There’s something about these New York Mets, these New York Mets of 2015, 2016 and 2017 that doesn’t let you turn your back completely on them. If we were realtors, we’d marvel at their good bones. We’re Mets fans, so we figure that’s just asking for trouble and a visit from Ray Ramirez with that kind of talk, but I kind of believe the description fits. Somewhere inside the clutter, if you look past everything that’s in dire need of repair, the damn thing holds together. Good bones. Functioning heart. The soul of a contender if not the record to match.
Saturday, these Mets of 2015, 2016 and 2017, but technically just 2017 — the least appealing segment of the trio — staged a promotional night the right way. They gave a plethora of satisfaction and a modicum of hope to the last 39,629 through the turnstiles. You didn’t have to show up early. You just had to stay to the end.
The Mets did. They’re skilled at that. It was getting to the game ahead of the Thorbblehead rush that seemed to flummox them, particularly Zack Wheeler, who, if fate and ligaments had cooperated, would have already been the subject of a frenzied ceramic likeness giveaway. Instead, Wheeler slogs along in the flesh, pitching first innings like they are his last, trying to keep them going until eternity taps him on the shoulder and shows him to the shower. Wheeler threw approximately a hundred and nine pitches in the top of the first against Oakland Saturday night. It may have been fewer. It may have been more. It was definitely awful. The A’s scored four runs. The Mets sank from view.
But they didn’t entirely disappear. The Mets generally don’t. For a spell, they hit the ball hard without results. Then they collected base hits without runs. Meanwhile, Wheeler, after the first, stuck around for kicks until the fifth, allowing one more Athletic to score. It was both an intensely crummy outing and sneakily effective. Zack couldn’t win, but he did the next best thing. He kept the Mets from being certain they would lose.
Sean Manaea, meanwhile, appeared to have a 5-0 lead in hand as he started the sixth, yet the Mets, who you could make out in the light rain if you squinted, grew more and more evident. Five zeroes? Sure. Six? Oh, we don’t do six. Or at least we didn’t on Saturday. In the sixth, we cycled. It was a pot luck supper of base hits. Wilmer brought a double. Jay made a homer. Jose whipped up another triple. Travis showed off his specialty, the RBI single. Right there that was three runs. Soon, there’d be a fourth, serenaded by a chant spurred on by a successful replay challenge: “SAFE! SAFE! SAFE!” You didn’t need the crew in Chelsea to tell you the home team wasn’t OUT! OUT! OUT! of it. The prize the Mets couldn’t get anywhere near — as if they were the 15,001st to arrive at Citi Field — was suddenly within their grasp.
They were down, 5-4.
They had three more innings.
They were playing the A’s.
And they had their secret weapon: relief pitching that you could’ve sworn was lousy. An inning from Josh Smoker. Two from Josh Edgin. One from Hansel “Josh” Robles. No Joshing: they gave us four scoreless frames, which allowed the Mets a legitimate chance to tie things up, an opportunity acted upon in the eighth by Lucas Duda, pinch-hitter deluxe on a night that Wilmer Flores was removed from mothballs to serve as second baseman, Asdrubal Cabrera (without rancor, as best as could be deduced) became the Mets’ 163rd third baseman ever and T.J. Rivera…where did we put him? Oh yeah, that was T.J. playing first. Duda drove in d’Arnaud in the eighth. D’Arnaud had three hits. Duda was pinch-run for by Steven Matz. That kind of night.
The kind of night during which my companion in Excelsior — I had no intention of being at this game, but circumstances and logistics landed me there three minutes ahead of first pitch — kept trying to convince me that this team wasn’t done. He didn’t mean not done against Oakland on Saturday. He meant not done against everybody in 2017. He told me at critical junctures of 2015 and 2016 that they weren’t done. I didn’t quite believe him then. I don’t nearly believe him now. Nevertheless, it was 5-5 in the ninth and Simon Castro was on for the A’s. I watched him throw a warmup pitch. I wasn’t impressed.
Cabrera was my pick to pick Castro apart. First start at third base, another night to flip his bat and raise his arms…but that was an old script. Cespedes? That would certainly say something to those concerned he left his heart in Alameda County and his mojo god knows where, but Yoenis grew less and less likely to get a big hit the later the game got. Asdrubal and Yoenis each made an out, leading to (assuming Steve Henderson was unavailable) Wilmer Flores as humankind’s last great hope to win the game on one magical swing.
Wilmer had done that before, my companion reminded me, as if I needed the nudge. Wilmer Flores might as well approach every one of his late-and-close at-bats tugging at the wordmark on his jersey. He is the walking, talking, swinging, stinging embodiment of Tears of Joy™, one of the Citi’s most humble and lovable characters, a veritable Shoeshine Boy who, whenever there is a call for help, emerges as Underdog! Wilmer could make forays into the sciences, the arts, public policy, anything you name, and the first question he’d be asked is how it compares to that home run he hit against the Nationals two nights after he was weeping on the field over being traded, which he wasn’t. Flores’s Flushing calling card is made of such sturdy stock that nobody ever mentions he took called strike three to end the 2015 World Series. Carlos Beltran might go into the Hall of Fame…might go into the Hall of Fame as a Met…and he will never not be reminded in Metsian circles that he took a strike three to end a postseason series. Different strokes for different folks — and not all Met folks are certified Met folk heroes.
Wilmer Flores is assuredly that, and his legend grew on Saturday night, July 22, 2017, when he lined a Simon Castro pitch over the left field fence for a game-winning homer not exactly like the one from July 31, 2015, but close enough to exhilarate 39,629 skeptics, 15,000 of whom thought they’d be leaving the park with nothing better than a bobblehead, none of whom (save for my companion) sensed they’d get to take home a 6-5 walkoff win boxed inside a stirring comeback from five runs down . Prof. Flores, in the parallel universe in which he takes up laboratory work, had just found a cure for chronic doubt. As he accepted his Nobel, he was asked how it compared to that time he beat the Nationals.
In 2015, the Mets’ signature drive — the one signed off on by Wilmer between joyous teardrops — encompassed 31 wins in 42 games. In 2016, the push that steamrolled our summer of angst was 27-12. All we’ve got right now is 4-0, which is an excellent mark for four games and rather irrelevant in the scheme of 45-50, ten games behind anything that matters, and eight days from the likelihood that assorted 2017/2016/2015 Mets will become former Mets. The encouraging voices of our more optimistic angels aside, there are too many miles of bad road behind us and too steep an incline ahead of us to take seriously the last few smooth kilometers. It’s an infinitesimal sample size and it’s been traversed at the expense of the so-so Cardinals and the dismal A’s. Plus, the next game is at home on a Sunday afternoon and Rafael Montero is pitching it. Rafael Nadal could be pitching it on a clay court and Sunday afternoon at Citi Field would still be Sunday afternoon at Citi Field, a combination of time and place that is combustible enough to blow up in the Mets’ faces practically without exception. Prof. Flores needs to develop a scientific explanation for what’s up with that.
The other six days of the week, the Mets seem capable of producing really uplifting wins. That’s what makes it a shame that they insist on losing as often as they do.
None of the stubborn statistical imbalance that results from their inability to win at least as many as they lose detracts from the experience embedded in a win like Saturday’s. We watched them not give in down 0-5; we watched them battle — not Art Howe “we battled” but actually battle — until it was 5-5; and we watched them prevail at the very end of regulation, everybody on the field jumping around, everybody in the stands jumping around, nobody pausing to wonder what all the fuss was about. Besides, you wouldn’t have heard yourself think such cynical thoughts if you were trundling down the Citi Field staircases Saturday night, for a severe case of Shea Stadium-style euphoria had broken out on the ramps that had just been emotionally installed. You should have heard the beautiful a capella sounds. “LET’S GO METS!” “WIL-MER-FLO-RES!” “Y’KNOW, WE’RE NOT CLINCIALLY DEAD YET!”
The last one was just in my head. But you could hear it if you listened closely.