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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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Roughned Odor's Baserunning and More Drama from Baseball's Division Series

As a chastened Orioles fan, I can take a little solace that the Texas Rangers’ surprise rise to the edge of the American League Championship Series may have started when they took three out of four in Baltimore just before the All-Star break.

It was before they made the trade deadline deals in late July that brought them a likely ace in Cole Hamels from Philadelphia, and also in the same deal lefty Jake Diekman who has become a key member of their bullpen. Add in Sam Dyson who came from the Marlins.

I don’t think I ever saw better baserunning than supplied by Roughned Odor in the Rangers’ 14-inning second straight playoff win over Toronto. He went first to third on an infield grounder, and then scored on a short fly ball to center, deking his left hand into home plate and pulling it away and touching it with his right hand before Russell Martin could apply the tag.

Center fielder Delino DeShields Jr. has also provided a lot of spark as the Rangers’ new leadoff hitter. He had three hits in the extra-inning victory and beat out a routine grounder to short for a big insurance run in the 14th inning rally. (Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is still hurting from the injury to his non-throwing shoulder and it may well have affected his throw to first. He certainly has not been hitting with authority.)

Like his father, who had been recruited to play point guard for Villanova basketball, DeShields Jr. before signing with the Montreal Expos, is a great athlete who both Ole Miss and the University of Georgia were interested in for football.

DeShields is only a rookie so it is too early to predict how great his career will be.
He may have a chance, though, to make most people forget that his father’s greatest claim to fame may be that the Expos traded him even up to the Dodgers for Pedro Martinez.

In an age when MLB is drawing more and more players from the international market, the Rangers may lead every team for being a veritable United Nations on the field.

Roughned Odor is from Maracaibo, Venezuela family filled with players and coaches.
Shin-Soo Choo is from Korea, Adrian Beltre and his temporary replacement Hanser Alberto are from the Dominican Republic, and injured ace starter Yu Darvish is from Japan.

There are a lot of home-grown stories on the Rangers including starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo who went to nearby Fort Worth Trimble Tech HS, and reliever Ross Olmerdorf who grew up in Austin TX and went to Princeton.

Arguably the brightest man in baseball, who has worked in Washington, DC as a high-level government agricultural researcher, Olmerdorf has rescued his career by resorting to a Bob Feller-style full windup.

Every playoff season has its own special drama and 2015 is no exception.
Joe Maddon's Cubs used two safety squeeze bunts in a row to stoke a 5-run rally to even up their series with the Cardinals at 1-1. And now the Cardinals must face Jake Arrieta at Wrigley Field. Every pitcher is ultimately hittable but Arrieta is as hot as any hurler in the history of the game.

Best thing about the Cubs is that they are versatile as well as talented and Maddon has them all thinking, "W" for winning and nothing else. When asked in spring training about Cub curses and 106 non-winning seasons in a row, Maddon replied, "I don't vibrate at that frequency."

The Mets’ chance for a sweep on the road against the Dodgers’ great aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke came to a dramatic halt on Saturday night when Chase Utley slid hard into Ruben Tejada at second base, breaking up a possible though not likely double play.

Unfortunately Tejada’s leg was broken by the slide and now Wilmer Flores, the Mets’ better-hitting more defensively-challenged shortstop, takes over that key position. I’ve always liked Flores’ bat and we’ll see how he responds to his big challenge.

Certainly Flores will always be remembered for breaking into tears on the field at the trading deadline in late July when he thought the Mets had sent him to Milwaukee in a trade for former Met centerfielder Carlos Gomez.

It was one of the most touching moments of the entire season and reminded us of how ballplayers, despite their celebrity and great riches, are human beings after all.

In my next post we'll have the answers to these still-unresolved questions:
Can Jake Arrieta lead the Cubs to the edge of the NL Championship Series?
Will the Rangers complete their upset victory over the heavily-favored Blue Jays at their home park in Texas?
Can Houston use home-field advantage to dethrone Kansas City as American League champion?
Will the Mets add to the Dodgers’ recent miseries in the playoffs?

In the meantime, Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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