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The View From the Rut

The Mets’ slump has become a full-fledged rut, one of those stretches where a team seems suddenly incapable of doing any of the things it just recently did so well. Met hitters are expanding the strike zone and flailing their way through frantic at-bats, Met fielders are being alternately impetuous and butter-fingered, Met starters are faltering and Met relievers are getting pounded. A rut like this wouldn’t be fun to watch in early May, and it’s certainly not fun to watch in late September when we’re thinking about a different month and its promises and perils.

If you’re convinced you’re watching another collapse, well, I’ll try to be of some solace. The Mets are a mess right now, no doubt, but the Nationals are fighting not just them but also the math — and right now the math is the far tougher opponent. If that sounds snarky, it mostly isn’t — it’s just the reality of the last two weeks of a pennant race that’s dwindled to a handful of games. For the outcome to be different, the Nats have to be very close to perfect and the Mets have to be not just mostly terrible, like they were on this mercifully concluded homestead, but excruciatingly terrible.

Is it possible both those things will happen? The math says it is, so I won’t tell you it isn’t. But the Mets have to play even worse than they’re playing right now, and the Nats have to play a lot better than they have against Baltimore. We think we’re miserable, but while the Mets were watching another close one spiral out of control [1] in the late innings on Wednesday night, the Nats had Matt Williams [2] trying to destroy Max Scherzer [3]‘s arm, Bryce Harper [4] and Jayson Werth [5] fanning on pitches they had no business swinging at, and Jonathan Papelbon [6] throwing at Manny Machado [7]‘s head in a game the Nats only trailed by one [8].

OK, you say, the math will let the Mets survive their own ineptitude, but they’ll limp into the playoffs and get steamrolled. Eh, not worth worrying about. October’s a new season. Plenty of teams have hit the postseason hot and fallen apart, just as plenty of teams have arrived looking rickety and wound up covered in confetti. (It’s dirty pool, but recall that the 2000 Yankees looked like impostors when they arrived at the World Series.)

If you accept that but hate “backing in” to a playoff berth, just stop. It’s been nine years without a postseason berth. I don’t care if the Mets perform an avert-your-eyes pratfall worthy of the bastard child of Jar Jar Binks and Buster Keaton so long as they get there.

And then we’ll see what happens.

yogiUntil then, hey, look at it this way — ruts and insane winning streaks both feel like they’ll last forever, but they never do. If you think baseball obeys both causality and moral virtue, the Mets have 10 games to figure out what’s wrong and fix it. If you think baseball is an entertaining, largely random sequence of discrete events, the Mets have 10 games to hope their luck reshuffles into something that will make us happier.

* * *

Greg did a superlative job paying tribute to Yogi Berra [9], so the best thing I can do is point you to his work from yesterday [10]. But I’ll add a little bit from the perspective of a baseball-card dork.

You’re looking at Berra’s 1965 Topps card – his only one as a player for the Mets. (Those are Yankees pinstripes in the photo.)

To review, Yogi retired at the end of 1963, capping 18 seasons with the Yankees. He managed the Yankees in 1964, got fired despite taking the team to the World Series, and joined the Mets as a coach in the spring of ’65. He had eight at-bats during spring training, but agreed at the end of April to be added to the active roster for two weeks. That wasn’t an arbitrary timeframe — this was when teams carried 28 players for the first month of the season.

Yogi’s tenure as a Mets player consisted of nine at-bats over four games. He returned to duty with a pinch-hitting appearance on May 1, then collected two singles and caught nine innings as the Mets beat the Phillies, 2-1, on May 4. “Might be beginner’s luck,” he told reporters. (His first hit was a perfect introduction to life as a Met: It drove in Ed Kranepool [11], but Joe Christopher [12] managed to get thrown out at third before Kranepool crossed the plate, erasing the run and what would have been Yogi’s 1,431st RBI.) He collected another at-bat the next day and then caught a full nine once more on May 9, the first game of a double-header against the Braves. Yogi struck out three times against Milwaukee’s Tony Cloninger [13]. He was in pain and couldn’t get around on the fastball. On May 11, the eve of cut-down day, he quit. “I can’t do it no more,” he said.

Yogi’s time as a Mets player was a footnote to his playing career, one that I imagined seemed unnecessary then and definitely feels that way now … except it produced that card. And that’s a pretty good exception.

I mean, just look at it. It’s perfect. It’s a great baseball card and a great piece of Americana all in one.

Greg, Shannon Shark of MetsPolice and I talk a lot more about Yogi and his place in Mets history in the latest episode of I’d Just as Soon Kiss a Mookiee, the world’s best Mets-Star Wars podcast. You can listen in here [14].