Perhaps if the Mets knew Yoenis Cespedes would hit three home runs the day after, the might ask someone to take one for the team every day. For results like a 14-4 blowout of the Phillies Tuesday, you might find any number of Mets willing to take a pitch upside the head the night before.
Let history record that the first run batted in of the 2016 season was delivered by a pitcher. At the plate. A pitcher who’d had only three runs batted in in his entire career (nine seasons) prior to last year, when he drove in seven. And his name wasn’t Madison Bumgarner.
Let history record further that Clayton Kershaw was the beneficiary of the worst Opening Day blowout in major leaguer history a day later. And, that Bryce Harper rocked the best postgame cap around the circuits. So far.
Some other people to watch closely, very closely, as spring training begins rounding into serious shape:
THE BARD OF PITTSBURGH—Daniel Bard was one of baseball’s best pen men with the 2009-11 Red Sox. Then Terry Francona quit before he could be canned, Bobby Valentine was brought in to man the bridge, Bard was turned into a starting pitcher—and became a mess of his own in the middle of the Valentine nightmare. He signed a minor league deal with the 2014 Cubs and never got out of extended spring training. He signed with the 2014 Rangers and disappeared again. He’s signed a minor league deal with this year’s Pirates. The hope is that Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage—who’s repaired such fractured pitchers as Francisco Liriano, J.A. Happ, and Edinson Volquez—can repair the Bard.
Open a World Series with an inside-the-park home run thanks to an unexpected brain vapour by the opposing battery and a pair of outfielders. Finish the game after fourteen innings and with a sacrifice fly.
These Kansas City Royals may have done crazier things than that in their two-season-and-maybe-counting return to American League supremacy. But they’re not about to bet on it.
Apparently, Matt Harvey is a lot more resilient than credited. We already know that no amount of controversy can faze him, which sometimes works to his disadvantage, whether he’s pondering his innings counts aloud or whether his agent is doing the pondering on his behalf as if giving his team orders. Why, not even a line drive off his forearm can send Harvey away.
For a moment it looked like everyone in a Met uniform would swarm to be sure he’d survive after Dexter Fowler lined one off his right forearm in the top of the sixth. And Harvey simply waved them off. After he picked up the ball and threw Fowler out, that is.
This was the kind of situation the Nats always want, Stephen Strasburg striking out thirteen Phillies, and Bryce Harper smashing a game-winning double in the bottom of the twelfth Saturday afternoon. And it didn’t mean a thing anymore when it ended in a 2-1 Nats win.
Because almost an hour before Harper tagged Phillies reliever Colton Murray with one out, Mets closer Jeurys Familia finished the Mets’ destruction of the Reds in Cincinnati to clinch the none-too-potent National League East. The division just about all the experts picked the Nats to run away with, all the way to a World Series crown, even.
So the Mets regrouped and whacked the Braves 4-0 Monday night. With the Nationals’ interleague set against the Orioles postponed, it pushed the Mets’ magic number to clinch the National League East to seven. Will it be enough to erase the sour taste of Sunday?
That was when manager Terry Collins went with the prudent course the Mets chose with and for Matt Harvey. Lifted him Sunday after five innings, seventy-seven pitches, one hit, and a 1-0 lead against the Yankees, with whom the Mets had split the weekend set coming in.
On the day where the big news should be a staggering group of pitchers (Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz) and a sneaky-great infielder (Craig Biggio) entering the Hall of Fame, the Reds dealing Johnny Cueto to the Royals, right after Cueto knocked down health concerns with eight shutout innings against the Rockies in a park that normally vaporises pitching, threatens to equal it.
▪ SELF-POLICING?—Baseball government and baseball labour have a new agreement regarding actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances: first-time suspensions raised from fifty to eighty games; second-time suspensions raised from one hundred to 162 games. And, if you get bagged during a season, you’re not eligible to play in that postseason regardless of whether your suspension is finished by the time the postseason comes around. And, yes, there will be allowances if a player can prove he inadvertently used a banned substance, as in the case of (to name one) Guillermo Mota (now retired) a few years ago. Early conclusion, of course, is that the players are finally banding further together to clean up and police themselves on the matter, not to mention being less than thrilled about potential future Jhonny Peralta deals. Best breakdown on the new rules and the pluses and negatives comes from David Schoenfeld of ESPN’s Sweet Spot.