Sports Beat “Did Sandy’s impatience hurt Santana?”

Granted, no one should have expected onetime Mets ace Johan Santana to be a difference-maker in 2013. The general consensus from baseball prognosticators is that the Mets would finish in fourth place in the National League East with or without him.

In most years, the Mets would be picked to finish in the cellar with the kind of team that they have but the Miami Marlins have earned that dubious distinction from most of the baseball media because their owner, Jeff Loria, decided to gut their roster in order to save a ton of payroll. It should be pointed out that Loria has done this kind of thing before and the Marlins always seem to surprise when they put on the field a lineup of unknowns so Mets fans can’t rest that easy.

 Now we’ll never know what caused Johan Santana’s left shoulder to tear again requiring surgery as it did in 2011. It is obvious that the 135 pitches that he threw against the St. Louis Cardinals on June 1 in the first-ever Mets’ no-hitter greatly accelerated the depreciation, to use an accounting term, on it since Johan was hit hard by opposing teams from that point on last year before being put on the disabled list in August.

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson told the press then that he expected Johan to be the team’s 2013 Opening Day starter. I thought that he was being unrealistic at the time.

Early in spring training Alderson went public with his frustration about Johan arriving at the Mets  base at Port St. Lucie, Florida in far less than game-ready shape. Three weeks ago I wrote a column about how Mets executives were being delusional if they were counting on Santana, and that they should trust him to work out at his own pace. To his immense credit, Mets manager Terry Collins stood up for Johan as soon as Alderson made his statement.

Anyone who has ever met Johan Santana knows that he is a hard worker and a man of immense pride. Even with his Powerball-like contract, he never just goes through the motions. It wouldn’t surprise me if Johan may have done too much throwing too soon just to prove Sandy Alderson wrong.

Santana’s absence from the Mets goes beyond mere wins and losses. He is a proven leader in the clubhouse on a team where that is a rare commodity. I have always been impressed by how he makes himself available for interviews for not just the big fish in the sports media pond but those from smaller outlets as well. He will be missed.


Charlotte Bobcats head coach Mike Dunlap was the St. John’s Red Storm interim head coach last year when Steve Lavin was recuperating from prostate cancer. Last Friday night I had a chance to chat with him before the Bobcats game with the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

He was well aware of how the Red Storm season fell apart when the team suspended their star point guard, D’Angelo Harrison, in early March. “It shows that they have a system of discipline in place that doesn’t favor good players nor does it concern itself with the calendar. I know that D’Angelo will learn from this experience,” Dunlap said. He added that he expected both Steve Lavin and D’Angelo Harrison to return to the Red Storm next fall.

Last Friday night was Walt “Clyde” Frazier bobblehead doll night at Madison Square Garden. The former Knicks superstar and current team broadcaster on MSG Network has long been known for his outrageous threads. Clyde’s bobblehead had him dressed in a suit that looked as if it came off of a Holstein cow. Frazier obliged the fans at the Garden by wearing the same outfit for his popular “Clyde’s Closet” game segment with MSG reporter Tina Cervasio. To his credit, Walt pointed that his suit was synthetic so that the PETA folks could relax. No bovine were hurt for Frazier’s sartorial splendor!

Could the Islanders have finally turned a corner? Last Thursday night I witnessed the Isles give up two early goals to the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia and then come back to win in an overtime shootout, 4-3, thanks to Josh Bailey’s goal. Star center John Tavares had a goal and an assist. “It is gratifying to be able to win in a building we’re we’ve had trouble in the past,” said Islanders head coach Jack Capuano. The Flyers have been so awful this year that they are routinely booed by their fans but this was a big game for the Islanders who actually have a shot at making the playoffs for the first time in five years.

I was disappointed to hear that this will be Tim McCarver’s final year of calling baseball games for Fox. Pete Hamill once called Tim McCarver one of the brightest men that he ever met and I wholeheartedly agree. Tim always treats the viewer with intelligence and provides insight into the game that is never cliched.

Since 2000 he has been the host of “The Tim McCarver Show,” a 30-minute interview show where he conducts candid in-depth interviews with athletes and sports media types. The show has aired on an array of cable networks across the country. It’s on MSG here in New York but one never knows what time that it is going to be broadcast. It would be nice if Fox Sports could find a place on its schedule for the show.

R.A. Dickey’s “Wherever I Wind Up” has just been released in paperback (Plume Books). Dickey and co-writer Wayne Coffey have added a new chapter about his 2012 Cy Young Award-winning season with the Mets, although there is nothing about his subsequent trade to the Toronto Blue Jays since the book production deadline preceded it.

MSG Network reporter Jill Martin who is best known for her “Gimme A Minute” interviews with celebrities during halftime at Knicks games, has written her latest book on fashion, “Weekend Makeover” (Rodale Books).

I am beginning to wonder if it was wise for the federal government to bail out General Motors after all after attending the Chevrolet media presentation at the New York International Auto Show that concludes this Sunday. Instead of promoting safe, fuel-efficient cars, Chevy executives were proudly touting the revival of dangerous gas-wasting male mid-life crisis cars as the Corvette Stingray and the Camaro Z-28.

Lacoste, the Paris-based company that made the salmon-colored polo shirt with the alligator logo an iconic fashion statement, is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. Company founder  Rene Lacoste was a pioneer in tennis fashion literally from head to toe as he created everything from hats to tennis shoes. Andy Roddick was Lacoste’s most famous tennis endorser for years but now that he has retired, the next great American hope, John Isner, will be wearing Lacoste at the US Open in Flushing Meadows this year.

Mayor Bloomberg has taken a lot of ridicule for trying to limit the serving of sugar-based sodas to 16-ounce servings. I believe that the mayor is overstepping his bounds even if his knowledge of nutrition is correct.

The bottom line is that sugar-filled soft drinks are not good for one’s health but thankfully there are a lot of refreshing beverages in the marketplace that are for superior to Coke and Pepsi. Bai 5 makes a line of one gram of sugar fruit drinks that are called anti-oxidant infusions. Harney Teas has a line of bottled organic iced teas and juices that are perfect for the warmer weather which finally appears to be upon us. For those who like juices, upstate New York’s Red Jacket Orchards produces a number of blends of cold-pressed apple juices and ciders while Miami-based Raaw Foods has a line of nine fruit and vegetable juices such as Very Berry Wheatgrass and Strawberry Purple Carrot that have only natural sugars and plenty of vitamins.

Cable’s FX Network has done well appealing to a wide array of audiences with shows as “Justified,” “Archer,” and “The Americans” as well as movies that have just finished their runs on premium cable channels such as HBO, Starz, and Showtime. Last week FX announced that they will be starting a sister network, FXX, that will be aimed at the 18-34 market. FXX will try to revive a long dormant form of television programming, the mini-series.

Posted under Accounting Term, Depreciation, Dubious Distinction, Immense Credit, Immense Pride, Jeff Loria, Johan Santana, Lloyd Carroll, Mets Fans, National League East, New York Mets, Own Pace, Pitches, Port St Lucie Florida, Powerball, Prognosticators, Sandy Alderson, Spring Training, St Louis Cardinals, St Lucie Florida, Top Story

Pigs Finally Fly: The Mets Get Their First No-Hitter

A popular saying to describe something very unlikely to occur is “that will happen when pigs fly.” Until last Friday night the Mets had never had one of their pitchers, a group that included such luminaries as Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Dwight Gooden, David Cone, and Frank Viola,  toss one of baseball’s very special accomplishments, a no-hitter. Pigs must have been flying somewhere near Flushing on June 1 because ace pitcher Johan Santana finally ended the hex by tossing a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals, the best-hitting team in the National League no less, by a score of 8-0 at Citi Field.

While a lot was understandably made of this first in Mets history what went unsaid was that there hadn’t been a major league no-hitter thrown in Queens since the late Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher, Bob Moose, threw one against the Miracle Mets on September 20, 1969 at Shea Stadium. Undaunted, the Mets went on to win the World Series less than a month later.

Mets manager Terry Collins mixed euphoria with concern at his press conference following Santana’s accomplishment. At his pre-game meeting with reporters Collins said that he wanted to limit Johan’s pitch count to around 110.

Santana missed all of the 2011 season and a great deal of the 2010 campaign recovering from shoulder surgery so the last thing that Terry Collins wanted was to have a situation where he tax his star pitcher’s harm past the 110 boundary. Collins is also well aware that Santana earns $22 million per year and the last thing that the financially troubled Mets needed was for him to lose more time out of uniform. It would have been the textbook definition of a Pyrrhic victory for Collins to have Santana pitch a no-hitter and then have him wind up on the disabled list.

The Mets manager had taken a lot of heat two weeks ago for removing David Wright from a game with the Milwaukee Brewers at Citi Field because he did not want to risk having his team’s star player injured after a beanball war had broken out. Mets reliever DJ Carrasco plunked Brewers slugger Ryan Braun so Collins wisely figured that the Brewers relief corps would retaliate against Wright in the bottom of the inning.

Wright was livid about Collins’ mollycoddling of him and it was clear that Terry understood David’s viewpoint. There was no way that Collins was going to take Johan Santana out of a game where he could make history unless Johan himself wanted to be removed. From his post-game demeanor it wouldn’t have been surprising if Terry Collins was secretly rooting for a Cardinals player to get a hit after Santana went past the 100-pitch mark in the game so that he wouldn’t be faced with a wrenching decision. Santana wound up throwing a very taxing 134 pitches.

The Mets manager could have been off the hook had umpire Adrian Johnson made the right call when former Mets star Carlos Beltran hit shot over the third base bag in the sixth inning that was ruled a foul ball. A replay showed that the ball did in fact hit the line and Beltran should have had a double.

The Mets may have earned some karma from the baseball gods with respect to Carlos Beltran when they saluted him with a video montage of highlights from his seven-year tenure with the Amazin’s prior to the game. The crowd roared its approval and Beltran responded in kind with a tip of his hat.

Mets outfielder and Whitestone native Mike Baxter made a sensational catch on Yadier Molina’s screeching line drive to rob him of a double in the seventh inning. Baxter smashed into the wall and was lying on the ground for some time afterwards. He was removed from the game but X-rays taken afterwards were negative. He was at his locker following the game and told the media that he had merely suffered a bad bruise.

Rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis took over for Baxter in left field and the following inning he saved the no-hitter when he raced in for a bloop fly ball hit by Cards’ second baseman Tyler Greene. Mets fans’ hearts were racing when they saw shortstop Omar Quintanilla, who was subbing for the injured Ruben Tejada, go full throttle in the other direction for Greene’s pop-up. Omar said afterwards that he heard Kirk call him off at the very last second. With so much on the line, as well as a very loud crowd, it was completely understandable how communication could have been garbled between them. In past years, Santana would have lost the no-hitter on that play and one or both of the players would have been injured in a collision. Not on this night however.

The Mets bullpen earned a rare night off but they were clearly on standby. “We tried to stay inconspicuous but we had someone ready from the sixth inning on,” revealed Mets reliever Bobby Parnell in the clubhouse following the game.

Santana clearly benefitted from the return of catcher Josh Thole who had just come off the disabled list a few hours earlier after enduring a concussion three weeks earlier. Thole certainly called a good game for Johan as the Mets pitcher did not shake off any of his signs.

As if there wasn’t enough drama, rain was working its way up the I-95 corridor Friday night. The Washington Nationals had already canceled their game while the Phillies were in a lengthy rain delay in Philadelphia. Former Mets general manager Jim Duquette who was working in the radio booth subbing for Josh Lewin said that he and Howie Rose were sharing weather forecasts with the fans as the game went on. “Everyone knew that if play was stopped even for a few minutes, Johan would be removed from the game,” he said. He went on to add that he and Howie made a conscious decision to start talking about the possibility of a no-hitter in the sixth inning.

As the late Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy used to say, “The weatherman certainly cooperated with the Mets!” After all of the Mets’ bad fortunes over the last few years their fans finally had a great memory from Citi Field.

Posted under Ace Pitcher, David Wright, Dwight Gooden, Jerry Koosman, Johan Santana, Lloyd Carroll, Luminaries, Milwaukee Brewers, Miracle Mets, New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pyrrhic Victory, Shea Stadium, St Louis Cardinals, Star Player, Textbook Definition, Tom Seaver, Top Story

Santana Chalks Up First N*-Hitter in Met History

With some help, star pitcher Johan Santana finally ended a half-century-long wait by delivering the New York Mets’ first official no-hitter.

As for the franchise’s first legitimate no-hitter, the wait remains at 8,020 games – 8,094 including postseason contests – and counting.

That is, unless you believe the third base foul line at Citi Field might have been painted wrong, thereby finding at least one feeble way to justify a magical moment that nonetheless will forever live in Met lore – but one that in reality, never should have happened.

It certainly didn’t appear that line was anything but perfectly straight on Friday night, especially not when a screaming liner off the bat of Santana’s ex-Met teammate Carlos Beltran over the third base bag in the top of the sixth inning landed with half of the ball on the white chalk and the other half on the brown dirt just outside of the foul line.

Yet, what clearly should have been at least a hit, and a likely double for Beltran, was ruled a foul ball by third base umpire Adrian Johnson, who with a single blown call, instantly became a huge part of Met history during New York’s 8-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Beltran grounded out to third baseman David Wright on the next pitch to keep the no-hit bid intact and everyone from wondering how much longer it otherwise might have taken to ultimately see an end to the Mets’ no-hit futility for an often pitching-rich franchise in its 51st season.

In fairness, Johnson could hardly be blamed for his incorrect judgment on a ball that from his vantage point behind third base, was very difficult to catch with the naked eyes – even for a well-trained and experienced major league baseball umpire – as the ball rocketed down the foul line.

“I saw the ball hitting outside the line, just foul,” Johnson said to a reporter after the game. However, when asked what he later saw on a slowed-down replay, Johnson simply had, “No comment.”

None was needed, as Johnson knew he had missed the call and thus extended Santana’s chance at becoming an all-time Met folk hero.

Before that could happen, Santana needed a little more assistance of a much more authentic variety one inning after Johnson’s controversial call, when leftfielder Mike Baxter, who grew up as a Met fan in Queens, sacrificed his body to help save what would become the first no-hitter for the team based in the same borough in which Baxter was born and learned the game.

Chasing down a long fly ball hit by catcher Yadier Molina, Baxter made a brilliant running catch on the left field warning track just before crashing into the wall and leaving the game with a left shoulder contusion.

Sounding more like the Met fan of his earlier days rather than the player who just aided the pitcher he was very proud of, Baxter said, “What a night for the Mets. As a Mets fan, as a kid, it’s a huge night for the Mets. We’ve been waiting a long time for a no-hitter. Nobody better than Johan.”

The confluence of events that ended what had been the longest a major league team had ever waited for its initial no-hitter was ironic, given some of the parties involved.

Santana improved to 3-2 with an impressive 2.38 ERA and a sparkling 1.03 WHIP this season by beating pitcher Adam Wainwright, who fell to 4-6 with 4.98 ERA.

Wainwright, along with Molina, are best remembered by Met fans for ending New York’ season – and for doing so against Beltran – the last time New York made the playoffs, six years ago.

Beltran, now in his fifteenth year and with his different fifth team, followed an underachieving first season with New York in 2005 with three good seasons that including two all-star game appearances and the only three gold gloves that the centerfielder has ever won. But, injuries then prevented Beltran from living up to final three years of a very lucrative contract with the Mets.

And, to this day, whether fair or not, Beltran’s seven years in New York are underscored most by a single moment in which he was caught looking on a nasty breaking ball by the then-rookie Wainwright to end Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series, with the bases loaded, two outs, and the Mets trailing by two runs – as New York was seeking its third World Series title, its first since 1986, and its first World Series appearance since 2000.

The deficit in that haunting game to Met fans everywhere was provided by a tie-breaking and game-winning two run home run in the top of the ninth inning by none other than Molina, who if not for Baxter, would have once again caused Met fans to add an unbecoming middle name for the Cardinals’ catcher, by saying as they did half a dozen years ago, “Yadier Freakin’ Molina!”

Before Santana’s no-hitter stole the show, the main story of this weekend’s four-game set between the Cardinals (27-25) and Mets (29-23) was supposed to be Beltran’s New York homecoming after the cash-strapped Mets were forced to trade their former star centerfielder to San Francisco late last season.

This wouldn’t be Beltran’s night though, as it was in the cards for the Mets’ no-hit streak to end against the Cards.

With Santana beating Wainwright, and Beltran and Molina being the ones to nearly but not quite spoil the memorable evening, things came full circle in some ways for the Mets to become just the fourth major league team with one franchise no-hitter (along with the Brewers, Blue Jays, Rays and Rockies), leaving the San Diego Padres to take over the unwanted mantle as the team with the longest no-hitter drought – one that has reached 6,895 games.

Thankfully for Met fans, New York ended its streak 926 short of the all-time longest no-hit drought, which still belongs to the Philadelphia Phillies, who went 8,945 games without a no-hitter between 1906 and 1964, when pitcher Jim Bunning ended that dubious stretch with a perfect game on Father’s Day, against the Mets, during the inaugural season of New York’s previous home, Shea Stadium.

Although Johnson and Baxter bailed him out, the 33-year-old Santana, whose fourth season in New York (after eight largely stellar years in Minnesota) was delayed when he sat out all of last year with major shoulder surgery, struggled a bit with his command early in the game.

He walked five batters overall, three in the first four innings, while issuing consecutive bases on balls to last year’s World Series MVP, third baseman David Freese, and Molina with one out in the top of the second inning.

But, Santana also struck out eight hitters in a mostly masterful and gutty effort against the defending World Series champions who boast a lineup that leads entered the game with a National League-leading .281 average and 270 runs scored (second in the majors in each of those categories to only the American League’s Texas Rangers).

Meanwhile, the Mets, who are known for their usual lack of offensive support for their ace pitcher, did a lot more than helping Santana in the field for a second consecutive time, scoring two runs in the fourth inning, three in the sixth (on right fielder Lucas Duda’s team-leading eighth home run), and three more in the eighth.

Given that type of cushion, Santana was able to focus on finishing off his second straight gem.

His previous start, was a 96-pitch, four-hit masterpiece in a 9-0 home victory over San Diego, six days earlier. That effort combined with the no-hitter made Santana the first Met in two decades (since David Cone in 1992) to throw a pair of complete-game shutouts in succession.  He also became the first pitcher in nearly three decades (since Dave Righetti in 1983) to toss a no-hitter in the nest start following a shutout.

Shortly after making Met history, the well-known website – which had been tracking the team’s inability to record a no-hitter on a game-by-game basis –crashed by midnight, presumably from an overload of Met fan traffic, with a message that read, “The server encountered an internal error or misconfiguration and was unable to complete your request.” The site was back up later into the night for the Met faithful who were still giddy with celebration.

As noted on the site, the Mets had remarkably thrown 35 one-hitters, but never a no-hitter; had six no-hitters thrown against them; and 14 had seen no-hitters pitched by former Mets after they left the team – including Cone, Phillip Humber (whom the Mets traded to Minnesota to acquire Santana, and who threw the majors’ 21st and most recent perfect game for the Chicago White Sox on April 21st), and Met legend Tom Seaver.

Santana was only four years old when Seaver took a no-hitter into the ninth inning in 1975, the last Met to do so until Santana did so with a pitch count of 122, just three shy of his previous career-high.

Twelve pitches later, his 134th and 77th for a strike, Santana got Freese to swing and miss at a great changeup to record his first career no-hitter while ending a no-hit curse that had dogged the Mets for far too long.

Three-and-a-half months after 1986 World Series hero, ex-Met catcher Gary Carter tragically died from cancer, a Met fan wearing a Carter jersey was wrestled to the ground by security to the right of a bunch of Mets who were mobbing Santana carefully (because of his reworked shoulder) on the mound after the final out.

Despite earning one of the richest pitching contracts in the majors, the class act thanked his teammates in the locker room and made the special evening more about the team effort than about himself. “Tonight, we all made history,” he told them. “You guys [made] it happen.”

Wright, the Mets’ other main veteran leader spoke for a largely young team, saying, “That was awesome. Short of Tom Seaver, I can’t think of a better person to pitch the first one. The type of guy he is, the type of person he is, and what he’s been through in the last year – to come back and have that type of performance, that’s incredible and was glad to be a part of that.”

Manager Terry Collins, who has done a great job with getting his club to overachieve and unexpectedly contend in the NL East through nearly the first third of the season, fought back some tears during the postgame press conference while admitting that during the seventh inning, he told Santana that the Venezuelan-born lefty was his hero.

An overwhelmingly proud but worried Collins was also concerned that he had pushed Santana further than he wanted to, but with over 50 years of history at stake, there was no way he was pulling Santana early.

“It’s an honor,” Santana said of his place in history. “I know how much this means to New York and to the New York Mets.” And, while interviewed by SNY-TV’s Kevin Burkhardt on the field, Santana told the 27,069 fans in attendance, “[I’m] happy for you guys. Finally, the first one!” – a statement to which the crowd responded with an appreciative roar.

Just after that exchange, infielder Justin Turner congratulated Santana on television with a face full of whipped cream, to which a smiling Santana said, “At least it wasn’t shaving cream,” as sometimes used by other players for other celebrations.

“I knew the Mets had never had a no-hitter,” Santana added. “I had never had one. This was very special. All the things I’ve been through… this means a lot to New York. This is great.”

Along with the feats of Santana and Humber, the no-hitter was the third in the majors this season, as Los Angeles Angels pitcher Jered Weaver threw one against Santana’s former Minnesota team on May 2nd.

About an hour after Santana finished off his no-hitter, Florida pitcher Jonathan Crawford did the same in an NCAA tournament game against Bethune-Cookman, when Carlos Delgado – sharing the name the same name of the ex-Met star first baseman (from 2006-2009) – made the last out.

While Santana officially etched his name into the record books and eternally into the hearts of Met fans, Johnson’s missed call will always be linked with the accomplishment in the reverse way that ex-Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was denied his own spot in baseball prominence.

Nearly two years to the day, Galarraga, now with Baltimore, retired the first 27 batters for Detroit, at home, against the Cleveland Indians, on June 2, 2010, before Jason Donald hit what appeared to be a ground out to secure a perfect game for Galarraga, who covered first base on the play. Galarraga caught a toss and beat Donald to the first base bag, but umpire Jim Joyce (who later apologized to Galarraga) mistakenly ruled that Donald was safe with an infield hit, simultaneously costing Galarraga a perfect game and what Santana is credited with thanks in part, to Johnson.

Just as Galarraga’s imperfect game will always be marked with an asterisk, Santana’s no-hitter will always be tainted as a n*-hitter.

Nonetheless, for a franchise that had unsuccessfully come so close so many times over so many years, it felt right that the Mets at long last caught a break, and that Met fans will no longer have to remain conditioned to thinking they’ll never see their team pitch a no-hitter.

Following the famous tag line for every Mets’ win of longtime Mets’ broadcaster Howie Rose (who was born in nearby Brooklyn, who attended high school and college in Queens, and who called the game on radio for WFAN), regardless of how the team’s first no-hitter happened, “Put it in the books!”

Posted under Brown Dirt, Carlos Beltran, Chalks, David Wright, Foul Line, Incorrect Judgment, Johan Santana, Magical Moment, Major League Baseball, Major League Baseball Umpire, Naked Eyes, New York Mets, Sixth Inning, St Louis Cardinals, Top Story, Vantage Point, White Chalk

This post was written by Jon Wagner on June 2, 2012

Tags: , , ,

Audio: Johan’s No-No

The Curse Is Over! Johan Santana pitched the first no-hitter in Mets history against the St. Louis Cardinals with the Mets winning 8-0. The story of the game, of course, was Santana, who threw a career high 134 pitches for his second shutout in a row.

Below is reaction from the clubhouse.

Johan Santana

David Wright

Josh Thole

Mike Baxter

Mike Matheny

Jose Oquendo

Carlos Beltran

Adam Wainwright

Posted under Bob Trainor, Carlos Beltran, Clubhouse, Curse, David Wright, Game, Johan Santana, Jose Oquendo, Josh Thole, Mike Baxter, Mp3 Audio, New York Mets, Pitches, Shutout, St Louis Cardinals, Top Story

This post was written by Bob Trainor on June 2, 2012

Tags: ,

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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More from Citi Field on Getaway Day

So a few hours after we left Citi Field, after a Mets rain delayed and 13- inning win over the Oakland Athletics, Wednesday night into Thursday morning, it was back to normal. Another rain delay that moved the first pitch from the scheduled 1:10pm start to 3:25pm. Do the math right and that is a two-hour and 15-minute delay for everyone at the ballpark. They have to wait and wait.

Because of the interleague schedule, it is difficult to reschedule games. Teams try to avoid the old fashioned doubleheader, but it is getaway day and the Mets are headed to Texas immediately after the game. Oakland with the short hike to Philadelphia, and we heard the contingency plan, had the game been scrapped, Oakland returns to New York next month and again in August for scheduled games with the Yankees in the Bronx. So the A’s could have made a one game trip to Citi Field. Of course, that was all subject to approval…

With another good crowd assembling, advanced tickets and a walk-up the Mets awarded fans for their patience. Tickets from the Thursday game can be redeemed for complimentary tickets to the Mets August 11, Thursday afternoon Matinee game against the San Diego Padres. It includes paid, complimentary and tickets marked “No rain Check.”

One of the great parts of a rain delay is to catch up with some of your friends in the business. Mets radio broadcaster Wayne Hagin has been in the game for 26 years. Prior to the Mets he was with Oakland, San Francisco, Colorado and the St. Louis Cardinals. So he knows a little more or something about the game and a rain delay.

As the grounds grew took the tarp off the infield, Hagin observed the continued delay as the rain seemed to stop. The drying agent was put on the infield. No announcement has been made as to when the game would begin. So Hagin gave the answer looking towards the outfield bullpen areas.

“Look out there,” he said. “Do you see a pitcher warming up?” Meaning that the go-ahead for starting pitchers Graham Godfrey of the A’s, and Chris Capuano of the Mets to throw in the pen indicates that a first pitch would be thrown in a matter of a half hour or less. Hagin was right on the money. But he was more concerned about Mets travel plans to Arlington Texas. Rain delays on getaway day play with the travel schedule.

Said Hagin, “Takes a long time to move a team to the next city. Fans would be surprised.” That would mean rearranging the departure time, security checks at the airport, and making sure that the hotel rooms are booked for the team and personnel.  The team Traveling director and equipment managers have a more difficult job to make sure everything is in place.

Hagin and those traveling get an extensive itinerary that informs departure times to and from the airports, hotels, and ballparks. But once Hagin is up in the air, after a long day he sits back with some of his on air colleagues. “I have a glass of wine and fall asleep,” he says…

The Justin Turner walk-off winning run of Wednesday, attributed to be hitting by a pitch from losing pitcher Brad Ziegler apparently was something that had the Athletics talking until they reached the ballpark Thursday morning Turner was hit in the same spot, in the left thigh, by Godfrey in the first inning. There were no warnings issued by the umpires, Turner and Mets manager Terry Collins downplayed any talk about it being a retaliation pitch…

Angel Pagan is struggling again batting .242, looking like he was before he went on the disabled list on April 22nd.  He struck out, was retired on a fielder’s choice and flied out to right field…As for Jason Bay, after an 0-for-5 evening before and batting in the cleanup spot, he was dropped to the sixth hole, going 1-for-4…

David Wright on the disabled list since 18 with a stress fracture in his lower back has, been cleared to resume baseball activities. In other words the Mets could see their third baseman back in the lineup within three or four weeks. General Manager Sandy Alderson said the rehabilitation will be a “several week process.”

The CT scan Thursday gave Wright clearance and he will report to the Mets team complex in Port St. Lucie Florida to begin the process of returning to the lineup. That was good news because Wednesday it was reported Ike Davis, out with a left ankle sprain and bone bruise will need three more weeks to recover, and if Davis can’t do it,  there is every consideration the first baseman will opt for season ending surgery,,

Until the second installment of the Subway Series with the Yankees, next Friday evening, Citi Field will be ready. By the way, there are tickets still available.

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Posted under Afternoon Matinee, August 11, Contingency Plan, Drying Agent, Game Trip, Games Teams, Getaway, New York Mets, Oakland Athletics, Outfield, Radio Broadcaster, Rain Check, Rich Mancuso, San Diego Padres, St Louis Cardinals, Tarp, Thursday Morning, Top Story, Wayne Hagin

This post was written by Rich Mancuso on June 24, 2011

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Despite Win, Everyone is Talking Minaya and Manuel

NEW YORK-  There were multiple reports coming from Citi Field Friday evening that team general manager Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel will be replaced when the season concludes Sunday afternoon. The moves have been rumored for the past month.

With the Mets once again finishing their second season at Citi Field below the .500 mark, there is every reason to believe there will be a new regime running the show next April.  Prior to the start of a three game season finale series with the Washington Nationals, won by the Mets 2-1 in 10 innings, Manuel was asked about reports he would not be returning next season,

“I have not discussed anything,” said the Mets manager regarding his situation. The talk about Manuel not returning for a third year has been a constant topic of discussion since the all-star break. “Nothing has been told to me,” he said,

He added “Just like every year you discuss it, you discuss it at the end of the year. I haven’t been told anything.”  Though Manuel may have not been told anything about his status there is every reason to believe his regime with Minaya will conclude Sunday,

Minaya, general manager since 2004 has seen minimal results during his tenure. The Mets once again this year, with high expectations and third highest payroll in baseball, failed to make the postseason again since their 2006 loss in the National League Championship Series to the St Louis Cardinals.

On the field the Mets tried to play for something as they finish out the string. Against the last place Nats, starter Pat Misch went eight innings, gave up three hits and struck out 10.  Michael Morse hit a solo home run to center in the seventh, the lone run surrendered by Misch that tied the game at 1-1.

“I know I can pitch,” commented Misch (0-4) who did not figure in the decision, “Obviously the record doesn’t show it and maybe the numbers aren’t the greatest.” Manuel, speaking like he will be in control next season said, “He can possibly give the organization some depth next year.”

The game stayed at 1-1 until the bottom of the tenth when catcher Josh Thole hit a 3-1 pitch to the right field stands that gave New York a 2-1 win. It was the third home run for Thole as the Mets got another walk-off win. It was their fourth hit of the game off Nationals Tyler Clippard (11-7) tagged with a loss out of the pen.

“I didn’t know what to do when I got to home plate,” said Thole. As was the case with rookie Ruben Tejada, who got a walk-off wining double against the Brewers Tuesday night, Thole was mobbed by teammates when he reached home.

It was his first ever game winning home run. Thole is projected to be the Mets starting catcher next season. “Just wanted to get out of here with a win and get out of here on a positive point,” he said about the win and final games of the season.

They are playing out the string, the Mets are. Manuel is still in control as is Minaya, at least until Sunday. The final two games won’t make a difference as the Mets even with a sweep over the Nationals will have their second consecutive losing season finishing under .500.

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Posted under All Star, Baseball, Friday Evening, Game Season, High Expectations, League Championship Series, Mets, Michael Morse, Minimal Results, National League Championship Series, New York Mets, Omar Minaya, Pat Misch, Payroll, Regime, Season Finale, Second Season, St Louis Cardinals, Sunday Afternoon, Tenure, Top Story, Washington Nationals

This post was written by Rich Mancuso on October 2, 2010

Dickey and Davis Lead the Way in 4-0 Victory over Cardinals

New York – Starting pitcher R.A. Dickey went a season-high eight and one-thirds innings, giving up only four hits to help the New York Mets (52-50) blank the St. Louis Cardinals (56-46) by the score of 4-0 in afternoon baseball at Citi Field on Thursday.

Dickey (7-4) was able to stretch his scoreless streak this afternoon, to a career-best 17.0 consecutive innings, which dates back to the fifth inning of his start on July 20th at Arizona. Along with stretching his scoreless streak Dickey helped to lead the Mets to their major-league leading 14th shutout of the year.

It was noticed by Dickey along with young catcher Josh Thole saw that sometimes the knuckleball wasn’t going to always make the other team swing and miss, so instead today the two were able to have a game plan which kept the Cardinals off balance.

Mets manager Jerry Manuel was impressed with how the starter could recognize that saying, “Yes, especially for a pitch like the knuckleball, which is difficult to tell what direction it is going to go, even for the catcher. He and Josh have worked very well together to identify what makes them successful.”

Thole who has had the opportunity to catch Dickey in Triple-A affiliate Buffalo noticed one change in the starter, “His secondary pitches make the difference.  It helps to have those secondary pitches and he has really worked on them and it has made him a more successful pitcher.”

“I tried to change speeds and was able to keep them (the Cardinals off balance today,” Dickey said of his start. “The trend for anytime a pitcher has a shutout is when that pitcher has command of the strike zone and I was able to do that today.”

For St. Louis starter Blake Hawksworth was the recipient of a tough loss in this afternoon’s game (4-7) going six innings, giving up seven hits and four runs along with three walks and three strike outs.

In a game which featured many ground balls along with some fine defensive plays neither team was able to get on the board until the bottom of the third inning. Jose Reyes got the Mets going by ripping a double (18) to right field. Reyes was able to extend his hitting streak to 10 games, which dates to July 19th 2010. Outfielder Angel Pagan followed with a ground ball infield single, which thanks to his speed he was able to beat out and set the stage for rookie sensation Ike Davis.

Davis lifted the first pitch in his at bat over the Nikon sign in center field for his 15th home run of the season, and gave the Mets a comfortable 3-0 lead. For Davis, who had a day off in yesterday’s game,  the 15 homers are the fifth-most by a Mets rookie in franchise history, holding the overall record is the future Met Hall of Famer Darryl Strawberry with 26 in 1983.

On being able to provide clutch hitting in his first year with the club Davis said, “It is all about the confidence you have as a hitter, you need to be able to go up to the plate and have confidence in your swing. You can have that exact same swing but if you don’t have confidence it won’t go very far.” The first baseman continues by saying, “If I hit it well enough I expect the ball to go out of the park. If I am able to get the barrel of the bat to center or to right, I know for sure it will go out. I just wanted to stay through it and not roll it over.”

Dickey would continue to keep the Cardinals guessing in the top of the fifth inning. One huge ground out was when second baseman Skip Schumaker to hit into a infield double play, along with getting  Yadier Molina to hit into another ground out on a nice backhanded play by rookie Mike Hessman, who was playing third base for New York in the game. Hessman looked good making two nice backhanded grabs in the hot corner in this afternoon’s game.

The Mets would get on the board one last time in the bottom of the fifth inning as Angel Pagan ripped a triple (7) to the right field crevice. Center fielder Carlos Beltran would plate that fourth New York run by lacing a single to left field to give New York the 4-0 lead.

“I am good to go and I just want to be out there and help the team win,” Beltran said after the game. “The main thing for me is that I need to come into the ballpark before the game and do my pre-game routine, which started in St. Lucie, and it will be something that stays with me for the rest of my career.”

Ground balls would continue to greet the Mets infielders as Dickey would induce seven alone in the later innings to keep the Cardinals off the board. In the top of the eighth inning the starter found some trouble as the rain started to come down as Schumaker hit a single to right field to try to start the Cardinals offense, a wild pitch placed the runner on second for pitch hitter Randy Winn. Dickey was able to get out of trouble by getting a hard hit ground ball to Alex Cora to end the inning.

“It is great for us to play behind Dickey,” Davis said after the game. “It is hard sometimes when the pitchers throw the balls outside the strike zone then we stay on your heels a little, but Dickey works so fast and he keeps us on our toes.”

New York would try to add one last run in the bottom of the eighth as Hessman was hit in the shoulder by Cardinal reliever Mike MacDougal. Jose Thole worked a walk to have runners on first and second for Jeff Francoeur. Unfortunately for the 40,087 the outfielder hit a high pop up to first base for the first out. Alex Cora worked a walk, before Dickey hit into a fielder’s choice for the second out. The bases were loaded for Jose Reyes, who hit a hard ground ball for the final out of the inning.

Top of the ninth inning was greeted by a huge cheer as Dickey took the hill to close out the game. Pinch hitter Colby Rasmus singled to center for the fourth St. Louis hit. Felipe Lopez advanced Rasmus on a ground ball to Ike Davis for the first out. A walk to rookie Jon Jay placed runners on first and second for the dangerous duo of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Dickey would not find out how he would have fared against the two big bats as manager Jerry Manuel called for reliever Francisco Rodriguez who got the last two outs and sealed the 4-0 victory for New York.

“This is one of those wins that you point too and hope that it can turn your season around, “Dickey said. “Yesterday was a heartbreaker, but we had no time to think about it. Today you really saw the character of this team and we really have a shot until the end of the season.”

The Mets will now open a three game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks as righty Mike Pelfrey (10-5, 4.00 ERA) takes on Ian Kennedy (5-8, 4.10 ERA) in a 7:10 p.m. Friday night game at Citi Field.


Trade News: The National League East got a whole lot tougher today as the Philadelphia Phillies acquired Roy Oswalt in a trade with the Houston Astros in exchange for pitcher J.A. Happ and minor league prospects Jonathan Villar and Anthony Gose.

Story originally posted on

Posted under Baseball, Blake Hawksworth, Buffalo, Fifth Inning, Game Plan, Ground Balls, Josh Thole, Knuckleball, Major League, New York Mets, Pitch, Pitches, Recipient, Scoreless Streak, Shutout, St Louis Cardinals, Starting Pitcher, Strike Zone, Top Story, Victory, Walks

This post was written by Stacy Rae Podelski on July 30, 2010

Mancuso: Home Sweet Home For The Mets

New York – After a 2-9 west coast road trip where they batted .181 as a team, the New York Mets were happy to see the friendly confines at home Tuesday evening. Citi Field is where they have achieved most of their success prior to the all-star break with a 30-16 mark.

And once again home field advantage was the remedy. The Mets used the long ball, the timely hit, and got a good pitching effort from Jonathan Niese as they took the first of a three-game series over the central division leading St. Louis Cardinals 8-2.

They won also without their manager Jerry Manuel. Prior to the game Manuel was suspended for one game, fined an undisclosed amount arguing a final out in the top of the second inning in a Mets loss out in Los Angeles last Friday evening.

“We needed to do the things tonight to spring back the confidence from that road trip,” said Manuel who handed the managerial duties to bench coach Dave Jauss. “Home field advantage takes the guys to another level,” he said.

Jason Bay who batted .215 on the road trip, striking out 15 times also sat down and it was not because of his continued struggles at the plate. He sustained a minor concussion running into the wall at Dodger Stadium Friday night. That enabled Jeff Francoeur to get a start in right field.

Francoeur has been the odd man out in the four man outfield. And his placement in the lineup paid dividends as he smacked a three-run homer to left center off Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright in the fourth that gave the Mets a 4-1 lead they would never relinquish.

“I want to be here,” commented Francoeur. A subject of trade rumors, he may now have his job back if he continues to slug the ball like he did against Wainwright. “It’s a crazy place to play, a fun place to play,” he said.

For the first time this season the Citi Field crowd saw Carlos Beltran in the lineup. Beltran sliced a double off Wainwright his first time up in the second and would also walk and score a run in the fourth. “He’s the type of player that can take us if he gets hot,” commented Manuel about the way Beltran looked more confident at the plate.

“Our time will come as a team, my time will come,” said Beltran who also hustled and impressed Manuel running from first to third in the fourth. “Those are the types of things we have to do continually,” added Manuel elaborating further that the Mets success at home as opposed to the road, is knowing, how to play their field.

Jose Reyes also hit a two-run homer in the sixth, his 7th, that gave the Mets their final two runs of the evening.  Runs the Mets are not used to scoring, the team’s biggest offensive game since defeating the Nationals 9-5 on July 4th.  Prior to the game the Mets were held to four or fewer runs in 15 of their last 16 games, distancing themselves further from first place Atlanta in the NL east.

Niese, 7-4, went 6.0 innings giving up one run in the first and retired slugger Albert Pujols three times. Pujlos went 0-5 amid reports that he is suffering from a right muscle pull.  The Mets, shutout four times on the road trip also ended a 17 inning scoreless streak in the second inning with the run off Wainwright (14-6) who got the loss.

The run also snapped his scoreless streak at 26.0 innings which tied for the fifth longest in the majors. “We got the runs off a\ good pitcher and that’s a good start,” said Beltran.

A good start at home again for the Mets, a win they needed to perhaps getting them back in the divisional and wild card race.

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Posted under Adam Wainwright, Bench Coach, Carlos Beltran, Coach Dave, Crazy Place, Dave Jauss, Dodger Stadium, Friendly Confines, Game Series, Home Field Advantage, Home Sweet Home, Jason Bay, Jeff Francoeur, Managerial Duties, Mets New York, Minor Concussion, New York Mets, Niese, Odd Man, Rich Mancuso, St Louis Cardinals, Top Story