This business wherein the Mets overcome years of being mostly bad and become mostly good is not a linear endeavor. Homestands of 8-2 are followed up with road trips of 5-5. Two out of three get taken from the Phillies only to have two of three (with one to go) given to the Giants. Exhilarating Saturday nights when your rookie ace outduels a bona fide contender’s hired gun dissolve into Sunday afternoons when the bona fide contender’s tough lefty stymies your improvised lineup while your heretofore solid veteran tosses batting practice.
You’re set to soar one minute, you’re brought down to earth the next. Our most recent minute gave way to gravity, Madison Bumgarner and the unrelenting offensive stylings of Hunter Pence and Buster Posey as ongoing hints of Met progress were eclipsed, 9-0. Bartolo Colon’s 200th win didn’t occur. Nor did a third Met hit. Other than Juan Lagares making the kind of basket catch that sends shivers into the great beyond until they run down the spine of the late Vic Wertz, there was nothing to recommend Sunday’s blowout loss among partisans of the blue and orange.
Except for it not being the norm. Or not being more than approximately half the norm. If we have really entered the era in which the Mets definitively flirt with .500, then we can take comfort in the notion that they’re bound to win as many games as they lose. It lets you overlook how crummy losses like Sundays can be.
Rome, as the renowned emperor Frank Cashen could have told you, refuses to get built in a day. Of late, it is in fashion among Mets fans of a certain vintage to invoke 1983, recalled more than three decades on as a platform for greatness. I’ve invoked it a couple of times myself. The key narrative element from that 31-year-old campaign is, sure, the Mets weren’t yet ready to contend, but oh the steps they took. Strawberry emerging! Hernandez arriving! Darling debuting! And so on!
Grab a seat next to me in Promenade sometime and I’ll take you through the wonders of 1983, particularly the 10-4 spurt that was going on at this very moment in that very year — Mookie scoring from second on a groundout; Terrell homering twice against the Cubs; Orosco winning or saving almost every single day — but then I’ll have to add that after the Mets grew thrilling, they reminded us they weren’t done growing. The Mets of 1983 finished 21-25 in their final 46, and nobody knew for sure that 1984 would present itself as the 1984 that implied 1986 and the stuff of future documentaries was right around the corner.
Momentum simply doesn’t usually unfurl unimpeded. One step up, one step back, give or take a step. Your retroactively beloved 1968 Mets, springboard for a miracle, actually lost 53 of their final 91. Your sizzling second-half Mets of 1995, a 34-18 unit that had us all panting for 1996, gave way to a miserable 71-91 season that left us psychologically unprepared for the 88-74 revival of 1997. You go back and you look at the pieces coalescing in their respective time frames and it all makes sense that the vast improvements happened as they did. You slog through the reality, however, and you find yourself enduring more 9-0 losses than you seem (or care) to remember.
As long as the reality includes its share of peeks at the other side, that’s fine. It means our sights are firmly fixed on getting better, not getting worse…or staying bad.
Without examining 35 seasons worth of archives, I’ll go out on a limb and declare Saturday night’s 4-2 win over the Giants at Citi Field as the best regular-season Saturday night win over the Giants at home since the Steve Henderson Game of blessed memory. For those of you just tuning in, that was June 14, 1980, when the Mets fell behind early, looked totally hopeless and found themselves trailing, 6-2, entering the ninth. They won, 7-6, anyway, when Hendu belted a three-run homer into the Met bullpen. The moment was so pumped full of organically occurring adrenaline that it is believed to have inspired the very first Shea Stadium curtain call.
This past Saturday night took on a different form, but the surge of Met emotion was very similar. Like John Montefusco in 1980, Jake Peavy wasn’t allowing any hits. Montefusco took a no-hitter into the sixth against his Met opponents. Peavy was perfect-gaming us on August 2, 2014, clear into the seventh. The difference was on the Met side of the mound. Whereas Pete Falcone had been lit up, thus necessitating the eventual heroics of Steve Henderson, Jacob deGrom was dousing the Giants as effectively as Peavy was dampening the Mets. No-hit efforts were being fired back and forth as if shot out of a Pepsi Party Patrol t-shirt cannon.
The Giants disrupted the Hippo Vaughn/Fred Toney tribute concert first, when Pablo Sandoval doubled into left-center, Lagares revealing himself as no more than superhuman when he dove from a distance and came up empty (he had made a brilliant running catch earlier, lest you think Juan’s glove takes nights off). The Panda was stranded on second in the top of the seventh and then he might have inadvertently gotten in the way of Peavy in the bottom of the inning when he ran into a railing chasing a foul ball during Curtis Granderson’s leadoff at-bat. The Giant trainer wanted a look at his valuable knee, much to the consternation of Keith Hernandez, who demanded Pablo return to his position ASAP and some Neosporin applied to his scrape later.
Peavy stood through the injury timeout and waited and waited some more. When the game resumed, the Mets applied their bats to his heretofore untouchable pitches and smeared results all over the scoreboard. Granderson walloped one to deep right that was caught, but it was a harbinger of whacks to come. Daniel Murphy doubled past Michael Morse, who was noticed loitering in left field but you wouldn’t really call him a left fielder. The last remaining no-hitter, never mind perfect game, was over. Hippo and Fred could go back to 1917, thank you both very much for your service. David Wright singled Peavy’s next pitch into no man’s land — which is to say more or less near where Morse stood — Murphy going to third. Peavy, by now seething enough to serve as his own adjective, peevishly plunked Lucas Duda to fill the bases.
Travis d’Arnaud lined the second pitch he saw to right, deep enough to score Murph and end the double shutout. In a span of nine deliveries to five batters, from Grandy’s ride to the track to Travis’s RBI, the aura of Jake Peavy’s invincibility completely dissipated and the Mets took a lead. Then, Lagares singled in Wright and Wilmer Flores doubled in Duda and Lagares, and it was 4-0 after being interminably 0-0.
Rub some Neosporin on that, Jake.
Breathing room granted, deGrom coughed up half of his newfound lead on a one-out pinch-single to Travis Ishikawa in the eighth. Instinctive pangs of doubt stirred but were brushed away when Jeurys Familia struck out Pence and grounded out Brandon Crawford. In the ninth, Jenrry Mejia did that thing where he makes it marginally “interesting” but doesn’t actually leave much doubt and saved the 4-2 victory.
It wasn’t Steve Henderson, but it was close enough. It was exciting like Steve Henderson. Heretofore dormant Citi Field came alive like sleepy Shea Stadium woke up 34 years earlier. It wasn’t in a vacuum, either. The 1980 version of slaying the Giants represented the culmination of a homestand in which the Mets kept coming from behind, giving currency to the Magic Is Back meme that ruled our thinking as we hopped, skipped and jumped into our first Doubleday/Wilpon summer. What deGrom was doing was similarly in line with contemporary style: pitching youthfully and marvelously. The whole young thing (not Chris, not Eric) was crackling Saturday night, too.
The runs were generated by d’Arnaud, Lagares and Flores. The outs were recorded by deGrom, Familia and Mejia. None of them has played an entire major league season yet. None of them is older than 26. All of them are excelling together, feeding our dreams, fueling our momentum.
The Mets who beat the Giants Saturday night leapt straight out of the Kim Wilde songbook. They’re the kids in America.
New York to east California
There’s a new wave coming, I warn ya
I also warned myself how capricious kids (including the 41-year-old ones like Colon) can be. On June 15, 1980, the day after Steve Henderson electrified Metsopotamia, there was a run on the Shea box office. The old joint, under renovation, had no more than 44,910 tickets to sell. The Mets sold every one of them. Mets fans bought into the Magic act. And on the Sunday afternoon that followed the greatest regular-season Saturday night in Mets history, the Mets essentially disappeared, bowing, 3-0, before the arm of Bob Knepper and the bat of Darrell Evans. For that matter, they had lost the preceding Friday night, 3-1, to Vida Blue. The Giants won the weekend despite losing the only game anybody in New York would remember.
In other words, sort of like these last three games, when the Mets couldn’t do a thing with Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner on either side of doing wonderful things to Jake Peavy. Whatever happens in the Monday afternoon series finale, my sense is we’ll remember the Peavy-deGrom game and forget the defeats that preceded and succeeded it. If we’re lucky, not to mention good, we’ll remember it as a step in an inevitable direction toward where we’ve been dying to go forever.