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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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So That One Was Fun

Before all the heroics — which we will revel in a couple of paragraphs down, I promise you — the Mets and Nationals played a rather odd baseball game.

Max Scherzer pitched six innings, the last of them on fumes, throwing 109 pitches and giving up no runs.

Jacob deGrom pitched six innings, the last of them while fuming at home-plate ump Ryan Blakney, throwing 103 pitches and giving up a lone run, which came on a first-inning homer by Adam Eaton.

That’s two-thirds of the game passing with a 1-0 score, yet it didn’t feel like a duel of aces. Both Scherzer and deGrom kept struggling with their location, and their frustration was visible. The Mets couldn’t break through against Scherzer, but they did the next best thing, driving his pitch count ever higher in hopes of getting as many swats as possible at the Nats’ pinata of a bullpen. DeGrom looked like he was in danger of seeing another game crumble, the way it had in Miami, but managed to gather himself and a) keep the Nats at bay; and b) not throttle Blakney. I’m not sure which effort was more impressive.

(I know this is my 2019 soapbox, but here I go clambering on it again: The idea that players should get used to a given night’s bizarrely distorted strike zone is nonsense, and a generation from now fans will think all of us — players and fans alike — were insane to put up with it. Blakney called a terrible game and whether or not his incompetence was equitable shouldn’t matter.)

Anyway, for a while it looked like that skinny run would stand up. Heck, maybe that would be the turning point in the Nats’ season, with Eaton becoming their clubhouse leader and the seemingly permanent spokesman for Rocket Mortgage, and we’d all elbow each other and smile in 2033 to see a thicker, grayer Todd Frazier jokingly bring up old grievances as a guest star in his latest ad. Why, when a young Nat delivered his first big hit, Nats announcers would holler that he’d paid off his mortgage, and reminisce about a long-ago series in Flushing when….

Except none of that happened. (Or at least it didn’t happen Wednesday night.)

What did happen instead didn’t seem particularly likely.

Joe Ross and Matt Grace took care of the seventh, and Kyle Barraclough fanned J.D. Davis to start the eighth. But then Adeiny Hechavarria — who is exactly the kind of Proven Veteran™ every team should find for as many roster spots as possible — doubled. Up came Pete Alonso, our newly minted hero … who grounded to third. After Barraclough walked Frazier, Dave Martinez opted for Sean Doolittle, his closer and only non-terrifying reliever, asking him to get four outs.

Doolittle wouldn’t get any.

He hit Carlos Gomez to load the bases, then faced Juan Lagares, whose average had sunk below .200. Doolittle threw one fastball past Lagares, but his second one was low and inside, exactly where Lagares likes it, and he hammered it to left-center.

Tuesday night’s victory turned on a pair of odd plays: an Alonso homer so high above Citi Field’s shrimpy foul pole that Chelsea needed to take a look (Greg and I both thought it was well foul, and were both pleased and baffled to be wrong) and Amed Rosario beating Trea Turner‘s throw from short by an eyelash, with a little help from Jeff McNeil. Both times, the reaction was very Baseball in the Replay Era: jubilation, anxiety and doubt, then official jubilation.

Lagares’s hit was free of potential asterisks the moment he connected, a seething liner ticketed for the gap. Doolittle, disgusted, put his hands on his knees as three Mets came home and Lagares nearly broke his hands applauding himself at second base. Doolittle went back to work, intentionally walking Wilson Ramos to face the newest Met (and final ambulatory position player), last-minute addition Rajai Davis.

We didn’t know it at the time, but Davis had arrived in the third inning after being informed he was not, in fact, going to war against the IronPigs and would instead be taking an Uber the 110 miles from Lehigh Valley, Penn., to Citi Field. He dug in against Doolittle, fell behind 0-2, then fought for his life. Doolittle, being Doolittle, threw him all fastballs. The ninth pitch was down the middle, and Davis hammered it into the left-field seats. Suddenly, somehow, the Mets had a five-run lead.

That’s not a bad Mets debut — one imagine it should help with having Accounts Payable reimburse Davis in a timely fashion for that Uber. (Does Jeff have to approve these things personally? No, stop, it was a good night and I don’t want to know.)

As for the Nats, well, I feel their fans’ pain. Bad teams are all awful in some way — goodness knows I’ve watched my share — but a team consistently undone by its own bullpen is the worst of all bad teams to suffer through. When you don’t have a lead you fume, but when you do have a lead you worry — because you know that Something Awful is lurking nearby, and the only question is if you’ll guess correctly about where the teeth and claws will come from. As the losses mount, you despise the retreads and grumble about the Jonahs and put desperate hope in every new spaghetti-at-the-wall chucker summoned from the minors, only to have those guys turn out to be part of the problem as well. The firewall between a bad bullpen and utter ruin is your closer, who tends to be marooned in the bullpen watching when things go to hell in the seventh or eighth. (That’s what happened to the Nats on Tuesday.) But there comes a night when the firewall tumbles down, the horror infects your closer too, and … well, I’ll let my old friend Pvt. William Hudson describe how this turning point feels.

Well, that’s great. That’s just fuckin’ great, man! Now what the fuck are we supposed to do? We’re in some real pretty shit now, man! That’s it, man! Game over, man, game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?

Been there, Nats fans. And to a certain extent, you have my sympathies.

But only to a certain extent.

Day game tomorrow, and if the Mets are within striking distance after five or six … well, as a fan of a 23-25 outfit I’m pretty lacking in hubris. But it might turn out OK.

Pause and Effect

One of the benefits of going to a baseball game rather than watching it on television is there’s no seven-second delay. Everything that happens and, as the spirit of Walter Cronkite might suggest, you are there. But Tuesday night at Citi Field, which is where I was for the first time in 2019, that wasn’t necessarily of much help in terms of processing the milestone moments as they occurred.

Though it wasn’t the definitive turning point of the evening, no moment resonated as more milestone than Pete Alonso’s eighth-inning swing for the fences, and by fences, I mean the fences at LaGuardia’s Delta terminal. Oh, that baseball he connected with was soaring, all right — it flew high enough to slice Venus, never mind the space above the left field pole — but of more concern was the angle his breathtaking launch was taking. Fair? Foul? Somewhere in between somehow?

I paused, as I imagine we all did to gauge its flight pattern. I hoped it was fair, I thought it was foul, I heard silence, I looked around. Was that Pete going into a trot? Was that a roar rising from the modestly sized crowd? Was that the Apple accurately elevating?

Hey! It’s a home run! A Pete Alonso late & clutch home run at Citi Field! And I am there, Walter! Being in proximity to a Met doing a superb Met thing doesn’t usually strike me as overly noteworthy, but as I mentioned, I’d not been to a game yet this season, and this season has been the dawn of the Pete Alonso Era at Citi Field, so this was also the first time Pete and I linked our fates in the same facility.

Yes, Pete Alonso gets his own era capitalized. We are all in his Polar Bear Club.

Not knowing fair from foul or over the wall from bouncing off the top of it is a common affliction in the modern game oldtimers like myself will assure you isn’t as grand as it once was, even if we almost never miss any given nine innings, so we’re used to a little pausing for clarification — usually of the video kind, and that was coming. Hurrah that they didn’t take this home run away from us, probably because television cameras are not yet capable of following a home run hit so high. Hurrah, too, because I felt a most welcome surge of déjà vu in my soul. Once before, prior to the implementation of clumsily implemented if well-intentioned replay rules, I paused and waited seconds that seemed like hours alongside my in-attendance compatriots to figure out if I had just seen a home run and would have cause to celebrate seconds that seemed like hours later.

That was the Todd Pratt home run that won the National League Division Series on October 9, 1999. Different prevailing circumstances in most every way — Pratt’s ball was hit to dead center; the question was whether leaping Gold Glover Steve Finley had snared it; and the Mets were a very good team twenty years ago — but the gist was the same. Not only was there “did he or didn’t he?” intrigue and a scan of Shea for any clue possible (keeping an eye on Pratt as he Cano’d to a full stop around first indicated Tank was as perplexed as the rest of us), but there was genuine if not wholly comparable excitement in the contemporary result. Winning the NLDS spoke for itself. Alonso hitting a home run does, too. Any other Met going deep to tie a game that was slipping away would have been fine and dandy, sugar candy, but this is Pete Alonso 47 games into the Pete Alonso Era — or Pete Bleeping Alonso Era, if you like.

Pete Alonso is no incidental baseball hero. He is someone who provides at-bats you don’t go off on a food-gathering expedition during. He is someone you peer toward the lineups on the scoreboard and wonder how soon he’ll be batting again. He is someone you are delighted to realize is about to be interviewed on the postgame show because when Pete Alonso speaks, even E.F. Hutton listens.

I was a little disappointed last September when minor league sensation Peter Alonso did not get called up for a look-see like promising minor leaguers have since rosters began expanding for exactly that purpose. I don’t know if it was a service time issue, a 40-man traffic snarl or just the Mets being the Mets, but eight months later, I’m not so sad about it. In retrospect, presenting us Pete with a clean slate created an ideal introduction. No season fragments for our Pete, no numerical participles dangling ahead of his official rookie campaign, nothing that will appear unsightly or inconclusive when he is typed into Baseball-Reference in the decades to come. He starts out with one nice, thick line of bold if not bold-faced statistics and he adds to them regularly year by year, knock wood or your lucky material of choice.

Not incidentally, Pete Alonso’s 16th home run came in the Mets’ 47th game of 2019. When they set and tied the franchise single-season home run record, Todd Hundley’s and Carlos Beltran’s 16th homers came in the Mets’ 61st and 60th games of 1996 and 2006, respectively.

As long as we’re invoking Queens royalty, it’s also just perfect enough that Pete Alonso showed up in our midst directly after David Wright departed it. Nothing would have been wrong with the two of them on the same major league field or in the same major league dugout, nothing at all. But, oh, the symbolism of the Captain leaving the torch in the clubhouse, turning out the lights and, through the magic of time-lapse photography, the lights turning on, Pete walking in and the torch being passed to a new generation of Metropolitans.

I get chills at that image. Of course I got chills Tuesday night after the Mets couldn’t unbreak the 5-5 tie Alonso forged for us in the eighth, because it was getting chillier and chillier as it got later and later, and it did not seem unlikely that it would get later still. Natch, a game that had zipped along for six innings now seemed destined to move slower than Robinson Cano out of the batter’s box after Robinson Cano has hit a ball to an infielder. Perhaps I’d forgotten from my April absence that Citi Field inevitably finds a way to grow colder than the rest of its immediate vicinity as its nights go along and along some more.

Actually, I felt the icy shoulder as soon as I arrived in No Backpack Land. I don’t carry a backpack. I haven’t carried a backpack since ninth grade (we might have called them knapsacks then). I’ve never brought one to Citi Field. Theoretically, the Mets’ recent security-theater announcement that they would no longer allow backpacks inside its environs, unless they were of the clear variety that just happen to be for sale in the team store, shouldn’t have impacted me whatsoever…except to ease my mind over all the backpacks that were threatening our way of life. But I also had a pretty good hunch that any bag I brought to Citi Field Tuesday night would be interpreted by Citi Field — specifically the people Citi Field’s operational apparatus entrusts to make you genuinely regret that you’ve gone to the trouble of arriving at its entrance — as a backpack. I devoted more of Tuesday afternoon than any adult should to measuring various bags I’ve accumulated over the years for my forthcoming train trip to Mets-Willets Point and decided on a small promotional shoulder bag emblazoned with an airline logo, the squarish type with one detachable strap, a bag that is not only not remotely big, but clearly not designed for packing on one’s back. I even detached the strap in advance of my approach to the Left Field gate so it would seem as small as it really is.

Yeah, like that helped.

“You can’t bring that in,” a very official-looking dude with an intercom device velcroed to his person told me. “It’s a backpack.”

“It’s not a backpack,” I countered, cleverly.

“You can’t bring that in,” he repeated. “It’s a backpack.”

The 2019 Mets: You can’t bring a backpack. Quite the slogan. They should really emphasize instead that you might see Pete Alonso homer.

To my temporary rescue came a lady in a maroon polo shirt, one of those whose role it is to search your non-backpack. She told the official dude, “It’s not a backpack.”

“It’s not?”

“No.”

Official dude shrugged. I was allowed to pass to the searching table, after which my gratitude for the lady in the maroon polo shirt dissipated.

“Next time,” she told me, “you can’t bring this inside. It’s a backpack.”

“It’s not a backpack,” I replied.

“It’s a backpack. You just took off the strap.”

“It’s not a backpack,” I reiterated, to which she condescendingly chuckled. “Tell me,” I said, trying to tamp down my irkedness because I was going to a baseball game, and baseball is fun, goddammit, “how would I wear this on my back?”

Having received no response, I moved on to have my ticket scanned several times until success was achieved and then grumpily rode the escalator to the Field Level and tried to remember that seeing the ballpark that I consider mine for the first time in a relatively young season should be a moment for joy, not irk.

Took a while. I visited the perennially underwhelming Mets Hall of Fame, picked up my annual bundle of reference materials to keep my baseball library current — media guide, yearbook, program, a half-dozen pocket schedules, all necessitating the bringing of a small, sturdy shoulder bag, though the schedules do fit snugly in my pocket — and ambled along to my destination, group-only Citi Pavilion. This was a first not simply for 2019 but ever. This was the one seating area that I had never set foot in for the first ten seasons of Citi Field, including when it was the unbranded Bridge Terrace (I think; it was easier to remember what where you sat was called when you mostly sat in Mezzanine). I’d stood by its well-guarded steps but never had a ticket that would allow me to pass.

Now I did, thanks to a diligent public relations professional who was tasked with raising awareness of the Pavilion sponsor’s involvement with Mets baseball, from an array of community-minded initiatives to the presentation of this particular batch of stands — and, I suppose, the name of the ballpark — but never hard-sold any of his “networking event” invitees, two of whom were Jason and me, who are grateful to be remembered warmly in any realm these days.

The Citi Pavilion, as you may have noticed on TV, is constructed in the foreground of Shea Bridge and contains several rows of ergonomically fantastic chairs and tables, some built-in, some the kind you might enjoy on your patio. It’s a pretty sweet setup. There were complimentary beverages and a very friendly fellow who dispensed them upon request and offered inarguable insights regarding certain relievers and their consistently flammable qualities (he’d have let me and my bag in sans hassle, I’m pretty certain). Baskets of snacks were strategically positioned for strategic snacking. A food credit was magically embedded in the bar codes of our tickets, though it took us a while to catch on. Multiple outlets for convenient phone-charging represented plain good thinking.

From a ball-viewing perspective, the infield was a rumor, but the outfield was your neighborhood playground. Set yourself down a spell and watch the adorable kids who stumble around but always try their best — the eventual alignment of Davis in left, Gomez in center and McNeil in right made that analogy a reality. The unspoken bonus was proximity to both bullpens, a place where the catchers, the relievers, the coaches and any other generous souls on the scene have taken an oath to distribute as many baseball as possible to fans within shouting distance. There was a cache of children under the soft drink plaza who can today open their own sporting goods store as a result of this sacred ritual. And there’s this one guy who had the pleasure of adding a baseball to his alleged contraband small shoulder bag.

That is to say I got a ball. My benefactor was an unidentified member of the eventually beleaguered Washington Nationals’ relief party — couldn’t tell you who — and the unreactive bunch of young people who, when the Nat toss didn’t reach their perch, didn’t bother to trundle down a few steps to retrieve said sphere. I waited for them to act, as I believed they were the beseeching target audience for National largesse, but the ball just sat there, sitting longer than I would sit. Being that I was the closer of the two of us to its resting spot, Jason assigned me responsibility for getting up, scooping it up and claiming it in the name of FAFIF. So I did, holding a beat for somebody in the youthful clutch of attendees who missed it on the first fling to ask for it. None of them did. Thus, I have a ball.

And had a low-key one as the evening progressed. As outings consisting of the Mets, Jason and me usually unfold, we paid not so much attention to the action of the field, which was OK, since there wasn’t much action of the field for the first six innings. Juan Soto accounted for a run in the second on a fly ball that disappeared somewhere above Carlos Gomez’s head when he was manning right field. The Mets got it back in the fifth, on a series of plays that transpired a hundred or so yards from our vantage point, one of them pushing Juan Lagares across the plate. Meanwhile, Zack Wheeler shook off the Soto blast to mow down Nats like Pete Flynn’s successors mow down grass.

Wheeler was still on in the seventh, which seemed like the most natural thing in the world to me, having grown up in that mythic age when pitchers completed what they started, hitters busted it on every ball they tapped two inches and if you wanted to go to a Mets game, you thought nothing of lining up at your local Manufacturers Hanover branch to secure admission. New Age Jason, however, thought Zack’s pitch count was abnormally high for him to continue pitching. I think he announced his conclusion after the heretofore helpless Brian Dozier reached Wheeler for a two-run homer to left, but because he had the foresight to urge me to get that ball, I’ll credit him with uncommonly incisive pitching insights.

The game suddenly woke up to its possibilities. The Mets, losing 3-1, were now facing the kind souls of the Nationals bullpen. If the visitors could give out balls to hordes who would later thirst for their blood, they could give out runners and, sure enough, runs. In the bottom of the seventh, Wilson Ramos singled. Dom Smith walked. J.D. Davis — not, as I’ve variously misidentified him since his acquisition, eternally resented 2015 Royals closer “Wade Davis”; Friday Night Lights hotshot quarterback/plot device “J.D. McCoy”; or “J.P. Davis” (just me getting it wrong) — drove them and himself in with a very convincing shot that Adam Eaton could only stand, watch and fume about Todd Frazier over.

We were winning. Then we were losing, because Jeurys Familia is not the pitcher he used to be and Davis and Jeff McNeil are not outfielders at all. Alas, a compromised bench makes strange outfield fellows. The unfortunate top of the eighth not only left the Mets down, 5-4, but me down on the ground, less from despair than because I tripped on the lip of the top step of Citi Pavilion en route to my version of a mound visit. Three gentlemen who patrol the immediate area assured me I was the third person to slip and fall there, which somebody might want to look into. They also literally lifted me to my feet, which was darn nice of them.

The Mets and I may have taken a Cespedes-style fall, but just as I had help standing straight again, the Mets had Alonso in the eighth, and, as we established earlier, he is more effective at putting our humpties together again than any band of king’s horses and men (not that Yoenis was on a horse when he fell). Knotted at five, temperatures drifting downward, Jason and I settled in for a longer haul than originally scheduled. I speculated we were in for perhaps a 13-inning win or an 18-inning loss. Either way, the baskets snacks had been strategically whisked off our tables. At least the phone chargers kept humming. We might have to call out for midnight snacks.

Ah, but just when you think you know what the Mets are going to do next, you know next to nothing. In the bottom of the ninth, Adeiny Hechavarria, the kind of versatile veteran presence every team needs on its roster, walked with one out (I could take or leave him, really, but his mere Metsian existence drives my partner to frothing, and that’s always fun to provoke). So did the Davis guy, whatever his name is. Pending National League All-Star McNeil — we’ll find a position for him by July — forced Davis at second on a fielder’s choice, but he moved the wily Hechavarria to third while landing on first himself and directly thereafter, sensing the Nationals’ indifference to defense, helped himself to second like I helped myself to that baseball. None of this, except for the part about my ball, was immaterial in the moment, because when the next batter, Amed Rosario, grounded on a neither here-nor-there bounce to Trea Turner, McNeil danced around just enough to maybe distract the Washington shortstop from making the most decisive of throws to first. Rosario’s decision was more obvious, even from way out in right-center where we were standing and urging. Amed ran like the wind that whips off Flushing Bay in extra innings.

Was that going to be a concern? Another pause was in order. Not from Rosario, who never decelerated for a millisecond, but for me to process the only call that was about to matter: safe or out. It shouldn’t have been close. It was just a ground ball. But Trea didn’t charge it like the Ajax kitchen cleanser White Knight once upon a time tore after stubborn stains, and Jeff compelled him for the slightest instant to wonder what the hell he was supposed to do with this thing that was suddenly in his hand. Rosario, by standard protocol, should have been out, 6-3, and we should have been back in our ergonomically fantastic seats, 5-5.

Instead, Rosario’s speed and hustle combined to shatter paradigms. He crossed the bag before the ball Turner threw landed in Gerardo Parra’s mitt, meaning Hechavarria — a pro’s pro, it can’t be repeated enough — was racing across the plate for the sixth Met run. A 6-5 Mets triumph was truly unfolding before our eyes…wasn’t it?

It was! It was! We won! Pete Alonso hit a home run, the Mets captured a victory in thrilling walkoff fashion, I could exit Citi Field with both my bag and a baseball inside it and, on the LIRR portion of my return train ride, pull out one of my pocket schedules not to seek any particular information, just because it felt good to be on my way home from a game again.

Blue Tops Forever

The Mets took the field Monday night having lost five in a row, three to the lowly Miami Marlins, and the portents were not good. Brodie Van Wagenen gave one of those sound-and-fury “full support for the manager” press conferences that make you even more convinced someone’s going to get fired; revealed the surprising, confounding yet also oh-so-Mets news that Yoenis Cespedes suffered multiple ankle fractures in an accident on his ranch; and then the Mets took the field wearing the now rarely seen but always thoroughly hideous combination of blue spring-training tops and pinstriped bottoms.

(All right, I’ll grant you the third item is less pressing than the other two, but oh man is this not a good look. I think it’s the cap’s white outlining around the NY that makes it truly awful, in a We Needed Another Cap to Sell way. At least bring back the plain white pants if you’re going to wear that top.)

Oh but wait — we’ve barely gotten started and I’ve forgotten something bad. Having been given a glib and hollow endorsement, Mickey Callaway immediately demonstrated that he’s gotten no better at the “public face” aspect of being manager. He revealed that Robinson Cano wasn’t playing because a) the Mets were facing a tough lefty; b) Cano was due a day off anyway; and c) a message needed to be sent about hustle.

Huh?

So Callaway gave two workaday reasons Cano would be sitting, then tacked on a meaningless third, punitive one? If you can find a message in that confusion, it’s that the manager lacks the courage of his convictions. I’ve known dads who communicate like Callaway, and they’re the ones whose kids would barely look up from doing feral shit because the threatened punishments were all over the map and would prove meaningless in the unlikely event they weren’t forgotten.

Oh, and then Cano said Callaway … hadn’t mentioned that third reason?

But here’s one of the many great things about baseball: After another The Sky Is Falling afternoon, the Mets went out and played a crisp, clean baseball game in which none of the trouble was visible. (Well, except the horrible blue tops-pinstriped bottoms part. Those were all too visible.)

The Nats’ Patrick Corbin wasn’t as good as when they saw him at the beginning of the losing streak: Amed Rosario and Pete Alonso homered in the first and two innings later the Mets plated two more on a pair of walks, a Todd Frazier single and a double from Carlos Gomez. Later, Dom Smith delivered a pinch-hit RBI single to give the Mets some much-needed breathing room, as the Nats kept creeping back into it behind The Inevitable Anthony Rendon.

Edwin Diaz would need that breathing room, putting the first two Nats on in the ninth but escaping unscathed. (One of the tactical knocks against Callaway is his rigid rules for Diaz have left him idle and less than sharp when needed.) Escaping more or less unscathed was a theme for the evening: Wilmer Font was serviceable in going four innings, Drew Gagnon was terrific for two more (and deserves higher-profile work), and Jeurys Familia looked at least like something approximating his old self. Daniel Zamora wasn’t effective and Robert Gsellman was more lucky than good, but perfection is a rarely obtained goal. The Mets were good enough to win, and that’s what matters.

The Mets won, and for a night you could ignore all the dumb shit they’d done in the afternoon. Blue tops forever, I suppose.

Mickey Callaway Is Already Fired

You know the story of Scheherazade, right? The Persian Empire’s ruler, angry to discover his wife had been unfaithful, decided to safeguard what he regarded as his royal prerogative by taking a virgin bride each night, beheading her in the morning, and replacing her with a new spouse. One imagine he would have run out of candidates in short order, but just go with it, OK? It’s the first paragraph; don’t be that guy.

One bride, Scheherazade, told the king a story, and it was so good that he was still listening in awe when dawn came. He spared her life for one more night so the story could continue — a high-wire act Scheherazade continued for 1,001 nights, until she finally she couldn’t wring anything more out of the story she’d been spinning and had to fashion a conclusion. But there was a happy ending, or at least the best outcome one could wring out of this literally medieval premise: The king had fallen in love with Scheherazade, so she became queen. The executioner’s ax never fell.

Occasionally, a major-league manager reaches the end of his contractual tenure and is not renewed rather than being fired. Very occasionally, this really is a mutual decision. Very, very occasionally, a manager steps down of his own accord amid handshakes and hugs and backslaps and general amity.

The safe assumption, though, is that every manager arrives pre-fired, with only the date of early termination to be filled in. Managers ostensibly get fired for various shopworn reasons: losing the clubhouse, underperforming players, questionable tactics, young players failing to develop, etc. But these reasons are all pretty vague and interchangeable — “losing the clubhouse” is baseball’s equivalent of loitering, a catch-all offense to sweep up undesirables. More basically, the manager’s story stops being interesting to the monarch. There are royal grimaces and sighs and yawns, courtiers whisper and avert their eyes, and then one morning the executioner is there, putting the whetstone aside and limbering up his shoulders.

I watched Sunday afternoon’s game with about three-quarters attention, which was about a quarter more than the Mets were paying. Noah Syndergaard was wonderful to no particular purpose, Robinson Cano gave baseball’s ever-vigilant Gossage wing more ammunition for a fusillade of Back in My Days, and in less than two hours the Mets had turned Sandy Alcantara into Sandy Koufax and the Marlins into world-beaters, or whatever you are after you’ve swept Brodie Van Wagenen and the Come Get Us Kids.

I was doing post-party chores throughout, looking over as I finished mopping or returned from taking out trash to see if anything good had happened down in Miami. (Spoiler: no. Heck, this one was a stinker from the second the Mets took the field in gray pants, blue tops and camo hats, a combination that in the civilian world would have a million significant others coming to a shocked halt and finally managing to say, “Oh honey no.”)

Sometimes a certain distance can be informative. For instance, on Sunday many Mets failures, whether big, medium or small, were followed by a shot of Mickey Callaway in the dugout, looking a) grim; b) glum; c) determined; d) some combination of the above. Most of the time I couldn’t hear the conversation, but honestly I didn’t need to. When the story’s going well and the monarch is pleased, you don’t need a million shots of Scheherazade describing the adornments of the summer palace of the emir of Whatsistan. When that starts being the focus … well, yeah.

Wow, I thought, that man is so fired.

I think Callaway thoroughly deserves to be fired. I also don’t think it will change a damn thing.

Baseball people sometimes talk about the game speeding up for a young player promoted above what he’s ready to do; I’ve always thought that applies to Callaway. All that happy talk about him as a communicator and thinker was at press conferences and during spring training; during and after games, when it’s more difficult, Mickey is either letting guys rot in the bullpen or on the bench, dry-humping relievers, making substitutions he shouldn’t and not making ones he should, or issuing stubborn one-size-fits-all pronouncements about roles. These failings are shared to a certain degree by many or even most managers — go find a fanbase whose collective opinion is “our manager’s bullpen management is exactly what it should be” — but Callaway has always managed to dig the hole deeper by following some dopey but unchallengeable baseball truism with unwise stabs at specificity. Saying you have faith, in say, Jason Vargas is dumb but straightforward; offering reasons why you have faith in Jason Vargas allows people to examine those reasons, which you don’t want.

But what would firing Callaway change? Will it make the Mets’ starters stop exploring peaks and valleys around sea-level mediocrity, teach Brandon Nimmo and Wilson Ramos to hit again, stop Michael Conforto from being dizzy, teach the Mets to play competent defense, cause Dallas Keuchel to show up and offer to play for free because he loves the game that much, or inspire Cano to run fast enough to satisfy the guy in the Promenade screaming about how Wally Backman would run hard even when he was just going to the kitchen to make microwave pizza?

Is there any chance that it will solve the actual problem? Will it cause the Wilpons to stop interfering in every damn thing, from who plays to what excuses are made? Hell, will it cause the Wilpons to sell the team and assume their proper station of moldering at some awful country club, tipping poorly and giving the gardeners hell about the pachysandra looking ragged?

I’m guessing it won’t solve that problem, which is the only one that really matters. I’m also guessing it won’t solve any of those other cosmetic problems that ultimately don’t.

When our latest Scheherazade is finally told that the story he’s been telling doesn’t need an ending, the Mets will turn to some rock-ribbed lifer, someone who in time-honored baseball tradition will be a steady, unimaginative hand on the tiller and not kick up a fuss about the boat having been holed below the waterline before he was given command. You’ll find that person standing next to Callaway during games, in fact — sometimes the foreshadowing’s downright hamhanded.

If you think Jim Riggleman‘s the answer to the Mets’ problems, I don’t know what to tell you, OK, I suppose that’s fine. When/if that day comes, I’ll even try to convince myself that it’s true. Because what choice will I have?

Not Their Best Met Selves

What you want as a fan is for your team to be its best self always. Of course you do. Win. Win 162 times and then eleven more times and then shower us in confetti. Be so best en route to the Canyon of Heroes that our only serious opponent will be boredom. I’d take on that challenge.

Based on all available evidence, Mets vs. Winning Too Often To Be Interesting will never be the Game of the Week. We know as Mets fans that you can win no more than two-thirds of your games, even if we also know you can lose no more than three-quarters of them. Somewhere between the extremes of 1986 and 1962, we simply crave satisfaction in quantities greater than the bushels of frustration that are part and parcel of any season.

How good could these 2019 Mets be if they were at their best every day? Or more days than they have been of late? Good enough to not be one-hit by the Miami Marlins, universally understood as the most hopeless franchise in all of baseball with a 12-31 record, a mark that used to be 10-31, until the Mets arrived at Marlins Park and were first clobbered for eight runs, then squelched so tightly that they scored none.

The Marlins were due to beat somebody, maybe even the same somebody twice consecutively. It’s worth emphasizing that even the most wayward outfits in the sport occasionally straighten up and fly right. Witness the 40 victories captured by those 1962 Mets, a pair of them at the expense of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who wouldn’t have been forced into a pennant-losing playoff had they conquered the conquerable Mets just one more time. Witness the 47-115 Baltimore Orioles of 2018, who landed at Citi Field last June a molting 17-41 and left temporarily soaring at 19-41. Conversely, the 1986 Mets split a doubleheader with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Mets won 108 games. The Pirates lost 98. Yet for half of one day, those Pirates outperformed those Mets (which explains why the Mets went only 17-1 versus the Pirates in 1986).

Now that we’ve admitted any major league team can top any other major league team in a one- or two-game vacuum, we can express our disgust that the Mets’ totaled one hit in their 2-0 loss Saturday to the Marlins. The one hit came at the top of the game when Jeff McNeil surprised himself with a double down the third base line — he seemed to think it was foul — and the Mets surprised few of us by following it up with silence, though perhaps the volume of the silence could be termed surprisingly deafening. I suppose it was unexpected that the same Pablo Lopez they’d strafed for an eight-run first inning in Flushing eight days before was able to expertly stifle their offensive impulses, but you’ve seen these Mets. You know how they can be. You know how they’ve been.

Before the Marlins cracked the Met code, I’d taken to privately interpreting the Mets’ record as such: “The Mets are 5-0 against the Marlins and [the rest of their wins and losses] against everybody else.” This is to say that I had the feeling the only thing levitating the Mets above obviously inadequate was taking care of the one team that basically couldn’t beat anybody. That’s over, apparently.

Like the 2018 Orioles, the 2019 Marlins found the Mets. Everybody’s found the Mets too often these past two seasons, a.k.a. the Mickey Callaway Era, however long that lasts. If you blog about the Mets and don’t get around to recapping their most recent defeat until the next morning, you keep checking the wires to make sure you will be accurate talking about the Mickey Callaway Era in the present tense.

Mickey’s still managing in the hours leading up to the Marlins Park finale. Perhaps Noah Syndergaard will make him look like the empathetic genius he was sold to us as in the fall of 2017. Perhaps Syndergaard himself will avail himself of all his Thorrific powers as he did versus the Reds recently and the National League for the bulk of 2016. That’s what I’d like to see — everybody being their best Met selves, or at least the versions that seemed legitimately possible when we told ourselves nothing but good things about this aggregation of Met personalities.

Amed Rosario living up to his top-prospect notices.

Brandon Nimmo a slugging as well as walking machine.

Robinson Cano leading both by veteran wisdom and on-field example.

Michael Conforto staying upright.

Jacob deGrom’s infrequent “off” nights overwhelming every other pitcher’s “on” nights.

Zack Wheeler’s groove extending across seasons.

Steven Matz’s pitch count expended in efficient and effective fashion.

A bullpen that is used not to excess as it grows used to success.

Wilson Ramos stabilizing the catching position.

Todd Frazier aging a touch slower.

Carlos Gomez visiting the team hotel’s fountain of youth before boarding the bus to the ballpark.

Juan Lagares making those strides as a hitter we heard were imminent.

Random fifth starters evincing adequacy as needed.

The manager exhibiting the cleverness necessary to consistently deploy J.D. Davis, Dominic Smith and Tomás Nido when others’ bests are out of reach because good managers, regardless of how little they are said to manage these days, understand they have to keep everybody on their roster fresh and engaged.

That smooth-talking Brodie Van Wagenen articulately working with those big-market owners the Wilpons to secure additional talent when the in-house personnel isn’t quite covering the proverbial or actual bases.

Not everybody’s gonna be their best Met selves constantly, even if you have it in your mind that that’s who they really are or should be. You get a glimpse or a taste or even a suggestion and you want to believe that what you picture in your highest aspirations is the Met norm. It’s hard to accept that those to whom you’ve assigned the fate of your baseball emotions aren’t handling them as expertly as you though they were capable. Indeed, part of me is also still waiting for Travis d’Arnaud to bust out, Keon Broxton to light a spark and, for that matter, Leon Brown to swipe bases at a Lou Brock pace.

Then it doesn’t happen. Little happens besides the Orioles taking a pair from the Mets one year when the Orioles can’t beat anybody and the Marlins doing the same the next year. Pete Alonso cheers you up. Jeff McNeil provides you succor. You’re happy to see rust-laden Gomez again because you’re almost always happy to greet an old friend who’s been off wandering the deserts beyond Flushing for nearly a dozen seasons. You don’t seriously consider deGrom a problem. Bashlor, Gsellman, Lopez, Diaz, even Familia aren’t wholly ruining your chances. Nimmo does find ways to get on. Cano surely hasn’t lasted this long solely on not knowing how many outs there are, not running to first base, not explaining himself convincingly and not hitting in the clutch.

The season would be more fun if the Mets were as much fun as you talked yourself into believing they were going to be and still talk yourself into when they’re hardly any fun at all. Watch the MLB Network or scroll unaffiliated baseball Twitter accounts and you see other teams are fun. First-place teams. Teams that are close to first place. Teams that are rising above what was forecast for them. Teams that have a couple of good nights.

The Mets aren’t fun right now, which is a shame, because we didn’t wait all winter to wonder what the hell is to become of our summer yet again.

Entertainingly Terrible

For the life of me I can’t figure this Mets team out.

They’re built in a slapdash manner, with wildly optimistic Plan As and aw-shucks shrugs for Plan Bs. They can’t field. The hitting, relief and even the vaunted starting pitching are all inconsistent, lighting up and then going dark and making you want to bang on the side of the damn thing until it works. The manager, it’s all too apparent, is a dunderhead. You know about the owners. The result is a mediocre Mets team, the kind of outfit I should be thoroughly tired of after all these years of mostly futile fandom.

And yet, somehow, I find this half-assed patchwork weirdly compelling. When this baseball Frankenstein wins I’m thrilled, more than I should be as a 50-year-old fan who knows better. When they lose I shrug, because who expected otherwise?

The last two games have been Exhibits A and B in assessing this lovable, pitiable mutt of a team. Both times, the Mets fell behind, couldn’t get out of their own way, suffered some bad luck and then, just when we’d all given up on them, came roaring back to make a game of it … and then of course lost.

Friday night in Miami saw the lowly Marlins ambush Jacob deGrom, who looked sharp in the beginning but then shed command and location until he had basically nothing, culminating with a moonshot home run by Jorge Alfaro that once upon a time would have dented that hideous Red Grooms Pachinko machine. (Derek Jeter has been a disaster as Marlins jefe, but at least he disappeared that monstrosity.) It was another weird start in a weird year for deGrom, one he finds more baffling and infuriating than we do. The Mets didn’t help matters by slapsticking around, with Robinson Cano not running hard to first and human white flag Paul Sewald sent out to the mound to pass the time, except the Marlins have no bullpen and so the Mets pulled within two before inevitably losing. Fittingly, the end came when former Marlin and current Proven Veteran™  Adeiny Hechavarria — who should be in the stands watching his job performed by a player with an actual future — struck out.

Giving a job to Hechavarria is exactly the kind of half-assed notion that should make this team unbearable, yet I still find myself fond of these Mets. Maybe it’s that Pete Alonso is ridiculously fun to watch no matter what — he hit a 417-foot homer essentially with one hand in the second, then a no-doubter in the eighth, and continues to have a wonderful time surprising even himself. And while the starting pitching’s inconsistency is maddening, deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler are all even bets to be spellbinding in a given start.

Or maybe I’ve finally attained what passes for baseball wisdom. The Mets are an assemblage of ill-fitting parts, a tinkerer’s mad garage creation that’s constantly spitting out gears and leaking oil and grinding to an unhappy halt. But now and again the thing actually walks and does something cool, and I find myself wondering if maybe it will happen again and eager to see if it will.

Metropolitan Research Calling

Hello, sir or madam, I am calling today from Metropolitan Research Inquiries, or MRI. Your name has been chosen at random from a database of fans of your baseball team to determine which ways you’d prefer your team to lose. Results will go into helping create potential future losing experiences your baseball team might offer fans like you at a later date. Do you have a few minutes to complete a survey?

You do? All right, then.

I am going to read you a variety of elements that could go into your team losing its most recent game. After you hear each, please tell me, on a scale of one to ten, one being the least awful, ten being the most awful, how you would rate them. For example, if I say, “your team was no-hit,” you would give me a number on the scale as I just described it. Do you understand?

Good. I will begin.

“Your team’s starting pitcher, who you consider one of your better starting pitchers, gives up four runs in the first inning.”

“Someone comes up to you after the first inning and says, ‘At least it’s a nice day for a game.’”

“Your team gets to hit against your opponent’s subpar bullpen early and ties the game at four, giving you the impression your team might surge ahead despite its early mishaps.”

“Your team’s starting pitcher recovers and keeps the opponent from scoring any more runs through the fourth inning, only to surrender two more runs in the fifth inning.”

“Your team’s best hitter leaves the game with an injury vaguely referred to as abdominal tightness.”

“Your team’s cleanup hitter, whose three-run homer tied the game, leaves the game with a concussion experienced when he ran into a teammate who has been a disappointing performer all season long.”

“Your team’s bullpen allows one more run in the seventh inning.”

“Your team, down by three runs in the ninth inning, pushes two runs across the plate, loads the bases and has as its last hope a bench player who had one hit in his previous twenty-three at-bats. That batter strikes out and your team loses, 7-6.”

“Your team faced six relievers from a notoriously bad bullpen and scored nothing off four of them.”

“Someone comes up to you after the game and says, ‘At least they made it close.’”

Now, for control purposes, I have a few additional questions to ask you regarding a game in which the aforementioned scenarios might have unfolded. Please tell me, “I agree”; “I disagree” or “I don’t know” in response. For example, if I were to say, “Baseball is fun no matter who wins or loses,” you’d respond as I described. Do you understand?

Good. I will continue.

“As a result of this game, I am more likely to watch, listen to or attend my team’s next game.”

“As a result of this game, I never want to watch, listen to or attend another game my team plays.”

“As a result of this game, I am more likely to consume an antacid product.”

“As a result of this game, my next haircut or hair-styling appointment will require less time because I have already pulled out a significant amount of my own hair.”

“As a result of this game, I can’t help but be unpleasant to those around me.”

“As a result of this game, I question my priorities.”

“As a result of this game, I realize life goes on no matter the fortunes of my team.”

“As a result of this game, I will seek counseling or some type of mental health service.”

One more section. I am going to read you a list of situations. For each, if they were to occur, please tell me if you would still plan to be a fan of your favorite team. For example, if I say, “My team was no-hit,” tell me, “I would continue to be a fan”; “I would not continue to be a fan”; or “I don’t know.” Do you understand?

Good. I will continue. This won’t take much longer.

“My team traded not only my favorite player, but indisputably the best player my team ever had.”

“My team has wallowed in multiple periods of losing lasting several years.”

“My team generally does not pursue star players when they are readily available and instead regularly tries to get by with marginal players.”

“My team has lost playoff spots on the final day of the season in consecutive seasons after holding significant leads for a playoff spot mere weeks before in each of those seasons.”

“My team shows little sign of playing consistently well.”

“My team seems only intermittently concerned with presenting its history warmly and accurately.”

“My team uses as its manager someone with no obvious skills related to managing.”

“My team uses as its general manager someone with no explicit experience related to being general manager.”

“My team is not owned by people who give me confidence that my team will ever win more than it loses on a long-term, consistent basis.”

“My team doesn’t seem to care which pitchers constitute its full starting rotation.”

“My team seems more concerned about banning backpacks than winning ballgames.”

“My team rarely overcomes injuries.”

“My team keeps me up nights wondering both what is wrong with them presently and how there have been things wrong with them for generations.”

“My team is going to have its ups and downs, and even though the ups are outnumbered by the downs, there will always be just enough of a hint of ups to make it seem more ups are possible.”

That completes our survey. Thank you for participating.

This Recap Is Sans Comic Relief

As Wilmer Font unraveled around 8 p.m. and Mets Twitter started shooting off typography puns, I promised that by 11 p.m. I’d have figured out a Comic Sans joke. But here it is past 1 a.m. and the title of this post is the closest you’re going to get. Have at it in the comments if this is an itch you’re determined to scratch.

It wasn’t that I was tired; it was more that by 11, Font’s poor performance no longer struck me as particularly amusing.

During spring training, Brodie Van Wagenen’s sunny optimism was trailed by a little black cloud of Met fans and baseball people who couldn’t help pointing out that the Mets were going to war with the oft-injured Steven Matz, the oft-bad Jason Vargas, and nothing behind them. Dallas Keuchel was available for the taking; so, for a while, was Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez is now pitching ably for Milwaukee (though my I Told You So’s will be limited, seeing how I detest him); and Keuchel is still out there waiting for a phone call. Matz is on the injured list, with a forearm issue no one thinks is serious but who the hell knows, seeing how it’s Matz; and Vargas is on the injured list and it’s unlikely the team doctors will find a cure for bad.

Oh, and free agent Patrick Corbin? He signed with the Nats.

This is how you get a Wilmer Font in your rotation: by being cheap, unprepared, and blithe about what usually happens to starting staffs.

This isn’t to say Font is, say, Tommy Milone — to invoke a previous administration’s non-answer to the same problem. He looked decent enough against San Diego in his first go-round. But on Wednesday night in D.C. he had nothing — his location was poor and when he did get the ball over the plate Juan Lagares wound up sprinting after it. Font’s on his fourth organization in 13 months, which I suppose you could spin into saying teams keep seeing potential in him, if you want to sound like a kindly old aunt talking up a blind date with a hopeless nephew. I kept thinking his mechanics reminded me of a hipster throwing axes at a Gowanus bar, which might be where the Mets are looking for their next fifth starter.

Anyway, the Mets lost, 5-1, but it felt more like 50-1, what with Corbin throttling the Mets and keeping every Nats reliever not named Sean Doolittle the hell away from the mound.

Which isn’t to say the game didn’t have its momentary pleasures, as nearly all baseball games do. There was Pete Alonso making two nifty catches of tough foul pops, a reminder that Alonso has been a lot better than I think any of us expected in the field. Amed Rosario made some flashy plays as well — and, more critically, he made the routine ones. And Drew Gagnon got his first big-league hit. That’s a baseball moment I’ll always love — and Gagnon’s made me smile because he didn’t even try to be cool about it, asking the umpire to take the ball out of play about a nanosecond after he reached first base.

But still. The Mets lost by four because a problem pretty much everyone predicted arrived and they didn’t have an answer for it. And I can’t summon up a smile or a joke about that.

The Big Four-Oh

They called him Sudden Sam McDowell because he threw fast, not because he tended to put his team in the deepest hole imaginable as quickly as possible, but that’s what the hard-throwing lefty the Giants obtained from Cleveland did to his new team on May 14, 1972. The San Francisco starter walked the first batter he saw in the bottom of the first that Sunday. Then the second. Then the third. Then he gave up a home run to the fourth batter, creating a 4-0 deficit. Perhaps McDowell could have given up four consecutive home runs to achieve the same score, but this was a feat more in character with his methodology. Sudden Sam had led the American League in strikeouts five times…and walks five times. He went with only one of those core competencies versus his first three batters.

Then it was time for No. 4 on the home team’s side of the scorecard to do his thing. No. 4 in this case was the fourth batter of the game for McDowell’s opponents, the New York Mets. He was Rusty Staub, the primary preseason acquisition of his team heading into 1972. Normally we’d say offseason, but Rusty was grabbed just ahead of the new campaign, imported during the post-Spring players’ strike from Montreal in exchange for Ken Singleton, Mike Jorgensen and Tim Foli. The baseball exchange rate with Canada was severe in those days, but you didn’t protest it much because you were receiving Rusty Staub in trade. No matter what you were giving up in Singleton, Jorgensen and Foli, each of whom would flourish in the futures market, Staub was producing fair return in the present. The cleanup hitter was a major reason the Mets the Mets were in first place heading into May 14, 1972, and appeared to be the main reason they’d grip their stratospheric standing tighter heading out of it.

McDowell, on the other hand, wasn’t the most glittering get out by the Golden Gate. San Fran had swapped a pretty well-credentialed starting pitcher of its own, righty Gaylord Perry, to obtain McDowell. Perry cottoned to the American League just splendidly and would be the junior circuit’s Cy Young winner in 1972. McDowell, who made his struggles with alcohol and drug addiction public as he sought rehabilitation in retirement, simply wasn’t the same pitcher in the NL as he was in the AL (except for ranking in the Top Ten in walks once he arrived), especially from that first inning at Shea Stadium forward. Sudden Sam had built a 5-0 mark with an ERA of 2.57 coming into that Mother’s Day matchup versus the Mets. He’d lose eight of his final thirteen decisions in 1972, as his ERA rose to over four.

There’s that number again: four. Four batters, four runs, courtesy of No. 4 batting fourth. That’s the uplifting early part of the story from the Mets’ perspective. What could be more inspiring to take away on the 47th anniversary of Rusty Staub’s first-inning grand slam than Rusty Staub’s first-inning grand slam? What could have been the most apropos way, on May 14, 2019, to commemorate Le Grand Slam that instantly put the Mets ahead, 4-0, on May 14, 1972?

How about by echoing it?

Precisely 47 years after Staub stuck it to McDowell, there was another Mets first inning, this one in Washington. The opposing pitcher was Jeremy Hellickson, the 2011 American League Rookie of the Year. His career since his impressive debut had effected a far lower profile than McDowell’s at its peak. On a staff fronted by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, Jeremy is, in 2019, a quintessential fifth starter. Against the Mets on Tuesday night, he began his outing looking like someone who’d be happy to get through a fifth inning. His first batter, Jeff McNeil, lined a ball to center that required a splendid diving catch from Victor Robles to turn into an out. Amed Rosario followed McNeil with a sharp single to right. A would-be inning-ending double play disintegrated when replay confirmed first baseman Gerardo Parra (not really a first baseman) couldn’t complete the putout on Robinson Cano. The Mets were still alive, meaning Hellickson would have to stay on the mound.

Not a good place for the righty to remain. Pete Alonso singled. Michael Conforto worked Hellickson for eight pitches before walking and loading the bases. Up stepped Wilson Ramos, former National and recent offseason upgrade for the Mets. Or so it was assumed in the offseason. After a few big initial hits, Ramos has been one of the reasons the Mets have seemed so stubbornly ordinary when not playing the Marlins. Not that games against the 10-30 Marlins don’t count, but if you subtracted the Mets’ 5-0 record versus Miami, the Mets came into Tuesday night at Nationals Park six games under .500 themselves. Ramos wasn’t hitting and his catching was mostly catch-as-catch-can. When a team is disappointing, many contribute to the malaise. Wilson was surely a contributor.

Batting against Hellickson, however, Ramos recovered his past National form, which is to say he hit Hellickson like he used to whack Met pitching. In this particular at-bat, he pulled the second offering he saw into the left field stands for a grand slam. Like Staub, he had created a 4-0 lead in the first inning. But Wilson wasn’t wearing No. 4. Jed Lowrie is assigned No. 4 on these Mets. Jed Lowrie has yet to play for these Mets. Jed Lowrie was reportedly close to returning from the injury that has kept him out since the dawn of Spring Training, except he aggravated a hamstring and will stay sidelined a while longer. For all intents and purposes, In M*A*S*H terms, Jed Lowrie is the Jonathan Tuttle of the New York Mets, a figure Brodie Van Wagenen made up for his own purposes one day, and we all just kind of go along with the idea that he exists (why, Todd Frazier insists he was just taking infield with the man).

What could be better than No. 4 batting fourth and swatting a grand slam to elevate his team to a 4-0 advantage? Given that No. 4 is presumably occupied in surgery (either performing it or receiving it), how about No. 40 — that’s Ramos in your overpriced program — turning a 0-0 game into a prospective 4-0 romp on one swing? Such digital synchronicity appears unprecedented in Mets history. According to 2016’s revised edition of Mets By The Numbers, the only home runs hit by Mets wearing No. 40 through 2015 were launched by Robinson Cancel, Tony Tarasco and Al Moran. As Jon Springer’s and Matthew Silverman’s essential reference source was shipping to stores, Bartolo Colon famously added his four bases to the uniform number’s power annals. But none of those 40s slammed home four in any inning, let alone a first inning. The current 40 broke the mold as surely as he broke Hellickson’s heart.

Hence, we can comfortably declare Wilson Ramos’s feat unprecedented. Save for a hyphen (or an en-dash if you’re a copy-editing stickler), he wore the score he created on his front and back.

If you’re an attention-payer of some tenure, your Met antennae probably rose frantically when you saw the earlier description of that game in which Rusty Staub hit a first-inning grand slam, for you recognized that May 14, 1972, did not go down in franchise history as “that game in which Rusty Staub hit a first-inning grand slam”. Cleverly, we omitted the identities of the runners who walked to set up No. 4’s four-RBI shot off McDowell. The fella who came home from first, just ahead of Rusty, was Tommie Agee. The fella who arrived ahead of Agee and Staub was Buddy Harrelson. And leading the charge to the plate, crossing with the first run and positioning himself to congratulate his three teammates was none other than leadoff batter Willie Mays. Mays had just made his first plate appearance as a Met, for May 14, 1972, was the day of his New York debut. Well, his second New York debut. Willie Mays, the old New York Giant, had just become the newest New York Met, traded in a fit of fiscally driven sentimentality from his longtime employer Horace Stoneham to the warm and generous embrace of Joan Payson, not to mention legion of fans who felt for him as she did. It was a pretty big deal bringing Willie home from exile/San Francisco. Emotionally, it was an even bigger deal than trading for Rusty Staub. He was Willie Mays; nine days since his 88th birthday, he still is.

And being that he was Willie Mays, May 14, 1972 — the Mother’s Day that was slated to bear Staub’s signature — inevitably turned into a happy Willie Mays day for all the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and only children out there.

McDowell didn’t give up any more runs as he hung in through four innings. In the top of the fifth, after Giants catcher (and future Sportschannel stalwart whether we wanted him to be or not) Fran Healy walked, Charlie Fox pinch-hit for his pitcher with a lad named Bernie Williams, himself destined to require the addendum “not that Bernie Williams”. It was the right tactical move. Williams tripled home Healy. Chris Speier directly proceeded to double in Williams, and Tito Fuentes homered on the heels of Speier’s extra-base hit. In a four-batter span, Ray Sadecki had given back all four runs Staub has furnished him. McDowell was off the hook as the game turned to the bottom of the fifth.

Which was when it became the Willie Mays Game. There were quite a few of those celebrated across 22 seasons in New York and San Francisco, but this one was truly exquisite. Leading off again, Mays took reliever Don Carrithers over Shea’s left field wall to give the Mets a 5-4 lead they (behind five sterling innings of Jim McAndrew relief) would not relinquish; every Mets fan extant a memory that would last a lifetime; and Rusty Staub little more than a supporting role in the afternoon’s retelling forever more. Of course Willie’s exploits drew the lion’s share of the attention afterwards. Staub understood his magnificent blast would have to settle for secondary billing.

“It was Mays’s day,” Rusty told reporters on Sunday, May 14, 1972. The slugger could recognize an irresistible storyline just as he could discern an ideal pitch to take deep.

As for Tuesday night in Washington, May 14, 2019, we definitely would have come away remembering Ramos’s grand slam — 4-0 from 40 — as the primary highlight had Wilson’s four in the first not been overshadowed by Thor’s first five. Noah Syndergaard had a no-hitter going there for more than half a game, and with Ramos putting down the proper fingers and setting an appropriate target, there seemed a decent chance the pitcher’s masterpiece would usurp not only his catcher’s thunder but make whatever happened to the Knicks in the NBA draft lottery fodder for the inside pages of ye olde sports section. Alas, the no-no bid was broken up in the sixth and Noah had to settle for going eight and recording a relatively stress-free 6-2 win. The reporters who surrounded Ramos in the visitors’ clubhouse could thus ask Wilson about his own exploits rather than pump him for insights about what made Thor so thunderous.

“I’ve been working really hard in the cage to try to get my timing back,” was Ramos’s explanation for the slam whose timing couldn’t have been grander. Wilson’s first homer since April 16 constituted not only quite the power surge, but it made his manager look like a visionary. Mickey Callaway had taken some Twitterfied ribbing for having bragged on the Mets’ winning percentage in games Ramos had started, as if that matters much in the analytic scheme of things. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t. Ramos definitely did on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, Noah, speaking on behalf of his own work, said, “Pitching is a lot more fun when you just go out there and you don’t think.” Sometimes that’s what a pitcher relies on a catcher for…that and a four-run lead when he takes the mound to start the bottom of the first.

Everything Is Jake

The Mets beat the Marlins Saturday night, and while they didn’t score eight in the first — or eight at all — it was a pretty convincing victory. The headline was that Jacob deGrom looked like his old self once again: On Saturday he carved the Marlins up for the first three innings with a one-two punch of fastball and slider, then added the changeup in the middle innings, which was borderline unfair.

The Marlins aren’t very good (perhaps you’ve heard), but deGrom had the stuff to dominate any team — witness his fourth-inning demolition of former comrade-in-arms Neil Walker, batting with nobody out after a Starlin Castro single. DeGrom got two swinging strikes with the changeup, tried to lure Walker with a high fastball, threw a changeup and a slider that he fought off, then threw a change that dived out of the strike zone, which Walker missed for strike three. Walker had no chance — once deGrom had him on the ropes with the changeup, the question wasn’t so much if he’d get him but how, exactly, he’d do it.

DeGrom was actually behind at the time, a product of being ambushed by back-to-back doubles by Jon Berti and pitcher Sandy Alcantara, the eighth and ninth hitters in the Miami lineup. No matter: the Mets tied it in the fourth and went ahead in the sixth, as Don Mattingly (who’s all but blinking HELP ME in Morse code these days) left Alcantara in too long.

Alcantara’s downfall arrived via back-to-back homers to Pete Alonso and Michael Conforto that left the Marlins behind 2-1 and then 3-1. The homers were a fun contrast: Alonso’s just cleared the fence in right-center, and was basically muscled out of the park by our favorite gigantic enthusiastic rookie, while Conforto’s was a no-doubter, a fastball left over the plate that he destroyed. Throw in an RBI single by deGrom himself and the Mets had more than enough to win.

Should deGrom be back to his old self again — as his last three starts suggest he is — maybe they’ll even win some more. That would be welcome, not to mention highly advisable.