You know all those games that got away that have been stewed over in the wake of the 2019 Mets’ elimination from playoff contention? I don’t care for such mulling. Yes, had Edwin Diaz resembled his Seattle self more than he did the reincarnation of Manny Acosta, that’s ‘x’ number of saves that probably wouldn’t have been blown, and if those are wins instead of losses, suddenly you’re talking about a margin measured in games ahead rather than games behind, and we’re still in this thing or even ahead of it. But you can also take any number of anybody’s flaws, retroactively insist that everybody’s strong points been consistent to the point of constant, and conveniently overlook sometimes other teams made mistakes that allowed us to benefit. There are years when what actually happened adds up to a postseason berth. There are years when it doesn’t.
This year it didn’t. We were good without being good enough. We took a long lunge at a goal that didn’t materialize as realistic until it was getting later than it seemed. Over .500, but not too far over. Officially above fourth place (with Philly having deliciously crumbled), yet shy of second, let alone first. Getting a lot of what we wanted, but not all of it.
This was us. Still is for a few more days. Last night, Thursday, was totally us. Maybe not a microcosm of 2019 in precise form or fashion, but it sure felt like we lived a year in nine innings.
First, there was Zack Wheeler , our favorite human interest story every fifth day; sometimes sooner . He’s got an excellent four-seam fastball, an effective slider and a narrative we find hard to resist now that his contract is winding down. “Perhaps Zack Wheeler’s final start as a New York Met” was the tease last night. And what a start it started out to be. For seven innings, he kept the Marlins off the board, though for seven innings, his mound opponent did the same to the Mets. Seems I’ve written a sentence of that nature every time Zack has pitched in September. All due respect to Jordan Yamamoto, the Mets not scoring for Zack Wheeler is the new Mets not scoring for Jacob deGrom.
The bottom of the seventh elevated a zero-zero pitchers’ duel to another level. Yamamoto was out of the game and the Mets were taking a shot at the Miami pen. With one out, the Mets loaded the bases on a pair of singles and a walk. This was a perfect time for a pinch-hitter. Then again, Wheeler had thrown fewer than 90 pitches and was wielding a batting average in the .200s, the pitcher equivalent of flirting with .400. But of far more pressing concern to me as a Mets fan in the 159th game of a season when nothing more than the moment was on the line, there was this: if Mickey Callaway pinch-hits for Wheeler, that’s it. His year is done. He doesn’t get to go on and attempt to continue his shutout in his last turn of the year. With free agency beckoning, it is, narratively speaking again, perhaps Zack Wheeler’s final start as a New York Met.
What do you want to see, all things being equal?
• A professional hitter taking a whack at driving in the go-ahead run in a scoreless tie?
• Or your pitcher whose tenure is among the longest on the team stay in the game to try to do something with the bat if only so he can return to the mound and go out on his own — and hopefully memorable — terms?
For once, Mickey and I were on the same page. Leave Zack in. Let Zack hit. Squeeze, hit away, strike out, whatever. This is Zack’s game. He’s the only Met to this point doing anything about winning it.
Wheeler faced Jarlin Garcia and, son of a gun, laced the first pitch he saw from Jarlin the Marlin into center to score Todd Frazier from third. Jesus, baseball can be beautiful when you let it bat for itself
Brandon Nimmo added a sacrifice fly directly after Zack’s RBI, giving Wheeler a 2-0 lead to protect in the eighth, and everything was going to work out because we wanted it to. Except it didn’t. Next: a leadoff double; a groundout; and, on a one-and-two pitch to Tyler Heineman that caught about 100% of the plate, ball two somehow. René Rivera, defensive stalwart most pitches, dropped apparent strike three, which likely nudged that idiot Eric Cooper (the same Eric Cooper who tossed Mike Piazza from a game at Shea in 2005 after one inning because he didn’t care for Mike’s attitude) to classify it not strike three. Heineman was still up. He saw one more pitch. He sent it over the right field fence.
It was 2-2. Wheeler’s shutout was over. His lead was gone. His chance to be pitcher of record on the winning side in perhaps his final start as a New York Met lasted three more pitches, until “old friend” Curtis Granderson drove the third of them out of Citi Field. “Old friend” shall remain in quotes until I am assured Curtis will stop intermittently reminding the Mets how good he was for us and how much we adored him for the way he went about it.
Just as Zack likely wouldn’t have batted for himself if the game “meant something” in the quotidian sense, chances are he would’ve been replaced by Seth Lugo as soon as Grandy touched home plate had there been no concern more paramount to the Mets than keeping this a one-run game. Seth was even spotted at the bullpen gate, ready to enter. But this was Zack’s game, even if it wasn’t the game we wanted him to have. Mickey allowed Zack to complete this appointed round. Let him be the pitcher of record going to the bottom of the eighth. Maybe the Mets could rustle up a run to take him off the hook. Maybe two to push him back in front.
Wheeler did go eight, with no more damage, not counting the pangs of heartbreak we who invest ourselves in Mets games, Mets seasons and Met storylines felt. If you’re that kind of Mets fan, our kind of Mets fan, every game means something. How Zack went out meant something to us. We prefer he not go out at all. Toss him a qualifying offer. Better yet, negotiate a contract. I’m convinced a Mets staff with Wheeler for the next few years is better than the alternative. Wheeler may be convinced there are alternatives out there he’d find preferable to the Mets and their penchant for not overwhelming him with run support. That’s for later.
In what was still the here and now of Thursday night, the Mets batted to no avail in the home eighth. In the ninth, Callaway brought in Edwin Diaz to either hold the Marlins’ lead at one or ratchet up his deposed closer’s confidence. Diaz achieved neither end, surrendering a solo home run to Austin Dean, which yielded a 4-2 Marlins lead that would constitute the final, dispiriting result . It was Dean’s sixth home run as a batter and Diaz’s fifteenth as a pitcher, all of Edwin’s having been given up in one ninth inning or another. Imagine if Edwin had given up maybe even a third less of that total.
Oh wait, I said I wasn’t going to do that.