Link: Gooden remembers Stottlemyre

In an interview with the New York Post, Dwight Gooden shared his memories of the late Mets pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre.

The Mets-Mariano Rivera Walkoff Trilogy

With Mariano Rivera’s well-deserved election to the Hall of Fame, let us remember that he was surprisingly mortal against his rivals from Queens. Rivera was 4-4 with a 3.53 ERA against the Mets in 34 regular-season appearances. He did have 20 saves, (plus two more in the 2000 World Series), but the Mets did walkoff against him three times. Each of the walkoff victories were seven years apart, from 1999 to 2013. Let’s rewind to those special days.

July 10, 1999

It was the second game of a three-game series at Shea Stadium. The game is commonly known as the Matt Franco Game in Mets’ lore, so named for pinch-hitter Matt Franco’s game-winning ninth-inning single off Mariano to win the game for the Mets 9-8. The starting pitching matchup featured Rick Reed for the Mets, and Andy Pettitte for the Yanks.

The game was a thrilling back-and-forth contest with five lead changes. The Yankees hit six home runs in defeat. Mike Piazza’s mammoth three-run homer off Ramiro Mendoza in the bottom of the seventh inning gave the Mets a 7-6 lead, but the Yanks reclaimed the lead, 8-7, in the eighth.

 

That was the score heading into the bottom of the ninth against Rivera. Rickey Henderson started a rally with a one-out walk, followed by a double by Edgardo Alfonzo. Bernie Williams had a chance to catch Alfonzo’s ball at the left center field wall, but missed it. After John Olerud grounded out to first, Mike Piazza was intentionally walked to load the bases.

Mets manager Bobby Valentine sent up the left-handed hitting Matt Franco to pinch-hit for Melvin Mora with the game on the line. After Franco took a borderline 0-2 pitch called low for a ball, he lined the next pitch into right field for a single. Henderson and Alfonzo scored to give the Mets the victory. Pat Mahomes was the winning pitcher for the Mets.

 

May 19, 2006

It was a Friday night, the first game of a three-game weekend series at Shea. The Yankees started Randy Johnson, while the Mets countered with Geremi Gonzalez. Gonzalez was a journeyman pitcher from Venezuela in the last year of a six-season major league career. He made only three career starts the Mets, and this was the worst of them. He surrendered six runs on nine hits in 3+ innings before being removed from the game after a leadoff double in the top of the fourth.

Despite the bad start, the Mets stayed in the game against Johnson. The key blows were a three-run homer by Carlos Beltran in the bottom of the first, and a two-run shot by Xavier Nady in the bottom of the third. Kaz Matsui tied the game at 6-6 with a single to left in the bottom of the fifth scoring David Wright.

 

The score stayed the same until the bottom of the ninth, when Rivera came into a tie game for the Yanks. Paul Lo Duca hit a one-out double, and Carlos Delgado was intentionally walked with two outs to bring up David Wright with runners on first and second. Wright hit it a 2-2 pitch over Johnny Damon’s head and onto the centerfield warning track to drive in Lo Duca for the win.

May 28, 2013

The Mets have by now moved into Citi Field, and this was the second of four straight games the Mets would sweep from the Bombers that season. Unlike the first two games in our trilogy, this one was a pitching duel. Matt Harvey, who was in prime form during his All-Star year, started for the Mets, opposed by Hiroki Kuroda for the Yankees.

Harvey held the Yanks to one run on six hits while striking out 10 in eight innings. However, the Mets trailed 1-0 entering the bottom of the ninth. Rivera, who was in the final year of his career, entered the game looking for the save. This time, Rivera was unable to even record an out before the Mets rallied for the victory.

Daniel Murphy led off with a ground-rule double to left. David Wright followed with a line-drive single to left center to drive in Murphy to tie the game. Then, Lucas Duda ended the contest with a single to right to score Wright and give the Mets a 2-1 win. The Amazin’s had walked off against Mariano Rivera for the third time in his glorious career.

In addition, the Mets defeated Mariano 3-0 in the 10th inning of a game at Yankee Stadium on July 7, 2001. Mike Piazza, Timo Perez and Todd Zeile all had RBI singles against him that day. So, he really was quite human against the Mets, which we are happy to remind you of on this great occasion.

Congratulations Mariano!

Link: Mets legend reveals story behind catch

Ron Swoboda made The Catch to save the Miracle Mets in Game 4 of the 1969 World Series. The Mets won in the 10th inning on a throwing error and went on to capture their first world championship the next day, October 16, against the Orioles.

Link: Kranepool’s Kidney Search

According to a story in today’s New York Post, Ed Kranepool is still searching for a kidney donor. The Post reported, “He was set for a kidney transplant in early January with a longtime friend being the donor, but plans fell through.”

Fractured Prospect

Terry Collins remembers flying back from the team’s complex in the Dominican Republic. It was February 2009, and the future New York Mets manager was feeling hopeful about Fernando Martinez. Collins watched Martinez play pain-free in the first game of a doubleheader before catching his flight back to the States. Maybe, just maybe, this was the turning point in the career of the Mets top prospect.

“When I got off the flight I had a message: he’s hurt again,” Collins shook his head in disbelief.

The injury was not the first Martinez suffered, and in hindsight, wouldn’t be the last. Since signing with the Mets in July 2005, a deal that included a $1.4 million signing bonus, Martinez has been on the disabled list nine times. His afflictions could be tallied by the body part – knee, elbow, hand, hamstring, lower back.

The $1.4 million question became: Could Fernando Martinez stay healthy long enough to play?

”That’s the goal, to keep him on the field,” said Buffalo manager Tim Teufel. “We know he has talent; it’s just a matter of keeping him healthy.”

The Mets and Martinez were hopeful a fresh start would bring good health and good fortune. The following spring, Martinez played in 10 games, batting .333 (8-for-24). Still, the Mets wanted him to prove he could perform at a high level and, more importantly, stay healthy. He carried his hot bat north to Buffalo with a four-hit game the first week of the season. One week later, Martinez was sent back to the disabled list with a sore hamstring.

“It’s not that you doubt the talent,” said assistant GM John Ricco. “It’s getting the [at-bats]. If not, that’s in the equation. Angel Pagan was a similar case. Everybody knew he had the talent, but you start to say, ‘OK, how long can we go?’ At some point he’s going to have to stay healthy.”

“He’s worth every penny,” Sandy Johnson, Mets’ VP for scouting, told the Times. “He’s a complete player.”

Baseball America ranked Martinez the No. 20 prospect. By last season he was at No. 77 on the list and headed south. One injury after another, year after year, deflated Martinez’ stock value. The Wall Street Journal called him “the forgotten prospect … no one is frothing over him anymore.”

“Sometimes I say, ‘Come on, what happened?’” Martinez said. “What happened to me? I play very hard. I’m young. Maybe all the injuries will stop one day.”

The injuries left him hobbled by arthritis in his right knee, a history that presents potential problems in the future. Ken Oberkfell, who managed him in Buffalo for two years said, “It’s been a leg issue with most of the stuff, so it’s slowed down his defensive development and his offensive development. You use your legs a lot to hit and obviously you use your legs a lot to play the outfield.”

“It’s really hard to project what these guys are going to be, whether or not they’re going to stay healthy,” said Paul DePodesta, the Mets’ former vice president of player development and amateur scouting. “To be honest, we’re not real good at it as an industry.”

The waiting game ended in January 2012, when the Mets released Martinez. He never played a full season, at any level, due to recurring injuries. Since making his major league debut in 2009 (at age 20), he Martinez played in 99 major league games, compiling 282 career at-bats and a .206 batting average.

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POST SCRIPT: Martinez was signed by the Houston Astros, where he parts of two seasons before be traded to the New York Yankees. Six weeks after the deal, Martinez was suspended 50 games by the MLB for violating its drug policy. Today he plays for the Estrellas Orientales, the team from San Pedro de Macoris in the  Dominican Republic.

Locker Room Real Estate Values

You can learn a lot about a baseball team from its locker room. The clubhouse is where relationships form, character is revealed and leaders speak out (or not). For the major league rookie, clubhouse real estate is valuable — sometimes priceless. Imagine being the rookie who spent eight months out of the year next to Sandy Koufax? Roberto Clemente? Lou Gehrig? Tom Seaver? These were model athletes, wise and humble men, who used their talent to teach.

Danny Frisella and Tug McGraw were in heated competition for fame and fortune from the outset of the 1972 season. The late Gil Hodges remembers both pitchers begging for their manager to pick them when he signaled to the bullpen. If Frisella was selected, and won the game, McGraw would give Frisella the “cold shoulder.” If McGraw got the nod (and won) Frisella would mimic the gesture.

There is no evidence whether or not the Mets clubhouse manager made an intentional effort to put Frisella and McGraw side-by-side in the locker room, but their adjoining lockers created more fun and competition. The two Mets pitchers would sometimes switch the locker nameplates to appear that the other won the game.

While Frisella and McGraw jockeyed for their manager’s affection, that same season a rookie named Jon Matlack was granted locker space between Tom Seaver and Jerry KoosmanMatlack was named 1972 Rookie of the Year, winning 15 of his 32 starts. He compiled 244 innings pitched, eight complete games and a skinny 2.32 ERA. Coincidence? Possibly. Seaver will tell you, for certain, it meant nothing then and means nothing now.

“Where you lockered really wasn’t that important,” Seaver told the New York Times in 2008. “It didn’t make any difference. Just your own little space; it could have been anywhere.”

For Seaver, locker space was irrelevant. It was a place – and space – where he took out his frustrations after a poor start. “When I make a mistake and beat myself with a bad pitch, then I get kicking mad and go after stools and water buckets,” Seaver told People Magazine.

Other times, Seaver used his locker as a prop. After getting off to a slow start in 1974, a Mets beat writer asked him if he had lost his fastball. Seaver paused, then started rummaging in his locker muttering, “Where are you, fastball? Are you in there somewhere?”

Seaver didn’t need sabermetrics to figure out the 1975 New York Mets were in for a long year. The Mets, a team renowned for their pitching stock, found themselves lacking. That spring, Seaver sat on a stool in front of his locker and looked up at the adjoining lockers. SEAVER. KOOSMAN, MATLACK.

Who are the rest of these guys? Seaver thought.

“That’s Nos. 1, 2 and 3. Where are 4 and 5?”

He rolled his eyes in frustration.

He knew, if something doesn’t change (and it didn’t), the Mets would not compete. The Mets were within four games of the lead in the National League East on September 1, 1975; then the bottom fell out on the season. They finished in third place 10 ½ games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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Seaver’s real estate at Shea Stadium was the site where many of the organizations proudest moments were celebrated. He sprayed champagne over the heads of his teammates in 1969 from that “little space.” Seaver helped the Mets win another National League title from thathole in the wall. He encouraged and mentored Matlack, Jackson ToddBob MyrickGeorge Stone and many others within earshot.

In one respect Seaver is right; a locker isn’t important. There’s nothing glamorous about an athlete’s locker. It’s literally a hole in the wall. For the common man, a locker is a lot like an office cubicle, a place to store your personal effects while you go take care of business. But, location is valuable, sometimes educational.

“I learned an awful lot from having my locker room stuck between Koosman and Seaver,” said Matlack. “”It was a very, very good location to be in.”

Seaver’s locker was physically unique, well, maybe for its modesty. Former Mets beat writer Marty Noble described the space this way: “there was no locker to the immediate left, just a three-foot-wide panel. A trash can was placed there.” Seaver’s “little space” was nondescript. Seaver, himself, was so Seaver was so impervious to his surroundings that, to this day, he is unsure whether he had the now famous locker space his rookie year of 1967.

Over time, Seaver’s locker took on a life of its own. After he we traded in June 1977, Bud Harrelson asked if he could move in. Not happening, said Mets equipment manager Herb Norman. The locker would be assigned to Seaver’s successor, Pat Zachry.

Seaver returned home, and to his “little space” in 1983, then, Ron Darling assumed the space from 1984-1991, followed by David Cone (July 1991-August 1992), John Franco (1992-2003), Steve Trachsel (2004-2006) and Aaron Heilman (2007).

“That locker did have history; more than any other in that place,” said Franco. “Nobody made the kind of history here that Tom Seaver made. It doesn’t matter how long anyone had it, it was always Seaver’s.”

“It doesn’t matter [who preceded Seaver],” added Darling. “It’s his.”

In some ballparks, because of some professional athletes, lockers can become hallowed ground. When Lou Gehrig died, his locker was sealed and sent to Cooperstown. Before Shea Stadium was demolished after the 2008 season, Seaver’s locker was preserved and put on the block for a cool $41,000.

That’s some valuable real estate.

In 1984, the New York Mets were on the rise. Jesse Orosco and Doug Sisk anchored the Mets bullpen on the field, roommates off the field and lived out of adjoining lockers during the team’s championship run in the 80s.

“We’re just a couple of ordinary guys who get along, and have no professional jealousy,” said Sisk. “We’re both fairly serious, but we have different personalities. But we’re not rivals. You can’t be rivals. It won’t work.”

When it does work, the team benefits – at least that’s what Mets manager Terry Collins had in mind when he placed Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey side-by-side in Port St. Lucie. Collins told the media he intentionally put Harvey and Wheeler at adjoining lockers to give Wheeler the opportunity to ask questions and “soak up” the experience like Harvey did last season.

“Having lockers next to each other, we’re both baseball players who have the same mindset,” said Harvey. “Getting along, I don’t think, is going to be very tough.”

Wheeler had prime real estate in Port St. Lucie. Like Harvey in 2012, he will receive a valuable education a lot by watching and listening. Harvey described the experience as “eye-opening.” watching veterans Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey prepare for a major league baseball season.

“That’s something that I’ve never seen,” Harvey told ESPN.com. “Watching the preparation that those guys had in order to throw 200 innings … Sometimes it’s stepping back and realizing, ‘Hey, this is a long process. Throwing until the end of September is a long time from now.’”

The same opportunity to learn and grow await Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.

Spring Training is always an intriguing place for reporters to take stock in how and where players are positioned. The nameplates begin to disappear as February turns to March and the minor league players are dispatched for reassignment. The last days of March mark the time for final cuts. The veteran invited to spring training is playing his heart out and biting their nails in one corner of the clubhouse while the fresh-faced 20-something is bouncing off the walls hoping this will be his year.

As Opening Day creeps closer, locker room real estate values will increase.