Remembering Bartolo Colón’s Impossible Blast

Remembering Bartolo Colón’s Impossible Blast

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It is one of those moments that will live in baseball lore forever.  You remember where you were, what you were doing, and maybe even what the first words out of your mouth were.  On May 7, 2016, New York Mets’ pitcher Bartolo Colón stepped into the batter’s box at Petco Park with a .089 career batting average.  What happened next?  Well, let’s just say Colón’s helmet flew off, but not because he struck out.

Except for spending half of the 2002 season with the Montreal Expos, Colón played his previous 16 years in the American League before signing with the Mets in 2014.  Pitching in the American League obviously means you do not focus on hitting because of the designated hitter.  Before joining the Mets, Colón registered only 104 plate appearances, which produced 10 hits and 56 strikeouts.

Colón put on a show in every single one of his at-bats in Queens.  Even though most of his at-bats resulted in his helmet flying further than the ball, Mets fans adored Big Sexy’s hefty swings and misses.  Despite all of Colón’s flails at the plate, he smiled through them all.  More importantly, baseball fans knew that if he ever made contact, Bartolo Colón could provide some serious thunder.

Photo Credit: Bleacher Report
Initially, there was anything but thunder in San Diego on May 7, 2016. A picture-perfect, 60-degree evening saw 41,028 fans in the stands at Petco Park.  On the mound for the Padres was their $75-million-dollar man: James Shields.  “Big Game James” as he was called did not put on a memorable performance, but only if you are a Padres fan.

Yoenis Céspedes opened the festivities with a two-run home run in the first inning.  Little did anyone know; it was not the only two-run bomb they would see that night.  As the game moved to the top of inning number two, the Mets’ lower part of the batting order looked to extend their 2-0 lead.

After Neil Walker lined out and Asdrúbal Cabrera grounded out, Kevin Plawecki doubled to center field.  Most Mets fans were probably happy solely because it brought up Colón, which meant the pitcher’s spot would be cleared and the top of the Mets’ lineup would lead off in the third inning.  No one knew what was about to happen.

A Bartolo Colón at-bat was a roll of the dice.  Sometimes Colón took three fastballs right down the middle and went back to the dugout.  Other times Colón went up there hacking viciously, and this was one of those times.

Colón calmly took the first pitch for ball one and then the second pitch for strike one.  Looking to get ahead in the count, Shields figured there was no harm in grooving another meatball over the dish with Colón in the box.  Well, Colón sent Shields’ poor little meatball flying 365 feet.

Just about as iconic as Colón’s clout was Gary Cohen’s call on PIX11.  The impossible had truly happened.   Colón homering was remarkable enough, but he also became the oldest player in Major League history to hit his first career home run.  At 42 years old, Big Sexy took the record from Randy Johnson.  Johnson was 40 years old on September 19, 2003 when he hit a solo home run off Doug Davis of the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.  

If the night could not get any more memorable, Bartolo’s bomb turned out to be the game-winning hit.  After Colón allowed a three-run home run to Jon Jay in the bottom of the third, he and the Mets’ bullpen held down the fort.  

Runs were not scored again until the top of the ninth inning, when David Wright and Michael Conforto joined the home run parade with back-to-back solo shots.  Jeurys Familia nailed down the 6-3 win for the Mets and Colón with his ninth save of the season.  Big Sexy homered and was the winning pitcher all in the same game.

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If 2021 is in fact the last year of pitchers hitting in baseball, moments like these will be missed.  It does not happen often, but watching a pitcher leave the yard is memorable whether it is witnessed in person or on television.  

 Bartolo Colón’s at-bats used to be comedy, but like a shooting star, his bat struck baseball.  So next time you watch Bartolo Colón’s hitting highlights, just know that all those flails and flying helmets paid off.  To quote Gary Cohen, “You knew if he ever made contact in just the right way he was strong and enough to do it, and now Bartolo has brought down the house.”

Jacob deGrom: The Master of his Craft

Jacob deGrom: The Master of his Craft

Photo Credit: USA Today Sports

If your home fans are chanting “M-V-P!” in April, you know you are doing something right.  Citi Field was the site of yet another gem by Mets’ ace Jacob deGrom on Friday night.  Facing off against the rival Nationals, deGrom made the art of pitching look like a simple game of catch with Tomás Nido.

The Mets came into Friday’s game limping after getting swept three games by the Cubs at Wrigley Field.  A part of an ace’s job in a starting rotation is to be the stopper, and deGrom was that and then some.  With a heavily taxed bullpen behind him, deGrom gave his relievers a night off in dominant fashion.

If you are someone who likes good pitching and quick games, I hope you did not turn on the television or arrive at the ballpark late.  In front of 8,130 fans at Citi Field, deGrom mowed down the Nationals’ lineup one by one while setting multiple records in the process.

Coming off back-to-back 14-strikeout performances against the Marlins and Rockies, deGrom continued his wizardry on the mound for a third consecutive outing.  At least two of deGrom’s three outs each inning came by way of a strikeout in six of his nine innings of brilliance.  Only one question remained.  Would the Mets’ offense provide the King of Queens with run support?

As the saying goes, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.  After J.D. Davis was hit by a pitch and Jeff McNeil walked, deGrom followed that saying to the letter.

A two-run single from Brandon Nimmo put the Mets up 3-0, which by deGrom standards is a boatload of runs.

Taking the lead with him to the mound for the first time in the sixth inning, deGrom made three runs look like 20.  The Mets’ ace kept the ball out of play for two innings in a row.  deGrom’s fielders behind him were probably stretching right along with the fans in the middle of the seventh, as deGrom struck out the side in both the sixth and seventh inning.

deGrom’s six straight strikeouts gave him a career high 15 and cemented him in baseball history as only the third pitcher in Major League history to strike out 14 batters in three straight starts.  The other two?  Pedro Martinez in 1999 and Gerrit Cole in 2019.

deGrom’s 14th strikeout was a two-sided record setter as it also put him past Shane Bieber and Nolan Ryan for most strikeouts in a pitcher’s first four starts of the season with 49.  Of course, deGrom notched season strikeout number 50 one batter later for his 15th of the night.

Those at Citi Field, including Steve Gelbs, could not believe what they were witnessing.  “I mean it’s really just stupid at this point. These are MAJOR LEAGUE HITTERS.”  Gelbs tweeted after deGrom stuck out the side in the sixth inning.

With the deGrominator in cruise control, the Mets padded their cushion.  An RBI single from Dominic Smith made it 4-0 and Nimmo put the icing on the cake an inning later with a two-run shot.  You would think Nimmo’s home run energized the crowd the most in the bottom of the eighth, but it was deGrom stealing the show once again.

deGrom’s appearance in the on-deck circle and subsequent second hit of the night had Mets fans in a frenzy.  Bowing down with approval, the “M-V-P!” chants rang throughout the ballpark once again as deGrom raised his season batting average to .545.

The ruckus cheering resumed as deGrom took the mound for the top of the ninth.  The good news?  deGrom set down the Nationals one, two, three as expected.  The bad news?  He had to settle for 15 strikeouts as each Nationals hitter managed to make contact.  deGrom produced three straight groundouts to complete his 109-pitch, two-hit, 15-strikeout masterpiece in the 6-0 Mets win.  By the way, only 25 of deGrom’s 109 pitches were balls.

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In an accomplishment not thought to be possible, deGrom managed to lower his microscopic ERA of 0.45 to 0.31.  To put that in perspective, deGrom has more RBI, two, than earned runs allowed this season, one.  And if anyone cares, deGrom improved his record to 2-1 on the season.  But we all know wins do not reflect this man’s level of mastery on the mound.

deGrom’s follow-up act will come tomorrow night against the red-hot Red Sox at Citi Field who are averaging over five runs per game on the young season.  Thankfully, the game is not at Fenway Park, which allows deGrom’s sizzling bat to be in the Mets’ starting lineup.

Pavel Buchnevich’s Birthday Bash

Pavel Buchnevich’s Birthday Bash

Photo Credit: New York Daily News
As the saying goes in sports, it is hard to beat a team three times in a row.  Entering Saturday’s matinee matchup at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers had a chance to pull off three straight wins against the Devils.  New York had won the first two games by a combined score of 7-0 behind back-to-back shutouts from Igor Shesterkin.  

With Shesterkin back between the pipes, the Blueshirts got off to a fast start thanks to the birthday boy Pavel Buchnevich.  After the Devils tilted the ice early, Artemi Panarin sauced a perfect pass over to Buchnevich to give the Rangers the early 1-0 lead.

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Buchnevich’s 17th goal of the season tied him for the team lead with Chris Kreider, a team lead Buchnevich would take sole possession of just over four minutes later.  After Ryan Strome potted a five on three power play goal to make it 2-0, Buchnevich finished the five on four portion with tally number two on the afternoon.  
Photo Credit: San Diego Tribune
The Rangers appeared to be running the Devils off the ice again after a Panarin goal, but Michael McLeod put New Jersey on the board for the first time in the three games to make it 4-1.  McLeod’s seventh of the season snapped Shesterkin’s shutout streak against the Devils at 199:23. As the game moved into the third period, the Devils kept charging in an attempt to come back from down 4-0 and put a crimp in the Rangers’ playoff chances.

Gray hairs were growing on kids’ day at the Garden.  Back-to-back goals from P.K. Subban and Yegor Sharangovich cut the Rangers’ lead to a skinny goal.  The Rangers had relied on their offense in their 4-2-0 start against the Devils in this season where teams only play regional rivals.  It was the Rangers’ young defense and goaltending that held off the Devils’ barrage in the final frame.  Shesterkin made 10 saves on 12 shots while the defense came up with six blocked shots.

The defensive effort led to the ultimate birthday gift for Buchnevich.  In the final minutes, Lindy Ruff pulled goaltender Aaron Dell for the extra attacker.  Mika Zibanejad gift-wrapped a pass which Buchnevich deposited into the empty net to complete his first career hat trick.  Another empty netter from Kreider sealed a 6-3 victory for the Boys in Blue.  

Buchnevich became the 14th player in NHL history and the first Ranger to tally a hat trick on his birthday.  The last player to accomplish the feat?  Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson only nine days earlier on April 8 in a 7-1 win over the Red Wings.  Buchnevich also joins Wayne Gretzky, who did it twice, as a skater who netted three on his special day.  Any time you can put yourself in the Great One’s company, it is worth bragging about.             

Birthday hat tricks are a nice present to give yourself, but there is a greater gift Buchnevich could receive for his 26th birthday: a contract extension.  Buchnevich has stepped up this season with 40 points in 44 games on 19 goals and 21 assists all while being a +13.  

A restricted free agent at season’s end it would be wise of the Rangers to keep Buchnevich at 4 Pennsylvania Plaza for years to come.  Let us not forget to give credit to coach David Quinn for Buchnevich’s development.  Since Quinn took the helm in 2018, the 23-year-old left-winger has seen increases in ice time and points.

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After only 43 points in 74 games in 2017-18, Buchnevich almost matched that point total the following season with 38 in only 64 games.  After 46 points in last year’s shortened 68-game season, Buchnevich is on pace to surpass that this season with 11 games still left to play.

Wouldn’t you know it, Buchnevich’s birthday pixie dust spread to his line mate Mika Zibanejad, who was celebrating his 28th year around the sun.  The fourth and final game was in Newark on Sunday with the Rangers looking for the sweep.  With the game tied 3-3 with three minutes remaining Zibanejad snapped home a birthday goal of his own on the power play to lead the Rangers to a 5-3 victory.  

As the Rangers head into Nassau Coliseum to face the Islanders four points out of a playoff spot, they will look to ride the birthday heroics of Buchnevich and Zibanejad to their fifth straight win.  For those wondering, the Rangers are celebrating no birthdays today, but Kreider’s 30th birthday is coming up on April 30.  And no, the Rangers do not play on Kreider’s special day so he will have to choose either April 29 or May 1 to come up clutch and celebrate his big day.  Or why not both days?  

The Rangers’ opponent those days?  The Islanders, so any pre or post birthday heroics from Kreider would be crucial in helping the Rangers snag a playoff spot in the East Division.   

The Angels’ Slump-Stopping Bat Pass

The Angels’ Slump-Stopping Bat Pass

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One of the beauties of going to a baseball game is the uncertainty of what you will see on the field. A perfect game, a three-home run, game, or a player reaching a milestone are a few examples of how a plain old regular season game can turn into a memorable one for those in attendance. For the 18,216 fans who came to Edison Field on August 4 to see the Anaheim Angels take on the Kansas City Royals in a battle of 45 and 44-win teams, they witnessed the unimaginable.

The year was 1999 but the Angels were not partying like it. Anaheim was 3-17 in its last 20 games and averaged 2.95 runs per game over that span. Desperate to find a magic potion for his offense’s struggles, manager Terry Collins concocted a rather intriguing plan. The first time through the batting order, all Angels hitters were going to use Jim Edmonds’ bat. Edmonds had been on the disabled list and only played in two games all season, meaning he had not been part of the Angels’ recent offensive slump.

What could possibly go wrong with the bat-sharing strategy? Orlando Palmeiro, who hit .278 in 1999, was the first man up for the Angels in the bottom of the opening inning. Just the Angels’ luck, Palmeiro struck out looking. That quickly became the least of Anaheim’s problems.

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Palmeiro left the bat at home plate for the number two hitter Gary Disarcina, which umpire Tim Tschida thought was Palmeiro’s way of protesting the strike three call. Unaware of the Angels’ one-team, one-bat plan, Tschida ejected Palmeiro from the game.

When Disarcina came to the plate, he and Collins explained the Angels’ strategy to Tschida. Collins, who Mets fans know has a way with words, calmly convinced Tschida to reinstate Palmeiro into the ballgame.

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Anaheim averaged 4.39 runs per game for the season and one inning later, Edmonds’ bat cracked the riddle of the Angels’ offensive woes. An RBI double from rookie catcher Bengie Molina followed by a sacrifice fly from the recently reinstated Palmeiro put the Angels up 2-0.

For those wondering, four out of the first nine Angels batters got hits with Edmonds’ bat, and no Edmonds was not one of the four. Edmonds actually went hitless in four at-bats on the night.

With their lead cut in half in the fourth inning, Molina singled to drive in his second run of the night. Garret Anderson followed with an RBI single of his own to give the Angels some breathing room with a 4-1 advantage.

Anaheim would never relinquish that lead as they went on to hold off Kansas City in a 4-3 victory. Edmonds’ bat snapped the Angels’ offense out of a post All-Star Game slump. With one win in the bank, Anaheim went back to their own bats.

The good news? The Angels exploded for eight runs in an 8-0 shutout of the Boston Red Sox the next night. The bad news? That was the Angels’ last win for over a week. Anaheim went on a seven-game losing streak and ultimately finished the 1999 season with a 70-92 record.

There obviously was not a lot for the Angels and their fans to cheer about in 1999, but one August night gave the fans in the stands one of the more unique sequences to be seen on the diamond. In how many other sports do you see an ejected player get reinstated into the game? None, because the beauty of baseball’s unpredictability simply cannot be matched.

Mets Stumble Onto Opening Day History

Mets Stumble Onto Opening Day History

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Thursday was supposed to be a joyous day for Mets fans. It would have been Opening Day at Nationals Park with ace Jacob deGrom on the mound and the freshly extended Francisco Lindor taking the field for the first time as a Met. And in case you forgot, it would have been the first game in the Steve Cohen era. All this went down the drain game day morning as the Nationals tested positive for COVID-19. The entire three-game series was postponed, which has opened the door for the Mets to make some Opening Day history.

The Mets open their 2021 season at Citizens Bank Park tonight in Philadelphia. What is special about this may surprise you. Tonight, the Mets season opener take place in the City of Brotherly Love for the first time since 1982. I was astonished myself to find out that the Mets/Phillies rivalry has rarely clashed on Opening Day. In fact, the Mets have not opened against the Phillies at home or away since 1998, a game won by the Mets 1-0 in 14 innings thanks to an Alberto Castillo walk-off single.

If you can believe it, the Mets’ 1982 season opener was postponed not once, but twice, and not because of rain. The Mets and Phillies were set to start the season on April 6, but saw their game pushed back to April 7 due to a blizzard. Well, Mother Nature did not bring much better fortune for April 7 as it was the coldest April 7 in Philadelphia records dating back to 1874 at 19 degrees Fahrenheit.

Photo Credit: Philadelphia Inquirer
The third time’s the charm as they say. The Mets and Phillies finally took the field on April 8 in not so pleasant conditions at Veterans Stadium. Temperatures were in the 40s with winds swirling up to 30 mph. It may have been frigid and uncomfortable, but the Mets’ offense was hot against Steve Carlton.

George Foster got the Mets out in front 2-0 with a two-run little league home run in the first inning. Gold Glove second baseman Manny Trillo made a two-base error allowing Foster, who was credited with an RBI double, to score.

On the mound for the Mets was Randy Jones, who made those two first inning runs seem like eight. Jones tossed six strong innings while only giving up an unearned run. Jones in fact was given plenty of support as the Mets bats kept knocking around Carlton.

After a fifth inning RBI double from Bob Bailor to make it 3-0, the Mets big barrage came in the seventh inning with Carlton still in the game.

Walks kickstart most rallies, and that proved to be so in the Mets’ half of the seventh inning. A Hubie Brooks walk was followed by a Ron Gardenhire single, which set the table for pinch hitter Rusty Staub and the top of the Mets’ lineup.

Staub slashed an opposite field single to plate Brooks with the Mets’ fourth run. After a Mookie Wilson groundout advanced the runners to second and third, Bailor struck against Carlton again. Bailor broke the game open with a two-run opposite field single to bring home Gardenhire and Staub’s pinch runner Wally Backman. That would be the last pitch Carlton threw as Warren Brusstar came on in relief and promptly walked Foster which led to a Dave Kingman RBI single. That closed the book on Carlton, who finished his day with a less than stellar line. In 6.2 IP, the Phillies’ ace allowed seven runs, six of them earned, on nine hits with six strikeouts.

Photo Credit: Topps Baseball Cards
Seven runs were more than enough for the Mets’ bullpen. Ed Lynch relieved Jones with two innings allowing no runs on two hits. Neil Allen worked around a Garry Maddox home run in the ninth inning to close out a 7-2 Opening Day victory for the Mets in Philadelphia.

While a 7-2 Opening Day win might not jump off the page right away, it does jump off the page when you discover how unhittable Steve Carlton went on to be in 1982. Carlton would go on to win the National League Cy Young Award and lead the Major Leagues in wins with 23 while pitching to a 3.10 ERA. The cold temperatures must have gotten to the 37-year old, who had an overall brilliant season.

Photo Credit: Baseball Hall of Fame
As for the Mets, they look to begin a brilliant season of their own tonight as Jacob deGrom takes the mound against Matt Moore in Philadelphia. The Mets will also be looking to improve their amazin’ 39-20 Opening Day record. And oh, by the way, Lindor is a career .600 hitter against Moore in 10 career at-bats with a home run.

When the Mets take the field tonight, crack a smile. Not only because the wait for Opening Day is finally over, but because it has been 39 years since the Amazins started a season against their longtime division rival in the City of Brotherly Love. Also feel free to smile because there is no rain or blizzard in today’s Philadelphia forecast.