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Izzy, Nimmo and What Happens In Between

If you spent the night renewing your membership in the Diehards’ Club by watching the Mets play extra innings against the Padres, you not only got to see a Mets win — you got ample opportunity to reflect on the team’s past, its future and (oh yeah) it’s glass-half-something present.

The accolades and the happy sentiment go to Jason Isringhausen for his 300th save, and fittingly so. As Mets productions generally are, it was a nail-biting affair: Izzy put runners on first and second after collecting the first out, the second out moved the winning run into scoring position as Ruben Tejada opted for the safe play at first rather than the dicier one at second (I thought that was wise — Tejada would had to flip the ball across his body with his momentum going the wrong way), and then Logan Forsythe cracked a liner at Tejada that he bobbled a Izzy aged visibly, Joe Boyd-style. Happily, Tejada bobbled it right in front of him, Tejada snatched up the ball and fired it to Lucas Duda for the win [1] and the milestone.

I’ve waxed rhapsodic [2] about Izzy before [3], but his story’s good enough for an extra round of appreciation. In 1995, a 22-year-old Isringhausen went 9-2 with a 2.81 ERA. If I’d told you after that he’d collect a grand total of 39 more wins by mid-August 2011, you’d have concluded that something was going to go badly wrong, and you’d have been correct. (And if I’d told you that Paul Wilson and Bill Pulsipher would collect 53 big-league wins between them … oh, let’s not.) Yet there was a Plan B — Izzy found himself as a closer for the A’s and Cardinals, though his 2006 injury did bring us Adam Wainwright. As he high-fived teammates tonight, you could see the purple C of the scar on the inside of the elbow: The kid who once hurt himself falling off motel balconies somehow found a way to persevere through not one but two Tommy John surgeries.  Izzy looked like a long shot to even make the team in St. Lucie, let alone become its closer, but both things happened. It’s been wonderful to sit and cheer for the kind of story few prodigal sons get to write.

As for the Mets’ future, Brandon Nimmo signed on just before midnight for a cool $2.1 million. What does this mean? Ask us in 2014. I don’t know if Nimmo will have his number retired, raise our hopes for a few fitful years, or never make the bigs — there are too many Ryan Jaroncyks, Geoff Goetzes and Kirk Presleys in our history for any of us to assume anything close to the best. Honestly, at this point the dollar figure is the more hopeful sign — it’s over slot, as were the terms of a number of deals the Mets struck with their draftees, including $650,000 for 15th-round pick Phil Evans. After years of abiding by Bud Selig’s ludicrous slotting guidelines, making short-sighted, skinflint moves like the Billy Wagner salary dump and generally behaving like the Pirates East (except the Pirates outspent them), the Mets have finally approached a draft without unilaterally disarming themselves first.

As for the present, it was a scratch-and-claw affair, marked by some remarkably good Padres defense from Will Venable and Aaron Cunningham and Alberto Gonzalez and some typically Metsian bad luck, as Duda’s seventh-inning smash up the middle hit umpire Todd Tichenor, forcing David Wright to stay put. Fortunately, Duda had other at-bats, most notably the ball he utterly demolished in the second inning — Duda hit it so hard you could barely see it off the bat, and I half-imagined the fans 435 feet away would wind up showered by fragments of yarn and horsehide. Duda looks like he did last September, which is a good sign — as is Josh Thole turning in better at-bats and being rewarded with hits. Then there’s Terry Collins. Come garbage time last year, the Mets were too often a collection of the walking dead — those who possessed the ineffable quality of Veteran Leadership (TM) got at-bats while the kids sat on the bench and no one in the useless, rudderless front office told Jerry Manuel to put the club’s future ahead of his own. It’s garbage time again, but Collins knows Duda’s future lies in right field, and that he has to have time there. Just as he knows that Izzy reaching 305 or 306 saves is nowhere near as important as Bobby Parnell reaching 5 or 6.

The Mets’ past is worth celebrating, and their present is more fun than we would have thought. Now it’s time to work on their future.

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Please consider a contribution to the Dana Brand Memorial Scholarship Fund [4], in memory of our blogging colleague and friend.