A penny for my thoughts? The team for whose chances I wouldn’t have given you a plug nickel a few weeks ago proceeded to turn on a dime and play like a million bucks, yet on Thursday night my paid admission entitled me only to watch them not amount to two bits for most of the evening, yet I was willing to gamble that they might cash in on a couple of late opportunities and hit the jackpot.
That and $2.75 deducted from my Metrocard will get me on the 7 Super Express amidst the decidedly more upscale U.S. Open crowd, albeit without a win rattling around in my pocket.
To coin a translation for those who do everything via debit these days: The Mets lost to the Marlins, an entity comprised of characters you wouldn’t want to get stuck on an elevator with, 6-4. The score indicates a close affair. It was closer to close enough; not blown out, not really in it. It was a game to be grinned and borne . Our boys weren’t going to reel off 32 in a row to close the campaign. The series had already been secured. A sweep would have been sweet. Two behind the Cardinals with 28 remaining will do.
We’re now in the month when the bottom line grows firm. Good signs, bad signs…that’s for when you’re feeling your way into summer. On September 1, when night games are suddenly taking place almost all in darkness and light bay breezes portend heavy sweaters, there’s no time for figuring out how the hell we’re gonna get where we need to wind up.
Yet our Super Express is being held at the station by a signal problem, and not just Tim Teufel ’s. The state of second base. The state of starting pitching. The state of the quads, knees and shoulders that aren’t necessarily officially disabled but in a less stakes-driven month would be. It’s September. You’re two games out. You use as many limbs and joints as you can. If they bark in the park, you give them a belly rub and let them nap for no more than a few innings.
The phrase “hot mess” would seem appropriate if it didn’t carry negative connotations. The Mets are still hot. They’ve won 9 of 12 and made up admirable and serious ground in their quest to return to the playoffs. But how are they not declared a Metropolitan disaster area? The litany of injuries is familiar and depressing enough to not require repeating the identities of all those who have left us for the duration. Of most concern in the present are those who are trying to play and whose play is literally being managed by a manager who has no better options than massaging partial off days out of a demanding schedule.
In real life, the one where we’re trying to catch one more team after passing two, you think you’d not start Yoenis Cespedes  and Asdrubal Cabrera  — arguably your two most vital “everyday” players — in a game against one of your primary rivals? In a different real life, the one before the 9 of 12, you think you’d play them and their aching bodies at all? Terry Collins has little depth and no choice, yet he is compelled to stretch the former and parse the latter.
Rosters were expanded Thursday, and the Mets still don’t seem to have enough players. Until further figurings, Neil Walker ’s absence looms as a very serious impediment to roster dexterity, though potentially a boon to Peyton Manning’s Sunday get-togethers, for if brother Eli can’t make it, there’s an overflow contingent of unoccupied Mets who can gingerly come over and partake of his nachos and DirecTV Sunday Ticket — and Peyton really does seem kind of lonely.
(They do show that commercial  a lot.)
Kelly Johnson , a wonderful asset off the bench, is now half an everyday player. If a blow is needed around the infield (and Terry is the East Coast distributor of giving his players a blow), Kelly won’t be there because he’s otherwise engaged at second. Ditto for Wilmer Flores , whose versatility may not be as finely honed as Johnson’s but is intrinsic to his value. René Rivera  finished the game as Met first baseman for the first time. Didn’t see that developing. Ty Kelly  has returned. T.J. Rivera  and Matt Reynolds  presumably will soon. The pennant chase will be either their proving ground or our chances’ burial ground.
And speaking of Jacob deGrom  (talk about burying the lede), geez Louise we’re likely screwed if he can’t be fixed. Not as simple as fixing a cat, I’ll bet. The bit in Thursday’s game where Jacob motioned to grim reaper Ray Ramirez provided the buzziest in-the-stands moment I can recall since Wilmer was and wasn’t traded thirteen months ago. From my perch in 410, I saw a pitcher with neither velocity nor command nearly escape with five innings of one-run ball on his ledger. Had he eluded the lights of the guard towers for just a few more feet, we’d be telling each other how he struggled but persevered and it was a step in the right direction (I memorized that speech from one of Matt Harvey ’s more encouraging starts). Instead, with two outs in the fifth, Christian Yelich , who must be stopped before he multiplies, snuck an innocent ground ball into right field. It found a hole that opened into a chasm that swallowed deGrom’s outing in one forty-ounce Big Gulp.
Yelich was on first. Then Yelich was on second (Travis d’Arnaud  must be a hoarder, ’cause he never throws anyone out). Then wildly swinging Jeff Francoeur  wildly swung and doubled, leading to a second Marlin run and the burning question, “How is Jeff Francoeur still a thing? ” Next, Xavier Scruggs  flattened another deGrom delivery into another double and it was 3-0, by which time Jake had thrown about a thousand pitches, six of them for strikes. Ah, the perverse pleasures of exaggeration after an earnestly aggravating defeat.
Why exactly deGrom motioned for Ramirez  became the stuff of urban legend. All of us whose lack of x-ray vision prevented us from seeing through the dugout walls imagined not so much the worst but perhaps an explanation. DeGrom kept the season aloft every fifth day and now he was crumpling it up and leaving it by the curb for recycling. If it was physical, at least we could have a logical point from whence our darkest fears could overtake our imaginations.
But no such, uh, luck. Terry didn’t know what his interrogators were talking about after the game. Jake and Ray Who? Nah, never heard of either of ’em. Jake said something about mechanics and not falling off the mound the way he wanted to. Whatever. Nothing was mentioned about the cribbage match he and the team trainer had to get back to pronto. That had to be it, since Jacob swore he was fine.
The Mets trailed, 3-0, when deGrom was done, but they kept pushing. Josh Smoker  pitched a perfect top of the sixth. Jay Bruce  hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the sixth, which I called, not out of deeply held faith that Bruce was gonna come through for us and begin a monster September every bit as big as his August was small, but because, “Watch this, he’s gonna hit one now with the bases empty after all the times he’s done nothing with runners on.”
And people call me the optimistic one.
Bruce’s bomb to right ignited the BRUUUUUCE graphics package Citi Field’s A/V squad probably forgot it had created. We were back in the game, and if Smoker could be as good in the seventh as he was in the sixth…nah, that didn’t happen. He put the first two Marlins on before Yelich — who overcame a Brant Brown  faux pas  pretty quickly, damn it — hit a fly ball that might have been caught a couple of iterations of Citi Field ago, but we now play in something of a band box. Great when it works for us. Sucks when it works for others. The Marlins led, 6-1.
These 2016 Mets, though, they don’t fade to black like those 2016 Mets were known to (say, how is it we never see these 2016 Mets and those 2016 Mets in the same stadium?). New York newcomer Fernando Salas  picked up for Smoker despite one of the diehard true believers behind me greeting his arrival with, “GREAT, ANOTHER WILPON SPECIAL. THEY GET THREE DAYS TO REPORT AND HE’S HERE TONIGHT, PROBABLY BECAUSE THE ANGELS COULDN’T WAIT TO PUT HIM ON A PLANE. I’LL BET THEY PAID THE METS TO TAKE HIM, THAT’S HOW BAD THIS GUY IS.”
Now that’s a scouting report you can take to the winter meetings.
Salas was fine, as was Sean Gilmartin  and his 88 MPH fastball, which got us to the bottom of the eighth, which encompassed the great tease of Thursday night. Curtis Granderson  doubled. Johnson singled. Bruce singled with a man on. The deficit was reduced to four runs, which is possible to eliminate with one swing under the right circumstances. When Flores walked, those circumstances arose. Michael Conforto , all crispy after his stay in Las Vegas, was the batter, having doubled in his first plate appearance and briefly embarrassed a clanking Yelich  in his third. Man, how perfect would it be if Conforto laced into a Kyle Barraclough  pitch and put a crooked number on the board?
That’s not a rhetorical question. I really don’t know how perfect it would be because it failed to occur. Michael, bless his heart, he’s got to be the sickest man in America . Instead of doing anything that would have been remotely helpful, he grounded to Barraclough, who took a big bite out of our rally by turning it into a 1-2-3 double play. We still had second and third, and still had Cespedes the Lion King pinch-hitting, but even Send In The Clowns, Official Party Provider of the New York Mets, suggested we could follow Dandy Don Meredith’s advice and turn out the lights. Cespedes went down swinging.
The great tease was over, though a modest tease loitered in the ninth. D’Arnaud reached on an overturned call at first — do umpires even watch plays anymore? — and Cabrera, temporarily cast as a pinch-hitter, homered. It was 6-4. I looked forward to Bruce coming up with a runner on and making me eat my fatalistic words, but our last glimpse at him was in the on-deck circle as the third of three hasty outs was recorded.
Nevertheless, the baseball equivalent of the 28-hour Texarkana-to-Atlanta trail from Smokey and the Bandit  is in progress. You don’t need GPS to understand the logistics. We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there. Maybe we can still make it if we can keep the Trans Am in one piece.
For another perspective on this very same game that no doubt you can’t get enough of, I recommend a visit to the exceedingly excellent Shea Bridge Report , whose gifted resident author, James Schapiro, joined me Thursday at Citi Field. We spent much of our pregame sorting through the detritus of imploded relievers from the previous decade, but unlike our rear-row neighbor, at least we waited for them to implode before picking over their bones. I don’t know what Fernando Salas will do for the Mets between now and October 2 (or beyond, knock wood), but based on recollections raised from James’s and my conversation, I’d already rank him ahead of Ricardo Rincon , Aaron Sele  and Ambiorix Burgos , with Luis Ayala  and Scott Schoeneweis  in plain sight.