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

The Boys of This Summer

Meet the Mets. Meet the Mets. Step right up and meet these Mets. These Mets who we didn’t quite know not very long ago, but who are presently playing their way into our hearts and imprinting themselves on our brains.

Meet Seth Lugo [1]. He’s our new somewhere from No. 1 to No. 4 starter. It doesn’t really matter, since everybody’s gotta be an ace on the night they take the ball. Lugo takes the ball, throws it for a bunch of innings, records a bunch of outs and keeps our team in games. He did that Tuesday night against the Marlins, and now the Mets are ahead of the Marlins and essentially tied with the Pirates. If he’s doing this for “our” team, Seth must be one of “our” guys. True, a few months ago I’d never heard of Seth Lugo, but that’s never stopped me from first-person pluralizing.

Every pitcher who was unfamiliar or forgotten is acey enough of late. Lugo. Gsellman. Montero. Throw in the relievers Smoker, who is here, and Ynoa, who is not. Four of them recently picked up their first major league wins as Mets, so we welcome them warmly into our ranks (even if pitcher wins are often misleading and should probably be replaced by a more rational system of merit-based recognition [2]). Oh, and Rafael Montero [3] from Monday night, not new, but still sitting on exactly one major league win back from when he was new.

A few nights before Montero returned from Eastern League purgatory, the Mets distributed to the first 15,000 fans who turned up at Citi Field a Matt Harvey [4] bobblehead. It looked nothing like Matt Harvey, but that’s all right, considering nobody in the rotationlike blob from which our nightly starter is extracted looks like Matt Harvey. Harvey — along with Duda, Wright, Lagares, Wheeler and Niese — has disappeared from view for 2016. To be handed a box with Matt’s name and image in late August was an anachronistic reminder of who the Mets are not at the moment.

A gander at Montero taking the mound 48 hours later felt even more detached from the space-time continuum as we’d come to understand it. Rafael was presumed hot stuff in 2014, revealed lukewarm in 2015, barely a component of our consciousness in 2016. Yet Montero took the ball, threw it for a bunch of innings, recorded a bunch of outs and kept our team in his game. He did that Monday night against the Marlins. He’s back in the minors at the moment, but he left an impression while nudging us a step forward.

Good to meet Rafael again, just as it’s been good to meet or stay in touch with the seven different pitchers who started seven consecutive games between August 23 and August 29 (give or take a Niese). You don’t usually throw a different guy out there every single game for a week unless you’re playing out the frayed end of the string, loaded down with doubleheaders or beset by injuries. You know Lugo and friends weren’t chosen by choice. Too many arms have ached. Fortunately, a few are making us feel super, thanks for asking.

Good to have met Asdrubal Cabrera [5] way back in April and reacquainted ourselves with one of the few indispensable Mets upon his August return from the disabled list. Asdrabsence made our hearts grow fonder, even if Asdrubal’s knee didn’t grow altogether healthier. Like most Mets, he can barely put his pants on one leg at a time. Like many Mets, he’s putting them on anyway and strapping on everything else besides. Tuesday night, last week’s National League Player of the Week answered two early Marlin runs with his 17th homer of the year, good for two runs and a temporary tie. We’d be out in front soon enough and there we’d stay [6].

Good old Asdrubal. Remember when he was a total stranger? Me neither. Baseball seasons make hail Met fellows of us all, fans and players, especially when the players give us fans what we’d been begging for and dreaming of. Cabrera was pretty much doing that all along, but it was hard to appreciate in the vacuum that was sucking 2016 into near-certain obscurity. Neil Walker [7] and Steven Matz [8] are inches from the wrong end of that hose, the one that pulled in Harvey and all those other Mets who have been Hoovered from our midst. Hang in there, fellas. We need everybody we can get.

We need Jose Reyes [9]. Good to have remet him, I’d say. Conveniently ignore the issue that lurks in the subconscious no matter how well he plays and you can’t believe how well he plays. You should, though. I think we’ve looked at Jose Reyes from a distance all wrong. When he bought whatever snake oil Jeffrey Loria was selling five winters ago, what did we tell ourselves so we could convince ourselves that Ruben Tejada [10] was a reasonable cost-efficient replacement? That Jose wasn’t going to be worth nine figures because Jose couldn’t possibly continue to be the Jose that rated nine figures.

True then, true now. But for our purposes, the purposes that involve trying to mold a legitimate contender from spare parts, Reyes didn’t have to be 2011’s batting champ and he didn’t have to live up to somebody else’s absurd/obscene price tag (though who can tell any longer how much is too much on the open MLB market?). He just had to be better than whatever we had handy. He was and he is. Watch him hit from both sides of the plate, watch him run from home to second and occasionally third, watch him field at two positions, watch him adore being a Met, the last of which is a skill you can’t teach. If he’s not the star of yore, he’s a very good ballplayer, the way Cabrera is a very good ballplayer. They know how to field and throw and go mind-to-mind with the opposing pitcher.

You get a couple of guys like that hot, there’s no telling how far you’ll go. And if you get a guy with 20 home runs up to 22 and maybe one outstanding month from him to follow, then you’re really cooking with evil gas. Curtis Granderson [11] is the constant on this team, which seems absurd, considering he wasn’t born a Met the way Reyes was. Yet the man has been active and mostly available every single day since he signed prior to the 2014 season. In the second half of 2016, his bat has been eerily quiet. He hasn’t been hitting within a fifty-mile radius of the clutch.

Tuesday night, in a literal pinch, he did. That was no ho-hum solo home run Curtis delivered to spur the sixth inning. It put the Mets up, 4-2, and gave you the idea Lugo’s fine work hadn’t been an exercise in futility. Grandy stuck around and hit another. There was even a man on base. It’s now 22 HRs and 38 RBIs for the outfielder so diplomatic that he can park anywhere he wants in Manhattan and never get a ticket. The totals don’t balance equitably, but it’s a nice change in the weather for someone who always tries to project professional sunniness. How nice to hear him interviewed postgame and not face one question that boiled down to, “What’s wrong, Curtis?”

Nothing’s wrong when the Mets win eight of ten. Nothing’s wrong when Yoenis Cespedes [12] is on a roll. He didn’t do much Tuesday beside strike fear into Tom Koehler [13] & Co., but oh, Monday, that home run to win it in ten [14]. It was Piazzaesque. It was Strawberryan. It was so very Yo. How is it possible he hadn’t hit a walkoff something or other for the Mets until then? I suppose it felt as if he had, since August and September last year were, experientially, one ongoing Yoenis Cespedes walkoff home run.

What a group, huh? Guys who we know are hurting. Guys who are probably hurting more than we know. Guys we didn’t know but have rapidly grown intimate with in the baseball sense. Guys we want to know and embrace, like Jay Bruce [15], who had a big hit in the first inning, but otherwise continues to resemble Bay Bruce. Guys we have slowly learned to appreciate, like Alejandro De Aza [16], who must be the most dynamic .196 hitter the game has ever encountered (ah, batting average is overrated). Guys like James Loney [17], who has stopped hitting, but sure does scoop at first. Guys like Wilmer Flores [18], who doesn’t seem allergic to righthanded pitching anymore. Guys like René Rivera [19], who if blessed by an iota more of speed would be a genuine offensive threat. Guys like Kelly Johnson [20], who plays wherever asked and hits whenever needed.

They were strays we reluctantly adopted. They’ve managed to form a pack barking at the tails of a flock of Redbirds. Can we keep ’em? Please?