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They Want to Stick Like Carlos Torres

Into every life, a little Marlin must fall. And I don’t mean former teal bedbug Cody Ross [1].

The baseball season, even a successful baseball season, isn’t fully textured until the New York Mets lose an aggravating game to the Florida/San Juan/Miami Marlins in walkoff, gnashoff, fumeoff, bleepoff fashion. After 25 such endings in the past 20 seasons, including, thanks to how Friday night’s game ended, at least one in each of the last ten, it qualifies as morbid tradition.

For the latest exercise in aggravation [2], blame the manager, since that’s what we’re gonna do out of habit.

Blame the offense, which kept coming up one hit shy of pulling away.

Blame the starter, whose one unclean inning may have been one too many.

Blame the bullpen, because you don’t lose in eleven without at least a little culpability from your relief corps.

Blame the injuries that kept your three first basemen sidelined and left a middle infielder in charge of defending the gateway to the right field line.

Blame the Marlins in general; they’re the freaking Marlins.

Blame Martin Prado [3] specifically; he’s freaking Martin Prado.

Plenty of blame to go around for how last night’s loss at the Loriatorium went down. And it’s not like our temporary friends the Braves helped matters — or our mood — by situating themselves on the wrong end of a walkoff in Washington [4]. (Oh, and blame National supersub Matt den Dekker [5]…you’re Matt den Dead to us.)

But what’s baseball without tradition? If he were around today, you could ask Terry Collins’s predecessor in the lineage of New York National League managers about the formidability of tradition.

You’ve heard of him. He’s the New York National League manager nobody confuses Terry Collins for.

“I’m sort of a permanent fixture,” John McGraw [6] told Grantland Rice on the eve of the 1930 baseball campaign. “Like home plate and the flag pole.” That was probably an understatement. McGraw, architect of ten pennants and three undisputed world championships, was about to begin managing the New York Giants for the 29th of what would eventually become 31 consecutive full or partial seasons. Manhattan Schist, literally the bedrock of the borough [7] (and the geological reason the Polo Grounds had to be constructed in the shape of a bathtub), seemed a passing fancy by comparison. Had Ralph Kiner [8] been broadcasting then, he might have suggested two-thirds of the city’s foundation was comprised of Manhattan Schist, the rest by John McGraw.

McGraw’s permanence, however, wasn’t without pause. For several stretches between his assuming the uptown reins on July 19, 1902, and announcing he’d be surrendering them for good on June 3, 1932, McGraw was not the Giants’ manager of record. As Charles Alexander lays out in his excellent biography [9], Little Napoleon had to step aside for health reasons at various intervals of 1924, 1925 and 1927. More than a hundred games during the most legendary of managerial careers are thus officially listed as having been skippered not by McGraw, but Hughie Jennings [10] (76) and Frankie Frisch [11] (32).

All of which is not to say Connie Mack [12] overstated his admiration for his contemporary in declaring, “There has been only one manager — and his name is John McGraw.” But it does indicate how hard it is to remain an unshakable fixture when even the most permanent-seeming of sconces can be jarred loose.

Unless you’re Carlos Torres [13], in which case you endure like nobody around you. You may not get called on in a game in which six relievers are chosen to pitch ahead of you, but surely you endure.

The September 1 threshold has been passed, protestations of summer-lovers everywhere notwithstanding. Despite drumming up the now-perennial Sturm und Drang [14] baseball’s sense of 25-man normality incurs when annually disrupted, the Mets and 29 other teams have made moves to widen their rosters because they can. Usually this is the juncture where however many Mets fans are still paying attention are overcome by curiosity. If 2015 was replicating all the years between 2009 and 2014, we’d probably be demanding to know why we’re not getting a long look at Matt Reynolds [15].

No offense to Triple-A infielders who go unseen, but this year we have greater concerns…first-place concerns. This year we’re living la vida primer lugar.

Still, with September’s dawn, we get a little variety in our roster life.

Players who were hurt are deemed done rehabbing — come aboard, Kirk!

Players who couldn’t make the cut are cut a little slack — come aboard, Kevin!

Players who possess a single skill set are put to specific use — lace ’em up, EY!

Players who have ridden the nearly transcontinental shuttle from Las Vegas to LaGuardia can put their bags down and their feet up at the 114th Street Holiday Inn [16]grab a bed, Soup!

Players you might not have noticed coming and going come to stay, if not play. Dario Alvarez [17], who accumulated two non-playing days of service time two weekends ago, potentially gets another crack at MLB action, having waited close to a year to return to the mound as a Met. He continued to wait as fellow lefty Eric O’Flaherty made a splendid case for Dario’s drift up the southpaw depth chart.

Carlos Torres can’t relate to any of this (except for the part where Alvarez didn’t pitch last night, either), at least not since June 15, 2013.

That was the day, smack dab in the middle of one of the busiest Met transaction months in recent memory, that Torres’s contract was “selected” from the 51s. Carlos came up on the same day the previously demoted Collin McHugh [18] was officially designated for assignment and Greg Burke [19] was optioned to the minors. Also coming and/or going that June, whether to the bigs; to the bushes; to destinations anywhere; or to the list of disabled: David Aardsma [20], Kirk Nieuwenhuis [21], Rick Ankiel [22], Ike Davis [23], Robert Carson [24], Mike Baxter [25], Josh Satin [26], Josh Edgin [27], Collin Cowgill [28], Justin Turner [29], Scott Atchison [30], Zack Wheeler [31], Eric Young [32], Andrew Brown [33], Jon Niese [34], Lucas Duda [35] and Zach Lutz [36].

Some names remain vital in the scheme of Met things two-plus years later. Some are, at most, vaguely recalled. A couple left the organization and found better fortune. Nieuwenhuis boomeranged back. So did Young. Both of those guys are September returnees, a function of how 40 is much bigger than 25.

But only one name from the middle of June of 2013 has stayed put: Carlos Torres. He doesn’t budge. He is home plate. He is the flag pole. He is as much a part of the contemporary Met scene as at least one walkoff loss to the Marlins per year. He is the constant in a way you would probably never guess.

With apologies to Steve Phillips, if not Alex Rodriguez [37], hindsight reveals the Mets roster of June 16, 2013 — the day Nieuwenhuis beat Carlos Marmol [38] with a walkoff home run as Bob Costas bemoaned the decline and fall of Western civilization [39] — is a case of 24 + 1. Though it was Kirk who earned the kudos that Sunday, and Costas our wrath, there was a hidden milestone that has proven to run as deep as Flushing Schist, even if there is no such geological formation to explain the Mets’ part of Queens (which was, of course, built on a garbage dump, which rumor has it is where Sandy Alderson found Eric O’Flaherty). That was the day Carlos Torres became the bedrock of the Mets.

Torres made his first appearance for his new team in the sixth and seventh innings on June 16, 2013, taking over the pitching duties from Jeremy Hefner [40], behind whom the Mets had fallen into a 3-0 hole against the Cubs. Torres’s maiden Met innings were scoreless, which was fine, though it didn’t seem terribly significant because the Mets, at 24-39, were hopeless. One would not have necessarily guessed Torres’s zeroes would be matched by Aardsma in the eighth and Bobby Parnell [41] in the ninth and that Marlon Byrd [42] would lead off the home ninth with a homer, setting up the rally to follow. Duda walked; John Buck [43] singled; Omar Quintanilla [44] bunted each of them over; and Nieuwenhuis shocked Chicago by taking Marmol high over Citi Field’s right field wall.

It was a great moment in the moment and it touched off a mini-revival in Metsopotamia. Wheeler’s eagerly anticipated debut arrived two days later, when he sealed a doubleheader sweep in Atlanta: Harvey Day in the afternoon, Zack’s inaugural start in the nightcap. An uplifting road trip ensued and a whiff of hope was in the air (before Flushing Meadows’ garbage dump origins grew inevitably redolent).

Enough was going on that you wouldn’t necessarily notice a middle reliever with a low profile. Torres made the Mets because his contract insisted he had to. He had a provision in his deal that said if he wasn’t brought up from Vegas by June 15, he could opt out and become a free agent. The Mets liked his thirty-year-old right arm enough to not risk losing him. They put that arm to regular use. He pitched on the 16th, the 19th, the 21st and the 22nd of June (when the first run he gave up as a Met was a game-losing homer struck by his adolescence nemesis Kevin Frandsen [45]). He pitched on the 25th at U.S. Cellular Field, a game the Mets were on the verge of losing until Daniel Murphy [46]’s two-out infield pop fly caused a problem in the immediate vicinity of White Sox closer Addison Reed [47] — whose shrug toward the sky didn’t sufficiently guide his second and third basemen toward catching it. The ball fell in, the Mets tied the score…and lost in the bottom of the ninth instead.

Sounds like Mets-at-Marlins play-by-play, doesn’t it?

Anyway, a lot of Carlos Torres was mixed in to the latter half of June 2013, and a lot more Carlos Torres was to come, mostly because unlike the 24 teammates he joined in the middle of that month, Carlos Torres has never left the Mets’ active roster.

Never.

Not once.

Not to go on the DL.

Not to return to Las Vegas.

Not to take paternity leave.

Not to take bereavement leave.

Not to leave at all, not even to check his messages or grab a quick smoke.

All the other names you’re reading who were around in June 2013 are either long gone or had a hiatus imposed on them the way baseball players do. Murphy was an iron man in 2013, but he missed the beginning of 2014 to be on hand for his newborn son’s opening days, plus he was injured this year (and is “day-to-day” as we speak). Wheeler, such an intrinsic part of the Mets future as of June 2013, was scratched from a Spring Training start nearly six months ago and — contrary to early reports that it was nothing much to be concerned about — went out with something enormous, the need for Tommy John [48] surgery. We know Harvey Days were pre-empted by the same procedure for more than a year, and that his buttinski agent would prefer Harvey Innings be interrupted [49] sooner rather than later. We know Parnell missed all but one game of 2014 and hasn’t been around much of 2015 and probably shouldn’t be on the mound for the rest of 2015. We know Hefner and Quintanilla and Buck are past-tense Mets. We know Byrd is a pennant race Giant, whatever pennant race they have left, and we just checked and discovered Aardsma was DFAa’d by the Braves (having altogether forgotten Aardsma was an Aatlantan to begin with).

Nobody has been a fully active current Met longer than Carlos Torres. Jeurys Familia [50], who was on the 60-day disabled list when Carlos came to town (and who also didn’t pitch last night), is runner-up in this regard, having rejoined the active roster on September 14, 2013, and pitching in one game three days later before shutting it down en route to 2014. David Wright [51], who scored when Reed couldn’t pilot that pop fly into a White Sock glove, predates Carlos by nine seasons, but Wright wasn’t fully active for the duration of 2013 or this particular season right here (though he was “shut down” in the waning weeks of 2014, David never technically hit the DL last year). Duda predates him by three seasons, but Duda isn’t active at all presently. During Torres’s term, Niese has missed time, Ruben Tejada [52] has missed time, Anthony Recker [53] has happened in Vegas and Dillon Gee [54] stays in Vegas.

But Carlos Torres? He may not move mountains and he hasn’t worked many miracles, yet the Mets keep him like an oath [55].

It may not be the most unshakable of active-duty tenures ever — I believe Tom Seaver [56] was an irresistible roster force between April 11, 1967, and June 15, 1977, never going on any kind of list until “TRADED” came regrettably along — but it does defy Met intuition. In the come-and-go world of Major League Baseball, an institution Torres departed in 2011 so he could pitch in Japan, middle relievers are quickly replaceable cogs. One doesn’t quite work the way you want it to, get rid of it and grab another. It’s not like there isn’t a surplus of Burkes and Atchisons, let alone O’Flahertys, rattling around the bottom shelves of waiver wires everywhere.

Then again, when you get somebody really special, somebody who almost always gets the job done, somebody you can regularly rely on…

Carlos Torres? That doesn’t exactly sound like Carlos Torres, does it?

The truth is we don’t know. His outings generally come in three flavors:

1) Oh yeah, Carlos Torres pitched again. Whatever.

2) Wow, what a yeoman effort by Carlos Torres! Man, are we lucky to have a guy like that!

3) Seriously, Carlos Torres? Can’t we get anybody else? Geez, he sucks, just not as bad as O’Flaherty.

Carlos Torres actually does not suck, except when he does, which is a condition that befalls most Mets and all humans. It’s easy to get hung up on the sucking because the secret-weapon deployments of middle to long relievers are, by nature, infrequent. With only so many 18-inning marathons to go around, a fan’s undying gratitude for coming in and staying out there as long as it takes tends to evaporate by the next day. And how often do you really need someone to jog in from the bullpen and throw more than two innings…and if you do, how often does it lead anywhere? (In 2015, only seven of Torres’s 54 appearances to date have gone two innings or longer.) If a Carlos Torres isn’t doing something considered unsung-heroic, he’s likely just pitching some inning that has to get pitched, some inning that isn’t obviously intrinsic to a pending Met victory.

Torres’s territory isn’t even Terry Leach [57] Country. Terry is the standard-bearer of swingmen for those of us whose frame of reference reflexively reverts to 1986 and thereabouts. Leach is legendary in these demographic parts for emerging from submarining obscurity, joining the depleted 1987 rotation and stepping up as nobody in that precise role has ever stepped up: 7-1 record, 3.51 ERA, 12 starts. Seemed like more.

Carlos hasn’t done that, but he actually did some fancy stepping in when called upon in 2013. He took the Harvey Day start in Pittsburgh in mid-July that freed Matt to start in the All-Star Game at Citi Field. He took the Harvey Day start at home in late August that materialized when Matt’s right elbow was deemed a surgical candidate. He made nine starts altogether two years ago (seemed like less), then one on a moment’s notice in 2014, filling in with five shutout innings for Bartolo Colon [58] when Colon was called away on a family emergency.

Torres had good days and bad days in the starting role, but the real takeaway is that he was there to take the ball when needed. There has been no need for Torres to fill in as a starter in 2015. The Mets can load a six-man rotation without even trying. There is nevertheless the instinctive expectation that if something’s not quite sound with one of the golden arms, you’ll see ol’ No. 52/72 warming up at 6:55. But that simply hasn’t happened lately.

So he hasn’t been able to carve out a Leach niche. And despite being used 72 times out of the pen in 2014, he wasn’t Pedro Feliciano [59] redux. Constant Carlos Torres didn’t perpetually yield dependable results. He has no specific Retire Ryan Howard [60] utility to him. He was markedly better against righties than lefties in 2013, better against lefties than righties in 2014 and hasn’t mounted a sterling Batting Average Against versus either kind of batter in 2015.

When Carlos Torres isn’t exceptional, he runs the risk of becoming Carlos Tsuris, my pet moniker for any ordinary or lesser Met relief pitcher whose last name veers conveniently close to the Yiddish word for trouble. For a spell, we had the Tsuris Brothers. Carlos and Alex Torres [61] weren’t related, but when a middle inning’s door isn’t being slammed shut, who asks a for DNA sample? Alex with the big hat isn’t around anymore, but his sibling by another transaction sticks. So does the nickname, when appropriate.

Some nights, there is tsuris no more [62]. Some nights Carlos falls so far below radar that he’s in danger of plopping straight on to Sean Gilmartin [63]’s noggin (though even Gilmartin was used ahead of Torres last night). There was a span between July 25 and August 13 when the Mets played 18 games and Carlos pitched in only two of them. He was still active, just not very. Some nights, though, transcend the tsuris and the inactivity and the sense that the man is the living, breathing equivalent of bullpen wallpaper.

The night of August 27 was one of those nights. That was the night Carlos Torres will want to submit on his Emmy reel. That was the night he instigated a string of extraordinary events.

(That was also one of those nights that forgives nights like last night. The Mets have had more August 27s this year than they have had September 4s. Try remembering that before assuming you’ll be screaming into your pillow again tonight.)

First, and most mundane, was Torres’s pitching: two-and-a-third scoreless innings, no runs, no walks, one harmless hit. He kept a 5-5 score tied, which was crucial if not particularly showy…save for one particular element of his outing.

Second, and most spectacular, was his participation in “the play of the year,” per Gary Cohen, the presumably unprecedented 1-3-1 putout [64] he accidentally started yet purposely finished with his similarly versatile partner in crime, Murphy (who, in 2015, has become the only Met in franchise history to start at least a dozen games at second, third and first in the same season). It was only a crime if you were Jeff Francoeur [65] and you realized you were robbed. For the rest of us, they performed a mitzvah.

Back when McDonald’s didn’t need to sell breakfast all day to lure customers into their stores, what Carlos and Daniel did would have fit well with their Michael Jordan-Larry Bird campaign.

Off the pitcher’s foot
Bounces to Murphy
Desperation toss to Torres
Nothing but Met

You know this play. Hopefully you haven’t forgotten it a little more than a week later or buried it under the debris of Carlos Tsuris’s succeeding appearance versus the Phils (1 IP, 4 H, 3 ER this past Tuesday night). Great plays sometimes get forgotten or buried. Murph previously made unfathomable derring-do happen as a first baseman, but I didn’t hear it recalled in the wake of the OH WOWs that accompanied the 1-3-1. On July 8, 2009, against the Dodgers, Daniel desperately flipped a bad-hop ball behind his back [66] to Bobby Parnell and decisively retired, in the days before replay review, a lumbering Mark Loretta [67].

That was six years ago. That was when the Mets weren’t in first place. First place makes everything a little more memorable. The Murph-Torres “hacky sack” game — credit Josh Lewin — should live on, thanks to where the Mets are now and where we hope they’ll remain. The double play that hinged on Murphy having the presence or perhaps absence of mind to fling a lookless pass to Torres came on the 29th anniversary of another you’ll-never-see-that-again play. On August 27, 1986, the Mets finished an 8-1 road trip in San Diego when Lenny Dykstra [68] charged Tim Flannery [69]’s hit to center and came up throwing home to nail Garry Templeton [70] at the plate. When John Gibbons [71] applied the tag, he had Doug Sisk [72] backing him up and directing him to fire to third, where Howard Johnson [73] tagged an onrushing Flannery.

“The throw to third — out at third, the Mets win it, six to five!” Tim McCarver [74] raved. “What a double play! Just your routine double play…your basic eight-two-five double play.”

Twenty-nine years later to the night, another band of first-place Mets were completing another 8-1 road trip with a flair-filled defensive play that couldn’t be drawn up if you tried. The Yiddish word beshert, or “meant to be,” comes to mind in tying a moment from 1986 to a moment in 2015.

That it occurred at all is a credit not just to Murphy’s, shall we say, ingenuity, but to Torres’s hustle. Murph, we know, is prone to trying what occurs to him and finding out what works later. He is the baseball embodiment of how Harrison Ford as Jack Trainer in Working Girl pegged Melanie Griffith’s Tess McGill:

“You’re like one of those crazed cops, aren’t you? The kind nobody wants to ride with! Whose partners all end up dead or crazy.

Torres proved an ideal partner for Murphy. He never gave up on the play, never assumed it wouldn’t be worth his while to race Francoeur to the bag, never broke stride, never lost track of what Murph was doing — and the universe rewarded him for his resolve.

See what happens sometimes when you hang around longer than anybody?

And there was yet another extraordinary event to be instigated by Carlos Torres in the same game. It came in the top of the thirteenth when Torres was allowed to lead off the inning for the Mets. The roster was still confined to 25 players, so Collins couldn’t be cavalier with what little he had left on his bench. Carlos hadn’t batted since 2014 and hadn’t collected a hit since 2013, but we’d already seen how athletic he could be in the field, hence it didn’t feel futile to give him a swing.

Carlos swung at a 3-2 delivery from Hector Neris [75]. He shot it up the middle. Freddy Galvis [76] smothered it but couldn’t remove it from his glove in time to do anything with it. Torres was on with a single. Curtis Granderson [77] singled him to second. One out later, Murph doubled him and Curtis home.

The floodgates were open. It went from 7-5 Mets to 8-5 to 9-5. Torres the pitcher who ran, then hit, then ran, didn’t have to pitch anymore. Familia entered and closed out a night to remember [78].

Sure, of course, remember a game in which the Mets stormed back from a 5-0 deficit and continued to phlog and phoil the Phillies. Remember that double play and that four-run thirteenth. But really remember this:

Carlos Torres did something that had never been done by a Met reliever.

By leading off with a hit and coming around to cross the plate with the go-ahead run, Torres became the first Met relief pitcher in franchise history to do exactly that in extra innings. No Met reliever had led off an inning after the ninth with a single (or something greater) and scored any run, let alone the winning run. In fact, no Met reliever had scored a run in extra innings since Roger McDowell [79] did it in Pittsburgh in 1988. McDowell doubled with one out, so he wasn’t quite the Rickey Henderson [80]-brand catalyst Torres proved to be.

In all, 88 runs have been scored by Met relievers in any inning since 1962. Only five or six have been scored in extras. Why the hedging? Because Baseball-Reference credits Jesse Orosco [81] with two of those tallies: one in 1984, in a game when there was no question he was pitching…and one in 1986, in a game when he had entered as a pitcher but had moved to right field when he batted. That was in the aftermath of the infamous July 22, 1986, Ray Knight [82]Eric Davis [83] contretemps in which so many Mets were ejected that almost everybody who was left seemed to be playing out of position. Orosco and McDowell traded places between the mound and the outfield, it will be recalled, while Gary Carter [84] took a turn at third base. Santa Claus might have filled in at second, but I’d have to look that up.

Two days before Jesse was honored with a bobblehead [85] — for his 1986 pitching — Carlos’s extra-inning hitting and running put himself in the same conversation with Orosco and McDowell (and, in case you’re wondering, Dale Murray [86] and Paul Siebert [87]). Relievers scoring runs is a rarity. It took until August 24 for it to happen at all in 2015, when Gilmartin did it. There was Torres doing it three days later.

Funny how that happens.

Carlos Torres may be the most common of sights on the Mets roster. A constant sight, actually. Yet I suppose there’s no guarantee he’ll maintain his position beyond October 4, when if there needs to be a roster, its number will contract back to 25. If you can’t get a sniff in a game given over from the seventh to the eleventh to Gilmartin, Reed, Hansel Robles [88], Tyler Clippard [89], Erik Goeddel [90] and O’Flaherty, you’ve gotta wonder.

If there is a postseason roster, will Torres the fixture be affixed to it? I say let’s achieve the need for a postseason roster before delving into the niceties.

Despite what I just said, I’ll talk potential postseason pitching plans if you ask me nicely. That’s exactly what I did on the latest edition of the Blue and Orange Nation Talking Mets podcast. Listen here [91].