downward spiral as the life was sucked out of the ball club on back-to-back days. But then the often anemic offense came to life. Home runs by Darrell Ceciliani, Dilson Herrera, Travis d’Arnaud and Juan Lagares powered the Mets to a 10-8 come from behind win. Terry Collins didn’t take any chances with the bullpen this time around as Jeurys Familia completed a four out save.
Monday night appeared to be going down the same path as Saturday’s loss. Noah Syndergaard, after a first inning mistake to Jose Bautista, held a steamrolling Blue Jays lineup at bay throwing six innings while striking out 11. The Mets offense rallied in the bottom half of the sixth for two runs that put Syndergaard in line for a much deserved win. Familia was called upon once more for a four out save. He was able to work his way out of an inherited jam in the eighth, but didn’t fair as well in the ninth.
A tailing 97-MPH fastball that was sitting about six inches inside the plate was rifled down the left field line by Bautista, again, for his second long ball of the game. I have a hard time putting too much blame on Familia for that pitch. Nine out of ten times that pitch breaks a hitters bat. There are only a handful of players capable of hitting that ball, unfortunately Bautista is one of them. After exchanging zeros in the 10th, the Blue Jays put together a run in the 11th that had many thinking deja vu to Saturday afternoon. Once more the Mets showed their resiliency. Down to their final strike, Lucas Duda floated a single into left field against an outfield shift that allowed a running Michael Cuddyer on a 3-2 count to score all the way from first. Wilmer Flores followed that with a base hit up the middle that brought Duda home to win the game.
This Mets team isn’t perfect. In fact, they are far from it. There are plenty of flaws that we are quick to point out with this injury decimated roster. Yet no matter how questionable their lineup may look at times they have continued to play well enough to hang onto first place in the NL East. The Washington Nationals are still the odds on favorites and it seems inevitable they will eventually put a stretch together that allows them to surpass the Mets in the standings. However, it’s become rather clear that this Mets team will not go down this season without a fight.
Mets ace Matt Harvey was a guest on “The Daily Show” hosted by Jon Stewart last night.
It’s no secret that the longtime host is a die-hard Mets fan. He has become well-known for incorporating his frustrations with the franchise in his nightly rants, making them the punchline in many of his jokes over the years. Stewart is your prototypical Mets fan in his pessimistic views, always expecting the worst case scenario to occur. With little faith in the Mets ability to retain Harvey long-term, he flirted with the idea of trading him in the near future “for a goat and some magic beans.” With his tenure coming to an end with “The Daily Show” this year, it made sense for him to have the franchises biggest star on before his departure.
Stewart asked Harvey about the Mets early success this season. “You’re 26 years old. You got New York City — we have not seen a player of your ability in many years. … What does it feel like?” Stewart asked the pitcher.
“I think it’s excitement,” Harvey replied. “For us and the whole staff, we’re excited about the future, we’re excited about now. And I think the most important thing is to focus on what we’re doing now.”
The highlight of the interview was when Stewart pulled out a pillow for Harvey to rest his elbow on and miniature police road blocks for protection. “I’ve got nothing left soon, that elbow is my future!” Stewart pronounced.
No offense to David Wright, but Matt Harvey is the face of the franchise. He possess the skill set, will to win and craves the limelight in a way that few desire. Harvey looks as comfortable in front of a microphone as he does out on the mound. Two years ago Harvey, in the midst of taking the league by storm and named NL starter for the All-Star Game, made a memorable appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon. Since then Harvey’s off the field persona has continued to grow. He has been featured in the ESPN Magazine Body Issue, dated numerous super models, become a fixture on Page Six of the NY Post for his social life, named NYC Bureau Chief for Derek Jeter’s ‘The Players’ Tribune’ and had an entire ESPN E:60 feature dedicated to his rehab after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
But, all of this wouldn’t be possible without his continued dominance on the mound. Harvey has wasted no time in silencing any doubt he would be rusty after missing a year and a half of action. He is 5-2 with a 2.91 ERA. In reality, Harvey has pitched well enough to win eight of his nine starts this year. However, I do believe he has yet to return to his form of two years ago, but that’s what’s scary about his start. Harvey has been nothing short of spectacular this year and he hasn’t even returned to peak form. Mets fans are giddy knowing that even better days could be lie ahead for Harvey in 2015.
So far, nothing has effected Harvey’s success on the field. As long as that doesn’t change, I’m all for him living his life any way he pleases. 26-years-old, single and living in New York City – it’s good to be Matt Harvey.
Let me start this off by saying I love Bartolo Colon. I really do. Everything about him is a joy to watch. From his care free demeanor on the mound to his helmet flying off of his head with each swing he takes at the plate – I can’t get enough of it. He’s been a pleasant surprise and a highlight free agent signing during GM Sandy Alderson’s tenure with the Mets. But manager Terry Collins made some comments last night that I found to be rather alarming regarding Colon’s mid game struggles.
In the third inning of last nights game, Colon reached base on a fielding error made by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. He was then followed by back-to-back base hits that required Colon to “run” to reach base before being stranded at third. The following inning, after throwing three scoreless innings, Colon imploded and allowed six runs.
“That’s the first time he’s had to do that all year long,” Collins said after the game, referring to Colon having to run the bases. “Maybe that was some of the reason why the next inning he didn’t have much. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him struggle so much with the command side.”
I know, Colon isn’t exactly the model of good health. But I still find that to be disturbing. I know the line from ‘Mr. Baseball‘ goes “We’re not athletes, we’re baseball players” – and while some degree of that may hold true, not being able to run 90 feet at a time is embarrassing. At the end of the day I don’t care if Colon get on base again for the rest of the season. He’s getting paid to perform on the mound, not at the plate. But if you’re going to play baseball in the National League I expect pitchers to at the bare minimum be able to run, and I use that term very loosely with Colon, the bases without it effecting you on the mound.
Here’s the clip from last night of Colon reaching base on an infield error:
We’re only 16 games into the season and the buzz surrounding this weekend is that usually reserved for September/October baseball. The Rangers, Islanders and Nets might be in the playoffs – but the subway series is the talk of the town.
When the schedule was first released I was disappointed to see the first part of the subway series would be taking place in April. I felt it was too early in the year and would be lacking any real excitement during this normally dull period in the season. Luckily I could not have been more wrong. We might not have kicked the cold weather just yet in New York but both of these teams are red-hot.
The Mets (13-3) come into this series as the hottest team in baseball – riding an 11-game winning streak. Their hot start has already given the Mets a 4.5 game lead in the NL East. Despite players dropping like flies due to injury (and suspension) the team has maintained this football like mentality as “next man up” seems to be their mantra. Terry Collins has his ball club playing with a type of grit and resilience that hasn’t been seen in Queens in years. The fan base has responded in a big way to this early success. Attendance is soaring and Citi Field, dare I say it, is beginning to rock like Shea. Maybe not quite on that level, but it’s a noticeable atmosphere change. Every night a different player seems steps up and comes through with a key walk, sacrifice fly, strong start, clutch hit or defensive web gem on the way to a win. It has been a complete team effort early on for the Metsies.
Friday: Michael Pineda (2-0, 5.00 ERA) vs Jacob DeGrom (2-0, 0.93 ERA) 7:05 p.m. WPIX/YES/MLB Network
Saturday: CC Sabathia (0-3, 4.35 ERA) vs Matt Harvey (3-0, 3.50 ERA) 4:05 p.m. SNY/YES/Fox Sports 1
Sunday: Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 3.12) vs Jonathon Niese (2-0, 1.50 ERA) 8:05 p.m. ESPN
After getting off to a 3-6 start it appeared the Yankees (9-7) were in an early season tailspin. Things quickly turned around as the Yanks have since won 6 of their last 7 and now sit tied for first place in the AL East. There were questions swirling around some of this teams veteran players and what, if any, they had left in the tank. Mark Teixeira and A-ROD have been a blast from the past as each are producing at a high level. Chris Young, who was viewed as the team’s fourth or fifth outfield option, is among the hottest hitters in the game and has forced manager Joe Girardi’s hand for more playing time. The tag team of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller has been as good as advertised in the back-end of the bullpen. In just a week the Yankees have changed their outlook from bleak to optimistic in what appears to be a wide open AL East.
In years past this has been a no-win situation for the Yankees. They have long been the kings of this city and would never gain any real advantage from taking a series from the Mets. Even when the Mets have won this series in recent years it has garnered no real significance. Sure, it’s nice to beat the Yankees but no one really cares when you’re playing meaningless games by the middle of August.
This year feels different. The Mets, and their fans, have been quite vocal in pronouncing 2015 as the year they take New York back. This is the first time that I can ever remember the Yankees coming into the subway series with a little chip on their shoulder. I have a REALLY hard time saying any team with a payroll well north of $200 million is ever an underdog, but it sure feels that way. For the Mets, if they really want to surpass the Yankees as the toast of the town – it starts by sending a message this weekend.
The Mets are 10-3 and off to their best start since 2006. Attendance is soaring and reaching figures the franchise hasn’t seen since Citi Field’s inaugural season in 2009. Take a look at the back cover of any local newspaper and the Mets will be featured on it. Listen to WFAN or ESPN radio (if you must) and odds are the Mets will be the topic of discussion for the majority of any given program. Matt Harvey has become the toast of the town. Simply put, the Mets are well on their way to taking the city back.
By all means things appear to be going just as planned, if not better, for the Mets in 2015. Yet they have already overcome an immense amount of adversity just 13 games into the season.
- Zack Wheeler was diagnosed with a torn UCL in mid-March and has since undergone Tommy John surgery. He is expected back in 12-16 months.
- Vic Black underwent an MRI late in spring training that revealed a herniated disc in his right shoulder. There was hope Black would return as early as this week until another MRI revealed only little improvement. He will rest another week before being reevaluated once again. A reasonable return date is unknown at this point.
- Jenrry Mejia suffered stiffness in his right elbow on opening day and was placed on the 15-day disabled list following the game. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Just a week later he was suspended 80-games for PED use. Changes in the CBA ban Mejia from pitching in the postseason, should the Mets qualify.
- David Wright was placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 15th with strained hamstring. Wright has begun some rehab activities and Sandy Alderson expects the captain back when he is eligible to return on April 30. I hate to be negative about this positive news but hamstring issues are notoriously nagging injuries.
- Travis d’Arnaud fractured his right pinkie finger and will be in a splint for three weeks. Rehab time still has to be taken into consideration on top of that. A realistic timetable for his return might be the end of May.
- Jeremy Blevins fractured his forearm after being hit by a line drive and will remain in a splint for six weeks. He will then be reevaluated at that time and resume throwing when healed.
When you think about what those players mean to this roster you’re talking about a front line starter, three prominent arms in the bullpen (closer, setup man and lefty specialist), an emerging catcher and the linchpin of this offense who is also the team captain.
The motto so far seems to be next man up. Nobody feels bad for you in professional sports. There is no pity for you when a player goes down. For opposing teams it can be seen as an opportunity to take advantage of your vulnerability. But as of now the Mets have been able to not only “hang in there” but succeed even with those gleaming voids.
Looking at that list reminds me of the 2009 season when it felt as if the entire roster suffered from injury at some point throughout that year. The difference in this team has been their resilience. Sure the Mets have gotten off to other strong starts in recent seasons – but this one feels different. It’s hard to explain. Similar to how you try to quantify how some people have that “it” factor. I can’t quite put words on it but I have a sense this team will be able to keep it together. I won’t go as far as to crown them World Series Champions, yet alone NL East Champions, just yet – but I do believe this team is well on its way to playing a meaningful 2015 season in its entirety.