It was a perfectly admissible argument that Howard Beale advanced in the days that followed. It was, however, also a very depressing one. Nobody particularly cared to hear his life was utterly valueless.
Goddammit, this is a dark fucking period.
—Dewey Cox, Walk Hard
Things can’t get worse, they got to get better, a wise man once wrote.
He wasn’t writing about the Mets.
Things might get better. They’ll probably get worse first. We are several city blocks from just around the corner to the light of day. We are stumbling around in the dark, groping for the “on” switch. We seem likely to continue doing so for some time.
At this point, even a mad prophet of the airwaves couldn’t tell you much encouraging about the Mets. What they’re communicating by their very conduct accurately tells their story. On a night when they gathered almost as many hits as they had in their previous four contests combined, they allowed all that and a fistful more to the Milwaukee Brewers, who at first didn’t know what do with such a bounty but ultimately did plenty. Our sole pleasant surprise of the past month pitched like the midnight pumpkin he might very well turn into. Fernando Nieve didn’t have it; his catcher, Brian Schneider, did (ringing two-run double to make the game briefly competitive) until he didn’t (running the wrong way between first and second when a bloop fell into right facilitating a 9-4 force; he also grounded into a first-pitch, game-ending double play just when things were developing a hint of intrigue). And of course when something Metlike happened to a Brewer, namely Casey McGehee pulling a Luis Castillo on an even easier pop fly than that which was dropped on June 12, he made up for it minutes later with a death blow grand slam. That’s what you call atoning for your sins. (Luis, however, handles ground balls with renewed focus and aplomb since his game-costing error, so good for him.)
At least the Mets now have a double-digit dinger dude, as Gary Sheffield became the first Met to go deep 10 times in ’09. Sheff’s also the first Met this year to raise his homer total as high as his uniform number. That took only 75 games.
Monday night’s game was grim, but it was the Brewers and I saw it on TV, thus it was not particularly painful except as a reminder that we are currently party to a seriously deteriorative baseball narrative. Sunday night’s festival of futility, however…that was grim and that was dismal.
You could call it grismal and you wouldn’t be wrong.
I viewed Sunday night’s loss to the Yankees from inside Citi Field, which was as instructive as it was painful even if it meant limited exposure to Miller, Morgan and Phillips. You probably had to see it for yourself in person to truly understand how hopeless this game was and how hapless these Mets have become. They played nine hollow innings against the Yankees and conveyed very little sense that they had a genuine chance to win despite never trailing by more than three runs. Mind you, this was a game in which the opposition’s starting pitcher, a fellow with an ERA higher than Oliver Perez’s, didn’t out-and-out toy with them as his teammates had Friday and Saturday. CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett had the night off. The Mets continued their paid sabbatical. For 27 innings they were barely present on the same field as the Yankees. They certainly didn’t belong on it.
Over the weekend, Burnett keyed a one-hitter, Alex Rodriguez passed Reggie Jackson on the all-time home run list and Mariano Rivera recorded his 500th save. The Yankees left Citi Field with more souvenirs than most Mets fans can afford from the team store. They did it without all-time Met tormentor Derek Jeter for two nights, though he materialized just long enough to back his Ford Edge over our petunias. Jeter had the flu — and he makes me sick — but he played hard and he won. The Yankees hadn’t won a Subway Series in six years but the whole thing felt familiar and expected. Same as it ever was and all that. But worse.
Will Leitch suggested in New York magazine last week that the Subway Series hasn’t been a colossal deal since 2002 when Shawn Estes wasn’t knocking Roger Clemens on his chemically enhanced ass. An embarrassing episode in retrospect, to be sure, but a footnote in real time to the final score of Mets 8 Yankees 0, a homer by Estes and another by the never-quite-avenged Mike Piazza inflicting better and more practical damage on the Rocket’s rear end. Yet it would have been nice to have left a bruise on the area Clemens presumably reserved for Brian McNamee’s syringe.
We won that game, we lost that battle. Seven years later, when Frankie Rodriguez walked Mariano Rivera — how is that not a typo? — it didn’t matter in terms of the tangible result. Mets were losing 3-2 before, they were losing 4-2 after and they were going to lose regardless. But holy fuck. K-Rod walked Rivera. He walked Rivera after intentionally walking Jeter to load the bases with two out. It’s not enough that our $37 million closer can’t be the Met who finally whittles Captain Cock…y down to size. He can’t throw three fucking strikes to fucking Mariano Rivera (career RBI total prior: 0)? The Subway Series began with Luis Castillo undermining Francisco Rodriguez’s best efforts. It ended with Rodriguez as his own worst enemy. The dropped pop fly and the bases-loaded walk to the other team’s closer made for gruesome bookends this year, just as Estes’ legendary non-HBP of Clemens has found its soulmate in Rodriguez’s BB of Rivera.
Dave Mlicki, Matt Franco and our 17-13 overall record between 2004 and 2008 notwithstanding, nothing good comes of the Subway Series. Nothing. I did not care for its arrival at Citi Field, and not just because of the sweep that was laid on us there.
The damn thing felt much bigger at Shea Stadium. The final moments of the final Mets-Yankees game ever played there, one year ago Monday, was hot-wired electricity incarnate. It was lightning in a 20-ounce Pepsi bottle. It almost always was. Every Subway Series game I attended at Shea, exquisite or atrocious, crackled. This one just oozed slowly. But maybe the Subway Series is Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd.: It’s still big, it’s the ballpark that’s gotten small.
Citi Field does not feel big game ready, which may not matter considering the dim prospects the Mets have for playing big games in the immediate future. For all of Citi’s attractive qualities, it does not strike me as a setting or a stage. It’s a fine place to chill, to chat, to chew — Blue Smoke’s spare ribs have emerged as this nation’s finest natural resource — but on this occasion, for the purposes of raucousness, intimidation and drama, it did not meet the standard set by Shea Stadium. I don’t say that to puff up the memory of a fallen idol either. Citi is lovely, absolutely lovely. But Shea meant business.
Put a ton of Yankees on the Disabled List, give us back our stalwarts and pretend for a moment that we did the emphatic sweeping. Would I be telling you what a boiling cauldron of emotion Citi Field was over the weekend? Maybe, but I’ve been to thirteen home games the Mets have won this season and I’ve rarely sensed those kinds of sparks.
I feel other things. I feel good when I’m there and they win; I feel warmed by it. In fact, I was so delighted by how they escaped the Cardinals last Thursday that I found myself growing tactile in a way I hadn’t to date. I took my traditional postgame stroll through Field Level to the first base side staircase in Jackie Robinson’s Rotunda. I tipped my cap to the picture of Mr. Robinson and Mr. Rickey. I tapped my cap on the Mr. Met disc that thanked me for coming. And as I stepped outside, I patted one of the bazillions of bricks that comprise the exterior.
A tip, a tap and a pat…I would have bestowed those at Shea without thinking because when the Mets won there, I generally left giddy. Last Thursday I did it practically by instinct at Citi from the same sensation. I thought I had made it past whatever barriers were keeping me from fully embracing my post-Shea existence, even if I still tend to think the whole thing is a mostly unnecessary cash grab. My well-embedded cynicism had all but melted in the matinee sun and I was feeling a real kinship for the ol’ new ballpark.
Then Sunday happened and I wasn’t terribly impressed by Citi Field, not when it lay flat on the tracks of a third consecutive Subway Series loss. Mets fans were not consistently vociferous and Yankees fans, all told, weren’t that obnoxious. And they’re Yankees fans, y’know? It was a close enough game Sunday, at least on the scoreboard, so that a crowd like that should have gotten fired up. Yet there was little fire. Maybe that’s a symptom of a boutiquey building that works better for noshing and shopping than it does for blood, but there’s a conspicuous lack of blood inside Citi Field. The Mets aren’t bringing it and neither are we collectively.
I’d love to lean on the injuries for everything that ails the Mets, but sooner or later, whoever wears the uniform has to represent. Those players may not be as talented as those for whom they’re substituting, but they’ve gotta be full-fledged major leaguers sooner or later. They’ve got to make the plays they’re capable of making. They’ve got to compete every night. They’ve got to do with their heads what they can’t do with their physical assets. I haven’t seen it since Carlos Beltran went down. First they sagged, then they drooped, now they’re barely Slinkys. The general manager finds help nowhere. The manager muses it would be nice to stick around .500 from now until mid-July.
Thanks to this 9-17 month, the Mets are well ahead of Jerry Manuel’s schedule.
The Yankees are off our radar for now* and the rest of the season is underway. Monday night began a stretch of 88 games against the National League, thirteen in fourteen days, twelve of those versus teams with records now better than that sported by the sub-.500 Mets. The firm of Delgado, Reyes & Beltran will not participate in these proceedings. Oliver Perez took one short stride toward returning when he threw three innings without incident in Coney Island on Sunday. John Maine, however, isn’t even ready to take baby steps. There appears to be no significant internal help to be had between now and the All-Star Break.
That means, barring some unforeseen Minayan maneuver, the field will be filled by David Wright and a cloud of dust. On the nights it’s Johan Plus Eight, that’s great. The rest of the time? When you learn you can’t necessarily count on Fernando Nieve, what is there to believe in? Maybe Liván. Maybe Pelf, 6′ 7″ and still experiencing growing pains. We have to assume Frankie’s walk of Rivera was some kind of celestial joke and he’ll go back to being who he was for most of the season’s first three months. If we can’t have that much, this whole season could go up in Blue Smoke before we know it.
It hasn’t yet, of course. Through June 29, we’re 37-38, in third place, three games behind the Phillies with 87 games to go. That’s not so bad, right? I guess not.
But here’s something that gives me chills:
Five years ago, on June 29, the day Stephanie and I moved into our current home, the Mets beat the Reds 7-5. We didn’t have the cable hooked up yet, so I listened to Gary and Howie describe the exploits of Jae Seo (before he became an anachronistic jersey sighting) and Braden Looper (before he became a perennial annoyance) and beamed approvingly. Through June 29, we were 37-38, in third place, three games behind the Phillies with 87 games to go.
Same as it ever was is really going around these days.
*Actually, the other locally based team will temporarily return to my radar tonight as I have been graciously invited to inspect their new facility. Chronic curiosity where baseball stadia are concerned compels me to follow through despite the presence of that stadium’s title occupants. I’ll report back Wednesday unless I turn into a pillar of salt.
Avoid the temptations and settle down with 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.