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They Did Win

The story is possibly apocryphal, but it’s worth retelling. On a Friday night in 2017, the phone rang in the office of a New York-area baseball blog. The caller had a question: “How many runs did the Mets give up today?” The person working the desk reported, “None.” The caller had a followup:

“Did they win?”

Yes, they did win. The Mets won a ballgame [1]. It’s been known to happen [2], just not lately and not very often. It’s also unusual for the Mets to give up no runs. Before May 19, 2017, it hadn’t happened since April 3, 2017 [3], a span of hundreds and thousands…no, actually just 39 games, but it felt longer. The good news is that with the exception of an eighteen-inning scoreless tie that crashed into a municipal curfew on the final Saturday night of 1965 [4], the Mets have won every game in which they’ve held the opposition to zero runs.

Pitching and three runs by a homer and other means got the job done on Friday night, allowing the Mets to raise their all-time record when permitting nothing to 634-0-1 and their current-season overall mark to a less stellar albeit more relevant 17-23. They are also 51-0 after snapping losing streaks of seven or more games, the fifty-first of which was in desperate need of a snap entering Friday.

Desperate times call for deGrom measures. A team that used to be known in a good way for its starting pitching sometimes has to rely on its best starting pitcher for crackle and pop. Back when the most recent losing streak was a pup of merely three defeats, Jake came up something shy of awesome. To be fair, he was fine in Milwaukee [5], but he wasn’t virtually flawless. When you pitch for these Mets, you have to be pretty close to perfect. That may not be fair, but such is life in orange and blue.

Friday night, Jacob’s flaws were few across six innings. The Los Angeles Angels of wherever alighted at Citi Field for the first time since 2011, bringing with them Mike Trout [6] and a passel of ex-division foes. The LAA’s weren’t the worst mix to be facing on paper, but the best player on the planet combining forces with a crew of old thorns can be tricky to pick through, especially when it is assumed by rational observers that another game will never be won by the Mets. (Seven consecutive losses will do a number on anybody’s ability to reason.) Trout was gonna Trout to some extent — a sharp single to left in his initial Flushing at-bat, thankfully with nary an Angel on, seemed inevitable — but deGrom otherwise effectively tamed the ghosts of NL East past. The Angels featured in their Friday lineup Cameron Maybin [7] from the Marlins, Danny Espinosa [8] from the Nationals and Andrelton Simmons [9] from the Braves. Pending their exploits the rest of the weekend, they will likely always identify that way in my brain. Throughout Richard Thomas’s arc on The Americans, a friend of mine reflexively referred to the accomplished actor as John-Boy from The Waltons. First impressions tend to last.

Opposing deGrom for the Angels was Florida Marlins righty Ricky Nolasco [10]. I was surprised to learn Nolasco is an Angel. I guess it’s indicative of how much local National League baseball we absorb to the exclusion of the junior circuit that my wife’s fandom-by-osmosis registered no more than passing familiarity with the all-world aura of Trout, yet the name Nolasco rang a clear and resonant bell. Ricky pitched 25 times in teal and other Fishy tones against the Mets between 2006 and 2013. Mike plays mostly after midnight and hardly ever against our team.

They both presented formidable obstacles on Friday. Nolasco the Marlin was not easy to reel in. Enough fumbling behind him in the first resulted in a lone Met run. No more than nibbles for a while thereafter, though, as the score remained 1-0 into the sixth. DeGrom locked in following Mike the Trout’s base hit, sailing without pause from the second into the sixth, much of his journey achieved via strikeout, all of it witnessed with great rejoicement. I could definitely see one run and one pitcher being the difference between a seven- and eight-game losing streak.

A moment of truth occurred in the visitors’ sixth. With two out, Kole Calhoun [11] (there’s a baseball name for ya) singled. A wild pitch sent him to second, which was unfortunate since the batter in the box at that moment was Trout. The count had grown to three-and-two. What would be the outcome of a battle between an ace pitcher who had been stifling all comers and a premier slugger OPS-ing in the vicinity of 1.200?

Buzzkill Terry Collins prevented us from finding out, as he ordered Trout intentionally pointed toward first base. It wasn’t the wrong move by any means, but it did deplete the genuine drama unfolding before our eyes. How often do you see Jacob deGrom [12] face Mike Trout with a game situation in the balance? Then again, how often have we seen plenty of hitters who are not Mike Trout take advantage of Mets pitchers, Jacob deGrom included? Collins hasn’t tied Davey Johnson [13] for most Mets games managed by consistently playing to the crowd.

Two on, two out, Luis Valbuena [14] up. Not as dramatic, but inarguably significant. Jake grounded him to second, inning over, Mets still up, 1-0. Then Mets up, 2-0, thanks to René Rivera [15] doing what Valbuena couldn’t. He came through after an intentional point toward first base and singled in a runner from second. Rivera may be a stratosphere or ten removed from Trout most nights, but the way René’s been hitting (.395/.422/.558 in his last eleven games), it’s hard to fathom going out of your way to pitch to him.

DeGrom’s lead bolstered, the next mission loomed as Entenmann’s: get an out in the seventh inning. Cake, right? Yet it was something no Mets starter had done since Dennis Ribant [16] in 1966. OK, it only felt that way, but it had been a few weeks and it explained to a great extent why the Mets were losing constantly. Here, at last, we were going to see the previously unaccomplishable. All a totally-in-command Jake had to was get an out and…

Hey, what’s he doing with his ring finger?

Is he picking at it?

What are he and René talking about?

Is he all right?

WHAT THE…?

It was just a blister. That’s all. A blister on a pitcher’s throwing hand doesn’t have to be anything big. Noah Syndergaard [17] had one on Opening Day and the Mets won by shutout on that occasion. As for omens, it’s not like the blister presaged the downfall of the most crucial element of the organization’s plan for continued success and sent the season spiraling into a blazing hellscape from which it has yet to emerge.

Oh, fudge, it did. But not every blister is the same. No, this one appeared worse than Syndergaard’s. The sailing ceased. Jake appeared distracted and was suddenly less effective. Simmons doubled. Erstwhile White House press secretary C.J. Cron [18] walked. Martin Maldonado [19] was hit by a pitch. The bases were loaded. Fanning the flames of rising anxiety were multiple meetings with and without Ray Ramirez. Phone conversations transpired between Dan Warthen [20] and Ricky Bones [21]. Collins was surely going to remove deGrom with nobody out in the seventh because he realized that no Met starter was meant to ever again record a nineteenth out. And, by the by, isn’t Albert Pujols [22] from the Cardinals on the Angels?

Ol’ Four-Finger deGrom, blister notwithstanding, stayed in and hung in. Espinosa looked at strike three. Hallelujah, we had a 6.1 IP in the box score, if nothing else. Mike Scioscia [23] (speaking of haunting Flushing specters) could have next sent up Pujols, but either Albert wasn’t feeling up to destroying us like he did on the reg from 2001 to 2011 or the Angel skipper still twinges with guilt from his Dodger days. The pinch-hitter for Nolasco — National League baseball, y’all! — was Ben Revere [24] from the Phillies. Revere looped a ball over the infield, the kind that falls maddeningly into the shallowest portion of the outfield and lands on the head of a team that has lost seven games in a row while Angels from Los Angeles of wherever circle bases.

But maybe not this time. This time, Jose Reyes [25] made like Joe Hardy in Damn Yankees, his aging body lunging to snare the dying quail. With every last breath within his bedeviled body, Jose reached back, stretched his glove out and…

He didn’t catch the ball. It smacked into his leathery palm and smacked right back out. The Angels were gonna…

No, wait! The ball smacked right back down into Jose’s glove and this time he secured it! Two out! Nobody scored! Just like Joe Hardy, except Reyes didn’t turn exceedingly middle-aged right before our eyes (it only looks that way sometimes). The inning wasn’t over, but it was about to be. Maybin, who caught the final out at Shea Stadium, made the final out of the seventh at Citi Field. Only slight karmic payback, perhaps, but on an 0-7 skein, we’ll surely take it.

In the bottom of the frame, Michael Conforto [26] homered off a lefty reliever to make it 3-0, so he can stay in the lineup, probably. In the top of the eighth, Jerry Blevins [27] came on for the twenty-fifth time in the Mets’ first forty games. The last time a pitcher pitched that often that early for anybody was Steve Kline [28] for the 2000 Montreal Expos. I can’t say for sure that sort of incessant deployment is detrimental, but when was the last time you saw either Kline or the Expos? Blevins, who doesn’t require GPS to find the Citi Field mound, got an out, gave up the most harmless possible bases-empty single to Trout and got another out. Terry then removed Jerry and opted for his new chew toy Paul Sewald [29]. Paul was held in abeyance as Terry’s de facto closer in Wednesday’s game at Arizona, which is why we saw Rafael Montero [30] pitch the eleventh and also why Sewald wound up sitting in abeyance with nothing to close. The burgeoning Sewald phenomenon is still in its honeymoon phase, so we should all enjoy it before overuse kicks in and we notice Paul wears the same number as Mel Rojas [31]. The rookie gave up a bunt single to Simmons but struck out C.J. Crone, who I have just learned is not the same person as C.J. Cregg. The ninth was given over to actual post-Familia closer Addison Reed [32] and Addy-Boy earned an Atta Boy, or perhaps a Way To Go [33]. Technically, it was a save, which implies there was something to save.

Hold on, the apocryphal phone is ringing again.

“Hello?”
“Yeah, hi, can you tell me the final score of the Mets game against the Angels?”
“Mets three, Angels nothing.”
“Did they win?”

After seven straight losses, I guess you can’t blame a person for wanting confirmation.

***

We don’t take calls, but you will note we do take comments again. We were going to open the gates after this game regardless of outcome, but it is serendipitous that we get to do it on the heels of a Mets victory. If we made this win-dependent, we figured we’d be wading into Joan Payson territory, as mapped by Jimmy Breslin [34].

A few days after the Mets opened the [1962] season, Mrs. Payson and her daughter and son-in-law left for the Greek islands. She asked to be informed of the Mets’ doings by telegraph. The telegrams came as requested, one right after the other, with the score always spelled out so there would be no error, and finally the lady couldn’t take any more of them. She wired back:

PLEASE TELL US ONLY WHEN METS WIN.

“That was about the last word I heard from America,” she recalled.

In the spirit John Sebastian greeted Gabe Kotter, welcome back. Our mood is ebullient given the Mets’ sudden hot spell, but we are grimly serious about enforcing a modicum of decorum in our little corner of the Met world. If you wish to add your voice to the FAFIF community that has been generally wonderful for a dozen seasons but Jason and I have found irritatingly atonal during the course of this one, here are a handful of ground rules by which to abide.

• Intentionally inflammatory comments directed at a fellow commenter, whether offered in the second or third person, will be deleted and the intentionally inflammatory commenter will be banned.

• Expression of Metsian hopes, dreams, exultations, values, disappointments, devastations, disgruntlements and so forth are all welcome even if they’re not the same as yours. Variations on the phrase “some fans are so…” — when inserted in fairly obvious service to belittling or ostracizing those who have yet to come around to your way of seeing things — will serve as a red flag and be deleted. Persistence in this line of commenting will lead to banning.

• The phrase (or sentiment) “as I’ve said many times before” is a signal that you’ve said it many times before. Move on. Get some new material. Comments incessantly repeating what we know you’ve sufficiently stated previously will be deleted.

• Refrain from prefacing your remarks by proclaiming how prescient you were about some issue or other. We’re all occasionally right, we’re all occasionally wrong. Elias isn’t keeping track. Utter self-aggrandizement is discouraged and will be deleted.

• This is the comments section of a blog written by two guys who love the same team as you do, not a message board maintained by a major media conglomerate. It’s just us here. Keep that in mind.

• Management reserves the right to monitor, moderate and ameliorate as it sees fit.

• Be nice to one another, treat each other with respect, remember that even though Mets baseball is what we figuratively live for every spring and summer and spiritually die without every fall and winter, it’s still just a game.

Otherwise, have fun. The Mets have proven it is possible to do so.

Fun was had by all of us who recorded the latest edition of the Rising Apple Report podcast [35]. We talked at particular length about virtually every Met who ever wore 44. If a stroll down memory lane that stops off to greet Harry Chiti [36], Leroy Stanton [37], Tom Paciorek [38], John Cangelosi [39], Lastings Milledge [40] and a cast of dozens appeals to you, then listen in here [35].