Twenty-five Mets said hello on Opening Day, April 1. Twenty-two of them said some variation on goodbye — whether it was farewell, so long, see ya later or be back in a bit — before Closing Day, September 29. Let us review how 88% of the 2013 Mets stopped or at least paused being 2013 Mets as the season wore on and on and on.
April 7: Jeurys Familia optioned to Las Vegas.
April 17: Greg Burke optioned to Las Vegas.
April 23: Kirk Nieuwenhuis optioned to Las Vegas.
April 27: Josh Edgin optioned to Binghamton.
May 3: Collin Cowgill optioned to Las Vegas.
May 14: Scott Atchison placed on disabled list.
May 30: Ruben Tejada placed on disabled list.
June 10: Ike Davis optioned to Las Vegas.
June 10: Mike Baxter optioned to Las Vegas.
June 18: Justin Turner placed on disabled list.
June 21: Jon Niese placed on disabled list.
June 23: Lucas Duda placed on disabled list
July 5: Brandon Lyon designated for assignment.
July 14: Jordany Valdespin optioned to Las Vegas.
August 3: David Wright placed on disabled list.
August 7: Bobby Parnell placed on disabled list.
August 11: Jeremy Hefner optioned to Las Vegas.
August 17: John Buck placed on paternity leave.
August 20: Anthony Recker optioned to Las Vegas.
August 27: Matt Harvey placed on disabled list.
August 27: Marlon Byrd traded to Pittsburgh.
September 9: Scott Rice placed on disabled list.
These, mind you, weren’t necessarily the only transactions attached to the players who failed to stick like glue to the active roster. For example, John Buck’s paternity leave didn’t last nearly as long as his paternity leave watch…but before the youngest Buck could learn to crawl, John was traded to Pittsburgh. Greg Burke would be recalled, but never long enough so that we could recognize him by face. Lots of frequent flier mileage for that fellow. Jeurys Familia battled long and hard from injury so he could rematerialize in September…and wind up getting racked around for his trouble. Scott Atchison toughed it out through a pair of DL stays no matter that he was widely presumed more decrepit than disabled. Jeremy Hefner’s transaction to Triple-A was mostly paperwork, but the injury that briefly made him a 51 86’d him for the year.
Niese? Hurt for a spell. Duda? Hurt, then forgotten until he had to be remembered. Davis was just bad, then maybe not so bad, then hurt. Tejada: bad, hurt, hurt again. Parnell good, but hurt. Valdespin: ludicrous, ineffectual, suspended everywhere but on Instagram. Cowgill: he was a thing, but not for long.
Indeed, resolutions differed for the 22 Mets who didn’t go wire to wire, even the few really good ones. David Wright returned as soon as he could, which wasn’t very soon. The Mets’ All-Star third baseman strained his right hamstring in the club’s 107th game of the year and wasn’t back until their 153rd. Wright wound up playing in fewer games than Marlon Byrd, who proved such a revelation that the non-contending Mets cashed out and shipped him with Buck to the Pirates for their stretch run. The Mets received youth in exchange, necessarily giving up on a slice of the present that had unexpectedly kept on giving.
And then there was Matt Harvey, the best and most exciting Met of 2013. He came in fourth in the National League Cy Young voting. He might have come in as high as second had his elbow not begun giving him trouble. No bad elbow, no making his last start on August 24. From maybe Cy to definitely sigh.
In between Aaron Laffey replacing Familia on April 7 and Wilfredo Tovar being inserted into emergency action on September 22, there was all kinds of traffic. Some of it got your attention for reasons beyond rubbernecking. Juan Lagares made you wish balls would be lined deep to center so we could revel in how he tracks them down. Eric Young was a welcome burst of pure energy. Zack Wheeler hinted that well-nurtured prospect dreams might come true. Competent relievers manned middle innings. Young hitters took promising cuts. Much of the churn, however, was as disposable as a 74-88 campaign prosecuted by 53 different players would suggest.
In the midst of the flux and the turnover and the fifth consecutive season when losses outnumbered wins and hopes for contending never more than flickered, three Mets stood firm. They weren’t the most talented, they weren’t the most productive and they weren’t the most marketable, but they were there day in and day out, night in and night out.
On these Mets that was plenty impressive. Thus, Faith and Fear in Flushing is reasonably proud to announce Daniel Murphy, Dillon Gee and LaTroy Hawkins as tri-winners of its coveted Most Valuable Met award for 2013. If it were a real award, we’d be confident they’d show up and accept it in person.
If there’s one thing you can say about these guys after 162 games in their company, it’s that they don’t have a problem showing up.
The decision to single — or is that triple? — out Murphy, Gee and Hawkins, though it’s based less on spectacular performance than it is on exemplary attendance, shouldn’t be taken as faint praise or merely the result of the process of elimination (which is something every Met year since 2009 has boiled down to by August). The Stalwart Three didn’t play dodgeball from April through September. They didn’t cleverly huddle in the back of the gym simply eluding disaster. They were out front for their team, and if they didn’t always excel, they certainly didn’t embarrass.
Also, they didn’t get injured, which always helps. Murphy lost all of 2010 and too much of 2011 to injuries. Gee missed the second half of 2012. Hawkins? Being 40 was enough of a health risk. Yet there they were at the end of the season having survived as the only three iron men on the premises.
Daniel Murphy played in 161 games, 40 more than any other Met (Lagares). Dillon Gee started 32 times, a half-dozen more than any of his fellow Met pitchers (Harvey). LaTroy Hawkins threw 70.2 innings in relief, almost 20 more than any of his Met pen mates (Scott Rice). Each Met in question wasn’t just durable but dependable.
It wasn’t crazy as the year took shape to believe Murphy could be an All-Star alongside Wright and Harvey when Citi Field grew stellar in July. Daniel was batting .300 as May ended, maintaining his clip in dramatic fashion during the Subway Series four-game sweep. On the first night of the New York-New York showdown, he drove in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning off David Robertson. On the second night, he led off the ninth with the ground rule double that sparked the two-run rally that vanquished Mariano Rivera. There would be some tailing off in June — perhaps a consequence of Terry Collins briefly redeploying him as a first baseman as part of larger team shakeup — but Murph of the Metropolitans (he may be the only Met ever to relish identifying himelf so formally) recovered, hitting .306 from July 6 on. He didn’t so much streak as gather hits in clumps. When he slumped, it was never long or brutal enough to label it fatal.
There are some juicy cherry-pickable statistics to be plucked from Murphy’s portfolio: second in the National League in hits; seventh in doubles; eighth in runs scored; a surprising seventh in stolen bases (23 — a total he attributed to his reputation as a “slow white guy”); an almost shocking second in putouts and third in assists among N.L. second basemen. Much of this success, which admittedly overlooks some of the shortcomings of his game, is a product of going out there every day and participating to the best of his ability. If hanging in there and handling the offensive and defensive demands of an everyday second baseman was easy, maybe the second-longest tenured Metropolitan (behind only Wright) wouldn’t stick out for having done exactly that in 2013.
As midseason approached, the best that could be said for Gee was that with Wheeler’s promotion imminent, maybe Dillon could come in handy in long relief. For almost two months, he was the weakest of links in the rotation, bottoming out on May 25 with a five-inning, five-run Citi Field shellacking at the hands of the Braves. That start, his tenth of the year, left his ERA at 6.34 and shoved him behind the likes of Jeremy Hefner and Shaun Marcum in the Met pecking order.
Then, everything changed. Starting with his final start of May, the night the Mets would complete their sweep of the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, Gee began his transformation from hoped-for innings-eater to dangerous batter-devourer. Pitching into the eighth (when he was removed by an overly nervous manager), Dillon scattered four hits, allowed one run and struck out twelve. The template was set for a startling turnaround.
From May 30 through September 26, encompassing his final 22 starts, Gee was a rock: 10-5, 2.71 ERA, 1.132 WHIP, lasting fewer than six innings only once. Say what you will about individual pitcher wins, but Dillon was the only Met to come away from 2013 with a number in double-digits, finishing 12-11 overall. He also led the team in innings pitched with 199, a point of consternation for him when he was removed from his 32nd start one inning shy of his goal of 200. It wasn’t a wholly arbitrary standard. Dillon Gee couldn’t be sure what he’d be able to do this year given that he didn’t pitch after the All-Star break in 2012. He wanted to compete to the very last possible inning in 2013. It’s not something many Mets have managed to do come the Septembers of this era. It was beyond admirable that it was of overriding importance to Gee. “I never want to come out of a game,” he declared, left to mine satisfaction from being the only Met starter who didn’t miss a turn all season.
If the Mets couldn’t have projected Murphy or Gee assuming statistical leadership as everyday players and starting pitchers, nobody would have guessed that as August rolled around, the Mets closer — on those occasions when they needed one — would be LaTroy Hawkins, heretofore Bobby Parnell’s setup man. The promotion from the eighth to the ninth was one he certainly didn’t demand but dutifully filled. Parnell had been one of the pleasant developments of the first half, but after showing signs of breaking out, he felt a pain in his neck. His year ended with a third of the schedule yet to be played.
Enter (after a failed cameo by David Aardsma) the Hawk, who didn’t exactly swoop in with glee. LaTroy understood he was signed to serve not just as a pitcher but as a mentor. As the season was concluding, he mentioned the veterans who taught him the ropes when he was a neophyte Twin in the 1990s. One of the names belonged to Rick Aguilera, then the resident closer at the Metrodome, a decade earlier a building block of great Met things to come.
Now, in his own baseball autumn, LaTroy Hawkins hoped he could set an example for the Parnells, the Gonzalez Germens and the Vic Blacks who were following in his footsteps. Whatever words of wisdom he offered were more than backed up by what he demonstrated from the mound. Hawkins had exactly zero saves through four months of the season. Beginning August 6, he compiled 13, blowing only one along the way. It wasn’t the plan to send a 40-year-old right arm to pitch so many ninths, but he became the best possible option and he didn’t disappoint. When 2013 was over, Hawkins had saved more games, logged more innings and chalked up more appearances than he had in any season since 2004.
Back then, he was the Cubs’ closer. That September, Mets fans knew him (gleefully) as the pitcher who gave up an instantly legendary game-tying ninth-inning home run to Victor Diaz. Diaz wouldn’t pan out and eventually be traded for Mike Nickeas. Nickeas wouldn’t do much and eventually be thrown in with R.A. Dickey to obtain Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard and John Buck. Buck would be traded for Black, who earned his first major league save on a night in September when Hawkins needed a rest. LaTroy gave Vic his blessing, having played catch with the kid between outings. “Some guys,” Hawkins told the Star-Ledger’s Jorge Castillo, “have late life on the ball.” Hawk was referring to his latest protégé’s 97-MPH stuff, but at the tail end of his nineteenth big league season, he had proven himself an authority on late life.
When the Baseball Writers Association of America announced its National League Most Valuable Player voting for 2013, no Met came up in the conversation, not even as a whisper. Twenty-four players received votes. None of them was named Harvey, Wright or Byrd, the Mets who had put up the gaudiest numbers among Mets while they were still available to do so. It was the first year since 2009 (and the nineteenth in franchise history) that no Met collected as much as a point from the BBWAA MVP-makers.
There wasn’t much gaudy about Murphy, Gee or Hawkins, certainly nothing that would catch an out-of-town baseball writer’s eye at awards time. If the year recently completed had gone much better — and if certain hamstrings and elbows had remained intact — we’d probably be using this platform to praise the obvious standouts, not the obstinate stalwarts. A more fortunate collective than the 2013 Mets would have enjoyed the benefit of Harvey and Wright clear to the finish line. A markedly better bunch than the 2013 Mets would have employed the services of Byrd for six full months, maybe (as Pittsburgh did) a seventh.
That wasn’t the team we had.
We did, however, have the team that for a tenth consecutive season didn’t miss a single game. The last time the Mets left a contest unplayed was August 14, 2003, when a blackout blanketed Shea Stadium and the home team was prevented from taking on the Giants. The stabs at rescheduling — which had to take San Francisco’s playoffs and Bruce Springsteen’s concerts into consideration — proved too complicated to allow for a makeup. Since then, if the Mets have a game on the docket, they play it. If they have a rainout or a snowout or an electrical snafu, they sooner or later find a way to plug the innings back in.
Thus, the Mets keep showing up as a unit, no matter their components, and we keep showing up as Mets fans because it’s what we do. We show up when we think the Mets are going to be good and we show up when we’re sure the Mets can’t get any worse. We appreciate those who keep showing up for us and with us. It’s why we appreciate an iron triumvirate like that formed by Daniel Murphy, Dillon Gee and LaTroy Hawkins. They weren’t often the best at what they did, but each of them outstripped their projections and they all remained unshakable constants on a team that otherwise felt like it was staffed by a temp agency. They were there at the beginning, they were there in the middle and they were at the all-too-familiar bitter end.
You’d better believe there’s value in that.
FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS MOST VALUABLE METS
2005: Pedro Martinez
2006: Carlos Beltran
2007: David Wright
2008: Johan Santana
2009: Pedro Feliciano
2010: R.A. Dickey
2011: Jose Reyes
2012: R.A. Dickey
Still to come: The Nikon Camera Player of the Year for 2013.