How is it that a lineup loaded with ballplayers who jammed the box score of a World Series clincher can appear so routinely beatable? The dichotomy in perception probably has something to do with a temporal gap, what with that particular World Series having taken place in 2008 and the beating in question proceeding in 2014.
Time marches on, dragging the Phillies behind it. Sort of like the Mets do.
Whatever our prospects for the immediate and distant future, they outstrip the present in Philadelphia, where past successes seem to haunt contemporary progress. There were the modern, last-place Phillies on a summer Saturday night, trotting out a fistful of certifiable future Toyota Wall of Famers — Rollins, Utley, Howard, Ruiz, Hamels — to take on the Mets six years after they prevailed over the Rays in wintry conditions. Their manager of permanent record, the man who molded them into the core of a world champion not to mention five-time division winner, was on hand to be enshrined as a Philadelphia immortal (which I think means Charlie Manuel will be forever grilled in onions, slathered in Cheez Whiz and Tased to within an inch of his life). The skipper’s one year retired from active duty. The shortstop, second baseman, first baseman, catcher and ace starter, however, each remain in place, both frozen in time and bogged down by it as they attempt to forge ahead.
Those are some good players who have been great players and still have some fine moments. Saturday night Hamels truculently threw seven one-run innings, Ruiz blasted a tying home run and Utley made a noticeably nice turn in the fourth on a relay from Rollins that didn’t quite get to Howard in time to complete a 6-4-3 double play. Distaste for the name on the front of their uniforms notwithstanding, it’s impossible to not respect the individual and collective accomplishments that quintet represents. When you’re watching them, you’re practically watching half of a franchise’s all-time team in action.
Which makes you wonder why beautiful Citizens Bank Park isn’t sponsored by Madame Tussauds. Those guys have been around forever. And they’ve been signed, seemingly, into perpetuity. And their current teammates, not necessarily covered in past glory or projecting a whole lot of it just up the road, tend to loom as long-term burdens. The whole Phillie thing just ain’t what it used to be, which is great for us the hundred or so times we play them in the course of a season (they’re this year’s Braves by my reckoning — the team we’re never not playing). Still, you can’t quite shake the sense that the erstwhile beasts of the East might emerge from their gaudy if fading credentials and flash us back to previous nightmare finishes.
They didn’t on Saturday night, though. We might not have improved enough to take a fifth-place Philadelphia lightly — and we may almost always require eleven or more innings to complete our business there — but with the Dillon Gees and Lucas Dudas maybe (maybe) establishing themselves they way the Cole Hamelses and Chase Utleys were before becoming institutions, we did eventually take care of their ghosts.
Even as the Mets necessarily revamp their lineups and squeeze out unproductive part-time outfielders, I notice there is something surprisingly stable about them. On June 10, they promoted Taylor Teagarden, who became our franchise’s 981st player ever. And since June 10 — a solid two months ago — they’ve not added a 982nd. There have been some Nieuwenhuii types who have yo-yo’d up and down from the minors but no new toys to speak of. There have been no new entries in Jason’s Holy Books of baseball cards. There have been no new uniform numerals for Jon Springer to crunch into the annals of Mets By The Numbers. Ultimate Mets Database hasn’t had to get any more ultimate. I know I haven’t had the pleasure of adding a single line to the composite eternal roster I keep.
According to my records, the Mets have played 53 consecutive games without any player playing his first Met game ever. Since nobody’s been called up this morning to face Kyle Kendrick (speaking of Philadelphia constants), this stretch is destined to reach at least 54. That’s the most since the team went 63 games between introducing Dale Thayer into the Metropolitan ecosystem on May 28, 2011, and giving us our first look at Mike Baxter that August 8. That debut-drought lasted one game more than the 2001 version that spanned Darren Bragg (May 16) and Gary Bennett (July 24). Otherwise, there’s been no longer dry spell between Met initiations in the past 25 years than the one we’re in right now. Suffice it to say that if we don’t inject a figure of total mystery into a given box score between now and August 20, we’ll have witnessed the setting of a modern-day standard for whatever this means.
And it means…what?
I’d like to say the Mets’ newfound stability is a sign of a team that has finally put most of its pieces together, with the vast majority of them situated in-house or no more than a four-and-a-half-hour flight away in Las Vegas. But that’s probably not wholly accurate. It more likely means we already have enough previously auditioned Quadruple-A types handy so that we don’t have to reach out to scoop up any more. Or perhaps it means the Mets haven’t been properly aggressive in procuring new talent…and where the hell is Troy Tulowitzki anyway?
Mostly it’s unusual is all. Some heretofore unfamiliar backup infielder or extra arm of which we’d never heard usually washes up on our shores as a matter of course every few weeks. You’re minding your own beeswax and suddenly you’re acquainted with the likes of Gonzalez Germen or Zach Lutz or whoever. The “whoever” quotient is decidedly down these days
We’ve won two in a row, so I’m gonna call it a positive trend. Lose two in a row, and I might make like the hardened cons of Shawshank State Prison and commence chanting for fresh fish. Three-quarters of the Phillies’ infield may remain constant, but it’s a Mets fan’s prerogative to change his mind.
Addendum: Just as this article was posted, the Mets were scratching Jacob deGrom from his next start in deference to shoulder soreness. It is unclear who will take his start. Stability is a tenuous proposition.