Sunday, May 29, 2016

Joey's Small Bites: My Words of Encouragement For Noah Syndergaard

Hello, everyone!  This is Studious Metsimus roving reporter/culinary expert Joey Beartran.  I was in attendance on Saturday night for the 1986 World Champion Mets reunion at Citi Field.  And although the pre-game ceremony honoring the Mets' most recent championship team was done quite well, the one thing most people were taking away from their night at the park was the ridiculous ejection of starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard after he "honored" No. 26 on the Dodgers by throwing a fastball about 26 inches behind Chase Utley's rear end.  It should be noted that Utley put former Mets shortstop on *his* rear end last October, causing Tejada to be removed from the game and the rest of the postseason with a broken leg.

After Syndergaard was ejected, manager Terry Collins lost his cool and got in the face of home plate umpire Adam Hamari, who not only shares initials with Met-hating umpire Angel Hernandez, but was also just three years old when the 1986 Mets were pounding their way to a title.  In fact, Hamari had blown out three candles on his birthday cake just two days before when Ray Knight pummeled Dodger pitcher Tom Niedenfuer after Knight was plunked with a pitch in May 1986.  For the record, neither Knight nor Niedenfuer lost the right to continue playing in that game, probably because Hamari was too busy wetting his diaper at the time instead of officiating the game behind the plate.

Anyway, I caught up with Syndergaard after the game and offered him some encouragement after he was thrown out of the game for having the nerve to throw a pitch that wasn't in the strike zone to Utley, which was documented by my colleague, Studious Metsimus photographer Ed Leyro.

Thor still had that surprised look on his face when I caught up with him.

I told Thor that Hamari has always managed to find himself behind the plate for important events.  On June 25, 2014, he was working the plate during Tim Lincecum's second career no-hitter.  Three months later, Hamari served as the home plate ump during Derek Jeter's final game at Yankee Stadium and paid his RE2PECTs to the shortstop when Jeter delivered a storybook walk-off single to win the game for the home team.  Must have been nice for Michigan native Hamari to see Michigan native Jeter come through in that moment.  So I comforted Thor by letting him know that Hamari's presence should have been a sign that this game would become a big story in the majors.  And then everyone forgets and we all move on.

I also told Syndergaard that a victory for the Mets was not meant to be, as I spotted Marlins Man sitting behind the plate for the game.  It's well known that the Mets never play well when the orange-clad supporter of South Florida's baseball team shows up at their games.  (World Series Game Five comes to mind.)  At least Marlins Man seemed to think that Hamari's quick trigger finger was uncalled for when Hamari tossed the Norse god out of the game for not hitting Utley.

Do you see Marlins Man highlighted in the upper left-hand corner?  He reacted just like Thor did.  (FOX screen shot)

Between Hamari being the Forrest Gump of umpires by being at important moments in baseball history and Marlins Man's attendance signifying a loss for the Mets, it was never going to be Syndergaard's night to shine at Citi Field.  The night belonged to the 1986 Mets and Adam Hamari's poor judgment.

Fortunately, my post-game talk with Thor got him to see why everything happened the way it did last night.  In fact, this morning he was on Twitter in better spirits, clearly thanks to my talk with him after the game.

If Bartolo Colon decides to throw a pitch that is deemed too close to Utley's body in tonight's series finale, Syndergaard will be ready to relieve Big Sexy in the event there is another unwarranted ejection (even if manager Terry Collins decides to go with a conventional reliever).  And this time, Adam Hamari wouldn't be behind the plate to prevent Syndergaard from finishing what he started on Saturday.  It would be the perfect ending to the script that began writing itself the moment Utley threw his body into Ruben Tejada's leg last October.  And it would be a great way to honor the 1986 Mets, by standing up for each other even when others are trying to bring the team down.

Chase Utley must be shown that he is not as invincible as the league and the umpires would like him to feel.  The Mets must find a way to crack his armor once and for all by sending him and his greasy scalp sprawling on the Citi Field dirt where he belongs.

Friday, May 27, 2016

It's Time to '86 the Booing of Doug Sisk

The Mets will be celebrating the 30-year anniversary of their most recent world championship this weekend at Citi Field.  The highlight of the weekend will be the on-field ceremony on Saturday honoring the members of the 1986 World Series winners.

Ten years ago, the Mets also reunited the '86 champs on the field before the start of a Saturday night game at Shea Stadium.  The evening was gloomy and rainy on August 19, 2006, but the weather did not dampen the spirits of the 42,810 fans in attendance at big Shea.  All of the former players had to dodge raindrops as they entered the field to a huge ovation during their introductions.  But one player had to dodge something other than rain as he took his position on the field, as Doug Sisk continued to be subjected to the barrage of boos that have rained down upon him in Flushing for over three decades.

(Jacqueline Duvoisin/Getty Images)
Doug Sisk was signed as a 22-year-old amateur free agent in 1980.  Two years later, he completed his quick ascent to the major leagues.  In eight late-season games for the Mets in 1982, Sisk was quite effective, allowing just one run (a home run by future Hall of Famer Andre Dawson) in 8⅔ innings.

Sisk's first full season with the Mets in 1983 was nothing short of spectacular, as he posted a 2.24 ERA in 104 innings - all in relief.  In doing so, he became just the fifth pitcher in team history to throw 100 or more innings while pitching exclusively in relief, joining Tug McGraw (1972), Skip Lockwood (1977), Jeff Reardon (1980) and Jesse Orosco (also in 1983 - Orosco reached the 100-inning mark two weeks before Sisk did).

Amazingly, Sisk allowed just one home run in those 104 innings in 1983, and once again, it was a future Hall of Famer who took him deep (Mike Schmidt).  To this day, Sisk is the only pitcher in club annals to pitch more than 100 innings in a season and allow fewer than three home runs in that campaign.

As great as Sisk was in 1983, he was even better in 1984, especially during the first half of the season.  Through July 1, Sisk had recorded 11 saves and was the owner of an otherworldly 0.50 ERA, allowing three earned runs in 53⅔ innings.  Opposing hitters were batting just .165 against the right-hander and slugging (if you want to call it that) at a .188 clip.

Sisk had always pitched to contact, nibbling at corners hoping to get batters to swing at his best pitch - the sinkerball.  As a result, hitters didn't collect many hits (just 29 of them through July 1), but they also drew their share of walks (31 bases on balls).  Still, the object of the game for a pitcher is to keep the opponent off the scoreboard and few pitchers were as effective at doing that during the first half of the 1984 season as Doug Sisk was.

As the weather got hotter in July, so did the race for the N.L. East crown between the Mets and Cubs.  But one player who melted in the heat, unfortunately, was Doug Sisk.  Sisk allowed runs in six of his 12 outings during the month.  From July 28 to August 6, Sisk made three appearances on the mound.  All three times he pitched against the Cubs.  All three times he allowed runs.  And all three times the Mets lost.  Sisk was then placed on the disabled list with what the team called shoulder stiffness.  But the reliever begged to differ, claiming the transaction should not have happened.

''I don't think they should have disabled me,'' Sisk said.  ''I've had soreness in the shoulder in the past, and have pitched with it.  It's demeaning to me to be put on the disabled list.  It wasn't necessary.  It makes me feel they intend to trade me before next season.''

Upon his return from the disabled list, Sisk made five more appearances for the team in 1984.  He held the opposition scoreless in four of them.  The one time he was scored upon was - you guessed it - against the Cubs on September 8.  And that's when the fans began their routine of booing Sisk every chance they got.

Ghosts boo.  You shouldn't.  Especially when it comes to Doug Sisk.

Sisk came into the game with the Mets trailing the Cubs by two runs.  He faced 14 batters in two innings, allowing eight of them to reach base.  But just two of them scored.  Wes Gardner then relieved Sisk and allowed two more Cubs to score.  Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, who went on to win the Cy Young Award that season, pitched a complete-game shutout as Chicago knocked off New York, 6-0.

Now here's what gets me.  The Mets were shut out in that game.  Sisk came into the game with the Mets already trailing by two runs.  Which means the Mets would still have lost that game even if Sisk had pitched two perfect innings.  Now let's go back to the three consecutive appearances against the Cubs prior to Sisk's stint on the disabled list.  The first one (July 28) was definitely on Sisk, as he came into a tie game and allowed four runs (three earned).  But the other two?  Not so much.

On July 29, Sisk took the mound in the ninth inning with the Mets trailing the Cubs, 2-0.  He then allowed the Cubs to tack on an insurance run.  The Mets failed to score in the bottom of the ninth and lost, 3-0.  That result was certainly not Sisk's fault.  Eight days later, Sisk entered the game against the Cubs with the Mets already trailing, 7-3.  He pitched a scoreless sixth, then put up another zero in the seventh.  Sisk then allowed two runs in his third inning of work and the Mets lost to Chicago, 9-3.  Again, New York would have lost even if Sisk had not allowed two runners to cross the plate after he had already pitched two scoreless innings.

When Sisk pitched his final game before being "disabled", the Mets' record was 62-45.  When he returned on August 31, the Mets were 73-58.  That means the team posted a losing record (11-13) while Sisk was recovering from his "injury".  I'm sure the boo birds found a way to blame him for that sub-.500 record as well.

Overall, Sisk finished the 1984 campaign with 15 saves and a 2.09 ERA - numbers that are still quite impressive, but not enough to make fans stop booing.  It didn't help that Sisk posted a career-worst 5.30 ERA in 73 innings the following season in 1985.  But Sisk recovered nicely in 1986, and had fans stopped booing for just a second during that glorious campaign, they might have noticed that Sisk had quite a comeback season.

Sisk lowered his ERA in 1986 by more than two runs, finishing the year with a 3.06 mark.  He also didn't allow a single home run in 70⅔ innings - not even to a future Hall of Famer.  How unusual was it to pitch that many innings and not give up a single long ball?

Without generating this chart for me, you'd still be booing Doug Sisk.

As you can see, in the Mets' 50-plus years of existence, only five pitchers have thrown at least 30 innings in a season without allowing a home run.  The only one to surpass 36⅓ innings in a tater-free campaign was Doug Sisk in 1986, and he pitched almost twice as many innings as the next closest gopherless pitcher.  And since the Mets came into the league in 1962, there have been only a dozen occasions in which a pitcher threw more innings than Sisk in a season without allowing a home run, as detailed in the chart below.

I wonder if the other pitchers on this list had to put up with constant boos from their home crowd.

Sisk pitched twice in the 1986 postseason and guess what?  He didn't give up a run when he pitched against Houston in the NLCS and he held Boston scoreless in his lone World Series appearance.  And on both occasions, he climbed the hill at Shea Stadium, which must have disappointed the people who were looking for someone to heckle.

The Mets failed to repeat as world champions in 1987, but Sisk had another solid season.  He pitched 78 innings - his highest regular season total since his fabulous 1983 campaign - and posted a 3.46 ERA.  He also walked just 22 batters, averaging 2.5 walks per nine innings, which was the lowest ratio of his career.

When the Mets were battling it out with the St. Louis Cardinals for the division title in September, it wasn't Sisk who gave up the crushing, season-changing homer to Terry Pendleton.  That was Roger McDowell.  And when New York was still mathematically alive during the last week of the season, Sisk wasn't on the mound giving up a walk-off blast to light-hitting pinch-hitter Luis Aguayo.  That was Jesse Orosco.  In fact, from August 31 until the end of the season, Sisk pitched ten times and recorded a 2.08 ERA.  Even more impressive was the slash line against him, as opposing hitters could only manage a .208/.240/.229 mark in those ten appearances spanning 13 innings.

But let's boo Sisk and give McDowell and Orosco a pass for their contributions to the final month of the 1987 campaign.  It's what all the cool kids are doing, right?

One threw his glove up in the air, while the other had fans who just didn't care.  (Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images)

On Saturday night, the Mets will honor all of the members of the 1986 World Series champions.  It will be a weekend to cheer the heroes of the past, not boo the one person who has been unjustly blamed for the Mets not winning the division crown in 1984 and who had just one bad season during his six-year career in New York.  Sadly, that person will not be in attendance for the reunion, as Doug Sisk - along with former teammates Kevin Elster, Roger McDowell and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre - will be skipping out on the festivities.

For those of you who would have booed Sisk relentlessly had he been joining his teammates this weekend at Citi Field, here are some of his numbers as a Met.  Out of all the pitchers in franchise history who threw at least 400 innings for the team, Sisk's 3.10 ERA is tied for the seventh-lowest mark.  Other pitchers in the top ten include Tom Seaver (2.57), Jesse Orosco (2.73), R.A. Dickey (2.95), Jon Matlack (3.03), Jerry Koosman (3.09) and Dwight Gooden (3.10).  You probably associate those pitchers as Cy Young Award winners, Rookie of the Year Award recipients or pitchers who recorded final outs in the World Series for the Mets.  In other words, Sisk is in good company.

In addition, Sisk allowed just 11 home runs in 412⅓ innings during his time with the Mets from 1982 to 1987.  That's an average of 0.24 homers per nine innings - the lowest of any pitcher with at least 400 innings in team history.  The only other hurler with a ratio under 0.50 is Roger McDowell, who gave up one of the most heartbreaking home runs in club annals when he allowed Terry Pendleton to take him deep on September 11, 1987.  The ten players behind Sisk on this list include the usual suspects - Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, Gooden, Orosco - as well as other notable pitchers like Nolan Ryan, Bob Ojeda and David Cone.

To put it bluntly, Sisk was a damn good pitcher, one who deserves to be honored along with his fellow 1986 world champions.  It took an entire 24-man roster to win the World Series in 1986.   Doug Sisk was one of those two dozen competitors.  And as such, he should be treated like a champion.  A festive celebration is no place to air grievances.

Even though Sisk won't be there to hear the roar of the crowd, Mets fans should leave their boos outside the rotunda when they enter Citi Field on Saturday.  It's time to finally give Doug Sisk the long-overdue cheers he deserves. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Joey's World Tour: Mile High Clubbed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 8, 2016

How the Mets Fare When Their Starting Pitcher Homers

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

It.  Has.  Happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Few Runs, Nine Innings, Lots of Minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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