Sept. 28, 2014 (New York)- This afternoon at CitiField in front of another sell-out crowd the New York Mets closed out the 2014 regular season with a 6-2 win over the Houston Astros. The win went to rookie Jacob deGrom who gave the team another fine performance on the mound and added his 18th and 19th hits on the season, the latter a two-run double in the 6th inning that put the club up for good. The victory gave the team its 92nd win and a first place finish in the National League East. A beaming Sandy Alderson is taking as much pride in passing the 90 win mark as he is the fact that his club has made the playoffs for the first time in his rocky tenure.
The Mets, who had been in the doldrums during the first two months of the season, went on a tear that coincided with the day that's been termed "The Memorial Day Massacre." After a particularly ugly loss to the Pirates, another team that like the Mets were playing sub-.500 ball, the team announced the release of relief pitcher Jose Valverde and the firing of its hitting coach Dave Hudgens.
The players, almost to a man, point back at that move as the thing that propelled them forward. Lamar Johnson was named the club's hitting coach and he was able to work his magic almost across the board. Here's just a sampling of what some of the team's players had to say about Johnson.
David Wright: "When the move was made I thought it was just something cosmetic to appease the fans who were getting quite angry as I recall. But Lamar talked to me every day for a few weeks and showed me a few things that I needed to do to get my power stroke back." (Wright finished the season at .295/26 HRs/103 RBI)
Ruben Tejada: "Everyone always thought I was helpless with the bat. Mr. Johnson took me into the batting cage and changed just a few things. As the hits started to come I started to have confidence that I could hit and maybe even with some power. He helped our team immensely and I'll always be grateful to him." (Tejada upped his average to .283 and reached his career high in HRs with 4.)
Chris Young: "By the end of May I was losing at bats to Eric and to Bobby (Abreu). The team vibe was negative and I felt like I couldn't buy a hit. Lamar watched video of my successful ABs during spring training and showed me some things I could do to shoot balls through the right side. Once other teams stopped overshifting on me I started to get hits again on the left side. Just relaxing at the plate got my power stroke going too. I never much believed in hitting coaches and - no offense to Hudgy - but LJ is the real deal. No matter where I play next season I want that guy coaching me."
(Young finished the year with 20 HR's and 82 RBI. His OPS was 772 which isn't great but represents a dramatic improvement over where he was on Memorial Day.)
Travis d'Arnaud: "If you ask me Lamar is practically the MVP of our team. He got here a couple of days before I returned from that nasty concussion I had. We talked hitting for a couple of days and my bat just woke up. It's like I knew what the pitchers were going to throw me before they even did it. Lamar is just amazing. I don't know what else to say."
(d'Arnaud ended the season on a 22 game hitting streak. He raised his batting average to .301 and had 12 HRs for the season.)
Daniel Murphy: "Lamar didn't want to mess with my swing much but he instructed me how to drive my pitch for power when I get it. I never thought I'd ever hit as many as 15 homers in a season but we got there."
Eric Young Jr: "No disrespect to Lamar. I know he helped those other guys. But nothing we tried together seemed to work." (EY finished at .217 but did have 25 stolen bases, most of them as a late game pinch-runner)
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