Redskins’ Case Keenum is battling for the quarterback job. At this point, it’s all he knows

Washington Post

Late Thursday night, standing in a small room below the stadium in Cleveland, Redskins quarterback Case Keenum scoffed.

It’s easy to suggest that little has been fair for Keenum since Denver traded him to Washington in March. After all, he nearly took the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl in 2017, and he signed the following offseason to be the Broncos’ starting quarterback. Then, just weeks after the Redskins acquired him, they drafted the player who is almost certain to be the franchise’s quarterback of the future, leaving Keenum to fight for the right to be what amounts to a placeholder starter until Dwayne Haskins is ready.

Given his first chance to prove the job should be his, in Washington’s preseason opener Thursday against the Browns, Keenum started the game with second- and third-team players. They faced a defense that featured most of the Browns’ starters, including star pass rusher Myles Garrett.

Yet asked about the unfairness of it all, after he was left exposed as the Cleveland pass rush rolled in, Keenum just shook his head. Unfair? He has been fighting for an NFL job for eight years. Nothing seems unfair anymore.

“It’s not tough,” the 31-year-old said. “I’ve been in this long enough for me to know we’re going to play with different combinations of offensive line guys all year long. So you get 11 guys out there, and everyone is being coached up and is here for a reason. You take that and continue to do your job and get first downs and score touchdowns.”

Keenum’s NFL career has included more than his fair share of unfair. He left the University of Houston as the NCAA’s all-time leader in total offense and touchdown passes, among other records. But he went undrafted in 2012 and had to scramble for a spot on the Houston Texans’ roster, then bounced among the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, Texans, Vikings and Broncos over the next six years. He started at least two games every year from 2013 to 2018, helped Minnesota to the NFC title game in 2017 and went 6-10 as the starter for Denver last year. But each season brought some kind of scramble, and nothing seemed easy.

Given Colt McCoy’s injury issues and Haskins’s inexperience, Keenum has seemed more and more like the logical choice to begin the season as the Redskins’ starting quarterback. But Coach Jay Gruden has yet to declare him the leader in the competition.

“I don’t want to come to any conclusions right now,” Gruden said. “It’s silly to. There’s still a lot of ball left to be played, lot of passes, lot of things, lot of situational work we still have to do … [and] three [preseason] games left. There’s more work to be had.”

Keenum played three possessions of Thursday’s 30-10 loss. While facing an aggressive pass rush, he completed 4 of 9 passes for 60 yards. His most impressive plays were a 10-yard scramble for a first down, a third-and-nine pass to Robert Davis that turned into a 43-yard pass interference penalty and a 46-yard touchdown toss to Davis three plays later.

“I was impressed,” Gruden said.

Veteran QB Keenum is fighting for his career with the Redskins

Keenum completed 4 of 9 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown in three series Thursday night. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Gruden hasn’t revealed how he will use his quarterbacks in Thursday’s preseason game against visiting Cincinnati. McCoy, who missed the Cleveland game after limping off the practice field earlier in the week, practiced Saturday and is likely to play. If that’s the case, Keenum again might not get more than a couple of series.

He hasn’t complained about his circumstances; any questions about the quarterback battle have drawn quiet nods. After all of the other QB competitions in Keenum’s past, this is just another fight.

“I’ve competed in this league for a long time,” he said earlier in training camp. “I’ve had to share reps everywhere I go. Do I want them all? Yeah, I want to take all the reps. I know I have to stand behind [the others in practice] and I’ve got to pretend that I’m in the rep. I’ve been at places where I was competing for the backup [role] and I traded days. I had a day off, and then I got the backup reps the next day, and I didn’t like that at all.

“So the fact that every day we are getting out there and competing and getting reps — not just mental reps where I’m watching but actually in it, too — it’s been good.”

Right now, it’s the best chance he’s going to get.

Q and A With New York Giants Owner, John Mara

by Scott Mandel

Q: Does this feel like 2004 at all, bringing in a young quarterback and looking ahead?
A: I guess you can make that comparison, yeah. We weren’t quite sure when that was all going to take place and how it would all kind of work out, but yeah, there’s a certain similarity to it. I like to think that we have a better team than we had in 2004, but we’ll see about that.

Q: What have you seen from Daniel (Jones) so far?
A: So far, so good. He’s everything that we thought he would be. He’s been terrific on the practice field, did a good job the other night. I think people need to temper their enthusiasm a little bit. It’s one preseason game, one series, but so far, so good.

Q: When you look at Daniel and praise him and think of things about him, does any part of you also drift toward Eli (Manning), and when you would have that whole dynamic come and go?
A: Yeah, a little bit, but Eli is our starting quarterback and will start the season. He’s obviously been a great representative of our franchise for a lot of years, and will continue to be, so we’ll just have to see how that one unfolds.

Q: Ideally, how would you like it to unfold this season for Eli?
A: I hope Eli has a great year and Daniel never sees the field. That would be an ideal world. You’d like to see that. Again, at the end of the day, it’s going to be a decision by the head coach as to when or if Daniel ends up playing this year.

Q: Is that true, really? Obviously, you want the team to win a lot of games and make the playoffs, but if Daniel doesn’t play one snap as a rookie, you’d be okay with that?
A: I’d be very happy about that because it means that we’re having a great year and Eli’s having a great year.

Q: Do you think that’s possible?
A: Sure, why not?

Q: John, what do you think that would mean for next year if that’s the case?
A: Let’s worry about next year next year, seeing that we’ve got to get through this season first.

Q: John, you said that the 2004 team was not as talented as this team. What do you see from this team?
A: Well, I think we’ve done a pretty good job in the draft the last couple years and we’ve got some good, young talent on both sides of the ball. I think our offensive line is better than it’s been, so I think there’s reason for some optimism there, but until we start playing some games and winning some games, that’s all it is right now. I also like the feel of the locker room, so we’ll see.

Q: You said you’ll worry about next year next year. You’re fine with holding off on anything with Eli, because obviously he’s in the last year of a contract, until after the season? 
A: I think we’re in a one year at a time mode right now. 

Q: Do you imagine that if and when a decision comes on the quarterback situation this season that you’ll have to approve it?
A: Well, I’d like to be informed of it before I read it from you guys. But, at the end of the day, just like it was in ’04, it was Tom’s (Coughlin) decision back then, and it will be Pat’s (Shurmur) decision this time. Again, hopefully, it’s a decision he doesn’t have to make until way in the future.

Q: You mentioned the locker room. Was the locker room an issue last year?
A: I think it was not as strong as it could have been. I think there’s just a different feel to it this year. I think some players have commented about that, too, so we’ll see. A lot of times, I think that gets taken out of proportion. At the end of the day, if you start winning some games, it builds some enthusiasm, it builds some good feelings, some positive vibes, and I think that’s what we need to do more than anything else. Right now, it feels pretty good.

Q: At this point, what has given you faith in Eli? It’s obviously been a few years since he had the type of success he had earlier in his career.
A: I think he’s played well when the protection has been there in front of him, when he has confidence in the protection. I thought that the second half of last year he played much better, our protection got a little bit better, and obviously Saquon (Barkley) was having a big year. So, I think our offensive line is better this year than it has been, and he’s had a terrific camp so far.

Q: John, Eli’s the longest tenured player in franchise history. How much thought has been given to how hard it might be when you have to say goodbye to him?
A: It’ll be a very difficult, emotional moment, to be sure, but I’m not thinking about that just yet. He’s still the starting quarterback. 

Q: Around the league, Dave Gettleman has taken a lot of heat for the moves he has made, for his attitude, for a lot of things. People are taking a lot of shots at him. Has any of your confidence wavered at all throughout this whole process?
A: Not at all. I think the best thing for me about Dave is he makes decisions that he feels are in the best interest of the franchise and he doesn’t give a damn what people think about it, be it the media, or be it fans, or anybody. He has the courage of his convictions, and you have to have that. He’s set about to try and rebuild this team and change the culture a bit in the locker room. I think, as I said before, our last two draft classes were pretty strong, and that’s what gives me confidence going forward. I think we’re moving in the right direction. Again, until we start winning games, it’s hard to sell people on that notion, but that’s what I believe. 

Q: Did he give you pause at any time about all the talent that went out the door? Not just Odell (Beckham Jr.), but Landon (Collins), (Olivier) Vernon, a lot of guys.
A: I wouldn’t say I had any—there was never any doubt in Dave’s ability or in what his motivation was, or what his skill level was. You don’t like to see all that talent go out the door, but let’s face it, we had one winning season in ’16 and the other five or six years, nothing, not since we won the last Super Bowl, so we needed some drastic changes. Again, he had the courage of his convictions, he knew they would be unpopular moves, but he went and made them anyway. 

Q: What do you need to see this season to consider it a success, or a step forward?
A: We need to win some games. I want to feel like at the end of the season we’re moving in the right direction. I’m not going to say it has to be a minimum number of games that we have to win, or we have to make the playoffs. I want to feel when I’m walking off the field after the last game of the season, whenever that is, that this franchise is headed in the right direction. That’s, to me, the most important thing.

Q: What is your overall patience? Obviously guys don’t last very long if they don’t win?
A: I’m not very patient, I take the losses pretty hard, but I understand that you have to make decisions that are in the best interests of your team in the long run and not worry about the short term as much. It doesn’t make it any easier when you are losing these games, but I understand what he is doing. I think he has us headed in the right direction.

Q: You have a big investment in your future with Daniel Jones. Are your coach and GM tied in with that?
A: Absolutely. I heard something the other day, I forget who the commentator was, that the coach was not crazy about our first-round pick. Nothing can be further from the truth and what sold me on (Daniel) was Dave, Pat and our scouts, Mike Shula, everybody was sold on this kid. That’s what made it easier for me to okay. Pat’s been a huge advocate right from the draft. Everything he’s done so far has been what we expected and what we hoped for. 

Q: What was your role in the whole decision to draft Daniel?
A: I just had the final approval, on all decisions like that. For me, if the general manager and the head coach have a conviction, then I’m going to let them go with it.

Q: Did you watch any college tape of Daniel?
A: I watched a little bit. One of the first questions I asked him when I met him was: do you have thick skin. Then after we drafted him, I asked him: do you understand why I asked you that question. He smiled, he can handle it, he can handle being the quarterback of the New York Giants.

Q: Did it give you pause because of the Eli dynamic?
A: Not really. When you have a conviction about a player, particularly at that position, you better go ahead and take him. So, there was no pause.

Q: Do you see a lot of similarities between Daniel and Eli the way other people do?
A: When I first sat down with Daniel, it was eerie to me how similar. It was like talking to a 22-year-old Eli, which is a good thing.

Q: Are you satisfied with the job Pat Shurmur has done? The team only won five games last season.
A: I’m not satisfied with winning five games, but I think he has us headed in the right direction. I think the players believe in him and we have a lot of confidence in him.  

Mets Win 14th of Last 15 Games in Another Come-from-Behind Win Over Nationals

By Scott Mandel

There is always an unsung player who shows up big in baseball pennant races or post-season games. The guy you least expect to play the hero on the biggest stages of the sport.

Luis Guillorme? New York Mets reserve infielder has now taken his place alongside such previous luminaries as Al Weis of the 1969 Mets, Brian Doyle of the 1977 Yankees and Gene Larkin of the 1991 Minnesota Twins. All of whom came up big when nobody in the ballpark had a right to expect that from them.

Guillorme picked a perfect time for his first big league homer — a tying shot leading off the eighth — J.D. Davis added a go-ahead sacrifice fly and the Mets worked their magic again, beating the Washington Nationals, 4-3, Saturday night at Citi Field for their eighth straight victory.

The Mets have won 15 of 16 and are on their best roll since a 16-1 run in 1990. They pulled within a half-game of Washington for the first National League wild card and will try for a three-game sweep Sunday.

Juan Soto put Washington ahead, 3-2, with his second home run of the game in the eighth inning, but Guillorme, a backup infielder, countered against Fernando Rodney with his first connection in the bottom of the inning. Guillorme entered with a .192 average in 56 major league games.

After two more Mets reached against Rodney (0-5), Daniel Hudson relieved. He got one out, intentionally walked slugger Pete Alonso, and then Davis hit a drive to deep right field that brought in newcomer Joe Panik for the tiebreaking run.

Wilson Ramos, celebrating his 32nd birthday, hit a two-out drive to right-center, but Victor Robles made a leaping catch against the wall to end the inning.

It was the second consecutive blown save for Washington’s bullpen. On Friday night, Sean Doolittle allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 7-6 loss.

Soto hit a two-run drive in the first inning against Noah Syndergaard, and the 2-0 lead held until Davis and Ramos put fervor into Flushing with consecutive solo shots off Patrick Corbin in the fourth.

Soto struck again in the eighth against Seth Lugo (5-2), ending the reliever’s string of 14 consecutive scoreless appearances. Lugo got two outs to tie the Mets record with 26 consecutive batters retired before Soto hit a no-doubter to right field.

Soto has 24 homers this season, and the 20-year-old already has four career multihomer games.

Lugo also pitched the ninth as All-Star closer Edwin Díaz warmed in the bullpen.

With the Mets making an improbable charge for a playoff spot, fans lined up outside Citi Field five hours before the first pitch and many stood and clapped for lineup introductions as if it were opening day. Soto’s first-inning drive quickly quieted things down.

Davis and Ramos brought fans back to their feet in the fourth. Davis has four homers in his past seven games, and five of his 14 connections this season have been against the Nationals.

The Mets have hit multiple homers in eight consecutive games, breaking a franchise record set this June. Corbin had allowed just two homers over his previous eight starts combined, and he had given up 0.79 homers per nine innings since the start of 2018, trailing only Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom among major league starters.

Syndergaard, pitching to Ramos for the first time since June 15, threw seven innings of two-run ball with five strikeouts and seven hits allowed. He faced one over the minimum in his final four innings, and he completed seven for the sixth straight outing.

Amazin’ Mets Walk Off in Ninth Against Nats, Move into Playoff Position

Conforto with clutch hit wins it for the Amazin’s

By Scott Mandel

They’ve done it again. The New York Mets continued their magic carpet ride in this very strange baseball season by coming from behind tonight with four runs in the bottom of the ninth to defeat their division rival Washington Nationals, 7-6.

Michael Conforto, whom the Mets have been waiting for most of this season if not his career to break out into the star they’ve expected, continued his recent hot streak when he turned on left-handed pitcher, Sean Gilmartin’s inside fastball and rocketed a line drive over the head of National’s right fielder, Adam Eaton. With that, Juan Legares walked in from third base as the Mets were winners for the 14th time in their last 15 games and upped their record since the All-Star break to 20-6.

This was after Todd Frazier, another player who was ticketed to be traded or released just a few weeks ago, tied the game with a three-run homer in that same ninth inning, leading to pandemonium at Citi Field.

The Mets are now a half game out of the playoff hunt. Two weeks ago, they were 11 games out, and left for dead.

Marcus Stroman, recently acquired from Toronto, made his first home start as a Met. It was an appearance he will not forget. Citi Field was literally shaking last night with a deliriously sold-out crowd on their feet for most of that last inning. Stroman, who reportedly was highly disappointed when he was not traded to the Yankees, may be changing his tune.

“It was amazing. That crowd brought it,” Stroman said. “I’m extremely grateful to have their presence there, their energy. I don’t think they realize how much we feed off of that, and how much that gets us going and allows us to elevate our game when we need to.”

Normally a guy who gets a lot of ground balls and not an elite strikeout pitcher, Stroman punched out seven of his first nine Nats’ batters. The Long Island native ended up, in front of one of the loudest Citi Field crowds in recent history, soaking in the playoff-type atmosphere of his hometown city.

“I can’t put it into words. I want to pitch [in] every single game like that,” Stroman said. “It felt, honestly, like a playoff atmosphere, like that [World Baseball Classic] atmosphere that I had, from the second I walked out there. The entire crowd was going crazy. I love energy. I love that. Keep bringing that energy New York. We’re gonna feed off of that.”

With friends and family watching from the crowd, Stroman opened looking like the ace who made his first All-Star team this season, matching Washington’s ace, Stephen Strasburg zero for zero.

“I’m just happy to be here. And it’s a great vibe that we have on this team.”

Another guy happy Stroman is here is his new manager, Mickey Callaway.

“He battles. There’s no doubt about it. This kid is gonna battle and you’re gonna have to beat him. That’s what you want out of every guy on your team,” Callaway said. “There is no doubt that Marcus Stroman has that type of personality.”

“His slider was really working. And, he was really feeding off of this crowd,” Callaway added.

After last night’s walk-off hero, Conforto, ended things with his base hit, his Mets teammates stormed out of the dugout to surround him. Pete Alonzo, a very strong man, ripped Conforto’s jersey right off his back during the celebratory scrum at second base.

“Today was probably the most fun I’ve had up here in the big leagues,” Conforto said. “It was special. The stadium was packed. It felt like the playoffs.”

“When guys’ shirts come off after the game, I’d say it’s probably been a very good day,” said Callaway.

Indeed, Mickey. It was a very good day for the Mets.

Mets Win Again Over Lowly Marlins, Pennant Race Begins This Friday at Citi Field vs. Nationals

by Scott Mandel

This is what a pennant race in New York City is supposed to feel like.

The New York Mets, left for dead just one month ago, with a manager barely clinging to his job and a new general manager under fire for a series of moves that mostly failed, are the hottest team in the sport since the All-Star break.

Today, in a matinee game at Citi Field, they won their 13th game out of their last 14, moved their record to 19-8 since the All-Star break and have moved firmly into the wild card race in the National League after sweeping the hapless Miami Marlins, including today’s 7-2 win behind Steven Matz. The Mets are now one game behind for the second wild card position, behind the Washington Nationals, who visit Citi Field this Friday.

The Mets, dead as a door nail in early July, are now firmly in the National League playoff hunt, just 30 days later. Old Mets fans may have to dig up that relic of a team moniker from 1962, the Amazin’ Mets, to describe what this 2019 team is now doing.

The metamorphosis in the Mets pitching staff continued today, as Steven Matz pitched into the seventh inning, continuing a pattern Mets manager Mickey Callaway has set for his starters.

Today, in a 12:10 matinee, Matz, the 27-year old lefty who has averaged 5 innings per start over the course of his career, was bound and determined to match his compadres by pitching more efficiently and later into games. Mission accomplished.

Despite the oppressive humidity, Matz came within one out of completing that objective as the Mets won their fifth game in a row and their 13th out of their last 14 games.

Matz gave up a run in the second and escaped further damage that inning due to some brutal base running by the Marlins, as both Lewis Brinson and Starlin Castro were thrown out on the basepaths. He also allowed a solo shot to Brian Anderson in the sixth, but manager Mickey Callaway praised Matz’s ability to slow down on the mound, which he has struggled with at times.

“We’ve talked about this a lot the past couple years,’’ the manager said. “He continued to understand he needs to focus on the next pitch and tonight in particular, I think he did a good job of stepping back.”

“It was definitely a conscious effort,’’ Matz said of taking an occasional breather. “The heat and humidity worked in my favor because I couldn’t rush. … Throughout the whole game, I was mindful of working quick, but also taking a second every once in a while.”

Matz wasn’t the only big contributor to today’s festivities, which was merely a prelude to the biggest month of games this franchise will be playing since their 2015 World Series season.

Michael Conforto, whom the Mets and their fans have seemingly been waiting for five years to turn into Stan Musial (Google him, young ones), hit his 24th and 25th homers of the season to lead the offensive assault against the Marlin’s helpless pitching staff. He’s been a streaky hitter throughout his still-young career, struggling to find consistency. He figures he’s picked a good time to heat up.

Pete Alonzo is coming out of his post-All-Star event funk, hitting his 37th homer in the first inning, a two-run job. He has now hit the fifth most homers in a season in franchise history, four behind Carlos Beltran and Todd Hundley, who hit 41 in 2006 and 1996, respectively. With 47 games remaining, it seems a cinch the rookie first baseman will fly past that record.

But, as is usually the case in baseball, pitching will get a team to the promised land of the post-season. Mets starters have dominated since the All-Star break, pitching to a 2.92 ERA and averaging 6.2 innings per outing, the best in the game. They are feeding off of one another.

The season takes a serious turn, now. The Mets may be 13-1 in their last 14 games, may be just 1 1/2 games out of a playoff position, and may have the best starting pitching in the sport but now, it’s time to play the big boys. Washington is up, next, on Friday, with ace Stephen Strasburg looking to set a tone for the Nationals against these upstarts from New York.

This is what a pennant race feels like.

NBA Legend Lance Stephenson Taking his Talents to China

by Scott Mandel

Old buddy, Lance Stephenson, the Coney Island, Brooklyn kid who made it to the NBA and became better known for his on-court antics than his sometimes superb basketball talents, is about to sign a contract to play in China next season.

According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Stephenson agreed to a one-year, $4 million deal with the Liaoning Flying Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association.

“Born Ready,” as he was called when he was 14-years old, and dominating the blacktop playgrounds of New York City against much older players, found his market in the NBA had apparently dried up at age 29. He was unable to get an offer for this upcoming season after the Lakers, his last employer, did not extend the one-year deal he signed with them last year.

His career should have been more productive than it turned out. His talent level, on both sides of the ball, was considered by many to reside in the elite section of the NBA. But, some combination of career-long immaturity, entitlement, cockiness, and corniness mitigated his talent, in the eyes of many NBA executives.

He was a constant triple-double threat during the 2013-14 campaign and averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. However, he has been a journeyman since and played for the Charlotte HornetsLos Angeles ClippersMemphis GrizzliesNew Orleans PelicansMinnesota Timberwolves, Pacers again and Lakers over the last five seasons. He suited up for three different teams in 2016-17 alone.

Stephenson shot 37.1 percent from deep in 2018-19 on his way to averaging 7.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.

When he was a young player with the Indiana Pacers, just two years out of high school back in 2011-12, his cockiness and physical style of play during Pacer practice sessions rubbed some of the veteran players, like Dahntay Jones, the wrong way.

In the locker room after one such competitive practice, Jones started a fight with Stephenson, which was soon broken up. Upon hearing of the altercation, Pacers President Larry Bird came down to the locker room.

According to a highly reliable source who was in that room, Bird read the team the riot act. He told those players, which included Paul George, Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger, and David West,

“Lay off the kid. He’s possibly the most talented player in this room and you need to encourage him to mature and to get better. He makes us a better team.”

Less than a month after that 2012 season ended, Bird traded Dahntay Jones to the Dallas Mavericks and handed Jones’ job, playing the wing from the big guard or small forward position, to Lance Stephenson.

Stephenson would go on to become a key part of the Pacers teams of that era, leading the league in triple doubles in 2013-14. He was just 22 years old that season and his future as an NBA star seemed in place. He, along with George led the Pacers to memorable Eastern Conference finals against the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-led Miami Heat, in 2013 and 2014, each series concluding with a game seven.

Stephenson was on his way, or so it seemed.

With an expiring contract in 2014, Stephenson, flourishing in Indiana, was expecting a financial reward commensurate with his exciting play for the Pacers. Instead, they underwhelmed him, leading to his acceptance of a three-year, $29 million deal from the Charlotte Hornets.

It started a league-wide sojourn for Born Ready that took him to six more teams, all with different styles and coaches. Stephenson found out he didn’t easily fit into the roles each coach wanted from him.

H is now at a basketball crossroads, which will be leading to the same country fellow Lincoln High School stars, Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair, were forced to explore. Marbury, who had worn out his welcome in the NBA at age 30, became a national legend in China, on a par with Yao Ming. A statue was built in Marbury’s likeness in Beijing, where he led that team to two consecutive CBA championships.

Image result for lance stephenson
The infamous blow in the air moment during the Pacers-Heat 2014 Eastern Conference finals

Telfair used the Chinese Basketball Association as a launching point to get back into the NBA. He averaged 25 points per game overseas and the Oklahoma City Thunder signed him to a series of 10-day contracts though he wasn’t able to parlay that into a long-term commitment from the NBA.

Stephenson is hoping to play well in China, and upon the end of the CBA season in February, 2020, come back to the states to help an NBA team make the playoffs.

Liaoning Province in China is in the northeast sector of the country, bordering North Korea. The NBA already has one of its old stars, Dennis Rodman, who pals around with North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Un. It wouldn’t shock anyone if Lance Stephenson becomes a national hero in China or, begins basketball clinics in North Korea. Two Brooklyn kids, Stephenson and Marbury, from the same high school, using the power of sports to dominate the socio-athletic-political spectrum of two Asian powers.

One gets the feeling Born Ready, always happiest when he could just be a big kid with a ball in his hands, will somehow find his way back to the United States to play basketball again, whether it’s in the NBA or on a black top in a playground.

Mets’ Matz Pitches First Complete Game Shutout of his Career, Five-hits Pirates

by Scott Mandel

Go ahead, Mets fans. You can dream a little more after tonight’s gem thrown by current number four pitcher in the Mets rotation, Steven Matz, as he pitched the first complete game shutout of his career, beating the Pirates on a masterful five-hitter, 3-0.

Matz may soon become the number two starter, behind Jacob deGrom if the Mets follow through on the rumors flying around this team they will soon be trading Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler by Wednesday’s trade deadline.

But, keep dreaming. Your Mets have now won nine of their last 13 games and four in a row. Their record is 49-55, just six games below .500, aka, mediocrity. They have passed two teams in the wild card race, with just four teams ahead of them. They are six games behind that last wild card slot and, as you may recall, that is not a number that cannot be overcome.

The Mets are viewed, especially by some in the media, as sellers instead of buyers as the trade deadline approaches but, the achilles heel of this team, its pitching, has righted itself since the All-Star break. In the 13 games since then, the Mets own the best E.R.A. in baseball, at 2.62. The bullpen, since 82-year old Phil Regan became the new pitching coach, has become nearly lockdown, with the exception of Jeurys Familia, who remains an important work in progress. All this has led to a 9-4 record, since the mid-summer break.

Mets manager, Mickey Callaway, doesn’t think they’re out of the race to the post-season yet, nor should he.

“I think we can get on a run, here,” said Callaway. “We’re pitching and we’re hitting and we are playing good baseball. Let’s just keep playing and see where it ends up. I like this team when it’s playing on all cylinders, as we imagined it in spring training.”

Matz pitched the most efficient game of his career, staying away from the full counts that have plagued him since he reached the majors. He finished off the Pirates in just 99 pitches.

“He was executing all four of his pitches,” Callaway said. “I thought his cutter/slider was the best I’ve ever seen. He was just tremendous in every way.”

After the game, Matz looked more relieved than usual.

“This is what I try to do every game,” Matz said of his first complete-game shutout as a pro, “so it was good to finally do it.”

Matz was backed by home runs from Michael Conforto, his 19th, and J.D. Davis, starting in left field with Dom Smith placed on the injured list with a foot issue.

Conforto blasted a homer into the second deck in right field

Matz also introduced a new pitch in his arsenal – a slow curve ball. His velocity on the pitch ranged from 78 to 82, and kept Pirates hitters off-balance. Perhaps, another influence of Phil Regan, or even Jason Vargas, today’s pitcher, who has mastered the technique of slow curve balls.

If Matz does move up to the number two slot in the Mets rotation, it will mean two things. The Mets have given up on the season, having traded their present pitching assets for futures. Or, that Matz has finally put together all of his potential and is realizing his talent.

Does it all change the front office’s thoughts about trades? That remains to be seen but, with this team finally playing in-synch with its talent, keep dreaming, Mets fans.

Football Giants’ Quarterback Battle Between Daniel Jones and Eli Manning Underway

By Michael Eisen


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Daniel Jones was standing at a podium answering questions from reporters today when Kurt Warner approached a Giants acquaintance and said, “he’s so much like Eli.”

“It’s amazing,” Warner said after Jones’ news conference had concluded. “Even some of the phrases he uses remind you of Eli (Manning). You talk about what you see on film and some of their mannerisms as players, but it’s crazy. You hear them talk and it’s like ‘Oh my gosh!’ These guys are like the same guy, it’s just Eli 15 years younger. It is fascinating. But again, not a bad guy to model yourself after, from a lot of different standpoints.” 

Warner, a Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, is hardly the first observer to note that Jones, the quarterback chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft, is similar in comportment, demeanor and throwing motion to Manning, who is preparing for his 16th season as the team’s starter.

Jones is eventually expected to succeed Manning. That made Warner’s presence fraught with symbolism, because the Giants haven’t changed quarterbacks since 2004, when Manning, then a rookie, replaced Warner. The Giants were 5-4 but had lost two games in a row and three of their last four. Tom Coughlin, then in his first season as the Giants’ head coach, was looking to the future.

“I think Tom Coughlin’s approach was, ‘We’re not a great football team,’” said Warner, who visited the Giants’ training camp in his capacity as an NFL Network analyst. “That doesn’t mean something can’t happen, but is it better to kind of start the future and to start building and get our young quarterback ready for that run two years from now and three years from now. We got seven games under our belt that were rough games, but to be able to handle that and work through that no doubt sped up the curve for Eli so he was ready earlier, and obviously it played out well for their (two) championships.

“When Tom brought me in, he told me, ‘It’s not because Eli is better. It’s just because this is what we have to do.’ It wasn’t like every day I was going, ‘I’m better than Eli.’ That’s not the scenario here. I just have to accept it, and help where I can help, and compete where I can compete and hope I get another chance. I think that made it different. I give Tom so much credit, because he looked me in the eye and told me, ‘This is why. It’s not fair to you. You’ve got to deal with it.’”

Warner joined the Giants knowing he was holding the position until Manning was ready, and his stay here would almost certainly be short. The Manning/Jones situation is different, because the former is the greatest quarterback and arguably most popular player in franchise history. No one has played and won more games in a Giants uniform.

“All that stuff has to come into play,” Warner said. “…there’s a lot of dynamics, but I think there’s a lot more flexibility with this situation because of who Eli is and the ability to really kind of let this thing play out instead of sit there and look for the first opportunity to get Daniel – I don’t think the Giants are going to be doing that. I think it can help ease the situation a lot more than a lot of these situations where teams are just looking for that first opportunity to say, ‘Hey, let’s put him in.’”

Giants coach Pat Shurmur has not publicly specified how he will divide the quarterbacks’ training camp snaps.

Warner played six seasons for St. Louis before joining the Giants. He led the Rams to Super Bowl XXXIV, where he threw for 441 yards and two ‘;touchdowns and was named the game’s MVP in a victory against the Tennessee Titans. Two years later, Warner threw for 365 yards, but the Rams were upset by New England in Super Bowl XXXVI. After leaving the Giants, Warner began a five-year stint with the Arizona Cardinals that included a loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLIII in which he threw for 377 yards and three scores. Warner was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2017.

Jones has said several times that he is trying to learn all he can from Manning, which is likely one reason mentor and protégé often seem so similar. Warner said he and Manning had a different kind of relationship 15 years ago.

“The weird situation with me and Eli was, Eli had Peyton (another first overall draft choice who also won two Super Bowls), Eli had Archie (his father, who was an NFL quarterback for 13 seasons). So it was kind of a little bit different dynamic for me, because first of all, I didn’t want to jump in and be like ‘Hey Eli’ when he has these great minds and football players there to help him. And you remember Eli when he was a rookie. Very quiet. He didn’t say a whole lot. He was kind of cerebral and took it all in. More than anything, you just offer different things. You watch film together. But I didn’t push the envelope with him like I did with some of the other guys, just because I knew he had the resources. It was always like, ‘Hey, if you ever need anything from me, I’m more than happy to help you.’ But I’m also respectful of the idea that a phone call away from one of the greatest quarterbacks that ever played, or a dad that played in the league and that understands it as well. So a little different dynamic than I think a lot of guys when you have a veteran and a young guy.” 

Although he played just one abbreviated season with the Giants, Warner has always spoken fondly of his time here, and of Coughlin.

“I wanted to play as many games as I could, not to stay the starter for the Giants for the long term, but to parlay that into another opportunity for myself,” Warner said. “With Eli, you always want to be able to go out on your terms. You want to be able to dictate, and what you realize in this business is, you can have a bad half, you can have a bad game, you can have a couple of bad games. That doesn’t mean you can’t play anymore or you don’t turn it around and then all of a sudden you have a great season. That becomes the hard part. When you’re entrenched as the starter, you get the luxury to have a bad game, or bad season or whatever that is. When you’re a starter and there’s a guy right behind you, you don’t always get that luxury if you go through a (rough) period.”

Warner’s season in Giants blue gave him an understanding of how Manning and other veteran quarterbacks feel with a highly-touted youngster on their roster.

“It’s always hard,” Warner said. “No matter what, or no matter how confident you are, you understand the dynamics of the situation. When you’ve got an icon like Eli from this organization, that there’s a different factor there that goes into it. But when you’re the veteran guy, and you know there’s a guy behind you that’s eventually going to play, it was always one of those things where you had to fight not playing worried about making a mistake. Or getting tight and playing differently than you did before. Most guys are never going to tell you that. But it’s the way it is. You go, ‘How long is my leash? If I have a bad game, is that it? If I have a bad half, is that it?’ That becomes the hard dynamic. Go play. You’ve got to play your game and let it play out. If you don’t, you’re not going to hold the job for very long anyways.

”I don’t know how it plays out with an icon like Eli, as opposed to, for instance when Eli and I were together. I knew it was just a matter of time. So I’m trying to hold onto it for 16 games. That’s all I’m trying to do, because I know two years is going to be tough. But a lot of times, that’s the situation. You’re just going, ‘How many games can I get out of this?’ Almost to prove to somebody else that I can play, because chances of me getting this job and keeping it when they’ve got a guy behind me is slim to none.”

No one knows exactly how the Giants quarterback situation will develop in the coming months and years. But it will be very interesting to watch.

Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu was Baseball’s Best Free-Agent Signing in 2019

by Scott Mandel

DJ LeMahieu continues to be the very best free-agent signing in Major League Baseball, prior to this 2019 season.

With Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, the two players considered the jewels of the free-agent market before this season, procuring record-breaking, practically-lifetime contracts that are virtually untradeable to another team because of their length and expense, it’s LeMahieu, as low-profile as a player could get, who is quietly leading the New York Yankees.

LeMahieu leads the American League in hitting, leads the Major Leagues in Runners in Scoring Position efficiency, and plays Gold Glove defense at three positions for the New York Yankees. And, his team is dominating the American League in ways they haven’t done so since their last championship season, 10 long years ago.

The two-year, $24 million contract LeMahieu signed with the Yankees is among the best deals Yanks’ G.M., Brian Cashman, has ever negotiated. And, when you compare his current production to that of Machado and Harper, LeMahieu is an absolute bargain, by 2019 standards.

Machado, who signed a 10-year, $300 million contract (repeat that to yourself a few times. I bet the astonishment doesn’t disappear) is hitting .268 along with an on-base pct. of .337 and a slugging pct. of .511. He’s hit 25 homers for the Padres and driven in 68 runs. Nothing to sneeze at, even at his $30 million annual salary.

Harper, 26 years old, procured himself, with the help of baseball’s super agent, Scott Boras, a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies, who are now stuck with him for the length of the contract, which has 12 !/2 years remaining on it. He’s hitting .258, with 17 homers and 70 r.b.i’s. Again, very good production, even if Harper has turned himself into a .250 hitter with an uppercut.

LeMahieu is clearly in the conversation for the Most Valuable Player award in the American League, where he never played previously. A career-long National Leaguer, for this player to come to a new franchise in a new league, facing pitchers he mostly had never seen before, his .338 batting average is astonishing. LeMahieu has 15 homers, 70 r.b.i’s, an on-base pct. of .383 and a slugging pct. of .528.

He’s outhitting those other guys by 70 and 80 points, respectively. He’s making 40% of Harper and Machado’s salaries. All he does is show up every day and quietly impacts the game on both sides of the ball. Suffice to say, the Yankees wouldn’t be leading the American League’s East Division by nine games if he wasn’t on the team.

Image result for dj lemahieu
LeMahieu has been the Yanks’ best clutch hitter this season

LeMahieu had another outstanding game, two nights ago, with three hits and a walk. He also showed his defensive versatility with fine plays at both third base and first base, after taking over for Luke Voit, who was hit in the face with a pitch in the fourth inning.

LeMahieu said he’s getting “more and more comfortable” at playing multiple positions.

“He made some special plays at first and a real good play at third,’’ manager Aaron Boone said after the Yankees beat the Rockies 11-5 on Saturday. “Wherever he goes, he plays it like a Gold Glover.”

Mets Star, Dwight Gooden Arrested Again for DUI

Report from the New York Post

Addled former Mets ace Dwight Gooden was arrested Monday night for driving under the influence after heading the wrong way down a one-way street in Newark, NJ — just weeks after another DUI bust involving cocaine, sources told The Post.

The legendary ex-pitcher known as “Doc” — who has been in and out of rehab for years for drug and alcohol addiction — was a mess when he was picked up near Ferry Street in the Ironbound section around 11:10 p.m., sources said.

“He’d pee’d himself,” a source said, adding that Gooden told cops at the scene that he was diabetic, although it’s unclear if he is.

Gooden was taken to University Hospital in Newark.

The incident was only the latest sad turn for the 1985 National League Cy Young Award winner, who led the Mets to their most recent World Series championship in 1986.

While battling his addictions, Gooden, 54, has had numerous brushes with the law along the way, including in 2010, when he crashed his car in Franklin Lakes, NJ, while under the influence — and driving his then-5-year-old son, Dylan, to school.

Gooden’s most recent previous bout with law enforcement occurred June 7, when he was nabbed by Holmdel, NJ, cops for allegedly driving erratically. Officers later found two small ziplock baggies in his car containing suspected cocaine.

The former pitching great’s trials with substance abuse thwarted his Hall of Fame dreams, which had been fueled by such stellar moments on the field as his no-hitter in 2000 while with the Yankees.

According to the website Celebrity Net Worth, Gooden has $200,000 to his name.