- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

A Certain Quality

Sunday afternoons and Citi Field haven’t gotten along in 2017. Far be it from me to horn in on the middle of their mysterious feud, but sometimes you gotta go where you gotta go, and on this last home Sunday afternoon of the 2017 season, I went to Citi Field. It was not like asking for a loss. It was asking for a loss. “Just be gentle how you insert the L,” was my only request.

And they were. If you’ve been a Mets fan for any significant period of time, you understand the most tolerable of losses — provided there is absolutely nothing on the line besides your own preference for a win — is the 3-2 variety played under optimal atmospheric conditions and completed in barely more than three hours. The 3-2 loss the Mets delivered [1], with an assist from the Washington Nationals, would have fit well inside any early 1970s Sunday afternoon at Shea when a decidedly unimpressive lineup couldn’t have given Jerry Koosman or Gary Gentry that one extra run that would have taken him off the hook. A 3-2 loss way back then probably would have taken an hour less to complete, but that’s baseball inflation for ya. And, honestly, for all the kvetching over length of games, it’s not like I had somewhere else I wanted to be on this gloriously warm Sunday afternoon — and it’s not like the Mets are going anywhere other than away soon enough.

While there hasn’t been much enticement to show up at Citi Field on Sundays, my wife and I have maintained an annual appointment every season’s last Sunday. We didn’t set out to make it a tradition, but it’s become one, and we weren’t going to let the Mets’ brutal record on Sundays impede our engagement. Usually the final home Sunday coincides with Closing Day, but that dose of finality is being saved for Wednesday night this year. I’ll take care of that festivity-free milestone on my own. Sunday was for Stephanie and me and, of course, Jacob.

Jacob deGrom [2] threw a quality start on Sunday. It’s too bad “quality start” has become something of a punching bag for those who want to bemoan how nothing is as good as it used to be. Six innings and three runs — why, that’s a 4.50 ERA! Brand Name Pitcher From My Youth would be rolling over in his grave! I always took the quality start criteria as the bare minimum of what is acceptable. If you go at least six innings and give up no more than three runs, it’s understood you did a pretty decent job of keeping your team in the game. These days, if you did nothing more than go exactly six innings and give up exactly three runs every five days, that wouldn’t sound so bad, either.

DeGrom gave us Sunday parishioners exactly six innings and allowed the Nationals exactly three runs, only two of them earned. He provided the Mets a chance to win. They might have, too, a) had Max Scherzer not been pitching to them and b) if the Mets had eight major league hitters to string together in a batting order. Tough luck for deGrom in terms of attaining a sixteenth win (goodbye, farewell and amen #JdG17in17), but 6 IP 3 R indicates he did his job pretty well. Five hits, no walks and eleven strikeouts emphasizes he did it very well. Sadly, Jose Lobaton harnessed his distinct method of Met-killing to account for one run and Trea Turner perfected laser technology to blast him for two more.

Otherwise, deGrom was a joy to watch from our perennial favorite Last Sunday Afternoon seats in Section 326 (which were available on StubHub at prices rapacious 2009 Citi Field would be rolling over in its resting place from). A few too many pitches early tipped his total past a hundred by the sixth and thus kept him from returning for the seventh — sad that a tip of the cap to a grateful audience couldn’t have been choreographed — but Jake was nonetheless everything he’s been all season: the best reason to watch Mets games, listen to Mets games and attend Mets games. His crossing 200 innings in 2017 was the Met equivalent of Washington (George, not the Nationals) traversing the Delaware in 1776.

There were other things worthy of observation, some of which might have shown up on TV, others for which ya probably had to be there.

• Jose Reyes did his best Jackie Robinson impression, certainly in the vein that Jackie was portrayed by Chadwick Boseman in 42, literally dancing down the third base line to disturb Scherzer with two out in the fourth. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a runner inch as close to home without actually taking off for the plate. Jose kept taunting with his feet, trying to tease a balk while Dominic Smith batted. Anthony Rendon was shifted practically to short, so why not? Only problem was Scherzer never let go of his composure and eventually struck out the rookie. So much for “discombobulating the man,” as young Ed Charles informed his mother in the 2013 biopic. Still, it was delightful gamesmanship and we on the third base side of the action applauded heartily.

• Juan Lagares did his best Juan Lagares impression, which is nothing new, since the more we see Lagares roaming his natural habitat, the more we are reminded he is the best defensive center fielder this franchise has ever featured. Lagares robbed Howie Kendrick in the ninth with a diving grab that is business as usual in Juan’s world. He also enjoyed a swift trip around the bases in the eighth, singling, going first to third on Nori Aoki’s single to left and racing home on Reyes’s single to center. If Juan could run that sort of sequence on a semi-regular basis, you’d find a way to install him in center and leave him there until the Confortos come home. Until then, he lingers within a cache of contemporary Mets who evoke Rafael Santana, patron saint of those who are adequate when everybody else around them approaches excellent. If you had seven other guys who were really good, then you’d just pencil in Lagares and enjoy his defense and take his offense. Thing is, the Mets don’t have seven other guys who are really good.

• It doesn’t get more athletic in the middle of the infield than Reyes at second and Amed Rosario at short. And it doesn’t look less athletic at the corners than Smith at first and Phil Evans at third. They are athletes, they are skilled, they have futures at the highest level of professional baseball…but it is striking how they each — as rookies — appear to have wandered over from a keg-intensive softball game in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. On the other hand, the limber and lithe Rosario seems to display a little less savvy every diamond day. Let’s give everybody a clean slate come spring. This season hasn’t honed anybody to a fine edge, physically or mentally.

• Hansel Robles lives! He threw two solid innings and didn’t kill our vague chances of a comeback! Good for him!

• Cheers to the video board operator for showing multiple replays of Nationals right fielder Victor Robles (born in 1997, a year sources claim took place like five minutes ago) robbing Reyes of two, maybe three bases in the first inning. The wall-crashing play even made the cut later in the afternoon when the Mets presented a sponsored segment of memories of the great times we were in the process of having before we were fully done having them. There was deGrom fanning Nationals left and right. There was Brandon Nimmo homering onto carbonation terrace. And there was, gasp!, a Met not succeeding, perhaps hinting at why the Mets weren’t winning 27-2, which is what the rest of the sponsored highlights implied was the case. I don’t love watching Mets being thwarted, but I respect cracks in the propagandistic veneer. Washington’s Robles, incidentally, fought the right field sun all day, yet was never once foiled by it. Good to know the Nats can substitute so stresslessly for Bryce Harper.

• Fan Appreciation Weekend was a letdown for this fan who didn’t expect much appreciation to begin with. Where was the stilted THANK YOU FANS video? Where were the little-used callups and disgruntled relievers earnestly staring into the camera and telling us how vital we are to their self-esteem? Where was the spliced-in kicker in which David Wright, circa 2012 or whenever he was last in one piece, tells us we’re the greatest fans in the world? It’s cornball, but we like a little sweet talk. While Stephanie and I scratched off cards that entitled us to a discount on tickets for future aggravation, a few fans were presented with really nifty tokens of appreciation. Some guy knew Jack Hamilton was the last Met pitcher to hit a grand slam, and he won a mammoth flat-screen television for his knowledge. You should be rewarded for knowing advanced Mets trivia. Hmm…I wonder if he heard me shouting the answer at him from several hundred feet away. However he got it, good for him. The converse: some guy who couldn’t identify which year Doc Gooden won his Cy Young wasn’t escorted from the building for lack of basic Mets historical comprehension. I’m pretty sure my groan could be picked up by LaGuardia air traffic control.

• I realize the “Piano Man” singalong is weirdly polarizing, but I think we can all agree popping in an image of Terry Collins’s head on the video board when the lyrics “and the manager gives me a smile” come up was a stroke of cleverness above and beyond what usually airs in-house at Citi Field. On Sunday, though, there was “Piano Man,” but there was no manager. They edited out TC. Kremlinologists would judge this the surest sign that some other manager will be giving us the facial expression next season.

• An unidentified man was visible on the big screen during the latter innings modeling a Faith and Fear t-shirt, the one with all the nifty retired numbers. I call this man a hero. You can wear what he wore if you click here [3] or here [4].

• About twenty minutes prior to first pitch, Stephanie and I were partaking of our rare treat Shake Shack repast (the lines are as short as the tickets are cheap this September) in the Whatever Casino It’s Named For Now Club when I could make out faintly over the PA the voice of Bobby Darin. It was our old Shea staple “Sunday in New York [5]” beckoning to us to come out and play already. “Sunday in New York” used to get its weekly spin during the game, but has in recent seasons been consigned to pregame duty. No matter. The Mets have troubles? We take them out for a walk; big Citi taking a nap, indeed. The Shake Shack was sublime, but we couldn’t keep Bobby waiting any longer. We bussed our table and hit the concourse to take in his final verse and chorus on the final Sunday in New York of 2017 when we could be where we most wanted to be. The Mets were 1-8 on Sunday afternoons at home entering the day and were about to turn 1-9. In our hearts, however, we remained undefeated.