Tag Archives: marlins

What’s Been Doin’

Hey! I haven’t written here in a while. Nor have I been writing all that much at Scratchbomb in calendar year 2012. One large reason is that, for the last bit and a half, I’ve been concentrating alternately on finishing my novel and working on a large-ish non-fiction thing.

As far as the novel goes, it is 98 percent done. I’ve completed a second draft, and will soon begin a third so I can dot the i’s, cross the t’s, remove superfluous adverbs, and so on. However, all the really hard work (the actual writing of stuff) is done, and very soon I will send it out to the world and onto a slush pile near you. I am close enough to completion that I feel confident enough to tell the world the following facts about this novel:

  1. The title is Love and a Short Leash.
  2. It is a spy novel that involves baseball.

Speaking of baseball, the large-ish non-fiction thing I mentioned above involves The Great American Pastime and it too has been consuming me of late. I’ve been kinda squirrely about exactly what this thing is on Twitter and elsewhere. I realize that vagueness such as this is maddening and I apologize for that. Here is what I can say about it:

  1. It is called Yells For Ourselves.
  2. It is a multi-volume ebook about the 1999/2000 Mets, or rather, about the narratives and media perceptions thereof.
  3. It will be available in a no-frills version and a souped-up version for the iPad that will include lots of extra goodies, the technical aspects of which I’ve (mostly) figured out.
  4. More details will become available upon the official launch of YellsForOurselves.com. (Nothing there right now, really, except a “watch this space” notice and one of my favorite Mets-related pics ever.)

I am pursuing traditional channels to get my novel published. (Speaking of which, if you’re involved with traditional channels, hey, hit me up, wouldja?) The non-fiction book will be self-published, more or less to prove that the souped-up version is something can be done, from a technical standpoint.

The other big reason I’ve been delinquent in my posts here is because I’ve been writing for other sites. (Scratchbomb and I have an open relationship.) I realize this has endangered my goal for Scratchbomb to be the M*A*S*H of the Internet (“where hilarity meets brooding introspection!”). However, I’m pretty proud of the stuff I’ve done elsewhere of late. Apart from my regular stuff at Amazin’ Avenue (which should ramp up now that spring training is upon us). here’s where you could have seen me so far in 2012.

  • Last Friday I eulogized Gary Carter at The Classical. The Kid was the first athlete I loved, and his death, while sadly unexpected, hit me hard. I hope did his memory justice here. On a less serious tip, I also took a look at how Ray Manzarek’s brought an otherwise fine HBO doc about John Wooden and the UCLA basketball dynasty to a screeching halt.
  • For Vice, I penned a brief assessment of the Marlins’ home run monstrosity as a sign of the impending apocalypse. If you think that take is a bit hyperbolic, I assume you have not seen this thing.
  • For Splitsider, I looked back at the Looney Tunes 50th Anniversary Special, possibly the greatest thing Bill Murray has ever done, if not humanity itself.
  • Last but certainly not least, I’ve scribbled a few things for Low Times: a review of Mitch Miller’s prog record, and an in-depth study of which exact city was built on rock and roll. And if you’re not listening to the Low Times podcast, get on the stick, fella. I have to say the Worst Lyrics discussion with Ted Leo and DC Pierson is one of the funniest things I’ve heard in many a moon.

Will I be posting here with more regularity in the near future? Possibly. What I can promise is that if I don’t, I will definitely put up another post apologizing for not posting.

Scratchbomb’s Thoroughly Compromised 2011 MLB Preview: NL East

ATLANTA BRAVES

2010 record: 91-71, won wild card, lost division series to Giants

Biggest offseason acquisition: Dan Uggla, whose last name perfectly describes his powerful home run swing. And his fielding.

Biggest offseason loss: Closer Billy Wagner, now retired. Fuckin’ shocker.

How will the Braves deal with their first season without Bobby Cox since 1990?: Thanks to their talent and new manager Fredi Gonzalez, the team will be more than fine. I’d be more worried about Mrs. Cox.

Best name on 40-man roster: Jairo Asencio. You want white sauce and hot sauce with that?

The That Guy’s on This Team? Award: Scott Proctor, who still has something resembling a human arm left after working in a Joe Torre bullpen.

Spring standout: Brandon Beachy has pitched to a 1.13 ERA, assuring himself the fifth spot in the rotation and many dumb puns on his name from headline writers.

Probable Opening Day starter: Tim Hudson, who continues to piss me off for reasons I can’t quite articulate.

Biggest question for 2011: Can the Braves challenge the Phillies for the division title, and if so, will anyone in Atlanta notice?

Strengths: Good young bullpen, lack of crowds at playoff games lessens pressure

Weaknesses: Chipper Jones running out of creative ways to end his season

Semi-serious assessment: As you get older, your hates fade. The white-hot rage I once felt toward the Braves has dissipated almost entirely. It helps that only one figure from the 1990s/2000s team remains (LAAAAA-REEEEE). But it’s also due to them having a team of mostly-home-grown regulars like Brian McCann and Jason Heyward who are much harder to hate than Brian Jordan and Greg Maddux ever were. That extends to the bullpen, which contains a lot of great young arms like Craig Kimbrel and Chris Medlen, with not a John Rocker in the bunch (that I know of). I foresee another wild card in their future, and if the Phillies’ injury woes continue, a division title is not as insane an outcome as it looked this winter. But do humanity a favor and lose the Tomahawk Chop, wouldja?

Continue reading Scratchbomb’s Thoroughly Compromised 2011 MLB Preview: NL East

Don’t Do It, Bobby V! It’s a Trick!

Thumbnail image for 99_nldsgm4_bobbyv.pngAs I write this, all the rumor, scuttlebutt, and foofara points to Bobby Valentine becoming the next manager of the Florida Marlins. This would distress me greatly, because I love Bobby V, and I despise the Marlins.

I actually don’t hate any player on the Marlins. I just have no respect for them, as an organization. They’ve won two World Series and dismantled themselves immediately after winning both of them. They take revenue sharing money from MLB and refuse to spend it on their roster unless shamed by Bud Selig into doing so (when Selig sides against an owner, you know they’re really doing something wrong). They play in a cavernous, charmless stadium that they couldn’t fill if each seat came with a free beer and blow job. And their owner is easily the biggest shitheel in baseball now that George Steinbrenner is retired.

One of my most painful baseball memories: seeing the Mets lose to the Marlins on the last day of the 2008 season, the last game ever at Shea. The loss prevented them from finishing in a tie with the Brewers for the wild card, and brought on another long winter.

Yes, the blame falls on the Mets themselves for letting this happen. But after the Mets made the last out, the Marlins hugged and high-fived on the field like a bunch of Little Leaguers who just earned a trip to Chuck E. Cheese. I know teams congratulate each other on the field all the time, but this was a prolonged, obnoxious celebration. They milked this bit for every last drop, as angry fans screamed GET OFF THE DAMN FIELD!! It was basically a huge extended middle finger to everyone in the crowd, and I will hate the Marlins until the day I die for that.

Not to mention this was the second year in a row that the Marlins beat the Mets on the last day of the season to destroy their playoff hopes. Yes, please, let’s not mention it.

As for Bobby Valentine, I know a lot of people don’t like him for one reason or another, and I understand why people wouldn’t like him. He certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of ego or excess of humility. He has a weird sense of humor that doesn’t always translate well after it leaves his brain and enters the real world. Like his infamous dugout disguise in 1999, or his attempts at Cheech and Chong-esque jokes during the Grant Roberts mess in 2002.

Allowing all of that, I think Bobby Valentine is a true baseball genius. Just look at the Mets teams he brought to the postseason. They had lots of talent and were fun to watch (particularly in 1999), but they were not teams that should’ve gone deep into the playoffs.

Valentine was able to take those teams’ weaknesses and turn them into strengths. He compensated for a relatively weak starting rotation with judicious use of a great bullpen. While he wasn’t afraid to use his relievers early and often, rarely did he overuse them.

He also didn’t have fantastic outfielders to choose from, so he switched often between guys like Benny Agbayani, Ronny Cedeno, Darryl Hamilton, Melvin Mora, Jay Payton, Timo Perez…not exactly a collection of superstars. And yet he found enough playing time for all of them, while also managing to identify whoever had the “hot hand” at the time.

Bobby Valentine was fired after the 2002 season to pay for Steve Phillips’ sins, which still stands out as one of the dumbest things the Mets have ever done (quite a feat, considering the team). He found success managing in Japan, but clearly (and understandably) feels like he still has something to prove in the majors.

And I would love to see him prove it–if not with the Mets, then with somebody. I could even stomach Bobby V managing the Phillies or the Yankees. But there’s something about seeing him manage the Marlins that seems both unseemly and beneath him. Like he’s grasping at this opportunity simply because it’s been offered to him, when he would really be better served holding out for something better.

I’m sure that’s not true. After all, he interviewed for the Orioles’ opening and decided that wasn’t for him (who is it for?). And he’s apparently good buddies with Jeff Loria (a fact that makes me question all the good things I’ve said about him), so at least there’s some connection between the two men.

But seeing him in a Marlin uniform–which now appears more a matter of When than If–will be kind of like seeing Eugene Levy in all those terrible American Pie straight-to-DVD follow-ups, or Steve Martin in virtually everything he’s done in the last 15 years. You just wanna grab him and say, “Look, I know you want the work, and maybe on some level you need it, but you’re better than this, and this will not end well.”

Because you know that, even if Bobby V and Loria are BFFs, there will be conflicts between the two of them over the direction of the team. I can’t imagine he’ll enjoy Florida’s $45 million payroll, or taking buses between cities, or scrubbing the dirt out his players’ uniforms by hand, or mowing the field on off days.

Loria’s already run two good managers out of Florida–first Joe Girardi, then Fredi Gonzalez (and basically handed the Braves, a division rival, their future manager in the process). Bobby V is no better than either of these guys in his willingness to take shit from others. Is he likely to stay quiet when Loria continues to do things on the cheap, or do other insane things like install a shark tank behind home plate at their new stadium? Unlikely.

So if you haven’t said yes yet, Bobby, and you have a spare moment to reconsider, I humbly suggest you do so. Jeff Loria might be your buddy now, but I bet he gets a lot less friendly once five dollars is involved.

The Parallel Universe Fake Mets: Opening Series

Thumbnail image for show_castillo.jpgFor future installments of The Parallel Universe Fake Mets, I hope to have little screencaps and so forth. That was not possible for these entries, because as I mentioned earlier this week, this week has been a bitch and a half. For now, you’ll have to make do with this realistic animation of Luis Castillo getting forced out at second.

One aspect of the unfairness of MLB10:The Show I forgot about in my first post: If you throw a breaking pitch, there’s a 50 percent chance it will skip past the catcher. Regardless of the pitcher, regardless of the catcher, there are a huge amount of wild pitches/passed balls in this game.

Game 1: Fake Marlins 4, Fake Mets 2
The Fake Mets jumped out to an early lead on Josh Johnson, when Jose Reyes led off with an infield single, moved to second on an errant throw, and scored on a David Wright RBI single. But the Marlins stormed back with four straight hits against Johan Santana in the top of the third, sparked by a leadoff single by Johnson of all people (pitchers in this game are way better hitters than their real life counterparts), and the Fake Marlins went up 3-1. Carlos Beltran thrilled the crowd with an inside-the-park homerun (aided by Chris Coghlan bouncing off the left field wall), but Cody Ross hit an out-of-the-park homer of his own, and the Fake Mets could not catch up, getting just one more hit the rest of the way.

In real life: Amazingly, the Real Mets managed to beat Josh Johnson for the first time. Wright hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the first, Santana was his usual sharp self, and the Mets capitalized on some typically shoddy Marlins defense to cruise to a 7-1 win.

Game 2: Fake Mets 2, Fake Marlins 1
Fake Mike Pelfrey was sharp through 7 innings, and David Wright clubbed a two-run homer off of Ricky Nolasco to provide all the offense the Mets would need. The one run Pelfrey “allowed” should not have scored at all. John Baker hit a ball up the middle, and I tried to make Jose Reyes dive at the ball. But what often happens in The Show is that the computer switches your fielders very quickly. By the time I was diving, my fielding capabilities had already transfered to Carlos Beltran. That meant Carlos was sprawled out on the turf instead of chasing down Baker’s grounder, and he got a gift double, then moved to third on another grounder and scored on a sac fly. Pedro Feliciano and Kelvim Escobar combined for a scoreless eighth, and Frankie Rodriguez set down the Fake Marlins 1-2-3 in the ninth for his first fake save of the year.

In real life: John Maine struggled through five innings, ceding four runs and falling behind every batter he faced, and the bullpen let up two more (including Jennry Mejia in his MLB debut). The Mets somehow “rallied” to tie the game at 6, thanks to a leaky, wild Marlins bullpen. But the Marlins took a lead in the top of the tenth, and the Mets went down quietly in the bottom half.

Game 3: Fake Marlins 5, Fake Mets 3
Fake Oliver Perez was pretty much what you might expect, and struggled through five innings, giving up three runs. The Fake Mets rallied against Anibal Sanchez, taking advantage of two walks in the bottom of the fifth to score two runs, then tie it up on a Jeff Francoeur homer in the sixth. But set-up man Kelvim Escobar got slapped around for two runs in the top of the eighth, and the Fake Mets could not recover.

In real life: Jon Niese had a decent debut, which might have looked even better if he had any defense behind him. He gave up three runs over six innings, but the anemic Mets bats couldn’t catch up and never mounted any threat against Nate Robertson or the suddenly unhittable Marlins bullpen.

Parallel Universe Fake Mets record: 1-2

Real Mets record: 1-2

Scratchbomb’s Thoroughly Compromised 2010 MLB Preview: NL East

chipper2.jpgATLANTA BRAVES

2009 record: 86-76

Local weather: Hotter than the devil’s drawers, suh! /sips mint julep

Namesake: Valiant Native American warriors like Chief Noc-a-homa

What will Bobby Cox do after he retires?: I don’t know, but for his wife’s sake, I hope he doesn’t plan on spending a lot of time around the house.

Perpetually overused team-related headline: Anything involving ‘chop’. The only thing that should be chopped on the Braves is their dumb, racist chant.

Best name on 40-man roster: Jonny Venters, who had a few regional rockabilly hits back in the 50s.

The That Guy’s on This Team? Award: Scott Proctor, who was allowed to keep the tiny shreds of his throwing arm that Joe Torre didn’t destroy

Spring standout: Jason Heyward, who is not only tearing the cover off the ball, but can make sportswriters cream their jeans with every swing of his bat.

Probable Opening Day starter: Derek Lowe, taking some time off between injuries to throw a baseball.

Biggest question for 2010: Will Chipper Jones badmouth his own teammates again, or save his dumb outburst for someone on another team?

Advantage to start the season: Low pressure–if Braves fans won’t come out for the playoffs, they surely won’t care if the team starts out slow.

Semi-serious assessment: Potentially great starting rotation, and a formerly suspect lineup has been shored up by the emergence of Heyward (THE CHOSEN ONE!). The bullpen took a step back–Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano were replaced with Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner, neither of whom have any chance of staying healthy all season (mark it down). Regardless, the Braves will definitely compete this year. Fuck.
Continue reading Scratchbomb’s Thoroughly Compromised 2010 MLB Preview: NL East

1999 Project: Games 76-79

Click here for an intro/manifesto on The 1999 Project.

June 28, 1999: Mets 10, Marlins 4

Robin Ventura shined in the opener of a four-game series in Miami, clubbing two homers, driving in six runs, and leading the Mets to a rout over the Marlins. The third baseman was praised by the Daily News for removing himself late in the game so Matt Franco could get an at-bat against Braden Looper, a reliever he’d likely face in a much closer game somewhere down the road. It was a good rebound after the series in Atlanta, when Ventura struck out an astounding seven times in only 12 at-bats.

Al Leiter struggled a bit in the third inning, giving up two runs, each scoring on two-out RBI singles. But he rebounded to pitch into the seventh inning and reap the benefits of another offensive outburst.

Back in New York, Mets owner Fred Wilpon said he was “hopeful” the team could secure city permission and financing to begin construction on a new ballpark. The desired opening date: 2003. Wilpon’s vision was for “a 45,000-seat, Ebbets Field replica with a retractable roof that would allow the facility to be used ‘365 days a year,’ except for football. He still is committed to the current site at Shea.”

The same article cites the Mets’ desire to trade for a “front-line starter”. The Angels’ Chuck Finley was discussed, but the Marlins’ Livan Hernandez seemed a long shot, since, according to the article, “the Mets don’t consider Hernandez a front-line starter”.

June 29, 1999: Mets 5, Marlins 1

Orel Hershiser left the mound to a standing ovation, a reaction he attributed to large numbers of “the 40-and-over crowd” in Florida.

It was not a very big standing ovation–the paid attendance, only a little over 11,000, was the third lowest in Marlins’ history to date. Regardless of size, it was a tribute to Hershiser’s finest outing as a Met, where he went 8 1/3 innings, giving up just five hits and one run. He kept the ball on the ground, which led to an astounding 11 assists for shortstop Rey Ordonez (only three shy of the all-time single-game record).

Ventura continued his hot hitting. His two-run single in the third inning gave the Mets the lead to stay. Edgardo Alfonzo padded that lead with a two-run homer in the seventh.

On the negative side, Bobby Jones experienced discomfort in his balky right shoulder and was scratched for a scheduled BP session. The news furthered GM Steve Phillips’ search for another starter; he was rumored to be pursuing Toronto’s David Wells, though the length and size of his contract was a stumbling block (not to mention the size of Wells himself).

June 30, 1999: Marlins 4, Mets 3 (10)

Kevin Millar did all the damage against starter Rick Reed. His two-run homer in the second put the Marlins on top, and after the Mets rallied to tie in top of the sixth, Millar’s RBI single in the bottom half put the Marlins back in front and chased Reed from the game.

The Mets tied it up again in the seventh, thanks to Rickey Henderson behaving in typical Rickey-esque fashion: he worked a two-out walk, stole second, and scored on an Alfonzo single.

They had an opportunity to go ahead in the ninth, when Roger Cedeno walked. Closer Matt Mantei tried to pick Cedeno off second, but threw the ball away. That allowed Cedeno to easily move to second–so easily, in fact, that third base coach Cookie Rojas gave him the green light to advance to third. Luis Castillo fired the ball to Mike Lowell, who tagged out Cedeno and ended the threat.

“When the play developed, there were very few people that thought he wouldn’t be safe at third,” Bobby Valentine told reporters after the game. “I think we were a little more surprised than disappointed.”

Mike Piazza made a bid in the top of the tenth, giving a ride to a fastball from Antonio Alfonseca. But in cavernous Pro Player Stadium (as it was then called), it died before the warning track and settled in Mark Kotsay’s glove for a flyout.

Armando Benitez set down the Marlins in order in the ninth, and came out for the tenth as well. He retired the first two batters with ease, but fell behind Kotsay 3-1 before delivering a fastball that Kotsay deposited into the right field stands for a walk-off home run. It was the first hit any Marlin had gotten off of Benitez all year. The loss prevented the Mets from gaining ground on the Braves, whose bullpen had a late-inning meltdown of its own.

Benitez declared himself unshaken after the game, in words that sound bitterly ironic with the remove of time: “It’s nothing. It’s one game. We have a chance to win tomorrow. We have a chance to win against Atlanta. We’re going to win [against] Atlanta no matter what. You give me the ball, I’ll do the best I can. I won’t surrender. I like competition.” The reliever, who already had the rep of being moody and immature, was amazingly praised in some circles for his willingness to put the incident behind him.

July 1, 1999: Mets 12, Marlins 8

The Mets exploded for six runs off of Marlins starter Ryan Dempster in the third inning, with all of the offense coming with two outs. Octavio Dotel made his second big league start, and he chipped in with an RBI of his own when he worked a bases loaded walk that scored the fourth run of the inning and chased Dempster from the game.

They didn’t stop there, scoring two runs in the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings as well. With Piazza resting, Todd Pratt was given a start and knocked in three runs. Henderson and Ordonez each had two RBIs.

Dotel did much better than in his previous start, at least for the first three innings. (Perhaps because the paid attendance was the third-lowest in team history, supplanting the record set just two days previous.) But he gave up two runs in the fourth inning and three more in the fifth. Some of his sudden ineffectiveness was chalked up to the threat of rain; Dotel later said he might have rushed his pitches because he didn’t want weather to wash out his chance for his first big league win before the fifth inning was complete.

Or it might have been the fact that Marlins pitcher Brian Edmonson hurled a pitch near his head in the top of the fifth, after the game had gotten away from the Marlins. Dotel told reporters he never saw the pitch, but was lucky enough to spin out of the way and have it only graze the back of his batting helmet. “It’s hard to say it didn’t affect him,” Bobby Valentine said later.

Whatever the cause, Valentine swapped Dotel for long man Pat Mahomes in the sixth, who held the fort for three innings. Greg McMichael pitched the ninth and allowed three runs to score, but they were of little consequence.

Next up: The Braves again, this time at Shea. The Mets remained a mere three games back, with the chance to make up some ground.

1999 Project: Games 70-72

Click here for an intro/manifesto on The 1999 Project.June 22, 1999: Mets 8, Marlins 2

Masato Yoshii pitched well in this outing, the first in a brief three-game homestand, giving up just two runs in 6 2/3 innings, but the Mets were baffled by the knuckleball of Florida starter Dennis Springer. Robin Ventura hit a solo shot off of him in the second, but Kevin Orie hit a two-run bomb of his own in the third, and the Mets entered the seventh inning trailing 2-1.

Yoshii got into some trouble in the top of the seventh, when he allowed a one-out double and a walk. Bobby Valentine called on reliever Greg McMichael, who retired the next two batters to keep the deficit at one run.

In the bottom half, the Mets finally got to Springer. Ventura led off the inning with a double. After a Brian McRae pop out, Roger Cedeno hit a ball that center fielder Preston Wilson (one of the chips sent to Florida the previous season in the Mike Piazza trade) tried to field on one hop. But the ball skipped past him, allowing Ventura to score and Cedeno to speed to third with a triple. Antonio Alfonseca came on to relieve Springer, but he promptly gave up RBI singles to Rey Ordonez and Edgardo Alfonzo.

After Armando Benitez pitched a 1-2-3 top of the eighth, the Mets piled on in their half. Piazza led off with a solo shot, and a double by Ventura and a single by McRae put runners on second and third with nobody out. Cedeno was walked intentionally to bring up the much less threatening Ordonez, but he delivered a two-run single. Even Benitez pitched in; in a rare at-bat for the set-up man, he drove in a run with a groundout. No worse for wear, the big righty set the Marlins down in order in the ninth to preserve the victory.

In other team news, the Mets decided to send Jason Isringhausen down to Norfolk again, with an eye toward making him a reliever. It was a move that would provide dividends–most of them for Oakland.

June 23, 1999: Mets 6, Marlins 3

Al Leiter continued his resurgence, throwing seven sharp innings, striking out seven, and giving up three runs. Since his breakthrough performance at Yankee Stadium, the lefty had an ERA of 2.25. Leiter seemed to falter a bit in the top of the seventh, when he gave up a single and a walk to the first two batters, prompting an unwelcome visit to the mound from Bobby Valentine (conferences and pitching changes were usually handled by pitching coach Dave Wallace). He induced a double play from future Met Luis Castillo, and though he allowed a run-scoring single from Alex Gonzalez, he struck out the last batter he faced to escape further damage.

Alfonzo paced the offense, hitting a solo shot and knocking in three runs. Cedeno swiped two more bases, bringing his total on the season to a league-leading 41. The bullpen made sure Leiter’s effort stuck. Despite appearing in his third game in four days, Benitez pitched a 1-2-3 eighth with two strikeouts, and John Franco set down all three batters he faced for his nineteenth save of the year.

On the negative side, Piazza suffered a mild concussion when he was hit by a Bruce Aven backswing in the top of the seventh. The catcher stayed in the game to try and extend his franchise record 24-game hitting streak, but grounded out in the bottom of the eighth and came out of the game. Afterward, his last at-bat was little more than a blur. “I think I swung at one of the balls I saw,” he told the Daily News.

June 24, 1999: Mets 3, Marlins 2

The Mets completed a three-game sweep of the Marlins, thanks to some late inning heroics. Orel Hershiser pitched six solid innings, giving up just one run. Future Met Livan Hernandez gave up two runs in the bottom of the sixth, but helped tie the score when he doubled to lead off the top of the seventh and came around to score on a sac fly.

With the score knotted at 2 in the bottom of the eighth, John Olerud hit a one-out double. Then Ventura blooped a single over the first baseman’s head to score pinch runner Luis Lopez and give the Mets the lead. Franco set down the Marlins in order in the top of the ninth to seal the victory.

Next up: The first-place Braves. The Mets had won 14 of their last 17 games and trailed Atlanta by only three games. But this would be the biggest test they faced thus far.

Somewhat prophetically, Valentine told the Daily News:

The bigness of it is that we haven’t seen them up close all season. They’re always there. They’ll always be there. They are the team we’ve been chasing since I’ve been here…I guess longer than that. So it’ll be good to see them on the field. We know they’re going to be around and what we want to do is let them know that we’re going to be around. Because the season ends playing them six
times in the last [12] games.

1999 Project: Games 9 and 10

Click here for an intro/manifesto on The 1999 Project.

April 14, 1999: Mets 4, Marlins 1

Orel Hershiser reminisced fondly about his heroics in the 1988 NLCS before making quick work of a young Marlins lineup. He used only 10 pitches to work through the first two innings, and didn’t allow a hit until the fourth. The Mets gave him a lead on RBI doubles by Todd Pratt and Edgardo Alfonzo, a bases-loaded walk, and a homer by Robin Ventura.

All of this allowed John Franco to notch his 400th career save. It was an atypical Franco save–that is to say, nigh-drama free, except for a two-out double. After the game, the Brooklyn native felt like celebrating his milestone:

The Mets gave Franco three bottles of Dom Perignon and he poured it into plastic flutes as his teammates clapped. Franco held up the Champagne and said, ”This is the first of many celebrations, boys.”

Thumbnail image for 99_franco_400_save.pngWith reliever Greg McMichaels ailing, Steve Phillips was rumored to be interested in the Braves’ Mark Wohlers. I found it amazing that such a trade could even be contemplated back then. But then I remembered that there was really no Mets-Braves rivalry to speak of until this season.

April 15, 1999: Marlins 11, Mets 4

The Mets’ five-game winning streak ended in embarassing fashion. Starter Masato Yoshii was cuffed for eight hits and four runs in five innings, then the formerly spotless bullpen was torched for seven runs of their own. (Granted, most of those relievers were mopper-uppers like Rigo Beltran and Jose Manzanillo.) Future Met Luis Castillo reached base six times. The most humiliating run was the Marlins’ 11th and final one, as it was driven in by reliever Brian Edmonson.

Backup-backup catcher Mike Kinkade symbolized the Mets’ futility when he tried to toss the ball around the infield after a strikeout, but only succeeded in sailing a throw into the outfield. The gaffe drew mocking applause from the crowd, the only kind heard at Shea that day.

The day’s only good news came from a pregame batting session with Mike Piazza, who took 50 swings in the cage and proclaimed he “felt good”.

1999 Project: Home Opener

Click here for an intro/manifesto on The 1999 Project.

99_opening_day_1.pngApril 12, 1999: Mets 8, Marlins 1

Al Leiter and John Franco, both of whom grew up as Mets fans, reminisced to the Daily News about skipping school and watching Mets home openers from years past.

“I know I saw Seaver pitch on Opening Day, I had to, all the times my brother Jimmy and me skipped,” Franco was saying yesterday. “I just can’t remember which one.”

You can forgive Franco’s imprecise memory when you consider that Tom Seaver took the ball on Opening Day for the Mets 11 times.

In Mike Piazza’s absence, Bobby Bonilla batted cleanup for the Mets’ 1999 home opener. He was roundly booed at first by fans who remembered his participation in The Worst Team Money Could Buy, but slightly less so after he went 3-for-3.

99_opening_day_2.pngMarlin starter Livan Hernandez was knocked out by a four-run fifth inning that included a solo homer by his counterpart, Mets pitcher Bobby Jones, not normally known for his bat (or much of anything else at this point in his career, other than a seemingly anomalous trip to the All Star Game in 1997). Robin Ventura drove in two runs of his own but said, “It’s the first time in my career I’ve been shown up by a pitcher.”

The joy of Opening Day was dampened–literally–by a flood in the Mets’ clubhouse that ruined both a $200,000 renovation job and a box of Bobby Valentine’s baseball memorabilia. The postgame press conference was held in the much drier old Jets locker room.

Meanwhile, the crowd of 52K+ was annoyed to find out that scorebook prices had jumped by a whole dollar–and no longer included a complimentary golf-sized pencil.

Pick Out Somebody You Wanna Punch

Are you familiar with MLB’s blackout rules? You probably aren’t, unless you specialize in sports law or are a masochist. They’re quite arcane, outdated, and draconian.

Case in point: Fox has exclusive national rights for baseball on Saturdays from 4pm to 7pm. That means if your team schedules a game during this window, but isn’t being broadcast by Fox, it can’t be shown on TV. As you might imagine, most teams don’t schedule games during this time unless they’re being shown on Fox.

That’s why there’s more and more Saturday start times of 7:10 (or later). When I first got a Mets ticket plan several years ago, I opted for a Saturday plan because I liked the idea of spending a lazy Saturday afternoon at the ballpark. But in a short amount of time, these lazy afternoons turned into torpid evenings and getting home at 1 in the morning.

Technically, a team can schedule a game whenever they want. They could play at 3am if they felt like it. The Marlins decided to test this freedom in the first series of the season. They scheduled a 6:10pm start for this Saturday’s game against the Mets. As a result, the beginning of this game can not be shown on TV anywhere in this country. Not in New York, not in Miami, not in Nome or Omaha or Cucamonga. It doesn’t matter where you live. You will not see the start of this game.

So I’m trying to decide who I hate more right now. Is it MLB, for not restructuring their antiquated blackout rules for the new digital age? These blackout rules date back to baseball’s radio days, where certain teams were assigned arbitrary “territories” (and there were only 16 teams, and none west of the Mississippi).

And for some ridiculous reason, they blackout your local team(s) on MLB.tv (based on your billing address), even though anyone watching a game online is doing so because they’re someplace where the local feed (or TV in general) is unavailable. Thus, they cut themselves off from the lucrative traveling businessman/cubicle slave goofing off market.

But these rules, dumb as they are, aren’t to blame for Saturday’s blackout. So maybe I hate Fox, for insisting on this ridiculous exclusivity. As if your local team is “competition” for whatever game they decide to send Joe Buck to. Everything Rupert Murdoch touches, he poisons and destroys.

Then again, The Fox Rule has been effect for several years now. It’s not like Bud Selig was carrying it around in his back pocket, waiting to unleash it at the most inconvenient time. So I think I’ll reserve most of my hatred for the idiot Marlins, an organization that clearly hates baseball.

Apparently the Marlins also hate music. Do you know why they pushed the start time of Saturday’s game up by one hour? To accommodate a postgame concert by rapper Flo Rida.

Not familiar with Flo Rida? If not, then clearly it’s been a while since you were harrassed by some douche driving a car with a purple neon license plate. Surely you’ve bought the soundtrack to the cinematic masterpiece Step Up 2, or grooved to his monster hit “Right Round” at your local club that’s totally a front for the Russian mob.

Do you know how many baseball teams sponsor pre- or postgame concerts? I’m gonna say all of them, from the smallest market teams all the way up to the Yankees, BoSox, etc. I know the Mets have a well-attended Merengue Night every year.

And I don’t think a single team has moved a game start time in deference to these events. Except for the bush league Marlins, a team with so few fans that they don’t care whether their games are on TV or not.

Keep in mind, they’re not doing this to appease a musical legend, or even an old band/artist playing classics. They’re doing it for a fourth-rate crunk “artist” who is 18 months away from the State Fair Circuit. I would call him a flash in the pan, but a flash in the pan will seem like a small eternity compared to Flo Rida’s career trajectory. This guy will be forgotten in a heartbeat the second he has a flop single.

Don’t believe me? Anyone hear from the Ying Yang Twins lately? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

This is something a minor league team would do, sandwiched in between Dunk the Mayor Night and Ladies Named Sheila Pay Half Price Day.

If this was 1983, I could see the Marlins bending over backwards for a postgame concert by Michael Sembello.

“Listen: We’re not starting this game at 7. We’re starting it at 6 and that’s final! If Michael Sembello wants to go on no later than 10, he’s going on no later 10. Do you realize who we’re dealing with here? This is the man who wrote ‘Maniac’! You don’t fuck with that kind of star power! And you make sure his dressing room has 16 gross of marshmallow Peeps, just like he asked for. I go in that room and there’s one less Peep than that, so help me God, heads will roll!”

Hey, Marlins, wanna know why your organization is a sports punchline? Start with crap like this.