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.

Won-Loss Record
Frank Viola
Dwight Gooden
David Cone
Armando Reynoso
Pedro Martinez
Bob Shaw
Jerry Koosman
Tom Seaver
Jerry Koosman
Bob Ojeda
Mike Pelfrey
Matt Harvey
Bartolo Colon

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.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Bartolo Colon's Hitting Prowess Is A Recipe For Success

Bartolo Colon pitched a beautiful game for the Mets on Friday night, allowing one run on six hits in seven innings.  Colon walked none and struck out five - four of which came on called third strikes.  The win was Colon's third victory in three starts this year, giving him a 207-141 lifetime record and a .595 career winning percentage.

Clearly, Colon is one of the more dependable pitchers of his generation, as his teams have produced a 252-187 record (.574 winning percentage) in his 439 career starts.  But Colon's performances on the mound don't give his teams the best chance to win a game.  It's when he performs at the plate that his teams are almost unbeatable.

Although Colon may be shaped like Babe Ruth, his hitting shape is a totally different story.  Colon has struck out in more than half of his plate appearances (92 K in 180 PA) and has managed just 13 hits and no walks in 164 career at-bats.  Colon has driven in a total of seven runs in those 15 dozen plate appearances, or two fewer than Carlos Delgado had in one game for the Mets in 2008.  Simply stated, when Colon swings at a pitch, he has a better chance to lose his helmet than he does of adding a hit or RBI to his lifetime totals.

But when he does collect a hit or drive in a run, well, that's when special things happen to his teams.

When Bartolo Colon produces at the plate, his teams are nearly perfect. (Adam Hunger/USA TODAY)

As previously stated, Colon has seven RBI in his career, driving in those runs in six games (Colon had a two-RBI game for the Expos in 2002).  How did his teams perform in those affairs?  They won all six.  Included in that 6-0 mark is each of the last two games Colon has started for the Mets - the first time in his 18-year career that Colon has put together back-to-back games with at least one RBI.

Colon is twice as likely to collect a hit than drive in a run in a major league game, as his 13 career hits have been collected in 12 contests.  (Colon's sole multi-hit effort occurred in the aforementioned two-RBI game.)  His teams are close to perfect in those dozen games, going 11-1 when Colon shocks the world by getting a hit.  The only time a Colon-led team lost a game in which he collected a hit was on July 23, 2002, when he went 1-for-2 for the Expos, but lost the game, 4-3.  Who was the only team that was able to defy the odds by defeating Colon when he collected a rare hit?  Why, it was none other than your New York Mets.

Bartolo Colon was signed to a two-year deal by Sandy Alderson because of his winning pedigree and his ability to be a positive presence in the clubhouse.  Colon has certainly done what Alderson expected him to do, as the Mets have won 20 of his 34 starts.  Colon has also been able to assist with the team's young pitchers with his extensive knowledge of the game, helping Mets pitchers put up a stellar 2.63 ERA and 1.03 WHIP through the team's first 11 games - both of which rank second in the league behind the St. Louis Cardinals.

But Colon has also unexpectedly helped the Mets with his bat.  Last Sunday, his fourth-inning RBI single broke a 2-2 tie in a game eventually won by the Mets, 4-3.  And last night, his fifth-inning sacrifice fly knotted the game against the Marlins and got the Mets' offense going in the team's 4-1 come-from-behind victory.  In doing so, Colon has continued to be his team's lucky charm whenever he has collected a hit or driven in a run.

Bartolo Colon's teams are 11-1 whenever he collects a hit.  They're an unblemished 6-0 when he drives in a run.  Nobody's perfect.  But Colon's teams are close to perfect whenever he puts on a batting clinic, even if that clinic has been closed most of the time.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

It's Early, But The Mets Offense Has Been Offensive

Earlier this morning, the MetsBlog Twitter account delivered this yummy bit of somewhat fictional information to its tens of thousands of followers.

Although the .196 team batting average is correct, the team had actually hit two homers during the season's first five games, with David Wright and John Mayberry connecting off Braves starter Eric Stults on back-to-back pitches during Friday night's game.

But perhaps the lack of extra-base hits produced by the Mets during the first week of the new season confused the fact checkers at MetsBlog.  After all, with just four extra-base hits in five games, the Mets are dead last in the majors in that category.  Let's put the anemic offense into perspective.

New York has 32 hits this season.  That's just four more safeties than the Colorado Rockies have extra-base hits.  The N.L. West leaders have hit 21 doubles and seven homers through their first five contests.

Speaking of the Rockies, their pitchers have accounted for two of their league-leading 21 doubles, as starting pitchers Kyle Kendrick and Tyler Matzek have both ripped two-baggers during the season's first week.  Therefore, Colorado's pitchers have produced more doubles than the entire Mets team, as Lucas Duda is the only Met to stroke a double so far in 2015.

As previously mentioned, the Mets have four extra-base hits this season.  How anemic is that?  Let me count the ways.

  1. The Detroit Tigers have as many triples as the Mets have extra-base hits.
  2. There are 15 players in baseball with as many or more extra-base hits than the entire Mets team.
  3. Nineteen of the other 29 teams have as many homers as the Mets have extra-base hits.

No extra-base production means no slugging percentage, and the Mets are dead last in the majors with a .252 slugging percentage.  New York is one of just three teams in baseball with a higher on-base percentage (.264) than slugging percentage.  The other two teams are the Miami Marlins (.285 OBP, .259 SLG) and the Minnesota Twins (.258 OBP, .256 SLG).  It should be noted that the Marlins and Twins are tied for the worst record in baseball, as both teams are 1-4.

The Mets have more bearded players than they have extra-base hits.  (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

If the Mets offense is not going to produce, then the onus rests on the starting pitchers to keep the team's opponents off the scoreboard.  But even the starting pitchers aren't going very deep during the first week of the season.  The Mets are one of three teams who have not yet had one of its starters pitch into the seventh inning this year, joining the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees.  And why are Mets starters not going deeper into games?  Some of it is ineffectiveness (see Niese, Jon and Gee, Dillon) and some of it is because of an innings limit (see Knight, Dark).  But another reason why the starters have not pitched past the sixth inning is because the team has needed to pinch-hit for them earlier in games because the offense has not been effective.

On Opening Day, Bartolo Colon was cruising, allowing one run on three hits in six innings.  But with the Mets holding on to a slim 2-1 lead in the top of the seventh, manager Terry Collins replaced Colon with pinch-hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis, even though Colon had only thrown 86 pitches to that point.  Nieuwenhuis failed to drive in Travis d'Arnaud, who had hit a triple two batters earlier, and Colon was out of the game.

Two nights later, it was Jacob deGrom's turn to be taken out of the game for a pinch-hitter.  DeGrom had thrown just 92 pitches through six innings, shutting down the Nationals after allowing a two-run homer to Ryan Zimmerman in the first inning.  But deGrom was trailing by a run when he was due to bat in the seventh.  Once again, Collins pinch-hit Nieuwenhuis for his starting pitcher and the Mets failed to score.

Both Colon and deGrom could have pitched into the seventh inning had the Mets been more productive with their bats.  But they weren't.  And because of that, the bullpen has gotten a lot of early work and two starters have gotten early showers.

Look, I know it's only five games.  I also know it's very possible the Mets might hit the stitches off the ball over their next five games and this blog post will be moot.  But it's just frustrating that the lineup looked halfway decent coming into the season and they're struggling to produce a slugging percentage that resembles a typical batting average.

Mario Mendoza, whose name is so synonymous with a low batting average that a .200 hitter is said to be at the Mendoza Line - never mind that Mendoza actually had a .215 lifetime batting average - would look at the 2015 Mets and shake his head in disgust.  That's what happens when an entire team can only muster a .196 batting average.  And it's not just the lack of hits that would upset Mendoza.  It's the lack of long hits.  The Mets' .252 slugging percentage is also lower than Mendoza's .262 career mark.

All you have to know about the early season offensive production of the 2015 Mets is this.  In last night's game, the Atlanta Braves produced three doubles and one triple in the sixth inning.  The Braves' extra-base hit production in that one inning matched the total number of extra-base hits produced by the Mets in their first five games combined.

The offense is doing just enough to offend and not enough to contend.  Let's hope "it's still early" doesn't turn into "it's getting late" for the team's lumber to awaken from its slumber.

This is what most Mets hitters have looked like in 2015.  (Adam Hunger/USA TODAY)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

An Open Letter To Those Who Don't Like Jon Niese

Photo by Anthony Causi/NY Post

Dear Mets fans,

I've been a Mets supporter for 34 years, investing my time - and occasional money - in the team since the year after the magic was supposedly back (it wasn't).  In those three and a half decades, I've seen hundreds of players come and go.  Some of these players have been universally beloved by the fans, while others are married to Mrs. Armando Benitez.

While some of the vitriol dished out to those less fortunate players has been well-deserved, others have received the hate for reasons unknown.  One such player is Jonathon Joseph Niese.

Was Niese voted "Mr. Personality" in his high school yearbook?  Probably not.  Is he a "rah-rah" type of guy?  Not that I've ever seen.  Does he have a cool super-hero nickname like Matt Harvey?  Only if you consider Super Schnoz to be a sweet moniker.

Are these reasons for Mets fans to dislike Niese as much as they do?  Not at all.  But somehow, in seven-plus seasons as a Met, the 28-year-old southpaw has never been a fan-favorite.  And he's done nothing to make this happen other than be a serviceable pitcher.

Jon Niese is not paid like an ace, so no one should expect him to pitch like one.  But for several years, he's pitched better than an average pitcher.

Since 2012, Niese has a 30-28 record for a team that has finished below .500 in each season.  He has made 85 starts in the last three-plus seasons, posting a 3.47 ERA.  Of all the pitchers who have made that many starts since the start of the 2012 campaign, only 18 have posted a lower ERA, including Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, David Price, Adam Wainwright, Madison Bumgarner and Max Scherzer - all of whom are considered to be among the best pitchers in baseball.  In addition, 16 of those 18 hurlers have made at least one All-Star team in that time frame, with the two exceptions being Kyle Lohse (3.34 ERA) and Hiroki Kuroda (3.44 ERA).

Going back to August 2012, Niese has also allowed three earned or fewer in 55 of his last 63 starts.  That's just eight starts where Niese gave up four earned runs or more in two and a half seasons, which is amazing when you consider that last year alone, Madison Bumgarner had ten such games and Max Scherzer had nine.  You may know Bumgarner as the most recent World Series most valuable player and Scherzer as the $210 million man.

But those who don't like Niese fail to notice things like that.  Instead, they look at how he gets rattled when his teammates make errors behind him, thereby forcing Niese to record extra outs.  Well, guess what?  That happens to most pitchers!

Including the two unearned runs allowed in Friday night's loss to the Braves, Niese has allowed 25 such runs since 2012.  That's fewer than the number of unearned runs allowed by Stephen Strasburg (30 unearned tallies), Jon Lester (28) and R.A. Dickey (27) over the same time period.  And all three of those pitchers made All-Star teams since 2012 as well.

Finally, for those who are sabermetrically inclined, Niese has a 104 ERA+ over the last three-plus seasons.  Those are pretty solid numbers for a pitcher who, for some reason, is a disappointment to so many fans.  That's also better than the ERA+ posted by Tim Hudson (101 ERA+ since 2012), Matt Cain (100 ERA+) and Scott Kazmir (100 ERA+).  And you guessed it.  Hudson, Cain and Kazmir have all been All-Stars in that time period, with Cain starting the 2012 Midsummer Classic and Hudson and Kazmir both selected for last year's game.

Jon Niese has never blown hitters away, but he still has the ninth-most strikeouts in franchise history.  The eight pitchers ahead of him are a who's who of the greatest Mets pitchers of all-time.  Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Jerry Koosman, Sid Fernandez, David Cone, Ron Darling, Al Leiter and Jon Matlack are the only hurlers in club annals who can claim more whiffs than Niese - a fact that still doesn't get Niese a whiff of respect.

When the Mets were in the midst of their second consecutive late-season collapse in 2008, one of their own pitched eight shutout innings to temporarily halt the bleeding in a mid-September victory over the Braves.  Who was that clutch pitcher?  That was Jonathon Joseph Niese.  But because the Mets didn't make the playoffs, Niese's effort was largely forgotten.

In 1969, Tom Seaver had one of the greatest pitching performances in team history, retiring the first 25 batters he faced in a crucial matchup against the Chicago Cubs before allowing a single to Jimmy Qualls.  He then retired the final two batters and settled for a one-hit shutout.  Forty-four years later, Matt Harvey had his bid for a perfect game broken up on an infield single by Alex Rios of the Chicago White Sox.  The seventh inning roller was the only base runner allowed by Harvey in his nine innings of work - a game won by the Mets in ten innings.  Seaver and Harvey are two of the three pitchers in Mets history to pitch nine innings and allow just one base runner in a single game, facing 28 batters to record 27 outs.  Who was the third?  That would be Jonathon Joseph Niese, who allowed just a third-inning double to the Padres' Chris Denorfia in June 2010.  The two-bagger was all that stood between Niese and a perfect game.

Jon Niese was almost perfect once, even if fans don't have an almost perfect recollection of that game.

People who weren't around in 1969 are constantly reminded of Seaver's imperfect game, just as current Mets fans remember Harvey's gem as if it were yesterday.  But hardly anyone - other than those who were in attendance at Citi Field for the second game of a day-night doubleheader on a chilly June evening in 2010 - can recall Niese's effort.  Perhaps it's because he has never been a must-watch pitcher the way Seaver was and Harvey is.  Or perhaps it's because no one wants to admit that Niese actually accomplished such a rare feat.

Jon Niese came up late in the 2008 season and was immediately thrust into a playoff race.  He has yet to play in a meaningful late-season game since.  That means he doesn't have the big-game experience that fellow southpaws (and more treasured former Mets) Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, Sid Fernandez and Al Leiter have.  Perhaps that's another reason why Niese isn't appreciated, even though he ranks just behind all four of those pitchers on the team's all-time ranks for left-handed starting pitchers.

You may think he's boring.  You may also think he doesn't have charisma, talent and various other intangibles.  But what you should really do is reconsider your opinions about Jon Niese, especially when you weigh the facts and realize how much better he's been than what you may have thought.

Since signing his team-friendly five-year, $25.5 million contract at the outset of the 2012 campaign, Niese has performed as well as - if not better than - several All-Star pitchers.  Niese has suffered some nagging injuries over the years, but has still made at least 24 starts in every season since 2010, making him one of only 32 pitchers who has made 24 or more starts in each of the last five campaigns.  In fact, Niese is one of just a dozen pitchers in Mets history to make two dozen starts in five separate seasons.  And if Niese reaches 24 starts in 2015, he'd be one of nine Mets pitchers to reach that total six times.

So what does everybody want from Niese?  He's not Matt Harvey.  He's not someone who's going to strike out 10 or more batters every game.  And he's not going to pitch a shutout all the time.  What Niese will do is keep his team in the game more often than not.  He will also keep opposing teams from putting up crooked numbers on the scoreboard.  And he's not making the money that a perennial All-Star makes.  But no matter what he does, it will never be good enough for Mets fans.

I'm sure many teams would love to have a pitcher of Jonathon Niese's caliber.  And I'd bet fans of those teams wouldn't pick apart everything he does on the mound the way Mets fans do.  Jon Niese will never be the best pitcher on the team.  But he doesn't have to be.  He just has to pitch the way he has over the past three-plus seasons.  And that's probably better than what his haters deserve.

A Jon Niese appreciator

It's a crying shame that Mets fans don't appreciate Jon Niese more.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Magic 8-Ball Predicts The 2015 Mets Season

As the long winter turns to spring in the Big Apple, our thoughts turn from yellow snow and dodging slush puddles to the green grass of the ballpark and the smells of hot dogs, Pat LaFrieda meats and bacon on a stick.  Or if you're a vegan, perhaps you're into the smells of veggie dogs, Terra chips and edamame.

No matter what tickles your olfactory senses, your other senses are about to come to life on Monday when the Mets return to action, opening the curtain on the 2015 campaign.  And with the return of Matt Harvey, the potential of new hitting instructor Kevin Long waking up the bats of a team that hit .239 last season and the arrival of David Wright's BFF, Michael Cuddyer, it's the first time in the Citi Field era that fans are optimistic about the return of winning baseball to Flushing.

With that in mind, I decided it was time to wake up our old friend, the Magic 8-Ball, to see what it thought about the upcoming baseball season.  Would it finally acknowledge that the Mets were close to contending for a playoff spot?  Or would it be its crotchety old self, threatening to call the cops on me for not getting off its lawn?

Why don't we just let the Magic 8-Ball give you all the answers to the questions you were afraid to ask?  The floor's all yours, M8B!

Oh, sorry about that.  But now that you're up, I'd like to ask you a few questions about the 2015 Mets.  I promise it won't take up much of your time and you'll be to get back to your comfortable bed in no time.

Really?  What do you sleep on then, if you don't mind me asking?

And why's that?

I should have seen that response coming from a mile away.  Anyway, let's just get to the first question.  Do you feel the Mets improved enough to contend for a playoff berth in 2015?

Just one trade?  What would it be?  Trading prospects for a more experienced shortstop?  Sending Dillon Gee packing for a legitimate bat?  Re-acquiring Scott Atchison so he can serve as a father figure to Bartolo Colon?

Wow!  A two-for-one deal!  I'm sure many long-suffering Mets fans would approve that transaction.

A steal of a deal!  Let's hope Sandy Alderson is reading this so he can trade away the people who sign his paycheck.  Speaking of paychecks, do you think Lucas Duda is worth a long-term contract extension after his first good season as a Met?

I never knew you were such a believer in the talent of Lucas Duda.

Moving on to the pitching side of things, what do you expect from Matt Harvey this year?  Will he be able to lead the Mets to their first postseason berth since 2006?

He did?  I don't remember him doing that.  That would have been a major news story.  Where did he make such a prediction?

Oh, wait.  You're talking about when he tweeted a photo of his middle finger from his hospital bed as he was about to undergo Tommy John surgery, aren't you?

I guess he was.  So let's move on to the team's closer situation.  Do you think Bobby Parnell will take over as closer once he comes off the disabled list?  Or will Jenrry Mejia continue to hold the position?

Even with the more experienced Parnell wanting to reclaim what was once his?  Parnell had a wonderful season in 2013 (2.16 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .211 batting average against him).  Mejia was a little more shaky as a closer (2.72 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, .265 batting average against him).  Can't there be a compromise between the bearded Parnell and the stomping Mejia?

That's downright frightening.  Plus, I didn't know Magic 8-Balls were capable of altering photographs in such a way.  I thought you were just a one-tool player.

Did you just use ball (snicker) and tools (giggle) in the same sentence?

Sorry.  That was very unprofessional of me.  Let's get to a true professional - David Wright.  The Mets captain had a subpar season in 2014, but he appears to have fully recovered from the shoulder injury that limited him to a .269 batting average and a career-low eight home runs.  Will he be able to produce better numbers in 2015?

He has to what?  You'll have to be a little more specific.

And which horrible memories are you referring to?

Ouch.  That is a horrible memory.  Okay, so I just have one more question to ask you before I get your prediction on the team's final record.  Then you can go back to your box for nap time.

This is the final year of Terry Collins's current contract.  If he leads the Mets to the playoffs, will he come back to manage the team in 2016 and beyond?

How would he not keep his job if he manages the team to its first winning season since 2008 and first postseason appearance since 2006?   It would seem like a slam dunk for the team to bring him back following that type of success.

Good point.  So let's end this by asking you for your prediction on the team's final record and standing in the NL East. 

But you said Matt Harvey predicted back in 2013 that the Mets would finish in first place this year.

And that's why Matt Harvey works his magic on the mound and you're the prognostication expert.  Thanks for taking the time to be with us today, M8B.  And I'm sorry for waking you up earlier.

Did I just shake the Magic 8-Ball to sleep?  Well, as a Mets fan, the time for sleep is over because we're on the cusp of a new season - one that might produce meaningful games in September and beyond.  And also one that could potentially cause the Wilpons to break open their piggy banks at the trade deadline for a change.  Assuming they're not traded with Saul Katz for a legitimate owner and a Mex Burger, of course.

Have fun this season, Mets fans!  It should be a pretty cool ride this summer.  And lest I forget, please help control the restless 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 five seasons, please click on the links below:

Milestones Within Reach For Members of the 2015 Mets

The Mets lost their first eight Opening Day games from 1962 to 1969 before getting off to their first 1-0 start in 1970.  Since then, they have lost back-to-back Opening Day games just once in the last four and a half decades, dropping their season openers in 1999 and 2000.  And of course, New York made the playoffs in both of those campaigns.

The 2015 squad is trying to avoid becoming just the second Mets team to drop consecutive Opening Day affairs since those 1960s clubs.  That's a team mark no one on the current club wants, especially with hopes being so high for this year's club.  However, several players on the current squad can reach individual milestones that are mostly positive.  And of course, since these are the Mets we're talking about, there are some milestones that can potentially be reached that players would rather not discuss.

The time for dilly-dallying is done.  By the power of Scott Atchison's stubble, I give you the list of individual Mets milestones within reach (even if some players would rather I keep some of these milestones to myself).

Attainable Individual Milestones (Position Players)

Juan Lagares doesn't need anything but his Gold Glove.  (Getty Images)

David Wright:

  • Needs 93 runs scored for 1,000 in his career.
  • Needs 61 RBI to reach 1,000 as well.
  • Needs 22 home runs to tie Darryl Strawberry for the franchise lead.
  • Needs nine stolen bases for 200 lifetime steals.
  • Needs 12 SB to be ahead of every Met not named Jose Reyes or Mookie Wilson.
  • Needs a return to his non-injured self to validate his continued use in the No. 3 hole.

Daniel Murphy:

  • Needs 173 hits for 1,000.  (Only nine Mets have reached that figure.)
  • Needs 10 doubles for 200.
  • Needs 36 doubles to become the second-most prolific Doubles Machine in team history.
  • Needs to be careful what he says when asked for his opinion on certain "lifestyles".

Lucas Duda:

  • Needs 26 home runs for 100.  (Just 11 Mets have reached triple digits in homers.)
  • Needs 55 RBI for 300.
  • Needs 136 strikeouts to enter the team's all-time top ten in whiffs.  (Boo.)
  • Needs to string together two complete sentences in a post-game interview.

Curtis Granderson:

  • Needs 13 home runs for 250.
  • Needs seven blasts to pass Jason Bay for 65th place on the Mets' all-time home run list.
  • Needs to make sure hitting coach Kevin Long never leaves his side.
  • Needs to smile more.  (He doesn't do it nearly enough.)

Michael Cuddyer:

  • Needs 13 homers for 200.
  • Needs 76 hits to be halfway to 3,000.
  • Needs to let Juan Lagares catch every fly ball hit in the left-center field gap.
  • Needs to check out of the DL Hotel.  (He's been staying there way too often.)

Ruben Tejada:

  • Needs to accept that Wilmer Flores isn't going to give him back his job at shortstop.

Attainable Individual Milestones (Pitchers)

Matt Harvey needs to pitch so he can make money to buy clothes again.  (Martin Schoeller/ESPN)

Bartolo Colon:

  • Needs to pitch 214 innings for 3,000 in his career.
  • Needs 166 strikeouts to enter baseball's all-time top 50.  (He'd pass Roy Halladay, Vida Blue, Jim Palmer and Lefty Grove along the way.)
  • Needs to allow 20 home runs to become the 27th pitcher in history to allow 350.  (On the bright side, 14 of the other 26 pitchers are in the Hall of Fame.)
  • Needs his batting helmet to continue flying off his head for a good belly laugh.

Jonathon Niese:

  • Needs two strikeouts to pass Bobby Jones for 9th place on the Mets' all-time list.
  • Needs 22 starts to enter the top ten in team history, displacing David Cone from 10th place.
  • Needs 14 wins to tie Steve Trachsel for 10th place in Mets history.
  • Needs to stay off the disabled list so the Mets can always have a lefty starter in the rotation.

Matt Harvey:

  • Needs 27 starts to establish a new single-season career high.
  • Needs 239 strikeouts to become the 22nd Mets pitcher to reach 500 career strikeouts.  (Hey, if Oliver Perez could strike out 239 batters in just 196 innings in 2004, why can't Harvey do the same?)
  • Needs to give upper management the middle finger if they try to make him change his ways.

Bobby Parnell:

  • Needs one appearance for 300 in his career.
  • Needs 63 appearances to move into 6th place in club history, behind only John Franco, Pedro Feliciano, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jesse Orosco.
  • Needs 51 strikeouts to become 7th pitcher in team history to record 300 whiffs as a reliever.
  • Needs to give the team more than the one inning he pitched for them in 2014.

Jenrry Mejia:

  • Needs 29 saves to crack the team's all-time top ten in career saves.
  • Needs to pitch more 1-2-3 innings.  (He allowed at least one base runner in 28 of his last 40 appearances in 2014.  He allowed two or more base runners in half of those 40 outings.)
  • Needs his new haircut to not get in the way of his game-ending stomp after each time the Mets put it in the books.

Attainable Individual Milestones
(People Who Have "Manager" In Their Title)

"You think I'm not going to win more games than I lose this year?  Don't make me laugh!"  (Jeff Roberson/AP)

Terry Collins:

  • Needs 36 wins to pass Gil Hodges to become the third winningest manager in team history, behind only Davey Johnson and Bobby Valentine.  Seriously.
  • Needs 76 losses to tie Joe Torre for second-most defeats for a Mets manager.  (Collins would pass Casey Stengel and Davey Johnson along the way.)
  • Needs 39 games to pass Joe Torre for third place in games managed by a Mets skipper.
  • Needs to wear his pants a little lower.  He looks like a modern day Steve Urkel.

Sandy Alderson:

  • Needs a winning record to tie Frank Cashen by getting his team above .500 in his fifth season as the team's general manager.
  • Needs to borrow a couple million bucks to bring in a top offensive player.
  • Needs to stop posing with Mets teddy bears and start posing as a successful general manager.
  • Needs to prepare for meaningful games in September for the first time as the Mets' GM.

This bear will be very happy if the Mets play meaningful games in September.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Monday, March 30, 2015

One Mo-MET In Time: Johan Santana

Sports fans have wonderful memories, although not all of those memories are pleasant.  In fact, certain names or phrases can act as trigger words to followers of sports teams, eliciting groans and bringing back painful memories.

Mention the name "Bucky F. Dent" to any Red Sox fan and they know exactly which game you're referring to and what Dent's middle initial stands for.  Similarly, fans of the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans cringe when the words "one more yard" are uttered.

For Mets fans, the magic words are "seven games up with 17 games to play".  That was the lead the Mets had over the Philadelphia Phillies in the division going into the final 17 games of the 2007 season.  But none of the team's pitchers stepped up during the season's final two and a half weeks.  A team like the 73-89 Washington Nationals, who finished dead last in the league in home runs and runs scored, found a way to blast ten homers and cross the plate 53 times in five late-season victories over New York.  And of course, who could forget the last-place Florida Marlins hammering a seven-run nail into the Mets' coffin during the first inning of the season's final game?

Despite having two future Hall of Famers on the staff in Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine, the Mets didn't have a stopper in the starting rotation during the final weeks of the 2007 campaign.  John Maine had the game of his life in the season's penultimate game, but allowed 11 runs to the Nationals and Marlins in the two starts prior to his Game No. 161 effort.  Oliver Perez, who matched Maine with a team-leading 15 wins in 2007, couldn't get out of the fourth inning in his final start and was outpitched by Marlins starter Byung-Hyun Kim.  It would be the final victory in the majors for Kim, who posted an 8.21 ERA in nine late-season appearances for the Marlins, just six years after he blew back-to-back save opportunities as a reliever for the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series.

Having lost the division to the Phillies in 2007, the Mets knew they had to upgrade their pitching, especially once they allowed Glavine to return to his former team in Atlanta.  The free agent class was bereft of ace pitchers, so the Mets were going to have to make a trade if they wanted a true No. 1 starter.  They found their man just weeks before pitchers and catchers were due to report.  And even though he never led the team to the postseason, he still produced one of the most magical moments in the team's history.

Johan Santana put his fist through 50 seasons of no-hit futility.  (Howard Simmons/NY Daily News)

Johan Alexander Santana made his major league debut with the Minnesota Twins in 2000, but didn't become a full-time starting pitcher until midway through the 2003 season.  Santana earned his first win as a regular in the Twins rotation on August 3, then wouldn't stop winning.  Over the season's final two months, Santana went 8-0 with a 2.51 ERA, striking out 70 batters in 68 innings.

Santana cemented himself as one the game's best pitchers from 2004 to 2007, when he led the majors in wins (70), strikeouts (983) and WHIP (0.99), while placing second to Roger Clemens in ERA (2.89 to Clemens's 2.68).  But Santana was due to become a free agent following the 2008 campaign and was pricing himself out of Minnesota's range with each solid performance.  Knowing they would have a tough time re-signing him without breaking all the piggy banks in the state, the Twins decided to deal Santana prior to the 2008 campaign.

Originally, it was thought that the Yankees and Red Sox would be the most likely suitors for Santana's services.  But Mets general manager Omar Minaya swooped in and pried the two-time Cy Young Award winner away from the Twins with a package that centered around top prospect and future All-Star Carlos Gomez.  The Mets also sent three pitchers - Philip Humber, Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey - to Minnesota, then signed Santana to a six-year, $137.5 million contract extension to complete the deal.

Santana had a brilliant first season in New York, going 16-7 with a league-leading 2.53 ERA and 1.148 WHIP.  Santana also struck out 206 batters, breaking Jon Matlack's 35-year-old team record for strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher.  Santana could have won as many as 23 games, but the bullpen coughed up the lead in seven of his 11 no-decisions.  Santana didn't allow the bullpen to blow his final start of the season, as he pitched a complete game, three-hit shutout against the Marlins, throwing 117 pitches just four days after tossing 125 pitches against the Chicago Cubs.

Alas, Santana's performance didn't help the Mets advance to the postseason in 2008, but it was enough to help him finish third in the National League Cy Young Award vote, making him just the seventh Mets pitcher to finish in the top three, joining Tom Seaver (1969, 1971, 1973, 1975), Jerry Koosman (1976), Jesse Orosco (1983), Dwight Gooden (1984, 1985), David Cone (1988) and Frank Viola (1990).

Following Santana's Herculean effort in which he threw 242 pitches over a five-day span, it was revealed that he had been pitching with a torn meniscus in his left knee over the season's final month.  Just four days after his final start, Santana underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair his balky knee.  It was his first time under the knife as a Met.  It would not be his last.

From 2009 to 2011, Santana made just 54 starts for the Mets, with only one of those starts coming in the month of September.  When he was healthy, Santana was still quite efficient, as evidenced by his
3.05 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in those 54 starts.  But Santana just couldn't stay on the field after his inaugural campaign in New York.

Santana's 2009 season ended in August because of bone chips of his left shoulder.  A year later, his 2010 campaign was abbreviated due to a torn anterior capsule in his throwing shoulder.  The same injury caused Santana to miss the entire 2011 season, after several rehab attempts caused Santana to feel shoulder fatigue.

Entering the 2012 campaign, the Mets were a shadow of the team that contended for a division title in Santana's first year with the club.  New York won 70, 79 and 77 games during its first three seasons at Citi Field and never posed a serious threat to crashing the postseason party.  But after not pitching in a major league game in nearly 18 months, Santana was ready to help the Mets win in 2012.  Not much was expected from Santana or the Mets entering the campaign.  Those expectations changed dramatically during the season's first two months.

Behind five shutout innings from the returning Santana, the Mets claimed a 1-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Opening Day.  New York won its next three games as well, giving the team its fourth 4-0 start in franchise history.  The Mets continued to shock the skeptics over the first third of the season, never falling more than four games out of first place in the competitive National League East.  The team had exceeded expectations due to the emergence of two pitchers - R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana.

Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey were Amazin' during the first half of 2012. (William Perlman/The Star-Ledger)

In 1948, the term "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain" was coined after Boston Post sports editor Gerald V. Hern wrote a short poem about Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain - the two best pitchers in the Boston Braves rotation.  Sixty-four years later, the Mets were asking for "Dickey and Santana and rain for maƱana" as New York's co-aces combined to go 9-3 with a 2.91 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 121 strikeouts in 123⅔ innings over the season's first two months.  After Dickey and Santana participated in back-to-back shutouts of the San Diego Padres in their final starts of May, the Mets entered June within striking distance of first place.  They would earn a share of first during the month's first series, a four-game set with the St. Louis Cardinals.  But what happened in the first game overshadowed everything else that followed in the series.

The Mets entered the month of June reeling from a loss to the Phillies - a game in which five relievers combined to allow eight runs in the final two and a third innings.  New York desperately needed starting pitcher Johan Santana to stop the bleeding, hoping he could give the team a lengthy effort to give the bullpen a short break, similar to the complete game he gave them in his previous start.

Santana was due to face the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals and their ace, Adam Wainwright.  It was Wainwright who ended the Mets' dreams of playing for a title in 2006, when the then-reliever struck out Carlos Beltran to end the NLCS - the same Carlos Beltran who was now a member of the Cardinals, and who was getting ready to face the Mets for the first time since he was traded to San Francisco the previous summer.  Those were just some of the intriguing storylines going into the game, but a new story began to write itself as the game progressed.

Through three innings, neither pitcher had given up a hit, although Santana had walked two batters and Wainwright had allowed one free pass.  Santana walked his third batter of the game to lead off the fourth inning, but retired the next three batters in order.  The game's first hit did not occur until the bottom of the fourth, when Kirk Nieuwehuis led off the inning with a single.  A double by David Wright moved Nieuwenhuis to third base.  Both runners eventually came around to score, as Lucas Duda drove in Nieuwenhuis with a sacrifice fly and Daniel Murphy plated Wright with a triple.

Santana now had a two-run cushion to work with as he stepped on the hill in the fifth, but once again, he began with the inning with a walk.  Although he retired the next three batters to face him, he needed 13 pitches to record the three outs, moving his pitch count to 79 through five innings.  Santana had yet to allow a hit, but his high pitch count was beginning to make manager Terry Collins antsy in the dugout.  In his first ten starts of the season, Santana had averaged just 92 pitches per start, never throwing more than 108 in any of them.  He was an inning away from surpassing his average and two frames away from potentially having his highest pitch count of the year.  The Mets went down quietly in their half of the fifth inning, sending Santana back to the mound quickly for the sixth.  The first batter he would face was Carlos Beltran.  And that's when third base umpire Adrian Johnson became a household name in Flushing.

After taking a first-pitch ball from Santana, Beltran smoked the southpaw's second pitch down the left field line, which was ruled foul by Johnson.  Replays later showed that the ball had kicked up white dust when it hit the ground, meaning it was a fair ball that had just grazed the foul line.  But two years before the advent of instant replay, the call was not changed, and Santana's no-hitter would live to see another pitch.  That pitch would be his 82nd of the night, and it would be another hard-hit ground ball by Beltran, although this time it settled into the glove of David Wright, who threw over to Duda on first to easily retire Beltran.

Adrian Johnson agreed with David Wright's foul call, keeping Johan Santana's no-hitter intact. ( screen shot)

Given a break by Johnson's missed call, Santana proceeded to retire the next two batters he faced, although his pitch count through six innings was up to 93.  The Mets were still clinging to a two-run lead as they came to bat in the bottom of the sixth.  It took just one swing of Lucas Duda's bat to make that a five-run cushion.

Following a leadoff single by Nieuwenhuis and a walk to David Wright, Duda launched a long three-run homer to right field, giving the Mets a comfortable 5-0 lead.  The blast also gave Duda four RBI on the night, matching his career high.

Santana returned to the hill in the seventh with his no-hitter intact and a commanding lead on the Cardinals.  He retired David Freese on a pop-up to lead off the inning, then went to a 3-1 count on catcher Yadier Molina.  It had been six years since Molina had broken the hearts of Mets fans by hitting a two-run homer in the the ninth inning of Game Seven in the 2006 NLCS.  And when he lined Santana's 102nd pitch to deep left field, the initial feeling was that he was about to break their hearts again.  But left fielder and Queens native Mike Baxter would not allow that wound to be re-opened, as he ran back to the warning track with surgical precision to make an over-the-shoulder catch before barreling into the wall at full speed.  The no-hitter was saved, but Baxter's shoulder was not, as he had to be placed on the disabled list with injuries to his collarbone and rib cage.  Baxter's all-out effort kept him out of action for nearly two months.

After Baxter was helped off the field, exiting to a rousing ovation, Santana continued to keep the Cardinals off the "H" column on the scoreboard, retiring Matt Adams on a groundout to end the seventh inning.  Santana had now matched his season high by throwing 108 pitches.  Under any other set of circumstances, Collins would have removed his ace from the game, especially with a five-run lead.  But Collins knew that Santana was chasing history, and he was not going to get in Santana's way, no matter how tempted he was to remove his injury-prone pitcher.  Even with the Mets adding three more runs in their half of the seventh on a bases loaded walk to Wright and a two-run single by Murphy, knocking out Cardinals starting pitcher Wainwright in the process, Santana was going out to the mound to start the eighth inning.

Santana got a break when Tyler Greene swung at the first pitch he saw, flying out to left fielder Nieuwenhuis, who had moved over from center field after the injury to Baxter.  Nieuwenhuis had to multitask on the play, as he had to make the catch and avoid shortstop Omar Quintanilla, who was running back into shallow left field to try to make the play himself.  Pinch-hitter Shane Robinson then looked at a called third strike before Rafael Furcal drew a five-pitch walk from Santana.  Once again, Carlos Beltran walked up to the plate.

In his previous at-bat, Beltran came within Adrian Johnson's questionable call of breaking up Santana's no-no.  This time, he was trying to prevent Santana from becoming the first Mets pitcher since Tom Seaver in 1975 to take a no-hitter into the ninth inning.  Beltran couldn't end the no-hitter in the sixth inning and he couldn't end it in the eighth, as he swung at Santana's 122nd pitch of the game, hitting a soft pop-up that was speared by a running Daniel Murphy in front of second base.

Carlos Beltran tried to burst Santana's bubble, but Johan refused to blow it. (Christian Peterson/Getty Images)

In the bottom of the eighth, Santana was due to bat third in the inning.  He was already three pitches away from matching his career high in pitches thrown, which he accomplished in his next-to-last start of the 2008 season.  On that September evening, Santana was pitching with an injured knee.  He had since been injured several times.  But once again, Collins did not lift Santana from the game, allowing him to bat for himself with a runner on first and one out.  Santana struck out on six pitches, then Andres Torres grounded out on the only pitch he saw to end the inning.

Johan Santana marched back to the mound to start the ninth inning as the 27,069 fans in attendance rose in unison to give him a standing ovation.  Santana needed 122 pitches to navigate through the first eight frames.  None of those pitches resulted in a hit by the Cardinals.  He was three outs away from baseball immortality.

Tom Seaver was the first Mets pitcher to take a no-hitter into the ninth inning, retiring the first 25 Cubs hitters he faced on July 9, 1969.  He then gave up a hit to rookie Jimmy Qualls to end his run at perfection.  Forty-three years later, Santana retired leadoff hitter Matt Holliday on a first-pitch fly ball to Torres in center field.

On July 4, 1972, nearly three years to the day after his first failed no-hit bid, Seaver held the San Diego Padres hitless through 8 innings.  But outfielder Leron Lee spoiled his quest for history by lacing a one-out single in the ninth.  Forty years later, Santana coaxed outfielder Allen Craig to hit a looping fly ball that settled into the glove of Nieuwenhuis in left.

Seaver took a third no-hit bid into the ninth inning on September 24, 1975.  This time, he retired the first two batters he faced before allowing a single to Cubs outfielder Joe Wallis.  It had been 37 long seasons since a Mets pitcher had taken a no-hitter into the ninth inning.  And all that stood between Johan Santana and baseball history was David Freese.

Freese had been named World Series MVP just seven months earlier.  But he was facing the Mets' most valuable pitcher on his special night.  Freese took Santana's first three pitches for balls.  Then he took a strike.  Then he Paul Hoovered a ball gently down the third base line that eventually rolled foul.

Santana had thrown 133 pitches.  He had Mets killer Yadier Molina on deck hoping for another shot to break up his gem.  He needed to end the game now.  Radio broadcaster Howie Rose and television play-by-play man Gary Cohen were on hand to call the game from their respective booths at Citi Field.  And they were the ones who painted the picture of Santana's 134th and final pitch.

Photo by Ed Leyro

"Johan sweeps a little dirt away from the left of the pitching rubber, steps behind the rubber, tugs once at the bill of his cap, takes a deep breath and steps to the third base side of the rubber.  Santana into the windup.  The payoff pitch on the way - SWUNG ON AND MISSED!  STRIKE THREE!  HE'S DONE IT!  JOHAN SANTANA HAS PITCHED A NO-HITTER!  IN THE EIGHT-THOUSAND AND TWENTIETH GAME IN THE HISTORY OF THE NEW YORK METS, THEY FINALLY HAVE A NO-HITTER! ... PUT IT IN THE BOOKS!  IN THE HISTORY BOOKS!"

 --Howie Rose, WFAN radio call

SNY Photo

"He struck him out!  IT HAS HAPPENED!  In their 51st season, Johan Santana has thrown the first no-hitter in New York Mets history!"

--Gary Cohen, SNY TV call

After his historic pitching performance, Santana made eight starts for the Mets before being placed on the disabled list with a right ankle sprain in late July.  He returned to the team three weeks later, but was shelled for 14 runs in two starts.  Santana was once again put on the disabled list, this time with lower back inflammation, and was shut down for the season.  He never pitched again for the Mets, as his 2013 campaign was also wiped out due to injury.

Santana stayed healthy over a full season just once in six years as a Met, missing two full seasons in 2011 and 2013.  Despite missing large chunks of time during his tenure in New York, Santana still ranks as one of the most successful left-handed starting pitchers in franchise history.  Among all southpaw starters, Santana ranks in the team's all-time top ten in wins (46; 8th), ERA (3.18; 6th), WHIP (1.20; 4th) and strikeouts (607; 6th).  He also ranks first among all Mets pitchers in no-hitters with one.

Johan Santana didn't make Mets fans forget about "seven games up with 17 games left".  In fact, for most of his time in New York, he was known for not being able to pitch due to his penchant for getting injured.  But he did leave the Mets with a couple of words the team's fans never expected to hear: no-hitter.

For Mets fans who suffered through all the near-misses, whose hearts were broken by the likes of Jimmy Qualls, Leron Lee, Joe Wallis and Paul Hoover - players whose names would long be forgotten had it not been for what they accomplished in failed no-hit bids by Mets pitchers - the events of June 1, 2012 were even more meaningful for them.  The Mets had allowed at least one hit in each of their first 8,019 regular season games.  They allowed none in Game No. 8,020.

He may not have led the team to the promised land as most people expected him to do following the Mets' epic late-season collapse in 2007, but Johan Santana did lead the team's fans to a place they had never been before.  And in doing so, Mets fans will always remember exactly what they were doing as pitch No. 134 gave the team no-hitter No. 1.  Santana's moment in time is one that will never be forgotten.

YouTube video courtesy of Mark Egan

Note:  One Mo-MET In Time was a thirteen-part weekly series (that's "was" - the past tense of "is" - because you just read the final installment) spotlighting those Mets players who will forever be known for a single moment, game or event, regardless of whatever else they accomplished during their tenure with the Mets.  For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:

January 5, 2015: Mookie Wilson 
January 12, 2015: Dave Mlicki
January 19, 2015: Steve Henderson 
January 26, 2015: Ron Swoboda
February 2, 2015: Anthony Young
February 9, 2015: Tim Harkness
February 16, 2015: Kenny Rogers, Aaron Heilman, Tom Glavine
February 23, 2015: Mike Vail
March 2, 2015: Matt Franco
March 9, 2015: Shawn Estes
March 16, 2015: Dae-Sung Koo
March 23, 3015: Al Weis