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Not Even the Names Have Been Changed

Dom Smith [1] pinch-hit for brand new major league pitcher Drew Smith [2] in the ninth inning of Saturday night’s Mets loss to the Dodgers [3], which seemed appropriate given that you can pretty much replace one Mets game with another and not even the names changing makes a tangible difference, so why even bother changing the names?

A little intrigue that didn’t have to do with the Dodgers never losing to the Mets or the Mets never winning at Citi Field was welcome. Friend of FAFIF Brian Sokoloff wondered to me on Twitter if the Mets had ever before arranged a similarly eponymous pinch-hitting transaction — and Friend of FAFIF Gary Nusbaum soon provided an answer. It happened on May 10, 2000, when Matt Franco batted on behalf of John Franco at Three Rivers Stadium. M. Franco singled. The Mets lost. Eighteen years later, Do. Smith fouled out…and, as previously mentioned, the Mets lost.

The Mets have only one guy named deGrom, and he couldn’t prevent that overly familiar result, which is actually no surprise, since the Mets have regularly proven immune to the sublime efforts of their ace starter. Jacob deGrom [4] has been the National League’s premier pitcher in 2018. His team has eluded similar adjectives. DeGrom gave the Mets the minimal quality start nomenclature allows — 6 IP, 3 ER — and of course it wasn’t enough, certainly not at sea level. DeGrom generally gives the Mets much more and it’s almost never enough. Jake gave up an early home run to Max Muncy that flew up onto Carbonation Ridge in the first and a lethal double to Chris Taylor that all but buried the Mets in the fourth. In between, when he wasn’t being squeezed a bit by home plate umpire Ed Hickox, deGrom scored one of the two runs the Mets cobbled together off a just-returned Clayton Kershaw. DeGrom also started his own rally with a leadoff single.

If that’s a Jacob deGrom off night, I’ll take it.

Other positives, because I’m a little worn out writing the opposite: Jose Bautista doubled in a run and later solo-homered; Brandon Nimmo gathered three hits, including a triple aided by Cody Bellinger’s last-second distraction; and the Mets totaled an impressive-on-paper ten hits, which was one more than the Dodgers registered. Despite that isolated Los Angeleno disadvantage, the visitors won by five runs, 8-3. (So much for the positives.) It really helps to hit with runners on base, something Matt Kemp — their version of Jose Bautista, except more so, in a good way — decidedly accomplished when he launched a grand slam off Robert Gsellman, formerly the bright, shining beacon of the otherwise murky Met bullpen.

The Mets’ hits added up to nearly bupkes because the challenge presented by Mets standing on bases was apparently too daunting to deal with productively. Twelve times Mets came up with runners in scoring position and ten times they made outs. Did I mention Kershaw, using this as his de facto rehab start rather than the one planned for him in Triple-A, pitched for only the first three innings and it was the not quite as legendary Caleb Ferguson who did most of the shutting down of the Mets? Every Dodger pitcher is Clayton Kershaw when it comes to facing the Mets, whose last win versus L.A. came when David Wright was a literally active player and before anybody said anything about their ass being in the jackpot [5] into a microphone.

Twenty-five thousand miniature Home Run Apples were handed out at Saturday night’s game. I’m sure they were too nice to fling toward the field in disgust, but I have to believe the ancestral temptation, since tamed by decades of domestication, existed. Seat Cushion Night in 1983 ended with just such an impressive display of civil disobedience/disgust. There was a time when you handed Mets fans potential projectiles at your own risk. Seat Cushion Night wound down with the grounds crew collecting what appeared to be hundreds of cushions, the public address announcer issuing stern warnings and Tim McCarver and Steve Zabriskie cracking up over the air at the sight of the flying squares, at least until somebody tapped them on the shoulder and told them to quit encouraging the throwing of things, lest the fans watching on Channel 9 get the idea this sort of protest was condoned by voices of authority.

Ah, those were the days. No, not really. The Mets were still a lousy team at that stage of 1983, the lousy team they’d been virtually uninterrupted since 1977, and speaking of that halcyon era, the Mets’ record of 31-43 after 74 games in 2018 is exactly what it was in ’77, ’78 and ’79, considered in some quarters the absolute worst period in Mets history. Perhaps it is overstating the case to draw comparisons between then and now, but Jacob deGrom leads the National League in ERA despite having won only five games at almost the halfway point forty years after Craig Swan led the National League in ERA despite having won only nine games when the season was over.

Not scoring for your best pitcher is a cherished Mets tradition, but when you remember Willie Montañez drove in 96 runs in 1978, stranding runners in scoring position suddenly feels very postmodern.

After not winning another deGrom start, we had Jason Vargas to look forward to, so to speak, for Sunday, at least until Mickey Callaway revealed Vargas strained his left eyelash while looking in the mirror (something like that). With Vargas on the DL, the Mets called up Chris Flexen and assigned Sunday’s start to career reliever Jerry Blevins.

That part is accurate. No, I don’t know why the ball was to be handed to a career reliever instead of a professional starter, but I imagine there’s a clever reason for it.

There’s every chance Craig Swan’s name will come up in casual conversation when OFF NIGHT FOR METS FANS: READIN’, WRITIN’ & RUSTY convenes at 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 [6]. Hope to see you there.