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Uncomfortably Numb

In a better season, Friday night’s loss to the Dodgers would have been one of those defeats that made you say vile things, hurl a remote, and then brood and mutter. In this season, it barely elicited a sigh. Yep, those are the Mets and the Mets are losing. Who’s surprised? Who, at this point, is still capable of getting angry about it?

If you squint — a phrase I’ve used a lot this year — you can see some good things, despite it all. Michael Conforto [1] shouldn’t be playing center field, but he did make a highlight-reel catch, flinging himself across the warning track in left-center to temporarily save Zack Wheeler [2]‘s bacon. The catch was great; I was even happier about Conforto’s little-kid grin as he trotted back to the dugout, getting attaboys and back slaps from his teammates.

Keep squinting, and you could say that Wheeler seems to be learning and growing as a pitcher this season, working more quickly and pitching more effectively. But pitchers’ learning processes are rarely unbroken inclines — they come with dips and setbacks. And one of those was enough to doom Wheeler and his team.

The fatal inning was the sixth. Wheeler’s eighth pitch to leadoff hitter Joc Pederson [3] was a strike. Gabe Morales called it a ball. Wheeler went to 3-0 on Max Muncy [4], prompting a visit from Devin Mesoraco [5], then walked him. He retired Justin Turner [6] on a first-pitch flyout, then got to 1-2 on Matt Kemp [7], putting Kemp in the hole with one of his better sliders of the night.

Wheeler then appeared to lose track of what he was doing mid-pitch, hesitating oddly in his motion and then tossing a high lob homeward that was recorded as a 57 MPH curveball. Wheeler offered Mesoraco a small, sheepish smile, which was funny … except for the part where he’d surrendered an advantageous count to a dangerous hitter. His next slider was flat; Kemp served it into right for a single to load the bases.

That brought Cody Bellinger to the plate. Wheeler threw him a pair of fastballs for an 0-2 count, prompting Mesoraco to call for a fastball above the zone. Wheeler missed the target badly, leaving that third consecutive fastball in the middle of the plate. Bellinger, offered the same pitch three times in a row in the same location, connected. The ball was last seen passing above an airplane carrying the just-DFA’ed Hansel Robles [8] to some new destination. I suspect Robles pointed helpfully at it.

At least that’s not our problem anymore.

With the Mets’ offense being what it is, that was that [9]. Call it one pitch if you like, but it was more than that — bad luck, yes, but bad luck that was followed by missed locations, poor sequencing, and a really weird brain cramp at a very bad time. During that few minutes, Wheeler lost focus and lost the game.

Look, maybe at this time next year we’ll look back on Wheeler’s 2018 as a key part of his growth into becoming a consistent winner, and if so we’ll excuse dips like that. It’s possible to imagine, if you squint.

But it’s also possible to squint so hard that you can no longer see a damn thing. If this train wreck of a season has taught me anything, it’s that.

Don’t get left at the station: OFF NIGHT FOR METS FANS: READIN’, WRITIN’ & RUSTY is coming to Two Boots Midtown East, 337 Lexington Ave., between 39th and 40th Streets, Thursday, June 28, 7:00 PM. Join a trio of Mets fan authors, grab a slice of Two Boots pizza and have a fine baseball time designed to improve all our perspectives. The details are here [10]. Hope to see you there.