The Mets’ second-half surge to the periphery of mediocrity ran into a roadblock Monday night: a team decidedly better than them. Not that the Mets can’t lose within their peer group or take random advantage of a contender bogged down in doldrums, but for the most part the respectable hay they’ve made in July and August has been baled at the expense of opponents whose October aspirations consist primarily of hunting and fishing. On the North Side of Chicago, however, when confronted with competition that wasn’t…
• or tanking
• or throwing in its towel
• or coping with aches and pains
…they looked thoroughly outclassed.
They looked like the 2018 Mets playing the 2018 Cubs.
The Cubs, who are very good, looked very good. Against the first-place Cubs, the Mets couldn’t get away with being the fourth-place Mets, which is unfortunate, because recent decent performances notwithstanding, that’s exactly who they are. I doubt I have to elaborate. You’ve lived with them as I have (if probably not as deeply) for these past 131 games. You understand their limitations. If you watched on Monday, you were reminded of them again.
Noah Syndergaard  fell short of Thorness. The bullpen alchemy fizzled. Players who did good things — like Rosario and Plawecki — were negated by players who did not so good things — like Plawecki and Rosario. There were key singles and daring steals and clutch homers, but there were also exasperating pickoffs and clueless strikeouts and pitches that got away with runners on third.
And on the other side, there were Rizzo and Zobrist and Baez and, oh yeah, Daniel Murphy, who hasn’t loosened his eternal grudge against the first organization to not grip him tightly. There was also Jon Lester, who survived his six sloggy innings in slightly better shape than Syndergaard, thanks primarily to his driving in two runs off Syndergaard.
Eventually, it amounted to a 7-4 Cubs win . The Mets had a sensible decision (walk Schwarber with two on to get to Lester) backfire. They were jobbed by Tony Randazzo’s spiritual cousin Eric Cooper as they attempted to rally in the ninth. They hung in and by no means succumbed to the motions, yet they simply didn’t measure up — except by one impressively lengthy yardstick.
Michael Conforto  launched a home run to center field that measured up fine. It measured 472 feet, the longest a Met has ever hit in the Statcast era (which is a corporate way of saying since the middle of 2015). Alas, no additional points are awarded for distance. Conforto’s blast was his nineteenth of the season, pretty good considering the dark forest that enveloped him for so long. Michael took over the team lead from Asdrubal Cabrera, who, you might have noticed, hasn’t been a Met since sometime in July.
Not being a Met seems ready to apply to Jose Bautista . The Phillies claimed his contract (or whichever fraction the Braves aren’t paying) when the Mets put it on waivers. Jose played Monday night, but will likely be gone by Tuesday night, as soon as the Mets are satisfied with the warm body, slot money or magic beans the Phillies ante up. Joey Bats, if I can call him that following our unexpectedly extended dalliance, might help a team that is striving to persevere as the pennant race approaches the September turn. We stopped being that kind of team in May. If this is farewell, fond adieu to a guy who was hired to pick up the Cespe-less slack and once in a while did .
If it’s not, well, see you in right field real soon. (Nah, it is. Bautista traded on Tuesday to Phillies for a player to be named later or the ever popular cash.)
A word regarding Sunday afternoon’s affair , since I was at Citi Field for its unraveling:
There are fourteen exclamation points in the above line, one for each run allowed by Paul Sewald, Tyler Bashlor and Corey Oswalt in the eighth and ninth innings. Holy smoke…which is what I think I saw rising from National bats (sans Murph, no less). It was like somebody detonated a suckbomb. One minute, my friend Ben and I are sitting behind home plate, schvitzing in the sun — making us Sunshine Boys, you might say  — but otherwise enjoying the charms of a taut 1-0 battle, and then, for what seemed like an eternity, we absorbed the most compact blowout Elias has ever tracked.
Seriously, according to the Sports Bureau of record , no game with a score of 0-0 or 1-0 through seven innings ever went so completely sideways or pear-shaped or whatever cliché fits in the eighth and ninth. It was the second-worst shutout the Mets ever experienced; the worst in their current home; and it tied the largest margin of Flushing defeat post-Shea. It was shocking in its scope and suddenness, yet, honestly, not terribly surprising.
Is anything surprising where the Mets are concerned? Like I said earlier, we’ve had 131 games to acclimate ourselves to this team’s adorable monkeyshines. We know they are capable of anything. More losing “anything” than winning “anything,” but the parameters are wide. Lose 25-4. Win 24-4. Fill in a lineup card almost accurately. Triple the traditional number of general managers. Deprive your Cy Young candidate of oxygen. Dispatch a first baseman to left field to tackle the shortstop. Roar from the end of March clear through the middle of April. Register for conscientious objector status in June. Appear intermittently professional yet never convince anybody who cares that competence is just around the corner. Downs. Ups. More downs. The highlight montage could be directed by George Romero. Thus, when an eight-spot is ordered at last call and it’s served with a six-run chaser, forgive my YIKES if it lacks conviction.
Of course a 15-0 final from a 1-0 seventh happened. The Mets keep happening. Someday, perhaps, that will carry a different connotation. For now, we all know what that means more often than not.