By Paul DiSclafani
HO-HUM, ANOTHER OPENING DAY WIN
It’s not that the Mets won their first two games of the season, although that is unusual, it’s how they won them that has been impressive. They won them with offense, good starting pitching and even better bullpen work. Not a lot to complain about when you start 2-0 against a good team like the Cardinals.
Although the Mets won a World Series before they ever won an Opening Day game, since 1970 they are an incredible 32-17 on Day 1. Unfortunately, during that same stretch, they are 24-25 in Game 2. So we expected them to win Game 1 and would hold our breath for Game 2.
But this team feels different. Not only that, we are seeing things being done with the bullpen that are not formulaic and would make former manager Terry Collins’ head spin.
On Opening Day, the Mets scored nine runs without a home run on seven singles and nine walks. In a game that last year Collins would have used six pitchers, new manager Mickey Calloway previewed how he was going to handle the pitchers. After the Mets broke the game open in the bottom of the fifth to take an 8-3 lead, Calloway stayed with Noah Syndergaard in the top of the sixth. Syndergaard had thrown 75 pitches over the first five innings and on a cold afternoon and the first start of the season, there is no way Collins allows Syndergaard to start the sixth with a huge lead. But Syndergaard, although he gave up a home run, got out of the inning with just 10 pitches and his afternoon was complete – and a bullpen inning was saved.
Calloway then went to Robert Gsellman, who struck out the side. Anthony Swarzak then got a 1-2-3 eighth inning. Do you really believe that Collins wouldn’t have pulled one of them at some point for a righty-lefty switch, burning Blevins for just one batter?
On Saturday, Calloway did something Collins never would have even considered. He let both Gsellman and Swarzak finish one inning and start another. Not unheard of, but certainly not part of the Collins and Dan Warthen playbook. Why not stay with a guy who pitched out of a jam and keep that momentum going?
And then there is the lineup. After Brandon Nimmo was on base four out of five times on Opening Day, Juan Lagares started in Center for Game 2. Asdrubal Cabrera, who was the only position player without a hit on Opening Day, was moved from cleanup to lead off. Catcher Kevin Plawecki hit a home run on Opening Day, but Travis d’Arnaud started Game 2. Raise your hand if you think Terry Collins would have used the same starting lineup after a rousing win when both starting pitchers were right handed. You bet he would have.
Instead, Lagares gets two hits, Cabrera goes 3-5 and d’Arnaud hits a home run.
Hats off to Calloway and whatever he is doing. He has this team playing hard, running the bases, catching the ball and being aggressive on the mound. Maybe we are going to have a lot of fun this season?
REMEMBERING LE GRANDE ORANGE
NOTE: A few weeks ago, when we first learned he was sick, I published this regarding Rusty Staub. Due to his passing on Thursday, I thought I would run it again for those who may have missed it.
Any Mets fan from my generation knows that Rusty Staub was “Le Grande Orange”. He was a player that did not know the word “quit”, but is now fighting perhaps his last battle in a hospital down in Florida. Staub’s kidneys are failing due to a staph infection. Hopefully his condition will continue to improve.
Staub, now 73, played 23 season for five different teams, including two stints as a Met. In his first tour of duty, from 1972-1975, he helped the Mets recover from their post 1969 World Championship fog by becoming a dynamic, yet injury plagued player and leading them back to the World Series in 1973. Many younger Mets fans may remember Staub as one of the best pinch hitters in the game when he returned for his final tour from 1981-85.
Most of us will never forget his heroic performance in the 1973 playoffs. In the first three games of the National League Championship series against the powerhouse Cincinnati Reds, Staub had already hit three home runs and driven in five. In the 11th inning of Game 4, he tracked down a long fly ball from Dan Drieesen in Right Field at Shea, robbing him of an extra-base hit, making a spectacular catch and crashing into the wall, separating his right shoulder. He missed the Pennant clinching Game 5 and sat out Game One of the World Series against Oakland. Then, separated shoulder and all, he returned for Game 2, even though he couldn’t throw the ball overhand. Out in Right Field, Staub had to flip the ball underhanded to a teammate when he fielded it.
How do you hit with a separated shoulder, you might ask? Staub still managed to hit .423 against the A’s, driving in six runs and even somehow managing a home run in the World Series. In just 10 post season games – six of them with a separated shoulder – Staub managed four home runs, 11 RBI and batted .341.
It was one of the most heroic performances I have ever seen on a baseball field, where players have to sometimes sit out a few games for a hang-nail. Staub, who played three seasons in his first tour with the expansion Montreal Expos from 1972-75, would have made a great hockey player. Staub earned the nickname of “Le Grande Orange” for his hair color while with the Expos and was so popular, he was the first player to have a number retired by the franchise.
Later in his career, he returned to the Mets in 1981 and became a player-coach in 1982. He was strictly a pinch hitter, but in 1983, he did tie two Major League Records; eight consecutive pinch hits and 25 RBI as a pinch hitter. To cap off that amazing 1983 season, he hit a home run in his last AB and finished at exactly .300.
Some other Rusty Staub tidbits:
- He is the only player to amass 500 hits for four (4) different teams and finished his career with 2,716 hits
- He is the first Mets player to have 100 RBI in a season, finishing with 105 in 1975. Gary Carter ted it in 1986 and Darryl Strawberry broke it in 1990 (108).
- In his only injury free season (1974), he led the Mets in hits, RBI and AB’s
- He was traded from the Houston Colt 45’s to Montreal prior to the 1969 season for Don Clendenon and Jesus Alou. Clendenon threatened to retire from baseball rather than accept a trade to Houston because he didn’t get along with their new manager, Harry Walker, whom he considered a racist. Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn then ruled Clendenon could stay in Montreal and the Expos amended the deal. Clendenon was traded to the Mets in June of that season and became a hero in our World Series run that season.
- He played in the Major Leagues at just 19 years-old and is one of only two players to hit a home run before turning 20 and after turning 40.
- With Detroit in 1978, he became the first player in baseball history to play all 162 games as a designated history and drove in 121 runs.
- In his 23 years, he was on base 4,050 times – more than Rogers Hornsby or Tony Gwynn.
Of course, he became an even more beloved figure after his career with the “Rusty Staub Foundation”, founding the “New York Police and Fireman Widows’ and Children Benefit Fund”, raising more than $11 million prior to 9/11/2001 and more than $122 million after that.
NOTE: According to his brother, Staub experienced a heart condition while playing golf earlier in the week and died of a heart attack just after midnight on Opening Day of the baseball season. The Mets will be wearing a black circle patch with Rusty’s signature in orange on the sleeve of their home and away jersey. For the first two games of the season, they hung Staub’s #10 jersey in the dugout as a tribute.
THIS AND THAT…
So if Nimmo and Lagares are off to good starts, what do we do if Michael Conforto is ready to come back next week? … Not completely sold on this pitcher-batting-eighth thing, but it seems to be working. Hitting Cespedes #2 has also worked out. Statistics show that the #2 batter gets the most RBI opportunities in the lineup. Don’t believe that, just ask Derek Jeter … Todd Frazier plays a nice third base … After two games, Robert Gsellmen has more AB’s than Jose Reyes … Mets sporting a .512 On Base Percentage in first two games with 23 hits, 14 walks and a handful of HBP … The Bullpen has combined for 6.1 innings (between Gsellmen, Swarzak and Familia) for 3 hits, 1 R and 10 K … Adrian Gonzalez has been on base five times in 10 plate appearances … Best statistic of the first two games? No errors … Nice to see David Wright being announced to the crowd during the Opening Day ceremonies. He looked a little gaunt, but it was a touching moment between the fans of this franchise and Wright. He gave us everything he had when he could. If this is the last time we could cheer him as a player, so be it. Mike Piazza may have been one of the best players we have ever had, but Wright and Tom Seaver are the only two players that could be labeled “Franchise” players. They were ours from the beginning and we loved them from the beginning. My generation had Tom Terrific and my kids generation had David Wright. Good luck, David. We’re pulling for you…
Paul DiSclafani is a featured writer on “A View From The Bench”, which has been recognized by Major League baseball as one of the top 100 blog sites.