Could this season have been any more of a roller coaster ride for the New York Mets? They got off to a blazing start, including an 11-game winning streak early on. Then with injuries and poor hitting, by late June the experts said their season was “Spiraling out of control.” They had been no-hit by someone named Chris Heston of the Giants, hardly a household name even in his own household. Mike Francesa said on WFAN radio, the station that no longer broadcasts the Mets, that they would be eliminated by the All-Star break. With exceptional pitching they held together until Sandy Alderson, their embattled general manager made major moves at the trading deadline. His payoff, and the payoff for Mets’ fans is a trip to the NLCS. They will host the Chicago Cubs Saturday night, following the Mets’ 3-2 win over the Dodgers last night in Los Angeles in game 5 of the NLDS.
Last night’s game was tight from start to finish. My sister, who is not a baseball fan nearly left the room, saying the tension was more than she could bear.
Even knowing I had a column to write, I had to take a pause here and there from listening to the game, and listen to a few pages of the most recent novel I’m reading so my heart could slow down to a more normal rhythm. At least one player found the pressure more than he could take, but more of that later. The game opened with an infield hit by Curtis Granderson of the Mets. After David Wright, who had a dreadful series struck out, Daniel Murphy hit what was scored as an RBI double with an error to the Dodgers’ left fielder allowing Murphy to take third. Dodgers’ starter Zack Greinke found his rhythm after that, striking out Yoenis Cespedes and Lucas Duda leaving Murphy stranded. The Dodgers put up four hits in a row in the last of the first after one man was out. It looked like starter Jacob DeGrom, who struck out 13 Dodgers Friday night might not survive an inning. After singles by Corey Seager and Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner continued his demolition of Mets’ pitching with an RBI base knock. Andre Ethier singled home Gonzalez giving the home team a 2-1 lead. It stayed 2-1 in spite of Dodger threats in the second and the third. In the third, Justin Turner led off with a double, one of a record 6 two-baggers he would have in the series. When he did, I repeated to my brother-in-law a line I used in my broadcasting days when a pitcher was in trouble. I said “They’re stirring in the bull pen, and they’re not making coffee.” Noah Syndergaard was up and throwing with intent as early as the third inning. Following Turner’s leadoff double Andre Ethier hit a short liner to left. On his return to the dugout he showed that players are as human as we are and as vulnerable to the pressure if not more so. Unfortunately he showed it where the whole country could see it. He was seen screaming at his manager Don Mattingly, and at one point my brother-in-law said he saw Ethier’s lips moving as he said an extremely unkind and unprintable thing to his boss. Mattingly later wrote it off, as a manager must do in public. In the visiting fourth inning, Daniel Murphy led off with a single to right. After Cespedes struck out Lucas Duda walked. The infield had been overshifted while Duda was up. After ball 4 had been thrown, Murphy noticed Justin Turner wasn’t in his normal position at third. Since the umpire hadn’t called time out, Murphy took off for third. He got there before the Dodgers could gather their wits. This allowed him to cross the plate when the next batter Travis D’Arnaud hit a scoring fly ball, tying the game at 2. DeGrom continued to get in and claw his way out of trouble like a modern day Dirk Pitt, hero of the Clive Cussler novels. In the sixth, Daniel Murphy stepped to the plate. Earlier in the day, Mets’ TV play-by-play man Gary Cohen had been a guest on WFAN radio in New York, and had said the Mets ought not to bring back Murphy considering some of the questionable fielding and base running moves he’d made during the season. As if he hadn’t already done enough to make Cohen look silly, Murphy hit a shot Mets’ fans will talk about for years. It was a solo home run to right field off Greinke giving the Mets a 3-2 lead. As if to reward his teammates for a job well done, DeGrom pitched the only 1-2-3 inning of the game in his last inning, the sixth. Noah Syndergaard pitched the 7th without trouble. That left it to Jeurys Familia, a closer who had never needed to get 6 outs to record a save. The first 3 took all of 10 pitches in the 8th. To begin the 9th he faced Chase Utley, in Utley’s first appearance since he broke Ruben Tejada’s leg on a slide in game 2. Familia got Utley to fly to right, then struck out A. J. Ellis and Howie Kendrick, propelling the Mets into the NLCS for the first time since 2006.
I found out that in spite of the Cubs’ having a better record than either the Mets or Dodgers, as a wild card team they would not have hosted a playoff series against either of them. So, the Cubs and Mets will start a best of 7 tomorrow night at Citi Field in New York. Matt Harvey is slated to go for the Mets, while the much-traveled John Lester takes the hill for the Cubs. The Cubs took all 7 games they played against the Mets. But the last of those was on July 2, before the Mets resurgence. David Wright and Travis D’Arnaud were hurt for all 7 of those games and Michael Conforto was in AA Binghamton in spite of fans’ pleading for him to add a bat to the impossibly bad Mets offense. Those were the Mets of Darrell Ceciliani, John Mayberry JR., Johnny Monell (who I nicknamed Johnny Baseball because his last name sounds like that of Johnny Football,) Anthony Recker, Dilson Herrera and Eric Campbell. As S. E. Hinton put it, “That was then, this is now.” The Mets’ clearest advantage is their pitching, while the Cubs have the offense. They have to do it without Addison Russell, one of their rookie infielders who strained a hamstring in the NLDS against the Cardinals. Meantime, the ALCS begins tonight in Kansas City. The Jays plan to start Marco Estrada tonight and David Price tomorrow afternoon, followed by Marcus Stroman and R. A. Dickey. The Royals will only go as far as to say Edinson Volquez pitches tonight. The Blue Jays’ security will be under investigation by MLB following Wednesday’s bottle-throwing fiasco in game 5 of the ALDS as the Jays defeated the Rangers. While rioting is a fact all over Canada from Montreal to Vancouver, Toronto’s baseball fans (when they go to the games at all,) don’t normally do this sort of thing. If it happened at a Mets or Yankees game nobody would blink. But with game 3 coming to Rogers Center, Toronto fans have to face themselves and think before somebody gets seriously hurt or killed.0