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Boston Herald
Boston Herald
1 Jul 2023
Tribune News Service

NextImg:Mike Lupica: Buck Showalter and the Mets learning how quick things can turn bad in the big city

Brian Daboll must wonder sometimes if he’ll hear it from all precincts if the Giants start out 2-6 next season the way Buck Showalter is hearing it right now. It reached the point this week where Mets general manager Billy Eppler felt compelled to give Buck a vote of confidence. Maybe Eppler thought that would quiet the noise. But it never does in sports if your team keeps losing. And the Mets sure do.

Seriously, ask yourself a question:

Why assume things might be different for Daboll, who became the king of Jersey last season and became Coach of the Year for taking the Giants back to the playoffs, if the Giants start suddenly playing like slobs? Showalter again became Manager of the Year for putting the Mets back in the playoffs. And you know how much of a period of grace that earned him?

Not even half-a-season.

The Mets won 101 games last season, same as the Braves did. Showalter showed up and changed the culture around the Mets the way he did when he became manager of the Orioles back in 2010. He was as popular with Mets fans as he was with Yankee fans in his first managerial job, back when he put the Yankees back into the playoffs for the first time in 14 years; when he looked as if he had the Yankees on their way back to the World Series in 1994 until a labor dispute in baseball that year saw the season end in August and the Series get cancelled.

Now half-a-season after all that really did happen for the Mets, and Buck was as popular with his fan base as Brian Daboll is with Giants fans, Eppler has to come out and say he thinks Buck is the guy to fix the mess that the 2023 Mets have become. The owner, Steve Cohen, has to sit in the media room at Citi Field before Showalter goes in there and say that both Eppler and Showalter will be around for the whole season.

It was John Mara, one of the Giants owners, who got off such a great line about Daboll last season, when Daboll was being treated like a rock star for leading the Giants out of the wilderness.

“It doesn’t take long to go from Bono to Bozo,” Mara said.

Showalter got treated like a Bozo for not getting David Robertson, who has been his best and most reliable reliever this year, into the 8th inning against the Phillies last Sunday when the Mets were in the process of blowing a 6-3 lead. On Friday night, Showalter asked Robertson to protect a 4-2 lead in the 8th inning at Citi Field. He gave up a 3-run homer to Patrick Bailey of the Giants not long after a Pete Alonso error. It has been that kind of season, when everything that possibly can go wrong has gone wrong. Now they’ve fallen the way they have, flat on their faces, and you wonder how they can get up before the season is completely lost.

Across town, of course, Aaron Boone gets jumped by his own fans every time they don’t like a pitching change he does or doesn’t make, even in a season where I happen to think Boone has done a terrific job with a lot going on with his own baseball team.

But suddenly it is Buck Showalter who is in the barrel because of the massive disappointment the Mets have been since they were 14-7, which means before they spent a couple of months looking like the Kansas City Royals. He is in the barrel like this despite having lost Edwin Diaz, coming off one of the great seasons any closer ever had, at the World Baseball Classic. He is in the barrel like this despite Justin Verlander having started the season on the injured list and having had too many starts when he looked like Cy Old; and despite Max Scherzer having been sent to the penalty box for 10 games because some umpires in Los Angeles one day thought that if they shook his pitching hand they wouldn’t be able to let go.

Buck Showalter is in the barrel after those 101 wins because of the way his bullpen has coughed up one game after another. But it’s not just the bullpen. Alonso and Francisco Lindor coming into the weekend with matching batting averages of .221, despite having 40 home runs and 109 RBI between them. And Jeff McNeil has gone the wrong way after a batting championship in 2022, despite showing some signs of life Friday night. Starling Marte’s batting average is down 40 points from last season. Mark Canha is down 20 points. You look at this roster and look at the Braves and think it’s some kind of Christmas miracle that they went toe-to-toe with the Braves the way they did last season.

“It’s been terrible,” the Cohen who owns the team said when he did something the other day that more owners should do in sports, and more often, which means sit there and answer questions from the media.

It has been terrible. Mets fans do have the right to be angry about what they are seeing, and what those buying tickets are paying good money to watch. In all of baseball history, no team coming off a 100-win season has played like this, or looked like this, or been losing like this. Even when Scherzer is pitching like Scherzer, the way he was the other night against the Brewers, he gives up a big two-run homer when the Mets are hanging on to a 2-0 lead, and from that moment on, you just could see this becoming another here-we-go-again night with the ‘23 Mets.

When you are analyzing a season like this, and how many things have gone wrong for the Mets, the reasons always end up sounding like excuses. But does anybody really watch this play out and think that somehow this is the manager’s fault?

Have they been sloppy at times? They sure have. But has that kind of sloppiness been more of a reason for the record than both of their stars — Alonso, Lindor — hitting .221 at the halfway point? Have the people who do want Showalter to be in the barrel been watching some of the relief pitchers he has been forced to run out there? Ask yourself one more question: Who’s having more fun managing his bullpen so far this season, Boone or Buck?

But this is how we roll around here. Now the ‘23 Mets find out what the big, bad city feels like and sounds like when things go bad. Brian Daboll, a big sports fan and as big a star as we have right now in New York/New Jersey, must watch it all with some fascination. Or maybe foreboding. And wonder when it will be his turn in the barrel. And how soon.

I know what you’re thinking:

If James Harden could play well enough with Kevin Durant to make it to Game 7 that time against a Bucks team that ended up winning the championship, he can certainly find a way to play nicely with Jalen Brunson.

Forget about Kyrie (it’s easier than you think).

And forget about how Harden couldn’t wait to get out of Brooklyn in the end.

Remember the way Harden played in that Bucks series on one good leg, and how unselfish he was.

Listen, I get why people don’t want him at the Garden.

I know there are nights when you can actually see him calcifying.

I’d rather the Knicks go hard after Zion.

But who do you think would make a better No. 2 to Brunson — Harden or Julius Randle?

Maybe this is the stretch when Giancarlo Stanton gets hot and stays hot and doesn’t reach for his leg on his way to second base after hitting a screamer up the gap.

“The Diplomat” is great and just about everybody in it is great, starting with Keri Russell and Rufus Sewell.

Don’t you sometimes get the idea that the grass court season  in tennis leading up to Wimbledon lasts about as long as a Mets starting pitcher?

My friend Barry Stanton said he had the under in NFL gambling suspensions which, you know, turned out to be kind of a bad bet.

Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce played one of those made-for-TV matches the other night, and I’ll just say this about the guys:

They turned out to be the foursome you’d never want to be playing behind.

When do they start firing executives at ESPN responsible for giving out the kinds of contracts that they’re now getting rid of?

At least the good thing up in Bristol is that now they won’t have to pass the hat to pay for Pat McAfee.

I’m not going to go through the list of on-air people who lost their jobs this week.

I’m just going to say this:

Jeff Van Gundy is as cool a presence as the network has ever had, doing any kind of game, and as good an NBA analyst as they’ve ever had.

Now I wonder how long it takes for them to slide JJ Redick into his seat.

I keep thinking that if somebody is going to clip Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon, it better be in the first week.

I don’t know about you, but I’m missing Greg Norman already.

I had a feeling the St. Louis Cardinals weren’t going to play any better in another country.

The anti-vaxx people aren’t dangerous any longer.

But they’re still dumber than a bag of hammers.

Here’s my question about gambling suspensions in the National Football League:

As they’re handing them out, do they turn down the FanDuel commercials in the office?