Murphtober Comes to Crashing Halt, Mets Pushed to Brink

  
As Halloween drew to a close, Daniel Murphy turned into a pumpkin. 

The second baseman committed a costly miscue in the 8th inning which brought home the tying run and then it was all downhill for the Mets who lost by a score of 5-3. 

When things begin to go bad for the Mets, the wheels don’t just fall off. Yeah, the wheels go, but then the car rolls off a cliff and bursts into flames. 

For some reason, manager Terry Collins (plenty to come on him), continues to rely on Tyler Clippard in the 8th inning despite him being largely ineffective during the postseason. 

Given a one run lead and asked to bridge the gap to closer, Jeurys Familia, Clippard retired the lead off man before issuing consecutive walks forcing Collins’ hand to bring in Familia to attempt a five-out save. 

Familia did induce a slow grounder from Eric Hosmer, but Murphy tried to rush the play and the ball rolled under his glove allowing Ben Zobrist to score the tying run and leaving runners at the corners with just one out. Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez followed with RBI singles and suddenly a 3-2 Mets lead had turned into a soul-crushing defeat.

The Mets did attempt to rally in the 9th against Royals closer, Wade Davis, but that was snuffed out when Yoenis Cespedes got caught up in no man’s land on the bases and was doubled up on a soft liner by Lucas Duda that was caught by Moustakas. 

Indeed, the Mets went full Mets and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. 

It may seem like I’m laying the majority of the blame on Murphy. He does deserve some of the blame, sure. He’s a major leaguer and that play HAS to be made especially in the situation. But this is what Daniel Murphy is and has been for his entire career: a streaky hitter who is prone to horrible lapses in the field and on the basepaths. 

And Cespedes has to get some blame there too for wandering so far off first base on a play that was right in front of him. He also kicked a ball in the outfield (again) earlier in the game that led to a Kansas City score. It has not exactly been a series to remember for him. 

But the majority of the blame (also again) has to fall on the shoulders of Terry Collins. Yes, players have to play and execute, but it is the manager’s job to put said players in the position to succeed and Collins simply is far from a skilled tactician. 

After starting strong, Steven Matz looked to be losing his stuff after giving up a run in the 5th. Fastball seemed to be losing bite and his curveball, which had been incredibly effective to that point, lost some of the snap it had. 

With Matz due to hit third in the bottom of the frame, logic dictated to pat him on the back and remove him for a pinch hitter. Collins said to hell with logic and tried to push Matz through a sixth inning in which he was removed after giving up a run and retiring nobody. Jonathon Niese came out of the bullpen to retire a pair and was then replaced by Bartolo Colon who struck out Perez in a battle of at bat to cling to the lead. 

Having burned both his long men by using both Niese and Colon it would have made sense for Collins to try to get more length from Bartolo who’s proven to be effective out of the bullpen during the playoffs. 

But if you were expecting Collins to make a good, critical managing decision, you were once again disappointed as he stuck to his script and tried to get by with his less-than-menacing 7th and 8th combo of Addison Reed and Tyler Clippard. 

Reed, acquired from the Diamondbacks in August, got hit hard, but was able to get through the 7th unscathed. Clippard was not able to repeat Reed’s success which set the table for the rest of the disaster. 

In addition to just plain catching the baseball, the Mets needed to limit the exposure of their bullpen which is a definite weakness. Anything between the starting pitcher and Familia was a question mark, but Terry Collins has been managing as he has the Cincinnati Reds’ Nasty Boys from 1990 out there. 

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. This is not some ho-hum series against the Rockies in June. You cannot manage the same way in the World Series as you would during the regular season. Especially not when losing a game can put you in a 3-1 hole. 

Giving Colon the 7th (assuming he had a good inning) could have set you up for either another inning of Colon in the 8th or even a six-out save opportunity for Familia. 

Six outs from Familia probably would have been the preferred direction for most people, but after Collins used him for absolutely no reason with a six run lead in game three, two more innings in game four would most likely leave him unavailable for game five. 

So Collins went to what was not ideal to most anybody watching or playing along at home. He went to the script. The same script that said Kelly Johnson should get a pinch hitting appearance over Juan Uribe because he bats lefty. The same script that has him bunting at every opportunity. The same script that effectively cost his team the game and possibly the World Series. 

When you’re a Mets fan who has been through the heartbreak and the disappointment, your emotions tend to get overexaggerated because there’s simply not enough important games for you to temper your excitement or fear. The good becomes amazing and the bad becomes the equivalent of getting kicked in the balls while watching your dog run away. 

I love the Mets. And, I don’t think this series is over because of this game. But I also don’t think it should be this close to being over either. 

If there’s one thing to get you excited, it should be that the next three games will be started by Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. If that’s what the season comes down to, well, dammit, I’ll take my chances with those three. 

Under no circumstance do I think the Royals will be overconfident or act as if they’ve already wrapped this up. They are a damn solid ball club who was just in the position of needing only one more win last year. They will be coming to play. 

The Mets have spent the past four years under general manager, Sandy Alderson, rebuilding around solid, young starting pitching. The same solid, young starting pitching that kept them afloat when they couldn’t buy runs for what seemed liked weeks at a time during May and June and most of July. The same starting pitching that shut down the heavily favored Nationals when it mattered and then kept the Dodgers and Cubs in check to get to this point. 

The future is today for that starting pitching. The team is in an unenviable but not impossible hole and it’s time for the aces to come out acing. 

On paper, you can say that this looks like just the beginning of a run for the team. The Mets should be good and competitive for the next five, seven, ten years. I don’t buy that. 

I have watched enough sports and enough baseball and, especially, enough Mets to know that “on paper” doesn’t always pan out. Life isn’t fair. Sometimes, Goliath kicks the shit out of David. But sometimes, you get one chance to do something that can be remembered for generations. 

It’s why the 1986 team is still so special. For as great as they were, that group never returned to the World Series and there’s been books dedicated to all the “what-ifs” that followed. 

For the 25 guys in that locker room, this is the last week that they will ever all be teammates. Even in a minimal situation, there are always some kind of roster moves that go along with a fresh baseball season. This is their one opportunity to do something special as a group. 

The Mets will enter game five with their backs against the walls and their season teetering on the edge, but with the chance to do something great and memorable. 

I’m not ready for this season to end and I’m damn sure neither are they. It may be unlikely, but it’s not impossible. It starts with one. 

It’s time for Mets fans to get not just the hero they need, but the one they deserve. It’s time for Matt Harvey to stand up, put the team on his back and be the superhero he relishes in being compared to. 

No more innings limits, no more Scott Boras, no Rangers games or Russian supermodels. For game five, for the Mets and for Matt Harvey, there is only one word remaining. 

Rise. 

  

Mets Get Spanked, Down 0-2 Heading to Queens

No witty headline today.

It was a whitewashing in every sense of the word. Jacob deGrom didn’t ace, the Mets didn’t hit and usually when you neither pitch nor hit, you don’t win baseball games.

The Royals now lead the Mets 2-0 after Johnny Cueto finished off a two-hitter in a 7-1 victory in Kansas City last night. The teams have today off to travel before picking back up tomorrow night in Queens for game three.

Coming off the gut-punch that was game one, the Mets looked deflated and couldn’t get anything going offensively. Cueto was somewhat erratic, but the Mets couldn’t make him pay when they had their limited opportunities.

After scratching a run across a run in the 4th on a Lucas Duda flare to left, the Mets couldn’t even get another hit for the remainder of the game and gave away at-bat after at-bat as if they couldn’t wait to get back in the dugout.

To my eyes, the game was lost in the top of the 5th. After being given his one run of support, Jacob deGrom endured an incredibly stressful bottom of the 4th before escaping unscathed. Upon returning to the dugout, deGrom barely had time to catch his breath before Michael Conforto, Wilmer Flores and Juan Lagares produced three of the most pitiful at-bats of the season causing deGrom to head back to the mound almost immediately.

It was evident that Jacob didn’t have it in the bottom of the frame as he missed repeatedly flat and over the heart of the plate. The Royals, to their credit, didn’t sully the moment and knocked deGrom around to the tune of four runs in the inning.

Despite their best efforts, the game was still in reach until the bottom of the 8th when the Royals put up another three runs and put the game away for good. If the wind wasn’t out the Mets’ sails before that, the inning served to completely demoralize the team and fanbase.

As I’ve said to friends today, if the Mets had to lose, I’m glad it was like this and not another nail-biting, punch to the balls like game one was. Those kinds of games have a way of getting into your head forcing you to dwell on what could have been had one play, at-bat, or – in the case of Jeurys Familia – one pitch gone a different way.

This Mets team is a special group whom I’ve enjoyed watching all season. They’ve suffered more than a few absolutely devastating losses this year that you thought would destroy any promise of a successful season and they’ve continued to show an ability to bounce back.

I’d expect to see nothing less from them tomorrow night as they return home for the first World Series game to be hosted in Queens in 15 years. They’ve been given a shock against a team that they haven’t seen the likes of all year, but they’ll be ready to begin the uphill battle. They better be.

The more I think about it, the more I think that Noah Syndergaard is the perfect guy to be starting tomorrow. While it’s obviously the biggest game of his life, the rookie has shown a fearlessness and an embracing of the big game stage and I expect him to provide a solid performance.

As we’ve said all season, the Mets have to hit, though. No matter how good deGrom could have been last night, you can’t expect to win a game in the World Series with a run on two hits. The Royals are solid 1-9 in their lineup while the Mets look to have about five glaring holes.

It may be time to shuffle the deck a bit. Not necessarily benching people, but just switching up the order in an attempt to get something – ANYTHING – going at the plate.

Citi Field will be rocking tomorrow. Hopefully, the energy will translate on to the field and get the team back in this series or else we could all be watching hockey a few days earlier than any of really wanted to.

Doubting Collins: WS Appearance Doesn’t Make Terry Infallible

Mets manager, Terry Collins, is a baseball lifer currently enjoying the magic carpet ride that has led him to his first World Series in over 40 years of being involved in the game. You have to respect that. The man put in his time, worked and finally got to the granddaddy of ’em all. That’s a feel-good story.

He’s also done it with a group of players that – up until the July 31st trade deadline – most outsiders would have pegged as a second division team who were only in the playoff hunt due to an even better than expected starting rotation and the underperformance of other teams like the heavily-favored Washington Nationals and the expected-to-be-not-even-remotely-as-shitty-as-they-were Miami Marlins.

Although Collins got some reinforcements at the deadline, he still had to push some of the right buttons to keep the team afloat until that point and to keep them in the right direction heading down the stretch and into the postseason. Most would say he’s done a damn fine job of leading the team with some publications even anointing him their NL Manager of the Year.

I’ve had problems with Collins all season, however. Actually, even longer than that. Those can all be found and outlined in prior writings over at DOINow.com (which is now pretty exclusively a New York Rangers blog forcing the creating of this wonderful web home you’re currently reading), but all of Terry’s deficiencies were on full display last night in the most important game of his career.

For starters, his starting lineup left a lot to be desired. Collins chose to start utility-man Kelly Johnson, in the DH spot in lieu of rookie, Michael Conforto. Conforto did get the start in left field which meant that Yoenis Cespedes would play center and the best defender on the team, Juan Lagares, was relegated to the bench in a ballpark that plays big against a team that is known for putting the ball in play.

We can argue about how good or bad a defender Conforto is, but the fact of the matter is that he’s on this team for his bat and the Mets are better defensively with Lagares in center and Cespedes in left. It was a no-brainer that the manager chose to pass on and it blew up in his face on the very first pitch when Alcides Escobar hit what should have been a routine fly ball that Cespedes and Conforto both laid off and turned into a game-opening inside-the-park home run. It’s a play easily made by Lagares who has terrific range and is not shy about taking charge and calling of his other fielders when he knows he has a play.

Lagares did end up getting into the game after the Mets had gone up 3-1 and had a fine game offensively with a couple hits, a stolen base and being single-handedly responsible for the Mets fourth run that put them in a position to win the game in regulation.

But that wouldn’t be Collins’ only miscue. Throughout his tenure with the team, he’s shown a favoring hand to his veterans. He’s done this at the expense of developing young players and at the expense of playing better players. Last night was hopefully the last we see in this series of Michael Cuddyer.

Cuddyer has had an incredibly solid major-league career that could have been even better if not for a series of long injuries causing him to miss extensive periods of time, but at this point in his career, it’s hard justifying his spot on the World Series roster.

He looks old, slow and broken. In game one of the NLDS against the Dodgers, he misplayed two fly balls into hits for LA that cost Jacob deGrom somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20 extra pitches in the game. In addition to his lack of mobility in the field, his bat speed has completely gone the way of that ET Atari game that ended up buried in a New Mexico landfill.

With Juan Uribe returning to the roster, the Mets elected to remove Matt Reynolds who had replaced Ruben Tejada after the collision with Chase Utley in the NLDS. Reynolds has yet to get any time in a Major League game, but he is a legitimate shortstop and would have been the replacement should anything happen to Wilmer Flores or for late-inning defensive replacements.

After watching Cuddyer strike out three times in embarrassing fashion, you have to wonder about how smart it was to leave your only real backup shortstop option at home while “Cadaver” continues to bury himself.

Which brings us back to Uribe. If he’s healthy, he needs to be here and on this roster and plugged in when needed. He’s got energy, he’s a proven winner and things seem to happen around him. Which is why you have to question why it wasn’t Uribe used in that spot instead of Cuddyer last night. Cuddyer has not looked like anything more than washed-up in months now. Is Uribe not fully healthy? Because if not, Reynolds should still have been here. But if he is, then he’s the one who should have been getting those at-bats against lefty, Danny Duffy.

Even so, with both Lagares and Kirk Nieuwenhuis on the roster, the need for Cuddyer is non-existent. The need for a late-inning defensive replacement at shortstop against a Kansas City team that is proficient at putting the ball in play should have taken precedence over a show of respect to an aging veteran who offers nothing to the team at this point.

Did either of these moves win or lose the game? On the singular level, we don’t know. And we never will. But this is far from the time to be giving pity at-bats to someone who doesn’t deserve them.

In 1986, Boston Red Sox manager, John McNamara, replaced his aging first-baseman all season late in the game to insert Dave Stapleton a solid backup who provided added mobility and defensive skill at that point. In game six of the World Series, McNamara went away from what had worked all season because he wanted his veteran first-baseman to be able to celebrate on the field when the Sox clinched the Series title. Bill Buckner did indeed get to stay on the field, but he’s still waiting to celebrate that championship.

The Mets haven’t face a team as complete as this Royals team during the postseason and the manager and coaching staff need to realize that they have to be able to catch and run and hit instead of relying on the starters to strike out a dozen a game and waiting for Daniel Murphy to hit a home run.

The game had changed, but for Terry Collins, the gameplan remained very much the same in game one and it may have cost him a run or two. And that run or two may have been the game.

At the end of the day, players need to play and Collins didn’t make Familia’s pitch to Alex Gordon come in fat and flat, nor did he tell Matt Harvey to blow a two-run lead in the sixth, but in what is now a short season, you have to maximize your earnings when the opportunities arise and Collins failed to do so in the opener.

When a Classic Becomes A Nightmare

Back before NFL Sunday Ticket and MLB Extra Innings and NHL Center Ice, etc, etc, etc, watching a championship series or an All-Star game held a special allure because you got to see players you’d only read about in box scores or maybe your local paper’s Sunday edition where a columnist would get a good amount of papyrus to do (what felt like) a complete league round-up.

Being a fan of a team that only rarely makes the postseason, I was able to appreciate those players and those moments without rooting interest and just register how awesome these feats and these games were. We probably overuse the term (as with everything else nowadays), but you always wanted to be in front of the TV and see a “classic”.

For me, my classic was the 1991 World Series between the Braves and Twins. I had just turned 10 and, admittedly, I was a baseball fanatic. I read any book I could get my hand on if it had to do with the game. Memorized the backs of baseball cards. Played Baseball Stars on NES (the absolute greatest baseball game of the generation) where I had a notebook and pencil nearby so I could score the game and collate stats so as to be able to put together my own “league leaders” scoreboard like I’d see in the Sunday Daily News.

I was not a normal kid.

What all of that did was make me able to appreciate and understand what I was watching when Kirby Puckett hit a walk-off home run in game six and when Jack Morris threw a 10 inning shutout in game seven to lock up the Twins second ever World Series title.

To an extent.

Sure, the games were exciting. The players rose to occasion and gave the ghosts of legends past some company in hand-me-down stories to be told when the 10 year olds of 1991 became the fathers who passed on a memory of Danny Gladden crossing home plate.┬áBut when you’re not an invested fan of either team, one thing you’re not able to appreciate the joy or despair of winning or losing.

And last night, I got absolutely schooled in Classics 101.

After looking rusty after a long layoff, the Mets did just enough to take a one-run lead into the 9th inning and hand the ball to all-world closer, Jeurys Familia. Game over, right? We can all get to bed at a decent hour with visions of being up 2-0 in the Series in our head since deGrom is pitching tomorrow. Perfect. I even blasted “Danza Kuduro” way too loud which caused my neighbor to knock on the wall. Whoops.

But one flat fastball to Alex Gordon later, Familia had effectively blown game one and replaced my old vision with a recurring nightmare of Jose Vizcaino taking Armando Benitez down the LF line in the first game of the 2000 Series. That did not end well for the Mets. This one wouldn’t either.

This game featured a little of everything. Baseball oddities (first pitch inside the park homer that really was an error), stalwart players coming up small at big times (David Wright and Eric Hosmer errors), unlikely heroes (Jonathon Niese, Chris Young) and, finally, redemption (Hosmer, again).

After the Gordon bomb, you start going through all the familiar Mets-fan feelings. The disappointment, the despair, the “same old Mets”. But once you get through that, you begin telling yourself that that’s the old Mets. This team is new. They’re going to get this done.

But it was not to be. Not this night anyway. After outlasting the vaunted Royals bullpen, the Mets caught a huge break when Ned Yost turned to probably game four starter, Chris Young to try to give him some innings. What, on paper, looked like a mismatch in the Mets favor went total 180 and Young held the Mets down for three innings with little resistance.

After a few innings, some hours and a horrible David Wright error, the Mets were heading into the clubhouse down 1-0 in their first World Series appearance in fifteen years.

It was a kick in the balls.

It was Scrooge McDuck getting the Hidden Lamp pulled from his grasp by Flinthart Glomgold.

It was, in a word, classic. And I’ve never felt worse when turning off a baseball game in my life.