Paul Lo Duca

Mets Blogger Roundtable: Opening Day Memories

With the Mets 2018 season beginning today, we are all hopeful that this will be the first Mets team since 1986 to win a World Series.  If history is any judge, fans will depart Citi Field with that feeling as the New York Mets do have the best winning percentage on Opening Day.  Whether the good feelings and warm memories continue from there is anyone’s guess.

As you look to turn on the television or head to the ballpark, we thought we would share some of our Opening Day memories with you in the latest edition of the Mets Blogger Roundtable.

Roger Cormier (Good Fundies & Fangraphs)

Two words: Collin Cowgill (That’s not my actual answer)

I think I’m going to cheat here. The first game that came to mind for favorite Opening Day memory was the Mets’ home opener in 2000. It was their first game played in North America, if that helps? The Mets split a two-game set in Japan the week before and then faced off against the Padres at Shea, and I was there. It was my first time attending a home opener, and I had to bend the rules that day too, seeing as I was, technically speaking, scheduled to continue my high school education that afternoon. A couple of friends and I cut class, took the 2/3, transferred to the 7, sauntered up to the ticket window, bought four tickets, and enjoyed a 2-1 victory. I brazenly put the schedule magnet giveaway on the refrigerator, and as far as I know was never caught. Please do not tell my mother.

Mark Healey (Gotham Baseball)

My favorite Opening Day memory was Tom Seaver‘s 1983 Opening Day start.  It was tremendous.

The details of Seaver’s homecoming were detailed in this Sports Illustrated piece.

Joe Maracic (Loud Egg)

This one has me stumped since I have not been to a Mets opening day since the Shea days. One that stands out is the chilly home opener for Tom Glavine. A 15-2 Mets loss I believe. Good times.

Metstradamus (Metstradamus Blog)

I cut school to go to Opening Day in 1980. My mother wrote a note to the teacher saying “sorry my son was absent. He went to Opening Day. P.S. the Mets won 5-2.” The teacher let me off the hook but only because the Mets won. I cut school in 1983 to see Seaver’s return as a Met. I cut school in 1988 to see Darryl Strawberry hit a HR on Opening Day, then left early to get back to theater rehearsal, and I had to platoon style elbow crawl my way under the director so she wouldn’t know I was gone. Luckily they never got to my scene yet so I was out of trouble. Until we left for the day and the director said “How was the game?” As many times as I cut school for Opening Day, it’s a wonder I can put a sentence together.

Greg Prince (Faith and Fear in Flushing)

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend 17 Opening Days/Home Openers (18, counting the first home game after the 1981 strike, which was functionally a second Home Opener), my favorite among them the 2001 Home Opener, when the 2000 NL pennant was raised, we were handed replica championship flags on our way in, Tsuyoshi Shinjo introduced himself to us with a homer, Mike Piazza socked two, the Mets obliterated the Braves and, not incidentally, the weather was perfect.

But with all due respect to the thrill of being on hand to, as Howie Rose says, welcome the National League season to New York, my core Opening Day memory is from 1975, when I convinced a friend to skip Hebrew School and watch the rest of the first game of that season.

The game began while we were still in shall we say regular school (sixth grade). Our teacher put the Mets and Phillies on the classroom TV. One wise guy tried to switch to the Yankees. Out of pique, the teacher switched it off.

Fast forward a bit, and my aforementioned friend and I went to my house to catch a little more of the game before we had to get to Hebrew School. This was Seaver versus Steve Carlton, and it was such an occasion that I said to him, “I’m not going to Hebrew School today.” He was convinced to not go, either.

We watched to the end and were rewarded for our truancy. Seaver pitched a complete game. Dave Kingman homered in his first game as a Met, and Joe Torre (also a new Met) drove in the winning run in the ninth, or what we would today call walkoff fashion. The whole winter was about reconstructing a dismal 1974 squad and hoping Seaver would be healthy. For one day, everything clicked as we dreamed.

The other thing I remember distinctly was Bob Murphy hosting the TV postgame show, first time we ever saw anybody but Ralph Kiner in that role. I learned decades later that Ralph was holding out for an increase in his Kiner’s Korner deal, which he eventually got.

There’ve been more dramatic Opening Days since, but that one will always be Opening Day Like It Oughta Be to me.

There’ve been some unfortunate Opening Day/Night results over the years, but there’s nothing about beginning a baseball season that doesn’t have at least one inherent saving grace to it. At last, we are in baseball season.

Mets Daddy

There are two that readily stick out in my mind.  The first was 1995, the first year after the strike.  It was also my first Opening Day.  I remember the tickets were cheap, and the crowd was rowdier than usual with many people running onto the field.  It first seemed like protest, and then it just seemed to morph into a drunken stupor.  John Franco blowing a 9th inning save chance, and the Mets blowing leads in the 13th and 14th innings were really just afterthoughts to all the mayhem and the fact baseball was finally back in our lives.

My favorite Opening Day was the 2006 Opening Day.  With the Mets obtaining Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca in the offseason, there was an anticipation the 2006 team could be a special one.

That day certainly was.  Xavier Nady, the guy Omar gambled on when he traded Mike Cameron to the Padres, immediately made himself welcome to fans with an RBI double.  David Wright was showered with MVP chants which only reverberated louder when he homered.  Anderson Hernandez made an incredible defensive play at second.  Then Billy Wagner entered the game to “Enter Sandman” to close out the game.

I remember feeling this was a team capable of winning a World Series.  I also remember my Dad taking the longer way home so we can get our free Bobbleheads from P.C. Richard and because we could hear Mike and the Mad Dog, who were in rare form, going bezerk over the audacity for Wagner to use Mariano Rivera‘s entrance song.

One fun thing about doing this Roundtable is I discovered Joe, Roger, and I were all at the 2003 homer opener.  This is part of my fun in doing these Roundtables, and I hope some of the fun you have is getting a snippet of the fine work from some fellow Mets fans.  I hope this encourages you to visit their sites.

Where Are They Now: The 2006 Top 10 Prospects

At the 2006 trade deadline, many believed the Mets were in need of a big starting pitcher to help the best team in baseball win the World Series.  At that time, the big name was Barry Zito, but the Mets were reportedly balking at the asking price which included their top prospect in addition to their best set-up man in Aaron Heilman.  Certainly, Heilman became untouchable with Duaner Sanchez‘s injury.  However, there is still some debate whether any of the Mets prospects should have been so untouchable so as to prevent them from being moved in a trade many believed the Mets needed to make to win the World Series.

Keeping in mind the Mets didn’t want to move a top prospect, let’s take a look at who was considered the Mets Top 10 prospects back in 2006 and see how their respective careers fared:

Lastings Milledge

The Mets 2003 first round draft pick was seen by many as a future star in the major leagues.  He was supposed to be a five tool center fielder.  Unfortunately, it did not pan out that way.

Milledge first got his chance in 2006 at first due to a Xavier Nady injury and then because of Nady being traded to sure up their bullpen due to the Sanchez injury.  Milledge would show he was not quite ready for the limelight.  That shouldn’t be surprising considering he had only played 84 games in AAA, and he was 21 years old.  In 56 games, he would only hit .241/.310/.380 with four homers and 22 RBI.  He would be unfairly chastised for high fiving the fans after a game tying home run in extra innings.

Unfortunately for him, the home run that led to much hand wringing might’ve been the top moment in his career.  Milledge would never figure it out for the Mets, and his star potential would diminish.  In 2007, the Mets would move him for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider.

Overall, Milledge would only play six years in the majors hitting .269/.328/.395 in parts of six major league seasons.  He would play his last game for the Chicago White Sox as a 26 year old in April 2011.  From there, he would play four years in Japan.  In Japan, he wouldn’t re-establish himself as a major leaguer like Cecil Fielder did, nor would he become an acclaimed Japanese League player like Tuffy Rhodes.  Rather, he hit a disappointing .272/.348/.447 averaging 10 home runs and 32 RBI.

Milledge suffered injuries limiting him to just 34 games in 2014 and 2015.  No one would sign him to play professional baseball anywhere in 2016.  In the end his professional baseball career is over at the age of 31.

Yusmeiro Petit

Petit was the one major prospect the Mets would move to help the 2006 team.  The Mets included him in a deal with Grant Psomas and Mike Jacobs for Carlos Delgado.  Delgado would go on to become a slugger at first base the Mets had never truly had in their history.  For his part, Petit has put together a nice major leauge career.

Petit would not figure things out until he became a San Francisco Giant in 2012.  Under the tutledge of Dave Righetti and Bruce Bochy, he would become a very good long man in the bullpen.  In his four years with the Giants, he as 10-7 with one save, a 3.66 ERA, and a 1.128 WHIP.

His best work was in the 2014 postseason.  That year the Giants rotation was Madison Bumgarner and a group of starters the team could not truly trust to go five innings in a game.  Accordingly, Petit was used almost as a piggyback starting pitcher.  In that 2014 postseason, Petit would make four appearances going 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA (no runs allowed in the NLDS or NLCS) and a 0.868 WHIP.

In the past offseason, Petit was a free agent, and he signed a one year $3 million deal with the Washington Nationals with a $3 million team option for 2016.  He struggled this year in his 35 relief appearances and one start going 3-5 with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.323 WHIP.

In his nine year career, Petit is 23-32 with a 4.58 ERA and a 1.276 WHIP.  Whether or not his option is picked up by the Nationals, we should see Petit pitch in his tenth major league season in 2017.

Gaby Hernandez

The Mets traded their 2004 third round pick with Dante Brinkley for Paul Lo Duca.  Lo Duca was the emotional leader for the 2006 Mets that almost went to the World Series, and Hernandez never pitched in the major leagues.

Hernandez would bounce around from the Marlins to the Mariners to the Red Sox to the Royals to the White Sox and finally to the Diamondbacks.  While Hernandez had shown some early promise with the Mets, he never realized it.  He topped out at AAA where he would pitch for four seasons going 30-36 with a 5.80 ERA and a 1.562 WHIP.

Hernandez has not given up on his major league dream.  Since 2012, Hernandez has been pitching in the Atlantic Leagues.  Over the past three seasons, he has pitched Winter Ball.  He made 25 starts and two relief appearances for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, he was 7-10 with a 4.88 ERA and a 1.216 WHIP.  At the moment, the 30 year old Hernandez has not been signed to play for a Winter Leagues team.

Mike Jacobs

The Mets 1999 38th round draft pick was part of the aforementioned trade that helped the Mets acquire Delgado.  The Mets were largely able to use Jacobs as part of the trade because of the tremendous start to his career.

In 2005, Jacobs hit .310/.375/.710 with 11 homers and 23 RBI in 30 games.  While Jacobs continued to be a power hitter after leaving the Mets, he would never again reach those levels.  Eventually, his impatience at the plate caught up to him, and he would only only last seven years in the major leagues.  His penultimate season was with the Mets in 2010 when he was unseated by Ike Davis as the Mets first baseman.

After being released by the Mets, Jacobs has spent the past six seasons in AAA with a 13 game cup of coffee for the Diamondbacks in 2012.  In Jacob’s seven year career, he hit .253/.313/.473 with 100 homers and 312 RBI.  As a Met, he hit .290/.360/.645 with 12 homers and 25 RBI.  If he had enough at-bats to qualify, Jacobs would have the highest slugging percentage in Mets history.

At this point, it is unknown if the 35 year old Jacobs will continue playing professional baseball in 2017.

Philip Humber

The one theme that is developing here is that while these players didn’t have a big impact in the majors or the Mets, Omar Minaya utilized these players to help the ballclub. Humber is a perfect example of that.

The Mets 2004 first round pick (third overall) had an inauspicious start to his professional career needing Tommy John surgery in 2005.

With that Humber would only make one start in his Mets career, and it wasn’t particularly good.  With the Mets collapsing in the 2007, and the team having a rash of starting pitcher injuries, the team turned to the highest drafted player in their system.  Humber kept the woeful Washington Nationals at bay for the first three innings before allowing Church to hit a two run homer in the fourth and then sowing the seeds for a huge rally in the fifth inning that would see the Mets once 6-0 lead completely evaporate in a frustrating 9-6 loss.  This would be the last time Humber took the mound for the Mets.  In his Mets career, he would make one start and four relief appearances with no decisions, a 6.00 ERA, and a 1.333 WHIP.

Still, he showed enough to be a major part in the trade that would bring Johan Santana to the Mets.  Santana and Humber would both enter immortality.  Santana would throw the first no-hitter in Mets history.  Humber would become perhaps the unlikeliest of all pitchers to throw a perfect game.  It was the 21st perfect game in baseball history.  He joined David Cone as the only ex-Mets to throw a perfect game.  He joined a much longer list of seven former Mets, highlighted by Nolan Ryan, who threw a no-hitter AFTER leaving the Mets.  Humber would also become the pitcher with the highest career ERA to throw a perfect game.

In all, Humber played for five major league teams over his eight major league seasons.  In those eight major league seasons, he has gone 16-23 with a 5.31 ERA and a 1.420 WHIP.  He threw his last major league pitch in 2013 in a season he went 0-8 in 13 starts.  In 2014, he pitched for the Oakland Athletics’ AAA affiliate.  In 2015, he pitched for the Kia Tigers of the Korean Leagues going 3-3 with a 6.75 ERA and a 1.855 WHIP in 11 starts and one relief appearance.

Humber had signed on with the San Diego Padres and was invited to Spring Training in 2016.  He was released prior to the start of the season, and he did not throw one pitch for any professional team in 2016.  He is currently 33 years old, and at this point, he has not announced his retirement.

Carlos Gomez

Gomez has been far and away the best player on the list of the 2006 Mets top prospects.  He would be moved with Humber as a centerpiece in the Santana trade.

In Gomez’s early career, it was clear he was a Gold Glove caliber center fielder.  He made highlight reel play after highlight reel play for the Twins.  However, it was clear from how he was struggling at the plate, the projected five tool player wasn’t quite ready to be the hitter everyone anticipated he would be at the major league level.  Eventually, the Twins traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers, and in Milwaukee, Gomez would figure it out.

In Gomez’s five plus years with the Brewers, he won a Gold Glove and was a two time All Star.  He was also a coveted player at the 2015 trade deadline, and he almost became a New York Met again in exchange for Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores.  As we all remember, Flores cried on the field, and the Mets front office was disappointed in Gomez’s medicals causing them to rescind the trade due to a purported hip issue.

Gomez would then be traded to the Astros, and the Mets would appear to be vindicated for their decision.  Gomez played 126 games for the Astros before being released and picked up by the Texas Rangers.  In Texas, Gomez began playing like the player the Mets coveted at the 2015 trade deadline.  The 33 game burst came at the right time as the 30 year old Gomez will be a free agent for the first time in his career this offseason.

Overall, Gomez has played for 10 years, and he is a .257/.312/.415 hitter with 116 home runs, 453 RBI, and 239 stolen bases.  He is still a good center fielder, and he may still have a couple of good seasons in front of him.

Fernando Martinez

From the moment the Mets signed him as a 16 year old amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic, F-Mart was seen as a top prospect.  Many imagined he would become a five tool player like a Carlos Beltran.  Instead, his career went the way of Alex Ochoa.

F-Mart was the first big prize Minaya brought in when he become the General Manager of the Mets.  Understandably, he was considered untouchable in trade discussions.  As it turns out, the Mets wished they moved him when they had the opportunity.

F-Mart would only play in 47 games over three years with the Mets hitting just .183/.250/.290 with two homers and 12 RBI.  Eventually, with him not progressing as the Mets once hoped he would, and a different regime in place, F-Mart would eventually be put on waivers and claimed by the Houston Astros.  With the Astros, he would only play in 52 games over two years, and he would just hit .225/.285/.424 with seven homers and 17 RBI.

In 2013, the Astros traded him to the Yankees for minor league depth.  After the 2013 season, F-Mart would become a free agent, and he would find no suitors.

In 2014, he only played in the Dominican Winter Leagues, and in 2015, he played in only seven games in the Mexican Leagues.  Given how he has bounced around and seeing how many major league teams have either passed on him or have forgotten his existence, it is hard to believe that he is just 28 years old.

Hernandez is undeterred, and he is still playing baseball.  Right now, he is playing alongside current Mets shortstop prospect Luis Guillorme for Spain in the World Baseball Classic qualifying rounds.  Spain would go 0-2 in the European Qualifier and will not be a finalist for the World Baseball Classic.

Anderson Hernandez

The Mets acquired Hernandez from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for backup catcher Vance Wilson in 2005. Hernandez intrigued the Mets because he was an exceptionally skilled defensive shortstop.  The question with him was whether he was ever going to hit.

Despite these questions, and with Kaz Matsui starting the year on the disabled list, Hernandez would actually be the Mets Opening Day second baseman.  On Opening Day, he would show everyone why he was so highly regarded defensively with an impressive over the shoulder catch.  However, Hernandez would also show he would never be able to hit at the big league level.  That fact may have forever changed Mets history.

Despite hitting .152/.164/.242 in 25 games with the Mets, he would make the NLCS roster.  In Game 7 of the NLCS, with the Mets trailing 3-1, Jose Valentin and Endy Chavez led off the inning with back-to-back singles.  Instead of going to Hernandez to pinch-hit for Heilman to get the bunt down, Willie Randolph went to an injured Cliff Floyd to try to win the game.  Floyd would strike out, and Hernandez would enter the game only as a pinch runner for Lo Duca, who had worked out a walk to load the bases.  From first base, Hernandez got a good view of how the series would end.  Had Hernandez been able to hit just a little bit, it is possible he would have been sent up to bunt, and maybe things would have gone differently.

Overall, Hernandez never did show the ability to hit at the major league level.  The Mets gave up waiting.  In 2008, with the Mets desperate for relievers to plug in holes to a decimated bullpen, Hernandez was traded to the Nationals for Luis Ayala.

Hernandez would play for four teams in six seasons hitting .241/.300/.314 with four homers and 60 RBI.  While he did show he was skilled defensively, he could never hit enough to stick in the majors, and as a result, his major league career was over in 2010 when he was 27 years old.

From 2011 – 2013, Hernandez would play in AAA.  For the past three seasons, he has played in the Japanese Leagues.  In every season since 2006, the 33 year old has played in the Dominican Winter Leagues for Tigres del Licey.  It is unknown at this point if he is going to play for the Tigres this year or if he will return to the Japanese Leagues next year.

Brian Bannister

Bannister was the Mets 2003 seventh round draft pick out of USC.  He would become the first ever Brooklyn Cyclones pitcher to pitch a game for the New York Mets.  Bannister had earned that right by beating out Heilman for the fifth spot in the 2006 Mets Opening Day rotation.  There were a myriad of reasons including but not limited to Heilman’s importance in the bullpen.

Bannister’s career would get off to quite the start with him going 2-0 with a 2.89 ERA and a 1.393 WHIP.  While he struggled with his command and couldn’t go very deep into games as a result, the Mets were willing to stick with him through those five starts.  Unfortunately, Bannister would suffer a hamstring injury at the end of April that would linger for most of the year.  By the time he was healthy, John Maine was already a fixture in the rotation.  With the Mets acquiring Perez at the trade deadline, there was no longer a spot for him on the major league roster.

With there no longer being any room for him, the Mets moved him in the offseason to the Kansas City Royals for Ambiorix Burgos.  It was a trade that was detrimental for both players.  Bannister would pitch four years for the Royals going 35-49 with a 5.13 ERA and a 1.417 WHIP.  Burgos’ Mets career was marked by ineffectiveness, injury, and domestic violence.

After going 37-50 with a 5.08 ERA and a 1.421 WHIP in his five year major league career, Bannister had signed a two year deal to pitch for the Yomiuri Giants.  Bannister would never pitch for the Giants.  After an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, Bannister retired from baseball.  Since the 2015 season, the 35 year old Bannister has been a professional scout for the Boston Red Sox.

Alay Soler

In 2003, Soler defected to the Dominican Republic from Cuba.  The following year he would sign a three year $2.8 million contract with the New York Mets.

Soler would only pitch for the major league club in 2006.  He would make eight starts highlighted by a complete game two hit shut out of the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Unfortunately, the rest of his starts weren’t as great, and he would finish the year going 2-3 with a 6.00 ERA and a 1.578 WHIP.  His contract would expire at the end of the season, and the Mets would not re-sign him.

Soler would pitch in 14 games, mostly out of the bullpen, for the Pittsburgh Pirates AA affiliate in 2007.  In the following two seasons, Soler would return to the tri-state area pitching for the Long Island Ducks and Newark Bears of the Independent Leagues.  He would not pitch well at either stop, and no one would offer him a contract to play professional baseball in 2010.  In 2011, he pitched in two games in the Puerto Rican Winter Leagues.  Since that time, the 37 year old Soler has not pitched in professional baseball.

At this time, it is unknown as to what Soler has been doing in his post-baseball career.

What is known is that while the top prospects from the 2006 season largely did not pan out, then Mets GM Omar Minaya was able to utilize a number of the players to improve the 2006 and 2007 Mets teams that fell just short.  This has left many fans wondering what would have happened if Milledge was moved at his peak value or what would have happened if Hernandez learned how to hit.  Things may have gone very differently in both of those seasons.

Still, while you could call each of these prospects, save Gomez, a bust.  It is notable that nine of the 10 players played in the major leagues for multiple seasons.  Three of the players played in the postseason, and one won a World Series.  There have been All Star appearances and a perfect game from this group.  While you expected more, each player left their own mark on the Mets and the game of baseball.

Editor’s Note: this was first published on Mets Minors.

Terry Francona’s Tactics Were Reminiscent of Willie Randolph

This postseason Terry Francona relied heavily on this three best relievers throughout the postseason.  One reason why he did it was Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen were all terrific relievers.  Another reason why is the Indians starting rotation was decimated by injuries.  Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar were out of the rotation due to injury before the postseason, and Trevor Bauer lacerated his hand while fixing a drone.  Francona was forced to do what he did in the postseason.  It was not unlike Willie Randolph in 2006.

Like Francona, the Mets were running away with the division when disaster struck.  Their ace, Pedro Martinez, was ruled out for the postseason due to an injured leg, and then all hope of his return for the postseason was abandoned when it was discovered he had a torn rotator cuff.  While Steve Trachsel was purportedly healthy a year removed from a cervical discectomy, he wasn’t the same pitcher anymore finishing the year with a 4.97 ERA.  On the eve of the NLDS, Orlando Hernandez (“El Duque”) suffered a torn calf muscle thereby putting John Maine in position to start Game 1.

The surprise starter Maine gave the Mets 4.1 strong innings.  Still, with runners on first and second with one out, Randolph wasn’t taking any chances in a 2-1 game.  He first went to Pedro Feliciano to get Kenny Lofton, and then he went to Chad Bradford to get Nomar Garciaparra.  The bullpen pitched the final 4.2 innings to secure the victory.  This would essentially be how Randolph would manage the rest of the 2006 postseason in non-Tom Glavine starts.  Overall, here’s a look at when the Mets bullpen entered each game that postseason:

NLDS Game 1 John Maine 4.1 Chad Bradford
NLDS Game 2 Tom Glavine 6.0 Pedro Feliciano
NLDS Game 3 Steve Trachsel 3.1 Darren Oliver
NLCS Game 1 Tom Glavine 7.0 Guillermo Mota
NLCS Game 2 John Maine 4.0 Chad Bradford
NLCS Game 3 Steve Trachsel 1.0 Darren Oliver
NLCS Game 4 Oliver Perez 5.2 Chad Bradford
NLCS Game 5 Tom Glavine 4.0 Chad Bradford
NLCS Game 6 John Maine 5.1 Chad Bradford
NLCS Game 7 Oliver Perez 6.0 Chad Bradford

Overall, the Mets starters pitched 47.2 innings that entire postseason meaning they averaged 4.2 innings per start.  This year, the Indians starters pitched the very same 4.2 innings per star those 2006 Mets did.  Despite Francona and Randolph having the very same approaches to the postseason games, Francona was hailed as a visionary and a genius, whereas many blame Randolph for the Mets failures in the postseason.  The difference?

It started in Game 2 of the NLCS.  Mota infamously shook off Paul Lo Duca, and Scott Spiezio hit a game tying triple.  When Billy Wagner subsequently allowed a So Taguchi lead-off home run, it was a completely different NLCS.  Then in Game 7, Aaron Heilman left a change-up up in the zone, and Yadier Molina hit a go-ahead two run home run.  If not for those two mistakes, the Mets are in the World Series, and quite possibly, it is Randolph, not Francona that is seen as the visionary.

But the Mets lost because their pitchers did not execute in the two biggest moments of that series.  As such, Francona is the genius because to the victor goes the spoils.

It Began With the Home Run Derby

In 1985, Major League Baseball made the Home Run Derby a part of the All Star Game Festivities.  Darryl Strawberry would become the first ever Met to participate in a Home Run Derby and the only Met to win one.  He shared the title with Wally Joyner, who also hit four home runs.  Needless to say, it was a much different back then.

No other Met who followed would ever win a Home Run Derby.  In 1989, Howard Johnson‘s two home runs fell short of the three home runs hit by Ruben Sierra and Eric Davis.  In 1993, Bobby Bonilla would fall short as well as his five home runs were two short of the seven hit by Juan Gonzalez and Ken Griffey, Jr.  The Mets would not be close to winning until 2006 with David Wright.

It was that night in Pittsburgh that Wright seemed to be emerging from star to superstar.  With Paul Lo Duca as hit pitcher, Wright would hit 16 homers in the first round.  He made it all the way to the finals before losing to Ryan Howard.  In 2013, when the All Star Game was hosted at Citi Field, Wright would acquit himself well hitting five home runs.  However, he would not make it out of the first round.  Not many would notice as Wright wasn’t the story of that Home Run Derby.  It was Yoenis Cespedes flashing La Potencia:

Cespedes wowed the crowd with 17 first round homers en route to winning the 2013 Home Run Derby.  It was on that night that Cespedes’ legend began.  It was on that night that Mets fans began to become infatuated with him.  Three years later, he’s now their best player, and with him goes their hopes of returning to the World Series.

Mets Pitchers Go to the Mattresses

The Mets have a $140 million payroll. The strength of the team is its young, cost-controlled pitching. The pre-arbitration pitchers make little money by baseball standards. However, their $500,000+ salary should allow them to live comfortably. 

Families make a lot less than that, and they can put a roof over their families heads and put food on the table. One of the crazy things a family is able to afford, even with relatively modest means, is a mattress for everyone. When they go away to places like Florida, they can stay at places that have decent mattresses. So with that said, why can’t the Mets and their players?

Last year, Steven Matz almost missed the postseason because he injured his back sleeping on a Barcalounger. Yesterday, Jacob deGrom missed his Spring Training start because he tweaked his back sleeping on a mattress that was too soft. He was able to throw a bullpen. He then counseled with Matt Harvey who, like Baby Bear, had a mattress recommendation that is just right

I know, I know. We should calm down. Matz was able to pitch in the postseason, and deGrom was able to pitch a pain free bullpen. However, I get nervous because it’s the dumbest things that interfere with a great or potentially great season. 

The 1987 Mets never got traction with their pitchers missing time. Most notably was Dwight Gooden and his cocaine suspension.  Aside from Gooden, I think every Met pitcher had an injury including the guy who threw batting practice. 

In 1988, the Mets returned to form, but there was a strange injury that hurt their chances at another World Series title. On the day the Mets clinched the NL East, Bob Ojeda, who was amazing in 1986, nearly severed the middle finger on his pitching hand while trimming the bushes in his front yard. The Mets, who dominated the Dodgers in the regular season, lost the NLCS in seven games. 

In 2006, Duaner Sanchez suffered a season ending shoulder injury during a late night cab ride to get a late night bite. This caused a number of moves to try to replace his spot in the bullpen. In the seventh inning of Game Two of the NLCS, Guillermo Mota shook off Paul Lo Duca and threw a change up that Scot Spiezio turned into a game tying triple. In Game Seven, Aaron Heilman allowed Yadier Molina to hit the series winning homerun. It’s possible Sanchez would’ve closed the door in either situation. Instead, he was unavailable. 

The overriding point is that it’s not just the Tommy John surgeries that kill your chances. It’s also the yard work and can rides. It’s the unforeseen problems that arise. Maybe the Mets win in 1988 if Ojeda hires a gardener. Maybe the Mets win in 2006 if Sanchez orders room service. I don’t want to say maybe the Mets win in 2016 if their pitchers had better mattresses. 

If in the equipment manager, I’m ordering a mattresses that Harvey recommended for every player. The 2016 season cannot be derailed by a bad mattress. 

Wish Mike Piazza Was Here

From the moment he arrived in 1998, Mike Piazza brought the Mets to another level. The Mets went from young and improving to a playoff team. 

He was joined by some terrific Mets along the way. Edgardo AlfonzoJohn OlerudRobin VenturaAl Leiter, etc. However, Piazza was the man. He was (and still is) the greatest hitting catcher in the history of the game. With some bad luck and some other factors, the Mets didn’t win the World Series when Piazza was with the Mets. 

The Mets missed their shot.  The Mets were beset with hard times and bad decisions after that. However, Piazza still had his moments: 

However, he never got his chance to go back to the playoffs, to win a ring. I thought about that in 2006. I was hoping the Mets would bring him back like they did Lee Mazzilli in 1986. I understood why they didn’t. 

Paul Lo Duca had a terrific year. Piazza was still a capable starting catcher with pop in his bat. You couldn’t ask either to sit on the bench. You also don’t want to invite the controversy. It still doesn’t mean I didn’t miss him, especially with Ramon Castro being the backup catcher. 

For the first time since 2006, the Mets were in the playoffs. For the first time since 2000, the Mets are in the World Series. There was a time it was all because of Piazza. He’s retired now on the cusp of the Hall of Fame. It’s where he belongs. 

I just wish he was here. 

I Hate the Dodgers

I was lucky. When I first became interested in baseball the Mets were really good. They finished second or higher in the NL East from 1984 – 1990. 

During that time span, I was only concerned about the Mets. Hating the Yankees didn’t even make sense yet. They were not good enough to be hated. Besides, they played in the American League, and they never played the Mets in the regular season. I really didn’t hate any teams until 1988. 

I remember the exact moment. It was the day of my aunt’s bridal shower, which was being hosted at my parent’s house. The men were thrown into the basement to watch the NLCS. With the game tied at three, Jay Howell got caught cheating. He was using pine tar. When the Mets went off to score five runs after his ejection, it was the first time I experienced schadenfreude. 

The moment got me really interested and focused on the 1988 NLCS; more than an eight year old should. I lived and died with that team for the next four games. I was devastated when the Mets lost. I then hate watched the World Series for the first time in my life. Kirk Gibson‘s homerun was one of the greatest moments in MLB history. However, I was just angry the Dodgers won again. 

My hatred of the Dodgers would only grow from there. Darryl Strawberry was my favorite player. As a kid, I had no real grasp of free agency. The Dodgers would teach me all about it. I was in the car with my Dad listening to WFAN after we visited Nana. I then heard that Strawberry signed with the Dodgers. 

I didn’t understand. How could my favorite player go to the Dodgers?  He was a Met. I was crushed. It got worse. I also loved Gary Carter. Later that offseason, he would also sign with the Dodgers. I remember the first Mets-Dodgers game in 1991. I was sitting in my parent’s basement playing Strat-O-Matic with my Dad when the game started. 

As I grew older, I came to hate other teams more. However, I always hated the Dodgers.  It’s what made the Mike Piazza years even sweeter. It’s what made the Paul Lo Duca double tag out at home plate even better. It’s why I’m even more excited for this series. 

Lets Go Mets!

Dodgers & Mets All Stars

Whether people in Los Angeles know it, these two franchises will forever be linked. As many of you younger Mets fans (I can still call myself that, right?), many of our fathers grew up as a Brooklyn Dodger fan. They became Mets fans because the Dodgers left town. 

The Mets came into existence as a result of the Dodgers moving from Brooklyn. The Mets owners won’t quite let the Dodgers go. The teams have also shared stars. 

From Gil Hodges to Mike Piazza, former Dodger stars have found their way to the Mets. These Dodger stars have been important parts of Mets postseason runs:

You know what’s insane about that play?  You know other than it happened. Former Dodger Shawn Green relayed the ball to former Dodger Jose Valentin, who threw the ball to former Dodger Paul Lo Duca. The first runner tagged out was former Met Jeff Kent. It seems that J.D. Drew wasn’t supposed to be part of this play at all. 

In any event, rather than go on about how much I hate the Dodgers (don’t worry, that’s coming tomorrow) I thought it would be fun to name the best players who have played for the Mets and Dodgers. 

Some ground rules.  I want someone who played well with the Mets and Dodgers. Using a Giants example, I’m not picking Willie Mays for CF even though he could be the greatest CF in MLB history. I want someone like Piazza, who was great (or at least good) with both teams. So, here’s my list:

P – Bobby Ojeda

C – Mike Piazza

1B – Eddie Murray

2B – Jeff Kent

3B – Todd Zeile

SS – Jose Vizcaino

LF – Danny Heep

CF – Brett Butler

RF – Darryl Strawberry

Honestly, I thought this team would be better. The main problem was the derth of left fielders. Another problem was someone like Zeile. He played 3B for the Dodgers, but he mostly played 1B for the Mets. As you can tell, I leaned towards the player who was better as a Mets. If there are any suggestions, I’ll be happy to update this list. 

As we know, the Dodgers and Mets have a complicated history. The next chapter begins tomorrow night. Lets Go Mets!

Biggest Trade Deadline Acquistion: Mets Fans are Back

Say what you want, but I’m the biggest Mets fan there is. Some may have been fans longer. Some may have gone to more games. Some may spend more money on paraphernalia, but there is no bigger Mets fan than me. 

You know what’s great though?  I just wrote that, and there are people legitimately angry at my statement. There are about a million other Mets fans who legitimately feel the same way. Despite what a garbage analysis says, Mets fans are incredible. 

Just look at the way we treated Wilmer Flores after the Carlos Gomez trade disintegrated. We gave Mike Piazza a curtain call when he was a visiting player. The fans gave Carlos Beltran a standing ovation at the 2013 AllStar  Game, and he was wearing a Cardinals uniform. If you don’t think the Mets’ fans register with the players, you’re wrong. 

Back in the old message board days, Todd Pratt would interact with Mets fans under the user name “Tank.”  If you’re a Mets fan on Twitter, Paul Lo Duca will follow you. Mike Piazza himself acknowledged the fans yesterday during the Mets game:

Last night, the fans were great. You could feel the excitement through the television. It was apparent to everyone. Curt Schilling, who  pitched in the NL East when the Mets were very good and very bad, summed it up best when he said, “[s]peaking from experience, this is a not a fan base you want to wake up.”  

That’s the thing with those of us who miss Shea. There were memories there. The baseball at Citi Field has not been good. Aside from the Johan Santana no-hitter, there have been no signature moments. But Shea?  That’s where we saw our first game. That’s where 1969 and 1986 happened. That’s where Piazza seemingly healed New York for one night:

Look at those fans. The whole country was hurting.  At that time, we questioned if it was too soon to come back to New York. We questioned if it would be safe to play a game in New York. They played, and the fans came. They roared as Mike Piazza may have hit the most important homerun ever hit. 

Guess what?  These Mets fans are back.  Like me, we’re bringing our kids with us. I know my son has been getting swept up in the excitement of these games. When I ask him if he wants to watch, he now runs so we can watch it together. He cheers the homeruns. I could not get him to sleep after the three third inning homerun innings last night. He was that excited. 

I’m more excited. I’m dreaming of an NL East title. I’m dreaming of a pennant. I’m dreaming of being able to see a World Series game with my Dad and son. That would be a dream come true. 

This season and team has momentum. I know Mets fans want to and will ride it into October.   David Wright, and to a lesser extent Daniel Murphy, knows how Mets fans can get. I’m excited to show how great we are to a whole new generation of Mets players and fans. If Matt Harvey thought the fans were good during his breakout year, he’s seen nothing yet. 

I can’t wait to see the stands as we begin to get some signature moments at Citi Field. We can finally make this place feel like home. It’s going to be a fun ride. 

Lets Go Mets!