“Do they lose every weekday game when I'm listening at work?” a reader asked late in this afternoon's affair. If I am to assume he has listened to every weekday game this year, yeah, just about. Opening Day was a weekday game and it was triumphant (thanks in great part to the awesome relief work provided by Sean Green and J.J. Putz — boy, Opening Day was suddenly a long time ago). There have been five midweek matinees since and each of them has ranged from dismal to abysmal and then some, culminating in the lousy Pirates sweeping us out of town. Just as the Allegheny meets the Monongahela to form the mighty Ohio, the Mets in Pittsburgh represented a confluence of their own: lousy pitching joined with ineffectual hitting to create three injury-riddled losses.
Mets are coming and going these days, few doing anything worthwhile in between. The David seemed reborn in terms of reappearing on the basepaths (he also saved Putz even more embarrassment on a heads-up play after J.J. muffed a catchable grounder in the seventh) and Carlos was no longer sick (what do they call that thing again when a Met hits a baseball over a wall?), but otherwise, not much offense of which to speak, at least not the timely variety. Of course the Mets were behind all day, with Big Pelf suffering a big letdown and the bullpen being only selectively helpful (Green is looking better, as he couldn't look any worse…but oh our aching Putz). Alex Cora has returned, which I can't believe has evolved into as big a deal as it has. The SNY guys were saying he's been a great influence on Fernando Martinez; he does seem to be running everything out, which is terribly thoughtful of the kid.
Is the problem the injuries? On any given evening we're without a genuine starting shortstop, an authentic first baseman and at least one able-bodied outfielder. Depending on how Wright and Beltran are holding up, that doesn't leave much slack. You don't want to hastily or harshly judge a roster that's being held together by the baseball equivalent of Rub 'n' Glue, but these are the Pirates. Even if they're athletic (whoosh! goes McCutchen; whoosh! goes Morgan), they're the Pirates. They trade Nate McLouth because it's a Wednesday.
Sure, there are a lot of Bisons on this roster, but it occurred to me as I watched Emil Brown make his long-unanticipated Met debut that we always hang in a Buffalo stance. That is to say the Mets are chronically shuttling in AAA players, wherever they keep them stored in any given season.
Emil Brown became the 863rd Met in team history when he grounded out to end the fifth. Just for fun, or my idea of it, I checked the lifetime roster I keep, the one that tracks every Met's first and last game ever. Met No. 764 was June '05 journeyman Brian Daubach, just under four years ago. I knew it felt like we go through new Mets like car companies go through government bailouts, but a hundred Mets in just under four years? Isn't that a lot?
Not for this organization for the past dozen or so years. Our previous hundred new Mets — Matt Lawton through Danny Graves — were compiled in slightly less time, from July 2001 to June 2005. And the hundred Mets who debuted directly before Lawton, the group that spanned Steve Bieser to Gary Bennett, bowed between April '97 and July '01; a slightly less manic pace, but indicative of a pretty disposable player supply nonetheless.
Before the Valentinian Epoch took hold, Mets didn't quite traffic players as quickly. D.J. Dozier to Barry Manuel (464 to 563 in your program) took not quite five years, though the player strike of '94-'95 may account for a bit of the slowing. The hundred before them — Kevin Mitchell through Rodney McCray — represented a veritable ice age of more than seven seasons.
Mets By The Hundreds is clearly a game that has picked up speed since the late '90s. Why is that? I don't know (four different GMs, four different field managers would indicate it's more systemic than personal…or maybe our guys just get hurt a lot), but it's become apparent that when you bring in player after player, not that many are going to be great players. You wind up with the Quadruple-A guys. You wind up with Emil Brown, Wilson Valdez, Casey Fossum, Ramon Martinez, Ricardo Rincon, Andy Phillips, Trot Nixon, Chris Aguila, Robinson Cancel…and that's just a sampling of who's been brought in during the last calendar year from a team that very nearly made the playoffs in the middle of all that and isn't desperately far from first place at the moment.
On the other hand, such roster shuffling, whether necessitated by contingency or philosophy, eventually takes its toll. The Mets have been lucky thus far to have pieced together a contender despite having to make enough moves to have played 37 different players in only 52 games. They've been lucky and they've been, more often than not, good. But sometimes your luck runs out and things go bad. Sometimes you trot Nixons and Browns out there so often that before you know it, you're getting swept by the Pirates.
The one book your literary roster needs to call up immediately is Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.