Seth Lugo  going four innings and giving up no runs as a starter after two months doing nothing but relieving was inspirational. Brandon Nimmo  homering fair directly after homering foul was inspirational. Scott Copeland  — with Tim Peterson  one half of the Who? Brothers Show Band and Revue — acquitted himself nicely from out of nowhere and that can surely be interpreted as inspirational. Devin Mesoraco  hanging in there behind the plate despite absorbing another backswing was an inspiration. So was Michael Conforto  finding a fly ball after a moment of apparent panic beneath the misty, murky skies of Citi Field.
You know what wasn’t inspiring? The Mets overall Thursday night, as they lost to the Cubs at home , 5-1. While one can take morsels of inspiration from certain aspects of individual achievement, the team as a whole produced a performance worthy of the fog that enshrouded the playing field. You were better off not seeing the whole thing.
When it was over, the Mets were again a .500 ballclub, finishing May and the first third of their season at 27-27. That’s an inspiring record to file away if it could have been worse or has very recently been worse. We know in 2017 the Mets fell away from .500 early and never remotely neared it by the time the final third of the season dragged itself onto the calendar. We know the Mets of 2018 have often played like a team incapable of winning as many as it loses, yet, thanks to Sandy Alderson’s somewhat defensive pronouncement  Thursday afternoon, we recognize the Mets as having lately practiced a modestly inspiring brand of equilibrium. In suggesting the media (and fans) quit harping on the Mets’ pace slowing from the now ancient torrid tear that commenced 2018, Sandy said, “I’ll bet you nobody remembers that we’re 8-8 in the last sixteen games, which, given everything that’s happened, is almost as incredible as the 11-1 start, considering what we’ve lost, how we’ve lost, and the players we don’t have.”
Actually, the Mets were 9-9 in their previous 18 entering Thursday, and if the general manager wants to split a cookie more than 25 ways among all the players responsible for keeping the club barely seaworthy when it looked like they’d sink off the shores of Flushing Bay, he is welcome to distribute the crumbs accordingly. I’m not sure winning nine of eighteen (now nineteen) was a goal for the organization, but sometimes you should celebrate what you can. I remember being thrilled by 23-24 and 26-27 clubs when I was my matriculating my high school grades, hopeful that they weren’t bound to conclude those respective years of 1978 and 1980 at 66-96 and 67-95…which they were. The Mets have spent recent weeks losing a starting outfielder, a starting infielder, two starting pitchers and too many games on the backs of terrible relievers, yet they’re not as dead as widely portrayed.
Huzzah! They’re .500!
It doesn’t feel like a celebratory occasion, based both on the elephantine 11-1 start in the room and just how resoundingly crummy they’ve been when losing one for every one they’re winning. It doesn’t even feel like some great achievement after 2017, which was supposed to be an aberration in the aftermath of two playoff campaigns. The perpetual injury wave (another perception bugaboo of Alderson’s) has presented an impediment to progress. You don’t rationally expect injuries to keep happening, even if we are conditioned to expect exactly that. Maybe somewhere else this guy, that guy and a couple of other guys missing some time here and there wouldn’t amount to a trend. For the Mets, it’s a recurring way of life.
Yet here we are, not only at .500 but not certifiably comatose within the National League East. We started May in first place. We end it in fourth, but only five games out. Five out one-third of the way through extrapolates to fifteen out when it’s all over, but that’s not the way to look at it. The way to look at it is 108 games remain to make up a surmountable patch of ground. To make that theory operative, the Mets have to play somewhat better for four months and the three rivals ahead of them have to play somewhat worse (factor in Wild Card possibilities as you choose). It’s not a great inspiration, but it’s something.
Here’s something else. The Mets have been here before. They’ve been exactly .500 exactly 54 games into the season four times: 1999, 2004, 2008 and 2010. In 1999, they were in freefall, having been 27-20 a little over a week earlier. The losing streak that would devour three of Bobby Valentine’s coaches and leave room for the manager was about to crest. The Mets bottomed out at 27-28; Valentine declared he should be dead meat if he didn’t lead his team to 40 victories in their next 55 engagements; and, lo and behold, the Mets went off and posted a 40-15 record, putting their flirtation with .500 in a distant rearview mirror. We remember 97-66 1999 as fondly as any year that didn’t result in a trophy festooned with a couple of dozen or so flags.
The other .500 one-thirds ended less happily. The Mets were messily but determinedly putting their 2004 together at this juncture fourteen years ago. After a 9-15 start under the decidedly uninspiring Art Howe, they had accomplished a great deal in not losing more than they’d won. 2002 and 2003 were horror shows. 2004 was at least getting watchable. They’d continue their one step up/one step back march along Mediocrity Way well into July, hewing so close to legitimate contention that they’d make the kinds of trades they thought a contender might make. Scott Kazmir went in one of those trades. Jose Bautista  was trafficked in the other. The 2004 Mets soon disintegrated. The 2018 Mets have Jose Bautista and he made a nice, perhaps inspiring catch against the Cubs last night.
The 2008 Mets were supposed to rise high above .500. Fifty-four games in they were stuck in mud left over from the 5-12 finish that made 2007’s 88-74 total look no better than 2004’s 71-91. Howe’s successor Willie Randolph was given fifteen more games to push the Mets upward…then a one-way ticket on an eastbound 747 when he didn’t. Jerry Manuel eventually guided the Mets triumphantly past .500 in 2008, to 89-73. Alas, it was a little shy of the preferred destination, which is to say another year one painful game shy of the playoffs, but Manuel proved his mettle.
Two years later, a .500 record one-third of the way through didn’t seem so bad, which tells you how bad 2009 (precursor of 2017) was. Those 2010 Mets surprised and delighted us for about half a season, then consigned us to the nearly bottomless pit of despair we kind of expected all along. That team’s — and Manuel’s — final record was 79-83. Looks better than it was.
Four different .500 clubs at this stage of the season, four different results. One was great. One wasn’t quite good enough. Two came off as disasters. We don’t know where we’re going from this 27-27 rest stop, but we do know we could be worse.
Huzzah once more for .500! Now maybe climb above it and stay above it.