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Disabuse Your Illusion

And the summer went so quickly this year.
—Joe Raposo, “There Used To Be A Ballpark [1]

Michael Wacha was on the verge of a complete game shutout, 24/27ths of the way there Tuesday night. Having observed him and his opposition in varying degrees of action and inaction for eight innings, I calculated as nil the chance the spirit of Steve Henderson [2] would inhabit the batters he was about to face. Thus, I rooted for Wacha to, as Eric Carmen would have advised, go all the way [3]. You see so few complete game shutouts these days that we are compelled to identify them by their full name, à la “single-admission doubleheader”. There was a time when shutouts were assumed to be complete games. Wacha suddenly going nine innings without getting relief help or giving up a run wasn’t going to stem the tide of bullpen by force of habit, but it did seem like a blow struck for baseball like it oughta be. Or used ta be. Or, at the very least, something you hardly see anymore.

That Wacha was approaching his and every starting pitcher’s goal at the expense of the Mets barely bothered me. In 2016, it would have been a problem. In 2015, it would have been a major inconvenience. But it’s not 2016 and it’s not 2015. It’s some year when the Mets are not quite in late July and they’re nowhere near a playoff race. That lingering sense that one solid hot streak might propel them into contention vanished in advance of the ninth inning Tuesday night. Maybe it disappeared Monday. Maybe it evaporated Sunday. Probably it never existed at all this year. A pair of wins out of the All-Star gate breathed a gasp or two of life into the delusional illusion that maybe…maybe the Mets could pick up ground, maybe a few injuries would heal, maybe the best trades made would be the ones that never were, maybe I should check how the Rockies are doing, seeing as how if we win and they lose, we’ll be only…

But, nah. That’s over. That’s done. Those are instincts attached to previous seasons, perhaps seasons to come, surely not this one. This one is done except for games and stuff. The stuff will take care of itself. The games get played regardless of circumstances. The Mets’ circumstances are a little unfamiliar after two summers spent legitimately chasing fall. They’re not even in sync with the pre-2015 standards of a team not expected to go anywhere, so you relished the baby steps toward progress when you encountered them. 2015’s immediate predecessors produced a trail strewn with banana peels. That was OK, though. We were used to slipping. Learning to get up and figuring out how to avoid further hazards was part of the process, we were pretty sure.

In 2017, the only forward Met motion involves days on the calendar. Days until the non-waiver trade deadline. Days until the most obvious of callups. Days until the waiver trade deadline. Days until the rest of the callups. Days until it’s all over. Otherwise, the days loom as hollow as the leftover chocolate Easter bunny you probably shouldn’t have taken a bite of all these months later. No chewy center. No delicious caramel filling. Just innings of space and a taste that is decidedly off.

For a night, the void the Mets have left in their aspirations’ wake was taken up by Wacha and the Cardinals. Matt Carpenter (4-for-5, 2 2B) whacked everything in sight. Wacha mowed down every Met in his field of vision. They should have been Ralph’s guests on Kiner’s Korner. That’s how much Carpenter and Wacha starred in Tuesday’s game. Rafael Montero pitched for the Mets for six innings, constructing one of his better outings. Of course the bar he cleared was so low that somebody would have to have created a slew of coal miner jobs in order to dig it up. The defense behind Rafael aggressively expressed its support for open borders. No ball hit by a Cardinal batter would be stopped from going wherever it liked. Yet even had his fielders built a beautiful wall, Montero still would have been outpitched by Wacha and whupped up on by Carpenter.

The Mets fell behind by a run in the first, then four in the second, then the score stayed in place until one of Montero’s successors — does it really matter who? — gave up a fifth run. It was unearned, having been manufactured via another Met miscue. Lucas Duda didn’t catch a foul pop. He also didn’t intensify demand for a Lucas Duda trade on the open market.

Eventually, Wacha got to the ninth, gave up a leadoff single to Michael Conforto and allowed Conforto to reach second on a wild pitch, yet Mike Matheny let him be. Go ahead, his manager said sans trip to the mound: go the route, go the distance, go all the way; it’s your game, kid. So it was. The next three Mets were retired, preventing Conforto from crossing the plate. When Wacha struck out Jay Bruce for his 27th out and the Mets hadn’t scored a run, I felt my right hand curl involuntarily into a fist. It was for light pumping, not bashing in anything. I was generically satisfied a starting pitcher had completed an old-fashioned three-hit shutout [4]. That it was unfortunately achieved against the Mets didn’t faze me. I’m a few too many losses past the point of fazing with this team.

A better night of baseball than this one is coming Monday to the Varsity Letters series in Manhattan, where I’ll be one of the authors reading from and talking about his work, in my case, Piazza: Catcher Slugger, Icon, Star [5]. The event takes place at Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker St. Details are here [6]. I hope to see you there.