Glorious endings: Walk-offs and strikeouts

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RIGHT NEXT TO MY CAT IN BRIGHTON, MA — On Thursday night, Derek Jeter played his last game at Yankee Stadium. Captain Clutch — damn right I’m calling him Captain Clutch — came up to the plate in the ninth inning with the game tied, a runner on second and an entire crowd chanting his name. He hit the first pitch to right field — right-field hits are what will pop into my head if I’m ever asked to describe Jeter, along with jump throws and a certain flip throw — and the Yankees won the game. It was a magical end to a Hall of Fame career (yeah, I know, he might play at Fenway Park this weekend).

In the summer of 2004, right before the start of my senior year of college, I was at a baseball field in Bergen Beach with my younger brother, Kevin. He wanted to play catch, field some grounders, have me throw him some batting practice so he could get ready for his sophomore year playing baseball at the University of Scranton, noted Division III baseball powerhouse. I did not play baseball at the University of Scranton. There was a time when I thought I might play collegiate baseball, but when I arrived at the UofS my freshman year, I decided I was done with baseball. Not due to any dislike of the game, I was just 18 and figured I had better things to spend my time doing.

When Kevin and I finished practicing, I picked up a bat and stepped to the plate. I told Kev, a lefty, to throw me one pitch. If I hit it over the fence, I would try out for the Varsity baseball team my senior year. He threw a pitch. I hit it over the fence. (Kevin might deny this, but it’s how I remember it).

We returned to school, and despite my friend Steve telling me that baseball practices and games would get in the way of all the drinking I could do senior year, I tried out. And I made the team! I mean the coach told me outright that he was going to keep me on the roster because he wanted to have an extra catcher to catch bullpens and there was an outside chance he might have me catch when my brother pitched, but, either way, I made the team! No matter how shitty the team, making one is a good feeling.

And it was fun. There were early practices, I quickly realized I was not very/any good at baseball anymore, and we had to run laps on occasion, but it was fun. Playing catch, taking swings in batting practice, team parties, my buddy Dennis hating nearly everything. Despite the fact that it was, indeed, cutting into my senior-year drinking time, I had a great time. I also barely played — rightly so!

The last home game of the season, we played at Red Barons Stadium (which is now home of the Triple-A RailRiders, if I’m not mistaken). One of the cool things about playing at a Minor League stadium was the fact that the bullpen was located all the way out in right field, so the pitchers and catchers could straight up lounge with no coaches around. We goofed around, chewed on sunflower seeds (or dipped tobacco like true badasses) and, every once in a while, I had to help a pitcher warm up. Our team stunk, we were playing a team that started this 6-foot-3 dude who threw gas and we were losing. In the last inning, Dennis — who was also a senior — ran out and said, “McGrath, you’re batting this inning.”

“What?”

“You’re batting this inning.”

“Why?”

“It’s Senior Day.”

“Ohhhhh.”

“You’re definitely going to strike out.”

“Thanks, Dennis.”

So I ran from the bullpen to the dugout. I had no idea it was Senior Day, not that I would’ve asked my parents to drive up from Brooklyn for the game, despite the fact that they probably would have since my parents are great. But, hey, an at-bat is an at-bat. I had actually had one previously, but it went like so:

Me in the on-deck circle, to my buddy JP: “I don’t care if the first pitch is over my head, I’m swinging at it.”

First pitch: Over my head. Me: Swing.

Second pitch: Don’t remember, but it was a strike.

Third pitch: Pitcher threw a curveball. I thought to myself, “That’s a nice curveball.” Strike 3.

So I had experience at the plate that year, but not much. I put on a batting helmet, grabbed a bat and strolled to the plate. I was leading off. As I approached the plate, I heard one of the guys on the team, Steve, say, “Imagine McGrath hits a home run!” I thought to myself, “Imagine McGrath hits a home run!” I stepped in the batter’s box.

Now, as previously noted, the dude pitching was like 6-foot-3 and threw gas. I’m not gonna call him the second coming of Clayton Kershaw, but I’m not not going to, either.

First pitch: Slider. Nasty slider! I did not swing. Strike 1.

Second pitch: Slider. Garbage slider. Slider that bounces two feet before the plate. I swing. Strike 2.

Third pitch: Slider. Most garbage slider ever thrown. Slider that bounces five feet from the plate. I swing. Strike 3.

However …

The slider was so garbage and bounced so far from the plate, it bounces over the catcher’s head. I, rally starter that I am, sprint down the first-base line and am safe at first.

First-base coach: “What the hell was that, McGrath?”

Me: “Whatever. I’m safe.”

Next batter: Hits into a double play. End of my baseball career.

Later that night, I was talking to my friend Dan’s younger brother, who was visiting, and he told me that he attended the game. I asked him if he saw my at-bat. He said, “Yes, that was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

My baseball career ended with arguably the worst at-bat in collegiate baseball history. Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium ended with him hitting a walk-off single. Baseball is glorious.

Brian Cougar

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Glorious endings: Walk-offs and strikeouts

Izzy Izzy Izzy!

The Mets continued their recent run of fakeness last night, but more importantly, Jason Isringhausen is back in action! The man is a straight-up stud, and came back with a bang last night, getting the Mets out of a jam with one out in the top of the seventh inning. Big Izzy came out to a hero’s welcome (by hero’s welcome, I mean I was chanting his name in my living room), and proceeded to get a ground out (almost a double play), and then an F8 to retire the pride of the Rockies, Todd Helton. Izzy had some decent pop on his fastball (low-to-mid 90s), and he snapped off some filthy curveballs as well.

I would have been pumped up to see any pitcher in the Mets’ bullpen get out of a late-inning jam, but the fact that it was Izzy doing the work made it certified Grade A Realness. He would have been in line for the W if Tulo didn’t make an absurd (Jeter style) play in the hole to rob Daniel Murphy of the go-ahead RBI base hit (after a two-out triple by Reyes, his second three-bagger of the night). Bobby Parnell ended up getting shelled in the next half inning to break the game open (terrible fielding on the mound, because apparently the Mets didn’t focus during pitcher’s fielding practice in Spring Training; followed by a Tulowitzki biiizooomb), and the Mets went on to lose … again.

As much as I am growing more and more frustrated by the Mets’ bullpen giving away games, for a night my anger was tempered by the return of one of my childhood favorites. Growing up as a Mets fan, Izzy was my favorite player in the mid 90s. Izzy was a highly-touted prospect in the Mets’ farm system (Generation faKe), but as a young kid, that was not the basis for my Izzy love. My adoration of Izzy stemmed from him being one of the first autographs I ever got as a child. There are countless stories across the baseball fandom of people loving or, sometimes, hating players based on an encounter they had with them in person (especially as a kid). Getting Izzy’s autograph before a game at Shea Stadium as a kid forever made me a huge fan of him, and made me want to be a pitcher.

I was a fired-up 12 year old when the Mets traded him to the Oakland Athletics for crap (Billy Taylor … who? Exactly) only a few appearances after he returned from Tommy John surgery. Along those same lines, I was also probably one of the few people (outside of Izzy himself, and possibly some of his close relatives) that was ecstatic to find out that the Mets were bringing him to Spring Training this year. Izzy went on to have a very successful career as a closer for the A’s and Cardinals. He ended up making two All-Star teams, and led the league in saves (2004) once. If he can stay healthy, and K-Rod has any injury issues, he has a chance to reach 300 career saves (currently at 293, second most among active pitchers behind the almighty Mo).

This season is still very young, but if the Mets starters do not start pitching deeper into games, and the mess of a bullpen (except for Izzy, obviously) does not start throwing significantly better, this is going to be a very long season for the Mets faithful. The bats are giving them plenty of chances to win games (especially the RBI machine that is Ike Davis), but it ultimately comes down to solid pitching, and the Mets have not shown much of it. Hopefully the play will improve, but for now I will just enjoy watching my boy Jason Isringhausen back on the mound for the Mets.

Pizzas for all.

-Kevin McRainoutsallovertonight

Izzy Izzy Izzy!

Bring up Izzy!

A weekend of straight fakeness from the New York Mets. Dropping two out of three to the scrub Nats with some weak pitching and continued weak sauce at the plate with runners on (especially runners on third with less than two outs!!!).

Opening Day at Citi Field was not surprisingly a cold and rainy day of grossness — to match the grossness on the field. R.A. Dickey could not find the strike zone (five walks), and for the second time in a week, the Mets have given up a two-run single with the bases loaded to the opposing starting pitcher (Joe Blanton, Jordan Zimmermann). This, ladies and gentlemen, is not how you play winning baseball.

Game 2 of the series went a lot better for the Mets, with some good news coming on the field in the form of a decent outing by Chris Capuano in his first start, and two bombski’s from Carlos Beltran. I have never been the biggest Beltran fan, but I understand his importance to this team. If he bounces back to anywhere near what he used to be at the plate, the Mets lineup should put up a lot of runs.

Today’s game continued the trend of losing baseball. Chris Young threw a gem for seven innings, and now has two impressive starts to begin his tenure with the Mets (one earned run, one hit), but good ol’ Blaine Boyer quickly sabotaged the W. Mr. Boyer and I got off on the wrong foot with the Mets foolishly keeping him on the big league roster over my main man Jason Isringhausen. I didn’t like this decision for a variety of baseball reasons, but the main source of my dislike stems from the fact that Izzy was my favorite player on the team growing up. Izzy brings a lot to the table for this Mets bullpen. He has plenty of experience pitching out of the bullpen (mostly as a closer), to go along with the fact that he’s proven that he can get big league hitters out when he is healthy. The Mets have a very young ‘pen that could really gain a lot with Izzy there to mentor them. Something tells me that K-Rod is not the best guy to turn to for words of wisdom, or encouragement (avoiding a cheap joke about beating up old people).

Well, needless to say, the Mets went the jabroni route, and decided to keep Boyer and have Izzy stay down for an extended Spring Training to prove his health. Blaine has thanked this show of support by getting smacked all over the park every time he has touched the mound (two losses, ERA over 10.0, and almost two hits per inning). That is First Team All Fake material. He retired the Nats in order when he entered in the 10th, then allowed four runs on four hits in the 11th to give the Nats the win as the Mets dropped their second consecutive series to drop to 4-5 on the year. So far, the Mets are doing a good job confirming most of the preseason hate.

Quick thoughts: Beckett is absolutely dominating the Yanks right now, looks like old school Beckett from the 2003 World Series. (Brian’s boy Pedroia is on fire also). … Joba is fat, and way too much was made of his good pitching this spring. He is a mutant, and is definitely not going to be better with the 25 lbs of gut he added this offseason. … The Orioles are going to be a pest in the AL East, and could compete if their young arms stay healthy. Either way, that lineup is going to put up a lot of crooked numbers.

Pizzas for all.

— Kevin McMetsjustcalledupIzzyREAAAL

Bring up Izzy!