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Stage Absence

Were the Mets even part of Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Nationals [1]? I went to the Mets’ ballpark, saw players in Mets uniform on the field and read the name “Mets” on the half of the scoreboard where nothing was doing, but there was little evident indication that the entity known as the New York Mets was competing with the Washington Nationals.

At the moment, that’s a frightening microcosm of the National League East, a unit whose non-Met membership acts less and less hindered let alone impressed by the Mets’ presence every day…probably because their presence is so hard to detect.

We’re in the midst of a thousand-game stretch during which the Mets play only N.L. East opponents. It began promisingly enough at 7-3, it is floundering (or Marlining) badly at 8-10. The schedule shall remain divisionally familiar through May 7, when the Mets’ record, if current trends hold, projects out to 8-and-a-million.

Doing the actual arithmetic and leavening it with slighter amounts of dismay will bring you more rational numbers, but the Mets are neither inspiring reason nor generating offense, so fill in the blanks as you like. Blanks are in abundance.

I once attended a Gio Gonzalez complete game one-hitter [2] at Citi Field, making the two-hitter that he and three sweat-free Washington relievers teamed to toss on Saturday old hat as well as cold comfort. It’s nice to not get no-hit, though if that’s your victory for the day, you might want to recalibrate your personal win column.

Jacob deGrom produced the worst double-digit strikeout game of his career, past, present and — one hopes — future. The K display lit up often enough to satisfy discount-minded Subway patrons, but the BB board, brought to you Take An Eye Without That Thing, also glowed. Jake walked six when he wasn’t striking out ten. Blended in among those true outcomes were six singles, two doubles and three runs that loomed larger than the Unisphere, the Trylon and the Perisphere. Our pitcher was pulled before he got through the sixth, which prevented any chance of deGrom being credited with a quality start. This start had a quality about it, all right, if you keep in mind that not every quality is attractive.

The game was deservedly played through a chilly mist, which is the official weather of the 2017 New York Mets, especially the chilly part. I’ve been to Citi Field five times in what is still technically the first month of the season and it’s never been anything resembling comfortable for more than an inning. Probably the most welcome feature of the facility in April is that the men’s rooms are heated — though one of the logistical letdowns is that the replacement of quiet paper towel dispensers with loud hand dryers negates one’s ability to hear the otherwise thoughtfully piped-in radio play-by-play. Sure, there’s not much satisfying Mets baseball filling the airwaves these days, but hearing Howie and Josh upon stepping out of the damp cold constitutes one of life’s small Met-related pleasures.

There were several of those away from the main stage on Saturday, a day I wouldn’t have spent at Citi Field without the gracious invitation of my old pal Dan, with whom I celebrated Curtis Granderson’s two extra-inning homers to tie and beat the Twins last September under the Branded Beverage Pavilion. We didn’t lunge for any longballs this time around, but we did stay dry in those same seats; we did extract levity from baseball misery; we did swap Charlie Finley stories (mine was second-hand; his happened to him as a child); and we did continue to appreciate Grandy’s commitment to taking care of business, everything from the subtle gestures of acknowledgement he makes to his right field minions to the defensive hustle that never stops. On Saturday, Curtis made a dive into the veritable Ageean Sea, robbing Michael Taylor of an extra-base hit as if it mattered. This was in the sixth, when it was Nationals 3 Mets 0, the Mets mathematically eliminated already, but what a catch nonetheless.

Dan and I arrived around dawn for the four o’clock first pitch, lured by the restriction of the Matt Harvey Garden Gnome Giveaway to the first dozen handfuls of people through the gate. The Harvey Gnome was joined by a most unexpected companion…no, not a supermodel gnome, but a Todd Zeile Beanie Baby, dropped off at my seat by dear friend Sharon, who read what I wrote earlier this week [3] and, because she’s Sharon, just happened to have a Todd Zeile Beanie Baby to pass along. Kudos also to Jim and George, guys who waved me over to chat while they were in the growing gnome line. The conversation lasted long enough for Dan to find me and then, well, since we were already in line and the line started moving toward the gate, no sense going to the back of the pack, which is where the Mets seem headed Eastwise if they don’t start hitting and healing soon.

But we did get our gnomes. You take your small Met-related pleasures where you can get them.