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Regular Season, Damn It

Remember when Jose Reyes not getting hits and Matt Harvey not getting outs were the Mets’ only pressing problems? Good times.

The Reyes some of us stubbornly love and remember returned Saturday night in Atlanta, tweeting playfully “Jose Reyes will get a hit” eleven times in one tweet and making good on his forecast, going 3-for-4 and scoring one of the three runs the Mets put on the board in the eighth to furnish the just-removed Jacob deGrom with the lead he deserved after matching zeroes with Julio Teheran all night long. The Mets had a 3-0 lead that was primed for expansion, though construction was promptly curtailed. Maybe Mickey Callaway could have pinch-hit for the other Jose — Lobaton — with the bases loaded, but maybe you want to show your contingency catcher you have some faith in his abilities. In the course of a season, even the course of a week, you can’t give up on any of your players or either of your Joses.

Lobaton lined out to end the visitors’ eighth, leaving the Mets ahead, 3-0. Anybody who stepped away from the action for a spell had to be confident of the outcome. Anybody watching from the bullpen, including a recently deposed starter, probably figured the outcome was making its way to book-putting. None of Saturday night’s affair was on Matt Harvey, but he was its mental focus when little else, besides excellent starting pitching emanating from the arms of others, was in progress. On Saturday afternoon, Callaway announced that in the game of rotation musical chairs necessitated by the nearly complete physical rehabilitation of Jason Vargas, it would be Harvey who’d be left standing and told to take a hike out to the Mets’ bullpen.

So he did. In the early innings, the PIX11 cameras found the Dark Knight trailing behind Jerry Blevins to his new seat, hundreds of feet from where starters traditionally kill time when they’re not starting. Harvey was no longer with Syndergaard, Wheeler and Matz. He was with teammates whose names he probably knows but doesn’t usually socialize with in-game. Blevins, accustomed to the world out there, jovially bumped fists with his penmates upon his entrance. Harvey looked lost. He offered up his knuckles, but without conviction. He sat down on one of the bleacher planks SunTrust Bank offers to its out-of-town relievers and…well, one can only infer what he was thinking.

Before the game, Harvey let us know he was “pissed off” to the 10th degree, even while acknowledging that he had to “get my shit in order”. The Mets would be broadcast on over-the-air television, but Matt was laying it out there in language better suited to an HBO special. When words like “scapula,” “thoracic” and “Tommy John” are added to the vocabulary people apply to you, you’re entitled to say what you want, how you want.

But you’re not entitled to not embrace the opportunity to revamp yourself as a reassigned relief pitcher. I hope that’s what Matt does despite his starter state of mind. He clearly doesn’t want to be out there where Robles gives way to Bautista, and Bautista gives way to Oswalt. Matt Harvey has never been an interchangeable piece of the Mets puzzle. For what amounted to forever, he was in the middle of the picture on the front of the box. Who pitched the division-clincher in 2015? Who started and won the first-ever postseason game at Citi Field? Who took the ball in the first inning the last time the Mets were in the World Series and who still had it in the ninth?

That was Matt Harvey. That was three years ago. That was, essentially, another era. We understand that Matt probably feels misplaced in the bullpen. We can’t blame him for initially looking around as if absorbing that this is one nightspot where he can’t order bottle service [1]. But he needs — for himself, for his team, for the fans who follow along — to pull back the hood, shake off the sulk and pitch in his new role as best he can. Maybe it leads him back to starting. Maybe it creates a new competency for him as a lights-out reliever. Maybe it compels Scott Boras to text Sandy Alderson and demand accelerated resolution to Harvey’s Mets career.

Saturday night I flashed back to Dave Kingman, specifically after June 15, 1983, the day we got Keith Hernandez. Keith turned the franchise around as much as any one player ever did from that moment forward (going on to revolutionize social media with his Hadji the Cat videos [2]), but Hernandez’s taking the wheel left Dave by the side of the road for the rest of that season. Kingman, the greatest slugger the Mets had ever had, wasn’t exactly lighting up Shea in ’83, but through June 14, Dave had belted 12 homers and had driven in 23 runs. The rest of the season, Dave homered once and registered four RBIs. Mostly he sat and stared.

The 1983 Mets began 6-15 with no immediate aspirations of contending. An indifferent Dave Kingman (who viewed Keith Hernandez, per Keith’s first book, as “my ticket out of here”) probably wasn’t a great example for younger players, but it wasn’t like his marginal presence was diminishing the team’s chances. The 2018 Mets have begun 14-6 and need everybody on point. For all my faith in Jose Reyes finding his footing from the end of the bench, I, too, wondered when the hell he would stop hitting .000 and rocket to .125. But I knew he’d keep striving to get off the schneid and pledged my patience to his quest. I hope Harvey and his 6.00 ERA legitimately inspire similar faith once he’s tapped to get up from his seat and start warming up.

Because the Mets could use some help out there. Those diehard Mets fans who might have allowed themselves to step away from the aforementioned action Saturday night were probably so filled with brio from the Mets’ mid-eighth 3-0 lead that could have been 5-0 that it didn’t occur to them whatsoever that whoever followed deGrom’s seven innings of four-hit, two-walk, ten-strikeout ball wouldn’t simply continue Jake’s good work. This one seemed to be in deBag.

Imagine the element of surprise inherent in checking the line score a while later; processing that two runs in the bottom of the eighth and two runs in the bottom of the ninth added up to four for the Braves, while the Mets hadn’t budged from the three they already had; and then calculating that the Mets had lost, 4-3, to the stupid Braves [3].

Yeah, imagine that.

A lot of surprise, then a little DVR reconnaissance when next fully awake and engaged. AJ Ramos, whose arrival from Miami in 2017 bears no historical resemblance to Keith Hernandez’s from St. Louis in 1983, walked two of three batters. Blevins, who bumps fists better than he douses fires lately, gave up a double to Freddie Freeman, whose wrist willed itself to wellness after getting hit the other night because he knew the Mets would be swinging by. Freeman’s blow off Blevins edged the Braves to within one. Jeurys Familia rode to the rescue to keep the Mets ahead to end the eighth.

Then Familia hung around to nudge the Braves ahead in the ninth. Granted, the damaging glances were delivered in fairly novel fashion.

• There was a ground ball triple under the second baseman’s glove.

• There was a line drive knockdown by the third baseman.

• There was a drag bunt single that had to be executed beautifully (or brutally, depending on your rooting interest) to be recorded as effective.

But there was also a frigging four-ball walk to Dansby Swanson to begin the inning and there was nothing upon further video review to indicate Jeurys would be any better than lucky to escape. So no wonder Johan Camargo wound up on third via the grounder heretofore offensive hero Asdrubal Cabrera couldn’t corral and distant outfielders Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce couldn’t easily track down. No wonder Kurt Suzuki got an infield single on the liner Todd Frazier knocked down but didn’t recover with enough alacrity or awareness to either throw out Suzuki or tag out Camargo. And no wonder, with one out, Ender Inciarte laid down his beautifully brutal bunt to push home Camargo one batter later. Adrian Gonzalez fielded it cleanly, but it was no use. It was Inciarte versus the Mets. Ender Inciarte is the name Chipper Jones’s son Shea adopted once he grew up to torture the Mets, I’m pretty sure.

That made it two horribly blown games in one week for the Mets. The first, against Washington on Monday night [4] (also a waste of deGrominance), felt extra horrible because it punctured the hot air balloon in which we fancied ourselves floating above the National League for the next six months. It was laughable to believe we would stay aloft like that the length of an entire season, but we were 12-2, winning every game it appeared we’d be losing and emitting virtual invincibility. All we needed, we told each other, was more Hadji videos and less Jose Reyes. It was also laughable [5] to believe that the descent on Monday foretold a steady plunge through the earth to depths explored painfully and without pause in 2017. We were just having trouble dealing with a loss like that, especially to the Nats, because our sample size of success had our perspective fiercely askew.

The second…the second is one of those horrible games for which subtext is minimal. It was just a lousy loss amid what had been set up as a spectacular win. We understand those happen in a season that isn’t heaven-sent. When we were 12-2, we thought this might be one of years gifted from the gods. Now we’re 14-6 and sense it isn’t. Doesn’t mean it’s the direct opposite. It probably means it’s just a regular season, fate to be determined, the kind of season that when you step away from it for a couple of innings, you don’t have to assume the worst, but you can’t automatically assume the best. The bullpen needs help. The catchers don’t hit. And nobody’s perfect.

It’s not the easiest kind of season to take, but we never step away for very long.

We suggest you tune into Madam Secretary tonight on CBS and pay close attention to the scene that unfolds under a movie theater marquee. If you require an explanation, we provide a detailed one here [6].