Not Even Bartolo Colon Can Save The Mets

AP Photo/John Minchillo

Bartolo Colon threw out the first pitch today at Citi Field.  It was the seventh anniversary since the lovable former pitcher shocked the baseball world by becoming the oldest MLB player to hit his first home run at the age of 42.  The extremely improbable moment caused Mets broadcaster Gary Cohen to boldly exclaim, “The impossible has happened” and likened it to one of the greatest moments in baseball history.

Okay, maybe that was a bit much, but we all got caught up in the rarified atmosphere.  It was in San Diego, on May 7, 2016, with Colon in the third of his three seasons with the Mets, in which he went 44-34, 3.90 ERA.  Top of the second.  Facing James “Big Game” Shields.  Colon launched a “what-the” line drive into the left field stands.

His “saunter” around the bases added to Colon’s unusual home run.  Colon has said, “Some people said my home run trot was slow.  Problem was, I didn’t have much time to practice it.”

It was unlikely because Colon pitched for 21 years in the bigs with the frame of a longtime barstool occupant – think “Norm” on Cheers, a Sunday afternoon church picnic participant who’s had one too many, make that, way too many, trips to the buffet table.  An everyman who connected with every fan of the 11 teams he pitched, much in the same way Daniel Vogelbach appeals to the common fan these days.

It was also unlikely because Colon was a pitcher, a starting pitcher who never had that many at-bats per season in the first place, and when he did pick up the lumber, well, a lifetime average of .084 says it all.  In fact, he claimed just 25 hits overall in his 21-year career.

So, it was a novelty occasion. And the Mets won, 6-3.  But it can never happen again.  Never again will a pitcher at the age of 42 hit his first home run.  Mainly because pitchers might never hit again.  Thanks to the now universal acceptance of the DH in MLB, pitchers are forever bound to the pitcher’s mound and that’s it.

We say “might never” because there may come a game, someday, perhaps in extra innings, with a manager faced with an empty bench, and a pinch-hitting opportunity arises and all he can find is a starter on his off day who had been known to fancy himself a good hitter and kept campaigning to “put me in, coach.”

But until that even more improbable scenario arises, Colon has the record.  And at the age of 42, you can put that mark in the safe and throw away the key.

Pitchers restricted from visiting the batter’s box and the ‘cross-the-board DH is now an “old” rule – with the NL having accepted just last year what the AL had been utilizing for half a century.

Baseball has been adapting to the new rules just as well.  The games are quicker, there’s more action on the base paths, and hits that were once gobbled up by the shift are now back to being hits.

There are, however, some of the new timing rules that could have been modified just a pinch.

Baseball is a game that is mostly divisible by 3 – nine innings, nine players on the field, three strikes, three outs per inning, and so on. The bases were stretched to 18” inches instead of 15, and even the rule that a pitcher must start his delivery within 15 seconds qualifies.  So why were pitchers limited to just two throws over to first to keep runners close?  Adding a third wouldn’t have lengthened a game by much.

Forcing batters to be ready to hit with eight seconds to spare might actually have been a pinch too long.  Giving them six seconds and ready to hit should have been sufficient.  And when you count it off, six seconds feels long while waiting for the hurler to complete his delivery.

They made the bases bigger, but another change might also be needed.  What would be so controversial if they “added” a base next to first base, in foul territory?  Side by side or attached in any way possible, a “second” first base would give runners the ability to stay in the “runners lane,” which is mostly in foul territory anyway, and predominantly eliminate those awkward and often injury-inducing collisions with the first baseman.

It also would have been nice if games tied after nine were allowed to go 12 innings with the standard rules before adding the “ghost” runner on second base beginning with the 13th inning.

Every longtime baseball fan has a memory from a crazy extra-inning game that ran long into the night – or day – with the tension mounting on every pitch.  And wouldn’t Mets history have been radically different without their legacies of extraordinarily lengthy games, from the 23-inning Memorial Day marathon loss in 1964 against the Giants at Shea Stadium, to the 16-inning nailbiter in Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS which helped send the Mets to the World Series, those days are mostly now gone, perhaps forever.  (Although, truth be told, postseason games do not allow the “ghost” runner to “appear.”)

Unlike Colon’s legendary home run game, the Mets lost on Sunday to Colorado, 13-6.  They’re in a tailspin, having lost seven of their last ten games, including five of six, and are now below .500 (17-18) for only the second time this year.  They were 3-4 after being swept out of Milwaukee on April 5.

After the game, manager Buck Showalter gave it his usual positive spin amidst some genuine concerns.

“I understand it’s everybody’s job to point to reasons why (the team isn’t winning) but the answer is to just play better…get back to things we do well.  My job is to figure it out.  It’s not just as simple as changing a batting order.  This is a very talented group.  They were last year, they will (be) this year).  We did it last year when we were winning games.”

Asked if a track record still means what it means, Buck responded, “You go by what you see, but it’s always a reminder.”

What’s the next chance to bet on the Mets?  Another road trip to Cincinnati and Washington where the Mets hope to ignite a winning streak.  Might be time for some fresh blood to inject some youthful energy when Ronny Mauricio, Mark Vientos, and Nathan Lavender are banging on the door, but we’ll see what the future brings.



VIDA BLUE: 1949 – 2023

Have to close with a tip of the cap to Vida Blue, who passed away on Saturday night at the age of 73.  Blue might be the best pitcher not in the Hall of Fame.

The ebullient lefthander played 17 seasons, almost all of it in the San Francisco Bay area, first with the Oakland A’s (1969 – 1977), then the San Francisco Giants (1978-81), before spending two years with the Kansas City Royals (1982-83), before concluding his career again with the Giants (1985-86).

Blue’s legacy includes a 209-161 record, 3.27 ERA, six-times an All-Star, Cy Young and MVP honors in 1971 (24-8, league leading 1.82 ERA), and a 20-game winner three times.

Mets fans remember Vida Blue as his A’s beat them in the 1973 World Series in seven games.  Jerry Koosman beat Blue in Game 5, 2-0.  But as you can see, it took a shutout to do so.

RIP Vida Blue.

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