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Fasten Your Seat Belts, Mets Fans

It’s Labor Day and the Mets are five games up in the NL East. Which is a very good thing although I will no doubt be adding blood pressure pills to my medicine cabinet before Halloween. Buy hey, that’s a small price to pay (Literally. I have good medical benefits.) for playing “meaningful games” in September for the first time in  seven years that have seemed more like seventeen.

Watching David Wright pump his first and yell something like “‘Freakin’ yeah!”  after sliding under the tag to give the Mets the lead in today’s stirring comeback over the Nationals in DC was a sight to behold. It was also terrifying because I thought Wright may have  pulled his back out or torn his rotator cuff, knowing the Mets luck, or lack thereof. But  Wright and the Mets survived unscathed as their leaky bullpen somehow held on over the last three innings.

After this weekend’s roller coaster ride in Miami — agonizing blown lead losses on Friday and Sunday, courtesy of said bullpen, had me nostalgic, in a masochistic way, for 2007. Bartolo Colon’s bravura performance on Saturday — where did his recent streak of mastery come from as he looked spent just  a few weeks ago? — was the only thing that kept me from tossing my iPhone into the Atlantic Ocean. Thankfully, I was out of town and didn’t actually sit in front of the tube watching  those bookend debacles — although watching a team collapse via ESPN Gamecast can be excruciating. Next pitch. Next pitch. Next pitch. Come on already!! 12th pitch of the at bat. Fly ball to left. Runner scores from third. Game over. Shiiiiiiiiiit!!!!    

And there’s Matt Harvey. I don’t blame the whole innings limit on him. It’s an indictment of the state of pitching in baseball today. But it is what it is. And he really needs to decide if he wants to go and pitch nine every five days, as he seemed inclined to do not too long ago, or listen to his insufferable agent and shut himself down for the rest of the season, playoffs be damned. So today he goes to The Players Tribune, which seems to be a very practical platform for guys like Harvey who are not very adept at PR and have a tendency to wander off the reservation when surrounded by media, and does an about-face of sorts. Of course I’ll pitch in the playoffs. Forget what I said the other. To his credit, Mets manager Terry Collins said actions speak louder than words, or something to that extent. Which his way of telling Harvey, shut up and go out and pitch your ass off on Tuesday against the Nats. There’s a shitload of pressure on this guy right now. Let’s see how much he likes it.

Of course, all this talk about playoffs may seem a little premature, especially if you’re a Mets fan with an elephant’s memory, which is basically 99% of Mets fans. The rest are under eight years of age and either cannot remember enough of the bad years or have more important things to do than lose sleep over a bunch of grown men in uniforms.  The offense remains strong (please Mr. Wilpon, sign Cespedes even though I know you can’t possibly spend the money even after refinancing debt on Citi Field for the umpteenth time!) but the vaunted pitching staff is starting to teeter a bit. deGrom and Syndergaard seem to wearing down and their middle inning relief is anything but.

And then there’s Jon Niese, the anti-Bartolo, who has returned to his familiar habit of melting down every fifth or sixth day. Some guys are on innings count, Niese is on a runs count — he is required to give up five runs in the third or fourth inning of every start. Or maybe it just seems that way because that’s what he’s done in his last three starts. He was pitching so well earlier this summer, at least until the Mets started scoring runs for him. Then he fell apart. Go figure.  I guarantee you that if the Mets don’t win the NL East, one of the enduring images haunting you until the end of time will be the heavily bearded lefty shaking his head in  exasperation after giving up a game crushing, season imploding three run dinger to some bench warmer on the sorry-ass Braves or Phillies.

But never mind that. Let’s think happy thoughts. When is Bartolo’s next start?

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Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Pulled Pork and the Dingers from Heaven

For those of you who have been longing for the return of Off the Foul Pole — and there are probably 3 or 4 out there, including myself — your drawn-out, painful (or maybe just a little itch here and there) wait is finally over. And you can thank the hyper-voweled Kirk Nieuwenhuis, the Mets occasional left-fielder who did something today that made me and countless others do a double-take and say, “Where the fuck did that come from?”

On a hot Sunday afternoon at Citi Field, the kind of day that routinely produces desultory Mets losses (I know because I’ve done a slow sweat through many of them over the years), Nieuwenhuis — whose name I can’t spell without the help of IBM’s Watson — blasted three home runs against Arizona by time the fourth inning was over. Just seconds before his first homer, a screaming liner that just cleared the left field fence, I texted a friend who is an even more cynical, bitter Mets fan than I am (Impossible! No, it’s possible.): “Why is Terry starting Nieuwenhuis? He cannot hit at all.”   And then boom! So much for that. In the third, this .091 hitter with all of 0 homers at the start of the day, crushed one 417 feet to left center for homer number two. And in the fourth, he sent  a guided missile off the foul pole in right.

Yes, off the foul pole, the name of this cob-webbed blog that I unceremoniously left for dead many months ago. With that home run, it was like the baseball gods were sending me a not-so-cryptic message: start writing again you lazy-assed bum!

I mean, here was a guy who looked like an A-baller even in the Mets saggy-testical of a lineup suddenly channeling Mickey Mantle to become the first  Met — get this — to hit three home runs in a home game. Ever!  Not Dave Kingman. Or Daryl Strawberry. Or Mike Piazza. Or Carlos Beltran. Kirk Friggin’ Nieuwenhuis, for heaven’s sake (or wherever the baseball gods reside. Maybe it’s Boca.)!

So I got to thinking, as I sat there baking in the midday sun, sweating off that Brooklyn lager and regretting the pulled pork sandwich that is really best consumed on slightly more temperate afternoons: I wasn’t even supposed to be here today. I had originally planned to attend the NYFC  soccer match at Yankee Stadium. But at the last minute, I decided, “I don’t want to go to the Bronx today. I’ll keep it close to home and go to the Mets game instead.” It wasn’t until Nieuwenhuis’ third dinger ricocheted off the foul pole (and the pulled pork began to back up on me) that I realized it was more than an aversion to spending a hot summer Sunday in the Bronx  — which is nothing to be ashamed of — that drew me to Citi Field today. It was fate — the concept of which I think was invented by the Greeks, who are a handful these days, but let’s not go there. I’m not getting that philosophical on you. No, this was like your garden variety fate. The kind that says, “You needed to be here today, buddy. If for no other reason that you need an intervention, of sorts. The kind that is best delivered to baseball junkies like you with a good old-fashioned record-setting, outlier type performance. The kind that makes you sit back (or forward, if the pulled pork is polluting your gut) and say, “Shit, that’s really cool. I have to write about this. But first, gimme  a pulled pork with pickle chips.”

So I have. And it could not have come at a more opportune time. It’s the All-Star break.  And the Mets are gaining steam, having won seven of nine, with a 4-2 road trip in LA and San Fan Francisco (which never happens!) and home run spree at Citi Field (which never happens!) led by an .091 hitter with zero homers (which never happens!) en route to a sweep of the Diamondbacks.

Ten days after nearly giving the Mets and their lifeless bats up for dead, I’m starting to feel like they can hang with the other NL playoff contenders in  the second half. The pitching is exceptional and deep, the bullpen is getting stronger with the return of Parnell and Mejia, and the bats . . . well, we’ll see. I guess if Kirk Nieuwenhuis can go deep three times in an afternoon, anything is possible.

Including the return of Off the Foul Pole. Stay tuned.

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November Surprise

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I really wasn’t planning on awaking from my self-induced coma until at least February when pitchers and catchers report. That’s when the craziness around the Amazin’s usually begins.

But something unusual happened last week: the Mets became relevant in November. Who could have imagined?

First, Jacob deGrom wins the NL Rookie of the Year award. Not too surprising, but still big news around Flushing as he was the first Met to earn that honor since Doc Gooden in 1984. We all hope deGrom follows up with a sophomore campaign like Gooden had – and enjoys less drama in his hopefully long career than did Gooden.

Then the hot stove really heated up. First, the Mets sign Michael Cuddyer to a two-year deal. Not bad, right? You address one of the much needed upgrades at corner outfield (right or left, who knows, and who cares) with the 2013 NL batting champion. Not so fast. The guy will be 36 in March and is coming off an injury plagued season. And he is moving from high altitude to the shores of Flushing Bay. I don’t care how much they’re moving in the fences in Queens. They did that a few years ago and so what?   The ball flies out in Denver because of the thin air. The summer air in Queens is as thick as Bolognese sauce. I suspect the Mets signed Cuddyer in part because he’s David Wright’s old buddy from Virginia. Fine. They can keep each other company on the DL next season.

Then there were the headlines about Jon Niese dropping the F-bomb on Terry Collins during a late season game. Terry should have clocked him, but that’s neither here nor there. How the heck did this leak out? Now Niese’s trade value will sink even lower than it was after another season where his health and consistency on the mound were again compromised. Maybe Sandy Alderson can package him, Dillon Gee and Bartolo Colon for a big bat like Giancarlo Stanton. Oh, I forgot! Stanton just finished second in the NL MVP balloting and is on the verge of signing a record  $300 million contract. Which means the Mets, were Stanton available, would have to throw in at least one other player to pry Stanton away from the Marlins. Like Babe Ruth or Willie Mays.

And to top things off, Collins was quoted the other day in the NY Daily News as saying that the Mets “should” be playing in October next season. Naturally, that made headlines (on a particularly slow news day). Not that he was going too far out on a limb with that one – “should” is one of the all-time great cover-your-ass words. But you’d think after Sandy Alderson’s 90-win prediction (or was it an “expectation?”) that “inadvertently” got hijacked by the media before last season, the Mets would impose a “no-predictions” policy across the organization.   Of course, if you’re Terry Collins — and there’s  a decent chance you’ll get fired if you don’t make the playoffs next year, which is kind of unfair when you consider there’s a decent chance they won’t make the playoffs next season despite all the tongues wagging about the Mets’ future Hall of Fame pitching staff led by a guy who is coming off Tommy John surgery – you better start believing that you’ll be skippering a playoff team next year.

I can’t wait until December.

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A Painful Reminder in Flushing

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Yes, it’s been eons since I last penned anything in this space. In fact, the Mets had a winning record at the time. But I was not about to be fooled. So I went missing. And no, it wasn’t writer’s block this time. I just haven’t felt like venting. The Mets are what inspires Off the Foul Pole and I haven’t felt too inspired (to even bitch!) about a team that is once again circling the crapper as September arrives.

I had pretty much shut it down this year ready and willing to feed my angst from the deep and muddy trough of my other source of high blood pressure, the Jets. They already have me in a bat-shit crazy frenzy and the season doesn’t even start for another week. I would have a field day blogging about Gang Green (Off the Upright?) but it’s a lot easier just to bang my head against a cement wall or snort freeze-dried crystals of grain alcohol.

Anyway, yesterday Sandy Alderson was quoted by Jay Schreiber in the NY Times in response to his spring training proclamation that the Mets are shooting for 90 wins. At least that’s the way I and many other fans interpreted his unmistakable words. Regardless, you knew this would come back to haunt him. Now Alderson, who was admittedly annoyed that the media keeps bringing this up (I bet he wouldn’t have an issue if the Mets were actually on pace to fulfill his nice little fantasy instead of their usual and highly predictable 74 or so in the W column), claims that he never proposed 90 wins as a “goal” or “expectation.” Actually, he claims it was just a “reminder” of the level of “performance” and “excellence” that the Mets need to reach.

A reminder? Seriously? So why didn’t you and everyone in the organization just put a Post-It note on your fridge or send yourself an email (“Reminder to self: we really need to stop sucking so bad and win more games.”) rather than announce to the world this whole deal about 90 wins? Just because most rational Mets fans (I know, that’s a contradiction in terms ) knew that it was mere pie-in-the-sky PR speak doesn’t mean you can get yourself off the hook with one snarky, dismissive remark to the media. Not when you have Chris Young and Curtis Granderson to answer for. 

Another September hits us like a bad cold and we are treated with yet another painful, frustrating example of the appalling lack of accountability in the Mets front office. Despite signs of promise from some young arms and a few position players (very few), another season will end in a haze of disappointment and who will pay the ultimate price?

The fans, as if you needed a “reminder.”

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Danger, Danger, Mets Bullpen Approaching!

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I don’t know where to begin, so let’s start with the absurd and work our way to the sublime.

 What’s more hilarious? A former Mr. Met’s revelation that the Secret Service threatened to waste him if he hugged President Clinton during a visit to Shea in 1997 or the very fact that Mr. Met is writing a tell-all book? Just imagine if our favorite mascot went rogue and the dark-suited snipers followed through on their cold-hearted promise? Mr. Met gets his big old head blown off during the 50th anniversary commemmoration of Jackie Robinson’s ground-breaking entry into the big leagues. Now wouldn’t that have been lovely 
 
Three weeks into the season, the Mets are playing .500 ball. So why does it feel like they are every bit as bad as I expected them to be? Because win or lose, they play ugly. Often exciting, but ugly nonetheless. Or Uggla, (Dan) for that matter — who handed the Mets a win today with his trademark brand of shoddy fielding.   
 On Friday, while the Mets were getting almost no-hit by a thought-to-be washed up Aaron Harang, the Mets broadcast team could not stop gushing about Carlos Torres. Just because he had a good week or so. Let’s see how they feel come August when Torres’ arm is fried thanks to Terry Collins’ inability to realize when, why and how he is nuking his bullpen. Then again, Terry didn’t build a starting  staff populated by guys who hit the 100-pitch count even before they take their first crap in the morning. All the more reason to shake with fear (again!) over what is shaping up to be another horrid bullpen in Flushing. No closer. No reliable set-up man (why bring back Farnsworth? Did he finally his 90 on the speed gun and get Dan Warthen panting?). A few workhorses in Torres and Scott Rice who will melt like wax in the heat of the summer. If the Robot from “Lost in Space” were watching the Mets, he would shout, “Danger! Danger, Terry Collins!” every time the bullpen door swung open. I guess Gary, Keith and Ron were so giddy about Torres because the very sight of a Mets reliever pitching well for an extended period(translation: more than three games) is so damn unusual. Almost like one of the starters making it to the seventh inning without gripping his shoulder in pain.
The Mets trade Ike Davis to the Pirates for essentially nothing. And during Passover, no less! Is nothing sacred? There’s supposedly a significant player to be named later in this deal, but you know how that works. The Mets could not wait to unload Ike, who may just need a change of scenery. Discarding Ike was no surprise — nor was the fact that the Mets will likely end up with little more than a bag of balls in exchange — but I’m just wondering: what happened to this guy? How did things go terribly wrong when he looked so promising a few years ago? Why do the Mets always manage to foul up their young talent (see: Tejada, Ruben; D’Arnaud, Travis) – or are they just really good at overinflating the prospects of their suspects? And why do the Mets  feel so confident about the smoking ruin that’s left at first — namely, Lucas Duda and Josh Satin? Duda is the antithesis of the so-called Sandy Alderson player — that is, one who is fundamenttally sound. At best, Duda is a more likeable version of Dave Kingman.  And Satin is great if you like corner infielders with zero power and little upside. What’s that’s, you don’t? What a coincidence, neither do I.
 
Curtis Granderson is not doing  a very good job of making us forget Jason Bay. He even crashes into walls, like Bay. I know, it’s early. It’s always early with the Mets. Until it gets very late. And then we’re all screwed.
  
Friday marked the 50th anniversary of the first game at Shea Stadium. Which would be a bit more meaningful if the old dump had not been reduced to a parking lot. So the Coliseum in Rome is still standing, but Shea is not. Hey, that’s just the way things are here in America. We’re all about progress, right? Honestly, I have many fond (and a few miserable) memories of that windy, loud, filthy, character-less, intimidating, cold hunk of concrete (but hey, it was my cold hunk of concrete!). I even have  a piece of dear, departed Shea sitting in a box in my office. It was advertised on ebay or wherever I bought it online as a “brick” from Shea Stadium. It kind of looked like a brick  in the photo but when I got it, well, here was this longish, drab slab of concrete. Like it came loose from an overpass or something. And from what part of the stadium it was excavated, I have no idea. Maybe from the exterior foundation where those angry drunks used to piss after a bad loss before stumbling onto the 7 train. Now that would give it extra sentimental value, wouldn’t it? I’m not quite sure what to do with my loveable chunk of Shea, but let me know if you have any creative thoughts. I’ve ruled out using it as a doorstop, but how about  a headstone? “Here lies a hapless soul. He loved the Mets but they took 10 years off his life. Especially, the bullpen, those jelly-armed bums.”  Pleasant send-off, don’t you think?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

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London’s Calling – and it’s Not to the Bullpen

I’m 37,000 feet above the Atlantic on my way to London. A lovely flight attendant named Annabel complemented me on my after-shave cologne. I said thanks, but I don’t think it’s me that was arousing her sense of smell (I use a fragrance-free balm). She smiled in a way that said, “You’re just being modest, lad.”  Perhaps, but it’s some other dude who’s poisoning the cabin with flowery scents.

I then ate a proper English breakfast while reading The Daily Mail. I also got a good laugh when I heard Annabel say “blimey” about something or other. I’m having a rather jolly time considering we’re still over eastern Canada.

Anyway, the timing of my trip is perfect because right now, I want to get as far away from the Mets as possible. The International Space Station would have been nice, but after seeing Gravity, I’m a bit timid about space travel. But I wouldn’t feel any safer at Citi Field. Not after Monday’s ugly season opener. Which was followed by the encouraging news that the Mets had signed 56-year-old Bobby Abreu and that Bobby Parnell, who returned to form with a textbook meltdown in the ninth inning, has a torn MCL or whatever in his elbow or whatever. No matter. He’s toast.

The only positive I can take away from Monday’s loss is that the Mets almost always win their home opener only to shit the bed with increasing messiness as the season progresses. So maybe they’re pulling a George Costanza and trying a contrary approach with the hopes of turning the tables for the better. Or maybe I’m getting light-headed up here and can’t think straight.

On Saturday, I plan to attend my first Premier League match – Chelsea v. Stoke City at venerable Stamford Bridge. I doubt it will have the creature comforts of City Field (and I know it won’t have anything to rival Shake Shack, unless they have something like Fish ‘n Chips Hut over there). But at least it will have an abundance of energy and the home side will be playing a game of real importance. Meaningful games! Yes, this should be quite a departure from the typical arctic conditions of a wind-blown Saturday April afternoon in Queens. While amongst the Chelsea supporters as well as my trek through other parts in and around London, I will try to keep the Mets far from my thoughts so as not to dampen what I hope to be a cheery mood during my brief respite.

I’ll just deal with those wankers from Flushing when I return.

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90 Wins and a Prayer

   Ten years ago, Fred Wilpon had the audacity to declare that his Mets should be playing “meaningful games” in September.  I actually thought it was pretty practical approach, despite the fact that he was laughed at by the media and no doubt many fans for being so wishy-washy about his team’s expectations. All he was being was balanced and realistic for a team that was coming off of two very uninspiring seasons. In other words, typical Mets baseball.

     Now we have Sandy Alderson setting a different standard in Flushing for preseason expectations, or expectorations, however you want to look at it. A few weeks ago he boldly spit out a goal of 90-wins for the 2014 season. That’s kind of like “meaningful games,” but with a bit more teeth.  A lot more, actually. I can understand why Alderson would go out on a limb like this. To start, it’s Spring Training and if you don’t project optimism, no matter how delusional, then you may as well hit the snooze button and go back to sleep. Secondly, Alderson needs to start shooting higher, because last I checked, the Mets have become a little too comfy in the 75-win range, give or take, the past few years. On his watch. So what the heck, throw out a reach goal, get people excited, or at least talking, and hope it sticks. Until mid-May, at least.

    All well and good. But now let’s talk reality. The Mets will be hard pressed to win 80 games. And Sandy knows that. So does Terry Collins. And maybe the Wilpons, but I’m not so sure. Let’s put the PR talk aside and face facts: Yes, they added Curtis Granderson’s power and Bartolo Colon’s quality innings. The pitching, even without Matt Harvey, should be more than respectable. But once again, this team has more question marks than the Riddler’s suit.

     So riddle me this, 90-Win Sandy: if you’re sweating it out over how to get Juan Lagares and Eric Young, Jr.  into the lineup; can’t decide between Ike Davis, Josh Satin or Lucas Duda at first;  hoping that Travis D’Arnaud doesn’t end up as the forgotten man in the R.A Dickey Noah Syndegaard deal;  desperately trying not to call Scott Boras about Steven Drew; trying to convince yourself that Chris Young will hit his weight his year; wondering who the heck will close if Bobby Parnell reverts to his old form; praying that Jon Niese’s elbow holds out (no shot!); wondering if Daniel Murphy can avoid the yips at second base; wondering if Rafael Montero is ready to contribute or if Kyle Farnsworth has any gas left in his heater . . .Okay, that’s enough for now.

     90 wins my ass.  

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