Out in Section 106, where a couple of Mets fans willing to plop down in seats about 18 rows behind where they were assigned could spread out and enjoy the night if they ignored the fundamental awfulness of the main attraction, Stephanie made one of the most astute observations of the season that used to be. It was when Justin Turner came to bat in the bottom of the sixth, pinch-hitting for R.A. Dickey after Dickey all at once stopped being statistically unbeatable. A swift 1-1 duel versus Gio Gonzalez had become, without pausing to as much check its GPS, a deadly 5-1 stomping. And now here came Turner, stepping to the plate to his chosen walkup music, “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen.
“That’s really his song?” Stephanie asked me, surprised that something so poppy infiltrated the ranks of the hardcore, bass-thumping cross-genre jams that are supposed to intimidate opposing pitchers.
“That’s not very badass.”
No, I said, it’s not. And neither is our team.
They never were. They were plucky as the dickens when the season that used to be was in full optimistic swing, but even then, they were the first team you’d bring home to meet your mother and the last team you’d suspect of elbowing you out of the way to get that last seat on the Super Express. Year after year they admire in hushed tones the elusive element of “swagger” as if it’s a foreign object hidden inside a villain wrestler’s shorts, just out of the view of the ref. The Mets will pose for pictures with any reality show star who can produce a Shea Stadium ticket stub and Tweet pictures of their special dress-up road trips, but you never get the feeling they, in the immortal words of Leo Durocher describing Eddie Stanky, come to kill you. “Nice boys” is what Tom Hanks’s Mr. White would have termed them in That Thing You Do! These days they seem intent on holding open doors for less polite baseball teams as those squads roar by on their way to the pennant race.
It’s not about the music they choose. It’s about the beat that goes on like crazy, to the tune of eleven beatdowns in twelve increasingly poorly contested rumbles.
Turner, by the way, flied out. Everybody flied out or struck out or grounded out or popped out. Almost everybody, that is. Alleged bad seed Jordany Valdespin was permitted a pinch-hitting appearance as the Mets wallowed four runs from the Nats. He strode to the plate to lead off the home eighth to some very harsh-sounding Reggaeton number and whacked his fifth pinch-home run into the Nationals’ bullpen, as if to let them know at least one Met was ready to throw down. That fifth PH HR was a team record for one season. It’s close to a major league record for one season. A small, brief chant of “LET HIM PLAY!” went up around us in deep right, to which I happily lent my vocal support. Valdespin was indeed rewarded by being allowed to hang around and play center field until the otherwise total 5-2 loss was over.
I carry no personal brief for Jordany Valdespin. I’m not selling apparel on his behalf or wrapping myself in his hashtag, but I’m pretty sure that when a cold team has a hot hand, it would be best served by letting that hand grip as many at-bats as possible from the first inning on. Enough with the tired veterans and the nice fellows who the Harpers and Morses and Espinosas look forward to stampeding let alone spiking for years to come. Enough with David Wright, who was once part of a great teamwide future, having to tip his cap to the Washington bleeping Nationals the way he had to tip his cap to the Braves when he was getting his feet wet and the Phillies as his best clubs’ moment passed. David’s had a wonderful season, and he will always be the most gracious, most polite, most genuinely decent superstar in any Met setting, but wow do I groan when I read quotes in which he is compelled to refer to the bleeping Nationals as a team that can “exploit you pretty quickly,” as he did Tuesday.
The Nationals. The Nationals can exploit you pretty quickly. When did that happen? They were entitled to get better, but so were we. I saw a guy in our section wearing a HARPER 34 t-shirt, and I wondered where our shirtworthy everyday rookie lurks, the guy we wait for breathlessly and the guy who rewards us daily almost immediately. For all the happy horsespit over homegrown lineups, I’m pretty sure our last HARPER 34 was WRIGHT 5. The next one may not technically be VALDESPIN 1, but for now, he will do. So let him do already yet. Other than Daniel Murphy, nobody’s been hot of late like Jordany Valdespin is right now, and right now is what matters when you were 46-39 and you are 47-50.
As the Mets faded from view Tuesday and failed to offer any followup to Valdespin’s homer, my mind wandered back to a story about Eddie Murphy’s first season on Saturday Night Live, when the show was in deathly unfunny flux and Murphy, only 19 and not yet a full-fledged cast member but obviously immensely talented, was consigned to mostly background parts in group sketches. He lobbied for more airtime only to be told by idiot producer Jean Doumanian, “You’re a featured player. You’re learning. You have to understand that you have to be guided by us.”
In a matter of months, Doumanian was fired and Murphy was shooting to stardom. Something similar might not happen with Valdespin, but how you can go 1-11 and just keep bypassing the guy who keeps succeeding in the most limited opportunities does not speak well for the management of a team in deathly uncompetitive flux.
Jason Bay — a real sweetheart, everybody insists — was in the starting lineup, however. He went his usual oh-for-whatever but at least the Citi Field A/V squad was merciful enough to blast the volume on the Pearl Jam when he trudged to take his ups so the booing would be drowned out and his feelings wouldn’t sink any lower than his average. (Seriously, “State Of Love And Trust” was twice as loud as Ike’s trusty “Start Me Up” and did have the effect of audibly smothering the new “BOOOOO” overture.)
You could ask what the pluck has happened to these Mets who never gave up and were sweetly stubborn enough to withstand eight daunting frames before turning steely and indefatigable when ninth innings rolled around. I couldn’t tell you where they went, but I would guess they grew discouraged after all the near-misses they’ve been engineering since the All-Star break (which, I think we’d have to agree by acclamation, must have been the Worst…Break…Ever).
They put the potential tying run on second in the ninth Friday night and did not score.
They brought the potential tying run to the plate in the ninth Saturday afternoon and did not score.
They put the potential winning run on second in the ninth Sunday afternoon and did not score.
The Mets put the potential winning run on second in the ninth Monday night and did not score.
By Tuesday night, there was no pluck and no luck. There were two strikeouts and a groundout in the ninth. It couldn’t have been over faster, which was great news for those of us who wanted to catch the 10:17 at Woodside but worse news for those of us who hoped to catch a team or two ahead of us in the season that used to be but isn’t anymore.