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!

August 28, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: David Peterson, Mets Top Rockies

By Joe Rini

NEW YORK, Aug 27 — With a very good effort by David Peterson on the mound, the New York Mets topped the Colorado Rockies 3–0 on Saturday at Citi Field. Before a sellout crowd of 42,617, the fans celebrated Old Timers’ Day and the 2022 team. For instance, the Old Timers’ Game festivities included more than 60 former Mets representing teams from the 1962 team through the 2015 NL champions.

Nimmo Knocks in Two

Centerfielder Brandon Nimmo supplied the early offense for the Mets. Batting leadoff, Nimmo homered to right field on starter Kyle Freeland’s second pitch, and the Mets led 1–0 after one inning. They subsequently added to their lead in the second inning after Mark Canha and Jeff McNeil reached base on a hit batsman, and a base on balls leading off the inning. However, after Freeland retired the next two batters, Nimmo doubled into the right field corner scoring Canha, and the Mets led 2–0. With two RBI in two innings, Nimmo would eventually figure in all three Mets’ runs.

David Peterson

After a shaky first inning, Peterson allowed only two base runners over the next five innings. Peterson labored through a 25-pitch first inning, but stranded two runners on the corners to keep the Rockies scoreless. After retiring Elias Diaz in an epic 12-pitch at-bat to escape the first-inning threat, Peterson proceeded to retire the next nine batters. Overall, Peterson pitched six scoreless innings, allowing four singles, striking out seven, and walking no one. The victory raised his record to 7–3.

After the seventh inning stretch, the Mets stretched their lead to 3–0. With one out, Nimmo reached base on a walk. The next batter  Starling Marte lined a double into the right-centerfield gap off Justin Lawrence, scoring Nimmo from first base.

Ottavino for the Save

After Peterson pitched the first six innings, Buck Showalter reached into the Mets’ bullpen for the final three frames. Relievers Seth Lugo and Trevor May pitched scoreless innings with two strikeouts each. With Edwin Diaz having pitched two days in a row, Showalter instead tabbed Adam Ottavino to close the game. Ottavino delivered a scoreless ninth inning for his second save in three nights for the 3–0 Mets win.

Showalter Praises David Peterson

After the game, Showalter said Peterson was “solid” for the Mets. For example, once Peterson established his change-up, “He stayed in attack mode. He was key to the game.” Crediting Peterson and the people who help him between starts, he said, “We’re proud of Pete and the people that helped.”

Speaking about Old Timers’ Day, Showalter said, “It was a great day for the Mets and the Mets family.” He added about the Mets alumni, “It was a chance to let them know how much they meant to the organization and the fans.” He called it an “uplifting” event for the current team of Mets and thanked ownership for making it happen.

Mets Retire Willie Mays’ Number

The announcement of the retirement of Willie Mays’ #24 was an unexpected highlight of the day. Mays returned to New York in May of 1972, and played his final two seasons with the Mets. Former Mets owner Joan Payson had promised Mays his number would be retired by the Mets, but after Payson passed away in 1975, the number retirement was never formalized. Team President Sandy Alderson noted that today’s ceremony with 60 years of Mets luminaries in attendance provided an appropriate setting for the announcement. Alderson called the retirement of Mays’ number a “Testament to the game of baseball in New York.” He called his time with the Mets “a meaningful last chapter” of his career.

The 91-year-old Mays couldn’t attend the event in person, but his son Michael accepted it on his behalf. Former Mets’ teammate Cleon Jones said of Mays, “No one could do the things Willie could do to win a game.” Alderson also said retiring Mays’ number was a “Great way to reintroduce him” to a new generation of fans.

August 20, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Is the Mets Bullpen Good Enough

By Joe Rini

Is the New York Mets bullpen good enough to help win a World Series in 2022? It isn’t awful; in fact, it’s very good. However, for fans dreaming of a championship, every bullpen hiccup causes them to toss and turn at night. On the positive side, the Mets bullpen boasts Edwin Diaz, arguably the best closer in baseball. Twenty-seven saves, and 96 strikeouts in 48 innings highlight his dominance. Fans in the stands booed Diaz in 2019. In 2022, they joyously blow mock trumpets to “Narco” as he emerges from the bullpen gates.

Veterans in the Bullpen

Backing up Diaz in the bullpen are a number of proven veterans. The resurgent Adam Ottavino at age 36 is having his best season since 2019. His 2.35 ERA is nearly two runs better than last season, and his WHIP of 1.064 is his best since 2018. Seth Lugo performs multi-roles from the bullpen. Depending on the circumstances, the Mets lean on Lugo to close, set up for Diaz, and pitch multiple innings.

Veteran Trevor May returned to active duty on August 3 after three months on the IL and Buck Showalter has quickly moved him into more leveraged situations. For example, Showalter pitched May in the ninth inning of two non-save victories against the Atlanta Braves to spare overusing Diaz. He also pitched a scoreless eighth inning in the Mets’ 1–0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on August 13. Trade deadline acquisition Mychal Givens is a proven veteran reliever. Like Ottavino and May, he has postseason pitching experience.

Thanks to Trevor Williams thriving in multiple bullpen roles, the Javier Baez trade may someday be known as the “Trevor Williams” trade. Mostly a long reliever and spot starter, Showalter experimented with Williams in a different role on July 29. Williams pitched a scoreless eighth inning that night against the Miami Marlins in a 6–4 Mets win.

But Is Bullpen Good Enough

Overall the bullpen has pitched well. It ranks fifth best in “SCOT%” in the National League. Diaz is a dominant closer. Showalter spreads the work to avoid overuse. For example, the Mets continue to have no pitchers among the league leaders in appearances. Diaz, Ottavino, and Givens are tied for 14th in that category. However, questions remain about the bullpen because the Mets did not significantly improve it at the trade deadline. Observers expected the Mets to add a lefty specialist and/or a more reliable set-up man for Diaz. The veteran Givens provides depth but he basically replaces Colin Holderman who was traded away in exchange for Daniel Vogelbach. Joely Rodriguez remains the lone left-handed pitcher in the bullpen. Lefties are hitting .180 against Rodriguez despite struggles lately. Left-handed starter David Peterson will likely provide depth in the bullpen in the postseason.

Second Half

Lugo has pitched better in the second half, but he’s not the dominant force he was in 2018 and 2019. Ottavino has been the most reliable bridge to Diaz in 2022 but struggled in the postseason with the Yankees in 2019 and 2020, perhaps due to fatigue. He, Lugo, and May experienced rocky outings against the Atlanta Braves this week.

Is the Mets bullpen good enough to help win a championship? Perhaps, yes, if Diaz continues his dominance and the starters pitch deep into games. Ideally, the Mets will get a first-round bye in the postseason, and the bullpen won’t be overused. However, Ottavino, Lugo, et al will need to get big outs and could be the decisive factor in whether City Hall hosts the Mets for a ticker-tape parade in November.

August 14, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Jacob deGrom Dominant in Mets Win

By Joe Rini

NEW YORK, Aug 13 — Riding a dominant Jacob deGrom, the New York Mets edged the Philadelphia Phillies 1–0 at Citi Field on Saturday. With their victory, the Mets maintain their 5 1/2 game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. The loss drops the Phillies to 10 1/2 back in third place. The Mets and Phillies will square off Sunday in the rubber match of the weekend series.

Mets Take Early Lead

The Mets jumped to the early lead with a run against Aaron Nolan in the bottom of the first inning. With one out, Starling Marte lined a single to right field. After three unsuccessful pick-off attempts at first base, Marte stole second on a called third strike to Francisco Lindor, and advanced to third on J.T. Realmuto’s throwing error. Pete Alonso quickly cashed in Marte with a two-out line drive single to right field and the Mets led 1–0. Nola subsequently found his groove after pitching out of a jam in the second inning. Pitching a complete game, he retired 17 Mets in a row and kept the game at 1–0 through eight innings.

Dominant Jacob deGrom

The sellout crowd of 43,857 at Citi Field buzzed with each pitch deGrom hummed at the Phillies. Reaching triple digits on the radar gun, the two-time Cy Young Award winner held the Phillies scoreless, striking out ten batters, walking no one, and allowing only two singles. However, given the Mets’ caution with deGrom in only his third start of the season, his night ended after six innings and 76 pitches.

Diaz Tiptoes to Save

Seth Lugo and Trevor May pitched two scoreless innings in relief of deGrom setting up Edwin Diaz for the save. Diaz climbed the pitcher’s mound to the trumpets of “Narco”, but tiptoed through the Phillies to pick up the save. Pitching like a mere mortal in contrast to his recent otherworldly outings, Diaz walked Rhys Hoskins with one out. The Phillies subsequently reached second base for the first time in the game as pinch runner Edmundo Sosa stole second base.

After retiring Alec Bohm, Diaz walked Realmuto on 3-2 pitch putting the go-ahead runners on first and second with two outs. After the Phillies executed a double-steal of second and third, Diaz was a Nick Castellanos single away from blowing his first save since May 19. However, Diaz struck out Castellanos with his 25th pitch of the inning and the Mets held on for the victory. Diaz earned his 27th save of the season, and the 200th of his career. DeGrom earned his second win of the season while Nola dropped to 8–9.

A dominant Jacob deGrom combined with the brilliance of Nola produced a relatively quick two-hour and 24-minute game. It was a throwback to the match-ups of Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton in the 1970s and perhaps, a 2022 playoff preview.

LWOB Question to Buck Showalter

The victory was the Mets’ 16th win in their last 19 games. Benefiting from their recent acquisitions, LWOB asked manager Buck Showalter about getting players to “buy into” their roles. Showalter acknowledged that when you bring players in, one has to consider, “The arteries of these decisions and who they are going to affect,” and not assume anything. The buy-in is key according to Showalter. Going back to spring training, he said, “We have to embrace our best chance of trying to win. It’ll make a better aura of what we’re trying to do here.”

August 6, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Early Onslaught of Runs Sinks Mets

By Joe Rini

NEW YORK, Aug 5 — Riding an early onslaught of runs, the Atlanta Braves outlasted the New York Mets 9–6 on Friday night at Citi Field. The two division rivals have split the first two games of this pivotal five-game weekend series. With this loss, the Mets lead over the second-place Braves dropped to  3 1/2 games in the NL East. The series continues with a doubleheader on Saturday.

Early Onslaught of Runs by Braves

Mets starting pitcher Taijuan Walker entered the game with a 9–2 record, and a 2.79 ERA. However, the Braves blitzed Walker for eight runs in one-plus innings on Friday. They scored four in the first inning, and four in the second inning, jumping to an 8–0 lead.

The early onslaught of runs began with one out in the top of the first inning. After retiring Ronald Acuna Jr to lead off the game, Walker’s night quickly unraveled. Dansby Swanson doubled with one out and Matt Olson doubled him home after an injury timeout for Walker. After Austin Riley was hit by a pitch, Eddie Rosario launched a three-run home run over the right field wall for the early 4–0 lead.

With a doubleheader on tap for Saturday, the Mets hoped to get length from Walker but the Braves didn’t cooperate. Michael Harris led off with a home run for a 5–0 Braves lead. Acuna, Swanson, and Olson followed three straight singles before Buck Showalter replaced Walker with Trevor Williams. Williams retired Riley on a fielder’s scoring one run before Rosario’s doubled to make the score 8–0.

Mets Rebound in Fifth Inning

Meanwhile, the Mets failed to cash in on their opportunities against Braves starter Ian AndersonBrandon Nimmo doubled leading off the first inning, but Acuna’s leaping catch against the right field wall robbed Pete Alonso of a home run and kept the Mets scoreless. With two outs and the bases loaded in the second inning, Nimmo lined a single to center scoring Tyler Naquin. However, Harris’ throw home easily nailed Luis Guillorme at the plate, and the inning ended with the score 8–1 Braves.

However, Williams kept the Braves scoreless long enough for the Mets to close the gap in the fifth inning with four runs. Jeff McNeil singled in Francisco Lindor with a single to right field to make it 8–2 Braves. Manager Brian Snitker then replaced Anderson with lefty Dylan Lee while Showalter countered with pinch hitter Darin Ruf. The newly acquired Ruf laced a two-run double in his first Mets plate appearance and he scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s pinch-hit RBI single. Tomas Nido flew out to end the inning, but the Mets now trailed 8–5.

Battle of the Bullpens

After the early onslaught of runs and the Mets’ comeback, the respective bullpens pitched scoreless ball through the eighth inning. Tommy Hunter allowed a ninth-inning home run to William Contreras to extend the Braves’ lead to 9–5. Kelly Jansen allowed a solo home run to McNeil in the ninth inning in a non-save situation and the Braves took game two 9–6. A.J. Minter picked up his fifth victory in relief and Walker’s record dropped to 9–3.

LWOB Question to Showalter

After the game, Showalter cited command issues and not injury with Walker’s rough outing. Also, LWOB asked Showalter about a pivotal moment in the bottom of the fifth inning when an up, and in wild pitch nearly hit Alonso in the face. Alonso subsequently lined a single igniting the rally. How did that pitch affect the subsequent four-run rally?

Showalter didn’t see any intent, noting Anderson had command issues with his fastball and pitchers pitch Alonso up and in. Showalter continued and praised Alonso’s ability to get back in the box and line a single. “I hope everyone appreciates how hard that is to do, how it tests your mettle, and at every turn, Pete has answered that.” Describing what it must be like to stand in the batter’s box with a ball “buzzing by your nose” from a pitcher with command issues, Showalter said, “He’s done that countless times this year. I certainly wouldn’t test his mettle if I was another team or another pitcher.”

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.