Reyes’ Batting Crown a Bittersweet, Confusing Moment for Met Fans

In his native Spanish, the surname of New York Mets’ Dominican star shortstop Jose Reyes translates to “kings.”

Somewhat appropriately, Reyes was crowned a hitting king.

Yet, somewhat inappropriately, Reyes acted with anything but the honor a king is normally shown, when he bunted and quickly bolted from the game to secure the 2011 National League batting title in his team’s final game of the season at Citi Field, in Queens, NY, on Wednesday afternoon.

One thing’s for sure. Ted Williams never would have accomplished the feat same the way Reyes did.

Ironically, it was 70 years ago to the day, that the former Boston Red Sox legend Williams decided to risk a .400 season batting average on the final day of the season, on September 28, 1941.

Some advised Williams not to play that day with an average of .39955, which would have officially been rounded up to .400. But, with a much different attitude than Reyes showed seven decades later, Williams thought he didn’t deserve to hit .400 if he sat out.

Williams instead played both games of a doubleheader and went 6-for-8 to finish with a season average of .406, and remain to this day, the last major leaguer to hit over .400 for a season.

On the other end of that spectrum was Reyes, who decided that doing just enough to win a batting title before leaving unceremoniously, was sufficient.

Reyes is of course entitled to use any offensive weapon in his arsenal. Yet, there was something weak about him bunting – rather than swinging away – for a base hit in his first at-bat during the Mets’ 3-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday, especially since Reyes subsequently took himself out of the game.

Worse, knowing he had raised his season batting average to a league-leading .337 and that Milwaukee Brewers’ leftfielder Ryan Braun would probably need three hits in no more than four at-bats later the same night, Reyes decided to become a spectator for the rest of the afternoon.

Classy move? No way, Jose – even though Reyes gave the Mets (77-85) their first batting title in franchise history.

There were several better options which Reyes could have followed. The best would have had Reyes trying to get a swinging single or an extra-base hit not only his first time up, but to stay in the game, and try to do the same for a few more plate appearances – the way Williams did in his pursuit of the .400 mark, and the way a batting champion would be expected to do.

And, even if Reyes decided that was still too risky, he could have at least returned to the field to play shortstop for another inning or two, before taking a walk from the Citi Field infield while acknowledging what would surely have been a standing ovation from the 28,816 fans who sat through light rain on a weekday afternoon, in large part to see Reyes for what might have been the last time in a Mets’ uniform.

Instead, Reyes very routinely walked from first base to the Mets’ dugout under a chorus of boos with manager Terry Collins taking the blame from a bewildered and disgruntled crowd for taking out the star the fans came to see.

The free agent Reyes, who makes his home close to Citi Field, on Long Island, has publicly stated that he wants to be a Met, but New York general manager Sandy Alderson expects Reyes to test a free agent market that appears to include a few teams who could be willing to pay Reyes more than the Mets (who are strapped with financial issues) might be able to afford.

Met fans have long been aware of those facts, and it’s partly why they booed Reyes, thinking that if it was indeed the last time Reyes played as a Met, it was no way for him to go out.

Braun went 0-for-4 for the NL Central champion Brewers to finish with a season average of .332, but of course, Reyes didn’t know that when he bunted himself on base on the first inning earlier in the day.

Still, Reyes’ actions were a major disappointment for Met fans.

Rather than truly competing for the batting title like Williams did for the .400 mark, Reyes took the easy, cowardly route to his hitting crown on the season’s final day.

He disrespected the game, Met fans, and himself, even though in his own misguided thinking, Reyes believed that by playing a lone inning while recording no fielding chances at shortstop and a bunt single on what has traditionally been Fan Appreciation Day, he was treating the fans to something special.
“A lot of people told me I shouldn’t play,” Reyes said. “I said, ‘Oh, no. I want to play.’ I want to be there for the fans.”
That statement was obviously laughable.
That’s not to say that ensuring the only batting title in Met history wasn’t significant, but how many Met fans have ever showed up at the park to see any Met, let alone a star like Reyes (in possibly is final game for the franchise), hoping they could catch a glimpse of that player in the field for the first inning, and in the dugout for the remainder of the game?

In the coming months, Mets fans will find out just how much Reyes truly wants to play “for the fans” in New York.

If he works out a reasonable deal with the financially troubled Mets, then this year’s batting title was as Reyes said, as much for Met fans as it was for himself, and those fans would be prepared to forever treat Reyes as the King of Queens.

But, if Reyes takes his batting crown and seeks more riches (in the form of a bigger contract) elsewhere, then like he showed after his last at-bat this year, the batting king will be all about himself while saying goodbye to the fans he so casually treated like peasants on Wednesday.

Posted under Bats, Batting Average, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Dominican Star, Final Game, Jose Reyes, Major Leaguer, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Mets, Offensive Weapon, Queens Ny, Ryan Braun, Spectator, Ted Williams, Top Story, Wednesday Afternoon

This post was written by Jon Wagner on October 1, 2011

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Mets Feel The Pain of the Red Sox Faithful

Move over, 2007 New York Mets. You now have some company.

Four years after the Mets endured what was then the worst September swoon in major league baseball history, the 2011 versions of the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves simultaneously completed their own colossal collapses of historic proportions on the final evening of the regular season on Wednesday.

On a night when baseball truly put the “wild” in “wild-card,” the Red Sox and Braves were eliminated from the playoffs after each held what appeared to be earlier insurmountable leads in their respective wild-card playoff chases.

One day before seeing his team lose its hold for good on its playoff aspirations, Boston manager Terry Francona said of the Red Sox’ chase with the Tampa Bay Rays’ down the stretch, “It’s great for baseball, not so good for my stomach.”

If he was already feeling that way on Tuesday, Francona probably wanted to throw up after witnessing the manner in which his team finally coughed up what at one time, seemed to be a certain postseason berth.

The same could probably be assumed for Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez, who took over for Bobby Cox this season after Gonzalez’s predecessor managed the Braves (during his second stint with the franchise) for 21 straight seasons while guiding Atlanta to 14 division titles, five World Series appearances, but just a lone World Series title.

Before Boston bowed out, Atlanta first concluded its own demise.

With the St. Louis Cardinals already having beaten up on the Astros, 8-0, in Houston, the Braves needed to win to force a one-game playoff with the team that had amazingly caught them in the wild-card standings.

After a pre-game pep-talk from 39-year-old starting third baseman Chipper Jones (the only remaining member from the Braves’ 1995 world championship team), the Braves and 16-game winner Tim Hudson led the National League eastern division champion Philadelphia Phillies, 3-1, entering the seventh inning at home. But a double, a single, and a one-out fielding error trimmed the Braves’ lead to 3-2.

Atlanta still figured to be in decent shape though, with hard-throwing closer Craig Kimbrel starting the ninth inning, especially since Kimbrel was tied for the NL lead in saves and had set the all-time record for saves by a rookie (he played in only 21 games in 2010) with 46 this season.

But, Kmbrel, who admitted after the game that his mind “was rushing” due to the pressure of the situation, allowed a shallow single and consecutive one-out walks before giving up a game-tying sacrifice fly to Phillies’ star second baseman Chase Utley, The wildness was rare, considering Kimbrel had walked just 30 batters while striking out 127 in 76 previous innings this season.

Meanwhile, the punchless Braves, who scored just seven runs while losing their final five games of the season, were unable to push across another run after the third inning.

On it went, deep into the Atlanta night, four more Brave relievers after Kimbrel left the game, and into the top of the 13th inning, when a weak, two-out single by right fielder Hunter Pence gave the Phillies the lead for good, 4-3.

A short while later, the Braves’ season was done as Cardinal players watching on television in their clubhouse in Houston, popped champagne corks.

As tough as that was for Braves’ fans to take, it was nothing compared to the stomach-churning events that were unfolding for the Red Sox Nation in Baltimore and St. Petersburg.

Boston was in the same predicament in the American League wild-card pursuit as Atlanta was in the NL, having seen the Tampa Bay Rays storm back to tie the Red Sox in the wild-card standings heading into Wednesday.

However, even a loss to the Baltimore Orioles could be endured for one more day if the Rays would also lose to the AL eastern division champion New York Yankees.

For a good while, all seemed perfect for the Red Sox to be in position to salvage their season and keep it from slipping away.

The Rays trailed the Yankees 7-0 in the bottom of the eighth inning, at home, and the Red Sox had rallied from a 2-1 deficit to lead the Orioles, 3-2 in the fifth inning.

But, miraculously, the Rays countered with a 6-run, eighth-inning uprising to set the stage for even further drama later.

Incredibly, seldom-used pinch-hitter Dan Johnson, a career .235 hitter, batting just .119 this season, smacked only his second home run of the season – his first since April 8th and only his ninth over the past four seasons – with the Rays down to their last strike, to send the game to extra innings, tied 7-7.

While that was going in Florida, similar to the Braves’ situation, the Red Sox had their closer – Jonathan Papelbon, one of baseball’s best closers over the past six years – pitching the ninth inning with a 3-2 lead, something that would have appeared to be safe against the last-place, 93-loss Orioles.

It should also be noted that Boston had never lost in 76 previous tries this season when leading after the eighth inning.

So naturally, on a crazy night, it became time for Papelbon (4-1, 31 saves) to lose his only game of the season.

One strikeout. Then another. Two quick outs, and then two strikes, with no one on base.

No problem. Even if the Rays pull off the improbable, the Red Sox would still beat the Orioles and force a one-game playoff, right?


Inexplicably, what followed was three straight hits – back-to-back doubles and a single – by a trio of hitters, all average career hitters at best, none of whom hit any higher than .263 this year.

A short time later, the Red Sox’ nightmare was finally over when Rays’ star third baseman Evan Longoria barely put a screaming lined drive over the left field wall and inside the left field foul pole in the bottom of the 12th inning, to send Tampa Bay to the playoffs and mercifully end Boston’s monumental meltdown.

Of course, any team can, and often does, have many single nights like the Red Sox and Braves suffered on Wednesday night. But, the significance of those two losses lies in that they represented each team’s last-gasp chances to right respective ships that had gone horribly and unexpectedly off-course in such a relatively short time.

Not long ago, the Red Sox had the second-best record in MLB. Through August, they were 83-52 and as many believed, destined to meet the Yankees in this year’s ALCS.

But, the Red Sox finished the season 5-16, going 7-20 in September.

How improbable was Boston’s collapse? shows that following Boston’s 12-7 win over Texas on September 3rd, the Red Sox, who led the Rays by nine games in the AL wild-card race, had a season-high 99.6 percent chance of reaching the playoffs:
Even as recently as last Sunday, Boston still had an 88.4 percent of making the postseason.

And, as shown by statistician Nate Silver, the Rays overcame the inconceivable combined odds of 278 million-to-one, taking into account their nine-game deficit and then everything that had to go wrong, going wrong the way it did for Boston on the last day of the regular season:

The Braves’ implosion was no easier for them, or their fans to stomach (to use a term that would draw a parallel to how Francona felt about his own team).

Shockingly, Atlanta broke the Mets’ record for choking (staying with Francona’s indigestion theme) only moments before the Red Sox broke the Braves’ record for giving up a September playoff chase lead.

Atlanta led St. Louis by 10½ games on August 26th, and by 8½ games on the morning of September 6th. Coolstandings listed the Braves as having a 98.2 percent chance of making the playoffs at that point:

Following a 5-2 win over Washington on September 1st, the Braves were a season-high 26 games over .500 (81-55) before finishing the season 8-18.

Recalling the events of four years ago, Met fans can relate all too well to what fans of the Red Sox and Braves just went through.

It was of course their own team, one year after coming within a hit or two from making the World Series (while losing the 2006 NLCS in heartbreaking fashion, to St. Louis, in seven games), that blew a seven-game lead with 17 games to play, to miss the playoffs – like Boston and Atlanta this year – on the regular season’s final day.

The Mets stumbled to a 5-12 finish that season while the Phillies concluded with a hot 13-4 stretch to edge New York by a game for the NL East title.

Coolstandings shows the Mets had a 99.5 percent chance of being a playoff team prior to beginning their own historic fall in 2007:

So, perhaps Mets, Red Sox, and Braves fans can all unite in some sort of collective September Slide therapy group.

On one hand, Met fans can now find solace in the fact that it wasn’t just their team blowing a lead of at least seven games in the season’s final month.

And, in return, fans in Boston and Atlanta can take heart knowing that unless something similar happens to their teams again next year, Met fans still have them beat when it comes to stumbling in September.

In 2008, the Phillies once again caught the Mets for the NL East crown, that time, after trailing New York by 3½ games in September, thus giving New York a distinction which no other team holds (not even Boston or Atlanta… yet) – the worst consecutive September collapses in baseball history.

And, here’s one final nugget for fans of all three teams to discuss at their group remedial sessions…

Ironically waving around the winning run that ended the Red Sox’ season on Wednesday night, was none other than Orioles’ third base coach Willie Randolph, the Mets’ manager in 2007, and for the first 69 games the following year, before he was fired in 2008.

Posted under Atlanta Braves, Bobby Cox, Boston Red Sox, Division Champion, Fredi Gonzalez, Game Playoff, Major League Baseball, Manager Terry Francona, New York Mets, Pep Talk, Philadelphia Phillies, Postseason Berth, Second Stint, St Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays, Top Story, World Championship Team, World Series Appearances

This post was written by Jon Wagner on October 1, 2011

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Subway Series: Round 2, At Citi Field

New York – From those who would rather see a reduction of six games to three between the Yankees and Mets, well think twice. According to Major League baseball this cross-town series continues to be the most popular of the interleague matchups, but a proposed realignment of the leagues for next year could mean more games between the two teams.

So at Citi Field Friday evening, for the first time this season, as the calendar turned to July, there was a full house, 42,020, the largest crowd at the new ballpark in Flushing. Because the Yankees have turned it around since, that mid- May sweep in the Bronx at the hands of the Boston Red Sox. And the underachieving Mets are overachieving without David Wright and Ike Davis.

It was another Yankees win over the Mets, and both Alex Rodriguez and Jose Reyes were involved in a seventh inning play at third base that led to the ejection of Mets manager Terry Collins. Rodriquez, as it appeared, did not make the tag on a sliding Reyes. And before the game, Rodriquez said Reyes “Was the world’s greatest player.”  Yankees general manager Brian Cashman would say that his second baseman, Robinson Cano “is the best player on the field.”

Comments like that always epitomized the six- game series with the Yankees and Mets, though it used to come from the fans. The Yankees have their history and record, and still have to make their point to the Mets fans who await their day as the number one baseball team in New York. Truth is, Reyes and Cano, are two of the premiere stars in the game from the Dominican Republic. Reyes, though, could be the most exciting player in the game because the numbers tell the story, and his two hits Friday night extended his Major League lead in multi-game hits with 43 and leads baseball in hitting with a .352 average…

Mariano Rivera comes out of the Yankees pen in the ninth without the entrance of” Sandman” but the ovation sounded more like an entrance coming out of the pen at Yankee Stadium…. Interesting at bat in the inning as Reyes batted from the right side against Rivera as the second batter in the inning and grounded out to A-Rod …

Rodriguez gets a 400-foot double to straight away center in the eighth inning, would have been a home run in the Bronx or another ballpark that gave the Yankees a 5-1 lead…And after that double, it was all Yankees fans over taking the home crowd faithful ones of the Mets…

And as Mets radio voice Wayne Hagin said, “Strange subway series without Derek Jeter and David Wright,” meaning two prominent faces of this series and New York baseball are out of the lineup due to injuries…   Collins said, “Today we did not get our two-out hits.” That was part of the success on the recent Mets road trip where they scored a team record 46- runs in four games…

In case you are counting before game two of the series, televised on Fox Saturday afternoon, The Yankees lead the Mets 5-2 in games at Citi Field, have a regular season winning advantage 48-35, and are 3-1 in the four games and can clinch the season series with a win Saturday…

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Posted under Alex Rodriguez, Baseball Team, Boston Red Sox, Cross Town, David Wright, Field Comments, Game Hits, Game Series, General Manager Brian Cashman, Jose Reyes, Major League Baseball, Mariano Rivera, Mets Fans, Multi Game, New York Mets, Rich Mancuso, Second Baseman, Seventh Inning, Six Games, Subway Series, Top Story

This post was written by Rich Mancuso on July 2, 2011

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Mancuso: A Boss Like No Other

George Steinbrenner did it best when it came to manipulating the media, all for the benefit of his beloved New York Yankees. It sparked interest and most of all ticket sales. Steinbrenner, love him or hate him, it always came down to doing what was best for the Yankees. In the end it was best for baseball.

They will say that Steinbrenner, named the “boss” by the media and his piers had this passion for winning. But the way he came across at times made the “boss” appear to be what the rival Boston Red Sox would call, his “Evil Empire.” Steinbrenner took the initiative to spend money, all with one goal in mind, to bring the best to New York all for a championship. And for that he became evil.

To the New York Yankee baseball fan, Steinbrenner, on the contrary was not the evil man.  He spent and always got his man. It was Reggie Jackson in the 1970’s, Dave Winfield, Goose Gossage, Randy Johnson, Alex Rordriguez and so many more.

And his team delivered the championships he wanted, most of all wanting title after title for the city he loved, New York. Chaos and anarchy in between with fellow owners, managers, coaches and players, and two suspensions from the game would not stop Steinbrenner from becoming the most important and historical owner of  a professional sports franchise.

The tributes immediately came in when word reached from Tampa Florida early Tuesday about the passing of “the boss.”  It was a massive heart attack that ended a life of fulfillment. Because since January 3, 1973, until his last breath, all George Steinbrenner thought about was, his family and the New York Yankees.

He wasn’t seen the last few years around the Bronx. They would say “the boss” was feeling better but we all knew it was not the same Steinbrenner when he handed most of the responsibilities to his sons Hal and Hank.  And statements about a Yankee icon passing on, or about the state of his team would come from his friends at Rubenstein Associates.

We tried to get a glimpse of him when he came to the Bronx for what would be his last time, in October to take in Game 3 of the World Series. Secluded from all with the exception of the captain Derek Jeter, he anointed, and the manager Joe Girardi who was his second choice over Yankee favorite Don Mattingly.  They came to see him in his suite at the new billion dollar Yankee Stadium that is known as the “House That George Built.”

Jeter always referred to his boss as, “Mr. Steinbrenner.” We never knew why, but it had to do with respect, because Jeter considers himself, never wearing any other uniform but Yankee pinstripes and owes that all to Steinbrenner.

The new stadium was always a priority, because Steinbrenner felt his fans deserved a stadium that had all the amenities of all those other new ballparks that were built The Bronx at one time was his enemy, There were harsh words and threats to move his team across the river to the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

Cooler heads prevailed and Steinbrenner got his commitment for a new stadium. Those around him say, George would rant and rave, threaten those near him about losing their job, and some would, but he would always make peace and have that compassion to bring them back to the Bronx.

He cared about people, some who he would adopt into the Yankee family. Bill Stimers is a main stay in the Yankees press box. They met in front of the old stadium by the press gate. Stimers, a former employee of Entermann’s Bakery would give Steinbrenner a box of cookies. George would become his friend and assist him with paying off his home in Brentwood New York,

There were numerous and continued contributions to charitable organizations, sitting on boards of foundations, and always a Steinbrenner assist leaving tickets for kids in the Bronx who wanted to go to their first New York Yankee ballgame and could not afford to do so.

Ask Yankees legend Yogi Berra, and just about every player that passed through the Yankee clubhouse.  George would have his say, the football mentality in him from his assistant football coaching days at Northwestern and Purdue. But as they all say, “We kissed and made up.”

After all he was “the boss” that delivered and got the right players in place over the years, good enough for seven world championships. He wanted to win, had the desire and will, and he got it. More so his love-hate relationship with the manager Billy Martin that constantly got headlines.

Who would ever know, that this shipping baron from Cleveland Ohio with no ties to New York would eventually become the most influential and recognized owner of a professional sports franchise.

As for the media we all had some stories. There was a time Steinbrenner could be seen often at the old stadium walking from his private box through the auxiliary press box where we sat.  Jason Giambi, his $19 million a year ballplayer would ground out into a game ending double-play with the bases loaded, and the Yankees would lose a tough one.

Steinbrenner, standing above this writer would put his hands up in dismay and say, “Geez, I pay this guy 19 million for that,” And he would rant and rave later saying, “and don’t you write that or I will remember you,”

It was written, he remembered, and later requested only a select few to sit in that auxiliary box area. It got yours truly to finally have a brief face-to-face with the person they called “The boss.”

‘You were only doing your job,” he would say.”  Yeah, it was his box, his stadium and had the authority to say what he wanted. But bygones were bygones, and Steinbrenner always remembered the face.

They were his Yankees also, for New York City and the Bronx. Yankee fan or not you had to admire that personality and style.

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Posted under Baseball Fan, Boston Red Sox, Dave Winfield, Early Tuesday, Evil Empire, Evil Man, Fellow Owners, George Steinbrenner, Goal In Mind, Goose Gossage, Last Breath, Mancuso, Massive Heart Attack, New York Mets, New York Yankee, New York Yankee Baseball, New York Yankees, Professional Sports Franchise, Randy Johnson, Reggie Jackson, Rich Mancuso, Rubenstein Associates, Top Story

This post was written by Rich Mancuso on July 13, 2010