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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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Friday Night Void

When the Mets are on a TV near you as a matter of course, which I grant you isn’t often this month, it’s swell to sit down and watch, but it’s not what I’d classify a treat. A steady diet of even the tastiest dessert — and what are Gary, Keith and Ron if not a brownie sundae after dinner practically every night? — can’t be a treat if you come to expect it.

On Friday night, April 8, 1983, I was ready for a treat. My kind of treat. As a college student in Tampa, I almost never saw the Mets on TV. True, I’d seen them in person a week before at Al Lopez Field, but that was Spring Training. I was supposed to see them the next afternoon in St. Pete, too, but it rained.

It was a foreshadowy shower, it turned out, just like every instance of rain has begat more rain this month, or in the case of the Mets in Denver at the moment, snow. Tonight, a Friday night, there’s no game. We haven’t yet had a Friday night game in 2021. Or a Friday day game, come to think of it. There were none scheduled the last two weeks because Openers were set for the respective preceding Thursdays (even if only one was played) and baseball where fields were built unroofed thinks it outwits the elements annually by holding aside the day after its Openers lest it risk losing a gate in case of inclement weather. (Seen a lot of big gates lately?) A Friday in baseball season without Mets baseball is no better than chicken broth for the soul. You’re glad it’s Friday, but where are the noodles? Where are the bits of chicken and slices of carrots?

Where’s the nourishment?

The 1983 Mets opened the season at Shea on Tuesday the Fifth — fella named Seaver pitched in home whites for the first time there in a buncha years — and continued on Thursday the Seventh. They reached a quick 2-0 and had themselves a night game set for Friday the Eighth.

A night game that was going to be televised in the Tampa Bay area! Not a national broadcast, mind you, but a feed picked up from one of the combatants. It was Mets and Cardinals, both of whom prepped for the season ahead at Al Lang Stadium, not to be confused with Al Lopez Field, springtime home of the Reds. When it came to baseball in Tampa-St. Pete and environs, it was Al in the family. If you trained in Tampa Bay, they remembered you now and then once you broke camp. There were no Rays. There were baseball fans. There were a couple of independent stations, Channels 28 and 44, that aired baseball games from distant precincts. They weren’t always Mets games, but you can be damn sure I was all over it when one was.

This was my wheelhouse. This was my Friday night. I thought about it all week long. Mets and Cardinals, live from Shea, 8:05 PM in the TV lounge on the ninth floor at Fontana Hall. If I were home, I imagined, I’d order a pie and maybe a quart of a leading national brand of cola from Capri. Gino’s was the best, but Capri delivered and would do very nicely in my dream scenario. I’d bring the pie in from the delivery guy and turn on the set. Who am I kidding? The set would already be on, but I’d tune it to Channel 9 at the end of a long day. I saw myself ending the workweek in the city in the late afternoon sun, trudging toward Penn Station. There was a little trash in the gutter at the corner in my mind, but that was OK, because it’s Manhattan in 1983 and that’s what New York looks like.

Joe Walsh scored the scene for me.

Somewhere out on that horizon
Out beyond the neon lights
I know there must be something better
But there’s nowhere else in sight

Yes, Joe, there was something better, and of course it’s in sight. The Mets game! Tonight! Channel 9! Let’s go!

Never mind that I was 20 years old, had no job in the city and was nowhere near town. Tampa would do for tonight. Three weeks from now I’d be back in New York, but I didn’t want to wait for proximity to the Mets while they were playing games that counted. My favorite part of the long drive from Florida, other than concluding it, was reaching Baltimore or thereabouts. The East Coast began to look more North than South by then. It looked lived in, like the city Walsh sang about on The Warriors soundtrack (and the Eagles recorded on The Long Run). Time it right, and you might hear Bob Murphy and Steve Lamar calling a John Stearns at-bat through the static, or at least a sports report at fifteen after or fifteen before the hour on WCBS or WINS attesting to the existence of the Mets, something that didn’t often come up on Tampa Bay radio.

When you’re living somewhere else in the pre-Internet age, you get romantic about where you’re not anymore. You get famished for any nibble from home. A nibble of Mets baseball would satiate. An entire nine innings projected as a feast.

The game was an eight o’clock start, as night games were in those days. Games didn’t routinely yawn for three-and-a-half hours, so it wasn’t really late. Daylight Savings Time didn’t kick in until late April, so it had to be dark, not only in New York but in Tampa. Still, in my mind, that golden late afternoon sun is streaming through the window when I head out into the TV lounge to ascertain it’s unoccupied and lay claim to the channel-changer. First come, first served. Did my neighbors think they had better things to do than watch a Mets game on a Friday night? Trick question: there was no thing better to do than watch a Mets game on a Friday night.

Ha, nobody’s out here! It’s mine! All mine! I get to watch the Mets on a big color TV! What a treat! Should I order a pie, or would that be gauche?

Bob from down the hall saw me approach the set, my fingers practically flexing in anticipation of dialing in the UHF frequency that would allow me to commune with my baseball team. Bob was from Jersey. We weren’t particularly close, but Bob knew me well enough.

“Hey, Greg, if you’re looking for the Mets game, forget it. It was rained out.”

So it was. There went Friday night. No treat for me. No game on tonight, either. Pizza sounds good, though.

Sounds great, actually.

Washed Out April Afternoons

The Mets had an April in 1981 that would seem familiar to any Mets fan feeling all rained out forty Aprils later. Opening Day arrived as scheduled Thursday, April 9, in Chicago, followed by an off day, followed by a Wrigley Field weekend as planned…except it was nasty on the North Side on Sunday the Twelfth and would-be rookie phenom Tim Leary felt something in his elbow and didn’t get the chance to be phenomenal for more than two innings and wouldn’t be back on the mound for the Mets until September 25, 1983. Still, they took two of three from the Cubs and lived up to the notion that the Magic, as the ads promised, was Real.

Monday the Thirteenth was a scheduled off day. Tuesday was set to be the Home Opener versus St. Louis, except it rained on April 14, 1981, like it’s rained on April 15, 2021. I can vouch for the former, having held a ticket to the first Home Opener I was going to witness in person. Sure I had a Spanish test that day, but what’s the point of being a high school senior if not to learn to make vital life choices?

My first choice was to skip the test. My second choice was picking a date to exchange the rain check for at the Shea box office once my pal and fellow Spanish classmate Joel and I were told the gates would not open. We were deprived of our first glimpse of the newly installed Mets Magic-branded Home Run Apple (it sat in a top hat, in case the theme wasn’t abundantly clear), though I think we eventually got to take a makeup exam en Español. Thus, we wound up indulging our late-stage truancy for the pleasure of a round-trip train ride; a peek at the KINGMAN FALLOUT ZONE placard on a parking lot lamp post; and a bowl of matzo ball soup at Marron’s of Long Beach at the end of our return journey. We needed the comfort.

The Mets played on the Fifteenth and Sixteenth, winning one and losing one to the Cardinals. Good Friday on the Seventeenth was another off day. Saturday the Eighteenth was a home loss to the daunting Expos. Sunday the Nineteenth was a scheduled Easter doubleheader versus Les Spos and the presumed crown jewel of Nostalgia Album Weekend. Attendees were handed glossy magazines with reprinted articles from the Times confirming that Mets Magic used to be less hype and actually actual. The Mets went .500 that day, forging a split that left them 4-4 on the pokey young season.

Even Steven was an ethos that would resonate across the ensuing week. April 20 was a scheduled off day. So was April 21. The Mets got back on the field at last in Pittsburgh on Wednesday the Twenty-Second. They played one game there, though you wouldn’t know it from its impact on the standings. The final score was 2-2 — a tie…an honest-to-goodness regulation tie, with the Mets and Bucs deadlocked the middle of the ninth and the umpires ruling in favor of shelter. Rain ended up triumphant, and precipitation’s momentum carried into the next afternoon. April 23, the day after Earth Day, brought a good soaking to the Three Rivers artificial turf and another postponement to the Mets. Mother Nature sure had a quirky sense of humor.

Off to Montreal for a matinee on Friday the Twenty-Fourth. Mère Nature traveled with the team. Olympic Stadium’s roof wasn’t operable in 1981. It rained in Quebec as it had in Pennsylvania, meaning a) another rainout; and b) over the course of five days, the Mets had played no games to a decision.

The Expos won what became the series opener on Saturday the Twenty-Fifth and swept the makeup doubleheader on Sunday the Twenty-Sixth. Not a fun threesome, but it did yield a fun fact: each game in that twinbill lasted nine innings by design.

Hooked on looking back wistfully.

The Mets flew home and cooled their heels Monday the Twenty-Seventh for yet another scheduled off day. When they returned to Shea to host the Pirates the next night, April 28, the Pirates shut them out, 8-0. The night after that, April 29, was pretty much the same, except the final was 10-0, and Joel and I got to use our rainchecks. That was the game we chose. Our choosing skills, like the Mets, obviously needed more reps. Not only were our beloveds shut out by a double-figure margin, but for a spell they couldn’t easily see how much they were losing by, thanks to an electrical glitch reduced stadium lighting enough to cause a non-rain delay. (Cruelly, the scoreboard remained illuminated.) It wasn’t so pitch black that they had to postpone, but the Met-aphor couldn’t be missed. You’re truly dim if you come to Shea. On the rare bright April 1981 side, I was able to purchase a leftover Nostalgia Album at a concession stand. At eighteen years of age, I was already hooked on looking back wistfully.

On Thursday the Thirtieth, the Mets scored four runs, but the Pirates scored several more en route to making it a three-game sweep.

That was the final scene of intermittently soggy, exasperatingly idle April 1981. The Mets finished the month 4-10-1, with whatever springtime momentum they’d packed from St. Petersburg in disarray and our Magical thinking proving no more than wishful. Too many open dates to begin with. Too much rain coming down in buckets. Not enough pitching to withstand the Expos or Pirates. April pretty much killed the season’s vaguely hopeful vibe — our record would sink to freaking 8-24 — before the strike killed it all over again in June. They’ve yet to print a Nostalgia Album highlighting that blip of Mets history. (Though I’d buy one.)

Postponements of baseball games are never good. Postponements of baseball games in April, any April, are the worst. There are no reserves in our tank, no easy acceptance that a pause from the grind isn’t the worst thing in the world. Rainouts, we’re pretty sure in April, are the worst thing in the world, at least in our world, especially when they keep occurring.

Or maybe you’ve recently noticed.

The Mets were rained out today, Thursday. They were rained out Monday. They were all but rained out Sunday. There were also those three games punted well into summer by the Washington baseball club via positive COVID testing, an innovation (like seven-inning doubleheaders) we didn’t have in 1981. And there was the surfeit of — wait for it — scheduled off days to protect against rain. We’re fifteen days into the 2021 baseball season and we’ve played all of eight complete games, and only six of those have gone what we used to think of as the full nine. Our next stop, as if we need more stopping, is Denver, where the potential for snow and cold scoffs “hold my Coors” toward our chilly rain.

Then again, we’ve already won more games halfway through April 2021 than we did in all of April 1981, with a couple of weeks to go (weather permitting). Every cloud such have such an orange and blue lining.

The Shadow of the Past

I was uneasy about Wednesday night, as if the shadow of the past was reaching out for the Mets. It started with news that Jed Lowrie is alive and well and back in Oakland, perfectly ambulatory and hitting home runs now that his knee has been surgically repaired. It turns out, in whatever the opposite of a shocking twist is, that the Wilpon-run Mets wouldn’t allow him to have surgery, instead threatening him with a grievance and preferring to spend two seasons setting his salary on fire.

Then word came that Bernie Madoff — the proximate cause of the Wilpons’ financial woes, though not, to be sure, of their serial micromanaging, failson megalomania, backstabbing or mendacity — had died in prison. That was good news — the world was instantly and obviously better off unencumbered by a man who stole the life savings of freaking Elie Wiesel — but I wondered if Madoff might have one final sigh of poison for the world and the Mets’ portion of it.

Adding to my unease: Zack Wheeler was set to take the mound for the Phillies, the same Wheeler whom the cash-strapped Mets let walk as a free agent despite his desire to stay in Queens. After leaving for Philadelphia, you may recall, Wheeler described the Mets’ response to his inquiries about an offer as “basically just crickets … Because it’s them. It’s how they roll. Everything was kind of jumpy because certain people would want something, others wouldn’t. I don’t think everyone was on the same page.”

That’s certainly an accurate description of most Mets decisions before the Fall of the House of Wilpon. Just like it was no surprise that Brodie Van Wagenen’s answer was to snipe that Wheeler had parlayed “two good half-seasons” into a big contract — the Wilpons saw every departing back as a logical place for some flunky to stick a knife. What followed was karma: While the Mets tried reanimating the corpses of Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello, Wheeler took the next step as a pitcher in 2019, cutting his home-run rate (in a bandbox, no less) and working more efficiently. He was exactly what the Mets’ rotation needed, he would have cost them nothing but the money they refused to spend, and you better believe I’m still pissed about it.

Anyway, Wheeler was perfectly poised to end the good feelings brought about by Tuesday’s doubleheader. Except events then veered delightfully off script.

In the first, Wheeler looked more like the work in progress he’d been before Tommy John surgery and been again when he tried to restart himself after it. He struggled to command his pitches, needing 29 to stagger through that first frame and finding himself down 2-0. He settled in after that, but David Peterson — last seen being ambushed by these same Phils — looked untouchable, racking up strikeouts and commanding everything in his arsenal.

Being a Mets fan means a certain wariness about good news: After a Jean Segura homer ended the usual dreams of glory and cut the score to 2-1, I feared those old ghosts still had some teeth. But the Mets weren’t inclined to lethargy. They added a run in the seventh and two more in the eighth, thanks to contributions from so far somnambulant personnel: Francisco Lindor had two hits and James McCann had three, including his first homer in orange and blue. To the roster of Good Things we can add Brandon Nimmo being impossible to retire right now, Dom Smith continuing to chip in solid offense, a clutch outing from Aaron Loup, and more nifty fielding from Luis Guillorme.

Amazing what can happen when a team actually gets to play more than every few days, huh?

On that note, alas, it looks unlikely that the Mets will play tomorrow, unless Steve Cohen just bought a roof for Citi Field and a supernatural construction crew. And the weekend conditions in Colorado … well, you don’t want to know.

I’d say it’s always something, but you know what? Enough of that. Eventually even the most persistent haunts stop going bump in the night, or if they do you learn to sleep through it. The Wilpons really are gone, and so is their cheapness and their serial grifty pettiness. It’s been hard for me to really and truly celebrate that, probably because I’m still not sure I believe it. That’s ridiculous, of course — but hey, I’m part of a fanbase that’s been in a defensive crouch for years, and part of a country weary of woes that may or may not have receded for good.

The Mets won, and in convincing style. That won’t banish every fury or scatter every shadow, but it sure does cut them down to size.

They Win the Dumb Thing

Acknowledging up front that a pair of regulation baseball games trimmed in advance from nine to seven innings apiece — with ties in the top of the eighth and beyond designed to be resolved expediently by dispatching a runner to second base before anybody stands in the batter’s box — is an affront to nature, we can at least revel in the Mets proving naturals at winning such atrocities. “Mets win! Mets win!” is always something so nice when we say it twice.

Is the modern twinbill travesty dumb?

Yes, it is.

Is taking each half of said travesty rewarding nonetheless?

You have to ask?

Except for fans supplanting corrugated cutouts at Citi Field, Tuesday presented us with an In These Challenging Times twi-night doubleheader straight outta 2020. Fortunately, our New York Mets were up to the challenge this time, sweeping the Philadelphia Phillies and dislodging the Schuylkill Seguras from the top of the NL East. They won the dumb thing by scores of 4-3 in eight and 4-0 in seven. The part with the sweep sounds brilliant. As for the rest of the salient details, hey, we just play here.

After a scant five episodes of baseball in the first twelve games of the baseball season — and nine soggy pitches in a 72-hour period — anything under the sun might have looked good, especially baseball under the sun, which is what the Mets finally got to retry their hand at late Tuesday afternoon. For a while, it looked like Mets baseball as we’ve lately come to expect it. Fierce starting pitching, this time from the right hand of Taijuan Walker, and barely enough hitting to support it. The offense was a Brandon Nimmo walk, a Dom Smith home run and a sense we were gonna need a bigger bat. Taijuan’s eight Ks were impressive, but his portion of the day ended ahead, 2-1, in the fifth after Walker put the walks in Walker. Wiggle room is for the pitcher who has a larger lead than just one run and a game that has a later planned end point than the seventh inning.

The Phillies cobbled together a tying run off Miguel Castro in the sixth, as the Phillies of Jean Segura are wont to do. Ever since he arrived at the other end of the Turnpike, the Phillies appear to be comprised of Jean Segura; guys who drive in Jean Segura; and guys Jean Segura drives in. The Mets characteristically didn’t make anything of their three baserunners across the sixth and seventh — none of them the result of a base hit — and it was off to early extras. Or just “extra,” since the whole idea of the runner on second is to get these games over with out of an Abundance of Caution or plain old institutional impatience. I forget which.

Though Smith didn’t produce with two on and two out in the bottom of the seventh, he did the Mets a great favor by positioning himself to be double-switched out of the game in the eighth, ostensibly in the interest of pitching and defense, yet ultimately for offense. This wrinkle is contemporary baseball at its weirdest, but when in Rome, cleverly deduce a way to beat the team with Roman Quinn. See, third-outmaker Smith projected as the imaginary runner on second base in the bottom of the eighth, given that the batter who made the last out in the previous inning is directed to go stand at second like he’d actually achieved something…but when the batter who made that last out has been taken out of the game and replaced by a new pitcher, then the honor of standing at second reverts to whoever batted before the guy taken out.

Also, according to a source close to Rob Manfred, the guy in the top bunk has to make the guy in the bottom’s bunk. Unless we were in Germany.

Got all that? Luis Rojas did. By removing three-hole occupant Smith and inserting Trevor May in his slot in the batting order, he got to deploy the speedier two-hitter Francisco Lindor to kickstart the eighth, which was helpful since, by then, May helped put the Mets in a 3-2 hole. Not that giving up a go-ahead run was entirely Trevor’s fault. The Phillies scored in the top of the eighth in great part because, like everybody in these situations, they started with a runner on second and nobody out. Gads, what a dumb rule.

The Mets were behind by one in the decisive eighth until Pete Alonso lined a single to left to score the magically reappearing Lindor. The Mets may not hit with legitimate runners on base, but they sure can drive home the unearned kind. Score tied, the Mets ramped up their attack, Mets-style. A double play ball from Jeff McNeil yielded only one out, eliminating Pete at second but getting Squirrel to first. Michael Conforto walked. James McCann grounded not out for a change but into an infield hit. The bases were loaded, which isn’t necessarily encouraging news in Flushing’s RISP-averse circles, but Jonathan Villar had to lift only a long fly ball to win the game.

Which he did. It fell in for an unpursued single and a 4-3 win that snapped what felt longer than the one-game losing streak the Mets had been on, probably because they had gone five days without a win.

It wouldn’t be very long before there’d be a duplicate sensation. The nightcap belonged to all of the Mets, but particularly the two who leave no doubt how much they enjoy plying their craft. Marcus Stroman — six strong and effusive shutout innings (not to mention taking a walk and donning a jacket upon reaching first as a real National League pitcher should) — and Brandon Nimmo. For the first five games over those first twelve days, grinning Nimmo was the Mets’ most dependable plate-appearer, garnering seven hits and six walks. Of course he rarely had the pleasure of crossing that same plate after generating his glittering on-base percentage, scoring only two runs prior to Tuesday. Heretofore more a takin’ machine than the hitting kind, the eye of the Nimmo turned to swinging in Game Two, and boy did it get us rising up, straight to the top.

One particularly delightful sequence, in the fourth, encompassed Kevin Pillar singling; recent walkoff hero Villar doubling; Tomás Nido absorbing a hit by pitch; and good old reliable Nimmo singling. The end result was three home team runs and echoes of George and Ira Gershwin.

Pillar! Villar!
Nido! Nimmo!
Let’s call the whole thing Mets!

Brandon reeled off three hits and three RBIs in all, sweet music to Marcus, who doesn’t mind showing anybody watching how much he relishes competing and succeeding. Every inning he left the mound unscored upon was a cause for cathartic air-punching celebration, even if Stro was the only one taking part. The feisty righty is a veritable human exclamation point. As long as he’s getting outs, he can punctuate any way he wishes.

The 4-0 blanking, in seven MLB-mandated innings, vaulted the Mets over .500 and the rest of the division. That’s right, the Mets who haven’t played particularly crisp ball — or much ball at all — are alone in first place, albeit by percentage points and albeit after seven games, two of which didn’t even go nine innings.

Like we’re gonna albeit ourselves up over technicalities.

Another Rainy Day in Flushing Meadows

People don’t ask us what we do in spring when there’s baseball. They know what we do.

We stare out the window and we hope it’s not raining.

You didn’t have to be Rogers Hornsby early Sunday afternoon to know there might not be baseball this soggy April day and that it was a rainy day in the greater Metropolitan Area. It was raining out the window. It was raining on the Weather Channel app, especially if you had it set to ZIP Code 11368. It was raining up the yin-yang. The data and the sky suggested it figured to keep raining. You could hope it wouldn’t, but hope doesn’t necessarily yield desired results. In 2021 to date, it’s gotten us two wins, three losses and four postponements.

Hope, like newly designated six-hitter Michael Conforto, needed to be dropped in the order. Maybe bat Open Eyes first. If it looks like rain, maybe wait ten minutes beyond scheduled first pitch before attempting to play ball. Then hope it doesn’t rain.

Yet it did. It began raining minutes into Sunday’s game at Citi Field versus the Marlins. It kept raining. There was one on, one out and one tarp ready to roll. Roll the tarp did seven minutes after Marcus Stroman threw the first of his nine pitches. Stroman could have told you starting was a bad idea. Stroman did, in fact, tell us via tweet that starting was a bad idea (“those conditions put everyone at risk”), expressing him informed opinion during the rain delay that, after two hours and ten minutes, became a postponement that’s actually a suspended game, which itself is a new twist.

For a century and then some, baseball liked to pretend contests that commenced but never reached the fifth inning never happened. All the stats in a game that wasn’t official didn’t officially exist. That was odd. Now the Marlin who singled and stood on first when the grounds crew emerged, Corey Dickerson, will return to that base in the top of the first on Tuesday afternoon August 31. Unless Dickerson happens to be traded between now and then.

It will still be the game of April 11 a mere 142 days from now. That’s even odder, as is the reality that the continuation of the suspended game in which all of nine pitches were thrown, will go nine innings, yet the second half of that day’s split doubleheader is slated to go seven innings. Odd is the baseball watchword of the 2020s.

Forecasts are called forecasts because they attempt to project what will happen based on the best available information. Forecasts aren’t always dead-on balls accurate (it’s an industry term). Luis Rojas was left to explain to the media after the ghost was given up on Sunday’s delay that the Mets had consulted with “an exclusive forecast expert” before opting to attempt to play. We don’t know if he was referring to a leftover operative from the Wilpon administration or if Steve Cohen gave him the private number of “my rain guy”. Either way, they attempted to play, and they couldn’t get through three batters, let alone nine innings.

Even if you think you are in the possession of the exclusive correct forecast, you can’t count on everything you wish to happen happening. Witness Randolph and Mortimer Duke — tycoons who presumably could have afforded a major league baseball franchise— and the frozen concentrated orange juice forecast in Trading Places. The Dukes had their exclusive forecast expert on retainer, yet it was Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd who got the last laugh. At least nobody got stuffed into a gorilla costume and shipped to Africa and the end of Sunday’s rainout.

Not so far as we know.

Preseason forecasts regarding the fortunes of the formidable 2021 New York Mets are proving cloudy after five games, but GOTCHA! It’s five games! They’re 2-3? It’s five games! I don’t even care that six times the Mets have made the playoffs after starting 2-3 (winning four of their five pennants and both of their world championships from such a humble launch). It’s five games! This season is the 25th in Mets history in which the club has lost three of their first five. The only thing we could say for sure after five games in each of the preceding 24 of those seasons was, “It’s five games!”

Nevertheless, the Mets’ inability on Sunday to properly discern cloudy from clear provides us a pretty good metaphor for the way they’ve conducted their on-field business, especially when at bat, but as you may have read in a recent paragraph, it’s five games. True, they can’t make the most of Jacob deGrom’s starts; they can’t make the most of runners in scoring position; and they can’t even make the most of what could have been a serene rainy reprieve, but like the gray skies above Flushing, they’re bound to look all right soon enough. Forecasts aren’t perfect, but they’re not usually dead wrong, and these Mets, like the aforementioned metaphor, project as pretty good.

Long seasons have been known to manufacture breaks in the symbolic weather. But keep an umbrella handy. It’s supposed to rain a lot this week.

Fuhstrating

That’s the way Keith says it, a remnant of his California roots that’s one of his more endearing quirks, and a label worth plastering all over Saturday’s matinee against the Marlins.

Jacob deGrom needed just nine pitches — all strikes — to take down the Marlins in the top of the first, blitzed through the first two Marlins who came to the plate in the second, and put Jazz Chisholm Jr. in an 0-2 hole with 99 and 100 MPH four-seamers. DeGrom threw Chisholm another four-seamer, hitting 100 at the top of the zone — a pitch that’s almost impossible to get around on. Chisholm got around on it and how, poleaxing it deep into whatever the Pepsi Porch is called these days. (After the game, by the way, he said he was looking for something off-speed, which makes the whole turn of events even more startling.) Within a couple of seconds, the Marlins had gone from looking like deGrom’s Washington Generals to having the lead, turning one of those “well maybe” days when you cross your fingers into a painful slog in which your shoulders never unslump.

The Mets did their part, to the extent they did anything Saturday, to ensure it was painful. They started off the bottom of the first with a Brandon Nimmo double and a Francisco Lindor bunt that turned into a second baserunner, giving them first and third with nobody out. But though we didn’t know it yet (and there’s a small mercy), that was the offensive high point of the game. Lindor was caught stealing and Trevor Rogers fanned Michael Conforto and then Pete Alonso, leaving the Mets with nothing.

And they’d get nothing the rest of the way. Rogers struck out 13 Mets in six innings, including Conforto once again with a runner on third and less than two out, and the Mets failed to scratch against a trio of Miami relievers. DeGrom struck out 14 over eight — tying a career high — and gave way to Edwin Diaz, who added fire to the dry tinder in the stands by giving up two thoroughly unnecessary insurance runs. (He’s probably aware that this is a storyline no Mets fan needs revived right now.)

The Mets might be rethinking that whole “we missed you fans and having your energy in the stands” thing — there was energy in the park, all right, but it was the kind borrowed from a pirate ship whose crew has decided a few members of their fraternity ought to step overboard with their pockets full of rocks and sharks waiting to greet them. Conforto was booed with increasing vigor — there was a very Beltran ’05 vibe to the whole thing — and while predictions of his demise are obviously exaggerated, it would be a good idea for him to spend a game as a spectator, thinking about as little as possible. Conforto has the look of a ballplayer who’s getting in his own way, and the game’s difficult enough even when that isn’t true.

Fortunately, the forecast suggests every Met is likely to get a day off Sunday, without the need for tampering with sprinklers. (Who’d channel Crash Davis if tampering were required? I’m thinking J.D. Davis — he’s halfway there already namewise and seems like a man who could engineer a natural disaster, perhaps not always on purpose.) If it rains as vigorously as expected, I’d suggest the Mets not spend Sunday thinking about the truly astonishing statistics that follow deGrom around. You probably saw this already (and you’ll be seeing it ad nauseum until the narrative changes), but deGrom has a 2.06 ERA since the start of 2018, a blaze of excellence that the Mets have somehow converted into a 36-42 record.

That’s just ludicrous. It’s the stuff of Greek tragedy, or perhaps of the fingers of the monkey’s paw curling up after a hasty wish. (If a lone simian digit got left outstretched, I think we can guess which one.) Why has it happened? There isn’t an explanation that’s any better than a Just So story, not with the ever-shifting cast of characters around deGrom — any more than there’s an explanation for a generation of Twins’ teams turning to ash with playoff bunting in the park, or than there was for a half a century’s worth of San Diego Padres starters taking the hill without throwing a no-hitter. (Congratulations on that no longer being a thing, at least.)

Baseball’s just strange and flukey and confounding. Fuhstrating, one might even say.

Elbow Room for Interpretation

Sure, if you slow down video of somebody sticking his protectively guarded elbow in the general direction of a baseball passing otherwise untouched through the strike zone, it’s gonna look bad.

So don’t do that.

Instead, live in the moment of Michael Conforto’s right elbow instinctively jerking ever so slightly within the flight path of Anthony Bass’s 83-MPH slider as it zips barely interrupted into the mitt of Chad Wallach. That’s what home plate umpire Ron Kulpa did Thursday afternoon at Citi Field’s Mets Home Opener. Only to inured connoisseurs of radar gun readouts does 83 miles per hour register as “offspeed”. It’s plenty fast in the civilian sphere. Yet Kulpa is trained to distinguish pitches that would get pulled over by most state troopers as balls, strikes or hit batsmen. Sometimes his charge is to sort between a couple of those categories.

Kulpa knew the slider flecked equipment affixed to Conforto’s body ever so slightly. Kulpa also knew the slider was a strike from Bass to Wallach. Kulpa, in the moment, knew the Conforto part maybe a microinstant sooner, or it just took precedent as the data he mentally absorbed flowed through his head en route to his official pronouncement. That type of thing happens in the course of a baseball game in the course of a baseball season — as do bases-loaded, score-tied situations in bottoms of ninths. That this particular thing took place in the first game a team was playing in front of a representative sample of its acolytes in more than eighteen months likely made it seem substantially bigger than just one of those things.

The ump called the one-two pitch a hit-by-pitch even as responsible announcers in the vicinity described it as a called strike three. A called strike precludes a hit-by-pitch. There’s a rule that says so. The ump ultimately gets the call over those who make the call from the broadcast booth, just as his view in the moment takes precedence over the rest of us watching from home. Maybe the camera never blinks, but its jurisdiction, no matter how much replay has been regulated into the game, doesn’t reach the airspace directly atop home plate. A judgment call of this ilk — an HBP in the K zone — can’t be changed by video. Slow it down, play it back, be certain of what you saw and Kulpa didn’t. It doesn’t matter. Conforto was safe at any speed.

Michael, arms conveniently akimbo, took his good fortune and carried it to first while quietly processing his good fortune (“there may have been a little lift to my elbow just out of habit, out of reaction…” was his explanation afterwards). Three Met runners in front of him advanced ninety feet apiece, most notably Luis Guillorme, who traveled from third base to home with the winning run. The bases, remember, were loaded. The score, however, was no longer tied.

Mets win. Marlins lose. I don’t believe what Ron Kulpa just saw, I thought as I applauded through my disbelief. Gary Cohen couldn’t believe it on SNY. Howie Rose couldn’t believe it on WCBS. I can’t speak for the more than 8,000 Metsian pilgrims who’d returned to the Promised Land after being certified as thoroughly vaccinated or COVID-negative. They were spaced out through the stands and, I presume, blissed out as they departed them. They got not only a day at the ballpark but an ending to remember.

Keith Hernandez is fond of reminding us that every bloop and bleeder looks like a line drive in the next day’s paper. The addition to the win column next to “New York” wherever you check your standings has the same effect. Did the Mets come by their W heroically? Or did it drop in their lap because somebody in authority in the heat of the moment forgot to properly interpret a rule about a strike being a strike, even if a fraction of an elbow wanders in its way?

The correct answer is it’s a win, earned in good or at least adequate faith on the field of play, if aided slightly at the tail end by a hiccup of inaccuracy.

Fred Brocklander got suitably flustered when Keith Hernandez shouted “safe!” to seal a critical double play in the 1986 playoffs against Houston. Rick Reed (not the pitcher) didn’t see Paul Lo Duca briefly fumble a tag at home plate in the 2006 opener. Adrian Johnson saw a ball Carlos Beltran slashed to left plop foul one night in 2012. The camera saw it hit the line fair. Beltran was a Cardinal at the time. Johan Santana was a Met bidding for his franchise’s first no-hitter. I don’t remember a rush to give back any of these outs.

“This sort of thing happens” may be the last refuge of a questionable conclusion, but people with the fate of the Mets (and our Mets-related happiness) in their hands make mistakes. It’s the human element. Or the human elephant in the room. Mistakes by umpires occasionally conspire against our ballclub, too. We are free to rail against them as if we are Don Mattingly believing Anthony Bass has just recorded the second out of the ninth inning of a game that remains tied. We are also free to accept that within the rules of the day railing is futile.

Chase Utley still hasn’t touched second. Todd Zeile still hasn’t interfered with Chuck Knoblauch. Ray Fosse still hasn’t laid a mitt on Bud Harrelson. Chris Jones once very clearly pinch-hit a game-tying ninth-inning home run that was called foul. It left us as mad as Mattingly. Fuming we wuz robbed blind! by sight-impaired umpires is a sensation that never totally goes away, no matter that the scales more or less balance over the decades. I understand and respect the ire of the Marlin manager. Let it out, Don. You’re entitled.

But whoop it up, Mets fans. We’re entitled, too. We made it to the Home Opener, chronologically and, for those lucky fillers of the 20% of Citi Field seats made available to genuine fan fannies, literally. I imagine one of the safety precautions implemented was a no-bonfire rule, but in my mind I could see those goddamn corrugated figures that sat in people’s places last year going up in ebullient tailgate flames. The most sublime aspect of this Mets Home Opener wasn’t the final score of Mets 3 Marlins 2, though, yeah, that was great. The most sublime aspect is it looked and sounded very much like a Mets Home Opener.

A chunk of the traditional pomp had to be curtailed. No Shea family members at home plate presenting a good luck floral horseshoe to Luis Rojas. No Howie Rose welcoming the National League season to New York. No introductions of coaches, reserves and support staff (no roar of approval for Jacob deGrom). The national anthem was performed from behind center field. The ceremonial first pitch was delivered virtually. The entire presentation leaned a little to the Home Opener Lite side, much as Michael leaned a little toward home plate with the bases loaded, but it was so much better than last year’s empty shell of a lidlifter that it could be taken as a giant step in the march of potential post-pandemic progress. Mets fans cheered at the Mets. There was distance and there were masks, but there was noise that only the likes of us make. There was “LET’S GO METS” live and in living audio.

And there were reasons to make a joyful noise beyond the mere ability to do so. There was starting pitcher Taijuan Walker unwrapping his significant mound presence and dialing it up close to the 99 on his uniform, flirting with his own Santana for four-and-a-third and going six very solid in his Met debut, allowing only two earned runs. There was Brandon Nimmo, renewing his sublet on the basepaths (it’s his summer home) and staying with a deep fly ball he was losing in the wind in center until he found it as he crashed back-first into the outfield wall. There was Dom Smith not getting a hit with runners in scoring position but doing the next best thing, belting a would-be double to deepest center with the bases loaded and less than two out. Starling Marte’s spectacular combination of legs and leather prevented Dom’s blast from being a RISP-buster, but a sac fly is sac fly, and it put the Mets on the board in the fifth.

Walker’s more-than-pedestrian effort led eventually to the bullpen, which led to tranquility rather than trauma. Miguel Castro was perfect in the seventh. Rover T. Yam turned around his first couple of outings and emerged the Trevor May we’d heard so much about in the eighth. Heretofore heels-cooling closer Edwin Diaz didn’t have a lead to protect in the ninth but he kept the deficit at 2-1 without incident.

The bottom of the ninth would have incidents enough. It would have incidents galore. It would have Jeff McNeil and his batting average of absolutely nothing (0-for-10) leading off. The Squirrel, celebrating as best he could his .029th birthday, blew out the BABIP candles good and hard with a sock that didn’t unspool until it reached the foreground of carbonation ridge. No boycott of Coca-Cola Corner for Jeff. It was the ohfer pause that refreshed the score, from Marlins 2 Mets 1 to Marlins 2 Mets 2. Ahhh…

A 408-foot home run that knots everything up in the ninth inning in front of the first fans to watch the home team in person since a pandemic prevented a single person’s attendance since forever should rightly constitute the primary dramatic arc of our program, yet there was so much more to come. After Bass retired James McCann for the frame’s first out, the Marlins went into a clever shift against pinch-hitter Guillorme. But Luis cleverly grounded a ball toward right that couldn’t quite be converted into a forceout at first regardless of how many cards how many Marlin infielders fished from their back pockets. Miami attempted to pull that shift against Nimmo — a more severe version — but Brandon simply smiled and basically said, shoot, if you’re gonna give me the whole left side, I’m just gonna take it. Our preternaturally giddy on-base machine thus cranked out his second double and third hit of the day, pushing Guillorme to third. The wise Marlin move next was to intentionally pass Francisco Lindor; “so ordered,” declared Mattingly. Lindor, in turn, wisely urged on Conforto as he jogged to first (what a leader!).

As long as Michael, batting .176, avoided a double play, we weren’t doomed to extra innings; its surfeit of anything-goes automatic runners on second; and the general haunting nature of low-rent dark Marlin magic. Indeed, Pete Alonso was in the on-deck circle to salvage the rally should the responsibility fall on Polar shoulders, and wouldn’t Pete being Pete be a whale of a way to finish welcoming the National League season to New York? But Michael surely preferred to row this boat ashore himself.

By any means necessary.

During the solemn segment of the pregame ceremonies, public address announcer Marysol Castro dutifully read some thoughtful words in memory of Tom Seaver, who threw the first pitch of the National League season in New York eight times. Talk about significant presence on the Met mound. That’s where Tom belonged on Opening Day. I had seen a wistful sentiment expressed earlier Tuesday that maybe Tom was Up There somewhere far above Promenade watching his Mets. However you choose to ponder the afterlife, I doubt that would have been the case. When Tom stopped pitching, Tom stopped watching. In his later years, when his attention turned mainly to winemaking, Seaver said he got his fill of baseball from picking up the paper in the morning and poring over box scores. That’s all he needed to do to know what was going on in the game he used to dominate nine innings at a time.

When his writer friend and fellow fireballer Pat Jordan visited him in October of 2013, Tom was up in arms at what he saw in that morning’s paper.

Tom screeches like a girl. “Why’d they take Scherzer out?” I say because he’d reached his 109-pitch count. He screeches again, “Pitch count? Pitch count? Baseball’s not brain surgery. You don’t look for a reason to take him out. You look for a reason to leave him in!”

If Tom were still with us, in Napa Valley, maybe he’d be checking the box score this morning. What he’d see (perhaps after manfully muttering that almost nobody goes more than six anymore) is Michael Conforto was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to drive in the winning run for the New York Mets. He wouldn’t know without delving into any accompanying details that Conforto got his right arm up where a legitimate strike was taking shape. He’d just know it was a win, just one game of 162, which is what we as fans usually say when our team loses but rarely bother to mention when our team wins.

“Obviously, it was not the way that I wanted to win the ballgame,” Michael said later, acknowledging that the sequence of events that netted the Mets the win was less than ideal, maybe not perfectly square. But he expressed no remorse for a portion of his person being in what turned out to be the right place at the right time. Kulpa admitted he blew the call, but that was after the game as well, and as Conforto confirmed, “a win’s a win.”

You don’t look for a reason to be disturbed by a win, especially a Home Opener win. You look for a reason to celebrate it. Mets 3 Marlins 2 — signed off on by the entire umpiring crew amid thousands of living, breathing fans — seems a pretty reasonable reason.

Death in the Tea Leaves

If a team starts the season 1-1, the third game is a Rorschach test. It usually determines whether you’ve won or lost your first series. It always determines whether you’re 2-1 or 1-2.

It’s undeniably true that the third game also determines whether your winning percentage will be .667, which is the stuff of awestruck recollections a generation later, or .333, which calls for a self-protective case of amnesia.

You probably see the flaw in the logic — that the difference between .667 and .333 means everything after 162 games, most everything after 150, a fair amount after 100, and so forth and so forth, until you get all the way down to three games, at which point it means zero. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Bupkis. Fuck all.

You see the flaw in the logic, but plenty of people on talk radio and in the comments sections and on Twitter don’t, or more charitably do but were left so overwrought by a lousy Wednesday afternoon that their forebrains short-circuited long enough for them to dial a phone or tap at a keyboard and vomit up some bile. It’s always this way — this is the time of the season when you can remember every game easily and every at-bat if you furrow your brow, when everything seems absurdly magnified, and the smallest thing is a harbinger of gigantic shapes taking shape in the mist. These games and series are Rorschach tests, and after an ill-spent afternoon whose verdict is .333, everything looks like a skull and crossbones.

The beverage that left these particular tea leaves prophesying doom went down like this: David Peterson looked overamped in the first inning, giving up four runs, but then did a commendable job harnessing his emotions, settling in and pitching effectively. (If you’d like to plot the location of horses vis-a-vis their barn, please do, but know that your findings will not be a revelation to your chronicler.) The Mets drove Aaron Nola‘s pitch count steadily up and booted him from the game after four innings, but couldn’t collect the big hit that would have got them back in the game. Any chance at doing so evaporated when Jacob Barnes relieved Peterson and gave up a three-run homer on his first pitch delivered as a Met, a badge of insta-futility not donned since John Candelaria‘s debut as a Plan H or I starter in the cursed ’87 season. Barnes also settled down, though by now the barn was in flames and the horses weren’t even bothering to flee but insouciantly hanging around to light cigarettes from the embers. Dellin Betances made his 2021 debut and looked pretty much exactly like he did in 2020, then mercifully left further duties to Joey Lucchesi, who looked fairly impressive, though by then if you were watching with more than fitful attention I salute you as a better fan than me.

Not the way anyone wanted to spend a warm spring afternoon, but the Mets will be fine. Promise.

They’ll be fine because they’re getting reinforcements, with Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard and Seth Lugo not so far from returning and pushing whichever pitchers prove marginal off the roster. (Including, if need be, Betances — given Steve Cohen’s source of income, he’s one owner who ought to understand the sunk-cost fallacy.) They’ll be fine because luck evens out, and often does so with a vengeance. (Jeff McNeil, for instance, will go something like 11-for-16 after the BABIP gods forgive whatever they think he’s done.) And most of all, the Mets will be fine because that lineup is deep, talented and relentless. They arrive on a given night with the likes of Brandon Nimmo and James McCann hitting eighth, they work counts and spoil pitches, and they zero in on balls they can damage. That’s a recipe for devouring other staffs’ 3-4-5 starters and the soft underbelly of bullpens, and it will be a path to success on plenty of nights. How many? Couldn’t tell you, but it will be a lot more than one out of three.

Those better nights will come. You know better than to let three games convince you otherwise. Tomorrow we get a new cup and new tea leaves we can study after whatever happens. Stop screaming about hemlock, take a sip, and let the game come to you.

Mistrust Never Sleeps

Tuesday night’s Mets triumph in Philadelphia may have been the least convincing 8-4 victory in the history of 8-4 victories, but the key words here are “triumph” and “victory,” both of which the Mets achieved. The win column greets them with no hesitation.

Fortunately, the Style Council is not authorized to award points within the National League East standings even if our never changing mood insists something feels off despite results being right on. If you don’t like the Mets’ methods in achieving their means, take it up with the East German judge.

This game still gets scored a win, albeit on an admittedly askew line of 8 runs, 5 hits and 2 errors. Significantly, two of the hits were two-run homers, one in the fourth from the extra-rested Dom Smith, one in the ninth from Comeback Player of the Week Pete Alonso. The two errors were largely inconsequential, no matter that consistent defensive crispness thus far eludes a team that was impelled to while away three unscheduled off days and went a week playing nobody other than each other. But that comes under the heading of style points and, again, those don’t count.

The sixteen times four Mets stood by in the seventh inning while Vince Velasquez threw them balls certainly didn’t hurt the cause. A bases-loaded walk produced one run. A double-steal that unfolded in slow motion produced another (with Kevin Pillar pilfering home plate, the first time a Met has swiped that particular base in seven years). A good old-fashioned sacrifice fly extended the Mets’ lead further between home runs. If you were waiting for the club and its 1-for-6 with RISP to binge on every opportunity in sight, you were still waiting even as the Mets’ advantage stretched in the seventh to 6-1. Yet if you’re the type to embrace streaming offense with good cheer, this was a night for you.

It was also a night for Long Island’s Own Marcus Stroman, returned from his 2020 opt-out and presumably ready to earn something more than a qualifying offer next offseason. LIOMS courted touches of trouble here and there in the time-honored role of Season’s Second Starter but ultimately steamed through six innings (85 pitches) about as effectively as Jacob deGrom had the night before. Of course Stroman isn’t deGrom, which means it wasn’t a slap in the face of competitive valor when Marcus exited after six. Not being deGrom also means a starting pitcher might have a decision to show for a fine evening’s work of three hits, two walks and one run allowed.

Even when the bullpen gets involved.

The bullpen always gets involved. When the bullpen gets involved, we get a little unhinged. Maybe more than a little. The bullpen is why 8-4 wasn’t fully convincing. Mind you, none among Miguel Castro in the seventh (3 hits, 1 run); Trevor May in the eighth (2 hits, no runs) and Jeurys Familia in the ninth (2 hits, 1 walk, 2 runs if only 1 earned) actually let the game slip into genuine danger. Perceptual danger, perhaps, which is enough agita for us at present. You can’t blame our collective psyche for sensing trauma when there’s barely trouble.

Castro was a well being gone to two straight games — was it one game too many?

Rover T. Yam (my anagram of choice for Trevor May) helped blow the game the night before, and he’s back for more?

Holy crap, is that Aaron Loup warming up, too? Are we really gonna ride this “get back on the horse” aphorism directly off a cliff?

Jeurys Familia? He’s still here?

High anxiety would have its moments. It had to. We were 0-1. We were getting Edwin Diaz up and down and up, just daring him to enter the action and make us forget all the springtime propaganda about how he’s really found himself. We were…

We were comfortably ahead. And we stayed comfortably ahead. Nevertheless, we required in advance a shred of evidence that we could remain comfortably ahead — or at least ahead; and we couldn’t have it until we had it; and by then, we weren’t dead certain we actually did. You mean the game is over? You mean the game went unblown?

Mock all you want the 0-162 doomsayers. Bullpen jitters (and everything else we get nervous over) are a chronic condition around here. Steve Cohen can secure for us the world’s grandest shortstop, but even Daddy Metbucks can’t cure us so quickly of our dime-store late-inning heebie-jeebies. Once bitten, forever shy. So let those who complain like the world has ended after exactly one aggravating loss have their hour of angst. Consider it akin to a side effect you might detect after taking the COVID vaccine. Experts say you should let the fever run its course, then you’ll be fine.

And as we saw Tuesday night, getting a couple of two-run shots has the power to immunize you against the worst that you fear, which in our case was plunging into an 0-2 hole with 160 to play.

That Familiar Feeling

Well, those were some complicated feelings to open with.

Your capsule summary: Jacob deGrom was terrific, the Mets’ offense looked like the kind of patient, relentless machine that will chew opponents up, and the team even played some solid defense. Well, until the offense whiffed on multiple knockout blows, deGrom departed having thrown just 77 pitches, the new and supposedly improved bullpen coughed up the lead in part because the defense turned shoddy, and the Mets’ hitters tried to come scrambling back only to have the game end with a Pete Alonso bullet that we all tried to will up and over the fence but that wound up thudding into Bryce Harper‘s glove.

Yeah, that was a lot.

I get being careful with your franchise pitcher, what with the long layoff since last he pitched, the desire to skip a fifth starter before the next time he pitches, and most of all the shadowy uncertainty about workloads and stresses in the wake of 2020. I get it, yet the outcome was an all too familiar script: a lead too small that became a lead lost, and the best pitcher of his generation sitting numbly in the dugout trying not to fume. Funny how the Mets can change the calendar and their ownership and their attitude and yet we all wind up sighing again about watching them take an errant step and then THWAP! grimace at a pratfall that became a cliche years ago. The Mets being the Mets, of course they had to follow the slapstick with a plucky but doomed attempt at a comeback, one that left you feeling simultaneously better and worse about the whole thing. That’s another movie we’ve seen before.

And of course baseball will remind you that only a fool thinks he has it solved. The Mets brought in Miguel Castro to relieve deGrom, the same Miguel Castro who made you mutter and pace after his acquisition in 2020, and he acquitted himself perfectly well. Then they turned to Trevor May and Aaron Loup, veterans brought in to show that Things Are Changing Around Here, and neither man could get out of his own way. Last year the Phillies’ bullpen was as merry a band of arsonists as ever burned down a season; this year a pen that looks no more promising on paper keeps running through the rain without getting wet. Middle relief is spaghetti against a wall, but the whole thing was ridiculous nonetheless.

But you know what? Opening Day is its own reward, even an agonizingly delayed Opening Day that ends with an irritating loss. Win or lose, it’s the day life settles back into its familiar contours, the rhythms and routines of fandom get happily rediscovered, and we once again let ourselves live and die — in miniature, mind you — based on the outcome of an exhibition we can’t control. It’s a crazy thing to do, but it’s so much fun that we return year after year, signing up to do it again.

The Mets lost, and I had more fun watching them lose than I had doing the vast majority of whatever the hell I did during the usual forgettable smudge of winter. I mean, did you see Kevin Pillar field that ball off the top of the fence and fire it to Jeff McNeil who fired it to J.D. Davis just ahead of a very surprised Rhys Hoskins? Did you see Francisco Lindor glide across the grass as he made that flip to McNeil at second? Did you have fun guessing along with deGrom and James McCann as they sized up Harper for deGrom’s final pitches, showing him that slider and then moving his eyeline out and out until he was lunging for a fastball he couldn’t catch? Did you hear Alonso connect and think maybe, just maybe … even if it was only for that split-second before you knew better?

It was agonizing. It was also great fun. When it ended, my first thought was: My heart can’t take 162 like that.

And then, right on its heels, came another thought: When’s the next one?