New Mets pitcher, New Jersey native and 2016 AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello, who joined the club in December on a one-year free-agent deal and after winning a title with the Red Sox in 2018, takes a swing at some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: What comes to mind when you think of Pete Alonso
A: Big dude with a lot of pop (chuckle).
Q: Jeff McNeil?
A: Scrappy … seems like he’ll do anything and everything it takes to win, and extremely talented hitter at the plate.
Q: Jacob deGrom?
A: Ace. About as good a stuff as I’ve ever seen on the mound.
Q: Noah Syndergaard?
A: (Chuckle) Ace No. 2. He’s got the presence, he’s got the physique and the build and the power arm repertoire to go with it. Just as much as Jake has been the dominant ace over his career, [Syndergaard] definitely has the potential to put a couple of Cy Youngs on his trophy case as well.
Q: Marcus Stroman?
A: To me, I see winner. Watching him pitch when he was with Toronto, and competing against him when I was with Boston, he’s a guy that he’s going out and he’s gonna do whatever he’s gotta do to win ballgames, whether that means getting in your head or flat out executing pitches and getting guys out, he’s giving it all.
Q: Steven Matz?
A: I think coming into his own maybe is the best way to put it. Looking forward to watching him pitch the entire season this year.
Q: Rick Porcello?
A: Veteran with a lot of potential, and a chip on his shoulder with something to prove this year.
Q: Why do you have a chip on your shoulder?
A: More of like an internal chip on my shoulder, not a chip on my shoulder regarding anyone else. More just not happy with how I performed last year, and excited and determined to turn that around and show that I’m still a very quality, capable pitcher in this league and can get it done for 33, 34 starts.
Q: Could you envision returning to your Cy Young form?
A: Yeah, I don’t see why not. I’ve done it once.
Q: You’ve said you put too much pressure on yourself in your first year in Boston. Why will you not put too much pressure on yourself in New York now?
A: Well, at some point you gotta try and learn from the mistakes (chuckle). This is a big city with a great fan base. There’s some similarities there as far as just the attention that sports teams get in cities like Boston, New York, but more importantly, to be the best version of myself and to give our ballclub a chance to win every days, I need to not put pressure on myself, and I need to relax and to go out there and just pitch my game and fit into whatever role I fit into with this team, and that’s how I’m gonna help us win.
Q: What do you think of your new manager, Luis Rojas?
A: Very even-keeled, great presence to him and looking forward to playing for him in 2020. Heard a lot of great things and all my experiences, interactions ’til this point have been nothing less.
Q: What do you recall about a healthy Yoenis Cespedes?
A: I recall the [ALDS] playoffs in 2012 and 2013 when I was in Detroit, we played Oakland both years. Both series went to Game 5, and honestly, I don’t know that anybody else got a hit besides Cespedes. … We had great teams at the time, had a great offense and a great pitching staff, and he was the reason why it went five games both times. We were trying to pitch around him, we were trying to bounce breaking balls, he was hitting those in the gap. … He changed the game offensively.
Q: Describe your mound mentality.
A: Competitor … never trying to give in … pretty much one thing on my mind is the responsibility I have to help our team win, be mentally and physically prepared to execute pitches.
Q: What are your thoughts on the sign-stealing and your former Red Sox manager Alex Cora getting fired because of it?
A: I can’t speak for anything with the Astros, I wasn’t there, and honestly, I can’t speak much about the Red Sox, I don’t have much of an opinion on it. For Alex, I enjoyed my time playing for him, he cared about everybody on our ballclub, I had a great relationship with him and for him as a human being. I’m definitely sad for him, that he’s not gonna be managing the Red Sox anymore. It’s just an unfortunate situation, and I wish him all the best.
Q: What was your immediate reaction when you found out the Red Sox were involved in this?
A: My immediate reaction was, I’d like to hear and see more before you just start saying that something like this was going with us and whatever was happening wasn’t happening with every other team around the league. … My immediate reaction when I hear things like that is I’d like to see and hear more about the situation before passing any kind of judgment on it.
Q: Do you think sign-stealing was widespread in the major leagues?
A: I have no idea. All I know is every team has a certain amount of technology that they have access to during the game.
Q: Describe the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.
A: You definitely feel an uptick in energy level when you’re in Yankee Stadium and the Yankees are at Fenway Park and you’re a part of that rivalry.
Q: What enabled you to win the Cy Young award with the Red Sox in 2016?
A: A lot of different things, really. Had a great team behind me, scored a lot of runs, played great defense. I got on a roll, had confidence going, I had a great feel on the mound. I guess the momentum of pitching, and we were competing for a playoff spot and all those sort of things kind of elevated my game.
Q: What was working specifically for you, or what adjustments did you make that year?
A: Just hitting spots and mixing up pitches. I think mechanically I was in a good spot, mentally I was in a good spot. I was able to keep guys off balance, as the season went on my confidence and momentum of me throwing the ball well kind of just continued to build, and I just kept feeding off of it, and ended up having a great year.
Q: What did you think of the Mookie Betts trade to the Dodgers?
A: [Dang], I gotta face him. … Just because of his presence and who he is, it’s always kind of a shocking news to see that he’s getting traded.
Q: What were your emotions when you heard the tragic Kobe Bryant news?
A: Hoping and wishing that it wasn’t true, first and foremost. Then your thoughts immediately go to his family, and you hope that they could find some strength through such a difficult time and pull through this. It’s everyone’s worst nightmare. You can’t even imagine losing a family member like that. It humanized him for me … just kind of an iconic figure and sometimes you don’t see the personal, human side to him, but that was the part that hit me the most, was feeling pain for his family and then wishing them the best as however they can get through a time like this.
Q: Who are athletes in other sports you admire?
A: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Tom Brady.
Q: You played shortstop before you pitched in high school. Who were your favorite shortstops and pitchers?
Q: I loved Al Leiter — I was a Mets fan. Anybody on the Mets from ’96 to 2005 or ’06, I was a big fan of, so John Franco, Al Leiter, the list goes on. I also watched the Mets through the years that Rey Ordonez was the shortstop there. I heard a rumor that every time he made an error, he cut up his glove and got a new one. It’s just kind of one of those fun, superstitious things about baseball that I don’t know why I cared, I loved that as well. I was supposed to hate the Yankees and was supposed to hate Derek Jeter, but deep down, he might have been one of my biggest idols as a ballplayer growing up, even though he was wearing Yankee pinstripes. I liked watching Omar Vizquel, too, the plays that he could make seemed like nobody else could even get to those balls and he was throwing guys out.
Q: How come most of your family are Yankees fans and you were a Mets fan?
A: I don’t know. I’m the middle child, I guess I needed the attention. I have no idea why it happened like that. My older and younger brothers were for the Indians ’cause my grandfather [Sam Dente] played for them in the ’54 World Series.
A: When things are going well, I do what I’ve been doing. When things aren’t going well, you kind of start to change up little routines throughout your days to try and get the karma going in a different direction.
Q: What are your favorite New Jersey things?
A: Taylor ham, egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches. … there’s this fishmonger on Route 22 in Lebanon called Metropolitan Seafood. Usually our family will do fish Friday nights, and I love going over to the fish market picking out what we’re gonna have that night, and then sometimes I’ll prepare it, sometimes my brother’ll prepare it.
Q: What was Hurricane Sandy like for you?
A: I was home at the time, and obviously seeing the devastation that it caused a lot of people in the surrounding areas, down at the Jersey Shore, people in New York and living in some of those coastal towns, they really got hammered hard. And inland, too, it wasn’t just the coast. How can it not kind of hit home for you and be an emotional thing when you see what people gotta battle and climb back through?
Q: What was Seton Hall Prep baseball coach Mike Sheppard Jr. like?
A: Mentor … great high school baseball coach.
Q: You once pitched a perfect game at Seton Hall Prep.
A: County, I think, semifinal game, we were at a field in Verona, N.J. It’s funny, I didn’t think of it at the time, but the Detroit Tiger scout, David Chad, who drafted me, that was the only game that he saw me pitch that entire spring in high school. He said he almost grabbed the ball out of my hand before I went out on the mound as I was warming up. There’s like a little track on the side, it was made of gravel, and that’s basically where we set our little bullpen up, there’s no mound (chuckle), and that’s kind of where I was warming up. He didn’t want to see anything happen or get hurt or anything like that, so he was kind of freaking out just by how we were getting ready for the game. … I didn’t really know I had it going until the sixth or the seventh inning, a couple of my buddies told me.
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: Ted Williams, Teddy Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra. … Ted Williams, first of all, one of the greatest hitters, one of the greatest ballplayers of all time, and he was big into flyfishing as am I. Teddy Roosevelt, a huge outdoorsman, I’ve read some of the books that he’s written. Frank Sinatra, just him being a legendary Italian, would love to have a meal with him.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: “A Bronx Tale.”
Q: Favorite actor?
A: James Gandolfini.
Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?
A: Bruce Springsteen.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: My mother’s meatballs and sauce.
Q: Describe the feeling of winning the 2018 World Series.
A: Better than I ever could imagine. Everyone kind of talks about it, that’s what you dream about as a little kid. Honestly I used to just replay scenarios of playing in the World Series. To actually get there and win it and have that feeling, be able to hold the trophy, was incredible. I think probably the best part was being able to be there with my dad, and family members. The sacrifices that they’ve made, you think about it as kinda giving them something back in return, all those long days when he’s getting home from work, taking me to practice.
Q: What drives you now?
A: I love the game, I’m extremely passionate about the game, I’m extremely passionate about competing. I feel like I can be much better and have room to get better, and then that will to win. This ball club that we have has a legitimate shot at going places. All those things combined are what still drives me.
Q: Why do you think this team has a legitimate shot to go places?
A: Just looking at the roster itself, top to bottom, it’s a good ballclub with not many holes. And then we’ve got a very strong pitching staff with a ton of arms. So on paper, all of those things add up, and then really I was pretty impressed with how they finished the season last year. You look at ups and downs that every team goes through over the course of a season, and some teams kind of fizzle out and other teams respond and punch back, and this team, from watching them from afar, was punching back the entire second half last year. Unfortunately they came up a couple of games short, but that to me is the one kind of intangible and big characteristic of a winning team that you need. I think everyone’s kind of ready to take that next step.
Q: What is a message to Mets fans about Rick Porcello and the Mets?
A: We’re gonna go out there and play our game as hard as we can play it. We’re gonna give you a good show each and every night. I’m not a guy that gives up or gives in. We’re gonna fight til the end, and from where I’m sitting, we got a good enough ballclub to make it to the end. So enjoy the ride and then we’ll see you in September hopefully in first place and in the playoffs.