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They All Hurt

On the way out to Citi Field Thursday night, I tweeted that this was the Helm’s Deep of the Mets’ 2019 season. For those unfamiliar with The Two Towers, Helm’s Deep is the redoubt to which the hard-pressed warriors of Rohan retreat, fortifying it and making a last stand against the forces of evil.

I also tweeted that my choice of metaphor meant Jacob deGrom [1] was Aragorn, and that I was pretty good with that.

Well, tonight’s Two Towers remake was a bleak snuff film when we all needed a soaring epic adventure. Helm’s Deep has been overrun, orcs are rampaging across the land, and the heroes are being led away in chains. The Mets have lost six in a row and fallen five games back of the second wild card. Playoffs? The team is a skinny game over .500, not exactly a breeding ground for postseason fever.

The game started heroically enough, with J.D. Davis [2] demolishing a Jon Lester [3] cutter. We were sitting in the Promenade in fair territory, a vantage point from which left field and most of center are but rumors, but Davis’s drive had a significant-looking trajectory even from above, and the cheers from sections better favored by Citi Field’s architects told us the happy news we had suspected. But Victor Caratini [4] — subbing for Anthony Rizzo [5] — hit a high slider into Soda Corner just a few minutes later to tie the game, and then returned five innings later to hit essentially the same pitch over the same fence, except this time there were two Cubs on base.

That, for all intents and purposes, was the ballgame [6] and most likely the season.

It was a strange game throughout. DeGrom looked dominant for most of the game — he didn’t need to pitch from the stretch until the seventh — only to be felled by two lightning bolts from a backup player. Lester, meanwhile, was battling traffic the entire time, but wound up only surrendering the solo shot to Davis. Things felt off-kilter in the stands too — there were far too many Cubs fans for anyone’s liking, making the kind of joyful noise you make when your team has a chance to sweep, while we Mets rooters were radiating wariness at the beginning and despair at the end. Caratini’s second homer was one of those moments where you can feel the air get sucked out of a crowd, a collective gut shot that leaves 20,000-odd people flattened and silent.

On the subway, my kid gamely worked on constructing scenarios where all was not lost and the Mets have a run to October in them after all. And you know what? He might be right. (And even if he’s not, hope is free.) But the Mets’ situation is not what it was six games ago. Before those six games, they just needed to play well to have a real chance at playing a 163rd game. Now, they need to play well and get help — not just a little help, but a fair amount of it, and in the right combinations. Meanwhile, their list of adversaries has grown to include not just the four teams that need to be caught, but also time — and at this point in the season, time reduces your elimination number each and every night.

The story of 2019 isn’t over yet, but in all likelihood it will come down to a week at the end of August, and a high-flying team that lost its wings. But even if it’s so, I’ll remember this team fondly, from the post-All-Star rocket ride where they were nightly miracle workers to all the young players who made big strides. I’ll still grin like a fool watching Pete Alonso [7] highlights and J.D. Davis’s goofy machismo, and nod approvingly at Jeff McNeil [8] hitting everything in sight and Michael Conforto [9]‘s unexpected shirtless interview and the Mets bench making zoologically inaccurate buffalo horns for Wilson Ramos [10]. All those things happened, and being there to see them was a delight. Watching the team thud back to Earth with five weeks to go has not been a delight, to put it mildly, but it doesn’t erase any of the joy that preceded it.

Heading back across Queens on the 7 train, I was sad in a way baseball hasn’t made me feel in quite a while, hanging on the straphangers’ rail with my head bowed, thinking about chances lost and what might have been. But the vast majority of baseball seasons end with a night that’s sad. Sometimes that night comes in late October, when you barf up a World Series on muffed grounders and sentimental managing and ill-advised quick pitches. Sometimes it all falls apart in late September, for the second straight year with the same lowly team playing the role of assassin. Those sad nights leave a mark — oh, they most definitely do. But sometimes that sad night comes in June, when you realize everything is not, in fact, going to work out the way you persuaded yourself was at least vaguely possible in March. And sometimes it’s something in between those extremes, with a complicated feeling to match.

The point is that they all hurt, and that hurt is part of the game. That sugar high you get from a pinch-me reverse-gravity ninth-inning comeback or the improbable victory you stayed for when the rest of the section left? That rush wouldn’t be anywhere near as sweet without the grinding lows of fifth innings that take half an hour and 10-2 losses that never felt that close. And those very occasional trophies hoisted amid arcs of Champagne and plastic sheeting over lockers? They’d be cheap without all the seasons that ended in silent and somber clubhouses, however much you wanted the story to end differently.