Sunday, April 29, 2012

Senior Citizen Appreciation Day (Starring Jamie Moyer)

Today, the Mets will close out their three-game series with the Colorado Rockies.  Johan Santana will take the mound trying to secure his first win of the season and hoping the Mets will finally score a run for him, as he has become the first Mets pitcher to receive a big fat zero in the run support department over his first four starts since Kaz Ishii in 2005.

Opposing Santana will be Jamie Moyer, the soon-to-be AARP member who is making a comeback with the Rockies after not having pitched in the major leagues since July 20, 2010 prior to this season.  Moyer was originally drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1984 and made his major league debut on June 16, 1986, or a time when the Mets still had only won one World Series championship.

So would you like to know more interesting things about Jamie Moyer, considering he's older than history itself?  Here goes.

No, that's not Jamie Moyer in the photo above.  We would never stoop so low to make that claim at his expense.  That's actually his son, Jimmy Moyer, on the day his father signed his first pro contract.

Jamie Moyer won his major league debut for the Chicago Cubs on June 16, 1986, defeating the Phillies, 7-5.  Who took the loss in that game?  None other than Steve Carlton, a pitcher who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1994 - 18 years ago!

The first time he faced the Mets, on July 29, 1986, Jamie Moyer got the win in a 2-1 Cubs victory.  The only run scored by the Mets was driven in by George Foster.  It was Foster's last RBI as a Met.  A week later, Moyer faced the Mets again and got a no-decision in the Cubs' 8-5 victory, a game won on pinch-hitter Jerry Mumphrey's three-run homer.  (Mumphrey has been out of baseball for 24 years now.)  That loss would become Foster's last start as a Met.

Jamie Moyer has started 27 games against the Mets over his never-ending career, going 10-6 with a 3.94 ERA.  The only National League team he has defeated more is the Florida/Miami Marlins, with 13 wins against them.  The Marlins did not exist until Moyer's eighth season in the major leagues.  By the time the Florida Marlins played their first game in 1993, Moyer had already pitched in 141 games (111 starts) for three teams (Cubs, Rangers, Cardinals) and had compiled a 34-54 won-loss record.

In 2007, when Tom Glavine was finished not being devastated over his one-third of an inning performance against the Florida Marlins in the Mets' season finale, it was Jamie Moyer who pitched the Phillies to victory and their first of five consecutive division titles.  Moyer got the win against the Washington Nationals in Game No. 162, allowing an unearned run in 5⅓ innings of work.

Seven players currently on the Mets' 25-man roster had not been born when Jamie Moyer made his major league debut.  By the time the youngest Met on the roster, Ruben Tejada, was born, Moyer had already won 32 games in the major leagues.  He had already surpassed 150 wins before Tejada's 12th birthday.  Today, Tejada will bat second, trying to prevent Moyer from getting his 269th career victory.

We've poked fun at Jamie Moyer on this site may times in the past, but we can't help but respect his drive and commitment to the game.  We'd say "break a leg" to wish him luck in today's start against the Mets, but at his age, he might take it literally.

Good luck to Jamie Moyer for the rest of career, however long it may last.  We now leave you with a video of Moyer, a die-hard Seattle Seahawks fan (as is yours truly), raising the 12th man flag at a recent Seahawks playoff game.  You can watch the video by clicking here. 

Should the Rockies' get 12th man insurance for their starting pitcher?

Mets Weekly Is Must-See TV This Week Because...

So do you have any plans after watching the Mets play the Rockies this coming Sunday?  No?  Well, I have a suggestion for what you could do.

After the Mets finally score a run for Johan Santana (they'd better - they're at Coors Field, for Mookie's sake!) and take the rubber match from the Rockies, and after Chris Carlin and Bobby Ojeda do the Mets post-game show, SNY will air the latest episode of Mets Weekly.  You should watch Mets Weekly this week.  No, really, you should.  Why should you?  Perhaps this teaser commercial will show you why I'm so adamant about you watching it.

That's right, Mets fans!  That guy getting a knuckleball lesson from R.A. Dickey is none other than yours truly.  As of this writing, I have not seen the full episode, so I can't tell you much about it.  However, I will give you a non-spoiler.  If the Mets Weekly crew filmed what I'm hoping they filmed of my knuckleball lesson with the Mets' hurler and author, you will be impressed by both Dickey's knuckleball and mine.

The approximate start time for this week's edition of Mets Weekly is 6:30 PM.  Of course, that could change if the Mets and Rockies play a 20-inning game (which would be bad, as the Mets are winless in four extra-inning games at Coors Field all-time) or if Bobby Ojeda decides to wax philosophical on something he didn't like from the game during the post-game show.

The Knicks aren't scheduled to have their @$$e$ handed to them by the Heat today and the Rangers have a day off in their quest for the Stanley Cup.  Even you New Jersey Devils fans can watch Mets Weekly this evening after your team plays (unless if you have another double overtime game, but that's what TiVo and DVR is for).

So do we our early evening plans straight?  Watch the Mets (or the Devils, if you're so inclined) and then stick around for Mets Weekly to see R.A. Dickey teach me the art of how to properly get my hand around his ball.  It'll be an educational experience for all of us.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Rocky Mountain High (And Lows)

Tonight, the Mets play their first series outside the Eastern Time Zone, taking on the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.  Since the Rockies came into the league in 1993, they haven't had much of a rivalry with the Mets, but that doesn't mean their history against each other isn't filled with memorable moments and moments we'd like to forget.

Let's go back through time and dig out those moments.  Perhaps after this weekend's three-game series in Colorado, the Mets and Rockies might have added some new moments to this list.

In 1993, the Rockies played their first ever regular season game against the Mets at Shea Stadium.  Dwight Gooden started for the Mets and pitched a complete game shutout, blanking the Rockies, 3-0.  It was his 23rd career shutout as a Met.  Gooden would go on to pitch only two more shutouts over the next seven seasons.  One came against the Rockies' Class of '93 expansion mates, the Florida Marlins on May 7, 1993.  The other came three years later as a member of the Yankees.  Yeah.  You guessed it.  It was his no-hitter.  Sigh.

Speaking of the Rockies' inaugural series at Shea Stadium, Colorado didn't score their first run until the seventh inning of their second game, a game won by the Mets, 6-1.  The only thing that kept them from a second straight shutout was a home run by Dante Bichette off Bret Saberhagen.  This is the same Dante Bichette who provided the fireworks for the Rockies in another inaugural game against the Mets...

Bichette did indeed happen against the Mets on April 26, 1995.

On April 26, 1995, the Mets and the rest of Major League Baseball returned from the longest work stoppage in the sport's history, a labor disagreement that wiped out the 1994 World Series and 18 regular season games from the 1995 schedule.  The Mets and Rockies opened the season and the new Coors Field in a game that was quite the opposite from their first matchup in 1993.

In the Rockies' inaugural series at Shea Stadium, they only scored one run in the entire two-game set.  It took them only three batters to surpass that run total at Coors Field, as Walt Weiss, Joe Girardi (yes, that Joe Girardi) and Larry Walker led off the game with hits to give the Rockies a 2-0 first-inning lead.  The Mets would eventually take the lead, but soon found themselves at the mercy of the new ballpark.  With one-run leads in the ninth, thirteenth and fourteenth innings, the Mets failed to put the Rockies away.  After Tim Bogar made a costly error on what could have been a game-ending double play, Dante Bichette crushed a three-run homer off reliever Mike Remlinger to give the Rockies an 11-9, 14-inning victory.  Crushed was also how the team felt about Remlinger, as the reliever would only make four more appearances for the Mets before being traded to Cincinnati two weeks after serving up Bichette's meatball dinner.  To this day, the Mets have yet to win an extra-inning game at Coors Field, losing all four overtime affairs there.

Five years after the Mets played their first game at Coors Field, they were involved in one of the wildest games in team history.  The game on April 30, 2000 started out as a regular baseball game, with the Mets taking a 1-0 lead after three innings, but once the fourth inning began, it turned into an arena baseball game.  Over the final six innings, the only half-innings in which a zero was put up on the scoreboard were the top of the fifth for the Mets and the bottom of the sixth for the Rockies, as shown by the linescore below.

                1  2  3   4  5  6   7  8  9    R  H  E
                -  -  -   -  -  -   -  -  -    -  -  -
Mets            0  1  0   4  0  1   3  2  3   14 15  2
Rockies         0  0  0   1  1  0   1  6  2   11 10  1

With the Mets seemingly in control, holding a 9-2 lead at the seventh-inning stretch, Al Leiter ran out of gas in the thin Denver air, as did relievers Turk Wendell, Dennis Cook and Armando Benitez.  Over the final three innings, the Rockies sent 20 batters to the plate, with more than half of them (11) reaching base.  A total of nine runs scored on only five hits against the Mets' pitching quartet.  In the eighth inning alone, the Rockies scored six runs with the benefit of only two hits.  Of course, one of the hits was a grand slam by Tom Goodwin, the same Tom Goodwin who only hit 24 home runs over a 14-year major league career and who is now currently the Mets' first base coach.  Fortunately for the Mets, their offense didn't take a break over the final two innings, as they banged out six hits and scored five runs in the eighth and ninth frames to eke out a 14-11 victory over the Rockies.

In 2002, the Mets decided to bring in every available free agent, or so it seemed.  And if the player wasn't a free agent, they'd trade for him.  This is how Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz, Roger Cedeño, Jeff D'Amico and Shawn Estes became Mets.  They also added another pitcher to the starting rotation who had enjoyed a very successful career in Colorado.

Why so glum, Pedro?  Oh, yeah.  There's a Phillie rounding the bases behind you.

Pedro Astacio won 42 games for the Rockies from 1998 to 2000, a number unheard of for a pitcher who made half of his starts at the pinball machine known as Coors Field.  The Mets ignored the fact that Astacio led the league in home runs allowed twice, giving up a whopping 109 home runs from 1998 to 2000.  They figured that once he left the Mile High City, his fly balls would stay in the ballpark.  They were wrong.  Astacio allowed a league-leading 32 home runs for the Mets in 2002, the highest total by a Mets pitcher since Roger Craig gave up 35 gopher balls during the Mets' inaugural campaign forty years earlier.  When Astacio wasn't throwing balls in the hitters' happy zones, he was plunking hitters in their unhappy zones, as he led the league with 16 hit batsmen.  In 2003, Astacio only made seven starts for the Mets due to injuries and was gone the following year as a free agent.

Many people remember the 2007 season as the year in which the Mets blew a seven-game lead with 17 games to play.  But that was just their lead over the Phillies for the division.  Once the Mets failed to win the division, they couldn't even settle for the wild card, as the Rockies zoomed past them.  On September 15, the Mets had already begun their free fall, but they still had an 83-64 record.  At the same time, Colorado was 76-72 and in fourth place in the NL West.  For those counting, the Rockies were 7½ games behind the Mets with only 14 games to play, a larger deficit with fewer games left than the now-infamous "7-games-with-17-left".  Of course, no one on the Mets was looking at the wild card standings, and when the Rockies went on their historic 21-1 run (that included the first seven games of the playoffs), the Mets were left to wonder what went wrong.

In recent years, things have been more tame between the two teams, but other moments, both memorable and not-so-memorable, have occurred when the Mets and Rockies have gotten together.

In 2010, David Wright was felled by a Matt Cain head-seeking missile, forcing him to go on the disabled list for the first time in his career.  When he returned two weeks later, the Mets decided to give him a special batting helmet to wear when he came to the plate.  Wright might not have suffered any additional head injuries while wearing the helmet, but he sure suffered when it came to the baseball fashion police.

Yes, Denver might be one mile above sea level, but it's not so high to necessitate a space helmet.

Finally, in 2011, the Mets and Rockies got together for two series, one at Citi Field and one at Coors Field.  In the first series, a four-game set played at Citi Field, Rockies' shortstop Troy Tulowitzki homered in all four games, all of which were won by Colorado.  To this day, no Met has homered in four consecutive games at Citi Field.  One month later, the two teams got together for a three-game series at Coors Field.  Unfortunately, the teams weren't the only ones getting together, as David Wright (minus the Great Gazoo helmet) and Ike Davis collided while attempting to catch a routine pop-up near the pitcher's mound.  Wright was fine, but Davis was not.  What was originally categorized as a day-to-day injury for Davis became a season-ending injury and the Mets were left scrambling for internal replacements, with Daniel Murphy (46 games), Nick Evans (38 games) and Lucas Duda (37 games) all spending time at first base.

But fear not, Mets fans, because not everything in 2011 went wrong for the Mets against the Rockies.  In their final affair against the Rockies at Coors Field, Carlos Beltran became the eighth Met to hit three home runs in a game, taking Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales and former Met farmhand Matt Lindstrom deep.

Tonight, the Mets and Rockies rekindle a rivalry that has never been a true rivalry, but has offered some of the most amazing, bizarre and unexpected moments over the past 20 seasons.  Who knows what will happen next?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Nieu-WIN-huis! Mets Put The "Walk" In Walk-Off!

I guess you really can't walk 'em all.

New Marlins' closer Heath Bell walked four batters, including a bases-loaded walk after an epic 13-pitch at-bat by Justin Turner, then finally got a strike over to Kirk Nieuwenhuis.  350 feet later, that strike landed over the head of rightfielder Giancarlo Stanton, producing the final tally in the Mets' 3-2 win over the last place Miami Marlins.

For the second time in the series, the Mets drew four walks in an inning, with the fourth walk taking starter Jonathon Niese off the hook for the loss.  Niese was outstanding in his fourth start of the season, allowing two runs in seven innings of work.  He allowed four hits, walked none and struck out six.

But today was all about Kirk Nieuwenhuis' hit and the Mets' patience at the plate in the ninth inning.  The Mets are now 11-8 after their sweep of the Marlins and are playing solid baseball all around.

The only thing I have to add to this is a tribute to the Marlins.  The Mets began the series with a video tribute to Jose Reyes (who grounded into a crucial 3-6-3 double play in the eighth inning that kept the Marlins' lead at one) and now I'm ending it with my own video tribute.  Just watch this scene from Forrest Gump and substitute the word "marlin" whenever you hear the word "shrimp". (I've done that "translation" for you, which you will find underneath the video.)  Enjoy!  And as always, let's go Mets!!

"Anyway, like I was sayin', marlin is the fruit of the sea.  You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. They's uh, marlin kabobs, marlin creole, marlin gumbo.  Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple marlin, lemon marlin, coconut marlin, pepper marlin, marlin soup, marlin stew, marlin salad, marlin and potatoes, marlin burger, marlin sandwich.  That's - that's about it."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lifetime Mets, We've Had A Few (But Just Enough To Mention)

With apologies to Frank Sinatra, the Mets have had very few players who spent their entire professional careers with the team.  I'm talking about players who originally signed with the Mets, came up through their minor league system and spent their entire major league careers wearing the orange and blue.

So many players spent a decade or more with the Mets, but all of them managed to play at least one game for another team.  Players such as Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Buddy Harrelson all came up through the Mets' minor league system and were teammates for most of their careers, but none of them retired as Mets.

Tom Seaver played for the Reds, White Sox and Red Sox after leaving New York (twice).  Jerry Koosman pitched for the Twins, Phillies and White Sox after playing his final game for the Mets.  And Bud Harrelson stuck around for a few years, toiling for the Phillies and Rangers once his days in New York were through.

There have also been a handful of players who most people don't remember as playing for an organization other than the Mets.  Do you remember Cleon Jones as a member of the White Sox?  No?  He was indeed a member of the Pale Hose, albeit for only 12 games in 1976 after playing a dozen years in New York.  How about Craig Swan?  The former ERA champion who led the Mets in wins during the Dark Ages of 1977-1983 finished his career with a two-game stint as a California Angel.  John Stearns played in a total of 809 games during his ten years in New York.  But the Bad Dude made his major league debut in 1974 for the Philadelphia Phillies, spending less time in Philly (two at-bats) than a cheesesteak spends in Rusty Staub's hands.

So which players can be considered true lifetime Mets?  Only three players who played at least seven years with the team fall into this category.  Let's take a look at that loyal trio.

Ed Kranepool

Of course the list has to begin with Steady Eddie.  Kranepool is the franchise's all-time leader in many categories due to his longevity with the team.  After the Mets drafted him in 1962 out of James Monroe High School in the Bronx, Kranepool made his major league debut as a 17-year-old on September 22, replacing Gil Hodges at first base in a blowout loss to the Cubs just days before the end of the team's inaugural season.  Seventeen years and eight days later, Kranepool played his final game for the Mets, collecting a double as a pinch-hitter for starting pitcher John Pacella.

In an interesting piece of symmetry, Kranepool began his career by replacing a Brooklyn legend and ended it by pinch-hitting for a kid from Brooklyn.  (Pacella was born in Brooklyn in 1956, 11 months after Hodges won is only championship in the borough.)

Ed Kranepool played 18 seasons in the big leagues, all with the Mets, before being granted free agency after the 1979 season.  When no other team offered him a contract, Kranepool chose to retire at the age of 35.

Ron Hodges

Look up the term backup catcher in a baseball dictionary and Ron Hodges' picture will more than likely accompany the definition.  Although Hodges played 12 years with the Mets, beginning in 1973 with the "Ya Gotta Believe" Mets and ending in 1984, the first year of Davey and Doc, he was rarely the No. 1 option behind the plate.

Stuck behind Jerry Grote for the first four years of his career, Hodges continued to be the Mets' backup catcher when John Stearns took over for Grote in 1977.  Stearns went on to become the first non-pitcher to represent the Mets as a National League All-Star four times.  Hodges went on to familiarize himself with the Shea Stadium bench.  However, with Stearns suffering from an assortment of injuries in the early '80s, Hodges began to receive more playing time.

In 1982, his tenth season with the Mets, Hodges collected 200 at-bats in a season for the first time.  The following year, Hodges surpassed the 100-game mark for the only time in his career.  In 1984, Hodges went back to being a backup, this time to Mike Fitzgerald, before being released after the season at the age of 35.

David Wright

When Mike Hampton decided to leave the bright lights of New York to get a Rocky Mountain high for himself, his wife and his school-age children, the Mets were rewarded with a "sandwich pick" in the 2001 amateur draft.   With that pick, the team selected third baseman David Wright, a Mets fan who grew up watching the team's future stars in Tidewater and Norfolk.  Since then, Wright has become one of the team's biggest stars.

Wright made his way up the minor league ladder quickly, making his major league debut on July 21, 2004, batting seventh and playing third base against the Montreal Expos.  He's been a fixture at the hot corner ever since.

Now entering his ninth year with the Mets, Wright is the team's all-time leader in doubles, extra-base hits, total bases and RBI.  By year's end, Wright could potentially also be the team leader in runs scored, base hits and walks.  And just think, before Wright made his major league debut, the Mets used to go through third basemen like Davey Johnson went through bottles of Rolaids.

Of all the players who played more than seven seasons in Flushing, Ed Kranepool, Ron Hodges and David Wright are the only three to be drafted and signed by the Mets, played their way through their minor league system and suited up for no other team but the Mets.  Out of all the pitchers in team history, only Jeff Innis (1987-93) and Mike Pelfrey (2006-12) were Mets for as many as seven seasons, without having ever known another organization since the day they were drafted.

Chipper Jones is about to end an 18-year career in the major leagues, all with the Atlanta Braves.  Mariano Rivera is expected to do the same for the Yankees.  This comes a year after his long-time teammate, Jorge Posada, called it a career after 17 years in pinstripes.  And I'm not even going to mention Derek Jeter (even though I just did).  All of these players have had long, successful careers with the only organization they've ever known.  But the Mets have only produced three such players who played for the team for just half the time of Jones, Rivera, Posada and Jeter.

The Mets have had very few "lifetime" players, and even fewer who played at least a decade for the team.  It's something that they will hopefully correct with David Wright leading the way, followed by the abundance of young homegrown players currently on the team.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Jon Rauch: NL East Killer

Jon Rauch has been outstanding for the Mets in the bullpen this year.  After getting credit for his team-leading third victory in the Mets' 2-1 victory over the Miami Marlins, Rauch has now pitched 9⅓ scoreless innings in ten appearances.  But the zero in the runs allowed column is just the beginning of the story.

Rauch has faced a total of 32 batters over his first ten relief outings, retiring 28 of them.  The line against him (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) is so ridiculously low, you'd think there was a typo or three involved (.097/.125/.129).  But it's true.  Jon Rauch has been that dominant.

Prior to this season, Rauch was a good, but not great, reliever.  In 477 appearances, he had a 3.76 ERA and 1.24 WHIP.  But he was always good against the National League East.  In fact, his 3.50 ERA against the Mets was his highest against any NL East team.  But now he pitches for the Mets - not against them - and the NL East is about to discover just how special he is.

Tuesday's 1-2-3 inning against the Marlins lowered his career ERA and WHIP against Miami.  Here are his career numbers against all the NL East teams he will be facing as a member of the Mets.

  • vs. ATL: 1-0, 3.09 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, .189 batting average against, .220 on-base pct.
  • vs. MIA: 4-2, 3.07 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, .200 batting average against, .240 on-base pct.
  • vs. PHI: 2-2, 2.87 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, .238 batting average against, .289 on-base pct.
  • vs. WAS: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .211 batting average against, .286 on-base pct.

  • Combined: 8-4, 2.89 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, .210 batting average against, .253 on-base pct.

We're not talking about a small sample size here, either.  Rauch has appeared in 107 games against those four teams, pitching 121⅓ innings.  In those 121⅓ innings, he has allowed only 95 hits.  He has also struck out 115 batters while walking only 27.  Simply stated, Jon Rauch has dominated the division.

After a 2011 season in which the Mets relief corps was spotty at best, it's good to have a dependable arm for a change.  Of the three new bullpen acquisitions made by Sandy Alderson this past off-season, Jon Rauch has clearly been the best.  But looking at his past history against the NL East, should his early season success surprise you, especially considering that all but four of the Mets' first 17 games have come against their division rivals?

We'll have to wait and see how he performs against NL Central and NL West, but as far as his team's own division is concerned, Jon Rauch is and always has been an NL East killer.  As long as the unbalanced schedule remains in play, Rauch will be one the key players in the Mets bullpen.  It's quite refreshing to have complete confidence in a reliever for a change.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bears On Film: Knuckleball!

Hi, everyone!  It's us, Joey and Iggy Beartran, coming at you from the Tribeca Film Festival, where we were treated to VIP treatment for the premiere of Knuckleball!, a documentary on the dying art of knuckleball pitching and the fraternity that the pitch has created amongst its throwers.

Before we discuss the film, we'd like to share the beautiful movie poster we won (see photo to the left), which was autographed by four of the protagonists of the film.  In all, three former major league knuckleball pitchers (Jim Bouton, Charlie Hough and Tim Wakefield) and one current knuckler (the Mets' own R.A. Dickey) signed the poster.   All four were also in attendance at the premiere, as were the film's director and producer.

Before the film, we were treated to live music (courtesy of Moon Hooch) and a surprise appearance by Mr. Met.  Then, shortly after sundown, the film began.  (Did we mention it was an outdoor premiere, similar to a drive-in experience, except that we took the subway and we didn't catch anyone making out in the backseat of their car?)

The film began with the recently retired Tim Wakefield, as he was searching for his 200th career victory last year.  Most of the film dealt with Wakefield and R.A. Dickey, with occasional appearances and interviews with other knuckleball pitchers such as Jim Bouton, Charlie Hough, Wilbur Wood, Tom Candiotti and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro.

In one particular memorable scene, Dickey, Wakefield, Hough and Niekro gathered together for a golf outing (Dickey can really drive the ball, while Niekro, golfing in his Atlanta Braves cap, looked like Jack Nicklaus but couldn't play like him) and a chat.  The brothers-in-knuckles discussed the toughest hitters they faced in the major leagues among other topics.

Charlie Hough claimed Mark Salas was his toughest out.  This is the same Mark Salas who was a catcher for six teams in his eight-year career and finished with a lifetime .247 batting average and a mere 319 hits.  But against Hough, Salas turned into Babe Ruth, batting .433 (13-for-30) with three home runs.  For two seasons (1986-87), Salas was unconscious against Hough, batting .692 (9-for-13) with an ungodly 1.385 slugging percentage.  R.A. Dickey called Salas a "slappie", which was an affectionate term for a good contact hitter who would always fight off knuckleballs until they were able to get one that didn't knuckle as much.

For Phil Niekro and Tim Wakefield, their toughest outs were players who were good hitters against many pitchers, not just knuckleball artists.  Niekro admitted to having a rough time with Bill Buckner, while Wakefield hated facing Darryl Strawberry, which was proven when the film cut to footage of the Straw Man hitting a titanic home run off Wakefield in the old Yankee Stadium that cleared the side of the upper deck and hit a garage door in the back of the stadium.  (In case you were wondering, the scene with the four knucklers ended without Dickey naming his toughest out, although he later admitted that Carlos Delgado always hit him well, while Derek Jeter was a player who did not fare well against him.)

From there on, the film focused on Wakefield's rise to the major leagues as a converted infielder who couldn't hit and culminated with his 200th victory on September 13, 2011.  The use of old footage was amazing, especially when showing his rise and fall with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992 and 1993.

R.A. Dickey gives an interview while Tim Wakefield and Charlie Hough pose for photos behind him. 

In the case of R.A. Dickey, there were times when his story mirrored the events detailed in his book, Wherever I Wind Up.  For a moment, we thought we were watching the movie adaptation of his book and not a story about knuckleball pitchers over the years, especially in a scene that discussed his missing ulnar collateral ligament and various scenes featuring his wife, Anne.  The other knucklers' spouses did not make appearances in the film, save for a short scene with Stacy Wakefield.

As Mets fans, of course we were attracted to Dickey's rise from a highly-touted conventional pitcher to a journeyman pitcher who moved 37 times to pursue his dream.  But the Wakefield story was also intriguing and was discussed at length in the film.  The director did a fine job in showing how Wakefield became a knuckleball pitcher and how he used that unpredictable pitch to become one of the Red Sox' all-time winningest pitchers.  But it also showed just how that pitch can lead to unfortunate moments, such as the home run Wakefield gave up to Aaron Boone to end the 2003 American League Championship Series.

After giving up the home run, Wakefield claimed that he thought he was going to be Bill Buckner for a new generation of Red Sox fans (yes, Mets fans, we do get to see Mookie hitting the ball through Buckner's legs as Wakefield talks about this), but instead, he was not vilified in Boston.  Rather, he was appreciated for everything he gave the team over his long career with the Red Sox.  This revelation then led to the scene in the film when Wakefield finally achieved his landmark 200th victory, followed by footage of his retirement in February 2012, where Wakefield thanked all the knuckleballers that came before him and passed the torch to R.A. Dickey.  It was truly a beautiful story and an outstanding job of editing.

All in all, we enjoyed the film very much.  Of course, we might be biased as Mets fans because of all the attention given to R.A. Dickey.  (Look out for a scene in the film where Dickey talks about his chances of making a start after tearing his fingernail, claiming that he should have no problem because his body tends to generate an excess amount of protein, which leads to fingernail growth - he also claims this is why he has no difficulty growing hair.)   But even without Dickey's screen time, the film was quite an effort by the director/producer team of Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg.

Unlike an actual knuckleball, which tends to go all over the place before settling in (or bouncing off) the catcher's mitt, the film Knuckleball! was easy to follow and a pleasure to watch.  It provided fantastic insight into the rarely-used pitch and the men who made a living throwing it.  We highly recommend it and give it two paws up.  (We'd give it two knuckles up, but we don't have any knuckles...)

For our review of Moneyball, please click here.  No, there is no truth to the rumor that we only review films with balls in their titles.  That's just a coincidence, although we did enjoy Meatballs and Spaceballs.

Did Terry Collins Say What I Think He Said?

In Saturday's 5-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants, the Mets blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning, costing Mike Pelfrey a chance to get his first win of the season.  Pelfrey pitched eight strong innings, allowing one run on six hits while throwing 102 pitches.  Despite stifling the Giants' bats all day, manager Terry Collins decided to pull Pelfrey from the game and go with Frank Francisco in the ninth inning, less than 24 hours after the Mets' closer was defeated by the Giants in the team's 4-3, 10-inning loss.

Maybe Mike Pelfrey couldn't go much more than 100 pitches so early in the season.  Maybe Frank Francisco was brought into the game to get on the right track after his poor performance the previous night.  Maybe Fred Wilpon needed to sell more hot dogs so he called the dugout to get Collins to slow the game down as much as possible.

But no.  Those weren't the reasons why Pelfrey was removed from the game.  According to Zach Berman in the New York Times, Collins would have sent Pelfrey to the mound in the ninth inning had there not been a save situation intact for Francisco.  But with a three-run lead, Collins made up his mind to send his starter to the showers and his closer to get rained upon.

Francisco faced four batters, retiring one of them.  He allowed a walk and two hits, with the second hit driving in a run.  That was all for Francisco, who wasn't in the dugout to watch the misplayed fly ball by Kirk Nieuwenhuis, which caused his ERA to balloon to 8.53.  Although the Mets did rally to win the game in the bottom of the ninth, Terry Collins' words still resonated many hours later.  Let me repeat them.

He didn't allow Pelfrey, a pitcher who had dominated the Giants all day, to pitch a complete game because the rulebook said it was a save situation.  Therefore, he chose to send in his erratic closer, who was great in the season-opening sweep of Atlanta, but has since been quite hittable.

Over his last three appearances, Francisco has faced 16 batters, allowing nine of them to reach base.  He also has an astronomical 23.14 ERA over those three appearances, earning a loss and a near-loss in the process.

In 2011, Terry Collins said that he didn't care about Francisco Rodriguez's 55-games-finished clause in his contract; he was going to use him every time a save could be had.  Apparently, the same goes for Frank Francisco, even if his starter would be a much more viable option.  Can you imagine what he'd do if a starting pitcher was one inning away from throwing the team's first no-hitter, but had already surpassed 100 pitches and was in a one-run game?  Wait, you don't have to imagine that, as Collins was already quoted as saying he would have pulled Jonathon Niese from a game earlier this season in which Niese took a no-hitter into the seventh inning.

There is such a thing as "going by the book".  But there is also such a thing as "going with your gut".  Terry Collins should have gone with his gut on Saturday.  Instead, his decision-making almost cost the team a victory that seemed inevitable after Pelfrey came back to the dugout in the eighth inning.  Collins will have to return that book that he keeps going by before it becomes overdue, because once it does, both he and the team might be suffering the consequences of a long, lost season.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Joey's Soapbox: Giants Fans More Obnoxious Than Phillies Fans

Last night, I attended the opener of the Mets' three-game weekend series against the San Francisco Giants at Citi Field.  After watching batting practice, I made my way to our season ticket seats in row five of Section 138 and sat down to watch what I expected to be a well-played game between the Mets and Giants.  But there was a buzzing in my ear for most of the game.  It was worse than any incessant gnat and more intolerable than anything I had ever heard at Citi Field before.  What caused this annoying buzz that a mere swat couldn't expunge?

Section 138 had been taken over by a swarm of loud, belligerent and obnoxious orange-and-black clad Giants fans.

I'm Joey Beartran and you better believe I'm about to get on my soapbox for this.

There was a time when Giants fans were more docile creatures.  They went to games, rooted for their team and cheered politely.  If the Giants won, they'd be happy about it, but they wouldn't rub it in the faces of their opponent's fans.

Then the Giants won the World Series in 2010 and everything changed.

In 2011, I noticed an influx of Giants fans at Citi Field when the Mets hosted San Francisco.  They took over a small section of the Pepsi Porch and were very loud.  Because they had won the World Series the year before, giving them exactly ONE title in the 53 seasons they had been in the Bay Area, either they were releasing a half-century of pent-up frustration or they were becoming west coast copycats of the Phillies' fan base.  At the time, I went with the former instead of the latter and let them have their fun for one season.  I assumed that because the Giants were the defending World Series champions, their fans were just continuing their long-overdue celebration.  I assumed incorrectly.

Last night, Giants fans were all over Citi Field again, but mostly in Section 138.  Either they were experiencing the world's longest post-championship hangover or they just became really rude and obnoxious.

Giants fans and their Occupy Section 138 movement.

From the first inning, they were chanting "Let's Go Giants" at a decibel rate that would make a Metallica roadie go deaf.  In addition, they were standing up and pumping their fists during these chants, blocking the view of any Mets fan who was trying to enjoy the game.  (I was not affected by the upright Giants fans, as their seats were behind me.)

When the familiar sounds of the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" played over the loudspeakers, encouraging the Mets to "hey ho, let's go", Giants fans changed the lyrics to "Zi-to, let's go" in honor of their starting pitcher, Barry Zito.  That was somewhat clever, but no one changes the lyrics to a Ramones song, especially in their home borough of Queens.

Then they started mocking Mets fans with other chants.  They were ripping on Jason Bay, calling him a bum.  (Bay promptly shut them up by ending the Giants' early no-hit bid in the fourth inning with a home run off Zito, essentially saying "Zi-to, let's go, go, gone!" to them.)  They also made fun of the "Jo-se, Jo-se, Jo-se, Jo-se" chant by changing it to "Po-sey, Po-sey, Po-sey, Po-sey" when catcher/first baseman Buster Posey came up to bat.  But then they broke into a "BER-nie MA-doff, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap" chant and that went over the line.  It got so bad that my colleague actually wondered aloud if this was why Dodgers fans pummeled Giants fan Bryan Stow after their season-opening game in 2011.  (Note:  What happened to Bryan Stow was uncalled for even if he did act like last night's Section 138 invaders.  You don't beat fans for being obnxious, you have your team beat the obnoxious fans' team.  That always shuts them up.)

By the middle of the game, I had to move from my seat because Section 138 had become unbearable.  After a four-inning break in the Caesar's Club, we returned to the field level to watch the ninth inning, an inning in which the Mets rallied to tie the game against the Giants' bullpen-by-committee.  After the Giants had lost their lead, you could hear a pin drop in Section 138.  Fortunately, you couldn't hear that pin where we were standing because we were surrounded by jubilant Mets fans.  (We had moved behind Section 110 along the first base side.)

Of course, the Giants scored a run in the top of the tenth to retake the lead, setting off a celebration in Section 138 because apparently the Giants fans confused a mid-April game for the seventh game of the World Series.  The Mets tried to silence the panda hat-wearing crowd in the bottom of the tenth after Daniel Murphy and David Wright led off the inning with base hits.  But a broken-bat groundout by Ike Davis, a strikeout by Jason Bay (okay, now he is a bum, but only I can say it, not them) and Lucas Duda flyout ended the Mets' threat and started what appeared to be an impromptu conga line in the left field reserved section.

I've seen Phillies fans.  They've been supportive of their teams for quite some time now, and by "quite some time", I mean since 2007.  But last night's overtaking of Section 138 by Giants fans was more obnoxious than anything I had seen or heard by any group of Phillies fans at Citi Field.  They were beyond boisterous.  They were rude and inconsiderate to a level that even a five-year Phillies fan would have to tip their cap to in appreciation.

All I kept thinking about during the many "Let's Go Giants" chants was what those fans were chanting at baseball games before 2010.  It probably sounded more like "Let's Go Dodgers" or "Let's Go Padres" instead.  Either that or they'd be talking to each other in the stands about the 49ers' chances in the NFC West.

Do you see the handsome bear in the photo to the right?  That's yours truly enjoying a game at AT&T Park in 2010 with no hostile Giants fans anywhere around me.  I was there for the entire Mets-Giants series, which took place approximately three months before the Giants won the World Series.  At the time, the Mets were actually ahead of the Giants in the wild card race (the San Diego Padres were leading the NL West).  Although Giants fans were supportive of their team back then, they didn't have this sense of empowerment that they have now.

The St. Louis Cardinals are the defending World Series champions.  I'm sure when they visit Citi Field in early June, Cardinals fans in attendance won't be beating their chests and proclaiming their superiority.  That's probably why they're considered to be among the best, if not the best, fans in baseball.  They're classy.  Giants fans are clearly not.

Stay classy, San Francisco.  Better yet, stay home.  We don't want you in our ballpark if you're going to disrespect our fans because you won one World Series title two years ago.  Before you fire off your next oh-so-clever chant, remember this.  The Giants couldn't beat the Mets in their only postseason meeting in 2000 and it took your beloved team 53 years in San Francisco to win half of the championships the Mets won in less time.  I hope you're just as proud when it takes them 53 more years to win that second championship, you know, the same number of championships the Mets have been able to claim for over a quarter of a century.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mets vs. Giants Is Always A Tightly-Contested Series

On Friday, the Mets will open a four-game series against the San Francisco Giants at Citi Field.  The Mets come into the series with a 7-5 record while the Giants are 6-6.  The early-season records for both teams reveal that this should be a tightly-contested series.  But looking back at the Mets' and Giants' recent history against one another shows that tightly-contested may be an understatement.

Since the Mets moved to Citi Field in 2009, they have played a total of 21 games against the Giants, with 10 games being played in New York and 11 in San Francisco.  What's the Mets' record against the Giants in those games?  10-11.  The Mets and Giants have split their games at Citi Field, while the Giants have taken six out of 11 at their ballpark to be named later.  (Hey, it's been called Pac Bell Park, SBC Park and AT&T Park since it opened in 2000.  By the time you read this, it might be called something else.)

You think the two teams are evenly matched because of their won-loss record against each other?  That's not all, folks!

In the 21 games played between the two teams since 2009, a whopping 19 of them were decided by three runs or less.  The only two games in the rivalry decided by more than three runs were a 10-1 Giant victory over the Mets at Citi Field on August 17, 2009 and an 8-4 Giant win at AT&T Park on July 17, 2010.  (Editor's note:  The Studious Metsimus staff was in attendance at both of those games.  Yes, we flew out to San Francisco in 2010 just to see them lose.  Please don't blame us for the only two non-close games of the last 21 played between the two teams.)

Of the 19 games decided by three or fewer runs, seven were one-run games and four went into extra innings.  Naturally, the Mets split the four extra-inning games while losing four of the seven one-run games.  That's how close this series has been over the past three seasons.

Since 2009, the Mets and Giants have been incredibly competitive against each other.  However, that is where the similarities end.  In 2012, the Giants are seeking their fourth consecutive winning season, while the Mets are looking to avoid their fourth straight losing campaign.  In fact, the last time both teams finished on the same side of .500 was in 2001, when the Giants went 90-72 and the Mets barely finished with a winning record, ending the season with an 82-80 mark.

On Friday, the Mets and Giants will resume their rivalry at Citi Field in the first game of a four-game series.  Although the Giants have been more successful in the standings over the past three years, that doesn't mean you should turn away from this series.  In fact, if recent history repeats itself, we could be looking at one of the best and most tightly-contested series the Mets will play all year.

Without question, this weekend should be a fun weekend for baseball at Citi Field!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Not-So-Brief Discussion On No-Hitters And The Mets

When R.A. Dickey gave up a second-inning double to the Braves' Freddie Freeman during today's rubber match, it marked the 7,980th consecutive game that a Mets pitcher has failed to pitch a no-hitter.  How many games have the Mets played in their half century of existence?  7,980.

Barring any rainouts or (heaven forbid) an actual no-hitter in the next 20 games, the Mets' streak will reach 8,000 games on Friday, May 11 when the team plays the Miami Marlins in their new park for the first time.  These are the same Marlins who have only been in existence since 1993, but have registered four no-hitters of their own (tossed by Al Leiter, Kevin Brown, A.J. Burnett and Anibal Sanchez).

As of this writing, there have been 272 no-hitters in major league history, with 229 of them occurring in the modern era (since the forming of the American League in 1901).  The Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers have pitched the most no-hitters in history with 20, while the Mets and San Diego Padres have yet to pitch their first.

Of course, may of those 272 hitless games took place before the Mets came into existence in 1962.  Since the Mets played the first of their 7,980 games, there have been a total of 129 no-hitters pitched in the big leagues.  Let's look at that list to see what random goodies we can find.

Tom Seaver came oh-so-close to pitching a no-hitter for the Mets on several occasions.

When the Mets came into the league in 1962, they were one of two teams to join the National League.  The Houston Colt .45s (you know them as the Astros) were also National League neophytes in 1962, but they didn't take very long to join the no-hit parade.  On May 17, 1963, Houston's Don Nottebart pitched the first no-hitter in the team's short history, holding the Philadelphia Phillies hitless (but not scoreless) in a 4-1 victory.  If you just said "Don who?" when you read the last sentence, you're probably not alone.  It was one of only 36 wins in Nottebart's nine-year career, a career in which he was used mostly as a reliever (Nottebart appeared in 296 games in the majors, of which only 89 were starts).

Although the Mets have never pitched a no-hitter, they have had three occasions in which a no-hitter was taken into the ninth inning, with Tom Seaver being on the mound for all three.  Of course, the one everyone remembers is the "imperfect game".  On July 9, 1969, Seaver was two outs away from a perfect game when the Cubs' Jimmy Qualls broke up the bid with a single.  "The Franchise" retired the next two hitters and settled for a one-hit shutout.  Seaver's mound opponent that night, Ken Holtzman, clearly learned a thing or two from watching Tom Terrific's performance.  On August 19, exactly 41 days after No. 41's near-perfecto, Holtzman pitched the first of his two career no-hitters.  You just can't make that stuff up.

Tom Seaver took two other no-hitters into the ninth inning during his tenure with the Mets.  On July 4, 1972, in the first game of an Independence Day doubleheader, Seaver once again recorded 25 outs before allowing his first hit (although this time he mixed in four walks).  But the Padres' Leron Lee broke up Seaver's no-hit bid in the ninth with a one-out single to center, just one batter before Nate Colbert ended the game by grounding into a double play.  Three years later, Seaver was once again on the precipice of baseball immortality, but this time he got a little closer.

On September 24, 1975, six years after his first date with no-hit destiny, Seaver held the Cubs hitless through eight innings.  After striking out Don Kessinger and Rick Monday to start the ninth inning, Seaver became the first Met to come within one out of a no-hitter.  There was only one problem.  He wasn't winning the game at the time.  The Mets and Cubs were locked in a scoreless battle when Joe Wallis came up to the plate with two outs in the ninth.  If Seaver had retired Wallis, he'd have pitched nine hitless innings, but would technically not have pitched a no-hitter since the game would not have ended there.  Alas, Seaver did not retire Wallis, as the Cubs' rightfielder broke up the no-hit bid with a single.  The game went into extra innings, with Seaver allowing two more hits in the tenth, before Skip Lockwood lost the game in the 11th on a single and three walks.

No other pitcher has taken a no-hitter into the ninth inning for the Mets, but Tom Glavine and John Maine came the closest to doing so, both pitching 7⅔ hitless innings in their gems in 2004 and 2007, respectively.  (Dang you, Kit Pellow and Paul Hoover, for being the no-names who broke up those no-hitters!)

Despite not having a no-hitter to their credit, the Mets have pitched 35 one-hitters, with one coming in the post-season (Bobby Jones' NLDS-clinching victory over San Francisco in 2000).  However, a number of the pitchers who participated in these one-hitters went on to pitch no-hitters elsewhere.  The first pitcher who comes to mind is Nolan Ryan, who pitched a record seven no-hitters over his career, but never threw one for the Mets.  He did pitch one of the team's 35 one-hitters, allowing only a first-inning single to the Phillies' Denny Doyle on April 18, 1970.  (Ironically, Ryan's mound opponent in the game was Jim Bunning, who pitched a perfect game against the Mets in 1964.)  Other pitchers who hurled one-hitters for the Mets and then went on to pitch a no-hitter elsewhere include Tom Seaver (June 16, 1978 for the Cincinnati Reds), Dwight Gooden (May 14, 1996 for the New York Yankees) and David Cone (July 18, 1999, also for the Yankees).

Shawn Estes (left), Tom Seaver (center) and R.A. Dickey (right) have combined to throw 20% of the Mets' 35 one-hitters.  But Estes and Dickey have a long way to go to match The Franchise in wins.

Ryan, Seaver, Gooden and Cone are the only four pitchers to throw a one-hitter for the Mets before pitching a no-hitter elsewhere.  However, they are not the only four who played for the Mets but pitched a no-hitter elsewhere.  In fact, there have been a few former Mets who pitched no-hitters after leaving New York and even more who pitched their no-hitters before joining the Mets.

Mike Scott had a lackluster career for the Mets, to say the least, going 14-27 for New York from 1979 to 1982.  But once he became a Houston Astro and learned the split-finger fastball from original Met Roger Craig, his career took off.  Four years after throwing his final pitch for the Mets, Scott threw the last pitch of the first division-clinching no-hitter in league history.  Another former Met who threw a no-hitter after leaving New York was Hideo Nomo, who pitched for the Mets in 1998 and then pitched a no-hitter for the Boston Red Sox in 2001.  Nomo also threw a no-hitter before joining the Mets, victimizing the Colorado Rockies in 1996 while a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In addition to Nomo, nine other pitchers threw no-hitters before coming to the Mets.  Those lucky nine include:

  • Don Cardwell: no-hitter in 1960 (Chicago Cubs); was a Met from 1967-1970
  • Warren Spahn: no-hitters in 1960 and 1961 (Milwaukee Braves); was a Met in 1965
  • Dean Chance: no-hitter in 1967 (Minnesota Twins); was a Met in 1970
  • Dock Ellis: no-hitter in 1970 while tripping on acid (Pittsburgh Pirates); was a Met in 1979
  • John Candelaria: no-hitter in 1976 (Pittsburgh Pirates); was a Met in 1987
  • Bret Saberhagen: no-hitter in 1991 (Kansas City Royals); was a Met from 1992-1995
  • Scott Erickson: no-hitter in 1994 (Minnesota Twins); was a Met in 2004
  • Kenny Rogers: perfect game in 1994 (California Angels); was a Met in 1999
  • Al Leiter: no-hitter in 1996 (Florida Marlins); was a Met from 1998 to 2004

Notice that of the ten total pitchers (including Nomo), only three (Cardwell, Saberhagen, Leiter) were with the Mets for more than one season.   If the Mets were hoping to get some of that no-hit magic from the other seven when they acquired them, they realized quickly that their best days were long behind them.

A no-no before New York.  A no-no after New York.  But no no-no for Nomo in New York.  No fair.

Finally, not every streak that involves a no-hit drought involves the Mets.  As mentioned earlier, almost every team has pitched at least one no-hitter and several teams have pitched more than a handful.  But the Mets aren't alone when it comes to no-hit futility.  In fact, the Mets' 50-year streak without a no-hitter isn't the longest a team has gone without one.  That "honor" belongs to the Philadelphia Phillies, who once went 58 years without a no-no.  After Johnny Lush kept the Brooklyn Superbas (that's what the Dodgers called themselves back then) hitless on May 1, 1906, no Phillies pitcher was able to match Lush's performance until Jim Bunning turned the trick with a perfect game on June 21, 1964 against the Mets.  Although Bunning's gem was the second of six no-hitters pitched against the Mets, it remains the only perfect game tossed against New York.

So there you have it, my friends.  You've just read my not-so-brief discussion on the Mets and their history (or lack of) with no-hitters.  By this time next month, the Mets might have played their 8,000th consecutive game without celebrating a no-no.  But the Mets have been known to surprise us in the past, and the possibility remains, however slim, that the streak will end before it reaches the magic 8,000-game mark.

Hey, if Don Nottebart could do it, than why can't a Met?  It's just one of those incredible things that makes baseball (and being a Mets fan) so amazin'.

Epilogue:  On April 21, 2012, just three days after this discussion was originally posted, former Met Philip Humber pitched a perfect game for the Chicago White Sox.  It was the 18th no-hitter in White Sox history and the third perfect game.  It was also the third no-hitter in the past six seasons for the Pale Hose.  Adding to the Mets connection, in each of the last two no-hitters (both of which were perfect games), a former Met was involved.  Mark Buehrle's perfect game in 2009 was caught by former Met Ramon Castro and Humber's perfect game saw Robin Ventura in the dugout as the White Sox manager.

So here's a tip to fans of no-hitters.  If you want to see one in person, find a major league matchup that features the most former Mets.  Your chances to be an eyewitness to history will increase dramatically if you do.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Get Your Knuckles On VIP Movie Tickets And A Signed Poster (Courtesy of the Subway Squawkers)

So have you seen any good movies lately?  No?  Well, what if I told you that the Subway Squawkers (Lisa Swan and Jon Lewin) are giving you the chance to win VIP seats for the TriBeCa Film Festival premier of Knuckleball! on April 21?  Did that get your attention?

But, wait!  There's more!

In addition to the VIP seats, you could also win a movie poster autographed by four knuckleball artists from the past and present.  What would you say to a poster signed by current Met R.A. Dickey, the recently retired Tim Wakefield, 216-game winner Charlie Hough and former 20-game winner Jim Bouton (who, like Dickey, has ventured into books with his controversial "Ball Four")?

There are no operators standing by and you don't have to send anything for shipping and handling.  All you have to do is e-mail Lisa and Jon at and tell them what your fav'rit sports movie is.  That's it!  No credit card information will be taken and you don't have to make promises to buy a ShamWow in the future.

But you do have to e-mail them with the name of your fav'rit sports movie by Wednesday, April 18 at 9am Eastern Daylight Time (4am if you're an Alaskan Squawker fan) to be eligible to win.  (For the record, I have two fav'rit sports movies - BASEketball and Celtic Pride.  BASEketball is just the funniest movie about a made-up sport ever and Celtic Pride ends with my beloved Utah Jazz winning the NBA title.)

So what are you waiting for?  Don't pick up the phone!  Don't get a check or money order!  And don't "knuckle" under the pressure!  Just send them an e-mail and you could win VIP seats for Knuckleball! as well as a signed movie poster (featuring your fav'rit Met and mine, R.A. Dickey).  Hope to see you there.  Good luck!

For more on this offer or to read more of Lisa and Jon's squawks, please visit the Subway Squawkers website by clicking here. 

This Year's Mets Have A 1984 Feel To Them

In 1984, the Mets were coming off one of the darkest eras in franchise history.  For seven straight seasons, the Mets finished at least 21 games under .500 and never finished higher than fifth place in the six-team NL East.  There were no expectations going into 1984 even though the team had a veteran leader in Keith Hernandez, a nice mix of homegrown talent (Darryl Strawberry, Hubie Brooks, Mookie Wilson, Wally Backman) and a new manager in Davey Johnson.

They also had a young pitcher named Dwight Gooden, who was given the ball despite having no experience in the major leagues.  Gooden went on to reward the Mets for showing their faith in him, making the All-Star team and becoming the fourth Met to win the Rookie of the Year Award.

After seven consecutive losing seasons, that combination of veteran leadership and youth, along with an intelligent manager, gave the Mets their first winning record since 1976 and only their second 90-win season in franchise history.

Fast forward nearly three decades to 2012.  The Mets have yet to record a winning season since moving to Citi Field in 2009.  In addition, although they did finish above .500 in each of their last three seasons at Shea Stadium, the 2006 to 2008 teams are most known for losing at the end of each campaign.  In essence, the team has "lost" for six straight seasons now.

But this year's Mets appear to be on the right track.  They have a young homegrown pitcher (Jonathon Niese) who was just given a vote of confidence by the Mets in the form of a five-year contract extension.  Just as Gooden rewarded the 1984 team when they had faith in him, Niese is doing the same for the 2012 club, winning his first two starts in dominant fashion (.156 batting average against, .178 slugging percentage against).

The 1984 Mets also had two veteran pitchers who performed very well for the team in Walt Terrell and Bruce Berenyi.  The two pitchers combined to go 20-18 with a 3.60 ERA.  Twenty-eight years later, the Mets have that same veteran presence in the rotation with Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey, who have both pitched exceptionally well during the first week and a half of the season.

Jesse Orosco (10-6, 31 saves, 2.59 ERA), Doug Sisk (15 saves, 2.05 ERA) and Tom Gorman (6-0, 2.97 ERA) were a formidable threesome in the bullpen in 1984, just as the trio of Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Bobby Parnell have been for the Mets in 2012 (the three have combined to post a 0.61 ERA and 0.68 WHIP).

As far as the offense goes, the 1984 Mets were fueled by a young power hitting rightfielder named Darryl Strawberry, who led the team with 26 home runs in his first full season in New York.  (The Straw Man was called up to the Mets in May 1983.)  The 2012 Mets also have a young power hitter in right field, Lucas Duda, who was called up for good during the 2011 season and is now leading the 2012 team in home runs.

Other young homegrown players who blossomed in 1984 were infielders Wally Backman and Hubie Brooks, as well as outfielder Mookie Wilson.  The 2012 team are succeeding with their own young homegrown players, such as infielders Ruben Tejada and Ike Davis, and outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

Hubie Brooks' breakout season in 1984 allowed the Mets to trade him for Gary Carter, who started the tenth inning rally in Game 6 that ended with Mookie Wilson's roller.  Ain't symmetry grand?

And of course, who could forget about Keith Hernandez?  The man who would eventually become the Mets' first team captain was entering his eighth full season in the major leagues at the age of 30 and was absolutely spectacular (.311, 31 doubles, 15 HR, 94 RBI, .409 OBP).  David Wright is now entering his eighth full season with the Mets.  Wright, who will turn 30 before year's end, is off to his best start, hitting an impressive .571 (12-for-21), while also reaching base at a .615 clip.  The unofficial team captain has also struck out only two times in 26 plate appearances, becoming one of team's best contact hitters nearly three decades after Hernandez was doing the same.

Finally, just as Davey Johnson had managed many of his players in the minor leagues before becoming the Mets' manager in 1984, Terry Collins also coached a number of players in the Mets' minor league system who he eventually managed in the major leagues.  This familiarity would lead to a comfort level between both managers and their players, leading to less friction and more production.

No one expected the 1984 Mets to be as good as they were.  But they won six of their first seven games en route to a surprise second-place finish in the National League East.  The same can be said for the Mets' expectations in 2012.  But after a 6-3 start, predictions of a last-place finish might have to be revised.

Big Brother was watching everyone in 1984.  Now the 1984 Mets might be serving as a big brother to the 2012 team, writing the script that the current team is following.  In the end, the 1984 team fell short of the playoffs, as might their 2012 counterparts.  But the 1984 Mets served as a springboard for what was to follow over the next few seasons.  Will the 2012 Mets do the same?  It wouldn't be surprising if they did.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mets Have It Niese And Easy Against The Phillies

Before the season began, the Mets were picked by the general consensus to finish in last place in the NL East.  The main reason for the prediction?  The division was supposed to be so much stronger that the Mets would have no chance in head-to-head competition.  So if that's the case, then why are the Mets cruising with a 6-2 record, especially since all of their games have been against division opponents?

After today's 5-0 victory over the Phillies, the Mets are now 5-0 against Philadelphia and Atlanta, the two teams that finished atop the division in 2011.  The top three pitchers in the rotation (Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey and Jonathon Niese) have combined to post a 1.77 ERA in six starts, collecting more strikeouts (35) than hits allowed (28).  In addition, the bullpen has been superb, with the three new acquisitions (Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Ramon Ramirez) combining to allow one earned run in 13⅓ innings.

But the main reason why the Mets are playing so well is because each player is capable of picking up one of his teammates when that teammate doesn't perform.  For example, in today's game, Jason Bay came up to to bat in the fourth inning with the bases loaded and no outs.  He promptly grounded into a double play, scoring a run but leaving the Mets with two outs and a potential big inning squelched.  In the past, the next batter would have been retired and the Mets would be left to wonder "what if".  But not the 2012 Mets.

After Bay's double play, Lucas Duda smacked a two-run homer to give the Mets a 4-0 lead, which gave Niese all the cushion he needed.  The Phillies never really threatened after Duda muscled Vance Worley's pitch out of the ballpark.

The teams that were supposed to compete in the NL East all have flaws.  The Phillies and Braves can't hit.  The Marlins can't field.  The Nationals have fewer flaws than the other teams in the division, hence why they're in first place.  But the Mets are not far behind.  They know they have flaws but they're finding ways to play around them.  Whereas past Mets teams continued to repeat their mistakes, this Mets team is learning from them.

Jason Bay and Ike Davis are not hitting well over the first eight games of the season.  But Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy and Josh Thole are.  David Wright is not swinging and missing as much as he has in the past.  The result of his better approach at the plate is a 10-for-17 start with only one strikeout.  And the pitching staff has excelled during the first week and a half of the season.  Even when it experiences hiccups (such as Mike Pelfrey and Dillon Gee's first starts of the season), the bullpen has kept the damage to a minimum.

No one expected the Mets to do anything in the NL East in 2012.  No one except the Mets themselves, that is.  With continued belief in their ability to perform well on the field, plus a dash of good health (which hasn't exactly been the Mets' forté over the past few years), don't be surprised if the Mets shock the league this year.  The Mets might not make the playoffs in 2012, but they won't be pushovers either.

The first eight games have me believing in the team.  Are they making believers of you?

R.A. Dickey Is Quietly All About Quality

Shhh.  Don't tell anyone.  But R.A. Dickey is quietly approaching a few Mets greats in the team's record books.

With last night's 5-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, R.A. Dickey recorded his 14th consecutive quality start (minimum of six innings pitched with no more than three earned runs allowed), dating back to last year.  It is currently the longest such streak in baseball.

Over the streak, which began last July 25 in Cincinnati when Dickey allowed two earned runs in 6 innings in a 4-2 victory over the Reds, Dickey has been phenomenal.  In those 14 starts, Dickey has posted a 2.40 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.  However, due to poor run support, he has only received credit for six victories during the skein.  How impressive is Dickey's quality start streak?  He's about to reach rarefied air with it.

In 1985, Dwight Gooden started his Cy Young campaign with 17 consecutive quality starts, a streak that ended on July 4 when he was pulled after 2
⅓ innings because of a rain delay (long-time Mets fans will remember that game as the Fireworks Night game in Atlanta).  Gooden also closed out the 1984 season with four consecutive quality starts, giving him a team-record 21 straight quality starts over the two seasons.

Tom Seaver holds the team record for most consecutive quality starts in one season.  From June 13 to September 13, 1973, Seaver recorded 19 straight quality starts.  Ironically, the streak could have ended on July 4, as Gooden's did 12 years later, when Seaver allowed five runs in 7⅓ innings against the Montreal Expos.  However, because of an error by shortstop Ted Martinez (who was filling in for the injured Bud Harrelson), two of the runs were unearned.  Therefore, Seaver's quality start streak was allowed to continue as he only allowed three earned runs in that Independence Day loss to the Expos.

Although Seaver's 19-game quality start streak in 1973 is the longest such streak for a Mets pitcher over one season, it wasn't the only time Seaver recorded 19 consecutive quality starts.  In 1971, a year in which Seaver was robbed of the Cy Young Award by the Cubs' Ferguson Jenkins - Seaver went 20-10 and led the league with a 1.76 ERA, 289 strikeouts and 0.945 WHIP, while Jenkins went 24-13 but had a 2.77 ERA and led the league in hits allowed (304) and home runs allowed (29) - Tom Terrific ended the season with 16 straight quality starts.  He also recorded quality starts in each of his first three appearances in 1972, giving him 19 quality starts in a row over two seasons.

Now R.A. Dickey is working on a quality start streak of his own.  After ending the 2011 season with 12 consecutive quality starts, he has begun the 2012 campaign with two more.  If this stretch of good pitching continues, he will reach legendary Mets pitchers Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden by Memorial Day.

Tom Seaver.  Dwight Gooden.  R.A. Dickey.  Prior to last July, one of those names would not have belonged with the others.  But when it comes to quality starts, those three names might be forever linked together in Mets lore.  Not bad for a converted knuckleball pitcher who only had 18 career quality starts prior to becoming a Met.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sign, Sign, Everywhere They Sign!

The Mets might have the day off today, but as Mets fans, we never have days off from thinking and talking about the team we love unconditionally.  Baseball has a way of turning us into kids again, regardless of our age.  Take yours truly, for example.

On Tuesday, I took a midday break from work, then took a one-hour subway ride from my job to midtown Manhattan.  I did this despite having as many tasks to complete at work as Jason Bay has strikeouts this season.  Why did I take this lunchtime hiatus?  To meet the Mets, of course.

Do you see the big smiles on my face, my Gal For All Seasons' face and Joey and Iggy's faces?  That's because we had the pleasure of meeting and talking with current Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey and the oh-so-underrated legendary Met, Edgardo Alfonzo.  And of course, we also got their autographs, as Joey and Iggy were more than happy to show off in the final photograph above.

Unfortunately, I floated way past Cloud Nine and was probably somewhere in the stratosphere when I met both players, as all I was able to say was "Good luck on Friday" to Dickey (his next start is against the Phillies on Friday) and "I'm wearing your number" to Alfonzo.  Of course, Fonzie seemed starstruck to meet Joey Beartran, as all he could say to us was "did you ever see that movie with the bear in it?".

I guess what I'm trying to say (since I was too tongue-tied to say it to Dickey and Fonzie) is this.  I was born on November 7, 1972.  R.A. Dickey was born on October 29, 1974.  Edgardo Alfonzo was born on August 11, 1973.  Yet despite the fact that they're kids compared to this old fart, I still got butterflies when I met them.  I'm their senior, but I felt like a junior in their presence.

No matter how old you are, baseball will always find a way to make you feel like a kid.  For some people, all they have to do is find their glove and a ball and they're immediately transported back to a time of innocence, a time when it was just them and the game and nothing else mattered.

For me, it only took a brief encounter with a current beloved Met and a former beloved Met and I was 12 again.  All I needed was my Louisville Slugger, my Wilson glove and the same grass-stained ball I used for many a game for my baseball daydream to be complete.

A quick chat.  A photo op.  A John Hancock.  There's just something about this game called baseball that makes the most minor event seem so major for a big kid like me.  I love this game.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Duda Muscle!

On a beautiful day for the major league debut of Kirk Nieuwenhuis at Citi Field, the Mets defeated the Atlanta Braves by the final score of 4-2.  The recently-promoted Sultan of Spell Check went 2-for-4 in his inaugural game and played a flawless center field.

R.A. Dickey got his season off to a fine start, winning his first decision with six fine innings of work.  Dickey's only blemish came on a two-run homer in the fifth inning by Martin Prado on a ball that was hit down the left field line.

Dickey's counterpart on the mound, Jair Jurrjens, was not as sharp.  Prior to today's start, Jurrjens was a veritable Met killer, going 8-4 with a 2.94 ERA in 13 career starts against the Mets.  He had also allowed only one home run in 82⅔ innings versus New York.  That was before David Wright and Lucas Duda took him deep today.

Wright's home run, a 430-foot blast to the opposite field gave the Mets the early 1-0 lead.  Duda's fourth-inning home run (which gave the Mets a 2-0 lead) would not have been a home run last year at Citi Field, but with the park's new dimensions in 2012, it became the rightfielder's first bomb of the season.  Duda flexed his muscles again in the seventh inning, hitting a shot over the right field fence that would have been a home run in any year at Citi Field.  That blast gave the Mets their fourth and final run, which stood up when Frank Francisco came into the game in the ninth and notched his second save in as many games, but not before he became a true Mets closer by putting the potential tying run on base.

Any thoughts of Duda not being ready to be the team's everyday rightfielder were quashed by his bat today.  After hitting .322 with 10 HR and 38 RBI in the second half of the 2011 season, Duda collected the first multi-homer game of his career today.

Although the Mets are off to their first 2-0 start in three seasons, let's not forget that the last time they won their first two games (2009), the team didn't exactly finish the season strongly.  But back then, the team was full aging, injury-prone veterans.  Now, with Nieuwenhuis and Duda in the outfield, along with Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada teaming up with the old fart, David Wright, in the infield, the Mets might be poised to surprise many so-called experts in 2012.

It's only two games, but the Mets have got to be feeling good about themselves.  Their starting pitching has been excellent.  Their bullpen has been unscored upon.  And their offense has been hitting the ball around the shrunken ballpark.  David Wright showed some muscle today.  Lucas Duda made us do a double take with his.

The time has come for the Mets to begin a new era of winning baseball in Flushing, something that hasn't been seen at Citi Field since its opening in 2009.  After two season opening wins against the Braves, that time might be coming sooner than you think.