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Summer Blockbuster Goes Awry

It’s 10½ games to first place, we got one healthy starting outfielder, half a season, it’s morning, and we have a game before noon.
—Elwood Blues, if he were a Mets fan

Saturday afternoon, shortly past 2:10 PM Metropolitan Promotional Time, I entered Citi Field clutching an Asdrubal Cabrera [1] bobblehead and overcome by a vision. In my mind, it was September, it was dark and I was entering the same building for a game to be named later. The vision lasted only an instant, but it was richly textured and deeply moving. Somebody in my vision said to me, “Let’s Go Mets!” not randomly but purposefully, for in my vision, in this coming September, the Mets were in a race like the one they ran in 2016, like the one they ran in 1973 [2], like the ones they’ve run in other Septembers to lesser effect. Yes, “Let’s Go Mets!” as in let’s keep this thing going, the way we do when we have a chance that builds day by day, night by night, week by week until it’s the last month of a season we couldn’t bring ourselves to write off and now, in that last month, we’re closing in on something either incredibly rewarding or horribly heartbreaking, but we surely know we’re living the experience. Destiny, my vision said, was planning a rendezvous with us not that many dozens of games up the road. Let’s Go Mets! Let’s keep this thing going.

Several hours later, I was a prophet. The Mets played as dim a game as they could and won anyway. They made three fielding errors, at least as many baserunning miscues and trailed by exactly as many runs in the bottom of the seventh. Then they scored four to take the lead, the last two of them on a home run by Cabrera, who looked more like the Cabrera who inspired the bobblehead than the bobblehead does. Then there was rain and a rain delay and a double rainbow. Why shouldn’t have there been a double rainbow? The Mets had stroked six doubles already. The tarp came off and the Mets proceeded to win, 7-6 [3], directly after winning, 2-1 [4], a pair of completely dissimilar one-run wins whose only common element was the Mets coming out barely yet definitively ahead, picking up ground, pushing through June, breaking into July, making me believe, albeit from a significant distance, that September might not be spiritually postponed this year. I actually heard myself exclaim softly but firmly upon exiting the damp yet sunny Promenade, “Only four games under!”

I enjoyed that. It may be the most I enjoy the Mets in 2017. It’s Tuesday morning now, somehow almost start time for another game. First place has grown only further from reach since Saturday. September seems impossible to imagine in any sense, but you know it’s coming. The Fourth of July always embeds a tinge of sadness for me. We strive throughout winter to get to spring (or Spring) and we strive through spring to get to summer. Nothing is more summer than the Fourth of July. And when it’s over? In a blink, there’s the All-Star break, the opening of football training camps and back-to-school sales. In other words, fall and winter. The Mets will go on until October, but there’s a difference between the journey of a legitimate dreamer and the road to nowhere.

After Monday night, I have a pretty good sense of where the Mets’ road leads. Not that I didn’t before Saturday’s vision, but, gosh, what a nice dream it was.

Anyway, the Mets lost, 3-2, on Monday night [5]. They and the Washington Nationals, each wearing uniforms the spirit of George M. Cohan got sick all over, engaged in a scoreless duel — Steven Matz [6] matching zeroes with Stephen Strasburg [7] for seven innings — as if the two teams were above the same fold in the standings. At first, it was frustrating. The Mets had one big bases-loaded chance, in the fourth, but couldn’t convert it. Matz was learning what it means to be an outstanding starting pitcher for the New York Mets…it means performing brilliantly without any offensive support whatsoever. Soon, though, it was scintillating. This was autumnal in nature in July, Darling v. Tudor, compelling you to wonder who, if anybody, will blink first. You waited for the clock to strike not midnight, but 10:44 CDT, if you know your historical cues [8].

The Steves took their leave as starters will in modern times. They both went seven until the managers went to their bullpens. The Mets’ is shaky. The Nationals’ is downright dangerous to their own health. National relief pitching, really, is the most fungible asset our dreamscape has to offer. Yeah, we have to get healthy and get better and generally get our bobbleheads out of our bobbleasses, but half the battle is waiting for a parade of Washington arms to blow one- and two-run leads. Give us that and, theoretically, we’ll pounce. Usually we have to wait for the out-of-town scoreboard to tell us something’s gone off the rails in our nation’s capital (in the baseball sense, that is). Monday night we could engineer the sabotage ourselves. We came real close in the eighth, too, when Brandon Nimmo [9], starting center fielder of last resort, sped from second to home on a long-enough hit to left by Jose Reyes [10], pausing maybe to process a tentative “GO” sign from the Hamlet of third base coaches, Glenn Sherlock. Whether that slowed Nimmo down or he was just beat by a good throw, I couldn’t say for sure. I could say the Mets had a great chance at blowing up the Nationals’ pen and failed to hit the plunger.

As mentioned, the Mets’ pen is shaky, so who are we to snicker at anybody else’s? Jerry Blevins [11], erstwhile in his dependability, is going through his rough patch, picking the wrong time and opponent for such a detour. Righty-swinging Michael Taylor [12] took lefty-throwing Blevins disturbingly deep in the bottom of the eighth to put the Nats up, 2-0. The only saving grace was a baseball would necessarily be placed in the hands of one or more Nationals relievers in the ninth.

Against acting closer Sammy Solis [13], T.J. Rivera [14], as T.J. Rivera seems to often, reached base. He singled with one out. Lucas Duda [15], unfortunately, did nothing comparable. Lucas took apparent ball four for called strike three, per the interpretive stylings of Paul Nauert, ball cop. (Monday was an all-around great day for MLB umpiring [16].) Having gotten to the doorstep of victory with Solis, Dusty Baker [17] made a change, bringing in the next acting closer, Matt Albers [18]. Terry Collins countered with Curtis Granderson [19], who some idiot recently mentioned never gets hurt, [20] which was true until suddenly Grandy’s hip started acting up. Curtis was deemed well enough to bat. Would he be well enough to hit?

Two strikes in, he didn’t look too well. But on the third pitch, it was the Nationals’ bullpen that reminded us of the importance of health coverage for all. They suffered their usual chronic pain when Grandy, aches and all, swung and sent an Albers delivery all the way into the first row of the right field seats. The Mets had tied the game at two. The flicker of the dream that summer hadn’t arrived only to end prematurely suddenly had a spark. If the Mets could tie these Nationals, the Mets could beat these Nationals. If the Mets could beat these Nationals, they could beat them again. They could gain ground. They could edge closer and closer. They and we could get to September, telling one another, “Let’s Go Mets!” like we mean it.

But first, the bottom of the ninth, with Paul Sewald [21] reprising his role as Dale Murray [22], and Josh Edgin [23] as Kevin Kobel [24], and Fernando Salas [25] as, well, Fernando Salas. Bottom line: two out, runners on first and third, Salas pitching to Ryan Raburn [26]. Raburn looped a fly ball to short left. Yoenis Cespedes [27] charged in, dove, slid, missed it and rose gingerly. The winning RBI went to Ryan Raburn. The Mets’ left fielder looked like Sam Rayburn [28], except maybe not as athletic. Yoenis had a hamstring cramp on him. Grandy’s still got that hip to be concerned with. Jay Bruce [29] probably has a trick knee that barks when it gets humid. Our one National League-certified young buck, Michael Conforto [30], is both an All-Star and currently disabled. Collins demanded a replay review. Perhaps he wanted the crew in Chelsea to see what his life has become.

Washington, a city of Northern charm, Southern efficiency and no bullpen whatsoever, stretched its lead over New York another game, which is the way we hopeful New Yorkers might choose to phrase it, but it’s hard to imagine anybody of a National ilk is measuring their season by how far in front they are of the Mets. Only the dreamers see the Mets racing the Nationals, the Rockies or anybody for a playoff berth. The realists are rubbing their hands together in grubby anticipation of magical trades that will exchange crusty veterans for blooming youth. We will sell and contenders will buy, proferring only the finest prospects for all those Mets who couldn’t get it done in unison as Mets, but dangle them properly and watch the bounties we acquire in return. Because that’s how you think when you’re not contending. That’s your dismal summer dream. Some revel in that stuff. I don’t. I find the future overrated. I value the present in summer, no matter how quickly summer tends to fade.

Long before the Metstream media treated “10:35 AM at Forbes Field, July 4, 1969” as new news, Faith and Fear readers knew the Mets play at all hours. Revisit this 2013 exploration of bizarre starting and ending times [31] for a refresher.