Saturday, April 23, 2016

Curtis Granderson Has Ended the Game of Musical Chairs in Right Field

Curtis Granderson warms up in right field before a game.  Not many other Mets have been able to say the same since 2014.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

It's been more than a quarter century since Darryl Strawberry patrolled right field for the last time as a member of the New York Mets.  Since then, the Mets have used 17 different Opening Day right fielders.  Sixteen of them made their Opening Day starts in the 23 seasons between 1991 (when Hubie Brooks replaced Strawberry in right) and 2013 (when Marlon Byrd became the word at the outfield position).  No Met started more than three Opening Day games in right field in those 23 seasons and none started more than two consecutive season openers.

Since Strawberry's departure following the 1990 campaign, a total of 126 men have played at least one game in right field for the Mets.  The long list of players includes Chip Ambres, who played a total of two innings in right field for the Mets in 2007 and drove in the game-winning run in that game - his only RBI as a member of the team - to Bobby Bonilla, who just wanted to be a Bronx tour guide to a certain Daily News reporter and author when he wasn't playing right field 229 times during two stints with the Mets.

Of the 126 players who succeeded Strawberry in right, only 17 of them played at least 100 games at the position.  And in the 23 seasons following the Straw Man's departure, no Met played as many as 300 games in right field, as Jeromy Burnitz's total of 290 games in right led all players from 1991 to 2013.  But after a quarter century, the Mets may finally have found their first everyday right fielder since Darryl packed his bags to go home to Los Angeles.

Curtis Granderson signed a four-year contract with the Mets prior to the 2014 campaign.  It wasn't the first time the team had signed a right fielder to a lengthy contract, as the aforementioned Bonilla signed a five-year deal with the Mets following the 1991 season, only to see him shift over to each corner infield position and eventually run himself out of town with a year and a half left on his contract.

As in Bonilla's case, Granderson had a subpar first season in New York.  Bonilla's final year in Pittsburgh in 1991 saw him produce a .302 batting average, a league-leading 44 doubles and his third 100-RBI campaign in four seasons.  As the Mets' new right fielder in 1992, Bonilla batted just .249 with 70 RBI and fewer extra-base hits (23 doubles, 19 homers) than he had doubles in 1991.  Granderson, who produced back-to-back 40-HR campaigns with the Yankees in his final two healthy seasons with the team in 2011 and 2012, did not drive in many runs for the Mets as a middle-of-the-order hitter in 2014 and was eventually moved to the leadoff spot because of his ability to draw walks.  His first season as a Met was mostly underwhelming, as he batted .227 with 20 homers, 66 RBI and 73 runs scored in 155 games, with 142 of those games seeing Granderson playing right field.

Granderson's sophomore season in Flushing was a smashing success, as he posted a .259/.364/.457 slash line.  His .821 OPS was over one hundred points higher than the .714 OPS he produced in 2014.  He also scored 98 runs and walked 91 times, the most by any Mets right fielder since Strawberry, who scored 101 runs in 1988 and walked 97 times in 1987.  In doing so, Granderson became just the seventh player in Mets history - regardless of position - to have 90+ runs and 90+ walks in the same season.  The other six players are among the best in team history - Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, John Olerud, Edgardo Alfonzo, Carlos Beltran and David Wright.

Who would have thought Granderson would ever be on a list with these guys?

Including last night's game - one in which Granderson had a very Strawberry-like performance with two homers and five runs batted in - Granderson has started 286 games in right field since joining the Mets in 2014.  He has also played in 20 other games in right that he did not start, giving him 306 games played in right field - the most by any player on the Mets since Strawberry departed via free agency more than a quarter century ago.

As of this writing, only Strawberry (1,062 games), Rusty Staub (535 games), Ron Swoboda (434 games) and Joel Youngblood (309 games) have appeared in more games in right field for the Mets.  By early next week, Granderson should pass Youngblood into fourth place and should Granderson stay healthy, he'll pass Swoboda by the end of the season.

For the better part of a quarter century, the Mets struggled to find anyone resembling a permanent replacement for Darryl Strawberry in right field.  In the 21-plus seasons before Strawberry's debut in May 1983, the Mets had trotted out 77 different right fielders.  In the 23 seasons following the Straw Man's departure, New York chewed up and spit out 125 right fielders.  The 126th right fielder is finally making the position his own.

Until David Wright joined the team in 2004, the running gag was to keep track of the number of third basemen in team history.  (For the record, Wright was the 129th Met to man the hot corner.)  As of today, the Mets have used 158 players at third base.  Meanwhile, a total of 221 players have found themselves playing right field for the Mets at least once in their careers.  Curtis Granderson is doing all he can to make sure that number stays in the 220s until his contract expires after the 2017 campaign.

It's good to know that the Mets finally have a productive player in right field after so many years of searching for one.  A 25-year game of musical chairs was far too long.

Matt Harvey and the Mets' Mediocrity in His Starts

Until last night, the Mets hadn't won a regular season game started by Matt Harvey since last season's division clincher.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Matt Harvey earned his first regular season victory in last night's 6-3 win over the Atlanta Braves.  But more importantly, the Mets earned their first win in a Matt Harvey start since last year's division clincher.  Harvey had made four regular season appearances since the team won the N.L. East crown on September 26.  Those four contests included his un-Harvey-like three-game start to this season and the next-to-last regular season game of 2015 - a game in which the Mets were no-hit by Max Scherzer.

All told, Harvey has made 69 starts in his Mets career and the team has lost more than half of them, going 34-35 in the Dark Knight's appearances.  There are many reasons for the Mets' mediocrity in starts made by the pitcher many deemed to be the future of the franchise.

Harvey's bullpen has failed to protect his leads.  Like Johan Santana in 2008, who had seven leads blown by the team's bullpen, turning a potential 23-win, Cy Young campaign into a 16-win, third place finish in the balloting for top pitcher in the National League, Harvey has been occasionally victimized by his relief corps as well.  It all began in his final start in 2012, when Harvey pitched seven innings of one-hit ball against the Phillies, leaving the game with a 2-1 lead, only to see Josh Edgin surrender a two-run homer to Ryan Howard with two outs in the ninth.  The Mets lost that game, 3-2.

In 2013, the Mets won each of Harvey's first five starts, but then went 8-13 in his next 21 starts before his season was cut short in August due to the injury that caused him to undergo Tommy John surgery.  In three of those 13 losses, the Mets were leading the game when Harvey was removed by Terry Collins, only to see the bullpen become BFFs with opposing hitters, giving up Harvey's leads in eventual Mets losses.

Upon returning from Tommy John surgery in 2015, Harvey finally had some success helping the Mets earn victories, but the team still lost a dozen times in Harvey's 29 starts.  Once again, New York dropped three games in which Harvey left them with a lead to protect.  Add it all up and the Mets have lost seven games when Harvey was removed with the lead - or the same number of times the Mets' bullpen blew leads for Johan Santana in 2008 alone.  Had the bullpen been more successful for Harvey and the Mets in those seven instances, the team's 34-35 record in Harvey's starts could have been a more impressive 41-28.

But don't just blame the bullpen for the team's mediocrity in Harvey's starts.  In fact, the team has saved Harvey from a number of losses several times during his career as well.

On April 24, 2013, Harvey allowed three runs to the Dodgers in six innings.  When he left the game, the Mets trailed Los Angeles, 3-1.  New York tied the game in the ninth, then won it in the tenth on Jordany Valdespin's walk-off grand slam.  A month later, Harvey was all set to pick up a hard-luck loss when he pitched eight masterful innings against the Yankees but left the game with his team down, 1-0.  The Mets rallied for two runs in the ninth, marking the only time in Mariano Rivera's career that he came into a save situation and earned the loss without retiring a batter.

Fast forward two years later during the Mets' run to the N.L. East title in 2015.  On September 8, Harvey pitched an awful game in Washington, allowing seven runs to the Nats before he was removed with one out in the sixth and his team trailing by six.  Then Wilmer Flores happened (RBI single).  Then Curtis Granderson happened (bases-loaded walk).  Then Yoenis Cespedes joined the party (three-run bases-clearing double).  Then Lucas Duda remained patient (game-tying bases-loaded walk).  Finally, an inning later, Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit his final homer as a Met, taking Jonathan Papelbon deep for what became the winning run in the Mets' 8-7 victory.

There were also a game in 2015 where Harvey was actually helped out by his bullpen to help the Mets earn a victory.  On July 31, Harvey was removed from a 1-1 game against the Nationals with two runners on base.  But Tyler Clippard won a 13-pitch battle against Jayson Werth, striking out the hirsute slugger to preserve the tie.  Had Werth driven in a run or two against Clippard, those runs would have been charged to Harvey and the game might never have gone to extra innings.  But because Clippard and the rest of the bullpen (and eventually Wilmer Flores in the 12th inning) did their jobs, Harvey escaped with a no-decision and the Mets escaped with a much-needed win.

So that's four wins where Harvey could very well have been saddled with a loss, but the Mets stormed back to victory.  That 34-35 overall record by the team could have been a more disturbing 30-39 had those rallies not ensued.

It's true that Harvey has been more effective than not.  His 2.66 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in his career says that's the case.  It's also true that the Mets' bats have had a tendency to hit the snooze button more than they've hit baseballs in too many of Harvey's starts.  Harvey has allowed two runs or fewer in 45 of his 69 starts, or 65.2% of the time.  In those starts, the Mets are just 27-18, for a .600 winning percentage.  That might seem okay until you look at how the Mets have fared when Jacob deGrom has allowed two runs or fewer.  DeGrom has held opponents to two runs or fewer in 36 of his 53 starts, or 67.9% of the time, which is not much higher than Harvey's percentage.  However, New York has a phenomenal 29-7 record when deGrom holds opponents to no more than two tallies.  That's good for an .806 winning percentage, which is far higher than Harvey's mark in similar outings.

To summarize, Matt Harvey has been a victim of everything that can contribute to his team's mediocre record in his starts.  He's been a victim of an occasionally shoddy bullpen.  He's also had his teammates take several days off at the plate when he's been on the mound.  But on the flip side, both the bullpen and the offense have also bailed Harvey out a few times.

Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good.  In Matt Harvey's case, he's been very good throughout his career, but he also hasn't had the best of luck.  Put it all together and you have a four-year career that has produced just 34 victories by his team in his 69 starts.  It's a trend that's been going on for far too long and needs to change very soon if Harvey is ever going to be the type of pitcher everyone expects him to be.  His win against Atlanta last night needs to be the stepping stone for bigger and better things in the future.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Gary Sheffield's 500th HR Almost Didn't Come as a Met

So here I am alone on a lovely Sunday afternoon in New York while my wife is down with O.P.P.  (Other People's Pets.  She's a pet sitter and walker, you know.)  I have two choices.  I could take advantage and go outside to enjoy the comfortable 70° temperatures or I could stay inside our apartment pondering statistical data about a player who spent just one of his 22 seasons in the big leagues with the Mets.

Naturally, I decided on the latter option.

As you may or may not know, Gary Sheffield played 21 seasons in the major leagues before signing with the Mets just before the start of the 2009 campaign.  Sheffield, the nephew of Mets legend Dwight Gooden, entered his final season in the majors needing one home run to join the exclusive 500-HR club - a fraternity that guaranteed Hall of Fame induction prior to the steroid era.

It took Sheffield just six games into his Mets' tenure to club his 500th homer, as the bat-wagging slugger took Milwaukee reliever Mitch Stetter deep at Citi Field on April 17, 2009 - exactly seven years ago today.  A joyful Sheffield trotted around the bases and received an ovation only a New York crowd could give.  But Sheffield's landmark blast might not have occurred in the Big Apple had it not been for Mother Nature's interference just seven years earlier.!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_350250/24-gary-sheffield-509.jpg
This reaction might have come in a Detroit Tigers uniform had Mother Nature not paid a visit to Shea Stadium in 2002.

In 2002, Sheffield was a member of the Atlanta Braves when the Mets' hated division rivals visited Shea Stadium for a four-game series in late June.  The Braves took two of the first three games in the series, with Sheffield providing the game-winning grand slam off Mets reliever Scott Strickland in the third game on June 26.  (That was career home run No. 327 for Sheffield, for those keeping score at home.)  The next night, Sheffield crushed a two-run homer in the first inning off Mets starter Pedro Astacio to give Atlanta an early lead.  But before the game became official, it was washed out by an early summer thunderstorm.  That wasn't the only thing that was washed out, as Sheffield's 328th career homer had to be removed from the record books as well, since the game was called before the conclusion of the fifth inning.

Because Sheffield lost a home run at Shea Stadium due to the elements in 2002, he came to New York as a member of the Mets in 2009 with 499 career homers rather than an even five hundred.  As a result, Sheffield made home run history as member of the Mets, just seven years after a home run he hit against the Mets was removed from the history books.

Today, Mother Nature is giving New Yorkers a taste of her sweetness.  But over a decade ago, she showed Gary Sheffield her other side - the side that washed out a potential home run that would have prevented him from making history in a Mets uniform.  And because of that side, I'm spending a lovely day inside my apartment sharing that story with you when I could be spending it outside with all the Gary Sheffield-loving Mets fans frolicking in Central Park.  (I'm sure there's more than one.)

It's a good thing I'm not as fickle as Mother Nature.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Mets Shouldn't Be So Evenly Matched With the Marlins ... But They Are

The Mets and Marlins never seem to budge when they face each other.  (Photo by Andy Marlin.  Seriously, that's his name.)

When you think of the Marlins, you think of fire sales and less-than-mediocre baseball.  After all, other than their store-bought championships, the team Jeffrey Loria built (then dismantled) has only surpassed 84 victories three times since their inaugural season in 1993 and has finished in last place or next-to-last in 13 of their 23 campaigns.  The Marlins have also never won a division title - joining their '93 expansion mates in Colorado as the only MLB teams never to do so - even though they won two titles as wild card teams.

Since the Marlins came into the league nearly a quarter century ago, the Mets have secured two wild cards, two division titles and two National League pennants.  New York has also finished above .500 ten times since becoming N.L. East rivals with Florida/Miami and has finished in first or second place in the division on nine occasions.

Finally, the Mets have posted a worse record than the Marlins in just eight of their 23 seasons.  And from 1993 to 2015, New York has gone a collective 28 games under .500, while their division rivals in Florida are a combined 230 games below the break-even point.

Just by reading the three paragraphs above, it certainly appears as if the Mets should have an easy time with the Marlins when they play each other.  But they never have.  In fact, the two teams are so evenly matched when they square off against one another that a single run usually decides their contests.  And no other team in the division is even close to the Marlins when it comes to one-run affairs played against the Mets.

Since 2009, when Citi Field first opened its doors, the Mets and Marlins have played each other 67 times in Flushing.  Incredibly, the two teams have played a whopping 32 one-run games at Citi Field in those seven-plus seasons seasons - or almost half of all the games they've played against each other in New York.  In the same time period, the Mets have played a similar number of games against the other teams in the division - Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington - and haven't had nearly as many contests decided by the slimmest of margins.  In fact, according to this tweet by a supposed Mets blogger, the disparity between Mets/Marlins one-run games and Mets/Other Division Rivals single-tally affairs was enough to make his fingers stick to the CAPS LOCK button.
In addition to the plethora of tight ballgames at Citi Field, the Mets and Marlins have also played their share of one-run games at Marlins Park, Florida/Miami's previous stadium and Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico.  In total, the two squads have played 26 one-run games (out of 65 total games) in the state of Florida and the commonwealth of Puerto Rico since 2009, giving the clubs an incredible 58 one-run affairs against one another in the last seven-plus seasons, which include the back-to-back single-tally decisions that closed out this week's series between the two teams at Citi Field.

And why just stop at one-run games?  Since 2009, the Mets and Marlins were tied after nine innings in 14 different contests.  One of those games, played in 2013, lasted 15 innings and resulted in a 4-3 win by Miami.  Another, played just 40 days later, took a little longer to complete, as the somewhat blurry photo below confirms.

Just like the Energizer Bunny, Mets/Marlins games just keep going and going and going...

Let's recap, shall we?  Since 2009, the Mets have played the Marlins 132 times.  In 58 of those games, the two teams were separated on the scoreboard by just one run.  (For all you kids out there, that's 43.9% of their showdowns.)  When the two teams have dueled each other at Citi Field, they've played one-run games in 32 of those 67 affairs, or an incredible 47.8% of their matchups in the Big Apple.  No other team has even come close to approaching the frequency of one-run games that the Mets and Marlins have had over the past few years.

Look at the final season records since 1993 and you'll see that the Mets have an advantage over the Marlins in won-loss record, postseason appearances and number of times finishing near the top of the division standings.  But when the two teams play each other, it seems as if no team has the advantage.  If you've come to a Mets/Marlins game with the hopes of watching a blowout, you've picked the wrong game to attend (although Steven Matz might disagree with that statement).

Here's one final note on how evenly matched the two teams are.  As mentioned before, the two teams have played 58 one-run games against each other since 2009, with 32 of those games taking place at Citi Field and the other 26 occurring at whatever named park the Marlins have been playing in at the time.  In New York, the Mets have won 21 of those 32 games.  In Florida and Puerto Rico, the Marlins have emerged victorious in 18 of the 26 contests.  Put that together and what do you get?  You guessed it.  The two teams are 29-29 in their 58 one-run games.

The Mets and Marlins have 16 games left against each other in 2016 that will probably end up with eight wins for each team and several one-run tilts and extra-inning affairs for your viewing pleasure.  Would you expect anything else from the two squads?

Friday, April 8, 2016

25 Years Ago: Memories of My First Opening Day Game (And My First Date)

The Mets defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in their home opener today, 7-2.  It marked the 26th consecutive year I've attended the Mets' first home game of the season.  In fact, it was 25 years ago on this date that I attended my first home opener - a day in which the temperature reached a record high of 90 degrees, or about twice as many degrees as today's affair.

Speaking of dates, that game also marked the first time I went out on a date, because what better place to take your date than to Shea Stadium to see the rapidly declining post-Davey Johnson era Mets play?  So to mark the 25th anniversary of my first date and first home opener - a game in which the Mets were also playing gracious hosts to the Phillies - here is the happy recap of that game and date (plus some other interesting anecdotes).  Enjoy!


I love my wife.  And I met her at a Mets game.  True story.  She was a blogger, as was I, and we were both going to "Build-A-Bear Night" at Citi Field on August 1, 2009.  So we decided to meet up on the Promenade Level before the game.  Of course, we had our new bears in tow, and I had a few other bears with me.  We talked about bears and the Mets, then saw the game separately from our regular seats.

Later that month, we went to our first game together.  Naturally, the bears were our chaperones.  We met up a few more times during the season's final month.  Then I asked her what she was doing during the off-season.  Notice I didn't say "during the winter", because to a Mets fan, there are only two seasons - baseball season and the off-season.  Well, that phrasing struck a chord with her.  Needless to say, what we did during the off-season was spend more time together and fall in love.  The following May, we got married, then waited two months to go on our honeymoon in San Francisco.  Why the wait?  Because the Mets weren't due to play the Giants on the road until July.  Yup, I gave her a diamond AFTER we got married.

I never said we were a conventional couple.

Almost 20 years before I met the love of my life, I went on my first-ever date.  The day was April 8, 1991, and my date's name was K.V.  (I'm using her initials in case she's reading this and doesn't want to be associated with a bear-carrying Mets fanatic.)  Most people go to the movies or dinner or a combination of the two on a first date.  Not me.  Where did I take K.V. on our date?  Like you need to ask...

It was Opening Day.  So we went to Shea Stadium.

The temperature that day was an unseasonably hot 90º.  At the time, it was the earliest date on the calendar that New York had ever registered a 90º reading.  We were both undergraduates at St. John's University, finishing up our sophomore years.  Her mother worked in the school library, so I had already gotten that first meeting with her out of the way.  We actually went to visit K.V.'s mother prior to leaving for Shea, at which time she told us to have a good time and stay out of the sun, if at all possible.

The Mets were fielding a brand-new team in 1991 as they embarked on what the team hoped would be its eighth consecutive winning season.  But this would also be the first time since 1983 that Davey Johnson wouldn't come out of the dugout during the Opening Day introductions, as Buddy Harrelson had taken over for the former skipper during the previous season.

K.V. confessed to me that it was her first baseball game as we proceeded to sit in our Upper Deck seats on the first base side.  I confessed to her that it was my first-ever date with anyone, to which she said "Awww, and you chose me.  I'm so honored."

As the game began, I noticed that four of the starting nine players on the Mets had not been with the team at the beginning of the previous campaign.  Charlie O'Brien was calling the game behind the plate, while former Cardinal nemeses Tommy Herr and Vince Coleman were the Mets' new second baseman and center fielder, respectively.  Right field used to be where Darryl Strawberry had his patch, but he had left for Los Angeles as a free agent.  In his stead was a player who was very special to long-time Mets fans, including myself, but had not worn a Mets uniform since 1984.  And this was how he was re-introduced.

"Playing right field, No. 7.  Welcome back, Huuuubie Brooooks."

I'd have bought one of these, but I chose to save the money for my date.

Hubie Brooks made a quick impression on me during his first stint in New York.  It was Brooks who hit the first home run I ever saw in person.  On June 15, 1983, I was at Shea Stadium with my Little League teammates when Brooks took future Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins deep in the fourth inning.  It was the only home run Brooks would ever hit off Jenkins in 18 career plate appearances, and one of only two hits he would muster off the pitching legend.

Eight years after I cheered Brooks as he touched home plate following his homer, I would cheer him again as he scored, although this time he touched the plate in a completely different way.

The Mets were leading the Phillies, 1-0, as the game headed into the bottom of the fourth.  Hubie Brooks led off the inning by roping a double to right field - his first hit as a Met in seven years.  Brooks then advanced to third on a fly ball by Howard Johnson.  Left fielder Kevin McReynolds failed to bring him home when he grounded out weakly to third base.  With two outs, Tommy Herr drew a walk to put runners on the corners.  That brought up Charlie O'Brien, whose .209 career batting average entering the game was six points lower than Mario Mendoza's .215 lifetime mark.

You read that right.  The namesake of the "Mendoza Line" was a better hitter than Charlie O'Brien.

Clearly, if the Mets were going to extend their lead, manager Buddy Harrelson was going to have to try something different.  So he did.  On an 0-1 pitch, Harrelson had Herr steal second.  When Phillies catcher Darren Daulton threw the ball to second in an attempt to nail Herr, Brooks darted for the plate, sliding home safely to give the Mets a 2-0 lead.

The unexpected play caused K.V. and I to simultaneously jump out of seats and embrace.  Yup, it was our first hug, and Hubie Brooks made it happen.  With the Mets now holding a two-run lead, we decided to get some refreshing ice cream to cool down on the sweltering day.  By the time we got to the concession stand, John Kruk had homered off Dwight Gooden to cut the Mets' lead back to a single run.

Needless to say, we went back to our seats and didn't leave our section again until the final out was recorded.

In the seventh inning, as we were singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame", K.V. accidentally bumped into my leg.  So I bumped her back.  We ended up doing what appeared to be a strange leg-bump dance for the duration of the song.  It was then that I realized that I could do something other than calculate players' batting averages in my head.  I could also flirt.  Score one for me.

Speaking of scoring, there were no more runs scored after Kruk's fifth-inning homer.  The Mets held on for a 2-1 victory, making my first date - and my first-ever Opening Day game - a complete success.

After the game, K.V. and I walked back to Main Street in Flushing, where we had two additional ice cream cones (mint chocolate chip for both of us), then we took the bus back to her house.  I was a gentleman, and didn't ask to go in, but she insisted.  I didn't spend much time inside, but when I left, I did get a kiss goodbye.

I scored more that day than the Phillies did.

K.V. and I continued to hang out during our remaining college years, but we never went to another Mets game.  We also didn't really date much more after that hot April afternoon.  Perhaps that's a good thing.  After all, had something happened between us, I might never have met my wife on "Build-A-Bear Night" nearly two decades later.

Hubie Brooks and I go way back.  He was responsible for the first home run I ever witnessed at a ballgame, and he was responsible for the first (and to this date, only) double steal I've ever had the privilege to see in person.  He may also have helped me get that special kiss at the end of my first date.

April 8, 1991 was most certainly a good day.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Bears On Books: Amazin' Again

Just like Mets baseball, your favorite bears who like to sit on books are back!

Happy Opening Day, everyone!  We're Joey and Iggy Beartran and we couldn't think of a more fitting way to celebrate the beginning of the 2016 campaign - a year the Mets open as defending National League champions - with a review of the book that gave us a happy recap of the previous season that the late Bob Murphy would be proud of.

Today, we'll be reviewing "Amazin' Again: How the 2015 New York Mets Brought the Magic Back to Queens" by Greg Prince.  It was a season Mets fans won't soon forget, just like this book is one Mets fans won't soon put down.

Mr. Prince, whose Faith and Fear in Flushing blog inspired the book of the same name and also laid down the blueprint for his second book, The Happiest Recap, wrote his latest work almost as quickly as it took the Mets to erase the Washington Nationals from the postseason picture.  But just because this wasn't a book that was painstakingly put together over a period of several years doesn't mean the quality suffers.  In fact, it's quite the contrary.

When Casey Stengel "perfessed" that the first words spoken by children in the 1960s had changed from "Mama" or "Papa" to "Metsie, Metsie, Metsie", he was clearly referring to Mr. Prince.  The foremost authority on all things Metsie could have written this book in one sitting and we'd believe it.  His love of the Mets permeates throughout the 215 pages dedicated to the 2015 pennant winners.

One thing that rivals Mr. Prince's love of the Mets is his love of the English language.  His pun-tastic wordplay is evident in each chapter, making a story every Mets fan remembers as if it occurred yesterday (or 155 yesterdays ago, if you want to be precise) seem fresh and new.

If a band performed at Citi Field in 2015, Mr. Prince would find a way to reference as many song titles into his review of the game that preceded each show.  Yes, this isn't just a by-the-numbers recap of the season (although numbers do find a way into the story in a way that non-mathophiles can enjoy).  Then again, it's to be expected that Mr. Prince would entertain you even when he's discussing the otherwise somber truth of the team's injury announcements.  You know, the ones that begin with "He's not going to throw today as scheduled" and end with "The Mets haven't yet announced whether they will wear a patch in his memory in 2016."

In an era where people's attention spans get shorter and shorter by the minute, it didn't take too many 60-second intervals to finish reading this book.  In fact, we devoured page after page as if they were bacon on a stick and were done with Amazin' Again less than 36 hours after we started, or about 36 hours longer than the Cubs held a lead in the National League Championship Series.  (And just wait till you get to the chapter on the NLCS.  It's totally Murphalicious.)

So as you get ready for the 2016 campaign with the memorable 2015 campaign still visible in your rear view mirror, take time out to read a wonderful work dedicated to that most recently completed campaign.  Don't be surprised if you end up shedding tears of joy after finishing Mr. Prince's book (even if you weren't just traded for Carlos Gomez).

As the subtitle of Amazin' Again says, the Mets brought the magic back to Queens.  And Mr. Prince certainly brought the magic back into our minds with his amazin' book.  We give it two very enthusiastic paws up.

Amazin' Again was so well-written, we may just have to read it again.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Magic 8-Ball Predicts The 2016 Mets Season

Last year, for the first time in seven seasons, the Mets produced a winning record.  They also won their first division title since James Blunt told us that we were beautiful and Shakira claimed her hips didn't lie.  And of course, New York appeared in a World Series for the first time since a month before hanging chads opened our eyes and entered the lexicon.

But like Mark McGwire standing before Congress and unlike Yankees fans standing before Mets fans, we're not here to talk about the past.  Rather, we're here to discuss what we expect from the Mets during the upcoming 2016 campaign.  And who better to talk about future events than our old pal, the Magic 8-Ball?

Of course, our sarcastic sphere has been a persnickety prognosticator since we first used its services in 2010, quicker with an insult than with a prediction.  However, our round plastic friend has also been correct on several topics, meaning we can depend on it just as much as we can count on Jonathan Papelbon being a douche.

So let's stop yapping and let's bring in the ball that knows it all.  Straight outta the box, it's the Magic 8-Ball!  Welcome back, M8B!

Um ... yeah.  That's not quite the response I expected from you.  Is everything okay, my friend?

That's a very good reason for you to be happy.  Although "happy" and "Magic 8-Ball" don't usually go hand-in-hand.  Are you absolutely sure you're well enough to answer my questions today?  After all, Mets fans have been anxiously waiting all winter for what you have to say.  To them, you're like the Punxsutawney Phil of predictors.

That's absolutely right.  Although it sounds strange hearing that from you.  Anyway, let's just start with the questions.  I'll wonder whether you have a concussion or not after we're done.  Do you think the Mets' starting pitching will be as good on the field as it is on paper?

That's great to hear.  Who do you think will emerge as the top pitcher in the rotation?

And what has Syndergaard shown you to make you feel this way?

That's true.  Anyone who appreciates Bartolo Colon's veteran presence as much as Thor does should definitely pick up a thing or two on how to be a successful pitcher in the major leagues.  And speaking of successful pitchers, what are your thoughts on Jacob deGrom losing some of the velocity on his fastball?

Really?  Wouldn't that make it easier for opposing hitters to catch up to his heater?

Ergonomically correct?  I don't understand what you mean by that.

Ah, I gotcha now.  He'll be able to pinpoint his pitches better if his luscious locks don't flow freely across his face as he releases the ball.  That's some good outside the box thinking by you.

Good point.  Now, we've discussed Syndergaard and deGrom.  We also know from past experience that Matt Harvey will give you the finger if you believe he's not going to have a successful season.  But what about Steven Matz?  He only made six regular season starts last year and suffered his first loss at the big league level in the postseason.  Opposing hitters batted .283 against him in the playoffs, which was not very impressive.  Are you concerned about him as he enters his first full season in the majors?

That's incredibly optimistic of you.  I mean, he got hurt last year.  He was pitching in and out of jams in the postseason.  And he was inconsistent in Grapefruit League action this year.  What makes you so sure he'll able to pitch effectively for the Mets this season?

Don't mess with the family or you're gonna get whacked.  Got it.  (Even though I thought Grandpa Bert was a good fella.)

Let's move on to the offense now.  Sandy Alderson did what no sane person thought he could do; he re-signed Yoenis Cespedes to a team-friendly contract.  In addition to adding switch hitters Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera to the team, plus the first full season of Michael Conforto in a Mets uniform, does this make the Mets one of the top offensive teams in the National League?

Why does it have to?  No one can know for certain how Cespedes, Walker, Cabrera and Conforto will handle their first full seasons in Mets uniforms.

That's true.  The Mets should have a better lineup by default when they're competing against the likes of the Braves, Phillies, Brewers, Reds, Padres, etc.

Speaking of bats that aren't healthy, what are your feelings on David Wright?  His lifetime supply of spinal stenosis will surely cause him to miss at least a month's worth of games.  Do you think the Mets will be able to withstand long stretches without their captain in the lineup?

You're very confident with your answer.  Do you really think players such as Wilmer Flores will be able to fill Wright's shoes both offensively and defensively?  What will the Mets do if Flores doesn't perform well when he eventually has to fill in for Wright?

It worked before.  Can't see why it wouldn't work again.  So let's get to the good part.  What's your final prediction for the Mets' record this year?

Wow!  After so many years of you predicting doom and gloom for the Mets, I certainly wasn't expecting that.  Do you truly think they're going to win it all this year?  What will propel them to October (and perhaps November) glory?

Wait, don't you mean Zack Wheeler?  He's the one returning from Tommy John surgery on or around the first of July.  And isn't Sidd Finch a fictional character?  If I recall, he was just part of an elaborate April Fool's joke.  What are you trying to say?

Wait, so you weren't being sincere with your answers?  Even after I voiced my pleasure at receiving honest responses from you?

I guess I'm the fool on this early April day.

And on that note, I think it's best if we bid adieu to the Magic 8-Ball for another season, as we wonder if the Mets are really going to win 98 regular season games and 11 more in the postseason to win their third World Series championship.  It's certainly possible that the team with the best starting rotation in baseball and an offense that's among the best and deepest in the National League can take the crown after coming within three wins of a title last year.  We'll just have to wait until the fall to see which of the Magic 8-Ball's predictions were a hoax and which, if any, were legitimate.  Because just like someone who claims to be a lifelong Marlins fan, it's tough to believe anything the Magic 8-Ball says.

That's all for this year's predictions.  Hopefully, you're all as ready for the upcoming regular season as I am, especially since the 2016 season is sure to be one of the most highly anticipated campaigns in the history of the franchise.  And before I forget, please help control the skullduggerous sphere population.  Have your Magic 8-Ball spayed or neutered.


Hey, kids!  The Magic 8-Ball has been making predictions since 2010, the year Jason Bay first soiled us with his presence.  To see what the Magic 8-Ball said prior to each of the previous six seasons, please click on the links below:

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Most With The Least: Wayne Garrett (1969-76)

In the early 1980s, James Ingram sang, "I did my best, but I guess my best wasn't good enough."  The opening line from his hit song, "Just Once", referred to a relationship that continued to fail despite the repeated attempts to make it work.  The lyric could also apply to an infielder on the Mets who gave his best effort to the team for nearly eight full seasons, yet could never do enough to satisfy the club.

Although this player was equally adept at three infield positions (second base, shortstop and third base), the Mets already had two middle infielders starting most of their games in Ken Boswell and Bud Harrelson.  The team then acquired three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner Felix Millan to play second, leaving third base as the only position with a vacancy sign on it.

Despite having good pop and a tremendous eye at the plate, the Mets were still reluctant to give this young and talented player a longer look at third base.  As a result, the club made two ill-advised trades to acquire veteran players who were deemed better suited to handle the hot corner.  Neither third baseman panned out in New York, while the players they were traded for went on to become legends for their respective teams.  And while all this was happening, the player who was never trusted to play third base on a regular basis ended up having a solid career of his own - one that could have produced fantastic numbers had the team just had a little more faith in his abilities.

Wayne Garrett could have solved the third base conundrum, if only the Mets had noticed.  (Focus On Sport/Getty Images)

In 1965, Ronald Wayne Garrett, a 17-year-old infielder from Sarasota, Florida, was selected by the Milwaukee Braves in the sixth round of the inaugural June amateur draft.  A year later, the Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta, just as Garrett was moving from one minor league affiliate to another.  Following the 1968 campaign - his fourth in the Braves' system - Garrett was scooped up by the New York Mets in the Rule 5 draft, which required him to stay on the Mets' 25-man roster for the entire 1969 season.

Even before Garrett took the field for the first time as a Met, the team had already set its sights on acquiring a regular third baseman in five-time All-Star Joe Torre.  But Mets general manager Johnny Murphy decided not to complete the deal with the Braves, as Atlanta GM Paul Richards was asking for outfielder Amos Otis and pitcher Nolan Ryan in return - a price Murphy considered too steep.  When their plans to acquire Torre fell through, the Mets decided to go with an assortment of players at third base, hoping to find one player who could stand out above the others.

Although Garrett was in the starting lineup as the Mets' third baseman more than any other player on the roster in 1969, he still only started 63 games at the position, as manager Gil Hodges used Ed Charles at the hot corner 45 times and Bobby Pfeil on 40 occasions.  The three players combined to produce a .222 batting average and .281 slugging percentage.  At a position known for power hitting, Garrett, Charles and Pfeil hit just four home runs between them in 780 at-bats.  But as the sole left-handed hitter among the three third basemen, Garrett got the nod to start at the hot corner in the National League Championship Series against the Braves, who used right-handed starting pitchers in all three games.  The move paid off for the Mets, as Garrett reached base seven times in the series, tying him for the team lead.  Garrett didn't just reach base often; he also reached base during key moments of the series.

In Game One, the Mets trailed the Braves, 5-4, as the teams moved to the eighth inning.  Garrett began the frame with a double off starting pitcher and future Hall of Famer Phil Niekro.  He then scored the tying run on a single by Cleon Jones.  Garrett's hit kicked off a five-run rally by the Mets, giving them a 9-5 lead, which became the final score an inning later.

Garrett contributed in several ways in Game Two, coaxing a walk from pitcher Ron Reed in the first inning, then participating in a double steal with Jones, which eventually led to the game's first run.  Two innings later, Garrett delivered an RBI single off reliever Paul Doyle to give the Mets a 6-0 lead.  In his next at-bat, Garrett doubled and scored to increase the lead to 9-1.  The extra runs were crucial, as the Braves rallied for five runs in the fifth inning to cut the lead to 9-6.  But the bullpen combo of Ron Taylor and Tug McGraw kept Atlanta off the scoreboard the rest of the way to seal the victory for the Mets.

The third game saw the series go back to New York, and Garrett saved his most clutch at-bat for the Shea faithful.  Trailing 4-3 in the fifth inning after Orlando Cepeda took Nolan Ryan deep for a two-run homer, Garrett returned the favor, blasting a go-ahead two-run shot of his own off Braves starter Pat Jarvis.  The Mets then tacked on two more runs to win the game and the series, with Garrett fielding a Tony Gonzalez grounder and throwing to first baseman Ed Kranepool for the pennant-clinching out.

Garrett's star turn in the NLCS didn't lead to many at-bats in the World Series, as the American League champion Orioles used left-handed starting pitchers in four of the five games.  But Garrett still reached base twice in four plate appearances in the Fall Classic to give him an impressive .357/.500/.714 slash line in the 1969 postseason.

This was one of Wayne Garrett's few at-bats in the 1969 World Series.  (Focus On Sport/Getty Images)

Despite Garrett's heroics in October, the Mets did not trust him to be the team's starting third baseman in 1970.  A year after not wanting to trade Amos Otis to the Braves for Joe Torre, general manager Johnny Murphy parted ways with the outfield prospect, sending Otis to the Kansas City Royals for third baseman Joe Foy.  Within six weeks of the deal, Murphy suffered two massive heart attacks and died.  The Mets' dreams of repeating as world champions, along with Foy's career, died as well in 1970.

Foy, who was never comfortable defensively at third base, committed 18 errors in 94 starts at the position for the Mets in 1970.  He also underachieved as a hitter, batting .236 with 12 doubles, six homers and 37 RBI in his one season in New York, after averaging 20 doubles, 13 homers, 61 RBI and a .250 batting average in his first four major league seasons.

While Foy was flushing away his career in Flushing, Garrett was continuing his development as a fine major league player.  Garrett started 67 games at third base and 34 games at second.  Despite collecting only 366 at-bats (just 44 more than Foy had in 1970), Garrett was third on the team in homers (12), second in runs scored (74), second in walks (81), fourth in slugging percentage (.421), third in OPS (.811) and he led the Mets with a .390 on-base percentage.  With the Mets losing Foy to the Washington Senators in the 1970 Rule 5 draft, Garrett's road to the starting third base position appeared to be free of obstacles.  That is, until the United States military came a-callin'.

Because of the ongoing conflict in Vietnam, Garrett was required to spend the first half of 1971 on active duty.  Once he completed his service, the Mets sent him to AAA-Tidewater, where he hit three home runs in 11 games.  With Garrett away, the Mets handed over the third base job to veteran Bob Aspromonte, who was the last member of the Brooklyn Dodgers to play in the majors (he had one at-bat for Brooklyn in 1956).  The 33-year-old Aspromonte - who was nearly ten years Garrett's senior - hadn't started more than 74 games at the hot corner in any season since 1967, but Hodges inserted him in the starting lineup at third base in 73 of the Mets' first 95 games.  Aspromonte was a disappointment as Garrett's fill-in, batting .244 with a .298 on-base percentage and grounding into as many double plays (12) as he had doubles (7) and homers (5) combined.  Just as disappointing was Wayne Garrett, who returned from Tidewater in late July to bat just .213 with one homer and 11 RBI in 235 plate appearances.

General manager Bob Scheffing, who took over for Johnny Murphy after his untimely passing, had grown impatient with the lack of production at third base.  Garrett's poor production despite having been away from baseball for several months while serving his country led Scheffing to make what many still consider to be the worst trade in franchise history, as he sent Nolan Ryan and three other players to the California Angels for shortstop Jim Fregosi, who had never played a single inning at third base in his 11 seasons with the Angels.  Scheffing assumed Fregosi could make a smooth transition from one infield position to another, yet failed to consider that Fregosi's offensive production in 1971 (.233, 5 HR, 33 RBI in 107 games) was eerily similar to what the Mets got from Aspromonte in the same campaign (.225, 5 HR, 33 RBI in 104 games).  Needless to say, Fregosi was a bust as a Met, while Ryan embarked on a Hall of Fame career as an Angel.

(Focus On Sport/Getty Images)
Garrett did not perform particularly well as the understudy to Fregosi in 1972, batting .232 with two homers and 29 RBI in 298 at-bats, but despite the low batting average, he still managed to lead the team with a .374 on-base percentage (Fregosi reached base at a relatively unimpressive .311 clip).  In doing so, Garrett accomplished something no other Met - past or present - has been able to match.  During the 1972 campaign, Garrett collected 69 hits and walked 70 times in 114 games, making him the only Mets player who played in at least 100 games to have more walks than hits.  The only players to come close to matching Garrett were Bud Harrelson in 1974 (75 hits, 71 walks in 106 games) and Ike Davis in 2013 (65 hits, 57 walks in 103 games).

When the 1973 season started, the Mets were four years removed from their world championship season and had yet to win more than 83 games or finish higher than third place in the division in any subsequent season.  Once again, the Mets turned to Fregosi at third base, with the veteran starting seven of the team's first eight games.  But by early May, Fregosi's batting average had dipped below .200, he had yet to produce a home run and he had driven in just three runs, all while striking out once every four at-bats.  Meanwhile, Wayne Garrett was off to a fantastic start, posting a .268/.388/.439 slash line in his first 99 plate appearances through the middle of May.  In early June, shortstop Bud Harrelson was placed on the disabled list with a fractured wrist, moving Fregosi to his natural position and allowing Garrett to become the team's everyday third baseman for the first time in his five-year career.  By late June, Fregosi was still not producing at the plate, causing the Mets to cut ties with the six-time All-Star by selling his contract to the Texas Rangers.

With Garrett finally entrenched as the team's starting third baseman, the 25-year-old produced his best season in the majors.  In July, Garrett reached base 50 times (31 hits, 19 walks) in 128 plate appearances and he also scored 19 runs while driving in a dozen.  Even though Garrett was finally enjoying personal success, the team was not, as the Mets found themselves in last place with a 58-70 record on August 26.  But on August 27, in the Mets' 6-5 victory over the San Diego Padres, Garrett reached base four times as the team's leadoff hitter and scored the run that gave the Mets a lead they never relinquished.  That win began a season-ending stretch in which the Mets went 24-9, overtaking every team in the N.L. East to win their second division title in five years.  A key reason for New York's surge from worst to first was the play of Wayne Garrett.

Beginning with his effort on August 27, Garrett started 30 of the Mets' final 33 games, producing an impressive .328/.415/.603 slash line.  Garrett collected 16 extra-base hits (seven doubles, two triples, seven homers) and scored 26 times during the five-week stretch.  He also drove in 18 runs - a phenomenal total for a leadoff hitter in such a short period of time.  On the defensive side, Garrett played a key role in the memorable "Ball On The Wall" play, which took place on September 20 against the first place Pittsburgh Pirates.  In the top of the 13rd inning, Bucs outfielder Dave Augustine hit a long fly ball that bounced off the top of the left field fence, staying in the park before it settled into the glove of left fielder Cleon Jones.  Jones then fired the ball to cutoff man Garrett, who had replaced Bud Harrelson at shortstop three innings earlier, and Garrett threw a perfect strike to catcher Ron Hodges to nail Richie Zisk at the plate.  The Mets won the game in the bottom of the 13th on an RBI single by Hodges and moved into first place the following night.  Less than two weeks later, they were crowned champions of the National League East.

Looking back at the pivotal play that helped propel the Mets into first place, Jones admitted that he knew the ball was not going to clear the left field fence, and credited Garrett's positioning as the cutoff man as the main reason why the Mets were able to retire Zisk at the plate.

"Luckily, Garrett was at short," said Jones.  "If Harrelson had been there, he would have taken the relay much further in the outfield and we would never have gotten Zisk."

YouTube video courtesy of Warren Zvon

In 1973, Garrett started 118 games at third base - the first time he started more than 70 games at the position.  Garrett produced career highs across the board, finishing the regular season with 20 doubles, 16 homers, 58 RBI and 74 runs scored.  He was either first, second or third on the team in almost every offensive category and finished fourth in the National League in assists by a third baseman (280) and second in double plays turned (36) despite not starting at the hot corner in 43 of the team's 161 games played.

Garrett's second trip to the postseason wasn't as productive as his first, as he reached base just twice in 24 plate appearances against the Cincinnati Reds.  But he made up for it in the World Series, reaching base ten times in the seven-game loss to the Oakland A's.  Garrett homered off Vida Blue in Game Two and led off Game Three with a home run against future Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter.  But he also made the final out of the Fall Classic, popping out to shortstop Bert Campaneris with two runners on base when a third home run of the series would have tied the game.

After a disappointing end to the 1973 season, Garrett went into the 1974 campaign knowing he was the everyday third baseman for the first time in his career.  Garrett started a career-high 136 games at third in 1974, but the team suffered through its first losing season since 1968 - when Garrett was still bouncing around in the Braves' organization.  Garrett continued to be one of the Mets' more productive players at the plate (13 HR, 53 RBI, 89 walks), but his teammates were not as successful with a bat in their hands, as the Mets finished the season at or near the bottom of the league in many offensive categories.

Although Garrett had proven himself to be a capable third baseman and one of the better offensive players on the team in 1973 and 1974, the front office felt the Mets needed to upgrade their offense, acquiring power-hitting Dave Kingman to play left field and 15-year veteran Joe Torre to play third base - the same Joe Torre who could have been a Met six years earlier had the Mets wanted to part ways with Amos Otis and Nolan Ryan.

Once again, Garrett stood to lose playing time to a more experienced player and once again, Garrett's replacement did not perform well.  Just four years removed from his MVP season in which he led the league in batting average (.363) and RBI (137), Torre had the worst full season of his career, batting a career-low .247.  Torre's six home runs ended a streak of 12 consecutive seasons in which he reached double digits in homers.  He also managed just 35 RBI in 400 plate appearances, or more than 100 fewer than he had during his MVP campaign.

What made Torre's acquisition seem like more of a bust was that Garrett - who was never a high-average hitter - produced a higher batting average (.266) than Torre.  Garrett also matched Torre in homers and finished just one RBI short of Torre's total, even though Garrett had nearly 100 fewer at-bats than Torre did in 1975.  And for the third time in his seven seasons with the team, Garrett led the Mets in on-base percentage, this time with a robust .379 mark.

Wayne Garrett poses with The Coop and Joey Beartran in 2011.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

In 1976, the Mets posted the second-highest win total in franchise history, going 86-76 under new manager Joe Frazier.  But Garrett was long gone before the team got to celebrate its successful season.  After starting 58 of the team's first 90 games at third base, Garrett was traded to the Montreal Expos, ending his long career with the Mets.  At the time of the trade, Garrett was among the team leaders in runs scored and walks, but he was only hitting .223 and had produced just four homers - his lowest total in four years.  Although Garrett did not believe the Mets would trade him, he knew his lack of production wasn't doing him any favors.

"I am surprised, certainly, but it hasn't been a good year for me," said Garrett.  "I guess that was the reason (for the trade)."

Garrett played nearly eight seasons with the Mets, reaching the postseason twice.  His three postseason homers have been surpassed by just seven Mets players (through 2015) and only eight Mets have walked more times in the playoffs than Garrett, who drew nine bases on balls in 17 career postseason games.  When he played his final game for the Mets in 1976, Garrett ranked among the team's all-time leaders in several offensive categories, despite starting more than 70 games at his familiar third base position in just two of his eight seasons with the team.  Garrett was fifth in hits (667), eighth in doubles (93), tied for fourth in triples (20), ninth in homers (55), sixth in RBI (295), fourth in runs scored (389), fourth in stolen bases (33) and second in walks (482).  Through the 2015 season, Garrett still ranks in the team's all-time top thirty in hits, triples, RBI and runs scored.  He's also in the top twenty in games played (883; 16th), on-base percentage (.348; 19th) and WAR (13.9; 19th).  And only David Wright, Darryl Strawberry, Bud Harrelson and Howard Johnson drew more walks in their Mets careers than Garrett.

Despite the Mets' best efforts to replace him at third base with players such as Joe Foy, Jim Fregosi and Joe Torre, Garrett ended up playing 711 games at the position for the Mets, while Foy, Fregosi and Torre combined to play just 287 games at the hot corner.  To this day, only David Wright and Howard Johnson have played more games at third than Garrett.

Wayne Garrett probably would have liked to play more for the Mets, but the team always felt there was someone better suited to play third base.  After not wanting to part ways with Amos Otis and Nolan Ryan for third baseman Joe Torre in 1969, the Mets eventually did trade away both players in separate deals for two third basemen who both flopped in Flushing.  Otis went on to become a five-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner and had four top-ten finishes in the MVP vote, while Ryan became the greatest strikeout pitcher and no-hit artist of all-time, eventually being inducted in the Hall of Fame and having his number retired by every team he played for after he left the Mets.

In Matthew Silverman's book, "Swinging '73: Baseball's Wildest Season", Garrett explained how he never changed his approach to playing the game even as the Mets were constantly trying to change the identity of their starting third baseman.

Image courtesy of Topps

"I would just go out and play.  I'd play every game the same, as hard as I could. ... I can't go out and make demands.  They're the ones that make the choices as to who plays and who doesn't play.  I'd just do the best that I could and if they wanted to play me at third base, then I'd play third base."

For nearly eight full seasons, Wayne Garrett did his best for a team that always seemed ready to replace him.  But the Mets constantly wanted the next best thing at third base instead of using a player they already had.  And through it all, Garrett just kept on chugging, making his way up the Mets' all-time leader board even as the team kept sitting him on the bench more often than he probably deserved.

The team lost so much when it traded away Amos Otis and Nolan Ryan.  Imagine what the Mets could have gained had they just noticed that the solution to their third base conundrum was wearing No. 11 the whole time.

Note:  The Most With The Least was a thirteen-part weekly series (that's "was" - as in the past tense of "is" - because you just read the final installment) spotlighting those Mets players who performed at a high level without receiving the accolades or playing time their more established teammates got, due to injuries, executive decisions or other factors.  For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:

January 4, 2016: Benny Agbayani
January 11, 2016: Donn Clendenon
January 18, 2016: Tim Teufel
January 25, 2016: Hisanori Takahashi
February 1, 2016: Chris Jones
February 8, 2016: Claudell Washington
February 15, 2016: Moises Alou
February 22, 2016: Pat Zachry
February 29, 2016: Art Shamsky
March 7, 2016: Mark Carreon
March 14, 2016: Jose Valentin
March 21, 2016: Pat Mahomes

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Most With The Least: Pat Mahomes (1999)

The long man in the bullpen has rarely gotten the accolades usually reserved for starting pitchers and closers.   In fact, pitchers who can pitch several innings per appearance out of the bullpen have historically been hurlers who weren't good enough to crack the starting rotation or come into high-pressure, late-inning situations.  In addition, an appearance by the long man usually means the starting pitcher got hurt early in the game or was shelled by the opposition.

In other words, no one really wants to see the long man in the game.

But one relief pitcher who got into games early and often ended up becoming a key member of a beloved Mets playoff team.  Unlike other long men before him, his presence on the mound was usually a welcome sight.  In fact, he pitched so effectively in the role that he ended up setting a franchise record that still stands to this day.

Pat Mahomes helped the Mets end an 11-year playoff drought with his arm and his bat.  (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Patrick Lavon Mahomes did not start off his major league career on a high note.  Mahomes's poor start as a big league ballplayer wasn't limited to a few awful appearances or several miserable months.  Unfortunately, Mahomes was lousy for six full seasons.  After being drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the sixth round of the 1988 June amateur draft, Mahomes made his major league debut in 1992, spending time as a starter and reliever with the Twins.  The right-hander was then traded to Boston in 1996 and pitched exclusively as a reliever until the Red Sox released him in June 1997.

In six years with the Twins and Red Sox, Mahomes had an embarrassing 5.88 ERA, 1.63 WHIP and 80 ERA+.  Of all hurlers who pitched in each season from 1992 to 1997, Mahomes had the second-highest ERA, fifth-highest WHIP and fourth-worst ERA+.  As a result, Mahomes did not pitch in the major leagues for a year and a half, having to settle for a contract with the Yokohama Bay Stars in the Japan Central League.  Although a change of hemispheres failed to resuscitate Mahomes's career (he was 0-4 with a 5.98 ERA in eight starts and two relief appearances for Yokohama in 1998), the Mets took a flyer on him for the 1999 season, signing him to a minor league contract and giving him an invitation to spring training.

Mahomes was assigned to AAA-Norfolk to begin the 1999 campaign, but after an impressive start with the Tides (4-1, 3.49 ERA in 38⅔ innings), Mahomes earned a promotion to the majors in mid-May.  Mahomes was used mainly as a long reliever out of the bullpen, making his first appearance for the Mets on May 15.  He did not disappoint, pitching 2⅓ innings of scoreless relief and clubbing a double in his only at-bat, which allowed him to earn the win in a 9-7 slugfest against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Following his victorious debut, Mahomes continued to be one of the few pitchers for the Mets who pitched with any kind of success.  Because of the team's shaky starting rotation (every pitcher who made at least one start for the Mets in 1999 had an ERA north of 4.00), Mahomes was forced into pitching multiple innings of relief a dozen times in his first 26 appearances, including six outings of three innings or more.  By early September, Mahomes had lowered his ERA under 3.00 and had proven himself to be one of the most valuable commodities on the team.  He also continued to rack up victories in impressive fashion, coming through on the mound and at the plate.

One of Mahomes's most memorable appearances came in early August at Wrigley Field.  A day after the Mets lost to the Cubs by a touchdown, 17-10, the two teams with battered bullpens played a four-and-a-half hour, 13-inning marathon.  Mahomes - who didn't pitch in the previous day's shootout - came into the game in the bottom of the 12th inning to face Sammy Sosa with two outs and no one on base.  Rather than intentionally walking Sosa, who had hit his 39th and 40th home runs of the season in the 17-10 affair, Mahomes got Sosa to ground out to end the inning.

(Jonathan Daniel/Allsport)
In the top of the 13th, manager Bobby Valentine allowed Mahomes to hit for himself after Cubs manager Jim Riggleman had reliever Scott Sanders issue a two-out free pass to Benny Agbayani.  In his previous outing two days earlier, Mahomes produced an RBI double against the Cubs that was crucial in the Mets' 10-9 victory.  Just 48 hours later, Mahomes made the Cubs pay again, lacing a single that scored Roger Cedeño from second base (Cedeño had led off the inning with a double).  Now armed with a one-run lead, Mahomes went back to the mound in the bottom of the 13th and kept the Cubs off the scoreboard, ending the game on a strikeout of catcher Jeff Reed.

After the game, Mahomes discussed his game-winning hit, showing a confidence in his hitting abilities that was normally reserved for everyday players.

"I've always been able to hit pretty well," Mahomes said.  "I knew I wasn't going to strike out."

Mahomes earned his fifth victory against no losses in the 5-4, 13-inning victory over the Cubs.  He went on to finish the regular season with a perfect 8-0 record, earning his eighth win by pitching two scoreless innings in the opener of the Mets' season-ending series against the Pittsburgh Pirates - a series that began with the Mets two games out in the wild card race with three games to play.

In addition to his 8-0 mark - the most wins in a single season without a defeat by a pitcher in Mets history - Mahomes posted a 3.68 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and an impressive 121 ERA+, all of which were career-bests.  After allowing 428 hits in 389 innings from 1992 to 1997, Mahomes gave up just 44 hits in 63⅔ innings for the Mets in 1999, holding opposing hitters to a .198 batting average.  And Mahomes didn't just succeed on the mound.  He was also excellent at the plate, batting .313 with three doubles and three RBI in 16 at-bats, which allowed him to post an un-pitcher-like .500 slugging percentage, despite having never come to the plate prior to his time in New York.

With the help of Mahomes, the Mets advanced to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years.  Mahomes pitched once in the division series against the Arizona Diamondbacks and also appeared in Game One of the National League Championship Series versus the Atlanta Braves - both losses by the Mets.  With the Mets facing elimination in Game Five, Mahomes pitched a shaky, but scoreless frame, keeping the game tied in the seventh and eighth innings.  Seven innings later, the Mets forced a sixth game on the strength of Robin Ventura's walk-off Grand Slam Single.

Although the Mets lost a classic Game Six to the Braves, allowing Atlanta to win the National League pennant, the team battled into extra innings, extending their season as far as they could.  But the game might never have gone into overtime had it not been for Pat Mahomes and his incredible work in relief of an awful Al Leiter.

Leiter faced six batters and allowed all of them to reach base.  Five of them scored, giving Atlanta an early 5-0 lead.  Even though Mahomes had become used to pitching early in games by doing so often during the regular season, he had never come into a game for the Mets in the first inning.  But with Leiter clearly not at his best, Valentine called upon Mahomes to stop the bleeding.  Mahomes turned in a yeoman-like effort, holding the Braves to one hit and one walk in four scoreless innings.  The right-hander's clutch performance kept the game from becoming a blowout, and after he was removed from the contest for a pinch-hitter, the Mets began to chip away at the Braves' lead, ultimately taking the lead in the eighth inning and once again in the tenth.  But Atlanta was simply better than the Mets in Game Six, and won the pennant in the 11th inning on a bases-loaded walk to Andruw Jones issued by Kenny Rogers.

The Mets came up short in their quest to reach the World Series, but the 1999 season was still a campaign to be proud of, according to manager Bobby Valentine.

''I told my guys after the game that it might be a shorter winter or a longer winter for them but I think they played like champions," said Valentine.  "They should feel like champions.  It's very difficult to come back from five runs and have a couple of leads.  It's difficult to give it up, but we gave everything we had.''

Sadly, Mahomes could not replicate his 1999 performance the following season, as his 5.46 ERA and 1.72 WHIP in 53 appearances (5 starts) for the 2000 Mets was more in line with his numbers as an American League pitcher from 1992 to 1997.  After not pitching for the Mets in the playoffs during their run to the World Series in 2000, Mahomes became a free agent.  The 30-year-old then embarked on a Tour de Majors, as he was signed and/or released by the Rangers, Cubs, Pirates, Expos, Marlins, Dodgers, Royals and Blue Jays.  He was even property of the Mets once again in 2005, even though it was only for about 15 minutes, give or take a few days.

Thanks to for this detailed road map of the career of Pat Mahomes.

Pat Mahomes didn't have a particularly good career.  In 11 seasons as a journeyman pitcher, he had a 5.47 ERA, 1.59 WHIP and an 84 ERA+.  But he did have one outstanding season on a Mets team that is loved by its fans as if they had actually won the pennant.

Although he didn't get the attention (or money) usually reserved for starting pitchers or late-inning relievers, Mahomes earned every penny of his $310,000 salary in 1999.  Here are just some of the lesser-known facts about Mahomes, proving that not every team MVP has to be a power hitter, defensive star, or stud pitcher.

  • In 23 of his 39 appearances, Mahomes came into the game with the Mets trailing the opposition.  They came back to win five of those games, with Mahomes allowing just one run in 11⅔ innings in those five comeback victories.  And on a team that needed a 163rd regular season game to decide the wild card winner, each of those five comeback wins with the tremendous Mahomes pitching performances contributed greatly in the Mets' successful quest to end their 11-year playoff drought.
  • Many relievers with high win totals are said to have "vultured" their victories, meaning they only earned a win because they either happened to be on the mound as their team took the lead or they allowed the tying run to score immediately before their team re-took the lead, making them the pitchers of record on the winning side.  In 1999, Mahomes certainly did not vulture his wins, as he gave up no runs in seven of the eight games he won.  In the one game he did allow a tally, he pitched 4⅔ innings and allowed just a single run.  Mahomes had a phenomenal 0.45 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in games in which he was credited with a win, allowing opposing batters to hit just .138 against him in 20 innings pitched, and he had twice as many strikeouts in those eight games (18) as hits allowed (9).  In other words, Mahomes earned each and every one of his wins, feasting on his opponents like - for lack of a better term - a vulture.
  • Mahomes was also no slouch with a bat in his hands.  Whereas most relief pitchers rarely get a turn at bat, Mahomes is one of just three pitchers in franchise history who pitched exclusively in relief in a single season (no games started) and collected five or more hits in that campaign, joining Skip Lockwood (1976) and Roger McDowell (1986).  Mahomes also joined McDowell as the only relief pitchers in franchise history to produce a trio of doubles in a single season.  (McDowell's three-double campaign came in 1988.)

Pat Mahomes made the most out of the chance given to him by the Mets in 1999.  It proved to be his only successful season in the big leagues.  His perfect 8-0 season and near-perfect relief effort in Game Six of the NLCS almost propelled the Mets to the World Series.  In the end, the Mets fell short of their goal, but without Mahomes coming out of the pen to give them as many solid efforts as he did throughout the 1999 campaign in relief of a suspect starting rotation, the Mets might never have qualified for the postseason.

Long relief is a thankless job.  Tell that to someone other than Pat Mahomes.  He knows just how important he was when he filled that role for the Mets during their unforgettable 1999 season.

(NY Daily News Archives/Getty Images)

"I worked so hard to get back, and it seems like it's all paying off.  The (perfect) record and the hitting, all that's a plus."

--Pat Mahomes, August 1999, as told to the NY Times.

Note:  The Most With The Least is a thirteen-part weekly series spotlighting those Mets players who performed at a high level without receiving the accolades or playing time their more established teammates got, due to injuries, executive decisions or other factors.  For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:

January 4, 2016: Benny Agbayani
January 11, 2016: Donn Clendenon
January 18, 2016: Tim Teufel
January 25, 2016: Hisanori Takahashi
February 1, 2016: Chris Jones
February 8, 2016: Claudell Washington
February 15, 2016: Moises Alou
February 22, 2016: Pat Zachry
February 29, 2016: Art Shamsky
March 7, 2016: Mark Carreon
March 14, 2016: Jose Valentin