An unwelcome thought crept into my head somewhere between the 45th reference to it being David Wright‘s 10-year anniversary as a big leaguer and the moment the Mets stopped losing and crept away into the mossy Northwest night:
How many lousy nights like this has David Wright gone through, anyway?
The answer, as best I can determine: 824.
The Mets are 802-824 in Wright’s tenure, which is probably a bit better than you’d expected, and should make us all stop for a moment and think about how bad we’d be without him. Which is something we don’t do nearly enough.
I was there that first night, July 21, 2004 — I cajoled my friend Tim into going to see this heralded new Mets rookie at Shea. He didn’t get a hit but I recall him making a mildly perilous catch of a pop-up near the enemy dugout. That enemy was the Montreal Expos, soon to go extinct at Shea with the Mets as their final adversary. (I was there for that too.) Wright didn’t get a hit, but the Mets won, 5-4, bringing their record for the season to 47-47.
They finished the year at 71-91.
After opening the Wright Era with a win, the Mets promptly lost four in a row. Their season imploded thanks to a 2-19 horror show that spanned late August and early September, which led to the team firing Art Howe and Howe agreeing to stay on until season’s end anyway, which says a lot about all involved. In retrospect, Wright should have lit out for the territories somewhere around the time the Mets were getting drubbed for a fourth straight day by the 2004 Padres, perhaps popping up on an independent-league team with a fake name and a pasted-on mustache. That way he might have landed a job with a real outfit.
He stayed, though, of course. Oh boy, did he stay. Within a year he was the heir apparent to what passes for glory in Metsian precincts, a young slugger whose ability to drive the ball was matched only by his ability to work a count and ensure he got a pitch to hit. Down the stretch of the marvelous 2006 season, I kept telling anybody and everybody that the player Wright really reminded me of was my departed favorite Edgardo Alfonzo — if a pitcher got Wright in an 0-2 hole, you still had faith that he would ignore sliders diving away from him and foul off tough fastballs until the count was 2-2 or 3-2 and the pitcher finally surrendered and gave him a ball he could drive.
That David Wright doesn’t really exist anymore, and where he went is one of the more puzzling questions about the Mets. Possibly he vanished with the departure of the supporting cast that let Wright grow into the polished hitter he was. Maybe he disappeared when the Mets put Wright into a park seemingly engineered to turn his homers into doubles and his doubles into outs. Perhaps he was last sighted when Matt Cain hit him in the batting helmet with a fastball. An 0-2 count on David Wright is no longer the prelude to a long at-bat — Wright goes fishing now, trying to do too much.
And that’s the way we should put it: trying to do too much. Because Wright’s work ethic and desire are unassailable even when all around him is in shambles. I suspect if I somehow woke up in Wright’s body I would immediately gasp and call for an EMT. He’s played with a broken back, a busted shoulder and all manner of non-routine baseball injuries he shrugs away as routine. He’s always been dutiful at his locker, patiently answering annoying question after annoying question after cruddy loss after cruddy loss. Behind the scenes, we’ve learned, he can be both a hard-nosed leader and a thoroughly decent employee. Recently we read about Wright yanking Matt Harvey aside for a talking-to about the responsibilities that would come with rehabbing his elbow in New York instead of in St. Lucie. The key to this epic tale of Jay Horwitz’s butt-dialing? It’s that Horwitz kept mistakenly sending flight itineraries intended for a Mets administrative assistant named Dianne to a Mets third baseman named David. Because he’s who he is, Wright figured out who Dianne was and patiently emailed each misdirected message to her. Stand on the field near Wright before a Mets game and what will strike you most of all is the exhausting frenzy of attention that surrounds him. Every time Wright moves, dozens of eyes follow him. Every time he pauses, voices call out his name frantically. Mets people are always at his elbow, quietly asking him to do one more thing. Which he invariably does, gracious where any of the rest of us would have snapped and put up a indignant stop sign or fled.
(My favorite David Wright memory will never make the Diamondvision, because it’s a little thing no one else remembers: Last summer the Mets were in Washington, and Wright wound up near the stands with a ball that had landed foul. He looked into the seats and looking back were a) a pretty young woman in a Nats top and b) two schlubby dudes in Mets gear. The pretty woman in the Nats top beamed at Wright. The dudes stood there being schlubby. Wright looked at the woman, hesitated … and handed the ball to one of the Mets fans.)
And hey, David Wright’s still pretty darn good. Some time next season he’ll overhaul Darryl Strawberry in career home runs and claim the only all-time team batting mark that still eludes him. One can’t say he’s on his way to a Hall of Fame career, because you never say that at the 10-year mark. But you can say that if Wright comes anywhere close to his last 10 years over his next 10, he’s a shoo-in. Similarly, you can’t say he’ll finish up a storied career in our uniform, because the future remains stubbornly unwritten. But you can say that it’s clear the Mets want him to do that and Wright wants to do that.
Will he be rewarded for that decision with meaningful games in September, return trips to the playoffs and a World Series ring or two? You’d have to ask the Wilpons, the baseball gods and Sandy Alderson, in that order. One certainly hopes so, for his sake. (We’d be happy too.) I can imagine a graying, slightly thicker David Wright putting his first baseman’s glove in his locker and talking about how great the fans have been and how much he’s loved New York City. Then someone asks him if he regrets never playing in a World Series. Wright nods, his brow knits for a moment and his eyes go far away. And then he starts talking about fate and luck and enjoying the game and playing it right. His answer isn’t illuminating, but he doesn’t duck the question, and he smoothly steers the discussion back to how great the fans have been and how much he’s loved New York City. And then when nobody needs anything else from him, the lights turn off and he can finally go.
Steve Gelbs seems like a capable enough young broadcaster. We know him mostly from filling in for the singular Kevin Burkhardt on SNY, which, in the realm of roving reporting, is a little like starting Todd Pratt on Mike Piazza Poster Day. Pratt may perform ably — more than ably at his best — but let’s face it: everybody came to see Piazza.
By the way, did you see Kevin yesterday take a middle-innings shopping trip to the Seaside Market at Petco Park? Fill a plastic bottle with fresh-squeezed OJ? Haul a picnic basket of gluten-free goodies out onto the grass beyond the outfield fence? Bring a hot plate of gourmet beef to Gary and Keith? It takes a special talent to enhance a 1-0 pitchers’ duel with such diversions, yet Kevin somehow manages to tour the edges of enemy ballparks for our entertainment purposes without allowing it to detract from the game experience. He’s the only roving or sideline reporter I’ve ever watched make a ballgame better. We are indeed going to miss that multifaceted maestro when he’s gone for good to Fox.
But we were talking about Gelbs, whose task Sunday was less challenging than understudying for Burkhardt. He was hosting the postgame show with Bobby Ojeda. There’s not as much danger of being a distraction in the studio, just as there isn’t quite the opportunity to shine. Attempting to retain the interest of viewers who’ve just spent three-plus hours seeing how everything turned out so you can ell them all over again what they just saw is a more fundamentals-oriented assignment. You introduce highlights; you feed salient points (rather than meat) to your expert analyst; you segue between segments; and maybe you add an insight here or there. Gelbs, Syracuse Class of ’09, is honing his craft right in front of us and evincing a comfortable presence while doing so. The man does not lack for potential.
But historical perspective on Metsiana may not be a strong suit for Steve Gelbs just yet. Or perhaps he’s just too fresh and therefore too callow to truly know from which he speaks. Whatever the case, Steve said something Sunday that got my attention — in that way you don’t notice an umpire until he gets your attention. And when was the last time you noticed an umpire for getting your attention in a positive way?
Gelbs was giving the highlights of an admittedly unusual game. Burkhardt rolling a cart through an upscale in-stadium grocer was the least of it. There was Zack Wheeler pitching quite well, going at least six and giving up no more than one run — on a Yasmani Grandal round-tripper — for the fourth outing in a row. There was Odrisamer Despaigne outdoing Wheeler and maybe every Padre starting pitcher in whose brown, yellow, blue, orange, white and sand footsteps he followed to the mound Sunday. Despaigne (which is pronounced with a little help from one’s friends) took a no-hitter into the eighth inning, threatening to put “7,264” in the Friar books the way Johan Santana made “8,020” so indelible for us a little more than two years ago. He’d hit two batters and walked three, even loading the bases in the seventh, but he was clean in the column we fetishized for more than 50 seasons.
Five starts into his major league career, Despaigne was six outs from turning the late Clay Kirby into a trending topic and presumably dimming the lights on the world’s only Mets-turned-Padres blog. Odrisamer struck out pinch-hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis to start the eighth. Then he struck out Curtis Granderson. He was four outs away from San Diego immortality…four outs from fame as least as large as Seaside Market’s.
Alas, the Padres will have to keep rolling their cart in search of the item they just can’t find. Daniel Murphy doubled and broke hearts at Petco the way everyone from Orlando Cepeda off Tom Seaver in 1968 to Kit Pellow off T#m Gl@v!ne in 2004 did at Shea. Unlike those eighth-inning no-hit bids gone double-y awry, however, this was a close ballgame. Murphy wasn’t just getting in the way of a milestone. He was getting the tying run into scoring position. And David Wright was getting him home on a single.
Despaigne was no longer the story and the Mets were no longer losing…though that appeared ready to change when Jeurys Familia gave up a triple to leadoff hitter to Will Venable to begin the bottom of the eighth. Who doesn’t score after a leadoff triple? Well, Murphy in that game the last week of 2008, but who else? Will Venable, it turned out. Familia recorded a strikeout, issued an intentional walk and induced a skintight 5-4-3 double play to squirm out of trouble.
The Mets cleverly avoided reaching base in the top of the ninth to preserve the 1-1 tie, setting up some dramatic highlights for Gelbs to narrate minutes later. Vic Black came in and walked the theoretically dangerous Carlos Quentin. Quentin was run for by Cameron Maybin, who caught the final out at Shea Stadium, speaking of residual pain from September 2008. Alexi Amarista then bunted to Black, who wanted no part of the ball and let it trickle between his legs Buckner-style.
Oh, all right, Vic probably didn’t choose to channel Billy Bucks, no matter how happy the thought of the original makes us. “I kicked my glove and I just missed it,” he said later. Instead of getting two outs or settling for one, he got none. Maybin was on second, Amarista was on first and Black nearly atoned. He drew a grounder to the right side from Chase Headley that yielded a less artful double play than the one from an inning earlier (you don’t really want to take your chances with a rundown there, though that’s what Murph instigated), but two outs were somehow achieved and Maybin remained anchored on third. Maybe Maybin would stay stuck there once Josh Edgin entered to tame the tongue-twisting Seth Smith.
Say it three times fast: Seth Smith; Seth Smith; Seth Smith. Not easy, huh? Also not easy: the bouncer Smith chopped to Edgin’s left, especially considering Edgin, a lefty, falls off to his right upon his follow-through. But it wasn’t impossible, either. It appeared more like a sigh-of-relief third out. Smith slugs .509, yet he was kept in the infield. Good job by Josh.
Except the infield grass surrounding the pitcher’s mound in the ninth inning may as well have been the Octagon, as the ultimate fight seeped out of the Mets. Edgin, by his own account, “stumbled”. He also fell. Nevertheless, he had a shot at nailing Smith, but he couldn’t pick up the ball fluidly and was late (and high) throwing to Duda as Maybin scored the winner. “I rolled over it and it was on the ground,” Edgin explained in defeat. “When I went down to snatch it, I missed it. If I would have got it the first time, I would have got him out.”
Tough breaks. You almost get no-hit but you escape ignominy. You’re held down all day but you struggle and attain parity. You nearly let the game get away once but you reel it back in. Then two of your developing stud relievers — guys who’ve helped make your recent run of good play possible — look far more amateurish fielding their position than that slick Padre ballgirl did fielding hers.
All of it was recounted dutifully by Steve Gelbs, and I probably wouldn’t remember any of what he had to say except for how he summed up what happened with Edgin:
“The most bizarre walkoff you’ll ever see.”
Steve…really? Most bizarre? Ever?
Steve…these are the Mets. This wasn’t the most bizarre walkoff we’d ever seen at Petco Park. In 2009 and 2010, we saw Frankie Rodriguez and Raul Valdes surrender game-ending grand slams in consecutive years there. We saw Scott Schoeneweis hit Paul McAnulty with the bases decisively loaded there in 2008. Just up the coast this past April we saw Familia do the same to Hank Conger of the Angels, thus undesirably concluding an eleventh-inning.
Three years ago, we saw D.J. Carrasco balk home the winning run in Atlanta.
Three times in this decade, we’ve seen the Mets lose on wild pitches…twice to the Marlins.
We saw something eerily similar to — but somehow worse than — yesterday’s fielding mishap when Aaron Heilman couldn’t handle an infield squib from future sage Bobby Abreu in Philadelphia in early 2006.
And, though you may have still been busy celebrating your graduation from Syracuse University at the time, on a Friday night in June of 2009, we saw money-sponge Luis Castillo keep one hand free while in pursuit of a bottom-of-the-ninth, two-out, first-and-second pop fly at Yankee Stadium, the Mets up by one until they were, in a blink, defeated by one.
So there’ve been some pretty substantial other “most bizarre” walkoffs to which the Mets have been party, and that’s taking into account only losses and relatively recent history. The Mets have won their share of “most bizarre” walkoffs, too. The fleeting Bill Buckner allusion several paragraphs ago should have been a tipoff where that’s concerned. Pratt’s, too, considering the source.
Like Seth Smith, I could go much deeper, but I think I’ve accomplished my mission here.
Steve and all you kids out there: beware the lure of the blanket statement. I realize hyperbole is the coin of the sportscasting realm, but knowing your subject matter as well as knowing your audience should take precedence prior to framing the very last thing we saw as something nobody’s ever seen before.
We’re Mets fans. We may not have seen it all, but when it comes to walkoffs like Sunday’s, we’ve certainly seen enough.
Here’s a second-half resolution I’ll never keep: I need to be more even-keeled as a Mets fan.
The Mets began the year looking hopeless. Then they looked pretty good, maybe even better than pretty good. Then for a long stretch they looked both bad and boring, even as some were insisting they weren’t really that bad, that they were being undone by an unlikely run of bad luck. And then they looked pretty good again – so that, to my surprise, the All-Star break came as an unwelcome guest. Stop playing baseball? When we were finally enjoying it again? Why would someone do that to us?
The Mets returned from the break on Friday by rolling out to a 4-0 lead over the Padres, who are normally hapless but somehow not against us. (Or at least not while contained by Petco Park.) They blew the lead, then regained it behind a key single from Travis d’Arnaud, whose season has been a microcosm of his team’s. So of course tonight they got steamrolled by those very same Padres.
For the most part, credit Tyson Ross, who rode his evil slider through seven very effective innings. If you’re feeling pessimistic, apportion some blame to Dillon Gee, whose elevated pitches fueled a massive home run by Yasmani Grandal and a lesser shot that still counted by Will Venable. The Mets loaded the bases in the seventh, but Ruben Tejada turned in a poor at-bat, and that was essentially it.
What does this mean? Basically nothing. The Mets are going to get dismantled by good pitchers – it happens routinely in baseball – and sometimes by their own mistakes. They’re going to have bad days and cold streaks to go with laughers and hot streaks.
Baseball players know this, and try not to get too high or low about it – the noted philosopher Rod Kanehl once observed that “the line drives are caught, the squibbles go for hits. It’s an unfair game.” We refuse to believe what the players know, and attribute agency to what’s mostly chance – a team on a hot streak has chemistry, desire, grit, heart, etc., while the same team on a cold streak lacks leadership, is listless, doesn’t care, isn’t meshing, etc. We ought to take a long view, demanding to know if our team has been properly assembled and if its key players are being put in situations that give them the best chance of growing and succeeding. If that’s true, well, it guarantees nothing. You hope your squibbles get through the infield and the other guys’ line drives find gloves.
The Mets still face fundamental questions about ownership’s willingness to field a competitive team, as well as the usual arguments about whether prospects are ready and veterans are shot. But amid the ebb and flow of a schizophrenic season, there are positive signs: Lucas Duda, Travis d’Arnaud, Ruben Tejada, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Zack Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia, Jeurys Familia and Vic Black all look like they’ve taken steps forward in their development, and a number of hitters in the minor leagues have pushed their way into conversations about the future. I should keep my eye on that story, instead of letting my emotions run wild in response to day-to-day dramas.
I won’t do that, but it’s nice to imagine that I might.
Insult to injury: I’m up in Maine visiting my kid at camp, and so was following tonight’s game on Gameday Audio, part of the MLB At Bat app. Gameday Audio has gone from godsend to problem child this year, with chronic crashes and freezes. Tonight the WOR feed got stuck on the last bits of Mets pregame, refusing to advance to the game itself. Which left me listening to the Padres’ radio guys.
Wow. Just wow. The Pads’ play-by-play guy is Ted Leitner, who might be the worst announcer I’ve ever heard. Where to start? He’s a hopeless homer, for one, but I’ll grant that’s a matter of taste. Unfortunately for Padres listeners, Leitner also has an annoying, choppy style that’s frequently behind the play – he repeatedly described great pitches, their action, etc. before circling around to the rather important fact that said pitch was strike three. He was ill-prepared – he consistently mispronounced “Nieuwenhuis” and “d’Arnaud,” which could have been remedied by simply asking the guys in the next booth. And he’s a bundle of lame shtick, from his irritating “ball going, ball gone” home run call to rambling stories that have nothing to do with baseball and random outbursts. (Come for the stuff Mel Brooks told Leitner about “Blazing Saddles,” stay for Leitner making a “Camptown Races” reference for Lucas Duda. It was like someone gave an eight-year-old a microphone.)
Here’s another resolution, one I really can keep: Every night I will be grateful for Gary, Keith and Ron on TV and Howie and Josh on the radio. The Mets may be mediocre with dreams of something more, but the guys who chronicle them are already championship caliber.
The baseball rhythms were back Friday night at 10:10, albeit uncomfortably time-shifted. You’d have preferred them back at 7:10 PM. You’d have preferred them back at 7:10 PM the previous Monday, actually. Who wanted a pause when the cause was so glorious, when the momentum was so momentous? Who wanted the Mets to pack up their homestand hotness only to see the team luggage diverted south to Santiago when it was supposed to be headed west to San Diego?
We worried a lot and we stayed up a little and we were rewarded for our nocturnal vigilance sometime after 1 AM Eastern. The Mets stayed hot. Or the Padres stayed cold. Together the two melded just right.
I looked forward all evening to finally getting baseball back. Then, as the first two pitches were thrown to Curtis Granderson, I missed them. I was looking down at the second segment of my two-screen experience, not noticing my passion had returned in full. “What — there’s two strikes already?” So I looked up from the iPad and squarely at the television. The Grandopolis (my new private nickname for our dynamic leadoff hitter — I don’t think John Sterling ever called him that) shook off those two strikes and singled to ignite things in earnest. There was Curtis on first, twirling an imaginary towel, as if to cool off the heat that successfully arrived on the same flight as the Mets’ winning streak.
Three runs were generated with two out in the top of the first and a fourth came to be in the top of the third. The Mets held a commanding 4-0 advantage, our Not Terrible team well out in front of one of the few collectives a person should feel prohibitively confident about leading. Yet the Padres are nobody’s patsies. Not ours, anyway. Petco Park has been a stealth Turner Field for the Mets over the past decade, seemingly every game there ending 2-1, usually when Scott Hairston hits a home run in the wrong uniform or Scott Schoeneweis hits somebody I’ve never heard of and will hear of again with a bases-loaded pitch.
Still, 4-0 versus a team whose batting average was .214 and whose on-base percentage was Why Bother? Figuring the Mets had everything under control, my attention wandered. A bowl of cereal called me into the kitchen.
Somewhere between sprinkling the Truvia and pouring the Lactaid, the opposition replaced its ripe bananas with actual bats. The offensively somnambulant Padres woke up and etched four runs onto the board versus the previously machinelike Bartolo Colon. Colon may not be streamlined but he’s usually efficient. Yet the Padres put all their Sisyphean might behind pushing a quartet of tying tallies up his hill. Watching them grind away reminded me of watching us struggling to score during the first three months of this season. It took forever, it was fraught with doubt, but somehow it eventually got done.
Dismayed that the game had gone to 4-4, I snuck over to Channel 5 to watch the conclusion of the two-part 30 Rock whose first half ran the night before (Liz and Criss go to Ikea on Valentine’s Day). Part I aired when there was no baseball. Now there was baseball and it was feeling uncomfortably familiar. The Mets’ first game after the All-Star break is when the orange and blue boulder traditionally begins to rumble downhill. We hadn’t won the first game of the so-called “second half” since 2008, which also happened to be the last season when both Met halves came together for a winning record.
So for a half-hour of flipping back and forth, I watched more 30 Rock than I watched Mets. If I was going to be sitting up after midnight for a rerun, it might as well be something that made me laugh.
The Padres feature several distinctive relievers. Inconsequential 2011 Met Dale Thayer, whose hirsuteness Keith Hernandez compared to President Chester A. Arthur’s; Alex Torres, who wears the big, ridiculous, unwieldy cap but may laugh best when he’s still standing from a line drive roaring straight at his noggin; Kevin Quackenbush, who’s got the name “Quackenbush,” plus he went to my alma mater, so I’d be rooting for him against anybody else, I suppose. The distinction the guy with the hair, the guy with the hat and the guy formerly with the USF Bulls have in common is they tamed the Mets, who all but quit hitting between the fourth and the eighth. Then again, once Colon malfunctioned, Dana Eveland and Jeurys Familia successfully reset the Padre order to sleep mode.
Which was something I was contemplating entering once the shredded wheat was safely digested. But this was the Mets on the West Coast, one of those crosses a fan must bear in the course of a season, particularly a season that was just unnecessarily interrupted for five long days.
Must stay alert…
Must make it to the final if potentially disappointing result…
But this trip to Petco brought treats! The kind my cats gleefully roll around on the floor over and hopefully don’t throw up five minutes later! The ninth inning saw the Grandopolis land on first with a walk, take second and third on two consecutive outs and zip home when Travis d’Arnaud had one of those at-bats that will become part of his SNY highlight montage for the rest of the year. Wisely laid off Joaquin Benoit’s tempting two-one pitch. Swung through high likely ball four to make it a full count. Then went the other way with élan.
Not sure why the opposite of pulling the ball is “going the other way” as opposed to “pushing the ball,” but that’s for thinking about when I can’t sleep. As the Mets took a 5-4 lead, I was growing plenty drowsy but was glad I maintained alertness so as to witness Travis’s maturation process (3-for-5, pair of ribbies) continue apace and Jenrry Mejia dance away with another save.
Td’A made t’dAy a good day when it was in its wee-est of hours. The Mets extended their winning streak to five and cobbled together their first eight-of-nine in four years. The last time they were 1-0 post-break they improved their overall record to 52-44. At 46-50, that lofty level thus far eludes them, but maybe not for long, probably not forever.
The late-night start times can unmercifully challenge the eyelids, but you don’t need Annie Lennox to tell you sweet dreams are made of this.
People ask me what I do during the All-Star break when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for Friday night at 10.
The Mets finished beating the Marlins, 9-1, at approximately 4:30 Sunday afternoon. Remember that? It was so long ago, I can understand if you don’t. Since then we’ve been without baseball. I mean real baseball, not just a prime time tribute to the winner of the First Annual Allan Huber “Bud” Selig Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.
Here’s what I’ve done on my forced baseball-less vacation, besides channeling the wisdom of Rogers Hornsby.
• I tried to ignore the real world. Harsh place.
• I shook my head that Gil Hodges isn’t in the Hall of Fame. If you shake your head at that unfortunate fact, too, perhaps you’ll sign this petition.
• I paused to appreciate Elaine Stritch, who passed away yesterday at age 89, though I’d like to think I’ve always appreciated the consummate showwoman. Here’s to the lady who lunched.
• I finished watching Lincoln, which had nothing to do with the Mets. Presidential biopics that might: Washington. Jefferson. Jackson. Taylor. Buchanan. Johnson. Wilson. Another Johnson. Nixon. Carter. Maybe Tyler, if we’re not sticklers for format.
• I started watching the Home Run Derby, but never finished. Is it over yet?
• I watched as much of the actual All-Star Game festivities as I could in and around the four-hour salute to a certain shortstop. Applauding Daniel Murphy as he tipped his cap and squealing when he came in to pinch-hit remains my personal highlight and probably yours. Baseball ruins many things about itself if given the chance, yet naming an All-Star from every team remains the right thing to do and they keep doing it. Would we talk about John Stearns as much as we do if not for a generation waving its bona fides? “I remember waiting for John Stearns to be introduced…” is basically the All-Star cue for every Mets fan who came of age in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Swap out Stearns for Pat Zachry or Joel Youngblood, if you so choose. All you kids at home can swap out for Daniel Murphy. That’s the stuff dreams are made of when you’re waiting for bigger dreams to coalesce.
• I wondered why MLB and/or Fox couldn’t take a minute from reminding us that this was Derek Jeter’s Final All-Star Game to acknowledge the recent passing of 15-time All-Star Tony Gwynn. Seemed like something that would come up in conversation if not ceremony. (On a related note, Joe Buck’s a sensational baseball announcer, isn’t he?)
• I sensibly feared the San Diego Padres will rally around the Gwynn snub and take their heartfelt anger out on the Mets this weekend. The Mets have only won one series at Petco Park since it came into existence in 2004, thus it’s not a longshot that the Mets might have trouble in San Diego. But that was before the Mets implied to us that they’re not terrible.
• I tried to get used to the idea of the Mets as not terrible, what with their current 7-1 skein, even their 14-10 mark dating back to one month ago today in St. Louis. It wasn’t the first time they’ve exceeded competent in 2014, as they ran a 15-8 stretch after getting swept by the Nationals to start the season. In between not being pretty good for several weeks at a clip, they went 16-29, which is godawful, whatever their run differential. And in between the 7-1 so giddily fresh in our minds and the mostly already forgotten 5-1 from late June, there was that troublesome 2-8 spell that depressed the spit out of us. So now I have to get used to the idea of the not terrible Mets not necessarily reverting to sub-.500 form. Technically, at 45-50, they’re still sub-.500, but in my mind, they’re not. They can’t be. They’re not terrible.
• I viewed the baseball segments of an hourlong C-Span interview with George Will, not my favorite guy by any means, but he was on mostly to talk about his Wrigley Field book and the Mets weren’t playing, so what the hell? Will’s rap wasn’t much different from whatever he’s had to say about his woebegone Cubs in various forums over the years. Still, it was interesting to hear a person who isn’t immersed in baseball step away from what he is immersed in to swoon over what we stubbornly continue to consider the National Pastime. There are days when I think if I were less immersed in the Mets I might like them more — as opposed to intensely loving them and simultaneously getting incredibly irritated by them. But I wouldn’t want to not be immersed in them. Letting their flaws overwhelm me is the collateral damage wrought by my relationship with them. Conversely, a good seven-out-of-eight dash of winning makes me far happier than it could if the Mets were something I processed only tangentially.
• I visited with the New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society last night in the Bronx. The guest speaker was Ed Randall, who is as smooth talking to a room of baseball fans as he is to a radio audience of them. Randall’s a truly gracious sort who also took time to promote a very righteous cause (besides banning the DH). One thing I noticed in this gathering in which the nominal common denominator was the eternal torch lit for a beloved baseball team of yore: the beloved baseball team of yore didn’t come up very much. But when it did, I did learn that you could get into the Polo Grounds bleachers, at various junctures and/or memory points, for merely 50 cents, 75 cents or a buck and a quarter.
• I finished reading a book about another beloved baseball team of yore, Jonah Keri’s history and remembrance of the Montreal Expos, which deserves its own column in the near future, but I can recommend it if you like recovering memories of both Pepe Mangual and Pepe Frias. OK, maybe not Pepe Mangual, if you were around for the Met version in 1976, but has it been ten years since there were last Expos? Since I first met Bill Kent and began going to those Giants meetings? And could Vladimir Guerrero have thrown out Willie Mays at third if 1954 met 1997?
• I looked at yesterday’s date, July 17, and realized today, July 18, was going to be my late mother’s birthday. She’d be 85. And, I decided, she’d be unimpressed by Jon Niese, probably writing him off as a latter-day Danny Heep (she wasn’t impressed by Danny Heep, either; family trait). If Mom were around to read Niese’s mostly harmless yet still unfortunate take on Mets fans in Andrew Marchand’s hack job masquerading as analysis piece — the one in which Niese questions the notion that Mets fans have stuck with their team through Dairylea-style thick and thin — she’d probably tell him what she used to tell me. “Think before you open your mouth.” Except she’d say it in far more colorful terms and she’d work in a far-reaching appraisal of his entire life and values system.
• I exulted in learning there’d be no Long Island Rail Road strike. Sometime after this road trip that finally gets under way at 10 o’clock tonight ends, I can look forward to riding an LIRR train to Woodside so I can board a 7 to the stop the MTA persists in referring to as Mets-Willets Point, but I still think of as Shea. When I arrive, make my way down the stairs, across Mets Plaza and through security, I’ll heartily cheer Niese’s arm if it’s healthy. The rest of him, too — even the part that speaks before it thinks.
• I finished staring out the window. Or at least I will by 10 o’clock tonight.
They shoved Derek Jeter’s final All-Star appearance so far down our throats that it induced nausea. Or NAU2EA.
We were complicit, at least those among us who clicked or punched his name a composite 3,928,422 times out of desire or obligation to see the perennially underexposed shortstop at last get a little prime-time promotion. None of those All-Star votes came from yours truly. I channeled the average unreconstructed Deep South voter circa 1876 and declared, “As God is my witness, I shall never cast a ballot for a godforsaken Yankee.” If I were the type to plaster bumper stickers on the rear of my car, mine would read, “Don’t Blame Me. I Voted For Alexei Ramirez.”
But there he was, elected and, naturally, canonized. The night they announced who would play in the Midsummer Classic, it was reported as a done deal that Target Field would be the site of the “Derek Jeter All-Star Game”. That wasn’t speculation. It was a promise or perhaps a threat sure to be made good on. Those who frame these things colluded on an angle and that was that. The other 67 All-Stars — by definition the very best the sport has to offer — were playing for second place.
America, if you wanted Jeter, you got him. Perhaps in far-away precincts this was considered a rare treat. Around here, not so much. We who persevere in the New York Metropolitan Area have experienced no Jeter-coverage shortage since 1996. Elsewhere you could have called it the Derek Jeter All-Star Game. Here we referred to it as Tuesday.
The concept of the farewell All-Star Game is at once both a grand tradition and a recent phenomenon. Now and then through the years, a living legend who was no longer playing like one would be granted an invite to one more soirée, providing a chance for a grateful nation to stand, applaud and thank that player for long and superlative service to its pastime. Our own Willie Mays was favored with such a slot in 1973. It was a nice gesture.
In 2001, however, it became a thing. Cal Ripken didn’t need to be ushered by fiat onto the American League roster. The fans voted him the junior circuit’s starting third baseman. Fair enough, it’s the fans’ game. He was batting .240 and wasn’t anywhere near the player he had been, but that wasn’t the point. The point was he was Cal Ripken.
The point was hammered home like a son of a gun that July. Alex Rodriguez, then generally considered that nice young man from Texas, graciously switched positions with Ripken so Cal could play shortstop once more. The old Oriole more than earned his keep with a home run in the American League’s 4-1 win over Bobby Valentine’s National League squad.
In the age of Selig and Fox, however, it wasn’t enough to sit back and enjoy Ripken’s final moment in the nocturnal sun. The network kept pounding away at the significance of St. Ripken and the commissioner stopped the game midway through to give him (and unjustly parenthetical Tony Gwynn) a special award, not to be confused with the MVP trophy and car he was given at the end of the night. Not long after, I distinctly recall Joe Morgan, then of ESPN, conflating Ripken’s third-inning solo job off Chan Ho Park with Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning Shot Heard ’Round The World from 50 years earlier as two very similar spine-tingling baseball moments.
Sure. They were both home runs and images existed of each. Same thing, right?
I liked and admired Cal Ripken, but I remember being dismayed that MLB couldn’t leave well enough alone, that we the fans couldn’t be trusted to make the most out of a legend stepping out of the spotlight. Through no fault of Ripken’s, the whole affair wasn’t classy. It was excessive. It was shoehorning Super Bowl-style hype into a sweet summertime tradition.
Take that sense, multiply it by a hundred and you got Mariano Rivera’s All-Star swan song from 2013. Then take that, set your calculator app on “tilt,” and you got the Jeterama of 2014. The best that can be said about the latest edition of the practically mandatory lovefest — aside from it having the decency to take place somewhere other than Citi Field — was that Jeter played well, reminding the involuntarily Jeterated viewer of why he certainly rated a bit of fuss if not necessarily an enormous glob of it. “Playing well” boiled down to a diving stop that didn’t result in an out, along with two hits — only one of which wasn’t shrouded in suspicion after Adam Wainwright admitted to grooving him a pitch, à la Denny McLain to a nearly done Mickey Mantle late in 1968, but then kind of, sort of recanted. For a reduced-range 40-year-old batting a power-free .272, it was a perfectly fine performance…even cap-tipworthy.
But that couldn’t be left be. Fox’s voices couldn’t shut up about Derek Jeter for nine innings, including the several conducted after he exited to one more hearty ovation. The biggest upset of the night had nothing to do with the A.L.’s 5-3 victory. It was Mike Trout capturing the MVP. I was sure it would go either to Derek Jeter for what he did on the field or Derek Jeter for sitting on the bench and deigning to interact with his teammates — for which Fox praised him lavishly.
Surely this All-Star Game was somebody else’s final All-Star Game, too. Lots of somebodies. We have no idea whether Daniel Murphy (0-for-1 plus a harmless flip over the first baseman’s head) will ever qualify for another one of these affairs. You go back to the Ripkmarole of 2001 and you note all kinds of names that never saw another Starry, Starry night. Rick Reed, half of the Mets’ contingent 13 years ago in Seattle, never made it back. Neither did ex-Met Mike Hampton or future Mets Cliff Floyd, Roberto Alomar, Tony Clark, Mike Stanton and Ripken victim Park. (Hey, we sure were skilled at collecting guys who stopped being All-Stars, huh?)
Many of those players probably exulted in being part of Ripken’s night, just as the never-again All-Stars of this year will someday say, yes, as a matter of fact they were present that time in Minneapolis when Fox mainlined Derek Jeter and the home audience overdosed early and often. Nevertheless, it’s not supposed to be any one player’s game unless that player makes it his own. Baseball isn’t well served when it pours on the adulation for us. Show some “RE2PECT” for the process. We’ll figure it out without a script.
Then again, I’ll gladly accept being aggressively spoonfed one Yankee Legend for one mostly meaningless exhibition game in July in exchange for being completely spared the lot of them come October. Nothing made me appreciate Mariano Rivera more last season than not being commanded to appreciate him — and his team — in yet another postseason.
Vast stretches of the current season could have served nicely as an All-Star break. Four days? The Mets could’ve taken off almost any four weeks there for a while and not have been much missed. But now? Now that we’ve decided we love them again? Now that they’ve decided to express their affection for us by elegantly executing baseball like it oughta be?
Don’t go! Stay!
And keep the Marlins here with you!
A lovely weekend sweep capped off a ten-game homestand that grew — to use a highly technical term not normally applied to this franchise’s actions — funner and funner as it went along. Sunday couldn’t have been much more fun, what with nine runs scoring and just one being allowed and the fourth-place Mets becoming the third-place Mets and a tangible sense materializing that this is no passing fancy, that this is…
Well, who the hell knows what it is? It might have been a matter of catching the historically bad Rangers, the due-to-go-flat Braves and the not-so-hot Marlins at consecutive fortuitous junctures, but the prosecution wishes to direct the court’s attention to Exhibit Cubs, a.k.a. the series we were swept at Wrigley in June at the hands of an allegedly inferior opponent. The Mets play lousy teams and listless teams throughout the season. They have a way of propping them up.
That didn’t happen on this homestand, did it? They beat their lessers from Texas, their betters from Atlanta and their peers from Miami. Boy did they beat Miami on Sunday. And Friday. And in between, they snatched Saturday away from them late and clutch. Good teams find an array of ways to win. Coincidentally, that’s what the Mets did against the Marlins.
Not that we’d ever want to mistake these guys for a good team. Start doing that and you let yourself in for grave disappointment. Or so it has seemed since [use any instance you like from this or the previous century]. Then again, with an All-Star break that looms as long as Jacob deGrom’s tresses, permit yourself a flight of fancy if you like. Allow yourself to believe that the Mets won’t spend their upcoming trip to San Diego, Seattle and Milwaukee making you regret what you believed on the heels of that last 9-1 thumping of the Fish.
Go ahead. Believe, if you so choose. You don’t gotta. Not yet anyway. But maybe you can.
Sixty-seven games remain (interesting MLB math that reserves 41.4% of the schedule for the so-called second half). I don’t necessarily believe that the 45-50 Mets are going to storm the Bastille clear through to September 28; or double their win total per certain misguided preseason projections; or relentlessly ratchet up the passion factor from the Field Level to the Promenade the way they did over the past week. What I want to believe is that they won’t totally disintegrate on contact upon their West Coast swing and that they won’t limp deep into the heart of oblivion on their succeeding homestand.
Met postbreak records of recent vintage are not suitable for framing. So don’t produce another performance along those lines, OK? As you’re playing ’em one game at a time, maybe think to win more than you lose. That would be a sweet prize at the bottom of the “second-half” Cracker Jack box. Win no fewer than 34; lose no more than 33.
You do better than that, outstanding.
You do worse than that, then, god, Mets, I don’t even want to know you.
All the stuff about developing the young pitchers and d’Arnaud and Lagares still stands, but for the ongoing tease party to show signs of a truly happy ending, let’s get some over-.500 up in here. Not necessarily for the entire season. That would take 37-30. They haven’t cultivated that kind of faith in me, not after just these three series, invigorating as they were. No, I’ll take one more win than loss and call it victory.
Though it wouldn’t snap the sub-.500 string that extends back to 2009, 34-33 would indicate genuine accomplishment is legitimately in progress. It would be the step in the direction that we desire. It would echo resonantly the final two months of 1983, when a dismal start of 37-65 could be immediately consigned to the past because the 31-29 finish that followed foreshadowed the brighter future we so very badly craved. Thirty-one and twenty-nine to close out ’83 was when I knew in my heart the Mets were on the verge of escaping the mine shaft in which they’d been trapped since 1977.
History can’t be asked to repeat itself on demand, but after so much lousy baseball over so many lousy years, is it too much to ask of precedent, “yo, a little help here?”
That’s my Christmas In July wish. Not an extrapolation of the .875 winning percentage of the past eight games; not 1973 reincarnated; not 1984 2.0 on the fly; not every cylinder firing to unreasonably enhanced expectation. Simply win more than you lose over an extended period. And no losing 33 straight after winning 34 in a row. Keep us reasonably engaged to the end of the campaign. Don’t make September at Citi Field so lonely. Don’t leave each of us to assume we’re the only ones still watching. Hover above awfulness for the remainder of 2014.
Ya think ya could do that? Because if you could, it would be really great.
Also great: this extremely flattering shoutout from a couple of extraordinary voices. Thanks to Jason Bornstein of Remembering Shea for providing the audio.
“Step by step, one by one, higher and higher,” Huey Lewis sang after as scintillating a victory as the Mets have manufactured this year, describing to a tee the process by which our fellas are elevating themselves these days. They can’t win more than one game at a time any more than they can put their pants on two legs at a time. A win following a win following a loss following four wins doesn’t inoculate them from pumpkin status. In the short term, midnight is never more than a few ticks away. A bunt doesn’t stay fair. A pinch hitter gets his pitch and sends it foul. A leap isn’t high enough. The winning run isn’t liberated from second base.
These things happen to the Mets with discouraging regularity. They have, anyway. Just not lately. And lately is where we are. Lately, we’ve got ourselves a pretty good team.
We’ve got a team that pulled off what a reliable source believes was the best game of 2014 to date, certainly the best game this reliable source has attended since Matt Harvey was popularly acclaimed as better than Stephen Strasburg. The reliable source is draping himself in exceedingly cautious optimism because of the one-leg/two-pantlegs rule, but in the moment he was pretty bleeping ecstatic.
Why did I love this game so much? Because the Mets were en route to losing it and I could’ve lived with it. The Mets have been losing more than winning for several seasons now. I’ve become inured to it. I almost get annoyed when they insert a win into their stack of losses.
“Quit screwing with the narrative I’ve constructed through copious amounts of observation, the one that’s allowed me to accept your continual futility. When you win, all you’re doing — by my reckoning — is making the next loss hurt more. You made me think you’d keep winning. But you didn’t. You never do.”
The Mets fell behind, 2-0. Daisuke Matsuzaka looked like the fifth starter pro tempore he is. Tom Koehler, who I understand attended Stony Brook University (it never gets mentioned locally), was fairly dominant for four innings. Those Marlins, hate ’em as we may, have been the version of ourselves we wish to be: not only excellent young pitching but a plethora of talented position players plus a couple of valuable veterans. I may write off the Marlin fans as mostly nonexistent but I think the Marlins are closer to real than the Mets are. And as countercompetitive as their ownership is, we surely can’t claim an edge in that category.
Big, bad Tom Koehler gave up two runs in the bottom of the fifth, anyway. The Mets scored them because they pounced. Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit a ball long and hard and hustled when it wasn’t caught. Juan Lagares placed a grounder in exactly the right spot. The suspiciously competent Ruben Tejada laid down a squeeze of dreams.
Then Dice-K gave both runs back, which led me to accept the losing, though it was worth noting (or is worth noting with hindsight) that he could have completely imploded but escaped further damage. Matsuzaka went six, gave up four runs, yet it could have been worse.
Yet who would have thought it was going to get better? For the Mets to walk forthrightly into the sunshine of having a fighting chance, two fans needed to find themselves some shade.
Stephanie and I were enjoying what there was to enjoy of a 4-2 trail in very nice Excelsior-level seats on the first-base side, courtesy of the ever thoughtful Sharon Chapman, but given the oddball 4:10 PM start, it suddenly got a little glaring for my wife’s tastes. Stephanie asked if we could move back a few rows. Another oddball situation: there wasn’t the usual array of unoccupied seats behind us, presumably thanks to Huey Lewis and the News’s plan to entertain us following the final out. I scanned the stadium, peered up at traditionally sparse left field Promenade, expertly judged the sun’s angle and proposed we head up there.
So we did. And the second we sat down, we sprang up. Chris Young…the same Chris Young at whom we were poking reflexive fun during Kevin Chapman’s trademark top-notch tailgate extravaganza…made us eat our words like we had eaten Kevin’s guacamole. CY launched an absolute bomb that detonated over the left field fence with a man on. Suddenly we were no longer losing. Suddenly it was 4-4. Suddenly the shade of Section 529 was the hottest place we could be.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: Stephanie does this little thing I like with her fingertips up and down my arm. I like it a lot, y’know? She was doing it when Daniel Murphy leapt into the stratosphere to rescue Vic Black from danger in the eighth. She was doing it when Travis d’Arnaud doubled with two out in the bottom of the inning. She was doing it when Eric Campbell, in a lefty-righty switch worthy of Bobby Valentine at his master-strategist best, singled Td’A home with the go-ahead run. When the ninth came around, I was asked if I needed the fingertipping of my arm to proceed.
She had to ask?
Jenrry Mejia and Stephanie teamed to give me goosebumps with a 1-2-3 top of the ninth. The Mets won a game that first I didn’t think they’d win, then I began to believe they might win and then decided there was no way they weren’t going to win. It was something so wonderfully validating to be a part of. It was great, of course, to follow up a vigorous Friday night with a determined Saturday afternoon. It was great for whatever is or isn’t going on in the standings. It was great to watch the unused Marlin relievers trudge across the outfield grass in defeat; it reminded me of how all those bottom-feeding Fish surged out of the third base dugout to congratulate one another on the last day of 2007 and again on the last day of 2008. The circumstances were far different then and the stakes were exponentially higher, but whether Florida or Miami, a Marlin is a Marlin, and saddled with the eternal image of them sealing the Mets’ final Shea fates, well, I couldn’t have been any more Nelson Muntz about them in the middle of 2014.
What was most great (besides sharing this victory with my helluva Mets fan wife) was sensing we don’t root for a rotten team at this moment. In another moment, we could. You give the Mets twenty-two moments and they’ll give you a world of pain. The Mets’ moments seem to turn from sunshine to shade pretty horribly quickly. It wasn’t three weeks ago when we were on a five-of-six roll and searching the linen closet for suitable towels to wave in sync with our heroes. It wasn’t two weeks ago when they reverted to familiar form and we were cynically throwing in those towels. So who knows?
But they don’t seem rotten anymore. They just don’t. Maybe not worldbeaters. Probably not Natsbeaters or Bravesbeaters ultimately. But not rotten. Not terrible. Possibly good. Possibly. Don’t want to get carried away by six of seven. Been carried away by heftier displays of eptitude and been burned in the aftermath. Huey’s advice from “Jacob’s Ladder” totally applies to our climb.
Step by step. Rung by rung.
I looked around during the postgame concert. So many survivors. So many who bought jerseys and t-shirts implying fealty to a veritable generation of Mets who aren’t here anymore. BAY 44. DAVIS 29. REYES 7. DICKEY 43. MARTINEZ 45. I saw a FLOYD 30 on Friday. Despite his current employment status, now and then a BELTRAN 15 comes into view. That’s apparel not worn ironically or reverentially. That’s clothing worn because the hopes they represented are still a part of us. So is the disappointment they shared in. What all of those names have in common, in one way or another, is we looked to them to lift us up…lift us all the way up, ideally. None of them did. None of their teammates did. Some of those teammates are still Mets. We don’t know what they’ll do. We don’t know how long they’ll keep doing what they’re doing right now.
I want everybody who wore those kinds of tops Saturday (including myself, clad in vintage Jose-Josewear) to not have dressed in vein. To not have bought those jerseys and t-shirts only to ante up for a WHEELER 45 or a GRANDERSON 3 or maybe a fresh WRIGHT 5 and see those, too, fray at the edges and grow Bayishly obsolete without reward stitched into the memories they will hold. I want a run on world championship gear at Modells some brisk late-October morning. That’s what I really want. That leap of imagination, however, will tear the inseam of your pants to shreds, because you might as well try to put them on two legs at a time.
“All I want from tomorrow,” Huey Lewis also suggested in that Bruce & John Hornsby-penned song from which I quoted before, “is to get it better than today.” That’s all I want from my Mets — and that’s taking into account that today turned out spectacularly.
“Lou Klimchock can be considered by virtue of his intense and persistent labors on behalf of innovative baseball mediocrity one of the few truly seminal figures in the drab and dreary history of this era. [...] Here’s to you Lou. You gave the common fan someone to identify with. You were a constant source of inspiration to all us bumblers. It makes one feel good just to sit here and think about you.”
—Brendan C. Boyd and Fred Harris, The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading And Bubble Gum Book
The Mets were pounding the ball so authoritatively Friday night that they could have given Lou Klimchock an at-bat and he might have managed a fly ball to the track.
Lou Klimchock, who knocked around the majors with five teams over twelve seasons, went 0-for-5 for the 1966 Mets, delivering not a damn thing in five pinch-hitting appearances spaced out over five games. Then he made his disappearance, not to emerge in the greater Mets fan consciousness ever again, save for a few fond memories posted to Ultimate Mets Database and two conversations I’ve been in the past two weeks.
Because I’m the kind of guy who talks and is talked to about Lou Klimchock.
No offense to kindly Mr. Klimchock, who collected 155 more base hits between 1958 and 1970 than I ever will (though exactly as many as I have in a Mets uniform), but that’s as inconsequential a composite Met performance as any ever registered on this planet. It was so inconsequential that the fellow who brought him up to me Friday night, someone who recalled Lou Klimchock as an icon of inconsequentiality in his prime, was genuinely moved to ask me, “Lou Klimchock was a Met?”
What does Lou Klimchock, whose name I apparently enjoy typing, have to do with how thoroughly the Mets banged away at Marlin pitching? Well, nothing, I suppose, except that when you’re throttling the opposition, you can sit back, relax, talk about Lou Klimchock, lean forward to make out where Lucas Duda’s and David Wright’s homers landed, and get back to convincing someone Lou Klimchock was once a Met.
So were Galen Cisco, Larry Burright, Amado Samuel, Carl Willey, Tracy Stallard and Jimmy Piersall, who ran the bases backwards and then out the door at Casey Stengel’s irritated behest. More semi-random names to you, precious recovered adolescent memories to my Friday evening companion, Mark. Mark and I recently became acquainted through a highly impeccable intermediary, and it was only a matter of time before we converged on Citi Field together. On the 41st anniversary of my first game at Shea Stadium, I found it an honor and privilege to show Mark around the successor facility for his first game.
His first game at Citi Field, that is. He took in plenty at Shea when the paint was fresh and the leaks were barely condensation. He also saw a few at the Polo Grounds. The Polo Grounds, for Chacon’s sake. You think I’m gonna miss a chance to spend nine innings with somebody who saw the Mets at the Polo Grounds?
Did Lou Klimchock ever a have a hit for the Mets? The answer to each of the last two questions is, “No.”
I happily waded into Mark’s stream of Met consciousness, which runs deep and vibrant with impressions of Mets long unseen and generally uncontemplated. Burright with his two hits in the 1963 opener; Willey and Stallard starting and succeeding in a doubleheader; Joe Christopher’s helluva 1964. And in between, there’s Wright locked in and Duda sunning himself on the Pepsi Porch and Zack Wheeler doubling in a run and Juan Lagares coming back to life with three hits and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ruben Tejada and Travis d’Arnaud executing the most delightful of 7-6-2 putouts. The Mets hit, pitched and fielded. Not coincidentally, the Mets won. The crowd went semi-wild. Not a huge turnout but a sizable response. Even the Lou Klimchockian among us were impressed by the present-tense Mets.
What fun to watch the Mets create a new page (and maybe a chapter) of history and what fun to sit adjacent to a man who carries, in his mind, a set of 1960s Mets yearbooks, albeit with the pages slightly unbound. Line drives and doubles to the wall made for perfect background scenery as we endeavored to place games and players and events in their proper chronological slots, though really, when you’re soaking up an eyewitness account of Piersall’s hundredth home run and how he turned his back to the bases during his trot, you can afford to slack off on your innate sticklerness. I can confirm a fact on Baseball-Reference anytime. It’s rare that I can gain first-hand confirmation that when it came to talent, skill and promise, Elio Chacon no lo tenía in any language.
We visited the past but we reveled in the contemporary. Mark, whose affinity for the Mets hasn’t necessarily remained constant through the decades, came away from his maiden Citi voyage suitably impressed with what he saw. He found the park “beautiful” and its players a sight to behold. “You’re going to do all right,” he told me as we parted, referring to what Wheeler, d’Arnaud and everybody else would be accomplishing on behalf of Mets fans. I thought maybe I should invite him into the first-person plural and let him enjoy what these youngsters might be doing for “us,” but if the Mets keep playing as they have this week, Mark, perhaps in the company of legions of currently unaligned New Yorkers, will figure his way in. It may have taken him six seasons to catch a ballgame in the Mets’ third ballpark, but he seems to catch on quick.
And good night, Lou Klimchock, wherever you are.
I hope there won’t be a quiz about the finer points of Thursday night’s Mets-Braves game. I’ve already forgotten most of what happened. I think I forgot it while I was dutifully watching all nine innings. I seem to recall Bartolo Colon not being sharp, then being very sharp, then being so sharp it seemed unsporting to not let him stay in for the ninth despite trailing, 3-1, given that he’ll have extra rest through the All-Star break and where’s Terry Collins’s sense of whimsy, anyway? Or was that used up on batting Bartolo eighth?
The Braves got to Colon, the Mets didn’t get to Aaron Harang and the gap between the two teams remained plenty wide. The Mets’ giddy four-game winning streak did not extend to five and there was no first four-game sweep of the Braves since 1989 (though how many four-game series do you see anyway?).
We can’t definitively answer the most burning question regarding these recently scorching, but even more recently lukewarm Mets, namely are they actually any good? They were considered surefire lousy by the likes of you and me less than a week ago, but then there were runs and wins and towels and it was another dawning of a new era in our starry eyes. Then, last night, it was Harang and Freddie Freeman, and when will this game be over so we can get to the real action?
I refer, of course to The Battle of the Broadcasters, SNY’s attempt at a game show based solely on Mets trivia. The production had many things going for it and wasn’t undermined by the counterintuitive flaw that informed the whole idea. To Mets fans, there is nothing trivial about the Mets. The Mets constitute immense (perhaps mentally unhealthy) portions of our lives, and the tidbits and factoids that are generated in the wake of Mets games, seasons and careers represent a zillion vital notations on the sacred scrolls each of us embed into our brains.
Mets trivia isn’t trivial. It is essential. Fortunately that shone through and made Battle a worthwhile half-hour (as opposed to the three-hour Citi infomercial that enveloped too much of SNY’s game action last night). It couldn’t be anything less than essential given the cast of characters that was convened. You bring Gary Cohen and Howie Rose onto the same set and make the topic Mets information, you know it will be treated with the Talmudic respect it deserves. And you slot Kevin Burkhardt into the role of host…well, that guy could emcee a moon landing if we still had those and he’d be Cronkite-level sensational at that, too. (And whereas Uncle Walter wasn’t afraid to speak truth to power as authority figures plunged us into Vietnam and covered up Watergate, Cousin Kevin totally tickled me when he casually agreed with Josh’s assertion that Frank Francisco’s brief Met stay was a pox on our collective consciousness.)
I love listening to Gary and Howie call Mets games in their respective media. They’re great for a hundred reasons apiece but what makes them ideal is they’re us. They didn’t so much memorize Mets detail from first grade onward; they absorbed it. The only things that they don’t instantly recall haven’t been forgotten as much as purged for memory space. Their true talent lies in expansion and embellishment. I’d have preferred a game show in which Kevin asked everything in two parts.
1) Name the guy on the Mets who did something.
2) Describe your thought process as you contemplate the guy and the something he did.
That’s what makes them top-notch broadcasters. No, that’s what makes them top-notch Mets broadcasters. They think like Mets fans, because they are. They elaborate like Mets fans, except they are professional, skilled communicators, which is why we’d rather listen to them than anybody, even ourselves.
Their respective broadcast partners were along for the ride, and while Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling, Josh Lewin and Seth Everett were not inconsequential to the proceedings (include a talent competition and Josh’s piano-playing might trump even Keith’s ability to pounce on bunts), the showcase aspect at play was Gary’s approach versus Howie’s approach more than it was TV guys versus radio crew.
Gary’s shining moment, I thought, was when his team was asked to name members of the 2000 National League champions, a savvy move on the part of the producers since Ron, in particular, morphs into a total stranger when any Met period that doesn’t cover his playing or broadcasting comes up. I could feel the same fear rising from Ron when he heard the subject matter that I felt boiling in my gut when I realized I was going to have to conduct a brief conversation in Spanish to pass the Regents exam. I’d taken Spanish for six years but little of it stuck. That’s how Ron engages those post-1991, pre-2006 Mets. He’s pretty sure he heard something about them but he wouldn’t swear to it. No wonder Ronnie remembered the Mets’ pennant-winning center fielder as “Gary” Payton (a basketball player, for what it’s worth).
This is where Gary’s particularly Metsian genius came in. Each time it was his turn to name a member of our last World Series team, Cohen went for the least immediately recalled Mets first: Darryl Hamilton; Kurt Abbott; Mike Bordick. Analyzing the game show far more than I bothered to analyze the game that preceded it, my first instinct was to think he was kind of showing off. Then I decided, that’s not what he’s doing at all. He’s either delineating in his mind the Mets who distinguish the 2000 club from its more colorful 1999 predecessors (as if any of us consider Bordick’s tenure here “distinguished”) or more likely he’s grabbing the less obvious answers, thus leaving the “gimme” Piazza types to his less informed teammates.
What a great broadcaster. What a great Mets fan. What a great captain, even.
Before I slobber too much over our rightly beloved lead television announcer, I will take Howie’s side that the Pyramid-inspired part of the program, wherein one guy gave clues and the other two guys had to give answers, was, if not rigged in TV’s favor, then it sure helped them. Three of the clues Gary gave were “was my radio partner” (Bob Murphy); “was your pitching coach” (Mel Stottlemyre); “broadcaster who shares my first name” (Gary Thorne). It reminded me of Cliff Clavin’s Final Jeopardy! entry: “Who are three people who’ve never been in my kitchen?”
Howie, witnessing the ease with which Ron and Keith were able to handle Gary’s clues, playfully but edgily protested that this was a touch ridiculous. “‘Your pitching coach!’ Why don’t you ask him what his father’s name is?” Then True Howie took center stage in giving his clues to Seth and Josh, offering bits of patter after every answer, which is death to a timed game-show round but very entertaining as a rule. Howie’s knack for weaving Mets anecdotes and Mets history and too many promotional spots and endlessly trenchant observations in and around foul balls, pitchouts and meetings on the mound is what makes him a state-of-the-art broadcaster. For an inning or nine, nobody on earth is going to outbattle Howie Rose behind a baseball microphone.
Alas, the game show format is a different animal and Team SNY, perhaps used to saying less because the pictures already say plenty, outpointed Team WOR. The big winners, as they say, were the charitable organization of GKR’s choice and the home viewers, because we got to spend an additional half-hour with seven top-notch Mets voices and not one second more than necessary having to contemplate the crummy ballgame that served as its lead-in.