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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 Beating Goes On

Well, at least it’s another day off the calendar, what with the Mets all but drowned in the mire of another Mike Glavine season.

I keep thinking about The Other Glavine as a beacon of futility. He got his lone big-league hit on the final day of the 2003 season, a 4-0 beating by the Marlins. The Mets’ lineup on the day that wretched season finally put us out of our misery? Roger Cedeno, Jay Bell, Ty Wigginton, Tony Clark, Raul Gonzalez, Vance Wilson, Joe McEwing, Jorge Velandia and starting pitcher Jeremy Griffiths.

My first instinct is to say that assemblage makes me feel better about the 2017 Mets. That white flag of a lineup contained one formerly good player (Bell), an OK complementary player (Wigginton) and a couple of useful role players miscast as starters (Wilson, McEwing). There aren’t any guys whose only fault was being young and not yet ready.

But perhaps that’s hindsight. Faith and Fear didn’t exist yet, though Greg was unknowingly prototyping it through frequent emails to his baseball circles. I don’t know, maybe there are exchanges in which he and I wax rhapsodic about the potential of Gonzalez and Griffiths.

Or maybe it’s as I remember, and that season was a disaster whose only redeeming quality was that it ended — and which, more than a decade later, can be boiled down to grim shorthand: Mike Glavine.

So, anyway. The Mets got pounded by the Marlins. They were noncompetitive once again. Got swept.

Brandon Nimmo hit a home run and would have have been on base more than that if not for the baseball norm that the strike zone varies depending on one’s seniority, the quality of the matchup and the month on the calendar. (I, for one, am ready to welcome our new robot balls-and-strikes overlords.)

Kevin Plawecki got two more hits, continuing to look like the player we thought he might be not so long ago.

Rafael Montero wasn’t very good, but at least his recent performances have earned him the right to have “Rafael Montero wasn’t very good” games, as opposed to “Rafael Montero is perpetually timid and faked a shoulder injury and doesn’t know how to pitch and has failed 56,000 times and simply has to be released immediately because he is driving everyone insane” games. If you squint that’s kind of something.

That’s all I’ve got. Maybe, a decade or so from now, we’ll stumble across this box score and note the presence of Nimmo, and Dominic Smith, and Phil Evans and try to reconstruct if we grasped things would soon be a lot better. Perhaps we’ll be confused briefly over whether or not Amed Rosario was up by then. We might recall that yes, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes were near the end but sure had some great Mets moments before that. I can imagine reminding each other that Montero’s career is an object lesson in not giving up on guys too early. Possibly we’ll salute Nori Aoki as the kind of useful bench guy good teams need.

Or, alternately, we’ll grimace and say “Tommy Milone,” and everyone will understand that means that whatever’s gone wrong with the 2031 Mets, at least it can never be 2017 again.

The Manchurian Marlin?

The Mets once had a player who was referred to, without irony, as Mr. Marlin. His name was Jeff Conine. We knew him as a nice if ineffectual guy at the end of his career. He couldn’t help stem the tide that washed the 2007 Mets out to sea, but even Mr. Marlin can do only so much when the enormous waves come crashing to the shore.

The Mets once had a player who set all kinds of Marlins career marks despite your intuition suggesting it’s unlikely anybody bothers to save old Marlin box scores. You know who’s played in more games, come to bat more, scored more runs, recorded more hits, singled more, tripled more, walked more, reached base more and stolen more bases than any other Marlin? None other than Luis Castillo, whom Mets fans will remember mostly for swiping defeat from the jaws of victory in 2009.

The Mets built playoff powerhouses with Marlins the Marlins no longer had use for — Dennis Cook, Al Leiter and Florida flash Mike Piazza in one veritable swoop, Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca in another. For that matter, the Wild Card that was won a year ago (seems more like a century) was facilitated by the presence of 2012 Marlins alumnus Jose Reyes. It’s not like the Mets haven’t had good fortune picking through Miami’s recyclables. Yet with the rare Marlin whom you might instinctively identify as a Marlin, whatever good emanated from his Met tenure tends to get overwhelmed in memory by deleterious circumstances. Gary Sheffield hit his 500th homer as a Met shortly before ’09 chemically dissolved in acid. Moises Alou extended a hitting streak to 30 while the Mets were in the process of blowing a division lead of seven games with seventeen to play. Cliff Floyd earned beloved status at Shea in 2005, but struck out against Adam Wainwright to help end 2006. Livàn Hernandez came us to us too late, Preston Wilson left us too soon (albeit in a good cause).

No Marlin-tinged Met, however, has seemed more attached to his Marlinness than AJ Ramos. Even Mr. Marlin Conine and Mr. Marlin Record Holder Castillo had moved on from the Marlins before alighting on the Mets. AJ Ramos was a Marlin his entire career prior to joining the Mets. Nobody is a Marlin his entire career for very long. Giancarlo Stanton is the lavishly compensated exception to the rule, and even he and his 55 homers are the never-ending subject of trade rumors. Their franchise is built to expunge its own. Ramos came to the major leagues in September of 2012 and remained a Marlin until July of 2017. That’s a lifetime Marlin, relatively speaking. Ramos apparently developed a real affinity for his one and only pre-Met ballclub, which you can understand in theory, except that it was the Marlins, and who maintains an emotional attachment to the frigging Marlins?

Our ad hoc closer, that’s who.

Prior to very recently, AJ had done a decent if stress-inducing job pitching late innings and protecting rare leads since coming over. We didn’t have Jeurys Familia. We no longer had Addison Reed. Ramos would do in the short term and perhaps contribute in the longer term. But every time I heard him wax nostalgic for his old team and his old teammates, I was thinking there’s no way it will work out well when he faces them.

I should’ve gone with that sense. Instead, in an uncommonly good Met mood Tuesday night — after Reyes, Travis d’Arnaud and Seth Lugo had all excelled — I generated a generous thought in AJ’s direction. It was the top of the ninth, the Mets led by three, Asdrubal Cabrera sent a fly ball to deep right. I would have liked it to have gone out to extend the Mets’ advantage to 6-1, but when it was caught at the track, I thought, ah, that’s OK, at least now Ramos can get a save that will be particularly meaningful to him.

Kiss of death. Sorry about that. More Ramos’s blown save en route to a ten-inning loss than mine, but I’ve been futilely rooting for the Mets to beat the Marlins in South Florida long enough to know better than to believe the result was anywhere proximate to the proverbial bag, let alone securely inside it. How would AJ know that he was bound to throw 32 pitches, put six separate Marlins on base and allow the three tying runs to cross the plate without escaping the ninth? He’d watched his share of Marlins games in which Mets’ leads evaporated on the spot, but he watched it from the other side of the field. Maybe he was doing what he assumed he was supposed to do. When you’re in Marlins Park, aren’t you supposed to doom the Mets as painfully as you can? It probably got confusing for him amid all the pastels and empty seats. He looked down at his newly Metsian self, saw a reserved gray road uniform and no longer knew what to believe.

Paul Sewald (0-6) pulled what remained of the Mets chances out of the fire in the ninth and then, predictably, burned them to a crisp in the tenth, giving up the game-losing home run to J.T. Realmuto. Not long ago that would have provided AJ Ramos with the cue to gather at home plate alongside his fellow Marlins and heartily congratulate the Fish of the hour. Now he had to keep straight who he was with, who he was against and what he was supposed to do. No high-fives for J.T. No hugs for Giancarlo. No good times in the company of Dee and Christian and Marcell and Ichiro. No communing with the spirit of Luis Castillo in the only place on the North American continent where that’s considered a desirable endeavor.

The fellow’s surely befuddled. Have mercy on his Marlin soul.

Destined for the Knife

Matt Harvey was bad. The rest of the Mets weren’t much better.

Say this for the soon-to-be-extinct 2017 Mets: when things aren’t going to go well they sure don’t tease you about it. Monday’s 13-1 drubbing was the 18th time they’ve given up at least 10 runs this year — and the fourth time in the last eighth games. When they’re gonna lose, they lose big.

Some of this isn’t worth talking about. Tommy Milone is a fill-in whom it would be pointless to excoriate; rather than blame a ham-and-egger for being what he is, you ask what went wrong to get him so many innings. (Short answer: everything.) Hansel Robles has had a ghastly year, but he’s also a hard-throwing young middle reliever, and middle relief is a spaghetti-at-the-wall affair even in good years.

(Before we move on, it would be wrong not to mention that Giancarlo Stanton hit a ball so hard I wondered if it might knock Loria’s horrific Pachinko machine down. It didn’t, but keep trying, good sir.)

As for Harvey, well. The story has changed in disturbingly rapid fashion from “Can he be what he once was?” to “Can he reinvent himself as a finesse guy?” to “Will the Mets tender him a contract?”

(Spoiler: they will. But hold that thought.)

One thing is for certain: barring some miracle turnaround, when Harvey does leave the team the knives will be out. He’s had too many run-ins with management, too many self-inflicted controversies, too many “one Met said” quotes and too many gossip-page late nights to avoid the kind of day-after-the-transaction story that the New York sports press loves, the one in which an ex-player’s feuds and sins are hauled out of notebooks and hotel-bar sessions and dropped on the page as if they’d always been common knowledge. Total up the number of people Harvey has alienated, his continuing ability to attract clicks and light up phones, his nocturnal habits and the Mets’ penchant for backstabbing players they’ve shed and Farewell Matt Day could set a new standard for ugliness.

But we can be weary of that another day. For now, the Mets have a 2018 rotation to put together. Not so long ago an optimist would have written it in ink; now it’s all pencil and cross-outs and question marks.

Given his misfortunes and potentially diminished ceiling, Harvey might not be the biggest of those question marks. Zack Wheeler‘s 2017 season never really got on track before it fell off it and Steven Matz‘s entire career has been shadowed by misfortune and mismanagement. But he’ll be the loudest and most divisive one — he always has been.

Harvey’s late nights will get the pixels, but what really ought to be discussed is thoracic outlet syndrome. (You can get a head start here and here.) It wasn’t so long ago that we’d basically never heard of it; now we’re learning it’s a killer of pitchers.

That’s only overstating it a little, but only a little. The list of pitchers who’ve had surgery to fix thoracic outlet syndrome is growing; the list of pitchers who’ve come back from it successfully remains stubbornly small. That may not be true forever, but it is today. Your success stories include Matt Harrison, sort of. Chris Young, sort of. Jaime Garcia, sort of. Not exactly like contemplating life after Tommy John, is it?

The hopeful case for Harvey does exist, and it looks like this: Harvey is younger than most pitchers who have gone under the knife for TOS; the surgery to repair it has robbed many pitchers of their location; and the time needed to restore that fine control has often been more than a season. Harvey’s velocity has been all over the place, but the top end isn’t gone; he may keep healing and look like more like the electric pitcher we remember next spring.

The less-than-hopeful case is that Harvey will look like what he is now: a pitcher who can’t reach back for 97 or 98 when he needs it, whose location is a mess more often than not, and who has the additional burden of being a born and bred fireballer instead of a Madduxian trickster. And if that’s the case, the Mets have to ask seriously whether they’re better off paying, say, Chris Flexen the minimum rather than whatever bump Harvey will get in arbitration.

But that’s a 2018 question. It’s dumb to make decisions out of vengeance, whether we’re talking baseball or anything else. There’s no reason for the Mets not to let Harvey’s contract go to arbitration and see how things stand in spring training; if he still looks terrible, they can cut him loose and be on the hook for just a small part of that salary. With every pitcher not named Jacob deGrom a giant question mark, of course they’ll do that.

We never thought it would get this far, but that’s baseball. It’s beautiful and thrilling and ridiculous and cruel. You hope for the former but often endure the latter.

The Afterlife in Atlanta

Part of getting old is things go from novel to familiar — which is both a little unsettling and oddly comforting. Unsettling because you forget at first; comforting because it sure cuts down on the processing time once you remember.

It’s been a while since the Mets had nothing to play for at the end of September. That was a welcome development: a World Series one year, a wild-card game the next. A welcome and unprecedented development, but let’s not dwell on that. Or on the fact that they pooched up the World Series and the wild-card game was a heartbreaker. Heck, that part’s just baseball.

On Sunday I watched the Mets play a taut, exciting game. (And yes, they won on a Sunday, running their record on the day of arrest to a gaudy 8-17.) The game didn’t mean anything — no game has for weeks or will again for months — but I followed it relatively closely and enjoyed it, and found myself idly thinking all sorts of baseball-related things that didn’t involve hemlock or snarking on the Mets. How much Dom Smith has learned. If Phillip — sorry, Phil — Evans might have a position next year. The relative merits of the Indians, Astros and Twins bandwagons.

New for 2017, but really not new at all in the larger scheme of things. It’s a regular stop on the emotional tour for teams playing out the string. I’d just forgotten is all. Once I was reminded, it all came back.

The game itself deserves a little closer attention, which is a rare thing to say these days. Really, it was an ideal baseball game — a tight, tense affair where it looked like a small early lapse would be the difference, but that ended with the good guys pulling away so there wasn’t too much tension at the end. We got our happy ending a little early, and that was fine.

Julio Teheran was good — very good, in fact — except for the first inning, in which he couldn’t find the plate and allowed the Mets two runs. (More, perhaps, if C.B. Bucknor’s interpretation of the strike zone hadn’t been from the Surrealist school.) After that Teheran found himself and the Braves found him, backing him up with terrific defense by Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies. (As well as a play in which Teheran saved his own life on a scoring liner ticketed for his head by Juan Lagares, 2017’s designated sacrifice to the BABIP gods.)

On the Mets side, was this the best start of Robert Gsellman‘s young career? Clearly it was a good one: he had a good sinker and used it aggressively, mixing it with his slider and an effective change to get ground balls by the bushel. The best? You could argue otherwise in terms of numbers — Gsellman’s had more really good starts that you might have guessed. But the seventh inning supplied some admittedly non-quantifiable evidence for the court to consider.

Gsellman entered with a 2-0 lead and his pitch count in the mid-80s — probably last-inning territory unless things progressed quickly. And it looked like they might: Gsellman coaxed a flyout from Nick Markakis on four pitches, went 3-2 on Johan Comargo, then got Comargo to hit the ball up the middle on the ground.

Amed Rosario booted it.

Gsellman went back to work. Dansby Swanson swung and missed twice and hit a grounder to Rosario — a double-play ball, but one that he had to come in for.

It went under his glove.

Gsellman, tank close to empty, had now given his team four outs in the inning yet somehow still had two to get.

Terry Collins might have taken him out, but decided not to. As for Gsellman? Well, a guy who earlier this summer got in trouble for telling his general manager he didn’t care had just been handed an ironclad alibi for failure. What would he do with it?

For openers he got Jace Peterson to hit a ground ball — not to Rosario this time, mercifully. Jose Reyes wisely took the out at first, but a run scored and Kurt Suzuki came to the plate with the tying run in scoring position.

Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of good games by young pitchers have come unraveled at points like this, with said young pitchers trying to look stoic afterwards and their managers studiously ignoring left-him-in-too-long chatter.

Gsellman’s first pitch to Suzuki — his 100th of the afternoon — was a 90 mph sinker at the knee, with movement. Strike one.

His second was a sinker inside, on Suzuki’s hands. Suzuki fouled it off. 0-2 count.

The third pitch was a bait pitch — 93, up and away. Suzuki ignored it and it was 1-2.

Fourth pitch was a slider that Suzuki poked down the right-field line, in foul territory. It came down where neither Nori Aoki nor Dom Smith had a chance to catch it — seemingly harmless, but another small thing that’s loomed large in narratives like this one. Still 1-2.

The fifth pitch — the 104th on the day — was another sinker at the knees. Suzuki popped it up into foul territory, and it came down in Smith’s glove.

Gsellman, given an opportunity to fold and have people still feel sorry for him, went back to what had worked, ignoring fatigue and whatever hex had been put on his shortstop. That’s a learning experience for a young pitcher — and a nice afternoon for a no-longer-quite-so-young fan.

Jake at 15, R.A. in Absentia

Two Met aces swapped half-innings on the mound at SunTrust Park Saturday night, arguably the two most effective aces the Mets have had in this decade. R.A. Dickey didn’t wear the ace title all that long, but nobody used it to greater effect than the knuckleballer did in the latter portions of 2012. Johan Santana was on the shelf, Matt Harvey had just arrived and Dickey became the shiningest object of our affections every fifth day. He was working toward 20 wins and a Cy Young, both of which he captured by the time the most magical of his three ethereal seasons as a Met was through.

And then he was, Metwise, traded at the height of his powers and popularity in an exchange of present for future that looks great when it works perfectly and has yet to look bad even when not every piece that came in return has proven optimally functional. R.A. didn’t get better (let alone grow more colorful) as a Blue Jay, which was thoughtful of him, because if he had, we’d be required to sneer at the sight of him the way we do when other Met alumni dare succeed from a distance or, worse, at our direct expense. When he signed with the Braves, Dickey could have entered nuisance territory, but New York and Atlanta have avoided reigniting their ancient rivalry. I’d reckon if a Mets fan had to grudgingly allow any ex-Met to prevail over the current Mets (give or take a Bartolo Colon), it would be R.A. Dickey.

That is unless Dickey had the ill-timed fortune of facing Jacob deGrom, once considered an ace among aces, now indisputably the only ace in town. Jacob’s in his fourth season, and has rarely been any less than the second-best pitcher the Mets are packing. This year he’s been the best from start to almost finish. Rumors to the contrary, there is no Noah Syndergaard — he who is ours because Dickey was sent to Canada — on the active roster. Harvey wears a jersey with his last name on the back, but is otherwise unrecognizable from his brightest Dark Knight days. Nobody else answering to the description of ace, actual or potential, lurks within what can be referred to loosely as the Mets rotation. No Steven Matz. No Zack Wheeler. No, it’s just Jacob deGrom, and on Saturday night, it was Jacob deGrom going for his 15th win.

Sorry, R.A. Our heart necessarily belonged to Jake. As did the ballgame, an easy win for the pitcher who came to the Mets with little fanfare and delivered big results. That description would apply to R.A. in his time, too, but that time was a while ago. There’s so little contemporary for Mets fans to get jazzed for. We had to be jazzed for Jacob going seven, giving up only one run and cruising to a 7-3 victory. Against a more randomly slotted Mets starter, we might have looked the other way and permitted ourselves a round of applause for Robert Allen had he shut down the 2017 Mets as he so often shut down the Mets’ 2012 opponents. But deGrom isn’t random. DeGrom is our reigning righthander of record. He pitches and his teammates regularly bestow on his well-tressed head a crown. Jacob’s been the king of the clubhouse eleven separate times this year. He rules and everybody knows it.

Maybe deGrom will find a 16th and 17th win in his two remaining starts. If he doesn’t, then we’ll call 15 wins a monumental achievement on these 64-84 Mets. On these Mets, 15 wins might as well be the 20 Dickey racked up for the 2012 Mets, whose second-half collapse spiraled into a 74-88 finish. On these Mets, 15 wins feel almost like the 27 Steve Carlton pulled down for the 59-97 Phillies of 1972. When you’re a highly achieving starting pitcher on a relentlessly dreadful team, the gap between you and your mates could fill the Grand Canyon.

That trade, the one in which Dickey, Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas became Jays while Syndergaard, Travis d’Arnaud, John Buck and Wuilmer Becerra became Mets and/or Mets prospects remains golden if not precisely as platinum as it appeared a couple of years ago. We’re willing to believe, with fingers tightly crossed, that Thor will reemerge relatively intact in 2018. Even a somewhat diminished blond warrior would be better than every nondeGrominational starter the Mets feature right now. D’Arnaud struggles to maintain adequacy, but he’s still here, can still claim half a regular role and continues to inspire the front office’s confidence, at least in public. Buck became Dilson Herrera and Vic Black, which didn’t turn into quite the secondary bounty as we giddily projected it would circa 2013, but Herrera became Jay Bruce, and Jay Bruce, en route to gulps of champagne in Cleveland, became Ryder Ryan, who threw some good innings for the Columbia Fireflies, which can be taken optimistically if you are inclined. I occasionally see Becerra’s name in the prospect listings, so the full quantity of juice to be squeezed from the multifaceted December 2012 transaction is as yet unknown.

Putting aside what we received in return for R.A., the key to the trade never tarnishing may simply be that Dickey left. I didn’t want him to leave. I doubt any Mets fan was happy with the concept of going Dickeyless so soon after he brought us joy and honors and a reason to cheer in an era when there was little that thrilled us on contact. But by expediting his au revoir, R.A. never had a chance to diminish before our eyes. There was little likelihood that he was gonna win another Cy Young or go to another All-Star game or win close to 20 games again. Hence, we would have watched Dickey succeed less than we had previously witnessed; and we would have regularly measured him against his highest standard; and he would have come up short; and we would have reflexively held it against him, whether benignly or with malice.

In the first ten years of Faith and Fear, we experienced four charismatic pitching aces at or close to the top of their capabilities: Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey and Matt Harvey. Writing about each pitcher at his peak was my favorite part of blogging when they were on, just like rooting for them was my favorite part of being a Mets fan during their respective peaks. But with Pedro, Johan and Matt, there came a downside. There was injury, there was age, there was inevitable disappointment and, ultimately, writing about them became an exercise in then versus now, then always getting the W, now taking, at best, a tough no-decision. Just the other day I framed Harvey’s latest start in that context. It’s almost impossible not to when you see a pitcher you saw be a wholly different pitcher. I prefer to think of Pedro Martinez in 2005, Johan Santana in 2008, Matt Harvey in 2013. When Pedro can’t get through five innings in 2008, Johan returns to the DL in 2012 and Harvey is lost in 2017, you can’t ignore it. Syndergaard carved his name among these pitching gods in 2016. We can only hope the signature won’t grow faint.

For R.A. Dickey, New York Mets ace, it will always be 2012, just like it oughta be. For Jacob deGrom, New York Mets ace, it’s generally start after start and year after year of excellence. Watching him pitch at the top of his capabilities is not quite the transcendent experience it’s been watching some others, but we’ll sign in an instant for him to roll on exactly as he has indefinitely.

The Faintest Idea

It will never supplant “cripes” at the top of the charts within the Terry Collins lexicon of frustration, but I’ve noticed another revealing phrase creep into his postgame repertoire of responses lately: “I haven’t the faintest idea.” He said it during the last homestand in regards to which pitcher was going to start the next game. He said it Friday night when asked to analyze what went wrong with his most recent starting pitcher’s unsatisfactory performance.

If we were in the heart of his managerial tenure, particularly one of those years during which his Mets had yet to win more games than they had lost in a given season, I’d find this type of #TerryTake discomfiting. You’re the manager, I’d grumble, you’re supposed to have the most substantial idea of anybody. But all evidence indicates we are at the ass end of TC’s time, so all I can do is shrug along with the skipper, shake my head and admit that when it comes to the specific nuances that distinguish this ballclub’s myriad setbacks from one another, I haven’t the faintest idea, either.

With a little more probing by a traveling press corps that can’t seem to believe it has to ask another question about another loss any more than he can’t believe he as to keep answering them, Terry said something about Rafael Montero throwing too many pitches. At least I think he did. I was so dumbfounded that I had stayed tuned to listen to these exchanges that it kept me from processing the gist of what the manager was saying. The whole of Friday night’s Mets’ 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Braves somewhere outside of Atlanta worked that way. I had the game on from first pitch to last (save for quick flips to monitor my alma mater’s first-ever conquest of a Big Ten opponent), I offered my own customary intermittent commentary to whoever would receive it (my wife, my cat, Twitter, the television) and I now and then could feel myself instinctively emoting to this play or that, yet when it was over, I could barely retain the details of what exactly had happened.

For example, after Montero was removed with the bases loaded and two out in the fifth, Collins brought in Chasen Bradford. Bradford extricated the Mets from Rafael’s jam, albeit after they had fallen behind by one. I saw that, I knew that, I remembered that. I also saw, knew and remembered Jerry Blevins pitching at some point. What completely escaped my notice was the participation of Tommy Milone and Paul Sewald in this very same game. Milone rescued Bradford with a double play ball in the sixth. Sewald pitched one of his cleanest innings in ages in the eighth. I saw them in the box score of the game with which I had engaged for more than three hours, yet I didn’t remember they’re having been involved whatsoever. And, I assure you, I have a pretty good Mets memory.

Dominic Smith went the other way against a lefthanded starter to knock in a run. Brandon Nimmo dove and caught what appeared off the bat to be a double in waiting. Asdrubal Cabrera continued to stroke base hits. Gavin Cecchini actually played. These events happened as well. Some of this stayed with me clear to 10:51 PM, when the final out of the Mets’ fifth consecutive loss was recorded. Yet if there’d been a quiz administered at eleven o’clock, I doubt I would have gotten any better than a C on these current events…though if graded on a curve based on how closely the rest of the world was watching these Mets in this game, I imagine I would have rated at least an A-.

I have more than the faintest idea that I will miss my nightly routine when it evaporates along with the rest of the lousy 2017 Mets in a couple of weeks. I could end here with something cute like, “I haven’t the faintest idea why,” but that would come up false in the true/false portion of the aforementioned hypothetical quiz. Even after the post-elimination, 21-under-.500 Mets have long ceased to be compelling — and, really, they were never compelling this year — I am compelled to actively stick with them. I don’t have a better reason than I’m a Mets fan and they’re the Mets and discernment has thoroughly eluded my skill set.

During the Cubs’ three-game thrashing that reminded us what a playoff contender does and doesn’t look like, I heard Gary Cohen suggest that once the Mets were done providing pennant race cannon fodder at Wrigley Field, Collins would find more opportunities to play his less proven players. My god, I thought, you mean who he’s using now is the best the Mets have to offer? The best the Mets have to offer at present were beaten by five, then twelve, then eight runs in Chicago. The best the Mets have to offer at present couldn’t hold a battery-operated candle to any lineup any hungover division champion would deploy the day after clinching. The best the Mets have to offer at present would be rejected by the Florida Instructional League. Sorry, we’re here to cultivate talent that has a chance to effectively compete at the highest professional level.

I mock the team for whom I reflexively carve out a sizable block of time every evening. Preoccupational hazard. Defense mechanism. Also because they’re highly mockable, but you have to know intimately to mock intricately. I know these Mets all too well even if I forget who the hell just pitched.

The best answer as to why I continue to do what I do vis-à-vis these Mets is not, “I haven’t the faintest idea,” but, “It’s what I do.” Except for the Mets losing a lot with players incapable of winning much, I like it. I’ll dislike it when they’re gone. Not this particular edition of the team at all, nor these particular players necessarily, but the act of the Mets being the Mets and the act of me spiritually shepherding them to their final destination. It will be toward the bottom of the standings and probably south of 90 losses, but I don’t have it in me to let them plummet alone. I like sticking with them.

Cripes, I really do.

Done

News flash: you’re not, in fact, required to watch the 2017 Mets’ death throes.

I don’t know if that’s fair — maybe there are some among us who in fact must do so. Those paid by the Mets, for instance. You’re off the hook. Or those granted parole under really odd conditions. That might violate the ban on cruel and unusual punishments, so consult an attorney.

The rest of us are free to go. Though good luck with that.

I tried last night. I really did. With the Mets getting their brains beat in — the details will be recorded in no great detail, as they no longer even remotely matter — I decided to flip over and see if the Indians could come back from a one-run deficit against the Royals and win their 22nd in a row.

I tuned in to see Jay Bruce stride to the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth. There was some faint solace, at least — I could watch a former Met do something heroic for his new team.

Bruce popped the ball up, getting Mets all over his Indians. The next guy made an out. The Indians were in trouble.

The Mets, meanwhile, were posting some kind of pathetic semi-rally. Online the remnants of #MetsTwitter were roused to watchfulness with a heaping side of ironic distance.

I flipped back over a second before a Met hit into a double play.

Yeah.

Emily came home, there were various things that needed doing and somehow the ballgame turned really frightful (as opposed to merely awful) while I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention. The score was now 13-5 or 133-5 or something even more ghastly than that.

I quit to see if the Indians might somehow persevere despite having Mets on their roster. And they did! They tied it up in the ninth, and then Jay Bruce — that same Jay Bruce! — delivered victory with a walk-off double. Bedlam in Cleveland! And kudos to the Indians’ announcers, who were wise enough to hush and let the moment speak for itself.

Buoyed a little, I flipped back to the Mets game. It was, mercifully, almost over. Except good things were happening! Tomas Nido was at the plate, and he got a hit! His first big-league hit! And it wasn’t even an error masquerading as a hit, like the initial knock recorded a few innings earlier by Cubs rookie catcher Taylor Davis. (Last big-league game where two opposing catchers each got their first hit?)

A lot of bad things had happened in this game. The Mets were poised to be eliminated from postseason possibility, though I do hope nobody out there was still keeping their calendar open. They’d given up the most runs in a three-game series, 39 — 39! — in their history. Their starters’ ERA was threatening that of the ’62 Mets.

Despite that, I was happy for Nido and felt my scorn and disgust recede slightly. As I’d known would happen if you gave me the slightest bit of good news. Because I am incorrigible. Because despite it all, I bleed orange and blue — in fact, I hemorrhage it and really desperately need a tourniquet.

A minute later, Nido reached third on a bunt that left Alex Avila stumbling backwards. So he tried to score. This was not a good idea. Nido looked like a little kid who’d run out to play tag with the big kids but hadn’t figured out the rules. He was tagged out by an apologetic-looking Felix Pena and the ballgame was over.

The ballgame was over. The season groans along. You don’t have to watch. You’d be advised not to. You will anyway.

Definite Downfalls & Possible Uprisings

The first time Matt Harvey pitched at Wrigley Field was the best time Matt Harvey pitched at Wrigley Field. In some ways, it was the best time Matt Harvey pitched anywhere. Other dates in his dust-covered portfolio of Harvey Days pop a little more in popular memory — this is a guy who flirted with no-hitters like they were supermodels — but Friday afternoon of May 17, 2013, was perhaps Peak Harvey. Matt had just made the cover of Sports Illustrated, where he was dubbed the Dark Knight for the first time. On the mound, he was undefeated through eight starts and unwilling to be sullied in his ninth. Against the Cubs in Chicago, Matt had to shake off two first-inning runs, the second of them scoring on an error, in order to, if you don’t mind a quick shift from Batman to Star Trek, go forth and prosper.

He made his own prosperity the rest of the day, retiring 20 of his next 21 batters once he fell behind. The game was tied going to the seventh. Harvey untied it himself, singling in his own go-ahead run (carried by Rick Ankiel, which sounds even weirder now than it did then). Matt lasted until one was out in the eighth and, aided immeasurably by Marlon Byrd gunning down Darwin Barney at the plate shortly after his departure, earned his fifth victory of the season. No SI cover jinx that week. Harvey’s record was 5-0, his ERA was 1.55, he was striking out more than a batter an inning, and numbers didn’t begin to describe just how incredible a pitcher he was.

Was.

It’s impossible to reckon a Harvey start these past two years without being conscious of the shadow cast by his past pitching life. He’s only 28, yet he drags a trunkload of nostalgia behind him to the rubber every fifth or so day when he is available to appear. I couldn’t watch him at Wrigley Wednesday night without thinking of that Friday afternoon. I might as well have been Archie Bunker at the piano, crooning wistfully for boy, the way Matt Harvey threw…

Mister, we could use a Matt like All-Star Harvey again. We don’t get that anymore, not in the wake of multiple surgeries, rehabilitations, absences and inevitably sputtering comebacks. We didn’t get it Wednesday night. For three innings, Matt was as effective as you could possibly imagine him being in 2017, wriggling out of three varying degree-of-difficulty jams with only two runs allowed. I thought maybe we were in that charmed land where a good pitcher gets stronger and a better team regrets not cashing in opportunities and a contender is tripped up by a spoiler. After Harvey exited with 86 pitches thrown and the bases loaded in the fourth, and Hansel Robles ushered in all three of his runners, I thought instead of the practiced doublespeak of Ron Ziegler, the press secretary to Richard Nixon at the height of All in the Family’s Nielsens:

“The president refers to the fact that there is new material; therefore this is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.”

Ziegler would have loved flacking for the Mets relief corps, as inoperative a unit as you’ll stumble across on a September evening this sad season. Hansel pointed the Mets toward a loss; Chasen Bradford confirmed the direction the game was going in; and the rest of the poor little lambs who’ve yet to find their way waved home wave after wave of Cub after Cub. By the time Kevin McGowan, Jacob Rhame and Jamie Callahan had clocked some of that all-important valuable experience, the Mets were down, 17-5.

Kevin Plawecki might have pitched in as he occasionally does when Met hopes have gone not so much to hell, but past it, except Kevin was busy catching and batting cleanup. For the record, utility infielder Matt Reynolds started at first base for the first time and batted second cleanup, or eighth. Twelve runs down in the ninth, potential catcher of the future Tomas Nido made his major league debut, pinch-hitting for Plawecki. He flied out. Veterans aren’t allowed to blatantly haze rookies anymore, but making Nido have a hand in this game served as a fairly humiliating initiation into what it’s like to be a Met.

I’m sure Nido was thrilled to become a major leaguer, no matter the context. The context of this September is supposed to be about seeing the kids, along with any Met who’s still standing, do what they can. Wednesday night the kids in the pen were having their pitches crushed and their ERAs inflated. A couple of the kids with bats had a better go of it, particularly Dominic Smith, who initially sat behind Reynolds but homered late, and Amed Rosario, whose early hype was beginning to seem as distant as that which surrounded Harvey’s when Matt’s arm had that intoxicating new ace smell to it.

Remember Amed Rosario? He was going to be the focus of the stretch drive — or limp — of 2017. Between the Mets so thoroughly receding from competitiveness and Amed having to sit out a week with a swollen index finger, I swear I’d kind of forgotten about our next great shortstop, at least in terms of him being our next great shortstop ASAP. On these Mets, nobody seems very good for very long.

For two nights in Chicago, we’ve gotten another much-needed inkling that we were not fed talking points where Rosario’s talent is concerned. It’s real, and it’s not hard to discern, even when the Mets are proceeding to lose by a dozen. On Tuesday, Amed made a leaping catch that didn’t matter to the outcome, but it was the most vertical thing we’d seen short of Juan Lagares at the wall. On Wednesday, there were three base hits, two runs scored (one on a well-executed Harvey safety squeeze) and a stolen base. The bit about minor league callups having to get used to how fast the game goes in the majors suddenly no longer seemed to apply. Amed was Rosario Speedwagon and he was taking the concept of “Keep the Fire Burnin’” to heart with his feet.

He’ll take his lumps, as will Smith, as will Nido, as will the rest of the youthful Mets. In this series, the first-place Cubs constitute the Cook County Bureau of Lumps and there’s been enough patronage dispensed in Chicago so that each of the defending world champions has been deputized a municipal administrator of pain. I noticed an ad behind home plate touting some distilled spirit or another as the Official Bourbon of the Cubs. What, I wondered, do they need an official bourbon for? They’re in a race. Pass the Mets the bottle. Pass the Mets fans the bottle.

One assumes it won’t always be like this. It can’t always be this exactly, anyway. The season has only 17 games, or 153 scheduled innings, left to it. The youth movement will gain a stripe or two worth of maturity before long. Some of these guys will go without a trace, yet some proportion of the youngsters we’re watching will become veterans we’re watching and the games won’t be as bathed in hopelessness as they’ve become. If you can’t comfort yourself with vague suppositions that things gotta get better (even if they can always get worse), pour yourself a shot of precedent. There’s a September Mets game for you to consider warmly, that of September 22, 1965, a 6-2 loss at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. The defeat dropped the Mets’ record to 48-106.

The inspiration is not in the record, but in the box score. Your September 22, 1965 starting lineup included five players age 23 and under who, admittedly, weren’t going to help the Mets finish any better than 50-112 a week-and-a-half later. But those particular Met pups who’d yet to mount a challenge to the franchise’s losing pedigree would, in relative short order, become some of the Mets who’d change everything. No, Buddy Harrelson, Ed Kranepool, Ron Swoboda, Cleon Jones and Tug McGraw couldn’t beat the Pirates as veritable tykes, yet in four years, they’d grow up to beat the odds and the Orioles, and they’d champion the world.

Further, several of the others who represented New York that night in Pittsburgh would be exchanged for still others who we now recall as 1969 Mets. Or maybe they’d be traded for somebody else who’d be traded for somebody else who would emerge as such.

Dennis Ribant and Gary Kolb became Don Cardwell.

Jim Hickman went for Tommy Davis who went for Tommie Agee and Al Weis. Agee almost singlehandedly beat the O’s in Game Three of the 1969 World Series. Kranepool also homered that afternoon.

Charley Smith helped bring in Ken Boyer, and Ken Boyer helped bring in J.C. Martin. Martin bunted in the winning run of Game Four versus Baltimore an inning after Swoboda made the diving catch that shocked, stunned and stymied the Orioles in a flash.

Donn Clendenon, who drove in a pair for the Pirates that day in 1965, was acquired from Montreal in 1969 for a package that included Kevin Collins. Clendenon homered with Jones (and his stylishly polished shoes) on first in Game Five to put the Mets on the board and earned World Series MVP honors once that game was won — though some thought the award could have gone to Weis, who homered to tie Game Five.

Nobody who looked at the Mets in September of 1965 saw the Mets of October of 1969 or had a clue as to what the latter would forever after signify. Nobody who looks at the Mets of September of 2017 sees much worth looking at much longer right now. That’s fair. But, maybe, only for now.

Winding Down

Wrigley Field’s fun. I had a blast when I finally got to go three years ago, and had hoped to return this month with my wife as part of a Midwest swing to take some more ballparks off my list. It didn’t happen; I’ll end 2017 with 23 current big-league parks visited, down from 24 at the beginning of the year. (This is the opposite of progress.)

Even though I wasn’t actually there, I could feel the energy through the TV: a revved-up crowd, a team with something to play for, and a hint of fall in the air with all its promise and peril.

Unfortunately, the team with something to play for was the Cubs. The Mets are a rough sketch of next year taped to the tattered blueprint of this year’s teardown. They’re trying to get to winter with some hints about the kids’ future, a feeling about what the geezers might contribute, and nobody else shredding an elbow, dislocating a shoulder, pulling a hamstring or breaking a nose.

And on Tuesday night they looked like the collective ad lib they are. Robert Gsellman hung in there for a little while but eventually the loud outs became hits and the runners he kept allowing became runs. Then there was a parade of ineffective relievers, not enough offense and a mournful slide into a loss.

Another day off the calendar, which in time we’ll think of as another day closer to the next Opening Day, but not yet.

So what’s left? Well, Tomas Nido‘s big-league debut — the highly touted Double-A catcher got a call-up as a reward, presumably so Terry can use Travis d’Arnaud or Kevin Plawecki to pinch-hit without running afoul of the dreaded though essentially nonexistent scenario of a late-inning injury leaving a team bereft of real catchers.

Here’s hoping Nido gets to do more than warm up pitchers between innings. He’s just 23, but you never take a big-league roster spot for granted — and catchers are more in peril of ghostdom than any other position. The Mets’ pre-Nido ectoplasmic roster includes nine guys, three of whom — Randy Bobb, Billy Cotton and Jerry Moses — were catchers. Bobb and Moses at least played for other teams; Cotton never returned to the big leagues. Another less than immortal Mets backstop, Joe Hietpas, escaped ghostdom by entering the last inning of the last game in 2004. Hietpas can say he caught the final pitches in the history of the Montreal Expos, but not that he ever got a big-league at-bat.

Barring further surprises — and given the medical charts this year you never know — Nido will go into The Holy Books as the 1,043rd Met in team history (I’ll use one of his Cyclones cards as a placeholder), and the last in the confounding, star-crossed 2017 season.

But then that season already feels over, doesn’t it? Wrigley Field had plenty of buzz tonight, but the Mets were the uncool kids let into the club early after swearing to vamoose before the velvet rope comes out. Elsewhere, the Indians have won 20 in a row, while the Dodgers just escaped losing their 12th straight. Those teams and the other October contenders are rolling out the klieg lights; the Mets are waiting to shut them off and go home.

A Year of Sundays

We’ve rooted for good Mets teams in Septembers when they’ve lost ballgames badly. When every game matters in pursuit of the playoffs, every loss stings deeply. One loss can be all it takes to end the chase for which we as fans live, so of course we’re gonna take it hard when it lands on our head.

Thus, if you’re looking for a saving grace from Sunday’s 5-2 seventh-inning lead over the Cincinnati Reds turning into a 10-5 defeat, it’s that it would have hurt a lot more had it come in service to an overarching goal.

Your 2017 Mets: It can always hurt more.

On principle, it was pretty bad, yet at its end, I all but literally shrugged. That’s not to say I wouldn’t have preferred a win. As a season of this nature winds down, I can get mighty granular in my Met priorities. For example, the Mets hadn’t swept anybody at home all this livelong year, so I embraced that as a goal once we had three of the first four versus the Reds in the books. Jacob deGrom’s fifteenth victory — and my previously articulated 17 in ’17 dream on his behalf — appeared within our collective grasp. My crudely cobbled mid-August forecast of 74-88 for our final record appeared realistic a week after, at 58-78, it seemed to have dissolved into the stuff of Pollyannish lunacy. Further, the Mets could win on Sunday, take some momentum into Chicago (where by definition they’d have an impact on the pennant race) and inject some genuine substance into the nebulous concept of finishing strong.

There was a lot riding on the outcome, if solely in my imagination. But there was also the reality that the game was transpiring Sunday afternoon at Citi Field, and Sunday afternoons at Citi Field, it has been established, have been the absolute worst in 2017. It’s hard to decipher whether the Mets almost invariably lose on Sunday or lose to Sunday. The Mets can lose under any circumstance to any opponent, but they all but ask for it under this particular circumstance, when Sunday becomes the most daunting opponent on the schedule.

Ask, and ye shall receive, Metsies. They asked for it, all right. Everybody who had been in the process of contributing to a win in progress changed course and kicked in for a Mets loss. At least deGrom did his part in the opposite direction. His tough first inning dug the Mets a 2-0 hole, but his next five innings of work were characteristic of the ace who surged in midseason. Just one hit and no more runs surrendered en route to striking out ten Reds in all. Jake’s the Met who doesn’t give up. He wasn’t able to make hay of his two previous hay-makeable starts, a day game in Cincinnati, a home start versus the Phillies. Jake usually wins those like many of the rest of tie our shoes, as if by instinct. But he was hit hard in each of those games, leading us to believe he’s probably injured, because every Met pitcher is presumed injured until proven…what’s the opposite of injured again?

Yet deGrom survived to pitch Sunday afternoon at Citi Field. He’s the only Met to have mastered Sunday afternoon at Citi Field this season, beating the eventual division champion Nationals on Father’s Day and hitting a ball over the fence on that occasion to emphasize how far above his surroundings he has soared in 2017. DeGrom can’t win on demand, but you come as close as you possibly can to assuming maybe the Mets won’t lose when he’s on the mound.

You were excused for the ass-u-me aspect of assumption once the Mets supported deGrom’s cause in earnest. Facing Reds starter and erstwhile Sterling Cooper art director namesake Sal Romano, Travis d’Arnaud drove Jose Reyes home with a productive groundout in the first. Dominic Smith singled in the tying run in the third. With alphabet soup ingredient generator Asher Wojciechowski on in the sixth, Dom homered to provide deGrom a 3-2 edge, and Reyes confounded Reds right fielder Scott Schebler with a line drive double. Schebler stood his ground when he should have been on his proverbial horse. Jose was off to the races, landing on second having knocked in two more runs. The Mets were up, 5-2, taking it to one of the few opponents they’ve developed a knack for besting.

The home team had limited its exposure to losing. What could possibly go awry on this beautiful Fidget Spinner Sunday at Citi Field?

The first reason to fidget was deGrom was out after six, having thrown 102 pitches. The spinning out of control commenced with the entrance of Paul Sewald, who I am told is quite the competent rookie reliever, though I’m apparently in another room most of the times he’s recording enormous outs. Usually my two eyes on his right arm is bad news for all of our guts. Sewald taking the ball from deGrom was as unpleasant to witness as that every half-inning coffee commercial in which Rob Gronkowski grabs the megaphone from Odell Beckham. This is to say I’ve seen what happens enough already.

Sewald began his beguine and our downfall by walking Schebler. Next, Tucker Barnhart singled. The next batter, Patrick Kivlehan, went down on strikes. The next, Jose Peraza, did something even more helpful. He grounded into a sure 6-4-3 double play. Amed Rosario whipped one out into Reyes’s glove. Reyes, alas, whipped the second half of the twin-killing wide of first. Smith reeled the relay in, but Peraza was plenty safe. No DP, no slithering out of the inning for Sewald. Instead, National League All-Star shortstop Zack Cozart came up with two on and reminded us why he earned a donkey from Joey Votto (that’s not old-timey baseball slang; it really happened). Cozart dunked Sewald’s eighteenth and final pitch into the short left field stands to tie the game at five.

No fifteenth win for deGrom. Not much zest left in the #17in17 dream. And the year of Sundays at Citi Field continued unabated.

Good things could have happened still. Dominic, for example, could have moved up from second on a passed ball/wild pitch in the seventh with two out and set up a go-ahead score with birthday boy Phillip (or Phil) Evans batting, except when Smith attempted to run ninety feet, he found himself rumbling into a third out. Speed may not be our young first baseman’s strong suit.

Terrible things didn’t have to happen after. Jeurys Familia started the eighth, which was kind of optimistic, given that Familia hasn’t worked in consecutive games since he returned. He was sharp Saturday night. He wasn’t Sunday afternoon. Eugenio Suarez tagged him for a leadoff single. A sac bunt from Phillip (not Phil) Ervin bunted him to second. The Mets chose to walk Schebler, who had demonstrated his issues with running earlier in right. Barnhart doubled beyond the grasp of Juan Lagares. Ervin was sure to score to make it 6-5. Schebler was told to stop running by his third base coach to preserve his chance to score later.

But, nah, Schebler had figured out how to make tracks and he was gonna show off his new skill. Never mind Lagares is Lagares and that he made a peg to Rosario who relayed a laser a little to the right of d’Arnaud, but not too far right and in plenty of time to pencil in an 8-6-2 putout. All Travis had to do was turn and lay a sweep tag on the errantly approaching Schebler, and the Mets could still perhaps sweep this series.

Td’A made a beautiful tag…of home plate. He missed Schebler altogether. The runner who shouldn’t have been running was initially called out, but the camera, at Bryan Price’s request, ultimately spilled its truth. Schebler was safe. Terry Collins was livid and ejected. The Reds were ahead by two, preparing to lead and win by five once Hansel Robles emerged from hiding to enable souvenir collection up in the branded beverage pavilion for anyone who arrived too late to receive a fidget spinner. In the seconds after Barnhart went high and deep to right, I’d mentally traded, waived or unconditionally released every Met in uniform. So much for finishing strong.

Robles’s predictable rendering of another launch code was brought to us by Betty Crocker, as it was essentially the icing on the Reds’ cake. Once the dude who shouldn’t have run from third to home wasn’t tagged, this game was baked and burned. And once TC was thrown out post-review for asking an umpire, in so many words, “Huh?” the 2017 Mets were embodied in one extended sequence. All that was missing was Collins stepping on deGrom’s hand as he stomped back to his office, though I wouldn’t rule that out of appearing in Tuesday’s edition of the daily injury roundup.

Your final: Sunday overwhelms the Mets, 10-5. The Reds technically get the W, but we know the real score on a Sunday. Always on a Sunday.