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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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Most Valuable Seaver

Happy Tom Seaver’s Birthday! No. 41 is 73 today. He’s also No. 1 forever, not only in all the ways we usually think, but in a very specific, sort of timely way.

Tom Seaver was the first National League East Most Valuable Player.

The what?

OK, so it’s a mythical award, but it’s based in reality and, besides, Tom is a mythic figure.

When Giancarlo Stanton won the National League MVP for 2017, I actually felt kind of warm about it, generating a perverse twinge of neighborhood pride when I learned Giancarlo won, like, hey, we know that kid, he lives up the block from us, he grew up around here. We play our divisional opponents so much, I figure we have more than a little something to do with it when one of our direct rivals is awarded. Stanton hit eight of his 59 homers against the Mets and recorded twenty of his 132 RBIs. We put the V in Stanton’s MVP.

I had a similar if more spiteful feeling when Chipper Jones took the NL prize in 1999 and Jimmy Rollins did the same in 2007. Maybe those guys would have become MVP without their respective late-season tours de force at our expense, but they became locks (and we became lox) once they were done with the Mets. There’s a reason we loved Larry and Jimmy as we did.

The other two relatively recent NL MVPs to come out of the East didn’t resonate quite so closely. Bryce Harper in 2015 certainly seemed of the neighborhood, but eight houses behind ours. My attitude was, fine, enjoy your hardware, we’re over here in the playoffs, ha, ha, ha…ha. Ryan Howard and his 58 home runs in 2006 barely registered in my consciousness. We didn’t yet have a rivalry with the Phillies and I thought it would be Albert Pujols who’d grab Carlos Beltran’s MVP.

Stanton. Harper. Rollins. Howard. Jones. And that’s been it since the National League East became a five-team division in 1994. That’s the other thing that occurred to me with Giancarlo’s victory announced Thursday night — we don’t win MVPs. I don’t just mean the Mets, who remain bereft of this award, but our entire division tends to get overlooked. Two of the last three years, yes, and back-to-back in ’06 and ’07, but otherwise this century and that last bunch of years of the last one have been a Central and West party. I spend approximately 76 games a year rooting against the rest of the NL East, yet I felt our third of the league has been getting overlooked too long.

So I set out in search of National League East MVPs, the players who ranked highest in MVP voting from our neck of the woods, whether they won the big one or came closer than anyone else to whom we’re close. To be clear, that means the player with the most MVP points in a given season from a team who played for the Mets, the Phillies, the Expos/Nationals, the Marlins, the Braves (but only since 1994) and the three who used to be among us until they left us: the Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates, from 1969 through 1993.

Let’s get to the good part first: Seaver. Tom was Cy Young, Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year and Hickock Belt winner in 1969, the first year there was divisional play in baseball. The BBWAA, however, stopped short of recognizing that the most important player on the most Amazin’ team ever was more valuable than anybody else in National League. They gave NL MVP honors to Willie McCovey. Seaver finished second, but tops among all NL East players.

Some years in the two-division era, there was no slicing and dicing to be done. The first NL MVP winner from the East from those days was Joe Torre, in 1971 for the Cardinals (the Mets would wait until he aged and slowed down even more to make him theirs). But there was definitely a tilt westward for a while, meaning the NL East MVP was only the NL East MVP. Billy Williams, who turned the trick of being both a superstar and perennially underrated, twice finished behind Johnny Bench, in 1970 and 1972. Bench was in the West (as was Cincinnati; don’t try to map it). Williams was the main man in the East.

Willie Stargell, you probably know from Keith Hernandez, shared the NL MVP award with Keith Hernandez in 1979. He also won our mythical NL East award in 1973. His Pirates didn’t win the East, though, did they? A year later, another future Hall of Famer, Lou Brock, stole off with NL East honors. Baseball writers judged him not quite up to Steve Garvey’s standards overall, however.

In 1975, the Phillies grew into a legitimate contender, and that was no bull. But the Bull, Greg Luzinski, led them into the thick of the fight, winning NL East MVP that year and in 1977. In between, a third baseman named Mike Schmidt carried our division’s 1976 banner. He’d do it three more times for the whole league (1980, 1981, 1986).

In 1978, Dave Parker became the first NL East player to win NL MVP since Torre. In 1982, Smith of the Cardinals won NL East accolades…but not the one you’re probably thinking of. It was Lonnie Smith, not Ozzie, who placed behind Dale Murphy (of the then-West Braves) in the overall voting. A year later, in ’83, an Expo who would go to the Hall of Fame, Andre Dawson, repped the East to Dale’s rear.

In 1984, Ryne Sandberg overwhelmed voters, just as Willie McGee would in 1985. That made it two consecutive NL MVPs won for teams that edged out the Mets. Say, we’re well along since Seaver established the NL East MVP award. Where is another Met? We’ve already mentioned Schmidt somehow beat the field in 1986. And maybe you recall the voters looked past all established norms and gave their award to Dawson again in 1987. Honoring Andre wasn’t the unorthodox part — but his Chicago squad finished last. What the Cub?

Finally, for the first time in nineteen years, a Met was elevated to the top of the NL East heap. It was Darryl Strawberry, the best player on the best team in the league…at least until the playoffs started. In the NL MVP voting, grit and leadership and intangibles in the person of Kirk Gibson outdistanced Straw, but not even Kevin McReynolds’s excellent 1988 was judged better than Darryl’s.

You may remember Pedro Guerrero as a Cardinal. I remember him mostly as a Dodger. I didn’t remember how good he was for St. Louis in 1989. Voters did. He was the beast of the East. Then along came Barry: Barry Bonds was the NL MVP as a Pirate in 1990 and 1992, sandwiching the highest vote total from an East man in 1991 (he lost the grand prize to Atlanta’s Terry Pendleton, though you may remember him as a Cardinal). In 1993, the Marlins joined the East, and Lenny Dykstra joined the Met regret parade. Our former sparkplug was the division’s Most Valuable Player, finishing second overall to Bonds, who was no longer with the Pirates.

In 1994, the Pirates would no longer be with us. Nor would the Cards or Cubs, but that was all right, because we got the Braves, who were three contenders rolled into one. Their reign of terror got lost in shipping that year, though, as the Expos ran the East until the lamented labor stoppage halted their prospective rise. The writers tabbed Moises Alou, later a Met, as the NL East MVP.

Then it became Brave time: Greg Maddux in 1995; Chipper Jones in 1996; Larry Jones in 1997; Andres Galarraga in 1998; Larry “Chipper” Jones in 1999 (the whole league on that occasion)…yeesh. With the turning of the millennium, though, a bright light in the piazza. More specifically, Piazza! Mike Piazza! He finished third in MVP voting to the Giants’ Jeff Kent and Bonds, but beat out every Brave and every other Easterner.

After which, it was Braveness as usual: Chipper Jones in 2001. We had a breather via a Canadian front in 2002 — Vladimir Guerrero — until the Braves resumed banging the East like a drum. Gary Sheffield in 2003. J.D. Drew in 2004. The Jones not named Chipper in 2005… Andruw Jones to you. We got sick of the Braves collectively in those years. We weren’t crazy about them individually. I gotta admit I do admire the variety. J.D. Drew? You could have given me a hundred guesses for this award I just made up and I wouldn’t have recalled him as NL East MVP in 2004, or a Brave at all.

Atlanta Fever broke in 2006, but not in the MVP balloting, as noted. Howard, to Rollins in 2007, right back to Howard (Eastwise) in 2008. Just as we were tiring of the Phillies, a Marlin suddenly reeled in NL East MVP honors: Hanley Ramirez. He’s still playing ball, I hear.

Roy Halladay was Most Valuable among NL East players in 2010 and 2011, and the only pitcher besides Seaver and Maddux to be so recognized. Come 2012, we had a Stargell-Hernandez situation, albeit writ smaller. The top five National Leaguers were from the West or Central divisions. Tying for sixth were two gentlemen of the East: Met-killer Adam LaRoche and, yes, a Met! David Wright! The fourth Met to win NL East MVP, the only co-MVP among Mets. David’s such a good guy, of course he’d share his accolade.

Freddie Freeman punished the Mets enough in 2013 to rise up and bring Atlanta a new wave of divisional glory. Then along came Stanton (second to Andrew McCutchen) in 2014, foreshadowing his league victory in 2017. We mentioned Harper in 2015. There was another National, oh joy, in 2016. He was a Met before that: Daniel Murphy.

As noted, a number of actual MVPs in here, more of them divisional MVPs, which isn’t really a thing, but I decided it is today, for Tom’s birthday. A few of these winners finished as low as ninth in their overall voting, leading me to believe there’s an anti-East bias at work. Then again, we got Tom Seaver and 1969. Everything after that is second place.

The Magnificent Ones

No doubt they faced each other plenty in the American League, but I wasn’t paying attention. That’s the beauty and perhaps the drawback of the two leagues maintaining distinct identities. I don’t have to be conscious of one of them. I’m a Mets fan, thus I’m a National League fan. If there’s somebody in the American League worth knowing about, word will filter over. Better yet, the player will.

Carlos Beltran from the Royals arrived first, in 2004, with Houston, when Houston was part and parcel of the senior circuit. The star player lived up to his advance word, fortifying the perennial afterthought Astros into serious World Series timber. He was one of those missing pieces you yearn for if your team is close but cigarless. If only we had a Carlos Beltran type…

Unlike the Astros, the Mets weren’t close to a World Series in 2004, but by going for the ultimate Carlos Beltran type, they leapfrogged mediocrity and embraced legitimacy in 2005. Closing in on a World Series would come a bit later. The Mets’ conscious decision to compete as a major league team was a welcome decision after the self-destructive tendencies displayed in 2003 and 2004. You didn’t take competing, never mind contending, as a given.

When Beltran showed up in St. Lucie, the same week this blog showed up on the Internet, his merely being there was a victory for Mets fans. Anything he did up the road — in April; in 2005; through the length of the contract set to keep him a Met until 2011 — would be a bonus. A necessary bonus, but we’d take it when it came.

It took a while, actually. Beltran appeared in a Mets batting practice jersey and tried to live up to his enormous paycheck. I didn’t know much about him from his Kansas City days and, obsessed with the Red Sox vanquishing the Yankees the previous fall, I only caught the flavor of his demolition of Cardinal pitching in the NLCS. My impression, though, was he was trying too hard. He told reporters he was going to take the Mets’ promising youngsters David Wright and Jose Reyes under his wing and introduce them to his workout regimen. He strongly implied he was going to be the leader the Mets needed.

A few months in fan proximity to Carlos Beltran convinced me that wasn’t who he was, not in 2005, anyway. I found it telling that in the retirement article posted this week under his name on the Players’ Tribune, Carlos shared a story about overcoming his reticence to pester Barry Bonds at the 2007 All-Star Game and asking for a hitting tutorial. Bonds, to his Beltran’s surprise, responded positively.

Not that Beltran needed much help by then. He was at the All-Star Game as a peer of Bonds’s, after all. Still, it fits with the Beltran we met, the guy I sensed was overcompensating for maybe not being the most natural of gladhanders. One of the quirks of 2005, when Beltran rarely hit like his Houston self, was when he did homer, it was usually in service to a Pedro Martinez start. Martinez, the other imported Met superstar, wasn’t reticent. Martinez was very comfortable in the spotlight. He generated spotlight. It was probably a coincidence, but it couldn’t have hurt that Pedro cast enough shadow to let Carlos be Carlos every five or so days.

In 2006, the Mets got Carlos another Carlos: His buddy Carlos Delgado. Delgado’s bat ramped the Mets up toward another level, and his relationship to Beltran seemed to both raise him up and calm him down. Superveteran Julio Franco helped, too. Beltran hit a big home run early in the ’06 season. The Shea crowd cheered, a response that differed from how a vocal minority greeted his outs the year before, a boo impulse that dripped into the new year’s Opening Day. With this homer, though, Mets fans requested a curtain call and offered a clean slate. Beltran wasn’t so forgiving. Franco had to practically push him out of the dugout. Beltran stood, waved and suitably acknowledged his new batch of supporters. Cheers became the rule for the rest of 2006.

Few Mets teams have ever been better than that one. No Met was better on that team than Carlos Beltran. The man who had been pressing too hard for leadership made excellence look easy and elegant: 41 home runs, 116 runs batted in, an OPS close to a thousand, indisputable Gold Glove defense in center. The Mets won 97 games for the first time in seven years and the National League East for the first time in eighteen. Beltran hit three more homers in the postseason. As he did with the Astros in 2004, he took his team to the doorstep of the World Series. His inability to give the door the swiftest, hardest ninth-inning kick imaginable rates as a footnote, hardly the full text.

An era of possibility peaked the night of NLCS Game Seven. Those Mets were never so close to going all the way again. They were very good for most of the next season, albeit horrible at the end. Not Beltran. He was amazing in September 2007. And September 2008. His teammates mostly ceased being so. There was no return to the playoffs for Beltran’s Mets. A few more Carlos Beltrans might have pushed them over the top, but you only get so many of those on your roster in a lifetime.

Injuries sapped Beltran’s athleticism as Shea Stadium gave way to Citi Field and contention disappeared from the Mets fan’s contemporary consciousness. Carlos persevered above the din of debate over how good and how passionate he was or wasn’t. His team was disconnected from pennant aspirations. His mobility compromised. The perseverance continued clear into 2011, his seventh year as a Met, his fifth as a Met All-Star. Once his knees were good again, he played great again. From late-period Beltran, I fondly remember the afternoon he went deep thrice in Denver, but particularly relish the takeout slide he put on Chase Utley in September 2010, an answer to the similar if dirtier slide Utley put on Ruben Tejada the night before (foreshadowing!). Age would nudge Carlos from center to right field and diminish the damage he could do on the basepaths, but it no doubt enhanced his wisdom and bolstered his comfort level. He guided his center field successor Angel Pagan and his right field replacement Lucas Duda. The leader he wanted to be when he came to the Mets he surely was before he left.

Beltran had to leave, a little ahead of the end of his contract. The Mets were rebuilding. Our next pennant contender was years away. Maybe it would materialize sooner if his dangerous bat and sterling character could entice a team that deemed itself on the cusp of big things into giving the Mets a true blue-chipper. Thus, Carlos Beltran and his armful of accolades were off to distant precincts, destined to change uniforms five times in a six-year span. Sometimes he aligned with undesirable opponents. Always he burnished his reputation on the field and among his peers. He came close to wrecking the first no-hitter in New York Mets history. He visited the playoffs repeatedly. Finally, in Houston for a second turn, he went all the way. At forty, from the bench, he became a world champion. Everybody with the Astros praised him to the top of Tal’s Hill. The ridiculously steep incline is not there anymore, but the memory he made from running up it as a Met lives on…as does the impact Beltran had on his championship team.

“[M]y purpose in this game,” he conveyed as he called it a career, “is not only to hit home runs or to win championships. It is to share what I know with the younger players, like so many other players have done for me.”

In that Players’ Tribune piece, Beltran mentioned warmly Reggie Jackson, someone Carlos “saw a lot of” when he was wearing his least appealing uniform. During Beltran’s seven postseasons, Jackson’s name tended to come up because each man excelled in October. Their respective bushels of home runs would come to mind because home runs are home runs, yet it was a ball that didn’t go out of a specific park that linked them for me in October of 2017. Game Four, ALDS, Houston at Boston, a Monday afternoon. The skies were drearier, the stakes a little differently calibrated — only the Red Sox had their backs firmly planted against the Green Monster — but 10/9/17 echoed 10/2/78, the date that has gone down in history as that of the Bucky Dent Game. Of course it was the Bucky Dent Game. Bucky Dent hit the three-run home run in that sudden-death American League East championship playoff that pushed the Yankees past of the Red Sox in the seventh inning. Dent had hit four home runs coming into Game 163. As long as the Yankees held on to that lead, you’re going to name the game for such an unlikely hero.

Dent, though, didn’t win the game for the Yankees. Not really. They led 3-2 when Dent went deep and 4-2 in the middle of the seventh. Jackson, twelve months removed from his indelible three-homer performance in Game Six of the 1977 World Series, led off the top of the eighth versus Bob Stanley and homered to make it 5-2. The Red Sox came back in the bottom of the eighth with two runs, yet Goose Gossage held them off from there. The final was 5-4. The Yankees won the division, the Red Sox went home, thereby capping and capsizing the one season I lived and ultimately died hard with a team that wasn’t the Mets. (See what I got for watching the American League too closely?) Dent provided the legend, but Reggie was responsible for the margin of victory.

Almost exactly thirty-nine years later, it’s the Astros up two games to one on the Red Sox in a best-of-five situation. Houston could have swept the day before, but Mookie Betts made a fabulous catch to rob Josh Reddick of a home run and turned Game Three in Boston’s favor. Momentum was now on the loose and up for grabs. The Red Sox’ lives so depended on winning Game Four that John Farrell dispensed with the day after tomorrow and directed theoretical Game Five starter Chris Sale (17-8, 2.90) to take the mound in relief of Rick Porcello in the fourth inning. Porcello had given up two runs in three innings, but there was no time for niceties.

Not to be outdone, A.J. Hinch pulled an ace from his sleeve, sending his if-necessary Game Five starter Justin Verlander (5-0, 1.06 in five September starts following his trade from the Tigers) to relieve Charlie Morton during the fifth inning. The Astros were leading by a run. Didn’t matter to Hinch. Didn’t matter that they theoretically had a one-game cushion. If the other guy was gonna bring in his ace starter, he was gonna bring in his ace starter.

Whereas Sale retired the first six Astros he saw, Verlander, who entered with one on and out, immediately surrendered a two-run homer to Andrew Beinintendi. Suddenly the Red Sox led, 3-2. Suddenly the momentum was Boston’s. Sale remained unscored upon through the sixth and the seventh. Verlander settled in and posted zeroes, too. Sale was still on in the eighth when Alex Bregman came up to lead off. He homered to tie it at three. Sale got two more outs before being removed with a runner on first. Craig Kimbrel replaced him and eventually allowed the go-ahead run. Astros 4 Red Sox 3.

We throw the phrase “greatest game ever played” around quite a bit, especially in October. The first time I remember thinking it to myself while a game was in progress was the Yankees-Red Sox playoff. I thought of that game while I watched the Astros and Red Sox play this game, especially when it got to the top of the ninth and, with two out and two on, Carlos Beltran, pinch-hitting in the DH slot, doubled off Kimbrel to drive in one more Houston run to make it 5-3. The two-run lead allowed Astros closer Ken Giles, who had come on for Verlander in the eighth, a touch more breathing room, which was helpful, because Rafael Devers led off the bottom of the ninth with an inside-the-park home run. Giles was fine after that. Much as Gossage teased one last out from former MVP Carl Yastrzemski in 1978, Giles got his by besting former MVP Dustin Pedroia in 2017.

The final, from Fenway Park, was 5-4. Verlander in middle relief beat Sale in middle relief. This provisional candidate for greatest game ever played, at least until the next several came along, would be remembered, if it was to be remembered, for the starters who came out of the bullpen. Yet the literal difference in the end turned out to be the extra-base hit delivered late by Carlos Beltran. His team moved forward. The home team went home. It was very much like what Reggie Jackson wrought upon the Red Sox thirty-nine years earlier, except on this occasion I was rooting for the visitors.

The double was Beltran’s final RBI in the major leagues. He didn’t hit much in the ensuing ALCS or World Series. He didn’t have to. The players he mentored in Houston were plenty capable of hitting. They didn’t need his bat as much as they needed him. “After we lost Game Five of the ALCS to the Yankees,” he recounted in his retirement article, “I sensed that the guys were a little bit tense. So I called a team meeting, and I just talked to them in a very casual way. I wanted to loosen them up. And I guess it helped, because we went on to win Game Seven and advance to the World Series.” The leader he set out to be in 2005 quietly led his team all the way a dozen years later. Different team from when we started watching him closely, but time will do that.

***

Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays arrived second, in 2010, with Philadelphia, when Philadelphia didn’t need much help. They’d won three consecutive division titles, a pair of pennants and a World Series. The Phillies were going beyond the lesson imparted by “Hey Jude”. They were taking a glad song and making it better. For their NL East rivals who had distanced themselves in the wrong direction, Halladay to the Phillies was a hole in the Mets’ head.

Halladay had unfurled a magnificent career in Toronto without my dedicated attention. The Mets faced him only a few Interleague times and he never appeared in the postseason. I knew he won a Cy Young once, but otherwise had to sort him out from Pat Hentgen, another Blue Jay who had done the same several years before. Like I said, I don’t see much of the American League.

There’d be no mistaking who Roy Halladay was once he landed in Philly (in exchange for a package of prospects that included minor league catcher Travis d’Arnaud). The Mets saw him on a regular basis. The first time the Mets took him on, they didn’t get very far. Roy went nine, the Mets scored none. Mike Pelfrey and Raul Valdes gave up ten. How generous of them, considering the Phillies needed only one.

A few months later, the Mets saw Halladay on back-to-back weekends. It was my pleasure to be in the crowd both times, once at Citizens Bank Park, once at Citi Field. Though I recall having fun with friends at each game, “pleasure” should not be taken as an all-encompassing term here. The one in Philly presented the Mets an excellent chance to stick it to an ace. They kind of did, scoring two runs in the first, one in the sixth, two in the seventh.

Oh, the seventh. Halladay was still in there, still pitching, still getting by on an afternoon during which he allowed nine hits, the last three to the not so murderous row of Fernando Martinez, Josh Thole and Chris Carter. Halladay was the generous party here, making like a human versus some very human hitters. All that scoring, though, was to no avail. R.A. Dickey, in his revelation season, lacked his usual mystique. The Phillies plated six off him in three. And when Halladay might have been had, he got out of the seventh, first by flying out Pagan, then by striking out Beltran. Beltran may have never looked worse in a Mets uniform. He fanned three times, went hitless in four at-bats and, in pursuit of a catchable Jayson Werth fly ball, fought the wall. The wall won. Beltran banged into it. The ball cleared it. Philly’s bullpen handled the rest of the Mets to preserve a 6-5 win for Halladay. As if to prove the close call was a fluke, six nights later, in Flushing, Roy put his humanity on hold and robotically mowed down the Mets for eight innings and a 4-0 victory that was business as typical between the two opponents.

Halladay was a 15-8 pitcher once he was done with his home-and-home conquests of the Mets, 21-10 when the regular season was complete. He started the postseason, his first, by firing a no-hitter past the Reds. It went nicely with the perfect game he tossed at Florida in May. The American League Cy Young winner from 2003 proved a worthy unanimous choice for the National League version in 2010. I’d gotten a pretty good education in who Halladay was that year. When the Phillies formed their incomparable Legion of Arms the next year — returning Cliff Lee to a rotation that already boasted Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels — there was no mistaking who was first among equals. Halladay started Opening Day in 2011 and faced the Mets in his second start, an 11-0 squashing that required less than two-and-a-half hours. Roy didn’t waste pitches and the Phillies were highly efficient scorers. They would go on to win 102 games, twenty-five more than the Mets. Halladay won nineteen of them.

From a Met perspective, the only solace to be had as the Phillies drew their fourth and fifth consecutive division titles was they slid backwards in October. From a world championship in 2008 and the NL flag in 2009, they lost the NLCS in 2010 and NLDS in 2011. Sweet Sheadenfreude, spiteful times never seemed so good (so good, so good). We didn’t recognize that when they bowed out against St. Louis in the latter series, that was it. Halladay was beaten by his old Jays teammate Chris Carpenter in Game Five, 1-0. There’d be no more Phillies as we knew and loathed them. Ryan Howard lay on the ground, his Achilles tendon torn on the final swing of their mini-dynasty. Talk about symbolism.

The Phillies grew old and achy seemingly all at once in 2012. Halladay wasn’t immune. A strained shoulder put him on the DL for seven weeks. His ERA soared from the lower twos to the middle fours. He won only eleven games. The Phillies shrank to a .500 record — a mark they haven’t neared from below since.

Twenty Thirteen represented the end of the line for Halladay. A bad back got to him as hitters never did. The outings were few, the results unrecognizable. His second start of the year was again against the Mets. The old master was dueling a rising phenom, Matt Harvey. Narrative City was on high alert. But only one pitcher pitched to his notices. It was the kid. Young Harvey dominated the Phillies like Halladay had dominated the Mets and everybody else for the better part of the previous dozen seasons. Roy couldn’t do that anymore. He lasted four innings of a 7-2 loss. I was thrilled that Harvey (7 IP, 3 H, 9 SO) looked so sharp, yet I found myself distressed that Halladay struggled so mightily. This wasn’t how I wanted my narrative to flow. This wasn’t how I wished Cy Young winners to fade.

These things occur of their own volition, certainly without our consultation. Halladay retired after the 2013 season, the year the Mets finished ahead of the Phillies for the first time since 2006 (aided some by another highly touted kid pitcher, Zack Wheeler, the blue-chipper we got from the Giants for Beltran). We won 74 games, they won 73. It didn’t quite make up for the collapse of 2007, the September that put Philadelphia on the map, nor the echo thud that let them catch and pass us in 2008. We haven’t finished behind them since 2012, but that’s not really a prizeworthy accomplishment.

I really disliked those Phillies Halladay joined, some Phillies more than others. Halladay I never had it in for. It never occurred to me to do anything but respect him. I wished his prime had still been in effect in 2013 when he faced Harvey. That was the Halladay I wanted the Mets to beat. (I also wish Harvey was still in his prime right this very minute, but that’s another story.) I still dislike Werth, who made it easy for us to extend our animus toward him when he joined the ascendant Nationals in 2011. Our collective disdain for Utley was already off the charts when he was a Phillie; with the Dodgers, you couldn’t dream of fitting it inside a PowerPoint. I rooted for Hamels to nail down his 2015 no-hitter, because I almost always root for no-hitters, yet I continue to resent his willingly being goaded into calling the Mets “choke artists” in 2008 (I mean, yeah, sure, they deserved it…but you the guy on the Phillies don’t get to say it). Shane Victorino was vile, though if he’d played for my team, I’d probably endlessly endorse his valor. Howard I never hated with the fury of a thousand Shanes, except when he batted.

Jimmy Rollins, last seen doing shtick alongside ex-Mets Pedro Martinez and Gary Sheffield on TBS’s postseason studio show, I was compelled to hate at his peak by his team-to-beat bluster, but I grudgingly admired the way he backed it up. Hated that he backed it up, of course. I read about Rollins during Spring Training this year. The decade between 2007 and 2017 might as well have been a century. That spring, he was preparing to knock off the Mets. This spring, he was trying to hang on with the Giants, making his own version of the Steve Carlton Don’t Give Up Until You’re Good and Ready Tour. Carlton was the great Phillie who stopped being adequate before he wanted to stop pitching. He bounced from the Phillies to the Giants, White Sox, Indians and Twins, growing inevitably older, pitching inevitably worse. He didn’t give up until he was 43. I never liked Steve Carlton. But I liked that he kept going.

Rollins in Spring Training 2017 was the bookend to what Beltran became after the 2017 World Series. The ex-Phillie, ex-Dodger and ex–White Sock was the veteran aiming for one more shot, preferably one that would find a happy ending. Beltran got his. It didn’t happen for Jimmy. He failed to make a team in spring that didn’t go anywhere in summer, but Bob Nightengale’s USA Today profile in February alone made his attempt worthwhile. In it, Rollins expressed full awareness of where he was in baseball and cherished the last chance he had at a last chance. Retirement would mean the end of what he’d been doing all his life. Spring meant more. More grounders. More running. More chatting it up among baseball men in baseball uniforms, him being one of them.

“This is heaven right here,” Rollins told Nightengale. “There’s so much history here. I get the Willie treatment…” That’s Willie as in Willie Mays, a Giant presence every spring in Scottsdale. Willie got a kick out of razzing and coaching Jimmy. Jimmy got a kick out of being razzed and coached by Willie. Why wouldn’t you to try to stay in the game if they’re gonna let you get the Willie treatment?

The old shortstop knew the odds weren’t in his favor in an endeavor where experience wasn’t what it used to be. Not that 38 wasn’t always fairly ancient in baseball, but the industry Rollins encountered in spring was skewing as young as it reasonably could. “The game’s completely changed,” the player who came up in 2000 lamented seventeen years later. “When I came up, there were veterans everywhere. Teams wanted them in their clubhouse. But now, with sabermetrics and numbers part of the game, it’s about computers. You plug in numbers, and it spits out a player. It’s like you’re not wanted.”

Rollins wasn’t wanted by the Giants (he batted .125 in Spring Training), but Beltran didn’t have that problem in Houston — though had he shown up there a little sooner, he might have run smack into the perceptions Rollins described. Instead, Beltran’s role on the Astros, like that of veterans Brian McCann and Josh Reddick, according to an insightful post-Series analysis by Jared Diamond in the Wall Street Journal, countered the burgeoning conventional wisdom of spring. Seeing as how the Astros constructed their championship by dismissing accepted practices, it’s instructive to realize their GM Jeff Luhnow leaned a little on the old-school component of clubhouse chemistry. Luhnow labeled it “the human element of baseball”. Prior to 2017, the numbers took precedence in Houston to such an extent that even the younger players admitted to being turned off. This year, it was an appropriate “blend” of people and data that carried the day for Luhnow’s team. By Diamond’s account, the youngsters and oldsters blended beautifully.

They must have. There was a trophy, a parade and everything else to prove it.

The Phillies certainly wanted Halladay around, and Halladay was amenable. He’d signed on as the organization’s mental skills coach, working with their minor leaguers at the club’s Clearwater training complex, convenient to his home and family. He was on the job two Mondays ago, the day before his solo airplane flight went awry and crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. There’s a bromide that athletes die twice. The first time, it is said, is when they give up their sport. Halladay, a pitcher from 1998 through 2013, had only four years to enjoy the rest of his life after retiring as an active player. Dying the second time wasn’t supposed to come so soon. The man was only forty, the same age as Beltran, barely older than Rollins. Sadness permeates baseball because he’s gone. It’s a far deeper sadness than the twinge we might have felt when we learned Beltran, a hitter from 1998 through 2017, wouldn’t be playing anymore.

We’re lucky because we saw both Halladay and Beltran at their best, whatever league we watched them in, in whatever cap the Hall of Fame eventually chooses to portray them. We are particularly lucky that for a couple of years we got to see them in the same division, sixty feet six inches apart. For the record, in 2010 and 2011, Beltran of the Mets faced Halladay of the Phillies fifteen times. Carlos collected two singles and a two-run homer off Roy. Roy notched five strikeouts of Carlos.

OK, maybe we weren’t that lucky in context, but we definitely saw a couple of greats.

The Class of ’62 Comes Through

In the great contemporary tradition of making everything about ourselves, congratulations to the New York Mets’ expansionmates, the Houston Astros on winning their first World Series and, after fifty-six seasons, minting the Expansion Class of 1962 as the first in which everybody can bring a Commissioner’s Trophy to show and tell.

Eleven World Series have now been won by seven expansion franchises. The Mets in 1969 were and shall always be first, a point of next-generation pride for those of us who keep score. When someone of our ilk matches our achievement, it speaks well for baseball’s broadened horizons. There was, through 1960, the musty old order of sixteen teams that didn’t necessarily crave company before Branch Rickey’s Continental League threatened to rumble into existence. Then came the vanguard of tomorrow, emerging in waves of two and four, spawned periodically between 1961 and 1998. We and Houston showed up in the second wave. Houston took longer to earn access the champions club — not to be confused with Citi Field’s Champions Club, formerly known as the Ebbets Club, eventually known as the Hyundai Club until the next sponsor comes along.

The Mets own two world championships; the Royals (Class of ’69) two we wish were one, in which case we would have three; the Blue Jays (’77) two; the Marlins (’93) two; the Angels (’61) one; the Diamondbacks (’98) one; and the erstwhile Colt .45s one at last. Still waiting to get on the board, in chronological order by birth or relocation, are the Padres (’69), Brewers (’70), Rangers (’72), Mariners (’77), Rockies (’93), Rays (’98) and Nationals (’05). If you wish to saddle the teams that moved with the additional years racked up in their previous places of residence, be my guest.

The Astros, who holstered their guns in favor of shooting for the moon identitywise in 1965, never left Houston and remained frustratingly earthbound for five-and-a-half decades. At last they have slipped the surly bonds of also-ran and touched the face of November. That it’s dripping with Champagne has made the culmination of their long journey all the sweeter, if stickier.

This should be about them, not us. This should be about an organization that fathomed whatever it had been doing wasn’t going to get them where they wanted to be, so they stripped the whole enterprise to its foundation and started over, switching leagues and inflicting deep discomfort on their won-lost balance sheet in the early 2010s, confident that they were launching something eminently spaceworthy. In the understatement of the century, losing is no fun. I can’t imagine Astros fans who hung in there across seasons of 106, 107 and 111 losses were having a blast (getting blasted…maybe). I can only imagine how rewarding the transformation that led to 101 wins and a scintillating seven-game World Series triumph over the Dodgers feels today.

It probably feels a little like 1969 and 1986 did for us, actually, but that was a while back now. Maybe winning it all these days feels different. There seems to be more merchandise available. I hope Houstonians who are able partake to their heart’s content. They, like their team, have had to persevere plenty of late. I’m particularly happy for my college-era friend Jo Ann and her family. She moved to Houston for law school and settled there. Shortly after midnight, as Wednesday became Thursday and a crown descended over her city, she sent me a text that consisted of a simple inquiry:

“So, how ’bout those Astros?”

Jo Ann married a fellow attorney, Bob, who attended the first exhibition game at the Astrodome in ’65 and saw the last regular-season game there in ’99. Bob claims he could hear the ruckus during Game Six in the ’86 NLCS from his office, “and my office was five miles from the Dome.” Bob is now a Harris County judge. I move court be adjourned this Friday when Houston holds its first World Series victory parade.

I’m delighted for Jo Ann and Bob and their kids, especially Alex, the eager incoming college freshman Stephanie and I met this past summer when the brood visited New York. Alex wanted to let me know that he’d heard from his dad that Nolan Ryan was a pretty good pitcher, a judgment I willingly seconded. Less than two months later, Jo Ann and Bob were wading through the flood damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey and notifying us of a new address. A World Series championship is a stupendous gift anywhere any year. For Houston, this year, you gotta believe it’s kind of a blessing.

Since we’re intent on steering the conversation back to us, let’s hear it for the Astros with Mets ties, most of them vague to begin with and fairly frayed by now. But if we want in on reflected glory, we gotta reflect.

So, how ’bout Astros pitching coach Brent Strom, a Met in 1972 for eleven games, five of them starts, one of them good? Brent was traded to Cleveland, enjoyed some success with San Diego and then succumbed to arm problems. For years Strom lived on in conversations between my friend Chuck and me because the Met pitcher from our youth shared a last name with a colleague of Chuck’s, thus we always referred to that person as “Brent Strom”. I don’t know exactly what “Brent Strom” is up to, but it was good to see the actual Brent Strom up and at ’em during the postseason just past, out to the mound again and again to wisely confer with and presumably calm down one Astro pupil after another.

And how ’bout their third base coach Gary Pettis? Do you remember Gary Pettis as Mets first base coach in 2003 and 2004? His Flushing tenure has been stored undisturbed in my baseball subconscious since he was swept away in the purge of all things Art Howe. Pettis served as our baserunning and outfield coach as well. The Mets had some pretty good outfielders then and ran the bases to fairly positive effect. Jose Reyes and David Wright took their first leads off first base with Pettis urging them on. He seemed very well suited to third base in Houston, waving runners home by the plethora.

One more Astro coach was a Met coach — and scapegoat. Dave Hudgens was brought on as primary hitting instructor in December 2010 and let go in May 2014. When the Mets hit, we didn’t trip over ourselves to praise him. When the Mets slumped, Hudgens had to be doing something wrong. That’s how it works with coaches and the rest of us. We rarely know what impact they’re having behind the scenes. The Mets replaced him during the season, usually a sign that nothing is going right. The Astros picked him up in advance of 2015, the season they rose from the nether regions of the A.L. West and into the playoffs, same year our guys (under the tutelage of the recently departed Kevin Long) slugged their way from mediocrity to a pennant. Maybe Hudge knew what he was doing all along. Maybe some fits are better than others. What is indisputable is he is now a world champion hitting coach.

When the Mets were as bad as they could get without being quite as bad as the Astros got, Alex Cora was kind of the face of the franchise. Or the face of the franchise’s futility. If Cora, who demonstrated no range, no power and no talent for reaching base, was playing at brand spanking new Citi Field, it must have meant somebody better wasn’t, usually because anybody better was injured. Cora, 33, was to lousy 2009 in my mind what Howe was to miserable 2003: depressing as hell to ponder in a Mets uniform. But there was one episode I remember warmly where Alex was concerned (one more than I associate with Art). This was in 2010, after the All-Star break as a promising first half dissipated on a West Coast road trip that began in San Francisco and ended down the drain. Following a loss in Arizona, Cora barked in the clubhouse at a knot of reporters who were sharing a few laughs with Mike Pelfrey to “have some respect”. The reporters reportedly apologized (as did Pelf). Cora responded, “Nothing against you guys. It was just a one-time thing. But it was too much.” I was impressed that somebody on the Mets still cared about such niceties. Cora had won a championship with the Red Sox three years earlier and would be picked up by Texas for their playoff push within a month. That kind of “veteran presence,” easy to mock in the context of meager slash lines, still had some kind of value in the game. It’s little wonder Houston would go on to hire him as bench coach and less wonder he is moving on, another championship in tow, to manage Boston.

Tyler Clippard pitched fourteen innings for the 2017 Astros, none of them in the postseason. He threw more than twice as many for the 2015 Mets, shoring up our bullpen just in time for that crucial series against the Nationals in late July and early August. Perhaps the Mets’ mistake was keeping him on the World Series roster. I can still see him, from Promenade, repeatedly missing the strike zone in Game Four, just ahead of Daniel Murphy’s lethal fielding foibles. Cripes. Anyway, he gets a ring now.

On September 25, 2013, Mets catcher Juan Centeno zipped a throw to shortstop Wilver Tovar to nail Cincinnati’s previously unstoppable Billy Hamilton from stealing second base. We didn’t know for sure that would be the highlight of Centeno’s (let alone Tovar’s) Mets career, but it seemed a pretty good guess. Juan played in fourteen games as a Met in ’13 and ’14. He backed up Brian McCann in the 2017 World Series. Didn’t appear in a single game. Neither did Ed Hearn in 1986. They’re still world champion catchers forevermore.

You play for the Mets at the wrong moment, you know first-hand only the agony of defeat. For example, in the waning weeks of 2017, the thrill of victory particularly eluded callups Tomas Nido and Kevin McGowan. Nido played in five games this past season. According to a handy tool on the Baseball Musings site, the Mets lost all of them. McGowan’s Mets outlost Nido’s, going 0-8. Hopefully better box scores await both of them. They sure did for Collin McHugh, the top-notch blogger and mid-level pitching prospect who joined the Mets only to be greeted by the hardest of hard-luck losses. Collin’s line from the afternoon of August 23, 2012, at Citi Field: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 9 SO, 0 R and a no-decision before Bobby Parnell gave up an eighth-inning run to the Rockies. Colorado won, 1-0. McHugh never again pitched so well for the Mets nor ever pitched in a game won by the Mets. Eleven Mets games across 2012 and 2013, eleven Mets losses. Soon, McHugh was swapped to Colorado for Eric Young, Jr. Later, he materialized in Houston and linked himself with winning. Collin put 43 W’s on his personal ledger between 2014 and 2016. An injured right elbow derailed McHugh’s 2017, forcing him to miss more than half the season. He was a minor contributor to the Astros’ World Series surge, but a contributor — and a winner — nonetheless.

Oh, and Carlos Beltran. I think you’re all familiar with his body of work, both since 1998 as a major league superstar and between 2005 and 2011 when he was one of the best players the Mets ever featured. It seemed to take Beltran almost as long as the Astros themselves to finally win a championship. He won’t physically be mistaken for the October missile that exploded across the October sky in 2004, the one that largely earned him the contract that brought him to Queens, but he never ceased being the Carlos Beltran his teammates have continually praised and credited. Some of the first words out of World Series MVP George Springer’s mouth in an interview following Game Seven were thanks to Carlos Beltran. Our old center fielder didn’t play much this autumn, but his impact was palpable in Houston. Going by the word of those who would know, it will be displayed indefinitely on dozens of ring fingers, one of them most deservedly his own.

Baseball in Seven

Welcome to the peak of existence, the cusp of the Seventh Game of the World Series, that hoary hypothetical sprung to life. You know how managers are accused of managing a mundane midsummer situation “like it’s the Seventh Game of the World Series”? There will be no need for “like” this evening and, going in, nothing not to love. This is it, the real thing, the genuine article, not a drill. This is what we train for as baseball fans. This is DEFCON 7.

In the one month since our beloved New York Mets (remember them?) wrapped up their most recent campaign (remember it?), ten teams have combined to favor us with thirty-seven postseason baseball games, thirty-one of which were executed to ultimately render eight of the participating entities into a state of irrelevance. Each pushed past October 1 with an eye toward becoming world champion no later than November 1. They didn’t make it. Only two could get this far. Only the two who made it should be here.

These Los Angeles Dodgers, who extended the World Series to its Seventh Game, deserve the National League berth, what with their 104 regular-season wins, their cadre of young offensive stars, their requisite ex-Met who found his inner immortal elsewhere, their greatest pitcher of his generation and their usually masterfully manipulated bullpen. Their opponents, these Houston Astros, deserve the other berth — technically the one reserved for the American League, but because we know from whence the Astros emerged, it feels they’ve arrived via an at-large slot. But they’re not here on scholarship, not with 101 regular-season wins and a galaxy of talent honed big and bright deep in the heart of Texas. If you take both sides at their best, you’re experiencing a World Series of superteams. I’ve experienced sixteen previous World Series that required a Seventh Game. They all had much to recommend them, but rarely was I convinced I was watching two squads so essentially super. They’re hardly perfect, but, boy, are they spectacular.

If either unit was accidentally playing the 2017 Mets in the 2017 World Series, they’d have swept them in four. The Dodgers swept the Mets in four in June, then in three more in August. The Astros swept the Mets three in September, and that was with the aftermath of a devastating hurricane swirling behind them. We may not be the most reliable witnesses to vouch for the abilities of outstanding opponents. Every team looks like a superteam to us.

Fortunately for competition’s sake, the 92-loss teams were long ago safely tucked away and the winners of more than a hundred found each other where they oughta be. The Dodgers and Astros are 3-3 against each other. Sounds about right. For either to not have reached Game Seven would have been so wrong.

To date, we’ve been treated to two contests that generated Best Game Ever! hyperbole at least an hour prior to their conclusion. Thing is, the hyperbole didn’t seem exaggerated, not when you were ducking and covering from the balls soaring out of Dodger Stadium in eleven-inning 7-6 Game Two or Minute Maid Park in ten-inning 13-12 Game Five. Perhaps it’s baseball’s stubborn puritanical streak that compelled a fan to wonder in the later stages of the latter if what he was taking in wasn’t a tad/ton too overwhelming. Didn’t a great World Series demand ace pitching? Where were the Clayton Kershaws, the Dallas Keuchels, the Kenley Jansens to provide the yin to the loads of yang flying off the bats of the Altuves, Springers, Bellingers and Puigs?

Oh, there they were, in Game Five, with veritable tire tracks over their backs, unable to alter life in baseball’s fast lane, which surely made you lose your mind. Or perhaps change it. You honor pitching. You cherish pitching. You revel in its capacity to stop hitting when each is judged impeccable. Yet a century-and-a-half of airtight wisdom went straight out the window on Sunday night, specifically the window behind the Crawford Boxes, conveniently located within easy swinging distance of home plate in Houston. Good hitting was in abundance. Good pitching left its tickets on the kitchen counter and was denied admission. Was this great baseball or merely a vastly entertaining mutation of the sport we thought we knew?

Thanks heavens for comparatively uneventful Game Six, which — like Games One, Three and Four — was played closer to the ground. Scores of 7-6 (8 HR) and 13-12 (7 HR) thrive in a more organic state when surrounded by baseball like it used to be. A couple of those allegedly slicker than standard spheroids were launched into the wilds of Chavez Ravine, but that’s de rigueur in the fall of 2017. There will be homers; there doesn’t necessarily have to be a bushel. On Tuesday night, one Astro hit one and one Dodger hit one to raise the Series total to 24. In context, though, it was a pitchers’ duel, albeit the postmodern version that encompasses nine pitchers. The best of the lot was Justin Verlander, who also happened to be the losing pitcher. He went six innings and was nicked for two runs. In this World Series, that makes him a direct descendant of 1905 Christy Mathewson.

Bullpenning, more active as a phrase and concept than Curtis Granderson has been since the NLCS, prevailed in Game Six, specifically the Dodgers’ rendition of it. Rich Hill couldn’t have been much better through four-and-two-thirds, but these are analytical times. A couple of years ago we’d have assumed Dave Roberts was simply nervous Hill wouldn’t get out of the fifth, or snorted that Roberts was prone to overmanaging. We’re all too hip for that now. Hill gave way to five-and-a-third innings of Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson, Kenta Maeda and Jansen, most of whom were battered about the cozy confines of the Juice Box two nights earlier. Strategy that exploded in Game Five (when it was deployed in desperation) functioned like a charm in Game Six, leading to L.A. winning, 3-1, and the rest of us winning because we get the Seventh Game of the World Series.

I’ve been rooting for the Astros. They’re dynamic, they’re likable, they helpfully cast aside undesirable actors and they don’t employ Chase Utley. I’m still rooting for the Astros. But in Game Six I was probably pulling just as hard for Game Seven. That’s an additional game of baseball the day after October, a gift horse whose mouth requires no examination. One-hundred sixty-two Mets games (a majority of them bordering on or surpassing abysmal) were not enough. Thirty-one games to extract the Twins, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, Indians, Nationals, Cubs and Yankees from the postseason proceedings were not enough. Six games between these Astros and these Dodgers have not been enough.

We may not always get the world champion we want, but we’re definitely getting the world championship we deserve.

Mets Opponents Missing Some Stars

BALTIMORE (FAF) — The squad of World Series opponents who Earl Weaver will bring to New York to face the World Series Mets in the Fall Fantasy Classic won’t be lacking for star power, but the absence of a couple of big names will be conspicuous.

“Do we or do we not have seven Hall of Famers on our roster?” an irascible Weaver asked reporters. “I don’t think talent is a problem here. This may be as good a bunch as I’ve managed since 1969. We won 109 games that year, ya know.”

True enough, Weaver’s Junior Circuiteeers, a team consisting of five members apiece from the clubs that faced the Mets in the 1969, 1973, 1986, 2000 and 2015 World Series, drips with accolades, including five men who captured six Most Valuable Player awards and a trio of Cy Young winners. But the New York tabloids will no doubt make back page fodder from a couple of non-selections.

Weaver could not choose Roger Clemens of the 2000 Yankees, thanks to a ruling from Classic Commissioner William “Spike” Eckert. The Mets petitioned the commissioner’s office for the suspension of Clemens from his “irresponsible behavior” stemming from the infamous bat-throwing incident of 2000 in which the pitcher flung the barrel of Mike Piazza’s bat at Piazza after Piazza fouled off one of Clemens’s pitches. Though no action was taken against Clemens at the time, the Mets asked Eckert to invoke the “best interests of baseball” clause to keep the righthander from participating “in such an important showcase”. Eckert reportedly decided in favor of the Mets after plucking a scrap of paper reading “SUSPEND” from a hat in his office.

Opponent general manager Brian Cashman did not file any sort of grievance in return.

The action marked Eckert’s second suspension in advance of the Classic. Previously, he decided, “sans hat,” to ban longtime Yankees owner George Steinbrenner from entering any of the ballparks in which the games will be played. A source close to the commissioner said, “that one was just a matter of good taste.” Cashman declined to comment.

Clemens theoretically could have been added to the roster as a member of the 1986 Red Sox, but Weaver resisted the urge to add him to a staff that will include his Boston rotationmate Bruce Hurst and three 2000 Yankees: starter Andy Pettitte and relievers Mariano Rivera and Mike Stanton. While Pettitte is practically synonymous with postseason pitching and Rivera is considered the gold standard for relief, Stanton struck observers as a surprise choice, but as Weaver pointed out, the lefty retired all 13 Mets he faced in the 2000 Series, “and the Mets have some tough lefty bats.”

The other 2000 Yankees on the Mets opponents’ roster are first baseman Tino Martinez and center fielder Bernie Williams, meaning — because of the ironclad limit of five players from each team rule — shortstop Derek Jeter will not play in the Fall Fantasy Classic. “We’ll be fine,” was all Weaver would say in response to questions about how he could leave off the 2000 World Series MVP and such an all-around stalwart of the game. Jeter issued no reaction, but is reportedly “too involved firing people in Miami” to turn his attention back toward the field.

“I admire the way Jeter is running the Marlins,” principal opponent owner Charlie Finley told reporters. “Besides, if Williams is around, we don’t have to hire an extra national anthem singer.”

With Jeter inactive, shortstop will be manned for the American Leaguers by Bert Campaneris, who was a thorn in the side of the Mets during the 1973 World Series. Other Oakland A’s on the roster will be that October’s MVP Reggie Jackson, starting pitcher Catfish Hunter and relievers Rollie Fingers and Darold Knowles. Jackson, Hunter and Fingers are all in the Hall of Fame, each having played a pivotal role in downing the Mets in seven games in ’73. Knowles pitched in all seven contests, impressing Weaver with his durability.

From his own 1969 Orioles, the manager chose two Hall of Fame position players, Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson, and his co-Cy Young winner Mike Cuellar, plus a pair of wild cards: left fielder Don Buford and catcher Clay Dalrymple. “I’m not being coy,” Weaver said. “You guys know why those guys are there.” Indeed, Buford left his mark on the 1969 World Series early, belting a leadoff home run off Tom Seaver in Game One, while Dalrymple owns a .500 career average versus the Mets ace, including a pinch-hit single in the tenth inning of Game Four.

“I’m sorry I can’t have more of my guys,” Weaver admitted after a drag on a cigarette. “I had to leave Boog off. I had to leave McNally off. I’ll miss Blair’s and Belanger’s gloves. Palmer’s good, too, but he drove me crazy. Let him go shoot an other underpants commercial.” Weaver added he thought about finding a spot for his second baseman Davey Johnson, but knowing Johnson would be coaching first base for the Mets “made the whole thing too weird.”

Two Kansas City Royals will round out Weaver’s pitching staff: starter Jonny Cueto and swingman Chris Young. Each was highly effective versus the Mets in 2015. Their teammates set to join them on the Fall Fantasy Classic opponents roster are versatile Ben Zobrist, outfielder Lorenzo Cain and World Series MVP catcher Salvador Perez. The selection of Dalrymple and decision to bypass the defensively challenged Jorge Posada likely means Perez will be catching every inning of the Classic, a prospect that doesn’t worry Weaver, who relied on a platoon of Elrod Hendricks and Andy Etchebarren when the ’69 Orioles fell to the Mets.

The rest of the A.L. team will consist of the four 1986 Red Sox besides Hurst: outfielder Jim Rice, his fellow Hall of Famer third baseman Wade Boggs, second baseman Marty Barrett and first baseman Bill Buckner. Bucker’s selection raised a few eyebrows in light of his tenth-inning error that tilted Game Six and perhaps ultimate momentum to the Mets in ’86.

“Ah, I don’t worry about that [stuff],” Weaver said, brushing off Buckner’s moment in the harshest of spotlights. “This is a guy with nearly 3,000 hits and a batting title. What am I gonna do — not take Bill Buckner?”

AMERICAN LEAGUE FALL FANTASY CLASSIC ROSTER

PITCHERS
Cuellar, Mike (LHP) – 1969 BAL
Cueto, Johnny (RHP) – 2015 KCR
Fingers, Rollie (RHP) – 1973 OAK
Hunter, Catfish (RHP) – 1973 OAK
Hurst, Bruce (LHP) – 1986 BOS
Knowles, Darold (LHP) – 1973 OAK
Pettitte, Andy (LHP) – 2000 NYY
Rivera, Mariano (RHP) – 2000 NYY
Stanton, Mike (LHP) – 2000 NYY
Young, Chris (RHP) – 2015 KCR

CATCHERS
Dalrymple, Clay (L) – 1969 BAL
Perez, Salvador (R) – 2015 KCR

INFIELDERS
Barrett, Marty (R) – 1986 BOS
Boggs, Wade (L) – 1986 BOS
Buckner, Bill (L) – 1986 BOS
Campaneris, Bert (R) – 1973 OAK
Martinez, Tino (L) – 2000 NYY
Robinson, Brooks (R) – 1969 BAL
Zobrist, Ben (S) – 2015 KCR

OUTFIELDERS
Buford, Don (S) – 1969 BAL
Cain, Lorenzo (R) – 2015 KCR
Jackson, Reggie (L) – 1973 OAK
Rice, Jim (R) – 1986 BOS
Robinson, Frank (R) – 1969 BAL
Williams, Bernie (S) – 2000 NYY

MANAGER: Earl Weaver
COACHES: John McNamara (Pitching), Joe Torre (Third Base), Dick Williams (First Base), Ned Yost (Bullpen)

NOTE: Fall Fantasy Classic roster must consist of five players apiece from each New York Mets World Series opponent roster. If a player is injured during the Classic, he may be replaced, but only by a member of his year’s World Series roster.

Mets Set All-Time World Series Roster

FLUSHING, N.Y. (FAF) — A near-batting champion, a defending Cy Young winner and the franchise leaders in saves will all be on the sidelines as the so-called greatest New York Mets World Series team ever prepares to take on its American League opponent in the upcoming Fall Fantasy Classic.

While there is much talent assembled on the 25-man roster, it is hard to miss the omissions that remain in the wake of manager Gil Hodges’s excruciating decisionmaking.

“There were more tough calls than you could imagine, and most of this exercise is about imagination,” Hodges said after issuing the roster he will use against an amalgamation of previous Mets World Series rivals. “I had a lot of good players to choose from and only so much latitude.”

Hodges referred to the defining rule of the Fall Fantasy Classic, which states the Mets must play with five players apiece from each of their World Series rosters, those used in 1969, 1973, 1986, 2000 and 2015. In all, 113 different players were named to Mets World Series rosters, with 106 playing in at least one World Series as Mets, eight playing in two and seven never seeing action despite being eligible.

“That’s a large pool and it presents a great deal of possibility,” said chairman of the board of general managers Sandy Alderson, who consulted with Hodges and fellow pennant-winning GMs Johnny Murphy, Bob Scheffing, Frank Cashen and Steve Phillips in shaping the final Fall Fantasy Classic roster. “With the ‘five from each year’ caveat, you won’t be able to make everybody happy, nor should you. You want players who want to play. On the other hand, the requirement isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because at the end of the day, this is an entertainment business, and you want to keep fans from each era entertained.”

Certainly the controversy touched off by the construction of this roster — which also had input from the other Mets World Series managers, each of whom will coach for Hodges in the upcoming set of games — will provide conversational fodder in the run-up to the first game of the Fall Fantasy Classic.

“There were many tasty ingredients, but only a few could be added to the stew,” mused Bobby Valentine, the 2000 Mets manager who will take time out from running his Connecticut sports bar and restaurant to serve as Hodges’s third base coach in the Classic. “We all had a say, but the big picture was in Gilly’s hands. You don’t get in the way of the big man.” Alderson confirmed Hodges had final say, acknowledging that their shared background as United States Marines conferred a certain “zone of comfort” on the selection process.

“I don’t think there are too many players who wouldn’t follow Gil into metaphorical or actual battle,” Alderson said.

The Mets who played for Hodges in 1969 were most understanding of their old manager’s ways. Cleon Jones, whose .340 average placed him third in the National League batting race that year, admitted disappointment that he wouldn’t be joining the Fall Fantasy Classic team, but said, “I get it. Gil has his reasoning and I’m better off for it,” before chuckling, “tell him he can use my shoe polish if he likes.”

Jones could have been chosen as a 1969 or 1973 Met, though not both. Luckier in that regard were 1969 selection Jerry Koosman and 1973 representatives Bud Harrelson, Tug McGraw and Tom Seaver, each of whom played for Hodges in ’69 and Yogi Berra four years later.

“Those two had different personalities, that’s for sure,” said Koosman, who figures to join with Seaver, Al Leiter and Noah Syndergaard to form a Fall Fantasy Classic rotation, the order of which Hodges has yet to announce. “But once the game starts, the manager is in the dugout and you’re on the mound.” Berra, one of the great catchers in baseball history, will work as Hodges’s pitching coach in the upcoming series, a new role, but one Berra’s fellow New Jerseyan Leiter is sure the Hall of Famer is suited for.

“Yogi told me throw strikes,” Leiter said. “You can’t argue with that.”

The most notable starter who will not be partaking of Berra’s advice is Dwight Gooden, left off the roster in what Hodges says was a numbers crunch and not a repudiation of a 1986 World Series performance that fell short of his 1985 leaguewide dominance. “I’d love to take everybody,” Hodges explained, “but it’s a seven-game series, and something had to give.” Other starting pitchers who did not make the Fall Fantasy Classic roster cut include Gary Gentry, Jon Matlack, Ron Darling, Mike Hampton, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey. Hodges did opt to add two hurlers who primarily started in their respective World Series years, 1986’s Bobby Ojeda and 2000’s Rick Reed, to his bullpen. “I think both men bring poise and can give us innings if we need them,” Hodges said, noting each had experience throwing in relief. “We need to be flexible.”

The Mets rounded out their Fall Fantasy Classic pitching staff with two arms from 1973 — lefties Tug McGraw and George Stone — plus Nolan Ryan and Turk Wendell. Ryan went on to a Cooperstown career after leaving the Mets, but the Mets stress he is on the roster as his 22-year-old fireballing self. “Nolie can smoke ’em, that’s for sure,” Berra noted.

Missing from the staff are single-season saves leader Jeurys Familia and John Franco, the Mets’ all-time career saves record holder and a Brooklyn native who grew up rooting for the ’69 and ’73 squads. “Ah, whaddaya gonna do?” was Franco’s reaction. “At least I should get good tickets.”

Not ever Met who didn’t make the Fall Fantasy Classic roster accepted rejection so matter-of-factly. Nowhere within the Mets championship universe were omissions processed as slights more forcefully than among the 1986 world champions. Because of the five-per-year rule, only five ’86ers could be tabbed. To no one’s surprise, Hodges selected the heart of the 1986 batting order: right fielder Darryl Strawberry, first baseman Keith Hernandez and catcher Gary Carter; it’s unclear how Hodges will divide catching duties between Carter and his fellow Hall of Fame inductee Mike Piazza.

The only other 1986 Met besides the All-Star trio and Ojeda to make the club was Wally Backman, who is projected to see action off the bench. That meant a slew of well-regarded Mets who were vital in earning the franchise its second championship trophy will not be available.

“You know, I did win the Most Valuable Player award in the last World Series the Mets won,” an obviously miffed Ray Knight said when informed he wouldn’t be part of the roster. “I’m not saying there weren’t lots of great options and lots of tough decisions. I love Gil like a second or third father. I love the guys who did make it, but I can’t help the team if I’m not a part of it. I hit a home run in the seventh game of the World Series. I scored the winning run in Game Six, which everybody remembers as one of the greatest games ever played. I’d think there’d be room for someone with those capabilities, but I gotta respect the rules and pull as hard as I can for the guys, even the ones I didn’t play with, the ones who are darn good but didn’t win 108 games.”

Similarly disappointed was 1986 Mets center fielder Lenny Dykstra. “Dude, seriously?” Dykstra asked, before unleashing a string of profanities that concluded with another “dude.”

Harrelson and second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo will serve as Hodges’s double play combination, with David Wright, from 2015, manning third base across from Hernandez. Wright’s contemporary, Yoenis Cespedes, will likely start in left, projected to flank 1969 center fielder Tommie Agee. Agee’s selection precluded the inclusion of 1986 hero Mookie Wilson. “That was maybe the hardest one,” Hodges said. “I appreciate Mr. Wilson’s abilities, but Tommie gives us speed and power, and we know his defense.” Wilson, like teammates Roger McDowell, Jesse Orosco and Sid Fernandez, declined to comment.

Rounding out the roster are two players Hodges managed to great effect in the 1969 World Series, slugging first baseman Donn Clendenon and utility infielder Al Weis; Berra’s leading hitter from the 1973 Series, Rusty Staub; and two of Terry Collins’ 2015 National League champions, Curtis Granderson and Juan Uribe. Hodges admitted he wasn’t necessarily as familiar with Uribe’s work as he is with his higher-profile players, but he was impressed by his earlier World Series track record, in which he helped the White Sox and Giants to titles, and liked his 1.000 batting average from the ’15 Series. “He went 1-for-1,” Berra added. “You can’t do better than perfect.”

Hodges’s coaching staff will be rounded out by 1986 Mets manager Davey Johnson at first base and Collins, who will handle bullpen duties.

The full squad will work out at Shea Stadium, site of Game One and potential Game Seven, before the beginning of the Fall Fantasy Classic. Games Two and Six (if necessary) will take place at adjacent Citi Field. The three middle games, in which the designated hitter will be used, thus giving Hodges the opportunity to start both Carter and Piazza, are scheduled for the three American League parks: Fenway in Boston (Game Three), Memorial Stadium in Baltimore (Game Four) and Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (Game Five). Neither Kansas City’s Kaufman Stadium nor renovated Yankee Stadium were considered as venues.

“These gentlemen are all champions in my eyes,” said Hodges. “Now it’s time for the rest of the world to see it.”

NEW YORK METS FALL FANTASY CLASSIC ROSTER

PITCHERS
Koosman, Jerry (LHP) – 1969
Leiter, Al (LHP) – 2000
McGraw, Tug (LHP) – 1973
Ojeda, Bobby (LHP) – 1986
Reed, Rick (RHP) – 2000
Ryan, Nolan (RHP) – 1969
Seaver, Tom (RHP) –1973
Stone, George (LHP) – 1973
Syndergaard, Noah (RHP) – 2015
Wendell, Turk (RHP) – 2000

CATCHERS
Carter, Gary (R) – 1986
Piazza, Mike (R) – 2000

INFIELDERS
Alfonzo, Edgardo (R) – 2000
Backman, Wally (S) – 1986
Clendenon, Donn (R) – 1969
Harrelson, Bud (R) – 1973
Hernandez, Keith (L) – 1986
Uribe, Juan (R) – 2015
Weis, Al (S) – 1969
Wright, David (R) – 2015

OUTFIELDERS
Agee, Tommie (R) – 1969
Cespedes, Yoenis (R) – 2015
Granderson, Curtis (L) – 2015
Staub, Rusty (L) – 1973
Strawberry, Darryl (L) – 1986

MANAGER: Gil Hodges
COACHES: Yogi Berra (Pitching), Terry Collins (Bullpen), Davey Johnson (First Base), Bobby Valentine (Third Base)

NOTE: Fall Fantasy Classic roster must consist of five players apiece from each New York Mets World Series roster. If a player is injured during the Classic, he may be replaced, but only by a member of his year’s World Series roster.

All the Way with Callaway

Well, I’m stoked for Mickey Callaway. I was prepared to be stoked to varying degrees for Joe McEwing, Manny Acta, Alex Cora or Kevin Long had any of them been named the next manager of the New York Mets, but I’m probably a little extra excited about Callaway getting the job. Judging from his introductory press conference, Callaway’s a lot extra excited about getting the job. His enthusiasm is infectious, and not in the way you worried what would happen had Ray Ramirez treated the infection.

There was no reason not to welcome any of those whose names were bandied about as serious candidates. None of them had proven they couldn’t be trusted managing the Mets and, besides, there are few marquee managerial brands anymore, no broad contemporary menu of Billys, Whiteys and Weavers to lust after. Theoretically, anybody given the chance could have made the most of it. Callaway’s hiring, however, has proven a negative the least — that is, we really have no reason not to trust him. Not only hasn’t he managed, few of us were familiar with him. He hadn’t played for the Mets or coached for the Mets. We had no storehouse of vague impressions to fall back on, no easy references to that time in 2000 or 2005 or 2010 or 2015 when he did or didn’t do this or that. In context, Callaway’s tabula was as rasa as it got.

Except for word on the street, which was as positive as could be imagined. Everybody loves Mickey Callaway. They love him in Cleveland. They love him wherever baseball people gather to offer endorsements. When they don’t like you in this game, they whisper unattributed. When they think you’re awesome, they put their name to it. The industry signed off en masse on Callaway.

The Mets interviewed him and became convinced everybody wasn’t pulling a fast one on them, signing the former Indians pitching coach and prospective managerial prodigy to helm our team through the rest of this decade and into the next. As such, he looms as an outsize figure in our daily lives as fans. We may never meet him, but he’ll be with us if we’re with the Mets. We’ll see and hear him on pre- and postgame shows. Our eyes will follow him from the dugout to the mound and back. His strategy will indirectly dictate our mood. Before we know it, we’ll be all “Mickey this” and “Mickey that,” just as we threw around “Terry” and, before him, “Jerry”. Managers manage, we react. Mickey may not be experienced, but we know how this works.

We also know that many managers will never look better than on the day their hiring is announced. I tracked down some quotes from some other days in Mets history like Monday, fall days when satisfied general managers heartily endorsed their brand new field managers.

• Joe Frazier “has shown us over the years he can handle men,” according to Joe McDonald in 1975. “He has shown us he can win.”

• George Bamberger “has a deep, abiding knowledge about baseball,” per Frank Cashen in 1981 “and he can communicate it simply and directly. He has an easy but firm manner. He knows what he’s doing.”

• Among myriad qualities considered critical to managing the Mets, Jeff Torborg “knew how to win,” Al Harazin testified in 1991.

• “I truly believe he is exactly the type of person and personality to lead this organization right now” was Steve Phillps’s 2002 assessment of Art Howe. (Add Fred Wilpon’s incandescent “lit up a room” reference to taste.)

A little foreboding there, but to be fair, you wouldn’t expect “eh, we’ll see” to be the company line between grips and grins…though that was pretty much Sandy Alderson’s take seven years ago when he handed the managerial reins to Terry Collins. Different guy, different times (which applies to every manager and every season). For what it’s worth, Alderson didn’t seem merely resigned to Mickey Callaway. He seemed stoked — or as stoked as Sandy gets in public. He pointed to Mickey’s “professional competence” and “personal excellence,” praising Callaway as a “hard worker,” “collaborative,” “patient but decisive,” and “structural but adaptable”. I’m not sure if this fella is a baseball manager or one of those smart fridges that knows when it’s supposed to order more milk.

By all accounts, Mickey knows how to stock a pitching staff and how to keep it running at the proper temperature. A former pitcher and pitching coach as manager? Revolutionary! Granted, Bamberger was a former pitcher and pitching coach who managed (he was better at the latter in Milwaukee than he was in New York), but it’s still something of a novelty. Keith Hernandez has reinforced the ancient notion night after night that pitchers aren’t really baseball players and barely qualify as human beings. Callaway appears poised to upend that notion. Apparently his personal touch will extend past the rotation and the bullpen. He’s ready to embrace an entire roster of Mets.

In Tennessee tones reminiscent of R.A. Dickey and Tim McCarver, Memphis-born Mickey stressed “care” and “love” regarding how he will relate to his charges. Never mind home runs; HR might now stand for human resources in the Mets clubhouse. The 21st manager the franchise has known may be its first truly 21st-century manager in terms of approach. Analytics are a given. Communications are a priority. Age differences have been collapsed. Mickey is 42. He may be way older than Amed Rosario, but he’s way younger than Terry Collins, plus way determined that the Mets will outstrive their competitors. Nobody won’t believe he doesn’t know from what he speaks when it comes to a winning background. During five years as Indians pitching coach, he helped Terry Francona guide the Tribe into the playoffs three times. They almost won the World Series in 2016. They almost knocked off the Yankees in 2017. Perhaps Callaway has been saving successful completion of those vital tasks for us.

Oh, he already loves us. Mets fans, he told the assembled media at Citi Field, are “the best fans in the world”. The Mets are “one of the greatest baseball organizations in the world”. He’s anointed New York “the greatest city in the world” (deal with it, Cleveland). And while he’s chosen to wear Jerry Koosman’s 36, he paid homage to No. 37, Casey Stengel, for good and personal reason. His brother was named for his earliest predecessor, our first skipper. It’s as if the Callaways were planning for this moment all along. Mickey himself was named after Casey’s center fielder from his previous posting, but we won’t hold that parental impulse against him. We had Willie and the Duke toward the end of their playing careers. We have Mickey beginning something altogether new. May it be Amazin’, Amazin’, Amazin’ for him and for us.

103 and Holding

Add ’em all up, from October 1, 1921, a 5-3 victory over the Philadelphia A’s in the first game of a doubleheader at the Polo Grounds, to October 11, 2017, the fifth game of the American League Division Series won, 5-2, over the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field, and you conclude the New York Yankees have clinched something worth clinching on 103 separate occasions. The first time it happened, Damon Runyan characterized manager Miller Huggins’s demeanor as “in happiness or sorrow […] something of a picture of dejection.” Nice to know Joe Girardi does his darnedest to keep stoicism in style.

In ye really olden days, whether at the hand of Huggins or at the behest of Berra, pennants were secured within the parameters of regular seasons. The Yankees commenced their collection as tenants of the Giants in Manhattan 96 years ago and repeated the process the next year, and then another 27 times as the Bronx Bombers through 1964. Divisional play, when the leagues were split in two, meant capturing precursors. The Yankees won four American League East flags (but didn’t dare fly such paltry prizes) between 1976 and 1980 and added a fifth through 1981’s emergency contrivance ALDS. Those five division wins spawned four pennants that further brightened their spacious bank vault.

The segmenting of leagues into three divisions and the addition of extra playoff spots and series added more opportunities for more clinchings and more celebrations. The champagne flowed amongst Yankees almost every October for two decades from 1995 forward, sometimes just once, sometimes a whole lot. There were commemorative caps and t-shirts distributed — available immediately after the last out at your nearby Modell’s! — for winning six Wild Cards, thirteen division titles, eleven League Division Series, seven League Championship Series and even a Wild Card Game when that became a prerequisite for advancement.

Oh, plus the rings. Always the rings. Not always, but often enough, you might have heard. There were 27 sets of those awarded between 1923 and 2009. Actually, the first time the Yankees won the World Series, their players were given pocketwatches. Same difference, though, even if it’s all about the pocketwatches, baby! doesn’t quite have the same shall we say tenor.

Whatever the nature of the bling, the beast was generously adorned. The hearty handshakes, the ebullient embraces, the hooting, the hollering, the sense of success that begot more success…the Yankees did that 103 times across a span of 97 seasons encompassing 53 postseasons.

But they didn’t get to do it Saturday night at Minute Paid Park, and for that we are thankful.

Hail to Houston, champions of the American League in the fifth season of their elaborate student exchange program. Undercover Astros, answer to our prayers. It’s not easy to win an ALCS or an NLCS. As the Washington Nationals could attest, it’s not easy to qualify for an LCS no matter where you put it. The Astros have qualified across league lines. And they’ve never played a dull LCS, regardless of which L they’re vying to represent in the World Series. We know they’re National Leaguers at heart. We’ve seen the birth certificate. We definitely appreciate all they’ve accomplished in their current assignment. (How appropriate that the 2005 N.L. champs were handed their 2017 A.L. trophy by Frank Robinson, still the only player to snag MVP honors in each league.) Glued to the bottom of their class as they migrated from the N.L. Central to the A.L. West, it seemed preposterous three years ago when a widely disseminated magazine strongly suggested we check back around now and see how close they’d be to a world championship.

They’re very close, which is great for them. They’ve arrived very close by knocking off the Yankees, which is great for us. Thank you Hinchmen and congrastrolations.

Sportsmanship alert: congratulations to the Yankees as well. Helluva year absolutely, helluva future probably. Feel free to wretch, but they seem worthy of a tip of the hat even as we revel in the aftermath of irritatingly delayed Elimination Day. We didn’t want the Yankees anywhere near the World Series. Their proximity was too tight for comfort, to be sure. I woke up this Sunday morning in a state akin to that felt by Kevin Costner as Kenny O’Donnell at the end of Thirteen Days, knowing an event of untold horrors had been narrowly averted. In O’Donnell’s case it was resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

As Mets fans, we assumed another Yankee World Series appearance was a done deal. They won a Wild Card, they came from behind to win their Wild Card Game (albeit at the expense of their patsies the Twinkies) and they overcame an oh-two deficit to take their ALDS from Jay Bruce and the Indians. Those goggles they donned in the clubhouse when the bubbly started to spray were surely going to get another workout. Once the Yankees revved up the comeback machine in the ALCS — down oh-two; up three-two — our impulse was to forget we can’t stand the Hollywood Dodgers and take L.A. to block.

Desperate times call for Dodger measures, but they won’t be necessary. This postseason has been officially elevated to enjoyable (no Yankees) if not ecstatic (no Mets). That’s Houston’s doing. Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers channeled the best of Don Wilson, Larry Dierker and J.R. Richard, while the Astro offense found its pulse. Perhaps all that switching between leagues stirred havoc with their bearings. More likely, you couldn’t keep Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and the rest of the analytically aligned All-Stars down for long. If anybody could quash the Sports Illustrated cover boys of 2014, we knew, by gut, it would be the Yankees. We hadn’t seen that movie where the Bombers destroy all comers, model sparkly new rings and strut up Broadway in eight years, but we never forgot how it works. We assume it’s always on the verge of a harrowing reboot.

So do the Yankees, I suppose. Maybe theirs is way to approach your business. I noticed for all the talk about how the 2017 Yankees were an uncommonly “fun” edition (as if winning something that merits a celebration a hundred times prior wasn’t fun), the coalescing conventional wisdom coming out of their ALCS loss was this was valuable experience for these Yankees, that the disappointment will be fleeting and the learning will be what counts as they go on to their implicit quota of bigger and better achievements. All these wonderful young players of theirs have now been to the Norman Greenbaum Preparatory School, steeling themselves for the Octobers ahead when falling several games shy of a world championship will be considered unacceptable (prepare yourself, you know it’s a must). This, it has been agreed, wasn’t just 2017 for the Yankees. It was another 1995, the implication being another 1996 and so forth necessarily wait directly around the corner. Book the Canyon of Heroes ASAP.

Call it pinstriped privilege, if you like. For teams like ours, we’re generally thrilled to win anything. We’ve had twenty distinct celebrations in our history, including a couple that have followed absolutely hopeless eras. Our first champagne pour, on September 24, 1969, came on the heels of an 89-loss season that was deemed a vast step up from all the seasons that preceded it. Our 2015 division title was a heaven-sent revelation after the plethora of campaigns in which the Mets couldn’t crack 80 wins. When not treating a seven-game ALCS defeat as a trial run for the next dynasty, those who speak for the contemporary Yankees, lacking sports fandom’s otherwise prevalent Long Suffering gene, will tell you what a fantastic and utter surprise getting as far as they did was, taking into account where they’d been and all the rebuilding they had to do.

In the four seasons directly prior to 2017, the Yankees posted only winning records; continually floated on the fringe of Wild Card contention; hosted a playoff game once; and gathered a bounty of young talent. If we — and a majority of major league franchises — did that for four years, we’d label it an accomplishment. For them, it was a fallow period. We should all have such a baseline of misery.

While the Yankee Celebration Count stalls blissfully at 103, another calendar of local interest pushes forward. October 21, 2017, marked 2,085 days since the last New York major professional sports championship was attained. On February 5, 2012, the Giants beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. Nobody around here has done anything similar since. No Stanley Cups. No NBA titles. One World Series played in — by us — but none fully wrangled. And no Super Bowls. (Caveat: I’m not including soccer in this calculus and likely never will.)

We are closing in on historic as this metric goes. Should neither the Giants nor Jets hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy on February 4, 2018, the count rises to 2,190 days. The modern record between New York major professional sports championships sits at 2,280 days. The Yankees of perpetual dynasty won their last World Series on October 16, 1962. Then came the Cuban Missile Crisis, shortly after which vast cultural upheaval unfolded, transforming the nation as we knew it, leaving New York’s athletic entitlement behind. It took the balance of the Sixties to get the sporting interests of the city and its immediate environs back on the board. The Jets brought us to the top of heap on January 12, 1969. The Mets kept us there on October 16, 1969. The Knicks maintained the new New York status quo on May 8, 1970. Champagne flowed anew. Four Meadowlands Super Bowls. Eight Metropolitan Area visits from Lord Stanley. The ABA Nets twice. Everybody anybody roots for in these parts would get a taste between January 12, 1969, and February 5, 2012.

Now nobody in New York wins it all. Nobody’s edged nearer to absolute victory lately since the 2015 Mets, who fell three games shy. No NHL finals the past three springs. No NBA playoffs the past two. The Giants have reached the vital portion of January once. The Jets have abstained, courteously. Based on current trends, neither football team is poised to snap the streak this February. By the time we discover if we are surprised on the ice or hardwood this June, the wait will have surpassed 2,280 days, leaving the Big Apple and adjacent North Jersey dry for as long as multiple big-time professional sports has existed.

I really wanted the Mets to be the ones to end the drought. I still do. I’m glad that possibility — conceivably under the guidance of Mickey Callaway — remains viable. The Yankees may have gained valuable experience in the ways of winning, but it guarantees them nothing. We gained valuable experience pulling up short in 2015 and 2006 and it guaranteed us nothing.

It was fun anyway. All the years when we celebrated the steps toward a world championship yet wound up without a world championship generated a ton of fun. The journey can be spectacular despite the destination emerging as elusive. When your baseline for misery isn’t 84-78 but 59-103, you learn to savor every drop of champagne, every trip to Modell’s. Maybe not expecting much and being grateful you received anything isn’t the way to approach your business, but unless you’re swimming in a swarm of rings and pocketwatches 27 trinkets deep, it’s probably better for your daily well-being.

We’ll be back with some thoughts on the new manager of the Mets as soon as we gin a few up.

The Dodgers Win the Pennant

As you know, I’ve been a big Dodgers fan ever since it occurred to me the Astros might not win the ALCS, so congratulations to my favorite team of the past 48 to 72 hours on winning their/“our” first pennant in 29 years. It’s been a helluva ride, huh? Congratulations foul-tipper extraordinaire Curtis Granderson. Congratulations third base coach and onetime Rando Commando Chris Woodward. Congratulations Justin Turner, whose transformation from Met castoff to co-MVP is up there with Gordy the Weatherman returning to the WJM newsroom as one of the biggest names in TV journalism. That last example is from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but Turner’s ascent has been no plot device.

Temporary alliances are all the rage in October, though there was legitimately a span when I harbored positive feelings toward the Los Angeles franchise. That was a very long time ago, so long ago that I liked them because they hadn’t won anything in a while. I guess not having won anything in a while — a league championship, anyway — describes the state of my present Blue crush prior to Thursday night, but this was in the early 1970s, when my frame of reference reached back no further than the very late 1960s. The Dodgers had last won a pennant in 1966, three years before I became a lifelong baseball fan. Their most recent success occurred while I was alive but before I was alert.

When I first encountered the Dodgers, they were a pretty good team that didn’t win their division. They seemed to be up there in the standings, but not all the way up there. My instinct was to pull for new teams to replace old teams. The Dodgers were new within that framework. The Reds, three-time N.L. West champs by the time I turned eleven, thus represented the old order. The season I was eleven, 1974, the Dodgers supplanted the Reds. They struck me as both startlingly fresh and comfortingly traditional. Steve Garvey became Steve Garvey as in Steve Garvey Superstar that year. Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, Ron Cey…all young, all bursting onto the scene alongside first baseman Garvey at second, short and third. Walt Alston was still managing. He’d been managing since 1954, in Brooklyn. Vin Scully was still announcing. He’d been announcing since 1950, in Brooklyn. Garvey’s dad had driven the team bus in Spring Training from when the team was, yup, in Brooklyn. Steve said his hero was Gil Hodges. I knew who Gil Hodges was and where he’d played.

The Brooklyn-L.A. connection didn’t fully click for me (grainy black & white seemed a world removed from living color), but I gathered the Dodgers had been a big deal during the ages that preceded mine. Every syndicated ’60s sitcom set in Southern California seemed to drop in a Dodger reference if not a Dodger guest star. Don Sutton had pitched on the same staff with Koufax and Drysdale (the latter of whom tutored young Greg Brady) and was still pitching for them. Veteran Tommy John was pitching for them, too, though by October he was out with an arm injury that required some sort of surgery. Based on my baseball cards, Jimmy Wynn had been an Astro, Andy Messersmith an Angel and Mike Marshall an Expo, but now they were all sticking it to the Reds, the lot of whom I’d had it in for dating to the previous October and their whiny NLCS appearance at Shea. Marshall was particularly amazing: 106 appearances in relief, his right arm still attached to his right shoulder.

I dug those Dodgers, celebrated their historically overdue 1974 flag and maintained a vague vein of non-Met support for them for a few more years. The West got confusing when Tom Seaver moved to Cincinnati in ’77 and I had to kind of like the Reds because of No. 41. The next wave of new challengers — San Francisco in 1978, Houston in 1979 and ’80 — came to the fore, making the old Dodgers and their ever more ancient infield seem desperately in need of toppling. Worst crime of all, L.A. made a habit of slipping on banana peels in World Series. I could forgive 1974 versus the A’s (speedy outfielder Bill Buckner made a critical baserunning mistake), but they lost to the Yankees in 1977 and again in 1978. The latter really bugged me. Up two games to none, they dropped the next four. Lopes and Russell moaned about the New York fans. I didn’t like the New York fans who attended Yankees games, yet even I was perversely glad those two California kvetchers didn’t win. Once the Fernando-fueled Dodgers returned the favor in 1981, losing the first two before taking the next four from the finally struggling Yankees, I cheered them home, thanked them for their service, and drifted off to other extracurricular clients. Save for a few marriage-of-convenience intervals, I don’t think I’ve rooted at all for the Dodgers in the past 35 years.

But I will gladly do so should they not face Houston in the forthcoming World Series. I gladly did so in the last couple of games of the NLCS against Chicago. Nothing against the Cubs, a shocking development to my younger self, but I let go of my anti-Cub animus in the wake of the 2015 NLCS when the North Siders played perfect hosts to the league champion Mets. Chicago earned what it earned in 2016 and everything else is aftermath until further notice. Gone Cubs Gone, but no hard feelings.

When Cubs fans recall the period of 2015-2017, they probably won’t fume, “Oh great, that was when we lost two NLCSes in three years.” Though maybe not. It’s still nearly impossible to utter or Twitter the year “1988” in the presence of Mets fans without triggering emotional distress. A person tracking the Dodgers’ last steps to their first pennant in twenty-nine years couldn’t help but mention 1988, not out of malice, just to be accurate. I’m aware it didn’t work out well for the Mets that October. I was alive and alert and as dissatisfied as any Mets fan sentient. Yet three decades hence, I compartmentalize the good stuff — division title, 100 wins, a few very admirable postseason performances sprinkled in amid the pain — and also check the calendar. Two years separated 1988 from 1986. The 1988 Mets shouldn’t have lost to the 1988 Dodgers, but I’m willing to retroactively grant them the slightest of period passes. That era was not about coming achingly close several times and missing. That era was about winning the big one once and not losing a ton in the years that surrounded it. I swear it was.

It’s different if you never win the big one. It was different for L.A. post-1988. What’s weird about their pennant drought, longer than any established, stationary National League franchise’s besides Pittsburgh’s, is the Dodgers were rarely horrible from 1989 on. They had a couple of dips, particularly before their current ownership situation coalesced, but mostly they’ve generally functioned as one of the elite operations in baseball. That’s what it was like when I encountered them as a kid. You knew they were glamorous and successful. They just weren’t champions. The Dodgers made the playoffs ten times in between their 1988 and 2017 World Series appearances. They just never scaled the hump, sort of like Cleveland, Oakland and Minnesota. Cleveland, Oakland and Minnesota, however, would revert to stubbornly horrible for discernible stretches. L.A. was no worse than in-n-out of trouble before suffering the heartbreak of being merely glamorous and successful.

Twice, in 2006 and 2015, the Mets expelled the Dodgers from the playoffs, and that was cool. Lately, the Dodgers expel the Mets from just about every game they contest, which isn’t, but they’re up, we’re down, sometimes that happens. I can’t hold the unpleasant side of recurring rivalry against the Dodgers at the moment. I can, but I won’t. Really, seeing the Dodgers and Cubs in two consecutive NLCSes let the taste of us beating them both linger longer than it should have. If you think about it, we are the National League round robin champions of the past three Octobers. We’re two-and-oh against them; they’re one-and-two against us and each other. Plus all this business was settled at Wrigley Field, which makes for a very telegenic setting.

Too bad none of it wins us anything new, but it beats dwelling on Scioscia, Gibson and Hershiser.

Bandwagon to Barricade

I was a temporary Astros fan earlier this month, sort of like I was this month in 1980. Way back then, Houston being in the playoffs was novel and they were playing a team, the Phillies, that I detested. The Mets were nowhere in sight. It was October like it’s supposed to be when you can’t have October like it oughta be. That it didn’t turn out exactly the way I wanted it to be was beside the point. I gravitated to a reasonably appealing entity, I rooted my postseason heart out for it, and I moved on to the next round. Not as good as rooting for the Mets, but I was used to the Mets being nowhere in sight come October.

That was in the National League, where the Astros used to reside. In the American League, my team for the duration was the Royals, a choice that was mandated by the presence of their opponent, the Yankees. I liked the Royals in those best-of-five days, anyway…though mostly because my exposure to them had been from watching them gallantly if futilely battle the Yankees in three previous Octobers. As the exotic t-shirts advertised in the back of Baseball Digest suggested, one of my two favorite teams was whoever was playing the Yankees.

The LCS portion of October thirty-seven years ago shook out as one part mighty satisfying — the Royals sweeping the Yankees three straight; and one part fleetingly heartbreaking — the Astros dropping the fifth and deciding game to the Phillies, 8-7, in ten innings. Houston’s other losses came in extra innings, too. Four of the five games went past nine. Grueling series to watch let alone lose. I felt truly bad for the colorfully clad band of bland ’Stros, that swirl of Puhls and Ruhles and Reynoldses to which I’d grown briefly yet resolutely attached.

Then I moved on, first to the World Series, where I’d feel bad for the futile/gallant Royals and resentful toward the ultimately victorious Phillies, then back to wondering how the Mets would improve themselves for 1981. My interest in Houston, except when they played the Mets, receded. Between 1981 and 2015, the Astros landed in the postseason nine times. Once, in 1986, I was keenly engaged. On all the other occasions, not so much. Twice (1999, 2015), the Mets were in the same postseason, and when the Mets are in the postseason, all action that doesn’t directly involve them tends to be blacked out from my attention span. Six other times, whatever the Astros were doing seemed to occur in the shadows of better publicized series transpiring concomitantly. When the Astros finally made it to the World Series in 2005, I was rooting squarely against them and for the White Sox. The White Sox hadn’t won a title since 1917. The Astros had Roger Clemens. It was an easy call.

I entered this postseason as I have all but nine times in my life as a baseball fan, without an automatic affinity. There were teams I could comfortably root against, but that’s less fun than rooting for (unless and until rooting against pays off). Without necessarily meaning to, I sparked immediately to the Astros as soon as I encountered them in their ALDS versus the Red Sox. They were novel yet familiar, National League alumni who had famously transformed from hopeless to happening. The Sports Illustrated long-term cover cause circa 2014. Altuve. Correa. Springer. Bregman. Beltran. Keuchel. Verlander. They were no longer in those rainbow stripes, but modeled a tasty shade of orange. They offered potential uplift for the people of a city slammed by a hurricane. I have friends in Houston — genuine Astros fans — who were flooded out of their home and had to move. I wanted them and their neighbors to have something to be happy about.

Clemens isn’t pitching for the Astros anymore. Mike Scott isn’t pitching for the Astros anymore. I had no reason not to root for the Astros. So they became my team for the duration. They beat the Red Sox in four. Then they won Games One and Two of their next series. They were exciting, they were intriguing, they were as rewarding to read about as they were to root forward. I was so on board this Astro bandwagon that when my wife asked me what was going on in a game of theirs, I reflexively told her, “The Mets are winning.”

Whoops. The Astros aren’t the Mets. Same expansion litter, but very different bloodlines. Having spent six months glued to Mets telecasts, it was semi-understandable that I’d misspeak, though there was no mistaking the Mets for a team that had made it into this year’s seventh month of baseball.

The real problem is that over their last three games, the 2017 Astros have come to closely resemble the 2017 Mets. They’re not hitting. They’re not pitching. They’re not winning. They are oh-and-three during a span when going two-and-one would have been ideal and one-and-two acceptable. Oh-and-three, given their trajectory and their opponent, presents a problem. I had the actual 2017 Mets if I wanted losing streaks of three going on four against the 2017 Yankees.

I’ll be rooting for the Astros to resume playing like the Astros in Game Six of the ALCS and, I would like to believe, Game Seven. I have little expectation of success, however. When I was seventeen, I would have expected success. I’m older now. I’ve seen many more Octobers, particularly the ones that run neither as they’re supposed or ought to, specifically ones where we are sentenced to choose between the Yankees and Anybody Else.

At the moment, I’m gravitating toward the Dodgers. I don’t much care for them, but I will depend upon them. This is purely transactional. I don’t need a bandwagon. I require a barricade. The Dodgers, even after not quite clinching their inevitable pennant against the Cubs on Wednesday night, are the best World Series bet available among prospective contestants who are Anybody Else. The Dodgers have Justin Turner. That’s gotta be worth a couple of games right there. Their loss to Chicago in NLCS Game Four, I’ve rationalized, was all right. You don’t want your undefeated juggernaut swaggering into the World Series ripe for upset. Should we wind up with Dodgers-Yankees, the Yankees will whoosh in have knocked off the 102-win Indians and the 101-win Astros. The 104-win Dodgers riding a pair of postseason sweeps looms as too juicy a Goliath for the nouveau narrative Davids. A stray loss will properly humble Los Angeles in preparation for the civilization-assuaging assignment that awaits them.

I’m going with that theory for now. And the Dodgers, stain of Buttley notwithstanding. We tolerated Pete Rose in the 1976 World Series, three years after he whaled on Buddy Harrelson, and he played ball, so to speak, helping to stem the pinstriped tide until 1977. We can pretend Chase Utley is a member of decent society two years after he took out Ruben Tejada if it means delaying even for twelve months the impending restoration of the dormant dynasty slightly to the north. I’m also going with the Astros for as long as they’re alive, Verlander willing. I’d appreciate it if they can stop imitating the Mets. I didn’t mean to confuse them by conflating them. I didn’t mean to root solely against during this postseason, either, but sometimes October goes down that way.