Would you look at that? Michael Conforto hit a game-winning home run

Just a couple of weeks ago, Michael Conforto could do nothing right for the Mets. He left the bat on his shoulder in key RBI situations, and when he did swing the bat, it often resulted in a ground out to second base. The only way Conforto could get on base was by throwing his elbow in the way of incoming pitches.

Conforto’s production was meager at the time, but it was only a matter of time before the Mets’ most valuable offensive player from 2020 got his act together. Last weekend against Washington, Scooter finally hit his first home run of the season in a 7-1 loss. Tonight in Philadelphia, he hit his second and it was slightly more consequential.

That’s right. Ninth inning with Phillies closer Hector Neris on the mound with the Mets looking to end a three-game losing streak. You can’t find a much bigger spot in an early regular season game. Plus, the Mets had blown a 4-0 lead and had not scored since the first inning. They NEEDED this one, and Conforto delivered.

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The Mets win because of a bad call, but that’s still better than losing

Great my favorite player is now the subject of the biggest baseball controversy since Nicholas Castellanos got suspended for literally flexing on the opposing pitcher. In case you missed it, Michael Conforto had a chance to drive in the winning run during today’s 3-2 Mets win over the Marlins, but instead he looked at a couple of strikes and then stuck his elbow out over the plate to get a game-winning hit by pitch call from home plate umpire Ron Kulpa.

What’s crazy is that Kulpa looks like he’s about to call strike three right before he calls the hit by pitch. Which means he knew that Conforto’s elbow was in front of the strike zone. That should have resulted in Scooty McBooty striking out, but instead the umpires stuck with the hit by pitch call and the Mets were walk-off winners.

That was great news considering that just minutes before, the Mets were staring another L in the face with a one-run deficit to start the ninth inning. Still, I wish the umpires did the right thing and let Pete Alonso win the game instead. We all know he would have since Miami closer Anthony Bass had already allowed a game-tying home run to Jeff McNeil and base hits by Luis Guillorme and Brandon Nimmo. Let’s not pretend that the Marlins were robbed of a win today.

Speaking of that McNeil home run, it was pretty cathartic since the first Citi Field crowd since 2019 had mostly sat on its hands all game. New York jumped out in front when Dominic Smith hit a sac fly in the fifth inning, but even that was disappointing being it looked like an extra-base hit that could have scored three runs until Starling Marte ran it down in center field.

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I won’t panic about the Mets until they lose a game to the Marlins

Oh no, the Mets! They lost the rubber game to the Phillies yesterday and now the sky is falling. I have to admit it was pretty ugly. David Peterson put his fastball on a tee in the first inning, leading to a three-run home run for Alec Bohm and a 4-0 hole for New York. The Mets blew chances to put up crooked numbers in the third and fourth inning when Dominic Smith and Michael Conforto were struck out by Aaron Nola with runners in scoring position.

Still, New York appeared to be on the road to a comeback by chasing Nola after four innings. Unfortunately, Peterson didn’t last much longer, allowing the first two Phillies to reach in the fifth and yielding to Jacob Barnes, who gave up a three-run bomb to J.T. Realmuto on his first pitch of the campaign.

So the Mets lost their first series of the season. That doesn’t mean it makes sense to make sweeping generalizations about them like “the bullpen will be terrible” or “they’ll never hit with RISP.” It’s just three games and there are plenty of positive to take away. Peterson bounced back from his rough first inning and looked better than Nola for the next three frames. Dominic Smith and Pete Alonso look like they are going to be serious trouble in the middle of the order. Brandon Nimmo is an on-base machine and Jonathan Villar had three hits (two for extra bases) yesterday. Sure, I would rather have seen Jeff McNeil out there, but having a versatile bench piece like Villar is going to pay dividends.

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Marcus Stroman is a ground ball king and Mets get first win of the season

Similarly to Monday night, the Mets got six dominant starter innings followed by shaky bullpen work on Tuesday, but this time the recipe resulted in a win thanks to better offensive production and Philadelphia’s Vince Velasquez throwing fewer than half of his 40 pitches for strikes.

Marcus Stroman was a ground ball machine, recording 13 ground outs and zero fly outs with just three hits allowed. In fact, since two of those hits were ground balls, that means that Didi Gregorius’s home run in the bottom of the fourth was the only fair ball hit into the air against Stroman all game.

The Mets jumped in front 2-0 in the top of the fourth on Dominic Smith’s first home run of the season. However, the game was really won the seventh when Velasquez, after striking out the side in the sixth in relief of Chase Anderson, walked four out of five batters to force in a run. New York kept doing damage after Brandon Kintzler came in, getting a loud sac fly from Francisco Lindor and a two-out RBI double by Michael Conforto to extend the lead to 6-1.

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Mets turn over a new leaf and try losing their first game of the season

Well we can’t say “same old Mets” after Monday night’s 5-3 come-from-ahead loss in Philadelphia because we know the same old Mets would win their first game and then swoon before the solstice. And I’m not calling it Opening Day when we’re playing at night and the Phillies are starting Matt Moore. The game shouldn’t even count against the Mets’ Opening Day record in my opinion! Either way, it was an ugly way to start the season.

Jacob deGrom was his typical self, striking out seven and allowing just five Phillies to reach base in six innings. He even got some help from the defense early on when Kevin Pillar connected with Jeff McNeil on a relay throw to turn a long ball off the wall by Rhys Hoskins into an out at third base. That missed opportunity by the Phillies looked like it would lead to their downfall, but the Mets’ defense would pay them back with interest later in the game.

Maybe the defense wouldn’t be as much of an issue if deGrom were allowed to pitch more than six innings, but Luis Rojas lifted him after just 77 pitches. The skipper said the decision was based on the uncertainty in the Mets’ schedule caused by the Nationals becoming infected with COVID-19.

“Going out for the six innings and you guys saw the activity on the bases. And he hasn’t thrown in 10 days. So the conversations in between innings with him led us to make the decision of pulling him,” Rojas told reporters via Zoom following the Mets’ 5-3 loss to the Phillies. “…I know he was way under than what he’s built up leaving camp. But maybe the 10 days without throwing led to the decision during the game.

deGrom was on board with everything, so please stop the victim narrative around him.

“That was kinda discussed where we’re going to be before,” deGrom said. “10 days without facing hitters, kept trying to throw bullpens but didn’t want to throw too many pitches with the hope of playing Saturday and then finding out that series is canceled so that was the last time I was able to throw. So it was kind of a how many ups thing, how many pitches not being in a game facing hitters for 10 days.”

I’d be more mad, but it seems every pitcher in baseball is leaving the game after 80 pitches and 5.2 innings these days. I will also hold back my rage to see if deGrom is ramped up in his next start, which he should be, because I am designated it as a MUST WIN GAME.

Anyway, the Mets were stymied by Matt Moore early on, but they rallied in the fourth when Pete Alonso and J.D. Davis started the inning with walks. James McCann drove in one run with his first hit as a Met, and deGrom hit a blooper to left to score another. The rally was cut short when Brandon Kintzler relieved Moore and got Kevin Pillar to ground into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.

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MLB decides we need more politics in sports, moves All-Star Game out of Atlanta

Major League Baseball finally decided to do something to make its product more fun today. Just kidding. Instead, the league decided to wrap itself up in a big, cuddly cocoon of political controversy by moving the All-Star Game out of Atlanta and into a city to be named later. Why did commissioner Rob Manfred decide to do this? Well, there is a new voting law in Georgia that has ruffled the feathers of a bunch of apparently very powerful people, and they have pressured MLB into moving one of its flagship events in protest. Either that or Manfred made the decision by himself and he just loves embroiling his product in controversy. You can believe whatever you want.

I choose to believe that sports leagues shouldn’t take sides in political controversies, especially if taking a side involves actions that harm the fans and businesses of a city that was promised a huge event. Depending on whom you ask, the new voting law either makes in unnecessarily difficult for citizens of Georgia to vote or it safeguards elections against fraud by instituting common-sense restrictions such as the requirement of a government-issued identification card. Some people will see it one way and some people will see it the other way. That’s why we have elections in the first place. MLB decided to see it one way — which is fine — and it also decided to punish Georgia for seeing it the other way — which is not fine.

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It feels like I’m the only one worried about the Francisco Lindor contract

Today is Opening Day for Major League Baseball. It’s always one of the happiest days of the year for me. That’s because it usually features the Mets taking the field and playing in a game that matters for the first time in months. Every team has a fresh start and anything is possible. Last year, we learned that the hard way when a pandemic lockdown wiped out more than half of the regular season and the Miami Marlins qualified for the playoffs. In 2021, I’m hoping for the good kind of “anything is possible,” like the Mets winning the World Series for the first time in 35 years.

We’re not off to a good start, though. New York’s opening game has been postponed because the Washington Nationals have multiple players are their team who are infected with COVID-19. We still don’t know when the Mets will play their first game, but being behind schedule right off the bat is putting them at a disadvantage. Hopefully it’s not big enough of a disadvantage to make up for having the richest owner in baseball. That’s what Steve Cohen is and it’s why he represents a renewed hope that the Mets can become a consistent contender for the National League pennant.

They got one step closer to that goal on Wednesday night when the front office completed a $341 million contract to keep the newly acquired Francisco Lindor in Queens for the next decade. The Mets can now build around an elite starting pitcher in Jacob deGrom and a five-tool shortstop. What’s not to like? Well, I’m skeptical of any baseball contract that goes longer than seven years. That’s how long the Mets signed Carlos Beltran for in 2005 and the deal expired just as Beltran was losing the ability to play a top-tier center field. Not only did the Mets get incredible production out of Beltran, but they were able to flip him for Zack Wheeler right before he became a free agent.

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Penn State basketball leaves us guessing again with mysterious game postponement

Penn State was scheduled to play a basketball game against Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon, but then it suddenly got postponed. The Nittany Lions probably weren’t going to win against one of the Big Ten’s top teams, but it was going to be nice to watch a sporting event on Sunday in which both teams were earnestly trying to win. There might be only one or two of those in the NFL this week.

Then again, maybe PSU head coach Jim Ferry isn’t trying to win with the way he is managing Sam Sessoms’s minutes. The Binghamton transfer finally cracked the 30-minute threshold against Indiana despite being a key cog in the Nittany Lion offense all season, and that was only because of overtime.

Hmmmm. No mention of COVID-19 or positive tests, just an “abundance of caution.” What the heck. We’re fans that support the program even though the best it can give us is an NIT championship here or there. We deserve to know why the game is getting postponed.

Who am I kidding? We’re Penn State basketball fans. We don’t even deserve to know why the coach who was one global pandemic away from making the NCAA Tournament last season was let go. It’s not like that move led to all of our 2021 recruits deciding to commit to other programs. No big deal.

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Ohio State is awesome, but that doesn’t mean that the Playoff committee is correct

I’m typing this at halftime of the Ohio State vs. Clemson College Football Playoff Semifinal and it’s clear that the Buckeyes are one of the top four teams in the nation. The defense that looked less than championship caliber earlier in the campaign has settled down after two early Clemson touchdowns and contained Trevor Lawrence. Meanwhile, Justin Fields is playing through injured ribs and torching the Clemson defense with help from his tight ends and Trey Sermon, who is proving to be a certified stud at tailback.

That doesn’t mean that Ohio State belongs in the Playoff, though. You’ll never convince me that their six-game slate that was shortened by coronavirus concerns stands up against the fuller schedule played by teams like Texas A&M and Cincinnati, the latter of whom could have polished off a 10-0 season today if not for poor clock management and an incredibly clutch field goal by Georgia’s Jack Podlesny.

Yes, I believe Ohio State is good enough. Yes, I believe if Ryan Day’s team had played more games that it would have remained undefeated. The resume as currently constructed just doesn’t hold up, and its treatment by the committee raises major questions about our current system of selecting the top four teams.

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Penn State sneaks in a Big Ten basketball game while the Daniel Jones bandwagon comes to a screeching halt

Yeah, it’s a little late for a weekend recap, but I’ve been busy working remotely in the morning and making a Mike and the Mad Dog parody in the afternoon. Sports weren’t fun on Sunday, but at least there was sufganiyot.

Penn State drops Big Ten opener to Michigan

Hey it turns out that basketball games are harder to win when your shots don’t go in. Who would have thunk it? Penn State has hopefully learned its lesson after losing 62-58 to Michigan on Sunday when everyone except me was watching NFL football. Just kidding; I was also watching NFL football while streaming this game on my laptop. That didn’t make it any more easier to tolerate Penn State’s 31-percent field goal shooting, including a reverse layup in the final five seconds by Sam Sessoms that could have tied the score but did not come close to going in.

Izaiah Brockington led the Nittany Lions in scoring for the second straight game, but this time he only scored 14 points and the rest of the team struggled to create open looks. Sessoms went 4-for-15 from the field, Myreon Jones went 3-for-11, and Seth Lundy once again didn’t get the ball enough.

Penn State hung around by grabbing a ton of offensive rebounds and forcing 16 Michigan turnovers, but they were killed by Hunter Dickinson, the seven-foot tall Michigan freshman who appears to be a more aggressive version of Jon Teske who is already just as polished. He finished with 20 points and three blocked shots and hopefully he’s NBA bound, but if he doesn’t develop a three-point jumper he might just stick around and destroy the Big Ten for a few years. The Lions are now 0-1 in Big Ten play, but they don’t play their second league game until December 23.

Giants smash by reeling Cardinals

Two teams headed in different directions. That’s what the Cardinals vs. Giants looked like on Sunday morning. It looked like that again on Sunday afternoon, but that’s because the Cardinals righted their ship while Big Blue fell back into old bad habits. New York’s offense was just miserable with Daniel Jones and Colt McCoy combining to take eight sacks, including five from Arizona’s Haason Reddick, who had 12.5 sacks in his four-year career entering the game.

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