Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Magic 8-Ball Predicts The 2011 Mets Season

Spring has finally arrived! Can you feel it in the air? This is the time of the year when you can be excited about the better weather (only to find out that a nor'easter is coming), your fantasy baseball rosters (only to stop caring in July when you're in last place because you couldn't find any takers for Luis Castillo. Hey, it's not your fault that you believed he was going to be in the Phillies' lineup every day due to Chase Utley's injury only to find out belatedly that he was released prior to Opening Day.) and Mets baseball!

To prepare you for the upcoming season, we'd like to present our annual Mets predictions. As always, these predictions are conducted scientifically and are guaranteed to be accurate. How do we know that? Because we're using our Magic 8-Ball! So what say we grab this ball, shake it up and see what happens.

Sorry about that. I didn't realize you were so sensitive, especially since people rub you all the time. Anyway, here's our first question to you. What kind of season will Jason Bay have in 2011?

I see. Does that mean he will finish with 23 HR and no concussions or are you predicting something else?

Apparently, our Magic 8-Ball might have a concussion of its own. Let's move on to the next question. How do you see Brad Emaus performing at second base?

That's not bad, considering that Dan Uggla signed a five-year, $62 million contract extension with the Atlanta Braves during the off-season after posting his fourth consecutive 30-homer season in 2010 with the Marlins.

Well, hopefully, Brad Emaus can be a better defensive player than Dan Uggla. Now on to the pitching staff. Johan Santana will miss the first half of the season as he continues his rehabilitation and recovery from shoulder surgery. Which pitcher will become the staff's ace in his absence?

Why do you think Dickey will pitch the best out of all the starters?

Ahem. You do realize that this is a family-friendly blog, right?

Never mind. One more player question. Will Francisco Rodriguez finish 55 games this season, causing his $17.5 million option for 2012 to kick in?

Yes. What does have to do with the question I asked you about the number of times he'll be allowed to finish a ballgame?

Fine. Let me rephrase the question, if it makes you feel better. Will K-Rod get the 55 appearances required for his 2012 option to vest?

Hey, wait a minute! Now you listen to me! How come you get to say that while I was reprimanded for saying something similar?

Forget it. I'll just ask one more question and then I'll leave you alone. I have no idea why I consulted you anyway. I could have done these predictions myself. Anyway, how do you see the Mets finishing in 2011?

One rainout not made up? You're being very precise with that prediction.

On that note, I believe now's as good a time as any to wrap things up here. That concludes this year's Magic 8-Ball predictions for the 2011 Mets. Be sure to join us next year when I take a page out of Sandy Alderson's book and use a more cost-effective way to share our prognostications with you.

I hope you enjoy the upcoming Mets season. You don't need a Magic 8-Ball to tell you that.

Will Jason Bay Become Jason Boo At Citi Field?

Last winter, the Mets were actively searching for an outfielder with some pop in his bat. After all, when the team leader in home runs only hit 12, as Daniel Murphy did in 2009, some energy had to be infused so that the team didn't suffer a similar power outage in back-to-back seasons.

With Matt Holliday looking for a longer deal at more dollars per year, the Mets turned their attention to Jason Bay, signing the veteran leftfielder to a four-year, $66 million contract, with a fifth-year option. Unfortunately, Bay's first season in New York was less than spectacular (.259, 6 HR, 47 RBI in 95 games) and he hit a wall in July. Not the proverbial one, but the one in Dodger Stadium, causing a concussion that put an end to his debut season for the Mets.

Fast forward to this week. Jason Bay, now fully recovered from his concussion, was ready to put 2010 behind him and start earning his lucrative paycheck. However, upon feeling discomfort in his ribcage, Bay took himself out of Tuesday's starting lineup and will now start the season on the disabled list, with Lucas Duda replacing him on the roster.

Although Bay's DL stint can be backdated to last Friday, he will not be eligible to play for the Mets until Saturday, April 9 at the earliest. That means he will miss both Opening Day against the Marlins and the home opener one week later.

Mets fans will once again be left without their entire team when the players are formally introduced during the pre-game ceremonies at Citi Field on April 8. However, you can imagine that with the underperforming and oft-injured Bay not in the starting lineup, some fans might not be cheering when No. 44 is introduced next Friday.

After all, Mets fans are a passionate bunch. They will adore you if you play well and vilify you if you don't. Mike Piazza will always be loved by the fans because he played exceptionally well and always gave his best effort. Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez? Not so much. In fact, in recent years, both Castillo and Perez were subjected to boobird droppings from every level of the stadium, even on a normally festive day like Opening Day.

So now that the Gruesome Twosome are gone, fans who feel they've paid for the right to boo have no one to unleash their vitriol on. Unfortunately, that might not bode well for Jason Bay.

Bay is a solid player who gives his all on the field. If he didn't, he would have shied away from the Dodger Stadium wall last July instead of introducing his coconut to it. But when a player earns top dollar like Bay is, fans expect that player to produce the numbers that go with that salary.

Jason Bay's career in New York can follow one of two paths.

  • Path 1: He can be like Carlos Beltran and have a subpar first year which included a shot to the head (as Beltran did when he played patty-cake with Mike Cameron's noggin in 2005) and then recover to have three outstanding years.

  • Path 2: He can be like George Foster and have a putrid first year, recover some of his power in his second year, but underachieve in the other offensive categories before being run out of town prior to his contract expiring.

(For those too young to remember or old enough to want to forget, George Foster signed a five-year deal with the Mets to become their leftfielder after being traded from Cincinnati to New York in 1982. In the six years prior to the trade (1976-1981), Foster was one of the premier sluggers in the major leagues, averaging 33 HR and 112 RBI per season, to go with a .297 batting average. However, in his first season with the Mets, Foster batted .247 with 13 HR and 70 RBI. He did recover to hit 28 HR in 1983, but lowered his batting average to .241. He was released by the Mets in 1986.)

The great Yogi Berra once said "when you come to the fork in the road, take it". Jason Bay has reached that fork in the road. Will he go left and be confronted with the Foster Dead End or will he make a right towards Beltran Drive? His success or failure (and whether he becomes the next target of the Citi Field boobirds) as a Met might ultimately depend on which direction he chooses.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Joey Soapbox: Revisiting The Joey Jinx (With Apologies To Eddie Kunz and Jason Bay)

A few months ago, I wrote a piece about an accidental jinx I may have started. You see, while performing my Studious Metsimus roving reporter duties, I have met numerous Mets players and had them take a photograph with me. For example, last year I had the pleasure of meeting players such as Pedro Feliciano and Chris Carter, but in addition to meeting them, I also posed for pictures with them.

Less than a year later, both players are no longer on the Mets, with Feliciano moving on to the Yankees and Carter going south to Tampa. In addition, Perpetual Pedro is about to be placed on the disabled list for the first time in his career with muscle soreness in his left shoulder.

So as legend has it, anytime I take a photo with a Mets player, he either gets injured or traded (or sometimes both). It's getting to the point where I almost expect the Mystery Machine to pull up to the Studious Metsimus offices so that the Scooby Gang can investigate "The Case of the Joey Jinx". (If those meddling kids don't bring Scooby Snacks, I'm not cooperating!)

I was going to dismiss this jinx as being nothing but a co-inky-dink. After all, many people take their pictures with athletes and many of those athletes get injured and/or traded. But after today's events, it appears my dismissal of the Joey Jinx may have been premature.

Photo of Eddie Kunz and I taken by Sharon Chapman. Photo of Jason Bay, my colleague and I taken by Taryn Cooper.

Earlier today, the Mets traded Eddie Kunz to the San Diego Padres for minor league first baseman Allan Dykstra. (Hopefully, he will never be referred to as "the wrong Dykstra", like Victor "the wrong Zambrano" and Kaz "the wrong Matsui".) Of course, last year, Eddie and I had a good time together posing for this photo (see above, left) during a spring training break in Port St. Lucie.

As if Kunz's trade wasn't enough, later today it was revealed that Mets' starting leftfielder Jason Bay might have to start the season on the disabled list after feeling discomfort in his ribcage. Bay reported back to Port St. Lucie for further examination hoping for the best, but since he was photographed with me (and my Studious Metsimus colleague) last December (see above, right), the news does not bode well for the slugger.

Is there really a Joey Jinx? Nothing has been proven scientifically, but judging by the trades and injuries that have befallen numerous Mets and ex-Mets, it's something that might have to be looked at.

Personally, I don't believe I have the power to influence Mets transactions. I barely have the power to get a full night's sleep. You see, I've been having nightmares about Mr. Met falling down the dugout steps after finding out that he'd been traded for the Phillie Phanatic. Why would I ever dream of something as ridiculous as that?

Monday, March 28, 2011

M.U.M.'s The Word (Most Underrated Mets): Edgardo Alfonzo

In 1991, the Mets signed a 17-year-old slick-fielding infielder from Venezuela and sent him to the Gulf Coast League. During his first two years in the minors, the teenager made excellent contact, hitting .331 and .350, but he was basically a singles hitter, collecting 12 extra-base hits (no home runs) in 1991 and 18 extra-base hits (one home run) in 1992.

Then in 1993, he finally flexed some muscle, rapping out 18 doubles and 11 home runs, to go with 86 RBI and 26 stolen bases for the St. Lucie Mets. When he followed that up with an even better 1994 season at AA-Binghamton (34 doubles, 15 HR, 75 RBI), the Mets couldn't help but bring him up to the major leagues for the start of the 1995 season.

Although the Mets already had Jeff Kent and Bobby Bonilla starting at second base and third base, respectively, it wasn't too long before both of them started to receive less playing time to accommodate the versatile new kid on the block. Splitting time between second base and third base would become something of a habit for one of the most underrated (and best) players in Mets history.

Fonzie's skills and knowledge of the game were that of a veteran player, leading people to believe that he was older than his reported age, a rumor that was denied by Fonzie repeatedly. Here he is on his Bowman baseball card in a shot taken on his 12th birthday.

Edgardo Antonio Alfonzo made his major league debut with the Mets on April 26, 1995. It was the first game of the 1995 season (because of the strike, the 1995 season was delayed and truncated to 144 games) and the first game in the history of Coors Field. In typical Coors Field fashion, no lead was safe, as the Mets blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning and twice in extra innings. Alfonzo was on the bench to start the game, but with so many pitching changes and double switches needed in the 14-inning affair, he found his way into the game in the tenth inning, flying out as a pinch-hitter for John Franco.

Because of Jeff Kent and the high-salaried Bobby Bonilla, it became difficult for the Mets to find an everyday role for Alfonzo. Over the first 25 games of the season, Fonzie started four games at second base, seven games at third base, appeared as a pinch hitter or defensive replacement eight times and remained on the bench for the entire game in the other six games. In those same 25 games, Bonilla was hitting the cover off the ball (.357, 5 HR, 18 RBI), while Jeff Kent was not (.209, 2 HR, 9 RBI). If anyone was going to lose playing time to Alfonzo, it should have been Jeff Kent. However, the Mets had another problem on their hands - left field.

The Mets went into the 1995 season with David Segui as their starting leftfielder, but before long, left field seemed to resemble a high-priced game of musical chairs, with players such as Segui, Joe Orsulak, Ricky Otero, Chris Jones and Bobby Bonilla all getting their turn to play the position. Finally, on May 24, manager Dallas Green moved Bonilla to left field on what was supposed to be a full-time basis and Alfonzo became the club's everyday third baseman. Of course, in the dictionary used by the 1995 Mets, "full-time" and "temporary" were synonyms.

For the first month of the Bonilla-to-left-field experiment, Alfonzo played mostly at third. Then he played a couple of games at shortstop as Bonilla was moved back to third base and Orsulak was given a few starts in left field. When Jeff Kent was placed on the disabled list with a right shoulder sprain, Alfonzo moved back to second base, before going back to third base in late July while Bonilla moved back to left.

With the Mets going nowhere in the NL East, they decided to unload some of their higher salaried players at the trade deadline, most notably Bobby Bonilla. That was supposed to clear the way for Edgardo Alfonzo to take over at third base (dare we say it) full-time. But in August, Fonzie was placed on the disabled list with a herniated disc in his back that almost ended his season. He did play again in 1995, but was used sparingly, compiling only 27 at-bats after August 10.

After a promising rookie season in 1995, Edgardo Alfonzo began the 1996 season on the bench, as Jose Vizcaino became the everyday second baseman, with Jeff Kent moving over to third base and rookie defensive wizard Rey Ordoñez taking over at shortstop. As a result, Alfonzo had nowhere to play regularly and his production suffered. Through July 26, Fonzie had only started 35 of the Mets' first 104 games and collected 174 at-bats, being used mostly as a pinch-hitter. At the time, his batting average was .236. With one home run and 16 RBI, it appeared as if the promising career forecasted by the Mets had been a case of wishful thinking and the 22-year-old Alfonzo had faded before getting a fair chance to truly shine. But just as the trade of Bobby Bonilla a year earlier had given Alfonzo an opportunity to prove to the Mets that he could take on the rigors of playing every day, another trade was in the works in 1996 that would open up a spot in the infield for Alfonzo. This time, he would make sure to take advantage of the opportunity.

On July 29, 1996, the Mets traded Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino to the Cleveland Indians for Carlos Baerga and Alvaro Espinoza. In true Dallas Green fashion, Baerga, who had played exclusively at second base since the last month of the 1991 season, played third base and first base for the Mets, while Alfonzo became the Mets' regular second baseman. With an everyday job secured, Fonzie wasted no time getting back on track and fulfilling the promise he showed in the minor leagues. In his first game following the trade of his infield roadblocks, Alfonzo belted only his second home run of the year, helping the Mets to a 5-0 victory over the Pirates. Over the final two months of the season, Alfonzo batted .284 with three home runs and 24 RBI. The numbers weren't eye-popping, but they were an improvement over what Alfonzo had produced when he had no definitive role. The final two months of the 1996 season would also serve as a stepping stone for the rest of Alfonzo's career.

With the arrival of Carlos Baerga at Shea Stadium in 1996, Edgardo Alfonzo switched positions from third base to second base, allowing Baerga to play third. It would not be the last time Alfonzo rode the infield shuttle at Shea.

The 1997 Mets were not your grandpa's Mets. They were vastly improved over the teams that finished below .500 for six consecutive seasons. With a new manager (Bobby Valentine) and a new first baseman (John Olerud), the Mets competed for a playoff spot until the last week of the season. Many players had their finest seasons to date in 1997, including Butch Huskey (.287, 24 HR, 81 RBI), Rick Reed (13-9, 2.89 ERA) and Bobby Jones (15-9, 3.63 ERA). Another player who improved by leaps and bounds was Edgardo Alfonzo.

Despite the presence of a former batting champion in John Olerud, it was Edgardo Alfonzo who led the team in batting average (.315) and hits (163) in 1997. Fonzie's other numbers (27 doubles, 10 HR, 72 RBI, 84 runs scored and a career-high 11 SB) helped keep the Mets in contention for the National League wild card until the final week of the season. Another forgotten aspect of Fonzie's game that he improved upon immensely was his ability to draw a walk. In 1995 and 1996, Fonzie walked only 37 times in 763 plate appearances. That number jumped to 63 in 1997 alone. As a result, his on-base percentage, which was .303 over his first two seasons with the Mets, climbed to .391 in 1997.

With so many great performances on the 1997 Mets, it was Edgardo Alfonzo who received the most recognition in the MVP voting. Fonzie was the only Met to earn consideration from the voters, finishing 13th in the 1997 National League MVP race with 10 votes.

After their return to contention in 1997, the Mets were poised to continue their resurgence in 1998. Unfortunately, one Met who didn't continue his success from 1997 early on was Edgardo Alfonzo. Through May 21, Fonzie appeared to have regressed to his early 1996 form by hitting .239 with seven doubles, two home runs and 13 RBI. But then the Mets made a stunning move, acquiring All-Star catcher Mike Piazza from the Florida Marlins in May. For the third time in four seasons, a trade made by the Mets ended up benefiting Alfonzo, as the third baseman (Baerga was back at second base now) took off.

With John Olerud (.354, 22 HR, 93 RBI) and Mike Piazza (.348, 23 HR, 76 RBI in 109 games as a Met) firmly locked in the middle of the order, it was Edgardo Alfonzo whose job it was to get on base for them as the second-place hitter, a spot in the order he took over on a full-time basis on July 1. In his first game as the regular No. 2 hitter, Fonzie hit two home runs against the Toronto Blue Jays. While other teams focused on Olerud and Piazza, it was Alfonzo who was quietly putting together a solid season. From July 1 to the end of the season, Fonzie hit .292 with 16 doubles, 13 HR, 44 RBI and 57 runs scored. Unfortunately, the Mets fell short at the end of the season, losing their final five games before being eliminated from the wild card race on the final day of the regular season. The 1998 season finished on a low note from a team standpoint, but after all the high notes (and baseballs) being hit by Edgardo Alfonzo, the Mets couldn't help but look forward to 1999, to see just how far the team and Alfonzo could go. And boy, did they go far.

This pose would be a familiar one for Edgardo Alfonzo in 1999, a year for the ages for the Mets' second baseman.

After two 88-win seasons in 1997 and 1998, the Mets were not going to be satisfied with anything less than a postseason berth. However, their hunger for excellence didn't produce results over the first two months of the season, as the Mets stumbled to a 27-28 start, leading to the dismissal of three coaches. After the pink slip party, the Mets won their next game to move back to the .500 mark, but Edgardo Alfonzo had still not produced to the level the Mets expected of him following his breakthrough second-half performance in 1998. Through the team's first 56 games, Alfonzo was hitting .290 with 13 doubles, 7 HR and 27 RBI. With a renewed sense of purpose, the Mets started to pile up win after win. Not coincidentally, Alfonzo began to rake at the plate, putting together a season that ranks as the best for any second baseman in franchise history. (Did I mention that Fonzie was now back at second base?)

Just like he did in 1998, Fonzie's resurgence began against the Toronto Blue Jays. In a three-game series swept by the Mets, Alfonzo collected five hits (including a double and a home run) and three RBI. The onslaught on opposing pitchers continued over the next 26 games, as Alfonzo hit .327 with 14 extra-base hits and 28 RBI (an average of over one RBI per game). Despite the pre-All-Star Game batting blitz, Alfonzo was not selected to represent the National League in the Midsummer Classic. Fonzie never needed any motivation to play the game, but after his All-Star snub, he played like a man who was out to show the selection committee what they had overlooked.

In the Mets' first 41 games after the break, Fonzie turned into Mike Piazza at the plate. He batted .367 with 14 doubles, 11 HR and 39 RBI. His on-base percentage over the six-week stretch was .418 and he slugged a whopping .645. During the streak, he had a five-RBI game on August 11 and a four-RBI game four days later. But his best game happened on August 30, when he put together the best single game by any Mets hitter in franchise history, going 6-for-6, with three home runs, five RBI and six runs scored.

As August turned to September, the Mets were determined not to let their late-season collapse of 1998 repeat itself in 1999. But a seven-game losing streak took the Mets out of the wild card lead going into the final weekend of the season. With three games to play, the Mets were two games behind Houston and Cincinnati, the wild card co-leaders. The Mets had to sweep the Pirates and hope for some help. They won the first two games against the Bucs and watched as the Reds lost two games against the Milwaukee Brewers. Needing to win the final game of the season to guarantee at least a 163rd game, the Mets struggled against Pirates' starter Kris Benson in the regular season finale. But with the game tied at 1 going into the bottom of the ninth, Edgardo Alfonzo was due to bat third in the inning. Fonzie was one of the team's most clutch hitters during the first 161 games of the season. That formula would not change for Game No. 162.

After Bobby Bonilla (the man whose trade gave Alfonzo his first shot as an everyday player with the Mets back four years earlier) grounded out to first base to start the inning, Melvin Mora got the Mets going by ripping a single to right field. That brought Edgardo Alfonzo to the plate, who kept the rally going by lining an opposite-field single, moving Mora to third base. With the winning run standing 90 feet away, the Pirates chose to intentionally walk John Olerud to load the bases for Mike Piazza. The Mets' catcher, who had already slugged 40 home runs that season, never got a chance to swing the bat, as Brad Clontz uncorked a wild pitch that brought Mora home with the winning run.

With the Cincinnati Reds winning their final game against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Mets needed to win a one-game playoff at Cinergy Field to earn their first trip to the postseason since 1988. Unlike the final game of the Pittsburgh series, the Mets wasted no time getting to Reds' starting pitcher Steve Parris. After Rickey Henderson walked to lead off the game, Fonzie cracked a two-run homer, giving starting pitcher Al Leiter all the runs he would need. Alfonzo also drove in the final run of the game with a sixth inning double, and the Mets went on to win the game and the National League wild card berth. The Mets didn't have much time to celebrate their victory, as they had to fly to Arizona to open up the NLDS against the NL West champion Diamondbacks. Although the team had every excuse to be tired, playing in their third city in three days, one Met who didn't feel exhaustion was Edgardo Alfonzo, and he showed it in Game 1 of the NLDS.

No one would confuse Randy Johnson with Steve Parris, but try telling that to Edgardo Alfonzo. Just as he had done the previous night against the Reds, Fonzie homered in the top of the first inning to give the Mets the early lead. The Mets extended that lead to 4-2, but the Diamondbacks tied it in the bottom of the sixth inning on Luis Gonzalez's two-run homer. The game remained tied until the bottom of the ninth inning when Randy Johnson loaded the bases with one out. Out came the intimidating Johnson. In came Bobby Chouinard, who had only logged 140 2/3 innings in the major leagues with a 4.54 ERA. The batter Chouinard was brought in to face was none other than Edgardo Alfonzo. One swing of the bat later, the Mets had taken an 8-4 lead on Fonzie's grand slam that just stayed fair near the left field foul pole. The Mets went on take the first game of the series, with Alfonzo registering his third five-RBI game of the season.

After taking Randy Johnson deep earlier in the game, the Diamondbacks thought Bobby Chouinard would have a better chance to retire Edgardo Alfonzo. Oops.

After the two teams split the next two games in lopsided affairs (Arizona won Game 2 by six runs and New York won Game 3 by seven runs), the Mets were trying to close out the series in Game 4 at Shea Stadium. It behooved the Mets to close out the series at home because lurking in the Arizona desert for Game 5 was Randy Johnson. The game remained scoreless until the bottom of the fourth inning when Edgardo Alfonzo led off with a home run to give the Mets a 1-0 lead. It was Alfonzo's third home run of the series, all of which gave the Mets the lead. This time, the Mets couldn't hold on to the lead Alfonzo gave them, as Armando Benitez allowed Arizona to take a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth inning on a two-run double by Jay Bell. The Mets were six outs away from having to travel back to Arizona for a do-or-die game against Randy Johnson. But Edgardo Alfonzo was due to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning, and he wasn't about to let the team down.

Facing Gregg Olson, Fonzie drew a leadoff walk. With John Olerud, a left-handed batter, due up next, manager Buck Showalter brought in the lefty Greg Swindell. The lefty appeared to do his job, inducing Olerud to hit a fly ball to right field. However, Tony Womack (who had just been moved from shortstop to right field prior to the bottom of the eighth inning) dropped the ball, allowing Alfonzo to reach third base and Olerud to coast into second. When Roger Cedeño hit a sacrifice fly to center field, Alfonzo scored the unearned run to tie the game. The game went into extra innings, where Todd Pratt won it with a walk-off home run off Matt Mantei.

For the series, Alfonzo only hit .250 (4-for-16), but all four of his hits went for extra bases (one double, three home runs). He also added three walks to give him a .368 on-base percentage over the four games. But the most important stat for Alfonzo in the NLDS was that he scored every time he reached base in the series, reaching base seven times and scoring all seven times.

The extra-base hit parade would continue in the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, with Alfonzo banging out four more doubles in the six-game series. His fourth double, leading off the sixth inning of Game 6, helped start a rally for the Mets, who had already fallen behind the Braves by five runs. However, the Mets' rally eventually fell short, as the Mets lost the game and the pennant to the Braves in the 11th inning. Although the Mets failed to advance to the World Series, the team exceeded expectations, with Edgardo Alfonzo playing a key role in their successful season.

During the regular season, Fonzie hit .304 with 41 doubles, 27 HR, 108 RBI and a franchise-record 123 runs scored. In ten postseason games, Alfonzo added five doubles, three home runs, seven RBI and eight runs scored, with most of the extra-base hits coming at crucial points of the game. For his efforts, Fonzie earned his first Silver Slugger Award and finished eighth in the National League MVP vote, becoming one of three Mets to finish in the top ten (Mike Piazza finished sixth and Robin Ventura placed seventh).

Edgardo Alfonzo's transformation from solid player to elite hitter coincided with the Mets' rise to the top of the National League. The Mets still hadn't gotten to the World Series, and made that their goal for the 2000 season. Although Alfonzo had a near-perfect season in 1999, he still felt that he could take his game to another level by becoming a more patient hitter, thereby getting better pitches to hit and drawing more walks. By making that his goal for the 2000 season, he felt that the team would become more efficient and had a better chance for success. Alfonzo was able to achieve his goal and took the team with him for the ride.

Fonzie finished the 2000 season with career-highs in batting average (.324), on-base percentage (.425) and walks (95). He also added 40 doubles (becoming the first Met to record multiple seasons of 40 or more two-base hits), 25 HR, 94 RBI, 109 runs scored and his first selection to the National League All-Star team. However, in a year full of memorable moments, one of them stood out above all others.

On June 30, 2000, the Mets were in the midst of a crucial four-game series against their nemesis, the Atlanta Braves. The series was already one of the most eagerly anticipated regular season series since the mid-'80s Mets-Cardinals late-season clashes. However, this one had an extra appeal to it because it was Braves' closer John Rocker's first appearance in New York after his tell-all interview with Sports Illustrated during the off-season, where he discussed his opinion of New Yorkers. With the game almost secondary to the John Rocker circus, the Mets lost the first game of the series and were in danger of dropping the second game to the Braves after Brian Jordan's three-run homer off Eric Cammack in the top of the eighth inning gave Atlanta an 8-1 lead. The Mets did put runners at the corners with one out in the bottom of the eighth, but Robin Ventura grounded out (making the score 8-2), leaving the Mets one out away from ending the inning. They would wait quite some time for that last out to be recorded.

Singles by Todd Zeile and Jay Payton made the score 8-3 and left two runners on base. Benny Agbayani then walked on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases. Pinch-hitter Mark Johnson then drew another full-count walk to force in a run. It was now 8-4 and the tying run was at the plate in the form of Melvin Mora. He became the third consecutive batter to walk on a 3-2 pitch, making the score 8-5. After Derek Bell walked to cut the lead to 8-6, Edgardo Alfonzo came up to bat. Terry Mulholland, the third pitcher used by the Braves in the inning, was able to get ahead in the count, trying desperately not to make Alfonzo the fifth consecutive batter to draw a base on balls, especially with the dangerous Mike Piazza looming in the on-deck circle. One strike away from finally ending the inning, Mulholland tried to be too careful with Alfonzo. Fonzie drilled a ball through the hole to left field, driving in Joe McEwing (who had been inserted as a pinch-runner for Johnson) and Mora. One pitch later, Piazza scorched a line drive three-run homer off the padding above the left field wall near the foul pole. The Mets had scored ten runs in the eighth inning (nine of which crossed the plate after two were out) against their hated division rivals.

Although the biggest blow of the inning came off the bat of Mike Piazza, it was Edgardo Alfonzo's clutch two-out, two-strike, two-run single that pulled the Mets even, setting the stage for Piazza's heroics. The game personified everything that was right about the Mets in the year 2000. They were loaded with great individual players who could come up with clutch hits such as Edgardo Alfonzo and Mike Piazza, but also had their share of smaller role players, like Benny Agbayani and Jay Payton who would do whatever it took to help the Mets win.

The Mets did not have to sweat it out over the final days of the 2000 season to make the playoffs as they did in 1999, cruising to their second consecutive wild card berth. Once again, the Mets were going out west to begin the NLDS, this time against the NL West champion San Francisco Giants. The Mets would fall in Game 1, but Edgardo Alfonzo provided another big hit that loomed large after the final out was recorded in Game 2.

Game 2 of the 2000 NLDS will always be remembered for J.T. Snow's game-tying three-run homer off Armando Benitez in the bottom of the ninth inning. However, Snow's blast might have been a game-winning home run had it not been for Edgardo Alfonzo. In the top of the ninth inning, with the Mets clinging to a one-run lead, Fonzie hit a two-run homer off Felix Rodriguez to give the Mets a 4-1 lead, a lead that quickly evaporated once J.T. Snow connected in the bottom of the inning. The Mets went on to win the game in the tenth inning, when John Franco froze Barry Bonds at the plate, striking him out with the tying run on base to end the threat and the game.

The Mets won Game 3 on Benny Agbayani's walk-off home run off Aaron Fultz in the 13th inning, but the game would never have gone into extra innings if Edgardo Alfonzo had not tied it with a two-out, RBI double in the bottom of the eighth inning off Giants' closer Robb Nen.

Just like in 1999, the Mets had to win Game 4 of the NLDS at Shea Stadium to avoid having to travel across the country for a fifth and deciding game. The Mets gave the ball to Bobby Jones, who won more games than any other Mets starter in the 1990s. However, this was a new decade and Jones was making his first career postseason start. The Mets took an early 2-0 lead and Jones retired the first 12 batters to face him. Then, things got a little shaky in the fifth inning, with the Giants loading the bases on a double by Jeff Kent and two walks. Jones was able to get out of the inning unscathed, but the Mets now had to worry that their pitcher was running out of gas trying to protect a small lead. That feeling of trepidation didn't last long, especially after Edgardo Alfonzo came up to bat.

This Fonz never jumped the shark, but he did jump all over opposing pitchers who dared to challenge him.

Mere minutes after Bobby Jones had escaped from from his first postseason jam, the Mets had put two men on base for Edgardo Alfonzo. Giants' pitcher Mark Gardner, who popped up with the bases loaded to end the rally in the top of the fifth inning, battled with Fonzie for seven pitches, getting him to foul off pitch after pitch. On the eighth pitch, Alfonzo got more than just a piece of the ball, launching a long double to center field, scoring both runners. The Mets now had a four-run lead, giving Bobby Jones his confidence back, which showed when he retired every remaining batter to face him. The Mets advanced to the NLCS for the second straight year, this time facing off against the St. Louis Cardinals.

In the relatively easy five-game series, the Mets won three games by four runs or more. Edgardo Alfonzo turned the series into a one-man wrecking crew, hitting .444 over the five games and reaching base an astonishing 13 times (eight hits, four walks, one hit by pitch) for an eye-popping .565 on-base percentage. Fonzie scored at least one run and drove in at least one run in all four Mets victories. Unfortunately, Alfonzo could not sustain his brilliance once the Mets got into the World Series, as he only reached base five times in 23 plate appearances (.217 OBP) against the Yankees. He did, however, have one clutch moment in the World Series, when he temporarily gave the Mets the lead in Game 1 with a two-out, RBI single in the top of the seventh inning.

The 2000 season represented the peak of the Mets' rise to the top of the National League, as well as the peak of Edgardo Alfonzo's playing career. In 2001, with the Mets slumping to an 82-80 record, Edgardo Alfonzo hit for the lowest average in his Mets career, finishing the year at .243. Chronic back problems, which put him on the disabled list and caused him to miss most of June, were believed to be the reason for his poor batting average, although he did manage to hit 17 home runs in 2001, despite missing 38 games.

Obligatory Fonzie fielding photo. After all, he wasn't just a great hitter. He could pick it on the field, too.

In 2002, the Mets attempted to rebuild their team with offense, acquiring first baseman Mo Vaughn and second baseman Roberto Alomar. Yet again, Alfonzo was asked to take the second base-third base shuttle, moving over to third base to accommodate Alomar. It was the fourth time Alfonzo had switched positions in his Mets career, going from third base to second base in 1996 after the acquisition of Carlos Baerga, back to third base in 1997 when Baerga was moved to second, back to second base when Robin Ventura was acquired to play the hot corner, and then back to third when Alomar became a Met in 2002.

Once again, Alfonzo spent time on the disabled list in 2002, missing three weeks in August with a strained oblique muscle. Although his run production from 1999 and 2000 was still M.I.A., Fonzie's high batting average and keen eye returned for one last hurrah in 2002. As late as September 1, Alfonzo was among the league leaders in batting (.332) and on-base percentage (.414), before finishing the season with a .308 batting average (good for 10th in the National League) and a .391 OBP. He also hit 26 doubles and 16 home runs, but only finished with 56 RBI.

The Mets had a decision to make following the 2002 season. Would they re-sign Alfonzo, who could still field and hit for average, but was not the run producer he used to be or would they choose to let him walk, going with other options at third base? During the 2002 season, the Mets had offered Alfonzo a three-year, $18 million contract extension, but after the season ended, the Mets reduced their offer to $11 million over two years. After not taking the three-year offer earlier in the year, Alfonzo would have signed for two years, but wanted $8.5 million per year, a number the Mets refused to match. Instead, Alfonzo chose to sign a four-year, $26 million contract with the San Francisco Giants, who offered him more money and security than the Mets did.

It was a bittersweet moment for Mets fans, having to watch the anchor of their infield for the past eight seasons leave the only team he had ever known. Alfonzo knew how passionate Mets fans were about their team and appreciated all the love and support they gave to him over the years. Therefore, to thank the fans, the normally quiet and reserved Alfonzo voiced his gratitude by purchasing ad space on New York City cabs (see photo, right).

Despite the numerous position changes between second and third base to accommodate other stars, Alfonzo always accepted the moves and did his job to the best of his ability. And oh, what ability he had. The slick-fielding infielder never won a Gold Glove Award for his defensive skills, but that was par for the course. After all, Alfonzo did everything well and never got the accolades that normally go with a player of his caliber.

Look at the Mets' all-time offensive leaders. Only three players are in the top ten in each of the following career totals: batting average, on-base percentage, runs scored, hits, total bases, doubles, home runs, runs batted in and walks. One of them is Mike Piazza. Another is David Wright. The third one is Edgardo Alfonzo.

In his eight-year Mets career (1995-2002), Fonzie finished with a .292 batting average (6th all-time), .367 on-base percentage (6th all-time), 614 runs scored (5th all-time), 1,136 hits (4th all-time), 1,736 total bases (6th all-time), 212 doubles (4th all-time), 120 home runs (9th all-time), 538 runs batted in (6th all-time) and 458 walks (7th all-time). Even sabermetricians would be impressed to find out that Edgardo Alfonzo is the only player to appear in the top five in both Offensive WAR (5th, 24.9) and Defensive WAR (tied for 3rd, 4.2). The four players ranked ahead of Alfonzo in Offensive WAR are Darryl Strawberry, David Wright, Howard Johnson and Mike Piazza. Those are also the top four home run hitters in franchise history. The three players tied or ahead of Alfonzo in Defensive WAR are Rey Ordoñez, Keith Hernandez and Carlos Beltran. Those three players are the only players in Mets history who have won at least three Gold Gloves apiece.

Fonzie never led the league in any offensive category, only won one Silver Slugger Award and was selected to play for the National League All-Star team once, yet his consistency in all facets of the game allowed him to finish among the all-time Mets greats.

Whether he was dressed in white or black, Fonzie always provided a consistent attack.

Edgardo Alfonzo was never the big star of the team. Even in some of his bigger moments, he was overshadowed by someone else. Everyone remembers the wild pitch in the 162nd game of the 1999 season that allowed Melvin Mora to score the winning run. No one remembers Alfonzo getting the hit that put Mora on third base to begin with. Everyone remembers Todd Pratt's walk-off home run to win the NLDS. No one remembers that before Pratt's heroics, it was Alfonzo's home run that gave the Mets the early lead or the run he scored to send the game into extra innings. Everyone remembers Mike Piazza's three-run homer to cap the 10-run inning against the Atlanta Braves in 2000. No one (well, maybe some of you do) remembers the game-tying single by Alfonzo that set the stage for Piazza's screaming line drive. Everyone remembers J.T. Snow's shocking home run in Game 2 of the 2000 NLDS. No one remembers that it was Alfonzo's home run in the top of the ninth inning that allowed the Mets to take a three-run lead into the bottom of the ninth. Everyone remembers Benny Agbayani's walk-off home run to win Game 3 of the 2000 NLDS. No one remembers that Alfonzo produced the tying hit that sent the game into extra innings. Everyone remembers Bobby Jones' one-hit masterpiece to win the NLDS in 2000. No one remembers Alfonzo's two-run double in the fifth inning that gave Jones the breathing room he needed to mow down the Giants for the rest of the game. Everyone remembers that Mike Hampton pitched two brilliant games in the 2000 NLCS, earning him the series' MVP Award. No one remembers that Alfonzo reached base 13 times in the five-game series in only 23 plate appearances.

Some people might not even remember his comeback attempt with the Mets in 2006, hitting .241 in 42 games with AAA-Norfolk or his desire to get one last crack at making the team in 2010, hoping to retire as a member of the Mets. That's okay with Fonzie. He was always the humble player, the player who'd rather lead quietly while the other players received the star treatment. It's why he will always be one of the most underrated Mets in franchise history. It's also why he will always be one of the best players to ever don the orange and blue.

One of the best in orange and blue? Fonzie could rock the black duds, too!

Note: M.U.M.'s The Word was a thirteen-part weekly series spotlighting some of the best Mets players of all-time who never got the recognition they deserved because they weren't the biggest names on the teams they played for. Did I say "was a thirteen-part weekly series"? That's right. This is the thirteenth and final installment of M.U.M.'s The Word. It's just a co-inky-dink that we chose our thirteenth player to be the man who wore No. 13, Edgardo Alfonzo. We hope you enjoyed the series. For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:

January 3, 2011: John Olerud
January 10, 2011: Sid Fernandez
January 17, 2011: Jon Matlack
January 24, 2011: Kevin McReynolds
January 31, 2011: Bobby Jones
February 7, 2011: John Stearns
February 14, 2011: David Cone
February 21, 2011: Rusty Staub

February 28, 2011: Rick Reed
March 7, 2011: Ron Taylor
March 14, 2011: Turk Wendell

March 21, 2011: Roger McDowell

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

National (Lack of) Pride

As first reported by Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports, Oliver Perez has agreed to a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals. The signing comes two days after the Mets parted ways with the president of the Rick Vaughn Fan Club. Should he succeed (>snicker<) at AAA-Syracuse, Perez will get the opportunity to join a staff that features such stalwarts as Jason Marquis (2-9, 6.60 ERA) and produced only one starter with an ERA under 4.65 (Livan Hernandez, who went 10-12 with a 3.66 ERA).

If the recently impeached El Perez-idente "earns" a spot with the Nationals, Mets fans won't have to wait very long to boo him at Citi Field, as Washington will be the Mets' opponent when Citi Field opens its doors for the 2011 season on April 8. Since the Mets are still paying Ollie $12 million this year (minus the amount Washington is paying him), they might finally get their money's worth if Perez comes into the game and pitches like his normal self.

With the signing of Perez, Washington will no longer have to worry about people ridiculing them for giving former Phillies' rightfielder Jayson Werth $126 million over seven years. They will now have something else to be ridiculed for.

The Phillies signed Luis Castillo to a minor league contract earlier this week. Now the Nationals have signed Oliver Perez to a similar deal. The Mets' castoffs are finding new employers for their services (or what passes for services) without leaving the division. Does that mean the Braves will be signing Victor Zambrano next? Do the Marlins have an offer on the table for Kaz Matsui?

The Mets may or may not improve in the standings this year, but it sure feels a lot sunnier in the clubhouse now that the dark clouds have lifted. Let the Phillies and Nationals deal with Castillo and Perez. Who knows? Maybe they're better equipped to weather the storm. But I wouldn't be surprised if they were forced to order extra galoshes at some point this year.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Are Mets Fans Loyal To Their Team? One Survey Says No!

The Mets were a mediocre team in 2010, finishing the season with a 79-83 record. That mark was the 20th best in baseball (or the 11th worst, if you're standing on your head while looking at the standings). That was a nine-game improvement over the dismal 2009 season, when injuries turned the Mets into Johan Santana and the Four Rainouts, but the improvement in the win column was still not good enough to put the fannies in the seats.

It's true that Mets fans did not turn out in droves for the 2010 season, but does that make us any less loyal than other teams' fans? Apparently so, according to a recently conducted survey by Brand Keys, Inc.

Does this look like a fan base that isn't loyal to their team?

The Mets ranked 23rd out of 30 Major League Baseball teams in fan loyalty. The two teams Mets fans love to hate, the Phillies and the Yankees, finished first and second in fan loyalty, respectively. Finishing third in the survey were the Boston Red Sox, while the San Francisco Giants, who won the 2010 World Series, finished fourth.

I have two issues with this poll, and they're actually not about the Mets. First, how are the Phillies No. 1 on this list? Sure, they attract fans now, but where were these fans prior to the 2007 season?

In 2006, the Phillies did well, finishing only three games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL wild card berth. Even with the team battling for a playoff spot, their attendance at Citizens Bank Park for the year was only 2,701,815. They ranked seventh in the NL in home attendance, just slightly ahead of the small market San Diego Padres. Once the Phillies started winning division titles in 2007, it became "cool" to go to a Phillies game again in Philadelphia. To me, loyalty is about sticking with your team through thick and thin. Phillies fans love their team when they're in the "thick" of things, but will find something else to do when the team is a little "thin". This brings me to my second issue with the survey.

How are the Cardinals and Cubs not in the top five? For years, we've heard players say that the fans are what make them love playing in St. Louis. The Cardinals fans who were there when they won the World Series in 2006 (home attendance of 3,407,104) were also there in 1997 (home attendance of 3,225,334), when they finished with a 73-89 record and Mark McGwire played most of the season in Oakland. St. Louis perennially draws over 3 million fans through its gates because the fans are LOYAL to their team, regardless of where they are in the standings.

Similarly, the Cubs, a team which has a history of being at the bottom of the standings, also has fans who define team loyalty. The Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908 and haven't won a National League pennant since 1945, but they still draw over 3 million fans annually. (In 2010, Chicago finished with a 75-87 record, but still drew 3,062,973 fans to Wrigley Field.) They do this despite having one of the smallest seating capacities in the National League.

Only seven teams in baseball supposedly have less loyal fans than the Mets. But for the past decade, the Mets have been among the league leaders in home attendance. So in 2010, attendance at Citi Field dropped by about half a million. Does that place Mets fans among the least loyal in baseball?

Loyalty is not all about selling out every game. It's about being supportive of your team, win or lose. Phillies fans support their team when they're better than the Mets. Where will they be when the Mets surpass them in the standings, whenever that is? Cardinals and Cubs fans have more loyalty in their big toes than Phillies fans will ever have. Let's see what the survey looks like once the Phillies start to decline. Of course, when that day comes, it'll be tough to find a Phillies fan to poll.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Song Parody: Ollie B. Gone

So have you heard that Oliver Perez was released today? Yes? Oh. Then I guess I don't have to put a spoiler alert on this blog. But yes, it's true. Oliver Perez is no longer a Met. El Perez-idente was finally impeached after spending the past two years in a position nobody elected him to.

Remember 2008? That was the year after Oliver Perez went 15-10 with a 3.56 ERA for the Mets. In 2008, Ollie's win total decreased to ten, while his ERA increased to 4.22. He also led the league in walks that season with 105. Still, the Mets felt it necessary to pay $36 million over the next three years to retain the services of the man who would probably find a way to walk Helen Keller if she came up to bat against him.

The year 2008 was also the fiftieth anniversary of one of the greatest rock n' roll songs ever written. In 1958, Chuck Berry recorded "Johnny B. Goode", a song that has one of the most recognizable opening guitar riffs and has been covered by dozens of artists over the year. Mets fans might also remember it as longtime reliever John Franco's entry music.

In "honor" of the release of Oliver Perez, Studious Metsimus would like to celebrate with its own version of Chuck Berry's classic. So let's stop talkin' and let's get rockin' to "Ollie B. Gone".

Way down in Port St. Lucie on a field of dreams
Look back up in the bullpen on the New York team
There stood a lefty pitcher whose career was near done
He was Oliver Perez; now he's Ollie B. Gone
He never ever learned to throw a strike so well
But he would give up ten runs every time he got shelled

Just go!
Go Ollie go!
Go Ollie go!
Go Ollie go!
Go Ollie go!
Ollie B. Gone!

He had a bunch of teammates who would have his back
Like Endy in Game Seven on the warning track
But when those teammates noticed how much Ollie got paid
They knew he'd lose his rhythm and the Metsies would fade
So Mets fans passing by would just stop and say
"I hope the game gets rained out so that Ollie can't play!"

Just go!
Go Ollie go!
Go Ollie go!
Go Ollie go!
Go Ollie go!
Ollie B. Gone!

The Mets fans told him "Ollie, don't you make us laugh
By saying you will be part of a big league staff."
Many of us driving from miles around
Are hearing news that you were booted out of our town
So today we'll celebrate in joyous delight
Now that Ollie B. Gone tonight!

Just go!
Go Ollie go!
Go go go Ollie go!
Go go go Ollie go!
Go go go Ollie go!
Ollie B. Gone!

M.U.M.'s The Word (Most Underrated Mets): Roger McDowell

In 1982, the Mets selected three right-handed pitchers in the June amateur draft with their first three picks. In the first round, they chose a high school kid from Tampa who would become one of the franchise's all-time best pitchers (Dwight Gooden). In the second round, they selected Gooden's high school teammate who would become one of the prospects coveted by the Expos in the deal that brought Gary Carter to New York (Floyd Youmans).

When it came time for the Mets to announce their third pick, they took a skinny college kid from Bowling Green State University in Ohio (the same school that produced Orel Hershiser three years earlier). Although not as highly touted as Gooden and Youmans, the young right-handed starter worked his way to AA-Jackson in 1983, where he won 11 games. The following season, he suffered an elbow injury that limited him to two starts. Because of the injury, he had to come up with a new way to deliver his pitches and in doing so, developed a signature pitch that would help him make it to the major leagues.

For most pitchers, a severe arm injury in the minor leagues usually spells the end of their major league dreams. For Roger McDowell, his injury caused him to reinvent himself, and when he did, he became one of the best relievers in Mets history.

Roger McDowell was all about fun and games off the field, but on the mound, he was all business.

Despite missing most of the 1984 season and never pitching above the AA level, Roger McDowell impressed manager Davey Johnson so much during Spring Training that he became part of the 1985 Opening Day roster. It didn't take McDowell very long to reach the win column, as he was credited with the victory in his major league debut after pitching a one-two-three inning in relief against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 11, 1985. Two days later, he pitched two scoreless innings against the Cincinnati Reds to claim his second victory. The original 1962 Mets played 14 games before earning their second win. It took Roger McDowell three innings to do the same.

After appearing out of the bullpen in his first five appearances, the Mets decided to allow McDowell to start two games. That experiment failed miserably, as the righty allowed nine runs in 10 1/3 innings over the two starts. After suffering his first defeat in a 14-2 loss to the Reds on May 4, McDowell was sent back to the bullpen, never making another start in the major leagues. It ended up being one of the most important decisions the Mets made during their mid-80s heyday.

Once McDowell was relieved (no pun intended) from his starting role, he became virtually unhittable. For the remainder of May, the Jolly Roger pitched 21 scoreless innings, giving up six hits (all singles) and three walks. Statisticians needed a microscope to find his opponents' batting average against him (.088), a number that is comparable to Al Leiter's career batting average. During his Bob Gibson-esque month, McDowell earned three wins and three saves, dispelling any thoughts that his stint as a starting pitcher would affect him negatively.

With the Mets and Cardinals fighting tooth and nail for first place in the NL East, McDowell did not wilt under the pressure of his first pennant race. During a three-week stretch in September, McDowell held opponents at bay, allowing only one run in 20 2/3 innings (0.44 ERA). Alas, the Mets would fall to the Cardinals, who clinched the division title on the penultimate day of the season. Still, the Mets finished the 1985 season with a 98-64 record, which represented the second-best record in franchise history.

For the year, McDowell had six wins and 17 saves to go with a sparkling 2.83 ERA. His rookie season did not go unnoticed, as he finished sixth in the voting for National League Rookie of the Year. If 1985 was the year Roger McDowell hit the big scene, 1986 was the year he relished in it.

Just like the rain, Roger McDowell's sinker couldn't help but fall towards the ground.

After a slow start to the 1986 season, Roger McDowell went on a tear for two months. From May 4 to July 1, McDowell was undefeated (5-0), with six saves and five holds in 25 appearances. Over the two-month span, his ERA was 1.07. In 50 2/3 innings, McDowell gave up 35 hits (31 singles, four doubles), holding opposing hitters to a .193 batting average and a .215 slugging percentage. In addition to keeping his own runners from scoring, he was incredibly adept at stranding other pitchers' runners, allowing only one inherited runner to score in two months. (McDowell inherited 11 baserunners during that time.)

When the regular season ended, McDowell had set the franchise record for appearances (75) and wins by a reliever (14). His numbers almost resembled that of a starting pitcher (14-9, 3.02 ERA, 128 innings pitched). McDowell, along with Jesse Orosco, became the first teammates to save 20 games apiece in the same season, with Roger leading the team with 22 saves and Jesse finishing with 21. On a team that featured a starting quartet of Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda and Sid Fernandez, it was McDowell who received the most votes of any Mets pitcher for the 1986 NL MVP Award, as he finished 17th in the voting.

McDowell carried his highly successful regular season into the League Championship Series against the Houston Astros. He made his first appearance in the NLCS in Game 4, coming into the game in the seventh inning after Sid Fernandez had fallen behind by three runs to eventual Series MVP Mike Scott. McDowell retired all six batters he faced, but the Mets fell short to the Astros, who had "the right scuff" with Scott on the mound. When he pitched again in Game 6, McDowell delivered one of the most crucial performances by any reliever in team history.

With the Mets trailing the Astros in the ninth inning of Game 6, they mounted a furious rally off starting pitcher Bob Knepper and closer Dave Smith, scoring three runs to tie the game. Roger McDowell was called upon to replace Rick Aguilera (who had pitched three scoreless innings in relief of starter Bob Ojeda) in the bottom of the ninth inning. McDowell was no stranger to multiple innings of work, pitching two innings or more in 36 of his 75 regular season appearances. The experience of all those multiple-inning performances paid off in Game 6, as McDowell pitched five near-perfect innings. The only baserunner he allowed (a 12th inning walk to Kevin Bass; more on him later) was quickly erased on a failed stolen base attempt.

The Mets took the lead in the top of the 14th inning, putting McDowell in line for the pennant-clinching victory. However, with Jesse Orosco now in the game for the save, Billy Hatcher hit a long home run that hit the left field fair pole. As the ball slid down the screen, so did McDowell's chances for the win. The Mets eventually won the game and the pennant in a frenetic 16th inning, where they scored three runs in the top of the 16th, only to see Orosco give up two runs in the bottom of the inning before striking out Kevin Bass to end the threat and the game. It was the second time Orosco struck out Bass in the game, as he got the Astros' rightfielder to swing at strike three to lead off the 15th inning.

McDowell's final line in the 1986 NLCS was nothing short of brilliant. In seven innings, he faced the minimum 21 batters, allowing no runs and no hits, walking one and striking out three. However, because Orosco failed to hold the lead in the 14th inning of Game 6, McDowell was denied the opportunity to secure the victory in a pennant-clinching game. The same could not be said for the World Series.

Although Roger McDowell did not pitch as effectively against the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, allowing ten hits and six walks in seven innings of work, none of his outings cost the Mets any games. McDowell did give up the go-ahead run in the seventh inning of Game 6, but that run scored on an error by Ray Knight, who later made up for his gaffe in the memorable tenth inning by driving in Gary Carter with a base hit and then scoring the winning run on Bill Buckner's error.

In Game 7, McDowell was called upon to pitch the seventh inning after the Mets had tied the game with three runs in the bottom of the sixth. Roger responded by retiring the Red Sox in order. The Mets took the lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, with the key blow coming on Ray Knight's tiebreaking home run. The Red Sox did score two runs off McDowell in the eighth inning, but this time Jesse Orosco was able to hold McDowell's lead. When Orosco struck out Marty Barrett to end the game, McDowell was given credit for the victory, joining Jerry Koosman as the only pitchers in club history to win a World Series-clinching game.

Roger McDowell would return to the postseason in 1988, but not before having a down year in 1987. He began the season on the disabled list, after having hernia surgery in late March. The Mets' bullpen struggled in McDowell's absence and the team did as well, losing 17 of their first 31 games before Roger returned on May 14. His return, which had originally been expected to be on June 1, was pushed up due to the fragile state of the pitching staff.

McDowell was not very effective upon his return, with an ERA just under 6.00 after his first 14 appearances. But as McDowell turned his season around, so did the Mets. For the next three months, McDowell was back to his old self. Over his next 35 appearances (spanning from June 12 to September 6), Roger won four games and racked up 17 saves. His ERA over the three months was 2.89. The Mets had gone from a fifth-place, 14-17 team before McDowell's activation from the disabled list, to an 80-59 team that was only 1½ games behind the St. Louis Cardinals on September 11. Then, with one swing of Terry Pendleton's bat, McDowell's resurgence was all but forgotten.

Roger McDowell gave up 22 regular season home runs as a Met. If only it had been 21...

With the Mets one inning away from pulling to within half a game of the first place Cardinals, Roger McDowell was beginning his second inning of work. He had ended the eighth inning by getting the speedy Vince Coleman to ground into a rare double play. After the Mets failed to extend their 4-1 lead in their half of the eighth, McDowell was left in the game to record the final three outs. After issuing a leadoff walk to Ozzie Smith, McDowell retired the next two batters to face him. With a three-run lead and one out to go, it appeared as if the Mets had wrapped up their 81st win of the season. But then the bottom fell out for McDowell at the same time that his sinker stopped sinking. First, Willie McGee drove in Smith with an RBI single. Then Terry Pendleton, who hit hit only ten home runs before that fateful night, drove a long fly ball over the 410' sign in center field. The Shot Heard 'Round Flushing had unexpectedly tied the game, and the Mets would eventually lose the game in ten innings.

Although the Mets had plenty of chances to catch the Cardinals over the final three weeks of the season, it was the home run by Terry Pendleton off Roger McDowell (everyone seems to forget the walk-off home run by Luis Aguayo off Jesse Orosco on September 30 that essentially put the nail in the coffin for the 1987 Mets) that served as the beginning of the end of the Mets' title defense. Still, despite the poor ending to the season, McDowell finished the 1987 season with a career-high 25 saves, which at the time was tied for the third-highest single-season total in franchise history.

In 1988, McDowell began the season healthy and it showed in his performance. He finished the season with his lowest ERA (2.63) as a Met, to go along with five wins and 16 saves. The Mets rolled to another division title in 1988, but once again, a home run given up by McDowell, this time in the NLCS, was crucial in defining the Mets' season.

McDowell pitched in four games of the seven-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, allowing three runs in six innings of work. However, the only run he will be remembered for was the one he gave up in the 12th inning of Game 4. The Mets had already blown a two-run lead in the ninth inning. Similar to Terry Pendleton's game-tying ninth inning homer in 1987, another unlikely source of power had erased a 4-2 ninth inning Mets lead, as Mike Scioscia (who had hit just three home runs during the regular season) connected for a game-tying blast off starter Dwight Gooden.

The game continued into extra innings, where Roger McDowell escaped an 11th inning jam by retiring Tracy Woodson on a groundout with the go-ahead run in scoring position. The Mets failed to score in their half of the 11th and McDowell was left in the game to pitch the 12th, retiring the first two batters to face him. That brought up eventual 1988 NL MVP Kirk Gibson to the plate, and he launched a long home run to right-center that gave the Dodgers the lead. Although the Mets mounted a rally in the bottom of the 12th, loading up the bases with one out, the two men who finished directly behind Gibson in the MVP vote (Darryl Strawberry and Kevin McReynolds) both popped out to end the threat and the game. It would be McDowell's only loss in 11 postseason appearances for the Mets.

The Mets were a different team going into the 1989 season. Jesse Orosco had already left prior to the 1988 season, winning a World Series ring with the Dodgers in '88. Wally Backman was traded to the Minnesota Twins during the off-season to allow Gregg Jefferies to play every day. Co-captains Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter were coming off their worst seasons as Mets and lost playing time to Dave Magadan and Barry Lyons, respectively. As a result of this transition, the Mets struggled out of the gate, and were around the .500 mark for most of the first half of the season. However, despite their slow start, the Mets found themselves only a game behind the first place Chicago Cubs when they woke up on Father's Day (June 18). Mets' Vice President Joe McIlvane felt that for the team to make a prolonged push to the top of the division, they needed an upgrade in the offensive department. Well, he succeeded in the "offensive" part, but not in the way he expected.

On June 18, general manager Frank Cashen orchestrated the trade that effectively ended the 1986 World Series after-party. He sent Roger McDowell and Lenny Dykstra to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Juan Samuel, who was now going to be playing center field for the Mets.

We gave away Roger McDowell and Lenny Dykstra for this guy? Juan Samuel wasn't fit to wear Ed Kranepool's jock strap, let alone his uniform number!

From 1984-1987, Samuel was one of the most complete players in the National League, averaging 35 doubles, 15 triples, 20 home runs, 50 stolen bases, 102 runs scored and 80 RBI per season. However, in 1988, Samuel's numbers dropped across the board. He finished the season with career-lows in batting average (.243), on-base percentage (.298), triples (9), home runs (12), RBI (67), runs scored (68) and stolen bases (33), while striking out 151 times. Of course, Mets' management thought moving him to center field and making him the club's new leadoff hitter was going to turn the team's fortunes around. Epic fail.

Samuel struggled after his trade to New York, batting .228 in 86 games. After finishing the 1987 season with 28 HR and 100 RBI, Samuel was a different player on the Mets, hitting only three home runs and driving in 28 runs in 1989 for New York. Meanwhile, McDowell and Dykstra flourished after the trade to Philadelphia, with McDowell registering a 1.11 ERA for the Phillies in 1989 and Dykstra going on to become one of the premier leadoff hitters in the game, helping the Phillies to an unexpected National League pennant in 1993.

Roger McDowell was one of the most beloved Mets in team history. With an effervescent personality to go with his killer sinkerball, McDowell was all play in the clubhouse but all business on the mound. At any moment, McDowell would burn a teammate with a cleverly placed hot foot, then burn an opponent by inducing ground ball after ground ball with his sinker.

Over his 4½ year tenure with the Mets, McDowell was 33-29, with 84 saves and a 3.10 ERA. At the time he was traded, McDowell was third on the franchise's all-time leaderboard with those 84 saves (he is now sixth), trailing only Jesse Orosco and Tug McGraw. His 3.10 ERA as a Met is lower than every other pitcher except for five (Tom Seaver, Jesse Orosco, Johan Santana, Jon Matlack, Jerry Koosman). Only 28 Mets pitchers have won more games than McDowell's 33, but none of them accomplished their victory total with as few innings as Roger's 468 1/3. In addition to the above, Roger also ranked in the Mets' top ten in winning percentage (.532, 9th), games pitched (280, 5th) and games finished (189, 3rd) at the time of his trade to the Phillies.

When Roger McDowell was traded to the Phillies, he was the team's all-time leader in saves for a right-handed pitcher. He also led the team in Hubba Bubba consumption and hot foots given.

Roger McDowell is still in baseball, serving as the pitching coach for the Atlanta Braves, but no matter what he does in the game, he will always be remembered for his time on the Mets as the club's top right-handed reliever and resident prankster. Whether he was wearing his uniform upside down, lighting firecrackers in the dugout or appearing as the second spitter on "Seinfeld", McDowell's antics off the field were just as fun to watch as his performances on the mound.

Simply stated, Roger McDowell was a big kid playing a kid's game. For four and a half years, he excelled at that game as a member of the Mets, yet he was always overshadowed by Jesse Orosco and his glove-flinging celebrations. McDowell may never have been the guy on the mound when the Mets were celebrating two division titles, a National League pennant and a World Series championship, but he was one of the guys who helped get them there.

Underrated? Yes. Underappreciated? No. Anyone who remembers McDowell solely for the Terry Pendleton and Kirk Gibson home runs missed out on what was truly a great Mets reliever and personality. Those who didn't appreciate his contributions to the Mets should stand on guard. There may be a hot foot coming your way.

Note: M.U.M.'s The Word is a thirteen-part weekly series spotlighting some of the best Mets players of all-time who never got the recognition they deserved because they weren't the biggest names on the teams they played for. For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:

January 3, 2011: John Olerud
January 10, 2011: Sid Fernandez
January 17, 2011: Jon Matlack
January 24, 2011: Kevin McReynolds
January 31, 2011: Bobby Jones
February 7, 2011: John Stearns
February 14, 2011: David Cone
February 21, 2011: Rusty Staub

February 28, 2011: Rick Reed
March 7, 2011: Ron Taylor
March 14, 2011: Turk Wendell