By: Paul DiSclafani
If you’ve ever gotten song lyrics stuck in your head, all season long I’ve been hearing the lyrics for “Once In a Lifetime”. In the words of the Talking Head’s David Byrne, “And you may ask yourself-Well, how did I get here?”
Listen to “Once In A Life Time” while you enjoy this article.
How did we get here, Mets fans?
Can you believe that the Mets – Our Mets – are in the National League Championship Series? Last night at Citi Field was electric despite the chilly weather. I was part of the crowd waving bright orange rally towels and standing up, screaming on almost every pitch. Quite a different atmosphere from a warm Tuesday night in June against the Marlins, no?
Playoff baseball in New York knows no equal, especially when it came quite unexpectedly. Back in April, we Mets fans were cautiously optimistic about competing in the NL East. We knew how good the Nationals were (on paper, anyway), but we also knew how good the Mets pitching staff could be. But we all know what happens to this team – our team – when we know how good we could be. We just aren’t.
Something always happens and this year was no different. Right out of the gate, in Spring Training no less, we found out that Zack Wheeler would miss the next 18 months with Tommy John surgery.
“And you may ask yourself, how do I work this?”
Then Daniel Murphy was hurt all spring and had only 21 AB’s. Our closer, Jennry Mejia is then suspended 80 games for PED use and we have to use our primary set up guy, Jeurys Familia to close out games. Our bullpen was already going to be a weak link, now this? Sheesh…
“Same as it ever was… same as it ever was … same as it ever was …”
No problem, we open the season in Washington and take two out of three to make everyone happy again, only to drop two out of three in Atlanta. We won the home opener (don’t we always?) and then got to see Matt Harvey in person for the first time. During the game, Captain David Wright pulled up lame sliding into second base with a hamstring injury. All summer we all became junior orthopedic surgeons and learned much more about spinal stenosis than we ever cared to know and didn’t see Wright in uniform again until the middle of August.
“And you may ask yourself, Am I right? … Am I Wrong?”
Oh sure, we had an incredible 11-game winning streak, then went into Yankee Stadium all high and mighty, ready to take over New York, and spit the bit, losing two out of three and being put back in our place as second class citizens in our own town. A week later, we had lost two out of three in Miami and came home to lose three out of four to the Nationals, going from the euphoria of a 13-3 start to a fairly pedestrian 16-10. Dillon Gee was 0-2, Jacob deGrom was 2-3 and Jonathan Niese was 2-2.
“Same as it ever was… same as it ever was … same as it ever was …”
And it went that way most of the summer; we would get swept by the Cubs, lose a few, win a few, then sweep the Phillies. We won 5 out of 6, only to lose seven in a row, then win four in a row. We were keeping our heads above water, treading hard to stay alive and keeping an eye on the prize, as we slowly came to realize something. The Nationals just weren’t that good.
“Letting the days go by..”
Like everything else in life, it came to a tipping point. We were right there, right on the fringe of catching the Nationals. They couldn’t put us away and we couldn’t get out of our own way sometimes, but we were still in this thing. We obviously had the horses once Noah Syndergaard arrived to join Harvey, deGrom and Colon, but we didn’t have the jockeys.
When the Dodgers rolled into town in late July, our cleanup hitter was John Mayberry Jr (batting .165) followed by Eric Campbell (batting .176). Clayton Kershaw, who was 7-6 at the time, took a perfect game into the seventh inning, embarrassing the Mets and forcing GM Sandy Alderson’s hand.
“And you may say to yourself, My God! What have I done?”
You know the rest, Mets fans. The turnaround was so dramatic, so unexpected that we flew past the Nationals before they even knew what hit them. Within six weeks, just a blip on the baseball season radar, we were preparing for a clinching game for the NL East title.
And last night, with a packed Citi Field, you could feel that energy again. That pure, baseball energy again. It smelled like October again in Queens. Suddenly, Cleon Jones bending to one knee to catch that last out in 1969 didn’t seem like it was almost 50 years ago.
And there was Keith Hernandez, mustache and all, throwing out the first pitch. Matt Harvey took the mound and struck out the first two batters he faced, putting a charge into an already electric crowd that was there for one thing only. To cheer on the orange and blue and remember what October baseball was all about. That feeling of angst in the pit of your stomach. As Mike Meyers would say, you are all “fer-klempt”.
We Met fans may not get this feeling too often, but we know it when we see it. And we can feel it. It’s the postseason and it is always special.
“Same as it ever was… same as it ever was … same as it ever was …”
On Sunday May 7, 1893, the St. Louis baseball club managed by Bill Watkins defeated the Chicago club, managed by Hall of Famer Cap Anson, 8-0 at Sportsman’s Park. 2,351 games later (1190-1142 Chicago advantage, 19 ties), and not a single post-season matchup between the two. Of course, that is mostly because divisional play did not begin until 1969. And since 1969, it was a very rare occasion, indeed, that the two teams would both be good enough to even think about the post-season, let alone playing each other. That all changed this past week as, for the first time in each team’s storied history, the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals played in the 2015 National League Divisional Series.
What a series it was. The Cardinals threw the first punch with a mesmerizing pitching performance from John Lackey. It looked as if the Cardinals’ recent dominance in this series would continue. But then something baseball fans are not used to happening happened. This Cubs team refused to roll over and play dead. In Game Two, the Cubs took advantage of Cardinals miscues en route to a 6-3 victory, fueled largely by Jorge Soler and a brilliant bullpen performance. The beast was awakened.
Then came Game Three on Monday evening. It took an historic performance from Cubs’ hitters on a night when the wind was blowing out and staff ace Jake Arrieta was having a mortal game on the mound, but the home team prevailed 8-6, getting the Wrigley faithful into a tizzy, giddy with excitement about what could possibly happen next.
The stage was set. This ballpark has witnessed its share of memorable moments. The Babe’s “Called Shot”, the “Homer in the Gloamin‘”, the highest scoring game in modern MLB history, the Sandberg game, and, of course, The Bartman Game. But never in the 101 year history of Wrigley Field, never had a post-season series clinching victory occurred for the home team. Never, that is, until October 13, 2015. One day before the anniversary of that heart wrenching 2003 Game Six. On Tuesday, the Chicago Cubs sent the Cardinals home for the winter with a 6-4 victory in which The Kids stepped up, once again, as rookie Kyle Schwarber, almost rookie Javier Baez, and “veteran” Anthony Rizzo hit home runs to back another solid bullpen effort.
Now, the Central Division Champs, who won 100 regular season games, sit at home and the Wild Card Cubs, winners of 97 of their own, await the victor in the other NLDS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets. There are a few blank pages left in the book, and the Cubs are looking to add some history.
Tonight when the Mets Matt Harvey takes the mound at Citi Field in game 3 of the NLDS between the Dodgers and the Mets he could very well define his future as a Met and his career in general. Prior to the return of Matt Harvey this year after missing all of 2014 and the end of 2013 to Tommy John surgery Harvey had already achieved god like status. The hapless Mets looked for hope in a team that was going nowhere fast each year. Harvey provided the light at the end of the tunnel and that hope. Harvey was the lone beacon of light in dismal darkness. Fans waited patiently as he rehabbed for his return to the mound in 2015. Prior to the surgery Harvey spoke quickly and confidently about what he wanted and what his goals were. Met fans liked that. He was the definition of a gamer. Then this year there have been some missteps along the way. The biggest one being the announcement in August by Harvey’s agent Scott Boras that he wanted to shut him down in September and the playoffs due to “doctors orders” on innings limits. Boras was talking like anybody has any idea what innings pitched really means. Some innings are 10 pitches and some are 30 pitches. Nobody has figured out any real scientific numbers on what is acceptable. The biggest problem that I had with that was not so much what Boras said but what Harvey said or did not say in this case. It seemed like 48 hours went by before Harvey commented. When he did he sounded like a beaten man. “My agent is looking out for me…. He has my best interests in mind….” That sounds great but Met fans don’t really care about what the agent thinks because agents are motivated by money not really about a player helping a team win. Fans and management are motivated by performance and helping a team win. Harvey damaged is image and credibility on all fronts after this incident. Met fans have a bad taste in their mouths right now regarding Matt Harvey.
Now Matt Harvey, the “Dark Knight Light” must take the mound and attempt to put the Mets in a position where they can close out the Dodgers tomorrow and advance to the NLCS. The goal for Harvey tonight is not to start hitting players in retaliation for Chase Utley breaking Ruben Tejada’s leg on a dirty take out slide at second base in game 2 on Saturday. The goal is to pitch 8 innings and give the ball to Familia. A year ago I would have told you that Matt Harvey will never be booed at Citi Field ever! Today I am not so sure about that. His image has taken a hit with Met fans and that was compounded when he missed a team workout before the playoffs started under very murky circumstances. There is only one way for Harvey to get back to being the “Dark Knight”. He has to pitch well and the Mets have to win. Anything less than a great performance would be a disaster for Harvey. He put himself in this position so I for one have no sympathy for him. If you want to be the main man you have to perform at key times. Curt Schilling and Andy Pettite come to mind. It is time for Matt Harvey to have his defining moment in his career and the Met’s need it tonight more than ever. My gut tells me he will be up for the task. If Harvey falters it could alter his Met career dramatically.
By: Paul DiSclafani
Major League Baseball has suspended Dodgers infielder Chase Utley for the next two games of the NLDS after the league deemed he made an illegal slide into Reuben Tejada, fracturing his fibula.
During his press conference in the aftermath of the Dodger’s 5-2 win in Game 2 that evened the series, when asked point-blank if he thought the play was dirty, Torre hinted at what might come in the future. “I have to determine if I thought it was excessive, I guess is the word, on the slide. Not that you shouldn’t slide hard, but as I said, just the late slide is probably the only thing that is in question now.”
After further review, all the fans, media and players that have been blowing up social media sites were right after all. It was a dirty play.
“After thoroughly reviewing the play from all conceivable angles, I have concluded that Mr. Utley’s action warrants discipline,” Torre said in a statement. “While I sincerely believe that Mr. Utley had no intention of injuring Ruben Tejada, and was attempting to help his Club in a critical situation, I believe his slide was in violation of Official Baseball Rule 5.09 (a) (13), which is designed to protect fielders from precisely this type of rolling block that occurs away from the base.”
Most of the baseball community felt that this suspension was justified, but don’t ask that to the Los Angeles Times. The Times blasted MLB with a headline of “MLB Overreacts with two-game suspension of Chase Utley”.
The quoted Mattingly as saying, If it had been their guy, they would be saying, ‘David Wright, he he’s a gamer. He went after him. That’s the way you gotta play.’ But it’s our guy. It’s different. If David would have done it, it’s wouldn’t have been any problem here in New York.
“Our organization is proud of the way Chase plays,” Mattingly continued, ”We love the way he plays. Let’s say he (Tejada) didn’t get hurt. There would be rumblings, but it goes away. But since someone got hurt, now it’s a story.”
Mattingly and the Dodgers just don’t seem to get what the rest of the baseball world is complaining about. What Utley did was just plain dirty. He ran full speed into Tejada without even attempting to slide. It was obvious on the replay that he wasn’t just playing “hard-nosed” baseball and trying to break up the double play. That’s what Torre said in his statement.
Of course Utley’s agent, Joel Wolfe, didn’t get the gist of the issue either as he said in a statement, “Chase did what all players are taught to do in this situation — break up the double play. “We routinely see plays at second base similar to this one that have not resulted in suspensions. Chase feels terrible about Ruben Tejada’s injury and everyone who knows him knows that he would never intentionally hurt anybody.”
It wasn’t about his intent to injure. Nobody truly believes that Utley went into that situation trying to hurt Tejada. But that was a result of his actions and he needs to take responsibility.
The Mets had a different approach and supported the decision, although nothing will bring Tejada back for the series. ” We (The Mets) feel this was the appropriate course of action,” the team said in a statement. “With this decision behind us, the team and our fans can now focus on playing winning baseball.”
Utley will most likely have his appeal heard early Monday morning. If the appeal is upheld, Utley will be eligible to play in Game 3.
Let’s see if he has the guts to come out of the dugout.
By: Paul DiSclafani
Instead of talking about the great pitching performance by the Mets Jacob deGrom and two home runs off Zack Grienke, the focus of players, media and Major League Baseball centered around the “take-out” slide Chase Utley employed against Reuben Tejada in Game 2 of the NLDS, effectively changing the course of the game and ending Tejada’s season with a broken fibula.
“’Slide’ would be generous” said Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, who had the best view of the play some are calling “hard-nosed” while most are calling just plain dirty. When asked what he thought of Utley’s slide, Michael Cuddyer said, “He hit Tejada before he hit the ground. That’s not a slide, it’s a tackle. It’s up to you to decide if tackling is legal in baseball”
Infielder Kelly Johnson was incredulous when he was asked about “The Slide”. “How is it a slide if he hits the player first? If he hits the dirt first, I don’t have anything to say. He has a broken leg because he was crushed”
Mets manager Terry Collins, ever the politician, had some things to say through gritted teeth when asked what he thought. “He broke my shortstop’s leg, that’s all I know.”
Even Major League Baseball didn’t know what to make of it in a bizarre post game press conference with the league’s Chief Baseball Officer, former Yankee skipper Joe Torre. After fumbling around for words to explain how Utley could be called safe when he never even touched the bag and insinuating, incorrectly, that any Met with the ball could have tagged him out as he went off the field – even in the dugout – , Torre touched on the slide itself. “The lateness of the slide, that concerns me.” Torre said. “But we’re still talking about it. I’m still in charge of determining if it was an over-the-top thing. I’m looking at it to see if there’s anything that should be done.”
Utley and the Dodgers, of course, didn’t feel there was anything wrong about the slide that broke up the double play and allowed the Dodgers to tie the game 2-2, eventually leading to a four run innings and a 5-2 win that tied the NLDS at one game apiece.
“The tying run is on third base, I’m going hard to try to break up the double play,” Utley said. “I feel terrible that he was injured. I had no intent of hurting him whatsoever. I didn’t realize his back was turned. It happened so fast.”
Dodger manager Don Mattingly backs up Utley’s claim. “I know Chase is not trying to hurt anybody,” he said. “He’s just playing the game the way he plays it. He plays it hard, he’s aggressive.”
None of that nonsense is going to cut it in the Mets locker room.
Utley’s “slide” started as he arrived at the bag, not before it. He didn’t even hit the ground until he hit Tejada at full force with a rolling, cross body block. As a second baseman by trade, Utley should understand the difference between a clean, hard slide trying to break up a double play and what happened in this game. But Utley has a history of taking out runners at second in this fashion during his 13-year career, being accused of the same thing against Tejada back in 2010.
“He’s a second baseman. If he wants guys sliding like that into him, then it’s perfectly fine,” David Wright said back then. “He knows how to play the game. If he doesn’t mind guys coming in like that when he’s turning a double play, then we don’t have any problem with it. It’s a legal slide. It’s within the rules. But somebody is going to get hurt.”
Kelly Johnson, an infielder who has played both short and second, was livid after the game. He wasn’t questioning Utley’s desire to play hard, it was the method of delivery.
“Chase is playing hard,” he said. “He’s doing his thing. He’s in the moment. That’s not the issue. The issue is he hit our shortstop first before hitting dirt. The question is at, one, is that illegal? At what point do we say, ‘Hey, man, we missed something here.’ We’ve got rules at home plate to protect our guys. What’s the difference? Ruben stuck his neck out there to make a play to try to get the bag and then to turn to make a throw. And before he can get the ball out of the glove he’s getting tackled.”
Even players not involved in the game, got into the game via social media. Padres outfielder Justin Upton said, “If that was a superstar shortstop (like Troy Tulowitzski), we would have a “Tulo” rule being enforced tomorrow”, referencing baseball’s new rule protecting catchers that is called “The Buster Posey” rule.
The subject of protecting certain players over others didn’t sit well with Johnson, either. “I want to know why there’s not something in place to protect us (infielders),” Johnson said. “and not jump into, break fibulas and knock people out of the game.”
In the TBS broadcast booth, Mets SNY announcer Ron Darling compared the play to football. “If this was the NFL, Uutley would have been flagged for interference on a defenseless receiver.”
When asked point-blank if he thought the play was dirty, Torre hinted at what might come in the future. “I have to determine if I thought it was excessive, I guess is the word, on the slide. Not that you shouldn’t slide hard, but as I said, just the late slide is probably the only thing that is in question now.”
And what was Utley’s intent? Wright can’t help you. “Only Chase knows what his intent was,” said the Mets Captain, “You’re going to have to as Chase what the intent was. Reuben had his back to him and couldn’t protect himself. When he’s running to second base with Reuben’s back turned, I don’t know what his intent was.”
Game 3 is Monday night at Citi Field with Matt Harvey on the mound for the Mets. You think Chase Utley gets into the batter’s box? Enough said…
By: Paul DiSclafani
Chase Utley continues to haunt the Mets, even though he is now living 2,500 miles away. The former Phillie took out Reuben Tejada at second base as he tried to turn a double play in the seventh inning, leading to four runs and helping the Dodgers tie the NLDS, beating the Mets 5-2.
The Mets were protecting a 2-1 lead in the seventh, thanks to second inning home runs from Yoenis Cespedes and rookie Michael Conforto, when Bartolo Colon relieved starter Noah Syndergaard with runners on first and third with one out. Colon got Howie Kendrick to tap one over second base that Daniel Murphy tracked down and flipped to Reuben Tejada for the force at second. But Utley barreled into Tejada as he spun around to try and complete the double play, knocking him to the ground and allowing Enrique Hernandez to score from third and tie the game 2-2.
As Tejada lay on the ground in pain, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly challenged the call at second. X-Rays revealed that Tejada has a fractured right fibula, ending his post season. Looking at the replay, Utley never made contact with the base and went right at Tejada, flipping him like a helpless NFL receiver making a catch.
After reviewing the play, the out was overturned as it was ruled that Tejada never touched the base. Utley was put back at second – even though he never touched the base – because if a call is overturned, the umpires can put the runners back on base.
With first and second and still one out, Addison Reed relieved Colon and got Corey Seager to fly out to left for what should have been the final out of the inning. Instead, Adrian Gonzalez, who had struck out three times against Syndergaard, pulled a double down the line in right, scoring both Utley and Kendrick and giving the Dodgers their first lead of the series, 4-2. Justin Turner then doubles into the right field gap, scoring Gonzalez to make it 5-2.
The Mets never recovered.
Replays showed that Utley came into Tejada hard, not even beginning to slide until he was passed the base. This will be discussed for the next couple of days as to if this was a dirty play. When asked after the game if he felt the play was dirty, Mets manager Terry Collins said, “It (the play) broke my shortstop’s leg, that’s all I know. It’s over, it’s done, There’s nothing we can do about it. My argument was that is was a roll block and he didn’t touch the bag, but the umpires said they reviewed the whole thing. They handled the call right.”
The Utley play and the Mets unraveling in the seventh overshadowed the great performance from Syndergaard. Although he was charged with three runs – he was responsible for the two that scored in the seventh – Syndergaard was dealing the entire game, mixing pitches and blowing the Dodgers away with 100 mph fastballs. Syndergaard struck out 9. But he was working long counts and was up to 115 pitches
The Mets got to Cy Young candidate Zack Grienke early, touching him for two runs in the second inning on solo home runs from Cespedes and Conforto. Conforto’s home run was a rocket off the foul pole in his first ever postseason plate appearance. Cespedes has not hit a home run in 60 AB’s.
But the Mets couldn’t put anything together against Grienke or the Dodger bullpen the rest of the way, managing just five hits.
Now the series switches to Citi Field and the Mets are not going to forget a borderline dirty play that cost them their shortstop. Matt Harvey will be on the mound for Game 3. A series that seemed to be going the Mets way because of their pitching just took a wrong turn.
POSITIVES: Curtis Granderson had two of the Mets five hits and also worked out a walk … Jonathan Niese got his first relief appearance, getting the final out in that miserable seventh … Hansel Robles pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out 2 … Mets pitchers have struck out 25 Dodgers in two games.
NEGATIVES: David Wright hit into two double plays following Granderson hits … Without Tejada, Wilmer Flores will have to play short. This not only weakens the defense up the middle, but removes his bat off the bench. Juan Uribe is not available. Mets only had two runners in scoring position all game.