Fringe benefits

New York Mets

Noah Syndergaard, giving J.D. Davis a high sign after Davis’s staggering fourth-inning catch Thursday night. Syndergaard had two answers for Tribal trolling . . .

It seems like ancient history to talk about it now. But once upon a time there was no social media for baseball people to troll each other. They had to settle for trolling by way of print or broadcast interviews. But they still learned the hard way that the flip side to “don’t feed the trolls” is “don’t poke the bear.”

David Cone ignored it at his peril during the 1988 National League Championship Series. The Indians ignored it to their peril Thursday.

Writing a (presumably ghosted) running NLCS commentary for the New York Daily News, Cone started tripping the Dodgers’ triggers when he said the Dodgers’ Game One starter, Orel Hershiser, “was lucky for eight innings.” Actually, eight and a third: Hershiser surrendered Darryl Strawberry’s one-out RBI single, pulling the Mets back to within a run.

But then Cone teed off on Dodgers’ closer Jay Howell.”We saw Howell throwing curveball after curveball,” Cone went on to write, “and we were thinking: This is the Dodgers’ idea of a stopper? Our idea is Randy [Myers], a guy who can blow you away with his heat. Seeing Howell and his curveball reminded us of a high school pitcher.”

Myers did bring heat and lots of it, never mind that he retired the Dodgers in order in the bottom of the ninth on a line out, a ground out, and a pop fly out, to save the 3-2 win. It was nothing compared to the Dodgers chasing Cone early in Game Two with five runs in two innings, en route a seven-game Dodgers triumph.

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit in the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with the team that’s trying to pin your ears back in either a pennant race or in a League Championship Series. It’s to shudder what would have happened if Cone had teed off on Hershiser and Howell while that NLCS was played in the Internet social media era.

Cone learned the hard way in 1988. (It’s a shame Gene Garber wasn’t there to remind him of the uses of breaking ball-heavy relief pitchers, considering Garber’s breaking repertoire put an end to Pete Rose’s 44-game hitting streak a decade earlier.) So did the Indians Thursday night.

For a team that once had Hershiser on its own pitching staff (1995-1997) and went to a pair of World Series with him, the Indians didn’t exactly have a sense of trolling history when their social media people went off on the Mets Thursday afternoon. And it’s not brilliant to think about trolling a team that just took the first two of a three-game set from you, in their playpen or otherwise.

It’s a long season. We didn’t erase an 11.5-game deficit to roll over,” came the tweet from the Indians Thursday midday. “We split a series with one of the best teams in MLB at their home ballpark. We lost the last 2 to a fringe postseason team. We understand your frustration. Get it out here, but let’s renew the perspective.”

Noah Syndergaard, the Mets’ scheduled Thursday night starter, didn’t just feed the Tribal trolls, he cleaned, stuffed, and mounted them.

First, he he pinned the Indians’ ears back with six and a third perfect innings en route a rain-delayed, rain-short-ended Mets win, 2-0. Then, he replied with his own tweet: “We got some FRINGE for you right here, we call it a SWEEP in NYC. #LFGM.”

Leaning away from his customary pure power game and throwing as much of an array of off-speed breakers and changers as heat, Syndergaard was on such a roll, even after he turned aside first and second on a pair of singles in the sixth, that the only thing that could have stopped him was the two-hour plus rain delay that struck in the bottom of the sixth.

Married to whipping winds around the park, the rain which began about an inning earlier finally prompted the umpires to pull the teams off the field, as Mets catcher Wilson Ramos was at the plate with two outs and Michael Conforto aboard with a base hit. The winds were fierce enough that the Citi Field grounds crew needed to pin the tarp to the infield themselves until the weights could be brought out to hold it.

The Indians were pretty brassy to think about trolling a team who’d beaten them on their own fielding lapse Tuesday night and bludgeoned their bullpen to win the night before. But their rookie righthanded starter Aaron Civale was actually close to Syndergaard’s effectiveness—his only blemish hitting Pete Alonso with a pitch in the first—until he ran into trouble in the bottom of the fourth.

That’s when Joe Panik, a late Mets acquisition after his release by the Giants and very effective as a Met since, opened with a line single to right. One out later Conforto high-hopped a ground rule double over the high side fence down near the end of the left field line, before Ramos extended his hitting streak to sixteen games with a clean two-run double down the right field line.

The Indians even got sloppy in the field again Wednesday night, with the lone saving grace being that this time it didn’t cost them a ball game.

After play resumed and Mets reliever Jeurys Familia worked a scoreless seventh, Mets third baseman Todd Frazier grounded weakly up the first base line. Indians reliever Tyler Clippard, himself a former Met, fielded but threw the ball straight over first baseman Carlos Santana’s head.

The ball sailed into foul territory near the seats as Frazier rounded first and neared second, as right fielder Yasiel Puig scampered in to retrieve the ball. As Frazier rounded second Puig—whose arm is powerful but not always calibrated properly—threw across to third and right past the pad as Frazier arrived safely.

Clippard’s mistake might have been snaring the ball with his glove before getting a less than firm grip with his throwing hand. A barehanded grab might have put the ball into a better grip and he might not have sailed it above Santana’s attic.

The Tribe was lucky they had Tyler Naquin—who ended Syndergaard’s brief perfect game bid with a one-out single in the sixth—catching Ramos’s arcing line drive in perfect position to throw Frazier out at the plate by three feet. Consider it a small payback for what Mets left fielder J.D. Davis did to them in the fourth.

With one out, Indians center fielder Greg Allen sent one that looked like it was going for extra bases until Davis, on his thoroughbred running back on an angle to his left, extended his glove and made a Willie Mays-like one-handed, over-the-shoulder, slightly over his head basket catch. The Citi Field ovation was so thunderous Davis had to tip his cap under it.

“Just a crazy catch,” Davis told reporters after the game. “I don’t know how to describe it.”

The Indians thought they knew how to describe the Mets before the game. Except that the Mets are now 12-5 lifetime against the Indians in interleague play. And while the Indians did yank themselves back from the dead, once as far as eleven and a half back of the Twins in the American League Central, the Mets didn’t exactly yank themselves back from a little slump, either.

The lowest point for the Indians this season? Eleven and a half behind the Twins on 2 June. The lowest for the Mets? Fourteen and a half out of first in the National League East on 14 July. Low enough and tattered enough, it seemed, that the trade deadline run-up was almost dominated by speculation as to whether Syndergaard himself, or Zack Wheeler, would change addresses on or before the deadline.

Since the All-Star break? The Indians: 24-16. The Mets: 27-10. And even if interleague play continues making hash of pennant races, the Mets play in a far more tough division. Now the fringe contender is also only a game and a half out for the second National League wild card and nine out in the East.

And they also have a far tougher schedule the rest of the season. Except for another pair of sets with the Twins and one each with the Phillies and (ending the regular season, strangely enough) the Nationals, the Indians get a lot more bottom-dwelling competition the rest of the way than the Mets.

The fringe contenders just swept the Indians in three, helping to put or keep them three and a half behind the still AL Central-leading Twins, and leaving the Indians with a 2-5 record for their now-finished New York trip. The best thing about the trip was the Indians not having to change hotel reservations to meet the Yankees and the Mets.

Let us renew the perspective indeed.

 

 

The Mets re-heat to burn the Indians

2019-08-21 JDDavisWilsonRamos

J.D. Davis and Wilson Ramos bump the forearms after Davis’s two-run homer in the bottom of the second gives the Mets their first lead in a 9-2 win against the AL wild card-leading Indians Tuesday night.

Five days ago, the Mets were something of a wreck. Looking more like their earlier season selves than their post All-Star break juggernaut.

They lost a pair to the National League East-leading Braves that they could have won, then they beat the Braves despite seeming to do everything in their power to snatch defeat from the jaws of a blowout.

Then they took two out of three in Kansas City from the American League Central’s rebuilding Royals, nothing remotely close to the Royals who beat them in a World Series they could have won but for porous defense.

But there was still that little matter of coming home with the Indians due for a visit. The Mets’ rounds with the big boys weren’t over yet. Opening Tuesday night, the Mets began a set between baseball’s two hottest post All-Star teams. Making it arguably even up in import to the set they blew in Atlanta last week.

The pre-break Mess, risen from the dead. The pre-break Indians, yanking themselves from an injury, inconsistency, and once in awhile indifferent wreck to put a near-end to the juggernaut from Minnesota that’s proving you can’t always just bludgeon your way to the top and keep as much as an eleven-and-a-half-game distance in front.

The Mets suddenly re-resembled a group of crisis junkies whose apparent such addiction didn’t stop them from taking a set against the Nationals but threatened to wreck them against the Braves last week, before re-charging in Kansas City. The Indians finished pulling themselves all the way back to the AL Central’s penthouse. The Tribe even claimed first place for a couple of days and still sit only a couple of games behind the Twins in their division.

And they entered Citi Field Tuesday on an extended New York trip. After taking three out of four from the Twins but losing two out of three to the somewhat rickety Red Sox, the Indians split a set with the Yankees in the south Bronx before opening against the Mets. This may be the first time in the interleague play era that the Indians didn’t have to switch up their hotel reservations after finishing a visit to one team before starting the next one.

And with a little side intrigue involving Mets manager Mickey Callaway—once embattled, now looking somewhat more secure—compelled to try out-thinking and out-maneuvering his former boss, Indians manager Terry Francona, the Mets did something last week’s Atlanta excursion might have left people thinking was two things, difficult and impossible.

They beat the Indians 9-2 Tuesday night. They took the lead twice, and the second time they didn’t let the Tribe even think about trying to re-tie or overtake them by the time Mets reliever Paul Sewald—whose career has been described as up and down when observers have wished to be polite—struck out Greg Allen and Tyler Naquin back-to-back to end it.

It didn’t faze Mets starter Steven Matz when Jason Kipnis sent a hanging changeup over the right center field fence with two out in the top of the second. He still scattered five hits and a pair of walks otherwise while striking out seven in six and a thirds innings and outpitched Shane Bieber, whose striking out of the side before the home audience nailed him the All-Star Game’s MVP over a month ago.

And well it shouldn’t have fazed Matz because J.D. Davis had an answer for Kipnis in the bottom of the second. With Mets catcher Wilson Ramos aboard on a one-out base hit right up the pipe, Davis caught hold of a 1-0 Bieber slider down the pipe and sent it over the center field fence, right past the big housing for the big red apple that rises whenever a Met hits one out at home, a holdover from the ten-years-gone Shea Stadium.

“The scouting report was to attack him early,” Davis said after the game. “He threw strikes early in the count, and in that at-bat, I was aggressive with the 0-0 fastball. Then he went to the off-speed pitch, and we got him. I think that was his first time out of the stretch, and he left one over the plate.”

A throwing error by Mets third baseman Todd Frazier opened the Cleveland fourth with Yasiel Puig on first. He got as far as second when Jose Ramirez followed with a base hit before coming home on Kipnis’s single up the pipe to tie things at two. Then Matz contained the damage by getting a fly out, an infield force, and dropping strike three in on Bieber, whose hitting experience was limited to one walk and one base hit in a mere eight trips to the plate entering Tuesday.

Two three-up, three-down innings for each pitcher later, the Indians learned the hard way what happens when you make even the tiniest mistake against these Mets. With one out in the bottom of the sixth, left fielder Oscar Mercado had a perfect bead drawn on Mets second baseman Joe Panik’s opposite-field fly. That despite shortstop Francisco Lindor looking likewise before Mercado called him off.

Against the railing, the ball descended into and right out of Mercado’s glove in an instant. A fan may or may not have interfered with the play. Francona elected not to challenge it because, as he put it, “It was really iffy.” The fan was ejected from Citi Field post haste.

A center fielder ordinarily, Mercado didn’t try to excuse himself, either. “I just dropped it,” said Mercado after the game. “I thought I had it just like with every other flyball I’ve caught in my life, but it just popped out of my glove.” After Pete Alonso struck out looking at one that barely hit the low outside corner, there was nothing iffy about Michael Conforto popping Bieber’s 1-2 slider almost exactly into the same spot where Kipnis’s second-inning blast landed.

“I feel like that swung the whole momentum of the game,” Bieber said after the game. “If I make a better pitch there, we probably have a different result.”

“We’ve had a feeling over this run that we’ve been on that we might not get them the first time through the order,” said Conforto, mindful of how good Bieber has been overall this year, “but our lineup has been so good, our hitters have been able to figure out ways to get on base, figure out ways to get runs in.

“We just feel that regardless of who is pitching, we’re going to put a lot of runs on the board. Any time the defense gives us an opportunity like that, we have to take advantage of it, so that was huge.”

All the Mets have to do in concert with that is keep from giving the other guys even remotely comparable opportunities. While taking advantage of every gift from every bullpen bull they can handle.

With both starters out of the game by the bottom of the seventh, the Mets got even more playful with the Indians’ bullpen in that inning. They introduced themselves to Adam Cinder with a leadoff single and a followup walk. Then they re-introduced the Indians to an old buddy, Rajai Davis, called up after a term in Syracuse found him re-grouping respectably enough to get a second term as a Met.

Davis tried bunting both runners over. He got Juan Lagares (the walk) to second but the Indians nailed Frazier (the leadoff hit) at third while Davis arrived at first. Then Mets shortstop Amed Rosario, one of their hotter bats of late, drove Lagares home with a base hit up the pipe.

“This game can really bring you to your knees sometimes,” Cimber said after the game. That’s the voice of a righthander against whom righthanded batters hit only .227 against him before he tangled with the Mets’ righthanded foursome. “You’ve just to keep moving forward and fight your way through it. The last couple of weeks I’ve been grinding a little bit. It’s something everybody goes through and it’s my turn now.”

Exit Cinder, enter Hunter Wood. And Panik sent Davis home with an opposite-field single, before Alonso atoned for looking at strike three his previous time up by doubling home both Rosario and Panik, then taking third on a wild pitch before Wood and the Indians escaped.

Davis the Rajai re-joined the Mets’ party a little more forcefully in the bottom of the eighth, when he turned on Indians reliever Phil Maton’s slightly hanging curve ball and hung it down the left field line for an RBI double sending Lagares home with the ninth Mets run.

All that on a day when injured list news was mixed for both teams. The Indians shut Corey Kluber down two more weeks with an abdominal strain he suffered during a rehab outing; the Mets shut down reliever Robert Gsellman, possibly for the season, after his injury turned up a torn lat muscle.

But Carlos Carrasco’s comeback while battling leukemia goes to a second rehab outing after he looked impressive enough in his first, which stands to help the Cleveland bullpen since that’s where they plan to bring him.

And Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo (bulging neck disk) advanced to Syracuse on his rehab and had a 2-for-5 day while playing center field for five innings. Nimmo’s return may provide a slightly ticklish outfield situation for the Mets, but these Mets have known far more troublesome knots this year.

Maybe last week in Atlanta really will prove a little hiccup, after all, but these Mets haven’t begun full recovery from crisis addiction just yet. Even if they’re still talking as much in postseason mode as they’ve begun playing again. Taking at least two of the three with the Indians will go big in that recovery. Especially with more big boys awaiting them.

“I think we all knew,” said J.D. Davis, “that even though it’s August, the playoffs started today. We have to have that playoff mentality, that playoff atmosphere, that every game counts, especially with the hole we dug ourselves into. I think the elephant in the room is that we have a lot of home games but a lot of games against playoff teams.”

That’s not elephant singular. That’s a pack of pachyderm awaiting them still. The Braves and the Cubs come to town after they’re finished with the Indians; between the two, the Cubs could be slightly easier pickings based on recent performances. And, after a road trip to Philadelphia and Washington, the Mets return home for a ten-game homestand against the Phillies, the Diamondbacks, and the Dodgers.

Tuesday night? The Mets send Marcus Stroman out to face the Indians’ Adam Plutko, who beat the Yankees to open the Indians’ New York excursion. With the Mets 25-10 since the break and the Indians 24-14 in the same period, this isn’t exactly a plain pit stop for either team.

And if you’re looking for historically rooted omens, half a century ago the Mets were ten games out of first in the NL East—and went all the way to win their first World Series. Four years later, they eleven and a half out and dead last in the division—and won the pennant before pushing the Swingin’ A’s to a seventh World Series game.

Today they’re nine games out of first but two games away from the second NL wild card. With a clean shot at re-proving their post All-Star mettle against the AL’s wild card leaders, who’ve proven they’re not exactly willing to play dead when told to do so, either.

 

The Mets simplify the hard way

2019-08-10 LuisGuillorme

Luis Guillorme defied his unimpressive rookie slash line to help stun the Nats Saturday night . . .

In ancient times Casey Stengel would see ancient Satchel Paige warming up in the enemy bullpen and exhort his Yankees, “Get your runs now—Father Time is coming.” This weekend, the Nationals’ mantra could be, “Get your runs A.S.A.P. Father Time’s predictable compared to these Mets.”

But the Nats don’t really want to know from Father Time, who may be coming sooner than they’d care to know.

Not when they followed a last-minute 7-6 loss Friday night with a 4-3 loss in the next-to-last minute Saturday night. It wasn’t quite the cardiac arrest Friday night was, but it was still enough to tempt them to think of keeping crash carts on call.

Perhaps deploying one out of their bullpen. And another to their manager’s office.

Dave Martinez just didn’t have the heart, or whatever else needed, to send Hunter Strickland—his new bullpen toy, but not even a topic Friday night—out for the eighth inning after Strickland manhandled the Mets in the seventh. But Strickland is two weeks removed from returning from a lat strain that kept him down four months, and Martinez didn’t want to overtax him. Even though he looked smooth enough Saturday night.

This time, his assigned closer Sean Doolittle wasn’t even a topic. Not after the Mets bastinadoed him for four runs in the ninth to win from three runs down Friday night. This Saturday night topic was now Fernando Rodney, the elder, whose previous comparative success against the Mets was two seasons behind and barely visible in the rear view mirror.

But there was Rodney and his trademark, CC Sabathia-like lopsided hat to start the New York eighth. And leading off was a Met rookie, Luis Guillorme, who brought all of a .156/.182/.188 slash line to the plate batting for center fielder Juan Lagares. It should have been meat for Rodney. Instead, he was dead meat.

On a full count, during the making of which Guillorme didn’t even wave his bat, and Rodney didn’t even hint toward throwing the changeup that was once his money pitch and was still reasonably effective, Rodney served Guillorme a meatball. And Guillorme provided the sauce. He sent his first major league home run clean over the right field fence to tie things at three.

Then late-game Mets second base insertion Joe Panik grounded one to short. Sure-handed, sure-footed Nats shortstop Trea Turner had it just as surely. But first baseman Matt Adams mishandled his uncharacteristic low throw, leaving Panik safe to move to second on a followup single lined up the pipe by Jeff McNeil for his first hit of the weekend.

Out came Rodney. In came Daniel Hudson, who’d worked a near-effortless eighth on Friday night. And, after Amed Rosario’s hard grounder pushed the runners to second and third, Pete Alonso checked in at the plate.

The Nats optimist said, we’ll have none of that nonsense this time around. That nonsense, of course, being Alonso drilling Stephen Strasburg for a two-run blast in the fourth Friday night.

The Nats realist said, pick your poison, Davey. Because putting Alonso on to load the pads meant facing J.D. Davis—who’d followed Alonso’s Friday night flog with his own game-tying solo jack in that same fourth. And, who hit one of two consecutive solo bombs in the Saturday night fourth, birthday boy (and former Nat) Wilson Ramos hitting the second of them to tie this game at two.

So Martinez picked Davis. The good news: this time, Davis didn’t reach the seats. The bad news: His fly to right was long and deep enough to send Panik home with what proved the winning run.

And if Martinez couldn’t bear to send Strickland out for a second inning’s work in the bottom of the eighth, Mets manager Mickey Callaway wasn’t as nervous as you might think about sending Seth Lugo out for a second inning’s work in the top of the ninth.

Lugo may have had command issues in the top of the eighth, magnified when Juan Soto hit his second homer of the night, a mammoth drive into the second deck in right, to put the Nats back ahead 3-2. But Callaway gambled that that was just Lugo getting really warmed up. He also wasn’t entirely sure about trusting Edwin Diaz, who’d warmed up during the eighth.

So Lugo, named the National League’s relief pitcher of the month for July, went out for the ninth. Noisy Citi Field and edgy Nats Nation, wherever they were, said their prayers accordingly.

But former Met Asdrubal Cabrera lined out to right.

And Victor Robles looked at strike three on the outer edge, on a night plate umpire Tripp Gibson gave Nats and Mets pitchers alike a very generous outer strike zone.

Then Gerardo Parra—maybe the Nats’ best pinch hitter and bench representative, entering the game with a .319 career batting average against the Mets—batted for Nats catcher Yan Gomes.

And, after Parra fouled off a 3-1 service, Lugo caught him looking at strike three.

All of a sudden, Soto’s two-run homer off Mets starter Noah Syndergaard in the top of the first seemed a small memory to plague Mets fans. Just the way Davis and Ramos’s fourth-inning destruction (setting a new Mets team record for consecutive multiple homer games) seemed to Nats Nation after Soto teed off in the top of the eighth.

Once again, the Mets found a way, any way,  past or around the Nats’ effective starting pitchers, in Saturday night’s case Patrick Corbin. Once again, the Mets got into a bullpen whose 10.10 ERA against them entering Saturday night meant giving them at least one definite victim against who they could fire whatever bullets happened to be handy.

And once again, the Nats couldn’t find a way to make anything stick, even on a night Syndergaard had to shake off an early explosion and some early inconsistency to keep them off the scoreboard further for the rest of his seven innings’ work. Not even on a night when Corbin was mostly his calmly effective self through six.

The Nats compelled the Mets to do things the hard way, late but their bullpen, retooling and all, showed it still had major kinks to un-kink. But the Mets didn’t exactly seem to object to doing things the hard way. It’s coming easier for them that way.

Now, it may not be a question of whether these still-somewhat-flawed Mets can hang with the big boys yet. But it may be a question as to whether these Nats will hang. With the big boys, or at the end of their own noose.