- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

The First Day of Next Year

I’ve always kind of hated myself for liking Sept. 1.

When your team is in a pennant race, Sept. 1 feels like the car has shifted into top gear: You’re gunning for the finish line, and the only duties set to be assumed by rookies involve blowouts. If anything, you fear what may happen when your team runs up against some Triple-A starter they’ve never seen before, pitching for a team playing out the string.

When your team is one of those playing out the string, though, Sept. 1 feels like the first day of next year, with new players rewarded for strong minor-league campaigns and given a chance to impress somebody. It’s a time to wonder, and maybe let yourself dream — to see a first big-league hit tossed into the Mets dugout while the young man who earned it tries not to beam, and wonder if years from now you’ll tell people you remember the day.

A pair of Joshes are coming up tomorrow — middle reliever Josh Stinson and Murphyesque hitter/fielder Josh Satin, not to mention tomorrow’s starter, superannuated pitcher-poet Miguel Batista. According to Adam Rubin [1], later in September we might get a look at starter Chris Schwinden, injury magnet Zach Lutz, perennially ignored masher Valentino Pascucci and returnees Mike Baxter and Pat Misch. There may not be a blue-chipper in the bunch, but I’m always happy to make the acquaintance of a new Met, and imagine what might be.

Such optimism is helped by the fact that next year keeps arriving at Citi Field.

(Interlude: I’m writing this on our annual sojourn on Long Beach Island, which is happily unscathed by Hurricane Irene despite taking a direct hit from her early Sunday morning. The rental car Emily was given for this year’s trip? A Ford Edge. Despite my off-the-charts loathing for that horrible Derek Jeter ad, honesty compels me to say that the Edge is a pretty great vehicle.)

Anyway, Chris Capuano further explored the mysteries of pitching by following his Seaveresque throttling of the Braves [2] with a slog against the Marlins. But he hung in there and so did the Mets, with David Wright clubbing two 2012 homers off the Great Wall of Flushing and Jason Bay going 3-for-4 and somehow erasing most of that good feeling by being tagged out following a horrid slide to the right of home plate that looked like a card table collapsing at a church social. The future part? Front and center in the comeback win against the hated Marlins were Lucas Duda and Ruben Tejada. Duda put the Mets on top with a very fine seventh-inning at-bat against Mike Dunn, one that saw him fight back from 0-2 to 2-2 and then rifle a ball up the middle for a 3-2 lead. Tejada then sealed the game [3] with two out in the ninth, Alfredo Amezaga on second and Mike Stanton at the plate. Stanton hit a laser up the middle which Tejada snagged behind second, whirling and throwing a seed to Nick Evans despite his momentum carrying him the wrong way. (Josh Thole and Wright also made superb plays in the ninth.)

Nothing against Daniel Murphy or Justin Turner, but there’s no way either of them makes that play. Tejada did because he has the kind of superb fielding instincts that players either have or don’t — some attunement to what pitch is thrown and the angle of contact and the sound and spin of the ball coming their way that gives them a first step in the right direction while other fielders are still processing what’s happening. One way or another, Tejada’s a starter next year: hopefully as Jose Reyes’s counterpart in the middle infield, less happily as his replacement. He’s nearly as valuable a hitter as Turner and a far better fielder than either Turner or Murph, and he’s only 21. His has been an impressive campaign, one that we may look back on as the most significant of several good years for young Mets.

Will either of the new Joshes or Lutz or Schwinden or even Pascucci have a role to play alongside Tejada and Duda? I don’t know, and putting any kind of significant stock in September numbers is taking being a dreamer too far. But starting tomorrow we’ll find out, a little bit. And hopefully that finding out will include some nice moments and reminders that for all its stomach-turning plummets, this Mets season has included some significant lifts as well.