BY JOE RINI
Thanks to the Mets, when the Giants play the Cardinals next year, Conor Gillaspie and Yadier Molina can exchange knowing smiles at home plate.
Ten years after the Cardinals catcher ended the Mets World Series dreams in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS and three hours after Noah Syndergaard fired his first 100 mph fastball of the night before a raucous crowd of 44,747 at Citi Field on October 5, a vulnerable Jeurys Familia left a pitch over the plate for Gillaspie that he launched for a three run homer, thus breaking a scoreless tie in the top of the ninth inning, sending the Giants to the NLDS, and ending the Mets season.
The loss in the National League Wildcard game served as a sudden and sad end to the Mets late season surge that saw the Amazins win 27 of 39 games as they leaped over four teams to host the wildcard game. Amidst thoughts of another deep postseason run by the Mets, Giants ace Madison Bumgarner had other ideas.
Coming into this game with a reputation as baseball best postseason pitcher, Bumgarner left with his reputation intact by pitching a complete game four hit shutout.
Bumgarner’s shutout negated a stellar outing by Syndergaard, who didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning and struck out 10 in seven scoreless innings. Syndergaard’s scoreless tally was aided by a sixth inning-ending-wall-crashing catch that drew comparisons to Endy Chavez’s run saving catch in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. Unfortunately, like the Chavez catch, it will be remembered less for its impact and more for delaying the ultimate disappointment.
Familia left the field under a cascade of boos as his team record 51 saves in 2016 paled in contrast to another failure in the postseason. One year after the Royals won the decisive Game 5 of the World Series after tying it in the ninth inning with Familia on the mound, most fans seemed to only remember that Familia served up the fateful pitch not that Lucas Duda threw away the third out of the game and a Mets win with an errant throw home.
With the season ending with the finality of a period at the end of a sentence, the off-season begins with the inevitable question marks for 2017. Has Yoenis Cespedes played his last game as a Met? Cespedes is expected to opt-out of his contract in search of a long-term deal but will the Mets be more willing than last winter to dig deeper into their pockets to keep the mercurial yet impactful 31-year old slugger? If not, how do they replace him?
Will Messrs Harvey, deGrom, Matz, and Wheeler return from their various injuries and surgeries and reclaim their title as the best young pitching staff in baseball? If not, can Seth Lugo and Rob Gsellman pitch for a whole season like they did in late 2016?
Will this postseason cause a negative carryover effect for Familia in 2017? Perhaps, as Terry Collins acknowledged after the game, “I think that’s something we certainly need to be careful of.”
Is it time for the Mets to say good-bye to David Wright? Neck surgery ended the former All-Star’s season in May and for the second year in a row, Wright was limited to fewer than 40 games at third base. Wright’s hefty contract runs through 2020 and presumably the Mets would recover part of his salary through insurance if he retires due to injury. But how do the Mets bring up retirement to this face of the franchise?
Suffice to say, Sandy Alderson has a lot to decide. As for me, it was a privilege and honor, as always, to cover the Mets this season for the Rockland County Times. Thank you for reading, have a blessed winter, and hope to see you in 2017.