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Resetting Expectations

Perhaps it was Mets Sensory Overload having gotten to me — Jay Horwitz’s expansive valedictory [1] Wednesday afternoon; the practically literally endless rain delay Wednesday night; David Wright finally saying “uncle” to reality and telling us early Thursday afternoon when we could expect to see him play next and last [2] — that when the opener of Thursday’s twi-night doubleheader reached the bottom of the ninth, and the Mets, with nobody on base, had made two outs, I turned off the TV and walked away with my team down by a run. I had things to do, places to be. Time was tight; I’d spent too much of it obsessed on the Mets to wait any more minutes on an inevitable third out.

A few of those theoretically precious minutes had passed before I got in my car and turned on the radio. I expected to hear some boilerplate about the last out and the first pitch of the nightcap. I had already picked out my Game One themes for here later: Steven Matz [3]’s homer was going to be the first Met pitcher circuit clout not slugged in the service of a win since Jason Isringhausen went deep yet down to defeat twice in 1996; and you can’t hold a sleepwalking loss against an obviously tired team that stormed past inclement weather and midnight the night before to resoundingly pound [4] the Marlins, 13-0.

I won’t be using those as themes any longer. They ceased to be operative as soon as I heard Howie Rose tell me, “Don Mattingly outsmarted himself.” Either Howie was referring to the Miami manager putting too much food on his plate while grabbing a between-games snack, or Donnie Bullpen had opted for one too many arms in the ninth.

The latter. Yes, the latter. Brilliantly, the latter. Adam Conley had it going on in relief of Sandy Alcantara (who had it going on even more, home run to Matz notwithstanding). But Mattingly decided to do some do-si-D’OH! managing, bringing in Kyle Barraclough in order to righty-righty announced pinch-hitter Amed Rosario. Mickey Callaway countered by pinch-hitting for the pinch-hitter with lefty Dom Smith. Smith grounded into that second out that sent me out the door, expecting I’d be missing nothing.

Little did I expect Barraclough remaining on the mound would prove not so smart for Mattingly. Righty Kyle kept pitching. Lefty Michael Conforto [5] homered to tie matters at three. Then righty Todd Frazier [6] homered directly thereafter to win it for the Mets [7], 4-3. Considering that the Mets had never before tied a game on a home run and then immediately won the same game on another home run, it wasn’t what one would expect.

I’d love to tell you I could see Mattingly’s ploy preparing to backfire from twenty or so miles away, but honestly, I wasn’t terribly focused on who was pitching or due up as I locked my apartment door, stepped inside the elevator, dropped some refuse in the dumpster and opened my car door as prelude to attacking errands. I was routinely chalking up a 3-2 loss and lightly contemplating how I’d frame it hours later.

Nevertheless, I got a win. I avoided directly experiencing its dramatic conclusion, yet it was waiting for me in the past tense, Howie helpfully cluing me in through the speakers. It was sort of the inverse of the other first game of a doubleheader played at Citi Field this season, when I sat outside the ballpark for nine innings [8] and didn’t get to my seat until the tenth. Two blinks later, Wilmer Flores delivered a walkoff homer. Perfect timing in July. Different timing in September.

But we won both times, which is the important thing.

Unlike that twi-nighter in July, or that day-nighter in Atlanta in May, or amid that offensive onslaught in Philly in August, the Mets took the “won both times” to its logical conclusion Thursday night, sweeping this doubleheader from the Marlins [9], taking the second game, 5-2. The Mets rarely play doubleheaders, sweep them even more infrequently. The odds of doing so behind Jason Vargas [10] seemed astronomical, but Vargas hasn’t been Very Vargas [11] lately and the Marlins are plenty Marlins. The Mets, particularly when they are slashing and dashing, appear livelier than they have since April. They had a couple of evening innings when they flashed by the Floridians, banging balls off walls, snatching extra bases, not seeming the least bit weary — three wins within twenty-four hours and wide awake relative to their somnambulant competition.

Busting a particularly impressive move was Tomás Nido [12], who belted his first big league home run. I’m now growing used to hearing “Nido” mentioned as a matter of course during a Mets game, so it no longer lands on my ears as “neato,” which means I don’t automatically hum along with Young MC [13] every time his name circulates. But since he did turn over a milestone, I believe it is appropriate to state the following:

You say Nido
Check your libido
Hit your first homer
In your new tuxedo

You want it? You got it. Even if you don’t want it.

I’d been wanting to see Matz go yard ever since the Sunday afternoon he bust…er, burst upon the scene with three hits and four RBIs [14]. Turned out East Setauket Steve wasn’t much of a hitter once he settled into the bigs. Three years later, however, he’s finally a man of dingers. Like Seth Lugo and Jacob deGrom in 2017; like Noah Syndergaard four times in three separate starts across 2015 and 2016; like Mets Classic mainstay Bartolo Colon in 2016; like the formerly revered Matt Harvey in 2015…all the way back to Paul Wilson in September of 1996. We are now up to nineteen games in a row during which our starting pitcher homering serves as prelude to our team winning. (Perhaps our starting pitchers should homer more often.) Conforto and Frazier orchestrating their dual dramatics made sure we could fully enjoy Matz’s second-inning woodwork instead of treating it as a vaguely pleasant afterthought to a loss. Really, since the Mets prevailed by one run and Steven’s home run off Alcantara was a two-run job, you could say the pride of Suffolk County won this one for himself…even if Jerry Blevins got the decision.

Never mind that we’ve decided decisions are for suckers. The doubleheader sweep Thursday on top of the extended theatricality of Wednesday night’s soggy blowout gave us three straight wins over the Marlins, effectively clinching no worse than fourth place for us (we lead Miami by eleven with sixteen to play in the race absolutely nobody is tracking). It’s almost enough to make you forget the one game we lost in this series [15] was started by deGrom, the best pitcher in the world. You’d expect different.

Better advice would be to expect nothing. Baseball works better when you maintain no illusions about what will happen next.

***

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect when David Wright [16] seeped back into the center of our consciousness last month. My fondest hope was he’d rediscover his vitality and turn Frazier into the Mets’ fifth or sixth first baseman because David would be ready to go at third like he always was from 2004 until we were all compelled to learn to spell stenosis in 2015. That hope was as fond as it was unrealistic, so my only legitimate wish was that he’d be up for a few September at-bats and that his employers wouldn’t block his path. Given the obstacle-laden road the Mets laid out for him, matching hope to expectation became difficult. I’ve found “hope for the best, expect the Mets” tends to represent a reasonable rule of thumb.

David was 22 and budding into a star when we began writing regularly in this space. Goodness knows I didn’t expect that someday I’d be reflecting here on the news that the kid everybody reflexively gushed over [17] was about to hang ’em up. I had no idea how long this blog would last, but David was presumably poised to play forever. Somehow, though, forever flowed toward an end point. With a physically diminished Wright and the eternally awkward Mets out of practical options, both parties convened on the same page on Thursday, revealing their mutually agreed upon plan for what’s left of 2018 and, alas, the Captain’s career:

1) David will be activated on September 25, when the club begins its final homestand of the year versus Atlanta.

2) He will start one more game at third base, September 29, against the ever-present Marlins.

3) Kimberly-Clark will put on extra shifts to accommodate the ensuing demand for Kleenex across the New York Metropolitan Area.

Nobody mentioned the tissue manufacturer by name, but c’mon. If you watched the press conference in which David tearfully began to say goodbye, surely you must have groped about for your pocket pack. The phrase that got my eyes going most was what he uttered when he described the strain of his rehabilitation process and the eventual recalibration of his goals:

“I just wanna put this uniform on again.”

This uniform. Not a uniform generically. A Mets uniform specifically. The Mets uniform that has been synonymous with him since July 21, 2004. Nobody’s ever worn this uniform more honorably or purposefully as David Wright has. Technically, he’s put a Mets uniform on plenty since May 27, 2016, the date of his most recent major league game, but David said it hasn’t felt right to wear it if he’s not playing. He’s a ballplayer. Ballplayers play. You listen to Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling on a regular basis, you hear them still slip into the present tense. Keith refers to himself as a first baseman, Ronnie as a pitcher. Not a former or an ex. They and their ilk instinctively expect at any moment they will be told to grab a bat or a ball and start getting loose. It’s as chronic a condition as spinal stenosis. Thus, on some level, David will always be a third baseman, always be a hitter, always be a player, always be a Met.

But there’s a difference between self-identifying and actively being. David craved one more chance to actively be. To actually play, as trained and contracted. To play before his daughters, neither of them born when he was previously active. To play before the rest of his extended family, a clan in which he seems inclined to include us, the Mets fans. He thanked us, among others, on Thursday in remarks that he read through tears. Typically classy, if not necessarily necessary. Letting us be a part of his singular Mets career for fifteen seasons should be thanks enough.

David Wright will put this uniform on again. No. 5, at third base, batting somewhere in the Mets lineup. The gratitude is all ours.