Friday, April 17, 2015

Mets Home Opener and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS!


43,947
Opening day at Citi Field was a great day for the Mets as well as us Mets fans. To watch a Jacob deGrom work through 6.1 of shut-out innings was a joy. deGrom was not firing on all cylinders and had some control issues, but he still managed to keep the Phils off the board, looking very much like a veteran pitcher in this, his second year in the majors.


The 2014 Rookie Of The Year did not disappoint, just as he didn't in his first start of the season in Washington. This time his teammates backed him with some scoring. More than enough runs, as it turned out, as New York beat Philadelphia 2-0.

Both runs were from drives off Philly gloves, as Lagares drilled a grounder off the pitcher (a single) for one run and Murphy ripped a cutter that ate up Chase Utley (an error) for another.

The Mets offensive onslaught through Spring Training did not seem to have come north with the team. And we already have been dealt some severe blows right out of the gate, yet the team is a respectable 5-3 and 2-0 at Citi. That's a nice way to start a season.

How great is it that we have deGrom pitch and win the home opener, blanking the Phils, and the next day is Harvey Day.
Pretty smart to have Harvey pitch the second game, business wise, but they could not make decisions like these without the talent to back it up. And like deGrom, Harvey was not at full steam. He was compiling K's but he was not untouchable. Actually, game two of the season became one of the wackiest 2nd games ever!

 This post was planned to cover just deGroms opening day win. I wanted this up for Harvey Day. And then I saw the Harvey game I had to change my plans. Holy smokes!

If you read me regularly you'd know that if I say this upcoming section is so long that you should probably get a snack, you probabaly should. I have no idea how many cards I will make for this special mfcFOCUS or how long this will run. I figure it'll be as long and crazy as the game itself was. So go get a snack and settle in for a Mets Fantazy Card special FOCUS presentation.

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mfcFOCUS:
Game 8 of the 2015 season

Lets take a microscopic look at the Mets eighth game of the young season.



 This is a rarity. I don't see me putting too many regular season games under the microscope, but this one begs to be reviewed. A game that had a little bit of everything and showcases just how strange this game has become. Also how umpires roles have changed, for better or for worse.


Matt Harvey, The Dark Knight, would start this game. It was 598 days ago Harvey went down with the elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. That's a long wait, for him and for us. And here he was. Finally, back at Citi Field, on the mound, pitching. And looking as good as he ever did. How were we able to sit through 2014? We're amazin'.

A little factoid I read pregame: Matt Harvey is the only starting pitcher in the last 100 years to allow only one run or fewer in 20 of his first 37 starts.
Second with 19/37 games allowing one run or fewer was Dwight Gooden.


The attendance for this, the second home game of the season, was a healthy 39,489. The second home game of 2014, with Bartolo Colon pitching, only gated 29,146. Financially, having Matt Harvey pitch the second home game this season was a great move by the Mets. Of course, things would get back to normal for game 3 at home, as the Mets would only draw 21,052.


Matt took to the hill while Aerosmith's "Back In The Saddle" blared over the loudspeakers and the electric atmosphere made it feel like a post season game.

The loud New York crowd were chanting "HARVEY! HARVEY!" as Matt struck out the side in the first. Of course my co-nemesis, Chase Utley (he shares this title with F'kn Freddie Freeman), had to shut the crowd up and ruin it with a 2 out homer. I don't know if Chase read my online comment the night before about how I thought he sucked and if that was any motivation, but Utley looked to be batting with a purpose. Never mind my comment, SNY had to temp fate by doing this:

You just don't do this. Not to one of my nemesis's. Not when they are playing against the Mets. SNY, here's a list of opposing players that you don't do that to.
 
Don't Say Jinxey Stuff List
1. Freddie Freeman
 2.  Giancarlo Stanton
 3.Chase Utley

You don't do that because they will do this:

This list is subject to change. And there are other players, I'm just too upset to think of them. Who will step up and take Utleys place when he retires? Freeman slid in nicely as Chipper Jones walked off into the sunset. 

I bad mouth Chase Utley all the time but lemme tell you, I would have loved to have had him playing for the Mets all these years. For an opposing player that is my ultimate compliment.

This four-bagger by the Phils second baseman was absolutely shocking. It was the first run off The Mattman this season and snapped his streak of 61 innings without allowing a long ball, the longest active streak in the majors.

Everyone says Chase's best days are behind him, and maybe so, but not when it comes to the Mets. Not when it comes to facing a challenge like Matt Harvey. I knew he would be up for this game.  Da bastage.
*doffs cap in Chase's general direction*

The starting pitcher for a pretty washed up 2015 Philadelphia Phillies team was Dave Buchanan, a wet behind the ears righty who looked like a child among men. Ha. I kid. But he did.

Now winning teams do a number of things consistently. Things like taking advantage of mistakes, which the Mets have been doing very well so far, and when an opponent scores a run, doing your darnedest to answer right back.

The 2015 Mets answered right back. Curtis Granderson led off the game with a line single to left. David Wright then followed by ripping another single, also to left. Lucas Duda, saving his heroics for the future, struck out.



Then the new Metropolitan in town, Michael Cuddyer, smacked a ground single straight up the middle, driving Grandy in and knotting the game at 1-1. Ya gotta like it when the Mets answer right back.

At this point, this seemed like a normal game. And maybe this will end up being the norm, where a game just goes sideways because of new rules being ironed out or just horrendous umpiring. In any case, this is where the game starts to creep into bizarro-baseball.

Harvey set the Phils down in order in the 2nd, striking out two to give him 5 strike outs in 2 innings. This was normal and good.

In the Mets half Juan Lagares, who I thought was going to be our regular lead off guy, started things with a lead off single.

Then Wilmer "Fat Feet" Flores stepped up and was plunked, putting two on with no out. Flores was okay, and stayed in the game.


Then the great Matt Harvey failed himself. A pitchers job in this situation is basic. Bunt the runners over. Pitchers today don't seem to know the importance of being able to bunt successfully.
Harvey, who showed difficulty bunting in his first start last week, popped up Buchanan's pitch and wasted a good opportunity to aid his cause.

But Harvey was fortunate because his teammates would pick him up. Curtis Granderson followed with a dribbler in front of the plate that Chooch Ruiz, the Phillies ever steady catcher, flubbed trying to pick up. Grandy reached and the bases were juiced for David Wright.
Sure he could!

Wright had a good at-bat, forcing many pitches. But Buchanan won the battle as he got the Mets third baseman to pop out meekly to Utley at second. It was up to our slugger, Lucas Duda. Could he pick up the captain?


Duda has been big to open the season. He is playing like we hoped and prayed he would at bat and in the field. Here Duda cracked a bolt of a frozen rope down the right field line. As Phil right fielder Grady Sizemore juggled the ball in the corner everyone came around to score, Duda was standing on second, and the Mets were winning by a score of 4-1.

Our jubilation was quickly stifled as a few minutes later Buchanan hit Michael Cuddyer with a pitch, the second HBP of the inning, this time, knocking a New Yorker out of the game.

This errant missile hit Cuddy square on the hand and it looked really bad. Our other captain, Kirk, came on to run and man left field. Cuddyer was taken for X-rays, which, thank The Gods Of Baseball, were negative.

Muffy flied out to end the inning and Mets fans were all a-buzz. Would Cuddyer be okay? Was that intentional? It didn't look like it was.

We were still buzzing when Harvey took the mound and was greeted with a lead off single to right by Ben Revere. Kid pitcher Buchanan did his job here, laying down a nice sacrifice, moving Revere to second. Then Kirk Nieuwenhuis showed why he's on the squad.

With a runner in scoring position Phillies batter Odubal Herrera hit a deep fly to the opposite field. Out in left "Captain" Kirk took off like he was being chased by a Cardassian Weeble. I didn't think he was going to catch up with the drive that was curling away from him, but he did. And he made an awesome stab and bumping catch to rob the Phillies of a sure run.

Ha! Galvis sucks! The Philly SS misplays a foul pop.
It was really a great catch by Newy, and I don't think Cuddyer catches up with that one. And good thing he made that catch. Because next Philly batter, Freddie Galvis, claimed to be hit by a pitch. Visually, the ball did not appear to touch him. But audio replay indicated that it hit something before it smacked into d'Arnaud's mitt.

Galvis hurts!
Now this is where the game takes one of those left turns. Galvis was awarded first on the live audio evidence provided by home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez's ears. As Freddie took his base video replay indicated that the ball never hit him.

Terry Collins, armed with this information, approached the umps and told them he wanted to challenge the play. The umpires felt that Terry had waited too long before asking, because Matt Harvey had already taken the mound and toed the rubber, and that he was no longer entitled to challenge. For some reason the umpiring crew decided they needed to confirm this decision by calling Ump Central, or wherever they look at replays.

It took the umpires almost 4 minutes to confirm their own original call, that the Mets took too long in presenting their challenge. This is ridiculous.

Gary Cohen on SNY: "...a belated challenge by the Mets. It was late, but it was a lot later by the time they figured out it was late".

In a day and age when they want to speed up baseball games, this is unacceptable. Personally, I have no problem with the pace of the game. I think it's people that need to slow down. But even I had to consider this a complete waste of time. Video replay did not back the call, but audio evidence did. Meanwhile Matt Harvey's left standing on the mound twiddling his thumbs (he did throw some warmups).

Keith Hernandez on SNY: " Why don't they get some chairs out here and get a classroom down there? And a blackboard. Jeeze! "

So after this totally needless delay, the game continued, and of course Harvey was effected by the delay and of course Chase Utley...did I mention that he was my nemesis? Utley waits nicely on an outside fastball and wrists a line single to left, driving in Revere to make the score 4-2 Mets.



Newy's weak throw.

Neiuwenhuis, who saved a run earlier in the inning, allowed one here as he had the time but his throw was awful and up the line. Harvey then struck out Ryan Howard, the big Philadelphia first baseman sadly looking like a shell of the player he used to be.

You would think this is enough excitement for one game, but these are the 2015 Mets. This was just the prelude.

Things settled down somewhat as Phil starter Buchanan got the Mets in order in the bottom of the third.
The following inning Harvey hit another bump as Cody Asche blasted a booming bomb to the Pepsi Porch and cut the Mets lead to one run. His gopher looked very Utleyish.

Well, momma said they'd be day's like this. Matt Harvey was looking human. This was only the second time in his short career that an opposing team hit 2 kaBOOMS off him in one game.

Ron Darling on SNY: "This is what happens when you stop the game in the middle of the friggin' game."

Matt Harvey, post game: "I think as the game went on pitches were kind of creeping over the middle."

Matt quickly recovered to strike out Grady Sizemore, another player who's tools have severely eroded over recent years.

All of the sudden Philadelphia's pitcher Dave Buchanan was looking a like a major league hurler, again setting the Mets down 1-2-3. I really didn't think the kid would last through five. Not only did he last, he also led off the 5th inning by slapping an opposite field double off a 95mph Harvey fastball! I'll remember your name kid.

This seemed to mildly irritate The Dark Knight. So he flipped Philly centerfielder Herrera with an inside pitch to his bat. Herrera was attempting a bunt and the high and tight pitch forced him to do some acrobatics. Some thought he might have been hit with the pitch, but the ball clearly struck his bat. There was no challenge.

Harvey then got Herrera to fly deep to right center, where balls go to die. Juan Lagares tracked it down and hauled it in for the first out. It was deep enough the Buchanan at second was able to tag and move over to third.

Freddie Galvis was up next for Philadelphia, and he wasted himself attempting another bunt. It wasn't a suicide bunt and it was a break for New York, as Galvis popped one up behind the plate. Travis d'Arnaud snapped up and after it, grabbing it as it dropped from the night sky for out number two.

Now came a most interesting point in the game. Earlier, with all the HBP's going on, Ron Darling was asked if Matt Harvey would retaliate. Ronnie said he certainly would consider it if the time was right. The Mets would need a lead, first base would have to be open, and there would need to be two out.
This wasn't exactly that situation with a man on third, but first base was open, and they weren't going to pitch to Chase in this spot. They would intentionally walk him to get to the slumping Ryan Howard.


I was watching this game with my brother and as soon as we saw Chase Utley walk up to the plate we looked at each other.
Nothing had to be said, but we said it anyway. Now would be the time to hit someone if you are going to do it. And I'll be damned, Matt hit him. Right in the thick of his back, a perfect retaliation pitch. It was fast, but not his fastest. It was perfect.


 Utley stares down Harvey from 1st base








Utley knew it, he had no complaint. The crowd was riled but he wasn't. He took first base and glared at Matt with what I'd like to imagine was a new found respect & admiration.


Utley became the active leader in being bruised by balls, passing A-Rod from across town with his 170th career hit by pitch.

Warnings were issued to Harvey and both benches.

Harvey gave Utley this forceful free pass to get to big Ryan Howard. This was an important at bat. If the Phillies first baseman got a hold of one here Matt would have looked powerfully foolish.

Harvey did not bother holding Utley on at first base and he took second uncontested. With the count two balls and two strikes Ryan took a mighty swing at some high and outside cheese and appeared to foul it off.
Then, for no apparent reason, the Phils batter started jogging to first base. Once again this game slid sideways, away from Citi Field and into the Twilight Zone.

Home plate ump Marquez, who's ears worked fine earlier in the game, suddenly began to hear things. Out of the blue he calls catchers interference on d'Arnaud and awards Ryan first base. Travis went a little bonkers and Mets manager Terry Collins was quick to get in between the ump and his catcher. New York could not afford to lose its starting backstop.
 Terry had to get thrown out here. This was too crucial an at-bat for an umpire to work against New York's strategy by interjecting false claims. Collins was mad as hell and he wasn't going to take it anymore. I liked TC getting thrown out here. I considered that to be his job in that situation.

Harvey had his work cut out for him. With bases loaded and Carlos Ruiz up, he needed an out to keep his one run lead. Mattman bore down on Chooch and induced an infield pop up that came down softly in David Wrights glove for the third out.

The ballgame was approaching the two hour mark. Harvey had thrown 85 pitches in the first 5 innings. There was plenty of game left, however, and insurance runs were primary on my mind. So when Duda led off the 5th inning with another wicked double down the Lucas-line, I was ecstatic.

With Duda on second, Kirk Nieuwenhuis came to bat. Capt Kirk, adroit in the field with his glove, has looked very sluggish at the plate so far this season, seemingly dragging his bat through the zone. Newy could have been big here, but he popped out weakly Galvis at shortstop. I still had hope to cash in a small policy. Daniel Murphy was up, one of our better pure hitters. He would get this run home. Or draw a walk, which was also a good thing.

So now with Mets on first and second and one out Travis d'Arnaud had an opportunity to continue his accumulation of RBIs, which he did with a bee-bee through the hole between short and third. Lucas chugged around third and sped home. The ball arrived an instant before him as he went into his slide, feet first and fading. Ruiz grabbed the surprisingly powerful and accurate throw from left fielder Ben Revere and lunged towards Lucas. Duda slid through the plate and popped to his feet, calling himself safe. Home plate ump Alfonso Marquez just stood there, watching, making no call.




It took both players a second before they realized that there was no call because there must have been no tag of home and no tag on the runner. The bulb lit up above both their heads at the same time and they both dived, Duda toward the plate and Ruiz toward The Dude. In what could have been a violent collision Lucas looked to get his hand in first and Marquez sprung up his arms in a safe call.


Now this call at the plate...Marquez was in good position, he should have seen what everyone else saw on the replay. Duda dragged his right foot over the dish as he slid by, clearly safe on his first effort. Ron Darling in the booth thought that the home plate ump must have been focusing on Duda's leading left foot, but this is no excuse whatsoever. What his eyes should be on is the friggin plate! What makes this more appalling is when Duda dived to get the plate the second time, he missed. His hand did not reach the plate! And that's when he was called safe! WTF? A bad night for home plate umpire Alfonzo Marquez. A real bad night. I guess even umps are entitled to have off nights, but good thing no one was injured due to his bad officiating.

Now New York had a 5-3 lead on d'Arnauds 7th RBI of the season and I was wondering if five runs were going to be enough. I didn't expect Harvey to go much farther. The pen would have to hold Philadelphia in check. But Harvey still had some gas left in the tank. He got the Phils in order using 10 pitches in a 6th inning that included a collision and a drive by Phils outfielder Ben Revere that almost went over Curtis Granderson's head, but Grandy pulled it in on the run to close the frame.

That would be it for the Dark Knight as Rubin Tejada would bat for him with one out in the 6th.
It looked like the Mets might pad their lead as Tejada came through with a pinch hit double over Revere head in left. The Grandyman drew his usual walk ( his league leading 10th) putting two on for David Wright.

Wright could not get Tejada in but he could get him over as he launched a drive to right center that Herrera chased down on the run. Mr. T tagged to third. That would be it for Philadelphia starter David Buchanan as the Philllies pulled a double switch, reliever Jake Diekman taking the mound and ex-Met Jeff Francoeur ran out to right.

Diekman had to face the mighty Lucas Duda, and he didn't want anything to do with him, walking him on five pitches.This loaded the bases, but Kirk Neiuwenhuis was still looking weak with the bat, and he struck out looking, inning over.

Mets right hander Buddy Carlyle would relieve Harvey and Philadelphia went 3 up, 3 down in the 7th.
I was still praying for insurance runs and Daniel Murphy must have heard me. He smashed a ball over the wall in deep right center for his first home run of the season and I could relax a little bit.
'Lil bit.

Hot hitting catcher Travis d'Arnaud continued his horrid pace, slashing a liner to the base of the wall in left for his second hit of the game, New York's 4th double on the day.







Mets lefty reliever Sean Gilmartin spelled Buddy Carlyle to start the 8th. His main assignment was to retire Chase Utley who was leading off. Chase had other plans. His plan was to give me agitate, which he did in grand fashion as he clocked Gilmartin's 3rd pitch out of the park for his second home run of the game.
It was time to display my Utley meme:









  Gilmartin was able to retire his other lefty assignment, the one that can no longer hit, without a problem, getting Ryan Howard to hit a dribbler in front of the plate that d'Arnaud pounced on.

The Mets would turn to Rafeal Montero for two more outs. And he would get them, making it interesting by sandwiching in a walk between the two.
And it was on to the eighth.

 A lot of things went right in this game, and a lot went wrong. Could anything else go wrong? You know I'm building up to David Wright and his 8th inning injury.
As Wright has indicated, this sucks. It put a pall on this amazingly fun game.

Wright blooped a single to lead off the 8th. Mets fans were so happy with how Matt Harvey's return to Citi was going even with all the bizarre happenings. In our wildest imaginations we didn't expect a game like this. We were high on baseball, and suddenly we crashed.

The Captain wanted to get in scoring position. He stole the base sliding feet first, and came up oddly. I thought he may have wrenched his back because his foot had slid over the bag forcing him to do the twist. New Yorks trainers ran out to check Wright and he waved them off, saying he was okay. But after a few pitches, and moving around a 'lil bit, David reassessed his condition and  pulled himself from the game.

After the game he would say he tweaked his hammy on his last steps before the slide. At this point no one knew the severity of the injury, or lack thereof, and it was a real downer. More on the Captains injury later. A Mets win would soften the blow a 'lil bit, and the original buzz of Harvey's first home Day was still sustaining us. And we still needed to win this game.

Usually an early injury like this to a big guy would de-rail our faith, hope and dreams. Suck away our confidence. It's different with this 2015 Mets squad. Met fans were already moving on, or more so, moving forward, and instead of supposing how bad this would hurt we were debating who would replace him now at third? Who would fill the gap until he returns? We weren't getting stuck here. We were moving forward. We have a Lucas Duda who will pick up Wright whether he's on the field or not, a mature and successful Duda who wants to carry the team for a while. Who is finally comfortable in his own skin. Lucas now makes this is a different Mets team.


This game may have gone sideways. Wright may have taken a step backwards. But Lucas Duda is taking mighty strides to the head of the class.
No pressure Reck. But lets put you on split screen.
But like I said, there was still a game to win. Mets catcher Anthony Recker took Wright's place on the bases, and Mets fans were a bit surprised to see him take the field to fill in at third base. He had never played third in his life. In this wacky game, it made perfect sense.

 I used to worry about Lucas Duda playing first. I was an Ike Davis supporter. I didn't know what the hell to do with Duda. I knew I didn't want to see him in the outfield again, ever, after seeing a good sample size of how that would go. I don't know that he'll ever be the fielder that Davis was in his limited prime, but Lucas has been very solid. He has been calm. Like the double play in the 9th inning of the home opener, Lucas has proved to me he is no longer a liability in the field.

Duda made this fine play to open the 9th. It wasn't earth shattering but it was hugely important. Because Frenchy was not about to give up.



Mets new closer Jeurys Familia was brought on for the save. This is another fortunate situation, as we lost Mejia for what might as well be the season and have a guy like Familia who might have even nastier stuff, slide right into the spot.

Tonight he slid a little sideways along with the game and allowed ex-Met Jeff Francoeur to get all of one and deposit it deep behind the left field wall for a homer. If I didn't like Frenchy from his Mets playing days I don't think he get's an mfc card here. But I did and he does.

How big did Duda's nice play to open the frame look now?

So the Phillies had pulled to within one run, and it was nail biting time. Yes, this game even had nail biting and no, that doesn't pass for a snack.

Relax, I'm almost finished.

Because Familia kicked it up a notch and got Odubel Herrera swinging with 98mph heat. Then Freddie Galvis was the only thing between us and the exits. Chase Utley was on deck and I knew he was dyin' to beat me. Jeurys made a fool out of  Galvis as I don't think he even saw the pitch, a blazing riser above and outside the zone. FINALLY, this game was in the books!

Well, that's it folks. An insanely analytical microscopic breakdown of Matt Harvey's return to Citi Field. This has got to be my most ridiculous FOCUS ever. It's fitting. This was one of the most ridiculous yet wonderful games I have ever seen. Amazin'.

Matt Harvey, post game: "Looking back, that might have been the weirdest game I've ever been a part of - maybe ever."

Keith Hernandez: "Well if you're a purist this is a game to forget, but it's had a little bit of everything."


Ron Darling & Kieth Hernandez on the game and how it effects the Mets/Phils rivalry:

Mex: "This is going to create some very bad blood between these two teams."

Ronnie:"This is going to make for a fantastic summer!"

Game time was 3 hours, 12 minutes, not quite as long as it took to get through this post.

        Photos by Kathy Willens,William Pearlman, John Munson, and courtesy of CORBIS.
Screenshots courtesy of SNY New York and CSN Philadelphia.

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AND
The 1973 World Series Game 7 
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