Citi Field has FINALLY come to life

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.

Sums up Mets fans perfect after this weekend.Hat tip to @TooGooden16 for the twitter post

How I assume all Mets fans are talking to one another today. Hat tip to @TooGooden16 for the twitter post

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.

Alderson, deGrom and Harvey salvage the Mets weekend

When it comes to Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, Mets fans feel confident those two will come through when it’s needed the most. That same trust has yet to be placed in General Manager Sandy Alderson, who often works in a passive aggressive manner (financial restrictions or not) when it comes to upgrading the roster. But this weekend, together, all three led the way in salvaging the final two games against the Dodgers.

Alderson started to change the stigma surrounding this roster with the promotion of top hitting prospect Michael Conforto on Friday night. Although one can argue it was an overdue move considering how poor, and that’s putting it lightly, this Mets offense has performed. Better late than never, I suppose. But he didn’t stop there. The news broke right around game time Friday night that Alderson had acquired Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe from the Atlanta Braves for two mid-level prospects. It may not have been the blockbuster move that fans have been craving but there is no doubting they improve this Mets roster. Each are proven veterans who have established themselves as more than capable everyday players or in an ideal scenario, provide some much-needed depth to the bench.

Conforto showed no signs of having any Major League jitters. He has recorded an RBI in his first three games and helped ignite the offense on Saturday with a 4-for-4 day while scoring four runs. Conforto displayed quickly what we’ve heard so much about him, he’s a professional hitter who uses the whole field and has a disciplined approach at the plate. Like Conforto, Johnson and Uribe wasted no time in making their presence felt. On Saturday, while playing second base and batting clean up, Johnson added two hits with one of them being a two-run home run. Uribe added a hit of his own after relieving Daniel Murphy at third base late in the game but his mark was made on Sunday. After once again relieving Murphy at third, Uribe made a crucial play on a slow roller to record the first out in the top half of the ninth. That turned into an even bigger play after the Dodgers followed that up with three straight hits to tie to the game. In the bottom of the 10th Uribe crushed a double off of the left center field wall that drove in the game winning run in walkoff fashion.

The Mets starting rotation has received no shortage of national publicity, and rightly so, as they’re loaded with some of the top young arms in all of baseball. But the debate these last few months has been who is the ace of the staff – deGrom or Harvey? It’s deGrom, and it’s not even a debate at the moment. The best part of that question is that the answer doesn’t even matter. That’s a win-win argument for the Mets as they anchor the front end of this young rotation. The only thing that matters is that they each do their part in helping the Mets win each time they take the mound. Which was the case on Saturday and Sunday.

Harvey, who has had a strong but not entirely smooth return from Tommy John Surgery, put up a solid performance on Saturday. He threw seven innings and allowed two runs while striking out four and walking only one batter. The most important thing I took away from that start was the return of his command. When Harvey has gotten into trouble lately it has been due to giving too many free passes as he is unable to locate his pitches. While deGrom was stellar once again as he squared off against Zack Greinke, the NL CY Young award favorite. DeGrom out dueled Greinke in what I felt was an important game for him to solidify himself against one of the games perennial starters. He allowed just two hits over seven innings while striking out eight as he blew away the Dodgers lineup. A blown save might have cost deGrom a W in the win column but the Mets were able to walk away with a victory in extra innings, which is all that really matters.

Considering what a roller coaster ride of season this has been for the Mets thus far, with every bit as much negativity as there has been optimism surrounding the franchise, they trail the Washington Nationals by only two games. That’s right, two games! I have to do a double take every day I check the standings when I realize the National League East is still within grasp. Conforto, Uribe and Johnson might not be the saviors – but any offensive help they can provide for deGrom, Harvey and the rest of the staff will go a long way in keeping the Mets in contention. Alderson may have helped salvaged the weekend, but it will probably take another move or two to salvage the season.

 

My first no-hitter experience

Little did I know a weekend trip to visit some friends just outside of D.C. would lead to me witnessing my first no-hitter. While out at happy hour on Friday, we were asked if we’d be interested in some extra tickets for Saturday’s game. With no definitive plans lined up for the next day we decided to give it a go. What a wise decision that turned out to be.

I’d be lying if I told you I knew Max Scherzer was pitching the night before. Hell, I didn’t even know the Nationals were playing the Pirates. My love for the Mets is pretty well documented at this point. But Mets or no Mets, there isn’t a baseball game I won’t go to. Although the Nationals are considered the Mets biggest rival given their current stature as “the team to beat” in the NL East, I have no real animosity towards them, yet. The Braves and Phillies are still the teams that bring out the worst in me. I guess most of that has to do with the fact that the two teams have never been contenders in the same season. That will probably change in the years to come, but not yet.

While most of our crew decided to extend the tailgate/pregame well into the 7th inning (really got their monies worth), I at least had the one other real baseball fan in the group to soak the day in with. It’s always important to have someone else who will have the same sort of appreciation for these type of events on hand. The first few innings moved along like any other ordinary game. The only real action that jumped out to me was a home run that Bryce Harper mashed into center field. You could literally hear the crack of his bat echo throughout the stadium. Love him or hate him, that guy can flat-out rake the baseball.

max scherzerWith two outs in the top of the sixth I finally noticed all the zeros on the scoreboard. I usually roll my eyes at pitchers comments when they claim to be unaware they were in the midst of throwing a no-hitter until the final few innings. I just assume things like that would be on your mind from the moment that first batter steps into the box. After all, we keep track of everything in baseball. I guess I was just too caught up in conversation to realize what was happening earlier. Or maybe that was just the subconscious Mets fan in me assuming things like this just don’t actually come to fruition.

Baseball is a funny game with plenty of odd superstitions both the players and fans alike follow. One of them being the unwritten rule that you don’t openly talk about or acknowledge the potential of a perfect game/no-hitter being completed.  But I couldn’t help myself. I said something along the lines of “I don’t want to jinx it or anything, but Scherzer has a perfect game going.” I was immediately greeted with a turn of the head and a dead eyed stare of disapproval for what I just said. No words were spoken initially and none needed to be said. Her face said it all. Can’t say I blame her. My reaction probably would’ve been the same if she had done that to me.

From that point on I put aside any rooting interest and was cheering for the perfect game. I’m one of those guys that as soon as I get the alert on my phone about a no-hitter in action I immediately find a TV and throw on the MLB network to watch the live look in. Each inning brought about more tension as fans went from sitting, to the edge of their seats to rising to their feet with each two-strike count. The Nationals continued to tack on runs as they rode a 6-0 lead into the latter innings. With the games outcome never really in doubt, all eyes were on Scherzer and his bid for perfection.

scherzer

Tabata taking one for the team.

In the ninth inning the entire crowd was on their feet in anticipation. Each foul ball brought a unison groan followed by a sigh of relief. After two rather easy outs, Jose Tabata stepped up to bat. Tabata battled Scherzer, fouling off several pitches while working his way to a 2-2 count after seeing seven pitches. Things got interesting on the eighth pitch. Scherzer spun a backdoor curveball that was hovering inside the plate that Tabata took off his protective gear covered elbow. I’ve watched the replay quite a few times and it looks pretty clear to me that he leaned into the pitch. Needless to say, the crowd (myself included) was not happy. I was angry I would no longer be seeing a perfect game and I was left doubting we would see the completion of a no-hitter. That just felt like one of those disaster turn of events that had me convinced the following batter, Josh Harrison, would break up the no-no.

Luckily, I was wrong. Harrison gave the ball a ride that put a bit of a scare into the crowd as Michael Taylor tracked it down just short of the warning track in left field for the final out. A collective roar erupted. Now I was nowhere near the level of the die-hard Nationals fans who were in a state of jubilation (very similar to my reaction to Johan Santana’s I watched in the bar a few years ago) but I certainly partook in my fair share as we embraced after watching our first in-person no-hitter.

I’ve been lucky enough to witness quite a few special moments at baseball games. This one is right up there behind only Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium as my favorite non-Mets related moment. No-hitter’s, especially in an era where pitchers struggle to get through six innings, are a rare occurrence.  I hope it’s not the case, but that could very well be the only one I see in-person throughout my lifetime. Hopefully I’ll get to witness a no-hitter, or preferably a perfect game, at Citi Field. Fingers crossed it’s not the Mets on the receiving end of it though.

max-scherzer-10

Chocolate syrup celebration?

Side notes: I thought it was awesome to learn that Scherzer’s parents were in attendance from Missouri and he was able to treat his dad to an early fathers day gift. I always love those type of secondary story lines. Also, what was the deal with that chocolate syrup celebration? Is this a new trend that I’m only learning about now? I’m sure the equipment manager really appreciated this. Forget the water jug, whipped cream pies, bucket of sunflower seeds or chocolate syrup – go find a couple of cold ones from the fridge and let Scherzer down a few Stone Cold Steve Austin style.

 

A lot of words can describe this Mets team, but resilient has to be one of them

The Mets celebrate last night's walk-off win

The Mets celebrate last night’s walk-off win

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.

 

Tanaka, Gee: A tale of two returns

IMG_0151Yesterday the Yankees and Mets each had a starter return to their respective rotations. Masahiro Tanaka, the ace of the Yankees staff, made his much-anticipated return to the mound. While Dillon Gee, who has become more commonly known as the odd man out, returned to the Mets.

Tanaka: 7 IP 3 H 1 ER 9 SO

Much has been made of Tanaka’s health since a small tear of his UCL in his right elbow was discovered last season. Rather than undergoing Tommy John Surgery, Tanaka chose rest and rehab. While some rolled their eyes at his decision, he was able to return to form late in 2014. However, it took less than a month into the 2015 season for another setback to occur. Although the two aren’t believed to be related issues, Tanaka spent the past month on the DL with a right elbow strain. Leaving many to wonder whether or not Tanaka made the right decision to forego surgery and was putting off the inevitable.

In the four starts Tanaka made before hitting the DL he did not look like the Cy Young candidate from last season. His fastball was sitting in the high 80’s as he was clearly holding himself back on the mound. I’m not sure what exactly happened in the month since his last start, but Tanaka seemed to have returned to form yesterday. His fastball was clocked as high as 96 MPH along the way to dominating the Seattle Mariners. With the AL East up for grabs, if Tanaka can stay healthy, and that’s a big if, the Yankees 1-2 punch with Michael Pineda and himself anchoring the rotation could make the Yankees the team to be within the division.

Gee: 4 IP 8 H 7 R 4 ER 1 SO

It’s been an interesting start, to say the least, for Gee’s season. Here’s a little rundown on his year to date:

  • After being considered an expendable arm, he was openly shopped around the entire offseason
  • Reluctantly awarded a spot in the rotation when Zack Wheeler underwent Tommy John Surgery in spring training.
  • Then forced into a battle, for that same spot, with emerging young arms Rafael Montero, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard for most of March.
  • After suffering an injury that landed him on the 15-day DL, he was then replaced by Syndergaard in the rotation.
  • Syndergaard seized his opportunity and excelled in his first few starts, causing the Mets front office to overly extend Gee’s minor league rehab assignment to buy Syndergaard more time at the major league level.
  • Gee was recalled as part of the Mets plan for implementing a six man rotation, that will last for the foreseeable future, in an effort to limit the workload on the young arms.

There is a buzz that has surrounded most of this Mets rotation throughout the season. When Matt Harvey takes the mound, it’s an event in NYC. Jacob DeGrom, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, is as cool as they come and he’s picked up right where he left off. Syndergaard, who has lived up to his “Thor”nickname, strikes fear into batters with his 6’6” 240 lb presence on the hill to go along with his fastball that flirts with 100 MPH at times. Even Bartolo Colon, who leads the staff in wins, has become must watch TV for the pure entertainment value (especially at the plate) he provides.

Then there’s Gee. When he’s listed as the probable starter, the game really has no feel to it. He gives fans a kind of “blah” feeling when he takes the mound. Sure he will keep the Mets in the game, for the most part, but he doesn’t provide any extra excitement that entices you to tune in. Yesterday didn’t help his cause in arguing against that point. He struggled in his return to get through his four innings of work. “It wasn’t as bad as it looked” said manager Terry Collins. I’m not sure which game you were watching, Terry, but yes, yes it was. With Steven Matz patiently awaiting a phone call, Gee is on a short leash to turn things around if he wants to hold onto his spot in the rotation.

At the end of the day, it was only the first start back for Tanaka and Gee. But each fan base was left with completely different emotions by their end results. Yankee fans were given hope that maybe they can put a strangle hold on the AL East, with no team differentiating themselves so far, if Tanaka can stay healthy and returns to form. While Mets fans were left scratching their heads as to why Gee is still hanging around.

 

 

Matt Harvey shines on “The Daily Show”

harvey elbow

Jon Stewart provided ample protection for Harvey’s right elbow

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.

Harvey presented Stewart with a Mets jersey with #17 ij honor of 17 seasons of hosting "The Daily Show"

Harvey presented Stewart with a Mets jersey with #17 ij honor of 17 seasons of hosting “The Daily Show”

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.

Click here to watch Matt Harvey on “The Daily Show.” 

Bartolo Colon, professional athlete, may have struggled due to running the bases

bartolo colonLet 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: