We’ve reached the halfway point of the 2011 New York Metropolitans’ baseball season, chronologically, if not statistically. The Mets sent two players to the game, one of which will play – a commendable showing for a team which had been predicted to act as the spittoon of the NL East and began the year five up-thirteen down. It’s been an interesting ride, I think best told in the narrative you’ve – hopefully! – read right here.
It all started in mid-October, amid the bunting and circumstance of the 2010 post-season, when the Mets’ owners, Fred and Jeff Wilpon (he said with a straight face) made what could be a franchise-altering announcement, the hiring of veteran miracle-worker Sandy Alderson – in the current argot, a “game-changer.” It was pretty universally praised as the best hire they could have made (face still straight.)
Once Alderson moved into his Citi Field office, he bought in some old friends: J.P. Ricciardi, erstwhile Toronto GM, and Paul DePodesta, late of the L.A. Dodgers. Ricciardi was brought on to oversee the major league and business aspects of the operation, DePodesta to handle the scout/drafting/player-development wing of the building. Speculation then ran rampant in the blogosphere and MSM as who would succeed Jerry Manuel as the field boss of this rag-tag crew. From a field that included fan fave Wally Backman, Clint Hurdle and other in-house candidates Bob Melvin and Chip Hale, Alderson finally settled on dark-horse Terry Collins just before Thanksgiving.
With the front office and field staff firmly in place, it was time for the winter meetings, where Alderson dazzled us all by doing…nothing. Basically. Oh, he came away from Orlando with a couple of Rule V players, Brad Emaus and Pedro Beato, but not much else to show for the trip. And this was a good thing.
(As an aside, right around this time, the good folks here at mets360 took on a new writer)
The winter continued apace, with the usual hot stove stuff: observing rivals’ activity , the annual Christmas party , evaluating talent on hand and signing some new players – not a single “big name” among them. Amid the snows in the Northeast we waited for those magic words: pitchers and catchers report. We looked forward to the kids, looked back at the heroes and started planning our summer.
The major bombshell was that the Wilpons weren’t as financially set as we were led to believe. The announcement that they were looking to take on a partner or partners to help steady their monetary ship just served to confuse matters. Did this mean they didn’t have enough money to sign Jose Reyes to an extension? Would Alderson be able to swing a mid-season trade if the Mets were in contention or would he be hamstrung by a small wallet? It made the arrival spring training all the more imperative: let’s stop all the talk and get ON the field, already!
Spring training, of course, brought with it its own set of actors and story lines: players switching positions, new faces , old faces and speculation. Of course, these being the Mets, there was no small number of clack clouds hanging over Port St. Lucie — the health of Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay; question marks comprising the starting rotation and the guillotines hanging over the heads of Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo. All of this amid much head-scratching and speculation over the ownership mess. The only real surprise of the spring was Collins naming Emaus his Opening Day second baseman.
The Opener final did arrive on April 1 – an uncharacteristic loss – and was followed by two straight wins over Florida, a defeat of the Phillies in their first 2011 visit to Citizens Bank Ballpark, and a near miraculous comeback from seven runs down the next night. People were starting to notice – and the Mets got stage fright. Over their next thirteen games, they posted a ghastly 2-11 mark, causing pundits to put a premature end to the year and we fans to question our own loyalty.
Fortunately for the Mets, the season goes on a great deal longer than eighteen games. Sandy Alderson waded into the situation and dismissed the flotsam that floated north with the team: Blaine Boyer, Chin-lung Hu and the failed experiment, Emaus. Ike Davis got off to a blazing start, and with some deadwood cleared and new growth arrived on the doorstep – Dillon Gee, Justin Turner, Jason Pridie – the team also found reserves of a less tangible nature: some would call it “heart,” some would call it “guts,” some would call it “grit.”
As May dawned, spirits were running pretty high for this scrappy bunch – until the ghosts of 2009 and 2010 swept across the landscape, like persistent rain. Davis and David Wright collided on a pop up which resulted in a lengthy trip to the DL for Davis (he’s still there). Two weeks later, Wright was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his lower back and he went on the Disabled List (he’s still there). You couldn’t say enough about the resilience of this bunch: every time they got close to the brink, they found a way to bring themselves back.
Until the owner opened his mouth again.
Just before Memorial Day, the New Yorker magazine published an interview with Fred Wilpon in which he bemoaned the injury cycle of his team, tried to slag his best player (impending free agent Reyes) and take himself to task for giving big money to Beltran back in 2005. Then, two days after that, it was announced that they’d found their partner at long last – hedge fund manager David Einhorn, who graciously agreed to pony up a cool $200 million for 35% of this limping operation. The details are still being hammered out at this writing, but it looks like Einhorn will add his name to the door by early August.
June had Terry Collins show the fiery side of his personality – and gain the respect of the fans in the process. After a lackluster performance against Pittsburgh, Collins closed the door and aired the team out. He did it succinctly, eloquently and unambiguously: when it was over, everybody knew what he meant. Well, the alarm apparently went off because the team then went on a 16-10 tear through June, which found them peaking their head above .500 for the first time since April. June also saw the engines rev up to put Reyes in the All-Star game as a starter. Jose made up a half-million vote deficit to finally pass Troy Tulowitzky on the Friday of July 4th weekend.
Just in time to tweak his hamstring and take his turn on the DL.
And yet, here the Mets sit at the break, one game over .500 having come off a 4-3 West Coast swing – a respectable showing for a team even at full strength. So far, 2011 has been quite the thrill ride, no?
PS — I’m making my first 2011 foray into Citi Field this coming Friday (7/15). Vs. the Phillies. On Fireworks Night. I may put in for combat pay… I’ll file a full report next week.