Sunday, May 22, 2016

Joey's World Tour: Mile High Clubbed

Greetings from 5,280 feet above sea level! (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Hi, everyone!  This is Joey Beartran and it's time for me to share my latest story as I make another stop on my world tour of ballparks.  If you recall, the last stop I made was in Cincinnati, where I witnessed the Mets clinching the 2015 National League East division title.  But as the saying goes, "It was the best of the times.  It was the worst of times."  And whereas the Cincinnati trip was as good as it gets, the trip to the Mile High city was ... let's just say the opposite.

I'm not concerned about spoiler alerts.  I'll just come out and say it.  The Mets were clubbed by the Rockies in a three-game sweep.  New York scored just nine runs in the three games - the fewest they had ever scored in a series at Coors Field.  How bad was it for the Mets during the lost weekend in Denver?

They lost the first game to Jon Gray.  It was Gray's first big league win.  It took him 14 starts in parts of two seasons to earn that elusive first victory.

They lost the second game to Eddie Butler.  This is the same Eddie Butler who has a 6.70 ERA and 1.82 WHIP at Coors Field in three seasons as a Rockie.

They lost the third game to Tyler Chatwood.  Well, Chatwood's a good pitcher.  But the Rockies' bullpen continued to stymie the Mets.

In the three games, Colorado's relief staff allowed no runs in eight innings.  The two main relievers who befuddled the Mets' batsmen were closer Jake McGee and set-up man Charlie Sheen (but you can call him Carlos Estevez).  Estevez was anything but a Wild Thing, as he struck out four batters and walked none in two innings.  Meanwhile, McGee earned saves in all three games, also walking none while fanning three in the trio of victories.  Prior to the sweep, Estevez had a 6.00 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP, while McGee was one of the worst closers in baseball, posting a 4.97 ERA and a .300/.364/.480 slash line against him prior to the series against the Mets.

Apparently, the Mets didn't get the memo that they were facing lousy pitchers at Coors Field.

How could the Mets miss this large sign letting them know where they were?  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

But enough about the games.  Let's talk about what I did in and around the ballpark.  Baseball results notwithstanding, I actually had a fun time in Denver and the surrounding areas in Colorado.

Inside the ballpark, there are many things that you're not going to find in any other stadiums.  For example, one of the first things you'll notice when you look up is a purple row among the sea of green seats where the fannies can rest their fannies.  That row is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level, or exactly one mile - also known as the distance Yoenis Cespedes hits balls in batting practice.

Unlike Citi Field (and most other ballparks), you're allowed to walk down to the seats behind home plate during batting practice.  Another thing I noticed was that even though ushers at every section in the park don't allow you to go to your seat until an at-bat is completed (after all, that is proper baseball etiquette), they don't check your ticket to see if you actually belong in that section.  Good to know in case I pay for $4 tickets in the Rockpile (the area with bleacher-style seats high above straightaway center field) and want to move down a little closer to the action.

But when I don't mind being a mile high in the stadium, I can relax in the new Rooftop area high above the right field corner.  Up there, they have a few full bars with lots of domestic and craft beers, a lounge area, HEAT (for those cold early and late season games) and good music (for when the crack of the bat doesn't provide you with enough sonic stimulation).

In case you forgot, I'm not just the Studious Metsimus roving reporter.  I'm also the culinary expert.  So my time at Coors Field wouldn't be complete without discussing some of the food choices inside the park.  Here's the first thing I noticed about the food.  It's reasonably priced!  You basically have to have a seafood option or a large barbecue plate to spend more than ten bucks on one item.  The same thing applies to adult beverages.  A margarita in a small cup at Citi Field will cost you $12.  At Coors Field, a slightly larger cup is only $8.25.  And they put plenty of salt around the rim, as opposed to the ones sold at Citi Field.  (My Studious Metsimus colleagues filed that report, as I'm too young to partake in those types of drinks.)

A great place to eat inside the ballpark is the Smokehouse.  (The full name is the Smokehouse at the Blue Moon Co. at the Sandlot, which sounds too much like it should be run by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Orange County on Planet Earth in the Milky Way Galaxy.)  In addition to having just about every kind of meat available for nachos, they had excellent baked potatoes with lots of free toppings. (Bacon is considered a free topping here - yes, please!)

There's also a Helton's Burger Shack in the left field corner, which features a burger and sauce made from brisket, shoulder and sirloin.  Forget the fries when you order this burger.  You have to go with the humongous onion rings as your side.  Seriously, they're huge.

If you're craving Italian food, the ballpark has a special wing dedicated to delicacies from the country shaped like a boot.  And for dessert, you can have a Berrie-Kabob, which is a misspelled berry on a skewer.  Actually, I kid.  It's actually strawberries and bananas covered in white or milk chocolate all pierced by a long stick.  I may have asked for a couple dozen of these.

Smokehouse and Helton Shack Burger photos courtesy of the Denver Post.  All other photos by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus.

The delicious food helped ease the pain of the three losses suffered by the Mets.  But Coors Field also brought back painful memories.  For example, the Rockies are very proud of their lone National League pennant, and they like to remind all those who enter the park with banners and sections of the scoreboard devoted to their one World Series appearance in 2007.  If you recall, that was the year the Mets gift wrapped the division title to the Phillies, while the Rockies waltzed by the Mets for the wild card, which led to an unlikely pennant for Colorado's baseball club that in the minds of most Mets fans should have been won by New York.

Thinking of the 2007 season upset me more than it should have, so I was joined by my sister, Iggy, as we decided to escape into the Rockies team store.  There we were met by a wall of Dingers, where we were greatly outnumbered by the effigies of the Rockies mascot.  But at least Iggy made a friend or three when she noticed some bears in Rockies shirts.

Now that we're talking about the past, I should mention that prior to last year, the Mets hadn't appeared in a World Series since 2000, and the player who helped propel them to the Fall Classic that year was NLCS MVP Mike Hampton.  The same Mike Hampton left the Mets at the end of that season to enroll his kids in the fine Colorado school system.  (Never mind the nine-figure, long-term contract given to him by the Rockies.  It was the schools that made him sign it, dadgummit!)

Hampton may not have replicated his success on the mound as a member of the Rockies in 2001, but he did do quite well at the plate that year, winning a Silver Slugger Award, which the Rockies celebrate with a banner in the field level concourse.  On a related note, the Rockies also like to point out who they defeated in the first game ever played at Coors Field in 1995.  The large letters made it hard to miss.

Photos by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus

Although Coors Field is a gem of a ballpark, the real gem in the state is the Rocky Mountains.  So I took a short trip up to Juniper Pass, which is approximately 40 miles west of downtown Denver and 11,020 feet above sea level.  My driver could have gone up to Mount Evans, which was a few miles up the road at an altitude of over 12,000 feet, but the area was still closed due to winter conditions.  In mid-May, mind you.  But that's the Rocky Mountains for you.

At the slightly lower Juniper Pass, the mountain roads were clear of frozen precipitation, but there was still plenty of snow to see.  I probably should have worn my hood as the temperature was in the upper 30s there, whereas it was in the upper 50s at Denver's lower altitude.

The views from Juniper Pass were absolutely incredible.  The air is crisp and you can hear sounds from miles away (not that there are many sounds at 11,000 feet).  But because the air is thinner, you get winded very quickly.  I can only imagine how much of a hard time Bartolo Colon would have had running around the bases had Petco Park been located somewhere in Juniper Pass instead of San Diego.

My butt was frozen in this photo.  (Photos by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

We came.  We saw.  But the Rockies conquered.  That was pretty much the story on this latest stop of Joey's World Tour of ballparks.  But at least we enjoyed some good food and some breathtaking views.  And because of the altitude, some of it was literally breathtaking.  I mean, it was hard to breathe once we passed 10,000 feet!

Coors Field is definitely a ballpark I would visit again.  Hopefully, next time the Mets will remember to pack their bats when they depart for Denver.  They should also pack their scouting reports so that they don't think guys like Jon Gray, Eddie Butler and Tyler Chatwood are the second coming of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.  (PSSST, here's a little secret.  They're also not as good as John Smiley, Zane Smith and Randy Tomlin, for those of you who are more experienced Mets fans.)

I'd like to look a little happier in photos the next time I go to Coors Field than I did when I took this final photo in front of the scoreboard after the Rockies completed their sweep of the Mets.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you on the road wherever my baseball tour takes me next.

There was no sunshine for me or the Mets on this cloudy day.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

For previous installments of Joey's World Tour, please click on the links below, where you will be entertained by Joey's wit, photos and love of ballpark cuisine:

World Tour Stop #1: Baltimore
World Tour Stop #2: Washington, DC
World Tour Stop #3: Pittsburgh
World Tour Stop #4: Texas
World Tour Stop #5: Los Angeles
World Tour Stop #6: San Diego
World Tour Stop #7: Toronto
World Tour Stop #8: Chicago
World Tour Stop #9: Milwaukee
World Tour Stop #10: Seattle
World Tour Stop #11: Cleveland
World Tour Stop #12: Brooklyn (Ebbets Field site) and Manhattan (Polo Grounds site)
World Tour Stop #13: Baltimore (again) and Pittsburgh (part deux)
World Tour Stop #14: Cincinnati

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

20 Years Ago: When Mark Grace Punched Me in the Face

Twenty years ago today, I decided to take in a Saturday matinee at Shea Stadium to see the Mets take on the Chicago Cubs.  Although the 1996 squad had three offensive forces in center fielder Lance Johnson, left fielder Bernard Gilkey and catcher Todd Hundley, my favorite player on the team was first baseman Rico Brogna.

Brogna was only a Met for parts of three seasons and never played for a winning Mets team, but in his short time with the club, he became a beloved figure with the fans.  One of Brogna's many big moments with the team came on that particular Saturday - May 11, 1996 - when he delivered a walk-off home run to defeat the Chicago Cubs, 7-6, at Shea Stadium.

But the story of the game wasn't the Brogna blast that erased a four-run Cubs rally.  It was the bench-clearing brawl in the fifth inning that started when Mets starting pitcher Pete Harnisch and Cubs catcher (and good friend) Scott Servais got into a heated argument at the plate.  And before the 15-minute donnybrook was done, Mark Grace had punched me in the face.  Here's the story - 20 years later - of how a great contact hitter made some not-so-great contact with my left cheek.
Is this what Mark Grace looked like before his fist came in the direction of my face?

The Mets were celebrating John Franco Day at Shea Stadium on May 11, 1996, to commemorate the reliever's 300th career save.  But Franco was not around to notch a save in this game, thanks to the fisticuffs that took place in the fifth inning of the Mets' 7-6 victory.

The seeds to the battle royale were planted in the first inning, when Mets catcher Todd Hundley had to duck out the way of a errant pitch by Cubs starter Kevin Foster.  When Foster came to bat for the first time in the second inning, Harnisch drilled him with his first pitch.  No warnings were issued at the time by home plate umpire Greg Bonin.

Harnisch expected retaliation by Foster when he came to bat, but fortunately for him, the Mets had two runners on base when he came up to the plate in the second inning and the bases loaded for his next at-bat in the third.  Neither Foster nor relief pitcher Rodney Myers (who came in for Foster in the third) could hit Harnisch with a pitch because doing so would damage the Cubs' chances at a scoreless inning.  Harnisch batted again in the fifth inning, but this time there were two outs and no one on base.  Terry Adams was now on the mound for the Cubs.  It didn't take long for the fracas to begin.

Adams threw his first pitch low and behind Harnisch.  Cubs catcher Scott Servais then started jawing at Harnisch, which caused the Mets pitcher to throw a punch at Servais.  Both benches and bullpens emptied and a violent brawl ensued.  The fight then moved in the direction of the Cubs dugout.  Guess where my seat was that day?

I have always enjoyed taking photos at Mets games.  In 1996, the Mets had a promotion where they gave fans in attendance a disposable Kodak camera.  It was a camera that had no zoom and could only be used for 24 photos before it had to be discarded.  It was as primitive as you could get for a wannabe photographer.  Because the Mets didn't draw well in 1996, I was able to get a ticket three rows behind and slightly to the home plate side of the Cubs dugout.  Because I was so close to the field, I figured I'd use the disposable camera since I wouldn't need a zoom feature from that distance.

Of course, as soon as I saw the mountains of men pushing, shoving and trying to decapitate each other near the Cubs dugout, I ran down to the front row and tried to take a super close-up photo of the action.  That's when Cubs first baseman Mark Grace stepped in.  And my face and my camera checked out.

In his effort to try to separate Mets players from his teammates, Grace accidentally (or at least I think it was unintentional) took a swipe in my direction, landing his fist on my face between my left cheek and left eye.  I dropped the camera in shock, and of course, it broke upon impact with the field level concrete.  The area between my cheek and eye ended up slightly swollen, and it had the appearance of a piece of skin that had just been ripped off with a piece of tape.  Grace had as mean a left hook as he had a sweet lefty swing.  I just had a mean bruise on my face and a broken camera.

After the pugilists were sent back to their respective corners, nine players and coaches had been ejected, including the man who was celebrating his special day at Shea Stadium - John Franco.

The Mets, who at one point had a 6-2 lead in the game, saw their lead whittled down to two runs in the ninth.  With Franco stewing in the showers (he claimed he was unjustly ejected, saying "I'm too old to be doing that kind of stuff"), the Mets needed three pitchers in a failed attempt to protect a 6-4 lead in the ninth.  A two-out, two-run single by Jose Hernandez off Doug Henry tied the game at six, and put Rico Brogna in position to win it in the bottom of the ninth.

With one out and no one on, Brogna delivered a high fly ball deep down the right field line.  Right fielder Sammy Sosa climbed the fence right near the foul pole, but Brogna's blast just cleared the wall over Sosa's glove.  With Sosa still dangling on the wall, Brogna ran gingerly around the bases, having injured himself during the fifth-inning fracas.  It gave Brogna a four-hit, two-homer, four-RBI day and capped a thrilling 7-6 victory for the Mets.

Of course, I have no photographic evidence of this home run because my camera was in pieces thanks to Mark Grace, but I'll always have clear memories of that free-for-all, Rico Brogna's amazing day at the plate, and the shape of Grace's left fist - all of which happened 20 years ago today on a Saturday afternoon at Shea.

I guess I should be thankful Grace didn't sock me a few inches higher.  My memories might not have been so clear then.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

How the Mets Fare When Their Starting Pitcher Homers

Bartolo Colon, Slugger.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

It.  Has.  Happened.

Bartolo Colon accomplished what was thought to be impossible, crushing an offering by Padres' starter James Shields into the Western Metal Supply Co. building.  It was the 266th tater served up by Shields in his career, but the first he had ever allowed to an opposing pitcher.  Colon's two-run shot gave the Mets a 4-0 lead in a game they ended up winning, 6-3, which continued an odd two-decades long winning streak.

Beginning with former No. 1 overall pick Paul Wilson's homer against the Phillies on September 20, 1996, the Mets have now won 14 consecutive games in which their starting pitcher homered.  That includes blasts by beloved and respected pitchers (Rick Reed, Johan Santana, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey), pitchers who are among the team's all-time top ten in victories (Bobby Jones, Steve Trachsel), pitchers who were barely on the Mets (Armando Reynoso, Jeremy Hefner) and a pitcher who had better success hitting a Roger Clemens pitch than he did at hitting Roger Clemens with a pitch (Shawn Estes).

The Dirty Baker's Dozen, BC (Before Colon).

Interestingly enough, prior to Wilson's round tripper, his former Generation K teammate, Jason Isringhausen, was responsible for the team's two previous homers by starting pitchers, going deep twice in a five-week period during the summer of '96, but the Mets lost both contests, dropping a 6-5 decision to the Pirates on June 19 and a 7-6 game at Coors Field against the Rockies on July 24.  And before Isringhausen, Dwight Gooden was the last pitcher to homer in a game, doing so against the Marlins in 1993.  Yup, the Mets lost that game, too.

For a time, the Mets could only lose games in which their starting pitcher hit a home run.  Now, they can't lose when the pitcher trots around the bases.  The Mets' decades-long winning streak when the starting pitcher homers is now up to 14 games, and it was extended by the unlikeliest candidate in hefty hurler Bartolo Colon.

Death, taxes and the Mets winning ballgames when the starter goes yard.  There are currently no surer things in life.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Few Runs, Nine Innings, Lots of Minutes

While staying up until 1:41 AM this morning to watch the Mets drop yet another game at Petco Park, I noticed this question being asked on Twitter by a good friend of the Studious Metsimus posse, Jason Bornstein (you may follow him on Twitter by clicking on his handle, @DyHrdMET).  Mr. Bornstein was wondering...

As you know, @greg_prince, otherwise known as Greg Prince of Faith and Fear in Flushing fame and the author of the recently released book, "Amazin' Again", is a noted Mets historian and one of the go-to guys when it comes to obscure Mets facts.

Being the buttinski that I am, I joined the conversation and suggested a game that oddly enough is not an SNY classic - a 1-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies in 2012 that ended three hours and ten minutes after the first pitch was thrown.  And after doing some extra research, I can confirm that this is indeed the longest nine-inning, 1-0 game in Mets history.  It's also one of only four 1-0 nine-inning contests the Mets have participated in that made it to the three-hour mark.

But of course, last night the Mets did not lose by a 1-0 score.  After Mr. Bornstein's question made the rounds on Twitter, the Mets allowed a second and final run in their 2-0 defeat at the hands of the San Diego Padres.  Despite the low score, the game took exactly three hours to complete.  So I did more research (because like everyone else, that's how I spend my Saturday mornings and afternoons) and determined that it was just the 13th time in team history that the Mets needed three or more hours to play a nine-inning game in which they and their opponent combined for no more than two runs (i.e. a 1-0 or 2-0 final score).  The Mets have won five of the 13 games, taking two 1-0 decisions and three 2-0 affairs.  They've also lost two 1-0 games that lasted 3+ hours and dropped six others - including last night's contest - by a score of 2-0.

Here is a complete list of all the 3+ hour, nine-inning games involving the Mets in which the hours outnumbered the runs scored.  (You may click on the links in the final score column to see the full boxscores of each game.)

Final Score
Time of Game
vs. Philadelphia
Sept. 8, 2000
vs. Washington
Sept. 12, 2012
@ Florida
July 3, 2000
vs. NY Yankees
July 9, 2000
vs. Colorado
Aug. 23, 2012
@ Milwaukee
July 27, 2014
@ San Diego
May 17, 1988
vs. Montreal
May 3, 1987
vs. NY Yankees
May 15, 2014
vs. Tampa Bay
June 3, 2000
@ NY Yankees
June 15, 2007
vs. San Francisco
May 4, 2011
@ San Diego
May 6, 2016

It should be noted that the Mets' 2-0 victory over the Yankees on July 9, 2000 would have been the longest game on this list had the Mets needed to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning, which they didn't because the game was played at Shea Stadium.

Also of note, three of the 13 games were Subway Series matchups.  Those are the only interleague games on the list.  In addition, the Mets only played two low-run, nine-inning games in their first 38 seasons (from 1962 to 1999) that took a minimum of three hours to complete, but in their last 17 campaigns (from 2000 to 2016), a total of 11 such games have taken place, including last night's affair against the Padres.

Usually, Mets games that have been seemingly interminable have also been accompanied by tons of runs.  But in some rare instances, pitchers' duels have also taken their sweet time to complete.  Last night was the 13th time in club annals that the Mets participated in a game that featured no more than two runs and took at least three hours to complete.  And for viewers in the Eastern Time Zone, the game didn't end until 1:41 AM.

It was certainly a case where lots of zeroes on the scoreboard led to lots of zzzzzzz's in New York.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Broken News: Being in the Right Place at the Right Time

Welcome to another edition of Broken News, where someone else breaks the news and then we break it again.  In today's installment, we're going to look back at Friday night's game between the Mets and Giants, otherwise known as the game in which the bottom of the third inning turned into a matchup between the Gas-House Gorillas and the Tea Totallers.  (Go watch classic Bugs Bunny clips if you don't know what I mean.)

In the third, the Mets sent 15 men to the plate and scored a dozen runs, breaking the franchise record for tallies in a single frame.  Yoenis Céspedes put the icing on the inning by giving his regards to Giants reliever Mike Broadway, lining a grand slam to score the Mets' ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth runs of the frame.  Earlier in the third, Céspedes had driven in two runs with another hit.  His six RBI set a club record for a player in one inning.

The Mets basically did a conga line around the bases in the third, scoring half a dozen runs off starter Jake Peavy and another half dozen against Broadway to set a team mark with 12 runs in one inning, breaking the old record of 11, which was accomplished in 2006 in an inning where the Mets clubbed two grand slams.

I attended Friday night's game and got to witness the third inning in person.  It was the 13th grand slam hit by a Mets player that I've had the pleasure of seeing at Shea Stadium and Citi Field.  I've also had the honor of being at Citi Field for eight of the 12 walk-off homers hit in the park's history, including all six game-ending blasts since 2013 and the only two walk-off grand slams ever hit there.  I've been in the right place at the right time for many of these exciting finishes, which reminds me of the first times I ever saw a grand slam and a walk-off homer.

If you're a long-time reader, then you know about the first walk-off homer I ever saw in person.  It happened in 1996, when Rico Brogna accomplished the feat against the Chicago Cubs in the same game where Mark Grace punched me in the face.  But there were also fisticuffs in the game where I witnessed my first-ever grand slam, and it involved a mighty mite and a future Hall of Famer.

On May 14, 1994, the Mets and Braves hooked up for a Saturday matinee at Shea Stadium.  I got to my seat a little late for first pitch, but realized that I had a celebrity sitting next to me in my field level seat.  It was none other than MTV personality Dan Cortese.  That's right, the bandana enthusiast from MTV Sports and Rock n' Jock fame was my next-seat neighbor for the festivities.  Because I like to rock with the cool kids.

My seat mate for the game in which I witnessed my first grand slam in person.  (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images)

The Mets took a 3-0 lead into the fifth inning and had two outs and no one on base.  It did not appear as if the Mets would be able to extend their lead against Braves starting pitcher John Smoltz in the frame.  But then Smoltz allowed singles to Bobby Bonilla and Jeff Kent and followed that up with a wild pitch that moved Kent into scoring position behind Bonilla, who was already at third.  Smoltz then intentionally walked David Segui to load the bases for Ryan Thompson.  On a 1-2 pitch, Thompson blasted a long home run off Smoltz to give the Mets a 7-0 lead and me my first in-person grand slam hit by a Met.  That brought up Brooklyn-born John Cangelosi to the plate and he made sure to let Smoltz know that he still had a lot of Brooklyn in him.

On the first pitch following Thompson's grand slam, Smoltz nailed Cangelosi in the back.  It was the second consecutive inning Smoltz had hit Cangelosi in the John-on-John crime, as he was plunked by the Braves starter in the fourth inning as well.  Bruised, but not battered, the diminutive Brooklynite then charged at Smoltz, who had seven inches and sixty pounds on the Mets left fielder, and a bench-clearing brawl ensued.  There is no truth to the rumor that I had to hold back Dan Cortese from joining the fracas, but he was throwing air punches in his seat as if he were mentally trying to show Mets players who were 200 feet away from us how to defend themselves against the big bad boys from Atlanta.

After the dust had settled and Smoltz and Cangelosi had been tossed, the game continued without incident and the Mets went on to record an 11-4 victory.  An interesting side note that was overshadowed by the boxing match was that Mauro Gozzo recorded the win for the Mets in the game, a win that was made possible by Thompson's grand slam.  Gozzo was originally drafted by the Mets in 1984, but was traded to Kansas City in 1987 in the deal that brought David Cone to New York.  Five years later, Cone was traded to Toronto for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson - the same Ryan Thompson who helped Gozzo defeat the Braves.  (Gozzo had returned to the Mets as a free agent following the 1992 campaign.)

Since Citi Field opened in 2009, I've had a better than 50-50 chance to be in attendance whenever a grand slam or walk-off home run has been hit by a Mets player, including the grand slam by Yoenis Céspedes on Friday night.  It's gotten to the point where I've kind of gotten used to seeing slams and walk-offs.  But prior to 1994, I had never seen either type of blast in person.  Then Ryan Thompson ended my grand slam drought in 1994, followed by Rico Brogna's walk-off blast two years later.  Both firsts were accompanied by fists.  (Only one was accompanied by Dan Cortese.)  At least both were also accompanied by Mets victories.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Curtis Granderson Has Ended the Game of Musical Chairs in Right Field

Curtis Granderson warms up in right field before a game.  Not many other Mets have been able to say the same since 2014.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

It's been more than a quarter century since Darryl Strawberry patrolled right field for the last time as a member of the New York Mets.  Since then, the Mets have used 17 different Opening Day right fielders.  Sixteen of them made their Opening Day starts in the 23 seasons between 1991 (when Hubie Brooks replaced Strawberry in right) and 2013 (when Marlon Byrd became the word at the outfield position).  No Met started more than three Opening Day games in right field in those 23 seasons and none started more than two consecutive season openers.

Since Strawberry's departure following the 1990 campaign, a total of 126 men have played at least one game in right field for the Mets.  The long list of players includes Chip Ambres, who played a total of two innings in right field for the Mets in 2007 and drove in the game-winning run in that game - his only RBI as a member of the team - to Bobby Bonilla, who just wanted to be a Bronx tour guide to a certain Daily News reporter and author when he wasn't playing right field 229 times during two stints with the Mets.

Of the 126 players who succeeded Strawberry in right, only 17 of them played at least 100 games at the position.  And in the 23 seasons following the Straw Man's departure, no Met played as many as 300 games in right field, as Jeromy Burnitz's total of 290 games in right led all players from 1991 to 2013.  But after a quarter century, the Mets may finally have found their first everyday right fielder since Darryl packed his bags to go home to Los Angeles.

Curtis Granderson signed a four-year contract with the Mets prior to the 2014 campaign.  It wasn't the first time the team had signed a right fielder to a lengthy contract, as the aforementioned Bonilla signed a five-year deal with the Mets following the 1991 season, only to see him shift over to each corner infield position and eventually run himself out of town with a year and a half left on his contract.

As in Bonilla's case, Granderson had a subpar first season in New York.  Bonilla's final year in Pittsburgh in 1991 saw him produce a .302 batting average, a league-leading 44 doubles and his third 100-RBI campaign in four seasons.  As the Mets' new right fielder in 1992, Bonilla batted just .249 with 70 RBI and fewer extra-base hits (23 doubles, 19 homers) than he had doubles in 1991.  Granderson, who produced back-to-back 40-HR campaigns with the Yankees in his final two healthy seasons with the team in 2011 and 2012, did not drive in many runs for the Mets as a middle-of-the-order hitter in 2014 and was eventually moved to the leadoff spot because of his ability to draw walks.  His first season as a Met was mostly underwhelming, as he batted .227 with 20 homers, 66 RBI and 73 runs scored in 155 games, with 142 of those games seeing Granderson playing right field.

Granderson's sophomore season in Flushing was a smashing success, as he posted a .259/.364/.457 slash line.  His .821 OPS was over one hundred points higher than the .714 OPS he produced in 2014.  He also scored 98 runs and walked 91 times, the most by any Mets right fielder since Strawberry, who scored 101 runs in 1988 and walked 97 times in 1987.  In doing so, Granderson became just the seventh player in Mets history - regardless of position - to have 90+ runs and 90+ walks in the same season.  The other six players are among the best in team history - Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, John Olerud, Edgardo Alfonzo, Carlos Beltran and David Wright.

Who would have thought Granderson would ever be on a list with these guys?

Including last night's game - one in which Granderson had a very Strawberry-like performance with two homers and five runs batted in - Granderson has started 286 games in right field since joining the Mets in 2014.  He has also played in 20 other games in right that he did not start, giving him 306 games played in right field - the most by any player on the Mets since Strawberry departed via free agency more than a quarter century ago.

As of this writing, only Strawberry (1,062 games), Rusty Staub (535 games), Ron Swoboda (434 games) and Joel Youngblood (309 games) have appeared in more games in right field for the Mets.  By early next week, Granderson should pass Youngblood into fourth place and should Granderson stay healthy, he'll pass Swoboda by the end of the season.

For the better part of a quarter century, the Mets struggled to find anyone resembling a permanent replacement for Darryl Strawberry in right field.  In the 21-plus seasons before Strawberry's debut in May 1983, the Mets had trotted out 77 different right fielders.  In the 23 seasons following the Straw Man's departure, New York chewed up and spit out 125 right fielders.  The 126th right fielder is finally making the position his own.

Until David Wright joined the team in 2004, the running gag was to keep track of the number of third basemen in team history.  (For the record, Wright was the 129th Met to man the hot corner.)  As of today, the Mets have used 158 players at third base.  Meanwhile, a total of 221 players have found themselves playing right field for the Mets at least once in their careers.  Curtis Granderson is doing all he can to make sure that number stays in the 220s until his contract expires after the 2017 campaign.

It's good to know that the Mets finally have a productive player in right field after so many years of searching for one.  A 25-year game of musical chairs was far too long.

Matt Harvey and the Mets' Mediocrity in His Starts

Until last night, the Mets hadn't won a regular season game started by Matt Harvey since last season's division clincher.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Matt Harvey earned his first regular season victory in last night's 6-3 win over the Atlanta Braves.  But more importantly, the Mets earned their first win in a Matt Harvey start since last year's division clincher.  Harvey had made four regular season appearances since the team won the N.L. East crown on September 26.  Those four contests included his un-Harvey-like three-game start to this season and the next-to-last regular season game of 2015 - a game in which the Mets were no-hit by Max Scherzer.

All told, Harvey has made 69 starts in his Mets career and the team has lost more than half of them, going 34-35 in the Dark Knight's appearances.  There are many reasons for the Mets' mediocrity in starts made by the pitcher many deemed to be the future of the franchise.

Harvey's bullpen has failed to protect his leads.  Like Johan Santana in 2008, who had seven leads blown by the team's bullpen, turning a potential 23-win, Cy Young campaign into a 16-win, third place finish in the balloting for top pitcher in the National League, Harvey has been occasionally victimized by his relief corps as well.  It all began in his final start in 2012, when Harvey pitched seven innings of one-hit ball against the Phillies, leaving the game with a 2-1 lead, only to see Josh Edgin surrender a two-run homer to Ryan Howard with two outs in the ninth.  The Mets lost that game, 3-2.

In 2013, the Mets won each of Harvey's first five starts, but then went 8-13 in his next 21 starts before his season was cut short in August due to the injury that caused him to undergo Tommy John surgery.  In three of those 13 losses, the Mets were leading the game when Harvey was removed by Terry Collins, only to see the bullpen become BFFs with opposing hitters, giving up Harvey's leads in eventual Mets losses.

Upon returning from Tommy John surgery in 2015, Harvey finally had some success helping the Mets earn victories, but the team still lost a dozen times in Harvey's 29 starts.  Once again, New York dropped three games in which Harvey left them with a lead to protect.  Add it all up and the Mets have lost seven games when Harvey was removed with the lead - or the same number of times the Mets' bullpen blew leads for Johan Santana in 2008 alone.  Had the bullpen been more successful for Harvey and the Mets in those seven instances, the team's 34-35 record in Harvey's starts could have been a more impressive 41-28.

But don't just blame the bullpen for the team's mediocrity in Harvey's starts.  In fact, the team has saved Harvey from a number of losses several times during his career as well.

On April 24, 2013, Harvey allowed three runs to the Dodgers in six innings.  When he left the game, the Mets trailed Los Angeles, 3-1.  New York tied the game in the ninth, then won it in the tenth on Jordany Valdespin's walk-off grand slam.  A month later, Harvey was all set to pick up a hard-luck loss when he pitched eight masterful innings against the Yankees but left the game with his team down, 1-0.  The Mets rallied for two runs in the ninth, marking the only time in Mariano Rivera's career that he came into a save situation and earned the loss without retiring a batter.

Fast forward two years later during the Mets' run to the N.L. East title in 2015.  On September 8, Harvey pitched an awful game in Washington, allowing seven runs to the Nats before he was removed with one out in the sixth and his team trailing by six.  Then Wilmer Flores happened (RBI single).  Then Curtis Granderson happened (bases-loaded walk).  Then Yoenis Cespedes joined the party (three-run bases-clearing double).  Then Lucas Duda remained patient (game-tying bases-loaded walk).  Finally, an inning later, Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit his final homer as a Met, taking Jonathan Papelbon deep for what became the winning run in the Mets' 8-7 victory.

There were also a game in 2015 where Harvey was actually helped out by his bullpen to help the Mets earn a victory.  On July 31, Harvey was removed from a 1-1 game against the Nationals with two runners on base.  But Tyler Clippard won a 13-pitch battle against Jayson Werth, striking out the hirsute slugger to preserve the tie.  Had Werth driven in a run or two against Clippard, those runs would have been charged to Harvey and the game might never have gone to extra innings.  But because Clippard and the rest of the bullpen (and eventually Wilmer Flores in the 12th inning) did their jobs, Harvey escaped with a no-decision and the Mets escaped with a much-needed win.

So that's four wins where Harvey could very well have been saddled with a loss, but the Mets stormed back to victory.  That 34-35 overall record by the team could have been a more disturbing 30-39 had those rallies not ensued.

It's true that Harvey has been more effective than not.  His 2.66 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in his career says that's the case.  It's also true that the Mets' bats have had a tendency to hit the snooze button more than they've hit baseballs in too many of Harvey's starts.  Harvey has allowed two runs or fewer in 45 of his 69 starts, or 65.2% of the time.  In those starts, the Mets are just 27-18, for a .600 winning percentage.  That might seem okay until you look at how the Mets have fared when Jacob deGrom has allowed two runs or fewer.  DeGrom has held opponents to two runs or fewer in 36 of his 53 starts, or 67.9% of the time, which is not much higher than Harvey's percentage.  However, New York has a phenomenal 29-7 record when deGrom holds opponents to no more than two tallies.  That's good for an .806 winning percentage, which is far higher than Harvey's mark in similar outings.

To summarize, Matt Harvey has been a victim of everything that can contribute to his team's mediocre record in his starts.  He's been a victim of an occasionally shoddy bullpen.  He's also had his teammates take several days off at the plate when he's been on the mound.  But on the flip side, both the bullpen and the offense have also bailed Harvey out a few times.

Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good.  In Matt Harvey's case, he's been very good throughout his career, but he also hasn't had the best of luck.  Put it all together and you have a four-year career that has produced just 34 victories by his team in his 69 starts.  It's a trend that's been going on for far too long and needs to change very soon if Harvey is ever going to be the type of pitcher everyone expects him to be.  His win against Atlanta last night needs to be the stepping stone for bigger and better things in the future.