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It’s the Times of the Seasons

If you aren’t the sleep-through-the-night type, then you’re in luck, because you stand a good chance of being awake for that great annual act of winter, the Baseball Equinox, set to occur Saturday, December 28, 2019, at 4:03 AM Eastern Standard Time. As organically occurring phenomena go, the Baseball Equinox is right up there with aurora borealis when it is localized entirely within Seymour Skinner’s kitchen.

So grab a steamed ham [1] and prepare for that instant when we are exactly between the final moment of the previous baseball season (September 29, 2019, 6:56 PM EDT, Dom Smith stomping on home plate [2]) and the scheduled first pitch of the upcoming baseball season (March 26, 2019, 1:10 PM EDT, presumably coming out of the right hand of Jacob deGrom). When you’ve finished taking in the glory of nature threading us through its offseason needle, you can bask in being closer to next year than last year and know that, yup, we’re gonna make it after all.

In the spirit of this particular offseason, the Baseball Equinox we are approaching is the final Baseball Equinox of the decade, which is the sort of thing I’m enjoying saying because no later than the end of next week, we won’t be giving a whit of thought to what decade we’re in. We only do that when we’re reaching the end of one, and even then it signifies only what we decide it does.

We just got through counting down The Top 100 Mets of the 2010s [3] because they were there just waiting to be counted down. But as mentioned when we prefaced the series [4], there’s no particular baseball magic to a ten-year period, whatever number each year in question has in common with the other nine. Baseball is measured by innings, games and seasons. Everything else is a matter of taste.

Imperfect chronological parameters of a decade notwithstanding, what is left to say about the Mets of the 2010s that didn’t seep through between Aardsma and deGrom? For a while there, the Tens/Teens felt cohesive from a Met standpoint. The first year became the second year and we weren’t much getting anywhere through the first five years. Still, every year had its moments and its players.

My pal Jeff, like the rest of us who are desperate for rumor-free baseball content in December, was kind enough to work up a spreadsheet that revealed which baseball season gave us the most Top 100 Mets of the 2010s. You’d think it had to be 2015, clearly the standout season among the past ten. But, no, it was 2013, the clubhouse leader for most depressing season of the 2010s until 2017 came along and blew it out of the water and into a hole on Yoenis Cespedes’s ranch.

Why, Jeff wondered, did the 74-88 Mets of 2013 contribute 37 different Mets for the Top 100, while the 2015 National League champions gave us 36? Putting aside obvious overlap between the two seasons (sixteen Mets had a foot in both 2013 and 2015), I guessed to Jeff that the roster churn on a lousy team like the 2013 Mets probably generated more opportunities for players to stand out briefly and thus be present and accounted for in the lower echelons of our countdown. Consider two members of the 2013 Mets who made the Top 100 for isolated incidents: Collin Cowgill, the personification of unforeseen Opening Day grand slamitude [5] (No. 80) and Juan Centeno, rifle-armed catcher who cut down Billy Hamilton in his base-stealing prime [6] (No. 94). Cowgill’s big moment was April 1; Centeno’s was September 18. They never played together on the Mets. But they each made an indelible impression on the FAFIF Committee for Contextual Listmaking. Somewhere in between the fall of Cowgill and the rise of Centeno, the multitudes that encompassed Buck, Marcum, Byrd, Rice, Young (EYJ, that is), Hawkins and the Alphabetical Avatar himself, David Aardsma, stopped by, stepped to the fore, grabbed a thin slice of our attention, then stepped away from the fore forever more. That’s how 2013 winds up slightly more loaded with Top 100 players than 2015.

Yet no Met season among these ten was better than 2015 nor more important. The World Series appearance speaks for itself, I suppose, but what really made that year howl with significance was it gave us something big, bold and indisputable to hang our Met hats on [7]. The era that was still mostly in progress when 2015 shook off the doldrums that preceded it predated the decade in progress. You can go back to 2009 and all the losing that didn’t stop. You can go back to September 2007 and the winning that ceased at the worst possible moment. However you measure your eras, you and I deserved a break by 2015, and blessedly we got it.

Though that season began on April 6, and the Five Days in Flushing mythology marks its turning point as July 31, I like to remember a night in 2014 when, for the first time since Johan Santana was shutting down the Marlins at Shea, I felt honestly good about where we were going. It was Saturday night, August 2, a game that has disappeared from every available arc, which is a shame, because I do believe it made for a pretty good preview of what was ahead.

I refer to it privately as the “Kids in America” game [8], named for the Kim Wilde song that I invoked in the blog post I wrote the subsequent Monday morning. I wasn’t covering Saturday night’s game, and Sunday’s game was so miserable that I wanted to go back and write about Saturday’s scintillating Mets win instead. After paying lip service to the Mets’ 9-0 loss at Citi Field to the Giants, I retraced the steps of Saturday night, when rookie Jacob deGrom dueled veteran Jake Peavy for six no-hit innings apiece. Did ya ever hear of such a thing? That night, Twitter lit up with references to Hippo Vaughn and Fred Toney, who ninety-seven years earlier had engaged in baseball’s only double nine-inning no-hitter (Vaughn of the Cubs finally cracked in the tenth, but Toney of the Reds kept his no-no intact for the 1-0 win).

Though deGrom and Peavey were the story for most of the night, to me — certainly once each man gave up a hit — the game became about who besides Jake was pushing the Mets toward an eventual 4-2 victory:

The runs were generated by d’Arnaud, Lagares and Flores. The outs were recorded by deGrom, Familia and Mejia. None of them has played an entire major league season yet. None of them is older than 26. All of them are excelling together, feeding our dreams, fueling our momentum.

The Saturday night win left the Mets four games under .500, in fourth place in the East and not breathing down anybody’s neck for the Wild Card. They’d lose Sunday and Monday, and I reverted to the frustration that defined the 2010s to that point. But I had hope and I had an inkling that maybe these kids and other kids were gonna start putting it together before long. One year from August 2, 2014, the Mets of deGrom, d’Arnaud, Lagares, Flores and Familia (Mejia not so much), who by then were also the Mets of Cespedes, Syndergaard, Conforto and so on, were sweeping the Washington Nationals and tying for first place. It wasn’t a direct route from the Kids in America to the leaders of the National League East, but it’s fun now to regather the breadcrumbs that pointed to better days.

There was no real era surrounding 2015 like there were in other swell Met times. There were those intermittent good vibes in 2014 and there was that Wild Card surge in 2016, though 2016, once it became the year we remember for its return to the postseason, looked and felt little like 2015. Early on, it seemed we were on a roll from one successful campaign to the next. By September, however, the Mets from April had mostly disappeared. Cespedes was still Cespedes; same for Granderson, Familia, Syndergaard and Colon, but Wright was nowhere in sight. Walker, the reasonable replacement for Murphy, was out. Lagares and Duda were barely back. No Harvey. No Matz. Cripes, no deGrom. Twenty Sixteen gave us the on-the-fly changes of Reyes and his baggage, Kelly Johnson 2.0, James Loney, a pair of Riveras, plus Lugo and Gsellman when we had no idea who they were. Asdrubal Cabrera, who we anticipated as something of a Tejada upgrade, was indispensable. Nimmo was up, but we had little clue what to make of him. Conforto had bounced from vital to superfluous to enigmatic. Jay Bruce was suddenly a Met and on the bench. It was chaos, yet it coalesced. My affection for 2015 is mammoth, yet I don’t know if I was ever Met-happier in this decade than I was in September of 2016. It really was 1973 all over again [9].

Then it was 1974 in 2017, and so much for an era. Except for another Saturday night at the tail end of the vague plausibility 2017 offered. There was no chance in hell we were going anywhere in ’17, but because we’d seen what they had done the previous two late summers, you thought, well, maybe… But no, no way, no how. Still, on Saturday night, July 22, the Mets were burying themselves per usual, yet stormed from behind against another Bay Area team, the Oakland A’s. Long story short, Wilmer Flores hit a walkoff home run, his first since Tears of Joy. For a brief, shining moment, it was 2015 again at Citi Field. It wasn’t that chants of LET’S GO METS and WIL-MER FLO-RES rang through the ballpark staircases, It was that they reprised themselves on the staircases at Woodside. No kidding. That’s how how giddy we had learned to be [10] in the middle of this decade. If you didn’t look at the standings, it felt like anything was possible.

Within the week, the Mets went on a trading spree in the other direction: Duda to Tampa Bay; Reed to Boston; Bruce to Cleveland; Walker to Milwaukee; Granderson to Los Angeles; René Rivera and Fernando Salas gone, too. Another youth movement was on, more Kids in America stirring hope or something short of it for the rest of 2017 and into 2018 and 2019.

Then, as you don’t need much reminding, 2019 went crazy [11] and we went with it as far as we could, which was no farther than Dom Smith stomping on home plate at 6:56 PM EDT on September 29, though, spiritually, that was plenty — certainly enough to shoot us toward our Equinox and then the next Opening Day, the next decade, and the next who knows what with this team.