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Wilmer the Weekend Walkoff Warrior

The Mets flirted with history several times on Sunday. Losing two in a row for the first time in 2018 would have been historic. No need to make that kind of history. Noah Syndergaard approached Tom Seaver’s major league record for consecutive strikeouts. Tom, as every schoolchild knows (I was in first grade then and I knew), struck out the last ten Padres he faced on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day. The earth moved from all the wind power the Padres produced.

The way Thor was going, the opportunity to tie Tom seemed within reach. So did a no-hitter. So did a pair of fur-lined mittens if the equipment guys were doing their job. Everybody wore 42 and shivered at wind chills in the 30s. Thor’s imagined Nordic background made him the ideal pitcher to keep blowing Brewers away.

Syndergaardian history was not meant to be. As soon as Hernan Perez made fair contact to lead off the fifth, the strikeout skein was over. As soon the ball landed in the outfield, the no-hitter was over. As soon as the scoreboard was glimpsed, it was remembered the game was not over. The Mets led, 1-0, on Todd Frazier’s first-inning RBI single, which was better than being tied or trailing, yet it was shaping up as one of those afternoons when the Mets seemed imposing but the game wasn’t being put away. Sort of like the Mets — behind Seaver’s 10 straight K’s and 19 overall — holding on to edge the Padres on April 22, 1970, 2-1 rather than 20-1. Sort of like the Mets — despite Jacob deGrom striking out the first eight Marlins he faced — bowing to the Marlins on September 15, 2014, 6-5. Mets pitchers being literally untouchable should discourage opponents more, shouldn’t it?

All those consecutive K’s didn’t disqualify the Brewers from competing. They bundled up, kept swinging and disrupted history. Syndergaard would have to settle for being one of only three Mets pitchers to strike out eight or more consecutive batters in a game. Not a bad club to be a part of. Sort of like the first-place 2018 Mets.

The 2018 Mets held off the Brewers into the sixth despite approximately 2,018 Mets being left on base, despite Noah’s brilliance, which not coincidentally contributed to his pitch count. You remember the fuss raised by the number of pitches Seaver threw when he struck out nineteen Padres? Neither do I. Syndergaard struck out eleven, threw 101 pitches and was removed with one on and out in the sixth. It wasn’t surprising. It’s 2018.

Robert Gsellman entered in Noah’s place. Milwaukee looked at who was on the mound and decided the pitcher was a matter neither hair nor there. Everything was blowing in the wind, not just our hurlers’ ’dos. The Mets’ one-run lead made like a hot dog wrapper and got caught in an unfortunate gust. Lorenzo Cain greeted Gsellman by walking. Forgive Matt Harvey in the dugout and Mets fans everywhere for reflexively groaning.

There had been just enough defense all day when Thor wasn’t striking out Brewers to keep the visitors off the board. With two out and the bases loaded, there wasn’t. A wide throw from Amed Rosario enabled two Brewers to cross the plate with the tying and go-ahead runs. Cain was the second of them. Eric Hosmer wasn’t the first. Consider heaven thanked for small favors.

That’s bad history running on the field of my subconscious. Please have security tackle it when it’s done searching some poor sap’s bag for open bottles of water.

Time to flirt with better Mets history. Down 2-1, Brandon Nimmo led off the home sixth with a home run. Nimmo, who had already tied a record for the shortest, perhaps most pointless demotion to Las Vegas ever (maybe they needed his smile to help light up the Strip), was now in contention to join the Mets Cycle Club. He had singled in the first and scored, and tripled in the fourth and didn’t. The bizarro three-bag element was out of the way and the longest shot was in the books. All Nimmo needed was a doable double. Ten previous Mets had cycled. The most recent of them were Jose Reyes (2006) and Scott Hairston (2012), both in losses. As with striking out batter after batter, their four hits in service to defeat were reminders that fancy batting feats don’t necessarily guarantee pleasing standings news.

Spoiler alert: Nimmo never doubled Sunday, the temperatures never rose and the Brewers didn’t go away. After the Mets left their twelfth runner of the day on base in the sixth, the Brewers kept Mets relievers busy and Mets fans angsty. Gsellman gave up a hit, got an out and left the game as the top of the seventh commenced. AJ Ramos threw a wild pitch, walked Jonathan Villar, made a fabulous play to turn a difficult ground ball into a 1-3 out and then walked Cain. As pitchers went, Ramos was a dynamite infielder. Jerry Blevins then came on for one of his sharper cameos, grounding out Travis Shaw to end the Brewers’ threat.

In another context, “the Brewers’ threat” would have you wary of your beer. On Sunday, you gripped your hot chocolate and wondered what happened to spring…and which one was 42 again?

The Mets sandwiched a successful Hansel Robles inning (he still has those) with two punchless turns at bat. The top of the ninth brought Jeurys Familia to the mound without a lead; Terry Collins must have been turning over in his special advisor’s office. Had this game gone on to extra innings…oh wait, this was a home game, and the save is of theoretical concern only on the road. Either way, let’s get through the top of the ninth, Mickey Callaway reasoned. And Familia did as assigned, striking out two, walking one, being complicit in a stolen base (Mets pitchers and catchers need to stop that) and grounding out Jesus Aguilar for the final out.

In the bottom of the ninth, with two out, nobody on and extras/frostbite beckoning, history tapped a Met on the shoulder once more. The Met wore No. 42. That didn’t help identify him. Oh wait, that’s Wilmer Flores, part-time first baseman and all-time clutch hero. History of the walkoff home run variety knows him very well. It knew him better once Wilmer sent grim 2016 memory Matt Albers [1]’s fourth pitch over the left field fence. Even on the coldest game day in Flushing since O.J. Simpson rushed past 2,000 yards, even when you can’t tell the players with a scoreboard, that’ll end a game with a 3-2 win [2].

Walkoff Wilmer did it again! Like when he walloped Washington [3]! Like when he offed Oakland [4]! Better yet, Walkoff Wilmer did it on a Sunday! Why is that better? Other than it was Sunday, so doing it on a Thursday wouldn’t have helped? For aficionado reasons solely, but if you like this stuff, you’ll like finding out.

First off, thanks to Ultimate Mets Database, we know Wilmer Flores became only the twelfth Met to author three or more walkoff home runs as a Met. That’s a private society worthy of smoking jackets, innerwear that certainly would have been put to good use Sunday under all the other layers.

The establishing member of the fraternity Walka Offa Thrice (WOT) was the best hitter the Mets organization produced during its first two decades, Cleon Jones. Jones socked four walkoff home runs between 1966 and 1971. Then along came Steve Henderson, who if you forget why he was a Met was a shall we say terrific Met. He went deep to win a game on June 21, 1977 — six days after June 15 — and then twice in 1980, most notably on June 14, a.k.a. the Steve Henderson Game. Before Henderson arrived from Cincinnati in the same flurry of trades that sent Dave Kingman to San Diego, Kingman won the Mets two games with last powerful swings, in 1975 and 1976. After Henderson had been traded to the Cubs for, yup, Kingman, Dave did it again: on June 10, 1983. Five days later, Frank Cashen would trade for Sky’s first base replacement, Keith Hernandez, and Kingman all but walked off the scene.

The next great slugger in Mets history was emerging by then and was in full bloom two years later when the next member of WOT got going on his application. Darryl Strawberry launched his first walkoff homer early in the 1985 season to beat the Reds; enhanced his credentials three years later with another sticking of it to Cincinnati; and saw a different shade of red when he beat the Cardinals with one swing in September of 1990, his last month as a Met. Like Kingman, he knew how to get about going out on a high note.

During Strawberry’s reign, two other Mets showed last-swing depth: Howard Johnson hit three walkoff home runs between 1988 and 1991, while Kevin McReynolds hit four, one each year from 1988 to 1991. Let’s go live to the clubhouse to hear McReynolds’ thoughts on having just won those four games…oh, he’s already showered, dress and outta here!

Many of the Mets who were part of championship (division or higher) teams were gone by 1992, but on the scene to make us forget the likes of Strawberry and McReynolds — Hojo was still around — was Bobby Bonilla. You know how well that worked out. Or do you? Bobby Bo is a WOT man, too, beating the Reds on a Sunday night in August of 1992 (the Mets and Cincinnati were wearing 1962 throwbacks, which meant losing pitcher Rob Dibble could theatrically tear off his classic vest and fling it to the grass in disgust) and the Pirates and Dodgers in ’93. The latter blasts would star in the 1993 Mets’ highlight film, which I would highly recommend, but I think the Motion Picture Academy of America burned the only copy.

In the mid-1990s, Metsopotamia hungered for a home run hero, and fate filled that roster spot with Chris Jones. Yes, Chris Jones. Not Cleon Jones. Chris Jones did one thing very well in his two seasons as a Met, and it’s why he’s in this article. Not three, but four walkoff homers emanated off the fellow’s bat, two in ’95 and two in ’96. It’s a figure matched in Met annals only by the “other” Jones, McReynolds and the next Met enjoying a hearty chuckle in the four-or-more section of the club, Mike Piazza. Mike wove his walkoff magic between 1999 and 2004. He’s in the Hall of Fame as a Met. Read all about it here [5].

Carlos Beltran, who joined the Mets when Mike was still a Met, hit three walkoff home runs between 2006 and 2008, the period when the phrase “walkoff home run” gained currency in baseball. Beltran overlapped with Ike Davis, who slugged dramatically three times between 2010 and 2014, and Davis (last reported trying his hand at pitching) overlapped with Flores. The walkoff circle will remain unbroken, even if the ties these gentlemen broke didn’t.

Being one of only twelve Mets to produce as many as three walkoff home runs is historic enough for us and Wilmer. There have been 1,047 Mets to date, meaning 1,035 haven’t done it. Not even Seaver. But what makes Flores’s flourishes all the freakier, I believe, is he hit his on a Friday night, a Saturday night and a Sunday afternoon. Only the first Jones — Cleon — marked every weekend box that way (his last two were two Saturdays a week apart), but only Flores did it in its natural calendar order: Friday versus the Nats in ’15, Saturday versus the A’s in ’17, Sunday versus the Brew Crew in the year of our sizzling 12-2 start, 2018. Wilmer’s is the lost verse of “Working For The Weekend,” which makes sense since he’s our Loverboy.

We certainly love how he spends his weekends with us.