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Gone With the Schwin

Well it’s lonesome in this old town
Everybody puts me down
I’m a face without a name
Just walkin’ in the rain
Goin’ back to Houston
—Dean Martin [1]

How many pitchers does it take to replace Mike Pelfrey?

More than one, we can now state with absolute certainty.

The front office that we reflexively tag with the genius label didn’t exactly have a light bulb go off over its head when it came to having adequate backups in place in case one of its five starting pitchers went down for any appreciable period. Which is an interesting way to plot for all eventualities.

We also don’t seem able, despite these swell taxi squads Adam Rubin keeps telling us about [2], to recall a catcher in case we’re down one of those for a couple of days, but 48 hours deprived of the services of flu-ridden Mike Nickeas [3] is small potatoes compared to having an arm ready to go in the extended absence of one Big Pelf.

Joke’s on us, huh? Specifically those of us who’ve been waiting for the clock to run out on Pelfrey time. Five mostly frustrating seasons of the kid from Wichita never fully growing into a consistent big league winner or at least dependable mound presence seemed finally on the verge of ending in a good way. The Pelfrey of this season appeared a notch above the Pelfrey of other seasons. Hell, the last time we saw him pitch, two Saturdays ago against the Giants, we were actually dismayed to see him removed after eight innings [4].

That should have been the sign of the aPelfalypse. Next thing we hear is Pelfrey’s on the DL, Pelfrey’s going in for Tommy John and Pelfrey projects as a non-tender [5].

That’s it? That’s how it ends for us and Pelfrey? Nothing so dramatic as the big guy persevering until he wins that elusive big game that puts us over the top and casts him forever in a warm glow of Metsian appreciation? Or Pelfrey being shipped off for some “final piece of the puzzle” on this or next July 31? Just a quick disappearing act which leaves behind a half-Pelfed legacy and Chris Schwinden?

Mike probably feels worse about it than we do. It’s his right arm, and we wish it well. We are left in the uncomfortable position of wishing we had it healthy and rarin’ to go because Chris Schwinden…

Oh geez.

I’d like to pardon Chris Schwinden’s abysmal two starts — his last two starts as a 2012 Met, I really, really hope — because they were made in two ballparks not conducive to pitching. Coors Field wasn’t the place to be welcomed back to the bigs, particularly on the night somebody left the humidor open [6], and Minute Maid Park is, oxymoronically speaking, the biggest short porch I’ve ever seen. Then I remember I spent one of the gloomiest baseball afternoons of all time [7] with Chris Schwinden last September at pre-haircut Citi Field, by no means a pitcher’s graveyard. It wasn’t Chris alone who caused all the damage that gray day against the Nationals (team debacles are rarely one man’s burden), but after identifying him as a prime protagonist in losses of 10-1, 18-9 and now 8-1 [8]…with little in the way of contradictory evidence to suggest he was simply pitching in tough luck…Chris Schwinden can go find himself another gig. Or go get more experience at Buffalo and return later and make me Met-a culpa. I’ll be happy to do so. I’m not in this to rag on Chris Schwinden. I’m in it to not give up on games as soon as I recognize Chris Schwinden is starting them.

This isn’t a Schwinden issue. This is an Alderson depth issue [9]. The GM’s security blanket is Chris Young, who is one year removed from his most recent (and intensely memorable [10]) major league action and working through his own post-surgery rehab [11]. Young isn’t ready to be a Pelfrey replacement. There’s merit in not rushing the kids who were supposed to make us not miss Pelfrey eventually, but you’d figure there’d be a stopgap starter rattling around Triple-A we could have used instead of Schwinden. Better yet, there must be a stopgap starter we can use instead of Schwinden the next few times through the rotation. There’s a spot where patience has to overlap with urgency. The 162-game schedule kind of demands it.

Ignominious way to say goodbye to good ol’ Houston, where the next time we visit, it will be as an Interleague or, if you’ll excuse the expression, World Series opponent. The shifting of the Astros away from our annual travel itinerary is a shame in that anything that shreds the comforting regularity from our communal routines is a shame. I’d feel the same way if it was the Padres or the Reds or, heaven forefend [12], the Marlins (granted, maybe a little less so if it was the Marlins) transferring to the circuit where they play eight-ninths of the Grand Old Game. Part of baseball’s appeal is the clockwork-precision framework it presents us six months out of every year. From 1969 to 1992, you could set your Armitron by the alignment of the National League as it applied to the Mets: 18 games against each of five teams in the East, 12 apiece versus the six in the West.

Across that predictable canvas, the Mets made with their brush strokes. That’s where the element of surprise came in. You didn’t know how they’d do against their expansion-brother Astros every year but you knew the Astros would be there to greet them twice. And if there were trips to Houston, there’d be talk of mosquitoes the size of bullpen buggies; and Eighth Wonders that weren’t so wondrous; and a master of the split-finger fastball whose nefarious scuffery could never be fully proven; and the laborious, glorious sixteen innings devoted to avoiding him at all costs; and Killer B’s; and Toy Cannons; and Crawford Boxes; and Mets from when they weren’t Mets — from Rusty Staub to Nolan Ryan to Carlos Beltran…right on through to these last three days unsuccessfully attempting to overcome the likes of El Caballo, Wandy Rodriguez and some vance named Jose Altuve, who isn’t nearly as big as Ralph Kiner insists those Colt Stadium mosquitoes were.

The very first trip the Mets made to Houston, they were on fire, having won nine of twelve. These were the 1962 Mets, mind you, thus on fire meant elevating their record from 3-16 to 12-19, but it was progress nonetheless. They were seven games from .500 for the first time in their brief cumulative life (not counting when they were 0-7 en route to being 0-9). Then they flew to Houston — or tried to. There were mechanical troubles, there was inclement weather, there was a diversion to Dallas and before their long night/morning was over, Casey Stengel uttered his immortal press advisory to traveling secretary Lou Niss as Ol’ Case grabbed his room key and headed for the hotel elevator:

“If any of my writers come looking for me, tell ’em I’m being embalmed.”

Casey was alive and well in Houston, but whatever slim competitive aspirations the eighth-place Mets nurtured before touching down in Texas died an instant, muggy death. They lost both of their games to the Colt .45s and their next fifteen everywhere else. The Mets haven’t been cumulatively within seven games of .500 as a franchise [13] since they first got to town.

Yet it’s a shame anyway that they won’t be going there anymore as a matter of National League course. If I can say that after being on the wrong end of a miserable three-game sweep, I must really mean it.