Goodness is it ever exhausting being a Mets fan sometimes.
On Thursday night, when the Phillies had finished administering a 16-1 pasting of the Mets, Terry Collins accused his team of quitting — or rather, he let his refusal to say they hadn’t quit indicate rather clearly that he thought they had.
On Friday afternoon, horribly but predictably, Collins felt bad about that. A slew of meetings followed, as did a mea culpa session with the beat writers. Collins basically said he’d been trying to motivate his players and miscalculated, and that he regretted it. “I don’t want to ever challenge anybody’s integrity,” he said. “That’s wrong. My players are professionals.”
The Mets receive paychecks for playing baseball, so yes, by that definition they are professionals. By any other definition, their status would be debatable given recent evidence. The Mets went into last night’s game with the Marlins with a 23-47 record since their season’s high-water mark, and fewer wins at Citi Field in the second half than the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Nationals. That’s bending the definition of “professionalism” dangerously far — but it sure seems like a well-chosen example of how a team that’s quit would play baseball.
Honestly, if putting up three hits while getting curb-stomped 16-1 isn’t quitting, I don’t want to see what would happen if the Mets actually did quit. Would they lose 154-0? 2,516-1? Would they arrive at the batter’s box wearing only uniform tops and then fall asleep between pitches? Collins, having finally had enough, was just concluding the same thing every sentient Mets fan concluded a while ago, and it was actually slightly satisfying to hear someone in this organization finally call this bunch out for their chronic listlessness and utter lack of results.
So of course the next day Collins walked back those statements, to use that awful, vaguely political expression you hear a lot these days. From Kevin Burkhardt we heard that his players were upset, and that the damage had been done.
The damage? Heaven forfend! I pictured various Mets flopping on their richly appointed fainting couches, whimpering that their manager was mean and pleading for agents to be called. The hurt feelings of players who are routinely terrible at baseball does not amount to damage. Damage is going 23-47 and plummeting, in rapid order, out of contention and then relevance. Damage is being corrosively awful night after night amid a news blackout about the financial future of the club. Damage is being so predictably inept that the effect is to all but beg a battered fanbase to find something else to do with its earnings and evenings. This is what damage looks like. And this. And lots more places I could point you.
But anyway, yeah, Terry felt bad.
At least he felt bad until the bottom of the first, when Lucas Duda popped up a ball, put his head down and jogged to first.
Duda’s fault was double-barreled. Most obviously, he wasn’t paying attention to the play. More subtly, he hadn’t been paying attention to how the game had gone so far. If he had, he would have noticed that the only obstacles between the ball he’d hit and the ground were various Marlins, which meant the ball’s journey was likely to end amid blades of grass. The Mets won tonight, but hold your applause: The way the Marlins played, the ’62 Mets would have eked out a victory despite most of them being in their eighties if not deceased at the present time. The Marlins’ performance was one of the more amazingly awful examples of baseball I’ve ever seen, which is saying something recently. The men in orange and green and black and silver and puce and gold and turquoise and taupe and whatever the hell else is on those uniforms went about their business as if they were all a) astonishingly hungover; b) suffering from vertigo; or c) both. Collins had a rough Thursday, but Ozzie Guillen spent most of Friday night wearing the kind of expression generally reserved for a dad whose kid just backed the truck too far down the boat ramp, submerging a land vehicle instead of extracting a watercraft.
Anyway, with the Marlins busy desecrating not just the practice but also the very idea of baseball, Duda wound up on first instead of on second. Which led, in rapid order, to Duda winding up on the bench, without even the fig leaf of Collins pretending to be worried about an injury. Our nomadic corner outfielder with the big feet and the eggshell confidence got caught loafing, and so got punished. “I couldn’t turn my head tonight,” said Collins later.
Perhaps tomorrow he’ll feel bad about that too.
Collins arrived in New York with a reputation for being a little too high-strung — the question wasn’t whether he’d snap, but when. He finally has, but not in the way that I imagined he would. He was coldly angry for all the right reasons and then wanly apologetic for all the wrong reasons.
Honestly, I feel bad for Collins. He can’t play the game in lieu of the players who can’t play it. He can’t authorize the funds needed to bring in players who’d be better. He can’t do much except hope that loaded dice will quit coming up snake eyes. And then, after these near-nightly disasters, he has to bottle his frustration and fury and say philosophical things to a roomful of reporters. I can’t imagine what that’s like, day after day after day.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I’m sure it must be exhausting. As an increasingly unwitting fan of the 2012 Mets, I understand that part all too well. I think we all do.