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Take the Fifth

You know what they say: you’re gonna win a third of your games, you’re gonna lose a third of your games and apportioning 20% of your games to Jason Vargas [1] to start is self-defeating.

Why is Jason Vargas the Mets’ fifth starter? Because you need a fifth of Jim Beam, official bourbon of the New York Mets, to get through one of his starts. Or you would if he could make it to the fifth inning.

Saturday night he didn’t. Vargas pitched in the first but not to its end. Six batters faced, five batters reached via hit or walk (Alfonso Marquez’s strike zone was small enough to be drowned in the proverbial bathtub), four runs earned. The Vargas Index [2] blew through the roof. VARGASM achieved.

It wasn’t enjoyable. It never is when your ERA after two starts and one mop-up relief appearance is 14.21, which is what Jason’s leading indicator was in the first months of 2018, too, so let’s rule out element of surprise for explaining why he remains a rotational stalwart for a presumed contender. One could squint and detect progress by season’s end, when he pitched competently enough to lower his earned run average to a nifty 5.77. It doesn’t sound terribly nifty, but for a while there it might as well have been fifty.

Vargas gave way not to texting Dallas Keuchel’s agent ASAP but to Corey Oswalt [3]. Oswalt was not to be confused with either Keuchel or Allen Iverson, a.k.a. the Answer. Somebody had to take the ball after the starter evaporated. Corey, called up last week in exchange for Tim Peterson, did something we’ll assume was shy of his best. For the Braves, we were talking about practice…batting practice. Once Oswalt was done after the fourth, the Braves had nine runs and he had an ERA of 12.27…which wasn’t even the second-highest among those Mets who pitched Saturday night. Luis Avilán [4] gave up a run in two innings to remold his earned run average to 12.71.

As in Augusta, high numbers in this part of Georgia are not the object of the competition. Not coincidentally, starting Vargas isn’t the mark of a competitive approach to baseball. In the wreckage of the Mets’ 11-7 loss [5] (the game wasn’t really that close), Mickey Callaway — who forgot to call me for additional special advice [6] — didn’t particularly commit to this veteran for another go-round and Vargas couldn’t say much more than he hadn’t pitched long enough to make definitive judgments about his outing. That was probably as on target as the pitcher was all night.

The most jolting development regarding a Mets pitcher Saturday had nothing to do with those who threw. During the SNY telecast, Ron Darling announced he’ll be leaving the booth for a while to have a “large mass” removed from his chest. Planned recovery, he says, should have him back on the mic next month. Of course we hope to hear from him as soon as possible, but mostly we hope that the man attached to one of the signature arms and voices in Mets history comes through this situation in spectacular health.

Remember Dave Liddell [7]? No? That’s OK. He was a Mets catcher for a fraction of one June afternoon in 1990: one inning caught following one plate appearance. The lone time up yielded a single at Veterans Stadium. Though that’s the scope of his big league career, there’s an intriguing backstory to Dave Liddell worth knowing. It comes to us via mlb.com’s Anthony Castrovince, who tracked down the handful of players whose offensive statlines — 1-for-1 in 1 PA — are as perfect as their stay at the top of their profession was brief. There’s Liddell and four other guys alive who fit the description. Meet them here [8].