The Yankees are known as New York’s number one baseball team. The Bronx has seen 27 World Series titles and has a history of winning. Year after year the Yankees are in the hunt for the playoffs and they always have a shot at winning it all.
But on the other side of the city in Flushing, Queens, the Mets have not had an easy run these past few years. The last time the Mets won a Championship was 1986 and the last time they even came close to a World Championship was 2006. The so-called “Amazin’ Team” made it to the National League Championship Series and pushed the St. Louis Cardinals to a decisive Game Seven.
The Mets played their hearts out in that NLCS. That was evidenced by an incredible catch made by Endy Chavez in the final game. In the top of the sixth, Chavez tracked a fly ball (hit by Scott Rolen) to the left field wall at Shea Stadium. He leaped up, stuck his glove out over the wall, and brought the ball back into the park for an out.
He turned a two-run homer into a spectacular double play.
Tied 1-1 going into the ninth inning, the Cards took the lead. Yadier Molina swung his bat and delivered a tie-breaking two-run home run to give St. Louis a 3-1 lead. The Mets threatened in the bottom of the frame, World Series in sight.
What could have been the Mets’ dream season ended with Carlos Beltran staring blankly at a disgusting breaking ball thrown by Adam Wainwright.
Strike three called. Beltran out. NLCS over. Cardinals win.
From that called strike three and basically losing the pennant by one pitch, it seemed the Mets never recovered – despite a number of attempts to better themselves. The team from Flushing has gone in a downward spiral; a torturous period of bad luck and misfortune. It just seems as if black cloud has followed the team around since Chavez’s catch.
Following the sad ending in the ’06 NLCS, the Mets went out and got the best pitcher on the trading block. Then-General Manager Omar Minaya made an offer to the Minnesota Twins and the Mets gave up some prospects for ace and two-time American League Cy Young Award Winner (2004, 2006) Johan Santana.
As the Mets’ biggest off-season acquisition, Santana did not have a poor year in ’07 (15-13, 3.33 ERA) but he did lead the N.L. in home runs allowed with 33.
But the real story of the year wasn’t Santana. It was what has become known as “The Collapse.”
For most of the year, the Mets dominated the NL Eastern Division. Into the stretch, they played exceptionally well, as they were 21 games over .500 at 83-62 on Sept. 12.
As they say however, objects in the rearview mirror are closer than they appear – and the Phillies were not far behind the Mets.
Leading Philadelphia by seven games in the division – with only 12 games left to play – the Mets folded and lost six of their final seven games. In a deadlock for first place with Philly on the last day of the season, the Mets were beaten 8-1 by the Florida Marlins.
Meanwhile the Phillies beat the Washington Nationals 6-1 to win the NL East – the same NL East the Mets had a firm grasp on earlier that month. The Phillies were heading to the playoffs and the Mets were going home for the winter.
It couldn’t possibly get any worse for the Mets after 2007, right?
Not quite. After the ’07 collapse came the collapse of 2008.
Throughout ’08 the Mets had problems, as they fired manager Willie Randolph mid-season and they let go of Pitching Coach Rick Peterson. Jerry Manuel, a former Manager of the Year, took over. But even he couldn’t guide the bullpen in the right direction, as the Mets’ relievers failed them in big spots.
It once again came down to the Mets and the Marlins on the last day of the season.
If the Milwaukee Brewers lost and the Mets won, New York would have captured the NL Wild Card. If the Brew Crew won and the Mets lost, Milwaukee was in.
Lo and behold, the Mets lost 4-2 to Florida on Sept. 28 and the Brewers won, a tragic way to end the final regular season game at Shea Stadium. When it was all over and the meltdown was complete, the Mets of old came out for a postgame ceremony. Players like Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden were on hand to send off Shea Stadium in a nice way.
But to the fans, it felt more like a funeral than a celebration. Two years, two chances for a playoff appearance. And both times, the Mets came up just short at the last minute.
Since then there hasn’t been any room for a postseason collapse for the Mets, simply because they haven’t been in a playoff race following the ’08 meltdown. They attempted to fix their scuffling bullpen by signing closer Francisco Rodriguez prior to 2009. Yet even in trying to build the ‘pen, things didn’t work out.
Case in point: June 12, 2009.
Luis Castillo, a second baseman the Mets traded for in 2007, botched a pop-up that cost the Mets a game – and not just any game: a Subway Series game against their cross-town rivals, the Yankees.
With K-Rod on the mound, two outs, and the Mets leading 8-7 with two men on base, Alex Rodriguez swung and batted a popup behind second base. Castillo got underneath the ball and readied himself to catch it.
When the ball came down he closed his glove, only for it to pop right out and fall to the right field grass, like a piece of bread exploding out of a faulty toaster. Castillo, obviously without his wherewithal, failed to get either base runner out, throwing the ball to second base rather than home plate.
The Yankees scored two runs on the error and won the game 9-8.
It didn’t get any better for the Mets from there, as they ended their first season in Citi Field with a record of 70-92, good for fourth place in the NL East behind Philadelphia, Florida, and Atlanta.
After 2009 the Mets once again tried to land a big-name free agent. Left fielder Jason Bay, coming off a good year playing for the Boston Red Sox, was available and on Minaya’s radar. They signed him to be a power hitter in the middle of the lineup, hoping he would produce and drive in over 100 runs for the season.
Bay did anything but that.
He finished 2010 with a batting average of .259 and only hit six homers with 47 RBIs. It wasn’t exactly what the Mets had in mind, as he had hit 36 home runs with 119 RBIs in Boston the year before. He was also sidelined for a good portion of the year, as he sustained a concussion in a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The unlucky outfielder smacked his head against the outfield wall while tracking down a fly ball.
Bay only played 95 games last year and began this season on the disabled list with a rib injury.
Beltran, who was another big-ticket free agent the Mets acquired, has also had a rash of injuries. He had surgery on his knee in January of 2010 and it sparked controversy. The Mets’ organization said the procedure was done without their consent and they stressed their disappointment in Beltran about not consulting them about it first.
Before the Mets signed Beltran before the 2005 season, he gave them – and every other team in baseball – a good reason to seek him out. The centerfielder had slugged 38 homers in ’04 for Kansas City and Houston, and put on quite a hitting show in the 2004 NLCS, which the Astros played against the Cardinals. In that NLCS, he crushed four homers, knocked in five runs, and hit .417.
In his first season with the Mets Beltran hit 16 homers, recorded 78 RBIs, and he averaged .266.
Not a bad season by any means, but certainly not what the Mets had hoped for. Beltran had one outstanding season for the Mets in 2006 – ironically the only season in recent years the Mets have been any good. In ’06 he clobbered 41 homers, registered 116 RBIs, and hit .275.
Statistically, Beltran’s power numbers have declined every year since ’06.
The offense has not been the only facet of the Mets’ game that has been suffering. Their pitching – namely the hurlers they signed to get the job done – have also betrayed them.
Like Beltran, Santana has had one standout year (2008; 16-7, 2.53 ERA) but other than that season, he has been rather ineffective. He has been hurt for three straight years going back to 2009 and at the end of last year he left his Sept. 2 start early and was ultimately shut down. Later that month he had surgery on his pitching shoulder.
This year Santana has yet to pitch and will not begin the 2011 season until end of June or early July.
K-Rod, who had set the all-time saves record in a single season (62 in 2008) before going to Flushing, has not done anything close to what he did while playing for the Los Angeles Angels. Rodriguez went 3-6 in his first year with the Mets and blew seven saves (35 saves in 42 opportunities). He also had a back injury in 2009, once again an unfortunate happening for a player the Mets put a lot of stock into.
This year K-Rod already has one blown save, but one win. Against the Marlins on Saturday, he blew what would have been his first save of the year. However the Mets rallied and bailed him out, scoring three runs in the tenth to beat the fish 6-4.
The day before on Opening Day, the Mets suffered their first loss of the year, a 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Marlins. A person who works for SNY, the Mets’ cable network, played a clip from the TV show “Family Guy” that poked fun at how poor the Mets have played these past few years.
With all of the collapsing, the breaking down, the failure year after year, the injuries to the big stars, the question has to be asked: if you sign with the Mets, are you committing career suicide? No matter what they do, will they ever be contenders again? Is the team, which has basically been reduced to nothing more than a laughingstock, going to eventually turn things around?
This year, probably not. The Mets just do not have the pitching to go toe-to-toe with the Phillies and some of the other teams in the division, such as the Braves. Combine that with the lackluster run production the Mets showcase, they do not stand a chance.
Even though the Mets are failing, Stewie Griffin is poking fun at them, and the state of the team is seemingly in a state of flux, one thing remains constant: the fans.
Mets fans are very loyal. They know that they are doomed to watch their team fall down and never garner enough energy to pick themselves back up. Yet they still go out to Citi Field, and still root for players like Beltran, Santana, Bay, and K-Rod, and others like David Wright, Ike Davis, and Jose Reyes.
I don’t know how they put up with losing, but they do. I tip my (Yankee) cap to them all.
Spring Training is simply practice. It’s easy to talk about and it’s easy to sum it up – yes we are talking about practice. Of late, the Yankees have not been practicing very well, dropping their fifth straight Grapefruit League game today against a team they usually have no problem beating, the Minnesota Twins. The Bombers lost a squadoosh, 9-2.
The highlight of the afternoon was a solo home run hit by Alex Rodriguez in the bottom of the second inning. His homer tied the game at one and was his second of the spring.
The only other run the Yankees plated was a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning off the bat of Kevin Russo which knocked in Eric Chavez.
The Twins roughed up starter Freddy Garcia for four earned runs on six hits in 2 2/3 innings. Garcia walked two and struck out three, but was scuffling from the get-go. In the top of the first, Jeff Bailey singled to score Denard Span.
In the bottom of the third the Twins took the lead, scoring three runs. Luke Hughes doubled to drive in Bailey. He later came to the plate, as did Bailey, on a ground-rule double by Rene Rivera later in the frame, giving Minnesota a 4-1 edge.
The Twins widened their lead in the fourth, scoring four more runs. The highlight of the inning was a three-run blast off the bat of Brian Dinkelman. Earlier in the inning Hughes reached on an error by Derek Jeter, as the Yankee Captain dropped a popup in the infield.
Jeter’s error allowed Span to cross the plate. Leading 8-2 in the ninth, Chris Herrmann grounded into a force out, permitting Justin Huber to score and give the Twins nine runs for the game.
The Yankees, now 6-10-2 in Grapefruit League play, will visit the Red Sox tomorrow night.
Notes & Things to Look Out For
· It’s amazing how things unfold sometimes. Recently I have sung the praises of the starting pitching and as soon as I commend them, they begin to falter. Freddy Garcia had a rough day. 2 2/3 innings pitched, four earned runs, six hits, two walks, and three Ks. His ERA this spring is now 4.70 and he holds a 1-1 record. Is his bid for a spot in the rotation in jeopardy now? Probably not, but I think the Yankees are going to be watching him a little closer from now on.
· Although the Yankees haven’t been scoring a lot of runs, the regulars have been hitting the ball pretty hard. Alex Rodriguez went 2-for-3 with a solo home run today. He is batting .440 at press time and as documented, he is in great shape. I read a few days ago that he “feels like he is in 2007 form.” If you recall, A-Rod hit 54 homers that season with 156 RBIs and secured a .314 batting average. I would like to see that again.
· Mark Teixeira added another spring hit and was 1-for-3 today. He is hitting .360 to this point. Hopefully he will finally start hot instead of pressing at the beginning of the year. Either way, he is raking this spring.
· Mariano Rivera, wearing his socks high, struck out the side in the bottom of the sixth. It was his first spring outing and he looked dominant, to no one’s surprise. There really isn’t anything to say that hasn’t already been said about how Rivera continues to shut down virtually every hitter he faces. He is one of the natural wonders of the world, or at least a natural wonder of baseball. He yawned after he walked off the mound, as if to say, “No big deal.” Nine of the 12 pitches he tossed were strikes.
· Rafael Soriano gave up his first hit of the spring in the fifth inning of today’s game, but worked around it. He surrendered a single to Denard Span, but allowed no runs. No walks or strikeouts, but he is a powerful force – at least that’s what I sense out of him. I get the feeling he is going to be one heck of a setup man.
· This afternoon, Derek Jeter made a defensive blunder by Luis Castillo’ing that popup in the top of the fourth. (Yes, I turned Luis Castillo into a verb, meaning Jeter dropped the ball). At the plate Jeter was 1-for-3, snatching a single that would have played for a 1-3 putout, if pitcher Glen Perkins could have fielded the ball cleanly. The ball caromed off Perkins and Jeter reached. I’m not so worried about Jeter; you can’t be. He generally puts up the same types of numbers every year, and it is easy to know what to expect from him. But it is becoming evident to me that the Yankee Captain isn’t the same player he was 10 years ago.
· The Yanks made their first round of cuts this weekend. Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, Andy Sisco, Brian Anderson, Buddy Carlysle, and Hector Noesi have been reassigned to Minor League camp. More cuts will be coming soon I’m sure, what with Opening Day two weeks from this Thursday.
· In yesterday’s 6-5 exhibition loss to the Washington Nationals, A.J. Burnett gave up a two-run home run to Michael Morse, but recovered to retire the next nine batters he faced. He struck out the side in the first inning. It’s good to see him in this form; not getting rattled after giving up a long ball. Burnett is looking a lot better than he did last year around this time. Credit him with nine innings for the spring so far, and just two runs allowed.
· Among the Yankees making the trip to Boston camp in Fort Myers tomorrow: Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Jesus Montero, Dellin Betances, Manuel Banuelos, and Mark Prior. Regular starters Jeter, Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Jorge Posada will not be there. Sergio Mitre will make the start.
· The next televised game on YES is Wednesday night March 16 vs. the Baltimore Orioles.