Making a statement in San Diego
Let’s catch up on a big weekend
The Mets visited the much-hyped San Diego Padres the last four days, and played without many of their starters (a familiar refrain by now). But after losing the first two games in competitive fashion Thursday and Friday, they bounced back with wins on Saturday and Sunday to salvage a split, taking yesterday’s affair by a 6-2 margin.
We’ll catch you up on all of it. Plus, we’ll give you the inside scoop on the Mets’ firing of Carlos Beltran last year (with a special excerpt from the upcoming book Cheated, by SNY’s Andy Martino).
But first let’s recap yesterday’s action.
⚾️ IN SHORT: Marcus Stroman pitched into the 7th inning, allowing just a lone unearned run; the Mets’ bats came alive on homers from Dom Smith and James McCann; and the bullpen kept its usual dominance going, for a 6-2 Mets win. The moral of the weekend: With this pitching, the Mets may be able to hang with any team in baseball.
🔑 KEY MOMENT: With the bases loaded with Padres, one out in the bottom of the 4th, and the Mets hanging on to a 2-0 lead, Brandon Drury executed this dazzling double play to get Stroman and the Mets out of the inning unscathed:
❶ STRO HUGE AGAIN: It’s time to talk about what Marcus Stroman has meant to this club. Remember, it was far from assured that the free agent would even return to Queens, before pleasantly surprising New Yorkers by accepting the Mets’ qualifying offer. Then, when potential #2 starter Carlos Carrasco got hurt and other potential #2 Noah Syndergaard had complications in his return from injury, the Mets’ only prayer was for Stro to fill that #2 role. Well, all he’s done since then is deal. Yesterday the Long Island native delivered 20 outs against a quality team, striking out 7 and surrendering no earned runs. After Jacob deGrom, Stroman might be the runner-up for Mets MVP.
❷ LOOK AT McKINNEY: Due to rampant injuries, Mets acting GM Zack Scott has been forced to troll through dumpsters looking for human beings that can impersonate major leaguers — and let’s face it, most of these efforts have been underwhelming (thank you for your service, Cameron Maybin). But it appears the Mets may have something in outfielder Billy McKinney, who’s flashed some power, speed and glove, and a general ability to be part of big innings. Yesterday, the former Brewer went 2-for-5 with a run and an RBI, to up his OPS as a Met to .900 over ten games.
❸ McCANN HAS FLIPPED A SWITCH: While Francisco Lindor’s struggles got most of the spotlight, the other big free agent acquisition James McCann also got off to a horrid start — to the point where backup catcher Tomás Nido was the clear choice to start. But all of a sudden (maybe it was the talk of his role being downgraded; or the rest that came with his role being downgraded), McCann is smacking the ball, including a 2-run homer yesterday to put the game away. In June, his triple slash is .357/.857/1.214. And he’s got an .804 OPS going back 28 days. If he can keep that up all season, while gunning down runners, the Mets would gladly sign up for that.
👿 PETE’S REVENGE: Remember in 2019 when the two hot NL rookies were Pete Alonso and San Diego’s Chris Paddack — and the Padres pitcher said he was “coming for” Pete, and had his sights set on Rookie of the Year? That didn’t work out so well for Paddack. And neither did yesterday’s game. In addition to taking the loss, he surrendered a key RBI single to the Polar Bear with one out in the 6th to put the Padres behind 3-0, a deficit from which they would never recover.
🧑🏫 SOUND SMART: Francisco Lindor seems to be coming around to his usual form. According to Baseball Reference, over his last 26 games before yesterday, he put together an OPS of .822. His career OPS? .822.
⏭ NEXT UP: In theory, the Mets should be headed for a much easier time tomorrow, when they go from the juggernaut Padres to a two-game set against the lowly Baltimore Orioles (with a day off today, in between). But you know how baseball can be. The Mets will complete a 9-game, 10-day, 3-city road trip against the 21-38 Orioles, with a chance to end the trip 6-3. They took 2 of 3 in Arizona, and split 2 of 4 in San Diego, for a 4-3 trip so far.
MATCHUP: After tonight’s off-day, the struggling David Peterson (1-4, 5.89 ERA) will look to right the ship tomorrow against lefty Bruce Zimmerman (3-3, 4.96 ERA).
🗒️ STANDINGS: The Mets remain in first place by 3.5 games, after Atlanta also won its second straight. Just as important, they showed they can keep up with a really good team, after salvaging a split with San Diego, who has the second most wins in the National League.
🍎 HISTORICAL: Jacob deGrom was obviously filthy again on Saturday, throwing seven more shutout innings and fanning 11 Padres. After the mind-blowing outing, deGrom’s 0.62 ERA is the lowest through a starter’s first nine starts since 1913. How much is he dominating this season? Take a look:
🟡 CAUTIOUS: Even though Jonathan Villar (right hamstring tightness) received four at-bats this weekend, the Mets are being cautious in ramping him back to an everyday role: “We don’t want this to be another McNeil,” manager Luis Rojas said in reference to McNeil’s hamstring injury turning worse after being rushed back into the lineup.
🎭 MASKED MAN: Kevin Pillar has gotten used to wearing his protective mask while playing defense, but he told reporters over the weekend that opposing fans haven’t been so kind about it: “People are rude and people are mean, people come to the games and feel entitled to say what they want to say. I would say it’s all in good fun,” Pillar said [via the NY Post]. “But it’s kind of sad at some point. You buy a ticket, you say what you want to say. Nobody has really crossed the line quite yet.”
🤕 NO PROGRESS: J.D. Davis (left hand sprain) is wearing a splint and doesn’t appear close to returning. Meanwhile, Brandon Nimmo (left index finger) is still not swinging.
🏥 REHAB GAMES: Luis Guillorme played both third and second base for Syracuse this weekend, as he progresses back from his oblique injury.
✍️ SIGNING: The Mets are reportedly signing outfielder César Puello to a minor league deal, per Tim Healey. He will join Triple-A Syracuse. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he was once a touted prospect in the Mets system from 2007-2015. He’s since bounced around minor league affiliates, most recently playing for the Red Sox (5 games) and their Triple-A Affiliate this season, where he slashed an unimpressive .158/.370/.184, before being released last week.
🔁 TRADE: The Mets traded minor league catcher Bruce Maxwell to the San Francisco Giants for cash. Maxwell, an African-American whose father served in the Army, made headlines while playing in Oakland when he became the first major leaguer to kneel during the national anthem. He only had 31 plate appearances as a Met in Syracuse.
💉 VACCINATED: 76% of the Mets’ Tier 1 personnel is now vaccinated, per Tim Healey. They need to reach 85% to operate under looser protocols.
The Never-Before-Told Story Behind Carlos Beltran’s Firing as Manager
From Andy Martino’s new book, Cheated: The Inside Story of the Astros Scandal and a Colorful History of Sign Stealing
Jeff Wilpon had called the commissioner’s office on Monday [Jan. 13, 2020] asking for a meeting, but the league, inundated with the Astros’ fallout, couldn’t get the sit-down on the calendar until Wednesday morning.
When the appointed time arrived, Wilpon and [then-Mets GM] Brodie Van Wagenen sat down at MLB’s offices on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan and set about learning why [commissioner Rob] Manfred had chosen to make Carlos Beltrán the lone player named in his report.
As they quizzed league officials about the investigation, the Mets’ owner and GM heard their fears realized: Their manager had been deeply involved in the cheating, and in fact was a leader of it.
MLB had many details and testimonials to prove this. Had Beltrán been a coach and not a player in 2017, his punishment would likely have been severe.
Wilpon and Van Wagenen left the meeting and went straight to the airport, where they boarded a plane bound for Florida. They had to sit down with Beltrán and decide if they could trust him.
As he mulled the decision, Van Wagenen worried about the judgment Beltrán showed in speaking to a reporter while the scandal was breaking, and in his ability to lead the clubhouse in the aftermath of the scandal.
His star pitcher, Jacob deGrom, and his closer, Edwin Díaz, had both suspected that they’d been victims of electronic sign stealing the year before. DeGrom, in particular, had been very angry about it. The Mets’ front office still remembered the day in May when, after a bad start at Dodger Stadium, deGrom and Van Wagenen had personally scoured the ballpark for hidden cameras. They couldn’t prove that the Dodgers were cheating but knew that they resented the concept of electronic sign stealing.
Now Beltrán was going to manage deGrom? Or pitcher Marcus Stroman, who was already tweeting criticism of Cora to his sizable following? The path forward seemed like a minefield.
Upon arriving in Port St. Lucie on Wednesday afternoon, Wilpon and Van Wagenen summoned Beltrán to a meeting at the team’s office. They wanted to look him in the eye and hear his side.
The group, joined by assistant GM Allard Baird, met for nearly four hours. At first, the vibe didn’t reassure anyone.
Beltrán was quiet and seemed evasive, back in his shell.
The Mets officials in the room needed to feel a sense of connection with Beltrán, and for an hour or two, they weren’t getting it. They pressed him on how difficult it would be to continue as the leader, and didn’t sense that Beltrán agreed, or necessarily understood the scope of the problem.
Finally, Beltrán warmed up and conceded that some of what he’d done in Houston was wrong. Like Cora, he told his bosses that it would be hard to move forward and not be a distraction from the team and its players. But he wasn’t nearly as resolved as Cora about leaving.
Beltrán went home. Van Wagenen, Wilpon, and Baird continued to talk, tossing back and forth the pros and cons of dismissing or retaining Beltrán.
They loved the version of Beltrán who had resurfaced midway through the meeting, but couldn’t be sure that the less-engaging guy, the one who had first walked into the room, wouldn’t emerge again with the team or the media. And they hadn’t been satisfied that they were safe from further details emerging about Beltrán and the Astros’ cheating.
As midnight drew closer, the group was not near a decision.
“All right,” Wilpon said. “Why don’t we sleep on this and reconvene in the morning.”
He drove home, then tossed and turned until rising to work out five hours later.
While the front office met that night, Collins called Beltrán at home.
“Are you okay?” he asked again.
Beltrán was friendly but short with his answers.
“There’s a rumor going around that you resigned. Is that true?”
“Nope,” Beltrán said.
Collins, worried for his buddy and upset on his behalf, went to bed fearing the worst.
Early Thursday morning, Van Wagenen called Collins.
“Can you come over to the complex?” the GM asked.
He wanted to consult as many people as he could before making such a significant decision. He’d already been to the commissioner’s office and spoken with his longtime friend (and now former Astros manager) A. J. Hinch, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, and many others.
“Do you think this can end?” Van Wagenen asked when Collins arrived. “Do you think there is anything he can say to make this better?”
He and Wilpon, clearly still agonizing over what to do, grilled Collins on how keeping Beltrán might play out publicly.
“If you’re the manager here, how would you answer these questions?” Van Wagenen asked.
Collins said that he would begin a news conference by apologizing to the New York Post reporter to whom Beltrán had downplayed the scandal.
“Just tell him, ‘I’m sorry, I just should have said no comment,’” Collins told the bosses. “Then say, ‘The report is out, I’m sorry it happened.’ And then move on.”
Collins left, suspecting his case for retaining Beltrán had not landed. On his way out, he saw Baird and asked what he thought was going to happen.
“All I can tell you, Terry,” Baird said, “is that there’s nothing to worry about—yet.”
At 9:30 a.m., the team officials met again with Beltrán. This time it was quick. After all the agonizing and lost sleep, no one could see a smooth way forward. The Mets felt they had to move on.
Beltrán wanted to prove that he could be a good manager and was more than just a talented athlete—he was a smart baseball man. But he was beginning to agree with the team officials who worried that the scandal would be a distraction, both in the media and in the clubhouse.
With his shoulders still sagging and his smile nowhere to be found, Beltrán agreed to leave a job he was never able to start. It was clear to him that he didn’t have much of a choice anyway, as the Mets seemed ready to move on.
Everyone in the room stood, shook hands, and parted in order to finalize details and compose their respective public statements.
Beltrán went home to Jessica in disbelief. He still wanted to manage the team.
Van Wagenen and Wilpon organized a conference call with the media to explain themselves and began to discuss how to approach the nearly unprecedented challenge of launching a manager search with less than a month to go before spring training.
Wilpon had to scurry off to an ill-timed obligation, the renaming of a street in Port St. Lucie after Mets icon Mike Piazza. Baseball marched on without Beltrán.
As for Collins, who had been in baseball for nearly fifty years and loved Beltrán more than nearly anyone he’d met in the game?
He went home that evening, had a few drinks, and picked up the phone when a friend called. In a rage that built as he spoke, Collins vented about how the sport had screwed over his good friend.
This excerpt is from Cheated: The Inside Story of the Astros Scandal and a Colorful History of Sign Stealing by Andy Martino, published by Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Andy Martino. For more information and to order a copy, please visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or wherever books are sold.
⚾️ Seattle outfielder Jarred Kelenic is mired in an 0-for-39 slump. We just thought we’d mention it.
⚾️ The Red Sox swept the Yankees over the weekend. It’s Boston’s first sweep in the Bronx since June 2011.
⚾️ The Phillies-Nationals game at Citizens Bank Park was delayed for over 20 minutes when the netting behind home plate fell down and had to be put back up. The Phils beat the Nats 12-6.
🔗 Mets' chemistry keeps team afloat amid injury adversity: 'We just have a great vibe, honestly, in the clubhouse', by Garrett Stepien, SNY: “‘We just have a great vibe, honestly, in the clubhouse,’ said Stroman (5-4, 2.41 ERA), who pitched 6 2/3 innings and yielded San Diego (36-25) to one unearned run on four hits. ‘It's truly an internal clubhouse and we never get too consumed or care about anything that's happening outside on what's happening in the clubhouse. Everyone allows each other to be unique, to be the individual. Whatever anyone needs to do to put themselves at the highest level, we're very open to that.”
🔗 Luis Rojas’ role in Mets’ success should not be underestimated, by Steve Serby, NY Post: “No one is saying he could one day be The Next Miller Huggins. Or The Next Gil Hodges or Davey Johnson. He is still learning on the job, still learning how to handle a pitching staff, still learning how the big boys are expected to do it. Still two games under .500 at 55-57 since inheriting the job that belonged to Carlos Beltran until the Astros sign-stealing consequences doomed him… But in the meantime, do not underestimate the job he has done this season.”
🔗 Luis Rojas on the Mets’ strategy and philosophy for keeping players fresh, by Deesha Thosar, NY Daily News: “Rojas said he relies on a team of expert sports scientists to alert him when players need rest days. Jim Cavallini has been the Mets’ director of performance and sports science since January 2018. Cavallini is assisted by several others in his performance department, tasked with the process of keeping track of players’ in-game workload and strength and conditioning routines. … So, while the random days off for sluggers like Alonso and Smith in an exciting series against a top team like the Padres may be frustrating to fans, it’s all part of the Mets’ plan to keep their players as healthy and fresh for as long as possible.”
And… catcher Tomás Nido has this reply to a Dodgers fan asking if Jacob deGrom uses foreign substances:
Dave @DoyersDaveJacob Decheats or since it’s not Bauer or Cole, we don’t care? Lol https://t.co/XWG5lK99GV
Thanks for reading! Follow us on Twitter for regular updates until tomorrow’s newsletter.
And please check out our newsletter about the Knicks, too.