It isn’t a beautiful night at normally beautiful Wrigley Field, as the Mets have fallen further behind the Chicago Cubs, and now manager Luis Rojas comes out of the dugout to have a word with home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman, apparently ready to make a change to his lineup. After conferring with Dreckman, Luis walks slowly, past the mound, past the infield and into the outfield. Gil Hodges once took a walk of this nature, not stopping until he wound up in left field to remove Cleon Jones from a game very much like this one versus the Houston Astros. Longtime Mets fans will remember that move as a real turning point in the championship season of the 1969 New York Mets. Gil didn’t take the removal of a player in the middle of a game lightly, but when he took out Jones, who nearly won the batting title that year, he had a real idea of what he was doing.
Sure enough, Luis has arrived and is speaking calmly with Dom Smith. Dom, such a good-looking young hitter, hasn’t played his best defensive game, and it appears Luis is taking him out of the game. Gil walked Cleon back to the Mets’ dugout in that blowout loss to Houston at Shea Stadium, and the current manager will no doubt be taking that same walk with his left fielder of today.
Oh, what’s this? Dom is heading back to the bench and perhaps the clubhouse on this frigid night in Chicago, but Luis has made a right turn and is now motioning to center fielder Kevin Pillar to leave the field as well. Pillar, a marvelous defensive center fielder, admittedly hasn’t had the most brilliant game under the lights, either. Maybe Luis wants to give the veteran a chance to rest. Brandon Nimmo, off to such a dazzling start, has been sitting with what’s been described as stiffness in his right hip, giving Pillar an opportunity to start. One of the hallmarks of Gil Hodges was his ability to assign playing time to every member of his roster. Luis, too, has been doing his best to keep his reserves fresh.
While Pillar exits the field, it appears Luis isn’t done taking his impromptu tour. You know, Luis Rojas comes from a great baseball family, the son of the wonderful manager and player Felipe Alou and nephew to two of Felipe’s brothers, Matty and Jesus, both of them solid players in their own right. We had the privilege of seeing all three Alou brothers line up in the outfield for the San Francisco Giants when they played the Mets in 1963. The Mets drew some enormous crowds for both the Giants and Dodgers when the former New York teams came back to the Polo Grounds those first two seasons of the Mets’ existence. The fans were so happy to greet their old heroes and have National League baseball again. Casey Stengel made those years so memorable and so enjoyable.
When games were over at the Polo Grounds, the uniformed personnel on both sides would have to go for a very long stroll to the clubhouses that were located beyond the spacious outfield of the ancient ballpark. I don’t know if we’ve seen a Mets manager spend as much time in the outfield since then. Well, Luis Rojas hasn’t yet left the outfield here at Wrigley. Instead, he’s going to right field and, yes, he’s taking out Michael Conforto as well.
Michael is such a fine young man and such a talented player. His start this season is no indication of his ability, but it has been a rough start and he, too, has endured a lot of bad road tonight, so Luis is removing his regular right fielder. This is unusual, but perhaps the manager is trying to send a message to his beleaguered troops. Though the Mets entered the evening in first place in the National League East and are guaranteed to stay there at the end of play, they have committed four errors and have had their share of trouble handling the ball cleanly.
While we wait for the skipper to make his way back to the dugout, this is a good time to remind you tickets for Batting Helmet Day are now on sale at all Mets ticket outlets, including select branches of Manufacturers Hanover Trust. All fans 14 and under will receive an adjustable bright blue and orange batting helmet like the one slugger Pete Alonso wears. Pete is so popular with the kids. They call him the Polar Bear. Pete hit a monster of a home run earlier tonight, way, way out of Wrigley Field and onto Waveland Avenue, probably in the vicinity of where some of Dave Kingman’s shots used to land. I hear Dave is doing great in retirement in Arizona and we wish him well. He’s a wonderful guy once you get to know him.
What’s this now? Luis has paused at first base and is telling Pete Alonso his night is over. That’s a surprise, as Pete has been busy at first base, trying to field the many balls his teammates have attempted to throw in his general direction. The Cubs have such a hard-hitting team and an offense like theirs will keep the infield as well as the outfield on its toes.
Well, apparently, the manager isn’t done, as he rounds first, heads for second…and yes, Luis Rojas is taking out Jeff McNeil, the man they call the Squirrel. Jeff, like Michael Conforto, is a fine young man experiencing a bit of a shaky start to the new season. You know, they call baseball “the summer game,” and conditions like we have tonight, with temperatures dipping into the thirties and the winds whipping up, are not conducive to baseball being played at its best. McNeil, who along with his lovely wife Tatiana have given a good home to a dog and a cat who were up for adoption, has no doubt felt the effects of the conditions and hasn’t looked as crisp as he usually does.
While Rojas is removing his second baseman, this might be a good time for you to remove your second Schaefer of the game from the fridge. Schaefer, after all, is the one beer to have when you’re having more than one, and as long as you’re not outside tonight at Wrigley Field, the smooth, delicious finish of a cold Schaefer goes great with a ballgame entering its final inning. We thank F. & M. Schaefer Brewing Company for joining our family of participating sponsors of New York Mets baseball. We had such enthusiastic support from our friends at Rheingold for many years, but once their brewery closed, Schaefer stepped right up to take their place. Stay tuned after the game when we award points in the Schaefer Mets Player of the Game balloting.
Frankly, it may be a difficult selection process tonight, as the Mets admittedly aren’t having their most award-winning game. Alonso hit that very long home run, a two-run job that drew the Mets close in the fifth inning. David Peterson, who looked so poised his last time out, versus Philadelphia, threw three masterful innings at the start and didn’t give up a hit until the fourth. He ran into some bad luck in what became the seven-run bottom of the fourth, leading Rojas to make his first trip from the dugout. At that time, it was only to take out the pitcher. David’s successors on the mound encountered some trouble as well. Of course when the game began, it looked like the big story would be Francisco Lindor hitting his first home run as a New York Met, the first of many to come. Lindor was such a big acquisition in the offseason, a real superstar and a real leader in that clubhouse. I’ve had the chance to talk to Francisco over Zoom and I have to tell you I’ve rarely encountered such an impressive young man.
Unfortunately, it appears Francisco has made the wrong impression on his manager tonight because Rojas is taking his shortstop out, too. The bad weather doesn’t ask to see your credentials and it must’ve taken a toll on Francisco. He’ll bounce back. He’s too good a player not to.
The Mets have made four errors tonight, which is surprising, considering how good they looked defensively over the weekend at Coors Field, which, like Wrigley, can be subject to some pretty harsh elements. It was cold in Denver just as it’s cold tonight in Chicago. We can’t wait for some of that good summer weather, sunshine, and little more than a few harmless puffy cumulus clouds overhead.
Luis still hasn’t left the field. He’s pausing at third base to remove J.D. Davis. Davis is such a promising hitter and he’s continued to produce when healthy, but third base has often been such a trouble spot for New York Mets throughout their history. In their first year of 1962, the Mets used nine different men at third. There’s a reason they call it the hot corner. Casey Stengel started the season with Don Zimmer, who suffered an 0-for-34 streak. Don finally broke out of his slump and, as thanks, he was traded to Cincinnati for Cliff Cook and Bob G. Miller. Try as he might, Casey couldn’t seem to distinguish between that Bob Miller, a lefty, and the other Bob Miller on the pitching staff, a righty. When Casey would call the bullpen, he’d say, “Get Nelson up,” which came to be understood as Bob L. Miller, the righthander. You had to speak “Stengelese” in those days, but it was worth it. Casey kept Lindsey, Ralph and me as well as the writers who covered the team that first year so very entertained. The Mets lost 120 games, but broadcasting was never a chore with Casey around.
Davis’s tough night hasn’t been for lack of practice. J.D. has been working very hard to improve his defense, but you won’t have to work hard to find great taste in a cigarette if you smoke Viceroy. Light up a Viceroy and feel as regal as a monarch.
J.D. is such a likable young man. All of these Mets are. When they can, a whole host of the everyday players get together on the road after the game for cookies and milk and talk hitting in somebody’s hotel room. They like each other that much. Maybe Luis is advising J.D. that fielding should be on the agenda for tonight’s get-together. It looks like the regulars can get a head start on planning their meeting, as J.D., like the others, has been removed from the game. Not even Gil Hodges took this drastic a move with virtually his entire lineup. The only players Rojas hasn’t replaced since emerging from the dugout minutes ago are his pitcher and catcher. He’s certainly run through several relievers tonight — Robert Gsellman, Trevor Hildenberger, Aaron Loup and Miguel Castro. Loup and Castro didn’t give up any earned runs. Behind the plate for all of the pitchers has been James McCann. McCann has made such a difference since signing with the Mets over the winter. We saw evidence of his impact when he threw out Trevor Story attempting to steal for the last out of Sunday’s game in Colorado, an ending you don’t see too often.
Now, though, Luis is opting to give James the rest of the night off, making it eight out of eight position players he has pulled at once. It’s hard to blame Rojas for wanting to make wholesale changes. The Mets are losing by so many runs that the operator of the hand-held scoreboard here at Wrigley Field must be getting cramps, especially on such a cold night. It’s a shame we can’t see this ballpark in daylight. You think of Wrigley in daylight, you think of great guys like Ernie Banks, who always wanted to play two. The Mets and Cubs certainly had some battles here on the Near North Side in 1969, with Gil Hodges and Leo Durocher going at it. Tonight, however, I think Luis Rojas just wants to get the final inning over with and try his luck tomorrow. We’ll be on the air with the pregame show at 7:25 New York time.
Coming into pitch now appears to be Luis Guillorme. Guillorme is so versatile. He’s pitched before, but really you know his manager would prefer to see him at one of the infield positions, which Guillorme handles so skillfully. Of course Rojas now has to tell Dreckman who’s going to fill the rest of the roles on the field now that he’s removed his entire lineup. Oh, but what’s this? Luis Rojas instead marches back to the Mets’ dugout, hands the lineup card to his trusted bench coach Dave Jauss, and removes himself, setting an example for all of his players. If you’re not up to the task, Rojas seems to be saying, you don’t belong in the game. Baseball is a game of redeeming features, and the series finale will give the manager and all the Mets a chance to redeem their less than representative outing . Joey Lucchesi, the stylish lefthander, and Trevor Williams are the probable pitchers for Thursday.
Dreckman gives the go-ahead to resume the action. Guillorme goes into his windup. It’s ball one to Anthony Rizzo.