We now interrupt our collective, continuing Matt Harvey freakout to note Steven Matz is posting one of the best pitching seasons on the planet.
Yes, Steven Matz. Pay attention to him. Attention must be paid. Ought to be, at any rate.
I could see where you’d overlook him. Matz isn’t the most interesting member of the Met pitching staff. Matz isn’t even the most interesting member of his family. He’s surely no Grandpa Bert in the gesticulation department. Steven Matz may not even be as fascinating as the sandwich that’s named for Steven Matz. I haven’t had the sandwich, but it existed before Matz did in most of our consciousnesses, and I still find that fascinating.
None of this is intended to label Matz dull or boring. His demeanor is calming, his performance electric. We will not worry whether he speaks to the media after his starts. He will, but we won’t care what he has to say. He can leave colorful to his rotationmates.
Here’s what spoke volumes Wednesday afternoon in Washington: eight innings pitched, four hits, one walk, seven strikeouts, sixteen batters up and sixteen batters down during one expansive stretch of excellence and no runs allowed at all en route to a 2-0 victory against the first-place (by only half-a-game) archrival Nationals. Matz won his seventh consecutive start, the Mets took the series and, for a day or two, we can forget about Harvey’s travails.
Instead, we can dwell on Matz’s 7-1 record and 2.34 ERA that includes his awful first 2016 outing, one that feels as long ago as the 2013 prime of the Dark Knight. I’d look up how good Steven’s stats would be minus that uncharacteristic April drubbing, but really, how much better than 7-1, 2.34 ERA does a pitcher have to be to attract and maintain our notice?
(I just checked: 7-0, 1.13 ERA. Sweet Jerry Moses!)
We treat Harvey’s shortfalls as breaking news, yet Matz we view as less dog bites man than dog shuffles peaceably alongside man as they wait quietly at the light and cross at the green, not in between. It’s as if a pitcher who never loses is consigned to background noise. Really, Matz transcends “never loses”. In going 7-for-7, he matched a Met mark last mounted by Steve Trachsel in 2006. Trachsel in 2006 was no great shakes. He was luxuriously supported by a high-octane offense while pitching to a 4.43 ERA in his seven straight winning starts. He was OK, but, y’know…he was Steve Trachsel.
As Mets named Steven go, we’ve got the advanced model right here, right now in our star lefty. The latest deluxe feature to be added to the total Matz package is endurance. He’d never gone eight full innings before. To get there at Nationals Park, he had to go through a pinch-hitter named Bryce Harper. There were two out and one on in the eighth. Who were ya gonna call? Jerry Blevins? Yeah, maybe, but why not discern how much mettle the Met from Long Island is packing?
We did. Matz grounded Harper to Matt Reynolds at short and got out of the eighth. Jeurys Familia came on in the ninth, generated a few heebie-jeebies by surrendering back-to-back singles to start the inning, but then settled down to create his own slice of team history: 32 consecutive regular-season save opportunities successfully converted since the last instance he blew one (a rainy afternoon game against the Padres, it is vaguely recalled).
Other than those rare instances where a pitcher does all the hitting and all the hitting — Matz in his debut against the Reds, for example — it takes a village of Mets to raise a W. Familia contributed in Washington. So did David Wright with a first-inning solo homer off Tanner Roark. So did Reynolds, stepping in for a back-spasming Asdrubal Cabrera (the non-Cespedes, non-pitching MVP of this club to date) and collecting his first big league hit. Rene Rivera, as stealth an off-season acquisition as could be secretly imagined, delivered an enormous insurance run with his bat and cut down a potential threat with his gun for an arm when he threw out Michael Taylor trying to steal second in the third. Daniel Murphy also chipped in with a key error…oh wait, he’s with the other guys now, but he did help the Mets win.
I wouldn’t want to slight any Met or ex-Met who aided the greater good Wednesday, but I also don’t want to deflect too much of the spotlight from Matz, who deserves to bask in the glow of some serious accomplishments. Musslessly, fusslessly, professionally, he is consistently pitching at a level unattained by any of his rotationmates this season. Never mind the Dark Knight. Not even Thor the Norse God has unfurled quite the kind of roll the pride of Suffolk County is on.
Mind you, the Mets are in a race with the Nationals, not a contest with each other. We want every one of our golden boys to go to the mound every fifth day and never lose (including the onetime pacesetter who’s sort of out of fashion of late). But since one Met pitcher is living up to that description more than any other, let’s shove him front and center for a spell. For a refreshing change, let’s not be about Harvey who isn’t getting it done. Let’s be about Matz who is barely getting touched.
I don’t know what’s wrong with Matt Harvey. Neither does Dan Warthen, or Terry Collins, or Sandy Alderson, or Kevin Plawecki, or Matt Harvey himself.
The weird thing is, suddenly that’s no longer as important as what happens next, which is that Matt Harvey be made to Go Away.
Not so long ago, Harvey had managed to navigate his way to a fairly happy ending after a tumultuous summer. He’d shut the door on his agent’s innings-limit controversy and brought the Mets to the brink of returning the World Series to Kansas City, with a puncher’s chance at riding Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard to victory in seven games. It didn’t happen, but the blame went to Collins for letting his heart rule his head and Lucas Duda for a startled throw that went awry. The Mets were booted into winter, but Harvey had more than done his part to prevent that.
And now, just 10 starts after what looked like the final act of his redemption, he’s going to be exiled. His baseball Elba is to be determined. So’s the official reason for his being sent there. But it’s coming.
As with Monday’s game, Tuesday was a repeat engagement between pitchers: Harvey against Stephen Strasburg, tormented in better days at Citi by a spontaneous chant of “Har-vey’s bet-ter.” Strasburg was better at Citi last week, by a decent measure, and Tuesday night, alas, was no antimatter affair: Strasburg was better again.
Harvey had said the right things between starts, talking about fighting and not quitting, and in Tuesday’s early innings he looked OK — he even took a 1-0 lead into the fourth thanks to an Asdrubal Cabrera homer. After a couple of good plays were made behind him and a couple of flat pitches were popped up instead of driven out, I even dared myself to hope that the BABIP gods might be giving their whipping boy a break — perhaps a simple regression to the norm luckwise would get Harvey back on track.
But the early innings haven’t been in the problem this year. As if on cue, Harvey spit the bit in the fourth, and in depressing fashion: he threw a hovering change-up to Ryan Zimmerman that turned into a game-tying home run, then offered Anthony Rendon essentially the same ineffective pitch, with the same grim result. A fifth-inning sacrifice fly from Bryce Harper made it 3-1, and then Daniel Murphy simply demolished a flat fastball, hitting it on a line into the second deck in right field.
That made it 5-1, and Harvey’s night was officially a disaster — one he compounded by being absent for interrogation by the press corps a couple of hours later.
On that last point my sympathies lie more with Plawecki than with the scribes: the catcher had to follow a lousy night at the plate with helpless non-answers on behalf of a teammate, while the writers were handed free lighter fluid for their hot takes. Harvey ducking the firing squad has nothing to do with heart/grit/manitou/midichlorians or whatever other mystical substance Wednesday’s papers will insist he lacks — he has more or less the same amount of that as every other professional athlete, or he never would have reached this level. On the other hand, Harvey has now touched the same PR hot stove twice — and if he thinks the blister he got for his mumbling about innings limits in September was painful, the damage inflicted by Tuesday’s no-show will be worse.
Harvey has go somewhere in small measure to appease the mob but in larger measure to stop the machine that’s chewing him up, and that neither he nor anybody else can shut off right now. Maybe that place is the bullpen for side sessions and low-leverage assignments. Maybe it’s Port St. Lucie because of [insert vague ailment here]. Maybe it’s Las Vegas because everyone will be in a mood for truth-telling. I’m not sure it really matters or that I particularly care.
What I care more about is that we don’t know what part of the story we just read. Maybe it’s the bump in the road after the opening chapters, the setback that complicates the hero’s journey and forces him to learn something new about his quest and himself. That kind of story can end in triumph and adoration. That would be nice. Or maybe this is the fall into darkness closer to the end, the one where bad things happen to a character who turns out not to be the hero after all, but a supporting character undone by poor decisions or bad luck. I don’t particularly want to read that story, but you and I are the audience, not the narrator. All we can do is wait to discover what happens next, whether that’s in five days or 15 days or some date to be determined.
Rain in the area, Gio Gonzalez and Bartolo Colon on the mound. One team scored seven. The other team scored one.
You remember, right? It was five days ago, just the other side of the Brewers Interregnum. Gio was masterful, except for a cannon shot lined into the stands by Yoenis Cespedes. Bartolo was not masterful. He walked more people than he typically does in a fortnight, the Mets didn’t hit, and by the middle innings the game was a fallen souffle that polite guests pretended didn’t exist.
With the Nationals now hosting, Monday’s first inning sure seemed like more of the same. The Mets put the first two runners on thanks to a Bryce Harper misplay on Curtis Granderson and an excuse-me pool shot up the third-base line by Juan Lagares. But then Gonzalez got David Wright to swing at a pitch that passed by his nose, got Cespedes to swing at a pitch that kicked up dirt six inches in front of the plate, Neil Walker grounded out to first and the Mets’ rally had fizzled.
Disheartening — and then in the bottom of the inning, Bartolo couldn’t corral the third out as Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman singled. Disheartening squared.
It was already 1-0 Bad Guys, and the discussion in the booth and on Twitter was about who’d play first with Lucas Duda felled by a stress fracture in the back for … well, let’s just say the foreseeable future, since this is the same injury that cost Wright 58 games in 2011. ( I don’t really get the mystery: unless the Mets are about to reacquire Kelly Johnson, Wilmer Flores will take over on Friday. Moving Wright across the diamond would be madness, as would forcing Michael Conforto or Walker to an unfamiliar position.)
Anyway, with all that swirling around us, we nearing compound-interest disheartening. A full-on Panic City sell-off hasn’t been seen in these parts since John Mayberry Jr. was batting cleanup, but it seemed somewhere between likely and inevitable.
Fortunately, it’s baseball. Traditionalists talk about fundamentals and instincts and red-light players and reaching down deep inside, but if they’re being honest they’ll tell you that on a given night nobody knows anything. Sabermetrics fans will talk small sample sizes and statistical noise and regressing to norms, but they’ll also tell you that on a given night nobody knows anything. Baseball is perverse, fickle and maddening, which is part of its charm.
In the top of the third, Gonzalez threw 22 pitches — not ideal for an inning, but by no means extraordinary. Twenty-two pitches often indicates nothing more than a spot of bother, perhaps a two-out walk after some stubborn fouls. Somehow, Gio threw those 22 pitches to eight batters. Two of them — Colon and Kevin Plawecki — saw five each, leading to an inning-starting K and an inning-ending groundout, respectively. Nobody else was waiting around: Granderson took the second pitch off his forearm, Lagares swatted the first one to right for a single, Wright hit the first one just over the glove of hairy annoyance Jayson Werth for a three-run homer, Cespedes singled on the third one, Walker singled on the first one, Asdrubal Cabrera hit the second one past Murphy for a run-scoring single, and Eric Campbell drove the second one to center field for a sac fly.
When things don’t go well, Gio has a grating habit of stalking around muttering to himself and casting his eyes heavenward, like a helicopter child whose instant affirmation is late. In that frame, though, no one could blame him — it was fluky crossed with ridiculous.
When the dust settled it was 5-1 Mets; in the fifth they added two more on back-to-back shots by Cespedes and Walker and the game had completed its weirdo transformation into the antimatter version of last Wednesday’s matchup.
Nobody paid much attention to anything else that happened, including the principals. In the bottom of the sixth, Zimmerman singled with two outs. With Anthony Rendon waiting on a 1-1 pitch, Zimmerman “broke” for second. You know how every bar has some doofus who assesses some lackluster performance on TV and insists that he could do that? Nine hundred ninety-nine times out of 1,000 that guy deserves the derision he never gets, but this was No. 1,000: Zimmerman took a walking lead that turned into a kind of shuffling jog and ended, uncontested, at second. Yes, doofus in the bar, you could have done that. Rendon, apparently mesmerized, watched strike two thud into Plawecki’s glove. Every one involved looked vaguely sheepish, particularly when Rendon then struck out a pitch later. Returning from break, the cameras supplied the missing piece of the puzzle: Colon had thrown the pitch from the windup because he’d forgotten Zimmerman was there.
Goofy, but it fit. Blowouts in tightly contested series are funny things, with a few taut early innings dissipating into lassitude better suited for a spring-training game. One team’s fans are sleepily content, the other team’s rooters are grumpily dismissive, but either way it’s footnote baseball that no one will remember. Well, until tomorrow, when you might be reminded that you can know everything that’s happened and still not have a clue what’s coming.
Greg and I divvy up recap duties by series — most often one series at a time, sometimes two or three. Usually we start by comparing schedules and subtracting evenings on which the world will interfere with baseball-centric life. Sometimes we put our hands up for a game because we’ll be in attendance.
And sometimes there are other factors. Before the Nats series, Greg raised his hand for Tuesday because he hadn’t chronicled “a Synderstaart” since our unrequested rematch with Kansas City.
Yes, Noah Syndergaard being on the mound is must-see TV and a happy-to-recap calendar item.
But not even Syndergaard can stand alone. He was phenomenal Sunday afternoon — 11 Ks, six singles, no walks, no earned runs — but perhaps the most impressive aspect of his performance was that he didn’t arrive with his usual arsenal. He wound up playing peekaboo with his pitches, his command coming and going in a perplexing manner. In the early innings the fastball was refusing to stick to the corners and the slider was off, so Syndergaard and Rene Rivera turned to improv, leaning on the curve and the change-up and coaxing the other two pitches along. That plan wouldn’t have succeeded last summer, but after a rough patch Syndergaard hit fast-forward on his 2015 pitching lessons, looking like a different pitcher in September and October. Today, the result of the Syndergaard-Rivera collaboration was a line most starters would kill to leave the park with.
Rivera did more than play co-strategist: in the seventh, he corralled a fastball in the dirt and gunned down Alex Presley on an ill-advised break for second with runners on first and third and no one out. Gifted an out, Syndergaard struck out Ramon Flores, got a ground ball from Aaron Hill and was home-free. Also chipping in was Syndergaard’s Upper East Side roommate Michael Conforto, whose first-inning home run extinguished a brief Brewer lead, and Asdrubal Cabrera, who lined a flat Chase Anderson curve over Hill’s head for the go-ahead run and a spot of insurance in the fourth.
The fly in the ointment? Not to be too Metsian, but it wasn’t that hard to spot: you’ll find a chronicle of all the scoring two sentences above. The Mets scored 11 runs in sweeping the Brewers, after scoring four in dropping two out of three to the Nats, nine in getting swept by the Rockies (and in Coors Field no less), 10 in four games split with the Dodgers, and 13 in a four-game split with the Padres. You have to go back one more series — the three-gamer against the wretched Braves — to find the last time the Mets averaged four runs a game.
That’s an unlikely formula for success against the Nats, whom the Mets will probably take on without Lucas Duda, leaving them deprived of Duda and Travis d’Arnaud and trying to figure out how to manage David Wright‘s woes. As for Syndergaard, he’s next scheduled to ply his trade on Saturday against the Dodgers. Must-see TV, of course — but what kind of performances will it follow?
Well, that’s better.
Steven Matz was superb, watching a Chris Carter home run in the first and then allowing next to nothing after that. The Mets, meanwhile, didn’t exactly light up Wily Peralta, but they did enough to win and chase the blues away, at least for a night.
We’ll return to those blues in a minute. (Of course we will, we’re Mets fans.) For now, though, Matz becomes a more and more interesting story. He’s 10-1 in 13 regular-season starts, a beginning that in a different era would have the Mets trying to craft him into a face of the franchise. Instead, he’s almost an afterthought. Which I suppose is understandable: He doesn’t have the star presence of Matt Harvey (or the reversed-polarity epic misery of his current predicament), the jaw-dropping arsenal of Noah Syndergaard, or the track record and TV-friendly locks of Jacob deGrom. Matz is underwhelming to look at, a kid from Long Island who looks a bit like Joe DiMaggio.
Except that kid from Long Island is 10-1. Sure, none of his Matz’s pitches is as lethal as what his moundmates possess, but they’re all pretty good and come with natural movement, he has pinpoint control, he’s left-handed, and he seems to think about what he’s doing out there on the mound. Which is a pretty impressive combination. On Friday afternoon Matz was part of the avalanche of Metsian panic, having been shelved with elbow pain; by late Friday evening he’d become the soothing balm we desperately needed.
Still, it was a respite, not a resurgence. The Mets still look like they’re holding the bats wrong-side up; Wily Peralta’s been a tomato can all season, one of the few guys who’d gladly switch stats with Harvey, and he hung in there into the sixth inning, undone only by a windblown Michael Conforto flyball that flopped into the party deck and left Conforto himself looking mildly startled. Take that away and … well, let’s be glad we don’t have to.
What would change this? A better showing from Harvey would help, obviously — and if you want some optimism, here are two pieces from smart folks suggesting Harvey’s woes may be symptoms of the oldest baseball malady of all, bad luck. More than that, though, some consistent hitting would sure help. The late April Mets could simply bash away their troubles at the plate; the May Mets have been more problem than solution with bats in their hands.
We’ll see — it’s a long season. (Perhaps you’ve heard.) It’s far from crazy to think the luck will even out, guys will seek their historic means, Lucas Duda will go on another of his bipolar baseball rampages, Travis d’Arnaud will return, Neil Walker will find a happy medium between hitting like John Buck and hitting like the other John Buck, and the Mets will find someone (Wilmer Flores?) to partner with David Wright as the captain negotiates uncharted spinal-stenosian territory. Perhaps some of those things will happen but not others. Perhaps none of it will. Sometimes that happens too.
But that’s for the future. For a night, Matz was crisp and the Mets hit enough and we could all exhale. For a night.
The clot in his bladder. The load of innings in 2015. The lack of innings in Spring Training. The to-be-expected second year after Tommy John trajectory. The residual mental strain from trying to be The Man in the deciding game of the World Series and famously not succeeding. A general psychological breakdown. Something physically wrong they’re not telling us about. A reticence to come inside. An arm angle. A footing problem. An overall mechanical issue. Not loose enough. Needs to work harder. Needs to ease off. Needs a night on the town. Needs to miss a start. Needs to go down to the minors. Needs a less vocal agent. Could use a pinch between the cheek and gums. Restore the hubris. Embrace humility. Lose the nickname while you’re at it. Maybe a wee bit off the waistline, too.
No, I don’t know what’s wrong with Matt Harvey, but I do know he pitched dreadfully in a 9-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citi Field on Wednesday night, a big game that ceased to be a big game once Matt drowned in the third inning, the frame in which the Nats scored seven runs and inspired their superstar to utterances of mercy. Harvey was undermined by a couple of episodes of poor fielding (Asdrubal Cabrera blowing a transfer at short, Michael Conforto taking up jai-alai in left), but baserunners were everywhere on his account.
When Matt trudged away from the mound with two outs in the third, having just surrendered a two-run triple to a .123 hitter — thus burying the Mets eight feet under — with him went the last shred of reflexive confidence that he’ll figure it out, he’ll come around, he’ll be fine.
Matt Harvey is not fine. It’s absurd to believe he never will be again, but it’s not a given that he’s one start away. He’s filed nine outings in 2016. One was very good. A couple were good enough. Most have been not so shy of decent that you couldn’t talk yourself down from terribly alarmed to merely concerned. Last night’s was too brutal to dismiss as an aberration considering everything that preceded it.
Every nine innings he pitches, he gives up 5.77 earned runs, and he’s not packing any other metric that suggests there’s a hidden value the naked eye is missing. The naked eye observes a pitcher easily undressed by opposing hitters. “Body language” can be folly to translate, for it presumes a slouch isn’t just a slouch and minds can be easily read, but does Matt Harvey look like Matt Harvey to you?
And while we’re rhetorically asking pressing questions of the day, do the Mets look like anything? They were no help to their pitcher on Thursday, pooling six singles for a lone run. Stephen Strasburg may have been unhittable, but it’s hard to tell when the lineup he’s facing hasn’t been hitting. Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Max Scherzer and assorted National relievers limited the Mets to four runs in 26 innings. Their counterparts in Colorado, Los Angeles and San Diego were similarly effective. The Mets have scored 49 runs in their past 18 games. Even with the Greatest Rotation Ever pitching up to its advance notices, that’s a lot of non-support to overcome.
And the Greatest Rotation Ever hasn’t pitching up to its advance notices.
So little is clicking these days. Yoenis Cespedes is hitting the ball exceedingly hard. Everybody else is flying or striking out at alarming rates. When the prime highlight of two nights against your archrival is your bullpen keeping a 9-1 deficit 9-1, perhaps you’re mostly battling yourself — and losing.
Bring on the Brewers. Bring on the next 122 games. There’s three quarters of a season remaining and the Mets are still very much contenders. It only feels like the end is nigh.
From the Better Late Than Never Department:
The best thing about Wednesday night’s tilt with the Nationals, from my admittedly parochial perspective? It was getting to talk baseball with my blog partner, something we hadn’t done since the Daniel Murphy Game last October and hadn’t really done then, since at the time we were too busy being anxious and then inconsolable.
Games in May are better for that, even if they’re against your division rivals. Games that resolve themselves as pretty clearly not going your way might even be best. So what if you’re at the ballpark and getting blown out — you’re still at the ballpark, and while the baseball unfolding before you may not be what you requested, the conversation will take you off to better games and better times, as well as equally bad games and times now made less painful by being long ago.
We talked the oddities of baseball cards, the misfortunes of Steve Chilcott, the pros and cons of various baseball-seat physiologies, middle relievers and their maddening unpredictability, guys who wore 29 and why Rick Reed was superstitious about that number, replay and its discontents, when Citi Field existed only as a theme-parkesque “experience” within Shea, the twists and turns of Met prehistory, club strategies for escaping the sight of unoccupied expensive seats on TV, and a whole lot more.
Wednesday night had other pleasures as well:
- the fairly amazing seats granted us by a kind host. They even came with shelter from the less-than-kind elements.
- the bolt struck by Yoenis Cespedes that was obviously a home run before it passed over Danny Espinosa‘s head.
- the long Daniel Murphy drive that looked exceedingly perilous off the bat but wound up in the glove of Juan Lagares, facing the outfield wall as if Murphy were his personal Vic Wertz.
- the Mets’ new Coca-Cola sign. I don’t mean because it trumpets the virtues of Coke products — that’s a matter of one’s personal tastes — but because it’s programmed to turn into an American flag, become an orange and blue lava lamp, display fireworks and do other hey-lookit-that stuff. Whether we like it or not, modern ballparks are crammed with high-tech stuff and marketing; it’s nice to see that pairing done well.
So what wasn’t so good about Wednesday night?
- watching Mets’ pitchers walk the ballpark, adding in a few hit batsmen for good measure. No, that wasn’t good at all. If you put Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper on nine times in 10 plate appearances, you’re lucky if the final score’s only 7-1.
- The Mets scoring just one run and David Wright looking worryingly ineffectual.
- Citi Field’s new car race, featuring a taxi cab, cop car, black car and ambulance. I may have gotten those slightly wrong, but who cares. This one’s too pathetic to even mock.
In other words, everything else. But that happens sometimes in baseball — which is why we have memories and conversations to sustain us until a better game.
I particularly liked the part where Bryce Harper struck out. That I have to be more specific than that I also particularly like.
I’m referring to the top of the fourth, one out, nobody on, the Mets ahead of the Nationals, 2-0. Noah Syndergaard is one-two on the consensus best player in the National League and…frozen. Syndergaard painted the black a shade of ebony ice. Harper didn’t know what to do with the most perfectly placed inside pitch you’ll ever see, so he stood and he took it for strike three. It was only the second out of the fourth inning, only the fifth of an eventual ten K’s unleashed by the Met starter, but it was surely a victory within a victory.
Great pitching had stopped great hitting. The law of the jungle had prevailed.
Baseball was fun again Tuesday night, which should have made Harper happy as heck, given that he pointedly referred to the sport as “tired” in Spring Training. Coincidentally, the Mets looked tired on their recent road trip to nowhere, especially its last leg, which, of course, never happened. Then they arrived home and woke up, starting their day with a nutritious breakfast consisting of sublime pitching and solo home runs.
You know, the breakfast of defending league champions.
Syndergaard ate up the Nationals with a spoon so as to get every drop: seven innings (apparently the modern-day equivalent of nine), four singles, one double, no walks, no runs and let’s not forget those ten strikeouts, including two of Harper. The line of Thor outpaced that of Max Scherzer, who went not quite as deep and failed to keep within the confines of Citi Field two fly balls to right. One was the very first pitch he delivered to Curtis Granderson, who in turn delivered it beyond the reach of Harper, who might tower over the game, yet isn’t tall enough to catch everything socked in his general direction. Granderson spent the bottom of every inning in which he batted as a baserunner of some sort, a happenstance that in 2015 tended to serve as gateway to triumph. Come the third, Michael Conforto also sent a ball suitably out of fielding range, another splendid sign.
That gave Noah a two-run lead, an edge that held up without obvious muss or fuss the rest of the way. Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia each threw perfect innings to seal a much-needed 2-0 win, a definitive first blow in the projected 19-round battle for National League East supremacy. It’s a little early to be determining a division champ, but it’s never too soon to capture what feels from the outset like a very big game.
Scherzer struck out 20 Tigers in previous start. He struck out half as many Mets this time around. Subtract a few feet from Granderson’s and Conforto’s respective efforts, and perhaps this affair would have encroached into West Coast start time. Mad Max was almost as good as Thor, but not as good. Thor was both dominant and efficient and, as a result, the Mets were winners in two hours and thirty-two minutes. Even with pair of replay reviews mixed in — both from the Nationals, including one triggered despite their not having any challenges remaining (go figure) — it was a deliciously brisk evening.
Only one National made it as far as third base. Harper didn’t get on base at all. Friendly Ghost of October Past Daniel Murphy, the focus of some well-deserved appreciation upon his reintroduction to Flushing, blooped one single (beyond the reach of Neil Walker, appropriately enough) but was stranded alongside his .399 batting average in the on-deck circle as Harper grounded out to surprise third base starter Matt Reynolds to conclude the contest.
That the Mets could top their first-place rivals behind Syndergaard is no surprise. That they could defeat Scherzer while featuring Reynolds in his major league debut at third and good old Soup Campbell at first, well, that’s the Power of Thor, a scintillating blend of heat, location and savoir faire. His second strikeout of Harper, in the sixth, consisted of a sinker, a changeup and a backdoor slider; talk about putting the Mjölnir down. Someone who can outduel another elite ace and make you forget the stiff backs of David Wright and Lucas Duda can really inspire you. After he fanned Harper in the fourth, I was ready to don appropriate headgear and parade through Times Square.
But then I would have missed Noah’s next four innings, and why would I want do that?
Heartfelt thanks to all who came out to Turn of the Corkscrew Books & Wine on Monday night for a pulsating evening of Mets talk. When in the greater Rockville Centre area, I heartily suggest visiting the independent bookseller on North Park Avenue. They stock some fairly Amazin’ items.
“What a miserable series.”
“The one the Mets just played in Denver.”
“It never happened.”
“What do you mean it never happened? We just watched all three games.”
“There weren’t any three games.”
“Of course there were. There was Friday night, when Matt Harvey’s self-doubt registered higher on the radar gun than his fastball.”
“There was no game Friday night.”
“Then there was Saturday night, when Logan Verrett got jobbed on a swinging strike that masqueraded as a foul tip and crumbled immediately thereafter.”
“There was no game Saturday night.”
“And then on Sunday afternoon, Jacob deGrom looked ordinary on the mound, Alejandro de Aza and Michael Conforto looked clueless in the field, Jim Henderson looked gassed in the seventh, the bats looked hollow, the manager looked beaten and the umps looked crooked when they called Juan Lagares out at a critical juncture even though he was a) not being tagged and b) staying in the baseline.”
“There was no game Sunday afternoon.”
“No game, huh? So you’re telling me the Mets didn’t give up a tenuous 3-2 lead and lose, 4-3, to get swept by the Rockies at Coors Field.”
“Get what where?”
“Swept at Coors Field! The Mets lost three to Colorado and four in a row overall to end a long and futile road trip that left them in third place behind the freaking Phillies, never mind the Nationals.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“How could you not know? All weekend we watched and listened and fretted and moaned and…”
“None of that happened. This series never happened. Sunday’s game never happened. Coors Field never happened. Got me?”
“But the box score…”
“There is no box score.”
“And the standings…”
“There are no standings…”
“And the 19% discount promotion…”
“Look at me. Look in my eyes. Hear what I’m saying. It never happened. It never happened. Kapish?”
Redact the last three games from your consciousness and enjoy a much more pleasant evening tonight at Rockville Centre’s Turn of the Corkscrew Books & Wines, where I’ll be reading, discussing and signing Amazin’ Again, the story of a Mets season that most definitely DID happen.