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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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Mets Fail to Completely Screw Up

The Mets played two baseball games on Monday and they were both pretty terrible, even by the low standards of fans who are staring six baseball-free months in the face and would normally take extras with no questions asked.

The first game muddled along without too much horror until the middle innings and then fell apart, becoming both embarrassing and unwatchable, with a side of endless. Chris Flexen pitched OK until the third trip through the Braves’ order, when he undid all his work by walking everybody. (This is a wordy way of saying he didn’t pitch all that well.) A parade of Mets relievers arrived to annoy and dishearten those scattered among the acres of empty seats. Bad Mets defense and harebrained Mets baserunning compounded these problems and did little to improve the mood.

Seriously: it was bad, y’all. After the first game, if you’d used a Ouija board to entreat the spirit of Ernie Banks to wander out of a cornfield (don’t do this, it’s rude), the great Cub would have said “actually let’s just play one” and vanished back into the green to get doused with Roundup and let bugs hop around on him.

Instead of sitting in the clubhouse quietly and thinking about what they’d done, the Mets inflicted another game on the paying customers. It wasn’t much better, as the Mets once again showed zero aptitude for running bases or doing the things with gloves that prevent the other team from running those bases. I mean, Travis Taijeron was deked by Ender Inciarte waving his glove at a ball 25 feet over his head, like some mean-spirited mad scientist was trying to make an entire team out of post-homer Hansel Robleses. On our couch, Emily and I laughed at Inciarte … until a replay revealed that this lame gambit had actually worked.

That sums up the 2017 Mets season pretty well, come to think of it.

The Mets were saved, this time, by the fact that the Braves managed to play worse baseball. It was a race to see which Brave would hurt himself first trying to field: luckless left fielder Lane Adams or highly temporary first baseman Rio Ruiz.

Even then, the Mets tried their damnedest to give the game back, with Jeurys Familia botching a grounder in the ninth and Dominic Smith (who’s not enjoying his steady diet of offspeed stuff, by the way) inexplicably turning a 3-4-3 double play into a fielder’s choice. Somehow they survived anyway. The day’s positives: Travis d’Arnaud continuing his flurry of games in which he looks both uninjured and offensively capable, Juan Lagares getting right with the BABIP gods, and the hardy little crowd browbeating the Citi Field tech folks into belatedly raising the apple for d’Arnaud’s homer.

That last bit made me laugh, and the show of scruffy Met fan resilience even heartened me a little. Maybe it wasn’t much, at the end of too many hours of careless, slapstick baseball and a season even the most devout among us will be happy to see come to an end. But you take what you can get, even after you’ve endured more than you can take.

A Certain Quality

Sunday afternoons and Citi Field haven’t gotten along in 2017. Far be it from me to horn in on the middle of their mysterious feud, but sometimes you gotta go where you gotta go, and on this last home Sunday afternoon of the 2017 season, I went to Citi Field. It was not like asking for a loss. It was asking for a loss. “Just be gentle how you insert the L,” was my only request.

And they were. If you’ve been a Mets fan for any significant period of time, you understand the most tolerable of losses — provided there is absolutely nothing on the line besides your own preference for a win — is the 3-2 variety played under optimal atmospheric conditions and completed in barely more than three hours. The 3-2 loss the Mets delivered, with an assist from the Washington Nationals, would have fit well inside any early 1970s Sunday afternoon at Shea when a decidedly unimpressive lineup couldn’t have given Jerry Koosman or Gary Gentry that one extra run that would have taken him off the hook. A 3-2 loss way back then probably would have taken an hour less to complete, but that’s baseball inflation for you. And, honestly, for all the kvetching over length of games, it’s not like I had somewhere else I wanted to be on this gloriously warm Sunday afternoon — and it’s not like the Mets are going anywhere other than away soon enough.

While there hasn’t been much enticement to show up at Citi Field on Sundays, my wife and I have maintained an annual appointment every season’s last Sunday. We didn’t set out to make it a tradition, but it’s become one, and we weren’t going to let the Mets’ brutal record on Sundays impede our engagement. Usually the final home Sunday coincides with Closing Day, but that dose of finality is being saved for Wednesday night this year. I’ll take care of that festivity-free milestone on my own. Sunday was for Stephanie and me and, of course, Jacob.

Jacob deGrom threw a quality start on Sunday. It’s too bad “quality start” has become something of a punching bag for those who want to bemoan how nothing is as good as it used to be. Six innings and three runs — why, that’s a 4.50 ERA! Brand Name Pitcher From My Youth would be rolling over in his grave! I always took the quality start criteria as the bare minimum of what is acceptable. If you go at least six innings and give up no more than three runs, it’s understood you did a pretty decent job of keeping your team in the game. These days, if you did nothing more than go exactly six innings and give up exactly three runs every five days, that wouldn’t sound so bad, either.

DeGrom gave us Sunday parishioners exactly six innings and allowed the Nationals exactly three runs, only two of them earned. He provided the Mets a chance to win. They might have, too, a) had Max Scherzer not pitching to them and b) if the Mets had eight major league hitters to string together in a batting order. Tough luck for deGrom in terms of attaining a sixteenth win (goodbye, farewell and amen #JdG17in17), but 6 IP 3R indicates he did his job pretty well. Five hits, no walks and eleven strikeouts emphasizes he did it very well. Sadly, Jose Lobaton harnessed his distinct method of Met-killing to account for one run and Trea Turner perfected laser technology to blast him for two more.

Otherwise, deGrom was a joy to watch from our perennial favorite Last Sunday Afternoon seats in Section 326 (which were available on StubHub at prices rapacious 2009 Citi Field would be rolling over in its resting place from). A few too many pitches early tipped his total past a hundred by the sixth and thus kept him from returning for the seventh — sad that a tip of the cap to a grateful audience couldn’t have been choreographed — but Jake was nonetheless everything he’s been all season: the best reason to watch Mets games, listen to Mets games and attend Mets games. His crossing 200 innings in 2017 was the Met equivalent of Washington (George, not the Nationals) traversing the Delaware in 1776.

There were other things worthy of observation, some of which might have shown up on TV, others for which ya probably had to be there.

• Jose Reyes did his best Jackie Robinson impression, certainly in the vein that Jackie was portrayed by Chadwick Boseman in 42, literally dancing down the third base line to disturb Scherzer with two out in the fourth. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a runner inch as close to home without actually taking off for the plate. Jose kept taunting with his feet, trying to tease a balk while Dominic Smith batted. Anthony Rendon was shifted practically to short, so why not? Only problem was Scherzer never let go of his composure and eventually struck out the rookie. So much for “discombobulating the man,” as young Ed Charles informed his mother in the 2013 biopic. Still, it was delightful gamesmanship and we on the third base side of the action applauded heartily.

• Juan Lagares did his best Juan Lagares impression, which is nothing new, since the more we see Lagares roaming his natural habitat, the more we are reminded he is the best defensive center fielder this franchise has ever featured. Lagares robbed Howie Kendrick in the ninth with a diving grab that is business as usual in Juan’s world. He also enjoyed a swift trip around the bases in the eighth, singling, going first to third on Nori Aoki’s single to left and racing home on Reyes’s single to center. If Juan could run that sort of sequence on a semi-regular basis, you’d find a way to install him in center and leave him there until the Confortos come home. Until then, he lingers within a cache of contemporary Mets who evoke Rafael Santana, patron saint of those who are adequate when everybody else around them approaches excellent. If you had seven other guys who were really good, then you’d just pencil in Lagares and enjoy his defense and take his offense. Thing is, the Mets don’t have seven other guys who are really good.

• It doesn’t get more athletic in the middle of the infield than Reyes at second and Amed Rosario at short. And it doesn’t look less athletic at the corners than Smith at first and Phil Evans at third. They are athletes, they are skilled, they have futures at the highest level of professional baseball…but it is striking how they each — as rookies — appear to have wandered over from a keg-intensive softball game in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. On the other hand, the limber and lithe Rosario seems to display a little less savvy every diamond day. Let’s give everybody a clean slate come spring. This season hasn’t honed anybody to a fine edge, physically or mentally.

• Hansel Robles lives! He threw two solid innings and didn’t kill our vague chances of a comeback! Good for him!

• Cheers to the video board operator for showing multiple replays of Nationals right fielder Victor Robles (born in 1997, a year sources claim took place like five minutes ago) robbing Reyes of two, maybe three bases in the first inning. The wall-crashing play even made the cut later in the afternoon when the Mets presented a sponsored segment of memories of the great time we were in the process of having before we were fully done having them. There was deGrom fanning Nationals left and right. There was Brandon Nimmo homering onto carbonation terrace. And there was, gasp!, a Met not succeeding, perhaps hinting at why the Mets weren’t winning 27-2, which is what the rest of the sponsored highlights implied was the case. I don’t love watching Mets being thwarted, but I respect cracks in the propagandistic veneer. Washington’s Robles, incidentally, fought the right field sun all day, yet was never once foiled by it. Good to know the Nats can substitute so stresslessly for Bryce Harper.

• Fan Appreciation Weekend was a letdown for this fan who didn’t expect much appreciation to begin with. Where was the stilted THANK YOU FANS video? Where were the little-used callups and disgruntled relievers earnestly staring into the camera and telling us how vital we are to their self-esteem? Where was the spliced-in kicker in which David Wright, circa 2012 or whenever he was last in one piece, tells us we’re the greatest fans in the world? It’s cornball, but we like a little sweet talk. While Stephanie and I scratched off cards that entitled us to a discount on tickets for future aggravation, a few fans were presented with really nifty tokens of appreciation. Some guy knew Jack Hamilton was the last Met pitcher to hit a grand slam, and he won a mammoth flat-screen television for his knowledge. You should be rewarded for knowing advanced Mets trivia. Hmm…I wonder if he heard me shouting the answer at him from several hundred feet away. However he got it, good for him. The converse: some guy who couldn’t identify which year Doc Gooden won his Cy Young wasn’t escorted from the building for lack of basic Mets historical comprehension. I’m pretty sure my groan could be picked up by LaGuardia air traffic control.

• I realize the “Piano Man” singalong is weirdly polarizing, but I think we can all agree popping in an image of Terry Collins’s head on the video board when the lyrics “and the manager gives me a smile” come up was a stroke of cleverness above and beyond what usually airs in-house at Citi Field. On Sunday, though, there was “Piano Man,” but there was no manager. They edited out TC. Kremlinologists would judge this the surest sign that some other manager will be giving us the facial expression next season.

• An unidentified man was visible on the big screen during the latter innings modeling a Faith and Fear t-shirt, the one with all the nifty retired numbers. I call this man a hero. You can wear what he wore if you click here or here.

• About twenty minutes prior to first pitch, Stephanie and I were partaking of our rare treat Shake Shack repast (the lines are as short as the tickets are cheap this September) in the Whatever Casino It’s Named For Now Club when I could make out faintly over the PA the voice of Bobby Darin. It was our old Shea staple “Sunday in New York” beckoning to us to come out and play already. “Sunday in New York” used to get its weekly spin during the game, but has in recent seasons been consigned to pregame duty. No matter. The Mets have troubles? We take them out for a walk; big Citi taking a nap, indeed. The Shake Shack was sublime, but we couldn’t keep Bobby waiting any longer. We bussed our table and hit the concourse to take in his final verse and chorus on the final Sunday in New York of 2017 when we could be where we most wanted to be. The Mets were 1-8 on Sunday afternoons at home entering the day and were about to turn 1-9. In our hearts, however, we remained undefeated.

Noah's Arc

Noah Syndergaard‘s back, and it was aggressively pointless.

The return was five whole pitches — if the taco line was a little too long (actually possible given there were postgame fireworks), you missed it. The Mets, I’m sure, had counted on a normal inning with 15 to 20 pitches, but for whatever reason they hadn’t planned in terms of pitching. Syndergaard was getting an inning, and then giving way to Matt Harvey, and so it went.

Noah Syndergaard’s back, and it was superlatively wonderful.

I mean, there he was — Thor, with the blonde locks intact and the arm hanging down and the baseball doing murderous things. The first pitch was a slider at 95, which is so absurdly and perfectly Syndergaardian in that He’s Got the Cheat Codes way that just makes you laugh and shake your head. The other pitches were fastballs, and the slowest of them was 98. Despite all that’s gone wrong and despite the oh-so-Metsian daffiness of the night’s plan, it was heartening to see him out there. I was happy to let my brain fast-forward to Opening Day 2018 and imagine better days, and oh wow did I need a chance to do that.

But he was there and then he was gone and the rest of the game was pointless. Harvey was lousy, or maybe the numbers were lousy and the unquantifiables were better than that, but that’s a spring-training conversation at this point. The Mets scored early and then stopped and the Nationals came back and then Daniel Murphy hit a homer off the apple housing and you knew that was it, and a few minutes later it was.

Who knows where Noah goes from here? He’s still a power pitcher with an elbow ligament that hasn’t snapped, which means you hold your breath with every searing fastball and buckling curve. Now you can add a side of worrying about the lat. Or if that’s not sufficient agita, you can look at Harvey — a god-given arm eroded into an all-too-human question mark.

But even if so, at least that’s just baseball bad luck. The world is bigger than that, a reality brought home by Steve Gelbs’s conversation in the seats with Greg Cole.

Who’s Greg Cole? Sixteen years ago his brother Brian was a Mets prospect who’d impressed everybody in his first spring training. He was coming off a season in which he’d hit .301 for Binghamton with a dynamic mix of power and speed, winning accolades as the team’s minor-league player of the year. He wasn’t ready, not quite yet, but he was on track for at least a September call-up, and you figured he might force his way into the conversation before then.

It never happened. Cole was driving home from Port St. Lucie to Mississippi when his Ford Explorer rolled over on the highway. He was ejected from the vehicle and died a few hours later. The Mets learned of his death at the team dinner before Opening Day in Pittsburgh.

Maybe you remembered all that. If you didn’t, read this. Hell, if you did remember that, read it anyway. My little biography captures nothing of what Cole was to his family, his teammates and opponents, or what he might have been. The article does that joyously and beautifully.

The Mets haven’t forgotten Cole — as his brother explained, they’ve supported scholarships in his name. Kudos to both the team and the broadcast crew for remembering him and honoring him.

What really got me, though, was hearing Greg Cole tell Gelbs that his brother would have been about to turn 39.

What Brian Cole would have been on the field is impossible to say — ask Syndergaard or Harvey about that. But it doesn’t matter. The important thing, the part that makes all the rest pale into nothing, is he would have been about to turn 39.

The Night the Mets Didn’t Lose

For not long would they tell of the night the New York Mets of September of Two Thousand Seventeen didn’t lose. An ostensibly memorable win in a month that begged to be forgotten never stood much of a chance to survive amid a forever unspooling narrative whose natural bias leaned toward critical mass. Wins sprouting gloriously among more wins can be celebrated into eternity. One win briefly noted deep within a forest of losses is a tree that tends to hide from view.

But the night — the night the Mets didn’t lose — really and truly happened. Partake in its tale before it is fully committed to obscurity.

It was a night when the Mets were expected to lose because the Mets lost most every night in September of Two Thousand Seventeen.

It was a night when the Mets were expected to lose because the Mets lost especially frequently and extremely painfully to their evening’s opponent, the vastly better equipped Washington Nationals.

It was a night when the Mets were expected to lose because these Mets were not constructed to win. They were not constructed. They were accumulated, mostly.

In September of Two Thousand Seventeen, there were Mets and there was winning, and the two were almost invariably kept a respectful distance from one another.

It was a night at Citi Field when the Nationals led the Mets six to one in the middle of the fifth inning, suggesting an inevitable final score of Nationals twelve Mets two by the end of the ninth. The numbers were on pace to pile up on and topple all over the New York Mets of September of Two Thousand Seventeen.

Yet it didn’t unravel that way. It didn’t unravel at all. The Friday night ballgame surprised its onlookers and probably itself. From six to one in the middle of the fifth, the game turned to six-six by the top of the sixth. And by the top of the seventh, somehow, the Mets led the Nationals seven to six. These, mind you, were not exactly the Nationals who had been division champions officially for nearly two weeks and essentially for more than five months. Those Nationals were on hiatus, resting and refueling in advance of their next significant contest, sometime in October, sometime after the New York Mets of September of Two Thousand Seventeen will have ceased to exist.

No, these Nationals did not play their regulars. But then again, these Mets did not have regulars.

In a previous life — a September earlier, two Septembers earlier — these Mets were not these Mets. They were other Mets. Those Mets preceding these Mets were different. They were successful. They were popular. Surprisingly, a knowing look at these Mets revealed connective tissue between those Mets and these Mets. There were players who played for both versions. A few even predated the predecessors, going back to the Mets who were not yet different, successful and popular. It wasn’t so long before — three, maybe four Septembers earlier — that those players were striving to make a difference, achieve success, generate popularity. How it all rose upward and then plunged downward so quickly was too dizzying to consider accurately. Were we sure this was the same franchise?

It was. There had been a Travis d’Arnaud, a Juan Lagares, a Jeurys Familia before the Mets would fairly be assessed as good. Then there were those same players as the Mets commenced to being indisputably good. Finally, in September of Two Thousand Seventeen, they were still Mets, part of the irregular Mets, the Mets for whom there was no expectation of victory, no sense of capability, little hint they could do anything well.

Somehow, though, for one Friday night they did. D’Arnaud hit two home runs, including the three-run shot that tied the score at six. Lagares registered two base hits, crossed home plate twice and took away from the Nationals a chance to ignite a response rally when he dove, he caught and he betrayed no obvious physical agony, a rarity when Mets would meet ground. Familia, mostly missing from these Mets, returned to prominence if only for a batter, striking out the last National and earning his first save since the world was young…or at least since he was being aided by teammates named Walker and Rivera and Granderson and Bruce.

They were all gone by this Friday night, the night Familia achieved his fourth save of the Two Thousand Seventeen season. So were erstwhile teammates Salas and Reed, two who pitched in front of Familia on the occasion of his previous save. So was Duda, who was on the disabled list at that intersection of time and space, foretelling where practically everybody who was known as a Met would sooner or later land if they hadn’t landed there already. In all honesty, hope was gone before the lot of the former Mets were off to other, happier precincts. Familia’s third save of the Two Thousand Seventeen season had occurred on May the Fifth. The Mets already trailed the Nationals by six-and-half games.

September of Two Thousand Seventeen eventually arrived. The Mets barely appeared, and then primarily in highly irregular fashion. Mets you thought would be gone, too, like Cabrera. Mets you were surprised to discover were Mets, like Aoki. Mets who pitched in relief in lieu of Familia (including a faux closer named Ramos who was still so enmeshed in his innate Marlinnity that their new prospective ownership probably schemed to dismiss him all over again). Mets who started instead of perceived ace Syndergaard (though Syndergaard was suddenly deemed ready to start again, albeit just a touch). When Washington came to New York on September the Twenty-Second, the Mets trailed the Nationals by twenty-seven games.

After that Friday night — after d’Arnaud, Lagares and Familia reminded those who still maintained vigilance that they were the same Mets they used to be; after Cabrera and Aoki contributed as meaningfully as any Mets could; after every Mets reliever not named Ramos warded off whichever Nationals the Nationals chose to unleash upon the Mets — the margin was twenty-six. Oh yes, these Mets had won, seven to six. What seemed anywhere from unlikely to impossible had, in fact, occurred.

September of Two Thousand Seventeen went on. It was remembered, when it was remembered, for the nights the Mets didn’t win. Those were plentiful and pervasive. But perhaps now that you know there was a night the Mets didn’t lose, well, maybe you’ll kindly mention it to somebody else someday, just so somebody else understands it really and truly happened.

The Beating Goes On

Well, at least it’s another day off the calendar, what with the Mets all but drowned in the mire of another Mike Glavine season.

I keep thinking about The Other Glavine as a beacon of futility. He got his lone big-league hit on the final day of the 2003 season, a 4-0 beating by the Marlins. The Mets’ lineup on the day that wretched season finally put us out of our misery? Roger Cedeno, Jay Bell, Ty Wigginton, Tony Clark, Raul Gonzalez, Vance Wilson, Joe McEwing, Jorge Velandia and starting pitcher Jeremy Griffiths.

My first instinct is to say that assemblage makes me feel better about the 2017 Mets. That white flag of a lineup contained one formerly good player (Bell), an OK complementary player (Wigginton) and a couple of useful role players miscast as starters (Wilson, McEwing). There aren’t any guys whose only fault was being young and not yet ready.

But perhaps that’s hindsight. Faith and Fear didn’t exist yet, though Greg was unknowingly prototyping it through frequent emails to his baseball circles. I don’t know, maybe there are exchanges in which he and I wax rhapsodic about the potential of Gonzalez and Griffiths.

Or maybe it’s as I remember, and that season was a disaster whose only redeeming quality was that it ended — and which, more than a decade later, can be boiled down to grim shorthand: Mike Glavine.

So, anyway. The Mets got pounded by the Marlins. They were noncompetitive once again. Got swept.

Brandon Nimmo hit a home run and would have have been on base more than that if not for the baseball norm that the strike zone varies depending on one’s seniority, the quality of the matchup and the month on the calendar. (I, for one, am ready to welcome our new robot balls-and-strikes overlords.)

Kevin Plawecki got two more hits, continuing to look like the player we thought he might be not so long ago.

Rafael Montero wasn’t very good, but at least his recent performances have earned him the right to have “Rafael Montero wasn’t very good” games, as opposed to “Rafael Montero is perpetually timid and faked a shoulder injury and doesn’t know how to pitch and has failed 56,000 times and simply has to be released immediately because he is driving everyone insane” games. If you squint that’s kind of something.

That’s all I’ve got. Maybe, a decade or so from now, we’ll stumble across this box score and note the presence of Nimmo, and Dominic Smith, and Phil Evans and try to reconstruct if we grasped things would soon be a lot better. Perhaps we’ll be confused briefly over whether or not Amed Rosario was up by then. We might recall that yes, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes were near the end but sure had some great Mets moments before that. I can imagine reminding each other that Montero’s career is an object lesson in not giving up on guys too early. Possibly we’ll salute Nori Aoki as the kind of useful bench guy good teams need.

Or, alternately, we’ll grimace and say “Tommy Milone,” and everyone will understand that means that whatever’s gone wrong with the 2031 Mets, at least it can never be 2017 again.

The Manchurian Marlin?

The Mets once had a player who was referred to, without irony, as Mr. Marlin. His name was Jeff Conine. We knew him as a nice if ineffectual guy at the end of his career. He couldn’t help stem the tide that washed the 2007 Mets out to sea, but even Mr. Marlin can do only so much when the enormous waves come crashing to the shore.

The Mets once had a player who set all kinds of Marlins career marks despite your intuition suggesting it’s unlikely anybody bothers to save old Marlin box scores. You know who’s played in more games, come to bat more, scored more runs, recorded more hits, singled more, tripled more, walked more, reached base more and stolen more bases than any other Marlin? None other than Luis Castillo, whom Mets fans will remember mostly for swiping defeat from the jaws of victory in 2009.

The Mets built playoff powerhouses with Marlins the Marlins no longer had use for — Dennis Cook, Al Leiter and Florida flash Mike Piazza in one veritable swoop, Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca in another. For that matter, the Wild Card that was won a year ago (seems more like a century) was facilitated by the presence of 2012 Marlins alumnus Jose Reyes. It’s not like the Mets haven’t had good fortune picking through Miami’s recyclables. Yet with the rare Marlin whom you might instinctively identify as a Marlin, whatever good emanated from his Met tenure tends to get overwhelmed in memory by deleterious circumstances. Gary Sheffield hit his 500th homer as a Met shortly before ’09 chemically dissolved in acid. Moises Alou extended a hitting streak to 30 while the Mets were in the process of blowing a division lead of seven games with seventeen to play. Cliff Floyd earned beloved status at Shea in 2005, but struck out against Adam Wainwright to help end 2006. Livàn Hernandez came us to us too late, Preston Wilson left us too soon (albeit in a good cause).

No Marlin-tinged Met, however, has seemed more attached to his Marlinness than AJ Ramos. Even Mr. Marlin Conine and Mr. Marlin Record Holder Castillo had moved on from the Marlins before alighting on the Mets. AJ Ramos was a Marlin his entire career prior to joining the Mets. Nobody is a Marlin his entire career for very long. Giancarlo Stanton is the lavishly compensated exception to the rule, and even he and his 55 homers are the never-ending subject of trade rumors. Their franchise is built to expunge its own. Ramos came to the major leagues in September of 2012 and remained a Marlin until July of 2017. That’s a lifetime Marlin, relatively speaking. Ramos apparently developed a real affinity for his one and only pre-Met ballclub, which you can understand in theory, except that it was the Marlins, and who maintains an emotional attachment to the frigging Marlins?

Our ad hoc closer, that’s who.

Prior to very recently, AJ had done a decent if stress-inducing job pitching late innings and protecting rare leads since coming over. We didn’t have Jeurys Familia. We no longer had Addison Reed. Ramos would do in the short term and perhaps contribute in the longer term. But every time I heard him wax nostalgic for his old team and his old teammates, I was thinking there’s no way it will work out well when he faces them.

I should’ve gone with that sense. Instead, in an uncommonly good Met mood Tuesday night — after Reyes, Travis d’Arnaud and Seth Lugo had all excelled — I generated a generous thought in AJ’s direction. It was the top of the ninth, the Mets led by three, Asdrubal Cabrera sent a fly ball to deep right. I would have liked it to have gone out to extend the Mets’ advantage to 6-1, but when it was caught at the track, I thought, ah, that’s OK, at least now Ramos can get a save that will be particularly meaningful to him.

Kiss of death. Sorry about that. More Ramos’s blown save en route to a ten-inning loss than mine, but I’ve been futilely rooting for the Mets to beat the Marlins in South Florida long enough to know better than to believe the result was anywhere proximate to the proverbial bag, let alone securely inside it. How would AJ know that he was bound to throw 32 pitches, put six separate Marlins on base and allow the three tying runs to cross the plate without escaping the ninth? He’d watched his share of Marlins games in which Mets’ leads evaporated on the spot, but he watched it from the other side of the field. Maybe he was doing what he assumed he was supposed to do. When you’re in Marlins Park, aren’t you supposed to doom the Mets as painfully as you can? It probably got confusing for him amid all the pastels and empty seats. He looked down at his newly Metsian self, saw a reserved gray road uniform and no longer knew what to believe.

Paul Sewald (0-6) pulled what remained of the Mets chances out of the fire in the ninth and then, predictably, burned them to a crisp in the tenth, giving up the game-losing home run to J.T. Realmuto. Not long ago that would have provided AJ Ramos with the cue to gather at home plate alongside his fellow Marlins and heartily congratulate the Fish of the hour. Now he had to keep straight who he was with, who he was against and what he was supposed to do. No high-fives for J.T. No hugs for Giancarlo. No good times in the company of Dee and Christian and Marcell and Ichiro. No communing with the spirit of Luis Castillo in the only place on the North American continent where that’s considered a desirable endeavor.

The fellow’s surely befuddled. Have mercy on his Marlin soul.

Destined for the Knife

Matt Harvey was bad. The rest of the Mets weren’t much better.

Say this for the soon-to-be-extinct 2017 Mets: when things aren’t going to go well they sure don’t tease you about it. Monday’s 13-1 drubbing was the 18th time they’ve given up at least 10 runs this year — and the fourth time in the last eighth games. When they’re gonna lose, they lose big.

Some of this isn’t worth talking about. Tommy Milone is a fill-in whom it would be pointless to excoriate; rather than blame a ham-and-egger for being what he is, you ask what went wrong to get him so many innings. (Short answer: everything.) Hansel Robles has had a ghastly year, but he’s also a hard-throwing young middle reliever, and middle relief is a spaghetti-at-the-wall affair even in good years.

(Before we move on, it would be wrong not to mention that Giancarlo Stanton hit a ball so hard I wondered if it might knock Loria’s horrific Pachinko machine down. It didn’t, but keep trying, good sir.)

As for Harvey, well. The story has changed in disturbingly rapid fashion from “Can he be what he once was?” to “Can he reinvent himself as a finesse guy?” to “Will the Mets tender him a contract?”

(Spoiler: they will. But hold that thought.)

One thing is for certain: barring some miracle turnaround, when Harvey does leave the team the knives will be out. He’s had too many run-ins with management, too many self-inflicted controversies, too many “one Met said” quotes and too many gossip-page late nights to avoid the kind of day-after-the-transaction story that the New York sports press loves, the one in which an ex-player’s feuds and sins are hauled out of notebooks and hotel-bar sessions and dropped on the page as if they’d always been common knowledge. Total up the number of people Harvey has alienated, his continuing ability to attract clicks and light up phones, his nocturnal habits and the Mets’ penchant for backstabbing players they’ve shed and Farewell Matt Day could set a new standard for ugliness.

But we can be weary of that another day. For now, the Mets have a 2018 rotation to put together. Not so long ago an optimist would have written it in ink; now it’s all pencil and cross-outs and question marks.

Given his misfortunes and potentially diminished ceiling, Harvey might not be the biggest of those question marks. Zack Wheeler‘s 2017 season never really got on track before it fell off it and Steven Matz‘s entire career has been shadowed by misfortune and mismanagement. But he’ll be the loudest and most divisive one — he always has been.

Harvey’s late nights will get the pixels, but what really ought to be discussed is thoracic outlet syndrome. (You can get a head start here and here.) It wasn’t so long ago that we’d basically never heard of it; now we’re learning it’s a killer of pitchers.

That’s only overstating it a little, but only a little. The list of pitchers who’ve had surgery to fix thoracic outlet syndrome is growing; the list of pitchers who’ve come back from it successfully remains stubbornly small. That may not be true forever, but it is today. Your success stories include Matt Harrison, sort of. Chris Young, sort of. Jaime Garcia, sort of. Not exactly like contemplating life after Tommy John, is it?

The hopeful case for Harvey does exist, and it looks like this: Harvey is younger than most pitchers who have gone under the knife for TOS; the surgery to repair it has robbed many pitchers of their location; and the time needed to restore that fine control has often been more than a season. Harvey’s velocity has been all over the place, but the top end isn’t gone; he may keep healing and look like more like the electric pitcher we remember next spring.

The less-than-hopeful case is that Harvey will look like what he is now: a pitcher who can’t reach back for 97 or 98 when he needs it, whose location is a mess more often than not, and who has the additional burden of being a born and bred fireballer instead of a Madduxian trickster. And if that’s the case, the Mets have to ask seriously whether they’re better off paying, say, Chris Flexen the minimum rather than whatever bump Harvey will get in arbitration.

But that’s a 2018 question. It’s dumb to make decisions out of vengeance, whether we’re talking baseball or anything else. There’s no reason for the Mets not to let Harvey’s contract go to arbitration and see how things stand in spring training; if he still looks terrible, they can cut him loose and be on the hook for just a small part of that salary. With every pitcher not named Jacob deGrom a giant question mark, of course they’ll do that.

We never thought it would get this far, but that’s baseball. It’s beautiful and thrilling and ridiculous and cruel. You hope for the former but often endure the latter.

The Afterlife in Atlanta

Part of getting old is things go from novel to familiar — which is both a little unsettling and oddly comforting. Unsettling because you forget at first; comforting because it sure cuts down on the processing time once you remember.

It’s been a while since the Mets had nothing to play for at the end of September. That was a welcome development: a World Series one year, a wild-card game the next. A welcome and unprecedented development, but let’s not dwell on that. Or on the fact that they pooched up the World Series and the wild-card game was a heartbreaker. Heck, that part’s just baseball.

On Sunday I watched the Mets play a taut, exciting game. (And yes, they won on a Sunday, running their record on the day of arrest to a gaudy 8-17.) The game didn’t mean anything — no game has for weeks or will again for months — but I followed it relatively closely and enjoyed it, and found myself idly thinking all sorts of baseball-related things that didn’t involve hemlock or snarking on the Mets. How much Dom Smith has learned. If Phillip — sorry, Phil — Evans might have a position next year. The relative merits of the Indians, Astros and Twins bandwagons.

New for 2017, but really not new at all in the larger scheme of things. It’s a regular stop on the emotional tour for teams playing out the string. I’d just forgotten is all. Once I was reminded, it all came back.

The game itself deserves a little closer attention, which is a rare thing to say these days. Really, it was an ideal baseball game — a tight, tense affair where it looked like a small early lapse would be the difference, but that ended with the good guys pulling away so there wasn’t too much tension at the end. We got our happy ending a little early, and that was fine.

Julio Teheran was good — very good, in fact — except for the first inning, in which he couldn’t find the plate and allowed the Mets two runs. (More, perhaps, if C.B. Bucknor’s interpretation of the strike zone hadn’t been from the Surrealist school.) After that Teheran found himself and the Braves found him, backing him up with terrific defense by Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies. (As well as a play in which Teheran saved his own life on a scoring liner ticketed for his head by Juan Lagares, 2017’s designated sacrifice to the BABIP gods.)

On the Mets side, was this the best start of Robert Gsellman‘s young career? Clearly it was a good one: he had a good sinker and used it aggressively, mixing it with his slider and an effective change to get ground balls by the bushel. The best? You could argue otherwise in terms of numbers — Gsellman’s had more really good starts that you might have guessed. But the seventh inning supplied some admittedly non-quantifiable evidence for the court to consider.

Gsellman entered with a 2-0 lead and his pitch count in the mid-80s — probably last-inning territory unless things progressed quickly. And it looked like they might: Gsellman coaxed a flyout from Nick Markakis on four pitches, went 3-2 on Johan Comargo, then got Comargo to hit the ball up the middle on the ground.

Amed Rosario booted it.

Gsellman went back to work. Dansby Swanson swung and missed twice and hit a grounder to Rosario — a double-play ball, but one that he had to come in for.

It went under his glove.

Gsellman, tank close to empty, had now given his team four outs in the inning yet somehow still had two to get.

Terry Collins might have taken him out, but decided not to. As for Gsellman? Well, a guy who earlier this summer got in trouble for telling his general manager he didn’t care had just been handed an ironclad alibi for failure. What would he do with it?

For openers he got Jace Peterson to hit a ground ball — not to Rosario this time, mercifully. Jose Reyes wisely took the out at first, but a run scored and Kurt Suzuki came to the plate with the tying run in scoring position.

Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of good games by young pitchers have come unraveled at points like this, with said young pitchers trying to look stoic afterwards and their managers studiously ignoring left-him-in-too-long chatter.

Gsellman’s first pitch to Suzuki — his 100th of the afternoon — was a 90 mph sinker at the knee, with movement. Strike one.

His second was a sinker inside, on Suzuki’s hands. Suzuki fouled it off. 0-2 count.

The third pitch was a bait pitch — 93, up and away. Suzuki ignored it and it was 1-2.

Fourth pitch was a slider that Suzuki poked down the right-field line, in foul territory. It came down where neither Nori Aoki nor Dom Smith had a chance to catch it — seemingly harmless, but another small thing that’s loomed large in narratives like this one. Still 1-2.

The fifth pitch — the 104th on the day — was another sinker at the knees. Suzuki popped it up into foul territory, and it came down in Smith’s glove.

Gsellman, given an opportunity to fold and have people still feel sorry for him, went back to what had worked, ignoring fatigue and whatever hex had been put on his shortstop. That’s a learning experience for a young pitcher — and a nice afternoon for a no-longer-quite-so-young fan.

Jake at 15, R.A. in Absentia

Two Met aces swapped half-innings on the mound at SunTrust Park Saturday night, arguably the two most effective aces the Mets have had in this decade. R.A. Dickey didn’t wear the ace title all that long, but nobody used it to greater effect than the knuckleballer did in the latter portions of 2012. Johan Santana was on the shelf, Matt Harvey had just arrived and Dickey became the shiningest object of our affections every fifth day. He was working toward 20 wins and a Cy Young, both of which he captured by the time the most magical of his three ethereal seasons as a Met was through.

And then he was, Metwise, traded at the height of his powers and popularity in an exchange of present for future that looks great when it works perfectly and has yet to look bad even when not every piece that came in return has proven optimally functional. R.A. didn’t get better (let alone grow more colorful) as a Blue Jay, which was thoughtful of him, because if he had, we’d be required to sneer at the sight of him the way we do when other Met alumni dare succeed from a distance or, worse, at our direct expense. When he signed with the Braves, Dickey could have entered nuisance territory, but New York and Atlanta have avoided reigniting their ancient rivalry. I’d reckon if a Mets fan had to grudgingly allow any ex-Met to prevail over the current Mets (give or take a Bartolo Colon), it would be R.A. Dickey.

That is unless Dickey had the ill-timed fortune of facing Jacob deGrom, once considered an ace among aces, now indisputably the only ace in town. Jacob’s in his fourth season, and has rarely been any less than the second-best pitcher the Mets are packing. This year he’s been the best from start to almost finish. Rumors to the contrary, there is no Noah Syndergaard — he who is ours because Dickey was sent to Canada — on the active roster. Harvey wears a jersey with his last name on the back, but is otherwise unrecognizable from his brightest Dark Knight days. Nobody else answering to the description of ace, actual or potential, lurks within what can be referred to loosely as the Mets rotation. No Steven Matz. No Zack Wheeler. No, it’s just Jacob deGrom, and on Saturday night, it was Jacob deGrom going for his 15th win.

Sorry, R.A. Our heart necessarily belonged to Jake. As did the ballgame, an easy win for the pitcher who came to the Mets with little fanfare and delivered big results. That description would apply to R.A. in his time, too, but that time was a while ago. There’s so little contemporary for Mets fans to get jazzed for. We had to be jazzed for Jacob going seven, giving up only one run and cruising to a 7-3 victory. Against a more randomly slotted Mets starter, we might have looked the other way and permitted ourselves a round of applause for Robert Allen had he shut down the 2017 Mets as he so often shut down the Mets’ 2012 opponents. But deGrom isn’t random. DeGrom is our reigning righthander of record. He pitches and his teammates regularly bestow on his well-tressed head a crown. Jacob’s been the king of the clubhouse eleven separate times this year. He rules and everybody knows it.

Maybe deGrom will find a 16th and 17th win in his two remaining starts. If he doesn’t, then we’ll call 15 wins a monumental achievement on these 64-84 Mets. On these Mets, 15 wins might as well be the 20 Dickey racked up for the 2012 Mets, whose second-half collapse spiraled into a 74-88 finish. On these Mets, 15 wins feel almost like the 27 Steve Carlton pulled down for the 59-97 Phillies of 1972. When you’re a highly achieving starting pitcher on a relentlessly dreadful team, the gap between you and your mates could fill the Grand Canyon.

That trade, the one in which Dickey, Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas became Jays while Syndergaard, Travis d’Arnaud, John Buck and Wuilmer Becerra became Mets and/or Mets prospects remains golden if not precisely as platinum as it appeared a couple of years ago. We’re willing to believe, with fingers tightly crossed, that Thor will reemerge relatively intact in 2018. Even a somewhat diminished blond warrior would be better than every nondeGrominational starter the Mets feature right now. D’Arnaud struggles to maintain adequacy, but he’s still here, can still claim half a regular role and continues to inspire the front office’s confidence, at least in public. Buck became Dilson Herrera and Vic Black, which didn’t turn into quite the secondary bounty as we giddily projected it would circa 2013, but Herrera became Jay Bruce, and Jay Bruce, en route to gulps of champagne in Cleveland, became Ryder Ryan, who threw some good innings for the Columbia Fireflies, which can be taken optimistically if you are inclined. I occasionally see Becerra’s name in the prospect listings, so the full quantity of juice to be squeezed from the multifaceted December 2012 transaction is as yet unknown.

Putting aside what we received in return for R.A., the key to the trade never tarnishing may simply be that Dickey left. I didn’t want him to leave. I doubt any Mets fan was happy with the concept of going Dickeyless so soon after he brought us joy and honors and a reason to cheer in an era when there was little that thrilled us on contact. But by expediting his au revoir, R.A. never had a chance to diminish before our eyes. There was little likelihood that he was gonna win another Cy Young or go to another All-Star game or win close to 20 games again. Hence, we would have watched Dickey succeed less than we had previously witnessed; and we would have regularly measured him against his highest standard; and he would have come up short; and we would have reflexively held it against him, whether benignly or with malice.

In the first ten years of Faith and Fear, we experienced four charismatic pitching aces at or close to the top of their capabilities: Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey and Matt Harvey. Writing about each pitcher at his peak was my favorite part of blogging when they were on, just like rooting for them was my favorite part of being a Mets fan during their respective peaks. But with Pedro, Johan and Matt, there came a downside. There was injury, there was age, there was inevitable disappointment and, ultimately, writing about them became an exercise in then versus now, then always getting the W, now taking, at best, a tough no-decision. Just the other day I framed Harvey’s latest start in that context. It’s almost impossible not to when you see a pitcher you saw be a wholly different pitcher. I prefer to think of Pedro Martinez in 2005, Johan Santana in 2008, Matt Harvey in 2013. When Pedro can’t get through five innings in 2008, Johan returns to the DL in 2012 and Harvey is lost in 2017, you can’t ignore it. Syndergaard carved his name among these pitching gods in 2016. We can only hope the signature won’t grow faint.

For R.A. Dickey, New York Mets ace, it will always be 2012, just like it oughta be. For Jacob deGrom, New York Mets ace, it’s generally start after start and year after year of excellence. Watching him pitch at the top of his capabilities is not quite the transcendent experience it’s been watching some others, but we’ll sign in an instant for him to roll on exactly as he has indefinitely.

The Faintest Idea

It will never supplant “cripes” at the top of the charts within the Terry Collins lexicon of frustration, but I’ve noticed another revealing phrase creep into his postgame repertoire of responses lately: “I haven’t the faintest idea.” He said it during the last homestand in regards to which pitcher was going to start the next game. He said it Friday night when asked to analyze what went wrong with his most recent starting pitcher’s unsatisfactory performance.

If we were in the heart of his managerial tenure, particularly one of those years during which his Mets had yet to win more games than they had lost in a given season, I’d find this type of #TerryTake discomfiting. You’re the manager, I’d grumble, you’re supposed to have the most substantial idea of anybody. But all evidence indicates we are at the ass end of TC’s time, so all I can do is shrug along with the skipper, shake my head and admit that when it comes to the specific nuances that distinguish this ballclub’s myriad setbacks from one another, I haven’t the faintest idea, either.

With a little more probing by a traveling press corps that can’t seem to believe it has to ask another question about another loss any more than he can’t believe he as to keep answering them, Terry said something about Rafael Montero throwing too many pitches. At least I think he did. I was so dumbfounded that I had stayed tuned to listen to these exchanges that it kept me from processing the gist of what the manager was saying. The whole of Friday night’s Mets’ 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Braves somewhere outside of Atlanta worked that way. I had the game on from first pitch to last (save for quick flips to monitor my alma mater’s first-ever conquest of a Big Ten opponent), I offered my own customary intermittent commentary to whoever would receive it (my wife, my cat, Twitter, the television) and I now and then could feel myself instinctively emoting to this play or that, yet when it was over, I could barely retain the details of what exactly had happened.

For example, after Montero was removed with the bases loaded and two out in the fifth, Collins brought in Chasen Bradford. Bradford extricated the Mets from Rafael’s jam, albeit after they had fallen behind by one. I saw that, I knew that, I remembered that. I also saw, knew and remembered Jerry Blevins pitching at some point. What completely escaped my notice was the participation of Tommy Milone and Paul Sewald in this very same game. Milone rescued Bradford with a double play ball in the sixth. Sewald pitched one of his cleanest innings in ages in the eighth. I saw them in the box score of the game with which I had engaged for more than three hours, yet I didn’t remember they’re having been involved whatsoever. And, I assure you, I have a pretty good Mets memory.

Dominic Smith went the other way against a lefthanded starter to knock in a run. Brandon Nimmo dove and caught what appeared off the bat to be a double in waiting. Asdrubal Cabrera continued to stroke base hits. Gavin Cecchini actually played. These events happened as well. Some of this stayed with me clear to 10:51 PM, when the final out of the Mets’ fifth consecutive loss was recorded. Yet if there’d been a quiz administered at eleven o’clock, I doubt I would have gotten any better than a C on these current events…though if graded on a curve based on how closely the rest of the world was watching these Mets in this game, I imagine I would have rated at least an A-.

I have more than the faintest idea that I will miss my nightly routine when it evaporates along with the rest of the lousy 2017 Mets in a couple of weeks. I could end here with something cute like, “I haven’t the faintest idea why,” but that would come up false in the true/false portion of the aforementioned hypothetical quiz. Even after the post-elimination, 21-under-.500 Mets have long ceased to be compelling — and, really, they were never compelling this year — I am compelled to actively stick with them. I don’t have a better reason than I’m a Mets fan and they’re the Mets and discernment has thoroughly eluded my skill set.

During the Cubs’ three-game thrashing that reminded us what a playoff contender does and doesn’t look like, I heard Gary Cohen suggest that once the Mets were done providing pennant race cannon fodder at Wrigley Field, Collins would find more opportunities to play his less proven players. My god, I thought, you mean who he’s using now is the best the Mets have to offer? The best the Mets have to offer at present were beaten by five, then twelve, then eight runs in Chicago. The best the Mets have to offer at present couldn’t hold a battery-operated candle to any lineup any hungover division champion would deploy the day after clinching. The best the Mets have to offer at present would be rejected by the Florida Instructional League. Sorry, we’re here to cultivate talent that has a chance to effectively compete at the highest professional level.

I mock the team for whom I reflexively carve out a sizable block of time every evening. Preoccupational hazard. Defense mechanism. Also because they’re highly mockable, but you have to know intimately to mock intricately. I know these Mets all too well even if I forget who the hell just pitched.

The best answer as to why I continue to do what I do vis-à-vis these Mets is not, “I haven’t the faintest idea,” but, “It’s what I do.” Except for the Mets losing a lot with players incapable of winning much, I like it. I’ll dislike it when they’re gone. Not this particular edition of the team at all, nor these particular players necessarily, but the act of the Mets being the Mets and the act of me spiritually shepherding them to their final destination. It will be toward the bottom of the standings and probably south of 90 losses, but I don’t have it in me to let them plummet alone. I like sticking with them.

Cripes, I really do.