Good morning. In case you missed Tuesday night’s late Mets game in Oakland, the previously slumping A’s won by a comfortable margin; the Mets collected more than their customary four hits, but to no avail; Travis d’Arnaud homered with nobody on; Dillon Gee struggled through five and two-thirds innings; Gonzalez Germen wasn’t particularly effective in his return from Las Vegas; A’s fans were effusive in their support of their team; the Mets’ fell to nine games below .500 for the first time since July 7; the Mets’ record of 59-68 aligned almost identically with that of their previous three seasons under Terry Collins, when they were 60-67, 58-69 and 58-69 at the same juncture of the schedule; and 2015 drew another day closer. Good night.
The following account is issued as a public service as well as for cheap jokes. If you are over 50 years of age, please consult your physician.
Bartolo Colon was supposed to start Monday afternoon’s Mets game, but was called away due to a family health emergency.
I was supposed to have a colonoscopy during Monday afternoon’s Mets game and kept the appointment so as to ward off any family health emergencies.
Colon hadn’t missed any of his 24 Mets starts this year.
The last Mets game I missed in its entirety (not even a couple of pitches on the radio) was 671 games prior, on July 29, 2010.
Some things, like a family health emergency, supercede even a Mets game.
Some things, like a colonoscopy, you can put off for only so long before you realize you’ve scheduled yours to unintentionally coincide with a 12:10 camp day start.
I wish Bartolo Colon’s family well.
I wish my family well. My wife and my sister came with me to my thing and I greatly appreciate their support.
Mets games, despite one’s ability to guess in advance how they’ll turn out, are fun to look forward to.
Colonoscopies, despite your being repeatedly told they’re routine, are no fun to look forward to.
Some people prepare for a Mets game by throwing a great tailgate party, complete with awesome cocktails.
You might call preparing for a colonoscopy the worst tailgate ever. You don’t want to know what my doctor instructed me to mix into 64 ounces of Gatorade nor what resulted.
The Mets don’t seem to know how to manufacture runs.
After preparing for my colonoscopy, boy do I know how to manufacture runs.
The Mets wore those awful camo jerseys and caps today.
I had to put on one of those silly gowns today and leave it untied in the back.
Carlos Torres, taking Bartolo Colon’s place, threw the first pitch of today’s Mets game on time.
I showed up for my thing early, was eventually ushered into the room where they hook you up to an I.V. and waited well beyond my alleged 12:30 appointment time. After a while I felt so invisible I wondered if my gown was, in fact, camouflage.
Mets fans probably grumbled until the bottom of the fourth inning when Lucas Duda broke a nothing-nothing tie with his 22nd home run of the season.
I grumbled through more than an hour of waiting until my bottom and I were wheeled into the room where they do the procedure.
Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs, like most opposing pitchers, put the Mets’ batters to sleep.
An anesthesiologist put me to sleep.
In no time at all, the Mets and Cubs played seven innings of 1-1 baseball.
In no time at all, my colonoscopy — the actual business with the tiny camera — was over, and I didn’t feel a thing.
There would follow a bit of grogginess, some apple juice and a bit of bureaucracy keeping me from vamoosing once I heard my results (which were fine), but the important thing to my Met-addled mind was soon enough I was up, I was dressed and I had my phone out to learn that the score was tied after seven. On the way to the car, I divined it was 2-1, Cubs, now in the eighth. Once in the car, I turned on the radio to hear at least a small portion of my 672nd consecutive Mets game observed either in full or in part. I was home on my couch for the final three outs of the seemingly inevitable 4-1 defeat, yet another loss in which the Mets hit hardly at all.
I had a colonoscopy Monday afternoon.
The Mets played a baseball game Monday afternoon.
Hard to say which of us had the worse end of it.
For 90 seconds or so, there was joy in Metville.
We’d punished the Cubs for removing Jake Arrieta, whose curveball had jelly-legged Met knees and kicked out Met fannies and turned Met bats into fan blades throughout another insanely beautiful August afternoon.
We’d reminded ourselves that we do too like Curtis Granderson, who broke a seemingly centuries-long run of futility with a two-out RBI single in the eighth inning off Pedro Strop, he of the octopus-like assemblage of arms and elbows and glove from which a ball would eventually emerge. Granderson’s hit chased home Eric Young Jr., tied the game and left the Met faithful cheering the thought of either a Met walkoff in the ninth or a win achieved in extra innings. After 7 2/3 innings of frustration and futility, it seemed like a fine plan.
We’d also got to see Rafael Montero showing off what he can do — he wasn’t quite as good as Arrieta but he was pretty close, dazzling the Cubs with an impressive mix of fastballs, curves, sliders and change-ups. It was far and away Montero’s best start in the big leagues, and a useful reminder that he’s only 23 and has an arsenal that’s respectable even among the Harveys and Wheelers and what we hear of the Syndergaards.
And finally, we got a Mets-Cubs pitchers’ duel to summon up memories from now-legendary eras. Squint a bit — OK, squint a lot — and you might have thought it was Jerry Koosman against Bill Hands out there, or Dwight Gooden and Rick Sutcliffe. (Squint a lot because this game, unlike those games, meant absolutely nothing.) The Mets and Cubs are no longer archrivals or even particularly rivals, but those of us on either side who grew up hating Those Guys remember what was, and regret that it’s been taken from us.
(Odd sidelight: the appearance of the Cubs’ Matt Szczur, backed by a cheerful rooting section from his hometown of Cape May, N.J. Szczur immediately bumped Kirk Nieuwenhuis from atop the How Do You Spell That Again? leaderboard – heck, he would have dethroned Doug Mientkiewicz – and filled Twitter with inevitable HAIL jokes, but what I noticed was he was standing out there wearing the No. 41 made famous by semi-soundalike Tom Seaver. Hail indeed.)
Anyhow, Montero acquitted himself admirably, Josh Edgin and then recently downtrodden Carlos Torres fanned Cubs to avert danger, and their pitching heroics gave Granderson a chance to even things up. After the eighth the Mets went to the commercial break tied 1-1, and all Jenrry Mejia had to do was hold the line for a half-inning and then we’d see if a weary Daniel Murphy could get things started and/or Lucas Duda could take aim at the Shea Bridge and/or Eric Campbell could have another big moment.
And then Mejia threw one pitch and Starlin Castro parked it in Utleyville.
So the happy times lasted … zero pitches. We enjoyed the reversal of fortune for the time it takes to hear about some horrible new variety of already-horrible Bud Light and get told the merits of an unbreakable awning made out of something weird and watch that kid decide he’d be OK with a Happy Meal.
And then the Cubs were in the lead and a few minutes later the Mets had lost and Jeez Louise, that kind of sucked, didn’t it?
Well, except for those 90 seconds or so. Those were awesome.
* * *
Addendum No. 1: Readers may or may not know I have an interest in genealogy. Now, genealogy is like a fantasy-baseball team — your own is fascinating; everyone else’s is tedious. But you might be amused to learn that Joan Payson and I turn out to be ninth cousins three times removed. Obviously once he’s sworn in as commissioner Rob Manfred will move swiftly to award ownership of the Mets to me as one of Mrs. Payson’s 500,000 or so closest relatives. I’ll be waiting for his call.
Oh yeah, and Sandy Alderson and I are something like fifth cousins. Somebody gimme the team already.
* * *
Addendum No. 2: Our pal Heather Quinlan in in the final week of her Kickstarter campaign for ’86 Mets: The Movie. We know this movie will be amazin’, but without our help it won’t happen. Visit Heather’s page to check out some of the great interviews she’s conducted so far, and to see some of the cool extras even a small donation will get you.
The mood at Citi Field turned properly solemn as the reading of the will began:
“I, Jonathon Joseph Niese, being of sound mind — except when I begin to lose it at least once per game when the slightest little thing goes wrong — and body — except for my annual stint on the disabled list — do hereby bequeath baserunners to the relief pitcher who follows me into the ballgame. I do further hereby slam my glove into the dugout wall and fume that I can’t believe Terry took me out. Everything was going so well for so long. Oh, and I also hereby suck up my anger and pledge to give the blandest of answers in the afterlife or the postgame, whichever comes first.”
Niese departed this mounded coil in the top of the seventh Saturday night and his problems were now the problems of one Victor Laurence Black, who could have donned an armband matching his last name, given the deadly mission that had befallen him. Black inherited three baserunners from his starting pitcher, the maximum amount allowed by law. It was just his luck that those three Chicago Cubs, when added to the figure represented by the forthcoming batter, Chris Coghlan, totaled a number commensurate with the amount of runs by which the Cubs trailed the Mets.
It had been 7-1 when the inning commenced. It had been 3-1 a half-inning earlier. The Mets merrily extended their lead in the sixth. Well, maybe not so merrily, as it involved their captain taking one for the team somewhere in the shoulder blade, an area in which David Wright had ached enough this season. But David’s nonfatal pain led to communal pleasure as four runs scored, two of them when Arismendy Alcantra learned his arm’s too short to box with Juan Lagares. Alcantra let Lagares’s slightly tailing fly tick off his not quite extended glove and the Cubgates had opened.
A laugher was in progress. Six runs ahead, nine outs to go, Niese — having overcome shaky first-inning defense (some of it his own) — cruising along. Who would have guessed the proceedings were about to verge on mournful?
There’s a leadoff homer from Justin Ruggiano. No biggie. Then Alcantra singles. So what? Wellington Castillo singles. Uh, still not a thing, but maybe somebody’s warming up? Chris Valaika singles and the bases are loaded. Do I hear Boyz II Men clearing their pipes on “End Of The Road?”
Everybody’s on, nobody’s out, Ryan Sweeney’s up and he hits the ball…real hard. At Niese. Who shields better than he fields. The ball bounces off Jonathon as Arismendy scores. Now it’s 7-3, the threat is grave and the group slated to play after the game is practicing their dirges.
In comes Black. The word is he doesn’t allow inherited runners to score — not on his watch. But, oh what an unwanted bounty of inherited runners! Suspicious scions blessed with great fortunes have hired lobbyists to protect less.
But Vic Black will not be heard demanding a repeal of the estate tax. He simply goes to work, inheritance be damned.
Coghlan lines out to deep enough left so that Castillo can almost surely make it, 7-4. But Castillo on third — and his coach, Gary Jones — observe a moment of silence and honor the memory of a lost scoring chance. Wellington doesn’t test Matt den Dekker (who, in turn, wasn’t throwing home) and it’s still 7-3.
Javier Baez pops up behind first base. Before there is any chance Lucas Duda won’t catch it, umpire Will Little rules it an infield fly. Baez’s chance to spread morbidity at Citi dies before his ball is buried in Duda’s glove.
Anthony Rizzo, second in the league in home runs with 27, is up next, determined to make Black pay for his gaudy inheritance. But Anthony’s determination is no match for Vic’s Amazin’ grace. The batter pops to the shortstop, Wilmer Flores (who has been playing like an actual shortstop all night), and the third out is secured.
Three runners inherited, three runners stranded, zero damage inflicted despite Jon Niese bequeathing all that mess to Vic Black. Two more bullpen innings from two other Met relievers serve as celebratory rather than mournful. The Mets beat the Cubs, 7-3. Niese’s six innings earn him the win — the seventh of his intermittently stormy season, the fiftieth of his quietly consistent career. Black’s three batters earn him no more than a statistical obscurity known as a hold. What’s a hold, anyway?
It must be short for “hold on for dear life.” Because that’s what Vic Black did last night. And we lived to tell about it.
The Mets are chocolate and the Cubs are peanut butter: We’ve got a surplus of young pitching and not enough bats; they’ve got a surplus of young bats and not enough pitching. So plenty of baseball matchmakers want to know what, exactly, is taking so long: Send some prospects from Column Mets west while some prospects from Column Cubs go east, and both teams have theoretically solved their problems and will be ready to reclaim their past glories. (With, perhaps, an interesting rivalry between What Could Have Beens.)
Honestly, it sounds like a perfectly good idea to me: Bring on Starlin Castro, or Javier Baez, or Addison Russell, or Arismendy Alcantara, or Jorge Soler, or some other marvelously monikered Cubs minor-leaguer whose name hasn’t penetrated my consciousness yet. How about Jonathon Niese for Castro in a trade of talented but problematic big leaguers with team-friendly contracts, plus a couple of Mets pitching prospects for one of the outfielders? Theo? Sandy? I’m conferencing you together; lemme know when you’ve got something to announce.
The thing is, the Cubs’ hitters haven’t reached the promised land quite yet: Anthony Rizzo and Castro are here, but Baez’s still learning to tame his big swing, and the minor-league studs are close but haven’t arrived. You saw it tonight, as a quartet of Mets fireballers fanned no less than 14 Cubs.
But we know what that’s like, because the Mets’ young pitchers aren’t quite here yet either. Zack Wheeler recorded five of his first six outs on strikeouts, riding his near-100 MPH fastball. But his pitch count crept ever higher, as it does, and with two out in the sixth he walked Chris Coghlan on four straight wayward pitches and was excused further duty, having thrown a career-high 120 pitches but still winding up short of the fabled seventh inning. His final line was very 2014 Wheeler: two runs allowed over 6 2/3, 10 Ks, four walks, and a very impressive performance one couldn’t help thinking should have been even better.
Wheeler left up a run, a thin margin of error supplied by Eric Campbell‘s three-run blast; fortunately for him, the Mets’ young relievers picked up where he left off. Vic Black erased Baez on a strikeout; Jeurys Familia had one of his most impressive outings of the year, throwing bowling-ball sinkers; and Jenrry Mejia recorded the save on behalf of Juan Lagares, who continues to spoil us. Ryan Sweeney opened the ninth by whacking a ball up the gap in right-center, a sure double that would have left the Mets staring down the barrel of a tie game and another trip into extra innings. My first thought was unprintable, but it was followed rapidly by asking, “Where’s Lagares?” The answer, happily, was that he was streaking over from left-center, his speed and phenomenal first-step instincts allowing him to catch up with Sweeney’s drive with apparent and utterly deceptive ease.
It was a good night for young Mets pitchers and a frustrating one for young Cubs hitters, but we’ve seen the reverse before and probably will again at some point in this series. Maybe we can help each other out later this month or in the offseason; until then, well, we’re giddy with the same sense of promise and equally frustrated that it’s arriving in fits and starts.
* * *
C’mon folks, we can do this: Help our pal Heather Quinlan reach her Kickstarter goal for ’86 Mets: The Movie. We know this movie will be amazin’, but without our help it won’t happen. Visit Heather’s page to check out some of the great interviews she’s conducted so far, and to see some of the cool extras even a small donation will get you.
Who among us doesn’t remember being a kid in the backyard, dreaming — if only for a second — of a career in the big leagues?
I’m Lucas Duda. It’s the last out of another ass-kicking administered by the Nationals. I’m standing sort of near the plate, looking out at Rafael Soriano standing sort of near the mound. My manager’s got his hands in his pockets. Over by the fence the umpires are huddled beneath headsets, talking to other umpires who are looking at something that already happened. I can taste the tension in the air. I can see it in the acres of empty green seats. I can sense it from the way the fans gathered at the top of the seating bowl have one foot pointed toward the exits, or are looking avidly at their phones, or are discarding trash on the concrete at their seats. This will determine whether we’re down three with two out and a runner on first via a hit batsman or down three with two out and nobody on at all. I’ve waited my whole life for this moment, and now it’s here, and it’s electric.
OK, fine, that’s unfair — a base runner’s a base runner, and if the umps had ruled Duda had been hit by the pitch (he hadn’t been) and Travis d’Arnaud had singled and Matt den Dekker had walked and Juan Lagares had hit a walkoff grand slam, nobody would be snickering about the awkward moments everybody spent waiting to be told what to do. But it was pretty ridiculous — the saddest replay review I’ve seen so far, regardless of the outcome.
But hey, that made it a fitting last at-bat for a truly sad game and a truly sad series.
On Wednesday night, I’d snuck a couple of peeks at the score while at dinner, and on the walk home I noted that waitaminute, the Mets were only down one and had runners on second and third with just one out. (I’d already missed Terry Collins‘s Dumbest Bunt Ever.) Emily and I completed our walk home while the umps were being fussed at over the latest random interpretation of the moronic, needless Posey Rule, and Emily turned on the TV while I was in the other room fumbling with At Bat. As Curtis Granderson stepped to the plate in At Bat Land, Emily said a bad word in the other room, and I knew the game was over.
Thursday night looked even more hopeless on the surface, and the only things keeping me going were a) the thought that this was one of those sleepy games where the team in the lead gets complacent until the moment they get bit in the hinder by something unexpected; and b) the sight of den Dekker and Lagares hunting down hapless fly balls like pinstriped cruise missiles.
But no, the sleepiness was mostly on our side. The Nats — the Jayson Werthless Nats, no less — annihilated us, plain and simple. We got our asses handed to us, as we have against the Nats at Citi Field in particular and at life in general for far too long now. It was alternately boring and unpleasant and I’m glad it’s over, except it isn’t, since we have to play these guys seven more times this year.
It’s a season whose psychic page has turned to next year, so let’s talk about next year. The Mets should have their good young starting pitching aligned, one hopes with Matt Harvey back in the fold and ready to throw pitches in anger again without being told to slow down or hold back or wait a minute or not make that gesture at the camera. The Mets’ bullpen should still be cause for hope instead of despair. We may enter the season worried about David Wright, and who knows what uniform Daniel Murphy will be wearing, but we ought to be excited or at least interested to find out if Duda and d’Arnaud and Lagares can build on encouraging years.
You can easily imagine that the leaves will come out and the night air will have a hint of summer and we’ll be talking with quiet but growing excitement about how these 2015 Mets are Not At All Bad and might even be Kinda Good. It will be the stuff of encouraging conversation.
And then I will force myself to remember this moment and ask a simple question: Have our boys shown they can beat the Nats yet? Because if the answer’s still no, well, then we need to have this conversation another time.
* * *
Two things to leave you with:
1) Our pal Mark Simon chatted with Jerry Seinfeld about the Mets, baseball and standup and much more. Enjoy!
2) Our pal Heather Quinlan needs your help to reach her Kickstarter goal for ’86 Mets: The Movie. Please help her out — from what we’ve seen this movie will be amazin’ amazin’ amazin’, but it won’t exist without a last push from fans like us.
You must have heard
The cautionary tales
The dangers hidden
On the cul-de-sac trails
From wiser folk
Who have been
Through it all
And the faded names
Sprayed up on the wall
Ninth inning. Travis d’Arnaud has homered off Rafael Soriano to cut the Nationals’ lead to 3-2. Matt den Dekker has singled. After an ill-advised as well as poorly executed bunt attempt by Juan Lagares has gone awry, Wilmer Flores singles. Den Dekker takes off for third and makes it.
Exciting, right? Of course it was. If you couldn’t figure it out for yourself, you could see it in the faces of those seated (now standing and jumping) behind third base. The Mets, having declined a seventh-inning bases-loaded, one-out opportunity to knot the score at two, were being given a second chance to tie and win. Eric Young came in to pinch-run for Flores and immediately stole second, which pushed the team even closer to immediate victory.
But let’s back up to before EY appeared, to the end of that den Dekker dash from first and third…to, as Pete Townshend might urge us, face those faces. Those were the faces of hope. Of defiance. Of expectation, almost. Those were the faces of Mets fans who had watched 8½ frustrating innings but were willing to believe that the bottom of the ninth was going to be different.
An erratic closer was on the mound. The opposition defense had been shaky. The home team’s starting pitcher had kept the game very close. A long, highly specific losing streak — nine consecutive games succumbing to the Washington Nationals right here at Citi Field — had to snap sooner or later. Now, this moment, was going to be it. First and third, one out, ace pinch-hitter Eric Campbell in the on-deck circle.
How could this not work? And when EY takes second, how could this not work right away?
Well, it didn’t. It found a way not to. Campbell bounced to Ian Desmond, who threw home to Wilson Ramos, who kept a couple of his toes on the foul line, which had nothing to do with anything except for some murky rule nobody understands and can be interpreted differently depending on the time of day. In San Francisco Wednesday afternoon, a similar play penalized the catcher. In Flushing Wednesday evening, den Dekker was out by a mile and several hours. Terry Collins — reportedly destined to manage the Mets long after Bud Selig is done commissioning baseball — attempted to litigate the call, but Chelsea Market’s night crew wasn’t moved to overturn.
Two out. Young stayed at second. Curtis Granderson bounced a ball that Soriano would have to leap to grab, but he leapt and he grabbed it and he tossed it to first. The game was over.
Another National disaster at Citi Field. Another night when the faces of hope, defiance and expectation defaulted to their more standard expressions.
Disappointment. Fatalism. Acceptance.
You must have tried
And defied belief
Maybe buried your head
In insular grief
I need your hunger
You need mine
A million mouths
Can swallow up time
Maybe those fans had just been putting on lower-case brave faces during that rally that wasn’t. Maybe they knew not so deep down that this was going turn out no better than Nationals 3 Mets 2. Despite the d’Arnaud homer. Despite Bartolo Colon’s seven swift innings. Despite Kevin Frandsen channeling Luis Castillo in left and Adam LaRoche tipping his cap to Bill Buckner at first. Despite the jolt of adrenaline that coursed through Citi Field’s vital organs as den Dekker flew 180 feet. On the scene, in the moment, of course you think things are going to be different this time. They’re going to be like they used to be, whenever that was. Maybe like that one time it really happened when you were there and the Mets came from behind. Maybe like in one of those highlight films you caught on SNY during a rain delay.
You try not to drift to the dark side, the part of your Met brain that tells you the Mets will put as many runners on as legally possible without sending any of them across the plate. You try not to assume the previous two-and-three-quarters hours were devoted to tracking another semi-nice try. You try to believe there’s a clutch hit embroidered somewhere within the fabric of those hit towels.
But not so deep down, you knew this wasn’t going to turn out any better than Nationals 3 Mets 2.
If you, unlike that long, highly specific losing streak (now 10), has to snap sooner rather than later, go ahead. We can embrace patience as a concept all we want to and compliment ourselves on our sophistication in the process of demonstrating our wise waiting and seeing, but did Wednesday night’s defeat convince you at least a couple of Metropolitan toes are planted firmly over the line of progress and that the rest of the foot is surely destined to follow? Or did you get the feeling you’d seen this game bad infinitum and that more are on backorder?
Eight of the fourteen players the Mets used last night can be classified as the “kids” of whom we demand to see more when mid-August rolls around and there’s no point penciling Gary Sheffield or Rod Barajas or Jeff Francoeur or Bobby Abreu into the lineup any longer. (Or as Andy Martino nailed it Tuesday, “we’ll be seeing a lot more of Fernando Martinez and Josh Thole this month and next. No, wait. Wrong year.”) We got glances at two outfielders, an infielder, a catcher, two relief pitchers and two pinch-hitters whose service time is limited and whose potential strikes us as promising.
How’d they do? Late in the game, as described above, a few did very well. D’Arnaud homered for the tenth time this season, the most any Met rookie catcher has ever gone deep. Den Dekker and Flores were the spark plugs who ignited those fleetingly bright faces. If the Mets had followed through and won, the win would have gone to Vic Black, who struck out two Nationals in a scoreless top of the ninth.
On the other hand, Jeurys Familia gave up the insurance home run to Asdrubal Cabrera in the eighth, Campbell and Kirk Nieuwenhuis each fizzled in enormous spots (Kirk stranded the bases loaded in the seventh) and Juan Lagares, despite his knack for evoking center fielders from Willie Mays to Devon White to Andruw Jones, had a Don Bosch kind of game. He made a terrible relay in the seventh that facilitated Washington’s first two runs and popped up on that inane bunt attempt in the ninth. It was inane to implement the bunt there — let’s play for the tie, because there’s no way we’d ever lose to the Nats in extras! — but as long as that’s what your presumptive Manager For Life is commanding, don’t suck at it. And even if you suck at it, as Juan did, run it the fudge out. Instead, Lagares turned for the dugout without making serious strides toward first.
Eight young players, eight varied results. Fine. Rome wasn’t built in a day, we keep saying. But how about the rest of this crew? Because young players can take a long time to tell us who they are, we have only learned in 2014 what 2008 rookie Daniel Murphy and 2010 callup Lucas Duda are capable of being. We’ve gotten two consecutive very solid, occasionally stellar seasons of Murphy, at least when it comes to singling and doubling. We’ve seen, once Duda is left at a position that isn’t left or right field, he functions fairly consistently and belts with bursts of power.
But do you see anything in either of them that suggests that there’s another level to their respective games? Maybe Duda, if given an entire season to play first and hit fourth, can accumulate a genuinely impressive pile of extra-base hits. Yet is he going to be any more than he is? Save for the odd road trip where he really warms up, is he more than not bad/pretty good at his best? There’s less mystery to Murphy at this point. He will single and double, which are two excellent skills. He will alternately surprise you and confirm your doubts for you in general. Like Duda, he’s not a problem. Like Duda, he’s probably not making an enormous difference down the road.
David Wright and Curtis Granderson were promising young players a decade ago. They reached their ceilings, which were elevated. The Mets pay them both to be superstars in their prime. Neither has played like it. Now and then there’s a flash. In David’s case, there might be a great excuse he can’t bring himself to make vis-à-vis his shoulder, but in 2014 he hasn’t been the David Wright who earned the long and large contract he signed in December 2012. Maybe a winter of rest will fix what ails him and he can rebound from steady to somewhat spectacular. But do you really think David Wright is going to peak again?
Granderson hasn’t been a bust, once you erase April from your memory banks, but he hasn’t been an impact player. Maybe there’s a metric that swears he is, but I haven’t noticed it, have you? He was hot for a spell and he’ll probably get hot again, just like his team. He certainly knows what he’s doing in right field (no mean feat, we’ve learned over the decades) even if his arm doesn’t pack a lot of oomph. He socked one of the great home runs of the summer, the eighth-inning shot off Luis Avilan that tied the Braves on July 7 and set off the stretch that giddified us going into the All-Star break. And he doesn’t ground into double plays ever. But when you get right down to it, do you get the sense that Curtis Granderson was a fantastic free agent investment or is a far more pleasant version of Bobby Bonilla?
Mind you, Bonilla, after creating his indelible horrible initial impression in 1992, put up some good numbers as a Met from 1993 to 1995, so aligning him with Granderson is not the slam you might read it as. But what Bobby Bo ultimately proved in the realm of baseball if not personality was he was no Barry Bonds…which is what the Mets paid him to be in the offseason following 1991. Likewise, Granderson, who was supposed to provide a complement to Wright and give the Mets two powerful pillars in the middle of their lineup, was miscast in that role. He’s a leadoff hitter these days, not because he’s awesome at it, but because it’s where he’s been least ineffective.
Duda, Murphy, Wright and Granderson are your four veteran stalwarts. They can all be pretty good to very good. They’re more likely to be pretty good when not slumping. You have to get them all hot at the same time for them to generate real heat. That’s tough to ask for.
We’ve got to judge the judge
We got to find the finds
We’ve got to scheme the schemes
We got to line the lines
We got to fight the fight
We got to fall the falls
We got to light the light
We got to call the calls
So while we are granted our long look at “the kids,” we can’t forget that the more chronologically advanced among our former kids are only going to do so much individually or as a unit. That explains as much as anything why the Mets, when not playing the Phillies, don’t score many runs. Since the All-Star break, against every opponent who doesn’t currently have a worse record than they do (everybody but Philadelphia, that is), the Mets have tallied 43 runs in 19 games, or 2.26 runs generated per contest. At that rate, Harvey at his healthiest and deGrom at his dandiest and Wheeler at his most wonderful and Syndergaard the sensation, assuming he lives up to his hype — let alone Colon with his blood spun to a fine mist — aren’t going to be enough to carry us to brighter days.
We don’t yet know if Lagares can accomplish with a bat what he can craft with a glove. Or if d’Arnaud will learn to knock down the pitches he can’t frame. Or if Flores isn’t a designated hitter in shortstop’s clothing (or if he’s truly any kind of hitter). Or what den Dekker and, for that matter, Nieuwehuis and Campbell are. Or whether the bullpen that seemed so sound for so long can stay perfectly in tune.
All told, there isn’t enough here to win games like last night’s more often than the Mets lose games like last night’s. This assessment isn’t based on last night alone. It attempts to not be based on snap judgments or ingrained “here we go again” instincts…though, let’s face it, those are hard to ignore. As is the always mysterious question of what resources will be made available for the improvement of this ballclub beyond Closing Day and how much resolve exists to improve it. We’re at the point of the season where Fernando Martinez and Josh Thole have indeed morphed into Matt den Dekker and Wilmer Flores. There’s always something or somebody better coming. Just ask the Mets fan who was told that and told himself that in 2009 and 2010 and 2011 and 2012 and 2013. Once the rally dies down and “New York State Of Mind” fires up, you can see it in that fan’s face.
Be as patient as you can stand to be at your own risk. Be reasonably impatient when it suits your mood. You’re a fan. Your informed impulses are just as valid as your longstanding faith.
Tuesday night in August means Chasin Time at Citi Field for the Princes. For the Chasins, it means Prince Time. It’s a good time for all every year for five years suddenly, as time lives up to its reputation and flies. Stephanie and I have been meeting up with erstwhile Bar Mitzvah boy/sharp-eyed sleepover correspondent Ryder Chasin and his dad, Rob, for a game once a year every year at roughly the same spot on the calendar ever since the season after Ryder “became a man”. We no longer need to use quotes where that designation is concerned. Ryder’s closing in on 18 and stands about a month away from commencing his freshman term at Northwestern University. Our boy is a man in full. I continue to bask in my ability to say, “I knew him when…”
Getting to see Ryder and Rob at Citi Field this Tuesday night in August was a delight. Getting into otherwise lightly attended Citi Field on this Tuesday night in August with them, however, was a chore. Not because tickets were scarce (they weren’t) or because the weather was inclement (the Sharknado-level floods came later). Our temporary obstacle to entry was the security guy I led our innocent little party toward. That dude unleashed a storm of overofficious arrogance upon our unsuspecting asses.
I used to know exactly whose station to submit my bag to, but the guy I liked won a customer-engagement award and apparently got promoted. In his place this Tuesday night was a handsy fellow who felt compelled to search every nook and cranny of my belongings, diving right into my unopened bottle of water, declaring it open and therefore a safety hazard before dramatically discarding it into the trash. My argument — that the water was never opened (I know I never opened it) — proved uncompelling to someone who thought a golf shirt emblazoned with a logo elevated him to the status of Secretary of Homeland Obnoxiousness.
Hey Mets: It’s August. You’re out of it. Few of us are showing up. This might be the moment to remember you should treat the remnants of your public with kid gloves rather than an iron fist.
Having been heroically stripped of my dangerous hydration supply, Citi Field was once again safe for civilized people and the Washington Nationals, lack of overlap between the two groups notwithstanding. To be fair, maybe I’m reading the security guy’s intent all wrong. Maybe he wasn’t just being a jerk on a by-the-book power trip. Maybe he was telling us that the way the Mets were going to be whupped by Washington, we’d need something stronger than a bottle of water to get us through the night.
Once we made it past the turnstile and up the escalator (and I managed to calm down), Ryder and I immersed ourselves in a full-scale Mets-oriented walk & talk that would’ve made Aaron Sorkin proud. Rob and Stephanie perhaps talked about things, too, but we couldn’t hear them because they walked slower, like adults. This happens every August. Whatever our respective ages, Ryder and I tend to act like excited kids who haven’t seen each other in a long time. We sort of scurry off ahead on our own steam, oblivious to everybody else. I’m a little surprised we didn’t start flipping baseball cards right there in the middle of the Shea Bridge.
Eventually we put on the brakes and reassembled as a foursome. The question regarding “who’s hungry?” yielded unanimity. Shake Shack’s lines of legend appeared to be held up outside by security. The most popular concession in the Western Hemisphere was accessible as accessible could be. We leisurely ordered a mess of food and it was presented to us with uncommon friendliness and flair. Ryder thought the Shake Shack guy would’ve made a fine hibachi chef. I would have reassigned him to the security table.
We took our burger bounty up to the Caesars Club to eat like humans. As we continued to swap baseball stories and such, the monitors showed in-game host Branden (who had stood practically next to Ryder and me just a few minutes earlier without describing to us his favorite holidays) standing on a tarp-covered field. Then there was a wide shot of the field with no tarp. Hard to tell from the unideally situated Casears Club what was actually going on, except that out in the parking lot it wasn’t raining. We had Shake Shack, so this would have been a good time to get the wetness over with. (Better yet, send the security guy into the clouds and have him confiscate their water.)
The game started on time, a treat for the hundreds of us on hand. Rafael Montero joined us, another treat, in that none of had ever seen Rafael Montero pitch in person. Now we’ve seen him pitch, albeit batting practice. In truth, he looked good for several innings, just not enough of them and not to the exclusion of the innings where Washington definitively cracked his code. Montero’s day will come, hopefully before next August.
Montero was replaced by Carlos Torres, who, it was speculated later, might have been tipping his pitches. Here was the tell: Torres showed his face, the Nationals knew home run balls were coming.
We could have done without the Nationals intruding on our annual evening. During past Tuesday nights in August, we’d seen either the Rockies or the Padres and had watched the Mets succeed against each of them. Last night they played each other, which struck us as unnecessarily conspiratorial. We never have success against the Nationals at Citi Field, I tend to keep forgetting, and I keep showing up to see the Mets play them. I’ve seen the Mets play and lose to Washington eight consecutive games. I guess I shouldn’t plan to come see the Mets win against them…or to experience the ballpark staff’s courtesy in action.
So the Mets got clobbered by the same team that always clobbers them at Citi Field. So it eventually rained enough to cause an inevitable delay, never mind the drenching of the latter stages of a sad 7-1 final. So Stephanie went off in search of one of those iced coffee drinks one of the Met sponsors is always promoting and when she dared to ask for a fountain beverage as well — the dispenser was in easy reach of the person who deigned to hand her the coffee in exchange for cash — she was told to get on another line if she wanted to purchase a different liquid item. So the people who run Citi Field don’t ascribe to the notion that if you can’t put a consistent product on the field you should at least make everything else about going there as pleasant as possible.
I won’t quite excuse all that with a “so what?” but, well, so what? The Chasins and the Princes spent nine innings together under cover of Excelsior, watching what game there was to watch, catching up on how life had been transpiring and cheering every hopeful Montero strikeout — scored with calligrapher-quality K’s by Ryder — along with the single sacrifice fly that produced the lone Met run. We even made a cameo on CitiVision (the game was almost over and the camera operator had clearly run out of subjects). We like it better when we get together and the Mets win. We like it next best when we get together and the Mets participate. And that much they did.
As we were headed toward the Rotunda, there was one more Citi Field employee who gained our attention. He was pointing to the stairs and repeating to the departing dozens, “That’s the way out. The way out is over there.” Not implicit in his exhortation to get rid of us was any semblance of “thanks for coming,” let alone, “come back again.”
But we will. It wouldn’t be a Tuesday night in August without us.
The good news to come out of August 11, 2014, is that the Mets beat the Phillies, 5-3, producing all sorts of sunny sidebars in Philadelphia while doing so.
Universally beloved Jon Niese pitched seven strong; Buddy Carlyle bridged the eighth like Benjamin Franklin bridges the Delaware; Jeurys Familia, thanks to replay review, did not surrender a home run to Chase Utley; David Wright’s shoulder came to play and knocked in a run; Daniel Murphy doubled and singled to extend his league lead in hits to eight over postmodern sign man Hunter Pence; heartthrob Anthony Recker fluttered not only his eyelashes per usual but his bat for a change at a Justin De Fratus delivery and crushed it up toward the Chickie’s & Pete’s crab fries stand along Ashburn’s Alley; Juan Lagares fired a ball in from center and registered another assist at home as yet another third base coach revealed he doesn’t bother to scour the scouting reports; and in my favorite development of the game, Matt den Dekker and Wilmer Flores played key roles in the seventh-inning rally that ultimately carried the day.
Some afternoons will inflict growing pains on the fans of a team that is giving its unproven kids a chance to get proven. Other afternoons will provide growing pleasure. Monday was one of those afternoons.
True, Jacob deGrom is on the 15-day DL in deference to tendinitis in his right rotator cuff, but that sounds so much better than “shut down for the year” or “should be ready for Opening Day 2016,” which, let’s face it, is the medical report our well-honed paranoia has conditioned us to expect. I’m unhappy I don’t get my first in-person look at Jacob as scheduled Tuesday night at Citi Field, but Rafael Montero’s return looms as a pretty decent consolation prize.
Yet in terms of historical milestones that grab one’s attention, the best news to come out of August 11, 2014, is the wholly unnewsworthy development that there will be a game on August 12, 2014, no matter who starts it. Not every August 11 in Met years ending in “4” could be counted on to be succeeded so routinely.
We have reached the 20th anniversary of the baseball strike of 1994, an ugly affair that nobody wanted, yet everybody was complicit in causing and extending. Well, not everybody. Not the fans. The fans liked baseball going on as scheduled. But who listens to the fans?
When you read about the 1994 strike and the what-ifs that rose in its wake, certain names come up time and again. The Expos seemed a lock to win the National League East and were robust enough to go all the way. The Yankees led the American League East and appeared ready to revive their dynastic ways in advance of the arrival of their eventually sainted manager and RE2PECT-laden shortstop. Previously dormant fortunes rose as well in Cleveland, where there was a shiny new stadium; Houston, which was helmed by a fiery little skipper; and Cincinnati, where a 1986 Met hero was batting .326 and, as far as we know, leaving the Queen City’s kitty population alone
Meanwhile, back in Flushing…ah, who remembers what was going on in Flushing 20 years ago?
I do. Of course I do. The 1994 Mets were a revelation to me and to anybody attentive enough paying them mind. That they were forgotten by the time there were finally 1995 Mets reflects badly only on baseball for not solving its work stoppage ASAP and everybody else’s memory for not clearing out space on behalf of a team that brought respectability back to Shea Stadium.
By coincidence, the Mets played in Philadelphia on August 11, 1994, just as they did this August 11. The ballpark was the Vet, the innings totaled 15 and the box score seems as surreal now as the notion that the Mets wouldn’t be playing on August 12 or 13 or 14 did then.
Jason Jacome, the Jacob deGrom of his day (in terms of favorable early results and a prevailing impulse to pencil him into the rotation for the next ten years), started and, like Niese on Monday, gave the Mets seven solid innings. He wasn’t going to win, though, because he was matched frame for frame by Fernando Valenzuela of the Phillies.
Yes, Fernando Valenzuela pitched for the Phillies in 1994. You remember him as a Dodger. Nobody remembers him as a Phillie. Even I only vaguely recall that he was a division rival.
Those Phillies were one year removed from an improbable National League pennant, but those Phillies weren’t those Phillies anymore. Lenny Dykstra and his tobacco-stained ilk still roamed (and presumably spat upon) that grotesque green carpet, but the magic was gone. Those Phillies, at least on that last night of 1994 that wasn’t intended to be the last night of 1994, included its share of spare parts. 1986 Met nemesis Billy Hatcher was hanging on in right. Obscure backup catcher Todd Pratt was behind the plate. Toby Borland, who wouldn’t be Toby Borland for another three years, was shutting down the Mets in the 11th, 12th and 13th.
And those Mets? Those were the Mets of…be still my heart…Tim Bogar leading off and Kelly Stinnett in the two-hole and Jim Lindeman batting third, the spot where traditionally bats the best hitter on the team. There were better hitters on the 1994 Mets than journeyman Jim Lindeman, including goodwill ambassador Bobby Bonilla, affably amiable Jeff Kent and legitimate wunderkind Rico Brogna, who was acquired in March, called up in June and stinging the ball at a .351 clip. The whole lot of those Mets coalesced so effectively that not only were they pushing .500 in August, but they expunged most of the bad taste remaining from 1993, this franchise’s almost indisputable annus horribilis.
Were the Phillies just not hitting that Thursday night at Broad and Pattison or were the Mets just so tough that of course the game would wind into extras at 1-1? Jacome was followed to the mound by Roger Mason, Doug Linton and Eric Gunderson. I don’t know if any team has ever deployed three consecutive relievers whose last names ended in “on,” but all of them were on, throwing four shutout innings before giving way to Mauro “Goose” Gozzo.
I swear I’m not making that one up. We really had a pitcher named Mauro “Goose” Gozzo, and he was, in my considered 1994 opinion, not bad. The whole 1994 Met enterprise was not bad. If you think that’s damning with faint praise, you missed 1993 (and good for you if you did). The Mets had been a seventh-place, 59-103 wreck the year before. Now, win or lose on August 11, they were entrenched in third, ahead of the defending champ Phillies and just a tad short of breaking even. They weren’t anywhere near a Wild Card in this, the first year of three divisions, but they were, well, not bad.
It wasn’t 1969. It wasn’t 1984. It didn’t have to be. It was the best year the Mets were in the midst of since 1990, which spoke more to how dismal 1991, 1992 and 1993 had been, but relativity is everything when you’re not contending. These Mets of Brogna (before he’d be shipped off to bring us Toby Borland) and Kent (before it would be discovered that his talent if not his personality was practically Hall of Fame material) and Jacome (before he erased himself from the next decade’s rotation in the early going of 1995) and Jose Vizcaino steadily manning short and Bret Saberhagen almost never walking anybody…boy did I like rooting for them.
It was a little heartbreaking to listen on WFAN and hear Ricky Jordan single with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the fifteenth after Gozzo had held off the Phillies for 3⅔ innings. Goose took the 2-1 loss, 1987 Met refugee Tom Edens earned the win and the third-place Mets put 1994 in the truncated books at 55-58.
There’d be no game tomorrow nor any day before April 26, 1995. That was the real heartbreaker. Baseball was done. The Mets were done. You’ll hear disenfranchised Expos fans and overindulged Yankees fans complain the World Series was officially canceled on September 14, 1994, costing them a chance (in Montreal’s case, a last chance) at a championship. That, to tell you the truth, didn’t much matter to me. Once August was permanently disrupted, I wasn’t interested in rigging up October for the benefit of others. If I couldn’t have Rico Brogna taking me through 162, I didn’t need anybody else’s postseason to amuse me come autumn. I sated myself with Ken Burns, watched a lot more football than usual and got on with my life.
Nevertheless, it was a heartbreaker to have that Met season end 49 games prematurely. And it saddens me that the 1994 Mets, more than any of the franchise’s 53 editions to date, have been lost to collective memory, because I remember the part of the year that didn’t get wiped out as so uplifting (give or take one certifiable all-time downer). Those Mets not being terrible, no longer embarrassing themselves and sparking the slightest flicker of hope that would carry me through the miserably endless strike constituted a genuine heartwarmer.
You don’t forget that sort of thing, even if everybody else has.
OK, so that little speech about patience? Today was why it needed to be said.
Today when the Mets rudely interrupted their own romp over the Phillies by blowing a five-run lead.
Today when the mangy zombie Phillies rose up and justified Ruben Amaro Jr.’s dingbat refusal to admit the obvious, disemboweling our bullpen and then shambling off to victory.
Today when Wilmer Flores failed to throw out Ben Revere with two outs in the seventh, making an error (Philadelphia translation: “infield single”) that led to two runs in a game the Mets would lose by one. That would be the same Wilmer Flores who managed to get tagged out between second and third in the first, short-circuiting the potential for a bigger inning.
Today when Zack Wheeler had great stuff (go back and look at the unhittable fastball on the inside edge that he used to fan Domonic Brown in the second) but as usual spent too many pitches in employing that stuff, leaving him north of 100 pitches in the sixth and tired. That let Brown have his revenge, turning a 6-1 laugher into a far less amusing 6-3 contest and igniting the Phils’ comeback.
Today when the Mets’ normally reliable bullpen was anything but. Josh Edgin was superb, facing Ryan Howard, Grady Sizemore, Brown and Wil Nieves and fanning them all. But the guys on either side of him — Vic Black and Jenrry Mejia — were not superb. Black let the Phils back into the game on Chase Utley‘s two-run triple, while Mejia surrendered first the tying and then the winning run.
So, yeah, patience. We knew there were doubts about Flores’s ability to play shortstop, hailed the Mets’ sensible decision to let him prove it one way or the other, and today we had to watch while he made a critical flub. We know Wheeler is still working to harness his stuff and not be undone by his own pitch count, and today he couldn’t do that. We’re aware that our bullpen, while much improved, is still made up of young guys in roles that are new to them, and today two out of three of them failed the test.
When you’re investing in the future and taking stock of what you have, things like that are going to happen. You’ve got to nod and shrug and wait for more data. And most of all, you’ve got to be patient.
Separate but very related: I’ve been preaching for months that the Mets have a surplus of starting pitchers and ought to trade one for an impact bat. And I still believe that. But today was a harsh lesson in how quickly a “surplus” can get eroded down to nothing. Jacob deGrom is headed to New York to have a sore shoulder checked out. Jeremy Hefner‘s comeback from Tommy John surgery may or may not have hit a snag, depending on what turns out to be wrong with his forearm. And starter-turned-closer Mejia revealed he’s been struggling with a hernia for a while and will need surgery at some point. Biff bam boom, three pitchers with health issues.
The more baseball you watch, the more you realize patience isn’t just a virtue. It’s a necessity.