The blog for Mets fans
who like to read

ABOUT US

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.

Got something to say? Leave a comment, or email us at faithandfear@gmail.com. (Sorry, but we have no interest in ads, sponsored content or guest posts.)

Need our RSS feed? It's here.

Visit our Facebook page, or drop by the personal pages for Greg and Jason.

Or follow us on Twitter: Here's Greg, and here's Jason.

The Mets That Didn't Bark

A cliche of whodunits is the dog that didn’t bark — the detective’s first indication that something odd is afoot, not because something happened but because it failed to happen.

A detective would have taken a definite interest in Tuesday night’s tilt with the Twins, the start of a two-game, 20-hour whirlwind tour through Minnesota. Because pretty much nothing went as expected:

— The normally sure-handed Twins played aggressively clanky defense behind Michael Pineda, leaving their hulking hurler two runs in arrears before Minnesota got to take its first hacks against Steven Matz. That was fortunate, as the Mets only tallied one more run the rest of the way.

Michael Conforto, who as a center fielder is more loyal grunt than special forces, ended the third inning with a leaping grab above the fence, taking a home run (or at least a game-tying double) away from long-ago paper Met Nelson Cruz.

— Conforto, whose swing has gotten rather long and whose health is once again a question mark, also chipped in four hits, with the quietest one proving the loudest in the box score. In the top of the fifth, with the game tied, the Mets had Amed Rosario on third with one out and Jeff McNeil at the plate. McNeil struck out, which I suppose does have to happen, though his look of peeved disbelief mirrored mine. No worries: Conforto then poked a little single through the left side, just past Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco, to score Rosario.

— The Mets bullpen committed no arson, set fire to no dumpster, and failed to self-combust despite being given every chance to do so. There should be an asterisk here, as Robert Gsellman was somehow unscathed despite giving up two walks, hitting a batter and yielding a sizzling liner down the first-base line. (All you kids out there, don’t try that at home.) And Edwin Diaz … well, we’ll get to that. But Luis Avilan got the first two outs of the sixth, Jeurys Familia got a key out to end the sixth, and Justin Wilson and Seth Lugo turned in clean innings.

— Yes, Familia came into a big spot and reduced that spot to nothing, coaxing a grounder from Jonathan Schoop. No, I can’t believe it either.

For all that, the game came down to a depressingly familiar situation: Diaz in for the save and nothing going right. He started by fanning Sano with heat on the corner, or perhaps slightly off of it, looking for all the world like the free-and-easy-throwing, 99-MPH-gas-powered Diaz we saw at the beginning of the season, the one we thought we were getting from Seattle and could rely on for seasons to come.

Diaz then worked an 0-2 count against Schoop, who left with tightness in his side, or some similar malady. But after that, things somehow fell apart. Again.

Young Luis Arraez inherited this unfavorable count, but battled Diaz and walked, a gritty at-bat that seemed to rally the Twins and their fans. Diaz yielded a single to Mitch Garver, got Polanco to fly out, and gave up an infield hit to Marwin Gonzalez.

Bases loaded, two out, and here came Cruz, Diaz’s former teammate, whose 377 home runs are seemingly etched in his face. After beginning with a cameo with the Brewers, Cruz has forged the entirety of his impressive career in the American League, meaning his exploits have left little impression on me. He went to work, and as Diaz’s pitch count mounted all of the potential outcomes seemed terrible, from a grand slam to a hit batsman. (No seriously, the latter nearly happened.)

But then the game ended with a whimper. Diaz jammed Cruz with a fastball on his hands — probably not a strike, but close enough that Cruz had to swing. The ball went up instead of out and Cruz followed it briefly with his eyes, standing stock still and dispirited at home plate. Behind third, Todd Frazier hurried into foul territory, avoiding the Twins’ third-base coach and the runner hustling from second, to cradle the ball near his waist. With his prize secured, he snuck a glance into the Mets’ dugout — a well-can-you-believe-that aside.

If he couldn’t, neither could I. The ghosts of John Franco, Braden Looper, Armando Benitez and other merchants of panic wavered and dissipated from my living room: Diaz had escaped and the Mets had won. After a season marred by enough racket to fill a dozen or so kennels, for one night the dog, somehow, didn’t bark.

When the Mets Equaled Joy

All Mets fans who were around for 1969 enjoyed 1969 in their own way. My friend Garry Spector, who was eleven, enjoyed it so much it drove him to tears. Garry recently penned a sweet reminiscence on the always exquisite Perfect Pitch blog (the unique baseball/musical diamond tended by Metropolitan Opera oboist and Metropolitan Baseball Club of New York diehard Susan Laney Spector) remembering how he absorbed the outcome of Tom Seaver’s shoulda-been-joyous one-hit victory — a.k.a. the Jimmy Qualls Game — that July 9 just over fifty years ago. You’d think he’d have jumped for joy. Yet how much joy can there be if the one hit comes in the ninth inning and prevents perfection?

“My mother,” Garry writes, “assured me that I would see a Mets perfect game someday (I’m still waiting). And this eleven-year-old cried himself to sleep.”

***

Michael Yalango enjoyed the club eleven-year-olds like Garry Spector (and six-year-olds like me) from a spot too far from home. Perhaps that’s why it meant the world to him. Michael, a young man from Staten Island who wasn’t really that big a baseball fan, got hooked from more than 8,000 miles away. He was in the army, stationed in Vietnam and thrilled to cling to anything that brought him, in his mind, in the jungle, back to New York and normality. Listening to the World Series over Armed Forces Radio, Yalango told Mike Vaccaro in Sunday’s Post, “brought me a few moments of joy in a very sad place.”

Be sure to read Mike’s story about what the ’69 Mets meant to one soldier from Staten Island. It’s hard to believe baseball could ever mean more.

***

All Mets fans, whether around in 1969 or picking up on its magic in the past tense, should be able to enjoy 1969 anew or for the first time from the canon of literature devoted to the Miracle of Miracles. Some of the books that best capture 1969’s essence were published nearly fifty years ago on the heels of those Mets doing what made those Mets eternally readable. Milestones being the magnet for reader interest that they are, several new titles have come along within the past few months to coincide with the golden anniversary commemorated so compellingly at Citi Field a couple of weeks ago. A fitting recent addition to the 1969 Mets section of your baseball library is 2019’s They Said It Couldn’t Be Done: The ’69 Mets, New York City, and the Most Astounding Season in Baseball History by Wayne Coffey.

You might think that after a half-century — which has already encompassed a recurring series of milestone anniversaries that spawned their own commemorative examinations — we already have on file everything that needs to be written about what Howie Rose accurately describes as the Greatest New York Sports Story Ever Told. But any story that is the greatest deserves to keep being told. It’s how stories keep thriving. Coffey has indeed ensured the story of the 1969 Mets remains alive and well in the here and now.

Veterans of the Met stacks will recognize certain tales culled from earlier sources, but Coffey (previously with the Daily News and collaborator with R.A. Dickey on 2012’s Wherever I Wind Up) fills his story with original reporting and diligent research, having reached out to living players, faithful fans — Howie Rose and Gary Cohen among them — and archives that were just waiting to spill their secrets. Particularly affecting are Cleon Jones, Jerry Koosman and Ron Taylor each exploring a hardscrabble upbringing, injecting a layer of personal depth not necessarily evident in previous 1969 volumes. Jones’s life in Africatown has gotten a lot of attention of late. You won’t receive a richer tour than that conducted by Coffey.

If you haven’t watched every pitch of the 1969 World Series in fifty years, or ever, don’t worry. The author has rewatched and shares virtually every one of them. It’s like running home from the bus stop (as kids of the era were wont to do that October) and finding there’s still plenty of game left. You know how the five contests turn out, but you’ll hang on every dab of shoe polish nonetheless. And you will be reminded throughout Coffey’s narrative that the one figure who towers over the Greatest New York Sports Story Ever Told is Gil Hodges. He’s the Empire State Building in a blue windbreaker. The players who survive to this day can’t credit him enough for leading them to the achievement that has defined their lives ever since. Gil seems to become more important to the Mets’ success every decade, and he was already universally understood to be its critical element.

The Mets’ journey crosses paths with those of the year’s other landmarks. Coffey takes us to those destinations, too: the moon in July; Woodstock in August; streets brimming with discontent over the war young Yalango and too many others were stuck fighting on the same day Tom Seaver was pitching Game Four. The legend of 1969 would be incomplete without these historical details and detours. From a Mets perspective, They Said It Couldn’t Be Done sort of misses, through no fault of its own, certain voices we usually hear from in these retrospectives. I missed gleaning new insights from Tom Seaver, but we know Seaver is unavailable these days. Same for Bud Harrelson. Hell, I still can’t believe Tug McGraw has been silent since 2004.

Time has its own agenda, one that dictates why the contours of a fiftieth-anniversary book is going to be different from a twentieth-anniversary book (specifically Stanley Cohen’s quintessential where-they-are-now A Magic Summer). I’m grateful Coffey dug for additional background on the late Donn Clendenon and Tommie Agee and painted such a vivid portrait of the African-American experience in and out of baseball in the years leading up to 1969. I was happy to read the current thoughts of Gil Hodges, Jr., where his father’s influence on him and the team were concerned. And the pages are surely blessed by the presence of Ed Charles, whom the author was able to speak with before he passed away in 2018.

I also very much like Coffey’s de facto confession, saved for the end of the book: sure he pursued this story like he has any of his many journalistic endeavors, but in 1969, he was a 15-year-old Mets fan, as elated as any Mets fan of any age would have been. The love and care he put into They Said It Couldn’t Be Done shows he has stayed true to his younger self’s heart.

***

The Mets had heart, as anybody who’s watched their star turn on The Ed Sullivan Show knows. Singing wasn’t a talent they suddenly discovered once they upset the Orioles. At least one Met was vocalizing up a storm at approximately this very moment fifty years ago. In The Year the Mets Lost Last Place, the remarkable book that delivers a blow-by-blow account of Met life amid the nine midsummer games that certified the franchise a contender, we are reminded that on July 16, 1969, after the second-place Mets had taken two of three from the first-place Cubs at Wrigley Field, the team flight to Montreal was livened up by Charles belting out a ditty that everybody on the sidewalks of New York could suddenly relate to:

East Side, West Side
The fans are feeling gay.
After seven long, long years,
The Mets are on their way.

South Side, North Side
The word is going round.
When October rolls around,
The Mets will win the crown.

Ed had a way with a rhyme, whether matching it to a borrowed melody or simply expressing his emotions. It’s what made the Poet Laureate of the 1969 Mets so special. Some reporter in The Year… thought he was paying the Glider a compliment when he told him in the clubhouse at Wrigley, “You’re the Ernie Banks of the Mets.” Mets PR director Harold Weissman issued an immediate correction: “No, Banks is the Ed Charles of the Cubs.”

There was only one Ed Charles, of course. Anybody who was fortunate to spend even a little time in his company understood he was an original. A friend of this blog, Michael Garry, was fortunate enough understand it well. Michael wrote a very fine book a few years ago called Game of My Life: New York Mets, consisting of interviews with Mets through the years on the one game that resonated with them more than any other. Charles was the interview-subject equivalent for the author. Michael was so moved by the relationship he built with Ed that he paid tribute to him in the most appropriate fashion possible: he wrote him a poem.

“Ed’s own poetry inspired me,” Michael recently told us. He read it to Charles “a few weeks before his death last year, and then at his funeral in Kansas City.” Since no celebration of 1969 would approach perfection without a full-throated invocation of the Glider, Michael wondered if we could publish the poem here.

What a splendid idea.

***

Inspired by Jackie,
Who came to his town,
Ed never gave up,
He never backed down.

He spoke of his struggles
In fine poetry.
Few players could speak as
Cogently as he.

Then Ed got to the majors
With the KC A’s
And proved to the world
He could make all the plays.

He manned the hot corner,
Sprayed hits, stole bases.
With more help from Finley,
They could have gone places.

But lucky for Ed,
The Mets traded for him,
And in ’69
They started to win.

They called him the Glider
For scooping up blasts.
He made it look easy,
No matter the task.

And in the World Series
The Mets wouldn’t settle.
They battled the Birds,
Proving their mettle.

Ed came up in Game Two
In the ninth inning,
Got a hit and then scored;
The run was game-winning

Back in New York,
The Mets did not stop.
They took the next three
And wound up on top.

After the clincher
Ed ran to the mound,
Jumping with joy,
His smile unbound.

Grace on the field,
Grace on the page,
Ever the Glider,
The poet, the sage.

Positively 4th Place

The Mets have prevailed. In a battle of the teams with the two worst records in the National League, they are the least worst. In their five-member division, they place fourth on merit.

Take that, Marlins.

The Marlins did. They were outplayed by the Mets for two consecutive games in a three-game series — in Miami, no less. The last time the Mets visited South Florida, it was the Marlins whose ineptitude took a holiday and the Mets who were swept three out of three. The Mets fell to five games under .500 and Mickey Callaway’s job seemed in jeopardy. It’s not quite two months later and the Mets, by dint of their first road series win (not sweep, just win) since early April, have risen to nine games under .500, meaning this will be the first week in a while when a press conference won’t be necessary to confirm Callaway is still the manager.

Funny trajectory this Mets season has taken…funny as a crutch, per the old saying. Yet as fans, we lean on what we lean on. Sunday we leaned on a 6-2 victory with all kinds of little treats embedded in the result. Let us savor each and every mouthwatering bite.

Jacob deGrom racked up five very solid innings despite not looking particularly comfortable. Wished he could have gone longer, but having to throw to Wilson Ramos can take a lot out of an ace.

Wilson Ramos beat out an infield hit, his seventh of the season, according to Baseball Reference. Amazing what putting bat to ball and ninety feet of effort will get a person, let alone Buffalo.

Amed Rosario, who should have offered 180 feet of effort instead of stopping at first Saturday night on his fly ball that didn’t get caught, doubled when he got the chance Sunday afternoon. That chance didn’t arrive until the eighth, and then only after a double-switch in the seventh. Rosario was benched as a message from Mickey…or so we gleaned from the ever helpful Wayne Randazzo, who reported that was the reason there was no Amed in the finale’s lineup. This was news to print reporters, who were told the Amedless motif represented a scheduled day off for the 23-year-old shortstop two days after the four-day All-Star break. Whatever the story, Rosario tried to get out in front of it from behind, taking ownership of it when asked about it postgame (answering through interpreter Alan Suriel, who seems to have the most thankless bilingual gig in baseball) and showing the full extent of his speed via his lone plate appearance.

Adeiny Hechavarria, starting at short while Amed sat and hopefully learned, showed again he is a good ballplayer. Not a great ballplayer; not anybody you wouldn’t trade to a depth-minded contender if the Double-A reliever promised in exchange comes attached to one of those live arms; but a guy who quietly does enough things well that they deserve to be noticed. I noticed a couple: a very pretty pivot when Hechavarria was the 6 on a 4-6-3 DP to end the bottom of the fifth, and a beautiful read of a single in front of him that allowed him to dash from first to third in the top of the sixth, setting up a run. Good ballplaying should always be appreciated.

Robinson Cano, who until very recently wasn’t much more productive than Adeiny Hechavarria, continued to bust out, producing four hits that included his second home run in two games. The batting average that wallowed beneath .230 a little over two weeks ago has soared over .250. From the vantage point of March, that’s not very encouraging. After where he was in late June, it’s cause for another Seaver Way parade. A Robinson Cano hot streak feels a little like the kind George Foster would now and then unfurl after his atrocious introduction to Queens in 1982. I always wanted to believe Foster had regained his Cincinnati touch. I really did. But I was gonna need more than one hot streak. I rarely got it.

• George Foster teammate Keith Hernandez invoked one of his signature bromides from the booth, the one about a ground ball base hit that will look like a line drive in tomorrow’s paper. I know the old chestnut is not exclusive to Keith and I know it means a hit is a hit however it’s hit, yet Keith’s recitation of this phrase made me wonder what paper Keith subscribes to and whether, in fact, the sports editor of that paper will plaster atop that section’s lead page Monday, MIGUEL ROJAS HITS LINE DRIVE.

Jeff McNeil! Leadoff home run! First pitch! The Mets were immediately ahead, 1-0, versus Sandy Alcantra and proceeded to never do anything but lead in this game. That was the Squirrel’s doing. The Squirrel does so much. Jeff also threw out Curtis Granderson at the plate a half-inning after Granderson robbed Pete Alonso at the left field fence. I’ve been known to look the other way and applaud softly when Grandy does something Grand against us, but taking a homer away from the Polar Bear is a skill too far.

Pete Alonso! No home runs! Robbed of one by Curtis Granderson! So why am I shouting? Because Pete also lifted a fly ball deep enough to center to go out of other facilities and it served as a sacrifice fly to pad the Mets’ lead when its protection was in the hands of the bullpen. Sort of like needing to see more from Cano to believe he isn’t Foster (who did hit 99 home runs as a Met), I wanted to feel assured Pete didn’t come out of his Home Run Derby coronation overswinging. He looks mostly fine. He’ll get back to belting balls over walls instead of in front of them soon enough.

• The relievers of the day were, en masse, as effective as they needed to be. Justin Wilson posted a scoreless sixth. Robert Gsellman endured a hiccup but took care of the eighth and ninth. Seth Lugo inherited three runners with one out and allowed none of them to score in the seventh. As for those three runners, they were put on base by Jeurys Familia. He wasn’t effective at all. He didn’t kill us, but it’s hard to say he made us stronger. They’re gonna have to find innings that don’t count to straighten Jeurys out. Or innings that count in a league that isn’t this one. Whereas most Met relievers who implode leave me in a mood of malice, I feel genuinely sad watching Familia not get outs. He was a 96-save man across two playoff seasons that happened not so long ago. He was pretty good for another playoff club last year. I partially blame myself for being happy to welcome him back after his summer abroad. Same for Jay Bruce entering 2018. Mets who leave obviously need longer decontamination periods. I don’t have a slice of Statcast data to support that assertion, I just know it’s true.

Juan Lagares made two putouts. There was nothing remarkable about either. Juan was in for defense late. Juan almost never starts anymore. He hardly bats. But he’s still here, senior Met in terms of uninterrupted tenure, dating to April of 2013. The Mets to debut as Mets just before him: Greg Burke, LaTroy Hawkins, Aaron Laffey and Anthony Recker. They’re all retired. The Mets to debut as Mets just after him: Shaun Marcum, Andrew Brown, Rick Ankiel, David Aardsma. They’re all retired. Lagares was recalled when the Mets sent down Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Nieuwenhuis just retired from the Long Island Ducks. Lagares was chosen mainly because the defensive-specialist center fielder ahead of him on the depth chart, Matt den Dekker, was injured. Den Dekker just retired from the Long Island Ducks. The way Lagares has hit this year makes you think his next team will be the Long Island Ducks (who are actually pretty good). Nevertheless, I was just happy to see Juan out there catching fly balls and reminding us he is still on the team. We collectively fell hard for Lagares in 2013. Still being on hand in 2019 merits a hand.

• Last happy happenstance from Sunday was me watching the whole game and not feeling like a chump for doing so. There’ve been plenty of games like where I’ve been left to wonder “what the hell did I do that for?” this season. There’ll be plenty more. But once in a while, no matter that the only series you win is from the only team your record says you’re better than, you immerse yourself in your team and you don’t wonder what that was all about. You know what it’s all about. It’s about the Mets. The Mets winning. The Mets winning an entire series. Felt good. Do that again sometime soon if you don’t mind.

Attach the Chair of Triumph!

Usually Brodie Van Wagenen throws the chair of unfettered frustration. Following the successful resolution of baseball activities Saturday night in Miami, we can close our eyes (or keep them wide open if we’re over on the West Side) and imagine instead Brodie threw the chair of temporary redemption. Throwing chairs still seems like unseemly behavior for a stylish executive such as himself, but let’s let the GM have this fling. What he traded for in December arrived in July for the first time since April.

A game-winning home run from Robinson Cano. A game-saving inning from Edwin Diaz. The future nightmare of Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn for now merely the stuff of bad dreams. Even Jay Bruce cooperated, flying out as a pinch-hitter in the Phillies’ loss to the Nationals. Not that we’re chasing the Phillies or the Nationals in any but the most deluded mind, but the way things have gone recently, you’d expect Bruce to follow the Mets around from city to city and join their opponents series by series just to make Van Wagenen’s signature trade look progressively worse.

Until Kelenic is up in the majors making like Michael Conforto did in the third — launching a slump-interrupting two-run homer out of the two-hole — and until Dunn is doing his best Noah Syndergaard impression — seven sharp innings featuring nine strikeouts, with the final eleven Marlins he faced going down in order — that little swap of Eventually for Immediately can only look incrementally better to us. We’ve already decided it’s the 21st-century amalgam of Amos Otis and Nolan Ryan for a chronic case of impetigo. It might very well be that soon, but before box scores from the Pacific Northwest taunt us clear to the end of the next decade, we are entitled to enjoy the occasional evening when the trade works as well as it possibly can.

In the eighth inning on Saturday, with Dom Smith having singled in front of him, Cano held up his end of the shall we say bargain, sending a no-doubter over the right field wall to break a 2-2 tie. Cano’s post-swing Ratso Rizzo-inflected body language (“I’m STANDIN’ here!”) certainly expressed no doubts. The baserunner who’s made himself famous for redefining effortlessness between home and first gauged the ball he blasted off Nick Anderson quite correctly. Robbie could take his sweet time starting his trot because his homer departed the Jeter Confines in a big damn hurry.

The bottom of the ninth belonged to Diaz, just as it was supposed to: in fact as well as in name. Save No. 20 wasn’t the stuff of Formula 409. Edwin doesn’t necessarily blind us with clean innings. Too often he spreads mud so thoroughly over the late-game countertop that you wish a roll of Bounty was warming up in the pen behind him. Sure enough, he did allow a one-out single to Marlin Starlin Castro, and just as surely, there was a sizzler off the bat of Harold Ramirez that he had to thank his luckiest stars landed in the glove of extremely well-situated quicker picker-upper Todd Frazier. Yet when there was a tying run at the plate with two out, Diaz ended the angst with a quick spritz of a called strike three past Jorge Alfaro.

Diaz records the clutch save. Cano cracks a key homer. Those two events occurred in conjunction with one another on Opening Day, March 29. They occurred again on April 6. They didn’t reoccur until July 13. Three months between the two ex-Mariner jewels shining in tandem as powerful reasons for a Mets victory…you could grumble that’s an uncomfortably long gap between encouraging episodes to emerge from a very dicey transaction. Or you could simply smile at the 4-2 result that fell in the Mets’ favor and shrug, “hey, third time’s a charm.”

Yeah, let’s go with that for now.

Same as the First Half

Anticipation traditionally accompanies our team’s first game out of the All-Star break. We haven’t had a real game to watch in five days, so naturally we’re famished for Mets. On top of the yen for baseball was a hankering for an explanation by the highest-ranking official available to give us one. Brodie Van Wagenen, we were told, was going to meet the press and face our nation from Marlins Park in Miami, something he’d assiduously avoided doing at Citi Field in recent weeks, including last weekend when he let a flying chair doing his talking.

So much to look forward to on Friday — in theory. In actuality, I’m not sure what exactly we were anticipating.

Brodie did indeed take a seat in the Mets dugout (and controlled himself long enough to not throw it). SNY promised to carry it live on its social media streams, which it did, except for the part where they carried it live. It appeared they tried, but the feed kept glitching out. Perhaps technology ascertained before the rest of us could that there was not a lot worth transmitting.

Here’s what the general manager said in a Q&A session that lasted close to a half-hour:

We suck.
We’re sorry.
We’re sellers.

The first answer had been self-evident since the Mets’ 9-4 start morphed into their 40-50 first half (first half in the figurative sense, for those who wonder how 90 is suddenly half of 162). The second answer was delivered more in corporatespeak, but at least Van Wagenen resisted the temptation to tell us everything was fine, go to mets.com/tickets. The short-term resolution — the trading of every expiring contract that’s not nailed down — will play out in rumor and innuendo before fact gets in a few swings circa July 31.

Save for a few rhetorical flourishes — yeah, they came and got us; no, he doesn’t usually throw office furniture — and the latest “here’s what’s wrong with Jed Lowrie now” update, you could have predicted the topline substance of the content. Still, somebody’s gotta now and then sit down or lean against a wall and speak up. We fans want to know. We fans are insatiable that way. We’re fans. We’re even insatiable for Mets baseball when it’s gone a few days. We’re nuts, perhaps.

We got our Mets baseball Friday evening. Boy, did we ever. It was the kind of Mets baseball we grew used to getting as the so-called first half of 2019 wound down, the kind for which we should probably fasten our seatbelts as the second half gets rolling in earnest (unless you’re more the “press eject button NOW” type; no judgments). It was the Mets and the Marlins, fourth place at fifth place, non-contender dueling non-contender so palpably you could feel yourself losing half-games in the standings every time you came back from the kitchen. Because the Mets had been playing contender after contender from the middle of June clear to the All-Star break, I hadn’t fully grasped how much we were not a contender. I mean, gosh, if we could just take this game and this series against this contender, we’d be picking up ground and gathering momentum and if we’re not that far out of it…

Forget that, as they say in the rougher scenes of movies edited for television. The Mets were playing the Marlins and neither is anywhere close to anything. For a night, the Mets weren’t close to the Marlins. They led the Miamians for a spell, but then Jason Vargas, whose late-career renaissance was such a delight to support before he informed Tim Healey he’d knock him the fuck out, bro (also to be edited for television), ran into trouble in the third. First he allowed a single to opposing pitcher Caleb Smith on the heels of a single and steal to catcher Jorge Alfaro, none of the above necessarily a crime against civility. But then Vargas became obsessed with keeping Smith — the pitcher — tethered to the bag, making throw after throw to Pete Alonso. Why on earth? Maybe he hoped the ball would eventually come back autographed from the Home Run Derby champion.

Long ago, Bobby Valentine engineered a series of pickoff plays at second base after Roger Clemens, then a Blue Jay, doubled in an Interleague game. Clemens wasn’t used to running the bases. It was a hot night at Shea. Let’s sap his leg strength, Bobby ordered. It was a typically brilliant Bobby V tactic. It worked. Whatever Vargas was thinking in applying something similar to Smith didn’t (and Mickey Callaway didn’t exactly rush to take credit for it postgame). After multiple throws, Vargas had to direct his distracted attention to Miguel Rojas, who drove in Alfaro from third with a sac fly. Curtis Granderson then stepped up and delivered a two-run homer that scored not only good ol’ Grandy but Smith, who Vargas never did pick off and never did sap the pitching mojo from. For Met measure, the next batter, Garrett Cooper, also homered.

The Mets were down, 4-2, and essentially buried. Smith went six and didn’t give up anything else. Vargas was replaced with two runners on in the sixth before giving way to Robert Gsellman. Gsellman, of the Mets bullpen Gsellmans, gave up a three-run homer as soon as he could to Brian Anderson. Thar she blew. The final would be 8-4, the Mets the ones with fewer runs and another loss.

In case it wasn’t an awesome enough day in Metsopotamia, we learned during the afternoon that Dwight Gooden was arrested last month in New Jersey for driving under the influence and was reportedly found to have cocaine in his possession. That hurt worse than any random loss a losing team records in a lost second half. We’ve been rooting for Doc for 35 years, including the part when he hasn’t been pitching. Of course our allegiance stems from those golden seasons at the outset of his career, but you couldn’t have listened to the man these past several years and not been cheered that he was doing well in the way that counted most. But addiction is addiction. From afar, a Mets fan hopes he continues to battle — and that he doesn’t get behind the wheel in such a state ever again.

I also found myself a little miffed at Keith Hernandez of all people. It was just before the Vargas-Smith festival of pickoffs, when Alfaro swiped second. A catcher stealing put him in mind of John Stearns, who set a National League record for catchers stealing bases in 1978. What started as a complimentary aside to the Dude for his uncommon speed meandered into Keith noting how horrible the Mets were in those days. Not “we were bad,” but “they were bad,” because Keith wasn’t one of us until 1983. Once Keith became one of us, we stopped being so horrible and eventually became fantastic. That’s one of many reasons we will always love Keith. I don’t necessarily mind him reminding us, directly or implicitly, that he was a lifechanger. Usually I welcome it.

But during those “dark days” that Hernandez alluded to for Wayne Randazzo’s and our edification, we tuned in before All-Star breaks and after All-Star breaks for players like John Stearns stealing bases like few other catchers could. We believed in those Stearns teams to the greatest extent of our gullibility. We rooted like hell for the Mets of the late 1970s and early 1980s to beat Keith’s Cardinals, among others. We were rarely rewarded, but when we were, it was cause for celebration. For an instant, as Keith’s tangent ran its course, it wasn’t 2019 anymore. It was somewhere between 1977 and 1983, probably 1980. I didn’t know Keith Hernandez would ever be a Met. I knew John Stearns was already. Stearns, Mazzilli, Taveras, Flynn, Swan, Henderson and so on. Those were my guys. In my 1980 inner fan, they still are (I have 51 inner fans, one for each season I’ve been a fan — 52, counting the split season of 1981). My 1980 inner fan didn’t want to hear Keith Hernandez of the fucking St. Louis Cardinals put down my team, no matter how accurate his assessment.

Then I came back to 2019. Accuracy where the Mets are concerned was still being rather impolite.

The Grip of ‘Ball Four’

“The New York Post has asked me to cover the World Series for them if the Mets get into it. They said they couldn’t pay me for the articles, but might, just might, be able to pay some, only some of my expenses — like, maybe hotel, but not travel. That’s very similar to the arrangements that Tom Sawyer had with his friends on painting the fence. The more they painted, the more it cost them. I guess they figured I’d enjoy it because I’d get to watch some baseball games for free.

“I said no, thanks.”
—October 2

For nearly fifty years we’ve spent a good piece of our lives gripping copies of Ball Four and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.

Actually, we didn’t need to get to the end of a knuckleballing reliever’s diary of his 1969 campaign to come to that realization. Readers securely in the grip of the charms of Ball Four and its protagonist, Jim Bouton, may constitute the least secret society in baseball. Everybody who’s read it is quick to quote from it with a chuckle. Nobody doesn’t acknowledge they get it, because they have also read it, confirming their familiarity with a knowing nod, a louder laugh and, inevitably, another quote.

That Bouton broke ground is indisputable. Through his eyes, baseball was all of a sudden a modern pursuit brought to us in living color. Real people. Real lives. Real thoughts expressed real well. Home games in the Astrodome in the final chapter notwithstanding, Bouton treads no artificial turf in these pages. When the greatest author to ever toe a rubber passed away Wednesday at the age of 80, we mourned the writer/pitcher of course but we also welcomed the opportunity to celebrate his lastingest legacy all over again.

Ball Four was and is honest, unsparing and, most of all, hilarious. Its blend of unvarnished confessional and martini-dry asides created a rarity for its time: a sporting tale whose emotional complexity exceeded that of the cartoon on the back of your average 1960s baseball card. How long and sharp was the stick up the rear end of Bowie Kuhn that the eternally overmatched Commissioner framed as a scandal the publication of a book that allowed fans to understand baseball intimately and have fun while doing so? Bouton not only brought us inside a big league clubhouse but pointed out the idiosyncrasies of every character in the room so we, too, considered them our teammates. He made the Seattle Pilots immortal — and they died after one season.

Ball Four wasn’t exactly a 162-game joyride. We learned what a tough business baseball is for its prime practitioners. The dollar sums that players had to fight over would become chump change in the decade that followed the book’s 1970 release, but the basic parameters of labor scrapping with management for every inch of respect haven’t changed, not in sports, not anywhere. Bouton — with guidance yet not ghosting from Leonard Shecter — portrayed a kid’s game that takes a toll on a man as he gets older, and wears on the man’s family as well. You don’t always love who you’re thrown in with for six months, but you find a way to get along, get by and, when they’re done with you, get traded to Houston.

And yes, pound that old Budweiser. You can only go so long in writing about Ball Four without quoting from Ball Four.

Best Six Ever?

Ol’ No. 48 had been there before, so he knew how it goes. He’d pitch well, his team wouldn’t score for him and they’d go on to lose. Jacob deGrom practices the whole season ’round for All-Star Games. He seemed happy to have been there nonetheless.

Ol’ No. 20 was no longer new to the spotlight, not after the night before. Home runs didn’t come easy on Tuesday (they didn’t seem to come that easy on Monday even if he created them efficiently enough to earn a million bucks), but Pete Alonso fit into the All-Star constellation plenty naturally. He fielded like a star, drove in runs like a star, even stole a base like a star. He was definitely very happy to have been there.

Ol’ No. 6 was totally new to this in more ways that one. Unlike deGrom, Jeff McNeil hadn’t been an All-Star previously — which might explain why the Progressive Field scoreboard operator matched deGrom’s familiar face to McNeil’s strange new name . Unlike Alonso, he hadn’t drawn a night of attention for his signature exploits, though I’d be up for a Spray the Ball to All Fields Derby next year. And unlike No. 48 and No. 20, McNeil was bringing something to an All-Star Game no Met had before.

No. 6.

Should Jeff McNeil continue to lead the National League in hitting, he won’t be the first Met to win a batting title. Jose Reyes got there first, in 2011. Should Jeff McNeil continue to bat at a rate of .349, he won’t be the first Met to finish a season with an average that high. John Olerud established the team standard of .354, in 1998. But Jeff McNeil indeed etched for himself a first Tuesday night in Cleveland. He was the first Met chosen to wear No. 6 in an All-Star Game.

Technically, he was the second to wear it, though the initial six situation wasn’t terribly sexy. Pat Roessler wore No. 6 at the 2016 All-Star Game, but did so as support staff. Support is important, but it’s not quite All-Star material in the way we think of it. Roessler was the Mets’ assistant hitting coach and, as such, joined the rest of the Met coaching staff when Terry Collins managed the National League All-Stars after winning the pennant in 2015 (managing them so fairly he didn’t play a single Met that night, grrr). At the risk of diminishing Roessler’s behind-the-scenes contributions, the assistant hitting coach wearing No. 6 doesn’t break more than the most technical of numerical barriers.

A player who was chosen for his MLB-best batting average and could have been inserted at any of several positions does. So congratulations not only to Jeff McNeil the infielder, outfielder and Squirrel for making his first All-Star team (a couple of putouts in left, 0-for-1 at the plate), but congratulations to McNeil as the first Met to make No. 6 glitter in a Midsummer Classic.

The first Mets numbers to see All-Star light made all the sense in 1962’s world: No. 1 and No. 37. Of course No. 1 — it’s first in any list of numbers, Rey Ordoñez’s early uniform assignment of zero notwithstanding. The first Mets 1 belonged to Richie Ashburn, the only player chosen from their first team to represent the Mets at that first season’s two All-Star Games (which was the custom at the time) and he was the only 1962 Met bound for the Hall of Fame. He should have been first. No. 37 was Casey Stengel’s calling card. Stengel was managing a tenth-place team, but NL manager Fred Hutchinson, leading the Senior Circuit squad after winning the 1961 flag with the Reds, knew there was nobody more senior nor stellar than Stengel and thus took him as a high-profile coach (transcending what was just said above about the Roesslers and other assistants who toil in the All-Star shadows). Casey’s profile was high enough that at the first of the two ’62 games, in Washington, the Ol’ Perfesser schmoozed the young President, John F. Kennedy.

“The President,” Leonard Koppett wrote, “seemed particularly delighted to see Stengel, who had been managing the Boston Braves most of the time Kennedy was at Harvard. He, and probably all the other politicians, undoubtedly envied Stengel’s gift for filibustering double-talk.” No. 37 in orange and blue, however, had to inform No. 35 from the White House that he wasn’t free to chat the D.C. day away: “Mr. President, I’d love to stay but I gotta go ’cause I’m not working for myself today but for the other fella,” Hutchinson. In a flash, it was “back to business” for Stengel. No. 37 would have one more chance to twinkle in 1964, when Walter Alston wisely chose Casey to coach at Shea Stadium’s first and only All-Star Game.

Once No. 37 was retired, like the manager who wore it, that was it for seeing it on a Met in prime time in July. Likewise, No. 14 got its only Met All-Star exposure in Cincinnati in 1970, on the back of NL manager Gil Hodges (who coached for the American League as Senators skipper in ’64 for the same reason Stengel did, because the game was in New York). Gil guided the Mets to the World Series in 1969, so he was the man at the helm of the Stars in ’70. The league champion tradition is what vaulted Yogi Berra in No. 8 to Pittsburgh in 1974; Davey Johnson in No. 5 to Oakland in 1987; Bobby Valentine in No. 2 to Seattle in 2001; and Mr. Collins in No. 10 to San Diego in 2016. Terry also coached twice, for Tony La Russa in 2012 in Kansas City and Bruce Bochy in 2013 at Citi Field. You’d figure with all that Kaufman Stadium and All-Star Game experience, Terry would have been better prepared for his biggest moments, but I digress.

Most of your standard-issue uniform numbers have made it with Mets players to All-Star Games. You know 41 was a staple from 1967 through 1976, save for 1974. You know 31 was a staple from 1998 through 2005, save for 2003. Get picked for as many All-Star Games as Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza did as Mets, there’s a decent chance you’ll be staring at those numbers high above Citi Field, where you can also find 37 and 14. You know Davey Johnson wasn’t the only 5 to sparkle, not once David Wright came along (seven All-Star appearances). You probably remember that when Wright was taking 5 to the national stage, he was more than once accompanied by a 7 (Reyes), a 15 (Beltran) and a 13 (Wagner). You are also likely to recognize that 7 (Kranepool), 15 (Grote) and 13 (Alfonzo) had been there before.

Mickey Callaway doesn’t seem likely to take 36 to next year’s All-Star Game, but we understand it was on hand 50 years ago in Washington and 51 years ago in Houston thanks to Jerry Koosman. Robbie Cano is giving his affinity for 24 its allotted time off during the break, but Willie Mays already gave 24 a Star turn for us twice, in ’72 and ’73, back when we were mostly happy to welcome back to New York players somewhat past their prime. Rajai Davis would have been welcomed warmly in Cleveland, but the most recent player to wear No. 18 as a Met is summering in Syracuse. That’s fine in the context we’re exploring because three different Mets have already taken 18 to All-Star Games: Joel Youngblood, Darryl Strawberry and Bret Saberhagen (Strawberry mostly). The only other tri-Star number in Mets history? No. 16: Lee Mazzilli, Dwight Gooden and Paul Lo Duca (Gooden mostly, but Mazzilli most memorably).

Those are the only triplicates, but here are a bunch more Met All-Star duplicates on record. No. 45 for Tug and Pedro. No. 47 for Orosco and Gl@v!ne. No. 28 for Jones (Bobby) and Murphy (Daniel). Piazza was preceded in 31 by John Franco. Only one among Pat Zachry and Bartolo Colon was in his forties as a Met All-Star, but each was in 40 when selected. The Mets as hosts both saw a 33 start for the NL: Ron Hunt in 1964, Matt Harvey in 2013. David Cone changed from 44 to 17 in honor of his former teammate and multitime All-Star Keith Hernandez and wound up a Met All-Star in both.

Ron Darling wasn’t an All-Star when he wore 44, but he made it once as 12, which is how John Stearns made it on four separate occasions. No. 8 not only looked good when Hall of Fame catcher Berra managed, it looked perfect when future Hall of Fame catcher Carter caught. Lance Johnson brought Ashburn’s 1 back to shine in ’96. Another Johnson, Howard, debuted 20 thirty years ago. Alonso just produced a sequel.

If you have a coach-free Mets All-Star Uniform Number Bingo Card, you were relieved in 2017 when you were finally able to check off 30 (Conforto) and in 2016 when you could take care of 27 (Familia), 34 (Syndergaard) and 52 (Cespedes). Although Jake has made 48 old hat after three appearances, it went without Met All-Star modeling until 2015. You’ve no doubt noticed how empty it gets once the numbers get high. There’s a 57 (Santana), a 75 (Rodriguez) and nothing in between them. You covered 4 for Duke Snider in 1963, 3 for Bud Harrelson twice in the early ’70s and marked the likes of 21 (Cleon Jones), 22 (Leiter), 25 (Bonilla), 26 (Kingman), 29 (Viola), 32 (Matlack), 35 (Reed), 43 (Dickey), 49 (Benitez) and 50 (Fernandez) along the way.

Until the 2019 All-Star Game, however, No. 6 was the unreachable Star, Pat Roessler notwithstanding. So were and are a few others south of El Sid. Still haven’t had an 11, except when Tim Teufel wore it as a coach in ’16. Still haven’t had a 23, except when Dick Scott wore it as a coach in ’16. Still haven’t had a 38, except when Dan Warthen wore it as a coach in ’16. Perhaps the reason Terry Collins couldn’t get a single Met player into the 2016 All-Star Game is because they kept getting stuck behind his many, many coaches.

No. 6 might not be the only number to have waited forever for its closeup, but it’s the one that’s theoretically had the most chances. According to the source of sources for all Mets uniform digit fetishes, Mets By the Numbers by Jon Springer and Matt Silverman (based on Springer’s seminal site of the same name, for which I am honored to have recently contributed a list on this topic), 6 is the number most frequently issued by the Mets, with McNeil its 45th bearer. Hence, you’d think by handing it out as often as possible to as many players as possible — Roessler was the first coach to grab it, in 2015 — that one single, solitary 6 would have landed on a Met in an All-Star Game between 1962 and 2014.

You’d think wrong, no matter who you were thinking of. Your best thought would have been Wally Backman, who wore 6 the longest, switching to it from his September 1980 callup designation of 28 in 1981 and sticking with it through the NLCS in 1988. Wally wore it with distinction even as he caked it in dirt. When the All-Star teams were being chosen for 1986, Wally was batting about as high as Jeff is today, peaking at .354 on July 2 in St. Louis. But that — and Backman’s platoon status — wasn’t enough to impress Whitey Herzog, who somehow thought a mere five Mets were enough for one All-Star team. No wonder the NL lost every game the White Rat managed.

Wally was one of two Mets who wore No. 6 en route to a world championship. The first was Al Weis. Al Weis was an award-winner, recipient of the coveted Babe Ruth Award, handed out by the New York chapter of the BBWAA for best performance in the World Series (later the entire postseason). Weis batted .455 in the 1969 World Series and blasted the highly unlikely homer that tied decisive Game Five. But Al, like Wally, was never a fully fledged regular, and he wasn’t a threat to hit like Jeff McNeil most months, despite what he accomplished in October fifty years ago, so no All-Star berths awaited Al. Winning a World Series ring and that Babe Ruth hardware would have to suffice for Weis.

Melvin Mora and Timo Perez wore No. 6 in consecutive Met postseasons. They were both enormous factors in the Mets advancing as far as they did. One of them was an enormous factor in preventing the Mets’ ultimate advancement. Mora eventually wore No. 6 in an All-Star Game, but only for the Orioles. Perez eventually reached home plate, but not safely in Game One of the 2000 World Series.

Despite the plethora of hexa-uni action in the clubhouse, there are not a lot of No. 6 highlights to billboard across 57 seasons of Mets baseball. Marlon Byrd hit 21 home runs in 2013 before being traded to Pittsburgh that August. Rich Becker and Tony Phillips each ignited the offense for respective spells in 1998. Nick Evans came up from Double-A in 2008 and doubled thrice in his debut. Jose Cardenal wore No. 6 in 1980 and proceeded to play in that year’s World Series, but that was after the Mets released him and the Royals picked him up. I was personally fond of Joe Orsulak, No. 6 from 1993 to 1995, but those constructing NL rosters in those years weren’t nearly as impressed.

We had Jim Hickman in 6 for a little while in 1966, after he had done his best Met work in 9 and before he was an All-Star as a Cub. We had Carlos Baerga in 6 for a little while in 1996, before he would do his best Met work in 8 and after was an All-Star as an Indian. Mike Vail switched to 6 after setting a rookie hitting streak record in 31; no records of any kind were forthcoming for Vail thereafter. We had two Marshalls who wore 6: first baseman Jim in 1962 and first baseman Mike in 1990. Jim’s distinction is he was the first Met booed by Mets fans (his crime was starting in place of a balky-kneed Gil Hodges in the first Polo Grounds Home Opener). Mike, not to be confused with the other past-his-prime ex-Dodger Mike Marshall who played for the Mets, wasn’t particularly popular, either, and gave way to immediate batting title contender Dave Magadan.

We have an immediate batting title contender in No. 6 right now, though he wasn’t immediately in No. 6 when he came up a year ago. Jeff McNeil was introduced to Mets fans as No. 68. He surely tuned into National League hitting more clearly than Uncle Floyd viewers of yore tuned into their favorite UHF station, batting .329 over the final two months of 2018. Jeff switched way down the dial for 2019, all the way to No. 6. I was a little worried he shouldn’t attempt to fiddle with the bowtie antenna attached to the rabbit ears. If he wasn’t encountering static at 68, why mess with a good thing.

Silly me. Sixty-Eight is for rabbit ears. Six is for Squirrels. This one took a good thing and made it better, so much better that it couldn’t be ignored. Jeff McNeil is the first Met to have worn No. 6 in an All-Star Game and, really, the first Met to go to an All-Star game regardless of position. I saw one roster list him as an outfielder, another identify him as a second baseman. Had Tuesday night’s affair gone deep into extras, Dave Roberts could have switched Jeff from left to right, then right to third, then third to second. This Squirrel can play anywhere and hit all night.

But Roberts, like Herzog, didn’t take nearly enough Mets. No wonder the NL has lost every game he’s managed, too.

Pete Are The Champions

Should I be alive and sentient when the Mets win their third world championship, I shall enjoy it greatly. I mean really enjoy it greatly. I shall buzz around all night, perhaps for weeks, just soaking in the reality that we have topped everybody and therefore cannot be topped. I will flip to every channel, click on every link, amplify every celebratory instinct that pulsates through me. I suppose I knew that before Monday night, but now I am sure, for Pete Alonso has reminded me what winning a championship feels like.

A championship — a title definitively captured immediately and viscerally. Nothing that needs to be judged and awarded later. Nothing dependent any longer on what anybody else does. Nothing provisional or partial. That instant when the most that can be won is won and there is nothing left to win because we, the Mets, have won it.

That’s what we got a simulation of on Monday night when Pete Alonso won the Home Run Derby, a demonstration in microcosm (or Alonsocosm) of how it might be if/when we witness the real thing. Pete wore a Mets uniform, hit more home runs than his opponent in each of three rounds and exulted as we wish a Met to do. Only as humble as he needs to be, the Polar Bear roared. Or growled. Or whatever it is Polar Bears do after hitting home runs.

It didn’t count in the sense that home runs hit in an exhibition devoted solely to home runs for the sake of home runs aren’t reflected in official player statistics and the team for whom the player plays isn’t moved an iota in the standings of record. But that Mets uniform. And that exultation. And the fact that it was a competition with all of baseball’s eyes on it. And the fact that Pete knocked off three fine sluggers — including North America’s newest slugging darling, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. — en route to raising arms, flipping bats and being as delighted over a feat that doesn’t count as anybody could be…

It counted enough for one night. It counted enough so that I wanted to multiply Alonso in his moment of glory by 25 and revel in a team of champions. We take Pete and Jeff McNeil and Jacob deGrom, each of them together on that field in Cleveland, and we add to them, we cultivate them, we dream on them and then, some night in weather likely more suited to actual polar bears, we thrill to a group Mets achievement that dwarfs a silly television contrivance that there’s little chance I’d have paid much attention to had a Met not been as involved as he was.

This was great. I long for greatest.

The Downside of Prophecy

When the Mets finish up with the Cardinals they will play their next 19 games against the Braves, Cubs, Phillies and Yankees, bringing them to the All-Star break. Those four clubs have a collective winning percentage of .572. You never know in baseball, but those 19 games may provide a decisive verdict about who, exactly, the 2019 Mets are and what’s possible for them.

That was me back on June 15, after the Mets dropped both the completion of a suspended game and a regularly scheduled one against the Cardinals, and oh, how I wish I could write that the Mets made a fool out of me, as well as the Braves, Phillies, Yankees and Cubs. Baseball is refreshing in that you want to be proved wrong in your pessimism, hoping and perhaps even praying that you will be mockingly reminded of your lack of faith and derided for seeing little black clouds everywhere.

But I wasn’t wrong.

In those 19 games, the Mets went 6-13, which I would indeed call a pretty decisive verdict. The Mets began that day of baseball with a chance to go over .500; they never got there and now that less than lofty goal appears far out of reach.

Which means we’ve moved on to all-too-familiar Mets territory for the summer, asking not, “Can we make the playoffs?” but “How quickly will the Mets admit they aren’t going anywhere and start thinking about the future?” In past lost summers they’ve been depressingly slow to work through the psychological stages of that, stalling somewhere between denial and bargaining. Maybe it will be different this year under Brodie Van Wagenan, but so far nothing much has been different about his tenure. (Not really a surprise, since all Met roads lead to the BRIDGE OUT AHEAD signs and hazard blinkers that mark the dead end of Wilpon Gulch.)

The Mets won’t see the Phils again until June, at which point if Rhame’s logged more than a couple of weeks away from Syracuse, something’s probably gone pretty seriously wrong. Maybe in that series Hoskins can get mad at Drew Gagnon.

The final game before the All-Star break proved me a prophet once again, also to my dismay. Jacob Rhame has indeed proved a threat only to minor-league batters since his tete-a-tete with Rhys Hoskins back in April, but the Mets and Phils remain PO’ed at each other, with hit batters a-plenty, spates of warnings issued and all-too-much chest-thumping clubhouse bravado. (Which is all the bravado the Mets can muster, having just dropped six out of seven to their neighbors down 95.)

The final game was another disaster, marked by Jay Bruce firing more thunderbolts at his hapless former mates, the Mets not collecting a hit until the sixth, and the usual non-relief and inept defense. The only flaw with my prediction was that the target of Hoskins’ (perfectly justified) ire was Wilmer Font, not Gagnon, but does it particularly matter? The Phils won by five, and the game never seemed that close.

It’s another lost season, but somehow not one without its pleasures. The Mets’ first hit off Aaron Nola was a home run from Pete Alonso, struck off an 0-2 curve that was a little higher than Nola wanted it. It was Alonso’s 30th homer of the season, leaving him standing alongside Dave Kingman as the only Met to hit 30 before the break. (Happily, Alonso stands apart from Kingman in being a far better hitter, fielder and human being.)

The story of the second half is clear: We’ll watch Alonso try to outpace Kingman’s twice-achieved 37 (back in ’76 he landed on his thumb and missed five weeks) and take aim at Howard Johnson, Mike Piazza and Carlos Delgado (38), Darry Strawberry (39), Piazza again (40) and finally the unlikely duo of Todd Hundley and Carlos Beltran, the Met co-record-holders with 41 homers.

Polar Bear Pete is somehow one of three Mets All-Stars, alongside Jeff McNeil and Jacob deGrom, who has a permanent berth on the All-Star-Crossed roster. You’d think a team with three All-Stars would be better than 10 games under .500, but here we are. I’m going to cheer for Alonso in the Home Run Derby, for all three of them in the midsummer showcase, and then we’ll see if the season can bring us something heartening beyond a home-run chase.

Maybe Alonso can top not just Hundley and Beltran but also Christian Yelich, sitting atop the NL ranks with 31 homers. Maybe McNeil can top John Olerud‘s .354 club mark, win a batting title while playing the entire last game, or both. Maybe deGrom can actually get a win now and then. Maybe Amed Rosario and Tomas Nido can make progress, Michael Conforto can get healthy, and Noah Syndergaard can shake off the cobwebs of a weird season. Maybe we get a Brandon Nimmo sighting — or even a glimpse of Jed Lowrie! Maybe the bullpen can be something other than a raging inferno. (Dare to dream!) Maybe the likes of Zack Wheeler, Todd Frazier and other tradeables can yield more inspiring than interchangeably crummy right-handed relievers.

I’m not making any predictions, particularly not ones that might be viewed as optimistic. But there’s baseball left to watch and maybe even enjoy, within our once-again reduced horizons. And despite it all, that’s good enough for me.

Whatever They’re Doin’, It’s Workin’

Hey Brodie, whatcha doin’?
Throwing a chair in a meeting with Mickey and his coaches.

Awesome! Hey Brodie, why ya throwin’ a chair?
I won’t be taking any further questions at this time.

Cool! Hey Mickey, whatcha doin’?
Getting ejected after Frazier did, but otherwise trying to act like everything is perfectly normal around here.

Outta sight! Hey Todd, whatcha doin’?
Getting ejected before Mickey did and maybe being a little too feisty for my and the team’s own good.

Freaky! Hey Dom, whatcha doin’?
Lashing a couple of big two-baggers — and trying to keep Frazier from getting his skull dented by Arrieta.

Neato! Hey Tomás, whatcha doin’?
Doubling in three runs to put us ahead and sticking my tongue out like Gene Simmons.

Rock on! Hey Squirrel, whatcha doin’?
Adding four more base hits to my historically impressive collection.

Sweet! Hey Steven, whatcha doin’?
Working out of the pen again.

Crazy! Hey Adeiny, whatcha doin’?
Making game-saving catches after Frazier got ejected.

Nifty! Hey Noah, whatcha doin’?
Giving up too many runs, but somehow lasting five as the pitcher of record on the winning side.

Wild! Hey Justin, Robert and Seth, whatcha doin’?
Not being the collective unmitigated disaster you’ve become conditioned to believe we are.

Radical! Hey Edwin, whatcha doin’?
Surviving some hard-hit balls and giving Ken Rosenthal an interview in surprisingly fluent English after I nailed down a save.

Amazin’! Hey Mets, whatcha doin’?
Winning for a change.

No kidding! That’s great! Hey, anybody know what the deal was with Brodie throwing that chair?
Sorry, Mr. Van Wagenen isn’t taking any further questions at this time.