The first day of Rosh Hashanah includes a sweet little ritual that involves the symbolic casting off of sins from the previous year. In a tradition known as Tashlich, you stroll to the nearest ocean, river or what have you; you recite a prayer; and you toss a few bread crumbs therein. You have, in essence, cast your sins upon the water.
Then, as the second day of the Jewish new year observance comes to a close, you turn on SNY and find that one of the sins that you thought was cast off long ago has somehow washed up on the shores of Lake Erie and it’s coming to get you.
As the sun began its Friday night descent over Cleveland, Scott Kazmir loosened his left arm in advance of facing the visiting Mets, a team he had never pitched for or against yet was woven deep into their psychological tapestry. Somewhere back in biblical times, Kazmir was going to be part of a new dawn over Flushing. He was the Mets’ top draft pick of 2002, regularly striking out more than a batter an inning as he worked his way up to Double-A Binghamton by the summer of 2004. Norfolk loomed as his next pit stop, New York as his can’t-miss ultimate destination.
Instead he was cast off in the name of quickly fixing Victor Zambrano and indulging the fantasy of a playoff chase that had already gotten away. Or maybe Kazmir had a bad attitude and needed to be dispatched ASAP à la Kevin Mitchell, lest he infect the clubhouse with his taste in music or lust for life. As noted, it was long ago. The details blur into myth. The overriding memory is the Mets suddenly, almost impulsively traded a young gun who had yet to fire a single big league bullet for a physically underexamined control issue on the fast track to becoming a damaged good.
Enthusiasm of stray myopic weirdoes notwithstanding, the trade with the Devil Rays was a kick in the shins to an already limping Mets fan base. Whatever paper-sense it made if you were willing to give the acquisition of a “proven veteran hurler” the benefit of the doubt, the whole schmear began to look genuinely bad in the time it took to learn to spell “Bartolome Fortunato”. The trade was announced July 30. Zambrano went out for the season on August 17. Kazmir was promoted to Tampa Bay on August 23 and shut out the Mariners for five innings. The Mets were out of the pennant race, but the Kazmir-for-Zambrano narrative was off and running.
The Mets would atone as best they could, overturning the front office dysfunction of 2004 and christening the New Mets of 2005, who soon grew into the juggernaut Mets of 2006. Kazmir would’ve been mighty handy to deploy in the meaningful games that awaited them in Septembers to be named later, but otherwise the Mets managed to morph into something splendid and briefly unembarrassing. They acted rashly in trading Scott Kazmir. They reacted crisply by crafting a contender immediately thereafter.
So let Kazmir find himself in St. Petersburg — which he did: Scott was twice an A.L. All-Star and once led his league in strikeouts. And let Zambrano pound the zone at Shea — which he didn’t often enough: Victor started 35 games as a Met; exited two of them early due to injury; threw his last pain-racked Met pitch in May of ’06 at the age of 31; and bounced among five organizations over the next two years en route to trying what was left of his luck in the Mexican League for two more. The important thing was we were going in the right direction at last. If the High Holy Days compel the true believer to ask a Higher Power for forgiveness in advance of clearing the slate for the year ahead, the least mere mortals could do is grant Metropolitan authorities a pass for what had transpired before everything turned out just fine in the end.
Those promising mid-’00s Mets and the potential lefty stud they sent away both had their moments, but most of them were over by 2008. Each would be forced to cope with injuries and disappointment. Neither recaptured prominence as the late 2000s became the early 2010s. Kazmir-for-Zambrano faded into a ghost story suitable for telling around the campfires of desolate second halves. Scary to consider, yet no more relevant to the modern age than Ryan-for-Fregosi. Kazmir had bigger things to worry about as he threw for the Sugarland Skeeters in hopes of making himself major league viable again. The Mets? The Mets always have bigger things to worry about.
Friday night, Rosh Hashanah wound down and Scott Kazmir heated up. In his 204th start since his first professional organization decided he wasn’t worth keeping, he gave the Indians’ unlikely playoff hunt a solid boost and Mets fans an antacid flashback. Kazmir pitched for six innings at Progressive Field. The Mets regressed like crazy, striking out twelve times, walking not at all and failing to score until the 29-year-old southpaw was deemed done for the evening by Terry Francona. The whole mishegas disintegrated into an 8-1 loss. All the bad vibes of the trade that was instigated at the behest of some alleged unholy alliance encompassing Jeff Wilpon, Jim Duquette, Rick Peterson and/or Al Leiter came flooding back via rushing rapids.
The relevant calendars may now read 2013 and 5774, respectively, but some ancient sins aren’t so easily cast upon the waters.
In need of a mitzvah? Enjoy Anthony DiComo’s profile of the best team in baseball: Gary, Keith, Ron, Kevin and the entire SNY telecast crew. How is it possible baseball that’s so routinely bad spawns broadcasting that’s so consistently good?