May 22, 2023 – Last Word on Sports: Mets Winning Streak Reaches Five Games

By Joe Rini

The New York Mets winning streak reached five games as they topped the Cleveland Guardians 2-1 on Sunday night. Before a nationally televised audience and 29,862 fans at Citi Field, the New York Mets edged the Guardians 2-1 in a battle of former Cy Young award winners. Justin Verlander battled Shane Bieber to a tie until the Mets scratched out the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning to prevail 2-1. Both hurlers pitched eight innings and Brooks Raley pitched a scoreless ninth inning to save the win for Verlander. The win capped a sweep of a day-night doubleheader where the Mets won the opener 5-4.

Verlander Starts Slow then Revs Up

The Guardians threatened the Mets’ winning streak three batters into the game. Jose Ramirez hit a no-doubt home run with two outs that nearly made the flight schedule of nearby LaGuardia Airport as it landed in the upper deck in right field. However, Verlander recovered to retire Josh Naylor for third out and kept the Guardians off the board for the rest of the game. He subsequently scattered two singles over the next seven innings and kept the Guardians at one run. His eight-inning outing was the longest by a Mets pitcher this year and a welcome relief to the Mets’ bullpen. Verlander walked no one and struck out five Guardians in picking up his second win of the season.

Lindor Leads the Way

The Mets evened the score 1-1 when Francisco Lindor led off the bottom of the sixth inning with a home run to left center field. After Verlander left the field to a standing ovation after retiring the Guardians in order in the top of the eighth inning, the Mets rallied. Francisco Alvarez opened the bottom half of the inning by poking an opposite-field single over second baseman Andres Gimenez’s outstretched arms. Starling Marte pinch ran for Alvarez and advanced to third base as Lindor bounced a single to center field with one out. Marte promptly scored as Jeff McNeil sacrificed flied to deep-enough left field and the Mets led 2-1. This Mets’ winning streak featured three come-from-behind wins this weekend.

Mets’ Winning Streak at Five

The victory capped a 5-1 homestand for the Mets and gets them back over .500 at 23-20. After the game, manager Buck Showalter said of Verlander, “He was outstanding…a lot a strike ones. He set the tempo and they had to adjust to him.” Buck said of Verlander after the home run, “He settles in. He doesn’t waver. He’s convicted in what he does and stays with it. He had a lot of pitches working for him tonight.”

LWOS Question to Showalter

After the game, Last Word on Sports asked Showalter about the progress of rookie Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez. The 21-year-old Alvarez caught the victory for Verlander and started the game-winning rally with a single. Showalter said, “He’s doing well. We’re proud of him.” Showalter called him a “sponge” and a “really good listener. Showalter added, “He’s been a tough kid. I love how he absorbs everything and (his) effort and energy has been contagious.” The Mets winning streak will fly out to Chicago with them. They open with three games against the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday followed by three games with the Colorado Rockies. Will the Mets win this week?

May 13, 2023 – Last Word on Sports: How Former Cy Young Winners Have Fared with the Mets

By Joe Rini

With his belated 2023 debut, Justin Verlander joined the 14 Cy Young winners who pitched for the New York Mets after winning the award. The success of these former Cy Young winners pitching in the orange and blue has varied. For instance, Bartolo Colon pitched long enough to become a folk hero while Dean Chance’s three games in 1970 barely cast a ripple in Mets history.  One thing all 14 of these pitchers have in common is they never won a subsequent Cy Young in a Mets uniform. Will Verlander defy history?

Battling Age, Injury, and History

Age and injuries figure prominently as to why none of these pitchers joined Tom Seaver, Jacob deGrom, Dwight Gooden, and R.A. Dickey as Cy Young winners for the Mets. Like many former Cy Young winners joining the Mets, the 40-year-old Verlander is near the end of his career. However, he’s the first since Frank Viola in 1989 to join the Mets as a reigning Cy Young winner. A late-season acquisition in 1989, Viola won 20 games in 1990 for the Mets and place third in that year’s Cy Young voting. Unfortunately, he couldn’t duplicate that success in subsequent years.

A decade after Viola, neither Pedro Martinez nor Johan Santana replicated their successful first seasons in New York. Both pitched well in year one before injuries hampered the rest of their time in Flushing. Martinez followed his 15-win 2005 season with three injury-interrupted seasons. Three years later, Santana won 16 games for the Mets and placed third in Cy Young voting. Unfortunately, injuries marred the rest of his career, including two major shoulder surgeries. Fair or not, the injuries nagging Max Scherzer in 2023 ominously call to mind the fates of Santana and Martinez.

Cy Young Winners Verlander and Scherzer

Despite the 2023 reunion of Verlander and Scherzer as teammates, their performances have so far diverged. After missing the first month of the season, Verlander is giving the Mets reason to be optimistic every fifth game. He picked up his first win of the season with seven innings of one-run ball as the Mets edged the Cincinnati Reds 2-1 on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Scherzer’s struggles mirror the current struggles of the Mets as a whole. Scherzer dominated for stretches last year before late-season injuries derailed him. Adding Verlander to Scherzer atop the Mets rotation was supposed to anchor the Mets staff. So far, that has not been the case. For instance, the Mets scratched Scherzer from his scheduled start on Tuesday against the Reds due to neck spasms. Nagging injuries in addition to a suspension have limited Scherzer to one start since April 19 as the Mets have dropped 13 of 18 games, adrift in the NL East at 19-20.

What’s Next?

As the Mets look to rebound, they have multiple options to improve their offense. However, there isn’t a plan B if Verlander and Scherzer fail to anchor the rotation. The Mets need them to pitch well and deep into games. Historically speaking, it’s in the Mets’ best interests if Verlander duplicates the success of Martinez and Santana in their first seasons while Scherzer avoids the injuries that followed them thereafter.

April 23, 2023 – Last Word on Sports: Bargain Bin Contributors Rescuing Mets

By Joe Rini

“Bargain bin” contributors have responded to a slew of injuries in the starting rotation for the New York Mets. Max Scherzer’s 10-day suspension and Carlos Carrasco’s latest injury this week left the Mets with four of their five starting pitchers sidelined. With more than $110 million worth of starting pitching unavailable, the Mets dug deeper into the farm system and the opposite end of the salary spectrum for reinforcements.

First Up, Peterson and Megill

The original bargain bin contributors were David Peterson and Tylor Megill. Peterson beat out Megill to replace the injured Jose Quintana in the rotation at the end of spring training. However, Megill’s planned trip to Syracuse detoured to New York after Justin Verlander’s injury indefinitely postponed his Mets’ debut. So far, Megill has pitched better of the two. Megill’s tidy 3.00 ERA and 3-1 record calls to mind the promise he showed in 2021 and 2022 before injuries derailed his season. However, his long-term durability remains a concern since injuries limited Megill to 56 2/3 innings in 2022.

Given that Peterson started 19 games last season, the left-hander was the logical top candidate to move into the rotation after Quintana’s injury. Unfortunately, his first five starts raise concerns about his continued viability in the rotation. The San Francisco Giants tagged him for seven runs in five innings on Saturday, lowering his record to 1-3 and raising his ERA to an unsightly 7.36. His spot in the rotation could be in jeopardy when Scherzer returns on May 1.

Lucchesi Excels

The latest bargain bin contributor for the Mets is the most interesting. 29-year-old left-hander Joey Lucchesi hadn’t thrown a pitch for the Mets since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2021. He’d only won one game after winning 18 games across 2018 and 2019 for the San Diego Padres. However, Scherzer’s suspension expedited his path from Triple-A to the Mets, and he delivered their best-pitched game in 2023. Lucchesi pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out nine as the Mets topped the Giants 7-0 on Friday. If Lucchesi continues on his road from Tommy John surgery, he could be an option in the rotation if Peterson’s struggles continue.

Jose Butto represents another bargain bin contributor for Buck Showalter’s team. Butto pitched five innings of one-run ball in the Mets’ 4-3 victory over the Oakland A’s on April 16. While Butto returned to Syracuse after the game, look for him to return to the rotation in the coming weeks.

Bargain Bin Contributors Will Remain

Supported by a strong bullpen, the bargain bin replacements in the starting staff have helped the Mets to a 14-8 start. Given the injuries to the staff, opening the current West Coast trip with seven wins in nine games is impressive. However, long-term, the Mets need Scherzer and Verlander to quickly return to form when they return in early May. With the return of Quintana and Carrasco less certain, at least two spots in the rotation will be filled by replacements trying to make the most of their opportunity.

March 28, 2023 – Last Word on Sports: Mets Seek Redemption in 2023

By Joe Rini

The New York Mets seek redemption as the 2023 season dawns this week.  Winners of 101 games in 2022, visions of the World Series disappeared amidst a September fade and the whimper of an early Wild Card series exit against the San Diego Padres. The signing of Justin Verlander quickly dried the tears of Jacob deGrom’s departure and fueled hopes for 2023. However, the season-ending injury to Edwin Diaz leaves a giant void in the closer’s role. Here’s a look at how the Mets roster shakes out in their quest for a World Series title.

Mets Seek Redemption as Core Remains

On the plus side, the core of the Mets lineup remains intact. The NL’s batting champion and RBI leaders, Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso, man the right side of the Mets infield. Francisco Lindor flourished at shortstop and at the plate in 2022, and the Mets shouldn’t expect less this year. A healthy Brandon Nimmo and Starling Marte will be topping the lineup on Opening Day. The 2022 NL Manager of the Year Buck Showalter will helm the dugout once again. He and pitching coach Jeremy Hefner navigated the rotation through the absence of deGrom and shrewdly managed the workload of the bullpen in 2022.

Unlike the batting lineup, most of 2022’s starting rotation will be pitching elsewhere in 2023. However, the addition of three-time Cy Young Award winner Verlander bolsters the top of the Mets rotation with Opening Day starter Max Scherzer. A key question in 2023 will be whether Kodai Senga translates his success in Japan to Citi Field and MLB. Left-handed pitcher David Peterson injects youth into the rotation as he’s elevated from the spot starter role. However, the absence of the injured Jose Quintana quickly compromises the depth of the rotation. While Tylor Megill starts 2023 at Triple-A after an injury-plagued 2022, the Mets will undoubtedly count on him to jump into the rotation when necessary.

As Mets Seek Redemption, Questions Abound

As the Mets seek redemption, challenges lurk in the bullpen and at DH. The closer’s role will be filled alternatively by veterans David Robertson and Adam Ottavino in Diaz’s absence. Robertson saved 20 games in 2022 for the Philadelphia Phillies, while Ottavino had a sparkling season setting up for Diaz. However, both are 37 years old, and Showalter and Hefner will have to navigate their workloads accordingly. Their elevation to closing roles creates gaps in the middle innings of games. Drew Smith and Brooks Raley will pitch important innings out of the bullpen. The Mets also need to fill the former roles of Seth Lugo and Trevor Williams, two pitchers who could pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen.

The Mets did not dramatically fill the need for a DH in the offseason. Therefore, the Mets start 2023 filling that role in-house and with a modest addition. Daniel Vogelbach returns as the DH from the left side of the plate while Tommy Pham takes at-bats from the right side. Pham signed with the Mets in January, and he and Vogelbach should at least provide competence at DH. They hit a combined 35 home runs in 2022, although their batting averages were in the .230 range.

Rookies on the Way

High-profile rookies Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty will start the 2023 campaign at Triple-A Syracuse. While fans yearn to see them play at Citi Field, both need additional seasoning at the Triple-A level. While Baty showed flashes of pop at the plate in a brief audition last season, he needs to improve his defense at third base. Alvarez, a 21-year-old catcher, socked 27 home runs in the minors last season but suffered growing pains after moving up to Triple-A. Look for Alvarez and Baty to be early call-ups if the offense lags.

The Quest Begins on March 30

Nothing is guaranteed as the Mets seek redemption from 2022 and win their first championship since 1986. At ages 40 and 38, Verlander and Scherzer will battle Father Time in addition to their NL East foes. A tough division battle is expected, but the Mets have enough proven veterans to at least earn a wildcard spot and hopefully extend their season into the World Series.

October 8, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Padres Batter Scherzer

By Joe Rini

NEW YORK, Oct 7 – The San Diego Padres homered four times off Max Scherzer en route to a 7–1 victory over the New York Mets at Citi Field on Friday in Game One of their Wild Card Series. The victory places the Padres on the cusp of advancing to the NLDS in the best-of-three series. Conversely, the Mets stare at a sudden end to their 101-win season. Yu Darvish kept the Mets off balance for seven innings, allowing only a solo home run to Eduardo Escobar. Jacob deGrom starts on Saturday against Blake Snell as the Mets seek to avoid elimination,

The fact that the Padres homered four times off the future Hall of Famer stunned the crowd of 41,621. A somber Scherzer addressed the media after the game, and cited a lack of fastball command. Scherzer said, “I wasn’t able to command that fastball the way I usually can. That’s my bread and butter to be able to set up everything else. When my fastball’s flat and then running, that’s usually when I get hit a lot. Obviously tonight I got hit a lot.”

Padres Homered Four Times

The Padres struck quickly in the top of the first inning. Jurickson Profar blooped Scherzer’s first pitch into short left field for a single. Scherzer subsequently retired Juan Soto and Manny Machado but fell behind Josh Bell 3-0. After taking a strike, Bell launched a home run to deep left center and the Padres led 2–0. Darvish held the Mets scoreless in the first inning, and the Padres rewarded him in the second inning. After Scherzer retired the first two Padres, Trent Grisham deposited Scherzer’s 1-1 pitch over the right field wall for a 3–0 lead.

Darvish kept the Mets scoreless as productive situational hitting eluded the Mets in the opening innings. After a would-be three-run home run by Pete Alonso tailed foul, Darvish struck him out looking with runners on the corners and one out. Starling Marte singled leading off the second inning and stole two bases with one out, but Darvish struck out Eduardo Escobar.

Scherzer Unravels

Scherzer settled down to retire seven in a row, but he unraveled in the fifth inning. The Padres’ onslaught began with a leadoff single by Ha-Seong Kim and Austin Nola doubled to put runners on second and third with one out. With the infield in to cut off a run, Profar belted a three-run home run to right field. The stunned Citi Field crowd watched the Padres’ lead grow to 6–0. Two batters later, Scherzer allowed his fourth home run of the night to Machado, the Padres led 7–0, and Scherzer left the game after 4 2/3 innings to a chorus of boos. Escobar’s solo home run in the fifth inning spoiled Darvish’s scoreless streak but not much else. Robert Suarez and Luis Garcia pitched a scoreless eighth and ninth inning to complete the victory.

Looking Ahead

Buck Showalter pointed to the lack of offense and praised Darvish. He said, “There’s two shapes of breaking balls, really three with the cutter, the slider, and the curveball. When he wants to, he makes pitches with that even to left-handed hitters.” After the game, Game 2 starter deGrom also addressed the media, and he’s looking forward to Saturday’s game. “This will be my first time in seven years pitching in the postseason and first time at Citi Field, so I’m excited. Like I said, you go out there and execute to the best of your ability and leave it all out on the field.”

October 7, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Inside the Mets’ Postseason Quest

By Joe Rini

The New York Mets begin their postseason quest for a championship a few days earlier than expected. The Mets spent nearly every day of the 2022 season atop the NL Eastern division in first place. Unfortunately, one of those days in first place was not the last day of the regular season. Therefore, they will host the San Diego Padres in the best-of-three wildcard series starting on Friday night.

A 101-win season shouldn’t be considered a failure if it doesn’t end in the franchise’s first championship since 1986. However, a quick exit for the Mets from their postseason quest would be disappointing given the enthusiasm and promise of 2022. The Mets face a stiff competitor in the Padres, a team that defeated them in four out of six games in 2022. Additionally, the outcome of this series would affect the legacy of people like Buck Showalter and Jacob deGrom.

Showalter in Postseason

In his inaugural season as the Mets’ manager, Showalter turned around a team that collapsed into a heap of 85 losses in 2021. The Mets bypassed Showalter during the winter of 2018, but didn’t repeat that mistake two years later. Considered as one of the best managers of his generation, he walked into the Mets’ clubhouse in spring training with perhaps the most gravitas of any new Mets manager since Gil Hodges in 1968. He navigated the Mets through the absence of deGrom for most of the season and might win his fourth Manager of the Year Award.

The Mets are the fourth team Showalter has taken to the postseason. However, his past teams’ performances in the postseason have been spotty. He laid the foundation for World Series titles for the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks, yet it was his successors who hoisted World Series trophies over their heads. A trip to the World Series is the one entry not on his sterling managerial resume. However, a very good Padres team is capable of ending the Mets’ season before the foliage brightens the New York autumnal landscape.

Is deGrom deGone?

Veteran Yu Darvish will start Game One for the Padres. The sixteen-game winner is an NL Cy Young Award candidate. More significantly, he handled the Mets easily in 2022. He picked up two wins in two starts, allowing only one run in 14 innings. The Mets’ offense, prone to disappearing acts late in the season, can not afford a slump this weekend.

Max Scherzer matches up against Darvish and he’ll need to improve upon his last performance against the Atlanta Braves. Nerves won’t be a factor for the veteran Scherzer, but he spent time on the IL in September with a left-side injury. Preventing All-Stars Manny Machado and Juan Soto from dominating this series is an obvious key for the Mets’ pitchers.

Ultimately, it may fall to deGrom to clinch the series for the Mets, or keep their season alive. The blueprint for the Mets was for deGrom to pitch himself into midseason form for the postseason. However, the more recent version of deGrom evokes a mere mortal than the other-worldly two-time Cy Young Award winner. After winning five of his first six decisions, deGrom dropped his final three decisions and his ERA ballooned from 1.66 to 3.08. Also, hanging over each deGrom start is the specter that it could be his final appearance in a Mets uniform if he opts out of his contract after the season. Physically ready or not, the Mets are relying heavily on deGrom.

Mets’ Postseason Quest Begins

It’s been a great 2022 for the Mets as a team and individually. Their 101 wins trail only the 1986 champions’ 108 wins. Pete Alonso tied Aaron Judge for the MLB leading 131 RBI to go with his 40 home runs. A late-season hot streak catapulted Jeff McNeil to a batting title and an MLB-leading .326 average. Closer Edwin Diaz dominated the ninth inning all season long for the Mets. Whether the good feelings carry on will be determined against the Padres this weekend.

September 25, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Trevor Williams Is a Dependable Pitcher for the Mets

By Joe Rini

The unheralded Trevor Williams has had a uniquely successful season for the 2022 New York Mets. Unlike Edwin Diaz, trumpets don’t announce his entrance from the bullpen. In contrast to Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer’s highly anticipated starts, Williams’ nine intermittent spot starts quietly dot across the 2022 season. However, his ability to swing between starting and relief roles has made him a highly valued pitcher for the 2022 Mets.

Williams’ modest 2-5 record with one save and 3.09 ERA belie his contributions to the Mets. By pitching multiple innings after a starter’s early exit, Williams has allowed the Mets to come back in a game or spared the rest of the bullpen. Also, Williams filled in ably in the rotation in the absence of deGrom and Scherzer. His best stretch of the season included 24 consecutive scoreless innings between July 7 and August 20. LWOB interviewed Williams about his unique role before the start of the Mets’ 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 16.

The Unheralded Trevor Williams

Chatting with the San Diego native near the Mets dugout, the theme of gratitude came up several times. “I’m thankful I’m able to pitch at this level. I’m thankful Buck (Showalter) trusts me in this role,” Williams said when asked how he handled the transition from starting to relieving at this stage of his career.

He credited bullpen coach Craig Bjornson with helping to make the transition “seamless.” For instance, one of the challenges of relieving versus starting is the necessity to “lock into” every game.

LWOB asked Williams about the difficulty of entering a game in relief in the first inning on September 14, but he modestly downplayed it. “We all get ready in our own ways. What’s great about our team is that we pick each other up, whether it’s our offense, defense, or pitching. We rely on one another to do that.”

Williams said his approach and preparation don’t change whether he’s acting in short or long relief. “It’s not different. Every time you take the mound, you want to put up a zero for the ball club, whether for one inning or until Buck takes the ball out of your hand. There’s really no difference mentally.”

Pennant Races

The Mets acquired Williams from the Chicago Cubs at the trade deadline in 2021. LWOB asked Williams about the experience of being traded in the midseason, but he focused on the positive and expressed gratitude. “It’s part of the baseball business.” It can happen to anybody. I was thankful that the Mets wanted me at the deadline. They were making a playoff push, so I was thankful to be considered part of that.”

Unlike the collapse in 2021, the Mets enter the final days of 2022 battling the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. LWOB asked the seven-year MLB veteran about the experience of being in a pennant race. He replied, “It’s great. It’s everything we work for as baseball players. You want to be the last team standing. It’s exciting for the fans. It’s exciting for us players in the clubhouse. We look forward to coming to the ballpark every day expecting to win.”

The Postseason

Williams made his MLB debut with the Pirates in 2016 and played with them through 2020. He won a career-high 14 wins with them in 2018. As we spoke, a number of his former teammates warmed up on the other side of the field. He spoke well of them, and the time he spent in Pittsburgh. “It’s something that I was thankful to be part of. It’s fun seeing guys I played with succeed on the big league level.”

The 30-year-old will seek to extend his uniquely successful season for the Mets into the postseason in 2022. With a Wildcard spot already clinched, the Mets hope to play deep into the postseason. As the pressure builds and appearances mount on a pitching staff, pitching depth will be key. After providing such depth during the regular season, the Mets will need Williams to continue to impress in the upcoming postseason.

September 17, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Mets Edge Pirates

By Joe Rini

NEW YORK, Sep 16 — The New York Mets used an all around effort to hold off the Pittsburgh Pirates 4–3 at Citi Field on Friday evening. Taijuan Walker and Edwin Diaz combined to pick up their 12th win and 30th save of the season, respectively. Timely hitting and timely defensive gems also enabled the Mets to secure their 91st win of the season. The victory maintains their one-game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the NL East standings.

Walker pitched well for the second start in a row. He retired the first 11 batters faced, and pitched the first 7 1/3 innings. Overall, he limited the Pirates to three runs and five hits while striking out five.

Defensive Gem by McNeil

The Mets opened the scoring with a run in the third inning. After retiring the first seven Mets, Mitch Keller walked Eduardo Escobar with one out. The next hitter Tomas Nido floated a single down the right field line. However, with Escobar running on the pitch, he scored easily for a 1–0 Mets lead. The Mets upped the lead to 2–0 on a two-out solo home run by Daniel Vogelbach in the fourth inning.

A defensive gem bolstered the all around effort by the Mets. The Pirates cut the lead to 2–1 in the top of the fifth inning, but Jeff McNeil’s glove prevented further damage. Ke’Bryan Hayes reached base on an error by Escobar leading off the Pirates’ fifth. He moved to third on a hit by Calvin Mitchell and scored on Michael Chavis’ infield single. Walker retired the next two hitters before Oneil Cruz launched a would-be drive over the right field wall. However, a leaping McNeil timed his jump perfectly and snatched a three-run home run away from Cruz and the Mets held a 2–1 lead.

All Around Effort Builds Mets’ Lead

The Mets small-balled their way to a run in the sixth inning. Brandon Nimmo poked a single to left and then stole second base. The next batter Francisco Lindor lined a single to left to put runners on corners with no out. After McNeil struck out, Pete Alonso skied a sacrifice fly to center and the Mets led by a score of 3–1. They subsequently loaded the bases with two outs, but Keller retired Luis Guillorme on a short pop-up to short.

The Mets added to their lead in the seventh inning off reliever Manny Banuelos. Escobar led off with a double to left center, and moved to third when Tomas Nido reached on an error by Cruz. Nimmo popped a single to “no man’s” land in short left field that Cruz couldn’t secure, scoring Escobar, and the Mets led 4–1 after seven innings.

Nido and Guillorme’s Gem

Walker cruised into the seventh inning before Cruz ended his evening. After Tyler Heineman singled with one out, Cruz made sure his next drive wouldn’t be caught over the fence. He crushed Walker’s 100th pitch of the evening over the 408 sign in centerfield to make it a one-run game at 4–3. Manager Buck Showalter summoned closer Edwin Diaz for a five-out save, and he retired the Pirates in the eighth inning.

Protecting a one-run lead, Diaz opened the top of the ninth inning with a four-pitch walk to Ben Gamel. As tremors of wariness spread among the crowd of 28,928, the defense rescued the Mets again. An on-target throw by Nido and expert tag by Guillorme combined to throw out pinch-runner Greg Allen trying to steal second, short-circuiting the Pirates’ threat. With one last gasp to tie the score with two outs, McNeil caught Mitchell’s long drive in front of the wall in right-center, and the Mets were 4–3 winners. An all around effort by the Mets in a game that featured the long ball, small ball, defensive gems, and effective pitching provided the margin of victory.

LWOB Question to Showalter

Before the game, LWOB asked Showalter about how he balances showing faith in struggling veterans with the demands of the stretch run. “It’s tough,” he said. “You try to keep in mind the priority of where you are in the season. I think the players respect that some things change. You do a lot of little things differently.”

Showalter noted there are different phases of managing during the season: spring training; the regular season; September; and the postseason. Speaking of the postseason, he said, “There’s really a different mode of operation. If you tried doing that in the regular season every time, no one would make it through physically. You try to make sure people are healthy but also when you get to a certain stage of the season, you’re not getting ready for November.”

September 14, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Mets’ Postseason Hopes

By Joe Rini

The New York Mets‘ postseason prospects depend on everything and everyone.  While the Mets will rely heavily on Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer to win any postseason series, winning the division and avoiding the wild card series is vital. However, if the division title is behind a locked door, picture 28 players with keys needing to unlock it. Holding keys to winning the NL East are starting pitchers, Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker.

Dueling down the stretch with the Atlanta Braves, Scherzer’s ill-timed second trip to the IL and laggard late-season hitting slowed the Mets’ race to the 2022 finish line. 147 consecutive days in first place dissipated in three days after the Mets scored four runs in three games. While a laggard offense weighed heavily recently, the effect of setbacks to the rotation cannot be ignored.

Carrasco and Walker Deliver
Question marks loomed around Carrasco and Walker entering 2022. Carrasco averaged 15 wins across four seasons with the Cleveland Indians, but he hadn’t pitched a full season since 2018. After a good start in 2021, Walker faltered in the second half under the weight of his innings workload.

However, in the absence of deGrom and Scherzer, they delivered in the Mets’ rotation. Carrasco won 13 of his 22 starts, and Walker sported a 10–3 record entering the mid-August series against the Braves. While not as celebrated as deGrom and Scherzer, they stabilized the Mets’ rotation. Unfortunately, injuries struck each pitcher on consecutive nights in Atlanta, and led to two Mets losses. Carrasco’s left oblique strain landed him on the 15-day IL. He returned on September 4, but lasted only 2 2/3 innings in a 7–1 loss to the Washington Nationals that dropped their NL East lead to one game.

While Walker’s back spasms didn’t cause a trip to the IL, his performance suffered. He allowed five runs in 10 1/3 innings in his next two starts. Subsequently, he trudged through five innings in the 8—2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates that dropped the Mets into a first-place tie with the Braves on September 6.

Mets’ Postseason Prospects

The Mets’ season-long reliable rotation suddenly looked tattered after Scherzer’s injury. Degrom and Chris Bassitt were pitching well, but support was needed. Two sub-par performances in September by David Peterson suggested he may be feeling the effects of an increased pitching load. While the Mets were in desperate need of a boost from their dormant offense, they also needed their starting pitchers to pitch well deeper into games to take pressure off the offense, and give relief to an overtaxed bullpen.

The 5 1/2 game lead in the standings the Mets held on the day of Carrasco’s injury on August 15 turned into a 1/2 game deficit after a desultory 6-3 loss to the Miami Marlins on September 9. However, they were up by 1 1/2 games by the end of the weekend. While the Mets exploded for 11 and nine runs in winning the next two games, they also received a boost from Walker and Carrasco.

Walker’s seven innings of work alleviated concern that he was wearing down in September. He allowed one run, and five hits while tying a season-high with ten strikeouts. Carrasco earned his team-high 14th win of the season with six innings of one-run ball in an 11-3 Mets win. Each pitcher had gone one month between victories.

19 Games Left

The Mets’ playoff prospects depend in large part on winning the division. However, at 1/2 game, there is less space between the Mets and Braves than on a Number 7 subway car on the way to Citi Field at rush hour. Two unexpected losses to the Chicago Cubs this week with deGrom and Bassitt on the hill make the last 19 games even more critical. The Mets need everyone to contribute and Carrasco and Walker will play important roles down the stretch.

September 2, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Mets Share Pitching Mound Memories

By Joe Rini

Five “old timers” shared their pitching mound memories of playing for the New York Mets with LWOB prior to the Old Timers Day festivities at Citi Field on August 27. Over the course of four decades, they pitched for memorable and barely remembered teams. However, on Old Timers Day 2022, they shared common themes like fraternity and gratitude.

Pitching Mound Memories for Ojeda

Asked by LWOB how it felt to be with all these guys, Bobby Ojeda keyed in on the phrase “all these guys.” Ojeda said, “Across generations, it feels fantastic. There is definitely a bond among guys who wore the same uniform. We’re kindred spirits in that respect.  The umbrella of these guys is fantastic. I’m so thankful.” He then joked, “If the fans enjoy this half as much, they’ll buy five tickets (each).”

A “big game” pitcher for 1986 champions, Ojeda embraced that role. “As soon as you play for keeps, it feels different, especially when you have a lead. Winning 1-0 feels entirely different than losing 1-0. There are a ton of guys who can pitch a beautiful game and lose 2-1. But there are guys, not many, who like to win 1-0.”

Ojeda Praises Carter and Knight

Asked about pitching to his former catcher, the late Gary Carter, Ojeda said, “I loved it. Kid was awesome.” Looking skyward, he added, “I wish he was here.” He cited Carter’s leadership and playing abilities in the batter’s box and behind the plate. As a pitcher, Ojeda appreciated that Carter didn’t carry his at-bats to his catching duties. “Gary didn’t like going (zero) for five, but when he went behind the dish, he was all business.”

Praising another former teammate, Ray Knight, Ojeda called him the true leader of the 1986 Mets. “Ray was the man. Ray was no-nonsense. He got you off the trainer’s table and on the field. You did not half-step with Ray around.” He referred to Knight as a “gentleman” because he would never speak of the role he played on that team. When the front office elected not to re-sign Knight after 1986, the magic of that team left according to Ojeda.

Pitching Mound Memories From Fernandez

Former Mets starting pitcher Sid Fernandez pitched his most memorable outing in relief in game seven of the 1986 World Series. His 2 1/3 of scoreless relief provided the lift for the Mets to come back against the Boston Red Sox. Was pitching in relief in the postseason an adjustment after a season as a starter? “It was different,” Fernandez casually recalled for LWOB. “But if you can’t get up for that, there is something wrong with you. It didn’t affect me at all.” Since Fernandez isn’t available in 2022, perhaps lefty David Peterson will seize that role for the Mets this postseason.

Seaver, Koosman, and Matlack

A decade before Ojeda and Fernandez formed a dynamic duo from the left side of the 1986 rotation, lefties Jon Matlack and Jerry Koosman anchored the Mets rotation with Tom Seaver. For Mets fans, “Seaver, Koosman, and Matlack” echoes down the decades like “Tinker to Evers to Chance” for fans of the Chicago Cubs. LWOB asked the 72-year-old Matlack what it was like to join stalwarts Seaver and Koosman in the Mets rotation 50 years ago. “It was great because they put my locker right in between the two of them,” he recalled. If he had a question for either one of them, “They were all the time beneficial and forthcoming with information. They helped me progress a lot faster than I would have normally,” said the 1972 Rookie of the Year who pitched to a 1.40 ERA in the 1973 postseason.

Memories and Visualizations by Lockwood

Former Mets closer Skip Lockwood shared pitching mound memories and some very insightful pregame rituals. During a mostly lean era for the Mets, Lockwood was one of the top performers. As a short reliever, Lockwood saved 65 games and had a 2.80 ERA between 1975 and 1979. As part of his pregame routine, Lockwood said he practiced visualization long before it became a popular tool for athletes. Lockwood explained, “A player becomes what they can envision. If you can picture yourself being successful in front of your eyes, it’s a lot better than just letting it happen to you.”

Lockwood said he became acquainted with visualization after studying it in school. Before a game, he’d picture every batter and each pitch he’d make. Additionally, he said visualization becomes more effective if you can make it richer and more colorful. “You can start with a little thing and try to expand it. Hear the pop of the glove and the umpire, the crowd, and see what the catcher is going to give you for a sign.” Lockwood, who received an MBA from the Sloan Business School at MIT after his playing days ended, also wrote about visualization in his book, Insight Pitch: My Life as a Major League Closer (Sports Publishing, 2018).

Dillon and the Early Mets

Steve Dillon packed a lifetime of memories into a brief Mets career in 1963 and 1964. He debuted with the Mets at the Polo Grounds as a 20-year-old in September 1963. While losing 111 games may have been frustrating for veterans like Roger Craig and Duke Snider, Dillon recalled thinking, “I’m glad I’m here and I’m going to enjoy this.”

Dillon enjoyed playing for Casey Stengel, who he said was very knowledgeable. “He was able to teach us the fundamentals of the game. The only problem was sometimes you couldn’t understand him – Stengelese sometimes!” Laughing Dillon said if he was mad at you, “You knew he was mad.”

Dillon pitched in relief in the first night game at Shea Stadium in 1964. After pitching well in his first inning of work, Dillon said he allowed a home run to Vada Pinson that hit the brand new scoreboard in his second inning. Fifty-eight years later, he laughingly recalled Stengel telling him, “Next time the ball hits the scoreboard and breaks the lights, you’re paying for it.” Despite the brevity of his major league career, Dillon is grateful. “In the limited career I had, it doesn’t matter. I had a career. This (day) is the culmination of it,” Dillon said.

Although Dillon didn’t record a major league save, he no doubt achieved many saves as a member of the New York Police Department in his post-MLB career. Incidentally, after pitching in the Old Timers game at Citi Field at age 79, Dillon became the answer to a new trivia question: Name the only Mets pitcher to pitch at the Polo Grounds, Shea Stadium, and Citi Field!