We were excited in August of 2013. Reasonably excited, anyway. The Mets were 13½ games out of first place and 10 behind in the Wild Card stakes when the month began, so I wouldn’t oversell the euphoria angle. Yet as fans of teams that are not contending will, we readily embraced the chance to meet two enthusiastically hyped prospects face-to-face.
On August 6, with David Wright  sidelined, we were introduced to a youngster  we’d heard could play some third, maybe some other infield, definitely could hit — Wilmer Flores . Eleven days later, two other kids were reported on their way. One was Bentley Buck, whose in-utero progress was the subject of much Metsopotamian speculation that summer  in light of his father’s seemingly endlessly pending paternity leave. As soon as John Buck  got the sign that Bentley had been given the green light by mom Brooke, the Mets called up a minor league catcher  to take his place.
Travis d’Arnaud  came attached to a much fuller scouting report than Bentley. The rookie receiver was the prime prospect obtained from Toronto the previous winter for reigning Cy Young Award winner and local legend R.A. Dickey . Well, he and pitcher Noah Syndergaard  were the acquirees generating the most heat in December 2012, but Syndergaard was considered a bit of a ways off, and the Mets had nurtured a gaping hole at catcher since the twilight of Paul Lo Duca . Thus, the more immediate excitement surrounded d’Arnaud. Buck, thrown into the same trade, was a catching stopgap. Nobody else had been much of answer. D’Arnaud was rated anywhere between the sixth- and twenty-third best prospect in the majors heading into 2013. We were finally going to get a glimpse at him that August. In his first game, on August 17, he batted sixth, one spot behind Flores, who had made his debut on his own 22nd birthday. Travis was 24.
Here was a fraction of our future, inserted into the present. We’d heard their names. We were vaguely familiar with their skill sets. Now, primarily because there were no better experienced alternatives blocking their paths, we were going to meet the Mets who would someday, we hoped, make second halves of seasons less a tryout camp and more a field of dreams. We dream on the prospects who make it to the starting line. We dream they will lead us into the middle of pennant races and to the ends of Octobers.
It’s not as if we haven’t already seen Wilmer and Travis in autumn, but Thursday night, less than three years removed from the Saturday in San Diego when d’Arnaud dipped his first toe into the majors and Flores’s feet got just a little wetter, I was overcome by the sense that what we were wishing and hoping for in August 2013 was really happening in July 2016. To be fair, I was overcome by a lot of senses last night, as it was one of the more sensory-overloaded games (and pregames) in Citi Field history, but the contributions of d’Arnaud and Flores in particular stood out for me.
Perhaps it is a stretch to call these Mets their team now. Neither player is that outsized a figure, and they are certainly not alone in keeping the Mets charging toward the top of their division (currently three games out) and in possession of the league’s first Wild Card slot. But they are as much at the heart of their club’s effort to repeat as World Series participants as anybody right now. They each made indelible impressions in 2015. They seem even more vital in 2016.
The Mets are rolling, as opposed to rolling over. This will come as news to anybody who booked a plot at Pinelawn for their chances and then took the next week off. They’ve risen from dead and buried as June was expiring to alive and undeniably well a week or so into July. They stand nine games above .500, matching their high-water mark of 2016. They subdued the undeniable Cubs, they reeled in all but one  of the malodorous Marlins and they’ve taken the first of four games from the rival Nationals , a series opener that looked to be going, going, gone fairly early.
Bartolo Colon  encountered the rare turbulence he couldn’t tame in the fourth, allowing three home runs in a four-batter span. Bart was singed by Bryce Harper , Clint Robinson  and Anthony Rendon , dropping the Mets down, 4-1, on a scoreboard that was seeing far too much action along its top line.
Ah, but that’s what they make bottom lines for. The Mets began crooked-numbering their row when d’Arnaud — probably due a promotion in the order (though maybe don’t fix what’s not broken) — went Apple-deep from the eight-hole with one out. Travis’s season has been sliced three ways: sour in April; out-of-stock for two inactive months; baking to the point of sizzling since returning from the DL a couple of weeks ago. D’Arnaud, as a catcher, already has plenty to do in determining his team’s success. Add on to him a personality that, from the stands and on the couch, appears more Velcro than Teflon in the self-assignation of responsibility, and you have a guy who is going to attempt to carry the Mets whether it’s good for him or not. At the moment, it’s very good for the lot of us.
Travis, a conscientious enough teammate to have removed a carefully chosen number from his uniform and gift it to a wayward colleague who admitted an emotional attachment to it, had edged the Mets to within swatting distance of the pesky Nats. As he circled the bases, the only numerals that probably mattered to Td’A were the 4 for the visitors and the 2 for the home team. Two batters later, the fellow who took Travis’s 7 (and ultimately gave him a fancy wristwatch  in return) followed the catcher’s example and went yard. Jose Reyes  hit his first Met home run since 2011. I suppose everything is Jose’s first something around here since 2011.
On the Tole-Rey-tion Scale, used to measure my continuing reaction to having Jose around these days, I must confess I felt my arms raise instinctively above my head when I saw his homer land in the carbonation corner, but I wouldn’t describe myself as overly bubbly about it. There was none of the sing-to-myself musical accompaniment that was standard for all of Jose-Jose-Jose’s achievements from 2006 forward. It will take time. If it doesn’t come and I never hum, so be it.
But I didn’t mind that he’d brought us to 4-3. And I really liked the sight of Curtis Granderson  lighting up in the second spot, where he appears reborn. He continued the pounding of Lucas Giolito  with a ringing double (almost all doubles ring), lured him into a balk and dashed home on Yoenis Cespedes ’s ringing double (see?) to tie the game at four. Giolito was now the one going, going, gone, replaced after a base on balls to Neil Walker  by professional mirage Oliver Perez . Because there’s always a tinge of I can’t believe what I just saw when Ollie — who still hasn’t accepted that demotion to Buffalo — enters a game, it was fitting for the Mets to conjure another illusion and execute a double steal. Cespedes was safe at third. Walker was safe at second. It was stranger to see than Jose rocketing one to the erstwhile porch, maybe even stranger than seeing Jose at all . That sort of baserunning derring-do has probably occurred since the former and since-restored No. 7 bolted for Miami, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if Jose and Argenis Reyes  were the last tandem of Mets to try it and succeed.
Colon remained in the game, which is usually outstanding, because Colon is the one pitcher on the planet you’d trust to withstand an alien invasion in one inning and shut down the galactic interlopers over the next four. Alas, Colon did not compute last night. He gave up a single to Ollie, another single, a fielder’s choice grounder and then got entangled in Daniel Murphy ’s ongoing revenge thread, peppered with a soupçon of screwage by inconsistent interpretation of contemporary second-base sliding rules. Jayson Werth  made a 2016-style illegal slide into Walker, but that was overlooked as part of a replay review festival that placed Murphy on first and sent Perez across the plate. The Nats had the lead again, 5-4. Two batters later, Wilson Ramos  — Washington’s Giancarlo Stanton  (unless that’s Murphy) — singled in another, making it 6-4. Colon’s imperturbability didn’t last the fifth.
The Mets’ bench, however, lurked in the bottom of the frame. After Asdrubal Cabrera  and Brandon Nimmo  singled off Ollie (who himself would later double), and d’Arnaud struck out, Terry Collins was able to deploy reserve first baseman Wilmer Flores, more recently identified as starting third baseman Wilmer Flores. Flores was raking in the latter role, but now Collins has flexibility and he opted to flex Reyes in at third, James Loney  in at first and Flores out of the lineup. The timing was, I grant you, a little ragged, but in the hours leading up to Thursday night’s game, I wasn’t bothered. I trusted that, if needed, Flores would be at the ready.
I thought he was needed in the fourth, actually, during that same plate appearance when the double steal unfolded. With Ollie the lefty on, I imagined Terry as Casey Stengel , not waiting a moment longer than necessary to go for the jugular . He had Flores, and everyone considered Flores’s bat the hottest in the county. Six hits, including two home runs, on Sunday. Two home runs on Wednesday. Not starting on Thursday, but perfectly positioned to pinch-hit for lefthanded Loney and then play first in his stead. Loney, it was said on TV, had decent numbers against Perez. But this is Wilmer we’re talking about. If Casey were managing, we might not hear ourselves talking because Casey generally held the floor like Chris Murphy amid a filibuster, but he probably would have told somebody to “get Florsheim up”. As one plainspoken quote I’ve seen attributed to the Ol’ Perfesser put it, “Do you want me to manage to lose?”
Wilmer would have to wait to be talked about in earnest in Thursday’s game, because Terry declined to speak Stengelese. Collins stuck with Loney. Loney struck out. Threat curtailed in the fourth.
The fourth gave way to the fifth. Colon had given way to Jerry Blevins . When Blevins walked his only batter, he in turn gave way to Hansel Robles . When Collins pulled a double-switch to bring him in, he removed Loney, whose last out ended the fourth, and substituted Flores at first. Thus, despite not deploying his most lethal weapon against Perez with two on in one inning, Terry wound up doing exactly that in the next.
It took only one pitch to prove Collins a genius and Flores a star. Even if you don’t want to go that far in your assessment, everything worked splendidly. Flores launched his sixth homer in five games, a three-run Queensquake that shook the Flushing night, and the Mets led Perez and the Nationals, 7-6. The homer drew comparisons to Wilmer’s signature shot from last year, the July 31 twelfth-inning torpedo that sank the very same opponent. Though nothing will ever supplant the midnight ride off Felipe Rivero  as a franchise turning point, this one was somehow more impressive to me. That home run cast Flores as Cinderella, our distressed damsel who barely maintained his shoe, or in his case his shirt. This year, with Wright sidelined again, Wilmer has transformed into the Mets’ handsome prince, our beau ideal. Who do you want up as the go-ahead run versus your fiercest foe? Besides Ces-derella, I mean?
Right now, I wouldn’t take anybody before I’d call for Wilmer Flores.
If we were writing fairy tale sequels, Flores’s destruction of Perez would have made for another happy walkoff ending. In reality, though it was still the fifth and, boy, were there still miles to go after Wilmer went deep.
• The Mets would collect an essential fourth homer, from Asdrubal Cabrera, to make it 8-6 in the bottom of the sixth.
• They’d absorb another blow from Murphy — Washington’s Giancarlo Stanton (or wait, was that Ramos?) — to make it 8-7 in top of the seventh.
• They’d see Reyes get on base and attempt to steal the next one, only to turn himself around and get himself thrown out diving back into first for the second out of the bottom of seventh.
• They’d compensate for Jose’s rust-covered mishap when the Grandersonian revival continued — Curtis single, Yo walk, Walker single with Grandy speeding all the way home to raise the Mets’ lead to 9-7.
• And, finally (as if there could be anything final about a game that took 3:39, encompassed 27 hits, 16 runs and a Citi Field record eight homers), Jeurys Familia  was able to quell the Nats on a beautiful 6-4-3 double play, started by a diving/flipping Asdrubal Cabrera who cut down Jayson Werth at second.
That was one out. The relay from Walker to Flores was too late to get Murphy (who couldn’t be gotten for a qualifying offer and now can never be gotten at all), but inconsistent sliding-rule interpretation on this occasion tilted in the Mets’ favor . In the ninth, unlike in the fifth, it was recognized that Werth made an illegal slide — more blatantly Utleyesque than the one from innings before — and the one out by Cabrera’s glove was multiplied to two by officials in Chelsea. Werth, who can thank his rambunctious buddy Chase for upending the rulebook, had inadvertently caused Murphy to be marked down as thrown out and, at last, the game was…
Oh crap, the game wasn’t over. Those were only the first two outs of the top of the ninth. Familia still had to take care of Harper, who you don’t need to be BTO to know is business not easily taken care of. Somewhere back in time in this game Harper had not only homered but literally quieted his detractors. He literally made a “shush ” gesture toward the partisan crowd. This guy, huh?
Your closer is facing Bryce Harper, you understand your game is by no means over. Then again, if your slugger is facing Jeurys Familia, you understand your game is on life support.
Jeurys struck out Harper. The Mets had prevailed, 9-7. The stars of the game were plentiful, but the Mets couldn’t have arrived where they did and where they have without those twinkling lights from what three years ago appeared to be a distant constellation. These Mets of ours are, in July of 2016, constituted of many contributors, but they are surely, to a significant extent, the Mets of Travis d’Arnaud and Wilmer Flores.
By August of 2013, if we were looking for a headline act, it would not have been inaccurate to say our team had become the Mets of Matt Harvey . Harvey had been, the summer before, that first legitimate sign of emerging luminescence for a Mets club that had been stumbling around in the dark for far too long. Matt came up in July 2012, showed a right arm equal to its hype and, in less than a year, was as great a pitcher as any in the game of baseball.
When August 2013 ended, the arm was on the shelf, slated for Tommy John surgery. We didn’t see it again until April 2015. It was about as good as new, give or take a flourish. The persona that initially attracted us when we were fans of a perpetually wallowing ballclub and Harvey represented solely unalloyed hope didn’t always mesh with our tastes or expectations in the wake of his return, but he was back and we were better sooner than we could have fathomed when we had lost him for an entire season. Matt Harvey was undeniably one of those who led us to the doorstep of the promised land last year.
And now, as we cheer for our baseball entity of choice to bulldoze that damn door, we will be once more ensconced within a Harveyless state. Matt has been diagnosed with symptoms associated with thoracic outlet syndrome . Layman’s translation (since I’d be Googling details like the rest of you): no more Harvey Days in 2016. There was the possibility of a nerve block injection, another medical term whose ramifications I can only pretend to understand, but while Sandy Alderson initially indicated it could provide a temporary fix, he didn’t make it sound like a feasible medical version of just rub some dirt on it. Sooner or later, Harvey was gonna need surgery and today we learn it will occur soonest . It’s a different operation from TJS and he can come back, but not for a while, not this year.
The Harvey Days of recent vintage haven’t been what they used to be. They were something special  almost out of the gate. Before there was Flores at third or d’Arnaud behind the plate, there was Matt on the mound in 2012 and 2013. The youth movement that helped elevate the relentlessly mediocre Mets of 2009-2014 into the relatively monstrous Mets of 2015-Present was spearheaded by Harvey. He debuted first. Familia came along a couple of months later; Juan Lagares , Flores and d’Arnaud the year after; Jacob deGrom  the year after that. They shared space with holdovers, placeholders and genuine veteran stalwarts, but each was, at the instant of his debut, that guy we counted on to move us a little closer to where wanted to go. The process looks foggy when it’s in progress, clearer with hindsight. It’s not linear, but it is satisfying when you have something to show for it, which we do, thanks to how all the Mets commenced to coalesce last year.
As for this year, while we apply our hoping instincts to Harvey’s health, we depend on those who are here, however they got here, and keep an eye open for whoever can help fill his void. Maybe some assistance will eventually come from Zack Wheeler , who rose to the Met roster in 2013, somewhere between Familia and Flores, but fell out of the picture with an elbow injury after deGrom debuted and before Syndergaard broke in. Alderson didn’t sound too optimistic about the velocity of Zack’s recovery. Maybe August. Maybe not. Nothing sounded too optimistic in the wake of the Harvey news on Thursday afternoon, but then the Mets went out to play the Nationals as scheduled. They fell behind them twice, yet surged and then stayed in front of them right to the busy end.
You keep rooting in this game. Sometimes you really do get what you want.