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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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The Champale of Years

I haven’t had many complaints with Mickey Callaway of late, but I do not believe he properly prepared his team on Wednesday night in Philadelphia coming off of the Yom Kippur fast, for they played as if lightheaded and starved for offense. Perhaps Rabbi Callaway or Cantor DiSarcina was confused by the 6:05 start time preceding sunset by nearly an hour. Whatever the nature of the Mets’ observance, Mickey clearly should have been handing out challah slices on the bench prior to first pitch. Where’s Shawn Green’s favorite clubhouse snack when you need it?

Whether it was High Holy Day low blood sugar or just a case of the secular blahs, the Mets (with the exceptions of three-hit/two-steal Amed Rosario and the heretofore disappeared Tim Peterson) ran on empty in their Citizens Bank Park finale, dragging for nine innings and bowing, 4-0. Noah Syndergaard continued in his late-era M*A*S*H mode, performing not all that impressively yet reminding you, as critics would of the formerly great sitcom in its latter stages, he’s still one of the best shows on television. Not too many pitchers could seem so uninspiring in so many starts and yet leave his team in position to win almost every time out. Unlike M*A*S*H in the early ’80s, N*O*A*H projects to have many scintillating seasons in front of him.

Ten games remain in 2018, so we’re probably beyond proving ground territory for any given Met. The string has been in the process of being played out for ages, but we’ve been able to enjoy the particularly unknotty portions and frame some lengths as significant in terms of who’s getting the hang of what. Now, a few sentimental flourishes aside, we’re mostly preparing to swap out pencil for pen and ink in this season’s final numbers.

We know we are officially prohibited from entering the playoffs. For those who weren’t hanging breathlessly on the standings, the Mets were eliminated from Wild Card consideration on Monday night, a little after they beat the Phillies, when the Cardinals defeated the Braves. The Braves had ousted us from divisional contention over the weekend. I don’t think there’s an At Large bid coming from the selection committee. We lasted 150 games until mathematical elimination this year, a four-game improvement in endurance over last year, though I doubt that was the goal. The 150 figure suggests a team that fell out of the race early and played what some would call meaningless games often. If anything, it means we didn’t get our hearts broken — just our souls battered.

Wednesday night’s loss being the 82nd of 2018 guaranteed a losing record in the mathematical sense, making it two straight under .500, eight of ten and 32 of 57 overall in Mets history (or 32 of 58 if you’re a 1981 split season stickler as I tend to be). Callaway was asked about the L’s outnumbering the W’s and didn’t seem too concerned: “We don’t want to have a losing season, that’s for sure. I don’t want to be one game over .500 and not make the playoffs, either. I think the playoffs and winning a World Series is the ultimate goal and we fell short of that.”

Well, yeah. Nevertheless, 82 wins is a gateway to more, and it doesn’t take that many more to vie for the playoffs in these five-berth times, and you can’t win a World Series without entry to the postseason. After 70 wins in 2017, any sign of an upward trajectory is welcome. Two signs I will high-five will be the team’s 71st win, which should it occur at any time between now and September 30, will outdo last year, and the chip-shot combination of one Met win and Marlin loss, for it will ensure the Mets won’t finish in any semblance of last place for the fifteenth consecutive season.

Let me clarify that: the Mets last finished last in 2003. This stone cold fact buzzes in the face of the widely held and disseminated perception among those seeking cheap and easy storylines that “the Mets always finish in last place.” It only seems that way, but we’re extending a franchise record here. The longest non-last stretch in Mets history prior to 2004 was nine seasons (1984-1992). Since 2004, we’ve finished not last every single year.

Not something to print on the cover of a pocket schedule, but we could have been worse all these years and we haven’t been. Feel free to pop Champale if not champagne over this modest development.

When it’s all over in ten games, barring cancellations, the Mets will complete their schedule with a record somewhere between 70-92 at worst and 80-82 at best. Other than preferring as many wins as possible, I find myself rooting at this time of otherwise hopeless year for a record we’ve never had before, just for variety’s sake. In case you haven’t committed all the Mets’ semi-respectable or slightly lesser sub-.500 records to memory, here are the still-possible-for-2018 finishes on which the Mets have previously landed:

79-83 — 2010, 2014
77-85 — 2011
74-88 — 2012, 2013
73-89 — 1968
72-90 — 1992
71-91 — 1974, 1996, 2004
70-92 — 2009, 2017

Also present in this realm are 161-game wonders 1991 (77-84) and 2002 (75-86). It would presumably take Olympic Stadium falling apart or a whole lot of rain to bring these into play.

Conversely, no Mets team has finished a full slate by posting a 75-87, 76-86, 78-84 or 80-82. My inclination is to wish for one of these fresh marks. While I’d applaud a ten-game winning streak taking us into winter, I think 80-82 would drive me batty into eternity. I’d accept it graciously, but that sense of “just one more win and we’d have been .500” has the potential to gnaw harmfully at my statistical well-being. 78-84 would be particularly appealing to me (and likely only me) because I’ve already ascertained that 78-84 would represent the 29th-best winning percentage in Mets history, slotting 2018 between 1994 and 1995, each of which were shortened by an almost endless strike. Prorated for 162 games, which is all one can do in considering them here, 1994’s 55-58 projected to 78.84 or not quite 79 wins, 1995’s 69-75 to 77.62 or a shade under 78 wins.

Who cares? Nobody but me, I assume, yet here I am elaborating on it. Why? Remember those halcyon days of April when the Mets surged to their best start ever after ten games? And eleven games? And twelve games, even? That lofty status evaporated pretty quickly, but throughout the season, I’ve continued to track out of curiosity where the Mets’ record after ‘x’ number of games has rated among all of its predecessors. I haven’t done it for all 152 games to date, but I have checked in on a series-by-basis throughout the second half and done a little backfilling besides.

In brief, the 2018 Mets were one of the worst Mets teams on a game-by-game basis at the midpoint of this season and kept getting worse until the two-thirds mark. After 108 games, they held the 48th-best record of any Mets team — and there had been only 55 other Mets teams to which to compare them (asterisk-besieged 1981 was on the sidelines by then). Since then, though, they’ve been climbing my imaginary ladder. No. 42 after 118 games. No. 40 after 127 games. No. 36 after 136 games. Since the 146th game, they’ve been holding steady at No. 31.

Meaning? Probably nothing, but for my and history’s purposes, they’re no longer nearly as relatively bad as they can be. They have shaken off the truly godawful 1962-1965, 1967, 1977-1979 and 1993 teams. They are a cut above the abysmal 1966, 1980, 1982 and 1983 renditions. 2003, our most recent last-place finisher, has taken a definitive backseat. A few more wins puts a bunch more losing teams behind them. A few beyond that? It doesn’t catapult us into those playoffs Callaway and we crave, but after 162 games of commitment to the cause, it would be something.

A very little something, a.k.a. better than absolutely nothing. Put that on your pocket schedule.

Great Isringhausen’s Ghost!

You don’t have to be from east of Queens to know Long Island’s Own Steven Matz can do only so much for us. Tuesday night in Philadelphia, LIOSM did more than Mets fans from Montauk to Great Neck (and beyond) could have possibly asked.

• Did he throw five scoreless innings despite walking five Phillies? Yes.

• Did he make a behind-the-back grab of a sizzling line drive, practically deploying his glove as a cesta in manner that would fill a jai-alai player with envy? Yes — or bai, which is yes in Basque.

• Did he turn that sparkling catch of Roman Quinn’s liner into a double play by alertly throwing to first to eliminate baserunner Rhys Hoskins, whose own name is Dutch for Rosh Hashanah, on Erev Yom Kippur? Yes — and good yontif to all.

• Did he go deep for a second consecutive start just as the most recent Mets pitcher to do so was discussing that time he went deep over two consecutive games a mere 28 years ago? Yes, LIOSM was the master of third-inning timing for SNY viewers who heard Ron Darling recalling, at Gary Cohen’s behest, that pair of swings when Darling homered two outings in a row 29 years prior mere moments before Steven equaled Ronnie’s 1989 (and Tom Seaver’s 1972) feat. Matz indeed blasted a ball that landed over Citizens Bank Park’s florally accented left field wall five days after he distributed a souvenir to scattered patrons in a similar vicinity at Citi Field.

So if LIOSM checked all those boxes, surely he must have been the WP…or at least the Mets must have been the WT, as in winning team.

Right?

Alas, you can’t always check what you want, for no, the Mets did not win the game Steven starred in on multiple sides of the ball. The 5-2 loss surely wasn’t on Matz, however. We’ve taken a master class in masterful starting pitching not necessarily accruing to the credit of the masterful starting pitcher this season. Jacob deGrom hasn’t homered, but he has hit and fielded well and pitched better than any living being. Other than leadership in earned run average and plethora of peripherals, see where it’s gotten him. Steven has. LIOSM had the presence of mind to dedicate his home run to deGrom’s star-crossed Cy Young quest, seeing as how it was hit off of Aaron Nola, one of Jake’s two prime award rivals.

Matzie isn’t going to be nominated for any pitching-related accolades, but he did give us one entertaining half-game that won’t show up in the standings. The more decisive half-game was forged when the bullpen — specifically Jerry Blevins and Drew Smith — imploding in the sixth, following Steven’s departure. Smith and Blevins allowed five consecutive Phillie baserunners, all of whom grew up to become Phillie runs. Why no more Matz as early as the sixth? The starter had thrown 91 pitches (oh those bases on balls), and loaded bases in the top of the sixth tempted Mickey Callaway to send up a pinch-hitter in place of Slugging Steven. He could have removed Tuesday’s objectively finest Mets power hitter after letting him hit, but maybe that would have been pushing everybody’s luck.

Wilmer Flores was the pinch-hitter instead. Hey, remember Wilmer Flores? He’s on the Mets, just as he’s been for years, but he seems to have faded into the September background, getting about as much playing time as Tim Peterson (whose last appearance was in one of David Wright’s simulated games), Devin Mesoraco (who sits stoically in a hoodie as he tries to not any further aggravate his not so great neck) and Jose Lobaton (who was recalled to back up Mesoraco and whose only recent camera time was logged attempting to roust that rat from underneath the Mets bench at Fenway Park last Friday). Wilmer has often been the toast of Flushing, but right now he’s relegated to the final weeks’ crumbs. Jay Bruce needs first base time. Dom Smith — who doubled in a run in the fourth Tuesday — needs first base time. Jeff McNeil isn’t yielding second base time. This team isn’t big enough for two long-tenured, well-loved third basemen to be penciled in at the hot corner days in advance. And that outfield experiment Callaway discussed in Spring never seems to have taken hold.

There’d be no joy in Metville once little-used Wilmer struck out in Philly. He is a man without a National League position. The stock line is everybody knows what Flores can do. A helluva critique to apply to someone who’s only 27 and who’s never started as many as 100 games at any one spot in any one year. It’s not wrong to have set Wilmer aside at this stage of this season, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a little sad.

Happier thoughts arose when Matz connected for that home run off Nola because precedent indicated we had this game in the bag. In the previous nineteen games in which a Met pitcher had homered, the Mets won. The nineteenth of those games was Matz’s previous start, though it took two even more dramatic wallops — from Michael Conforto and Todd Frazier — to tie and win it for the Mets in the bottom of the ninth. Perhaps the streak was due to snap as all skeins inevitably will.

What a streak it was, though, encompassing a span of 23 seasons, a total of 20 homers and a virtual 16-man pitching staff comprised of both household names and semi-obscurities. The run began with Paul Wilson in September 1996, also in Philadelphia, also at the ass end of a season much like this one (even more disconsolate, but with good times in the offing). Wilson had no more homers ahead of him as a Met, which wasn’t particularly surprising, and only one more start, which would have been shocking to have known. Wilson wasn’t yet one-third of a cautionary tale against expectation. He really was the prospective ace of the future. And he could hit a little.

Come 1997, when Wilson and his promising right elbow were sidelined, the Met pursued several Plan B’s to fill their rotation. They may not have been power arms, but those bats packed some thunder. Armando Reynoso homered in May, Mark Clark in June, Rick Reed in July. Clark would be traded by August and Reynoso would be shelved much of the following year, but Reed proved a two-way keeper, homering in April 1998 en route to his first of two Met All-Star berths.

The last Mets Home Opener of the 20th Century was started by Bobby Jones, who chose the auspicious occasion of April 12, 1999, to deliver his first and only major league home run. Three seasons later, miscast avenger Shawn Estes failed to plunk Roger Clemens as widely desired, but did reach him for a home run, which represented a pretty good shot to the Rocket’s self-esteem. Four years would pass before the next Mets pitcher round-tripper, off the bat of Steve Trachsel, an authority on taking his time.

If you were a fan of slow, you should have seen John Maine circle the bases in 2007, the last instance of a Mets pitcher homering at Shea Stadium. Not normally much of a hitter, John probably didn’t know his way past first base. In 2010, Johan Santana, who you were convinced could do anything, found his way into the right field stands with a batted ball, the first Met hurler to hit one out at Citi Field. Two years after that, Jeremy Hefner, who we didn’t know from a hole in the head, implanted in us the image of a pitcher who could go yard.

Then came the modern era of Mets pitchers who thought deep. Noah Syndergaard versus the Phillies in May 2015; Matt Harvey versus the Diamondbacks in July 2015; Bartolo Colon (!) at San Diego, the first hurler road dinger since Wilson’s, in May 2016; Noah again, on the same West Coast road trip as Bartolo, at L.A.; Noah yet again that August in Arizona; and two cheerful respites from 2017’s pervasive gloom, via Jacob deGrom against the Nationals in June and Seth Lugo off the Rockies in July.

Finally, LIOSM did it to the Marlins on September 13, 2018, for the 19th consecutive game in which a Mets pitcher homered and the Mets won. Delightfully, all of the above were Mets wins. Of course they were. What’s the point of a Mets pitcher homering and the Mets not winning? For events to unfold otherwise would be like being served a glob of whipped cream and being notified there would be no sundae underneath it.

I guess we found out that not everything that goes great together always comes together. The Mets are now 19-1 in their last 20 games when one of their pitchers homers, 44-12 overall since 1962. It had been so long since a loss was attached to the long ball that it became difficult to remember victory wasn’t automatic. Prior to Matz, Wilson’s Generation K brother in arm misery Jason Isringhausen was the last Mets pitcher to homer in a game the Mets didn’t win, two months before Wilson started the streak that carried on for more than two decades. On July 24, 1996, Izzy experienced the quintessential Coors Field evening, belting a two-run homer (off future Met slugger Reynoso) and giving up six earned runs on fourteen hits over six innings. The Mets, in their own quintessential 1996 fashion, went on to lose, 7-6.

It was the second home run of Isringhausen’s season — and the ’96 Mets’ second loss despite an Isringhausen homer. In June, he rocked Zane Smith for a two-run job at Three Rivers Stadium to stake himself to a 5-2, fourth-inning lead. Still up by one in the eighth, Izzy loaded the bases full of Bucs before giving way to Doug Henry. Henry gave up the lead and the game. The loss, like the homer, belonged to Isringhausen. At least he got something for this trouble.

Now that you’re curious, the other Mets pitchers whose homers couldn’t prevent losses were:

Dwight Gooden twice (in 1990 and 1993; Doc also homered in five Mets wins);

Rick Aguilera (in 1986; Aggie also homered in a pair of Mets wins);

Seaver (in 1972, in the first of his consecutive homer games; Tom also homered in five Mets wins, including the second of those consecutive homer games);

Tug McGraw (in 1971; in relief, no less);

Jerry Koosman (in his otherwise stellar rookie campaign of 1968);

Don Cardwell (in 1968; Don homered in Mets wins the last-place year before and the Miracle year after);

Jack Hamilton (a grand slam gone to waste versus the championship-bound Cardinals in 1967);

and Little Al Jackson (whose big fly off eventual teammate/Hall of Famer Warren Spahn couldn’t make a sufficient enough dent to defeat the Braves in 1964).

You can see Long Island’s Own Steven Matz is in good company. Win or lose, any Mets pitcher who homers is the kind of company we love to keep. And you can keep the designated hitter far, far from our lineup card, thank you very much.

Still Standing

I usually have a favorite player, but as a grown man how I acquire one has changed. It’s impossible, for instance, for me to make heroes out of young men who could quite literally be my own children. And I’ve learned too much else about the game and life to put anyone on a pedestal. These days, I look for a certain combination of precociousness, a willingness to work hard and the possibility of greatness — and then I wait for mysterious inspiration to select someone for me.

While I appreciate arriving veterans, they arrive too fully formed for me to embrace as favorites. I loved watching Carlos Beltran, and tirelessly defended him against the moron wing of Mets fandom, but he was Carlos Beltran before he got here. And I need to see my favorite player every day — a test even the most electric starting pitcher fails.

So. Young position player. Precocious, works hard, possibility of greatness.

The current Mets club has a few players with that combination: Brandon Nimmo, Jeff McNeil, and Amed Rosario come to mind. (If we’re being fair, any young player has those three things or they would have vanished before Double-A, but surely by now you’ve learned the heart isn’t fair.) But the position of favorite player is filled — Michael Conforto is the incumbent, with no sign of yielding his post or being supplanted.

Conforto, alas, gained bonus points with me for something all too common with the Mets of the 2010s and their young players: he succeeded despite his employers trying to ruin him. The Mets started off by doing the right thing for once, risking promoting him too early rather than far too late, but they then ignored his minor-league track record and declared that Conforto couldn’t hit lefties, based on some vague combination of his birthdate and shamanic lore that Terry Collins learned while hunting mastodons. This became a self-fulfilling prophecy, culminating in Conforto’s banishment to the minors, where he learned a valuable lesson about looking within yourself and grew mentally stronger went back to hitting like his old self because Collins wasn’t around to screw him up. (I banged on about this at greater length here.)

The Mets stubbornly kept trying to screw him up, most notably by pressing him into service as a center fielder, a position he has worked very hard to play … adequately. None of it worked. And since playing for the Mets is like laboring in a particularly unsafe cotton mill, Conforto got playing time he might otherwise have been denied as those around him got hurt and were carted off to the bench or sometimes even the disabled list.

Last year he emerged as a star despite every attempt to dim his light — and then, on a swing that didn’t look different than any other, his shoulder came apart.

Conforto was expected to miss a couple of months of 2018 at least; instead, in what seemed like a rare dose of good Mets injury news, he was back in the first week of April. Though maybe that wasn’t good news, because he sure didn’t look like Conforto. His bat seemed sluggish, his batting eye unfocused, his approaches to pitchers all pretzeled up. Would he have been better served with a longer rehab and a stint shaking off the rust in Las Vegas? We’ll never know and Conforto will likely never say – the omerta of baseball injuries forbids it.

Whatever the case, Conforto wasn’t Conforto until after the All-Star break. But now he looks like he’s making up for lost time. On Monday night, he singled in McNeil and Zack Wheeler to give the Mets a 4-0 lead, doubled to give the Mets back the lead after Wheeler crumbled and surrendered it, and then iced the game with a three-run homer. He has an outside shot at finishing 30 home runs. More importantly, he’s showed that he’s healthy — and demonstrated that he needs to be in the lineup every single day, against righties and lefties and six-armed arrivals from another planet, should they appear to complicate matters.

Not even Conforto’s heroics could stop the Cardinals from winning last night, which eliminated the Mets from postseason play. That turn of events became inevitable around the time the Mets crawled out of the rubble of a 5-21 June, but I’ll record the formality nonetheless. Still, these days I find myself experiencing that most dangerous of Mets-fan emotions: hope. (Even more dangerous: it’s infectious.)

The Mets aren’t going to win anything — unless they’ve got a plus-sized miracle in them they’re not even going to be a .500 club — but for the last month or so they’ve been entertaining and exciting. And though garbage time can be a dangerous mirage, they’ve been entertaining and exciting in a way that makes me want to think about 2019.

McNeil will come back to earth, inevitably, and Jacob deGrom won’t put up a sub-2.00 ERA for the rest of his career. But there’s a lot more going on here than those two players’ heroics. We’ve covered Conforto, but Rosario has put up a very good second half in which it looks like he’s turning lessons into habits. Nimmo has done the same, baseballs to the hand notwithstanding. Wheeler looks like he’s running out of gas, but his breakthrough has been a wonderful thing to see. Noah Syndergaard looks healthy. Steven Matz looks healthyish, which may be about as good as it gets with him.

Put those things together and you’ve got the core of a good team. And in a division unlikely to have a monster club … well, you never know. But you can believe. As a wise man once said, you gotta.

As If I Care

The upset of the season occurred Sunday afternoon as I was upset — mildly, but palpably (if not Papelbon) — that the brink-of-elimination Mets were defeated by the cusp-of-clinching Red Sox. The two teams may play in the same quadrant of the country, but they’ve hardly competed inside the same universe in 2018. Yet the Mets played as if they could have won the finale and the series, and I found myself watching and rooting accordingly.

The first part shouldn’t be a big deal. Baseball allows for scattered aberrational results. For a game or three, lesser teams jump up and bite better teams. The second part, the caring…that was definitely different. I actually cared about the Mets winning this baby beyond mere default mode. It took 149 games, but I may have finally got my fan groove back.

It mattered to me more than it didn’t how this game came out. It wasn’t simply that the Mets and Red Sox had split two and that the third was in doubt down to the bitter end. It wasn’t even wholly another chorus of Let’s Not Lose One For Jake, our all too familiar rallying cry. Ultimately, the best we could do in that regard was not lose while Jacob deGrom held forth in the box score. We lost later. Jake, whose religion normally forbids the surrender of earned runs, inadvertently sinned in the third inning, allowing three of them. His Holiness didn’t quite locate as he wished over the span of a few batters. Bad on him for one very rare instant.

The instant could have been a killer. It wasn’t, as Jake was Jake in the other six innings he worked, striking out twelve altogether and allowing nothing else. The Mets might have been doomed by deGrom’s impression of a human being had his opposite number, Chris Sale, stayed to take full advantage. But ramping up for the postseason after an injury, the AL equivalent of deGrom was on a light pitch count. With no Sale, the Mets had a chance to be in business.

They attempted to go to market in earnest in the sixth versus the Boston bullpen. The inning’s highlight was a no-quit at-bat by Amed Rosario: eight determined pitches versus Drew Pomeranz, eventually achieving what he seemed intent on producing, a double off the Green Monster that shuttled Austin Jackson from first to third. Actually, Rosario probably wanted to hit it out, and in twenty-nine other ballparks probably would have done so. Still, it was a hellacious plate appearance for a hitter who probably would have gone down swinging not too many weeks ago.

A run was generated shortly thereafter on a one-out sac fly to right from Wilmer Flores. Mookie Betts aggravated his side making the unsuccessful throw home and left the game, which likely led to the second run. Jackie Bradley moved to right from center and Tzu-Wei Lin took over in center, arriving just in time to not quite run down an extraordinarily deep fly ball from Michael Conforto that also went for a run-scoring double, pulling the Mets to within one.

Rosario getting it done. Conforto getting it done. I’ll take Frick and Frack getting it done if they’re wearing Mets uniforms (Frack had a superb year in the minors, but mysteriously wasn’t added to the 40-man for September). Rosario and Conforto, though, that’s our immediate future. That’s our present, really, if you backdate it to evaporation of the deepest dismay and disgust of midsummer. The Mets have been a highly watchable unit most games. They certainly were in Boston. Our two under-26 potential stars are the primary non-pitching reasons we can convince ourselves this isn’t just a late-season illusion toying with our perceptions.

We could perceive another opportunity in the seventh inning, Jacob having continued to keep the Sox in their offensive drawer, the Mets hanging in and hanging on at 3-2. Jay Bruce walked on a three-two pitch to lead off. Brandon Nimmo offered his bruised body for advancement and Heath Hembree accepted, dinging he who grins through pain (21st HBP for Brandon this season). Joe Kelly replaced Hembree and retired the next two unremarkable batters. But Rosario, who has given hope to the heretofore hopeless, singled to center, scoring Bruce to knot things at three.

This was exciting. The Mets could possibly win. At the very least, deGrom could possibly not lose. Hooray for attainable goals! But tied with the best team in baseball, I sought more. I sought a win for all the Mets. I’m aspirational that way. Jeff McVail…er, McNeil seemed like the ideal sort to get the next big hit for us. Alas, clever defensive positioning on a grounder up the middle and absurd baserunning on a dive into first ended the threat.

Jake ended his day past a hundred pitches through seven, his mistakes confined to that one uncharacteristic dim early inning. His team’s mistakes, however, were still in the game. Wilmer Flores worked out a walk off Brandon Workman to commence the eighth. Mickey Callaway made use of his expanded roster and pinch-ran Jack Reinheimer for Mr. Molasses. Great move, I thought. Less great move: Reinheimer leaning so far toward second that he might as well have been in Waltham. Jack may be quick, but Jack wasn’t nimble…and Jack got picked off. The nascent threat was snuffed. DeGrom would have to settle for a no-decision. His ERA spiked to 1.79 from 1.71 in his latest quality start. Gussying up his won-lost record would have been welcome, yet Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes have already framed his Cy Young case accurately.

If you don’t know Jake by now, you will never, never, never know him at all. Leave grumblings about 8-9 or wherever his W-L winds up to the willfully ignorant. Jacob deGrom is to pitching what the Boston Red Sox are to all facets of baseball. Nobody’s better this year.

Yet the Mets were tied with the best there are clear through the top of the eighth inning, with good old reliable Seth Lugo, the Nathan Detroit of the Mets relief corps all year long, coming on to maintain the tie. Except when Jacob deGrom has started, Lugo isn’t necessarily good or reliable. No knock on Seth. Nobody on the Mets seems to wants to lend Jake a helping hand. Lugo gave up one run in the eighth, or one run too many. In the ninth, facing the sixth Red Sox reliever of the day — Steven Wright closing in lieu of Craig Kimbrel — the Mets continued to suggest life. Nimmo walked with one out. With two out, however, Austin Jackson was caught looking less by Wright than by Bill Miller, the umpire with a strike zone as wide as the Mass Pike. Thus, the Mets went down to grudging defeat, 4-3.

Losing this game, as noted above, annoyed me uncommonly within the context of 2018. I’ve recently grown used to the notion that the Mets aren’t comatose as a matter of course. I’ve come to really enjoy watching them do what they do well. The starting pitching we’ve known about. The second-half progress of Conforto and Rosario has been a delight (this was the ninth game this year in which both have registered at least two base hits apiece, albeit the second game the Mets have lost when they’ve done so). McNeil, dunderheaded dive into first notwithstanding, has been a genuine revelation. Nimmo takes a bruising but keeps on cruising. I’ve seeped into that mindset I remember from around this time, oh, 35 years ago. We have, I said then, Hernandez, Strawberry, Wilson, Brooks, Orosco, this kid Darling…how bad could we be next year?

We have, I say now, Rosario, Conforto, Nimmo, McNeil, deGrom, Wheeler, Syndergaard…how good could we be next year? There’s a long way to go before taking theoretical leaps of faith, never mind invoking comparisons that would take a loaded farm system and a savvy general manager to make foolproof. Yet I’m not instantly disgusted or discouraged by everything and everybody that isn’t deGrom anymore, and that’s a step up. I’m honestly irritated that we didn’t take two of three from the Red Sox, a state of being I couldn’t have imagined in June when we rolled over and over for a spectrum of competition that spanned the Cubs to the Orioles. I’m reflexively treating these Mets, even Reinheimer, as major league-caliber. I’m believing we should win games when the score is close, regardless of opponent.

I realize that could lead to letdown I don’t need as the sands run out on the schedule. But what the hell, we’re already mathematically eliminated from the NL East race, we’re a nudge from being disqualified from Wild Card contention and the calendar’s been mentally turned to 2019 for months. Why not get worked up just enough to be let down? I think we’ve earned that much.

Thanks to Mike Silva for inviting me on the Talkin’ Mets podcast to reflect on the career of David Wright. You can listen to us here.

Back in the Bandbox

I’ve been to Fenway Park before — in fact, a few years ago I discovered that I saw my first-ever baseball game there, dandled (presumably) on my mother’s knee for a Red Sox-Tigers tilt in 1970 or so. I was back in the late 1990s, but with relatively few parks under my belt, my impressions were fairly surface: green walls, seats sized for the bottoms of the 1910s, and pillars. But even without a wealth of comparisons, I got it: Fenway had an intimacy that other parks had lost, and I sensed was all but impossible to regain.

I was back on Saturday afternoon to see the suddenly not so terrible Mets play the irrefutably terrific Red Sox, now in the waving-and-blowing-kisses phase of wrapping up a division title. This time, I was there with my wife (a Fenway veteran from her college years, when seats were cheap and aggressively available), my son and our friend Liz.

Emily and I were clad in Mets gear and rooting hard for our team. Joshua has fallen away from the fold, but was properly attired and publicly loyal. Liz’s loyalties are to the Bosox, her hometown team.

We were far from a unique group. Mets rooters probably made up a third of the fans in attendance Saturday, with the 7 Line Army forming a sizable sea of blue speckled with orange out beyond the Pesky Pole. And many of the pairs, trios and larger ensembles we saw featured orange and blue as well as red and navy.

Which made me happy. I’ve always thought that Mets and Red Sox fans should be friends — or at least natural allies, if friendship is a little too House on Pooh Corner for you. After all, as fanbases we both define ourselves not just by our tragedies and farces (current in our case, not so much in theirs) but also, however much we might sigh about it, by measuring ourselves against whatever’s happening with that other New York team.

It’s taken me a while to understand that few Boston fans want to be franchise friends — to most of them, the Mets are either the insufferable outfit that prolonged their much-mythologized agony by an additional baseball generation (which is fair enough) or a Gotham auxiliary to the pinstriped colossus they detest above all else (which is not fair at all).

But on Saturday, all was well in the stands — particularly when both teams’ rooters coalesced around baying YANKEES SUCK! into the blue sky and golden light of a crisp Boston afternoon. The Yankees were nowhere in sight, and I’m not just talking about the AL East standings, so the chant was thoroughly beside the point. But it still made me smile — a modern-baseball Kumbaya that’s as close as the actual world will ever get to the alliance I wish existed.

It helped that the Mets and Red Sox played a fun game, one that flirted with a number of storylines but refused to settle on any of them, remaining in doubt until late. At first it looked like the Mets would return the favor offered by Boston on Friday, patching together a bullpen game and getting routed. In the first Dom Smith threw a ball away and Amed Rosario couldn’t reach Xander Bogaerts‘ grounder to his left; in the second Smith let a ball get through him to bring more trouble to the doorstep.

But Corey Oswalt survived his teammates’ inattention and handed the ball off to Daniel Zamora, who was the pitcher of record when Rick Porcello finally cracked and left a fastball in the middle of the plate for Brandon Nimmo. From my vantage point behind third base, I thought at first that Mookie Betts had caught it while lunging over the bullpen fence, a la Dwight Evans a very long time ago. But no, it was just over Betts’s glove and good for a 3-1 Mets lead.

For a few minutes we were raucous, pleased with ourselves and perhaps pushing the boundaries of being good Fenway guests. But then Paul Sewald gave us an etiquette lesson.

Oh, Sewald. He looks dogged and imperturbable out there and says the right things in postgame interviews. But a little black cloud follows him around, leaving us screaming that it’s going to rain while everyone else strolls around blithely unconcerned. In the fifth Sewald struck out J.D. Martinez and popped up Bogaerts, but this only made me more anxious. Sure enough, what followed was like a bad dream: Sewald surrendered singles to Steve Pearce and Ian Kinsler before Jackie Bradley Jr. clobbered a ball off the top of the Green Monster.

I thought it was gone. Everyone thought it was gone. The umpires huddled, called Chelsea and eventually decided it was a double. The Bosox fans booed vociferously. Those of us wearing orange and blue shrugged and looked embarrassed. The Fenway A/V folks gave the umps a blast of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” to which I tip my cap. Instead of 4-3 Boston, the game was tied.

No matter. Sewald intentionally walked Rafael Devers, was sent away to think about what he’d done, and Brock Holt smashed Drew Smith‘s very first pitch off the Monster for a two-run double.

Sigh.

In the seventh, knuckleballer Steven Wright ran into trouble, walking two and battling Smith and Kevin Plawecki, whose experience swinging at knuckleballs is at best scant and may in fact be nonexistent. Both fought valiantly but were retired, leaving Austin Jackson at the plate with the tying run a simple single away. Jackson popped up and the ballgame was lost — everything that followed was a not particularly necessary coda.

Sitting on my wooden seat at Fenway, I was … well, “disappointed but not devastated” wouldn’t be wrong. Much as I wanted the Mets to win and let me saunter through the streets around Fenway smiling beneficently, I couldn’t argue that mid-September is the perfect time for taking baby relievers and trying to make them grow up quick, not to mention taking pitchers formerly thought of as at least useful and working to get them back on track. The only shame was that it hadn’t worked out.

And anyway, it really had been fun. Sitting there with family and friends on a lovely afternoon, I was struck again by the intimacy of Fenway. It’s startlingly low — its highest seat would probably be smack in the middle of whatever Citi Field calls its mezzanine — and pleasingly odd, a jumble of angles and terraces and balconies assembled because of the street grid of which it is an essential, integral part, and not because of some committee of architects were told to be whimsical.

At Fenway the players aren’t participants in some distant action but right there in front of you. And when the stadium’s in full roar, or just abuzz with baseball fans riding the wave of a moment, you feel like you’ve edged over some invisible line between watcher and participant — you’re not an actor whose deeds will need to be quantified and recorded, but a part of the proceedings nonetheless.

It’s marvelous, really — an unidentifiable something you don’t realize is missing elsewhere until you’ve been steeped in it here. I’d forgotten that, and relearning it was a pleasure.

What a Beautiful World This Will Be

They used to say you should never trust what you see in September when it comes to young players and clubs just playing out the string, but that wisdom was turned on its head late in the 2010s, when the also-ran New York Mets used an uncommonly hot finish as the platform to launch the dynasty that has come to define baseball in the 21st century. The franchise that was fronted for so long by Hall of Fame quartet Conforto, Rosario, Nimmo and McNeil — and that was before you got to the pitching — actually appeared to be going nowhere as summer approached fall in 2018, yet each of those indelible pieces began fitting legitimately into place sometime that August and really began to roll come September.

An interesting litmus test greeted them on a Friday night at Fenway Park, in one of those “Interleague” series baseball used to insist upon cramming into its schedule every year. Though they, like the designated hitter, were eventually wiped from the face of the sport to the cheers of level-headed fans everywhere, such meetings were a cumbersome fact of life in ’18. As it happened, the Boston Red Sox were running away with the American League East that September, having already topped 100 wins with more than two weeks to go. Surely the superior Sox would bring the middling Mets back to Earth (a phrase also popular before commercial space travel rendered it meaningless).

Contrary to expectations, the Mets, who had just completed thrashing the fading Phillies and bottom-feeding Marlins, proved themselves up to the challenge, defeating Boston in Boston, 8-0. The New Yorkers hit four home runs, made several sparkling defensive plays and generally dominated the heretofore indomitable Sox behind the pitching of Noah “The Bib” Syndergaard. Syndergaard assumed that nickname following his seven innings of shutout ball because he greeted reporters wearing a lobster bib. Prior to September 14, 2018, Syndergaard was commonly called “Thor,” but given copyright concerns, “The Bib” showed greater staying power.

As Mickey Callaway would recall in his Cooperstown induction speech, “That was a big game for us, a big series and a big month. Not too many people remember I came off as pretty overmatched when I first started managing the Mets, and I probably was. It took me and my guys a while to get the hang of the little things — like hitting and filling out lineup cards, respectively.” Callaway’s point was understood. The Mets were that rare team to rise from a midseason morass and make the most of a portion of the season previously thought to be meaningless. Under his guidance, 2019 marked the beginning of a New York Mets enterprise that no longer stood for suffocating cluelessness. The young core, the superb starting rotation (deGrom, Wheeler and Matz joining with The Bib to reprogram the record algorithms in the decade ahead), even the decision to activate a nearly retired David Wright all combined to give the franchise a sense of direction and purpose it had lacked for too long.

It wasn’t only going 25-15 over 40 games leading up to the Friday in question that illustrated how far the Mets were going. Renaming Citi Field the Wright House also seemed to change the tenor of the operation, as did the appointment of a single general manager. But those are the familiar components of the story. Almost lost to history was how much the Mets won when most people stopped watching in 2018. That’s why the new saying is you should sometimes trust what you see in September when it comes to young players and clubs just playing out the string. You might see something that turns into something more.

There are no guarantees, of course. But you never know.

Resetting Expectations

Perhaps it was Mets Sensory Overload having gotten to me — Jay Horwitz’s expansive valedictory Wednesday afternoon; the practically literally endless rain delay Wednesday night; David Wright finally saying “uncle” to reality and telling us early Thursday afternoon when we could expect to see him play next and last — that when the opener of Thursday’s twi-night doubleheader reached the bottom of the ninth, and the Mets, with nobody on base, had made two outs, I turned off the TV and walked away with my team down by a run. I had things to do, places to be. Time was tight; I’d spent too much of it obsessed on the Mets to wait any more minutes on an inevitable third out.

A few of those theoretically precious minutes had passed before I got in my car and turned on the radio. I expected to hear some boilerplate about the last out and the first pitch of the nightcap. I had already picked out my Game One themes for here later: Steven Matz’s homer was going to be the first Met pitcher circuit clout not slugged in the service of a win since Jason Isringhausen went deep yet down to defeat twice in 1996; and you can’t hold a sleepwalking loss against an obviously tired team that stormed past inclement weather and midnight the night before to resoundingly pound the Marlins, 13-0.

I won’t be using those as themes any longer. They ceased to be operative as soon as I heard Howie Rose tell me, “Don Mattingly outsmarted himself.” Either Howie was referring to the Miami manager putting too much food on his plate while grabbing a between-games snack, or Donnie Bullpen had opted for one too many arms in the ninth.

The latter. Yes, the latter. Brilliantly, the latter. Adam Conley had it going on in relief of Sandy Alcantara (who had it going on even more, home run to Matz notwithstanding). But Mattingly decided to do some do-si-D’OH! managing, bringing in Kyle Barraclough in order to righty-righty announced pinch-hitter Amed Rosario. Mickey Callaway countered by pinch-hitting for the pinch-hitter with lefty Dom Smith. Smith grounded into that second out that sent me out the door, expecting I’d be missing nothing.

Little did I expect Barraclough remaining on the mound would prove not so smart for Mattingly. Righty Kyle kept pitching. Lefty Michael Conforto homered to tie matters at three. Then righty Todd Frazier homered directly thereafter to win it for the Mets, 4-3. Considering that the Mets had never before tied a game on a home run and then immediately won the same game on another home run, it wasn’t what one would expect.

I’d love to tell you I could see Mattingly’s ploy preparing to backfire from twenty or so miles away, but honestly, I wasn’t terribly focused on who was pitching or due up as I locked my apartment door, stepped inside the elevator, dropped some refuse in the dumpster and opened my car door as prelude to attacking errands. I was routinely chalking up a 3-2 loss and lightly contemplating how I’d frame it hours later.

Nevertheless, I got a win. I avoided directly experiencing its dramatic conclusion, yet it was waiting for me in the past tense, Howie helpfully cluing me in through the speakers. It was sort of the inverse of the other first game of a doubleheader played at Citi Field this season, when I sat outside the ballpark for nine innings and didn’t get to my seat until the tenth. Two blinks later, Wilmer Flores delivered a walkoff homer. Perfect timing in July. Different timing in September.

But we won both times, which is the important thing.

Unlike that twi-nighter in July, or that day-nighter in Atlanta in May, or amid that offensive onslaught in Philly in August, the Mets took the “won both times” to its logical conclusion Thursday night, sweeping this doubleheader from the Marlins, taking the second game, 5-2. The Mets rarely play doubleheaders, sweep them even more infrequently. The odds of doing so behind Jason Vargas seemed astronomical, but Vargas hasn’t been Very Vargas lately and the Marlins are plenty Marlins. The Mets, particularly when they are slashing and dashing, appear livelier than they have since April. They had a couple of evening innings when they flashed by the Floridians, banging balls off walls, snatching extra bases, not seeming the least bit weary — three wins within twenty-four hours and wide awake relative to their somnambulant competition.

Busting a particularly impressive move was Tomás Nido, who belted his first big league home run. I’m now growing used to hearing “Nido” mentioned as a matter of course during a Mets game, so it no longer lands on my ears as “neato,” which means I don’t automatically hum along with Young MC every time his name circulates. But since he did turn over a milestone, I believe it is appropriate to state the following:

You say Nido
Check your libido
Hit your first homer
In your new tuxedo

You want it? You got it. Even if you don’t want it.

I’d been wanting to see Matz go yard ever since the Sunday afternoon he bust…er, burst upon the scene with three hits and four RBIs. Turned out East Setauket Steve wasn’t much of a hitter once he settled into the bigs. Three years later, however, he’s finally a man of dingers. Like Seth Lugo and Jacob deGrom in 2017; like Noah Syndergaard four times in three separate starts across 2015 and 2016; like Mets Classic mainstay Bartolo Colon in 2016; like the formerly revered Matt Harvey in 2015…all the way back to Paul Wilson in September of 1996. We are now up to nineteen games in a row during which our starting pitcher homering serves as prelude to our team winning. (Perhaps our starting pitchers should homer more often.) Conforto and Frazier orchestrating their dual dramatics made sure we could fully enjoy Matz’s second-inning woodwork instead of treating it as a vaguely pleasant afterthought to a loss. Really, since the Mets prevailed by one run and Steven’s home run off Alcantara was a two-run job, you could say the pride of Suffolk County won this one for himself…even if Jerry Blevins got the decision.

Never mind that we’ve decided decisions are for suckers. The doubleheader sweep Thursday on top of the extended theatricality of Wednesday night’s soggy blowout gave us three straight wins over the Marlins, effectively clinching no worse than fourth place for us (we lead Miami by eleven with sixteen to play in the race absolutely nobody is tracking). It’s almost enough to make you forget the one game we lost in this series was started by deGrom, the best pitcher in the world. You’d expect different.

Better advice would be to expect nothing. Baseball works better when you maintain no illusions about what will happen next.

***

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect when David Wright seeped back into the center of our consciousness last month. My fondest hope was he’d rediscover his vitality and turn Frazier into the Mets’ fifth or sixth first baseman because David would be ready to go at third like he always was from 2004 until we were all compelled to learn to spell stenosis in 2015. That hope was as fond as it was unrealistic, so my only legitimate wish was that he’d be up for a few September at-bats and that his employers wouldn’t block his path. Given the obstacle-laden road the Mets laid out for him, matching hope to expectation became difficult. I’ve found “hope for the best, expect the Mets” tends to represent a reasonable rule of thumb.

David was 22 and budding into a star when we began writing regularly in this space. Goodness knows I didn’t expect that someday I’d be reflecting here on the news that the kid everybody reflexively gushed over was about to hang ’em up. I had no idea how long this blog would last, but David was presumably poised to play forever. Somehow, though, forever flowed toward an end point. With a physically diminished Wright and the eternally awkward Mets out of practical options, both parties convened on the same page on Thursday, revealing their mutually agreed upon plan for what’s left of 2018 and, alas, the Captain’s career:

1) David will be activated on September 25, when the club begins its final homestand of the year versus Atlanta.

2) He will start one more game at third base, September 29, against the ever-present Marlins.

3) Kimberly-Clark will put on extra shifts to accommodate the ensuing demand for Kleenex across the New York Metropolitan Area.

Nobody mentioned the tissue manufacturer by name, but c’mon. If you watched the press conference in which David tearfully began to say goodbye, surely you must have groped about for your pocket pack. The phrase that got my eyes going most was what he uttered when he described the strain of his rehabilitation process and the eventual recalibration of his goals:

“I just wanna put this uniform on again.”

This uniform. Not a uniform generically. A Mets uniform specifically. The Mets uniform that has been synonymous with him since July 21, 2004. Nobody’s ever worn this uniform as honorably or purposefully as David Wright has. Technically, he’s put a Mets uniform on plenty since May 27, 2016, the date of his most recent major league game, but David said it hasn’t felt right to wear it if he’s not playing. He’s a ballplayer. Ballplayers play. You listen to Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling on a regular basis, you hear them still slip into the present tense. Keith refers to himself as a first baseman, Ronnie as a pitcher. Not a former or an ex. They and their ilk instinctively expect at any moment they will be told to grab a bat or a ball and start getting loose. It’s as chronic a condition as spinal stenosis. Thus, on some level, David will always be a third baseman, always be a hitter, always be a player, always be a Met.

But there’s a difference between self-identifying and actively being. David craved one more chance to actively be. To actually play, as trained and contracted. To play before his daughters, neither of them born when he was previously active. To play before the rest of his extended family, a clan in which he seems inclined to include us, the Mets fans. He thanked us, among others, on Thursday in remarks that he read through tears. Typically classy, if not necessarily necessary. Letting us be a part of his singular Mets career for fifteen seasons should be thanks enough.

David Wright will put this uniform on again. No. 5, at third base, batting somewhere in the Mets lineup. The gratitude is all ours.

Let's Play One

The Mets and Marlins were supposed to play two baseball games starting at 4:10 pm, but at 4:10 pm it was raining.

Not particularly hard — you could almost call it Corey Oswalt weather — but hard enough. It stayed that way through 5:10 pm, through 6:10 pm, through the time the Mets would have played their usual baseball game, and on into the night. Mets Yearbooks came and went on SNY, with 1984 becoming 1987 becoming 1983. (We’re really going places with Wes Gardner, people!) Every 10 minutes or so Gary Apple, forced into the role played by Kevin Bacon in “Animal House,” would appear to note the continuing reality of the deployed tarp, smile doggedly and say that no one was telling anyone anything but he’d be back with updates as soon as he had them.

I eventually gave up and started watching “Edge of Tomorrow,” the Tom Cruise/Emily Blunt movie about an ill-prepared soldier who has to live the same fight over and over, with fatal results, until he figures out a way to escape. I mention the details of this plot for no particular reason. At about the midpoint of the movie, I glanced at At Bat and saw, to my shock, that it was the bottom of the first. After five and a half hours of nothing, there was baseball being played!

And then I watched the rest of “Edge of Tomorrow.” Honestly, it had treated me better than the Mets had.

When I switched over to the game it was already 6-0 Mets, the last three runs collected on an Amed Rosario home run that nearly hit the restaurant, and let’s just say the Marlins didn’t look super-enthused to play baseball. You can’t blame them for that — by that point I wasn’t super-enthused to consume it while dry and on my couch — but the 13-0 final score made you wonder if the two teams had chosen different regimens for passing those five and a half hours. Judging by the evidence, perhaps the Mets were having a Chug a Red Bull contest while the Marlins were taking care of a bake shop’s entire stock of Whip-Its.

(Thirteen runs. Scored by the Mets. Man, it’s good not being Jacob deGrom.)

(Also: this game has no recap. Which somehow seems appropriate.)

Anyway the teams played, or at least the Mets did, while 200-odd unbelievably stubborn fans peered at the proceedings through a veil of fog. The game wasn’t without its pleasures — if you win by nearly two touchdowns you’ve got to exit at least content, right? The biggest pleasure was Zack Wheeler, continuing his gangbusters season. Wheeler throttled the Marlins and outscored them by his lonesome before departing after eight innings and just 88 pitches. (Hold the pitchforks for once: he told the braintrust he was tired.) Rosario’s homer was something, though also the kind of something you hope a young hitter doesn’t get into his head as the preferred outcome — remember how Rey Ordonez‘s annual home run would be followed by around six weeks of windmill swings and clouts that were prodigious if measured vertically? Dom Smith connected for a homer of his own. Jeff McNeil did what we’ve come to regard as Jeff McNeil things. Other than the 335-minute wait and the absence of a pennant race, it was all good.

And there was the ball Jay Bruce hit with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth. It arced out to left, hard but a bit low, and out there in the fog Rafael Ortega felt for the wall, reached up with his glove and came down with the ball. Darn, a solid catch for an inning-ending out. But wait, the umpires looked skeptical and various Mets were running around the bases. And, indeed, replays showed that the ball had banged off the railing and its M&Ms banner, a good two feet above the orange line, and then thunked into the mitt of a startled Ortega, who after a beat showed off his prize, probably with the suspicion that this ruse would not go undetected.

Players instinctively selling traps as catches in the replay era is adorable, but also futile. It was a grand slam for Bruce — and, if you think about it, a not bad summation of the quietly bonkers night the Mets and Marlins eventually decided, “let’s play one.”

The Loss Store Called

Betcha didn’t realize that twenty years after Seinfeld went off the air, George Costanza really did get that executive job with the Mets. You can tell by the way the Mets decided to institute the same “opposite” policy George put to such good use where changing his luck was concerned.

“Instead of starting Jacob deGrom against the Phillies in the daytime on roughly his regular rest, we’ll start him against the Marlins, at night, with more than a week between starts!”

Never mind that deGrom owns the Phillies, is the king of daylight and was scheduled to deal per usual on Sunday. The Costantzan Mets took a look at the forecast and judged it ready to rain all that afternoon.

But it didn’t rain on Sunday, Jerry. It didn’t rain. Or it didn’t rain enough to delay the game once it commenced. And it didn’t rain enough to play havoc with the starting pitcher. The Mets scored a half-dozen and won, supporting not Jacob deGrom, but Drew Gagnon. Gagnon’s Cy Young chances remained unaffected.

That was OK, George or whoever is in charge of such decisions said. We’ll pitch Jake on Monday. Monday it will be just fine.

But it rained on Monday, Jerry. It rained enough so that you would have needed a marine biologist to find the mound at Citi Field. It rained so much that the Mets actually postponed a game hours before anybody would have shown up (though not that many would have shown up).

Thus, we got Jake on seven days’ rest versus a team that seems to find a way to beat him more than anybody else does. DeGrom aficionados (deGromcionados?) will always remember that time Jake struck out the first eight Marlins he faced…and was no-decisioned as the Mets lost.

That happened at night. Not that Jake pitching at night is night & day versus Jake pitching during the day, but when you’re seeking every possible edge, every little bit helps. And that’s what the Mets gave Jake on Tuesday night: every little bit.

Correction: a very little bit.

Jake pitched seven innings against the Marlins. Six of them were typically brilliant. One, the fourth, was perfectly Marlinian. Two outs, then two soft hits, then an oh-two pitch that Lewis Brinson, whom I now detest, hit far enough that even a defensive specialist center fielder like Austin Jackson couldn’t reach before it banged off the wall. Two runs scored on the double, which is to say the Mets trailed by two. As previously reported, the Mets did a very little bit to help Jake, and none of it involved generating offense versus Jose Ureña to that point.

I had the feeling Brinson would get to deGrom, I swear I did. Never mind that it was oh-and-two. Never mind that nobody had doubled, tripled or homered all year when Jake had a batter oh-and-two (batters were 10-for-103 in those situations entering Tuesday, according to Sports Info Solutions’ resident maven Mark Simon). The freaking fourth had that sense of doom hanging over it. Two were out, nobody was on, McNeil can’t corral a grounder, Conforto can’t get to a bloop, the booth is telling us what a disappointment Lewis Brinson has been…the feeling was palpable. For the record, I also had a feeling on Sunday that the whole “let’s hold Jake back for Monday because maybe it won’t rain then” was gonna not yield paydirt come Tuesday.

The Mets are being operated by George Costanza and I’m channeling Morris Albert. Feelings. Nothing more than feelings.

The Mets — Michael Conforto, specifically — eventually produced an entire run for deGrom. Many nights or days that would be generous. Tuesday it represented a half-hearted gesture. Jacob was removed from the game trailing, 2-1. When the Mets took great care not to score for him in the bottom of the seventh, he couldn’t get a win. When Anthony Swarzak rematerialized from purgatory to surrender a home run and Robert Gsellman tossed a couple more on the fire, a no-decision landed out of his reach. Kevin Plawecki prettied up the final (5-3) with a two-run jack in the ninth, but it was too late for Jake’s Cy Young case to look any better.

DeGrom has a 1.71 ERA; it was 1.68. He’s thrown 26 consecutive starts without allowing more than three runs, a record nobody knew existed until he set it. The only opponent to whom he’s surrendered a fourth run in a game this year? Why, the Marlins, of course (on April 10, when no Mets fan’s wardrobe was complete without a crisp new Salt & Pepper tee). He’s Quigley Quality when it comes to executing nothing but that kind of start since early in the season. He’s an absolute clinic in pitching every five or six, seven or even eight days. And, um, he’s 8-9. We forthright citizens of Metsopotamia don’t recognize that as valid or legitimate or relevant, but they do keep track of that noise.

At least he didn’t get rained on on Sunday, huh?

Hindsight’s quite the smug bastard. Had the Mets not adhered to their inner Costanza, Jacob would have pitched when he was supposed to, taking on the opponent he regularly dominates, in the daypart during which he’s untouchable…and cats and dogs would have come down in buckets, and we’d wonder why the Mets hadn’t had the sense to hold out Jake as gray skies clearly threatened.

Clouds follow this team and its ace around. No matter how you try to strategize this stuff, it backfires. Now there are only three deGrom starts remaining instead of four (unless Jake is permitted to go on three days’ rest in the last game of the season, after which he’ll have all winter to recover). It’s hard to imagine one start will make the difference between our man accepting a prestigious trophy or a sincere pat on the back. The earned run average seems pretty secure in its sub-two subdivision. Baseball is simply better when Jacob deGrom is pitching. However many fewer innings of that there is, we are that much more diminished.

No wonder it rained so hard on Monday in New York. Surely the heavens did the math, realized Jake was about to be shortchanged a start, and started to weep. That’s my feeling.

Groove Is In The Heart

The Mets spoiled their own chances of contending sometime during the spring. Now, on the cusp of fall, they have finally put a meaningful crimp in somebody else’s plans.

I have no more against the Phillies these days than I do the Braves or the Nationals or the Marlins. Ample froth at the mouth is reserved for all division rivals at all times, but we’re a little short of honest blood feuds at the moment. Of course if it were up to me, none of our co-tenants would win a damn thing, let alone a damn game. If it were further up to me, I’d call for a brokered convention, the kind the political junkie in me has yearned for every four summers in another realm.

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (FAF) — In a stunning move, delegates to the National League East have nominated the New York Mets as their nominee for the fall campaign after none of the presumed contenders for the division title could gather requisite support on the first 162 ballots. The Mets emerged as a compromise candidate once it was concluded nobody among the Braves, Phillies or Nationals offered any sort of compelling appeal to the undecided baseball fan. The Met boomlet gathered momentum based on market size, experience (they are the most recent NL East team to go to a World Series, the only NL East team to do so in this decade) and what one observer called “inherent lovability”. Party bosses also couldn’t ignore the Mets’ improved play in the second half. “The Mets have a real chance to bring us victory in October,” opined one observer. “Besides, having deGrom on the ticket has got to be worth 1.68 earned runs on the electoral map.”

Alas, I don’t think it works that way, thus on Sunday we had to settle for making the most of our also-ran status, and the only way a team ensconced in fourth place can do that is to confer also-ran status on a team in a higher place. That’s what the Mets did to the Phillies, at least for now. Anybody who lived through the Year of Our Collapse Two Thousand Seven (a.k.a. the Year of the Stewed Goat) knows it ain’t over, et al, but the Mets injecting some distance into the margin between the second-place Phillies and the first-place Braves is the most satisfying task the fourth-place Mets could have accomplished over the weekend.

There was satisfaction when we were done, to be sure, especially in light of how we did it. We did it deGromless, which wasn’t the idea, but weather inevitably thinks on its own. The Mets looked at the Queens skies and the afternoon forecast, and decided leaving the Jake out in the rain — all that Cy Young icing flowing down — was a bad idea. And it was. Natch, after a twenty-minute delay, it didn’t rain hard enough to stop the game once. Or it did but they didn’t bother. Nobody worries much about leaving Corey Oswalt out in the rain.

So the Mets did. Corey and Drew Gagnon, then a few more relievers. It worked beautifully. Oswalt gave up an early home run to Rhys Hoskins (apropos when you realize “Rhys Hoskins” is the Dutch translation of “Rosh Hashanah”), but for a guy who had essentially five minutes’ notice, three innings of two-run ball is admirable. Gagnon, last seen coming and going from Citi Field in July, stood his ground a little firmer this time, shutting out the Phillies in the fourth and fifth. Meanwhile, the young Mets surged as they sometimes have in the second half of this season. In the fifth, a succession of potentially youthful future saviors — Dom Smith, Amed Rosario, Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto — batted and produced four runs. Throw in Brandon Nimmo and you can rightly conjure visions of satisfaction of what’s to come.

Conforto had the biggest of hits, a three-run homer that required the usual M&M’s Sweet Seats facade review. McNeil had the most, three, which seems like standard output from the eldest neophyte. Jeff is 26, which is young in real life, borderline ancient for a major league rookie. Where has he been all our lives? More importantly, where will he be for the rest of it? Jeff McNeil has ascended into Mike Vail territory in the minds of the fifty-and-over set among us. You invoke “Mike Vail” usually and it’s with a bit of a sigh for a blazing hot bat from August and September 1975 that failed to light up the rest of that decade. The nutshell is Vail, 23, came up unheralded from Tidewater and took over New York for a spell. He hit in 23 straight games which tied both the team and NL rookie record. À la “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the next thing you know, young Mike’s the starting right fielder for 1976, with Rusty Staub traded to Detroit to clear space for him (also, M. Donald Grant was a venal crumb).

Where’s Mike Vail’s plaque in the Mets Hall of Fame? You could ask the same of many worthy candidates, actually, but Vail’s case never made it past his first big league winter, when a game of basketball led to a broken foot, which led to a longer delay to starting his next season than the Mets faced on Sunday. Mike never again got untracked as a Met and wouldn’t be one anymore by 1978. Though he put together a respectable bench career that extended well into the 1980s, Mike Vail’s role as Met star had had it already by the summer of ’75. No later than its autumn, anyway.

Ah, but at this moment in time in that year, there was no greater praise to heap upon a player than to refer to him as the next Mike Vail. So let’s go with that definition when we begin to think of Jeff McNeil, currently batting .340, in those terms. He is enshrouded in the Vail of Hope for now and we can always hope that what we’ve been seeing in late summer and early fall is a sign of Jeff to come, not what Mike encountered ages ago.

In the end Sunday, the Mets held on to beat the Phillies, 6-4, Drew Smith and Seth Lugo doing most of the rest of the satisfying stifling of visitor hopes. My cheering on a Mets win is chronic, my seeking any sign of forward progress a symptom. On September 9, the Mets rose to twelve games under .500, a plateau they haven’t settled upon since June 23. I’ll have to look up what kind of trophy they give you for that. My having it in for the Phillies was a temporary condition. I’ll happily have it in for the Braves when they visit during the season’s final week, particularly if they have not yet clinched the division. I’m guessing they will have (though I would have guessed the same of us at this juncture of 2007). I watched them beat the Diamondbacks after I watched the Mets beat the Phillies. Atlanta looks a lot stronger, especially with Lucas Duda coming off the bench. The Phillies remind me of us from those years where were the fates just kept us hanging on until September unconditionally released us from any semblance of a pennant race. A year like 1975, when we peaked as the final month began. A year like 1989, when we used up our limited cache of mojo by late August. A year like 2005, when a reality check crashed our Wild Card dreams into the boards. Maybe a year like 1984, when summer’s rise was oh so sweet, but it was the fall that killed us.

The Mets have been in the Phillies’ position before: attempting to fend off the unfendable, feasibility fading by the day. And the Phillies have been in the Mets’ position before, trying to make the most of a miserable season by acting as a carrier, pulling a rival with a better record down to its dyspeptic level. We’ve been the satisfyingly feisty fourth-place spoiler. We’ve been the frustratingly desperate second-place dreamer.

All things considered, I’d rather be in 1986.