Mets pushing pace on bases with Teufel at third
Trust in veteran coach grew as aggressive running took root in Spring Training
NEW YORK -- He had made the final turn, accelerated and headed for home. He was motoring pretty good with a sense of urgency at 12:45 a.m. Wednesday morning. Tim Teufel had left Citi Field for his home in Greenwich 30 minutes earlier, and he planned to return in less than 11 hours. Sleep fast, Timothy.
Busy, busy, busy. These days, third-base coaches have responsibilities beyond relaying signs, directing traffic and offering congratulations to the home run-hitting passersby. (This is the Mets; make that the occasional home run-hitting passersby.)
They work from noon till the ninth -- and beyond when necessary. Thirteen innings Monday night and a lengthy rain delay Tueaday night. And back to work at noon.
"You want to be there if the manager needs you. If he wants to bounce something off you," Teufel said from his car Wednesday morning as he made the return commute. "We [coaches] all come in about that time."
Teufel has been busier than usual of late. Why the Mets scored more runs (seven) in the seventh inning of their just-add-water victory against the D-backs on Tuesday night than they had scored in any home game since April 24! All that windmill action can tax any shoulder. Yet, he was back at the Big Citi seven hours before the third game of the series, looking for ways to add to the workload of his nearly 55-year-old wing.
Coaching third base is a mostly thankless, usually inconspicuous job that rarely is spotlighted unless the desired results are not achieved. A Tuff job in Flushing. Until Eric Young Jr., arrived, the Mets had precious few players who could (A) reach base with some regularity, and (B) run well enough to eliminate doubts in the mind of their third-base coach.
Teufel is in his second season as Terry Collins' "get-on-home" guy, and he's doing his job effectively, squeezing all he can from the toothpaste tube that has appeared pretty flat for most of 80 games.
The run the Mets scored in the ninth inning Monday night, the one that tied the score, was as much a product of Tuff's left-handed windmill as it was of Josh Satin's one-out single and Marlon Byrd's chugging 180 feet. Teufel challenged the D-Backs to make an unflawed relay and tag; they didn't. Catcher Miguel Montero never caught the relay that had arrived at the plate before Byrd.
Teufel made the proper decision and achieved the desired result, as well, though the two are not necessarily linked. John Buck was the on-deck batter; he hasn't been hitting. Jason Kubel, a pedestrian outfielder with an accurate-but-average arm, had been inserted in left field in the eighth after an injury necessitated a change of personnel, and Satin's single was to left. Moreover, Byrd runs well, runs hard and slides harder. And he has a linebacker's body. The circumstances would have favored the Mets had Byrd not hesitated to make sure Satin's ball reached the outfield.
Well before Byrd approached third, Teufel had evaluated the circumstances. The chance of a third straight Mets hit weren't good. Was the chance for a sacrifice fly from Buck any better? Teufel's left arm began windmilling.
"I had no idea where the ball was." Byrd said Tuesday night. "I just picked [Teufel] up, trusted his call and ran as hard as I could."
Operative word: trusted.
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The Mets trust their third-base coach, and that makes life easier for everyone involved. They do because rare are the outs that occur at third base or at the plate. "Less than a handful," is Teufel's open-to-interpretation estimate.
"I feel that they do have confidence in me at this point," Tuff says.
The trust is a byproduct of the success achieved in the aftermath of a push-the-envelope philosophy born in Spring Training. The second half of the Mets' 2012 was unrewarding for a number of reasons. A primary one was that they diluted the meaning of "in scoring position."
"We evaluated after last season and talked about forcing the issue," Teufel said. "If you don't have the horses, you have to play a different game. We don't have five guys hitting 40 home runs each.
"It started with that attitude in the spring. 'Push it. Take advantage of an opportunity.' And now we have a roster of opportunists. Tom Goodwin [first base and baserunning coach] gets them revved up. And the attitude kicks in. We're not a team with great speed, but we can take advantage of another team's outfield if they don't take us seriously."
Teufel recalled a game against the White Sox last week in Chicago. Young scored on Byrd's relatively short sacrifice fly to right in the first inning.
"It looked like [right fielder Alex] Rios wasn't taking EY seriously," he said. "He was kind of flat-footed when he made the catch, so we sent him."
Of course, a decision by Teufel can cost the Mets one of their precious 27 outs. But in some situations that have produced outs, the third-base coach has been right to push his runner to the next base. If he's out, Tuff. Or tough.
Juan Lagares slapped a ball to right field with two out in the sixth inning Tuesday night. A double was a certainty, and with Wright due to bat, stopping at second was expected. But Teufel waved Lagares on, and the inning ended with a tag at third.
At least the Mets were leading.
Wright as the on-deck batter was the one component that troubled Teuful after the game. "They had to make a perfect play to get him, and it was a wet ball," Teufel said. He also noted Gold Glove Award winner Gerardo Parra, injured Monday night, wasn't playing right field; Cody Ross was.
"They made the perfect relay -- two good throws," Teufel said. "But it was justified except for David coming up."
Teufel took responsibility, of course; the play had developed behind Lagares. And the coach will take responsibility for most outs at third and the plate.
"I'll take the blame, not the player," he said. "We want our runners to concentrate on making a good turn and not make judgments I can make. It takes the pressure off the baserunner. If there is a problem, we talk about it quickly and put it to bed. We want our guys focused on forcing the issue."
With few teams "taking infield" -- sessions that include outfield relays -- before games these days, third-base coaches can no longer gauge the arm strength of opposing outfielders without resorting to videotape. So parts of Teuful's extensive preparation for a series is watching tapes to determine outfielders' strengths, weaknesses and tendencies.
"I'd rather see it with my own eyes," he says, "but you don't get much of a chance."
He uses the tools at his disposal and takes calculated chances based on what he has gleaned from his electronic surveillance.
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Teufel's days as a Mets player coincided with the years of Willie McGee, Ozzie Smith and Vince Coleman playing for the Cardinals and running with uncommon speed and unfettered aggressiveness.
"They made us rush every throw. You were always anxious when you played them," he says. "That's what we're trying to develop here: make the other teams rush and play anxious. If that means taking chances, OK. I think it's less than a handful of times we've run into outs at the plate or third so far. And I'm more aggressive now than I was last year."
Teufel is in his 10th season -- eight in the Minor Leagues, where managers routinely work third -- coaching third base. He's made adjustments in his thinking.
"Last year, I was giving some outfielders too much credit," he says, "like they were all Superman."
But now he uses his left arm more than he did.
"I'm a right-handed stopper, (or both hands when I really need to get their attention)," he says. "And I go lefty when I want them to push it. My left arm is ready. When we scored the seven in the seventh [Tuesday] night, it got me loose."
The players have bought into the "push it" philopsophy. And they like the rewards -- more runs, enhanced personal statistics and gift cetificates to Starbucks.
"We have a scale, and once a month, somebody wins one," Tuff says.
And chances are the winner doesn't fall asleep on the bases.