I’ve seen Mets teams in free fall. What’s going on these days isn’t that. They’re not falling. They fell and are incapable of getting up. I can’t even say this is the worst I’ve seen them play in years, and not just because I can go back two years and say I saw much worse.
It’s not the playing and failing to generate positive results that’s distressing. It’s that it doesn’t feel like the Mets are playing at all. It doesn’t feel like the Mets are participating in the games where ancillary evidence suggests they represent half of the participants. They are almost literally not in any game they play lately. It’s as if the Mets, to borrow from Sheryl Crow, are strangers in their own lives. Watching their games and reading their reactions night after night this August brings on a sad, helpless feeling — or would if I could summon any feeling at all for what’s become of the 2011 Mets.
As the Mets proved incapable of pushing across any of their myriad baserunners in the first two innings at Philadelphia Tuesday night…and then receded into their offensive shell…and then stepped helpfully out of the Phillies’ way so they could rack up yet another high score on the Citizens Bank pinball machine…as they were doing that, they almost ceased to exist. They got tinier and tinier until there was nobody on the field in the bottoms of innings, certainly nobody at bat in the top of them. There was no Mets catcher, no Mets first baseman, no Mets right fielder — there was nothing and nobody holding down their portion of the game.
Thus, it was tough to get upset with nobody. Howie Rose for a while — somewhere between 5-0 and 9-0 — spoke with great concern about the Mets not losing what they had when they were pretty good during this season. Terry Collins had their heads in the game and their tails busting down the line and their fans — us — trusting them again. Howie was really worried all that heartening progress would evaporate over the final month and Collins’s hard-won cultural changes would be for naught if current trends persisted.
I wasn’t. Everything that was good about 2011 has already disappeared. I feel no connection to whatever it was that kindled my affection for the Mets for swaths of the schedule. When I listen and when I watch, I don’t see the Mets who exceeded my meager expectations. I mean I literally don’t see the Mets who were at the forefront of their moments of revival: no Beltran, no Reyes, no Murphy (no Rodriguez, even). Beyond naming names, though, I saw no team. I saw no cohesiveness. I saw no ability. I saw no talent. I won’t say I saw no heart because that’s a damning indictment of anybody, but I didn’t see any of that, either. Yet I can’t say I was looking for it.
The Mets have heart? Good for them. Most of them show such limited ability or talent at this juncture that heart isn’t going to do them much good.
Listen, you can come at me with individual cases of young players who are showing a little something here or there and bullet-point how this one or that one might fit into a developing big picture down the road once you stir in those prospects whom you haven’t seen but count on nonetheless, and I won’t argue. But I also can’t see any of it materializing in the present, and the present is what we have 34 more games of. The present is the summer, and the summer is the quarter of the year it’s all about. The summer is the only quarter of the year where baseball shows up every day. I hate to see it go, even when it’s this bad. But I also hate to see it so bad that it feels like it’s not there.
The summer’s slipping away as summers tend to do. There’s only fall and winter ahead. Fall and winter and their detestable baseball-less void. There’s nothingness. It happens every year at this time, though in some years at this time I don’t notice because the Mets engage me with the reasonable hope that they will keep playing, keep competing, keep winning, keep the fall vibrant and keep the winter away as long as they can.
The Mets don’t engage these days. None of them They are not vital. They are pulseless. On paper, it’s sad. In substance, it’s empty. Their Augusts have been stunning white canvasses of nothingness three years in a row. We’ve been told or choose to convince ourselves that the blankness is wonderful right now because we have a front office of Picassos and Rembrandts who, given the opportunity, will begin to fill in our blank canvas with vibrant color and texture and won’t 2013 or 2014 be something?
Maybe. I’m still here in 2011. The canvas just stares back at me. Angel Pagan just overthrows everybody. Jason Bay just pops out. David Wright requests meetings. Johan Santana never returns. Jon Niese never progresses, and then goes on the DL. The bases remain loaded and then the bases never come close to being filled.
And Nick Evans just kind of wanders by from time to time, year after year.
During one of the Phillies’ many rallies Tuesday night I tried to spark some righteous anger within my soul, but couldn’t. I wanted to say “blow the whole thing up,” but there’s nothing left to blow up. What are you going to blow up? Justin Turner? Josh Thole? Umpteen relievers, none of whom you trust to get you out of a paper bag let alone a tense situation of second and third and nobody out? This thing can’t be blown up. This thing is hollow. Blow it up and there’ll be air.
I’ve tried to piece together a 2012 from here. I can’t do it yet. There’s a well-meaning, capable third baseman, a dynamite shortstop whose open-market value overrides everything (even his hamstrings), a left fielder who should be Fortune magazine’s man of the decade and a bunch of guys in whom I have no particular faith. A few might turn into something. A bunch more probably won’t. Ike Davis still isn’t running, so I can’t even pencil him onto my imaginary lineup card. The prospects I haven’t seen are exactly that. Call me when they’re close.
So, no, Howie, I’m not worried about these guys not building on whatever foundation Terry convinced them to construct in May and June and July. These guys probably won’t be the ones charged with the responsibility of laying in a first floor. For the Mets to provide the kinds of Augusts that excite us about Septembers and Octobers and the Aprils that follow, we’ll need mostly new Mets. Mets that don’t fade into 5-17 oblivion. Mets that don’t take four of seven from the Padres and lose 14 of 15 to everybody else.
These Mets are a holding action. And they’ve lost their grip completely.