The Greatest Sports Day Of My Week

Saturday, April 29th began like any regular Saturday. I woke up, made coffee and dropped off my laundry. Cleaned up around the apartment and settled in to watch the Mets because, in the words of Apu, the NY Mets are my favorite squadron.

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As recently as this past Thursday, the Mets’ season looked to be on the brink of complete and total implosion after injuries to Yoenis Cespedes and Noah Syndergaard and, with a weekend showdown against the division-rival Washington Nationals on the agenda, it wasn’t hard to think the Mets could have three feet of dirt shoveled on top of them by Sunday night.

To the shock of everybody, the Mets stormed into the nation’s capital on Friday and defeated defending Cy Young Winner, Max Scherzer thanks in large part to catcher, Travis d’Arnaud’s monster two-homer, five RBI game. It was a nice, surprising way to start the weekend and you hoped – but didn’t expect – for things to continue on Saturday when they’d be pitted against Stephen Strasburg.

Early on, it looked as if it’d be another one of those days for the Metsies, but, in the 5th inning, they finally broke through against Strasburg and hung a 3 on the scoreboard, topped off by Michael Conforto’s two-run homer. Shockingly, they never relinquished the lead and even added a couple of insurance runs thanks to dingers from Jose Reyes (who is apparently back to being a Major Leaguer) and Conforto who added his second of the day as the team held on to a feel-good 5-3 win in DC that, at the very least, gave them the series win with a chance to sweep on Sunday.

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Even better, as if the mood around the Mets hadn’t already done a complete 180 since Thursday, Noah Syndergaard will be starting, says he feels fine and just needed a couple extra days to get himself back together. Now, I never give the Mets the benefit of the doubt on anything when it comes to injuries because of their well-documented track record, but I am willing to buy Thor telling me he’s fine since he hasn’t burned me yet. By 5PM on Saturday afternoon, everything was right in Metsville.

Those of you who know me, know that I’m also a very big hockey fan. While you would think, I’d be a Ranger fan based on where I grew up, that’s simply not the case. I’m actually a Pittsburgh Penguins fan and, yeah, there’s some front-running involved in that.

When I was kid, I didn’t have cable, so I never watched hockey. I didn’t become interested in the sport until the original NHL Hockey game came out on Sega Genesis. My cousin, Mike – a Devils fan – was the first dude I knew with a Genesis and – him growing up on Long Island – was very into hockey since the afterglow of the Islanders’ dynasty was still alive and well. When I’d go over to his house, I’d play the game and just ask who the best team in the game was since I didn’t know any better. It was, obviously the Penguins who were the defending Stanley Cup champs and, the more I played, the more I familiarized myself with their players and – voila! – I was a Pittsburgh Penguins fan for life.

Over the course of being a Pens fan, I certainly have hatred for the Flyers and I think comparing Sid and Ovi is absurd, but I have a genuine dislike for the New York Rangers. And that, obviously, is because of where I grew up. All my friends were Rangers fans and after winning the Cup in 94, the Rangers were the absolute bee’s knees around town. So it was a constant shit-talking situation between all of the kids I went to school with and myself.

To this day, some of the supreme sports shit-talking in my life is over hockey and I take a genuine delight in the Rangers failing just as my friends love to bust my balls when the Pens shit the bed.

I had the Rangers/Senators game on my second TV while the Mets were on Saturday and it warmed the cockles of my heart to see the Rags blow a two-goal lead in the last three minutes of regulation before sealing the deal with a loss in double-overtimes after JG Pageau put his fourth goal of the game behind Henrik Lundqvist to close out a 6-5 win and have the Senators in the driver’s seat with a 2-0 lead in the series.

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I’m not willing to say that this series is over, but four goals in a playoff game is hella impressive and you can’t imagine the joy I get from watching the Rangers fans having a meltdown on my social media timelines.

What a time to be alive.

Just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get better, the Penguins had the night game against the Capitals in their Game 2 matchup in Washington. I’ve said from the beginning, never bet the Caps against the Pens in the playoffs. I don’t care how good they were during the season, I don’t care how much they upgraded their roster. Until they actually finally get over that hump, don’t believe it will ever happen.

The Pens had won Game 1, but you had to figure it would be tough to take both games on the road, especially when the Caps came out flying in the first period and thoroughly dominated all aspects of the game…except they couldn’t score.

They skated complete circles around the Pens, but after 20 minutes, the game was still scoreless thanks to a great effort from Marc-Andre Fleury, the greatest goalie in Penguins history who had been relegated to backup duty late last year after the team called up wunder-prospect Matt Murray to take the reins in net.

Murray backstopped the team to a Stanley Cup last season and was expected to do the same again, but was injured during warm-ups before Game 1 of the Pens’ first-round series against Columbus forcing Fleury back into the starting role. Fleury has been even better than you could have hoped and once the Pens got rolling on Saturday, the man we lovingly call “Flower” was able to make the lead stand up as the Pens took Game 2 with a 6-2 victory.

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As opposed to the Rangers/Senators series, I am willing to go out on the limb and say that, for all intents and purposes, this series is done. Washington looked defeated and you can tell they have that “here we go again” mentality taking over. They threw their very best at the Pens in Game 2 and came away with not only nothing to show for it, but had their doors blown off on the scoreboard to go with it.

I was drinking Tito’s Vodka pretty casually throughout the day and by the time this game ended, I was in a terrific mood. It was simply the greatest sports Saturday I’ve had in…jeez, I don’t even know.

It may never happen again when all the ducks lineup in a row like this, but for one day, it was perfect. Although, now I do need to make a run to liquor store since I’m all out of Tito’s and – let’s be honest – Tito’s is fucking fantastic and you should never be without it.

I doubt very many people got the same enjoyment out this day that I did, but if you did, let’s pretend we watched it all unfold together as things just continually got better as the day got older. Raise your Tito’s and let’s toast to many more happy Saturdays.

Salut.

Twitter: @MaximusSexPower

E-Mail: ShoesOnSports@gmail.com

It’s Not Early, It’s A Blown Opportunity

The calendar still reads April, but the games count just the same as the ones in September. Through the first 19 games of the season, the Mets sport a record of just 8-11 and while the season certainly isn’t over, the team has already failed to capitalize on what was a golden opportunity to take the reigns of the division in the early going and dictate the tempo going forward.

In a strange bit of scheduling, the first 32 games on the Mets’ calendar this season are all played against their division rivals within the NL East. A strong start would have gone a long way to building a cushion at the top of the standings or, at the very least, fatten up on wins against the lesser competition of the Braves and Phillies.

When you come into a season with the expectation of being a World Series contender, you have to beat the bad teams. When those teams play within your division, it gives you an even better chance to distance yourself from the pack that inevitably gathers and scavenges around the Wild Card spots because of the extra intra-divisional games provided by the unbalanced schedule.

Even taking to current rash of injuries into account, we’ve seen very quickly that what was supposed to be the “deepest roster” Terry Collins has had since managing the team is already as thin as a wet paper towel. And not even one of those nice Bounty paper towels.

With Jay Bruce already pressed into duty at first base due to injuries to Lucas Duda and Wilmer Flores, the Mets are forced to keep underperformers Curtis Granderson (of the .145/.205/.254 line) and Jose Reyes (.104/.189/.134) in a lineup that is as desperate for warm bodies as it is for baserunners. Despite a performance in 2016 that featured a reliance on the long ball and routinely fell into slumps and cold streaks, the Mets did nothing to improve the lineup at the major league level and simply brought back an entire roster of players who were with the organization already and depended (hoped…prayed?) they’d all stay healthy.

Since that has already shown to be a pipe dream, the Mets are stuck in an already unenviable position of already hoping for players to get healthy, others to return to form and yet another group to hurry up and take the next step in their development. Despite all that, the biggest deficiency they have isn’t even on the 25 man roster, it’s the man who wears number 10 on the bench: manager Terry Collins.

Look. Terry Collins is one of those baseball-lifer guys you hear all about and respect and knowledge and blah blah blah. Fuck. That. Terry Collins is a half-witted hack and I don’t care how well him and David Wright get along because this is the same guy who has half his bullpen on pace for 200 appearances each in a 162 game season IN FUCKING APRIL!

He sits there after every game talking about how he has to protect the 4 guys in the rotation (I haven’t gotten the feeling that he gives a shit about Gazelle-Man yet), but has no problem making Jerry Blevins throw 2 innings a day. I’m sure he even called down to have Blevins warm up yesterday even though the game was rained out.

Let’s call a spade a spade. Collins sucks. He’s always sucked. Don’t start with that World Series run in 2015. If you paid attention you saw how lucky he was to ride a historic stretch from Yoenis Cespedes down the stretch, then to jump on the Daniel Murphy historic stretch in the postseason before was given enough rope to hang himself in the World Series. Am I saying the Mets would have beaten the Royals with a different manager? Not for sure, but would they have had a better shot with somebody different on the bench? Abso-fucking-lutely.

This idiot gave an already cold-bodied Michael Cuddyer three at-bats in Game 1 when, in all actuality, Cuddyer had absolutely no business even being on the postseason roster at that point. He’s the guy who had Jeurys Familia come into Game 3 to protect a goddamn six-run lead despite having pitched everyday for the previous three months. The same guy who gift-wrapped Game 4 by not pulling Matz after 5 innings and then wasting both of his long relievers in the sixth because Terry Collins has a script of what relievers get to pitch what innings and he’ll be goddamned if he ever alters his script.

I’ve said in the past that the Mets making that run to the Series was great and awful all at the same time. As a fan, all I want is for my team to win a World Series and they got close, but when they didn’t win, it ensured that Collins wasn’t going anywhere because you know a manager isn’t getting fired after an appearance in the Series.

I watch a lot of baseball, but obviously more Mets than anything else. It’s hard to think that there would be another manager in the Major Leagues right now that would be strategically worse than Terry Collins. He constantly refuses to give playing time to younger guys whether it be out of deference for veterans or just plain, old stubbornness. We’ve seen it with Wilmer Flores (who is still only 25 despite the feeling that he’s been a bench player on the big club for the past decade) and now we’ve seen it with Michael Conforto who has been good in the time he’s been given this season despite Collins’ insistence on continuing to run with Granderson because there’s a track record there.

Again, with the injuries that have befallen the team, there aren’t a lot of options to do otherwise right now, but there has never been any creativity or solid decision-making when it comes to filling out a lineup or managing an entire rotation during the Collins regime.

With the amount of free agents the Mets will have following this season and the question marks they will leave in the roster moving forward, the window for success for this team could be closing a lot faster than any of us want to believe. It would certainly behoove the team to find somebody better equipped at holding it open rather than forcing it shut.

It’s only been 19 games thus far, but to be three games under .500 at this point is certainly a failure in a season that was filled with great expectations. Even with the injuries, the team simply has to be better and has to capitalize on games against “second-division teams” as Keith Hernandez likes to say. Without doing so, it could get late awfully early this season.

E-Mail: ShoesOnSports@gmail.com

Twitter: @MaximusSexPower

Yoenis Cespedes, Dingers & The Fun Value

I love baseball. I love the Mets. You know what else I like? Fun. I like having a good time. I like when my baseball is fun baseball and not a boring collection of strikeouts and grinding out walks in long, terrible at-bats no matter the strategic value of said plate appearances.

Enter Yoenis Cespedes.

When he came over to the Mets in the 2015 trade deadline deal from the Detroit Tigers, we knew he was an impact bat, but by no means did we expect this offensive juggernaut that we would embrace as one of ours even close to as quickly as we did and then demand he be brought back for the largest annual value contracts in the history of the team.

Which poses the question: why did we fall in love with Cespedes so quickly? Simple: he makes baseball fun to watch and his time at the plate is must-see, destination viewing. If you miss a Cespedes at-bat, you’re doing yourself a great disservice.

We love characters, we love power, we love larger-than-life personalities and Yoenis checks off all of those boxes. When he launched his first homer last night off of Clay Buchholz to put the Mets ahead 3-0, we marveled at the sheer ferocity with which he swings. When his second of the game shot out to left field, we were in awe of just how hard he could sting a baseball. For most other players, that point of contact would have hooked the ball foul, but not Yoenis. He’s so brutally strong and slammed walloped that ball so viciously that he was able to keep it straight enough long enough before it was able to slow down its flight path and tail toward the wrong side of the foul pole.

How do you top that? Just hit a third one. In a game where it felt like the whole lineup was having a good day, Cespedes still found a way to be the singular person in the spotlight. Three homers. The second time he’s done that as a member of the Mets and the very first Mets player to ever have two such games in the history of the franchise.

For a team that is now in its 56th season, anytime you see a player achieve a “first” in team history is an impressive feat.

Cespedes is better than any of us gave him credit for when he was first brought over during that 2015 season. He single-handedly carried that squad through the last eight weeks on his back to a division title and then followed that with an equally impressive 2016 season even factoring in some time lost to injury.

When people questioned his level of dedication following a huge contract signing this offseason, he reported to spring training in absolutely ridiculous shape and reiterated his desire to not only win a championship (you have to say the political thing), but also to achieve a personal goal of winning the National League MVP award (which is something no Mets player has ever done). Personally, I love that.

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He’s got a flair. He’s got style. He wants to be the best. I don’t care how many different cars he shows up to work in. I don’t care how many horses he owns. I don’t care how often he plays golf during his time off. When it’s time to play, Yoenis Cespedes has always shown up ready to go to work. And he makes things exciting, entertaining and fun when he does. You can’t ask for anything more.

IBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot

Being a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America is pretty cool. It’s opened me up to finding out about scores of great writers and bloggers who all cover the game from different angles. As someone who is a baseball nerd, I love reading as much about the game as I can.

But the best part of membership is being able to cast votes for year-end awards and Hall of Fame.

It’s something I take seriously because these awards and achievements always mattered to me as a fan and to be involved in a process to recognize the players in the greatest game on Earth is an honor, no matter how small my role in it is.

I received my ballot for the IBWAA Hall of Fame last week and already had a good idea of who I’d be voting for, but still took a couple of days to go over everything once more just to be sure. I know this doesn’t change the world, but like I said, I do take this seriously because I know very well that 11 year-old me wouldn’t accept anything less.

With that being said, let’s go over my choices. First off, Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez and Tim Raines weren’t on the IBWAA ballot because all three have been elected in previous years.

Now to those actually on the ballot.

Players I Voted For Last Year Who Remained on My Ballot:

  • Barry Bonds
  • Roger Clemens
  • Trevor Hoffman
  • Jeff Kent
  • Billy Wagner
  • Larry Walker

Players Appearing For the First Time Who I Voted For:

  • Vladimir Guerrero
  • Manny Ramirez
  • Ivan Rodriguez

Players I Dropped From My Ballot:

  • Curt Schilling

Not Receiving A Vote:

  • Casey Blake
  • Pat Burrell
  • Orlando Cabrera
  • Mike Cameron
  • JD Drew
  • Carlos Guillen
  • Derrick Lee
  • Fred McGriff
  • Melvin Mora
  • Mike Mussina
  • Magglio Ordonez
  • Jorge Posada
  • Edgar Renteria
  • Arthur Rhodes
  • Freddie Sanchez
  • Gary Sheffield
  • Lee Smith
  • Sammy Sosa
  • Matt Stairs
  • Jason Varitek
  • Tim Wakefield

All told, I voted for nine players this year. We are allowed to vote for up to 15, but, obviously, I didn’t feel the need for that this year.

On The Issue of Voting For the “PED Guys”:

At first, I was completely against those who had ties to PEDs. As time went on, I saw players with nothing but the suspicion because of how they looked being punished because of the cloud over the era. That caused me to change my tune. Also, this isn’t life or death and the Hall of Fame isn’t exactly filled with choirboys. So, if it’s all or nothing, I’d rather go for “all”.

Manny Ramirez is a different case, I get it. He was actually caught and suspended twice. But it is impossible for me to know just how much of his career was played while taking PEDs, so I feel like I have to include him under the same criteria as the others.

Curt Schilling:

I voted for Schilling last year with my final pick. At no point did I ever feel like he was a no-doubter, but I felt like his extraordinary postseason performances were enough to sway me over to a “Yes” since his regular season numbers don’t exactly jump out at you. So what changed this year? This is where I confess to being a hypocrite. Whereas I felt it’s not my place to be the judge on the PED guys, Schilling’s social media performance over the past year has completely worn on me and I just want him to go away. He’s a stretch vote to begin with and this year I just decided his whole act negated what was able to sway me last year.

Others:

Jeff Kent is arguably the greatest offensive second-baseman ever. To me, what really hurts him is not being easily identified with a single team since he bounced around quite a bit over the course of his career. I wasn’t necessarily the biggest Jeff Kent fan, but it’s hard to ignore the numbers he put up at the position.

When it comes to Larry Walker, you vote based on what you think of the Coors Field effect. Personally, I’m not going to punish someone for where he played and the man was a damn good hitter as well as an elite defensive outfielder.

Vladimir Guerrero was simply a joy to watch. A player who had as much raw talent as anybody I’ve ever seen and was able to turn it into a great career.

On Players Left Off:

The one player I kept going back and forth on was Jorge Posada. Incredibly solid at a difficult position, but I’m still inclined to lean toward “Hall of Very Good” on him. I don’t know if my feeling on that will change going forward, but if I did “snub” somebody, I think he would probably qualify as the most notable.

Other than that, I feel like there was quite a bit of filler on this year’s ballot. Not to take away anything from these men and their careers, but pretty obviously, a lot of these guys just aren’t close to being Hall of Famers. Even then, I still voted for nine players and am happy with the ballot I submitted. Obviously, not everybody will agree and I’m OK with that.

IBWAA voting is still open until the end of the year.

Feel feel to let me know what you think.

Twitter: @MaximusSexPower

E-Mail: ShoesOnSports@gmail.com

Thanks for reading.

 

Podcast: Ahead of Their Time

I’m a baseball nerd. Ever since I was a kid, I was enamored with the history, statistics and strategies of the game. I know not everybody is as interested in that in-depth stuff as much as I am, but odds are, if you come to this page, you have more than just a passing interest in baseball.

Well, this is an episode of a podcast put out by FiveThirtyEight called “Ahead of Their Time” where the host talks about a singular topic and the impact it ended up having on the game. This one tells us the origins of the defensive shift as first popularized by then Cleveland Indians player-manager, Lou Boudreau as a way to stop Ted Williams from just killing them with the bat and how other teams picked up on it before it fell out of the game.

Eventually, the Tampa Bay Rays brought it back in the mid-2000s and it became the wonderful ruiner of baseball that people hate and/or love depending on how your team manages it, but the story of and about it was absolutely fascinating to me and I think you’ll enjoy it as well. Give it a listen.

It’s a pain in the ass to find a direct link because godforbid ESPN make it easy on you, but here’s the FiveThirtyEight podcast page where you can stream it; titled “Why Baseball Revived a 60-year-old Strategy Designed To Stop Ted Williams”.