Mel Rojas

Simply Amazin’ Podcast (JD & The Late Knocks) Appearance

Once again, I was privileged to join Tim Ryder and Jacob Resnick on the Simply Amazin Podcast. On the podcast, the players I recall mentioning were J.D. DavisBrandon NimmoMichael ConfortoPete AlonsoTravis d’ArnaudWilson RamosJoe PanikTomas NidoJustin WilsonBrad BrachSeth LugoJed LowrieTodd Frazier, and others. One of those others was Mel Rojas, whose name I completely blanked on during the podcast.

Please take a listen.

20/20 Hindsight: So Much For Being a Fringe Postseason Team

The Mets are seven games over .500 for the first time since May 1, 2018. Yes, that’s Two Thousand Eighteen. That’s where the Mets are after sweeping an Indians team which had apparently given the Yankees fits. This goes to show you just how well these Mets are playing right now:

1. Not too bad for a fringe postseason team, huh Cleveland?

2. One of the reasons why the Mets won this series, and one of the reasons why they have been winning games in the second half is how clutch they have been. Specifically, by wRC+, the Mets offense is the second best in the Majors in the second half from the seventh inning on.

3. The other reason is the bullpen has been terrific of late. Specifically, Justin Wilson has been great coming out of the bullpen, and he has been the guy Mickey Callaway trusts to get the Mets out of jams. For example, on Tuesday, he came into a situation with runners on first and second with one out, and he struck out Francisco Lindor and Oscar Mercado.

4. Wilson bailed Steven Matz out of a jam. This should serve to at least partially vindicate Callaway’s decision in Atlanta.

5. Matz is once again on one of those rolls where it seems he is one of the aces on this staff. In the second half, he’s 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA, 1.056 WHIP, and a 4.75 K/BB. Ultimately, this is what Matz can be when he’s used properly by the manager, and he is spinning that curveball.

6. With his great pitching and Wilson bailing him out, Matz would get the win. He also got the win because Michael Conforto hit a huge go-ahead homer in the sixth.

7. As impressive as that homer was, Conforto did something all the more impressive the following day. He visited a children’s hospital to read to pediatric cancer patients, give them better hospital gowns, and overall just spend time with them. Stuff like that will always be more impressive than anything he does on the field.8

8. This really has become a team you enjoy rooting for game-in and game-out. Conforto gives time to pediatric cancer patients. Matz does all that work for first responders. Todd Frazier helped build a special needs baseball field in his home town. The list of the charitable endeavors from these players goes on and on.

9. With respect to Frazier, Gary Disarcina isn’t a very good third base coach. His send of Frazier on the wet dirt with Tyler Naquin‘s cannon in left was plain dumb, especially when he knows the Mets were going to pinch hit for Jeurys Familia in that spot.

10. Familia has been great of late, and he looks more and more like he should be reinserted into the closer’s role on the nights the Mets aren’t going to Seth Lugo to close it all out.

11. The Mets bullpen is emerging as the best in the National League right now. Lugo is the best reliever. With Familia, Wilson, and Brad Brach, they have battled tested relievers who are turning it on at the right time. Luis Avilan is as good as a LOOGY as there is right now. We’re even seeing Paul Sewald raise his game up a level.

12. The bullpen breaking out like that came at a key time as Marcus Stroman was lifted from the game due to a sore hamstring. On that note, what is it with the Mets and hamstrings of late?

13. It is good to see Jeff McNeil and Brandon Nimmo on rehab assignments making their way back to the team. On Nimmo, he’s played three games in four days indicating his return is all the more close. When the Mets are healthy, they are going to have some interesting lineup decisions.

14. While we should be excited about the McNeil and Nimmo rehab appearances, the Jed Lowrie rehab assignment seems more like one of those old David Wright “rehab assignments.” Lowrie has only served as a DH, and Callaway has said they are doing that to play it safe. That doesn’t exactly sound like a guy charging his way back to the team.

15. With how great Juan Lagares has been playing of late, the Mets are probably best served platooning Todd Frazier and Joe Panik with McNeil bouncing between second and third. When Stroman pitches, the Mets should probably keep Frazier and Panik on the infield with McNeil in the outfield to optimize the outfield defense.

16. You can understand riding out this J.D. Davis hot streak for as long as it goes, but when this team is fully healthy, he belongs on the bench because Conforto and Nimmo are simply better baseball players.

17. When Davis made that catch in left field, there were memories of Mike Baxter, and it made you think for a second Noah Syndergaard was going to pitch that perfect game.

18. Syndergaard has been great of late, and he is giving Jacob deGrom a run for his money as to who the best ptcher is on this staff right now. Syndergaard is currently on a stretch where he has eight straight quality starts. In that stretch, he has a 1.82 ERA, 0.976 WHIP, and a 9.1 K/9. This is exactly what he was in 2016.

19. Here’s a fun and interesting thought: With the way the Mets starters are pitching, who do you possibly remove from the rotation when the Mets face off against the Dodgers in the NLDS?

20. The Mets have an opportunity to slay a lot of demons from the late nineties in this weekend series against the Braves. While the Braves may have a Freddie Freeman, they no longer have Chipper Jones or Brian Jordan. To that end, the Mets no longer have Armando Benitez or Mel Rojas. This should (hopefully) be a fun series.

Leiter, New Jersey Hall of Famer, Among Forgotten Group of Mets Not in Mets Hall of Fame

Recently in the news, it was reported former Mets great Al Leiter will be a part of a 20 person class that will be inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.  Of all the people inducted, Leiter will be the only baseball player.

It is interesting Leiter is being inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, but he is not being inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.  Last year, I made the case for his induction into the Mets Hall of Fame. Rather than regurgitate the full case here, I’ll quickly note he’s in the Top 10 in wins, strikeouts, and ERA+ in what has been a pitching rich Mets history.

As it stands, from that era of Mets baseball, only Mike Piazza and John Franco have been inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.  As we know, Piazza is a Hall of Famer who has had his number retired by the team.  Franco, the Mets leader in saves, had his best years before Leiter even joined the team.

Behind Piazza and Franco, there are some Mets from those late 90s, early 2000s teams that certainly merit induction.

Edgardo Alfonzo is the best middle infielder in Mets history, and he was a key player on a Mets team that went to consecutive postseasons for the first time in team history.

In three years with the Mets, Robin Ventura won a Gold Glove, hit .260/.360/.468, and he had an all-time great postseason moment with the Grand Slam Single.

You could argue John Olerud had a similar, albeit not as great impact, on the Mets as Keith Hernandez.  He came over in what became a ridiculously lopsided trade, and once he become a Met, the team had taken off.

With Olerud in the fold, the Mets went from a 71 to an 88 win team.  If not for Mel Rojas, that 1998 team probably makes the postseason.  In 1999, Olerud was a key part of a Mets team that won the Wild Card and went to the NLCS.

And speaking of that 1998 team, there is Todd Hundley.  Still to this day, Hundley remains the Mets single season home run leader.

Certainly, you can make arguments against some of these players, but ultimately, the fact the great contributions of Mets players who helped bring the team to consecutive postseasons has been far overlooked by this franchise.  It needs to be remedied, and it can start with Leiter adding Mets Hall of Famer to his New Jersey Hall of Famer resume.

 

Put Bobby Valentine in the Mets Hall of Fame

It has been almost 15 years since Bobby Valentine has managed the Mets, and because of how history works, the enduring image we have of Bobby V is the time he came back into the dugout with sunglasses and a fake mustache made with eye back after he had been thrown out of a game.  Bobby V was much more than that.

After a disappointing player career that included two forgettable seasons with the Mets, Valentine became a coach.  In 1983, he was named the third base coach for the George Bamberger led Mets.  Despite Bamberger not lasting the season, and General Manager Frank Cashen cleaning house, the Mets decided to keep Valentine when Davey Johnson was hired.  From 1983 – 1985, Valentine was generally regarded as a very good third base coach, who helped in the development of a young Mets team from cellar dwellers to contenders.  He would be hired as the Texas Rangers manager, and he would miss all of the 1986 season. 

After his stint in Texas, a brief stop in Norfolk, and one in Japan, the Mets brought Bobby V back to the organization for the 1996 season.  Initially, he was named as the manager of the Tides.   However, after Dallas Green had finally run through all of the young arms on the team, Valentine was named the interim manager for the final 31 games of the season.  In the offseason, the interim tag would be removed, and he would start the 1997 season as the Mets manager.

The 1997 Mets were THE surprise team in all of baseball.  Despite a starting rotation that was comprised of Rick Reed, Dave Mlicki, Bobby Jones, Mark Clark, Brian Bohanon, and Armando Reynoso, the Mets would go from a 71 win team to an 88 win team.  Now, there were good seasons for the turnaround.  There was the acquisition of John Olerud.  There was also another strong season from Lance Johnson, and Todd Hundley proved his record setting 41 home run 1996 season was no fluke.  However, there were other factors at play, and they were directly related to the manger.

First, Edgardo Alfonzo was made the everyday third baseman instead of the utility player he was under Green.  Also, while Reed had started the season coming out of the bullpen, Bobby V moved him into the rotation.  Additionally, whereas Green’s calling card was to abuse his starters’ arms, Valentine protected his starters’ arms (his starters averaged six innings per start and less), and he used the bullpen to his advantage.  On a more subjective note, this was a team that played harder and was more sound fundamentally.  It was a team that probably played over their heads for much of the season.

One important note from this season, Mlicki threw a complete game shut-out against the Yankees in the first ever Subway Series game.  While the Mets were overmatched in terms of talent in that three game series, Bobby V had that group ready to play, and they very nearly took the three game set from the Yankees.

With the Mets having overachieved, the front office led by General Manager Steve Phillips gave his manager some reinforcements.  The team would acquire Al Leiter and Dennis Cook from the Marlins.  The Mets would also add Japanese pitcher Masato Yoshii from Japan.  However, this team was struggling due to Hundley’s elbow injury and Bernard Gilkey and Carlos Baerga having yet another disappointing season.  Bobby V and the Mets kept the team above .500 and competitive long enough to allow the front office to make the bold move to add Mike Piazza.

From there, the Mets took off, and they would actually be in the thick of the Wild Card race.  They were in it despite the Hundley LF experiment not working.  They were in it despite getting nothing offensively from left field and their middle infield.  They were in it despite the fact the Mets effectively had a three man bullpen.  The latter (I’m looking at you Mel Rojas) coupled with the Braves dominance of the Mets led to a late season collapse and the team barely missing out on the Wild Card.

The Mets re-loaded in 1999 with Rickey Henderson, Robin Ventura, Roger Cedeno, Armando Benitez, and Orel Hershiser (no, Bobby Bonilla is not getting lumped in here).  Things do not initially go as planned.  After blowing a late lead, the Yankees beat the Mets, and the Mets found themselves a game under .500.  Phillips responded by firing almost all of Bobby V’s coaching staff.

The Mets and Bobby V responded by becoming the hottest team in baseball.  From that point forward, the Mets were 70-37.  At points during the season, they even held onto first place for a few days.  The Mets were helped by Bobby V being judicious with Henderson’s playing time to help keep him fresh.  Like in year’s past, Bobby V moved on from a veteran not performing to give Cedeno a chance to play everyday, and he was rewarded.  Again, like in previous seasons, Bobby V had to handle a less than stellar starting rotation.

In what was a fun and tumultuous season, the Mets won 97 games.  The team nearly avoided disaster again by forcing a one game playoff against the Reds for the Wild Card.  Not only did the Mets take that game, but they upset the Diamondbacks in the NLDS.  The NLDS performance is all the more impressive when you consider Piazza was forced to miss the last two games due to injury.  In the NLCS, they just met a Braves team that had their number for the past three seasons.  Still, even with the Braves jumping all over the Mets and getting a 3-0 series lead, we saw the Mets fight back.

In Game 4, it was an eighth inning two run go-ahead Olerud RBI single off John Rocker.  In Game 5, it was a 15 inning game that was waiting for the other team to blink first.  While, the Mets blinked in the top of the 15th with a Keith Lockhart RBI triple, the Mets responded in the bottom of the 15th with Ventura’s Grand Slam single to send the series back to Atlanta.  The Mets would be ever so close in Game 6.  They fought back from a 5-0 and 7-3 deficit.  Unforutnately, neither John Franco nor Benitez could hold a lead to force a Game 7.  Then Kenny Rogers couldn’t navigate his way around a lead-off double and bases loaded one out situation in the 11th.

In 2000, Bobby V finally got the rotation he needed with the trade acquiring Mike Hampton and the emergence of Glendon Rusch.  However, even with the much improved rotation, it still was not an easy year for the Mets.  It rarely ever was during Bobby V’s tenure.

First, the Mets had to deal with the Henderson and Darryl Hamilton situations.  Henderson became a malcontent that wanted a new contract.  Hamilton lost his starting job due to a toe injury and had become a part time player.  The result was the complete transformation of the outfield with Benny Agbayani and Jay Payton becoming everyday players.  In the infield, the Mets lost Olerud to free agency and had to convert free agent third baseman Todd Zeile into a first baseman.  Additionally, the Mets lost Gold Glove shortstop Rey Ordonez to injury leading the team to have to rely on Melvin Mora as their shortstop for much of the season.  In what was perhaps Bobby V’s finest managing job with the Mets, the team made the postseason for the second straight year.  It was the first time in Mets history they had gone to consecutive playoff games.

In the postseason, the team showed the same toughness and grit as they had in prior years.  In the first game of the NLDS, they overcame an injury to Derek Bell and saw Timo Perez become a folk hero.  The Mets outlasted the Giants in Game 2 despite a Benitez blown save.  In Game 3, Agbayani hit a walk-off homer in the 13th, and Game 4 saw the Jones one-hitter.  With the Mets not having to face the Braves in the NLCS, they steamrolled through the Cardinals en route to their first World Series since 1986.  While the team never gave in, the balls did not bounce in their favor.  That was no more apparent than when Zeile’s fly ball hit the top of the left field wall and bounced back into play.

From there, Phillips lost his magic touch.  The team started to get old in 2001, and by 2002, everything fell apart.  After what was his first season under .500 with the Mets, Bobby V was fired after the 2002 season.  With one exception, it was the end of a forgettable and disappointing two seasons for the Mets.

One thing that cannot be lost with the 2001 season was how the Mets dealt with the aftermath of 9/11.  Every player did their part.  So did their manager.  After 9/11 happened, Bobby V was a visible face of the Mets franchise visiting firehouses and helping relief aid at Shea Stadium.  When it was time to return to playing games, he was able to get his players in a mindset to play baseball games.  That is no small feat when your captain was a local guy who lost a friend on 9/11.  Also, while it was the players who spearheaded wearing the First Responders’ caps, it was their manager who stood by their side and encouraged them to wear them despite requests to take them off from the Commissioner’s Office.

Through the roller coaster ride that was the 1,003 games of the Bobby V Era, the Mets were 536-437.  During that span, Bobby V managed the second most games in Mets history while earning the second most wins in Mets history.  His .534 winning percentage is the third best in Mets history just behind Johnson and Willie Randolph.  In all but his final season as Mets manager, the Mets either met or exceed their expected (Pythagorean) record.

Bobby V stands as just one of two managers to go to consecutive postseasons.  His 13 postseason wins are the most by any manager in Mets history.  He’s the only Mets manager to win a postseason series in consecutive postseasons.  He’s managed in more postseason series than any other Mets manager.

Overall, Bobby V is an important part of Mets history.  Out of all the managers in Mets history, it is fair to say the Bobby V consistently did more with the talent given to him by his front office.  For some, he is the best manager in Mets history.  Most will certainly agree he is at least the third best manager in Mets history.  For all of this, and how he represented the Mets organization during 9/11 and the aftermath, Bobby V should be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.

 

Worst Loss in Mets History?

There’s an inherent danger when a national baseball writer or broadcaster talks about a team.  These people don’t have the intimate knowledge the local media or the fans. What’s frustrating when it comes to the Mets is the national media usually treats the Yankees as the Mets biggest rival or acts like those games are bigger than any others. 

Yes, there is more juice to Mets-Yankees games than a Mets-Padres game. However, the national media makes these games to be much bigger than what they are. Case in point – of all the years you were a Mets fan, what was the single worst regular season loss you experienced?  

For me, it was the last game of the 2007 season. The Mets had unfinished business from the 2006 season. They were amongst the World Series favorites. They pretty much had the division locked up being seven up with 17 to play. No one had ever blew that kind of lead. Well, the Mets did, but they still had a chance to either win the division or force a one game playoff against the Phillies to win the NL East. 

It didn’t happen. The Mets lost to the Marlins. It was over in the first inning when Tom Glavine allowed seven runs in 0.1 innings. One of the runs scored when Glavine just threw the ball into left field while trying to throw out a runner at third base. Not only did the Mets lose, but the Phillies won. No postseason for the Mets. To make matters worse, Glavine spoke after the game and said that he wasn’t devastated by the loss or his performance. 

You may have your own moments. There is certainly the Final Game at Shea. There was the Mel Rojas game in 1998. There was Armando Benitez blowing the save against the Braves in late September 2001 thereby taking away any hope that the Mets could win the division.  I’m assuming there were games before my time, or games I’m just not remembering right now. For example, I know many people talk about how close the Mets came to winning the division in 1985 with a brutal September loss to the Cardinals. Point is, there are many valid answers. Apparently, we’re wrong. 

The Sporting News picked the game where Luis Castillo dropped an Alex Rodriguez pop up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Derek Jeter and a hustling Mark Teixeira would score giving the Yankees a 9-8 win. Brutal loss. Absolutely brutal. However, there is no way it’s the worst regular season loss in Mets history. This is the type of mistake a national writer makes when they over-emphasize the Mets-Yankee rivalry, and they don’t pay attention to the losses that actually matter. 

In any event, my guess was closer than yours. The Sporting News listed the 2007 loss as an honorable mention. In retrospect, that’s worse because they were aware it happened. 

Mets Magic Number is 8

I’ve alluded to who my selection for number 8 would be. After looking over the candidates and my self-imposed rules, the pick is Carlos Baerga:

  
When the trade was made in 2006, Baerga switched to number 8 for the 1997 and 1998 seasons. We all know by now it was an awful trade. Baerga provided the Mets with a triple slash line of .267/.302/.373 with 18 homers and 116 RBIs. 

The man he replaced, Jeff Kent, turned out to be a career .290/.356/.500 hitter with 377 homeruns and 1,518 RBIs. He was the 2000 NL MVP. He is the all time leader for second baseman in homeruns (351), RBIs (1,389), slugging percentage (.509), and doubles (560). I remember my Dad was angry when the trade first took place, and he would become more irritated each and every passing year. 

Now, record wise, 1997 and 1998 were pretty good. However, 1998 was heartbreaking. For all the fans looking for a repeat of 2007 and 2008 after a couple of losses to the Marlins, they forgot about the original collapse. 

The Mets had a one game lead over the Cubs and four games over the Giants with five games remaining (seven for the Giants). The Mets lost all five of their remaining games. They were home as the Cubs and Giants had a play-in game for the Wild Card featuring future Met Steve Trachsel, and former Met, Jeff Kent. 

In those final five games for the Mets, Baerga went 2-13 (.154) with no walks, one RBI, no extra base hits, and one game on the bench. He wasn’t the only one responsible for that collapse, *cough* Mel Rojas *cough*. However, the Mets were stuck with Baerga while Kent was in the play-in game. It just shows you how changing one player for another can have a profound impact on your season. With this year’s flurry of trades, it’s something Mets fans know well. 

So let’s tip our cap to Magic Number 8, Carlos Baerga, who shows us, in part, our fears of collapse are behind us. 

Also, take this time to remember the late, great Gary CarterJe me souviens. Rest in peace.