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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 Grass Is Sometimes Browner on the Other Side

Can we play the Giants for the rest of the year?

Let’s be clear about something: the Mets’ three-game sweep of San Francisco doesn’t mean they’re suddenly good. They’re just better than the Giants, for whom “can’t get out of their own way” would be a kind assessment. The Giants are having a once-in-several-generations cratering of a season, one that will be recalled with a snort, shrug or shudder in decades’ worth of broadcasts, season previews and blog posts. This is their summer of Roberto Alomar and Jason Phillips, the one that seems to take several years and then lingers maddeningly and eternally, like a dead thing under the house.

Still, that’s not to say Sunday afternoon’s game was worthy only of pity. Two performances stood out: those of Rafael Montero and Rene Rivera.

Theirs was the perfect pairing: the talented pitcher who can’t ever seem to get his head on straight and the pitcher whisperer who’s seen plenty of such problems. Montero has seemingly had about a billion chances, living through multiple exiles to various minor leagues and all but being branded soft and dishonest by his own employer, yet he won’t turn 27 until the offseason. Like Wilmer Flores, he’s been around so long that it’s easy to forget how young he still is, and to realize how much growing up in public he’s had to do.

Montero still wasn’t great — he was inefficient and occasionally lapsed into his trademark timidity, trying to gnaw at the edges of the strike zone instead of trusting pitches that are good enough to get big-league hitters out. But he was more than good enough, with 104 pitches carrying him nearly through six innings.

Rivera should get some of the credit — his value as a coaxer and cajoler of spooked hurlers has been apparent for some time. That’s a subtle thing, but there was no missing the two home runs he crashed over the fence, part of an unexpected offensive awakening that ought to be very good for Rivera’s future job prospects, as it’s likely that Travis d’Arnaud currently has his leg trapped in a Miami baggage-claim conveyer belt, has been pecked bloody by a maddened macaw, or suffered some injury even less likely than those two.

Points also go to Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson, who get extra credit for not only contributing to a win but also making themselves look yet more attractive to some playoff-bound club. Granderson starts every spring looking like he’s overdue for the knacker’s yard but then suddenly plays like he’s two decades younger when actual summer arrives, an unlikely trick he keeps managing to pull off.

And points to Chase Bradford for becoming the 1,032nd player in team history instead of getting slotted into limbo as the prospective 10th Met ghost and third with no debut for anyone else. (If you think I’m overreacting to the latter peril, well, I’m sure Billy Cotton and Terrel Hansen thought they’d get another call-up too.) That’s a fate that would make even a 2017 Giant blanch.

Sounds Like a Plan

“Hey, Terry.”
“Yeah, Asdrubal?”
“Listen, I got an idea to get us going.”
“We could sure use one.”
“When I’m activated on Friday, put me at second.”
“Second? You sure? We didn’t even think of that. If we had, maybe we would have played you there while you were rehabbing.”

“Don’t worry about that. I’ve played plenty of second before. It’s no biggie. Here’s the thing, though — it’s not my idea.”
“What do you mean it’s not your idea? You just told me the idea. If it’s not your idea, whose idea is it? It’s not Dickie Scott’s idea. He would have told me on the bench while we were getting our asses handed to us in L.A.”
“No, Terry, it really is my idea.”
“Cripes, Asdrubal, I’m confused enough as it is by the time difference out here. I don’t know if it’s midnight or three in the morning, and every time I close my eyes, some frigging Dodger is hitting another home run. I was in the Dodger organization a lot of years, yet even I couldn’t take it anymore. Did I ever tell you I was in the Dodger organization? That’s where I met James Loney. Justin Ruggiano, too.”
“Yeah, you mentioned that last year.”
“I got a picture of me with Koufax in my wallet. Lemme get it out…”
“You showed it to me last trip, before I went on the DL. And the trip before that. I need you to focus, Terry.”
“Sorry, Asdrubal. What were we talking about? You don’t wanna play shortstop anymore? Why the hell not?”

“You tell the reporters moving me to second base is your idea, something about how it gives us the best chance to win, blah, blah, blah, and then I’ll pitch a fit.”
“What? You wanna pitch now? ’Cause we really could use a sixth starter.”
“Not pitch, Terry. Pitch a fit. Complain real loud, draw attention to myself, get a whole bunch of stories and tweets going.”
“Oh. Wait — why would ya wanna do that? This isn’t gonna be some bullcrap about migraines and models and MRIs you don’t wanna take. Are your hamstrings all right? I can’t keep track of what’s wrong with who anymore.”
“Trust me, Terry. I’ll say something about how I wanna get paid more to change positions and now I wanna get traded. Some real diva nonsense.”
“You’re Asdrubal Cabrera, the popular, respected veteran clubhouse leader. You’d never act like that. Who’s gonna buy any of this?”
“Gotta shake things up around here, Terry. Everybody’s too complacent. Everybody’s going through the motions. We need something to happen.”
“Hasn’t enough happened this year?”

“Not this. This is a whole other thing. I make a big stink about second base, all the heat and pressure is on me, then the rest of the guys relax, go out and play loose. One of the old guys in Cleveland taught me about it when I was a rookie. I think they made a documentary explaining it. It was called Major League. Or Major League II. Whichever one starred Albert Belle.”
“I don’t go to the movies during the season. I’m too busy trying to find a way to fit Granderson and Bruce into the lineup while not playing Conforto too much.”
“I can’t help you with the outfield, Terry, but this will take care of the infield.”
“Well, I’m frigging out of ideas, so, sure, you at second all pissed off about it for some reason. We’ll do that.”
“Thing is we gotta make it seem like I’m miffed at you, so you gotta play along.”
“Play along how?”
“Act all…you know, the way you do when reporters ask you stuff.”
“What do you mean the way I do?”
“Don’t sweat it. Just keep saying it’s gonna help the team and maybe throw in some of that jazz about how important communicating is.”
“Communicating is key, Asdrubal. I learned that in Anaheim. Cripes.”
“You’re a great communicator, Terry, but this time we gotta act like you’re not. We can get Sandy in on it and make a big show of having a meeting. Reporters love reporting there’s been a meeting.”
“Can’t I just write down the lineup and hit a few fungoes? I love fungoes. They’re so peaceful.”

“Terry, if it were that simple, we wouldn’t be buried in fourth place a million games out. We gotta do something.”
“Well, Asdrubal, you’re the popular, respected veteran clubhouse leader. Besides, nothing else has worked. Fine, I’ll put you in at second, ask Sandy to call up Rosario and…”
“No, you gotta keep Reyes in at short.”
“What? Why would we be doing this to keep a one-ninety-something hitter who barely covers any more ground than you — no offense…”
“None taken.”
“Why would we shift you to second just to have Jose at short? Jose looks stuck in the mud and we have this hot-shot prospect all ready to come up. He’s supposed to be the real deal.”
“Terry, man, you gotta have faith. I’ll play second, Jose’ll play short, the kid can come later, like after the break if we haven’t turned it around.”
“So now you’re the GM and the manager, too, huh? Want me to ask Jay to let you do his job while we’re at it?”

“Terry, I’m the second baseman. The disgruntled second baseman. And this is all your idea. Remember that. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s just crazy enough to work.”
“Cripes, why not? My contract is up at the end of the year anyways. They pay me either way before then. Anything else I gotta do, Mr. Popular, Respected Veteran Clubhouse Leader?”
“Yeah. It would help if we could play the Giants for a couple of days. They’re going really bad. Oh, and start deGrom on Saturday night. He’s going really good. That should get us two wins, and by then we’ll have so much momentum you can do something totally nuts like put Montero back in the rotation.”
“I was gonna do that anyway. Rafael’s been working on some stuff with Dan and I think he’s gonna surprise some people.”
“Sure, whatever. Thing is, we win at least a couple of games in San Francisco and we won’t necessarily be screwed until the next time we are.”
“I like it, Asdrubal. Nobody’ll believe this was the plan, but I like it.”

Getting a Grip

Timing really is everything.

My kid and I got on a plane to Iceland a few minutes after the end of the Mets’ victory over the Cubs and returned a few hours before the first of their check-for-pulse efforts against the Dodgers. While overseas and four hours down the clock, I checked in on our stalwarts as arrival times and hotel Wi-Fi allowed.

I’ve done this on previous trips and there’s something equally wonderful and weird about sitting in the equivalent of late-afternoon daylight despite the clock showing it’s after midnight and watching baseball being played at night on another continent. You look from Gary Cohen’s face to Icelandic hillsides dotted with intrepid/foolish sheep and feel amazed to be part of the age of miracles and wonder.

But this time both miracles and wonder were in short supply, and my timing was terrible: I brought SNY up for one of the games against Washington and had just registered that it was 3-0 Washington when Wilmer Flores made an error, skulking back to his post as the score became 4-0. Like a rat who’d pushed a button and been shocked (not for the first or even the 101st time), I came to the conclusion that I’d seen all I needed to see of that particular game. And say what you will about the evils of jetlag, but it did replace six hours I would have spent suffering through miserable baseball in L.A. with relatively blissful shuteye.

Last night I arrived a bit late to my post because of an extended dinner, and braced for impact as I turned on the TV. For me, assessing what’s happening in a game I’ve joined in progress is often a slapstick affair. First my senses frantically collect information ranging from the score (generally obscured by some TV/cable status readout) and the inning to the tone of the announcers’ voices. Then my brain collates this data, often not particularly efficiently, until I’m fully caught up and manage to render a verdict of HA! or huh or [weary expletive].

This one started as a huh: I grasped that the Mets and Giants were tied 1-1 in the second, with Lucas Duda on second base. But then Lucas was steaming home on a ball slapped past eternal enemy Conor Gillaspie at third, a ball I realized had been hit by Seth Lugo. That was prelude to the Mets battering poor Ty Blach as Bruce Bochy watched stoically: Yoenis Cespedes annihilated a high fastball for a two-run homer and Wilmer Flores, Michael Conforto and Travis d’Arnaud all doubled, turning the huh into a definite and definitely much-needed HA!

(The craziest-ever moment of assessment: in late 2007 my plane touched down at JFK and I turned on my sports Walkman to find myself in the middle of the Jose ReyesMiguel Olivo brawl. It was a long, busy time before Howie Rose was able to address that the Mets were up 9-0 and John Maine hadn’t allowed a hit. That was a lot to take in.)

Friday night’s game also featured the return of Asdrubal Cabrera, who collected three hits but had made headlines before stepping onto the field. Cabrera, displeased at being told he’s now playing second, asked for a trade. Cabrera’s pique mostly has to do with being surprised — he spent his minor-league rehab playing shortstop. Which is definitely a reason to be annoyed, and yet another example of the Mets fumbling basic communications with their players.

Left out of the conversation was the real reason Cabrera and every Mets fan should be annoyed: he’s being asked to move so the withered corpse of Jose Reyes can keep contributing four automatic outs per game. Jose was the only member of Friday’s starting nine to go hitless; he’s now hitting .191 with a no-that’s-not-a-typo .267 OBP. The only debate in Mets circles should be whether Jose is even worthy of a spot on the bench. (Spoiler: he’s not.) Pretending he’s an everyday player is negligence fueled by truly determined obtuseness, and that delusion will have consequences beyond a one-day media dustup.

* * *

I got my set of Topps Series 2 cards in the mail last week and found that the eBay seller had filled out the box with junk commons: a random assemblage of hockey cards, a bunch of Fleers and some hastily grabbed ’89 Topps cards.

The latter were frankly more interesting than the graphically busy, statistically light 2017 Topps cards, so I separated them out and let myself stroll down memory lane with the likes of Jeff Blauser, Jim Clancy and Mike LaValliere.

And then I got to the card that made me go oof.

Gregg Jefferies‘ first full season was so hotly anticipated that Topps made his Future Stars card part of the box art. He was on the cover of every season-preview magazine and all but inducted into Cooperstown before Dwight Gooden and Joe Magrane squared off at Shea for Opening Day. Jefferies went 2-for-3 that day but also made an error; 1989 would see too much of the latter and not enough of the former, as well as friction with teammates and fans. Eventually the Mets decided a professional divorce was best for all involved; Jefferies went on to become a Royal, Cardinal, Phillie, Angel and Tiger, forging a career that was pretty good by most standards except the impossible ones that had preceded him. He was out of the game before his 33rd birthday.

“Life comes at you fast” is an old adage that’s been revived as a Twitter taunt. It’s true, of course — changes of fortune arrive in an eyeblink, rearranging everything. But it keeps being true even as the moment passes, with today’s controversy becoming ancient history before you quite realize what’s happened. So it was with Jefferies, who went from the front of the box to filler inside it in a couple of baseball generations.

I never used that ’89 Jefferies card in The Holy Books. The original reason was probably that it still stung too much. I’d been a huge Jefferies fan during his rocket ascent in late 1988, blew the budget on him in next year’s college fantasy league, and waited for a triumph that wasn’t to be. But that’s become a long time ago. Seeing a Jefferies rookie come back to me, I decided to keep it and slotted him in, between The Other Bob Gibson and Mark Carreon.

And you know what? He looks good there, waiting beneath his own personal marquee for a future he can’t know will never arrive.

Lost Angeles

In case you didn’t stay up Thursday night, the Mets stayed down again in Los Angeles. They lost all four games they played there this week. They lost in such numbing fashion that when they appeared on the verge of losing in a fairly professional manner, it felt like victory. Then the professionalism seeped away in the seventh when, after Steven Matz had given them six fairly solid innings in service to a 3-3 tie, two of the better-reputationed members of the Mets bullpen turned the whole thing to mush.

Paul Sewald gave up the fifteenth Dodger home run of the series (a Brooklyn/L.A. record) on his first pitch, one whacked 433 feet to right by Joc Pederson, putting the home team ahead to stay. Logan Forsythe followed with a sharp single to center. Chris Taylor walked. Sewald in my mind had morphed into Dale Murray, the master of disaster from the 1979 Mets pen. I suppose Sewald could have been any dispenser of hits and walks you have blowing up an ERA in the recesses of your subconscious, but to me he was Murray. Maybe it was the oft-repeated cue that the Mets were on their way to being swept four by the Dodgers for the first time since 1979. Maybe it was that Dale Murray was terrible and so, at least on Thursday, was Paul Sewald.

With Justin Turner coming to bat, you braced for the worst. I did, I know, and I’d assume any Mets fan awake would. Turner’s slugging percentage against the Mets since joining the Dodgers is astronomical. Neil deGrasse Tyson is in awe of it. Somehow, Turner did not put the game away, as Sewald flied him to left instead of the moon. Exit Paul, enter Jerry. Jerry Blevins has been the Mets’ most consistent reliever all year. He was consistently used for two-and-a-half months. deployed practically every day. Lately he hasn’t been in evidence. Blevins is usually reserved for tight spots. The Mets had been loose in their losing all week until Thursday.

The assignment for Blevins was Cody Bellinger, the first baseman who isn’t on the All-Star ballot but should probably start, based on the numbers he’s generated all season against everybody, not just all week against the Mets. I was tempted to write in Bellinger when I decided to cast a token vote, but I don’t have nearly that much integrity to go out of my way to boost the electoral chances of somebody growing greater at my team’s expense. (I did, however, have enough integrity to resist clicking on behalf of almost every Met listed; I’m loyal, but I’m not undiscerning.) With anybody but Blevins in there, you’d assume it was about to be 7-3. I think Bellinger assumed it was about to be 7-3 — or should have been about to be 7-3 — when he made contact with Blevins’s second pitch, an offering that hung delectably in his happy zone. Bellinger just missed sending in into orbit and he knew it, spiking his bat in disgust that he let Blevins off the hook with a mere fly to right.

That meant two were still on, but two were out, and now all Jerry had to do was take care of Kiké Hernandez. Except Jerry walked Kiké to load the bases. Unfortunate, but probably no harm, no foul, because Dave Roberts opted to not pinch-hit for his next batter, reliever Pedro Baez. What’s the worst a reliever who’d batted one time previously in a four-year career could do against an accomplished veteran like Blevins?

From a Met perspective, standing and taking four pitches, every last one of them balls. Jerry Blevins walked Pedro Baez to force in the fifth Los Angeles run. Then Blevins walked the next batter, Austin Barnes, not a relief pitcher, to make it 6-3. It was the ninth walk Mets pitchers allowed, eight of them unintentional. For those who are fans of silver linings, a couple of strikes were involved in walk to Barnes.

Blevins gave way to Salas, who was tasked with facing aesthetic villain Yasiel Puig. I assumed the worst, but no, postmodern Fernandomania prevailed at Dodger Stadium, and the Mets stayed just close enough to allow you to hallucinate they could come back. I must’ve been getting very sleepy, because I thought I saw the Mets load the bases in the eighth for Michael Conforto. I know I was awake, however, because I definitely did see Conforto foul out on the very first pitch he saw. By then, Kenley Jansen was in the game, reminding me that when Terry Collins managed the NL All-Stars last summer, he eschewed the chance to use his own man, Jeurys Familia, in favor of Jansen, which meant the only National League team that didn’t have a player participate in the All-Star Game was the team whose manager was running the show.

Collins won’t be managing the All-Stars this July and under no fathomable circumstances will he be managing the All-Stars next July. What he’ll be doing by April of 2018, let alone early October of 2017, is a matter ripe for speculation. As this game ground on toward its inevitable 6-3 final, I thought back to another West Coast swing, from 1983. George Bamberger was the Mets’ manager when it began. He wasn’t when it ended. Bambi wanted out and resigned while in Los Angeles, explaining, “I probably suffered enough.” George quit when the Mets were 16-30. Since the last time Terry Collins had the chance to use Jeurys Familia in a game that counted, the Mets are 15-25. He gives no impression that he’d ever quit, but I wouldn’t rule out suffering getting the best of him.

“That’s one thing we have never done here in years,” Collins said after the Mets’ fourth consecutive loss to the same opponent, “We don’t walk guys and we don’t give up a lot of home runs. And right now, we’re doing both.” That’s as close to a cry for help as Terry will emit. The rest of us are letting out yawns. It’s not that we don’t care. It’s that we can only stay up for so much of this.

Lawn Gone Legend

The phrase “hey you kids, get off my lawn,” when used to mock someone’s stodgier instincts, has always bugged me, and not just because of my edging toward the demographic with which stodginess is reflexively associated. My stance isn’t in defense of stodge. It’s the literal interpretation I can’t hack. If somebody has a lawn, why should that person have to allow it to be trampled on by interlopers of any age?

It’s a different story, I suppose, if you’re talking about your own kids. Your own kids are probably welcome on your lawn. Probably. Maybe you love your lawn enough that you have to make the call on a case-by-case basis.

Pete Flynn loved his lawn. Our lawn — but it was his to tend. He made it a field of dreams and, given that awesome responsibility, was entitled to insist it not be trampled into a nightmarish state.

Pete was with the Mets just about forever, from sometime in 1962 until the franchise had turned in a half-century of operation. The bulk of that tenure was spent as head groundskeeper at Shea Stadium, the heart of it in 1986, when those of us who’d only heard his name in passing during rain delays and such, heard from Pete Flynn directly.

His message: Get off my/our lawn.

This was the night of September 17, 1986, the night Mets fans had waited for since also just about forever. The Mets clinched the National League East that night. The title was a foregone conclusion all summer. The wait for the Mets to qualify again for anything beyond a high draft pick had been endless. Technically, it dated to 1973, but the years moved very slowly from 1974 forward. We just wanted to celebrate another day of clinching. It was nowhere in sight for an eternity. Then it was so close we could taste it. Finally, it was at hand.

The magic number was 1. The score was Mets 4 Cubs 2. The game was in the top of the ninth. There were two outs. Chico Walker grounded to Wally Backman. Backman flipped to Keith Hernandez. The Mets were champs. The Shea Stadium lawn represented, through informal institutional precedent, the spoils of victory. Mets fans piled on to it in 1969 with joyous abandon. Mets fans piled on again in 1973 with the abandon veering to the aggressive. Mets fans who remembered how it was done in the past went for it once more in 1986 — packing pent-up gusto and tubular tunnelvision. Here came the fans from Field Level. From Loge. From Mezzanine. From Upper Deck. From the outer reaches of the solar system from the looks of it. The Mets barely made it into the clubhouse. Some were scathed. The lawn was ravaged.

Pete Flynn was not happy. He let it be known that the fans who did this — not all almost-50,000 in the house, but more than enough to graze disastrously through the grass — did not deserve a winner. It was a harsh rebuke amid an evening of ebullience.

But he was right. The kids (and adults) should’ve stayed off his lawn. He and his crew were the ones who had to stay up all night to repair it, keeping at it the next morning, too, because the National League East champion Mets had another game to play against the Cubs early that afternoon. All of Pete’s sod and all of Pete’s men made it passable for another Mets win. The groundskeeper may not have thought we deserved a winner, but he made sure we had the chance to keep having one for the rest of that magical year, for the rest of September, for all of October.

The Mets became world champions on Pete Flynn’s lawn on October 27, 1986. The neighborhood kids were convinced to stay off it. The NYPD mounted patrol did the most obvious persuading, but I’d like to think Pete’s tone of disapproval resonated with its desired effect. Why would you want to get a good man like that mad at you?

For the rest of his groundskeeping career, until his passing on Wednesday at the age of 79, Pete Flynn was as famous as most Mets. He was the guy who shook his head and went to work after the first of three flags was won in that year to remember. The Mets wouldn’t again so easily win divisions, let alone pennants and World Series. Pete kept working, regardless. Pete was part of Shea. Pete was part of us. Pete enjoyed a well-deserved star turn for his long and meritorious service. He was featured in The Last Play at Shea, playing a supporting role alongside Paul McCartney. The two fellows from the UK shared a couple of car rides, the film noted. Pete drove the Beatles onto the field in 1965 and the Cutest among them onto the same field in 2008.

Pete came off as pretty adorable himself in that movie, but he was, in real life, a regular guy taking care of a significant lawn. I had the pleasure of a conversation with him once, well after 1986, well before 2008. A friend of a friend somehow got me to the cusp of the Shea field in advance of a DynaMets Dash so I could take part in something I never dreamed would be accessible to me. They didn’t have DynaMets dashes when I was a kid and I was never the kind to storm somebody else’s lawn, even in victory.

I can’t stress how far above the recommended age I was for the DynaMets Dash. I probably should have brought a note from my doctor. But there I was, in cahoots with another friend getting the same improbable opportunity, standing in that little staging area behind home plate, waiting for the Mets game to finish so my run of a lifetime could begin. That’s how it worked if someone was thoughtfully sneaking you ahead of the youngsters for your shot at rounding the bases.

I was there, my friend was there, our benefactor was there, members of the grounds crew were there and, yes, Pete Flynn was there. Introductions were made. Pete took a gander at my friend and me, oversized DynaMets Dashers to be that we were.

“Aren’t you two a little big for this?” Pete asked, gleam plainly visible in his smiling Irish eyes.

“No,” I replied with as much innocence as I could muster. “We’re just taking that stuff McGwire had in his locker.”

Pete Flynn laughed at something I said. That was about as good as getting to step foot on his lawn and run around his dirt. Before we could, though, we were explicitly told to be careful to not actually touch his grass. And you can bet we listened.

Monsters Under the Bed

One of the ads in regular Mets rotation right now is for rebranded cable company Spectrum, and features a pair of monsters under a little girl’s bed during the night. One monster is honked off about fees for some Spectrum competitor (I can’t remember which, because I don’t care) and complaining tendentiously and loudly about this state of affairs to his fellow boogeyman — loudly enough to wake up the child on the other side of the mattress.

It’s a funny concept, but it’s the little things that really make it work. Like the aggrieved monster getting so worked up that he can no longer articulate his roster of complaints, falling back on a helplessly frustrated, all-encompassing “it’s bad.” To which the other monster retorts: “you’re bad — at this!” They’re interrupted by the annoyed little girl, who tells them she can hear them, then throws her hands up when the complaining monster can’t let it go.

Last night those 30 seconds were vastly more entertaining than the three hours of dreadful, deeply boring baseball in which they were embedded. The Mets began the game with an uncharacteristic display of life as Curtis Granderson hit a leadoff homer, then had Rich Hill in their sights in the fourth inning, loading the bases with no one out for Jose Reyes.

You can probably guess what came next: Jose struck out. So did Gavin Cecchini. And so did Tyler Pill.The Mets had turned their golden opportunity into leaden reality. Womp-womp.

In the bottom of the inning a Logan Forsythe double gave the Dodgers the lead and a three-run homer from Yasiel Puig made the remaining innings academic, unless your tastes ran to watching Neil Ramirez do Neil Ramirez things. (If Neil were the boogeyman, the little girl from the ad would have doubled off the wall and gone back to sleep.)

Puig’s homer came with a side of stupid: he admired it and Cadillac’ed, Wilmer Flores took exception, Puig took exception to the exception, Travis d’Arnaud muttered something that was ignored, Puig had a between-innings colloquy with Reyes and Yoenis Cespedes and that was pretty much it until the postgame, when … you know what, I’ve wasted too much time on this one as it is. If you see a cloud that your inner Gossage needs to yell at, load up Google and knock yourself out.

Anyway, I was thinking about the monsters under the bed, the little girl on top of it, the Mets, us and who’s who.

My first thought was that the monsters are your recappers, trapped beneath the weight of a season gone awry and so besieged by terribleness that all we can do is sputter that “it’s bad.” But that doesn’t quite fit: we haven’t done anything wrong, except root for a team put on this Earth to suck the joy out of baseball.

Maybe the monsters are the Mets — because they certainly are bad at this, and going nowhere.

Yeah, that fits better. Which would mean the little girl is all of us, lying there witnessing failure when we should be sleeping. Like her, at this point all we can do is shrug and wait for morning.

New Worst Order

The problem when your team has given up double-digit runs in ten different games in a season that is only seventy games old — and five times in a month that still has ten days to go — is keeping track of which of those losses is the worst. It’s tough, I suppose, to top (or bottom) the 23-5 farce at the hands of the Nationals from April 30, the one that featured three Anthony Rendon home runs, Kevin Plawecki’s pitching debut and Noah Syndergaard’s probable 2017 farewell. The lightning-quick burial of Tommy Milone by the Angels in a 12-5 romp on May 21 also springs to mind. Oh, and what about the Mother’s Day Massacre in Milwaukee, wherein a 7-1 midgame Mets lead dissolved into a 11-9 loss to the Brewers? Personally, I retain a sore spot for that flaming pile of baseball.

The Mets can pack plenty of pain into a defeat that doesn’t tilt the scoreboard quite so dramatically. There was 7-5 to the Braves on April 27, when Yoenis Cespedes strained a hamstring and Syndergaard turned down his employer’s gracious offer of an MRI. There was the afternoon of May 7, when Adam Wilk came and went at Matt Harvey’s inadvertent behest, leaving behind a 7-0 whitewashing by which to vaguely remember him. Way back when the Mets were a .500 ballclub, on May 10, you had the Mets carrying a 3-2 edge over the Giants into the ninth at home only to call it a day by losing, 6-5 — and then they lost the pitcher who lost the lead, Jeurys Familia, for the bulk of the year.

There was also a string of late and close losses to the Marlins in Miami that combined to tear out our then thick, luscious hair in the middle of April. And the wrong end of a three-game sweep in Arizona that ended with an eleventh-inning home run struck by a Diamondback (it doesn’t matter who anymore). And two consecutive nights playing down to and below the Padres. And the night Mr. Met’s finger pointed out how bad the Mets were. And the next afternoon when Mr. Met was proven correct yet again.

And so on.

You can see the problem. You’ve lived the problem. Your team, like mine, is 31-39, and you, like me, are moved to recall the exchange between manager and coach from Bull Durham (revised to reflect our bush league entry’s current statistical circumstances):

“What’s our record, Larry?”
“Thirty-one and thirty-nine.”
“Thirty-one…and thirty-nine. How’d we ever win thirty-one?”
“It’s a miracle.”
“It’s a miracle.”

As Met miracles go, this realization is as sad as it gets, which is to say as sad as Tuesday night’s 12-0 loss in Los Angeles, which, in the moment, I was convinced was the absolute worst Mets loss of 2017. Perhaps it was the onset of the summer solstice that helped convince me. With the start being late and the night being short, it was literally darkest before the dawn. The literal dawn, that is. Met-aphorically, there seems little danger the darkness will be lifting anytime soon.

Upon further review, I realize the competition is too complex to bestow such a weighty title as Worst Mets Loss of the Year so cavalierly. Maybe the relentless clobbering of Robert Gsellman & Co. at Dodger Stadium represents just another night at the ballpark. Maybe it embodied the new if depressing normal. After all, exactly a week before we lost, 14-3, and it barely registers within the realm of anything I’ve cited above. Yet as I was watching Dodger hit after Dodger hit; Dodger walk after Dodger walk; Dodger run after Dodger run; Dodger home run after Dodger home run; and Met after Met ceaselessly suck, I honestly couldn’t think of any 2017 Mets loss that was worse. Thus, I stand by my assertion.

Ninety-two games, however, remain scheduled. The committee to determine which Mets loss is worst this season shall remain open for nominations as necessary.

***

Much better news on the Mets front emerged Tuesday if you include news about Mets fans, and, as Mets fans, why wouldn’t we? Our dear friend Kevin Chapman went into the Hospital for Special Surgery and, contrary to popular belief where anything Metsian about that facility is concerned, he came out in one piece. With his shoulder socket expertly repaired (and his morale thoroughly supported by his loving wife Sharon), we look forward to his complete recovery and to seeing him — should the Mets miraculously cooperate — raise two good arms in victory real soon.

Life Stages in Los Angeles

Zack Wheeler, 27; first major league appearance, June 18, 2013
His Monday night numbers of note: 2 IP, 7 ER, 8 H
What it means at this stage of his career: Nothing good, though “this stage of his career” doesn’t sync with the arithmetic that his major league debut was just over five years ago. We know Wheeler missed what should have been his third and fourth seasons and is only in his third season now. Perhaps a batting practice line or two was to be expected in his comeback campaign. He’s had two in a row after pitching for several starts like there’d never been anything wrong with him except a propensity to run up pitch counts. The saying that you have to get to some pitchers early if you want to get them at all seems to apply to Wheeler, but not for the usual complimentary reasons, for there has been no later for Zack of late. This might be an optimal time to pause him, except the Mets don’t have an optimal time in their rotation. Let’s hope Zack’s OK and that the Dodgers were simply hotter than hot when his pitches ran into their bats.

Rafael Montero, 26; first major league appearance, May 14, 2014
His Monday night numbers of note: 3.2 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 2 BB, 5 SO
What it means at this stage of his career: Ah, who the hell knows? Rafael pitched a second consecutive competent long-relief stint inside of a week in his…I’m gonna say eighty-fourth trial with the Mets. His timing was keen in the short term, keeping the Mets sort of viable, and terrible in the slightly longer term, likely eliminating himself from a chance to start on Wednesday night. I’d say his back-to-back solid outings are encouraging, but I’ve probably said stuff like that before and I’m not prone to believe it based on the myriad mushy outings Montero has turned in during his other eighty-three trials. But he did earn the Bigelow Tease award for his role in getting our hopes up ever so marginally. We were down 7-0 and even the sleepy among us wouldn’t so quickly submit to the demands of our eyelids because we weren’t down more. (God, we’re dullards that way.)

Jose Reyes, 34; first major league appearance, June 11, 2003
His Monday night numbers of note: 2 HR, 3 RBI
What it means at this stage of his career: Some life remains detectable in the Mets’ temporary starting shortstop, previously the Mets’ default starting third baseman, theoretically the superutilityman of Spring Training chatter. Jose’s .198 average doesn’t speak very loudly, and I certainly expected to hear it say nothing versus Clayton Kershaw. Once it was 7-0, L.A., I expected a serious flirtation with a perfect game. The Dodger Stadium mound…the comps to Sandy Koufax…the Mets being the Mets…yet Jose broke it up to lead off the third by homering, and he pushed the Mets into nipping at the ace’s impenetrable advantage when he homered again in the seventh to close the gap to 8-6. Not that it did the Mets any good in the end, an end that would be spelled 10-6, Dodgers, but with Asdrubal Cabrera several days away and Amed Rosario’s ETA TBD, I was happy to see Reyes add to the numbers he’s been compiling since 2003, save for a gap between 2012 and 2015. He passed Keith Hernandez for sole possession of ninth place on the Mets career RBI chart (471) and he edged to within four of Ed Kranepool for second place on the Mets career hit list (1,414). I don’t know how much Mets baseball Jose has left, but I’d like him to do as much as he can with however much he can get his bat on.

Jay Bruce, 30; first major league appearance, May 27, 2008
His Monday night numbers of note: 1 HR, 1 RBI
What it means at this stage of his career: We as a people entered 2017 dismissing Jay as superfluous, yet who’s the only Met who has been power-hitting on their behalf regularly since this season started? Bruce has 19 home runs, five more than any other Met and 48 runs batted in, ten ahead of his nearest teammate. Tell me home runs are flying everywhere these days and school me about how RBIs don’t indicate as much as we grew up assuming they did, but home runs and runs batted in sure are helpful in the course of a game. Bruce, like Reyes, seems to have a talent for eliciting gophers out of Kershaw (as a Red he’d taken Clayton deep twice). That alone is impressive. So is his 131 OPS+, second on the team to Michael Conforto. For all the squeezing in of outfielders it was thought Terry Collins was going to have to do, Jay hasn’t surrendered right field nor a spot in the batting order.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. He’s been hitting balls out of ballparks since Shea Stadium stood. Our first exposure to him was directly following the 2008 All-Star Game. The Mets were in Cincinnati for a four-game set. Billy Joel was in Flushing, presenting The Last Play at Shea. On the night Paul McCartney jetted in to musically close the old place down at Billy’s behest, Bruce was letting it be against John Maine, hitting the seventh home run of his rookie season in his second game ever versus the Mets. The visiting New Yorkers lost, 5-2, snapping their contention-reviving ten-game winning streak and dropping them one game behind the fearsome Phillies for first place. A couple of handfuls of players from that box score of July 18, 2008, still roam the MLB earth or at least sit tight on its disabled lists: Reyes, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Joe Smith, Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto, Edwin Encarnacion, Bronson Arroyo. Ken Griffey, Jr., is in the Hall of Fame. Carlos Delgado fell off the Hall ballot after one vote. We haven’t heard much lately from the likes of Maine, Fernando Tatis, Damion Easley or Met reserve turned Red shortstop Jeff Keppinger. Jay we know has walloped 253 more home runs since Billy and Paul said good night. If we do math, we know he’s on pace to pass Beltran and Todd Hundley for the Mets’ single-season home run mark of 41. “On pace” is tricky calculation — fairly easy to discern, not necessarily simple to maintain. Ten-year veteran Jay Bruce maintains a starting job based on consistent production. The Mets are in fourth with him, might be much closer to the no longer fearsome Phillies in fifth without him. Bruce is probably gone before 2018 comes around. Until further notice, let him be, let him be.

Gavin Cecchini, 23; first major league appearance, September 11, 2016
His Monday night numbers of note: 1 HR, 2 RBI
What it means at this stage of his career: Cecchini has started one game in the big leagues, and in it he homered off Clayton Bleeping Kershaw. That would be enough of a career for most of us. Cecchini probably would like more. He probably also projected more games and more starts by now when the Mets made him their first draft choice of 2013. He was eager and ready to go, I can say from personal observation, having been at the kid’s introductory press conference four years ago. The Mets were giddy with All-Star Game preparation fever and invited some bloggers into their lair (something they got out of the habit of doing by 2015). We met Cecchini and Kevin Plawecki, also chosen in that year’s first round. They seemed like fine young men, except for Cecchini revealing he liked wearing No. 2 out of appreciation for a certain shortstop who played in a nearby borough. Even Sandy Alderson groaned at that revelation.

The Mets sought attention for another youngster that night, 2011 first pick Brandon Nimmo. With enough online votes, Nimmo could join the Futures game that would be played ahead of the Midsummer Classic that Matt Harvey was a near-lock to start. They put Brandon on a conference call with us and he sounded like a young (younger) David Wright. Nimmo made that game — along with Montero and Noah Syndergaard — but not the majors until 2016. Nimmo had a pinch-hit last night, his first hit of this year. He had one homer all of last year. Plawecki’s been up and down across three years. Dom Smith was the club’s No. 1 pick in 2012 and he’s generally the second name we mention when we mention Met prospects most of us have barely seen. It’s 2017. These things can take a while and they carry no guarantees. Cecchini was a shortstop when he was drafted, was a second baseman in Terry’s lineup Monday night, will be something for somebody eventually, you’d figure. The Mets’ infield, despite its chronic aches, seems crowded. We’ll see if there’s space available for this still fine young man for whom I constructed the private nickname Gavin MacClout once he slaughtered a pitch from Kershaw. A guy who can say he homered off Clayton Kershaw practically the first chance he got shouldn’t have to ask too loudly for another opportunity.

Deep Thoughts by Jacob deGrom

A pitcher homering is baseball porn, pure and simple. A pitcher pitching eight innings and giving up no earned runs is more exotic than it used to be, maybe more exotic than it oughta be. Which would you rather have?

You’d rather have both if you can, and we could on Sunday afternoon at Citi Field. Sunday afternoons at Citi Field this season have generally encompassed Mets starting pitchers barely lasting past The Star-Spangled Banner and the vast majority of taters being mashed by visiting chefs. On Father’s Day 2017, however, Jacob deGrom was big daddy to us all in every way, putting up all those zeroes from the mound and sending one baseball over the left field fence from the plate.

I was so excited when deGrom’s 379-foot fly ball off Joe Ross launched at an angle of 32 degrees and exited at a velocity of 95.1 miles per hour (someday those metrics will mean something to us) that I might have missed Commissioner Rob Manfred’s unilateral edict that the designated hitter was instantaneously abolished. The moment Jacob gave those fans in the M&M seats the sweetest of treats was the moment to act. “The DH?” Manfred could have elaborated. “Eff that noise! Did ya see deGrom go deep? Did ya see and hear the reaction? Pitchers hitting homers…effin’ A!”

Imagine the Mets had used a DH yesterday. Admittedly, it’s a Man in the High Castle type of premise designed to chill your spine, but play along. Yoenis Cespedes didn’t start on Sunday, so let’s say Cespy was the DH and he homered in the third inning as deGrom did to tie the score versus the Nationals at one. That would have been fine. That would have been dandy. But unless Yoenis’s theoretical home run whacked the gigantic floating M&M piñata squarely on the nose to release candy that melts in your mouth and not in your hands to children of all ages throughout the ballpark (which, by the way, is definitely something Citi Field should install), it would be one more early home run in one more 5-1 Mets win over Washington in Flushing. Granted, Met wins of any size over Washington anywhere seem the rarest of candy-coated goodies, but a home run by a guy who is designated to hit, on balance, is a relatively routine affair. It’s also an affront to all that is true and decent about baseball, but that’s another matter altogether.

DeGrom was razor-sharp in the less glamorous facet of his Sunday assignment: three hits and two walks over eight innings, the only run at his expense facilitated by shaky Met defense. His performance was praiseworthy and, after the Mets had lost three in a row to their ostensible archrivals, noteworthy, but it’s what an ace does. Or should do and, in Jake’s case, is doing again. If Cespedes was the designated pitcher and put up a line like that, it would be gargantuan. For deGrom, the emperor of afternoon baseball (1.71 ERA in 32 such career starts), it was another day in the sun: warm and welcome, but nothing you hadn’t seen before.

A home run from Jacob deGrom is something you hadn’t seen before. A home run from a Mets pitcher is something you see rarely. Jake’s was the 55th in 55½ years of Mets history, which makes it less of an infrequent happening than some other unicornish offensive occurrences. There have been roughly half as many Met inside-the-park home runs (27 — none by a pitcher), not quite a quarter as many Met three-homer games (13 — none by a pitcher), less than a fifth as many Met cycles (10 — none by a pitcher) and about one-eighth as many pinch-hits by pitchers (7 — all by pitchers). Met pitchers hit home runs 150% more often than Met lineups give birth to Unicorn Scores (though pitchers have surely lent a hand in delivering those 22 blessed events). Perhaps a feat accomplished on average annually shouldn’t seem so absolutely extraordinary, but have you ever not reacted wildly to a pitcher homering? The unlikely slugger doesn’t have to be Bartolo Colon for the home run to enchant you. When deGrom’s dinger cleared the 370 mark in left, I found myself applauding loudly enough at the TV upstairs that it attracted my wife’s interest from downstairs. She came up, poked her head in to where I was watching and let me know she saw it, too, affirming what a special bolt it was. Very few third-inning swings grab Stephanie’s attention. A pitcher homering grabs everybody’s attention.

The same pitcher cruising to a win from pitching almost an entire game is also good. A starter going that kind of deep carried us eight-ninths of the way to a much-needed victory. It just doesn’t carry us away like a pitcher going the other kind of deep. Every now and then in the course of a long season, our systems crave a lift like that. The rush eventually wears off, but it’s definitely healthier for us than M&Ms.

Thanks to Lori Rubinson of WFAN for having me on her show to discuss my book Piazza: Catcher, Slugger, Icon, Star on Sunday night. You can listen to about two-thirds of our conversation here. The other third must have been crushed by deGrom: pitcher, slugger, etcetera, etcetera.

From Worse to Slightly Less Worse

I thought the Nationals would score at least nine runs on Saturday, probably more. They started with a single run in each of the first four innings, 44.44% of the way to what is known as a picket fence. The Mets couldn’t put up 97%-invisible netting fast enough to veil it.

Somehow, the Mets halted the Nationals’ forward progress on the fifth-yard line, for a while anyway. Eventually, Stephen Strasburg revealed himself as not quite as untouchable as his predecessors in the Washington rotation. Yoenis Cespedes (4-for-5 and a homer) swung the bat real well and ran unencumbered. Jay Bruce did some fine hitting, Jose Reyes showed some offensive life, Travis d’Arnaud delivered a pinch-single that kind of mattered. Up and down the order, the Mets worked some impressive at-bats, regardless of results.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. The Mets lost and did loads wrong to lose. But falling 7-4 instead of the approximately 12-2 I was anticipating, while not providing any cause for optimism in a standings sense, made the game a darn sight more watchable than I figured it would be. Seth Lugo hung in after burying his team. Jerry Blevins got one critical out. A couple of balls that I was sure were going to fly out of Citi Field as Nationals homers went foul. There was a scintilla of a chance of a comeback in the ninth.

It didn’t happen. And it augurs little to nothing for Sunday. But I didn’t feel like a total chump staying tuned to the end. So there’s that.

As for those special Father’s Day weekend uniforms, they achieved their goal of raising awareness, if, in fact, they are intended to raise awareness for bad taste.