In five years’ time, we’ve gone from being officially eliminated behind a starting pitcher who gallingly showed no emotion when his historically miserable first inning sealed our doom, to being officially eliminated behind a starting pitcher whose emotional brittleness over his historically miserable first inning was uncomfortably apparent.
Either way, the Mets were dead then and they’re dead now. There hasn’t been much that’s been alive and well about them in between.
They died on September 20, 2012, albeit to much less consternation and before approximately a zillion fewer witnesses than was the case when they died on September 30, 2007. The stakes were higher a half-decade ago and the element of surprise inherent in the way their self-inflicted wounds festered much fresher. We’re used to the losing these days. We accept being summarily deleted from mathematical contention as an autumnal inevitability. Quite obviously, so do the Mets.
Jeremy Hefner will never be remembered as any kind of internal villain on the order of T#m Gl@v!ne, the Hall of Fame-bound pitcher whose baseball immortality went on hiatus when it mattered most. Gl@v!ne, it has not been and will never be forgotten, presided over the third of an inning that altered the existence of a franchise as we knew it. He gave up seven runs in his third consecutive putrid outing and made sure that a team that had been reeling for two weeks collapsed with a resounding thud on that season’s final day. He then compounded his competitive sins by answering questions about his performance by displaying all the situational awareness of dry, white toast.
He wasn’t devastated, he said. At worst, he was disappointed. Devastation would imply that the Mets’ fate meant something to him. Disappointment you brush off before calling to confirm dinner reservations.
Hefner, on the other hand, could not have sounded a whole lot more devastated when reporters found him after his Thursday nightmare in which he faced Phillie after Phillie after Phillie and recorded nary an out. Seven batters clad in gray and red came up, not a one of them sat down, unless you count the four who had already scored. Hefner’s brief stay on the mound inadvertently imbued what shaped up as a prototypical meaningless game in September with gobs of meaning. No Mets team had ever taken the field at home and allowed its visitors to grab a quick 8-0 lead. But this one had. All kinds of records related to massive Met ineptitude were en route to being invoked.
And for that, Jeremy sounded very, very sorry…even sorrier than he pitched. Hell, maybe he didn’t pitch all that pitifully considering the Phillies bobbed along like a singles sewing machine and stitched together their eight runs on basically no hard hit balls. But to let Hefner off the hook because, gosh darn it, they fell in and found holes — no. I’m not falling for that. Eight runs in the first inning is eight runs in the first inning. I cringed in empathy for a 26-year-old rookie from Oklahoma whose voice I heard cracking and who was clearly trying to rein in his tear ducts when SNY’s cameras arrived at his stall. I thought about how joyful he sounded less than a month ago when he pitched so effectively against the Astros, not just because he had a good game but because his daughter had just been born. Jeremy Hefner’s a person and I don’t like to hear a person in pain.
But as a Mets fan who has watched Met after Met after Met wander aimlessly across six soul-crushing Septembers — and seen these Mets hide in plain sight since the middle of July — I’m not feeling remotely so generous of spirit. They can cry, they can smash stuff, they can bite each other’s heads off for all I care…and maybe they can fucking run to first base. Maybe they can remember professional baseball implies a touch of professionalism be proffered nightly. Maybe they can stop acting so absolutely helpless for months on end, stop wallowing in their “oh well” culture of acceptance and stop seeming so satisfied that they’re in the big leagues, most of them ignoring any impulse to believe they as a unit are required to attempt to succeed in the big leagues.
I guess they’re not. I guess it’s enough that they demonstrated a capacity for recording successive two-out hits on occasion in May and June and they thus deserve perpetual pats on the head for provisionally exceeding our generally low expectations on their behalf. I guess they want to be congratulated for putting on their pinstriped pants one leg at a time and bothering to physically stay on the field after the Phillies scored eight runs in the top of the first. They did, by gum. They hung around long enough to stand by and observe the Phillies score another seven runs in the goddamn top of the ninth, too. It was over in the top of the first when it was 8-0, yet it wasn’t technically over until it ended 16-1.
Who the fuck loses 16-1 in September? The same outfit that lost 13-0 in August, 11-5 in July, 9-1 in June, 8-0 in May and 18-9 in April; this team whose delusional manager still had the nerve as of last week to talk glowingly about how high they’d “set the bar” for themselves by rising a handful of games over .500 during the season’s first third. According to Terry Collins after the 16-1 exhibition, “This team has played their hearts out for two years against tremendous different odds and things that have happened.”
I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.
They’re professional baseball players. They’re supposed to play their hearts out. They are compensated lavishly to play their hearts out. We ask for results, but we settle for honest effort or at least honest interest. Have the Mets, as an entity, looked interested in playing professional baseball since early July? At best, they’ve appeared overmatched and incapable. During their most discouraging stretches, they’ve given little sign they want to do anything but get their obligations over with.
This appears to be a failure on every level. We see bad habits go uncorrected, damaging ruts widen and cluelessness enshroud their every collective move. Where’s the coaching? Where’s the managing? Where’s the preparedness Collins is constantly congratulating himself over? Are the bulk of these players so lacking in talent and/or intelligence that instruction can’t be properly processed by them? Or are the instructors simply lacking in the necessary skill sets?
And, by the way, where the hell is that genius general manager lately? Is his health an issue? Because if it is, I wish him a speedy recovery. But if he’s all right, how come we haven’t seen Sandy Alderson address this mess publicly? Where are his lieutenants? I’d ask about the owners, but, honestly, who in their right mind wants to hear from them?
The players don’t execute, the leaders don’t guide, nobody’s in the ballpark, nobody’s taking responsibility, and on nights like this one, all we’re left with is a nominal superstar mouthing his usual boilerplate, a manger who doesn’t deal in reality, the lingering residue of whispers about one player’s work habits (instead of a legitimate full-throated throttling of all of them) and this poor schnook pitcher who shouldn’t be in anybody’s rotation but is wedged within ours for the time being and whose best moment Thursday came in summoning the poise to admit what nobody else had the good grace or guts to come close to saying out loud.
“I’m embarrassed for myself,” Jeremy Hefner declared in his steadiest voice possible, not having been around the Mets long enough to learn to be properly nonchalant about constant and corrosive losing. “I don’t want to not get an out. I don’t want to sit through a whole nine-inning game that I started. Words can’t even describe how embarrassing that is.”
Words can’t even describe how embarrassing any of this is.