Classless in Kansas City

It’s rare that I use this space to defend the honor of a Yankee. In fact this may be the first time. But after what happened in Kansas City last night during the Home Run Derby, I have to change my (Pin)stripes —  at least for today.

Robinson Cano was mercilessly jeered by the home crowd when he took his swings in the Derby. The fact that he failed to hit one out, to the delight of the crowd, made the whole scene increasingly uncomfortable. Cano’s crime (other than wearing Pinstripes)? As captain of the AL Derby team, he declined to pick rising hometown star, Billy Butler. I understand the disappointment of the Royals’ fans; they’ve had little to cheer about over the past 27 years and were hoping their guy would get a share of the spotlight and give them reason to boast. But Cano instead went with Prince Fielder, Jose Bautista, and Mark Trumbo. No argument there. In fact, he also passed on Adam Dunn (25 HR’s) and Edwin Encarnacion (23 HR’s). Butler is having  a nice season with 16 HR’s thus far, but I have yet to meet anyone who has mistaken him for Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays.

The KC faithful could have expressed their displeasure with a quick opening boo to Cano and left it at that. To razz him all night — especially with his dad on the mound pitching —   was just plain classless. You don’t boo at an All-Star game. Even Philly fans know that!  I have no doubt they’ll do it again tonight, even though he’s playing for the home team. They’ll probably even cast their aspersions on Derek Jeter and the rest of the Yankees in attendance. That should hopefully cement baseball’s decision not to award KC another All-Star Game for at least another 50 years. By that time, maybe they’ll have won another pennant and won’t find the need to invest all of their emotions into  a home-run hitting contest.      

Speaking of the Home Run Derby: maybe it’s about time that Chris Berman hand over the reigns to someone else? I love watching him during football season, he was the best Sporstcenter host ever, and he does bring a lot of passion and energy to All-Star Week. But his act has grown soooooooo old! Does he have to get apoplectic over every bomb that lands in the upper deck, plops in a fountain, or bounds off the scoreboard? Can you imagine him next year calling the action at Citi Field. Every time the Mets home run apple pops up, he’ll shout for all to hear, from Flushing to Bayside, “And here comes the Apple! Again! It’s apple picking season for Prince Fielder!”  Spare me, please.    

I save my final vent of the day for Tony LaRussa. As if I wasn’t annoyed enough with David Wright’s snub by the fans — specifically Giants fans, who stuffed the ballot box for Roberto Sandoval and Buster Posey, thereby denying the more deserving Wright and Carlos Ruiz of  their rightful place as starters — now R.A. Dickey gets dissed in favor of another Giant, Matt Cain. I think Cain is certainly deserving of a starting nod, especially with his perfect game still fresh in our minds. But Dickey really has been the best pitcher in the NL this season, despite some recent shaky starts.  And the fact that he’s the only man on the planet who can tantalize major league ballplayers with  a baseball thrown from the knuckles, an almost extinct breed that may never again get even a whiff of an All-Star starting nod, I think LaRussa over-analyzed this one — surprise, surprise. Despite his eccentricities, LaRussa was one of the game’s great managers and deserves the honor tonight of leading the NL team. And I know he’s confident enough to make as many “I’m-right-and-damn-all-the-naysayers” decisons as he’d like (case in point: 2011 World Series), but he missed an opportunity to make tonight’s game all the more intriguing and reward Dickey, one of the game’s great rags-to-riches stories, with his moment in the sun (or klieg lights). A KC boo for you, Tony.

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July 4th or Groundhog Day?

For some reason, during my morning run today, that quote from George Santayana (“Those who cannot remember the past  are condemned to repeat it.”) was floating through my head. If only I knew it was a warning about today’s Mets-Phillies game at Citi Field. I could have steared clear of Flushing and saved myself the agony.

A little background: on April 15, I made my first trip to Citizen’s Bank Park. The Mets were looking to sweep the Phillies, a very rare occurance in recent years, especially in South Philly. After six innings, the Mets were up 2-0 behind the stellar pitching of Mike Pelfrey (remember him?). And then came the inevitable. The Phillies tied it in the 7th and then blew it open in the 8th with six runs against the Mets leaky bullpen, capped by a grand slam from ex-Met and now Mets killer Ty Wigginton.   

Fast forward to today. Brutally hot in Flushing, but it’s day baseball on the Fourth of July, Mets-Phils a day after the home team’s 11-1 thumping of Charlie Manuel’s reeling side. A Shack Burger in my stomach before the first pitch.  Chris Young vs. Cliff “Winless” Lee. What’s not to like?

After six innings, the Mets are up 2-0. Young is pitching a beauty. He’s only thrown about 65 pitches. Despite the heat, he could go the distance today.

Then again, maybe not. A leadoff hit by Juan Pierre and then Case Utley hits one of his signature homers to right field (why can’t  Mets lefties replicate his swing?). Then Carlos Ruiz clubs a homer to left and the Mets are suddenly down 3-2. Lee settles in, the Mets bullpen implodes (what else is new?) and yields six more runs over the last two innings, including a two-run shot to — you guessed it — Ty Wigginton. Final score 9-2.  Fortunately I was in the car heading home when Wigginton took Jeremy Hefner deep, otherwise I would have coughed up the gluttenous helping of cured meats, knish, and beer that I wolfed down on this sweltering afternoon.

The game was so eerily similar to that meltdown in Philly back in April that I couldn’t help thinking: did the bad karma from that game follow me to Flushing like  a noxious cloud of vapor on this Fourth of July?  I should have known something was amiss when I saw the vast legion of red-clad Phillies fans in the ballpark before the game. The line at Shake Shack alone had to be 50-50, Mets-Phillies fans. It was like I was back at Citizen’s Bank Park, waiting on line at Tony Luke’s for a cheesesteak.  But I have to give them credit: their guys are struggling and they still roadtipped up the Turnpike and Parkway to cheer  their team and eat our meat.

Maybe I should have heeded the warning from Santayana and blocked out that ugly game from April 15 instead of carrying it with me to the game along with my iPhone and sunscreen. Or maybe the Mets should figure how to shore up their bullpen. If that fails, at least pitch around Ty Wigginton.   

 

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Dickey, Cain and the Greatest Game(s) Ever Pitched

After R.A. Dickey completed his masterpiece against the Rays  last night — which would have been perfect were it not for David Wright’s yips at third base — I began to think: was this the best game ever pitched by a Mets hurler? It’s certainly right up there.

I would not designate Johan Santana’s recent no-hitter, as glorious as it was, with that honor because he walked five and was not as efficient with his pitches. And besides, he needed help from the umps. I know, I know. I am one hard-to- please Mets fan, but with all due respect to Johan and his gutsy, historic no-no, Dickey outdid him.

But did he outdo Tom Seaver, specifically on that night in July 1969 when he was nearly perfect against a Cubs team that boasted three Hall of Famers in the lineup. Or how about that afternoon in April of 1970 when Tom Terrific pitched a two-hitter and fanned 19 Padres, the last ten in succession (still a major league record)? Or Nolan Ryan’s 15-strikeout 1-hitter against the Phillies in April of 1970 (just three days before Seaver’s gem and, by the way, the second baseball game I ever attended)? 

It’s difficult enough when you start to compare players across generations, but when the argument turns to the relative greatness of individual achievements, such as a the quality of  a game pitched, then you’re walking a slippery slope in six-inch heels.  Opposing hitters, ballparks configurations, field conditions, weather, managerial moves, a catcher’s pitch management,  and health factors all play a factor in a pitcher’s performance and they are never equal when drawing comparisons.   It’s especially true when assessing Dickey’s performance last night because the guy does what so very few people on this planet have ever been able to even attempt: throw a knuckleball. He’s gets extra points for that. 12 K’s and zero walks last night. 58 K’s, 4 walks (that’s not a typo) in his last six starts. His command of the most difficult of pitches to master swings my vote in his favor. He tossed the finest game in the Mets’ 50-year history.

Which leads me to Cain, whose star was aligned with Dickey’s last night as he pitched the Giants’ first perfect game in their bi-coastal 128-year history. Imagine if Dickey and Cain were both perfect on the same day? I don’t get too excited about perfect games anymore but two in one night would impress even  a cynical, jaded soul like me. Cain’s 14-strikeout domination of the putrid Astros  — lowly as they may be — should not be diminished in the historical record.

That being said, the pundits on ESPN Radio this morning, Tim Kurkjian and Buster Olney, were raising Cain — to the status of (arguably) the Man Who Pitched the Best Game Ever. They were aided and abetted by Mike Greenberg, radio’s King of Hyperbole, but Olney took the bait. He swore by a Bill James algorithm that measures the dominance of a pitching performance and noted that Cain’s perfecto was tied with Sandy Koufax’s whitewashing of the Cubs in 1965 as the most dominant perfect game ever.  Look, any perfect game, especially one that includes 14 K’s gets automatically placed on the list of best pitched games in history. But aside from the fact that I don’t want to hear Matt Cain’s name uttered in the same sentence as Sandy Koufax, it’s really baseless to annoint any one game as the best of all time. Too many damn variables. Yes, it makes for great sports radio (then again, so do trade rumors, frat boy humor, and Alyssa Milano gossip), but it hardly settles any historical debates.

That being said, if I’m going to dive in the muck with these guys, I’ll submit Don Larsen’s perfect game as baseball’s alltime pitching performance. I know he didn’t throw like Koufax, or even Cain, but he did it in the freakin World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. He gets several bonus points for that, despite what Bill James computer spits out.

And while I’m partaking of this false debate against my own advice, I will offer that Dickey’s game, although overshadowed by Cain’s in the headlines and eventually in the history books, should also rank as one of the best pitched games ever, not just in the annals of Mets baseball. He would have been perfect save for the brain cramp(s) of his third baseman, and again, he did it throwing a knuckleball — a foreign substance to even the best of pitchers.

That’s all I will say on the matter. I’d hate to tumble deeper and deeper in this rabbit hole.  Then again, maybe I’ll take up the matter again after the next perfect game is tossed — which should be in a month or two.

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Miracle of Miracles: A Mets No-Hitter

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I never thought I’d be writing this: a Mets pitcher has tossed  a no-hitter. It only took 50 years, 8020 games, 10 U.S. Presidents, two Red Sox World Series, a Rangers Stanley Cup, a Saints Super Bowl, a more than doubling of the world’s population,  men on the moon, the invention of personal computing, and the entire history of the Rolling Stones,  but one of the most bizarre and perplexing statistical oddities in baseball history — someone even devoted a website to it  —  can finally be laid to rest.

All thanks to a guy with a rebuilt shoulder whose career was in question until a few months ago.  What Johan Santana accomplished tonight  in no-hitting the best offense in the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals, gives every Mets fan, especially those over the age of 30, a chance to finally exhale and say: “Okay, the joke’s over. Very funny. Now can we go on living a normal life as a baseball fan?”    

From the beginning of the season, I had this sneaking suspicion — albeit an illogical one —  that this might be the year that the Streak would end. After all, it’s the Mets 50th anniversary season and wouldn’t it be nice to break the ice during this historic year? Earlier this spring, both Jon Niese and R.A. Dickey took no-hitters into the sixth — which is a big deal for the Mets. I started to feel like the tectonic plates were shifting ever so slightly. I guess they were just priming us for the real deal, courtesy of Johan.

What is so amazing about this night, aside from the fact that it seemed impossible just hours ago, is that it would come from a guy  who was on a strict pitch count (then again, aren’t they all?) as he worked his way back from surgery that shelved him all of last season. Last Saturday, when he blanked the Padres en route to a 96-pitch shutout at Citi Field, Johan showed signs of his once dominant form.  But to come back in his next start and toss a 134-pitch no-hittter? These things just don’t happen in Flushing.

When you consider that no Mets pitcher had even taken a no hitter into the ninth inning since 1975, when Tom Seaver held the Cubs hitless for 8 2/3 innings at Wrigley before surrendering  a hit to the incomparable Joe Wallis, it was very easy to believe that Johan would meet the same fate. But something truly amazing happened tonight: everything went the Mets way. A line drive in the sixth by ex-Met Carlos Beltran skimmed the chalk past third base but it was mistakenly ruled foul by ump Adrian Johnson (the anti-Jim Joyce). Now, before you cry that Johan’s gem was thereby tainted, give me a pass on this one. How else are we to savor our first no-hitter in 50 years without a little charity? Just once, okay? My guess is that the No-Hit Gods had a make-good in store after the Tigers’ Armando Gallaraga was denied his perfect game on account of Joyce’s blown call. They were holding this one in their back pockets for the Mets at just the right time, for just the right guy.

And how about Terry Collins, who swore he would not allow Johan to exceed 110 pitches, keeping his ace out there to take a shot at history? This was old school all the way. Leave your workhorse out there and let him pitch until he says he can’t go any further.  If Johan’s shoulder blows out later this season, Collins may take heat for this — judging from his post game comments, I’m sure he had mixed feelings about his decision — but I am hopeful that history will show he made the right move.   

So from here on, no more writing or obssesing  about Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Doc Gooden, David Cone, Mike Scott, Hideo Nomo, Philip Humber  (traded for Santana, by the way) and the inevitable next ex-Met who would somehow find no-hit magic after departing Flushing.  No more wondering how teams like the Marlins and White Sox can throw no-hitters and even perfect games in neat little clusters, when the Mets can’t even take a no-hitter past the sixth inning. No more scratching my head and asking why a team that has played its entire history in cavernous, pitcher friendly parks can’t toss a no-hitter at home, when the Red Sox, playing in that band-box of a ballpark, have been throwing hitless gems at Fenway every two years it seems, for the past decade.  

And most importantly, I no longer have to wonder if this streak of no no-hitters was the most visible sign — other than years of lousy ball, countless injuries, late season collapses, bad trades, mindless free agent signings, pitiful player development, questionable financial management — that this team, despite a few very glorious moments in their half century, would always be bogged down by the DNA of their loveable but pathetic progenitors, the ’62 Mets. 

With this King Kong-sized monkey off their backs, thanks to the heroic efforts of a gutsy veteran lefthander, the faith of a manager who I am liking more and more each day, a great catch in left by a guy (Mike Baxter) who grew up a few miles from Citi Field, and the kind of good fortune (luck, actually) that has been in such short supply in recent years, I’m hoping this is a portent of better things to come, a sign that the gravitational pull of Murphy’s Law was starting to ease up on this tortured franchise.

Here’s to the next 50 years.

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Mets Should Ban Francisco

Closers are like kickers and goalies. When they stink, they can drag down an entire team, no matter how well everyone else performs.  Which brings me to Frank Francisco, the Mets hot-headed, strike-zone challenged closer with the almost impossible 8.56 ERA.

This is the post I did not want to write –certainly not this soon – but I knew I’d eventually get around to it. Were it not for Francisco, the Mets would be 21-13 and riding an eight-game winning streak — including sweeps over the Phillies and Marlins.  Instead, they limp out of Miami at 19-15, having lost two our of three thanks to blown saves by Francisco on Friday and again today. In both games, the Mets got solid starting pitching and staged spirited late inning comebacks to take the lead. But Francisco single handedly crapped on the mound and spoiled what should have momentum building victories. And to add insult to injury, he imploded on the mound today and was tossed, leaving the equally atrociuos Manny Acosta to turn a mess into a monstrosity. Giancarlo Stanton’s walk-off grand slam was one of those moments that I call “the inevitability of the inevitable,” when you can just sense that the Mets’ bullpen is about to ruin your day. I’ve developed  a sixth sense for such occurances, having witnessed a plethora of them over the past 15 years or so.

Mets closers having been driving fans nuts for decades, from Jesse Orosco to John Franco to Armando Benitez to Braden Looper to Billy Wagner to K-Rod to Jason Isringhausen to Bobby Parnell (the last three in 2011 alone!). But by Mother’s Day 2012, Francisco is proving to be the very worst of the lot. And I’m not the least bit surprised.

When the Mets signed Francisco in the off-season for a guaranteed $12 over two seasons — a king’s ransom for a cash-strapped team that spent practically nothing to fortify the rest of the team — I cringed. I knew this guy was mediocre at best. If all-stars like Wagner and K-Rod proved shaky, what could we expect from Francisco? Except for the season opening series against the Braves when he went three-for-three in save opportunities, he has been putrid. Even when he’ll nailing down  a save, he walks a tightrope, not unlike his predecessors. But at least K-Rod and Wagner and Benitez and Franco would post long stretches of dominance before exposing us to short but horrifying stretches of nail-biting, hair-pulling  disasters.

Francisco has disappointed almost every time out and it’s only mid-May. Terry Collins’ team has proven to be quite scrappy and resilient thus far and perhaps they’ll bounce back against the Brewers this week. But it won’t be with the help of Francisco. They need to build big enough leads or start handing the ball to someone else in the ninth (Rausch?) for awhile. The Mets can’t worry about what they’re paying Francisco to justify entrusting him with every save opportunity. A demotion — albeit it temporary — may do him some good. Ozzie Guillen removed the closer’s stripes from Heath Bell for a stretch — and Bell is getting paid a lot more than Francisco —  because he could not find the plate. And judging from his outing today, he’s still trying to figure things out. If he can’t, I’m sure Ozzie will gladly call his number as the game’s highest paid set-up man.

The Mets bullpen has been their Achilles heal for the past five years and it remains as such. They’ve proven, with a young and deeper than expected roster of talent, that they won’t be a pushover this season, even in the deep NL East (give the Phillies time; they’ll heat up eventually). But the spector of Frank Francisco looms large, ready to rain on the Mets parade, even on a beautiful, picture perfect Mother’s Day.                             

 

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Philip Humber, Meet Nolan Ryan

The only reason I’m not shocked by Philip Humber’s perfect game is that he once pitched for the Mets. Anything to toss a little more dirt in the eyes of “The Team That Has  Never Pitched a No-Hitter.”  

Humber’s gem against the Mariners in Seattle yesterday puts him in a select group who pitched no-hitters after leaving the Mets — Nolan Ryan (seven times, if you need to be reminded), Tom Seaver, Doc Gooden, Mike Scott, David Cone, and Hideo Nomo (the only man to throw one before and after joining the Mets; neat little trick).   

None of these guys were scrubs, and while Humber has begun to fulfill some of the promise expected of him when he was picked number three overall in the 2004 draft by the Mets, my guess is he will be considered the outlier of the group — at least until it doubles in size. In fact, the history books will probably lump him in with Mike Witt,  Dallas Braden and Len Barker as the most unremarkable pitchers to toss a perfect game (you can include Don Larsen, but with an asterisk: he did, after all, do it in a World Series game.)  All the more reason Humber’s feat makes the Mets futility with no-hitters that much more bizarre — and laughable.

It has now been 50 years and 7,982 games. A few weeks ago, Jon Niese took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Nationals. That got a few people excited, but those who were all the wiser knew not to look up from their beers.  Niese quickly lost his no-hitter and his shutout before heading to the showers.    

Adding insult to injury is that Humber was traded for Johan Santana, never blossomed with the Twins, and bounced around with a few other teams before landing with the Sox last season and pitching surprisingly well. Santana is trying to revive his career after being on the shelf for more than a year. Although his comeback has looked promising thus far (assuming the beating he took from the Braves last week, his shortest stint ever, was not a harbinger of things to come), Santana will not be throwing any perfect games for the balance of his career. Unless, of course, he ends up with the Phillies or Red Sox some day.

Incredibly, Humber was the second White Sox pitcher to toss a perfect game since 2009 — the other being Mark Buerhle.   Two pitchers on the same team recording perfect games in less than three years, and the Mets can’t find someone, even Hall of Famers like Seaver and Ryan,  to pitch one measly no-hitter in a 50 year span? This continues to confound me year after year. Statistically, it makes absolutely no sense, especially for a team that has spent its entire history in pitcher friendly ballparks. The Red Sox, meanwhile, in that little 100-year-old bandbox, tossed four no-hitters at home during the last decade alone. Go figure. 

And one other thing: Humber wears number 41, the same as Seaver. That might go unnoticed by most Mets fans, but not me. I consider it a subtle dagger to the heart.

The Mets have 18 games to go for game number 8000. Maybe the baseball Gods, who have long enjoyed a hearty laugh at the expense of the Mets, just decided from day one in 1962 that they would play this little practical joke on the team and make them wait 50 years to wonder if it was physically possible for anyone in the royal blue and orange to toss a no-hitter.

Or maybe this statistical oddity will continue for another 50 years and 8000 or so games. The likes of Philip Humber have me believing that just might be the case.

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Break Up the Mets!

I’m not about to get delusional over the Mets’ 2-0 start. Or their 1.00 team ERA. Or Lucas Duda’s major league leading two homers. Or their bullpen’s 0.00 ERA.

No, I’m not rebooting my pre-season prediction of a last place finish for the Mets (for the record, I made that prediction not in writing, but at the bar of the Irish Cottage in Queens, which is a Mets bar, by the way). But after a perfect two games into the 2012 season, I will allow myself, while I can, to smell the roses. Because by mid-summer, I expect to be smelling something akin to week-old lobster shells.

So forgive me if I take at least 24 hours to savor this moment of baseball bliss, where hope springs eternal and all the stars align, albeit briefly. First place. Undefeated. Johan the ace once again. Wright is healthy and hitting. Duda’s a stud. The bullpen is untouchable. Beautiful weather. Big crowds at Citi. Bernie Madoff in the rear-view mirror.  

I’m not about to ponder the possibilities of a post-season run by the Amazin’s. And I’m not getting nostalgic and romantic about a ’69-like Cinderella season, just because this is the Mets’ 50th anniversary season. I’m just, you know, trying to soak in a little feel-good vibe until the whole thing goes up in flames. Is that asking too much?

Maybe the Braves, who have looked totally feckless thus far, are still hung over from last season’s implosion. Maybe the Mets will get spanked by the Nationals when they come to Flushing this week. I get it. 2-0 is nothing to hold  a parade about. Just give me another week or so of optimism. I’ll be in Philly next Sunday, my first road trip to Citizen’s Bank Park. How wonderful would it be to strut into that place with the Mets in first, acting like my team finally has it’s act together, tossing my New York attitude around just to get under the thin skin of those dreaded Philly fans. So what if I get  a cheesesteak tossed at me? Big deal if someone douses me with with a Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak. I just want one day to boast over the red menace, even if it means running for my life out of South Philly. It’ll be a memory to carry me through the inevitable dog days of summer.

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Dark Clouds over Port St. Lucie

I don’t think it’s possible to go a day without receiving disturbing news about the Mets. They have become a  neutron accelerator of bad luck, an active volcano of doom, a  massive storm system of despair.

The regular season is still three weeks away and the only positive news to be had is that Johan Santana remains in one piece after two starts and a batting practice session.  Not exactly a large body of work. Nonetheless, it’s kind of remarkable considering the veteran lefty has been the team’s poster boy for Murphy’s Law over the past two years (even more so than Daniel Murphy, who has contributed his own share of chills to the Mets faithful).  But the raging cynic in me is just waiting for Johan to feel that strange pain in his elbow, the seemingless harmless twinge that leads to a brief stint on the DL which then metastasizes into a season ending (career ending?) disaster.

Yes, I am in mid-season form, anticipating what could be the most confounding and frustrating Mets season in many years. What a lovely way to celebrate the team’s 50th anniversary. Last year, I turned 50 but I managed to make it to 51 in one piece. I’m not so sure about the Mets.

This is what we’ve been confronted with thus far:

David Wright’s aching ribs turns out to be an abdominal tear. He says he’ll be ready for Opening Day. We know better, don’t we?  

Ike Davis may or may not have Valley Fever. Raise your hand if you heard of Valley Fever until two weeks ago. It sounds like some affliction cast upon the Mets by the evil baseball gods — you know, the ones who have been tormenting the Mets for years in the form of injuries, late season collapses, ill-conceived trades and free agent signing, Ponzi schemes, and of course, Mel Rojas.  

Frank Francisco, their new closer, can’t throw to the bases — and the Mets don’t seem too concerned. Let’s see how they feel when he’s trying to hold Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins on first while nursing  a one-run lead in the ninth.     

Scott Hairston gets hurt and it’s def-con five. No need to worry. Adam Loewen to the rescue.

Tim Byrdak, who amazingly is the only viable lefty in the bullpen, is shelved with  a knee injury. So they start auditioning 39-year-old C.J. Nitkowski who last pitched in the majors in 2005 (sound familiar?). What, Jesse Orosco isn’t available?

With the exception of Santana, just about every starting pitcher has looked shaky. I’m sure Dan Warthen will fix things. He’s done wonders with Mike Pelfrey and Bobby Parnell.

The Madoff trustee clawback suit is about to go to trial — great PR when you’re about to begin a new season . Who timed the start of this trial, Chipper Jones? But hey, it may only cost the Wilpon’s $83 million! Incredibly, people still wonder why the Mets didn’t re-sign Reyes. I try to explain that signing an all-star shortstop to  a multi-year contract costs buckets of money. And what money the Mets do have is owed to creditors. Big, scary creditors that could care less who’s at shortstop.

The only encouraging news, I guess, is that manager Terry Collins actually believes he can win with this team. The guy is oblivious to the sky falling around him. His resolve and his focus is quite admirable so maybe he can squeeze another 75-80 wins out of this team — if everything falls into place. Including Jason Bay’s psyche.  

Or maybe the mudslide of bad news that has greeted the Mets in Port St. Lucie, and trailed them for the past five years, will bubble over into another hot mess of a season.

Yeah, just maybe.

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The Tainted Future of Ryan Braun*

Thanks to  a highly questionable technicality in MLB’s drug testing program, Ryan Braun is free to play ball. He is not, however, free of skepticism, disdain, and ridicule. Suffice it to say, the reigning NL MVP will toil the rest of his career with  a big fat (*) next to his name.

Braun may have been exonerated of the charges brought against him, but he hardly proved his innocence. Outside of diehard Brewers fans, who may have learned a few pointers in the fine art of rooting-in-denial from the legion of Giants fans who worshiped at the altar of Sir Barry Bonds,  nobody is buying Braun’s side of the story. He got lucky, thanks in part to the early closing hours of a FedEx Kinkos store in Milwaukee.

So where does the Brewers’ talented* outfielder go from here? He doesn’t quite fall neatly into the various categories of baseball’s drug cheats — admitted or suspected or rumored. He’s in a class by himself. Failed a drug test ( by a longshot) but avoided suspension due to a highly dubious and questionable procedural error. He proclaims his innocence but has no rational explanation for the mother lode of testosterone found in his system. But the system is what it is — at least until MLB mitigates the risk of such technicalities gumming things up —  and Braun gets to play on without loss of service.

So let’s say he plays at the same high level he has during his first five years in the majors. Maybe he wins another MVP or two, slugs another 400 homers, wins a World Series, drives in 1500 runs, posts a .300 career average. And never fails another drug test. Hall of Fame material?  Well, depends how you judge him — and he will be judged.      

Firstly, everything Braun’s done to date is basically tainted — unless you believe he’s clean, which few Hall of Fame voters will. So you have to press restart and expect that he delivers at least a decades worth of  PED-free greatness. But even then, do you disqualify him because of his alleged misdeeds, barring him from the Hall for a perceived lack of integrity?  Yes, would be my guess. Just look at the growing list of players , even those who never failed a drug test (that we know of) who seem unlikely to enter the Hall.  Braun’s reputation may be tarnished beyond repair, in the eyes of everyone but the sycophants who buy his jersey and sleep with his rookie card under their pillows.

If he is ever to arrive in the good graces of the media who may determine his entry into the Hall, and thereby his legacy, he must do three things:

1) Hit lots of homers, win at least one World Series, and play with the same passion and fury has since entering the major leagues.

2) Stop proclaiming his innocence and how the testing system was flawed. The sketics out there  — and they are many —  will call you a fraud every time your lips move. Just be thankful you escaped with your career intact and move on. The less said the better.   

3) Be overly kind and courteous to every member of the media. Like Eddie Haskel, but more sincere. Ask them how their kids and grandkids are doing and send them Holiday cards each year.  They take respect and courtesy very seriously.  One reason Bonds will never enter the Hall.

Maybe it’s just too premature or irrelevant to engage in a discussion about Braun’s Hall of Fame creds. But I still believe he’s a special talent who plays the game at  decibel higher than most — juiced up or not.   He’s seems like a genuinely good person who likely made some very bad decisions that will haunt him for the rest of his days.

 If only he had more brains than Braun.

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Farewell, Kid

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that Gary Carter, in the eyes of many, was the villain of the ’86 Mets. In a clubhouse of misfits  — albeit talented misfits —  he was the choir boy. But these Mets, who ran roughshod over the National League en route to a pennant and World Series title, were a brash, cocky, raucous bunch. And Carter, always smiling, fists pumping, hands clapping, was seen by opposing players (and some teammates), fans and media, as Mr. Cocky. The epitome of New York bravado. A phony even. After all, who could really be that happy and full of energy all the time — while having the nerve to hit lots of homers, throw out baserunners, and win and win and win?    

I think we know by now that all of those who lined up in the anti-Gary Carter camp had it all wrong. Shamefully wrong. Carter, who passed away yesterday at the age of 57 after a very public and courageous battle with brain cancer, was the antithesis but phony. He was as real as it gets. And as tough as they come. That Mets team was loaded with talent, but the Kid was its heart and soul. And its moral compass. He played hurt all the time, gutting his way through a seemingly endless array of injuries.  From his very first game with the Mets in  April of 1985, when he slugged  a game winning homer in extra innings against Neil Allen of the Cardinals, to his rally-starting hit against the Red Sox in Game Six (“I wasn’t going to make the last out of the World Series!”), Carter had a flair for the dramatic. There have been few truly great catchers in the history of the game, and even fewer who had the mix of charisma, guts, leadership, and character of  a Gary Carter.

I remember hearing the news of Carter’s trade to the Mets in December ’84 and thinking, “We’re going to win it all.” I never felt that giddy about  a Mets trade, not before or since. I just knew it would pay off in a big way some day. The next morning, I called a friend  and said, “The pennant is ours” (I was too modest to declare the World Series was a lock). My friend remarked, “We won the pennant. We won the pennant.”  Okay, so we were off by  a year, but Carter’s enthusiasm was infectious, sending a charge through Mets fans months before playing his first game. He was one of the few superstars who came to New York and delivered on the enormous expectations that rested on his shoulders. After his many All Star seasons in Montreal and the energy and enthusiasm that he brought to Flushing, it was inconceiveable that he could fail.  From day one, he flashed a smile we could all rally behind.

I had an opportunity to meet Carter once, a few months after the ’86 season. I was a young PR executive and my agency had been hired by a video distributor to publicize the Mets 1986 highlight video, “A Dream Season.”   So I spent the day with Carter, doing the rounds of media and attending  a press conference to preview the video. I can still hear him saying, “It really was  a dream season,” over and over, interview after interview. Sounds corny, but he pulled that line off flawlessly. Coming from Lenny Dykstra or Doc Gooden, it would have lost its effect. 

During my 30 years in the public relations business, I’ve met many athletes, current and former. Fortunately, most  have been professional and gracious. None were as accommodating and respectful as Carter. He treated me like an old buddy, making my job easy, and my client happy.  Twenty-five years later, it remains my most cherished memory of Carter, even more than his many heroics on the field. I was privileged to witness first hand, in a very personal way, that Gary Carter was the farthest thing from a phony, a media hog, a hand-clapping showboat. He was a gentleman, a gamer, as genuine as they come, whether he was leading his teammates onto the field or taking direction from  a wide-eyed 26-year-old publicist.

Rest in peace, Kid.

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