Mets starting to form 2015 identity
NEW YORK -- Forty-eight hours had passed, and whatever emotions existed Tuesday night when the Mets and Phillies stared at each other and wondered about the intent of pitches that found flesh no longer were evident at Citi Field. A "to be continued" probably was in the recesses of the minds of the two primary participants, Matt Harvey and Chase Utley. No way to know for sure. But in the Mets' clubhouse, even 48 hours later, a little probing uncovered a lingering sense of "don't mess with us."
With the Mets' victory against the Marlins secured, Jon Niese dressed and prepared to depart. He was stopped by an inquiry or two. His locker is adjacent to Harvey's, and from the proximity, Niese can get a gist of what's going on with Marvelous Harv.
"Yeah," he said. "The hitters thanked him."
No parade of gratitude had occurred, but according to Niese, a number of position players made sure to acknowledge what Harvey had done after two Mets, Michael Cuddyer and Wilmer Flores, had been struck by pitches thrown by Phillies starter David Buchanan. No handshakes, chest bumps or "attaboys," but rather subtle signals players send, receive and understand.
Incidents that have prompted less passion have brought teammates closer. A volley of HBPs always has a unifying effect when protection provided. Cuddyer noted that a pitcher who protects his teammates, as Harvey did when he hit Utley and Freddy Galvis, narrows the separation between pitchers and position players that occurs with some teams sometimes. David Wright, seldom one to stir the pot, said he was speaking generally when he noted, "That's what made the Cardinals the Cardinals. If you hit [Albert] Pujols, two of your guys probably got hit."
And Niese, speaking through a sly smile, said, "I think the game has gotten away from that sort of stuff. But it's coming back with us."
No provocative rhetoric, no vow, threats or promises. But the New York Mets pitchers want their opponents to know the outside of the plate will not be shared. Or as Bob Gibson once noted, "The inside half can be yours. The outside half belongs to me."
In the beginning
Lucas Duda clearly is the Mets' most valuable player thus far -- seven extra-base hits, eight RBIs and a few handsome plays at first base in 10 games. Keith Hernandez, who knew his way around first base, was raving about Duda's footwork Thursday but taking little credit for what he saw as conspicuous improvement on the field. Although Hernandez had worked with Duda before and during Spring Training, he said, "Most of what we worked on was his hitting."
In the middle
Is it possible that the center-field defense of Juan Lagares has improved? He seemingly does even more with less effort this season. He is a joy to watch. Phillies coach Larry Bowa is quite impressed.
"I played with Garry Maddux for a long time," Bowa said Monday night. "He won Gold Gloves, and he played real shallow, too. But this kid plays just as shallow and the breaks he gets are amazing. He's the best I've seen."
The upgraded scoreboard in center field at Citi Field has carried images of Kevin James, a big Mets fan, cheering, smiling and wearing a No. 24 Mets uniform. What would Kelvin Torve say?
For the unaware, Torve was a left-handed-hitting first baseman who appeared in 30 games with the Mets in 1990 and '91. He wore No. 24 in eight games in an 11-day sequence in August 1990, causing more than a few double takes from folks familiar with the promise Joan Payson, the Mets' original owner, had made to Willie Mays, that no one would wear the Mets' No. 24 after Mays retired.
That Torve was issued the number was characterized as "a mistake" in 1990 and again Thursday night.
Of course, Rickey Henderson wore 24 when he played with the Mets in 1999 and 2000. Mays had been unaware of Torve, but in Spring Training in 1999, he was made aware of the preference Henderson had expressed to wear the number. Trying his best to sidestep controversy, but wanting to make his point, Mays said, "It's all right if Rickey gets it, I guess. But I know what Mrs. Payson told me, and I don't think they should go against her wishes."
Evidently, Mays was James' favorite player, hence his makeshift Mets uni.
The Mets have hit three sacrifice flies in their 10 games. Three isn't an inordinately high total for 10 games, but it's a positive sign that the Mets have players -- Daniel Murphy, Travis d'Arnaud and Eric Campbell so far -- who can put the ball in the air when a need arises. Earl Weaver preferred the three-run home run, of course, but he always raved about the ability of three Yankees -- Willie Randolph, Roy White and Bobby Murcer -- to produce sacrifice flies.
Interesting -- isn't it? -- that Bobby Bonilla hit 26 sacrifice flies with the Pirates in 1990 and '91 combined when he was a confident, winning player. He hit one in '92 after signing with the Mets and pressuring himself to do more.
Jeff Francoeur, now the Phillies' No. 4 outfielder, smoked a home run at Citi Field Tuesday night. After hitting several batting-practice pitches over the left-field wall that night, he stepped out of the cage, spotted Mets president Jeff Wilpon and said, "You know, if you'd moved the fences in while I was here, I'd still be here."