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Dreaming of an Even Keel

Here’s a second-half resolution I’ll never keep: I need to be more even-keeled as a Mets fan.

The Mets began the year looking hopeless. Then they looked pretty good, maybe even better than pretty good. Then for a long stretch they looked both bad and boring, even as some were insisting they weren’t really that bad, that they were being undone by an unlikely run of bad luck. And then they looked pretty good again – so that, to my surprise, the All-Star break came as an unwelcome guest. Stop playing baseball? When we were finally enjoying it again? Why would someone do that to us?

The Mets returned from the break on Friday by rolling out to a 4-0 lead over the Padres, who are normally hapless but somehow not against us. (Or at least not while contained by Petco Park.) They blew the lead, then regained it [1] behind a key single from Travis d’Arnaud, whose season has been a microcosm of his team’s. So of course tonight they got steamrolled [2] by those very same Padres.

For the most part, credit Tyson Ross [3], who rode his evil slider through seven very effective innings. If you’re feeling pessimistic, apportion some blame to Dillon Gee [4], whose elevated pitches fueled a massive home run by Yasmani Grandal [5] and a lesser shot that still counted by Will Venable [6]. The Mets loaded the bases in the seventh, but Ruben Tejada [7] turned in a poor at-bat, and that was essentially it.

What does this mean? Basically nothing. The Mets are going to get dismantled by good pitchers – it happens routinely in baseball – and sometimes by their own mistakes. They’re going to have bad days and cold streaks to go with laughers and hot streaks.

Baseball players know this, and try not to get too high or low about it – the noted philosopher Rod Kanehl [8] once observed that “the line drives are caught, the squibbles go for hits. It’s an unfair game.” We refuse to believe what the players know, and attribute agency to what’s mostly chance – a team on a hot streak has chemistry, desire, grit, heart, etc., while the same team on a cold streak lacks leadership, is listless, doesn’t care, isn’t meshing, etc. We ought to take a long view, demanding to know if our team has been properly assembled and if its key players are being put in situations that give them the best chance of growing and succeeding. If that’s true, well, it guarantees nothing. You hope your squibbles get through the infield and the other guys’ line drives find gloves.

The Mets still face fundamental questions about ownership’s willingness to field a competitive team, as well as the usual arguments about whether prospects are ready and veterans are shot. But amid the ebb and flow of a schizophrenic season, there are positive signs: Lucas Duda [9], Travis d’Arnaud [10], Ruben Tejada, Kirk Nieuwenhuis [11], Zack Wheeler [12], Jenrry Mejia [13], Jeurys Familia [14] and Vic Black [15] all look like they’ve taken steps forward in their development, and a number of hitters in the minor leagues have pushed their way into conversations about the future. I should keep my eye on that story, instead of letting my emotions run wild in response to day-to-day dramas.

I won’t do that, but it’s nice to imagine that I might.

Insult to injury: I’m up in Maine visiting my kid at camp, and so was following tonight’s game on Gameday Audio, part of the MLB At Bat app. Gameday Audio has gone from godsend to problem child this year, with chronic crashes and freezes. Tonight the WOR feed got stuck on the last bits of Mets pregame, refusing to advance to the game itself. Which left me listening to the Padres’ radio guys.

Wow. Just wow. The Pads’ play-by-play guy is Ted Leitner, who might be the worst announcer I’ve ever heard. Where to start? He’s a hopeless homer, for one, but I’ll grant that’s a matter of taste. Unfortunately for Padres listeners, Leitner also has an annoying, choppy style that’s frequently behind the play – he repeatedly described great pitches, their action, etc. before circling around to the rather important fact that said pitch was strike three. He was ill-prepared – he consistently mispronounced “Nieuwenhuis” and “d’Arnaud,” which could have been remedied by simply asking the guys in the next booth. And he’s a bundle of lame shtick, from his irritating “ball going, ball gone” home run call to rambling stories that have nothing to do with baseball and random outbursts. (Come for the stuff Mel Brooks told Leitner about “Blazing Saddles,” stay for Leitner making a “Camptown Races” reference for Lucas Duda. It was like someone gave an eight-year-old a microphone.)

Here’s another resolution, one I really can keep: Every night I will be grateful for Gary, Keith and Ron on TV and Howie and Josh on the radio. The Mets may be mediocre with dreams of something more, but the guys who chronicle them are already championship caliber.