“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
We all feel it. We were all a little sick over the mistakes that cost this team the title and the chance for this great group to put itself up there with ’69 and ’86. We know the mistakes themselves by heart because they were that crushing for us as fans. If Cespedes just makes that catch…if Familia doesn’t hang that pitch for Gordon…if Murphy fields that ground ball…if Duda makes a halfway decent throw to home plate and I don’t have to hear Joe Buck talk about a baserunning blunder by Eric Hosmer as the stellar play it wasn’t (an average throw beats him by a mile)….IF…IF…IF.
All of these moments had their respective impacts on the ultimate failure of the Mets to finish the mission of bringing home a title. However, focusing on each of these individual plays takes away from an underlying problem that was exposed during the World Series – poor decisions made by the dugout hurt the Mets’ chances. Terry Collins didn’t kick any balls in the OF, he didn’t boot any groundballs, he didn’t give up any HRs, and he didn’t make any incompetent throws to home plate. What he also didn’t do was understand his personnel (or the Royals for that matter) well enough to put them in a position to succeed, something that was and is under his control. His players have to execute but he also needs to have the right people in the right spots at the right time.
There are lessons to be learned from every game this team gave away late. The front office obviously needs to take note of the glaring deficiencies that the Royals exposed on the national stage, but it’s Collins that I hope really takes a long look at them:
Game 1 – Before the official lineups were posted online, I was certain that Collins would take advantage of the DH and use it to put his best defensive alignment on the field while keeping his offense intact. This would mean playing Lagares in CF, Cespedes in LF, and Conforto at DH. Yes, Lagares has had trouble against RH hitters, but he had been swinging a hot bat in the postseason. I knew Terry likes L/R matchups for his hitters, but to me this would be irrelevant as his original DH (turned out to be Kelly Johnson) would only get an AB or two before being switched out once Yost went to his bullpen. I couldn’t believe the alignment when it was announced and I’m confident that if Lagares is in CF, that ITPHR is just a fly ball and Gordon’s HR winds up as a meaningless mistake pitch.
Game 4 – Knowing Matz was starting and having Niese and Colon rested, I felt confident that Terry could see what I could – that although Matz has great stuff, his lack of experience had seemed to get him in trouble around the 4th or 5th inning in his playoff outings. Before the game, I figured he’d try to squeeze 5 innings out of Matz if possible (which he did – admirable job by the kid), let Niese and Colon carve up the next 9 outs between them, and then hand it over to Familia. I couldn’t believe Matz stayed in the game after the Royals were starting to get to him in the 5th. He got outs and survived, but they were starting to make solid contact and had already pushed a run in. However, Terry stuck with his guy until he not only gave up a run, but also left the team in a jam. Niese and Colon DID come in and shut down the threat, but their appearances were inexplicably abbreviated. When Addison Reed started the 7th instead of Colon my heart sank again. Not because of Reed, but because I knew Collins was going to Clippard (proven time and time again to be unreliable) for the second consecutive night in the 8th. Leading by just a run, this defied all logic. Once Clippard got in, he did get one out. I tried to calm myself, thinking that as soon as he put the tying run on base Familia would be in…..NOPE. Terry again stuck with him one batter too long, he allowed the go-ahead run on, and only then was Familia brought into a high pressure situation – not just for himself but for the whole team…a high pressure situation that likely could’ve been avoided. We all know what happened next.
Game 5 – Matt Harvey pitched his heart out for 8 innings and gave the Mets everything they could’ve asked for. Some people think Terry should’ve sat him down regardless of how he felt while others think that letting Harvey go out for the 9th was the right call. Personally, my feeling was to let him go out but pull him and go to Familia as soon as a runner reached, regardless of the number of outs. After Terry left him in after the Cain walk (and his pitches looked flat) I started to get that sick feeling in my stomach. Ned Yost might seem like a bumpkin and does have better depth in his bullpen but I’ll give him this over Terry – he doesn’t wait too long to pull a pitcher. AGAIN, Terry waits one batter too late to get the hook. When a guy shows you he just might not have it, you can’t hope and pray he works out of the jam, you get the door slammed shut. In this case, not getting it shut was the coffin nail for the 2015 Mets.
If I could talk to Terry, the things I would want him to take from all of this, remember and apply would be:
- --- In the playoffs, every pitcher has a short leash. You can’t wait until difference-making runs are on base to make a change. It’s better to take a pitcher out one batter early than one batter too late.
- --- Never go with a shaky hand (Clippard) in a pressure situation where every run counts. If you’re forced to, see my second piece of advice.
- --- Know your team and your opponent WELL and always put your guys in the best possible situation to succeed.
I’m not intending this to be an indictment of Terry Collins. There’s plenty of blame (if you’re so inclined) to go around the locker room. Personally, I think ‘blaming’ anyone is a bit silly at this point, what’s more important is learning where and how to improve. This group won as a team and they lost as a team. Even if Terry had done the things I (and others) have suggested, there’s no guarantee that the games would still have gone the Mets’ way. Sure, if Lagares is in and catches the Game 1 ‘fly ball’, Game 4’s pitching matchups were different with Clippard on the pine, and Terry pulls Harvey after the Cain walk you can make the case that the Mets ‘would’ve won’ even with the other miscues. However, there’s no guarantee that they would’ve and there’s no telling how having those plays and moments going our way would’ve affected the rest of each game. Terry did the right thing by bringing in Familia in Game 1 and he gave up a crushing HR that couldn’t have been predicted. I’m also certain that Terry couldn’t have predicted that Duda would’ve thrown the Game 5-ending ball practically into the seats instead of d’Arnaud’s waiting glove. The real point as mentioned is that we need him to make the right calls to put his players in the best possible position to succeed, not inadvertently set them up in situations where the risk of failure is even higher. Then, even if our team loses we can just sit back and say that our guys just got outplayed; now we have to look at it and can't help but think that they handed the Royals the title and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
I’m still pulling for Terry; he’s going to be the steward of our beloved Mets for the next two seasons and I’m hoping that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. He learned lessons in his previous stints in Houston and Anaheim and this was his first experience in postseason baseball. After KC’s Mike Jirschele conservatively held up Alex Gordon in the 2014 WS and possibly cost them the title, he turned into one of the most aggressive 3B coaches in baseball this year. If the front office does the work necessary to back up its stellar pitching staff, Terry should have two more shots at a championship and I want to see him get two titles. I hope he has really taken from this experience what he can and should, and learns to apply it next year. I also hope that the FO considers adding a veteran tactician to the coaching staff to be there for Terry to lean on in crucial moments.
All in all this was obviously a gut-wrenching experience as a fan, but I’m glad that the team made it as far as they did, gave us exciting baseball this year, and brought a spark back to Mets baseball. I’m look forward to watching them play again as soon as possible - pitchers and catchers are only about 3.5 months away.