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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: July 12, 2024 12:44 pm PDT

BY KEVIN KERNAN

This conversation took place Saturday morning.

For all of the Mets’ June success, a top baseball evaluator sent out this word of caution.

“The only thing that worries me,’’ the evaluator told BallNine, “is that their starters pick and pick and pick and now with all the issues with the bullpen and Drew Smith going down, at a certain point those starters have to go more than 4 1/3 innings. You got to start pitching to contact. You actually have a pretty good defensive team right now, Mark Vientos has gotten better. He has worked at it.’’

Talk about being a soothsayer.

The Mets took a 6-1 lead on the Astros Saturday at Citi Field but once again it was a struggle for a starting pitcher to go deep into a game, and the Mets bullpen fell on its face in the 9-6 loss to the Astros. It was one of those losses that can really hurt a team and it was more proof the Mets need to improve their pitching if they want to make the most of their “OMG’’ success.

The proof is always in the pitching.

One game does not ruin a great month, but Mets pitchers issued seven walks on Saturday. They gave up three walks and two one knee down wild pitches in the three-run eighth as the Mets lost the lead, one run scored on a ball that got past one knee down catcher Francisco Alvarez. Why baseball continues with this failed catching experiment is beyond me. Nerds are stubborn.

Tylor Megill #38 of the New York Mets pitches against the Houston Astros during the fifth inning at Citi Field on June 29, 2024 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Luke Hales/Getty Images)

Only the putrid White Sox have issued more walks than the Mets this season – and that should set off alarm bells for David Stearns. If the Mets are serious about making a run, they need to beef up their pitching at the trade deadline. Part of the problem is the Edwin Diaz 10-game suspension, but this goes much deeper than a suspension for a sticky stuff violation; the Mets need more pitching help.

Mets starters need to attack more. Tylor Megill (5.08 ERA) needed 101 pitches to go 5 1/3. As we soon head to the All-Star break, the other team in New York – the Yankees  –have their own pitching woes, but that is The Story for another day.

The Mets are 20th in ERA at 4.15 and 23rd in starter’s ERA at 4.42. They are 25th in innings pitched by starters. That is a recipe for disaster no matter how much offense you put up –  and the Mets are certainly putting up offense lately. In their first 57 games they had only double-figure hits 16 times, but in their last 23 games they have had double-figure hits 14 times.

Things were looking so bad for the sloppy Astros midway through that Keith Hernandez noted, “I think the Astros need a bed check tonight.’’

Turns out it was the Mets pitchers who put everyone to sleep.

In the Big Picture though, a little more focus and gratitude can go a long way in Major League Baseball and the Mets have made some significant changes that have got them back to .500.

Offensively, they are a different team from the one that stood there frozen on the Statue Strikeout by $341 million shortstop Francisco Lindor back on May 25th in a 7-2 loss to the Giants.

You remember the at-bat, the one where Lindor said he had trouble seeing the baseball out of the pitcher’s hand, so his best Draft Kings bet was to stand like a statue with his bat on the shoulder and hope for a walk.

It didn’t work.

Mark Vientos #27 of the New York Mets reacts after a solo home run against the Houston Astros during the third inning at Citi Field on June 29, 2024 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Luke Hales/Getty Images)

Looking back, that seems to be a turning point for Lindor and the Mets offense. Perhaps Lindor was so embarrassed by the strikeout he decided to get his act together and the Mets have followed suit; Lindor is hitting .340 over his last 25 games.

“Lindor is showing true leadership, and it is leading by example,’’ said the talent evaluator. “He’s playing hard. He went into that leadoff spot and he is running hard, like he did when he was playing for that big contract.’’

Play the game with passion, refuse to give in, work for one another and good things happen if you have the talent. And this is not just a lesson for the Mets, this is for all ballplayers and all teams.

Overall, good things are happening for the Mets. It also helps to call up the right players from the minor leagues like the Mets did in third baseman Mark Vientos – who hit his 10th home run Saturday – and infielder Jose Iglesias, two passionate players. At the end of spring training the talent evaluator told BallNine that the Mets were making a big mistake not bringing Iglesias to Citi Field.

He was right again.

“Iglesias cares,’’ the evaluator said. “He cares about his teammates. Those guys love him.’’

Iglesias has helped spark the Mets “OMG’’ return from the baseball dead. That’s also the name of his song that he performed after the Mets 7-2 win over the Astros Friday night on the field at Citi Field. It has become the Mets mojo and on Friday a local sign-maker created an “OMG’’ sign that is lifted in the Mets dugout by players after home runs. A new generation of sign man for the Mets.

“That stuff goes a long way in building team success,’’ the evaluator said.

OMG stands for Oh My God and it is a song of gratitude written by Iglesias. There also is a line that if something goes wrong, you push that away, push it to the side.

I’m guessing that is the part of the Mets’ new celebration where after a big hit or home run, in the celebration with teammates, there is always a slap or a swipe of the hand going away from the body, perhaps representing the pushing away of something negative.

Just push it to the side and re-focus. The Mets will need to refocus after Saturday’s loss.

Celebrate the good times, push the bad times to the side and keep moving forward. That’s what the game is all about.

But this is a great lesson for baseball at any level. Celebrate the good times, push the bad times to the side and keep moving forward. That’s what the game is all about. It’s not about studying your swing on an iPad, 24-7.

This is Generation Tech and baseball is learning to deal with something they never had to deal with before, and that is too much looking at tablets.

It’s not about littering your mind with too many Nerd numbers or pitcher’s tendencies. You must be free and clear thinking in the box and be able to react to the pitch. Hit it where it is pitched.

Angels manager Ron Washington said it best this week when he said of young struggling shortstop Zach Neto. “He was looking at his iPad and I said ‘You are not going to find the answer in that iPad. The answer is you’re swinging and are you are looking at me every time you swing, all you got to do is put the head on the ball’ and he did it,’’ Wash explained in his no-nonsense way. “He did it.’’

Baseball reality is the best teaching tool, not an iPad. As much as the Lords of Baseball want to turn the game into a video game, it is not a video game. It is a game played with heart and toughness, and something else that has been lost, a game where you take advantage of another’s team’s weaknesses on that particular day.

It’s a game of the here and now.

Here at BallNine we have been preaching that for years and baseball people let us know after every column to keep up the fight. Some people are listening. Perhaps the tide is turning a bit.

Focus and play free. That’s baseball, it’s not iPadball.

The Mets have won 17 of the last 22.

All in all, “OMG” is quite the celebration and concept, what a wonderful thought to have gratitude while playing baseball. There should be a lot more of that and not just in the major leagues. At all levels.

And let’s get this straight while we are at it, the game is not played in a batting tunnel or a pitching tunnel, either. It is played on the field. That other stuff is fine and dandy but is not the real thing. That is what I call Bubbleball. You get those metrics in a pristine environment with your personal guru coach by your side, but then you have to go outside and make it happen in the real baseball world. The Nerds think the game is easy and anyone can play anywhere.

Ballplayers sometimes get a little too “Woe is me” and forget they are playing a kids’ game -and that so many of them are being paid millions and millions in the process.

This “OMG’’ process takes the pressure off a bit and allows the player to be himself and do the best that he can do in the moment and not try to do too much. It also makes you responsible for your actions.

That right there is the essence of baseball. In Lindor’s case he is no longer swinging from the heels on every single pitch. He is at leadoff, a good move made by Carlos Mendoza and staff, and he is approaching his at-bats like a leadoff hitter, not a little guy who is trying to be a slugger. He is aiming for doubles and not home runs and has hit 11 doubles in June.

The shorter swing is working; and that is something I have been imploring Lindor to do for two years. I also like that Lindor is extremely focused at the plate and in the field. In the past at shortstop, after an opposing hitter reached second base, you could count the seconds before Lindor would be over there laughing and joking with the opponent no matter the situation in the game.

I said that Lindor was a talk show host playing shortstop.

He has toned that down tremendously and is focused on his teammates and the play at hand.

Tyrone Taylor #15 of the New York Mets reacts with an OMG sign after a solo home run against the Houston Astros during the fourth inning at Citi Field on June 28, 2024 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Luke Hales/Getty Images)

The Mets are passing the baton in the batter’s box, too; it’s a beautiful thing and there is no doubt in my mind that is a direct result of listening to J.D. Martinez, someone I always enjoyed talking hitting with and I remember Mookie Betts telling me in the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium when he was with the Red Sox that it was Martinez who helped him so much in becoming a better hitter.

Young catcher Francisco Alvarez is also a difference maker for this team and had his 10-game hitting streak snapped Saturday.

“I’ll tell you what,’’ said one scout who covers the Mets organization. “Alvarez is so bleeping good, it’s unbelievable. He made me a believer. He cares about catching. He cares about calling the game. He cares about hitting. He cares about running the bases hard. His impact is tremendous.’’

Royals star Salvador Perez has been an inspiration to Alvarez. Now only if the Mets would tone down the framing of pitches with men on base.

Getting to .500 was the first hurdle cleared. And as we pointed out a while back, pretty much all the wild card teams are not that good, so there is plenty of room to go up the ladder for the Mets.

In 2024, not just for the Mets but for all teams, the secret ingredient to success isn’t so secret. Play with intensity … and from a pitching standpoint, throw strikes.

The walks are out of control. Make hitters earn their way on base. The walks in the eighth inning by Mets relievers set them up for failure. That needs to be fixed by pitching coach Jeremy Hefner.

“If you play hard, it makes a huge difference,’’ the evaluator said.

Don’t go through the motions. Don’t let down.

The Mets do not have enough pitching, they need to add, but they certainly have found something special amongst themselves in the OMG department, and their devoted fans are appreciative. If you want, you can chalk all this recent success up to Grimace throwing out that first pitch, but I think it’s about teammates trusting themselves and each other and being grateful to God to have the opportunity they have, kind of like what Iglesias sings about in “OMG.’’

Now, OMG have your starters go deeper into games and get some more pitching at the trade deadline.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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