A 9-1 game in Pittsburgh. It sounded familiar. It should have. It was the score and scene of the first game the Mets ever won .
Oh, those Original Mets. Such infamy is attached to their shortcomings, but when the Mets played that first 9-1 game in Pittsburgh on April 23, 1962, and upped their record to 1-9, they proved a tough time-lapse act to follow.
Fifty-three years, one month and one day later, the Mets returned to Pittsburgh and participated in another 9-1 game against the Pirates . But it came out all wrong, and no wonder. They had the wrong personnel going for them.
The starting pitcher on 4/23/1962: Jay Hook , who scattered five hits for the complete game victory.
The starting pitcher on 5/24/2015: Jon Niese , who allowed eleven baserunners in less than five innings.
Mets starter you’d rather have? Jay Hook.
Players you’d rather have batting one and two for the Mets? Felix Mantilla and Elio Chacon.
Coming off the bench on 4/23/1962: Bobby Gene Smith and Gil Hodges , who collected three hits between them.
The stronger Met reserves? Bobby Gene Smith and Gil Hodges.
On April 23, 1962, the Mets swung successfully versus four Pirate pitchers. Two of them — Tom Sturdivant  and Jack Lamabe  — would eventually join the Mets. A third — Harvey Haddix  — was a future Mets pitching coach.
On May 24, 2015, Francisco Liriano  struck out a dozen Mets in six innings. And the Pirates are welcome to Jon Niese anytime they’d like him.
Casey Stengel ’s team was dead in the water pretty much from the word go in 1962, but he kept everybody’s spirits high no matter how many leagues under the sea they plunged.
Terry Collins’s team looked great from the word go in 2015. Sunday, after a three-game sweep at the hands of the Pirates, he felt compelled to declare, “We are not dead. We’re not dead in the water by any stretch of the imagination .” Not just “not dead,” mind you, but “not dead in the water”.
Whose spirits wouldn’t be high after that kind of pep talk?
Collins is right in theory. His Mets have already achieved 60% of the win total Stengel’s Mets managed across an entire year. They’re over .500 and statistically in the thick of a playoff battle.
But with Lucas Duda  grabbing his hamstring, Juan Lagares  sore in two spots, no kind of depth in evidence  and momentum having disappeared, let’s just say if you find a horse named Dead In The Water running at Belmont this week, bet on him.
Bet on him before you bet on these Mets as currently constituted.
Vignette that maybe you had to be there for, but here goes…
Stephanie and I were driving home from visiting my father in the hospital. She noticed a robin perched in a tree for the second time today. When she saw the first one, when we were on our way up to see Dad, I broke into a jaunty chorus of “Rockin’ Robin ” (because I’m adorable that way around my wife). When the second robin came into view, the radio was playing “All Right Now ” by Free, a song I associate with trips around the bases by third baseman David Wright . They’d play it for him at Shea when he hit home runs…when he used to hit home runs, I added with a bit of bite…when he used to play, I felt necessary to emphasize.
I didn’t recall “Rockin’ Robin” ever playing for Robin Ventura , I said, but I was happy to compare and contrast third basemen and their times. “Remember how when Robin Ventura hit the grand slam single and I tackled you?” I asked, as I do about once a year. Stephanie, true to form, did not. “You sure I was there?” she replied sweetly. The fact that I hold tight to all kinds of mental minutiae (baseball and otherwise) while she efficiently purges nonessential data is a running gag with us.
Yes, I said, you were there. I recounted how once that ball left Shea on October 17, 1999, merely whooping and screaming and whatnot wasn’t enough. I saw her there on the floor, in front of the TV where we’d been watching that 3-3 tie in the 15th inning (trying to get close enough to the screen to help, I suppose), and I just let myself lunge all over her. Never did it before, never did it again.
In the present, “All Right Now” was still on the radio. David Wright was still on the disabled list, but now subject to the whims of a malady few of us had heard of until the day before. All of us Mets fans had earned medical degrees overnight and were diagnosing the worst spinal stenosis  had to offer, even though all of us Mets fans are talking out our ascots. Nevertheless, no Wright; several third base options, none of them remotely adequate. The robin was long gone from our line of sight, but I couldn’t stop myself from framing Ventura’s moment in the context of Wright’s absence.
“Man,” I said to Stephanie, “that was when Mets third basemen came through. That was when the Mets came through. What a fun team that was. You remember that team, don’t you?”
Sometime in April I thought we were in another one of those years, with another one of those teams . Maybe we were then. Maybe we will be again. We are decidedly not now.
I miss those 1999 Mets, but not nearly as much as I miss those 2015 Mets.
Bless each and every one of you who — whether in the comments section or through other means — has sent best wishes, hopes, prayers and encouragement to my family after I shared what’s going on with my father . It means a ton to me.
Dad’s recovery continues apace, even as the Mets’ weekend foibles unfolded in the background on the hospital room TV. There was a brief juncture in the middle of Sunday afternoon when the game had everybody’s attention. Flores had driven in the tying run, the bases were loaded…and attention scattered. A couple of hours and four disappointing innings later, Florence, my father’s longtime significant other, asked “how’d they do?”
Not good, I said.
“But they had the bases loaded!” she said, with a mixture of sympathy and disbelief. “They still couldn’t do anything?”
That might have been the time to invoke Robin Ventura. Or activate him.