Unlikely heroes bunt out a win as the Mets celebrate Mike Piazza
This time last year, R.A. Dickey set out to earn his 20th win in front of an enthusiastic crowd. This year, the big milestone on the line was Eric Young Jr’s pursuit of the NL stolen base lead as the Mets attempted to equal last year’s record of 74-88. Backing them up was a sellout crowd that came to see Mike Piazza inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame and stayed to see the Mets close out the season with a 3-2 win.
Mike Piazza evokes memories of home runs, playoff appearances, and black uniforms. There would be none of those for the Mets from here on out, but it’s fun to look back at better days. Denied entrance to Cooperstown this year, the Mets made Piazza the newest member of the Mets Hall of Fame surrounded by his family and the family of Mets greats from years past.
And a whole lot of cameras. Absent were Al Leiter, whose job with MLB Network was keeping him busy as the Indians, Rangers, and Rays fought for the last two playoff spots, and Tom Seaver, who was all but ignored aside from a brief first-name mention from Piazza.
This wasn’t the time to look back at the Mets’ lone representative in Cooperstown as Piazza looks poised to join him whenever the writers get their act together. Piazza graciously accepted the award, spoke highly of his former teammates, and let the fans know how much their support has meant to him over the years. It was a true class act from a Mets great who hasn’t had much to do with the team lately, so this could be a changing of the guard. Next up: Cooperstown and the Citi Field wall of retired numbers.
Terry Collins, not especially beloved by the fans but respected by the players and the front office, entered the game with a two-year contract extension all but finalized. A progression of injuries and a team straight out of Las Vegas certainly didn’t help his case, but it does give some context to three losing seasons with the Mets. Collins does know how to work with people, in stark contrast to his previous managerial roles. In this regard, it makes sense that he made a special trip to the outfield before the game to thank the fans for their support. It was a simple gesture, but it shows that someone in charge of something understands that the team needs the support of the fans. Now let’s see what he can do with some better players.
Eric Young Jr. has proven that the Mets’ lack of a leadoff hitter is a significant deficiency. While I wouldn’t say that he’s proven that he deserves to be a starter in 2014, he should be a safe bet to make the team. Tied for the NL lead in stolen bases, Young put himself in position to get the top spot for himself with a leadoff single in the bottom of the first. To the surprise of nobody, he was off in advance of the first pitch and easily took second for his 45th steal of the season.
Would he stop there? Of course not. A few pitches later, he took third when Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy couldn’t get a good grip on the ball and threw far too late to catch Young. With one out, David Wright popped out to shallow right field, too shallow for a runner to tag up at third and score.
Or so you would think. This should have been an out. Even with Young’s speed, the ball got to Lucroy in plenty of time. Lucroy on the other hand couldn’t get to Young in time to make the tag, catching the ball well into the infield and needing to spin around 180 degrees for any chance at getting Young. Young did his job as a leadoff hitter and put the Mets on the board first. That should have been enough, but this wouldn’t be a Mets game if it were that easy.
Jon Niese, who cruised through the first three innings, started the fourth with three singles. Jeff Bianchi tried to score on the third, but Eric Young Jr. didn’t want anyone else to take away his spotlight, so he fired a throw to Juan Centeno, who made the tag for the inning’s first out. Niese walked Yuniesky Betancourt to load the bases, but he looked like he would escape the inning without incident when Sean Halton hit an easy double play ball. Umpire CB Bucknor thought otherwise and a run scored on the blown call, tying the game at 1.
Terry Collins did his part by arguing the call, but nothing he could say would change the call or, apparently, get him ejected. Logan Schafer followed with a dribbler that nobody could get to, driving in a run to give the Brewers a 2-1 lead. Scooter Gennett hit the fifth single of the inning, but someone didn’t get the memo about not running on Juan Lagares. Centeno tagged Halton to end the inning, for real this time. With the Mets’ bats silent since Young’s leadoff single, that blown call could decide the game.
Vic Black is a contender for high leverage relief appearances next year, so it’s good to see how he reacts under pressure. After an out and a four-pitch walk to Norichika Aoki, Black was determined to undo his mistake via pickoff. A little too determined. On the third consecutive pickoff attempt, Josh Satin couldn’t get a glove on the ball and Aoki took second. With the pressure on (largely due to his own efforts), Black got the next two batters to fly out to end the inning.
Juan Lagares gunned down Sean Halton to end the Brewers’ scoring in the 4th and Lagares came out on top again when their roles were reversed leading off the bottom of the 8th. On a ground ball to short, Lagares reached first safely when Halton couldn’t keep his foot on the bag and made no attempt at a tag. Juan Centeno followed with a perfectly dropped bunt that he was able to turn into an infield single. Milwaukee second baseman Scooter Gennett was caught off guard despite this being Centeno’s second bunt attempt and, after bumping into Bucknor, couldn’t get into a stable position to field the throw. That opened the door for Lagares to score and tie the game at 2.
Juan Centeno, not David Wright or Daniel Murphy as had been rumored, would be the only Met to lifted for a pinch runner, though it wasn’t to give him an ovation. Matt den Dekker took over as the runner at second, which apparently Lucroy didn’t pick up on when he fielded Wilfredo Tovar’s bunt and threw to third instead of first. With the lead run on third and nobody out, most fans would expect a run here. Between the Brewers’ inept defense and the Mets’ absent offense though, nothing was certain. Josh Satin popped out for the first successfully recorded out of the inning, bringing the offense full circle to the player who started the day’s scoring and now had a chance to end it.
Eric Young Jr. didn’t need to do much. A base hit or a deep fly ball would bring den Dekker home. Instead, he smashed the ball into the ground just in front of home plate for a groundout that the Brewers executed without an error. As den Dekker slid across home plate. With the lead secured, Justin Turner and his beard came in to put the Mets’ offense to bed for the year.
Frank Francisco was brought in to be the Mets’ closer, but things didn’t exactly go as planned. After a disappointing 2012, Francisco missed most of 2013 while rehabbing from injury. With the Mets up 3-2 going into the 9th, Francisco was handed his first save opportunity of the year and an opportunity to end his Mets career back on track. His first test would be former Met Carlos Gomez, who popped out to start the inning. A strikeout brought in Aramis Ramirez as a pinch hitter and Milwaukee’s last chance. Ramirez watched as Francisco sent strike three over the plate to end the game. If you picked Frank Francisco to save Game 162 for the Mets, well, you must not follow baseball. Still, that’s the way it happened as we say goodbye to Citi Field for 2013.