We drove down to Long Beach Island on Saturday, with the Mets/Cubs game getting lost between happy escaped-to-vacation road-trip music and offloading a rented SUV’s worth of stuff into the beach apartment. The first eight innings of Sunday’s game were spent on the beach; digital enthusiast that I am, I forgot to bring an old-fashioned analog radio only to realize too late that I didn’t want the iPhone exposed to sand and sun and salt. Monday? Monday was an off-day.
By this morning I was fidgety; and I knew what was wrong. I missed my Mets.
As it turned out — as it has so often turned out in 2009 — watching my Mets play a couple of innings of baseball was an instant cure for having missed them.
Mike Pelfrey was awful, as he has been for large stretches of 2009. It’s seductive to assume that 2010 will be entirely different, that 2009 used up a decade’s worth of buzzard’s luck when it comes to the Mets and injuries. Seductive and far too easy: Before you start daydreaming about 2010, remember that Mike Pelfrey is your presumptive No. 2 starter. Mike Pelfrey, whose career now looks like a logical progression from 2006 through 2009, with the second half of 2008 a statistical outlier that should be discarded.
Yes, Pelfrey was awful and Sean Green was awful too — as noted on SNY, the Mets have somehow managed to allow 19 runs scored on walks or hit batsmen, which is simply unfathomable even in this simply unfathomable season.
But no matter — a lot of other Mets were pretty bad too. The moment that got me hollering was the play in the second: Anderson Hernandez fell down in vague proximity to Todd Helton’s grounder up the middle, Angel Pagan (whose baserunning had turned a successful hit-and-run into a fielder’s choice in the top of the first) threw a one-hopper over David Wright’s glove at third, Pelfrey wasn’t backing up the play, and the ball went in the dugout.
Emily, sensibly enough, wanted to know why, after a ruined season, this was the play that had me hurling obscenities into the Jersey night. I muttered something vague, but I know what it was. It was that once again I was witnessing the kind of ass-headed baseball that you shouldn't expect to see when you sit down to watch major-league baseball — no matter if you’re watching a first-year expansion team or a wrecked team fielding Plan C guys at too many positions. It’s the kind of baseball the Mets have played all year long, and injuries are no alibi for it.
Beyond that? I was happy to see David Wright back, even looking like a Little Leaguer underneath his Great Gazoo helmet. (That thing is not going to be widely adopted. It’s simply ridiculous looking.) I was happy to get a glimpse of Nick Evans, of whom I hope to see a lot more in September. Lance Broadway looked serviceable. Josh Thole looked awfully young, out there in the Rockies’ surreal Bambi outtake of a bullpen, but any Mets prospect looks good right now compared to the broken-down mess we’ve become all too used to.
I was happy to get to watch baseball, until the baseball became unwatchable. And until I was left with this thought: In the home stretch of better years, you care intensely about the outcome of your own team’s games and about the outcome of games involving the team or teams you’re trying to catch. And you wind up playing amateur scout about those teams’ opponents: Which out-of-it squad will nonetheless fight like rabid badgers, giving your opponent fits? And which out-of-it squad will roll over and expose a soft white underbelly by about the third inning, offering your cause no support whatsoever?
The Mets are the latter — they don’t back up plays, they can’t run the bases, they walk in runs about as often as they're given opportunities to do so. Fans of the San Francisco Giants, looking at the scoreboard during their own tilt with the Phillies, saw the Rockies were playing the Mets and thought, Oh shit, the Mets. We’ll get no help there. And they were absolutely right. In this spoiled season, even playing spoiler looks beyond our capabilities.