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Everywhere You Don’t Want to Be

“I’m not really throwing the ball where I want to,” Jacob deGrom [1] explained to reporters Sunday night. He probably meant in relation to where Brave batters could hit it. I’d add I’d have preferred Jake not throwing the ball on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, which no matter how it’s presented is an inevitable bummer.

I’ll leave it to Jake to figure out where the ball is going in advance of his next start. In deGrom we continue to trust. Our ace said he’s going to watch some video. Too bad. Nobody who roots for the Mets should ever want to watch this one again.

Sunday wasn’t Tuesday, the previous deGrom start that lacked quality [2]. He didn’t get jumped on but he was clearly groping for his groove. For five innings it was out of his grasp, but at least he and it were in the same lane of I-285. DeGrom leaving the Mets in a 3-1 hole at SunTrust Park is not the same as Jason Vargas operating an earth mover, dumping tons of dirt on his team’s chances [3] and skedaddling with 26 outs to go. Jake, however, did need 114 pitches for his five innings, precluding desperately desired length. He struck out nine but walked four and gave up five hits. Not quality, but not disastrous.

Except that in the wake of Vargas & Co. the night before, you’d sure like invincible deGrom to show up on cue and do what we’ve come to define as his thing. Maybe we just wish Jake could always throw the ball in 2018.

The relievers who followed him — Justin Wilson, Paul Sewald and Jeurys Familia — didn’t seem to throw the ball where they wanted to, either, while Met hitters for the most part didn’t hit the ball to too many useful places. Down by three in the eighth with two on, there was a moment of hope. Brandon Nimmo [4] was up, Pete Alonso was on deck, the sense that three-and-a-half hours devoted to this exercise was going to feel worthwhile was palpable. But Brandon fanned, the Braves plumped up their lead and a 7-3 loss [5] (played in a torpid 3:36 preceded by a 27-minute delay) oozed to a conclusion.

For this I DVR’d BillionsBarry and Veep? Well, sure. The Mets are my prime time programming of choice, even when the episode in progress begs to be flipped away from. I appreciate Howie Rose and Wayne Randazzo being more entertaining in sound than whatever was appearing in pictures, yet it’s a little early in the season to be deploying “TV down, radio up”. Early, but on Sunday night, necessary.

Piling on Sunday Night Baseball and the network that broadcasts it is an instinct as old as Paul Sewald [6] himself, which is to say it dates back to ESPN first bringing us baseball in prime time in 1990 [7] (which was when Sewald was born; it only feels like the Mets have been shuttling him in from Triple-A for the past 28 years). Plucking a Sunday ballgame from what we are conditioned to believe is its natural environs — Sunday afternoon — and making us wait around for hours on end plays havoc with our ballological clock. Shifting it from the warm and familiar surroundings of SNY and shoehorning it within somebody else’s platform and making our team fit somebody else’s agenda further dissonates our cognition. And whatever benefit a “national game” has for out-of-market Mets fans doesn’t resonate in the streaming age like it used to as a good reason for going Snighless.

I tried to give ESPN a chance. Before fleeing to WCBS, I listened to Matt Vasgersian set the scene. The Braves, he said, entered this game with a chance to take three of four from the Mets. The Mets, to that point, had taken two of three from the Braves.

Thumb meet mute.

Hank Aaron was a special guest in the booth for a couple of innings. Of course you want to hear from Hank Aaron when in Atlanta. Hank Aaron is the very definition of a living legend. Even if it distracts from deGrom’s (and Julio Teheran’s) pitching, you shrug it off in April. He’s Bad Henry, for goodness sake. But I couldn’t. I tried. Unmuted here and there, but Vasgersian, Jessica Mendoza and Alex Rodriguez together could be distilled into a spray can and be marketed as baseball repellant. Mostly Vasgersian, really, but the combined effect is an ad for silence. It didn’t help that ESPN flashed a photo [8] of what it claimed was Hank with Jackie Robinson from their playing days, Robinson the old Brooklyn Dodger, Aaron the young Milwaukee Brave. Except it was Jackie Robinson and Boston Braves outfielder Sam Jethroe. Jethroe and Aaron didn’t look much alike. They weren’t even on the same Braves club let alone in the same Braves city. To plop a cherry atop the inaccurate Sunday Night sundae, the same photo labeled the same way pinged around Twitter a few months ago and was widely spotted and corrected.

Later, when I saw a highlight package devoted to the fiftieth anniversary of the 1969 Mets, I unmuted again. Tommie Agee was referred to on screen as Tommy Agee [9]. Vasgersian proceeded to read from a script that said the Mets had gone “from the pinnacle to the pit” in seven years, as opposed to what they actually did. Howie Rose…take me home…

ESPN does many things well, including posting and archiving the AP recaps we’ve linked to for just about every game the Mets have played since 2005. But experiencing ESPN televising a regular-season baseball game — especially one involving a team you care about — leaves the impression that the last thing ESPN wants to do is televise a regular-season baseball game anybody cares about. Me, I’ll always look forward to a regular-season Mets game. Just not that much on a Sunday night or at all on that channel.