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The Year of Imponderables

Breaking news: Mets starting pitcher actually gets win!

A Mets starter hadn’t done that in 19 games, tying a club record set in the less than sterling 1980 season. Seth Lugo [1] said “no more” Saturday night, allowing just a solo homer to Rhys Hoskins [2] over five innings and fanning eight. Of course, if Lugo’s starting that means there’s a big hole at closer, with the uncertainty spreading from there into every other relief role. For one night at least, that wasn’t a problem — Jeurys Familia [3], Justin Wilson [4], Miguel Castro [5] and even Edwin Diaz [6] turned in scoreless frames, though Diaz seemed hellbent on letting the Phillies back in the game and needed a Come to Jesus conversation with pitching coach Jeremy Hefner [7] to regain his focus. Whatever Hefner said, it worked.

Not so long ago a Met starter getting a win wouldn’t have seemed too unlikely, unless it was the star-crossed Jacob deGrom [8], but then the Mets’ starting corps has gone from team strength to black hole in record time. DeGrom’s still deGrom and Lugo has succeeded after being pressed into service, but the Mets foolishly let Zack Wheeler [9] walk (and of course put arrows in his back as he left), Noah Syndergaard [10] blew out his elbow, Marcus Stroman [11] opted out and Steven Matz [12]‘s season has been a smoking crater. David Peterson [13] has shown hints of being a useful back-end guy, but Michael Wacha [14] and Rick Porcello [15] have been dismal, and day after day the Mets have been reduced to making stuff up — witness poor Ariel Jurado [16] being sent out to pitch batting practice in Baltimore. A decade or two from now, perhaps we’ll look back at the list of 2020 starters and scratch our heads, similar to the reactions when fans look at 1987 and see the world champs turned to the likes of Don Schulze [17], Tom Edens [18], and John Candelaria to start games. (Two of the ’87 fill-ins weren’t so bad — Terry Leach [19] won 11 games, and David Cone [20] showed signs of the pitcher he’d become the next year.)

But there will be a lot of head-scratching about this season, won’t there? The leaderboard will look puzzling even in comparison with the strike years, of course. So will the footage of cardboard fans and phantom high-fives and dugouts with more surgical masks than the operating room in M*A*S*H. We’ll also wonder about the seven-inning doubleheaders, the games in Buffalo, Pete Alonso [21]‘s leadoff two-run homer and more. There will be uniform-number trivia questions concerning recidivist Mets: Juan Lagares [22]‘s 87 and 15 (which were quickly followed by the end of his cameo) and Todd Frazier [23]‘s couple of days donning 33. Odds are there will be new Met ghosts — Patrick Mazeika [24] was the 29th man for a couple of days, never got into a game and is now behind a new catcher on the depth chart. Erasmo Ramirez [25] is on the active roster but so far ectoplasmic as well. Whatever happens to Ramirez, at least he has big-league stat lines already; Mazeika’s a 26-year-old Double-A player who’s never hit much, making it possible his best chance to be a big leaguer has already come and gone. With expanded rosters and few days off, other players from the Brooklyn “alternate site” (another term that will require explanation) may face similarly spooky fates.

Will we remember what the Mets did in 2020’s odd college-basketball-style playoff? It’s not impossible — the team certainly hasn’t done much to convince you they’re a playoff team, but if half the teams are playoff teams the definition gets pretty stretchy. Even if we don’t get to enjoy that particular memory — and I’m betting we don’t — there will be some good things to recall from a year we’d rather forget: the emergence of Dominic Smith [26] as a frontline player and team leader; Michael Conforto [27] fulfilling the promise his backers always saw in him, despite the Mets’ best efforts to derail their own player; the unity the team showed the night they and the Marlins chose not to play; and the grace with which they honored the passing of Tom Seaver [28].

And I suspect whatever the record or the final standings, we’ll remember that they did play games and those games were a welcome distraction after a spring in which baseball seemed like an impossible dream. On Saturday night my wife and kid and I sat outside at a Korean restaurant we love in Gowanus. The tables were far apart, the servers were masked (as were we when close interaction with the staff was needed), and everything was a little strange. But between bites I’d look down by my knee and check on what the Mets and Phillies were up to on Gameday — getting early previews of news both good and bad, since my son Joshua’s notifications were a few seconds ahead of my phone’s simulated pitches. After dinner we walked over to Ample Hills for ice cream, masked up again and were told when we could enter the store to place our order and where we should stand when we did. By now I’d switched to the radio, and as we strolled back across Brooklyn we heard Bryce Harper [29] get excused further duty and Met relievers not mess up and Met hitters score more runs but not as many as we wanted them too. And then we were home for the last three innings, sprawled on our couch with the familiar SNY crew narrating the action.

It wasn’t normal, but it was at least sort of normal adjacent, and a big part of that was having the Mets as company. I want to see big crowds on TV again and big crowds around me at Citi Field and watch players trade ridiculously complicated dugout handshakes and know what the lower half of our manager’s face looks like and check in with the Brooklyn Cyclones and do so many other things I used to take for granted about baseball and now miss terribly. But it was a beautiful summer night, I got to spend it with my family, the Mets were our faithful companions, and they actually won [30]. Even a terrible year can have its good nights, and I’m grateful for each and every one of them.