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The Right Ending, Somehow

The Mets were supposed to be off Thursday, which would have been fitting given the sad news Wednesday night that Tom Seaver [1] — No. 41, the Franchise, the most essential and irreplaceable figure in team history — had died Monday at 75. Thursday would have been a day to mourn and reflect on the memory and legacy of player and man alike, a day appropriately empty of anything else.

But it was not to be — not with COVID forcing a makeup game against the Yankees — the same Yankees who, hollowed out by injuries as they are, yanked the Mets’ momentum to a halt last weekend and put a hole below the waterline of their season. Was this really necessary? Yes, it was, and so out they went to Citi Field, with Seaver’s retired No. 41 looking down on them from atop the stadium.

Before the hostilities commenced, the Mets remembered their ace with grace, holding a moment of silence, hanging a 41 uniform in the dugout, tipping their caps to his number and — in a truly inspired touch — adorning their right knees with dirt in imitation of Seaver’s drop-and-drive mechanics. (Seriously, I’d like to know who came up with that — it’s worthy of a genius grant.)

And then they went out to play the Yankees and for some time I was grimly certain that my post would be an elaboration on “they did everything right and then blew it by playing baseball.”

Robert Gsellman [2] took the mound without his breaking stuff and got knocked around, departing before the second inning was done after surrendering four runs. The Mets clawed back, however, and against J.A. Happ [3], no less — he’d looked untouchable in their last meeting (also against Gsellman) but was decidedly mortal this time. Recidivist Met Todd Frazier [4] started the comeback with a home run, with a Jake Marisnick [5] double and singles from Amed Rosario [6] and Jeff McNeil [7] evening the score. Meanwhile, the bullpen held the line valiantly, at least until Miguel Castro [8] proved shaky in the seventh, allowing a pair of two-out hits that created a two-run deficit. (On Wednesday afternoon I was in a kayak on the East River, so I heard Castro pitch but didn’t see him; my conclusion after actually viewing him is that someone should buy him a cheeseburger.)

The last hit against Castro could have just as easily been called an error on Pete Alonso [9], as he was in position to field it but watched it scoot under his glove and go down the right-field line. It’s been a miserable season for Alonso both at the plate and in the field — in fact, it’s pretty much been the season we were warned to expect in 2019, with homers punctuating stretches with far too many strikeouts and shaky defense at first. Frazier’s reacquisition, I’m half-convinced, was less about getting a bat to employ against lefties than about giving the Polar Bear a cheerful veteran voice that might lift him out of his sophomore doldrums.

Justin Wilson [10] — so reliable last year, not so much now — gave up another run and things looked truly dire. But the Mets, once again, fought back. A Rosario single brought them within a run, they survived letting Edwin Diaz [11] anywhere near the ninth, and then watched as McNeil led off the bottom of the inning with a walk off Aroldis Chapman [12].

Enter Billy Hamilton [13], who took second on a balk, promptly tried to steal third and was gunned down while J.D. Davis [14] stood there glumly watching. Seriously? Hamilton seems like a good teammate, and it isn’t his fault he can’t hit — major-league baseball is full of at least marginally useful players who couldn’t hit. But he also seems to have no feel for the game — that was a moment for patience, for seeing if Davis could move the runner in any number of ways, or at least to size up Chapman and choose the ideal pitch to make a break on a soggy track. Instead, Hamilton removed himself from the equation.

So of course Davis hit the next pitch — an 0-2 pitch, nonetheless — over the center-field fence. I never recall being angry about a game-tying homer in the ninth before, but somehow I was this time, because it should have been yet another walkoff against Chapman, and administered by the guy he’d recently nailed in the hip, no less.

The Mets sent Diaz back out for the 10th, survived that with a little help from automatic runner Tyler Wade [15], who somehow thought a humpbacked liner to Michael Conforto [16] would drop in, and sent Dom Smith to second as their own automatic runner. I prepared myself for a long and futile siege or some other imminent embarrassment, but Alonso hit Albert Abreu [17]‘s second pitch over the left-field fence, one of those drives that’s immediately and obviously gone before the bat is dropped. Alonso floated around the bases to celebrate his first career walkoff homer (a leadoff two-run shot, because 2020), and despite fits and starts and their own missteps, the Mets had ended the day with their heads held high [18].

* * *

In remembering Tom Seaver, you should of course start with my blog partner [19], who was on the case yesterday. I’ll limit myself to a couple of words and links. First off, a tip of the cap to Mets owner-in-waiting Steve Cohen, whose tribute to Seaver was a welcome departure from the usual PR-massaged vagaries. This is a fan talking [20], with humorous rue and real feeling, and while none of us knows anything substantive about Cohen yet, it’s a pretty good first impression.

I also highly recommend this Tom Verducci article [21] on Seaver in his twilight — it’s a wonderful story, shifting ably between his glorious youth and a visit to Calistoga, Calif., by his Miracle Met teammates late in his life. Beautiful, heartbreaking and awfully close to definitive. And don’t miss this tweet, from Keith Olbermann, about Seaver’s place in history [22]. You may be speechless too.

One of my favorite Seaver stories gets to the heart of how competitive and cerebral he was: One day, the Mets were playing the Pirates in the rain, Manny Sanguillen [23] was at the plate, and Seaver was taking an inordinate amount of time between pitches. A wet and puzzled Jerry Grote [24] finally went out to the mound to ask his pitcher what was taking so long. Seaver’s response? He was watching the water pool on the bill of Sanguillen’s helmet, and waiting to start his delivery until the water was ready to form a droplet that would hang and quiver right in Sanguillen’s view. Who notices that in the first place? Who then decides to leverage it for an extra bit of advantage? Tom Seaver, of course.

But there are so many such stories — Seaver and Bob Gibson [25] trading HBPs during a testy spring-training game, his contempt at the idea of celebrating a .500 record, the 1978 day where he reported for duty with his fastball MIA and so out-thought the Cardinals all the way to his lone career no-hitter. Seaver’s death wasn’t a surprise, exactly — we’d known of his retreat from public life, his mind cruelly plundered by dementia — and yet it still seems impossible. How can the New York Mets still exist without Tom Seaver in the world? No nickname was ever more perfect than The Franchise. He was that and still is and always will be.