August 1, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Tommy Hunter Contributes

By Joe Rini

Veteran relief pitcher Tommy Hunter contributes on and off the field for the New York Mets. Hunter possesses the wisdom of nearly 500 regular and postseason appearances when he steps to the mound. He’s been a starter and a reliever, a mentor, and a protege in his 15-year career. After back surgery ended his 2021 season last May, Hunter returned to the Mets bullpen midseason this year. LWOB interviewed Hunter on July 23 before the Mets-Padres game to talk about his career and the 2022 season.

Acceptance

When asked how he adjusted to his varied pitching roles, Hunter immediately said, “You accept it. It’s all about acceptance.” He continued, “There are important roles in baseball. An important role in baseball is taking the ball when they ask you to take the ball and do what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to get outs.”

“There are times when you want the ball in certain situations,” Hunter said. “But if that’s not what it’s called for, then you do your job and pass it along to the next guy.” When I mentioned how some relievers see themselves in specific roles, Hunter said, “I’m a baseball player.”

What does he try to impart to his younger teammates? Hunter said, “Ride the waves. You have to enjoy the waves. They’re going to go up and they’re going to come crashing down. All waves come to an end but it’s about getting on the next one.”

Tommy Hunter Contributes

The robust six-foot-three-inch Hunter compared it to being a “gnat.” Speaking of his younger teammates, “You have to be persistent. Always keep coming back. You get knocked down, get up, and come back. The game is about failure. So if you can embrace it and learn from it, you’ll come out positive on the other end.”

Hunter said he was fortunate to have veteran teammates like Kevin Millwood and Michael Young when he broke in with the Texas Rangers. He learned from them “to be the same person every day and take the good with the bad,” and never give up.

For someone who broke in as a starter and pitched as a closer, LWOB asked how he adjusted to intermittent use in the Mets bullpen. “I do the exact same thing every day. As far as throwing and prep work, it’s every day.” For Hunter, being consistent between outings leads to consistency on the mound. He added, “I’m up every day. I’m good to go. It’s your job to tell me ‘No.’ I’m ready to roll.”

When asked about the team’s approach down the stretch, Hunter said, “If you play hard and play consistently every day, the wins and losses will take care of itself or the fans will let you know.” Referring to his three young sons, Hunter joked, “I’ve got three little boys that watch me and critique me every single night, and I try not to give them any ammunition when I come home, so it’s all hugs and kisses and ‘Nice job Dad!’”

Surgery and Rehab

In fact, his family provided the incentive to rehab from major back surgery and return to the MLB in 2022. Recalling his ambition to play in the MLB as a kid, Hunter said, “We dedicate our lives to this so you never want to quit.” He spoke of how his wife supported him during his surgery and rehab and he added, “I needed a picture with my new baby and I got it. It keeps you going.” Figuratively tipping his hat to his younger teammates, Hunter said,”The young guys are keeping me around and keeping me healthy.”

LWOB asked Hunter if Buck Showalter had changed since he played for him with Baltimore Orioles a decade ago. “He’s the same guy. You can learn a lot from him about consistency, about bringing the same thing every single day. He brings it every day. He’s prepared, well prepared. He’s an easy guy to follow.”

Down the Stretch

Hunter dispelled the notion that there was any tension within the clubhouse as the trade deadline approaches. The veteran of seven major league teams calmly said, “It is what it is. We’re playing ping pong. If that’s tension, we don’t have that.”

The Mets enter August in first place with contributions from the entire roster. Pitching to a 2.38 ERA across nine appearances since his return from back surgery on June 19, Tommy Hunter contributes on and off the field. He may not be the starting pitcher who led the AL in winning percentage in 2010 or closing games as he did in 2014, but a pitcher who gets guys out and exercises veteran leadership will be a valuable commodity down the stretch.

July 28, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Scherzer Starred as Mets Sweep Yankees

By Joe Rini

NEW YORK, Jul 27 — Max Scherzer gave the Mets a present on his birthday. Scherzer starred in this one as the New York Mets defeated the New York Yankees 3–2 on Wednesday. The win completed a two-game sweep by the Mets in the Citi Field portion of the 2022 Subway Series. With a short bullpen available to manager Buck Showalter, Scherzer pitched seven scoreless innings. A crowd of 43,693 raucous New Yorkers watched Starling Marte deliver the walk-off single, giving the Mets the win.

Mets Take 2-0 Lead

The Mets opened the scoring in the bottom of the second inning. Leading off the inning, Pete Alonso homered to left field off starter Domingo German, giving the Mets a 1–0 lead. The Yankees immediately threatened in the top of the third when Aaron Hicks opened with a bloop single to center. With two outs, DJ LeMahieu lined a single to center, advancing to Hicks to second, bringing up slugger Aaron Judge.  As Judge strode to the plate, the NY fans rose to October intensity on the last Wednesday in July. Judge battled Scherzer to a two and two count, but he struck out swinging on an 86 mph slider.

The Mets added to their lead in the bottom of the third inning on an RBI single by Francisco Lindor. After Tomas Nido doubled in the left-centerfield gap leading off the inning, German retired the next two batters. However, Lindor singled to right field, and the Mets led 2–0.

Scherzer Starred and Mets Led

Scherzer needed his full repertoire to keep the Yankees scoreless through seven innings. For instance, the Yankees threatened in the fifth inning with runners at first and second, and two outs. However, Lindor nabbed LeMahieu’s line drive before it became an RBI single to left field for the third out. Similarly, Scherzer retired Josh Donaldson on a come-backer with two runners on in the sixth inning to preserve the 2–0 lead. On his final pitch of the evening, Scherzer again struck out Judge. He swung at a slider with runners on the corners. He held the Yankees hitless in seven at-bats with RISP.

Yankees Tie Score

After Scherzer departed the game, the Yankees breathed a sigh of relief, and tied the score. Lefty David Peterson walked lefty Anthony Rizzo on four pitches before Gleyber Torres deposited Peterson’s next pitch over the right-field wall, tying the game at 2–2. Seth Lugo relieved Peterson, and held the Yankees scoreless through the top of the ninth inning.

Mets Walk-Off Win

Wandy Peralta relieved Clay Holmes for the Yankees in the ninth inning, and surrendered a leadoff double to Eduardo Escobar. A sacrifice bunt by Nido and an infield hit by Brandon Nimmo placed runners on the corners for Marte. The Mets right fielder wasted little time, and lined a 1-0 pitch into left field for the walk-off 3–2 victory by the Mets. Lugo evened his record to 2–2 with the win, and Peralta dropped to 2–3.

Max Scherzer starred in this one, and the Mets soon hope to announce the return of Jacob deGrom. After the game, Showalter referred to Scherzer as a “Baseball player who happens to be a pitcher…a student of the game.” A playoff atmosphere fueled the traditional battle between the crosstown rivals.

LWOB asked Showalter if the off day on Thursday would benefit the team following the emotional two-game series. However, Showalter replied, “I would rather have, in a perfect world, the off days in August when you need them. There’s a reason why they call them the ‘dog days of August.’”

Next up for the Mets is a weekend series on the road against the Miami Marlins. The Subway Series resumes in the Bronx on August 22 and 23 and then perhaps, in the World Series.

July 24, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Bassitt Pitches Well in Mets Loss

By Joe Rini

NEW YORK, Jul 23 — Chris Bassitt pitched well, but the New York Mets fell to the San Diego Padres by a final score 2–1 at Citi Field on Saturday. Bassitt tied a career-high with 11 strikeouts in seven innings. Unfortunately, Manny Machado’s two-run home run blemished Bassitt’s stat line and provided the margin of victory.

Bassitt Pitched Well but…

Bassitt opened the game with five scoreless innings. He retired the first 12 batters he faced before hitting Nomar Mazara leading off the fifth inning. The Padres subsequently threatened after Eric Hosmer singled with one out to put runners on first and second. However, the game remained scoreless after a sliding catch in right field by Starling Marte, followed by a routine catch by Marte.

Padres starter Blake Snell wasn’t perfect, but he pitched five scoreless innings. Significantly, Snell held the Mets scoreless for seven with runners in scoring position. Pete Alonso singled and doubled off Snell, but the rest of the lineup was mostly quiet against the former Cy Young Award winner.

The Padres broke through in the sixth inning for the game’s first two runs. Jurickson Profar singled with one out, and after Bassitt struck out Jake Conenworth for the second out, Machado lined a two-run home run to left center, and the Padres led 2–0.

Woes on Offense

The Mets subsequently couldn’t score against the Padres’ middle relief core. Nabil Crismatt replaced Snell, and pitched a scoreless sixth inning while Adrian Morejon and Luis Garcia combined to pitch scoreless seventh and eighth innings. Down 2–0 in the ninth inning, the Mets finally scored against closer Taylor Rogers. With runners on first and second and two outs, J.D. Davis blooped a single into right field against a no-doubles defense, scoring Pete Alonso and cutting the Padres lead down to 2–1. However, Rogers crushed the hopes of a Mets comeback, retiring Tomas Nido on a pop-up to Cronenworth for his 28th save. The winning pitcher Snell raised his record to 2–5.

After the game, Buck Showalter answered a number of questions about the lack of offense. For instance, LWOB asked Showalter whether the decline in Brandon Nimmo’s OBA and batting average was related to his approach at the plate, the pitchers’ approach to him, or merely the ebb and flow of the season. Showalter expressed confidence in Nimmo and his work ethic. He also cautioned against taking a strictly analytical view of a hitter’s performance. “There are so many different variables that come into play for hitters,” Showalter said.

Showalter Praises Bassitt

Bassitt pitched well, but his record fell to 7–7 on the season. He tied a career-high with 11 strikeouts, and allowed four hits and didn’t walk anyone. Showalter praised Bassitt’s outing after the game. Considering he hadn’t pitched in ten days, he said Bassitt displayed good command of his curveball and slider. Showalter said, “He gave us a chance, a really good chance.” Unfortunately, two runs were too many on a night when the Mets mustered only one run. Their series finale against the Padres is set for Sunday evening at 7:08 PM Eastern.

July 20, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: All-Star Game Feats and Firsts for Mets

By Joe Rini

The 2022 All-Star Game brings to mind the feats and firsts of the New York Mets at the midseason classic. While the AL’s 3–2 victory on July 19 was a quiet night for the Mets All-Stars, the Mets have had their share of memorable All-Star moments.

Early Days

Two Hall of Famers more noted for their non-Mets careers represented the team in 1962 and 1963 games. There weren’t many All-Star caliber players on the woeful 1962 Mets. However, Richie Ashburn’s .306 batting average earned him the distinction of being the first Mets All-Star in 1962. While the 40-win Mets only won one of every four games, Ashburn singled and scored in his only at-bat. Ashburn retired after his only season in New York, but newly acquired Duke Snider represented the Mets at the 1963 ASG in Cleveland. Playing in his final ASG in his lone Mets season, the former Brooklyn Dodger struck out as a pinch hitter.

1964 saw the first and only ASG at Shea Stadium and more significantly, the first Met to start an ASG. Ron Hunt started at second base one year after finishing second to Pete Rose in the Rookie of the Year balloting. Hunt singled in his first plate appearance in a game memorialized by John Callison’s walk-off three-run home run.

Feats and Firsts

As more home-grown Mets talent reached the majors in the late 1960s, their representation in the ASG became more pronounced. For example, in his rookie season, Tom Seaver picked up the save in the NL’s 2-1 victory in the 1967 ASG. Seaver subsequently represented the Mets in eight of the next nine All-Star games, including pitching three scoreless innings to open the 1970 ASG.

Jerry Koosman duplicated Seaver’s fireman role when he saved the 1968 ASG, a 1-0 NL win, striking out Carl Yastrzemski to end the game. He pitched another scoreless outing at the 1969 ASG while teammate Cleon Jones singled and scored twice for the victorious NL.

The newly minted Mets added more firsts to their All-Star resume in the 1970s. For instance, Gil Hodges managed the 1970 NL All-Star team. Also, besides Seaver starting the 1970 ASG, Tug McGraw earned the win in the 1972 ASG with two scoreless innings. Jon Matlack picked up the win and co-MVP honors with Bill Madlock in the NL’s 6-3 victory in 1975 ASG. Lee Mazzilli homered and drove in the winning run in the NL’s 7-6 victory in the 1979 ASG. Mazzilli’s home run was the first home run by a Mets player in an ASG. Willie Mays played in his then-record-tying 24th ASG while a member of the “Ya Gotta Believe” Mets in 1973.

Gooden & deGrom

The Mets were well-represented in the All-Star Game during the 1980s. Dwight Gooden, Jesse Orosco, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, and David Cone took turns pitching for the NL between 1984 and 1988. Meanwhile, position players Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry, Gary Carter, and Howard Johnson started for the NL in the 1980s.

The 19-year-old Gooden ASG struck out the first three batters he faced in 1984 ASG. Thirty-one years later, Jacob deGrom similarly introduced himself in his first ASG. DeGrom electrified the baseball world by striking out the side on ten pitches in his one inning of work in 2015. Also, perennial All-Star David Wright batted .389 across seven ASG appearances.

The quiet night by the Mets All-Stars means none will join the ranks of the feats and firsts in 2022. Of course, there’s always next year. Perhaps Pete Alonso hits the game-winning home run and makes a winner of Edwin Diaz in 2023. More importantly, with the stretch run upcoming, Mets fans are hoping Buck Showalter manages the NL squad next year.

July 10, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Hernadez’s Number 17 Retired as Mets Win

By Joe Rini

NEW YORK, Jul 9 — Saturday afternoon started and ended with cheers for 43,336 fans at Citi Field. The New York Mets retired Keith Hernandez’ number 17 in a pregame ceremony that included his family and former teammates. Nearly four hours later, the Mets completed the celebration with a stunning 5–4 victory over the Miami Marlins in ten innings.

Hernandez’s Number 17 Retired

In retiring Hernandez’ number 17, the Mets honored the pivotal player in their 1986 World Championship team. His offensive, and defensive statistics speak for themselves. This honor recognizes his veteran leadership skills that transformed the Mets from a perennial last-place team to 1986 champions. Besides his on-field heroics, Hernandez has endeared himself to Mets fans as a player, and long-time team broadcaster. Keith Hernandez Day was where Hernandez, and the fans expressed their love for each other.

Hernandez said he wasn’t thrilled initially at being traded to the Mets by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1983. However, he recalled Lou Brock grooming him for a future leadership role with the Cardinals and subsequently brought those lessons to the Mets.

I realized that I had to set an example of how I conducted myself on and off the field, and I embraced that,” Hernandez said in his remarks. Recalling the young Mets of that era like Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, Hernandez said, “I needed another goal and I came here and these young guys inspired me and rejuvenated my career.”

In his speech, Hernandez also told the fans how much he enjoys the 2022 Mets.  He praised their hustle, their playing hard, and comportment. The team proceeded to back up Hernandez’s words.

Carrasco Keeps it Close

Starter Carlos Carrasco pitched the first 5 2/3 innings, and kept the game close. Moments after the grounds crew dismantled the pregame staging area, Carrasco loaded the bases with no outs. However, he struck out Jesus Sanchez and induced a 4-6-3 double play from Avisail Garcia to keep the game scoreless.

After the three-hour and forty-one-minute marathon game, manager Buck Showalter spoke to LWOSBaseball about Carrasco. “It gets forgotten, he was in a pretty precarious situation in the first inning, but Carlos keeps grinding. He doesn’t give in.” Speaking of the team’s leader in wins and games started, Showalter rhetorically asked, “Can you imagine where we’d be without him?”

Lead Changes

The Mets led 1-0 after Pete Alonso’s home run in the fourth inning, but the Marlins scored two runs for the lead in the sixth inning. The Marlins loaded the bases with one out when Brian Anderson doubled to left-center. However, Brandon Nimmo cut the ball off on the warning track and threw the relay to Luis Guillorme. He smoothly caught the relay and swiftly fired it home to nab Luis Sanchez at home plate. Seth Lugo’s wild pitch subsequently scored Garcia with two outs, but Guillorme’s play prevented a bigger inning.

The Mets regained the lead 3–2 on Francisco Lindor’s two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning, but Jesus Aguilar’s game-tying solo home run in the eighth inning off Adam Ottavino threatened the good cheer of Keith Hernandez Day at Citi Field. Heading into extra innings after a scoreless ninth inning, the Marlins scored quickly. Jon Berti greeted reliever Colin Holderman with a hard grounder to deep short. Diving to his right, Lindor kept the ball in the infield but his errant throw to third base sailed past Carlos Escobar, scoring Billy Hamilton for a 4–3 lead. Berti briefly advanced to second base as catcher Tomas Nido picked him off, derailing the Marlins’  threat.

Mets Magic

Then the Mets Magic began. Down to their last out, Nido bounced a double down the third-base line under the glove of Anderson, scoring Mark Canha. Later, the game appeared headed to the 11th inning tied 4–4 when Nimmo hit a come-backer to pitcher Tanner Scott. Not fielding it cleanly, the ball rolled on the mound as Nimmo raced to first. Finally regaining the ball, Scott’s throw to first sailed into foul territory, scoring Nido with the winning run. Holderman picked up the win, and he’s 4–0 for the Mets while Scott dropped to 4–3.

July 8, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Taijuan Walker Thrives for Mets

By Joe Rini

Overcoming Tommy John surgery in 2018, Taijuan Walker thrives for the 2022 New York Mets.  After starting 93 games before age 25, injuries derailed his career for two years. However, ten seasons and four teams into his major league career, the 29-year-old Walker is pitching the best ball of his career.  Sporting a 7-2 record and a 2.86 ERA in 2022, he’s a bulwark in the starting rotation for the first-place Mets.

LWOB chatted with Walker at Citi Field before the Mets’ 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers on July 3. Among other things, Walker discussed the ordeal of returning from injury, the rigors of a long season, and matching up against Justin Verlander.

Listen to Your Body

Walker’s return from injury seemed complete last season when he was selected to the NL All-Star team in July. Unfortunately, he struggled after the All-Star Game, losing his last eight decisions as his ERA skyrocketed from 2.66 to 4.47. Fatigue played a factor. “The second half wasn’t what I wanted it to be,” he acknowledged. Going from 50 innings pitched in 2020 to 160 innings in 2021 took its toll on him. “Whether I wanted to admit it or not, it does play a factor in having a full season, a full season of a grind,” which he hadn’t experienced since 2017.

Does Walker worry about future injuries? No, but he’s diligent about taking care of himself. “You always want to listen to your body,” Walker explained. “As a pitcher, we do something that’s not natural,” namely, throwing a ball overhand at maximum effort. “You have to go out there and put in the work to stay healthy and go out and compete.”

Walker said a pitcher has to take care of himself the whole season. “You can’t slack off, especially in the second half. That’s when guys get tested. You really have to stay in your routines. Stay with your workouts and the recovery of it, too.” A pitcher has to be aware of how he’s feeling each day and adapt his routine to address it.

Taijuan Walker Thrives in Absence of Aces

LWOB asked Walker about carrying more of the load in the absence of Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer but he didn’t see it that way. “You have to go out there and stick to your game plan and stick to your strengths.” Speaking of pitching without deGrom and Scherzer in the rotation, “We’re not going to go out there and throw 103 MPH. We’re not going to have the nasty stuff like that. We stick to our strength, all of our starters. We’re good. We’re up here for a reason. We know we can go up there and compete.”

Mets fans on Twitter may suffer every loss but Walker takes a more level-headed approach. “It’s just a long season. Teams get hot. The (Atlanta) Braves won 14 straight. What are you going to do? That’s just baseball. We can go on a 20-game run and be up 20 games.” 

Walker stated, “If we continue to win series, we’ll be fine. That’s all you can do. Win series and you’ll be in a good spot at the end of the year,” competing for a playoff spot.

Free Agency

Recently, Walker matched zeroes against Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros. When asked if he was “amped up” for the Verlander showdown, Walker said no. “You really have to stay within yourself.” Looking back, he said, “When I was younger, I used to do that,” letting the crowd or the game affect him and causing him to overthrow. “I learned it never works out for you, so you have to keep your same routines.”

After years of injuries and recovery, Taijuan Walker thrives for the 2022 Mets. While he has a player option for 2023, he could opt for free agency. If he chooses free agency, the Mets should sign him long-term. If Walker duplicates his early success in the second half of 2022, he could be in the rotation for years to come.

July 4, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Suddenly Hot Escobar and Mets Win

By Joe Rini

NEW YORK, Jul 3 — The New York Mets defeated the Texas Rangers 4–1 at Citi Field on Sunday, powered by Eduardo Escobar. The suddenly hot Escobar hit his third home run in three days. Recovering from two rough outings, starter Carlos Carrasco raised his record to 9–4. The Mets won the weekend series two games to one. The victory also earned Buck Showalter his 1,600th win in his managerial career.

Suddenly Hot Escobar Homers Again

Starling Marte homered in the first inning for the second day in a row to give the Mets the early 1–0 lead. However, the Rangers evened the score on Jonah Heim’s lead-off home run in the top of the third off Carrasco. Two outs later, the Rangers threatened with runners on second and third, but Carrasco retired Corey Seager on a ground ball to second base to end the threat.

An error by Heim in the bottom of the fourth inning lead to three quick runs by the Mets. After Pete Alonso seemingly struck out swinging to lead off the inning, the ball skipped to the backstop. As Alonso raced to first, Heim’s throw sailed beyond first baseman Nathaniel Lowe into right field. Instead of walking back to the dugout, Alonso advanced to second base with nobody out. Jeff McNeil promptly doubled on Jon Gray’s next pitch down the right field line scoring Alonso; the next batter Escobar subsequently homered and the Mets led 4–1 after four innings.

After hitting .207 in June, the Mets hope this weekend is the start of a surge by the suddenly hot Escobar. After the game, Showalter praised Escobar as a player and person.

Carrasco and the Bullpen

The outing by Carrasco eased the minds of concerned Mets fans. After being blasted by the Rangers’ neighbors to the Southeast, the Houston Astros, in consecutive outings, Carrasco limited the Rangers to one run in 5 2/3 innings while striking out eight batters. Joely Rodriguez retired Kole Calhoun in relief of Carrasco after Seager and Lowe singled to put runners on first and third. After Rodriguez and Adam Ottavino pitched scoreless innings, Edwin Diaz retired the Rangers in the ninth inning for his 18th save of the season.

LWOB Questions to Showalter

The Mets’ win upped their NL East lead to 3.5 games over the Atlanta Braves. In response to a question from LWOB about handling the ups and downs of the season, Showalter said, “I try not to dwell on the past and what it means for the future to try and predict stuff.” Showalter noted the limits of using analytics to predict outcomes. “Then all of a sudden the game starts and it doesn’t follow any of that. It’s a human being with a heartbeat.”

LWOB also asked Showalter about the improvement by Dom Smith since his recall from Triple-A. “He’s been swinging the bat good. He’s been swinging the bat a lot more aggressively…he has some malice on his mind when he swinging the bat. Noting the left-handed-hitting Smith’s doubling to left-center in the sixth inning, Showalter said, “Glenn (Sherlock) said to me, ‘That’s the guy I remember when he was going really well.’ That was good to see and good to hear.” The next stop for the Mets is a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds.

June 30, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Eppler Built 2022 Mets With Help

By Joe Rini

Billy Eppler built the 2022 New York Mets with help from his predecessors. It isn’t a criticism because no general managerial regime is a total success or failure. Knowing who to keep is as important as who to add and subtract.

President John F. Kennedy was not speaking about baseball when he said, “Success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.”  However, the first half of that quote applies to the 2022 Mets. While the hiring of five general managers between 2018 and 2021 characterized franchise instability and futility, Eppler benefits from selected contributions by the four prior GMs.

GM Carousel Spins Between 2018 and 2021

The carousel of GMs began when Sandy Alderson took a medical leave of absence in June 2018 to be treated for cancer. Since the latter years of Alderson’s tenure coincided with a fall in the team’s fortunes, the Mets named sports agent Brodie Van Wagenen as the new GM in November 2018. After new owner Steve Cohen hired Alderson to be the team’s President in 2020, Van Wagenen returned to the agent’s side of the negotiating table.

Alderson hired Jared Porter as GM in December 2020. Unfortunately, the short-lived reign of Porter ended in January 2021 after the publication of prior sexual harassment by Porter. His replacement, Zack Scott didn’t fare much better. A DWI arrest in September 2021 caused Scott to be placed on administrative leave and his separation from the Mets. In fairness to Scott, he was ultimately acquitted of these charges. Getting a second chance to hire a GM, Alderson hired Billy Eppler in November 2021.

Eppler Built the 2022 Mets With Help

Serving as GM from winter 2010 to mid-2018, Alderson’s imprint on the current roster is substantial. Key draft picks in this era fuel the Mets’ success in 2022. For example, Brandon Nimmo and Pete Alonso were first-round picks in 2011 and 2016, respectively. However, more significantly, the 2022 Mets are collecting dividends from lower-round picks under Alderson. For example, such later-round picks include Luis Guillorme, Jeff McNeil, Tomas Nido, and Seth Lugo.

Closer Edwin Diaz was the signature acquisition during Van Wagenen’s tenure. Struggling initially in New York, Diaz has returned to elite closer status in 2022. Had Diaz performed as well in 2019 as he has in 2022, perhaps Van Wagenen might still be GM.

Like Diaz, the performance of players acquired by Porter and Scott improved after their departures. Porter acquired Carlos Carrasco in the Francisco Lindor trade and Scott signed Taijuan Walker in March 2021. While both pitchers battled in 2021, Carrasco and Walker now anchor two spots in the starting rotation.

Eppler Makes an Early Impact

illy Eppler has made a big impact in a short time. Most of his additions have delivered for the Mets. For example, anchoring the corner outfield positions, Mark Canha and Starling Marte play solidly on offense and defense. Hitting .313 with two out and RISP, Canha’s batting average has been well above his .249 career average. Marte effortlessly shifted to rightfield from centerfield and adds speed to the lineup, Max Scherzer anchored the staff with five wins in six decisions before an oblique sidelined him in May; his return from IL could be next week. Spring training acquisitions of pitchers Adam Ottavino and Joely Rodriguez bolster the bullpen while Chris Bassitt helped steady the rotation. Additionally, releasing Robinson Cano created playing time for Guillorme.

However, Eppler’s most impactful acquisition isn’t player related. It was the signing of Buck Showalter and his staff to guide the 2022 Mets. The experienced Showalter walked into the locker room with gravitas and a record of success.

Eppler Built 2022 Mets but More to Be Done

While Eppler may benefit from some moves by his predecessors, 2022 is on his shoulders. He’ll need to bolster the bullpen and add a bat even after Jacob deGrom and Scherzer return. While “success may have many fathers but failure is an orphan” in geopolitics, failure to succeed in the postseason will be Eppler’s baby.

June 19, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Young Mets Making the Most of Opportunities

By Joe Rini

Like an understudy on Broadway, making the most of an opportunity is crucial for a player unproven on the big stage. Injuries have thrusted David Peterson, Tomas Nido, and others into bigger roles for the New York Mets. Despite these circumstances, the Mets remain in first place with timely contributions from the young Mets.

Opportunity Awaits

Gloom loomed over the horizon for the Mets after Max Scherzer landed on the IL with an oblique injury on May 19th. Most Mets fans saw despair with the team embarking on a challenging month-long stretch without Scherzer and Jacob deGrom. Serious injuries to Scherzer, deGrom, Tylor Megill, James McCann, Trevor May, and Scott Reid-Foley crowded the extended IL like a New York City subway car at rush hour.  However, as the team’s Injured List mounted, opportunities presented themselves to their replacements.

Peterson Joins Rotation

The Mets elevated Peterson to the starting rotation after spot starting and long relieving between stints at Triple-A Syracuse.  On the plus side, the Mets have won three of his four starts. However, Peterson’s pitched to mixed results since picking up a win on May 23rd against the San Francisco Giants. After pitching six effective innings against the Giants, the six-foot-six Peterson has pitched short of the five innings in three starts.  Unfortunately, 11 walks in his last 15 innings speak to Peterson’s control issues. With Megill returning to the IL, Peterson needs to be more consistent. Otherwise, he could be more suited to relieving and spot starting.

Tomas Nido in Place of James McCann

Nido is making the most of his opportunity to fill in for the injured McCann behind the plate.  The Mets have won 21 of Nido’s 31 starts since assuming McCann’s role on May 11th. Also, Nido’s current batting average of .227 belies his offensive contributions because he’s batting .471 with two outs and RISP. For example, he capped a four-hit performance on June 1st against the Washington Nationals with a two-RBI two-out double. More important than his offense, Nido has filled in ably behind the plate for McCann.

Big Moments by Mazeika, Medina, and Plummer

Timely contributions by Patrick Mazeika, Adonis Medina, Nick Plummer, and Colin Holderman have also kept the Mets in first place. While Mazeika and Plummer are hitting below .200 in reserve roles, they have performed in big spots. For instance, Mazeika hit a game-winning seventh-inning home run in his season debut behind the plate on May 14th against the Seattle Mariners. Plummer’s game-tying home run in the ninth inning on May 29th paved the way to a 5–4 Mets win over the Philadelphia Phillies in ten innings.

Pitching in a playoff atmosphere against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, Medina picked up his first career save on June 5th. Holderman had the most sustained success before landing on the 15-day IL this month. He opened his MLB career with eight scoreless innings across six outings. With a record of 3–0, Holderman hopes to return in late June.

Obviously, the continued success of the Mets is more due to their regulars having excellent seasons. However, baseball, more or so than superstar dominant sports like football and basketball, requires contributions from the entire roster to win.

May 31, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Quiet Before the Thunder for Mets and Phillies

By Joe Rini

The rain quieted the usual pregame activity at Citi Field on May 28th, but didn’t silence it between the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. The hive of activity at the batting cage was stilled by the covered tarp and indoor batting practice. However, between periods of rain, the training staff lead some of the Mets players in lateral stretching exercises in right field. No fans were in the ballpark yet, three hours before the first pitch, but the concession people were prepared for them. Phillies’ Roman Quinn’s fielding drills were on full display as well.

Roman Quinn’s Fielding Drills.

A few fans behind the cordoned-off backstop taking photos replaced the usual throng of guests watching BP and getting autographs. Roman Quinn of the Philadelphia Phillies performed fielding drills as coach Paco Figueroa hit fungoes to him.  Quinn, Dom Smith, and Zack Wheeler signed autographs, and took photos with one lucky young fan on the field. A bow-tied Ken Rosenthal buzzed across foul territory between the dugouts prepping for Fox Sports’ broadcast of the game between the Mets and Phillies.

Later, a sweat-drenched Quinn gladly signed autographs in left field as fans tossed Sharpies and balls to him. Chatting with Last Word on Baseball, Quinn said he was working on his handwork and fielding progressions with Figueroa. He demonstrated the progressions, fielding balls from the front and each side separately. Every drill has a purpose he said. Preparation is key.

Chat with Phillies’ Zack Wheeler

Wheeler emerged from the visiting team’s clubhouse and chatted with Last Word on Baseball. He said he was feeling much better now than earlier in the season. The shortened spring training affected him initially because he rested his pitching arm for much of the offseason. He showed no lingering ill effects of the short spring training the next day. He struck out seven Mets in six innings. Unfortunately, this was undone by poor defensive play in the 5–4 Phillies loss.

When asked about not pitching for two years due to Tommy John surgery, Wheeler said it was tough physically and mentally. He said the doctors now say it can take two years to come back from such surgery. When asked if he felt he was rushed when he pitched early in 2017, Wheeler said, no. He took accountability for pitching early in the season because he didn’t want to go back to Triple-A.

A runner-up in the 2021 NL Cy Young voting, Wheeler is excelling in his post Mets career. Like Scott Kazmir in the mid-2000s, Mets fans wonder how the team let him go whenever he pitches.

The rain quieted the pregame, but not the game. Clear evening skies, 37,455 raucous fans, and thunderous bats replaced the quiet pregame as the Mets defeated the Phillies 8–2.