Bruce Springsteen once advised you can’t start a fire without a spark. Monday night and Tuesday morning, there was no spark in Marlins Park . And for several days before, there was no yield at Citi Field. The Mets can’t get anything going in any sense anywhere. They are stuck in place…fourth place, to be precise, unless the Marlins accidentally get out of their way and let them descend into last.
Give the Mets a few more extended engagements and there might be no stopping them in their pursuit of pathetic. For five straight games they’ve gone hard after losses and they’ve achieved them with élan. Or so it feels and looks when you decide to watch them presumably try and fail to win.
Perhaps there was an outlier cockeyed optimist or a super drunk five-year-old who thought the Mets were going to contend in 2013, but I think it’s safe to say the consensus was this year was going to be more about inching forward rather than growing by leaps and bounds. There is supposed to be a future on the horizon; that’s the tradeoff for our peeling patience. You know: the great pitching prospects, the catcher-in-waiting, valuable innings for our prospective co-ace — plus the supporting cast that’s partially on-site. If you could forge a foundation for 2014 and then work in the young comers and be good enough to add pieces as 2015 approaches…
If, if, if. Whatever. Either the master plan is coalescing in the shadows of the Las Vegas strip and its Binghamton, St. Lucie and Savannah equivalents, or it’s all a crock. Give me a jingle in two years and let me know that my cynicism as April 2013 wound down was misplaced. Right now the blue and orange appears terribly tinged by jaundice.
The Mets have lost five in a row. They’ve scored 10 runs in those 51 innings. Their starting pitchers have flirted with adequate on each occasion, only to run out of gas and have their tires slashed by a marauding band of relievers. Nobody has stepped up for more than a moment or two. The manager hasn’t made a single move that could be described as having paid off meaningfully, except, perhaps, for the Dodgers, Phillies or Marlins.
Five bad games, better known as a teamwide slump? Or an indicator of one bad team that counts within its 25-man ranks no more than a few outstanding talents? Is the manager just having a bad week or has the combination of strategic and motivational magic so often attributed to him simply had its day? It’s hard to believe Terry Collins is the man to lead this team toward — never mind to — the promised land. Then again, it’s hard to believe more than a couple of the souls he’s shepherded over this past month are among those best qualified to make such a pilgrimage.
To accept in advance that a season won’t provide much in the way of bottom-line affirmation, you have to trust in the future. But you also have to see signs that a bit of the future is revealing itself right now…a bit more than one bit, you might say. Matt Harvey, whatever his relative “struggles” Monday night, has proven himself a pick to click. If you can’t believe in Harvey, you might as well find another sport.
OK, that’s one. What else ya got to get us through this road trip and the next homestand and the hundred-plus games after that?
Not a lot. Somebody might get a big hit. Somebody might make a nice catch. Somebody besides Harvey or Jon Niese might go deep and be consistently effective. Some parade of those who pitch behind them might succeed without eventually cracking. Maybe a ball won’t fall in in front of some unnecessary sixth outfielder . Maybe most every runner who reaches scoring position won’t be abandoned there. Maybe there’ll be multiple innings of multiple runs. Maybe a strong throw will be unleashed. Maybe all those pitches taken won’t lead to self-defeating passivity at the plate. Maybe one-two counts won’t be seen as excellent opportunities to issue intentional walks . Or maybe the other team will screw up a little more than the Mets, though if you can’t get the Marlins to cooperate in that regard, and if you can’t hold a 2-1 lead over Miami in the ninth or a 3-2 lead in the fifteenth…
Once a game passes let’s say the twelfth or thirteenth inning, especially in these days when managers burn through their bullpens and leave themselves with no long-man options, it may not be fair to infer conclusions from them. As it gets later, a war of attrition sets in, even if both sides in this particular fifteen-inning theater of the dispiriting ran short on supplies, rations and vital ammunition fairly early. When the innings pile up, it’s not a matter of who’s better. It’s about who finds a way to win.
Or in the case of the Mets versus Marlins, a way to lose. And the Mets somehow found it against an opponent whose stated business plan is to shed itself of assets. They only have one left of any note and he went out with an injury in the tenth. Bereft of Giancarlo Stanton for the final five innings, Miami brought to bear only the curse of Greg Dobbs and…I know, that’s usually enough, but c’mon — they’re the Marlins.
Though I imagine wherever a hardy band of Marlin faithful gather, the thought process across the many hours this game took was likely “c’mon — they’re the Mets.”
Yes. Yes they were. In this era, which is either a continuation of the same old same old or a prelude to brilliantly disguised greatness, that sometimes says it all.
Harvey will have better nights. David Wright’s pain in the neck will ease up. Others will perform to a higher standard than they have for the past five games and maybe their improvement will coincide with those who aren’t currently floundering fending off their own respective if inevitable ebbs. A five-game winning streak might unfold at some point and, depending when it hypothetically occurs, we might look at our Mets as world-beaters on the verge of something spectacular. We’re myopic that way. We’re supposed to be. We’re fans.
But an aberration here or there aside, do you see anything beyond Harvey as truly encouraging? Do you see even the inching forward? An escalation of decay, to borrow a phrase from the latest episode of Mad Men, certainly seems to have set in where this season is concerned. We can be 2014’ed and 2015’ed until we’re giddy in the face, but how much 2013 are we supposed to accept as the cost of doing business next year and the year after? When the Mets return home next week, what are the odds more than a minyan shows up to greet them?
I’m not a huge proponent of invoking precedent because every situation is different (though the Mets have definitely begun to not score enough for Matt Harvey like they traditionally never scored for Tom Seaver), but Mets teams that wander through their second month gaining no traction have been known to Do Something.
• When attendance fell through the floor in May 1983, the Mets called up Darryl Strawberry to sweeten a dour 6-15 proposition.
• When masses failed to materialize in May 1998, despite a reasonably capable 23-20 product, they thought big and netted Mike Piazza.
• The Mets of May 1981, wallowing at a truly miserable 13-26 mark, traded promising young Jeff Reardon for proven if slightly shopworn Ellis Valentine.
• The Mets of May 1990 scuffled to 20-22 and fired Davey Johnson.
• The Mets of May 1977 sank to 15-30 and dismissed Joe Frazier.
• The Mets of May 1993, doomed at 13-25, bid Jeff Torborg adieu.
And the Mets of May 2013? They will enter the month no better than 11-14, with not a single home gate of 30,000 under their belt since Opening Day. They have one player worth making the extra effort to come out to see (if you’re not already inclined to go see the lot of them) and he pitches only every fifth day — and Matt Harvey’s not yet, in all honesty, an actual drawing card. After the Marlins and mighty Braves on the road, it’s the White Sox and the Pirates in Flushing. Despite the chance to step right up and greet the only American League team that’s never visited us for a National League game and then hoping decent passion is summoned for the second edition of Banner Day 2.0, the turnstiles probably won’t much turn from May 7 to 12. If the eleven games ahead of us don’t generate a remarkable change in fortunes either in attendance or in the standings, it’s hard to conceive of this already-decaying campaign proceeding without somebody Doing Something.
Zack Wheeler in the rotation. Wally Backman in the manager’s chair. Bryce Harper kidnapped in the dead of night. Two-dollar hot dogs for all. Not something for the sake of Doing Anything but something constructive. This perpetual Aldersonian holding action is losing its grip on our better angels. And we’re the diehards, for cryin’ out loud.
Oh, by the way, I still love the Mets more than life itself. My proof is two conversations in which I recently participated: one with Metsbhoys, who I’m confident declaring conduct the best Scottish-based Mets-themed podcast of all time; the other with Instream Sports, which couldn’t have asked questions more eclectic or enjoyable. You can listen to the Metsbhoys and me here ; you can read Instream and me here . Both are engrossing enough to make you forget there was ever a fifteen-inning loss to the Marlins.
And if you want to be reminded how much fun the Mets can be when they’re not losing five in a row, visit a place where they’re in the midst of a 500-game winning streak: The Happiest Recap, available via Amazon  in print or for Kindle; you can also obtain a personally inscribed copy through the Team Recap eBay store (a.k.a. my lovely sister and her swell husband).