Thank You and Congratulations, Mike

For one more night, Mike Piazza was The Man. Ten years after his last game as a Met and six days after his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Piazza was center stage as the Mets retired his number 31 in a ceremony before the game tonight.

When I think of Piazza, I don’t just think of a guy who put up good numbers, but a guy who carried a team and the hopes of the fans. Unlike most power hitters, he didn’t produce those impressive offensive stats from first base or the comfort of left or right field where one could possibly sneak a few puffs of a cigarette. No, Piazza spent half of every game on his knees behind home plate getting beaten and battered, but still managing to bat .308 for his career and crack 427 home runs.

I remember when Bernie Williams almost left the Yankees for the Red Sox in free agency in the winter of 1998 before ultimately staying in the Bronx when he asked the Yankees to match the Red Sox offer. Bernie was a great player but if he left for Boston, he’d have had the pressure of being The Man instead of one of the guys for the Yankees. No one could blame him for it.

In that same winter of 1998, Mike Piazza signed a long-term deal to stay with the Mets. With the big money came the pressure of carrying the Mets to the dream of a championship. He played well for the Mets in the years ahead. His 2000 Mets made it to the World Series but lost to fortune’s favorites, the New York Yankees, so like another New York superstar, basketball’s Patrick Ewing, the ultimate prize of a championship would remain elusive despite years of daily toil.

But if the cruel October winds knocked down Piazza’s deep drive to left center short of a game-tying home run for the final out of the 2000 World Series, his home run on September 21, 2001 that won the first game played in New York City after the attacks of September 11, forever inspires anyone who remembers how it gave so many a reason to cheer about life again.

I remember hearing that home run call on the radio from of all places, the crawl space of my home (I wasn’t a hermit or in hiding; our home didn’t have a basement and those storage boxes had to go somewhere). Before he hit the home run, I wondered whether  baseball or maybe anything else, could ever be enjoyable again. After he hit that home run, like many others, I cheered with tears in my eyes, and began to realize that perhaps we could enjoy life again.

So congratulations, Mike Piazza, on making the Hall of Fame and having your number retired. You deserve it. Also, as I write this from the Citi Field press box, the Mets are trailing 7-2 in the eighth inning in need of a boost, and I have a feeling the 42,207 fans at the game wish you were back in the line up.

 

 

 

If Only I Was a Fly on the Batting Cage

IMG_1730When I was covering the Mets-Cubs game on July 2, I noticed Mets owner Fred Wilpon chatting with Fox broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz  by the batting cage before the game. Not being close enough to overhear, too far to read lips, and lacking a wall to be a fly on, I wondered what could they be discussing. Could it have been something like this…

Fred: John, how are you?

John: Great, Fred. Nice to see you again. How are things?

Fred: Not bad, I can’t complain. Could be better, could be worse. Surprised we’re having some pitching issues…I was thinking, what do you say, think you could give us 10 starts between now and the end of the season?

John: Ten starts? I don’t know Fred. I haven’t started a game since I retired in 2009 and I was 42 then. How about closing?

Fred: Closing? I don’t know…Familia is having another good year for us but we could use bullpen help. Feel like being our seventh inning guy?

John: Seventh inning? Hmm, I don’t know. I’m a Hall of Famer, Fred. If I’m coming back, I’d have to at least close games.

Fred: Yeah, I could see that, John. No hard feelings. I just figured I’d ask.

John: No problem. I’ll see you at Piazza’s induction ceremony in Cooperstown…should be fun.

Fred: Yes, see you then.

…probably not.

 

 

 

 

 

The Evolution of a Matt Harvey Post

  • Dillon Gee, 40
  • John Maine, 39
  • R.A. Dickey, 39
  • Jack Fisher, 38
  • Ed Lynch, 38
  • Frank Viola, 38

I began contemplating a Matt Harvey post at the beginning of this month but vacation separated me from my laptop for awhile so the post has been delayed. But in being delayed, it’s also changed.

Initially, it had the unlikely title, “Matt Harvey, 20 Game…Loser?” This was based on the fact that the Mets ace had the shocking record of 4-10 halfway through the 2016 season, thus if he continued at that pace over the next 81 games, yes, he’d have 20 losses. Who would’ve believed that Matt Harvey could join the ranks of 1962 Mets like Roger Craig and Al Jackson as 20 game losers before joining Seaver and Gooden as 20 game winners? Though the likelihood that Harvey’s season would end in 20 losses seemed less likely after some of his more recent outings, it was astounding to think the Mets had already lost 11 of his 17 starts in 2016 and was a compelling factor in the Mets trailing the Nationals in the NL East (that and the Mets letting Dan Murphy free to sign with the Nationals but that is a fiasco for a another post).

The tone of the post I contemplated changed after I covered the Mets game on July 2 and snapped this photo of Harvey walking off the field during pre-game warm-ups.

IMG_1684

Call it a scowl, the game face of a fierce competitor, or maybe just my imagination, he didn’t have the look of a 20 game loser. It was the face of someone who was going to salvage the second half of his and his team’s season.

  • Rick Aguilera, 37
  • Jim McAndrew, 36
  • Bartolo Colon, 36
  • Roger McDowell, 33
  • Pedro Martinez, 32
  • Ray Sadecki, 30

Then came Harvey’s July 4th outing against the Marlins. Even during the brightest days of the Dark Knight’s tenure in Gotham City, the Marlins often seemed to nick up Harvey but on this day the Marlins carved him up for 6 runs and 11 hits before chasing him from the game after 3 2/3 innings. Harvey, who so often has seen deserved wins become no-decisions because of the Mets lack of offense, was rescued from loss number 11 because his teammates overcame a six run deficit and won 9-7. The outing blemished Harvey’s recent progress but he still had one more start against the Nationals before the All-Star break and set a positive tone for the last two months of the season.He had a next start until he didn’t.

  • Nolan Ryan, 29
  • Brett Saberhagen, 29
  • Oliver Perez, 29
  • Matt Harvey, 29

A few days after his start, it was announced Harvey was going on the 15 day disabled list with a right shoulder injury. However, rather than being related to his Tommy John surgery and subsequent innings limit soap opera last year, Harvey was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). The option to deal with TOS was surgery and Harvey later announced that he’d go ahead with surgery, bringing his 2016 to a shockingly sudden finish, like Eddie Futch not letting Joe Frazier come out for round 15 against Muhammad Ali at the “Thrilla in Manila” in 1975.

TOS doesn’t appear to be directly related to Harvey’s Tommy John surgery and his ensuing expanded workload in 2015 due to the Mets run to the World Series but his prognosis is precarious. Some pitchers aren’t able to return from this injury and even if they are able to pitch again, they don’t often return to their pre-surgery form.

So here sits Matt Harvey. It’s been just about four years since his celebrated debut in August 2012 and he’s done so much, yet so little, in a Mets uniform. He was the first of the highly anticipated young starters that the lowly Mets hoped would lead them to winning days and he didn’t disappoint. He showed promise at the end of 2012 and kept that promise in 2013 as he was knighted dark in a Sports Illustrated feature article and started the All-Star Game in his home stadium of Citi Field. Yet, his 2013 season was cut short in August and his 2014 never happened because of a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament and Tommy John surgery. He made a triumphant return in 2015, won games in the NLDS and NLCS and would’ve had two wins in the World Series perhaps, if only, Mariano Rivera of 1999 was the Mets closer in 2015.

So here sits Matt Harvey with 29 career wins, 39th on the All-Time Mets win list by pitchers (source: Ultimate Mets Database at ultimatemets.com). When one considers the pitching brilliance of Matt Harvey, the excitement generated by Matt Harvey, and the soap opera dramatics surrounding Matt Harvey, it’s staggering to think it’s possible Matt Harvey could end his Mets career with the same 29 wins as Oliver Perez if the TOS situation doesn’t work out well. Thirty years after Dwight Gooden thrilled Mets fans, everyone regrets that he didn’t fulfill his Hall of Fame potential but he did win 157 games in a Mets uniform and pitched long enough for Mets fans to curse that he pitched a no-hitter as a Yankee and not a Met.

The ranking of pitchers from number 24  (Dillon Gee) to number 38 (Oliver Perez) is an eclectic mix of Cy Young Award winners  (Viola, Saberhagen, and Colon), journeymen (Fisher, Lynch, and McAndrew) not to mention someone who had a a Hall of Fame career before he joined the Mets (Pedro Martinez), and one who had a Hall of Fame career after he left the Mets (Nolan Ryan).

Where will Matt Harvey fit onto this list? Will 2017 echo his triumphant return of 2015 or will his brilliance be in memory only? It’s anyone’s guess for the moment. The player I photographed on July 2 looks like he’ll come back strong but I hope that’s not my imagination talking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newspaper Article July 14, 2016: RCT Finds Nimmo and Mets Need the Break

RCT Finds Nimmo and Mets Need the Break

Good Thing They Met on the Field, Not the Gym

“Maybe you shouldn’t go to anymore games,” my Dad said to me jokingly after I attended and covered my third consecutive Mets loss two weeks ago. The first two losses were dreadful losses of 9-2 and 9-1 and the third game was an excruciatingly frustrating 4-3 loss that saw the Mets get the potential tying run get thrown out at home in the ninth inning with no outs.

So when I saw tonight’s match up was 43-year old Bartolo Colon versus Jake Arrieta, one of the best pitchers in baseball, I feared I might be ruining another evening for my Dad. Colon has pitched well for the Mets (6-4 with a 2.87 ERA) but Arrieta has followed his 22 win season in 2015 with a record of 12-2 with a 2.10 ERA so far in 2016.

Arrieta is noted for his extreme physical training regiment. In fact, he is on the cover of ESPN’s “Body Issue” naked.  He is listed at 6 feet 4 inches and 225 pounds. By contrast, Colon is listed at 5 feet 11 inches and tipping the scales at 285 pounds. I don’t think Colon was the second choice for the cover of that magazine issue.

But something interesting happened tonight. The game was played on a baseball field and not in the gym. Arrieta was down by two runs two batters into the game  after a walk and a home run by the Mets in the first inning and eventually  he was chased from the game in the sixth inning having given up four runs and eight hits. Colon, on the other hand, allowed only two runs in six full innings and he even struck out Cubs superstar and 19 years his junior, Kris Bryant, twice. Score one for the big guy.

It’s the top of the ninth and the Mets are clinging to a 4-3 lead over the Cubs. Colon did his job and now Jeurys Familia is coming in for the save. If the Mets don’t win this one, I may have to tell Dad I went to the movies tonight.

 

 

 

 

Newspaper Article June 30, 2016: Veteran and Rookie Newcomers Bolster Mets

Veteran and Rookie Newcomers Bolster Mets

Newspaper Article June 16, 2016: Mets Struggling, Hurting, & Trailing Nats

Mets Struggling, Hurting, & Trailing Nats