There has to be some Mets fan out there who was called away during the bottom of the fifth and then had something to do in the top of the ninth. If so, sorry man — because the rest of Monday night’s game was about as snoozy as it gets.
There’s something to be said for a lack of drama, though. It’s just fine if the result is Phillie after Phillie looking dismayed as Bartolo Colon adds a mile per hour to his fastball here and subtracts it there and puts the ball exactly where he wants it, which is somewhere other than where the batter was looking. I can’t do better describing the Zen of Bartolo than I did last summer, so go read that. He was as on that day in St. Louis as he was tonight (and got a hit both times), except happily tonight was for much bigger stakes.
The Mets confined their offense to a single inning, with home runs by Michael Conforto (who’s gone from a cameo-as-preview to being done with the minors) and Curtis Granderson accounting for their scoring. And they confined their woes to a single inning, as Jeurys Familia looked more than a little shaky in the ninth. He surrendered singles to Cesar Hernandez and Aaron Altherr, then walked Ryan Howard.
Fortunately, Jeff Francoeur was up next, and Frenchy still has no idea that four balls mean you get to go to first base. He hit into a double play, and Familia then dueled Andres Blanco, who turned in a great at-bat but then struck out on the ninth pitch, which was eye-high.
Not a Mets classic by any means, but a Mets win, which will do very nicely. A couple of hours later the Cardinals ambushed Matt Williams‘s second-line relievers (next time you take issue with Terry Collins‘s bullpen moves, think about the things Williams comes up with) and the Mets’ lead was back to 6.5.
Six and a half and the baseball calendar says September. I still have 7 and 17 branded on some wounded part of my psyche, so the only magic number I care about will come when the Mets’ lead is larger than the number of games they have remaining. We’ll see if they get there, but this a good place to start. We’re guaranteed an exciting month and could get a magical one. Buckle up!
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Here’s the latest episode of I’d Just as Soon Kiss a Mookiee, the greatest Mets/Star Wars podcast in the history of the planet. In this one, Shannon from MetsPolice and I chat with Paul Lukas of Uni Watch, I confess to hating “The Natural,” and much more. Enjoy!
When it happened I was sad. Michael Cuddyer had been having such a good game.
You know Michael Cuddyer. The Mets’ free-agent acquisition of the offseason, who became an instant Rorschach test for the fanbase. On the one hand, he cost money and was a former batting champ, which indicated a certain seriousness of purpose by ownership. On the other, he was old, had a history of injuries, and cost draft picks, which perhaps indicated a poor decision by the front office.
Cuddyer arrived not accompanied by much else in terms of new personnel, had a great spring training, and then looked like he’d used up all his hits in Port St. Lucie. We got to know him as a veteran with a silver buzz cut borrowed from the old mentor cop in a hundred police movies and a willingness to smile gamely from beneath a fedora. All of that was good, but not much else was: He was forced into near-daily service and didn’t look like he could hold up to the rigors of it. The hits weren’t there. He hurt his knee and spent weeks lingering on the pre-DL, that most Metsian of limbos. Somewhere in there he picked up a nickname that was cruel but undeniably clever: Michael Cadaver.
But when the Mets imported real players to replace the Quad-A slop they’d been inflicting on fans, something pretty neat happened. Cuddyer had time to heal up, and was put back into the lineup as the complementary player he should have been from the start. He kept on doing the small, admirable things he’d been doing, but he also started to hit.
On Sunday Cuddyer singled in the second off Wade Miley and scored the game’s first run. In the fourth he singled again and kept the inning alive with a hard (but clean) takeout slide at second. In the sixth he walked, then got a great read on Juan Uribe‘s double and scored right behind Daniel Murphy. When forgotten man Anthony Recker singled in Uribe, the Mets led 4-2, Noah Syndergaard was once more in line for the win, and everything looked wonderful.
At that point Cuddyer’s story wasn’t the day’s only good one. Syndergaard had thrown one of his best games in weeks, mixing up his pitches from the beginning instead of after getting in trouble and commanding both sides of the plate. (Though OK, Joe West’s plus-sized strike zone helped a bit.) The Mets, unfortunately, kept hitting in lousy luck — I lost track of how many balls they lined right at Boston fielders. The first run, appropriately, came off the bat of Syndergaard himself, a modest little arc of a single over Xander Bogaerts‘ head that followed hard-hit balls for naught from Ruben Tejada and Recker.
With the BABIP gods intent on denying Syndergaard a reasonable lead, he scuffled along with a 1-0 advantage, only to try and challenge David Ortiz on a 3-1 pitch with two out and one on in the sixth. The fastball Syndergaard threw was sizzling and low, but it had too much plate and Big Papi’s on his way to 500 homers for a reason. He turned it into a mortar shell off the facing of the Pepsi Porch for a 2-1 Boston lead. No matter: The Mets promptly grabbed the lead back. Syndergaard, clearly tired and losing his location, departed in the 7th on the right side of a 4-3 advantage.
Which is when Cuddyer’s sweet story turned sour. With two out, Hansel Robles got Mookie Betts to hit a pop fly to left. Unfortunately, Cuddyer was playing all the way over in left center and got what he’d later call “a little bit of a late read” on it. “Late read,” in this case, meant the ball seemed to be nearing the top of its arc with Cuddyer still cemented in place way too far away. It plopped in for a bizarre triple that tied the game and made me sad — sad for Cuddyer, for Syndergaard, for the Mets and for myself.
But perhaps you’ve heard baseball is a game of redemption. In the eighth, with two outs and Murphy on first, Boston turned to a reliever with the unlikely name of Heath Hembree. (Seriously, who names a child this?) Up came Cuddyer — and there went Murphy, the Mets’ not-so-invisible ninja and avatar of chaos, stealing second. This time we witnessed a manifestation of Good Murph — he got a big jump, the pitch was head-high, and the bag was stolen easily.
Two pitches later, Hembree threw a flat fastball right down the middle that Cuddyer smacked into left field. Murph came hurtling around third, pounding his chest, and all was right with the world.
Well, not quite right — the Mets had to survive Tyler Clippard throwing two hanging change-ups to Ortiz in the eighth (not recommended but it worked) and a misplay by Tejada to start the ninth off on a bad note. But Jeurys Familia bore down and faced Betts with the game in the balance. He showed Betts the slider, the splitter and then erased him with a high 1-2 fastball that hit 100 MPH.
Just your routine ridiculously great baseball story. The Mets specialize in those of late, don’t they? Here’s to a couple of months more of them.
In the land of small sample sizes, the curious factoid is king, so all hail this minuscule nugget: The current series against the Red Sox represents the first series in which the Mets have dropped the first two home games versus Boston since the 1986 World Series.
Obviously, a world championship is just days away.
Until then, on the heels of listlessly losing a second consecutive “unusual” Interleague matchup to those stubborn Sox, we’ll have to make due with our slightly diminished first-place lead of 5½ games and take solace in Saturday being only the second day in three weeks when Washington actually gained ground in what we hope will soon stop qualifying as a pennant race and start registering as a runaway.
Winning in a walkover would be quite acceptable, too, but we don’t want to be greedy. We’ll take whatever we can get from our lofty National League East perch where only Mets and their trusty parakeet sidekicks dare to soar. We’ll surely take our Jesse Orosco bobbleheads and show up as early as we have to secure them.
If you were at Citi Field Saturday afternoon as I was, perhaps you nearly fainted as I could have at the sight of lines, lines and more lines outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda two hours before first pitch. I know the game was sold out. I know the bobblehead was to be granted to only the first 15,000 ticketholders (which is downright miserly, but that’s another story). I know bobbleheads are one of the few items to which I would affix the overworked adjective awesome.
But all of a sudden we’re lining up two hours early for a giveaway? Wow. We as a people have never done that as best as I can recall. I’ve shown up at Citi for just about every bobblehead handed out since the place opened and by arriving about an hour ahead of time, I’ve never entered the joint disappointed. I couldn’t believe a two-hour lead time would be required for bobble purposes.
The buzz was unmistakable in the week leading up to Jesse Orosco Bobblehead Day, however: get there way early or get completely shut out. So Joe and I got there way early, we got on/in line (behind a brood of anticipant Bostonians, which is its own brand of weird) and we got what was coming to us. Once that primary mission was accomplished, there was still well over an hour-and-a-half until our secondary mission of watching the Mets play ball could commence.
Have to say it again: wow.
All things being equal, I don’t mind spending an extra hour inside a ballpark. I think it was the first time I saw anybody (the visitors) take batting practice without my having to flash a press pass or some similar credential. It’s probably more fun to take in from Promenade than it is up close. Still, the whole idea that you’d better get there by two o’clock for a four o’clock start’s premium was startlingly strange.
Citi Field is like this now. It has lines and people and buzz. It’s wonderful, even if on Saturday it only served to preface a game whose air came out of it almost immediately. You put a baserunner on third in the first and second and you score no runs, it’s a bad sign. Jacob deGrom was untouchable for five innings, and then just touchable enough in the sixth. Joe Kelly was never in anything resembling trouble. Ultimately the only on-field highlights were Eric O’Flaherty’s failure to completely implode and Bartolo Colon’s tantalizing success in a new role.
To be fair, O’Flaherty and Colon did essentially the same thing: they each pitched a spotty but scoreless inning. Yet Colon was the revelation, pitching in relief for the first time as a Met — maybe a harbinger of October, if there is such a month in the Mets’ future — while O’Flaherty might have been throwing his last frame here. After the game, word spread that Addison Reed was on his way from the Diamondbacks. I assume he was obtained to replace O’Flaherty. At least that’s my fervent hope. Too bad the rumors didn’t swirl sooner. We could have given Eric a Wilmerian sendoff, albeit an intensely sarcastic one.
The Met offense didn’t click whatsoever, save for the Boys of Late July, Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, combining to create a single run in the seventh, by which time the Red Sox had scored an insurmountable three. After a week when every number quoted was sensational and indicative of spectacular achievement, the last two games have been marked by two depressing statistics:
• On Friday, Red Sox pitchers walked 12 Met batters and the Mets lost anyway.
• On Saturday, Met pitchers struck out 16 Red Sox batters and the Mets lost anyway.
The tendency things have to even out may have been on display. The Mets couldn’t lose at home and couldn’t win on the road and now that’s evening out. The Mets couldn’t hit but could surely pitch for the longest time. The evened out until re-evening out. Given the Mets’ presence at 13 games over .500, I hope the evening out soon ceases, because I don’t want to spend the final 33 contests of 2015 in a 10-23 slide that gets us to the quintessentially evened out record of 81-81.
See how easy it is to get carried away when you’ve lost two in a row? So stop losing any in a row altogether, Mets.
Things were never exactly even-Steven for Jesse Orosco, New York Met from 1979 through 1987 (save for 1980, when he was a Tidewater Tide, which was only like being a Met). Those of us who lived the Orosco era remember a shaky, young lefty at the beginning, a dazzling stopper in the middle, a typically aggravating closer after a while and then an avatar of apocalypse by the end. His arc in Flushing crashed. If you mentioned Orosco by the latter days of ’87 and suggested anybody line up outside Shea, somebody would have brought a length of rope.
But nobody thinks of that anymore. They don’t think of the Jesse who wasn’t ready in 1979, the Jesse who had to feel his way in 1982 or even the Jesse who earned All-Star honors in 1983 and 1984. Anybody who was around for Jesse — and certainly anybody who knows him only from a loop of video clips — thinks only of Jesse flinging his glove skyward. Orosco pitched in 380 regular-season and postseason games for the Mets. He only did that glove thing twice, once in Houston against the Astros, once at Shea against the Red Sox. The latter episode (technically its knee-dropping, fist-raising immediate aftermath) was captured on 15,000 bobbleheads. I am the proud owner of one of them.
On October 27, 1986, you know what Jesse Orosco did and how it is revered to this day. On September 9, 1986, you probably have no idea that the very same closer couldn’t hold a 7-6 ninth-inning lead versus Montreal. Jesse allowed a two-run homer to Andre Dawson and an insurance run besides. The Mets went on to lose, 9-7. Prior to that outing, he’d fashioned a scoreless streak of 11⅓ innings. The Mets’ lead remained 21 games despite Orosco’s faux pas. Just one of those things, you might say.
The Shea throng said differently on that Tuesday night. Jesse was hooted off the mound. “No one on this ballclub deserves to be booed,” declared frequent jeer target Darryl Strawberry. “You hate to see Jesse or anyone get booed.” Orosco had less to say about his treatment to reporters: “I’m still not talking, sorry.”
Less than seven weeks later, Jesse’s heavenbound glove spoke volumes.
Lesson? Win the game that wins your club the World Series (along with three others in the playoffs). It will elevate you toward immortality. People will line up for your ceramic likeness. People will line up for your autograph once they’ve received your likeness (and there was a long line for it at the top of the Rotunda escalators). A person who answers an on-camera trivia question in which you are the answer will meet you as the “surprise” guest and appear to nearly faint from joy. A crowd that witnesses you coming out to greet the trivia-answerer will jump to its feet and applaud you in appreciation for doing what you did 29 years earlier, something nobody has done for them since.
You, Jesse Orosco, became the symbol of the franchise at its finest hour, winning the seventh game of the last World Series it won. You could go 3-9 with a 4.44 ERA the next year; give up the home run to Luis Aguayo that absolutely buried the last chance the Mets had of repeating as world champions; get traded to Los Angeles, help them beat the Mets for the 1988 pennant; and keep pitching for seemingly everybody but the Mets through 2003; and you’ll still forever be that symbol of when everything was perfect.
The Mets nesting in first place by a comfortable margin as the Red Sox of all possible opponents came to town was a nice coincidence as the promotional calendar flipped to August 29. The 1986 overtones are stronger when there’s a reason to believe 1986 won’t always be awaiting its endlessly overdue sequel. (Kudos to whoever decided to set Kiss Cam to a medley of 1986 love songs — nice touch!) The current standings probably had more to do with the buzz and the lines and the people than the chance to stare at Jesse Orosco in all possible forms. But the image of Jesse and what he represents is magnetic enough to attract you to thoughts that transcend a ho-hum 3-1 defeat. It made me think that I look forward to Joe and I returning to Citi Field on some future Saturday to pick up our Jeurys Familia bobbleheads, the ones which capture the exact pose Jeurys struck upon recording the final out of the 2015 World Series.
Maybe it won’t take 29 years to schedule that promotion.
Thanks to all of you who expressed such lovely and heartfelt sentiments regarding my dad’s situation. You’re wonderful readers and even better listeners.
David Wright has been back with the Mets since Monday. The Mets have been back in first place since August 3. The Red Sox are back in Queens to play the Mets for the first time since July of 2001. Charles Prince is back and sort of in the middle of all this for the first time since not long after the first time the Red Sox were in Queens to play the Mets, which was in October of 1986.
Also, Charles Prince — “Dad” to me — is back in the hospital.
You, gentle reader, may recall Dad spent the end of May and all of June recovering from the removal of a brain tumor. After that, he went home; he went for blasts of radiation five days a week for three weeks; he took a chemo pill every night for 21 nights; and he underwent an MRI to see if it did any good. One month ago today he received an excellent report. His oncologist proceeded to map out a treatment plan for the year ahead. In May and June, mind you, nobody was talking about a year from late July.
About eight seconds after I absorbed how good the news was, I texted a friend who’d asked if I wanted to go the Mets game that night. I had told him I couldn’t let him know until early Wednesday afternoon, July 29, at the conclusion of Dad’s appointment. If my father’s bill of health wasn’t relatively clean, I couldn’t just compartmentalize and catch the 5:11 to Woodside. What he has doesn’t exactly go away. The word he got, however, was that his cancer was as close to pushed into foul territory as his cancer could be, all things considered. So, “yes,” was my texted answer. Yes, let’s go to ballgame. I can do that.
I had to do that if for no other reason than symmetry. Ten weeks earlier was the bad news. Bartolo Colon was pitching that Wednesday, May 20, and I was supposed to go. I had to back out. Colon got shelled. Dad was 48 hours from surgery, the surgery that led to the hospitalization and the rehabilitation and the physical therapy and the radiation and the chemotherapy, all of it at age 86.
Ten weeks later it was a Wednesday again and it was Colon pitching again and this time I made it. Colon got shelled again, but that was all right in context. Wilmer Flores did and didn’t get traded that same night. It became the news that dominated my waking thoughts well into Thursday. That sort of concern could now that I didn’t have to dwell on what might be wrong with my dad. Things seemed to be going pretty OK for him.
And that lasted three weeks. On the evening of August 19, yet another Wednesday, I got a call. It was back to the hospital for Dad. It wasn’t precisely tumor-related but it’s hard to say it wasn’t connected in some fashion. The treatments he received to send the cancer into foul ground came with risks. Immunity went down. There was a fever. There was a persistent cough. There was no avoiding a return trip to where he didn’t want to go.
There was pneumonia, it was diagnosed. Breathing issues. Heartbeat issues. Discomfort, to put it mildly. Pain, to put it bluntly. A not particularly patient patient at the center of it, while those who care for him and about him circled and hovered and tried to convince him that if he would just put up with what medical professionals are trying to do for him, he’ll be better off for it soon.
He’s not really buying it, but we’re still selling it. He remains in the hospital. As of this writing, it’s his tenth night-into-morning there. I was with him as that first night steamed relentlessly into morning, his coughing growing frequent, his patience growing short, his theatricality emerging. (I’ve learned, among many other things lately, that when somebody repeatedly announces he is “at death’s doorstep,” he’s actually quite alive and if not well, then at least not going anywhere anytime soon.)
I’ve been with him practically every night since he was admitted, which was in the hours following that horrible loss in Baltimore. At least I assume it was a horrible loss. I was preoccupied with a coughing, consternated octogenarian. I noticed the result from Camden Yards. I divined a home run had been given up by Carlos Torres to create it. It was Carlos Tsuris at his most troubling, but I had my own tsuris to deal with.
The next night, Dad was settled in, however reluctantly. I came to see how he was doing. The visit was fairly short. The Mets were off.
Then, every night but one since then, there’s been him and me and good old televised sports. In deference to his prevailing tastes, we watched entire exhibition football games last Friday and Saturday. He prefers football to baseball. He prefers many things to baseball. That was OK. I like football, too, even if it doesn’t count and there’s actual first-place Mets available on the same TV. The important thing was we had something to watch together and I had brought with me an iPad with the MLB At Bat app. When you’re in a hospital, with its many voices yapping and its many machine whirring in the background, it’s not rude to inject the murmur of Howie Rose and Josh Lewin from Colorado into the cacophony. As we pretended what the Jets on Friday and the Giants on Saturday were doing was somehow significant, just enough of a shout emanated from my iPad to get Dad’s attention.
“Big doings in the Mets game?” he asked.
This was during the second 14-9 game in two nights. Of course there were big doings. I affirmed their existence. Then we went back to watching — or looking in the general direction of — football.
Monday night came an extraordinary offer when I showed up somewhere before 7 PM. If I wanted, he said, we could watch the Mets game after Jeopardy. You don’t screw with the sanctity of Jeopardy, you see. You also don’t see my father reaching out to watch baseball with me. Circa 1986, it was second-nature, but that was an aberration. He was into those Mets. My mother was into those Mets. Who wasn’t into those Mets? The attachment actually lasted through the remainder of the 1980s, but it wore off in 1990. My mother died that season. When she passed, so did my father’s surprising interest in baseball. He had never shown much affinity for it prior to the days of Davey, Darryl & Doc, his scattershot claims of childhood Dodger fandom notwithstanding. I guess I wasn’t shocked when he detached from this thing we briefly shared, but I was quietly sorry he had. I had enjoyed sharing it with him.
Now, a quarter-of-a-century later, it was back. Sort of. Very sort of. But what a time for it to be even very sort of back, with the Mets seeming less ridiculous and far easier to explain than they’d been for an eternity. How apropos that our first game intentionally viewed in tandem arrived on the same night David Wright returned to genuine baseball activities.
This is how you watch a baseball game in the hospital with your father who can’t get out of bed: You turn it on after Jeopardy, the Phillies already ahead of the Mets, but that’s all right, it’s still early. You get excited because you see Wright approaching the plate for the first time in more than four months. You warm to the sight of him doing that little one-two high step of his to get loose. You take in the majesty of No. 5 in the batter’s box.
And then you respond to your father who needs some help with a certain function that he’d much rather attend to for himself, but he can’t get up, so he has to use that thing they give you instead. You pull the curtain around his bed and you take care of certain receptacles he has just partially filled because, game or not, the reason you’re visiting him in the hospital is to be looking out for his well-being. So your attention is drawn from the TV as you take that receptacle to the bathroom and empty it and grab him a few paper towels and then you wash up and you come out and you look up at the TV…
…and you see David Wright circling the bases. It dawns on you that you just missed his first real swing and therefore his first home run because you were disposing of the contents of what you’d otherwise identify as a small, unfortunate lemonade pitcher but you now recognize instantly as a hospital urinal.
Yet you somehow don’t mind, because a) David Wright has just homered; b) they show replays; c) you’ll never, ever forget where you were when it happened even if you didn’t witness it in real time; and d) now that certain functions have been attended to, you’re going to sit back down and watch a whole bunch more innings with your dad.
That’s what the past week has been like for me and the Mets and my father and anybody else who has drifted into our orbit. His home health aide, who has kindly signed on to spend overnights overseeing the nocturnal elements of his recovery, has joined our viewing parties, such as they are. Dad nods off. The aide asks me if it’s eight innings for a full ballgame or nine. Nurses come in with medications and monitors. He wakes up to give blood or get blood. Innings are missed because a CT scan is ordered and executed. Urinals need to be used again, and if somebody else of an official capacity is on duty, I tiptoe out into the hall with my app and let him do what needs to be done in what qualifies as privacy.
Even with all that, it’s been a helluva week. I’m watching the Mets with my dad. My dad is sort of into it. Sort of. Very sort of. He focuses on the graphics. He noticed the number of pitches is posted along with the score. When did they start counting pitches, he wants to know. He doesn’t remember them doing that before. In the last 20 years or so, I tell him, throwing in a quick tutorial on what it’s supposed to accomplish and a quicker editorial that it doesn’t accomplish all that much. He’s regularly confirming the inning, how many outs there are and “the count”. I love hearing him ask, “What’s the count?” It’s a baseball phrase. My dad’s using a baseball phrase in conversation with me.
When the Mets are winning, it’s great. When the Mets are losing, they can still come back, so it’s still good. When he calls my sister or his significant other during a commercial, he tells them, “I’m helping Greg root the Mets on.” When I hear a pause and then him saying something like “Yeah…well…” I smile that I’m the only one who seems to get what’s going on. No, he wouldn’t be watching baseball without me in the room. No, our relationship was never going to be the stuff of a Donald Hall essay. But fathers graciously, maybe grudgingly, watching ball with sons — even sons who keep assuring them “we can watch something else if you want” — is never going to lose its pull, even when the father is 86 and the son is 52.
When it’s getting late and he’s truly out of it, I deliver a peck on the forehead and promise I’ll call to let him know I got home all right. Thursday night, I stayed through eleven innings. When Daniel Murphy drove in Carlos Torres in the thirteenth, I clapped heartily at the first stop light I came to on my mostly deserted roadway of choice. With my window rolled down, I could hear my applause echo back at me in the night…the sound of four hands clapping. It gave me the kind of chills you wouldn’t wish on anybody in a hospital.
At the next stop light, I found my eyes welling up just a little. The Mets were winning by a little more and were clearly going to win again. The Mets were going to lead the Nationals by a lot. Concurrently, Dad’s most obvious pneumonia symptoms were fading. Except for some coughing that he couldn’t shake.
And there was that heartbeat business.
And, oh, the pain he was in on one side of his stomach that turned out to be from the blood thinners they had been giving him to help with the heartbeat.
And there were those intermittent declarations that he wished death would come and take him already (which mysteriously quieted when it was time for Jeopardy and he was answering questions with a question with the flair of a returning champion).
And he keeps taking the oxygen tube out of his nose, which he’s not supposed to do, but it’s so irritating and how is he supposed to sleep with it in?
And his short-term memory definitely doesn’t collate like it once did.
And there’d be another X-ray, another CT scan, another round of poking and prodding from another stranger whose name wasn’t sticking with him, all that activity he couldn’t keep track of and couldn’t stand and who could blame him?
But the Mets were winning. It wasn’t just the Mets winning and me responding positively to it for the usual reasons associated with diehard fandom. It was now enmeshed with something more. Throughout my father’s illnesses this summer, the Mets have been a lifeline for me. Some nice people responded to my revealing his situation in May with the sentiment that at times like these, when family is at stake, you realize what’s really important.
I didn’t contradict their rationale, but the more I became immersed in his battle to get and stay better, the more the Mets came to mean to me, as if they could mean any more to me after 47 consecutive seasons in their company. You need something to think about that isn’t the worst to ponder. You need something to dwell on that takes you away. You need something you find so much meaning in that when it starts to go unfathomably well, you can’t believe how happy it makes you.
And when, after 25 years of shunning it, somebody close to you suddenly decides he wants to resume sharing it, you realize it can’t be wholly unimportant.
Friday afternoon I spoke to Dad on the phone. Are the Mets playing tonight, he asked. Yes, I said, they’re playing Boston at home. “That’s an unusual matchup,” he observed, perhaps recalling when they played in unusual circumstances in 1986, perhaps just showing what he knew about traditional league alignment. I agreed that it was unusual, but declined to elaborate or editorialize.
You can come watch it here tonight, he advised — “if you want.”
Yes, I told him, I want to. So I did. And even though the Mets lost this unusual matchup to Boston in unusually irritating fashion (“remember when you asked me the other night about pitch counts?”) — and even though, when he saw a hand-made sign at Citi Field that said “Welcome Back David,” he had to ask, “Who’s David?” and “what is he being welcomed back from?” — I can’t say I was sorry to have taken it all in where I did.
In a hospital room.
Amid a steady flow of built-in interruptions.
Within earshot of other people’s parents’ respiratory struggles.
From a chair next to my dad.
With enough medicine and any luck, these visits soon won’t be necessary. I’ll be watching the Mets from my living room, he’ll be watching probably something else in his. Until then, our first-place ballclub looks pretty good from this place fate has compelled us to meet on a nightly basis.
Five weeks ago, if the Mets had been down 5-0 I would’ve found something better to do with my time.
But that was five weeks ago, and that team that no longer exists. Tonight, when the Mets fell five runs behind, I figured they’d come back and was curious how they’d do it.
It’s remarkable — it’s as if the lineup that wore Mets uniforms until late July was not just from another season but from another decade, and their stats had been grafted on to this season’s through some bizarre act of nouveau recordkeeping.
It was a funny night as a chronicler, too. We’re finishing up our annual week on Long Beach Island, and schedules aligned to give us a chance to catch up with old friends. We took it and so I spent the early innings admiring the beauty of a spectacular sunset, content to let whatever the Mets were up to wait a bit. When I checked briefly it was 0-0 in the third, so I figured the Mets could wait a little more.
I love the way baseball rewards both careful watching of each and every pitch and a casual eye or ear on the game while you attend to whatever life’s brought you. So after parting ways with our friends I found myself riding through the Beach Haven night on a bicycle while Howie Rose and Josh Lewin spoke from my pocket. Those voices in the darkness informed me that things had not gone well in my absence; Good New Niese had yielded to Bad Old Niese for an inning that left the score Phillies 5, Mets 0.
That wasn’t good, but it was early yet. And, indeed, by the time I put my bike in a rack outside the restaurant it was 5-2. By the time the food came it was 5-5. I smiled but wasn’t surprised — we’ve come to expect such nightly miracles from Mets 2.0.
5-5, of course, was just the beginning. The Mets had ridden home runs from Travis d’Arnaud, Yoenis Cespedes and Kelly Johnson to a tie, and the game was in the hands of the bullpens.
Which seemed scary, but as Greg noted yesterday, the usually suspect have turned trustworthy. Recent hero Logan Verrett was first out of the gate with a spotless inning, Hansel Robles stared down quick-pitch debaters Jeff Francoeur and Darin Ruf, Sean Gilmartin made the Phils look downright foolish with slow curves and sliders, and then Carlos Torres came on.
Torres has lacked whatever magic he seemed to have in previous campaigns — which is just another way of saying he’s a middle reliever — but he immediately pulled a rabbit out of his hat. Francoeur shot a ball up the middle, which hit off Torres’s back foot. The ball took a crazy bounce into no-man’s land between first and second, where Daniel Murphy smothered it, lost the handle and flung it blindly in the direction of first — the same location where Torres just happened to be arriving. If you didn’t see it, don’t fret — it’s here, and you’ll be seeing it on highlight shows for the next decade or so anyway.
Torres survived the 11th and the 12th, helped by David Wright scooping up a short hop with two outs and Cesar Hernandez steaming homeward from third. Oddly yet also somehow inevitably, Torres then teamed up with Murphy again for the rally that would win the game.
The Phillies had been doing their damnedest to lose, sending out palooka reliever after palooka reliever to walk some Mets and give up bullets to others. But that’s no guarantee of a loss — the bullets went right to Phillie fielders and the walked became the stranded.
Until the 13th, when Torres led off and hit a shot of his own up the middle, one which Freddy Galvis was able to field and juggle but not throw. Curtis Granderson‘s single sent Torres to second, and after a Cespedes flyout, Murph laced a double up the left-field line, chasing home both runs. By the time the Phils were done falling apart, the Mets had a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Murph, of course, is the Mets’ own avatar of chaos — a Loki figure who somehow bends the laws of baseball physics by his mere presence.
Sometimes this is a bad thing — Murph can run the bases as if he thinks he’s invisible (to quote Wright from a couple of years back) or double down on a defensive lapse to create a disaster that simple inaction would have avoided.
Sometimes these Murphian emanations are merely odd — the camera finds Murph wearing an oversized expression of elation or depression, or catches him yapping frenetically to no one in particular, or spots him contorting his body to express triumph or self-loathing.
And sometimes, well, it’s great. Such as when Murph hurls a ball in what he believes is the direction of first base and this time he’s not only right but a teammate has also sprinted there in the nick of time. Or when he lashes out at a baseball and sends it shooting up the line or arcing into the seats.
Murph is our Ron Swoboda — a player whose emotional commitment to the game is infinite even if his talents for it are not. As fans, we live and die with the Mets’ victories and defeats. But watch Murph play ball for even a little while and you realize that as deeply as you may feel such things, you’ll never be lifted up or crushed by them the way Murphy is.
When Murph’s reality-bending force field makes him the hero, no Met fan in existence is as thrilled by what’s happened as Murph himself is. When those same redrafted laws of physics turn him into the goat, no Mets rooter is more horrified and disappointed. It’s hilarious and endearing and a little worrisome all at the same time, much like Murph himself.
And now Murph has the perfect season for his unique talents — one studded with epic wins and losses, runs of invulnerability and incompetence, and no certainty except that what happens next will be wilder and stranger than anything we’ve let ourselves imagine so far.
“I don’t know. I’m open to new ideas.”
—Mets fan Josh Lyman, “Stirred,” The West Wing
Of course I grew antsy as Eric O’Flaherty made his case for being Eric D’FAherty (I’ve also heard Eric D’OH!Flaherty and a less family-friendly version of Eric O’Dear.) Eric, who may be the salt of the earth in real life, has absolutely no currency with us. During our relatively brief exposure to his advertised skill set, he has shown himself to be the kind of pitcher who, when handed a six-run lead against a last-place team, you instinctively hold on for dear life.
Those instincts weren’t off Wednesday night in Philadelphia. Dude’s here to get out lefties and dude wasn’t getting out lefties. Thanks to his core competency being completely overstated, a snowball commenced to rolling downhill at the intersection of 11th and Pattison. 6-0 became 6-1, then 6-3 (the remaining Tsuris Brother, Carlos, carrying on in the spirit of his not-so-dear departed spiritual sibling, Hattie), then 6-4 (Wilmer Flores made an error, but who has the heart to blame Wilmer Flores for anything?). Meanwhile, in our nation’s capital, the Padres had just allowed their hosts to scooch comfortably back into their game, turning what had been a 6-2 cruise into a 6-5 frightfest.
Five-and-half, which was so close to expanding to 6½, was threatening to contract instead to 4½, and if the second-place Nationals could pick up ground on the first-place Mets, then who knew what might tumble down should the earth move under our feet?
The O’Flaherty inning — a.k.a. the jackpot frame as it’s known in bowling — was an unnerving disaster.
And then, with little more than a pause for station identification on the WOR Mets radio network, driven by your TriHonda dealer, everything was jam up and jelly tight. 6-4 became 7-, 8- and 9-4…and down in D.C. 6-5 stayed 6-5, permitting the Mets’ divisional lead to go up an entire shoe size. Tyler Clippard’s right arm may soon be long enough to unlace his spikes without him having to bend over, but on Wednesday night, it was exactly the proper length to finish what Bartolo Colon started and Michael Cuddyer (among others) bolstered.
Despite the benefits inherent in facing off against the old gray mares of the National League East — those Phillies ain’t what they used to be, ain’t what they used to be, ain’t what they used to be — Citizens Bank Park remains a Binkley-size closet of anxieties for any Mets fan with mental muscle memory, particularly at this time of year. It’s late August in Philadelphia. An entire era of Met dismay and disgust was foreshadowed in late August in Philadelphia eight late Augusts in Philadelphia ago. Back then, Mets were Mets until they all of a sudden weren’t. Then came the September that followed, followed by the year that followed that September, and down a hole we went. So you can understand the inclination to clutch your steering wheel, your rosary, your vintage Lady Met figurine or whatever it is that gives you comfort when you find yourself in times of trouble.
Except there’s this: We’re well out of the hole as this September approaches. It’s taking a stream of positive reinforcement to pound that message home for me. It’s taking a 6-0 lead in the middle of the eighth inning and a 9-4 decision after nine innings. It’s taking a lump or two with a lefty specialist whose specialness has failed to materialize and keeping calm/carrying on because he’s not alone out there.
These Mets take leads and proceed to insure them, which would explain the surfeit of Geico commercials. These Mets, at least not of late, don’t let their fate boil down to their obviously weakest link. And these Mets are loaded with players who’ve looked terrible for months only to turn it on when needed. I wouldn’t bet on Eric O’Flaherty making himself super useful (or making any roster that would need to be submitted for use after October 4), but I wouldn’t rule it out. Baseball players with track records have an odd way of eventually or at least occasionally living up to them.
How many days ago had we dismissed Cuddyer as dismal? How many hours ago did we decide Colon could be eased to the curb? Now we recognize them as charter members of the vaunted C&C Club, an elite organization whose ranks include Cespedes, Clippard, Conforto and, because we’re not sticklers, Curtis. Remember when this team was defined by its M&M&M Boys of Mayberry, Muno and Monell?
You do, don’t you? You remember believing the worst would inevitably trump the best the Mets could conjure. The foundational tenets of your convictions were strong. You experienced everything from a four-game sweep at the hands of Jimmy Rollins this week in 2007 to what happened at the end of the succeeding two Septembers to all the indignities foisted upon your franchise once its home ballpark changed but its bottom line barely budged. All that institutional memory certainly conditioned me to consider most any Met lead (in the standings, on the scoreboard) suspect until proven trustworthy.
I’m working on instilling some new memories into my consciousness. The ones generated by the Mets taking full advantage of the kindnesses offered them by the 2015 schedulemakers seem like they’ll be worth reflexively revisiting in the late Augusts ahead; I might as well enjoy them right now. Therefore, I’m going to try to see if these new memories condition me to adjust my instincts and point me on a path of confidence and assuredness and not expecting figurative roofs to metaphorically cave in just because that’s what figurative roofs used to do all over actual Mets. It may take a while for me to match my worldview to the world around us.
Nevertheless, I’ll let you in on something I had to admit to myself while the worst possible outcome loomed as a legitimate possibility. I was worried when O’Flaherty was no more death on lefthanders than Gene Walter ever was. I was worried when the Mets saw their edge temporarily shrink from six runs to two in Philadelphia. I was worried when the Nationals were forging a comeback in Washington. Because I’ve been a Mets fan for so long, I was definitely worried.
But because I’m a Mets fan at the present time, I wasn’t that worried.
The Mets won. That, as always, is the big thing.
On Monday night they won by clubbing balls into the stratosphere, delivering a 14-run beatdown that turned a 7-2 deficit into a 16-7 rout.
Tuesday night was different. The Mets got off to a fast start, with a Yoenis Cespedes homer making the score 2-0 before most of the seats were warmed. But the Phillies came back to take the lead on Noah Syndergaard‘s youthful mistakes, and there was a different feeling in the air — this was a game that was going to come down to bullpens and a critical at-bat or two.
Unfortunately, a lot of what will be written about this game will concern Hansel Robles‘ quick pitch to an ill-prepared Darin Ruf, which was followed by Jeff Francoeur screaming and yelling and Larry Bowa having a Someone Taser That Scary Man-level fit, though that’s pretty much Bowa’s default way of interacting with the world.
Let’s get this out of the way, shall we?
I try to stay away from weighing in on unwritten rules of the game, because a) I stopped playing baseball competitively before puberty, so what the fuck do I know and b) such discussions are inevitably pointless and boring.
What I do when a dreaded unwritten rule pops up is try to put my emotions and loyalties aside and look at how normally level-headed baseball people reacted in the moment.
Francoeur may have trouble with the concept that four balls means a trip to first base, but he never struck me as a hothead. Home-plate ump Dan Bellino didn’t allow the pitch to Ruf despite being in position. And d’Arnaud himself seemed to be telling Robles to wait. (Indeed, he confirmed as much after the game.)
If “make sure the batter’s looking up” is one of those unwritten rules of baseball, it seems like a sensible one to me — and, far more importantly, it seemed that way to the actual baseball people involved. (As for Terry Collins‘s note about the legality of the pitch, that was for public consumption; I’ll bet you $100 he said something else in private. Which is as it should be.)
Bowa’s freakout — during which even an amateur lip-reader could discern “fuckin’ bat flip” — turned out not to be a reference to d’Arnaud after his bases-loaded walk, but to Daniel Murphy, whose bat flip on Monday night was … well, let’s say memorable. Hell, I was surprised Murph didn’t tote a boombox around the bases blasting the theme from “The Natural.” Not to sound like Tim McCarver, but in 1965 or 1975 or 1985, the next Met would have been on his back, and he would have blamed Murph, not the pitcher.
I’m glad that batters are less likely to be hit in the head for the crime of doing what they’re supposed to — I still get angry thinking about Piazza and Clemens in Yankee Stadium all those years ago. Nor do I particularly mind celebrations — this game’s fun, dammit. But there’s a difference between trying to hit a guy in the head (which not even Bowa suggested Murph had coming) and showing a bit of anger when being curb-stomped.
What happened to the Phillies Monday night was a truly humiliating ass-kicking — 14 unanswered runs. By the end, Mets batters were diving across the plate, swinging from their heels, and sending a record number of balls up gaps and into seats.
The Phillies’ response? Nothing. No batters sat down, no inside pitches, nothing. They stood there glumly like they were waiting for an unpleasant commute to end.
Maybe I’m just getting old, but I thought it was very strange. I can only imagine what Bowa thought. After Tuesday night’s game, Phils manager Pete Mackanin said — I suspect both wryly and wearily — that he guessed Bowa “just got mad at everybody.”
Yep. Starting with his own ballclub.
More important to me by far was the aftermath of the jawing and the milling about. And that was Robles — a young pitcher still learning his craft, with a penchant for blowups — erasing Ruf with a beautiful breaking pitch on the outside corner at the knees.
Or Tyler Clippard in the eighth, battling Domonic Brown with fastballs and then fanning him with a change-up. Hopefully Syndergaard was taking notes — our young Norse god has a bad habit of abandoning his breaking pitches early and throwing nothing but fastballs, which he’s repeatedly seen doesn’t work. The 2-0 pitch Syndergaard threw to Freddy Galvis in the third? It was a 97 MPH fastball, which is impressive. Galvis also knew it was coming, and so turned it into a souvenir. This keeps happening to Syndergaard, he keeps acknowledging it, and then five days later he’s throwing nothing but fastballs. It’s a bit confounding.
Anyway, Clippard got the out he desperately needed and then gave way to Jeurys Familia, who looked better than he has since the first half, with both the sinker and the slider essentially unhittable.
But let’s go back to the little thing that turned the game. No, not Michael Cuddyer‘s two-run single in the top of the sixth, though that was wonderful. (Imagine this lineup if Cuddyer gets going too!) It came a few pitches before, while d’Arnaud was facing Jeanmar Gomez.
With two strikes, d’Arnaud ticked a sinker back into Carlos Ruiz‘s glove. It stuck there for a moment and plopped to the ground. Chooch smacked his fist into his mitt, angry that his failure to hold the ball had turned a third strike into another chance for d’Arnaud. Given that chance, d’Arnaud worked the count full and then walked, tying the game and bringing Cuddyer to the plate.
Three pitches later, Gomez threw a sinker that didn’t sink and the Mets had the lead for good. It was a little thing, but not every game is a home-run derby. Most of them turn on a little thing.
Update: The Robles thing doesn’t seem to be an unwritten rule, but an unenforced one. Hat tip to Craig Calcaterra for digging up the relevant portions of the rulebook. Hansel, stop doing that. Now on to more important things, I hope.
This happens, right? Against all playoff probability odds, let alone preseason projections, some team finds the field and proves itself better than imagined, better than its competition, better than its most fervent and loyal supporters dared to dream.
This is happening…right?
Brothers and sisters, rub your eyes, pinch your extremities, do a double-, triple- and quadruple-take. Those are indeed our New York Mets sitting atop the National League East with nothing directly beneath them except five-and-a-half games’ worth of stratosphere and four teams incapable of dislodging them in the very short term. Three of those teams are spiritually if not mathematically eliminated, while a lone, legitimate competitor lurks on the decreasingly elastic edges of possibility’s realm. The Nats remain within spitting distance of the Mets, but mostly they keep slipping on their own saliva.
Honestly, though, it’s beginning to not matter what the Washington Nationals do. It’s the Mets who are doing what needs to be done, the Mets who are, night by night, doing what no Mets before them have ever done.
If you’ve treated yourself to a viewing of That Thing You Do! every blessed time it comes on the air, then you know The Wonders (originally The Oneders; eventually revealed as classic one-hit wonders) had themselves a song called “Dance With Me Tonight,” which included a timelessly relevant lyric, whether you are listening in Erie, Pa., in 1964, or anywhere across Metsopotamia in 2015.
Tell everyone in Philadelph’ya
There’s a party goin’ on.
Is there ever. It’s thrilling. It’s bracing. It’s ecstasy over SNY and WOR. And boy oh boy, is it powerful.
• The Mets hit eight home runs Monday night at Citizens Bank Park. That’s a franchise record, breaking the old mark that was established in the very same setting on another night the Phillies didn’t have a prayer.
• The Mets added seven doubles to register fifteen extra-base hits in toto. That’s another franchise record, surpassing the thirteen collected exactly ten years earlier in Arizona — and completely outdoing that thing their predecessors didn’t do exactly forty years earlier in San Francisco, which was the day the 1975 Mets were no-hit by Ed Halicki, who, if he’s so tough, why doesn’t he come out of retirement at age 64 and face this powerhouse of a batting order?
• The Mets won by a Namathesque final of 16-7. You who are now trained to keep your eyes peeled for the rare and elusive Unicorn Score can mark down yet another one. It was the first 16-7 win in franchise history. Maybe it will be cloned. Maybe it will be dwarfed.
They are farther above .500 than at any time since 2008. They lead the pack by more lengths than at any time since 2007. They look and feel, by every measure, more like a playoff team than at any time since 2006. Those years ended in various shades of pain and horror. This year is coming in on an altogether cheerier frequency. Try to tune in fear and all you get is static.
Who knows anymore what this team can do? Who knows what they will do? It’s folly to pretend to know. Throw out your formulas and resist the pull of magic numbers. Here’s all you need to lean into: If the Mets play 1.000 ball in their next game, everything will be one game closer to taking care of itself quite nicely.
When this particular Unicorn Score has gathered dust, it will likely be inferred to have been the result of something resembling a hard-fought sluggers’ duel. To a certain extent, that will be a reasonable inference, for the Mets actually trailed in this game. They trailed by a lot. They trailed by the kind of margin teams like the 2015 Mets of the part of 2015 that isn’t this one don’t usually come back from. What’s more, they were trailing on the tattered tresses of Jacob deGrom, whose ERA is normally as short as his locks are luxuriously long.
DeGrom, however, didn’t have whatever it is deGrom usually has: command, feel, touch…you name it, it wasn’t at his fingertips. When you can’t rely on your best pitcher, who can you depend upon?
How about everybody else, starting with your Captain, whose presence has just turned on the Fasten Seat Belt sign?
The Mets’ starting lineup encompassed in its cleanup slot the player who’s been in more Met starting lineups than any Met ever. On the kind of night when copious amounts of “more” and “ever” were bound to dot descriptions of what the hell (or heaven) just happened in Philadelphia, it was, too, the kind of night that called for the return of David Wright from spinal stenosis purgatory. The Mets had been doing dreadfully without him for the longest time. Then they were doing phenomenally without him for the latest time. Now that they are phenomenal and he has returned, could there be any doubt the two of them together would be explosive?
Doubt all you want. Your lack of faith will be blasted over any of several Citizens Bank Park walls.
David launched a long home run in his first at-bat. How long? Long enough to cover the distance between his uneasy removal from the game of April 14 to his welcome insertion into the game of August 24. His homer put the Mets on the board and pointed them in the…this is no night to resist the obvious…Wright direction.
Don’t waste another minute
Step into the light
This one was for David, whose team it was when nobody else wanted it. And this one was for David’s devotees, all those Ghost Wright-ers in the Stands who bought their No. 5 jerseys sometime after July 21, 2004, and continued to wear them through his and the Mets’ ascent in 2005 and 2006 and their trauma-fraught decline thereafter. Even when he appeared in no Met lineup as April became May became “maybe Tejada can play third,” you couldn’t miss his presence on the backs in your midst.
There were 33s. There were 48s. There were very lately 34s and 52s and 30s. There were still faded 57s and 45s and 15s and 7s left over from the last batch of good times. But the 5s kept coming throughout 2015, even during the titular bearer’s extended absence.
It turns out the one 5 that counts most of all is still around, still swinging, still connecting and, at last, winning.
David isn’t doing it alone. There is no stenosis in that Met lineup, just miles and miles of spine.
• At 3-0 Phillies, Wright homered to make it 3-1 Phillies.
• At 4-1 Phillies, Lagares homered to make it 4-2 Phillies.
• At 7-2 Phillies, Flores homered to make it 7-4 Phillies.
• At 7-4 Phillies, d’Arnaud homered to make it 7-5 Phillies.
• At 7-5 Phillies, Flores homered (again) to make it 8-7 Mets.
• At 8-7 Mets, Cuddyer homered to make it 9-7 Mets.
• At 9-7 Mets, Murphy homered to make it 11-7 Mets.
• At 11-7 Mets, d’Arnaud doubled (piker) to make it 13-7 Mets.
• At 13-7 Mets, Lagares singled (how precious!) to make it 14-7 Mets.
• At 14-7 Mets, Cespedes homered to break the round-tripper record, deliver a bouncing baby Unicorn and make it 16-7 Mets.
Talk about your extra-base hit wonders.
Sean Gilmartin didn’t homer, but he did single and hold the Phillies scoreless during that blink of a transition period between it being a ballgame and a runaway American dream. The whole thing’s rather surreal (W)right now, except when you scour the standings and see for yourself that there’s nothing quite like these New York Mets. I could throw historical comparisons at you — and you can throw them at me — but as we speak and as we soar, these things these Mets do appear to be without precedent.
We join our history, already in progress.
All the Mets wanted from Logan Verrett was two things. The first was for him to not be Matt Harvey for a day. The second was for him to do more or less what Jon Niese did on Saturday — keep the pain to a moderate level and let the bats do their work.
I’m the first to answer the bell when Niese needs denigrating, but that’s not what’s happening here — Niese did just fine pitching without oxygen with Coors Field’s famed humidor apparently on the appliance DL.
Verrett, though, is a veteran of pitching under ludicrous conditions and exceeded expectations by a fair margin. He looked shaky in the first inning, as Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu singled, but then got himself out of trouble, racing to the first-base bag and putting himself in perfect position for a 3-6-1 double play. Nolan Arenado ripped a ball up the middle, but shortstop Wilmer Flores — more about shortstops in a bit — smothered it and fired to first.
Given a reprieve, Verrett settled in, mixing a diving slider with a sinking change and using his fastball to make both look better. David Hale, meanwhile, was striking guys out left and right. Unfortunately, his most frequent victim was his own catcher, Dustin Garneau. (Whose name keeps tripping me up — it sounds like some weird mash-up of Justin Turner and Travis d’Arnaud.) It’s possible I’ve seen teams score two runs on consecutive wild pitches before, but if so I’ve blocked it out for the good of baseball.
The Rockies had looked wretched all weekend, but Sunday they commenced to play particularly stupid. If it wasn’t Carlos Gonzalez air-mailing throws, it was Blackmon making terrible baserunning decisions. It was all to our benefit, but it was still discouraging to watch baseball played in such a chronically lunkheaded fashion.
For all that, though, it wasn’t half as depressing as the sight of Jose Reyes falling vaguely near balls or running at three-quarters speed to first.
The Sky Fell the Night Jose Went to Miami narrative has annoyed me for years, because it’s a product of fans being determined to ignore both reality and good sense. The Mets were never going to pay Jose anywhere close to the absurd amount of money Jeffrey Loria gave him in bad faith, and that contract was pretty much a guaranteed stinker for a player so dependent on speed. If this weekend doesn’t make the Jose fantasists cut it out already, I give up: We just saw firsthand how age has eroded Reyes from a great player to a merely good one who’s hugely overpaid, and we also just saw him going about his duties in a way that would have had Gil Hodges walking slowly out to his position.
Reyes is obviously miserable as a Rockie and told the Denver Post at this stage in his career he just wants to win. I sympathize and hopes he gets that chance one day. But he’s running out of days, and no team watching Reyes play this weekend would conclude he’s an ingredient in a winning recipe. That’s nobody’s fault but Jose’s.
More impressive was a player in his final years, one whom I’m happy to have on our side. In the ninth, Hansel Robles came on for Verrett and promptly walked LeMahieu. That brought Juan Uribe to the mound for a conversation. It was short and pointed: The veteran third baseman spoke, his jaw bulging, and the wet-behind-the-ears pitcher listened and held very still.
Robles, chastened, got down to business. He fanned CarGo, got Arenado on a tough chance that became an out because of Uribe’s soft hands and calm demeanor, and then fanned Ben Paulsen for the victory.
Another win, another day off the schedule, six or seven innings Harvey can pitch later, Verrett showing he deserves a chance to play substitute again and/or help the relief corps, and a first-place club doing what first-place clubs need to do to play in October.
It’s only a day, but each game is only a day. And this day was everything the Mets could have wanted and much more.
You don’t see too many games like we saw Saturday night at Coors Field, and — as the Irish Rovers could tell you — you’re never gonna see no unicorn. But if you see the Mets win by a score you’ve never seen them win by before and there’s no telling if or when you’ll ever see them win by it again, well, lads and lassies…just wait a day.
Recent evidence suggests your modicum of patience will be rewarded
The Unicorn Score the Mets won by on Friday, which instigated a deep dive on the topic in this very space on Saturday, is no longer a Unicorn Score. A Unicorn Score, we have established, is a score by which the Mets win once and never again. Through the games of August 21, 2015, we could identify 23 distinct Unicorn Scores in Mets history. Through the games of August 22, 2015, we can revise our list to include only 22 — the same 22 we had through the games of August 20, 2015.
In short, the Mets had never won by a 14-9 score in their entire freaking lives until Friday. And then they won by another 14-9 score on Saturday. This is a positive reflection of the Met offense, not very good news concerning the workload of the Met bullpen and an indictment of the Coors Field humidor, assuming the Rockies still store baseballs and not cigars in that ineffectual container.
Mostly, though, it means the Mets’ 14-9 Unicorn Score is dead. It died as it lived, scoring 14 runs while allowing 9.
Long live the 14-9 Uniclone Score.
What’s a Uniclone? A Uniclone is a score by which the Mets win twice and never again (“never” obviously being a malleable concept). They are so named because they are clones of erstwhile Unicorns. As it turns out, Uniclones are rarer than Unicorns. There are fewer than half as many scores answering to the call of Uniclone than there are that can be identified as Unicorns. Only 10 known Uniclone Scores exist.
The Mets have been cloning winning scores since 1962. On May 15 and May 16 of our inaugural season, the Mets won back-to-back 6-5 games, both at home, both in extra innings, marking the first time the Mets had won twice by the same score. The hot streak elevated the Mets into eighth place, dizzying heights for a team that wasn’t on the verge of winning many games by any scores. But 6-5 didn’t stay a Uniclone Score for long. In fact, the very next Met win, on May 19, was also by 6-5. Perhaps 6-5 should be the official score of Met victories. The most famous Met victory of them all, October 25, 1986, over the Red Sox, was by 6-5.
There have been 108 regular-season and four postseason 6-5 wins, so we can assume the cloning of 6-5 was conducted successfully enough to no longer be considered experimental. But you have to wonder about the 10 Uniclones. Why were those scores cloned once and only once?
Like most movies whose plots hinge on cloning, the whole process is shrouded in mystery. Nothing is as mysterious as deducing how it took until deep into the 54th season of Mets baseball to see a 14-9 Mets win and then exactly one more game to see another 14-9 Mets win. Clearly, something has gone awry in the laboratory.
While nefarious forces try to tamp down the questions that surround the sudden cloning of 14-9 Met wins, we will reveal the identities of the other nine Uniclone Scores (with, as always, an assist from Baseball Reference).
Unicorn Born: May 31, 1970 (1) vs Astros.
Unicorn Cloned: July 7, 1984 vs Reds.
About the Uniclone: The resurgent, first-place Mets were in the midst of sweeping a five-game series from Cincinnati, the only five-game series they’ve ever swept at home. This was the fourth in a row. It was a beautiful time to be alive and a Mets fan.
Unicorn Born: April 17, 1975 vs Cardinals.
Unicorn Cloned: August 8, 1985 vs Expos.
About the Uniclone: There was a very brief baseball strike in the summer of 1985. As soon as it was settled, the first-place Mets streamed through customs and came out swinging at the Big O, scoring in each of the first six innings.
Unicorn Born: July 21, 1985 vs Braves.
Unicorn Cloned: June 13, 1990 (1) vs Cubs.
About the Uniclone: These were Buddy Harrelson’s Mets fully revived and busting out all over after sagging through the last days of Davey Johnson. The day before produced the Unicorn Score of 19-8. The nightcap that followed this doubleheader opener was a 9-6 triumph. In a little more than 24 hours, the Mets had blown out the Cubs by a combined score of 43-24.
Unicorn Born: July 29, 1965 (1) vs Cubs.
Unicorn Cloned: April 19, 1998 vs Reds.
About the Uniclone: It was a fairly conventional 5-0 game through six, when the Mets got Methodical, adding three runs in each of the final three innings. By matching their largest shutout margin, the 1998 Mets climbed into first place by a half-game. They didn’t stay there.
Unicorn Born: April 26, 1966 vs Cubs.
Unicorn Cloned: April 30, 2000 vs Rockies.
About the Uniclone: Just guess where 25 combined runs scored on 25 total hits and 14 total walks. Just guess. Why, yes, it was Coors Field! It would probably not shock you to learn the Mets led, 11-3, heading to the bottom of the eighth. The Rox knocked around Met pitching for six in the eighth and — after the Mets cushioned their margin with three in the top of the ninth — two more in their last licks. Armando Benitez held on, though officially it wasn’t a save situation.
Unicorn Born: September 2, 1972 vs Astros.
Unicorn Cloned: June 30, 2000 vs Braves.
About the Uniclone: The Uniclone was the Ten-Run Inning capped by the Piazza Homer. It doesn’t need a bit of elaboration. The Unicorn, however, deserves more light shed on it. It was, literally, the greatest comeback in Mets history. As impressive as the Mets were in 2000 roaring from an 8-1 deficit to defeated the hated Braves, those 1972 Mets spotted Houston an 8-0 edge and then kept charging and never stopped, shoving 11 runs down old nemesis Leo Durocher’s throat. Why wouldn’t you want to clone a result like that?
Unicorn Born: August 27, 1997 vs Giants.
Unicorn Cloned: June 27, 2008 (1) vs Yankees.
About the Uniclone: ¡Viva Delgado! Carlos the First Baseman, shaking off a year-plus slump, exploded for nine runs batted in during the final game the Mets ever played at Renovated Yankee Stadium. It’s still a team record, Yoenis Cespedes’s best efforts notwithstanding.
Unicorn Born: August 14, 1979 vs Braves.
Unicorn Cloned: September 5, 2010 vs Cubs.
About the Uniclone: If you score 18 runs, there’s a good chance even your No. 8 hitter is heavily involved. Sure enough, rookie Ruben Tejada was The Man in this one, with five runs batted in, including his comical first major league home run. What was so funny about it? Ruben was so certain he couldn’t have hit a ball out of any park (even Wrigley Field, birthplace of so many Unicorn Scores), that he slid into third base before being informed by the umpire that he could get up and trot home. Well, at least he hustled.
Unicorn Born: July 21, 1966 vs Giants.
Unicorn Cloned: June 28, 2011 vs Tigers.
About the Uniclone: Remember how the Mets went forever and a day without hitting a grand slam? This was the game when forever and a day announced their departure with authority. Jason Bay homered with the bases loaded in the fourth — and Carlos Beltran did the same in the fifth. Most electric, though, was Jose Reyes, going 4-for-4 and raising his league-leading average to .349.
And now we have the tenth Uniclone in Mets history. Whereas the first 14-9 game was all about Cespedes, there was a torrent of offense to go around for the rest of us in the second.
• 21 hits
• 9 doubles
• A third inning in which the first nine batters — that’s all of them, including starting and winning (5.1 IP) pitcher Jon Niese — reached base. I believe that’s known as batting round and round and round.
The first-place, five-games-up Mets led, 14-3, after the top of the fifth. Inside the incubator that is Coors Field, there was no telling what the final score was going to be. There was no telling it would be the final score from the night before, the final score that, to that point, had never represented a Mets victory.
Now it has twice.
In a tangentially related development, the Mets have reacquired Eric Young, Jr. EYJ figures to bring the team some much-needed speed once he’s promoted from Las Vegas, though you might question how big the need for speed is. Just look at how lightning-fast our assumptions tend to change around here.