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The Late, Great Buy-In of 2018

All right, who’s in for the Mets to become buyers? We’re talking about a team that has won seven of thirteen, producing its best extended stretch since Mickey Callaway’s managerial acumen was considered a growth stock. And these last two games, encompassing one professional baseball victory after another…why, it’s like watching a team that isn’t so much buried in fourth place as it’s like watching a team that’s studiously avoiding fifth place.

Progress! Sweet, relative, infinitesimal progress!

So desperate for Met developments that don’t amount to a wall of sadness, I’m almost willing to believe that beating a sluggish Washington unit twice within twenty-four hours tells us we’ve got enough going on to, if not actually become buyers (I didn’t get that much sun sitting in Promenade Saturday), then not sell, sell, sell stray Mets like they’re going out of style. For most of this season, the Mets were indeed unfashionable. Amazingly, they now resemble a team capable of taking down select comers. No wonder I’m in no rush to part with the contracts that belong to the players who are finally making me feel something different from disgust.

Pride? I wouldn’t go that far.
Joy? You’ll have to remind me what that is.
Satisfaction? I’m not as immensely dissatisfied as I’ve been, so sure, let’s say satisfaction was the Saturday special at Citi Field, served up on the same plate as the Mets’ delicious 7-4 defeat of the not-so-pesky Nats.

Nobody deserves to feel more satisfaction as the All-Star break approaches than Zack Wheeler [1], a mostly effective pitcher for weeks, yet one who’s looked at Jacob deGrom’s record and wondered how that guy got so lucky. DeGrom’s been stuck on five wins despite living the Cy life. Wheeler has been good enough to earn a third win since early May, yet hadn’t until the Mets pounded a rookie pitcher instead of vice-versa. While Wheeler and his teammates pasted seven big ones on the previously virginal record of Austin Voth, Zack kept the Nats embedded inside their mucilaginous malaise. From Section 417, I saw a pitcher who appeared in command from beginning to almost end.

Kudos to Callaway for leaving Zack in to retire Bryce Harper in the eighth. It was a tableau we’d been waiting a long time to unfold. As the National League East was reshaping its constellation of young stars in the early-to-mid 2010s, we wouldn’t have been crazy to have imagined repeated showdowns of Harper vs. Wheeler as more than incidental. Battles between the likes of them should have been signature throwdowns for individual and divisional supremacy. Both were young and on the rise. Harper, no matter the repellent properties of his resting Bryce face, rose to become one of the sport’s most recognizable stars. Wheeler didn’t rise at all.

Unlike his compatriots in all those group glamour shots of Mets Pitchers Who Can’t Miss, Zack missed out on most of the fun surrounding Mets pitching. Not only was he unavailable to take part in back-to-back playoff pushes, Wheeler didn’t come out of the box setting down batters and building up credentials. He had a big reputation as a first-round draft choice and prize acquisition, but his major league storyline was different. Wheeler was more Dillon Gee than gee whiz. He was a guy who was going to have to learn to get better, who would have to experience losing some to start winning consistently.

Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard and Matz were all varied shades of phenomenal as we got to know them. Initial stabs at hype notwithstanding, Wheeler had to find himself. His 2013 and 2014 was akin to what 2017 and 2018 have been for Amed Rosario, a reminder that no matter your prospects, success isn’t automatic at the highest levels of the game. Those first two years of Wheeler were about ups and downs and promise waiting to be fulfilled. The next two years were about absence. Last year should have been about return; it wound up dominated by detour.

At last, Wheeler is performing within the realm of a pitcher a legit contender would trade in order to land a Carlos Beltran. And now that he’s finally got it going on, we’re supposed to shop him and ship him? I understand the impetus for moving Asdrubal Cabrera and Jeurys Familia, though even their status as obvious trade bait is beginning to bug me. What are we, the Kansas City Athletics? We take our useful players and hand them over to our betters and say thank you for the magic beans? I gravitated to professional sports over college sports as a kid because I could never quite cotton to the idea that after no more than four years a player simply gets up and disrobes from your laundry. There were trades in baseball, of course, but those seemed organic, part of the ebb and flow of how a team got or stayed competitive. Nowadays, especially in July, it’s preposterous to believe your so-so team wouldn’t consider offing everybody in sight in the name of a nebulous shining tomorrow.

Maybe I’m just missing the reserve clause.

Catch me when we’re back to our usual losing ways and I’ll be happy to work the Flushing yard sale. I’ll provide used grocery bags, I’ll make change, I’ll help carry contenders’ purchases to their cars. I’ll be unsentimental as all get out and say “get out” to spare relievers, infielders, maybe even starting pitchers who are peaking in value. I’ll buy into the usual song of the also-ran, that we’re finishing last with these fellows, maybe we can finish higher with new blood next year or the year after that.

At the moment, though, on the heels of a second consecutive convincing win [2], I love all my Mets and you do not have my consent to easily pry them from my sudden loving embrace.