… the Mets went 0-for-August at Shea Stadium.
I remember it all too well. They were 0-13 for the month, with game after game a despairing, infuriating question of when, not if. They then lost the first two home games in September, making the home futility streak 15 straight. The final loss was a 3-2 defeat in 12 innings at the hands of the Marlins, in the first game of a doubleheader. The Mets won the second game 11-5 and the disaster was over — in fact, that win was the first of seven in a row, a streak that came too late to matter and so mostly just aggravated us further.
If you weren’t around for it, well, this current stretch is an excellent re-creation.
This time around the Mets can’t go 0-for-July, as they beat the Phillies (twice!) and the Cubs before the All-Star break, but otherwise things feel awfully familiar. The team looks variously listless and overamped, losing by doing too little and losing by trying to do too much. Should the scenario repeat itself, the only surprising thing would be for this year’s Mets to somehow rebound and win seven straight. Seven more wins before everybody packs up their lockers at Citi Field? More plausible, but let’s not get cocky.
Today’s matinee offered relatively few pleasures. If you’re a Mets fan, there was Ike Davis’s line-drive homer into Utleyville, a fairly courageous start by Jeremy Hefner marred by a couple of gopher balls, and some nice plays by Davis and the recently spiked Ruben Tejada. Otherwise, well, it was all Nats — particularly the work of 24-year-old Stephen Strasburg.
At least on some level, any good pitching performance is a pleasure to watch, whether it’s R.A. Dickey redefining a pitch dismissed as a sideshow or Greg Maddux making the sum of average but perfectly located pitches far more than the sum of their parts. But Strasburg is something else — a classic power pitcher, with thunderbolt fastballs and knee-buckling curves and the power pitcher’s assurance that the game is in his hands. When Strasburg’s on you may not get the done-with-mirrors glee of a solid Dickey outing or the head-shaking thrill of watching a Maddux outthink everybody, but what you get definitely has its pleasures: the sight of a superb physical specimen making a very difficult game look easy. Which is what Strasburg did, from the three pitches he needed to fan Tejada leading off the game to the five required to erase Kirk Nieuwenhuis closing out the seventh. It was a clinic, with no confrontation more impressive than his showdown with David Wright at the end of the sixth. Wright was the tying run, and he got to 2-0 on Strasburg, but the Nats hurler dueled David to a 2-2 draw and then left him looking at a perfect curve settling at the knee. If you’d told Wright it was coming, maybe he’d have been able to flick it into the seats behind first or pop it up. Maybe.
It will be fascinating to watch what the Nats do with Strasburg as he approaches the innings limit mandated for young pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery. On the one hand, Strasburg is obviously a rare talent, one who might be a 15-game winner for a generation if his golden arm is treated with the TLC it deserves. On the other, one should never assume a good club is the beginning of a dynasty — sometimes the tumblers never again align, and if you don’t go for it you’re soon left with a bunch of Plan Bs and what-ifs. Just ask the 2006 Mets about that one.
If only the 2012 Mets had such dilemmas to ponder. They’re looking at two weeks of bad road — off on a long trudge west, playing at strange hours and in distant cities, with the fresh memory of a winless homestand, Tim Byrdak barking at Josh Thole and Dan Warthen in front of Mr. Met and everybody, and a manager incandescent with frustration. As baseball fans, if nothing else we can say “ya never know” — that incantation is all that keeps the darkness at bay sometimes. But while it’s true that ya never know, there are times when you’ve got a pretty good guess. One shudders to think what the Mets’ record will be on Aug. 7, when they return home to the suddenly unfriendly confines of Citi Field. 2013 may have always been the target year for turning things around, but 2012 was fun until it turned to ashes — and all of a sudden there’s a lot of ashes left to wade through.