The Toronto Blue Jays? They still have those?
That’s not meant to be a slam on the level of Bill Terry’s notorious “is Brooklyn still in the league?” or Charlie Dressen’s equally karma-busting “the Giants is dead!” But the dynastic Jays of the early ’90s and their dome that seemed so of the moment haven’t been front and center in baseball’s consciousness much recently, Jose Bautista’s power displays notwithstanding. One who pays only fleeting attention to the other league could be forgiven for thinking both entities had been the sports equivalent of pulled from the shelves…or maybe flat-out cancelled. Like Pop Rocks. Or Cops. Except somebody still manufactures Pop Rocks and Fox still airs Cops. Some things don’t go away. They just fall into the background.
Sure enough, the Toronto Blue Jays haven’t disappeared. There’s a SkyDome in Toronto, still, even though it’s officially a Centre and in recent years it hasn’t struck visitors as particularly cutting edge. The home team enjoyed it just fine Friday night, however, much to the consternation of those who follow the road team, which for the first time since 2006 happened to be the Mets.
It’s too early in the annual N.L. vs. A.L. maneuvers to be fed up with Interleague play, and despite the 14-5 pantsing that wasn’t as close as the score makes it appear (and the ninth Met defeat by five or more runs this season), it seems a little hair-trigger to be overly disgusted just because Jon Niese and Manny Acosta were slugged to bits and our only mound salvation came from two guys who never pitched in the major leagues before: rookie Robert Carson and catcher Rob Johnson.
Carson is the third No. 73 to pitch for the Mets and has no doubt left the best impression of any of them. You probably don’t need to be reminded how Kenny Rogers ended his tenure in those numbers. The less-remembered Ricardo Rincon was last seen blowing up Pedro Martinez’s final Met start and endangering the Mets’ 2008 playoff chances (as if the 2008 Mets needed additional help doing that). Robert Carson is a blank slate with an ERA to match. Keep it up, kid. And maybe try a new number.
Johnson is the third No. 16 to pitch for the Mets since the righthander SNY’s Thursday night program tabbed as the second-greatest Met ever stopped doing so. You would have thought a ceremony would have been held to declare Dwight Gooden’s number would never be worn again as the good Doctor made his way to Cooperstown, but both of those ships sailed (or were sadly snorted) long ago. Doc’s 16 was held in abeyance for four years following his exile from Metdom until Hideo Nomo brought what was left of his Tornadic appeal to Shea in 1998; Nomo’s last Met start was about as bad as Niese’s most recent.
The next Met to pitch in 16 was someone wearing it in tribute to Gooden…but pitching in the image of Bill Pecota. That was 2000 right fielder Derek Bell, who came into a game in which the Mets were getting hammered and ensured they’d get clobbered. Then, like a pair of traveling numerals, 16 continued on its journey only to those who had some compelling reason to wear it: David Cone (another Doc homage), Doug Mientkiewicz, Paul Lo Duca and Angel Pagan (like Nomo, 16s in their previous MLB lives).
Rob Johnson, like Bob Geren, is a journeyman catcher who had no reason to be assigned a number that resonates resoundingly in Met history. Except unlike Geren, who isn’t enhancing the digit of Ed Kranepool and Jose Reyes by sitting on the bench next to Terry Collins and advising “maybe hit and run here,” Johnson is lately lighting up Metsopotamia as Doc did in 1984 and 1985. Well, on a really limited basis he is. Thursday there was that bunt that sparked the eighth-inning rally that beat the Reds. And on Friday, Johnson pitched the greatest 1-2-3 eighth a team losing by nine runs has ever known, simply by virtue of being catcher Rob Johnson pitching.
It’s a shame things really have to get desperate for a position player to pitch, because when it works, it’s so much fun. Johnson popped up the first guy he faced on one pitch. He popped up the second guy he faced on two pitches. And he struck out the third guy he faced. The names of those guys are being withheld as a protest against the circumstances that led to a catcher pitching, but it was fantastic.
As is David Wright, head cold notwithstanding. David, 1-for-3 before calling it a night, is batting .409. He hit .333 on the evening, yet his average dipped two points. That’s fantastic in its own way. Wright was ranked eighth on that SNY special regarding great Mets, one spot ahead of Reyes, one behind Carlos Beltran (whose number is presumably on reserve for whenever the Gerenesque Val Pascucci returns). Reyes — tied for second in career base hits by a Met once David collected his 1,300th at Rogers Centre — is no longer here and Beltran is no longer here, but Wright is most definitely still here. I thought of him going into this series because of what I wrote the last time the Mets were in Toronto:
If we all agree on the not-such-a-stretch principle that David Wright is the best regular player ever produced by the Mets…make that if we all agree on the not-such-a-stretch principle that no regular player produced by the Mets has ever come as far as fast as David Wright has, then I won’t feel I’m rushing things to reveal a revelation I had last night.
The revelation had something to do with drawing a parallel between 1969 and 2006 (which looked logical in June) and another between Tom Seaver and David Wright vis-à-vis Met Greatness. Seaver was ranked first in Thursday’s SNY program. He’d have been ranked first in any “greatest Met” program from 1967 on. David, in his ninth Met season, continues climbing such charts, with any rank of his necessarily provisional because he’s not done accomplishing great Met things.
Should anybody who doesn’t follow the National League all that closely ever ask, “David Wright? The Mets still have him?” let’s hope the answer remains an emphatic “yes” for a good long while…even if his average drops to .405 by Sunday.