Years ago, I was driving through the night with some unfortunate passenger, on a road trip that was passing through northern North Carolina or southern Virginia or some similar locale. The description of the passenger has to do with the fact that we were listening to the Mets, and in this analog, pre-At Bat era we were out of radio range.
I refused to stop listening, even though the static was rising to painful peaks and atmospheric wow and flutter were killing two out of three words. When a protest was lodged, I insisted I could follow what was going on, and when that was met by doubt I proved it. No, I couldn’t follow the nuances of each play, or even differentiate between, say, a single and a batter being safe on an error. But I knew if a batter had reached, if an out had been made, if a run had scored.
It wasn’t the words so much as it was the rhythms and pitch of the announcer’s voice — back then it was either Bob Murphy and Gary Cohen or Gary and Howie Rose. Higher and faster narration meant something potentially big was happening; lower and slower was routine. That primed me to hunt for clues, and a third of the words were enough to fill in the rest of what had happened.
I didn’t have better ears than my passenger, just a lot more experience: I’d listened to the Mets so many times that I had an extensive library of calls committed to whatever shadowy part of memory handles pattern-matching. That part of my brain was pretty good at recognizing the sound signature of a single, a double up the gap, a home run, a routine fly, a managerial dispute and most every other ballgame component.
Last night I realized I can do the same thing with a televised game. We’re back on Long Beach Island for our annual week of sun, surf and sand, and game time found me out on the porch, eating dinner with family and our friends. I had recap duty, but I decided I could probably handle that by having one of the little bedroom TVs on about 10 feet away from where I was sitting. I couldn’t hear the game, and the TV was a small square, but I could see and thought that would be enough.
I could have guessed this, but baseball has a visual library too, one you can recognize at a glance if you’ve seen your share of games. Mostly you’re looking at the pitcher’s back and the reactions of whoever’s just been involved in events. Pattern-matching, though, depends on a small slice of the game: the important sequences are the transitions between the behind-the-pitcher shot and whatever’s next. If the shot switches to the infeld and someone’s vaguely hunched, you’ve got a routine grounder. If the shot jumps to half the outfield and folks are standing still, you’ve got a lazy fly. If the first thing you see after the pitcher’s back is the entire outfield and someone running, you pay attention.
With the Mets, that last shot was happily common. I couldn’t reliably see the ball, but I got used to seeing the full panorama of Citi Field’s outfield (such as its architectural missteps allow) and a Phillie hurrying to a location he wasn’t going to reach. I saw Asdrubal Cabrera erase a brief-lived Philadelphia lead, and Kelly Johnson put the game out of reach by launching a ball to the shoals of the 7 Line’s orange sea, and Neil Walker add to the festivities.
And I saw Yoenis Cespedes threaten my fellow al fresco diners of the Acela Club. That was fun, even peering through the New Jersey night. First there was a whole lot of Jeremy Hellickson‘s back and Cespedes lashing at balls, followed by the things Cespedes does to reset himself: a little stutter-step away from the point of contact, then a knock of the bat on each heel — bap, bap — before digging back in and cocking a reloaded bat, (By now I’ve got a Cespedes visual library too.) Cespy even lost a bat and nearly beheaded Noah Syndergaard, to add a little variety. At the end of the at-bat came contact, and the SNY cameras pulling way back, tracking fast enough that the left-fielder was blurry, then climbing hastily so that the outfield wasn’t visible at all, just the upper reaches of the foul pole.
Good lord did that get smacked, I thought, and then leaned forward, trying to figure out if it had been fair or foul. Half of a video board’s message told me the good news, changing from 91 MPH FASTBALL to ME RUN. Which meant Cespedes didn’t have to run but could trot.
The routine shots brought good news too: I saw plenty of shots of Syndergaard’s back that needed no transition, because Philadelphia batters wouldn’t be concerning themselves with the bases. I saw glum Phillie get-togethers on the mound. I saw fans waving and yelling happily. I saw Met helmets getting ceremonially snatched off heads. I saw a rout, and that’s fun to witness, even if it’s at a slight remove.
Bartolo Colon going for the cycle! Leaping grabs from Jose Reyes! Bullets fired by Yoenis Cespedes! Asdrubal Cabrera going deep from both sides of the plate — and making a nifty play to short-circuit the Phillies!
And of course Wilmer Flores sending one into the Flushing night to make a tense ballgame so much more relaxed.
That was fun. Unfortunately, the scoreboard-watching hasn’t been as much fun — the Marlins, Pirates and Cardinals have already won and the Giants are pummeling the Braves — but at least there’s scoreboard-watching to be done, with the Mets refusing to flatline despite daily injuries and a rotation that now features the understudies’ understudies.
But let’s go back to Wilmer’s big moment, and the wackiness that preceded it.
There was no shortage of wackiness. The bottom of the fifth began with Bartolo lacing a fastball over Freddy Galvis‘s head, a ball that was on a startled Aaron Altherr before he could adjust, sending Altherr to the wall and Bartolo to second. Reyes then dropped a little blooper just inside the right-field line — one of those parachutes into no man’s land that’s a guaranteed double. It was, except Bartolo had rumbled to third and halted there to vent clouds of steam.
No matter, right? Cabrera, who’d gone back-to-back with Reyes in the first for a 2-0 Met lead, hit the first pitch he saw to Maikel Franco at third. Colon made a half-hearted attempt to deke Franco, which went about as well as you imagined. One out, but here came Cespedes, who’d nearly decapitated poor Phillies starter Adam Morgan back in the first. Cespedes didn’t connect this time, but rapped a grounder to Cesar Hernandez at second.
Hernandez was playing back, conceding the run, but Colon didn’t break on contact. He didn’t break at all. Poor Reyes — who in most innings would have moved up to third when Cabrera hit into a fielder’s choice and then scored on Cespy’s grounder — was still pacing around at second, like a dog taken to the park and then unaccountably left leashed while lovingly gnawed Frisbees and spit-soaked tennis balls filled the air. The Mets were about to pull off the difficult but decidedly Metsian feat of starting an inning with consecutive doubles and not scoring.
Neil Walker stood between Morgan and escape. Morgan started Walker with two straight balls, but then got him to pop a change-up into foul territory behind first. It was a tough play, but there was air under the ball and Hernandez, right fielder Peter Bourjos and Ryan Howard were all converging on it.
Bourjos probably had the best shot at the ball — Hernandez had too far to go and Howard was looking over his shoulder — but he pulled up when he saw Howard steaming towards the angle of stands. Catching it would have been a good play, one deserving of praise, but not an impossible one. And Howard was there. But he’d gone a bit too far; the ball came over his left shoulder instead of his right, and plopped to the ground just out of reach of his outstretched arms.
Walker, given another life, fouled off four more pitches, then took two balls. The bases were loaded. And then, as is so often the case with baseball, what had unfolded so slowly reached a speedy conclusion: Morgan’s first pitch to Flores was a low fastball that Wilmer golfed over the fence.
We had lots to cheer for, but the turning point Friday night wasn’t the Flores grand slam — not really. It was a modest curling pop, one that neither Hernandez nor Bourjos nor Howard converted into the out that his pitcher desperately needed. A little thing, but then baseball so often turns on little things.
The Mets, who couldn’t have been deader last week, are alive if not 100% well. When you’ve won exactly one more game than you’ve lost, yet retain aspirations of winning twelve in October/November, you can’t have everything.
Though you need to come close.
Thursday night was the must-iest win of the year, superseding Tuesday night by dint of taking place two games later. That’s how it works when the season winds toward either completion or extension. If you’re in first place by a lot, you can relax. If you’re in last place by a lot, you can shrug. If you’re upper-middling, you can’t lose series. The Mets didn’t in St. Louis. Now they can’t at home.
Laurels must be terribly uncomfortable since somebody’s always warning you against resting on them. The Mets should take that wisdom under critical advisement. Winning the final two in San Francisco, then two of three in St. Louis, has earned them a breather. So breathe…and get after Philadelphia.
The Phillies are not in the playoff race, but our demi-contenders — three out in the all-important delusion column, four in the grandeur — can’t care about such niceties. Strategizing around strength of schedule can steep only the weakest of tea. Recall what a bounty of fine fortune was bestowed upon us when we were gifted a nine-game stretch of nothing but the addled and infirm, a.k.a. Arizona and San Diego. We lost six of nine. Had we taken a few more here and there from the likes of them, the Phils and the Braves, every game wouldn’t carry that extra whiff of must.
On the field, you can’t tell the contenders from the pretenders from the not bothering to act. The Diamondbacks were demonic. The Cardinals were discombobulated. Glance at no standings and you’d never guess who it is we’re trying to catch. All you would know from the last game of the road trip that threatened to never end is the Cardinals are, in their current incarnation, not catching everything hit or thrown at them, and that certainly aided our righteous cause.
Heading the parade of advantage-takers in orange and blue were Seth Lugo, until he cramped, and Alejandro De Aza, whose style can’t be. Three cheers for Alejandro, formerly known to me as Almostandro for the way he never quite came through. He is these days experiencing a De Azanaissance, making this a welcome period of rebirth for us all. Thursday, Al (as we fair-weather fans of his call him) pulled in a possible Cardinal homer at the wall in the first, singled in two runs in the fourth and went very deep with two on in the fifth. By then, the De Azafied Mets had built a 7-0 lead, which Lugo, entering the bottom of the sixth, prepared to nurture for another inning or so, until he felt something in his calf. Perhaps it was sympathy pain for Jay Bruce.
Both Lugo and Bruce are reported doing fine, which perfectly explains why the latter didn’t play at all Thursday and the former didn’t throw another pitch. (Wait, what does “fine” mean again?)
Once Lugo turned into leg-oww — and Ray Ramirez collected his quota of souls for the evening — the Mets dipped into their bullpen. I was shocked to learn there were still pitchers in there whose arms hadn’t fallen off from accelerated nightly entry, but they’re a resilient little corps. Did you know Sean Gilmartin is on the team again?
Seven-run leads with twelve outs remaining fluffs a cushion like it oughta be, plus the bats added a few runs, so calamity was avoided via a 10-6 win. The Mets return from their arduous (for them and for us) journey 5-5 on the road and still viable within the Wild Card realm. They won a series, the mandatory minimum for teams with plans.
Congratulations, fellas. Now keep doing that.
It’s a truism of baseball that no matter what you’re going to win 54 games and lose 54 games, with what happens in the other 54 determining your season.
Which is a pretty good rule, even if the Mets broke it for the first four years of their existence and came within a whisper of busting it in a good way in ’86.
But why stop there? I suspect you could make all sorts of corollaries to that rule, perhaps starting as follows:
- You’re going to get three laughers and three laughees. The former are easy; you get your baseball merit badge by sticking around for the end of the latter.
- You’re already signed up for two to four miraculous games in which your team comes off the deck and seizes victory accompanied by shafts of sunlight and Wagnerian orchestration. You’re also signed up for a few games that will leave you muttering during future winters.
We’d have to divide and subdivide pretty far to get to games like Wednesday night’s, though: contests where your team isn’t going to get its brains beat in, exactly, but nothing will go right, a big neon L is flashing from at least the middle innings, and it takes forever and a day for the whole mess to limp to its foregone conclusion.
Jacob deGrom had nothing for the second start in a row — no velocity and no location, two fatal flaws that were masked for a while by some ridiculously good luck: Yadier Molina thought he’d drunk a Daniel Murphy invisibility potion, Randall Grichuk got thrown out at the plate even though I still haven’t seen Travis d’Arnaud touch him, and the Cardinals repeatedly hit screaming rockets right into the gloves of Mets.
We’ve seen deGrom somehow parlay such bad hands into victory — just ask the Dodgers — but on Wednesday he was out of magic tricks, and all that luck meant was he got to hang around while nothing worked, sweating and waiting to be excused further frustration. The Cardinals wound up with 19 hits; it seems like a kindness that they only scored eight runs. Meanwhile, the game’s official time was clocked at 2:55, relatively tidy for modern baseball, but I call nonsense on that one — having watched the entirety of this mess, I recall it taking closer to 20:55.
There’s really nothing else to be said about this one. DeGrom doesn’t know what’s wrong with deGrom and in all likelihood his malady is just fatigue, unhappy random number generation or some of both. Jay Bruce finally got a hit essentially by accident, then departed with a leg cramp; Kelly Johnson continued to look iffy at second base; d’Arnaud unaccountably swung at the first pitch to short-circuit a potential Mets rally.
But all that’s window dressing: this was one of those 54 we were fated to lose, and one of the subset of those 54 that arrived without competitive or aesthetic merit. Some games you endure and hope to never think of again: they don’t make anyone saw on the violin while Ken Burns pans a resonant photo, but they’re part of baseball too.
When Jim Henderson entered Tuesday night’s game at St. Louis — one on, one out, Yadier Molina coming up, Mets leading by two in the seventh — it occurred to me that this was potentially a pivotal moment in Henderson’s Met legacy. If Henderson surrendered a two-run homer to Molina, which wasn’t out of the question in light of Jim’s lengthy layoff and Yadier’s inherent evil, we’d probably always remember the righthander (steady April notwithstanding) as an ultimately overripe reliever who torpedoed the last chance we had to make something out of a disgustingly frustrating season. But if Henderson kept the Mets’ edge intact, we probably wouldn’t remember anything about it all. That’s how our memories operate. Do something to us, and we’ll hold that grudge for eternity. Do something for us, well, let’s get to the eighth and see what happens.
As it happened, Molina did as Molina does and singled on the first pitch, placing Redbird runners on first and second. But Henderson next elicited a slow ground ball from Jhonny Peralta for a fielder’s choice to force Molina, then struck out Jedd Gyorko. The Mets still led, 6-4.
We can forget about remembering Henderson’s clutch two-thirds of a seventh inning because the Mets went on to extend their lead and win, 7-4. Middle relievers, even those who extinguish threats before they can devour what’s left of your year, are designed to fade into the background when everything turns out all right. The legacy of Jim Henderson, 2016 New York Met, can return to TBD status.
The same to-be-determination can be applied to his entire team, which engaged in a fairly thrilling victory at Busch Stadium, one that will stand time’s test as a signpost of the best that was yet to come for these Mets…or be quickly forgotten if it isn’t followed up by more and more victories, whatever their composition.
Insight alert: The Mets have to keep winning ballgames from here on out. Pretty insightful, eh? That’s been the Mets’ assignment since April 3, but they’ve slacked off on the W’s enough to make their task monstrously difficult, though not yet impossible. It is the existence of possibility that made the game of August 23 land as monumental before, during and immediately after it was played. Whether it lives to ring a bell in the weeks, months and years to come depends on how the games of August 24, August 25 and so on unfold.
On many levels, it deserves to be remembered for as long as the length of Gary Cohen’s hair when he was a senior at Columbia. Effective seventh-inning relief from Henderson was just one strand of the entire stunning picture.
The best relief pitching, of course, is that which doesn’t have to be used. That wasn’t an option Tuesday night. Jon Niese took the mound in the bottom of the first, staked to a three-nothing lead following Wilmer Flores’s lefty-bashing home run off Jaime Garcia, and commenced to giving runs back ASAP. After four batters, he gave back the mound. Niese, we had been warned, was having an issue with his left knee (most alarmingly, it keeps being found inside the bottom half of a Mets uniform).
There’s a fine line between the pitcher who tries to pitch through discomfort for the good of his team and the pitcher who tries to pitch through discomfort to the detriment of his team. Niese’s teammate from when he first came up in 2008, Johan Santana, revealed after his final start of that year that he had been pitching with a torn meniscus, another of those body components you have little idea exists unless you’re a Mets fan. Santana, in an episode that was transferred directly to legend, threw a three-hit shutout at the Florida Marlins and carried the Mets to their 162nd game with a puncher’s chance of playing it forward. Johan had kept his injury quiet throughout that pennant race, pitching better and better as the stakes intensified. It’s not like Jerry Manuel had any better options, not in the first inning, not in the ninth.
Terry Collins was kind of strapped for a starter, too, though the theoretical dropoff from Cy-worthy Santana in a season’s penultimate contest to the spare parts of ’08 was probably exponentially greater and scarier than that between a hobbled (if not necessarily unvaliant) Niese giving it a go in a reasonably big game and pot luck.
Pot luck had an identity, actually. It was Robert Gsellman, missing a vowel but not the opportunity to make a recognizable name for himself. Very recent Las Vegan Gsellman was sort of facing what faced Niese upon his major league debut eight Septembers ago. Like Niese, Gsellman was beckoned into a playoff chase in which every result increasingly mattered. Unlike Niese, who performed as if freaked out by the bright lights of Miller Park (3 IP, 5 ER in a maiden outing rescued by Manuel’s bullpen of infamy and a tenth-inning sac fly from Endy Chavez), Gsellman showed up on the Busch mound with a big grin evident. You’re making your debut, you’re being asked to keep your barely contending team afloat and you’re taking on the very opponent that has be to taken down a notch to make anything of value happen in the standings?
Why not grin? It might not be how Sal Maglie would have done it, but I doubt anybody’s referring to Robert as the Barber. Then again, it’s doubtful anybody’s referred Robert to a barber of late. Maybe the young man, bearing a passing tress-ticular resemblance to Jimmy Fallon’s Mets Bucket Hat Guy, can consult with Jacob, Noah and 1980 Gary regarding styling tips. Before Gsellman could get in the flow of pitching to big leaguers, however, he had to deal with the Welcome Wagon gift basket Niese had arranged for him. Two walks and a Brandon Moss single accounted for one run and two runners. Molina, of course, was the first batter Gsellman had to encounter. From Heilman to Gsellman, it’s always Molina.
Yadier the Irritant doubled in a second St. Louis run. Peralta grounded out, but it brought home Moss. That luscious sundae the Mets fixed for the themselves top of the first, crowned by Wilmer’s three-run cherry, was now melted. At three-three after one, it was a whole new ballgame.
Just as well. Who wants one started by Niese?
The Mets cottoned nicely to their second chance within a last chance. Gsellman, in his first time batting, laid down a sac bunt to set up the revival corps of Jose Reyes (single) and Asdrubal Cabrera (double), leading to a pair of runs. Reyes and Cabrera had walked and singled, respectively, to facilitate Flores in the first. Maybe that propaganda about how we should just wait until we get our injured troops back — the ones, that is, who can come back — contained a kernel of hopeful truth. Reyes is running and rolling in a manner reminiscent of how he ran and rolled in the initial heyday of Molina (an epoch still sadly in progress) and Cabrera is once more Joe Pro at short. The two-hole fits him very nicely at bat.
The other returner to form, Yoenis Cespedes, remained vital Tuesday night. No home run from the man in the comfortingly familiar neon sleeve, but two hits and two sweet defensive plays, one picking a line drive from just above the left field grass blades in the first, the other a leap at the corner wall to take away a probable homer in the sixth. At a couple of intervals, the dreaded quad appeared to have acted up, but then it stopped acting whatsoever, as Cespedes ran fluidly and purposefully. All we can do is hope he (as opposed to Niese) can endure successfully despite whatever might bother him inning to inning. It will require rooting with crossed fingers, but we know how to do that.
Gsellman was now a pitcher with a two-run advantage and he made it hold up. No runs in the second. No runs in the third. After Joltin’ Justin Ruggiano homered deep to lead off the fourth, no runs in the bottom of that frame. Three-and-two-thirds of season-saving ball from the rawest of rookies once he succeeded the veteran who can’t help but rub the rawest of nerves. Niese has since been sent to the disabled list, where he might bump into Steven Matz. Gsellman, a starter in the minors, may have found himself a promising temp gig.
The Mets, meanwhile, have found themselves not completely out of contention, though how far in they are is up for calibration. Three-and-a-half behind the leader in their category with 37 games to go is, unlike us, not insane. But it requires some luck (the Marlins lost, but the Pirates won, so we’re still fourth in our ad hoc division), some health (Niese we can get by without, Cespedes we can’t) and a ton of good baseball. The Mets played a bunch of it Tuesday night. From the second through the ninth, six relievers gave up only one run. With runners in scoring position, hitters went five-for-ten. There was a sweetly executed tack-on tally in the top of the ninth — Reyes single, wild pitch, Cespedes infield single, James Loney single — and a stressless forty-second save from Jeurys Familia. There was a third consecutive win for the first time since America’s 240th birthday party. Seriously, the Mets hadn’t strung together three wins in a row since they took every game between June 30 and July 4…which is a pretty long time ago.
Which, in turn, explains why winning this one was so important — and why it won’t be destined to stick out in Metsopotamian memory unless many more such pleasant memories are manufactured pronto.
Listen up, posters.
We’ve had it with the invective in the comments. We’ve banned one person already, but it’s had no apparent effect on the conversation, which has become increasingly rancorous and tiresome. Today I had to wade into the comments multiple times to wag my finger, and that was on an off-day after a thoroughly gratifying win.
Something is broken here. We’re sick of it. So it’s getting fixed, starting now.
We love our readers. We truly do. We welcome your passion for the team whose cause we have each decided, consciously or otherwise, to make our own. So by all means, weigh in on the Mets’ fortunes in the context of what we post if so motivated. Talking the game is part of the game.
But if you attack other posters as part of that debate, one of us will edit you, put you on the commenter’s DL, or give you the Mejia treatment as we see fit. And if you offer repeated high-horse comments that make your targets obvious, we’re going to do the same.
If you’re not sure if something crossed the line, it probably has. Dial it back.
If you’ve made your point once, you’ve probably made it literally a dozen times. Let it be. It may be the greatest point on God’s green earth, but there is no need to hammer it until it screams. If minds haven’t changed despite your continued assertions, move on.
There are lots of places online in which you can excoriate other Mets fans directly or loftily belittle those you don’t agree with. This has never been one of those places. It’s not going to become one of those places.
This blog exists because Greg and I love baseball and the Mets, even when they’re driving us insane, and we wanted a place to share our thoughts and hear from other like-minded folks. We’ve been at it for more than a decade, and for most of that time I’ve been excited to see that my blog partner has a new post, or that one of our posts has generated a lot of discussion. But too often recently, I see a big number under comments and my heart sinks, because I know I’m going to have to wade through a lot of bad behavior.
It shouldn’t be that way. And because we pay the server bills, it’s not going to be that way any longer.
This is not about a given individual or line of thought. It’s about tone. We try to set a good one here. (And sometimes we ourselves fall short.) We want that to resonate within everything under our banner.
Comments are closed, for obvious reasons. Tomorrow’s a new day. Thanks for reading.
(All of the above seconded by Greg.)
The best thing to do — the sane thing, the kind thing, the self-preserving thing — would be to focus solely on what happened in Sunday night’s Mets-Giants game.
It was taut, tight and well-played, but ultimately a tale of two pitchers: Jeff Samardzija and Noah Syndergaard. Samardzija rode his plus-plus fastball, a resurrected curve and a splitter to keep the Mets hitless into the seventh; Syndergaard rode his plus-plus-plus fastball, ungodly slider and a change-up that mortals would call a fastball to keep the Giants scoreless for as long as he needed to. It was a nifty showcase of pitching on both sides, one of those games you knew early was going to come down to someone’s mistake.
The mistake was Samardzija’s: he gave Yoenis Cespedes something to hit.
Samardzija had flirted with this particular disaster before: in the first he left a curveball in the middle of the plate to Cespedes, who all but rubbed his hands together with glee … and got the bat slightly under the optimum contact point, resulting in a harmless fly ball. (Hey, it happens.)
But come the seventh, Samardzija wasn’t so lucky. The much-lamented Curtis Granderson rifled a low fastball over the head of Gregor Blanco, whose choice of routes possibly prevented Samardzija’s no-hit bid from continuing. A batter later, Cespedes made that academic, blasting a splitter into the left-field stands for a 2-0 Met lead that would hold up.
For Syndergaard, it’s been an odd, sometimes worrisome summer: despite his arsenal looking as intimidating as ever, he’s has struggled to put hitters away and been bedeviled by runners on base. Maybe his struggles have been a product of the bone spur in his elbow; maybe they indicate Noah needs to foil hitters by making another adjustment to his pitching patterns; most likely it’s a little of both.
Assuming continued health, though (we’ll pause here to rap madly on all available wood), Syndergaard certainly has the brains and drive to learn and learn quickly, as he did at the end of a similarly iffy summer in his rookie season. And credit Rene Rivera for making the running game a non-issue: Rivera cut down both Giants who tried to run on Noah, and was his usual wise self behind the plate. In the eighth, Syndergaard walked Brandon Belt with one out; Rivera immediately made his way to the mound, there to check on his pitcher’s fuel level, talk pitch selection and make sure focus didn’t wander. Six pitches later, Brandon Crawford and his execrable hairdo had grounded into a double play.
(For those who didn’t keep track of the postgame, Terry Collins planned to let Syndergaard start the ninth; it was Noah who said he was done. So cancel the day’s controversy, and points to Syndergaard for not letting bravado risk both a fine outing and a Mets win. Though if you must aim at dart at Terry, having Syndergaard bunt in the eighth should give you an easy target — and I’d say so even if Noah hadn’t bunted into a double play.)
A neat, tidy Mets win — we ought to leave it at that and enjoy it for what it was. But, well, we’re Mets fans. And so there’s this: Cespedes hurt his quadriceps on July 8. There’s never a perfect time to put a player of Cespedes’ caliber on the DL, but the All-Star break is pretty darn close.
Rather than DL Cespedes, the Mets let him keep trying to play. The result: He went nine for 44 with one home run and wound up on the DL anyway, nearly a month after the original injury. The Mets turned two weeks without Cespedes into six seven, and mismanaging that injury quite possibly killed their season.
(That’s bad; what’s worse is that as with whispering campaigns about departed players, this is a Met malady that’s bedeviled the team since long before Collins or Sandy Alderson: recall Jerry Manuel‘s quip about “they’re calling it a cramp … surgery on Thursday.” I’ll let you review the cast of characters, their tenures and form your own suspicions about where the problem might lie.)
If the Mets make a 2001-style sprint at a wild-card berth, try just to enjoy it. Try not to think about what might have been if they’d had an additional month of Yoenis Cespedes doing what Yoenis Cespedes can do.
Oh, and good luck with that.
For at least one day the Mets, those egregious laughingstocks, were anything but: they stomped on the Giants to break their losing streak in convincing fashion. 9-5? That’s definitely a way to make a living.
Yoenis Cespedes led the charge, smacking two home runs and just missing a third, a just-missed that may or may not have led to me reacting too excitedly and slopping booze into the hair of my innocent child. (Sorry kid!) Bartolo Colon was his usual unflappable self, foiling both the Giants and Terry Collins‘s attempt to let the arson-prone wing of the bullpen loose at a perilously early hour. And tip the cap to Alejandro De Aza, whose three-run homer turned the game’s drama from potentially heart-stopping to merely entertaining.
Winning cures everything, it’s said, but it can’t stop time. It’s probably too late for the Mets to recover from what’s felled them. But watching today, I found I was OK with that — I’ve passed beyond denial and anger and bargaining and whatever the other stages are to find myself at acceptance, and to remember that acceptance can bring more happiness than you might guess.
It made me happy to watch Colon at work, doughily imperturbable as ever and doing the thing he’s mastered as many times as was necessary: throw subtle variants of a fastball. It seems so simple — add or subtract a bit of spin, a little sink, a mile per hour or so — until you remember that nobody else can do it. Heck, occasionally Bartolo can’t do it either.
It made me happy to watch Asdrubal Cabrera in his element at shortstop. No, Cabrera’s range isn’t astounding and his arm isn’t pure lightning. But like another non-darling of defensive statistics who got name-checked enough not to need another mention, Cabrera’s instincts are peerless. (At least afield — I’m not quite sure what happened on the basepaths in that all-too-Metsian first inning.)
I didn’t write down when the play happened, but I found myself smiling as Cabrera ranged into the hole to flag down a grounder, then turned without interrupting his momentum and hit Neil Walker‘s glove right at the second-base bag.
It didn’t make SportsCenter — heck, it’s not even an MLB video highlight from the game — but it was the kind of play that only seems routine because the man making it knows his craft and has honed it through dogged repetition. Cabrera knew where he was in relation to second base, where his momentum was taking him, how much time he had to get the runner, the angle needed for the throw, and how much he had to put on that throw. Except he processed all that in far less time than it took me to write it — it was already baked into muscle memory. See ball, run to it, throw, record out — that’s a quietly platinum-gloved play from a newly platinum-haired shortstop.
And of course it’s always fun to see someone who’s good at demolishing baseballs do so. Oh how we’ve missed Cespedes, in the standings and in the lineup and in the pleasure centers of our baseball-wired brains. He looks whole again, dangerous again, and that means our battered team feels closer to being the same way.
And there are more esoteric pleasures too — like Josh Smoker finding his place in The Holy Books. Heck, that one even came in a loss. I’d gone to bed before Smoker’s debut Friday night, brought low by exhaustion and disgust, and in the morning the question I most wanted answered wasn’t whether the Mets had won — it seemed safe to bet that they hadn’t and it didn’t really matter if they somehow had — but whether Smoker had gotten the call.
Smoker was up earlier this year, activated for the second game of a doubleheader, but was only glimpsed occupying a perch in the Citi Field bullpen. When he went back down a few hours later, he joined the ranks of the Mets’ ghosts, a roster that … well, haunts me is both the glib thing to write and the accurate assessment.
For a time, Smoker had become the 10th man to be eligible to play for the Mets but exit the active roster before entering a game. That list begins with Jim Bibby (1969 and 1971) and also includes Randy Bobb (1970), Billy Cotton (1972), Jerry Moses (1975), Terrel Hansen (1992), Mac Suzuki (1999), Anderson Garcia (2006), Ruddy Lugo (2008) and Al Reyes (also 2008). If you’re wondering, guys who escaped ghost status by appearing as a Met in a later year don’t count. Nor do odd cases such as that of Justin Speier, who suited up but was never on the active roster. (Call Speier a ghost of a ghost if you like.)
For me, the guys who stand out on that list are Cotton and Hansen — as the lack of links hints, they’re the only Met ghosts who never played a big-league game for any other team. They’re the guys who would have given their eyeteeth to be Moonlight Graham — or, in Metsian terms, to be Joe Hietpas, the emergency backstop who never batted but caught the final half-inning of 2004, beginning and ending his big-league career over 10 minutes or so. (Which also means Hietpas recorded the second-to-last putout in the history of the Montreal Expos.) If you think Art Howe never did anything good, keep it to yourself in the Hietpas household.
Some of the Mets ghosts have baseball cards — Randy Bobb got half a rookie card, while Terrel Hansen grins out from a Stadium Club glossy. I’ve made a full card for Bobb and ones for Bibby and Moses — Moses has to be the oddest ghost, a veteran catcher who was active for nearly all of April 1975 yet somehow never got into a game.
And I’ve made a card for Billy Cotton, called up amid a torrent of backstop injuries at the end of ’72 but denied playing time in favor of Duffy Dyer and the equally wet-behind-the-ears Joe Nolan. I vaguely remember Terrel Hansen leaning on a dugout railing in ’92, unaware that was the closest he’d get to the Baseball Encyclopedia; according to rumor, Cotton got one maddening step further, reaching the on-deck circle one night in September ’72 only to watch as the batter ahead of him hit into an inning-ending — and for Cotton, a career-short-circuiting — double play. I can’t confirm that, and hope that it’s a story that grew in the telling. Because Cotton’s story is gloomy enough.
These days, I sigh in relief when the roster of Met ghosts shrinks back to nine. I rooted for Matt Reynolds to escape extra-special ghost status in the postseason, then waited anxiously for him to make his belated debut this season. When Smoker went down after his stint as the 26th man, I crossed my fingers that he’d come back up — that he wouldn’t hurt his elbow or become suddenly ineffective or suffer any of the other woes that can befall a pitcher, and which in his case might have kept him from ever returning.
Happily, none of those things happened. Josh Edgin went down and Josh Smoker came up, and while I was asleep he gave up two hits and an earned run while recording just one out. I’m sure that isn’t what Smoker visualized when he let himself think about his big-league debut, but I bet Billy Cotton or Terrel Hansen would have taken it. I awoke to learn Smoker had arrived, and that made me happy too.
The Mets will play a game today in San Francisco. We will root for them. They might reverse prevailing trends and win. Perhaps the Cardinals will lose, and the Mets will move back to within 4½ games of the second Wild Card. It’s not inconceivable that this sequence of events will repeat itself on Sunday, at which point the Mets will be 3½ out. On Tuesday, the Mets will begin a three-game series in St. Louis. Should they stay hot and sweep all three — depending on what happens between Miami and Pittsburgh this weekend and whoever they play when they get done with each other, the Mets will have climbed into the thick of the playoff race. At that point, the 65-62 Mets will have 35 games remaining, a load of momentum and every reason to believe they can push toward a return date in the postseason.
“Might.” “Not inconceivable.” “Should they stay hot.” “Depending on what happens.” There are a lot of conditions implicit in the above scenario…and based on every available trace of evidence, conditions are not favorable. In real life, the Mets have lost 17 of their past 25 games, including Friday night’s tower of embarrassment to the Giants, 8-1. As platforms for growth go, that’s not gonna get ya six inches off the ground. By way of comparison, the patron saint of It-Ain’t-Over, the 1973 Mets, went 14-11 prior to getting on their fabled 21-of-29 roll. Those Mets were slowly coalescing in an uncommonly forgiving division. These Mets have continually crumbled while looking up at formidable competition.
What I guess I’m saying here is you play the You Gotta Believe card at your own credulous risk. If you’ve abused your internal clock as I have all this week only to watch the Mets sink from dismal to atrocious, you don’t see anything to believe in.
On Friday, Seth Lugo was splendid as the August version of what Logan Verrett was in April, giving the Mets 6⅔ innings of one-run ball. Seth and the Mets were tied in the seventh with Jonny Cueto and the Giants. There had been some clownish baserunning (Lugo’s, mostly) and other disconcerting blackout sketches delivered in the spirit of Love American Style, but the Mets were in this thing. Then they weren’t. Neither was Lugo, removed in a fit of matchup-inspired strategy after 69 effective pitches. It was as if the manager whispered in the rookie’s ear as he dismissed him from the mound, “Don’t worry kid, we’ll find a way to blow this for you.”
And so they did. Every reliever, including newcomer Josh Smoker, was culpable, as was everybody who wore a glove solely for decorative purposes, as well as everybody who carried a bat to ward off evil spirits, because they certainly weren’t using them to knock in runs. The best you could say about the Mets after Lugo left was they did indeed start to resemble the team we saw in the World Series last fall.
Jeurys Familia was undermined by shabby infield defense in the eighth and Yoenis Cespedes was mindlessly trapped off base in the ninth.
It was just brutal, or of a piece with how they’ve performed almost without interruption since July 26, the first time they played the Cardinals in 2016. They weren’t doing so hot prior to then either, but they were at least sort of holding their own, allowing a person to squint and discern the vague outlines of a contender that might get its act together sooner or later. Later has arrived. The Mets aren’t here to meet its plane.
In other summers when the air has leaked out of a season’s inner tube, I’ve been disgusted. Disgusted was the soup of the day for a half-dozen years before last year. But then came last year, and last year wiped the slate clean in my soul. I no longer know how to stay mad at the Mets. When they’re bad, they’re bad, and brother, they’ve been bad more than they haven’t been the bulk of 2016. I recognize situational bad. These situations suck. Yet the bit where we pile on this organization for knowing nothing and doing nothing and winning nothing?
I can’t do that at this juncture of the franchise’s timeline. They won a pennant within the last year. If it doesn’t quite rate them a pass as they descend down the drain pipe, it should earn them a bye out of the tournament in which we reflexively rank the worst, most godawful Met episodes, calamities and aggregations we’ve ever experienced. C’mon, I think when I serve as blogger-confessor for my fellow fans’ struggles with their faith (which happens a lot lately), this isn’t good, but lord, we’ve seen worse. I have links to six seasons of genuine disgust if your memory is too short to box with mine.
I’m not aggravated as much as I’m saddened. I’m saddened that the great year of 2015 will not be immediately twinned with a worthy successor. Of all the things 2015 was, it was fun. I literally wrote the book on the 2015 Mets, and I don’t think I fully grasped how much fun we were having while we were having it. It keeps coming back to me. In the “one year ago on this date” derby, we’re racing toward the really phenomenal stuff. The Mets go to Colorado and outscore the Rockies 28-18 over two nights, or by exactly as many as the Diamondbacks just outscored the Mets over three. The Mets go to Philadelphia and whack eight homers on a Monday, do infield acrobatics on a Thursday and sweep both games in between besides. The Mets gear up for September like September matters. September mattered. October mattered. A wee bit of November mattered.
Matters at the end of third week of this August aren’t inspiring. Some injured return. Other injured recede. Health seems irrelevant. Moves are made. Few of them click. Schedules are cited as favorable. Losses mount anyway. 2015 fails to replicate. 2016 fails to ignite. 2017…nah, too soon, if only in the chronological sense.
If Billy Loes were still with us, he might glance at the standings and conclude, “The second Wild Card is a very good thing. It gives everybody a chance. Just like the WPA.” The 60-62 Mets are 5½ behind the presently Wild Cardinals with 40 to play. They’re closer to the 59-63 Rockies and the 57-66 Phillies than they are to 65-56 St. Loo, though. If we weren’t laser-focused on their status and clinging to an iota of that ’15 feeling, there is little likelihood we’d view the Mets as any kind of contender. If I were an impartial newspaper editor pressed for space, I’d delete the New York line from the National League Playoff Picture box without a second thought.
I’m a highly partisan fan and my virtual X-Acto knife has already pretty much made the cut in my mind. But I’ll watch the next game anyway (of course) and I’ll even allow myself a purposeful peek at the out-of-town scoreboard. Even if you’re certain you already know, you never know.
Apropos of Justin Ruggiano’s grand slam Thursday night and my assertion that you have no business losing when one of your batters does the most he can do with an at-bat, I got curious and combed Baseball Reference to determine whether the Mets have ever benefited from such a turn of fortune. Have they ever come out ahead despite the other team hitting a grand salami? They have! Whereas the Mets have dropped thirteen games in which one of their hitters has brought home the Hebrew National, they’ve actually won twenty games in which one of their opponents’ hitters notched four runs on one extraordinary swing. Who knew things sometimes break in the Mets’ favor? It’s a helluva list, too, and I’ll share it with you somewhere down the road when I haven’t spent an entire week awake at hours decent people and frontrunners are sound asleep.
The Giants certainly know how to slot their promotions, scheduling their annual Jerry Garcia Tribute Night for when the Mets came to town Thursday. A friend of mine, not much of a Grateful Dead fan, liked to tell the joke, “What did the Deadhead say once the drugs wore off — ‘man, this music sucks.’”
I like the music of the Dead (the official band of the 2016 New York Mets’ playoff hopes) just fine, but the entirety of whatever trip the Mets were on last night must have looked a lot better through a hallucinogenic prism. Not that the part where I imagined Justin Ruggiano hit a grand slam off Madison Bumgarner wasn’t, well, far out, but Jacob deGrom and I kind of crashed when Bumgarner came up in the bottom of the very same inning, the fourth, and hit his own two-run homer to completely erase what was left of the lead Ruggiano built with a single four-run swing.
The eventual 10-7 defeat negates a core tenet of my baseball philosophy: you should never, ever lose a game in which one of your batters hits a grand slam. Yet it’s happened to the Mets an unlucky 13 times in their 55-year history. Most recent before last night, it was Chris Schwinden & Co. undoing Jason Bay’s slamdiwork at Citi Field in 2011 in what became a 6-5 loss to the Braves. Most horrifying was Carlos Delgado’s salami being cut down to size by Oliver Perez and the oily rags who followed him onto the mound during the last week of Shea Stadium’s existence in 2008. This was the infamous tie score, Murphy triples to lead off, Wright coming up, bottom of the ninth, all we need is a sacrifice fly game that did not result in Daniel coming home. Luis Ayala burned the place to the ground in the tenth, 9-6, and we soldiered on to Shea Goodbye, knowing damn well we’d blown our best chance to extend the ballpark’s life.
Saddest? Sadder than Ruggiano’s beautiful night (3-for-5 and a sweet, running catch) being sabotaged by deGrom enduring the worst outing of his and almost everybody’s career? I’d have to go with Jack Hamilton, Mets starting pitcher on May 20, 1967, blasting a four-bagger versus ex-Met Al Jackson, by then of the Cardinals, in the second inning at Shea. Hamilton proceeded to return to his hurling and promptly threw the lead back up; he was out of the game in the fourth and the Mets went on to lose, 11-9.
“Hey, Jack, how was your game today?”
“Oh, great, yeah, I hit a grand slam.”
“Wonderful! What did you and the guys do to celebrate afterwards?”
“SHUT UP! JUST SHUT UP!”
The rest of the fellas whose productive bats proved no more than ornaments to futility: Frank Thomas, 1962; Eddie Bressoud, 1966; Tommie Agee, 1971; Rusty Staub, 1973; Gary Carter, 1985; Joe Orsulak, 1995; Cliff Floyd, 2005; and Fernando Tatis, 2009. In a cruel twist of fate, Tatis was starting at first base a few days after Delgado had played his final game as a Met, though we didn’t know it was Delgado’s final game. He’ll probably just need a little rest, some rehab and he’ll be back as good as new before we know it. That was that year’s baseball equivalent of one of those marathon jams that made the Dead famous. Carlos’s injury turned out to be the canary in the walking boot in the coal mine from which the 2009 Met campaign could not be rescued. Everybody (just about) got hurt, every game (more or less) was lost.
What was wrong with Delgado again? I’m going to say it was a broken heart never properly healed from how the Mets lost to the Cubs the previous September.
No Dead tribute slated for tonight at Phone Company Park, but Seth Lugo will be filling in for Steven Matz, who reported shoulder soreness and was therefore scratched. Just a precaution, they say.
Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on us. But not often.