Monday, May 25, 2015

Joey's World Tour: Back To Camden Yards and PNC Park

Home is wherever I am on my baseball journey.

Hello, everyone.  This is Joey Beartran, fulfilling my duties as the Studious Metsimus roving reporter and culinary expert.  Back in 2010, I had two separate assignments to cover Mets road trips in Baltimore and Pittsburgh, as the Mets traveled to Charm City that June and the Steel City in August.  I enjoyed each ballpark so much that I asked my Studious Metsimus colleague if I could do it again this year.  It took a little begging and pleading (and me taking money out of his wallet when he wasn't looking so I could pay for my room and whatever food I ate), but I got the okay to go back to Oriole Park at Camden Yards and PNC Park.

Although the Mets were playing in Pittsburgh this past weekend, they were not in Baltimore prior to their series in Western Pennsylvania, so I attended a Mariners-Orioles game at Camden Yards instead.  Naturally, since I have no rooting interest in either game, I focused more on the tasty treats located everywhere on the field level concourses.

The matinee started 12 minutes late because of a light rain, then the play on the field stopped again for over two hours when a steadier rain fell in the third inning.  That was my moment to strike, looking for any new food choices that weren't in the park when I first attended a game there five years ago.  And boy, did I find a good one.

Located on the field level, near Section 68 on the third base side was a stand called "The Chipper".  Originally, I didn't want to go there because it reminded me a certain former Atlanta Braves player named Larry, but there was no one standing in line and I hadn't seen it before, so I gave it a shot.  Now if you're familiar with the state of Maryland, then you know that crab meat is very popular in the Mid-Atlantic state.  At "The Chipper", I was able to get kettle chips topped with crab meat, a creamy white cheddar cheese sauce, a plethora of chopped scallions and another Mid-Atlantic staple - Old Bay seasoning.

I mean, just look at this mouth-watering snack.  How can anyone not want to eat this when attending a game at Camden Yards?

These are the nom-tastic crab kettle chips, known as "The Chipper".  Even my sister Iggy was all smiles about them.

My order of crab kettle chips was so filling that it took me almost the entire duration of the two hour, five minute rain delay to finish them.  Or maybe it took me that long to eat them because I didn't know when (or if) the game was going to resume and I wanted to save as much money as I could from the amount I permanently borrowed from my colleague's wallet in case I needed to buy more edible provisions for, you know, quality assurance purposes.

At least the Mets were also playing a day game while I was in Baltimore, so I was able to keep up on Jacob deGrom's dominant performance in New York against the St. Louis Cardinals.  His eight-inning, one-hit effort in which he retired the final 23 batters he faced actually ended before the tarp on the field at Camden Yards was removed from the playing surface.

When the game in Baltimore eventually resumed, I decided to take a photo of Orioles right fielder Delmon Young, who just happened to be standing in front of the scoreboard at the exact moment the "NYM 5, STL 0" final score was flashing.  What an extraordinary coincidence that it flashed at the exact moment I took the photo.  And that Young wasn't centered in the shot.  And that the score was.

Always good to see an out-of-town scoreboard with a Mets victory on it.

The game eventually ended, nearly six hours after it was scheduled to start - the actual game time was three hours and 30 minutes, an alarming figure for a game that's supposedly been sped up this year - with the Orioles pulling out a 5-4 victory over the Mariners.  The fans of the home team who stayed during the seemingly interminable rain delay were rewarded with a win, which helped the team inch closer to the .500 mark in the mostly mediocre American League East.

Although the Orioles won the division title in 2014, it's been a rough road for Baltimore in 2015.  But at least if the O's don't make it back to the postseason this year, at least their fans can look back fondly on a time from 1966 to 1983 when Baltimore won six pennants and three World Series titles in an 18-season span.  One of those six American League pennants was won in 1969, which I am gladly pointing out in the photo below.  I wonder who won the World Series that year...

My hoodie should come with a spoiler alert if you don't know who the Orioles lost to in the 1969 World Series.

Speaking of fond memories, I have to recommend the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards, which is located in a building adjacent to the ballpark.  The museum has two floors.  The ground level floor features memorabilia from Baltimore native Babe Ruth, who supposedly had more power than Lucas Duda.  (I wasn't around when Babe Ruth was an active player, but I can't imagine anyone being stronger than Lucas Duda.)  It also has nine innings of Orioles history, which are nine individual wings dedicated to the 60-plus years of Baltimore baseball.

There are artifacts including newspapers announcing the arrival of the team in Baltimore in 1954 from St. Louis.  (They were the old St. Louis Browns, in case you didn't know.)  Also included is manager Earl Weaver's locker, the 1983 World Series trophy and a huge replica of a Sports Illustrated cover featuring Hall of Famers Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson.

But wait, there's more!

You will also see sections devoted to each player, coach and manager inducted in the team's Hall of Fame, the first ball hit off the Camden Yards Warehouse (signed by former Mariners great and future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., who hit the ball during the 1993 Home Run Derby in Baltimore) and an entire section dedicated to Cal Ripken Jr., which is appropriately known as "Inning Eight" to commemorate the number worn by the Orioles legend.  Anything and everything you ever wanted to know about Cal but were afraid to ask is in this wing of the museum, but why should I take up so much space writing about it when I can just give you a sample of it?  Here are some photos of "Inning Eight", as well as photos from other sections of the ground level floor.

All photos above and below by Ed Leyro and Joey Beartran (Studious Metsimus)

Once I left the ground level floor, I proceeded down a flight of stairs to the much larger lower level.  Even the staircase is part of the museum experience, as important numbers in Baltimore sports history are painted on the walls, like ".316-49-122", which were the numbers posted by Frank Robinson in 1966 when he won the American League Triple Crown.

The subterranean level had exhibits on the Negro Leagues, focusing on the Baltimore Black Sox and the Baltimore Elite Giants.  There are also sections devoted to the Orioles' minor league affiliates, as well as other Maryland sports teams, including the Baltimore Blast soccer team, the University of Maryland Terrapins and the Baltimore Ravens.  Of course, my favorite section of the lower level was the locker room area, where they had uniforms and helmets that could be tried on by guests of the museum.  This section was also near an area where we could take photographs with the mascots of the Orioles and Ravens.

I was accompanied by my other sister, Honey Bee Hawk, who was with me on the trip not as a fellow Studious Metsimus correspondent, but as a fan, as she roots for Seattle sports teams and wanted to see the Mariners play the Orioles.  In the photo below, Bee tried on the Ravens helmet while I wore the Orioles batting helmet.  Needless to say, the heads of athletes are much bigger than ours.  The only heads those helmets would be too small on would be the mascots of the respective teams.

Is the Ravens mascot trying to swat Bee off the fence?  He should do that "nevermore".

Once we went back upstairs, we were greeted not with doors that said "exit", but with another wing - this one devoted to the Colts, who were Baltimore's original NFL team before they moved to Indianapolis in 1984.  In this area were old newspapers, a statue of Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas, old jerseys, coaches' scrapbooks, the Super Bowl trophy, and many other artifacts.  But you know me as a baseball fan, so I was more interested in the aforementioned baseball exhibits and spent most of my time in those areas of the museum.

I do have to say that the Sports Legends Museum blew the blue and orange socks off the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum.  I got there near closing time so I couldn't enjoy it as much as I could have.  (There was even a Roberto Alomar section and an Orioles leader board that prominently featured former Mets infielder Melvin Mora on the home run, RBI and runs scored columns.  Steve Phillips was so stupid for trading him.  But I digress.)  Given more time, I could easily have spent over an hour in the museum, which is approximately 55 minutes more than I usually spend in the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum.  The Wilpons are supposedly good at real estate.  It's time they give their team's tiny museum a little more of that real estate, don't you think?

From Baltimore, my designated driver and I made the four-hour trek to Pittsburgh to see Mets rookie sensation Noah Syndergaard take the hill against the Pirates at PNC Park.  Let's just say I'm glad I only stayed for that one game, as the Mets were swept in the three-game series, losing the three games by a combined score of 21-4.  At least the Mets weren't blown out of the game I attended.  They even brought up the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning, as Lucas Duda (or was it Babe Ruth?) was one fly ball into the Allegheny River away from knotting the game.  Unfortunately, Duda did not produce a Ruthian/Dudian clout and the Mets did not emerge victorious.

But at least Iggy and I did get to chow down on a Primanti Brothers sandwich, which has cole slaw and french fries in the sandwich.  I also took some sweet photos of Syndergaard and some of his fellow starting pitchers prior to the game in the bullpen.  And you know what?  Noah really does look like Thor, especially when the sun shines through his golden locks.

Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey were just standing there, minding their own business, as Thor warmed up.

It wasn't all PNC Park when we went to Pittsburgh.  In fact, I made sure to tell my designated driver to take me to the site where the late Ralph Kiner used to hit many of his home runs.  Mr. Kiner used to display his prodigious power at Forbes Field, which was the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates two stadiums ago.  (They also called Three Rivers Stadium home for three decades.)

Although Forbes Field is no longer standing, having been razed in 1972 after a fire, part of the outfield wall still remains.  Located on what is now Roberto Clemente Drive on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, the Forbes Field wall is a must-see for any fan of baseball history.  The center field wall still has the flagpole in front of it that was part of the field when the stadium stood, as well as the 436-foot and 457-foot signs that are still visible on its bricks.  Ivy still hangs near the 436-foot marker, bringing back memories of an era where day baseball prevailed and no one argued over multi-million dollar contracts or which drug was the most effective and undetectable in one's system.

Across the street from the outfield wall is Wesley W. Posvar Hall, part of the University of Pittsburgh campus.  Although I didn't go inside the building, I should let you know that home plate from Forbes Field is located inside the edifice, embedded in glass.  From there you can see just how far Mr. Kiner and all other players had to hit a ball if they wanted to hit it over the center field and right-center field fences.

Another section of the Forbes Field wall was brought over to PNC Park.  Hanging just above the Riverwalk near the right field corner of the Pirates' current stadium is a statue honoring Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski.  If you recall, it was Mazeroski who hit the first World Series-ending home run, clubbing a shot over the left field wall against Yankees pitcher Ralph Terry in Game Seven of the 1960 Fall Classic.  Part of that wall, including the 406-foot marker, can now be found adjacent to that Mazeroski statue.  Below are photos of all the Forbes Field wall sections we visited in and around Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh is a city full of bridges and sections of the Forbes Field outfield wall.

So there you have it, Mets fans.  That was my weekend getaway, where I returned to Baltimore and Pittsburgh in my never-ending baseball world tour.  I hope you enjoyed reading about my trip as much as I enjoyed making that trip.  And obviously, I strongly recommend taking a few days to see these two great baseball cities and visiting the two stadiums with all the baseball-related history in and around the ballparks.

Now if you'll excuse us, Iggy and I have to finish off this delicious Primanti Brothers sandwich.  We can't let our souvenir from Pittsburgh go to waste, can we?

A nom-tastic finish to a fantastic trip.

For more of Joey's World Tour, please click on the links below, where you will be entertained by Joey's wit, photos and love of ballpark cuisine:

World Tour Stop #1: Baltimore
World Tour Stop #2: Washington, DC
World Tour Stop #3: Pittsburgh
World Tour Stop #4: Texas
World Tour Stop #5: Los Angeles
World Tour Stop #6: San Diego
World Tour Stop #7: Toronto
World Tour Stop #8: Chicago
World Tour Stop #9: Milwaukee
World Tour Stop #10: Seattle
World Tour Stop #11: Cleveland
World Tour Stop #12: Brooklyn (Ebbets Field site) and Manhattan (Polo Grounds site)
 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Importance of the Mets' 11-Game Winning Streak

Where would Bartolo Colon and the Mets be had they not won 11 straight in April?  (Al Bello/Getty Images)

With Friday night's loss to the lowly Milwaukee Brewers, the Mets have suffered five consecutive defeats to fall to 20-16 on the season.  The losing skein comes just weeks after the team matched a franchise record by winning 11 straight games.  Yet despite their recent struggles - the team has lost 11 of its last 16 contests - the Mets have remained in first place in the NL East ahead of the surging Washington Nationals, although that lead has been trimmed to half a game.

Just how important was the team's 11-game winning streak in April?  Well, it's been the only thing that's kept the team afloat since it ended.

Through 36 games, the Mets' second-longest winning streak of the season has been - get ready for this - two.  New York won back-to-back affairs when they completed a two-game sweep of the Orioles on May 5 and 6 at Citi Field, then pulled off another two-game "hot streak" on May 9 and 10 versus the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.  Other than those two instances, the Mets have followed up every win with a loss outside of their 11-game skein.

And yet, they're still in first place.

So that piqued my curiosity.  I wondered what was the longest the Mets went into each season before putting together three straight wins twice.  They've yet to do it in 2015 and the season is almost a quarter done.  In fact, the earliest the Mets can produce their second three-game winning streak of the 2015 campaign is after their 39th game.  But of course, that 39th game would be played against the MLB-leading St. Louis Cardinals, meaning the Mets might have to wait a little longer to post their second winning streak of at least three games.  So let's say the Mets don't produce their second three-gamer of the season until they've played at least 45 games.  How many Mets teams have gone further into a season without fashioning multiple three-game winning streaks, and what was their record and standing in the league or division at the time they finally did produce their second three-game skein of the season?

Below is a chart featuring the Mets teams that went at least 45 games into a season without winning three games in a row on more than one occasion.  (Note:  The 1981 strike-shortened season is not included because the year was divided into two halves.  The first-half team never won three in a row, but the second-half team posted their second three-game winning streak just eight games into the "new" season.)


Year
Games Played at Time of Second 3-Game Win Streak
Record and Standing at Time of Second 3-Game Win Streak
Final Record and Standing
1962
108
29-79, 10th of 10
40-120, 10th of 10
1964
106
33-72-1, 10th of 10
53-109, 10th of 10
1965
125
39-85-1, 10th of 10
50-112, 10th of 10
1966
64
27-37, 9th of 10
66-95, 9th of 10
1968
56
27-29, 8th of 10
73-89, 9th of 10
1979
60
26-33-1, 6th of 6
63-99, 6th of 6
1983
67
27-40, 6th of 6
68-94, 6th of 6
1989
51
27-24, 3rd of 6
87-75, 2nd of 6
1993
100
35-65, 7th of 7
59-103, 7th of 7
1995
75
30-45, 4th of 5
69-75, 2nd of 5
1996
61
27-34, 5th of 5
71-91, 4th of 5
2001
65
29-36, 4th of 5
82-80, 3rd of 5
2010
46
23-23, 4th of 5
79-83, 4th of 5
2013
49
20-29, 4th of 5
74-88, 3rd of 5


If the current Mets do not produce another three-game winning streak before the season is 45 games old, they would become the 15th squad in the 54-year history of the franchise to fail to win three straight games on more than one occasion through the season's first 45 games.  But look carefully at the chart above.  Of the 14 previous teams to go that far into a season without multiple three-game winning streaks, only the 1989 squad had a winning record the second time they produced three consecutive happy recaps.  In addition, the 1968 and 1989 clubs were the only ones that weren't in last place or next-to-last at the time they finally posted their second winning streak of at least three games.  And other than the 1989 and 2001 Mets, no team that went at least 45 games into a season without two winning streaks of three or more games finished that season with a winning record.

But somehow, the 2015 Mets have managed to stay in first place despite not producing a winning streak of more than two games other than their massive 11-game skein in April.  That's how important that streak was.  None of the other 14 Mets teams that went so far into a season without multiple three-game skeins won 11 straight games prior to their second three-game winning streak of the year.  In fact, the only Mets team that won more than six straight was the 2010 club.  That squad won eight in a row in late April and was also in first place at the time of their long streak.  But by the time they produced their second streak of three or more victories, they had fallen to fourth place in the five-team NL East, even though the season was only 46 games old at the time.

There is still plenty of baseball to be played in 2015.  But the Mets have been riding on the coattails of their 11-game winning streak for nearly a month now and they've yet to string together a second streak of victories that has lasted for more than two games.

History says that Mets teams that go past their first 45 games of a season without producing multiple three-game winning streaks don't usually finish well in the league or division standings.  The current squad will have to win three straight in the next week or they're going to have to rewrite the history books that have remained unchanged for more than half a century.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

It's Been Tuffy for the Mets to Win at Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field photo courtesy of the Chicago Cubs.  Lack of wins there courtesy of the New York Mets.

The Mets lost another game at Wrigley Field today.  That may not seem newsworthy considering how awful the Mets' offense has been recently, even against a team that has posted 30 losing seasons in the last 42 years.  But despite Chicago's penchant for piling up losses, it's been the Mets who haven't been able to emerge victorious whenever the two teams have hooked up on the North Side of the Windy City.

Things weren't always that way for the Mets in Chicago.  They used to win there quite regularly.  But things got tougher on the road once Tuffy Rhodes got things going in one memorable game against Dwight Gooden and the Mets at Wrigley Field.

The Mets opened the 1994 season in Chicago against the Cubs, handing the ball to Dwight Gooden for his eighth Opening Day assignment.  In his first ten seasons with the Mets (1984-93), Doc had allowed two homers to the same batter in a single game just once.  That came in 1986 when Montreal's Tim Wallach took Gooden deep twice in a 7-4 Expos victory on June 18.  Wallach never got a chance to hit a third homer off Doctor K that day, as Gooden was removed from the game immediately after Wallach's second blast.

Wallach hit 260 home runs in his 17-year major league career, making him a legitimate power threat and not an unusual candidate to take a pitcher of Gooden's caliber out of the park twice in one game.  But on Opening Day in 1994, Doc was victimized three times by a player who had five career home runs coming into the game and hit just five additional home runs after his game to remember.

Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes hit three of his 13 lifetime home runs against Gooden in the 1994 season opener.  However, unlike the aforementioned Wallach game in 1986, Gooden and the Mets actually overcame the trio of Rhodesian taters, taking a 12-8 decision over the Cubs.  The Mets went on to sweep the Cubs in the season-opening series, giving them 11 series sweeps at Wrigley Field in a 21-year period (1974-94).  So how many times have the Mets swept a series from the Cubs at Wrigley Field in the 21 years since the Tuffy Rhodes series?

Would you believe the answer is zero?

Incredibly, the Mets have played 25 series at Wrigley Field since 1994 and have won just six of them, taking two of three games in all six series.  Over the same time period, the Cubs have won 15 of those series (the two teams have split four series).  And it's even worse since 2003, as the Mets have lost 28 of their last 39 games in Chicago and have been swept five times.

It's one thing to be dominated at Turner Field by the Braves - a team that has been a playoff contender for most of the last quarter century.  But the Cubs have finished in last place or next-to-last in 12 of the last 21 seasons.  Not only that, but over the past 70 years, the Cubs have the worst home record of any non-expansion team in baseball.  And the Mets still can't beat them in Chicago.

Prior to the series that made Tuffy Rhodes a household name for about 15 minutes, the Mets didn't have much of a problem defeating the Cubs at Wrigley Field.  But everything has fallen apart for New York on the north side of Chicago since that opening series in 1994.

The Cubs have the Curse of the Billy Goat.  The Mets appear to have the Curse of Tuffy Rhodes.  The once-friendly confines of Wrigley Field have been most unfriendly to the Mets in the 21 years since Rhodes introduced himself to Doc Gooden.

Ever since Doc Gooden allowed three home runs to Tuffy Rhodes, the Mets have wanted to run home from Chicago.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Future Is Now For The Mets

The recent past has not been kind to the New York Mets.  Since opening its new ballpark in 2009, the team has given its fan base a state-of-the-art facility, delicious food options, Free Shirt Fridays and six consecutive losing seasons. 

The Mets left Shea Stadium in 2008 and apparently also left their winning ways in the rubble of their former home.  General managers Omar Minaya and Sandy Alderson tried to give fans hope by signing veteran players like Francisco Rodriguez, Jason Bay, Jose Valverde and both Chris Youngs.  But none of those players were able to repeat the successes they had as younger players.  Other than the Bartolo Colon signing by Alderson, neither general manager had much success when it came to the veteran players they chose to sign as free agents.  Fortunately, they had success in other areas.  And those areas are now paying great dividends for the Mets.

They may not have always looked sure of themselves, but at least Minaya and Alderson got something right.

Omar Minaya may have been responsible for some off-the-wall signings and inexcusable long-term deals, but no one can complain about his skills at drafting amateur players.  Gold Glove winner Juan Lagares was a Minaya guy, as was 30-homer hitter Lucas Duda.  From a pitching standpoint, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Jeurys Familia are all pitching at an All-Star level for the Mets.  All three standout pitchers were brought aboard by Minaya.

Similarly, Sandy Alderson has tried throwing a potpourri of players on the proverbial wall to see which ones will stick, but most of them have turned into former pitcher and current semi-pro football player Kyle Farnsworth.  Where Alderson has excelled is in the wheeling and dealing department, as he has completed several shrewd trades of veteran players for young talent.

Zack Wheeler was Alderson's first big acquisition, and although Wheeler will not pitch in 2015 as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, he was a key contributor in 2014 and figures to continue to bolster the starting rotation once he returns in 2016.  Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard became property of the Mets following Alderson's second year as the team's GM, even though the team had to part with a popular Cy Young Award winner in R.A. Dickey.  Dickey has since become the definition of mediocre in Toronto (29-29, 4.00 ERA in 74 starts), while d'Arnaud has established himself as an offensive threat for the Mets behind the plate and Syndergaard is about to make his major league debut on Tuesday after blasting his way through Triple-A lineups in 2015.

But the Alderson guy who has given the most to the Mets even after he announced his retirement from baseball is John Buck.  Buck was a throw-in in the same deal that brought d'Arnaud and Syndergaard to the Mets.  A tremendous first month with the team in 2013 - Buck had ten homers and 29 RBI in his first 23 starts - made Buck trade bait in July, as Alderson sent Buck and right fielder Marlon Byrd, who was having an offensive renaissance of his own in New York, to Pittsburgh in exchange for reliever Vic Black and second baseman Dilson Herrera.  Black pitched beautifully out of the bullpen for the Mets in 2014 (2.60 ERA, 8.3 K/9 IP in 41 appearances) and figures to continue in that role once he recovers from a herniated disc in his neck.  Meanwhile, Herrera is currently the team's second baseman until David Wright returns from the disabled list.  But after collecting three homers and 11 RBI in an 18-game tryout last season, Herrera is doing even better in his first week back with the Mets, posting a .263/.333/.474 slash line in six games after torching Triple-A pitchers to the tune of a .370 batting average and nine extra-base hits in 20 games prior to his call-up.

William Shakespeare wrote in "The Tempest" that "what's past is prologue".  The past has certainly been quite tempestuous for the Mets and their fans, especially since the team moved from Shea Stadium to Citi Field.  But events of that past, particularly the amateur drafts and international signings overseen by Omar Minaya and the trades orchestrated by Sandy Alderson for top prospects, are now serving as a prologue for the winning baseball that is currently being seen at Citi Field.  With an 18-11 record, the Mets have been in first place for most of the season.  Their lead in the National League East has not been below 3½ games since April 21.  And most of their success has been due to young players who project to be part of the team's future for years to come.

The Mets struggled to be relevant for six long years.  Those tumultuous half-dozen seasons are now in the past.  Fans have looked forward to the future for much too long.  The future is now meeting the present with the call-up of Noah Syndergaard, who joins players like Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Jeurys Familia, Juan Lagares and Dilson Herrera to form what could be the core of winning Mets teams well into the next decade.  (And let's not forget Steven Matz, who should also make his major league debut at some point in 2015.)

It's a good time to be a Mets fan.  And the present success of the team bodes well for the club as it continues to march toward what appears to be more and more like a bright future.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Jeurys Out: Familia Is Guilty of Being a Top Closer

The Mets have not had too many "lights out" closers since the dawn of the 21st century.  Armando Benitez is the only Mets closer with multiple 40-save seasons.  But he walked too many hitters and was a Mr. April type pitcher, meaning he was wonderful when games weren't critical but always seemed to allow a crushing hit or home run in September and October.  Similarly, Braden Looper was booed off the Shea Stadium mound several times in his two-year stretch as the team's closer, yet somehow ranks in the team's all-time top ten in saves despite allowing more hits than innings pitched in both of his seasons here.  And since Francisco Rodriguez punched his ticket (quite literally) out of Citi Field in 2011, a total of ten pitchers have filled in as closer for the Mets, including Jason Isringhausen, Manny Acosta, Jon Rauch, LaTroy Hawkins, Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde.

Stability has never been a word associated with the closer position in Flushing in the past 15 seasons.  But after injuries and/or suspensions curtailed the ninth inning duties for both Bobby Parnell and Jenrry Mejia, a third homegrown pitcher was called upon to put on his closer shoes.  And this time, the Mets may have finally found the dependable closer they've been looking for all these years.

Jeurys Familia has been pumping his fist quite often during the season's first month.  (Getty Images)

After starting 111 games in parts of six minor league seasons, Jeurys Familia was thrust into the bullpen once he made it to the big show.  Familia only pitched 23 innings for the Mets in 2012 and 2013, but finally stayed with the team for good in 2014.  Since earning a full-time gig in the bullpen, Familia has been nothing short of spectacular, posting a 2.11 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 88 appearances.  He has also struck out nearly a batter per inning and allowed just 63 hits to the 365 batters he has faced.

Familia got some save opportunities here and there in 2014, racking up five saves in his first full season in the majors - a year that saw him finish seventh in the National League Rookie of the Year vote.  But once Mejia was suspended 80 games for a banned substance violation earlier this season, Familia became the team's full-time closer, and he has been as close to perfect as we've seen in Flushing in quite some time.

Through Saturday's game, Familia is a perfect 10-for-10 in save opportunities, leading all of baseball in that department.  He also became the first Met to rack up eight saves in an 11-game stretch and the first to record more than eight saves before the end of April.  But what's more impressive than the total number of saves is how he's getting those saves.  He's basically doing it without even working up a sweat.

Since coming into the game for his first save opportunity on April 12, Familia has appeared in ten games.  He retired every batter he faced in five of those ten appearances and allowed exactly one base runner in each of the other five.  Familia has faced a total of 35 batters in those ten relief outings, allowing just five of them to reach base - and one of them was later erased on a double play.

This isn't a new thing for Familia, who has been on top of his game since last June.  Familia appeared in 50 games after the calendar turned from May to June in 2014.  He faced the minimum number of hitters in almost half of those outings (23 in all) and allowed no more than one base runner in 34 of the 50 contests.  Compare those numbers to what Jenrry Mejia produced as the team's closer in 2014 (56 relief appearances; allowed multiple base runners in 28 of them and faced the minimum just 20 times) and it's clear that Familia's appearances have given Mets fans less stress than Mejia's outings ever did.

After years of suffering through less-than-dependable closers and going with the closer du jour, it looks as if the Mets have finally found what they were looking for in their ninth-inning pitcher.  Jeurys Familia throws strikes that aren't hit 400 feet.  He's also efficient (13.2 pitches per inning in 2015) and limits stress-inducing innings.

Through injuries (Parnell) and poor choices (Mejia), Familia has been given a chance to be the team's closer.  He's done nothing to make manager Terry Collins regret his decision.  And he's done everything to become one of the top closers in the game.  Not bad for a pitcher who was once being groomed to be a starter instead of one who has done quite a bit of finishing.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

With A Win Today, Matt Harvey Makes Mets History

Could Matt Harvey be staring down another Mets record?  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Matt Harvey is already considered to be one of the better pitchers in the league, despite owning just 15 major league victories in 39 starts entering this afternoon's game against the New York Yankees.  What makes Harvey so special is his ability to dominate a game.  Hitters rarely touch him, as evidenced by their .210 batting average against him and his lifetime 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings against them.  But another thing that has endeared him to Mets fans has been his ability to start each season with "W" after "W".

In 2013, his first full season in the majors, Harvey was the winning pitcher in each of his first four starts.  In doing so, he became just the 11th pitcher in Mets history to start a season so perfectly, joining team legends such as Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Dwight Gooden.

Earlier this week, teammate Bartolo Colon became the 12th pitcher to join this celebrated club, as he notched his fourth win in his first four starts of the season in a 6-3 decision over the Atlanta Braves.  This afternoon, Harvey makes his fourth start since returning from Tommy John surgery, seeking to earn his fourth victory.  Should he earn the win, he'd once again have four wins in his first four starts - the second consecutive active season he would have turned the trick.  Would Harvey be the first Met to accomplish this rare early-season feat twice?

Let's take a look at all the Mets - past and present - who are on this special list.  The won-loss record in the chart below represents the number of wins each pitcher had in as many starts.  Pitchers with no-decisions sandwiched between their wins are not included on the chart.


Pitcher
Year
Won-Loss Record
Frank Viola
1990
7-0
Dwight Gooden
1985
6-0
David Cone
1988
5-0
Armando Reynoso
1998
5-0
Pedro Martinez
2006
5-0
Bob Shaw
1966
4-0
Jerry Koosman
1968
4-0
Tom Seaver
1972
4-0
Jerry Koosman
1973
4-0
Bob Ojeda
1986
4-0
Mike Pelfrey
2010
4-0
Matt Harvey
2013
4-0
Bartolo Colon
2015
4-0

Note:  In 1966, Bob Shaw began the season with the San Francisco Giants before he was purchased by the Mets in June.  He went on to earn a win in each of his first four starts following his move to New York.  Similarly, Bob Ojeda and David Cone began the 1986 and 1988 seasons, respectively, in the bullpen, but once they became starting pitchers, Ojeda won his first four starts and Cone won his first five.


Out of the dozen pitchers who earned a victory in each of his first four starts of a season, just five of them were able to continue their streaks into their fifth starts.  Three of the five (Viola, Gooden, Cone) parlayed their early season success into a 20-win season and one of them (Gooden) earned a Cy Young Award for his full season effort.

However, only one of the 12 hurlers was ever able to duplicate his four-wins-in-his-first-four-starts feat.  After beginning the 1968 campaign with a 4-0 record in his first quartet of starts, Jerry Koosman repeated the feat five years later, becoming the only Met to start the season with wins in each of his first four starts in multiple seasons.

Should Matt Harvey earn a win today against the Yankees, he would join Koosman as the only pitchers in Mets history to go 4-0 in their first four starts in more than one campaign.  But Koosman went five years between his first and second such seasons.  Harvey, who didn't pitch at all in 2014, would be accomplishing the feat for a second consecutive active season - something no other Met can claim.

Matt Harvey is already one of the most beloved and respected pitchers in recent Mets history.  And barring another career-threatening injury, he could become one of the most successful pitchers to ever put on a Mets uniform.  He has already had one season in which he did nothing but win over his first four starts.  He's now looking to become the second Mets pitcher to do it twice and the first to run the table in back-to-back active campaigns.

Don't be surprised if it's not the last time Matt Harvey etches his name in the Mets history books.