A person might ask another person, “How are you?” or “What’s up?” or “Excuse me, does this train go to Woodside?” (I get asked that one a lot). I’m convinced the idle question asked more than any other of Jon Niese always begins, “Jon, how frustrating is it that…?”
Sunday I watched Niese pitch well enough to win for a team that scores run but poorly enough to lose for the Mets. As usual, Niese strung together a row of zeroes to match his opposite number — in this case Jordan Zimmermann — and as usual there was eventually a partially self-induced problem (hesitant coverage of first base) that led to a booming extra-base hit (Wilson Ramos’s home run) that led to inevitable defeat (three-zip).
And afterward, when reporters gathered around his locker, I heard him asked, same as he ever is, about his level of frustration. I’m sure I’ve heard that query issued every five or so days for the past several years. And Niese always says nothing I can remember, which is fine. He’s entitled to both his private frustrations and his limited articulations. I wish he’d get to bags quicker or throw to fielders better, but he wishes somebody would knock in a few runs on his behalf.
The other expression that caught my ear in the postgame was Terry Collins declaring his club is “very, very close,” not to the offseason or a breathtakingly large jar of industrial-strength hallucinogenics, but to competing with the first-place Washington Nationals. Those are the same Nationals who have beaten the Mets 13 of 16 times in 2014, home and away; the same Nationals who officially eliminated the Mets from division title contention (on the off chance you were holding out hope); the same Nationals who are comprised of irritatingly superb baseball players.
Y’know what? Sure, why not? The Mets are close to the Nationals. The Mets are close to the Orioles and the Angels and any of the handful of powerhouses baseball has produced this year, too. All the Mets need is Matt Harvey to automatically return to the exact form he displayed before his elbow started giving him problems, and that’s a lock. They need Zack Wheeler to economize his pitch count, and that will happen because we want it to. They need Jacob deGrom to have no hiccups; Noah Syndergaard to burst through the Super Two wall fully matured and immune to injury; every reliever (including sore-shouldered Vic Black) to not regress one bit; Niese to suddenly grasp the ancillary fundamentals associated with his position; Wright and Granderson to reverse frightening declines; Flores and maybe Herrera to blossom on the spot; d’Arnaud, Duda and Lagares to spiral only upward; Murphy to fit in their budget; lawsuits to not cost anybody a dime, Giancarlo Stanton to fall in their lap; and the Nationals to decide they prefer soccer.
If all that happens, they’re close. If a little of it happens here and there, well, it might not catapult them past Washington ASAP, but as a member in good standing of The Middle, maybe a modest Metropolitan step up in class won’t be out of the question in 2015. Instead of super-fringy delusions of contention, maybe actual fringy contention. Instead of exceeding 71 wins, maybe surpass 81 wins. I didn’t scoff as much when I heard Collins project the Mets’ closeness as I did in the above paragraph because there have been legitimate flickers of progress these past few months and, besides, the National League doesn’t encompass that many certifiable worldbeaters.
But the Mets as we know them at the moment are not remotely close to the Nationals as we know them at the moment. The good news is “at the moment” won’t matter in two weeks. The bad news is next year is always next year and we haven’t had a next year worth a damn in close to a decade.
How frustrating is that?
Pictured: One of the many innings when Anthony Rendon batted.
There were two hints on my ticket for Saturday night’s game that a pleasant result wasn’t in the offing:
1) The Washington Nationals were listed as the opponent.
2) Chris Young’s picture adorned it.
The Nationals need no introduction in our neighborhood. One delightfully foot-stompin’ win notwithstanding, Flushing is the Nationals’ world; we’re just living and getting rolled in it. The Mets lost this one, 10-3, and the contest wasn’t nearly that close. Mets pitching kept dedicated assassin Adam LaRoche off base in five plate appearances and they still lost by seven runs.
Yes, that kind of game and that kind of night. Fifteen hits for the Nationals. Four errors for the Mets. Zack Wheeler threw a thousand pitches per batter, none of them out of the desired reach of Anthony Rendon. The bullpen was just as effective.
Nevertheless, I gave myself a glint of hope when Wilmer Flores put the Mets where I didn’t expect they’d spend any time whatsoever — on the board. It was the bottom of the fifth, the Mets were already trailing by six runs as the winds, mists and lights combined to conjure what appeared to be Aurora Borealis swirling over center field. Things had gotten just clammy enough that Stephanie, who was the one who wrangled these deceptively innocent tickets through her non-profit posting, declared she was going to go take a walk. I trusted she meant away from sitting in the chill, not necessarily prohibitively far from me and this stupid team I dragged her into by osmosis 27 years ago.
An alternative to Gonzalez Germen graciously ushering more of Wheeler’s countless runners home sounded swell, so I agreed to walk, too: for warmth, for novelty, for the chance to avert my eyes from the relentless carnage for an inning or so. Wouldn’t ya know that while we were browsing in the Field Level version of the team store, Flores went deep. I wasn’t watching the monitor and the sound wasn’t on. Only when the store’s speakers picked up the stadium loudspeakers and I heard “Car Wash” did I catch on that the Mets were positioning themselves for a miracle comeback.
Or so I allowed myself to almost believe until maybe the seventh. We left the store, bought a pretzel, set up shop on the bridge long enough so a string of Met batters could get back the run they’d already returned to the Nationals in the time it took us to purchase the pretzel. It was 7-3 and I thought that something might be cooking.
Something was. It was the Mets’ goose, and I don’t mean Gozzo. More Nationals runs and Nationals hits and Mets miscues followed. And there went the Mets into that misty night. Actually, the mist eventually dissipated and what the Mets refer to as fireworks commenced as soon as the Nationals got done laughing to themselves over how easy these games are. I’m not exactly a Fireworks Night fan, but I do appreciate a dazzling display when Cody Ross isn’t anywhere in sight. I can still remember feeling a little awed by what the Gruccis lit up over Shea in the ’90s.
This wasn’t that. This was precisely ten minutes of oversized Bang Caps brought to you by a drug store chain and thanks for coming. It was the Fireworks Night this game deserved, I guess.
As for Chris Young loitering on my ticket, it was a ducat detached from our corporate benefactor’s season stash, obviously printed before it occurred to anybody that Chris Young would be less draw than repellent to Mets fans — and that was when Chris Young was still a Met. He’s been something else for somebody else this month, much like Dave Kingman was in September 1977, after having been a Met earlier that sensational season.
Dave Kingman hit four home runs as a one-month wonder in the same borough where Chris Young’s career has magically revived. Kingman was ineligible for that particular postseason roster; they won the World Series without him. Young is batting .400, breaking up no-hitters, slugging dramatically and stealing home plate since arriving within his doctor-ordered change of scenery. It’s blissfully unlikely CY2’s second 2014 team will approach the postseason (for which he, like Kingman 37 years ago, would be ineligible), but stay off my ticket anyway.
I’ll leave you with three saving graces from Saturday night:
1) Some kid, maybe eight years old, was sitting behind us and really knew his baseball, which is to say he all but cursed out the Nationals as they built their 6-0 lead, but in really knowing terms.
2) If you’re not a stickler about your overall well-being, the cheddar bacon Box Frites are disgustingly delicious.
3) A gentleman best described as a dandy — and likely fueled by a substance best described as alcohol — was leading a singalong of “Billy Don’t Be A Hero” on the LIRR train we boarded at Woodside after the game. We got off at Jamaica. I’m betting he belted ’em out all the way to Ronkonkoma.
Which, if you don’t have Google Maps open, is as far beyond Citi Field as the Nationals are from the Mets.
Whaddya know? The Mets really can beat the Nationals.
They did so tonight — you could look it up.
They did so despite the umpires failing up to correct a bad call even with a replay review, which burned Terry Collins‘s challenge, which meant he couldn’t challenge the next play, when Ian Desmond overslid second stealing and was called safe even though he was once again out. The idea that you can lose your right to challenge is a moronic bit of NFL bureaucracy, but not quite as infuriating as umps getting a call wrong twice and then blowing the next one for good measure. I mean, how many times could Desmond be out in 30 seconds and still not be asked to leave the field of play?
Wait, where were we? I got a little upset there. Sorry.
They did so despite playing the Nationals at Citi Field, which usually means Washington hitters taking aim at the Shea Bridge while New York starters get whiplash and the relief corps contemplates hiding under the stands.
They did so despite the presence in the lineup of Anthony Rendon and Adam LaRoche, who have earned their plaques in the Freeman-Jones Hall of Met Killers and do not need to torment us further, thank you very much.
The Mets aren’t going to win a wild card and have an uphill battle to finish .500 or better. They’re OK against lousy teams but generally get curb-stomped by good ones. They still do dopey things and go into offensive funks. (And when they make news off the field you almost always want to put a bag over your head.) And this is garbage time — many a wise baseball man has warned not to trust anything you see in September.
But for all that, more often than not the Mets are fun again.
There’s Juan Lagares growing before our eyes. There’s the superlative defense, but also the growing confidence and record of success as a hitter and a newfound track record as a base-stealer. What fun to imagine baseballs expiring meekly in Lagares’s glove for years and years to come.
And how about Travis d’Arnaud, reborn as a hitter since his Vegas vacation? D’Arnaud needs to work on his catching — he allows too many balls to go through and throws way too many balls over the head of the second baseman — but the beautiful swing we’d heard about is very real.
September’s probably a cameo for Dilson Herrera, but it’s been the kind of cameo that leads to your name in lights. Herrera makes errors in the field and can go fishing at the plate, but he’s got good instincts and a quick bat and he’s never looked scared or overmatched, which is impressive to see from any rookie and a revelation in one who can’t yet take a legal drink. He’s coming fast and I can’t wait to have him here for good.
And then there’s Jenrry Mejia. Mejia was just a bit amped tonight, hosting a small party after fanning Rendon with one out in the ninth and then throwing himself a parade after he struck out Desmond to end things. Mejia pantomimed reeling in Desmond before doing his trademark stomp as various Nationals glowered at him from nearby.
I enjoy Mejia’s theatrics, but they’re approaching Naked Gun-level intensity, and it would be a good idea for someone to reel Jenrry in a bit just as he reeled in Desmond. You could see Collins thinking the same thing when asked about it in the postgame, a question he negotiated like a soldier being ordered across a minefield. Collins noted with a touch of weariness that you see this kind of thing everywhere and said he’d try to settle Mejia down a bit. Which would be wise, in my opinion — not because Mejia’s Disrespecting The Game or some such bushwah but because baseball’s hard enough without recklessly pissing off opponents you have to see 19 times a year.
Still, I say that reluctantly, and not even the paleo-school Collins was convincing in his disapproval. “I want these guys to have some fun,” he said. “I don’t want to corral them and worry about every move they make. … gosh, it’s a big win for us against a first-place team and there’s no reason not to be excited.”
Which is true. It was a big win, and they should be excited — certainly I was.
I hope someone tells Mejia that the stomp’s enough, preferably before he adds jugglers, fire eaters and a Mardi Gras float to his repertoire. But man, of all the Metsian problems I’ve dealt with as a fan, shows of emotion from a talented, overexcited young closer has to be the one that concerns me the least. I’ve spent years watching dead-assed Met teams “battle,” losing meekly without disturbing their opponents’ dignity. That was a lot more upsetting.
This is a roster showing signs of imminent rebirth. Yeah, it’s September — but some of these guys look like they’ll be disappointed to go home in October. Maybe in a year or two they won’t have to, and wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?
Just thinking about it makes me want to stomp my feet.
Americans are notoriously horrible at geography, but citizens of Metsopotamia are surely map-savvy enough to be able to distinguish the city of Denver from the city of Washington. If you can’t deal with a map, just try a set of National League standings. The baseball team that hails from Denver, Colo., is lodged at the bottom of one division; the baseball team that calls Washington, D.C., home sits comfortably atop another.
And that, class, sums up the difference between shutting down the Colorado Rockies and getting trampled by the Washington Nationals.
The wide-eyed and action-famished among us dearly desired to read something spectacular into the Mets’ sweep of the Rockies over the first three nights of this week. The word I heard on SNY was “fringes,” as in, “The Mets are on the fringes of this playoff race.” Thursday night, though, the best the Mets could manage was remaining on the fringes of their game against the Nationals, an organization so hellbent on expanding its influence throughout the National League East that it has effected a hostile takeover of Citi Field.
The Mets haven’t beaten Washington in New York since Washington was Montreal, or so it seems. In the latest chapter of this recurring episode of Nats @ Mets, the nominal visitors eased their way to a 6-0 lead before the Mets inched just close enough and stayed just close enough to make you think that just maybe, with a big hit or two, they could…
At that point you stopped mid-thought to observe another key out registered by the Nationals’ bullpen and realize falling short of getting completely blown out isn’t the same as winning. Or almost winning. The 6-2 loss made for a nice allegory to the season at large. Now and then, the Mets appear to be on the verge of genuine progress, if “now and then” is defined as that time period during which particularly strong teams are absent from the Met schedule.
There aren’t many of those in the National League, really. Three teams hold records fifteen games better than .500 at present: the Nats, the Dodgers and the Giants. The Mets have performed dismally against all of them, going 5-21. If you’d like to subtract those nettlesome 26 contests and provide the Mets with a fancy won-lost record versus “everybody else,” go for it. But professional sports doesn’t actually work that way.
By the same token, there’s no point in removing the 9-3 mark the Mets had run up prior to Thursday while opposing a sample of the dregs of the circuit (Phils, Fish, Reds, Rox). They’re lately beating not very good clubs and they can’t quite do anything with the better clubs.
They’re not on the fringes. They’re in the middle. Upper-middle some nights, lower-middle others, stubbornly a component of the blob that separates the Washingtons from the Colorados. This most recent night was one of those others. A certified member of the top tier had their way with them. It would be nice to prevent that from happening so regularly this weekend. We’ll see if the Nationals can be kept from showering and changing in the home clubhouse before Sunday.
Being in the middle is becoming a familiar Met position. As happens every year at this juncture, they are in the middle of a flap over what cap they should wear when they’re acknowledging the events of September 11, 2001. Admittedly, it’s a little less of a flap every year. Time will diminish this sort of controversy, especially when nothing really budges.
In case you’ve forgotten (which is unlikely following a day when the prevailing sentiment was Never Forget…unless you’re Travis d’Arnaud on first and you can’t remember how many outs there are), the 2001 Mets wore the caps of the first responders who acted so heroically in Lower Manhattan thirteen years ago. That was the Mets’ on-field response at a moment when few could adequately articulate their gratitude to firefighters, police and everybody who selflessly ran toward danger. It was a powerful statement of solidarity — just a gesture, but a resonant once.
Those Mets wore those caps home and away in September and October of 2001. They wore them in Pittsburgh when they returned to playing a game when nobody was in the mood for games. They wore them at Shea the first time an enormous crowd hesitantly brought itself together for what we had normally referred to as fun. They wore them in the top of the ninth as Armando Benitez nailed down the win Mike Piazza made possible with his September 21 home run off Steve Karsay. They wore them as they hung on in an improbable pennant race, as they blew chances to make up ground on Atlanta, as they finished out their season in relative seclusion.
The Mets never took off those caps in 2001. They put them back on a year later for the first anniversary of the September 11 tragedy, their way of showing sustained solidarity. The Mets did much more off the field, but again, it was a gesture. It was never forgetting. It was remembering what it meant to be a part of New York in 2002, then in 2003 and all the way through 2007. Bad Met teams, good Met teams, a Met team on the precipice of vacating first place all wore the caps.
In September 2008, Major League Baseball invented a new commemorative cap design for all 30 of its teams to model. Fans were invited to purchase the very same models. Same deal in September 2009 and 2010, and come 2011, when the Mets asked MLB if they could embrace the tradition they had established in 2001 and be granted an exemption from the officially issued caps — it was the tenth anniversary and the Mets had some special ceremonies planned at Citi Field — they were told no.
The Mets obeyed and have continued to not rock the boat (they put the caps on during batting practice; it’s not the same). They still put heartfelt effort into their community relations, still put themselves out there to benefit the families of those most directly affected by the attacks on the World Trade Center, still put their arms around a firehouse in Maspeth on a going basis. Players from 2014 who were kids in California or Georgia or wherever in 2001 pick up where the Venturas and Zeiles and Francos left off and fill the role of, shall we say, true New Yorkers. There is more to being a good and concerned neighbor than putting on a cap.
But what caps they put on in 2001. And how putting them on and playing in them resonated. Gestures can reach people. That gesture reached every Mets fan.
It’s a shame they forgot.
Meanwhile, one of the owners of the New York Mets finds himself in the middle of some serious, frankly sickening — if they’re accurate — allegations regarding how he treated a recently dismissed employee. Without diving deeply into the disturbing details (not to protect the accused, but mostly because after invoking the heroism of September 11, who the hell wants to think that much about Jeff Wilpon?), this is one of those stories that stops you in your tracks as a fan and makes you ask yourself why you stick with a team that’s run by somebody allegedly like this.
We’re familiar with the Mets’ competitive foibles and we know that, no matter their admirable charitable activities, they can cause a substantial cringe in the executive suite. Still, you keep on rooting because it’s who you are. You’re a Mets fan; ’nuf said. The suit brought by former senior vice president of ticket sales Leigh Castergine, however, left a thick layer of ooze all over my fandom. A woman works for you, does her best with a largely unsaleable product, modernizes your shop, draws good customer reviews from those who dealt with her, and your response — allegedly — is to harangue and diminish her because she had a baby without a husband?
I learned abut Castergine’s suit, which the Mets have labeled “without merit,” about an hour before I was heading out to, as is my wont, Citi Field. I was meeting my friend Matt Silverman there to take advantage of an invitation extended on Castergine’s watch: you get a free ticket if it’s your birthday. Neither my nor Matt’s birthday was Wednesday, but the policy allows those of us who were born on a date when the Mets aren’t playing at home (or on theoretical high-volume dates like Opening Day and the Subway Series) our choice of a handful of games when, let’s be honest, there’s likely to be loads of otherwise unused inventory.
Matt and I are firmly entrenched within that breed of Mets fan that isn’t above attending a Wednesday night game in September against the perennially poorly drawing Rockies. You should know that after filling out a slip of paper and flashing our photo IDs at the box office to successfully secure our birthday-offer tickets, Matt handed me a ticket for this coming Monday night’s game against the perennially poorly drawing Marlins. We’re not above going to one of those, either.
I’ve been to 23 Mets games thus far this year and I consider it a light year personally. I mention that because for all the cynicism I express on this blog and how hard I’ve been to convince that the Mets are legitimately advancing beyond the fleeting fringes of distant contention at anything swifter than a snail’s pace, I remain the hardiest of diehards. I may prefer a complimentary ticket to a cheap ticket, and a cheap ticket to an overpriced ticket (who doesn’t?), but in the course of a season, I use a lot of tickets, however I come by them or they come by me. I dig deep when necessary. I make the trip. I show up. I wear the colors. I buy the edibles and the potables. I preach the gospel. In every way I can count, I support my team.
After learning why Leigh Castergine claimed she was suddenly disappeared from the Mets’ back-office roster, I didn’t much want to. Yet I did. I rationalized that the ticket was going to be gratis; that I was carrying a gift card for food and beverages that somebody had thoughtfully given me on my real birthday; that I could wear a non-Mets shirt and a non-Mets cap; and that on some level I could minimize my tangible/visible support of my team, or at least my team’s chief operating officer whose alleged behavior oozed all over my lifetime of fandom around 4 o’clock that afternoon. On September 10, 2014, exactly 45 years after I basked in the glow of the instantly iconic bulletin that lit the Shea Stadium scoreboard — LOOK WHO’S NO. 1 — I wanted to dim the lights on my purely voluntary association with this team.
It was a small gesture. It was visible to nobody but me. And by the bottom of the first inning, it escaped my consciousness completely. I wore an Islanders t-shirt, I donned a Long Island Ducks cap, I kept my wallet away from Citi Field’s cash registers and I picked over the latest (by no means the only) Wilpon-brand escapade with appropriate disdain. Yet there I was at the Mets game with a Mets pal who, like me, writes a lot about the Mets, and we were watching the Mets and cheering the Mets and doing nothing that emitted a sense of disgust or dismay with a mall-encompassing ownership group we wish would remain out of the news until the preferably upcoming day when it announces it is at last doing the sporting thing and selling the team we love so it can function in an atmosphere of blazing luminescence once more. On the train home, I realized I wasn’t wearing my Mets stuff and somehow felt guilty about not publicly displaying my allegiance.
Shaking this severe case of fandom remains impossible. Not that I try very hard.
Ha ha. Yeah. That isn’t going to happen, though it was fun to tweet.
No, it really isn’t. Stop that. The problem is the Mets, despite being a daunting but not completely unimaginable 5 1/2 games out of the wild card, are behind four teams — the Marlins, Brewers, Braves and Pirates. The problem within that problem is the Pirates play seven games against the Brewers and Braves. Beyond the inconvenient fact that the Pirates have righted the ship and won five of their last six, if they collapse it means the Brewers and Braves unavoidably win games. Conversely, if the Brewers and Braves continue collapsing, the Pirates unavoidably win games. Put it all together and the Mets’ tragic number gets even more tragic.
Here are some things that really could happen though, and that would also be fun:
1) Win more than 74 freaking games: The last two years’ 74-88 finishes were signs of a team in stasis. Enough already.
The odds: With the Mets at 71-75 as I type, it would be a major letdown not to surpass this less-than-lofty mark. Hey, progress!
2) Catch the Marlins: Forget draft picks; the Marlins and their shambling nightmare of an owner are an embarrassment to not just the sport but also the species.
The odds: The Mets and Marlins both have 71 wins. Run those bastards down. For the good of all humankind.
3) Post a winning record after the All-Star Break: This was Greg’s goal for the boys back in July:
Though it wouldn’t snap the sub-.500 string that extends back to 2009, 34-33 would indicate genuine accomplishment is legitimately in progress. It would be the step in the direction that we desire. It would echo resonantly the final two months of 1983, when a dismal start of 37-65 could be immediately consigned to the past because the 31-29 finish that followed foreshadowed the brighter future we so very badly craved. Thirty-one and twenty-nine to close out ’83 was when I knew in my heart the Mets were on the verge of escaping the mine shaft in which they’d been trapped since 1977.
The odds: For a winning post-ASG record, the Mets would have to go at least 8-8 the rest of the way — .500 ball. Is that doable? Well, the Mets have seven games remaining against the Nats, who’ve bruised and battered us something awful. On the other hand, if they go 2-5 against Washington and take the series against the Marlins, Braves (in Turner Field) and Astros, they get there. Here’s hoping.
4) Finish .500 or above: 10-6 would be a .500 season. 11-5 would make the Mets technically a winning team. Can they do that? A split with the Nats, taking two of three from the Marlins and Braves, going 1-2 against the Nats in DC and ending the season with a sweep of the Astros would be 10 wins.
The odds: Asking a lot. But not impossible. Hey, why not? This can be our World Series.
5) Enjoy baseball, because goddamnit baseball is fun: Did you see Rafael Montero trying to act all cool after his first big-league win was secured, failing utterly, and beaming brightly enough to light up all of Queens? That was awesome. Did you see Dilson Herrera chugging home with his chin threatening to drill a hole in his breastbone, or doing the splits at first? That was awesome too. Did you see Dario Alvarez showing off the breaking stuff that eluded him in his debut? Awesome times three. How about Carlos Torres doing more fine work in relief, or Jenrry Mejia getting to stomp a night after getting stomped? Both awesome.
The odds: Well, ultimately it’s up to you, isn’t it?
In a few minutes, I shall require a diversion.
—Alan Swann, My Favorite Year
Where there is deGrom, there is delight. Stadiums can sit all but empty, standings can tease with cruelty, seasons can run out of sand as captains cede reluctantly to the inevitable, but when you have a young starting pitcher who doesn’t give up runs, there’s nothing in a cool September night that feels the least bit wrong.
Jacob deGrom, beyond bidding ever more convincingly for N.L. Rookie of the Year honors, has injected some much needed oomph into 2014 ever since he figured out how to affix his lower-case last name next to W’s rather than L’s. This campaign needed a deGrom to step forward, just as 2013 required a surfeit of Harvey Days, 2012 articulated a desire for Dickey and 2011 needed to be chased toward a batting title by four guys named Jose (Jose Jose Jose). Somebody needed to peel back the top layer of morass on a season that wasn’t going anywhere fast.
We needed an individual distraction from a collective disappointment. You get one of those and you have something to look forward to in the short term and, perhaps, work up a lather over for the long term. For three months, there wasn’t much. For two months and change, for a change, there’s been deGrom’s push into the upper tier of not just National League freshmen, but National League pitchers, period.
If you can’t have Kershaw and you can’t have Cueto, who would you rather have as of now? What Met hurler is easiest on the eyes, the nerves, the sense that you’re not going to fight the frizzies all the way home? Wheeler’s been wonderful, but man, can his starts be chores. Everybody else, pending Montero’s return, is old news. DeGrom is both new and improved.
Jacob goes long again.
Against the Rockies, he was Pert near impenetrable: 8 innings, 3 hits, no walks, nine strikeouts, no runs. Though his stuff isn’t quite so organically electric and his demeanor isn’t nearly as intense, this conquest of Colorado recalled the night Matt Harvey blew nine zeroes past the same opponent last August. Harvey’s first shutout also became Harvey’s final win to date, so let’s not squeeze the comparison too hard — plus the Rockies minus Tulo and CarGo are, let’s be honest, barely Fruity Pebbles. Still, deGrom’s been aces for months. What a pleasure it is to have maybe developed another one of those. What a pleasure it was Tuesday night to be among the 4,500 or so in attendance to enjoy the latest steps in Jacob’s journey.
I’m not exaggerating that total downward, official gate of “21,035,” notwithstanding. I was willing to estimate maybe 5,000 on hand, but my pal Paul, who was kind enough to invite me to the purple whitewashing, literally laughed out loud when I floated that figure in the middle innings, drily labeling it “generous”. It was probably closer to 4,000, but what the hell, when the Mets are winning, what’s a few hundred phantom fans among friends?
But “21,035,” like Aristophanes, is ridiculous.
One of those at the game was a guy I started talking to or with or at on the 7 Super Express afterward. I wouldn’t call it a conversation as much as two people each speaking to the same general topic in close physical proximity to one another. The similarity of our bullet points drew us temporarily together: deGrom is great; Lagares is great; nobody was there. Turns out this guy, whose frame of reference for outstanding Met centerfielders is Agee (so you know he’s been around) was making his first trip ever “to the new ballpark”. His boss gave him two tickets; he couldn’t find anybody who wanted to join him, so he went alone. Whoever didn’t go, he declared, missed a helluva game.
That’s true. And this is truly puzzling: what kind of vibe have the Mets been putting out there these past six seasons that somebody who knows instinctively from Tommie Agee has avoided going to Citi Field until now? Judging by the accent, my fellow traveler didn’t just fly in for the game. He was all excited about the Super Express because it was going to let him change at Queensboro Plaza for the N. A tourist doesn’t get excited about the N, about deGrom, about Lagares. This was a Mets fan who has stayed away. Had I not been exiting at Woodside (and maintaining a safe interpersonal distance besides), I would’ve asked why it took him so long.
Seriously, why did it take him so long? His life may not allow for too many trips to ballgames, but you’d think once in nearly six years — 474 home games — he would’ve grown curious. Was he convinced by the early buzz that Citi Field was too darn expensive? (Had he not heard of 4 for $48?) Is he disgusted by ownership? Did he clamber off the Mets express after Agee was traded to Houston for Rich Chiles? He seemed too engaged to not care at all between 1972 and the present. Something tells me there are a lot of Mets fans like him…and a lot more could-be Mets fans like all those who told him, “no thanks,” when he unsuccessfully offered that other freebie around.
It’s going to take a while to fill that joint. The Mets being on a mini-roll isn’t going to move the needle. Should they stay in the groove for all of 2015 and move in on a playoff spot at this time next year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see not that many more people than I saw Tuesday night. OK, a bigger bunch than 4,500, and certainly a more boisterous one, but if you watch teams that are in actual contention this September and see how many empty seats they’re contending in front of, you won’t be shocked if public perception lags behind pennant race reality if/when an actual pennant race transpires.
Forty-five years ago tonight, the Mets did what was considered impossible and moved into first place for the first time ever, sweeping a doubleheader from the Montreal Expos and enabling the Shea scoreboard operator to post those immortal words, “LOOK WHO’S NO. 1”. That was September 10, 1969. On September 9, a black cat crossed in front of the Chicago Cubs’ dugout to warn them they were about to be NO. 2. On September 8, Jerry Koosman came hard and inside on Ron Santo, in his way auguring far worse luck for the Cubs than any feline could transmit. The Mets won both of those games versus their archrivals. They were poised to make history against the Expos. It was, perhaps, the greatest, most legendary three-day stretch in the history of the New York Mets franchise.
And on Wednesday September 10, the Mets drew 23,512 to the twi-night doubleheader where first place awaited — which is to say if the 1969 Mets as they approached the apex of their Miracluousness were left holding an inventory of more than 30,000 unsold tickets, don’t hold your breath waiting for Citi Field to pack ’em in the day the Mets arrive in September in uncommonly good shape.
This past Monday, the Mets and everybody else released their 2015 schedules. Among the hardcore, if it wasn’t Christmas morning, it was at least Black Friday, everybody trying to decide what they wanted in the way of road trips and Interleague opponents. A couple of hours later, I noticed a poster-sized 2014 Mets schedule still hanging up at my LIRR station, taped to the wall to enable potential riders to take the train to the game. Nobody seemed to be perusing what was left of its contents and few were queuing up to change at Jamaica for Woodside en route to Mets-Willets Point.
You can hop aboard several modes of transit to get to Citi Field, but the Mets somehow couldn’t ride Jacob’s coattails (or pigtails) to the easiest of wins Tuesday. His offense provided him all of two runs, and when the manager decided asking deGrom to throw another dozen pitches was going to jeopardize his career, Jenrry Mejia set a fire he couldn’t stomp out. Bases got loaded, backup was summoned and two sighs of relief — one from Josh Edgin, the other from Jeurys Familia — were necessary to preserve the winning effort.
Missing from the lineup and all lineups for the duration was and will be David Wright, who will do something most people aren’t tempted to do these days: he’s going to take a seat at Citi Field. That shoulder of his that either was or wasn’t bothering him and was or wasn’t hindering him, well, guess what: it bothered him and it hindered him and now he’s going to rest it.
One wants to applaud his determination to play through the pain. In a short series of major import, that would be admirable. Down the stretch in a fierce battle for the playoffs, it would be monumental. When your team has been wallowing below .500 and marking time toward next year or whenever, you weren’t helping. Put another way, when does playing in a diminished state make you a better hitter and how does it boost your team’s chances of winning?
Gentle admonishment complete. Feel better, David.
If 2014 could get an addendum tacked on, the Mets inching to within 5½ games of the second Wild Card by securing their eighth win in eleven tries would be cause for captainly cortisone shots and playoff package come-ons (“Branden, you know my favorite month is October!”). But it’s seventeen games to 2015. Yes, fellow savants, I recall vividly what happened in the span of seventeen games in 2007, but step back and consider the Mets haven’t won a series from a winning ballclub since July 23 and, you know, get ahold of yourselves. Most of you probably have a grip already. Yet when your team almost consistently beats the Rockies and the Reds for a week, imaginations are prone to take a mighty big lead off first.
There’s nothing wrong with not losing to lesser competition and going out on a higher note than the one on which you came in, even if it doesn’t make for much of a marketing slogan. If the Mets can play over .500 the rest of the way — just go 9-8 — they will have responded positively to my previously stated mandate of winning more games than they lose following the All-Star break. I’d consider that a heartening accomplishment and something to build on, pending the usual budgetary mysteries that will undermine the offseason. It’s not as sexy as invoking 1973, but sometimes you gotta believe in incremental progress.
(Programming note: should the Mets sweep the Rockies; rise up and smite the Nationals this weekend; and then elbow the Marlins out of the way next week, forget everything I just said and start rubbing your copy of Screwball for karma because Wild Card here we come!)
It was probably the eighth inning when I realized I’d been watching the entire game between the Mets and the Rockies yet wasn’t sure I could name a Rockie who was on the field. I taxed my brain and managed to come up with Michael Cuddyer, but that was because he’d hit a home run. Beyond that? Drew Stubbs or Drew Storen or Franklin Stubbs or someone sort of familiar was in center. And what’s his name who isn’t William behind the plate. You know. That guy.
This isn’t to make fun of the injury-ravaged, ludicrously depleted Rockies. I’m sure there were more than a few viewers out in Denver wondering who the heck Wilmer Flores and Dilson Herrera were, and in whose mind “Nieuwenhuis” was best left as an auditory smear of vowels. It was a snoozy game even for garbage time, a 1-1 duel that was more flat than taut, played with autumn hammering at the door demanding to be let in.
So I wasn’t paying much attention and the game wasn’t particularly punishing me for it. On Twitter, a member of Mets nation wondered why she was watching this and I noted idly that it was better than the best possible day in January. Which is true, I guess — look out the window and wait for spring, donchaknow. But truth was, I imagined the wait for spring beginning, as it will in a couple of weeks, and I wasn’t particularly sad. It didn’t feel like the end of something, but like a rest.
David Wright doubled with two out in the eighth to bring Lucas Duda was up, but Duda is at one of those points in the development of a hitter where the pitchers have the upper hand. He’s being starved of fastballs, fed nothing but junk and dared to change his swing and sacrifice his power and slap one to left field. So far he can’t or won’t do that; he’ll either adjust and force pitchers to find another way to get him out, or fail to adjust and be exposed. Nothing is decided yet, but Christian Friedrich had read the scouting report and tortured Duda with sliders. He struck out, left Wright at second, and the Mets were down 2-1. It sure felt like a last gasp: The Rockies went down 1-2-3, and old friend LaTroy Hawkins arrived to end things.
Which was when the Mets came leaping out of the coffin.
It only took six pitches. Travis d’Arnaud rifled the inning’s third pitch up the left-field gap for a double, with Eric Young Jr. jogging out to second to take over and do the only thing he can sometimes do. I braced myself for a bunt (which would have been a defensible call, actually), but it wasn’t needed — Curtis Granderson spanked the inning’s fourth pitch for a game-tying triple. I still hadn’t picked my jaw up off the floor and the Mets had gone from giving it a shot to being poised to win it. Up came Wilmer Flores, who lofted the sixth pitch to mid-center.
It wasn’t deep.
It wasn’t anywhere near deep.
Surely Tim Teufel wasn’t going to try it, not with Herrera on deck. (Who would have been walked, leaving it the hands of one of numerous pinch-hitting options.)
Nope, Teufel was going to try it. Granderson looked to me like he was going to be out, either through a tag or a ludicrous application of the Posey Rule. But Stubbs heaved it in the direction of the Rockies’ on-deck circle, Granderson was home free, and the good guys had won.
So a 68-75 team took a garbage-time game away from a 59-84 team. Not exactly the stuff of baseball legends, perhaps, but I had a good time hooting and hollering and watching the highlights. And I’ll still smile about this one when the next 40 or 50 snoozy 2-1 games produce no such reward. If you’re not a fan that probably sounds like madness, but it makes me smile. It’s what we do, win or lose, but it’s nice to be rewarded now and again.
On Saturday night, in the second inning, Dillon Gee lofted a fly ball to left with Dilson Herrera on third and one out. Donald Lutz, a German citizen playing on German Appreciation Night, settled under the ball and caught it. Tim Teufel told Herrera to stay put and Herrera did. The Mets didn’t score — not in that inning, and not in any remaining inning. In the ninth, their rally against Aroldis Chapman fizzled when Eric Young Jr. failed to do the only thing he’s still paid to do, popping up a touch too hard off third on a double steal and being called out (properly) after a lengthy replay review.
So today, you could feel Karma putting extra bullets in the revolver for the afternoon’s game of Mets roulette. In the bottom of the fifth, with two out and no score, Skip Schumaker singled up the middle off Zack Wheeler. Enemy pitcher Mat Latos took off from second, reached third … and kept going. Juan Lagares uncorked a very un-Lagaresesque throw, and Latos was safe. The Mets would catch up and then go ahead, but squander a few golden opportunities, as they so often do. Then Jenrry Mejia came in and was discombobulated, and suddenly those Reds in the rearview mirror were closer than they appeared. Todd Frazier was called out at first for the presumable end of the game … except there was another lengthy replay review.
Mejia had already performed his trademark stomp of triumph; now he had to stand around for three minutes while the umpires compared angles with their brethren in New York, discussed tax shelters, asked about football scores, opined on whether candlesticks were really an ideal wedding gift, and, I dunno, regretted not being able to go to London to watch Kate Bush return to the stage. Whatever it was, it took quite a while. When it was over, Frazier was awarded first (properly), and Mejia had to take the mound post-stomp, with Kris Negron just 90 feet away as the tying run and superfast Billy Hamilton just a single away as the winning run.
The Reds had played execrable baseball. First Hamilton dropped a catchable fly ball in center that led to three runs, one on a Curtis Granderson single and two more on a laser-beam homer by Anthony Recker, whose every hit is so highlight-worthy that one feels bad about pointing out that he needs a lot more mundane ones to not be hitting .188. Not to be outdone, Jack Hannahan dropped a foul pop-up in the eighth. That gave Granderson extra pitches, the fourth of which he hammered into the right-field stands for a run that looked cosmetic but turned out to be anything but. Meanwhile, Wheeler, being Wheeler, was variously wild and on point, saving his best work for a no-out, bases-loaded jam of his own making: Frazier chopped a ball to the right of the mound, which Wheeler snagged gracefully and then shamed his fellow Mets pitchers by throwing into his catcher’s glove, rather than at a hot-dog guy in the mezzanine, an imaginary Red 10 feet to the right or a distant 747.
But still, there we were in the ninth, with Mejia having had three minutes to consider the noose he’d knotted around his own neck as Devin Mesoraco came to the plate.
Like I said, gulp.
So of course Mejia fanned Mesoraco on three pitches, leading to an even more emphatic stomp — and leaving me to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Baseball, man. You never know.
When Saturday’s one-run loss to the Reds was over, it was easy to pinpoint the most obviously pivotal play. It happened at third base in the ninth inning, when Eric Young, who has somehow stolen 29 bases in a season when it feels like he’s played in maybe 29 games, was called safe by Alfonso Marquez but out by Sam Sung, that fellow who’s so omnipotent he doesn’t even have to show up at the ballpark to decide the fate of a given contest.
From behind the curtain and through the headset, the great and powerful Sung sang the end of EY’s trip around the bases because he watched a load of replays and the replays couldn’t have been a whole lot more conclusive. Young had the base stolen until his insistence on returning to a vertical position allowed none of his body contact with the bag. Cincinnati third baseman Kris Negron, on the other hand, kept one glove — with one ball secured snugly within — square on one of Eric’s legs.
In 2014, as long as somebody bothers to ask Sam Sung to take multiple ganders, that’s enough to get you caught stealing. When EY was ruled out upon further review, it pretty much nipped the critical Met rally midway through the bud. In those sweet seconds before Bryan Price unsportingly challenged Marquez’s call, it was all going so well. Curtis Granderson singled with one out, the Mets trailing, 2-1. Young pinch-ran. Young stole second. Dilson Herrera walked. All of this was taking place against the generally impenetrable Aroldis Chapman. You could, if you were so inclined, smell something cooking.
Here came the secret sauce: a double steal attempt, with Wilmer Flores at bat. The throw went to third, which meant Herrera was going to be on second no matter what. When EY was fleetingly judged safe — he had the throw from Brayan Peña easily beat — destiny was gathering in the Mets’ dugout. When the Samsung-sponsored replay mechanism issued its reversal, destiny dispersed and shared a cab back to the hotel with potential victory. Flores patiently worked Chapman for another walk to situate Mets on first and second with two out, but it wasn’t the same. Chapman then remembered he was Chapman and struck out Eric Campbell to dismiss all hope.
Young’s slide was properly feet-first. When he rose like a premature soufflé, it all looked very instinctive, as if sliding and standing were all one physical motion, whaddaya want from the guy? Still, EY, last year’s N.L. stolen base champ, is basically Herb Washington on this roster. He pinch-runs or sits. Too bad he didn’t just sit on the base. Negron was diligent in staying on the play, just as Price and his video corps were smart to keep watching and start asking. It might be remembered that way back in the second series of the season, Terry Collins inaugurated the Mets’ participation in the new world order against these very Reds and won a reversal on a play at second. Next thing you knew, Ike Davis hit a grand slam and video was our saving grace.
Saturday, from every angle possible, payback proved a bitch.
As noted, Eric Young coming off the third base bag is the play that sticks with you. But it’s not the only one that sticks with me. I have to rewind to the second inning of the Johnny Cueto-Dillon Gee duel. Like EY’s mishap, it happened at third base. Unlike EY’s mishap, it zipped by without contemporaneous comment…but I think it also cost the Mets the game.
The second was a promising inning. Travis d’Arnaud was on second from a leadoff double. He scored on Herrera’s one-out single. Then Flores doubled, sending Dilson to third. Gee was up next. Gee hasn’t hit whatsoever in 2014, but miracle of miracles, he lifted a professional fly ball to medium left. It was caught by Donald Lutz. The next thing I expected to see was Herrera tag up and sprint home.
I saw no such thing. Tim Teufel held him, waiting for Juan Lagares to drive him and perhaps Flores in with two outs. Except Lagares struck out; Cueto had, as 17-game winners will, limited the damage; and I thought to myself, “That’s gonna cost us.”
Seven innings later, it had cost us as much anything else, including Young’s inability to attach himself to third base, Gee’s aversion to pitching beautifully once he gets to the seventh (which was when he surrendered the tie-breaking homer to pinch-hitter Chris Heisey) and Cueto’s ongoing campaign to take silver in this year’s Cy Young race behind golden Clayton Kershaw. To the extent that one can be irked by another loss this late in another losing season, I found not sending Herrera quite irksome.
Maybe Teufel knows something I don’t about Lutz, I decided. I’m sure he has access to detailed scouting reports that tell him who can throw how well, even a September callup like Lutz. Maybe Lutz is Lagares when it comes to arms you don’t want to test.
All I could do was check the Internet. I Googled “Lutz” and “throwing” and “arm” and terms like those and couldn’t come up with any evidence that Donald Lutz has a cannon you just don’t run on. I considered Herrera and the little I’ve seen of him. Doesn’t seem as fast as EY. Seems faster than, say, Anthony Recker. He’s 20, stole 23 bases in the minors this season and has scored 101 runs total, encompassing his time with St. Lucie, Binghamton and New York.
What would have been the harm in finding out whether Dilson Herrera can beat a throw home from Donald Lutz is what I’m asking.
It’s tempting to turn this into Exhibit Q in the case against the Mets’ culture of chronic acceptance of the dismal status quo. That might be a stretch, but when you have a chance to score a second run off a pitcher who doesn’t make a habit of giving up many of them, why decline it? Why hesitate? Why play it stultifyingly safe? What is there to lose, except another game?
Before this game that would be lost anyway, Collins was asked about Herrera’s immediate future, specifically what will be done with the promising prospect should Daniel Murphy be back on the field soon. Might we see Dilson take a few reps at short over the final twenty games of season?
Oh hells to the no, the manager essentially told reporters. “You’re muddying the waters by running somebody else out there,” is what Terry actually said. “I’m not here to run a tryout camp. I’m here to win some games.”
I’ll provisionally give him the “muddying” point. We woke summer morning after summer morning to another Tejada sunrise wondering when Flores would get a legitimate shot at short. Now he’s gotten one and he’s beginning to make something of it. After lagging for weeks with the bat, he’s found a bit of a groove, going 11-for-28 in his last seven games while not embarrassing himself in the field. If you’re really appraising him for shortstop in 2015, maybe you don’t derail his nascent genuine progress.
Nevertheless, is there really that much to muddy when you’re wallowing eight below .500? And who’s the skipper kidding with “I’m here win to some games”? You were to here win games from March 31 forward and you wound up winning significantly fewer than half of them to date. It’s because winning has eluded your grasp that September has been given over to Wilmer Flores, Matt Den Dekker and Dilson Herrera.
Look at what’s left of a 67-75 campaign this way: It is a tryout camp and you are trying to win some games. If you had better options, these kids wouldn’t be getting a chance. Bobby Abreu would still be getting starts in left if he hadn’t run out of youth serum, Ruben Tejada would probably be penciled in for his very own Poster Day if he could’ve hit measurably better than Granderson and Herrera would have been promoted no higher than Vegas had Murphy not gotten hurt. Daniel’s dandy hit total notwithstanding, is Terry trying to claim he can’t win games if deprived of all that brand of fantastic experience? Where did all that fantastic experience catapult us exactly?
As of this moment, a half-game ahead of the fifth-place Phillies.
If Murphy’s healthy enough to play, you’re going to tell me the fate of the Metropolitan world will become unraveled if Herrera sees a series against the Rockies or Marlins or Astros from the vantage point of short? That Dilson Herrera moving to his right for 27 or so innings is going to be the difference between the team succeeding and the team failing?
The Mets are going to win some and lose some in familiar proportions from here to September 28 regardless of who is positioned where for five or eight or however many of the remaining twenty. You unspool the “tryout camp” line in a September like 1999 when Jorge Toca is forced to take a seat behind John Olerud because a playoff spot is on the line. A playoff spot most decidedly isn’t on the line this September. I thought we were clear on that.
What’s worse than being a team that hasn’t been good for the longest time? In the moment, probably being a team that was pretty good not so long ago yet is now experiencing the falling out of its bottom. That situation described the Mets by this time of year in 1991 and 2002, and the scenario fits today’s Cincinnati Reds right down to their green-trimmed uniforms.
That’s how much of a mess the Reds are. They can’t even get their colors correct. (C’mon people, it’s in your name.)
Irish Heritage Night finery notwithstanding, the Reds — same outfit that made the playoffs three of the past four seasons and was in the thick of an N.L. Central dogfight as recently as the middle of July — are a mess. And when you send a new mess to take on an experienced mess, well, Let’s Go Mess!
I mean Mets, who tidily stomped the Reds in Cincy Friday night, 14-5. The Mets hit five home runs, every one of them landing on the other side of the Ohio in Kentucky. Seriously, they were launching lasers early and often: d’Arnaud; Flores; Herrera; Duda; even Curtis Granderson’s bat came out of retirement to belt one.
The unraveled Reds, who are 15-31 since the All-Star break and 7-19 over the past month, have dropped from contention to a record worse than ours. And the Mets? They’re punching powerfully in their weight class: three sub-.500 opponents over the past week have enabled them to take five of their last seven decisions. With two more at Great American Ball Park and then three at home against the eroded Rockies…nope, sorry, not even at 67-74 will I allow myself to take ’em anything but one at a time. Or fourteen at a time if Red pitching insists. Still, you can’t help but enjoy the Kids In America when they’re learning to win a little.
Cases like Cincinnati’s are why I roll my eyes every March when self-appointed experts attempt to project the exact record and standing in advance for each of the thirty major league franchises. Somewhere along the way, players are going to get hurt, players are going to slump and players are going to deteriorate. Inevitably, you’ll find a franchise on which all those kinds of players are gathered and represent a plurality of the personnel. It happens not every spring, but every summer. It happened to our guys in 1991 (from 53-38 to 77-84) and 2002 (from 55-51 to 75-86). It’s happening to those guys our guys are playing currently.
Everything can look very different very quickly in baseball. For example, if you’d asked me less than a year ago to connect Buddy Carlyle, Dana Eveland and Las Vegas, I’d remember that time in the 1970s when my parents went to Las Vegas for some kind of convention and one night at the Sands, they saw Buddy Carlyle, billed as The Fastest Wit in the West, open for the Chanteuse of the Strip, Dana Eveland.
Or, if I wasn’t feeling particularly creative, I’d shrug and tell you I’d heard of Las Vegas, thought maybe Buddy Carlyle rang a bell of some sort and as for Dana Eveland, I have no idea who she is.
He? OK, he. As recently as the last Super Bowl, I had no idea who Dana Eveland was, whatever the pronoun.
And now? Now I know better. Now I know Carlyle and Eveland were and are veteran pitchers who, lacking anywhere better to ply their trade, signed with the Mets during Spring Training, were assigned to the Las Vegas 51s, got called up during a bullpen crisis and, like John Cusack’s record store buddies in High Fidelity, just started showing up every day. That was three months ago.
Let’s not overstate the contributions of our version of Barry and Dick. Buddy and Dana have not transformed the 2014 Met sessions into championship vinyl. But let’s not undersell what they’ve contributed, either. They haven’t been bad.
You’ve watched enough Mets bullpens implode to know “they haven’t been bad” is practically the highest praise one can ladle upon Mets relievers whose roles are defined as nothing more specific than present. Depending on the composition of the DL at any given moment, the Mets seem set at closer, setup man, setup man to the setup man, lefty specialist and long man/swingman. Somewhere on the edge of that crowd have been Eveland, the second lefty who’s less specialist than contingency plan, and Carlyle, the kind of righty who comes in when all hope is not quite lost yet not necessarily in sight.
And they’ve been so not bad that they’ve been kind of good. In a season when we’ve continually pinched ourselves that Jenrry Mejia, Jeurys Familia, Vic Black, Josh Edgin and Carlos Torres have fairly consistently surpassed our wildest dreams and somewhat regularly scaled the heights of dependability when we haven’t had 14-run cushions on which to fall back, Dana Eveland and Buddy Carlyle have effectively secured the outer perimeter. That is to say the thought of them entering a game that isn’t well out of hand doesn’t instinctively inspire anxiety.
You may not have noticed, given that they’re not inserted into the highest of high-leverage situations unless something has gone horribly awry, but these Carlyle and Eveland blokes have brushed up against superb in 2014. In 24 innings, Carlyle’s walked four guys and given up only two home runs (one Friday to Todd Frazier as he carefully nursed a ten-run lead), while registering five-and-a-half strikeouts for every base on balls he’s issued. Eveland has been used a little more, perhaps to his left elbow’s detriment, and been a little less statistically spectacular, but has served as an net asset rather than the traditional Met pen liability. Of the 58 lefty batters he’s faced, the southpaw has retired 41 of them. No lefty has homered against him, and only four of the last 19 runners he’s inherited have scored.
Buddy (first such friendly Met moniker since Harrelson) and Dana (warmly evocative of a most sorely missed Mets Fan) are unsung, which sounds unfair, but it’s better than being reviled, the usual fate of Met relievers you tend to forget are on the roster, let alone in organized baseball. Carlyle first saw the majors in 1999, yet this is only his eighth season logging any MLB experience. His résumé, which encompasses loads of stops in loads of minor league cities, also includes stints with the Hanshin Tigers, the LG Tigers and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. The first and third of those are Japanese teams, the one in the middle Korean. Like Carlyle — not to mention Eisenhower — Eveland went to Korea. That was where he spent 2013, going 6-14 for the Hanwha Eagles.
One season later, erstwhile Eagle Eveland is big-league all the way, same as Carlyle, who was a Princeton Red in 1996 and a Buffalo Bison in 2013, only occasionally something akin to a San Diego Padre or Atlanta Brave in between.
You’re welcome to draw grander conclusions about relief pitching from the successes of 36-year-old Earl Lester “Buddy” Carlyle and 30-year-old Dana James Eveland, both of whom seem way older by dint of their respective journeys. You can speak to the randomness of relieving, how last year’s unimpressive Eagle is this year’s practically premium portsider, therefore don’t spend a lot of money based on a small sample size. You can scoff at an overreliance on name brands like Jose Valverde, Kyle Farnsworth and John Lannan and wonder what would have happened to this season had somebody thought to bring Carlyle and Eveland north sooner than a third of the way into the schedule. You can look around at 29 other teams and ask why nobody else saw something in these two warm bodies who heated up in the Vegas desert and didn’t wilt under the lights of Flushing. You can point to the Mets’ tendency to overwork their primary bullpen arms and be happy that for a change they found a couple of fellows who could provide genuine depth.
Me, I’m glad the Mets took February flyers on guys I’d barely to never heard of. Certain types of triumphs that don’t automatically show up in the standings set a fan’s heart aflutter. Like the runner who tags up from second on a fly ball to deep center. Like the bunt against the shift for a base hit. Like Matt Harvey emerging in the late summer of 2012 and Jacob deGrom suddenly exceeding his hype come July of 2014. Pound for pound, though, how do you not love, more than anything, the scrap heap find who proves worth his weight in prior obscurity?
Once upon a time you got it from Matt Franco, from Rick Reed, from Benny Agbayani, and they helped create a legitimate postseason stalwart. For part or all of a year you got it from Duaner Sanchez and Jose Valentin and Endy Chavez and wound up with a division champion. Sometimes, though, it’s just the satisfaction of watching somebody overwhelm the nonexistent expectations attached to him and do so for your team. It may not have made the 2014 Mets the kings of anything, but it’s made them that much more compelling and competent, and that’s also not so bad.
Fourteen runs. Five homers. Buddy Carlyle. Dana Eveland. Who’d have figured?