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

Mets bullpen causes another loss and K-Rod arrested for assault after the game

New York -  As ugly as the New York Mets 6-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies was Wednesday evening at Citi Field, things got worse moments later in the family room when closer Frankie Rodriguez assaulted his father-in-law and was charged with third degree assault.

Rodriguez took his anguish out on reporters in the clubhouse when asked “If he was ready to pitch.”  Because the Mets bullpen imploded and squandered a lead, as K-Rod with two outs in the eighth inning was not called on by manager Jerry Manuel to get a four-out save.

“I didn’t pitch,” said an angered Rodriguez. “I don’t have to talk to you guys,” as he stormed out of the clubhouse and is now known, he assaulted his father-in-law. With the bases loaded, Manuel opted to use the seldom used Manny Acosta who threw a 2-2 curve to Melvin Mora that went over the left field wall.

The grand slam for Mora, the fourth of his career and a National League leading ninth given up by Mets pitchers this season, also epitomized another night of frustration that may have also put a final dent in any hopes for a Mets postseason. The Mets failed to win back-to-back games for the 42nd straight time, and the K-Rod incident also indicates a frustration and implosion of a season gone bad.

Acosta followed the grand slam with a walk and two singles, including a run scoring single hit by Clint Barmes to short left. “It was a slider, a good pitch,” commented Acosta about the home run ball thrown to Mora.

“I’ve been in this situation many years, and I know the pressure isn’t on me it’s on the pitcher,” said Mora about his grand slam. The former Met added, : “I love that pressure and I love that situation.”

“I knew he had a chance when he swung the ball, it was a big hit, a big win,” said Carlos Gonzalez,” ranked in the top five of the National League in average, home runs, RBI and ruins scored.

Manuel defended his reason for not using K-Rod in the situation, way before his closer had his eruption in the clubhouse and then taken into custody. “Usually when we use K-Rod the night before we wouldn’t take that shot,” he said referring to Rodriguez working the previous evening when he notched his 25th save with a perfect ninth inning.

“We have to find a way to get that out,” he said. “We have no margin of error.” And Mets fans, many of the 30,554 who left after the bullpen implosion let Manuel know they were displeased not bringing in K-Rod by chanting a “Fire Jerry” chant. The Mets trail first place Atlanta by 9-1/2 games and need to jump over six other teams in the wild card race.

“That’s part of it,” Manuel said. “When you make decisions and they don’t work out New York will let you know.”  The Mets were limited to three hits as the offense continues to struggle. David Wright also heard it from the fans, striking out four times which tied a career high. Since the all-star break, Wright is hitting .196 and .061 in the month of August.

After a first inning where the Mets scored their two runs on the 10th home run of the season hit by Angel Pagan, a career high, the Mets would produce one walk and one other hit.  At one point Rockies pitching struck out seven straight, including winning pitcher Matt Belisle (5-4) who came out of the pen and struck out three in the seventh.

The Mets did not get a base runner after the fifth inning. “I’m not having much fun right now,” said Wright, its rough.” As for the fans also getting on his case, he said “They are obviously frustrated as we are. The fans have every right to voice their opinion.”

Jonathon Niese gave up one run in seven innings and struck out seven failing to get the decision as the Mets bullpen gave up five Colorado runs in the eighth inning with two outs. “This is rough,” said Niese. “It’s tough to watch.”

Manuel said Niese was complaining about pain in his lower hamstring, a reason he did not come out for the eighth, But, like so many negative conditions that exist with the Mets, Niese contradicted what his manager said when asked if there was a problem again with his hamstring.

More so, much tougher to watch a team implode as they may be without their closer. Rodriguez has more pressing issues to deal with as Johan Santana (9-6) takes the mound Thursday afternoon and tries to earn the Mets a series win in what will probably be a very hush Mets clubhouse.

A season on the brink and very little to save, no pun intended.

e-mail Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol.com

Posted under Acosta, Anguish, Big Win, Bullpen, Carlos Gonzalez, Clint Barmes, Clubhouse, Colorado Rockies, Degree Assault, Eighth Inning, Grand Slam, Home Runs, Implosion, Melvin Mora, New York Mets, Pitchers, Slider, Straight Time, Third Degree, Top Story, Wednesday Evening

This post was written by Rich Mancuso on August 12, 2010

The Mets Go Off The Deep End

Leave it to the Mets to take the heat off the New York Knicks.

Just hours after Basketball Rasputin Isiah Thomas fell on his sword, the Queens Carnival re-opened at Citi Field.

After a tough loss, where Manny Acosta gave up a game-winning grand slam to Melvin Mora in the eighth inning, leading to a 6-2 loss, things just got ugly.

Amid a few players grumbling about the team’s commitment to win, closer Francisco Rodriguez went off the deep end. Apparently feeling he should have had the ball with two outs in the eighth, the closer was having none of it after the game, getting into a fight with his father-in-law in the tunnel outside the Met Clubhouse and snapping profanities at reporters who were looking for a quote from the 28 year-old.

“Did I (bleeping) pitch?” K-Rod responded as reporters approached him. “Did I (bleeping) pitch? Then I have nothing to say to you.”

Rodriguez was then approached by Kristie Ackert of the Daily News, who asked him a question and was told to mind her business by the volatile stopper.

Afterwards New York City Police and Mets security went into the back to question K-Rod, who was then charged with third-degree assault (a misdemeanor) and held overnight in the Citi Field police station.

Meanwhile his father-in-law was taken to Flushing Hospital with bruises and lacerations on his face after being punched by K-Rod.  He was treated and released.

So now the Mets are one game under .500, not winning two games in a row since June 22nd and 23rd, with a closer in the can and no stopping this free-fall.

Now you can’t blame Jerry Manuel for Rodriguez’s reprehensible actions, but you do have to wonder about his moves. With the season on the brink why didn’t he bring K-Rod in during the eighth inning? Manuel said he didn’t want his closer to pitch in the eighth after going the night before, but that just seems foolish. Without last night’s win, it won’t matter what Rodriguez does in September as those games just won’t count.

Alas, it seems like Manuel has lost his clubhouse. While there are player who seem to really care about winning, such as Angel Pagan, Chris Carter, David Wright, and obviously K-Rod, there are others who see this as a job where they will get paid no matter if they win or lose. Add Manuel’s care free style into the mix and you can see why the Mets are falling apart.

For lack of a better term, the Mets need a “hard-ass”, someone who will not tolerate a losing attitude. Every time the Mets were good, the team had a manager who didn’t tolerate losing. The players feared Gil Hodges, although that was a very different time and Davey Johnson allowed a lot to go on as long as they players won.

And remember when Bobby Valentine took over the club? He cleaned house dumping the prominent players he felt were not committed to winning.

The Mets need that again. A strong willed manager will force each player on the team into a commitment of winning. Obviously Wally Backman fits that bill, but the team seems content to allow him to win his Penn League championship.

It’s time to act, though, and Manuel’s welcome has worn out. As a lame duck, the players don’t have the same respect for him, knowing he won’t be around next year. Bring in Backman, who may jumpstart the team. At least it will keep the Mets interesting, hopefully keep the closer in line and we can all go back to making fun of the Knicks.

Posted under Ackert, Acosta, Bruises, City Police, Degree Assault, Eighth Inning, Flushing Hospital, Francisco Rodriguez, Grand Slam, Isiah Thomas, Joe Mcdonald, Lacerations, Melvin Mora, Mets, Misdemeanor, New York Knicks, New York Mets, Police Station, Profanities, Season On The Brink, Third Degree, Top Story, Two Games

This post was written by Joe McDonald on August 12, 2010

One Bad Inning Dooms Santana

New York -Prior to the rubber game of their three game series in the Bronx Sunday against the Yankees, New York Mets manager Jerry Manuel was asked about his starting pitcher Johan Santana.  Is this the typical first half of the season for Santana, 5-3 and a 3.13 earned run average?

“That’s just his history,” commented Manuel “Just hoping it’s the same thing,” he said when asked about the usual strong second half that comes from his ace.   Santana still has about four more starts before the All-Star break next month after losing to the Yankees Sunday. The damage was giving up his third grand slam of the season to Mark Teixeira. That gave the Yankees their four runs and taking two of three from the Mets at Yankee Stadium.

“He’s a guy I’m never concerned with, said Manuel.  However the Santana fastball has seemed to have lost some speed. Teixeira off a 1-1 pitch hit a low fastball to left clocked at 89. It may have not cleared the wall at Citi Field.

The ball kept going to left and bounced off the wall into the stands, a typical Yankee Stadium home run. The home run by Teixeira, his 12th of the season gave the Yankees the 4-0 lead. It was the Yankees seventh grand slam hit this season, the seventh given up by the Mets pitching staff.

“In this ballpark it’s a home run,” said Manuel. In defense of Santana Manuel added, “In out ballpark, it’s a different story.” But it was still a home run and it goes in the books. An inning that started with a Derek Jeter single, an infield hit, and the bunt by Nick Swisher that Santana and first baseman Ike Davis could not handle.

Those plays happen sometimes to Santana, who has allowed four runs in his last three outings, “We have a routine play, one we were not able to make it,” he said about the play at first that was followed by the Teixeira slam.

“I stayed focused after the home run and was able to throw my fastball,” added Santana who has allowed 17 earned runs in 16.2 innings pitched in three career starts , and a 1-2 record in games at Yankee Stadium.

If the Mets were going to send a message, or provide some dominance to this inter league subway series, the one to cement that was Santana.  With the exception of that home run Santana was able to hold the Yankees to eight hits, striking out three.

“He’s historically been a second half pitcher,” said Manuel “I think he’s starting to gear up for that and, not that he’s not trying but that’s been his history. But I’ll take what he’s been giving us. A few bloop hits and then he gives up a fly ball that ends up going out here because of the ballpark, I still see a guy who competes,”

For now Manuel will count on his ace to close out the first half with a strong finish.  Maybe it is the rubber game of a series that also hindered Santana, because the Mets are now 2-8 in those situations this season.

“When all is said and done, however, if you would have told me that we’d go 7-2 on this nine game road trip, I’d take it,” said Manuel when asked about coming into the Yankee series with a 6-0 trip and then Mike Pelfrey and Santana losing the last two games.

Manuel said putting that into perspective, he was satisfied. But the Mets can never be satisfied unless Santana gives them a solid outing.

ADDED NOTE: After the game the Mets optioned 20-year old right hander Jenrry Mejia to Double A Binghampton to prepare him as a starter and recalled right hander Bobby Parnell from Triple A Buffalo. Mejia threw a scoreless sinning of relief Sunday and it is obvious now that the Mets want to groom him as a starter.

“We felt that his development and progression kind of leveled off,” said Manuel about the move. “But to get him to the next level he needs to pitch on a regular basis.”

Added general manager Omar Minaya, “The only way he’s going to get better is to throw more.  We just feel we have to stretch him out a little bit more.”  Minaya also added it was something planned and Mejia was enthusiastic about the opportunity to pitch more that would help with his development.

e-mail Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol.com

Posted under Ace, All Star, Bunt, Derek Jeter, Different Story, Dooms, Fastball, First Baseman, Game Series, Grand Slam, Johan Santana, Mark Teixeira, New York Mets, Nick Swisher, Pitch, Play One, Rubber Game, Starting Pitcher, Top Story, Yankee Stadium, Yankees New York

This post was written by Rich Mancuso on June 21, 2010