Piazza Still Nos. 1 & 31 In Hearts Of Mets Fans

You could make a case that Mike Piazza will forever be the Mets fans’ equivalent of Mickey Mantle, again evidenced today as the likely future Hall of Famer was formally inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame at Citi Field.

In a year where the Mets again struggled on the field and at the gate, the five-year old ballpark was filled to capacity, with standing room only tickets sold – a very rare occurrence these days – as the now 45-year-old former Met became the 27th inductee into the Mets Hall of Fame, and its third catcher, following Jerry Grote (1992 Inductee) and Gary Carter (2001).

The gratitude and platitudes flowed like a river, with Piazza graciously returning the love rained upon him by the boisterous gathering, with not only hundreds of fans arriving at the ballpark wearing Piazza jerseys and other related gear, but with the Mets adding to the fashion of the day by handing each fan a black jersey style t-shirt bearing Piazza’s name and number as they entered.

“They say you can count your true friends on one hand,” Piazza proclaimed during his brief pre-game acceptance speech, “and this is where you are,” an acknowledged direct reference to the fans as he held up one index finger.

The feeling was mutual.

Before the ceremony, Piazza told the press what the fans sincerely meant to him. “From the start, the fans taking me under their wing was truly special, and can’t put it into words. The word is just grateful. Truly a special connection. I attribute it to my faith in God, my family… the love and support was overwhelming.”

As for the reference and comparison to Mantle, Piazza might be the guy, or at least in the same conversation with Darryl Strawberry, and the eventual all-time go-to Met, David Wright.

Longtime Yankees fans have never lost their love for Mantle. He was power incarnate. One of baseball’s all-time best, and he had that extra “it” factor that also oozes from Piazza, handsome, charisma overflowing, and the ability to follow through when it was needed most.

New York City will never forget what Piazza was able to do for the Mets, for baseball, and the city of New York in that first game back following the horrible terrorist attacks on the city and the nation on Sept. 11, 2001. In that first game ten days later, Piazza crushed a home run to beat the Braves that allowed the city to breathe again, to acknowledge that we were injured, but can still respond and prevail.

It was the only game in the long managerial career of Braves skipper Bobby Cox where he later admitted he didn’t mind losing. It was the game where both teams followed the pregame introductions with unprecedented hugs and handshakes between both squads around second base.

“That home run was awesome,” Piazza exclaimed in a pregame presser, “and I was so glad to be able to execute in what I attribute to the power of prayer. I was so blessed. To have a moment like that in a week of despair. It was a miracle.”

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg recognized the moment in an official Proclamation that named this day Mike Piazza Day in the City of New York.

In 2004, Piazza and Mets fans enjoyed a personal moment when the popular backstop eclipsed Carlton Fisk with the 352nd home run of his career – as a catcher, and the greatest total of home runs from the catching position. The rest of Piazza’s 427 home runs came as a DH, as a pinch-hitter, or from those dark days when he was asked to play first base, an experiment that did not fare well. Piazza’s eventual career total of 396 home runs as a catcher continues to rank first in baseball history and likely will remain so for many, many years. Catchers, generally, are not home run hitters.

Established in 1981, the Mets Hall of Fame has been welcoming members on an irregular basis ever since, with their plaques now formally installed in the Mets Museum located near the entrance of the Jackie Robinson Rotundra. At Shea Stadium, members were honored with a bronze bust, which were originally on display on the Diamond Club level. Some of which still exist in Citi Field – Gil Hodges’ bust inside the entrance of the Press Gate, Tom Seaver’s bust at the third base entrance, and Casey Stengel’s bust also at an entrance on the third base side.

A five-man committee meets each year to determine if – and only if – any former members of the team and front office deserve such an honor. The Committee is comprised of Mets Media Relations VP Jay Horwitz, original Met Al Jackson, longtime Mets beat writer Marty Noble, and longtime broadcasters Gary Cohen and Howie Rose.

Rose again served as the MC for the on-field ceremonies.

The Mets also honored longtime scout Harry Minor with the team’s Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award. Minor began a career in baseball with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947, and scouted for the Mets from 1967 to his retirement in 2011. Minor knew which prospects had “trouble with the curve” and helped shape four pennant-winning teams and two World Championships.

Joining Minor and Rose on the field to honor Piazza was Mike’s family, his wife, Alicia, his young daughters, Nicoletta and Paulina, his brothers, Tom, and Vince, Jr., and his parents, Veronica, and Vince, Sr.
Also on hand were previously inducted Mets Hall of Famers and former teammates John Franco, Keith Hernandez, Ed Kranepool, Doc Gooden, Ed Charles, Bud Harrelson, Rusty Staub, Mookie Wilson, and Edgardo Alfonzo.

One of the accolades Piazza shared with the stadium was a kudo to “The Fonz.”

“I used to say to myself, if it wasn’t me up there with the game on the line, then I wanted it to be Fonzie.”

Congratulating Piazza via a video feed from the MLB TV studios in New Jersey was Al Leiter. “Mike, congratulations…” said Leiter, beaming. “I remember when we made the trade, I was on the phone with Johnny Franco and some of the guys and we were like 12-year olds going, “We got Mike Piazza! We got Piazza!”

“I remember that first game at the end of May. I was a like a little Met fan growing up. I had the pleasure of being in the locker next to you for seven years, and know what you meant to this organization. And I can’t say enough how proud I am of you and our friendship which continues to this day. Congratulations.”

Piazza almost committed a faux pas during his acceptance speech. He generously thanked Mets management, and also noted former Mets owner Nelson Doubleday, Jr. – who was principally responsible for bringing Piazza to the organization – but if you were at the game or watched the broadcast, you might have been puzzled when Piazza said thanks to Doubleday, “who is no longer with us.”

Don’t worry, Mr. Doubleday is very much alive, and Piazza knows that, he just meant no longer with the team. As Mark Twain once mocked, “Rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Originally, in 1998, when Piazza had been traded by the LA Dodgers – the team that drafted him in the lofty 62nd round of the 1988 Amateur Draft (purportedly as a favor toe family friend, Tommy Lasorda) – the Florida Marlins, the media asked Mets owner Fred Wilpon if he was interested in acquiring Piazza. Because it was almost a given that the Marlins were going to turn him around at some point in another deal.

Wilpon essentially said, “We already have a good catcher,” in part due to the baseball rule that says don’t covet players on other teams, and a reference to then steady and popular backstop Todd Hundley.

But it was Doubleday who recognized the star power and batting power of Piazza, and basically told GM Steve Phillips, “Get Piazza.”

The deal was consummated on May 22, 1998, with the Mets sending Preston Wilson (Mookie’s boy), Geoff Goetz, and Ed Yarnall to Florida for Piazza, who already had been the Rookie of the Year in 1992, and a six-time All-Star.

Only Wilson became a player of any significance, and ironically, is a member of the Marlins’ broadcast team these days.

The rest is Mets and baseball history. Piazza later signed a seven-year deal with New York ($91 mil) that gave him baseball’s biggest player deal at the time, and something Piazza also acknowledged on his day of recognition.

“If it wasn’t for my agent, Danny Lozano, playing a hard line with the Dodgers, I might never have come to New York.” The fans howled with that thought.

By the numbers, Piazza finished a 16-year career in 2007 with 427 home runs, 1335 RBIs, a .308 average, slugging at .545, and on-base of .377. For his eight years with the Mets, No. 31 slugged 220 homers (third on the team’s all-time list, behind Straw and Wright), banged in 655 runs, scored 532 runs, picked up 1,028 hits, and had a .296 avg.

If you’re worried about if and when Piazza makes it to the original Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and whether or not he wears a Met or Dodger cap on his bronze plaque, fear not. It is the management of the Hall that makes those decisions now, and they generally go wherever the player made his most significant contributions.

Piazza played in more seasons as a Met than as a Dodger (8 to 7), played in more games (972 to 726), had more home runs (220 to 177), and more RBIs (655 to 563). Need any further evidence, your honor?

But that Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is still a question mark. In the last election, Piazza’s first time on the ballot, and where no player made it to the required 75% nominations for election, the 12-time All-Star received just 57.8% of the vote. Not bad, and it keeps him on the ballot, but it is a process Piazza gladly welcomes.

“The process is a beautiful thing as well,” Piazza said. “Yogi (Berra) had three ballots. Joe DiMaggio had three ballots. If I’m blessed to get to be put in one day, I will be honored, but it’s out of my hands.”

As for the future, Piazza noted he’s very busy doing nothing. Plays a lot of golf. He keeps him in a competitive edge. With two young daughters and a baby boy, Marco, just two months old, he’s just dad now. But maybe about 18 years from now…

“I’m going to teach (Marco) how to hit, and the rest will be up to him.” And he joked to team COO Jeff Wilpon, “I’m going to give you first crack at him, but he’s not going to come cheap.”

We’re sure Mets fans are looking forward to the day, Mike. Congrats to a very worthy Hall of Famer.

Posted under Andy Esposito, New York Mets, Top Story

This post was written by Andy Esposito on September 30, 2013

The Real Reason WFAN Dropped the Mets

The Mets have no one to blame but themselves.

Not just for another season in the red, their fifth consecutive season below .500 – way below .500 – but for the recent decision by WFAN, their official flagship radio station of the past 26 years, to not renew their contract to carry Mets games to make a deal with their crosstown rival Yankees.

Essentially, WFAN filed for a divorce.

Of course, any corporate decision made anywhere in this country, arguably the world, is ruled by money, but in this case it was also hinged by wins and losses. As in mostly wins by the Yankees, and losses by the Mets.

WFAN waved goodbye because for the past 26 years, the Yankees have won way more games than the Mets, and that translates to more money in the till, but more so, the Yankees have played way more games in the postseason than the Mets, and that’s where the really big bucks accumulate. More games – more postseason games – means more airtime, more commercial time, more revenue, more exposure overall, and so on.

When the Mets season is over, as it has been frequently in the last half-decade with the final pitch of the regular season, they’re left with filling airtime at night with the likes of Steve Somers. Now who doesn’t like schmoozing with Steve Somers, we grant you, an infectious listen, no doubt. But if you’re in the postseason, as the Yankees generally are – even with this season’s conclusion in doubt – those extra games can rake in much more revenue than The Schmoozer (sorry, Steve).

There are some who might believe that WFAN switched because Mike Francesca, their popular afternoon host, is an unabashed Yankees fan, but nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Miked Up has been a Yankee rooter his entire life, and certainly the entire 26-year run of the Mets “on the FAN,” but that didn’t initiate any contractual changes during this time.

No, it’s always about the Benjamins, as they say, and this was no exception.

In 1987, when WFAN came into existence, inheriting the Mets from the reincarnated WHN 1050 AM station, station execs gladly welcomed Mets games into their programming, bracketing the games with longer than was the norm pre and post-game shows while promoting the games literally 24 hours a day as the nation’s first all-sports radio station.

And they said it wouldn’t last!

Actually, they said that about ESPN, too, the first all-sports television station – that launched in 1982 – and now both formats have spawned hundreds of copies.

In a way, you could say ESPN TV gave birth to WFAN radio, but that’s another story.

In 1987, the Mets were the “It” team, the toast of New York, the World Champions of baseball. These were the Doc and Darryl, Keith and Carter, Mookie and Wally Mets. They were on the back pages. They were on the front pages. Sometimes for the wrong reasons, but that’s another story, too. Still, they were the water cooler team of New York.

They Yankees? Yeah, they were good, too, but no matter how many games they won, or how many batting titles and other individual achievements they could muster, they could never find their way into the postseason, despite the heroics of Don Mattingly, the antics of Dave Winfield, and the legs of Rickey Henderson.

WFAN was so enamored with having the Mets that they threw the switch from being WHN to WFAN, from frequency 1050 AM to 660 AM at Shea Stadium on July 1, 1987. Legendary radio host Don Imus, was given the honor of pushing the button, or whatever it was that actually zapped over to the new location on the dial.

Imus was a holdover from the previous regime at WNBC, which held the 660 frequency for many years. His morning show gave The Fan immediate gravitas, humor, and headlines.

And by the way, in case you have forgotten, or never knew, it was Imus who nicknamed Chris Russo, the Mad Dog. One morning, during one of Russo’s wild and crazy rants, Imus proclaimed, “You’re like a mad dog!” It stuck. So next time you listen to the doggie on satellite radio, know where that came from.

So here we are, about two weeks left to go in the season, and the Mets are without a radio home for 2014. But fear not, baseball audiophiles. Mets exec Jeff Wilpon announced immediately after WFAN officially said adios that negotiations were under way with a new radio partner for ’14. You could say the lead horse in the race is WEPN, the radio version of ESPN in New York, but nothing is definite yet, and there could be a dark horse candidate.

WFAN is a 50,000Watt radio station, the strongest signal the government will allow. There are a total of seven such stations in New York Metro, among them WEPN, WABC (a former Mets residence at the very beginning, from 1962-63), WCBS AM, WINS, WOR, WBBR, and WQEW.

In the recent Arbitron ratings “book,” as it is known, three of those stations made it to the Top Ten, including WFAN, WINS, and WCBS AM. In fact, the FAN made a very strong showing, coming in at No. 10 overall, with a 3.8. That means 3.8% of the radio audience listens to the FAN during the course of a week, and that includes all shows and games. WEPN, by comparison, rated just a 1.6.

However, in the all-important category of listeners aged 25-54, the demographics brought this competition a little closer, with the FAN again topping EPN, 5.5 to 2.9.

Those are radio’s stats. Those are their batting titles, win totals, and ERA. Those are the numbers that sets the ad rates, and everything else hinges off of that.

So if the Mets switch allegiances to ESPN does that mean their ratings will suffer? Perhaps a bit, but not necessarily because of the switch to a different radio station.

It’s still all about the wins and losses.

And one last “by the way.” WFAN switched from handling Jets games to Giants games some years ago for the exact same reason they just courted their new girlfriend in the Bronx.

ADDENDUM: METS RADIO HISTORY

In what will be their 54-year history next year, the Mets will have made eight radio station switches. They started on WABC (1962-63), then made their first association with WHN (at the time a country music station, by the way) from 1964-66. They jumped to WJRZ from 1967-71 (which leads to an interesting trivia question regarding what station Mets fans first heard them win a World Championship in 1969). It was back to WHN from ’72-74, then another migration to WNEW AM from ’75-’77. The WMCA “Good Guys” broadcast Mets games ’78-’82, and it was back to WHN from ’83-87 until Imus “pushed the button.”

Posted under Airtime, Andy Esposito, Benjamins, Commercial Time, Corporate Decision, Extra Games, Fifth Consecutive Season, Flagship Radio Station, Mets Games, Mike Francesca, Miked, New York Mets, No Doubt, Pitch, Postseason Games, Real Reason, Schmoozing, Sorry Steve, Top Story, Yankee

Mets Roll Dice To Eat Innings

It’s all about the innings.

It’s also about the future, which is why the Mets signed veteran righthander Daisuke Matsuzaka on Thursday and slotted him into the rotation right away after injuries and the impending innings count put a dent in the staff.

The countdowns are already underway for young hurlers Matt Harvey and Zach Wheeler, and with Jeremy Hefner and Jennry Mejia lost for the season due to injuries, the next day’s starters might have soon been announced as TBA. Carlos Torres was again drafted out of the bullpen for spot starts, and would have started tonight against the Tigers, but with the signing of Matsuzaka, the effective reliever (2-2, 3.00ERA/1.45 ERA in relief) was dispatched back to the pen.

Reliever Greg Burke was optioned back to Sin City to make room for the 32-year-old Matsuzaka, with the verbal promise of a return ticket when September call-ups are made.

Matsuzaka’s signing made sense from a cost-effective point of view. They signed him for just the remainder of the season, and if he pitches well over the course of the next five weeks or so, and helps ease the burden of the staff with innings at a premium in September, he could become a bargain.

Trouble is, the start to his Mets/National League career was anything but a bargain, giving up five runs – including two home runs, to the Tigers in just the first two innings. With starts like that, the Mets would be better served hanging a Help Wanted sign outside the gates of Citi Field for a spot starter.

Matsuzaka settled down for a bit after that, throwing three additional zeros, but those first two frames were pretty ugly. He threw 86 pitches in the five innings, 58 for strikes. Dice-K racked up four Ks, with one walk.

At his request, Matsuzaka was released from his contract with the Cleveland Indians on Aug. 20th. He had been relegated to their minor league system, languishing in Triple-A all season after migrating to the Indians when his manager from the only major league team he had known, Boston’s former leader, Terry Francona, returned to the skipper’s chair in Cleveland.

With the Columbus Clippers of the International League this season, Matsuzaka was just 5-8 in 19 starts (3.92 ERA), striking out 95 and walking 39 in 103.1 innings. In 13 of his IL starts, Matsuzaka lasted at least five innings, in seven of them at least seven innings, hence the attraction.

However, another line on his stat sheet displays his 1-7, 8.28 ERA record the last time he pitched in the majors, in 2012 with the BoSox, yielding 45 earned runs in 45.2 innings. For his career, all in Boston, Matsuzaka is 50-37, 4.52 in 117 games, all but one as starts. His best season came in 2008, when he notched a 18-3 mark, 2.90, in 29 starts.

The 6-foot, 185-pound native of Tokyo, Japan, becomes the 12th Japanese-born player to appear in at least one game with the Mets, the 11th pitcher to have hailed from the Far East, and the first since Ryota Igarishi in 2011.

With the Yankees’ Ichiro Suzuki making news earlier this week as only the third professional baseball player to reach 4,000 hits – combining his accomplishments on two continents, it is also interesting to note there have now been 59 players born in Japan to have played in the majors, although some of those are players you might not have guessed were born in Japan. That list includes the likes of Craig House, Dave Roberts, Jeff McCarry, and Keith McDonald.

Matsuzaka was assigned No. 16, made famous a generation ago in Mets history by Dwight Gooden, and if you want to go back a little further, Lee Mazzilli. Matsuzaka wore No. 18 with Boston, and why that’s significant is that No. 18 carries some sort of prestige in Japan for pitchers. They often request it. But right now, Mets third base coach Tim Teufel is occupying the number, first popularized in Met lore by Darryl Strawberry.

What? You’ve forgotten Al Luplow?

Igarishi wore 18 in 2011.

Matsuzaka is not the first Japanese-born Met hurler to wear 16. Hideo Nomo wore it in New York in 1998, interestingly the first Met to wear it since Gooden last wore it in 1994.

Getting back to the original point, Matsuzaka is here to eat innings. The Mets desperately want to protect both Harvey and Wheeler from throwing too many innings beyond their 2012 results, which recent history suggests, protects young arms. There still are no guarantees (see Stephen Strasburg), but as long as the theory is believed, innings limits will take precedent.

Going into the weekend, Wheeler was at 138.1 combined innings majors and minors for the season. The Mets would like to see him top of at around 170-175. In 2012, he threw 149 innings for two minor league affiliates – Binghamton and Buffalo.

Harvey is at 171.2 innings. Last year he threw a combined 169.1 innings. His target is about 210-215.

With the Mets not exactly in the pennant race, at some point there going to shut down both dynamic arms. And they’re going to need new arms to show up on the mound every day.

There appears to be a general reluctance to call up other promising prospects to do so, one due to their own innings limits, and two, the eyes that watch them say they’re just not ready.

Jason deGrom is an arm the scouts have been raving about lately (4-2, 3.93 in Las Vegas) but he’s not even on the 40, so they would have to lose someone to call him up. Don’t be surprised if another major league castoff from some distant shore also washes up on a Mets beach before this campaign is over.

*****

ADVANCE NOTICE:

Saturday’s matchup of Matt Harvey against Detroit’s Matt Scherzer represents the first time in baseball’s history the two starting pitchers from that year’s All-Star game opposed each other in a regular season game. Of course, this rare occurrence is primarily a byproduct of the 17-season history of interleague play. Credit the Elias Sports Bureau with the research which confirmed the rarity.

Also of note : Wednesday’s ninth inning loss to the Braves represented the 22nd time the Mets had lost this season in the game’s last at-bat. In all of 2012, they lost just 16 games in this manner.

Posted under Andy Esposito, Bullpen, Countdowns, Greg Burke, Major League, Mets, New York Mets, Return Ticket, Roll Dice, Top Story, Verbal Promise

Stars Shine At Citi

The prelims were over and it was time for the main event.

The 2013 All Star Game, the 84th Mid-Summer Classic since a sportswriter in Chicago named Arch Ward brainstormed the idea in 1933, was met with great fanfare last night. With 39 first time All-Stars on both squads, an All-Star record among others set, the players were as eager to participate as were the sellout audience that filled Citi Field.

By the way, it was the 84th All-Star Game, even though its been just 80 years since the first one, as two games were played per season from 1959-62. And it was before TV execs took over, as both games each year were played in daylight!

Mets starter Matt Harvey broke the ice on this new classic at 8:19 P.M., just minutes after legendary Mets hurler Hall of Famer Tom Seaver threw out the first pitch to the other Met All-Star, David Wright.
Harvey first serve resulted in a double down the right field line by the Angels’ Mike Trout.

It wasn’t a pretty first inning, as Harvey next plunked the Yankees’ Robinson Cano on the knee. Boston’s Dustin Pedroia was soon sent in to pinch run. Harvey then settled down by striking out reigning Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera swinging. Harvey got out of the inning unscathed by punching out Toronto’s Jose Bautista swinging.

Harvey became the first Met to start an All-Star game since Doc Gooden in 1988, and one of only 11 pitchers to start an All-Star Game in their home park. This list includes Roger Clemens in 2004 (Houston), Pedro Martinez in 1999 (Boston), Whitey Ford in 1960 (Yankee Stadium), Don Drysdale in 1959 (LA Coliseum), and Carl Hubbell in 1934 (Polo Grounds).

As the starter, Harvey got to complete two shutout innings. He sat down David Ortiz and Joe Mauer on flyouts and got Adam Jones swinging.

And Harvey’s All-Star appearance creates a Mets connection factoid as the answer to a future trivia question. The last time the Mets hosted an All-Star game in 1964, and the only time it was held at Shea Stadium, the Mets’ first elected starter to the lineup was second baseman Ron Hunt. The Harvey-Hunt connection? Both wear/wore #33!

Wright led off the second against Chicago’s Chris Sale and grounded to third.

The Mets’ team captain also captained the Home Run Derby held the previous night. He didn’t fare well there, either, accumulating just five home runs in his first round appearance. Cano preceded Wright with just four longballs.

Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes topped Washington’s Bryce Harper with a final round comeback to win the annual Home Run Derby crown. Cespedes wowed the sold out audience with a blazing first round set of 17 homers, many of which reached the rarely struck third deck in Citi Field’s left field.

This was the ninth All-Star Game to be played in New York, which gives the Big Apple the title for most All-Star Games hosted. The Mets’ original home, the Polo Grounds, layed out the figurative red carpet for the second game in 1934.

Prior to this year’s celebrated exhibition, the National league held the all-time edge, 43-38, with two ties, the most famous of which going back to 2002 in Milwaukee, when both teams ran out of pitchers in extra innings. The AL, however, has been prevalent more often in the past 25 games (18-6-1).

Ex-Met Carlos Beltran was met with mixed cheers and boos during the introductions, but mostly cheers with his first at-bat. He grounded out and singled in his two at-bats.

Harvey spoke midway through the game about his appearance and his touch of wildness which found cano’s knee.

“Obviously, that was the last thing I wanted to do was go out there and possibly injure somebody. I apologized and made sure he was okay. I think he understood it wasn’t intentional.”

As for the whole All-Star experience, it lived up to Harvey’s expectations. “It was, absolutely. It was so much fun. Just being in the locker room with all the guys, the Red Carpet in New York, starting. I don’t think you could have dreamed of doing something like that. It was a tremendous honor and something I’m very thankful for.”

The highlight for Yankees fans was seeing their hero, Mariano Rivera, come in to “close” the eighth. The stadium gave him a very unique introduction/sendoff in his last All-Star Game. First, you heard his music, “Enter, Sandman.” The entire field was devoid of players or personnel. Mariano Rivera trotted in from the bullpen to thunderous applause. And even all the players in the NL dugout came to the top step and applauded.

Rivera began warming up with just a catcher until the rest of his AL mates joined him halfway through. And with typical resolve, Rivera settled his inning one-two-three, with groundouts from Milwaukee’s Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez, and the Cardinals’s Allen Craig was retired on a liner to left.

The only odd thing about seeing Rivera was that it was the eighth, and not the ninth, since the AL was leading, 3-0, at the time.

Texas Rangers’ closer, and Long Island native, Joe Nathan, drew the assignment of closing it out for the AL in the ninth.

AL skipper Jim Leyland admitted it was a predetermined plan to get Rivera into the game, even if it wasn’t his usual ninth inning stint.

“For obvious reasons,” Leyland said after the game, “in case something freaky happened in the eighth and they scored some runs and there wouldn’t have been a ninth, I brought him in for the ninth.”

And he didn’t want to infuriate any Rivera fans in case he “messed up.” “I wanted to make sure I was going to get out of here alive tonight,” Leyland joked.

The AL made up for losing the last three All-Star games as Nathan put the 3-0 win “in the books.” The NL was held to just three hits. AL fans are happy they now get home field advantage in the World Series.

Rivera, perhaps more so as a “lifetime achievement award,” was named the game’s MVP, and was handed the keys to a brand new Corvette.

As always, Rivera was humble and respectful in the postgame conference. Surrounded by family, he was grateful and thankful for the win. “That’s the most important thing.”

He was not surprised by the eighth inning appearance, as Leyland had notified him before the game that he was getting no matter what.
Warming up on a lonely field, however, felt odd.

“That’s not baseball,” Rivera commented, but not in any demeaning way. “It felt so weird, all alone with my catcher. At that moment I didn’t know what to do, so I thought just (to keep warming up).”

Along with All-Star teammate Torii Hunter, Rivera gave the team a pre-game pep talk.

“I just said it was a privilege and an honor to play with them. This was my 13th All-Star team. I said, enjoy it, cause it goes so quick.”

And just like that, the 84th all-Star Game went by so quick and is now history. next year, the 85th Mid-Summer Classic will be played in Minnesota.

It’s a Home Run

The 2013 Home Run Derby was won by Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes, who banged out nine home runs in the final round to surmount Washington’s Bryce Harper for the annual crown.

Eight participants battled the heat and humidity to thrill the sold out crowd at Citi Field. Local products Robinson Cano, both captains of the their respective AL and NL HR lineups, didn’t fare as well. Cano clipped just four home runs in the first round. Wright clobbered five.

Posted under Andy Esposito, Carl Hubbell, Doc Gooden, Don Drysdale, Game Even Though, Joe Mauer, La Coliseum, New York Mets, Shea Stadium, Tom Seaver, Top Story, Tv Execs, Whitey Ford, Yankee Stadium

Two Side to a Future

It isn’t often when fans at an All-Star game can sincerely root for both teams without guilt, but that’s what transpired at Citi Field this afternoon as Mets fans, who primarily made up the fairly well attended Futures Game crowd, as they were there to cheer on three Mets prospects with healthy futures – Noah Syndergaard and Brandon Nimmo for the USA team, and Rafael Montero for the World Team.

The Mets connections even extended themselves to the coaching staffs. The USA team was managed by Mookie Wilson. His batting coach was Howard Johnson, who now serves in that capacity for the Tacoma Rainiers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners.

The World Team was managed by Edgardo Alfonzo. His pitching coach was Neil Allen, who Mets fans remember primarily as the chip that brought Keith Hernandez to New York back in 1983. Allen is now the pitching coach for the Durham Bulls, a Tampa Bay affiliate.

USA topped the World club, 4-2, backed by a solid pitching staff that limited the international squad to just three hits. And a longball by Diamondback future infielder Matt Davidson.

The scoring began in the second, when USA’s DH, Christian Yelich, a Marlins prospect, belted a doubled to left center, scoring the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson, who had singled.

Syndergaard started the game for USA, and was impressive as advertised, picking up one strikeout – Arismendy Alcantara, who later homered off Boston’s Anthony Ranaudo. Syndegaard yielded one hit in his brief one-inning scoreless stint, but the runner was erased trying to steal.

The lanky righthander exhibited distinctive poise and confidence when dealing with the herd of media prior to the game.

“This is a great opportunity,” said Syndegaard. “I’m here to have fun with it, learn as much as I can and work on getting to the next level.”

Nimmo was the proverbial kid-in-a-candy-store, soaking it all in and enjoying every moment. “I’m loving it. There’s a lot more going on here, a whole different experience.”

After a first half with the Savannah Sand Gnats in the Sally League, Nimmo was thrilled to be voted onto the prestigious squad. “I feel like this is a good reward for a good first half (.261, one homer, eight doubles, five triples, 23 RBIs), I’m happy with it, and just want to soak up this atmosphere, learn what I can, keep working hard, and the rest will take care of itself.”

He was even assigned David Wright’s locker. “All I can say is, David, thank you, and hope that I can have an amazing career like you’ve had.”

Ex-Met Mike Piazza was a welcomed guest, on hand to play in the celebrity softball game which followed the Futures Game, and was met by the media with an eager group of cameras and recorders.

Asked about his days in New York, Piazza recognized that when you retire, there’s something missing.

“Playing golf never replicates that excitement,” Piazza pined. “I hold my time here very fondly. I was blessed to play here, and to have had the tremendous support of the fans.”

No. 31 still follows the Mets closely and knows they’ve been going through a rough patch. “I love the character of this organization, with its history and fans, but as I’ve said many times before, sometimes the hard times define you. When you have had that roller coaster history, it’s about character.”

Of course Piazza creamed a home run in the softball game that followed, helping his National League collection of former ballplayers and celebrities beat an AL roster, 8-5.

The orange-clad NLers, “managed” by WFAN’s Boomer Esiason, who is also better known as an NFL quarterback, “drafted” a team filled with ex-Mets and Mets fans, including Piazza, Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden, and which was “captained” by Johnny Franco. The roster also featured Kevin James, Andre Dawson, Jennie Finch, George Lopez, Ozzie Smith, Miss America Mallory Hagan, and Alyssa Milano.

The AL team, managed by Esiason’s morning radio partner, Craig Carton, lined up ex-Met Rickey Henderson, Bernie Williams, Frank Thomas, Fred Lynn, Rollie Fingers, AJ Calloway, and actors James Denton, and Chord Overstreet.

James was named one of the game’s MVPs, for a headfirst slide into second that extended a rally. The other MVP was Josh Wege, a member of the nation’s Wounded Warrior softball team, which plays over 100 games per year. Wege lost both legs in the service of his country, but continues to play on prosthetics. He hit a home run in the game, too.

On deck: The main events, the Home Run Derby, and the All-Star Game on Tuesday.

Posted under Andy Esposito, Anthony Ranaudo, Durham Bulls, Edgardo Alfonzo, Exper, Joc, Longball, Mets Fans, New York Mets, Pederson, Pitching Coach, Proverbial Kid, Seattle Mariners, Strikeout, Tacoma Rainiers, Top Story, Usa Team

Two Side to a Future

It isn’t often when fans at an All-Star game can sincerely root for both teams without guilt, but that’s what transpired at Citi Field this afternoon as Mets fans, who primarily made up the fairly well attended Futures Game crowd, as they were there to cheer on three Mets prospects with healthy futures – Noah Syndergaard and Brandon Nimmo for the USA team, and Rafael Montero for the World Team.

The Mets connections even extended themselves to the coaching staffs. The USA team was managed by Mookie Wilson. His batting coach was Howard Johnson, who now serves in that capacity for the Tacoma Rainiers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners.

The World Team was managed by Edgardo Alfonzo. His pitching coach was Neil Allen, who Mets fans remember primarily as the chip that brought Keith Hernandez to New York back in 1983. Allen is now the pitching coach for the Durham Bulls, a Tampa Bay affiliate.

USA topped the World club, 4-2, backed by a solid pitching staff that limited the international squad to just three hits. And a longball by Diamondback future infielder Matt Davidson.

The scoring began in the second, when USA’s DH, Christian Yelich, a Marlins prospect, belted a doubled to left center, scoring the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson, who had singled.

Syndergaard started the game for USA, and was impressive as advertised, picking up one strikeout – Arismendy Alcantara, who later homered off Boston’s Anthony Ranaudo. Syndegaard yielded one hit in his brief one-inning scoreless stint, but the runner was erased trying to steal.

The lanky 6’ 6” righthander exhibited distinctive poise and confidence when dealing with the herd of media prior to the game.

“This is a great opportunity,” said Syndegaard. “I’m here to have fun with it, learn as much as I can and work on getting to the next level.”

Nimmo was the proverbial kid-in-a-candy-store, soaking it all in and enjoying every moment. “I’m loving it. There’s a lot more going on here, a whole different experience.”

After a first half with the Savannah Sand Gnats in the Sally League, Nimmo was thrilled to be voted onto the prestigious squad. “I feel like this is a good reward for a good first half (.261, one homer, eight doubles, five triples, 23 RBIs), I’m happy with it, and just want to soak up this atmosphere, learn what I can, keep working hard, and the rest will take care of itself.”

He was even assigned David Wright’s locker. “All I can say is, David, thank you, and hope that I can have an amazing career like you’ve had.”

Nimmo went 0-2, with a groundout and a liner out to short.

Montero started for Fonzie’s World Team, setting down the USA team in quick order in his one inning appearance – fly out, popup, groundout.

Ex-Met Mike Piazza was a welcomed guest, on hand to play in the celebrity softball game which followed the Futures Game, and was met by the media with an eager group of cameras and recorders. It was announced that Piazza would be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame on Sept. 29.

Asked about his days in New York, Piazza recognized that when you retire, there’s something missing.

“Playing golf never replicates that excitement,” Piazza pined. “I hold my time here very fondly. I was blessed to play here, and to have had the tremendous support of the fans.”

No. 31 still follows the Mets closely and knows they’ve been going through a rough patch. “I love the character of this organization, with its history and fans, but as I’ve said many times before, sometimes the hard times define you. When you have had that roller coaster history, it’s about character.”

Of course Piazza creamed a home run in the softball game that followed, helping his National League collection of former ballplayers and celebrities beat an AL roster, 8-5.

The orange-clad NLers, “managed” by WFAN’s Boomer Esiason, who is also better known as an NFL quarterback, “drafted” a team filled with ex-Mets and Mets fans, including Piazza, Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden, and which was “captained” by Johnny Franco. The roster also featured Kevin James, Andre Dawson, Jennie Finch, George Lopez, Ozzie Smith, Miss America Mallory Hagan, and Alyssa Milano.

The AL team, managed by Esiason’s morning radio partner, Craig Carton, lined up ex-Met Rickey Henderson, Bernie Williams, Frank Thomas, Fred Lynn, Rollie Fingers, AJ Calloway, and actors James Denton, and Chord Overstreet.

James was named one of the game’s MVPs, for a headfirst slide into second that extended a rally. The other MVP was Josh Wege, a member of the nation’s Wounded Warrior softball team, which plays over 100 games per year. Wege lost both legs in the service of his country, but continues to play on prosthetics. He hit a home run in the game, too.

On deck: The main events, the Home Run Derby, and the All-Star Game on Tuesday.

Posted under Andy Esposito, Anthony Ranaudo, Candy Store, Diffe, Durham Bulls, Edgardo Alfonzo, Exper, Joc, Longball, Mets Fans, New York Mets, Pederson, Pitching Coach, Proverbial Kid, Seattle Mariners, Strikeout, Tacoma Rainiers, Top Story, Usa Team

Davey’s All-Star Game Memories

With the All-Star game at Citi Field fast approaching, it felt like a good time to stir the memories of former Mets manager Davey Johnson, who was in town herding his Washington Nationals this weekend. Johnson, a four-time All-Star himself (1968-70, ’73), was, of course, the skipper of the 1986 World Champion Mets when the longtime tradition tabbed him to helm the National League squad in 1987.

Johnson’s NL squad in ’87 found runs hard to come by, but they held firm until they were able to push two scores across the plate in the 13th inning and secured an All-Star shutout, 2-0. In fact, Johnson has always been associated with All-Star victories, as his NL teammates won all four games when he was on the roster in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

“Back then, just like it is now,” Johnson said proudly, “is always a great honor.”

Johnson’s best recollection of that game in ’87 naturally involved his pitchers. “I remember the game was out in Oakland, and the last guy to pitch for us was Sid (Fernandez) at the end of the game (who got the save).

“I had used the great Cubs closer, Lee Smith, for three innings (the longest stint by any NL hurler that night), and I guess I didn’t care about him (picture Davey smiling broadly as he said this). I needed Sid for the second half (of the Mets’ season).”

Hey, a win is a win, no matter how you get it. “We won the game, so that was pretty good.”

Johnson’s memories of his All-Star appearances are a little fuzzy, perhaps purposely, as he collected only one hit in his times at-bat, often filling in for Hall of Famers such as Rod Carew late in the game, and in ’69, he didn’t even make it into the game, which is a fate that befell many All-Stars in the days when sometimes a Willie Mays or a Hank Aaron would play the entire game.

Interestingly, Johnson’s teammates in the ’73 included eight future Hall of Famers. The AL squad placed nine future Hall of Famers onto their boxscore.

It’s always a juggling act for any All-Star manager these days of trying to win and trying to place every player into the boxscore.

“I remember I had Pedro Guerrero, just about the best hitter in the league at the time, and I didn’t start him. I gave him only one pinch-hit. I was trying to do him a favor cause I knew he had a little knee problem. But he was mad at me for a long time after that.”

Guerrero lined out in the tenth against Tom Henke in his only at-bat, pinch-hitting for Steve Bedrosian.

“Managing the game is very difficult cause you’re trying to win the game and trying to get everybody into the game,” Johnson emphasized. “They made the trip, so you want to get everybody in, but at the same time you want to pay service to your league and to the team.”

Putting the roster together is also a way to get yourself into trouble.

“There’s always going to be guys who deserve to be there and who you just couldn’t squeeze onto the team.”

As it turned out, Johnson ended up managing six future Hall of Famers – Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Mike Schmidt, Gary Carter, Ozzie Smith, and Tony Gwynn. The AL team featured six future Hall of Famers as well – Rickey Henderson, Wade Boggs, Dave Winfield, Cal Ripken, Jr., George Brett, and Kirby Puckett.

Johnson, 70, will join Mets manager Terry Collins as the two baseline coaches for this year’s All Star game at Citi Field on July 16.

Both staffs will have a definitive Mets flavor. As is the custom, the managers of the World Series the previous year run the squads, and have choice over selecting two other current managers as coaches. San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy, himself a former Met (1982), went with Collins and Johnson. AL skipper Jim Leyland, chose ex-Mets Robin Ventura and John Gibbons.

“I’m looking forward to just being on the bench and helping out Bochy,” added Johnson, “and watching him squirm trying to win and trying to get everybody in.”

Posted under Andy Esposito, Boxscore, Four Games, Future Hall Of Famers, Lee Smith, New York Mets, Pitchers, Rod Carew, Sid Fernandez, Star Appearances, Teammates, Top Story, Washington Nationals

Davey’s All-Star Game Memories

With the All-Star game at Citi Field fast approaching, it felt like a good time to stir the memories of former Mets manager Davey Johnson, who was in town herding his Washington Nationals this weekend. Johnson, a four-time All-Star himself (1968-70, ’73), was, of course, the skipper of the 1986 World Champion Mets when the longtime tradition tabbed him to helm the National League squad in 1987.

Johnson’s NL squad in ’87 found runs hard to come by, but they held firm until they were able to push two scores across the plate in the 13th inning and secured an All-Star shutout, 2-0. In fact, Johnson has always been associated with All-Star victories, as his NL teammates won all four games when he was on the roster in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

“Back then, just like it is now,” Johnson said proudly, “is always a great honor.”

Johnson’s best recollection of that game in ’87 naturally involved his pitchers. “I remember the game was out in Oakland, and the last guy to pitch for us was Sid (Fernandez) at the end of the game (who got the save).

“I had used the great Cubs closer, Lee Smith, for three innings (the longest stint by any NL hurler that night), and I guess I didn’t care about him (picture Davey smiling broadly as he said this). I needed Sid for the second half (of the Mets’ season).”

Hey, a win is a win, no matter how you get it. “We won the game, so that was pretty good.”

Johnson’s memories of his All-Star appearances are a little fuzzy, perhaps purposely, as he collected only one hit in his times at-bat, often filling in for Hall of Famers such as Rod Carew late in the game, and in ’69, he didn’t even make it into the game, which is a fate that befell many All-Stars in the days when sometimes a Willie Mays or a Hank Aaron would play the entire game.

Interestingly, Johnson’s teammates in the ’73 included eight future Hall of Famers. The AL squad placed nine future Hall of Famers onto their boxscore.

It’s always a juggling act for any All-Star manager these days of trying to win and trying to place every player into the boxscore.

“I remember I had Pedro Guerrero, just about the best hitter in the league at the time, and I didn’t start him. I gave him only one pinch-hit. I was trying to do him a favor cause I knew he had a little knee problem. But he was mad at me for a long time after that.”

Guerrero lined out in the tenth against Tom Henke in his only at-bat, pinch-hitting for Steve Bedrosian.

“Managing the game is very difficult cause you’re trying to win the game and trying to get everybody into the game,” Johnson emphasized. “They made the trip, so you want to get everybody in, but at the same time you want to pay service to your league and to the team.”

Putting the roster together is also a way to get yourself into trouble.

“There’s always going to be guys who deserve to be there and who you just couldn’t squeeze onto the team.”

As it turned out, Johnson ended up managing six future Hall of Famers – Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Mike Schmidt, Gary Carter, Ozzie Smith, and Tony Gwynn. The AL team featured six future Hall of Famers as well – Rickey Henderson, Wade Boggs, Dave Winfield, Cal Ripken, Jr., George Brett, and Kirby Puckett.

Johnson, 70, will join Mets manager Terry Collins as the two baseline coaches for this year’s All Star game at Citi Field on July 16.

Both staffs will have a definitive Mets flavor. As is the custom, the managers of the World Series the previous year run the squads, and have choice over selecting two other current managers as coaches. San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy, himself a former Met (1982), went with Collins and Johnson. AL skipper Jim Leyland, chose ex-Mets Robin Ventura and John Gibbons.

“I’m looking forward to just being on the bench and helping out Bochy,” added Johnson, “and watching him squirm trying to win and trying to get everybody in.”

Posted under Andy Esposito, Boxscore, Four Games, Future Hall Of Famers, Lee Smith, New York Mets, Pitchers, Rod Carew, Sid Fernandez, Star Appearances, Teammates, Top Story, Washington Nationals

Espo’s Trivia Challenge: Fun Facts 2013 Edition

Getting to know your Mets can be a fun process, especially if you look past the everyday fun stuff of hits, runs, errors, strikeouts, etc., you know…stats.

But ballplayers are people, too, or so they say, so sometimes there are moments in their illustrious past, often baseball related, and laced with stats, that are quite trivial, but can also amuse or entertain on a different level, and makes for interesting “facts” you can pass on to your friends when there’s a lull in your conversation.

For example, did you know that Jonathon Niese, was the last Mets pitcher to enter a game as a pinch-hitter?  He was, on April, 7, 2010, when he was sent up to bat for Hisanori Takahashi.

There you go, you’ll sound just like Ron Darling or Keith Hernandez when they’re tossing out a few tidbits during their SNY telecasts.

For this “Trivia Challenge,” we’re going to focus on the new guys and young players, and see how well you do.  Don’t worry, the first one’s a gimme.

 

 

>>>>> 

 

 

FILL IN THE BLANKS

 

1.___________________ is second to Mariano Rivera in game appearances by current major league pitchers. (No. 2 always tries harder, don’t they?)

 

  1. A.   FRANK FRANCISCO
  2. B.   LATROY HAWKINS
  3. C.   BRANDON LYON
  4. D.   PEDRO FELICIANO

 

2.___________________ was once traded for Carlos Beltran in a three-team multi-player deal. (Carlos Who?  Sounds familiar.)

 

  1. A.   JOHN BUCK
  2. B.   MARLON BYRD
  3. C.   LATROY HAWKINS
  4. D.   AARON LAFFEY

 

3. ______________ made his major league debut against the Mets in 2002.  (Went 0-3 in a loss to New York, and is still bummed about it)

 

  1. A.   BRANDON LYON
  2. B.   MARLON BYRD
  3. C.   SCOTT ATCHISON
  4. D.   SHAWN MARCUM

 

4._______________ was originally drafted by the Mets in 2005, but chose not to sign with New York. (What? And missed out on all that fun in 2006?)

 

  1. A.   COLLIN COWGILL
  2. B.   ANTHONY RECKER
  3. C.   BRANDON LYON
  4. D.   GREG BURKE

 

5._______________ was drafted by the NHL Carolina Hurricanes, but chose to play baseball instead of hockey.  (His dentist was disappointed)

 

  1. A.   MATT HARVEY
  2. B.   GREG BURKE
  3. C.   JAMIE HOFFMAN
  4. D.   SHAWN MARCUM

 

6._______________ played two years with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan’s Central League.  (Sushi for everyone in the clubhouse!)

 

  1. A.   SCOTT ATCHISON
  2. B.   MARLON BYRD
  3. C.   SCOTT RICE
  4. D.   LATROY HAWKINS

 

7.______________ has been traded four times, the greatest amount of times being dealt by any Met on the current 40-man roster.  (And keeps a bag packed at all times)

 

  1. A.   LATROY HAWKINS
  2. B.   MARLON BYRD
  3. C.   BRANDON LYON
  4. D.   SCOTT RICE

 

8.______________ was once voted “Mr. Baseball” by his high school. (Does Tom Selleck know about this assault on his title?)

 

  1. A.   KIRK NIEUWENHUIS
  2. B.   LUCAS DUDA
  3. C.   MIKE BAXTER
  4. D.   COLLIN COWGILL

 

9._______________ is a season ticket holder for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. (Really?  The Chiefs?  And he’ll admit to it?)

 

10.______________ became the 962nd player to appear in a game for the NY Mets on Opening Day.  (Shortly after this “new” Met became No. 962, he was soon followed by Nos. 963, 964, 965, 966, and 967 in that first game of the year.)

 

  1. A.   MARLON BYRD
  2. B.   JOHN BUCK
  3. C.   COLLIN COWGILL
  4. D.   SCOTT RICE

 

 

>>>>> 

 

 

ANSWERS

1.B

2.A

3.B

4.D

5.C

6.A

7.C

8.D

9.D

10.C  

 

Posted under Andy Esposito, Anthony Recker, Carlos Beltran, Espo, Everyday Fun, Fun Facts, Greg Burke, Latroy Hawkins, League Debut, Mariano Rivera, New York Mets, Niese, Ron Darling, Scott Atchison, Top Story, Trivia Challenge

A Slam-Bang Opening with More on the Way

The Mets won on Opening Day, 11-2.

No surprise there, of course they won on Opening Day, as they have been doing so consistently the past 40 years, continuing their mastery of season debuts with the major’s best winning percentage (.654) and an overall mark of 34-18 on Opening Days. And this after losing the first eight Opening Days in franchise history, including the legendary Championship season of 1969, when they welcomed the Montreal Expos to the big leagues with an 11-10 loss.

Can you believe it? They’re 34-10 since that loss to the first Canadian club on Opening Day. They’ve won seven of their last eight openers, and are 20-2 in their last 22 opening days at home, another good reason why tickets to the day the Shea family presents the horseshoe-shaped flower arrangement to the manager go for a premium.

New centerfielder Collin Cowgill reinforced his growing legion of fans and chants of “More Cowgill” with his seventh inning Grand Slam against the Padres in the icebreaker. The only other Met to slice a Grand Salami on Opening Day was Todd Hundley back in 1995, in Colorado against Billy Swift.

And it is certainly not much of a shock to learn Cowgill is the only Met to hit a Grand Slam in his Mets debut.

The other Met to earn a headline of distinction, other than starter Jonathon Niese, who was good, but not great with a 6.2 inning stint (four hits, two earned runs, 2 walks, and four strikeouts), was new Mets pitcher Scott Rice, who made his major league debut after toiling in the minors and professional baseball for 14 years. What a long strange trip it had been for Rice, 31, a lefthanded California native, who had worn system uniforms for the Orioles, Rangers, Dodgers, Padres, Rockies, and Cubs, plus several teams in Independent leagues, including the Long Island Ducks.

Amazingly, and understandably, Rice had a few butterflies when he first exited the bullpen for his ninth inning appearance, but he also enjoyed a level of comfort which enabled him to hurl a clean inning with two strikeouts.

“Being with the team all through the spring, I just felt really comfortable,” Rice told the media after the game. “But once batters step in, it’s baseball. So I went out there and just tried to stay relaxed.”

The experience was made that much more special with his father in the stands.

“My dad has been the reason why I played baseball growing up,” Rice added. “He basically taught me the fundamentals and everything I know about baseball. He’s the guy I called after every outing. It’s nice that he was able to be there. It’s just as rewarding for him as it is for me.”

Mr. Rice now has a special souvenir for the trophy case, the baseball which ended the game and his son’s major league debut.

The mastery over the Padres continued in Game 2, as exalted sophomore Matt Harvey looked Goodenesque in the first three innings with five K’s and no hits.

His first appearance continued with a dynamic seven-inning shutout stint, with 10 strikeouts, one hit, and just two walks (94 pitches/63 strikes).

The Harvey Era is just warming up. But…

Manager Terry Collins took him out more so due to the blustery 44 degree weather than his pitching performance.

“He was freezing,” Collins remarked. “Under the circumstances, he threw an unbelievable game.”

When asked about Harvey’s overall ability, Collins was equally complimentary.

“His work ethic is unbelievable. He’s got all the skills. He has plus stuff, an outstanding changeup, and still throws 97, 98. Has command of the fastball.”

And his desire is off the charts.

“No question he enjoys the stage. He likes to be out there. He likes to compete. You don’t say you want to be the best there is unless you’re willing to pay the price.”

Lucas Duda maintained his spring training habit of hitting a few home runs, and launched a two-run blast in the second, his first home run of the year.

John Buck duplicated the feat with a two-run shot of his own in the fourth, scoring Duda, who had doubled to right preceding the new everyday catcher.

Ike Davis extended the home run barrage with his first of the year, denting the Shea-Bridge with a two-run arc in the fifth.

Bobby Parnell closed out what turned out to be a sloppy three-run ninth (not of his making) in a non-save situation for the eventual 8-4 victory, and just like that, the 2013 Mets were 2-0.

You can never tell until the games are played, but the Mets have a chance to get out of the gate with a gallop in April, as their first six games, and 13 of their first 16 games are against teams expected to finish below .500. Then again, the Mets are predicted to finish below .500 as well, but their spring showings have been impressive. If – and there’s the big IF – their starting pitching is as good as advertised, and the bullpen pours water and not gasoline on potential flare-ups, then the potential is evident for a healthy first month.

There’s also back-sliding in the forecast as well, with a resurgent Philadelphia, a money-stuffed Los Angeles, and the new powerhouse Washington on the menu.

But 15 of the first 27 games are against the likes of the Padres, Marlins, Rockies, and Minnesota Twins.

History can predict the future, but it can also paralyze predictions as one day does not always equal the next.

The Mets have done well against San Diego of late, taking four of seven games from the Pads in both 2011 and ’12.

New York also had the goods on those “brand-new” Marlins last year, going 12-6. But this year’s Marlins certainly bear little resemblance to last year’s Marlins, so time will tell if that dominance will be extended.

As for the Twins, they don’t show up on the schedule too often, but the Mets did take two of three in 2010. Overall, with only four seasons of play against the AL club managed by ex-Met Ron Gardenhire, the Twins hold the edge on the Mets, 7-5.

The Mets took the season series with the Phillies last year, 10-8. But the Broad Street bashers have some of their key players back from injuries since last season, so it may be tougher sledding this year.

The Dodgers were a nemesis in 2012, as they arguably always have been unkind to their New York offspring (258-314-1 in franchise history), besting the Mets in four of seven games last year. The Mets, however, “loved” LA in 2011, winning five of seven battles.

Perhaps the less said about the Nationals the better, as they killed the Mets in 14 of 18 contests last seasons. But how can you not love their skipper, Davey Johnson? When he’s managing the Nationals, that’s when. Mets fans will love him again next year, when he retires from managing, as he has stated.

One of the keys to a successful season is a successful April, so the Mets have that doorway open if they take the steps toward more Ws than Ls. The framework forged against the Padres will certainly aid that goal if they continue to blast and pitch.

Posted under Andy Esposito, California Native, Centerfielder, Flower Arrangement, Grand Salami, Grand Slam, Independent Leagues, Jonathon Niese, League Debut, Lefthanded, Long Island Ducks, New York Mets, Ninth Inning, Seventh Inning, Shea Family, Slam Bang, Strange Trip, Todd Hundley, Top Story