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ABOUT US

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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Same Old Song

Beat the Mets, beat the Mets
Step right up and sweep the Mets
Sorry kiddies, they’re playing flat
Guaranteed to want your money back

Because the Mets are really sucking this year
They’re 12 behind; it’ll get worse I fear
From Dodgers to Giants, everybody’s comin’ round
To beat the M-E-T-S Mets of New York town!

Growing up on Long Island, I was pretty much the only non-Yankee fan in my neighborhood and I must have heard that several hundred times, which seems to have left it stuck in my head forever. (The dirt-bike kids’ version was a little different; I altered some socially Neanderthal lines for our nominally more enlightened times.)

That song was playing in a loop in my head while the Mets took a very long time to wind up with nothing against the Dodgers. The game was mildly diverting for a spell, particularly when Kevin Plawecki, of all people, connected for a game-tying three-run homer. Even in the worst season, a three-run blast will make me smile, at least a little bit. Another Kevin, Kaczmarski, made his big-league debut and almost beat out a little trickler for a hit, one he would have been forgiven for slowly morphing into a sizzling line drive over the coming decades. I got to see Drew Smith a day after being MIA for his debut, and the kid was one of just two Met hurlers to emerge unscathed in Mickey Callaway‘s Reliever-a-Rama. I thought Brandon Nimmo‘s hand was broken but X-rays were negative, meaning the Mets won’t be stripped of one of their only players worth watching. (Though it’s not like the Mets haven’t missed fractures before, so we’d be advised to  wait and see.)

But the mildly diverting part of the afternoon did nothing to alter my certainty that the Mets were going to lose, and the only question was how. Granted, the Mets losing wasn’t a bold prediction, not with the Dodgers connecting for Citi Field homers at a record-setting pace. My money was on a Joc Pederson homer in the ninth, and Pederson did go deep — but in the seventh, so what do I know. Anyway, I knew they were going to lose, and when they did I just shrugged. Maybe the frown was a little deeper than it would have been without Plawecki’s brief rebellion, maybe the shrug was a little wider — but does it matter? A Mets loss is perilously close to a sure thing these days, as this once-promising season staggers along, accompanied by my childhood tormentors’ favorite tune.

Not Even the Names Have Been Changed

Dom Smith pinch-hit for brand new major league pitcher Drew Smith in the ninth inning of Saturday night’s Mets loss to the Dodgers, which seemed appropriate given that you can pretty much replace one Mets game with another and not even the names changing makes a tangible difference, so why even bother changing the names?

A little intrigue that didn’t have to do with the Dodgers never losing to the Mets or the Mets never winning at Citi Field was welcome. Friend of FAFIF Brian Sokoloff wondered to me on Twitter if the Mets had ever before arranged a similarly eponymous pinch-hitting transaction — and Friend of FAFIF Gary Nusbaum soon provided an answer. It happened on May 10, 2000, when Matt Franco batted on behalf of John Franco at Three Rivers Stadium. M. Franco singled. The Mets lost. Eighteen years later, Do. Smith fouled out…and, as previously mentioned, the Mets lost.

The Mets have only one guy named deGrom, and he couldn’t prevent that overly familiar result, which is actually no surprise, since the Mets have regularly proven immune to the sublime efforts of their ace starter. Jacob deGrom has been the National League’s premier pitcher in 2018. His team has eluded similar adjectives. DeGrom gave the Mets the minimal quality start nomenclature allows — 6 IP, 3 ER — and of course it wasn’t enough, certainly not at sea level. DeGrom generally gives the Mets much more and it’s almost never enough. Jake gave up an early home run to Max Muncy that flew up onto Carbonation Ridge in the first and a lethal double to Chris Taylor that all but buried the Mets in the fourth. In between, when he wasn’t being squeezed a bit by home plate umpire Ed Hickox, deGrom scored one of the two runs the Mets cobbled together off a just-returned Clayton Kershaw. DeGrom also started his own rally with a leadoff single.

If that’s a Jacob deGrom off night, I’ll take it.

Other positives, because I’m a little worn out writing the opposite: Jose Bautista doubled in a run and later solo-homered; Brandon Nimmo gathered three hits, including a triple aided by Cody Bellinger’s last-second distraction; and the Mets totaled an impressive-on-paper ten hits, which was one more than the Dodgers registered. Despite that isolated Los Angeleno disadvantage, the visitors won by five runs, 8-3. (So much for the positives.) It really helps to hit with runners on base, something Matt Kemp — their version of Jose Bautista, except more so, in a good way — decidedly accomplished when he launched a grand slam off Robert Gsellman, formerly the bright, shining beacon of the otherwise murky Met bullpen.

The Mets’ hits added up to nearly bupkes because the challenge presented by Mets standing on bases was apparently too daunting to deal with productively. Twelve times Mets came up with runners in scoring position and ten times they made outs. Did I mention Kershaw, using this as his de facto rehab start rather than the one planned for him in Triple-A, pitched for only the first three innings and it was the not quite as legendary Caleb Ferguson who did most of the shutting down of the Mets? Every Dodger pitcher is Clayton Kershaw when it comes to facing the Mets, whose last win versus L.A. came when David Wright was a literally active player and before anybody said anything about their ass being in the jackpot into a microphone.

Twenty-five thousand miniature Home Run Apples were handed out at Saturday night’s game. I’m sure they were too nice to fling toward the field in disgust, but I have to believe the ancestral temptation, since tamed by decades of domestication, existed. Seat Cushion Night in 1983 ended with just such an impressive display of civil disobedience/disgust. There was a time when you handed Mets fans potential projectiles at your own risk. Seat Cushion Night wound down with the grounds crew collecting what appeared to be hundreds of cushions, the public address announcer issuing stern warnings and Tim McCarver and Steve Zabriskie cracking up over the air at the sight of the flying squares, at least until somebody tapped them on the shoulder and told them to quit encouraging the throwing of things, lest the fans watching on Channel 9 get the idea this sort of protest was condoned by voices of authority.

Ah, those were the days. No, not really. The Mets were still a lousy team at that stage of 1983, the lousy team they’d been virtually uninterrupted since 1977, and speaking of that halcyon era, the Mets’ record of 31-43 after 74 games in 2018 is exactly what it was in ’77, ’78 and ’79, considered in some quarters the absolute worst period in Mets history. Perhaps it is overstating the case to draw comparisons between then and now, but Jacob deGrom leads the National League in ERA despite having won only five games at almost the halfway point forty years after Craig Swan led the National League in ERA despite having won only nine games when the season was over.

Not scoring for your best pitcher is a cherished Mets tradition, but when you remember Willie Montañez drove in 96 runs in 1978, stranding runners in scoring position suddenly feels very postmodern.

After not winning another deGrom start, we had Jason Vargas to look forward to, so to speak, for Sunday, at least until Mickey Callaway revealed Vargas strained his left eyelash while looking in the mirror (something like that). With Vargas on the DL, the Mets called up Chris Flexen and assigned Sunday’s start to career reliever Jerry Blevins.

That part is accurate. No, I don’t know why the ball was to be handed to a career reliever instead of a professional starter, but I imagine there’s a clever reason for it.

There’s every chance Craig Swan’s name will come up in casual conversation when OFF NIGHT FOR METS FANS: READIN’, WRITIN’ & RUSTY convenes at Two Boots Midtown East, 337 Lexington Ave., between 39th and 40th Streets, Thursday, June 28, 7:00 PM. Join a trio of Mets fan authors, grab a slice of Two Boots pizza and have a fine baseball time designed to improve all our perspectives. The details are here. Hope to see you there.

Uncomfortably Numb

In a better season, Friday night’s loss to the Dodgers would have been one of those defeats that made you say vile things, hurl a remote, and then brood and mutter. In this season, it barely elicited a sigh. Yep, those are the Mets and the Mets are losing. Who’s surprised? Who, at this point, is still capable of getting angry about it?

If you squint — a phrase I’ve used a lot this year — you can see some good things, despite it all. Michael Conforto shouldn’t be playing center field, but he did make a highlight-reel catch, flinging himself across the warning track in left-center to temporarily save Zack Wheeler‘s bacon. The catch was great; I was even happier about Conforto’s little-kid grin as he trotted back to the dugout, getting attaboys and back slaps from his teammates.

Keep squinting, and you could say that Wheeler seems to be learning and growing as a pitcher this season, working more quickly and pitching more effectively. But pitchers’ learning processes are rarely unbroken inclines — they come with dips and setbacks. And one of those was enough to doom Wheeler and his team.

The fatal inning was the sixth. Wheeler’s eighth pitch to leadoff hitter Joc Pederson was a strike. Gabe Morales called it a ball. Wheeler went to 3-0 on Max Muncy, prompting a visit from Devin Mesoraco, then walked him. He retired Justin Turner on a first-pitch flyout, then got to 1-2 on Matt Kemp, putting Kemp in the hole with one of his better sliders of the night.

Wheeler then appeared to lose track of what he was doing mid-pitch, hesitating oddly in his motion and then tossing a high lob homeward that was recorded as a 57 MPH curveball. Wheeler offered Mesoraco a small, sheepish smile, which was funny … except for the part where he’d surrendered an advantageous count to a dangerous hitter. His next slider was flat; Kemp served it into right for a single to load the bases.

That brought Cody Bellinger to the plate. Wheeler threw him a pair of fastballs for an 0-2 count, prompting Mesoraco to call for a fastball above the zone. Wheeler missed the target badly, leaving that third consecutive fastball in the middle of the plate. Bellinger, offered the same pitch three times in a row in the same location, connected. The ball was last seen passing above an airplane carrying the just-DFA’ed Hansel Robles to some new destination. I suspect Robles pointed helpfully at it.

At least that’s not our problem anymore.

With the Mets’ offense being what it is, that was that. Call it one pitch if you like, but it was more than that — bad luck, yes, but bad luck that was followed by missed locations, poor sequencing, and a really weird brain cramp at a very bad time. During that few minutes, Wheeler lost focus and lost the game.

Look, maybe at this time next year we’ll look back on Wheeler’s 2018 as a key part of his growth into becoming a consistent winner, and if so we’ll excuse dips like that. It’s possible to imagine, if you squint.

But it’s also possible to squint so hard that you can no longer see a damn thing. If this train wreck of a season has taught me anything, it’s that.

Don’t get left at the station: OFF NIGHT FOR METS FANS: READIN’, WRITIN’ & RUSTY is coming to Two Boots Midtown East, 337 Lexington Ave., between 39th and 40th Streets, Thursday, June 28, 7:00 PM. Join a trio of Mets fan authors, grab a slice of Two Boots pizza and have a fine baseball time designed to improve all our perspectives. The details are here. Hope to see you there.

The Ship Be Syncing

Let us celebrate our team’s most recent spate of accomplishments! On Thursday afternoon, the Mets gave up six runs instead of ten. They scored four runs instead of none. They grounded into five double plays rather than nine. They avoided hitting into triple plays altogether. They generally if not consistently returned balls from the outfield to the infield in diligent fashion. Nobody, as far as we know, sustained a debilitating injury climbing aboard the bus to the airport.

Not much cause for celebration, you say? I’m sorry, I forgot to mention this was a perspective party, hosted by Mickey Callaway, who can always be counted on fill the glasses all the way to the half. The fine print on the invitation he issued after Thursday’s game was explicit:

“You don’t worry about the record. You just worry about how you do your thing every day and how you are playing the game and we’ll start syncing everything up.”

To paraphrase former New York Knick point guard and sharp-eyed observer Micheal Ray Richardson, the ship be syncing, all right.

I must admit I am not immune to the Callaway way of semi-positive thinking. As the Mets and Rockies locked into a 5-2 score during the matinee that wound down the Mets’ latest furlough from Citi Field — with Colorado’s lead remaining unchanged for several innings despite Steven Matz’s early troubles and Coors Field’s incubative instincts — I heard myself think, “This could be a lot worse.” Then I heard myself counter, “Define ‘a lot’.” Losing by three, I realized as I slipped myself out of Mickey mode, is still losing, and the Mets were losing by enough and not doing anything substantive to reduce the margin. True, Matz and his relief helpers kept the Swingin’ Arenados from increasing their advantage in the bottoms of the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings, but their colleagues in the batting order demonstrated uncommon courtesy toward Rockie pitchers, generating no Met tallies in the top portions of the fourth through seventh.

Rarely has Denver witnessed such a surfeit of civility, decorum and goose eggs. Eventually, the Mets added two runs, the Rockies one and the game ended with a gentlemanly final of 6-4 in the home team’s favor, a score that could have been posted anywhere on the North American continent, proving a mile-high ballpark occasionally plays like a standard major league entity, even if the Mets don’t.

But let’s get back to the perspective party, where you do your thing every day and not all of it looks like it was done by the seventh-worst team in baseball. For example, the Mets outhit the Rockies, 11-9. What a shame that isn’t the object of the game. Five of the Mets’ twenty-seven outs became ten via ground ball double plays, which seemed antithetical to the prevailing regional tendencies. Launch the ball up into that legendary thin mountain air and it has a chance to go far. Put the ball on the ground and there is a chance to turn two — or in the Rockies’ case, turn ten.

Ah, but perspective! Keeping the score stable for a while was better than allowing the game to get away. Not letting Coors’s tendencies overflow could be construed as a small victory for aesthetics. Compiling more hits than the opposition would earn you a check mark if Jimmy the Greek was breaking down the action for Brent Musberger. Fans of efficiency surely had to applaud the method by which the Mets enabled the Rockies to repeatedly shorten their defensive frames. And cruise director Callaway remains Rocky Mountain high on the concept of process taking precedence over record…as, it is natural to suspect, would anybody whose record resembles his to date.

Things are going so great by so many largely irrelevant measures that one is tempted to ignore all the killjoy indicators that illustrate the Mets just endured a brutal series (1-3) and terrible road trip (3-7) amid a season in which whatever thing the team is doing every day doesn’t seem to be leading to success as measured by the traditional metrics that still define whether you’re much good.

Which, at the risk of being a perspective party pooper, the 31-41 Mets aren’t.

Projected to be more fun than a barrel of Mickey postgame pressers: OFF NIGHT FOR METS FANS: READIN’, WRITIN’ & RUSTY, coming to Two Boots Midtown East, 337 Lexington Ave., between 39th and 40th Streets, Thursday, June 28, 7:00 PM. Join a trio of Mets fan authors, grab a slice of Two Boots pizza and have a fine baseball time designed to improve all our perspectives. The details are here. Hope to see you there.

Baseball's Weird Cousin

The Mets lost, 10-8, and no, this is not a blog malfunction. They essentially played the same occasionally hopeful, ultimately deflating and consistently ridiculous game on Wednesday night as they did on Tuesday night.

This time around … oh, must we? I suppose that’s why you’re here and we’re here, so yes, we must. Things started well enough, as the Mets sent eight men to the plate in the first and emerged with three runs.

The idea of scoring runs early is a new thing in Mets Land and to be applauded. Actually, the idea of scoring runs at all is a relatively new thing in Mets Land and to be applauded. Alas, that’s only half the battle — you also have to score more runs than the other guys, which proved difficult.

Seth Lugo had never pitched in Colorado, which is an excellent idea until you can’t avoid it, a reckoning that arrived on Wednesday. Lugo, alas, didn’t fare quite as well as Logan Verrett did in his mountainous debut: his curveball wouldn’t curve, without which Lugo is basically unarmed. He gave up a monster shot in the first to Nolan Arenado, was undone by a Todd Frazier error and a whole lotta hits in the second to make the game 4-4, and then was immediately in trouble again in the third. That inning was it for Lugo, who departed with the Mets down by two.

Coors Field being Coors Field, the Mets came back, scoring four in the fifth with a little bit of everything, including a Dominic Smith triple aided by some strangely pacifistic Rockie defense and a bases-loaded walk. That lead threatened to make Paul Sewald a winning pitcher for the first time in his baseball career, which apparently offended the baseball gods: approximately five minutes later, Robert Gsellman gave up a three-run pinch-hit homer to someone named Ryan McMahon. Kevin Plawecki then came to the plate in the sixth with the bases loaded and one out, but swung at ball four and pulled it to Arenado at third, which is not a good idea. That was essentially the ballgame, minus the usual mile-high scratching and clawing.

Lord knows being a Mets fan is a constant slog through shadowed valleys, but I don’t understand how Rockies fans do it. Watching this brand of baseball is exhausting, the entertainment equivalent of plowing a field full of old munitions. When your team wins you feel like you got away with something, and when it loses you feel like a mark for showing up. I don’t know if I could take 81 games of this in any season, let alone a rebuilding one in which you know the local nine is going to get beaten to a pulp 50-odd times. I suppose my cap is tipped.

Bonus content, because I don’t want to leave you good folks with that: The three volumes of The Holy Books feature cards for not only every Mets player but also every Mets manager, and yes, that does include interim skippers Salty Parker, Roy McMillan and Mike Cubbage. Cubbage got a Topps TV card as a coach, which I deemed good enough for my purposes; because I’m insane, I made custom cards for Parker and McMillan, an undertaking that led to a belated but real appreciation for the thoroughly amazing baseball life led by Francis James Parker.

But this year presented a problem: Topps no longer seems to make manager cards, even in nostalgia-laden sets featuring designs from years when skippers received their cardboard due. There were no manager cards in last year’s Topps Heritage set, which recreated the burlap design of the ’68 series, and there are none in this year’s ’69-replica Heritage set, either. I know one Mets collector lunatic isn’t a market, but this is disappointing given the attention to detail that Topps has brought to Heritage.

A baseball-card story I love: 2011 Heritage was based on the ’62 design, and Topps went all in on the historical parallels where the Mets were concerned. As in the original ’62 set, there was no Mets team card, most of the Mets were photographed from the neck up, and many of them weren’t wearing caps. Topps even trotted out an “error” card featuring David Wright as a Red, mimicking Don Zimmer‘s post-trade card in which he’s wearing a Mets hat but correctly identified as Cincinnati property. (Seriously, the effort was extraordinary. See for yourself: Thanks to the good folks at The Trading Card Database, here’s the 2011 Topps Heritage gallery and here’s one of the original Mets.)

I tried to solve my missing-manager problem by pulling a fast one: I used Topps’s own custom-card service to try and order myself a Mickey Callaway utilizing the 2018 design, blowing through the website’s warning that copyrighted photos would be rejected in hopes that no one was really checking.

Narrator’s voice: Someone was checking.

Oh well, on to Plan B: a ’69-style Callaway I could make myself, like the one we should have gotten in Heritage. This turned out to be a bigger undertaking than I thought: I’d never noticed that those ’69 manager cards had really tricky backs, with pen-and-ink headshots of the managers, bespoke cartoons and names spelled out with overlapping letters.

But I persevered, and am proud to report that I’ve won through to the uncertain reward of having my very own Mickey Callaway card. Perhaps I will hold it up as a talisman next time a middle reliever hits in the seventh inning.

One Lead is Safe at Coors Field

You don’t bring a Jason Vargas to a slugfest if you wish to prevail in the slugfest. Then again, you might not have a full-fledged slugfest without Jason Vargas, for as offensive a bent as Coors Field possesses, it takes a Vargas to ensure at least one side’s scoring soars to mile-high levels.

A properly calibrated Iron Mike would serve the same basic purpose as the Mets lefty, but the club generally doesn’t travel with a NEW YORK road jersey quite so large. Vargas, on the other hand, fits into his uniform fine for as long as he wears it, which, when he starts, isn’t for very long. Judging from the postgame coverage SNY airs, no Met is ever quite so thoroughly showered, dried and dressed when facing the media as Vargas. Never pitching beyond the fifth inning at least earns you first dibs on the hot water.

Tuesday night in Denver, even after an eighty-minute rain delay, Jason got to knock off extra early, leaving the game in the third, having surrendered three consecutive home runs (to Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story and Ian Desmond) before hitting a guy. The hitting a guy is what moved Mickey Callaway to remove him, reminding me of Baltimore Colts legend Art Donovan’s tale of teammate Don Joyce. Joyce devoured 38 pieces of fried chicken and every side dish on the table to win a gluttony contest, yet was still careful to add saccharin rather than sugar to his iced tea at the end because he didn’t want to overdo it.

It was 6-2, Rockies, when savvy veteran Vargas exited with more velocity than he throws, leaving Hansel Robles to clean up his mess — perhaps not the ideal match of personnel to assignment — and the Met hitters to add ballast to the bromide that no lead is safe at Coors Field. Colorado’s lead, inflated to 8-2 before the fourth and 9-2 by the fifth, proved safe. Hansel, like Jason, didn’t let his spate of recent positive pitching get in the way of testifying on behalf of the ballpark’s reputation. The most Callaway could fiddle while Robles burned was asking for a crew chief review of an RBI double that struck the yellow foul line high on the left field wall. There was not much doubt that it would be confirmed fair, but when your pitchers are letting you down, you can’t be blamed for hoping a second glance might prop you up.

Mickey would have been better off requesting a crew chief review of what he was thinking when he aligned his rotation in advance of this series. His starter from Tuesday has registered a 13.50 earned run average across four career outings inside the home of the Rockies. A stiff shot of Vargas followed by a Robles chaser may be the quintessential Coors cocktail. You can chug one of those babies in the dampest of humidors and you’ll still feel its kick.

The Mets’ newly honed ability to reach bases and cross plates eventually emerged, albeit for display purposes only. The visitors whittled their deficit at various intervals to 9-4, 10-6 and, most tantalizingly, 10-8 in the ninth inning, but recovering quickly and completely from a Vargas-Robles hangover is nearly impossible in thin air. The oddest of several Met missteps was Asdrubal Cabrera getting himself caught off second base with two out in the fifth after strike two on Todd Frazier got away from Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta. Cabrera could be seen urgently motioning the batter to run to first, apparently believing Frazier had just swung through strike three. With simple mathematics preventing Todd from advancing, Asdrubal engaged tentatively in a rundown that would be ultimately scored 2-5-6-5-4 for the third out, an outcome that certified Tuesday as not just an official game, but an official Mets game.

Perhaps the most encouraging development from the two-run loss was not the cosmetic compilation of runs registered versus the preternaturally generous Rockies relief corps but that the Mets slogging through the soggy evening while not blatantly exhausting their bullpen. Chris Beck and Tim Peterson soaked up the final four innings sans excess Sturm und Drang, Peterson demonstrating the most absorbency (six up, six down). Tim was added to the roster anew when Jay Bruce was dispatched to the disabled list, as inevitable a destination for him as an early shower is for Vargas. Poor Jay…bad foot, bad back, bad hip…bad season.

Because the Mets decided in favor of an extra arm to withstand the delights of Denver, they entered Tuesday’s game short of a spare outfielder. Given the presence of righthander German Marquez on the mound for Colorado, Callaway opted to start in left field lefty-swinging Dom Smith, heretofore almost exclusively a first baseman, but someone who had taken a handful of fly balls previously, if never amid the cow pasture that constitutes Coors Field’s most distant precincts.

When you play left field behind Jason Vargas and Hansel Robles, you should be all right. The only defensive skill critical to exhibit is the ability to jog to the track and sympathetically watch the ball clear the fence. Smith did that fine. Smith also injected the Mets outfield with more youth than we are accustomed to seeing. With 23-year-old Dom keeping company alongside 25-year-old Michael Conforto and 25-year-old Brandon Nimmo, Tuesday night marked the first Met lineup in which left, center and right were all manned by kids under 26 since September 24, 1997. Populating the outfield that long-ago Shea night — one game after the Mets had been eliminated from their valiant Wild Card chase — were Butch Huskey, Carlos Mendoza and Alex Ochoa.

Huskey and Ochoa enjoyed respectable if briefer than projected major league tenures. Mendoza, whom presumably few remember broke up Dustin Hermanson’s no-hit bid in what innings later became known to aficionados as the Carl Everett Game, sipped one cup of coffee with the ’97 Mets and another with the 2000 Rockies. Between those stints, he was drafted by the fledgling Tampa Bay Devil Rays in a team-building exercise gone awry. The composite Flushing staying power of the Huskey-Mendoza-Ochoa unit never added up to more than this mention in this blog.

Conforto has already been a National League All-Star. Nimmo, despite a couple of foibles in right Wednesday night, could be on the road to becoming one extremely soon. Smith is still finding himself, an occupational hazard for 23-year-olds regardless of profession. Dom’s first base competence didn’t inspire anybody’s additional confidence in the ninth inning on Sunday in Arizona when he flipped a seemingly caught ball between his legs and provided umpire Bruce Dreckman every inclination to call an out baserunner (Alex Avila) safe once he dropped it like he was Marv Throneberry handling a slice of birthday cake. As Casey Stengel might have suggested, if you wanna be an acrobat, join the Flying Wallendas — and if you wanna be the Mets’ regular first baseman, transfer the ball from your glove to your hand like a regular first baseman.

Smith is a decidedly irregular left fielder, considering it’s never been his position until this season, and then just for the sake of experiment. With Bruce on the DL and Yoenis Cespedes suspected in certain quarters as something akin to spiritual AWOL, experiments can suddenly take on a life of their own. The Mets’ third outfielder these days is Jose Bautista, better suited for pinch-hitting as he strives to extend the twilight of what remains of his major league career. Dom has thus been thrust up the outfield depth chart. The cringe factor at seeing “Smith” penciled in next to “LF” might have been as high as Coors’s elevation, but the young man did nothing blatantly wrong in the field (if nothing particularly encouraging at the plate). Giving his bat every chance to connect is a reasonable goal on a team that, snapped three-game winning streak notwithstanding, probably isn’t about to begin valiantly chasing a Wild Card. Let’s just say it won’t be the occasional Dom Smith start in left that figures to hold the 2018 Mets back.

Besides, if some other team stuck their version of Dom Smith in the outfield, we’d envy their flair for versatility, admire how they cunningly infused their lineup with an extra dose of potential power and yearn for the brand of Mets manager who gaudily dared to insert Kevin Mitchell at shortstop. Assuming the worst of the contemporary Mets is understandable, often justified, but now and then giving something unorthodox a chance to succeed — or even not succeed — isn’t the worst thing a ballclub can do.

Starting Jason Vargas at Coors Field is the worst thing a ballclub can do.

Vargas won’t give up any runs on Thursday, June 28, because the Mets won’t be playing. But you will have something to do, thanks to OFF NIGHT FOR METS FANS, a literary-leaning get-together at Two Boots Midtown East in Manhattan. Check out the details here. We hope to see you there.

It's Good to Laugh

I didn’t want to look up the last time the Mets won a laugher, because I knew the answer would be startling at first and then depressing. (It was May 15, when they beat the Blue Jays by 10.) Kind of like this season has been.

Anyway, Monday night’s tilt in Colorado was only a laugher in retrospect: the Rockies crept within 4-2 in the 7th thanks to some dopey Met defense, which had the normally stoic Jacob deGrom glowering out at his teammates, a show of emotion that was both rare and thoroughly understandable. Giving up six runs in five starts and seeing your team go 0-5 gives you the right to side-eye anyone even vaguely related to what’s befallen you.

DeGrom didn’t look terrific, but that was probably the lack of Colorado air nipping some of the wrinkle off his pitches — Charlie Blackmon offered an interesting perspective on hitting a mile above sea level that I hadn’t heard before, opining that fastballs kept more of their velocity but lost some of their movement. But he was certainly good enough. I had to chuckle at how he finished off the seventh by throwing a 97 MPH fastball past Tom Murphy at the top of the zone, as if to say (or at least to mentally mutter) “let’s see one of those other idiots drop this one.” Devin Mesoraco was the only other Met involved with the pitch, and he didn’t drop anything. DeGrom and the Mets were out of trouble, and two in the 8th and six in the 9th made trouble a dot in the rearview mirror.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, there was actual hitting. Brandon Nimmo, still wreathed in Arizona laurels, hit the fourth pitch of the game off the right-field fence, discombobulating Carlos Gonzalez and leaving Nimmo to outrun everything except his smile for an inside-the-park homer. Nimmo would add a conventional round-tripper later and two hits besides, delighting his family and what seemed like a good chunk of the population of Cheyenne. Other Mets chipped in, too: Mesoraco and Wilmer Flores homered, while Michael Conforto and Amed Rosario had three hits apiece. Heck, not even the Joses were completely useless.

It was a relatively normal game, a welcome thing given the near-Biblical rain of horrors that’s pelted this team for two months. Yes, there was that late-inning quaver in the knees that sometimes portends a Coors Field collapse and leaves you remembering how everything seemed in hand until the other guys put up that beastly crooked number. But, well, you should see the other guy. The Mets hit often, ran the bases tolerably, pitched terrific and fielded just well enough to finally give their most talented pitcher the support he deserves. Twelve runs a night is good; that number being more runs than they’d scored in deGrom’s eight previous starts is a travesty.

But hey, our ragamuffin team has somehow won three in a row. Here’s to Nimmo’s smile being the Mets’ summertime equivalent of Rudolph’s red nose, a beacon to guide them anywhere other than where they’ve been.

Happy Nimmo to All You Fathers Out There

“Dinner’s waiting, hon’.”
“One minute. Game’s almost over.”
“Is that still on? Haven’t they lost already?”
“Hey, have some faith here. Wheeler pitched great, even Robles pitched well and, besides, they won last night.”
“Yes, dear, but the kids and I hate to see you disappointed on Father’s Day.”

“Daddy, dinner’s ready!”
“One minute, sweetie. Daddy’s team is still playing.”
“Is Daddy’s team losing again?”
“Daddy’s team is playing. That’s the important thing. If they’re playing, what does that mean?”
“Um, that they’re gonna lose?”
“No, sweetie. That it’s not over and that they can still win.”

“Dad! Mom says dinner’s getting cold and she’s got that look again.”
“One minute. It’s almost over. Wanna watch with your old man?”
“Watch WHAT? I’m doing something.”
“The Mets game.”
“Baseball? That’s so BORING.”
“It’s not boring. You just haven’t given it a chance.”
“Ugh.”
“C’mon, watch with your old man. It’s Father’s Day.”
“Whatever.”

“Daddy, what’s going on on the TV?”
“Well, sweetie, the Mets are batting.”
“Which Mets is that?”
“Met, sweetie. One Met.”
“Which Met is that?”
“That’s Jose Reyes.”
“He looks like a raccoon!”
“He’s wearing eye black, sweetie. It helps him block out the sun.”
“But it already looks dark in there on the TV.”
“They’re playing indoors because it’s hot in Arizona.”
“Then why does the raccoon eyes man have to block out the sun?”
“I don’t know, he just likes to do that.”

“This is so SLOW.”
“Settle down, champ. It’s almost over.”
“If it’s almost over, then why do we have to keep watching? You already know how it’s gonna end. They’re gonna LOSE.”
“You don’t know until it actually happens. Five years ago on Father’s Day, Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit a home run to win the game when it looked like the Mets would lose. You watched with me. You were a lot cuter then.”
“Kirk WHOENHEIS? God, that’s a stupid name.”
“Stay quiet for a minute, would you?”

“Daddy, what’s the raccoon eyes man doing?”
“He’s bunting, sweetie.”
“Bunting? What’s bunting?”
“Bunting is when you hit the ball just a little.”
“Aren’t you supposed to hit the ball a lot?”
“See, Jose is fast…well, he used to be…and if he hits it just a little and nobody on the other team can get to the ball, then he gets to be on base, except this bunt is probably going to roll…OH MY GOD!”
“What’s wrong, Daddy?”
“Nothing’s wrong, sweetie. The ball didn’t roll foul and the catcher picked it up too soon and Jose is safe!”

“So is this is over yet? I’m HUNGRY.”
“Watch, would you? You’ll learn to appreciate something.”

“Hon’, dinner’s been sitting on the table for like ten minutes now.”
“Hold on, we have a rally going.”

“Daddy, what’s a rally?”
“It’s when Daddy’s team has a chance to score.”
“Does that ever happen?”
“Sometimes. It happened in the first inning.”
“What inning is this?”
“It’s the ninth.”
“Is that a lot since the first inning?”
“Yes.”
“Which Mets is that?”
“Met.”
“Which Met is that?”
“Jose Bautista.”
“What happened to his raccoon eyes?”
“That was Jose Reyes, sweetie. He’s a different Jose and he’s on base now. This is Jose Bautista.”

“Jose WHATISTA? Your team has so many stupid names.”
“How is that a stupid name?”
“I don’t know. It just is.”
“Go help your mother.”
“Ugh.”

“Daddy, what’s the different Jose man doing?”
“He’s flying to right field…”
“Without an airplane?”
“It’s an expression, sweetie…it’s deep, going to the corner and…OH MY GOD!”
“What’s wrong, Daddy?”
“Nothing’s wrong, sweetie. Bautista’s ball fell in for a double for the Mets, Reyes scored and the Mets are within one run of tying the other team. Why do you always think something’s wrong?”
“Because you always go OH MY GOD when the Mets play and you always seem so upset.”
“Daddy’s not upset, sweetie. Daddy’s almost happy.”

“Mom’s getting annoyed in the kitchen.”
“Tell her to come in here. You too.”
“Why?”
“Because it’s Father’s Day and I said so.”
“Ugh. That’s stupid, too.”
“Just do it, OK?”
“Whatever.”

“Who’s the smiley man, Daddy?”
“That’s Brandon Nimmo. He’s very happy all the time.”
“Why is he so happy?”
“Because he’s on the Mets.”
“How come nobody else on the Mets looks that happy?”
“Brandon has a different personality.”
“Person…”
“Personality, sweetie. It’s like how a person is usually. Your brother is sullen, your mother is impatient and you’re…”
“What am I, Daddy?”
“You’re unnaturally inquisitive.”

“I thought you said we’d be sitting down in a minute.”
“We will be.”
“That was fifteen minutes ago.”
“It’s baseball.”
“I like when you get caught up in the sports that have a clock. At least I can time dinner that way.”

“I’m getting some bread. This is stupid.”
“Just sit down. You can all watch the end of the Mets game with me on what’s supposed to be my day.”

“Dinner’s basically frozen now, you know.”
“I’ll put it in the microwave.”
“We could have just had Lean Cuisine. Would have saved me a lot of trouble.”

“Lean Cuisine SUCKS. Ugh.”
“Can you all just give me a minute to watch Brandon Nimmo bat?”

“The smiley man!”
“Yes, sweetie. The smiley man…OH MY GOD!”
“What’s wrong, Daddy?”

“Yes, dear, what’s wrong? Of all the noises you make during Mets games, I don’t think I’ve ever heard that one lately.”

“Is Dad sick? Do we have to take him to the emergency room? Ugh, hospitals are so BORING!”

“Nothing’s wrong. I’m not sick. You haven’t heard that noise during Mets games because it’s the noise I make when the Mets snatch potential victory from the jaws of defeat, and they almost never do that anymore — but they just did, I think.”

“The smiley man did it, Daddy?”
“That’s right, sweetie. The smiley man, Brandon Nimmo, just hit a two-run homer to put the Mets ahead four to three and…OH MY GOD!”
“What’s wrong, Daddy?”
“What’s right, sweetie, you mean!”
“What’s right, Daddy?”
“Asdrubal Cabrera just hit a home run, too! The Mets are up five to three!”
“Yay Astoobull!”
“Yes, sweetie. Yay Astoobull!”

“That’s another stupid name.”
“How have you not picked up an iota of my cultural sensitivity?”
“UGH. I have to pick up everything around here!”

“Congratulations, dear. I’m very happy the Mets won for you on Father’s Day. And now we can go heat up dinner and…”
“Um, we still have to watch the bottom of the ninth. But as soon as Gsellman gets the last three outs, we’ll be fine. See, the first out is right there, an easy ground ball, Dom Smith has it and he’s going to take it out of his glove and…OH MY GOD!!!”

“What’s wrong, Daddy?”
“Nothing, sweetie. Hon’, take the kids out of the room. Go start eating without me. I think I need to be alone.”

“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I’ll be along in three outs. They will get the three outs. I just have to sit here a little longer, by myself, with the lights off, and everything will be fine. Just fine.”

“Mommy, is Daddy OK? Why is he talking to himself? Why did that man toss the ball between his legs? Is he a circus man? And which one is the gazelle man? Was he the one riding on the back of the big baseball hat?”
“Don’t worry about it, sweetie. Your father does some version of this every night after you go to bed.”

Even the Losers (Get Lucky Sometimes)

The essential kindness of baseball is that even a 51-111 team — which Greg noted is what the Mets have been since their 11-1 head fake — will give you more than half a hundred days and nights that end with a fist pump, a satisfied nod or at least a sigh of relief. The Mets beat the Diamondbacks Saturday night in Phoenix and it wasn’t even all that close: Michael Conforto hit a line-drive homer into the stands for three runs, Steven Matz looked superb working into the seventh and disaster was averted when creaky Asdrubal Cabrera managed to force his battered parts into motion enough to collar a bases-loaded grounder and flip it to still young and spry Amed Rosario.

Oh, and Robert Gsellman even used the bullpen cart. The rest of the pitchers were amused — the way Noah Syndergaard reacted, you’d think Gsellman alighted from a carriage in Cinderella’s full regalia — but I imagined Tug McGraw out there somewhere, slapping a spectral glove against his thigh in approval.

If you’re in a good mood, stop there and skip down to the three stars for more nice things.

Still here, you masochist? All right then: I couldn’t help but notice, however, that the Mets’ victory hinged on contributions from three players whose development and basic care have been horrifically mismanaged by the club.

Conforto is the best position player the Mets have developed in years, but the Mets wasted his 2016 season by adhering to an idiotic Just So Story from Terry Collins that he couldn’t hit lefties because he was a young player and not a Proven Veteran™. They have forced him to play center field, where he’s adequate at best and has never looked comfortable. They’ve done that mostly to placate Yoenis Cespedes, but have continued doing it even with Cespedes on the DL, leading to outfield alignments in which all three Mets are at their second-best position. This year, we were cheered when Conforto returned early from his grotesque shoulder injury, but it seems somewhere between “highly possible” and [sad shake of the head] that he was rushed, and would have greatly benefited from more recovery time followed by a lengthy rehab to avoid bad habits.

Matz has pitched very well this year despite various aches and pains, a narrative that’s come to fit him like a tailored suit — he’s the Guy Who’s Great When He’s On the Field (Which He Usually Isn’t). But once again, look a little deeper and you’ll find the Mets treating an injury — and a young player’s development — with negligence bordering on cruel indifference. Matz has seemed much sounder physically since surgery to reposition his ulnar nerve, a procedure for which he was shut down last August. At the time, Collins claimed Matz wasn’t injured — but then it came out that Matz was getting through the season with a regimen of game-day injections in that elbow, which often swelled to the size of a grapefruit, and had been either skipping or scrapping his bullpen sessions because of pain. Yes, most pitchers lie about their health and stubbornly try to push through anything short of a torn ligament — I’ve always thought that was all Dan Warthen meant with his comment about John Maine being a habitual liar — but well-run teams know this kind of macho stupidity is the norm and perform their own investigations. You’d think a well-run team might notice an ineffective young lefty’s elbow wouldn’t look out of place with a Sunkist sticker on it and take action, but this is the Mets. They didn’t last year and still don’t this year, despite all the happy talk about new personnel and wiser regimens.

Which brings us to Cabrera. Like the Mets as a whole, he got off to a ferocious start and is now trying to drag himself through the season on his hands and knees. Cabrera can barely move out there or at the plate, and looks all but helpless. He should be on the 10-day disabled list, along with Jay Bruce, with the injury a chance to let Luis Guillorme develop. But because this is the Mets, Cabrera is being thrown to the wolves night after night, in hopes that some sort of medical miracle will ensue. If you watch the Mets, you know that Flushing isn’t exactly Baseball Lourdes — the lame and sick tend to acquire crutches and boils, rather than be relieved of them. But Cabrera remains out there doing whatever he’s capable of doing — and hey, rumor has it Bruce is starting this afternoon.

For one night in the desert it worked. You play 162 games, that will happen sometimes. But it doesn’t happen nearly as often as we’d like, or the players we watch deserve, and the blame lies with the people who own this ramshackle franchise and dictate the shambling, self-destructive way it’s been run and will continue to be run.

* * *

Last night’s Mets game came with an appetizer that nearly topped the meal: our first trip of the year to MCU Park to see the Brooklyn Cyclones. After watching the last bits of the Mermaid Parade, having our spines realigned on the Cyclone and taking a more leisurely spin around the Wonder Wheel, we plunked ourselves down in our seats and watched the Cyclones dismantle the Staten Island Yankees, 7-0. Briam Campusano pitched six no-hit innings for Brooklyn (a night after Staten Island’s Matt Sauer did the same to them), Fort Greene’s Manny Rodriguez made his home-borough debut for the good guys, Kendall Coleman crashed a grand slam through the teeth of Coney Island’s punishing on-shore breeze and Jose Brizuela had two triples, a double and three runs scored. (Unfortunately absent: Cyclones manager Edgardo Alfonzo, but we’ll give him a pass: he was in the Dominican Republic for his induction into the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame.)

Coleman, by the way, is the first player to have played for both Staten Island and Brooklyn — he came over in the apparent dog-and-cat minor-league deal that sent L.J. Mazzilli to the Yankees. After last night, I’m gonna put that trade in our column.

Oh, and a few seconds after I admitted I was cold, Emily caught a t-shirt and handed it over. If you had any doubt, I’m the ballast in our family enterprise.

After the game, the Cyclones blitzed us with a no-foreplay 10 minutes or so of pretty solid fireworks, ending with an orgy of rockets while the Parachute Jump was decked out like an American flag and the park’s light towers’ neon circles became red, white and blue pinwheels. It was ridiculously on the nose and it worked. This also reminded me of a Cyclones’ Fireworks Night where the game went into extra innings. So to not run afoul of a Coney Island curfew, the decision was made to simply combine the fireworks show with the remainder of the game. Yes, bombs were bursting in air right behind the batter’s eye. That was perhaps the ultimate proof of something we’ve said a lot over the years, and that’s become a Bull Durhamesque koan in our family: Anything can happen in the New York-Penn League.

Anyway, we’ve been having a blast going to see the Cyclones for 17 years now, somehow, and last night has to rank as one of the best outings. Whatever your record is and however many body parts you have ailing, happy summer!

Mets Fail to Cream Godley

“You don’t know how to ease my pain…”

The Mets lost 7-3 to the Diamondbacks on Friday night, one night after losing to the Diamondbacks, 6-3. Three runs scored on each of two consecutive nights might very well be taken as, per the least intuitive manager on earth, a sign that the Mets are “slowly coming out of” their seemingly permanent offensive coma, but the giving up of that many runs may also be telling us that the outstanding starting pitching that’s been oblivious to a lack of support is reverting to merely decent — with the bullpen providing no help whatsoever. On this ballclub, merely decent starting pitching will get your starting pitcher no more than a half-hearted pat on the ass.

“You don’t know how to play the game…”

Seth Lugo earned a pat on the ass that had some thrust to it even if he wasn’t as on point as he’d been in his previous rotation cameos. Only Jacob deGrom can stay on point forever without someone standing behind him to prop him up on an off night. Seth had an off night. He wobbled. Then the Mets fell down. The Mets were never much up to begin with. True, they had baserunners, which was a charming change of pace from most games, but the key word within the word “baserunners” is “run” and the Mets avoided posting many of those.

Against Zack Godley (not to be confused with Zack Greinke, but definitely conflated with Kevin Godley in my musically attuned mind), the Mets got Michael Conforto to third in the first, but didn’t score. In the second, Jose Bautista led off with a walk, “raced” to third on Dom Smith’s double and charged home on Amed Rosario’s fly ball to definitely not deep, really more like shallow center. Jarrod Dyson’s throw not only beat Bautista to the plate by ten feet, Bautista slid closer to Chase Field’s old-timey moundward dirt path than he did that white, pentagonal object that was presumably his goal. The third brought something resembling results: Lugo singled (because Met pitchers have to be doing it for themselves); Conforto switched bodies with Brandon Nimmo and absorbed a hit by pitch; and defensive specialist Todd Frazier doubled to bring Lugo in from second. Todd made with the salt-and-pepper grinder motion upon landing at second, as if that’s a totem still in its prime. He might as well have cued up the Mojo Risin’ refrain from “L.A. Woman”.

With runners on second and third, the Mets were set to make Godley cry. Yeah, right. Nimmo struck out, Cabrera struck out. Bautista struck out. Inning over. The part of the game that seemed remotely promising over. Paul Goldschmidt had already homered and his teammates began to follow his example. The Mets were down by two when Smith, turning 23 with a flair, homered to start the fourth. Kevin Plawecki, the nearly invisible catcher, walked. Then he walked too far from first and was picked off. In the best of times, Kevin Plawecki reminds me of Hawkeye Pierce’s description of a doctor back home he didn’t care for: “incredibly average Vernon Parsons”. These are not the best of times. With Devin Mesoraco’s status as savior not as sturdy as it once was, it’s becoming hard to not notice what a black hole catcher has again become. Perhaps Jose Lobaton and Tomás Nido weren’t such an aberration after all.

Here’s Sandy Alderson on the subject, or at least Sandy Alderson saying what I imagine he’d say, based on listening to him these past eight seasons:

“I wouldn’t say we’re ‘satisfied’ with our catching situation, but right now the industry is experiencing something of a developmental drought at the position, so when you view it through the most relevant prism, I wouldn’t characterize an upgrade as a priority for us.”

Thanks for weighing in, imaginary GM.

Where were we? Oh yeah, losing. Losing 3-2 after four, losing 5-2 after five (Daniel Descalso doing the longball honors), losing 6-2 after Jon Jay drove in pesky Dyson, who had walked, stolen second and stolen third off the inspiring duo of Plawecki and Chris Beck, the latest Mets pitcher you’d never heard of until basically just now. Jay also stole a base, except replay review was mercifully inconclusive when he was mysteriously called out at second. And don’t think Goldschmidt put his bat away. A seventh-inning single off legendary missing bullpen piece Anthony Swarzak plated Jay, who skipped the uncertainty of stealing and opted to triple.

That made it 7-2 going to the ninth. My man Jose Reyes led off, worked an eight-pitch at-bat and doubled. For an instant I was transported out of 2018 and into 2006, specifically that four-game series in June when the Mets extracted every last ounce of venom from the Diamondbacks’ bloodstream, outscoring them 11-0 in just the first innings of that series and 37-9 overall. Reyes scored five runs in those four games. Goldschmidt has almost all by himself outscored the Mets this June.

Do I have to come back to the present? Well, like the Mets, we’re almost done. With one out, incredibly average (if that) Plawecki reached on an error, allowing Jose to motor to third. With two out, the suddenly active and relatively spry Wilmer Flores doubled. That’s two doubles in one inning, adding up to…let me check…yes, we got an additional run. We also had seven hits, a total we hadn’t summed in literally nearly two weeks.

Then we lost. But you already knew that.

“You don’t even know how to say goodbye.”

Flores got to reacclimate to first base late and Smith roamed left field for a few innings. These Spring Training games are ideal for switching guys around. True, this wasn’t a Spring Training game, but who can say any longer that they count for anything, except for counting purposes? In the “Two Cathedrals” episode of The West Wing the ghostly presence of Mrs. Landingham demanded of President Bartlet, “Give me numbers.”

Here’s the set I find most telling: 17-37. That’s the Mets’ record over the past 54 games. That’s easy math in our Base 162 system of keeping track. You multiply your 54-game record by three and you’ve got a full season’s total. Multiply 17-37 by three and you have 51-111.

That’s the record posted by the 1963 Mets, who were an immense improvement over the 1962 Mets, who were the first Mets, so they, like their immediate successors, had an excuse. They also had a manager who made the torrent of defeats tolerable. We have Mickey Callaway, whose postgame analysis honest-to-god centered on how much more the Mets would have scored had they just hit a few more grounders to second when they had runners on third with less than two out.

I am reminded of one more exchange, this from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, which I first saw right around the time Godley & Creme’s “Cry” was in heavy MTV rotation.

MOTHER SUPERIOR: Oh Rusty, you are an inspiration to us all!
PEE-WEE: I’ll say! I’m going to start a paper route right now!

Here is my pro bono communications consultant advice to Mickey: Next time you’re surrounded by reporters asking you about the loss you’ve just managed, dig into your pocket, fish out your phone, tell them you’ve really got to take this call and walk away.

And keep walking if you like.