- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Here’s to the Non-Winners

I like to say that all you can reasonably ask for from your team year after year is that they give you hope. To me, that has always implied that you can hope your team will contend in earnest for a postseason berth, and to do that, your team has to win more games than it loses. That’s my baseline. That’s my bare minimum.

Some years you understand it’s a goal that’s almost surely out of reach and you have to calibrate your definition of hope. You hope that things will get better soon. You hope that strides will be made. You hope you see enough to give you more hope. But that’s not the hope that makes a baseball season worthwhile.

You don’t strive to collect 82 wins for the sake of 82 wins. You strive to win 82 because you can’t go further without them. When a season encompassing at least 82 wins is over, then at the very least, even if you didn’t go further, you at least know you were happy more often than you weren’t.

We just went six consecutive seasons bereft of that kind of hope. By the definition I’ve woven for myself, those were hopeless years, happyless years [1]. Those were years when you couldn’t for very long convince yourself things were going well and you had to trust that maybe someday things would go better. But they weren’t good while they were going on.

“My kingdom,” I might have bellowed (had I a kingdom to spare), “for an 82nd win!” Yet now that I have an 82nd win — plus one, plus presumably more to come — I’m all, “Yeah, OK, let’s keep going.” Which is as exactly as it should be. Again, this wasn’t about getting to 82 wins, a milestone we achieved on September 13. It was about what might be waiting over a horizon previously out of view until an 82nd win was reached.

Yet we couldn’t have arrived here in Our Year of Thus Far Requited Hope without the journey through the barren seasons. I suppose we could have in the sense that some teams never seem to finish under .500, but that’s not how it happened for us. We root for a traditionally feast-or-famine operation. Multiple years of one transpire before we can enjoy a string consisting wholly of the other. When we get a little too used to gracious living, grimness comes to tap us on the shoulder. When it seems we’ve suffered more than our fair share, pity is somehow taken and we’re granted a sizable ration of legitimate hope again.

So those miserable years when 82 wins loomed as an aspirational figure served a purpose. They were less than what we reasonably asked for, but maybe we had to have been rejected in our requests a few times to fully appreciate when at last we were given the over-.500 thumbs-up.

While we were waiting between 2008 and 2015 for an 82nd win and all it implies, we watched the Mets anyway. We watched the Mets limit their win totals somewhere north of 69 but south of 80 six consecutive times. We kvetched, we moaned, we woe-is-us’d. But we didn’t duck out. That we stood by patiently (if crankily) is testament to our loyalty and endurance and our all-around good-guy characteristics.

Yes, we’re the salt of the earth for continuing to watch the Mets. But a pat on the back is also due the Mets we watched.

There are, by my count, 115 players who played for the Mets between 2009 and 2014 who never played for a winning Mets team. These are the individuals who weren’t here as recently as 2008 and/or haven’t been around in 2015. Our entire experience with them has taken place in the context of hopelessness, or nothing greater than a state of calibrated hopefulness. They were Mets when we knew we wouldn’t be going anywhere soon, but in the interim, we got by with who we had.

They are also destined to be the Mets referenced decades from now by fans of a certain age, the fans who grew up in those particular lean times cheering these players on. There will be a fair amount of eyerolling in the reminiscing, but it will likely occur with an underpinning of genuine fondness. Remember him? Yeah, he sucked, but for some reason he was my favorite Met when I was a kid. Don’t ask me why.

To create space for the Mets who, en masse, haven’t sucked in 2015, we had to rid ourselves of their immediate predecessors. Survival of the Mettest depends upon lesser players giving way to better players.

Some were exchanged directly for those we celebrate today in the new world that thrives beyond 81 wins.

Some were just placeholders to begin with.

Some we thought would be a part of the kind of club we root for presently, but we were mistaken.

Some were better than their circumstances.

Some played an indelible role in creating the circumstances we ached to escape.

But they were Mets. And we rooted for them. Today, with as much sincerity as can be legitimately mustered, I want to thank all 115 of them. Even the ones who weren’t very good. Even the ones who didn’t last very long. Even the ones I wasn’t crazy about in their day. Perhaps it’s a testament to where we as a people are now, but when I consider them as we approach the once unreachable horizon, it’s not with ire for their not getting it done when they had the chance. It’s with appreciation for doing what they could.

If you’re a fan of a team for the long term, it all counts, the good and the bad. I’m in the mood to feel good about the good and (mostly) discount the bad.

***

So thank you, first and foremost, to R.A. Dickey, protagonist of an unparalleled life story and proprietor of the 2012 National League Cy Young Award.

Thank you, Ike Davis, who I assumed in 2010 would have been one of the reasons we’d be on the cusp of celebrating something special in 2015.

Thank you, Gary Sheffield, for giving us our first 500th home run in 2009. (Yoenis Cespedes will presumably give us a 600th later this month.)

Thank you, Josh Thole, one of those players for whose late-season promotion we banged the drum in 2009. He wasn’t our catcher of the future, but he did catch our first no-hitter.

Thank you, Mike Baxter, for doing a little catching of your own on June 1, 2012.

Thank you, Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco, two interim catchers who hit walkoff homers on back-to-back days in 2010.

Thank you, John Buck, who hit a ton in the first month of 2013 and guided wisely a couple of our neophyte pitchers as the year progressed.

Thank you, Zack Wheeler, Josh Edgin and Vic Black, possessors of talented young arms that haven’t been used in the majors since 2014. We look forward to soon seeing you pitching with Mets teams good enough to erase you from this list.

Thank you, Wilfredo Tovar, an end-of-September callup, two Septembers in a row. You gave us a little something extra to put in our books in 2013 and again in 2014.

Thank you, Juan Centeno, for throwing out Billy Hamilton in September 2013 and detracting just a little from the alleged invincibility of a supposedly unstoppable foe.

Thank you, Fred Lewis, who stuck it out in Buffalo in 2012 and earned an extra cup of coffee that September. You didn’t do much as you passed through, but you reminded us that there’s no reason a person should willingly stop trying to play professional baseball if a professional baseball player is still what he believes he is.

Thank you, Sean Henn. No, you didn’t do anything as a Met, but I remember being at your first game with us in September of 2013 and thinking, “OK, Sean Henn is official.” A passing thought from a brutal loss [2], but a moment that stays with me when I see your name.

Thank you, David Aardsma, for literally rewriting the Mets record book in 2013 by surpassing Don Aase alphabetically.

Thank you, Francisco Rodriguez, J.J. Putz and Sean Green, for completely remaking a disastrous Met bullpen in 2009 and making me buy into that narrative for maybe a week. It was a nice belief to hold however long I held it.

Thank you, Frank Francisco, for chalking up three saves in the first three games of 2012, getting us off to a 3-0 start and convincing us once again that the ninth inning was solved.

Thank you, Brandon Lyon, for one Sunday in 2013 selling me yet another iteration of the ol’ “they’ve fixed the bullpen [3]” storyline.

Thank you, Omir Santos, for winning yourself a perennial Mets Classic at Fenway Park in 2009.

Thank you, Chris Carter, for a big pinch-hit in a huge comeback on May 11, 2010, another Mets Classic staple.

Thank you, Wilson Valdez, for filling in adeptly if unspectacularly in 2009 after Jose Reyes went down for the season. Nobody could replace Reyes, but you took the reps that needed to be taken.

Thank you, Emil Brown and Andy Green, for adding a modicum of color to the 2009 Mets.

Thank you, Scott Rice, for working so hard to make the majors at last on Opening Day in 2013, and making it with us; and thank you, Collin Cowgill, for making that same afternoon so grand-slammingly memorable.

Thank you, Mike Hessman, for stopping off and hitting your final major league home run as a Met in 2010 before returning to Triple-A and fulfilling your destiny as the king of minor league swing [4].

Thank you, Tim Redding and Pat Misch, for those starts I didn’t much appreciate in 2009, but sometimes you succeeded.

Thank you, Hisanori Takahashi, for being remarkably consistent as a starter and a closer in 2010.

Thank you, Marlon Byrd, for making us forget the “What Outfield?” winter by crafting a hellacious summer in 2013. I appreciate what you brought back in trade, too, but I really hated to see you go.

Thank you, Cory Sullivan, for legging out five triples in 2009 and proving indeed that Citi Field’s original dimensions were not made for homers.

Thank you, Ronny Cedeño, for saving both of your Citi Field home runs in 2012 for games I came to.

Thank you, Andres Torres, for doubling, tripling and homering — yet somehow not singling — at another of my 2012 appearances.

Thank you, Omar Quintanilla, for stepping in on May 29, 2012, and collecting three hits, including two doubles, in support of Jeremy Hefner.

Thank you for Jeremy Hefner, for homering in support of your own self on May 29, 2012.

Thank you, John Lannan, for becoming, in 2014, the only Met I know of who hails from my hometown of Long Beach, L.I.

Thank you, Frank Catalanotto, for also briefly planting a Long Island flag at Citi Field in 2010.

Thank you, Chris Capuano, for holding back the storm and pitching a whale of a game in August 2011 as we braced for Hurricane Irene [5] to hit us. Hardly any Brave hit you that Friday night.

Thank you, Justin Hampson, for ten perfectly decent innings in 2012 and being one of those Atlantic League success stories, having made it back to the majors after four seasons away, partly via a stint with our own Long Island Ducks.

Thank you, Aaron Harang and Daisuke Matsuzaka, for coming in toward the end of 2013 and soaking up those innings almost nobody else was watching. I was.

Thank you, Chin-lung Hu, for the easy “Hu’s on first” jokes when you showed up in 2011 and not overstaying your welcome so we didn’t have to grow incredibly sick of them.

Thank you, Lance Broadway and Tobi Stoner, for similar reasons in 2009.

Thank you, Luis Hernandez, for in 2010 fouling a ball off your foot, then hitting a home run and then limping around the bases in what proved to be the final swing of your Mets career. You truly went out on a high note.

Thank you, Chris Young, Pedro Beato and Taylor Buchholz (twelve shutout innings combined) along with Ronny Paulino (5-for-5), for ensuring that May 1, 2011 — the Sunday night when SEAL Team Six got Bin Laden — would go the Mets’ way. Any other way on that occasion would have seemed wrong.

Thank you, Chris Young who wasn’t the other Chris Young, for waiting to become a Met until 2014, by which time the other Chris Young had moved on. Being a Mets fan is confusing enough.

Thank you, Casey Fossum, for becoming the Mets’ first Casey since Stengel. If you had been here in 1962, your manager likely would have called you Nelson.

Thank you, Ramon Ramirez and Elvin Ramirez, for in 2012 giving me one or two chuckles as I referred to you as the Ramirii.

Thank you, Mike Nickeas, for being an agate acquisition in 2006 and, after four obscure years in the minors, making the big club in 2010.

Thank you, Fernando Martinez, for materializing on May 26, 2009. I had been reading about you as a prospect for so long, I assumed you were a Sidd Finch-type conceit.

Thank you, Livàn Hernandez, for pitching a complete game on May 26, 2009, the night of Martinez’s debut.

Thank you, Brad Emaus, for personifying the Mets at the dawn of the Alderson era, April 2011.

Thank you, Gonzalez Germen, for getting a rise out of Sandy Alderson in Baseball Maverick, by pitching horribly on June 14, 2014. The chapter, “Throw a Goddamned Fastball,” is titled in your honor.

Thank you, Rob Johnson, for pitching a perfect inning in 2012 despite your being a catcher. For one game, it justified your inexplicably being assigned No. 16.

Thank you, Jon Switzer, for making one of your three-and-a-third innings in 2009 perfect. The fact that Rob Johnson threw a perfect inning as a catcher three years later doesn’t make what you accomplished any less impressive.

Thank you, Jon Rauch in 2012 and Daniel Herrera in 2011, for literally representing the long and the short of Met relief pitching.

Thank you, Raul Valdes, for providing quality long relief in 2010.

Thank you, Bobby Abreu, for deciding to hang ’em up as a Met in 2014.

Thank you, LaTroy Hawkins, for deciding to keep going as a Met in 2013.

Thank you, Miguel Batista, for chalking up your 100th career win for us in your first Met start, September 1, 2011, a.k.a. the day every year the rosters expand so teams can get a look at their kids. Batista was 40.

Thank you, Darren O’Day, for enduring long after your premature deletion from the active roster in early 2009. You reminded us general managers should pause and reflect before making hasty decisions.

Thank you, Blaine Boyer, for pitching your way off the active roster in early 2011. You reminded us general managers sometimes can’t decide hastily enough.

Thank you, Garrett Olson, for using your lone Met appearance, on August 8, 2012, to set the record for worst career ERA in franchise history, 108.00. I showed up at Citi that night and I can’t say I didn’t see something memorable.

Thank you, Jack Egbert, for not doing anything of a record-setting nature in your lone Met appearance, on May 28, 2012. I wasn’t at that game, so I don’t feel I missed anything.

Thank you, Ryota Igarashi, for facing 325 batters in 2010 and 2011 and, according to Baseball Reference, not putting 203 of them on base. I just assumed you gave up a hit, walk or HBP to all 325 of them. I stand corrected.

Thank you, Fernando Nieve, for picking up the ball Luis Castillo dropped and winning the next afternoon’s Subway Series game in 2009. Our collective self-esteem depended upon it.

Thank you, Shaun Marcum, for not pursuing a television management position [6] following your departure from our ranks in 2013. I’d hate to see the announcers you’d hire.

Thank you, Collin McHugh, for fashioning such a stunning first start in 2012. Glad you refound your groove in Houston (good vibes subject to change pending potential World Series matchups).

Thank you, Joaquin Arias, for your little-noticed 2010 tenure. You went to the Giants thereafter and gave me reason to mention to anyone who was listening during two San Francisco Fall Classics, “Hey, look, that guy used to play for the Mets.”

Thank you, Dale Thayer, for eliciting a similar response from me post-2011, except it’s more like, “Hey, look, that guy with the very bushy mustache used to play for the Mets.”

Thank you, Tim Byrdak, for persevering to make it back in September 2013 after missing most of the year while recovering from shoulder surgery. Your service was both long and meritorious [7].

Thank you, Elmer Dessens, for taking the ball as often as you did in 2010. They referred to your teammate as Perpetual Pedro Feliciano. You could’ve been Eternal Elmer Dessens, but you went about your business quietly.

Thank you, Mike O’Connor, for not being offended that I don’t remember anything specific about the nine relief appearances you made in 2011.

Thank you, Jordany Valdespin, for conjuring instant offense off the bench so many times in 2012, disguising what a pain in the ass you revealed yourself to be. (Yet I liked you disproportionately to the bitter end.)

Thank you, Matt den Dekker, for handling fate’s fickleness with grace when your status as next great defensive center fielder took a blow from an injury during Spring Training 2013. Juan Lagares stepped up in your absence and won the Gold Glove in 2014, ultimately making you expendable (though hopefully not terminally vengeful from your present locale in Washington).

Thank you, Josh Stinson, Chris Schwinden and Josh Satin, for all arriving within a week of one another in 2011. I longed for you to form a trio in the popular Metsopotamian imagination and inspire me to pen an ode to Stinson and Schwinden and Satin/playing ball a little east of Manhattan…alas, it just didn’t happen.

Thank you, Zach Lutz, for becoming, on June 27, 2013, the 150th third baseman in New York Mets history, a count that has now reached 157, no matter what inaccurate total the New York Times insists on referencing [8] (and not correcting despite multiple polite solicitations from a concerned party).

Thank you, Jesus Feliciano, for the leadoff triple that led to you scoring the walkoff run driven in by Carlos Beltran on July 31, 2010. It reinvigorated my faith in having a man on third with nobody out.

Thank you, Dana Eveland, for being surprisingly effective in 2014. Surprisingly effective is often the best kind of effective.

Thank you, Angel Berroa, for inspiring Metstradamus to dedicate the Angel Berroa Rotunda [9] in 2009.

Thank you, Taylor Teagarden, for the grand slam you hit in your first game as a Met in 2014. It was the only home run you hit as a Met and one of just nine games you played for us.

Thank you, Jason Pridie, for getting a big base hit at Citi Field while wearing a beard on June 4, 2011, a few hours after I spoke at a memorial tribute to my friend Dana Brand, a Mets fan who also wore a beard. It was comforting to make that connection then and now.

Thank you, Scott Hairston, for launching a home run into the Left Field Landing section of Citi Field on July 16, 2011, the same day Dana’s friends and family held a less formal memorial for our fellow fan out at the Shea home plate marker. Our seats for the game were way up there where home runs rarely landed, yet yours landed near us, and maybe, we thought, Dana had something to do with it.

Thank you, D.J. Carrasco, for balking in the losing run at Turner Field on June 16, 2011. No, really, because your inexcusable action also has a Dana angle to it. I was returning home from taking part in a reading of Prof. Brand’s work, riding on an NJ Transit train between Secaucus and Penn Station, when I heard what happened over WFAN. Though I didn’t laugh in the moment, I can laugh about it now because I have a feeling Dana would have seen the Metsiness in such an absurd defeat…and perhaps asked that if we were giving him after-the-fact credit for that hit by Pridie and that homer by Hairston, did he have to accept the blame for that balk by Carrasco?

Thank you, Alex Cora, for lashing out at a gaggle of giggling beat reporters in the visitors clubhouse at Chase Field in 2010, just after the Diamondbacks swept a series from the Mets. It was an overwrought reaction, perhaps, but the message he attempted to convey — “have some respect” — was one that came from the right place.

Thank you, Vinny Rottino, for rushing out of the dugout with your teammates on that first night of June 2012 to congratulate Johan Santana on his hitless feat. When I see the clips now and notice a No. 33, I do a double-take and remember who wore that number before Matt Harvey. I get a kick out of how unassuming 33 was before it became ubiquitous.

Thank you, Jose Valverde, for briefly serving as Mets closer in 2014 and, more importantly in the long run, mentoring Jeurys Familia.

Thank you, Gary Matthews, Jr., for agreeing to be a part of this sort of thing twice. Your first Met tenure was a small slice of 2002, a year the Mets finished under .500; your second Met tenure was a chunk of 2010.

Thank you, Kelly Shoppach, for successfully blocking the plate late in the final National League game the Mets ever played against the Astros, August 26, 2012, back when a catcher could block the plate.

Thank you, Manny Acosta, for giving up that second two-out, two-strike grand slam of 2010. Instead of thinking of you as just another ham ‘n’ egger on a staff that gave up a dozen bases-loaded home runs (while Met hitters produced none), I could in clear conscience refer to you as a “slam ‘n’ egger [10]”. When the team you blog about is slogging through a lost September, it’s the little things that mean a lot.

Thank you, Jeff Francoeur, for lining into that unassisted triple play in 2009. Sure, it would have been preferable had you had better aim, but it was one of those years when something would inevitably go wrong, so why not go big?

Thank you, Scott Atchison, for tolerating the onslaught of “Scott Atchison’s father” jokes in 2013. For the record, I never made one, given that at the time you were 37 and I was 50 (even though you somehow looked 13 years older than me).

Thank you, Andrew Brown, for that home run on Opening Day 2014. It was freezing and eventually we lost, but you were setting quite a pace there for a couple of minutes

Thank you, Justin Turner, for breaking Ron Swoboda’s Mets record for consecutive games with an RBI by a rookie in 2011, not just because it was nice to have those runs driven in, but because it never occurred to me such a record existed.

Thank you, Rick Ankiel, for playing a little center field for the Mets in 2013 a veritable baseball lifetime after losing the strike zone against the Mets as a pitcher for the Cardinals in the 2000 NLCS. If nothing else, your reincarnation in our midst permitted our minds to wander back to happier days.

Thank you, Kyle Farnsworth, for alighting in 2014, which caused me to run across this nugget: the Cubs pitcher who started the second game of the 2000 season in Tokyo, the one Benny Agbayani won for us with a grand slam, was Kyle Farnsworth.

Thank you, Ken Takahashi, who in 2009 was referred to by his manager, Jerry Manuel, as Ken Takahishi, illustrating that just maybe Manuel wasn’t paying attention to his roster.

Thank you, Willie Harris, for making one of those Willie Harris catches [11] against the Cardinals toward the end of 2011. We had waited almost six months for you to do for the Mets what you had previously done with disgusting regularity to the Mets and you at last delivered.

Thank you, Aaron Laffey, for emerging out of nowhere to take two starts in 2013 and then returning there almost as quickly as you came.

Thank you, Jeremy Reed, for inserting yourself into the Met consciousness so vividly in 2009 when you played first base and threw a ball to the backstop at Dodger Stadium to lose the same game in which Ryan Church failed to touch third. It’s one of those affairs [12] that when you begin to describe it, a committed Mets fan knows exactly what game you’re talking about.

Thank you, Robert Carson, for helping rid the Mets of those nasty baseballs they didn’t want anyway in 2013. It’s better they wound up sitting beyond various National League fences. Ptui! Who needed them?

Thank you, Greg Burke, for repping a fine first name in 2013.

Finally, thank you, Jason Bay, for keeping your head between 2010 and 2012, despite it taking on one too many outfield fences. Thanks, too, for keeping your heart in the game even as your ability to play it insisted on eluding you.

***

Thanks everybody who was ever a Met without getting to win even a little as a Met. It was a thankless job, but somebody had to do it.