Sportsbeat – 11/27/10

You have to laugh at the notion that new Mets manager Terry Collins is going to be able to light a fire under the collective butts of his players. The reality is that the players will perceive that Collins is little more than an inexpensive retread off the managerial scrap heap. He has never won anything and never played a game in the majors. Those are two very big strikes against a manager in a big league clubhouse.

Collins is not going to get much help this winter from the man who hired him. Sandy Alderson has made it clear that the Mets do not have any “financial flexibility” to sign any name free agents. Even worse than standing pat for the new Mets manager is the fact that ace pitcher Johan Santana will still be recovering from his latest arm surgery for at least the first half of the 2011 season.

Patriots, Shmatriots. If you want to really know if these are the same old Jets then circle December 19 on your calendar when Gang Green flies to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. The Jets have never beaten the Steelers in the Iron City and we’re talking forty years of football.

The Jets, despite their fine record, have shown some troubling flaws. I bet that Rex Ryan wishes that Jay Feely was still the team’s place kicker instead of the shaky Nick Folk. The Jets pass rush, lead by Bryan Thomas and Jason Taylor, is woeful. Houston Texans QB Matt Schaub had time to finish a Subway hero as he completed 40-yard passes at will in the fourth quarter three weeks ago thanks to the sack-less pass rush.

The combination of Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton have made the Knicks fun to watch again. The fact that they went 3-1 on their recent West Coast trip (granted they didn’t play the Lakers) is an indication that things are looking up.

The Knicks played the Charlotte Bobcats in their first game back from the west. Head coach Mike D’Antoni held his usual pre-game press conference 90 minutes prior to tip-off. Reporters had only two questions for him and the conference quickly concluded. “If I had known that winning three games in a row would quiet you guys I would have told my players to have won three in a row sooner!” he said with a hearty laugh.

The likelihood of an NBA lockout this fall has not been ignored by the Knicks players. NBA veteran Roger Mason was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying that he is happy to drive an old car and that his philosophy is to save now more than ever. Mason is praying that big market owners as the Knicks’ James Dolan, the Nets’ Mikhail Prokhorov, and the Lakers’ Jerry Buss will talk sense into hardline owners and tough-talking commissioner David Stern. Rookie guard Andy Rautins told me before a game that he may look into playing in Europe if things get ugly.

While the Nets are not as awful as they were a year ago, new coach Avery Johnson is quickly realizing that the talent and professionalism of his troops isn’t up to the level that he enjoyed while coaching the Dallas Mavericks. Johnson faced his first major dilemma when Terrence Williams, the Nets’ first-round pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, missed a team bus and kept showing up late for practices. Johnson demoted Williams to the Springfield Armor of the NBA Development League.

The Nets may not much to write home about based on their play but their new owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, continues to intrigue even those who normally don’t cover sports. He was the subject of a cover story last month in the New York Times Sunday Magazine and was profiled as well by Matt Taibbi, best known for his Republican-bashing articles in Rolling Stone, in Men’s Journal.

Speaking before of the NBA Development League, Far Rockaway High School alum Nancy Lieberman, arguably the greatest female basketball player of all-time, will be coaching the Texas Legends. It marks the first time that a woman will be the head coach of a professional men’s basketball team. Expect Versus, which just obtained broadcast rights to the NBA D-League, to televise a number of Legends games. Lieberman incidentally has just authored Playbook for Success (John Wiley & Sons) in which she points out how the physical and mental preparation that goes into winning at hoops carries over into the boardroom.

Jimmie Johnson just won his fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint championship. That puts him in the same legendary class of athlete as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Roger Federer although his success is virtually ignored by WFAN and nearly every New York daily paper. The success of   both Jimmie Johnson, and rival Jeff Gordon (both of these guys have movie star looks), have helped popularize NASCAR in every part of the USA except here of course.

Kyle Petty who is an on-air personality for the SPEED Channel, and like his dad, Richard “The King” Petty, enjoyed a great racing career, readily agrees that both Johnson and Gordon have helped make NASCAR appealing for corporate America. “The weekly battles between Rick Mears, Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt electrified the South but they did not expand the sport outside of Dixie,” Petty told me at a New York NASCAR event to honor Johnson’s accomplishment.

ESPN Magazine and skier Lindsey Vonn showed a great sense of humor by having her reenact Sharon Stone’s famous seated pose from the 1992 stinker of a flick, “Basic Instinct” for its cover.

Do you think that the Islanders’ recent 14-game losing streak will cost the team home ice in the playoffs?  The Isles’ cold snap cost unsmiling coach Scott Gordon his job. Gordon’s humorless post-game press conferences were torture to sit through.

The Islanders finally ended their drought by beating the equally awful NJ Devils. It’s about time that Devils’ owner Jeff Vanderbeek show some balls and give media-hating, control freak general manager Lou Lamoriello the heave-ho.

Good job by Phillips-Van Heusen to allow fans a vote for the next class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The fans’ vote is non-binding but the results are sure to influence the real voters. PVH should do the same with the Baseball Hall of Fame voting.

Hollis native Russell Simmons is one of the most successful American businessmen of the last 25 years. Simmons, who founded Def Jam Records, and then later the popular clothing brand, Phat Farm, has a new clothing company, Argyleculture. Yes, Simmons has a fondness for those diamond-shaped vests and sweaters that Alfonso Ribeiro’s Carlton Banks character wore in the old Will Smith NBC ‘80s sitcom, “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” but Argyleculture has solid-colored shirts and sweaters as well as he tries to compete with Ralph Lauren.

Simmons is frequently photographed wearing a Yankees baseball cap. Since Sandy Alderson isn’t going to sign any name free agents perhaps he can reach out to one of Queens’ greatest success stories to wear a Mets cap to help improve the team’s image.

The New York Rangers obviously depend on goalie Henryk Lundqvist but the road to the playoffs will be a lot easier if veteran understudy Martin Biron would have more games like the one he had last week where he allowed only one goal against the Calgary Flames in a 2-1 victory for the Blueshirts.

The needless demise of Tavern On the Green is certainly a blotch on the record of Mayor Bloomberg. Fortunately the New York Road Runners did a great job creating a PGA Tour-style media center at its old location. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel and the Renaissance Times Square also did a fine job hosting both the media and the NYC Marathon participants.

If you are looking to get someone a Christmas/Chanukah sports gift (and yes, you can treat yourself!) here are some ideas. Greens Professor (www.greensprofessor.com) is a putting aid that uses laser technology that tells you whether your blade is either too open ,closed, or if its properly square. You can use Green Professor in your home so that your game doesn’t atrophy over the winter. By the way, the winter is a great time to shine up those dull club heads. Shine by Colle (www.colleproducts.com) is a mousse gel that makes all metals and jewelry sparkle like new.

If you find your legs or shoulders aching after a workout or even from sitting in a car for awhile there is a marvelous product called “The Stick” (www.thestick.com) that you can use to improve blood circulation and relieve the knots that inexorably settle in various parts of your body. The Stick is a wand that is comprised of small bead-like devices that help relieve tension rather quickly.

Another vestige of my youth is gone as the Spectrum was finally razed in Philadelphia two weeks ago.

Posted under Ace Pitcher, Arm Surgery, Bryan Thomas, Charlotte Bobcats, Financial Flexibility, Houston Texans, Jason Taylor, Jay Feely, Johan Santana, League Clubhouse, Lloyd Carroll, Matt Schaub, Name Free Agents, New York Mets, Nick Folk, Place Kicker, Raymond Felton, Rex Ryan, Sandy Alderson, Scrap Heap, Subway Hero, Top Story, West Coast Trip

This post was written by Lloyd Carroll on November 27, 2010

Snakes Continue To Bite Mets

New York – Last week at Chase Field in Phoenix Arizona the Diamondbacks handed the New York Mets a three-game sweep. That continued, in what would be a dismal 2-9 west coast trip for New York that had them looking for redemption at Citi Field Friday evening,

However, Mike Pelfrey continued to have his first inning struggles and Arizona picked up where they left off last week taking the opening game of a three- game weekend set 9-6. Another loss for the Mets that left them at 52-51, 7-1/2 games behind first pace Atlanta and in a fourth place tie with Florida in the NL East.

It is starting to get dismal at Citi Field.  And the Mets also have to wonder what has happened to Pelfrey who surrendered three runs in the first inning. The Mets would get even in their half of the first on the first of two home runs from David Wright. It was a three- run blast off winning pitcher Ian Kennedy (6-8).

As for Pelfrey (10-5) who failed to get the decision, the Mets have to hope their right hander can return to form if they have any chance of making the postseason. And once again the Diamondbacks had his number, 0-5 in his last seven starts against them. In his last start at Arizona on July 19th he threw 51 pitches in the first inning and was removed after getting four outs in the shortest outing of his career.

“Everybody else in the rotation has been throwing the ball great and I’ve kind of taken a step back from early in the year,” said Pelfrey. In his last six starts, he’s worked 25.1 innings, allowing 54 hits, 28 runs, 27 earned with 14 walks and 13 strikeouts.

“I definitely plan on getting this thing turned around and back on track so we can plan on winning some games,” he said.  Mets manager Jerry Manuel said adjustments will have to be made. There is the high pitch count, “still confident we have a young pitcher and don’t think it’s demoralizing,” said Manuel about his starter.

Wright drove in five runs and with his second home run in the third off Kennedy, 17th of the year with two on, gave the Mets a 5-4 lead. After retiring seven straight D-backs with one out in the sixth, Kennedy reached first on an error from shortstop Jose Reyes.

“A routine ground ball, I have to make that play,” said Reyes who extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a single in the first. Pelfrey after throwing 118 pitches had a chance to win. Enter Raul Valdes (2-3) who failed to retire the four batters he faced. The home run to center off the bat of Kelly Johnson gave Arizona a 6-5 lead.

Two more singles and on the 14th pitch thrown by Valdes, Miguel Montero hit a home run off the second deck in right field, a five-run Diamondbacks inning that helped his team snap a seven-game losing streak. “I’m swinging  at better pitches, I think,” said Montero about his fourth home run.

As to why the Diamondbacks have the Mets number, he said, “I honestly don’t know; it’s just baseball I guess.”  Montero has hit two home runs and driven in six in his last two games. Thursday evening he connected against the Phillies and has now hit a home run in consecutive games for the second time this year.

Manuel said it was the right situation for Valdes who warmed up in the pen four times before coming in. “It was a good match up in that situation,” said Manuel about the home run ball thrown to Johnson.

But the Mets still have two more games with the Diamondbacks and have to figure out how to take this series against the second worst team in the National League. If not the road trip next week against Atlanta and the surging Philadelphia Phillies could determine their season.

“Anytime one or two of their hitters gets hot they can give us trouble,” explained Manuel about his team troubles with Arizona.

Notes:  Before the game outfielder Jason Bay was laced on the 15-day disabled list from the minor concussion he sustained crashing into the outfield wall out in Los Angeles last Friday evening. The Mets recalled outfielder Jesus Felicano from Triple- A Buffalo.

e-mail Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol.com

Posted under Chase Field, Citi, David Wright, Diamondbacks, Friday Evening, Game Sweep, Game Weekend, High Pitch, Home Runs, Mets New York, Mike Pelfrey, New York Mets, Nl East, Number 0, Phoenix Arizona, Pitches, Place Tie, Right Hander, Top Story, West Coast Trip, Young Pitcher

This post was written by Rich Mancuso on July 31, 2010

2-9 Trip Leaves Mets on a Road to Nowhere

About two months ago, I wrote about the dichotomy that was the New York Mets as Major League Baseball’s winningest team at home while collecting the major’s fewest road victories.

Since that time, little has changed.

The Mets have remained pretty strong at Citi Field, while cooling off just a bit there, going 11-7 since May 27th, to maintain one of MLB’s better home records at 30-16.

The road however, has continued to be unkind to the Mets, as evidenced by a disastrous west coast trip during which the Mets limped home with just a pair of wins in eleven games.

Since that earlier article, the Mets have improved — but only slightly — away from home, going 14-19, putting them at a still dismal 20-33 on the road, overall.

More importantly, the Mets now find themselves in third place in the National League East, looking up at Philadelphia (2½ games ahead of New York) and Atlanta, which now leads the Mets by 7½ games; and, even fourth-place Florida is breathing down the Mets’ necks, sitting just a half-game back.

While the Mets’ pitching has continued to be as consistent as their good play at home, their offense this month has been as promising as their ability to post road wins. Neither can be relied upon.

Even including a six-game homestand prior to the all-star break, the Mets have won just 4 of their past 17 games, scoring more than three runs just four times (three times not counting a bad call in San Francisco) while getting shut out five times over that stretch.

Most of that damage was out west, where if not for a missed call in the ninth inning of what should have been a Met loss to the Giants, the Mets would have won just a single game during their crucial eleven-game swing that saw the Mets score under three runs in seven games.

Not even the return of Carlos Beltran from the disabled list to start that trip nor Jose Reyes’ “re-return” to the top of the batting order could spark the Mets’ silent bats as they wasted several fine pitching performances. The Mets ended the trip without a run over the past 16 innings in Los Angeles, failing to score after the sixth inning in Saturday’s 3-2, 13-inning loss to the Dodgers before getting blanked 1-0 on Sunday.

It was such a poor road trip that it raises several legitimate questions:

At just a game over .500 (50-49), could the Mets, whose season was fairly solid before the all-star break, but which suddenly appears to be on the brink, be sellers instead of buyers this week, as the July 31st trading deadline fast approaches?

Could and should hitting coach Howard Johnson’s job be in jeopardy? At this point, the former Met slugger who had some nice moments as a player, did after all, hit only .249 over his career, and with the Mets in a deep and prolonged team-wide slump, Johnson has failed to get the Mets’ free-swinging and light-hitting offense to change its approach at the plate, as the strikeouts continue to mount at an alarming rate while being offset by far too few walks.

If the Mets don’t start winning soon, how much long might manager Jerry Manuel stay at the helm of his sinking ship? It’s difficult to blame a manger when players can’t hit. Or, is it? It took Alex Cora -– not Manuel -– to lay into the Mets after a loss in Arizona last week after Cora saw his teammates taking on Manuel’s easy-going persona, literally laughing off another loss as if the losing hasn’t been affecting the team much. Fiery managers win, and guys like Manuel win. So, there’s no right or wrong in terms of style, but it’s become clear that Manuel’s style with this Mets team, isn’t working right now.

If the season doesn’t turn around, will the Wilpons consider moving on from the Omar Minaya regime? After falling short in the 2006 NLCS when they should have probably won the World Series that year, the successive September collapses to blow the NL East each of the next two years, and the injury-plagued and poor season both on the field and from a public relations standpoint last year (right, Adam Rubin?), should Minaya be given yet another reprieve if the Mets aren’t at least playing meaningful games during the file week of the season, let alone if the Mets miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season? Minaya has made plenty of good moves, but he’s also left too many holes in the roster, and the underachieving results –- despite having one of the highest annual payrolls in MLB –- speak for themselves.

And, finally, although there have been several different pieces in the past few years placed around the core that has remained, are that core, along with the accompanying compliments simply a mentally fragile team? We’ve seen the Mets produce over the past five seasons when the pressure hasn’t been great. But, when the pressure’s been on, we’ve seen the Mets play tighter than a drum and thus become their own biggest obstacle to achieving success. Game 7 against St. Louis in the 2006 NLCS, and letting the Phillies catch them twice the next two Septembers. Folding like a house of cards instead of at least trying to fight through their myriad of injuries last year. And, now this year, playing well at the friendly confines of Citi Field, yet playing poorly on the road, to the tune of just two series wins (against two last-place American League teams) in 17 road series.

And, let’s throw in one more while we’re at it… how do the Mets’ medical and training staffs remain employed? With all of the misdiagnosing and mishandling of injuries last year, Beltran and Reyes, among others, again missed significant time this year, and now John Maine is out for the season. The only groups who are wrong more often while still keeping their jobs are weather people and at least this year, several MLB umpires.

After a horrid western trip, the Mets will be happy to get back home, but it won’t get a lot easier, as they’ll host the first-place Cardinals on Tuesday. After Arizona then visits Flushing, it’s back on the road to Atlanta and Philadelphia for a couple of three-game sets.

Unless the Mets can bring their Citi Field game to places like that, they’ll continue to travel on a literal road to nowhere and raise a lot of questions as to where others in the organization might be headed.

Posted under All Star, Bats, Carlos Beltran, Dichotomy, Giants, Jose Reyes, Major League Baseball, Mlb, National League East, New York Mets, Ninth Inning, Philadelphia, Road Victories, San Francisco, Score, Seven Games, Swing, Three Times, Top Story, West Coast Trip, Winningest Team

This post was written by Jon Wagner on July 26, 2010