Tuesday, October 25, 2016

30 Years Later: "Little Roller Up Along First..."

Every generation has its defining moment.  People who grew up in the 1960s know exactly where they were when President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated.  In the 1980s, every American knows where they were when the Space Shuttle exploded.  It's no different for Mets fans.

People who grew up rooting for the Mets remember every detail of the 1969 Miracle Mets' run to the World Series.  Fans of my generation well up with happy tears when you mention two words to them:  Game Six.  How can anyone forget the night of October 25, 1986?

The Mets were facing elimination entering Game Six of the 1986 World Series.  They fought back to tie the Series at Fenway Park after dropping the first two games of the Fall Classic at Shea Stadium.  Then Bruce Hurst shut them down in Game Five to send the series back to New York with the Mets down three games to two.

It was up to Bob Ojeda to save the Mets' season.  He was opposed by Roger Clemens, who was on his way to his first Cy Young Award.  Ojeda was also called upon for Game Six of the 1986 NLCS against the Astros, a game in which the Mets defeated Houston in 16 innings to claim the National League pennant.  In that game, Ojeda struggled early, giving up three runs in the first inning before settling down.  Game Six of the 1986 World Series was no different for Ojeda.  He gave up single runs to the Red Sox in each of the first two innings, but then settled down.

When Ojeda was replaced by Roger McDowell to start the seventh inning, the Mets had come back against Roger Clemens to tie the score at 2.  Although the drama that unfolded in the tenth inning is what Game Six is most known for, a number of interesting events occurred in the seventh inning that are often forgotten.

With one out and Marty Barrett on first base for the Red Sox, Jim Rice hit a ground ball near the third base line that barely stayed fair.  Ray Knight fielded it and threw wildly to first base, with the ball popping in and out of the glove of a leaping Keith Hernandez.  That brought up Dwight Evans with runners on the corners.  Evans hit a ground ball for the second out of the inning, but Barrett scored the go-ahead run and Rice was able to advance to second base.  That was when Mookie Wilson became a hero for the first time that night.

Roger McDowell was able to get ahead of Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman by throwing strikes on the first two pitches, but Gedman then grounded the 0-2 pitch from McDowell between short and third for a base hit that appeared to give the Red Sox an insurance run.  However, Mookie Wilson charged the ball and fired a strike to Gary Carter at home plate to cut down a sliding Jim Rice for the third out of the inning.

The defensive efforts of Wilson and Carter helped keep the Red Sox lead at one, a lead that would be erased when the Mets came up to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Roger Clemens had been pinch hit for in the top of the eighth inning, so the Red Sox brought in former Met Calvin Schiraldi to pitch the bottom of the eighth.  Schiraldi had been brilliant in relief for the Red Sox during the regular season, compiling a 4-2 record and a sparking 1.41 ERA.  However, all that changed once Lee Mazzilli led off the inning with a base hit.  Lenny Dykstra followed with a sacrifice bunt, but he reached first base safely when Schiraldi threw wildly to second base in a failed attempt to nail Mazzilli.  Now the Mets had two men on with nobody out for Wally Backman, who laid down a bunt of his own.  His successful sacrifice moved Mazzilli and Dykstra into scoring position for Keith Hernandez, who was intentionally walked to load the bases.  That brought up Gary Carter.  On a 3-0 pitch, Carter had the green light and lined a sacrifice fly to left field.  The fly ball allowed Mazzilli to score the tying run.  When neither team scored in the ninth inning, the stage was set for the most dramatic frame in Mets history.

The inning started with a bang, but not the one wanted by Mets fans.  Dave Henderson led off the tenth with a laser beam down the left field line that just stayed fair as it cleared the wall.  The home run off Rick Aguilera silenced the Shea Stadium crowd of 55,078 and gave the Red Sox a 4-3 lead.  They weren't done yet.  Aguilera came back to strike out the next two batters but then proceeded to give up a double to Wade Boggs and a run-scoring single to Marty Barrett.  The latter hit gave the Sox an insurance run as the lead was now 5-3.  The next batter was hit by a pitch.  Who was the victim of Aguilera's wayward offering?  None other than Bill Buckner (more on him later).  Now there were two men on base for Jim Rice.  Rice could have redeemed himself for being thrown out at home in the seventh inning with a hit in the tenth.  However, Rice failed to add to the Red Sox lead when he flied out to Lee Mazzilli in right.  His failure to come through in two crucial spots set up the events in the bottom of the tenth inning for the Mets.

Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez were due to lead off in the bottom of the tenth inning.  However, two fly balls later and the Mets were down to their final out with no one on base.  The dream was one out away from becoming a nightmare.  108 regular season wins and a thrilling NLCS against the Astros would mean nothing if the Mets couldn't start a rally against Calvin Schiraldi and the Red Sox.  The Shea Stadium scoreboard was flashing "Congratulations Red Sox: 1986 World Champions" and NBC had already awarded its player of the game to Marty Barrett.  Then Gary Carter stepped up to the plate and something special began to happen.

On a 2-1 pitch from Schiraldi, Carter singled to left.  Then Kevin Mitchell, pinch-hitting for Rick Aguilera lined a hit to center on an 0-1 curveball.  The tying runs were now on base for Ray Knight.  If you recall, Knight had made an error in the seventh inning that led to a run for the Red Sox.  Perhaps this game would never have gone into extra innings had Knight not committed his error.  Knight didn't care.  All he cared about was getting a hit to continue the inning.  Unfortunately for him, Schiraldi threw his first two pitches for strikes.  The Mets were down to their final strike, but Knight had a little something to say about that.

On a pitch that was headed for the inside corner of the strike zone, Knight fisted it over Marty Barrett's head into short center for another base hit.  Carter scored from second base and Mitchell went from first to third on the hit.  The tying run was 90 feet away and the winning run was at first base.  Red Sox manager John McNamara had made up his mind.  He was going to Bob Stanley to try to win the World Series.  Stanley would face one batter, Mookie Wilson, with everything on the line.

Stanley would throw six pitches to Mookie Wilson to get the count to 2-2.  Hoping for strike three with his seventh pitch, Stanley let go of the pitch and at the same time, let go of the lead.  The pitch was way inside, causing Mookie to throw himself up in the air to avoid getting hit.  Fortunately, the ball didn't hit Mookie or Rich Gedman's glove (or home plate umpire Dale Ford for that matter).  The ball went all the way to the backstop and Kevin Mitchell was able to scamper home with the tying run.  The wild pitch also allowed Ray Knight to move into scoring position with the potential winning run.  All Mookie needed to do now was get a base hit to drive him in, or perhaps he could so something else to bring him home.

During the regular season, John McNamara had always removed first baseman Bill Buckner for defensive replacement Dave Stapleton during the late innings.  However, this time Buckner was left in the game despite the fact that he was hobbling around on two gimpy legs and had just been hit by a pitch in the previous inning.  What was McNamara's reasoning for the decision?  He wanted Buckner to be on the field to celebrate their championship with his teammates.  Instead, Buckner was on the field for a different celebration.

Buckner was at first base as the count went to 3-2 on Mookie Wilson.  A mountain of pressure had been lifted off his shoulders once he went airborne to elude Stanley's pitch.  A relaxed Mookie came back to the plate to finish what he came up there to do.  After fouling off two more pitches, including a line drive that curved foul down the left field line, Wilson hit a slow ground ball that hugged the first base foul line, bringing Mets fans to their feet as Bill Buckner hobbled to the line in an attempt to field it.  I'll let NBC broadcaster Vin Scully describe what happened.

"Little roller up along first.  Behind the bag!  It gets through Buckner.  Here comes Knight and the Mets win it!"

A miracle had happened on the diamond.  Perhaps Mookie's grounder hit a pebble.  Perhaps Buckner took his eyes off the ball as he watched Mookie sprint down the first base line.  Perhaps God was a Mets fan.  Regardless of what caused it to happen, Mookie's grounder found its way under Buckner's glove and the Mets lived to see another day.  (Buckner later admitted in the film "Catching Hell" that his momentum as he approached the first base line caused his glove to close on its own, a split second before he would have fielded it.  With the glove closed before the ball reached it, the grounder was able to scoot by the gimpy first baseman.)

As a dejected Bill Buckner walked off the field, Shea Stadium was rocking as it never had before.  Mookie Wilson was still running towards second base because he had no idea that Ray Knight had scored the winning run.  Ron Darling, who was scheduled to start the seventh and deciding game of the World Series the following night (even though it was rained out and played two nights later), admitted that he could see dust falling from the roof of the Mets dugout because of the vibrations caused by the fans jumping up and down over it.  Keith Hernandez had left the dugout to go into Davey Johnson's office after making the second out of the inning, but never moved from the chair he was sitting in, even after the historic rally had begun because as he admitted afterwards, the chair he was sitting on had hits in it.

As the unbelievable events were flashing on the TV screen for those of us who weren't fortunate enough to have tickets to the game, Vin Scully came back on the air after a long pause to tell the viewers everything they needed to know about what they had just seen unfold at Shea Stadium on that Saturday night.  The recently retired Hall-of-Fame broadcaster said:

"If one picture is worth a thousand words, you have seen about a million words.  But more than that, you have seen an absolutely bizarre finish to Game Six of the 1986 World Series.  The Mets are not only alive, they are well and they will play the Red Sox in Game Seven tomorrow."

Game Six didn't give the Mets the World Championship as many baseball fans mistakenly believe.  There was still one game left to play.  Although it was scheduled for the following night, rain put a hold on Game Seven until the night of Monday, October 27.  Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, who had been scheduled to start the seventh game for the Red Sox, was scratched from his start to allow Met killer Bruce Hurst to pitch.  But I'll leave that narrative for another night.

For now, think of the memories you have of that unbelievable Game Six.  Imagine how different things would have been if Jim Rice had not been thrown out at home plate in the seventh inning, or if Bob Stanley had relieved Calvin Schiraldi before Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell or Ray Knight produced base hits in the tenth inning.  Mets fans who celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Miracle Mets during Citi Field's inaugural campaign might still be talking about that team as their only championship squad.

A miracle happened at Shea Stadium 30 years ago today, on October 25, 1986.  It is the single greatest Mets memory I have.  I'm sure for many of you reading this, it's your favorite Mets memory as well.  Do Mets fans believe in miracles?  If you watched Game Six of the 1986 World Series, the answer is a definite yes.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Joey's Soapbox: My 2016 Somewhat Biased World Series Pick

Never thought I'd see a World Series between the Cubs and Indians, but here we are.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Hey, everyone!  This is Joey Beartran.  I'm supposed to be an expert at prediction postseason results.  There's only one problem.  I've been more wrong this year than I've been right.

I was half-right with my wild card game predictions.  (And of course, the one I got wrong was the Mets.)  Then I called for a Texas vs. Boston ALCS.  Instead we got Toronto taking on Cleveland.  Once we got to the American and National League Championship Series, I called for a Blue Jays-Dodgers World Series.  Oops again.

So now we're left with the Chicago Cubs going up against the Cleveland Indians and I have no idea who to pick to take home the trophy.  Neither team has a history of winning.  I mean, the Indians last won a World Series in 1948, when there were only 48 stars on the American flag.  And while the Indians were celebrating that last title, the Cubs were marking the 40th anniversary of their last championship team.

No matter who I pick, my success rate this year says that I will probably be wrong.  And I'm okay with that.  Because whichever team wins will have a fan base that'll be celebrating like it's 1948.  Or 1908.

And with that being said, let's move on to my World Series pick!

World Series

Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians

You've heard it on social media ever since the Cubs recorded the final out of the NLCS.  You know what I'm talking about.  All the things that didn't exist the last time Chicago played in a World Series.

The NBA didn't exist.  Neither did African-American participation in Major League Baseball.  Also, Alaska and Hawaii weren't states.  Fourteen current big league teams didn't exist.  The Baltimore Orioles were the St. Louis Browns.  The Braves hadn't yet moved to Milwaukee, which is where they were for 13 seasons before packing their bags for Atlanta half a century ago.  I had never eaten chicken nachos.  And the list goes on and on and on.

The Cubs won 103 games during the regular season, or nine more than the 94-win Indians.  It was the first time Chicago reached triple digits in wins since 1935 and their highest win total since 1910, when they emerged victorious in 104 of their 154 contests.

Chicago had the best record in baseball and should be favored to win the championship.  Or should they?

Let's do a little research here on teams that have won 100 or more games.

Here's a team with 100+ wins that won it all.  Wonder if the Cubs will do the same?  (T.G. Higgins/Getty Images)

Over the last 30 years (since the Mets won a major league-leading 108 games and the World Series), a total of 27 teams have managed to reach the 100-win plateau.  But only the 1998 Yankees (114-48 regular season record) and the 2009 Yanks (103-59) have been able to win a championship after their 100+ win regular season.  In fact, the last team to win the World Series after winning 100 or more games that wasn't from New York did it 32 years ago, when the Detroit Tigers parlayed a 104-win season into a World Series trophy.  (And not that it means anything here, but the Tigers were also the last team the play the Cubs in the World Series.  Detroit won.  Because of course they did.)

So for three decades, only the greatest postseason team in the history of the planet has been able to bring home a title when it had a relative cakewalk through the regular season.  That doesn't bode well for the Cubs.

Also, the Cubs haven't exactly breezed their way through this year's postseason.  They needed a four-run ninth inning rally against the worst bullpen in baseball to avoid a fifth and deciding game in the division series.  Then they were shut out by the Dodgers twice before rallying to take the NLCS.

Meanwhile, Cleveland has advanced without exerting much effort through the playoffs.  The Indians trailed, 2-1, in the third inning of Game One of the ALDS.  They never trailed again in their three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox.  Cleveland then never fell behind in Games One, Two and Three in the ALCS against Toronto.  The Indians lost their first and only postseason game of 2016 in Game Four, then followed it up with a shutout victory against the high-powered Blue Jays offense in Game Five.

So let's review.

The Cubs don't have history on their side.  The Indians have the hotter team.  (Win for the Indians.)

The Cubs were only 12 games over .500 on the road.  The Indians were 25 games over .500 at home.  And Cleveland has home-field advantage in the World Series after going 4-0 at Progressive Field during the American League playoffs, while Chicago went 3-2 on the road in the N.L. playoffs.  (Win for the Indians.)

The Cubs have Henry Rowengartner.  The Indians have Ricky Vaughn.  (Win for the Indians.)

The Cubs have so-so hot dogs.  The Indians have THIS!

Lovers of flatulence, behold this Cleveland hot dog delicacy!  (EL/SM)

Clearly, the Indians won the food battle as well.

So that's four wins for the Indians in four major categories, which is exactly the number of wins they need to defeat the Cubs in the 2016 World Series.  That also means you can add another year to the Cubs' championship drought.

Oh, and remember those 100+ win Cubs teams I mentioned 14 paragraphs ago?  (That's the 1910 and 1935 Cubbie squads, for those of you who are too lazy to scroll back up.)  Neither of those teams won the World Series either.

The curse of the Billy Goat preventing the Cubs from reaching the World Series may be over.  But the curse of realizing that they're still the Chicago Cubs will live on.

Prediction: Indians in 6.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

I'm Keith Hernandez! And I Wish Me a Happy Birthday!

Hello, my friends.  I'm Keith Hernandez.  And today is a special day for me.  You see, today is my birthday.  That's right, all you kids out there.  I'm now 63 years old.

In honor of my 63rd birthday, the cast and crew at Studious Metsimus asked me to give you a brief recap of my life.  To be honest with you, I've never heard of Studious Metsimus, but the offer of unlimited Tootsie Pops was too much to refuse.  Plus, they promised me there would be no traffic on the Long Island Expressway so I could make a quick getaway after writing this piece.  How could I pass that up?

Anyway, I was born in San Francisco on October 20, 1953.  Contrary to popular belief, I was not born with a mustache.  The picture you see below is one of my early photos.  Yes, the ladies loved me even then.  Can you blame them?  I mean, look at me!  I'm Keith Hernandez!

Unfortunately, I failed in my petition to get my own name on my Little League jersey.

After my days as a Little League Lothario were done, I was drafted in the 42nd round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1971.  (Yes, I did go to high school between my Little League days and my high school graduation, but that was an awkward time for me, so I'd rather not talk about it.)  Clearly, the scouts back then were terrible judges of talent if they waited that long to draft me.  Unfortunately, I did nothing to earn that selection early on in my minor league career until I was promoted to Triple-A Tulsa in 1973, where I hit .333 and showed those other kids out there how a real baseball player was supposed to play the game.

In 1974, I hit .351 for Tulsa and was promoted to the big show on August 30 of that year against my hometown San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.  I reached base three times in my first big league game, drawing two walks before collecting my first big league hit and RBI in the ninth inning off Giants' starter Mike Caldwell.  Unfortunately, we lost that game 8-2, but I let it be known to my teammates and the rest of the league that I was here to stay.

Once I settled in to the big leagues, I made my presence felt in the clubhouse and on the field.  The Cardinals just had to keep me around.  Therefore, they traded incumbent first baseman Joe Torre to the Mets after the 1974 season (more on first basemen being traded to the Mets a little later ... after a few more paragraphs and my first Tootsie Pop).  I was a Cardinal now, and St. Louis was about to see what Keith Hernandez was all about.

It was in St. Louis that I let my trademark mustache grow.  That is also where I earned my first Gold Glove in 1978 and my first MVP Award one year later.  (Okay, so it was a co-MVP award that I shared with Willie Stargell.  But in Strat-O-Matic, I kicked Willie's posterior.)  St. Louis was also the place where I claimed my first batting title (also in 1979), my first World Series championship (1982), my first line of ... umm ... baseball cards (yeah, that's the ticket) and my first comparison to adult film thespian Ron Jeremy.

If my brother Gary were in this collage, you'd have the original Gary, Keith and Ron.

If you ask me, I don't see the resemblance.   He looks more like Mike Piazza than he does me.  Also, my acting skills are far superior to his.  Was he on "Seinfeld"?  I don't think so.  That was me.  Why did they choose me over him?  Because I'm Keith Hernandez!

Anyway, less than eight months after bringing home St. Louis' first World Series championship since 1967, I experienced one of the saddest days of my life, or so it seemed at the time.  On June 15, 1983, I was traded from the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals to the perennial cellar dweller New York Mets.  Shockingly, I wasn't even traded for future Hall of Famers.  I was shipped off to the Mets for Neil Allen, Rick Ownbey (who also celebrates a birthday with me today, but he's four years my junior) and a half-empty box of Tender Vittles.

It was already an insult to me that I was traded to the team known as "Pond Scum" and the "Stems" in St. Louis.  But come on!  Couldn't the Mets have offered some 9 Lives to the Cardinals instead of Tender Vittles?  After all, Morris the Cat was all the rage back then.  I mean, he was the O.G.  (Original Grumpy cat).   I would have accepted a trade for Allen, Ownbey and 9 Lives, not Allen, Ownbey and half-eaten Tender Vittles.  Sheesh!

I guess since the Cardinals already had the Clydesdale Horses, they didn't need another animal in the barn.

Anyway, the Mets didn't do too well after I got traded there.  We finished 68-94 in 1983, but showed some signs of life.  Old punching buddy Darryl Strawberry came up in May and future broadcast colleague R.J. (that's Ron Darling for all you casual Mets fans out there) was called up when rosters expanded in September.

Big Brother didn't come around in 1984 like he was supposed to, but we had our own little Animal Farm at Shea Stadium.  Top pitching prospect Dwight Gooden was called up in 1984 and Davey Johnson became the new Mets manager.  The team responded by going 90-72 and giving the Cubs all they could handle in the NL East.  As a result, I was no longer saddened by my trade to New York and only occasionally did I wonder if Whitey Herzog had finished what was left in the box of Tender Vittles.

After falling short again in 1985, we put it all together in 1986.  That was the year I won my second World Series championship and helped bring the first title to Flushing since the Miracle Mets did the same in 1969.  I also paired up with another Ronnie after bringing the trophy home in 1986. 

What?  No Gary?  Fine.  Then we'll just have to make do with Keith and Ron instead.

After my tenure with the Mets ended in 1989, I decided to give acting a try.  I wasn't going to tell you this, but the Tootsie Pop dangling in front of my face has convinced me to do so.

Did you know that "Seinfeld" was not my first attempt at acting?  Before TV immortality, I wanted to be a movie star.  My time with former actor Ronald Reagan in the White House showed me that if he could be President and a movie star, then I could be a baseball legend and a movie star as well, so it was off to Hollywood for me.

I first gave acting a shot when I auditioned for the movie "Major League".  However, it ended up being a bad dream and instead of playing for the Cleveland Indians in the film alongside noted actors Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Dennis Haysbert and Wesley Snipes, I ended up playing for the REAL Cleveland Indians, who were not nearly as talented as their 2016 American League champion counterparts.  Needless to say, it was not a good time to be Keith Hernandez.

There's no way I would've let Roger Dorn get away with not diving for ground balls.

I was injured for most of my time in Cleveland.  Because of that, I only played in 45 games for the Indians, batting .200 with one HR and eight RBI.  You know it wasn't a good season when my Studious Metsimus editor reminded me that I had to write out my home run and RBI totals in words (one and eight) instead of numbers (1 and 8).  Needless to say, I retired after the 1990 season and went back home...

...which didn't last long.  In 1992, I appeared on Episode #34 of "Seinfeld".  The special one-hour episode, named "The Boyfriend", featured me trying to date Elaine Benes, but not being able to get past first base because I used to smoke back then.  Another subplot involved me being accused of spitting a magic loogie on Kramer and Newman, when in fact it was my former Met teammate, Roger McDowell, whose mouth shot the viscous projectile from the grassy knoll.

"That is one magic loogie."

My appearance on "Seinfeld" in 1992 and my subsequent cameo in the series finale in 1998 parlayed into several broadcasting appearances for the Mets.  When SNY debuted in 2006, I teamed up with former radio play-by-play man Gary Cohen and analyst/former teammate Ron Darling as the new broadcast team for the New York Mets.  My boothmates and I are also part of Gary, Keith and Ron, or GKR for short.  Together, we've raised money for our favorite charities, such as the Cobble Hill Health Center (for Alzheimer's care) and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (hoping to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes).  In addition, we've also focused on helping victims of domestic abuse.  And for all you kids out there, there's nothing funny about domestic abuse.

Fans might know me for my baseball career.  Others might know me for my excellent acting on "Seinfeld".  Some of you might even know me for my Just For Men commercials with Walt "Clyde" Frazier.  Current Met fans know me for my unabashed analysis on SNY telecasts of Mets games. 

I'm all of those people. Although I'm a year older today, I'm still only 63 so I have plenty left to accomplish.  Maybe I'll mass produce my Mex Burgers.  Or perhaps I'll go from flashing the leather to wearing it on a broadcast.  Hey, I might even create a fantasy league for Strat-O-Matic players.  (Why haven't I thought of that before?)  Who knows?  One thing is for sure.  No matter what job I have or what position I fill, I'll always be around.  Why wouldn't I be?  After all, I'm Keith Hernandez!

It's not easy being me, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

30 Years Later: The "Other" Game Six (Mets vs. Astros)

When you say the words "Game Six" to any Mets fan, their thoughts immediately turn to the 1986 World Series.  You can't blame those fans for thinking of that memorable game first.  After all, the game in which Mookie Wilson hit a "little roller up along first" was voted by Mets fans as the most memorable moment in Mets history.

But that wasn't the only memorable Game Six for the Mets that season.  If not for the events of "the other Game Six", there might not have been a chance for Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner to etch their names in the memories of millions of Mets fans.  That first Game Six was played at the Astrodome in Houston and it took place 30 years ago today.

After playing a 12-inning classic in New York the previous afternoon, the Mets and Astros traveled to Houston to play their second day game in 24 hours on October 15, 1986.  The two teams would have had the day off before Game Six, but a rainout on October 13 forced them to sacrifice their travel day to play the extra-inning affair at Shea Stadium on October 14.  That game was won by the Mets, 2-1, when Wally Backman scored from second on a Gary Carter single.

Both teams were exhausted when they took the field for the 3 o'clock (Central Time) game, and rightfully so.  Unfortunately for the Mets, the Astros woke up from their slumber early in Game Six, scoring three runs off Bob Ojeda in the first inning.  The damage could have been worse, but Kevin Bass (more on him later) was tagged out on a failed suicide squeeze.  Even with the base running blunder, the Astros still held a 3-0 lead after one inning for starter Bob Knepper.

Kevin Bass was out coming home in Game Two (above), then again in Game Six.  He made a much bigger out at home later.

Knepper, who was in line for the win in Game Three before Lenny Dykstra took Astros closer Dave Smith deep in the bottom of the ninth, was dominant over the first eight innings of Game Six.  He faced the minimum three batters in seven of the eight innings, allowing only two hits and walking one.  The Mets were three outs away from a potential Game Seven matchup against Mike Scott, who had confounded them in Games One and Four.  The first batter in the ninth inning was pinch-hitter Lenny Dykstra.  In Game Three, Dykstra waited until Knepper was out of the game before delivering his big ninth inning hit.  This time, he didn't have to wait, driving a 1-2 offering from the Astros' southpaw to deep center field for a leadoff triple.  It all went downhill for Knepper and the Astros from there.

The next batter was Mookie Wilson, who hit a soft line drive on an 0-2 pitch that fell in for a run-scoring single.  Before you could say Dickie Thon, the Mets were on the scoreboard and the tying run was at the plate in Kevin Mitchell.  The Mets' rookie utility man grounded out, but in the process moved Wilson to second base.  Up came Keith Hernandez, who had gone 0-for-3 with a strikeout against Knepper.  Four pitches later, that oh-fer was no more.

Hernandez doubled to deep center off Knepper, scoring Wilson from second base and cutting the Astros' lead to one.  In doing so, Mex became the second lefty to collect an extra-base hit against Knepper in the ninth after the Mets' left-handed hitters had gone 0-for-7 against him through the first eight innings.  That was the end of Knepper's day, as he was removed from the game after throwing 101 pitches.  Knepper was replaced by Dave Smith, the salt-and-pepper haired reliever who had been tormented by the Mets all season.

Although Smith had an outstanding campaign in 1986, making his first All-Star team and finishing the year with 33 saves and a 2.73 ERA, the Mets were never intimidated by him.  Smith faced the Mets three times during the regular season, allowing five runs and eight base runners (four hits, three walks and one hit batsman) in three innings.  That continued in the postseason, as Smith allowed the game-winning two-run homer to Lenny Dykstra to give the Mets the victory in Game Three of the NLCS.  Four total appearances.  Four shoddy outings.  Might as well go five-for-five.

The first two batters against Smith both walked on 3-2 pitches, as Gary Carter and Darryl Strawberry showed patience at the plate which helped the Mets load the bases against the Astros.  The next batter was Ray Knight, who worked the count to 2-2 before becoming the fifth batter in the inning to produce with two strikes on him.  Knight hit a sacrifice fly to right, scoring Hernandez with the tying run and moving Kid and Straw into scoring position.  The next batter, Wally Backman, was intentionally walked to bring up pinch-hitter Danny Heep.  Heep worked the count full, but instead of becoming the sixth Mets batter to come through after strike two, the mighty Danny struck out, swinging at ball four, which would have given the Mets the lead.

Alas, the game was tied.  But the fun was just beginning.

Roger McDowell came in to pitch the tenth inning, as the Mets needed a new pitcher to replace Rick Aguilera, who had been taken out of the game when Lenny Dykstra pinch hit for him in the ninth inning.  McDowell would end up giving the Mets one of the best relief efforts in club history.

Perhaps it was a higher power that allowed Roger McDowell to pitch the game of his life in Game Six.

The Mets had hoped that McDowell would only have to pitch one or two innings, thinking that they would score against the Astros' bullpen.  But that was easier said than done, as the Mets failed to pick up a hit over the next four innings against Dave Smith and Larry Andersen.  Fortunately for the Mets, McDowell matched zeroes with the Astros' relievers, allowing only one base runner (a 12th inning single to Kevin Bass) over five innings of work.  The jolly Roger had gotten the Mets to the 14th inning, and the Astros were bringing in a new pitcher.  The time for zeroes had come to an end.

Aurelio Lopez was on the mound for the Astros to start the 14th inning.  Like Dave Smith, Lopez had also performed poorly against the Mets during the regular season.  His 7.36 ERA against New York was his highest earned run average against any team in 1986.  When manager Hal Lanier inserted Lopez into the game, he was hoping to get the reliever who allowed National League opponents to hit only .221 against him.  Instead, they got the reliever who couldn't get anyone out.

Gary Carter led off the inning with an opposite field single.  Darryl Strawberry then walked on four pitches.  After Ray Knight failed to sacrifice Carter to third (the Mets' catcher was thrown out by Lopez at third base), Wally Backman stepped up to the plate.  With one swing from the scrappy second baseman, the Mets had taken the lead, as Backman's single scored Strawberry from second base.  The Mets actually had a chance to do more damage against Lopez in the inning, as Lenny Dykstra was walked intentionally with two outs to load the bases for Mookie Wilson.  However, just as Danny Heep had done five innings before him, Mookie struck out against a struggling pitcher.  Nevertheless, the Mets had taken a 4-3 lead against the Astros and were now only three outs away from winning their third National League pennant.  But the Astros had the top of their order up and were not about to go quietly into the off-season.

Jesse Orosco was called upon to pitch the bottom of the 14th for the Mets, as McDowell had been removed for pinch-hitter Howard Johnson in the top of the inning.  After his five-inning, 58-pitch effort, McDowell was done for the late afternoon/early evening and it was up to Orosco to deliver the pennant.  His first batter was Bill Doran.

Doran was a speedy second baseman for the Astros who made excellent contact and was one of the best judges of balls and strikes in the league.  With 42 stolen bases in 1986, Doran placed fifth in the N.L. in that category.  He also finished fifth with 81 walks and was one of the toughest batters to strike out (57 Ks in 550 at-bats).  Doran's eye for strikes became even better in the postseason, as he had fanned only once in his first 25 postseason at-bats up to that point.  So what did Doran do as he faced Orosco in what quite possibly could have been his last at-bat of the season?  He struck out on four pitches.

Billy Hatcher
The next batter was center fielder Billy Hatcher.  Hatcher had just finished his first full season with the Astros after playing in 61 games for the Cubs in 1984 and 1985.  He had never been considered a power threat and was not a top candidate to get on base, as evidenced by his eight home runs in his first 641 career plate appearances and his .297 on-base percentage.  Hatcher had gone 5-for-23 in the series and should have been an easy out for Orosco, as he had never gotten a hit off the Mets' reliever in four career plate appearances.  But with a full count on him, Hatcher hit one of most memorable home runs in postseason history, crushing Orosco's offering to deep left field.  The ball was hit far enough, but would it stay fair?  That question was answered as the ball hit the screen attached to the foul pole, rolling down said screen, washing away the Mets' 14th inning pennant hopes.  The game was now tied, 4-4, and Orosco's save situation had now turned into a "let's get out of this inning alive" situation.

With the three and four hitters coming up, including the dangerous Glenn Davis, Orosco had to settle down or else a seventh game against Mike Scott would become a shocking reality.  The Mets' veteran got back on the mound and promptly retired Denny Walling and Davis on a weak grounder to first and a pop-up to second, respectively, to end the inning.  The game, which had already reached epic proportions, would go on.

Stunningly, despite his best efforts to blow the game for the Astros in the 14th inning, Aurelio Lopez was still on the mound for the 15th, but this time he fared better against the Mets, allowing only a two-out single to Gary Carter.  With Darryl Strawberry at the plate, Lopez threw a 1-1 pitch wildly, but Carter was thrown out at second base by catcher Alan Ashby to end the inning.

Orosco also went back to the hill for the bottom of the 15th, and he did even better than Lopez, striking out Kevin Bass and Jose Cruz to start the inning, before getting Alan Ashby to ground out to Wally Backman for the final out.  The 16th inning was upon us, only one day and 2,000 miles after the Mets and Astros had played 12 scintillating innings in New York.  Something had to give after 27 innings of pulse-pounding baseball.  Something did give when the Mets came to bat in the top of the 16th.

After his relatively easy 15th inning, Lopez was given the ball again to start the 16th, but this time he wouldn't be so lucky.  Darryl Strawberry, who was given a fresh turn at-bat after Gary Carter ran his way into the final out in the previous inning, led off the 16th with a double.  He was followed by Ray Knight, who delivered an opposite field single to score Strawberry from second.  That was it for Aurelio Lopez, who was removed from the game for Jeff Calhoun.  With Wally Backman at the plate and an 0-2 count on him, Calhoun uncorked a wild pitch, sending Knight to third.  Backman fought back from the 0-2 hole and was able to draw a walk.

Next came Jesse Orosco, who was allowed to stay in the game to sacrifice Backman over to second.  On the very first pitch to Jesse, who had already squared around to bunt, Calhoun threw another wild pitch, scoring Ray Knight and moving Wally Backman to second.  The Mets were now up by two runs in the 16th, but they were not done yet.  Orosco laid down a successful sacrifice, with Backman taking third on the play, and Lenny Dykstra drove him in with a single to right, giving the Mets a 7-4 lead.  Even though Mookie Wilson ended the inning by grounding into a double play, the Mets surely had to be happy with their three-run lead.  This time, they weren't going to give up the lead like they did in the 14th, especially with the Astros riding on fumes, right?  Unfortunately for the Mets and their fans, those fumes had one more rally left in them.

The bottom of the 16th began as the 14th inning had, with Jesse Orosco striking out the first batter (in this case, it was Craig Reynolds) to bring the Mets within two outs of winning the National League pennant.  But then Orosco started showing fatigue of his own, allowing the next three batters to reach base.  Pinch-hitter Davey Lopes started the rally with a walk, followed by consecutive singles by Bill Doran and Billy Hatcher.  The latter single scored Lopes from second base and put the tying runs on base for Denny Walling.

Davey Johnson could have taken Orosco out of the game there, especially since both singles by Doran and Hatcher were hit on the first pitch, but the Mets' manager stayed with his veteran closer, hoping he would reward his faith in him by getting the final two outs of the game.  It seemed as if Orosco would get out of the jam and deliver the pennant to New York when Denny Walling hit a ground ball to Keith Hernandez, who attempted to start an inning-ending double play.  However, the ball wasn't hit hard enough and the only out the Mets could get was a forceout of Billy Hatcher at second base.  The Astros now had runners on first and third and Glenn Davis was coming up.  A home run by the Astros' slugger would give Houston the improbable victory, adding more suspense to an already tense moment.  Although the left-handed Orosco didn't give in to the right-handed Davis, he still wasn't able to send him back to the dugout, as Davis produced a run-scoring single to center, scoring Doran and moving Walling to second base.  The game was now 7-6, and the tying and winning runs were on base for Kevin Bass.

Bass had already committed a mistake in the game way back in the first inning (hence the "more on him later" 21 paragraphs ago) when he got tagged out trying to scamper back to third base on a failed suicide squeeze attempt.  Had Bass not been caught, the game might have ended after nine innings.  Instead, the Mets and Astros were playing on into the Houston night in a game that seemingly did not want to end.

Baseball is a game of redeeming features, and Bass was being given a second opportunity to make up for the Astros' costly first-inning base running blunder.  Orosco was one out away from giving the Mets a hard-fought pennant, but was not making it easy for himself or his team.  After going to a 3-2 count on Bass, Keith Hernandez came over to the mound to deliver an ultimatum to Orosco.

"If you throw him another fastball, we're going to fight."

With those words, Jesse buckled down, looked in at catcher Gary Carter's signs and threw Kevin Bass a full-count slider.  In a moment that will forever live on in the minds and hearts of Mets fans, Bass flailed wildly at the pitch, striking out on the 3-2 offering and touching off a wild celebration on the Astrodome mound and on the streets of New York.

After four hours and forty-two minutes, the Mets had finally won their first pennant in 13 years.  They had overcome eight masterful innings by starter Bob Knepper and two furious extra-inning rallies by the Astros' hitters to come out on top.  Despite the game lasting 16 innings, the Mets only used four pitchers in the game, with none of them lasting fewer than three innings.  Davey Johnson put faith in his pitchers' arms and that faith was now taking the Mets to the World Series.

The Mets would go on to play the Boston Red Sox in that World Series, and they would play in another memorable Game Six, one that has become even more memorable than the one played in the NLCS.  But without that first epic Game Six, there might not have been a World Series appearance for the Mets in 1986.

Thirty years ago today, the Mets and Astros gave us baseball theater in Houston.  The curtain did not come down for 16 innings, but in the end, the players all came through with the performances of their lives.  It might now be known as "the other Game Six", but it'll always be one of the most amazing baseball games ever played.

YouTube video courtesy of nyknick4life

Friday, October 14, 2016

Joey's Soapbox: My 2016 Somewhat Biased LCS Picks

Is this one of the All-You-Can-Eat seating areas at Dodger Stadium?

What's going on, everyone?  It's me, Joey Beartran, and I'm back to give you my thoughts on who should win the upcoming League Championship Series for both the American and National Leagues.

If you gambled and went with my American League Division Series picks, I apologize for you being broke right now.  But then again, you're the one who took the advice of a teddy bear wearing a Mets hoodie, so what does that say about you for taking the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox to advance to the next round?  Now, if you had put money on my National League Division Series picks only, then I'd be expecting a small commission fee in the next few days for correctly choosing the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs to make it to the NLCS.  And by commission, I mean everything on the Shake Shack menu.

So now we're down to baseball's Final Four, as the aforementioned Dodgers and Cubs will square off for the National League pennant, while the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians will face each other for the championship of the American League.  Incredibly, none of these four teams has won a World Series since the leagues split up into three divisions back in 1994.  And even more astonishing is that the Blue Jays are the most recent World Series champion (taking the title in 1993) after ending baseball's longest postseason drought just one season ago.

Who will advance to this year's Fall Classic?  Which cities' fan bases will be shouting, "Wait 'till next year!", for the umpteenth consecutive season?  And where the heck is my Shake Shack commission payment?  The answers to most of those questions will be revealed right here, right now.

American League Championship Series

Toronto Blue Jays vs. Cleveland Indians

The last time the Cleveland Indians appeared in a World Series, Chumbawamba was still a month away from Tubthumping their way to the Top Ten.  The last time the Tribe won it all, none of the members of Chumbawamba had been born yet.

It's been 68 years since Cleveland was the home of baseball's champions, or the same number of years that the Boston Red Sox had gone without winning a title when Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell, Ray Knight and a little roller up along first all became part of the same sentence in 1986.  In other words, there are some septuagenarians out there who are too young to remember Cleveland's triumph in the 1948 World Series over the Boston Braves.  That's right, the Braves played in Boston back then, which was before they moved to Milwaukee and before they headed to Atlanta, where they've now been stationed for half a century.

Only one member of the 1948 Indians is still alive, which in all honesty is one more than I expected there to be.  So what does that have to do with this year's ALCS?  Nothing, really.  Other than the fact that the final member of the '48 Tribe will have to stay with us for at least another year if he's going to celebrate Cleveland's first championship since before rock n' roll existed.

Cleveland may have the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame, but Toronto will have the William Harridge Trophy in about a week or so.  The Blue Jays will club Corey Kluber (5.34 ERA, 1.67 WHIP in five career starts against Toronto) and will tower over Trevor Bauer.  (Well, Bauer has actually been pretty decent against the Blue Jays in two career appearances, but I really wanted to use the tower/Bauer rhyme there, so...)

The last time Toronto played in the World Series in 1993, Canadian legend Alex Trebek still had his mustache.  Cleveland's nearly seven-decade run of championship futility is in no jeopardy of ending this year.

Prediction:  Blue Jays in 6.

Sorry, Cleveland, but Indians fans will be chugging potent potables after this series concludes.

National League Championship Series

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs

The Cubs should be salivating right now.  After all, Kenley Jansen threw 51 pitches in Game Five of the Division Series and Clayton Kershaw threw a thousand pitches in Game Four before recording the save in Game Five.

There is no reason for anyone to pick the Dodgers over the Cubs in the NLCS.  But the Dodgers may have the secret weapon they need to upset the heavily favored Cubbies.

Let's go back in time to the 1970s.  That's when the Dodgers began trotting out their steady infield quartet of Ron Cey at third, Bill Russell at short, Davey Lopes at second ... and a first baseman named Steve Garvey.  The four infielders played together for nearly nine full seasons - the longest run in major league history - and won four National League pennants and one World Series championship in 1981.  Three years after the Dodgers broke up their long-lasting infield, Steve Garvey returned to the postseason as a member of the San Diego Padres.

Garvey batted .400 in the five-game 1984 NLCS.  With the Padres facing elimination, Garvey went 4-for-5 with five RBI in Game Four, which included a walk-off two-run homer against the best closer in the game.  He then drove in the final run in the deciding fifth game, just three batters after a costly error by his counterpart at first base opened the floodgates for San Diego.

For his efforts, Garvey was named the 1984 NLCS Most Valuable Player.  Who did he and his teammates defeat to advance to the World Series?  That would be the Chicago Cubs.

The Curse of the Billy Goat might have kept the Cubs out of the Fall Classic since 1945, but that goat said bah-bah to the world a long time ago.  Steve Garvey is still alive.  And he was a Dodger for 14 seasons and a Cubs killer for one amazing postseason run.  If the Dodgers bring Garvey back for an epic troll job (and perhaps a ceremonial first pitch), the Cubs won't know what hit them.

The Cubs have the talent.  They have the pitching.  They have the hitting.  They have the better manager.  They have more rest.  But they don't have Steve Garvey.

Prediction:  Dodgers in 7.

The curse of Steve Garvey > The Curse of the Billy Goat (Collage by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus; Getty Images)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Joey's Soapbox: My 2016 Somewhat Biased Division Series Picks

Hope you're ready for my wicked awesome Division Series picks.

Hey you guys!  It's your fav'rit sports soothsayer, Joey Beartran, and I'm ready to share my division series picks with you.  And if the division series games are anything like the wild card games, you're in for quite a treat.  (Even if the Mets aren't one of the teams doing the treating.  #BlameBumgarner)

In this week-long wall-to-wall baseball extravaganza, we have a division series rematch that I'd love to have a ringside seat for (Blue Jays vs. Rangers), a matchup of two original American League teams (Red Sox vs. Indians), a series that will rack up plenty of frequent flyer miles for all involved (Dodgers vs. Nationals) and the beginning of the Cubs' quest to end their thousand-year drought without a title (give or take a few hundred years).

I considered many factors in determining my winners for each series.  Some of them required asking my Studious Metsimus colleague/nerd for statistical assistance, while some were just gut feelings (or maybe that gut feeling was my stomach growling; they kinda sound alike).

Now it's time to share those picks with you.  Will my picks agree with yours?  Maybe.  Will my reasons for those picks be similar to yours?  Probably not.  Am I wasting your time by asking so many questions?  Definitely.  (No more dilly-dallying, here are my picks.)

American League Division Series

Toronto Blue Jays vs. Texas Rangers

This is the series everyone wanted to see.  Last year in the division series, Joey Bats (no relation) took time out from following everyone on Twitter to produce the Greatest Bat Flip of All-Time.  And earlier this season, his face became the recipient of the Greatest Slow Motion Punch of All-Time.

Odor's punch certainly did not stink.

That being said, both teams have to trade in the fisticuffs for other stuff, like actually playing baseball.

The two teams squared off (pun kinda sorta intended) seven times during the regular season, with Toronto taking four of the seven contests.  The three games won by Texas were all by the slimmest of margins - one run.  That shouldn't be surprising, as the Rangers finished the year with a jaw-dropping 36-11 record in one-run games.  That means the 95-win Texas team managed to go just 59-56 when their games were decided by two or more tallies.

So clearly the key for Toronto in this series is to make sure the game never gets to one-run status, right?  As a perfectly strange television character from the island of Mypos once said to his fictional cousin Larry, "Don't be ridiculous."

The key is clearly who can manage to out-slug the other (okay, that pun was pretty obviously intended).  Toronto won its wild card game against Baltimore with a three-run homer in extra innings.  Meanwhile, Texas was no slouch in the home run department either, as they managed to sock 215 homers.  The team leader in this department was part-time second baseman/part-time pugilist Rougned Odor, who socked 33 balls out of the yard.  Odor was one of five Rangers to hit 20 or more homers, while second-half acquisitions Carlos Beltran, Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez combined to hit 26 HR in just 461 at-bats with Texas.

Now we all know good pitching beats good hitting, and Toronto had two starting pitchers (J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez) who combined to go an incredible 35-6 in 41 decisions.  But as my Studious Metsimus colleague/nerd tells me, that means the rest of the team's pitchers combined to go 54-67 in their 121 decisions.  So all Texas has to do is be patient, foul off a pitch or twelve, and someone will find a way to blow it for Toronto.  And don't be surprised if they turn it into a one-run game while they're in the process of blowing it.

Prediction:  Rangers in 5.

Boston Red Sox vs. Cleveland Indians

Here's a question for you.  After the Cubs' thousand-year drought without a World Series title, which team has gone the longest without sipping the championship champagne?  That would be the Cleveland Indians, who last won it all in 1948.

Prior to 2016, the city of Cleveland was known for three things - the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Christmas Story House, and non-championship winning sports teams.  In addition to the title-starved Indians, the Cleveland Browns had never played in a Super Bowl.  The Cleveland Cavaliers had never won an NBA title.  And the Cleveland Barons hockey team played two seasons in the NHL (winning 47 of the 160 games they played) before merging with the Minnesota North Stars in 1978.

That all changed this year, as the Cavaliers finally won their first championship after two previous unsuccessful appearances in the NBA Finals.  In addition, the Lake Erie Monsters (an American Hockey League team now known as the Cleveland Monsters) won their first Calder Cup in 2016 after having never won a postseason series in team history.

Two championships for Cleveland in one calendar year?  They've reached their quota for the century.  Sorry, Indians.

Prediction:  Red Sox in 4.

National League Division Series

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Washington Nationals

The Dodgers are one of the storied franchises in baseball history.  Their 29 postseason appearances are the most by a National League team and trail only the New York Yankees (52 playoff trips) in that department.  The Nationals began their existence as the Montreal Expos in 1969 and have won just one playoff series as a franchise (accomplished by the Expos in 1981).

The Dodgers have a now-healthy Clayton Kershaw (1.69 ERA, 0.725 WHIP in 21 starts) and Rookie of the Year candidate Kenta Maeda (16 wins, 3.48 ERA, 1.139 WHIP, 179 Ks in 175.2 IP) atop their rotation.  They also have closer Kenley Jansen (47 saves, 1.83 ERA, 1.44 FIP, 0.67 WHIP, 104 Ks in 68.2 IP) to finish things up for the several hundred or so Dodger fans that decided not to beat the freeway traffic home.

The Nationals have a not-healthy Stephen Strasburg who is out of the NLDS.  They also have Tanner Roark, who had a good ERA (2.83), but the highest FIP (3.79) in the starting rotation.  Granted, the Nats have Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer atop their rotation, but he's pretty much the only sure thing in Washington.  As far as their bullpen goes, Washington had ten relievers pitch 35 or more innings this year.  Six of the ten had an ERA north of 4.00, including Oliver Perez, who was just a hair under 5.00.

Non-batting champion Daniel Murphy may have had a career year, but he's butt-hurt right now, literally, and he hasn't homered since August 26.  He also has just six RBI in his last 85 plate appearances.

Including Murphy and his problematic posterior, a total of eight players on the Nationals had 375 or more at-bats.  Five of the eight batted .244 or lower.  Murphy (.347 batting average) and rookie Trea Turner (.342 batting average in 307 AB) were the main reasons why the Nationals' .256 team batting average wasn't near the bottom of the league.

And then there's Bryce Harper.  The 2015 National League Most Valuable Player batted just .231 with a .382 slugging percentage and 108 strikeouts from April 27 to the end of the season.  That's in 128 games, bro.  And I'm pretty sure he's responsible for the rash of creepy clown sightings across the country.  Isn't that right, Bryce?

Leave it to Bryce Harper to be Captain Literal.

When in doubt, don't pick the team with Oliver Perez on its payroll, its best hitter experiencing a real life pain in the butt, and its superstar creating massive clown hysteria across the land.

Prediction:  Dodgers in 4.

San Francisco Giants vs. Chicago Cubs

Here are four reasons why even a person without a brain would call this pick a no-brainer.

The Giants will be down by two games and facing elimination by the time Madison Bumgarner gets a chance to pitch in Game Three.

The Cubs will be looking to erase the bitter taste left in their mouths by their 2015 postseason experience.  You know, the postseason that ended for them after not having a single lead in the four-game NLCS against the Mets.

The Giants' even-numbered year thing is getting old.  It's like 2015 old, or 2013 old, or even 2011 old.  In other words, the fact that people are still using that as a reason to pick them is pretty odd.

And how could I ever pick a team to win after they just ended the Mets' season?  I mean, really!  It's like picking Ray Ramirez to be your kid's gym teacher.  You wouldn't even do that if you have your kid fully insured. 

Prediction:  Cubs in 3.

Sorry, Ray.  A joke about you was needed to cheer me up after the Mets' bitter season-ending defeat.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Joey's Soapbox: My 2016 Somewhat Biased Wild Card Game Picks

O, Canada!  Not my home nor my native land!  But it is a place where playoff baseball is about to be played.

Hey, buddy.  This is playoff prognosticator Joey Beartran and this is what I'm talking aboot, eh.  It's time for America's pastime to begin its postseason in Canada, with division rivals Baltimore and Toronto playing a do-or-die wild card game at Rogers Centre on Tuesday.  There's also another game being played on Wednesday featuring some National League teams, I think.

As recently as five years ago, the Blue Jays and Orioles were perennially at the bottom of the A.L. East division standings.  In fact, from 2008 to 2011, Toronto was next-to-last in the division every season.  The team that kept them out of the A.L. East cellar each year was Baltimore.

The Orioles suffered through 14 consecutive losing seasons from 1998 to 2011, while the Blue Jays were kept behind the postseason velvet rope for over two decades from the mid-1990s to the mid-2010s.  But much has changed for both teams in recent years, as Baltimore just completed its fifth consecutive season playing .500 ball or better, qualifying for the playoff party for the third time in those five years.  Meanwhile, Toronto is making its second straight trip to the postseason after finishing no higher than third place in the division in 20 of 21 seasons from 1994 to 2014.

Speaking of teams tasting success three times in five years and clubs making back-to-back playoff appearances, the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets will be squaring off for the right to be Cub food, if the "experts" are to be believed.

Who will spray champagne this week?  Who will go home and feel like they never made the playoffs at all?  And who will actually think I'd pick San Francisco when I wear a Mets hoodie 24-7?

You want some Wild Card game picks?  I've got your Wild Card game picks right here!

American League Wild Card Game

Baltimore Orioles vs. Toronto Blue Jays

The Orioles and Blue Jays were very evenly matched in the regular season, with Toronto winning the season series, 10-9.  Eleven of the 19 contests were decided by no more than two runs, including eight one-run affairs.  So basically, what I'm saying is that this Wild Card game is a toss-up.

Baltimore will be sending Chris Tillman to the mound.  On paper, Tillman's 16-6 regular season record and 3.77 ERA look fairly impressive, especially considering that no qualifying pitcher in the American League posted an ERA south of 3.00.  There's only one problem with Tillman.  He's not very durable, averaging barely over 5⅔ innings per start.  And not once did he make it past the sixth inning in any of his four starts versus Toronto this season.  However, Baltimore had just enough offense in each of those four games, winning every one of the Tillman's starts against the Blue Jays.

Toronto will answer with third-year pitcher Marcus Stroman, who was just mediocre in 2016, going 9-10 with a 4.37 ERA and 1.289 WHIP after combining to go 15-6 with a 3.31 ERA and 1.135 WHIP in his first two seasons.  Baltimore had its way with Stroman this season, scoring 18 runs (all earned) in 23 innings against him.

But the playoffs are a different animal, and as soon as either pitcher is in trouble, their respective managers will hop out of their dugouts, hooks in hand to remove them.  So Tillman may not even be allowed to reach his 5⅔-inning quota and Stroman won't come close to giving up a handful or two of runs, as he did during the regular season.

Baltimore may have a pitching edge, but their hitters are all-or-nothing.  The Orioles out-homered the Blue Jays, 253-221, but Toronto scored 15 more runs, walked 164 more times and struck out on 38 fewer occasions.

It looks like this game - just like during the regular season - will be a tight one.  So you'd think I'd have a tough time picking a winner, right?  Not at all.  You see, the winner of this game will play the Texas Rangers in the division series.  And I want to see a little more of this.

Sorry, Baltimore.  I love your city, but you're the undercard here.  I'm looking forward to the next round of heavyweight action between Texas and Toronto.

Prediction:  Toronto will advance to the ALDS.

National League Wild Card Game

San Francisco Giants vs. New York Mets

Madison Bumgarner is 5-0 in six career starts against the Mets.  He's also the owner of a 0.62 lifetime ERA in four starts at Citi Field.  And don't forget he's part of a Giants team that always wins championships in even-numbered years.

You also may have heard that Bumgarner's manager, Bruce Bochy, has led his respective teams to eight postseason appearances, six division titles, four pennants, three World Series titles and has more playoff victories than all but four skippers in baseball history.


Prediction:  New York will advance to the NLDS.

Rogers Centre poutine > AT&T Park garlic fries.  Therefore, Toronto will advance and San Francisco will not.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Curtis Granderson Has Become an RBI Machine

There have been plenty of happy moments for Curtis Granderson and the Mets in the month of September.  (AP Photo)

About a month ago, I wrote a piece entitled "Curtis Granderson Chases Unwanted History One RBI at a Time".  When the post was published, Granderson had 20 homers and just 34 RBI.  Each of his last 17 homers had been of the solo variety (that streak eventually reached 18).  Because of his inability to drive in runs without the ball leaving the park and his propensity for not doing anything positive when there were runners on base, I surmised that Granderson would set the record for fewest runs batted in per home run of any player who hit 20+ HR.

But just like former Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's scoring guarantee in a playoff game against the Packers, I may have been a little premature with my prediction about Granderson.

After driving in a total of 16 runs in July and August, a two-month stretch in which he had 195 plate appearances, Granderson has notched a team-leading 17 RBI in the month of September in just 83 plate appearances - an average of one RBI every 4.88 PA.  Furthermore, Granderson has picked some huge moments in which to drive in those runs, and although he's still hitting plenty of homers (his seven homers in September are tied for the N.L. lead), he's finally found a way to drive in his teammates when they've been on base in front of him.

In Friday night's win over the Phillies, Granderson drove in the first run in the Mets' game-changing six-run rally in the fifth inning.  Last Saturday, he became the first Met to hit two home runs in extra innings, producing the tying home run in the 11th inning against the Twins and the game-winning blast an inning later.  Four days before that, Granderson's RBI triple gave the Mets the lead in a game they eventually won in extra innings.  On September 9, he crushed a two-run homer off Met killer Julio Teheran when the Mets were trailing the Braves by four runs in the sixth inning, then delivered a game-tying single in the eighth frame.  The Mets went on to win to complete the rally from a four-run deficit to win the game, 6-4.  And finally, On September 3, Granderson turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead with a two-run single off Nationals starter Tanner Roark in a game eventually won by the Mets, 3-1.

After hitting 18 consecutive solo homers earlier in the season, four of Granderson's last eight home runs have come with at least one man on base.  In addition, five of Granderson's last seven homers have either tied the game or given the Mets the lead.  It should be added that none of those home runs came with Granderson batting in the leadoff spot, where hitting a home run in the first inning would usually give the Mets an early lead.

On the morning of August 20, the Mets were 60-62 and Curtis Granderson had 20 HR and 34 RBI.  Since then, the Mets are 22-10 and Granderson has produced nine homers and 21 RBI.  His lack of run production was close to becoming historically bad in the annals of baseball.  Now his 55 RBI for the season have Granderson tied for second on the Mets behind only Yoenis Céspedes.  Simply stated, Granderson's RBI turnaround has been nothing short of Amazin'.

Maybe it was the acquisition of Reds' right fielder Jay Bruce that got Mets' right fielder Curtis Granderson to start driving in runs.  Or perhaps the Grandy Man has been drinking some of current Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson's "miracle water".  Whatever the reason, there's no denying the fact that not only has Granderson become an RBI machine for the Mets, he's driven in most of those runs in key moments of game, with many of those runs batted in contributing greatly to Mets victories.

Without question, Granderson's hunger for run production has certainly made all the critics (myself included) eat their words.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Pitching Wins Don't Matter ... Tell That to Bartolo Colón

It's been very difficult to cool down Bartolo Colón recently.  (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Decades ago, pitching victories were viewed as the standard by which to judge a pitcher's success.  If he won a lot of games, he was considered to be a good pitcher.  That was then, this is now.  And wins don't mean what they used to.  Just ask Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez, who won the American League Cy Young Award in 2010 despite finishing the season with a mediocre 13-12 won-loss record.

In the days of yore, the man known as King Felix wouldn't have been considered a candidate for the ultimate pitching honor with that record, but Hernandez led the American League during the 2010 campaign in innings pitched, ERA and fewest hits per nine innings, while also finishing high among the league leaders in the new stats of the day, like ERA+ (174; 2nd in A.L.), FIP (3.04; 4th in A.L.) and WAR for pitchers (7.1; 1st in A.L.).

Not only did Hernandez win the Cy Young over 19-game winner David Price and 21-game winner CC Sabathia, but the voting wasn't particularly close, as Hernandez earned 21 of the 28 first-place votes cast for the award in 2010.

Voters for regular season awards already know that there is more to determine the value of a pitcher than pitching wins.  But Mets pitcher Bartolo Colón doesn't have time for that talk.  He's too busy helping the Mets inch closer to an unlikely postseason berth by racking up win after win.  And in doing so, he finds himself just one victory away from joining an exclusive Mets pitching club.

Most of the time, when a player becomes "one of only so-and-so players to do something in club history", he's joined by a hodgepodge of players.  Some of these players are usually among the better players to suit up for the team, while others can sometimes be of the "what's he doing on this list?" variety.

For example, when you think of the top home run hitters in Mets history, your thoughts usually turn to guys like Darryl Strawberry, Mike Piazza and Dave Kingman - three guys who were known for their prodigious power.  But rounding out the top ten on the team's all-time home run list is Ed Kranepool, who never hit more than 16 home runs in any season and averaged a long ball every 50.8 plate appearances in his career.  Longevity had more to do with him appearing on this list than anything else.

Similarly, when one thinks of the top strikeout pitchers to put on the orange and blue, immediately visions of the Seavers, Koosmans and Goodens of the Mets universe come to mind.  No one would ever think of including a player like Jonathon Niese in the conversation, but there he is, sitting at No. 9 among the top strikeout pitchers in team history.  That's more a testament to how few great strikeout pitchers have managed to stick around with the Mets than it is of Niese's ability to throw strike three by an opposing batter.

That brings us back to Bartolo Colón, who currently sports a 13-7 won-loss record.  His excellent 2016 campaign comes on the heels of a 14-win season in 2015 and a 15-victory campaign in his inaugural season as a Met in 2014.  A win on Saturday against the Atlanta Braves would give him his third consecutive year with 14 or more victories and would put him on the short list of players who have accomplished that feat in a Mets uniform.  And believe me when I say that the players he'd be joining are not of the Ed Kranepool and Jonathon Niese ilk.

Steve Trachsel (Getty Images)
Entering 2016, a total of 27 pitchers (including Colón) had won 14 or more games for the Mets in a single season.  By accomplishing the feat in each of his first two seasons with the team, Colón had become one of ten Mets hurlers to post multiple seasons of 14+ victories.  However, one of the other nine was Steve Trachsel, which suggests that the company wasn't really that exclusive.  But should Colón win his 14th game of the season tonight or in any of his subsequent starts over the final three weeks of the season, he'd join pitchers like Jon Matlack, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and Al Leiter as three-time 14-game winners.  It's a slightly more impressive list, but none of those guys would ever appear on the Mount Rushmore of Mets starting pitchers.

Matlack, Darling, Fernandez and Leiter all had varying degrees of success with the Mets, but none of them put together at least three consecutive seasons of 14 or more victories while they were on the team.  Only four pitchers have ever done that.  You may have heard of them.  Those players are:

  • Tom Seaver (1967-73)
  • Jerry Koosman (1973-76)
  • Dwight Gooden (1984-88)
  • David Cone (1988-91)

If you were going to sculpt a Mets-style Mount Rushmore using the top four starting pitchers in Mets history, the noggins of those four players would more than likely be permanently chiseled in granite.  Basically, any positive pitching records in team history will feature most, if not all of those pitchers.  Their constant success from year to year made them aces or co-aces of the staffs they pitched for and resulted in lots of wins for the team and themselves.

And to think, Bartolo Colón is just one victory away from joining them.

Over the years, the importance of the pitching victory has been lessened.  A leaky pen can cost a starting pitcher a well-deserved win just as easily as an explosive offense can help a starter earn an ugly "W".  But a win is a win is a win, and pitchers still love getting them.  (Just ask Rick Porcello.)

Bartolo Colón has been in baseball long enough that he remembers when pitching victories were still used to determine how valuable a pitcher was.  But you don't have to tell anyone in this day and age just how valuable Colón has been to the Mets.  And should he earn a victory tonight over the Braves, his value as a winning pitcher will elevate him into the pantheon that includes the best starting pitchers in the history of the franchise.

Yeah, wins for pitchers don't matter as much as they used to.  But I don't think anyone is complaining  that Bartolo Colón is still racking up that "meaningless stat" for the Mets.