NEW YORK — This was shear power by Bryce Harper.
Harper’s bat shattered just above his hands, and the barrel helicoptered into the high, protective netting behind home plate on the first base side.
The ball sailed far over the wall in right center at Citi Field. Harper hit his major league-leading eighth home run, a solo shot in the first inning on a 95 mph fastball from Jacob deGrom. Statcast projected the homer at 406 feet.
As Harper rounded the bases, first base coach Tim Bogar picked up the few inches of lumber left in the former NL MVP’s batting gloves and handed it to a bat boy.
On his way back to the dugout, Harper playfully pulled up his sleeve to show his biceps.
Patrick Mahomes inherited clutch gene from his major-league dad
To understand how Patrick Mahomes, 23, could remain so composed on his rocket-ship rise to stardom is to know his family’s history when it comes to big games and the poise required to win them.
Nearly two decades before Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs started preparing to face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, Mahomes’ father, Pat, was as nervous as a pitcher could be while waiting for that phone to ring in the New York Mets’ bullpen. But once it did ring, and once the caller requested his services, everything changed.
“That’s what you live for,” Mahomes recalled. “That’s what you dream about as a child, to go in there in pressure situations and perform at the highest level.”
The Mets had lost eight of nine games at the end of September 1999, a collapse that appeared certain to cost them their first postseason appearance in 11 years. Their manager, Bobby Valentine, assured his players they would still make the playoffs if they could just rediscover the belief they had in each other. The Mets would need to sweep Pittsburgh in the season’s final series for a shot at advancing, and Valentine trusted few Mets more than he trusted Mahomes, a fearless 29-year-old righthander who was about to make the biggest pitches of what would be an 11-year career.
“For the first time in my life I had a manager who totally believed in me,” recalled Mahomes, who had already pitched for the Twins and Red Sox, and for the Yokohama BayStars in Japan. “Bobby was the first manager who let me be me on my mound.”
Valentine also let his reliever bring his 4-year-old son to work. Mahomes had one of the Mets’ clubhouse guys put together a uniform for young Patrick, who was allowed on the field during batting practice.
“An adorable kid,” Valentine said. “I recall Patrick running around in my clubhouse, jumping up and giving guys high-fives after games. During batting practice Pat would take him into the outfield behind second base.”
Some coaches warned Mahomes that he needed to guard his son as line drives were whistling all over Shea Stadium, but the pitcher thought Patrick already knew how to handle himself on a ballfield. Pat and Patrick used to play a game called 500 that earned a participant 25 points for fielding a ground ball, 50 for fielding a one-hopper, and 100 for catching a fly ball. Patrick figured he needed to run down some 100-pointers during BP if he wanted to finally defeat his dad. He was 5 years old in the 2000 season when he caught his first big-league fly, off the bat of Robin Ventura. “I can still remember him holding up the ball, all excited,” his father said.
But back in the fall of 1999, times were tense at Shea. On the night of Oct. 1, the Mets and Pirates had tumbled into extra innings when Valentine asked Mahomes to face the middle of the Pittsburgh order.
“Pat Mahomes never shied away from the baseball,” Valentine said. “He wanted to be center stage.”
The reliever surrendered a leadoff single in the 10th, and after a sacrifice bunt and intentional walk put the Mets’ season on the brink, he answered by retiring the next two batters and then pitching a 1-2-3 inning in the 11th.
The Mets won on a Ventura single, and Mahomes left the building with an 8-0 record. Two days later, with the Mets needing a victory to ultimately force a play-in game against Cincinnati for the wild card, Valentine called on his reliever with the perfect record in the sixth inning of a 1-1 game. With two on and two out and the Pirates’ most dangerous hitter, Kevin Young, at the plate, Mahomes stared down the consequences of a 3-2 count, channeled the energy delivered by 50,000 screaming fans, and struck out Young swinging in arguably the biggest out in the Mets’ 2-1 victory.
“Pat had that magic going for him,” Valentine said. “We were always looking for ways in ’99 to get him in the game, because when he got in the game, we won.”
The Mets beat the Reds to earn the wild card, beat the Diamondbacks in the division series, and then faced the 103-win Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series. Down 0-3 in that NLCS, the Mets rallied at Shea to force a Game 6 in Atlanta that was immediately imperiled by starter Al Leiter, who gave up four runs in the first inning before Valentine summoned Mahomes with runners on first and third and one out.
Mahomes allowed a sacrifice fly before getting Walt Weiss to ground into a double play. “And as I walked off the mound,” the reliever recalled, “I was yelling at the dugout, ‘I’m going to keep it right here. Just score some runs. I’m going to keep it right here.'”
Dan Graziano, Tim Hasselbeck and John Fox list Patrick Mahomes’ preparation, fearlessness and intelligence as qualities they admire about the QB.
Mahomes pitched four scoreless innings, and the Mets turned a 5-0 deficit into an 8-7 lead before the Braves prevailed in the 11th and advanced to the World Series. The following year, Mahomes went 5-3 for the Mets but struggled late in the season and, after his ERA was irreparably harmed by one dreadful outing, was left off the postseason roster. Valentine remembered that it was a close call, that there were extensive conversations among team decision makers about Mahomes and whether he should make the cut, and that Valentine supported his reliever in those conversations.
“I always felt I could count on Pat,” the manager said. “He was one pitch short for a starter, but he was the perfect long man and a godsend for us. He could throw every day, he was a great athlete for a pitcher, and a joy to have on the team. His fastball was pretty straight and it got caught a couple of times, but you always wanted someone on the mound who wasn’t afraid. And Pat was never afraid in big games.”
The Mets lost the 2000 World Series to the Yankees in five, and Mahomes still believes he could’ve made a difference in that outcome. “But I think we lost that World Series when Roger Clemens threw the bat at Mike Piazza (in Game 2),” he said. “Honestly, we should have been out there fighting the Yankees and letting everyone know we were invested. Being that we didn’t get into a fight that night, they gained a little momentum and we could never get it back.”
All these years after failing to get his crack at the Yankee dynasty, Pat Mahomes is planning to be in Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday to watch his son get his crack at the Patriot dynasty. Pat thinks Patrick learned a ton from growing up around major leaguers, from joining Alex Rodriguez during BP and from taking grounders with Derek Jeter. Pat thinks Patrick learned a lot from being on the World Series field as a 5-year-old, shagging fly balls before those Mets-Yankees games, even though his old man wasn’t on the active roster.
“There aren’t many events bigger than the World Series,” Mahomes said. “That’s why I don’t think any moment now is ever too much for Patrick.”
Once upon a time, the father thought the son would someday play October baseball. Pat’s fastball was clocked at 92 mph in high school, and Patrick’s topped out at 95 mph. The son would’ve been a big-throwing, big-hitting outfield prospect, and maybe an early-round pick in the 2014 major-league draft, had Patrick not made it clear to teams that he wanted to chase his quarterbacking dreams. He put up video-game numbers at Texas Tech, and then in 2017 was drafted 10th overall by Kansas City, where his father had signed in 2006 before pitching for the Royals’ Triple-A team in Omaha.
Patrick might already be the best player in the NFL, and the best player from Tyler, Texas, since Earl Campbell. His father used to tell Patrick that he reminded him of Steve McNair. After the Chiefs drafted his son, Mahomes said he saw Patrick as a cross between Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers.
As the athletic director at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, Bobby Valentine calls his former pitcher’s son “the most special athlete I think I’ve watched in any sport in recent years, or maybe in my lifetime.” Valentine said he gets goosebumps when the TV camera shows Pat Mahomes in a stadium box watching Patrick play.
The quarterback was good for 50 touchdown passes, more than 5,000 yards, and a playoff victory over Andrew Luck in his first season as a starter — the Chiefs’ first home playoff victory since Joe Montana was under center. And yet his father’s proudest moment unfolded in October, when Patrick wore Pat’s old Mets jersey, No. 23, to his Sunday night game against Cincinnati.
“That let me know that all of his hard work, and all the late-night hours we put in together, had paid off,” Pat said. “He wore it as a tribute to me, and to what I was able to do in prime-time games under pressure.”
Three months later, Patrick Mahomes will pay tribute to his father by taking the field on a brutally cold Kansas City evening to face the greatest quarterback of all time. If the Chiefs advance to their first Super Bowl in nearly a half century, at least one fan is going to party like it’s 1999.
MLB — Five moves we want to see this offseason that could actually happen
Let’s discuss something other than Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Here are five moves I’d like to see. Actually, it’s more than five, because the first suggestion deals with several moves that could vault the Cincinnati Reds into the thick of the race in the National League Central.
The Reds shake things up by…
1. Signing A.J. Pollock;
2. Acquiring Sonny Gray from the Yankees;
3. Trading Scooter Gennett, Scott Schebler, Taylor Trammell and Tony Santillan to the Indians for Corey Kluber;
4. Installing Nick Senzel at second base.
Following five straight losing seasons, the Reds have stated their intention to compete better in 2019 — the trades for Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Tanner Roark signify such a desire. The only problem? Those players won’t push the needle enough. FanGraphs currently projects the Reds to finish 79-83. They need more.
The biggest problem with the current lineup is the lack of a true center fielder on the roster. Schebler has played there some and they could move Puig from right field, but signing Pollock provides a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder while keeping Puig at his best position.
The Gray-to-the-Reds rumors have been active all offseason. It’s time to make it happen. Gray had a 3.17 road ERA in 2018 and held batters to a .226/.295/.320 line. He simply got destroyed in Yankee Stadium (6.98 ERA), so the hope is that by leaving New York he gets back to where he was with the A’s.
The Reds have allowed the most runs in the NL each of the past two seasons. Wood, Roark and Gray are solid, but none is an ace. The latest big rumor involves Kluber, the Reds and the Padres in a three-way deal, but let’s just cut out the middleman. The Indians need a second baseman and outfield depth and Gennett and Schebler provide immediate help, and including Gennett trims $9.7 million off the payroll. Trammell is a top-20 overall prospect in the game who would project as Cleveland’s center fielder of the future while Santillan is a power arm who reached Double-A in 2019 and is close to the majors.
All this and the Reds still have Senzel (the player the Padres are reportedly lusting over in that three-way trade). The Reds would roll out this lineup:
And this rotation:
Yes, you’ve added a lot of payroll. You subtract Gennett (Schebler is still pre-arbitration) while adding Kluber’s $17 million, Pollock at an estimated $15 million (at four years, $60 million) and Gray at $7.5 million. That’s a net of about $30 million, pushing the Reds’ estimated payroll to $143 million, a big increase over 2018’s estimated $111 million.
Here’s the thing though: It’s really just a one-year hit. Kemp (the Reds are paying $14.75 million), Roark ($10 million), Puig ($9.7 million), Wood (estimated $9.5 million) and Gray are all free agents after 2019 — that’s $51.45 million off the payroll. In fact, the addition of all those one-year players is even more reason for the Reds to push harder in 2019.
Colorado Rockies trade Jon Gray to the Minnesota Twins for Byron Buxton
This is your classic change-of-scenery challenge trade. The Rockies grew so frustrated with Gray last season that they sent him down to Triple-A for a short spell. He finished 12-9 with a 5.12 ERA. Buxton played just 24 games with the Twins and hit .156, got injured, spent the summer in the minors and wasn’t even called up in September. The Twins said it was because the wrist injury was still lingering and because there wasn’t enough playing time to go around. Hmm.
At their best, both players are explosive talents. When healthy, Buxton is the best defensive center fielder in the game and he produced a 5.2 WAR season in 2017 when he hit .253/.314/.413. Gray had a 3.67 ERA with the Rockies in 2017, a 3.1 WAR season over 20 starts. Gray has just over three years of service time and Buxton just over two, so the Rockies would be trading three years of Gray for four years of Buxton, which seems to even the trade since Gray is probably the “safer” player given Buxton’s inconsistent results at the plate.
The Rockies need a center fielder. The team’s depth chart lists Ian Desmond as the center fielder, an acknowledgement that Charlie Blackmon no longer has the range to play there. Desmond did play center for the Rangers in 2016, but wasn’t great there (minus-6 defensive runs saved) and at 33 he’d be one of the oldest center fielders in the league. David Dahl and Raimel Tapia are options, but Dahl is better suited for right field and Tapia is a fourth outfielder. Buxton may not hit any better than Desmond, but he could be 30 runs better in the field.
The Rockies would still have depth in their rotation with German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Tyler Anderson, Antonio Senzatela and Chad Bettis. They could give Jeff Hoffman another shot and prospect Peter Lambert is just about ready. They could also add one of the remaining free-agent starters like Gio Gonzalez, Wade Miley or Clay Buchholz.
For the Twins, they give up on Buxton’s potential, but get a potential top-of-the-rotation arm who should excel away from Coors. Gray would give them a second power arm behind Jose Berrios and push Kyle Gibson into the No. 3 slot. Max Kepler can slide over to center with Jake Cave in right. Plus, prospect Alex Kirilloff may not be that far away from the majors. He hit .348 with 20 home runs in A-ball and is advanced enough that he could be ready after half a season in Double-A.
Philadelphia Phillies sign Dallas Keuchel
Yes, the Phillies’ efforts have been on signing Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, but even if they land one of them, they still have the resources to sign Keuchel. The current rotation is nice, but it still projects as only 14th-best in the majors, via FanGraphs. Nick Pivetta certainly has breakout potential after striking out 188 in 164 innings, but he allowed 24 home runs and his 4.77 ERA wasn’t just because of Citizens Bank Park — he had a 5.33 ERA on the road. Zach Eflin also improved after rough showings in 2016 and 2017. Jake Arrieta was solid if unspectacular. Bottom line: There’s room for a No. 2 guy in the rotation behind Aaron Nola.
Signing Keuchel would allow the Phillies to move Vince Velasquez to the bullpen, where he could become a dominant multi-inning weapon — a guy who pitches 45 or 50 games and 90 innings with big-time strikeout rates. Even with Velasquez in the pen, there is backup rotation depth. The Phillies still have Jerad Eickhoff and Enyel De Los Santos as well.
Los Angeles Angels sign Adam Ottavino
Let’s see. The Angels signed Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill. They signed Jonathan Lucroy. They signed Justin Bour. If the Angels were conducting a 2015 simulation replay, you might want those. Alas, it’s 2019 and that’s not exactly a fearsome foursome.
Hey, it could work out. There’s some minor upside to all four players. The Angels actually project to 84-78, which could put them in the thick of at least the wild-card race. They’ve already benefited from the Mariners tearing things down a bit, and the A’s haven’t done anything to build a rotation. So the Angels could still contend without doing anything. But they should do something, and adding Adam Ottavino makes sense. He won’t cost as much as Craig Kimbrel and may actually be better over the next three or four seasons given the monster season he had with the Rockies with 112 K’s in 77 ⅔ innings and a .158 average allowed. The back end of the Angels’ bullpen remains unsettled and Ottavino could be the closer or the eighth-inning guy to Ty Buttrey or Justin Anderson.
The San Diego Padres acquire Austin Riley and Luiz Gohara from the Atlanta Braves for Hunter Renfroe and Francisco Mejia
A challenge trade of young players. The Padres just announced that Wil Myers is moving back to the outfield, an area where they’re already overcrowded with young players who need big league at-bats. That means they need a third baseman; they could sign free agent Mike Moustakas, but rebuilding the 2015 Royals probably wouldn’t work a second time. Meanwhile, the Braves need a right fielder and could use a young catcher to back up Tyler Flowers and Brian McCann (who may not have much left in the tank anyway).
Riley profiles similar to Renfroe at the plate: big power, but he probably won’t hit for much average and the walk rate is a little suspect. He rates as a good defender, is a top-100 overall prospect (MLB.com actually has him at No. 43 overall) and he’s pretty much ready for the majors after reaching Triple-A. The Braves have Josh Donaldson signed for just one year, but minus Riley can just move Johan Camargo back to third in 2020 when Donaldson departs. Renfroe cut way down on his strikeouts in 2018 and emerged as a useful player (2.4 WAR).
Gohara and Mejia both lost some prospect luster in 2018, Gohara with injuries and dealing with family issues (his father died in the offseason and his mother had heart surgery) and Mejia after a so-so campaign in Triple-A with the Indians and Padres. Mejia could be a utility guy in 2019 — catching a little, playing a little outfield, pinch-hitting — or even hit his way into starting more games behind the plate. By 2020, he should be ready to take on full-time duties as a catcher. Gohara gives the Braves a big arm with top-of-the-rotation potential if he figures everything out.
City of Anaheim approves lease extension for Los Angeles Angels
The City of Anaheim voted in favor of a one-year extension to the Los Angeles Angels‘ stadium lease, giving both sides more time to potentially come up with a long-term solution. The Angels are now scheduled to play in Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, through the 2020 season, as approved by a 5-2 vote in Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
“It is clear to me that the team’s priority is to stay in Anaheim,” Mayor Harry Sidhu said in a statement. “We need a plan to make that happen, and we need time to make that happen. This will give us time to find a deal that benefits our residents, with a goal of keeping baseball in Anaheim for another 50 years or more.”
The Angels have been playing in Angel Stadium since 1966, making it the fourth-oldest ballpark in the major leagues. Since Arte Moreno took over as owner in 2003, the Angels and the New York Yankees are the only teams to sell 3 million tickets each season.
But the Angels and the City of Anaheim haven’t really engaged in dialogue about a long-term plan since 2016. Three years earlier, former Mayor Tom Tait, who completed his final term in December, nixed a proposed deal that involved Moreno paying the $150 million in renovations but being able to lease the surrounding land, and make full profit off future infrastructure, for only $1 per year.
In mid-October, the Angels took advantage of their one-year opt-out provision so they wouldn’t be locked into their lease through 2029, a move that meant the upcoming season might be their last at Angel Stadium. But Sindhu, sworn in last month, met with Moreno last week, and both sides decided that more time would be beneficial, prompting the critical proposal in Tuesday’s meeting.
The Angels are expected to continue exploring other potential new homes throughout Southern California but renovating the current stadium or building a new one in Anaheim are also on the table.
Sindhu has said from the onset that his goal is to keep the Angels in Anaheim.
The city’s release stated that doing so is “central” to the expansion taking place at the nearby Platinum Triangle, an 820-acre mixed-use development site that surrounds Angel Stadium and the nearby Honda Center, home to the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks.
“There are only 30 Major League Baseball teams in the nation,” Sindhu said in a statement, “and being home to one is a huge asset to any city.”
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