Hail Mike Piazza and Hello Jay Bruce
BY JOE RINI
Cold bats, brittle bodies, and blown saves drove the Mets down the standings and their fans to despair on the recently concluded 3-6 homestand. However, the Mets also kindled embers of hope for the final third of the season by acquiring slugger Jay Bruce at the trade deadline to bolster the offense and subsequently clubbed the Yankees 7-1 in his debut on August 2. Finally, on a celebratory note, the Mets capped off Mike Piazza’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame by retiring his number 31 before a joyful sellout crowd prior to Saturday’s game on July 30.
With a major league worst .205 batting average with runners in scoring position, the Mets struggle to knock in runs when not hitting home runs continued for much of the recent homestand. Also, the Mets suffered a couple of late gut-wrenching losses on consecutive days as closer Jeurys Familia streak of 52 saves in 52 opportunities dating back to last year was snapped when he blew two saves in less than 24 hours as the Cardinals stunned the Mets 5-4 on Wednesday night and the Rockies rallied to a 2-1 victory on Thursday afternoon.
The troops were further taxed with mounting injuries as Jose Reyes and Asdrubel Cabrera were placed on DL. Also, not only was the season of Juan Lagares possibly ended due to thumb surgery but the Gold Glove winner’s replacement Justin Ruggiano was also disabled with a hamstring injury after just three games. Additionally, Yoenis Cespedes continues to be plagued by a quad injury, hampering his ability to play centerfield and stay in the lineup consistently.
But with the Mets threatening to fall out of the race for even the second wildcard spot, GM Sandy Alderson acquired lefty power hitter Jay Bruce from the Reds in exchange for two prospects including Dilson Herrera, the former heir apparent to Daniel Murphy. The 29-year old Bruce is leading the league with 80 RBI to go along with 25 home runs and a .360 batting average with RISP.
Speaking of joining a contending team, Bruce told the press, “There’s an instant kind of recharge of the battery, getting into a pennant race and playing baseball that matters. When I was in Cincinnati, we played a lot of baseball that mattered, for a long time. Past couple of years have been tough. I’m really looking forward to getting back in and hopefully catching the Nationals.”
Perhaps the most joyful moment of the homestead occurred as the Mets unveiled Mike Piazza’s retired number 31. I asked Mike before the game about his experience playing for “big personalities” like Tom Lasorda and Bobby Valentine and he cited their similarities, with Valentine having played for Lasorda and Lasorda’s “affinity” for Valentine. Piazza said he “enjoyed playing for big personalities.” He cited Valentine and said he was, “great for the team and rivalries…pushed my buttons a little bit…but he knew how to drive me…it was the right place in the right time for me.” Chuckling, he added, “Maybe Tommy prepared me to play for Bobby.”
Surrounded by family and former teammates including Al Leiter, a grateful and humbled Piazza described himself as “blessed” and told the fans, “You’ve given me an honor that no man deserves and no player deserves.” Looking to his number in the upper deck of leftfield, Piazza said, “That means I will always be with you…So every time these guys are down and you need a little bit of inspiration, just give a little peek up there to ol’ Mikey.” Piazza capped off the festivities by throwing the ceremonial first pitch to his former battery mate Leiter before taking a victory lap around Citi Field.