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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 Year of Not the Hitter

The Mets commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World’s Fair at Citi Field Tuesday night. It involved a little too much Branden and Alexa, but the sentiment was solid and the theme was well executed: period songs, vintage video, even special at-bat graphics evoking the enormous futuristic attraction that kept Shea Stadium company in its infancy. Surprising historical awareness shown by management. Nicely done.

Yet the vintage year I walked away from the 3-0 loss to the Cardinals thinking about was not 1964 but the one that came a quadrennium later. These Mets, at least when they’re playing at home — and certainly when I go to see them (I’m 0-4) — are in the midst of a seasonlong salute to 1968.

Futuristic exhibition at 1964 World's Fair predicts how many runs Mets would score in 50 years versus Cardinal pitching.

Futuristic exhibition at 1964 World’s Fair predicts how many runs Mets would score in 50 years versus Cardinal pitching.

You’ve probably heard of The Year of the Pitcher. That was 1968 all across baseball, when the mounds were high, the hurlers intimidating and the numbers staggering. The shorthand version is Denny McLain won 31 games for the Tigers and Bob Gibson compiled a 1.12 earned run average for the Cardinals. If you’ve watched your Mets Yearbooks on SNY to excess, you’ll immediately recognize 1968 more specifically as The Year of the Mets Pitcher, when for the first time since there had been Mets, there was an abundance of talent at a given position and it happened to be the most important position on the field.

Forty-six years ago in Flushing, that meant young guns Seaver, Koosman, Selma, Ryan and McAndrew at the forefront, putting up zeroes as Met pitchers had never done before. Given what came directly after 1968, the emerging Met rotation has harbinger written all over it in hindsight. Dick Selma would be lost in the expansion draft, Gary Gentry would take his place and 1969’s unforeseen successes would serve to retrofit 1968 as the sign of things to come.

Left on the cutting room floor by the highlight filmmakers of yore was the part of the plot that didn’t sell season tickets, namely the dreadful Mets offense of 1968. In real time, though, it got noticed. In a sport where hardly anybody was hitting, the Mets were barely appearing at the plate. As a team, they batted .228, they slugged .315 and they on-based at a clip of .281. You know who was worse in the National League?

Nobody. The Mets’ OPS — an uncalculated metric back then, but one that exists for our consideration today — was a league-low .596. Only the Dodgers scored fewer runs. Nobody came close to striking out as often. The cumulative offensive numbness goes a long way toward explaining why a team that was fourth in the league in ERA (2.72) couldn’t win more than 73 games. Granted, 73 wins smashed the previous franchise high and spectacularly better days were mere months ahead…but my, the hitting was legendarily lousy.

Nobody personified the lack of attack like Tommie Agee, who was hit in the helmet on the first day of exhibition play by vicious Cardinal competitor Gibson and never fully found his footing. Gil Hodges tried him in six of eight spots in the order. None of them took for very long. The bottom line for the heralded acquisition from the American League was a .217 batting average, a .562 OPS, 17 lonely RBIs in 132 games and a sense that the Mets had yet to find a center fielder who could field and hit.

History’s verdict on Tommie Agee wasn’t rendered in 1968. A plaque bearing his name hangs in the Mets Hall of Fame because of what he did after 1968. The Mets won a championship largely because Tommie Agee dominated the first World Series game ever played at Shea Stadium, launching a leadoff home run that put the Mets up, 1-0, and hauling in two nearly impossible balls that could have conceivably have beaten them, 6-5. The Mets were in the World Series because of Tommie Agee as much as anybody. Here are the top six finishers in the Most Valuable Player voting in the National League for 1969:

1) Willie McCovey
2) Tom Seaver
3) Hank Aaron
4) Pete Rose
5) Ron Santo
6) Tommie Agee

McCovey, Seaver, Aaron and Santo are all in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Rose, if not for an enormous personal shortcoming, would be, too. And right behind them was Agee, who hit 54 points higher and drove in 59 more runs than he had the year before. (Right behind Agee in the voting was teammate Cleon Jones; five of the six players directly behind Jones were also future Hall of Famers — Roberto Clemente, Phil Niekro, Tony Perez, Ernie Banks and Johnny Bench.) For one season that overshadowed all that came before and after it in his career, Tommie Agee resided comfortably among immortals.

Yet it didn’t make his 1968 any less disturbing while it was underway. Which, in turn, is to say that whatever the Mets are building in 2014 for 2015 and beyond, it can’t go up fast enough, because on nights like Tuesday, they look like they consist of 25 Agees of the not-yet Miraculous variety.

• The 2014 Mets, after one-eighth of a season, are batting .219, worst in the National League.

• The 2014 Mets, after one-eighth of a season, have struck out 189 times, tied for second-worst in the National League.

• Only one team’s on-base percentage is worse than the Mets’ .294.

• Nobody’s collective slugging (.311) or OPS (.606) in the N.L. is worse than the Mets’.

• The last Met to hit a home run in the Mets’ home park is now a Pirate. Since Ike Davis went deep to carry the day on April 5, the Mets have played six games at Citi Field. They’ve homered there not at all.

• The current active roster can claim four Citi Field home runs in 2014. Three others were hit on behalf of the Mets, but one (Davis’s) has gone to Pittsburgh, one (Andrew Brown’s) was sent to Las Vegas and one (Juan Lagares’s) sits on the disabled list.

Nobody in the Mets’ starting lineup Tuesday night finished the game batting as high as .300 or with an OBP over .350. Their heretofore hottest hitter, David Wright, came up with two on and one out in the ninth, the Mets down three. He was facing Trevor Rosenthal, who had just thrown seven consecutive balls and earned a visit from his pitching coach. There is no surer indication that strike one is on its way to the waiting batter.

Wright took strike one. Eventually he’d take strike three. The Mets’ next-best hitter, Daniel Murphy, then grounded out to end the game. Later Murph tipped his cap hard to Adam Wainwright, the perennial Cy Young candidate who stifled the Mets for seven shutout innings on four hits. Daniel had a point in implying there’s no shame in going down to a great starting pitcher. Not mentioned by Murphy was Kevin Siegrist, who pitched a spotless eighth, and Rosenthal, who completed the save despite his bout with wildness. Neither of them is Wainwright. Neither of them gave up a hit to the Mets.

Wright and Murphy aren’t problems, relatively speaking. Almost everybody else is. Travis d’Arnaud keeps coming around and he’s still at .182. Eric Young, who is a weapon when he’s on base, is at .222. Chris Young, who hit the only ball that appeared to have a chance to drive in a Met run or two until it disappeared into Matt Holliday’s glove, has settled in for the time being at .238. Lucas Duda, who has been in the major leagues for parts of five seasons now, looms as the lineup’s most compelling power threat, but won’t be used as a cleanup hitter because, according to Terry Collins, “we’ve put a lot on Lucas’s plate in the past week [and] I don’t want to pile on,” while Murphy, the cleanup hitter for the last several games, hasn’t hit a home run yet this season. Ruben Tejada had most of the night off. He’s at .204. He was spelled by Omar Quintanilla — .250 and dropping like a rock.

And erstwhile American Leaguer Curtis Granderson is slashing away at .116/.225/.217. It seems almost cruel to mention that. Then again, 20 games into the Mets’ 1968 season, Tommie Agee was doing demonstrably worse: .111/.152/.111. Of course Agee had been hit in the head by Bob Gibson in Spring Training.

Not sure what the deal is with Granderson, but all the promising young Met pitching in the world isn’t going to make us not notice he’s personifying the worst-hitting team in the National League. Curtis could sure use a 1969 soon. Then again, so could all of us.

Beneath the Camouflage

The Mets of recent vintage have been more about sabotage than camouflage, but for a night all was well in Flushing. The good vibes started with Jenrry Mejia, whose mix of cutters, sinkers and sliders had the Cardinals flailing, muttering and occasionally smashing bats. Mejia faltered in the seventh, as per usual for 2014 Mets starters, but in his postgame interview he flashed a dazzling smile and redirected praise in the direction of Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy, about whom more in a bit.

Watching Mejia, I wanted to go key Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya’s cars. How much did those two cost Mejia in terms of development, derailing his career in a vain effort to save theirs? (And oh what a time for ownership to leave off its usual meddling.) But that’s the past. Mejia is here, apparently healthy, and looks like he’s gaining confidence with every start.

Mejia’s teammates didn’t do a lot of hitting (and Mejia himself is positively Colonic with the bat), but the gloves were on point. There was Tejada’s sprawling stab of an apparent single by old pal Yadier Molina in the fourth, which was overshadowed an inning later when John Jay hit one to essentially the same spot with Jhonny Peralta on first. This time Tejada skidded to a halt on his belly and shoveled the ball with his free hand to Murph, who grabbed it barehanded facing the center-field wall, then spun on one stiff leg, like some grotesquely plumaged wading bird, firing it to Josh Satin to complete the double play. It was a marvelous play, but the most fun part was watching Murphy beam at his infield partner afterwards, clearly delighted with himself, Tejada, being a Met and life in a benevolent cosmos. The other day I was thinking that watching Murph must be like watching Ron Hunt, when the Mets were new and bad and you took whatever praiseworthy baseball you could get. But Murph also has some Ron Swoboda in him — he plays hard, but sometimes his own excitement leads him to do something dopey. And sometimes those dopey ideas turn out pretty spectacularly. It would have been wiser to guide Tejada’s toss into the glove and make sure of the out at second, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun. (The same goes for stealing third under Molina’s nose, a foolish notion that succeeded brilliantly.)

While we’re talking about defense, points to David Wright, who ended the seventh with a long throw across the diamond to Satin and smothered a downy Cardinal rally in the ninth, trapping a bad hop in his solar plexus and starting the around-the-horn double play. Wright is in one of those grooves where he’s playing at the top of his considerable ability, which — like all things Wrighteous — we should appreciate more than we do.

Speaking of appreciation, I spent the last couple of innings nodding happily at Travis d’Arnaud‘s work behind the plate. D’Arnaud still has trouble with balls in the dirt, but watch attentively for just a few minutes and you’ll see that the talk about his pitch-framing prowess is justified. He’s quiet in his positioning and doesn’t sneak pitches back to the fringes of the plate so much as he ensures that his glove is in the right place to make them look their best when they arrive. Once you spot it, you can’t stop watching — or noticing the contrast with catchers whose “noisy” mechanics cost their pitchers strikes. D’Arnaud’s bat looks better, too — the double he clanged off the wall was almost a home run, he gave the Mets a badly needed insurance run with a ringing single to center in the sixth, and the other day only the superlative glove of Andrelton Simmons kept him from tying the game in the ninth. To be sure, d’Arnaud’s neither a finished product nor a sure thing — above all else he needs to stay on the field — but the more I see of him this year the more I like.

What wasn’t to like? The only thing I have is whatever the hell the Mets were wearing out there. Look, I have ample amounts of respect and gratitude for our armed forces, and the Mets’ ticket offer for the troops deserves applause, but the team looked like someone Photoshopped the Padres’ togs to look even worse. This is worse than the tail, the ice-cream caps, the orange bills and pretty much anything else the Mets have inflicted on the eyes of their fans over the decades.

Still, for a night it worked — Mets infielders were constantly materializing out of the dirt of the infield to make hits disappear. Why, they even looked like a good team. Might just be camouflage, but it was a welcome sight.

Ain't That Grand?

Curtis Granderson isn’t having fun so far.

There’s the .127 batting average, the $60 million contract, and even the defense — what, exactly, that throw in the nightmarish top of the fifth was is a question best not pondered. Granderson is by all accounts a peach of a guy, but he’s been hearing boos from fans who have a growing sense of dread that he’s a rather well-disguised Jason Bay.

Of course, Granderson has plenty of company. The Mets’ .227 team batting average is 28th in baseball. Their .301 OBP is 25th. Their .636 OPS is 29th. They’ve hit 12 home runs, good for a three-way tie for 25th. They’re on their third closer of the season, and that closer is Kyle Farnsworth. They can’t win at home. Their fans are fed up with trying to figure out what the payroll is going to be, and with waiting for endlessly promised better days, and most of all with bad baseball.

And yet, somehow, the Mets are 9-9. David Wright is hitting, the first-base conundrum hasn’t been solved but at least has been decided, the starting pitching’s pretty good even with Matt Harvey attending public events in disguise to avoid the wrath of talk-radio trolls, and the aforementioned Kyle Farnsworth pitched just fine today, as did fellow former stars Daisuke Matsuzaka and even Jose Valverde, Ol’ Gopher Ball himself.

The Mets even withstood the might of Freddie Freeman, the man who makes Chipper Jones look like an eighth-place hitter. Scott Rice arrived in the seventh with the game tied and Braves on first and third. I was trying to figure out how Freeman’s blast would count for six runs, but before I could even frame a doomed tweet Rice had delivered the only pitch he’d throw. Freeman rolled it to Daniel Murphy, who fed it to Omar Quintanilla, who fired it to Lucas Duda, and all was well.

Wait, what?

The Mets seem like the worst 9-9 team in the universe primarily because we’re Mets fans and we’ve had enough. But it’s also that they’ve gagged up some games in atrocious ways — such as watching a promising start undone by a lone inning of spastic defense (Zack Wheeler‘s implosion could have been modeled after Bartolo Colon‘s the previous day), then having bullpen horrors shred a plucky comeback. Games like that make your shoulders sag, as a fan and probably as a player as well.

But the bullpen horrors didn’t come today. The pen held the line long enough for the bats to piece something together. Granderson didn’t hit a cannonball of a homer that blasted open a bank vault of pre-Madoff money; he hit a lazy fly ball that was just deep enough given that Kirk Nieuwenhuis was just fast enough. Either way, it was enough.

And hey, if you were a Braves fan, by then you’d had enough. Dan Uggla played second base this series like a guy you should spoon-feed to keep him from hurting himself with utensils, and Justin Upton sometimes seems like he’d rather be doing anything than playing baseball. Even at 12-6, the Braves have issues of their own.

So the Mets won. It may not feel like it, but they won … just as they’ve done as often as they’ve lost, though it doesn’t feel like that either. I don’t know what to make of Granderson, or Colon, or Wheeler, or Travis d’Arnaud, or Chris Young, or any of the guys we’re counting on for better days. But perhaps that’s because they’ve played 18 games over less than a month. Of course we don’t know anything yet. Ask again on June 1. In the meantime, well, we played a baseball game today and somehow eventually we won. And ain’t that grand? Or at least grand enough?

Opportunitease

They gave us quality-mounted canvas prints of a photo taken at the first game Shea Stadium ever hosted. It’s the reason I snapped up tickets in January, the reason I schlepped my stubborn cold and a hundred or so tissues to Citi Field Saturday night. I wanted the Mets to remind me of Shea.

Oh, they did, all right. They reminded me of all those nights that melded sloppy baseball, listless baseball and idiotic baseball and how, within the span of a few innings, they would turn all of it into unreasonably hopeful baseball, only to surrender just enough additional runs to ultimately put the game an inch out of reach once they mounted a final and furious comeback that was equal parts valiant and futile.

I was at Saturday night’s game at Citi Field plenty of times at Shea. The names of the villainous visitors and the non-heroic homestanders change as surely as the facilities did between 2008 and 2009, but the story arc remains the same. Everything that can go wrong begs to go right, but the pleas fall on deaf ears. A win lurks inside a loss but is too shy to come out to play. Some reliever makes life a little more difficult than it has to be. And when things begin to get exciting, the contest is brought to a numbing halt because the Mets have run out of outs and left all their chances on base.

Call it an opportunitease. Bad calls, bad throws, bad swings, bad slumps, badly miscast personnel, yet a good chance to pull it out. If only a long fly would have flown a little longer. If only a ball in the hole had carved itself a little more leeway. If only situations that were made for replay review were permitted to be replayed for review. If only, if only, if only.

The Mets lose by two to the Braves but outhit them instead of losing by five and garnering just one hit. They make it interesting the way my cold or whatever it is makes my bronchial passages interesting. They make the masses who upped and left when a Valverde meatball Upton left over the center field fence seem brutally misguided in their priorities. You’re hanging in there. You’re coughing your head off and blowing your nose to Kingman come, yet you’re helping Tim Teufel wave a carousel’s worth of runners around the bases in the bottom of the ninth, undeterred by your quiet observation that the Mets have been batting for 20 minutes and battering Craig Kimbrel but somehow still trail by two.

And they lose by two. But they made it interesting. You hoped more in the eighth and ninth than you dared believe you would from the first through the seventh. You take that and your print and the remnants of your tissue supply and you go home.

You always returned to Shea Stadium. You’ll return to Citi Field, too. You can put it on canvas and mount it.

The Inevitable End of Ike Davis

He was a Met — maybe he didn’t perform to the standards we set for him or to our satisfaction of what we decided he could be, but he was one of ours. He went out there and he did his best. Then one day he was gone and we could only imagine the damage he’d do for his new team and the regret he’d cause his old team.

But enough about Aaron Harang.

Harang (3-1, 0.70) threw seven no-hit innings Friday night before Fredi Gonzalez decided a complete game no-hitter against these Mets in their home ballpark probably wasn’t going to be worth the trouble of running up the pitch count of the best starter in the National League. Luis Avilan gave up a hit in the eighth but no runs. Jordan Walden gave up nothing, which is what the Mets scored in their 5-0 loss that was — thanks to Jonathon Niese’s six solid frames — closer than the score indicates for a while, though what that counts for, I’m not sure.

You’re excused for not remembering Aaron Harang (7 IP 0 H 6 BB 0 R) was a Met. He pitched in that segment of 2013 when you probably weren’t watching: four starts at its ass end, none of them totally embarrassing, each of them reasonably effective. To use the blanket description that fits every Met September over the past half-decade, you didn’t miss much. For the also-ran Mets late last year, he was a rotation temp.

For the first-place Braves early this year, he’s basically the ace. But like I said, enough about Aaron Harang, who was never in anybody’s plans for 2014, not even the Braves’. Friday night’s ex-Met in the spotlight was supposed to be Ike Davis.

Davis was supposed to be an ex-Met long before Friday, but between calculating imposing offensive metrics and diligently upgrading the shortstop situation from Ruben Tejada and Omar Quintanilla to Ruben Tejada and Omar Quintaniila, the Met front office was too busy to sort through its glut of first basemen and thus carried into the season two lefthanded starters at the position. Given that the Ike half of the glut launched a game-winning grand slam the day after the Lucas Duda half blasted a pair of homers himself, it didn’t really hurt anybody to have them both around for a couple of weeks, but it couldn’t go on like that forever.

It didn’t, which is why Ike Davis was finally sent packing, to Pittsburgh, in exchange for a Triple-A righty reliever of little advance renown named Zack Thornton and that player whose name has yet to arrive, but is said to be a more exciting get than Zack Thornton.

Ike Davis, Pittsburgh Pirate, will become Willie Stargell in about ten minutes, you’ve likely determined. Maybe. Probably not. He’s still Ike Davis who’s been searching for his swing, his comfort zone, his batting eye, his eye of the tiger and now his eyepatch (aarrgghh!!). In the midst of his obligatory remarks about being alternately saddened and gladdened by the turn of transactional events, I heard Ike say he’s been feeling “a lot better in the box”. You know which hitters are feeling a lot better in the box? Hitters like Ike who are hitting .208. Hitters who are hitting a lot better in the box are able to have their hitting speak for itself. And they’re not traded three weeks into the season.

Continuing exposure to his groping for answers over the past two seasons convinced me it was never going to come together again for Ike Davis as a New York Met. I came to that conclusion last summer, so I can’t say going Ikeless will be a hardship for the .500 Mets (yes, the team that was one-hit Friday night hasn’t lost any more than it’s won; hard to believe, I know). The Davis powerburst of the second half of 2012 seemed like an illusion when it was in progress and there was nothing of substance to be mined from 2013. But in the scheme of what might have been or could have been or should have been, the trade is an emotional blow.

Ike was the homegrown slugging first baseman who did everything right from the moment he was given the chance, and from that small sample size, we dreamed. We dreamed this guy was the next step — or maybe the first step — in the necessary rebuilding of our team. It was gonna be, left to right around the horn, Wright, Reyes, Tejada, Davis. He was free and easy at the plate and in his manner. He fell over railings and came up with catches. He was in the middle of every Citi Field celebration back when the Mets used to win home games by the bushel. He brushed up against cocky, especially for a rookie, but that was all right, I thought. It was refreshing. The players who have “swagger” don’t have to talk about it. Ike, I was sure, had it.

Whatever he has left after parts of five seasons as a Met, it wasn’t enough anymore. He may have started up, but unlike the rest of the refrain from his stubbornly unchanging walkup music, he sure as hell stopped. Some of it was no doubt physical. Some of it was likely mental. All of it was a shame given the menschy aura he exuded whether he was hitting them far or not at all. That’s too bad in terms of the dreams we dreamed, but it’s the way it goes in reality.

Now first base is Duda territory, which may mean a player with a genuine talent for generating line drives will finally settle in and produce consistently. Or it may mean the man with the Mona Lucas smile will struggle because, let’s face it, Duda hasn’t proven all that much across parts of his five seasons as a Met. I guess the only thing Lucas Duda proved to those who decide such matters was he was a less worse bet than Ike Davis.

Reporting from Brand New Shea Stadium

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the opening of Shea Stadium, I thought I’d reprint my post from April 17, 1964, in case you missed it the first time around.

Well, you can’t say it isn’t big. Or bright. They said it would be both and it surely is.

I’m just not sure it feels like home yet.

Listen, we’ve all known this place has been coming for more than two years, but that doesn’t make Shea Stadium any less shocking upon entering it for the first time. It’s not just the structure, which is so obviously different from our beloved Polo Grounds. It’s the location. Now when I want to go to a game, I have to go to Queens.

Queens? Who goes to Queens? Unless you’re catching a flight, who makes Queens their destination? The Beatles came to Queens in February, but it’s not like they hung around. They vamoosed to Manhattan, just like we used to. The World’s Fair is in Queens (and won’t we know it from the traffic?), but that’s temporary. Soon enough, the “World” will move on, but the Mets will still be there.

In Flushing. Now that I’m compelled to stare at it, that’s not exactly the most enticing-sounding of locales. Of course “sound” is all relevant when you take into account all those planes heading into and out of neighboring LaGuardia. Yup, a lot of people are still catching flights in Queens and you’ll hear all about it, especially when you’re sitting in the top section of the stadium as I was. You can hear the planes. You can hear the trains. You can hear the organ, which is pretty nice, actually. And if you squint real hard, you can see Casey Stengel.

Wake up, Case. We’ve got a new stadium.

Shea (can we just call it that for short?) is more dazzling than comforting, though I suppose familiarity will come with time. True to the propaganda, I wasn’t stuck behind a post. I was stuck in front of some idiot taunting Ed Bauta, “Hey, BAUTA, you shouldn’ta BOUGHT A house! Just rent!” Clever the first time, not so much the twentieth time.

Hearing yourself think at Shea will be a challenge, but not as much as tuning out the occasional rotten apple. Goodness I hope that guy or his spiritual equivalent doesn’t happen every time I go to a game.

The game itself, you might have heard over WHN, was a Mets game, which is to say it was a Mets loss, no big surprise there. New plot of real estate, same plot in the standings. Three games into the season, still no wins. Ceremonial folderol notwithstanding (whose idea was that square Guy Lombardo?), the real christening was provided by Willie Stargell homering over the green fence in the second inning to put the Pirates out in front with the first run in the history of Shea Stadium. Stargell would probably hit a lot of home runs if he played half his games at Shea…except they wouldn’t let him face Jack Fisher, so never mind that. We did get a lead in the fifth — ignited by Ron Hunt; gosh, I love Ron Hunt — but could it last? Can anything last with this team?

Shea Stadium appears built to last. Like I said, it’s huge. You don’t plant something like that upon a meadow and expect it not to be there someday. They probably said something similar about the Polo Grounds, but progress said something different. Shea feels very progressive, though, like this is where we’re headed, if I can get sociological for a minute. That big globe at the World’s Fair, this big stadium with its space-age scoreboard, those enormous blue and orange speckles on the side and all the stuff that just shouts “NOW!” There’s an unfinishedness to it all, but that’s all right. There’s an unfinishedness to our civilization (unless Barry Goldwater finishes us all off). There’s certainly an unfinishedness to our ballclub.

There’s gotta be. There’s gotta be more to the Mets than what we’ve seen through two years plus three games. We do have Hunt. We do have Hickman, who I think is gonna come around one of these years. Kranepool pinch-hit (hard to remember he’s not even twenty yet). Gonder is up to .444 and Fisher is only 25, which isn’t really that old. Jerk behind me had a point about Bauta’s housing plans (gave up five hits in two-and-a-third for the loss), but there’s supposed to be some real talent somewhere in this system.

Then again, that’s what they’ve been telling us since 1962. Considering they’re charging an outrageous $3.50 for box seats, it would be nice if the talk could turn into action by, I don’t know, the end of this decade maybe? I don’t mean to be an impatient New Yorker, but I’m an impatient New Yorker. If they can build a stadium inside of three years, even accounting for construction delays, why can’t they build the Mets into something sooner?

Sorry, I shouldn’t be so cynical on the day we were presented with this new and impressive ballpark. To be fair (if not worldly), I can see virtually the entire field at Shea but I can’t see the future. Still, think how much bigger and brighter it would look if we could win a few games. Or one.

At least the escalators work, the staff is unfailingly friendly and the men’s rooms are clean and efficient. If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.

Amoral Victories

“A diamondback without venom is a belt.”

Points to our pal Metstradamus for the line of the series and an unsparingly accurate take on the National League’s Arizona franchise.

As a lifelong Mets fan, I’m well acquainted with terrible baseball, and the Diamondbacks are supplying it by the truckload right now. I’ve been listening to Howie and Josh via MLB At Bat, as I’m doing school visits in Louisiana for Jupiter Pirates, and each night they’ve sounded both more pitying and more disgusted. I’ve supplemented Howie and Josh with peeks at footage of temporarily gravel-voiced Gary and the happily returned Keith, who’s the perfect person for chronicling misdeeds at the major-league level.

But I don’t need a TV to know what this kind of baseball looks like. I know Kirk Gibson is staring out at the field with rage churning under his carefully blank expression, just like I know players are plodding off the field, remaining prone for an extra few defeated seconds, and staring into the bowls of their no-longer-needed batting helmets. I know because I remember it from the Joe Torre era, and the George Bamberger era, and the Dallas Green era, and the….

Games like these are rarities to be savored — free passes in the hard slog of a long season. (And even more to be savored when they come on a tough West Coast swing, of which the Mets have approximately a dozen this year.) Even at 2-0 this game didn’t feel particularly close, and Jose Valverde‘s throwing BP to Aaron Hill and Paul Goldschmidt felt more like a long-term problem for the Mets than a short-term threat to a victory. That’s how bad the Diamondbacks are right now.

(By the way, I’m terrified that if Valverde’s struggles continue, our closer will be Kyle Farnsworth. If you’re thinking that’s insane, I’m not going to argue — it should be Gonzalez Germen. But remember that Farnsworth is a Proven Veteran (TM), which I fear in TerryLand means he’ll get every chance to be bad.)

But back to the D’backs and their string of d’bacles. You know what? Too bad for them. I’ve watched the Mets get so thoroughly lost that another win seemed impossible. Nobody took pity on them — they just beat them, as they should have. Moral victories count for nothing — they’re defeats. Amoral victories — beating up on an essentially defenseless opponent — don’t come with a discount. They’re wins, plain and simple. You take them whenever you can, without apology.

By the way, if you haven’t seen this, it’s so so so great. Enjoy.

Getcha Clobber On!

Definitely a blowout. Something like a laugher. Never in doubt.

The Mets scored three runs before Bronson Arroyo threw 15 pitches. Then I drifted off under the influence of Coricidin Cough & Cold. When I woke up, the Mets were ahead, I think, 7-0. I missed four runs? I guess I could’ve been sore (and achy) that the Mets were clobbering an opponent without me hanging on every delicious swing, but if I was going to be sick anyway, and I needed to wake up to a score of some sort, Mets 7 Diamondbacks 0 represented quite the remedy.

And then, so I wouldn’t feel entirely left out, they put up a couple more runs. Ya can’t go wrong with 9-0. Well, you can brace for bad news from Jenrry Mejia’s blister and snarl through Kirk Gibson and Oliver Perez flashbacks, but only lightly. You gotta enjoy these romps through the desert when they come around.

The return of Kirk Nieuwenhuis brought with it predictable results: three hits, three RBIs, a two-run homer, some fancy catches in center as well. Did I predict Kirk would lay out a box score line as long as his last name? Let’s just say I had a sense he’d reintroduce himself with authority. He has a Don Draper thing going vis-à-vis what Dr. Faye Miller said to him in Season Four’s finale when he broke up with her to marry Megan: Kirk mostly likes beginnings of things. He comes up without fanfare, he conducts a symphony of power and defense in the face of initial indifference, he ascends to People’s Choice territory, yet he usually exits the stage sotto voce.

But he had superb stage presence Tuesday night. With Juan Lagares sadly unavailable, Nieuwenhuis spelled relief. And on the date everybody wore 42, you wondered for a while if the Mets would total at least half that many runs. They backed off after four innings, which Jackie Robinson probably wouldn’t have approved of, but these aren’t the Boys of Summer. They’re the .500 Mets, the statistical epitome of not half bad.

Which in itself is not half bad…or a whole lot better than I’m feeling with this cough & cold.

Dangers In The Outfield

On a night when I felt like Gary Cohen sounded and the Diamondbacks played, the Mets overcame the most miserable Monday malady imaginable: the loss of two outfielders, one of whom is very good and the other of whom presumably sooner or later will be.

They persevered to a 7-3 victory, thanks to Zack Wheeler holding it together for six-and-a-third (losing his grip only when I stupidly thought to myself, “He’s gonna get through seven easy…”); Carlos Torres clearly begging Terry Collins to overuse him (it’s April, he can handle it); and Lucas Duda producing the way we wish to believe he could if he was just left alone to hit and not think. It helped that Arizona’s currently playing with its diamonds up its backs, but it takes two to tango. The Mets are entitled to top a lesser-performing opponent. It’s just that it’s been a while since we’ve definitively encountered one.

Gary’s voice, nursed through nine by hot tea and Keith Hernandez’s surprise appearance in the booth to pick up the promotional slack, announced a satisfying result. He said he felt fine except for trouble from a throat that works more innings than Torres and Scott Rice combined. Me, I felt (feel) buggy all over but couldn’t (can’t) tell you what was (is) wrong with me — none of which has shown up in the box score, best as I can tell — but I was happy to make it awake to the last out and then immediately fall into my own postgame show of the subconscious. Usually I hang on every dispatch from the manager’s office, but I figured I’d wake up this morning and find out if, like Old Glory, the franchise was still there.

It is, but it has an outfield problem, and not the outfield problem that was taking shape before Monday’s game. That was when Terry was declaring that two Young men would be sharing time with Juan Lagares as soon as Chris came back. It wasn’t a surprising decree, just a silly one, given that Juan Lagares has been the Mets’ best outfielder, while their best-compensated outfielder, Curtis Granderson, hadn’t really done anything in his admittedly brief National League tenure to earn unquestioned playing time in the land of the shoehorned.

How ever would the Mets figure out the best solution to this ordeal of having too many at least partly deserving starting outfield candidates but only the regulation number of starting outfield slots?

Well, go worry about what you’ll do if you hit the Mega Millions instead, because the Great Met Outfield Glut of 2014 conveniently depleted itself in Phoenix. There was Granderson running into the part of the wall that can hurt a fella in three places — wrist, rib cage, knee — and there was Lagares furtively grabbing at a hamstring, and there went two of our three pre-Chris Young starting outfielders, and out to left for a return engagement nobody booked went smokin’ Lucas Duda, toting his ashtray of a glove, the kind of curio you really don’t expect to put out for company these days.

Granderson probably gets a breather to wonder why he’s not hitting whatsoever and how it is when he finally knocks in a run (going the other way against a shift) he has to leave the game. Lagares seems destined for the DL, which is wise with a hamstring and sad when he was generating the most fun a Mets fan could see this side of a Matt Harvey rehab update. EYJ, whose speed has convinced nobody he’s much of a leadoff or any other spot hitter, maintains his role for now. Meanwhile, the other Young will soon get a chance to restart his season and reignite his career without being seen as the goon who snatched playing time from Our Beloved Juan.

Also, Kirk Nieuwenhuis probably gets called up in the short term. Two years ago around now we were Nieuwenhuead over Nieuwenhueels for this otherwise forgotten sixth or seventh outfielder, which makes for a healthy reminder that nobody’s forever a savior or eternally a lummox in these situations. Duda went 4-for-5 last night and erred not at all between his stints at first and in left. Expectations that the distant precincts of Chase Field would open up and swallow him whole proved unwarranted.

Yet again, Chuck Berry provides the most accurate forecast in town when it comes to baseball: It goes to show you never can tell.

The Sunday of 14-2

They hit ’em out of Anaheim. They hit ’em into Los Angeles. They hit ’em until geographic borders were obliterated.

They scored 14 times. They were Ram-tough in Orange County as if they still had a team there that takes the field in blue and yellow. It was such a thorough thumping of New Yorkers that I’m pretty sure I saw Flipper Anderson trot into a tunnel.

They left the visitors part grumbly, part speechless. A substitute umpire named Toby Basner created a strike zone that was more impressionistic than actual. Two visiting victims were ejected for noticing, or as many who crossed the same home plate whose width seemed to baffle Basner.

They treated the starter like a piñata. Oh, the offensive treats that spilled out of him as soon as they began whacking him around! And the bullpen produced no less in the way of delicious offensive goodies for the home team’s bake sale.

The manager said, “We got through it.” The captain said something about knowing you’re going to get no more than a minimum of runs. It was certainly said as a compliment to the home team’s pitcher, but it was also quite accurate in hindsight. The visitors understood in advance they’d score maybe twice. Given how many arms it took to push through 23 innings over the previous two evenings, it wasn’t surprising the staff would surrender seven times as many tallies as were generated on its behalf.

Add it up, and it was Sunday carnage. I suppose it was embarrassment, too, but it felt suspiciously routine, or no worse than routine gone awry. Sometimes these Mets win. A little more often they lose. This time they lost by a margin of 14-2.

You tell yourself it’s just one game. A defeat by a dozen isn’t materially different from a loss by a lot less. It’s still a loss. The Mets were pounded but it only counts against them once.

Yet another moral victory is secured.