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"The Ball Always Finds The Weakest Defender": Reflections on the Mets' World Series Loss

I attended Game 4 of the World Series on Halloween night. It was the second of three must-win home games in a row, and in all of them the Mets held the lead for much of the action. However, this year's surprise entry in the World Series could win only the Friday matchup.

I only get emotionally involved with the Orioles, my passion for over 40 years, but I feel for those who lived and breathed and died with the Mets. The old saying in baseball, "The ball always finds the weakest defender," proved true in the final games of the Mets season.

The Mets seemed in control of the Halloween game once standout rookie left fielder Michael Conforto hit the second of his two solo homers to give the Mets a 3-1 lead after 5 innings. Rookie southpaw Steven Matz, from nearby Stony Brook, showed great poise in
his first Series start (incidentally the only one by a left-hander).

However, the Royals narrowed the deficit to 3-2 entering the 8th inning. Inconsistent Tyler Clippard walked two Royals with one out. Jeurys Familia was called upon for a five-out save. In moments a defining moment of the Series arose.

The ball found the weakest defender as Eric Hosmer hit a spinning grounder towards second baseman Daniel Murphy. It went under his glove for an error that tied the game.

It felt almost inevitable when singles by Mike Moustaka and Salvador Perez gave the Royals a 5-3 lead that shutdown closer Wade Davis cemented with a two-inning save.

Yet there was more pain ahead for the Mets. It seemed unnecessarily cruel when the baseball gods determined that the game would end with Yoenis Cespedes doubled off first base on a weak liner by Lucas Duda to third baseman Moustakas.

A cardinal rule of baseball is: Never be doubled off first base on a ball hit in front of you. Of course, Cuban defector Cespedes listens to the sound of his own drummer. And that gaffe was yet another sharp blow to the Mets' chances.

In Game 5, the Mets held the lead even longer than in Game 4. Curtis Granderson, the Mets' most consistent player all season including the playoffs, gave Matt Harvey a 1-0 lead with a leadoff-home run in the bottom of the first inning.

You can never overestimate the importance of grabbing the lead in any game, especially a season-saving game.

Harvey protected the lead for eight shutout innings and the Mets' disappearing offense did scratch out a second run in the 6th on a sacrifice fly by Lucas Duda.

Yet as we look back in hindsight, the Royals had the Mets where they wanted them. This year's deserving Kansas City champions broke all kinds of records for scoring runs in the late innings.

And sure enough after Harvey talked manager Terry Collins into letting him pitch the 9th inning, Lorenzo Cain led off with a full count walk. Collins left Harvey in and Eric Hosmer followed with a run-scoring opposite field double.

It was now 2-1 with the tying run on second with no one out. Hosmer was pumped because his error had contributed to the Mets' second run.

Collins brought in closer Jeurys Familia. He did get ground balls from the three batters he faced. But with Hosmer on third and one out, the final defining moment of this Series came.

Catcher Salvador Perez, the unanimous MVP for his solid hitting and handling of the pitching staff, hit a grounder between third and short. Either David Wright or shortstop Wilmer Flores could have handled the tricky hop.

Wright fielded it cleanly but turned his back on Hosmer, no speed merchant but a clever baserunner. Wright threw out Perez at first base, but Hosmer broke for home and Lucas Duda's throw was way off the mark. The game was now tied 2-2.

After leading since the first inning, it was a tremendous blow to the Mets. You could almost see the body language sag, maybe most in team captain Wright.

To quote Yogi Berra, it was deja vu all over again. The memory of Halloween night's loss had to be fresh.

They were two outs from victory in Game 1 in Kansas City when Alex Gordon homered off Familia. The pattern was becoming very apparent. Great teams have great mental toughness as well as great talent and the Mets were exposed as having neither.

Once the Royals tied Sunday night's game it seemed inevitable that they would win. And sure enough, they pushed 5 runs across in the 12th. The lead-gaining single was a pinch-hit by reserve infielder Christian Colon who hadn't swung a bat in a game for over 40 days.

Redemption came to the Royals and it was richly earned. They left the tying run on third base in Game 7 last year against Madison Bumgarner and the SF Giants. They dedicated this year to changing the Series outcome and they sure fulfilled their dream.

Now winter has come for those of us who dearly baseball. The Mets provided many great thrills for their fans. Their great young starting pitchers all performed well under the brightest lights. That should augur very well for their future.

But the Mets obviously need better defense and more consistent offense. Murphy and Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes were thoroughly held in check by the Royals. Both may leave as free agents.

Much too early to handicap next season. Every year is always different.

For 2015 let us hail the Kansas City Royals who richly deserved their title.

That's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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Mets, Royals Take Commanding Leads in Baseball Playoffs

I don’t have a real emotional interest in this year’s playoffs though as a New Yorker in the ABY club – Anybody But the Yankees – I am happy for the Mets and their always-agonizing fans. Every win for the Mets in the post-season brings them closer to retaking the city from the Yankees who always claim it as their birthright.

Cubs righty Kyle Hendricks, formerly of Dartmouth College and the Texas Rangers, has the tall task Tuesday night of stopping the rolling Mets and bring the Cubs to a workable 2-1 deficit. No doubt the passionate Wrigley Field fans will be out in force but the Cubs will have to stop red-hot Daniel Murphy.

Murphy is proving the old adage yet again: When you're hot, you're hot. Sunday night his first-inning home run just made it inside the right field foul pole to give the Mets a 3-0 lead that was all they needed in a 4-1 victory.

Murphy has homered off four great pitchers in these playoffs - Kershaw, Greinke, Lester, Arrieta. He has also gone from first-to-third on a walk when the Dodgers failed to cover third base because of an infield shift. It led to a game-tying run in the deciding fifth game of the Mets victory over the Dodgers. His homer won it two innings later.

Everything is going right for the Mets now. Curtis Granderson stole a home run away from Chris Coghlan with a leaping catch at the right-center field wall. Sunday night plate ump Tim Timmons gave rookie righty Noah Syndergaard the extra inch or two on the outside corner all night and the promising pitcher took full advantage.

Perhaps most pleasing to longtime Mets fans is the return of third baseman David Wright. Though he only has two hits so far in the playoffs, they have driven in three runs. And he did not look like a sufferer from spinal stenosis when he made a nice grab and whirling throw for a 5-3 putout Sunday night.

Closer Jeurys Familia has answered every one of manager Terry Collins’ calls. To me Familia is an "efforts" pitcher, who puts maximum exertion into every pitch. I hope Collins doesn’t go to the well too often with Familia but so far so good.

Over in the American League, the Kansas City Royals are on a similar roll. They are unbeaten since facing elimination in Game 4 of the ALDS. They scored 5 runs in the 8th inning at Houston to tie the series, won it the next day, and then the first two games of the ALCS against Toronto.

The Jays will hope that their boisterous crowd at the Rogers Centre – formerly known as the Skydome – bring them back into contention. After being shut out in the first game in Kansas City, Toronto's late season acquisition David Price was working on a one-hit shutout into the 7th inning in Saturday’s Game 2.

Miscommunication on a high pop fly between second baseman Ryan Goins and right fielder Jose Bautista opened the doors. And like against Houston, Kansas City seized the opportunity with a 5-run rally en route to a 6-3 victory.

Kansas City is the one repeat team in this year’s version of baseball’s Final Four.
I look for the defending American League champion to get back into the World Series.

With starting pitching that has been more effective than I thought – notably Edison Volquez and Johnny Cueto – and Wade Davis a rock at the back of the bullpen, the Royals look very formidable. Yet as a fan who hates to see the season end, I do hope that the Blue Jays and Cubs make these series closer.

Once the World Series does end, the parlor game of free agency begins. And this year many playoff stars are eligible for new employment of their choice. Current teams have five days to sign them before they are free to negotiate with any team.

The rather impressive list includes:
Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler
Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes
Royals left fielder Alex Gordon and second baseman Ben Zobrist
Blue Jays left-hander David Price

That’s all for now – Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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