A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
Baseball gives you what came before, what’s going on and what will come next. Life does that, too, I suppose, but as Casey Stengel might have put it to a Congressional subcommittee, I am not here to argue about other states of being, I am in a baseball state of mind. To reside there as resolutely as I do, I have to be able to glide gracefully among what came before, what’s going on and what will come next.
Baseball seasons are ideal for navigating such an existential three-division format, even a baseball season as unideal as that just completed by the New York Mets of 2017, who finished 70-92, 27 games from first place in their division and 17 games from a playoff spot in their league. Perhaps it would be more polite to refer to the Mets as having finished, period.
But I like knowing and remembering every season’s final record. I know and have remembered every final record from each of the Mets’ now 56 seasons (including both halves and the composite if contextually meaningless total from the 1981 split season). A season’s record amounts to its name, rank and serial number. If you can’t tell anything else about a season, you should be able to identify it by its wins, its losses and its standing. In less militaristic terms, consider those vital stats the bus pass pinned to your first grader’s windbreaker to make sure the season can find its way home should it go wandering off god knows where. In the Mets’ case, anybody squinting to make out 70-92 would know to inform the driver to drop these children off in fourth place where they belong.
Incidentally, the 2017 Mets’ mark was precedented in franchise history. Seventy and Ninety-Two was also cobbled together in 2009, a season mostly recalled for a strange new stadium and a bizarre rash of injuries. Eight years later, the stadium seems neither strange nor new. The rash is hauntingly familiar.
This year’s record was recorded steadily. After the briefest prelude of promise, the numbers got bad, then worse, then declined steeply. We were never in it in 2017. We never close to in it. “It,” if you’re not clear, is what we were in the previous two seasons. We were in it in 2015 and 2016, we emerged brilliantly from it and, after those years’ 162 games were complete, we weren’t being terribly reflective about it because we had games to anticipate ASAP. One game last year. A whole bunch the year before.
Gads, that was fun. That was fun we hadn’t had in the strange new stadium when the stadium was still strange and new. It was so much fun that it allowed me to allow the Mets some slack this year…a year that was basically no fun. Yes, 2017 Humpty Dumptyed early, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men definitely seemed more focused on selling off the pieces for minor league relievers than putting the ballclub together again. But who could burn with disdain after 2015 and 2016, which — following 2009 and its statistical facsimiles — seemed so surprising in producing their bounties of joy?
You could, maybe, but I couldn’t. What came before cushioned the blow when the Mets took their great fall.
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together
The last time the 2017 New York Mets had something, if not much, going on was Sunday, the occasion of their 162nd game. It occurred in Philadelphia between 3:11 in the afternoon and 6:20 in the evening. The Phillies scored eleven runs. The Mets facilitated them generously.
Noah Syndergaard  used the game as the platform for his second abbreviated rehab start. When Syndergaard partially tore his right lat muscle and inadvertently shredded the Mets’ chances to contend, there was some informed speculation that he’d be back in July, maybe a little before the All-Star break, maybe a little after it. I told somebody I figured we wouldn’t see him pitching until the beginning of August, yet as soon as I said it, I decided I was being wildly optimistic. Since when does a Met come back from injury only a little behind schedule?
Thor looked great for two innings against the last-place Phillies, just like he looked fine a week before versus the clinched & unconcerned Nationals. He threw hard and he didn’t grab any section of his anatomy in agony. It means he’s healthier than he was during the heart of 2017, which is an encouraging sign for 2018. But 2018 is a light year away.
The rest of the starting lineup for the last game of the old year was young enough to make Syndergaard look like a hardened veteran. Actually, Syndergaard was pretty much the hardened veteran of the group. Nobody among his eight fielders had played a game as a Met before 2016. Save for stopgap right fielder Nori Aoki, none of them had played a game in the major leagues before 2016. It was a feast of potential when viewed through the prism of playing the youngsters en masse and seeing what we’ve got.
The Phillies, however, did all the feasting, stomping the Mets  on their way out of town, 11-0 (on a Sunday, natch). Once Noah threw his preapproved 26 pitches, no Met looked particularly ready for prime time. Amed Rosario took an ohfer and saw his batting average dip below .250. Dominic Smith appeared baffled by the niceties of first base and watched his average slide beneath .200. And they’re the hot prospects.
Just one game, probably the most insignificant game they or their teammates will ever play in (the good lord willing). Still, not the note anybody wants to say goodbye to a season on. Or, perhaps, exactly the note on which this season deserved to be bid good riddance.
A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace
A time to refrain from embracing
The first Mets lineup managed by Terry Collins:
The last Mets lineup managed by Terry Collins:
Full circle? Well, no. The 2011 Mets were trying to put their best foot forward  on Opening Night at Sun Life Stadium, a.k.a. every other random combination of sponsored words scattered about South Florida. Three of those Mets tasked with taking on the Marlins were the still extant core of the Shea’s last division champions from five years before. Two others were former first-round draft choices in whom a decent quantity of hope remained invested. Yet another had enjoyed a breakout season the season before.
Admit it, though. The name that jumps out at you from the first batch is Brad Emaus. Terry Collins may have had some residual talent from the 2006 Mets at his disposal along with a few pieces he could picture building on, but to begin his new assignment, the type he’d been craving a shot at for more than a decade, he’d had bestowed on him as a welcome-to-the-neighborhood gift a Rule 5 second baseman who’d never played in the majors before April 1, 2011, and wouldn’t play in the majors after April 17, 2011.
Here ya go, Terry. Knock yourself out.
Carlos Beltran was never going to finish 2011 as a Met. He was traded in late July. Ike Davis didn’t finish 2011. He tripped on the Coors Field mound in May and, metaphorically speaking, never really got up. Jose Reyes gave Terry a heckuva season, winning the NL batting title, and then made the snappiest exit imaginable. Angel Pagan didn’t live up to his 2010. Mike Pelfrey barely saw 2012. Josh Thole wasn’t a long-term answer. Willie Harris was Nori Aoki. David Wright was David Wright for as long as he could be, though not that much in 2011.
Collins kept molding lineups from rosters that were, for the most part, more Emaus than Wright, more au revoir than arrival, less able than cost-effective. The records crafted on his watch were not impressive. 77-85. 74-88. 74-88 again. 79-83. He managed those teams. Those are his records, too. Thing is, if you watched those Mets from 2011 through 2014, you knew for damn sure that those could have been, maybe should have been tangibly worse.
The manager was eventually given some keepers. He and his coaches did some cultivating, some strategizing, some tacticianing, even. Terry never seemed willing to yield ground to circumstances. The bit where the Mets are decimated by injuries didn’t pause in 2009 and resume in 2017. It was a chronic pain that inflicted the organization more years than not. Lineups had to be constructed from whole Emaus (or its generic equivalent) in the middle of 2015. Eric Campbell. John Mayberry, Jr. Darrell Ceciliani. And so forth. Lots of so forth.
Terry’s team held the fort. Then the fort was fortified, and before we could blink, the perpetually lousy Mets were the first-place Mets. After we blinked, they were division champions (90-72) for the first time in nine years, winning two playoff series and a pennant. Terry Collins was a World Series manager.
For an encore, he had to stitch together another team from ragged material, with almost everybody of import hurt at one point or another during 2016 (somebody should really look into how that keeps happening). Yet when the Wild Cards were dealt, Terry Collins’s 87-75 Mets found themselves in hard-earned possession of one. Two years, two Octobers.
Then came 2017 and its rapid descent to 70-92, which also goes on Collins’s record. More losses than wins overall, even if prior to 2015 there weren’t as many losses as could be expected. Overall, across seven seasons, it qualified as a Larry David kind of performance. Pretty, pretty good.
Published reports indicated some combination of Jeff Wilpon, Sandy Alderson and a host of unnamed sources curbed their enthusiasm for Terry Collins. There was no doubt the 162nd game of 2017, coinciding with the expiration of his contract, would be his last as Mets manager. It would have been sweet had his team produced a goodbye bang as loud as those the “POP!” sound those champagne corks made a year and two earlier.
A season of this nature, along with his stewardship, was destined to end with a whimper.
TC’s final lineup did not represent a best foot forward, but it was the 162nd game, a time to play the kids (an impulse Terry managed to control consistently during September). Still, Collins could be forgiven Brad Emaus flashbacks. The starting nine together had accumulated 61 career major league home runs entering Sunday’s action, or two more than Giancarlo Stanton hit this season. Aoki had 33 of them, all in other uniforms. Smith had nine. Syndergaard had four.
The kiddie corps didn’t save Collins’s job, but the Mets saved corporate face and preserved their manager’s dignity, announcing officially after the game that Terry will stay in the organization  in some vague front office capacity. This is a victory for decorum and a triumph over business as usual. Throwing managers overboard and under buses is Met reflex. Stengel was granted a VP title following his 1965 retirement. Interim skippers Roy McMillan, Frank Howard and Mike Cubbage returned to coaching duty. Everybody else who lived to tell of having been a Mets manager was told to take a hike.
Terry, in the end, wasn’t. It wasn’t smooth, and the details on what his forthcoming role entails are vague, but the man who managed the Mets to the postseason twice and a league championship once managed the most Amazin’ feat of all: he managed not to be kicked to the curb.
A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love…
After Gavin Cecchini made the last out of the Terry Collins era and 2017 got itself put in the books, SNY’s cameras lingered for a while on the Mets dugout. One of the players who was in no rush to leave was Reyes. Reyes 2.0. Not the Reyes who didn’t want one more minute on the field on September 28, 2011, lest his .337 batting average (and accompanying free agent value) encounter danger, but Reyes in a warmup jacket, sitting in deference to Cecchini and the almost all-young’n lineup. Jose batted .246 in 2017. Six years older than he was when he won the batting title, he didn’t appear itching to get going.
Neither did Asdrubal Cabrera, who, like Reyes, constituted what little fiber there was to this team on a daily basis once everybody else of tenure was traded or waived. You could take issue with Collins choosing to play Reyes instead of Cecchini as much as he did in the final weeks, or wonder why he leaned on Cabrera instead of testing Phil Evans a little more, but you had to admire the veteran remnants of the 2016 playoff drive for keeping it coming. I certainly did. On Saturday night, Cabrera hit the game-winning home run and thus wore the crown and robe the 2017 Mets awarded to their player of the game. They only gave them out when they won, so after a while hardly anybody wore them. I was impressed the Mets bothered to pack the silly clubhouse accoutrement for this last trip. I was more impressed they had cause to unpack it.
Reyes. Cabrera. First base coach Tom Goodwin. The cameras caught them hanging around chatting with each other, probably for the last time they’ll do that dressed as Mets together. And I caught myself hanging around to watch them hanging around. It’s something I’m skilled at.
There’s what’s come before. There’s what’s going on. And there’s what will come next. I’m great at the first part. I’m all right at the second. The third? Cripes, as Terry Collins liked to say when he managed the Mets for seven years, I haven’t the faintest idea.
But boy do I look forward to what will come next. I don’t mean that in the how many days to Pitchers & Catchers and has anyone seen the revised MLB Pipeline rankings? sense as much as I mean it in the immediate hey, the pregame show will be on pretty soon! sense. Looking forward to what was coming next was my favorite reflex of the 2017 season. With rare exception, I actually actively anticipated most every game the Mets played this year.
These Mets. This year.
I knew we weren’t in it and I knew we weren’t going to get back in it, but I didn’t care that much. There was going to be a Mets game. There were going to be Mets playing baseball and me watching and listening and noticing and considering all that was going on in the scope of what had come before. And I got to do it practically every day or night for six months. Not had to, but got to.
More often than not, the games themselves wound up dissatisfying. But more often than not, the whole thing culminated in me being here with you. That was extremely satisfying. I really looked forward to that. So thank you for another season of being a part of my season. And thank you in advance for whatever will come next as we turn, turn, turn  the page toward 2018.