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.
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.
With 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.
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.
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.
The release of the MLB.com pitching prospect rankings should have been a good day for the Mets, and their fans, to boast about their pitching depth. But you didn’t have to look any further than the number one spot to be reminded that the Mets are still playing second fiddle to the Washington Nationals.
The Nationals 20-year-old right-hander Lucas Giolito was named the top pitching prospect in all of major league baseball. Noah Syndergaard, 22, of the Mets followed him in the rankings. Both Syndergaard (6’6″ 240) and Giolito (6’6″ 255) have big frames and are known for their power arms. Syndergaard is expected to start the season in Triple-A and could be promoted to the big leagues as soon as 2015. Giolito has never pitched higher than A-ball and is expected to start the year in Double-A. Although their timetables are slightly different, they will undoubtedly be compared to one another upon their arrival to the major league level.
Much has been made of the Mets young pitching. This is supposed to be the year they start to lead the organization back into relevancy and play meaningful games into late September, and then hopefully October. Although I don’t question the potential in the Mets rotation, the Nationals signing of Max Scherzer not only solidified themselves as the team to beat this year, but for years to come.
Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon is likely to be the Mets opening day rotation. I excluded Dillon Gee from this list because all signs point to him being traded in the near future. Minus Colon, this group is as young and talented as there is in the game. Harvey, before undergoing Tommy John Surgery, looked like a premier pitcher in the game. DeGrom was the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year. Wheeler has struggled with his command but showed his potential as a front-line starter in the second half of the season. Niese is a consistent lefty who provides stability. Colon will be the staffs innings eater who GM Sandy Alderson will likely look to trade come the All-Star break. Thus opening up a spot in the rotation for Syndergaard to make his debut sometime this summer.
Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez are projected to be the Nationals opening day rotation. That has the makings to be Atlanta Braves 1990’s good. In the event one of these starters is traded before the season, a more than formidable Tanner Roark will step right in. Giolito might be the top pitching prospect in the game, but the Nationals feel he is a year away. GM Mike Rizzo is well aware of what he has in Giolito and could be the reason why he would be okay with trading one of his soon to be free-agent starters. One hole that remains on the Nationals roster is their bullpen. Don’t be surprised if Giolito, assuming he continues to progress, is promoted to bolster the pen down the stretch. The more likely scenario would be Giolito joining the rotation in 2016 when a spot opens up due to trade or free agency.
There is no shame in having the second-best pitching prospect in baseball. These rankings are nothing more than someones personal opinion. And at the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is how these pitchers perform on the major league level. Despite many off-season rumors of teams asking for Syndergaard, the Mets were unwilling to part with him. They clearly view him as a big part of their future. Only time with tell if Syndergaard, along with the rest of the Mets young pitchers, will be able to out-duel the Nationals rotation in the years to come.
Well I had the pleasure, I guess, of going to yet another Mets Opening Day yesterday. What did I take away from the day? Some things never change. Continue reading
Stephen Strasburg has offered up some advice for the rehabbing Matt Harvey: Take it slow. Strasburg, was in Harvey’s same position just a few years ago. He took the league by storm upon his arrival in 2010, but it was short-lived by season ending surgery that cost him a full year. Strasburg’s situation is eerily similar to Harvey, whose domination was abruptly ended by an elbow injury last season.
Strasburg shared these words from his experiences “It can flip on you,’’ He said of the rehab process. “You’ll feel great one day and the next day it’s terrible. The best advice I got was, ‘Look where you were at the start of the month and then at the end of the month. Don’t look at where you were yesterday.’ ”
Harvey and Strasburg are each represented by super agent Scott Boras, Strasburg offered to help out the fellow Boras client if he needs it “I told Scott, if Matt ever needs anything, call me,’’ Strasburg said. “I’ve been through it. I know by judging how hard he works he should be, hopefully, fine.’’
Unfortunately, Harvey initially opted to rest his elbow in hopes of recovering the natural way. After a few months of deliberating and receiving some further medical opinions, he opted for Tommy John surgery in October. Despite Harvey’s mindset on returning in late 2014, that goal seems unlikely as the Mets will be cautious with their young ace.
In any case, I can’t wait to watch these two go head-to-head next season. I was fortunate enough to be at the game last year when a “Harvey’s better” chant broke out as he out-dueled Strasburg in Citi Field. Don’t remember? Here’s a reminder of how awesome that night was.
Zack Wheeler makes his much-anticipated home debut today against the Nationals. This will be his third career start but his first in front of the flushing faithful.
A lot has been made of Matt Harvey’s starts, with each one being labeled “Harvey Day” and rightfully so. They have become an event of sorts to see what the young ace will do next. Now with the recent promotion of Zack Wheeler, the Mets hope a similar trend will begin to take place.
We have already seen signs of greatness, despite the mixed results in his first two starts. In his major league debut, he threw six shutout innings with seven strikeouts against the division leading Braves in route to earning his first career win. It was a terrific debut as he lived up to the hype that had been surrounding him since the Carlos Beltran trade was made two years ago.
His second start didn’t go quite as smoothly. Wheeler lasted 5.1 innings allowing four runs with just one strikeout. Although this wasn’t a terrible start, it wasn’t great either. He was all over the place with his pitches and it has been reported that he was tipping his pitches. Both of which are things that I would be worried about if he were a veteran, but I won’t stress after just two starts.
What I took away most from Wheeler’s starts are his ability to get by without his best command. Wheeler has walked eight batters in his first two starts, but has only allowed eight hits as well. This give you an idea of how good his stuff is. Besides the one hanging breaking ball White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers took him deep on, you don’t see batters squaring up on the ball against him. This could be a telling sign that once Wheeler gets the full command of his pitches he could quickly become a dominant pitcher.
I expect the nerves might get to him again today, making his first start in front of the home crowd and all. But I look for him to settle in sooner rather than later and attack the strike zone. With the ability to throw in the high 90’s, he has no need to be pitching around the plate with the swing and miss stuff he possesses.
One thing I always enjoy doing at Mets games that I don’t think enough fans take advantage of is to head down behind the bullpen while the starting pitchers warm-up. It’s right in front of the center field entrance and gives you a great view of warm ups. You get an up close look of just how hard these guys throw and how incredible their breaking balls are. I’m looking forward to grabbing a spot early and watching Wheeler throw a bit before heading to my seat.
Today could mark the first of many “Wheeler days” at Citi Field, as he and Harvey are making at least two games a week must watch TV. With it being a Sunday afternoon game, David Wright bobble head day and Wheeler’s first home start, I expect a good crowd to be in attendance today.
Happy Wheeler Day? Hopefully something more trendy will come about.