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

The Hitless Wonders of 2016

The Chicago White Sox were the sore thumb of my Logging [1] for twenty seasons, ever since it was decided National League teams should play American League teams for something less than all the marbles. Whoever the junior circuit sent to Shea Stadium, I dutifully saw at least once, entering the encounter in the steno book that preserves all my essential information. For five seasons, this unsought subtask encompassed only members of the American League East, reflecting an antsy era when regionalism ruled Bud Selig’s misguided realignment visions. Eventually, scattered combatants from the West and Central were dispatched in our direction and I made it my business to witness their various cameo appearances and jot down those essential details. My long-term plan to capture all A.L. opponents encountered a glitch in 2008 when the Texas Rangers passed through town the same night as a biblical thunderstorm and left “Texas (A)” Logless even as the premises grew waterlogged [2]. Rangers at Mets at Shea on the evening I alighted to fulfill my obsessive obligation was rained out, thus it took until 2014 [3] and the construction of a whole other ballpark (something the Texas Rangers can appreciate [4]) to accomplish their vital notation in my recordkeeping.

With the Rangers officially observed and added to my life list, the White Sox, like the proverbial cheese, stood alone. I’d seen them in Chicago, in Boston, in Anaheim and on television, but not in Flushing. They never visited Shea for Interleague purposes. They didn’t visit Citi Field until 2013, when a) I had a ticket to see them and b) I couldn’t use it [5]. I missed Matt Harvey [6] and Bobby Parnell [7] one-hitting them over ten innings, as it happened, grumble grumble.

At last, the White Sox returned in 2016 and, in their final performance in our midst until maybe 2019, perhaps 2022, I got to see them up close and in person. Now I know what a White Sox at Mets game looks like [8].

Yippee.

My curiosity [9] is forever sated. I don’t need to see the White Sox play the Mets again. After thirteen innings of the slowest-motion live action I could have ever imagined, leading to the wispiest of 2-1 losses, I don’t much need to see the Mets play again, but I suppose I’ll be back again soon. With any luck, the Mets as we thought we knew them will be, too.

Those defending National League champions — the ones who brought the “good times” back to Flushing, per Howie Rose’s preamble to the 1986 celebration (after which the Mets lost four of five) — are no longer with us. They’re not dead, I don’t think, but they’ve sure gone missing.

The Mets scored nine runs from Saturday through Wednesday versus the Dodgers and White Sox, the bulk of a homestand apparently devoted to proving the Mets wouldn’t have competed very well in the 1959 World Series. It feels as if we’ll find Cuppy [10] before we come across any kind of offense. Only so much of the malaise can be attributed to Chase Utley [11], Clayton Kershaw [12], Eric Campbell [13] and their own bullpen, to identify four recently cited culprits. The PhiL.A. thug, the second coming of Koufax and the coldest Soup since gazpacho were nowhere in evidence in the NYM-CHW finale, and the perennially untrustworthy relief corps can’t really be blamed for how the Mets went under, despite it having been a Met reliever, Logan Verrett [14], who gave up the key hit in the 13th, a double to White Sox reliever Matt Albers [15], a fellow who last reached base on May 23, 2007. That, incidentally, happened against the Giants, who still had a player named Barry Bonds [16], who was still ten homers behind Hank Aaron [17] all-time when Albers most recently produced as much as a single. That’s a span of more than nine years, or approximately as long as it took the Mets and White Sox to get to the 13th inning Wednesday.

I exaggerate only slightly, though, in experiential terms, not at all. Snails snorted at the pace these two barely acquainted combatants played. The time of game was four hours and forty-one minutes, none of which any of us in attendance will ever get back. Granted, a beautiful afternoon at the ballpark spent in the company of a good friend — the ever gracious Garry Spector, who knew enough to exit after twelve, just ahead of Albers’s low-level Colon impression — is by no means something to regret. It’s just that the baseball was godawful and then kept getting worse.

And that was with encouraging pitching. Jacob deGrom [18] closed in on brilliant, going seven and striking out ten — including pinch-hitter Jerry Sands [19], worth mentioning here only because I’m convinced every pack of baseball cards I bought in 1975 contained eight of him, never mind that he was born in 1987. The only damage he absorbed occurred via a disturbingly deep fly ball to Todd Frazier [20]. The combination of deGrom and Rene Rivera [21] seemed to click as well as Syndergaard-Rivera, Matz-Rivera and Harvey-Rivera. The staff ERA with Rene behind the plate is 1.91; it’s 3.20 for the team overall.

Can somebody be everybody’s personal catcher?

Rivera chipped in two singles and drove in the only Met run of the day. The Mets recorded one fewer extra-base hit than Albers. They did display a “GOOD EYE!” (as the leatherlung behind me never, ever tired of barking) on thirteen separate occasions for thirteen mostly useless walks. One of them, to mystery guest James Loney [22], set up a run. The other dozen amounted to a subliminal advertising campaign for naught (Naught — For When You’ve Decided Scoring is Overrated.). The Mets struck out twelve times and grounded into five double plays while leaving fourteen men on base. Rivera ended the futile day batting .188, which puts him in the upper echelon of the Met attack at the moment. Four Riveras and five Alberses would constitute a significant improvement over the kinds of alignments we’ve seen deployed of late.

I couldn’t tell if by not hitting whatsoever the Mets were paying tribute to the fourth anniversary of their only no-hitter [23] or tipping their caps to the 110th anniversary of the first world champion White Sox, a.k.a. the Hitless Wonders of 1906 [24]. Or, with the centennial of the Black Sox scandal practically around the corner, it’s possible the Mets were purposely throwing the game. By the time we were in double-digit innings with still single-digit hits, Garry was remembering staying up all night and listening to Jerry Cram [25] steer the Mets from the 17th to the 24th inning on September 11, 1974. That was the game they lost in 25, 4-3. Also wandering onto our conversational stage for a bow was another 1974 Met, the great Jonathan Trumpbour Matlack. Somewhere between BBs and GIDPs, we considered how dominant Matlack was that year and how it was to little avail. For example, during that same final month of ’74 when Cram kept the nocturnal Mets afloat with zero support, Jon lost decisions by scores of 2-1, 3-2, 2-1 and 3-2, the last of them in a ten-inning complete game effort. Matlack led the National League in all kinds of peripheral metrics that were unknown 42 years ago, yet finished 13-15 because too many of the defending National League champions for whom he pitched his heart out were always hurt and never hit.

If you could hear Garry and me over the leatherlung and his repeated, not altogether acccurate [26] taunting of Alex Avila [27] (“WHAT TEAM ARE YOU ON? YOUR FATHER TRADED YOU!”), you would have discerned the underlying theme of the day and our anxieties pretty clearly.

Yoenis Cespedes [28] chose a game started by Miguel Gonzalez, a guy he scalds (6-for-13), to request a day off. He probably needed one, but the timing was unfortunate. Cespedes struck out as a pinch-hitter versus Nate Jones [29] in the ninth. He had a hit on Monday and two the Tuesday before that but otherwise zilch over the last week. Michael Conforto [30] played all thirteen innings, but his bat remained on hiatus, going 0-for-6 to extend his current dark period to 1-for-22. You know Cespedes will get hot. You figure Conforto will get hot. Afflicted by similar teamwide impotence in 2015, we traded for one and promoted the other and they provided quite the boost, you know.

Hard to argue, however, that riding the likes or Rivera, Loney and Ty Kelly [31] (the world’s oldest raw rookie, judging by his CitiVision head shot) will be the Mets’ ticket out of the slumps. Curtis Granderson [32] has yet to spark up, either. There were three or four really well-struck balls by the Mets Wednesday but, quite seriously, every one of them went foul. There’s no Duda, there’s not yet d’Arnaud, and who knows from David? Wednesday one through nine for the Mets resembled less a major league lineup than a death spiral. I really hope their attempts at reclamation projects don’t stop with Loney.

Not to lean too hard on precedent, but Ruben Tejada [33] is at liberty [34], Kelly Johnson [35] is surely as available as anybody on Atlanta’s fluctuating roster and I hear Marlon Byrd [36] isn’t doing anything [37] this summer.

Thank goodness for our starting pitching, unless it encounters that one bad inning as Steven Matz [38] had Tuesday (or is pre-emptively removed by logic-deficient officials as Noah Syndergaard [39] was Saturday). And though one resists handing them anything, you have to hand it to the Met relief corps for withstanding most every White Sock hitter not named Matt Albers. We sense Addison Reed [40] is the kind of biological warfare timebomb that makes the espionage on The Americans tick, but so far he hasn’t exploded. Jeurys Familia [41] is, for now, back from the cringe-inducing. Though the first sign of trouble for Antonio Bastardo [42] provoked a mound visit that emitted the air of an intervention, the lefty survived. Jim Henderson [43]’s right arm did not visibly dangle from his right shoulder after he replaced Bastardo. Hansel Robles [44] had some trouble with a spike on the rubber and he couldn’t stick around very long, but if “a mild right ankle sprain” is worst thing that happens when he’s pitching, it’s a win. Jerry Blevins [45] didn’t participate but seemed to assume he was being asked to, trotting in from the pen despite nobody asking him to; it was nice that he wanted to help.

Only Verrett, continually inserted into situations that would confound MacGyver, fell victim to attrition on Wednesday, and really, that was my fault. A.L. pitchers love to create offense in my presence. My Interleague fetish had me at Shea on the night in 2005 when Bartolo Colon [46], then of the Angels, conjured his first hit since 2002 and his last hit until 2014. It was why I had a perfectly good/awful view of Felix Hernandez [47]’s grand slam off pre-Nohan Johan Santana [48] in 2008. It was the reason I can say I saw Mariano Rivera [49] drive in a run with a bases-loaded walk at Citi Field in 2009 (which, in turn, explains why I’ve refused to attend a Subway Series game ever since). The need to see the White Sox naturally put me in proximity to Albers’s bludgeoned double, which I have to admit was somewhat charming to take in later on replay — as always, eff the DH — but in real time represented misery heaped upon molasses.

Despite the accumulation of inertia and indignities, the Mets still had a chance to win the game or, if they were more sinister-minded, extend it in the bottom of the thirteenth. With two outs, Rivera walked. It was the twelfth of thirteen innings in which they placed a runner on base, an exercise clearly averting fruition, but it was something. It was a chance. Kevin Plawecki [50], the last New York Met position player available and a Las Vegas 51 the second Travis d’Isabled briefly masquerades as healthy, was then asked to pinch-hit. I would’ve asked Thor, but whatever. Earlier, Garry and I were fondly recalling the climax of that memorable series in Houston in 1998, the one that culminated in Mike Piazza [51] homering off Billy Wagner [52] in the ninth and Todd Hundley [53] doing the same to Sean Bergman [54] in the eleventh. Those were two catchers extricating victory from defeat’s jaws at the absolute most desperate moment. It was a pretty desperate day all around at Citi Field eighteen years later, and here were two catchers who could conceivably team up to craft their own portion of Met magic, something a pair of diehard fans…maybe even us…might be talking about in these stands circa 2034.

Instead, Plawecki grounded to third and I went home to ink “Chicago (A)” into my Log. The White Sox and I parted ways secure in the knowledge that we each got what we came for, albeit they more than me.