There are moments when you sense things can’t get any better for your team. Those are moments that are both gratifying and terrifying.
Peak Mets, to dabble in the fashionable vernacular, may have been achieved early this past week. Bartolo Colon had homered on Saturday, his accomplishment stayed the toast of the town well into Monday. In between Colon going deep and the world remaining gaga, Matt Harvey slipped in his best start of 2016 versus the Padres, permitting the Mets to depart San Diego in first place for the first time all year. They alighted in Los Angeles, increased their winning streak to three behind Steven Matz, continued to fend off the pesky Nats and generally radiated invincibility. Even a loss Tuesday night couldn’t perceptibly lower my East-leading high.
No wonder, then, that when I was out early Wednesday evening, clad in a 2013 All-Star game t-shirt, having just spotted a leftover Monday Daily News with a back page banner attesting to Harvey’s Mother’s Day triumph at Petco Park, and was asked by a stranger, “How did the Mets do last night?” I reflexively answered, “They won.”
Then I retraced their steps and quickly corrected myself. “No, they didn’t win. They lost last night. Sorry about that. It was a late game.”
At which point I hoped it wasn’t too late for all of us, for I had the feeling I’d pulled a Howard Beale and meddled with the primal forces of nature. It was an innocent mistake born only of enthusiasm. Everything had been coming up Metsie for so long — not just the modest three-game winning streak snapped the night before, but the sustained buzz surrounding our sacred cause. We had one of the best teams in baseball, clearly the best team in New York. The Colon homer framed it beautifully. Consider that type of isolated incident in a single baseball game, the kind that gets and keeps everybody, not just the partisans, talking. In any year after 1995 and before 2015, if something like that happened in New York, it wouldn’t have happened to a Met. Sure, Mets did stuff, occasionally wonderful stuff, but it rarely gained traction outside our walled garden. Met moments were treated by consensus as fleeting curiosities to be consigned to the conversational cutout bin ASAP. Now?
Now they were a sensation. Now the Mets of large-scale characters and identifiable archetypes had taken over everything. The division. The city. The zeitgeist. There had been a pennant, but the pennant was six going on seven months old. This reached beyond that. We were in the second year of this. The Mets were what we’d been waiting seemingly forever for them to morph into.
I know I’d been waiting a veritable eternity to turn on the radio, flip around and hear three different DJs in the span of ten minutes, none of them on sports stations (and not all of them on contractually Met-friendly iHeart stations), kvell over something a Met did 48 hours prior. Bartolo homered Saturday. It was still the topic of choice Monday night. Not Monday morning, mind you, but Monday night. This was a couple of hours after — while running a few errands — I kept bumping into other people wearing Mets shirts or caps or jackets and being drawn into Mets dialogue. How about Colon? How about our team?
None of this shows up in the box score, except the one you diligently pore over in the mind, where you begin to picture a stage on which the Mets hardly ever lose…which is different from forgetting that the Mets lost the night before…which is what happened on Wednesday when I got the rather simple trivia question, “How did the Mets do last night?” wrong. (Some Beat The Booth contestant I’d make.)
I shouldn’t have said they won when they didn’t, I thought, and not just for the sake of accuracy. I can’t be awarding the Mets wins that are already in the loss column. I have overstepped the bounds of enthusiasm. I have put us all in dangerous territory here.
It was such an affront to baseball protocol that Noah Syndergaard went out that night, threw eight solid innings and smacked two home runs of his own (any DHs do all that?). Of course it was epic, almost Colonian. Nevertheless, I was a little uncomfortable waiting for that game to go final. I was on a train when Thor launched his second long ball and missed the play-by-play. When a friend texted me that he was going to bed since the night wasn’t going to get any better, I took that to mean, great, Noah must have given up five runs to the Dodgers. When I got to my car, turned on the game and heard Howie mention to Josh that “Walt” wasn’t necessarily the sweetest-dispositioned guy in the room, I figured he was filling L.A. time with some ancient Walter Alston anecdote. Then I deduced that the Walt in his story was Terrell and that my friend who texted me “can’t get any better” was letting me know a second pitcher homer had, like so many Los Angelenos before so many ninth innings, exited Chavez Ravine.
Yet the Mets didn’t romp. It was a close game. Nobody else drove in anything. The Mets kept leaving runners on base, Familia gave back a run in the ninth and a game in which the starting pitcher homered twice and knocked in four had to be gripped tightly to the end. On paper, that’s fine; a win is a win. But I was still wary from my misstep earlier. I’d forgotten the Mets had lost the night before when asked. I’d forgotten the Mets were capable of losing. The two home runs from Thor were almost too good to be true, and the good fortune (or Thortune) his swings wrought seemed too wonderful to last.
Next thing I’m hearing, Matz is gonna miss a start for precautionary elbow reasons and Syndergaard — the very same Syndergaard who was lighting up the radar gun in the eighth — had recently visited a doctor himself for an MRI on his moneymaker. Wilmer Flores was DL-bound with a hamstring issue and, for good measure, there was something about David Wright’s shoulder feeling sore. Oh, and had anyone else noticed that, except for the pitchers, nobody on the Mets was hitting much…or that Eric Campbell kept drifting into the starting lineup?
Clayton Kershaw was the temporary cure for my anxieties Thursday night in that, yes, the Mets looked feeble against him, but he’s Clayton Kershaw. That’s not a disturbing trend wrapping its paws around our potentially vulnerable neck. That’s Clayton Kershaw. Enough California adventure, I decided. Let’s just pack up this road show, do our stretching and wait for Coors Field to work its magic.
Friday night, Coors Field worked not at all for the Mets. Not a Unicorn or Uniclone in sight, just a dismal 5-2 defeat to Jon Gray, which is by no means an anagram for Clayton Kershaw. Gray won the first game of his career on Friday the Thirteenth after thirteen previous attempts at his maiden W. The promotion that offers 1% off ticket prices for every run the Mets tally on the Los Angeles-Denver leg of this trip is proving to be something short of a savings bonanza. They were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. At a ballpark built with runners on second and third, Kevin Plawecki (two-run double) and Michael Conforto (eventually wasted triple) produced two-thirds of the visitors’ extra-base power, and lest they vie too vigorously for Schaefer Player of the Game honors, each contributed an indifferent throw on the same extended sequence in the sixth, the inning that all but sealed the Mets’ fate. The sealant was fully applied a couple of batters later when Jerry Blevins, usually death on lefthanders, found one of his pitches brutally slain for a backbreaking double by lefty-swinging Charlie Blackmon.
Harvey, who was serviceable for the first five innings, had an OUT-OF-ORDER sign hung on him in the sixth. Nothing physical, just mechanical, it was ruled afterwards. Allowing for Coors Field being Coors Field, the five earned runs (including the inherited runner ushered in by Blevins) in five-and-two-thirds wasn’t exactly an atrocity, but it certainly wasn’t a signal for Kenny Mayne to bring Matt the finest meats and cheeses in all the land for a clubhouse feast. Harvey was in the pink on Mother’s Day. He had no luck on Friday the Thirteenth.
Remember when Harvey Day was occasion enough in its own right?
The Nationals won yet another in their apparently endless string of home games against some combination of the Marlins and Braves, so the first-place Mets became the second-place Mets. Thirty-five contests in, that’s of minimal concern, though I sure did like saying “first-place Mets” and knowing it was correct. I’m not even that worried about Harvey. There are instances when he strongly resembles the pitcher I think of when I wear that 2013 All-Star Game t-shirt, even if he started that affair three years ago and has pretty much removed himself from the guest list for 2016’s gala. I’ll go out on a limb and predict the Mets’ bats will heat up again soon, perhaps as soon as tonight in Denver.
But, just in case anybody asks, they lost last night. It would be presumptuous to suggest otherwise.
I do feel safe, however, in suggesting you join me at Turn of the Corkscrew Books & Wine in Rockville Centre, Monday night at seven, for a little baseball talk, featuring Amazin’ Again, my relatively anxiety-free book on the 2015 season.