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Irregular Season, Damn It

If I hadn’t long ago disabled the feature, I wouldn’t be surprised if the smiling MS Word paper clip popped up on my screen ASAP and started asking me, “Do you mean to type ‘lose’ in place of ‘win’?” and “Would you like to use the word ‘suck’ after ‘Mets’?” It’s been a while since I sat down to write a game recap following a Mets victory. My last seventeen games on the beat have dealt me sixteen desultory defeats to review. The lone triumph in this period was so giddily absurd that it transcended standard exposition [1], so really, simply writing, “The Mets won their most recent game” might not flow so naturally from these fingertips.

Nevertheless, the Mets won their most recent game [2]. There. Like falling off a bike. Maybe I shouldn’t say that, lest a Met fall off a bike and have to go on the disabled list…which isn’t the same as a Met actually going on the disabled list.

See? See how hard it is to stay on message amid the temporarily placid trees while the forest smolders? You watch this team daily, as I still do, and you expect setbacks on and off the field. Well, this steamy Sunday afternoon, as far as could be divined via television from Miami, nothing went any further up in flames that it already was. Nobody fell off a bike. Nobody grabbed at a body part, unless we’re counting effusive high-fives. Nobody appointed an additional general manager. Pending Customs’ machinations or a few too many Mooseheads, the Mets set themselves up for a smooth trip to Toronto. You never know what these happy flights will devolve into. An exhilarating win in St. Louis on Father’s Day 1982 didn’t prevent a delay in returning home to New York, which didn’t sit well with Craig Swan, which led to a shoving match with coach Frank Howard, the last guy a standard-sized human being would want to provoke.

Everybody’s tamer these days. With no game scheduled until Tuesday night, we can likely bask in some rare Met glow for a good 48 hours, assuming we still have basking encoded within our muscle memory.

The Mets recorded a scant six hits and committed three errors Sunday, yet enough balls bounced their way to create a 5-2 win. Perhaps the young, surging Marlins were due for a loss. Or perhaps, to borrow from Leo Durocher’s snide 1969 retort regarding a competitor he wished to not take overly seriously, those were the real Marlins we saw out there today. Across two days of watching the pesky pesci swim defiantly upstream and briefly into fourth place, I forgot that their record was essentially as bad as ours, for compared to us, they are a feisty, feelgood Fish story. Compared to us in June, every National League franchise was a whopper. Anybody using the Mets as a dockside tape measure should be warned it only appears they’ve caught a whale.

Steven Matz [3] was solid for five-and-a-third innings. Seth Lugo was sharp in his reluctant return to relief. Jeurys Familia unspooled a perfect inning of saving. Asdrubal Cabrera homered. Todd Frazier scored three runs. Kevin Plawecki drove an RBI double into the gap. Michael Conforto dove to optimal effect in left field. Fine baseball stuff, all of it, the kind of precious detail that hasn’t been much in evidence this past month or two. It’s details like these I’ve missed, details like these that have hardly seemed worth mentioning lately, even when they’ve been detectable in the course of cascading catastrophe.

This 33-48 season, the product of a first half that went off the rails and into the woods, has robbed us of not just a chance to contend for a playoff spot, but has taken from us the ability to appreciate the simple things. The well-executed start. The effective middle relief stint. A couple of hits off the same bat. A splendid catch. That sense that you’re not a sucker for remaining engaged in the outcome. Amid all the losing, acknowledging let alone celebrating blips of competence seems a misplaced priority. If you’re contending, every play is potentially part of a big, beautiful story you’ll be retelling into eternity. If you’re on the periphery of contention, the sunny signs seem to point you in the right direction if you let them. If you’re just barely good enough to dream, at least you can dream that — ooh child — things’ll get brighter, and the nice plays and performances you’ve seen might be your stairsteps to the stars.

When you’re 33-48, especially when you’re 33-48 the way we’ve gotten to 33-48, you don’t have it in you to dwell on the infrequent things that haven’t gone wrong. Positives barely qualify as positives. You’re wary that one of your several general managers might get carried away from the aberrant instance of a cutoff man making an accurate relay and not complete a trade that will delete the current year and direct us to a more fruitful future.

In a season like this, norms are no longer normal. All those little hallmarks of patience you develop as a fan [4] become inoperative. You don’t reflexively reason “let’s see how it goes tomorrow” because you’re convinced tomorrow is gone beyond redemption. “Just a loss” becomes “yet another loss”. Wins serve only to inconveniently interrupt stubborn narratives of despair, dismay and disgust. Individual games aren’t absorbed on their own merits. You don’t react to the action in front of you because the big picture overwhelms everything in sight. Every game, every inning, every grounder not cleanly handled, every box not busted out of, every pitching change that makes matters worse morphs into a reflection on all that is awry and a referendum on all who are overmatched.

That’s not the way to consume baseball, but it’s the way we’ve been consuming this baseball. It’s understandable. This baseball has been indigestible. For one day, though, we got baseball that didn’t make us gag, baseball that didn’t have us demanding satisfaction that we know isn’t coming, baseball that didn’t leave us not wanting another bite. Compared to what we’ve been getting, it was practically baseball like it oughta be. Just baseball, just a win…almost as if getting one of those now and then is totally the norm.