It’s one thing for baseball players to have the kind of contract negotiating autonomy they’ve enjoyed in the free agency era. But it’s something else when the keys to the zoo get lifted by the animals, as the Mets may be learning the hard way. Players may choose for whom they play when contracts expire, but they still, alas, have bosses. Or so we thought.
Don’t be surprised if the 23-5 terrorist attacks the Nationals laid upon the Mets Sunday afternoon have a lot of people wondering just who’s been running the Mets.
Because when Noah Syndergaard—scratched from his start against the Braves last Thursday due to a bicep and shoulder discomfort—shenked an MRI appointment the day after, the purported ace of a team who swore they’d be monitoring their youthful pitching staff very closely no matter what, he made them look like liars.
Syndergaard and, it’s been reported, a few coaches watching, swore he was fine throwing a bullpen session Friday. But come Sunday, he tried throwing bullets that went few places he wanted them to go, avoiding Nats bats being one of them. Then, he tried throwing a few offspeed pitches. In the second inning, with the Nats getting friskier, Syndergaard strained his right lateral muscle and had to leave the game.
This is just what the Mets’ already overworked and beleaguered bullpen didn’t need, after two days’ worth of arduous work in containing the Nats long enough for the Mets to take the first two of a weekend set.
Syndergaard and the Mets’ bosses, field level and front office alike, better hope and pray that Thor’s lat strain isn’t serious enough to warrant a trip to the disabled list. But if they’d really been looking out for Syndergaard’s and the team’s well being, they’d have done what New York Daily News columnist John Harper suggested hours after the Sunday massacre, “exerted more influence, or flat told him that if he didn’t get [the Friday MRI] he was going on the disabled list.”
Manager Terry Collins himself told reporters gambling with Met arms in general, and Syndergaard’s in particular considering last week’s doings, was not an option. “It’s quite obvious we cannot take a chance on him,” Collins said, “hurting this guy, especially when you’re talking about anything that runs into the shoulder to where he changes his delivery and other things happen.”
Bergen Record columnist Bob Klapisch—who once wrote, with Harper, an excellent if troubling book about the horrific 1993 Mets, The Worst Team Money Could Buy—wasn’t quite as forgiving in his expression as Harper was.
Syndergaard could have made the [Friday MRI] episode easier for the Mets, if only he’d been less petulant about the MRI. There was no reason for him to refuse, other than to prove he could force the club to backpedal. Add that to an incident in the clubhouse, where Syndergaard berated Jay Horwitz, the 70-year-old media relations director, and you have the personality profile of an immature star, not a self-aware ace who understands the responsibility of acting like one.
Remember this, too: Syndergaard was warned about the risk of a heavy weight-lifting regimen that added thickness to his upper body last winter. The Mets were against his unorthodox approach. Motion analysis expert Tom House said Syndergaard’s obsession with new muscle was a “worst-case scenario.” House told The Record two months ago that there was strong probability Syndergaard would be injured before June 1.
Syndergaard, however, blew off the prediction as casually as he said no to the MRI. He knew better. “My arm is loose, my flexibility is good,” Thor said back in February. “I’m not worried.”
Instead of getting a duly-scheduled MRI after one issue got him scratched from a scheduled start, where a possible coming issue might have been prevented with a little smart management from there, Syndergaard played the side of old-school thought that gets old-school thought a bad reputation in the first place.
I don’t need no MRI. I’m tough! I’m the Mighty Thor!! Thou shalt have no other gods of thunder before me!!!
Except that he wasn’t, on Sunday. A Mets bullpen in dire need of at least two thirds of a day off got yanked into action early, with little enough reserve, and—after the Mets had carved their way back to within one run—the Nats violated their Eighth Amendment rights.
It got bad enough that manager Terry Collins got backup catcher Kevin Plawecki to pitch two innings. If Plawecki volunteered, he should be nominated for a Nobel Prize. The good news was Plawecki getting three outs to end the seventh.
The bad news was, he got them after Josh Smoker, perhaps the last man standing in the Mets’ bullpen, surrendered an RBI double to Daniel Murphy, a run scoring on an infield error, and a three-run homer to Matt Wieters.
Then, Plawecki got three outs in the eighth. The worse news was, he got those after Bryce Harper opened by hitting a ball-one pitch into the right center field seats, Ryan Zimmerman followed promptly with a base hit, pinch hitter Adam Lind followed that with a short over the center field fence, and Anthony Rendon—adding a cherry-and-whipped cream topping to his history-making sundae afternoon (6-for-6 with ten steaks, the highest-ever RBI total of any 6-for-6 man)—blasted his third bomb of the day into the left field bleachers.
Take one for the team? Plawecki took the tail end of the London Blitz.
I’ve written that baseball players shouldn’t have to apologise for becoming injured in the line of duty. But if they’re foolish enough with injuries, and it leads to disaster almost at once, maybe they should be made to write 100 times, “I will not shenk my MRI. I will not shenk my MRI.”
Don’t even think about it: the Players’ Association wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on if the Mets gave Syndergaard the not-so-fast order when learning Syndergaard planned to shenk Friday’s MRI. As Harper pointed out, should the Players’ Association have claimed the Mets were trying to strong-arm an uninjured player, the Mets would have countered what happened to be true: it was Syndergaard himself who first reported his biceps and shoulder issue last Wednesday night.
“Would the MRI have disclosed a lat issue or reaffirmed some concern about the bicep?” asked general manager Sandy Alderson about Syndergaard’s stubbornness. “We’ll never know.” The Mets may know sooner than they think. Because guess why Syndergaard wasn’t available to talk after the game? He was high-tailing it to New York for a Monday appointment.
For an MRI.
And don’t think the Mets weren’t tempted to order the MRI operators to have his head examined while they were at it.
Collins—who flipped and threw a cup when an admittedly foolish reporter asked if he was upset over Syndergaard’s lat strain (that’s like asking Poland how it felt about being the receiving end of the war-opening Nazi blitz)—has always sounded the call of accountability from his players. If ever that call needed to be sounded, it was Sunday, before Thor could escape.
The Mets should have ordered Syndergaard to stay put until after Sunday, Bloody Sunday finally ended and he could face the press explaining himself. After he made them look like chumps before leaving his team to human rights violations, it’s the least the Mets could have asked of their purported ace.